gyno-idolatry and atomism in medieval reception of De rerum natura

You hear these things, and I fear you’ll think yourself
on the road to evil, learning the fundamentals
of blasphemy.

{ Illud in his rebus vereor, ne forte rearis
impia te rationis inire elementa viamque
indugredi sceleris. } [1]

ninth-century manuscript page of Lucretius, De rerum natura

Written about 2100 years ago, Lucretius’s De rerum natura is an epic monument of philosophical and literary genius. Yet surviving medieval literature from the mid-ninth century and to early in the fifteenth century contains very few references to De rerum natura. Moreover, no copy of De rerum natura is known to have been made during that period.[2] These facts have prompted tendentious misrepresentation of relatively enlightened medieval European intellectual life. Fortunately, Guibert of Nogent’s Monodiae, which he wrote about 1115, provides a previously unrecognized and vitally important witness to medieval engagement with De rerum natura.

Guibert was thoroughly educated with access to the best intellectual resources of late-eleventh-century Europe. When he was twelve, Guibert entered the monastery of Saint-Germer de Fly in northern France. He studied at Saint-Germer and remained there from about 1067 to 1104. Saint-Germer was a place “where a multitude of literary scholars flourished {ibi literatorum floreat multitudo}.”[3] Guibert stated that he surpassed in learning his fellow monks there. That’s plausible. Guibert studied for a time with Anselm of Bec. This Anselm was Archbishop of Canterbury and one of the greatest philosophical thinkers of medieval Europe. Guibert was also knew personally Anselm of Laon. This second Anselm was a leading master at the Cathedral school of Laon and famous throughout Europe for his scholarship. Anselm of Laon chose Guibert to preach a politically important sermon of reconciliation at the Cathedral of Laon in 1111. If anyone of his time had read De rerum natura, Guibert probably had, too.

Guibert studied non-Christian literature. He “perused books of all kinds to comprehend the multiple meanings of words.”[4] At a certain point in his intellectual development, Guibert described himself as competing with Ovid and the pastoral poets (almost surely including Virgil) in writing epistles, love poems, and frivolous compositions with sweet-sounding words. With the prefatory phrase, “if I may borrow the words of a comic writer {ut comici verbis utar},” Guibert paraphrased a line from Terence’s Eunuchus.[5] He also quoted and thought carefully about a detail concerning beauty in Sallust’s Bellum Catilinae. Guibert’s writing was “refined in form, almost to the point of preciosity and hermeticism … almost pedantic … more elegant and recherché than that of many contemporary prose writers.”[6] Guibert was the sort of intellectual who would have been interested in reading De rerum natura.

Guibert plausibly had access to De rerum natura. The two, nearly complete surviving ninth-century manuscripts of De rerum natura probably spent time in northern France. Codex Oblongus, a luxurious instance of De rerum natura, was produced in an early-ninth-century scriptorium probably in north-west Germany or north-east France. The Irish scholar-monk Dungal corrected Codex Oblongus early in the ninth century. Dungal spent time in northern France, as well as in Saint-Denis, about five miles north of Paris. Dungal may have worked on the Codex Oblongus in Saint-Denis or elsewhere in northern France. The other, nearly complete surviving ninth-century manuscript of De rerum natura is Codex Quadratus. That manuscript was probably produced in a monastery in northern France.[7] Either of these two manuscripts could have been available to Guibert. Other, now-lost copies of De rerum natura may have also been available to him.

Like Lucretius, who described common nature in high poetry, Guibert is a sophisticated writer who must be read attentively. For example, Guibert reported that Count Jean of Soisssons had attended an Easter vigil. There Jean allegedly asked a priest to explain to him the “mystery of those days {mysterium dierum illorum}.”[8] The priest ingenuously obliged and described Jesus’s suffering, death, and resurrection. Jean responded, “Behold a fable! Behold blowing air! {Ecce fabula, ecce ventus!}.” Jean’s question to the priest is completely implausible coming from an adult raised in medieval European Christian culture. Moreover, the use of “ecce” parodies a biblical call for attention. Guibert’s story of Jean setting up for ridicule the priest at the Easter vigil echoes De rerum natura’s sarcastic disparagement of Greco-Roman stories of the gods.

With naturalistic dialogue Guibert concluded the story of Count Jean at the Easter vigil. Consider:

The priest responded, “If you hold what I have said to be blowing air and a fable, why are you here keeping this vigil?” “Beautiful women spend the night here, and I eagerly attend to them,” Jean said.

{ “Si tu,” inquit, “pro vento et fabula, quae dixerim, habes, quid hic vigilas?” “Pulchras,” ait, “mulieres, quae istic coexcubant, libenter attendo.”}

Men typically like to gaze upon beautiful women and to serve them sexually to the point of exhaustion. Jean’s remarks thus have a naturalistic plausibility. Nonetheless, Guibert probably fabricated the whole story of Jean at the Easter vigil to portray the impious character of Count Jean.[9]

Immediately following the story of the Easter vigil, Guibert less plausibly expanded upon his characterization of Count Jean’s sexual behavior. Guibert declared:

Even with him having a young, beautiful wife, he spurned her. He spent his affection on the most wrinkled old woman. Although in the house of a Jew he kept a bed very often prepared for himself and her, he was nonetheless never able to confine himself to those bed-sheets. But in the fury of his lust he would press himself together with this most sordid woman in some dirty corner or even in some closet.

{ Certe cum conjugem juvenculam speciosam haberet, ea contempta, rugosissimam ita affectabat anum, ut, cum intra domum cujusdam Judaei lectum sibi et illi saepius apparari faceret, nunquam tamen stratu cohiberi poterat, sed in aliquem angulum turpem, aut certe intra apothecam aliquam prae furore libidinis se cum illa sordidissima contrudebat. }

Jean’s mother entrusted to a Jew one of her most politically sensitive actions. Jean himself had high regard for Jews. Jean could plausibly have had a Jewish friend generously helping him in providing accommodation for an extramarital affair. Yet Jean having an affair with an extremely wrinkled old woman, especially when he had a beautiful young wife and apparently didn’t need a wealthy widow’s money, is highly implausible. It’s as implausible as believing that many old male professors don’t notice how sexually attractive some of their young female students are.

Other components of Guibert’s characterization of Count Jean mix sophisticated rhetoric with realism. Guibert reported that Jean arranged a bed-trick:

one night when the candle-lights had been extinguished, the Count ordered a certain lowly courtier to go as himself to sleep with his wife so that he could thrust on her a charge of adultery. When she sensed it wasn’t the Count from his bodily quality (the Count had disgusting boils), she savagely beat this dandy by exerting herself strongly, with help from her handmaidens.

{ quod cum uxore sua parasitastrum quendam, extinctis jam nocte lucernis, sub specie sui cubitum ire mandavit, ut adulterii sui crimen impingeret. Quae cum non esse comitem ex corporis qualitate sentiret (erat enim comes foede pruriginosus), suo quo valuit nisu et pedissequarum auxilio, scurram dure cecidit. }

This account has literary qualities in artfully contrasting the noble Count’s low bodily quality with the attractiveness of the lowly courtier. The Count seeking to thrust on his wife a charge of adultery rhetorically contrasts with him properly fulfilling his vitally important marital obligation.

Yet Guibert’s account of the failed bed-trick is also realistic. Many women throughout history have been highly privileged. These highly privileged women have exploited other women to help fight their battles. Today, highly privileged women tend to demand passively that men act to stop men from treating them badly. But women are fully capable of acting strongly and independently. In Guibert’s account of the failed bed-trick, the medieval woman took the initiative to beat savagely the dandy in her bed. Moreover, an independent document supports the general shape of the account. Specifically, a surviving letter from Bishop Ivo of Chartres indicates that Ivo was aware of Jean charging his wife with adultery and that Ivo was suspicious of that charge.[10]

Like Lucretius in De rerum natura, Guibert addressed radical ideas. Guibert stated that Count Jean believed that “all women should be in common {omnes foeminas debere esse communes}.” The highly respected ancient Greek thinker Solon proposed a related idea to address the crushing sexual welfare inequality that men endure. Guibert despised Jean’s belief in sexual communalism. As a Christian, he regarded as licit only permanent, two-person, heterosexual conjugal partnerships in which each spouse is mutually obliged to have sex with the other even if she or he doesn’t feel like it.

Count Jean cherished a medieval sect that followed practices now commonly taught in schools and institutions of higher education. Guibert reported:

They condemn marriage and procreative sex. Indeed, wherever they are scattered throughout the Latin world, one sees men and women living together without the name of husband and wife. One man doesn’t dwell with one woman, but men are known to sleep with other men, and women with other women. Actually, to them a man having sex with a woman is morally wrong. All offspring born from sexual intercourse they eliminate.

{ conjugia damnant, et fructificare coitibus; et certe cum per Latinum conspersi sint orbem, videas viros mulieribus cohabitare sine mariti conjugisque nomine, ita ut vir cum foemina, singuluscum singula, non moretur, sed viri cum viris, foemina cum foeminis cubitare noscantur; nam viri apud eos in foeminam nefas est; eduliac omnium quae ex coitu nascuntur, eliminant }

Apparently the sect focused on personal happiness and career ambitions. From the vantage-point of modernity, these practices seem eminently plausible.

Guibert immediately shifted to describing a ritual extraordinary even relative to life in the modern world. This secret ritual revealed the deep nature of things:

They hold meetings in underground vaults or around hidden hearths, with both sexes together indiscriminately. Candles are lit, and some young woman lies down and uncovers her buttocks in the sight of all. They offer their candles to her from behind. As soon as these have burned out, they shout “chaos” from all sides, and each person has sex with the first person they encounter.

{ conventicula faciunt in ypogeis aut pennalibus abditis, sexus simul indifferens, qui, candelis accensis, cuidam mulierculae sub obtutu omnium, retectis, ut dicitur, natibus, procumbenti casa tergo offerunt; hisque mox extinctis, chaos undecunque conclamant, et cum ea quae ad manum venerit prima quisque coit }

The first part of this ceremony ritually expresses gyno-idolatry. It draws upon men’s well-attested admiration for women’s buttocks. De rerum natura emphatically exposed delusions of gyno-idolatry. In exposing the sect’s devotion to a young woman’s buttocks, Guibert seems to have appreciated and appropriated De rerum natura’s debunking of gyno-idolatry.

Guibert, however, parodied the classical atomism of De rerum natura. Lucretius asserted that the world coalesced from chaos through random swerving of atoms. In Guibert’s representation, the sect’s coupling activity begins from chaos. The generation of a new human occurs only through the accidental encounter of a woman and man. Promiscuous sexual encounters from chaos among atomic individuals resonates with De rerum natura.[11] Guibert and other medieval Christians understood creation, and humans and their relations at the pinnacle of creation, much differently.

Guibert further developed his critical representation of De rerum natura in depicting human sacrifice. Lucretius in De rerum natura distinguished himself from Epicurus by depicting human and animal sacrifice as socially destructive.[12] Near the beginning of Book 1 of De rerum natura, Lucretius narrated the brutal, irrational sacrifice of Iphigenia:

At Aulis did even the the pride of the Greek people,
the chosen peers, defile Diana’s altar
with the shameful blood of the virgin Iphigenia.
As soon as they tressed her hair with the ritual fillet,
the tassels spilling neatly upon each cheek,
and she sensed her grieving father beside the altar
with the acolytes nearby, hiding the knife,
and countrymen weeping to look upon her — mute
with fear, she fell to her knees, she groped for the earth.
Poor girl, what good did it do her then, that she
was the first to give the king the title “father”?
Up to the altar the men escorted her, trembling;
not so that when her solemn rites were finished
she might be cheered in a ringing wedding-hymn,
but filthily, at the marrying age, unblemished
victim, she fell by her father’s slaughter-stroke
to shove his fleet off on a bon voyage!

{ Aulide quo pacto Triviai virginis aram
Iphianassai turparunt sanguine foede
ductores Danaum delecti, prima virorum.
cui simul infula virgineos circumdata comptus
ex utraque pari malarum parte profusast,
et maestum simul ante aras adstare parentem
sensit et hunc propter ferrum celare ministros
aspectuque suo lacrimas effundere civis,
muta metu terram genibus summissa petebat.
nec miserae prodesse in tali tempore quibat
quod patrio princeps donarat nomine regem.
nam sublata virum manibus tremibundaque ad aras
deductast, non ut sollemni more sacrorum
perfecto posset claro comitari Hymenaeo,
sed casta inceste nubendi tempore in ipso
hostia concideret mactatu maesta parentis,
exitus ut classi felix faustusque daretur. } [13]

Guibert’s modernistic sect is similarly brutal. They reduce a newly born child to ashes with the pretense that nothing is destroyed into nothing:

If a woman there becomes pregnant, after she has pushed out the birth they return to this very place and start a large fire. Sitting in a circle, they toss the child from hand to hand through the flames until its life is extinguished. Then it is reduced to ashes. They make bread from the ashes. Each is bestowed with a piece as a eucharist.

{ si inibi foemina gravidetur, partu demum fuso in idipsum reditur; ignis multus accenditur, a circumsedentibus puer de manu in manum per flammas jacitur, donec extinguitur; deinde in cineres redigitur; excinere panis conficitur; cuique pars pro eucharistia tribuitur }

For Guibert, unlike Lucretius, the horror of human sacrifice is bound to atomism. If human beings consist only of atoms, nothing is lost when a human life is reduced to ashes and then made into bread. That food is a eucharist for only an abstract, undifferentiated, meaningless God. Guibert certainly knew that Augustine had alleged that some Manichaeans participated in a human semen eucharist.[14] But Guibert’s understanding and representation of Manichaeism is the Epicureanism of De rerum natura.[15]

Guibert of Nogent in northern France about the year 1100 apparently read and thought carefully about De rerum natura. Carrying intense, conflicted views about his mother and mother Church, Guibert found merit in De rerum natura’s stunning debunking of gyno-idolatry. Yet he also found De rerum natura’s atomism socially destructive, inhumane, and fundamentally misconceived. As Guibert’s Monodiae shows, medieval thinkers were fully capable of grappling with De rerum natura and formulating a sophisticated response.

For medieval Christian culture, the atheistic atomism of De rerum natura was probably less troublesome to address than its attack on gyno-idolatry. Medieval Christian culture swerved close to engaging in gyno-idolatry in its fervid hyper-veneration of Mary, the mother of Jesus. Deep unease with Lucretius’s debunking of gyno-idolatry probably was the most important factor in constraining studying, copying, and discussing De rerum natura from the mid-ninth century through to 1417. That was the year when the great medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini discovered a copy of De rerum natura. Poggio was an heir to the brilliant Italian literary culture of Boccaccio and his deeply Christian-humanistic Corbaccio. He and others like him were unafraid to dispel gyno-idolatrous delusions as Lucretius had attempted to do.

Gynocentrism has a much tighter grip on intellectuals today than it did in Poggio’s time. Men today are deprived of any reproductive rights. Millions of men for doing nothing more than having consensual sex of reproductive type have no choice but to pay a monthly gynogeld to stave off incarceration without the benefit of counsel. Gynocentrism firmly suppresses discussion of that and related grotesque injustices against men. Amid pervasively expressed concern for gender equality, gynocentrism has produced colossal delusions about gender equality. Scholars today tend to pass over De rerum natura’s brilliant attack on gyno-idolatry with facile and absurd claims of “misogyny.” Perhaps in future years De rerum natura will once again scarcely be discussed.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Lucretius, De rerum natura {On the nature of things} 1.80-2 (half line), Latin text from Bailey (2017), English translation from Esolen (1995).

[2] Butterfield (2013) p. 286, n. 1. Butterfield observed:

No convincing instance of Dante’s imitating Lucretius has been proposed. Petrarch’s knowledge of Lucretius is drawn directly from Macrobius … Guido Billanovich (1958, 164–8 and 182–90) had alleged imitations in Eugenius Vulgarius (fl. early tenth century), the Liber pontificialis of Ravenna (c. 900), Lovato Lovati (c. 1241–1309) and Albertino Mussato (c. 1261–1329) but few have accepted the validity of any of these associations.

Id. While reviewing a wide range of medieval authors and works, Butterfield says nothing about Guibert of Nogent’s Monodiae.

Liudprand of Cremona’s Antapodosis 2.22 (King Henry’s speech to Arnulf) “echoes lines from Virgil, Boethius, and perhaps Lucretius.” Squatriti (2007) p. 86, n. 26. Witt (2012), p. 90, states that Liuprand refers to Lucretius, but notes that he may have done so from florilegia. Liuprand wrote his Antapodosis about 960.

Palmer summarized:

although no Lucretius manuscripts survive from the period between the ninth century and Poggio’s discovery in 1417, a scattering of medieval references in Italian, French, Spanish, German, English, and other traditions indicate a tenacious, if spotty, knowledge of the poet and some knowledge of the poem. Treatments of Epicureanism itself, and of the philosophical content of the poem, appear principally in the attacks on Epicureanism written by the fourth-century Christian apologists Arnobius and Lactantius, though Jerome and Ambrose discuss Lucretius briefly, as did, later and at greater length, Isidore of Seville. Before the fifteenth century, a scholar who knew the name Lucretius was most likely to have seen it in Ovid or in one of the many grammarians who mined the De rerum natura for examples of rare or archaic forms. Such fragments survive in Probus, Fronto, Aulus Gellius, Festus, Nonius Marcellus, Aelius Donatus, Servius, Diomedes Grammaticus, Macrobius, and Priscian.

Palmer (2014) p. 100. Id. makes no mention of Guibert.

[3] Guibert of Nogent, Monodiae {Songs by myself} 2.5. Here’s some comparative analysis of Guibert’s intellectual development. The subsequent facts in the above paragraph are culled from Guibert’s Monodiae.

[4] Guibert, Monodiae 2.16.

[5] Guibert, Monodiae 3.14. Guibert wrote, “to make from the foolish the idiotic {de stulto insanum facere}.” That’s a paraphrase of Terence, Eunuchus l. 254, where the slave Parmeno says to the Gnatho the parasite: “What a man, by Hercules! Here he makes men from foolish straight into idiotic {scitum hercle hominem! hic homines prorsum ex stultis insanos facit}.”

[6] Archambault (1996) p. xxxvi (introduction), quoting in English translation Labande (1981) p. xx (introduction). Benton, a learned medieval historian, stated:

Guibert knew both the pagan and the Christian classics better than either Bourgin or I, and although I have been able to identify some 35 more allusions and quotations than my predecessor {Bourgin}, I have no doubt that many more have gone unnoticed.

Benton (1970) p. 3. Benton lists Guibert as citing in his Monodiae passages from Augustine, Bede, Benedict, Gregory the Great, Horace, Lucan, Ovid, Sallust, Sidonius Apollinaris, Tacitus, Terence, and Virgil. Id. p. 246.

[7] For these facts, Butterfield (2013) pp. 6-9, 201.

[8] Guibert, Monodiae 3.16, Latin text from Bourgin (1907), my English translation benefiting from those of Archambault (1996) and McAlhany & Rubenstein (2011). Both of the latter translations are based on the Latin text of Labande (1981), as well as some additional Latin textual witnesses. The quoted Latin text is consistent with both those translations. To serve for close reading, my translations follow the Latin as closely as feasible while still being intelligible to a general reader. All subsequent quotes from Monodiae are from 3.16-17 and are similarly sourced.

Count Jean of Soissons was the son of Alais, daughter of Count Renaud of Soissons, and the brother of Manasses, Bishop of Soissons. Guibert knew Jean personally. He heard from Count Jean himself about hatred among his family members and other personal stories: “the Count himself narrated to me some of what was told above {mihi comes isdem de ea quae sunt superius relata narrabat}.”

[9] According to Guibert, Count Jean responded sarcastically to a priest urging him to repentence on his deathbed:

“You want me,” he said, “to give money to those ass-lickers, that is to say priests? Not a single obol!”

{ Vis, inquit, ut laccatoribus, scilicet presbyteris, mea erogem? Ne obolum quidem! }

An obol was a silver coin used in ancient Greece.

[10] Benton (1970) p. 211, n. 7. Count Jean’s wife was Adeline, daughter of Nevelon of Pierrepont. Id.

[11] According to Lucretius, Epicurus was like the giants engaged in Gigantomachy. Using his mind, Epicurus (the Greek man) will be “first to smash open the tight-barred gates of Nature {naturae primus portarum claustra cupiret}.” De rerum natura 1.71. That specific line adapts Ennius, Annals, Book VII: “after ghastly Discordia / shattered the ironbound posts and gates of War {postquam Discordia taetra / Belli ferratos postes portasque refregit}.” Frag. 225, Latin text and English translation (adapted) from Golberg & Manuwald (2018). Ennius’s Annals was an important epic predecessor to Lucretius and considerably influenced De rerum natura. Harrison (2002). Morgan insightfully observed:

If there is indeed a hint of Discordia taetra, “ghastly Discordia”, in Lucretius’ Epicurus, well, that’s as stunning a move as his topsy-turvy Gigantomachy: once again, though in even more arresting fashion, the founder of Lucretius’ philosophical school is equated to chaotic, anti-Olympian forces.

Morgan (2014).

Rider interprets De rerum natura as presenting Epicureanism as the sociohistorical instantiation of the Empedoclean force Love. Epicureanism in this allegory does battle with religion and sacrifice as the sociohistorical instantiation of the Empedoclean force Strife. Rider (2011) pp. 28-9, 46-52. Guibert and Morgan’s interpretation of chaos in De rerum natura seems to me a better reading. It connects more closely with the key Epicurean idea of atomism in relation to birth and death.

[12] Rider (2011). Lucretius also described the pathetic sorrow of a cow after her calf had been sacrificed to the gods. De rerum natura 2.352-66.

[13] Lucretius, De rerum natura 1.84-100, Latin text from Bailey (2017), English translation from Esolen (1995). Harrison (2002), p. 7, maps the central position of this passage in the proem of De rerum natura. Here are some online study notes for the Latin text.

I’ve made two small changes in Esolen’s translation based on my understanding of the Latin poem. For l. 84, Esolen has “At Aulis, for instance: the pride of the Greek people,”. But both the position and facts of the sacrifice of Iphigenia (done by “the pride of the Greek people, the chosen peers”) seems to me to make this story more important than just “for instance.” So I’ve modified the line to “At Aulis did even the the pride of the Greek people,”.  In l. 94, Esolen’s translation has ‘to give the king the name of “father”?’. To indicate the poetic constrast between “king” and “father”, I’ve used the less literal translation “title” for nomine: to give the king the title “father”?’.

[14] Guibert explicitly refered to Augustine:

If you review heresies from what Augustine has summarized, you will find that none comes closer to this one than does the Manichaeans. Originally started by the learned, what has survived of this heresy has filtered down to peasants. Boasting of holding to the life of the Apostles, those peasants cherish their reading of Acts and nothing else.

{ Si relegas haereses ab Augustino digestas, nulli magis quam Manicheorum reperies convenire. Quae olim coeta a doctioribus, residuum demisit ad rusticos, qui vitam se apostolicam tenere jactantes, eorum actus solos legere amplectuntur. }

Guibert’s reference to the learned implicitly follows Augustine in tracing the origin of Manichaeism to the Persian master Mani. In his book On the relics of the saints {De pignoribus sanctorum}, Guibert labeled the sect Manichaeans:

Some time ago the zeal of God’s people at Soissons caused remnants of Manicheaism to be burned to death, but because they lacked a just cause for dying, they only added damnation to bodily punishments. I spoke about these things at greater length in my books of Monodies .

{ Manichaeorum pridem Suessionis zelo Dei plebis arserunt, sed extorres a justa causa, solummodo addemnatis corporibus sibi damno fuerunt. Super quibus in libris Monodiarum mearum laciniosius dixi. }

De pignoribus sanctorum, Latin text from Patrologia Latina 156, English translation (modified) from McAlhany & Rubenstein (2011) p. 185. Thomas Head’s translation is freely available online.

Augustine of Hippo described Manichaeans as participating in a human semen eucharist. The ritual, according to Augustine, is “no sacrament but a sacrilege {non sacramentum sed exsecramentum}”:

because of some demand of their sacrilegious superstition, their Elect are forced to consume a sort of eucharist sprinkled with human seed in order that the divine substance may be freed even from that, just as it is from other foods which they receive. … flour is sprinkled beneath a couple in sexual intercourse to receive and commingle with their seed. … they are just as much obliged to purge from human seed by eating, as they are in reference to other seed which they consume in their food.

{ exsecrabilis superstitionis quadam necessitate, coguntur Electi eorum uelut eucharistiam conspersam cum semine humano sumere ut etiam inde, sicut de aliis cibis quos accipiunt, substantia illa diuina purgetur. … ad excipiendum et commiscendum concumbentium semen farina substernitur … sic eam etiam de semine humano, quemadmodum de aliis seminibus quae in alimentis sumunt, debeant manducando purgare. }

De Haeresibus 46, Latin text (from edition of Roel Vander Plaetse and Clemens Beukers, 1979) and English translation from van Oort (2016a) pp. 194-6. According to Augustine, a unmarried young woman named Margarita, as well as another woman named Eusebia, had sexual intercourse as part of this ritual. Augustine apparently was referring to heresy cases against Manichaeans in Carthage in 421 and 427. Id. pp. 198-9. Upon careful review, van Oort regards Augustine’s account as reliable. van Oort (2016b) provides further evidence of human semen eucharist.

Guibert’s account of the ritual of the “Soissons Manichaeans” is more poetic than Augustine’s. McAlhany & Rubenstein perceived in Guibert’s account casual parody beyond Augustine’s description of Manichaean heresy:

The heresy as presented here is a mixture of attacks against the sacramental authority of priests in ceremonies such as baptism and the Eucharist and of certain dualist ideas associated with Manichaeism and described by Saint Augustine. Guibert himself draws attention to this similarity. It is unclear how much, if any, of this represents Clement’s and Evrard’s actual beliefs {they were prosecuted members of the Soissons sect}. Probably Guibert, after gossiping with fellow abbots, has colored an antisacramental doctrine with a lewd and clearly parodic series of half-formed notions, ceremonies, and sexual practices.

McAlhany & Rubenstein (2011) p. 274, n. 93. I think Guibert should be credited with greater intellectual sophostication. Specifically, I think he colored his construction of “Soissons Manichaeans” with thoughtful consideration of De rerum natura.

[15] Lucretius, who adhered to belief in the existence of gods, regarded gods as having no significance for worldly life. The sect’s god is thus like Lucretius’s gods.

Guibert surely understood that Christians would not read the incineration of the child, even if fictional, with emotional detachment even if they regarded it as irrational and morally wrong. That differs from Lucretius’s apparent strategy in depicting the sacrifice of Iphigenia. Morrison (2013). Reducing the child to ashes / atoms underscores the parody of atomism and De rerum natura.

[image] Manuscript page of Lucretius, De rerum natura, Book 1, folio 1r. Manuscript made in northern Italy, perhaps Bobbio, between 850 and 900 GC. Preserved in Det Kongelige Bibliotek as MS GKS 211 2°.


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

Bailey, Cyril, ed. 2017. Titus Lucretius Carus. De rerum natura. Libri sex, vol. 1. Prolegomena, text, critical aparatus, and translation. Oxford: Oxford 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.

Billanovich, Guido. 1958. “‘Veterum vestigia vatum’ nei carmi dei preumanisti padovani.” Italia Medioevale e Umanistica. 1: 155-243.

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

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