repressive codes of conduct for communication now pervasive

elephant and monkey arguing

Communicative codes of conduct have become pervasive for in-person conferences and online communities. These codes of conduct repress “offensive communication” far more extensively than did communicative norms in medieval Byzantium.

Under current codes of conduct a person can easily commit the offense of communicating offensively. Consider, for example, the code of conduct for a recent computer programming conference. That code declared:

Harassment includes offensive communication related to gender, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, body size, race, religion … Be careful in the words that you choose. Remember that sexist, racist, and other exclusionary jokes can be offensive to those around you. Excessive swearing and offensive jokes are not appropriate [1]

Under this code, harassment, which is now commonly defined as a criminal offense, includes offensive communication.  A leading tech-conference organizer elaborated on the offense of harassment:

Harassment also includes slights and negative messages, both unintended and intentional, based solely on appearance (sometimes called microaggressions). [2]

The conference organizer asserted broad jurisdiction for its code of conduct, declared its discretion in judging violations, and stated that it would deport a participant without refunding the participation fee that it collected:

We expect all participants—attendees, speakers, sponsors, and volunteers—to follow the Code of Conduct during the conference. This includes conference-related social events at off-site locations, and in related online communities and social media. Participants asked to stop any harassing behavior are expected to comply immediately. Conference participants violating this Code of Conduct may be expelled from the conference without a refund, and/or banned from future O’Reilly events, at the discretion of O’Reilly Media.

Persons happily attend O’Reilly conferences under this code of conduct. Persons also happily live under totalitarian governments. One should aspire to be under much more liberal rules, or at least to enjoy the communicative liberty that persons did in medieval Byzantium.

While Byzantium had a nominally all-powerful emperor and state-institutionalized Christianity, public discourse in Byzantium encompassed harsh, wide-ranging invective. For example, in Byzantium about a millennium ago, the low-ranking government bureaucrat and poet Constantine of Rhodes attacked the high official Leo Choerosphactes. Constantine did that with a twenty-four verse Greek poem. Each verse of the poem consists primarily of one compound insult word. Some characteristic verses in fairly literal translation:

you flask-in-gullet-pint-mouth-gaping-gulper
you harlot-whore-lewd-beggar-shirt-lifter
you pagan-creed-and-Christ-blaspheming-type
you bride-gift-gnawing-dowry-money-waster
acts unspeakable-nightly-darkness-worker
you gravesite-corpses-robbing-clothes-despoiler

{ λαρρυγγοφλασκοξεστοχανδοεκπóτα
και ψευδομυθοσαθροπλασματοπλóκε
και παντοτολμοψευδομηχανοῤῥáφε
και τρωκτοφερνοπροικοχρηματοφθóρε
και νεκροτυμβοκλεπτολωποεκδύτα } [3]

In the fourteenth-century Byzantine work An Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds, a wolf publicly disparaged a bear:

You honey-munching, loathsome, squinting dirtbag,
who never dares look up! You cross-eyed, stump-legged
mere toy for foolish gypsies to make sport with,
you who subsist on acorns and on pears
and feeds on myrtle and arbutus berries! [4]

A rat called a cat a “shameful, filthy, flour-shitter.” A deer attacked a boar as “a gross-toothed beast brought up in dung.” An elephant screamed at a monkey to get off the speaker’s stage:

Get out, you utter filth, you skeleton,
you offscouring! You louse-munching, nit-nibbling,
disgusting dirt-face who eats bugs, flies, fleas,
and all the other tiny filthy beasts!
Get off the stage, before you foul us all up!

The invective among animals in this poem seems to be modeled on that among humans in fourteenth-century Byzantium. If anyone spoke like that to a conference speaker today, most likely armed men would come and forcibly remove him from the room.

Disparaging persons as non-human animals has been a common tactic in human communication throughout history. A leading authority on fictional literature about animals noted:

humanizing animals and animalizing human beings have long been mainstays of many adult insults and jokes, especially ones concerned with class and ethnic struggles. [5]

Punishing dehumanizing speech allegedly to support freedom of speech implies illiberality and repressiveness that’s historically extreme. That’s especially true when “dehumanizing speech” is interpreted vaguely, abstractly, and ideologically. Taking seriously proposals for such speech control indicates massive educational failure.

Diversity of viewpoints, vigorous dissent, and harsh invective are vital to maintaining humane, liberal society. A New York University Vice Provost who acted like an intellectual thug in making mendacious claims about “dehumanizing” words is worse than a louse-munching, nit-nibbling, disgusting dirt-faced monkey. University of Sidney Student Union officials who disallowed showing of the men’s human rights film The Red Pill are loathsome, cross-eyed dirtbags. So too are cinema managers in Australia who, under pressure from anti-meninists, canceled sold-out showings of that film. Such persons encourage shouting down unliked speakers and physically assaulting them. They direct public life toward vicious gang warfare. Communicative codes of conduct for many conferences and online communities are part of that same shameful fascist tradition.

Defend freedom of speech by peacefully, bravely, and wisely practicing it.

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[1] From the Python Software Foundation’s Code of Conduct for the PyCon (conference) in 2016 in Portland, OR. With this communicative code of conduct, the twenty-first-century U.S. West Coast is similar to seventeenth-century Puritan New England.

[2] From the Code of Conduct for O’Reilly conferences, as is the subsequent quote. In actual practice, if a woman complains that a man has said or shown something that has offended her, penile officials are likely to spring into punitive action. The man will face considerable risk of social mobbing and being symbolically tarred and feathered. I find the O’Reilly Code of Conduct to be offensive and harassing. Of course, men’s welfare is of relatively little concern. Concern for making communities safe from offensive communication tends to make them unsafe for those historical targeted for real, authoritative punishment — men.

[3] Nicholas & Baloglou (2003) Introduction, pp. 91-2. In twelfth-century Byzantium, leading intellectual Michael Psellos composed 321 lines of versified invective disparaging a monk named Sabbaites. Psellos’s poem to the monk began:

To hell with you, you poisonous snake,
you sea of evils, you flood

Cited in Walker (2004) p. 70. To a monk named Jacob, Psellos composed an eight-part pseudo-canon “portraying Jacob as a gluttonous drunk who, among other things, squeezes wine directly from the fermented mash down his throat to his distended gut.” Id. Leading twelfth-century Byzantine intellectual Theodore Prodromos also dehumanized others:

Theodore Prodromos’s Philoplaton or the Tanner of Leather compares a fellow scholar who intends to “improve” on the works of Plato to “a pig with a brilliant jewel dangling from its snout… a monkey with a golden slingshot in its hands” — this straw Praxiteles, his skin full of filth and hands marked by calluses and cuts, should return to his manual occupations instead of swallowing Plato’s works in their entirety.

Garland (2007) p. 186 (obvious typo corrected).

[4] An Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds ll. 844-47, from Greek trans. Nicholas & Baloglou (2003) p. 205. Subsequent quotes are from id. l. 159, p. 169 (shameful, filthy, flour-shitter); l. 425, p. 183 (gross-toothed beast brought up in dung); ll. 971-5, p. 213 (Get out, you utter filth…).

[5] Ziolkowski (1993) p. 7.

[image] Elephant and monkey arguing. Illumination from manuscript of An Entertaining Tale of Quadrupeds, Constantinopolitan Graecus Seraglio 35 (folio 65v). This manuscript was written in 1461 in Venetian Negroponte (Euboea). Nicholas & Baloglou (2003) p. 98. Under the expert and influential legal understanding of Wikimedia Commons, this image is in the public domain in the U.S.


Garland, Lynda. 2007. “Mazaris’s Journey to Hades: Further Reflections and Reappraisal.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 61: 183-214.

Nicholas, Nick, and George Baloglou, ed. and trans. 2003. An entertaining tale of quadrupeds. New York: Columbia University Press.

Walker, Jeffrey. 2004. “These Things I Have Not Betrayed: Michael Psellos’ Encomium of His Mother as a Defense of Rhetoric.” Rhetorica. 22 (1): 49-101.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1993. Talking animals: medieval Latin beast poetry, 750-1150. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Psellos supported gender equality in eleventh-century Byzantium

Byazantine Empress Theodora (d. 548)

Achieving gender equality today is vital for ensuring that every woman and man reaches her full potential. Yet gender equality has long been of acute concern. In eleventh-century Byzantium, the highly influential political counselor and intellectual Michael Psellos identified as a woman.[1] With his keen understanding of gender advantage, Psellos also strongly advocated for gender equality.

Psellos credited his mother with his advocacy for gender equality. Probably many years after she died and at a time when he was in serious political difficulties, Psellos wrote and disseminated a long and influential encomium for his mother Theodote. In this encomium, Psellos declared of his mother:

She became an ornament to her kind and a paragon of virtue for those who came afterwards. She passed judgment from both sides on the feminine and the masculine and did not give one gender the advantage, leaving the other with an inferior lot — that would be a sign of a thoughtless arbiter and a careless arbitration — but granted equal measure to both. And if the two genders differ in the tenor of their bodies, nevertheless they possess reason equally and indistinguishably [2]

Theodote was socially recognized as a model for proper behavior: “an ornament to her kind and a paragon of virtue for those who came afterwards.”  Her son’s parenthetical comment, “that would be a sign of a thoughtless arbiter and a careless arbitration,” indicates his own strong support for gender equality. A subtle rhetorician, Theodote’s son implied a troubling question. In the Byzantium of his time, did most women (and men) follow Theodote’s example in supporting gender equality?

Theodote herself sought to obscure her position of superiority. Her son described her as dominating all others:

{she} showed herself to be more resilient than the other portion of our species, prevailing over all men and women, over the latter by her incomparability and over the former by her superiority. … That which in others is added to the awkwardness and roughness of character, I mean being inaccessible or difficult to approach, and which discourages one from drawing near, that was given to her by the superiority of her own virtue. In short, it was not only the majority of people who feared her and held her in awe, but also her own parents, and this even in the depths of their old age, as though they were paying their respects to a superior nature which they revered and regarded as a living law. … if they did something wrong and it escaped their notice, they took care lest she discover the event.

Like many women through the ages, Theodote was a strong, independent woman who dominated the persons around her, including her father. Most historians, who have been men, haven’t acknowledged such dominance.

Theodote dominated her husband under the contrived appearance of being subordinate to him. Theodote’s son described his mother’s husband, whose name isn’t known, as a simple, mild, easy-going man. To understand his relationship to Theodote, one must perceptively interpret her son’s doubled descriptions:

To my father she was not only a helpmate and an aide, in accordance with divine decree, but also a prime agent and discoverer of the most noble things.

In other words, she told him what to do and thus ennobled him.

She arranged for my father to be dedicated to God {sent to a monastery} before her, yet again granting him precedence even in matters concerning the other life.

In other words, she sent her husband to a monastery to get him out of her life.

Now in the case of my father, whose family could trace its descent from consuls and patrikioi {highest patricians}, matters were not arranged in so fitting a manner. If one were to place him and my mother on one side of the scales and the rest of his family on the other, he would win by far thanks to the weight of my mother, but in other respects he would fall short of them.

As always, all the credit for a man’s life belongs to his wife. Theodote’s son described her as explicitly acting to obscure her superiority and dominance in relation to her husband:

on account of the equability of his soul everyone felt confident in approaching and speaking to him {Theodote’s husband} and not a single person feared to do so. Only my mother, on account of the sublimity of her virtue, did not associate and converse with him on an equal level, but as though she were inferior to him. It was only in this respect that she maintained an incongruity between them and did not speak to him in a manner according to his nature, since she did not seek to conform to his character, but rather to the ancient commandment. [3]

Theodote, not surprisingly, only reluctantly had sex with her husband. More generally, make-believe about gender equality has caused enormous harm. Many today do not recognize the wide range of injustices associated with the actual social and political subordination of men to women.

Actual, fundamental political power occasionally becomes visible. Michael Psellos’s Chronographia states:

The {Byzantine} empire passed to the two sisters {Zoe and Theodora} and then, for the first time in our generation, one saw the woman’s quarters transformed into an imperial council chamber. One saw both the civilian and military factions agree under the supervision of the empresses {Zoe and Theodora} and obeying them more than if a strong man were seated before them and had given strict orders. [4]

With women as the sole rulers of the Byzantine Empire, women’s rule at the political pinnacle of society was no longer obscured behind men. The empresses Zoe and Theodora soon resolved to choose a man to serve as emperor for them. That formal change signified little to the knowing. Michael Psellos owed his long political prominence to his close association with powerful women of the Byzantine royal women’s quarters.[5] He advocated for gender equality with a keen sense for women’s actual power.

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[1] Sewter insightfully observed:

The two predominating passions of Psellus’s life were to get on in the world and to promote scholarship and learning.

Sewter (1953) Introduction, pp. 2-3.

[2] Michael Psellos, Encomium for his mother 25(b), from Greek trans. Kaldellis (2006) p. 96. Subsequent quotes from the Encomium are from id.:  7(b), p. 64 ({she} showed herself…); 8(c), p. 66 (That which in others…); 9(a), p. 67 (To my father she was not only…); 16(d), p. 80 (She arranged for my father…); 4(b), p. 57 (Now in the case of my father…); 9(d), p. 68 (on account of the equability of his soul…). On Theodote’s husband being simple, mild, and easy-going, 9(a)-(d), pp. 67-8.

Psellos described his mother’s parents as having a gender-egalitarian marriage:

Each of her parents had known only the other; through one another, as though they were most familiar examples, they regulated their lives toward the good, at the same time shaping and being shaped, being archetypes to one another and models for emulation. What is even more marvelous is that they receive what they give and straightway give what they receive.

Encomium 2(a), trans. id. p. 53.

[3] “Ancient commandment” refers to Ephesians 5:22-4, which should be interpreted in its biblical and experiential context.

[4] Michael Psellos, Chronographia 6.1, relevant text from Greek trans. Lauritzen (2007) p. 252. Id. also provides the Greek text. Sewter (1953), p. 113, is a less accurate translation. Zoe and her sister Theodora became empresses in 1042.

[5] Lauritzen (2007). Herrin (2001) provides a popular history of the careers of three Byzantine empresses between 780 and 856: Irene, Euphrosyne, and Theodora. Id. provides persuasive evidence of gynocentric domination through to the present.

[image] Mosaic depicting Byzantine Empress Theodora (reigned 527-548 GC). In the Basilica of San Vitale (built A.D. 547), Italy. Photo thanks to Petar Milošević and Wikimedia Commons.


Herrin, Judith. 2001. Women in purple: rulers of Medieval Byzantium. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Kaldellis, Anthony, ed. and trans. 2006. Mothers and sons, fathers and daughters: the Byzantine family of Michael Psellos. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.

Lauritzen, Frederick. 2007. “A Courtier in the Women’s Quarters: The Rise and Fall of Psellos.” Byzantion; Revue Internationale Des Études Byzantines. 77: 251-266.

Sewter, E. R. A., trans. 1953. The Chronographia of Michael Psellus. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

grateful cuckold: emperor accepted cuckolding for foot massage in bed

John III Doukas Vatatzes, Emperor of Nicaea

Men today endure institutionalized cuckolding through paternity establishment proceedings that systematically employ undue influence, mis-representation, and mis-service. Historically, some couples have responded to social support for cuckolding by establishing home-based cuckolding businesses. Other men have sought consolation in other ways. After his wife Empress Zoe fell in love with a charming young man named Michael, Byzantine Emperor Romanos III arranged for Michael to have official access to the imperial bedroom in exchange for Michael giving him foot massages in bed.

With his outstanding masculine beauty, Michael enchanted the Empress Zoe at first sight. Michael was:

a finely proportioned young man, with the fair bloom of youth in his face, as fresh as a flower, clear-eyed, and in very truth red-cheeked. [1]

Michael’s brother was a eunuch who had risen to high royal office. Through his eunuch-brother’s scheming, Michael appeared before the Emperor and Empress. The Empress Zoe was immediately smitten with him:

Her eyes burning with a fire as dazzling as the young man’s beauty, she at once fell victim to his charm, and from some mystic union between them she conceived a love for him. … Zoe could neither regard the young man with philosophic detachment, nor control her desires. Consequently, though in the past she had more than once shown her dislike for the eunuch, she now approached him frequently. Her conversations would begin with reference to some extraneous matter, and then, as if by way of digression, she would end with some remark about his brother. Let him be bold, she said, and visit her whenever he wished.

Like many men, Michael was slow to perceive romantic intrigue:

The young man, so far knowing nothing of the empress’s secret, supposed the invitation was due to her kindness of heart, and he accepted it, although in a modest and timorous fashion. This bashful reserve, however, only made him the more dazzling. His face, suffused with blushes, shone with a glorious colour. She eased his fear, smiling gently upon him and forgetting her usual grim arrogance. She hinted at love, tried to encourage him, and when she proceeded to give her beloved manifest opportunities to make love on his part, he set himself to answer her desire, not with any real confidence at first

Zoe was fifty-four years old, three decades older than Michael. Men tend to prefer young, beautiful, warmly receptive women. Yet Zoe offered Michael intimate access to great political power. He ultimately acted in love to serve his political interests:

Suddenly he threw his arms about her, kissing her and touching her hand and neck, as his brother had taught him he should do. She clung to him all the closer. Her kisses became more passionate, she truly loving him, he in no way desiring her (for she was past the age for love), but thinking in his heart of the glory that power would bring him. For this he was prepared to dare anything, and bear it with patience. [2]

He went on to have sex with her frequently. Lacking other good opportunities for advancement, many men will have sex with an old woman if she in return will greatly advance their careers.

Empress Zoe

Zoe and Michael’s affair became widely known in the Byzantine palace. They made little effort to conceal it. Zoe dressed Michael in royal finery. Moreover, several courtiers discovered them sleeping together. Michael Psellos, a contemporary who later wrote a history of Byzantine emperors, observed:

That she should adorn him, as if he were some statue, cover him with gold, make him resplendent with rings and garments of woven gold cloth, I do not regard as anything remarkable, for what would an empress not provide for her beloved?

In private, Zoe went even further in her devotion to the young man:

she, unknown to the world, sometimes went so far as to seat him, turn by turn with herself, on the imperial throne, to put in his hand a sceptre; and on one occasion even deemed him worthy of a crown. Thereupon she would throw her arms about him all over again, calling him her “idol,” “the delight of her eyes,” “the flower of beauty,” “the comfort of her soul.”

Zoe not only was cuckolding her husband, she also was contemplating killing him and establishing her lover as the new emperor.

Emperor Romanos willfully disregarded the serious implications of his wife’s behavior. Everyone in the palace knew what was going on. Romanos, however, had extraordinarily weak perception of reality and a strong will not to believe:

Romanos was so completely blind. However, when the flash of the lightning and the roar of the thunder did eventually play round his eyes and deafen his ears, when he himself saw some things going on and heard of others, even then, as if he preferred to be blind and deaf, he closed his eyes again and refused to listen.

Romanos eventually faced his marital situation. He sought to make the best of it:

many a time when he was sleeping with the empress and she, clothed in some garment of purple, was waiting for him to lie down on their couch, he would call for Michael, bidding him come alone, and order him to touch and massage his feet. In fact, he made him servant of the bedchamber, and in order that the young man might do this office, deliberately abandoned his wife to him. [3]

Confronted with being cuckolded, no less than a Byzantine emperor acquiesced in exchange merely for foot massages in bed.

Subsequent events were personally and politically disastrous. Zoe apparently poisoned her husband, the Byzantine Emperor Romanos III. She then installed her lover Michael as the new Byzantine emperor. Shortly thereafter, Michael began to fear her and hate her. He ceased having sex with her and essentially imposed house arrest on her. As for the Byzantine Empire, “what had taken place was, in reality, the beginning of mighty disasters in the future.”[4]

If not to preserve their own dignity, men for the sake of their country should not accept foot massages in bed in exchange for being cuckolded.

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[1] Michael Psellos, Chronographia 3.18, excerpt, from Greek trans. Sewter (1953) p. 49. Subsequent quotes are from id. 3.18-21, id. pp. 49-51.

[2] On Zoe and Michael’s ages, Garland (1996) pp. 23-4. Smythe disparaged Michael’s sexual preference:

This is a clear statement of misogynistic, if not patriarchal, attitudes.
Because of her age, Zoë is assumed to be “past it”.

Smythe (1992) p. 137. Disparagement of men’s heterosexuality can be traced back to the ancient Greeks. Claims of misogyny have developed much more recently to buttress the myth of patriarchy.

[3] The twelfth-century Byzantine historian John Zonaras suggests that Michael took such opportunities to massage Zoe’s feet as well. Garland (1996) p. 24. With free access to the imperial bedchamber, Michael could also freely have more extensively carnal relations with Zoe.

[4] Chronographia 4.24, trans Sewter (1953) p. 68. This quote expresses a general theme of the Chronographia. Michael became the Byzantine emperor known as Michael IV the Paphlagonian.

[images] (1) John III Doukas Vatatzes, Emperor of Nicaea (1222–1254), which had been part of Byzantium. Illumination from 15th-century manuscript of the history of John Zonaras, Mutinensis gr.122, f.294r, Biblioteca Estense Universitaria, Modena. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons. (2) Zoe, detail of The Empress Zoe mosaics (11th-century) in Hagia Sophia (Istanbul, Turkey). Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Garland, Lynda. 1996. “‘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.

Sewter, E. R. A., trans. 1953. The Chronographia of Michael Psellus. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Smythe, Dion Clive. 1992. “Byzantine perceptions of the outsider in the eleventh and twelfth centuries: a method.” Ph.D. Thesis, University of St. Andrews, Scotland.

Erec testing Enide: the ultimate reverse shit-test

rhinoceras drawing

“Do I look fat?”

“No, no, you don’t look fat. You’re just b..b…beautiful!”

“You always say that. Tell me the truth.”

Now what do you say? Most men have faced these sort of tests. Experts in the applied literary art of seduction call these tests “shit-tests.” A woman throws crap at a man to test his manliness. Many men today handle such crap clumsily and earn women’s contempt.

Men typically don’t shit-test women. If a woman continually, annoyingly nags a rough, crude, unlearned man — a man who hasn’t studied medieval literature — he might turn to her, look her straight in the eyes, and say, “Shut the fuck up.” He would then slowly and deliberately turn back to cleaning and lubricating his power tools. Most men, especially today, aren’t like that.

To learn how to handle shit-tests with sophistication and success, men should read closely and ponder deeply Chrétien de Troyes’s medieval masterpiece Erec et Enide. Colossal misunderstanding of Chrétien de Troyes’s romances across centuries has promoted the love-destroying, men-abasing ideology of courtly love. Erec et Enide, truly understood, is an astonishing twelfth-century challenge to social currents then sweeping away the traditional, humane understanding of chivalry. Chided for his dedication to traditional chivalry after marrying Enide, Erec constructed a brilliantly sophisticated shit-test for Enide. Passing through the ordeal of this shit-test gained for them enduring, true love.

After their large, lavish wedding, Erec and Enide settled into a life of conjugal love. Erec as a husband stopped serving in wars and participating in sports. He even stopped watching sports. Erec focused on loving his wife:

All he wanted was his wife,
who’d become both lover and friend.
Every waking moment
went into hugging and kissing.
He needed nothing else.

{ a sa fame volt dosnoier,
si an fist s’amie et sa drue;
en li a mise s’antendue,
en acoler et an beisier;
ne se quierent d’el aeisier. }[1]

Erec’s men friends lamented that he no longer served in the army with them, nor spent much time with them in other activities. Some said that Erec had gotten lazy. Bitters spinsters spread rumors that Erec was fighting with Enide rather than engaging in violence against foreign men-enemies. In short, society disparaged Erec for his dedication to traditional chivalry.

Enide was upset about her husband’s loss of social status. She wanted him to be honored and respected as he was before they married. Erec’s husbandly dedication to having sex with her caused her to lose sleep:

In bed, where they’d taken great pleasure,
wrapped in each other’s arms,
their lips together, lovers
sharing and delighting in love,
Erec slept. Enide didn’t,
remembering words she’d heard
spoken, up and down
the land, about her lord.
And the memory made her weep
in spite of herself. She could
not stop. Indeed, those words
so weighed on her mind that, as luck
would have it, her lips murmured
a few, intending no harm,
and certainly not what happened.

{ la ou il jurent an .i. lit,
qu’il orent eü maint delit;
boche a boche antre braz gisoient,
come cil qui mout s’antreamoient.
Cil dormi et cele veilla;
de la parole li manbra
que disoient de son seignor
par la contree li plusor.
Quant il l’an prist a sovenir,
de plorer ne se pot tenir;
tel duel en ot et tel pesance
qu’il li avint par mescheance
qu’ele dist lors une parole
dom ele se tint puis por fole;
mes ele n’i pansoit nul mal. }

Enide’s tears and words awakened Erec. He said to her:

My love, my dear, my sweet,
tell me what’s caused these tears.
What’s made you so angry? So sad?
I need to know, my beloved.
So tell me, my sweet, tell me.
Don’t keep such sorrow secret.

{ Dites moi, dolce amie chiere,
por coi plorez an tel meniere?
De coi avez ire ne duel?
Certes, je le savrai, mon vuel.
Dites le moi, ma dolce amie,
gardez nel me celez vos mie }

Enide denied everything. She claimed that Erec had dreamed that she was crying and speaking of him lacking interest in engaging in violence against men. Erec refused to accept his wife’s lying:

Now you’re feeding me lies.
I know you’re lying. I can hear it,
and you’ll be terribly sorry
later, unless you admit it.

{ Or me servez vos de mançonges:
apertemant vos oi mantir;
mes tart vandroiz au repantir
se voir ne me reconuissiez. }

Enide confessed that she had lied. Then she told him the truth:

Everyone — blonde, brunet,
and redhead — declares you’ve damaged
your name by laying down
your arms. Your reputation,
your name, have tumbled to the ground.
Last year, all year, they all
were saying no one knew
a better knight, or a braver.
No one alive was your equal.
Now you’re a joke: young
and old, short and tall,
call you a coward, a traitor.
Was it possible not to be pained,
hearing my lord despised?

{ li blonc et li mor et li ros,
que granz domages est de vos
que voz armes antrelessiez.
Vostre pris est mout abessiez:
tuit soloient dire l’autre an
qu’an tot le mont ne savoit l’an
meillor chevalier ne plus preu;
vostres parauz n’estoit nul leu.
Or se vont tuit de vos gabant,
juesne et chenu, petit et grant;
recreant vos apelent tuit.
Cuidiez vos qu’il ne m’an enuit
quant j’oi dire de vos despit? }

Erec not exposing himself to serious risk of bodily harm hurt Enide greatly:

Their words pressed on my heart —
and all the more because
they laid the blame on me.
That was deeply painful —
everyone saying I
was the only cause, I
had taken you captive, I
had stolen your strength away
and left you thinking of nothing
but me.

{ Mout me poise quant an l’an dit
et por ce m’an poise ancor plus
qu’il m’an metent le blasme sus;
blasmee an sui, ce poise moi,
et dïent tuit reison por coi,
car si vos ai lacié et pris
que vos an perdez vostre pris
ne ne querez a el antandre. }

What does it matter if others disparage him for giving up violence against men and turning to vigorously loving his wife? They’re vicious, jealous idiots. Let them fight their own battles and wallow in their lovelessness. They should be ignored.[2]

Enide, however, viewed the matter according to ideology that has oppressed men throughout the ages. Men must seek and retain social status in gynocentric, men-killing society. Enide instructed Erec:

Consider, now,
how best to efface this slander
and restore your good name, for I’ve heard
terrible things said
and never dared to tell you.
Often, remembering those words,
I could barely keep from crying.

{ Or vos an estuet consoil prandre,
que vos puissiez ce blasme estaindre
et vostre premier los ataindre,
car trop vos ai oï blasmer.
Onques nel vos osai mostrer;
sovantes foiz, quant m’an sovient,
d’angoisse plorer me covient }

When a woman cries, weak men will do whatever she wants them to do. Erec was a smart, savvy man, righteously pissed off at his wife’s ridiculous status-seeking. He prepared for her a complex, arduous shit-test — a shit-test far greater than all the shit-tests that all the women throughout the ages have flung at their men.

Erec resolved to set off on a long journey. He gave Enide the choice to come with him, or not, as she wished. She chose to go with him. Erec dressed in full armor and gathered his weapons, but refused his fellow knights’ pleas to accompany him to lessen the danger. He told Enide to put on her best dress and mount her finest horse. Enide, pale and weeping and worried about what was to come, dallied in getting dressed. Through a servant, Erec sent her a stern message:

“Valet,” he said, “go, run quickly
to the chamber by the tower,
where my wife is. Go, and tell her
I’ve waited too long here.
She’s had enough time to get dressed.
Tell her to come and mount
her horse. I’m waiting.”

{ Vaslez, fet il, va tost et cor
an la chanbre delez la tor
ou ma fame est. Va, se li di
que trop me fet demorer ci,
trop a mis a li atorner.
Di li qu’el veigne tost monter,
que ge l’atant. }

When Enide was finally ready, they departed on a dangerous journey.

Erec gave Enide puzzling instructions. He told her to ride out in front of him in the middle of the road. Doing that, she was sure to attract the attention of brigands and enemy knights. Yet Erec told her:

“Ride rapidly,” he said,
“and be careful,
whatever you see, say
not a word. Speak
to me only if
and when I speak to you.”

{ Alez, fet il, grant aleüre,
et gardez ne soiez tant ose
que, se vos veez nule chose,
ne me dites ne ce ne quoi;
tenez vos de parler a moi,
se ge ne vos aresne avant. }

What if she saw some danger approaching? How could she say nothing? That could mean death for her and him!

Three armed knights who lived by robbing saw them. The robbers sought their horses and their expensive furnishings. One, particularly eager for plunder, charged forward:

Seeing the thieves, Enide
was seized with terrible fear:
“My God!” she thought. “Should I speak?
They’ll kill or capture my lord,
they being three and he
alone. It isn’t fair
for a single knight to fight three
at once. And that one’s attacking,
although my lord can’t see him.
Lord! Can I sit and say nothing?
Am I such an utter coward?
No, I can’t do it,
I have to warn him, that can’t
be wrong.”

{ Enyde vit les robeors;
mout l’an est prise granz peors.
Dex, fet ele, que porrai dire?
Or iert ja morz ou pris mes sire,
car cil sont troi et il est seus;
n’est pas a droit partiz li jeus
d’un chevalier ancontre trois.
Cil le ferra ja demenois,
que mes sires ne s’an prant garde.
Dex! serai je donc si coarde
que dire ne li oserai?
Ja si coarde ne serai;
jel li dirai, nel leirai pas. }

Enide thus warned her husband of their immediate, mortal peril. Erec harshly criticized his wife for her words:

“What?” said Erec. “What?
Do you think so little of me?
How bold you’ve become, breaking
my prohibition, defying
the command I solemnly gave you.
Well, I’ll pardon you once.
But let it happen again
and there’ll be no pardon. I warn you.”

{ Cui? fet Erec, qu’avez vos dit?
Or me prisiez vos trop petit.
Trop avez fet grant hardemant,
qui avez mon comandemant
et ma desfanse trespassee.
Ceste foiz vos iert pardonee,
mes s’autre foiz vos avenoit,
ja pardoné ne vos seroit. }

Erec then turned and drove his spear into the attacking knight and killed him. Erec killed the second man and wounded the third after chasing after him. He then returned to his wife:

And he warned her, fiercely, not
to disobey him, but hold
her tongue, speaking no word
whatever without his permission.

{ et mout la prist a menacier
qu’ele ne soit plus si hardie
c’un seul mot de la boche die
se il ne l’an done congié. }

That’s a terrifying shit-test. How could Enide pass it?

A little while later, five knights attacked Enide and Erec. Erec pretended not to see them coming. Enide was perplexed and scared:

Misery! What can I do?
What can I say? My lord
has warned me not to make him
angry by speaking a single
word, no matter what.
And yet, if they kill my lord,
there’ll be no one and nothing to help me.
I’ll be as good as dead.

{ Lasse, fet ele, que ferai?
Ne sai que die ne que face,
que mes sires mout me menace
et dit qu’il me fera enui
se je de rien paroil a lui.
Mes se mes sires ert ci morz,
de moi ne seroit nus conforz,
morte seroie et malbaillie. }

For Enide, the issue ultimately was all about her. She continued in her thoughts:

Oh God! My lord sees nothing.
Why are you waiting, idiot?
Why worry about that promise?
It’s been so long since I said
a thing! And surely these men
mean to do him harm.
Lord, how can I tell him?
He’ll kill me. Then let him kill me!
How can I keep from telling him?

{ Dex! mes sire ne le voit mie;
qu’atant je dons, malveise fole?
Trop ai or chiere ma parole
quant je ne li ai dit pieç’a.
Bien sai que cil qui vienent ça
sont de mal faire ancoragié.
Ha! Dex, comant li dirai gié?
Il m’ocirra. Asez m’ocie!
ne leirai que je ne li die. }

Medieval literature of men’s sexed protest tells of men’s concerns about women failing to keep secrets. Five knights attacking Enide and Erec was no secret. Enide, in mortal danger, couldn’t resist speaking of it:

So she said, softly, “My lord!”
“What? What do you want?”
“Have mercy, my lord! It’s just
that five bold men have ridden
out of the forest, and they frighten me.
I’ve watched them coming and I’m sure
they propose to pick a fight
with you. Four have hung back,
and the fifth one’s coming toward you
as fast as his horse can carry him.
He’ll be here any minute.
And those four who stayed behind
are still so very close.
They could all help if they had to.”

{ Lors l’apele dolcemant: “Sire.
— Cui? fet il, que volez vos dire?
— Sire, merci! dire vos vuel
que desbunchié sont de ce bruel
.v. chevalier, don je m’esmai.
Bien pans et aparceü ai
qu’il se voelent a vos conbatre;
arrieres sont remés li quatre,
et li cinquiesmes a vos muet
tant con chevax porter le puet;
ne gart l’ore que il vos fiere;
li catre sont remés arriere,
mes ne sont gaires de ci loing:
tuit le secorront au besoing.” }

In response, Erec criticized his wife Enide. He even told her that he hated her:

You’ve done wrong,
breaking once again
the silence I laid upon you.
I’ve always known you thought me
worth remarkably little.
You’ll win no thanks from me,
giving such warnings. Listen,
and understand: I hate you.

{ Mar le pansastes,
que ma parole trespassastes,
ce que desfandu vos avoie;
et neporquant tres bien savoie
que gueres ne me priseiez.
Cest servise mal anpleiez,
que ge ne vos an sai nul gré;
bien sachiez que ge vos an hé }

He continued:

I’ve told you before, and I tell you
once more. I’ll pardon you
again, but next time watch out.
Stop looking at me. It makes you
act like a fool, because
I loathe the words you speak.

{ dit le vos ai et di ancore.
Ancor le vos pardonrai ore,
mes autre foiz vos an gardez
ne ja vers moi ne regardez,
que vos feriez mout que fole,
car je n’aim pas vostre parole. }

Erec calmly killed four of the attacking men and left the fifth face down in the dirt. He then angrily told his wife to “hold her tongue or live to regret it {de parler a lui se taigne, / que max ou enuiz ne l’an vaigne}.”

This sort of shit-testing played out two more times, but the final battle was different. A dwarf knight gravely injured Erec in a brutal, drawn-out man-to-man battle. Before she went with Erec on their journey, Enide lamented:

What a fool
I am! Life was too good.
I had whatever I wanted.
Ah me! What made me so bold
that I spoke such insane words?
My God! Could my husband be too much
in love? Yes. He is.
So now he’ll send me away!
But not seeing my lord,
who loved me better than anyone
else in the world, will be
the worst pain of all.
The best man ever
born was so caught up
with me that he cared for no one
else. Nothing was missing —
a happiness more than complete —
until pride welled up, and pushed me,
And I said such intemperate things.
My pride’s become my punishment,
one I deserve. Suffering
allows you to understand pleasure.

{ Dex! don ne m’amoit trop mes sire?
Par foi, lasse, trop m’amoit il.
Or m’estuet aler an essil;
mes de ce ai ge duel greignor
que ge ne verrai mon seignor,
qui tant m’amoit de grant meniere
que nule rien n’avoit tant chiere.
Li miaudres qui onques fust nez
s’estoit si a moi atornez
que d’autre rien ne li chaloit.
Nule chose ne me failloit,
mout estoie boene eüree;
mes trop m’a orguialz alevee,
quant ge ai dit si grant oltraige;
an mon orguel avrai domaige
et mout est bien droiz que je l’aie:
ne set qu’est biens qui mal n’essaie. }

Now Erec, his body lacerated and bleeding, was suffering terribly. He was nearly dead. Enide then understood:

I’ve killed my lord. My own
folly has killed him. He’d still
be alive — but stupid, arrogant
fool that I am, I spoke
the fatal words that spurred him
to make this journey. No one’s
ever been hurt by a wise
silence, but words do enormous
damage. And oh, I’ve proved this
over and over again.

{ de mon seignor sui omecide,
par ma folie l’ai ocis :
ancor fust or mes sires vis
se ge, come outrageuse et fole,
n’eüsse dite la parole
por coi mes sires ça s’esmut.
Ainz boens teisirs home ne nut,
mes parlests nuist mainte foiee;
ceste chose ai bien essaiee
et esprovee an mainte guise. }

Enide’s words dominate Chrétien de Troyes’s romance Erec et Enide. She has eight interior monologues. Erec has none.[3]

Words mean nothing compared to the marital love of traditional chivalry. Erec shit-tested his wife with words that starkly forbid imperatives of love. Enide repeatedly ignored those words. She could do likewise to words of those who belittled Erec for devotedly loving his wife rather than spending time with war and sports. Erec, in turn, could ignore any of his wife’s words of concern about social status. Both Enide and Erec were awakened to the enlightened wisdom of traditional chivalry. Just as for Menelaus and Helen, all that ultimately mattered was being in bed together.

Chrétien, believing
men should think, and learn,
and use their tongues well,
and teach others, has found
this lovely tale of adventure,
beautifully put together.
It proves beyond a doubt
that no one granted wisdom
and grace by the mercy of God
should ever refuse to share it.

{ Por ce dist Crestiens de Troies
que reisons est que tote voies
doit chascuns panser et antandre
a bien dire et a bien aprandre,
et tret d’un conte d’avanture
une mout bele conjointure
par qu’an puet prover et savoir
que cil ne fet mie savoir
qui s’escience n’abandone
tant con Dex la grasce l’an done. }

In conclusion, just say: “Go ahead, eat a big bowel of ice cream, you need it!”

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Chrétien de Troyes, Erec et Enide ll. 2437-41, Old French text from Kunstmann (2009, English (modified slightly) from Raffel (1997) p. 77. The line numbers are for Raffel’s translation. Those line numbers are close to the line numbers of the Old French text. W. W. Comfort’s English translation (1914) of Erec et Enide is freely available online

Subsequent quotes are similarly sourced. They from Erec et Enide ll. (in Raffel’s translation) 2474-88, p. 79 (In bed…); ll. 2513-18, p. 80 (My love, my dear…); ll. 2534-7, p. 80 (Now you’re feeding me lies…); ll. 2542-55, p. 81 (Everyone…); ll. 2556-65, p. 81 (Their words…); ll. 2565-71, pp. 81-2 (Consider, now…); ll. 2665-8, p. 85 (Tell her I’ve waited…);  ll. 2765-69, p. 88 (Be careful…); ll. 2826-39, p. 90 (Seeing the thieves…); ll. 2844-51, p. 90 (“What?” said Erec…); ll. 2912-15, p. 92 (And {he} warned her…);  ll. 2959-66, p. 94 (Misery! What can I do?…); ll. 2967-75, p. 94 (Oh god!…); ll. 2976-89, pp. 94-5 (So she said…);  ll. 2990-97, p. 95 (You’ve done me wrong…); ll. 2998-3003, p. 95 (I’ve told you before…); ll. 3072-3 (to hold / Her tongue…); ll. 2588-2608, pp. 82-3 (What a fool…); ll. 4598-4607, p. 145 (I’ve killed my lord…); ll. 9-18 (Chrétien, believing…). On Erec giving Enide the choice as to whether to accompany him on the journey, l. 2691, p. 85.

[2] On the eve of the massive, brutal slaughter of men in World War I, Professor Sheldon at Harvard pondered, “Why Does Chrétien’s Erec Treat Enide so Harshly?” Sheldon (1914). As the men-killing horrors of World War I drew near to an end, Professor Ogle at the University of Vermont discerned that the motive for Erec and Enide’s ordeal was Erec’s “sloth.” But Erec overcame his sloth and achieved a “moral awakening”:

Erec and Enide love each as deeply as before, but this love is now no selfish passion making him recreant to his knightly honor, but rather an incentive to brave, unselfish deeds, deeds that may lead to death. … the value of the episode dealing with the life of Erec and Enide in the castle of Penevric, which, as I have noted is a replica of their life in Erec’s own home, and of the Joie de la Cour; taken together these furnish concrete evidence that the moral awakening of the hero is a real awakening, that his love, although as great as before, no longer brings sloth, but acts as an incentive to high endeavor and makes him willing to face deadly peril for the sake of knightly glory.

Ogle (1918) pp. 6, 20. So much for the men-killing battlefields of the Great War. Now let us all praise the Spartan mothers! Professor Nitze at the University of Chicago responded quickly and harshly to Ogle’s claims. Nitze strongly denied that he interpreted Erec et Enide to imply that Erec challenged women’s rule. He emphasize that Enide was innocent of any wrong. She was only “the innocent {emphasis added} cause of her husband’s fall from grace.” Nitze (1919) p. 27. Women prostitutes were similarly innocent of any wrong-doing in pioneering, nineteenth-century social science. None of these early twentieth-century interpretations of Erec et Enide shows any awareness of the traditional, humane understanding of chivalry.

[3] Adhering to the orientation of their early-twentieth-century forefathers, more recent interpretations of Erec et Enide have remained resolutely gynocentric while adding more overt hostility toward men. Ramey declared:

Rather than continuing to insist upon recovering Chrétien as courtly romance writer, it would be instructive to admit the possibility that Chrétien’s work is misogynistic and to focus instead on the economic and social implications of his writing.

Ramey (1993) p. 378. Misogyny is a concept constructed to buttress the myth of patriarchy. In fact, Chrétien de Troyes shows keen appreciation for economic and social reality and the injustices of gender-based domination:

The episode of the Joie de la Cour illustrates in no uncertain terms the disaster which comes from women in power over men. … Chrétien’s response to female power is incontrovertible and entirely negative.

Id. pp. 385-6. Nonetheless, Chrétien’s romances have been widely interpreted to support men’s self-abasement to women under courtly love ideology.

Much recent literary scholarship merely recycles utterly conventional and wholly tedious anti-meninist assertions. E.g. Burrell (1997) on the male gaze and women’s silence. Such scholarship apparently led professors at the University of Michigan to approve a 111-page (body text, double spaced) Ph.D. thesis filled with mind-numbing proposals and claims:

I want to investigate whether it is possible to locate Enide’s agency (and pleasure) in her gaze even though, as Stanbury argues, her gaze is one that is inhibited by her status as a female character within a gendered narrative structure. … This dissertation builds upon the work of feminist medievalists as well as other literary and cultural scholars to argue that sight, and objects that are seen, articulate love relationships between characters in medieval romance, and that seeing is also frequently a locus of resistance to gender norms the texts both establish and refuse to accept.

Human (2010) pp. 15, 19.

[image] Rhinoceros that Sultan Muzafar of Kamboja in India gave to King Emanuel I of Portugal. Drawing by Albrecht Dürer, 1515. British Museum, #SL,5218.161, via Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.


Burrell, Margaret. 1997. “The Specular Heroine: Self-Creation Versus Silence in Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne and Erec et Enide.” Parergon. 15 (1): 83-99.

Human, Julie L. 2010. Looking Back: Medieval French Romance and the Dynamics of Seeing. Ph.D. Thesis. Romance Languages and Literatures, University of Michigan.

Kunstmann, Pierre, ed. 2009. Chrétien de Troyes. Erec et Enide. Ottawa/Nancy, Université d’Ottawa / Laboratoire de français ancien, ATILF, 2009. Publié en ligne par l’ENS de Lyon dans la Base de français médiéval, dernière révision le 16-6-2013.

Nitze, William Albert. 1919. “Erec’s Treatment of Enide.” Romanic Review. 10(1): 26-37.

Ogle, M. B. (Marbury Bladen). 1918. “The Sloth of Erec.” Romanic Review. 9(1): 1-20.

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. 377-386.

Roques, Mario. 1955. Chrétien de Troyes. Les Romans … éd. d’après la copie de Guiot (Bibl. nat. r. 794). 1, 1. Paris: H. Champion.

Sheldon, E. S. (Edward Stevens). 1914. “Why Does Chrétien’s Erec Treat Enide so Harshly?” Romanic Review 5(2): 115-126.