Tibullus with Parthenius against Gallus on gender in love & war

In the first century BGC, Parthenius of Nicaea supplied Cornelius Gallus with ancient Greek stories to use in his poetry. Gallus became renowned as the earliest of the great Latin love elegists.[1] A military leader who conquered five cities and became the ruler of the new Roman province of Egypt, Gallus contributed significantly to developing love elegy’s gendered figure of “love’s warfare {militia amoris}.” Like most modern scholars, Gallus failed to understand critically violence against men in Parthenius’s collection. Tibullus, another leading Latin love elegist of the first century BGC, evoked violence against men to create a sophisticated poetic rejection of Gallus’s love elegy.

Parthenius’s story concerning Pallene shows how violence against men relates to men’s love for women. Pallene was the daughter of Sithon, King of the Odomanti in Thrace. Renowned for her beauty and her pleasing temperament toward men, Pallene attracted many men who wanted to marry her. Sithon tested Pallene’s suitors by fighting each one to the death. The precious woman Pallene was thus positioned as a prize that either father or potential husband could earn at the cost of the other man’s life. In the parallel story of Hippodamia, King Oenamous, and Pelops, the father killed eighteen men suitors to assert his superior right to live with his daughter. Horrific violence against men is associated with women’s relatively high social value and privilege.

The social construction of gender under gynocentrism has defined men’s virtue in terms of their strength and fighting ability against other men. When King Sithon grew much older and physically weaker, he realized that he could no longer successfully fight against Pallene’s suitors. He thus considered himself no longer worthy to be the primary man-object of his daughter’s affection. Sithon arranged for two new suitors, Dryas and Cleitus, to fight to death for the prize of being able to marry Pallene. Men have long endured systemic sexual disadvantage relative to women. Men should not have to fight for women’s love any more than women should have to fight for men’s love.

Women are complicit in violence against men. Women, directly or indirectly, commonly motivate, incite, or determine violence against men. So it was with Pallene:

When the appointed combat day dawned, Pallene (who, so it turned out, had fallen in love with Cleitus) was very much afraid for him. She had not the heart to confess this to any of her attendants. But her cheeks so ran with tears that eventually her old tutor realised and diagnosed her condition. He told her to keep her spirits up and that things would go just as she wanted. Secretly he approached Dryas’s charioteer. He promised him a great deal of money if he would not insert the linch-pins in Dryas’s chariot-wheels. So when they went out to battle and Dryas charged at Cleitus, the wheels fell away from under his chariot. Cleitus rushed up to Dryas as he lay there and killed him.

{ τῆς δὲ ἀφωρισμένης ἡμέρας παρούσης, ἡ Παλλήνη (ἔτυχε γὰρ ἐρῶσα τοῦ Κλείτου) πάνυ ὀρρώδει περὶ αὐτοῦ· καὶ σημῆναι μὲν οὐκ ἐτόλμα τινὶ τῶν ἀμφ᾿ αὑτήν5, δάκρυα δὲ πολλὰ ἐχεῖτο τῶν παρειῶν αὐτῆς, ἕως ὅτε ὁ τροφεὺς αὐτῆς πρεσβύτης, ἀναπυνθανόμενος καὶ ἐπιγνοὺς τὸ πάθος, τῇ μὲν θαρρεῖν παρεκελεύσατο ὡς, ᾗ βούλεται, ταύτῃ τοῦ πράγματος χωρήσοντος· αὐτὸς δὲ κρύφα ὑπέρχεται τὸν ἡνίοχον τοῦ Δρύαντος καὶ αὐτῷ χρυσὸν πολὺν ὁμολογήσας πείθει διὰ τῶν ἁρματηγῶν τροχῶν μὴ διεῖναι τὰς περόνας. ἔνθα δή, ὡς ἐς μάχην ἐξῄεσαν καὶ ἤλαυνεν ὁ Δρύας ἐπὶ τὸν Κλεῖτον, καὶ οἱ τροχοὶ περιερρύησαν αὐτῷ τῶν ἁρμάτων καὶ οὕτως πεσόντα αὐτὸν ἐπιδραμὼν ὁ Κλεῖτος ἀναιρεῖ. }[2]

King Sithon had at least a primitive sense of justice. For her manipulation of the violence among men, he planned to immolate his daughter Pallone upon the funeral pyre for the unfairly killed Dryas. In modern societies, women’s tears prompt grossly gender-disparate sentences for similar crimes. In this story, the sky poured down rain and extinguished Dryas’s funeral fire. Interpreting this natural event to signal a divine mandate for women’s privilege, Sithon allowed Pallene to live and marry Cleitus.

Gallus, horseman on trilingual stela

Cornelius Gallus failed to perceive the critical perspective on gender and violence that Parthenius provided through his stories of sufferings in love. Gallus instead accepted the dominant Roman valuation of men and achieved preeminence within it. Gallus led a Roman army in Octavian’s successful invasion of Egypt in 30 BGC. As a reward for his military service, Gallus received the title of Imperial Adjunct. He was made chief administrator of the new Roman province of Egypt. With an inscription on a stela, Gallus celebrated his own military exploits, including “defeated the enemy; victor in two battles, conqueror of five cities {hostem vicit, bis acie victor, V urbium expugnator}.”[3] Gallus was a proud survivor of brutal violence against men.

Gallus also fought for women’s love. He had a love affair with an actress / courtesan called Cytheris, thought to be a Roman freedwoman named Volumnia. She, however, left him to follow Mark Antony in Gaul. Rome’s triumph over Cleopatra and Antony in Egypt almost surely didn’t mean that Gallus received Cytheris’s love. Gallus apparently fought for her love with four books of love elegy. Those books centered on a courtesan named Lycoris, probably a figure for Cytheris / Volumnia.[4] Virgil envisioned questioning Gallus’s insane, failed love:

All ask: “From where is that love of yours?” Apollo came:
“Gallus, what is this insanity?” he said, “Your dear Lycoris
is following another man through snows and horrid camps.”

{ omnes “unde amor iste” rogant “tibi?” venit Apollo:
“Galle, quid insanis?” inquit. “tua cura Lycoris
perque nives alium perque horrida castra secuta est.” }[5]

According to Virgil, Gallus himself, mired in a military engagement, was raving in love for his lost Lycoris:

Here are frigid springs, here are soft meadows, Lycoris,
here are the woods: here eternity itself to be spent with you.
Now insane love for the harsh god of war keeps me armed,
detained amid clashing weapons and hostile forces.
You are far from your fatherland — would I not believe such.
Ah! harsh one, Alpine snows and the cold Rhine you see
without me, alone. Ah! May the cold do you no harm!
Ah! May the sharp ice not cut your tender soles!

{ Hic gelidi fontes, hic mollia prata, Lycori,
hic nemus; hic ipso tecum consumerer aevo.
nunc insanus Amor duri me Martis in armis
tela inter media atque adversos detinet hostis.
tu procul a patria – nec sit mihi credere tantum –
Alpinas, a, dura nives et frigora Rheni
me sine sola vides. a, te ne frigora laedant!
a, tibi ne teneras glacies secet aspera plantas! }

Ovid described the outcome of Gallus’s manly struggles:

Gallus is famed in the West, and Gallus in the East,
and with Gallus shall be famed his Lycoris.

{ Gallus et Hesperiis et Gallus notus Eois,
et sua cum Gallo nota Lycoris erit. }[6]

Lycoris’s name indeed became famous with Gallus. That’s not the same as Gallus growing old with his beloved woman. Martial declared, “beautiful Lycoris was Gallus’s genius {ingenium Galli pulchra Lycoris erat}.”[7] That’s an early version of a now-common claim that a man owes all his success to a woman. An elegiac fragment from Parthenius seems to say, “derived no profit from sweet marriage { ‒⏑⏑ ] ος γλυκερῶν οὐκ ἀπελ [‒⏑⏑‒ }.” Gallus surely didn’t have a sweet marriage with Lycoris.[8]

Gallus’s successful violence against men also didn’t bring him enduring happiness. A short time after being made chief administrator of Egypt, he incurred the displeasure of Emperor Augustus. The Roman Senate condemned Gallus. He then committed suicide. Weak evidence suggests that he was subject to an order of “condemnation of memory {damnatio memoriae},” e.g. obliteration of the records of his life. If so, that obliteration wasn’t complete. Verses of Propertius on Gallus have survived:

And recently, dead for beautiful Lycoris, Gallus has
washed how many wounds in the waters of the infernal world.

{ et modo formosa quam multa Lycoride Gallus
mortuus inferna vulnera lavit aqua. }[9]

Gallus died violently, like many of Pallene’s suitors in Parthenius’s story. Gallus didn’t appreciate the deaths of those suitors.[10] Like most men, Gallus didn’t defy the oppression of men under gynocentrism. Gallus lived and died the difficult, violent life set out for men.

Unlike Gallus, Tibullus celebrated simple, peaceful country life. The first elegy in Tibullus’s first book begins:

Let another gather for himself wealth of yellow gold
and hold many acres of well-plowed soil,
let endless work terrify him, with an enemy nearby,
and sounds of war-trumpets driving away sleep.
Let my moderate means lead me to a quiet life,
while my hearth shines with constant flame.

{ Divitias alius fulvo sibi congerat auro
et teneat culti iugera multa soli,
quem labor adsiduus vicino terreat hoste,
Martia cui somnos classica pulsa fugent:
me mea paupertas vita traducat inerti,
dum meus adsiduo luceat igne focus. }[11]

Tibullus’s last elegy in that book begins:

Who was he who first brought forth the horrid sword?
How iron-willed and truly made of iron was he!
Then slaughter of men began, then war was born,
then a quicker road was opened to fearful death.
Perhaps that wretch merits blame for nothing: do we turn to evil
what he gave us to use on ferocious beasts?
That’s the curse of wealth in gold. No wars were made
when the beech-wood cup stood beside men’s feasts.
No fortresses or fences were there; the flock’s leader
sought sleep securely among the speckled sheep.
Then I might have lived, Valgius, and not known sad
arms nor heard the trumpet-call with trembling heart.
Now I’m dragged to war, and perhaps already some foe
carries the spear that will stick my side.

{ Quis fuit, horrendos primus qui protulit enses?
quam ferus et vere ferreus ille fuit!
tum caedes hominum generi, tum proelia nata,
tum brevior dirae mortis aperta via est.
an nihil ille miser meruit, nos ad mala nostra
vertimus, in saevas quod dedit ille feras?
divitis hoc vitium est auri, nec bella fuerunt,
faginus astabat cum scyphus ante dapes.
non arces, non vallus erat, somnumque petebat
securus varias dux gregis inter oves.
tunc mihi vita foret, Valgi, nec tristia nossem
arma nec audissem corde micante tubam.
nunc ad bella trahor, et iam quis forsitan hostis
haesura in nostro tela gerit latere. }[12]

As Tibullus knew from the stories of Parthenius, peace in an idyllic age before the invention of iron is merely a dream. Violence against men is as old as humans made woman and man.

Marie de Medici as Bellona

Tibullus understood that violence against men has women at its center. The first elegy of Tibullus’s first book, which begins with quiet country life and warm hearth, immediately changes that life slightly but significantly:

I don’t require the wealth of my forefathers,
such as the harvest piled together by my ancient ancestor.
A little field is enough — enough to sleep in peace
if I am able to rest my limbs on my usual bed.
What joy to hear the harsh winds as I recline,
holding my lady to my tender breast,
or, when winter wind from the south sheds frigid showers,
to sleep serenely, helped by an accompanying fire.

{ non ego divitias patrum fructusque requiro,
quos tulit antiquo condita messis avo:
parva seges satis est; satis est, requiescere lecto
si licet et solito membra levare toro.
quam iuvat immites ventos audire cubantem
et dominam tenero continuisse sinu
aut, gelidas hibernus aquas cum fuderit Auster,
securum somnos igne iuvante sequi. }[13]

Now Tibullus’s rustic dream includes a ruling “lady {domina}.” In the following, telling half-verse, he declares, “This is my fate {Hoc mihi contingat}.” Tibullus continues on to show that his fate of having a ruling lady disrupts his dream of a simple, rustic life. Gallus’s surviving elegiac verses connect sadness in love to military triumph:

sad, Lycoris, by your misbehavior

My fate will then be sweet to me, Caesar, when you
are the most important part of Roman history,
and when I read of many gods’ temples after your return
the richer for being adorned with your spoils.

{ tristia nequitia … Lycori

Fata mihi, Caesar, tum erunt mea dulcia, quom tu
maxima Romanae pars eris historiae
postque tuum reditum multorum templa deorum
fixa legam spolieis deivitiora tueis. }[14]

Tibullus’s patron Messalla, a figure of Gallus, and Tibullus’s beloved Delia, a figure of Lycoris, tear into his dream and reshape his fate:

Let him be wealthy, by right,
who can endure the raging seas and the mournful rain.
O, let however much gold and emeralds be lost,
rather than any girl would weep about my travels.
Messalla, for you war by land and sea is fitting,
so that your house might display enemy takings,
but the chains of a lovely girl bind me captive here,
and I sit as a doorman before her harsh entrance.
I’m not concerned for praise, my Delia, as long as
I’m with you. Please allow me to be called idle and lazy.
When my highest hour has come, let me gaze on you;
may I hold you, as I die, in my failing grasp.

{ sit dives iure, furorem
qui maris et tristes ferre potest pluvias.
o quantum est auri pereat potiusque smaragdi,
quam fleat ob nostras ulla puella vias.
te bellare decet terra, Messalla, marique,
ut domus hostiles praeferat exuvias:
me retinent vinctum formosae vincla puellae,
et sedeo duras ianitor ante fores.
non ego laudari curo, mea Delia; tecum
dum modo sim, quaeso segnis inersque vocer.
te spectem, suprema mihi cum venerit hora;
te teneam moriens deficiente manu. }[15]

Tibullus’s dream of rustic simplicity has evaporated. He’s enslaved in love. He’s desperate seeking the love of Delia, who locks him out of her house. With an allusion to sexual consummation, he without reason dies while she is still young. Other Tibullus elegies indicate that he’s forced to travel and fight in wars. Love has become as arbitrary as war, and love and war are poetically enmeshed:

Now trivial love is to be practiced, while breaking down doors
isn’t shameful and one delights in sowing quarrels.
Here I’m a good general and soldier. Go far away, you
ensigns and trumpets, carry wounds to greedy men,
and carry wealth to them. Secure with my gathered heap,
I’ll despise their riches, and despise hunger too.

{ nunc levis est tractanda venus, dum frangere postes
non pudet et rixas inseruisse iuvat.
hic ego dux milesque bonus: vos, signa tubaeque,
ite procul, cupidis vulnera ferte viris,
ferte et opes: ego composito securus acervo
dites despiciam despiciamque famem. }[16]

Tibullus has deliberately created semantic incoherence. Like a soldier seeking spoils, he despises hunger and is satisfied with gathering a heap of unspecified objects. The delight of love is the trivial, stupid action of breaking down doors and sowing quarrels. With this incoherence, Tibullus protested against war and against the love of Gallus’s love elegy.

While violence against men is effaced or excused within dominant gynocentric ideology, Tibullus recognized that Gallus’s love elegy endorses brutal violence against men. Tibullus mockingly declared its rules for men:

And for me let the rules be harsh, let me never be able
to praise another without her going for my eyes,
and if I’m thought to have wronged her, let me be taken by my hair
and flung face down in the middle of the street.

{ et mihi sint durae leges, laudare nec ullam
possim ego quin oculos appetat illa meos;
et si quid peccasse puter, ducarque capillis
in medias pronus proripiarque vias. }[17]

Justice systems have long treated men much more harshly than women. In the ancient world, blinding was a punishment for profaning the sacred. The woman is a sacred idol in Gallus’s love elegy. The man is merely a slave to be flung face down in the street. Ovid complained of his girlfriend, “If I praise another, wretched me, you tear out my hair with your fingernails {siquam laudavi, misero petis ungue capillos}.”[18] Urging Delia’s husband to allow him to be her guardian, Tibullus underscored men’s subordination to women in Gallus’s love elegy:

But trust her to my keeping: then I’ll not refuse
savage blows, or shrink from chains on my ankles.

{ at mihi servandam credas: non saeva recuso
verbera, detrecto non ego vincla pedum. }[19]

Men shouldn’t have to suffer savage blows from women or enslavement in love for women. Yet the abasement of men in Gallus’s love elegy is the same as the abasement of men as vassals in the sexual feudalism of troubadour and trobairitz love lyric. Like the violence against men celebrated in Homeric epic, domestic violence against men isn’t recognized within dominant gynocentric discourse. Scholarly discussion of domestic violence today, even in relation to Roman love elegy, is an appalling spectacle of ignorance and gender bigotry.[20]

Men in Gallus’s love elegy enjoy love as war. Gallus apparently was a patron of Tibullus’s near contemporary Propertius. Propertius wrote that his beloved girl abusing him was sweet:

Sweet to me was the lamplight brawl we had last night,
all the abuse from your insane tongue.
You be truly bold: attack my hair
and scratch my face with your lovely nails.
You threaten to bring a flame to burn out my eyes —
rip my clothes and strip bare my chest!
When crazed with wine, you knock over the table and
with your insane hand fling at me full cups.

Let love-rivals see the wounds of my bitten neck.
Let bruises inform that I’ve had my girl with me.
I want either to suffer in love or hear of suffering,

{ Dulcis ad hesternas fuerat mihi rixa lucernas,
vocis et insanae tot maledicta tuae.
tu vero nostros audax invade capillos
et mea formosis unguibus ora nota,
tu minitare oculos subiecta exurere flamma,
fac mea rescisso pectora nuda sinu!
cum furibunda mero mensam propellis et in me
proicis insana cymbia plena manu

in morso aequales videant mea vulnera collo:
me doceat livor mecum habuisse meam.
aut in amore dolere volo aut audire dolentem }[21]

Following Gallus, Propertius explicitly associated the pleasure of love with war:

Sweeter was love’s fire for Paris, with weapons engaged with Greeks,
so as to be able to bring pleasure to his Helen, daughter of Tyndareus.
When the Danaans were winning, with savage Hector remaining firm,
Paris waged the mightiest war in Helen’s embrace.
With weapons either with you or with a rival for you
will I always be: peace with you will never satisfy me.

{ dulcior ignis erat Paridi, cum Graia per arma
Tyndaridi poterat gaudia ferre suae:
dum vincunt Danai, dum restat barbarus Hector,
ille Helenae in gremio maxima bella gerit.
aut tecum aut pro te mihi cum rivalibus arma
semper erunt: in te pax mihi nulla placet. }

War is institutionally structured violence against men. That’s obvious, but scarcely acknowledged. Gallus’s love elegy similarly supports violence against men in love, and the subordination of men to women. Propertius didn’t challenge these premises of Gallus’s love elegy, but Tibullus did.

Bellona as Dutch woman in 1633

Tibullus ended his first book of love elegy with a deeply challenging depiction of love, war, and rustic peace. Tibullus’s tableau is as disturbing and subversive as Ausonius’s Wedding Cento:

From the woods the farmer rides, himself half-sober,
going home in a wagon with his wife and children.
But then love’s battles are inflamed. Torn hair
and broken doors the woman bewails.
She cries, her tender cheeks bruised. But the victor himself
cries that his own mad hands were so strong.
And lewd love supplies evil words to their quarrel;
between the angry couple love sits unconcerned.

{ rusticus e lucoque vehit, male sobrius ipse,
uxorem plaustro progeniemque domum.
sed veneris tunc bella calent, scissosque capillos
femina, perfractas conqueriturque fores;
flet teneras subtusa genas: sed victor et ipse
flet sibi dementes tam valuisse manus.
at lascivus Amor rixae mala verba ministrat,
inter et iratum lentus utrumque sedet. }[22]

Broken doors makes no sense relative to a couple going to their own home. That’s a figure imported from Gallus’s love elegy to this rustic scene. Torn hair and bruised cheeks are women’s self-injury in urbane lamenting of beloved men’s deaths. Relative to rustic marital love, the extra-normative love of Gallus’s love elegy plays with the couple, he half-sober and she perhaps completely drunk. The husband’s mad hands are those of the insane lover Gallus. Gallus’s love elegy here colonizes rustic love.

Tibullus in his subsequent eight verses thematically depicted men’s gender subordination to women in Gallus’s love elegy. To his earlier association of iron and war Tibullus added stone, a much more primitive substance:

Oh, he’s stone and iron, he whoever would strike his girl:
that pulls down the gods from the heavens.
Let it be enough to have torn thin clothes from her limbs.
Let it be enough to have tousled her adorned hair.
Having moved her to tears is enough, for four times blessed is he
whose anger is able to make a tender girl weep.
But he whose hands will be savage — he should carry
a shield and pike and be far from the gentle love goddess.

{ a lapis est ferrumque, suam quicumque puellam
verberat: e caelo deripit ille deos.
sit satis e membris tenuem rescindere vestem
sit satis ornatus dissoluisse comae
sit lacrimas movisse satis; quater ille beatus
quo tenera irato flere puella potest.
sed manibus qui saevus erit, scutumque sudemque
is gerat et miti sit procul a Venere. }

This gentle love goddess just spurred the rustic couple’s quarrel. Within heterosexual conflict, women’s violence is privileged. The girl may gouge out the boy’s eyes, but the gods protect the girl from the boy hitting her. To be repeatedly blessed with the fire of the woman’s passion, the man must successfully enact masculine love play: tearing off the woman’s thin clothes, tousling her hair, and dominating her emotionally. Tibullus elsewhere described the war-goddess Bellona, working on behalf of Love, savagely bloodying her own arms with a double-axe. Roman military service put to arms slave men, men conscripts, and citizen men compelled to fight according to gendered selective service. Associating men in the Roman army with savages unworthy of love devalues men’s lives relative to women’s lives.

Tibullus almost surely meant his concluding presentation of rustic domestic violence to be critical insight into Gallus’s love elegy. Tibullus’s patron Messalla served in the Roman army, as did Tibullus himself. Neither are plausibly interpreted in Tibullus’s elegy as truly savage men. The savage man unworthy of love is better interpreted as pointing to Gallus’s love elegy. That poetically associated love with war. It also supported men’s gender subordination in love and war. Tibullus’s first book of elegies concludes:

But come to us with wheat in your hand, nourishing Peace;
may your shining white breast flow with fruits before us.

{ at nobis, Pax alma, veni spicamque teneto,
profluat et pomis candidus ante sinus. }

This rustic image of feminine peace has an erotic charge. Violence against men arises primarily from men competing for women’s love and men striving to serve women. Peace isn’t a fruit of women’s breasts. Peace depends on men culturally sophisticated enough to strive to love other men as much as they naturally love women. Tibullus’s distinctive and sophisticated use of “country life {rura}” works ironically against the themes of “love {amor}” and “war / military service {militia}” established in Gallus’s love elegy.[23]

Parthenius’s stories of suffering in love are consistent with Tibullus’s subtle understanding of violence against men. Parthenius recounted persons overcoming insane love through moral reflection. Parthenius represented women culpably entangled in violence against men, including rape of men. He also presented solidarity among men as vital to gender equality and social justice. Parthenius dedicated his story collection to Gallus, yet Gallus didn’t appreciate its significance for love elegy. Tibullus, whether via Parthenius or some other source, understood from ancient Greek stories the key meninist theme of love for men.[24]

Meninist literary criticism encompasses, penetrates, and moves beyond both feminist theory and queer theory. Man, whether a generic abstraction for humans or an instantiation of toxic masculinity, must yeild to men as fully human beings worthy of love merely for their being. Men carry a seminal blessing. Men have created most of the material structure of modern civilization. Both women and men should love men. The future of humane civilization, if there is one, isn’t female. It’s meninist.

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] Ovid presented himself as fourth in a line of eminent elegists:

greedy fate gave
to Tibullus no time for friendship with me.
Tibullus was your successor, Gallus; Propertius his.
After them I myself came, fourth in order of time.

{ nec avara Tibullo
tempus amicitiae fata dedere meae
successor fuit hic tibi, Galle, Propertius illi;
quartus ab his serie temporis ipse fui }

Ovid, Sorrows {Tristia} 4.10.51-4, Latin text from Wheeler (1924) of the Loeb Classical Library, my English translation. Quintilian, writing in the middle of the first century GC, similarly listed four eminent Latin elegists:

In elegy, too, we challenge the Greeks. The most refined and elegant author seems to me to be Tibullus. Some prefer Propertius. Ovid is more self-indulgent than these two, Gallus more harsh.

{ Elegia quoque Graecos provocamus, cuius mihi tersus atque elegans maxime videtur auctor Tibullus. Sunt qui Propertium malint. Ovidius utroque lascivior, sicut durior Gallus. }

Quintilian, The Orator’s Education {Institutio Oratoria} 10.1.93, Latin text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Russell (2002). While Gallus was the first of the eminent Latin love elegists, Latin love elegy existed before Gallus. Raymond (2013) p. 66. Regarding Gallus’s position in the development of Latin love elegy, Claassen summarized:

He was perhaps the first to write poems that were shorter than those of Greek elegy, which usually dealt with a single topic, but were longer than the erotic epigrams (that had the same metric form) made popular by Catullus. Recent work on Gallus seems in general to concur that the poet set the “unhappy tone” for Roman elegiacs. Parthenius dedicated his erotic myths to Gallus, who may have been the first to draw himself as first-person participant within a myth.

Claassen (2017) pp. 322-3, n. 28.

[2] Parthenius of Nicaea, Sufferings in Love {Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα} 6.4-5 (About Pallene {Περὶ Παλλήνης}), ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly to be more easily readable) from Lightfoot (2009). All the details of the story above are from Parthenius’s account. The manchette for this story states, “The story is told by Theagenes and in Hegesippus’ Palleniaca {Ἱστορεῖ Θεαγένης καὶ Ἡγήσιππος ἐν Παλληνιακοῖς}.” Id. Here’s the Greek text of Hercher (1858). For comparison to similar ancient Greek stories, Lightfoot (1999) pp. 403-7. Lightfoot’s commentary shows no concern for the horrific violence against men.

[3] Inscription on trilingual stela erected in Philae 29 BGC. Latin text (CIL 3.1414 7,5) from Packard Humanities Institute’s Epigraphy Database (simplified textual presentation), my English translation benefiting from those of Minas-Nerpelm & Pfeiffer (2010) pp. 281-2 and Török (2008) via Attalus. On what’s known of Gallus’s biography, Raymond (2013).

[4] On Gallus love for Cytheris / Volumnia and her leaving him for Mark Antony, Raymond (2013) p. 60. The fourth-century commentator Servius, writing on Virgil, Eclogue 10.1, states that Gallus was “an eminent poet {poeta eximius}”; Gallus “wrote four books on his love for Cytheris {amorum suorum de Cytheride scripsit libros quattuor}.”

[5] Virgil, Eclogue 10.21-3, Latin text from Fairclough & Goold (1999), my English translation benefiting from that of id. and A.S. Kline (2001). The subsequent quote is similarly from Eclogue 10.42-9.

[6] Ovid, Loves {Amores} 1.15.29-30, Latin text from Ehwald (1907) via Perseus, my English translation. Here are William Turpin’s textual notes and A.S. Kline’s translation of the full poem.

[7] Martial, Epigrams {Epigrammata} 8.73.6, Latin text from Heraeus & Borovskij (1925) via Perseus, my English translation.

[8] Parthenius of Nicaea, Poetic Fragments, fragment 27a, ancient Greek text (slightly simplified presentation) and English translation from Lightfoot (2009) pp. 516-7. Parthenius wrote a farewell poem to one traveling overseas (a propemptikon {προπεμπτικόν}). Parthenius, fragment 26, available in id. Gallus apparently wrote a propemptikon to Lycoris. Cairns (1979) p. 226. Nothing is known about the relation of Parthenius’s propemptikon to Gallus’s propemptikon.

Gallus almost surely never married Lycoris. Whether Gallus married isn’t known. Martial describes a Roman official in north Africa (Libya) named Gallus who had an adulterous, promiscuous wife. Martial suggests that Gallus’s wife preferred to penetrate sexually others:

Among the peoples of Libya, your wife, Gallus, has a bad reputation
for the ugly crime of immoderate greed.
But the stories are sheer lies. She isn’t accustomed to
take at all. To what then is she accustomed? To give.

{ Gentibus in Libycis uxor tua, Galle, male audit
immodicae foedo crimine avaritiae.
sed mera narrantur mendacia: non solet illa
accipere omnino. quid solet ergo? dare. }

Martial, Epigrammata 2.56, sourced as above. Galli were castrated men who served the goddess Cybele. They were thought to perform oral sex on women. Nicholas (2017) p. 26.

Whether Martial was referring specially to Cornelius Gallus in 2.56, or some other Roman official in north Africa named Gallus, isn’t clear. Propertius refers to three or four different men named Gallus (Kline (2001) identifies four; Somerville (2009) and others, three). However, given Cornelius Gallus’s eminence as both a literary author and a Roman official, this epigram likely cast a shadow on Cornelius Gallus in ancient readers’ minds.

Martial 4.16 insinuates that a man named Gallus was having sex with his stepmother. In particular, he wasn’t her stepson while she was his father’s wife, and after his father died, she lived with him. That reference to Gallus lacks the additional specificity of he being a Roman official in north Africa.

[9] Propertius, Elegies 2.34.91-2, Latin text from the Teubner edition of Mueller (1898) via Perseus, my English translation. A.S. Kline provides a freely available English translation of the whole poem. Cf. Propertius, Elegies 1.5, 1.10, and 1.13, all of which some scholars plausibly argue refer to Cornelius Gallus. Cairns (2006) argues that Gallus was a major influence on Propertius and that Gallus was a patron of Propertius.

[10] Cairns speculated, “the influence of Parthenius upon Gallus must have been strong.” Cairns (1979) p. 226. At least with respect to violence against men and gender, the evidence seems to me to suggest that Parthenius had little influence upon Gallus.

[11] Tibullus, Elegies {Elegiae} 1.1.1-6, Latin text from Postgate (1913), my English translation benefiting from that of id. and A.S. Kline (2001). The hearth shining with “constant {adsiduo}” flame seems to me to suggest light connecting earth and sky (“to the star {astro}”). Subsequent quotes from Tibullus are similarly sourced. For a straight-forward, accessible review of the themes of love, war, and country life in Tibullus, Brazouski (1979).

[12] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.10.1-14. Here are some English translation notes. The wonderful translation “How iron-willed and truly made of iron he was! {Quam ferus et vere ferreus ille fuit!}” is from A.S. Kline.

The manuscript reading vulgi in v. 1.10.11 is suspect. Recent editions emend to valgi. That implies Tibullus addressing his contemporary Valgius Rufus, a Roman senator and writer of Latin elegy. Two fifteenth-century manuscripts record the conjecture dulcis. The Gallus fragment from Qaṣr Ibrîm provides some additional support for dulcis. O’Hara (2005). O’Hara commented, “if we read dulcis, we find that the verses on the Gallus papyrus influenced Tibullus.” Id. p. 319. Gallus undoubtedly influenced Tibullus. As argued above, Tibullus at the broad thematic level seems to have written against Gallus’s love elegy.

[13] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.1.41-8. Tibullus contrasted the beloved “lady of the house {domina}” in v. 46 with references to the beloved “girl {puella}” of Gallus’s love elegy in vv. 52 and 55. Claassen observed: “It is now generally accepted that use of domina (‘mistress’) in the erotic sense in elegy originated with Gallus.” Id. p. 330.

[14] From Qaṣr Ibrîm papyrus with text attributed to Gallus; Latin text (simplified presentation) and English translation (adapted insubstantially) from Anderson, Parsons & Nisbet (1979) p. 140. This Gallus fragment has attracted enormous scholarly attention. See, e.g. the work of Adrian Pay, such as Pay (2016). For a comprehensive recent review and analysis, Claassen (2017) pp. 325-34.

[15] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.1.49-60. O’Rourke associated Tibullus 1 and 10 with the song of Ares and Aphrodite in the Odyssey and Empedoclean conflict between love and strike as represented in Lucretius’s De rerum natura. Concerning the emergence of Delia in Tibullus’s arms, O’Rourke stated:

Given Tibullus’ quasi-Epicurean desire to live a peaceful and secluded life, and the specific evocations of Lucretius earlier in the elegy, it is tempting to contemplate in this picture of Tibullus, loving and dying in Delia’s embrace at the opening of Book 1, an analogy with the embracing lovers Mars and Venus in parallel position at the opening of De rerum natura 1.

O’Rourke (2014) para. 10. Tibullus seems to me to have moved on to a critical perspective like that on Mars and Venus in Johannes de Hauvilla’s Architrenius.

[16] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.1.73-8. On Tibullus’s military travel with Messalla, 1.3.1-22. and on Messalla’s foreign military success, 1.7. Messalla’s triump occurred on September 25, 27 BGC. Tibullus imagines himself having died “following Messalla by land and sea {Messallam terra dum sequiturque mari}.” 1.3.56; cf. 1.1.45. Nonetheless, Tibullus also proclaims:

That man was iron who, when he could have possessed you,
foolishly preferred to follow after war and plunder.
Let him chase Cilicia’s routed troop before him,
and pitch his war camp on captured ground.
All covered in silver, all in gold,
let him conspicuously sit on his swift horse.
If only I myself might yoke oxen with you, Delia,
and graze flocks on the usual hill,
and while I hold you in my tender arms,
soft sleep be mine even on the rugged earth.

{ ferreus ille fuit qui, te cum posset habere,
maluerit praedas stultus et arma sequi.
ille licet Cilicum victas agat ante catervas,
ponat et in capto Martia castra solo,
totus et argento contectus, totus et auro,
insideat celeri conspiciendus equo;
ipse boves mea si tecum modo Delia possim
iungere et in solito pascere monte pecus,
et te dum liceat teneris retinere lacertis,
mollis et inculta sit mihi somnus humo. }

1.2.67-74. Conflicting claims and irony are central to Tibullus’s love elegy.

[17] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.6.69-72.

[18] Ovid, Loves {Amores} 2.7.7, Latin text from the Teubner edition of Ehwald (1907) via Perseus, my English translation. Here’s A.S. Kline’s translation of the whole poem.

[19] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.6.37-8. Women’s violence against men sometimes provokes men’s violence against women. In reality, much of domestic violence is mutual violence. Yet that mutual violence isn’t a normative expression of love. It’s thus distinct from the mutual violence that Tibullus depicted within Gallus’s love elegy:

Then I gave her juices and herbs to erase the bruises
that mutual love makes teeth imprint on the flesh.

{ tunc sucos herbasque dedi quis livor abiret
quem facit impresso mutua dente venus. }

Tibullus, Elegiae 1.6.13-4.

[20] O’Rouke (2018) is best interpreted not as a unique authorial creation, but as reflecting pervasive gynocentric imperatives in discussing domestic volence. It approaches social-scientific literature on domestic violence with worse interpretive skills than mass-market newspaper columnists. It doesn’t consider obvious biases in survey questions about rape. The connection that it puts forward between military service and intimate-partner violence ignores gender bias in determinating perpetrators of domestic violence and gender bias in military service.

Under gynocentric dominance, scholars are compelled to make absurd claims even in relation to ancient Latin love elegy. Consider:

In Roman elegy, then, depictions of the domina’s abuse of her lover should not be taken as recognition that the perpetrator of domestic violence is not always the male: the bruising with which Propertius threatens Cynthia if she goes to bed clothed (2.15.17-20, quoted above, p. 116) is not symbolically equivalent to that which elsewhere he invites as a token of her true love (3.8.5-10) and displays, or wishes to display, to his peers as manly ‘war wounds’ (3.8.21-2). … Ultimately, then, the marks of physical violence in elegy, whether (imagined) on the male or the female body, always betoken male dominance and female servitude.

O’Rouke (2018) p. 124. Gynocentrism upholds female dominance in part by insisting, no matter what the facts, “male dominance and female servitude” is the unquestionably necessary and only permissible master narrative. According to dominant gynocentric ideology, the master narrative “male dominance and female servitude” must control all reading and thinking.

[21] Propertius, Elegies {Elegiae} 3.8.1-8, 21-3, Latin text from the Teubner edition of Mueller (1898) via Perseus, my English translation. A.S. Kline provides a freely available English translation of the whole poem. In 2.5, Propertius claims that he would never act with such violence toward a beloved woman. The subsequent quote above is similarly from 3.8.29-34.

Propertius’s representation of violence is consistent with Cynthia’s violence toward him when she discovered him enjoying a threesome with Phyllis and Teia:

She angrily thrusts her fingernails into Phyllis’s face.
Terrified, Teia cries out, “Help, neighbors, come with water!”
Their screamed claims disturb the sleeping Romans,
and the whole street becomes mad with resounding voices.
With torn hair and clothes ripped, Phylllis and Teia
escape into the nearby tavern on the dark street.
Cynthia rejoices in her spoils and victoriously runs back
and gashes my face with the back of her hand,
marks my neck, drawing blood with her bite,
and especially strikes my eyes, which deserve it.
And at last when her arms tire from beating me,
she drags forth Lygdamus from hiding at the bed’s
left side. Prostrate, he pleads to my guardian spirit.

{ Phyllidos iratos in vultum conicit ungues:
territa ‘vicini,’ Teþïa clamat, ‘aquam!’
crimina sopitos turbant elata Quirites,
omnis et insana semita voce sonat.
illas direptisque comis tunicisque solutis
excipit obscurae prima taberna viae.
Cynthia gaudet in exuviis victrixque recurrit
et mea perversa sauciat ora manu,
imponitque notam collo morsuque cruentat,
praecipueque oculos, qui meruere, ferit.
atque ubi iam nostris lassavit bracchia plagis,
Lygdamus, ad plutei fulcra sinistra latens,
eruitur geniumque meum prostratus adorat. }

Propertius, Elegiae 4.8.57-69, sourced as above.

[22] Tibullus, Elegiae 1.10.51-8. On the war-goddess Bellona bloodying her arms, 1.6.45-50. On Tibullus’s challenges to gender polarization, Nikoloutsos (2011) and Damer (2014).

Tibullus didn’t want his beloved girl Delia to suffer similar wounds through traditional female mourning practices after his death:

as for you — do not offend my ghost, but spare your loosened
hair and spare your tender cheeks, Delia.

{ tu manes ne laede meos, sed parce solutis
crinibus et teneris, Delia, parce genis. }

1.1.67-8. Tibullus also emphatically rejected committing violence against Delia:

I wouldn’t wish to strike you, but if such madness
were to come to me, I’d prefer to have no hands.

{ non ego te pulsare velim, sed venerit iste
si furor, optarim non habuisse manus. }


The subsequent two quotes above are from 1.10.59-66 (Oh, he’s stone and iron…) and 1.10.67-68 (But come to us with wheat…).

[23] Gaisser recognized rura {country life} as Tibullus’s distinctive contribution to Latin love elegy. She wrote:

we shall be concerned with the relation between amor and rura. The prevailing modern view sees these themes allied against militia: love and the country-side, or love in the countryside, is viewed as Tibullus’ alternative to participation in war. We will question this view … In 1.10 and 1.1 amor is by no means represented as the poet’s principal theme; it receives less emphasis than the rura and its qualities suffer in comparison or juxtaposition with those of the rura.

Gaisser (1983) pp. 58, 72. Gaisser perceived Tibullus to be challenging Propertius’s first book. Id. p. 72. Gallus plausibly was Propertius’s patron when Propertius wrote his first book. Cairns (2006) Ch. 3-4. Tibullus’s challenge to Propertius is more generally a challenge to the poetic figuring of love and war in Gallus’s love elegy.

[24] Tibullus didn’t necessarily have to read Parthenius’s collection in order to reflect upon gender in such stories of sufferings in love. Cairns (1979) documents that Hellenistic poetry was a major influence on Tibullus.

[images] (1) Gallus as a horseman attacking a crouching warrior-man. Drawing of engraving on trilingual stela from Philae. From Bresciani (1989), p. 98, Fig. 1. On the iconography, Minas-Nerpelm & Pfeiffer (2010) pp. 275-8. (2) Marie de’ Medici (lived from 1575 to 1642) as triumphal Bellona. Painting by Peter Paul Rubens, as commissioned by Marie de’ Medici. Painted between 1621 and 1625. Preserved as accession # INV 1792 in the Louvre Museum, Paris. Image thanks to the Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons. (3) Bellona, portrayed as a contemporary Dutch woman (cropped slightly). The shield depicts the head of the Gorgon Medusa. Painting by Rembrandt van Rijn. Painted in 1633. Preserved as accession # 32.100.23 (credit: The Friedsam Collection, Bequest of Michael Friedsam, 1931) in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City. Image thanks to the Met and Wikimedia Commons.


Anderson, R. D., P. J. Parsons, and R. G. M. Nisbet. 1979. “Elegiacs by Gallus from Qaṣr Ibrîm.” The Journal of Roman Studies. 69: 125-155.

Brazouski, Antoinette. 1979. The Augustan Attitudes of the Poetic Persona of Tibullus. Ph.D. Thesis, Loyola University Chicago.

Bresciani, Edda. 1989. “La Stele Trilingue di Cornelio Gallo: una Rilettura Egittologica.” Egitto e Vicino Oriente. 12: 93-98.

Cairns, Francis. 1979. Tibullus: A Hellenistic Poet at Rome. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Cairns, Francis. 2006. Sextus Propertius: the Augustan elegist. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (review by Elina Pyy)

Claassen, Jo-Marie. 2017. “The Exiled Ovid’s Reception of Gallus.” The Classical Journal. 112 (3): 318-341.

Damer, Erika Zimmermann. 2014. “Gender Reversals and Intertextuality in Tibullus.” Classical World. 107 (4): 493-514.

Davis, P. J. 2012. “Reception of Elegy in Augustan and Post-Augustan Poetry.” Ch. 27 (pp. 441-458) in Gold, Barbara K., ed. A Companion to Roman Love Elegy. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell.

Fairclough, H. Rushton, revised by G. P. Goold. 1999. Virgil. Eclogues. Georgics. Aeneid: Books 1-6. Loeb Classical Library 63. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gaisser, Julia Haig. 1983. “Amor, rura and militia in Three Elegies of Tibullus: 1.1, 1.5 and 1.10.” Latomus. 42 (1): 58-72.

Kline, A. S. 2001. Tibullus. Elegies. Brindin Press Virtual Chapbook 40. Online. The Latin text here seems to me inferior to that of Postgate (1913 / 1988). Alternate presention without Latin text at Poetry in Translation.

Lightfoot, J. L. 1999. Parthenius of Nicaea: The poetical fragments and the  Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (review by Christopher Francese)

Lightfoot, J. L. 2009. Hellenistic Collection: Philitas, Alexander of Aetolia, Hermesianax, Euphorion, Parthenius. Loeb Classical Library, 508. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. (reviews by Giambattista D’Alessio, by Claudio De Stefani, and by Iiro Laukola)

Minas-Nerpelm, Martina and Stefan Pfeiffer. 2010. “Establishing Roman Rule In Egypt: The Trilingual Stela Of C. Cornelius Gallus From Philae.” Ch. 13 (pp. 265-298) in Lembke, Katja, Martina Minas-Nerpel, and Stefan Pfeiffer. Tradition and Transformation: Egypt under Roman rule: proceedings of the international conference, Hildesheim, Roemer- and Pelizaeus-Museum, 3-6 July 2008. Leiden: Brill.

Nicholas, Lucy. 2017. “Ovid’s Calculated Ambiguity.” Paper presented at Globalizing Ovid: An International Conference in Commemoration of the Bimillennium of Ovid’s Death. May 31–June 2, 2017, in Shanghai, China.

Nikoloutsos, Konstantinos P. 2011. “From Tomb to Womb: Tibullus 1.1 and the Discourse of Masculinity in Post-Civil War Rome.” Scholia: Studies in Classical Antiquity. 20 (1): 52-71.

O’Hara, James J. 2005. “War and the Sweet Life: The Gallus Fragment and the Text of Tibullus 1.10.11.” The Classical Quarterly. 55 (1): 317-319.

O’Rourke, Donncha. 2014. “Lovers in Arms: Empedoclean Love and Strife in Lucretius and the Elegists.” Dictynna 11, online.

O’Rourke, Donncha. 2018. “Make war not love: Militia amoris and domestic violence in Roman elegy.” Ch. 4 (pp. 110-139) in Gale, Monica R., and John H. D. Scourfield, eds. Texts and Violence in the Roman World. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pay, Adrian. 2016. “A (or Another) Note on Gallus Fr. 2.2-5 (Courtney).” Online.

Postgate, J.P. ed. and trans. 1913. Tibullus in Catullus. Tibullus. Pervigilium Veneris. Revised by G. P. Goold (1988). Loeb Classical Library 6. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Raymond, Emmanuelle. 2012. “Caius Cornelius Gallus: ‘The inventor of Latin love elegy.’” Ch. 3 (pp. 59-67) in Thorsen, Thea S., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Latin Love Elegy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Russell, Donald A., ed. and trans. 2002. Quintilian. The Orator’s Education. Volume IV: Books 9-10. Loeb Classical Library 127. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Somerville, Ted. 2009. “The Pleonasm of the New Gallus, and the Gallus of the Monobiblos.” Mnemosyne. 62 (2): 295-297.

motherhood, fatherhood, and fundamental gender inequality

Women know their biological children for certain. Without modern DNA testing, men lack that certainty. That’s a fundamental gender inequality. Gynocentric societies have tended in recent decades to buttress that fundamental gender inequality by creating legal obstacles to men obtaining DNA paternity tests and by shaming men for being interested in the central evolutionary issue of biological paternity. Medieval European literature, in contrast, was deeply concerned with motherhood, fatherhood, and the fundamental gender inequality of cuckolding.

Mothers are powerful forces in their children’s lives. Men typically love and honor their mothers, and mothers are an expansive figure of happiness. For example, in a poem he wrote about 828, the distraught monk Walahfrid Strabo understood himself to be exiled from his beloved mother-home, the Benedictine abbey on Reichenau Island:

Look, my tears break forth as I recall
how good was the peace I then enjoyed,
when blessedness gave me a tiny
roof at Reichenau.

Holy may you always be, too much beloved
mother, consecrated by a battalion of saints,
by praise, growth, merit, honor there,
O blessed island!

Now too let us call holy,
where the mother of God is worshiped with frequent
ceremony, so that we joyfully sing justly,
O blessed island!

You are surrounded by deep waters,
yet are firmest in self-giving love,
with which you spread holy teachings to all,
O blessed island!

You whom I always desire to see,
by day, by night, you I recall,
to bring forth all the goodness you have borne for us,
O blessed island!

Now grow strong, be strong with flourishing,
so that following the Lord’s will,
together with your children you may be called
blessed Reichenau!

Let almighty Christ grant in his mercy this,
that I may return to rejoice in your home.
I will begin by saying, “Greetings, glorious
mother for eternity!”

{ Ecce prorumpunt lacrimae, recordor,
Quam bona dudum fruerer quiete,
Cum daret felix mihimet pusillum
Augia tectum.

Sancta sis semper nimiumque cara
Mater, ex sanctis cuneis dicata,
Laude, profectu, meritis, honore,
Insula felix.

Nunc item sanctam liceat vocare,
Qua Dei matris colitur patenter
Cultus, ut laeti merito sonemus,
Insula felix.

Tu licet cingaris aquis profundis,
Es tamen firmissima caritate,
Quae sacra in cunctos documenta spargis,
Insula felix.

Te quidem semper cupiens videre,
Per dies noctesque tui recordor,
Cuncta quae nobis bona ferre gestis,
Insula felix.

Nunc valens crescas, valeas vigendo,
Ut voluntatem Domini sequendo
Cum tuis natis pariter voceris
Augia felix!

Donet hoc Christi pietas tonantis,
Ut locis gaudere tuis reductus
Ordiar dicens: “Vale, gloriosa
Mater, in aevum!” }[1]

Men love their mothers from birth to eternity. The great mother is a central figure in European history and all of history.
gourd shaped like male genitals
Men’s and women’s relationships to their fathers are more complicated. Persons readily understand their mothers to be the ground of their being. A father’s contribution to human creation is superficially smaller. Yet Walahfrid Strabo, who cultivated the good earth in his ninth-century monastic garden, appreciated the significance of seed:

Hardly otherwise, from cheap seed the gourd strains to grow high.
Rising with its shield-like leaves, it awakens huge
shadows and via numerous stems pushes forth tethers.

{ Haud secus altipetax semente cucurbita vili
Assurgens, parmis foliorum suscitat umbras
Ingentes, crebrisque iacit retinacula ramis. }[2]

Although small and cheap, seed awakens the enormous potential of life against the contrasting shadows of death. Seed signifies the vigor, profusion, and tenacity of new life. Seed produces sons and daughters — fruit encompassing male and female, both with promise of future daughters and sons. The gourd, shaped like a man’s genitals, has a womb-like testicular structure full of seed:

Its body has every part, its womb every part, and inside are nourished
separately in hollowed enclosures many seeds,
which are able to promise to you a similar harvest.

{ Totum venter habet, totum alvus, et intus aluntur
Multa cavernoso seiunctim carcere grana,
Quae tibi consimilem possunt promittere messem. }[3]

Seed is essential to the generation and regeneration of a bountiful harvest. Seed matters for eternal life on earth.

testicle diagram

seeds inside gourd

Cuckolding cheapens seed and devalues fatherhood. Within the relatively liberal and tolerant medieval period, literature of men’s sexed protest and even views opposing cuckolding weren’t pervasively censored and suppressed. A late-eighth-century poem represents the dominant, gynocentric view of cuckolding. It celebrates cuckolding with the coming of the cuckoo:

Let the cuckoo come, that sweet friend of shepherds.
Let cheerful seeds burst forth in our hills,
let there be pasturing for the flock, sweet rest in the fields,
and green branches at hand to be shelters for weary persons.
Let goats come with full udders to milking,
and birds greet Phoebus with their various songs.
Look, quickly thus the cuckoo now comes;
everyone’s most welcomed guest, you are already sweet love,
everything awaits you — the sea, the earth, the sky —
welcome cuckoo, sweet splendor, through the ages welcome!

{ veniat cuculus, pastorum dulcis amicus!
Collibus in nostris erumpant germina laeta,
Pascua sint pecori, requies et dulcis in arvis,
Et virides rami praestent umbracula fessis,
Uberibus plenis veniantque ad mulctra capellae,
Et volucres varia Phoebum sub voce salutent!
Quapropter citius cuculus nunc ecce venito!
Tu iam dulcis amor, cunctis gratissimus hospes:
Omnia te expectant, pelagus tellusque polusque,
Salve, dulce decus, cuculus, per saecula salve! }[4]

This ardent song celebrates the cuckoo’s work of cuckolding: sweet love, cheerful seed, milk-swollen breasts. The cuckoo is the sweet friend of the ignorant, cucked shepherd. The socially constructed female voice of Spring sings for the cuckoo:

I hope my cuckoo comes, dearest of birds.
To all the most welcomed guest, accustomed to
being on rooftops, he sings good songs with his red beak.

I hope my cuckoo comes with cheerful seed,
dispelling the cold, he the nourishing friend of Phoebus forever.
Phoebus loves the cuckoo in the clear, dawning light.
In his mouth the cuckoo will carry flowers and serve honey,
build homes, navigate the gentle waves,
and father children and dress the cheerful fields.

{ Opto meus veniat cuculus, carissimus ales.
omnibus iste solet fieri gratissimus hospes
in tectis, modulans rutilo bona carmina rostro.

Opto meus veniat cuculus cum germine laeto,
frigora depellat, Phoebo comes almus in aevum.
Phoebus amat cuculum crescenti luce serena.

Ore ferat flores cuculus, et mella ministrat,
aedificatque domus, placidas et navigat undas,
et generat soboles, laetos et vestiet agros. }

That’s the fantasy of a wife who’s feeling cold and weary with her husband. The cuckolding cuckoo will bring her flowers and kiss her with honeyed lips. He will procreate children with his red beak and cheerful seed. He will stay with her in bed after dawn while her husband is on a business trip and navigate her changing moods while always cheerfully dressing her surroundings. Just so gynocentric society celebrates cuckolding!

In the Middle Ages, some men bravely spoke out against cuckolding. The cuckoo and cuckolding make men’s lives tumultuous and force men to work to pay “child support” for children who aren’t theirs:

Let the cuckoo not come, he who generates fatherly labor by chance,
doubles divorce battles, disunites loving rest,
disturbs all, so that sea and land labor.

There are my riches, and there are cheerful dinner-parties;
rest is sweet along with a hot fire in the room.
Of this the cuckoo knows nothing, but that faithless one labors.

{ Non veniat cuculus, generat quia forte labores,
proelia congeminat, requiem disiungit amatam,
omnia disturbat; pelagi terraeque laborant.

Sunt mihi divitiae, sunt et convivia laeta,
est requies dulcis, calidus est ignis in aede.
haec cuculus nescit, sed perfidis ille laborat. }

Under the four-seas doctrine established in the sixteenth century, married men are financially responsible for children their wives produce with any man. Husbands thus face the risk of additional fatherly labor by the chance of being cuckolded. Moreover, cuckolding increases risk of divorce, which is primarily sought by wives. Divorce disastrously squanders a couple’s wealth through self-interested, pugnacious lawyers. Post-divorce, at least one spouse has to work harder in order for their aggregate welfare not to decline. Cuckolding destroys peaceful homes and fosters suspicion. A cuckoo has reason to fear being cuckolded in his own nest.

With the fading of the Middle Ages and subsequent intellectual decay, men developed extensive rationalizations for serenely embracing being cuckolded. Writing in the sixteenth century, the eminent and influential Catholic scholar Michel de Montaigne essayed:

Lucullus, Caesar, Pompey, Antony, Cato and other fine men were all cuckolds and knew it without making a commotion about it. … We should use our ingenuity to avoid making such useless discoveries that torture us. And so it was the custom of Roman husbands when returning home from a journey to send a messenger ahead to announce their arrival to their wives so as not to take them unaware. … “But people talk.” I know a hundred men who are cuckolds, yet honored and not disrespected. A decent man is sympathized with for it, not discredited by it. … “But even the ladies will laugh at me.” Well, what do they laugh at more readily nowadays than a peaceful, orderly marriage? Each one of you has cuckolded somebody, and Nature is ever equal, alternating and balancing accounts. The frequency of this misfortune ought by now to have limited its bitter taste. Look, being cuckolded will soon be customary.

{ Lucullus, Caesar, Pompeius, Antonius, Caton et d’autres braves hommes furent cocus, et le sceurent sans en exciter tumulte. … Il faut estre ingenieux à eviter cette ennuyeuse et inutile cognoissance. Et avoyent les Romains en coustume, revenans de voyage, d’envoyer au devant en la maison faire sçavoir leur arrivée aus femmes, pour ne les surprendre. … Mais le monde en parle. Je sçay çant honestes hommes coqus, honnestement et peu indecemment. Un galant homme en est pleint, non pas desestimé. … Mais jusques aux dames, elles s’en moqueront. Et de-quoy se moquent elles en ce temps plus volontiers que d’un mariage paisible et bien composé ? Chacun de vous a faict quelqu’un coqu : or nature est toute en pareilles, en compensation et vicissitude. La frequence de cet accident en doibt meshuy avoir moderé l’aigreur : le voylà tantost passé en coustume. }[5]

Modern-day students of Montaigne assure their intelligent readers that, in contrast to sensational tabloid claims, merely millions of men are unknowingly cuckolded. Hence absurd legal rulings of paternity and men’s complete lack of reproductive rights aren’t truly social injustices worthy of serious redress. That’s the quality of intellectual life in our benighted age of superstition and bigotry.

The deplorable ignorance of our age won’t be overcome until everyone studies medieval Latin poetry. Let change begin with you!

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[1] Walahfrid Strabo, “Sister Muse, lament for our pain {Musa nostrum plange soror dolorem}” st. 8-14, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 2, pp. 412-3, my English translation, benefiting from that of Godman (1985) pp. 227-9. Waddell (1929) pp. 110-3 is an abbreviated text. This poem is known under the titles “The Sapphic Poem {Metrum Saphicum}” and “Elegy on Reichenau.”

Walahfrid Strabo was born about 809 in Alemannia in the south-west region of Germany (Swabia). Strabo is a personal epithet meaning “Squinter” and wasn’t carried as a family name. When Walahfrid was about eight years old, his family placed him as an oblate in the Benedictine Abbey at Reichenau. That abbey is on an island in the lower branch of Lake Constance in central Europe.

At Reichenau, Wettin, Walahfrid’s tutor, and Grimald, the head of the abbey school, recognized Walahfrid to be a brilliant student. In 826, Walahfrid was sent from Reichenau to the monastery at Fulda to further his learning. There Walahfrid studied under the erudite and eminent scholar Hrabanus Maurus, Abbot of Fulda. Walahfrid probably wrote his “Elegy on Reichenau” between 827 and 829. He may have been influenced by his friend Gottschalk’s poem “How are you commanding me {Ut quid iubes}?”

Traill (1971) provides relevant analysis of “Elegy on Reichenau.” I regrettably have not been able to access that scholarly article. For biographical background on Walahfrid and the transmission of his work, Payne & Blunt (1966), pp. 1-18, and Öberseder & Schöllhammer (2016). Jeff Sypeck at Quid plura? has interesting posts on Walahfrid.

[2] Walahfrid Strabo, Book about the Cultivation of a Garden {Liber de cultura hortorum}, also known as The Little Garden {Hortulus} vv. 99-101 (from Ch. 7, The Gourd {Cucurbita}), Latin text from Dümmler (1881), vol. 2, p. 339, my English translation, benefiting from that of Godman (1985), p. 223, and Payne & Blunt (1966) p. 35. Here’s the physical layout of Walahfrid’s garden, with a German translation of De cultura hortorum.

Walahfrid dedicated De cultura hortorum to his former teacher Father Grimald, who had become Abbot of the St. Gall Monastery. For English translations of that dedication, Payne & Blunt (1966), p. 65, and Waddell (1929), p. 115.

[3] De cultura hortorum vv. 133-5, sourced as previously. Godman translated these verses in a way disparaging the gourd’s body:

they are all belly, all paunch; inside their cavernous confines
many seeds, each in its place, are nourished,
capable of promising a harvest comparable to the last.

Godman (1985) p. 223. Men’s genitals have been historically depreciated aesthetically and in action. Such depreciation isn’t warranted, especially with respect to Walahfrid’s description of the gourd. Walahfrid praises the sensuous delight that the gourd provides: “ripe segments for dessert repeatedly offer intoxicating flavor {placidum secmenta saporem / Ebria multotiens mensis praestare secundis}.” De cultura hortorum vv. 141-2. The dried gourd also serves as a wine-jar. Id. vv. 144-51.

[4] “All suddenly come together from the high mountains {Conveniunt subito cuncti de montibus altis}” vv. 46-55, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 1, p. 270-2, my English translation, benefiting from those of Godman (1985) pp. 145-9, Porter & Williams (2005), Steer (2000), pp. 80-3, and Waddell (1929) pp. 83-7, and some reading notes. Poesia Medievale (March 24, 2010) provides a freely accessible Italian translation.

This poem is also known by the titles “Debate between Spring and Winter {Conflictus veris et hiemis}” and “About the cuckoo {De cuculo}.” It has been attributed to Alcuin (Carmen 58), with some scholarly dispute. Here’s a review of the surviving manuscripts. Alcuin in the mid-790s wrote the prose work Dialogue on Rhetoric and on Virtues {Disputatio de rhetorica et de virtutibus}.

The narrative opening (vv. 1-9) and the closing (by Palaemon, vv. 47-55) of “Conveniunt subito cuncti de montibus altis” are “modelled specifically and unambiguously on Vergil’s third and seventh Eclogues.” Zogg (2017) abstract; see id. pp. 128-34. The French monk Ademar of Chabannes early in the eleventh century titled the poem “Virgil on Spring and Winter {Virgilus de vere et hyeme}.” This poem was also transmitted in an early ninth-century manuscript as part of the Appendix Vergiliana. Id. pp. 126, 137. This poem surely isn’t by Virgil. Its author plausibly gave the poem a Virgilian dress to foster its dissemination. Id. p. 137-8.

Like the nightingale, the cuckoo was a commonly invoked poetic bird in medieval Europe. In Alcuin’s “Verses on the Cuckoo {Versus de cuculo},” incipit “Weep for our cuckoo, sweetest Daphnis {Plangamus cuculum, Dafnin dulcissime, nostrum}” (Carmin 57), Alcuin figures as a cuckoo a beloved student who has departed. For Latin text, Dümmler (1881) vol. 1, p. 269-60. Waddell (1929), pp. 79-81, provides an English translation of a slightly abbreviated text.

The subsequent two quotes from “Conveniunt subito cuncti de montibus altis” are sourced as above and are vv. 10-12, 16-18, 28-30 (stanzas of Spring: I hope my cuckoo comes…) and vv. 19-21, 25-7 (stanzas of Winter: Let the cuckoo not come…).

Tuve interpreted this poem as asserting “a victorious principle of active growth” in which the cuckoo is “the bird of fruitfulness.” Tuve (1933), as cited by Steer (2000) p. 84, n. 176. Neither active growth nor fruitfulness requires cuckolding. Societies that respect and appreciate men are likely to be more fruitful in the long run.

[5] Michel de Montaigne, Essays {Essais} III.5, “On some lines of Virgil {Sur des vers de Virgile},” French text from the Villey & Saulnier (1965) version of the 1595 edition of Essais, English translation (modified slightly) from Screech (1993) pp. 975, 983.

[images] (1) Beautifully shaped butternut squash. Source image thanks to WCBackstein and pixabay. (2) Diagram of adult human testicle. Source image thanks to KDS444 and Wikimedia Commons. (3) Butternut squash (Cucurbita moschata) grown in Ukraine. Source image thanks to George Chernilevsky and Wikimedia Commons.


Dümmler, Ernst. 1881. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini. Berlin: Weidmannos. (vol. 1, Internet Archive; vol. 2, Internet Archive, BnF)

Godman, Peter. 1985. Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance. London: Duckworth.

Öberseder, Lisa, and Carina Schöllhammer. 2016. “Walahfrid Strabo.” Frühmittelalter im Bodenseeraum. University of Salzburg, online.

Payne, Raef and Wilfrid Blunt. 1966. Hortulus: Walahfrid Strabo. Translated by Raef Payne. Commentary by Wilfrid Blunt. Hunt Facsimile Series, no. 2. Pittsburgh, PA: The Hunt Botanical Library.

Porter, Kenneth and Heather Williams, trans. 2005. “Suddenly, all come together from the tall mountains {Conveniunt subito cuncti de montibus altis}.” German 312, Winter Poetry: Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Winter Poetry. Reading organized by Albrecht Classen at the University of Arizona, Nov. 14. Online.

Screech, M. A., trans. 1993. Michel De Montaigne: the Complete Essays. London, England: Penguin Books.

Steer, Carol Elizabeth. 2000. The Season of Winter in Art and Literature from Roman North Africa to Medieval France. M.A. Thesis, University of Manitoba, Canada.

Traill, David A. 1971. “The Addressee and interpretation of Walahfrid’s ‘Metrum Saphicum’.” Medievalia et humanistica / Studies in Medieval and Renaissance Culture. New series 2: 69-82. Clogan, Paul, ed. Medieval and Renaissance Studies in Review. Cleveland: The Press of Case Western Reserve University.

Tuve, Rosemond. 1933. Seasons and Months: Studies in a Tradition of Middle English Poetry. Paris: Librairie Universitaire S.A.

Waddell, Helen. 1929 / rev. 1948. Mediaeval Latin Lyrics. New York: Henry Holt.

Zogg, Fabian. 2017. “Palaemon and Daphnis in a Medieval Poem: the Vergilian challenge of the Conflictus Veris et Hiemis.” Vergilius: Journal of the Vergilian Society. 63: 125-140.

husbands resisting subordination to their wives: an ongoing challenge

Penelope and Odysseus in conversation

Husbands commonly credit all their success to their wives and engage in small and large acts of yes-dearism. Doing otherwise is scarcely permitted within today’s social construction of gender equality. Ancient and medieval literature, however, described husbands resisting subordination to their wives and depicted tragic consequences of husbands’ uxorious weakness.

While women’s power has commonly been misrepresented to serve gynocentric interests, in reality husbands are barely able to resist subordination to their wives. About the year 799 in Charlemagne’s court, a learned poet warned husbands:

Be concerned about your own marriage partner.
Don’t let her mar your mind with enticing.
Sweet kisses to your knees, hands, neck, and cheeks
she’ll give, mingling them with soft words.
She’s accustomed to arm her own prayers with a potion
as great as the bow-carrying Cupid arms his energetic darts.

{ Esto et sollicitus propriae de parte iugalis,
Ne mentem maculet inliciendo tuam.
Oscula quae genibus, manibus, colloque, genisque
Blanda dabit, miscet lenia verba quibus,
Sueta preces tali proprias armare veneno,
Armat ut arcitenens impigra tela suo. } [1]

Husbands today are more likely to face their wives attacking them with bitchiness rather than blandishments. But the underlying, operative principle is the same: husbands will do anything to enjoy their wives’ love. Strong, independent husbands, or merely prudent ones, prepare to defend themselves against their wives’ attacks:

If you are secured with the metal helmet of a strong mind,
so that she would see her darts rebound,
then groaning she’ll retreat, giving feigned sighs,
grieving that her prayers have no weight.

{ Si tua mens fuerit munita casside forti,
Tela ut conspiciat hinc resilire sua,
Inde gemens rediet, ficta et suspiria dando,
Flensque suas pondus non habuisse preces. }

Resisting his wife’s attack isn’t sufficient for a husband to resist successfully being subordinate to his wife. If a direct attack fails, wives will seek to subordinate their husbands with a social offensive:

Soon a boy, or a nurse, or maybe her lying little maid
will say, “Why do you despise my lady’s requests?”
With her face downcast, she will offer a quieted sigh,
“He whom I presently see is always honored by me.
Whatever other wives request, they get, to do good or harm,
but I proceed to control over nothing promised.”
She should at last ask, they would say and run to kiss her,
and to you, “Why do you suffer to be irksome to her?”
But may your mind fight, as it would oppose a returning enemy.
Take care that recurring battles do not defeat you!

{ Mox puer, aut nutrix, aut fors ancillula mendax,
“Cur dominae,” dicet, “despicis orsa meae?”
Haec vultu verso tacito dabit ista susurro,
“Qui modo conspicitur est mihi semper honor,
Quaeque petunt aliae referunt, prosuntque, nocentque,
Voti nullius ast ego compos eo.”
Illa roget demum, dicent, et ad oscula currat,
Et tibi, “cur pateris esse molestus ei?”
At tua mens pugnet, redeunti obsistat ut hosti,
Bellaque ne vincant te recidiva time. }

Men lack sufficient education in fighting with words. Most husbands are eventually defeated. They are thus compelled to endure marital life subordinate to their wives.

Husbands’ uxoriousness is well-attested in literature across the ages. Written about 2700 years ago, the Book of Isaiah describes women of Jerusalem having expensive jewelry and luxurious clothing. Just before the fall of the Roman Empire, Prudentius similarly described women’s rich ornaments:

Not content with naturally implanted beauty,
woman puts on feigned external ornament
and, as if the creating Lord’s hand had imperfectly
made her face, she would finish it either with sapphires
sewn in to embellish a garland circling her brow,
or surround her flawless neck with blazing gems,
or hang from her ears weights of green jewels.
She even fastens white stones from seashells onto
her gleaming hair held with braided threads and golden chains.

{ nec enim contenta decore
ingenito externam mentitur femina formam
ac, velut artificis Domini manus inperfectum
os dederit, quod adhuc res exigat aut hyacinthus
pingere sutilibus redimitae frontis in arce,
colla vel ignitis sincera incingere sertis,
auribus aut gravidis virides suspendere bacas,
nectitur et nitidis concharum calculus albens
crinibus aureolisque riget coma texta catenis. } [2]

In ancient Rome, a much larger share of family income undoubtedly went to wives’ clothes and jewelry than to husbands’ clothes and jewelry. That remains the economic reality of consumer spending right up to our day. Far beyond the feeble regulatory efforts of sumptuary laws, husbands’ subordination to their wives has great economic significance to households and the economy at large.

Husbands’ subordination to their wives can have tragic consequences. Consider Odysseus. He was king of ancient Ithaca and the hero of Homer’s Odyssey. Odysseus’s long struggle eventually resulted in him returning home from the disastrous Trojan War. He then killed all the suitors who were living with his wife and propositioning her. A “traveling man {homo viator},” Odysseus subsequently went to Epirus to consult the Oracle of Zeus at Dodona. There Euippe, daughter of King Tyrimmas of Dodona, entertained Odysseus warmly. Generous to women in providing joy and creating children, Odysseus had sex with Euippe.

Odysseus and Penelope in bed

After Odysseus returned home, Euippe give birth to a son named Euryalus. When Euryalus reached manhood, Euippe sent him to Ithaca with tokens indicating that he was Odysseus’s son. At Ithaca, Euryalus become the victim of a terrible crime:

By chance Odysseus wasn’t there at that time. But Penelope had found out what was going on — indeed she had earlier knowledge of Odysseus’s affair with Euippe — and she persuaded Odysseus, on his return, to kill Euryalus as a conspirator before he knew the truth of the matter. And so, through lack of self-control and because in other ways he wasn’t a reasonable man, Odysseus became the murderer of his own son.

{ τοῦ δὲ Ὀδυσσέως κατὰ τύχην τότε μὴ παρόντος, Πηνελόπη καταμαθοῦσα ταῦτα, καὶ ἄλλως δὲ προπεπυσμένη τὸν τῆς Εὐίππης ἔρωτα, πείθει τὸν Ὀδυσσέα παραγενόμενον, πρὶν ἢ γνῶναί τι τούτων ὡς ἔχει, κατακτεῖναι τὸν Εὐρύαλον ὡς ἐπιβουλεύοντα αὐτῷ. καὶ Ὀδυσσεὺς μὲν διὰ τὸ μὴ ἐγκρατὴς φῦναι μηδὲ ἄλλως ἐπιεικὴς, αὐτόχειρ τοῦ παιδὸς ἐγένετο. } [3]

Penelope thus incited her husband Odysseus to murder, yet all the culpability is attributed to him. Eventually, the common-law doctrine of coverture formalized a husband’s responsibility for any crimes his wife commits. Men must recognize entrenched, structural anti-men bias in law. This systemic injustice increases the harm that a husband risks in accepting subordination to his wife. Rather than merely listening and believing women, reasonable persons should engage in enlightened questioning. That’s true even for husbands in relation to what their wives tell them to do.

In medieval Europe, Christian church officials taught that marriage should be an equal conjugal partnership. Some medieval poets, in contrast, influentially promoted men-abasing “courtly” love. Many husbands have been and are subordinate to their wives. Injustice anywhere supports injustice everywhere. Our future doesn’t necessary have to be female. Husbands, engage in civil disobedience within gynocentric society: resist and refuse to be subordinate to your wives!

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[1] Theodulf of Orléans, “Bishop Theodulf’s Verses against the Judges {Versus Teodulfi Episcopi contra iudices},” incipit “Just magistrates, take the narrow path of judgment {Iudicci callem censores prendite iusti}” vv. 691-6, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 1, p. 511, my English translation, benefiting from that of Godman (1985) p. 167. The subsequent two quotes above are similarly sourced from Contra iudices vv. 697-700 (If you are secured…) and vv. 701-10 (Soon a boy…).

For a biographic introduction to Theodulf and poetic translation of four short poems, Sypeck (2010). For English translations of Theodulf’s poems, Alexandrenko (1970), Blakeman (1991), and Andersson (2014). For contextualization of Theodulf’s writings, Greeley (2000).

To support the gynocentric imperative of men supporting women, women tend to be socially constructed as “weak” and “passive.” Scheck understood Theodulf to believe that “women are clearly weak … and therefore always dangerous.” Scheck 2008) p. 34. Theodulf understood women’s power. Gynocentrism strains to deny and obscure women’s power.

Women’s passivity compels men to act for them. One of the most onerous activities forced upon men is engaging in war. Theodolf described Charlemagne’s sons Charles and Louis:

Youthful and strong, of powerful build,
their hearts are fired with enthusiasm and resolute in their purpose.

{ Corpore praevalido quibus est nervosa iuventa
Corque capax studii consiliique tenax. }

Theodulf, “To King Charles {Ad Carolum regem},” incipit “The entire world resounds in your praise, my king {Te totus laudesque tuas, rex, personat orbis}” (Carmena 25) vv. 73-4, Latin text from Dümmler (1881) vol. 1, p. 485, English translation from Godman (1985) p. 155. Theodulf’s description of Charles and Louis depicts them as well-suited to risk their lives in war. Women are ideologically passive with respect to war because war has been institutionally structured as violence against men. Cf. Scheck (2008) pp. 34-8. As the history of Charlemagne’s court makes clear, women are powerful political actors.

[2] Prudentius, The Origin of Sin {Hamartigenia} vv. 264-72, Latin text from Thomson (1949) pp. 222-3, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Malamud (2011) p. 18. Prudentius wrote Hamartigenia about 400 GC.

This passage reflects “a stock theme from moral diatribes and satire.” Malamud (2011) p. 18, n. 55. It also reflects a significant, enduring economic reality in relationships between women and men.

[3] Parthenius of Nicaea, Sufferings in Love {Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα} 3.2-3 (About Euippe {Περὶ Εὐίππης}), ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly to be more easily readable) from Lightfoot (2009). Here’s the Greek text of Hercher (1858). The manchette for this story states, “Sophocles tells the story in his Euryalus {Ἱστορεῖ Σοφοκλῆς Εὐρυάλῳ}.” From Lightfoot (2009).

Lightfoot obscures the structural gender bias evident in this story:

The events are equally discreditable to Penelope, perhaps more strikingly, though the author treats them in a matter-of-fact way; her role is presumably influenced by that of Medea. Penelope is no stranger to vice: we are familiar with the innuendo (and worse) about her relationship with the suitors, but here we also see her less familiarly in the guise of the wicked stepmother.

Lightfoot (1999) p. 387 (footnotes omitted). Across all of literary history, Penelope has been overwhelming regarded as a highly praiseworthy woman. Women who commit evil acts are not merely stock characters. They are fully human beings, just as men are.

[images] (1) Penelope and Odysseus in conversation. Painting by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein in 1802. Preserved in a private collection. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons. (2) Odysseus and Penelope in bed. Painting by Francesco Primaticcio about 1563. Preserved in the Wildenstein Collection, New York. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Alexandrenko, Nikolai A.. 1970. The Poetry of Theodulf of Orleans: a translation and critical study. Ph.D. Thesis. Tulane University.

Andersson, Theodore M., with Åslaug Ommundsen, and Leslie S. B. MacCoull. 2014. Theodulf of Orléans: the verse. Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, v. 450. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Blakeman, Christorpher John. 1991. Commentary, with introduction, text and translation, on selected poems of Theodulf of Orleans (Sirmond III. 1-6). Ph.D. Thesis. The University of St Andrews, Scotland.

Dümmler, Ernst. 1881. Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini. Berlin: Weidmannos. (vol. 1, Internet Archive; vol. 2, Internet Archive, BnF)

Godman, Peter. 1985. Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance. London: Duckworth.

Greeley, June-Ann. 2000. Social Commentary in the Prose and Poetry of Theodulf of Orleans: a study in Carolingian humanism. Ph.D. Thesis. Fordham University.

Lightfoot, J. L. 1999. Parthenius of Nicaea: The poetical fragments and the  Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (review by Christopher Francese)

Lightfoot, J. L. 2009. Hellenistic Collection: Philitas, Alexander of Aetolia, Hermesianax, Euphorion, Parthenius. Loeb Classical Library, 508. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. (reviews by Giambattista D’Alessio, by Claudio De Stefani, and by Iiro Laukola)

Malamud, Martha A. 2011. Prudentius. The Origin of Sin: An English Translation of the Hamartigenia. Cornell Studies in Classical Philology, 61. Cornell University Press.

Scheck, Helene. 2008. Reform and Resistance: formations of female subjectivity in early medieval ecclesiastical culture. Albany: SUNY Press.

Sypeck, Jeff. 2010. “Four Poems by Theodulf of Orleans.” The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe. 13 (August), online.

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

women flyting, serious fighting: Homer’s Aeneas versus Rose & Lily

soldier and his father sleep together in trench

Scholars have documented that women are biologically superior to men in a variety of ways, including communicatively. However, within the disastrous tradition of epic violence against men, Homer’s Aeneas trivialized women flyting — women fighting with words. Fighting with words is superior to fighting physically, especially in modern bureaucratic societies with extensive institutions of penal punishment. Moreover, Achilles and Aeneas in Homer’s Iliad fight less vigorously and less viciously with words than do Rose and Lily in Sedulius Scottus’s ninth-century debate poem.

The Greek and Trojan armies, masses of armor-clad men and war horses, closed for battle on the plain outside Troy. Out from the lines of the two armies came the preeminent Greek warrior Achilles and the Trojan hero Aeneas. Achilles struck first with words. He taunted Aeneas for daring to have the courage to face him. Achilles reminded Aeneas that the last time they met in combat, Aeneas had fled. Achilles advised Aeneas to flee again: “a fool sees something after it’s done {ῥεχθὲν δέ τε νήπιος ἔγνω}.”[1] Achilles didn’t attack Aeneas with hate speech, as Facebook defines it. Achilles provided Aeneas with specific advice, coupled with valid general wisdom, based on a sound forecast of likely future events.

Aeneas responded defensively to Achilles’s words. He accused Achilles of acting like an unknowing child toward another child:

Son of Peleus, do not expect to frighten me with words
as if I were a child, since I myself know well
both taunts and improper words to say.

{ Πηλεΐδη, μὴ δή μ᾿ ἐπέεσσί γε νηπύτιον ὣς
ἔλπεο δειδίξεσθαι, ἐπεὶ σάφα οἶδα καὶ αὐτὸς
ἠμὲν κερτομίας ἠδ᾿ αἴσυλα μυθήσασθαι. } [2]

Aeneas then engaged in subtle, indirect aggression against Achilles — a verbal tactic far more sophisticated than those that children typically employ:

We know each other’s lineage, we know each other’s parents,
for we have heard the words told of old by mortals,
but by sight you have never seen my parents nor I yours.
They say that you were the issue of blameless Peleus,
and your mother was Thetis of lovely hair, the sea’s daughter.

{ ἴδμεν δ᾿ ἀλλήλων γενεήν, ἴδμεν δὲ τοκῆας,
πρόκλυτ᾿ ἀκούοντες ἔπεα θνητῶν ἀνθρώπων·
ὄψει δ᾿οὔτ᾿ ἄρ πω σὺ ἐμοὺς ἴδες οὔτ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἐγὼ σούς.
φασὶ σὲ μὲν Πηλῆος ἀμύμονος ἔκγονον εἶναι,
μητρὸς δ᾿ ἐκ Θέτιδος καλλιπλοκάμου ἁλοσύδνης }

Later literary texts indicate that Thetis and Peleus had a rocky marriage. Achilles was left with Chiron as a foster-father and had little contact with either of his biological parents. Experiencing the love of both a mother and a father from birth helps a child become an emotionally stable adult. The difficult family history of Achilles was probably known to the Homeric author composing Aeneas’s response to Achilles. Aeneas implicitly taunted Achilles about his broken parental relations.

Confronting the battle-ready Achilles between the Greek and Trojan warrior lines, Aeneas spoke a long-winded account of his own lineage. The Iliad doesn’t indicate that Achilles stood with a puzzled look, yawned, or mockingly rolled his eyes. Perhaps sensing that such a response would be appropriate, Aeneas questioned the point of their words:

But come, let us thus talk like children no longer,
standing in the middle of the battle’s combat.
Reproaches are there for both of us to utter against each other,
many of them. A ship of a hundred benches could not bear the load.
Twisty is the tongue of mortals, abounding in many words
of all kinds, and the field of speech is wide on this and that side.
Whatever word you speak, such you could also hear.

{ ἀλλ᾿ ἄγε μηκέτι ταῦτα λεγώμεθα νηπύτιοι ὥς,
ἑσταότ᾿ ἐν μέσσῃ ὑσμίνῃ δηιοτῆτος.
ἔστι γὰρ ἀμφοτέροισιν ὀνείδεα μυθήσασθαι
πολλὰ μάλ’, οὐδ’ ἂν νηῦς ἑκατόζυγος ἄχθος ἄροιτο.
στρεπτὴ δὲ γλῶσσ’ ἐστὶ βροτῶν, πολέες δ’ ἔνι μῦθοι
παντοῖοι, ἐπέων δὲ πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.
ὁπποῖόν κ’ εἴπῃσθα ἔπος, τοῖόν κ’ ἐπακούσαις. } [3]

These aren’t vicious words. These words probably wouldn’t even count as hate speech under Facebook’s capacious and capricious standards. The great classicist John Tzetzes castigated his scholarly rivals much more harshly than Achilles and Aeneas reproached each other on the battlefield before Troy.

Apparently unaware of his own inferiority as a man, Aeneas went on to belittle women’s aggressiveness in battling with words:

But what need have the two of us for strife and insulting,
to exchange insults with one another like women,
who when they have grown angry in soul-devouring strife
go out into the street-center and exchange insults,
saying much that is true and much false, for their rage drives them.
Yet you will not by words turn me back from my eagerness for combat,
not till we have fought face to face with our bronze tools. Come now,
let us test each other’s strength with our bronze spearheads.

{ ἀλλὰ τί ἢ ἔριδας καὶ νείκεα νῶϊν ἀνάγκη
νεικεῖν ἀλλήλοισιν ἐναντίον ὥς τε γυναῖκας,
αἵ τε χολωσάμεναι ἔριδος πέρι θυμοβόροιο
νεικεῦσ’ ἀλλήλῃσι μέσην ἐς ἄγυιαν ἰοῦσαι
πόλλ’ ἐτεά τε καὶ οὐκί· χόλος δέ τε καὶ τὰ κελεύει
ἀλκῆς δ᾽ οὔ μ᾽ ἐπέεσσιν ἀποτρέψεις μεμαῶτα
πρὶν χαλκῷ μαχέσασθαι ἐναντίον· ἀλλ᾿ ἄγε θᾶσσον
γευσόμεθ᾿ ἀλλήλων χαλκήρεσιν ἐγχείῃσιν. }

Women insult each other with vigor and rage and vicious falsehoods. Aeneas associated women’s verbal battling with childish behavior. Men instead seek to kill each other. Aeneas sought to end his exchange of feeble insults with Achilles and instead engage in deadly physical violence.[4] That’s foolish.

purple rose

Compared to Achilles and Aeneas’s soft flyting, medieval Latin literature documents women’s stronger fighting with words. Consider Rose hatefully disparaging Lily:

Purple signifies kingly power, purple makes the king’s glory;
dull white is a shabby and unattractive color to kings.
Dull white is pale, run-down, and wretched in the face;
purple is the color revered throughout all the world.

{ Purpura dat regnum, fit purpura gloria regni;
Regibus ingrato vilescunt alba colore.
Albida pallescunt misero marcentia vultu;
Puniceus color est toto venerabilis orbe. } [5]

In short, the purple Rose makes a racist attack on the white Lily. She disparages her for her color. That’s hate speech.

Lily responds with a vicious attack on Rose. Despite gynocentric belittling of men’s interests in paternity confidence, women know that men typically disfavor promiscuity in women with whom they would like to have an enduring, intimate bond. Lily thus alludes to Rose’s failure to secure the love of a man-god, impugns Rose’s sexual fidelity, and suggests that Rose is so withered and faded that she no longer shows a blush:

I, the earth’s golden-haired beauty, handsome Apollo
loves, he who has clothed my face in snow-white glory.
Rose, why do you so greatly proclaim, smeared with shameful pretense,
aware of your failings? Does your face not blush?

{ Me decus auricomum telluris pulcher Apollo
Diligit ac niveo faciem vestivit honore.
Quid, rosa, tanta refers pudibundo perlita fuco,
Conscia delicti? vultus tibi nonne rubescit? }

In response to Lily’s vicious attack on her, Rose asserts her nobility, denies everything, and declares that Apollo is actually her illustrious boyfriend-god:

I am Dawn’s sister, kin to the celestial gods,
and bright Apollo loves me; I am bright-red Apollo’s herald.
The morning star Venus gladdens to run before my face,
yet the nourishing loveliness of my virgin charm makes me blush.

{ Sum soror Aurorae, divis cognata supernis;
Et me Phebus amat, rutili sum nuncia Phebi;
Lucifer ante meum hilarescit currere vultum:
Ast mihi virginei decoris rubet alma venustas. } [6]

Rose insinuates that her relationship with Apollo is sexually charged. She signals that he with her is bright red in arousal even in the morning. That delights the love-goddess Venus. Yet Rose is no jaded slut. She has the nourishing loveliness of virgin charm, and she still blushes.

Lily in response pretends to be unconcerned about Rose’s claim of a rival, passionate relationship with Apollo. With sexually suggestive words and allusions to sin, Lily pities Rose:

Why do you spew forth words in protuberant speeches
that bring upon you merited punishment of eternal wounds?
Indeed your crown has been penetrated with sharp thorns.
Alas — how the thorns rend the rose’s garden!

{ Talia cur tumidis eructas verba loquelis,
Quae tibi dant meritas aeterno vulnere poenas?
Nam diadema tui spinis terebratur acutis:
Eheu – quam miserum laniant spineta rosetum! }

Lily suggests that Rose’s claim of a passionate relationship with Apollo is merely blustering words. But Lily also all but calls Rose a roadworn whore. That’s an extremely nasty attack on a woman.

Rose responds angrily to Lily’s nasty mock-pitying. Rose refigures herself as chaste:

You broken-down old woman, for why and what are you raving with words?
What disgraces you proclaim, all should be filled with praise.
The all-creator and preserver surrounded me with sharp thorns
and has safeguarded my rosy face with a very clear veil.

{ Ut quid deleras verbis, occata vetustas?
Quae tu probra refers, plena sunt omnia laude:
Conditor omnicreans spina me sepsit acuta,
Muniit et roseos praeclaro tegmine vultus. }

Healthy heterosexual men have long been socially constructed as a danger from which women must be safeguarded. Women, in contrast, are wonderful. The illustrious veil that Rose wears is so clear that no one can see it!

Most women, no matter what age, don’t imagine themselves to be old. So it is with Lily. She even asserts that, without any artificial assistance, her reproductive capabilities are exuberant:

My kind head is adorned with beautiful gold;
I’m not enclosed in a crown of thorns.
Milk in sweet abundance flows from my snow-white breasts;
so they say that I’m the blessed lady of green vegetation.

{ Aureoli decoris mihi vertex comitur almus
Nec sum spinigera crudelis septa corona,
Profluit at niveis dulci lac ubere mammis:
Sic holerum dominam me dicunt esse beatam. }

Through an implicit contrast with herself, Lily implies that Rose is a prickly, dried-up old woman. That’s very nasty. Achilles and Aeneas never stuck each other with insults that nasty.

Rose and Lily’s father intervened to resolve their vicious quarrel. Like most fathers, Spring dearly loved his children. He lamented that they were fighting. In the lived reality of family life, fathers are typically subordinate to their daughters. Yet Spring dared to counsel his daughters:

Recognize that you are twin sisters from the earth.
Is it divine law for twins to provoke prideful quarrels?
O beautiful Rose, be quiet. Your glory shines upon the world,
but let royal Lily rule with brilliant scepters.
Your distinction and beauty will thus praise you both forever.
May Rose, model of modesty, bloom in our gardens,
and you, splendid Lily, multiply with the face of radiant Apollo.
You, Rose, give to crowned martyrs their red victory;
Lily adorns the long-robed throngs of virgins.

{ Gnoscite vos geminas tellure parente sorores.
Num fas germanas lites agitare superbas?
O rosa pulchra, tace: tua gloria claret in orbe;
Regia sed nitidis dominentur lilia sceptris.
Hinc decus et species vestrum vos laudat in aevum:
Forma pudicitiae nostris rosa gliscat in hortis,
Splendida Phebeo vos, lilia, crescite vultu;
Tu, rosa, martyribus rutilam das stemmate palmam,
Lilia virgineas turbas decorate stolatas. } [7]

Spring then gave his quarreling daughters the kiss of peace to reconcile them. The daughters in turn kissed each other. Rose mischievously poked Lily’s mouth with one of her thorns. That’s just normal sisterly play. Lily gave Rose a drink of ambrosial milk. Rose offered Lily the gift of royal purple flowers. No one was killed, not even any men.

white lily

The deadly weight of Homer epic should be pushed aside. Men today must decisively reject the goddess Athena’s advice to Odysseus:

But you be strong, for bear it you must,
and tell no one, no man nor any woman,
that from wanderings you have returned, and silently
endure your many griefs, and submit to the violence of men.

{ σὺ δὲ τετλάμεναι καὶ ἀνάγκῃ,
μηδέ τῳ ἐκφάσθαι μήτ᾿ ἀνδρῶν μήτε γυναικῶν,
πάντων, οὕνεκ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἦλθες ἀλώμενος, ἀλλὰ σιωπῇ
πάσχειν ἄλγεα πολλά, βίας ὑποδέγμενος ἀνδρῶν. } [8]

Men today must learn from medieval women. More culturally advanced persons fight with words, just like Rose and Lily did. The shift from physical fighting to verbal fighting increases women’s structural advantages under gynocentrism. That makes affirmative action to promote humanistic education for men and stimulus to overcome the gender droop in the awarding of graduate humanistic degrees vital matters of social justice. Without such action, humane society will not flourish and be fruitful.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Homer, Iliad 20.198, ancient Greek text from Murray (1925), English translation (modified insubstantially) from Hesk (2006) p. 16. Iliad 20.196-8 repeats Iliad 17.30-2 (Menelaus in flyting with Euphorbus about possession of Patroclus’s dead body).

Unless otherwise noted, all subsequent quotes from the Iliad similarly have Greek text from Murray (1925). Perseus has freely available online the Greek text of the Oxford Iliad edition (1920).

Influential English translations of the Iliad by George Chapman (1616) and by Alexander Pope (1725) are freely available through Project Gutenberg.

[2] Iliad 20.200-2, English translation (modified slightly) from Murray (1925). Above I use αἴσυλα rather than αἴσιμα in v. 202. That follows the manuscript reading, the Greek texts of Oxford (1920) and Nagy (1997) 15§6, and seems to me to make better sense. The subsequent quote is from Iliad 20.203-7, with English translation from Murray (1925), modified insubstantially.

[3] Iliad 20.244-50, my English translation, benefiting from those of Murray (1925), Hesk (2006) p. 27, Lattimore (1951) via Lentini (2013) §4, and Nagy (1999) 15§8. The subsequent quote above is from Iliad 20.251-8 and is similarly sourced.

In flyting with Achilles, Aeneas also refers to talking like a child in v. 20.200, 211. Cf. Idomeneus to Meriones with respect to their comradely boasting of fighting prowess, Iliad 13.292-3.

[4] Scholars have foolishly followed Aeneas in uncritically trivializing women’s flyting. Hesk declared:

Alongside his repetition of the idea that flyting is childish, Aeneas makes the additional suggestion that flyting is an unmanly activity. If you flyte too much or for too long, you are going to sound like women having a slanging match in the street (251-55). This analogy is striking because it indirectly feminizes Achilles’ love of neikos and eris. Thus, Achilles is being insulted by Aeneas, albeit indirectly. And while heroes several times reproach each other for ‘girlish’ behaviour, no other speaker in the Iliad comes close to making this extended comparison between heroic neikos and the wrangling of women. Aeneas is being innovative again.

Hesk (2006) p. 28 (footnote omitted). Aeneas is being innovative only in the sense of explicitly expressing a prevalent delusion of men:

Even women and children can quarrel, but only heroes can fight — a sentiment that reaffirms one of the central tenets of the heroic code.

Parks (1990) p. 124. Scholars have mis-interpreted women’s flyting to be merely a playful activity:

Aineias, however, seems to suggest that the ritual character of flyting may turn it into a ludic activity, or, at least, may weaken the aggressive charge of the insults, as Aineias’ simile describing a quarrel taking place among women suggests.

Lentini (2013) §4.

Achilles apparently was more perceptive than modern classical scholars. Distraught that Hector had killed Patroclus and lamenting that he could gain no advantage other than in violence against men, Achillles lamented his verbal incapability to his mother Thetis:

I am such as none else among the bronze-clad Achaeans
in war, but in marketplace wrangling others are truly better.

{ τοῖος ἐὼν οἷος οὔ τις Ἀχαιῶν χαλκοχιτώνων
ἐν πολέμῳ· ἀγορῇ δέ τ᾿ ἀμείνονές εἰσι καὶ ἄλλοι. }

Iliad, 18.105-6, my English translation, benefiting from that of Murray (1925) and Fagles (1990). I’ve translated ᾰ̓γορᾱ́ contextually as “marketplace wrangling”; the word encompasses both the assembly and the marketplace. In context it implies a “war of words,” a phrase that Fagles used in his translation. Murray used “counsel” with implicit reference to being in the assembly. Achilles, however, understood the power of women’s words. When he was a young man, Achilles’s mother Thetis persuaded him to pretend to be a girl.

[5] Sedulius Scottus, incipit “The cycles of the seasons were running their four-fold course {Cyclica quadrifidis currebant tempora metis}” (commonly titled “About the strife of the rose and the lily {De rosae liliique certamine}”) st. 2, Latin text from Godman (1985) pp. 282-5, my English translation, benefiting from those of id. and Rand (1926) pp.  254-5. Subsequent quotes are seriatim from this poem and are similarly sourced. The Dante Medieval Archive provides an online Latin text of “Cyclica quadrifidis currebant tempora metis.” Sedulius Scottus was a ninth-century Irish monk and scholar who spent time on continental Europe, including in Liège.

The anonymous twelfth-century Latin poem with incipit “Once a certain topic I was reflecting upon in my mind {Dum quandam materiam mente meditarer}” (commonly titled “Contest of the Rose and the Violet”) is a later example of a flower debate poem. For full Latin text, Tobler (1893). Raby (1959) pp. 316-7 (no. 210) is an abbreviated version.

Bonvensin da la Riva, the leading figure of thirteenth-century Lombardian literature, wrote in the Milanese vernacular in the 1270s a poem entitled in Latin “The debate of the rose with the violet {Disputatio rose cum viola}.” A source for Dante, Bonvensin also wrote Book of the Three Scriptures {Libro delle tre scritture} (1274), with About black scripture {De scriptura nigra}, About red scripture {De scriptura rubra}, and About Golden scripture {De scriptura aurea} describing 12 punishments in Hell, Christ’s passion, and 12 glories in Heaven, respectively. On Bonvensin de la Riva, Kleinhenz (2004) vol. 1, pp. 145-7.

Both the rose and the lily have long been favored flowers in Christian tradition. The Song of Solomon associates the lily with beauty. Song of Solomon 2:1-2. Jesus praised the beauty of lilies. Luke 12:27. By the fourth century, red roses were associated with Christian martyrdom, and Heaven with a garden of roses. Seward (1955) p. 516. Heralding the arrival of Beatrice and the departure of Virgil in Dante’s Purgatory, a choir of a hundred angels sings:

“Blessed are you who come,” they said, and all
above and round with flowers they strewed the way,
saying, “Oh give the lilies with full hands!”

{ Tutti dicean: “Benedictus qui venis!”
e fior gittando e di sopra e dintorno,
“Manibus, oh, date lilïa plenis!” }

Dante, Purgatory {Purgatorio} 30.19-21, Italian text and English translation from Esolen (2004b). Cf. Mark 11:8-10 (entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem). Here lilies replace the cloaks and leafy branches spread for Jesus’s path into Jerusalem. Dante also rewrites Virgil’s Aeneid 7.883 (cf. Purgatorio 30.21) from a mournful lament to a cry of celebration. Guiding Dante through Heaven, Beatrice instructed:

Here is the rose wherein the Word divine
was made incarnate, here the lilies blow
whose fragrance leads men on the righteous way.

{ Quivi è la rosa in che ’l verbo divino
carne si fece; quivi son li gigli
al cui odor si prese il buon cammino. }

Dante, Paradise {Paradiso} 23.73-5, Italian text and English translation from Esolen (2004a). The rose refers to Mary, the mother of Jesus, and the lilies to the apostles. Paradiso 31.112-26 describes the heavenly, eternal rose. In Siena in 1321, the year of Dante’s death, an additional six verses of terza rima were added to Simone Martini’s Maestà fresco. The first two of these verses recognized the exalted status of the rose and the lily:

The angelic flowers, the rose and the lily
with which the heavenly field is adorned
do not delight me more than good counsel

{ Li angelichi fiorecti, rose e gigli,
onde s’adorna lo celeste prato,
non mi dilettan più ch i buon’ consigli. }

Inscribed verses under the Madonna’s throne in Simone Martini’s Maestà, Italian text and English translation from Jacoff (2009) p. S90.

[6] I’ve translated Phoebus, an epithet for Apollo, as “bright Apollo,” and in conjunction with the adjective rutilus {yellowish red} “bright-red Apollo.” Rand reads Rose to be suggesting that Lily is getting old, and Lily to be “getting exceeding mad” at that insinuation. Rand (1926) p. 254. The insinuation of old age comes in contrast to diction alluding to sexual vitality. Rose is declaring that handsome Apollo loves her more passionately than Apollo loves Lily. Cf. Burt (2014) p. 214, which interprets Rose to be declaring that she is “sister of Aurora and Phoebus.” Phoebus is Apollo, and Rose is his sister only in the medieval sense of lover.

[7] Sedulius uses the plural noun lilia {lilies} to refer to Lily, the twin of Rose. I’ve translated that plural form as the singular name Lily in accordance with the overall sense of the poem.

Father Spring artfully and irenically conflates among his daughters the claimed honors. He gives Lily the royal scepter that Rose claimed in stanza 2. In European literary tradition, white is typically associated with modesty / virginity and purple with passion. But Father associates his purple daughter Rose with modesty. Rose describes Apollo as being bright red, but Father associates Apollo with his white daughter Lily.

A nature debate in Greek from the third century BGC, Callimachus’s Iamb 4, has a bramble bush as an external, conciliatory party. Konstan & Landry (2008) identify the bramble bush with Callimachus’s father. He had at least two children, Callimachus and a daughter Megatime. Sedulius Scottus knew Greek; whether he read Callimachus isn’t known.

Sedulius’s De rosae liliique certamine displays considerable learning in classical Latin literature. Burt stated:

Within “About the Contest of the Rose and the Lily” Scottus uses parallels with the Aeneid, Georgics and Eclogues. For example, the first line spoken by the Rose states, “Purple gives royal power, purple becomes the glory of the kingdom” (ll.5), which reflects the phrases ‘purple of kings’ and ‘painted purple moves not the king’ from the Georgics 2.495 and Aeneid 7.251-252 respectively. Later, the Rose claims, “And Phoebus loves me, I am the messenger of rosy Phoebus” (ll.14), which echoes Aeneid 3.119 and Eclogue 3.62.

Burt (2014) p. 58. Godman detects additional parallels to Virgil’s Eclogues, as well as a parallel to Venantius Fortunatus, Carm. 8.16.3. Godman (1985) pp. 283-5, notes, esp. note to v. 8 (parallel to Fortunatus).

De rosae liliique certamine is a sophisticated, “adult” poem. Godman describes it as a “lighter conception of the idyll”; “a comedy of manners.” Godman (1985) pp. 282-3, introductory note; id. p. 54. That reading isn’t consistent with the viciousness of the flyting. According to Burt, “the quarrel takes on the appearance of a dialectical school exercise.” Burt (2014) p. 62. The poem is far more sophisticated in its gender understanding, allusive language, and relation to the epic tradition than a mere school exercise.

[8] Homer, Odyssey 13.307-10, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Murray (1919). The goddess Athena urged Odysseus to give up crafty words. Odyssey 13.291-96. That’s bad advice. Men need to acquire more guile to achieve gender equality. Men must truly swerve.

Barker perceptively observed:

experiencing debate in the Iliad helps construct an audience engaged in thinking about how people interact with each other in the context of an arena in which public concerns are raised and contested. By establishing a place in its narrative to investigate debate, the Iliad invites the audience to reflect on where they are going to draw the lines, over what they will enter the debate. We are invited to look beyond the single (imagined or real) performance context to an Iliad that operates as aetiological — or foundational — for a world of ‘today’.

Barker (2004) p. 117. Classicists should take Barker’s observations to heart in addressing epic violence against men in the Iliad and in the world today.

[images] (1) Serbian soldier and his father rest after duty in the trenches near Belgrade during World War I. Image widely available on the Internet, authorial source unclear. (2) Purple rose. Source image thanks to Jon Bragg and Wikimedia Commons. (3) White Lily. Photo made on 14 July 2012 at Main Botanical Garden of Academy of Sciences in Moscow. Photo thanks to Андрей Корзун (Kor!An) and Wikimedia Commons.


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Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 2004a. Dante Alighieri. Paradise. New York: Modern Library.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 2004b. Dante Alighieri. Purgatory. New York: Modern Library.

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Godman, Peter. 1985. Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance. London: Duckworth.

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Murray, A. T., ed. and trans., revised by George E. Dimock. 1919. Homer. Odyssey. Loeb Classical Library 105. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Murray, A. T., ed. and trans., revised by William F. Wyatt. 1925. Homer. Iliad. Loeb Classical Library 171. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nagy, Gregory. 1999. The Best of the Achaeans: Concepts of the Hero in Archaic Greek Poetry. Rev. ed. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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Raby, Frederic James Edward. 1959. The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rand, Edward Kennard. 1926. “Mediaeval Gloom and Mediaeval Uniformity.” Presidential address to the Medieval Academy of America, April 24, 1926. Speculum. 1 (3): 253-268.

Seward, Barbara. 1955. “Dante’s Mystic Rose.” Studies in Philology. 52 (4): 515-523.

Tobler, Adolf. 1893. “Streit zwischen Veilchen und Rose.” Archiv für das Studium der neueren Sprachen. 90: 152-158.