satire’s end: Momus castrated for offending women

In a literary tragedy that reverberates through to the present, a conspiracy of goddesses acting as damsels brought about the castration of Momus, the god of satire. Jupiter, nominal Head God in Charge of the Cosmos, told Momus to moderate a divine assembly of free, open debate among divine beings. With the encouragement of the goddess Mischief, Pallas Athena, the goddess of justice, and Juno, the ruling wife of Jupiter, conspired to disrupt the assembly and get Momus castrated.goddess flattens Momus

Initially the assembly proceeded in the manner of most august deliberative bodies. The issue to be discussed was destroying and recreating the universe. An eminent, elderly god spoke incomprehensibly. An elderly goddess chewed her gums, looked at her nails, and declared:

Certainly we should think carefully about these serious and unusual circumstances.

{ Enimvero … de his rebus gravissimis atque rarissimis cogitasse oportuit. }[1]

Another god delivered a bombastic oration signifying nothing. Yet another spoke at length complimenting his fellow gods’ speechifying. A warrior god declared that he had nothing to say and was ready to execute the command of Jupiter to destroy the world. A god with underworld commercial interests proposed a bulk purchase of world-renewal kits. A famous god gave a long, well-rehearsed speech recounting all his great deeds.

Pallas Athena’s speech signaled the start of the prearranged disruption. In accordance with the plan, a couple of gods began fighting loudly. Then they harshly criticized Pallas for her arrogance. She sharply disputed their criticism. Various divine beings responded with partisan zeal, and the assembly degenerated into a tumult. After vainly trying to quell the chaos, Momus became extremely angry:

His wrath led him to make a number of intemperate observations. Among other imprudent remarks, he said that the mortals were right to observe the ancient and holy custom and law whereby women were sent away and excluded from public business. He added, “Can the most drunken debauches compare with this gathering?”

{ plurima per iracundiam dixit immoderata, inter quae excidit ut diceret non iniuria apud mortales veteri sanctissimoque more et lege observari ut publicis abigerentur excluderenturque mulieres. Addidit his etiam Momus eut diceret: “Etenim quaenam temulentissimorum lustra iis comitiis comparabimus?” }

While few care that men are vastly disproportionately incarcerated, that men are vastly disproportionately killed in violence and wars, and that men have no reproductive rights whatsoever, Momus’s imprudent remarks infuriated all the divine beings at the assembly. The goddess Mischief urged the goddess Juno to cage the beastly Momus.

Juno, who had long nursed anger against Momus, exerted her female power. She flung off her cloak to display her body and summoned the other females to gather around her. She also commanded Hercules to drag Momus to her. Obeying the woman’s command, Hercules seized the screaming and punching Momus, threw him over his shoulder, and brought him to Juno. There women engaged in vicious violence against the helpless Momus. The narrator of the text demurs:

I shall not elaborate, but in the hands of the women, Momus went from manly to unmanly. They tore off his entire manhood and flung it into the ocean.

{ Nihil plus dico: Momus quidem mulierum manu ex masculo factus est non mas, omnique funditus avulsa virilitate praecipitem in oceanum deturbarunt.}

In short, the women castrated Momus.[3] Then they hurried to Jupiter and, making outrageous claims, manipulated him into administering further punishment to Momus:

They bemoaned their injuries {sic} and demanded that he should either banish Momus as an object of public hatred or send the whole divine populace into exile. The matron goddesses could not dwell safely in places infested by that deadly and destructive monster. In tears they besought Jupiter to consider the prayers and the safety of so many of those bound to him by ties of obligation and merit. He should prefer to punish one thoroughly wicked individual rather than to lose the sympathy of all heaven.

{ iniuriisque deploratis efflagitant ut aut publicum ipsum odium Momum releget aut universum dearum populum in exilium abigat: non posse quidem deas matronas tuto his in locis degere ubi funestum exitiosumque id monstrum versetur. Qua de re etiam additis lacrimis obtestantur ut malit unius consceleratissimi poena tot suarum necessitudinum et optime de se meritarum precibus salutique consulere quam perditissimi unius gratia omni de caelo duriter mereri. }

Women’s tears and claims about safety eviscerate any concern for a man and his free-speech rights under divine law. Jupiter thus approved the matron goddesses’ request to banish Momus and establish him as an object of public hatred.

Momus’s castration wasn’t enough to sate Juno’s hatred of him. The ultimate aim of castration culture is change men into women. Juno kissed her husband and said to him:

You’ve done what’s right, my dear husband. But there is one thing that I’d like to add. Momus has criticized women so petulantly and so rudely, going far beyond the bounds of decency both for him and for us, that I’d like you to turn him from a half-man into a complete woman.

{ Fecisti … ut decet, mi vir. Sed unum est quod addi velim, ut qui tam petulanter, tam impudenter et praeter id quod seque nosque deceat in feminarum genus invectus est. Momum, ex semiviro reddas ut sit prorsus femina. }

Like most husbands, Jupiter did whatever his wife asked him to do. That’s terribly short-sighted behavior. The gods called the castrated, feminized, and banished Momus “humus.” That name evokes Adam, made from the earth, and all the descendants of Adam, subject to being punished harshly for the offense of rudely criticizing women.[2]

Satire, like freedom of speech more generally, is too publicly important to remain castrated, feminized, and banished. Leon Battista Alberti wrote Momus between 1443 and 1450 in Rome. Momus was the last great Latin work encompassing the transgressive, gender-critical tradition of Juvenal’s Satire 6Lamentationes Matheoluli, and Solomon and Marcolf. That vital literary patrimony must be preserved to amuse and instruct intelligent, caring, and progressive women and men.

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[1] Leon Battista Alberti, Momus 3.36, from Latin text and trans. Knight & Brown (2003) p. 235. A Latin text is also available online. In writing Momus, Alberti drew upon Lucian’s works Dialogues of the Gods, The Gods in Council, and Zeus the Tragic Actor. Subsequent quotes from Momus are from id., 3.40, pp. 238-9 (his wrath); 3.41, pp. 240-1 (I shall not elaborate; They bemoaned their injuries); 3.75, pp. 272-3 (You’ve done what’s right). Momus, an ancient Greek god, is also spelled Momos.

[2] Knight & Brown observe:

Humus, a feminine noun, was commonly given in medieval and Renaissance etymological works (for example, Isidore, Etymologiae 7.6) as the derivation for homo, human being. Is Alberti trying to say that Momus is Everyman?

Knight & Brown (2003), p. 394, p. 36. Etymologiae 7.6.4 states:

Adam, as blessed Jerome informs us, means “human” or “earthling” or “red earth,” for from earth was flesh made, and humus (humus) was the material from which the human (homo) was made.

From Latin trans. Barney et al. (2006) p. 162.

Alberti seemed to recognize that all men live under oppressive structures of gynocentrism. Unlike most men, Momus actually uttered words of men’s sexed protest. Most men, in contrast, conform to authority and the dominant gynocentric interests.

[3] With characteristic effacement of women’s role in violence against men, Wikipedia states:

Since his continued criticism of the gods was destabilizing the divine establishment, Jupiter bound him {Momus} to a rock and had him castrated.

A thoroughly scholarly work, McClure (2005), seems to implicitly justify Momus’s castration. McClure explains that Momus was “castrated by Juno and other goddesses for his contemptuous attitude toward women — a reflection of Alberti’s own misogyny in evidence throughout the story.” Lack of concern about castration culture supports the sexual reign of terror currently gripping U.S. college campuses.

[image] Momus, god of satire and mockery, flattened. Detail (with color enhancement) of a ceiling painting (done about 1900) by Hippolyte Berteaux in Théâtre Graslin in Nantes, France. Image thanks to Selbymay and Wikimedia Commons.


Barney, Stephen A., W.J. Lewis, J.A. Beach, and Oliver Berghof, trans. 2006. The etymologies of Isidore of Seville. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Knight, Sarah and Virginia Brown, trans. and ed. 2003. Leon Battista Alberti. Momus. I Tatti Renaissance library, 8. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

McClure, George. 2005. Review of Alberti, Leon Battista, Momus. H-Italy, H-Net Reviews.

“all my success I owe to my wife”: don’t clap, just laugh

husband rides for wife

Most persons have heard an eminent man publicly state, “All my success I owe to my wife.” Persons usually smile and clap when they hear such a pseudo-confession. That response indicates lack of sophisticated understanding of Chrétien de Troyes’s influential medieval romance Erec and Enide. Chrétien’s depiction of the manlet Lancelot generated the ideal of the courtly lover.[1] Erec’s words to his wife Enide seem to have similarly generated modern husbands’ self-abasing crediting of their achievements to their wives.

Erec was the second-ranking knight in King Arthur’s court, behind only the knight Gawain. Erec was young, beautiful, and the son of a king. He was also obedient to women. When Queen Guinevere told Erec to go tell a hostile knight to restrain his dwarf, Erec immediately did so, despite the danger.[2] What heterosexual woman wouldn’t want to marry Erec?

While angels saved Gawain from marriage, Erec married the beautiful, noble woman Enide. She, like most women today, was strong and independent. Erec didn’t understand the virtue in being a pig. He won permission to marry Enide by pledging to fight a ferocious knight and promising to have her crowned queen of three cities. Enide didn’t offer Erec anything but herself. In women, but not in men, just being is valued.

As Erec prepared to undertake a horrendous knightly ordeal, Enide wept. Earlier she had falsely explained to Erec her concern about the social shaming of him for turning from committing violence against men to enjoying time with her. Erec similarly sought to comfort her:

All the courage and strength
I have comes from your love,
and with it I can face, hand
to hand, any man living.
I may be a fool to say this,
but it isn’t pride speaking,
only my need to comfort
you. Feel better! Let
it be! And now I must go [3]

Erec had been a high-ranking knight before he knew Enide. Erec falsely credited her for his achievements in man-to-man battle. When Erec left Enide, he found in a lovely garden a beautiful woman sitting on a silver bed covered with a gold brocade. Erec sat down on the bed next to this beautiful woman.[4] Erec’s ordeal wasn’t initially developing as his wife Enide had feared.

Just before falsely crediting his wife for his courage and strength, Erec had comically comforted her. Erec told his weeping wife:

I know your heart,
I see its fear, which you feel
but don’t know why. But you frighten
yourself for nothing. Unless
you see my shield shattered
and a blade pierce my body —
unless you see my gleaming
mail shirt bathed in my blood,
my helmet cracked and broken,
and me stretched on the ground,
beaten, defeated, unable
to defend myself, forced
to beg for mercy, and await it,
helpless, against my will
— then you can wail in sorrow.

Violence against men is a gravely serious matter, especially today. Addressing his fearful, weeping wife, Erec described at length himself being beaten in realistic detail. In context, a perceptive reader can respond only with laughter. That Erec’s feared ordeal begins with him confronting a beautiful woman sitting on a bed in a garden underscores the comedy.

Erec crediting his wife Enide for his courage and strength is sophisticated literary humor. Husbands today earnestly credit their success to their wives.[5] Those who know can see the literary humor of Erec and Enide in life.

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[1] Joseph J. Duggan, an eminent scholar of Chrétien de Troyes, described courtly love as “one of the most significant developments in the history of Western civilization.” Raffel (1997) p. 234 (in Afterword). The ideology of courtly love intensified the oppression of men under gynocentrism. Chrétien de Troyes’s romances subtly ridicule courtly love.

[2] With the characteristic tendentiousness of scholars writing in support of the dominant gynocentric ideology, Ramey (1993), p. 385, declares, “The only proper role for women according to this romance is silent submission.”

[3] Chrétien de Troyes, Erec and Enide ll. 5860-9, from Old French trans. Raffel (1997) pp. 184-5. The cited line numbers are from Raffel’s translation, but they are close to the line numbers in the Old French. The subsequent quote is from id. ll. 5840-54, p. 184. The translation of W.W. Comfort (1914) is freely available online. Chrétien de Troyes is thought to have written Erec and Enide about 1170.

[4] Chrétien de Troyes emphasizes the woman’s beauty as well as Erec’s interest in her. The woman sitting on the luxurious bed was:

a young woman, as beautiful
as beauty could be in both face
and body, sitting alone.
What more can I say, except
that simply seeing her beauty,
the delightful way she was dressed,
would make you swear, truly,
that even Aeneas’ wife,
Lavinia of ancient Laurentium,
noble and lovely as she was,
had barely a fourth of her beauty.
Erec went closer, wanting
to see her better, then seated
himself at her side.

ll. 5888-901, trans. Raffel (1997) pp. 185-6. Hartmann von Aue adapted Erec and Enide into Middle High German about 1190. He added a qualification to the woman’s beauty to lessen the obvious sexual tension of Chrétien’s scene. The woman sitting on the bed was:

the most beautiful woman that {Erec} had ever seen — except for Enite {Enide}, who was more lovely, it must be admitted, than any other woman of that time or this

Hartmann von Aue, Erec ll. 8927-34, from Middle High German trans. Sterling-Hellenbrand (2001) p. 47.

The mid-fifteenth-century Burgundian prose Erec, the lady’s knight challenges Erec before he sits next to her on the bed. See Ch. 37, from French trans. Chase in Grimbert & Chase (2011) p. 67.

[5] In many states in the U.S., wives upon divorce are legally credited with 50% of the income their husband earns during the marriage. The wife need not do anything to gain that credit under law.

[image] Husband rides in service to wife. Illustration (cropped) by N.C. Wyeth from page 278 of Sir Thomas Malory’s History of King Arthur and His Knights of the Round Table, Edited for Boys by Sidney Lanier (New York, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1922). Thanks to Dave Pape and Wikimedia Commons.


Grimbert, Joan T. and Carol J. Chase, trans. 2011. Chrétien De Troyes in prose: the Burgundian Erec and Cligés. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

Raffel, Burton, trans. 1997. Chrétien de Troyes. Erec and Enide. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Ramey, Lynn Tarte. 1993. “Representations of women in Chrétien’s Erec et Enide: courtly literature or misogyny?” Romanic Review 83(4): 377-386.

Sterling-Hellenbrand, Alexandra. 2001. Topographies of gender in middle high German Arthurian Romance. New York: Garland.

truthful, ancient rule of the Phallus: penetration provides pleasure

sausage fest: podwalwelska & slaska

Almost as hateful as mendacious mainstream media reports that nearly a quarter of men are rapists is the scholarly construction of the penis as an instrument of political domination. That penal construction dominates scholarly understanding of ancient Greco-Roman sexuality. Ideology of the reign of the Phallus is associated with crude stereotypes, deeply rooted hostility toward men’s sexuality, and dominant gynocentric interests.[1] Common human experience connects penetration by a penis with pleasure. But that common-sense understanding of penis, penetration, and pleasure has a relatively weak literary-figurative position.

Ideology of the reign of the Phallus draws upon crude linguistic sensibility. The physiology of men’s erection labor produces a hard, baton-like object. Sticks and stones can break bones and cause hurt. If your ability to construct linguistic figures goes no further than nursery rhymes, then you might understand the penis to be a hurtful weapon. That’s a poor understanding. Across all of the animal kingdom, male animals with their penises amazingly rarely hurt female animals. Hurting a female makes no sense within the fundamental evolutionary role of the penis. Don’t fear the penis. Don’t believe in a mythic, monstrous reign of the Phallus. You will have a more joyful life if you develop richer imaginative capabilities.

Ideology of the reign of the Phallus also draws upon cramped imagination of penetration. One might imagine individuals as having bodily borders that they guard against penetration just as countries guard their borders against penetration. That’s a crude understanding of persons and countries. Penetration, even if undocumented with an affirmative consent form, is often welcomed, with good feeling and good reason. Criminalization of sexual penetration and the ideology of the reign of the Phallus benefit from imagination limited to the figure of one person violently penetrating another person’s body with a weapon such as a knife. In literature as in life, most of the persons violently killed are men. In further gender injustice, penetration historically has been the basis for gender-biased criminalization of men’s sexuality.

Close reading of an ancient Greek epigram exercises broad literary imagination and confirms common sense of the penis. Consider this epigram by a Greek poet probably writing in the second century GC:

Count three for all those on the bed, of whom two are active and two are passive. Do you think I’m speaking of a miracle? But it’s really no lie. The middle one is involved with the other two, giving pleasure behind, getting pleasure in front.

{ Τρεῖς ἀρίθμει τοὺς πάντας ὑπὲρ λέχος, ὧν δύο δρῶσιν,
καὶ δύο πάσχουσιν. θαῦμα δοκῶ τι λέγειν.
καὶ μὴν οὐ ψεῦδος· δυσὶν εἷς μέσσος γὰρ ὑπουργεῖ
τέρπων ἐξόπιθεν, πρόσθε δὲ τερπόμενος. } [2]

The man giving pleasure from behind is using his penis to penetrate the other. That man is also getting pleasure by being in front of a man who is penetrating him with his penis from behind. The focus for the penetrating penis isn’t receiving pleasure. It’s giving pleasure.[3]

A Latin adaptation written about two centuries later shows the literary bias toward criminalizing activity of the penis. This epigram substitutes for pleasure legalistic language of crimes:

“There are three in one bed. Two endure sexual violation,
and two commit it.” “I think that there are four.”
“Mistaken: give one offense each to the ones on the outside and
two to him in the middle, who both does and submits.”

{“Tris uno in lecto; stuprum duo perpetiuntur
et duo committunt.” “Quattuor esse reor.”
“Falleris: extremis da singula crimina et illum
bis numera medium, qui facit et patitur.”} [4]

In this epigram, sexual violation is associated with the activity of the penis in penetrating. Those being penetrated are figured as victims of sexual violation. Yet the ultimate criminal accounting is non-sexist: both penetrating and being penetrated count equally as offenses. That’s consistent with progressive justice systems that recognize that both penetrating and compelling another to penetrate can constitute rape.[5]

Belief in the reign of the Phallus represents crude imagination dominating common sense. Literary study that engages only crude imagination supports gynocentrism and terrible anti-men bias in criminal justice. To promote humane culture, literary study should expand imagination to new and surprising figures. Would you have ever imagined the classical riddle of why two plus two doesn’t equal four?

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[1] Keuls (1985), published a few years after the start of a massive rise in incarceration in the U.S., has been an influential work. Williams (1999 / 2010) illustrates present-day orthodoxy of demonizing penetration as dominance. For a brief presentation of the orthodoxy, see note [4] in my post on Priapea.

[2] Strato (Straton of Sardis), epigram from Musa Puerilis (“Boyish Muse”), Greek Anthology 12.210. Greek text from Paton (1920) vol. 4, p. 388, trans. Kay (2001) p. 165.

[3] The Torah (Mosaic law) confirms this understanding of the penis. Deuteronomy 24:5 states:

When a man has taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war or be charged with any business; he shall be free at home one year, and bring happiness to his wife whom he has taken.

Before the man-oppressing ideology of courtly love swept medieval Europe, the original understanding of chivalry emphasized a husband serving his wife’s sexual needs with his penis.

[4] Ausonius, Epigram 43 (Kay) / 59 (Evelyn-White), my translation from the Latin, with help from Kay (2001) p. 164. As id. p. 165 observes, Greek Anthology 11.225 provides nearly the same epigram in Greek. A Latin text of Ausonius’s epigrams is available online. For discussion of men being sexually penetrated in Ausonius’s epigrams, Floridi (2015).

Ausonius elaborated on the number three at length in his poem Riddle of the number three {Griphus ternarii numeri}. Like the “two plus two” epigram, Griphus ternarii numeri show considerable cultural and social sophistication despite its breezy presentation. Lowe (2013).

[5] The U.K. Ministry of Justice, in contrast, has denied a recent petition to remove penetration gender bias from U.K. rape law. A commenter insightful questions, “If forcing a penis through a vulva is rape, why is forcing a vulva over a penis not rape?”

[image] Delightful sausage fest featuring podwawelska and slaska. Based on photos by Mariuszjbie (podwawelska, slaska), generously contributed to Wikimedia Commons.


Evelyn-White, Hugh G., trans. 1919. Decimus Magnus Ausonius. Ausonius. Loeb Classical Library 115. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard Univ. Press.

Floridi, Lucia. 2015. “The Construction of a Homoerotic Discourse in the Epigrams of Ausonius.” In Richard F. Thomas, ed., Harvard Studies in Classical Philology, Volume 108, Harvard University Press.

Kay, N. M., trans. 2001. Decimus Magnus Ausonius. Ausonius, epigrams: text with introduction and commentary. London: Duckworth.

Keuls, Eva C. 1985. The reign of the phallus: sexual politics in ancient Athens. New York: Harper & Row.

Lowe, Dunstan. 2013. “Triple Tipple: Ausonius’ Griphus ternarii numeri.” Pp. 333-350 in Kwapisz, Jan, David Petrain, and Mikołaj Szymańsk, eds. The Muse at Play: Riddles and Wordplay in Greek and Latin Poetry. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Pate, Pauline J. 1976. A critical text of the Epigrammata of D. Magnus of Ausonius. Ph.D. Thesis. Loyola University of Chicago.

Paton, W.R. 1920. The Greek Anthology with an English Translation. London: William Heinemann (vol. I, bks. 1-6; vol. II, bks. 7-8; vol. III, bk. 9; vol IV, bks. 10-12; vol. V, bks. 13-16).

Williams, Craig A. 1999, 2nd ed. 2010. Roman homosexuality: ideologies of masculinity in classical antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.