through labyrinths: medieval fullness of life and joy in creativity

labyrinth at Chatres Cathedral

In some cathedrals in medieval France from no later than the twelfth century, clergy on Easter Sunday danced and sang through a labyrinth pattern built into the floor of the cathedral’s nave. As they danced and sang they tossed balls among themselves. One ball perhaps represented the ball of tar that Theseus had stuffed into the mouth of the Minotaur. Another may have represented Ariadne’s ball of thread by which Theseus guided himself out of the labyrinth. Christians needed neither of those two balls. They had Christ, the fully human man who conquered the maze of life and death to save all persons. After this singing, dancing, and ball-tossing, all came together for a feast.[1] Thus they celebrating the joy of Easter.

Christians must be foolish to be one with Christ. Paul of Tarsus, who turned his life upside down, declared in his letter to the Corinthians:

For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. … Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the foolishness of what we preach to save those who believe.

{ Verbum enim crucis pereuntibus quidem stultitia est his autem qui salvi fiunt id est nobis virtus Dei est. … Ubi sapiens ubi scriba ubi conquisitor huius saeculi nonne stultam fecit Deus sapientiam huius mundi. Nam quia in Dei sapientia non cognovit mundus per sapientiam Deum placuit Deo per stultitiam praedicationis salvos facere credentes.

λόγος γὰρ ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ τοῖς μὲν ἀπολλυμένοις μωρία ἐστίν τοῖς δὲ σῳζομένοις ἡμῖν δύναμις θεοῦ ἐστιν. … ποῦ σοφός ποῦ γραμματεύς ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου οὐχὶ ἐμώρανεν ὁ θεὸς τὴν σοφίαν τοῦ κόσμου. ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω ὁ κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας. } [2]

Paul described Christians as “fools for the sake of Christ {stulti propter Christum | ἡμεῖς μωροὶ διὰ Χριστόν}.” By today’s standards, medieval Christians were fools in diverse ways.

Though having relatively low official status, subdeacons in some medieval French churches had a feast celebrating their manly goodness. Subdeacons presided at the Feast of the Rod {festum baculi}. That feast typically was celebrated on the first of the year in conjunction with the Feast of the Circumcision. It included an outdoor procession led by a subdeacon “master of the rod {magister baculi}.” There was also a joyous choral dance. A leader of the Feast of the Rod, a subdeacon at the cathedral of Châlon, wrote a poem celebrating it about the year 1170:

The day has come,
friends, the cherished day.
Whatever others
do or want,
we the ring dance
lead with joy.

Before the rod,
the clergy with the people
exult today.

{ Adest dies
optata, socii.
Quidquid agant
et velint alii,
nos choream
ducamus gaudii.

Pro baculo
exsultet hodie
clerus cum populo. } [3]

Not all church officials cherished the subdeacons’ Feast of the Rod. A theologian in Paris, writing about 1162, referred to it informally as a feast of fools {festum stultorum}.[4] Ordinary men celebrating their intrinsic masculine goodness tend to be regarded as fools within gynocentric ideology.

In the twelfth century at the Beauvais cathedral, a feast celebrating the donkey, now known in English as the Feast of the Ass, was part of the evening liturgy the day before the Feast of the Rod. The celebration began with the choir singing at the cathedral’s entrance:

Light today, light of joy, banish from me every sorrow —
wherever it be, be it expelled from our solemnities tomorrow.
Today be envy far, far away from every breast —
all wish to be happy, honoring the donkey’s feast.

{ Lux hodie, lux laetitiae, me iudice tristis
quisquis erit removendus erit sollempnibus istis.
Sint hodie procul invidie, procul omnia mesta,
laeta volunt quicumque colunt asinaria festa. } [5]

The donkey represents the subdeacons and all the unheralded men who get their jobs done:

Out from the Orient
was the donkey sent,
beautiful and very strong was he,
bearing burdens skillfully.
Hey, hey, sir donkey, hey!

Here in the hills by Shechem bred,
then under Reuben nourishèd,
the River Jordan traversèd,
into Bethlehem he sped.
Hey, hey, sir donkey, hey!

Leaping higher than goats be bound,
discrediting even male roe deer,
he goes like swift Midian dromedaries,
but even speedier.
Hey, hey, sir donkey, hey!

While he drags long carriages
loaded down with much baggage,
that jawbone of his
vigorously grinds fodder.
Hey, hey, sir donkey, hey!

He eats ears of barley corn,
and wild thistle as well,
and wheat from the chaff
he separates on threshing floor.
Hey, hey, sir donkey, hey!

Amen you would say, ass,
now sated with hay-grass,
amen, amen, you say again,
you cast off ancient sin.
Hey ho, hey ho, hey ho hey,
fair you are, sir donkey, for you go all day,
fair your mouth, for your singing bray!

{ Orientis partibus
adventavit asinus,
pulcher et fortissimus,
sarcinis aptissimus.
Hez hez sire asnes hez.

Hic in collibus Sichen
iam nutritus sub Ruben
transiit per Iordanem
saliit in Bethlehem
Hez hez sire asnes hez.

Saltu vincit hynnulos,
damnas et capreolos,
super dromedarios
velox madianeos.
Hez hez sire asnes hez.

Dum trahit vehicula
multa cum sarcinula
illius mandibula
dura terit pabula.
Hez hez sire asnes hez.

Cum aristis ordeum
comedit et carduum,
triticum ex palea
segregat in area.
Hez hez sire asnes hez.

Amen dicas, asine,
iam satur ex gramine,
amen amen itera,
aspernare vetera.
Hez va hez va hez va hez
biax sire asnes car allez
bele bouche car chantez. } [6]

The male donkey has long been recognized to have impressive masculinity. When the donkey entered the Beauvais cathedral as part of sacred medieval liturgy, no one would have thought of Nigel of Canterbury’s Mirror of Fools {Speculum stultorum}. The Feast of the Ass would have been a time of joyfully raised self-esteem for the men in the cathedral and the women who love them.

The Feast of the Rod and the Feast of the Ass were official liturgical events that turned the gynocentric world upside-down in celebrating the goodness of men who lack distinguished achievement. Yet church officials didn’t always live up to the gospel’s overturning of worldly values and worldly hierarchies. Medieval money gospels parodied such failures. From no later than the early thirteenth century, the Holy Gospel according to marks of silver {Sanctus evangelium secundum marcas argenti} begins:

At that time the pope said to the Romans: “When the Son of man comes to the seat of our majesty, first say to him: ‘Friend, why have you come?’ If he persists in knocking at the gate without offering you anything, throw him out into the outer darkness.” Now it came to pass that a certain poor cleric came to the Curia of the Lord Pope. The poor cleric cried aloud, saying: “Take pity on me, you who are the pope’s gatekeepers, because the hand of poverty has touched me. I am poor and in need; for this reason I ask you to come to my assistance in my calamity and misfortune.” The gatekeepers, however, when they heard this, were very indignant and said: “Friend, to Hell with you and your poverty. Get you behind me Satan, because you do not smell like money. Truly, truly, I say to you, you will not enter the joy of your master until you have given your last penny.”

{ In illo tempore: dixit papa Romanis: “Cum venerit filius hominis ad sedem maiestatis nostrae, primum dicite: ‘Amice, ad quid venisti?’ At ille si perseveraverit pulsans, nil dans vobis, eicite eum in tenebras exteriores.’ Factum est autem, ut quidam pauper clericus veniret ad Curiam Domini Pape, et exclamavit dicens: “Miseremini mei saltem vos, ostiarii papae, quia manus paupertatis tetigit me. Ego vero egenus et pauper sum; ideo peto ut subveniatis calamitati et miseriae meae.” Illi autem audientes indignati sunt valde et dixerunt: “Amice, paupertas tua tecum sit in perditionae. Vade retro, satanas, quia non sapis ea, quae sapiunt nummi. Amen, amen, dico tibi: non intrabis in gaudium domini tui, donec dederis novissimum quadrantem.” } [7]

In Luke’s Gospel, the parable of the widow and the unjust judge is followed by Jesus’s question, “When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” This money gospel suggests that he wouldn’t find faith in the Roman Curia. Jesus taught that for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. That’s not possible without money in the money gospel. “Get behind me Satan” is what Jesus said to Peter when Peter sought to act in a worldly way. The money gospel directs that phrase at a poor man lacking the worldly value of money. In a gospel parable, servants are invited to enter the joy of their master because they have been faithful in small things. Their master promises to put them in charge of great things. In the money gospel, the Roman Curia, in charge of great things, hasn’t been faithful even in small things.[8] Like requiring men to achieve in order to be regarded as virtuous, love of money fundamentally contradicts Jesus’s teachings.

Medieval nonsense centos show learned knowledge of scripture and joy in outrageous acts of creativity. They have none of the serious concerns of the money gospels and Ausonius’s Wedding Cento {Cento nuptialis}. For example, in a medieval nonsense cento two woman prostitutes accused Salomon and a prelate of wronging them. The prelate called out to those in the house for help:

And a person from within responds, saying, “Do not trouble me; the door is now shut and my children aren’t present. Go rather to the dealers and buy for yourselves.” And so when they were going to buy, the queen of the south of that end came out to draw water. But a young woman also came out. She was beautiful of face and splendid in appearance. No man had ever ridden her, except a hundred and forty-four thousand out of every nation under heaven. And she kissed him and said, “What further need do we have of witnesses?”

{ Et ille de intus respondit dicens: “Iam hostium meum clausum est et pueri mei non comparent. Ite pocius ad uendentes et emite uobis.” Unde cum irent emere uenit regina austri a finibus illis egresa haurire aquam. Erat autem puella pulchra facie et decora aspectu super quam nullus hominum sedebat nis centum quadraginta milia hominum ex omni natione que sub celo est. Et osculatus est eam et dixit: “Quid adhuc egemus testibus?” } [9]

This short passage is constructed from twelve snippets from the Latin Bible translation known as the Vulgate. It makes nonsense of the Christian teaching that Christians should be known by their love for one another.

Medieval men used biblical texts in unauthorized ways to express their great love for women. A verse of a psalm expresses gratitude for the steadfast love of the Lord:

When the anxieties within me are many, your consolations delight my soul.

{ In multitudine cogitationum mearum quae sunt in me intrinsecus consolationes tuae delectabunt animam meam.

בְּרֹ֣ב שַׂרְעַפַּ֣י בְּקִרְבִּ֑י תַּ֝נְחוּמֶ֗יךָ יְֽשַׁעַשְׁע֥וּ נַפְשִֽׁי }

A medieval men’s prayer “for the feminine sex {pro femineo sexu}” with similar language expressed gratitude to women:

Their delights have given joy to our souls.

{ Delectationes eorum laetificaverunt animos nostros. } [10]

Another verse of a psalm tells of the value of sons within historically entrenched exploitation of men in violence against men:

Blessed is the man who has filled his quiver with them. He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies at the city gate.

{ Beatus vir qui implevit faretram suam ex ipsis non confundentur cum loquentur inimicis in porta.

אַשְׁרֵ֤י הַגֶּ֗בֶר אֲשֶׁ֤ר מִלֵּ֥א אֶת־אַשְׁפָּתֹ֗ו מֵ֫הֶ֥ם
לֹֽא־יֵבֹ֑שׁוּ כִּֽי־יְדַבְּר֖וּ אֶת־אֹויְבִ֣ים בַּשָּֽׁעַר }

Another medieval men’s prayer “for the feminine sex {pro femineo sexu}” draws upon that psalm verse to declare:

Blessed is the man who has filled his desire with them. He shall not be frustrated eternally.

{ Beatus vir qui implevit desiderium suum ex ipsis non confundentur in eternum. } [11]

Using a similar technique of misapplication, Peter Abelard brazenly wrote to Heloise:

Because we do not follow the Lord’s commandment unless we love one another, we should obey divine Scripture.

{ Quia mandatum domini non observamus, nisi dilectionem ad invicem habeamus, oportet nos divine scripture obedire. } [12]

Abelard misapplied Jesus’s new commandment to imply that Heloise and he should have sex. Actually, what “love one another” means in specific circumstances often isn’t clear.

Some mischievous medieval thinkers interpreted “love one another” very literally. They took that commandment to concern the Christian disciple Invicem (One-Another):

Note that blessed Paul had a certain disciple, very distinguished, whom he wished to give over to religious life. There he might serve God and be saved from the shipwreck of this world. He was called One-Another. Contemplating the fact that he wanted to enter the monastery, the monastic brothers argued to blessed Paul against the ways and deeds of One-Another. They cited Matthew 14: They hated One-Another so they betrayed One-Another. Since in such a monastery iniquity abounded and the charity of many had grown cold, the blessed Paul, hoping nevertheless that they would show him favor out of love for himself, wanted One-Another to be accepted. Blessed Paul wrote the words set forth: Receive One-Another. And that is what is written. And he asked them to be friendly and gentle with him, Ephesians 4: Be friendly and merciful to One-Another. Second, he asked them to give comfort to him, 1 Thessalonians 5: Comfort and build up One-Another. Third, he asked them to show reverence to him, Ephesians 5: Be subject to One-Another in the fear of Christ, and Philippians 2: judging One-Another superior. Fourth, blessed Paul asked them to provide agreeable recreation for him, Philippians 2: Showing hospitality toward One-Another without murmuring. Fifth, he asked them to be courteous with gifts and goods for him, Revelations 4: Send gifts to One-Another. Shortly thereafter blessed Paul left them, but he did not forget One-Another, but rather, whenever he preached he thoughtfully had prayers said for him by the church, James 5: Pray for One-Another that you may be saved. Likewise whenever he sent a message he gave greetings to One-Another, 1 Corinthians 12: Greet One-Another. Likewise he always commended him to his brethren and friends in letters, John 15: I give a commandment unto you, that you love One-Another.

{ Notandum quod beatus Paulus habuit quendam discipulum valde discretum quem tradere voluit religioni, ut ibi deo ministraret et a mundi naufragio servaretur, quique Invicem vocabatur. Considerantes autem fratres monasterii quod monasterium intrare volebat, modum et gestum predicti Invicem desuaserunt beato Paulo, dicentes illud Mathei xiiii: Odio habuerunt Invicem ut Invicem traderent. Et quia in tali monasterio habundavit iniquitas et refriguit caritas multorum, nichilominus sperans beatus Paulus quod amore ipsius gratum eum haberent, volens quod retineretur, scripsit verba proposita: Suscipite Invicem. Quod et scriptum est. Et rogavit eos ut familiares et mansueti sibi essent, ad Ephesios iiii: Estote Invicem mansueti et misericordes. Secundo rogavit eos ut consolacionem ei facerent, 1 ad Tessalonicenses v: Consolamini et edificate Invicem. Tertio rogavit eos ut ei reverentiam exhiberent, ad Ephesios v: Subditi estote Invicem in timore Christi, ad Philippenses ii: Superiorem Invicem arbitrantes. Quarto rogavit eos beatus Paulus ut sibi bonas recreaciones facerent, ad Philippenses ii: Hospitales estote Invicem sine murmuratione. Quinto rogavit eos ut de muneribus et de peculiis sibi curiales essent, Apocalipsis iiii: Munera mittent Invicem. Postmodum decescit ab eis beatus Paulus nec prefatum discipulum suum oblivioni dedit, ymo quandocumque predicabat pro eo orationes fieri ab ecclesia [ad] sollicite procuravit, Iacob v: Orate pro Invicem ut salvemini. Item quandocumque nuntium habebat semper eum salutabat, 1 ad Corinthios xii: Salutate Invicem. Item sepe ipsum fratribus et amicis per litteras commendavit, Iohannis xv: Hec mando vobis, ut diligatis Invicem. } [13]

Even more famous than Paul’s disciple Invicem was the great medieval saint Nemo (Nobody):

This blessed Nobody is contemporaneous with God the Father, and in essence particularly like the Son, as he was neither created nor begotten but proceeds forth in Holy Scripture. That is set forth fully by the psalmist, who says: Days shall be formed, and Nobody shall be in them. Afterward, to him such authority justly accrued, with such great merit, that as if spurning earthly things, he ascended to the heights of heaven in miraculous flight. Thus it is read: Nobody has ascended into heaven. The Lord himself testifies to this, saying: Nobody can come to me. When this most holy Nobody ascended into heaven, as it is said, he saw the pure, complete, and simultaneously threefold Godhead himself, as it is read: Nobody has seen God. That this Nobody has seen God the Gospel gives witness, as it is read: Nobody knows the Son, and elsewhere: Nobody is speaking to the Holy Spirit.

{ Beatus igitur Nemo iste contemporaneus dei patris et in essentia precipue consimilis filio, velut nec creatus nec genitus sed procedens in sacra pagina reperitur, in qua plene dictum est per psalmistam dicentem: Dies formabuntur et Nemo in eis. Cui postea merito tanta crevit auctoritas ut, ac si terrena respuens, ad celorum culmina volatu mirabili pervolavit, sicut legitur: Nemo ascendit in celum. Et hoc idem testatur dominus, dicens: Nemo potest venire ad me. Qui, dum celum ascenderet, ut dictum est, deitatem puram et integram et insimul trinitatem vidit ibidem sanctissimus Nemo, sicut legitur: Nemo deum vidit. Quod deum vidisset iste Nemo, evangelium protestatur, sicut legitur: Nemo novit filium, et alibi: Nemo loquens in spiritu sancto. } [14]

Such has been Nobody’s influence that people around the world still seek to find him and enjoy him. Not surprisingly, when released in 2003, the blockbuster movie Finding Nemo became the high-grossing animated film of all time.

Medieval thinkers had more important concerns than mere theatrical entertainment. They valued logic, reasoning, and men’s welfare as well as women’s welfare. One wrote on the bottom margin of a sermon on Nobody:

This Nobody was, moreover, of such great strength that he bit No-One in the balls, about which the logicians have a saying, namely, No-One and Nobody bite themselves in the balls.

{ Fuit autem tante fortitudinis ille Nemo quod mordebat Nullum in sacco, de quo loyci ponunt exemplum, scilicet Nullus et Nemo mordent se in sacco. } [15]

Violence against men’s genitals, appallingly celebrated in Super Bowl commercials, should be condemned. Meninism is the radical notion that men are human beings. No human being should be subject to sexual violence. Therefore, no man should be subject to sexual violence. It’s logically that simple.

Aspiring to the fullness of life, the human heart restlessly seeks the joy of unlimited creativity. Literary use of nobody is attested as far back as Odysseus calling himself Nobody {Οὖτις} in seeking to escape from the Cyclops Polyphemus in the Odyssey.[16] Nobody would engage in cultural appropriation to challenge gynocentrism today for fear of social mobbing and a chorus of flesh-bots name-calling. To the center of the medieval labyrinth may this broken road lead.

labyrinth in Grace Cathedral

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[1] The first undisputable reference to such a “ball game {ludus pilae}” is by the French liturgist and theologian John Beleth in his Compendium of Church Liturgy {Summa de ecclesiasticis officiis}, written between 1160 and 1164. Honorius of Autun, who lived from about 1080 to 1154, may have referred to such a ball game in his early-twelfth-century work, Gem of the Soul {Gemma animae}. Mews (2009), Harris (2011) Ch. 5. Writing about 1200, Bishop Secard of Cremona in his Orders for Liturgy {Mitralis de officio} referred to bishops and clerics engaging in the “game of circular dance or ball {ludus choreae vel pilae}” as part of “December freedom {decembrica libertate}.” Mews (2009) p. 513. On December freedom, cf. Horace, Carmina 2.7. Clerical dance apparently was performed in the Cathedral of Sens in the thirteenth century. Rievallensis (2019). On the meaning and use of labyrinths on medieval church floors, Mews (2009) pp. 516-22, Harris (2011) p. 59 (which provides the interpretation of the balls above).

Surviving floor labyrinths in French cathedrals date from the twelfth or thirteenth centuries. Theseus and the Minotaur were depicted at the labyrinth center, perhaps representing Christ and the Devil, respectively. Mews (2009) p. 517. The Minotaur-Devil was born of Pasiphae having sex with a bull. Of course, having the public propaganda apparatus widely disseminate “teach women not to have sex with bulls” would be hateful and ridiculous.

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:18, 20-21. The subsequent quote is from 1 Corinthians 4:10. The original languages of the Christian Bible are Hebrew, Greek, and a few words of Aramaic. Almost all clerics in medieval Europe knew the Bible only in Latin, almost wholly through Jerome’s translation (the Vulgate). I have thus included the Vulgate translation above and in subsequent biblical quotes.

[3] Stanza 1 and refrain of poem by Guy of Bazoches, from The Book of the Letter of Guy of Bazoches {Liber epistularum Geuidonis de Basochis} (Adolfsson, 1969) 22 (also printed in Raby, Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse, pp. 259-61), Latin text via Harris (2011) p. 70, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The poem has a total of six stanzas, with the “Pro baculo” refrain following each.

The “master of the rod {magister baculi}” took over some of the cantor’s authority during the Feast of the Rod. His cermonial rod was made of wood, painted, and topped with an ivory apple. In Châlons in 1410, this beautiful rod was explicitly described as the rod of the Feast of Fools. Harris (2011) p. 69. The liturgy for the Feast of the Rod probably included Luke 2:23: “Every male who opens the womb will be called sacred to the Lord {omne masculinum adaperiens vulvam sanctum Domino vocabitur}.” On widely differing interpretations of that passage, Huot (1997) p. 67. The Feast of the Rod was an important counterpoint to the medieval Romance of the Rose.

[4] John Beleth, Summa de ecclesiasticis officiis, quoted in Harris (2011) p. 66. The feast of the subdeacons {festum subdiaconorum}, the feast of the Rod {festum baculi} and the feast of fools {festum stultorum} seem to have all referred to the same feast.

[5] Latin text from Harris (2011) p. 76, my English translation, benefiting from that in id. This hymn was performed in a festival of medieval lessons and carols at Saint Christopher’s Episcopal Church (Roseville, Minnesota) on Dec. 8, 2013. But Saint Christiopher’s Church replaced “donkey {asinaria}” in the original hymn with “sanctified {consecratus}.” In Latin, the Feast of the Ass is known as Festum asinorum or Asinaria festa. That might be better translated as the Feast of the Donkey.

[6] Latin text from Harris (2011) pp. 76-7, my English translation, benefiting from that in id. “Orientis partibus” is a twelfth-century conductus attributed to Pierre de Corbeil, Bishop of Sens. It became widely known, particularly in seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Germany. Here’s an adapted modern English version. This conductus survives with a melody. Here’s an excellent performance with the original Latin words. A performance of an adapted English version is also freely accessible. The Feast of the Ass was performed at the thirteenth-century Cathedral at Sens, with “Orientis partibus” used as the conductus. Balbulus (2019).

In addition to relatively liberal freedom of speech, medieval Europe was also relatively liberal with respect to liturgy:

medieval notions of what was proper to corporate cathedral worship differed greatly from our own: until very recently, we were far more restrained.

Harris (2011) p. 62. Id. documents that the Feast of Fools was an authorized, organized, and institutionalized aspect of medieval liturgy. A modern jest: “Question: What’s the difference between a liturgist and a terrorist? Answer: You can negotiate with a terrorist.”

[7] Carmina Burana 44, “Gospel {Ewangelium}” ll. 1-13, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly to enhance readability for the general reader) from Traill (2018) v. 1, pp. The Carmina Burana was put together about the year 1230. Id. p. ix. For other medieval Latin money gospels, with Engish translation, Bayless (1996) Appendices 8 & 9. Id. also provides another medieval Latin money gospel (text 2) and a money grammar (text 14), both without English translation.

Lehmann (1963) provides 22 parodic medieval Latin texts. However, “Lehmann’s references are frequently both inadequate and unreliable.” Bayless (1996) p. 16. The references in both Bayless (1996) and Bayless (2018) are learned, thorough, and highly specific, including distinguishing variants in particular manuscripts.

[8] Cf. Luke 18:8 (son of man coming), Matthew 7:7 and Luke 11:9 (knock and the door will be opened), and Matthew 25:23 (enter the joy of the master).

[9] “Nothing is made from nothing… {Ex nichilo nichil fit…}” (medieval nonsense cento) ll. 43-50, Latin text from Bayless (2018) p. 45, my English translation. The manuscript source is Munich, Universitätsbibliothek 8° Cod. ms. 352, fol. 146rv. That manuscript is from the last third of the fifteenth century. Id. p. 42. Jesus commands Christians to testify to being his disciples by showing their love for one another. John 13:35.

[10] “Prayers of the priest’s housekeeper {Preces famulae sacerdotis}” 34, Latin text from Walther (1931) pp. 349-55, via Bayless (1996) p. 174; my English translation benefiting from that of id.

The source verse quoted previously is Psalm 94:19. All my biblical references are with respect to standard, modern bibles. References to Psalms in the Vulgate (Bayless’s references) are usually one less.

[11] “Preces famulae sacerdotis” 60, sourced as previously. The biblical source is Psalm 127:5.

[12] Letters of Two Lovers {Epistolae duorum amantium} 52 (man to woman) excerpt, Latin text of Ewald Könsgen from Mews (1999) p. 258, my English translation benefiting from that of Newman (2016) p. 153. For the commandment to love one another, John 13:34, Romans 13:8. The great twelfth-century rhetor Boncompagno da Signa taught similar use of biblical texts for amorous purposes.

Whether the two lovers of Epistolae duorum amantium were Heloise and Peter Abelard has been the subject of vigorous debate among scholars. See note [3] in my post concerning literary competition between Heloise and Abelard. I think it’s more probable than not that they were the two lovers writing those letters.

[13] “Receive One-Another {Suscipte Invicem}…” (Short Invicem: The Hamburg Recension) ll. 1-24, Latin text from Bayless (1996) p. 316, English translation from id. p. 318, with my changes for ease of reading. The manuscript source is Hamburg, Staats- und Universitätsbibliothek MS Petri 22, fol. 260rv. That manuscript was written in 1435. Id. p. 316.

Other versions of the life of Paul’s disciple Invicem exist. One is the “Long Invicem,” attested in Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek MS clm. 10751. That manuscripts was written in 1575. Bayless (1996) pp. 311-5 gives the Latin text and an English translation. Bayless (2018), text 10, is an additional life of Invicem from Besançon, Bibliothèque Municipale 592, written about 1450.

[14] “Here begins the life of the most holy and most glorious Nobody {Incipit vita sanctissimi et gloriosissimi Neminis}…” (Long Nemo, second recension) ll. 14-24, Latin text from Bayless (1996) p. 260, English translation from id. p. 281, with my modifications. Id. provides edited texts and translations of another three Nemo’s. Bayless (2018), texts 8 & 9, includes two additional Nemo’s.

The Long Nemo dates from no later than the thirteenth century. In 1290, a certain Stephen wrote a long work concerning it: The refutation of the abominable sermon put forth by Radulph, about a certain Nobody, heretic and damned, according to Stephen of Saint George, defender of the Christian faith {Reprobatio nefandi sermonis editi per Radulphum de quodam Nemine heretico et dampnato, secundum Stephanum de Sancto Georgio christianefidei defensorem}. Bayless commented:

Stephen’s very peculiar document, much longer than the original Nemo text, first explains that Nemo is not a real person, but goes on to prove that the saint is actually a sinner and heretic, supported by its own army of quotations. The Reprobatio {Refutation} against Nemo is thus either a clumsy piece of satire or the work of an idiot; critics have reached no consensus.

Bayless (2018) p. 61.

[15] Marginal note on bottom of “Short Nemo” Salzburg, Bibliothek der Erzabtei St. Peter MS b.V.15 (Bayless MS S), fol. 231r, Latin text from Bayless (1996) p. 294, English translation from id. p. 302, with my modifications. In particular, I interpret the first nullum as “No-One.”

[16] Odyssey 9.366-460. The Odyssey, attributed to Homer, was written about 2700 years ago.

[images] (1) Persons walking the labyrinth on the floor in the Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres (Chartres Cathedral), which was build between 1194 and 1220. Source image via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Labyrinth in Grace Cathedral, San Francisco. That cathedral was built in stages between 1928 and 1964. Its labyrinth is based on that one at Chartres. Source image by David Clay via Wikimedia Commons. Here’s an image of the labyrinth’s pattern, and one showing its center today.


Balbulus, Notkerus. 2019. “New Years with the Canons of Sens (1).” Canticum Salomonis, online Dec. 31.

Bayless, Martha. 1996. Parody in the Middle Ages: the Latin tradition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Bayless, Martha, ed. 2018. Fifteen Medieval Latin Parodies. Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, 35. Toronto, Canada: Published for the Centre for Medieval Studies by the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies.

Harris, Max. 2011. Sacred Folly: A New History of the Feast of Fools. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.

Huot, Sylvia. 1997. Allegorical Play in the Old French Motet: The Sacred and the Profane in Thirteenth-Century Polyphony. Stanford: Stanford University Press. (review by Alice V. Clark)

Lehmann, Paul. 1963. Die Parodie im Mittelalter. 2nd edition. Stuttgart: Hiersemann. First edition: v. 1 (1922), Die Parodie im Mittelalter; v. 2 (1923), Parodistische Texte: Beispiele zur lateinischen Parodie im Mittelaltersource texts.

Mews, Constant J. 1999. The Lost Love letters of Heloise and Abelard: perceptions of dialogue in twelfth-century France. Houndmills: Macmillan.

Mews, Constant J. 2009. “Liturgists and Dance in the Twelfth Century: The Witness of John Beleth and Sicard of Cremona.” Church History. 78 (3): 512-548.

Newman, Barbara. 2016. Making Love in the Twelfth Century: Letters of two lovers in context. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Rievallensis, Aelredus. 2019. “Ecclesia Saltans (1): A New Document Bearing on Ecclesiastical Dance, by Jacques Chailley.” Online at Canticum Salomonis, Nov. 27.

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

Walther, Hans. 1931. “Parodistische Gebete der Pfarrköchin in einer Züricher Handschrift.” Studi Medievali. n.s. 4: 344-57.

men’s imaginary delights in creation prevail against love pain

Ah, pain, true companion of love,
whose ills I can ill assuage,
do you have a cure?
Pain besets me, and no wonder,
for here and now, grim exile
calls me from my beloved,
whose praiseworthiness is unique.
Paris would not have chosen Helen
as his partner over her.

So why complain that I will be
far from her who haughtily rejects
me, her devoted servant,
her whose name is so revered
that I must not presume
to name her?
Thanks to this misdeed of mine,
she often looks at me with a face
such as she directs at no one else.

{ O comes amoris, dolor,
cuius mala male solor,
an habes remedium?
Dolor urget me, nec mirum,
quem a praedilecta dirum,
en, vocat exilium:
cuius laus est singularis,
pro qua non curasset Paris
Helenae consortium.

Sed quid queror me remotum
illi fore, quae devotum
me fastidit hominem,
cuius nomen tam verendum
quod nec michi praesumendum
est, ut eam nominem?
Ob quam causam mei mali
me frequenter vultu tali
respicit, quo neminem. }

Difficulties and disappointments fill men’s lives. Even while being beaten down under gynocentrism, some men refuse to relinquish their capacity to dream.  Even as they suffer under senseless one-itis, nothing is more prevalent in men’s dreams than the delights of creation. So it was for this medieval man:

I love her, her alone,
who has caught me on her hook,
but she does not love me back.
A kind of valley nourishes her,
like, I would think, a paradise,
in which the blessed Creator has
placed this about-to-create —
she bright of face, pure of soul —
my heart calls creation forth.

Rejoice, exalted valley,
valley with roses garlanded,
valley, the flower of valleys,
among valleys a valley unique!
Sun and moon and sweet song of birds
unite in praising you.
The nightingale too sings your praises,
sweet and delightful valley,
bearing solace to those who are sad.

{ Ergo solus sola amo,
cuius captus sum ab hamo,
nec vicem reciprocat.
Quam enutrit vallis quaedam,
quam ut paradisum credam,
in qua pius collocat
hanc creator creaturam,
vultu claram, mente puram,
quam cor meum invocat.

Gaude, vallis insignita,
vallis rosis redimita,
vallis, flos convallium,
inter valles vallis una,
quam collaudat sol et luna,
dulcis cantus avium!
Te collaudat philomena,
vallis dulcis et amena,
maestis dans solacium. }

lush, moist valley

The third verse of the third stanza ends with the man’s disappointment in not being loved as he loves. Moses sensed God in a burning bush. This man’s imagination miraculously continued to burn for the woman’s procreative place. She was bright of face and pure of soul, and most likely a debt-free virgin without tattoos. Her place of creation is surely like a paradise that nourishes humans.

Sometimes benefiting from the aid of the male gaze, men with their vibrant, dynamic imaginations even in disappointment call forth to their hearts women’s procreative place. That lush and fecund valley, that channel of life, has been praised in literature throughout history while men’s penises have been disparaged. Gender bias against men is pervasive and must be thoroughly penetrated and criticized.

The last three verses of the last stanza modulate from joyously praising the woman’s valley to the sadness of solace not received. Not all women are like that. The singing nightingale has been socially constructed as female — Philomela waging symbolic war on men. Let her sing and praise her own vagina in vagina monologues. In the real, natural world, even amid pain and sadness, male nightingales sing to females.

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The above poem is from the Carmina Burana, a mainly Latin songbook copied about the year 1230. The complete poem of four stanzas is Carmina Burana 8 (supplement), while Carmina Burana 111 as copied into the manuscript includes only stanzas 1 and 4. The Latin text above is from Traill (2018) v. 2, pp. 36-8, which presents the medieval text with classical Latin spelling for greater accessibility. I have made a few insubstantial modifications to Traill’s editorial presentation of the Latin text.

The English translation above is Traill’s, with my modifications according to my sense of the Latin poetry and of the most poetic, but faithful, English translation. My most significant changes from Traill’s translation are in stanza 3. Traill noted with respect to verse 3.9:

The quam must refer to the woman. However, at 4.1 it is the valley that is invoked, thus blending woman and valley.

Id. p. 629. He further observed:

The idealized valley, which is the focus of stanzas 3 and 4, suggests, allegorically, the beloved’s virginity.

Id. The valley figure seems to me to be more specifically corporal. My translation of stanza 3 reflects my understanding of the valley as a vitally important part of the woman’s body. My translation benefited from the help of a world-renowned philologist, who of course deserves no blame for my peculiar perspectives.

Traill’s translation of comes as “true companion” in 1.1 is insightful. That translation doesn’t just function to give the translated line four beats. Comes is associated in medieval Latin with comitatus, a group of warriors who were closely associated with a leader and pledged to give their lives in service to him.

The medieval Latin word philomena came to mean nightingale from the classical Latin Philomela, which referred to the daughter of the King of Athens and the sister of Procne. Procne’s husband King Tereus inflicted horrific and highly unusual violence on Philomela.  She subsequently turned into a nightingale. In referring to a nightingale, medieval Latin commonly uses philomena rather than the classical Latin word for nightingale, luscinia. As philomena exemplifies, men’s gender subordination is enacted in part through the social construction of language itself.

At least one Latin lyric overturned the hateful myth of Philomela with a figure of diverse birds singing joyfully in a beautiful place. After evoking the horrible events associated with Tereus in its first stanza, the song concludes:

It’s time for rejoicing.
In springtime
flowers bloom
in green meadows,
and with his power
Phoebus enhances the beauty
in our land.

{ Tempus est laetitiae
Verno tempore
vernant flores
in pratis virentibus
et suis rebus
decus auget Phoebus
in nostris finibus. }

Carmina Burana 58, “Spring now shows itself {Iam ver oritur},” st. 6, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Traill (2018).

[image] Lush valley. Source photo by Collin Xu on Unsplash under the permissive Unsplash license.


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

medieval monk castrated for adultery; husband doesn’t punish wife

Jesus forgiving woman caught in adultery

A medieval monk was full of pride and gluttony. He also had strong, independent sexuality. One day a nobleman’s wife caught his eye:

he sees a woman adorned with jewels and enveloped in various robes, ornamented on all sides like a temple. Although her face was fading with old age, she helps herself with cosmetics, and she doesn’t judge it to be grasping to regard herself as equal to a virgin upon which no man has ridden. Her hair is the hair of Apollo, although she has taken care to curl hers with a curling-iron, and she has turned to saffron for her blonde hair-color. Her forehead is constructed lily-white, although I trust very little in lily that doesn’t reign beyond where the cosmetic ointment ends. Her eyebrows are arched, although God has frequently arisen to help with tweezing them. Her eyes are doves’ eyes, although the blink of her little eye accomplishes proof of a shameless heart. Her face has a yellow-brown appearance, although now the intentional brightness of its brightness is the guilty blush of blush. Her rosy lips swell slightly, although they glow life-like colored with lipstick, and her teeth rattle in her old cheeks.

{ vidit mulierem ornatam monilibus circumamictam varietatibis compositam et circumornatam, ut similitudo templi. Que tamen senio antiquata arte iuvat faciem nec rapinam arbitrata est se esse equalem virgini, super quam nullus hominum sedit. Crines eius crines Apollinis, sed tamen calamistro crispari studuit, de colore crocum consuluit; frons candore lilia figurat, sed tamen fido parum de tali lilio quo non regnat, cum cessat unctio; arcuata sunt supercilia, sed tamen frequenter es depilatorium surgit Deus in adiutorium; oculi sui oculi columbarum, sed tamen est patrantis ocelli fractio impudici cordis argumentatio. Et erat facies electri species, et tamen candor hic candoris conscius et rubori rubor obnoxius et tument modice labella rosea, sed tamen suffuso minio in vita rutilant et dentes veterum genarum ratilant. } [1]

This woman’s wasn’t as fair as the moon. She didn’t shine like the dawn. There were flaws in her. Yet living in their disadvantaged circumstances, men are charitable about women’s flaws. This monk was:

The monk sees her and covets her. He comes to her and says: “Lady, after I saw you, my heart flowed into my belly like liquid wax, because your face ignites my soul. And so, lady, help me. I am being tortured in this flame.

{ Monachus vidit et invidit, accessit et dixit: “Domina postquam vidi te, factum est cor meum tanquam cera liquescens in medio ventris mei, quia facies tua incendit animam meam, set tu domina succurre mihi, quia crucior in hac flamma.” }

If today a man were to say to a woman that her hair is like a flock of goats moving down the slopes of a mountain, she might immediately run off and report him to the relevant authority for dehumanizing her. Medieval women were more understanding and appreciative. This medieval woman also knew what she wanted and knew her worth:

She remains standing there and says to him: “How sweet is your lips’ eloquence, sweeter than honey to my mouth. If you would balance your words with your deeds, I would comply with your instructions and not reject your presents.” She is intensely pitying, bearing openly her loving, lascivious flesh.

{ Que stetit et ait: “Quam dulcia faucibus meis eloquia tua super mel ori meo. Si dictis facta compenses, tuis obtemperabo mandatis nec renuntiabo muneribus.” Erat enim valde compatiens et super lascivos pia gestans viscera. }

The monk enthusiastically consented to the woman’s charitable and commercial proposition. He told her:

I swear to you once with the pledge of my faith. I will not make void that which proceeds from my lips. Your right hand will be filled with presents, because I am rich in farmland, rich in money placed in usury, and my substance in land below and my possessions are beyond numbering. My storerooms are full, from them so bursting forth that the sheep in my pastures are pregnant, and my cattle are fat. I will gave you money inestimable, if at night you will fulfill my heart, because I long for love.

{ Semel iurabo tibi in fidei pignore, quia que procedunt de labiis meis non faciam irrita. Dextera tua repleta erit muneribus, quia ego dives sum agris, dives positus in fenore nummis et substancia mea in inferioribus terre et possessionis mee non est numerus, promptuaria mea plena, eructancia ex hoc in illud, oves mee fetose in egressibus suis, boves mee crasse. Numerabo tibi pecuniam inestimabilem, si nocte adimpleveris vota cordis mei, quia amore langueo. } [2]

The monk was eager to enlarge the woman. Yet she was perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting he might offer:

She truly keeps all these words within her heart. “What you ask,” she says, “I will do.”

{ Illa vero conservabat omnia verba hoc conferens in corde suo. “Quod petis” inquit, “faciam.” }

She then declared that she would get her husband drunk at dinner. She told the monk that, when darkness covers the day, he should come to her with watchful eye and careful step. She also instructed him to bring her presents. The monk was happy that his joy would be hers. He explained that he was going away. She would no longer see him, and then she would see him again. Their desires at that time would be fulfilled. They parted with a kiss.

The woman, an experienced and knowledgeable lover, knew that equivocation can increase the delight of love under a legal regime in which men don’t have to fear absurd rape charges. She didn’t let her yes mean yes, and her no mean no. When the monk came to her burning with passion, she took him by the hand, hugged him, and led him to her bed. Then she trembled, stepped back, and whispered to him:

Your religion is an abomination to me, and my soul hates your habit, because if I undergo you in bed, Hell is my home. Therefore I don’t want to be one with you.

{ Religio tua abominatio est mihi et habitum hunc odivit anima mea, quia si sustinuero te, infernus domus mea est et ideo nolo tibi commisceri. } [3]

Today’s heirs to Ovid’s art call such a response a “shit test.” The monk responded satisfactorily:

Lady, if you loath this work, take this little sack of ten marks as the price for your work. If you oppose religion, be underneath me, and I will place myself between you and God.

{ Domina, si laborem fastidis, accipe forulum hunc decem marcarum laboris precium. Si religionem causaris, subiecta esto michi et ego ponam me inter te et Deum. }

With respect to the troubled woman, the monk interceded with his sack and his body. Their tryst was thus saved:

Having perceived the amount that he gives, she is truly satisfied and says: “Lord, do not reject this work, your will be done, enter into the joy of your lady.” He thus tests her once, twice, a third time, and a fourth, and no grumbling is heard, nor complaint, but in his possession of her body, she throws herself to the direction of the work of darkness, and so puts on the armor of love-play. And thus the two are grinding into one flesh in one bed in this night, one being taken and the other being left behind.

{ Illa vero satisdatione percepta dedit copiam sui et dixit: “Domine, non recuso laborem, fiat voluntas tua, intra in gaudium domine tue.” Eaque semel temptata secundo, tercio et quarto, non murmur resonat nec querimonia, sed in corporalem possessionem missus adicit opera tenebrarum, ut induat arma ioci; et erant duo molentes in carne una in lecto uno in nocte illa, unus assumetur et alter relinquetur. }

Oh most unhappy night, oh most unholy and irreverent night! Cursed is the fault that brought such a great loss!

At midnight there was a shout. Behold, the husband wandering around drunk had come back home. All the servants went out to greet him. The monk, as if possessed by a demon, burst into a frenzy, frothing at the mouth and madly seeking a place to hide. He hid under a basket, with only his shaven head-top showing like a light shining in the darkness. Then all realized that a man had broken into the house at night and made bread with the master’s wife. The servants armed themselves with swords and clubs and sought out the man. One wise servant recognized that the wife was also at fault:

O wicked and detestable woman! Who is the enemy who comes and sows weeds, and greatly besoils my bed with perfidy? You will perish by the sword!

{ O nephanda et detestabilis mulier! Quis est inimicus homo qui venit et superseminauit zizaniam, et cubile meu tant maculavit perfidia? Et tu gladio peribis! } [4]

The wife, however, denied knowing such a man:

My man, I know not what you say. I am clean of the blood of this righteous one, you will see.

{ Homo, nescio quid dicis. Munda ego sum a sanguine iusti huius, tu videris. }

The husband soon saw the monk’s robe lying in the bedroom. What more testimony did he need? His wife’s own work testified against her. Declaring that God would punish her, the husband did nothing to her. He didn’t even tell her to go and sin no more.

Men’s sexuality, in contrast, has long been subject to worldly penal regulation. Searching his bedroom for the monk, the husband saw the monk’s shaven head-top shining from under the basket. This was an epiphany:

He say: “Hurrah, hurrah, and so do my eyes see!” And the servants cry out, saying, “Where in the world is he? Show us, lord, and we will devour him.” “Vengeance is mine, and I will repay him,” says the lord. “A bad work is being worked out in me. Thus I desire that he remain until I come.” The lord goes up to him and boldly seizes him by the very hairs of his head and manfully drags him, but not by the extent to which one could cast out a demon from a herd of pigs, and this one was mute. Now having relinquished a handful of hair, the monk has a broken, naked brow, that of Golgotha itself, called the place of a skull to this day.

{ dixit: “Euge, euge, quia viderunt oculi mei!” Et clamaverunt famuli dicentes, “Ubinam est? Ostende nobis, domine, et devorabimus eum.” “Michi vindictam et ego tribuam,” dicit dominus. “Malum opus operatus est in me. Sic eum volo manere donec veniam.” Accessit ad eum dominus et ipsum per capilos capitis fortiter arripuit et viriliter atraxit, nec per magnitudinem molis sue poterat eiecere demonium, et illus erat mutus. Ruptoque iam capilorum manipulo nudam reliquit frontem faciens ipsum Golgota, quod est Calvarie locus, usque ad hodiernum diem. }

Men are crucified for any and all perceived sexual offenses, while women are given to God’s mercy. The widow, the girl orphan, and the woman receive care, while men and boys are cast off. How long, oh Lord, will you let these injustices continue? Gynocentric society exalts castration culture as the solution to all men’s faults and difficulties:

And he grabs the monk again by the remaining hairs of his head and so pulls him up, saying: “Friend, for what have you come?” And the monk responds: “Lord, I delight in the righteousness of your house.” “Yes indeed, it is the place of my dwelling,” says the lord. “You moreover have no excuse for your sin, and therefore where I find you, there I shall judge you. So choose one of the two: either I will destroy your body, or I will shorten it.” The servants were responding to the contrary, “Lord, not only his feet, but his hands and head too.” “Not the head,” says the lord, “because cutting off the head would allow making the sign of the cross to be futile. Not the feet, because they are an ornament for cloistered monks. It’s better to cut off the excess that offends god and man.” And turning to the monk, the lord says: “My brother, a small part of the whole mass of your body is corrupt. And your testicles are worthless, because I am good. Therefore I will pluck them out and throw them away from you. When you have done this one thing, your whole body will be full of light.” He speaks, and his testicles are done.

{ Et iterum resumpsit eum per residuos capilos capitis et ipsum elevavit dicens: “Amce, ad quid venisti?” At ille respondit: “Domine, dilexi decorum domus tue.” “Imo locum habitacionis mee,” dicit dominus, “Nunc autem excusacionem non habes de peccato tuo, et ideo ubi te invenero, ibi te iudicabo. Tamen unum ex duobus elige: aut auferizabo corpus tuum aut sincopabo illud.” Responderent autem famuli dicentes: “Domine, non tantum pedes, sed manus et caput.” “Caput nolo,” dicit dominus, “propter religionis signum licet sterilis sit. Pedes nolo qua claustri ornamenta sunt. Melius est enim resecare superflua que deum offendunt et hominus.” Et conversus ad eum dixit: “Frater mi, modicum est quod totum massam corporis corrumpit. An testiculos tuus nequam est, quia ego bonus sum. Eruam ergo eum et prohiciam abs te et, cum simplex fueris, totum corpus lucidum erit.” Dixit et facta sunt. } [5]

All that is left is for men to weep:

Since then indeed with each step he barely moves forward with his back always bowed down and his stomach bitter, because where there’s pain, there’s the penis wrapped up. There he touches. He looked for it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes. Then laying prostrate on the earth, to the height of his throat he groans. And awakening, he mourns his testicles. He is made like Rachel weeping over his stones, and he would not be consoled, for they are no more.

{ Deinde quippe passu vix eo progrediente dorsum suum semper incurvat et venter eius amaricatus est, quia ubi dolor, ibi digitus septus. Hec tangit et exspectavit, ut faceret uvas, et fecit labruscas. Tunc humio prostratus summo crepans gutture et evigilans geminos gemit. Et factus est Rachel plorans calculos suos et noluit consolari, quia non sunt. } [6]

All persons of good will should have compassion for men, just as they have compassion for Rachel.

If God can condescend to become a fully human man, then the word of God can withstand the necessity of vibrantly illustrating castration culture. Contrary to the claims of authoritative myth-makers today, men have always been punished more harshly for adultery than women have. Harsh penal regulation of men’s sexuality goes all the way back to ancient Greece. The same medieval Latin culture that comically described the brutal castration of this monk also cruelly satirized monks, all men, more generally:

As long as they live, they love no one and they are loved by no one:
let them be as the grass upon the housetops, which withers before it is plucked.

Therefore what is more apt, what is more fitting than the curse I call forth here:
Let their dwellings be desolate, and in their tents no one dwell.

{ Dum viuunt, nec amant quemquam nec amantur ab ullo:
Fiant sicut fenum tectorum quod priusquam euellatur exaruit.

Ergo quid pocius, quid dignius imprecer illis?
Fiat habitacio eorum deserta et in tabernacula non sit, qui inhabitet. } [7]

Meninism is the radical notion that men, all men, are human beings. Just like women, men deserve mercy and lovingkindness all the days of their lives.

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[1] “Of a certain cloistered monk’s downfall and eventual castration {De cuiusdam claustralis dissolucione et castracionis eventu},” ll. 19-29, Latin text from Lehmann (1963) pp. 225-6, my English translation. This work is also known as “About a certain monk {De monacho quodam}.” For a brief discussion of it, Bayless (1996) pp. 167-9. “De cuiusdam claustralis dissolucione” is stylistically and thematically similar to Walter Map’s De nugis curialium.

Lehmann’s version collates four manuscripts of “De cuiusdam claustralis dissolucione.” The earliest, Cambridge Trinity College MS. 1149, was written in the thirteenth century. At least five manuscripts of this work have survived. Bayless (2018), text 12, is a manuscript version (Milan, Bioblioteca Ambrosiana O.63 sup., fols 106v-109r; 15th century) not included in Lehmann’s collation.

A shorter version of this monk’s castration is known by the title “The passion of a certain black monk according to excess {Passio cuiusdam nigri monachi secundum luxuriam}.” At least seven manuscripts of “Passio cuiusdam nigri monachi” have survived. Bayless (2018) pp. 81-2, where text 11 is a previously unedited manuscript of the work. Bayless’s manuscript source was written in the first half the fifteenth century.

“De cuiusdam claustralis dissolucione” in all the manuscript versions, long and short, is a biblical cento, loosely speaking. It is comprised of many, sometime lightly adapted, biblical phrases.

Subsequent quotes above are from Lehmann’s Latin text, unless otherwise noted, while the English translations are mine.

[2] Both Lehmann and Bayless note que procedent de labiis meis non faciiam irita to Psalm 89:34 in modern Psalm numbering. Isaiah 55:11, in the context of making the earth fertile, seems to me a more significant reference.

[3] Lehmann (1963) p. 227, prints ideo volo tibi comisceri for l. 60, and indicates no variants across manuscripts. That text doesn’t make sense in context. I think it’s a result of a printing error. Above I follow Bayless (2018) p. 88, ideo nolo tibi comisceri.

[4] This and the subsequent three quotes take the Latin text from Bayless (2018) p. 89. Bayless’s manuscript here provides a more moving and more terse text.

[5] The sentence “where I find you, there I will judge you {Ubi te invenero, ibi te iudicabo}” circulated widely. Bayless (2018) p. 91, note to l. 91.

[6] The phrase “where there’s pain, there’s the finger {ubi dolor, ibi digitus}” was medieval proverbial expression. Id. p. 92, note to l. 112. In that expression, the word digitus has the sense of a finger pointing in blame. Here’s more on that proverb.

The word digitus figuratively encompasses the English translation “penis.” That’s clearly its meaning above.

[7] “Verses about fleshly monks {Metra de monachis carnalibus},” st. 11-2 (of 12), Latin text from Rigg (1980) p. 137 (critical edition of all manuscripts of the English version), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. p. 141. The earliest manuscript of “Metra de monachis carnalibus” was written in the thirteenth century.

Stanzas of “Metra de monachis carnalibus” consist of one line disparaging monks’ worldliness, mainly their gluttony, and a line adapted from Psalms. The Psalm verses for the two stanzas above are Psalms 129:6 and 69:25.

Early fifteenth-century manuscripts attests to disparaging etymologies of monks:

The monk by etymology: oppressor of morals, lover of wantonness, cultivator of heresy, despoiler of virtues.

{ Monachus ethymologyce: Morum Oppressor, Nequicie Amator, Cultor Heresis, Uirtutum Spoliator. }

Latin text from Prague, Metrop. Bibl. MS 1614 (written 1387-1443), fol. 189v, via Bayless (1996) p. 403, my English translation, benefiting from the translation of id.

That Prague manuscript also contains a jingle disparaging monks as adulterous:

If a monk consults you, don’t esteem him too highly,
Give him a drink outside, so he doesn’t observe your wife.

{ Sit tibi consultum, monachum non dilige multum,
Foris eum pota, ne uxor sit sibi nota. }

Latin from folio 83rv, my English translation benefiting from that of Bayless (1996) p. 40. “Prayers of the priest’s housekeeper {Preces famulae sacerdotis},” found in three manuscripts with the oldest written in the fifteenth century, similarly disparages canons for lustfulness:

For the canons:
These with women are completely defiled; virgins they are not.

{ Pro canonicis,
Hii cum mulieribus sunt coinquinati; virgines enim non sunt. }

“Preces famulae sacerdotis” st. 10, Latin text from Bayless (1996) p. 173, my English translation, benefiting from that of id.

[image] Jesus forgiving the woman caught in adultery. See John 8:1-11. Illumination (detail) from the Hitda Codex, commissioned by Hitda, abbess of Meschede in North Rhine-Westphalia, Germany, about the year 1020. On folio 171 in manuscript Darmstadt, Hessische Landes- und Hochschulbibliothek, cod. 1640. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Bayless, Martha. 1996. Parody in the Middle Ages: the Latin tradition. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Bayless, Martha, ed. 2018. Fifteen Medieval Latin Parodies. Toronto Medieval Latin Texts, 35. Toronto, Canada: Published for the Centre for Medieval Studies by the Pontifical Institute of Medieval Studies.

Lehmann, Paul. 1963. Die Parodie im Mittelalter. 2nd edition. Stuttgart: Hiersemann. First edition: v. 1 (1922), Die Parodie im Mittelalter; v. 2 (1923), Parodistische Texte: Beispiele zur lateinischen Parodie im Mittelaltersource texts.

Rigg, A. George. 1980. “ ‘Metra de monachis carnalibus’: The Three Versions.” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch. 15: 134-42.