Mirror of Fools: the eminent doctor Galen on short tails and penises

medieval speculum

In the brilliant medieval Latin poem Mirror of Fools, a man wanting a longer penis is figured as the donkey Burnel seeking a longer tail. The Mirror of Fools connects Maximian’s foolish devaluation of his penis (particularly Maximian’s Elegy 5) to medieval critique of demonizing men’s sexuality (particularly the twelfth-century Latin poem The Flea). For men as well as donkeys, lengthening of the penis occurs naturally with sexual arousal. At the same time, men’s sexual shortcomings are inseparable from social disparagement of men’s sexuality. The medieval mirror of knowledge encompassed knowledge of the whole world. Fools look into a mirror and see only themselves.

The tale of Burnel the donkey seeking a longer tail is set with subtle double-talk. Its opening fairy-tale simplicity of “once upon a time” immediately leads to undercutting sophistication:

It happened once an ass with ears immense
desired to have a tail in size to match.
Since with his head his tail could not compare,
he deeply groaned about its brevity.
‘Twas not because it failed to suit his needs;
instead, because it was so very short.
The doctors he consulted, with the thought
that they might work what nature could not do.

{ Auribus immensis quondam donatus asellus
institit ut caudam posset habere parem.
Cauda suo capiti quia se conferre nequibat,
altius ingemuit de brevitate sua.
Non quia longa satis non esset ad utilitatem;
ante tamen quam sic apocopata foret.
Consuluit medicos, quia quod natura nequibat
artis ab officio posse putabat eos. } [1]

With his big ears, big head, and anxiety about his tail’s shortness, Burnel alludes to the celibate medieval scholar dedicating his life to the wisdom of Athena. His tail doesn’t fail to suit his needs, for he has no need of it.[2] Yet he laments his organ’s perpetual shortness. Nature, understood to encompass a beautiful other, could make his tail grow longer. The foolish, narrow-minded scholar doesn’t understand. He consults doctors.

Galen, the medieval world’s most admired medical authority, provided uncharacteristic medical advice. The historical, boastful Galen championed true medical knowledge and skill. The Galen of the Mirror of Fools advised non-intervention and depreciated medical skill:

You must not scorn the gifts of nature, but
regard among your riches what she gives.
Believe me, that old tail upon your rump
is better than a brand-new tail would be.
Yet this annoys — you want a better tail;
you’ll get a worse one through the surgeon’s skills.
A new tail could not easily be grown,
not even if the old could be removed.

{ Quod natura dedit non sit tibi vile, sed illud
inter divitias amplius esse puta.
Crede mihi, vetus est tibi cauda salubrior ista
natibus innata quam foret illa nova.
Nec placet ista tamen, sed habere cupis meliorem;
artibus et curis insita pejor erit.
Sed neque de facili posset nova cauda creari,
qaumvis deposita cauda vetusta foret. }

According to this Galen, human knowledge is highly fallible. God alone is the only true doctor:

Physicians often fail and are deceived,
and things that harm are, vice versa, good.
Though he hold strictly to what art requires,
still things will not turn out as he may wish.
For God alone is healer of the sick;
it’s ours to wish, but his the power to do.
Without his help and guidance we are nought,
but he can do all things without our help.
Herbs, medicines, and sundry drugs we use,
but he by word alone makes all things well.
The people call us doctors, just in name;
but God is doctor both in name and deed.
Be sure to keep the tail he gave to you,
and seek not, fool, for anything besides.

{ Saepe quidem medici fallunt, falluntur et ipsi,
et vice conversa quae nocuere iuvant.
Esto, quod ars mandat, faciat, nec abinde recedat,
non tamen evenient quae cupis ipse tibi.
Solus enim Deus est morbis medicina salutis;
nos tantum velle possumus, ipse potest.
Nos nihil absque suo vel eo nos praeveniente
possumus; ipse sibi sufficit absque meo.
Nos herbis variis, pigmentis et speciebus
utimur; hic verbo singula sana facit.
Dicimur a populo medici, sed nomine solo;
sed Deus est medicus nomine reque simul.
Quam dedit ille tibi caudam retinere memento,
stulte, nec ulterius ulteriora petas. }

Using a direct quotation from Maximian’s elegy on his sexual impotence, Galen recognized that some men engage in idle sexual boasting while failing to perform:

All men can talk, but if you give good heed,
not everyone can thus join words to deeds.

What nature does not grant no one can do.

{ Dicere quisque potest, sed dictis jungere facta,
si bene perpendas, non ita quisque potest.

Quod natura negat reddere nemo potest. } [3]

Most men cannot perform like sexual superheroes. Yet most healthy, non-elderly men possess wonderful sexuality capabilities. A man with a short penis doesn’t need the learned skill of a doctor. As medical Latin lyrics observed, such a man needs only a caressing touch.

Galen then told Burnel a pseudo-realistic beast fable about two female cows. When Galen was a child, his father had on his farm two sister cows — Brownie, a black-haired cow, and Two-Horns, an auburn-haired cow.[4] One winter night, both cows lay down in a muddy pasture to sleep. The next morning they found their tails frozen to the ground. They couldn’t get up to journey home.

Two-Horns argued for cutting off their tails to get free and go home. She was worried about her calf, not yet five days old, back at home. She reasoned:

Why have a tail, or what’s it ever brought me?
What good or honor does a tail bestow?
Behold, I’m kept a captive by it! Why?
No honor but a burden is my tail.
Suppose with tail intact I could escape,
a muddy tail will ever weigh me down.
A dangling tail’s a burden and holds mud;
what can I see it bringing me but woe?

{ Quid mea cauda mihi vel quid sibi contulit unquam?
Quis fructus vel quae gloria cauda mihi?
En per eam teneor tanquam captiva, quid ergo?
Non honor est, sed onus, haec mea cauda mihi.
Esto quod hinc possem cauda remanente redire,
semper erunt oneri cauda lutumque mihi.
Attrahit ipsa lutum pendens oneratque ferentem;
quid tribuat video nil nisi triste mihi? }

Many unhappy women reason similarly about their boyfriends or husbands. Two-Horns took a knife and cut off her tail. She then gave the blade to Brownie. She urged her to cut herself free. A woman without a man strives to have her sisters be like her.

Brownie refused to follow the devilish advice of her sister Two-Horns. Brownie exclaimed:

No way that I should do what you advise!
When things go wrong there’s need for self-control;
you must not be too fast in time of grief.

A sweet relationship makes friendly ties;
ties made with me are very strong indeed.
What one unblessed by fortune fails to have,
another from his richer store may satisfy.
No creature is so excellent or grand
that it can do without another’s help.
The changing times with varied risks contend,
nor are all partnerships on equal terms.

{ Quod mihi persuades absit ut illud agam!
Rebus in adversis opus est moderamine multo,
non decet in gravibus praecipitare gradum.

Dulce relativum socialia foedera jungit;
fortius incedunt foedera juncta sibi.
Quod minus alter habet, sua quem fortuna gravavit,
suppleat alterius copia grata magis.
Nil ita praecipuum vel tam sublime creatum,
ut non alterius possit egere manu.
Tempora sive vices vario discrimine certant,
nec coeunt nexu foedera quaeque pari. }

Brownie went on to strengthen her relationship with her tail. Performing an aspect of a commendatio (commendation ceremony), Brownie proclaimed an encomium of her tail.[5] Her encomium was worthy of the Greek dancing girl’s encomium of Maximian’s penis:

Although my tail remains my hindmost part,
yet I deem nothing of more use to me

My tail’s a shield to me, a sword, and axe,
a lance, sling, rock, and club, an arrow, torch.
The tail provides my skin a faithful nurse,
and brushes off the dust that clings to it.
It washes, cleanses, and alone serves all
the members, being last, in service first.
If we note well what glory and what use
each member to its lady has served,
then it alone is worth more to its head
than other members; more busy too than they.

{ Corporis ergo mei quamvis pars ultima cauda,
utilius tamen hac nil reor esse mihi }

Cauda mihi clypeus, gladius mihi cauda, securis,
lancea, funda, lapis, clava, sagitta, faces.
Cauda colit corpus, cutis est fidissima nutrix,
pulveris abstergens quicquid adhaesit eis.
Haec lavat, haec tergit, haec omnibus una ministrat,
ultima membrorum, prima labore suo.
Si bene pensetur, quid honoris et utilitatis
contulerint dominae singula membra suae.
Sola suo capite membris sed et omnibus una
plus valet; est et eis officiosa magis. }

The Latin word for “member” (membrum), like the Latin word for “tail” (cauda), can also refer to a man’s penis.[6] The above appreciation for the member that best serves its lady leads immediately to more direct sexual imagery:

It alone prevents discerning the weak sex
openly in public; the tail covers the vagina.
These {personal tools} my tail unites at various times,
yet at certain times it pleases more.

{ Omnibus una cavens fragilis discrimina sexus
publica ne pateant, cauda pudenda tegit.
Haec mea cauda mihi vario pro tempore confert,
quae tamen est certo tempore grata magis. } [7]

The Latin word for vagina (pudendus) is linguistically rooted in “that which is a source of shame.” In prophecy of Isaiah about the ravaging of Jerusalem, unmarried women begged ordinary men to marry them so as to take away their shame. That’s the shame of a vagina without a tail. The central thrust of the passage isn’t obscure. For many persons other than those mired in rape-culture culture, a man pleases more at those certain times when he’s united with a woman. Appreciation for the tail “being last, in service first” draws upon both the Christian ideal of servant-leadership and the servant-leadership of a husband within the traditional understanding of chivalry.[8]

Like other desires, sexual desire can be disordered. Flies, especially fleas, biting a girl insistently and beyond any limits of clothing or resistance figures disordered masculine sexual desire. The twelfth-century Latin poem The Flea {De pulice} is an example of that sexual imagery. Consistent with the elaborate literary structure of the Mirror of Fools, Galen’s fable of the two sister cows confronts the masculine sexual imagery of biting flies with the masculine sexuality imagery of a comforting tail. That confrontation occurs in different feminine encompassing environments. One is summer’s raging heat like a women burning with excessive sexual desire. Another is beauty and fertility that inevitably incites sexual activity:

In the meantime the fruitful summer had come
to decorate the fields with early flowers.
It now had clothed the trees with leaves, the earth
with grass, and fashioned flowers with equal skill.
Birds freed from winter’s prison had escaped
to pay due tribute to the neighborhood.
The nightingale, to compensate her loss
of speech, fills all the woods with lovely song.
The swallow and the turtledove appear
at nature’s summons, each at time ordained.
The lark, dawn’s harbinger, comes with the thrush,
nor do they change the schedule of their lives.
The cuckoo with his repetitious song
declares the springtime, as he always does.
A blend of disharmonious sounds is heard,
and through the woods a thousand organs play.
The scent of flowers excels the songs of birds,
their songs excel the pipes; the flowers, sweet balm.
The wood resounds, the fields are sweet with thyme,
the flowers and fruits a spicy fragrance yield.

{ Venerat interea tempus quo fertilis aestas
prata solet primo pingere flore novo.
Induerat jam fronde nemus, jam gramine terram
texerat, intextis foribus arte pari.
Exierant volucres hiemis de carcere fracto,
solvere finitimis digna tributa locis.
Verba negata sibi redimens philomena sonoris
vocibus insistit, personat omne nemus.
Quos natura vocat, cum turture venit hirundo,
adventusque sui tempora certa tenent.
Nuntius aurorae merulam comitatur alauda,
nec sua permutant tempora lege nova.
Semper idem repetens veteri nova tempora voce
ostendit cuculus, nil novitatis habens.
Concentu parili vocum concordia discors
intonat, et silvis organa mille sonant.
Certat odor florum cantus superare volucrum,
organa vox superat; balsama vincit odor.
Dulce sonant silvae, redolent thymiamata campi,
floribus et fructu gignit amoma solum. }

The Song of Songs is similarly filled with gardens, fruits, and spices. In the Mirror of Fools, both the summer’s raging heat and this spring-like environment breeds flies and wasps. They passionately and hurtfully attack Brownie and Two-Horns. Brownie, who always has her tail with her, deflects the attacks. But the manless, tailless Two-Horns succumbs to them. She dies as an example for those who would disregard limits and enter into castration culture or inordinate sexual activity.[9]

Men who don’t appreciate their short penises are easy prey for mercenary doctors. Burnel didn’t understand Galen’s fable about the two sister cows. Burnel rejected Galen’s advice to accept the natural goodness of his tail. To satisfy Burnel, Galen then adopted the practices of a mercenary doctor. He advised Burnel:

Your tail from there can reach a proper length,
provided it keep contact with flesh.
But in the case of treatments and their costs,
it’s quite important that you have much means.
Strong remedies require a bulging purse,
large wounds demand much wealth and capital.

If then you do not fail to pay the bills,
I shall not fail to give you special care.
If you keep up the payments, I shall try
my skill, provided I still have my strength. [10]

{ Unde satis longa poterit tua crescere cauda,
dummodo cum reliqua foedera carne tenet.
Et tamen in curis et sumptibus enumerandis,
ut decet et debet, copia larga subest.
Ardua praegnantem poscunt medicamina bursam,
res et opes magnas vulnera magna volunt.

Sumptibus ergo tibi nisis tu defeceris ipse,
non tibi deficiet cura laborque meus.
Sumptibus insistas, nos artibus experiemur,
si valeant nostrae quod valuere manus. }

Galen sent Burnel to get medicines from Salerno, a leading medieval center of medical knowledge. The medicines Galen requested were as nonsensical as Burnel’s request to lengthen his tail. Among those medicines:

a small amount of milk of goose and kite,
a little flash of light and fear of wolf,
a dram of seven-year truce ‘twixt dog and hare,
the kisses which a lark has sent her hawk,
a pound of special peacock’s sweet refrain,
before however he has grown a tail

{ Anseris et milvi modicum de lacte recenti,
de lucis cursu deque timore lupi,
de canis et leporis septenni foedere drachmam,
oscula quae niso misit alauda suo,
pavonis propria libram do voce sonora,
ante tamen cauda quam sit adepta sibi }

With a subtle allusion to a donkey’s large penis, Galen urged the donkey Burnel to give himself a fifth foot to make the trip to Salerno quickly. When Burnel asked Galen for a blessing, Galen, speaking in what was Greek to the donkey, petitioned God to bring him a thousand woes.

Treatments for “erectile dysfunction” have become a big business. Those treatments assume that a man’s penis isn’t functioning properly. Yet the fundamental cause of men’s penises remaining short is cultural hostility to men’s sexuality. Men’s penises typically remain short because they lack encounters with young, beautiful, warmly receptive women, or at least a woman lovingly remembered as being among such. The “erectile dysfunction” business caters to fools.[11]

donkey Burnel in Nigel's Speculum stultorum

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[1] Nigel, Mirror of Fools {Speculum stultorum} 81-8, Latin text from Mozley & Raymo (1960) p. 32, English translation from Regenos (1959) p. 12, both with my adaptations. Regenos uses the name Brunellus for the donkey. The Latin text has Burnellus. See, e.g. ll. 595, 791, and comment in Mozley & Raymo (1960) pp. 148-9. I use the English form Burnel. That’s also the form that Chaucer used in the Nun’s Priest’s Tale (ll. 3312-16) of the Canterbury Tales.

Wright’s Latin text of Speculum stultorum is freely available online. Wright (1872) pp. 11-145. Regenos’s translation is based on that text, but incorporates corrections to that text from the subsequent scholarly literature. Regenos commented:

although Wright’s edition leaves much to be desired, it can be said with some degree of assurance, I think, that this translation is based on a reasonably sound text.

Regenos (1959) p. 20. To the best of my ability, I’ve checked Regenos translation against the Latin text of Mozley & Raymo (1960) and made any necessary corrections. Since I’ve supplied the relevant Latin text from the latter above, others can similarly verify the translations.

The Latin text consists largely of elegiac couplets that form a single, complete sentence. Regenos’s translation closely follows the lines of the Latin text. Readers who haven’t studied Latin can thus easily and beneficially compared the English to the Latin. To make both the English translation and the corresponding Latin text more accessible to such readers, I’ve used standard English sentence capitalization, and I’ve both capitalized and punctuated the English and Latin texts in parallel to the extent sensibly feasible. Where I’ve made a substantial change to the words of Regenos’s translation, I’ve noted the change at the end of the Latin text of the quotation.

Regenos’s translation is “a fairly literal translation” into iambic pentameters. He stated:

it has been my constant aim to render as faithfully as possible the full meaning of the original text, and certainly not to take undue liberties. Sometimes it has been most difficult to compress within the limits of two iambic pentameters the complete thought of a couplet, but patient endeavor has usually, if not always, made it possible.

Id. p. 19. Mozley (1963) is a considerly looser translation into many end-rhyming couplets. To my ear, Mozley’s translation now seems archaic and trivializing. Speculum stultorum ingeniously mixes the absurdly comic with respected wisdom and serious social commentary.

Speculum stultorum is sadly under-appreciated today. In the relatively liberal, tolerant, and enlightened time of the European Middle Ages, Speculum stultorum “enjoyed great success … {it} circulated especially widely from the end of the fourteenth century through the Reformation.” Ziolkowski (1994) p. 2. See also Mozley & Ramo (1960) pp. 8-9. Speculum stultorum survives in forty manuscripts, with thirty-four containing complete or nearly complete texts. Id. pp. 9-15, Mann (2007) p. 5.

Speculum stultorum was written at Canterbury, England, late in the twelfth century. The specific date of composition is a matter of some scholarly controversy. According to Ziolkowski, “most of it was written around 1179-80, but one section (perhaps a later revision by Nigel himself) is believed to date from 1185-87.” Ziolkowski (1994) p. 2. According to Mann, Speculum stultorum was written “some time in the 1190s.” Mann (2007) p. 34.

The author of the Speculum stultorum is variously specified in English as Nigellus Wireker, Nigel Whiteacre, Nigel of Langchamp (also Nigel Longchamp and Nigel de Longchamps), and Nigel of Canterbury. On the basis for these different names, Ziolkowski (1994) pp. 7-9, Mann (2009) pp. 99-100. In the references below, I use the WorldCat uniform author identifier Nigellus Wireker. Elsewhere I refer to the author as only Nigel.

Born about 1140, Nigel was a highly learned Benedictine monk living in the monastic community at Christ Church, Canterbury, in England. Nigel also wrote Miracles of the Holy Virgin Mother of God Mary, in verse {Miracula Sancte Dei genetricis uirginis Marie, uersifice}. That lengthy work consists of 2690 lines of elegiac distichs covering seventeen miracles. It is “the earliest surviving collection of versified Marian miracles in Latin.” Ziolkowsk (1994) p. 4. Nigel also wrote, in 2345 lines of dactylic, end-rhymed hexameters, The Passion of Saint Lawrence the Martyr {Passio Sancti Laurentii martiris}. For a brief review of all Nigel’s works, id. pp. 3-5.

Subsequent quotes above from Speculum stultorum are constructed in the same way as the first. The citations for the subsequent quotes, by line number for the Latin text in Mozley & Raymo (1960) and by page for the English translation in Regenos (1959): ll. 95-102, pp. 32-3 (You must not scorn…); .. 117-30, p. 33 (Physicians often fail…); ll. 171-2, 186, p. 35 (All men can talk…); ll. 243-50, pp. 37-8 (Why have a tail…); ll. 284-6, 345-52 (No way that I should do…); ll. 367-8, 375-84 (Athough my tail remains…); ll. 385-8, p. 42 (It alone prevents…); ll. 503-22, p. 47 (In the meantime the fruitful summer…); ll. 609-14, 623-6, pp. 50-1 (Your tail from there…); ll. 645-50, p. 52 (a small amount of milk…).

[2] As a highly learned monk, Nigel undoubtedly understood well devotion to Athena rather than to Venus. He wrote on the flyleaf of his manuscript of Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica:

As studious Nigel applied himself and avoided times of idleness,
he embroidered from various sources the writings of the present little book,
which he wished to survive him after death as the future of
his name and the undying memorial of his worthiness.

{ Ocia cum fugerit studiosi cura Nigelli
texuit ex uariis presentis scripta libelli,
quem superesse sibi uoluit post fata futurum
nominis et meriti memorabile non moriturum. }

From MS B. 15.5 (342) of Trinity College Cambridge, Latin text and English translation (which I’ve lineated) from Ziolkowski (1994) p. 282.

[3] Speculum stultorum 186 (Quod natura negat reddere nemo potest) quotes Maximian, Elegies 5.54. Speculum stultorum includes three other citiations of Maximian’s elegies (listed by line in Speculum stultorum / elegy.line in Maximian): 76 / 5.70, 496 / 1.222, 571 / 1.115. All four citations are from the context of Burnel and Galen’s initial interaction.

[4] In the Latin, Brownie has the name Brunetta. Two-Horns has the name Bicornis. Both Regenos (1959) and Mosley (1963) use the names Brunetta and Bicornis in their translations. However, both Latin names have clear English translations with meanings relevant in particular contexts of the Speculum stultorum. Thus I’ve used translated versions of the names above.

[5] With lack of appreciation for Speculum stultorum’s over-all figurative strategy in relation to penises and for its citations of Maximian’s elegies, Brownie’s encomium has been badly contextually and misinterpreted. Mann stated:

Brunetta {Brownie} then launched into a full-scale encomium of her tail, headed Commendatio Caudae, which obviously has it source in rhetorical school-exercises in praise of base or banally ridiculous objects.

Mann (2009) p. 125, with the above sentence citing via a footnote Pease (1926). Pease, in turn, explained the subject:

it is not this large field of the laudatio as a whole that I shall here plough over, but rather a curiously miscultivated portion of it to which the term “adoxography” has been given, in which the legitimate methods of the encomium are applied to persons or objects in themselves obviously unworthy of praise, as being trivial, ugly, useless, ridiculous, dangerous, or vicious.

Id. pp. 28-9. Tails, like penises, aren’t intrinsically contemptible, but they have historically been subject to disparagement. That’s particularly true in academia today.

[6] On tail {cauda} meaning a man’s penis, consider Horace, Satires 1.2.45-6: cuidam testis caudamque salacem demeterent ferro, translated as “a certain person cut off the testicles and lustful penis {of an adulterer}”; and Horace, Satires 2.7.47-50: acris ubi me / natura intendit, sub clara nuda lucerna / quaecumque excepit turgentis verbera caudae, / clunibus aut agitavit equum lasciva supinum, translated as “when insistent nature has made me stiff, whatever woman, naked in the lamp’s bright light, has taken my swollen tail’s blows.” For the English translation of the later, Cowan & Davie (2011).

On member {membrum} meaning a man’s penis or a woman’s vagina, e.g. Ovid, Amores 2.15.25: te nuda mea membra libidine surgent , translated as “my loving member to rise erect,” and De pulice 13: Ausus es interdum per membra libidinis ire , translated as “Sometimes you even dare to go through her loving member.” On these lines and their translations, see notes [2] and [3] in my post on De pulice.

[7] Regenos’s translation of these couplets show effects of pervasive, men-subordinating courtly love ideology:

Alone the tail protects the weaker sex
By hiding their pudenda from full view.
These things my tail provides for various times,
Yet at certain times it pleases more.

Regenos (1959) p. 42. I’ve provided a significantly improved translation above.

[8] For the Christian ideal of servant-leadership, Matthew 20:25-8.

[9] Two-Horns provided a quasi-epimythium for her demise:

I’ve lived a warning to many, and my death
will be a warning to all who lack moderation.

{ Exemplum multis vixi moriorque futuris
omnibus exemplum, non habitura modum. }

Speculum stultorum 577-8 (adapted to translate exemplum consistently and be more precise; for the second line of the couplet Regenos has “Will teach them all the need for self-control”). Nigel had great respect for women’s sensual allure. He had Burnel observe of an order of nuns:

Beneath black skirts they hide their lovely legs.
No girdles do they wear, nor underwear
in former times — if now, I do not know.

{ Sub tunicis nigris candida membra laten.
Cingula nulla ferunt sed nec femoralibus uti
consuetudo fuit, nescio si modo sit. }

Speculum stultorum 2390-2, p. 115. Marginal notes that Nigel apparently added to his manuscript of Peter Comestor’s Historia scholastica indicate his concern for sexual moderation and restraint. He copied Ovid’s couplet of Phaedra to Hippolytus:

Let young men adorned like women be far from me;
a man’s beauty should be cultivated moderately.

{ Sint procul a nobis iuuenes ut femina compti
Fine coli modico forma uirilis habet. }

Latin text from Ziolkowski (1994) p. 289. Nigel also copied a version of On the Twelve Abuses of the World {De duodecim abusivis saeculi} that included the abuse “a woman with no respect {for modesty} is like a wild mind” {Assimilata feris mens nulla uerens mulieris}. Latin text from id. p. 294. Yet Nigel also provided a figure of the natural goodness of men’s sexuality:

Between the legs of the betrothed, in the dwelling of the father, and in the belly of the mother,
a man lays down for father, for betrothed, for mother.

{ In sponse gremio, patris in lare, matris in aluo,
pro patre, pro sponsa, pro genitrice iacet. }

Nigel, Epigrams 13.1-2, Latin text and English trans. (with my adaptation of the English translation) from id. pp. 264-5.

[10] “Keep contact with the flesh” and “bulging purse” allude to sexual activity and sexual potency. Using the later figure, Matheolus protested his wife’s lack of respect for his “shriveled purse.”

At a more literal level, Galen is acting as a greedy doctor. Nigel denounced love of money and greed:

let money and a packed purse be far from a monk.

{ ergo sit a monacho procul es et bursa referta. }

Nigel, Epigrams 8.10, Latin text and English trans. from Ziolkowski (1994) pp. 258-9. Nigel also was deeply engaged in the struggle of the monks of Christ Church Canterbury to continue their practice of disbursing money on causes they choose as worthy rather than financially supporting the Archbishop of Canterbury and the King of England. Id. pp. 21-22, 25-30, 41-2; Mann (2009) pp. 144-7.

[11] Mann argued that Two-Horns’s choice to cut off her tail “is dictated by her natural urge to reunite herself with her calf,” while Burnel’s choice to seek a longer tail “is dictated by his asinine nature.” Mann (2009) p. 128. That’s a misleading distinction. Both Two-Horns and Burnel are contingently foolish in lacking respect for their natural tails. At the higher figurative level of the Speculum stultorum, females’ natural desire for calves naturally prompts them to appreciate penises, while males’ natural response to such females lengthens their penises.

[images] (1) Illumination of Vincent of Beauvais in a manuscript of his Speculum historiale translated into French by Jean de Vignay. Made in the late-fifteenth century. From British Library Royal MS 14 E 1 vol. 1, f. 3r. Thanks to the British Library and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Brunellus (Burnel) with Galen and a jester. Woodcut book illustration from a 1490 edition of the Speculum stultorum, Leipzig: Kachelofen, Konrad, leaf a1r. From book held in Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The British Library holds a manuscript with another medieval illustration of Brunellus / Burnel.


Cowan, Robert W., and John Davie, trans. 2011. Horace. Satires and epistles. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mann, Jill. 2007. “Does an Author Understand his Own Text? Nigel of Longchamp and the Speculum stultorum.” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 17: 1-37.

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

Mozley, John H., trans. 1963. Nigellus Wireker. A mirror for fools: the book of Burnel the ass {Speculum stultorum}. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.

Mozley, John H., and Robert R. Raymo, ed. 1960. Nigellus Wireker. Speculum stultorum. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Pease, Arthur Stanley. 1926. “Things without Honor.” Classical Philology. 21 (1): 27-42.

Regenos, Graydon W.. 1959. Nigellus Wireker. The book of Daun Burnel the ass: Nigellus Wireker’s Speculum stultorum. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Wright, Thomas, ed. 1872. The Anglo Latin satirical poets and epigrammatists of the 12th century. Vol 1. Rolls Series. London: Longman.

Ziolkowski, Jan M., ed. and trans. 1994. Nigellus Wireker. The passion of St. Lawrence: epigrams and marginal poems. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

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