Ignaure & castration: against women imprisoning men in love

six legendary lovers worship Venus

The Old French lay Ignaure, composed about the year 1200, tells a common story of penal bias in punishment for adultery. Men’s sexuality has long been socially constructed to have lower social value than women’s sexuality. However, with astonishing daring, Ignaure didn’t merely represent gynocentric reality. This marginalized lay also sought to change it. Ignaure presented a lesson from its man author to the woman patron who loved him. The lesson of Ignaure remains to be learned: women who reject the masculine model of Jesus’s love and seek to control and constrain men’s sexuality produce castration and death.

Violence against men in medieval literature and society, as in most societies today, is prevalent and unmarked. Gender bias in medieval violence gave elite medieval men a life expectancy about nine years less than that of elite medieval women. Violence against men has often targeted men’s genitals. When Heloise of the Paraclete’s relatives discovered her sexual affair with Peter Abelard, he was castrated. She wasn’t subject to any violence. Like some men academics today, the medieval courtier Sincopus castrated himself for career advancement. To enhance further his social standing, Sincopus subsequently hosted dinner parties for eminent guests. One night, guests inadvertently ate the ashes of Sincopus’s genitals. A culturally elaborate form of cannibalism, castration culture cuts deeply into European culture.

Ignaure introduces itself as an instructive tale of love. It subtly associates sense and wisdom with men’s seminal work:

Anybody who loves should not conceal,
rather should with none but fine words expose
that from which others can learn
and none but a fine lesson take.

Seeds are wasted if they’re kept covered.
That which is shown and revealed
can sow a seed in any place.
For this reason I wish to start a romance

{ Cors ki aimme ne doit reponre,
Ains doit auchun biel mot despondre,
U li autre puissent aprendre
Et auchun biel example prendre.

Sens est perdus ki est couvers;
Cis k’est moustrés et descouvers
Puet en auchun liu semenchier.
Pour chou voel roumans coumenchier } [1]

The central character of this romance is a very sexually potent knight named Ignaure. He enjoyed the music of flutes and pipes and the pleasure of gathering blossoms to celebrate the coming of May. Courtly love for women aroused and inflamed him. Yet he wasn’t a self-abasing knight groveling in service before one lady-idol. He was sexually loving the twelve high-born, beautiful wives of the twelve leading knights of the castle in which he was born. Women called him Nightingale. Women gave him money and goods in appreciation for his love. Who has ever welcomed the seeds of such romance?

The adulterous wives who loved Ignaure refused to accept that one man could fully love all twelve of them. At first they didn’t know that their extra-marital affairs were all with the same man. Some medieval men for amusement recited liturgical poems recast as drinking songs; other men confessed their weakness for beautiful, warmly receptive women like those in Pavia. In that spirit, these twelve wives got together in a garden and arranged a mock confession of their love affairs to one of them pretending to be a priest. That ordinary childish fun turned terrible when the fake woman priest found that all the women confessed to be having affairs with Ignaure. He was the same man with which the pretend woman priest herself was having a love affair!

No less prone to stumbling than Jesus’s own original twelve bumbling apostles, these twelve adulterous wives responded furiously and violently to not having sole possession of their lover. Jesus knew that the Samaritan woman at the well had five husbands and was currently sleeping with a man who wasn’t her husband. Yet Jesus treated the Samaritan woman with such dignity and respect that she called her fellow Samaritans to meet Jesus. When Jesus encountered a woman caught in the act of adultery, he saved her from punishment.[2] While the Gospel authors didn’t record such love toward relationally wayward men, Jesus almost surely would have treated men with equal compassion. Most importantly, Jesus, a fully masculine man, offered his love and his body wholly and completely to all who followed him. The twelve adulterous wives, however, plotted to kill Ignaure for loving all twelve of them.

One of the twelve adulterous wives lured Ignaure into an enclosed garden. There the other adulterous wives were hiding, waiting for him. They had sharp knives concealed under their cloaks. When the gate to the garden was locked and Ignaure had sat down, these woman rushed out. They were inflamed with anger and rage. They encircled Ignaure. Bereft of self-consciousness, they called Ignaure faithless, treacherous, and disloyal.

Despite being violently ambushed, Ignaure remained calm and retained his love for these adulterous wives. He declared that every one of them he loved truly with a pure and sincere heart. One adulterous wife cross-examined him, expecting with a leading question to lead him into an abject confession of wrong-doing:

“What?” said another, “what did you say?
You do not love me faithfully?”

{ “Coi?” dist une autre, “c’avés dit?
Enne m’amés vous par fianche?” }

Ignaure in response confidently asserted his capacity to love women:

Yes, with all my power,
you indeed and all the others,
I love truly, all of them, without doubt,
in both their solace and their delight.

{ Oïl, de toute ma poissanche,
Et vous et les autres testoutes
Ain ge bien, testoutes sans doutes,
Et lor solas et lor delis. }

Yelling and threatening, the women drew out their knives and said that they would kill him. Ignaure calmly responded:

Ladies, you would never be so cruel
that you would commit so great a sin.
If now I had my helmet laced on my head
and was riding my warhorse Equilanche
with shield around my neck and lance in hand,
so I would descend here,
and place myself at your mercy.
If I were to die at such beautiful hands,
I would be a martyr with the saints.
Well I know I was born at an auspicious hour.

{ Dames, ja ne serés si crueux
Que vous fachiés si grant pechiet.
S’or avoie l’iaume lachiet
Et fuisse el destrier d’Equilanche,
L’escu au col, el puing la lanche,
Si descendroie jou ichi
Et me metroie en vo merchi.
Se je muir a si bieles mains,
G’iere martyrs avoec les sains;
Bien sai qui fui nés en bonne eure. }

Most men don’t want to compete with women, even women who are trying to kill them. Ignaure’s bold and fearless speech brought love to the women’s hearts.

One of the adulterous wives proposed that Ignaure be allowed to love only one woman, and that he choose which one to love. The other adulterous wives agreed to impose this sexual constraint on Ignaure rather than to kill him. Ignaure chose the woman who had intervened to save his life. Yet he also truthfully and courageously said that he was “much grieved {molt dolans}” over losing the other women as concurrent lovers.

Having sex with only one woman creates risks for men. One risk is being stranded in a relationship that turns sexless. Another is that the man slips into gyno-idolatry and becomes oblivious to the reality that his beloved woman is a human like any other woman. Yet another risk is that the woman becomes excessively domineering over her lover and essentially makes him her prisoner. Moreover, when a man loves just one woman who is another man’s wife, he faces an increased risk of being caught in his frequent visits to her. Ignaure summarizes the risk to a man of having only one woman lover with a homely Old French proverb:

A mouse with just one hole can’t last long.

{ Soris ki n’a c’un trau poi dure. } [3]

Men deserve freedom to choose the sexual risks they will take. The angry, adulterous wives deprived Ignaure of choice.

The sexual constraint the women imposed on Ignaure proved disastrous for him and them. The knight caught his wife and Ignaure in bed together. Ignaure was imprisoned under the threat of being killed. The wife wasn’t punished. But she and the other adulterous wives were upset about the imprisonment of Ignaure. They swore to fast until they found out whether he would be killed or released. They thus engaged in ridiculous news-seeking and showed callus indifference to Ignaure’s actual fate. Fasting in Christian understanding is a practice of purification. Women must purify themselves to love men more substantively.

In the Christian Last Supper, Christ recast the Incarnation as Christians continually feeding upon his body. Christian cannibalism is loving incorporation. One of the betrayed husbands proposed a parody of the Eucharistic meal:

After four days, let’s remove from the serving man
all of his member dangling down below,
the delights of which have pleased our wives.
Then let’s make it appear to be something to eat;
the heart we’ll put in as well.
Twelve bowls from this we’ll make
and trick them into eating it,
because we couldn’t take any better revenge.

{ Au quart jor prendons le vassal
Tout le daerrain membre aval,
Dont li delis lor soloit plaire,
Si en fache on .I. mangier faire;
Le cuer avoec nous meterons.
.XII. escuieles en ferons;
Par engien lor faisons mangier,
Car nous n’en poons mieus vengier. }

The betrayed husbands prepared such a meal and gave it a sweet aroma. They praised this “good and fine {bonne et biele}” meal to their fasting wives. The adulterous wives broke their fast to eat the meal. They thus ate Ignaure’s penis and his heart. [4]

Most women don’t desire literally to eat their merely human lover’s penis and heart. To the principal adulterous wife, who was the pretend woman priest who became Ignaure’s exclusive lover, her husband declared:

Lady priestess,
you have already been his mistress.
You have eaten that of your great desire,
which provided you with much pleasure,
for you had no wish for any other.
In the end it has been served to you.
I have killed and destroyed your lover.
All can share a piece of the pleasure
from that which women crave most.
In having it, was there enough for you twelve?
We are now well-avenged for the shame.

{ Dame prestresse,
Ja fustes vous sa mistresse.
Mangié avés le grant desir
Ki si vous estoit em plaisir,
Car d’autre n’aviés vous envie;
En la fin en estes servie.
Vostre drut ai mort et destruit;
Toutes partirés au deduit
De chou que femme qui plus goulouse.
End avés assés en vous douse?
Bien nous sommes vengié del blasme. }

Ignaure had been killed. His heart and penis had been torn off from his body and made into a meal. The adulterous wives recognized their culpability in that horror. They vowed to God that they would never eat again. This vow they kept, and they too died.

The adulterous wives contributed to castration culture by hypocritically seeking to control and constrain Ignaure’s sexuality. Eunuchs were widely despised in ancient and medieval times. One man trobairitz, presenting himself as a eunuch, sang of his misery:

Of this I fully assure you:
that which gives a man the most happiness
I have lost and have instead been given shame,
and I dare not say who took it from me.
I have truly a good heart,
since I speak of such great embarrassment.

But for that reason I so hasten
to speak of this that I now lament:
because I wish easily, without delay, to relieve
all husbands from the nightmare,
and the anger and the worry,
for which they look at me with darkened face.

Although I act gracious and generous,
I am in fact flaccid and despicable,
a coward both armed and without breastplate.
I am leprous and foul-smelling,
a miser, a low-grade host,
of all by far the most inept warrior.

{ D’aisso vos fatz ben totz certz:
qu’aicels don hom es plus gais
ai perdutz, don ai vergoigna;
e non aus dir qui·ls me trais;
et ai ben cor vertadier
quar dic tant grand encombrier.

Mas per so sui tant espertz
de dir aisso que er plais:
quar voill leu gitar ses poigna
totz los maritz de pantais
e d’ira e de conssirier,
don mout m’en fan semblant nier.

Si·m fatz coindes e degertz
si·m sui eu flacs e savais
volpilz garnitz e ses broigna,
e sui mizels e putnais:
escars, vilan conduchier,
de tot lo plus croi guerrier. } [5]

Peter Abelard was viciously abused as a castrated man. Modern authorities, however, have obliterated castration as personal experience of men and cultural constraint on men. Instead, the psychoanalytic abstraction “castration complex” is used to disparage men’s wounds, fears, and anxieties. The adulterous wives duped into eating their lover’s penis finally digested the reality of castration culture. Castration culture must be understood before it leads to more deaths of men and women.

Ignaure includes a telling epilogue. In that epilogue, the author (self-identified as Renaut) blesses and praises his patron:

And a blessing be on her who had it made,
this lay which must be pleasing to lovers.
She has bound me so strongly
that I am unable to be untied.

{ Et benie soit ki le fist faire,
Cest lai ki as amans doit plaire.
Cele m’a si fort atachié
Que n’en puis estre deslachié. }

Renaut then describes the woman to whom he is bound. She is beautiful, charming, and very polite. Moreover, her breasts, which are “very firm {bien duretes},” push out her tunic, and she has a “lovely waist {gente par la chainture}.” In summary, she seems to be a woman of many men’s dreams. But Renaut hints at a difficulty he has:

She is the chain, all entirely.
Be aware that through this chain
the lady leads me wherever she wishes.
Much am I in a very sweet prison;
I have no desire to be ransomed.
That is the subject of this lay.
Here for you I will end it.
The French, the Poitevins, and the Bretons
call it the lay of the Prisoner.
Here ends the lay of the Prisoner.
I know about it absolutely nothing more.

{ C’est la caïne toute entiere.
Sachié que par cester caïne
La u la dame velt me mainne.
Molt sui en tres douche prison;
Issir n’en quier par raenchon.
C’est la matere de cel lay;
Ichi le vous definerai.
Franchois, Poitevin et Breton
L’apielent le lay del Prison.
Ichi faut li lays del Prison;
Je n’en sai plus ne o ne non. }

The last line above is best read ironically. The lay of the prisoner seems to describe the personal situation of the author Renaut. His woman patron apparently demanded to love him wholly and exclusively. That should be his choice. But he wasn’t given the freedom to choose. She, a person under whom he worked, enchained him.[6] The lesson of the lay is that women controlling and constraining men’s sexuality isn’t fruitful. Such possessive dominance in love leads to castration and death.

The lesson of the lay of the prisoner has largely been lost. The text itself survives in only one manuscript. One modern man medievalist with no appreciation for men’s interests interpreted Ignaure genderlessly as a “social drama of class conflict.”[7] Modern women medievalists have a keener sense of their gender identity and gender interests. Gynocentric medieval scholarship has established Christine de Pizan, Marguerite Porete, and the beguines as leading figures of the European Middle Ages. Not surprisingly, an eminent woman medievalist reads Ignaure as a satire against beguines and their Eucharistic piety.[8] Another woman medievalist reads the penal killing of Ignaure and the adulterous wives eating his penis and heart as an appealing metaphor for heterosexual love:

As a metaphor for love, the act of cannibalism gives voice to the wordless acts of physical love and intimate exchange that are difficult if not impossible to describe, and thus articulates the possibility of unity between two desiring subjects. … Placing satisfied female desire at the center of the tale also reclaims female literary influence, putting women in charge of heart and penis, in charge of desire and its related lyric outpouring. [9]

What about satisfying male desire? Is Ignaure’s sexual desire humanely satisfied in this romance? Why is castration culture unremarkable within dominant discourse?

Good-faith “and/both” interpretation can contribute to appreciating the cultural richness of medieval literature and activating its critical potential. Considering the Wife of Bath’s Prologue from the perspectives of “misogynists and feminists” merely exercises narrow minds across the linear moral hierarchy of today’s dominant, totalizing gender paradigm.[10] A good-faith effort at “and/both” thinking would also read the Wife of Bath’s Prologue from the perspectives of misandrists and meninists. Such readings can provide critical insight into the highly disproportionate imprisonment of men, pervasive anti-men bias in the administration of domestic violence laws, and the incarceration of men too poor to make onerous monthly payments obligations resulting from a man choosing nothing more than to have consensual sex. Even without a general commitment to “and/both” interpretation, medieval literary studies should strive to be welcoming and inclusive of meninist literary criticism.

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[1] Ignaure vv. 1-4, 11-14, Old French text (Picard dialect) from Burgess & Brook (2010) p. 70, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The introductory verses of this lay aren’t transparent. They apparently relate to the amorous context of the epilogue. Id. pp. 60-1. My translation, while following the Old French closely, attempts to bring out the relation of sens {good sense; significance; seed; semen} and semencher {to plant seed; to have sex of reproductive type} to sexuality. Other scholars have recognized this relation. Id. and Bloch (1992) p. 127. An alternate translation of Ignaure, vv. 11-14:

Talent is wasted if it is kept hidden;
That which is displayed and revealed
Can begin to grow in some place.
For this reason I wish to begin a tale.

Burgess & Brook (2010) p. 71.

Ignaure is known through only one manuscript, Paris BnF fr. 1553, f. 485r – 488v. That manuscript appears to have been written between 1285 and 1290. Burgess & Brook (2010) p. 7. Ignaure, v. 621, identifies its author as Renaut. This Renaut has long been regarded as Renaut de Beaujeu, but recent scholarship suggests Renaud of Saint-Trivier. Scholars have dated the composition of Ignaure to the late twelfth century or early thirteenth century. Id. pp. 8-10. Here’s an incomplete bibliography of studies concerning Ignaure. On the structure of Ignaure in relation to other Old French lays, Sasková (2009).

Subsequent quotes from Ignaure are similarly sourced. They are vv. 310-11 (What?…), 312-5 (Yes, with all my power…), 324-33 (Ladies, you would never be so cruel…), 373 (A mouse…), 541-8 (After four days…), 565-76 (Lady priestess…), 627-30 (And a blessing be on her…), 652-62 (She is the chain…).

[2] John 4:1-42 (Samaritan woman at the well), John 8:1-11 (woman caught in adultery).

[3] Emphasizing the importance of this medieval folk wisdom, Ignaure repeats it subsequently with slightly different wording:

The mouse who has but one hole
is very soon caught in a trap.

{ La soris ki n’a c’un pertruis
Est molt tost prise en enganee. }

Vv. 4801-1. This proverbial wisdom exists in a variety of closely related medieval sayings, e.g. “God help the mouse who knows but one hole {Dahez ait la soriz qui ne set c’un pertuis},” and “The mouse is unhappy if it knows but one hole {La soriz est mauvese qui ne set c’um pertuis}.” Burgess & Brook (2010) p. 107, note to v. 373, and more generally, Singer (1999) pp. 154-5. The metaphorical implications for men’s loving sexual work with their penises is straight-forward.

Perhaps as affirmative action to help men in their subordinate position, some medieval women allowed men to have multiple beloved women. One such big-hearted woman exclamed one morning to her beloved:

Well, good morning! And tell me,
where have you been?
I will let you love another,
if you also love me.

Kharja concluding late-thirteenth-century poem by Todros ben Judah Halevi Abulafia / Todrōs ben Yehūdā Abū-l Āfia; English translation by DenBoer (2010) p. 64 (no. 49).

[4] Ignaure has been classified with a group of tales known as the “eaten heart story.” In Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk Literature, the eaten heart story is Q478.1: “adultress is caused unwittingly to eat her lover’s heart (sometimes other parts of the body).” Cited in Burgess & Brook (2010) p. 25. Ten medieval European eaten-heart tales have been identified. For a review, id., pp. 25-35. A mid-thirteenth-century eaten-heart tale is Konrad von Würzburg’s “The Heart’s Tidings {Das Herzmäre}.” For an English translation, Gentry (1983) pp. 118-24. Another early example, thought to have been written about 1300, is The Romance of the Castle-Holder of Coucy and the Lady of Fayel {Le Roman du Châtelain de Coucilet et la Dame de Fayel} by the little known French writer Jakemon Sakesep.

The adulterous wives eating Ignaure’s penis in addition to his heart is central to the distinctiveness and meaning of Ignaure. Scholars haven’t considered seriously the eating of the penis or castration culture more generally. See, e.g. Burgess & Brook (2010) pp. 35-6.

[5] Raimbaut d’Aurenga (Raimbaut of Orange), “For a long time I have been hiding {Lonc temps ai estat cubertz}” st. 2-4, Old Occitan text (based on that of Milone (1998)) from Lirica Medievale Romanza, my English translation benefiting from the Italian translation of id. (Samantha Molinaro), the English translation from trobar, and that of Gaunt (1989) pp. 140-1. Lirica Medievale Romanza provides many other songs by Raimbaut d’Aurenga, as does trobar

At some point in his life, Raimbaut d’Aurenga apparently was highly capable of loving women well. He sang:

Thus about loving I say:
I love so guilelessly
her whom I should love,
that the best lovers
(if they were sure how truly I love her)
would come to me here
to beg from this day forth
that I teach them as apprentices
about good loving;
and even thus to beg
me about it would come five hundred ladies.

{ Don d’amar dic:
Qu’am si ses tric
Lieys qu’amar deg,
Que·l miels adreg
(s’eron sert cum l’am finamens)
M’irion sai
Preguar hueymai
Que·ls essenhes cum aprendens
De ben amar;
E neus preguar
M’en venrion dompnas cinc cens. }

Raimbaut d’Aurenga, “I am very pleased {Assaz m’es belh},” st. 4, Old Occitan text (Pattison edition) via Lirica Medievale Romanza, my English translation, benefiting from that of trobar and Gaunt (1989) p. 124. Raimbaut expresses in some of his songs vigorous sexuality:

Indeed it shall be, lady, a great honor
if I from you am granted
the privilege under the covers
of holding you in naked embrace;
you are worth as much as the best hundred ladies!
And I’m not overly boastful —
the sole thought of this has rejoiced my heart
more than if I were the emperor.

{ Ben aurai, dompna, grand honor
si ja de vos m’es jutgada
honranssa que sotz cobertor
vos tenga nud’ embrassada;
car vos valetz las meillors cen!
Q’ieu non sui sobregabaire —
sol del pes ai mon cor gauzen
plus que s’era emperaire! }

Raimbaut d’Aurenga, “I do not sing for bird nor flower {Non chant per auzel ni per flor},” st. 3, Old Occitan text (Pattison edition) via Lirica Medievale Romanza, my English translation benefiting from that of trobar. See similarly Raimbaut d’Aurenga, “Amid the frost and wind and mud {Entre gel e vent e fanc},” st. 8, available with Old Occitan text and English translation at trobar and Gaunt (1989) p. 142.

As a model for his lady and him, Raimbaut references Iseult and Tristan cuckolding her husband King Mark:

See, lady, how God helps
the lady agreeable to loving.
Iseult was in great fear,
then soon she was counseled.
She made her husband believe
that no man born of woman
had touched her – now
the very same thing you can do!

{ Vejatz, dompna, cum Dieus acor
Dompna que d’amar s’agrada.
Q’Iseutz estet en gran paor,
Puois fon breumens conseillada;
Qu’il fetz a son marit crezen
C’anc hom que nasques de maire
Non toques en lieis. – Mantenen
Atrestal podetz vos faire! }

“Non chant per auzel ni per flor,” st. 6, sourced as previously. In the Iseult & Tristan tales of Thomas of Britain and Béroul, Iseult passes a chastity test throught a guileful, covering interaction with Tristan (an ambiguous oath). Whether Raimbaut was castrated at some point in his life, or he only claimed to be castrated to dupe husbands, isn’t known. Cf. Gaunt (1989) pp. 139-43. But castration unquestionably was a real risk that medieval men endured.

Another, possibly related poem, attests to medieval awareness of the horror of castration. This Old Occitan poem tells of Linaura (an Old Occitan form for Ignaure) being castrated and killed for having sex with another man’s wife:

From Linaura, know
how he was greatly loved
and how all the ladies
loved him and sought him,
until the wicked husband,
by great treachery,
caught him and had him killed.
But this was most deplorable,
that his penis was butchered.
He was, I believe, cut up
and divided into four parts
by those four husbands.
He was the master
of his office
until he was betrayed
and killed by the jealous.

{ De Linaura sapchatz
com el fon cobeitatz
e com l’ameron totas
donas e·n foron glotas,
entro·l maritz felon,
per granda trassion,
lo fey ausir al plag.
Mas aco fon mot lag
que Massot so auzis;
e·n fo, so cre, devis
e faitz catre mitatz
pels catre molheratz.
Sest ac la maÿstria
dedintre sa bailia,
entro que fon fenitz
e pels gilos traïtz. }

Arnaut Guilhem de Marsan, ensenhamen “Who is able to understand well {Qui comte vol apendre},” vv. 217-32, Old Occitan text of Gouiran (2014) via Rialto, my English translation, benefiting from the French translation of id. and the English translation of Burgess & Brook (2010) pp. 14-5. This poem dates to 1170-80. Philologists have debated the meaning of moheratz and massot. Following Mouzat and Pirot, I’ve interpreted these words as “husbands” and “club / penis(mace / massue). For the philological issues, with relevant scholarly references, id.

Ignaure’s castration seems to have been widely known in late twelfth-century France. Chrétien de Troyes refered to Ignaure:

That is the greatly loved Ignaure,
a pleasing man who loves women.

{ C’est Iagnaures li covoitiez,
Li amoreus et li pleisanz. }

The Knight of the Cart {Chevalier de la charette}, vv. 5788-9, Old French text and English translation from Burgess & Brook (2010) p. 13. Moreover, Linaura (Old Occitan form of Ignaure) was a code name (senhal) used for Raimbaut d’Aurenga in the songs of the men trobairitiz Giraut de Bornelh and Gaucelm Faidit. Id. p. 15. See also Samantha Molinaro’s commentary on Raimbaut d’Aurenga.

[6] Women using their positions of authority to coerce men sexually is morally wrong. That’s also formally illegal in most places. In thirteenth-century Navarre, Thibault de Champagne sang of a similar imprisonment:

Lady, when I stood before you
and I saw you for the first time,
my heart leaped forth so far
that it remained with you when I left.
Then I was led without offer of ransom
to be captive in the sweet prison

{ Dame, quant je devant vos fui
Et je vos vi premierement,
Mes cuers aloit si tresaillant
Qu’il vos remest quant je m’en mui.
Lors fu menés sanz raençon
En la douce chartre en prison }

“Just like the unicorn am I {Ausi conme unicorne sui}” vv. 10-15, Old French text from Samuel N. Rosenberg, my English translation benefiting from that of id. and O’Sullivan (2005) pp. 190-1. Here’s the song with a modern French translation. Culpability for this man’s imprisonment at least in part goes to men’s human nature. This song concludes with recognizing that this man, like the many men vastly disproportionately imprisoned, “bears so heavy a burden {soustenir si grevain fes}.” At least this man only metaphorically lost his heart, rather than being killed and having his penis and heart eaten, as happened to Ignaure. Anne Azéma performed this song with appropriate poignancy.

[7] Bloch (1991) p. 124. In Bloch’s line of thinking, the men-abasing sexual feudalism of courtly love expresses misogyny.

[8] Newman (2013) pp. 178-81. In this interpretation, acts of the wives that have pious analogues, e.g. confession and fasting, represent piety. Acts of the wives that don’t have pious analogues, e.g. adultery and planning to kill Ignaure, are parodies of piety. That’s a tendentious pattern of interpretation.

[9] Heneveld (2018) p. 412.

[10] Newman (2013) pp. 172-3. On “a hermeneutics of  both/and” more generally, id. pp. 7-13. Looking at the Wife of Bath’s Prologue from the perspectives of feminism and misogyny surely isn’t what “sic et non {yes and no}” meant to Peter Abelard.

[image] Venus worshipped by six men, all legendary lovers: Achilles, Tristan, Lancelot, Samson, Paris and Troilus. Decorated birth tray (desco da parto), made c. 1400. Ascribed to variously to Master of Charles of Durazzo, Master Taking of Tarento, and Francesco de Michele. Preserved as item R.F.2089 in the Musée du Louvre (Paris). Via Wikimedia Commons.

On “and/both” interpretation of this depiction, Newman (2013) pp. 8-10. This birth tray suggests to me gyno-idolatry. A particular woman enjoying six men lovers, or a particular man relishing twelve women lovers, seems to me understandable in both sacred and secular ways. Such understanding seems to me less socially significant than understanding the structural oppressions of gynocentrism.


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