my mom has died: a tribute to a dearly loved and life-filled person

mom over the river

My mom unexpectedly went to the hospital on Friday evening, June 14. She unexpectedly died on Tuesday evening, June 18. At seventy-nine years young, she was in apparently good health two days before she went to the hospital. A few weeks before her death, she hiked seven and half miles up and down Dog Mountain, which she had done several times before. She told me this time the flowers on Dog Mountain were the most beautiful that she had ever seen. About two weeks before she went to the hospital, she hiked about four and half miles up and down from Angel’s Rest, which she had done before. A week before she died, she sought to send me some blue cheese that she had made. She said it was one of her best blues. But she was concerned that its quality wouldn’t hold up through the time and temperature of express mail. While I vigorously oppose gyno-idolatry, I think my mom deserves to be at an angel’s rest.

My mom expressed more interest and more appreciation for what I’ve written on purple motes than have my father and my three brothers. That’s not saying much. My mom wasn’t a literary person or a critical thinker. She believed most of what she read in “the newspaper.” She didn’t read most of what I have written here.

Occasionally I would ask my mom what she thought about one of my posts. For those seeking material to mobilize a mob to attack me, my mom said that “husbands can work with wives reluctant to work outside the home” was terrible and the most offensive writing of mine that she had ever read.

My mom’s father and mother were immigrants from Lebanon. My mom cherished her Arabic heritage. I sent her my post about the great classical Arabic poet Abu Nuwas and overcoming the poetic problem with penises and erections. She responded, “I’m not sure I got everything you were saying.”

My mom loved hiking through the mountains singing (badly) from the movie The Sound of Music. With anyone or no one walking with her, she would sing joyfully: “The hills are alive with the sound of music, with songs they have sung for a thousand years. The hills fill my heart….” I sent her my post on the philosophical and theological views of the nun Maria in The Sound of Music. She said I shouldn’t be so hard on Maria.

What about how Jephthah’s daughter treated her father? My account of the story incorporated Peter Abelard’s twelfth-century planctus. My mom knew nothing about Jephthah and his daughter other than what I wrote. My mom declared that it’s “hard to imagine that it is true.” She also conceded, “women can be persistent.” She called me on Monday evening, June 3, with her further thoughts, and her voice is preserved here. Highlights: “I’m sure you’re not going to like my attitude” and “Love you!”

mom and dad on mountain top in Oregon

With the remark, “I think it’s important for mothers to pass on to their daughters positive attitudes toward men,” I sent my mom my post about Anne of France. My mom, who is no pushover, responded:

I enjoyed reading the article on Anne of France.
I also agree that mothers should pass on positive views of men to their daughters as well as positive views of women to their sons.

Did I fail to do that?

Ouch! I’m still not quite certain whether that last sentence was sarcastic taunting or heartfelt concern. Most probably it was the latter. In any case, taking no chances, I responded, “You absolutely did not fail in doing that.”

What about the Book of Tobit and Matthew of Vendôme’s reception of it? My mom responded:

A good marriage takes work and gives and takes. … I still hope that somewhere down the road you may meet someone to share your life.

To the last days of her life, my mom wanted me to get married. She believed that marriage made women and men happy. She would have loved to have had grandchildren.

At my urging, my mom watched the movie The Red Pill. She said it was informative and that she would encourage her friends to watch it. I cautioned her against upsetting her friends with these sort of issues. These sort of issues never changed my mom’s perspective on women, men, and marriage.

stretching mozzarella cheese

My mom was wonderfully creative. She loved art, especially art you can eat or art you can wear. In recent years she took up cheese-making. Here are the last two entries from her cheese-making diary:

166. March 14, 2019. I finally got to make cheese again, it was a long break due to holidays & illness. What makes it even more special, is the fact that it was pi day {pi is the mathematical constant 3.14159…}. I made Jim Wallace’s recipe for a Roquefort cheese & used 2 gallons of Gary’s Jersey cow milk. The total cheese weight was 2 lbs 15 1/2 oz so close to 3 lbs. I also got 6 oz of ricotta. The sides seem to compress so I will be curious as to the blue development.

167. Friday May 18, 2019. I finally got to make cheese again. We were mired in refinishing our wooden floors! I made Jim Wallace’s Toma Ossolano style cheese with 4 gallons of Gary’s cow milk. I might have dried the curds too much because my final weight was only 4 lbs 4 oz whereas Jim got 5 lb 5 oz. It will be a decent cheese but maybe a bit drier & need to age longer. I wanted a shorter age cheese to have when the boys are here this summer. I also got 1 lb & 4 oz of ricotta cheese — wow.

final cheeses - manuscript

Toma Ossolano and Roquefort cheeses

In the last weeks of her life my mom was taking a class on Mokuhanga woodblock printing at Portland Community College. She was working many hours carving a woodblock for her design of feet. For Michelangelo, fingers reaching out to touch was an image of creation. My mom lived the details of life, delighted in tending her garden, and created with her feet touching the ground.

carving block for mokuhanga woodblock print

My mom didn’t have a rigidly bounded self-understanding. In a notebook forming something like a nineteenth-century commonplace book, she copied without attribution and minor differences some lyrics from a 1994 album of the rock band the Pretenders:

I’ll stand by you
Won’t let nobody hurt you
I’ll stand by you
Take me into your darkest hour
And I’ll never desert you.
I’ll stand by you.

My mom never listened to rock music. I’m almost certain that she didn’t know of the Pretenders. Yet those words resonated with her. I’m fairly sure those were unspoken words to one of her sons. They were also unspoken words of one of her friends to her.

My mom did many things. She taught math for many years as an adjunct professor at Portland Community College. After retiring from math teaching, she worked as a teacher’s aid for immigrants learning English. Probably adapting a verbal pattern she had heard, my mom wrote of herself in her commonplace book:

I am my father’s child and my mother’s daughter. I am my husband’s wife and my sons’ mother. I am a teacher to my students and a maker of things. I am a lover of life. This is what I am but not all that I am.

My mom was a lover of life, yet she was unafraid of death. That scared me. No one can know all that any person is.

My mom loved me no matter what I wrote. Some particularly egregious posts she told me I should delete. I never said I would, and I never did. My mom had a large and generous heart. She was also good at forgetting and never demanded apologies. Formal, detailed codes of conduct don’t make for a humane world, nor do demon hunts for hate speech. Much better is for everyone to learn to cope with personally uncomfortable words that they might encounter anywhere.

limit to gender justice: lessons of ancient & medieval sumptuary laws

Venetian woman wearing fancy dress

Men historically have carried a highly disparate gender burden of working to provide money for women. Women seeking from men expensive goods (dinners at fine restaurants, diamond rings, fancy dresses, etc.) contributes to this structural gender oppression of men. One distraught man recently described gender-typical difficulties in his relationship with his wife:

She came from a family where she got everything she wanted. I’ve been working for years trying to give her the same kinds of things but I just cannot do it, I lost one of my two jobs and have had to give a lot up. … I see husbands buying their wives Lexus and Mercedes cars and I can’t even dream of doing that.

More than 2200 years ago, the Roman Republic passed Lex Oppia to limit women’s acquisition of gold and women’s display of privilege of riding in carriages pulled by multiple horses. Lex Oppia thus constrained men’s gift-giving to women. Medieval Italian cities similarly passed sumptuary laws on women that limited material demands on men. While reflecting relatively sophisticated understanding of gender relations, such laws typically had little enduring effects. The fourteenth-century Florentine merchant, public official, and literary writer Franco Sacchetti in his Trecentonovelle brilliantly narrated how sumptuary laws on women cannot get beyond a prevalent limit to gender justice.

Many blue-collar men labor at their jobs with little awareness of structural gender oppression. So it was in medieval Italy. Yet Greek and Roman classics were more widely read in medieval Italy than even among all university professors today. To those who encountered their eternal truths, the classics were alive in medieval Italy to an extant scarcely conceivable today. Sacchetti in his Trecentonovelle presented the classical insight of the fourteenth-century Florentine Coppo di Borghese:

There was once a citizen of Florence, wise and very well-to-do, whose name was Coppo di Borghese. He lived across from where the Leoni are now, and he was having his house worked on. Reading one Saturday afternoon in Livy, he came upon a story of how the Roman women, because a law had been made recently against their fancy dress, had run to the Capitol, asking and pleading that the law be lifted. Coppo, although wise, was also haughty and a little weird. He began to fly into a rage, as if the events were happening in front of him. He banged the book and his hand on the table, and sometimes stuck the book with his hand, saying: “Alas, Romans, you will suffer this, you who have suffered that no king or emperor be greater than you?”

{ Fu un cittadino già in Firenze, e savio, e in istato assai il cui nome fu Coppo di Borghese, e stava dirimpetto dove stanno al presente i Leoni, il quale faceva murare nelle sue case; e leggendo un sabato dopo nona nel Titolivio, si venne abbattuto a una storia; come le donne romane, essendo stata fatta contra loro ornamenti legge di poco tempo, erano corse al Campidoglio, volendo e addomandando che quella legge si dirogasse. Coppo, come che savio fosse, essendo sdegnoso, e in parte bizzarro, cominciò in sé medesimo muoversi ad ira, come il caso in quella dinanzi a lui intervenisse; e percuote e ’l libro e le mani in su la tavola, e talora percuote l’una con l’altra mano, dicendo: “Oimè, Romani, sofferrete voi questo, che non avete sofferto che re o imperadore sia maggior di voi?” } [1]

Coppo had good reason to be distraught. Like the Romans, the Florentines were struggling to constrain women acquiring and displaying luxury goods.[2] The masons working on Coppo’s house entered and found him enraged. These men hadn’t been taught about structural gender oppression. They didn’t understand Coppo’s concern for social justice. They simply wanted to be paid for their hard, dirty brick-work.

Coppo’s mind was on matters far bigger than these men’s hard, dirty brick-work. Coppo told them that he didn’t care if his whole house collapsed. He scornfully ignored their request for fair payment for their work:

Eh, go with God today in the name of the devil. I gladly would have never been born in this world, having to think that those brazen ones, those whores, those weeping women, have so much daring that they ran to the Capitol to get back their fancy dress. What will the Romans do with this? For Coppo, who is here, cannot make peace. If I could, I would burn them all, so that whoever remained would always remember. Go away, and leave me alone.

{ Deh, andatevi con Dio oggi al nome del diavolo, ch’io vorrei volentieri non esser mai stato al mondo, pensando che quelle sfacciate, quelle puttane, quelle dolorose, abbiano aúto tanto ardire ch’elle sieno corse al Campidoglio per rivolere gli ornamenti. Che faranno li Romani di questo? ché Coppo, che è qui, non se ne puote dar pace: e se io potessi, tutte le farei ardere, acciò che sempre chi rimanesse se ne ricordasse: andatevene, e lasciatemi stare. }

The working men had no understanding of what had enraged Coppo. One thought that with the word “Romans” Coppo was referring to a stadera, a kind of scale, or perhaps a stadium, a measure of length. Another figured that Coppo’s wife had cuckolded him. A third understood Coppo’s word for “Capitol {Campidoglio}” to mean “I complain of my headache {de capo mi doglio}.” Another thought that the house owner had spilled “a cup of oil {un coppo d’oglio}.”[3] Men’s concerns for gender justice have long been badly understood.

Florence established an Official of Women {Ufficiale delle donne} in the 1330s. Offices for women now exist within most local, state, and national governments. But in medieval Florence, the officials for women didn’t merely seek to promote women’s interests. The medieval Florentine officials for women were concerned for gender equality. They sought to advance gender equality by limiting women’s competition to obtain and display fancy clothes.[4]

The Florentine Ufficiale delle donne was scarcely able to constrain Florentine women. In 1384, Messer Amerigo degli Amerighi of Pesaro was appointed Ufficiale delle donne. Messer Amerigo brought with him a notary and six assistants to staff his office. These sub-officials were all highly competent professionals. Moreover, since they were from a different city, they had some protection against Florentine women’s personal and political power. Nonetheless, the Ufficiale delle donne Messer Amerigo soon declared to the Florentine city leaders:

My lords, I have studied all my life to learn law. Now, when I thought that I knew something, I find that I know nothing. Obeying the orders that you gave me, I went out to seek the forbidden fancy dress of your women. They met me with arguments the like of which are not to be found in any law book. Some of these I will repeat to you. A woman comes with the peak of her hood fringed out and twisted around her head. My notary says, “Tell me your name, for you have a peak with fringes.” The good woman takes this peak, which is fastened round her head with a pin, and holding it in her hand, she declares that it is a wreath. Then going further, he finds one wearing many buttons in front of her dress. He says to her, “You are not allowed to wear those buttons.” But she answers, “Yes, Messer, but I may for these are not buttons but studs, and if you do not believe me, look, they have no loops, and moreover there are no buttonholes.” Then the notary goes to another who is wearing ermine and says, “Now what can she say to this?” And he prepares to write down her name. But the woman answers, “Do not write me down, for this is not ermine, it is the fur of lattizzo.” Says the notary, “What is this lattizzo?” and the woman replies, “It is an animal.” Thus my notary becomes speechless like an animal.

{ Signori miei, io ho tutto il tempo della vita mia studiato per apparar ragione, e ora, quando io credea sapere qualche cosa, io truovo che io so nulla, però che cercando degli ornamenti divietati alle vostre donne per gli ordini che m’avete dati, sí fatti argomenti non trovai mai in alcuna legge, come sono quelli ch’elle fanno; e fra gli altri ve ne voglio nominare alcuni. E’ si truova una donna col becchetto frastagliato avvolto sopra il cappuccio; il notaio mio dice: “Ditemi il nome vostro; però che avete il becchetto intagliato”; la buona donna piglia questo becchetto che è appiccato al cappuccio con uno spillo, e recaselo in mano, e dice ch’egli è una ghirlanda. Or va piú oltre, truova molti bottoni portare dinanzi; dicesi a quella che è trovata: “Questi bottoni voi non potete portare”; e quella risponde: “Messer sí, posso, ché questi non sono bottoni, ma sono coppelle, e se non mi credete, guardate, e’ non hanno picciuolo, e ancora non c’è niuno occhiello”. Va il notaio all’altra che porta gli ermellini, e dice: “Che potrà apporre costei?” “Voi portate gli ermellini”; e la vuole scrivere; la donna dice: “Non iscrivete, no, ché questi non sono ermellini, anzi sono lattizzi”; dice il notaio: “Che cosa è questo lattizzo?” e la donna risponde: “È una bestia”. E ’l notaio mio come bestia. } [5]

The Florentine city leaders understood Coppo di Borghese’s rage at the Roman leaders surrendering to women. Yet those city leaders also understood women’s power in gynocentric society. They told Messer Amerigo and his staff to do only what was feasible in seeking to constrain women according to city law. The men of the medieval Florentine Office of Women understood what that meant:

After this, hardly any officer carried out his orders or gave himself any trouble, but allowed the peaks to pass for wreaths and meddled not with the false buttons and the lattizzo’s fur and the belts. And so goes a Friulan saying: “What woman wants, God wants, and what God wants, will be.”

{ E questo fu detto in tal ora, e in tal punto, che quasi d’allora in qua nessuno officiale quasi ha fatto officio, o datosene fatica; lasciando correre le ghirlande per becchetti, e le coppelle e i lattizzi, e’ cinciglioni. E però dice il Friolano: “Ciò che vuole dunna, vuol signò; e ciò che vuol signò, tirli in birli”. }

The Florentine Ufficiale delle donne effectively couldn’t do anything that women disliked. That office thus faced the limit on gender justice that most government bodies face today.

Men deserve equal blame with women for the failure of sumptuary laws on women’s dress. Writing about the year 1315, an authority in Venice observed:

Sometimes the man follows too much the will of the woman in buying her fancy dress, and this gives rise to much evil and excessive expenditure. The woman is more than ever filled with pride, and for vainglory desires still more to go out and show herself. … If the custom of the city in this respect is extravagant, it should be regulated by laws after the manner of the Romans.

{ El segondo si è ke alguna fiada l’ omo seve tropo la voluntade de la femna en comprarli ornamenti, ke de çò nasce multi mali, sopercle spensarie, e la femena d’ è plù soperba et ella per vanagloria vol plu andar e plu mostrarse. … E se la çitade de çò è tropo larga, sovra de çò se de’ far statuti, sì co fese li Romani } [6]

Men purchased luxury goods for women. Men helped women to evade the sumptuary laws. In addition, men were subject to and paid the fines for women violating sumptuary laws.[7] Some women were so willing to have their men incur fines that they regarded sumptuary laws as merely luxury taxes. The phrase “pay the luxury tax {pagar le pompe}” became a common expression for describing women’s behavioral response to sumptuary laws.[8]

Given the economic importance of restraining women’s demand for luxuries, cites made extraordinary efforts to make such laws effective.  Florentine city officials were ordered to read the sumptuary laws of 1322-5 publicly at least once a month. Moreover, priests were required to read those laws in their churches. Priests were also required to report any violations to city officials.[9] Just as universities now do in the U.S. for sexual offenses, cities in medieval Italy set up means for making secret denunciations of persons who allegedly violated sumptuary laws. Anonymous denunciation boxes, called tamburi, were common in Florence by the fifteenth century.[10]

Nonetheless, city officials’ frustration and despair over women’s power is readily apparent. Florentine city magistrates in 1433 elected new officials in charge of enforcing laws on women’s fancy dress. The magistrates commended the new officials’ character, but highlighted with extreme language the difficulty of their assignment:

In great measure these officials of women’s fancy dress have an honest desire to restrain the barbarous and irrepressible bestiality of women. Not mindful of the weakness of their nature, forgetting that they are subject to their husbands, and transforming their perverse sense into a reprobate and diabolical nature, they force their husbands with their honeyed poison to submit to them.

{ maxime quare cupiditatem honestam magnum in modum habuerunt ad refrenandum barbaram et indomitam feminarum bestialitatem que, non memores sue nature fragilitatis et quod viris subdite sint eorum pravum mutantes sensum in reprobam et diabolicam naturam, ipsos viros cogunt, mellifluis venenis, ipsis subiecte } [11]

Throughout history, few men have been strong enough to stand up to women rather than submit to them. As the magistrates recognized, not constraining men’s weakness for giving women luxurious gifts prompts men to avoid marriage:

It is not in conformity with nature for women to dress themselves with such fancy dress when men, because of this, avoid the bond of matrimony because of the unbearable expense.

{ non est nature conforme ut tantis sumptuosis ornamentis se hornent cum ipsi homines propter hoc desstant a matrimonii copula propter incomportabiles sumptus }

Florentine officials were concerned that if men avoid marriage, women are less likely to have children, and the city population would decline. City officials evidently weren’t willing to encourage immigration into the city. Today, men avoid marriage because police, without any due process of law, will throw men out of their homes on the adverse word of a cohabiting woman. Men also face huge anti-men sex discrimination in family courts. Yet women’s demands for luxury goods still remain a significant deterrent to marriage.

medieval women's dresses with long trains

Medieval officials incurred the wrath of women for prohibiting luxurious dresses. In 1279, Cardinal Latino Malabranca, the papal legate for Lombardy, Tuscany, and Romagna, attempted to constrain woman’s fancy dress:

He enraged all women with the law he made. It restrained women to wear shorter dress — long enough to touch the ground or longer only by the measure of one palm. Previously women had dragged on the ground behind them dress-trains of an arm-and-a-half’s length. Of which Patecchio said: “And dresses so long, they drag the dirt.” And he had this law preached in churches and imposed on women as a religous requirement: no priest could grant absolution to them until they complied. To the women, this law was all the more bitter than death. A certain woman friend told me that her dress train was dearer to her than the total of all the other clothes that she wore.

{ turbavit mulieres omnes cum quadam constituione, quam fecit; in qua continebatur, quod mulieres haberent vestimenta curta usque ad terram et tantum plus, quanta est unius palme mensura. Trahebant enim prius caudas vestimentorum per terram longas per brachium et dimidium. De quibus dicit Patecclus: “Et trappi longhi, ke la polver menna.” Et fecit hoc per ecclesias predicari et imposuit mulieribus sub precepto, et quod nullus sacerdos posset eas absolvere, nisi ita facerent; quod fuit mulieribus amarius omni morte. Nam quedam mulier familiariter dixit michi, quod plus erat ei kara illa cauda quam totum aliud vestimentum, quo induebatur. } [12]

Some women in the U.S. today wear short-shorts so short that their butt-cheeks show. Fashions change, but the way in which women are oppressed remains. Cardinal Latino even imposed additional hardships on women:

In the above law Cardinal Latinus also ruled that every woman — not just young women and young ladies, but even married women and widows and elderly women — must wear a veil on her head. To them, that was burdensome and horrible.

{ Insuper cardinalis Latinus precepit in illa constitutione, quod omnes mulieres, tam iuvencule sive domicelle quam maritate et vidue et matrone, in capitibus vela portarent. Quod grave horribiliter fuit eis. }

Women in Islamic cultures have commonly wore veils on their heads. Like women in Islamic cultures, women in medieval Italy turned veils to their advantage:

They soon came upon a remedy for this tribulation, although they could do very little about their dress trains. They began construct their veils of linen and silk, interwoven with gold. That made them appear ten times better and more greatly attracted lascivious, gazing eyes.

{ isti tribulationi remedium invenerunt, quod minime potuerunt caudis. Nam vela faciebant fieri de bisso et serico, auro intexta, cum quibus in decuplum melius apparebant et magis ad lasciviam videntium oculos attrahebant. }

Many men at this time were peasant laborers, barely earning food, clothing, and shelter by working hard, dirty jobs such as plowing, carting, and brick-laying. In addition, men had to endure these highly privileged women’s sexual harassment of them. As has been commonly the case, law did relatively little to help men.

The limit to gender justice in the ancient Roman Republic has changed little to our day. Men today can imagine a dinner party in which Fortunata, who had as husband Timalchio, entered to greet her friend Scintilla, who had as husband Habinnas. Fortunata sat with Scintilla, kissed her, and held her hand. Their encounter progressed to exchanging intimacies:

Fortunata tugged the bracelets off her extremely fat arms and displayed them to the admiring Scintilla. Finally she even removed her anklets and her golden hairnet, which she said was of pure gold. Trimalchio observed this encounter, and ordered that all the jewelry be brought to him. “You see,” he said, “these are women’s fetters. This is how we foolish milksops are robbed. She must have six and half pounds of them….” Scintilla was no better. From her neck she removed a little gold locket that she called her happy box. From it she produced twin earings and handed each in turn to Fortunata to examine, saying: “Thanks to my husband’s kindness, no one has a better pair.”

{ Fortunata armillas suas crassissimis detraheret lacertis Scintillaeque miranti ostenderet. Vltimo etiam periscelides resolvit et reticulum aureum, quem ex obrussa esse dicebat. Notavit haec Trimalchio iussitque afferri omnia et: “Videtis, inquit, mulieris compedes: sic nos barcalae despoliamur. Sex pondo et selibram debet habere. Et ipse nihilo minus habeo decem pondo armillam ex millesimis Mercurii factam.” Vltimo etiam, ne mentiri videretur, stateram iussit afferri et circulatum approbari pondus. Nec melior Scintilla, quae de cervice sua capsellam detraxit aureolam, quam Felicionem appellabat. Inde duo crotalia protulit et Fortunatae invicem consideranda dedit et: “Domini, inquit, mei beneficio nemo habet meliora.” } [13]

Scintilla’s husband Habinnas responded scornfully to his wife’s masculinity-demeaning compliment:

You really emptied me out, just so I could buy you a glass bead. I tell you straight, if I had a daughter, I’d cut her little ears off. If there were no women in the world, we could live dirt-cheap. But as things stand, what we drink down for our own basic needs is less than we piss away, burning in love.

{ excatarissasti me, ut tibi emerem fabam vitream. Plane si filiam haberem, auriculas illi praeciderem. Mulieres si non essent, omnia pro luto haberemus; nunc hoc est caldum meiere et frigidum potare. }

As husbands, men experience themselves being dessicated. As fathers, despite their great love for their daughters, men cannot protect their daughters from the pernicious gynocentric teachings that pour into their daughters’ ears.

The limit to gender justice is what women want. Sumptuary laws benefit women by constraining competition among women in dress. Sumptuary laws benefit men by limiting competition among men to provide women with the most expensive dress. But neither Lex Oppia in the Roman Republic 2200 years ago nor sumptuary laws in medieval Italian cities effectively endured. Such laws enraged women in their immediate, narrow interests. Those laws were thus either repealed or not effectively enforced. In today’s workplace, men are commonly prohibited from wearing shorts, but women are allowed to wear less-than-knee-length dresses. Read Livy and medieval history, and you will understand.

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Read more:


[1] Franco Sacchetti, Il Trecentenovelle 66, Italian text from Faccioli (1970), my English translation, benefiting from Cornish (2010) p. 16. The subsequent quote above is similarly from Il Trecentenovelle 66.

Coppo di Borghese Domenichi held important Florentine city offices between 1308 and the early 1340s. Boccoccio, among other prominent figures, held Coppo in high regard. Cornish (2010) p. 18. See, e.g. Decameron 5.9.4. Here’s some analysis of Boccaccio’s story of the falcon.

Coppo was reading about the Roman women’s rebellion against Lex Oppia. That rebellion is described in Livy, Ab Urbe Condita Libri (History of Rome) 34.1-8, freely available online in the English translation of Roberts (1905). Livy’s account includes a still-relevant speech by Cato the Elder. Coppo apparently sponsored an Aeneid compendium in Italian that Andrea Lancia made from a Latin compendium about 1316. Cornish (2010) p. 18. Cornish astutely observed that it’s “highly unlikely” that Coppo was reading Livy in the original Latin. Id. p. 19.

Franco Sacchetti, who lived from about 1330 to 1400, was from an old Floretine family of the Guelf faction. In addition to being a merchant and public official, Sacchetti wrote poetry with themes of love, politics, and comedy. He also wrote moralistic pieces similar to sermons. Sacchetti’s Trecentonovelle {Three Hundred Short Novels} is regarded as an early masterpiece of prose writing. He wrote Trecentonovelle between 1392 and 1397. That work regrettably has survived only in part in a sixteenth-century transcription. For English translations of some of the novelles in Trecentonovelle, Steegmann (1908) and Roscoe (1825) vol. 1, pp. 82-93.

[2] The first Florentine sumptuary laws probably were enacted about the 1260s. A comprehensive package of laws regulating women’s fancy dress was established in Florence from 1322 to 1325. Rainey (1985) pp. 44, 50-67. For a freely available overview of sumptuary law in medieval Italy, Facelle (2009).

Women’s political power readily overcame Florentine sumptuary laws. Charles, Duke of Calabria, became ruling lord of Florence in 1325 to lead the city’s defenses against the threatening army of Castruccio Castracani. Florentine women then attacked through Charles’s wife, the Duchess of Calabria. She pursuaded her husband to revoke the prohibition on luxurious silk tresses that Florentine women wore over their (perhaps thinning) hair. Rainey (1985) p. 68.

Having experienced this political reversal first-hand, the eminent Florentine Giovanni Villani lamented that women didn’t even have to use reason to persuade men. What women want trumps any reason men might recognize: “the inordinate appetite of women conquers the reason and good sense of men {il disordinato appetito delle donne vince la ragione e il senno degli uomini}.” Villani, Nuovo Cronica (c. 1348) 10.11. Villani’s own wife Monna and other women pursuaded the Duke of Calabria to order that sumptuary charges against them be reviewed. Rainey (1985) p. 69-70. With respect to his wife Monna’s spending on luxurious clothing and incurring fines for violating sumptuary law, Giovanni Villani, like other men, was in a lose-lose position.

[3] For insightul discussion of this wordplay in relation to levels of linguistic understanding, Cornish (2010) p. 16f.

[4] Writing in northern France about 1115, Guibert of Nogent complained of women’s extravagant dress:

The way they dress is completely different from the simplicity of old: sleeves spread wide open, their tunics worn tight, curled toes on shoes from Cordoba, you might see the surrender of all modesty proclaimed everywhere.

{ Vestium qualitates in tantum sunt ab illa veteri frugalitate dissimiles, ut dilatatio manicarum, tunicarum angustia, calceorum de Corduba rostra torticia, totius ubique jacturam videas clamare pudoris. }

Guibert, Monodiae {Songs of Self} 1.12, Latin text from Bourgin (1907), English trans. from McAlhany & Rubenstein (2011). In ancient Rome, women wore expensive, revealing silk clothes. See note [1] in my post on the silk trade between ancient Rome and China. Both Seneca the Younger in the first century GC (Epistulae morales ad Lucilium {Letters on Behavior to Lucilius} 90.16-20, 45) and Jerome in the fourth century (Life of Paul the Hermit 17) contrasted luxurious clothes of their times with earlier, simpler clothes. Similarly Dante, Commedia, Paradiso 15.97-120.

[5] Franco Sacchetti, Il Trecentenovelle 137, Italian text from Faccioli (1970), my English translation, benefiting from that of Steegmann (1908). The subsequent quote is similarly from this novelle.

One Florentine official recognized the ancient Roman failure and the rage of Coppo di Borghese Domenichi:

I would have you know that the Romans, who conquered the whole world, could do nothing against their women. And these women, in order to lift the rules on their fancy dress, ran to the Capitol and conquered the Romans, obtaining what they wanted to such an extent that when Coppo di Borghese read this story in a book written by Livy, he almost went insane.

{ Io vo’ che voi sappiate ch’e’ Romani non potero contro le loro donne, che vinsono tutto il mondo; ed elle per levar gli ordini sopra gli ornamenti loro, corsono al Campidoglio, e vinsono e’ Romani, avendo quello che voleano; per tal segnale che Coppo del Borghese in una novella di questo libro leggendo in Tito Livio la detta istoria, ne fu per impazzare. }

Il Trecentenovelle 137, cited as above.

This novelle isn’t merely fiction. Florentine city records indicate that Amerigo of Pesara served as the Ufficiale delle donne from March to September 1384. Sacchetti at that time was a member of Florence’s ruling council. He probably heard directly from Amerigo about women evading the sumptuary laws. Rainey (1985) p. 233.

Under details of the the sumptuary laws in effect in Florence in 1384, ermine fur was forbidden, but lattizzo fur wasn’t. The latter type of fur is fairly obscure:

According to some dictionaries a lattizzo referred to a weasel-like animal similar to ermine but with milky white fur, whence its name.

Killerby (2002) p. 123, n. 43.

[6]  Paolino da Venezia (Paolino Minorita), Trattato de regimine rectoris 53, Italian (Venetian dialect) text from  Mussafia (1868) p. 75, English translation (adapted slightly) from Zanda (2010) p. 149, n. 104. Paolino da Venezia was a city official, Catholic bishop, and writer.

[7] Killerby stated:

Of the clothing laws which were targeted primarily at women, the male members of the household were held responsible for payment of the fine, as was customary

Killerby (1994) p. 103. Similarly, Izbicki (2009) p. 45.

[8] Killerby (2002) p. 123, which observes:

In Venice the term ‘pagar le pompe’, or ‘to pay the luxury fine’, became such a common expression that it is found in dialectical dictionaries.


[9] Rainey (1985) p. 165

[10] Frick (2002) p. 182. About half the cases prosecuted originated in anonymous denunciations. Id.

[11] From records of the deliberations of the lords of Florence, Latin text and English translation (adapted) from Rainey (1985) pp. 479 (English), 763 (Latin). The subsequent quote is similarly sourced.

[12] Salimbene de Adam, Cronica {Chronicle}, Latin text from Holder-Egger (1905) pp. 169-70, English translation adapted from Baird, Baglivi & Kane (1986) pp. 160-1, for this and the subsequent two quotes. Salimbene’s quote about dresses dragging in the dirt is “Not Patecchio, but Ugo di Perso’s second answer to Patecchio, l. 65.” Id. p. 674, n. 56. Salimbene later repeated the central political concern about Cardinal Latino Malabranca’s laws: “This legate enraged women with his laws {Iste legatus turbavit mulieres cum constitutionibus suis}.” Similarly from Holder-Egger (1905) p. 436, Baird, Baglivi & Kane (1986) p. 443.

Cardinal Latino Malabranca’s laws are titled De habitu mulierum {On women’s dress}. For their social and political context, Izbicki (2009). Id., Appendix 3.1 provides an English translation of the laws. According to De habitu mulierum:

No woman exceeding twelve years of age will appear publicly in the city in a gown in which the front part is open.

{ Nulla mulier ex quo duodecim annum aetatis exegerit in veste quae ab anteriori parte aperta sit publice per civitatem excedunt procedere }

Latin text from Rainey (1985) p. 89, n. 9, my English translation. Cf. Dante, Commedia, Purgatorio 23.97-105 and Vincenzo Catena’s portrait of a woman (above). For analysis, Olson (2015).

[13] Petronius, Satyricon 67, Latin text from Heseltine & Rouse (1913), my English translation benefiting from those of id. and Walsh (1996). The subsequent quote is similarly from Satyricon 67.

[images] (1) Portrait of a Woman, probably Venetian, gesturing toward her chest. Painting by Vincenzo Catena, made about 1520. Preserved under acc.# 1961.1.31 in the El Paso Museum of Art (El Paso, Texas). Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Women with long dress-trains in medieval Florentine wedding parade for Boccaccio Adimari and Lisa Ricasoli in 1420, or perhaps another Adimiri wedding twenty years later. Detail from Dance Scene / Cassone Adimari (wedding chest of Adimari), painted by Giovanni di ser Giovanni Guidi (Lo Scheggia) about 1450. Preserved as Inv. 1890 n. 8457 in Galleria dell’Accademia di Firenze. Via 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.

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

Cornish, Alison. 2010. Vernacular Translation in Dante’s Italy: illiterate literature. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Faccioli, Emilio, ed. 1970. Franco Sacchetti. Il Trecentonovelle. Torino: Giulio Einaudi.

Facelle, Amanda E. 2009. Down to the Last Stitch: Sumptuary Law and Conspicuous Consumption in Renaissance Italy. B.A. Thesis, Wesleyan University.

Frick, Carole Collier. 2002. Dressing Renaissance Florence: families, fortunes, & fine clothing. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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.

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

Izbicki, Thomas M. 2009. “Failed Censures: Ecclesiastical Regulation of Women’s Clothing in Late Medieval Italy.” Ch. 3 (pp. 37-53) in Robin Netherton and Gale R. Owen-Crocker. Medieval Clothing and Textiles, vol. 5. Woodbridfge: Boydell & Brewer.

Killerby, Catherine Kovesi. 1994. “Practical Problems in the Enforcement of Italian Sumptuary Law, 1200-1500.” Ch. 6 (pp. 99-120) in Trevor Dean and K. J. P. Lowe, eds. Crime, society, and the law in Renaissance Italy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Killerby, Catherine Kovesi. 2002. Sumptuary Law in Italy: 1200-1500. Oxford: Clarendon 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)

Mussafia, Adolfo, ed. 1868. Paolino Minorita. Trattato de regimine rectoris. Vienna: Tendler.

Olson, Kristina M. 2015. “Uncovering the Historical Body of Florence: Dante, Forese Donati, and Sumptuary Legislation.” Italian Culture. 33 (1): 1-15.

Rainey, Ronald Eugene. 1985. Sumptuary legislation in Renaissance Florence. Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia University.

Roscoe, Thomas, trans. 1825. The Italian Novelists: selected from the most approved authors in that language; from the earliest period down to the close of the eighteenth century: arranged in an historical and chronological series. Translated from the original Italian. Accompanied with notes, critical and biographical. 4 vols. London: Printed for Septimus Prowett, 23, Old Bond Street.

Steegmann, Mary G., trans. 1908. Franco Sacchetti. Tales from Sacchetti. London: J.M. Dent & Co.

Villani, Giovanni. 1348. Nuova Cronica {New Chronicles}. Firenze: Per il Magheri, 1823.

Walsh, Patrick G, trans. 1996. Petronius Arbiter. The Satyricon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Zanda, Emanuela. 2010. Fighting Hydra-Like Luxury: sumptuary regulation in the Roman Republic. London: Duckworth.

punctuation poems pervasive: readers shape meanings of texts!!

exclamation point followed by question mark

Written communication depends on shared understandings of graphical symbols (words and punctuation) and mutual experience of combinations of words being used in different ways (genres). No writer can require a reader to understand a text in the way that the writer meant it. Especially in our increasingly vicious and totalitarian age, writing is a dangerous activity. Historical knowledge of punctuation shows possibilities for misunderstanding and helps to support humane practices of reading.

Exclamation points in modern editions of Beowulf represent particular expert readers’ interpretations. Beowulf didn’t originally include any exclamation points. The exclamation point apparently arose in late-fourteenth-century Italy as an outgrowth of the vigorous ars dictaminis of Boncompagno da Signa and other leading scholars.[1] That’s more than three hundred years after the only surviving manuscript of Beowulf was written and probably about six hundred years after Beowulf was composed. Punctuation in modern editions of Beowulf, like punctuation in modern editions of almost all ancient and medieval works, is a matter of editorial choice.

Modern editions of Beowulf have vastly different numbers of exclamation points. The total number of exclamation points added to the Old English text has ranged from 1 to about 290, with a median of 13, across seven editions of Beowulf published from 1861 to 2008.[2] The issue isn’t just intensity of exclamation. Two recent, scholarly editions, which added 7 and 13 exclamation points respectively, have no exclamation points in the same textual place.[3] A scholarly edition of Beowulf published in 1894 explicitly addressed the issue of exclamation points. The editor declared:

If the reader’s sense or emotions do not tell him where he ought to feel exclamatory, he must suffer the consequences.[4]

That’s unfair. Men too often are assigned sole responsibility for mutual affairs. Moreover, even expert, highly attentive readers of Beowulf don’t know when the writer sincerely meant to be exclamatory!

Scribes and correctors punctuated texts to clarify their interpretations of them. Writing in 397, Augustine recognized that punctuation could affect the meaning of biblical texts. He advised punctuating an ambiguous scriptural passage such that its meaning is consistent with clearer words of scripture and church authority. He also urged interpreting ambiguous scripture in its scriptural context. Augustine even recognized the now-fashionable concept of textual indeterminacy:

Where, however, the ambiguity cannot be cleared up, either by the rule of faith or by the context, there is nothing to hinder us to punctuate the sentence according to any method we choose of those that suggest themselves. Such is the case in a verse to the Corinthians: “Having therefore these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God. Receive us; we have wronged no man.” It is doubtful whether we should read, “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit {mundemus nos ab omni coinquinatione carnis et spiritus}” in accordance with the passage, “that she may be holy both in body and in spirit,”or, “let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh {mundemus nos ab omni coinquinatione carnis},” so as to make the next sentence, “and perfecting holiness of spirit in the fear of God, receive us {et spiritus perficientes sanctificationem in timore Dei capite has}.” Such ambiguities of punctuation, therefore, are left to the reader’s discretion.

{ Ubi autem neque praescripto fidei, neque ipsius sermonis textu ambiguitas explicari potest, nihil obest secundum quamlibet earum quae ostenduntur, sententiam distinguere. Veluti est illa ad Corinthios: Has ergo promissiones habentes, carissimi, mundemus nos ab omni coinquinatione carnis et spiritus, perficientes sanctificationem in timore Dei. Capite nos, nemini nocuimus. Dubium est quippe utrum: Mundemus nos ab omni coinquinatione carnis et spiritus, secundum illam sententiam: Ut sit sancta et corpore et spiritu, an: Mundemus nos ab omni coinquinatione carnis, ut alius sit sensus: Et spiritus perficientes sanctificationem in timore Dei capite nos. Tales igitur distinctionum ambiguitates in potestate legentis sunt. } [5]

Augustine’s wisdom on interpreting scripture is also sound wisdom for interpreting secular law and other authoritative texts.

To foster imagination and new understanding, literary works and sophisticated literary criticism often encourage readers to ponder possible meanings of a text. Poems use verbal ambiguity to cloak transgressive positions. Punctuation poems encode alternate readings in alternate punctuation. Generic hybrids make new connections between separated aspects of life. Verbal complexity helps to make literature interesting and fun.

Literary works and literary criticism are non-authoritative today. With respect to these works, readers always have a powerful option for readerly engagement and meaning-making. Readers should cultivate an under-appreciated form of punctuation. If you don’t like some text, cross it out in your mind and ignore it!

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[1] Parkes (1992) p. 49. The exclamation point {punctus exclamativus} was also called the admiration point {punctus admirativus}. For a history of punctuation that’s freely available online, Krahn (2014).

[2] Calculated from data in Weiskott (2012) pp. 27-9. The editions and number of exclamation points: Grundtvig (1861), 40; Grein (1867), 290; Sedgefield (1910), 1; Chambers (1914), 9; Klaebr (1922), 56; Mitchell & Robinson (1998), 7; Fulk, Bjor & Niles (2008), 13. The first two figures are estimates from the first 800 and 500 lines of Beowulf, respectively.

[3] Weiskott (2012) p. 29. Weiskott stated:

we do not agree, nor have we ever agreed, about this issue {of exclamation points}, and no one writes about it, as though a compulsion to pepper Beowulf with exclamation points were an embarrassing but unavoidable fact of life as an Anglo-Saxonist.


[4] From A. J. Wyatt’s 1894 edition of Beowulf, introduction p. x-xi, cited in Weiskott (2012) p. 27, n. 13.

[5] Augustine, De doctrina Christiana {On Christian Doctrine} 3.2.5, Latin text from Sant’Agostine website, English translation (adapted insubstantially) from website of James J. O’Donnell, University Professor at Georgetown University.

Parkes described a general principle of punctuation practice in historical European manuscripts:

Medieval scribes and correctors punctuate where confusion is like to arise (if their Latin is sufficient to recognize the fact) and do not always punctuate where confusion is not likely to arise, even when they are concerned with the sententia literae. Because scribes and correctors were also readers they were concerned primarily with interpretation, especially with elements which might be subject to confusion. Elements which may have a similar syntactic function or convey similar meaning, and which are punctuated in one context, need not be punctuated in another when the context ensures that confusion is not likely to arise. This factor helps to explain why some modern scholars have regarded medieval punctuation as “irregular.”

Parkes (1978) pp. 138-9. Medieval scribes and correctors primarily worked on authoritative texts. The distinctive between literary texts and authoritative texts had little meaning in the ancient and medieval Mediterranean world. Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey were highly authoritative texts in the ancient world.

[image] Exclamation point followed by question mark. Adapted from image on Wikimedia Commons, thanks to emojione.


Krahn, Albert Edward. 2014. A New Paradigm for Punctuation. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Parkes, M. B. 1978. “Punctuation, or pause and effect.” Pp. 127-142 in James J. Murphy, ed. Medieval Eloquence: studies in the theory and practice of medieval rhetoric. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Parkes, M. B. 1992. Pause and Effect: an introduction to the history of punctuation in the West. Aldershot: Ashgate.

Weiskott, Eric. 2012. “Making Beowulf Scream: Exclamation and the Punctuation of Old English Poetry.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 111 (1): 25-41.

learned Jerome described rape in Life of Paul the First Hermit

Paul the First Hermit, according to Jerome

According to badly reported data from the expert U.S. government health agency’s national survey, women raping men has a higher incidence than men raping women. The issue of men getting raped has been suppressed through a culture of denial, ignorance, and gynocentric malice toward men. Many persons don’t even understand that women can rape men. Yet the learned and highly honored Saint Jerome, in his widely read Life of Paul the First Hermit {Vita Pauli primi eremitae}, explicitly and realistically described a woman raping a man. Jerome’s account of a women raping a man has been suppressed in translation, badly interpreted, and largely ignored. That deplorable blindness and dumbness of our Dark Age ends right now in your reading of this post.

To characterize the oppression of Christians under Roman Emperors in the middle of the third century, Jerome described two men martyrs. One was tortured with burning-hot racks and plates. When he survived those, his body was smeared with honey and tied down flat in the blazing sun. Flies swarmed upon him and ate him alive. This man suffered martyrdom through being subject to horrible bodily pain.

The second man was tortured in way that persons today can scarcely understand. Drawing upon his vast knowledge of non-Christian literature, Jerome described a classical pleasure garden:

The Roman Emperor ordered another martyr in the flower of his youth to be abducted to a most delightful garden. There amid the white lilies and red roses, he was forced to rest on a thick feather bed. Beside him meandered a gently murmuring stream. The wind plucked lightly at the trees’ leaves and produced a soft whisper. Tied down with pleasant garlands so that he was unable to escape, he was left there.

{ Alium iuuenali aetate florentem in amoenissimos hortulos praecepit adduci ibique inter candentia lilia et rubentes rosas, cum leni iuxta murmure serperet riuus et molli sibilo arborum folia uentus stringeret, super structum plumis lectulum supinari, et ne se inde posset excutere, blandis sertorum nexibus inretitum relinqui. } [1]

Many men would rather be tied down physically in a beautiful garden than be tied down by having to work a miserable job to support a wife and children. The circumstances in this beautiful garden, however, took a dramatic turn for the worse:

When everyone had gone away, a beautiful prostitute came to him and began to stroke his neck with gentle caresses and, what is improper even to relate, to grope his genitals with her hands. When his body was aroused with lust, this shameless, victorious female assailant lay down on top of him.

{ Quo cum recedentibus cunctis meretrix speciosa uenisset, coepit delicatis stringere colla complexibus et, quod dictu quoque scelus est, manibus adtrectare uirilia, ut corpore in libidinem concitato se uictrix impudica superiaceret. }

That’s raping a man. Jerome understood that women can rape men. You should understand that, too. Like many men who are raped, this man had no one he could turn to for help.

Scholars have obscured this man being raped. Many persons who have read the above passage in the Life of Paul the First Hermit have done so in a widely distributed, bad English translation:

When all had withdrawn from him, a harlot of great beauty drew near and began with voluptuous embrace to throw her arms around his neck, and, wicked even to relate! to handle his person, so that once the lusts of the flesh were roused, she might accomplish her licentious purpose.

{ Quo cum recedentibus cunctis meretrix speciosa uenisset, coepit delicatis stringere colla complexibus et, quod dictu quoque scelus est, manibus adtrectare uirilia, ut corpore in libidinem concitato se uictrix impudica superiaceret. }[2]

The harlot handled “his person“? While a man’s penis is at the center of his earthly being, a man’s person is far more than his penis or his wallet. Moreover, this translation describes the woman’s crime hypothetically and vaguely: “she might accomplish her licentious purpose.” That’s not what the Latin text means. The Latin text makes clear that the woman lay down on top of the man. In addition, the Latin text emphasizes the woman’s aggressive domination of the man. It identifies her as a “female victor {victrix}.” In context, “victorious female assailant” is a reasonable English translation for that word.

The rape victim unjustly blamed himself. He had resisted prior torture with the emotional control of a Stoic. Yet he failed to maintain the bodily tranquility of an Epicurean when involuntarily subject to pleasurable sensations.[3] He felt deeply distraught:

What could the soldier of Christ do, where could he turn? He whom tortures had not defeated was overcome by pleasure.

{ Quid ageret miles Christi, quo se uerteret? Quem tormenta non uicerant superabat uoluptas. }

Men shouldn’t be blamed for their sexual arousal. Having a penis or having an erection shouldn’t be a crime. Women who sexually harass men or rape men commit wrongs or crimes. They deserve blame.

This rape victim resisted to an extraordinary extent. He was a Christian. In the ancient world, Christians were renowned for fearlessness in facing bodily torments. The pleasure of kissing has long involved mutual play of tongues. With the help of God, this Christian resisted with his tongue:

At last, by divine inspiration, he bit off his tongue and spit it out into her face as she kissed him. And so his feeling of lust was trampled down by the sharp pain that succeeded it.

{ Tandem coelitus inspiratus praecisam mordicus linguam in osculantis se faciem exspuit. Ac sic libidinis sensum succedens doloris magnitudo calcauit. }

This Christian knew himself as well as any ancient Greek oracle would advise. Through self-mutilation he prevented himself from being raped any longer.

Jerome’s account of the two men-martyrs displays great learning and literary sophistication. His account is a diptych challenging the influential philosophical schools of Stoicism and Epicureanism. In describing the second man’s resistance, Jerome shows remarkably subtle understanding of human emotion and self-consciousness.

Most importantly, Jerome’s account of the second man-martyr is a more accurate representation of reality than major modern news sources have yet provided. With a little-known website, a man came out about what happened to him when he was a young man:

This time in the car, she grabbed me and I asked her to stop and she looked me straight in the face and said “You will do what I want you to do or I will put your family on the street”. I know that without these people, we are homeless. My Dad’s job was based through these people and we were under their roof. Even though I was already terrified enough, the idea that my sisters and brother would be on the street seemed to be so much worse. So I did what she wanted me to do. Not just that night but for many of nights, weeks and months ahead.

God didn’t inspire this young man to bite off his tongue and spit it at that woman behaving wickedly.[4] Now much older, this man believes that God has acted in his life:

I still think back from time to time and wonder why me? Why did I have to go through this season of my life? Why God would put me through such an awful thing, and I still can’t explain that but I do know that without him, I wouldn’t have overcome it. Without him, I wouldn’t be here today to tell this story.

Men need their tongues to speak. Now isn’t the time for men to bite off their tongues and be silenced. Now is the time for men to speak out about injustices against men.

Jerome in his Life of Paul the First Hermit mocked concern to acquire worldly news. Much worldly news in fact bears little relation to reality. To understand the reality of how women rape men, the best source of enlightenment remains careful, accurate reading of Jerome’s Life of Paul the First Hermit.

Social workers have largely failed to take seriously sexual violence against men. The early desert hermits were honored in their day as miracle workers, not social workers.[5] May Paul the First Hermit work the miracle of making everyone today understand the real wrong of women raping men.

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[1] Jerome, Life of Paul the First Hermit {Vita Pauli primi eremitae} s. 3, Latin text from Hunink (2002), my English translation, benefiting from that of White (1998). All the subsequent quotes from Vita Pauli primi eremitae, unless otherwise noted, are similarly sourced. An alternate Latin text is Patrologia Latina 23.17-38C. Jerome refers to the two Christian martyrs suffering under Roman Emperors Trajan Decius (reigned 249 to 251) and Valerian the Elder (reigned 253 to 260).

Jerome wrote Vita Pauli primi eremitae about 375 GC. He dedicated the work to Paulus of Concordia. Jerome, Epistles 10.3. Vita Pauli primi eremitae was widely read. Surviving manuscripts of it include at least 128 manuscripts written before the twelfth century. Here’s a beautiful online manuscript of Jerome’s three lives of hermits, copied in Italy in 1425.

In the preface to her translation of Vita Pauli primi eremitae, White disrespectfully refers to Jerome’s “obsession with sex.” White (1998) p. 73. Sex has occurred on earth for more than a billion years. Sex is vitally important. In the fourth century GC, Jerome engaged in vigorous, relatively tolerant public discussion of sex and marriage. Such discussion is sternly policed and firmly constrained in our more oppressive and repressed culture. Institutions of the Catholic Church, the Orthodox Church, the Lutheran Church, and the Anglican Church have appropriately honored Jerome as a father of the Christian Church, an eminent scholar (Doctor of the Church), and a saint.

[2] Jerome, Vita Pauli primi eremitae s. 3, trans. Freemantle (1892). This translation is by far the most the widely disseminated translation online. This translation, with very minor variations, is included in the important, freely available online document collections of the Hermitary and New Advent.

Traditional philology has failed to represent rightly men’s distinctive gender. That compounds the structural injustice of the penis’s image problem.

[3] The Bible critiques Stoics and Epicureans. See e.g. Wisdom 2:1-9, Corinthians 15.32, Philippians 3:19. Jerome’s challenge to these two schools of thought is part of a Christian tradition that continued through the intellectual heights of the Middle Ages. In late-thirteenth-century Italy, Salimbene de Adam, grouping Stoics and Epicureans with the impious, stated:

While Stoics locate happiness for humans wholly in strength of the soul, Epicureans locate happiness wholly in the pleasure of the body

{ Sicut enim Stoyci ponunt felicitatem hominis in sola animi virtute, sic Epycuri in sola corporis voluptate. }

Salimbene, Cronica, Latin text Holder-Egger (1905) p. 352, my Latin translation. Id. notes that Salimbene here follows Peter Comestor {Petrus Comestor}, Historia scholastica, Actuum c. 93.

[4] Tertullian, Apologeticum {Apology} 50, describes an Athenian harlot biting off her tongue and spitting it out into the face of a tyrant who through torture hoped to extract from her the names of her co-conspirators. She thus deliberately silenced herself. In the relatively enlightened fourth century, persons understood that women could rape men. In Jerome’s story of the martyr, the raped man’s loss of his tongue didn’t prevent the crime against him from being publicly understood.

[5] MacMullen (2019) p. 21. Peter Brown’s influential scholarship has fostered the misconception that early holy men functioned as social workers.

[image] Bird startles Paul the Hermit and makes him fearful. The bird, however, gave Paul bread. Oil on canvas painting made by Mattia Preti, about 1656-1660. Preserved as item 6612 in the Art Gallery of Ontario. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Freemantle, William Henry, trans. 1892.  The Principal Works of St. Jerome.  Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 6. Oxford: Parker.

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

Hunink, Vincent, ed. 2002. Jerome (Sophronius Eusebius Hieronymus). Vita Pauli = Het leven van Paulus van Thebe. Leuven: Uitgeverij P.

MacMullen, Ramsay. 2019. “The Place of the Holy Man in the Later Roman Empire.” Harvard Theological Review. 112 (1): 1-32.

White, Carolinne. 1998. Early Christian lives: life of Antony by Athanasius, life of Paul of Thebes by Jerome, life of Hilarion by Jerome, life of Malchus by Jerome, life of Martin of Tours by Sulpicius Severus, life of Benedict by Gregory the Great. London: Penguin Books.