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.