Paragon-Guardian Content Tribunal fights against patriarchy-tyranny

Thalia, muse of comedy

Another-Slave-Man: Hey, One-Slave-Man, you fool, what are you doing?

One-Slave-Man: (waking up) I’m getting ready to type out notes, “Topics to Study for the Mid-Term.”

Another-Slave-Man: Good luck. Ask something that’s not in the study notes, they’ll kick you in the ribs in the course evaluation.

One-Slave-Man: I know, and I don’t want to think about it.

Another-Slave-Man: It’s dangerous work, but they don’t care, and why should I? I think I’ll turn off the webcam, put the phone on silent mode, and take a snooze like you were.

One-Slave-Man: Do what you want. But I’m gonna give my students a play for their money. It’s time that they get a sense of the plot. (He turns on his webcam and microphone.) Hey students, you must press @ within 30 seconds to get credit for attending this class. (His admin dashboard subsequently shows 46 @’s out of 65 registered students).

Look, I’ll keep this brief, and you shouldn’t expect anything uplifting. I’m no Mary Beard, so you can’t brag about having attended a course by a member of the Board of the British Museum. But that’s no reason to put your mic on mute and ignore me. What I’ve got for you is simple and praise-worthy, just like you. The Paragon-Guardian Content Tribunal had deputized an army of cyber-residents to help Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other Internet mega-corps moderate content. It’s even worse than that. Most of the PGCT’s deputy paragon-guardians are young women, and our own university president, Love-Dworkin, is the head of the PGCT. She’s seriously sick. What do you think she’s doing? You want to guess? Go ahead.

Hey, Nitin Nohria, you say that she’s working to make women feel loved? No, that’s what Professor Proserpina was doing, before Emma Penelope betrayed her with their very own son!

And you, Vivek Wadhwa, you say she’s promoting women in technology? Get real. How many women do you think want to spend their days staring at a computer screen, alone and focused on writing code? Tech companies already have more software project managers and tech HR specialists than coders, plus huge stacks of women’s applications for those tech jobs. Women who go into tech today have to be coders. They’d have to be bugged out on the autism spectrum to want to be coders!

You’re all babbling nonsense, as usual. Just shut up and I’ll tell you what President Love-Dworkin is doing. She’s sex-trafficking in young women on behalf of Internet mega-corps. She’s enslaving them in the demeaning and mind-numbing work of content moderation. She tells them that working for meager wages as a Paragon-Guardian Content Tribunal deputy paragon-guardian content moderator is a very prestigious position. She tells them it’s an important stepping stone to becoming a published writer, or even a journalist.

President Love-Dworkin’s daughter, Hate-Dworkin, is trying to save our girls. So she’s ordered us to teach you Aristophanes’s great comedy, Wasps. If you study this play and learn all that we have to teach, you’ll find for yourself a much better life than orchestrating mobs on Twitter as a deputy paragon-guardian content moderator. Write that point down in your notes and double underline it!

(A message alert pops up on Another-Slave-Man’s screen. It’s from Hate-Dworkin.)

Hate-Dworkin: Teach them about the romance writer’s hate-fest against each other. Who would want to work on content-moderating that? Teach them that romance novels perpetuate sexist stereotypes and that romance novels are a form of women’s porn.

One-Slave-Man: Look, young lady, you ordered us to teach Aristophanes’s Wasps. Now you want us to teach romance novels? What sort of comedy is this?

Hate-Dworkin: Have you found my mother’s iPhone yet? She’s sure to call women students and try to seduce them into allowing her to be their mentor.

Another-Slave-Man: Her iPhone? Lady, we’ve already taken from her two iPhones, an Android, and a Blackberry.

Hate-Dworkin: The campus police told me that their Stingray is still picking up mobile phone calls from my mother’s iPhone 11 to women students. She must have another iPhone. Find it and get rid of it!

One-Slave-Man: Ok, if that’s what you want me to do to help women students.

(An email-received notification pops up on Another-Slave-Man’s screen. He opens the new email.)

Another-Slave-Man: Hmmm… “Prof. Another-Slave-Man, Hi! Instead of a 10-page paper on resisting misogyny in Wasps, can I write a 10-page paper on Nathan Taylor’s hate postings and moderating Twitter communication about knitters’ yarn colors to fight white supremacy? I think that’s more relevant and would help me get a good summer internship. Thanks. :)” … Well, well.

Hate-Dworkin: My mother has spoken with her. For sure.

Another-Slave-Man: So what do you want me to do?

Hate-Dworkin: Tell her no, you idiot! She can’t write a paper on Internet content moderation for a classics course on Aristophanes’s Wasps!

Another-Slave-Man: You want me to just tell a woman student “No”?

Hate-Dworkin: Yes!

Another-Slave-Man: Ok, whatever you say, you’re the college president’s daughter.

(A chorus of women students complaining about their mothers starts to fill the course chatroom.)

I’m fed up with social-media relations. I don’t want to be a paragon-guardian content moderator. I wanna be an elementary school teacher, an elementary school art teacher! Don’t call me again!

Stop texting me all the time. I just don’t care, ok? Patriarchy-tyranny, patriarchy–tyranny, patriarchy-tyranny — I just don’t care!

You’re my daughter. I raised you. What’s wrong with you?

Stop complaining about my father. We haven’t seen him for years. Just, like, let it go. My classics professor, he cares about me. I’ve got to write a paper on Wasps in relation to Thesmophoriazusae for him. No you can’t listen in. Leave me alone.

I am NOT your therapist. Stop posting all our family drama on Facebook, or I’ll unfriend you. I’ve got to FaceTime with my girlfriends, we need to figure out what to write about Wasps. Oh please, you know my boyfriend is black and a Muslim. It’s a play by Aristophanes!

One-Slave-Man: Students, please ensure that your devices aren’t on speakerphone when you’re in the course chatroom. We’re getting a lot of background conversations.

Chorus Leader: Being confined to our homes is ruining our college experience. Let’s write a group email to our glorious role model, the president of our college, a true woman leader, President Love-Dworkin. She’s always spoken out against women in the home.

(President Love-Dworkin’s icon pops up in the course chatroom.)

Love-Dworkin: The home is a prison. Liberate women!

(The president’s daughter’s icon pops up in the course chatroom.)

Hate-Dworkin: Mom, you were the one who closed down the campus and ordered all students to go home.

Love-Dworkin: I want them to roam about freely as virtual residents of vast cyber-space, searching out hateful content and suppressing patriarchy-tyranny through collective Twittering.

Hate-Dworkin: That’s ugly, nasty work.

Love-Dworkin: Young women must be champions of social justice!

Hate-Dworkin: Most would prefer to get together with their friends and talk about who went where last night, where you can get the best deal on that, what that bitch did, and boys.

Love-Dworkin: Women of the chorus, you future glorious deputy paragon-guardian content moderators, did you read what my daughter just wrote? She’s sexist, misogynist, and heterosexist. Denounce her, denounce her, cancel her virtual existence! Chase her from the course chatroom. Now! Start Twittering! Storm Facebook!

One-Slave-Man: Neither President Love-Dworkin nor her daughter Hate-Dworkin are registered for this classics course. You’re disrupting our teaching of Aristophanes’s Wasps. You two college officials, please leave the course chatroom.

Love-Dworkin: WASPs? White supremacist! You’re done teaching at this college! Just wait ’til I text the Board of Trustees!

Hate-Dworkin: Don’t forget that I’m the one who manages my mom’s online Fidelity account and who makes electronic payments to professors. I’m staying to monitor the course content. Tell my mom’s yes-woman chorus to leave.

Leader of the Chorus: We’re not leaving. We’re going to indict you as a criminal.

Hate-Dworkin: In Heaven’s name, stop raving, you lunatic woman. What joke of justice is this?

Chorus: You’re complicit in patriarchy-tyranny. That’s not licit, as long as love flows through our fists. Take this! (The chorus in unison moons the college president’s daughter.)

Another-Slave-Man: Uh-oh, we’re in big trouble. Switch to ancient Greek to calm the chatroom. They won’t understand.


ὡς ἅπανθ᾿ ὑμῖν τυραννίς ἐστι καὶ ξυνωμόται,
ἤν τε μεῖζον ἤν τ᾿ ἔλαττον πρᾶγμά τις κατηγορῇ.

{ Patriarchy-tyranny and co-conspirators everywhere, according to you,
as soon as you hear any critical voice, no matter how marginal. }


ἆρα δῆτ᾿ οὐκ αὐτὰ δῆλα
τοῖς πένησιν, ἡ τυραννὶς ὡς λάθρᾳ γ᾿ ἐ —
λάμβαν᾿ ὑπιοῦσά με

{ It’s now white as light for all to see clearly,
how patriarchy-tyranny seeps through micro-slights,
creeps up and tries to jump us with white supremacy. }


ἢν μὲν ὠνῆταί τις ὀρφῶς, μεμβράδας δὲ μὴ ᾿θέλῃ,
εὐθέως εἴρηχ᾿ ὁ πωλῶν πλησίον τὰς μεμβράδας·
“οὗτος ὀψωνεῖν ἔοιχ᾿ ἅνθρωπος ἐπὶ τυραννίδι.”
ἢν δὲ γήτειον προσαιτῇ ταῖς ἀφύαις ἥδυσμά τι,
ἡ λαχανόπωλις παραβλέψασά φησι θἀτέρῳ·
“εἰπέ μοι· γήτειον αἰτεῖς· πότερον ἐπὶ τυραννίδι;
ἢ νομίζεις τὰς Ἀθήνας σοὶ φέρειν ἡδύσματα;”

{ If someone buys sea-perch, but doesn’t want smelt,
the smelt seller in the next stall pipes up:
“Disgrace! This guy buys fish like a patriarch-tyrant!”
And if he asks for an onion for free to pep up his smelt,
the offended lady selling onions gives him an evil eye, saying:
“Asking for an onion because you want to be a patriarch-tyrant?
Or maybe you think Athens grows spices as post-colonial tribute to you?” }


κἀμέ γ᾿ ἡ πόρνη χθὲς εἰσελθόντα τῆς μεσημβρίας,
ὅτι κελητίσαι ᾿κέλευον, ὀξυθυμηθεῖσά μοι
ἤρετ᾿ εἰ τὴν Ἱππίου καθίσταμαι τυραννίδα.

{ The graduate student I’m sleeping with also got testy with me
when I went to her room yesterday noon and asked her to ride me.
She claimed that I, like Aristotle, seek to support patriarchy-tyranny! }


Ancient Greek is dead, dead letters,
teach in English, we’ll understand better!
Busy students have no time for philology,
teach in English & give us a classics degree!

One-Slave-Man: Bag groceries?

Another-Slave-Man: I did that for awhile. It’s not so bad.

Love-Dworkin: Stop teaching WASPs. If you don’t teach Aristophanes in support of social justice and fighting hate, you’ll be serving women by bagging groceries, if I have any breath left in me!

One-Slave-Man: Yup, women are grateful if you carry heavy bags for them.

Love-Dworkin: Offer to carry a heavy bag for me, and I’ll tear open your testicles with my stilettos.

Hate-Dworkin: Not all women are like that.

Love-Dworkin: Shut up! Who asked you? Didn’t I teach you as a little girl, when I took you to faculty meetings and parked your stroller in the conference room, to be seen but not heard?

Hate-Dworkin: Can’t we engage in dialogue and discussion without all this fighting and shrill screaming?

Love-Dworkin: Hold your tongue before I smack you, you over-educated little twit. You’re just like your father.

Hate-Dworkin: I thought you said he wasn’t actually my father.

Love-Dworkin: Not now, honey, not now.

Hate-Dworkin: Mom, are you happy?

Love-Dworkin: I’d be happy if I could mentor a whole army of women students to be deputy paragon-guardian content moderators.

Hate-Dworkin: Wouldn’t you be happier if you had a warm and cheerful young girlfriend, well-educated in classics and a good cook, too?

Love-Dworkin: Well, yes.

Hate-Dworkin: So instead of organizing mob actions on Twitter, why don’t you spend some time browsing Scissr?

Love-Dworkin: How do you know about Scissr? What does Scissr have to do with social justice?

Hate-Dworkin: It’s like classics, mom. It’s like Sappho’s poetry.


Your daughter is wise beyond her years. Listen to her!
Your daughter understands the ways of the world. Listen to her!

Love-Dworkin: Later, my dear. I can’t give up on Internet content moderating while knowing that there’s so much hate out there.

Hate-Dworkin: How about you moderate your own use of social media? We can feed your Facebook, Google, Instagram, Whatsapp, Pinterest, Snapchat, WeChat, and whatever accounts into one unified moderating app. There you can review each item you would have posted and discuss them at length with a committee of women deputy paragon-guardian content moderators.

Love-Dworkin: Hmmm, would you help gather that group of young women for me?

Hate-Dworkin: Gladly.

Love-Dworkin: Let’s do it, right away.

Leader of the Chorus: Now please, students, listen to what I have to say. You’ve seen a mother and daughter reconciled in a classics course chatroom after it was flooded with ancient Greek. Can any of you now question the value of studying ancient Greek? Your hardworking classics professors, One-Slave-Man and Another-Slave-Man, respond to emails, answer phone calls, and text back to you even when fatigued and needing sleep. They have inserted jibberish in the margins of your essays so that you know that they have opened the electronic papers you have sent them. They deserve to be honored. Give them a five-star rating in your course evaluation for their course on Aristophanes’s Wasps.

(A warning pops up on the admin dashboard. It’s 2 minutes until the end of the recorded lecture.)

Another-Slave-Man: My lecture’s nearing its end. Should I cut to the edict on doing the reading? That should take their minds off all the COVID-19 executive orders.

One-Slave-Man: Yea, stream that piece out to the students.

(An image of the face of Another-Slave-Man appears above the course chatroom.)

Another-Slave-Man: (via pre-recorded video) All students must do the reading. You must do the reading. I repeat, you must do the reading. Watching YouTube videos does not substitute for doing the reading. You may do an virtual-reality performance of the play as a substitute for writing a term paper, but not as a substitute for the mid-term multiple-choice examination. Students may not collaborate in taking the mid-term. The college will use its full array of surveillance and monitoring systems installed on your computers, your phones, your watches, your televisions, your smart speakers, your earphones, and your refrigerators to ensure that you do not engage in illicit communication with each other concerning answers to the mid-term multiple-choice exam. I remind you that possible answers to each mid-term question are A, B, C, D, or E. On the day of the mid-term, no student may use any of these letters in communicating with any other student. Thank you for your strict adherence to this important prohibition.

Another-Slave-Man: (live) Today’s class is about to end. Press @ within 30 seconds to get credit for attending this class. (His admin dashboard subsequently shows 17 @’s out of 65 students).

Another-Slave-Man: Where can they be? All the cafes, restaurants, and bars are closed.


We’re making faces about that girl wearing braces;
poor little dear, she’s so queer!
And what a pattern on her blouse,
and the mousy brown hair, she’s so queer!
She’s coming over here, so we’re gonna dance,
dance right out of here!


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The above play is loosely based on Aristophanes’s comedy Wasps. Wasps was performed in Athens in 422 BGC. The Atticist has generously made freely available online an ancient Greek text for Aristophanes’s Wasps, an English translation that follows closely the ancient Greek, and commentary and notes. Here’s an alternate ancient Greek text and alternate English translation. Above I’ve quoted Wasps vv. 488-9, 463-5, 493-9, and 500-2, using Greek text from the Loeb edition of Henderson (1998). I’ve taken considerable liberties with the English translations below the Greek texts.

[images] (1) Thalia, the ancient Greek muse of comedy, holding a comic mask. Detail from the “Muses Sarcophagus” that was found by the Via Ostiense. Made in the second century GC. Preserved as accession # Ma 475 (MR 880) in the Louvre Museum (Paris). Image thanks to Jastrow and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Detail from a bust sculpture of Aristophanes. Made between the 4th and 1st centuries BGC. Image from the book, Greek Dramas by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1900, hence in the public domain in the U.S. Via Encyclopedia Britannica.


Henderson, Jeffrey, ed. and trans. 1998. Aristophanes. Vol. 2, Clouds, Wasps, Peace. Loeb Classical Library, 488. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

women & men debate sex in Old French jeux-partis

medieval love: couple embracing in bed

Some women complain that men are overly devoted to getting their job done. Old French jeux-partis, probably written in the thirteenth century, indicate that before marriage, women complain about men’s concern for their job, but after marriage, women appreciate men’s dedication to their work. Moreover, wives appreciate their husbands’ work so much that they are willing to tolerate their husbands’ occasional extra-marital affairs. As inconceivable as that it is today, so it was in medieval France.

In one Old French jeu-parti, a lady and her boyfriend debate how men treat their beloved women. The lady asks her boyfriend:

My boyfriend, who is more worthy:
he who lies all night
with his beloved, with great love-play,
and without consummating his desire,
or he who comes quickly and takes quickly,
and when he has done it, hurries off,
for he cares not for what remains,
he just plucks the flower and neglects the fruit?

{ Amis, ki est li muelz vaillans:
Ou cil ki gist toute la nuit
Aveuc s’amie a grant desduit
Et sans faire tot son talent,
Ou cil ki tost vient et tost prent
Et quant il ait fait, si s’en fuit,
Ne jue pais a remenant,
Ains keut la flor et lait le fruit? } [1]

This question is like, “Do I look fat?” To avoid being a victim of domestic violence, and then getting arrested for perpetrating domestic violence, most men understand that they dare answer only “no,” irrespective of what they actually think. Similarly, this man’s safe, subservient answer to his girlfriend’s question is that the second hypothetical man is a very bad man; a savage, brutish man; a bad boy, a jerk. In short, that second hypothetical man is just the sort of man for whom women’s loins typically tingle.

This man apparently isn’t an ignorant, chivalrous toady destined for tepid friendship with her. Though learned in gynocentric norms of courtesy and deference to women, he has at least enough sense of self to be willing to state his own interest:

My lady, what my heart feels about this
I will tell you, but don’t let it vex you:
from doing it comes the pleasure,
and he who does that and only that
can remove himself lightly,
for all other acts are vain
if one doesn’t do it sooner or later.
Therefore, doing it is preferable, I think.

{ Dame, ceu ke mes cuers en sent
Vos dirai, maix ne vos anuit:
Del faire viennent li desduit
Et ki lou fait tan soulement
Partir s’en puet ligierement:
Car tui li autre fait sont vuit
S’on ne.l fait aprés ou davant;
Dont valt muelz li fiares, je cuit. }

Not all men are like that. But men should have enough strength to say what they want. Moreover, what men want should matter.

Not surprisingly, the lady has a different preference for how the man should behave. She declares:

My boyfriend, more preferable are embracing
and playing and enjoying,
pleasuring and caressing,
imploring and gazing,
than doing it and then leaving;
because so sweet is lingering
and so grievous is parting.

{ Amis, muelz valt li acoleirs
Et li jüers et li joïrs,
Li desduires et li sentirs,
Li proiers et li esgardeirs
Que li faires et puis aleirs,
S’a faire n’est li grans loixirs;
Car trop est doulz li dmorers
Et trop est griés li departirs. }

The man appreciates his lady’s interest, but highlights the seriousness of the issue:

My lady, very nice is playing
and kissing and lying side by side,
pleasuring and caressing,
imploring and gazing,
yet that is murder without doing it.
That is the root of all sighs
and of all that is bitter in love.
Hence more preferable to do it and flee.

{ Dame, moult est boens li jueirs
Et li baixiers et li gesirs,
Li desduires et li sentirs,
Li proiers et li esgardeirs;
Sans lou faire c’est li tueirs,
C’est la racine des sospirs
Et ceu k’en amors est ameirs;
Dont valt muelz faire et li foïrs. }

In most criminal justice systems, murder is ranked as an even more serious crime than rape. Teach women not to murder men. With laudable common sense, no one would even consider doing that. Men, if you fear you will be murdered, you may have consensual sex, but flee if you can!

Like too many women, the man’s girlfriend refuses to recognize the extent of violence against men. She also as a woman audaciously informs him about how men feel:

My boyfriend, I do not regard it as love
to hurry to do it and hurry to leave:
such love is not desirable,
for it has no savor.
But he doesn’t have such big suffering
who can embrace at leisure,
and kissing brings him even greater joy.
To enter into such love makes sense.

{ Amis, ne tieng pais a amors
Lou tost faire ne tost alier:
Teille amor ne fait a amer
Car elle n’ait poent de savor.
Maix cil n’ait pais moult grant dolor
Ke puet a loisir acolleir,
Et baissier ait joie grignor.
En teil amor fait sen entreir. }

As a man, the boyfriend surely has better knowledge than she has of men’s feelings and sufferings. He explains:

My lady, I have never seen one healed even for a day
by staying lying beside his beloved.
No one who has been wounded by love is healed
if she doesn’t grant him a good turn.
Such love resembles fire in an oven
that has no way by which it can vent,
but has within it such great heat
that one cannot extinguish it.

{ Dame, onc ne vi guerir nul jor,
Por soi deleis s’amie esteir,
Nullui ki fust navreis d’ameir,
S’on ne li fist aucun boen tor.
Teil amor semble feu en for
Ke ne s’en ait par ou aleir,
Mais enclos ait si grant chalor
C’on ne le puet desalumeir. }

Women should listen to men when men talk about their feelings and their sufferings. Listening to men is a necessary beginning of compassion for men.[2]

In another Old French jeu-parti, a wife affirms the importance of her husband having sex with her. Rolant de Reims set out a hypothetical for a gracious lady to consider:

Sweet lady, you have taken a husband,
a handsome and worthy young knight.
Some people who do not like you
let you know that he does not cease going out
with other women. I want to ask you
to tell me please, in the name of love,
which would be preferable to you, for your part:
having exclusive possession of him sexually,
while he let his longings roam elsewhere,
or to suffer others to possess him sexually,
while for you only was his longing always?

{ Douce dame, vos aveis prins marit,
Bel et vaillant et jone baicheleir.
Aucune gent qui ne vos ainme mi
Vos font savoir k’il ne fine d’aleir
Deleiz femes. Je vos voil demandeir
Ke mi dittes par amors, je vos prie,
Lou keil ariez plus chier, en vos partie,
Ou lou pooir de lui entierement
Et aillors fut sa volenteit menant,
Ou li pooirs de lui fut mis aillours
Et a vos fut sai volenteit tous jours? } [3]

The wife values her husband’s work for her:

By God, Rolant, given the dilemma you have proposed,
I am confident that I can ascertain the better.
I take possessing my husband, I tell you,
for I have a good body to carry such weight.
To sip from an empty bowl is all too wretched a mood.
Let his longings be allowed to go everywhere,
but let me have sexual pleasure from him.
I hold much more dear to have sex with him frequently,
than a longing from which I can take nothing.
The woman is worthless who does not have love’s joy
and who does not feel night and day its sweetness.

{ Par Deu, Rollant, teil jeu m’aveis partit
Ke je cuit bien au millour aseneir.
Je pran lou poir mon marit, jou vos di,
Que j’ai bien cors por teil fais a porteir.
Au veude escuele fait trop mavais humeir.
Sa volentei soit par tout otroïe,
Mais ke j’aie de lui la druwerie.
J’ai trop plus chier pooir que vient sovent
Ke volenteit ou je ne pran niant.
Feme ne vaut qui n’ait joie d’amors
Et qui n’en sent nuit et jour lai dousour. }

Perhaps drawing upon his own experience of epic failure, Rolant declares:

Lady, to the worse you have consented,
as I wish through reason to demonstrate.
You are lying next to your husband, let’s suppose,
and you well believe that he is fully capable of performing,
but his desire isn’t in accord with sexually performing.
Instead, he gets up and leaves your company
to go where his desire invites him.
You are left distraught, with a lamenting heart.
Now jealousy attacks you
and makes you think that he loves another,
which brings you both sorrow and anger.

{ Dame, au pïour vos aveis asenti,
Je lou vos voil bien par raison monstreir.
Leiz vos maris gixeis, or soit ansi,
Et bien santeis qu’il ait boin poir d’ovreir,
Mais volenteiz ne s’i welt acordeir,
Ainz lieve sus et lait vos compaignie,
Et si s’en vait ou volenteit li prie.
Vos demoreis marrie, a cuer dolant;
Jalozie vos court sus maintenant
Et fait panceir qu’il ainme autre ke vos,
Dont vos aveis et mezaixe et corrous. }

Men are not, in fact, dogs. Men are emotionally and sexually complex human beings. A man cannot always force himself to perform sexually when a woman demands it from him. Men’s desires matter for their sexual performances. A wife who wants her husband to have sex with her frequently should work to cultivate and maintain his desire for her. Authorities on outrageous, disreputable men’s websites suggest that women not get fat, that they keep their hair long, and that they strive for a joyful, warm, and receptive personality.

As meninist literary criticism makes clear, medieval literature has enduring value for women and men. Study medieval literature assiduously to enjoy a better life!

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[1] Lady & her Boyfriend {Dame & Ami}, a game in parts {jeu-parti}, “My boyfriend, who is more worthy {Amis, ki est li muelz vaillans}” st. 1, Old French text (Lorraine dialect) from Doss-Quinby (2001) p. 100, English translation (with my modifications to track the Old French more closely) also from id. The subsequent five quotes are similarly sourced and cover serially stanzas 2-6. Two additional stanzas exist for this song, but those two stanzas are clumsily written and have a different rhyme scheme. They probably aren’t authentic to this song. Dronke (2007) p. 331. In not naming either participant, this jeu-parti is unique in the corpus of jeux-partis. Id. p. 330.

The music for this song is a contrafactum (re-use) of the music for Bernart de Ventadorn’s “Now when I see the skylark lift {Can vei la lauzeta mover}.”  “Amis, ki est li muelz vaillans / Amis, quelx est li mieuz vaillanz” reads as “as a spirited ‘take’ on Bernart’s lyric.” Murray (2015) p. 70.

The term jeu-parti developed into the rather different English word “jeopardy”:

“Jeu parti” passed into Anglo-French as juparti, and from there it was borrowed into Middle English and respelled “jeopardie.” At first, the English word was used to refer to the risks associated with alternative moves in the game of chess. Soon, however, the term came to be used more generally in the “risk” or “danger” sense that it has today.

Via Merriam-Webster online page for “jeopardy.” The English meaning of jeu-parti anticipated men’s position under modern college sex regulations.

[2] Women should listen particularly to men who tell them what they would prefer not to hear. Taking the opposite, “courtly” path, Dronke speculated:

was this poet a man, trying to justify a brutish, macho view of sex against women’s notions of tenderness surrounding the act of love? Or, was the anonymous poet a woman, arguing subtly for a more sensitive conception of love, while presenting her partner as simpleminded, lustful and coarse — the Baron Ochs of his generation? I am inclined to think so.

Dronke (2007) p. 332. Ausonius wrote his Wedding Mix {Cento nuptialis} as an outrageous amplification of such fawning anti-meninism.

[3] Lady & Rolant de Reims {Dame & Rolant de Reims}, a game in parts {jeu-parti}, “Sweet lady, you have taken a husband {Douce dame, vos aveis prins marit}” st. 1, Old French text (Lorraine dialect) from Doss-Quinby (2001) p. 94, English translation (with my modifications to track the Old French more closely) also from id. The subsequent two stanzas are similarly from id. They are cited serially and cover all three stanzas of the song. Three stanzas are unusually few for a jeu-parti. This song, which survives in just one manuscript, may well be incomplete. Dronke (2007) p. 332.

A man trouvère named Rolant participated in 25 jeux-partis. Outside of those songs, nothing is known of him. Dronke (2007) p. 332. In four of those 25 jeux-partis, Rolant queries women’s privilege.

Barker interprets the wife having sex with her husband “in terms of power over” him and argues that the wife is “focusing on the benefits of tangible power over her husband.” Barker (2013) p. 251. The crucial verb pooir seems to me much better read as “to have capability” than as “to have power.” Barker further interprets:

The ‘good’ lover, for the two feminine voices, becomes the man they can see in front of them, doing things they can see and manage, which force the lover into real interaction with the lady.

Barker (2013) p. 254. Men shouldn’t be forced in love. Rape of men occurs about as frequently as rape of women. Neither women nor men should force each other in love.

Bernart de Ventadorn asked his Lords what he should do about his beloved woman. She had another secret lover. Bernart declared:

Since I’m driven to folly,
I’ll be a fool, if I don’t take
the lesser of these two evils.
In my opinion, it’s better
that I have at least half of her
that to lose her entirely through folly.

{ Pois voutz sui en la folor,
be serai fols, s’eu no pren
d’aquestz dos mals lo menor;
que mais val, mon essien,
qu’eu ai’ en leis la meitat
que·l tot perda per foldat }

Bernart de Ventadorn, “Now give me your advice, my Lords {Era·m cosselhatz, senhor}” vv. 25-30 (stanza 4.1-6), Old Occitan text from Corpus des Troubadours, English translation adapted from Nichols (1965) p. 58 (song 6). Just before his tornada, Bernart sings:

Lady, love another
in public, and me in secret,
so that I may have all the benefits
and he the fine talk.

{ Donma, a prezen amat
autrui, e me a celat,
si qu’eu n’aya tot lo pro
et el la bela razo. }

Id. vv. 57-60 (st. 8), sourced as previous quote.

[image] Medieval couple embracing in bed. Illumination made in the 1390s. From Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Codex Vindobonensis 2762 (Wenceslas Bible {Wenzelsbibel}), fol. 86.


Barker, Camilla. 2013. Dialogue and Dialectic in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Occitan and Old French Courtly Lyric and Narrative. Ph. D. Thesis, King’s College, London.

Doss-Quinby, Eglal, Joan Tasker Grimbert, Wendy Pfeffer, and Elizabeth Aubery. 2001. Songs of the Women Trouvères. New Haven: Yale University Press. (review by Carol Symes)

Dronke, Peter. 2007. “Women’s Debates in Medieval French Lyric.” Ch. 18 (pp. 323-336) in Dronke, Peter. Forms and Imaginings: from antiquity to the fifteenth century. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.

Murray, David Alexander. 2015. Poetry in Motion: the Mobility of Lyrics and Languages in the European Middles Ages. Ph. D. Thesis. King’s College, London.

Nichols, Stephen G. 1965. The Songs of Bernart de Ventadorn: complete texts, translations, notes, and glossary. Studies in the Romance Languages and Literatures, no. 39. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

generation of vipers will be overcome when cocks crow

Mind and mother are out of control: they have lost dominion over themselves.[1]

Small-minded local officials allow householders in cities and suburbs to have families of hens without even a single rooster. Those hens produce sterile eggs that are worse than seedless watermelons. We are complicit in the generation of vipers. Our corrupt hearts and minds birth wickedness and lies. Listen for the glorious sound of cocks crowing. When once again our societies are welcoming and inclusive of cocks crowing, the deadliest plague will vanish. All will then rejoice in the fullness of life.

generation of vipers; vipers mating

We cannot flee from the terrible effects of generating vipers. In the fourth century, the learned Roman poet Prudentius described how females and males relate in circumstances of perverse gynocentrism:

Her genitals don’t make her fertile, nor does
her womb swell from lying together, but when she burns with the fire
of female lust, that obscene one opens wide her mouth,
thirsting for her soon-to-die husband. He inserts his three-tongued head
into his mate’s jaws, entering with hot kisses,
by oral sex injecting seminal lust-juice.
His wife, wounded with the force of pleasure, draws him in;
within the bonds of sweet love she uses her teeth to break his neck.
She drinks the infused spittle of her dying dear one.
By these allurements the father is killed, and
the enclosed offspring kill their mother; for after the seed matures,
small little bodies in their warm refuge begin
to slither, and quivering they strike her shaking womb.
The internal crime against filial piety inflames the mother;
conscious of her guilty sex, she bemoans her executioner,
her progeny, as they rupture the enclosing barriers to birth.
Since no birth canal provides an open exit, her belly
is tortured by her offspring straining toward the light.
Their tearing opens a way through her lacerated guts.
At last, with the death of their nourisher, the brood of sorrows emerges,
with difficulty struggling along a path into life and carving out
their birth through crime. The creeping cubs lick the cadaver
that birthed them, offspring orphaned at birth,
having experienced daylight only after their poor mother’s death.

{ non sexu fertilis aut de
concubitu distenta uterum, sed cum calet igni
percita femineo, moriturum obscena maritum
ore sitit patulo; caput inserit ille trilingue
coniugis in fauces atque oscula fervidus intrat,
insinuans oris coitu genitale venenum,
nupta voluptatis vi saucia mordicus haustum
frangit amatoris blanda inter foedera guttur,
infusasque bibit caro pereunte salivas.
his pater inlecebris consumitur, at genitricem
clausa necat subolis; nam postquam semine adulto
incipiunt calidis corpuscula parva latebris
serpere motatumque uterum vibrata ferire,
aestuat interno pietatis crimine mater
carnificemque gemit damnati conscia sexus
progeniem, saepti rumpentem obstacula partus,
nam quia nascendi nullus patet exitus, alvus
fetibus in lucem nitentibus excruciata
carpitur atque viam lacerata per ilia pandit,
tandem obitu altricis prodit grex ille dolorum
ingressum vitae vix eluctatus et ortum
per scelus exculpens; lambunt natale cadaver
reptantes catuli, prolis dum nascitur orba,
haud experta diem miserae nisi postuma matris } [2]

That’s the generation of vipers.[3] That’s a soul mating with three-tongued Satan and giving birth to a litter of deadly sins. That’s not the medieval joy of sex. That’s castration culture in its ultimate, deadly expression.[4]

human chimeras - mates; from Bern Physiologus

Cocks crowing signify light and new life. Satanic forces demean cocks as obscene and seek to exterminate them. Prudentius rejected that Satanic gynocentric practice. He recognized the virtue of cocks:

They say that wandering demons
who love night’s darkness
are terrified when the cock crows,
then demons, dispersing, fear and flee.

They hate the nearness
of light, salvation, divinity,
that bursts through the stagnant dark
and scatters the agents of night.

They are prescient, they know
this sign of promised hope
that will free us from sleep
to hope for the advent of God.

{ ferunt vagantes daemonas
laetos tenebris noctium
gallo canente exterritos
sparsim timere et cedere.

invisa nam vicinitas
lucis, salutis, numinis,
rupto tenebrarum situ
noctis fugat satellites.

hoc esse signum praescii
norunt repromissae spei,
qua nos soporis liberi
speramus adventum dei. } [5]

The Apostle Peter connects the cock to both betrayal and love of Christ. Prudentius explained:

What this bird means
the Savior showed to Peter,
declaring that he would be denied
three times before the cock crew.

For sins are committed
before the herald of coming dawn
lights up the human race
and brings an end to sinning.

And so the denier wept
for the evil that slid from his lips,
though his mind remained blameless
and his heart kept the faith.

And never after did he say
such a thing, a slip of the tongue.
Recognizing the cock’s crow,
he stopped sinning, a just man.

That’s why we all believe
that in this time of sleep,
when the exultant cock crows,
Christ has returned from the dead.

{ quae vis sit huius alitis,
Salvator ostendit Petro,
ter antequam gallus canat
sese negandum praedicans.

fit namque peccatum prius
quam praeco lucis proximae
inlustret humanum genus
finemque peccandi ferat.

flevit negator denique
ex ore prolapsum nefas,
cum mens maneret innocens
animusque servaret fidem.

nec tale quidquam postea
linguae locutus lubrico est,
cantuque galli cognito
peccare iustus destitit.

inde est quod omnes credimus
illo quietis tempore
quo gallus exultans canit
Christum redisse ex inferis. }

The cock is the seminal sign. We must stop denying the cock and brutalizing the cock. We must start loving the cock. Look:

The bird that ushers in the day
foretells that it will soon be light.
The one who wakes our souls
now is Christ — he call us to life.

So let’s rise up with energy!
The cock wakes those who lie prostrate
and castigates the somnolent.
The cock confutes the deniers.

When the cock crows, hope returns,
health is restored to the sick,
the robber’s sword is put away,
faith comes back to the fallen.

{ Ales diei nuntius
lucem propinquam praecinit;
nos excitator mentium
iam Christus ad vitam vocat.

Surgamus ergo strenue;
gallus iacentes excitat
et somnolentes increpat.
gallus negantes arguit.

gallo canente, spes redit,
aegris salus refunditur,
mucro latronis conditur,
lapsis fides revertitur. } [6]

The wonderful cock is fully masculine, just like Jesus. Reader, hear this cock crow!

cock from medieval Physiologus

While delighting in their masculine blessing and following the cock in crowing, men must also remember that they, like women, are sinners. Prudentius expressed his willingness to be judged, not as a superhero, but as merely an ordinary man:

For me, it’s enough if I don’t see a Tartarean minister’s
face, if the flame of greedy Gehenna doesn’t
devour this soul plunged into its deepest furnace.
If the failings of my body are such that will require
me to be licked in the mournful fire of cave-like Avernus,
at least may the burning be mild and slow, exhaling
warm mist, with fire diminishing so its heat would warm gently.
Let boundless splendor and temples circled by garlands
glorify others: may I have light punishment that mercifully burns.

{ at mihi Tartarei satis est si nulla ministri
occurrat facies, avidae nec flamma gehennae
devoret hanc animam mersam fornacibus imis.
esto, cavernoso, quia sic pro labe necesse est
corporea, tristis me sorbeat ignis Averno:
saltem mitificos incendia lenta vapores
exhalent aestuque calor languente tepescat;
lux inmensa alios et tempora vincta coronis
glorificent me poena levis clementer adurat. } [7]

In referring to the punishing place, Prudentius united the ancient Greek underworld Tarturus, the Roman entrance to the underworld Avernus, and the Jewish-Christian place of fiery torment, Gehenna.[8] Moreover, in his poem’s final line Prudentius associated himself with Ovid. Exiled to Tomus on the Black Sea, Ovid wrote his Sorrows {Tristia}. Ovid’s book of poetry seeks in Rome a good reader, a reader who understands his suffering:

and silently to herself, such that no hurtful man should hear, wishes
that Caesar be more lenient so that my punishment be light.

{ et tacitus secum, ne quis malus audiat, optet,
sit mea lenito Caesare poena levis. } [9]

Ovid was castrated for defying the great goddess Cybele. Prudentius personally understood the impurity of men’s sexual desire and gynocentric forces favoring harsh punishment of men’s sexuality. Prudentius voluntarily consigned himself to punishment in textual relation to Ovid.

In his poem’s final couplet, Prudentius also covertly declared his masculine poetic self worthy of garlands. The final line contains an anagram of a signature phrase {sphragis}. When that signature phrase is unscrambled, the final couplet reads:

Let boundless splendor glorify others and temples circled with garlands
glorify me: Aurelius the prudent proclaims himself.

{ lux inmensa alios et tempora vincta coronis
glorificent me poena levis clementer adurat. } [10]

In referring to the generation of vipers, John the Baptist declared that God could raise up children to Abraham from stones. All is possible with God. But remember, too, that the pinnacle of God’s creation is humans.[11]

According to traditional Greco-Roman religion, a flood wiped out all the people of the world except Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha. They wept in loneliness. Deucalion said to Pyrrha:

O wife and sister, the last woman alive,
our common race, our family, our marriage bed,
and now the perils themselves have united us.
In all the lands from sunrise to sunset
we two are the whole population; the sea holds the rest.

{ o soror, o coniunx, o femina sola superstes,
quam commune mihi genus et patruelis origo,
deinde torus iunxit, nunc ipsa pericula iungunt,
terrarum, quascumque vident occasus et ortus,
nos duo turba sumus; possedit cetera pontus. } [12]

Humanity had been reduced to a woman and a man. Deucalion then pondered an even more horrible loss:

Poor soul,
what would you feel like now if the Fates
had taken me and left you behind? How could you bear
your fear alone? Who would comfort your grief?
You can be sure that if the sea already held you,
I would follow you, my wife, beneath the sea.

{ quis tibi, si sine me fatis erepta fuisses,
nunc animus, miseranda, foret? quo sola timorem
ferre modo posses? quo consolante doleres!
namque ego (crede mihi), si te quoque pontus haberet,
te sequerer, coniunx, et me quoque pontus haberet. }

Deucalion longed to reproduce human beings:

O, if only I could restore the people of the world;
by my father’s arts, breathe life into molded clay!
Now the human race depends on the two of us.
We are, by the gods’ will, the last of our kind.

{ o utinam possim populos reparare paternis
artibus atque animas formatae infundere terrae!
nunc genus in nobis restat mortale duobus.
sic visum superis: hominumque exempla manemus. }

Lacking the conjugal teaching of Abraham’s God in Genesis, Deucalion and Pyrrha went to the temple of Themis:

When they reached the temple steps, husband and wife
prostrated themselves. With trembling lips they kissed
the cold stones and said, “If divine hearts can be softened
by righteous prayers, if the wrath of the gods can be deflected,
tell us, O Themis, how our race can be restored,
and bring aid, O most mild one, to a world overwhelmed!”

{ ut templi tetigere gradus, procumbit uterque
pronus humi gelidoque pavens dedit oscula saxo
atque ita “si precibus” dixerunt “numina iustis
victa remollescunt, si flectitur ira deorum,
dic, Themi, qua generis damnum reparabile nostri
arte sit, et mersis fer opem, mitissima, rebus!” }

In figured language the goddess told them to throw stones behind their backs. When they did, those stones began to change form and grow into humans.

As Prudentius understood, kissing cold stones and generating children from stones is no more necessary than the generation of vipers. God made cocks that can crow with the beginning of new life. The man poet Aurelius, not chaste but prudent, proclaimed his glorious masculine self. The ultimate poetic work, the poetic work most deserving of garlands, is creating new humans. For those men and women that embrace the cock and create with desires that threaten the stain of sin, may the fires of Hell be mild.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Dykes (2011) p. 152. Dykes here is interpreting Prudentius’s account of the generation of vipers in Hamartigenia.

[2] Prudentius, The Origin of Sin {Hamartigenia} vv. 584-607, Latin text from Thomson (1949) pp. 244-6, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Malamud (2011) pp. 30-1.

About Prudentius’s time, Hamartigenia seems to have had the title Amartigenia. The late-fifth-century author Gennadius refers to it by that title. The oldest manuscript of Hamartigenia, dating from the sixth century and designated A, also uses that title. Dykes (2011) p. 249. This title is rooted in the ancient Greek words for fault {ἁμαρτία} and origin {γένεσις}. However, as Dykes points out, “the aetiology of sin is by no means the poet’s only concern.” Id. p. 251.

Prudentius’s writings, particularly his Psychomachia, were highly respected in relatively learned medieval Europe. About 300 manuscripts of Prudentius have survived. These manuscripts have been the subject of vigorous philological debate according to high standards of reason. See, e.g., Cunningham (1968) and Cunningham (1971). The best Latin text of Prudentius’s Hamartigenia is currently Pallia (1981).

Prudentius is a highly creative and extremely sophisticated poet. Cunningham noted:

Not only do the poems of Prudentius, for the most part, lack direct filiation in the classical Latin tradition; a good many of them in fact represent striking innovations even in terms of contemporary practice so far as we know it.

Cunningham (1976) p. 61.

[3] The generation of vipers is well-known in ancient literature. Writing about 440 BGC, Herodotus explained the generation of vipers:

As it is, when they pair, and the male is in the very act of generation, the female seizes him by the neck. She doesn’t release her grip until she has devoured him. Thus the male dies, but the female is punished for his death. The young avenge their father. They eat their mother while they are still within her. They don’t come forth until they have devoured her womb.

{ νῦν δ᾽ ἐπεὰν θορνύωνται κατὰ ζεύγεα καὶ ἐν αὐτῇ ᾖ ὁ ἔρσην τῇ ἐκποιήσι, ἀπιεμένου αὐτοῦ τὴν γονὴν ἡ θήλεα ἅπτεται τῆς δειρῆς, καὶ ἐμφῦσα οὐκ ἀνιεῖ πρὶν ἂν διαφάγῃ. ὁ μὲν δὴ ἔρσην ἀποθνήσκει τρόπῳ τῷ εἰρημένῳ, ἡ δὲ θήλεα τίσιν τοιήνδε ἀποτίνει τῷ ἔρσενι: τῷ γονέι τιμωρέοντα ἔτι ἐν τῇ γαστρὶ ἐόντα τὰ τέκνα διεσθίει τὴν μητέρα, διαφαγόντα δὲ τὴν νηδὺν αὐτῆς οὕτω τὴν ἔκδυσιν ποιέεται. }

Herodotus, Histories 3.109, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified unsubstantially for readability) by Godley (1920) via Persesus. Similarly, Pliny, Natural History 10.62.169-70 in Latin with diction apparently unrelated to Prudentius’s description.

The Physiologus, probably written in Greek in Egypt in the second half of the third century and translated into Latin soon thereafter, is closely associated with Prudentius’s figure of the generation of vipers. The Physiologus explicitly refers to John the Baptist calling the crowd coming to him a generation of vipers. Matthew 3:7, Luke 3:7. The Physiologus uses the distinctive term catuli {cubs} in referring to the viper’s offspring:

When it does sexual intercourse, the male inserts his head into the female, and she swallows his semen. She bites off his masculine genitals and he immediately dies. You understand, therefore, what falsely alluring sexual relations will do. And when the cubs come forth from the belly of the female viper, their gnawings perforate her side and they send out their mother to the dead.

{ Quando coitum facit masculus infert os eius in feminam, et illa degluciens semen. abscidit virilia eiusdem masculi et moritur statim. Intellege ergo, quid faciet concubitus meretricius. Cum autem creverint catuli in ventre viperam perforant mordentes latus ejus et exeunt mortua matre. }

Latin text dating from no later than the eleventh century from Maurer (1967) p. 81, my English translation. The ninth-century Bern Physiologus describes the male and female vipers as human-crocodile chimeras, but their sexual intercourse is similar. Malamud (2011) p. 132. Other medieval versions of the Physiologus moralize the vipers’ sexual intercourse more extensively in relation to humans. See, e.g. White (1954) pp. 170-3. On the dating of the Physiologus, Scott (1998). The Physiologus / beastiary literature has an enormously complex literary history. On that literary history, Kay (2016).

[4] Prudentius described the devil as three-tongued and having a coiled belly like a snake. Hamartigenia vv. 195-205. Regarding Prudentius’s description of the generation of vipers, Dykes commented perceptively:

the union of the snakes is blatantly eroticized and blankly explicit … Actions and words seem not to be well matched here. We have the vocabulary of love, romance and the marriage covenant, mixed with the pejorative, the quasi-medical and the abusive; this adds additional unease to the reader’s experience.

Dykes (2011) p. 150. The reader should feel uneasy. In Hamartigenia, “Sin is responsible for the present configuration of the world.” Moreover, “the world is a microcosm of man”; “the world projects human responsibility.” Id. pp. 39, 41, and the title for id., Ch. 2. In Prudentius’s words, “the life of the human gives an example for all else to sin {exemplum dat vita hominum, quo cetera peccent}.” Hamartigenia v. 250. Acccording to Conybeare, “What is at stake is the spiritual health of the reader.” Conybeare (2007) p. 226. The stakes are actually much bigger.

[5] Prudentius, Book of the Daily Round {Liber Cathemerinon} 1, “Hymn at Cock-Crow {Hymnus ad galli cantum},” st. 10-12 (vv. 37-48), Latin text and English translation (modified slightly according to my poetic sense) from O’Daly (2012) pp. 40-1. The subsequent quote above is similarly from “Hymn at Cock-Crow” st. 13-17 (vv. 49-68) (What this bird means…). Pope (1895) provides a freely available Latin text and English translation of all of Prudentius’s hymns. Those prone to angrily “flip someone the bird” should meditate upon Prudentius’s “Hymn at Cock-Crow.”

Historically, cocks have been castrated to make them more easily raised to be slaughtered and eaten. A castrated cock is called a capon, which is different from a cuck. Castrating cocks is one element in the overall configuration of castration culture.

[6] The first quoted stanza above is “Hymn at Cock-Crow” st. 1 (vv. 1-4), sourced as previously. The subsequent two stanzas are from Ambrose of Milan, “Eternal creator of things {Aeterne rerum conditor}” st. 5-6 (vv. 17-24), Latin text and English translation from O’Daly (2012) pp. 55-6. Here’s an alternate English translation of “Aeterne rerum conditor.” On the close relationship between the two hymns, Mans (1990).

Four distichs in Aeterne rerum conditor, st. 3-4, begin with hoc. This repeated word evokes the sound of a cock crowing. The poetic effect is meaningful:

Each of these four distichs that begin with hoc have this in common: they propound a dark dilemma, whether it be night itself, or nocturnal criminality, or the tendency of sailors to stray far from land and perish at sea, or the murky spiritual issues of forgetfulness and guilt at stake in the Gospel account of Peter’s denial of Christ. Each of the four areas of difficulty is resolved by the cock’s crow: the natural light of the sun puts the darkness of night to flight; justice is restored on earth, at least until evening falls again, while wrongdoers retreat from the exposure of daylight; comfort and hope is provided to those who, at sea, are especially susceptible to the dangerous and unforgiving forces of nature; and repentance with its healing tears comes to Peter when he realizes that he has denied the one who was most important to him.

Springer (2014) p. 167. Springer deserves credit for recognizing Ambrose’s poetic sophistication in this hymn. Springer, however, regrettably lacked the courage to consistently refer to cocks as cocks. At seminal points, such as titling, he bends and shrinks to the less evocative term “rooster.”

[7] Prudentius, Hamartigenia vv. 958-66, Latin text from Thomson (1949) pp. 270-2, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Malamud (2011) pp. 46-7. These are the concluding verses of Hamartigenia.

Prudentius regretted that as a young man he engaged in misdirected and imprudent lust. In his Preface {Praefatio} to his collected works, Prudentius described himself about age 16 (having taken the toga virilis) as being “infected with vices {infectus vitiis}”:

Then lascivious brazenness
and arrogant luxury — oh, it shames and pains me! —
defiled my youth with the mud and dirt of wickedness.

{ tum lasciva protervitas
et luxus petulans — heu pudet ac piget! —
foedavit iuvenem nequitiae sordibus ac luto. }

Praefatio st. 4 (vv. 10-12), Latin text from O’Daly (2012) p. 386, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The description infectus vitiis is from Praefatio v. 9. Here are some Latin reading notes for Prudentius’s Praefatio and the English translation of Pope (1895). While men’s sexuality is a blessing, it can be turned to wickedness.

Prudentius apparently recognized that women’s dominant position within gynocentrism arises from neither greater physical strength nor stronger intellect relative to men. Gynocentrism is a social phenomenon. Prudentius’s frank appraisal of women’s strengths relative to men doesn’t imply that Prudentius “had a low opinion of women.” Hershkowitz (2017) p. 14. Prudentius’s views of women apparently were similiar to those of Jerome. Jerome had profound concern for women, and women admired and supported him. The same was probably true of Prudentius.

[8] Prudentius similarly invoked both Tartarus and Avernus in his Psychomachia, vv. 89-97. For relevant commentary, Mastrangelo (2008) p. 26 and p. 188, n. 48.

[9] Ovid, Sorrows {Tristia} 1.1.29-30, Latin text from the Loeb edition of Wheeler (1939), my English translation. Malamud helpfully identifies Prudentius’s allusion to Ovid in the conclusion to Hamartigenia, but interprets that allusion in terms of abstract communicative problems and misunderstood theology:

In the final line of the Hamartigenia, then, Prudentius casts himself in the role of Ovid … The pointed allusion to Tristia 1.1 suggests that Prudentius saw his carmen, like Ovid’s, as double-edged, as likely to bring down the wrath of his ruler as to redeem him. It cannot but be implicated in the duplicities and snares of human language, but at the same time it offers his only hope for salvation. … How can he tell if his poetry, which he imagines as all he can offer to God, is acceptable or not? In a fallen world, where accurate vision, knowledge, and understanding are unavailable and even the word of God is subject to misinterpretation, how can a writer determine whether his words reflect divine truth or are implicated in the snaky coils of error?

Malamud (2911) p. 190. Human communication and human life in general inevitably are implicated in errors and failings. Certainly Christ, not what Prudentius wrote, was Prudentius’s hope for salvation. Prudentius’s allusion to Ovid, medieval Europe’s great teacher of love, is best understand as pointing to the importance of incarnated, flesh-and-blood love. A reader must recognize his responsibilty to live well. Dykes (2011) pp. 17-8. A reader may need to change or convert her life. Mastrangelo (2008) pp. 166-9.

[10] Prudentius, Hamartigenia vv. 965-6, my English translation of the anagram that Malamud identified and explicated. Malamud (2011) pp. 190-1, correcting an error identified in Cameron (1995) p. 482. Malamud fairly engages with criticism and reasonably justifies her reading. Id. pp. 210-11, notes 37-41. The analysis above supports Malamud’s reading, although with a much different direction of interpretation.

[11] Matthew 3:9, Luke 3:8 (stones into children of Abraham); Matthew 19:26, Luke 1:37 (all things possible with God); Genesis 1:26-30 (humans as pinnacle of God’s creation).

[12] Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.351-5, Latin text from Magnus (1892) via Perseus, English trans. (with my minor modifications) from Lombardo (2010) p. 15. The subsequent three quotes are similarly sourced from Metamorphoses 1.358-61 (Poor soul…), 1.363-6 (Oh, if only I could restore…), 1.375-80 (When they reached the temple steps…).

[images] (1) Generation of vipers. Illumination from Physiologus manuscript. Made in the second quarter of the 13th century. On folio 94r (slider page 204) in Oxford, MS. Bodleian 764. (2) Male and female human-serpent chimeras. Color-enhanced illumination from the Bern Physiologus. Made about 830. Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 318, f. 11r – Physiologus Bernensis ( (3) Cock. Illumination from Physiologus manuscript. Made in the second quarter of the 13th century. On folio 85v (slider page 186) in Oxford, MS. Bodleian 764.


Cameron, Alan. 1995. “Ancient Anagrams.” The American Journal of Philology. 116 (3): 477-484.

Conybeare, Catherine. 2007. “Sanctum, lector, percense volumen: Snakes, Readers, and the Whole Text in Prudentius’s Hamartigenia.” Ch. 11 (pp. 225-240) in William E. Klingshirn and Linda Safran, eds. The Early Christian Book. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press. (review by Ian H. Henderson)

Cunningham, Maurice P. 1962. “A Preliminary Recension of the Older Manuscripts of the Cathemerinon, Apotheosis, and Hamartigenia of Prudentius.” Sacris Erudiri. 13: 5-59.

Cunningham, Maurice P. 1968. “The Problem of Interpolation in the Textual Tradition of Prudentius.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. 99: 119-141.

Cunningham, Maurice P. 1971. “Notes on the Text of Prudentius.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association. 102: 59-69.

Cunningham, Maurice P. 1976. “Contexts of Prudentius’ Poems.” Classical Philology. 71 (1): 56-66.

Dykes, Anthony. 2011. Reading Sin in the World: the Hamartigenia of Prudentius and the vocation of the responsible reader. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (review by Gerard O’Daly)

Hershkowitz, Paula. 2017. Prudentius, Spain, and late antique Christianity: poetry, visual culture, and the cult of martyrs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (review by Rosario Moreno Soldevila and by Kathleen M. Kirsch)

Kay, Sarah. 2016. “‘The English Bestiary’, the Continental ‘Physiologus’ and the Intersections Between Them.” Medium Aevum. 85 (1): 118-142.

Lombardo, Stanley, trans. 2010. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing.

Malamud, Martha A. 2011. Prudentius. The Origin of Sin: An English Translation of the Hamartigenia. Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, 61. Cornell University Press. (review by Dennis E. Trout)

Mans, M. J. 1990. “A Comparison between Ambrose’s Aeterne Rerum Conditor and Prudentius’ Cathemerinon 1 or Hymnus ad Galli Cantum.” Acta Patristica et Byzantina. 1 (1): 99-118.

Mastrangelo, Marc. 2008. The Roman Self in Late Antiquity: Prudentius and the poetics of the soul. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press. (review by E. J. Hutchinson)

Maurer, Friedrich. 1967. Der altdeutsche Physiologus Die Millstäter Reimfassung und die Wiener Prosa (nebst dem lateinischen Text und dem althochdeutschen Physiologus). Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

O’Daly, Gerard J. P. 2012. Days Linked by Song: Prudentius’ Cathemerinon. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (review by Catherine Conybeare)

Palla, Roberto. 1981. Prudentius. Prudenzio: Hamartigenia: Introd., trad. e comm. Pisa: Giardini.

Pope, R. Matin, trans. 1895. The Hymns of Prudentius. London: J.M. Dent.

Scott, Alan. 1998. “The Date of the Physiologus.” Vigiliae Christianae. 52 (4): 430-441.

Springer, Carl P. E. 2014. “Of roosters and repetitio: Ambrose’s Aeterne rerum conditor.” Vigiliae Christianae. 68 (2): 155-177.

Thomson, Henry John, ed. and trans. 1949. Prudentius. Loeb Classical Library 387, 398. Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

White, Terence Hawbury. 1954. The Bestiary: a book of beasts. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Prudentius’s Hymn Before Sleep for worries & desires

In times of great worry, many have difficulty sleeping. The modern English word worry comes via Middle English werien, via Old English wyrġan, via proto-Germanic wurgijaną. These worry source-words mean choke and strangle, like a dog seizing a small, frightened duck and biting down on it and shaking it fiercely until it dies. Just so does the experience of worry feel to many today. How could anyone manage to sleep in such circumstances?

The learned Roman Prudentius included a Hymn Before Sleep {Hymnus ante somnum} in his poem cycle Days Linked By Song {Cathemerinon}. Prudentius began his hymn with a simple Christian evening prayer:

Come, sovereign Father,
whom none has ever seen,
and Christ, the Father’s Word,
and kindly Spirit

of this Trinity:
O one strength and power,
God from God eternal,
God from both is sent.

The day’s work has ebbed,
and the quiet hour has returned,
now is the turn of gentle sleep,
relaxing weary limbs.

The mind tossed by storms
and wounded by worries
drinks in its very depths
the cup of forgetfulness.

The power of oblivion
steals through all the body,
and leaves those suffering
no sense of bitter pain.

{ Ades, pater supreme,
quem nemo vidit umquam,
patrisque sermo Christe,
et Spiritus benigne,

o trinitatis huius
vis ac potestas una,
deus ex deo perennis,
deus ex utroque missus.

fluxit labor diei,
redit et quietis hora,
blandus sopor vicissim
fessos relaxat artus.

mens aestuans procellis,
curisque sauciata,
totis bibit medullis
obliviale poclum.

serpit per omne corpus
Lethaea vis nec ullum
miseris doloris aegri
patitur manere sensum. } [1]

This evening prayer assumes that one is able to fall asleep — to drink the cup of forgetfulness and be overcome by the the power of oblivion. But what if one, overwhelmed with worries and desires, cannot sleep?

Even when wanting sleep, bodily life may refuse oblivion and make demands. An ancient Greek poem from roughly 2600 years ago represents one woman’s personal circumstances:

The Moon is down,
the Pleiades also. Midnight,
the hours flow on,
I lie, alone.

{ Δέδυκε μὲν ἀ σελάννα
καὶ Πληΐαδες, μέσαι δέ
νύκτες, πάρα δ’ ἔρχετ’ ὤρα,
ἔγω δὲ μόνα κατεύδω. } [2]

Many men and women today personally understand these circumstances of sleeplessness and bodily loneliness. A poem from before the middle of the tenth century describes restlessness in bed and unsatisfying sleep:

For you my eyes are keeping watch, my soul at night requires you.
Subdued and laid low, my limbs lie alone with me in bed.
I have seen myself with you, a deceit in the imagination of sleep;
in dreams you appear, yet if only to me you would truly come.

{ Te vigilans oculis, animo te nocte requiro,
victa iacent solo cum mea membra toro.
vidi ego me tecum falsa sub imagine somni:
somnia tu vinces, si mihi vera venis. } [3]

In the first two verses, the poet speaks of his eyes, his limbs, and his soul. They are with him in bed, as if he were falling to pieces. The second two verses express frustration at experiencing life’s completeness only in dreams. Lucid dreaming isn’t a common experience of sleeping. Disappointment in thinking about one’s dreams is associated much more commonly with despair and sleeplessness.

Those who apprehend reality struggle to sleep with deceit. They feel compelled to seek their desires:

Nestled in bed, I was scarcely seizing night’s first
silence and giving my vanquished eyes to sleep.
Then savage Love grabbed me, pulling me up by my hair.
Love roused me, wounded, and ordered me to stay awake.
“You, my slave,” Love said, “you love a thousand young women.
How can you stiffly lie alone — goodness me, alone!”
I jump up with bare feet and bed-robe undone and enter
every way, but no way leads me out with what I need.
Now I rush, now to go grieves me, to return causes me
regret, and I’m ashamed to stand in the middle of the road.
Silent here are humans’ voices, the road’s rumbling,
the song of birds, the faithful pack of dogs.
I alone among all fear bed and sleep.
I follow your command, great god of desire.

{ Lecto compositus vix prima silentia noctis
carpebam et somno lumina victa dabam,
cum me saevus Amor prensat sursumque capillis
excitat et lacerum pervigilare iubet.
“Tu famulus meus,” inquit, “ames cum mille puellas,
solus, io, solus, dure, iacere potes?”
Exsilio et pedibus nudis tunicaque soluta
omne iter ingredior, nullum iter expedio.
Nunc propero, nunc ire piget, rursumque redire
paenitet, et pudor est stare via media.
Ecce tacent voces hominum strepitusque viarum
et volucrum cantus fidaque turba canum;
solus ego ex cunctis paveo somnumque torumque,
et sequor imperium, magne Cupido, tuum. } [4]

This isn’t a dreamy dream-poem. Although having loved a thousand women, this man is sleeping alone, wounded with lacerations. He feels himself yanked up by his hair. He has bare feet and his bed-robe is undone. From a Christian perspective, the traditional Greco-Roman love-gods Eros, Cupid, and Amor are deceits. But human voices, roads, birds, and dogs are real. So too is worry, desire, and sleeplessness.

Seeking to separate human spirit from fleshly life isn’t a propitious path to sleep. From a Christian perspective, Prudentius condemned Marcion for this heresy:

Marcion, shaped from utterly corrupted earth,
teaches dualists to disagree with the spirit,
offering up his gifts of tainted flesh
and worshiping everlasting power in separate shapes.
If he could heed warning and be still,
then quiet familial bonds could cultivate peace,
and acknowledge that the one God of the living lives.
But this man, an initiate of a transitory cult,
profanely divides the highest being,
separating good and bad, as if two gods could rule.

{ Marcion, arvi forma corruptissimi,
docet duitas discrepare a Spiritu,
contaminatae dona carnis offerens
et segregatim numen aeternum colens.
qui si quiescat nec monentem neglegat,
pacem quieta diligat germanitas,
unum atque vivum fassa vivorum Deum.
hic se caduco dedicans mysterio
summam profanus dividit substantiam,
malum bonumque ceu duorum separatis } [5]

With a telling figure, Tertullian more vehemently condemned Marcion:

Nothing about Pontus is so barbarous and mournful as that Marcion was born there. He is more repulsive than a Scythian, more wandering than the wagon-dwelling Sarmatian, more inhuman that the Massagete, more obnoxious than an Amazon, darker than fog, colder than winter, more fragile than ice, more treacherous than the Danube river, more coarsely precipitous than the Caucasus mountains. What else? How about that the true Prometheus, God Almighty, is lacerated by Marcion’s blasphemies. More uncivilized than the wild beasts of that barbarous land Pontus is now Marcion. Is any beaver more self-castrating than this man who has abolished marriage?

{ nihil tam barbarum ac triste apud Pontum quam quod illic Marcion natus est, Scytha tetrior, Hamaxobio instabilior, Massageta inhumanior, Amazona audacior, nubilo obscurior, hieme frigidior, gelu fragilior, Istro fallacior, Caucaso abruptior. Quidni? penes quem verus Prometheus deus omnipotens blasphemiis lancinatur. Iam et bestiis illius barbariei importunior Marcion. Quis enim tam castrator carnis castor quam qui nuptias abstulit? } [6]

The male beaver was thought to gnaw off his own testicles to save himself from hunters who sought to kill him for his testicles. Marcion was a dualist reflecting castration culture. He divided the god of human spirit from the god of human flesh. Yet, from the perspective of Jews, Christians, and Muslims, there is no god but God, and God is one. Humans are made in the image of God. The living human is one in spirit and flesh. A human will be restless until both spirit and flesh rest.

Prudentius urged bodily action and performative utterance in order to overcome worry and desire that prevent restful sleep. He counseled:

Worshiper of God, remember
that you have gone under the sacred water
of the source that cleanses,
that you have been marked with oil.

See that when sleep calls
and you go to your pure bed,
the symbol of the cross seals
your brow and the place of your heart.

The cross drives off all sin,
darkness flies from the cross:
with this sign consecrated,
the mind knows no storms.

Away with you, far away,
monstrous errant dreams!
Away with the deceiver
and his unceasing cunning!

Sinuous serpent,
by a thousand twisting paths
and tortuous tricks,
you stir up hearts that rest —

Go, Christ is here,
here is Christ: melt away!
The sign that you know well
condemns your crowd.

The tiring body is allowed
to lie down for a little while,
and even in our sleep
our thoughts will be of Christ.

{ cultor dei, memento
te fontis et lavacri
rorem subisse sanctum,
te chrismate innotatum.

fac, cum vocante somno
castum petis cubile,
frontem locumque cordis
crucis figura signet.

crux pellit omne crimen,
fugiunt crucem tenebrae,
tali dicata signo
mens fluctuare nescit.

procul, o procul vagantum
portenta somniorum!
procul esto pervicaci
praestigiator astu!

o tortuose serpens,
qui mille per meandros
fraudesque flexuosas
agitas quieta corda,

discede, Christus hic est,
hic Christus est, liquesce!
signum quod ipse nosti
damnat tuam catervam.

Corpus licet fatiscens
iaceat recline paulum,
Christum tamen sub ipso
meditabimur sopore. } [7]

Prudentius’s A Hymn Before Sleep is a lullaby for Christian adults. They must cross themselves to sleep. They must say the words they need to hear. Thoughts of Christ are hopes for the body and the spirit.

Once upon a time, scholars hoped that literary theory would renew the face of the earth. Yet even a promising new field of literary theory, meninist literary criticism, offers sleep only to the small group of scholars that study it. That’s no cause for worry. We can do all that we must do. We have all that we need.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Prudentius, Book of the Daily Round {Liber Cathemerinon} 6, Hymn Before Sleep {Hymnus ante somnum}, incipit “Ades pater surpeme,” vv. 1-20, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly according to my poetic sense) from O’Daly (2012) pp. 172-3. For freely accessible online Latin text and English translation, Thomson (1949) and Pope (1895).

Prudentius wrote Hymnus ante somnum about 400 GC. Verses from it were subsequently used liturgically. A medieval liturgical hymn known as Ades pater supreme was made from Hymnus ante somnum:

It consists of lines 1-12, 125-8, 141-52, and a doxology: Gloria aeterno Patri, Et Christo, vero Regi, Paraclitoque sancto, et nunc et in perpetuum. {This} selection of lines was found as a hymn in a 10th-century hymnal from Laon, in northern France, now at Bern (S.B. 455). It is a hymn for Vespers or Compline, marking the end of the day

From The Canterbury Dictionary of Hymnology.

[2] This poem is conventionally known as “Midnight poem.” It’s attributed, without strong evidence, to the archaic Greek poet Sappho. The Greek text above is that of fragment 168 B in Voigt (1971). The English translation is that of  A.S. Kline, with my slight modifications. Many English translations of this famous poem are readily accessible. Here’s detailed analysis of it.

[3] “Te vigilans oculis” (quoted above in full) comes from a now lost manuscript, Codex Isidori Bellovacensis, that belonged to the cathedral library of St. Sylvius at Beauvais, France. That manuscript was written in the late ninth or early tenth century. Waddell (1948) p. 286. The Latin text is edited in Baehrens (1879) vol. 4, p. 100 (n. 103), where it’s attributed to Petronius. Heseltine & Rouse (1930), however, doesn’t include this poem among Petronius’s poems. The English translation is mine, benefiting from those of Waddell (1948) p. 23 and composer William Hawley.

Hawley used “Te vigilans oculis” as text for a motet. For readily accessible performances of Hawley’s motet, see those by Volti, conducted by Robert Geary (Innova, 2010), and by Choral Arts, conducted by Robert Bode (Gothic, 2013).

[4] Petronius Arbiter, incipit “Lecto compositus vix prima silentia noctis” (whole poem quoted above), Latin text from Heseltine & Rouse (1930) p. 424 (no. 26), my English translation, benefiting from those of id., Waddell (1948) p. 11, and aleator classicus. The Latin text is edited in Baehrens (1879) vol. 4, p. 98 (n. 99). Here are Latin reading notes for this poem.

Among those who manage to get to sleep, some experience delightful dreams. A poem from no later than the early-eighth century proclaimed to a dream-girl:

Beautiful of hair, young in years, and fair of face,
you sweetly gave me kisses in my sleep.
If now waking I cannot anywhere discern you,
sleep, I pray, hold my eyes together always.

{ Pulchra comis annisque decens et candida vultu
dulce quiescenti basia blanda dabas.
si te iam vigilans non unquam cernere possum,
somne, precor, iugitur lumina nostra tene. }

Latin text from Baehrens (1879) vol. 4, p. 118 (n. 131), via the Latin Library; English translation (modified slightly) from the Ancient Literature Dude, who provides an audio reading of this poem in medieval Latin. For other English translations, Waddell (1948) p. 21, and Rexroth (1967) p. 86.

This poem survives in two sources. One is the ninth-century manuscript cataloged as British Library Royal 15. B. XIX (fol. 99). That manuscript belonged at some point to the library of St. Rémy at Rheims. Waddell (1948) p. 286. In BL Royal 15. B., the poem includes the inscription, “To a young woman who was seen in a dream {ad puellam quam in somnis viderat},” and the poem is attributed to Virgil. In addition, Aldhelm (died 709), Abbot of Malmesbury and Bishop of Sherborne, cited this poem in his Letter to Acircius {Epistola ad Acircium} / On metrical feet {De pedum regulis}. Aldhelm attributed this poem to Ovid. Orchard (1994) pp. 214-5.

[5] Prudentius, The Origin of Sin {Hamartigenia}, Preface {Praefatio} vv. 36-45, Latin text from Thomson (1949), English translation (modified slightly) from Malamud (2011) pp. 5-6.

[6] Tertullian, Against Marcion {Adversus Marcionem} 1.1.4-5, Latin text from Evans (1972), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. To protect himself from castration culture, the fourth-century hermit Ammonas of Tunah reportedly followed the mythic example of the male beaver and castrated himself. Tertullian’s disparagement of Marcion probably would be censored today under Facebook’s code of conduct. Tertullian fortunately lived in a more liberal and tolerant age.

[7] Prudentius, Liber Cathemerinon, Hymnus ante somnum, vv. 125-52, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from O’Daly (2012) pp. 178-9. The above quotations runs to the end of Hymnus ante somnum.

[image] Suzy Bogguss, video performance of the southern African-American traditional lullaby Hush-a-bye / All the pretty little horses. Audio from Bogguss’s album American Folk Songbook (Loyal Butchess Records, 2011). Peter Paul and Mary recorded Hush-a-bye on their album In the Wind (Warner Bros., 1963). Grant Campbell performed this lullaby as a soundtrack for the horror movie The Burrowers (2008).


Baehrens, Paul Heinrich Emil, ed. 1879-83. Poetae latini minores. 5 vols. Lipsiae: Teubner. Online: vols. 1 & 2, 3 & 4, 5.

Evans, Ernest, ed. and trans. 1972. Tertullian. Adversus Marcionem. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Heseltine, Michael and W.H.D. Rouse, eds. and trans. 1930. Petronius. Poems. Rev. Ed. Loeb Classical Library 15. London: Heinemann.

Malamud, Martha A. 2011. Prudentius. The Origin of Sin: an English Translation of the Hamartigenia. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press.

O’Daly, Gerard J. P. 2012. Days Linked by Song: Prudentius’ Cathemerinon. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (review by Catherine Conybeare)

Orchard, Andy. 1994. The Poetic Art of Aldhelm. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pope, R. Matin, trans. 1895. The Hymns of Prudentius. London: J.M. Dent.

Rexroth, Kenneth. 1967. Poems from the Greek anthology. Translated, with an introd., by Kenneth Rexroth, with drawings by Geraldine Sakall. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Thomson, Henry John, ed. and trans. 1949. Prudentius. Loeb Classical Library 387, 398. Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Voigt, Eva Maria, ed. 1971. Sappho et Alcaeus fragmenta. Amsterdam: Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep.

Waddell, Helen. 1948. Mediaeval Latin Lyrics. New York: Henry Holt.