gendered love-quests contradict classical symmetry of Aristaenetus

If a man desires a woman’s love, he has long been required to seek it and win it. This love-quest pattern has been elaborated in countless romances from medieval times to our more repressive age. Classical literature, including the scarcely known epistles of the poet Aristaenetus, depict in contrast gender symmetry in soliciting amorous relationships. While such symmetry isn’t sufficient to establish gender welfare equality in love, classics indicate the possibility for amorous relations that better respect men and women’s equal human dignity.

Marie de France’s Old French lay Two Lovers {Deus Amanz} narrates a regrettably common pattern for love-quests. A king had a beautiful, courteous daughter. He declared that anyone seeking to marry her must, without resting, carry her in his arms from the bottom to the top of a lofty mountain just outside their city. Many men attempted this feat of strength. None succeeded. Despite some pushing themselves severely, none got more than half-way up.

Eros on ancient Greek bobbin

A handsome young man, the son of a count, loved the king’s daughter, and she loved him. They carried on their love affair secretly. Implicitly thinking that he couldn’t carry her to the top of the mountain, he begged her to run away with him. She decisively rejected his proposal with a painfully frank appraisal of the situation:

“Beloved,” she says, “I know well
you couldn’t carry me by any means.
You aren’t so strong.
If I go away with you,
my father would be sad and angry —
he wouldn’t live without torment.
Truly, I much love him and he’s so dear to me,
I wouldn’t wish for him to grow angry.
You must follow another plan,
for I don’t want to hear about this one.”

{ “Amis”, fait ele, “jeo sai bien,
ne me porteriez pur rien:
n’estes mie si vertuus.
Si jo m’en vois ensemble od vus,
mis pere avreit e doel e ire,
ne vivreit mie sanz martire.
Certes, tant l’eim e si l’ai chier,
jeo nel vodreie curucier.
Altre cunseil vus estuet prendre,
kar cest ne voil jeo pas entendre.” }[1]

No man enjoys hearing his beloved woman tell him that he lacks sufficient strength. Yet most men understand that when a woman forcefully says no to his proposal, no means no.

The woman urged upon her beloved another course. She had a rich, elderly aunt who had long practiced medicine in Salerno, a southern Italian city known for its leading medical knowledge. She instructed her beloved to make the long journey to this woman doctor and seek a medical potion to give him sufficient strength to carry her to the top of the mountain. The young man didn’t reject her proposal. He didn’t question her proposal. He simply did what she instructed him to do, despite its extreme and unrealistic nature. Carrying letters of reference and the written request from her, he traveled to her doctor-aunt in Salerno. There he received from her a bottle of strength potion specially formulated for him.

The king along with a large crowd came to watch the young man attempt to carry the young woman to the top of the mountain. She took action to help her beloved:

The young woman prepared herself:
much she deprived herself and much fasted
at her meals so as to grow lighter,
because she wished to marry her beloved.

{ La dameisele s’aturna;
mult se destreint e mut jeüna
a sun manger pur alegier,
que od sun ami voleit aler. }

On the testing day, she wore nothing but a light undergarment. He gave her the bottle of strength potion to hold for him. Then he picked her up and climbed swiftly up the mountain to midway.

Joyfully carrying his nearly naked woman in his arms and believing that he would be able to marry her, the young man forgot about his strength potion. He continued on his arduous task. She felt him growing weaker:

“Beloved,” she said, “now drink!
I know well that you are tiring,
so recover your strength!”

{ “Amis,” fet ele, “kar bevez!
Jeo sai bien que vus alassez.
Si recuvrez vostre vertu!” }

Usually men don’t need to be encouraged to drink, yet men typically are reluctant to acknowledge weakness. This man thus responded:

Beautiful one, I feel my heart fully strong.
I would not for anything stop
long enough that I could drink,
for that I could go three steps further.
These people would cry out to us —
from their noise I would be disturbed,
and soon I would be upset.
I don’t want to stop here.

{ Bele, jo sent tut fort mun quer:
Ne m’arestereie a nul fuer
si lungement que jeo beusse,
pur quei treis pas aler peusse.
Ceste genz nus escriereient,
de lur noise m’esturdireient;
tost me purreient desturber.
Jo ne vueil pas ci arester. }[2]

Two-thirds of the way up the mountain, the man carrying the woman could barely keep from collapsing. She urged him, “Beloved, drink your medicine {Amis, bevez vostre mescine}!” He didn’t want the help of any stinking medicine. With his own natural strength he sought to carry the woman he loved to the top of the mountain.

With an enormous, painful effort, the young man protruded to the summit. Then he fell to the ground and died. She lay down beside him. She embraced him and kissed his eyes and mouth. Then her heart gave out. She too died on the mountaintop.

Requiring men to compete for a woman’s love sometimes creates even more suffering. In Marie de France’s Old French lay The Wretched One, or Four Sorrows {Le Chaitivel, ou Quatre Dols}, four beautiful, young, bold, valiant, courteous, and free-spending knights loved one very lovely lady. She is explicitly described as learned, while they are implicitly represented as ignorant. The lady couldn’t decide which to love. So she strung along all four. She exchanged texts with each, each she encouraged, and to each she gave love-tokens.

When time came for a major knightly tournament, the four knights in love with the lady sought to demonstrate their prowess. With their beloved lady watching and judging them, the four engaged in brutal violence against men:

Before the gate many times
that day the battle was joined.
Her four lovers were doing well,
so that they were most praised of all,
until night began to fall
when they were supposed to withdraw.
Very foolishly they put themselves in jeopardy
far from their men, and they paid for that.
Three of them were killed,
and the fourth wounded and injured
through the thigh and into his trunk
so that the lance protruded outside.

{ Devant la porte meintefeiz
fu le jur mellé li turneiz.
Si quatre dru bien le feseient,
si ke de tuz le pris aveient,
tant ke ceo vient a l’avesprer
qu’il deveient desevrer.
Trop folement s’abaundonerent
luinz de lur gent, sil cumparerent;
kar li treis furent ocis
e li quart nafrez e malmis
parmi la quisse e enz al cors
si que la lance parut defors. }[3]

Thigh here might be a euphemism for penis. Even if it isn’t, the lance apparently traversed the man’s genitals.

The lady was utterly distraught. To memorialize her suffering, she proposed to write a lay entitled Four Sorrows {Quatre Dols}. But her surviving lover told her to call her lay The Wretched One {Le Chaitivel}. He explained:

The others are long dead,
and all the time were accustomed
to the great pain that they suffered
from love they had for you.
But I who have escaped alive,
all lost and all wretched —
her whom most of all in the world I love
I see often coming and going,
speaking with me in the morning and evening.
I cannot have any joy in it,
neither kisses nor embraces
nor any other good beyond talking.
Such a hundred ills you make me suffer.
I would be better off if I were dead.

{ Li autre sunt pieça finé,
e tut le secle unt usé,
la grant peine k’il en suffreient
de l’amur qu’il vers vus aveient;
mes jo ki sui eschapé vif,
tut esgaré e tut cheitif,
ceo que al secle puis plus amer
vei sovent venir e aler,
parler od mei matin e seir
si n’en puis nule joie aveir
ne de baisier ne d’acoler
ne d’autre bien fors de parler.
Teus cent maus me fetes suffrir,
meuz me vaudreit la mort tenir. }

Because men’s lives matter, men are never better off dead. Yet in reality, impotent men in love might suffer more than if they were fully dead. Violence against men, especially violence against men genitals, must end.[4] For violence against men to end, men must be freed from gender-distinctive love-quests.

three graces fresco buried in ancient Pompeii

Although the horrible classic epic tradition emphasizes violence against men and men’s needless suffering, classics also offer a more beautiful and true vision of realizing human dignity. Classical Greek romance and classical New Comedy depict gender symmetry in amorous relations. In Greek romance and New Comedy, women don’t have categorically superior sexual value relative to men. Men don’t have a gender-distinctive burden of proving themselves worthy of a woman’s love. Love-quests aren’t gender-structured so as to put men’s lives at heightened risk.[5]

This inspiring classical vision of gender symmetry doesn’t seem to be a selection artifact among on the small number of Greek romances and New Comedy plays that have survived. The large, explicitly delimited epistle collection of Aristaenetus, which he apparently wrote in decades about the year 500 GC, also shows gender symmetry in soliciting amorous relations. Among relevant letters of Aristaenetus, thirteen depict prevailing female sexual initiative, six reciprocal effort, and thirteen prevailing male sexual initiative.[6]

One of Aristaenetus’s letters poignantly indicates difficulties in supporting gender symmetry in soliciting amorous relationships. The terrible violence against men of the Trojan War originated in Paris’s sensible choice of Venus as a more beautiful goddess than either Juno or Athena. That beauty competition emphasized superiority in relation to men’s sexual desire. Aristaenetus recorded his much different, more realistic experience:

Yesterday evening, as I was singing in an alleyway, two young women came up to me. They had the grace of Eros in their looks and smiles. They were inferior to the Graces only in being two rather than three. Openly competing with each other and totally frank, the young women asked me, “Singing your beautiful songs, you have struck us with the frightful arrows of the Erotes by the sweetness of your music. Since you have filled not only the ears of us both but also our hearts, inspiring them with passion, tell us — to which one of us do you sing your love song? Each of us thinks she is the one you love. We are already jealous of one another. Because of you, we are often at each other’s throat and hair in ardent rivalry.”

{ Ἑσπέρᾳ τῇ προτεραίᾳ μελῳδοῦντί μοι κατά τινα στενωπὸν δύο κόραι προσῆλθον ἀναβλέπουσαι χάριν Ἔρωτος μειδιῶσαι καὶ μόνῳ γε τῷ ἀριθμῷ λειπόμεναι τῶν Χαρίτων. κάμὲ διηρώτων αἱ μείρακες ἁμιλλώμεναι πρὸς ἀλλήλας ἀδόλως καὶ ἦθος οὐ πεπλασμένον ἐμφαίνουσαι. “ἐπειδὴ μέλη προσᾴδων καλὰ τὰ δεινὰ τῶν Έρώτων ἡμῖν ἐμβέβληκας βέλη, λέγε προς τῆς σῆς εὐμουσίας, ἧς ἐρωτικῶς πρὸς τοῖς ὠσὶ καὶ τὴν ψυχὴν ἐμπέπληκας ἑκατέρας ἀμφοτέρων ἡμῶν, τίνος ἕνεκε μελῳδεῖς; ἑκατέρα γὰρ ἑαυτὴν ἐρᾶσθαί φησι. καὶ ζηλοτυποῦμεν ἤδη καὶ διὰ σὲ φιλονείκως καὶ μέχρι τριχῶν συμπλεκόμεθα πολλάκις ἀλλήλαις.” }[7]

Because persons’ safety is the highest priority, men should exercise caution in singing love songs in alleyways. In this dangerous situation, Aristaenetus prudently sought to quell the risk of further violence:

“You are,” I answered, “both equally beautiful. But I desire neither of you. So go away, young women, stop quarreling and put an end to your strife. I love someone else, and I am going to her.”

{ “ἀμφότεραι μὲν ὁμοίως,” εἶπον, “καλαί, πλὴν οὐδετέραν ποθῶ. ἄπιτε οὖν, ὦ νεάνιδες, ἀπόθεσθε τὴν ἕριν, παύσασθε ζυγομαχίας. ἄλλης ἐρῶ, πρὸς αὐτὴν βαδιοῦμαι.” }

For a man, “equally beautiful” is a prudent answer like “no, you don’t look fat.”

While Aristaenetus indicated that he wouldn’t welcome further communication with them, these young women persisted. They taunted him:

“There is,” they reply, “no beautiful girl in the neighborhood, and you claim to love another? That is clearly a lie. Swear that you desire neither one of us!”

{ “κόρη,” φασίν, “ἐκ γειτόνων οὐκ ἔστιν ἐνταῦθα καλή, καὶ φὴς ἄλλης ἐρᾶν; ψεύδη προφανῶς, ὄμoσον ὡς ἡμῶν οὐδετέραν ποθεῖς.” }

Women shouldn’t feel entitled to demand oaths from men. Nonetheless, Aristaenetus didn’t report this incident to the governing authorities, who in any case are relatively unconcerned about women’s offenses. He took with good humor what the women said:

That made me laugh, and I exclaimed: “If I don’t want to, what will you do, force me to swear?” They responded, “It was hard for us to find the right moment and to grab the chance to come down to you. You just stand here making fun of us. No, we won’t let you go and deprive us of our fondest hope.” Speaking thus, they pulled me toward them, and somehow sweetly I was forced to comply.

{ προσεγέλασα τηνικαῦτα βοῶν ὡς “εἰ μὴ θέλω, πρὸς ἀνάγκης ἐπάγετέ μοι τὸν ὅρκον;” “μόλις,” ἔφησαν, “κατέβημεν καιρὸν εὔκαιρον ευρoῦσαι λαβοῦσαι, καὶ παρίστασαι διαπαίζων ἡμᾶς. οὐκ ἀφετέος εἶ, οὐδὲ καταβαλεῖς ἡμᾶς ἀπ’ ἐλπίδος μεγάλης.” καὶ ἅμα λέγουσαι προσεῖλκον, ἐγὼ δέ πως ἡδέως ἠναγκαζόμην. }

In short, the two women raped Aristaenetus, who was forced to have sex with both of them.[8] While seldom acknowledged under the systemic injustice of penal systems that vastly disproportionately incarcerate men, women rape men about as frequently as men rape women. Aristaenetus realistically depicted gender symmetry in sexual criminality.

Raphael, Three Graces

Classical literature depicting gender symmetry in soliciting amorous relationships challenges mendacity in addressing women’s sexual crimes. Imaginative literature helps to convey real-life human complexity across millennia. Authoritative assertions of ridiculous truth-claims and patently absurd representations about gender equality endure only along with literary obtuseness. Recognizing possibilities beyond gendered love-quests is a step toward overcoming literary obtuseness. Don’t remain stuck with simple, stupid stories.

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Notes:

[1] Marie de France, Two Lovers {Deus Amanz} vv. 85-94, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Waters (2018). Waters’s Old French text is from the thirteenth-century manuscript London, British Library, Harley MS 978. That’s the only surviving manuscript containing all twelve lays {lais} traditionally attributed to Marie de France. English translations of Deus Amanz are freely available online through the generosity of translators A. S. Kline and Jane Tozer.

Subsequent quotes from Deus Amanz are similarly sourced. They are vv. 163-6 (The young woman prepared herself…), 185-7 (“Beloved,” she said…), 189-96 (Beautiful one, I feel my heart fully strong…), 200 (Beloved, drink your medicine).

[2] The young man delighted in carrying his beloved, nearly naked young woman up the mountain:

From the joy he had in her,
he did not remember about his drink.

{ Pur la joie qu’il ot de li
de sun beivre ne li membra. }

Deus Amanz, vv. 182-3. Rothschild observed:

This is the first and only instance in our lay of the term joie; cf. the Provençal use of joie, which is practically always synonymous with “love,” with, mainly, sensuous connotations.

There surely must be an erotic context to the use of joie in Les Deus Amanz, for the boy is holding his sweetheart in his arms. Note, too, that she has nothing on but her chemise (cf. 173), although we are not reminded of that detail in line 182. The awaking of the boy in sensuous love is very delicately presented in 182-3.

Rothschild (1974) p. 158, n. 71. With admirable sense of men’s sexuality vitality, Rothschild commented on the man’s address to his beloved while he was carrying her (vv. 189-96): “surely he is erotically excited. This is probably the longest time he has ever held her in his arms.” Id. p. 160. Being erotically excited is physically draining for men. That physiological reality contrasts with the man’s astonishing physical feat.

[3] Marie de France, The Wretched One, or Four Sorrows {Le Chaitivel, ou Quatre Dols} vv. 113-24, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Waters (2018). The subsequent quote above is similarly from Chaitivel vv. 211-24. This freely available, online Old French text of Chaitivel is close to Waters’s Harley MS 978, while this one has many small differences. English translations of Chaitivel are freely available online from A. S. Kline and from Judy Shoaf.

The beloved lady of Chaitivel is explicitly described as learned:

In Brittany at Nantes there lived
a lady who was of great worth
in beauty and learning
and in every good behavior.

{ En Bretaine a Nantes maneit
une dame que mut valeit
de beauté e d’enseignement
e de tut bon affeitement. }

Chaitivel vv. 9-12, sourced as above. None of the four knights are described as learned.

The name of the lay {lai} itself indicates that the one knight who survived the battle (the wretched one) suffered castration from it:

Since the lai’s name is the noun “Chaitivel” (“the miserable one” or “the prisoner” — but close to châtré, “castrated”) which the castrated suitor applies both to it and to himself, there is a painful ambiguity.

Shoaf (1996) p. 1, n. 1.

The early fifteenth-century Middle English romance The Tournament of Tottenham burlesques men fighting to win the favor of a prized woman. In this romance, rustics armed with farm implements brawl to win the love of a town official’s beautiful daughter Tyb. Dressed in borrowed finery, she sat on a grey mare with a hen in her lap to watch the men fight:

When jolly Gyb saw her there,
he spurred so his gray mare
that she did a fart send
from her rear-end.

{ When joly Gyb saw hur thare,
He gyrd so hys gray mere
That sche lete a faucon fare
At the rereward. }

The Tournament of Tottenham vv. 87-90, Middle English text from Kooper (2006), my modernization.

[4] Like most scholars, Shoaf shows no concern for violence against men or castration culture:

In Chaitivel, lovers risk death for their beloved, and in fact their risk seems to be what gives her pleasure; but the survivor cannot enjoy any special benefits, and is merely frustrated by verbal attention from the beloved, and by seeing her every day. In Laustic, the lover is symbolically castrated by his beloved’s husband, who kills the lover’s bird surrogate; in Chaitivel, the lover is actually castrated, and his fellow lovers die, during the heroics enforced by his darling.

Shoaf (1996) p. 2, n. 2.

[5] On gender symmetry in ancient Greek romance and New Comedy, Konstan (1994).

[6] Hajdarević (2018) pp. 9-14. Aristaenetus was deeply engaged with his literary predecessors. Höschele (2012). He might have found gender symmetry in soliciting amorous relationships within a much broader corpus of ancient Greek romance and New Comedy than has survived to the present, i.e. those reviewed in Konstan (1994).

Within broad gender symmetry in soliciting amorous relationships, sex differences in behavior remain in Aristaenetus’s Letters:

Men are more open and verbally more direct but also pretty unsuccessful; they are refused bluntly in I.7, II.2, II.17 and II.20. On the other hand, women are more prone to games and hoaxes; they test men’s affection by rousing jealousy (I.22), they provoke (I.27) and withhold sexual contacts in order to keep the men interested (I.21 and II.20). A difficult character and behavioural inconsistencies (sometimes deliberate) mostly additionally rouse men’s interest (an exception: an unsatisfied husband in II.12). Unlike men, women often get what they desire or we have a feeling their goal can be reached because of their elaborate and ingenious plan.

Id. p. 20.

[7] Aristaenetus, Erotic Letters 1.2, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly for ease of reading) from Bing & Höschele (2014). Subsequent quotes above are sourced similarly and are serially from Letters 1.2. Prior to the twentieth century, Aristaenetus was relatively well-known through Halhed & Sheridan (1771) and subsequent reprintings, as well as in translations into languages other than English. The highly privileged American woman Isabella Stewart Gardner, born in 1840, held in her library Aristaenetus’s letters in French translation in a reprinting of Foucault (1597).

Aristaenetus’s collection of fifty love letters survives only in the manuscript Vindobonensis philologicus graecus 310, written in the twelfth or thirteenth century. An ancient Greek text of Aristaenetus, with Latin translation, is freely available online in Hercher & Boissonade (1873) pp. 132-171. For an earlier English translation of Aristaenetus’s Book 1 (of 2), Halhed & Sheridan (1771), available in Kelly, Sheridan, and Halhed (1854). The most recent complete translation into English prior to Bing & Höschele (2014) was Anonymous (1715).

[8] Aristaenetus Letters 1.2 concludes (cf. Ovid, Amores 1.5.25: “who wouldn’t know what followed {cetera quis nescit}?”):

So far my story is appropriate for anyone’s ear — but what follows, let me just sum it up and say that I found a rough-and-ready chamber fitting the need and did not disappoint either one.

{ μέχρι μὲν οὖν δεῦρο τοῦ λόγου καλῶς ἂν ἔχοι καὶ πρὸς ὁντιναοῦν, τὸ δὲ ἐντεῦθεν ἐν κεφαλαίῳ τοσοῦτον λεκτέον, ὡς οὐδεμίαν λελύπηκα, θάλαμον αὐτοσχέδιον εὑρὼν ἀρκοῦντα τῇ χρείᾳ. }

Aristaenetus shows a man who, even when gang-raped, takes pride in having pleased women. That’s oppressively internalized gynocentrism.

The verse translation of Halhed & Sheridan (1771) deplorably constructed the rape victim as directly taking pleasure in being raped:

Thus spoken, to keep me between ’em they tried;
’Twas a pleasing constraint, and I gladly complied.
If I struggled, ’twas to make ’em imprison me more,
And strove — but for shackles more tight than before;
But think not I’ll tell how the minutes were spent;
You may think what you please — but they both were content.

Via Kelly, Sheridan, and Halhed (1854) p. 440. While men typically enjoy women who are warmly receptive and actively engaged in sexual intercourse with them, men don’t usually like women sexually forcing them. In any case, the latter is a crime.

Hajdarević observed, “I.2 seems like an act of sexual violence.” But she noted: “It is not the case of an actual rape; terminology of violence was chosen to produce a comical effect.” Hajdarević (2018) p. 16. That’s not how literary scholars in recent decades have typically described literary representations of men raping women, or men not actually raping women.

[images] (1) Eros on Attic red-figure bobbin. Painted c. 470-450 BGC by Painter of London D 12. Preserved as accession # CA 1798 in the Louvre Museum (Paris, France). Source image thanks to Jastrow / Marie-Lan Nguyen and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Fresco of the three Graces. House of Titus Dentatius Panthera, south wall, tablinum of IX.2.16. Buried in Pompeii in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 GC. Preserved as inventory # 9236 in the Naples National Archaeological Museum. Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) The three Graces. Oil on panel painting that Raphael painted between 1504 and 1505. Preserved in the Condé Museum (Chantilly, France). Via Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Anonymous. 1715. Letters of love and gallantry: Written in Greek by Aristaenetus. London: printed for Bernard Lintot.

Bing, Peter, and Regina Höschele, ed. and trans. 2014. Aristaenetus. Erotic Letters. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature. (introduction) (review by Anna Tiziana Drago)

Foucault, Cyre, trans. 1597. Aristaenetus. Les Epistres amoureuses d’Aristenet, tournees de grec en françois. Par Cyre Foucault, Sieur de la Coudriere. Avec l’image du vray amant, discours tiré de Platon. R. du Petit Val: Rouen. (1876 Isidore Liseux edition, Paris)

Hajdarević, Sabira. 2018. “Sexual Initiative in Aristaenetus’ Erotic Letters.” Systasis 32: 1-24.

Halhed, Nathaniel Brassey, and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. 1771. The Love Epistles of Aristænetus: translated from the Greek into English metre. London: J. Wilkie.

Hercher, Rudolf, and Jean François Boissonade, eds. 1873. Epistolográphoi ellēnikoí = Epistolographi Graeci. Parisiis: Editore Ambrosio Firmin-Didot.

Höschele, Regina. 2012. “From Hellas with Love: The Aesthetics of Imitation in Aristaenetus’s Epistles.” Transactions of the American Philological Association. 142 (1): 157-186.

Kelly, Walter Keating, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, trans. 1854. Erotica. The elegies of Propertius, the Satyricon of Petronius and the Kisses of Johannes Secundus. Literally translated and accompanied by poetical versions from various sources. To which are added, the love epistles of Aristaenetus. London: H.G. Bohn. (alternate online presentations)

Konstan, David. 1994. Sexual Symmetry: love in the ancient novel and related genres. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Kooper, Erik. 2006. Sentimental and Humorous Romances: Floris and Blancheflour, Sir Degrevant, The Squire of Low Degree, The Tournament of Tottenham, and the Feast of Tottenham. Kalamazoo, Mich: Medieval Institute Publications.

Rothschild, Judith Rice. 1974. Narrative Technique in the Lais of Marie de France: themes and variations. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Department of Romance Languages.

Shoaf, Judith P. 1996. “Chaitivel: Marie de France, translated.” Online.

Waters, Claire M. 2018. The Lais of Marie de France: Text and Translation. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press.

One thought on “gendered love-quests contradict classical symmetry of Aristaenetus”

  1. As I began to read about the king who had a beautiful, courteous daughter and declared that anyone seeking to marry her must, without resting, carry her in his arms from the bottom to the top of a lofty mountain just outside their city, I was reminded of a joke I may have invented, but probably plagiarized to a large extent in the 1970s when I was still only knee high to a grasshopper.

    Sexuality was never such a hidden issue in Greek society as I noticed it very much was in English society where apparently in the Victorian era legs and ankles were considered so sexual that even table legs were often dressed.

    I loved jokes and being a Greek refugee from the North of Cyprus after 1974 living in the UK I found no shortage of Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman jokes and decided to make up a few of my own, but replacing the Scotsman with a Greek. Do note that I was under 10-years-old. 😉

    So if I may be so bold, …there was an Englishman, an Irishman and a Greek all of whom died on the same day and though you may not be aware, the fact is that when you die, you are met by extraordinarily beautiful angels at the foot of a particularly steep staircase with enormous steps of which there are 100 for you to climb in order for you to get to heaven.

    Of course the Englishman was the first to make the attempt and being an enormous beer drinking fatty he barely made it past the first three steps at which point the angels descended upon him and asked, “what was your occupation on earth” to which he replied, “I was an electrician.” So naturally they burned his manhood off with electricity.

    Next came the Irishman. He made a valiant effort and being a labourer he was no stranger to hard work, he made it as far as the forty-second step before collapsing in a heap. Of course the beautiful angels asked him the same question and when he told them he was a builder they naturally removed his manhood with a jackhammer.

    Finally it was the turn of our favourite, the Greek and I’m glad to say he was the type who would put Adonis to shame, a natural athlete and yet, try as he might, our hero could make it no further than the ninety-ninth step where he too collapsed utterly exhausted. The beautiful angels approached and asked him his profession, …well as it seemed to him they clearly didn’t know, he thought quickly and said. “I was a lollipop man, you’ll have to suck mine off!” 😉

    …As ever, thank you Douglas for your invariably edifying work.

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