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.


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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.

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