Liudprand’s ideal of masculinity disastrous for men in long run

precious pen held with white gloves

In 968, Saxon King and Holy Roman Emperor Otto I sent Liudprand of Cremona to Constantinople as an emissary. Otto sought to ally with Byzantine Emperor Nicephoros Phocas by having Liudprand arrange for Nicephoros’s daughter to marry Otto’s son Otto II. That mission failed.[1] Upon his return, the embittered Liudprand wrote a caustic account of what happened. Liudprand’s account celebrated a narrow ideal of masculinity. That ideal of masculinity has become disastrous for men.

In his account of the mission, Liudprand disparaged the Byzantine Emperor Nicephoros as being unmanly. According to Liudprand, Nicephoros was:

a quite bizarre man, dwarfish, with a fat head, and mole-like by virtue of the smallness of his eyes, deformed by a short beard that is wide and thick and decaying … small legs, flat feet, dressed in an ornamental robe, but one old and, by reason of its age and daily use, stinking and faded, with Sicyonian footgear on his feet, provocative in his speech, a fox in his slyness, a Ulysses in his perjury and mendacity.

{ hominem satis monstruosum, pygmaeum, capite pinguem atque oculorum parvitate talpinum, barba curta, lata, spissa et semicana foedatum, … cruribus parvum, calcaneis pedibusque aequalem, villino, sed nimis veternoso vel diuturnitate ipsa foetido et pallido, ornamento indutum, Sicioniis calceamentis calceatum, lingua procacem, ingenio vulpem, periurio seu mendacio Ulyxem. } [2]

Liudprand embedded in this description a learned critique of Nicephoros’s masculinity. Sicyonian footgear was elaborate, luxurious shoes for women. Nearly a millennium earlier, Cicero commented:

if you had brought me a pair of Sicyonian shoes, I would not wear them, no matter how comfortably and well they fit my feet, because they would be unmanly.

{ si mihi calceos Sicyonios attulisses, non uterer, quamvis essent habiles et apti ad pedem, quia non essent viriles } [3]

Liudprand defended Otto’s decision to conquer Rome and thus seize it from Byzantine rule. He taunted the Byzantine Emperor:

Were not effeminates lording it over Rome, and, what is more serious and sordid, were not whores doing the same? Back then, I think, your power was snoozing, along with that of your predecessors, who in name alone, and not in actual fact, are considered emperors of the Romans. If they were powerful, if they were emperors of the Romans, why were they leaving Rome to the power of whores?

{ Nonne effoeminati dominabantur eius, et — quod gravius sive turpius — nonne meretrices? Dormiebat, ut puto, tunc potestas tua, immo decessorum tuorum, qui nomine solo, non autem re ipsa imperatores Romaorum vocantur. Si potentes, si imperatores Romanorum erant, cur Romam in meretricum potestate sinebant? } [4]

Rule by whores (pornocracy) is a deeply corrupt form of government. Yet men alone shouldn’t be burdened with responsibility for overthrowing pornocracy. Women, too, should bear responsibility, and bare responsibly.

Liudprand starkly contrasted the manliness of Byzantines (Greeks) and Europeans (Lombards, Franks, Saxons, etc.). He described the difference at the top of the food chain:

The king of the Greeks {the Byzantine Emperor Nicephoros} is long-haired, tunic-wearing, long-sleeved, hooded, lying, fraudulent, merciless, fox-like, haughty, falsely humble, cheap, greedy, eating garlic, onions, and leeks, drinking bath-water. By contrast, the king of the Franks {Holy Roman Emperor Otto I} has beautifully cropped, short hair, and attire that differs from women’s clothing. He’s hat-wearing, truthful, guileless, quite merciful when appropriate, strict when necessary, always truly humble, never cheap; not a consumer of garlic, onions, and leeks in order to spare animals and accumulate money by selling animals instead of eating them.

{ Graecorum rex crinitus, tunicatus, manicatus, teristratus, mendax, dolosus. immisericors, vulpinus, superbus, falso humilis, parcus, cupidus, allio cepe et porris vescens, balnea bibens; Francorum rex contra pulchre tonsus, a muliebri vestitu veste diversus, pileatus, verax, nil doli habens, satis ubi competit misericors, severus ubi oportet, semper vere humilis, nunquam parcus, non allio, cepis, porris vescens, ut possit animalibus eo parcere, quatinus non manducatis, sed venundatis pecuniam congreget. } [5]

When he called the king of the Franks guileless, Liudprand was identifying the king with men’s characteristic inferiority to women in guile. The king of the Greeks had long hair. Men in the ancient world regarded long hair as an important aspect of a woman’s beauty.[6] The king of the Franks, in contrast, had short hair. Moreover, the Frankish king wore manly clothing that differed from women’s clothing, while the Greek king didn’t. The Greek king traded animals for money, as women, most of whom have always worked outside the home, have long done. The masculine Frankish king, in contrast, slaughtered animals and ate them.

Liudprand failed to appreciate his own masculine strength. When the Byzantines took from Liudprand five luxurious purple robes, Liudprand evoked masculinity in lashing out at the Byzantines:

how unsuitable and how insulting it is that soft, effeminate, long-sleeved, tiara-wearing, hooded, lying, unsexed, idle people strut around in purple, while heroes, that is, strong men who know war, full of faith and charity, in submission to God, full of virtues, do not!

{ Quod quam indecorum quamque contumeliosum sit, molles, effoeminatos, manicatos, tiaratos, teristratos, mendaces, neutros, desides, purpuratos incedere; heroas vero, viros scilicet fortes, scientes bellum, fidei charitatisque plenos, Deo subditos, virtutibus plenos, non! Quid est, si non haec contumelia est? } [7]

Men deserve to be appreciated for their large, gender-specific contributions to public welfare. Yet in practice, men tend to be disparaged as being primitive beasts, lacking culture, and needing women to civilize them. The Byzantines, who had lavish and elaborate Christian culture, described Otto and his Saxon people as having a primitive faith. Understanding the implicit contrast between cultured women and primitive men, Liudprand responded:

As you call the faith of the Saxons primitive, I confirm the very same thing. For among them the faith of Christ is always primitive and not old, where good works follow upon belief. Yet here the faith is certainly not primitive, but old, where belief does not unite with good works but instead is disdained on account of its age, like some old garment. But I know for sure that a council was held in Saxony wherein it was discussed and established that it is more honorable to fight with spears than with pens, and to accept death before turning one’s back on the enemy. Your army is now learning all about that council!

{ Rudem quia dicis Saxonibus esse fidem, id ipsum et ego affirmo; semper enim apud eos Christi fides rudis est, et non vetus, ubi fidem opera sequuntur. Hic fides non rudis sed vetus est, ubi fidem opera non comitantur, sed quasi prae vetustate, ut vestis contempta, contemnitur. Sed hanc synodum factam esse in Saxonia certo scio, in qua tractatum est et firmatum, decentius ensibus pugnare quam calamis, et prius mortem obire quam hostibus terga dare. Quod vel tuus exercitus experitur! }

Figuring the penis as sword has devalued the intrinsic beauty of men’s bodies, constructed men as tools for defending gynocentrism, and supported the worst gender gap of all: men’s lifespan shortfall relative to women. Liudprand himself was a brilliant writer-rhetorician. Men and women of well-formed social conscious should learn from Liudprand’s skill with the pen. They should imitate him. That’s how gynocentrism will be overthrown.

Men and women must understand that pens are almost as important as men’s penises. Grasp a pen. Write in praise of men. Write thanks to men and for men. Write in sympathetic understanding of men’s sufferings. Write to correct wrongs against men. Stroke a pen, gaze upon its shape, and write for men!

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[1] As wise classical thinkers have long recognized, husbands in reality are subordinate to their wives, and wives are subordinate to their children. Otto I was thus willing to transfer effective rule from his son Otto II to Nicephoros’s daughter. Conveying such a generous offer to Nicephoros, Liudprand, not surprisingly, was furious at Nicephoros for rudely rejecting it. Liudprand’s account says nothing about Otto II’s preferences about marriage. Men have often been and continue to be deprived of importance choices in their lives.

[2] Liudprand of Cremona, Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana {Embassy} 3, Latin text from Chiesa (1998), English trans. (adapted slightly) from Squatriti (2007). All subsequent quotes from Liudprand’s Embassy are similarly sourced.

Liudprand ridiculed praise sung for Nikephoros during a formal procession. Liudprand wrote that the singers more accurately might have sung:

Come, burnt cinder, dark one, old hag in your walk, forest-animal in your expression, rustic, jungle-wanderer, goat-footed, horned, double-limbed, bristly, wild, country bumpkin, barbarian, hard and hairy one, rebel and Cappadocian!

{ Carbo exstincte veni, μέλας, anus incessu, Sylvanus vultu, rustice, lustrivage, capripes, cornute, bimembris, setiger, indocilis, agrestis, barbare, dure, villose, rebellis, Cappadox! }

Embassy 10. Liudprand seems to have admired the vigorous and tolerant Byzantine public sphere.

Dümmler (1877) and Wright (1930) include a Latin text and English translation of Liudprand’s Embassy. Here’s an alternate online English translation of the first twenty-one sections. Here’s the Latin text in machine-readable form.

Liudprand’s Embassy is known today only from a text first printed in 1600. It apparently didn’t circulate widely earlier. John Tsimiskes replaced Nicephoros Phocas as Byzantine Emperor in December, 969. Liudprand’s harsh disparagement of the Byzantines may well have been regarded as counter-productive diplomatically with a change in the Byzantine ruler. Squatriti (2007) p. 30.

[3] Cicero, De Oratore 1.54.231, Latin text from Loeb Classical Library, v. 348 (1948), English translation from May & Wisse (2001). Lucretius associated Sicyonian (Sikyonian) footwear with idolized, privileged wives. Lucretius, De natura 6.1125. See also Herondas (Herodas), Mime 7, l .57. Sicyonian footwear apparently was used as a pun for a dildo described as a cucumber (σίκυος). See Sumler (2010) pp. 468-9.

[4] Embassy 5.

[5] Embassy 40. The reference to “drinking bath-water {balnea bibens}” is obscure. It might be tepid water, as suggested by Squatriti (2007) p. 279, n. 119;p. 282, n. 129; or wine mixed with water, as suggested by Dümmler (1877) p. 153, n. 2. It might also be a allusion to Pseudo-Sirach describing Jeremiah as having masturbated into bath water. See my post on Marcolf and Solomon.

Byzantine urban-dwellers undoubtedly ate less meat than person living in more rural areas in Saxony. Eleni Albanidou explained:

The Byzantines did not often eat meat. Not only was it expensive but fasting was imposed by the Christian religion. … The “skordaton” (with garlic) was meat stuffed with cloves of garlic. Some times they roasted it on spits over a coal fire and other times in an oven in a special utensil that looked like a casserole dish. Meat was referred to then as “klivanoton”.

Liudprand refers to the Byzantine Emperor Nicephoros as eating goat with fish-sauce. Embassy 20. Fish was highly prized food in ancient Greece.

[6] See Paul’s preference for Thecla’s long hair in my post on Paul and Thecla. See also additional references in note [5] of that post.

[7] Embassy 54. Purple was the color of royalty.

[image] Precious pen held with white-gloved hands. Thanks to cobalt123 for sharing image on flickr under CC-by-nc 2.0 license.


Chiesa, Paolo, ed. 1998. Liudprand of Cremona. Antapodosis; Homelia pachalis; Historia Ottonis; Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, 156. Turnholt: Brepols.

Dümmler, Ernst Ludwig, ed. 1877. Liudprand of Cremona. Liudprandi episcopi Cremonensis opera omnia. Hannoverae: Imp. bibl. Hahniani. (alternate source)

May, James M. and Jakob Wisse, trans. 2001. Cicero on the ideal orator {De oratore}. New York: Oxford University Press.

Squatriti, Paolo, trans. 2007. The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Sumler, Alan. 2010. “A Catalogue of Shoes: Puns in Herodas Mime 7.” Classical World. 103 (4): 465-475.

Wright, F.A., trans. 1930. The Works of Liudprand of Cremona. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

ancient Greek & Roman classics deeply influential in medieval Italy

dead Hector being brought back to Troy

In our age of ignorance, bigotry, and superstition, few persons have any appreciation for the glorious classical literature of ancient Greece and Rome. Today even classical scholars pay little attention to the vital heart of Lucretius’s De rerum natura. What schoolboy today sings passages from Juvenal? What adult knows of the Sabine women’s founding of gynocentrism in Rome? Who now recognizes Cicero’s wit and wisdom? For a rebirth of enlightenment, students must skip the involuted, ossified scholasticism of today’s academia. They must imitate the imaginative, fully committed appropriations of classical literature that have miraculously survived from medieval Italy.

A unique story collection from the fifteenth century has preserved the classical response of an ordinary, unlearned man in medieval Italy. The narrator recounted:

A certain neighbor of mine, a simple man, heard one of those singers at the end of his performance announce, in order to lure back his audience, that the next day he would recite The Death of Hector. This friend of mine, before he would allow the singer to leave, obtained by cash payment a promise that the singer would not so soon kill off the manly, beneficial warrior Hector. The Death of Hector was thus put off to the subsequent day. Indeed again and again he paid to extend Hector’s life across successive days. And when he ran out of money, he then with much tears and groaning heard the sad story of Hector’s death.

{ Quidam (inquit) vicinus meus, homo simplex, audiebat quempiam ex ejusmodi cantoribus, qui in fine sermonis ad illiciendam audientium plebem, praedixit se postridie Mortem Hectoris recitaturum. Hic noster, antequam cantor abiret, pretio redemit, ne tam cito Hectorem virum bello utilem interficeret. Ille Mortem postero die distulit. Alter vero saepius pretium dedit sequentibus diebus pro vitae dilatione. Et cum pecuniae defuissent, tandem mortem ejus multo fletu ac dolore narrari audivit. }[1]

This simple man lived the classics in a way that few students or teachers of classics today can even imagine. The classics weren’t dead in medieval Italy. The classics died in modern classrooms.

Ordinary people in medieval Italy interpreted ordinary experience within the framework of classics. Consider, for example, the affairs of King Hugh of Arles in tenth-century Italy. After two prior marriages, Hugh married the whorish Marozia and then a woman named Bertha. Apparently pressured into marrying, Hugh enjoyed simply having sex with concubines:

While he had a number of concubines, King Hugh burned with most sordid love for three concubines above the rest. One was Pezola, whose origin was in the bloodline of the lowliest servants. With her he procreated a son named Boso, whom he ordained bishop of Piacenza’s church after Wido’s death. The second concubine was Rosa, daughter of the beheaded Walpert that we mentioned above. She gave him a daughter of wondrous beauty. The third concubine was Stephania, a Roman, who also bore a son, by the name of Tedald. He was later appointed archdeacon of the Milanese church, so that once the archbishop died, Tedald might become his successor there. … And since it was not just the king who made use of these concubines, their children take their origin from unknown fathers.

{ Verum cum nonnullae essent concubinae, tres supra caeteras turpissimo amore ardebat: Pezolam, vilissimorum servorum sanguine cretam, ex qua et natum genuit nomine Boso, quem in Placentina post Widonis obitum episcopum ordinavit ecclesia; Rozam deinde, Walperti superius memorati filiam decollati, quae ei mirae pulcritudinis peperit natam; tertiam Stephaniam genere Romanam, quae et filium peperit nomine Tedbaldum, quem postmodum in Mediolanensi ecclesia archidiaconem ea ratione constituit, ut defuncto archiepiscopo eius ipse vicarius poneretur. … Et quoniam non rex solus his abutebatur, earum nati ex incertis patribus originem ducunt. }[2]

Ordinary Italians interpreted King Hugh’s three favorite concubines in terms of the classical beauty contest among Hera (Juno), Athena (Minerva), and Venus:

The people called these three women by the names of goddesses on account of their sordid crime of promiscuity. Pezola was nicknamed Venus. Rosa was nicknamed Juno because of her quarrels and tenacious hatred, since according to the corruption of the flesh she seemed more attractive than them. Stephania was nicknamed Semele.

{ populus has ob turpis inpudicitiae facinus dearum nominibus, Pezolam videlicet Venerem, Rozam Iunonem ob simultatem et perpetuum odium, quoniam quidem ea secundem carnis putredinem hac spetiosior videbatur, Stephaniam vero Sémelen apellabat. }[3]

For the historian, Hugh’s impressive career provisioning for non-marital offspring who may have been biological children of other men are highly relevant. For the people, the matter was more literary. Showing impressive classical learning, they substituted in the classical story Semele for Minerva. Both Minerva and Semele were offspring of Jupiter. Minerva was a career woman and a virgin. Semele, the mother of Dionysus, enjoyed the Bacchic frenzy of orgies. As ordinary people in tenth-century Italy recognized, Semele was a much more appropriate figure for one of Hugh’s concubines than was the virgin career-woman Minerva.

Ancient Greek and Roman classics deserve to be as well-known today as they were in medieval Italy. Ordinary persons cannot be expected to be as learned as the greatest classicist of all time, the twelfth-century Byzantine scholar John Tzetzes. Yet all persons today should at least understand Helen of Troy’s adultery and the horrendous violence against men of the Trojan War. To found a new, promised land of Enlightenment, we must know Ovid’s fate and be wise enough to shun Danaids.

Is it not monstrous that this player here,
But in a fiction, in a dream of passion,
Could force his soul so to his own conceit
That, from her working, all his visage wann’d,
Tears in his eyes, distraction in’s aspect,
A broken voice, and his whole function suiting
With forms to his conceit? And all for nothing!
For Hecuba!
What’s Hecuba to him, or he to Hecuba,
That he should weep for her? What would he do,
Had he the motive and the cue for passion
That I have? He would drown the stage with tears
And cleave the general ear with horrid speech;
Make mad the guilty and appall the free,
Confound the ignorant, and amaze indeed
The very faculties of eyes and ears.[4]

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[1] Poggio Bracciolini, Facetiae 83, “About a singer who announced that he would recite the Death of Hector {De cantore qui praedixit se Mortem Hectoris recitaturum},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 1, pp. 133-4, my English translation with help from that of id. Here’s the Latin text in machine-readable form.

According to Poggio Bracciolini, the medieval Italian Ciriacus Anconitanus grieved and deplored the fall of the Roman Empire. Poggio’s contemporary Antonio Lusco compared Ciriacus’s grief to a Milanese man’s response to a singer reciting the deeds of Roland (surely based on the Song of Roland). When the singer came to Roland’s death, the Milanese man began to weep bitterly. When he returned home, his wife asked him why he was so grief-stricken:

“Do you not know,” he responded, “what news I have heard today?” His wife asked, “What is it, my husband?” “Roland is dead — the sole bulwark of Christendom!”

{ “An nescis,” respondit, “quae nova hodie audivi?” – “Quaenam, vir?” uxor inquit. – “Mortuus est Rolandus, qui solus tuebatur Christianos!”}

Facetiae 82, “A Comparison by Antonio Lusco {Comparatio Antonii Lusc},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 1, pp. 131-3, my English translation with help from that of id.

[2] Liudprand of Cremona, Antapodosis {Retribution} 4.14, Latin text from Chiesa (1998), English translation from Squatriti (2007). The subsequent quote is similarly from id. For a freely available English translation, Wright (1930).

[3] Liudprand had a perceptive understanding of “corruption of the flesh {carnis putredinem}.” According to Liudprand, that corruption was Juno regarding herself as being as beautiful as Venus and Minerva. Perceiving ugliness as beauty is a deep corruption of the flesh. Not surprisingly, Liudprand, like Bishop Nonnus on seeing Pelagia, forthrightly recognized female beauty in describing Roza’s daughter. See previous quote above.

[4] Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2 (vv. 1624-39), via Open Source Shakespeare. As so few classicists now do, Shakespeare’s Hamlet recognized the value of bringing classics to contemporary, personal life. Such incarnation of classics is urgently needed to promote social justice for men today.

[image] Dead Hector being brought back to Troy, as described in the Iliad. Marble relief (excerpt) on a Roman sarcophagus. Made c. 180-200 GC. Preserved as accession # Ma 353 (MR 793) in Louvre Museum, Paris. Image thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons.


Chiesa, Paolo, ed. 1998. Liudprand of Cremona. Antapodosis; Homelia pachalis; Historia Ottonis; Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, 156. Turnholt: Brepols.

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).

Squatriti, Paolo, trans. 2007. The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Wright, F.A., trans. 1930. The Works of Liudprand of Cremona. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

LOVE TRUMPS HATE: Dame Custance triumphs over Ralph Roister Doister

apostrophe makes punctuation poem

A neighbor told me that she saw a car with a bumper-sticker proclaiming in all capital letters, “LOVE TRUMP’S HATE.” What kind of person would put that bumper-sticker on a car? Nicholas Udall’s comedy Ralph Roister Doister, written about 1552, points to the answer.

In Ralph Roister Doister, a strange, hateful letter became a proper love letter when read correctly. The title character Ralph Roister Doister is a delusional braggart enamored of Dame Christian Custance, a wealthy widow. He foolishly attempted to woo her like a courtly lover begging for a woman’s love. He even hired a scrivener to compose a love letter. Roister Doister’s jestful, manipulative hanger-on Mathew Merygreeke read the letter to Custance on behalf of Roister Doister:

To mine own dear coney-bird, sweetheart, and pigsney, Good Mistress Custance, present these by and by.
Sweet mistress, where as I love you nothing at all —
regarding your substance and richesse chief of all —
for your personage, beauty, demeanour and wit,
I commend me unto you never a whit.
Sorry to hear report of your good welfare,
for (as I hear say) such your conditions are,
that ye be worthy favour of no living man,
to be abhorred of every honest man,
to be taken for a woman inclined to vice,
nothing at all to virtue giving her due price.
Wherefore, concerning marriage, ye are thought
such a fine paragon, as ne’er honest man bought.
And now by these presents I do you advertise
that I am minded to marry you in no wise.
For your goods and substance, I could be content
to take you as ye are. If ye mind to be my wife,
ye shall be assured, for the time of my life,
I will keep you right well from good raiment and fare —
ye shall not be kept but in sorrow and care —
ye shall in no wise live at your own liberty.
Do and say what ye lust, ye shall never please me;
but when ye are merry, I will be all sad.
When ye are sorry, I will be very glad.
When ye seek your heart’s ease, I will be unkind.
At no time in me shall ye much gentleness find.
But all things contrary to your will and mind
shall be done — otherwise I will not be behind
to speak. And as for all them that would do you wrong,
I will so help and maintain, ye shall not live long.
Nor any foolish dolt shall cumber you but I.
I, whoe’er say nay, will stick by you till I die.
Thus, good mistress Custance, the Lord you save and keep
from me, Roister Doister, whether I wake or sleep —
who favoureth you no less, ye may be bold,
than this letter purporteth, which ye have unfold.

This letter, not surprisingly, didn’t prompt Dame Custance to love. The letter mocked her. Then the scrivener read the letter to her differently:

To mine own dear coney-bird, sweetheart, and pigsney, Good Mistress Custance, present these by and by.
Sweet mistress, whereas I love you nothing at all
regarding your richesse and substance — chief of all
for your personage, beauty, demeanour, and wit
I commend me unto you. Never a whit
sorry to hear report of your good welfare,
for (as I hear say) such your conditions are,
that ye be worthy favour. Of no living man
to be taken for a woman inclined to vice,
nothing at all. To virtue giving her due price.
Wherefore concerning marriage, ye are thought
such a fine paragon, as ne’er honest man bought.
And now by these presents I do you advertise,
that I am minded to marry you — in no wise
for your goods and substance — I can be content
to take you as you are. If ye will be my wife,
ye shall be assured for the time of my life,
I will keep you right well. From good raiment and fare,
ye shall not be kept. But in sorrow and care
ye shall in no wise live. At your own liberty
do and say what ye lust. Ye shall never please me
but when ye are merry. I will be all sad
when ye are sorry. I will be very glad
when ye seek your heart’s ease. I will be unkind
at no time. In me shall ye much gentleness find.
But all things contrary to your will and mind
shall be done otherwise. I will not be behind
to speak. And as for all them that would do you wrong —
I will so help and maintain ye — {they} shall not live long.
Nor any foolish dolt shall cumber you, but I,
I, whoe’er say nay, will stick by you till I die.
Thus, good mistress Custance, the Lord you save and keep.
From me, Roister Doister, whether I wake or sleep,
who favoureth you no less, ye may be bold,
than this letter purporteth, which ye have unfold.

Love wins! But first Dame Custance’s nurse and maids prepared to assault Roister Doister:

Margerie Mumblecrust: I with my distaff will reach him one rap.
Tibet Talkapace: And I with my new broom will sweep him one swap,
and then with our great club I will reach him one rap.
Annot Alyface: And I with our skimmer will fling him one flap.
Tibet Talkapace: Then Trupenie’s firefork will him shrewdly fray,
and you with the spit may drive him quite away.

Roister Doister and his men recognized the “ancient law of honor” that a man shouldn’t strike a woman. Like many other men, they were ignorant of what Achilles did to Penthesileia, or what Arruns did to Camilla. Dame Custance’s fiancé questioned her:  “do ye hate him more than ye love me?” Of course she didn’t. She participated in plans to host and roast Roister Doister for dinner and to be as good friends with him as she ever had been. Love can encompass hate.

Punctuation poems reveal an underside to the dominant order. Roister Doister’s courtly love letter is a punctuation poem that also represents derisive hate. LOVE TRUMP’S HATE. It makes sense.

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Ralph Roister Doister is play attributed Nicholas Udall, master of Eton College and Westminster School in England. Udall is thought to have written the play about 1552 for his school students. The text above is from the edition of Child (1912). The edition of Arber (1869) is freely available online.

Ralph Roister Doister was once regarded as the first comic drama in English. A much longer tradition of English comedy, closely associated with Latin literature, is now recognized beginning with The Interlude of the Student and the Girl from about 1300. For text and modern English translation, Wickham (1976) pp. 195-203.

The first version of the punctuation poem in Ralph Roister Doister is from Act 3, Scene 4. The second version is from Act 3, Scene 5. The maids violent assault on Roister Doister and Mathew Merygreeke is from Act 4, Scene 4. Violence against men in medieval Europe contribute to the extraordinary large gender disparity in medieval lifespans. The “ancient law of honor” requires men not to defend themselves even when women violently attacked them. That prevalent norm, as well as women’s power to incite men to violence against other men, is an aspect of truthful understanding of domestic violence and violence in general. Roister Doister refers to the “ancient law of honor” in Act 5, Scene 6. Gawyn Goodluck addressed the question “do ye hate him more than ye love me” to Dame Custance in Act 5, Scene 5.

In Ralph Roister Doister, Roister Doister’s behavior is a comic parody of the courtly lover. The braggart Roister Doister ridiculously complains about the female gaze: “they {women} gaze all upon me and stare.” Act 1, Sc. 2. He begs for Dame Custance’s love like a man ignorant of medieval women’s love poetry. The irreverent Mathew MeryGreeke makes vacuous wisdom from Roister Doister’s courtly love folly:

All men take heede by this one gentleman,
how you set your love upon an unkind woman.
For these women be all such mad peevish elves,
they will not be won except it please themselves.

Act 3, Sc. 3. The “good man” Gawyn Goodluck at least recognized the medieval wisdom “all that glistens isn’t gold.” Act 5, Sc. 1.


Arber, Edward, ed. 1869. Nicholas Udall. Roister Doister. London.

Child, Clarence Griffin, ed. 1912. Nicholas Udall. Ralph Roister Doister. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Wickham, Glynne. 1976. English Moral Interludes. London: Dent.

listening to God & persistent asking: don’t under-interpret the Bible

shoot from stump

Again the Lord spoke to Ahaz, “Ask a sign of the Lord your God; let it be deep as the underworld or high as the sky.” But Ahaz said, “I will not ask, I will not put the Lord to the test.” And he said, “Hear then, O house of David! Is it too little for you to weary men, that you weary my God also? Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, a young woman shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.”

{ ויוסף יהוה דבר אל־אחז לאמר׃
שאל־לך אות מעם יהוה אלהיך העמק שאלה או הגבה למעלה׃
ויאמר אחז לא־אשאל ולא־אנסה את־יהוה׃
ויאמר שמעו־נא בית דוד המעט מכם הלאות אנשים כי תלאו גם את־אלהי׃
לכן יתן אדני הוא לכם אות הנה העלמה הרה וילדת בן וקראת שמו עמנו אל׃ }

How does a person weary God? Ask and it shall be given to you.

The prophet Isaiah, not Ahaz, declares “Hear then, O house of David! ….” The prophet Isaiah addresses Ahaz, the ruler of the Judah in the line of the house of David. Ahaz is wearying God not by nagging God, but by not asking God for help. Ahaz is putting God to the test by testing God’s patience with them — his people who don’t understand their relationship to him. They don’t seek the Lord. They don’t cry out to God. They don’t expect the Lord to come to their aid.

The Lord commanded his people not to put him to the test. The Lord told Ahaz to ask for a sign. Moses, following the Lord’s instructions, brought water forth from a rock at Massah and Meribah. Anything is possible with God. Is this generation asking for a sign to test God? A sign has been given to them.

And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man; and there was a widow in that city who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Vindicate me against my adversary.’ For a while he refused; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Though I neither fear God nor regard man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will vindicate her, or she will wear me out by her continual coming.'” And the Lord said, “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them?”

{ ελεγεν δε παραβολην αυτοις προς το δειν παντοτε προσευχεσθαι αυτους και μη εγκακειν λεγων κριτης τις ην εν τινι πολει τον θεον μη φοβουμενος και ανθρωπον μη εντρεπομενος χηρα δε ην εν τη πολει εκεινη και ηρχετο προς αυτον λεγουσα εκδικησον με απο του αντιδικου μου και ουκ ηθελεν επι χρονον μετα δε ταυτα ειπεν εν εαυτω ει και τον θεον ου φοβουμαι ουδε ανθρωπον εντρεπομαι δια γε το παρεχειν μοι κοπον την χηραν ταυτην εκδικησω αυτην ινα μη εις τελος ερχομενη υπωπιαζη με ειπεν δε ο κυριος ακουσατε τι ο κριτης της αδικιας λεγει ο δε θεος ου μη ποιηση την εκδικησιν των εκλεκτων αυτου των βοωντων αυτω ημερας και νυκτος και μακροθυμει επ’ αυτοις }

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The two quoted passages are from Isaiah 7:10-14 and Luke 18:1-7. See also Malachi 3:10, Matthew 7:7, Psalms 18:6, 34:4, 40:1, 118:5, 120:1, Deuteronomy 6:16, Matthew 4:5-7, Exodus 17:1-7, Matthew 19:26, Mark 8:11-12, and Isaiah 11:1.

[image] Shoot springing forth from a stump. Source image thanks to Zumthie via Wikimedia Commons.