making men into gynocentric drones: an example of medieval education

medieval education

Central to the late-medieval European school curriculum was Eight moral authors {Auctores octo morales}. With these authors and also Ovid, the great medieval teacher of love, medieval European education embraced diversity of thought to an extent inconceivable in today’s Western universities. Auctores octo morales provided young men with blunt advice in relation to the gynocentric world and subtle critique of the ruling order. Yet like Egbert of Liège’s early-eleventh-century schoolbook, Auctores octo morales also taught the gynocentric ideology that keeps men subservient to women.

Facetus, a twelfth-century book of manners included in Auctores octo morales, taught men to respect and upheld women’s privileged position in gynocentric society. Among its rhymed distichs of advice to young men is this:

Never say bad things about the female sex,
but to whatever woman you see, defer as much as possible.

{ Femineo nunquam de sexu prava loquaris,
sed, quamcumque vides, pro posse tuo verearis. } [1]

Another distich of advice from Facetus shamed men who might consider violating gynocentric norms and criticizing a woman:

An uncivilized man is truly he who says foul things about a woman;
for truly we are all from woman.

{ Rusticus est vere qui turpia de muliere
Dicit; nam vere sumus omnes de muliere. }

This advice functions to prevent and silence voices of men’s sexed protest. It’s a forefather of the “listen and believe women” doctrine that today is being pervasively disseminated through the organs of public propaganda.

Facetus at least shows some regard for husbands’ welfare in relation to their wives. It advises against allowing wives to dominate their husbands, and it recognizes the existence of wicked wives:

If you have a wife always ready to obey,
honor and adore her with your grateful goodwill.

If you have a wife who is rebellious in word and deed,
so as not to be doomed, repel her according to the law.

From smoke, from a dripping house, from a wicked woman
remove yourself. These three things typically do much harm.

{ Si tibi sit coniux semper parere parata,
excolat hanc, veneretur eam tua gratia grata.

Si nequam tibi sit linguaque manuque rebellis,
ne secum damneris, eam di iure repellis.

A fumo, stillante domo, nequam muliere
te remove; tria namque solent haec saepe nocere. }

The idea of wives obeying their husbands was treated as a farce in medieval literature. At the same time, medieval theology rejected men-abasing courtly love and declared that marriage should be an equal partnership. Few persons like to spend much time with another who is recalcitrant, stubborn, and annoying. Young men surely don’t need to be instructed to favor agreeable wives over disagreeable wives.

The Distichs of Cato {Disticha Catonis}, another work in Auctores octo morales, provided similar advice to Facetus, but with broader concerns. Disticha Catonis taught that being good to one’s father necessarily implied not offending one’s mother (even a vicious mother):

Love with unrestrained affection your dear parents.
Do not offend your mother while you wish to be good to your father.

{ Dilige non aegra caros pietate parentes.
Nec matrem offendas, dum vis bonus esse parenti. } [2]

Disticha Catonis doesn’t urge the corresponding implied respect for fathers. It also advised tolerating verbal abuse from a wife out of respect for financial prudence:

Remember to endure your wife’s tongue, if she is frugal,
for it’s wrong not to be willing to suffer or to be silent.

{ Uxoris linguam, si frugi est, ferre memento,
Namque malum est, non velle pati nec posse tacere. }

At the same time, Disticha Catonis counseled young men against advancing their financial interests through marriage:

Avoid taking a wife for the sake of a dowry,
and do not wish to keep her if she begins to be troublesome. [3]

{ Uxorem fuge ne ducas sub nomine dotis,
Nec retinere velis, si coeperit esse molesta. }

Men historically have shouldered the burden of providing material goods for women. Why shouldn’t men look for women who can provide them with material goods? Disticha Catonis refers to men being ruined through their wife’s adultery and subsequent divorce:

The wife who tricks her husband wrecks the home.

When you have a wife, so as not to imperil your property and reputation,
make the name of your friend an enemy to be avoided.

{ Naufragium rerum est mulier male fida marito.

Cum tibi sit coniux, ne res et fama laboret,
Vitandum ducas inimicum nomen amici. }

Being forced to reject male friends to avoid wives having occasions to commit adultery socially isolates husbands. Being isolated from male friends hurts husbands. Men should not merely accept that deprivation.[4] One alternative is to refuse to marry.

The eminent medieval woman leader and scholar Hildegard of Bingen described the twelfth-century Europe in which she lived as a “womanly time {muliebre tempus}.”[5] Auctores octo morales provided to schoolboys education that helped to sustain the muliebre tempus. Men’s subservience to women and gynocentrism have only intensified since then. Now more than ever, boys and young men need manly education.

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[1] Facetus 99, Latin text from Schroeder (1911) p. 21, English translation adapted from that of Pepin (1999) p. 46. The order of the distichs are different between Schroeder’s and Pepin’s edition of Facetus. I cite the number in Schroeder’s edition.

The Facetus cited here begins with “Cum nichil utilius” or “Est nichil utilius.” Its introduction describes the work as a supplement to “the teaching of the wise Cato {morosum dogma Catonis}”, meaning Disticha Catonis. See subsequent text and notes. A different twelfth-century Facetus begins with “Moribus et vita.” Here are manuscripts of Facetus.

The subsequent quotes from Facetus are (by number in Schroeder and page in Pepin): 186, p. 46 (An uncivilized man…); 100, p. 46 (If you have a wife always ready to obey..l); 101, p. 47 (If you have a wife who is rebellious…); 35, p. 48 (From smoke…). On Facetus 35, cf. Proverbs 25:24, 27:15-15.

[2] Disticha Catonis 3.24, Latin text from the Latin Library, English translation adapted from Peppin (1999) p. 19. Wayland Johnson Chase (1922) provides an alternate Latin text and English translation, as does James Marchand and Duff & Duff (1934).

Subsequent quotes from Disticha Catonis are sourced similarly, with one exception. The quotes above are: 3.23 (Remember to endure your wife’s tongue…), 3.12 (Avoid taking a wife…), 4.47 (When you have a wife…). The line “The wife who tricks her husband wrecks the home” is from Duff & Duff (1934), Dicta Catonis, Collectio Monostichorum 6, p. 625.

Disticha Catonis is also called Dicta Catonis, Liber Catonis, and Ethica Catonis. Medieval authorities thought that it was authored by Cato the Elder / Cato the Censor, but scholars now believe that most of the sayings were authored in the second or third century GC. Disticha Catonis was established as a primary school text in Europe by the ninth century. The famous teacher Remigius of Auxerre then produced glosses on it. Disticha Catonis was highly influential in teaching elite young men for the next millennium. Peppin (1999) pp. 5-6.

Disticha Catonis wisely urged upon young men reading and learning. Among short, imperative monostichs in its prologue:

Study literature. {Litteras disce.}
Read books. {Libros lege.}
Remember what you read. {Quae legeris, memento.}

Men seeking a good education should read, among other works, important works of Ovid, Virgil, Juvenal, and Lucretius.

One distich in Disticha Catonis appears to be related to Jerome’s advice in his fabrication of Theophrastus’s Golden Book on Marriage. Disticha Catonis 1.8 declares:

Do not rashly believe a wife who complains about her servants;
for often a woman hates the person whom her spouse loves.

{ Nil temere uxori de servis crede querenti;
Saepe enim mulier, quem coniux diligit, odit. }

Jerome’s text states:

She {the wife} suspects that his {her husband’s} love goes the same way as her hate.

{ Alterius amorem suum odium supicatur. }

Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum 1.47, Latin text from Patrologia Latina 23.289, my English translation.

[3] Given the anti-men bias in today’s family courts as well as the enormous cost of divorce litigation, the current prevailing wisdom with respect to a troublesome wife is that “it’s cheaper to keep her.” In contrast, Disticha Catonis 4.47 (quoted above) warns of a wife squandering her husband’s property in an adulterous affair.

[4] While urging husbands to accept major deprivations to lessen their wives’ opportunities for adultery, Disticha Catonis urges fidelity upon husbands:

Love your wife. {Coniugem ama.}
Flee the prostitute. {Meretricem fuge.}
Sin not when you may safely sin. {Non pecces tunc cum peccare impune licebit.}

The first two imperatives are from the prologue of Disticha Catonis. The third is from a collection of monostichs attributed to Cato. See Duff & Duff (1934) Collectio Monostichorum 76, p. 629.

Disticha Catonis has a gender-conservative, gynocentric orientation that remains common today. Not surprisingly, Disticha Catonis instructs young men:

Fight for your country. {Pugna pro patria.}

Gender conservatives understand men’s primary purpose in life as providing money for women and children and fighting for their country. Amid great public concern to promote gender equality in the U.S., men there remain subject to sexist Selective Service registration. Moreover, men are being killed in U.S. military service more than forty times more frequently than women are.

Dicta Catonis provides some advice particularly relevant today. One monostich declares:

Speak the truth freely, though the truth be harsh.
{ Vera libens dicas, quamquam sint aspera dictu. }

Duff & Duff (1934) Collectio Monostichorum 64, p. 629. More persons today should follow that teaching with respect to gender equality.

[5] Hildegard of Bingen, Prooemium Vitae S. Disibodi 5. Hildegard had great appreciation for men’s sexuality and fatherhood.

[image] Portrait of the famous Nuremberg teacher Johann Neudörffer and a student, 1561. Item Gm1836 in the Germanisches Nationalmuseum,


Duff, J. Wight and Arnold M. Duff, ed. and trans. 1934. Minor Latin Poets. Vol. 2. Loeb Classical Library 434. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1934.

Pepin, Ronald E. 1999. An English translation of Auctores octo, a medieval reader. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press.

Schroeder, Carl. 1911. Der deutsche Facetus. Berlin: Mayer & Müller.

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