“I had a dream”: medieval imagining of gender justice

Men today seared in the flames of vicious gender injustice can scarcely imagine a comforting night of compassion and love. As if human rights weren’t men’s rights, men are persecuted for the gaze of their eyes and the spread of their legs. Men are convicted of serious crimes without even the possibility of speaking and being believed. Men carry the crushing gender burden of soliciting amorous relations and then paying for the check, as if the bank of justice is bankrupt and men’s lives don’t matter.

Burning inwardly with violent wrath,
in bitterness let me speak to my soul.

{ Estuans intrinsecus ira vehementi
in amaritudine loquar mee menti. }[1]

A young man in twelfth-century France had a dream one night. He sees in front of his eyes a beautiful woman. That day he had called out to a beautiful woman, but she ignored him. The young woman in the Song of Songs had a similar experience when she called to a young man whom she loved.[2] So who is this young woman who appears to the young man in his dream?

Her shapeliness at first fills me with doubt:
is this the young woman to whom I called by day?

{ Cuius forma mihi primum satis est dubitata,
an foret haec virgo fuerat quae luce vocata. }[3]

Women and men deserve better than being ignored by those they love. That amorous injustice predominately hurts men, as the dominant structure of prostitution historically attests. Men deserve medieval Latin poetic justice:

But after recognizing this woman to be lovelier than the other,
I forget the other and caress this one’s breasts.
She moves into my embrace, chest close to chest,
and that beautiful girl gives me kisses in a million ways.
I feel joy that almost no other woman would give me.

{ Postquam cognovi quod erat speciosior illa,
illa neglecta, fuit illico tacta papilla.
Venit in amplexus, pectus iacuit prope pectus;
oscula mille modis dum dat mihi pulchra puella,
gaudia persensi quae vix mihi nunc daret ulla. }

As the learned know, most men are romantically simple. So was this young man:

Her kisses join with mine, yet my hope vainly pushed up,
for when I seek to hug her tender neck,
she flees to I know not where, not even uttering a single word.

{ Oscula iungebat, sed me spes vana ferebat.
Namque sui tenerum volo dum circumdare collum,
nescio quo fugit, nec verbum protulit unum. }

Aeneas had a similar experience when he sought to hold on to his wife and his father.[4] Yet despite crushing gynocentric oppression, this man held onto the dream of gender justice. He retained hope in Aeneas’s mother Venus:

So I grieve much, but I judge I would grieve even more
if, what I held in my dream, I wouldn’t watchfully retain.

{ Unde nimis doleo, puto sed magis inde dolebo,
ni, quod per somnium tenui, vigilans retinebo. }

He held onto the dream that men one day would have poetic justice in love.

medieval dream lovers

Another young man in twelfth-century France had a dream. He recounted:

In April time, I was sleeping alone
in a green meadow already quite flowery,
when a most beautiful girl, with a shining face,
a descendant coming from royal blood,
appeared in front of me. With her ornate robe
and great effort she fashioned for me a breeze.
While enlivening me that way, she sometimes with sweet
kisses joined her honey-dripping mouth to mine,
and she would have joined flank-to-flank with me,
but at first she feared that I would respond harshly.

{ Aprilis tempore, dum solus dormio
In prato viridi, iam satis florido,
Virgo pulcherrima, vultu sidereo,
Et proles sanguine progressa regio,
Ante me visa est, que suo pallio
Auram mihi facit cum magno studio.
Auram dum ventilat, interdum dulcia
Ore mellifluo iungebat basia,
Et latus lateri iunxisset pariter,
Sed primum timuit ne ferrem graviter. }[5]

In the relatively tolerant Middle Ages, kisses were not considered to be equivalent to full-on, flank-to-flank sexual assault. Not a vicious rapist, this young woman sought to please the man she loved. She explained that she had come to him with a life-and-death problem:

At the call of Venus
I come to you, beloved young man;
Cupid’s torch has inflamed my heart.
I love you with my soul and whole body.
If you don’t love me as I love you,
trust me that I will die from excessive grief.
And so I beg you, the glory of young men,
that you not disregard me, but give me solace.

{ Monitu Veneris
ad te devenio, dilecte iuvenis;
face Cupidinis succensa pectore,
Mente te diligo cum toto corpore.
Ni me dilxeris sicut te diligo,
credas quod moriar dolore nimio.
Quare te deprecor, o decus iuvenum,
ut non me negligas, sed des solacium. }

In traditional Greco-Roman religion, no one could resist the love-spurring strike of Cupid, acting under gynocentrism according to the will of his mother Venus. In what’s known as the Great Commandment, the sacred law of the Jews declares: “love your neighbor as yourself { בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ }.” Jesus of Nazareth urged his Christian disciples to follow the Jewish Great Commandment. He added, “love one another as I have loved you {diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos}.”[6] Neither of these commandments are quite equivalent to the Cupid-stricken young woman’s request: “love me as I love you {me dilxeris sicut te diligo}.” She shrewdly further supported her request with the threat of her death. Men have long striven to save women from death. Few men in the ancient world would be so harsh and unmerciful as to reject this woman’s Greco-Roman Jewish-Christian supplication.

Nonetheless, the beautiful young woman gave additional strong reasons for the young man to love her. She declared:

Nor can you rightly now disregard me,
since I am coming from royal blood.
Gold and ornate robes, purple vestments,
grey Celtic garments, and various animal-skins —
more I will give to you, if you will be welcoming
and, as I love you, so you will love me.
If you seek a beautiful and illustrious figure,
here I am. Take me, since I love you.
Because no more beautiful woman exists for you in our age,
I desire that you have the most beautiful lover.

{ Nec iuste poteris nunc me negligere,
quippe sum regio progressa sanguine.
Aurum et pallia, vestes purpureas,
rhenones griseos et pelles varias,
plures tibi dabo, si gratus fueris
et, ut te diligo, sic me dilexeris.
Si pulchram faciem quaeris et splendidam,
hic sum; me teneas, quia te deligam.
Cum nullus pulchrior te sit in saeculo,
ut pulchram habeas amicam cupio. }

Men tend to strive for high social status in order to be attractive to women. This woman offered to raise the man’s social status through her own high status. Moreover, husbands historically have disproportionately carried the gender burden of working outside the home to provide goods to their wives. This woman offered to provide luxurious material goods to the man she loved.[7] Most importantly, men tend to value highly a woman with an attractive physical figure and beautiful appearance. This young woman was the most beautiful woman of her time. Oppressed with men’s burden of soliciting amorous relationships, what man wouldn’t be delighted with this woman’s urgent request for love?

Men are generally generous and eager to please women. Not surprisingly, the sleeping young man promptly responded to the young woman’s plea:

Immediately aroused by these words of the young woman,
I seize her with a firm embrace.
I kiss her cheeks, caress her breasts,
after which I fill fully her sweet secret.
Thus I can deduce I would be exceptionally
happy, indeed so and more than exceptionally,
if I could hold that girl when I were awake,
whom I held in the field until I was awake.

{ His verbis virginis commotus illico,
ipsam amplexibus duris circumligo.
Genas deosculans papillas palpito,
post illud dulcius secretum compleo.
Inferre igitur possum quod nimium
felix ipse forem et plus quam nimium,
illam si virginem tenerem vigilans
quam prato tenui, dum fui vigilans. }[8]

He had a dream one day. He had a dream that men would no longer be shackled with repeated rejections in love. He had a dream that men would no longer be regarded as generic humans — “man” — but welcomed and treated with dignity as distinctively gendered persons. He had a dream that academia and all societies throughout the world would rise up and live out the true meaning of gender equality. While many men wallow in the valley of despair, committing suicide much more frequently than women, he had a dream in a green flowering field in April. He had a dream of gender justice and togetherness.

dream love

We must not be unmindful of the suffering that the men-abasing ideology of courtly love has generated throughout history. While a man had a dream of gender justice and togetherness in twelfth-century France, another man about that time and place sang of his despair, exile, and impending death:

All mercy’s gone, all pity lost —
though at the best I still knew none —
since she who should yield mercy most
shows me the least of anyone.
Wrongful it seems, now, in my view,
to see a creature’s love betrayed
who’d seek no other good but you,
then let him die without your aid.

Since she, my Lady, shows no care
to earn my thanks, nor pay Love’s rights
since she’ll not hear my constant prayer
and my love yields her no delights,
I say no more; I silent go;
she gives me death; let death reply.
My Lady won’t embrace me so
I leave, exiled to pain close by.

{ Merces es perduda, per ver,
Et eu non o saubi anc mai,
Car cilh qui plus en degr’ aver,
No.n a ges; et on la querrai?
A! can mal sembla, qui la ve,
Qued aquest chaitiu deziron
Que ja ses leis non aura be,
Laisse morrir, que no l.aon

Pus ab midons no.m pot valer
Precs ni merces ni.l dreihz qu’eu ai,
Ni a leis no ven a plazer
Qu’eu l’am, ja mais no.lh o dirai.
Aissi.m part de leis e.m recre;
Mort m’a, e per mort li respon ,
E vau m’en, pus ilh no.m rete,
Chaitius, en issilh, no sai on. }[9]

Women must do more to aid men. Men’s deaths should not be a matter of indifference. Men care for women and labor to protect them from death, even in dreams. Beginning from within their imagination, women should do the same for men.

Now is the time to make real the promises of gender equality. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of men-hating me-too-ism to the sunlit path of gender justice. Now is the time to lift our world from the quicksands of gender bigotry to the solid rock of sexual intimacy. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.[10]

A medieval man had a dream. His dream is still a dream today, a horribly unknown dream, a dream that deserves to be fulfilled one day.

On that day, blue-collar men operating garbage trucks in Florida will know their children, and their children their fathers, and men will be disproportionately incarcerated no more.

On that day, career women in New York City will live to ripe old ages with their satisfied lovers, not their cats and dogs.

On that day, a man speaking out for justice at the University of Cambridge won’t be smeared with a milkshake, and activists in Portland will fight for men thrown in debtor’s prison because they lack reproductive rights.

On that day, women and men academics at the University of Texas won’t discount men’s labor within the home, and a woman academic at Southwestern Illinois College will be embarrassed to have helped develop a sexism scale that is deeply sexist.

On that day, a woman executive leading a mega-corp in California will marry a handsome, young, penniless and uneducated immigrant from Mexico, and she will respect him for the work he does for their family within their home.

Love between women and men will not flourish until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. The vision still has its time, it presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Twelfth-century poem (c. 1165) known as the Archpoet’s Confession, ll. 1-2, Latin text from Latin wikisource, my English translation. A.S. Kline has a full translation, reproduced on linguae. This poem is included in the Carmina Burana as no. 191. Writing the poem with classical Latin spelling changes Estuans to Aestuans and mee to meae.

[2] Song of Songs 5:6, which is part of the dream sequence 5:2-7.

[3] Carmina Rivipullensia 8, titled “Aliud somnium {Another dream},” first line “Illud si verum fieret quod somnia monstrant {If it turns out to be true what dreams show},” ll. 5-6, Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from the French translation of id. 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 from this poem, ll. 7-11 (But after recognizing…), 12-4 (Her kisses join with mine…), 15-6 (So I grieve much…). The poem has 16 lines.

[4] Aeneid 2.793-4 and 6.701-2. A woman had a similar experience in a dream:

I held out my arms and pressed my body to his.
Utterly drained of blood I froze,
for he had vanished! I was holding nothing!
Freed from sleep, I cried out loudly:
“Where are you fleeing, please. Why so swiftly?
Halt your step, or if you will, I too shall enter,
for I want to live with you for ever!”

{ Extensis brachiis corpus applicui,
exsanguis penitus tota derigui
Evanuit enim! nichil retinui!
Sopore libera exclamo fortiter:
“Quo fugis, amabo? Cur tam celeriter?
Siste gradum, si vis inibo partier,
nam tecum viver volo perhenniter!” }

“Foebus abierat subtractis cursibus {Phoebus had fled, his voyage done},” Latin text and English translation (modified to follow the Latin more closely) from Dronke (1965) v. 2, pp. 334-6. This poem apparently was written in northern Italy about 1000 GC. Here’s a less literal, poetic translation of the whole poem. Poetic imagination is wonderfully unbounded. Yet in relation to dominant social structures, a woman coming in love to a man in his dream is far more transgressive.

[5] Carmina Rivipullensia 7, titled “De somnio {About a dream},” first line “Si vera somnia forent, quae somnio {If the dreams I dream would be true},” ll. 3-12, Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from the French translation of id. Here’s a partial Spanish translation. The subsequent three quotes are similarly from this poem: ll. 13(2nd half)-20 (At the call of Venus…), 21-30 (Nor can you rightly now…), 31-8 (Immediately aroused…). Line 38 is the last line of the poem.

[6] For the Great Commandment of Jewish law, Leviticus 19:18. The Hebrew text differs subtly from subsequent Greek and English translations. For Jesus teaching the Great Commandment to his disciples, Matthew 19:19, 22:39; James 2:8. For Jesus extending that commandment to imitating his love, John 15:12. The Gospels and Christian epistles were originally written in Greek. I have quoted John in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, the Biblical text most widely read in medieval Europe.

[7] Dronke, a leading expositor of men-abasing courtly love, read the young women’s righteous offer to the young men as alluding to Satan tempting Jesus (Matthew 4:9, Luke 4:6-7). Dronke (1965) v. 2, p. 339. That seems to me a hellish misreading of a Christian gesture of turning the world upside-down for justice.

Dronke interprets “De somnio” as “a humorous piece of wishful thinking” with “delightful elements of burlesque.” Id. pp. 339, 341. That description, which might equally serve as a classical interpretation of the Gospels, expresses an aspect of “De somnio.” Yet Christian literary work and Christian beliefs incorporate such characteristics into a more profound understanding of the world. The tenth-century Latin epic Walthurius brilliantly displays that understanding.

[8] An earlier reading corrects the last line to “quam prato tenui dum fui somnians.” See. e.g. Raby (1959) p. 339 (no. 227). But the original text makes good poetic sense and should be preserved. Dronke (1979) pp. 23-4.

[9] Bernart de Ventadorn, “Can vei la lauzeta mover {Now when I see the skylark lift},” st. 6-7, Occitan text and English translation (W.D. Snodgrass) from Kehew (2005) p. 77. An alternate manuscript spelling is “Qan vei la lauzeta mover.” Here’s the full Occitan text of the song (another source). The song survives with a melody; here’s a performance of it. Bernart is regarded as “one of the greatest love poets among the troubadours.” Paden & Paden (2007) p. 74. He was active in the middle of the twelfth century.

Above I’ve made some insubstantial changes to Snodgrass’s translation. In addition, I changed line 7.8 from “I leave, exiled to pain for aye” to “I leave, exiled to pain close by.” That change preserves the meter and rhyme. It seems to me more understandable (the woman he loves curtly dismisses him from her presence) and more poignant. In Snodgrass’s text and translation, the subsequent stanza then gives the lover’s further action: “I leave to wander, none knows where.” A more literal translation of the Occitan text for 7.7-8 is “If she abandons me, I will go away / a wretch in exile, I know not where.” Paden & Paden (2007) p. 79 (from stanza 5 in that text).

[10] The text above draws upon Martin Luther King’s famous speech for social justice, “I have a dream.” He delivered that speech, which drew upon a wide range of sources, on August 28, 1963. The parallels between dominant institutions’ views of racial justice in 1963 and dominant institutions’ views of gender justice today provides a critical perspective on urgently needed change.

[images] (1) Medieval woman and man hugging each other in bed. The depicted man (minnesinger) is Herr Hug von Werbenwag. He lived in thirteenth-century Germanic lands. Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 252r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Medieval man dreaming while woman hugs him. The depicted man (minnesinger) here apparently is Herr Konrad von Altstetteng. He is known to have sung between 1320 and 1327 about the Upper Rhine Valley. Similarly from UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 249v.


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.

Kehew, Robert, ed. 2005. Lark in the Morning: the Verses of the Troubadours: a bilingual edition. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

Paden, William D., and Frances Freeman Paden, trans. 2007. Troubadour Poems from the South of France. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

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

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

men must do anything for women: Arnaut Daniel’s medieval protest

Raimon Berenguier IV

In early thirteenth-century France, Raimon Berenguier IV, the Count of Provence, described a hundred women in a desperate situation:

Friend Sir Arnaut, a hundred ladies of rank
go overseas and halfway to the Holy Land,
they are unable to complete their voyage
nor return home directly by any means
but through you, by this condition:
you let out a fart generating such wind
that the ladies will come to be saved.
Will you do it, or not? I would like to know.

{ Amics N’Arnauz, cent domnas de parage
van outramar e son a meça via,
e non podon acomplir lor viage
n’endrez tornar per nuilla ren qe sia
se per vos non, qe es per tal coven
c’un pez fassaz de qe·s movan tal ven
que las domnas vadan a salvamen.
Farez l’o non? Q’eu saber lo volria. } [1]

The Count’s friend Arnaut Catalan was dedicated to serving women. He responded:

Lord Count, it is my habit always
to defend ladies concerning love.
Although farting is not to my liking,
I will do so, for if I did not,
I would be badly lacking toward ladies.
And I assure you that, if by other means
they could not be saved,
after the fart I would try fully shitting myself.

{ Seingner En Coms, en ai un tal usage
c’ades manteing domnas en drudaria.
Si tot lo peiz no m’en ven d’agradage,
eu lo farei, qe s’eu no lo faria
falliria vas domnas malamen.
E dic vos ben qe, si per altramen
no podion anar a salvamen,
apres lo peiz toz mi concagaria. }

Men must do whatever is necessary to help women, no matter how degrading to men such action is. Some may raise practical objections:

Friend Sir Arnaut, you speak very badly
and will receive great blame from the men
that must transport so many pleasant, comely hearts
by ass-wind to the holy ground of Syria.

{ Amics N’Arnauz, trop parlaz malamen
per lo gran blasme qe n’aurez de la gen
qe vol passar tan gen cors avinen
a vent de cul en terra de Suria. }

Imagine a man farting and shitting so prodigiously as to drive a sailboat from the middle of the Mediterranean all the way to the Holy Land. That’s a crappy way to sail. But all that matters is that women get what they want. Arnaut Catalan explained:

Lord Count, it is much better by a hundred times
that I should fart than so many lively, pleasing hearts
should come to grief through foolish principle,
for I can wash myself, however much I shit myself.

{ Seingner En Coms, molt es miellz per un cen
q’eu fasa·l peiz qe tan gai cors plazen
se perdison per fol enseingnamen,
qe·m puosc lavar qan cunqigaz me sia. }

Men face an enormous burden of performance in serving women. Men are expected to go down in sinking ships to save women. At the same time, men are socially unappreciated and face acute hardships and injustices. What is to be done?

Men must support other men who show the strength and knowledge to say no to women. Consider the case of Lady Ena and Bernart de Cornilh in southern France late in the twelfth century. Bernart sought Lady Ena’s love. In response, she showed him her back, and then:

she put her hand behind her thigh
and showed him the hole underneath
and said “If you blow me gently here
I’ll make you my lover dear.”

{ Elha mes tras la cueissa’l man
E’l mostrèt lo trauc sotiran
E dis: “S’aicí’m cornatz de plan,
Ieu vos farai mon drut certan.” } [2]

In other words, she virtually slapped him in the face, shit all over him, and then told him to thank her for that. Bernart de Cornilh wisely said no to being so degraded in love.

Raimon de Durfort

The troubadours Truc Malec and Raimon de Durfort in response defended Lady Ena and attacked Bernart. Truc Malec declared that Bernart had wronged her body:

He dishonored it out of folly,
while I would have liked to have blown there
cheerfully, without a sad heart.

{ Celh lo soanet per foldat,
E ieu lai vòlgr’ aver cornat
Alegrament, ses còr irat. } [3]

Raimon de Durfort added that Bernart should be sexually assaulted:

Evil it will be if he isn’t forced
to blow a pregnant mare.

{ Mal estarà qui no’l destrenh
Tant que cornès un’ egua prenh. }

Underscoring the twisted world of self-abasing men, Raimon condemned Bernart for not acting like a true courtly lover:

False lady-lover, learn
from me what you don’t know.
Wrongly you have courted
a lady, and then debased yourself.

{ Fals domnejador, aprendètz
De mi aiçò que non sabètz:
Per fals vos tenc car enquerètz
Dòmna, pueis vos i sordegetz. } [4]

Under gynocentrism, men are kept dazed and confused through the use of words in a way opposite of what they actually mean. Thus a man who refuses a lady’s request to put his mouth to her anus and blow has “degraded” himself. That’s like declaring that a husband has raped his wife when she has sex with him out of love for him.[5]

Arnaut Daniel

Exquisitely skilled in the use of words, the eminent troubadour Arnaut Daniel defended Bernart de Cornilh. Arnaut gave good reasons for not putting one’s mouth to a woman’s anus:

because the anus is rough, dirty, and hairy,
and not for one day does it remain dry,
and there the swamp is mighty deep,
because the rot inside ferments it,
such that its heart flows out, then shrinks;
and I don’t want him ever to be a lover,
he who puts his mouth to the anus.

{ Que’l còrns es fèrs, laitz e pelutz
E nul jorn non estai essutz
Et es prion dins la palutz
Per que relent’ ensús lo glutz
Qu’adès per si cor ne redutz;
E non vòlh que mais sia drutz
Cel que sa boch’ al còrn condutz. } [6]

Like most men, Arnaut Daniel was first concerned for women:

There will truly be other tests,
more attractive, with greater value,
and if Bernart pulled himself away,
by Christ, he did but a knowing act,
because fear and terror seized him,
because if the stream had come from above,
it’d have scalded his neck and cheeks.
And it’s not right for a lady to kiss
a man who blows a stinking anus.

Bernart, I don’t at all agree
with the words of Raimon de Durfort
that you were ever at fault:
for if you had blown for amusement,
well you would have found a strong counterpoint,
and the smell would soon have killed you,
for manure in a garden doesn’t smell worse.
And you, despite whoever disparages you,
praise God who has delivered you.

{ Pro i agra d’autres assais,
De plus bèls que valgron mais,
E si En Bernatz s’en estrai,
Per Crist, anc-no’i fetz que savais,
Car l’en pres paors et esglais.
Car si’l vengués d’amont lo rais
Tot l’escaldèra’l còl e’l cais ;
E no’is coven que dòmna bais
Aquel qui cornès còr putnais.

Bernatz, ges eu non m’acòrt
Al dich Raimon de Durfòrt
Que vos anc mais n’aguessetz tòrt;
Que si cornavatz per depòrt,
Ben trobavatz fòrt contrafòrt,
E la pudors agra’us tòst mort,
Que peitz òlh non fa fems en órt;
E vos, qui que’us en desconòrt,
Lauzatz en Deu que’us n’a estòrt. }

These words of Arnaut Daniel should be taken seriously. Petrarch called Arnaut “the grand master of love, who in his land  / is still honored for his strange and beautiful language {gran maestro d’amor, ch’a la sua terra / ancor fa onor, col suo dir strano e bello}.”[7] In Dante’s Purgatorio, Guido Guinizelli, whom Dante regarded as his father in lyric poetry, deferred to Arnaut:

He was a greater craftsman of his mother tongue.
In songs of love and in the prose romance
he surpassed all. Let fools talk all they want
of the Limogian poet’s excellence —
they turn their faces more toward fame than truth,
settling their judgment by what others say
before they hear how reason rules, or art.

{ fu miglior fabbro del parlar materno.
Versi d’amore e prose di romanzi
soverchiò tutti; e lascia dir li stolti
che quel di Lemosì credon ch’avanzi
A voce più ch’al ver drizzan li volti,
e così ferman sua oppinïone
prima ch’arte o ragion per lor s’ascolti. } [8]

Boccaccio in his brilliant Corbaccio may well have drawn inspiration from Arnaut’s song. Thus the “three crowns {tre corone}” of Italian literature agree about Arnaut’s importance. Even within gynocentric society, any man should feel free to say no when a woman he hardly knows asks him to put his mouth to her anus and blow.

Nonetheless, Raimon de Durfort refused to defer to Arnaut’s poetic insight. Raimon insisted that a man must serve a woman as she requests. Raimon declared:

If any noble lady in the world,
had shown me her anus and cunt,
in this way, just as they are,
and then addressed me: “Sir Raimon,
blow me here, in my rear.
I would lower my face forward,
as if seeking to drink from a spring.
A lover who thus answers his lady,
well deserves to receive her heart’s joy.

{ Non es bona dòmn’ el mon,
Si’m mostrava’l còrn e l’con
Tot atretal com ilh se son
E pueis m’apelava : ‘N Raimon,
Cornatz m’aicí sobre’l reon,
Qu’ieu no’i baissès la car’ el front
Com si volgués beure en fon:
Drutz qu’a sa dòmna aissí respon,
Ben tanh que de son còr l’aon. } [9]

Raimon declared that he would blow in the anuses of hundreds of thousands of women, even if quite a few of their anuses were foul. He also disparaged Bernart de Cornilh and his humane defender Arnaut Daniel. He sung to Bernart:

You surpass in wretchedness
even Arnaut the student,
ruined by dice and board games,
who goes around like a penitent,
poor of clothing and of cash.

{ Pus ètz malastrucs sobriers
Non es Arnautz l’escoliers,
Cui confondon dat e tauliers
E vai coma penedensiers
Paupres de draps e de deniers }

Literary writers have often been impoverished. To make matters worse, meninist literary critics today are marginalized and excluded from the schools. Speaking truthfully about men in relation to women isn’t rewarding.

Most men feel that they must do anything that women want. Yet the great medieval troubadour Arnaut Daniel recognized his responsibility to speak out against appalling debasement of men. More writers today should do likewise. Men must acquire the learning necessary to know to say no to women.

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] Raimon Berenguier IV, Count of Provence {Coms de Proensa} and Arnaut Catalan, “Amics N’Arnauz, cent domnas de parage {Friend Sir Arnaut, a hundred ladies of rank}” (tenso), st. 1, Occitan text and English translation of Ruth Harvey (modified) via Rialto. Gatti (2017) provides a slightly different text and an Italian translation. The subsequent three quotes are seriatim from this song and cover all of it.

A related tenso between Arnaut and King Alfonso X of Castile (Alfonso X the Wise) concerns sailing with farts. Arnaut petitioned the king to be named what might rightly be called a Rear Admiral:

My lord, I come now to ask
you for a boon, if you please:
I’d like to be your admiral
over the bounding seas.
If you grant me this, in all good faith
I promise to drive your entire fleet
with the force of a windy fart,
and they’ll sail with astonishing speed!

{ Senher abatyons conven quer
un don que·m donez, si vos play
que vulh vostr’almiral seer
en cela vostra mar da lay.
E sy o faz, en bona fe,
c’a totas las naus que la son a
eu les faray tal vent de me
c’or anon totas a bandon. }

“Senher abatyons conven quer, {alternately} Sénher, adars ie ‘us venh querer {My lord, I come now to ask},” st. 1, Occitan text from Gatti (2017), English translation from Paden & Paden (2007) p. 187; Gatti provides an Italian translation. Here’s an alternate Occitan text.

King Alfonse granted Arnaut’s petition and declared him (Rear) “Admiral Gas {Almiral Sisom}.” In gratitude, Arnaut promised a wind that would bring his lady and a hundred other women to King Alfonse. But King Alfonse objected to sending ladies with farting:

He is no true lover who intends
to manufacture such a wind!

{ que non é bon doneador
quen esto fezer a cyente. }

St. 4, ll. 7-8, sourced as previously. This song seems to allude to “Amics N’Arnauz, cent domnas de parage.” In addition, both troubadours “play upon the specific metrical form and rhymes from the song of the lark by Bernart Ventadorn, ‘Qan vei la lauzeta mover {When I see the lark beat his winds},’ reducing it to a scurrilous mockery involving a bird (sison {francolin}) that was famous for flatulence.” Paden & Paden (2007) p. 187, reference omitted and bird name added. The analysis of Gatti (2007) supports attributing this poem in part to Arnaut Catalan.

[2] Raimon de Durfort, “Truc Malèc, a vos me tenh {Truc Malec, I hold on to you},” 2.6-9, Occitan text from Martínez Malo (2005), English translation (modified) from trobar. This song is the second in a temporal series of four songs concerning what has come to be known as the Cornilh Affair. The second, third, and fourth poems in the series are Truc Malec, “En Raimon, be’us tenc a grat {Sir Raimon, I am in your debt}“; Arnaut Daniel, “Pòis Raimons e’N Truc Malècs {Though Raimon and Truc Malec}“; and Raimon de Durfort, “Ben es malastrucs dolens {He is rather unhappy and afflicted}.” Martínez Malo (2005) pp. 84-93 provides Occitan text and Spanish translation for all four. Trobar provides Occitan text and English translation for all four, to which the titles are linked. All quotes above from songs in this series are sourced as above, except where otherwise noted. The songs refer to Bernart de Cornilh. He was from Cercina, a rural borough of Florence.

According to Taylor summarizing Lazzerini (1981), “there is no doubt that corn has the clear meaning of cul.” Taylor (2015) p. 345. Lazzerini (1989) further analyzes another reference to the ass.

Truc (Turc) Malec sung in the late twelfth century. Taylor (2015) p. 524. Raimon de Durfort must be from the same time. Neither is known apart from this sequence of songs and their joint vida:

Raimon de Durfort and Lord Turc Malec were two knights from Quercy who composed the sirventes about the lady called Milady Aia, the one who said to the knight of Cornil that she would not love him if he did not blow in her arse. And here are written the sirventes.

{ Raimons de Dufort e·N Turc Malec si foron du cavallier de Caersi que feiren los sirventes de la domna que ac nom ma donna n’Aia, aquella que dis al cavalier de Cornil qu’ella no l’amaria si el no la cornava el cul. Et aqui son escritz los sirventes. }

Egan (1984) pp. 31-2.

[3] Truc Malec, “En Raimon, be’us tenc a grat {Sir Raimon, I am in your debt}” ll. 7-9.

[4] Raimon de Durfort, “Truc Malèc, a vos me tenh {Truc Malec, I hold on to you},” st. 6 (final stanza).

[5] Jewers similarly asserts:

In essence, troubadour lyric betrays a configuration of power and gender that privileges the male, while it reifies and objectifies the female. … The lesson of the affaire Cornilh has something to teach us about the nature and status of the counter-text: it lays bare the rank misogyny underlying and underpinning the lyric system and exploits it to a comically absurd degree, demystifying the male subject as well as it cruelly lays bare the female object.

Jewers (2002) pp. 37, 43. For a frank confession of this game, Dummitt (2019).

[6] Arnaut Daniel, “Pòis Raimons e’N Truc Malècs {Though Raimon and Truc Malec},” 2.3-9, with English translation of this song benefitting from that of Wilhelm (1981) pp. 75-7 and trobar. Here’s a modern French translation. The subsequent quote is similarly st. 2-3.

According to his vida, Arnaut Daniel was born of a noble family living at the castle of Ribérac in the department of Dordogne. He studied Latin, but gave up that study to compose Occitan songs as a joglar {minstrel}. He apparently was active from about 1180 to 1195. Paden & Paden (2007) p. 114. Arnaut’s songs “represent the pinnacle of  trobar clus, the art of ‘closed compositions’ in which the sense of the song is disguised with elaborate patterns of rhyme and versification.” Id. Arnaut is credited with having invented a complex poetic form, the sestina. About nineteen of his songs, two with melodies, have survived.

Arnaut was a courageous poet willing to challenge men’s unlimited subservience to women. In his song “En cest sonet coind’e leri {In this little song, pretty and joyful},” Arnaut declared:

I am Arnaut, who hoards the wind
and chases the rabbit with the ox
and swims against the swelling tide.

{ Ieu sui Arnautz q’amàs l’aura,
E chatz la lebre ab lo bou
E nadi contra suberna. }

Occitan text and English translation from Wilhelm (1981) pp. 42-3. Paden & Paden (2007) pp. 117-8 offers an alternate translation, as does James H. Donalson (2003). Here’s a modern French translation of Pèire Bec (2012).

Lacking Arnaut’s concern for social justice, the famous sophist Jacques Lacan quoted Arnaut’s “Pòis Raimons e’N Truc Malècs” in full and used it in his attempt to kiss the ass of dominant ideology. He thus gained a pungent insight:

Having been the focus of attacks by feminists during the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, Lacan sought a way to ensure that his theory would reinforce, rather than contradict, the feminist agenda. His own efforts in this realm led him to the conclusion that there is no possible sexual relationship.

Labbie (2006) p. 97. Lacan could have supported his claim “there is no sexual relation” by surveying married men or discussing Margery Kempe’s husband. Instead Lacan discussed at length the gap, explored what slipped out from there, and signified it throughout his work.

[7] Petrarch, Triumphus Cupidinis 4.41-2, cited and translated in Kay (2016) p. 155, n. 3.

[8] Dante, Commedia, Purgatorio 26.117-23, Italian text from the Princeton Dante Project, English translation (modified slightly) from Esolen (2004). The Limogian poet is the troubadour Guirant de Bornelh, who sung in late-twelfth and early-thirteenth century Provence.

Regarding Arnaut’s “Pòis Raimons e’N Truc Malècs,” the eminent Dante scholar Paget Toynbee comically couldn’t even bring himself to name it explicitly:

The tenor of one of these {of Arnaut’s songs}, which forms part of a poetical controversy with two other troubadours concerning the conduct of a certain lady, sufficiently accounts for the place in Purgatory assigned to him by D. {Dante}.

Toynbee (1898) p. 50, entry for “Arnaldo Daniello {Arnaut Daniel}.”

[9] Raimon de Durfort, “Ben es malastrucs dolens {He is rather unhappy and afflicted},” st. 2. The subsequent is st. 4.1-5.

[images] (1) Raimon Berenguier IV, Count of Barcelona, detail from portrait of Queen Petronila of Aragon and Count Ramon Berenguier IV of Barcelona. The latter isn’t the same person as Raimon Berenguier IV, Count of Provence. Painting made in 1634, original of Filippo Ariosto (1586). Preserved as acccession # P005881 in the Museo del Prado (Spain). (2) Illuminated initial with Raimon de Durfort. Vida of Turc Malec and Raimon de Durfort in text on top. Folio 186v in Recueil des poésies des troubadours, contenant leurs vies. Made in the thirteenth century. Preserved as Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) Ms. 854. (3) Illuminated initial with Arnaut Daniel. From folio 65r in BnF Ms. 854.


Dummitt, Christopher. 2019. “‘I Basically Just Made It Up’: Confessions of a Social Constructionist.” Quillette. Sept. 17.

Egan, Margarita. 1984. The Vidas of the Troubadours. Garland Library of Medieval Literature: series B: translations, 6. New York: Garland Pub.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 2004. Dante Alighieri. Purgatory {second section of the Divine Comedy}. New York: Modern Library.

Gatti, Luca. 2017. “Tra Arnaldi e protettori: edizioni e prospettive critiche di due tenzoni scatologiche (BdT 184,1 e T 21,1).” Pp. 85-94 in Isabel De Riquer, Dominique Billy, Giovanni Palumbo, eds. Actes du XXVIIe Congrès international de linguistique et de philologie romanes (Nancy, 15-20 juillet 2013), Section 14: Littératures médiévales.

Jewers, Caroline. 2002. “The Cornilh Affair: Obscenity and the Counter-text in the Occitan Troubadours, or, the Gift of the Gap.” Mediterranean Studies. 11: 29-43.

Kay, Tristan. 2016. Dante’s Lyric Redemption: eros, salvation, vernacular tradition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Labbie, Erin Felicia. 2006. Lacan’s Medievalism. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Lazzerini, Lucia. 1981-83. “Cornar lo corn: sulla tenzone tra Raimon de Durfort, Truc Malec e Arnaut Danielm.” Medioevo Romanzo 8: 339–70.

Lazzerini, Lucia. 1989. “Postilla al corn: raboi.” Medioevo Romanzo 14: 39–50.

Martínez Malo, Jesús. 2005. “Cornatz lo còrn.” Litoral: école lacanienne de psychanalyse, L’amour Lacan II. 36: 49-98.

Paden, William D., and Frances Freeman Paden, trans. 2007. Troubadour Poems from the South of France. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Taylor, Robert A. 2015. A Bibliographical Guide to the Study of the Troubadours and Old Occitan Literature. Kalamazoo: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Toynbee, Paget Jackson. 1898. A Dictionary of Proper Names and Notable Matters in the Works of Dante. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wilhelm, James J., ed. and trans. 1981. The Poetry of Arnaut Daniel. New York: Garland Publ.