cuckolds don’t question; they just listen, believe and are duped

idiot nation

Enlightened medieval thinkers didn’t teach men to just listen and believe. They instructed men to question and investigate. That’s how objective knowledge is generated. Men who questioned and investigated created almost all the machinery of modern civilization. Men who just listened and believed, in contrast, often produced nothing and became cuckolds.

Consider the case of a husband in a small, remote town in Italy early in the fifteenth century. He caught his wife in the act of having sex with another man. Probably drawing upon experiential knowledge passed down across generations of women, she responded strongly and decisively to being exposed as an adulteress:

she instantly pretended to be half-dead and threw herself onto the ground, as if she were dead.

{ illa statim se semimortuam simulavit, prosternens se ad terram, similis defunctae. }

Most persons don’t die by instantly throwing themselves on the ground and pretending to be half-dead. The husband should have carefully and fully investigated his wife’s apparent death. Instead, the husband merely looked and believed:

The husband came to her, and believing that she was dead, began to weep and rub his wife’s arms.

{ Accedens vir propius, ac mortuam credens, coepit illacrymans brachia uxoris fricare. }

Most husbands deeply and truly love their wives. But if a husband sees his wife fall dead after he sees her having sex with another man, questions should arise in his mind. With her husband weeping and rubbing her arms, the wife with stone-cold composure played out her ruse:

She then partially opened her eyes, as if she were gradually regaining consciousness. When her husband asked what had happened, she said she had been struck by too much fear.

{ Tum illa, subapertis oculis, tanquam ad se paululum reversa, cum petisset vir quidnam accidisset, se nimio timore percussam dixit }

Too much fear, indeed. She had no reason to fear her husband:

When the fool began to console her and to beg her to command whatever she wanted, she said, “I want you to swear that you saw nothing.” As soon as he had so sworn, his wife’s health was restored.”

{ cum eam consolari stultus coepisset, ac si quid vellet petere jussisset: ‘Volo,’ inquit illa, ‘jures te nihil vidisse.’ Statim cum id jurasset, mulieri valetudo restituta est. }

That husband was as foolish as the husband who listened and believed his wife when she told him that she was dead. He was, not surprisingly, also cuckolded.

Men should question their wives and all other authorities ruling over them. It’s not just small-town men living in the mountains who stupidly listen and believe. Florence was one of the most cultural sophisticated cities in medieval Europe. Yet consider the case of medieval Florentine husband:

A Florentine citizen returned to his home after a year of traveling abroad. He discovered his wife in child-labor. He found this difficult to bear, for he suspected his wife of wrong-doing. Pondering the situation, for advice he sought out a neighbor, a noble and perspicacious woman, and asked her if a child could be born to him after twelve months.

{ Florentinus civis, peregre profectus, cum post annum, qua die domum rediit, uxorem parturientem deprehendisset, aegre hoc ferebat, suspicans uxoris peccatum. Consilii tamen causa, cum penderet animo, quaesivit a vicina Matrona nobili et peracuta, an filius sibi duodecim mensium nasci posset. }

The husband at least asked a question. But he didn’t do it right. He didn’t think first about gynocentrism and dominant interests:

She, seeing the man’s foolishness, consoled the husband. “Surely,” she said, “for if your wife, on the day she conceived, by chance saw a donkey, she will have been pregnant for a period of a year, in the manner of donkeys.” Accepting the words of the lady, and giving thanks to God for liberating himself from no small amount of suspicion and his wife from a great scandal, he called the son who was born his own.

{ At illa, stultitia hominis conspecta, virum consolata: – ‘Certe,’ inquit; ‘nam, si tua uxor, qua die concepit, asinum forte vidisset, more asinae annum integrum partum gestabit.’ Acquiescens vir Matronae verbis, et Deo gratias agens, quod se suspicione haud parva, uxorem magno scandalo liberasset, natum puerum suum dixit. }

In asking questions, men should seek empirical, verifiable facts, not just authoritative pronouncements. Men should seek out and question persons with relevant experience in the field.

Craftiness and guile are futile within the behavioral framework of listening and believing. Consider, for example, a case in medieval Venice:

An itinerant drug-seller came to Venice. His business banner was painted with a penis divided by a number of lines. A certain Venetian approached and asked what those divisions signified. For amusement the drug-seller said that his own penis was of a nature such that if he became acquainted with a woman in to the first part, she would give birth to a merchant; if in to the second part, a soldier; to the third part, a Duke; and to the fourth part, a Pope. His fee for using his penis was proportionate to the quality of person requested.

{ pharmacopolam circumforaneum Venetias venisse, cujus in vexillo pictus erat Priapus pluribus ligaturis distinctus. Accessit quidam Venetus, quid illa distinctio significaret, quaerens. Ille per jocum ait, membrum suum illius esse naturae, ut quum mulierem prima tantum parte cognosceret, mercatores faceret; secunda milites; tertia Duces; quarta Pontifices: et pretium pro qualibet personarum petebat. }

The Venetian man listened and believed. Then in consultation with his wife he concocted a deviously crafty plan:

Having communicated about the matter with his wife, the Venetian summoned the man to his house and settled on the price for making for himself a soldier-son. When the time had come to have sex with his wife, the husband pretended to leave, but secretly withdrew behind the bed. And when he saw them hard at work begetting a soldier, the simpleton rushed forward and vigorously pressed on the rider’s ass so as to enjoy the benefit of the penis being in to the fourth part. “By God’s Holy Gospels, this one will be a Pope!,” he exclaimed, thinking that he had taken advantage of his business counterpart.

{ communicata re cum uxore, domum vocavit hominem, facto pretio, ut sibi filium militem faceret. Cum ad coitum cum uxore ventum esset, maritus simulans se abire, clanculum post lectum secessit. Et cum illi gignendo militi intenti essent, prosiliit fatuus, et culum sessoris vehementer premens, ut quartae quoque partis beneficio uteretur: ‘Per Sancta Dei Evangelia, hic erit Papa!’ inquit, putans se socium defraudasse. }

If you merely listen and believe, even a devious ploy that seems to succeed will actually fail. No amount of dishonesty can substitute for listening, questioning, and seeking the truth.

Medieval Latin literature taught men basic lessons of enlightened behavior. Today, men aren’t receiving such lessons. Instead, a public propaganda apparatus far more extensive than that which existed in the Soviet Union instructs men to listen and believe. To become enlightened in our Dark Age, men must once again study medieval Latin literature.

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All three exempla above are from the great medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini. The first exemplum is Facetiae 84, “Of the woman who feigned to her husband that she was half-dead {De muliere quae se viro semimortuam ostendit},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) v. 1, pp. 134-5, my English translation with help from id. The second exemplum is Facetiae 122, “One woman’s humorous response to a husband’s enquiry about whether his wife could spend twelve months bearing a child {Jucunda Responsio Unius Mulieris, Facta Ad Quemdam Quaerentem An Uxor Sua Per XII Menses Posset Parere},” Latin text from Poggio id., v. 2, pp. 1-2, similarly my English translation. The third exemplum is Facetiae 161, “Of the crazy Venetiam whom a itinerant drug-seller derided {De Veneto Insano Quem Pharmacopola Circumforaneus Derisit},” Latin text from Poggio id., v. 2, pp. 62-3, similarly my English translation. Poggio attributed the third exemplum to Giannino, chef to Baronto of Pistorium. Giannino had practiced the culinary art in Venice. Pistorium is located in present-day Tuscany, Italy, and is now called Pistoia.

These exempla were passed down across generations of medieval men. By preserving them in writing, Poggio, along with earlier scholars such as Lucretius, helped to preserve the possibility of enlightenment down to the present day. Poggio deserves to be celebrated as a great medieval humanist. He is a medieval scholar of prime importance today.

[image] Idiot nation graphic. Cropped version of a photo that miuenski miuenski shared on flickr under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa/2.0 license.


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).

merits of career-woman Minerva relative to Juno and Venus

Minerva (Pallas Athena)

Minerva, also known as Pallas Athena, was a strong, independent woman. She had an outstanding career in military service. She was also credentialed in weaving, education, poetry, and social virtue. In her mind, the young Trojan prince Paris should regard her, a single woman and a virgin, as more beautiful than Juno and Venus.

Minerva was an activist who disdained idle banter. After hearing Juno’s long, boastful speech, Minerva remained confident that she herself would be the victor in the beauty contest. She proclaimed:

Not armed for a battle of words
did I think we goddesses would come. On this point
I blush for the talkative sex. I am less than a woman in this,
for I have studied a different type of war. Vile is victory in which
the vanquished praise themselves more than the victor. That is an
honor unknown in our victories, so what does the queen intend
with her eloquent sayings?

{ non armatas in prelia lingue
credideram venisse deas; hac parte loquacem
erubeo sexum, minus hic quam femina possum
Martem alium didici. victoria feda ubi victus
plus laudis victore feret, nostrisque triumphis
hic haut notus honos, sed quo regina decoro
effatu tendit? }

Being married to Jove, as Juno was, wasn’t a status that Minerva envied. Minerva described her own merits:

If beauty, if lineage, if lastly morals
are claims, then modesty rules my concerns, my blood is from Jove,
and my appearance is accessible to a judge’s eye. Is this not beauty,
family, and cultural refinement? If goddesses boast of
their joyful marriages, nuptial dowries, and children,
virginity alone pleases me. I haven’t endured anything shameful,
I won’t wreck marriages or expose a husband.
Honored Paris, men meditate upon my battles, girls my weaving,
and laurel-crowned poets my songs.
Thus both sexes delight in me, thus I’m well received by all.

{ si gena, si generis auctor, si denique mores
querendi, in curis regnat pudor, a Iove sanguis,
censori facies oculo patet. heccine forma,
hoc genus, hic mentis cultus? si coniuga dive
gaudia, nuptarum dotes et pignora iactant,
virginitas me sola iuvat nil passa pudendum,
non lesura thoros, non deprensura maritos.
macte Paris, mea bella viri, mea pensa puelle
et mea laurigeri meditantur carmina vates.
sic populis utrisque fruor, sic grata per omnes. }

Minerva was sophisticated enough to understanding that boasting is ugly and that femininity can be toxic:

But why do I speak of this, why am I laboring to add more to this?
It is, I admit, degrading to one’s character and modesty to be eager
to show off oneself. For one who hawks her arts
defames the fame that she bears. But since the present contest
is being fought in terms of manliness and vices, listen to Minerva
who reaps more merit from silence than from speaking!

{ sed quid ego hec, quid ad hec subnectere plura laborem?
moribus indignum, fateor, studiisque pudicis
ostentare suum; proprie nam venditor artis
detitulat titulos, quos ingerit. at quia presens
viribus et viciis armatur causa, Minervam
accipe plus tacite meritam quam voce secutam! }

Under gynocentrism, men have long been silenced about the enormous contributions they have made relative to women in building and defending civilization. Wise Minerva understood the virtues of manliness, which she herself exemplified.

Prevailing in battle against furies, giants, and monsters, Minerva defended the virtues, upheld social justice, and protected the ruling goddess. Prudence, piety, patience, simplicity, chastity, charity, constancy, peace, concord, and social justice lacked a champion before Minerva was born. Then came the turning point:

“At last as it gave birth to Minerva,
the lofty brow of Jove began to tremble and all the sky
roared as it rotated on a greater pole. No dawn ever gave
the gods more joy. Coming from this father, born in this way,
Pallas, the guardian of virtue, the leader of virtue,
cleared a path for the gods and banished Furies and monsters.
This is she for whom Juno marks failings, whom you, Trojan, see here:
Minerva, powerful in war, the one whose right hand defeated
the threat of Phlegra. I saw — shall I say? But we all
know: the fire of Encheladus consumed the Cyclops,
the hundred-handed one scorned the hundred arrows and quiver
of Niobe; Mars gasped for breath as the stronger Typhoeus
demanded the skies. Where then was warlike Juno?
She could have at least added to the number and remained nearer
in arms to save her own realm! Persephone had already grasped and
encompassed Dis’s penis in the heavenly marriage bed
when at last Saturn’s daughter, jumping out of the bed in fear,
shouted: “Pallas, Pallas, oh fate, you are delayed?
We are being pushed out!” I came. She saw the worth of Medusa,
the Gorgon goddess, she saw that my golden armor, which she had denounced,
was more than just show. When she was fearfully trembling, I gave her back the heavens, her kingdom, and her home. She now may be ungrateful and hostile to me,
but from us it is that she rules, from us that she enjoys with Jove
carefree sleeping. When I went to the help of feeble Olympus,
then I was the divine one, then I was called a virago.
You, gods above, I call on you to testify to the laborious, daring deeds
of this head, this breast of ours,” and looking up at the heavens,
she bared her head and breast.

{ “tandem genitura Minervam
contremuit frons celsa Iovis totusque rotatu
intonuit maiore polus, nec letior umquam
lux superis. hoc patre fluens, hoc edita partu
divum pandit iter, Diras et monstra relegat
virtutum custos, virtutum previa Pallas.
hec illa est, quam Iuno notat, quam, Dardane, cernis,
marte Minerva potens, hec, cuius dextra minacem
exhausit Flegram. vidi — dicamne? sed omnes
novimus: Encheladi consumsit flamma Ciclopes,
centimanus pharetras centum Niobesque sagittas
sprevit, hanelanti iam maior Marte Typhoeus
celum poscebat. ubi tunc Mavortia Iuno?
iuvisset numero saltem propiorque stetisset
pro sceptris armata suis! iam pene supernos
Persephone thalamos Ditem complexa tenebat,
cum tandem exiliens trepidis Saturnia stratis
exclamat: ‘Pallas, Pallas, proh fata, moraris?
pellimur!’ accessi. sensit valuisse Medusam
Gorgoneamque deam, sensit, quod fulminat aurum
plus splendore potens, cum celum, sceptra, Penates
reddidimus trepide. sit nunc ingrata, sit hostis,
nostrum est, quod regnat, nostrum, quod cum Iove sompno
securo fruitur. at curam imbellis Olimpi
cum subii, tunc diva fui, tunc dicta virago.
vos, superi, testor, quantis sudaverit ausis
hoc caput, hoc pectus nostrum,” ac ostendit utrumque
celum suspiciens. }

Minerva described herself as a great warrior on behalf of social justice and other virtues. To impress his fellow men, a Roman man would bare his chest to show war wounds that he had received there. Women didn’t need to show war wounds on their chests. Their bare breasts alone were enough to impress men. The profound power of women’s breasts are the means by which women warriors prevail in social battles.

Confident in her womanly merit, Minerva questioned the masculinity of Juno’s son Vulcan. First disparaging Juno for betraying female solidarity, Minerva exclaimed:

The goddess should recognize and remember at whom
she hurls her reproofs, and spare her own. She gave birth to the mighty
Vulcan, and I’m glad she did. That with soft foot
he goes to war, no, I don’t envy that, nor that he artfully weaves chains.

{ … advertat, cuius convicia tractat,
diva memor parcatque suis! parit illa potentem
Vulcanum pariatque velim; non, quod pede molli
militat, invideo, nectitve quod arte catenas. }

Vulcan’s lame foot would be a disadvantage in war. The adjective “soft {mollis}” is associated with femininity. So too is weaving. Vulcan weaved chains to capture Mars committing adultery with Vulcan’s wife Venus. Vulcan apparently wasn’t a winner in the marital bed. One might judge that Minerva was more manly than Vulcan. In any case, she didn’t envy that man.

After attacking Juno, Minerva turned to disparaging the highly feminine Venus.  Minerva explained that Venus is a whore who would be much more successful if she were as beautiful as Minerva:

But I don’t seek feminine fame, beauty’s triumph,
with the intention of vilely selling myself
in common sport. My brow, my honored mouth —
Venus the huntress of men would bloom with them!

{ … sed molle decus formeque triumphum
non hac mente peto, viles ut solvar in usus
vulgaresque iocos. hac fronte, hoc oris honore
venatrix hominum vernet Venus! }

Despite the disadvantage of her relatively plain looks, Venus wages war against virtue and for carnal love:

Against everyone the Cyprian
wages war, delights those she defeats, and is proud that the world
yields to her power. Alas, rare is the golden
ax, rare is love of virtue! Surely moral heights are crushed
by that sweet poison, pious sandbank, suppliant insanity,
soft evil, lively illness. Thus the world is claimed by
Venus, venal destruction; thus against everyone she goes out with
her arrow-shooting Cupid in her arms. To provide a model,
she has children by both Vulcan and Mars. … Certainly, strenuously,
all-powerful Venus attempted to sway me. She failed
because I was wary. If only the world would deal with her as I did!

{ … Cipris in omnes
bella ciet victrixque placet mundumque superbit
imperiis cessisse suis. heu, rara securis
aurea, rarus amor morum! quippe ardua frangit
virus dulce, pie Sirtes, amentia supplex,
molle malum, morbus hilaris. sic vendicat orbem
exicium venale Venus, sic exit in omnes
teligerum complexa suum exemplumque datura
Vulcano Martique parit. … me strenua certe
omnipotensque Venus temptabat flectere. cessit,
sensi etenim; mecumque utinam deprenderet orbis! }

Woman have great power to incite men to violence against other men. When Trojan and Greek men were slaughtering each other over Helen, who rightly described herself as a shameless whore, Pallas Athena at least participated in the fighting. Venus was absent from the battlefields of the Trojan War. She was concerned only with wrestling in bed.

Minerva was a woman with impressive credentials and skills. She had many career accomplishments. In ending her speech, Minerva wooed Paris with her resumé:

Greatest son of Priam, if our glory is whatever
Mars dares, what Clio teaches, what Arachne weaves,
if your siblings need the many gift of Minerva,
if your arts lack a tutor and in your citadel
the Palladium exults, if a virgin merits the title of beautiful,
do not despise Troy’s fate. Judge, assent to my claim!

{ Maxime Priamidum, nostra est si gloria quicquid
Mars audet, quod Clio docet, quod tractat Aragne,
si tibi mixta manus et partitura Minervam,
si tutoris egent artes et in arce triumphat
Palladium, forme titulum si virgo meretur,
annue et Iliacum, iudex, ne despice fatum! }

Highly skilled women with successful careers can provide for men and children and reduce men’s gender burden of work. Women warriors can substitute for men dying in battle. Paris and the rest of the Trojan men would have benefited from having Minerva on their side in the Trojan War. But men often don’t act wisely in relation to women. Men often don’t recognize the beauty in an older, single, virgin career woman.

Minerva assaulting Arachne

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The quotes above are from Joseph of Exeter’s twelfth-century epic poem, Ylias Daretis Phrygii {Iliad of Dares Phrygius}, also known as De Bello Trojano {About the Trojan War}.

Joseph of Exeter was a cleric and a highly learned classicist. He included in his epic Latin poetry many references to classical literature and classical myths. In the quotes above, the “threat of Phlegra” refers to the battle between the Titans and the Olympians (the Titanomachy). Athena helped Zeus / Jupiter and his fellow Olympians. The “hundred-handed one” refers to Briareus, an archaic giant whom Joseph interprets as fighting on the side of the Titans. The “golden axe” refers to an ancient Aesop fable in support of the virtue of honesty. For a classical account, Horace, Satires 1.7.27. The Palladium was a statue of Pallas Athena. The Palladium was thought to be able to protect Troy.

For the quotes in English above, I’ve drawn upon the prose translation of Bate (1986) and the verse translation of Rigg (2005) to make a nearly line-by-line translation closer to the Latin than either of those translations.

My Latin text is from Bate (1986). Bate’s Latin text draws upon all the surviving manuscripts except one (which is secretly held) and is close to that of Gompf (1970). Bate (1986) p. 10. The Latin text of Artopoeus (1825), which is freely available online, is quite close to that of Bates.

The quotes above are (cited by book and line number in the Latin text): 2.324-30 (Not armed…); 2.336-45 (If beauty…); 2.346-52 (But why do I speak…); 2.365-92 (“At last at it gave birth…); 2.394-97 (The goddess should recognize…); 2.410-13 (But I don’t seek…); 2.414-22, 431-3 (Against everyone the Cyprian…); 2.449-54 (Greatest son of Priam…).

[images] (1) The Lansdowne Bust of Athena of Velletri. Roman copy of a sculpture attributed to the Greek sculptor Kresilias, c. 430-420 BGC. Preserved in William Randolph Hearst Collection, item 49.23.1, in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. (2) Minerva and Arachne (detail). Oil painting by René-Antoine Houasse in 1706. Preserved as item MV 7271; INV 5383; B 711 in the Palace of Versailles. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Artopoeus, Samuel, ed. 1825. Dictys Cretensis et Dares Phrygius De bello trojano. Vol. 2. London: A.J. Valpy.

Bate, Alan K., ed. and trans. 1986. Joseph of Exeter. Trojan war I-III. Oxford: Aris & Phillips.

Gompf, Ludwig, ed. 1970. Joseph of Exeter. Werke und Briefe. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Rigg, A. G., trans. 2005. Joseph of Exeter: Iliad (Josephus Iscanus: Daretis Phrygii Ilias). Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto.

jackboots of gyncentrism in The Thrush and the Nightingale

jackboots of Stalin

Nightingale, you say what you will,
you say that women shall have me killed —
to Hell one that would!

{ Nighttingale, thou seist thine wille,
Thou seist that wimmen shulen me spille—
Datheit wo hit wolde! }

In the thirteenth-century poem The Thrush and the Nightingale, two birds debate women in relation to men. Their debate isn’t about whether men should allocate more of their resources toward reducing violence against women or toward increasing the number of women business leaders. The nightingale praises women for helping men and bringing them joy. The thrush disparages women for betraying men and hurting them. Both those positions can hardly be expressed in current public discussion. That’s not surprising. The Thrush and the Nightingale includes a figure of the jackboots of gyncentrism. With far more men imprisoned today than during the Middle Ages, freedom of express is now much more limited.

The nightingale depicts all women as wonderful and strong, but not in an independent way. He declares:

It’s shameful to malign the fair!
They’re courteous and debonair;
be still, I counsel you.
There’ll never be a sin too strong —
brought about by right or wrong —
for woman to undo.

They gladden those sunk deep in woe,
whether highborn men or low;
they’re sly and most discreet.
What good a world without them, then?
For they were made to comfort men;
there’s nothing else so sweet.

{ Lo, it is shome to blame leuedy,
For hy beth hende of corteisy;
Ich rede that thou lete.
Ne wes neuere bruche so strong
Ibroke with righte ne with wrong
That [wimon] ne mighte bete.

Hy gladieth hem that beth [wrowe],
Bothe the heye and the lowe,
Mid gome hy cunne hem grete;
This world nere nout yif wimon nere,
Imaked hoe wes to mones fere;
Nis nothing also swete. }

Such descriptions today are regarded as acceptable stereotyping, in contrast to the unacceptable stereotyping of depicting all women as terrible. The thrush engages in unacceptable stereotyping:

For any man who trusts them they
will turn upon and soon betray.
As mild as they appear,
they’re fickle, false on every hand.
They stir up grief in every land;
Better if none were here!

Of woman’s praises I’ll hear nought.
They’re treacherous and false of thought,
and that’s one thing I know.
However fair and bright their hue,
their minds are crafty and untrue.
For years I’ve found it so.

{ For hy biswiketh euchan man
That mest bileueth hem ouppon;
They hy ben milde of chere,
Hoe beth fikele and fals to fonde,
Hoe wercheth wo in euchan londe —
Hit were betere that hy nere!

I ne may wimen herien nohut,
For hy beth swikele and false of thohut,
Also Ich am ounderstonde.
Hy beth feire and bright on hewe,
Here thout is fals and ountrewe,
Ful yare Ich haue hem fonde. }

Not all women are like that. In medieval society, tagging that phrase onto every utterance about women wasn’t necessary to avoid being lynched by the college educated. In making a general claim about women, the thrush brings forth the examples of King Alexander, who was enthralled to his mistress; Adam, who obeyed Eve in the garden of Eden; the sad situation of Sir Gawain; and of course Samson and Delilah. On the other side, the nightingale triumphs by invoking Mary, the mother of Jesus.

More important than the polarized claims in The Thrush and the Nightingale is a stanza threatening the thrush with imprisonment. Even with relatively liberal freedom of expression in medieval society, the nightingale threatens the thrush with institutionalized violence against men:

Come to them with your spite for women
and soon they’ll lock you up in prison,
and there you’ll sadly wait,
and all the lies you ever told yet,
down in the dungeon you’ll soon forget,
and shame shall be your fate.

{ Come thu heuere in here londe,
Hy shulen don the in prisoun stronge,
And ther thou shalt abide;
The lesinges that thou hauest maked
Ther thou shalt hem forsake,
And shome the shal bitide. }

That’s the jackboots of gynocentrism.  They determine truth and lies by political power and the threat of punishment. They make gender equality into a farce. They breed despair and demographic collapse. The jackboots of gynocentism have grown into an enormous threat to humane civilization today.

The Thrush and the Nightingale ends with capitulation, withdrawal, and apathy. The thrush surrenders to the power of the nightingale’s claims:

I now swear by His holy name
that nevermore will I cast shame
on either maid or wife,
and from this forest I’ll soar high
and care not henceforth where I fly,
and wander all my life.

{ Hi swerie bi his holi name,
Ne shal I neuere suggen shame
Bi maidnes ne bi wiue.
Hout of this londe willi te,
Ne rechi neuere weder I fle,
Awai Ich wille driue! }

Facing jackboots of gynocentrism, too many men have similarly given up. Men should not throw away their lives in wrongful shame. With fidelity to truth and right, men should fight in their own way, on their own ground, and with deep respect for the value of their own lives.

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The Thrush and the Nightingale was authored in England sometime about or before the last quarter of the thirteenth century. For overviews of the poem, Walker (1974) pp. 92-7, Lambdin (1991), Parker (2002) pp. 78-84, and the Encyclopedia of Medieval Literature. The author of The Thrush and the Nightingale wrote within a learned, multilingual context and produced a poem that shares literary heritage with the matter of Alexander. Bridges (2016) pp. 104-5.

The Thrush and the Nightingale has survived in two manuscripts: Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Digby 86, ff. 136vb-138rb (copied in the last quarter of the thirteenth century) and Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland Advocates MS 19.2.1 ff.279va-vb (the Auchinleck manuscript, copied about 1330; glossed text here). In the Digby manuscript, the poem is headed in Old French “Here begins the contention between the thrush and the nightingale {Ci comence le cuntent parentre la Mauuis et la Russinole}.” The Digby and Auchinleck versions differ somewhat in spelling and have some minor differences in words. More importantly, the Auchinleck version is lost after l. 74 because of lost pages in that manuscript. The Middle English text above is from the Digby manuscript, as transcribed and edited by Millett (2003).

The modern English translation above comes mainly from Gardner (1971) pp. 177-82. Gardner’s modernized version includes alliteration and rhyme important in the original language. It doesn’t follow the original English language closely, but preserves well the meaning. I have silently made minor adaptations for readability, as well as a few important changes to follow more closely the meaning of the original English.

For ll. 132-5, Gardner has:

Nightingale, say all you please;
You say that women will end my ease.
I curse them all aloud!

That translation greatly dulls the threat and the defiant response. Above I’ve provided an alternate, close translation. My translation is consistent with that of Millett (2003), yet is closer to the Middle English and preserves more of the alliteration and rhyme.

For l. 30, the Digby manuscript has mon {one} where the Auchinleck manuscript has wimmen {women}. The former word doesn’t make good sense in context. Millett wisely emends the Digby text to wimon {woman}. The poem apparently here alludes to the woman Mary, the mother of Jesus, the “new Eve”, who undid the earlier sin of Eve and Adam. Gardner has “women.” I’ve changed that to “woman.”

For l. 127, “Come thu heuere in here londe,” Gardner has “Come to men with your spite for women.” The reference to coming to “men” isn’t in the original. The close translation of Millett (2003) for this line is “If you ever come into their territory.” In context, “their” is best understood as women. In Gardner’s version of l. 127, I’ve replaced “men” with “them.” That preserves the meter and the internal rhyme, and more accurately suggests coming to women, not men.

The quotes above from The Thrush and the Nightingale are (cited by line numbers in the Digby text): 133-5 (Nightingale, you say…); 25-36 (It’s shameful…); 19-24, 37-42 (For any man who trusts…); 127-32 (Come to them with your spite…); 187-92 (I now swear…).

In accordance with dominant gynocentric ideology, scholars have disparaged the thrush for antifeminism and misogyny. Walker (1974) pp. 92, 95, Franklin (1978) p. 310, Parker (2002) p. 78. This medieval debate poem becomes in such readings a dull, tendentious contention between what Parker labels a “confirmed misogynist” and a “stout defender of the value of women’s love.” Parker (2002) pp. 78-9. Medieval readers were not so obtusely indoctrinated. They created interesting, sophisticated debates, not ridiculous ones. One scholar who missed the point observed, “critics have simply misunderstood the point of the argument.” Lambdin (1991) p. 5. Scholars have almost wholly missed the point of medieval literature of men’s sexed protest.

Scholars have largely ignored the poem’s powerful representation of jackboots of gynocentrism. The only scholar to mention it characterized it abstractly as “an interesting threat, elliptical and obscurely menacing.” Parker (2002) p. 83. With respect to the conclusion of the poem, another scholar declared, “the Thrush goes into exile as fit punishment for his slanders.” Walker (1974) p. 94. Medieval literature has critical value for beyond such ignorant, benighted, and bigoted readings.

[image] Bronze sculpture of Stalin’s jackboots in Memento Park (Szoborpark), near Budapest, Hungary. Derived from photo made in August, 2007, by Ines Zgonc. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Bridges, Venetia. 2016. “Absent Presence: Auchinleck and Kyng Alisaunder.” Ch. 6 (pp. 88-17) in Fein, Susanna, ed. 2016. The Auchinleck manuscript: new perspectives. York: York Medieval Press.

Franklin, Michael J. 1978. “The Fieldfare and the Nightingale (A Note on The Thrush and the Nighingale).” Medium Ævum. 47 (2): 308-311.

Gardner, John. 1971. The Alliterative Morte Arthure: The Owl and the Nightingale:  and Five Other Middle English Poems in a Modernized Version with Comments on the Poems and Notes. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press.

Lambdin, R. T. 1991. “The Thrush and the Nightingale.” The Explicator. 50 (1): 2-5.

Millett, Bella. 2003. “The Thrush and the Nightingale: Text and Translation.” Wessex Parallel WebTexts (freely available online).

Parker, Cynthia Margaret. 2002. Contentious Birds: The Owl and the Nightingale and Other Poems in a Singular Middle English Verse Tradition. Ph.D. Thesis in English, The University of Auckland (New Zealand).

Walker, D. B. 1974. Hic herde a strif bitweies two: A study of the principal Middle English Debate Poems with special reference to the Bird Debates and the Devotional Debates, their analogues and sources. Ph.D. Thesis in English. University of Canterbury (New Zealand).