lives of saints Cyprian and Justina show man’s suffering in love

Saints Cyprian and Justina; illumination from 11th-century Byzantine menologion

About 1700 years ago in Antioch in present-day Turkey, a wealthy, well-educated man of high birth loved a beautiful, young woman. Her name was Ioustina. His name was Aglaïdas. Aglaïdas didn’t merely have the high masculine social status that typically attracts amorous attention from women. Aglaïdas {᾽Αγλαïδας} in ancient Greek means “beautiful, splendid.”[1] Aglaïdas, like Ioustina, was also physically beautiful.

Men’s great love for women often makes men vulnerable to sexual harassment by women. So it was for Aglaïdas:

seeing often the virgin {Ioustina}, when she passed by on her way to the house of God, he was fiercely stricken by her beauty as if by an arrow — even though, with fasting and prayer, she did everything in her power to make her beauty wither and disappear as if it were a perilous and dangerous thing. Still, with his lascivious eyes, at first he would watch the streets and wait for her; and when he came face to face with her, he would shower praises on her, extol her beauty, and laud her good fortune. Then he would slowly indicate his longing through some signals, casting many nets (as one might say) and preparing for a catch. Yet for the virgin all these ploys were nothing but sheer nonsense and an annoyance. She considered them as worthy of laughter rather than attention by chaste eyes and ears. [2]

Aglaïdas showered praise on Ioustina. He obviously hadn’t learned crucial insights for men from medieval women’s love poetry. Lacking the benefit of Juvenal’s counsel to his friend Postumus, or Valerius’s words of concern to his friend Rufinus, Aglaïdas asked Ioustina to marry him. Ioustina considered herself to be a bride of Christ, and she rejected bigamy. Her courageous action probably saved Aglaïdas from a sexless marriage like Cecilia had with Valerian.

After Ioustina refused to marry him, Aglaïdas resorted to force. Bridal capture has been a common ritual forced upon men across history and across societies. It functions to emphasize women’s relatively high value in gynocentric society. Aglaïdas, however, engaged in bridal capture without the implicit consent of Ioustina and her family:

as he found the maiden to be immovable, staunch, and impossible to capture with deceptive words (though he had moved every stone, as the proverb says) he gathered abundant help, hired those specialized in matters of love, and ambushed her on the road. He thus carried her off by force to wherever he wished.

Aglaïdas didn’t rape Ioustina. Adult male humans, like other adult male primates, hardly ever engage in sexual assault against females. Violence against men is much more prevalent than violence against women. After Aglaïdas abducted Ioustina, men of the community rushed to attack Aglaïdas:

As soon as news of this outrageous daring act {Aglaïdas abducting Ioustina} spread to the city and to the household of her mother, many strong men, armed with weapons, rushed to confront the brigands. With their appearance alone, they made those appalling abductors flee out of sight — not so much because they yielded to force but rather because they were driven powerfully away by the shame of the deed. Yet Aglaïdas (as his passion was more violent than any feeling of shame) cared neither for swords nor the crowd nor anything else. Instead, he embraced the maiden and was ready to suffer anything rather than be separated from her. Ioustina became instantly like Joseph, that most chaste and most courageous man. She held the sign of the cross before her like a weapon, not against Aglaïdas, but rather against the one who was stealthily attempting to wage war against her through him. She thus immediately repelled and pushed back that abominable man. She also poured all sorts of curses upon him and rained blows and spittle upon his face that deserved it. [3]

Aglaïdas thus suffered physical assault and public shaming. He also had Ioustina, whom he had not forced into sex, forcibly taken away from him.

Aglaïdas desperately sought to regain Ioustina. He valued her above his own life:

One thing was for him worse than death itself: losing Ioustina. For a short while, sadness overtook him and desolation depressed him. But as soon as his desire was again (so to speak) rekindled, untrained as he was and rather unschooled in its resistance, he could not wrestle his lust with gentlemanly reason. He did exactly as his passion demanded and thus prepared himself for new, secret endeavors.

To inspire Ioustina to love him, Aglaïdas employed the renowned sorcerer Kyprianos. Kyprianos had been born in Carthage to noble and wealthy parents. After he became famous in Carthage for his learning in philosophy and magic, he moved to Antioch to expand the scope of his reputation from North Africa to Mesopotamia. Explaining the sorrowful misfortune of his love for Ioustina, Aglaïdas said to Kyprianos:

You are the only consolation left to me for this misfortune. Placing my trust in you alone, until this very instance I restrained my urge to choose death over life. Worry not about the amount of wealth and gold you will obtain from me if you release me from this misfortune, as I will provide them to you abundantly and exceeding all your hopes.

Many men will give up anything, including their own lives, for women they love. That’s utter folly for a man when the woman doesn’t love him. Men, even men who are not Christian, should choose life over death. Men should not sell their souls to the devil for the love of women.

The soul-destroying gender inequality in love that most ordinary men endure generates little public concern. Using the power of the sign of the cross, Ioustina decisively defeated the most powerful magic that Kyprianos could summon to gain for Aglaïdas her love. Impressed with Ioustina’s power, Kyprianos converted to Christianity. Ioustina (Justina) and Kyprianos (Cyprian) today are celebrated as saints in Orthodox Christianity. Aglaïdas and his misfortune are largely forgotten.

What men need to overcome their suffering in love for women isn’t sorcery. Like Kyprianos, Merlin the magician lacked power in relation to women. Unlike Kyprianos, Merlin didn’t choose an alternate way to a full life. Merlin died a slow, horrific death amid embalmed bodies of dead lovers.

Men who don’t want to be in loveless Hell with Aglaïdas can benefit from perceptive study of saints’ lives. Saint Paul’s seduction of Thecla teaches men the importance of conveying mastery. Saint Jerome with his boldness and self-confidence gained many women followers. Saint Andronikos courageously asserted his own views in loving discussion with his wife. While risks and dangers exist, men can gain love without committing their souls to the devil.

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[1] The text states that Aglaïdas was “allotted such a name perhaps due to his beauty.” Symeon Metaphrastes, Menologion, Life, Conduct, and Passion of Saints Kyprianos and Ioustina, para. 10, from Greek trans. Papaioannou (2017) p. 11. Id. pp. 284-5, note to 10, gives the Greek meaning of Aglaïdas. Ioustina is a Greek form of the Roman name Justina, which means fair or just. Kyprianos is a Greek name commonly known in English as Cyprian.

The Life of Kyprianos and Ioustina (Life of Cyprian and Justina) has an abundant manuscript tradition in Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, Ethiopic, Coptic, and Slavonic. References to it exist in an encomium of Gregory of Nazianzos (ca. 329 – 390) and in a poem by the empress Athenais-Eudokia (ca. 400-460). Id. p. 283, note. In the Orthodox Christian calendar, the feast day for these saints is October 2. Here are narrative and prayers for the feast day of Cyprian and Justina. Here’s an English translation of a Coptic text, Confession and Martyrdom of Cyprian of Antioch.

[2] Metaphrastes, Life of Kyprianos and Ioustina, para. 10, from Greek trans. Papaioannou (2017) p. 11. I’ve made some insubstantial changes to this and subsequent quotes above to make them more easily readable. Casting nets to prepare for a catch apparently alludes to Luke 5:4.

Subsequent quotes are similarly from Metaphrastes’s Life of Kyprianos and Ioustina. Cited by paragraph and page in id., these quotes are from: 11, p. 13 (as he found the maiden…); 12, p. 13 (As soon as news…); 13, p. 15 (One thing for him…); 16, p. 17 (You are the only consolation…).

[3] An announcement of the publication of Christian novels from the Menologion of Symeon Metaphrastes quoted the account of Ioustina assaulting Aglaïdas. The announcement commented:

Like a scene from an old western, the anecdote combines melodrama and acts of derring-do; Ioustina becomes a scrappy heroine, both brave and wise {sic}, sensing the presence of greater evil behind the deeds of Aglaïdas.

Women’s violence against men is commonly trivialized within the anti-men sex bias of criminal justice systems.

[image] Saint Kyprianos (Cyprian) and Saint Ioustina (Justina). Illumination from the feast day for these saints (October 2) in an eleventh-century Byzantine menologion. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


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.

3 thoughts on “lives of saints Cyprian and Justina show man’s suffering in love”

  1. If Ioustina did not wish to marry him, Aglaidas trying to kidnap her would not engender much love. Even if Aglaidas did not touch her. I don’t see Ioustina’s rejection of him as inherently demeaning in this context. Also, how does bridal capture negatively impact men? Wouldn’t the brides being captured against their will be more at risk here? I just want to understand.

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