reconstructing ancient songs for schoolboys: Juvenal vs. sugar & spice

Surviving manuscripts in Europe from the tenth through the twelfth century include musical notation for Latin texts by Virgil, Lucan, Horace, Juvenal, Statius, and Boethius, and other classical authors. The musical notation seems to have been intended to help medieval schoolboys learn how to recite classical Latin verse.[1] Today those classical works are read as literary poems. Schoolboys singing Juvenal’s satire 6? That’s inconceivable today. Any schoolboys doing that would be immediately expelled from the gynocentric-totalitarian educational complex and probably incarcerated for committing gender-transgressive singing crimes.

Modern scholars have imagined medieval men singing Latin classics in a highly orthodox way. An eminent scholar at Cambridge University and a world-class performer of medieval music have reconstructed medieval songs based on poems from Boethius’s sixth-century Consolation of Philosophy. Those poems were written with musical notation in the eleventh-century manuscript Carmina Cantabrigiensia.[2] A portion of their musical reconstruction is available on YouTube (see below). It’s music for these Boethian verses:

Verses I made once glowing with content;
Tearful, alas, sad songs must I begin.

{ Carmina qui quondam studio florente peregi,
Flebilis heu maestos cogor inire modos. } [3]

This surely isn’t the sort of music schoolboys would enjoy.

For a sense of what schoolboys sang within medieval Latin’s relatively broad freedom of expression, modern trends provide considerable insight. About 1820, the English poet Robert Southey wrote the verses:

What are little boys made of
Snips & snails & puppy dogs tails
And such are little boys made of.

What are young women made of
Sugar & spice & all things nice [4]

By the mid-twentieth century, nearly identical lines formed a well-known nursery rhyme. By 2017, the U.S. mega-corporation Nike drew upon that nursery rhyme in an attempt to influence Russian popular culture and Russian consumer behavior. Contempt for boys and men and celebration of girls and women are winning themes in gynocentric society.[5]

At the margins of gynocentric society are boys’ and men’s voices of sexed protest. Medieval schoolboys were forced to endure oppressive lessons such as those in Egbert of Liège’s eleventh-century Fecunda Ratis. But perceptive and compassionate medieval writers understood the suffering of fathers’ deprived of custody of their children, poignantly lamented a non-functioning penis, and vigorously protested structural injustices against men. They would have sought to boost boys’ rebellious spirits. They would have taught boys to sing verses from Juvenal’s Satire 6:

this is the moment of pure Woman —
the shout’s repeated in unison from the entire grotto:
“Now’s the time! Send in the men!” If the wife’s paramour is asleep,
she’ll tell his son to put on his hood and hurry along.
If that’s no good, there’s an assault on the slaves. If no prospect of available
slaves, they’ll pay the water delivery man to come in. If they
can’t find him and there’s a deficit of humans, not a moment passes before
she voluntarily offers her ass to be mounted by a donkey.

{ tum femina simplex,
ac pariter toto repetitus clamor ab antro
“iam fas est, admitte viros.” dormitat adulter,
illa iubet sumpto iuvenem properare cucullo;
si nihil est, servis incurritur; abstuleris spem
servorum, veniet conductus aquarius; hic si
quaeritur et desunt homines, mora nulla per ipsam
quo minus inposito clunem summittat asello. } [6]

Schoolboys throughout the ages would relish singing such verses. More importantly, such verses would teach schoolboys that they are no more intrinsically stupid and evil than girls are. That’s a lesson that boys need to learn, especially today.

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[1] Ziolkowski (2007) provides a seminal scholarly review of musical notation in classical manuscripts.

[2] The Cambridge scholar is Sam Barrett. The leading medieval musician is Benjamin Bagby, co-founder of Sequentia and director of Sequentia’s Lost Songs Project. Sequentia has produced an album of reconstructed medieval music, Lost Songs of a Rhineland Harper.

Carmina Cantabrigiensia includes Modus Florum and Modus Liebinc. Both of these songs might encourage boys to challenge gynocentrism. See my post on Modus Florum, especially note [11].

[3] Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy 1.1-2, Latin text and English trans. from Stewart, Rand & Tester (1974) pp. 130-1.

[4] Opie & Opie (1997) p. 117. When writing about women, Southey took care to indicate that not all women are like that (NAWALT):

What are some women made of?
Bell metal mouths and leathern lungs
Goose’s brains and parrot’s tongues.

Id. In 1846, Edward Francis Rimbault, an English musicologist, included no such qualification in disparaging young men:

What are young men made of?
Sighs and leers and crocodile tears.
What are young women made of?
Ribbons and laces, and sweet pretty faces.


[5] In a highly popular related video, the Powerpuff Girls take on the Rowdyruff Boys. The boys are depicted as sinister. Moreover, the boys are associated with crime and incarceration. The girls prevail in the end with the tactics that medieval literature of men’s sex protest recognized: the tactics that brought about the downfall of Adam, Samson, and Solomon.

[6] Juvenal, Satire 6.327-34, Latin text and trans. (adapted non-substantially) from Braund (2004) pp. 262-3. Munk Olsen reported that Juvenal’s Satire 88.79-84 and 8.88-89 are neumed (notated with musical notation) in Bibliotheek der Rijksuniversiteit, MS B.P.L 82, fol. 59r. That claim hasn’t been verified. Ziolkowski (2007) p. 257. In his De doctrina spirituali, Otloh of St. Emmeran in Regensburg (c. 1010-1070) described Horace, Terence, and Juvenal as three authors “to whom the worldly school is devoted {quos sectatur schola mundi}.” id. p. 35. Moreover, the eleventh-century Lexicon prosodiacum included examples from Juvenal. Id. Juvenal is among the classical poets represented most frequently in surviving medieval manuscripts. Id. p. 36. Medieval schoolboys plausibly sung Juvenal’s Satire 6.327-34.


Braund, Susanna Morton, ed. and trans. 2004. Juvenal, Persius. Juvenal and Persius. Loeb Classical Library 91. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Opie, Iona Archibald, and Peter Opie. 1997. The Oxford dictionary of nursery rhymes. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Stewart, H. F., E. K. Rand, S. J. Tester, ed. and trans. 1973. Boethius. Theological Tractates. The Consolation of Philosophy. Loeb Classical Library 74. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2007. Nota bene: reading classics and writing melodies in the early Middle Ages. Turnhout: Brepols. (introduction)

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