Jerome & Augustine valued men’s sexuality against Galli servants

Two thousand years ago, traditional Roman beliefs included foundational gynocentric privileging of the Sabine women. Even worse, Roman religion embraced a theogony in which the earth goddess successfully schemed to have her husband castrated. Castrated young men called Galli served this earth goddess in prominent temples. Among mortals, Roman women gained judicial favor merely by baring their breasts. Roman men, in contrast, had to suffer war wounds on their chests to receive public acclaim. Recognizing men’s disadvantaged social position in relation to women, Roman men, like many men even more so today, were reluctant to marry. Jerome and Augustine, highly learned fourth-century figures later honored as Christian saints, insisted on the importance of men’s sexuality against Roman castration culture and Roman gynocentrism.

Jerome valued highly marital, heterosexual intercourse, but he valued virginity more highly. Jerome had an earthy sense of humor. He passionately engaged in theological arguments. Moreover, Jerome had many women friends and frequently communicated with them. In 414, Jerome wrote to the young Roman woman Demetrias. Although ranking “first in Rome in nobility of lineage and wealth {nobilitate et divitiis prima est in orbe Romano},” she had taken up the vocation of a Christian virgin. Jerome urged Demetrias to follow her vocation so as to obtain the life of angels:

 A young woman’s passionate heat is extinguished by Heaven’s dew and the chill of fasts. That enables her in her human body to obtain in her virgin spirit the life of angels. About this, the chosen vessel of virginity Paul himself said that he has no commandment of the Lord. But you should not exercise what is your birthright. You should behave contrary to nature, or rather beyond nature. You should destroy in yourself your root origin, gather solely fruits of virginity, know not the marriage bed, shiver at all physical contact with men, and act in your body to live outside your body.

{ in animo virginali, rore coelesti, et jejuniorum frigore, calor puellaris extinguitur, et in humano corpore, angelorum impetratur conversatio. Quam ob rem et vas electionis de virginibus se dicit Domini non habere praeceptum, quia contra naturam, imo ultra naturam est, non exercere quod nata sis: interficere in te radicem tuam, et sola virginitatis poma decerpere, nescire thorum, omnem virorum horrere contactum, et in corpore vivere sine corpore. }[1]

Jerome recognized young women’s “passionate heat {calor}.” He implies that women, like men, are entitled by birthright to fulfilling sexual relations. Moreover, his reference to Demetrias’s “root origin {radix}” implicitly refers to the vitally important work of a skillful penis. “To shiver {horrere}” at all physical contract with men suggests virginal sexual responsiveness. In fact, the Latin verb horreo is etymologically associated with “standing erect” and enjoyment. Jerome understood and respected life in the body for both women and men. But he praised and supported Demetrias in seeking to obtain, while still in her body, the life of angels.

Great Mother goddess Cybele

To Jerome, virginity meant passionate devotion to God, exclusive of human sexual relations. Jerome followed that vocation himself. In a letter he wrote in 384, Jerome explained to Eustochium, the daughter of a wealthy Roman senator:

“Increase and multiply.” This command was fulfilled after paradise and nakedness and fig-leaves signifying itching for nuptials. Let them marry and be given in marriage, those who by the sweat of their brow eat their bread, whose earth generates thistles and thorns, whose pasture chokes with brambles. My fertile seed is fruitful a hundredfold. “Not all can seize God’s saying, but only those to whom it is given.” Others are made eunuchs by necessity. I am one by my will. “There is a time for embracing and a time for abstaining from joining hands, a time for casting stones and a time for gathering.” }

{ “Crescite et multiplicamini.” Hoc expletur edictum post paradisum et nuditatem et ficus folia auspicantia pruriginem nuptiarum. Nubat et nubatur ille, qui in sudore faciei comedit panem suum, cui terra tribulos generat et spinas, cuius herba sentibus suffocatur: meum semen centena fruge fecundum est. “Non omnes capiunt verbum Dei, sed hi quibus datum est.” Alium eunuchum necessitas faciat, me voluntas. “Tempus et amplexandi et tempus abstinendi manus a conplexu; tempus mittendi lapides et tempus colligendi.” }[2]

Expelled from paradisaical Eden, ordinary women and men work and marry as their circumstances require. Yet the world also includes others — highly privileged Roman women “who surround themselves with troops of eunuchs {quas eunuchorum greges saepiunt}.”[3] Jerome wasn’t a fawning, sexless eunuch seeking material benefits through closely serving a wealthy woman. Jerome valued seminal fruitfulness. He also recognized an alternate way for such fruitfulness. With manly bravado, Jerome bragged that his fertile seed was a hundredfold fruitful in witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ. Given the seminal influence of Jerome’s Vulgate bible translation, Jerome arguably under-estimated by a large margin his spiritual fruitfulness.[4] Just as he advised Demetrias, Jerome led an angelic life. He led a life like that of the angel Gabriel announcing the incarnation of a fully masculine male in Mary’s womb.

Augustine even more vehemently insisted on the importance of men’s seminal capabilities. He ridiculed the traditional gynocentric Roman religious practice of worshiping the Great Mother earth goddess:

No doubt there is a single earth. The one we see is full of its living creatures. It is also a great body within the lowest part of the world’s elements. Why do Romans wish to make it a goddess? Because it is fruitful? Then why is it not better to regard as gods human beings, who render the earth more fruitful by cultivation — that is, by plowing the earth, not worshiping her? But they say that the part of the world soul that permeates the earth makes her a goddess. As if a soul were not more evident in human beings, where its existence is not questioned! Yet human beings are not regarded as gods.

{ Nempe una est terra, quam plenam quidem videmus animalibus suis, verum tamen ipsam magnum corpus in elementis mundique infimam partem. Cur eam volunt deam? An quia fecunda est? Cur ergo non magis homines dii sunt, qui eam fecundiorem faciunt excolendo; sed cum arant, non cum adorant? Sed pars animae mundi, inquiunt, quae per illam permeat, deam facit. Quasi non evidentior sit in hominibus anima, quae utrum sit nulla fit quaestio; et tamen homines dii non habentur }[5]

Castrated men known as Galli served the earth goddess in traditional Roman religious rituals intended to bring about fruitful harvests. Augustine highlighted the absurdity of destroying men’s seminal blessing to perform gynocentric religious rituals for fruitfulness:

The castrated Galli serve this great goddess in order to signify that those who lack seed should follow after the earth. Is it not rather this service that caused the Galli to lack seed? Do they by following this goddess acquire seed that they lack? Or are they by following her deprived of seed that they had? … If the earth were not a goddess, men would lay their hands on her to obtain by work seeds from her. Men would not savagely lay hands on themselves in order to lose their seed for her sake. If the earth were not a goddess, she would be made fruitful by the hands of others, without forcing a man to be made sterile by his own hands.

{ Itane propterea Galli abscisi huic Magnae deae serviunt ut significent qui semine indigeant terram sequi oportere; quasi non eos ipsa potius servitus semine faciat indigere? Utrum enim sequendo hanc deam, cum indigeant, semen adquirunt, an potius sequendo hanc deam, cum habeant, semen amittunt? … Si dea terra non esset, manus ei homines operando inferrent ut semina consequerentur per illam, non et sibi saeviendo ut semina perderent propter illam; si dea non esset, ita fecunda fieret manibus alienis ut non cogeret hominem sterilem fieri manibus suis. }

Attis dancing for Great Mother goddess Cybele

The first of the Galli was a beautiful young man named Attis. The earth goddess murdered Attis’s girlfriend. He then castrated himself. Traditional Roman religion naturalized this story of violence and sexual oppression of men:

Because the earth’s face is more beautiful in spring than in other seasons, Porphyrius, a famous philosopher, asserted that Attis symbolized flowers. Attis for that reason was castrated because the flower falls before the fruit. The man or quasi-man called Attis himself was not therefore compared with a flower, but rather his male genitals. His genitals while he remained alive indeed fell to earth. Or actually, they did not fall, nor were they picked off, but they were plainly torn away. When that flower was lost, no fruit followed afterwards, but rather sterility. What then about this remnant, what remained after his castration? What does one say this signifies? To what does it refer? What interpretation is henceforth offered?

{ Propter vernalem quippe faciem terrae, quae ceteris est temporibus pulchrior, Porphyrius, philosophus nobilis, Attin flores significare perhibuit, et ideo abscisum quia flos decidit ante fructum. Non ergo ipsum hominem vel quasi hominem, qui est vocatus Attis, sed virilia eius flori comparaverunt. Ipsa quippe illo vivente deciderunt; immo vero non deciderunt neque decerpta, sed plane discerpta sunt; nec illo flore amisso quisquam postea fructus, sed potius sterilitas consecuta est. Quid ergo ipse reliquus, et quidquid remansit absciso? Quid eo significari dicitur? Quo refertur? Quae interpretatio inde profertur? }

The answers to Augustine’s questions are obvious: Attis’s castration and the sackless Galli serving the earth goddess signify oppressive castration culture and totalitarian gynocentrism. Augustine castigated the appalling degeneration of human reason that generated the Galli:

How much better and more honorable to read Plato’s books in a temple of Plato than that in temples of demons the Galli should be castrated and the effeminate consecrated, that madmen should cut themselves, and whatever other cruel or shameful or shamefully cruel or cruelly shameful ugliness should be customarily celebrated in the sacrifices of such gods!

{ Quanto melius et honestius in Platonis templo libri eius legerentur quam in templis daemonum Galli absciderentur, molles consecrarentur, insani secarentur, et quidquid aliud vel crudele vel turpe, vel turpiter crudele vel crudeliter turpe in sacris talium deorum celebrari solet! }

Augustine rejected the ugly Roman goddess of castration culture. The troops of eunuchs serving wealthy Roman women were the secular counterpart to castrated Galli serving the earth goddess. Jerome urged Demetrias and Eustochium not to be like those women. You too should reject castration culture and goddess worship.[6]

Resisting castration culture requires concerted effort. In reasonable understanding, Jewish law forbid even just injuring the organ of seminal blessing in any animal:

You shall not offer to the Lord any animal that has its testicles bruised or crushed or torn or cut, nor shall you do this within your land. [7]

{ omne animal quod vel contritis vel tunsis vel sectis ablatisque testiculis est non offeretis Domino et in terra vestra hoc omnino ne faciatis }

{ וּמָע֤וּךְ וְכָתוּת֙ וְנָת֣וּק וְכָר֔וּת לֹ֥א תַקְרִ֖יבוּ לַֽיהוָ֑ה
וּֽבְאַרְצְכֶ֖ם לֹ֥א תַעֲשֽׂוּ׃ }

Jewish law honored a man’s penis as well as his testicles:

No man whose testicles have been crushed or whose penis has been cut off shall enter the Lord’s assembly.

{ non intrabit eunuchus adtritis vel amputatis testiculis et absciso veretro ecclesiam Domini }

{ לֹֽא־יָבֹ֧א פְצֽוּעַ־דַּכָּ֛א וּכְר֥וּת שָׁפְכָ֖ה בִּקְהַ֥ל יְהוָֽה׃ ס }

The seminal blessing is central to Jewish understanding of the relationship between God and his people. Jewish law represents injury to male genitals as an insult to God.

Archigallus making sacrifice to Great Mother goddess Cybele

Despite the importance of Jewish law to Christianity, some Christian priests faltered under the horrible historical legacy of Roman castration culture and gynocentrism. In 325 in Nicaea in Bithynia (present-day Turkey), the first world council of Christian bishops established a canon law against clerical self-castration:

If anyone due to sickness has undergone a surgical operation, or if he has been castrated by barbarians, he is allowed to remain among the clergy. But if anyone enrolled among the clergy has castrated himself when in perfect health, it is agreed that he must leave the ministry. From now on, no such person should be promoted to the clergy. But since this applies only to those who willfully castrate themselves, if anyone has been made a eunuch by barbarians, or by his master, and is otherwise fit for office, church law admits him to the clergy.

{ Si quis in morbo a medicis excisus, vel a barbaris exsectus est, is maneat in clero. Si quis autem sanus seipsum abscidit, hunc, etiam in clero constitutum, abstinere convenit, et deinceps nullum talem promoveri oportet. Sicut autem hoc manifestum est, quod de iis qui de industria hoc agunt, audentque seipsos abscindere, dictum est: ita si qui vel a barbaris, vel a dominis eunuchi facti sunt, et ii alioqui digni inveniantur, tales in clerum admittit canon. }

{ Εἴτις ἐν νόσῷ ὑπὸ ἰατρῶν ἐχειρουργήθη, ἢ ὑπὸ βαρβάρων ἐξετμήθη, οὗτος μενέτω ἐν τῶ, κλήρῳ· εἰ δέ τις ὑγιαίνων ἑαυτὸν ἐξέτεμε, τοῦτον καὶ ἐν τῷ κλήρῷ ἐξεταζόμενον πεπαῦσθαι προσήκει· καὶ ἐκ τοῦ δεῦρο μηδένα τῶν τοιούτων χρῆναι προάγεσθαι. Ὤσπερ δὲ τοῦτο πρόδηλον, ὅτι περὶ τῶν ἐπιτηδευόντων τὸ πρᾶγμα καὶ τολμώντων ἑαυτοὺς ἐκτέμνειν, εἴρηται, οὕτως εἴτινες ὑπὸ βαρβάρων ἢ δεσποτῶν εὐνουχίσθησαν, εὑρίσκοιντο ἄλλως ἄξιοι, τοὺς τοιούτους εἰς κλῆρον προσίεται ὁ κανών. }[8]

Jesus recognized that some men castrate themselves for the sake of the kingdom of Heaven. That group includes men who castrate themselves not literally, but in the effective sense of refusing to act on their sexual desire in order to ensure that they can freely worship God. At the same time, Jesus regarded as beneath mentioning those men who castrate themselves for worldly advantage in gynocentric society.[9] Through canon law, the early Christian bishops foreclosed the clergy from the careerist self-castrators common in royal courts and among today’s university administrators.

Castration culture is intimately intertwined with disparagement of men’s sexuality. For example, early in the thirteenth century, a monk from Clairvaux named Bernard repeatedly experienced sexual desire for a woman. He strongly opposed this desire, but finally decided that he had to give up being a monk, “because he could not be without a woman {eo quod non posset carere muliere}.” Bernard’s prior urged him to remain at the monastery for one more night. That night Bernard had a terrible dream:

Just after the monk had fallen asleep, behold, he saw at a distance a horrible man who looked like an executioner. Hastening toward him, the man held in his hand a long knife. A huge black dog followed him. At this sight, the monk trembled, not surprisingly. The man, seizing him violently, cut off his genitals and threw them to the dog. The dog immediately devoured them. Waking up from the horror of this vision, the monk thought that he had been castrated. Indeed his condition was so, and yet not by a material knife as the vision showed, but by spiritual grace.

{ Vix tenuiter obdormierat, et ecce conspexit eminus virum horribilem in effigie carnificis ad se properantem, et cultellum longum in manu tenentem, sequebaturque eum canis magnus et niger. Quo viso contremuit. Nec mirum. Ille vero multum impetuose arreptis eius genitalibus abscidit, canique proiecit. Quae mox ille devoravit. Evigilans autem ex horrore visionis, putabat se fuisse eunuchizatum. Quod revera ita erat, et si non ut visio ostendit cultro materiali, gratia tamen spirituali. }[10]

Men have long been disparaged as being sexually like dogs. Cutting off the monk’s genitals and throwing them to a “huge black dog {canis magnus et niger}” symbolically excised the socially constructed bestial aspect of the man’s sexuality. Once his sexuality’s bestial form had been consumed, the monk no longer was tormented with sexual desire for a woman. That suggests that the drive underlying his sexual desire for a woman was desire to have his sexuality affirmed in action as source of joy.[11] More generally, disparagement of men’s genitals hurts men’s sexual freedom and prompts them to seek castration, either figuratively or literally.

The ideological apparatus of gynocentrism and castration culture has induced many women and men today to refer to men’s genitals as “junk.” Those women and men are acting as ancient Roman adherents to the cult of the earth goddess and her castrated servants the Galli. Most men in the center of their being understand castration to be a horror. Most women value the seminal blessing that comes through men. The learned, critical analysis of Jerome and Augustine has enduring value. The barren cultural legacy of the Roman earth goddess and her castrated Galli servants must be consciously recognized and affirmatively resisted.[12]

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Notes:

[1] Jerome, Epistle 130 (To Demetrias) section 10, Latin text from Hilberg (1910) via Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Letters, my English translation, benefiting from those of Freemantle (1892) and Amy Oh. The prior short quote is from section 1 of this letter.

Freemantle favors the reading jejuniorum rigore {rigor of fasts} relative to the alternate jejuniorum frigore {chill of fasts}. But the context suggests a rhetorical contrast with passionate heat. Moreover, the next section of the letter disavows immoderata jejunia {immoderate fasts}. Hence above I’ve used the reading jejuniorum frigore.

In Acts 9:15, the Lord describes Paul of Tarsus, who turned from persecuting Christians, to be a chosen vessel of the Lord. In discussing whether Christians should marry, Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:25 says that he has no commandment from the Lord. Paul himself apparently was married and then became and remained a widower. Burk (2018).

[2] Jerome, Epistle 22 (To Eustochium) section 19, Latin text from Wright (1933) pp. 90, 92, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Freemantle (1892). Jerome quotes Latin translations of Genesis 1:28, Matthew 19:11, and Ecclesiastes 3:5. I translate the Latin text of these quotations as given by Jerome. The quotation marks are editorial. Christian readers of Jerome’s letter would have recognized his quotations without any punctuation.

[3] Jerome, Epistle 22 (To Eustochium) section 16, sourced as previously.

[4] Jerome’s invocation of being a hundredfold fruitful comes from the Gospels’ parable of the sower, specifically Matthew 13:23.

[5] Augustine, On the city of God against the pagans {De civitate Dei contra paganos} (The City of God) 7.23, Latin text from Green (1963), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Dods, Wilson & Smith (1871). The subsequent three quotes are similarly from Augustine’s De civitate Dei 7.24, 7.25, and 2.7. Augustine disseminated De civitate Dei by books between 413 and probably 427.

Prudentius also assailed men castrating themselves to serve the Great Mother goddess. In his account of St. Romanus’s martyrdom, Prudentius has Romanus, while he’s being viciously tortured, condemn the senseless brutality of traditional Roman goddess worship:

There are sacred rites in which you break down your very self,
and with maimed limbs offer your pain.
The divine fanatic thrusts a knife into his arms
and cuts his limbs to propitiate the Mother goddess.
Whirling frenzy is thought to be the order of her mystery;
sparing from proper cutting is held up as impiety.
The severity of wounds determines the merit for Heaven.
Yet another one here dedicates his genitals,
appeasing the goddess by cutting them away from his groin.
This semi-man offers a shameful gift to the goddess,
plucking off that which provides male seed.
Both sexes are displeasing to the holy goddess,
so he holds to a medium between the two types.
He ceases to be a man while not becoming a woman.
The Mother of gods enjoys herself with beardless
servants by means of a well-ground razor.

{ sunt sacra quando vosmet ipsi exciditis,
votivus et cum membra detruncat dolor.
cultrum in lacertos exerit fanaticus
sectisque Matrem bracchiis placat deam,
furere ac rotari ius putatur mysticum;
parca ad secandum dextra fertur inpia,
caelum meretur vulnerum crudelitas.
ast hic metenda dedicat genitalia,
numen reciso mitigans ab inguine
offert pudendum semivir donum deae:
illam revulsa masculini germinis
vena effluenti pascit auctam sanguine.
uterque sexus sanctitati displicet,
medium retentat inter alternum genus,
mas esse cessat ille, nee fit femina.
felix deorum mater inberbes sibi
parat ministros levibus novaculis. }

Prudentius, Book about the Crowns {Liber Peristephanon} 10, The Declarations of Saint Romanus the Martyr against the Pagans {Sancti Romani Martyris contra Gentiles Dicta}, vv. 1059-75, Latin text from Thomson (1949) vol. 2, pp. 298, 300, my English translation, benefiting from that of id.

[6] With admirable courage and vigor in addressing sexual violence against men, Augustine further denounced the Great Mother earth goddess:

The Great Mother triumphed over all her children gods not with greatness of divinity, but with greatness of crimes. To this monster not even the monstrosity of Janus compares. Janus had deformity only in his appearance. The Great Mother had deformed cruelty in sacred rites. He had members added in stone. She had testicles lost from men. … this Great Mother of the Gods even brought her castrated men into Roman temples and has maintained that savage practice. Cutting off the manliness of Roman men is believed to add to Rome’s power. Compared to this evil, what are Mercury’s thefts, Venus’s lasciviousness, and the rapes and disgraces of others?

{ Vicit Matris Magnae omnes deos filios non numinis magnitudo, sed criminis. Huic monstro nec Iani monstrositas comparatur. Ille in simulacris habebat solam deformitatem, ista in sacris deformem crudelitatem; ille membra in lapidibus addita, haec in hominibus perdita. … ista Magna deorum Mater etiam Romanis templis castratos intulit atque istam saevitiam moremque servavit, credita vires adiuvare Romanorum exsecando virilia virorum. Quid sunt ad hoc malum furta Mercurii, Veneris lascivia, stupra ac turpitudines ceterorum }

De civitate De 7.26, sourced as previous quotes from Augustine. Here are explorations of historical sources on the Great Mother Cybele and Attis.

Men’s tendency to treat women as goddesses is well established in literary history. Seeking to win her favor, Odysseus greeted Nausicaa:

I clasp your knees, my queen — are you a goddess or a mortal?
If you are a goddess, one of those who rule the broad heaven,
to Artemis, the daughter of great Zeus,
I liken you most nearly in looks, stature and lithe form.

{ γουνοῦμαί σε, ἄνασσα· θεός νύ τις, ἦ βροτός ἐσσι;
εἰ μέν τις θεός ἐσσι, τοὶ οὐρανὸν εὐρὺν ἔχουσιν,
Ἀρτέμιδί σε ἐγώ γε, Διὸς κούρῃ μεγάλοιο,
εἶδός τε μέγεθός τε φυήν τ᾿ ἄγχιστα ἐίσκω· }

Homer, Odyssey 6.149-52, ancient Greek text and English translation (with my changes) from Murray (1919). Uncaring about men’s abasement to women, Dronke suggested that such a “gambit” shouldn’t be taken seriously. Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 212.

Men’s prevalent practice of regarding women as goddess should be taken seriously. Writing to Abbess Cecilia of Normandy in early twelfth-century France, Hildebert of Lavardin began:

He who is accustomed to be more skillfully speaking than Cicero before men,
is less eloquent when he comes before gods.
Thus I, while among common persons, speak with a skill mouth,
I am able to say little to your face.
Your majestic bearing stupifies. All about my wandering
eye ran. I thought you must be a goddess.

{ Qui solet ante homines Cicerone disserior esse,
facundus minus est, cum venit ante deos.
sic ego, cum medio plebi loquor ore diserto,
in vultu potui dicere pauca tuo.
maiestate tua stupui, totamque vagenti
percurrens oculo, sum ratus esse deam. }

Hildebert of Lavardin, Short Songs {Carmina minora} 46.1-6, “Verses to Ceclia, Abbess of Caen {Versus ad Ceciliam abbatissam Cathomi},” Latin text from Scott (1969) p. 37, my English translation, benefiting from those Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 212, and Otter (2001) p. 103. Cecilia of Normandy was the eldest daughter of William I (William the Conqueror). She became Abbess of the Abbey of the Holy Trinty of Caen / Women’s Abbey {Abbaye de la Sainte-Trinité de Caen / Abbaye aux Dames} in 1113. She died in 1127. Previously, Patrologia Latina 117, col. 1443, attributed this song to be “to a queen of England {Ad Angliae reginam}.” Baudri of Bourgueil similarly described Countess Adela of Blois, the youngest daughter of William the Conqueror, as more beautiful than the goddess Diana. Baudri of Bourgueil, “About Countess Adela {Adelae Comitissae},” v. 88, English trans. in Otter (2001).

While recognizing grounds for men’s sexed protest, Hildebert clearly understood the value of depicting women as goddesses in gynocentric society. Writing to Adela of England, Countess of Blois, Hildebert declared:

He is foolish and sins who equates you to mortals.
It is little in praise, but you will be first to me among goddesses.

{ Desipit et peccat qui te mortalibus equat
est in laude parum sed eris mihi prima dearum }

Latin text from Scott (1969) p. 4, English translation from Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Letters.

Describing women as goddesses wasn’t just a practice of verbally shrewd men flattering elite women to win their favor. Lucretius described how ordinary men idolize their wives. Lucretius was regretfully unsuccessful in dispelling the prevalent delusions of gyno-idolatry.

Modern scholars have tended to obscure the radical social and political relevance of Jerome and Augustine’s critiques of Roman castration culture and gynocentrism. Nichols argues that Jean de Meun in the Romance of the Rose “sees Saturn’s castration as generative, a primordial act giving birth to sexuality.” Nichols (216) p. 16. That’s myth like the myth of Pygmalion. In fact, Jean de Meun urged readers to reject mythic worlds and instead to plow for fertility. Nichols also abstracted Augustine’s critique to argue “the futility of castrating language or of repressing what the imagination evokes.” Nichols (2020). Modern philology is far more guilty of castrating language than medieval authors ever were.

[7] Leviticus 22:24, original Hebrew text (Westminister Leningrad Codex) from BlueLetterBible, Latin text of Jerome’s Vulgate, my English translation drawing on standard biblical translations. Whether “nor shall you do this” refers to violence against testicles, or offering to the Lord a male whose testicles have been injured, isn’t clear. Jerome’s Vulgate favors the first interpretation. Most modern English biblical translations favor the latter interpretation. The subsequent quote is from Deuteronomy 23:1 and is similarly sourced. On these biblical law texts, Nichols (2016) pp. 6-8, Nichols (2020) pp. 3-5.

[8] Canons of the Council of Nicea 1, Greek text from Bright (1892) p. ix, Latin text from Dionysius Exiguus, Codex Canonum Ecclesiae Universae (Patrologia Latina 67, col. 0040D), English translation (with my minor changes) from Schaff, Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers (NPNF) V2-14. The original language of the canon was Greek.

[9] Matthew 19:12. Here’s some analysis of Jesus’s sayings on eunuchs.

[10] Caesarius of Heisterbach, The Dialogue on Miracles {Dialogus miraculorum} 4.117, Latin text from Strange (1851) vol. 1, pp. 265-6, my English translation, benefiting from that of Murray (2019) p. 111 and the bowdlerized translation of Scott & Bland (1929) vol. 1, pp. 302-3. The previous short quote is similarly from this story. Caesarius of Heisterbach wrote Dialogus miraculorum about 1221 near Oberdollendorf in present-day Germany.

Murray notes that “by the twelfth century mulier was commonly understood to mean married woman or wife.” Murray (2019) p. 111, n. 61. Mulier was also commonly understood to mean woman. I’ve used the latter, broader translation above.

[11] Murray ignored historical disparagement of men’s genitals, ignored the huge black dog that consumed Bernard’s genitals, and evoked the trite academic myth of medieval misogyny. Thus Bernard’s dream concerned not primarily Bernard and castration, but misogyny:

Caesurius conveys something of the fear and violence of castration in lived reality, as well as in the monk’s dream. This fear, however, fades in comparison with a more abiding monastic fear: the monk avoided the snare of marriage and the lust that necessarily accompanied having a wife. … It is also a story imbued with misogyny: castration is preferable to legitimate conjugal relations.

Murray (2019) pp. 111-2. That’s fashionable academic nonsense. Bernard’s dream doesn’t indicate that castration is preferable to marital sexual intercourse.

[12] Like gynocentrism, castration culture has been historically entrenched worldwide:

History shows that numerous castrates existed at varying times and in widely diverse areas of the world … Castrates existed in large numbers in societies across the ancient world throughout many periods of history. They were present in the imperial systems of the Roman, Persian, Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires, the Islamic caliphates, the early Christian Church, a sect of Christianity from the late eighteenth century to the modern day, religious sects in India, and choirs and opera troupes of early modern Europe.

Reusch (2013) pp. 30-2 (notes omitted). Castrated men are “one of the most important and long-lasting human phenomena.” Id. p. 47. Reusch, however, offers no critical perspective on men’s social status. Another scholar declared, “Medieval records of castration as either a legal or extrajudicial punishment or humiliation are unsurprisingly numerous.” Steel (2016) p. 1. Why would an academic faithfully believing in the myth of patriarchy and in the master narrative of men’s oppression of women around the world throughout all of history regard as “unsurprising” that numerous men have been humiliated or punished with castration?

[images] (1) Great Mother goddess Cybele seated. Marble sculpture made c. 50 GC. Preserved as accession # 57.AA.19 in J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles, USA), Getty Villa. Source image thanks to Marshall Astor and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Attis dancing for Great Mother goddess Cybele. Marble statue made during the Roman Empire. Preserved as accession # Inv. 1656 in the Vatican Museums / Museo Chiaramonti (Rome, Italy). Image thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons. (3) Archigallus making sacrifice to Great Mother goddess Cybele. Marble relief made in third century. Preserved in Museo Archeologico Ostiense (Rome, Italy). Image thanks to Sailko and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

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Nichols, Stephen G. 2020. “Castration as Exemplum: The Making of a Medieval Trope.” In Kelly Fender McConnell and Michael Meere, eds. Coups de maître: studies in medieval and early modern literature and culture in honour of John D. Lyons. Medieval and Early Modern French Studies, Vol 18. Oxford: Peter Lang.

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Scott, A. Brian, ed. 1969. Hildebert of Lavardin. Hildeberti Cenomannensis episcopi carmina minora. Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana. Leipzig: Teubner.

Scott, Henry von Essen and C. C. Swinton Bland, trans. 1929. Caesarius of Heisterbach. The Dialogue on Miracles. 2 vols. (vol. 1, vol. 2). London: Routledge.

Steel, Karl. 2016. “Logsex in Hell: What a Body Can’t Do.” Paper presented at the conference The Body Unbound: Literary Approaches to the Classical Corpus, Brooklyn College, Oct 7-8, 2016.

Strange, Joseph, ed. 1851. Caesarius of Heisterbach. Dialogus miraculorum: textum ad quatuor codicum manuscriptorum editionisque principis fidem accurate. 2 vols. (vol. 1, vol. 2). Coloniae: J.M. Heberle.

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

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