Drosilla and Charikles shows college sex police can be redeemed


The old woman Maryllis hadn’t laughed or danced for eight years. She was a single mother, and her son’s death had crushed her spirit and judgment. How could she not now hate young men? So it might be for college officials who staff today’s tyrannical college sex tribunals. Is there any hope for them?

The twelfth-century Byzantine novel Drosilla and Charikles shows that a couple’s passionate love can redeem even a dour old woman. Through lengthy ordeals of pirate captivity, separation, dangers at sea, slavery, and so on, Drosilla and Charikles were finally re-united:

like ivy clinging to an oak, they kissed each other gladly.
So difficult was their embrace to bring to an end
that it occurred to Maryllis
that the two had indeed become one body
who in speech had become one soul.
Thus it is with every lover who is redolent with desire;
for when after a long time he sees her whom he desires,
he kisses her insatiably until his desire is assuaged. [1]

Did Charikles ask Drosilla for affirmative consent before he embraced and kissed her? No sane person would even ask that question.

Drosilla and Charikles’s passionate love astonished and delighted Maryllis. She had never before encountered a passionately loving couple, nor experienced such passion herself. She exclaimed:

What a novel sight I see, strangers!
For I am an old woman and advanced in age,
and I have had experience of much good and evil,
but I have never known such desire

She generously prepared for the couple and other guests a feast (symposium) in honor of Dionysos, the god of revelry. She even danced for them:

she got up from her seat
and, being already prepared for this,
took a napkin in both hands
and began a somewhat Bacchic dance,
producing a snuffling sound,
which initiated festivity and instigated mirth.
However, the constant gyrations quickly
tripped Maryllis up in her movements
and so the poor wretch fell over
with her legs in a tangle;
she promptly lifted her feet over her head
and pushed her head into the ground.
The symposiasts let out a huge guffaw.
Old Maryllis lay where she fell
and farted three times,
because she could not bear the pressure on her head.
She did not get up — the poor wretch
said she could not, and lying there
she held out her hands to the young men.

Her gesture represents welcoming men to participate in masculine social-educational activities. Maryllis’s performance generated joy, laughter, and a sense of hospitality. That’s often lacking in educational institutions that sexually persecute men. One young man, sympathetically concerned that “she might go one better and foul herself,” helped Maryllis to an upright posture.[2] All experienced great pleasure. None was subsequently punished, and there was no subsequent expulsion.

The twelfth-century Byzantine novel Drosilla and Charikles ends with passionate education. The young couple married.[3] Then they spent the night together:

and the girl who in the evening was a virgin,
arose from her bed in the morning a woman.

Higher education today teaches careerism and sexual persecution, rather than true love. All public officials should strive to abolish college sex tribunals and renew higher education.[4]

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[1] Niketas Eugenianos, Drosilla and Charikles 7.230-7, from Atticizing Greek trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 438. This novel is in nine books of twelve-syllable verse lines. Eugenianos apparently wrote it about 1156. It survives in four manuscripts. That suggest that it “did not attract the interest of {pre-eighteenth-century} western humanists.” Drosilla and Charikles includes considerable intertextuality with the earlier Byzantine novel Rhodanthe and Dosikles. Id. pp. 343-4, 348-9.

The oldest manuscript of Drosilla and Charikles (M: Venetus Marcianus graecus 412, ff 1r-71v, from the thirteenth century) names the old woman Baryllis. Id. pp. 431 (n. 244), 350, 344. Scholars differ as to whether Maryllis or Baryllis most plausibly represents Eugenianos’s original manuscript. Cf. Roilos (2005) Ch. 4, n. 221.

Maryllis originally supported Drosilla marrying Kallidemos. Kallidemos lied to Drosilla about Charikles. Moreover, Charikles was an urban, handsome young man from Constantinople. Kallidemos was a villager who lived far from the Byzantine capital. Maryllis urging Drosilla to marry Kallidemos plausibly indicates bad judgment regarding love affairs. College sex tribunal officials are notorious for bad judgments.

Subsequent quotes are from Drosilla and Charikles (cited by line number and page in Jeffreys’s translation): 7.248-51, p. 438 (What a novel sight…); 7.274-92, p. 439 (she got up…); 9.299-300, p. 458 (and the girl…).

[2] The “snuffling sound” refers to “a song that is as melodic as the noise of someone who blows her nose.” Roilos (2005) p. 288 (Ch. 4). In contrast to more repressive norms in liberal democracies today, elite Byzantine culture enjoyed ludic and sarcastic references to bodily functions such as snuffling, farting and defecating. Garland (1990a) p. 27. Constantine V, Byzantine emperor from 741 to 775, was known as Kopronymos (crap named) by his detractors. He alleged disgraced himself by defecating in the holy font at his baptism. Id. p. 14. When the Byzantines were besieging a fortress at Zemun (in present-day Belgrade), a strong, independent, elderly Serbian woman reportedly assailed the Byzantine forces:

standing atop the {fortress} walls, {she} threw down filth; indecently pulling up her garments and turning around, she displayed her rear to the Romans’ {Byzantine} army; while singing some endless babble, she thought to bind the Romans with a diabolical spell

Id., p. 16, citing the account of the Byzantine historian Joannes Kinnamos. The Byzantine forces killed the woman with an arrow shot into her ass.

While Maryllis’s performance is obviously funny, it has greater significance. It shows the realism emerging in twelfth-century Byzantine fiction. Within the literary structure of Drosilla and Charikles, “Baryllis’ {Maryllis’} performance should be viewed as a grotesque reenactment of the conviviality of the happy feast that marked the first meeting of the two protagonists.{3.101-338}” Roilos (2005) p. 291. Maryllis’s performance also has a more universal allegorical dimension in its re-vitalization of a dour, old woman who poorly understands young persons’ love.

[3] Sexuality in Byzantine literature and Byzantine life wasn’t merely a matter of atomistic, act-by-act licentious agreements. For sexual morality in twelfth-century Byzantine novels, Garland (1990b). For sexual morality in the twelfth-century Byzantine court, Garland (1995).

[4] On the functioning of college sex codes and college sex tribunals, Gersen & Suk (2016).

[image] Statue of Dionysos. Marble, 2nd century GC (after Hellenistic model), found in Italy. The statue’s arms and legs were heavily restored in the 18th century. Held in Louvre Museum (Paris), item Ma 578, MR 73. Image thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons.


Garland, Lynda. 1990a. “‘And His Bald Head Shone Like a Full Moon …’ : an appreciation of the Byzantine sense of humour as recorded in historical sources of the eleventh and twelfth Centuries.” Parergon. 8 (1): 1-31.

Garland, Lynda. 1990b. “‘Be Amorous, But Be Chaste’: Sexual morality in Byzantine learned and vernacular romance.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 14 (1): 62-120.

Garland, Lynda. 1995. “‘How Different, How Very Different from the Home Life of Our Own Dear Queen,’ Sexual Morality at the Late Byzantine Court with Especial Reference to the 11th and 12th Centuries.” Byzantine Studies / Études Byzantines 1–2: 1–62.

Gersen, Jacob, and Jeannie Suk. 2016. “The Sex Bureaucracy.” California Law Review. 104 (4): 881-948.

Jeffreys, Elizabeth, trans. and notes. 2012. Four Byzantine novels: Theodore Prodromos, Rhodanthe and Dosikles; Eumathios Makrembolites, Hysmine and Hysminias;  Constantine Manasses, Aristandros and Kallithea; Niketas Eugenianos, Drosilla and Charikles. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Roilos, Panagiotis. 2005. Amphoteroglossia: a poetics of the twelfth-century Medieval Greek novel. Hellenic Studies Series 10. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

do whatever necessary to make your mother happy

A friend’s mother is obsessed with U.S. national politics. She said that she was deeply wounded by the 2016 U.S. presidential election results. She said she still needs time for emotional healing. Here’s how my friend helped her.

“Hillary’s a strong, independent woman. That’s why she lost. Too many people are racist and sexist,” his mother said.

“She’s a harridan,” he said.

“What’s a harridan?” she said.

“She’s a shrew. She’s a bitter, old, men-hating bitch,” he said.

“That’s really mean. Do you think I’m a harridan?”

“You’re like Hillary Clinton.”

“How can you say that?”

“You’re a strong, independent woman. Don’t you admire Hillary? Aren’t you happy to be like Hillary?”

His mother was happy. Women love drama. My friend would do whatever was necessary to make his mother happy.

Rhodanthe as back-biting bitch: the real world of Byzantine romance

back-biting bitch

In a twelfth-century Byzantine romance, Rhodanthe and Dosikles were passionately in love. Each was enthralled with the other’s beauty. Only a few weeks before Rhodanthe was to marry another, Dosikles with armed friends abducted her and carried her off across the sea. Bride abduction, even if consensual, was an offense incurring the death penalty for the man.[1] Rhodanthe praised Dosikles’s decisive amorous action:

Fare you well, brigands who practise sound brigandage
and who have carried out my own wishes,
kindly practitioners of a kindly abduction,
excellent despots in an excellent despotism. [2]

Despite not being formally married to Dosikles, Rhodanthe called him husband. Dosikles in turn regarded himself as eternally bound to Rhodanthe and preferred death to being separated from her.

The Byzantine romance of Rhodanthe and Dosikles isn’t just a romantic fairy tale. No flesh-and-blood human, not even a woman, is wonderfully perfect. With the pioneering literary realism of Theodore Prodromos, Rhodanthe occasionally showed that she could be a back-biting bitch.

Consider Rhodanthe’s words at a banquet celebrating the return of a long-lost son thought to be dead. Dosikles had also suffered through a long ordeal of captivity and mortal dangers. He returned with the long-lost son to the parental home in Cyprus. Rhodanthe was there serving as a slave, unrecognized by Dosikles. Addressing Dosikles’s good friend, who also didn’t recognize her, Rhodanthe particularly harshly attacked Dosikles:

I would never have suspected (the gods are my witnesses) that you
would not have recognized Rhodanthe, standing thus before you,
and Dosikles even more than you.
He swore that he had engraved my appearance
in the very tablet of his heart;
for his sake I dwell in Cyprus with a slave’s fate,
and he knows what country I abandoned,
what house, what wealth, what parents,
even if he now pretends not to know me when he looks at me.

Rhodanthe didn’t merely criticize Dosikles for obtuseness in not recognizing her. She claimed, without good reason, that he was pretending not to know her. Rhodanthe spoke with bad faith and remarkable meanness, especially within the context of a joyful reunion.

Rhodanthe isn’t just a figure showing gender neutrality in the mean character of the elder son in the biblical parable of the prodigal son. Rhodanthe engaged in even more vicious back-biting toward her beloved Dosikles. At the reunion banquet, the host’s daughter Myrilla fell in love with the beautiful Dosikles. Myrilla out of envy attempted to poison Rhodanthe. For Rhodanthe to remain in close quarters with Myrilla was obviously dangerous. Rhodanthe implored Dosikles to flee hastily with her:

Do you not know whence and for what reason
came the cup of poison given to me
and through which my circulation was paralysed?
Were you not able to perceive the plot against us,
the machinations of a jealous heart?
Or did you notice it but perhaps support the deed
and, as if Rhodanthe had become an abomination,
preferred instead to be Myrilla’s bridegroom?
If this is so, be united with your beloved
and let Rhodanthe take death as her bridegroom.

Without any justification whatsoever, Rhodanthe accused Dosikles of being in love with Myrilla. Even worse, she accused him of supporting Myrilla’s attempt to poison her. That’s like a crazy, psycho woman.

Apparently appreciating the manly virtue of Dosikles’s masculine beauty, Rhodanthe seemed fearful of potential rivals. Nothing that Dosikles said allayed Rhodanthe’s fears. For example, with Rhodanthe and Dosikles in captivity, the warrior leader Gobryas, who served the barbarian-in-chief Mistylos, fell in love with Rhodanthe. Gobryas promised that he would arrange for Dosikles to marry Mistylos’s daughter if Dosikles would persuade Rhodanthe to marry him. In Rhodanthe’s presence, Dosikles resolutely refused:

For what favour is it, most evil robber Gobryas
(for see, I address my words to you,
even if you are far from us, most savage creature),
if you tear me away from my own maiden
and give me another’s as a gift?
You slaughter me bitterly and you announce a marriage.
What has a marriage to do with those who are about to die?
Grant one favour alone to Dosikles:
do not tear him accursedly away from Rhodanthe.

Rhodanthe responded with disparagement of Dosikles’s love for her:

may I be kept pure and preserved either for you
or for the sword, but not for Gobryas.
But I have no little fear in your connection
that, united with Mistylos’ daughter,
you may have not the least concern for a prisoner {Rhodanthe}. [3]

Defying social constraints on men’s emotions, Dosikles wept at Rhodanthe’s nasty, sarcastic jab. Rhodanthe, finally showing some love for her beloved, wiped the tears from his face.

Women are capable of being vicious, back-biting bitches, even to their beloveds. Many women show no concern about men’s lack of reproductive rights, enormous anti-men sex discrimination in child custody and child support rulings, much greater violence against men than violence against women, and criminal justice systems that vastly disproportionately imprison men. Yet many men similarly show no concern about these issues. Flesh-and-blood women are no better in loving than are men.

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[1] Bride abduction (bridal capture) has existed throughout history and across cultures as a highly ritualized and socially sanctioned, if not required, practice. See note [2] in my post on the Sabine women. Under Constantine the Great’s edict of 326 GC (CTh 9.24.1), bride abduction was declared a crime that subjected the man and the woman, if she had been openly willing, to the death penalty. Marriage between the abductor and the abducted was outlawed. Showing historically prevalent anti-men discrimination in criminal justice, Justinian’s civil code of 533 GC excluded women from the death penalty for consensual participation in a bride abduction. Burton (2000) pp. 380-1. Rhodanthe and Dosikles differs from all surviving ancient Greek novels in having the hero (Dosikles) participate in an abduction. Id. p. 377.

Burton insists that Dosikles engaged in “violent, non-consensual abduction” of Rhodanthe. She quotes (twice!) her tendentious translation of words of Dosikles to Rhodanthe:

You have coercion as your pretext for the flight.
Address Dosikles insultingly as a pirate,
a villain, and a robber, since he stole you,
for yes, I used violence by pirate custom
and forcibly snatched Rhodanthe away.

Theodore Prodromos, Rhodanthe and Dosikles 9.265-9, from Atticizing Greek trans. Burton (2000) p. 390, repeated at p. 394. Compare Jeffrey’s translation of those same lines:

You have an overwhelming reason for your flight;
he {Rhodanthe’s father} addressed Dosikles insultingly,
calling him a brigand, a violator, abductor, a thief who stole you;
for yes, I had acted violently using the rules of brigandage,
yes, I abducted Rhodanthe by force.

Dosikles subsequently addressed Rhodanthe’s father:

See, I am here before you, beat me, punish me,
consume my flesh, take your fill of my blood.
The thief, the brigand is in your hands; bind my feet,
contrive every torture — except one.
Do not take Rhodanthe from me.

Rhodanthe and Dosikles 9.294-8, trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 150. Dosikles pleaded for brutal punishment with eucharistic imagery. Moreover, Kratandros’s false confession of having murdered Chrysochroe is clearly relevant context  for interpreting Dosikles’s similar declaration of forcible abduction. In evaluating recent literary scholarship, recent, absurd claims about rape are also relevant.

The most specific description of Dosikles’s action in abducting Rhodanthe is this:

So, on my own and finding the girl on her own,
picking her up from the ground and taking her in my arms,
I went down to the sea with all speed

Rhodanthe and Dosikles 2.449-51, trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 49. That doesn’t clearly describe a “violent, non-consensual abduction.” Rhodanthe herself explained that Dosikles didn’t need Eros as an accomplice in her abduction because he was so handsome:

it was not Eros whom he summoned as his accomplice
(for his mere appearance was a sufficient substitute for Eros)

Id. 7.242-3, trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 118. With appreciation for the diverse cultural practices associated with bridal “abduction,” one can well imagine Dosikles taking Rhodanthe in his arms as a consensual, loving, and daring act. The novel on the whole makes clear that, after this act, Rhodanthe and Dosikles loved each other deeply in a realistically flawed human relationship.

[2] Theodore Prodromos, Rhodanthe and Dosikles 3.475-8, from Atticizing Greek trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 50. For brief background on Prodromos and this novel, see note [1] to my post on Kratandros and Chrysochroe.

Subsequent quotes above are (cited by line number and page in Jeffreys’s translation) 8.350-7, pp. 136-7 (I would never have suspected…); 9.31-40, p. 143 (Do you not know…); 3.510-18, pp. 65-6 (For what favour is it…); 3.521-25, p. 66 (may I be kept pure…). For an early example of Rhodanthe calling Dosikles “husband,” 2.61, p. 37. On Dosikles preferring death to separation from Rhodanthe, 2.311-5, p. 45; 6.177-81, pp. 101-2.

[3] Rhodanthe both implored Dosikles to save her as a damsel in distress, and blamed him for destroying her:

save, Dosikles, your dear maiden,
rescue me from the robberly brute.
You have destroyed me; make haste, indeed I am ruined.

3.291-3, trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 59.

Other twelfth-century Byzantine novels include biting put-downs from women to their beloveds. In Hysmine and Hysminias, Hysmine states that Hysminias’s father will find another woman for him to marry:

And you will make the wedding sacrifices, quite forgetting me, your dear Hysmine, and our passionate kisses and our other embraces, which we have enjoyed in vain as if in our dreams.

Hysmine and Hysminias 5.19.2, trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 218. In Niketas Eugenianos’s Drosilla and Charikles, Drosilla imagined that Charikles had forgotten about her:

Charikles, my husband in name only,
you are now asleep in some corner of the prison
without the slightest thought in your mind for Drosilla,
but, as a result of your evil situation, you have forgotten
both the pledge willingly exchanged between us
and the god who once joined me
to you, Charikles, though only by a promise.

1.290-6, trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 360. Drosilla at least invoked extenuating circumstances (“as a result of your evil situation”) for the betrayal she imagined. That’s consistent with the redemptive dimension of the old woman Maryllis’s dance in this novel.

[image] Back-biting bitch. Photo by smerikal on flickr, generously made available under Creative Commons license by-sa-2.0.


Burton, Joan. 2000. “Abduction and Elopement in the Byzantine Novel.” Greek, Roman and Byzantine Studies. 41 (4): 377-409.

Jeffreys, Elizabeth, trans. and notes. 2012. Four Byzantine novels: Theodore Prodromos, Rhodanthe and Dosikles; Eumathios Makrembolites, Hysmine and Hysminias;  Constantine Manasses, Aristandros and Kallithea; Niketas Eugenianos, Drosilla and Charikles. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.