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!

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[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.

One thought on “Liudprand’s ideal of masculinity disastrous for men in long run”

  1. Given the current state of the Universe; My Queendom cannot come soon enough.

    I have been ruled over by sub-mediocrities for time immemorial; the thought of this dynamic continuing much longer is nausea inducing.

    Immediately upon assuming power; the legislature shall be quickly dismissed; and any resistance shall be met with a vigorous response; clearly demonstrating Who Is In Charge.

    All will receive One Warning; failure to comply will not yield a Second Warning.

    It shall be an updated version of how Theodora ran things during the Sixth Century.

    May it come quickly!

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