Phyllis & Flora on knight v. cleric: Council of Remiremont ruling

Hildegard's depiction of ecclesia (church)

Young women were continually arguing with each other. The matter demanded a swift, general resolution. Thus the “Chief Lady {Cardinalis Domina}” called an assembly of the young women of Remiremont in the middle of the twelfth century. Sources reported:

In the spring, around the middle of April,
the assembly of young women of Remiremont
held council in the convent on the mountain.

Such we have never heard nor believe has ever been
across the extent of the earth from the beginning of the world.
Such has never been done, nor ever will be in the future.

In this council, only the subject
of love was discussed, which has never been done,
nor of the Gospel was there any mention made.

{ Veris in temporibus sub Aprilis Idibus
habuit concilium Romarici montium
puellaris contio montis in coenobio.

Tale non audivimus nec fuisse credimus
in terrarum spatio a mundi principio.
Tale numquam factum est sed neque futurum est.

In eo concilio de solo negotio
Amoris tractatum est, quod in nullo factum est;
sed de Evangelio nulla fuit mentio. } [1]

This Council of Remiremont excluded men, except for some favored clerics from Toul. Even some women were excluded:

Old ladies are barred at the door,
all those who are disgusted by every joy,
the joy and more that those of a tender age want.

{ Veteranae dominae arcentur a limine
quibus omne gaudium solet esse taedium,
gaudium et cetera quae vult aetas tenera. }

Only “loving young women {puellae amantes}” were admitted to the Council. As the Christian Gospel teaches, love is a vitally important matter. Men, and old ladies too, are capable of love. The Council of Remiremont apparently discriminated against men and old women because it was specifically concerned about disputes between young women in love. It apparently assumed that others had nothing to contribute in considering such disputes.

Pushing aside discrimination against men and discrimination against old women, all are encouraged to consider how two young women, Phyllis and Flora, differed in their preferences for men. These highly privileged women were similar in many ways but one:

Neither in birth, nor appearance, nor dress
nor in young women’s years and spirit did they differ,
but they were a little unequal and a little hostile,
for a cleric delighted one and a knight delighted the other.

{ Nec stirpe, nec facie, nec ornatu viles,
et annos et animos habent iuveniles,
sed sunt parum impares et parum hostiles,
nam huic placet clericus et huic placet miles. } [2]

Most men strive to please all young, attractive women. But the results of their efforts vary. In this case, the knight Paris had captured the heart of Phyllis. The cleric Alcibiades owned the heart of Flora. Phyllis and Flora yearned for Paris and Alcibiades, respectively. They both cried and sighed deeply for the men that they loved.

Phyllis and Flora taunted each other. Each spoke out in praise of the man that she loved. Then the other young woman derided that man. When Phyllis praised the knight Paris, Flora laughed, rolled her eyes, and jeered, “You might as well have said that you love a beggar {Amas poteras dicere mendicum}.” Phyllis scolded Flora for her harsh words. She then said to her words calculated to upset her: “Behold a pure-hearted young women whose noble breast is a slave to an Epicurus {Ecce virgunculam corde puro cuius pectus nobile servit Epicuro}!”[3] Phyllis further disparaged the cleric Alcibiades that Flora loved:

Arise, arise, poor wretch, from foul madness!
A cleric, I believe, is only an Epicurus.
I acknowledge no elegance in the cleric,
for his sides bulge with a mass of fat.

His heart is far removed from Love’s camp,
for he longs for sleep and food and drink.
Oh noble young woman, all know well
how far a knight’s devotion is from this devotion.

A knight is happy with only the necessities;
sleep, food, and drink aren’t his focus as he lives.
Love prevents him from being sleepy.
A knight’s food and drink are love and youth.

Who would couple our friends as an equal team?
Would law or nature permit them to be coupled?
Mine knows how to play at love, yours how to feast.
Mine is always personally giving; yours, taking.

{ Surge, surge, misera, de furore foedo!
Solum esse clericum Epicurum credo;
nihil elegantiae clerico concedo,
cuius implet latera moles et pinguedo.

A castris Cupidinis cor habet remotum,
qui somnum desiderat et cibum et potum.
O puella nobilis, omnibus est notum,
quam sit longe militis ab hoc voto votum.

Solis necessariis miles est contentus,
somno, cibo, potui non vivit intentus.
Amor illi prohibet, ne sit somnolentus;
cibus, potus militis amor et iuventus.

Quis amicos copulet nostros loro pari?
lex, natura sineret illos copulari?
Meus novit ludere, tuus epulari.
Meo semper proprium dare, tuo dari. } [4]

The most famous Alcibiades, born more than a century before Epicurus, was a good-looking soldier and politician whom the philosopher Socrates loved most of all. Alcibiades was from an eminent, wealthy Athenian family and was renowned for his infidelity. The most famous Paris was the son of King Priam of Troy. Rich and handsome, Prince Paris eloped with the married woman Helen of Troy and thus provoked the brutal Trojan War. Perhaps Alcibiades’s love affair with Socrates associated him with twelfth-century clerics. Perhaps Paris causing the men-slaughtering Trojan War associated him with twelfth-century knights. Both Paris and Alcibiades were wealthy, handsome, charming jerks. They thus had in common the masculine characteristics most attractive to most women throughout the ages.

Phyllis and Flora nonetheless chided each other at length about their boyfriends. After Phyllis had praised her knight boyfriend Paris and disparaged Flora’s cleric boyfriend Alcibiades, Flora accused Phyllis of lying:

You said of the cleric that he is self-indulgent;
you call him a slave of sleep, drink, and food.
True worth tends to be described so by the envious.
Allow a moment here, I’ll respond to you.

So many and so great things, I confess, are my boyfriend’s,
that he never gives a thought to others’ stuff.
Storerooms of honey, oil, wheat, wine,
gold, precious stones, and goblets are at his service.

Amid the sweet abundance of clerical life,
which is such that no word can embellish it,
Love flies and applauds with both wings,
Love that never falters, Love that never dies.

The cleric feels Desire’s spears and Love’s shafts,
yet he isn’t emaciated or distressed,
for indeed he lacks no aspect of joy
and his soul responds to his lady’s passion without faking.

Emaciated and pale is your chosen one,
he’s poor and a cloak without fur barely covers him.
Neither is his penis strong, nor his heart robust,
for when the cause is lacking, so too is the effect.

Shameful is poverty hanging over a lover.
What can a knight offer a requester?
The cleric, however, gives much from his abundance;
so great is his wealth, so great are his revenues.

{ Dixisti de clerico, quod indulget sibi.
Servum somni nominas et potus et cibi.
Sic solet ab invido probitas describi.
Ecce, parum patere, respondebo tibi.

Tot et tanta, fateor, sunt amici mei,
quod numquam incogitat alienae rei.
Cellae mellis, olei, Cereris, Lyaei,
aurum, gemmae, pocula famulantur ei.

In tam dulci copia vitae clericalis,
quod non potest aliqua pingi voce talis,
volat et duplicibus Amor plaudit alis,
Amor indeficiens, Amor immortalis.

Sentit tela Veneris et Amoris ictus,
non est tamen clericus macer et afflictus,
quippe nulla gaudii parte derelictus,
cui respondet animus dominae non fictus.

Macer est et pallidus tuus preelectus,
pauper et vix pallio sine pelle tectus.
Non sunt artus validi nec robustum pectus,
nam cum causa deficit, deest et effectus.

Turpis est pauperies imminens amanti.
Quid praestare poterit miles postulanti?
Sed dat multa clericus et ex abundanti;
tantae sunt divitiae reditusque tanti. }

Whether a cleric or a knight, a man as a human being deserves adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Loving a man for his money demeans his person. Because he was poor, Odysseus was afraid to return home to his wife Penelope. As Flora recognized, a man lacking adequate food and clothing isn’t likely to feel love’s ardor. Lacking necessities, he cannot think about the joy of sex. Flora pointed out that such a man couldn’t adequately provide sexual satisfaction to his girlfriend: “neither is his penis strong, nor his heart robust {non sunt artus validi nec robustum pectus}.”[5] Men in ill health deserve women’s support, not women’s scorn.

In response to Flora’s attack on knights and praise of clerics, Phyllis disparaged clerics. She also strongly rebutted Flora’s contempt for knights:

When the dawn hour of a feast day gladdens the world,
then the cleric appears rather disreputable;
his tonsured head and his dark clothing
convey testimony to his gloomy pleasures.

No one is so foolish or blind
that a knight’s splendor isn’t apparent to her.
Your lover, in his idleness, is like a beast of the field;
mine wears a helmet, mine rides a horse.

My lover destroys hostile positions with his weapons,
and if by chance he joins a battle alone and on foot,
while his beloved helper holds his illustrious charger,
he thinks of me amid the slaughter.

With the enemy routed and the fighting finished, he returns
and pushes back his helmet and gazes at me repeatedly.
For this and other reasons rightly
my first choice is for a knight’s life.

{ Orbem cum laetificat hora lucis festae,
tunc apparet clericus satis inhoneste,
in tonsura capitis et in atra veste
portans testimonium voluptatis maeste.

Non est ullus adeo fatuus aut caecus,
cui non appareat militare decus.
Tuus est in otio, quasi brutum pecus;
meum terit galea, meum portat equus.

Meus armis dissipat inimicas sedes,
et si forte proelium solus init pedes,
dum tenet Bucephalam suus Ganymedes,
ille me commemorat inter ipsas caedes.

Redit fusis hostibus et pugna confecta
et me saepe respicit galea reiecta.
Ex his et ex aliis ratione recta
est vita militiae michi praeelecta. }

Describing a man as like a “beast of the field” is hate speech according to Facebook’s regulations. Women should be taught not to engage in hate speech against their girlfriends’ boyfriends. Moreover, women should not celebrate men engaging in violence against men. But at least Flora appreciated the male gaze.

Flora wasn’t going to let the angry Phyllis have the final word. She fired back at Phyllis:

You are forsaking honey for gall and truth for falsehood
in approving knights and reproving clerics.
Is it love that makes a knight restless and wild?
No! To the contrary, it’s poverty and lacking possessions.

Lovely Phyllis, if only you would love wisely
and not further contest true feelings.
Your knight is vanquished by thirst and hunger,
for which he seeks the path of death and hell.

A knight’s calamities are very wearing;
his fortune is harsh and confining,
for his life exists in an uncertain balance
just so he can prevail to possess life’s necessities.

You wouldn’t call disreputable, if you know his way of life,
the black dress and shorter hair of a cleric.
These traits give him the highest distinction,
and signify that he is greater than all others.

It is well-known that the entire world bows to the cleric,
and he bears the ruler’s sign with his crown of shaved head.
He gives orders to knights and is generous with gifts.
Greater than the servant is the person giving orders.

You swear that the cleric is always idle.
He spurns vile and harsh work, I confess.
But when his mind soars to his concerns,
he analyzes the way to heaven and the natures of things.

My boyfriend is dressed in purple, yours in metal armor.
Yours is on the battlefield, mine in a sedan chair
where he recalls the ancient deeds of leaders;
he writes, inquires, and reflects only about his girlfriend.

As for the power of Desire and the god of love,
my cleric was the first to know and teach about them.
From being a cleric he became a knight of Desire.
By these and similar ways your words are refuted.

{ Mel pro felle deseris et pro falso verum,
quae probas militiam reprobando clerum.
Facit amor militem strenuum et ferum?
Non! immo pauperies et defectus rerum.

Pulchra Phyllis, utinam sapienter ames
nec veris sententiis amplius reclames!
Tuum domat militem et sitis et fames,
quibus mortis petitur et inferni trames.

Multum est calamitas militis attrita.
Sors illius dura est et in arto sita,
cuius est in pendulo dubioque vita,
ut habere valeat vitae requisita.

Non dicas obprobrium, si cognoscas morem,
vestem nigram clerici, comam breviorem.
Habet ista clericus ad summum honorem,
ut sese significet omnibus maiorem.

Universa clerico constat esse prona;
et signum imperii portat in corona.
Imperat militibus et largitur dona.
Famulante maior est imperans persona.

Otiosum clericum semper esse iuras.
Viles spernit operas, fateor, et duras.
Sed cum eius animus evolat ad curas,
caeli vias dividit et rerum naturas.

Meus est in purpura, tuus in lorica.
Tuus est in proelio, meus in lectica,
ubi gesta principum recolit antiqua,
scribit, quaerit, cogitat, totum de amica.

Quid Dione valeat et amoris deus,
primus novit clericus et instruxit meus.
Factus est per clericum miles Cythereus.
His est et huiusmodi tuus sermo reus. } [6]

Without outside intervention, Phyllis and Flora could have gone on arguing forever about the merits and failings of each other’s boyfriends. So might many young women today still do, if it weren’t for the Council of Remiremont.

The Council of Remiremont represented authority and knowledge about love. That authority and knowledge was apparent from the very beginning of the proceedings:

All the young women entered in lines.
Among them was read, like the Gospel,
the precepts of Ovid, the illustrious teacher.

The reader of so propitious a gospel was
Eva de Danubrio, mighty in the office
of love’s practice, as the others affirm.

Among many not just anyone but the two Elizabeths
sang together, quite melodiously,
love poems of measured song.

What Love commands wasn’t hidden from these two.
The art of love is familiar to them,
but they are ignorant of acts that a man knows how to do.

{ Intromissis omnibus virginum agminibus,
lecta sunt in medium, quasi Evangelium,
praecepta Ovidii, doctoris egregii.

Lectrix tam propitii fuit Evangelii
Eva de Danubrio, potens in officio
artis amatoriae, ut affirmant aliae.

Cantus modulamina et amoris carmina
cantaverunt pariter, satis et sonoriter
de multis non quaelibet, duae sed Elizabet.

Has duas non latuit quicquid Amor statuit.
Harum in notitia ars est amatoria;
sed ignorant opere quid vir sciat facere. } [7]

In medieval Europe, Ovid was widely regarded as a master teacher of love. All three women who served in the opening proceedings had recognized experience in acts of love, with the two Elizabeths explicitly noted for their exclusively heterosexual orientation. One Elizabeth testified:

Ever since we have been able, we have served Love.

{ Nos ex quo potuimus Amori servivimus.}

A second Elizabeth advocated strongly for loving clerics:

I would praise the grace and reputation of clerks.
We have always loved them and we desire to love them;
their friendship produces no delaying of pleasure.

Coupling with clerics — this is our rule.
Us it holds and has held, delights and has delighted;
the clerics whom we know are affable, pleasing, and lovable.

{ Clericorum gratiam, laudem et memoriam
nos semper amavimus et amare cupimus,
quorum amicitia nil tardat solacia.

Clericorum copula, haec est nostra regula,
nos habet et habuit et placet et placuit,
quos scimus affabiles, gratos et amabiles. }

The Chief Lady then heard from the women conflicting testimony concerning the relative merits of clerks and knights as lovers. As many surviving debate poems indicate, medieval Europe valued highly ideological diversity and vigorous debate.

The women attending the Council of Remiremont vigorously debated loving clerics versus loving knights. One young woman earnestly testified:

The uprightness of clerics and their goodness —
such character always seeks schooling in love’s joy,
and on their joy the whole fatherland smiles.

Clerics praise us in all rhythms and meters.
Such, at Desire’s command, I love prior to others.
Sweet, intimate friendship is glory for clerics.

Whatever others may say, clerics are apt for their work.
A cleric is capable, sweet, and affable.
If I have him as a companion, I can have no greater joy.

{ Clericorum probitas et eorum bonitas
semper quaerit studium ad amoris gaudium,
sed eorum gaudia tota ridet patria.

Laudant nos in omnibus rhythmis atque versibus.
Tales, iussu Veneris, diligo prae ceteris.
Dulcis amicitia clericis est gloria.

Quicquid dicant aliae, apti sunt in opere.
Clericus est habilis, dulcis et affabilis.
Hunc habendo socium, nolo maius gaudium. }

Another young woman explained:

No reason is able to disunite clerics
from our soothing; their work is all-pleasing.

{ nulla valet ratio a nostro solacio
clericos disiungere omni gratos opere }

Some women, however, spoke out forcefully in favor of knights:

Those who are students of martial arts are in our thoughts.
Their military spirit and sensuousness pleases us.
To their service we devote our study.

{ Qui student militiae nobis sunt memoriae.
Horum et militia placet et lascivia.
Horum ad obsequium nostrum datur studium. }

Another woman argued that knights are subservient to women even at the cost of their lives:

Knights are bold to go battle for our favor.
That they may have us for themselves and please us,
they fear no hardships, nor death, nor wounds.

{ Audaces ad proelia sunt pro nostra gratia.
Ut sibi nos habeant et ut nobis placeant,
nulla timent aspera, nec mortem nec vulnera. }

In other words, knights, especially white knights, are upholders of gynocentrism and women’s privilege. Despite their devotion to women-serving, such knights are typically unsuccessful in having women for themselves. Not surprisingly, another woman disparaged knights’ love:

settled and well-known is the nature of knights’ love,
such is detestable, wretched, and unsteady.

{ certum est et cognitum quid sit amor militum,
quam sit detestabilis, quam miser et labilis. }

Through the course of this vigorous and vital twelfth-century debate, an important fact emerged: clerics were regarded as wealthier than knights. Clerics “give lovely gifts {pulchra donant munera}” to women. In addition to being “firm {firmus},” an important masculine sexual attribute, the love of clerics is “useful {utilis}.”

Under historically entrenched, gynocentric structures of gender oppression, women have valued men for their usefulness, particularly in providing women with material resources. The great master-teacher of love Ovid quoted a poet’s lament:

Does anyone admire the noble arts these days,
or think that talent’s displayed in tender verse?
Once genius was rated more than gold:
but now to have nothing shows plain stupidity.
Though my lovely girl’s delighted with my books,
where the books can go, I can’t go myself.
While she praised them, her door closed on my face.
Disgraced but a genius, I go here and there.
Look, some newly-rich blood-drenched knight
made wealthy by his wounds grazes my pastures!
Can you hug him in your lovely arms, my sweet girl?
Life of mine, can you lie there in his embrace?
If you don’t know, that head once wore a helmet;
there was a sword bound to that thigh that serves you;
that left hand, with new-won golden ring unsuited,
held a shield: touch his right –- it was stained with blood!
Can you touch that right hand by which others perished?
Ah, where is that tender-heartedness of yours?
See the scars, the marks of former battles –-
whatever he has, he earned with his body.
Perhaps he’ll tell you how many men he’s murdered!
Avaricious girl, can you touch those revealing hands?
Am I, the pure priest of Apollo and the Muses,
to sing idle songs at unyielding doors?

{ Et quisquam ingenuas etiamnunc suspicit artes,
Aut tenerum dotes carmen habere putat?
Ingenium quondam fuerat pretiosius auro;
At nunc barbaria est grandis, habere nihil.
Cum pulchrae dominae nostri placuere libelli,
Quo licuit libris, non licet ire mihi;
Cum bene laudavit, laudato ianua clausa est.
Turpiter huc illuc ingeniosus eo.
Ecce, recens dives parto per vulnera censu
Praefertur nobis sanguine pastus eques!
Hunc potes amplecti formosis, vita, lacertis?
Huius in amplexu, vita, iacere potes?
Si nescis, caput hoc galeam portare solebat;
Ense latus cinctum, quod tibi servit, erat;
Laeva manus, cui nunc serum male convenit aurum,
Scuta tulit; dextram tange — cruenta fuit!
Qua periit aliquis, potes hanc contingere dextram?
Heu, ubi mollities pectoris illa tui?
Cerne cicatrices, veteris vestigia pugnae —
Quaesitum est illi corpore, quidquid habet.
Forsitan et, quotiens hominem iugulaverit, ille
Indicet! hoc fassas tangis, avara, manus?
Ille ego Musarum purus Phoebique sacerdos
Ad rigidas canto carmen inane fores? } [8]

Under gynocentrism, wounds to men’s bodies matter little to women or other men. What matters is how much material resources men can provide to women. Ovid thus showed the knight being prefered in love to the poet-cleric.

With the growth of the symbolic economy from ancient Rome to medieval Europe, clerics became wealthier in general than knights. Flora’s cleric boyfriend Alcibiades commanded more material resources than Phyllis’s knight boyfriend Paris. The Council of Remiremont recognized that clerics provide better material gifts to women than do knights. In accordance with the teachings of Ovid, the Council of Remiremont ruled in favor of clerics.[9] So compelling was the Council’s ruling that today women don’t argue about whether clerics or knights make better lovers. Given the lucrative payments now available by law for spousal support and child support, the question of whether women should seek high-income men for sex and marriage isn’t reasonably open to debate.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] The Council of Remiremont {Concilium Romarici Montis} ll. 1-9, Latin text from Pascal (1993), my English translation, benefiting from that of Lee (1981). The inexpressability assertion of l. 4 recalls the inexpressable consequences of loving God in 1 Corinthians 2:19. The Council of Remiremont, authored anonymously, was probably written between 1140 and 1164. Id. p. 5. For accessible discussion of this text, Warren (1907). Lee and others describe the women at the Council of Remiremont as “nuns,” but they weren’t necessarily so. They may have included local elite women who came to the abbey for the Council.

About 625, a monastery for men and women was founded in the area of Remiremont, now Saint-Mont, near Strasbourg in the Vosges Department of eastern France. The men’s community dissipated after perhaps two centuries. By the early twelfth century, the women at Remiremont were wealthy and associated with the high nobility. By 1404, the Remiremont Abbey was more an institution of elite local governance than a monastery. Id. pp. 12-51.

Subsequent quotes from the Council of Remiremont are similarly sourced. The subsequent two quotes above are (cited by line numbers) 22-4 (Old ladies…) and l. 17 (loving young women).

[2] Carmina Burana 92, “About Phyllis and Flora {De Phyllide et Flora},” first line “In the flowering season, with clear sky {Anni parte florida, caelo puriore},” st. 4, Latin text from Traill (2018) v. 1, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Walsh (1993). This poem is also called “The debate of Phyllis and Flora {Altercatio Phyllidis et Florae}.” While Traill’s text is the best available, here’s a good-quality online text of the whole poem (preserving medieval spellings).

De Phyllide et Flora / Anni parti florida has close connections to Andreas Capellanus’s De amore. The latter probably was written about 1186. In Traill’s learned opinion, De amore influenced De Phyllide et Flora. That ordering is consistent with the scholarly judgment that De Phyllide et Flora was composed toward the end of the twelfth century. Traill (2018) v. 1, p. 551 (note).

In ancient Latin, miles means foot-soldier, and eques means a horse-born soldier. The latter’s equipment was more costly and many fewer such soldiers were fielded. Not surprisingly, the eques was generally wealthier and higher status than the miles. In medieval Latin, miles became the common word for knight after 1100. Morillo (2001) pp. 175-7.

In another poem, Phyllis and Flora debate whether it’s worthier for a woman to be chaste or unchaste. Flora favored being chaste. Juno, Pallas Athena, Venus, and Venus’s mother also regarded chaste women as worthier. See Carmina Burana 59, “Behold, there’s a chorus of young women in springtime {Ecce, chorus virginum tempore vernali}.”

The subsequent six quotes above are from De Phyllide et Flora and are similarly sourced. Those quotes, cited by stanza (and dot line number, where less than the whole stanza), are: 13.4 (You might as well have said…), 15.3-4 (Behold a pure-hearted young woman…), 16-19 (Arise, arise, poor wretch…), 22-7 (You said of the cleric…), 29-32 (When the dawn hour…), and 34-41 (You are foresaking honey…). For accessibility to the general reader, I’ve used relevant concepts and descriptions in the place of Roman mythic figures (Venus, Amor / Cupid, and Ganymede) and Alexander’s horse Bucephalus.

[3] Cf. Isaiah 7:14. In the Bible, the imperative “behold” (a call for attention) is quite common. It may be a verbal structure that originated in popular pictorial story-telling.

[4] Song of Songs 2:10, 13 urges a young beloved to arise and come to delight. Ephesians 5:14 urges a sleeper to arise from the dead. Phyllis in De Phyllide et Flora implores a misdirected young woman in love to arise from her foul madness in loving a cleric and turn to the delightful love of a knight. With a double surge, De Phyllide et Flora combines elements of both biblical exhortations. On unequal coupling, 2 Corinthians 6:14.

The troubadour Guillem de Peiteus (William IX, Duke of Aquitaine) condemned women who love clerics rather than knights:

Grave mortal sins such ladies make
who won’t make love for a knight’s sake;
and they’re far worse, the one who’ll take
a monk or priest —
they ought to get burned at the stake
at very least.

{ Domna fai gran pechat mortal
Qe no ama cavalier leal:
Mas si es monges o clergal,
Non a raizo:
Per dreg la deuri’ hom cremar
Ab un tezo. }

“I’ll write a verse, since I’m sleepy {Farai un vers, pos mi somelh},” st. 2, Old Occitan text and English trans. (by Snodgrass, modified slightly) from Kehew (2005) pp. 27-8. This Old Occitan text is from the edition of Jeanroy (1913). Trobar has a slightly different Old Occitan text, with an English translation. Here’s further analysis of “Farai un vers, pos mi somelh.”

[5] For a man to have vigorous sexual functioning, he typically needs adequate food and clothing, as well as rest time from horrible worldly battles. The rather abstract explanation “for when the cause is lacking, so too is the effect {nam cum causa deficit, deest et effectus}” further allows Flora to insinuate that Phyllis isn’t highly sexually stimulating.

The knight’s penis is described obliquely in Carmina Burana 92, 26.3-4 as lacking strength. The Latin word nervus literally means “sinew” or “tendon.” Nervus can mean “penis.” Adams (1982) p. 38. Artus literally means “joint” or “joints.” Like nervus, artus is associated with muscular strength and power. In the context of De Phyllide et Flora 26.1, artus surely carries the figurative meaning “penis,” with pectus having the figurative meaning “heart / love.”

The related poem similarly disparages the strength of a knight’s penis. Before a debate between the maidens Thyme and Sorrel about the relative merits of clerics and knights as lovers, a clerical voice insists:

Now listen to me, maidens:
knights do not love you properly.
A knight is lacking in strength
of his penis and in the virtues.

{ nunc audite, virgines:
non amant recte milites,
miles caret viribus
naturae et virtutibus. }

Carmina Burana 82, “The horrible cold has gone {Frigus hinc est horridum}” 4.2-5, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Traill (2018).

Obscuring the knight’s penis, Walsh and Traill translated Carmina Burana 92, 26.1, respectively as “His limbs are frail, his chest unhealthy”;  “His limbs are weak and his upper body puny.” Walsh (1993) p. 112, Traill (2018) p. 386. Those are, I think, poor translations. All of civilization owes traditional philology and its experts much gratitude and appreciation for bringing forward in time accurate meaning of vitally important texts. Nonetheless, one should recognize that traditional philology has a penis problem.

Reviewers of Traill’s Carmina Burana have been oblivious to the penis problem in De Phyllide et Flora. Scott G. Bruce’s review provides relevant historical details and some close textual analysis. Bruce states that Traill’s work is “reason to celebrate” and that it provides “clear and accurate translation.” Bruce (2019). Indeed, Traill’s translation is almost always clear and accurate, as one might expect from an eminent medieval Latin scholar committed to seeking truth. Yet a significant mistake that Traill made as mortal man living in a philological tradition should be recognized.

Michael Fontaine justly calls Traill’s two volumes “a magnificent achievement”; “it deserves a Pindaric victory ode.” Fontaine further declares of Traill:

He is always accurate (note 3) and always suitably interpretative rather than excessively literal, so that his translation functions as a running mini-commentary on the hard parts.
Note 3: A single exception proves the rule: in 25.6 “laugh to scorn” for deridet must be a typo (likewise, in 103.3b, delete the comma and 104.2.5, delete the period).

Fontaine (2019). Fontaine clearly read Traill’s volumes closely. Yet he either didn’t notice or didn’t dare comment upon the penis problem. Medieval scholars should recognize the gender trouble in their field.

[6] The poet’s invocation of res naturas {the natures of things} in the context of caeli vias dividit (39.4) recalls Lucretius’s De rerum natura. The cleric, surpassing Lucretius, understands that different things have different natures. Guibert of Nogent early in the twelfth century seems to have also disparaged Lucretius’s De rerum natura.

Use of the accusative plural of natura follows the rhyme in the stanza above, yet that choice still seems to me likely to have independent significance. Between 842 and 847, Hrabanus Maurus, regarded as one of the most learned men of his day, wrote his encyclopedic work On the natures of things {De rerum naturis}, also titled On the universe {De universo}. That work of twenty-two books includes nine quotations of Lucretius’s De rerum natura. Manuscripts of Lucretius’s work potentially were available to Hrabanus. Reeve (2007) p. 205. Medieval authors may well have directly contended with Lucretius’s continuing influence. On the prevalence of Hrabanus’s De rerum naturis throughout medieval Europe, Schipper (1989).

[7] The Council of Remiremont {Concilium Romarici Montis} ll. 25-6. The subsequent quotes above from The Council of Remiremont are (cited by line number): 61 (Ever since we have been able…), 67-72 (I would praise the grace…), 142-150 (The uprightness of clerics…), 92-3 (No reason is able…), 112-4 (Those who are students of martial arts…), 115-7 (Knights are bold…), 83-4 (settled and well-known…), 76 (give lovely gifts), 90 (firm, useful).

[8] Ovid, Loves {Amores} 3.8.1-24, Latin text from Ehwald’s Teubner edition (1907), English (modified slightly) from A. S. Kline.

[9] Carmina Burana 82, “Frigus hinc est horridum,” similarly concludes in favor of the cleric over the knight as a lover. In fact, even before the Council of Remiremont’s official ruling, a woman at the Council declared:

Undertaking knights is a great impropriety.
This misdeed for you is both forbidden and illicit.

{ magna est abusio militum susceptio.
Nefas est et vetitum et vobis illicitum. }

Council of Remiremont, ll. 95-6. The concluding excommunication of women who love knights is extremely harsh:

By the order of Love, to you and all others
who lay down yourself to knights in love affairs,
may you experience confusion, terror, and grief,
toil, unhappiness, pain and anxiety,
fear and sorrow, war and discord,
the dregs of folly, habit of inconstancy,
dishonor and weariness, long-standing ignominy,
the specter of madness, mourning, and destruction.
May the Moon, Jove’s servant-woman, and Phoebus, his servant-man,
deny you their light because of your crimes.
Thus may you lack light and not be comforted.
May no festival days take you from the darkness.
May the wrath of Jove from the heavens destroy you utterly.
May the joys of this world be reproaches to you.
May you who favor laymen always be
regarded as horrible and abominable by all clerics.
May no one say “hail” to you when they encounter you.
May even your joys be without peace.
May you have inner and outer sadness.
May you live daily in the pit of misery.
May shame and disgrace be with you always.
Toil and weariness or extreme shame,
if any of that remains, may it be yours forever,
unless you spurn laymen and favor clerics.
If any of you shall repent and make amends,
doing penance will lead to forgiveness.

{ Vobis, iussu Veneris, et ubique ceteris
quae vos militaribus subditis amoribus,
maneat confusio, terror et contritio,
labor, infelicitas, dolor et anxietas,
timor et tristitia, bellum et discordia,
faex insipientiae, cultus inconstantiae,
dedecus et taedium, longum et opprobrium,
furiarum species, luctus et pernicies.
Luna, Iovis famula, Phoebus, suus vernula,
propter ista crimina negent vobis lumina.
Sic sine solamine careatis lumine.
Nulla dies celebris trahat vos de tenebris.
Ira Iovis caelitus destruat vos penitus.
Huius mundi gaudia vobis sint opprobria.
Omnibus horribiles et abominabiles
semper sitis clericis, quae favetis laicis.
Nemo vobis etiam “Ave” dicat obviam.
Vestra quoque gaudia sint sine concordia.
Vobis sit intrinsecus dolor et extrinsecus.
Vivatis cotidie in lacu miseriae.
Pudor, ignominia vobis sint per omnia.
Laboris et taedii vel pudoris nimii
sed si quid residuum, sit vobis perpetuum
nisi, spretis laicis, faveatis clericis.
Si qua paenituerit atque satisfecerit,
dando paenitentiam consequetur veniam. }

Id. ll. 215-40.

[image] Ecclesia {Church}. Illumination for Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias 2.5, folio 66r in Eibingen, Abtei St. Hildegard, Cod. 1, which is a handmade copy of the now-lost Rupertsberg Scivias (Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Hs 1). The latter was produced in the Rupertsberg scriptorium around 1165. Source image via Wikimedia Commons.


Adams, James Noel. 1982. The Latin Sexual Vocabulary. London: Duckworth.

Bruce, Scott G. 2019. “Review of Traill, David A. Carmina Burana (Volumes 1 and 2). Dunbarton Oaks Medieval Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.The Medieval Review, online.

Fontaine, Michael. 2019. “Review of David A. Traill, Carmina Burana. (2 vols.) Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.” Bryn Mawr Classical Review, online.

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

Lee, Reuben Richard. 1981. A New Edition of “The Council of Remiremont.” The University of Connecticut. Ph.D. Thesis.

Morillo, Stephen. 2001. “Milites, Knights and Samurai: Military Terminology, Comparative History, and the Problem of Translation.” Pp. 167-184 in Abels, Richard P., Bernard S. Bachrach, and C. Warren Hollister, eds. The Normans and their Adversaries at War: essays in memory of C. Warren Hollister. Woodbridge, UK, Rochester, NY: Boydell Press.

Pascal, Paul, ed. 1993. Concilium Romarici Montis (The Council of Remiremont). Bryn Mawr Commentary. Presented online by J.J. O’Donnell (introduction, text, commentary).

Reeve, Michael. 2007. “Lucretius in the Middle Ages and early Renaissance: transmission and scholarship.” Ch. 12 in Gillespie, Stuart, and Philip R. Hardie, eds. The Cambridge companion to Lucretius. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Schipper, William. 1989. “Rabanus Maurus, De rerum naturis: A Provisional Check List of Manuscripts.” Manuscripta. 33 (2): 109-118.

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Walsh, Patrick G. 1993. Love Lyrics from the Carmina Burana. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Warren, F. M. 1907. “The Council of Remiremont.” Modern Language Notes. 22 (5): 137-140.

4 thoughts on “Phyllis & Flora on knight v. cleric: Council of Remiremont ruling”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Current month ye@r day *