medieval Italian theatricality: a bed-trick & other acts of Apostles

naked St. Francis being clothed by Bishop of Assisi

In 1260 in Parma, Italy, Gerard Segarelli established the Order of Apostles as a mendicant religious order of the Catholic Church. Salimbene de Adam’s Chronicle, which he wrote from 1283 to 1288, is the most detailed surviving source about Segarelli and the Order of Apostles. Salimbene’s harsh criticism of Segarelli’s movement depicts vibrant theatricality in thirteenth-century Italy. As Salimbene shows, an intricate bed-trick and outrageously recast biblical acts existed within medieval imagination long before Shakespeare’s comedies.

Within circumstances of considerable and conflicted Christian attention to theater, Salimbene explicitly described Gerard Segarelli as an actor. Theatricality is deeply rooted in Christian sensibility. Romanos the Melodist’s sixth-century kontakia present realistic, emotional dialogue. De Maria Magdalena, a text that a Cistercian monk probably wrote in France about 1200, is a theatrical lectio divina. Closer to folk performance, the story of the tumbler of Notre Dame, probably from early in the thirteenth century, depicts a monk engaging in full-body devotional performance. Yet Christians also associated theater with ridiculous and immoral Greco-Roman beliefs and lewd popular performances. Salimbene linked Segarelli with that latter Christian sense of theater:

This Gerard Segarelli, who was their founder, became so demented that he took on the clothes of an actor and became a minstrel, that is, a mime, and went through the streets and squares like a fool. He has a vain heart, seeking after vanities and inventing vanities.

{ Iste Ghirardinus Segalellus, qui primus eorum fuit, ad tantum dementiam iam devenit, quod in habitu histrionum incedit et factus ioculator, id ist mimus, per plateas et vicos stulticando vadit. Habet enim cor vanum et vana sequitur et vana inveniet } [1]

Segarelli understood himself to be a mendicant monk following the practices of the first Christian apostles. But as Salimbene presented Segarelli, he was an insane monk-minstrel.

Just before Salimbene characterized Segarelli as an actor, minstrel, and mime, he told a story about three members of Segarelli’s Order of Apostles. The story features earthy wit and humor:

a certain wealthy young man with a father and a mother still living had recently married. On the first evening before he had sex with his wife, he received as guests into his house three rogues from those who say they are apostles and are not. They persuaded the young man not to have sex with his wife or sleep in the same bed with her on that first night until they indicated to him. This they said in order to forestall and deceive the young man and thereby sleep first with his wife. That they indeed did. All three of them that night went to her bed one after another at short intervals and had sex with her. When on the fourth time the young man went in to have sex with his wife, she was astonished and said to him, “Three times in succession tonight you have had me sexually, and still you have the strength to do this work?” Then the young man realized that those rogues had deceived him. He had them captured and complained strongly to the police chief. Then they were led to be executed by hanging.

{ quidam iuvenis dives, qui habebat patrem et matrem, noviter duxisset uxorem, primo sero, antequam uxorem cognosceret, tres ribaldos, recepit hospitio ex his qui se dicunt apostolos esse et non sunt, qui suaserunt iuveni, ne uxorem cognosceret nec cum ea in eodem lecto prima nocte dormiret, nisi quando dicerent ei. Hoc autem ideo dicebant, quia volebant iuvenem prevenire atque decipere et prius cum uxore eius dormire, sicut factum est, quia omnes tres illa nocte iverunt ad lectum eius, unus post alium facto modico intervallo, et cognoverunt eam. Cum autem quarta vice iuvenis sponsus eius vellet eam cognoscere, mirata uxor eius dixit ei: “Tribus vicibus in hac nocte carnaliter mecum fuisti et adhuc vis agere opus istud?” Tunc cognovit iuvenis ab istis ribaldis se esse deceptum, et fecit eos capi et conquestus est potestati, et ducti sunt ad suspendium }

According to Salimbene, Segarelli’s apostles included “rogues, seducers, deceivers, thieves, and fornicators {ribaldi et seductores et deceptores et latrones et fornicatores}.” These so-called apostles:

spend every day running throughout the cities seeking out women … as they themselves told me, when they travel through the world, they turn aside to prostitutes, or if, in the places they stay, lascivious women solicit them to sin or to transgressing, they consent to the women, and little is the apostles’ resistance.

{ tota die per civitates discurrunt mulieres videndo … ut michi dixerunt, quando vadunt per mundum, ad meretrices declinant et in domibus, in quibus hospitantur, si a lascivis mulieribus sollicitantur ad peccatum sive ad peccandum, consentiunt eis, et parva est pugna } [2]

These are the sort of monks who would perform a triple bed-trick long before Shakespeare’s plays.[3] Salimbene probably thought that those monks should pay for that act with their lives. So they reportedly did.

Salimbene’s tale of the three monks’ triple bed-trick is unlikely to be historical. The monks were mendicants. Characterizing the young man as wealthy sets up an inversion of the idea that a lord had the right to be the first to have sex with his serfs’ brides (droit du seigneur {right of the lord}, also known as jus primae noctis {law of the first night}).[4] The added detail that the young man had a father and mother still living suggests that the wedding night would have been carefully orchestrated. Segarelli’s three apostles apparently also duped the groom’s parents. The bride’s question to her groom late on their wedding night is too comically deadpan to be realistic. Moreover, if she said that, surely the bride or groom wouldn’t have reported it to Salimbene or anyone else. About a century and half after Salimbene wrote, the great medieval church official Poggio included two closely related versions of this story in his collection of courtly tales known as Facetiae. As Poggio recognized, the story that Salimbene recorded is truly a fantastic story. Salimbene apparently adapted it to serve in his disparagement of the Order of Apostles for not honoring chastity.

Salimbene described Segarelli himself behaving theatrically. Actors represent characters in part though choosing costumes and other externals:

This Gerard Segarelli, who was their leader, sought to be like the son of God. So he had himself circumcised, which is against the teaching of the Apostle

{ Igitur de Ghirardino Segalello, qui fuit istorum principium, sciendum, quod filio Dei voluit similari. Nam fecit se circumcidi, quod est contra apostolum }

Being a good representation of Jesus thus mattered more to Segarelli than following the apostolic teaching of Paul as conveyed through holy scripture.[5] Yet Segarelli also acted out a parable of Jesus in a misleading way:

standing in the middle of the road, from his excessive simplicity he said to passersby in a clear voice: “Go you also into my vineyard!” And those who knew him recognized his foolishness. They knew that he had no vineyard there. The actual mountain people, who did not know him, went into the vineyard toward which he stretched out his hand. There they ate grapes that were not his. They wrongly believed that they had received permission from the owner.

{ stans in media via ex nimia simpicitate transeuntibus clara voce dicebat: Ite et vos in vineam meam! Et qui cognoscebant eum, reputabant eum fatuum, scientes, quod nullam vineam ibi habebat. Montanarii vero, qui eum non cognoscebant, ingrediebantur vineam, versus quam manum extenderat, et comedebant uvas non suas, credentes sibi hoc a proprio vinee domino imperatum. }

Segarelli’s act didn’t involve him proclaiming in the person of Jesus. He proclaimed the words of the landowner in Jesus’s parable on laborers in the vineyard.[6] In Salimbene’s story, Segarelli, who sought to be like Jesus, wrongly acted as vineyard-owner.

Salimbene depicted Segarelli as acting out a sensational chastity test. Jerome’s late fourth-century Life of Paul the First Hermit recounts a Christian martyr successfully resisting a beautiful woman attempting to rape him in a bed within a sensuous garden. The early Christian martyr Chrysanthus retained his chastity despite his father procuring and placing in Chrysanthus’s bed young virgin women who solicited sex from him. Segarelli put himself to a similar sensuous test:

when he was living with a certain little widow, who had a beautiful, nubile daughter, he told the widow that God had revealed to him that he should sleep all night nude with her nude daughter in order to test whether or not he could preserve his chastity. And thinking herself blessed, the mother consented, and the daughter did not refuse.

{ cum hospitaretur apud aliquam muierculam viduam, filiam nubilem et speciosam habentem, dicebat siba a Domino revelatum, quod cum illa puella debebat illa nocte nudus cum nuda in eodem lecto dormire, ut probaret, si castitatem servare posset necne. Consentiebat mater reputans se beatam, et puella minime hoc negabat. }

Salimbene didn’t report the results of Segarelli’s self-created chastity test. Given Salimbene’s interest in disparaging Segarelli, apparently neither Segarelli nor the girl disappointed the girl’s widowed mother. Segarelli being heroically chaste would have been less significant to Salimbene than that Segarelli performed a sensational chastity test.[7]

According to Salimbene, Segarelli also acted out a variant of the lactation of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. One day, the Virgin Mary reportedly gave the adult Bernard of Clairvaux a squirt of milk from her breasts, the same breasts that nourished the baby Jesus. Salimbene claimed of Segarelli:

He also lay in a cradle, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and sucked milk from the breasts of a certain woman unaware of him

{ in cunnubulis iacuit fasciis involutus et lac et mammas suxit cuiusdam nescie mulieris. }

That’s a scarcely believable story. A full-grown man could hardly be wrapped in swaddling clothes in a cradle. A woman might give a man milk from her breasts, but she certainly would be aware of what she was doing. This story is best interpreted as a parody of the lactation of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. It depicts Segarelli as a ridiculously bad actor attempting to play Jesus.

Salimbene also presented Segarelli acting badly in attempting to play Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis reportedly took off all his clothes in the center of the city of Assisi in 1206 and vowed to follow a life of poverty.[8] Twelfth-century European sermons commonly exhorted Christians “to follow naked the naked Christ {nudus nudum Christum sequi}.” Francis and his order of monks early in their existence earnestly followed that path. According to Salimbene, Segarelli and his monks acted more pruriently:

he {Gerard Segarelli} and all the others {of his followers} undressed themselves completely, so that their penises had not even trousers or any other clothing covering their nudity. They stood stood all around against the wall like a barefoot army in formation, but neither one ordained nor decent nor honorable. He wanted to strip them so that naked they might follow the naked Christ. Following his master’s command, one of them placed in the middle of the room their clothing tied into a bundle. Then by the command of their master, while they were indecently standing there, a woman was brought in … Gerard Segarelli, that master of theirs, ordered her to distribute whatever clothing she wished to grant to these paupers deprived and denuded of their personhood.

{ se et omnes alios denudavit usque adeo, quod etiam membra genitalia sine bracis et aliquo velamine nuda essent, et stabant apodiati ad murum in acie circum circa. sed non in acie ordinata nec honesta nec bona. Volebat enim eos expropriare, ut nudi nudum Christum decetero sequerentur. Posuerat enim quilibet eorum ex precepto magistri vestimenta sua in medio domus ligata seorsum. Tunc ex precepto magistri, cum ita inhoneste starent, introducta est mulier … Cui Ghirardinus Segalellus, qui magister erat istorum, precepit, ut pauperibus sic expropriatis et a propriis denudatis vestimenta que vellet tribueret. }

Saint Francis of Assisi humbled himself relative to all of humanity. According to Salimbene, Segarelli humiliated himself and his followers to a particular woman. Men have a tendency to humiliate and abase themselves relative to women. In Salimbene’s account, Segarelli acted as a type of anti-Francis and enacted the folly of courtly lovers.[9] That’s not truly acting holy.

While Salimbene probably fabricated most of what he reported of the acts of Gerard Segarelli and the Order of Apostles, Salimbene convincingly witnesses to vibrant theatricality in thirteenth-century Italy. Salimbene’s theatrical disparagement of Segarelli and the Order of Apostles suggests that men in thirteenth-century Italy were thoroughly engaged in acting in loving women and serving God — two central and often wrongly conflated interests in men’s lives.[10] Men throughout history have often been confined to the narrow gender role of providing resources to women and children and fighting to protect gynocentric society. Outrageous acting, along with guile and bed-tricks, provide vital paths for men’s liberation.

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[1] Salimbene de Adam, Cronica {Chronicle}, Latin text from Holder-Egger (1905) p. 620, English translation adapted from Baird, Baglivi & Kane (1986) p. 627. Segarelli is also known as Segarello, e.g. in id.

Medieval Italian theatricality could combine high and low culture. The brilliant rhetorician Boncompagno da Signa put on a outrageous performance in Bologna about 1195 to ridicule academic stupidity.

A Dominican inquisitor, a forefather of today’s university administrators, burned Segarelli as a heretic in Parma, Italy, on July 18, 1300. Ordinary Christians and church officials typically admired and supported Segarelli’s Order of Apostles through 1290. The Order of Apostles were entangled in complex rivalries among mendicant orders, including with Salimbene’s Franciscans, the Friars Minor.

Surviving historical sources about Gerard Segarelli and his Order of Apostles are meager. All are hostile towards that movement. They depict it as a Christian heresy. For studies concerning Segarelli and the Order of Apostles, Pierce (2012), Jacobs (2007), Carniello (2006), and Wessley (1976).

Subsequent quotes from Salimbene’s Cronica are sourced as described previously and cited by page in Holder-Egger (1905). The citations for the subsequent quotes above are: “a certain wealthy young man…”, p. 620; “rogues, seducers…”, p. 287; “spend every day running…”, pp. 256, 269; “This Gerard Segarelli…”, p. 257; “standing in the middle of the road…”, p. 257; “when he was living with a certain little widow…”, p. 257; “He also lay in a cradle…”, p. 257; “he {Gerard Segarelli} and all the others {of his followers} undressed themselves…”, p. 264. Holder-Egger’s page numbers are quite close to those of Baird, Baglivi & Kane.

[2] In disparaging the Order of Apostles, Salimbene repeated like a refrain his claim that they run through the cities seeking out women (less emphatically he also accused them of having sex with other men and with boys). Salimbene similarly repeated that the members of Segarelli’s Order of Apostles were men who “say they are apostles, and are not {qui se dicunt apostolos esse et non sunt}.” They are “a synagogue of Satan {synagoga Sathane}.” Cronica, p. 255. Salimbene adapted for both these phrases Revelation 2:9: “those who say they are Jews are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Consistent with its members running around seeking out women, Salimbene mockingly described the Order of the Apostles as a dispersion: “About the congregation, or rather the dispersion, of those rogues {De congregatione seu potius dispersione illorum ribaldorum}…” Cronica, p. 255.

Salimbene was well-educated. He continually displayed his knowledge of scripture by quoting it. Salimbene characterized Segarelli and his followers are ignorant rustics:

Thus it truly was with these Apostles of Gerard Segarelli, who call themselves apostles, but are rogues and deceivers, who shun the hoe and keep themselves from labor. They are more suited to keeping themselves busy with tending cows or pigs or scouring latrines or some other base work or at least pursuing agriculture.

{ Revera ita accidit istis Apostolis fratris Ghirardini Segalelli, qui se apostolos nominant, cum sint ribaldi et deceptores, qui ligonem vitant et laborare recusant, quibus vaccas et porcos custodire magis incomberet seu purgare latrinas aut alia vilia opera exercere vel saltem agriculture insistere. }

Cronica, p. 293.

Salimbene recognized that women can seriously harm men, yet he lacked practical knowledge about intersexual dynamics. He quoted an ancient Christian warning: “Whenever a woman is with a man, the laughter of Satan isn’t lacking {Ubi femina erit cum viris, non deerit riscarium diaboli}.” Cronica, p. 270, quoting pseudo-Jerome, Letter 42. But not all men, nor all women, are that vulnerable. Salimbene also quoted Alan of Lille:

If you follow, she follows; if you flee, she is put to flight;
if you give in, she gives in; if you flee, she flees.

{ Persequitur, si tu sequeris, fugiendo fugatur,
si cedis, cedit, si fugis, illa fugit. }

Cronica, p. 271, quoting Allan of Lille, Liber parabolum I.37-8. The reality is rather the oppposite, as medieval women’s love poetry indicates. Medieval school texts were generally of better quality.

[3] The bed-trick, meaning one person taking the place of another in bed and then having sex without the sexual partner being aware of the switch, has a long literary history. Jacob suffered a bed-trick when on his wedding night he unknowingly had sex with Leah rather than his intended bride, Leah’s younger sister Rachel.

A bed-trick features in Boccaccio’s Decameron, Day 3, Story 9 (about Beltramo and Giletta). That story was the basis for Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure also include a bed-trick. For a review of the literary history of the bed-trick, Doniger (2000).

[4] The droit de seigneur was a claim known in fifteenth-century Europe. It apparently never was a common sexual practice at any time in history. Boureau (1998). However, droit de seigneur was invoked symbolically in fifteenth century Europe. It expresses symbolically a reasonable understanding of the relationship between men’s status and men’s mating success. Wettlaufer (2000). The droit de seigneur belongs with the chastity belt, the belief that the world is flat, and patriarchy as ridiculous modern myths about medieval European beliefs and practices.

[5] The Apostle Paul taught that Christians need not have themselves circumcised. Galations 5:2-6.

[6] Matthew 20:1-16.

[7] Jerome, The Life of Paul the First Hermit, s. 3, describes a sensational chastity test. The chastity test of Chrysanthus is from the Acts of Chrysanthus and Daria. Salimbene subsquently cited Chrysanthus’s chastity test. According to Salimbene, when Chrysanthus encountered the young virgins soliciting him in bed, he prayed to God to rise up and provide rain:

he lay immobile in prayer and, warding off their embraces and kisses like arrows off the shield of his faith, he called out to the Lord: “Rise up, Lord.”

{ Iacebat autem in oratione immobilis et amplexus earum et oscula quasi sagitarum ictus scuto sue fidei excipiens, clamabat ad Dominum dicens: “Exurge, Domine.” }

Salimbene, Cronica, p. 271. Chrysanthus didn’t bring charges of sexual assault against the young women. Moreover, not all men favor celibate life. Many men would be grateful for these young women taking on men’s burden of seduction. Many men would also be grateful if their father’s would take the sort of dramatic initiative that Chrysanthus’s father did, however misguidedly, to promote his son’s sexual welfare.

Syneisactism, meaning a man and woman living together under vows of chastity in a spiritual marriage, is an ancient Christian practice. It persisted as a Christian practice for at least a millennium. Reynolds (1968). Sexless marriage, a common situation in high-income secular countries today, was more unusual in medieval Christian Europe. Margery Kempe and her husband are, however, a medieval Christian example of a marriage turned sexless. Sexless marriage differs from syneisactism. In a sexless marriage, at least one spouse would strongly prefer to have sex within the marriage. Syneisactism, in contrast, includes a mutual preference to refrain from sex.

Gerard Segarelli’s night naked with the beautiful naked daughter was not a marriage of any sort. It was a simple, sensational chastity test similiar to the one that Jerome described and Chrystanthus reportedly underwent. Cf. Jacobs (2007) p. 153.

[8] The National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi in the U.S. explains:

The growing friction between Francis and his father exploded publicly in October of 1206 when Pietro Bernardone pursued his son to the central piazza of the city and demanded repayment for all that Francis had squandered in his generosity to the poor — and for the money Francis had spent in his {church} restoration work.

Before all the townspeople gathered there, Francis stripped himself naked, renounced his hereditary rights, and gave his fine clothes back to his astonished father. The Bishop of Assisi, who had witnessed the dramatic gesture, wrapped his cloak around the young man, who thereafter dressed himself in a simple flaxen tunic tied at the waist with a cord.

From the National Shrine’s account of the life of Saint Francis.

[9] On Gerard Segarelli as an anti-type of St. Francis more generally, Carniello (2006). Carniello perceptively noted:

Salimbene’s ‘Anti-Francis’ was part of a larger movement among Franciscans and Dominicans in the last quarter of the thirteenth century to construct their mendicant rivals as perverting mendicant piety and even as heretical enemies of the Christian faith. During this process, they activated religious sentiments that were bound to transform into radical dissent. By burning Gerardo Segarelli as a heretic in July 1300, Dominican inquisitors fuelled the fire for extremists who called for radical dissent against a ‘corrupt’ Church to find new followers. It was in this atmosphere of militant opposition between the condoned and the condemned that Fra Dolcino stepped forward in August 1300 and that the Order of Apostles completed its descent into heresy.

Id. p. 251. Major corporations now acting to represses communication and suppress dissent should learn from medieval failures.

[10] In contrast to his representation of Segarelli and the Order of Apostles, Salimbene depicted medieval women’s loving concern for men realistically rather than theatrically. Specifically, Salimbene observed that, as an expression of their commitment to poverty, Segarelli and his Apostles refused to own more than one robe. Salimbene disparaged them for that commitment:

they expose themselves to the hazards of colds or greater sickness or even death, which can very easily and quickly happen. No person has the right to kill oneself. … with one robe, which is all they possess, they expose themselves to many miseries, such as lice, which they cannot eliminate, and also sweat and dirt and stench, because they cannot take off the robe and wash it, without being completely naked. Thus once, a certain woman said to two Friars Minor derisively, “Do you know, I have a naked Apostle in my bed, and there he will be until his robe, which I have washed for him, has dried.”

{ exponunt se discrimini frigoris et magne infirmitatis seu etiam mortis, quam de facili cito possent incurrere. Nullus enim debet interficere semetipsum. … cum una tunica, qua solummodo utuntur, exponunt se mutis miseriis tam pediculorum, quos excutere non possunt, quam etiam sudoris et pulveris et fetoris, quia tunicam nec excutere nec lavare possunt, nisi remanserint nudi. Unde quadam di dixit quedam mulier duobous fratribus Minoribus diredendo: “Noveritis, quod habeo unum Apostolum nudum in lecto meo, et erit ibi, quousque tunica sua siccetur, quam lavi.” }

Cronica, p. 284. Along with Salimbene’s usual jab at the Apostle’s lack of chastity, this account has many realistic details.

[image] Naked Francis of Assisi being covered up by the Bishop of Assisi. Fresco made between 1297 and 1299 in the Upper Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi in Assisi, Italy. Artist unknown; formerly attributed to Giotto di Bondone. Image thanks to Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.


Baird, Joseph L., Giuseppe Baglivi, and John Robert Kane. 1986. The Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam. Binghamton, N.Y.: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies.

Boureau, Alain. 1998. The Lord’s First Night: the myth of the droit de cuissage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Translation by Lydia G. Cochrane of Boureau, Alain. 1995. Le droit de cuissage: la fabrication d’un mythe (XIIIe-XXe siècle). Paris: Albin Michel.

Carniello, Brian R. 2006. “Gerardo Segarelli as the Anti-Francis: Mendicant Rivalry and Heresy in Medieval Italy, 1260-1300.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History. 57 (2): 226-251.

Doniger, Wendy. 2000. The Bedtrick: tales of sex and masquerade. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Holder-Egger, Oswald. 1905-1913. Cronica Fratris Salimbene de Adam. Monumenta Germaniae Historica 32. Hannoverae et Lipsiae: Impr. bibliopolii Hahniani.

Jacobs, Robert C. 2007. Locating the Franciscans within the cities of thirteenth century northern Italy using the Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam. Master of Arts Thesis, University of Manitoba.

Pierce, Jerry B. 2012. Poverty, Heresy, and the Apocalypse: the Order of Apostles and Social Change in Medieval Italy 1260-1307. London: Bloomsbury Publishing (underlying 2004 Univerity of Arizona Ph.D. dissertation).

Reynolds, Roger E. 1968. “Virgines Subintroductae in Celtic Christianity.” The Harvard Theological Review. 61 (4): 547-566.

Wessley, Stephen E. 1976. Enthusiasm and Heresy in the year 1300: Guglielma of Milan, Armanno Pungilupo of Ferrara and Gerard Segarelli of Parma. Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia University.

Wettlaufer, Jörg. 2000. “The jus primae noctis as a male power display: a review of historic sources with evolutionary interpretation.” Evolution and Human Behavior. 21 (2): 111-123.

Boncompagno da Signa against his rivals, critics, and plagiarists

medieval master teaching students

In contrast to our intolerant and repressive age, robust and vibrant public discourse existed in the relatively liberal medieval world. Medieval intellectuals, like unlearned children today, were intellectually capable of distinguishing between sticks and stones in some persons’ hands, and words in the mouths of others. Inquisitions and tribunals didn’t strive, with administrative torture, expulsions, and other vicious punishments, to make everyone safe from offensive communication. No pervasive codes of conduct promoted tyranny. Persons could vigorously disagree with each other, strongly dissent from prevailing orthodoxy, and deliver harsh criticism. No one had to fear being mobbed and destroyed because someone said that he made her feel uncomfortable. The great thirteenth-century rhetorician Boncompagno da Signa provides an inspiring example of the robust and vibrant public discourse so lacking today.

Boncompagno targeted his rivals with harsh invective that figured them as a monstrous beast. He allegorized his rivals as sin. They were the beast of jealousy, whose mother is pride:

This beast has nine heads, doubled horns, three tails and four feet. Each of these fights by itself, harms by itself, nor does it strike without pouring out venom. It is also horrible to be seen. It never rests, but surveys the world, tracking down any sort of good fortune, and always tries to mess it up, but is confounded. It grumbles, shrieks, rages, becomes delirious, swallows up, harasses, becomes livid, becomes pale, clamors, becomes nauseated, hides, barks, bites, raves, foams at the mouth, rages, seethes, snarls, and groans when it cannot cause harm. It holds its mouth open. It has very sharp teeth and tongues like arrows of continually burning lightning.

{ Hec namque habet capita novem, cornua duplicata, tres caudas, et quatuor pedes. Quorum quodlibet per se pugnat, per se nocet, nec percutit sine fusione veneni. Est etiam horribilis ad videndum, et tempore aliquo non quiescit, sed terrarum orbem regirans quamlibet felicitatem insequitur, et probitatem semper invenire satagit quam confundat. Murmurat, stridet, fremit, delirat, devorat, anxiatur, livet, pallet, perstrepit, nauseat, delitescit, latrat, mordet, furit, spumat, insanit, ignit, gannit et gemit quando nocere non potest, ora tenet aperta, dentes habet acutissimos et linguas tamquam sagittas fulguris perignitas. } [1]

As one would want to say upon seeing a coven of anti-meninists, Boncompagno wrote, “O how terrible and abominable is the sight of this beast {O quam terribilis et abhominabilis est huius bestie aspectus}!” Like cancer, it causes innumerable deaths and afflicts many with various torments.

Boncompagno vigorously affirmed the value of his own work. One of his most important works, sometimes called Rhetorica antiqua {The Rhetoric of Antiquity}, Boncompagno actually titled with his own name:

I {this work} am titled Boncompagnus from my composer’s name. He, wheeling about to rule the field of eloquence with exalted genius and a solemn style, has brought me into the light of day for the enlightenment of the nations and the glory of the scholastic profession.

{ Boncompagnus in nomine compositoris appellor, qui pratum eloquentie celebri vena et solempni stilo regirans me ad illuminationem gentium et gloriam scolastice professionis eduxit in lucem }

The prologue to this work features a dialogue between the work and its author. The work asks Boncompagno:

I ask to be instructed by you: how should I respond to those poisoned by the venom of jealousy, those who say that I am too prolix and confused?

{ A te postulo edoceri, qualiter veneno invidie toxicatis qui me dicunt esse prolixum nimium et confusum debeam respondere? }

Long before Ralph Waldo Emerson, Boncompagno’s large mind contained multitudes and his work was like a mighty cleansing flood. Boncompagno thus responded to his work’s question about jealous rivals:

You should pull on their neck with bit and bridle. You should say that you are probably similar to the Nile, which irrigates scattered islands and lands by its adjacent rivulets and everywhere makes them germinate. Yet the depth of its waters does not change. It is certain and the effect of the matter shows that you could be divided into a thousand particles and more. Each of them might irrigate an arid heart with the fluid of doctrine and bring forth a sprout of thought like a rivulet derived from a river. Thus divide your water in the streets. Do not care what the envious may say. Because of others’ happiness, the envious burn with inextinguishable fire.

{ In chamo et freno manilla eorum constringas, et dicas quod Nilo probabiliter similaris, qui per rivulos adiacentes diffusus aridas insulas et terras irrigat, easque facit uberius germinare: et tamen alvei profunditas non mutatur. Certum est, et rei effectus ostendit, quod dividi potes in mille particulas, et ultra, quarum quelibet humore doctrine aridum cor irrigatet intellectus germen producit tanquam rivulus a flumine derivatus. Aquam tuam igitur divide in plateis, et noli curare quid invidi referant, qui propter aliorum felicitates igne inexstinguibili aduruntur } [2]

Boncompagno hoped that “with the most truthful arguments I shall have the strength to break the teeth of my rival {emulorum dentes verissimis valeam frangere argumentis}.”[3] Boncompagno produced many books addressing complex issues of rhetoric and ars dictaminis. Boncompagno also fought courageously for social justice. But the world was too corrupt to be washed clean by the flood of Boncompagno’s work.

Nonetheless, Boncompagno persisted. After writing Palma, an introduction to technical terms in the study of letter-writing, Boncompagno wrote Oliva:

The dove brought back to Noah a verdant olive branch. This gesture signaled that Noah could leave the ark at will, because the waters of the flood were already receding from the face of the earth. Under that representative likeness, I therefore dare to title my present book. By its effect, this title Oliva fully convinces me that my books and treatises are received everywhere and authenticated by the judgment of the wise. Hence swarms of envious persons are struck dumb. They might be likened to those in the waters of a flood.

{ Ramum uirentis oliue ad Noe columba reduxit, ut per hoc innueret, quod libere poterat egredi ex archa, quia iam cessauerant aque diluuii a facie terre. Sub quadam igitur subiectiua similitudine librum presentem audeo appellare Oliuam, quia michi per effectum plenius intimat, quod mei libri atque tractatus ubique recipiuntur et facti sunt autentici iudicio sapientum. Vnde inuidorum turme stupescunt, que possunt aquis diluuii quodammodo simulari. } [4]

Boncompagno wasn’t an apparatchik. He didn’t produce a stream of work currying favor with influential colleagues and supporting dominant ideology. He fought strongly against his rivals on behalf of truth and love, yet also with mercy:

The reasons why this book should be called the Oliva should not be left in silence. It can deservedly be titled the Oliva, since the oil of adulation does not come from it, but instead a liquid of sincere love. I had first made the Palma, which rendered me victorious over the envious. Now I wish to add a sibling Oliva to it, so that I may father a double victory. Many people carry olive branches in hand as a sign of victory and of happiness. To touch in brief summary the complete truth, this book is titled the Oliva, because olive oil is the material of piety itself, and it signifies mercy.

{ Quare autem liber iste dicatur Oliua, non est sub silentio reliquendum. Potest namque merito appellari Oliua, quoniam ab ipso non adulationis oleum, set liquor sincere caritatis procedit. Vel quia prius feceram Palmam, que de inuidis me reddidit uictoriosum. Vnde sibi germanitatem uolui addere Oliue, ut michi duplicata uictoria generetur. Profecto in signum uictorie atque iocunditatis plurimi portant in manibus ramos oliue. Et ut summam totius ueritatis breuius tangam, liber iste ideo appellatur Oliua, quia materiale oleum ipsius pietatis est et misericordie significatiuum. }

In our benighted age of ignorance and bigotry, academics and intellectuals everywhere should turn to Boncompagno da Signa for inspiration and guidance.

Boncompagno endured vicious intellectual attacks and mendacious acts. One of Boncompagno’s early works was Five Tables of Salutations {Quinque tabule salutationum}, a work on how to begin a letter. Boncompagno’s rivals stole that work from him. In the prologue to his Palma, Boncompagno declared:

I therefore implore those into whose hands this book shall come that they should not wish to give it to my rivals. After erasing its title page, my rivals said that I did not compose the Quinque tabule salutationum. They are those who have been applying smoke to my works on letter-writing. Darkened by the smoke, these works seem to have been composed in much earlier times. With such wickedness they take away my glory.

{ Rogo igitur illos, ad quorum manus hic liber pervenerit, quatinus ipsum dare non velint meis emulis, qui raso titulo me Quinque salutationum tabulas non composuisse dicebant et qui mea consueverunt fumigare dictamina, ut per fumi obtenebrationem a multis retro temporibus composita viderentur et sic mihi sub quodam sceleris genere meam gloriam auferrent. } [5]

Boncompagno displayed sharp wit and sophisticated rhetoric in associating his critics with plagiarists:

By Almighty God I swear that furtive plagiarists not excoriate these books by scraping off their titles, just as some have excoriated my other books. Indeed, may those scribes who disfigure all urbanity of eloquence with falsifying pens and those jealous and furtive plagiarists be struck with the sword of excommunication.

{ Coniuro per Omnipotentem furtiuos depilatores, ne abrasis titulis ipsos excorient, sicut quidam meos alios libros turpiter excoriarunt. Scriptores nempe, qui penna mendacii omnem eloquentie urbanitatem deturpant, cum inuidis et furtiuis depilatoribus excomunicationis gladio feriantur. } [6]

To excoriate literally means to scrape off skin. That’s what a person would literally do in scraping off a title from a vellum manuscript. Excoriate more figuratively means to criticize harshly. Boncompagno thus sarcastically presented his rivals as both harshly criticizing his work and seeking to appropriate it. In addition, the pen and sword are closely associated in poetry. In invoking “the sword of excommunication,” Bongcompagno implied both a serious church penalty and those furtive, falsifying scribes ceasing to write.

New, huge technology companies are now establishing excommunication as a policy to be applied broadly, vaguely, and arbitrarily. The medieval cultural inheritance supporting relatively vibrant and open public discourse is rapidly vanishing. Formal freedom of speech isn’t sufficient for enlightened intellectual life. A public propaganda apparatus and pervasive fear can arise even without the construction of a Siberian gulag. Democracy dies without vigorous dissent against the nomenklatura and the ruling elites.

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[1] Boncompagno da Signa, Boncompagnus / Rhetorica antiqua {Rhetoric of Antiquity}, Prologue 3.3, Latin text from Basso (2015), English translation (modified) from Wight (1998). The subsequent four quotes above are similarly from Boncompagnus, Prologue 3.7 (O how terrible and abominable…), 1.1 (I am titled Boncompagnus…), 3.19 (I ask to be instructed…), and 3.20 (You should pull on their neck…).

Boncompagno’s main rivals apparently were Bene da Firenze and Guido Faba. On these three thirteenth-century Italian rhetoricians, Raccagni (2013b) pp. 74-8. Around 1218, Boncompagno moved from Bologna to Venice. Id. p. 77. Bene da Firenze and Guido Faba:

probably referred to him {Boncompagno} when they respectively invited Bologna to rejoice at being rid of the ‘ridiculus Geta’, and described as erring sheep those who had left Bologna for other academic institutions.

Raccagni (2013a) p. 599.

Arguing about the presentation of cursus in teaching ars dictiminis, Boncompagno derided other teaches as “masters of dactyls {magistri dactylii}.” He declared:

It is not a virtue but vulgar, even heresy, to conclude prose composition under dactyl feet. For “prose” derives from “protoi proson,” which means in Latin “first long,” just as “protomartyr” means “first martyr.” Thus the Greeks defined “prose composition”: “Prose composition is speech drawn out according to the will of the dictator and obligated to no laws of meter.” For they had this definition from the Creator himself of all things, because when He commanded to Adam that he should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He truly said: “Eat from every tree of Paradise. But do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Behold: God finished his clause with a dactyl foot.

{ Item non est uirtus sed consuetudo, immo heresis, concludere prosaicum dictamen sub pedibus dactilis. Nam prosaicum dicitur a “protoi proson”, quod latine interpretatur “primo longum”, sicut dicitur “protomartir” idest “primus martir”. Greci autem sic diffiniunt istud dictamen prosaicum: “Prosaicum dictamen est oratio secundum libitum dictantis extensa nullumque metrorum legibus obligata.” Nam ab ipso rerum omnium Creatore hanc diffinitionem habuerunt, quia quando ipse precipit Ade, ne de ligno scientie boni et mali comederet, hic uero dixit “De omni ligno Paradysi comede. De ligno autem scientie boni et mali ne comedas.” Ecce Deus distinctionem suam in pede dactilico finit. }

Boncompagno, Tractatus virtutum Boncompagni {Boncompagno’s Treatise of Virtues} 35 (masters of dactyls), 31-2 (It is not a virtue…). Boncompagno further argued:

To issue a single set of definite and binding rules involving dactyls and spondees for the beginnings and ends of prose clauses would not, therefore, be a sensible doctrine, but instead the utter confusion of the dictatores.

{ Dare igitur sub una forma certas et necessarias regulas in prosa de datilis et spondeis, principiis et finibus clausularum, nec esset doctrina salutifera, sed perpetua confusio dictatorum }

Boncompagno, from Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Latin 8654, folio 2v, from Cornelius (2010) p. 316, citing Valois (1881) p. 196.

Within the vibrant intellectual life of medieval Europe, vigorous disputes about such issues endured for centuries. Simon O., in his Summa dictandi from the first quarter of the fifteenth century, harshly criticized other teachers:

Certain idiots may boldly blurt out that terminations of this sort are not included in the set of cadences. These people ignorantly rave, for they speak without understanding. Indeed, philosophers who seek out the truth devised terminations of this sort in order to preserve their meanings: for it would be difficult for them and for preachers and composers of homilies to attach their intention to a single termination’s cadence.

{ Quidam ignari forsitan temere prorumpent, quod huiusmodi terminciones non continentur sub serie cadenciarum: qui stolide delirant, quod inquiunt ignorantes. Nam huiusmodi terminaciones philosophi invenerunt, qui veritatem sunt prosecuti, pro sentenciis observandis, qu<ia> deficile esset eis et sermonistis ac collacionum compositoribus sub una terminacionis cadencia <propositum> applicare. }

Cited in Cornelius (2010) p. 322-3. The classical Arabic world encompassed similar disputes.

[2] Luke 3.17 describes God’s judgment as burning chaff in “inextinguishable fire {Vulgate: igni inextinguibili}.”

[3] Boncompagno, Isagoge {Introduction}, Prologue 2, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wight (1998).

[4] Boncompagno, Oliva {Olive Branch}, Prologue 1.1, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wight (1998). The subsequent quote is similarly from Oliva, Prologue 1.5-7.

[5] Boncompagno, Palma {Palm}, Prologue 1.1, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wight (1998).

[6] Boncompagno, Oliva {Olive Branch}, Prologue 1.11-2, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wight (1998). Boncompagno advised his book Boncompagnus:

if anyone should presume to excoriate you, you will appeal to the magistracy and you will able to bring legal actions against them for theft and injuries.

{ si te aliqui excoriare presumpserint, ad magistratus cathedras appellabis, et poteris eos furti et iniuriarum actionibus convenire }

Boncompagno, Boncompagnus, Prologue 3.17, Latin text from Basso (2015), English translation (modified) from Wight (1998).

[image] Medieval master-professor teaching eager students. From folio 4v in instance of Gossuin de Metz, L’Image du monde, made in 1464. Preserved in British Library as MS Royal 19 A IX. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Basso, Martina. 2015. Il 1 Libro del Boncompagnus di Boncompagno da Signa: Edizione Critica e Glossario. Ph.D. Thesis. Università degli Studi di Padova (Italy).

Cornelius, Ian. 2010. “The Rhetoric of Advancement: Ars dictaminis, Cursus, and Clerical Careerism in Late Medieval England.” New Medieval Literatures. 12: 289-330.

Raccagni, Gianluca. 2013a. “Reintroducing the emperor and repositioning the city republics in the ‘republican’ thought of the rhetorician Boncompagno da Signa.” Historical Research. 86 (234): 579-600.

Raccagni, Gianluca. 2013b. “The teaching of rhetoric and the Magna Carta of the Lombard cities: the Peace of Constance, the Empire and the Papacy in the works of Guido Faba and his leading contemporary colleagues.” Journal of Medieval History. 39 (1): 61-79.

Valois, Noël. 1881. Étude sur le rythme des bulles pontificales. Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes. 42: 161-198 (part 1), 257-272 (part 2).

Wight, Steven M., ed. 1998. Boncompagno da Signa. Medieval diplomatic and the “ars dictandi”. Scrineum (online): Universita degli Studi di Pavia.

men forced to offer sacrifices amid intimate-partner violence

one man begin sawed into two

Contrary to widely propagated lies, men suffer terribly from intimate-partner violence. Both old, fat men and young, handsome men are victimized. What domestic-violence experts teach to women also applies to men. No man is safe from those who claim to love him.

Consider the case of Enguerrand I de Boves. He was born in France in the middle of the eleventh century. Enguerrand married Ade de Marle. She had previously been married to Aubry, Viscount of Coucy.[1] Enguerrand’s marriage to Ade de Marle made him Lord of Marle. Ade had two children, Thomas and Robert, within her marriage to Enguerrand. He apparently suspected that at least Thomas (his “reputed {ut dicitur}” son) wasn’t his biological child. Enguerrand divorced Ade, most plausibly for betraying his reproductive interests despite professing to love him.[2]

Although Enguerrand showed more backbone toward Ade than many men show toward their wives, Enguerrand typically allowed women to dominate him. Guibert of Nogent noted of Enguerrand:

He was so much devoted to women’s love that, whatever women surrounded him, whether they were indebted to him in love or money-seeking women, he would do almost nothing but what their impudence dictated.

{ amori foemineo adeo deditus, ut quascunque circa se aut debitas aut usurarias mulieres haberet, nihil pene faceret, nisi quod ei earundem petulantia dictitaret. } [3]

After Enguerrand divorced Ade, he became enamored of Sibylle de Porcien. She was Count Godfrey’s wife. Godfrey was a very handsome man and much younger than Enguerrand. However, Godfrey and Sibylle were having marital problems, and Sibylle was a woman with strong, independent sexuality:

Her husband was fulfilling his martial duty less than she would have desired. Whether she kept herself from other men can be know from this one thing: she would have never come to such a public and monstrous scandal if she had not descended one step at a time through clandestine evil acts. In particular, she was already pregnant with another man’s child when she married the man who is now her husband. Her past debaucheries everyone knows.

{ Cui, cum minus quam volebat mariti debitum redderetur, utrum alia sese cohibuisset, hoc uno sciri potest, quod ad tam evidentis et immanis flagitii saltum nunquam venisset, nisi clandestinorum malorum gradibus descendisset, praesertim cum externis concubitibus gravida veniret ad istum, quem nunc obsidet. Nam praeteritarum ejus libidinum ea apud omnes }

Enguerrand and Sibylle had a secret affair. She then left her husband and married Enguerrand. Both her former husband Count Godfrey and her father, Roger, Count of Porcien, were furious with Enguerrand for what he had done. Both sides killed many men in the resulting violence against men.

Enguerrand subsequently had to make a humiliating sacrifice for his wife Sibylle. As Enguerrand became old and put on weight, his social status declined:

He was ridiculed by tavern-keepers and butchers for getting old and fat — many pounds with many years.

{ sui aevi gravitatem caupones et macellarii irriderent } [4]

In light of these personal developments, his wife Sibylle took decisive action:

His wife, with the pretense of chastity but really because of his age and fatness, began to refuse to have sex with Enguerrand. She, however, would not be deprived of her customary enjoyment of lovers. So she began to lust for a suitable young man.

{ uxor, cum jam sub specie continentiae pro senio et corporis mole aspernaretur Ingelrannum, veteri tamen amasiorum usu carere non poterat. Unde et juvenem idoneum cum amaret } [5]

What could an old, fat, sexually desperate husband do in this situation? Some might say he should divorce his wife and find a new one, or at least find an eager girlfriend. But Enguerrand had already been divorced once. Real-world divorce is expensive in a variety of ways. After Enguerrand’s divorce from Ade, Thomas de Marle, Enguerrand’s reputed son with Ade, hated him and violently attacked him and his allies. Divorce often promotes family violence.

Rather than divorcing Sibylle, Enguerrand resolved that sharing is better than lacking. He apparently accommodated Sibylle’s desire in order to be allowed to have sex with her:

Enguerrand kept her away from all communication with the young man, until she drove Enguerrand so mad with sexual enticements that he summoned the young man, set him up in their house, and betrothed her very young daughter to him to conceal the young man’s wicked affair with Enguerrand’s own wife.

{ eam Ingelrannus ab ejus omnino confabulatione arceret, tantis repente hominem lenociniis dementavit, ut eum ad se accersiret, in domo sua statueret, filiam suam parvulam ad palliandos amores nefarios pactis sponsalibus daret }

Husbands historically have shared their wife with other men when the wife was reluctant to work outside the home. But for good evolutionary-biological reasons (powerfully re-enforced by gynocentric paternity laws) men typically prefer that, for a woman with whom they hope to have children, she exclusively have sex with him. Enguerrand sacrificed an exclusive arrangement with his wife in order to avoid the harm and violence of divorce.

Even young men are forced to offer sacrifices because of intimate-partner violence. Consider a situation of complicated intimate partnerships and violence in ancient Rome. The gladiator Encolpius apparently became a sexual consort for the wealthy married merchant Lichas, and perhaps also had sex with Lichas’s wife. The wealthy, highly privileged woman Tryphaena owned both Encolpius and a sixteen-year-old servant youth named Giton. Encolpius and Giton had a consensual sexual relationship. Exploiting her position of power and authority over Giton, Tryphaena frequently sexually assaulted him. Encolpius and Giton fled from Tryphaena’s household and thus became runaway slaves. Tryphaena was enraged by the loss of her beloved chattel and her sexual privilege. Lichas was enraged that Encolpius had deserted him to be with Giton. The grave risks of further intimate-partner violence are obvious.

Tryphaena, Lichas, Encolpius, and Giton found themselves unexpectedly together on a ship at sea. With Tryphaena keen to sexually assault Giton, Encolpius courageously defended the youth:

Thrusting my fists into Tryphaena’s face, I cried out in a clear and free voice that I would use violence if that wicked woman didn’t abstain from hurting Giton, for she was the only person on the ship who deserved a beating.

{ intentans in oculos Tryphaenae manus usurum me viribus meis clara liberaque voce clamavi, ni abstineret a Gitone iniuriam mulier damnata et in toto navigio sola verberanda. } [6]

A brawl subsequently broke out. Tryphaena, her maids, Lichas, and other subservient men were on her side; Encolpius, Giton, Eumolpus, and Eumolpius’s servant-man fought against them. Blood streamed from wounds on both sides, yet the intimate-partner violence raged undiminished. Then Giton dramatically offered a horrific sacrifice:

Then the supremely brave Giton put a razor to his own manly genitals and threatened to excise the cause of all the misery.

{ Tunc fortissimus Giton ad virilia sua admovit novaculam infestam, minatus se abscisurum tot miseriarum causam }

Tryphaena quickly responded with an offer of forgiveness for all past offenses. The warring parties then established a formal peace treaty. Lichas was compelled not to disparage Encolpius about his relationship with Giton:

Lichas, you express your understanding that you will not pursue Encolpius with insulting words or grimaces, nor inquire where he sleeps at night. If you do so inquire, you will pay him two hundred denarii for each injurious act.

{ Licha, ex tui animi sententia, ut tu Encolpion nec verbo contumelioso insequeris nec vultu, neque quaeres ubi nocte dormiat, aut si quaesieris, pro singulis iniuriis numerabis praesentes denarios ducenos. } [7]

Tryphaena was compelled not to sexually harass Giton without pay:

You will give the youth no repugnant demand for a hug, a kiss, or to be held tight in sexual intercourse, without for each act paying a hundred denarii.

{ tu nihil imperabis puero repugnanti, non amplexum, non osculum, non coitum venere constrictum, nisi pro qua re praesentes numeraveris denarios centum. }

A woman paying a subordinate for sexual services that she demands is more just than her receiving those services for free. In our more ignorant and barbaric age, women who raped men can receive state-mandated monthly payments from their victims. While the treaty that ended this intimate-partner violence was far from perfect, at least it established peace.

Cuckolding and castration culture cast a long, dark shadow over human history. Men too often have been called upon to make enormous sacrifices to stop intimate-partner violence. Women must take equal responsibility for stopping intimate-partner violence. But that’s not enough. Establishing a propitious environment for human love is the most important task for everyone.

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[1] Ade de Marle is also known as Adèle of Marle and Adèle of Roucy. Aubry of Coucy is also known as Alberic de Beaumont, seigneur de Coucy. Enguerrand I de Boves became Count of Amiens in 1085 and Lord of Coucy in 1086. Bourgin (1907) p. 133, n. 1. Ade and Enguerrand had their first son, Thomas de Marle, in 1073.

Enguerrand had “a very close relative {plurima sibi consanguinitate affinis}” with another Enguerrand who became Bishop of Laon in 1098 or 1099. Bishop Enguerrand of Laon apparently died in 1104. Guibert, Monodiae 3.3; Bourgin (1907) p. 132, n. 1. Both Bishop Enguerrand of Laon and Enguerrand de Marle were probably grandsons of Aubry of Coucy and hence first cousins. Bourgin (1907) p. 133, n. 1;  Archambault (1996) p. 124, n. 10.

An Enguerrand associated with Laon participated in the First Crusade, 1095-1099. Writing about the First Crusade, Guibert reported:

But count Stephen, with certain bishops of our kingdom, among whom were Hugh of Soissons, William of Paris, fine, noble men, who were splendid, accomplished young rulers, and Enguerrand of Laon — would that he had been as preeminent in his religious belief as he was in appearance and eloquence — together with many dignitaries of all ranks, entered the city of Constantinople.

{ At Stephanus comes cum quibusdam pontificibus regni nostri, inter quos Hugo Suessionicus, et Parisiorum Guillelmus illustris indolis generisque viri, qui praesulatui suo in primaevo flore clarissimis moribus ministrabant, et Engelrannus Laudunensis, vir sicut forma et eloquentia, utinam sic religione! conspicuus, cum multa ordinum omnium dignitate moenia Constantinopolitana subintrant. }

Guibert of Nogent, Gesta Dei per Francos {God’s Deeds through the Franks} 8.6, Latin text from Guizot (1825), English trans. from Levine (1997). Archambault identifies this Enguerrand as Enguerrand de Marle. Archambault (1996) p. 125, n. 12. It seems to me more probably Bishop Enguerrand of Laon.

[2] Guibert repeatedly refers to Thomas de Marle as “Enguerrand’s reputed son {ut dicitur Ingrelranni filium}.” E.g. Monodiae 3.11. Benton states:

He {Enguerrand} divorced Adèle of Roucy, the mother of Thomas of Marle, on charges of adultery, leading Guibert to say throughout this work {Monodiae} that Thomas was Enguerrand’s “reputed” son.

Benson (1970) p. 148, n. 2. Archambault, however, argues:

Guibert is not casting doubt on Thomas’s legitimacy, or casting aspersions on Enguerrand’s first marriage to Ade de Marle, Thomas’s mother, when he states: “contra Thomam, quem irremediabiliter ipse, qui dicebatur pater, oderat {against Thomas, who irremediably hated that one who is called his father}.” He is showing, rather, how unnatural Enguerrand’s sentiments have become toward Thomas de Marle, whom both he and he second wife, Sibylle, intend to disinherit.

Archambault (1996) p. 169, n. 113. I think Guibert is both depicting “unnatural” familial sentiments and recording doubt about Thomas’s legitimacy. Guibert states of Enguerrand: “in entering into marriages he had been unfortunate {cum in sortiendis matrimoniis infortuniosus esset}.” Monodiae 3.3. Guibert also describes Thomas’s intense hatred toward both Enguerrand and Sibylle. That hatred is plausibly the hatred of a son toward those who had exposed his mother’s adultery and his illegitimacy in contemporary eyes.

[3] Guibert of Nogent, Monodiae {Songs of Self} 3.3, Latin text from Bourgin (1907), my English translation benefiting from those of Archambault (1996) and McAlhany & Rubenstein (2011). All subsequent quotes from Monodiae are similarly sourced. The subsequent quote above is also from Monodiae 3.3.

[4] Guibert, Monodiae 3.14. Enguerrand was a lord and a count. Being ridiculed by inn-keepers and butchers is a stunning status reversal. The Latin text refers wittily to the “weight of his age {gravitas aevi}”; gravitas, used here ironically, is a venerable Roman virtue.

[5] Guibert, Monodiae 3.11. The subsequent quote above is from id. While less so in medieval Europe than in today’s high-income countries, marriage turning sexless has always been a risk.

[6] Petronius, Satyricon 108, Latin text from Heseltine & Rouse (1913), my English translation benefiting from that of id. and Walsh (1996). All subsequent quotes from the Satyricon are similarly source. The next quote above is also from Satyricon 108.

[7] Petronius, Satyricon 109. The subsequent quote above is from id. The denarius was an ancient Roman silver coin.

Payments of 200 and 100 denarii were enormous sums relative to the income of ordinary Roman men. The Satyricon is thought to have been written about 64 GC. Toward the end of the first century GC, men engaged in unskilled agricultural labor on estates in Roman Egypt earned roughly 5 obols per day. A denarius was worth 28 obols. Hence the daily wage for men engaged in unskilled labor was about 0.2 denarii a day. For the equivalence and data, Harper (2016) Table 2, p. 814, and Figure 9, p. 828. Here’s Harper’s extensive dataset on Roman prices and wages.

[image] One man being sawed into two parts. Illumination on folio 107r in Epistolarium (Amiens) {Épistolier à l’usage d’Amiens}. Illumination by Maître d’Antoine Clabault, made about 1490. Preserved in Bibliothèque nationale de France as Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. MS-662.


Archambault, Paul J., trans. 1996. A Monk’s Confession: the memoirs of Guibert of Nogent. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Benton, John F., trans. 1970. Self and society in Medieval France: the memoirs of Abbot Guibert of Nogent. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Bourgin, George, ed. 1907. Guibert of Nogent. Histoire de sa vie: 1053-1124. Paris: Picard.

Guizot, François, trans. 1825. Histoire des Croisades. Collection des mémoires relatifs à l’histoire de France, 10. Paris: Brière.

Harper, Kyle. 2016. “People, Plagues, and Prices in the Roman World: The Evidence from Egypt.” Journal of Economic History. 76 (3): 803-839.

Heseltine, Michael and W. H. D. Rouse, trans., revised by E. H. Warmington. 1913. Petronius Arbiter, Seneca. Satyricon. Apocolocyntosis. Loeb Classical Library 15. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Levine, Robert. 1997. The Deeds of God through the Franks: a translation of Guibert de Nogent’s Gesta Dei per Francos. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

McAlhany, Joseph, and Jay Rubenstein, trans. 2011. Guibert of Nogent. Monodies and the Relics of Saints: the autobiography and a manifesto of a French monk from the time of the crusades. New York, NY: Penguin Books. (review by Scott G. Bruce, review by Bruce L. Venarde)

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