opioid overdose epidemic sex-biased toward men’s deaths

Opioid Overdose Deaths By Sex
(deaths per 100,000 in U.S. in 2015)
age group women’s death rate men’s death rate men / women death ratio
ages 15 to 24 4.7 11.3 2.4
ages 25 to 44 13.5 31.7 2.3
ages 45 to 64 13.4 21.3 1.6
Source: Rudd et al. (2016b), using official data.

The number of persons killing themselves with drug overdoses is rapidly increasing. Drug overdose deaths in the U.S. rose 211% from 1999 to 2015 to a total of about 52,000 drug overdose deaths in 2015.[1] Deaths from drug overdoses number nearly three times greater than homicide deaths.[2] Many persons worry about guns in the hands of others. Drugs that persons put into their own bodies are a far more prevalent cause of death. Persons’ own despair kills them much more often than other persons’ violence does.

A large and rapidly growing category of drug overdose deaths is opioid overdose deaths. From 2014 to 2015, opioid overdose deaths increased 22%. In 2015, about 75% of drug overdose deaths involved an opioid. About a third of opioid overdose deaths involved heroin.[3] Heroin is a drug that’s not legally prescribed for anything. Heroin is a drug for intentional self-destruction.

About twice as many men kill themselves with opioid overdoses as do women. The age pattern in the sex ratio of opioid overdose deaths underscores men’s sexed despair. The sex ratio drops for persons ages 45 and over.[4] Sexual competition decreases considerable as persons age out of midlife. Men’s despair is connected to men’s sexual interests.

A profound cause for men’s despair is lack of public concern about men’s deaths. Men die from violence more than four times more frequently than women do. While the facts of men’s higher violent death rate and lower lifespan are readily available, they are publicly ignored. Underscoring contempt for men’s lives, the U.S government has committed billions of dollars to programs addressing violence against women. No such programs exists for violence against men. Elites proclaim that violence against women is the most pressing human rights problem in the world today. Media reports on the opioid epidemic similarly ignore that the opioid epidemic is sex-biased toward men’s deaths.[5]

Public leaders must address the real reasons for men’s despair. Societies in which a large and increasing number of men are killing themselves are sick societies. Ignoring that problem, and viciously suppressing discussion of injustices against men, makes for an unprecedented age of deceptions and lies.

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[1] Hedegaard, Warner & Miniño (2017), calculated from the data for Figure 1.

[2] Homicide deaths in the U.S. are readily available from the WISQARS system of the U.S. National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC.

[3] Calculated from Tables 1 & 2 in Rudd et al. (2016b). Here’s a spreadsheet showing the details of my calculations and additional data. Rudd (2016a) provides a longer term perspective on opioid overdose deaths.

[4] Calculated from Tables 1 & 2 in Rudd et al. (2016b). See spreadsheet. Men are also more likely to suffer dose escalation and overdose death in clinical use of opioids. See Kaplovitch et al. (2015).

[5] Since 1999, men’s and women’s opioid deaths have risen in tandem, with men’s deaths consistently about twice women’s deaths. Men’s and women’s lives are intimately related. Men’s despair is a primary source of women’s despair.


Hedegaard, Holly; Warner, Margaret; Miniño, Arialdi M. 2017. “Drug overdose deaths in the United States, 1999–2015.” NCHS data brief, no 273 (February). Hyattsville, MD: National Center for Health Statistics.

Kaplovitch, Eric, Tara Gomes, Ximena Camacho, Irfan A. Dhalla, Muhammad M. Mamdani, David N. Juurlink, and Barbara Mintzes. 2015. “Sex Differences in Dose Escalation and Overdose Death during Chronic Opioid Therapy: A Population-Based Cohort Study.” PLOS ONE. 10 (8): e0134550.

Rudd, Rose A.; Aleshire, Noah; Zibbell Jon E.; and Gladden, R. Matthew. 2016a. “Increases in drug and opioid overdose deaths — United States, 2000-2014.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. 64 (50-51): 1378-1382.

Rudd Rose A.; Seth, Puja; David, Felicita; Scholl, Lawrence. 2016b. “Increases in Drug and Opioid-Involved Overdose Deaths — United States, 2010–2015.” Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) 65 (Dec. 30):1445–1452.

Ysengrimus enduringly influenced Christian devotional practice

That is enough,
O Lord,
that is enough.

{ Satis est,
satis est. }

wolf sitting on ice

A ninth-century Jewish text coming from Babylon set out a song of gratitude for Jews to use in celebrating the Passover Seder. The song hypothesizes fifteen gifts of God to the Jews. After each gift is supposed, the persons around the table respond, “דַּיֵּנוּ‎ {Dayenu}!” This response means, “That would have been enough for us.”[1] In mid-twelfth-century Flanders, a Christian cleric incorporated the spirit of the Jewish song into the outrageous Latin beast epic Ysengrimus. Using “That is enough” to express gratitude to God subsequently became an important part of Christian devotional practice.

In the Ysengrimus, a monkish wolf named Ysengrimus is always nearly dying to eat more. Ysengrimus’s treacherous pseudo-nephew Renard the fox counseled him:

I know of ponds, stocked with innumerable fish;
the greater number die in the cramped conditions of the stream.
The fisherman, so that the fish remaining might be able to swim,
agreeably draws in one fish that has been shoved towards him by another.
Nor do I think anyone is better equipped than you
to empty this place crammed with monsters.
Although the recesses of your belly are so abundant and roomy,
if you’re not stuffed full there, you never will be.

{ Piscibus innumeris vivaria subdita novi;
emoritur stricto plurima turba vado.
Piscibus ut reliquis laxetur copia nandi,
gratus ibi hunc illo captor agente trahit.
Nec potior quisquam quam tu michi crederis esse,
tot pressum monstris evacuare locum.
Sit quamuis in ventre tuo tam creber et amplus
angulus, es numquam vel satiandus ibi. } [2]

Ysengrimus cried out with joy at this good news. He immediately renounced eating meat. He urged Renard to take him to the pond as quickly as possible so that he could start catching fish.

Ysengrimus used the phrase “that is enough” to describe his desire for fish. Ysengrimus, a wolf who identified as a monk, disparaged monks’ gluttony:

I say “That is enough”  when I’m sated, while a monk still says, “That is not much.”

{ dico satur “Satis est,” monachus usque “Parum est.” }

Yet Ysengrimus immediately went on to declare his desire for an enormous amount of fish:

Would the weight of a heap protruding eight miles above the clouds
be too much for me if it were placed on my back?
But no, it’s easy for me to carry those that the waters conceal;
I pray that none may swim away until I say, “That is enough.”
If kind Fortune smiles on my attempts,
I’ll drag off enough to be sufficient for me for ten years.

{ Milibus octo super nubes extantis acervi
impositum dorso me superaret onus?
Sed facile est portare michi, quos occulit aequor;
ni dicam “Satis est,” abnatet oro nichil.
Si felix fortuna meis arriserti ausis,
quot michi sufficiant in duo lustra, traham. } [3]

On a winter’s day, Ysengrimus stuck his tail through a hole in the ice covering the pond. Imagining his tail to be a fishing implement, Ysengrimus the wolf sat above the hole like an ice fisherman. He hoped to pull in a large catch of fish.

Ysengrimus unreasonably rationalized being greedy. Reynard advised him to be satisfied with catching small fish:

Take care not to catch salmon or sturgeon or huge pike,
in case you’re immobilized by their excessive size.
Take eels and perch and smaller fish
that for you may be easy to raise, even though a numerous heap.

{ Salmones rumbosque et magnos prendere lupos,
mole supernimia ne teneare, cave;
anguillas percasque tene piscesque minores,
qui tibi sint, quamvis plurima turba, leves. }

Ysengrimus rejected that wisdom. He imagined catching whales:

Keep your opinion to yourself; I’m directed by my own counsel!
By this gray head, if I were as well acquainted with the water
as I am with all the crisscrossing tracks of the woods,
only because I wasn’t yet ready to plunder the waters,
would Jonah lack an avenger up to now.
Shall I prefer a crab to a sturgeon or a dolphin to a whale?
That isn’t what my father did or advised.
The smaller the mouthful, the more unhappily it goes down.
Small portions are the devil’s; full abundance is of God!

So I’ll fish by whatever rule I like.
There’s a certain similarity between the greedy man and God:
the greedy man wants everything, and God has and gives everything.

{ da tibi consilium consule memet agor!
Per caput hoc canum, si tam scius aequoris essem,
quam michi silvarum compita quaeque patent,
sciret, ob hoc quod aquas nondum spoliare paradum,
vindice se Ionas hac caruisse tenus.
Praetulerim rumbo cancrum delfinave ceto?
Non meus hoc fecit consuluitque pater.
Quo buccella michi minor est, hoc tristius intrat;
res brevis est Satanae, copia plena dei.

Ergo ego piscabor, quo michi lege placet.
Proximitas quaedam est inter cupidumque deumque:
cunta cupit cupidus, praebet habetque deus. }

Ysengrimus was very greedy. He even believed that God favored the greedy.

When he first felt ice starting to form around the top of the hole, Ysengrimus should have said “that is enough.” Instead, he waited, hoping to pull in an enormous catch. He subsequently found his tail to be frozen to the ice. He called out to Reynard for help:

If you don’t mind, freeze your step! …
I didn’t think my catch would be so numerous as I feel it to be.
My load of booty holds me back; help me!

All of Scotland is hanging onto my arse.
Eleven times I’ve stuck fast while trying to be freed.
I’m fettered, sitting more firmly than the motionless Alps.

{ Fige gradum sodes! …
Non rebar captos, quantis fore sentio plures,
sarcina me praedae detinet, affer opem!

clunibus impendet Scotia tota meis.
Undecies solvi temptans, immobilis haesi;
alligor, immota firmius Alpe sedens.

Ysengrimus would have given much more than thirty pieces of silver to be free.[4] Even without catching any fish, he should have said “That is enough.” Yet because of his ingratitude and greed, he became another horrifically wounded victim of castration culture.

The witness of Saint Francis Xavier testifies to the enduring influence of the Ysengrimus on Christian devotional practice. In 1534, while a student at the eminent University of Paris, Francis Xavier along with six other students unofficially founded what became the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Francis and the Jesuits were renowned for their scholarly learning and fearless missionary zeal. Francis, who died in 1552, was formally canonized as a saint in 1622. In 1637, his body was placed in a magnificent silver casket. On the top of his casket is a cross and two angels. One of the angels holds a legend that reads:

That is enough,
O Lord,
that is enough.

{ Satis est,
satis est. }

When he felt the spiritual blessings of God, Saint Francis called out these words.[5] They come from the rich cultural stream containing the ancient Jewish Passover song of gratitude and the foolish greed of the wolf-monk Ysengrimus.

“That is enough” are words for everyone to remember. Recall with gratitude the gifts you have been given. Don’t get your ass frozen to ice.

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[1] This Passover song is recorded in a responsum of Amram. Amram was the head (goan) of the Talmud Academy of Sura in Babylon (present-day Iraq) during the ninth century. His resposum is now known as the Seder Rav Amram.

[2] Ysengrimus 1.599-606, Latin and English trans. in Mann (2009) pp. 42-3. To encourage general readers to examine the Latin, I modified Mann’s translation to lineate it to closely track the Latin. I’ve also made the translation more context-sensitive in some instances and made changes to make Latin roots more apparent. Those carefully studying the text should consult Mann’s translation. Subsequent quotes from Ysengrimus, cited by book.line and pages in id., are: 1.644, pp. 46-7 (I say “that is enough”…); 1.659-64, pp. 46-7 (Would the weight of a heap…); 1.677-80, pp. 48-9 (Take care not to catch salmon…); 1.688-96, 714-6, pp. 48-51 (Keep your opinion to yourself…); 1.793, 799-800, 890-2, pp. 56-7, 62-3 (If you don’t mind, freeze…).

[3] The phrase michi sufficiant in duo lustra, traham seems to me to play off sufficit tibi gratia mea of 2 Corinthians 12:9 (Vulgate). Hence I’ve used the translation “I’ll drag off enough to be sufficient for me for ten years” in place of Mann’s “I’ll drag off enough to keep me supplied for ten years.”

[4] Cf. Matthew 27:3. Ysengrimus failing eleven times to be free associates him with Judas, who was unlike the other eleven apostles.

[5] See accounts of the life of St. Francis Xavier, e.g. Russell (1911) p. 185.

[image] Gray wolf sitting on ice. Photo at the Wildlife Science Center in Minnesota on March 28, 2006. Thanks to Derek Bakken, who authored the source photo for this image and made it available on flickr under a Creative Commons By (2.0) license.


Mann, Jill, trans. 2013. Ysengrimus. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Vol. 26. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Russell, Matthew. 1911. Among the blessed; loving thoughts about favourite saints. New York: Longmans, Green.

Byzantine gardener & his cypress: barrenness makes beauty a loss

cypress branch

In a highly unusual twelfth-century Byzantine ethopoeia, a gardener had a fruitful garden. Among its many trees was an apple tree heavy with apples. Along with its burden, the apple tree was beautiful:

lovely, sweet to behold, sweet to eat, and sweet to smell. The apple was beautiful in every way: to see, to eat, to smell. It swayed gracefully and very seductively in the breeze; it made the gardener prosperous because it was sought out and purchased for a high price. If you saw it, you would say that you were looking at an apple tree rendered in a painting, and that Erotes were depicted picking apples and frolicking among the branches; so beautiful were the tree’s apples, that Erotes came to pick them. If you had seen this apple tree, you would have recalled Paris as judge, the goddesses quarreling about their beauty, and an apple being awarded to Aphrodite and bringing the judge abundant returns. [1]

The garden also included fig trees. They were:

sweet-fruited and bore beehives for their fruit, for the gaping fig flowed with honey and all but smiled at onlookers, and whoever was shopping for fruit and saw the fig would buy it, after pronouncing the farmer blessed in his good fortune.

The descriptions of the apple and fig trees allude to sex. The forbidden fruit of Eden was figured as an apple in the Latin-Christian culture and a fig in the Greco-Judaic culture. Erotes in Greek mythology are winged gods associated with love and sex. The word for fig in ancient Greek was also used to refer to a woman’s genitals. In the erotically charged twelfth-century Byzantine novel Hysmine and Hysminias, Hysmine’s mouth producing kisses is figured as a bee-hive yielding honey.[2] Mixed into the sexual imagery are references to commercial transactions. These may allude to men having to labor for love and men having to pay for sex.

This ethopoeia turns on the gardener’s disordered desire. Like the descriptions of the apple and fig trees, the description of the gardener’s desire combines allusion to sexual desire (desiring eyes) with monetary commerce:

when my eyes greedily desired more and more, when my profit-loving character sought what I did not possess, when I believed what I anticipated was better than what I had, I spied a flourishing cypress tree.

In ancient Greek myth, the cypress tree is associated with grief, death, and the underworld. Yet in twelfth-century Byzantium, the cypress also figured bodily beauty. For example, in Hysmine and Hysminias, after Hysmine flirts with Hysminias, he observed:

she thanked me with a gesture, inclining her head slightly in an erotic manner, like a cypress gently swaying in a light breeze. [3]

Hysminias later declared to his beloved Hysmine:

Hysmine, you were to me the high-branching cypress which I planted in the midst of my soul, cherishing it with maidenly dew and all other good things; but a hurricane blasting from Eurykomis tore you up by the roots.

In the Byzantine ethopoeia of the gardener, the cypress tree similarly figures a beautiful woman. The gardener desired a particularly beautiful woman who hadn’t been his.

The gardener transplanted the cypress tree into his garden. Neglecting his other trees, he lavishly cultivated the cypress:

I devoted my full gaze, my whole heart, the entirety of my very soul to this cypress tree alone, preferring some empty hopes to what I already possessed.

The cypress had sexual allure not only in the spring, but through all seasons:

The Zephyr blew quite sweetly and gently in the springtime, and this cypress tree appeared to run riot, like some maiden excited by Love. I was observing the tree’s upward growth; I stood gaping, watching intently. I, the cultivator, was a lover, I, the gardener, a captive of the tree. It was the season of spring: the plants flourished, and the cypress bloomed as well. Spring passed, and blooms were transformed into fruit. But while the others trees bore fruit, the lovely cypress lost its flowers. The winter season arrived; the trees dropped their leaves, cast off completely all their adornment and, as with hair, were shorn of their locks of leaves. But the cypress kept its locks, and in the midst of the meadow it thrived without change. In spring, the cypress flourished; in summer, the cypress thrived; in winter, when plants wither and are as though dead, stricken by the cold, the cypress was still a cypress, fully displaying spring in its leaves and the rest of its growth. I rejoiced as I looked upon the tree; I watched it, with its lofty foliage; I watched it ascending skyward [4]

The perennially beautiful cypress lacked the force of inner beauty:

I waited for the fruit that would be worthy of so many charms. But these were empty hopes, contrary dreams, and now, as in the proverb, I discover my treasures to be ashes. As the fruit of my labors on behalf of the cypress, I harvest my tears, and since I did not pour a libation to Prometheus {Forethought}, I am now intimately joined with Epimetheus {Afterthought}. All of my water went to irrigate the cypress, while the rest of the trees are faint from thirst, have all but wasted away, and accuse their gardener of injustice, because they were not tended like this barren cypress. [5]

This highly unusual Byzantine ethopoeia ends with a moralization:

I have been led astray by the flourishing of the tree; I have been stripped of my vision by its orderly form; I stored away empty hopes because it was so upright, and now, after gratifying my eyes, I have wasted away. If, then, a gardener too, just like the rather simpleminded fishermen, will come to his senses after being struck, I will divert the water to the vegetables, care for the plants, clean out the channels, and tend to the trees that have suffered affliction, having bid farewell to the cypress and its upward growth. Even if it shoots straight upright, even if it is elegant, I will set against this its barrenness and most fittingly utter the maxim, “I would not buy at any price a red-blooded man who hugs mere empty hope for warmth.” [6]

Unlike other, less alluring trees, the beautiful cypress was barren. Perennial beauty is illusory. Beauty that doesn’t bear fruit isn’t profitable. Like the cypress, such beauty is associated with grief and death.

The concluding maxim isn’t unlettered folk wisdom, It’s a quotation from Sophocles’s tragedy Ajax. The great Greek warrior Ajax, deluded by Athena, mistakenly massacred herdsmen and cattle. He then in shame committed suicide and deprived his son of a father. That’s a masculine equivalent of feminine barrenness.

Ajax committing suicide

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[1] Nikephoros Basilakes, Progymnasmata Ethopoeiae 26 (“What a gardener would say when, after tending his garden and transplanting a cypress tree in the hope that it would bear fruit, he was disappointed in his hopes”), from Greek trans. Beneker & Gibson (2016) pp. 315, 317 (Greek on facing pages). Beneker and Gibson observed:

This exercise is unique in this collection for not taking an episode from scripture or classical literature as its theme.

Id. p. 380, note to 26. With its double allegory and concluding moralization that quotes classical tragedy, this ethopoeia is also formally unusual among all surviving ethopoeiae. All quotes above from this ethopoeia are quoted in translation from id. pp. 315-21. I’ve silently made a few minor, insubstantial changes and noted a substantial change in the last line of the concluding quote.

[2] On the fig and the apple as forbidden fruit, Franco Júnior (2006). The ancient Greek word for fig (σῦκον) also indicated female genitalia. See, e.g. Archilochus, Fragments 250, 251, 331, Greek and English trans. in Gerber (1999) pp. 248-9, 292-3. On Hysmine’s mouth as a bee-hive, Eumathios Makrembolites, Hysmine and Hysminias 4.22.2-4, 6.8.1-2, and 10.22.4, from Greek trans. Jeffreys (2012) pp. 208-9, 221-2, 252.

[3] Hysmine and Hysminias 5.10.4, trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 214. The subsequent quote is from Hysmine and Hysminias 10.11.3, id. p. 258. For other uses of the cypress tree in figuring beauty (including men’s beauty), Hysmine and Hysminias 1.4.1, 1.4.3; Drosilla and Charikles 1.42, 1.79, 3.315; Rhodanthe and Dosikles 2.209, 6.293, 7.226.

[4] The reference to the cypress keeping its locks alludes to men’s preference for women with long hair. See my post on Paul and Thecla, note [5] and associated text.

[5] According to Hesiod’s Works and Days, Epimetheus ignored his brother Prometheus’s advice and accepted from the gods a gift of Pandora. She appeared to be a beautiful woman, but brought men hardship and disease. Beneker & Gibson (2016) p. 381. Pandora provides a thematic antecedent to the cypress. Pandora, however is a figure of men’s sexed protest, while the cypress isn’t.

[6] The concluding line in Beneker & Gibson’s translation is:

I would not buy at any price a man who is inspired by empty hopes.

{ Οὐδενὸς λόγου πριαίμην βροτόν, ὅστις κεναῖς ἐλπίσι θερμαίνεται. }

Beneker & Gibson (2016) pp. 320-1. That line quotes Sophocles, Aias (Ajax) 477-8:

Myself, I wouldn’t give a penny for the man
who hugs mere empty hope for warmth.

{ οὐκ ἂν πριαίμην οὐδενὸς λόγου βροτὸν
ὅστις κεναῖσιν ἐλπίσιν θερμαίνεται. }

Greek text from Finglass (2011), p. 96; English trans. Taplin (2015) p. 104. The Greek term βρότος can mean “blood that has run from a wound, gore.” Hence, for that term in Basilakes’s particular context, “red-blooded man” seems to me a better translation than “man.” The translation above for the quote from Sophocles I’ve made drawing from the translations of Beneker & Gibson and Taplin. The reference to buying a man makes sense in Basilakes’s context of love correlated with commercial value.

This ethopoeia also refers to proverbs 2.1 and 2.14 from the collection of Zenobius, a second-century Greek sophist. Beneker & Gibson (2016) p. 381, notes 26.5 and 26.6.

[images] (1) Raindrops on tiny branches of a Leyland cypress tree. Thanks to Czechmate and Wikimedia Commons. (2) The suicide of Ajax. Decoration on a red-figured calyx-krater (wine-bowl) made in Etruria (Italy), c. 400-350 BGC. Held in the British Museum, #1867,0508.1328. Used under CC BY-NC-SA 4.0 license from the British Museum.


Beneker, Jeffrey, and Craig Alan Gibson, ed. and trans. 2016. The rhetorical exercises of Nikephoros Basilakes: progymnasmata from twelfth-century Byzantium. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Vol. 43. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Finglass, Patrick, ed. 2011. Sophocles. Ajax. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Franco Júnior, Hilário. 2006. “Entre la figue et la pomme: l’iconographie romane du fruit défendu.” Revue De L’histoire Des Religions. 223(1): 29-70 (English translation).

Gerber, Douglas E., ed. and trans. 1999. Greek iambic poetry: from the seventh to the fifth centuries BC. Loeb Classical Library, vol. 259. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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.

Taplin, Oliver, trans. 2015. Sophocles: four tragedies: Oedipus the King, Aias, Philoctetes, Oedipus at Colonus. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Ysengrimus: prophetic beast epic in vital medieval Latin literature

Latin bear scholar

Ysengrimus ambled into a plush office on the top floor of the magnificent, Collegiate Gothic admin building. To be admitted into Fox College as a documented student, Ysengrimus needed Provost Renlarda to place her snout-print on the form PM-6 Petition for Non-Vixen Admittance. A college degree is key to a better job. Education is an investment in the future. Through lectures students learn how to learn. With 35% more females forest-wide graduating from college, Ysengrimus hoped that Fox College would relax its long-standing policy of not admitting males. But another large, hairy difficulty loomed. Ysengrimus was a bear. All of the documented students at Fox College were vixens. Diversity is the thread that unites us. A wolf can learn from a fox. A male can learn from a female. Striving mightily not to growl and be frightening, Ysengrimus sucked in his lower groin and attempted a relatively high-pitched grovel.

“Provost Renlarda, you are most gracious to allow me to plead to you. Fox College is the oldest and most prestigious college in the forest. Your students are famous for being well-endowed. My father spent his life rummaging in garbage cans for food. Please give me the opportunity to study medieval Latin literature at Fox College.”

Provost Renlarda herself taught Fox College’s acclaimed course in medieval Latin literature. She looked at Ysengrimus warily.

“Why, pray tell, do you want to study medieval Latin literature?” said she.

“My ex-wife evicted me from our cave with a mendaciously procured domestic violence restraining order. An owl comforted me one cold night by telling me that if I had studied Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum, I wouldn’t be sleeping out in the cold.”

“What does that have to do with philology?” Provost Renlarda barked in response.

“I’ve never met Philology, but an ant-eater told me that she’s lovely, and that I should study the Marriage of Gynecology and Hercules. But I don’t know medieval Latin. I don’t understand it.” Even a broken clock tells the right time twice a day. Not knowing is true knowledge. Fear of death is unreasonable.

“I don’t understand, either,” Provost Renlarda scornfully responded. She stared at Ysengrimus. He nervously pawed the chair. After a few silent, tense minutes, the need to preserve an appearance of non-discrimination drifted into Provost Renlarda’s consciousness. Perhaps she should document that Ysengrimus was unqualified for admittance.

“Tell me how female goddesses created the cosmos, as set forth in Bernardus Silvestris’s Cosmographia,” demanded Provost Renlarda.

“I’m sure that’s who created the world. But … I’ve never read the Cosmographia,” said Ysengrimus.

“Are you aware of the Ruling Sisters’ instructions on being a novus homo and the Edenic future of reproduction without male seed? Do you identify as a homo?”

The bear sheepishly lowered his head and glanced between his legs. “Let me tell you the story of King Janaysar, a human man, and his son Budasf. King Janaysar sought to protect Budasf from all the dangers and temptations of the world. He had his son educated in institutions that strictly controlled students’ speech and comprehensively regulated students’ personal associations. Budasf thus grew up knowing nothing about women. One day as a young man, Budasf inadvertently saw a young woman.  ‘What is that wonderful creature?’ he asked his father. ‘That’s a demon. When you see such a demon, run the other way as fast as you can.’ ‘No, no, father,’ the son replied, ‘that’s a lovely demon. I want to press myself against that demon and laugh with it.’ An old bear explained to me that the moral of this fable is that you can expel nature with bared teeth, but it will always come back again.”

“That’s just silly folk wisdom,” said Provost Renlarda. “Medieval Latin literature is rooted in the classics. Do you know about the heroic female warrior Penthesileia? She would have won the Trojan War for the Trojans if a man hadn’t killed her in a terrible act of violence against women. So makes clear Walter of Châtillon’s Alexandreis. Of course, the Trojans weren’t worthy of a true woman hero. Aeneas showed little concern for his mother. Tell me, what do you know about Aldrada’s heroic stroke against patriarchal oppression?”

“I confess, I’m bearishly ignorant. I once met an old bear dying slowly with his foot caught in a trap. He pitifully wheezed that he had always lacked guile. He said that he should have learned from the story of Galo. That story, he said, had been handed down from bear to bear since the twelfth century. That was the last time that a bear was welcomed among scholars to study medieval Latin literature. No bear has tasted such honey since then. I want to know the story of Galo. I want to be the first bear to study medieval Latin literature since the twelfth century.”

Provost Renlarda crinkled her forehead. Liberal arts education presents the eternal experience of being human. Through literature students personally encounter the most fashionable authors from marginalized groups of prominent concern. Students need to interact with persons who look and think like themselves. Provost Renlarda had been the first obese female fox with grey hair to be appointed to lead a liberal arts college for vixens since more than a year ago. The previous first was Salaura, a Chaucer specialist appointed to head a neighboring college fifteen months ago. Provost Salaura had resigned under pressure when students complained that Chaucer’s English made them feel uncomfortable and Salaura refused to provide modern English translations. Since Renlarda specialized in medieval Latin literature, there would be no controversy over the need to provide English translations. That shrewd reasoning by the Board of Trustees helped Renlarda to squash her competitors for the provost position at Fox College. She thus became the first obese female fox with grey hair to be appointed to lead a liberal arts college for vixens since more than a year ago.

Despite grave misgivings, Provost Renlarda granted in part Ysengrimus’s petition. Through lectures students learn how to learn. Ignorance is more expensive than education. Education is necessary to ensure the correct functioning of democracy. Provost Renlarda snout-printed Ysengrimus’s PM-6 Petition for Non-Vixen Admittance, but with the restriction that he be admitted only for a semester, and only for the purpose of vital learning in medieval Latin literature. After making that annotation, she handed the form back to Ysengrimus.

eager Ysengrimus

The first lecture of Renlarda’s medieval Latin literature course was on Halloween. As a male bear taking a course among vixens at Fox College, Ysengrimus didn’t feel welcomed on campus. To make himself feel less self-conscious, he wore a mask that presented his face with narrower eyes, smaller teeth, and a less protuberant snout. He also wore a plush, short-haired red onesie with six padded breasts. He hoped to pass as a large female fox. You can be whomever you want to be. Self-fashion yourself as your fancy fits and insist that everyone see you as you want to be seen. Not a single other student on campus was wearing a costume. They had been taught not to engage in cultural appropriation.

Ysengrium sat in the back of the lecture hall. He understood his place at Fox College. He strove to repress his enjoyment in gazing upon the pelts of the vixen seated in front of him. Professor Renlarda’s lecture was on Isengrimus, a twelfth-century Latin beast epic. Scarcely acknowledging the vixens assembled before her, without so much as glancing at Ysengrimus, Professor Renlarda began reading from her lecture text.

“The Isengrimus is a Latin beast-epic of over six and a half thousand lines, written in the middle of the twelfth century. Based on obscure, topical references within the text, its creation date can be narrowed to between early 1148 and August 1149. The Isengrimus’s author isn’t explicitly stated, but scholars have inferred that its author was a highly educated, strong, independent woman. In one late medieval manuscript, properly amended for the best reading, she is named Nivarda of Ghent. Nivarda had great respect for ritual, and she was strongly critical of men’s wickedness.”

Working as quickly as medieval scribes, all the students were furiously writing down the lecturer’s words.

“The Isengrimus survives in whole or in part in manuscripts, as well as in excerpts in some florilegia. The manuscripts of Isengrimus are A. Liège, Bibliothèque de l’Université 160A; B. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France lat. 8494; C. Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale 2838 (mutilated)…”

Hearing the ABC’s reminded Ysengrimus of his father’s determination for his son to get the best possible education. It was spring, and they were together, father and son, gathering a few berries on the edge of the patch that had been bull-dozed to make way for another high-rise apartment building. Some of the berries had ripened early due to global warming, yet they salvaged even the green berries.

“We bears aren’t naturally crafty,” Ysengrimus’s father said mournfully. “While we’re being reduced to foraging in garbage cans, sheep are thriving among wolves and ravens are having food set out for them. Foxes are feasting on cats from the apartments. Although we are innocent as doves, we must be as wise as snakes, which are more guileful than vixens. We need better education in medieval Latin literature. The old bears were passing it down by word of mouth, but we, oafs,  we were too busy stuffing our mouths with berries to learn the Latin stories by heart. Now all the old bears have died, and we have forgotten what we need to know.”

“What is there to do?” Ysengrimus asked.

“Go to Fox College. The vixens learn medieval Latin literature. You too can learn. It doesn’t matter that you’re a male bear. Diversity is the thread that unites us. A wolf can learn from a fox. A male can learn from a female.”

There Ysengrimus was, fulfilling his father’s hopes and dreams.

“The character Isengrimus stands for Phallic Hegemony. Reynard stands for Oppressed Wonder-Woman Every-Woman. The priest stands for the Uneducated Masses. The villagers stand for the Rapacious Bourgeoisie. Phallic Hegemony seeks to appropriate all the fish in the common pond (which stand for community-owned assets) from the Working Class. Isengrimus, presuming to collect his self-constructed entitlement to fish by sticking his penis through the ice into the community pond, gets his fishing net frozen to the ice. Reynard with guile attracts the villagers to Isengrimus while the priest prays for the return of his forlorn cock. Aldrada, a woman who stands for the Redemptive Arm of Castration Culture, strikes a liberating blow with an ax. Now let us engage in close reading:

the wound was not completely without effect;
the fallen ax severed his fishing net between ice and buttocks,
but not in equal parts: the larger remained frozen in the ice.
The part he yet retained, though smaller, he held
more fondly than the part he had lost.
Not stopping with that, the old woman, not able to inhibit the mighty
forward rush of her hands, followed after them.
With her knees bending, prior to the holy official’s signal,
her lips thrust to the gash and concealed what she had done.
Her kiss was glued to the wound like a plaster,
and her nose brought a soothing compress to the gaping arsehole.
The wretched Patriarch suspected that the prole would bite off
the mutiliated remains of his net, and he trembled;
the pain of the first deprivation was cut away through fear of a second.
Crone and crotch were both terrified, but his crotch more than the crone.

{ Non tamen omnino vulnus inane fuit;
rete secat lapsa inter aquas clunemque bipennis,
nec partes aequat, maior inhaesit aquae.
Pars servata tamen, quamvis minor esset, habenti
carior est illa, qua viduatus erat.
Nec consistit anus magnoque inhibere nequibat
impete propulsas assequiturque manus.
Illa genu nondum clamante diacone flectens,
qua dederat plagam, condidit acta labrum.
Oscula figuntur velut emplastrantia vulnus,
inque cavo veniam podice nasus agit.
Rustica pontifici misero abmorsura putatur
relliquias trunci retis, et ipse tremit.
Prima dolore carens fit plaga timore secundae;
anus anusque pavent, sed magis anus anu. }

Isengrimus was on his back, with his feet in the air, when Aldrada swung her ax at his crotch. Aldrada then tumbled forward onto Isengrimus’s ass. If her mouth kissed his wounded penis, her nose would have been further toward his chest, not at his arsehole. This text thus misrepresents the Phallus as a tail, which would be further toward the bottom than the arsehole. Through Lacanian tail/tale slippage, Patriarchy perpetuates its existence and obscures the liberating function of Castration Culture.”

Professor Renlarda paused to ensure that her point penetrated her students. Meanwhile, with fear-triggered reflexes, Ysengrimus tightly crossed his legs. The vixen sitting next to him nodded approvingly and spread her legs wider.

“We must continue to struggle against Phallic Hegemony. Recent anthropological scholarship has described males as demonic. More than eight centuries earlier, this medieval Latin text sought to communicate that reality. In Book 7 of the Isengrimus, just before he died, Isengrimus called upon his demon for vengeance:

I shall die meanly, so let me be nobly avenged.
Agemundus shall fulfill this task; he the shameful parts
rules, and he shall avenge my death.
Indeed in this demon there isn’t mighty power,
but he does whatever he can without double-dealing.
Let him cover the whole race of the Great Mother Boor with new disgrace,
and let his vengeance rage against even the last of her tribe.
Up to now, he plugged their orifices with his thumb;
in the future, let him take his thumb away and clear the exit,
so that the foul gusts never lack power to go forth.
Let the doors be loosely gaping night and day.
Let this hardship trouble their sleeping, their waking, their feeding,
and let them not consume even a small husk without this defect.
Let no obstacles resist the blowing of these ill winds,
and let the noxious air whistle with no small sound,
so men may be warned and anyone near enough for this air to lacerate
may beat and curse this treacherous race.

{ turpiter emoriar, vindicer ergo probe.
Expleat hoc Agemundus opus, foris ille pudendae
arbiter est, mortem vindicet ille meam.
Hoc equidem non est ingens in daemone virtus,
sed, quaecumque potest, perficit absque dolo.
Dedecore ille novo genus impleat omne Salaurae;
ultor in extremam saeviat usque tribum.
Hactenus admoto claudebat pollice portam,
pollice semoto postmodo pandat iter,
turpibus ut ventis numquam impetus absit eundi;
laxentur patulae nocte dieque fores.
Haec somnum, haec vigiles, aerumpna haec laedat edendo,
nec siliquam capiant hac sine labe brevem.
Flatibus ergo malis obstacula nulla resistant,
nec tenui strepitu sibilet aura nocens,
ut caveant homines et, quem prope laeserit aer,
verberet infidum devoveatque genus! }

The curse of Phallic Hegemony is still with us. It must be expelled.”

Having thus concluded her lecture, Professor Renlarda bowed slightly and stopped back from the rostrum. All the vixens stood up and clapped. Ysengrimus scanned the back of the room for a cave into which he could crawl. Nothing. Then, inspired by the Muses of Galo — the Holy Spirit and Mary the Most Chased Virgin — Ysengrimus stood up. He tore off his fox mask and stepped out of his plush red onesie with the six padded breasts.

“I am a bear. I am a male bear,” he tremulously declared.

All the vixens turned toward him and hissed. Professor Renlarda looked horrified.

“I apologize for appropriating the appearance of a female fox. I was insensitive, boorish, and clumsy as an ox. Who gave me the right to pretend to be a fox? What do I understand of the historical injustices, structural oppression, and leg traps female foxes have suffered since God made cattle and categorically subordinated the Other as creeping things?”

The vixens nodded approvingly. Professor Renlarda seemed to be regaining her composure.

“Natural appropriation is no better than cultural appropriation,” Ysengrimus continued, “and both are socially constructed. As acts of contrition, I am withdrawing from Fox College and donating $1000 to non-profits working to end violence against women.”

One vixen shouted, “Not enough!” Then another shouted, “Not enough!” Then a chant began, with more and more vixens joining in, barking louder and louder, “Not enough! Not enough! Not enough!” Ysengrimus covered his face with his paws and tried to start sobbing. The chanting continued. Ysengrimus fell to the ground and played dead. The chanting didn’t end. Then he stood up and raised both hands in supplication-surrender. The class quieted and waited for him to say more:

“I apologize again for dehumanizing you. I deeply regret the violence I have committed against your dignity and honor. But my disgrace should not just be limited to me. All those who are like me also deserve to be attacked, disgraced, and expelled. Look in front of you. Have you ever seen a fox as large as Professor Renlarda? Her fur is dry and gray, while your pelts are soft and pink. She isn’t a vixen. She is a bear in fox’s clothing! She is my mother!”

The class rose in rage. Renlarda sputtered “he’s a liar” as the students stormed towards her, pouring forth foaming rage from their wide jaws, hissing threats, the earth shaken by their roaring and ash trees torn up in their charge. Ysengrimus called out, “Mommy, mommy!” Then a vixen tore a chunk out of Renlarda’s massive buttocks. “He’s a liar, he’s a bear, he’s a male. Attack the Phallus!” Renlarda screamed, apparently not noticing any loss to her buttocks from that bite or another that followed immediately afterwards. Then a vixen sunk her teeth deep into Renlarda’s kidney. Yellow bile poured out of her kidney wound, and Renlarda went down amid a heap of stomping, grabbing, biting vixens. Her cruel students gobbled up her torn-out kidney, and the savage herd chewed up the rest of her body. They tore the wretch to pieces, and the morsels are said to have been devoured quicker than she could have died. Chloe tore out and ate her diaphragm, together with her heart, and confidently believed that she had ingested the food of a successful career woman. Allie, who wanted to be the spokesperson for a major non-profit, pulled out Renlarda’s hollow gullet from its ligament and swallowed it.

Ysengrimus had left the lecture hall. He was running for the deep, dark woods. Among the ancient trees, tall and quiet, Ysengrimus sat down and wept.

depressed Ysengrimus in forest

“I lament that those who have accepted the faith, and on whom a classical education has been bestowed, have enveloped themselves in their primitive state of damnation. The first sowing of learning brought in a harvest of abundant fruit; the vineyard, as it multiplied, bore wild grapes. Gradually, the Holy Spirit has absented himself from this wicked world, and in departing takes medieval Latin literature with him. Freed from his chains, Foucault has burst forth into the depraved world, and the road to all kinds of crimes is shamelessly followed. Philology has once again condemned the polluted times, and yet with unsullied goodness has followed a new course: she has not cut down the harmful tares with an expertly wielded blade. Terrible warnings have for a long time been rumbling as a prelude, and the wretches have had advance knowledge. They have no excuse.”

Ysengrimus then heard a motherly voice that seemed to come from the sun filtered through tree branches. “Shut up, stupid Ysengrimus! Do not be afraid. Medieval Latin literature lives! Go and tell all the creatures of the forest. All should seek for it in unknown crossings in the web of learning. Those who read medieval Latin literature will cast out demons. They will speak in a new tongue. If some also read ancient Greco-Roman literature or vernacular literature, it will not kill them. You need only lay your hands on the sick and they will be healed. Go therefore, and teach others all that I have taught you, and remember, I am with you always until the end of time.”

*  *  *  *  *

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In literary history, the medieval Latin Ysengrimus is relatively unknown, but regarded by those who have studied it carefully as a work of literary genius. It is the “most impressive and influential form” of the beast epic. The Ysengrimus preceded by a few decades the earliest branches of the French Roman de Renart and had “an enormous influence on vernacular literature.” Mann (2009) pp. 17, 19.

The Ysengrimus is particularly relevant to intellectual life today. As Mann perceptively observed:

The speeches of the animals are full of ingenious arguments, proverbial maxims, and preposterous reinterpretations of concrete detail, all sustained by a relentless insistence on obliterating the physical reality of what is being inflicted on the wolf. The wolf’s few pathetic attempts to compete in the linguistic game are overwhelmed by the remorseless flood of rhetoric that pours from the fox and his accomplices. … the ties that bind words to things are cut, and linguistic fantasies float free in an autonomous world of their own, ruled only by comic ingenuity.

Id. p. 47. For comparative literature, consider claims about rape, measures of sexism, and the World Values Survey. Cassie Jaye’s Red Pill provides a comparative work in more popular media. The Ysengrimus provides a vital critical perspective on both medieval institutions and current intellectual life:

it questions the authority of grandiose moral schemata and deflates human pretensions, for which speech is the obvious vehicle.

Id. p. 307.

The Ysengrimus is rife with lying, hypocrisy, betrayal, and brutal violence. All of its characters act wickedly. Yet it affirms systemic faith:

the poem combines a trust in the institutions and ceremonies of {Christian} religion with a disappointment in the ecclesiastics who oversee them. … the absence of heroes does not signal the lack of anything positive, since behind the vituperation abides a faith in the system. The author of a satiric medieval beast poem need not have been opposed to the ideal behind the system he satirized, any more than George Orwell had to reject the notion of true socialism when he wrote Animal Farm.

Ziolkowski (1993) pp. 233, 234.

The Ysengrimus, in the Latin text and an expert English translation, is now readily available in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series as Mann (2013). The indented quotations above are from the Ysengrimus 2.114-28 and 7.308-24. The Latin text is that of id., pp. 86, 452, 454, which follows closely that of Voigt (1884). The English translation is mine, benefiting greatly from that of Mann (2013) pp. 87, 455, 457. My English translation tracks the lines of the Latin to encourage general readers to examine the Latin text. By being lineated, it also registers to modern readers that the underlying text is poetry. My translation includes phrases verbatim from Mann’s translation, but some differences that reflect my sense of the text. Mann (1983) makes clear her meticulous care in translation. My translation should not be regarded as a substitute for the expert translation in Mann (2013). The above text also includes a parodic adaptation of Mann’s translation of the Ysengrimus 7.423-33, 607-19.

[image] (1) Bear-scholar writing in Latin. Illumination from the Bohun Psalter and Hours. Created in England, second half of the fourteenth century. Egerton MS 3277, f. 13v. Thanks to the British Library. (2) Eager bear. Illumination from Jacob van Maerlant, Der Naturen Bloeme. Created in Flanders or Utrecht; c. 1450-1500. Folio 34v in manuscript The Hague, KB, 76 E 4. Thanks to Koninklijke Bibliotheek (National Library of the Netherlands). (3) Depressed bear. Illumination (colors muted) from a bestiarium. Original created in Western France, c. 1450. Folio 11v in The Hague, MMW, 10 B 25. Thanks to Koninklijke Bibliotheek.


Mann, Jill. 1983. “On Translating the Ysengrimus.” Revue canadienne d’étude néerlandaises / Canadian Journal of Netherlandic Studies 4: 25-31.

Mann, Jill. 2009. From Aesop to Reynard: beast literature in medieval Britain. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mann, Jill, trans. 2013. Ysengrimus. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Vol. 26. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Voigt, Ernst, ed. 1884. Ysengrimus. Halle a.S.: Buchhandlung des Waisenhauses.

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