respect men’s real fears: dangers of gyno-idolatry

Byzantine Greek fire, a naval weapon

In twelfth-century France, a young man was hunting with his dogs in April. While men are commonly regarded as dogs, men themselves typically distinguish between persons and dogs. Most men have no interest in becoming romantically involved with a female dog, a bitch. Yet a young man hunting with his dogs in April might be stirred with love:

In April time, when the wood is decked green
and the field with rosy flowers is dressed,
tender youth is inflamed with love.

Inflamed with love is tender youth,
all the little birds sing out together
and the wild blackbird calls sweetly.

{ Aprilis tempore, quo nemus frondibus
et pratum roseis ornatur floribus,
iuuentus tenera feruet amoribus.

Feruet amoribus iuuentus tenera,
pie cum concinit omnis auicula,
et cantat dulciter siluestris merula. } [1]

Sunsets and feeling lonely tend to prompt men to yearn for love. This young man had never before loved a woman. His heart felt pain:

Coming back from the hunt at that time of year,
with the sun going down to set in the west,
I started to call for my wandering dogs.

Looking around I could not find them,
which gave me no small sadness
so I did not stop seeking them.

{ Venatu rediens eodem tempore,
sol cum descenderat uergente cardine,
errantes catulos cepi requirere.

Quos circumspeciens nusquam reperio,
unde non modicum sed satis doleo;
non cessans igitur perditos querito. }

A young, beautiful, warmly receptive woman is far more attractive to most men than is a dog, or even a group of dogs that he might have together.

The mischievous man-child Cupid and his award-winning mother Venus assailed the young man. Cupid, leaning on his bow and looking as sexy as Apollo, said:

To stop worrying is my advice to you now.
It is not right to hunt at times like this;
rather we must play at love.

Perhaps you do not know of Cupid’s games?
It would be a great shame if such a fine youth
didn’t frequently play in the court of Venus.

If you should once play in her game of love,
for nothing else would you ever give it up,
but forever faithfully serve her in your soul.

{ Dimittas moneo laborem itaque;
non est conueniens hoc tali tempore
venari; potius debemus ludere.

Ignoras forsitan ludos Cupidinis,
sed ualde dedecet, si talis iuuenis
non ludit sepius in aula Veneris.

Si semel luseris in eius curia,
non eam deseres ulla penuria,
illi sed seruies mente continua. } [2]

The young man thought of love. He was shaken, scared, and taken:

Hearing his words, I was shaken to the core;
as if in great fear I fell to the ground,
and so a new flame burst out inside me.

{ Ad cuius monitus totus contremui,
uelut exterritus ad terram cecidi;
sic nouis ignibus statim incalui. }

The young man hunting with his dogs in April was hunted and snared in thought. In springtime, nature is beautiful, fecund, undeniably real, and influential.[3]

De ramis cadunt folia: manuscript

Men have good reason to fear the fire of their love. Men understand that spring is only a season, and that winter will come:

The leaves fall from the branches,
for all that is green has died,
warmth now has left all
and departed,
for the last of the Zodiac signs
the sun has reached.

{ De ramis cadunt folia,
nam viror totus periit;
iam calor liquit omnia
et abiit
nam signa caeli ultima
sol petiit. } [4]

Margery Kempe’s husband understood what that stanza means. Yet for generation after generation, despite gynocentric oppression, men have been on fire in love for women:

Now all that is, freezes,
but I alone am hot;
or rather it’s my heart
that burns.
This fire is a girl
for whom I languish.

My fire is nourished by the kiss
and soft touch of the girl.
In her eyes shines
the light of lights.
None across the whole age
is more divine.

Greek fire is extinguished
with wine turned bitter,
but this fire is never extinguished
for the saddest lover.
Rather, it’s sustained by fuel
most fruitful.

{ Modo frigescit quicquid est,
sed solus ego caleo;
immo sic mihi cordi est
quod ardeo;
hic ignis tamen virgo est,
qua langueo.

Nutritur ignis osculo
et leni tactu virginis
in suo lucet oculo
lux luminis,
nec est in toto saeculo
plus numinis.

Ignis graecus extinguitur
cum vino iam acerrimo,
sed iste non extinguitur
miserrimo;
immo fomento alitur
uberrimo. }

Men’s fundamental sin is gyno-idolatry. Lucretius, the great dispeller of delusions, described the problem clearly in ancient Rome. Christians in medieval Europe understood Lucretius. Consider the man-narrator’s claim: “In her eyes shines / the light of lights. None across the whole age / is more divine.” In Christian understanding, Jesus is the King of Kings and the light of the world.[5] Regarding a human woman, one not even the mother of Jesus, as more divine than Jesus is blasphemy.

The final stanza makes an obscure comparison to Greek fire. Greek fire literally means an incendiary weapon that the Byzantine navy used. In this poetic context, Greek fire alludes to sexual passion, particularly sexual passion associated with eating and drinking at Greco-Roman symposia. At his last supper with his disciplines, Jesus poured wine and told his disciples to take that, his blood, and drink of it. Thirsting in the passion of his crucifixion for humanity’s sins, Jesus was given only sour wine to drink.[6] With understanding of the passion of Christ, Christian disciples were expected to leave behind the sexual passions of Greco-Roman symposia. But not all Christians substantially did so. The saddest lover is the Christian so enthralled in gyno-idolatry that his delusions continually fuel the fire of his love.

The medieval Christian poet was willing to describe gyno-idolatry explicitly. Gyno-idolatry was understood as a fundamental danger for men:

As in kindling
fire burns ardently
when it is introduced,
so my mind
for you, goddess,
is inflamed and burns up.

Say, who is so hard,
who is so pure,
devoid of all sin,
and capable of such being,
that none of your gifts
could seduce him?

Long live Cato,
to whom God gave
such rigidity,
but by your flower
he would be held, burning
in love.

{ Ut in lignis
ardet ignis,
siccis cum subducitur,
sic mens mea
pro te, dea,
fervet et comburitur.

Dic, quis durus,
quis tam purus,
carens omni crimine,
esse potest,
quem non dotes
tuae possint flectere?

Vivat Cato,
Dei dato,
qui sic fuit rigidus:
in amore
tuo flore
captus erit fervidus. } [7]

In the relatively liberal and tolerant circumstances of medieval Europe, a beautiful, young woman’s gifts could be described without fear of censorship, virtual stone-throwing, or attack by an angry, ignorant mob. Thus the poet-narrator declared:

Venus would have wished
your locks
to be her own,
if she had seen them,
and she would have mourned
because they excelled her own.

Your face and throat
are without wrinkles,
and your angelic visage
indicates to humans
that you are heavenly,
not earthly.

Your teeth
shine, seated
within your beautiful lips,
which if ever
I might touch,
give honeyed kisses.

And your
breasts,
beautifully small,
not swelling,
gleam white,
whiter than snow.

What about the hands,
a belly so flat,
and a graceful figure —
you are so formed,
so adorned —
could one be better fashioned?

Your legs radiate sleekly —
but why say more?
The goddesses
of heaven
and earth
you surpass
in beauty and lineage.

{ Fore suum
crinem tuum
Venus ipsa cuperet,
si videret;
et doloret
suum quod exuperet.

Frons et gula
sine ruga
et visus angelicus
te caelestem,
non terrestrem,
denotant hominibus.

Tibi dentes
sunt candentes,
pulcre sedent labia,
que si quando
ore tango
mellea dant suavia.

Et tuarum
pupillarum
forma satis parvula
non tumescit,
sed albescit,
nive magis candida.

Quid quod manus,
venter planus
et statura gracilis
te sic formant
et cohornant
quod nimis es habilis?

Nitent crura.
Sed quid plura?
deas pulchritudine
et caelestes
et terrestres
superas et genere. }

So the man makes his beloved woman into a goddess, or rather, he imagines her to be better than a goddess. With respect to a beautiful woman, gyno-idolatry among men is completely understandable:

And therefore,
blessed girl,
no one should be surprised
if my mind
for you, goddess,
has been wounded by Venus.

{ Et idcirco,
pia virgo,
nulli sit mirabile,
si mens mea
pro te, dea,
lesa sit a Venere. }

If men are to lose their chains and become liberated, they must recognize their primary weakness. Men must reject gyno-idolatry and embrace women as equal human beings.

Meninism is the simple idea that men are equal to women as human beings. If you’re not a meninist, you’re a bigot. Unfortunately, most men aren’t meninists. Much work remains to be done to achieve social justice for men.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Carmina Rivipullensia 1, titled “Quomodo primum amavit {How he has loved for the first time},” first line “Aprilis tempore, quo nemus frondibus {In April time, when the wood is decked green},” st. 1-2, Latin text and English translation from Preater (2015). This poem is probably from the twelfth century and survives only in MS Ripoll 74. On that manuscript, see note [1] in my post on the medieval joy of sex.

The subsequent three quotes above are similarly sourced (with a few minor changes in translation) from “Aprilis tempore, quo nemus frondibus”: st. 4-5 (Coming back from the hunt…), 8-10 (To stop worrying…), 11 (Hearing his words…). For the translation of line 8.3, Dronke (1979) p. 21. The poem has 11 stanzas in total. For a Latin text and French translation, Wolff (2001) pp. 20-3.

[2] Thiébaux perceives Cupid’s “insinuating, gently bullying mockery” of the young man; the poem displays “light malice in treating this relation between the lover and the god.” That is the style of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. Thiébaux (1974) p. 101. Id., pp. 101-2, provides a slightly inaccurate translation of the poem.

In st. 8, the original reading in the third line was Veneri {of Venus} rather than venari:

The manuscript originally read “Veneri”, but it is corrected to “venari” in the same hand as the original.

Raby (1957) v. 2, p. 238. See also Dronke (1979) pp. 20-1.

[3] Another medieval Latin poem tells of a man unsuccessfully hunting with his dogs. When he blew his horn to recall his dogs, a king’s daughter was stirred with love:

At this sound a noble maiden
trembled all over, about to enter her father’s land.
That young man, discerning, hastened towards her.
He saw and spoke with her, felt his lips kissing hers.
Then he and the king’s daughter, considering the matter,
traversed the utmost boundary of love.

{ Ad cuius sonitum erilis filia
Tota contremuit itura patria,
Quam cernens iuvenis adiit properans:
Vidit et loquitur, sensit os osculans:
Et sibi consulens et regis filie
Extremum Veneris concessit linee. }

“Surgens Manerius summo diluculo {Arising in the early dawn, Manerius},” ll. 13-8 (the last three couplets of the poem), Latin text from Raby (1933), my English translation, benefiting from that of Thiébaux (1974). The poem, commonly called Manerius, dates from before 1168. It survives in cod. Vat. Christ. No. 344, fol. 38, where it’s entitled “De quodam iuvene {About a certain young man}.” Raby (1933) p. 205. A man raising his horn and blowing vigorously displays his potency. If a man cannot be chaste, he should at least be careful.

[4] “De ramis cadunt folia” st. 1, Latin text from Dronke (1965) v. 1, p. 288, my English translation, benefiting from those of id. and Hase (nd). The subsequent quote above is similarly sourced. It covers st. 4-6, the last three stanzas of the poem.

This twelfth-century poem is relatively well-known for a Latin lyric. Raby (1959) n. 234, p. 353, and Brittain (1962) provide Latin texts, with the latter including an English translation. A Latin reading blog provides a Latin text with learning notes and Helen Waddell’s English translation. This poem survives, with musical notation, only in the conductus-manuscripts of Saint-Martial, BnF (Paris) lat. 3719 fol. 42r-v. Dronke (1965) v. 1, p. 288. Here’s a modern sung adaptation from the album Les Chants Funestes by O Quam Tristis.

[5] Calling Jesus the King of Kings {βασιλεὺς τῶν βασιλευόντων}: 1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, 91:16; Jesus as light of the world {φώς τοῦ κόσμου}: John 8:12, 9:5.

[6] Jesus giving wine to his disciples: Matthew 26:27-9, Mark 14:23-5, Luke 22:17-8; soldiers giving sour wine to Jesus on the cross: Matthew 27:34, Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36, John 19:29. The Latin reading blog notes:

Greek fire was a weapon used by the Byzantines against ships. It is of unknown composition. The statement by the poet that this fire can be extinguished by vinegar (vinum acrum) is of course nonsense.

That note seems to me to miss the poetic point.

[7] Carmina Rivipullensia 3, titled “In praise of his girlfriend {Laudes amicae},” first line “Sidus clarum {Bright star},” st. 4-6, Latin text from Wolff (2001) (but retaining medieval Latin spellings), my English translation benefiting from Wolff’s French translation and the English translation of Hase (nd). The subsequent two quotes are similarly sourced from st. 7-12 (Venus would have wished…) and 13 (And therefore…). This song has a total of 14 stanzas. On the question form of verse 11, Dronke (1979) p. 22. Dronke interprets that stanza as implying the woman’s inexpressible beauty.

[images] (1) Byzantine Greek fire being used against the enemy ship of Thomas the Slav. From the Codex Skylitzes Matritensis, Bibliteca Nacional de Madrid, Vitr. 26-2, Bild-Nr. 77, folio 34v. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons. (2) Manuscript text, including musical notation, from the beginning of “De ramis cadunt folia.” Folio 42r in Miscellanea of manuscripts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Preserved as Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des manuscrits. Latin 3719.

References:

Brittain, Frederick. 1962. The Penguin Book of Latin Verse; with plain prose translations of each poem. Baltimore: Penguin Books.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1979. “The Interpretation of the Ripoll Love-Songs.” Romance Philology. 33 (1): 14-42.

Hase, Patrick, trans. nd. “Carminia Mediaevalia.” Online on liguae.

Preater, Jason. 2015. “Cancionero de Ripoll- In April Time.” Online (June 27, 2015) at Writing Finger.

Raby, Frederic J. E. 1933. “Surgens Manerius Summo Diluculo… .” Speculum. 8 (2): 204-208.

Raby, Frederic J. E. 1957. A History of Secular Latin poetry in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Raby, Frederic J. E. 1959. The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse. Oxford: Clarendon.

Thiébaux, Marcelle. 1974. The Stag of Love; the chase in medieval literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Wolff, Etienne. 2001. Le Chansonnier amoureux: Carmina Rivipullensia. Monaco: Rocher.

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