Montaigne on liberal humanism & gender bias in COVID-19 deaths by sex

Michel de Montaigne, portrait

The sixteenth-century essayist and philosopher Michel de Montaigne is widely regarded as a pioneer of enlightened public reason. Montaigne fully recognized humans’ ability to be contradictory and to rationalize absurdities. Montaigne thus offers key insights into how to understand the suspensions of fundamental human rights under the COVID-19 public health emergencies declared around the world. Montaigne’s insights are especially relevant to men’s health and gender bias in addressing COVID-19 deaths by sex.

CDC misleading on COVID-19 deaths by sex

As a result of the global COVID-19 pandemic, men have lost at least 50% more years of life than have women. Relatively good data on COVID-19 deaths by sex are readily available online. To analyze the COVID-19 death data meaningfully in relation to gender, one should recognize three key facts:

  1. Years of life lost depend on age at death from COVID-19 and life expectancy. In the United States, a 40-year-old person dying from COVID-19 loses about four times as many years of expected life as does an 80-year-old person dying from COVID-19.
  2. The male/female COVID-19 death sex ratio isn’t constant across age groups. The male/female COVID-19 death sex ratio peaks for middle-aged persons. In the U.S., COVID-19 deaths among persons ages 40-49 years have a male/female sex ratio of 2.32. The overall U.S. male/female COVID-19 sex death ratio is 1.18 and is driven by the concentration of deaths (58%) among persons 75 years old and older.
  3. Even though life expectancy is highly malleable with respect to societal circumstances, in our current time of intense concern about gender equality, men’s life expectancy is significantly less than women’s at every year of age.[1] Among U.S. persons 75 years and older, the number of men is 26% less than the number of women because of men’s lifespan shortfall relative to women. Men who have already disproportionately died relative to women from other factors cannot die of COVID-19.

A simple, naive COVID-19 sex death ratio (or even worse, leading with a simple, naive death percentage for female) doesn’t recognize these three key facts. But these facts can be readily incorporated into a meaningful statistic: the COVID-19 life-years-lost sex ratio (male to female), with males having gender equality with females in lifespan. For reported U.S. data, the naive death sex ratio (male to female) is 1.18, while the life-years-lost sex ratio is 1.52. For reported global data, the naive COVID-19 death sex ratio is 1.45. The COVID-19 life-years-lost sex ratio (male to female) globally is probably close to 2.[2]

The sex ratio in expected life-years lost is a clear, objective measure of welfare loss by gender. Men losing at least 50% more life-years from COVID-19 should inform the response to the global COVID-19 pandemic. But like men’s shortfall in life expectancy, men being vastly disproportionately subject to violent death, penal systems being gender-biased to imprison vastly disproportionately persons with penises, the acute sex-bias in child-custody rulings, and forced financial fatherhood, the large gender inequality in expected life-years lost from COVID-19 attracts relatively little public attention.

Leading institutions, public authorities, and at least one obscenely wealthy woman have made what seem to me ridiculously gender-bigoted claims about COVID-19. Here’s insightful analysis, aptly summarized: “WHO & Lancet: men’s higher death rate from COVID-19 due to ‘masculine norms’; The Guardian: women’s lower death rate due to ‘genetic superiority.'” An article in the staid U.S. financial magazine Forbes breathlessly declared:

the pandemic has chipped away at hard-earned progress towards both greater gender equality and women’s economic rights, while exacerbating an already terrifying mental health crisis.

Sofia Sprechmann, Secretary-General of humanitarian agency Care International, recently described Covid-19 as the biggest setback to gender equality in a decade. Research conducted by McKinsey has revealed that women’s jobs are 1.8 times more vulnerable to this crisis than men’s. The consultancy concluded that because of Coronavirus’ “regressive effect on gender equality”, global GDP growth could be $1 trillion lower in 2030 than it would be if women’s unemployment simply tracked that of men in each sector.[3]

If you think that McKinsey “estimate” is anything other than a custom-fabricated number for a high fee, I have a bridge I’d like to sell you. The Hawaii state Department of Human Services’ State Commission on the Status of Women has put together “A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for COVID-19.” What has the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Men proposed? If there were such a commission, and there isn’t, it might propose a comprehensive program of gender de-indoctrination. In an article in the prestigious public-policy journal Foreign Affairs, mega-billionaire Melinda Gates declared in inane purple prose:

History teaches that disease outbreaks — from AIDS to Zika to Ebola — play out with a certain grim predictability. As they infect societies, they expose and exploit existing forces of marginalization, seeking out fault lines of gender, race, caste, and class. It is no coincidence, for example, that in the United States, black Americans are dying at disproportionate rates. Or that although more men are dying of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, the broader impacts of this crisis threaten to disproportionately affect women’s lives and livelihoods.

Consider this rewriting of the last two sentences of Melinda Gates’s assertions:

It is no coincidence, for example, that in the United States, black Americans are dying at disproportionate rates, although the broader impacts of this crisis threaten to disproportionately affect white persons’ lives and livelihoods. Or that although more men are dying of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, the broader impacts of this crisis threaten to disproportionately affect women’s lives and livelihoods.

That rewrite, which rightly would be regarded as bigoted, highlights the outrageous bigotry of the original. The United Nations Population Fund has similarly declared that “women and girls have been disproportionately affected” by COVID-19, with women’s reproductive rights put at risk. COVID-19 hasn’t affected men’s reproductive rights, because men lack reproductive rights and are thus subject to forced financial fatherhood. United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has declared:

The #COVID19 pandemic is demonstrating what we all know: millennia of patriarchy have resulted in a male-dominated world with a male-dominated culture which damages everyone – women, men, girls & boys.

Reasoning from this bizarre global conspiracy that everyone he knows believes, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has called for a global ceasefire amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He highlighted that the most vulnerable persons in war are “women and children, people with disabilities, the marginalized and the displaced.” That men have been historically compelled to fight and die in wars the UN Secretary-General simply ignores. UNICEF ridiculously reminds the world, “Many world leaders have warned that women and girls must not be overlooked as the world responds to the greatest health crisis in a century.”[4] In reality, few care about men’s lives. Few care that men are losing at least 50% more life-years from COVID-19 death than women are.

With the current farce of public reason amid the COVID-19 pandemic, what would Michel de Montaigne do? What do I know? I have read Montaigne words. Montaigne dared to express publicly concern for men’s health:

What is one to say of that ridiculous piece of foot-covering {codpiece} on our fathers’ pants, which is still seen on our Swiss guards? And why do we today make show of the shape of it under our trousers, and often, what is worse, by falseness and deception, exaggerate our pieces’ natural grandeur? It’s preferable for me to believe that this sort of clothing was invented in better and more moral centuries so as not to deceive the world, so that each man would courteously render to the public an account of his being. More simple nations still have a closer relation to the truth. Then one was instructed in knowledge of a man’s working organ, in the same way as the fact of the size of the arm or the foot. … perhaps a more chaste and fruitful practice is to let women know life as it is early rather than to allow them the liberty to conjecture according to the freedom and heat of their fantasy. In place of the true organs, they substitute, by desire and hope, others that are three times more extravagant. And one man I know lost by having the measure of his revealed when it wasn’t yet right for being placed in position for its most serious use. What damage is done by those enormous portrayals of penises that children scatter in the halls and stairs of royal houses! From them comes a cruel misunderstanding of our natural endowment.

{ Que vouloit dire cette ridicule piece de la chaussure de nos peres, qui se voit encore en nos Souysses? A quoy faire la montre que nous faisons à cette heure de nos pieces en forme, soubs nos gregues et souvent, qui pis est, outre leur grandeur naturelle, par fauceté et imposture? Il me prend envie de croire que cette sorte de vestement fut inventée aux meilleurs et plus consciencieux siecles pour ne piper le monde, pour que chacun rendist en publiq et galamment conte de son faict. Les nations plus simples l’ont encore aucunement rapportant au vray. Lors on instruisoit la science de l’ouvrier, comme il se faict de la mesure du bras ou du pied. … à l’avanture est-ce un plus chaste et fructueux usage de leur faire de bonne heure connoistre le vif que de le leur laisser deviner selon la liberté et chaleur de leur fantasie. Au lieu des parties vrayes, elles en substituent, par desir et par esperance, d’autres extravagantes au triple. Et tel de ma connoissance s’est perdu pour avoir faict la descouverte des sienes en lieu où il n’estoit encore au propre de les mettre en possession de leur plus serieux usage. Quel dommage ne font ces enormes pourtraicts que les enfans vont semant aux passages et escalliers des maisons Royalles? De là leur vient un cruel mespris de nostre portée naturelle. }[5]

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, men’s safety and health should be of paramount public concern. School and university officials must carefully monitor walls and stalls in bathrooms and throughout buildings to ensure that no graffiti harmful to men appears. Students should not be allowed to return to schools and universities until men’s safety and health can be assured. That’s what Montaigne would say to leading authorities on gender today.

*  *  *  *  *

Here’s my “life-loss-gender-COVID-19” data workbook (web-page version, online spreadsheet version, LibreOffice Calc version download).

Read more:


[1] The risk of death from COVID-19 increases greatly with age: in the U.S., 58% of COVID-19 deaths have occurred among persons 75 years and older. That fact is relatively well-recognized, including on the U.S. CDC COVID Data Tracker. For all the relevant data on COVID-19 deaths by sex discussed in the above paragraph, see my “life-loss-gender-COVID-19” data workbook. The data are as reported by the US Centers for Disease Control on August 28, 2020.

[2] The page titled “Men, sex, gender and COVID-19” of The Sex, Gender and COVID-19 Project ignores the three key facts about the sex ratio of deaths from COVID-19. Moreover, its data tracker represents the simplistic death ratio as a linear bar chart. Compared to the death ratio, the bar chart tends to lessen perception of gender disparity.

The Sex, Gender and Covid-19 Project is a partnership of Global Health 50/50  (byline: “Towards Gender Equality in Global Health”), the International Center for Research on Women (ICRW) {sic}, and the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC). The project is founded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Thus its gender bias in presenting the large gender inequality in COVID-19 deaths is consistent with Melinda Gates’s beliefs about COVID-19 and gender, as well as the titular focus of the International Center for Research on Women.

[3] Cox (2020). The subsequent quote is from Gates (2020). For Hawaii’s feminist economic recovery program, Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women (2020).

[4] Kamanga-Njikho & Tajik (2020). The two previous short quotes are from UNFPA (2020) and United Nations (2020).

[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, my English translation benefiting from that of Screech (1993) p. 969-71.

Montaigne endured numerous plagues. Montaigne’s beloved friend, the poet Étienne de La Boétie, died from plague in 1563. While Montaigne served as major of Bordeaux, a plague in 1585 killed a third of Bordeaux’s people. Bratcher (2020).

[image] Portrait of Michel de Montaigne (cropped slightly). Painted in the 1570s. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Bratcher, Drew. 2020. “Sheltering in Place with Montaigne.” Arts & Culture, The Paris Review. Online, April 7, 2020.

Cox, Josie. 2020. “New Research Shows Covid-19’s Impact On Gender Inequality And Mothers’ Mental Health.” Forbes. Online, July 30, 2020.

Gates, Melinda. 2020. “The Pandemic’s Toll on Women: COVID-19 Is Gender-Blind, But Not Gender-Neutral.” Foreign Affairs. Online, July 15, 2020.

Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women. 2020. Building Bridges, Not Walking on Backs: A Feminist Economic Recovery Plan for COVID-19. Online, April 14, 2002.

Kamanga-Njikho, Veronica and Qandigul Tajik. 2020. “Female-headed households bear the brunt of Covid-19 as livelihood gaps increase.” UNICEF, South Asia. Afghanistan. Article. Online, April 21, 2020.

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

UNFPA (United Nations Population Fund). 2020. “Putting the brakes on COVID-19: Safeguarding the health and rights of women and girls.” News. Online, July 11, 2020.

United Nations. 2020. “Secretary-General Calls for Global Ceasefire, Citing War-Ravaged Health Systems, Populations Most Vulnerable to Novel Coronavirus.” Secretary-General Press Release, SG/SM/20018. Online, 23 March 2020.

Guillem cuckolds Archimbaut with Flamenca at beauty tournament

After her beloved Guillem told her to depart, Flamenca returned forlorn to her land at Nevers in medieval Burgundy. Hearing of a large market for women’s luxury apparel in Flanders, she immediately went there with three hundred serving-women. Flamenca bought whatever caught her fancy. Her serving-women scarcely were able to carry all the goods that she acquired. Her spending on clothing was greater than any woman had ever made before at any market in medieval Europe.

News of Flamenca’s shopping spree reached Guillem’s mother. Since she knew that Guillem’s wife Archimbaut had been purged of her jealousy, she went to visit Archimbaut to discuss the gossip. Flamenca was gaining a reputation as the most fashionably dressed beauty in all of Europe. Some women questioned, however, how she would look in a bikini. Archimbaut declared that she would personally invite Flamenca to come to her spring beauty tournament and grand festival. She would even ask Flamenca to join her side for the team dance competition.

The year quickly reached its end and time passed to the beginning of Lent. Then the Duchess of Brabant at her castle in Louvain held a fashion show. Archimbaut was there, for she wished to recover her worth. She came richly outfitted, with many different dresses and even more shoes. Flamenca was also there. Archimbaut greeted Flamenca warmly and gave her a gold brooch inlaid with ivory. Flamenca in turn treated Archimbaut with great respect and acted as her best friend. They showed each other their wardrobes and swapped pieces to better coordinate. The two modeled outfits together:

They walked together on the boards;
the whole hall shook and roared
when they entered to be evaluated.
Highly was that woman’s courage rated
who dared to confront them on the field.
Short, tight dress, breasts nearly revealed,
fishnet, lace, elaborate hair production,
gave other women not the least protection.
Versus Flamenca they were nothing worth,
as down their wearers crashed to earth.
Archimbaut also strode with might,
defeating many well-dressed ladies.
who surrendered dresses and accessories.
Think not she kept all these prizes. Indeed,
after the show she promptly gave them
to any who might wish or crave them.
Only after Flamenca as best, the judges bestow
high fashion honor on Archimbaut.
The latter had her beauty tourney cried
for this coming April in Eastertide.
She invited Flamenca of Nevers
to participate in it there.
“I shall not fail,” Flamenca replied,
“and I’ll place myself at your side.
I greatly wish to please you.
Say if there’s anything I can do
that might in some way serve your ends.
You know that I’m your best friend.”

{ Ensems cavalgon ambedui.
Totz le torneis fromis e brui
Cant il intran el camp armat,
E tencses cel per ben aurat
Que negun d’ams anes requerre:
Coirassa ni laimas de ferre,
Perpoinz, ausbercs ni garbaisos
No y ajudava .II. botos
A cui Guillems som bras estent
A terra nol port mantenent.
E N’Archimbautz fer y tan ben
Que cavalliers pren e reten.
Cavals e cavalliers gazainnan,
Mais nous pesses que lur remainnan,
Ans o donon ses bistensar
A celz c’o volon demandar.
Del tornei ac lo pres e laus,
Apres Guillem, En Archimbautz.
Adoncs fes cridar son tornei
Al paschor, ab lo dous avrei,
E Guillem de Nivers somos
Que a son tornejamen fos.
Guillems respon: “Ben y serai,
Et ab vos, seiner, m’i metrai,
Car bon cor ai de vos servir
S’ieu ren podia far ni dir
Ques a vos fos ni bel ni bon,
Car sapias vostr’ amix son.” }

Archimbaut returned home to Bourbon full of joy after this two-week fashion excursion.

Archimbaut’s whole household, especially her husband Guillem, eagerly sought to hear descriptions of the women at the fashion show. Archimbaut recounted Flamenca’s beautiful attire, her elegant posing, and her fabulous jewelry. Acting as if he had never heard of her, Guillem’s servant-man Alain asked:

“Madame,” he said, “this lady finely strolled,
but how is she in actually showing love?
It’s said that fashion-mares of her sort
know little about how to woo or court.
Men and love’s delights they spurn;
fashionable attire is their sole concern.”

{ “Segner,” fai s’il, “es amoros
Cel cavalliers qu’es aitam pro?
Car hom dis qu’aital cavallier
Non sabon esser plazentier
Quar per lur forsa tan si preson
Que donnei e solas mespreson.” }

That’s an important question among well-informed men. Archimbaut responded passionately:

A lover? Yes, by God, yes!
More so than I am, I confess.
Any man on whom her choice
might rest has rich reason to rejoice.
And so that you’ll believe me better,
here in my purse I’ve brought a letter
which I asked her to write for me, so
that I myself her loving way might know.
I’ll show it to you now: you’ll be,
I’m very sure, truly grateful to me.
Read it, I implore you, every word,
and you will say, when you have heard
this love-salute written so warmly,
that none has ever been more courtly.

{ S’es amoros? o el, per Dieu!
Bell’ amigueta, plus ques ieu;
E bens deu per rica tener
Tota domna qu’el dein voler.
E per so que mielz m’en cresas,
Un breu qu’en esta borssam jas,
De quel preguei quel m’escriusses
Per tal que de s’amors saupes,
Vos mostrarai ara dese.
E si me logasses fort be
E ja non dires, quant aures
Las salutz que i son apresas,
Ques hanc n’ausisses plus cortesas. }

Guillem with a laugh suggested that Archimbaut was seeking to woo Alain by giving him a love-salute. Nonetheless, Guillem said that he wasn’t concerned and that it would be good to hear new songs. He requested, however, that Archimbaut read Flamenca’s love-salute:

I beg you, you now recite for us
this love-salute so harmonious.
You’ll read it better and make the rhyme
and sentiment together aptly chime,
since of the words you have prior knowing.
If they’re as courtly and as winning
as you say, when we’ve heard them through,
we shall very cheerfully reward you.

{ E prec que vezen mi, sius plas,
Estas salutz vos eis digas,
Car vos las sabres mielz legir
E faire los motz avenir,
Qu’autra ves las aves legidas.
E s’ellas son aissi polidas
Con vos dises, quant las sabrem
Voluntieras vos logarem. }

Archimbaut was willing. She proclaimed Flamenca’s love-salute to Guillem with ardent feeling, fine expression, and no true knowing. Guillem praised the words and her performance. He asked her to give it to him to read for himself. Totally cured of her jealousy, Archimbaut willingly gave Flamenca’s love-salute to Guillem.

Guillem treasured the love-salute that he received from Flamenca. He read it many times with his most loyal servant-men, Alain and Corentin. They marveled at its drawing of a woman kneeling before a man. A flower was drawn coming out of her mouth and touching the beginning of the text. Flamenca’s love-salute was addressed to the handsome man of the beautiful mountain, the handsome man of Belmont. Guillem knew that man was he:

Guillem read the poetry
and saw Flamenca as if she were
close in front of him right there.
Nor could he fail to recognize
his face appearing in her eyes.
This love-salute the three men carry
away with them. It makes them merry
and joyful. They’ll learn it word for word,
and not allow it to be heard
by anybody else, or shown
to others at all. It is theirs alone.
Folding and unfolding, they are
very careful not to blur or mar
the words or drawings, or to make
the parchment give way, crack or break.
In bed each night like a charm Guillem bore
it. He a thousand times and even more
kissed the picture of Flamenca, then
upon folding it, kissed it again.
For folding the page brought together
the drawn figures: each kissed the other.
Guillem folded it in such
a way that the figures must touch,
must kiss. To his bosom he pressed
it, saying: “Dear one, in my breast
I feel your heart beating its pace,
and therefore close to it I place
your love-salute, so that your heart
in my delight may have its part.”

{ Flamenca las salutz esgarda
E conoc Guillem aitan ben
Consil vis ades davan se,
E la faisso de si meseissa
Aitan ben consi fos ill eissa.
Totas tres las salutz ne porton;
Pron an ara ab ques deporton.
Ben las aprendon e decoron
E gardan ben non las aforon,
Ni volon qu’autre las aprenda
Ni un mot per ellas n’entenda.
Soven las plegon e desplegon,
E garon ben tan non las bregon
Ques en letras ni em penchura
Nom paresca effassadura.
Ab se las colguet quada sers
Flamenca, e mil baissars vers
A l’emage de Guillem det,
Et autres mil quan las pleguet,
Quar tota ora quan las plegava
L’un’ ymages l’autra baisava.
Tant asautet las saup plegar
Ambas las fes ades baisar.
Sobr’ en son pietz las mes soven
E dis: “Amix, vostre cor sen
En luec del mieu on es enclaus,
E per so tam pres de lui paus
Estas salutz que las sentissa
E si con ieu s’en esgauzissa. }

Guillem was at this time sleeping in a separate bedroom from his wife Archimbaut. He went to her bedroom as his martial debt required, but left after he had done his work with her. He said that her snoring impaired his sleep. All the while Guillem thought of Flamenca:

Every morning when from sleep he woke,
he would at Flamenca’s image look
and speak softly to Love. He’d say:
“Love, though I’m now far away
in body from my dear beloved,
my heart a distance hasn’t moved:
she holds my heart in pledge, I deem,
and you, think not that I shall redeem
it. Could I make this pledge more tight
by granting to her more delight —
that she might teach me some act that I’ve
not already done for her — I’d strive
to fulfill further my pledge thereby.
Indeed I would never deny
her anything that I could say
or do that would in any way
enhance the extent of her bliss.
You, Love, are well aware of this,
and she’s aware, too. Therefore
we will continue as before.
For your showing her how to befool
my wife, and deftly pull the wool
over her eyes, how to hoodwink
her, and to give her cause to think
that Flamenca loves a man of Belmont, thus
keeping her fully unsuspicious,
for this, sweet Love, I give you thanks.”

{ Cascun mati, quan si levet,
L’emage de Guillem miret,
Et ab Amor parlet suau
E dis: “Amors, sitot m’estau
De mon amic ara trop luein,
Ges mon cor de lui non desluein,
Qu’el lo ten, si com dis, en gaje.
E nous penses ques ieil desgaje,
Mais sil pogues mais engajar
Per null plazer queil saupes far
Qu’ieu autra ves fag non agues,
Ni el ensegnar lom pogues,
Ancara l’engajera plus.
Mais anc non fo plazer negus
Que domna puesca far ni dir
A son amic per nul desir
De qu’ieu hanc li disses de no.
E vos meseissa sabes o,
Et el meseisses si s’o sap;
E no i a plus mais que daus cap
Comens’ ab lui, cora quel veja.
E car li mostretz la correja
Aissi asautet a plegar
Qu’el fes a mon sengnor cujar
Que cela de Belmon ames,
Don nol venc em pens qu’en pesses,
A vos, douz’ Amors, o grasis.” }

Guillem, along with his servant-men Alain and Corentin, impatiently waited for Lent and Easter to pass. The beauty tournament and grand festival would raise their spirits, just as their trips to the baths had done before.

Archimbaut arranged to hold the best women’s beauty tournament in all of medieval Europe. She invited the Queen of France and the most beautiful, noble women from Bordeaux to Germany, and from Flanders to Narbonne and beyond. Around Archimbaut’s castle arriving participants filled the fields with pavilions, lodges, and tents. Merchants came from everywhere to offer the women many different styles of luxury clothes, a vast array of shoes, many jeweled rings for fingers and toes, and bracelets and necklaces beyond number. The tournament participants amounted to more than a thousand beautiful, noble women. All had heard much about Guillem. All eagerly sought to gaze upon him:

Indeed, a mere glimpse, to their eyes
was a reward they’d greatly prize.
In this practice they were right,
for they could see no finer sight,
none more manly, more filled with grace,
or more muscular in form, strong in face,
or more equipped to captivate
with bold, strong thrusts that could penetrate
all those who gaze at him with yearning.
The more of him was seen, the more pleasing
his figure appeared. His firmness wouldn’t fail,
which in men is the finest quality of all.

{ De lei vezer, qu’en sol la vista
Cuj’ aver gran honor conquista.
Et el si l’avia per ver
Quar meillor ren non poc vezer,
Plus douza ni plus faissonada,
Plus plasent ni plus adautada,
Ni que mieilz saupes retener
Ab son adaut et ab plazer
Totz celz que l’auson ni la veson.
Ades plas mais on plus la veson,
Ni acostumon sa paria,
Et es le mielliers aips que sia. }

Flamenca notably arrived after most others and with sensational force:

A day before the beauty tournament,
before ladies bore fine dress and accoutrement,
the lovely, fashionable Flamenca of Nevers
arrived. She saw about her everywhere
tents covering field and mountainside.
Many serving-women were at her side
a full thousands splendid maids and more,
yet there was not one who wore
a dress that was not fresh and new.
Wherever she moved, they moved too,
and a hundred clarions rang out,
a hundred horns blared all about.
To set the camp that Flamenca occupied,
she commanded a flat place long and wide
close to the castle gate. There she pitched tent,
knowing that for the beauty tournament
her man would be close at hand
to watch her from the viewing stand.

{ Un jorn avan c’om tornejes,
Per tal que armas y portes,
Venc le rics Guillems de Nivers,
E vi per dreg e per travers
Cum s’alberga valz e montanha.
Mot ac ab si bella companha
Quar be i ac cavalliers tal mil
Ques anc negus arma ni fil
Nom portet mas tot fresc e nou,
E movon tut lai on el mou.
Cent trombas ausiras sonar
E plus de mil grailes cornar
Lai on Guillems es albergatz.
En un camp que fon loncs e latz,
Jostal portai, tendet son trap,
Car ben conois e ve e sap
Que si dons laissus estaria
Per los cadafals qu’el vezia. }

Archimbaut made her way to Flamenca’s tent. After warm greetings, Archimbaut spotted Flamenca’s servant-women Alis and Margarida. Right there and then she put crowns on their heads and dubbed them Miss Creuset and Miss Dijon. Archimbaut thus honored them as the most beautiful women from their natal towns in Burgundy. Archimbaut then requested, as custom required, to present Flamenca to her husband Guillem.

Guillem was in the castle with the Queen of France and her baronesses. When Flamenca arrived, all rose to show respect for her. Flamenca went straight to the Queen to instruct her in the affair:

“Your Highness,” she said, “please be seated.
My man is the one by whom I seek to be greeted.”
“I thank you, lady,” Guillem, for the Queen, replied,
“please then be seated at my side.”
The Queen said: “Do so, Flamenca. He
desires that you do, and I agree,
for he has enough strength in store
for both of us. Have you seen him before?”
“My lady, I’ve heard him much extolled,
and all the fine things I’ve been told
fall far short of his actual excellence.”
The Queen said: “Baronesses, take no offense,
but we have been a long time here.
Those who have just arrived, I fear,
will wish delight of this same sort,
so let’s leave them to pay him court.”

{ “Seigner, merces, tornas sezer;
Ma domna sui vengutz vezer.”
“Segner,” fai s’il, “vostra merce;
Sezes doncas dejosta me.”
“Fag o, Guillems,” so dis le rei,
“Mais ill o vol, eu o autrei,
Quar ben es tais ques a nos dos
Aura solas. Vist l’anc mais vos?”
“Segner, be n’ai ausit parlar,
Et es i ben, ab mais, som par,
Totz le bens que n’ai auzit dire.”
Le reis a dig: “Senors, nous tire,
Nos sai avem ganren estat;
E cil que son aras intrat
Volran per lur ves domnejar,
E laissem los, sius plas, estar.” }

Without apparent loss of face, the perceptive Queen of France took her leave from the castle amid much tumult. Guillem seized this opportunity to kiss Flamenca discretely.

Without raising suspicions, Flamenca and Guillem talked briefly. She implored:

Sweet lord, how shall we proceed
if henceforth we can only feed
our love on words, or on the taste
of a light kiss, given in such haste
that it’s scarcely felt? You know it’s true
that I’m dying in desire for you.

{ Dousa domna, e que farem
Si nostr’ amor plus non paissem
Mais de paraulas solamen
E d’un baisar, c’aitan corren
Passet c’a penas lo senti;
Sapias que desirs m’auci. }

Guillem reassured and comforted her:

Beloved, please don’t fear or grieve.
You will return to me this eve.
Let your companions be but few:
bring Alis and Marga with you.
Far better than in all this crowd,
then we can act and speak aloud
our love and the body of our felicity.
Archimbaut will have gone to see
the Queen and all the noblewomen:
I can promise you that then
a fine and satisfying bliss
will replace a quick kiss,
so faint and unsubstantial.
And if chance favors us at all,
I’ll gladly do whatever you will.
Your every craving I’ll fulfill.

{ Amix, sius plaz, nous esmagues,
Ancanug a mi tornares.
E non menes tans compangnos,
Ot e Claris vengan ab vos,
E poirem mielz que non fam ara,
Quant tota la gens nos esgara,
Faire e dir nostre plazer;
Que N’Archimbautz ira vezer
Lo rei els barons als hostals.
E promet vos al meins, sivals,
Quel baisar, de queus rancuras
Quar s’en passet aitan vivas,
Vos dobli des ves tot da pas.
E si luecs es non doptes pas
Ques ieu volontiera non fassa
En dreg d’amor tot so queus plassa. }

Guillem then shrewdly arranged an opportunity for Alis and Margarida to converse briefly with his servant-men Alain and Corentin. When the time came for Flamenca to leave, Archimbaut escorted her back to her tent. Archimbaut then went to pay a call on the Duchess of Burgundy. Flamenca thought only of returning to Guillem.

Flamenca didn’t return covertly to the castle that evening. She dressed in a scarlet tunic that covered her black bikini lingerie and nothing else but her lovely body. She took with her more than thirty servant-women, including Alis and Margarida. Each rode a palfrey and held a large burning torch. The castle was filled with the noise of minstrels and merriment. But when Flamenca arrived, all fell silent and greeted her. Flamenca headed straight toward Guillem:

And greatly is she gratified
when, taking her hand tenderly,
he draws her close, and skillfully
pulls her head down toward his until
she can kiss him just as she will.
Let no one be surprised that in
the milling crowd, the noise and din,
with people coming and going, giving
place to others, arriving, leaving,
a man who’s intelligent,
when both his heart and Love consent,
can kiss his lover. I daresay
he can — he’ll manage someway.

{ Mais ill per pagada s’en tenc
Quan l’ac pres per la man dese;
Ans lo tiret mout gent vas se
E tant adaut lo fes baissar
Que a sa guisal poc baisar.
E ja nous meravil negus
S’en tal bruda, com leva l’us,
L’autres gira e l’autres baissa,
E l’us son luec a l’autre laissa,
Tota domna qu’es eissernida,
Pos Amors e cors l’en envida,
Baisa son amie una ves,
Quar ben o pot far e bel les. }

Guillem pondered how he could get Flamenca into his bedroom, along with her  servant-women Alis and Margarida. He ardently desired to accomplish that much greater trick.

sword of Charlemagne

When Archimbaut arrived, she respectfully greeted Flamenca and Guillem. Archimbaut said that twelve of Flamenca’s cousins, including a Countess and a Baroness, were to be dubbed with local beauty titles tomorrow. According to custom, the host husband would give each of the new beauty queens a precious sword representing her achievement. In fact, Guillem kept a large collection of jeweled swords in the marital bedchamber, and he regularly polished and displayed a magnificent sword on festive occasions. Guillem told Archimbaut that he didn’t know what sword was right for each woman. She responded:

My husband, by God, if she will consent,
my lady Flamenca, bringing to all bliss,
is here, and also young Marga and Alis.
They can give you much excellent advice.
Their taste is these matters is quite nice.

{ Dona, per Dieu! si far o deina,
Mos sener Guillems qu’es aici,
Et Ot e Claris atressi,
Vos em poiran ben conseillar,
Car il sabon tut lur affar. }

Guillem could nearly taste what he ardently desired. Maintaining control over himself, he responded coyly:

Fair wife, beg them to be so courtly
as to come into the bedchamber with me.

{ Bel segner, doncas pregas los
Qu’en las cambras vengan ab nos. }

Flamenca then intervened and subserviently addressed Archimbaut:

Lady, there’s no need
to beg this, or anything else indeed.
For you and for my lord always
even more arduous tasks than these
I would gladly undertake to do,
such for him and such to please you.

{ Domna, non quai
Corn mi pregue d’aisso ni d’al,
Quar per vos e per mon seinor
Faria ben affar major
Que cest non es, sol conogues
Ques a lui et a vos plagues. }

Thus Guillem took Flamenca, along with Alis and Margarida, into the royal bedchamber.

After they had entered, Guillem discretely summoned his servant-men Alain and Corentin to join them in the royal bedchamber. There a wonderful collection of swords were displayed to the three women. Each knew well which she preferred:

Flamenca was not at all embarrassed
about the sword that inflamed her desire:
she had beside her Guillem’s body so fair,
hard white, but blushed, strong and slim;
being sweet and generous came naturally to him.
He’d not resist her love-making
nor make her ask him for anything,
but with her every wish he would concur.
So in her arms she happily gathered him,
nor did they separate until
the two had done their one will.
Love protected their impassioned match
and Corentin kept careful watch
on the door with his beloved Alis.
Their watch caused them no love to miss.
All three couple kissed, embraced, and pressed
their lovers to them, caressed
each other ardently, and did more deeds as well
that I should not go on to tell.
They did what made them most content,
nor let a gown or shift prevent
them from joy’s complete fulfilment.

{ Guillems non estet ges marritz
Quais de las joias degues penre.
Josta se ac bel cors e tenre,
Blanc e delgat et escafit,
Don nol cal temer que ja crit
Ni contradiga son talan,
Ni vueilla que ja rel deman,
Mais que s’o prenda el meseis.
Tot bellamen vaus si l’estreis
Et anc d’aqui nos moc nis tolc
Tro qu’en ac fag tot zo que volc.
Amors e desirs feiron garda,
E Margarida, que l’uis garda
Ab Clari son coral amic
Qu’en la garda nom pren destric,
Ans an tut tres assas baisat,
Tengut estreg e manejat:
Et alre sis feiron ben leu,
De qu’ieu a dir cocha non leu.
Mais tant y feiron a lur guisa
Que anc ni blisaut ni camisa
Non tolc res de lur benanansa. }

They all returned from the bedroom full of joy from their group experience. Selecting swords in good taste had been for them a delightful task.

Mughal khanjar (dagger)

Guillem, a knight practicing true chivalry, had performed an extraordinary exploit. His chivalrous exploit was far better than any senseless acts of violence against men:

A more bold, audacious plan
no man had ever dared to try,
for in full court, where every eye
and every ear are opened wide,
he had kissed his lover, openly stepped aside
into bedchamber with her for fulfilling passion —
all without the slightest suspicion from anyone.

{ Anc mais dona tan ric assag
Non auset empenre, som cug,
Qu’en plena cort, on ren non fug
Ad oill, a man ni ad aureilla,
Ab son amic baisan cosseilla
E, vezenz totz, lo colg’ab se,
Que negus homs non conois re. }

Not only that, Guillem moreover had also brought about the same experience for two loyal servant-couples in that same royal bedroom at that same time. Guillem’s wife Queen Archimbaut deserved a prize for obtuseness:

The next morning, beauty titles were bestowed
on those ladies to whom Flamenca owed
such great delight, for she’d been led
by Archimbaut straight to her royal bed
and there in bed had possessed
Archimbaut’s husband in joy and zest.
But Archimbaut to this betrayal didn’t awaken
since she trusted in the oath Guillem had taken,
and trusting him thus, she was confused
by the sophistry her husband had used.
Though wiser than Boethius,
she is stupid, a fool, and fatuous
who thinks that her husband can be penned
and kept away from his beloved woman-friend.

{ Al matin foron adobat
Cil ric home ques an donat
A Guillem aitan gran delieg,
Quar N’Archimbautz lo mes el lieg
On ab sa domna poc jazer
Aissi co fes a som plazer.
Mais le caitius non s’en garava,
Car el sacramen si fizava,
El sophisme non entendia
Que Flamenca mes y avia.
Baboins es e folz e nescis,
S’era plus savis que Boecis,
Maritz que son despendre cuje
Que mullier ad amic estuje. }

Invigorated with his marvelous triumph, Guillem was eager to serve as a judge at the women’s beauty tournament starting that morning.

In the reviewing stand before the start of the action, Guillem vowed that he would give his belt to the first beauty to cause a rival to pout and shout and collapse in shame for her fashion humiliation. No sooner had he said this than a woman came forth in a long, tight black silk gown with in-woven pearls and trimmed with mink. She looked lovely — so thought Guillem and everyone else. The very next contestant was Flamenca. She sauntered forth in a petite samite dress showing on her chest a couple embracing and having a line of sparkling rubies crossing her breasts after coming up from her waist, which was tufted with sable. Although Flamenca was careful not to bend over far enough to reveal her silk lace thong panties, she was so stunningly attired that Guillem’s face reddened. The previous contestant, finishing her self-presentation and turning to look, immediately shrieked in despair. She fell to the ground moaning, and then started crying inconsolably.

As was customary, Flamenca offered her hand to her conceding rival Odette of Auxerre. Miss Auxerre was now Flamenca’s prisoner. Flamenca didn’t demand that Odette give her any clothing or jewelry as ransom. Instead, Flamenca instructed Odette to go to Guillem, declare herself to be his prisoner, and consent to allow him to do to her whatever he desired to do. Odette immediately went to Guillem. He told her that he wished to set her free. He asked her to take his belt and give it, according to his public vow, to the lady who had won it. Flamenca accepted Guillem’s belt graciously and immediately fastened it about her waist.

Dear God, did things ever so smoothly go
for any woman? I doubt that it be so.
What woman could be so fortunate
as she who doesn’t find in her mate
delay, reluctance, and tarrying?
Indeed, there’s no more happy being.
Above all joys, one need not prove,
should be rated a man’s willing love,
the love of a man who will never tire
of granting his beloved all her desires.
But just as one may rightly call
a good man the best thing of all
in the world, the sweetest and most
satisfying being, so the ill-disposed
man is the bitterest and the worst,
meanest, most dreary, most accursed.
Those men frustrate, irk, and irritate,
as all who’ve dealt with them will state.
Such men, as you’ve learned right well,
think but of treason foul and fell.
Each day they easily discover
more reasons to say no to a lover.

{ Bels segner Dieus, ira tan ben
Jamais ad home? Non o cre.
Et a cui deu tan ben anar
Con a cel que nom poc trobar
Anc ab si don bisten ni failla?
E res non es ques aitan vailla,
Quar tota benanansa passa
Amors de domna que nos lassa
De far plaser e non bauseja
Som bon amic, cora quel veja.
Mais, si com bona domna es
De tot lo mon la meillers res,
Li plus douza el plus grasida,
Aissi la mal’ el descausida
Es la piejers el plus amara,
Plus enujosa e plus avara.
E cil que n’an tastat o sabon,
Quant pauc enanson et acabon!
De mala domna sai eu tan
Que ren non pensa mai engan,
E tot jorn troba ucaison
Consi puesca dire de non. }

The Countess of Lovanic, a lady who went by the name Tranquilla, showed her attire against the couture of the Countess of Toulouse. Promenading vigorously, one bumped the other. The other in response yanked the dress of the offender. That caused the Countess of Toulouse’s halter-top to falter and her breasts to fall out. The men in the crowd gasped in appreciation. Then the two countesses engaged in bitter contest:

With resounding blows they fiercely battered
each other. Their dresses were shattered,
their necklaces broke. They shoved plump girths,
and both came tumbling down to earth.
Ladies hastened to help them rise; they clash
in a mass melee. They strike and slash,
and ladies tumble from the stage’s back.
Purses, shoes, and sashes hit and crack,
upon the fancy hat the hand smites hard,
the bonnet’s torn, fit only to discard.
Never was seen such a stirring fight,
as each lady strove with all her might,
her full worth and beauty to show.
But long before the final blow,
Flamenca of Nevers clearly taught
how such battles should be fought.

{ Tals colps si donon pelz escutz
Que totz los an fragz e romputz.
Trencon senglas, trencon peitral,
A terra van amdui egal.
Al rellevar cavallier brocon,
Turton e feron e derocon,
Franhon astas, franhon arson,
Cason massas, cason baston.
Las espazas ab los elms coton,
Cellas oscan e cil encloton;
Hom non vi mais tal avalot.
Quascus y fer al mais que pot,
Cascus vol mostrar com es pros.
Mais, abanz que partitz si fos,
Guillems de Nivers demostret
De cal guisa l’obras menet }

Standing in front of the melee, Flamenca threw off all her clothes. She raised her arms with hands pushed flat, shrieked “Peace!”, and rotated herself around several times. An awed hush quickly came over the whole field. A man on the reviewing stand gave out a sob. Then more started sobbing. Soon all the ladies were sobbing and sadly pulling their attire together and leaving.

Guillem stood up. His loud, manly voice boomed out: “Please, honored guests, don’t leave. Men have long engaged in such battles. There’s no reason to be embarrassed. I’ve prepared a magnificent feast for dinner. I expect each and every one of you, out of respect for me and my hospitality, to appear for this dinner on time and well-dressed. The women’s beauty tournament will continue tomorrow, with absolutely no physical contact permitted. If any woman strikes woman or man, my men and I will seize her, shave her head, and send her into battle with only her bare fingers against the Saracens.”

The rest of the medieval text of the Romance of Flamenca has been lost. To imagine well the ending of this romance, you must study medieval literature with sympathetic appreciation for the realities of ordinary men’s lives. Then you must think about how to incarnate your new, true enlightenment.

holding high the sword of state

*  *  *  *  *

The above is Flamenca Queered, part 5. See also part 1, part 2, part 3, and part 4.

Read more:


The above story is based on the medieval (thirteenth-century) Old Occitan Romance of Flamenca. For a freely available English prose translation, Prescott (1933). For a less conveniently readable but higher quality edition, McGuire & Scrivner (ND). That includes the English translation of Blodgett (1995), which closely follows the Old Occitan text. The quotes in Old Occitan above (textual presentation simplified slightly) are from the Flamenca text in Hubert & Porter (1962). The English translations are based on id., but include my significant, small changes. The translations aren’t a faithful representation of the Old Occitan Flamenca, but are strongly and consistently related to it.

Flamenca has survived in only one manuscript, identified as France, Bibliothèque Municipale Carcassonne MS. 34. That manuscript is missing pages, some lines, and the ending of the romance. With respect to the part above, the most significant missing verses are the ending, a verse (v. 7072) when Archimbaut is describing the written love-salute from Guillem / Flamenca, and a verse (v. 7593) in which Archimbaut speaks to Flamenca / Guillem about honoring cousins before the start of the tournament.

While men have long suffered the systemic injustice of women’s sexual gender privilege, the reading of Flamenca above recognizes that some women are in a similar position to that of many men:

How could he not understand, the captive,
that his time is short and swiftly passed.
Indeed, his charm will no longer last
than a quick, rain-fed spurt, which goes
out faster than any water flows
bubbling from a fountain spring.
You think perhaps I’m bantering,
but the simple truth I’m saying:
worth nothing are hopes in delaying.
Some men seek only to adjourn.
To say “no” to women is their sole concern,
so that their folly, deeply ingrained,
may be continued and maintained.
And this folly, I can to all assure,
is a bad ill that’s hard to cure.
Indeed, as Horace does attest,
and he by no means spoke in jest,
a cooking pot once used will never lose
its first smell, however further you use
it. Thus unless you clean and scour,
the pot will turn its contents sour.
Flamenca has no cause for vexation
or fret, for without any hesitation,
in bed her man had done what she wanted,
and all her wishes he had granted.

{ Consi nos pensa, li caitiva,
Quan petit li dura sos brieus!
Ja fail plus tost que non fai rieus
De pluja qu’es plus rabiners
De cel ques es acostumiers
De corre que de fon a cap.
Araus cujares que per gap
O diga, e dic o daveras,
Que ren non valon tais esperas
De domna que fai trop languir,
E nom pessa mais de “non” dir
E de mantener cel usage
Ques a pres en son fol corage,
Car tal malesa com hom vesa
A granz penas pueis la desvesa.
E, si con Oracis retrais,
Que nom parlet jes per esquais,
Ges ola leu perdre non deu
La sabor don primas s’enbeu.
Et en vaissell, qui nol te net,
Aigrezira, qui ren no i met.
Ja Guillems non qual esmagar
Per ren queil doja si dons far
Car il li vol dir e far tot
Aisso quel plaz al primier mot. }

From Flamenca vv. 7851-75, as above. Flamenca reverses the application of Horace’s wisdom:

Now, imbibe with a clean
heart as a boy my words, now trust yourself to your betters.
That fragrance with which it is first imbued
a jar will long keep.

{ nunc adbibe puro
pectore verba puer, nunc te melioribus offer.
quo semel est imbuta recens, servabit odorem
testa diu. }

Horace, Epistles 1.2.67-70, Latin text from Fairclough (1926), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Blodgett (1995) p. 443, n. 264, identifies this citation. Cf. “The flavor that imbues a new jar endures {sapor, quo nova imbuas, durat}.” Quintilian, The Orator’s Education {Institutio Oratoria} 1.1.5. Unglazed clay jars, which were used in antiquity, are more absorbent than glazed or glass jars. Via textual note in Fairclough (1926), with my English translation of the quote from Quintilian.

The Flamenca verses quoted above are (cited by the verse numbers of the Old Occitan text of Hubert & Porter (1962)): vv. 7006-7033 (They walked together…), 7056-61 (“Madame,” he said…), 7062-75 (A lover? Yes, by God, yes!…), 7084-91 (I beg you, you now recite…), 7117-45 (Guillem read the poetry…), 7146-72 (Every morning when from sleep he woke…), 7230-41 (Indeed, a mere glimpse…), 7260-77 (A day before the beauty tournament…), 7318-33 (“Your Highness,” she said…), 7412-17 (Sweet lord, how shall we proceed…), 7418-33 (Beloved, please don’t fear or grieve…), 7525-37 (And greatly is she gratified…), 7597-601 (My husband, by God…), 7602-3 (Fair wife, beg them…), 7604-9 (Lady, there’s no need…), 7629-50 (Flamenca was not at all embarrassed…), 7669-75 (A more bold, audacious plan…), 7676-89 (The next morning, beauty titles…), 7808-29 (Dear God, did things ever so smoothly go…), 7883-97 (With resounding blows they fiercely battered…).

[images] (1) Joyeuse, the sword regarded no later than the thirteenth century to be the sword of the first Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne. Joyeuse is now used in French royal coronations. Source image thanks to P.poschadel and Wikimedia Commons. Joyeuse is on display in the Louvre (Paris, France). The Louvre offers an inferior image but considerable information about the sword. (2) Khanjar (dagger), from Mughal India. Made in the 18th or 19th century. Preserved as accession # 36.25.652a in The Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York, USA); credit line: Bequest of George C. Stone, 1935. The Met has an outstanding collection of khanjars. (3) Sword of State for the United Kingdom (Britain). Charles Stewart, Sixth Marquess of Londonderry, Carrying the Great Sword of State at the Coronation of King Edward VII, August, 1902, and Mr. W. C. Beaumont, His Page on That Occasion (image of painting cropped slightly). Painted by John Singer Sargent in 1904. Preserved as accession # 2003.274 in the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, USA) and available on Wikimedia Commons.


Blodgett, Edward D., trans. 1995. The Romance of Flamenca. New York: Garland.

Fairclough, H. Rushton, trans. 1926. Horace. Satires. Epistles. The Art of Poetry. Loeb Classical Library 194. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hubert, Merton Jerome, trans. and Marion E. Porter, ed. 1962. The Romance of Flamenca. A Provençal poem of the thirteenth century. Princeton University Press: Princeton.

McGuire, Michael and Olga Scrivner. ND: Not Dated. “The Flamenca Project: Le Roman de Flamenca (The Romance of Flamenca).” Online presentation of the Old Occitan text of Meyer (1901) and the English translation of Blodgett (1995).

Prescott, H. F. M. 1933. Flamenca. Translated from the thirteenth-century Provençal. Here attributed to Bernardet the Troubadour. London: Constable & Co.

honor masculine incarnation for alternative to castration culture

one-eyed sinner of Michelangelo

Deeply entrenched castration culture threatens to terminate modern life in miserable social death. Increasingly tyrannical sex regulations in practice almost exclusively target men. They feed modern penal justice systems that vastly disproportionately incarcerate persons with penises. Even in relatively liberal and tolerant medieval Europe, men’s sexuality was feared and regulated in part through castration. However, medieval Christian appreciation for masculine incarnation and masculine sexuality served to temper castration culture and oppressive penal punishments.

Whether through demonic influence or lack of appreciation for their masculine bodies, some medieval men yielded to castration culture. Consider the case of a medieval Irish parish priest. According to the twelfth-century bishop of Eoghan in Ireland:

A priest of holy and honest life was in charge of a parish in this province. It was his daily habit, at the first light of dawn, first to circle the church cemetery while singing the seven psalms as devotions for the dead. He lived very chastely and devoted himself to the service of careful teaching for good works. Demons often were disturbed that they could not conquer him at all to bend his vow of chastity and holy living.

{ Sacerdos quidam sancte uite et honeste parrochiam regebat in hac prouincia, cuius erat consuetudo ut cotidie, summo mane surgens, prius ecclesie cymiterium circuiens, septem psalmos pro fidelibus defunctis decantaret. Castissime uixit et sollicite doctrine et bonis operam dedit. Demones uero multociens conquesti sunt quod illum a proposito castimonie et sancte conuersationis nullus eorum flectere ualeret. }[1]

A demon vowed to his demon-leader that he would break this priest. Doing so would take fifteen years of effort. The demon-leader applauded the demon’s commitment to corruption and urged him to undertake this long task.

Acting subtly, the demon exploited the priest’s masculine humanity. Just as in the U.S. today, women in medieval Europe were free to abandon their newly born children:

Arising at dawn one day, the priest circled the cemetery as usual and found near a cross in the cemetery an abandoned infant girl. Accepting her, he entrusted her to a certain wet-nurse to feed as if the infant girl were her own daughter. He had the girl, once weaned, taught reading, because he intended to consecrate her to Christ as a virginal woman.

{ surgens mane quadam die sacerdos cymiteriumque de more circuiens repperit iuxta crucem in cymiterio infantulam unam expositam. Quam accipiens commendauit cuidam nutrici, ut eam quasi filiam suam propriam nutriret. Ablactatam uero eam littere discere fecit, cuius integritatem Christo consecrare proposuit. }

The infant girl developed into a beautiful young woman:

When she reached the years of puberty, and the priest had become accustomed to her beauty, concupiscence began to burn in him. He was intending to become too intimate with her, because she was too lovely, according to the beauty, or rather rottenness, of the flesh. And the more furtively and intimately he addressed her, the more fervently he was seized in love for her. Eventually he went so far as to ask her for consent to sexual relations. He obtained her consent.

{ Que cum ad pubertatis annos peruenisset et illius pulcritudini presbiter assuete et nimis familiariter intendisset, cepit in eius exardescere concupiscentia, quia secundum carnis pulchritudinem sed potius putredinem nimis erat speciosa. Et quo secretius et familiarius eam alloquebatur, eo feruentius in ipsius amorem rapiebatur. Contigit autem nuper ut eius assensum peteret et impetrauit. }

Almost all men do not need to be taught not to rape women, even beautiful young women wholly under their control. Men vastly prefer not only women who consent, but also women who are warmly receptive, actively loving, and enthusiastically appreciative of masculine sexual labor. Unlike dogs, men have a sense of moral right and wrong even when they feel ardent desire. So it was with this priest:

And after obtaining consent and permitted to have sex with her, he was inflamed more sharply. However, frightened at doing so unusual work, he postponed the act to the next day. … When that next day actually came, the priest called the young woman into his small bedroom and led her to arrange herself on the bed. He then stood in front of the bed for a while, hesitating to be doing. Finally, not at the instigation of the demon that had led him to this work, but truly inspired by the very God who doesn’t allow a person to be tempted beyond one’s limit, the priest, his soul thinking of the wicked of this sin, said to the young woman: “Wait a little, daughter, wait until I return.” The priest proceeded to the door of his bedroom, seized a knife, and cut off his very own genitals and threw them outside. He said: “What did you think, demons, that I haven’t studied your tricks? You will not rejoice in the ruin of me and my daughter, because you will possess neither me nor her.” … The priest indeed entrusted the virgin, whom he had nourished to serve God, to the virgins of a monastery.

{ Et licet acrius ureretur post impetratum assensum, pauefactus tamen ad opus tam insolitum, actum distulit in crastinum. … Die uero crastina predictus presbiter aduocans puellam in cubiculum suum introduxit eamque super lectum suum locauit. Stetit igitur ante lectum aliquandiu, quid ageret hesitans. Tandem uero non illo instigante qui eum ad hoc opus perduxerat, sed ipso inspirante qui non permittit hominem supra modum temptari, pensans animo presbiter huius enormitatis sceleris ait puelle: “Expecta, filia, paululum, expecta donec redeam.” Procedens itaque presbiter ad ostium cubiculi cultrum arripuit, uirilia sibimet abscidit forasque proiecit, dicens: “Quid putastis, demones, quod uersutias uestras non intellexerim? De perditione mea uel filie mee non gaudebitis, quia nec me nec illam habebitis.” … Sacerdos uero uirginem, quam Deo seruituram nutrierat, in monasterio uirginibus commendauit. }[2]

This horrible story underscores the terrible reality of castration culture. The priest mutilated his God-given body. In Christian understanding, God became incarnate as Jesus Christ, a fully masculine man. Jesus didn’t amputate and discard his genitals. Yet this Christian priest, falsely understanding himself to be a follower of Christ, castrated himself. Symeon the New Theologian, a devout Christian who lived in eleventh-century Byzantium, would have regarded this priest as having suffered demonic possession and ruin. Peter Abelard, a twelfth-century French theologian who endured the hateful gender injustice of assailants castrating him, would have regarded this priest as violently impious like Dinah’s brothers.

medieval public officials castrating man

The vision of Louis d’Auxerre at St. Patrick’s purgatory in 1358 revealed a humane, Christian alternative to castration culture. Louis d’Auxerre was a knight who had engaged in violence against men and other sins of the flesh. He explained:

As much as I was able, I dedicated myself to exertion in martial accomplishments. In this way I kept busy about the matter of now fighting-games, now knights’ tournaments, now pitched battles, now in France, now in Germany, now sometimes as far as Italy. In these I shed an abundance of Christian blood. I was also involved in other vices. I began to think to myself a little about being devoted no longer to sins of the flesh and wantonness, but purging patiently my crimes in the purgatory of Saint Patrick. I had heard about that purgatory several times.

{ Ego, inquit, postquam pro posse operam dederam operibus bellicosis, quam ob rem me nunc hastiludiis, nunc torneamentis, nunc campalibus bellis, nunc in Galliam, nunc ad Germanos, nunc nonnumquam ad Ytalicos, quandoque ad diversas alias nationes me transferens exercerem, quare copiam effuderam sanguinis Christianorum essemque multis aliis vitiis involutus, cepi mecum aliquantulum cogitare non deinceps mundo peccatisque carnis quam petulantie deservire, sed perpetrata facinora in purgatorio sancti Patricii patienter purgare, de quo audiveram alias. }[3]

Louis d’Auxerre decided to change his life and purge his sins. He thus traveled to the purgatory of Saint Patrick on Station Island in Lough Derg {Red Lake} in County Donegal, Ireland.

When Louis d’Auxerre entered the purgatory of Saint Patrick, he saw there thirteen white monks. The leader of the white monks stepped forward and addressed Louis:

Your foolish presumption has lead you here. Henceforth you cannot return without personal danger, and moreover it is exceedingly dangerous for you to go further. Immediately demons will come now in the most beautiful feminine form so as to seduce you, now in the horrible form of dragons so that, trembling in terror, you despair. However, there is one remedy of salvation. For this, see that you always have in mind the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ. And in all the martyrdoms you suffer from these fiends, say first: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us.” Then say, “May God and the Holy Trinity always be with me.” Remember to sign yourself three times with the sign of the Holy Cross. These acts will confer on you so much strength that you may overcome the enemy and all temptations of the demons.

{ Te, inquit, stulta presumptio huc duxit, non valens amodo redire sine tuo discrimine personali; et ultra te ire periculosum est valde, nam statim demones venient nunc in forma muliebri pulcherrima ut seducant te, nunc in draconum horribili forma ut terrore ac tremore te desperes. Unum tamen est salutis remedium, ut videlicet passionem domini nostri Iesu Christi semper habeto in mente; et in omnibus martiriis tibi ab eisdem fiendis dicere primo: ‘Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis’, deinde: ‘Deus et sancta trinitas semper sit mecum’, tribusque vicibus signo sancte crucis signare memento. Habebunt hec namque tibi tantam conferre fortitudinem ut inimicum superes omniumque demonum temptamenta. }[4]

The monk-leader said that the demons were now coming. He signed Louis with the sign of the cross and then left him.

At one time or another in life, everyone confronts demons. The most dangerous demons are the most highly deceptive ones. These demons pretend to offer widely recognized goods, but they don’t actually provide those goods. Those goods are merely illusions used to lead a person to evil. The demons that attacked Louis d’Auxerre presented to him goods that commonly constitute men’s dreams:

After the monk-leader left, women immediately came. They were incredibly beautiful — strolling, singing, and dancing. They were dressed in royal gowns and carried on their heads gold crowns adorned with precious stones. They were exceedingly beautiful and imbued with white and red colors. Their upswept hair was golden, and their foreheads, moderately elevated, were smooth and whiter than snow. The black arches of their eyebrows hung with elegance. Their eyes, very wandering, were more beautiful than an eagle’s, and their cheeks were more tender than curdled milk. The thin nose ran very straightly down to lips, lips ruddier than coral and the ivory teeth were arranged like a battle line. A most precious, jewel-like chin hung on each of them, and they had a neck of proper fleshiness and a throat that actively held a line. On the chest two small apples were raised. These women seemed to be no more than sixteen or seventeen years of age.

As they came towards me, so graceful and cheerful, one of them, who seemed to hold greater authority among the others, spoke to me in a submissive voice in this way: “Fine knight, we rejoice in the highest that you have come to us. We are beyond doubt not demons. Contrary to what that most fallacious demon who preceded us to you disclosed, we are immortal goddesses having great power and much riches. Find comfort, therefore, in our advice for your salvation. Accept our pleasures. Receive our passionate and seductive embraces. Enter secretly the gates of love and passion, for surely our passion is healing. If you do this, you will have in consequence not only delight but also material benefit. Indeed, we have control over the greatest treasure-vaults. When you would like to return to your own living arrangements, if from ours you would like to take something, I say you will be able to being back with you whatever riches you would like.”

{ Post hec statim mulieres veniunt, quarum incredibilis erat pulchritudo, vage corizantes saltantesque, regalibus indumentis indute, coronas aureas ornatas pretiosissimis lapidibus in capite deferebant, formose valde, lacteo rubeoque colore mixto perfuse; declinati capilli aurei erant, tempora mediocriter eleuata, frontes polite nive erant albiores, supercilia arcualia nigredine condecente pendentia, oculi aquile pulchriores ac vagi nimis, genne lacte coagulato teneriores, nasus velut stilus rectissimus usque ad labia decurrebat, labia rubicundiora corallo, dentes eburnei uelut acies ordinati, ut lapis pretiosissimus barbucium in eis pendebat, collum decenti carnositate, habebant ac guttur lineatum actualiter, in pectore duo poma parua pulcherima leuebantur; in etate XVI uel XVII annorum ad plus videbantur.

Sic ego graciles et iocunde ad me venientes, una quarum, que pre aliis maiorem auctoritatem videbatur tenere, sic michi voce submissa taliter loqui: “Decore miles, te ad nos venisse summe lectamur; sumus procul dubio non demones, ut qui nos prevenit ad te demon fallacissimus reseravit, sed dee immortales habentes potestatem magnam multasque divitias. Acquiesce igitur meis tue salutis consiliis, solatia accipe nostra, amplexus cupidos vagosque recipe nostros, amoris claustra subintra cupidinis, quippe nostra cupida cura est. Quod si feceris, non delectabile solum, sed etiam tibi bonum etiam utile consequetur. Habemus namque super thesauros maximos potestatem, quod quando volueris ad propria remeare si ex nobis tecum aliquod ducere voles, poteris, inquam, divitias deferre prout voles.” }

What could be better than one beautiful, warmly receptive young woman? Many beautiful, warmly receptive young women. And even better, many rich, generous beautiful, warmly receptive young women who don’t insist on a life-long relationship! Such women presented themselves to Louis d’Auxerre. As if all the goods they had to offer him weren’t enough, they also proposed to save him from mortal danger:

“As you can see, I have keys to the door through which you entered. By these means, at your will you can immediately be put outside them. To the contrary, if that should be refused, if you scorn to do what I have advised for your salvation, behold dragons will soon come to devour you immediately.” Indeed, terrifying dragons in a great multitude appeared behind the women. The dragons came quickly and impetuously towards me. They came hissing, with jaws open, and discharging enormous fire from their ears, eyes, and noses. With these beasts were many others, dragging behind them a burning city. They had various types and forms and were even more terrifying in appearance. The flames of fire that came forth from them seemed to touch the sky. “Be agreeable,” said the woman, “consider the terrifying appearance of the beasts. Save yourself according to my advice that I said for your salvation.”

{ “Habeo namque ut vides illius porte claves per quam intrasti, quare ad vota te statim ponere extra possim. Si vero, quod absit, pro tua salute quod consulo contempseris facere, ecce dracones mox venient ut te statim devorent.” Quippe dracones terribiles in multitudine maxima post ipsas apparuerunt, versus me cum sibilis impetuque aperto ore de auribus oculis et naribus amplissimum ignem proicientes velociter veniebant; et cum ipsis bestie alie multe erant trahentes post se igneam civitatem, quarum aspectus etiam terribilior erat, diversas habentes species et figuras. Flamma namque ignis ab eis procedens celum tangere videbatur. “Bene,” inquit mulier, “illum aspectum terribilem considerans bestiarum salva te ipsum ut dixi meo tue salutis consilio.” }

Men’s lives should matter. These women seemed to value and appreciate Louis d’Auxerre’s life. Why not follow their advice for salvation?

The medieval authority Alan of Lille dared to apply to women the medieval proverb “all that glistens isn’t gold {non teneas aurum totum quod splendet ut aurum}.” As a knight, Louis d’Auxerre wasn’t a deeply learned man like Alan of Lille. Yet Louis intuitively had some sense for wisdom and true authority:

I responded to her with nothing, but was silent. In fact, I was perplexed not a little, because then those before-told women were continually sending into my heart arrows burning greatly with lust, and then my lust was growing. Thus a meal was being prepared for the dragons, if I had assented in the least to the warning spoken to me. Finally, I came back to myself with the advice that I remembered in the words of the master who had spoken to me earlier. Soon the women disappeared. Suddenly I was chained by foot and hand, and I was thrown among those worst, most ferocious wild beasts. I began to be burned by fire. Remembering then the prayers that I had been taught, I said in my heart: “The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us. May God and the Holy Trinity always be with me.” I signed myself three times with the sign of the Holy Cross. Thus I was suddenly liberated from those pestiferous tormentors.

{ Cui respondens nullatenus, sed silens fui quippe perplexus non modicum, tum quia sagittas trahentes concupiscentie ignitas valde cordi meo mulieres prefate continue emittebant, tum etiam quod concupiscentiam augmentabant, ut esca prepararetur draconum, ubi loquentis michi minime monitis assentirem. Ad me tandem reversus consilio verborum memini artificis, que michi antea loquebatur, mox mulieres disparuerunt; repente pedibus manibusque sum vinculatus ac inter illas feras pessimas ferocissimas sum proiectus. Igne comburi incipio, orationes memorans doctas iam dico in corde meo: “Verbum caro factum est et habitavit in nobis, Deus et sancta trinitas sit mecum semper,” me signo ter signo sancte crucis liberorque repente a tortoribus tam pestiferis. }

The beautiful women were merely a gyno-idolatrous illusion. Simply recalling the monk-leader’s warning was enough to dispel that illusion. Then Louis experienced the reality of being enchained and thrown among ferocious beasts. Declaring the masculine incarnation of God in Jesus and praying to be part of the community of love that is the Holy Trinity was powerful enough to liberate Louis from chains and ferocious beasts.

Dispelling gyno-idolatrous illusions and avoiding demonic dangers requires continual effort. Louis d’Auxerre’s vision reflected life experiences of a medieval knight. An old lady with two beautiful girls offered him the choice of either girl. Lovely nuns, recognizing the attractiveness of a knight relative to a cleric, emerged from a convent and pleaded with him to spend time with them in pleasure. He encountered a beautiful girl alone at a spring in a field. She was eager to be with him. He met three beautiful women leisurely playing chess under a tree in a field. They sought to play with him. All these experiences turned out to be similar gyno-idolatrous illusions and demonic dangers. The specific form of such problems depends on the time, place, and particular person. But gyno-idolatrous illusions and demonic dangers are common in the lives of almost all persons.

Virgin Mary welcoming sinners cleansed in Saint Patrick's purgatory

Human sexuality creates moral risks for both women and men. While relatively liberal and tolerant medieval European societies didn’t encourage totalitarian sexual regulations and public denunciations for long-past alleged sexual crimes, medieval persons recognized moral dangers of human sexuality. For example, a cleric in England in 1153 had a vision of a young woman named Cecilia. The cleric and Cecilia had been sexually intimate. She subsequently died and was in purgatory. In his vision, he spoke with her in purgatory:

I said, “How goes it with you?” She responded, “Badly until now, for after I had departed this life, I endured a harsh sentence and was assigned to various punishments.” To which I asked, “Why, or for what causes, do you undergo such torments?” She said, “I left behind in you a shield of faith when, without forethought and unjustly, I betrayed our compact. Therefore, denuded of so much protection after my death, I readily fell prey to enemies. Because I had loved you excessively ardently with carnal lust, I grimly endure the fire which I have lit. I pay the penalty for my excesses and crimes wretchedly in the alternation of torments. If I had not committed them, I would have undergone nothing or certainly the lightest sentence from my trial.” To which I responded, “I am now completely horrified by what I have heard, and I suffer violently for your misery as if it were my own.”

{ “Quomodo,” inquam, “tecum agitur?” ‘Et illa, “Hucusque,” inquit, “male, quia postquam de hac uita discessi, uariis suppliciis deputata tristem sententiam pertuli.” Ad quam ego, “Cur,” inquam, “uel quibus de causis tanta sustines tormenta?” Et illa, “Quoniam,” inquit, “fidei scutum in proditionem pactionis inprouide et iniuste tibi reliqueram, et ideo postquam exuta sum corpore, nudata tanto munimine, libere hostibus in predam incidi. Et quia te carnali concupiscentia nimis ardenter dilexeram, ignem quem accendi grauiter sustineo, excessusque meos et delieta cum penarum alternatione miserabiliter luo, que si non commisissem, aut nullius uel certe leuissimum examinationis iudicium sustinuissem.” Cui inquam, “De re audita iam totus inhorreo, et de miseria tua, ac si mea esset, uehementer indoleo. }[5]

Cecilia poignantly describes her cleric-lover as a “shield of faith {fidei scutum}.” She, however, betrayed their compact, perhaps one of sexual exclusivity. In any case, she admitted that her love for the cleric had been disordered through a particular excess: “I had loved you excessively ardently with carnal lust {te carnali concupiscentia nimis ardenter dilexeram}.” That wasn’t only her fault. She declared of her cleric-lover: “you are powerfully stirred by the incitements of the flesh {stimulis carnis uehementer agitar}.” These are forgivable sins. The editor of this medieval purgatorial vision observed:

The narrator for his part evinces no anxiety at all about the clerk’s sex life, whereas he does spend some time bewailing the clerical failing of unmindful and over-hasty recitation of the psalms. The clerk also goes with great ease from his own bed (shared with his {male} companion) to find the bed where Cecilia used to rest (and which, presumably, she used to share with the clerk), indicating perhaps that these places are in close proximity.[6]

As medieval literature makes clear, the realities of human sexuality don’t imply an imperative for castration culture. The moral risks of human sexuality can be addressed humanely. In contrast, cutting away men’s seminal blessing is a human and social evil.

Healthful, enduring societies require appreciation for men’s seminal blessing. Christians believe that God became incarnate as the fully masculine man Jesus:

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. We have beheld his glory, the glory of the only Son born from the Father.

{ καὶ ὁ λόγος σὰρξ ἐγένετο καὶ ἐσκήνωσεν ἐν ἡμῖν καὶ ἐθεασάμεθα τὴν δόξαν αὐτοῦ δόξαν ὡς μονογενοῦς παρὰ πατρός πλήρης χάριτος καὶ ἀληθείας }[7]

From a Christian perspective, through Jesus all persons have become adopted daughters and sons of God. With even minimal understanding of Jesus, all Christians should reject castration culture. With necessary respect for men’s rights, which are human rights, all persons of whatever beliefs should reject castration culture.

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[1] Treatise on Saint Patrick’s Purgatory {Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii} 28.3-5, Latin text from Easting (1991), my English translation, benefiting from the Italian translation of Tinti in Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018). All subsequent quotes from Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii are similarly sourced. The subsequent three quotes above are in order from Tractatus 28.

Easting Latin’s text of Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii is edited from three manuscripts: Lambeth Palace Library MS 51, British Library MS Royal 13 B viii, and Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, MS 50. Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) provides Easting’s Latin text. So too does Napoli (2015), along with a Portuguese translation.

Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii reports the visit of the Irish knight Owein {Owen} to Saint Patrick’s purgatory on Station Island in Lough Derg {Red Lake} in County Donegal, Ireland. On the early history of this pilgrimage site, Zaleski (1985) pp. 467-9. Owein’s visit to St. Patrick’s purgatory occurred in 1146 or 1147. After returning from St. Patrick’s purgatory, Owein went on a crusade / pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Owein then became associated with the Cistercian Order of monks.

Working with the Cistercians after returning from Jerusalem, Owein recounted his experience in St. Patrick’s purgatory to the Cistercian monk Gilbert of Louth {Luda}. In 1148, the Irish king Dermot MacMurrough {Diarmait Mac Murchada} requested Cistercian monks from England to help establish an abbey at Baltinglass (also known also as Vallis Salutis) in County Wicklow, Ireland. Dermot MacMurrough ruled as Diarmait na n-Gall and was King of Leinster, a province in eastern Ireland. Gilbert was then a Cistercian monk at Louth Park Abbey in Lincolnshire, England. At King Dermot MacMurrough’s request, Gervase, the abbot of Louth Park Abbey, sent Gilbert and other monks to help establish the new abbey at Baltinglass. King Dermot MacMurrough directed Owein, who had just returned from Jerusalem, to assist Gilbert and his fellow monks. Owein assisted Gilbert in Ireland for two and a half years. Gilbert thus came to know Owein and hear Owein’s experience in St. Patrick’s purgatory. Gilbert subsequently became the abbot of Basingwerk Abbey in Flintshire, Wales.

Gilbert told Owein’s story to the Cistercian monk Henry of Sawtry. Sawtry, also known as Saltrey and Saltereia, is in the historic Huntingdonshire county of England. The Cistercian Sawtry Abbey, also known as the Abbey of St. Mary, was founded there in 1147. Henry of Sawtry recounted Gilbert’s story in the presence of Hugh of Sartis, Abbot of the Cistercian Wardon Abbey (first known at the Abbey of Saint Mary de Sartis) in Bedfordshire, England. Hugh of Sartis urged Henry of Sawtry to record the story that Gilbert had heard from Owein. Henry of Sawtry thus wrote the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii.

Henry of Sawtry apparently wrote his first redaction of the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii between 1179 and 1185. He apparently wrote a second redaction between 1186 and 1188. On the writing of the Tractatus, Maggioni in Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) pp. XXIII-XXX. The Tractatus records Henry of Sawtry only as “brother H., a monk of Saltrey {frater H. monachorum de Saltereia}.” Tractatus 1.1. In his thirteenth-century chronicle, Matthew of Paris identified him as Henry of Sawtry {Henricus de Saltereia}.

To verify the account that he had heard from Gilbert about Owein’s experience in St. Patrick’s purgatory, Henry of Sawtry consulted two Irish abbots. One abbot said he had heard nothing of such stories. The other said he had heard such stories many times. Henry of Sawtry then consulted a third Irish authority:

Recently I also addressed a certain bishop. He is a nephew of Saint Patrick the third, that is, a nephew of the companion of Saint Malachi. His name is Bishop Florentian. In his diocese, so he told me, is St. Patrick’s purgatory. About this with more curiosity I inquired. The Bishop responded, “Certainly, brother, it is true.”

{ Nuper etiam affatus sum episcopum quendam, nepotem sancti Patricii tertii, soci uidelicet sancti Malachye, Florentianum nomine, in cuius episcopatu, sicut ipse dixit, est idem Purgatorium. De quo cum curiosius inquirerem, respondit episcopus: “Certe, frater, uerum est.” }

Tractatus 25.5-6. Bishop Florentian told Henry of Sawtry the story of the parish priest in his diocese castrating himself. The point of that story, along with another story that Florentian told Henry (Tractatus 26-7), seems to be the vigorous activity of demons in his Irish diocese.

The Tractatus itself provides no additional information about the Irish Bishop Florentian who had ecclesiastical authority over St. Patrick’s purgatory. Maggioni, however, noted:

Florentian is usually identified with Fógartach Ua Cerballáin, Bishop of Tyrone (Tír Eoghain) from 1185 to 1230 (See J.-M. Picard – Y. Pontfarcy, St Patrick’s Purgatory. A Twelfth Century Tale to the Other World, Dublin 1985, pp. 24-26). Another hypothesis, less likely, regarding Flaithbhertach O’Broclanm, abbot and Bishop of Derry, who died in 1175, was put forward by B. de Breffny (In the Steps of St. Patrick, London 1982, pp. 111).

{ Florentianus è usualmente identificato con Fógartach Ua Cerballáin, vescovo di Tyrone (Tír Eoghain) dal 1185 al 1230 (Cfr. J.-M. Picard – Y. Pontfarcy, St Patrick’s Purgatory. A Twelfth Century Tale to the Other World, Dublin 1985, pp. 24-26). Un’altra ipotesi, meno probabile, che riguarda Flaithbhertach O’Broclanm abate e vescovo di Derry, morto nel 1175, è stata avanzata da B. de Breffny (In the Steps of St. Patrick, London 1982, pp. 111). }

Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) p. XXIII, n. 8. Above I’ve taken the bishop to be Fógartach Ua Cerballáin, Bishop of Tír Eoghain {Land of Eoghan}. Regarding the name Owein, Easting noted:

Rather than seek fictional origins for his name {Owein} I would recall the point made by H. L. D. Ward: ‘The Welsh name Owen has always been chosen by English (or Anglo-Irish) writers, to represent the Irish Eogan {Eoghan}, though the two names were originally quite disconnected’ (Catalogue of Romances in the Department of Manuscripts in the British Museum, II (London, 1893), p. 435, n.).

Easting (1986) p. 172, n. 38. The Bishop of Eoghan is thus a fitting authority on Owein’s story.

Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii circulated widely in medieval Europe:

the Tractatus, in particular its central engaging account of the journey of Sir Owain, was an enormous hit. It survives, in whole or in part, in over one hundred and fifty manuscripts in Latin alone, including the Chronicles of Roger of Wendover, the Speculum historiale of Vincent of Beauvais (d. 1264), and an account by Henricus Salteriensis of Purgatorio Sancti Patricii in the Patrologia Latina, as collected and edited by Migne (PL 180.977-1004), and in over three hundred translations and adaptations in almost every European vernacular, ranging from a Sicilian version that adds King Arthur and transforms the mountain described in the Tractatus into Mount Etna to a lively version by Marie de France (fl. 1175-90), Espurgatoire S. Patriz. In addition, there are countless references to the story such as the description in the Legenda aurea of St. Patrick being led to the gates of Hell.

From Foster (2004), Sir Owain, Introduction. The Tractatus has also received much attention from modern scholars. However, modern scholarship hasn’t been particularly successful in establishing the truth:

a regrettably large number of misapprehensions and confusions have been consistently recounted: as Locke rightly said, ‘The amount of misinformation which has been circulated about the Tractatus is overwhelming.’

Easting (1986) p. 159, citing Locke (1965) p. 641. Easting (1978) corrects errors in Locke (1965). Both Easting (1986) and Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) are essential for learning the most truthful understanding about the Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii according to the best available knowledge today. These two sources have provided the facts recounted here relating to Owein, Gilbert of Louth, Henry of Sawtry, and the Tractatus. Gardiner has usefully placed online a large bibliography for St. Patrick’s purgatory.

The story of the parish priest who castrated himself has received little attention. Yet it’s recorded in Peter of Cornwall’s copy of the Tractatus is his Book of Revelations. Easting (1978) p. 782. The castration story was thus included in the Tractatus before 1200. The story may well been part of the first recension of the Tractatus, completed before 1186. It has often been elided in copies, translations, and interpretations of Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii. See, e.g. Gardiner’s modern English translation of the Tractatus: Gardiner (1989) pp. 135-48.

Marie de France’s twelfth-century Old French translation, The Legend of the Purgatory of Saint Patrick {L’Espurgatoire Seint Patriz} includes this story at vv. 2269-78. Marie de France is particularly notable for her concern for men and her contribution to medieval literature of men’s sexed protest. Scholars considering L’Espurgatoire Seint Patriz have typically ignored this important story. See, e.g. Bloch (2003), Brown (2015), and McCullough (2017). One scholarly study that does address it simplistically interprets it as showing ‘an inscription of repentance on the body, the “corporel sustance” that is the instrument of sin.’ Kinoshita & McCracken (2014) p. 168. The story is better interpreted in terms of castration culture and Marie de France’s appreciation for men’s sexed protest.

Steel (2016) treats this story and castration generally with deeply entrenched ignorance and complacency with respect to the social problem of violence against men. Consider the relatively simple matter of Steel recounting part of the story:

But just before he rapes the girl, he flees her bedchamber, and, outside, — and here I quote from Marie de France’s translation – he “cuts off his genitals / and cast them away from him.” End of story. Nothing more is said of the girl.

Steel (2016) p. 4. The priest explicitly sought and received the young woman’s consent to sex. Steel perhaps charged the man with rape for extra ideological credit in the current academic marketplace of values. In addition, the priest castrating himself would seem a more important ending focus than the gynocentric, poor-girl ending: “nothing more is said of the girl.” Furthermore, that ending is false. After he castrated himself, the priest, who had the girl taught to read, sent her to a convent.

[2] Cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13 (God will not tempt you beyond your strength and will provide a way of escape). This parish priest fundamentally misunderstood the way of escape.

Torture applied to men’s genitals is well-documented throughout history. Owein saw men suffering such tortures in the fourth field in St. Patrick’s purgatory:

Others were hanging in fires by iron hooks stuck in their eyes, or ears, or nostrils, or mouth, or breasts, or genitals.

{ Alii in ignibus pendebant, uncis ferreis in oculis fixis, uel auribus, uel naribus, uel faucibus, uel mamillis, aut genitalibus. }

Tractatus 13.3. Violence against men, including sexual violence against men, is a serious problem that gynocentric societies have willfully ignored.

[3] Taddeus of Gualandi of Pisa {Taddeus de Gualandis de Pisis}, Vision of Louis {Visio Ludovici} 1.5, Latin text of Maggioni in Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) pp. 274-301, my English translation, benefiting from the Italian translation of Tinti in id. Subsequent quotes from Visio Ludovici are similarly sourced from Book 1. Voigt (1924) provides an inferior Latin text. Klein (2009) provides an English translation of Voigt’s Latin text.

The knight Louis who experienced St. Patrick’s purgatory is variously known as Louis d’Auxerre, Louis of France, and Louis of Sur. He may have been Louis de Chalon, the youngest son of the Count of Auxerre. Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) p. 270. Auxerre (Autissiodorensis) is in Burgundy, France. His visionary experience most likely occurred on September 17, 1358. Id. p. 271. Louis’s vision follows the general pattern of Owein’s vision in Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii. Taddeus de Gualandis de Pisis, who recorded Louis’s vision, was a minor friar and lector for the Roman church of Santa Maria Ara Coeli. Id. p. 271. He apparently wrote Visio Ludovici in January, 1360. Id. p. 272.

Maggioni’s Latin text draws upon the manuscripts Paris, BnF, n.a.l. 1154, folios 7r-10v (a primitive Latin text; written at the end of the fourteenth century), Ivrea (Italy), Capitular Library 77 (XII), folios 166r-174r (a refined Latin text; written late in the fourteenth century or in the fifteenth century), and Naples, National Library, Vind. lat. 57, folios 258-263 (an abbreviated Latin text; written late in the fourteenth century or in the fifteenth century, recopied about 1600 into Naples, ms. XXII. 39, folios 84r-89r). For a critical edition of the Naples text, Barillari (2008). Visio Ludovici was subsequently translated into Italian, where it survives in Venice, Museo Correr, 1508 and Padua, Biblioteca Civica 106. On the Italian texts, Barillari (2014). Visio Ludovici was also translated into Catalan, where it survives in fragments in Arxiu de la Corona d’Aragó, Diversos y Collecciones, Sant Cugat del Vallès 82 & 83 (folios 157-163v), as well as the Garrotxa manuscript. For a critical edition of the Catalan version, Perujo Melgar & Iglesias-Fonseca (2014).

[4] Cistercian monks were known as “white monks.” The literary history of St. Patrick’s purgatory is closely associated with the Cistercians. For broad reviews of that literary history, Maggioni, Tinti & Taviani (2018) and Krapp (1900).

Demons repeatedly appearing as beautiful women is a distinctive feature of Visio Ludovici. That feature may have developed from the third vision of Visions of Georgius Grissaphan {Visiones Georgii Grissaphani}. Visiones Georgii describes the vision that the Hungarian knight Georgius Grissaphan had at Saint Patrick’s purgatory about the year 1353. Petrus de Paternis (Peyre de Paternas), an Augustinian hermit, wrote Visiones Georgii near the Papal Court of Avignon probably about 1357.

The third vision of Georgius Grissaphan is “in the form of women {in forma mulierum}.” Georgius sees:

women extraordinarily and extremely wonderfully lovable and well-formed and most beautiful among all the women in the world

{supra modum et valde mirabiliter amabilem et formosam et pulcherrimam inter omnes huius mundi mulieres}

One of these women urged Georgius to reject Christ as a deception and marry her. If he did, he would be rich and powerful as the king of her realm. Georgius noticed that the women have bestial feet, one of a horse and one of an ox. He prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of the living God, have mercy on me a sinner {Domine Jhesu Christe, fili dei viui, miserere michi peccatori}!” Immediately, a horrible noise sounded, the beautiful women vanished, and a devil appeared within extremely fetid smoke. Visiones Georgii, Latin text from Hammerich (1930) pp. 115-8, my English translations.

A man receiving love from a royal goddess is a well-attested theme of human folklore. In addition to sexual access to a young, beautiful woman, the man commonly also receives land and power. This folk theme is consistent with a gynocentric substructure of human society. On this folk theme in relation to Visiones Georgii and Visio Ludovici, Barillari (2011). A shallow but now-prevalent approach is to treat this serious issue with merely anti-meninist moral denunciation: “misogynist obsession with women as a vehicle of damnation {l’ossessione misogina sulla donna veicolo di dannazione}.” Di Febo (2013) p. 185. For extensive analysis of Visiones Georgii, Nagy (2018). For a table of Latin manuscripts of Visiones Georgii, id. pp. 347-52

[5] From Lambeth Palace Library, MS 1213, folio 359, ll. 33-46, Latin text (simplified presentation) and English translation (with my insubstantial changes for ease of reading) from Easting (2007). The story states that the events occurred in the year that Eustace, son of the English King Stephen, died. That implies the year 1153. The story itself is written in a twelfth-century hand. The manuscript comes from St. Augustine’s abbey in Canterbury, England. Although where the vision occurred isn’t specified, it most probably occurred, given its circumstances, somewhere in east Kent, England. Id. p. 163. The subsequent short quote, “you are powerfully stirred by the incitements of the flesh,” comes from l. 110 in this story.

Cecilia’s statement suggests that, because she had betrayed her cleric-lover, he didn’t pray for her soul after her death. She thus lost the protection of his faith. After hearing of her punishments in purgatory, the cleric is horrified and regrets that he didn’t pray for her.

[6] Easting (2007) p. 173. Jacques Le Goff’s high-profile work on the birth of purgatory, Le Goff (1981), ignored ordinary men’s experiences of penal punishment under gynocentrism and their sense of purgatory. Newman observed:

Is it coincidence that the two most woman-centered texts that come down to us from the whole early Christian period are also the first two witnesses to Purgatory? I am referring to the second-century Acts of Thecla and the slightly later Passion of Saints Perpetua and Felicitas (203).

Newman (1993) p. 90. The relationship between Paul, Thecla, and Thecla’s mother emphasizes mechanisms of gynocentric oppression. Perpetua’s relationship to her father dispels still-prevalent delusions of patriarchy. Understanding well the history of purgatory requires sympathetic appreciation for ordinary men’s experiences and desires. Gurevich (1983). Men’s mystical visions have been unreasonably marginalized in scholarly study. Hawes (2012).

[7] John 1:14, Greek text of the Morphological Greek New Testament via Blue Letter Bible, English translation mainly from the Revised Standard Version.

The historical reception of Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii and actual pilgrimages to St. Patrick’s purgatory on Station Island in Lough Derg in County Donegal, Ireland, show word and fleshly life interacting:

In the tradition of Saint Patrick’s Purgatory, the primary literary text was born and developed independently from a given place, as well as the ritual of pilgrimage to the Purgatory was born independently from a given text. But they, text and pilgrimage, met in Avignon around 1353 and from that time both textual traditions and pilgrimage reports began to interact with each other, modifying each other, inspiring and shaping new texts and new ritual forms, creating fictional characters, derived from historical figures and, on the contrary, testifying literary characters as historical figures.

Maggioni (2017) p. 173. A similar process is apparent at the microscopic level of manuscript variations in Visio Ludovici. Barillari (2013).

[images] (1) One-eyed sinner in the Last Judgment of God. Detail in fresco by Michelangelo on the altar wall of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Rome. Via Wikimedia Commons. Painted between 1536 and 1541. On the one-eyed sinner, Matthew 5:27-29. On the Last Judgment, Luke 13:23–28 and Revelation 20:11-12.  St. Agnes redeemed the male gaze. (2) Public officials castrating a man under the penal practices of Toulouse. From Coutumes de Toulouse, a manuscript created 1295-1297. Illumination on folio 32v, Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des Manuscrits. Latin 9187. Via Gallica. (3) The Virgin Mary, sized according to medieval gynocentrism, welcoming cleansed men sinners exiting from St. Patrick’s purgatory. Detail from fresco of St. Patrick’s purgatory in what’s currently the convent of the Sisters of Saint Clair in Todi, Umbria, Italy. Fresco dated 1346 and attributed to Jacopo di Mino del Pellicciaio. The building that contains the fresco was in 1346 a monastery of the mendicant Order of the Servants of the Blessed Mary (Servites). Image derived from Plate 6 of Petris (2012), p. 271, and used in accordance with U.S. copyright law.


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