Hysminias loving Hysmine spurred her mother to violence

stoning adulterer

After Hysmine sexually harassed Hysminias, he dreamed of having sex with her. His dream included a nightmare, every man’s nightmare, but with a distinctive signifier. While amorously entangled with her:

the girl’s mother arrives and, grasping the girl by the hair, drags her off like loot from war-spoils, yelling vituperations and slapping her. I was absolutely thunderstruck, as though I had been blasted by lightening. But that most aggressive of the dreams did not let me remain senseless and turned Panthia’s {her mother’s} tongue into a Tyrrhenian trumpet {a war trumpet} which brayed out against me and she cursed my herald’s wand.

Few men have that particular long, hard tool. Hysminias came to Hysmine’s home city of Aulikomis as a herald. Being selected as herald was a great honor. The herald represented a chaste, virtuous, godly young man. Hysminias was such a man before he fell in love with Hysmine.

In Hysminias’s dream, Hysmine’s mother accused him of engaging in theater. She chided him:

“Alas for your theatricals,” she said, “and your play-acting, Zeus and the gods! The herald, the chaste youth who was crowned with laurel, who brought the Diasia to Aulikomis, who was welcomed among us and cherished like a god — he is a fornicator, unregenerate, a rapist, he has come to Aulikomis as a second Paris; he ravages my treasure, he robs me of my heirloom. But I have got you, you thief, robber, sinner, despoiler of what is most beautiful. All you mothers who conceal your virgin treasures and keep sleepless watch over your treasures, look, I have the traitor who was masked by the laurel crown, the august chiton, the sacred sandal and his office — he put them all on like a lion skin, he invented the whole play.”

Just as enraged women nearly overthrew King Solomon, a mob of women destroyed Zerah’s MGTOW bliss, and a vigilante gang of women murdered three learned doctors in Constantinople, Hysmine’s mother summoned an army of women to stone Hysminias:

“Women, let us weave a coat of stone for the despot, let us paint his scenery for him, let us perfect the performance, let us publicly emblazon the despot in his tunic so that our actions are an ornament for women, a bulwark for virgins, and a crown for Aulikomis.

Did not women destroy the children of Egyptos
and empty Lemnos of males?

Were not Polymestor’s eyes gouged out by women?”

She said this and instigated an army of women to action and succumbed entirely to a Bacchic frenzy and launched a campaign against my head; I was transfixed by the sight and said to {my close friend} Kratisthenes, “I am done for, Kratisthenes!”

Kratisthenes jumped out of bed, roused Hysminias from his dream, and so rescued him. But the damage violent mothers do to men’s active minds and loving hearts is not so easily healed.

In reality, Hysmine’s mother blamed and disparaged Hysminias for her daughter’s affair with him. Hysmine and Hysminias consensually fled from their homes to avoid Hysmine being married to another. Her mother bewailed her loss:

Like a fully fledged bird you have flown away and you have fluttered from these pitiable hands of mine. … That was no herald but a savage beast, who snatched my Hysmine from these pitiable hands and from my very embrace, and ravaged all my treasure, harvested the corn, culled the grape and plucked the rose. Garlanded, the beast came to Aulikomis, but departed leaving my head unadorned, having taken my garland; he played the chaste youth and secretly made off with my maiden. … that tyrant, that audacious youth, who mocked his office of herald, and played it false, has ravaged your virginity. O dread and untimely fate, O my misfortune, O protector that failed to protect, O treacherous beast that stole by stealth and abducted by force!

Hysminias didn’t abduct Hysmine by force. He also hadn’t had sex with her. But whether it’s a mother making an offering to the god Apollo to recover her maiden daughter or men arraigned before college sex crime tribunals, facts matter little. Hysmine’s mother “wailed heartrendingly and most pitiably.” That’s a signal in gynocentric society to arrest and punish a man, irrespective of the facts. Illicit love under gynocentrism is almost always regarded as men’s fault.

Men’s nightmares of being persecuted merely for consensually loving a woman are tragically rooted in reality. The twelfth-century Byzantine novel Hysmine and Hysminias resonates with poignant relevance to men today.

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The quotes above are from Eumathios Makrembolites’s twelfth-century Byzantine novel, Hysmine and Hysminias, in Jeffrey’s English translation from the Atticizing Greek of the original. The specific quotes above, cited by book.section.line and page number in Jeffreys (2012) are: 5.3.3-4, p. 211 (the girl’s mother arrives…); 5.3.4-6, p. 211 (Alas for your theatricals…); 5.3.8-5.4.1, pp. 211-2 (Women, let us weave a coat of stone…); 10.11.2,4-5,10, pp. 257-9 (Like a fully fledged bird…). As Jeffrey’s footnotes indicate, the third quote above includes within it quotations from Euripides, Hecuba 886-7, 981ff.

[image] Stoning for adultery. The man throwing the rock is saying, “Die, enemy!” The naked man is saying to him, “It’s my fault, my lord.” The named woman is probably the daughter of the couple. A woman (probably the mother) appears behind the man throwing the rock (probably the father). Women have a central, under-appreciated role in inciting men to violence.

Illustration, p. 306 (scanned p. 308) in El primer nueva crónica y buen gobierno {The First New Chronicle and Good Government}, by indigenous Peruvian Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala. This book was finished about 1615 and sent to King Philip III of Spain. Image thanks to Det Kongelige Bibliotek, Danmarks Nationalbibliotek {Royal Library, National Library of Denmark), item GKS 2232 4°, Guaman Poma Website.


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.

shameful anti-men bigotry in study of honor-based killings

honor killing: men dueling

Study of honor-based killings and abuse is replicating the shameful anti-men bigotry prevalent in discussions of domestic violence and rape. Honor killings make for sensational stories of sex and violence. Those stories are powerful weapons for demonizing men, promoting brutal suspension of civilized due process of law, and expanding the number of persons forceful held behind bars. That treatment of honor killings completely fails to provide an inspiring, alternate model of honor, decency, and humane tolerance.

A recent, book-length study of honor killings in Germany provides a rare window into the extent of anti-men bigotry in the treatment of honor killings. The study explained:

We define honour killings as intentionally committed or attempted homicides that are carried out predominantly by males against females in the context of patriarchal families or societies in order to restore, from the perspective of the perpetrator, their family’s or personal honour. [1]

The term “patriarchal families or societies” covers almost all circumstances under the dominant, hateful social construction of patriarchy. To ensure a sexist definition of honor killing, the scholars defined “honour killing in the strict sense”:

An honour killing in the strict sense is the killing of a girl or young woman by their blood relatives to restore collective family honour.

Under that definition, men cannot die in an honor killing. Alexander Hamilton’s death in his duel with Aron Burr thus wasn’t an honor killing. The whole sordid history of men dueling is conceptually effaced with this definition of honor killing. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI’s) standard definition of rape from 1927 to 2012 was “the carnal knowledge of a female, forcibly and against her will.” The FBI explained that, under its definition, rape “included only forcible male penile penetration of a female vagina.” This sexist and hetero-sexist definition of rape obscured the reality that rape of men is about as prevalent as rape of women. Study of honor killings is perpetrating similar ignorance.

The German study’s definition of “honour killing in the strict sense” helped to obscure a remarkable finding. With extensive research, the study found 78 honor killing in Germany from 1996 to 2005. Of the persons killed, 43% were male.[2] Men victims of honor killings are nearly invisible in public discussion of honor killings. These dead men are not victims of “honour killing in the strict sense.” In the U.S., about four times more men than women suffer violent deaths. That gender disparity gets almost no attention. In contrast, elites make the ludicrous claim that “violence against women is the most pressing human rights problem remaining in the world.” Men’s lives count remarkably little relative to women’s lives in countries strongly affirming ideals of gender equality. That’s shameful.

While criminal justice systems construct men as the perpetrators of honor killings, that’s not socially realistic. A recent study of cases of honor-based abuse in Britain found:

there was overwhelming evidence of abhorrent behaviours by mothers towards children in inflicting violence, condoning violence, deceiving and denigrating daughters, ostracising them from kin, bartering to sell them, wishing them “dead,” threatening to kill them or throw them downstairs. [3]

In ten cases of honor-based abuse associated with pregnancy outside of marriage, direct violence by a mother seeking to induce her daughter to have an abortion was observed in two cases.[4] Honor-based killings are associated with family concerns. Historically, men have been predominately assigned the role of killing others. Women incite men to kill others and support the killing.

Criminal justice systems predominately assign men criminal responsibility for honor killings. Just as police engage in gender profiling men for arrest for domestic violence, police stereotype men as the perpetrators of honor-based killings and abuse:

Despite police incident reports directly implicating mothers in violence (solely or with others), uniformed officers did not place mothers as perpetrators on police computer systems (PPI) or within formalised crime reports in 12% of cases. Instead fathers were often logged as perpetrators and/or arrested, sometimes based on little to no evidence. In one case despite only the mother being implicated in the violence by throwing shoes and chairs at the victim, surprisingly only the father is named as key perpetrator in the crime report. [5]

One of the starkest gender inequalities is the vastly disproportionate imprisonment of men relative to women. That anti-men gender disparity arises from sex discrimination against men from the definition of crimes and the assignment of responsibility to anti-men gender disparities in sentencing to incarceration. Study and persecution of honor-based killings shows shameful criminal justice sexism in action.

Within the full scope of violent death, “honour killing in the strict sense” is a relatively infrequent occurrences in countries historically associated with western European culture. In Germany from 1996 to 2005, about 8 honor killings occurred per year. For comparison, about 700 homicides occur annually in Germany. The number of honor killings per year in the U.S. isn’t known, but it is surely only a small fraction of total homicides.[6] Honor killings have their greatest social significance in raising publicly the meaning of honor. Study and prosecution of honor killings and honor-based abused have shamefully failed to uphold a humane, civilized, and enlightened understanding of honor.[7]

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[1] Oberwittler & Kasselt (2011), Executive Summary, p. 1. The subsequent quote is from id.

[2] Id. pp. 2-3.

[3] Aplin (2017) p. 9. Humans abuse each other in a variety of ways, and mothers are no different as perpetrators:

Daughters were attacked by mothers (and other females) in a variety of ways, by pulling their hair, in some cases cutting off their hair; being slapped; being “hit” across the face and elsewhere being punched and kicked. Mothers also used household objects to assault daughters with, such as a hoover pipe, the metal frame of a bed; mothers threw “chairs and shoes” or slapped children on the head with slippers. In one case a 14-year-old child was tied to a chair and systematically assaulted, having her hair cut off by both mother and grandmother because she went missing from home and was found in the park.

Id. p. 3, parenthetical reference citations omitted.

[4] Id. p. 4.

[5]. Id. p. 8. Not recognizing mothers as perpetrators of abuse is facilitated by “victims unwavering loyalty to mother.” Id. pp. 6-8.

[6] On honor killings per year compared to homicides per year in Germany, Oberwittler & Kasselt (2011), Executive Summary, p. 2. The number of homicides in the U.S. is less than the number of suicides for both men and women.

[7] Shapiro (2010) begins her analysis of honor crimes with a sensational story of a man killing his two daughters. Such sensational beginnings are a staple of shamefully gender-bigoted domestic violence legal scholarship. Shapiro then offers a sexist definition of honor crimes:

Honor crimes are brutal acts of violence against women, committed by male relatives who seek to avenge their family’s honor when the male perceives that the female engaged in a dishonorable act.

Id. p. 294, repeated at p. 297. With no sense of irony, Shapiro declares, “courts must comprehend the full meaning and context of honor killings.” With another sensational, stereotyped story, she concludes, “this flawed perception of honor has once again caused society an immense and incomprehensible loss.” Id. pp. 314-5. Such shamefully bigoted scholarship helps produce an immense loss in civilized, enlightened society. Underscoring the extent of the problem, the American Bar Association’s Commission on Domestic Violence awarded Shapiro’s article first prize in the 2009 Annual Law Student Writing Competition on Domestic Violence and the Law. Id. p. 293, footnote.

[image] Eugine Onegin and Vladimir Lensky duel. Watercolor by Ilya Repin, 1899. Held in Pushkin Museum (Moscow). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Aplin, Rachael. 2017. “Exploring the role of mothers in ‘honour’ based abuse perpetration and the impact on the policing response.” Women’s Studies International Forum. 60: 1-10.

Oberwittler, Dietrich, and Julia Kasselt. 2011. Ehrenmorde in Deutschland, 1996-2005: eine Untersuchung auf der Basis von Prozessakten. Kōln: Luchterhand (executive summary in English).

Shapiro, Shira T. 2010. “She Can Do No Wrong: Recent Failures in America’s Immigration Courts to Provide Women Asylum from ‘Honor Crimes’ Abroad.” American University Journal of Gender, Social Policy and the Law. 18 (2): 293-316.

Digenis Akritis shows Byzantine matriarchy devaluing men’s lives

Mother of God as Empress

Most men deeply love their mothers. Most mothers deeply love their sons. Unfortunately, the mother-son relationship tends to support oppressive gynocentrism. The preeminent power of a mother over her son is evident in the eleventh-century Latin romance Ruodlieb. A mother’s power also appears in the Grottaferrata version of the tenth-century Byzantine epic Digenis Akritis.[1] The latter has particularly enduring value for helping women and men to recognize still-common, damaging patterns in the mother-son relationship.

Digenis Akritis tells the story of Basil Digenis Akritis. He’s a strong, independent man of action who realistically lives out his love for women in challenging, culturally diverse circumstances of gynocentrism. This epic is set on frontiers between the Byzantine and Islamic empires about the tenth century GC. Digenis’s father, an unnamed Islamic emir, became a Christian to marry Digenis’s Christian Byzantine mother. The name Digenis Akritis means literally frontiersman of double descent. That double descent involves a man making a wrenching change to conform to his beloved woman’s society.

In Christian understanding, the savior of the world Jesus Christ is born of a woman without the labor of a man. The prologue of Digenis Akritis immediately evokes Christian worldly gynocentrism:

I shall now reveal to you the deeds
which he {Digenis} performed in this present life,
how powerful and brave warriors
he terrified and all beasts,
with aid of the grace of God
and of the unconquerable Mother of God [2]

The prologue then goes on to credit and praise four men military saints. Christianity does not necessarily imply the devaluation and subordination of men to women. Yet powerful social forces independent of Christianity often produce that gynocentric outcome.

With the subtle irony characteristic of this epic, Digenis Akritis begins with a lengthy account of the life of Digenis’s father. His father was a high-born, rich, brave, strong, handsome Islamic emir (general). Along with conquering much Byzantine territory, the emir overran the house of Digenis’s maternal grandparents. His maternal grandfather, a Byzantine general, was away from his home under exile. Digenis’s maternal uncles were away engaging in men-on-men violence on the frontiers. Following common practice of gender distinction in violence, the emir’s forces killed all the men remaining at the home, but not all the women.[3] Digenis’s maternal grandmother wasn’t killed. She somehow escaped from the attackers. The emir, however, held Digenis’s mother as a prisoner. He provided her with sumptuous, highly privileged accommodations. He did not force her to have sex with him, but implored her to marry him.

Digenis’s grandmother incited her five sons to engage together in a dangerous, violent attempt rescue their sister from the emir. The mother wrote to her sons:

Most longed for children, pity your mother
whose soul is afflicted and who is about to die.
Remember the love of your sister,
hasten to free your sister and your mother,
her from bitter slavery and me from death.
Let us surrender our very being for the sake of our dearest one;
do not prefer life to your sister;
pity your own sister, my children.
Go with speed to her rescue.
If not, you will see your mother dying for her child
and you will receive my curse and that of your father.

The mother emotionally manipulated her sons with the claim that she would die if they didn’t attempt to rescue their sister. The mother urged her five sons to recognize that their lives are worth less than freeing their sister from privileged captivity. The mother threatened to curse her sons if they didn’t do what she told them to do. She also assumed authority to make a similar threat on behalf of their father.

Rather than decisively rejecting their mother’s emotional manipulation, the sons abjectly surrendered their own lives. With deep sighs and tears for their sister’s situation, the sons eagerly urged each other on to the dangerous rescue mission. Without personal consciousness of the poet’s surely deliberate irony, they said seriously to each other:

Let us go; let us be slaughtered on her behalf. [4]

Via a written request, the sons were granted an audience with the emir. They met with the emir amid his vast army. They said to him:

Emir, servant of God and first man in Syria,
may you reach Panormos {Jeddah, port for Mecca and Medina} and see the mosque {in Mecca},
may you do obeisance , emir, to the hanging rock {Ka’aba in Mecca}
and be deemed worthy to kiss the Prophet’s tomb {in Medina}
and hear the sacred prayer {Takbīr, Shahada, etc.}
You have abducted a delightful girl, our sister.
Ransom her to us, servant of the most high God,
and in return for her we will give you as much treasure as you ask.
For our father mourns for her since he has no other daughter,
our mother wishes to die since she cannot see her
and we who also have a boundless desire for her
have all sworn with most terrible oaths
that if we do not recover her we shall all be slaughtered. [5]

In appreciation for their bravery, the emir offered to fight in single combat any one of the sons. If the emir won, he would have all the sons as slaves. If the son won, the emir would return their sister.

The sons agreed to the violent challenge. By lot the youngest son was chosen for the fight. He was his sister’s twin. That underscores the much higher value of his sister’s life than his. His brothers advised him:

Do not, brother, let shouts shock you at all,
nor let noises alarm you nor wounds frighten you;
if you see the naked sword do not give way and flee,
if you see something yet more dreadful do not retreat and run away.
Do not spare yourself though you are young but think of your mother’s curse

The single combat was brutal. Both the emir and the son broke their spears against each other. After drawing swords, they hacked away at each other for hours. They became covered with wounds. Their blood flowed all over the ground. Finally, the son prevailed.

The emir initially deceived the sons. He told them to look for their sister. They found only women’s dead bodies much like men’s dead bodies after a battle. The sons returned to the emir and declared:

Give us, emir, our sister, or if not, kill us;
not one of us returns to our house without her,
but let us all be slaughtered instead of our sister.

The emir apparently again was impressed with the sons. He asked them about their parentage. He learned that they were high-born and had served as Byzantine generals on the frontier. The emir in turn explained to them:

I subdued all Syria and I captured Kufah,
then I swiftly wiped out Herakleia.
Coming past Amorion as far as Ikonion,
I subdued hosts of brigands and all wild beasts.
The generals could not withstand me, nor the armies,
but a most lovely woman has completely conquered me.
Her beauty enflames me, her tears are wasting me away,
her sighs torture me; I don’t know what to do.
Because of her I was testing you, to know for certain,
for she never stops lamenting for you.
However, I declare to you and I tell you the truth,
if you do not reject having me as a brother-in-law,
because of the delightful beauty of your sister
I shall come over to Roman {Byzantine} territory and become a Christian.
And know for certain, by the great Prophet,
she has given me neither a kiss nor a word.
Come then, to my tent and see the girl you are looking for. [6]

The sons found their sister on a couch draped with gold. At great risk to themselves, the sons thus rescued their sister from “slavery” as their mother had instructed them. The emir converted to Christianity and moved to their mother’s house.[7] Their sister then married the emir in a lavish wedding ceremony.

The emir subsequently had to deal with emotional manipulation from his own mother. From Syria his mother sent him a letter “full of lamentation, reproach and blame.” Her letter began:

Most beloved child, how could you have forgotten your mother,
blinded my eyes and extinguished my light?
How could you renounce your kinsmen and faith and country
and become a reproach to all Syria?
We are abominated by all men
as deniers of the faith, as law-breakers
and for not having observed well the Prophet’s words.
What has happened to you, my child? How have you forgotten these things?

The emir’s mother then recounted how Byzantine soldiers had hacked his father to death because he would not abandon his Islamic faith. She accused the emir of destroying everything “for the love of a pig-eater.” She declared that if he didn’t return quickly to Syria, she would be beheaded, his children killed, and his Islamic wives given to other men. The emir’s mother concluded her letter with specific instructions to her son:

Look, I have sent you, as you see, choice horses.
Mount the chestnut, lead the black,
let the bay follow and no one will catch you.
Bring the Roman girl too {the emir’s Christian wife}, if you are upset because of her,
but if you disobey me, may you be accursed.

Men tend to regard betraying their faith and moving to enemy territory as much less fearful than disobeying their mother. When the emir read his mother’s letter, he was “filled greatly with the compassion a son feels for his mother.” He decided to travel back to his mother in Syria.[8]

Since Digenis Akritis is a Christian romance, the emir was able to address readily all his mother’s concerns. When the emir returned to his mother in Syria, he was embraced with joyful tears. He was also subjected to his mother’s anguished questioning:

My sweetest child, light of my eyes
and comfort of my soul in my old age,
my charming delight, my consolation,
tell my why you have lingered, child, in Roman territory?
For when I did not see you I no longer wished to see the light
or the gleaming sun or to live in the world.
Do wonderful miracles happen in Roman territory,
such as are performed, my child, at the Prophet’s tomb,
to which you came with me when I went to pray?

How have you, my child, become a renegade from all this
and spurned power and great renown?
All expected you to conquer Egypt,
but you have thwarted your own fortune,
you have destroyed everything for the sake of one Roman girl.

The emir’s response was simple. He announced that Christianity is the light and the truth. He recited to his mother the Christian creed. He then urged his mother to return with him to Roman/Byzantine territory, be baptized as a Christian, and live with him in his wife’s mother’s home. Many sons probably find the mother’s response unbelievable:

She did not reject her child’s excellent counsel
but, like fertile soil that has accepted the seed,
she immediately brought forth fruit and pronounced these words:
“I believe, my child, through you in the Triune God,
and with you I will travel happily to Roman territory,
being baptised for the remission of my many faults
and acknowledging thanks that through you I have been enlightened.” [9]

That response makes good sense within a Byzantine Christian epic. Men in the real world throughout history have probably been considerably less successful in counseling their mothers.

Mothers’ manipulative behavior in the life of Digenis Akritis’s father provides key context for Digenis’s life. Digenis sought to live with his young, beautiful wife in lovely gardens apart from gynocentric society.[10] Many men today, valuing their own lives as equal to those of women and observing mothers acting like the mothers in the emir’s life, similarly imagine living in love with a woman in isolation from gynocentric society.

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[1] The main character’s name is variously spelled as Digenes and Digenis, and Akritas, Akrites, and Akritis. Other than folk-songs sharing such a name for a character, the epic Digenis Akritis has survived only in six Greek manuscripts and some Russian manuscripts. A version of the epic was probably written in Constantinople about 1150. Jeffreys (1998) pp. xviii-xxiii, lvi-ii. The two oldest manuscripts are Greek, the Grottaferrata manuscript (G) (written in south Italy about 1300) and the Escorial manuscript (E):

in dealing with the same basic subject-matter they are very close, yet at the same time fundamentally different: they come out of different milieux; they address different audiences; they have, as literary texts, different preoccupations. E has effective simplicity of language, earthy humour, direct expression, epic oral style; Go does not have these — but then G is not interested in having them. Its interests lie elsewhere: in literary texts, in romance against a military background, in flowery language, in long ekphraseis.

Galatariotou (1993) p. 49. The Grottaferrata version fits easily into the cultural context that produced the twelfth-century Byzantine novels. The Escorial version has no parallels in that period. Id. pp. 51-4. Both are in unrhymed, fifteen-syllable verse lines. Much discussion of Digenis Akritis has focused on differences between the Grottaferrata and Escorial versions. Beaton & Ricks (1993).

[2] Digenis Akritis, Grottaferrata 1.13-8, from Greek trans. Jeffreys (1998) p. 3. Jeffreys supplies the Greek text along with her English translation. The four men military saints subsequently named in the prologue are Theodore of Heraclea, Theodore of Amasea, George, and Demetrios of Thessaloniki.

Subsequent quotes from Digenis Akritis are from the Grottaferrata version and cited by book.lines and page number in id. The subsequent ones above are: 1.70-81, p. 7 (most longed for children…); 1.85, p. 7 (Let us go…); 1.100-12, p. 9 (Emir, servant of God…); 1.34-8, p. 11 (Do not, brother…); 1.259-61, p. 19 (Give us, emir, our sister…); 1.293-309, p. 21 (I subdued all Syria…); 2.52, p. 27 (full of lamentation…); 2.53-59, pp. 27, 29 (Most beloved child…); 2.82, p. 29 (love of a pig-eater); 2.94-8, p. 31 (Look, I have sent…); 2.106, p. 31 (filled greatly with compassion); 3.132-40, 153-57, pp. 53, 55 (My sweetest child…); 3.229-35, pp. 57, 59 (She did not reject…)

[3] Jeffreys translated the relevant line without reference to gender:

For he {the emir} killed all those who were found there

{Πάντας γὰρ ἐθανάτωσε τοὺς ἐκεῖ εὑρεθέντας}

1.59, p. 7. The accusative masculine plural πάντας (all), under the historical linguistic gender effacement of men, could include females. But the context clearly indicates that the emir didn’t kill the daughter or the mother. Killing all men but keeping women as prisoners is well-attested gender bias in violence. See, e.g. Deuteronomy 20:13-4, Numbers 31:17-8. A better translation for 1.59 is thus, “For he killed all the males who were found there”.

[4] Penninck (2007) recognizes the dramatic irony in the Grottaferrata Digenis Akritis.

[5] On the Islamic context in Digenis Akritis, Muhammad (2010).

[6] Byzantium historically continued the eastern part of the Roman Empire. The Byzantines called themselves Romans and regarded their territory as the Roman Empire.

Book 1 of Digenis Akritis concludes:

And it became well-known throughout the whole world
that an exceedingly high-born girl, with her delightful beauty,
had broken up the famed armies of Syria.

1.335-7, p. 23. The power of women’s beauty tends to be willfully ignored today.

[7] The mother expressed considerable concern about her daughter marrying the emir:

Will the bridegroom be your equal in beauty?
Will he share the views of high-born Romans?
I fear, my lovely child, that he may be lacking in affection,
being a heathen, he may have a fierce temper, and there may be no point in my living.

2.22-25, p. 25. The mother may have preferred to have selected her daughter’s bridegroom herself, as mothers did in Byzantine bride-shows.

[8] The prologue to Book 3 explains:

Receiving a letter from his mother in Syria,
he decided to leave, fearing her curse,
for it is certainly right not to provoke one’s parents.

3.16-8, trans. Jeffreys (1998) p. 45. Moral codes commonly require honoring one’s parents, e.g. Exodus 20:12. Here there seems to be subtle irony with the curse and consequential reasoning.

The emir told his wife of his plan to leave and asked her to come with him. When his wife’s brothers confronted him and denounced that plan, the emir wrongly accused his wife of not keeping his secret. She responded:

Why, my husband, do you accuse the one who longs for you so much?
It is unthinkable for me — may this never happen — to reveal your plan.
If I did that, may the earth swallow me up alive,
so that I may become an example to all the world
of one who makes public her husband’s secrets.

2.210-15, p. 37. Wives’ failure to keep their husbands’ secrets is major concern in literature of men’s sexed protest.

[9] The simile “like fertile soil that has accepted the seed” is a feminine Christian figure for being a good Christian. It comes from the parable of the sower influential in early Arabic thought. See Matthew 13:1-23, Mark 4:1-20, and Luke 8:1-15.

[10] Both Penninck (2007) and Trilling (2016) contrast in literary interpretation the emir’s social position and Digenis’s. Yet, immersed in the dominant ideology, they fail to recognize the significance of gynocentric oppression to that contrast. Dokou (2005) documents the dire intellectual consequences of uncritical acceptance of the dominant ideology.

[image] Mother of God portrayed as Byzantine Empress. Tapestry icon from sixth-century Egypt. Thanks to Cleveland Museum of Art (preserved as item 167.144) and Wikimedia Commons.


Beaton, Roderick, and David Ricks. 1993. Digenes Akrites: new approaches to byzantine heroic poetry. Aldershot, G.B.: Variorum.

Dokou, Christina. 2005. “‘’tis a Pity She’s A’ Chora – Theoretical Transformations of the Marriage Metaphor in the Epic of Digenis Akritas.” Neohelicon. 32 (1): 231-239.

Galatariotou, Catia. 1993. “The primacy of the Escorial Digenes Akritis: an open and shut case?” Ch. 4 (pp. 38-54) in Beaton & Ricks (1993).

Jeffreys, Elizabeth, ed. and trans. 1998. Digenis Akritis: the Grottaferrata and Escorial versions. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Muhammad, Tarek M. 2010. “The Conversion from Islam to Christianity as viewed by the Author of Digenes Akrites.” Collectanea Christiana Orientalia 7: 121-149.

Penninck, Mieke. 2007. “Two heroes, two lives in the Grottaferrata Digenes Akrites.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 31(1): 32-52.

Trilling, James. 2016. “Re-Introducing Digenis Akritis: A Byzantine Poem of Strength, Weakness, and the Disturbing Absence of God.” Viator. 47 (3): 149-170.

Byzantine literature can help men overcome romantic simplicity

romantic simplicity of man in love

When in love with a woman, most men in their purity and innocence simply want to have sex with her. But life gets much more complicated. Consider, for example, the case of Hysminias in twelfth-century Byzantium. After enduring sexual harassment from Hysmine, Hysminias fell passionately in love with her. Yet before he could have sex with her, barbarians and Greeks enslaved him. To make matters worse, both the woman who owned him as a slave and Hysmine’s female boss amorously besieged him. Merely to kiss Hysmine, Hysminias had to engage in the fiction that he was kissing Hysmine’s female boss. As innocent men ruefully learn, real-world romance can be tragic.[1]

Hysminias had been in love with Hysmine for a year, yet he hadn’t fully realized his desire. Enslaved, he wept for his misfortune and mournfully recalled flirting with Hysmine. The Greek mistress who with her husband owned Hysminias asked him about his parentage and the story of his life. He summoned learning and eloquence amid his tears and responded:

Mistress, I am your slave; when you ask to know more you are asking for a whole play, a complete tragedy. I am the exemplification of Fate, a ghost from the underworld, the plaything of the gods, the Erinnyes’ banquet. [2]

She and her husband insisted. Hysminias then told of his love for Hysmine, their elopement by ship, the storm, his loss of her at sea, and his being captured and enslaved. Seeing Hysminias’s passionate grief, his master-owner urged him to “cultivate chastity and love sobriety.”

Some days later, on the festival day that was the anniversary of Hysminias falling in love with Hysmine, Hysminias’s mistress-owner accosted him. Hysminias was lying down, dreaming and weeping about long-past times with his beloved Hysmine:

I held up to my mind … the well within the garden, the birds on it, the golden eagle, Hysmine pouring out the wine, teasing me with passion, playing with my feet, playing with the cups and everything else that we did in our sport (alas for those passionate delights in my dreams); and above all else I whispered softly, “Hysmine, my beloved.”

Hysminias’s mistress-owner suddenly appeared. She said:

Why are you so drenched in tears? Look who is beside you; you have me as your Hysmine, your mistress and your slave in passion.

Hysminias sat up and rebuffed his mistress-owner. She then sat next to him and attempted to seduce him. He responded stolidly. She then threatened to strike him. She verbally abused him and spun household intrigues against him. But Hysmine didn’t yield to her. Despite obvious advantages of becoming her lover, Hysminias didn’t even allow her to trespass on his thoughts of loving Hysmine.

Just as Hysminias had earlier been selected for the honor of being herald, his master-owner was similarly selected. His master-owner had to travel to Artykomis to be honored as herald at a banquet there. Hysminias’s mistress-owner sought to keep Hysminias at home while her husband went to Artykomis. But her husband decided that Hysminias, formerly a herald and now a slave, might be of some use to him in Artykomis. Hence Hysminias traveled with his master-owner to Artykomis to the herald’s banquet.[3]

At the lavish herald’s banquet, the host’s daughter Rhodope worked as a serving maiden. Long ago Hysmine had performed the same service at the herald’s banquet for Hysminias. According to Hysminias, Rhodope was:

a lovely girl if you compare her with maidens in general but, in comparison with my Hysmine, she was like an ape compared to Aphrodite.

Rhodope’s servant girl helped her to wash Hysminias’s feet. The servant girl moaned and sighed and looked at Hysminias intently. Rhodope’s servant girl was the enslaved Hysmine!

Later, Hysmine sent Hysminias a letter. She reminded Hysminias that because of him she had become a captive and a slave. She also instructed him on how to behave. Hysminias pondered the sense and meaning of this letter. He sat in the garden and drenched the letter in tears. Rhodope came up to him and asked him what was the matter. She also asked about his parentage and how he had become a slave. Hysminias responded:

tears overwhelm my speech, mistress, and hinder my tongue and swamp my soul and inhibit my voice entirely. If you want to observe a Fate that had led to misery, I provide the example in my own person, completely clad in misfortune and transformed into abominable circumstances, a veritable picture of ill luck.

Rhodope begged to be told more. Hysminias told her his story. He then fell to the ground in grief. With loving concern, Rhodope clasped his hands and wept. She placed her hands on his chest and massaged his heart. Then she kissed him and asked him his name.

Rhodope’s servant girl Hysmine was weeping nearby. Rhodope asked her what was the matter. She said that Hysminias was her long-lost brother. Hysmine embraced Hysminias and kissed him, and he her in return. Their passionate love for each other wasn’t incestuous. They struggled to avoid that fiction and to create the fiction of a brother-sister reunion.

Hysminias later sat by himself, overwhelmed with teeming thoughts. Hysmine came and sat beside him. She freely kissed him, laughed, and said:

I kiss you as my brother, I embrace you as my lover. But this kiss is not mine, it is not from me the beloved to you my lover, nor from a sister to her brother; it is from a slave to her mistress’s lover. Rhodope, my mistress, loves you. I am the procuress, and this kiss is her message.

That was a story that Hysminias could barely comprehend. He kissed her and wept. He declared that he would “pray to die a slave with Hysmine rather than be free and immortal with Rhodope.” Hysmine kissed him again and explained:

These are not my kisses but I convey to you kisses from Rhodope, the mistress whom I serve as a slave.

Hysminias innocently and indignantly responded:

You really are my Hysmine. I kiss your lips, even though they belong to my fellow slave, my sister, my beloved. And I kiss the kisses, but not as though they are Rhodope’s kisses but Hysmine’s, whom Zeus betrothed to me and whom now emperor Eros restores once more. Away with Rhodope and Rhodope’s passion and any other maiden whom the Erotes throw in your Hysminias’s way!

Recognizing men’s inferiority in guile, Hysmine put the matter bluntly:

Even if you do not love her, even if you spurn her passion, even if you observe our vows, pretend for my sake to be in love and act the lover for me; and perhaps the deception will not be useless and without results for us. Even if it allows nothing else, I shall be able to converse with you without inhibition as a slave, and embrace you as your sister, and I can convey kisses to you as the procuress.

Hysminias finally understood. Sophisticated romantic intrigues and fictions don’t come naturally to men.

While uneasily and recalcitrantly following Hysmine’s fiction, Hysminias didn’t suspend the reality of his desire. To send kisses to Rhodope, Hysminias offered to kiss Hysmine anywhere “where the grapes of passion are to be harvested.” Even more boldly, Hysminias declared to Hysmine:

Whatever you think should be said to please Rhodope, say it as if from me. If she asks to be kissed, kiss her, and give her all the many kisses that my lips have stored in your mouth. And if she is not satisfied with kisses alone and her passion is not assuaged with lips but, like female palm trees, she seeks a shoot from the male palm to penetrate into her innermost soul, I shall demonstrate first with you, conveying this to Rhodope.

Demonstrating penetration was action too forward and direct for Hysmine. She ran off to convey Hysminias’s kisses to Rhodope.

Hysminias’s pure desire to have sex with Hysmine came to be entangled in Byzantine amorous relations. Hysminias’s master-owner, the herald, returned home from Artykomis with Hysminias. The herald brought with him as guests the herald-banquet hosts and their daughter Rhodope. Rhodope brought her servant girl Hysmine. All gathered for a banquet at the master-owner’s home. Three women there were in love with Hysminias: his mistress-owner, the herald’s wife; the herald-banquet hosts’ daughter Rhodope; and Rhodope’s slave-servant Hysmine. Working as a slave-servant at the banquet, Hysminias struggled to juggle these amorous plates:

So my mistress {owner}, enrolled in the service of the Erotes, flirted with me over the cup and jested with me, or rather the Erotes flirted with her, using me and the cups.For at one moment she pressed my finger, at another she pulled my entire hand together with the cup and sported in other ways, or was made a game of by the Erotes. While I tried to escape from this as if from a fire, I too flirted but with my fellow wine-pourer, Hysmine, exchanging games with the mistress for games with the slave. This Rhodope approved and she allowed flirtation with the slave as though she was rather more Hysmine’s slave since she was assisting in her passion.

Exhausted from the romantic challenges of the banquet, afterwards Hysminias went quickly to the servants’ quarters to sleep alone.

Increased public support for study of Byzantine literature such as Hysmine and Hysminias could help men to overcome their romantic simplicity. For men lacking in literary appreciation, Solon’s wise welfare proposal could provide an important safety net. Individual women also have important personal responsibility. Women should respond with understanding, sympathy, and mercy to the men who love them.

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Read more:


[1] Scholars have been slow to appreciate the importance of Hysmine and Hysminias for men. Alexiou (1977) is a pioneering literary appreciation of a Byzantine novel. Yet that work narrowly interpreted Hysmine and Hysminias as providing “insight into female behavior as viewed by men.” With a similar intellectual perspective, Alexiou’s article might be regarded as offering only a woman’s insight into a man-authored work. Hysmine and Hysminias “clearly puts aside the principle of emotional gynecocentrism which was the norm of the Greek novel.” Jouanno (2006) p. 159. That underscores the importance of bringing a masculine perspective to understanding this Byzantine romance.

[2] Eumathios Makrembolites, Hysmine and Hysminias 8.11.2, from Atticizing Greek trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 240. Subsequent quotes from Hysmine and Hysminias, cited by sections and by page numbers in id., are: 8.14.4, p. 242 (cultivate chastity…); 8.16.2-3, p. 242 (I held up to my mind…); 8.16.4, p. 242 (Why are you so drenched…); 9.3.2, p. 245 (a lovely girl…); 9.12.3-4, p. 248 (tears overwhelm my speech…); 9.16.2-4, p. 250 (I kiss you as brother…); 9.17.1, p. 251 (pray to die a slave…); 9.18.1, p. 251 (These are not my kisses…); 9.18.1-2, p. 251 (You really are my Hysmine…); 9.19.1, p. 251 (Even if you do not love her…); 9.19.3, p. 251 (where the grapes of passion…); 10.3.1-2, p. 254 (Whatever you think…); 10.8.1-3, p. 255 (So my mistress…).

[3] A central compositional technique in Hysmine and Hysminias is doubling and repetition. Nilsson (2001).

[image] Woman strives to educate man beyond his natural romantic simplicity. Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, made between 1305 and 1315. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 311r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Alexiou, Margaret. 1977. “A Critical Reappraisal of Eustathios Makrembolites’ Hysmine and Hysminias.Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 3 (1): 23-43.

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.

Jouanno, Corinne. 2006. “Women in Byzantine Novels of the Twelfth Century: an Interplay Between Norm and Fantasy.” Ch. 7 (pp. 141-62) in Garland, Lynda, ed. 2006. Byzantine women: varieties of experience, 800-1200. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Nilsson, Ingela. 2001. Erotic pathos, rhetorical pleasure: narrative technique and mimesis in Eumathios Makrembolites’ Hysmine & Hysminias. Uppsala: Uppsala University.