aetas Ovidiana: friar labored to ensure boy equipped with Naso

Ovid Naso

Medieval Latin literature highly valued the classical poetry of Naso, also known as Ovid. In fact, the twelfth and thirteenth centuries have become known among medieval scholars as “the Ovidian Age {Aetas Ovidiana}.”[1] Learned men in the Middle Ages recognized that studying Ovid was vital for intellectually preparing a boy for manhood. Not surprisingly, a Franciscan friar filled with love for neighbor vigorously engaged in erection labor to ensure that a boy became equipped with a nose.

The friar loved a lovely young woman recently married to one of his neighbors. The young woman soon became pregnant. Meeting with her and her husband, the friar prophesied that the child would bring them great unhappiness. The couple pressed to know more, but the friar refused to speak further. Anxious to know the nature of the impending calamity, the woman secretly summoned the friar and begged him to speak. After impressing upon her the necessity of maintaining secrecy, he declared that she would bear a son, but he would be born “without a nose {absque naso}.” According to the friar, not having a nose is “the foulest mark of all on a human face {turpissima omnium in facie hominis nota}.” That indicates how highly Naso was valued in the Middle Ages.

Terrified at the news that her son wouldn’t be equipped with Naso, the lovely young woman begged the friar for a remedy. He consented and explained:

it was necessary to set a certain day for a work of God when he would have sex with her and supplement her husband’s deficiency and add a nose to the child.

{ certa die opus esse, ut cum ea concumberet, et se suppleturum viri defectum, et puero additurum nasum. } [2]

Not wanting her infant to be born deformed, the woman reluctantly agreed. She submitted to the friar on the appointed day. That wasn’t enough:

Saying that he needed to perfect the nose, he came back and had sex with her many times. She, from a sense of modest, was lying still, but the friar ordered her to gyrate, since with friction the nose would better adhere.

{ cum ille nondum nasum perfectum esse diceret, saepius cum muliere concubuit. Illa, prae verecundia, cum staret immobilis, Frater moveri eam jubebat, ut ex confricatione magis nasus cohaereret. }

The young woman subsequently gave birth to a boy with a very prominent nose. She herself told her husband how their son had been equipped with a nose. He responded magnanimously, as husbands are prone to do:

he praised his wife, and didn’t disparage the work of his fellow-father.

{ maritus laudavit, et operam compatris non est aspernatus. }

Ovid would have been delighted with all of them.

We are no longer in an Aetas Ovidiana. In the Middle Ages, husbands were thought to preserve wives’ health through sex. Now a large share of husbands are disparaged as rapists. Moreover, the criminalization of men seducing women explicitly includes men having sex with women under the pretense of providing medical treatment.[3] What will be the result of this calamitous lack of appreciation for Ovid, no one knows.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Early in the twentieth century, the Latin scholar Ludwig Traube described an aetas Virgiliana (seventh and eight centuries), an aetas Horatiana (tenth and eleventh centuries), and then an aetas Ovidiana (twelfth and thirteenth centuries). In fact, aetas Ovidiana characterizes well most of the European Middle Ages. Monastic readers in Benedictine missions from the ninth century gave Ovid central importance in the surviving classical tradition. Clark (2011) p. 177. Interest in Ovid rapidly grew:

In the centuries of greatest monastic expansion — c. 950 to c. 1150 — Ovid emerged as the pre-eminent Latin master of the cloister, the companion of the schoolboys, novices and juniors, and also the corruption of their senior colleagues

Id. p. 178. Late medieval English monastic readers remained keenly interested in Ovid. In fact, most learned persons throughout the Middle Ages were interested in Ovid:

he {Ovid} belonged not only to the aetas Ovidiana — the twelfth and thirteenth centuries — or to Benedictine monks alone, but was shared among Christian readers of various religious affiliations until the end of the Middle Ages and beyond.

Wenzel (2011) p. 160. Preachers transmitted Ovid to the whole of medieval society. Among 2,500 sermons from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, over one hundred refer to Ovid. Id. Ovid was used in sermons much more often than either Virgil or Horace were. Id. p. 175.

On the reception of Ovid generally, Newlands & Miller (2014).

[2] Poggio, Facetiae 223, “A Minorite friar who made a child’s nose {De fratre minorum qui fecit nasum puero},” Latin text from Poggoi (1879) vol. 2, pp. 150-3. Here and subsequent quotes include my English translation, drawing upon that of id., but tracking the Latin more closely. All subsequent quotes above are similarly from id.

The Franciscans were originally called the Ordo Fratrum Minorum (“The Order of the Minor Brothers”), also known as Minorites.

[3] See, e.g., Boyett v. State (1964), 8 Div. 907, Court of Appeals of Alabama. 159 So.2d 628 (1964). Women deceiving men into having sex isn’t criminalized. For example, a woman who has breast enlargement implants and doesn’t inform a man of that reality before having sex with him isn’t subject to a criminal charge of sex by deception. Here’s more on the historical criminalization of men seeking sex with women.

[image] Portrait in profile of Ovid. This portrait (and its reflection about a vertical axis) is widely disseminated on the web, but not convincingly sourced. It appears to be a print from the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.


Clark, James G., Frank Thomas Coulson, and Kathryn L. McKinley, eds. 2011. Ovid in the Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Clark, James G. 2011. “Ovid in the monasteries: the evidence from late medieval England.” Ch. 9 (pp. 177-196) in Clark, Coulson & McKinley (2011).

Newlands, Carole Elizabeth, and John F. Miller, eds. 2014. A handbook to the reception of Ovid. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell.

Poggio. 1879. Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini. The facetiae or jocose tales of Poggio, now first translated into English with the Latin text. Paris: Isidore Liseux (vol. 1, vol. 2).

Wenzel, Siegfried. 2011. “Ovid from the pulpit.” Ch. 8 (pp. 160-176) in Clark, Coulson & McKinley (2011).

it’s always men’s fault: Jacques de Vitry blamed men for castration culture

medallion depicting Jacques de Vitry, 1518

In early thirteenth-century Europe, church leader Jacques de Vitry recognized the harm that castration culture was inflicting. Castration culture has roots in gynocentric society and Hesiod’s influential Theogony. It’s entangled within the intimate, mundane relations of ordinary women. Nonetheless, consistent with social bias toward blaming and punishing men, Jacques de Vitry blamed men for castration culture.

In medieval Europe, priests were understood to be figures of Christ married to the church, the bride of Christ. This figure required ordinary Christian men to understand themselves to be part of the “female” church. The female gender of the church tended to support gynocentrism and devalue masculinity. However, Paul of Tarsus, with heroic commitment to Jesus, unequivocally turned against husband’s subordination to their wives in the dominant Roman culture. He taught:

Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. As the church is subject to Christ, so let wives also be subject in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. Even so husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.

{ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί οἱ ἄνδρες ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι ἵνα παραστήσῃ αὐτὸς ἑαυτῷ ἔνδοξον τὴν ἐκκλησίαν μὴ ἔχουσαν σπίλον ἢ ῥυτίδα ἤ τι τῶν τοιούτων ἀλλ᾽ ἵνα ᾖ ἁγία καὶ ἄμωμος οὕτως ὀφείλουσιν καὶ οἱ ἄνδρες ἀγαπᾶν τὰς ἑαυτῶν γυναῖκας ὡς τὰ ἑαυτῶν σώματα ὁ ἀγαπῶν τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἑαυτὸν ἀγαπᾷ οὐδεὶς γάρ ποτε τὴν ἑαυτοῦ σάρκα ἐμίσησεν ἀλλὰ ἐκτρέφει καὶ θάλπει αὐτήν καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν ὅτι μέλη ἐσμὲν τοῦ σώματος αὐτοῦ ἀντὶ τούτου καταλείψει ἄνθρωπος τὸν πατέρα καὶ τὴν μητέρα καὶ προσκολληθήσεται πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ ἔσονται οἱ δύο εἰς σάρκα μίαν }[1]

Some have misinterpreted this passage to support and encourage wives to crucify their husbands, just as Christ was crucified. That’s wrong. Jesus commanded his followers, “love one another {ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους}.”[2] There’s no exception to that commandment for women in relation to men, or wives in relation to their husbands. Paul, who transformed Thecla into a saint, apparently didn’t think it was necessary to remind wives to love their husbands. While reminding husbands to love their wives, Paul respected wives enough to believe that they would love their husbands even without being told to do so. Whether such confidence in wives’ love for their husbands is warranted today isn’t clear.

In a sophisticated parable drawing upon the figure of Christ married to the church, Jacques de Vitry blamed hateful and malicious men for castration culture. Jacques de Vitry declared:

If any bishop because of hatred or anger deprives his people of preaching, he is like the foolish and malicious man who, in hatred for his wife, cut off his genitals and thus harmed himself more than others. The bishop who abandons the people in their sins will be punished more than all others, because the blood of all is taken from his hand.

{ Si enim propter odium vel indignationem subtrahat populo predicationem, similis est cuidam stulto et malicioso homini qui, in odio uxoris sue, genitalia sibi abscidit et ita prius sibi quam aliis nocuit, et prelatus, qui populum in errore relinquit, plus omnibus aliis punietur, quia sanguis omnium de manu ejus requiretur. } [3]

In the European Middle Ages, a husband’s sexual obligation to his wife was a matter of utmost seriousness — a matter of life and death. A husband who castrated himself may have harmed himself more than others, but he also seriously harmed his wife’s body. In this parable, castration culture is literally enacted as a result of a husband’s hatred toward his wife. At the same time, hatred toward men obviously nourishes castration culture. Castration culture is rightly associated with hatred toward both men and women. Yet from men’s lifespan shortfall, to the vastly gender-disproportionate incarceration of men, to men’s reluctance to withdraw from the paid workforce to spend more time with their children at home, men are readily blamed for castration culture and more generally for all harm to themselves as well as all harm to others.[4]

In depriving the people of preaching, the bishop metaphorically castrates himself. The bishop acts in the person of Christ with respect to his local church. In celebrating the Eucharist, the bishop distributes with his hands the blood of Christ under the form of the communion wine and bread. He thus helps his people to cast off their sins and become new creations in Christ. Just as a castrated man cannot procreate, the bishop who deprives his people of preaching cannot lead his local church to the new creation of Christ.

The deeply rooted social bias toward punishing men is deeply embedded in Jacques de Vitry’s parable. According to Christian understanding, Christ, who was a man, took on the sins of all, including the sins of women. According to this parable, the bishop depriving his people of preaching will be punished for the sins of all. Like the husband charged to ensure that his wife is forever “holy and without blemish,” the bishop has a heavy responsibility and heavy punishment for failure. The pattern is clear: put the sins of women on men.

Castration culture expresses social devaluation of men’s sexuality. That harms everyone. Women as well as men are responsible for castration culture and for each other’s salvation. Men and women must join together, vigorously reject castration culture, and thrust themselves into a brighter, more fruitful future.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Ephesians 5:22-31, Greek text from Blue Letter Bible.

[2] John 13:34, Greek text from Blue Letter Bible.

[3] Jacques de Vitry, Exempla 22 in Crane (1890) pp. 7-8, 142. Id. supplies the Latin text. I adapted the English translation from that in id. to follow the Latin more closely. On Jacques de Vitry, Bolton (1998).

[4] Men suffer from structural inequality in parental knowledge. For example, before the advent of DNA paternity testing, husbands necessarily struggled with uncertainty about whether their wives had cuckolding them in producing their children. Drawing upon castration culture, one husband devised a horrible test:

he castrated himself, with his thinking that, if his wife subsequently became pregnant, he would surely know that she had committed adultery.

{ se ipsum castravit, eo consilio ut, si uxor postmodum concepisset, in adulterio fuisse convinceretur. }

Poggio, Facetiae 225, “A jealous man castrated himself so that he would know his wife’s uprightness {Zelotypus quidam se castravit ut uxoris probitatem cognosceret},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 2, pp. 154-5, my English translation adapted from that in id. to follow the Latin more closely.

[image] Medallion depicting Jacques de Vitry. Dated 1518. Thanks to sailko and Wikimedia Commons.


Bolton, Brenda. 1998. “Faithful to whom? Jacques de Vitry and the French Bishops.” Revue Mabillon. 09: 53-72.

Crane, Thomas Frederick. 1890. The exampla or illustrative stories from the Sermones vulgares of Jacques de Vitry. London: David Nutt.

Poggio. 1879. Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini. The facetiae or jocose tales of Poggio, now first translated into English with the Latin text. Paris: Isidore Liseux (vol. 1, vol. 2).

immiseration of erection labor only intensified in late capitalism

Throughout history, men have commonly paid women for sex. At the same time, men’s erection labor has been progressively alienated from them and turned into a means by which the gynocentric substructure disciplines and punishes. A momentous stage in this historical process occurred in the Industrial Revolution of late eighteenth-century England. As men were made subject to factory discipline, their sexual activity was also more strictly regulated. Men’s erection labor was immiserated to an extent surpassed only now under the sexual Stalinism of late capitalism.

man attempts de-icing

In England about 1800, population growth was roughly double that early in the eighteenth century. An increase in fertility predominately drove the increase in population growth.[1] Assuming health, economic welfare, and child-limitation practices didn’t change to increase fertility, the increase in fertility must have been driven by an increase in heteronormative sexual activity.

This hypothesized increase in sexual activity across eighteenth-century England occurred in conjunction with the rise of disciplined labor within factors. An influential scholar has suggested that these developments are connected:

I hypothesize that the invention of foreplay is an aspect of the history of capitalism, that the invention of industrial work-discipline is an aspect of the history of heterosexuality, and that both developments are in an important sense the same. [2]

In short, men’s erection labor was disciplined from spontaneous sexual play toward more efficient foreplay leading rigidly into heteronormative sexual activity to produce new human beings. Other than enjoying more children, men didn’t receive increased compensation for their increased erection productivity. That’s what scholars call the immiseration of erection labor, or immiserating growth. The capitalist system has continued to evolve through the same dynamic between the relations of sex and the material-biological forces that produce new human beings.

Within the gynocentric system of late capitalism, all methods for raising the collective esteem of women are put into effect at the cost of the individual man. All means for the development of gender equality undergo a dialectical inversion so that they become a means of dominating and exploiting men. Relations of men-subordinating gender equality distort the man into a fragment of a man, they degrade the penis to the level of an appendage to a wrongly constructed machine, and they destroy the actual content of his erection labor by turning it into a torment. They alienate him from the intellectual and emotional potentialities of sexual intercourse in the same proportion as mass-media representations are incorporated in it as a source of false imagination. They deform the conditions under which he interacts with women and subject him during the seduction process to a despotism the more hateful for its meanness. They transform his intimate relations into financial obligations and drag his wife and child into the roles of debt-collection enforcers on behalf of state “child support” agencies. These horrors of capitalist development are only now starting to be identified and criticized.

Men must no longer tolerate their erection labor being concealed with disdain. Relations of sex must be transformed. The material-seminal forces of human production must be priced in accordance with the full quantity of labor men perform throughout their lives. Let women again tingle with appreciation for men’s labor. Men must throw off the chains of gynocentric late capitalism, seize in their hands a vital means of sexual production, and work only as individuals laboring for their own pleasure.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] See Wrigley & Schofield (1981), Wrigley (1997).

[2] Abelove (1989) p.129. The relevant article is reprinted as the second chapter in Abelove (2005).

[image] A 92nd Aircraft Maintenance Squadron crane operator de-ices a KC-135 Stratotanker on the flightline for flight preparation Jan. 29, 2014, at Fairchild Air Force Base, Wash. Photo id. 140129-F-BN304-002. U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Alexandre Montes. This and other works of U.S. government employees are in the public domain in the U.S.  See also men laboring to drill into dry rock.


Abelove, Henry. 1989. “Some Speculations on the History of Sexual Intercourse during the Long Eighteenth Century in England.” Genders. 6 (Fall): 125-130.

Abelove, Henry. 2005. Deep gossip. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Wrigley, Edward Anthony, and Roger S. Schofield. 1981. The population history of England: 1541-1871 ; a reconstruction. London: Arnold.

Wrigley, Edward Anthony. 1997. English population history from family reconstitution, 1580-1837. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

trade slogans of Abbasid singing slave girls (qiyān) goaded men

young man rejects hetaera

Throughout history, women commonly have been socially more powerful than men. In addition, men’s sexuality typically has been devalued. Men today with good reason are extremely wary of expressing sexual interest in women. Even elite men in Baghdad in the early Abbasid caliphate were cautious in engaging with singing slave girls professionally associated with sexual affairs.

The trade slogans of the singing slave girls indicate men’s reticence and the social devaluation of men’s sexuality. Market prices aggregate a huge amount of information into a simple scalar indicator. Trade slogans of singing slave girls functioned similarly with respect to sexual relations for the elite in the early Abbasid caliphate. The girls advertised these trade slogans on their headbands, veils, brocades, bonnets, and foreheads as they performed publicly. Their trade slogans encouraged men to persevere in seeking relations with them:

  • “He who perseveres, wins.”
  • “If you are bold, do what you will!”
  • “He who desires and does not persevere shall die in his ignorance.”
  • “Passion and restraint are irreconcilable opposites.”
  • “The heart is unruly.”
  • “The shunning of inhibitions makes for a perfect character.”
  • “To do is pleasing, to make excuses is repugnant.”

Societies typically repress men’s sexuality much more harshly than women’s. The singing slave girls urged men not to fear those policing men’s behavior:

  • “If one day we feared the watchman, the eyes shall speak for the hearts: the wink sings the needs of the lover to the beloved.”
  • “One at one with one’s lover makes light of the watchman.”
  • “Dodging the watchman is good for lovers.”

The trade slogans also indicated that men must pay women for sex and meekly accept women wronging them:

  • “The generous is master; the stingy, base.”
  • “Bear the greatest wrong from one you love, so that, sinned against, you may say I am the sinner. For if you bear not the wrong, O lad, then the one that you love will leave you whether you like it or not.”

Reversing the more inclusive ancient wisdom, “Whoever is not against us is for us,” the trade slogan of one singing slave girl insisted, “He who is not with us, is against us.” All-powerful caliphs in the ancient Islamic world were subordinate to their slave girls. How can any ordinary man today hope to have a gender-egalitarian relationship with a women given prevailing, oppressive gynocentrism?

“Is it not a wonder that you and I are together in one house, yet you are neither intimate nor do you converse?”

Men must use their reason to adapt to gynocentric oppression. Deprived of reproductive rights and commonly forced into financial fatherhood, men in the ancient Greek world adjusted their sexual behavior to cope with the problem. Socially pressured into providing for women and putting meat on the table, husbands in ancient Rome responded by arranging home-based businesses for wives reluctant to work outside the home. Human reason is beautiful and invincible. Now more than ever, men must rely on reason.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


All the quotes above, with one exception, are trade slogans of singing slave girls (qiyān) in Baghdad in the early Abbasid era. The trade slogans are given in al-Ghuzūlī, Matāli‘ al-budūr i, 278, from Arabic trans. Caswell (2011) pp. 278-9, with some non-substantial changes for readability. Id. also provides the name of the singing slave girl associated with the each trade slogan and where she displayed the slogan.

The phrase “Whoever is not against us is for us,” which a slave girl’s trade slogan reversed, is a saying of Jesus recorded in Mark 9:40. See also Luke 9:50.

One slave girl’s trade slogan indirectly indicates that some men grew weary of being sexual subordinate to slave girls: “He who desires us shall not tire of us.”

[image] A reclining young man, in the presence of a young woman dancer, indicates refusal and declares, “Philip is the most beautiful.” Tondo from an Attic red-figured kylix, ca. 490-480 BC. From Vulci. Held in the British Museum, acc. # GR 1848.6-19.7 (Cat. Vases E 68). Thanks to Jastrow and Wikimedia Commons.


Caswell, Fuad Matthew. 2011. The slave girls of Baghdad: the Qiyān in the early Abbasid era. London: I.B. Tauris.