Alliterative Morte Arthure: sexual violence against men & cuckolding

knight lances fallen foe in the anus

When King Arthur landed in Normandy, a man came forward. This man was a member of the Knights Templar, a military order of men founded to protect the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem and the women and men pilgrims visiting it. The man pleaded to King Arthur:

There is a tyrant nearby who torments your people —
a great Genoan giant engendered by devils.
He has so far eaten up some five hundred souls,
and also many infants of free-born persons.
This has been his sustenance all these seven winters,
and not yet sated is that fiend, so well it suits him!
In the country of Constantine not one has he left who’s
outside of the famous castles, protected with walls,
but he has skillfully destroyed all the male children —
carried them to his crag and skillfully devoured them.

{ Here is a tyraunt beside that tormentes thy pople,
A grete giaunt of Gene, engendered of fendes;
He has freten of folk mo than five hundreth,
And als fele fauntekins of free-born childer.
This has been his sustenaunce all this seven winteres,
And yet is that sot not sad, so well him it likes!
In the countree of Constantine no kind has he leved
Withouten kidd casteles, enclosed with walles,
That he ne has clenly distroyed all the knave childer,
And them carried to the crag and clenly devoured. }  [1]

When Boko Haram killed thousands of male children, world leaders said nothing. But as the Knight Templar knew, a single woman in distress, particularly if she’s beautiful and has elite connections, is a high-level emergency. He further told King Arthur:

The duchess of Britain he has taken today
near Rennes, as she rode with her strong knights.
He has led her to the mountain where he lives,
to sleep with that lady as long as her life lasts.
We followed from afar, more than five hundred
knights and townsmen and noble young men,
but he got to the crag. She cried so loud
the sorrow of such I shall never surmount.
She was the flower of all France, or of five such realms,
and one of fairest that ever yet was formed;
the noblest jewel in the judgment of lords
from Genoa to Gerone, by Jesus in heaven!
She was your own wife’s cousin, know it if you please,
born of the most powerful that reigns on earth.
As you are righteous, King, have pity on your people,
and endeavor to avenge them thus defeated.

{ The duchess of Bretain today has he taken,
Beside Reines as sho rode with her rich knightes,
Led her to the mountain there that lede lenges
To lie by that lady ay whiles her life lastes.
We followed o ferrome mo than five hundreth
Of bernes and of burges and bachelers noble,
But he covered the crag; sho cried so loud
The care of that creature cover shall I never
Sho was the flowr of all Fraunce or of five rewmes,
And one of the fairest that formed was ever,
The gentilest jowell ajudged with lordes
Fro Gene unto Gerone by Jesu of heven!
Sho was thy wifes cosin, know it if thee likes,
Comen of the richest that regnes in erthe;
As thou art rightwise king, rew on thy pople
And fonde for to venge them that thus are rebuked! }

Saying nothing about all the boys killed, King Arthur declared that he would rather lose his life than allow the Genoan giant to have the Duchess.

King Arthur resolved to fight. Climbing up the monster’s mountain, he met a wailing widow. She, the Dutchess’s foster-mother, had just buried her daughter that day. Arthur, not revealing who he was, inquired about the monster. She told of the Genoan giant’s murder and consumption of boys:

He’s been eating all this season on seven male children,
chopped up on a platter of chalk-white silver,
mixed with pickles and powder of precious spices,
and plentifully flavored with Portuguese wines.
Three sorrowing maidens turn his cooking spits
and come to his bed on command, do all that he bids.

{ He soupes all this sesoun with seven knave childer,
Chopped in a chargeur of chalk-white silver,
With pickle and powder of precious spices,
And piment full plenteous of Portingale wines;
Three balefull birdes his broches they turn,
That bides his bedgatt, his bidding to work }

Women must do more to stop violence against men and boys. The widow at least warned King Arthur of the danger. She told him that fifty knights together could not defeat the monster. She told him that the monster sought King Arthur’s beard and that he shouldn’t go forward unless he had that beard to give. Underscoring the gynocentric silencing of men about injustices against men and boys, the widow told Arthur to hold his tongue in the presence of the monster.[2]

The monster might figure grotesque gender injustices. Here’s the subtle and brilliant description:

How filthily that foul fool sat and supped alone!
He lay at length, lounging grossly.
The thigh of a man’s leg, lifted up by the haunch,
his back and his buttocks and his broad loins
bare-naked were roasting over the roaring fire.
These were repugnant roasts and mournful meats,
men and beasts spitted together,
bowls crammed full of baptized children,
some as meats spitted, and maidens turned them.

{ How unseemly that sot sat soupand him one!
He lay lenand on long, lodgand unfair,
The thee of a mans limm lift up by the haunch;
His back and his beuschers and his brode lendes
He bakes at the bale-fire and breekless him seemed;
There were rostes full rude and rewful bredes,
Bernes and bestail broched togeders,
Cowle full crammed of crismed childer,
Some as bred broched and birdes them turned. }

The man-victim being bare-naked, his buttocks and genitals roasting over the roaring fire, emphasizes the anti-male orientation of the monster’s cannibalism. That cannibalism parallels grotesquely unjust attacks on men’s sexuality. The man eating men and the maidens working for him are consistent with the deceptive structure of gynocentric oppression. Men are the tip of the spear in the gynocentric pattern of violence against men.

Was Arthur conscious of the monster as the gynocentric social structure that feeds upon and profits from injustices against men and boys? With great bravery and against daunting odds, King Arthur challenged the monster. He angrily declared to it:

Now, may All-Ruling God who gives all honor
give you sorrow and grief, fool, there where you lie,
you the foulest man that was ever formed!
Foully you feed yourself! May the Fiend have your soul!
Here is sinful cooking, churl, by the truth I know,
you cast-off trash of all creatures, you cursed wretch!

Get ready to fight, son of a dog, the devil will have your soul!
For you shall die this day, destroyed by my hands!

{ Now, All-weldand God that worshippes us all
Give thee sorrow and site, sot, there thou ligges,
For the foulsomest freke that formed was ever!
Foully thou feedes thee! The Fend have thy soul!
Here is cury unclene, carl, by my trewth,
Caff of creatures all, thou cursed wretch!

Dress thee now, dog-son, the devil have thy soul!
For thou shall die this day through dint of my handes! }

Arthur’s challenge could be a conventional chivalric challenge to an ordinary monster of literary romance. Few persons throughout history have dared to challenge the monsters of real gynocentrism.

The gluttonous monster glared with rage. The creature’s face was splotched like the skin of a frog. His fat, dull flesh hung in folds, while from his mouth he spewed hot, foul air. The monster grabbed his huge iron club and swung hard:

The King casts up his shield and covers him well.
Then with his splendid sword Arthur strikes him,
a full blow in the front of the forehead he hits him,
and his burnished blade reaches to the brain.
The monster wiped at his face with his foul hands
and quickly thereafter struck firmly at Arthur’s face!

{ The king castes up his sheld and covers him fair,
And with his burlich brand a box he him reches;
Full butt in the front the fromand he hittes
That the burnisht blade to the brain runnes;
He feyed his fysnamie with his foul handes
And frappes fast at his face fersly there-after! }

Striking a gynocentric monster in the brain has little effect.[3] Having no basis in cognitive functioning, gynocentrism is a gender-bigoted, irrational ideology built upon primal aspects of sex. Yet ordinary monsters, like ordinary men, are typically sexed beings. Arthur counterattacked effectively:

He follows in quickly and fixes a blow
with his hard weapon high up on the monster’s haunch.
At once his sword sunk in a half foot’s length.
The hot blood of the hulk ran down to the hilt.
He hit even into the intestines of the giant,
right up to the genitals and cut them asunder!

{ He follows in fersly and fastenes a dint
High up on the haunch with his hard wepen
That he heled the sword half a foot large;
The hot blood of the hulk unto the hilt runnes;
Even into the in-mete the giaunt he hittes
Just to the genitals and jagged them in sonder! }

After Arthur cut apart the giant’s testicles, which if it were a gynocentric monster probably were quite small, it roared and reared and lashed out wildly. But it hit only the ground. Arthur again counterattacked effectively:

Yet the King works swiftly. Full of skill
he swipes in with his sword and slices open its groin.
Both the guts and the gore gush out at once,
making all the grass he stands on glisten.

{ But yet the king sweperly full swithe he beswenkes,
Swappes in with the sword that it the swang bristed;
Both the guttes and the gore gushes out at ones.
That all englaimes the grass on ground there he standes! }

The giant fell on Arthur and grabbed him in a front bear hug. Although the King’s arms were pinned to his ribs, he managed to pull out his dagger. Again and again he buried his dagger into the giant’s groin. Finally the monster was dead. Arthur’s had only three broken ribs.

Arthur committed brutal sexual violence against a man-monster. Was that redemptive action against an allegorical representation of oppressive gynocentrism with its male leader-lackeys? Or was it just another turn in the sexual violence against men that today repeats as a matter of laughter in Super Bowl television commercials?

The romance ends with a brutal fight between King Arthur and his traitorous nephew, the knight Mordred. Mordred had usurped Arthur’s kingdom of Britain and married Arthur’s queen Guinevere. While Arthur and Guinevere had no children, Mordred had children with her. Moreover, Guinevere was the sole keeper of Arthur’s finest sword, the crown of swords named Clarent. It was a choice weapon that glistened as bright as silver. Arthur explained:

It was my esteemed darling and held most dear,
kept for coronation of anointed kings.
On days when I dubbed my dukes and earls
it was gravely born aloft by the beaming hilts.
I never dared to draw it for deeds of arms
but kept it ever clean for my finest cause.

{ It was my darling dainteous and full dere holden,
Keeped for encrownmentes of kinges annointed;
On dayes when I dubbed dukes and erles
It was burlich borne by the bright hiltes;
I durst never dere it in deedes of armes
But ever keeped clene because of myselven. }

Arthur entrusted his preeminent sword to Guinevere for safekeeping. She gave that sword to Mordred.

Using Arthur’s sword, Mordred fatally wounded Arthur. It was sexual violence:

The felon with the fine sword strikes quickly.
The loins on Arthur’s far side he cuts apart
through tunic and cloth of noble mail.
The man cut out a half-foot’s breadth of flesh.

{ The felon with the fine sword freshly he strikes,
The felettes of the ferrer side he flashes in sonder,
Through jupon and gesseraunt of gentle mailes,
The freke fiched in the flesh an half-foot large }

Such a large wound would have include damage to Arthur’s genitals.[4] Despite the central important of men’s genitals, Arthur didn’t die immediately. He fought on. He sliced off Mordred’s arm and then went for a killing blow:

Then quickly the warrior raises the mail on Mordred’s rear,
stabs into him with his hot sword to the bright hilts,
and Mordred struggles on the hot sword and settles to die.

{ Then freshlich the freke the fente up-reres,
Broches him in with the brand to the bright hiltes,
And he brawles on the brand and bounes for to die. }

Arthur stabbing Mordred in the anus is vicious sexual violence.[5] Seminal scholarship  has identified a four-part narrative structure paralleled in the first quarter of Morte Arthure and the last quarter. Sexual wounding is part of that parallelism:

Mordred wounds Arthur in the loins, just as earlier in the poem Arthur dealt a deadly blow to the giant in the groin.[6]

The sexual wounding was reciprocal between Arthur and Mordred. That’s the terrible, ongoing pattern of sexual violence against men.

King Arthur died utterly shamefully. Amid vicious betrayal and the brutal deaths of his fellow knights of the Round Table, he didn’t fight against the monstrous social structures of gynocentric oppression.[7] With misplaced Christian forgiveness he supported them:

I forgive all my grief, for Christ’s love in Heaven!
If Guinevere is well, may she be well in the flow of time!

{ I forgive all gref, for Cristes love of heven!
If Waynor have well wrought, well her betide! }

King Arthur died as a yes-dearing cuckold. The King saved gynocentrism, always victorious, happy and glorious, long to reign over us. God save us all!

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] Alliterative Morte Arthure 841-50, Middle English text from Benson & Foster (1994), my English translation, benefiting considerably from that of Gardner (1971). The Alliterative Morte Arthure was probably written in the North Midlands area of England around 1400. Benson & Foster (1994), introduction.

Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur (now commonly known as Le Morte d’Arthur) incorporated with few changes the first half of the Alliterative Morte Arthure into its second tale, “Tale of Arthur and the Emperor Lucius.” Benson & Foster (1994), introduction. Malory’s work, which William Caxton published in 1485, is a much more well-known work of Arthurian romance. The Alliterative Morte Arthure, however, is a brilliant work that deserves much more attention.

Subsequent quotes above (with one noted exception) are from the Alliterative Morte Arthure. These quotes are sourced similarly. They are (cited by verse numbers in the Middle English text): 851-67 (The duchess of Britain…), 1025-30 (He’s been eating…), 1044-52 (How filthily that foul fool…), 1059-64, 1072-3 (Now, may All-Ruling God…), 1110-15 (The King casts up his shield…), 1118-23 (He follows in quickly…), 1128-31 (Yet the King works swiftly…), 4196-201 (It was my esteemed darling…), 4236-39 (The felon with the fine sword…), 4249-51 (Then quickly the warrior raises the mail…), 4324-5 (I forgive all my grief…).

[2] Drawing on a now-prevalent anti-meninist academic cliché, a well-educated graduate student claimed “women are in effect silenced.” He concluded his dissertation with a claptrap scholarly flourish in support of dominant ideology:

The Alliterative Morte Arthure may re-write and re-sound the borders of masculine emotionality with the king’s womanly “clamour,” but in the process it reifies the hierarchy of men over women.

Johnson (2011) p. 193. Scholars today must be careful to voice only anti-meninist sentiments and pursue all study within the constraints of ruling women’s pronouncements and dominant ideology:

Despite calls by Judith Butler and Eve Sedgwick for a more nuanced study of gender and sexuality, the study of masculinity was met with resistance and faced the challenge of reassuring readers that it was not antifeminist and that masculinity was in fact a complex issue worth examining. Lees contends that if we approach masculinity using feminist methodologies, we can uncover a “very different history of men,” a history that looks beyond the myth of the universal, monolithic, “hegemonic male.”

Johnson (2011) p. 16 (two typos corrected, footnote omitted). We live in an ignorant, bigoted, and benighted age.

[3] Ziolkowski insightful analyzed this blow within its more specific narrative context:

When Arthur wounds the giant in the brain, the giant survives without any difficulty, since his brain is not his governing organ; but when his genitals are slashed apart and his flank or groin is sliced, the giant is mortally wounded.

Ziolkowski (1988) p. 237.

[4] The Middle English word felettes means “loins,” and plausibly metonymically “genitals.” The size of the wound also suggests that it includes genital wounding. Westover (1998) pp. 310-1.

[5] Sutton (2003) convincingly interprets the Middle English term fente as “the cover protecting Mordred’s backside.” Id. p. 280. Philological expertise, sadly undervalued in academia today, is crucial for accurately and meaningfully interpreting ancient and medieval texts.

[6] Ziolkowski (1988) p. 242.

[7] Like Arthur and Mordred, men have failed to respond effectively to gynocentric oppression:

Arthur and Mordred are rendered equally emasculated. … with Mordred slain and Arthur mortally wounded, the two have exerted their force to no avail. Each has crippled the other’s potential, and done symbolic and literal injury to the other’s masculinity.

Floyd (2006). On failure in Arthurian romance, Haught (2011). A broad-based coalition of men and women must overturn castration culture and build a new culture that respects men’s genitals.

Scholars must also decisively reject sexism and misandry. Consider this appalling example of scholarly sexism and misandry in analysis of the Alliterative Morte Arthur:

Yet as the poet underscores the destructive capabilities of emotion, he also opens up a space in which to ponder what would happen if men were not given to aggression and violence. What would this kind of nonviolent masculinity look like? … Crossing the gendered boundaries of emotion can be a liberating experience. In the final moments of the Alliterative Morte Arthure, the mortally wounded king seemingly rejects the hypermasculine discourse of chivalric identity once and for all as he appropriates the identity of the woeful widow. … the king feels free to move from hypermasculine aggressivity to a femininized subjectivity ….

Johnson (2011) pp. 27, 191, 192. This is hyperfeminine sexual imperialism at work. It yearns to transform men into women under the ignorant and sexist belief that women are the personal paradigm of subjective excellence. Orosius knew better. Hyperfeminine sexual imperialism functions to obfuscate gynocentric oppression and deny the possibility of progressive change. It leads to castration culture, cannibalism, and ultimately the death of humane civilization.

[image] Knight lances fallen foe in the anus. Illumination (excerpt) from Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry, folio 95r, with contrast enhancement. Les Très Riches Heures du duc de Berry is a luxurious Book of Hours made in France between 1412 and 1416. This specific illustration (“David’s Victory”) is thought to have been painted by Jean Colombe about 1487. Source image thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Benson, Larry Dean, and Edward E. Foster. 1994. King Arthur’s Death: The Middle English Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthure. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Floyd, William David. 2006. “’Turn, traitor untrew’: Altering Arthur and Mordred in the Alliterative Morte Arthure.” Medieval Forum 5, online.

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.

Haught, Leah. 2011. Toward an aesthetics of failure: generic expectation and identity formation in Middle English Arthuriana. Ph. D. Thesis. Department of English, University of Rochester.

Johnson, Travis William. 2011. Affective communities: masculinity and the discourse of emotion in Middle English literature. Ph.D. Thesis. Department of English, University of Iowa.

Sutton, John William. 2003. “Mordred’s End: A Reevaluation of Mordred’s Death Scene in the Alliterative Morte Arthure.” Chaucer Review. 37 (3): 280-285.

Westover, Jeff. 1998. “Arthur’s End: The King’s Emasculation in the Alliterative Morte Arthure.” The Chaucer Review. 32 (3): 310-324.

Ziolkowski, Jan. 1988. “A Narrative Structure in the Alliterative Morte Arthure 1-1221 and 3150-4346.” The Chaucer Review. 22 (3): 234-245.

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