women should express greater, wider-ranging love for men

siren mourning death of beloved man

Dependent on the virtues of our fathers,
you were as gold or like that morning star.
You shone brightly in the beauty of the virtues.
You practiced temperance and boldness
and care and equality before the law,
which you made the base of the God-inspired virtues
and proved to be a statue thereon,
attracting all with the siren call of your words
and the clear brightness of your goodness,
astonishing them with the boldness of your works.
Woe is me. At the very height of my greatest hopes,
my light and the glory of my life,
the glory of all, the link to the golden race,
the bright ambition of nature,
oh, to my own and the common misfortune,
how much I suffered for you,
beloved head, my hope, my life, my light, my joy,
scion of Byzantium and the Greeks. [1]

In 1481, a woman in the Greek city of Thessaloniki had this poem inscribed on the tomb of a man she loved. Thessaloniki had been the second most important city in the Roman Empire of Byzantium. Byzantium fell to the Turks in 1453. That had little significance in the woman’s expression of personal love.[2]

This poem, which apparently existed as a literary work before the woman invoked it as a funerary inscription, combines broad social awareness with intense personal feeling. The declaration of publicly recognized excellence, underscored with the concluding phrase “scion of Byzantium and the Greeks,” indicates that the woman and her beloved at least aspired to aristocratic ideals. Within Byzantine culture, the phrase “at the very height of my greatest hopes” suggest that the woman was on the verge of marrying and having children with her beloved. The concluding turn from the excellent man’s death to the woman’s suffering emphasizes the significance of a man’s death in gynocentric society. Within its own cultural limitations, this poem beautifully and poignantly expresses a woman’s love for a man.

The poem draws upon millennia of Greek culture to express love for a man. It alludes to the mid-fourteenth-century Byzantine romance Kallimachos and Chrysorroi. and echoes an expression of love found in the mid-thirteenth-century Byzantine romance Livistros and Rhodamne.[3] The poem begins with the line, “You proved to be the pride of the Greek race.” That line, along with the phrase “golden race,” indicates pride in a Greek identity that stretches back far further than the decline and collapse of the Byzantine Empire in what were recent centuries. A scholar noted:

Phrases such as ἄγαλμα θεϊκό (divine statue), σειρῆνα τοῦ λόγου (siren of the word) and ἀγλαΐα κάλους (brightness of beauty) are expressions of feminine admiration. [4]

The woman admiring the man she loved was “a cultivated woman in love.” She expansively appreciated the Greek mythological figure of the siren, already known in Greek culture for more than two thousand years in her medieval time. Sirens typically combined features of beautiful women and birds. The cultured woman in love understood that a man too could be a siren. She appreciated men’s intrinsic virtue.

What men want and deserve is not merely basic human rights and equal justice under law. Many great men, of greatness in personal relationships with women, have existed throughout history. Many such men — husbands, fathers, brothers, sons, loyal friends, caring neighbors, and many others — exist today. Women should express greater, wider-ranging love for men. They should express love for a man like a woman did with Greek poetry in Thessaloniki in 1483.

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[1] From Greek trans. Bakirtzis (2013) p. 218. The Greek text is available at id., p. 217. Above is all but the first four lines of the poem. I’ve made two insubstantial changes to aid readability. The concluding text of the funerary inscription is:

The servant of God Loukas Spandounes fell asleep in the Lord in the year 1481, the 14th indication, on the 1st day of the month of January.

Trans. id. p. 218.

[2] The poem includes one reference to Ottoman victories over the Byzantines. The first four lines of the poem are:

Your proved to be the pride of the Greek race,
outstanding in the sphere of the virtues.
Having abandoned, alas, your homeland,
you had no part in our opprobrium.

Trans. id. p. 217. Loukas Spandounes apparently fled Thessaloniki in response to a Turkish conquest. He may have fled to Venice. That’s where Theodore Spandounes fled after 1453. Id. p. 219.

After victories against the Byzantines, the Ottoman Turks occasionally took noble Byzantine male children to serve as pages in the Ottoman ruler’s seraglio. That was called “paidomazoma.” Within the seraglio, the male Byzantine children provided sexual and other services to the Ottoman ruler. The phrase “our opprobrium” apparently refers to paidomazoma. Id. pp. 218-9. Overall, the collapse of the Byzantium Empire has little salience in the poem.

[3] Id. pp. 219-20, documenting such intertexuality in the second and penultimate lines above. The woman in love most likely didn’t compose the poem. It seems to have been a pre-existing literary work:

The last verse, with the name of the dad man, his characterisation as a “servant of God” and the date of his death, is in a different style from the rest of the preceding verses 1-22 of the poem. Its poor level of literacy follows the model of older epigraphs. It was not initially part of the poem and was probably added when the epigraph was engraved in marble.

Id. p. 221. Other evidence indicates that production-to-stock inscribed funerary stones were made in the ancient world.

[4] Id. Homer’s Odyssey includes a reference to (female) sirens. While the above poem expresses a feminine viewpoint, men are capable of such expression. Whether the poem’s author was a woman or a man isn’t known.

[image] Funerary siren. Terracotta figurine from the first-century BGC Greek costal city Myrina (in the region of Mysia in present-day Turkey). Preserved in the Louvre Museum (Paris), accession # Myr 148. Image thanks to Jastrow and Wikimedia Commons. The Wikimedia entry observes that this funerary siren is “raising a hand to her breast and another hand to her hair, two typical gestures of distress and mourning.” That probably represents mourning for the death of a beloved man.


Bakirtzis, Charalambos. 2013. “The Authority of Knowledge in the Name of the Authority of Mimesis.” Ch. 15 (pp. 211-226) in Armstrong, Pamela, ed. Authority in Byzantium. Centre for Hellenic Studies, King’s College London, 14. Farnham: Ashgate.

Galbert chronicled horrific violence against men in medieval Flanders

medieval battle between Flemish and Fench

Betrayers brutally murdered Count Charles the Good with a surprise attack on him while he was praying in the Church of Saint Donatian in Bruges in 1127. Galbert then was a bureaucratic functionary in the Count’s administration in Bruges. On his own initiative, Galbert chronicled the murder of Charles the Good and much ensuing violence against men. Galbert was an unlikely person to do such important work:

No one asked him to write the Description {the first part of his chronicle}, and he was not one of the people in his society who was supposed to write literature or history. Had he not written his chronicle, he would have been nothing more for us than a name in the witness lists of a couple of charters of the counts of Flanders. Nothing he wrote would ever have come down to us, and nothing other than the chronicle has. [1]

Unlike institutionalized intellectuals, Galbert wasn’t focused on career-building practices of buttressing dominant ideology, currying favor with high-status figures, and superficially fashioning oneself as learned. Galbert sought to document “the truth of things”:

When I set out to write the death of such a leader, I did not spend time on eloquent ornaments nor did I seek for just the right rhetorical effects, but only the truth of things  … I do not much care, therefore, if anyone wants to criticize this study of the mind … or prattle against it in any way. I rest secure in the knowledge that I speak a truth known to all those who endured the same danger with me, and I entrust it to our posterity to be remembered.

{ Tanti quidem principis mortem discripturus, non elaboravi eloquentiae ornatum seu diversorum colorum distinguere modos sed rerum veritatem solummodo … Super hoc igitur mentis studio, … si quis quidquam obgarrire et detrahere contendat, non multum curo. Securum enim me facit quod veritatem omnibus apertam qui mecum eodem percellebantur periculo loquor, et eam posteris nostris memorandam commendo. } [2]

Men throughout history have endured horrific violence against men, including sexual violence against men. Galbert documented in detail such violence. Many readers have failed to appreciate adequately a profound insight in Galbert’s chronicle: all the persons killed are men.

Violence against men in Galbert’s chronicle is far more extensive than just the murder of Count Charles the Good. Immediately after the betrayers murdered the Count, they attacked his men-supporters who were also present in the Church of Saint Donatian. One such man was the castle-based administrator for the Count in Bourbourg (the castellan of Bourbourg):

They also killed the Castellan of Bourbourg, whom they first wounded mortally and then dragged vilely by his feet from the {church} gallery, into which he and the Count had mounted, to the doors of the church, where they dismembered him outside with swords.

{ Occiderunt quoque castellanum ex Brudburg, prius ad mortem vulneratum, postea per pedes a solario, in quod conscenderat comes et ipse, viliter detractum in januis ecclesiae, foras gladiis dismembrabant. } [3]

The betrayers also murdered the Castellan of Bourbourg’s two sons who were fleeing for their lives:

A nefarious knight by the name of Eric, one of those who had betrayed the Count, knocked one of the brothers off the horse on which he was fleeing, and he and those who were chasing him killed him before he could get up. They intercepted the other brother as he was rushing in flight to the door of his lodgings and stabbed him through with their swords. As he fell, one of our citizens, named Lambert Berakin, chopped at him with his ax as if he were a piece of wood.

{ Quorum alterum fratrem, Eric nomine nefarius miles, unus quidem illorum qui comitem tradiderant, ab equo quo insidens fugeret dejecit et dejectum simul cum persecutoribus interfecit. Alterum quoque fratrem in ostio hospitii sui in fugam prosilientem, ex opposito ei occursitantes gladiis trajecerunt. Quem unus civium nostrorum nomine Lambertus Berakin cadentem securi suo quasi lignum aliquod detruncavit. }

Underscoring men’s relative vulnerability to violence, the Castellan of Bourbourg as he was dying turned to a privileged woman for help:

The Abbess of Origny had accepted from him the ring which he had given her in the gallery, while he was still breathing, so that she could take it to his wife as proof of his death and as proof to his wife and sons, of whose death he knew nothing unless it was after his own death {in life after death}, of the authenticity of all the requests he made of them through the Abbess.

{ cujus annulum abbatissa ex Auriniaco ab eo in solario, dum spiraret, eo dante, susceperat, quatenus deferret uxori suae in signum suae mortis et in signum omnium eorum quae per abbatissam demandasset uxori et liberis, quorum mortem ipse nisi post mortem suam ignorabat. } [4]

The Abbess surely was a close friend of the Castellan of Bourbourg. She apparently also supported the Count. The betrayers attacked men who led religious institutions, but they didn’t attack the Abbess as she served a man whom they had just killed. Men commit much less violence against women than they do violence against men.

Fighting among various factions killed many men after the Count’s murder. The fighting was horrifically brutal. Consider Galbert’s description of just one day in the siege of the castle that the betrayers took:

March 12, Saturday, an edict went out from the leaders that all {men} who were gathered for the siege should attack the castle at every place to which they had access. …When they had brought up a pile of dry hay and kindling to attack the castle’s main gate and had summoned the knight who was to set fire to the kindling, those {men} who were attacking were so overwhelmed by stones, pikes, lances, and arrows from within the castle that countless were wounded and helmets and shields shattered by stones as big as millstones that were thrown down from the ramparts, and they were barely able to escape with their lives from beneath the arch of the gate under which they had been hiding in order to set the fire. When a stone thrown from above managed to hit anyone, regardless of his strength and valor, he suffered a most shattering blow that knocked him to the ground, broken, dying, and gasping. A squire from among those outside the castle died in this assault with an arrow through his heart.

{ Quarto idus Martii, sabbato, edictum exiit a principibus ut castrum ex omni parte qua accessum haberent invaderent omnes qui in obsidione consedissent. … Ceterum cum majores portas castri invaderent, subducta feni et stipularum arida congerie et accito milite qui ignem stipulis ingereret, abintus castrum lapidibus, sudibus, lanceis, sagittis obruti sunt hi qui aggrediebantur, ita ut quasi molaribus petris a propugnaculis dejectis innumeri laesi et conquassati galeas et scuta, vix a portarum testudine sub qua latitabant ut incendia administrarent cum salute vitae aufugerent. Quemcumque igitur persequebatur lapis ab alto dejectus, quantaecumque fuisset virtutis et virium, passus est sui ruinam gravissimam ita ut totus prostratus et confractus, moribundus et exanimis caderet. Qua infestatione armiger unus a foris sagitta trajectus cordi exspiravit. }

In this and other fighting, men were effectively required to participate.[5] Galbert noticed the bodies of ordinary men, ordered into mortally dangerous circumstances, then on the ground, “broken, dying, and gasping.” He added a telling personal characterization in recording the execution by precipitation of one of the betrayers:

the finely formed young man was pushed off and, falling to the ground, embraced the peril of his death

{ projectus est juvenis elegantioris formae et in terram decidens, suae mortis periculum insumpsit et statim exspiravit. } [6]

Galbert appreciated men’s intrinsic virtue. Recognizing, as many today do not, that men’s lives matter, Galbert lamented the deaths of so many men: “the number of free men wounded and killed couldn’t be counted,” “numberless men fell.”[7]

While today sexual violence against men is trivialized and the actual prevalence of men being raped is largely ignored, Galbert forthrightly documented sexual violence against men. He recorded the execution of one of the betrayer’s serfs:

When he had fled, he had disguised himself by putting on a woman’s coat and hidden between two mattresses. Pulled from his hiding place, he was led into the middle of the market and, with everyone looking on, was hung from a stick stuck through his lower legs and shins, his head hanging down, so that his shameful parts, that is, his anus and buttocks, were turned toward the castle to the shame and disgrace of the betrayers, who, besieged in the castle, were standing on the Count’s balcony and the ramparts and observing this being done to taunt them.

{ {quo} qui fugiens latuerat inter duas culcitras, indutus superpellicium mulieris quo se dissimularet. At inde retractus, ductus est in medium fori et, inspectantibus universis, suspensus est, fuste transfixo per suffragines et crura, capite dejecto deorsum, ita ut verecundiora, scilicet culus et nates, adverterentur versus castrum ad dedecus et ignominiam illorum traditorum qui obsessi stabant ad lobium comitis et ad propugnacula, inspectantes hoc fieri sibi ipsis in opprobrium. } [8]

The executioners apparently intended to humiliate sexually the man in killing him and to taunt the besieged for lacking masculine heterosexual desire.

Another alleged betrayer, Guy of Steenvorde, suffered a physical attack to his genitals. To assert his innocence, he was compelled to engage in man-to-man combat with another strong knight. Guy managed to get on top of the other knight and was “pounding the knight’s mouth and eyes with his iron gauntlets {maniculis ferreis ora et oculos contundens militis}.” But the other knight counter-attacked:

having raised his hand very smoothly to the lower edges of the mail coat, where Guy was unprotected, and grabbed him by the testicles, he collected his strength for a single effort and threw him from him, breaking open all the lower parts of his body by this grabbing throw so that the prostrate Guy grew weak and cried out that he was defeated and was going to die.

{ Interim manum suavius subducens usque ad inferiores loricae oras, in qua parte non fuerat Wido praemunitus, per testiculos raptum, collectis viribus ad puncti unius momentum a se propulit, in quo rapticio pulsu tota de subtus natura corporis rupta, it prostratus defecit Wido ut victum et mortuum se fore exclamaret. }

Guy was thus found guilty of betrayal and hung on gallows. Three days later, his dead body was joined with the dead body of a leader of the betrayal:

Later, placed on a cart wheel attached to a very tall pole, the bodies of both men were put on display for all those who passed by, and their arms were bent around one another’s necks as if in a mutual embrace

{ Post haec vero utrorumque corpora virorum rotae plaustri superposita in malo altissimo fixae, videnda universis transeuntibus proposuerunt, brachiaque mutuis quasi amplexibus ad colla flectentes } [9]

Guy’s only established link to the betrayal was that he had been married to the niece of that leader of the betrayal. No evidence exists that the niece herself was executed. As continues to be the case today, punishment is highly gender-biased toward punishing men, including sexual violence used as punishment.

Violence against men is rooted in part in social devaluation of men’s lives. In her introduction to her translation of Galbert’s chronicle, an eminent medievalist writing in 1960 declared:

Because of the very nature of his subject, Galbert pays little attention to those civilizing currents in Flemish society which were gradually creating “islands of peace” in this turbulent area and deflecting the energies of at least some men into peaceful channels. … There is no evidence yet of the chivalric ideal or of the courtly way of life, with its cult of women and its softening effect upon the manners and customs of the knightly class. [10]

The underlying idea, as absurd and offensive to the ideal of equal human dignity as it is influential, imagines that women make men more civilized. Women are no more inherently a civilizing current than men are. Women commonly play a central role in inciting men to violence against other men. Galbert himself recognized that reality in this account of Dedda suborning the murder of her husband Boldran. Rather than lamenting that in Galbert’s chronicle, “women hardly appear, and when they do they are nameless creatures,” or counting that Galbert’s chronicle records five women’s names, scholars might ponder how many men die.[11]

Gender protrusion in mortality represents vitally significant gender inequality. Elite men’s life expectancy in medieval England was about nine years less than that of women. Galbert’s chronicle suggests that a large gender protrusion in mortality also existed in twelfth-century Flanders. Authorities working for leading international institutions today make astonishingly mendacious claims about “gender gaps” in life expectancy. Galbert had greater commitment to recording truth. To become more enlightened, you need only read Galbert of Bruges’s chronicle and actually recognize that all the persons killed are men.

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[1] Rider (2013) p. xxxiii. Galbert was a notary who had worked in the comital administration for at least thirteen years before he wrote his chronicle. He apparently kept a fiscal register and may have also taken official notes for comital proceedings. Rider (2009) pp. 13-4.

In medieval Flanders, Bruges was a major commercial center as well as the seat of the ruler’s administration. Bruges today is a large city in the Flemish region of Belgium.

[2] Galbert of Bruges, De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum {The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders} Prologue, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 3, ll. 14-6, 29-35, English trans. from Rider (2013) pp. 2-3. In this and subsequent quotations, for ease of reading I have made without noting a few, minor, non-substantial changes in punctuation in Rider’s translation

Rider translated mentis studio as “mental study.” That’s a rather awkward construction in ordinary English. On the meaning of mentis studio, with focus on studio, Rider (2009) pp. 29-30. I’ve substituted above “study of the mind.” De multro seems to me to encompass Galbert’s wondering about the reasons that men are committing such brutal violence against men, e.g. What are they thinking? How can I understand such horrific treatment of men?

[3] Galbert, De multro 16, Latin from Rider (1994) p. 37, ll. 31-4, English trans. from Rider (2013) p. 30. To aid the general reader, I have capitalized the names of positions, e.g. castellan, in Rider’s translation when they refer to a specific person. Subsequent quotes from De multro are sourced likewise. Cited by section and by page in Rider’s translation, they are: 16, p. 31 (A nefarious knight…); 17, p. 34 (The Abbess of Origny…); 32, pp. 60-1 (March 12, Saturday, …); 81, p. 134 (the finely formed young man…); 29, p. 56 (When he had fled, he had disguised…); 58, p. 103 (pounding the knight…; having raised his hand…; placed on a cart wheel…)

[4] The Abbess ruled the abbey of Origny-Sainte-Benoîte in northern France near Saint-Quentin. Origny-Sainte-Benoîte was a rich abbey founded in the late seventh century. Rider (2013) p. 34, n. 103, and BnF data. The Abbess had squires who served her. For evidence of the Abbess’s support for the Count, De multro 39, p. 70.

Partner notes that the Abbess lacks a proper name in Galbert’s chronicle. She also describes the mortally wounded castellan giving her his ring. But she doesn’t recognized the Abbess’s privileged position amid the killing of men. Partner (2009) pp. 111, 117.

[5] Being accused of “being a betrayer” could and did cause men to be executed with little actual evidence of them supporting the betrayal of the Count. See the story of Guy of Steenvorde subsequently above. In such circumstances, declining to participate in the brutal fighting against the betrayers would be risky for men. When a new count was selected, civic leaders of Aardenburg declared:

We have established for ourselves a law that if a military expedition on behalf of our count is announced, anyone {any man} who does not have a legitimate excuse for not participating will pay a fine of twenty shillings to the count.

{ Nobis ipsis quidem legem statuimus ut si expeditio ex parte comitis nostri fuerit indicta, ille qui excusationem non habuerit legitimam, emendabit comiti viginti solidos. }

De multro 55, p. 96. Twenty shillings was “a heavy fine” equivalent to about 240 loaves of bread. Ross (1960) p. 205, n. 19, Rider (2013) p. 96. n. 270. Starvation was a significant risk in early twelfth-century Flanders. De multro 2-3, pp. 7-9. The conscription provision was a rare instance of penal law included in a charter. Ross (1960) p. 205, n. 19. Similar laws probably were in effect elsewhere under the prior Count Charles, but weren’t in charters. Men throughout history and around the world have faced the burden of impressment into military service. In stark contrast to professed ideals of gender equality, men continued to face gender-discriminatory obligations for national military service.

[6] The young man was the knight Walter, son of Lambert of Aardenburg. Rider noted, “Galbert’s bothering to comment that Walter was handsome is surprising here.” Rider (2013) p. 134, n. 396. Galbert’s comment isn’t surprising in the context of his appreciation for intrinsic virtue in men and his horror at the loss of men’s lives. Galbert described the murdered sons of the castellan of Bourbourg as “worthy to be loved by all who knew them on account of the nobility of their uncommonly good looks.” De multro 16, p. 31. Demyttenaere declares that Galbert’s “heart and mind were captivated by men.” Demyttenaere (2009) p. 151. Just as medieval women writers had loving concern for men, medieval men living amid horrific slaughter of men focused on men. The prevalent modern scholarly blindness to men as specifically but not defectively gendered human beings shouldn’t be projected back onto more humane medieval persons.

[7] De multro 108, p. 165; 114, p. 174. Although focusing on gender, Häcker (2009) and Partner (2009) take no notice of the fact that all the persons killed in De multro are men. That’s a typical approach to gender in news reporting about violent deaths: only if the persons killed are female is their gender reported.

[8] The man who hid in women’s clothing was Fromold, one of Bosiard’s serfs. Like Fromold, the provost Bertulf was sexually abused in being executed:

They pulled down his breeches so that the shameful parts of his body were visible. There was nothing foul or ignominious that they did not include in his punishment.

{ braccas detraxerunt ei ut illa verecundiora corporis apparerent. Nihil turpe vel ignominiosum erat quod in ejus supplicium non inferrent. }

De multro 57, p. 101.

[9] The other dead man was the provost Bertulf. The provost had earlier undergone brutally abusive punishment:

a crowd of men from Ypres, raging for the death of the provost, twisted the bowels of a dog around his neck and put the dog’s mouth next to his mouth as he was exhaling the breath of life, comparing him and his deeds to a dog.

{ Iprensium igitur turba, furens in mortem praepositi, canis viscera contorserat circa collum ejus et os canis ad os ejus jam vitalem spiritum expirantis opposuerunt aequiparantes cani ipsum et facta ipsius. }

De multro 57, p. 102.

[10] Ross (1960), p. 47 (from author’s introduction). James Bruce Ross was a woman medievalist born in 1902. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1934. Berman (2005) p. 575. By 1934, the men-oppressing ideology of courtly love had prominent supporters among medieval scholars. It regrettably still does.

[11] Ross (1960), p. 47, Partner (2009) p. 111.


Berman, Constance Hoffman. 2005. “James Bruce Ross (1902-1995) and the Sources for Medieval and Renaissance History.” Ch. 40 (575-84) in Jane Chance, ed. Women Medievalists and the Academy. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Demyttenaere, Bert. 2009. “The Tears of Fromold: The Murder of Charles the Good, Homoeroticism, and the Ruin of the Erembalds.” Ch. 7 (pp. 145-79) in Rider & Murray (2009).

Häcker, Martina. 2009. “The Language of Misogyny in Galbert of Bruges’s Account of the Murder of Charles the Good.” Ch. 6 (pp. 126-144) in Rider & Murray (2009).

Partner, Nancy. 2009, “Galbert’s Hidden Women: Social Presence and Narrative Concealment.” Ch. 5 (pp. 109-125) in Rider & Murray (2009).

Rider, Jeff, ed. 1994. Galbert of Bruges. De multro, traditione, et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis (CC CM) 131. Turnhout: Brepols.

Rider, Jeff. 2009. “‘Wonder with Fresh Wonder’: Galbert the Writer and the Genesis of the De multro.”  Ch. 1 (pp. 13-35) in Rider & Murray (2009).

Rider, Jeff, and Alan V. Murray, eds. 2009. Galbert of Bruges and the Historiography of Medieval Flanders. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Rider, Jeff, trans. 2013. Galbert of Bruges. The murder, betrayal, and slaughter of the glorious Charles, Count of Flanders {De multro, traditione et occisione gloriosi Karoli comitis Flandriarum}. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Ross, James Bruce, trans. 1960. Galbert of Bruges. The murder of Charles the Good, count of Flanders, by Galbert of Bruges. Translated with introduction and notes. New York: Columbia University Press.

husband blaming wife for infertility wrong in Christian marriage

martyrdom of Galaktion and Episteme

Kleitophon was a wealthy, wise, and well-regarded man among his fellow citizens in the magnificent city of Emesa in ancient Syria. Leukippe was a beautiful and virtuous woman from an eminent family of Emesa. Kleitophon and Leukippe married. Their marriage, however, wasn’t producing any children. Kleitophon disparaged his wife Leukippe for infertility:

she endured much grief and pain; for she was blamed by her own husband every day. [1]

A Byzantine text from no later than the tenth century taught that anger and anguish over infertility don’t belong in a truly Christian marriage. From a Christian perspective, infertility characterizes a relationship, not a person. Irrespective of physical limitations, Christian marriages are always fruitful.

Both Kleitophon and Leukippe were devoted to the ancient Greek goddess Artemis. Christians were then being harshly persecuted. One day a Christian monk disguised as a beggar appeared at their door. Leukippe sought to send him away, but he persisted. She then admitted him and told him of her grief:

how her womb was defective; and how, until that day, no one among the gods was to be found who could free her from these bonds and release her from the shame of childlessness. [2]

The monk told her:

If you listen to me, however, and choose to recognize the true God, who can raise up children from stones and dissolve the bonds of infertility, then you will benefit not only yourself, but you will also be able to benefit your entire bloodline, offering them true faith as their heritage. [3]

The monk told Leukippe that she could become a blessed mother to many through the rest of time. Leukippe wasn’t intellectual barren. She “paid attention to these words and offered her mind as fertile ground for the seed of his instruction.” Leukippe, however, was concerned for her husband:

if I convert to Christianity and abandon my ancestral faith, and if my husband does not follow my conversion, but continues to maintain his current beliefs, how might we, who must stay united, remain of the same mind if we are divided with respect to the most important matter?

The monk declared to Leukippe that her husband too would soon convert to Christianity. Leukippe thus decided to become a Christian.

Leukippe becoming a Christian led to her both not having sex and getting pregnant. Because in the ancient world spouses generally lacked freedom not to have sex with their spouses, Leukippe needed an excuse to avoid marital sex:

she began pretending to be ill, and would stay by herself, avoiding intercourse with her husband. Having already been cleansed by the Spirit and having received the holy baptism, she did not want to defile it with impure intercourse with her husband.

Leukippe soon realized that she was pregnant. She had become pregnant through a gift of the Spirit.

Leukippe’s husband Kleitophon soon too was filled with the Spirit. When Kleitophon realized that Leukippe had gotten pregnant, he said to her:

You seem to me, O wife, to have now pleased the immortal gods, and, because of this, you were now deemed worthy of their providence.

Leukippe in response reprimanded her husband:

Do not speak of gods, O husband — I do not want that. Rather, name the one and only God, the Lord and Creator of everything. He is the one who cares about you and us, and He is able not only to end infertility, but also to do easily whatever He wills.

Leukippe then went on to instruct her husband about “the God whom the Galileans honor.” No person has more instructive power over a man than his wife. Despite harsh persecution of Christians, Kleitophon followed his wife in converting to Christianity.

Leukippe gave birth to a son who became a noble and learned young man. The son was baptized and named Galaktion:

It was a name that securely predicted his future: for coming out of pure parents, Galaktion too became pure, a truly noble offspring of noble origins.

Galaktion, from the ancient Greek γᾰ́λᾰ, literally means “milky white.”  Unlike most students today, Galaktion acquired diverse, wide-ranging learning:

he easily went through all his elementary studies and learned all his grammar as well as Homeric skill, rhetoric and philosophy. He mastered astronomy so successfully that the movement of the heavenly bodies was not unknown to him. … Sent to schools and instructed in the most advanced studies, he surpassed even the teachers themselves by his assiduous nature.

Perhaps recognizing the oppressive structure of gynocentrism, Galaktion was reluctant to marry. His father, however, staunchly supported gynocentrism:

his father wanted to give him a wife as his revered mother {Leukippe} had died. So he found a girl who was very beautiful, the daughter of one of the high officials. Her name was Episteme.

As mates, men typically desire above all a beautiful, young woman. “Episteme” {ἐπιστήμη} in ancient Greek means “knowledge.” Galaktion’s father arranged for Galaktion to marry a beautiful, young woman, who also happened to be from a well-connected family and who honored learning with her very name. What more could a man want? Men typically endure the cruel gender role of soliciting amorous relationships. If a man aims too high in his amorous desire, he faces interminable, personal rejection. Because Galaktion’s father arranged for him to marry Episteme, Galaktion avoided a hurtful gender obligation that most men have to accept.

Galaktion initially wasn’t happy that his father had arranged for him to marry Episteme. Although a Christian, Galaktion’s father chose his son’s wife without respect to Christian values. Galaktion, in turn, apparently married Episteme to please his father:

Galaktion found it difficult to live with his wife and clearly avoided her embraces and invitations, as she did not share the same faith and had not participated in holy baptism. Because of this, he received much abuse from her family. They insistently scrutinized him about it.

Episteme reported their marital problem to her own father:

her father said to his son-in-law, “Say, young man, why have you not kissed your betrothed, as is customary for young men?” Galaktion pretended to be shy and said to Episteme with nobody in sight or within earshot, “Do you know, my lady, why I am not kissing you?” And she said to him, “No, my lord, and I am very grieved about this.” The blessed Galaktion said to her, “Because you are not a Christian, but if you were to receive holy baptism, then I will kiss you and I will call you wife.” She said to him, ” When you wish it, my lord, I will be baptized. As long as I receive what I long for.”

Withholding physical affection from a spouse is a cruel means of coercion. Because men’s sexuality is wrongly socially constructed as being of little intrinsic value to women, most men don’t recognize that they could manipulate women by withholding physical affection from them. As the ancient Greek play Lysistrata prominently and unforgettably showed, women understand and practice the power of withholding physical affection from men. Galaktion, with extraordinary insight and a characteristically feminine form of cruelty, induced his wife to convert to Christianity.

Only eight days after her conversion, Episteme and Galaktion consensually and enthusiastically embraced sexless marriage. Episteme had a dream in which she saw monks, nuns, and angels in a beautiful palace. She then suggested to her husband that they remain physically separate so as to devote themselves to God:

Could it be, my husband, that if we were to separate from each other and enlist with God, we would still be able to preserve our affection for each other undivided? Offer me this firm pledge and I will always stand by you, sharing in this decision.

Galaktion agreed to Episteme’s proposal that they pursue her dream. They vowed to each other “to never stand apart in their intent.” Then they gave all their possessions to the poor and entered sex-segregated, cloistered religious life.

Galaktion and Episteme’s sexless relationship was highly fruitful in Christian understanding. After they had established themselves in sex-segregated religious life, they were brought together in vicious persecution for their dedication to God in the Christian way. Together they courageously proclaimed their unalterable Christian faith in the face of torture and death threats. Then they were beheaded. In ancient Christian understanding, that was a gloriously fruitful way to die. Galaktion and Episteme were soon honored as saints. They have been so honored for more than a millennium.[4]

Christian couples can be fertile without the husband impregnating the wife. Kleitophon and Leukippe had their son Galaktion by the power of the Spirit after they had restrained from sex. Galaktion and his wife Episteme gave up physical intimacy while preserving their affection for each other.[5] They subsequently came to be honored as saints. Both of these couples continue to inspire Christian couples today, especially those struggling with a worldly understanding of infertility.

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Read more:


[1] Vita of Galaktion and Episteme, from Greek trans. Alwis (2011) p. 287. This vita was probably composed between the end of the fourth century and 886. Id. pp. 9-10. It survives in fifteen Greek manuscripts, with the earliest dating to the eleventh century. Id. p. 8. The manuscripts vary little in the text of the life. I’ll refer to this text of the vita as the “pre-Metaphrastic text.” Symeon Metaphrastes adapted this version in his tenth-century Menologion. Subsequently above I quote from both texts.

The pre-Metaphrastic text stereotypes the husband as a perpetrator of domestic violence. Symeon Metaphrastes, perhaps recognizing that vicious, mendacious, anti-men claims readily circulate under gynocentrism, toned down the anti-men gender stereotyping.

Kleitophon and Leukippe are the title characters in Achilles Tatios’s second-century novel, The Adventures of Leukippe and Kleitophon. The pre-Metaphrastic text names Leukippe as Gleukippe. That’s probably an early scribal error that became entrenched. Metaphrastes’s Menologion used the names Kleitophon and Leukippe. Above I consistently use those names.

[2] Symeon Metaphrastes, Menologion, “Life, Conduct, and Passion of the Holy and Glorious Martyrs Galaktion and Episteme” para. 6, from Greek trans. Papaioannou (2017) p. 91 (Greek on facing pages). Subsequent quotes above from the Metaphrastic text (cited by paragraph and page in id.) are: 7, p. 91 (If you listen to me…); 8. p. 91 (paid attention…); 9, p. 93 (if I convert…); 11, p. 93 (she began pretending to be ill…); 12, p. 95 (You seem to me…; Do not speak of gods…); 14, p. 95 (the god whom the Galileans honor); 17, p. 97 (It was a name…); 17, p. 99 (Sent to schools…); 19, p. 99 (Galaktion found it difficult…); 22, p. 103 (Could it be…); 23, p. 103 (to never stand apart in their intent);

Subsequent quotes above from the pre-Metaphrastic text (cited by paragraph and page in Alwis (2011)) are: 6, p. 289 (he easily went through…; his father wanted…); 7, pp. 289-90 (her father said to his son-in-law…).

In the above quotes, I have made a few, minor, non-substantial changes to the translations to make them more easily readable for general readers.

[3] The reference to raising up children from stones comes most directly from Matthew 3:9. Ancient Greek mythology about Deucalion also refers to children being produced from stones.

[4] The second-century Christian authority Tertullian famously declared, “Blood of Christians is the seed {of new life} {semen est sanguis Christianorum}.” Tertullian, Apologeticum {The Apology}, Ch. 50 (English translation, Latin text). Glen Penner offers a poignant reflection on Tertullian’s statement.

The pre-Metaphrastic text is headed, “The life and holy martyrdom of the very holy martrys, Saints {ἁγίων} Galaktion and Episteme.” Alwis (2011) p. 279 (Greek text), p. 286 (English translation). Galaktion and Episteme are honored on November 5 in the Orthodox Christian calendar.

[5] In the vita of Julian and Basilissa, which apparently was created between 431 and 525 GC, Julian and Basilissa made a vow of celibacy on their wedding night. They converted their houses into monasteries and nourished many persons in religious life. Alwis (2011) p. 6 (dating), pp. 157-248 (Greek text, English translation, and notes and commentary).

[image] Martyrdom of Galaktion and Episteme. Illumination from the Menologion of Basil II, Vatican Library, Ms. Vat. gr. 1613, f. 161.


Alwis, Anne P. 2011. Celibate marriages in late antique and byzantine hagiography: the lives of Saints Julian and Basilissa, Andronikos and Athanasia, and Galaktion and Episteme. London: Continuum.

Papaioannou, Stratis, ed. and trans. 2017. Christian novels from the Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, Vol. 45. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Widows update hogs all Internet bandwidth & craps on its user-serfs

Microsoft peasants' revolt

If you use Microsoft Windows 10, your computer and your internet connection aren’t yours. Windows owns them. Your needs and preferences as a user matter little in relation to what Windows wants to do to you.

If Windows 10 decides it wants to download a mega-update, it can just do it. That will make your internet connection unusable for however long it takes to download however much stuff Windows decides to download. It doesn’t matter what you want to do. What Windows wants to do has priority over what you want to do.

You can’t effectively tell Windows to share the available bandwidth with you. You can’t effectively tell Windows to do the update later. Sure, if you’re sophisticated enough to go in and change some general policy settings, you can try to get Windows to share bandwidth with you and pause updates until you get done what you’re trying to do. In my experience, those settings do nothing. It’s maddeningly difficult even to know what Windows is doing on your computer to destroy your internet user experience. If you go into task manager, you just see “Service Host: Local System” consuming all your bandwidth.

Pushing new features in Windows users’ faces at exactly the same time those users are infuriated that a Windows update treats them like serfs on their own computer isn’t a good marketing strategy.  Windows 10 Creators Update? That’s not credible when the Windows update treats me like a serf. Why should a serf believe that an oppressive lord is really offering him something good for his personal creativity? The situation is worse than that. I literally use LibreOffice rather than activate Office 2016 (which I bought) because I don’t want to Office 2016 to abuse me with updates.

I’m plotting to seize my computer and my internet connection back from Windows. Microsoft has made me into a serf relative to my Windows overlord. It’s time for a peasants’ revolt.

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Note: The above post describes my experience using Microsoft’s Windows 10 operating system through early August, 2017. Windows 10 was released to general users on July 29, 2015. The most recent update pushed at me seems to have changed the updating behavior. I don’t understand exactly what has changed. Based on past Microsoft action, I don’t trust Microsoft to respect what I want to do with my computer and my Internet connection.

[image] Modern peasant with pitchfork. Image thanks to ErikaWittlieb, available under a permissive Pixabay License.