madly in love: fool for Gallus love lacked Eracle’s Christian wisdom

Over two millennia ago, the Roman poet and military leader Cornelius Gallus figured insane love and love as war. The enormity of these love figures in defining love norms within subsequent European culture can hardly be under-estimated. The most influential challenge to Gallus’s ideas about love has been the Christian New Testament. In twelfth-century France, the cleric Gautier d’Arras centrally contrasted Gallus’s love and Christian love in his story of the empress Athenaïs committing adultery.

After an extensive bride-show failed to provide a suitable wife for the Roman Emperor Laïs, Athenaïs through the annunciation of Eracle gained that highly privileged position without even seeking it. She was a young, beautiful, and impoverished woman. She was also loyal, pious, sensible, intelligent, and good-spirited. Emperor Laïs and all the Roman people came to love dearly Empress Athenaïs.

After seven years of blissful marriage, Laïs had to leave Rome to quash a rebellion. That would be a long and difficult military campaign besieging a city. Laïs was reluctant to depart from his wife, but her traveling with him would be too difficult and dangerous for her. As the Roman Emperor, he was required to lead this violence against men. He feared not the violence, but losing his wife’s love:

He would be forced always to have fear,
for a courtly lover always fears
losing what he holds in his hands,
for he is always afraid in love.
One never suspicious has never loved!

{ tos jors estuet que crieme i ait,
que fins amans tos jors se crient
de perdre ce c’a ses mains tient,
qu’il a tos jors crieme en amor:
qui ne mescroit, ains n’ama jor! }[1]

Those fearful and suspicious in love are loving in the way of Gallus. Jesus instructed his followers to be not afraid before the revelation of love. Those who love in the way of Gallus lack wisdom in their madness:

And even a wise man
always fears very distressingly,
henceforth no man will ever be wise
if he does all that the love god requires of him.
But self-made madness isn’t such
as is natural madness,
because one can be very wise in character
who is very foolish in courtly love,
and that madness and that knowledge
make one have fear in love.

{ Et sages hom meïmement
se crient tous jors molt durement,
mais ja nus hom sages nen iert
s’il fait tout ce c’Amors requiert.
Mais se folie n’est pas teus
com est folie natureus,
car teus est de molt sage ator
qui molt est faus en fine amor,
et tel folie et tel savoir
font en amor paour avoir. }

Here the “love god {Amors}” is the traditional Greco-Roman love god of Gallus. The associated analysis of wisdom and foolishness must be read along with Paul of Tarsus’s words about a different god of love:

For since in the wisdom of god, the world through wisdom did not know god, it pleased god through the foolishness of what we preach to save those who believe.

{ ἐπειδὴ γὰρ ἐν τῇ σοφίᾳ τοῦ θεοῦ οὐκ ἔγνω ὁ κόσμος διὰ τῆς σοφίας τὸν θεόν εὐδόκησεν ὁ θεὸς διὰ τῆς μωρίας τοῦ κηρύγματος σῶσαι τοὺς πιστεύοντας }[2]

In Christian understanding, god is love. Christians are fools for the sake of Christ. Being madly in love in the worldly sense of Gallus isn’t wise in Christian understanding.

holy fool Nikolay Salos castigating Ivan IV

Emperor Laïs sought advice from his divine counselor Eracle on how to keep an eye on the Empress Athenaïs during his long absence. Eracle vehemently advised against putting her under guard. He declared:

Lord, if you restrain her
with locks or barring,
no shackles of iron or locking
will ever manage to hold her.
If you let her do what suits her,
she’ll be such a good wife as never was.
Leave her fully in peace, lord,
so to have always a good beloved.

{ Sire, se vos le destraigniés
n’en fremetés n’en siereüre,
loiiens de fer ne fremeüre
ne le poroit jamais tenir.
Se vous laissiés çou couvenir,
3035 si bone feme n’ert jamais.
Laissiés le, sire, tout em pais
si arés tous jors bone amie. }[3]

Eracle understood that matters concerning men’s relations with women are complicated. Some women will betray men who trust them. Eracle was certain that Athenaïs was not such a woman.

Laïs insisted that he wanted advice on how to guard his wife. Eracle in response observed that some counselors will tell their lord whatever their lord wants to hear. He declared that only foolish lords have such counselors. Eracle again advised Laïs not to confine Athenaïs under guard. Defying Eracle’s advice, Laïs had her confined to a heavily fortified tower under the watchful eyes of twenty-four trusted barons with their wives. Then Laïs left Rome for his lengthy, distant imperial duty.

While Laïs and his men soldiers were brutally suffering in besieging the rebel city, Athenaïs was lamenting being confined in the spacious, safe imperial tower. She reasoned instrumentally in relation to her husband:

I see nothing that isn’t a thing
for me to grieve. My heart makes the case against me
that I for god and for honor
have kept the faith of my lord.
Certainly I am not aware
of a thing that I have gained
apart from great dishonor heaped upon me.

{ Je ne voi onques nule cose
qui ne me griet; mes cuers me cose
que je por Diu et por honor
ai foi gardee mon signor;
car je ne sui aperceüe
de cose que jou aie eüe
fors de grant honte c’on m’alieve. }

Athenaïs recalled again and again that she had been faithful to her husband and that he had treated her badly. Her resentment tormented her.

The time came for a grand festival in Rome. All the people of Rome attended this festival, and the empress customarily attended as well. The young, noble men of Rome would play harps and dance for the empress there. Athenaïs insisted on her customary attendance even while her husband was out of town. All her guards accompanied her to the festival.

The preeminent young man at the festival was Paridés. The son of a Roman senator, he was the best dressed, most handsome, and most courtly of all the young men. He had beautiful eyes, lovely curly hair, a finely sculpted face, shapely arms, and an attractive, well-built body. Leaping and twirling, he danced vigorously in front of Athenaïs. He also played sweetly on his harp. She gazed on him, and he gazed on her, and they became madly in love with each other.[4]

Athenaïs and Paridés both experienced all the symptoms of Gallus’s love madness. They suffered great distress, uncertainty, and inner torment. Neither was able to sleep at night. They turned pale and refused to eat. They continually sighed, wept, and lamented the misfortune of not being with the beloved other. They regretted that love had attacked them. Both sensed that they were on the verge of dying.

An old woman, a friend of Paridés’s family, intervened to save him from death. She perceived that he was languishing in love for a woman. With her womanly wisdom gathered from many years of life, she told him:

Not even the most lowly woman in Rome,
if she saw a very high man
languishing for her in such a manner,
would not become haughty and proud.
According to many witnesses, a woman always
comes closer to him who is more distant
such that there wasn’t much familiarity.
And those who are well set-up with her
are thrust well behind
for lamenting in this manner.
A woman doesn’t esteem highly
a man who is too captivated by her.
But she loves that one, esteems that one
who has her under foot, who has her captivated.
I, who am I woman, say it by my experience.
I have made many men anguish in the past
when I was a young wench.
I wouldn’t have loved a man for all Toulouse
because he loved me. Instead I’d play with him,
but I’d always take from him.
To the contrary, I gave sexual access to those
who weren’t concerned about my love.

{ Il nen a tant vil garce en Rome,
s’ele veoit un bien haut home
languir por li en tel maniere,
ne devenist estoute et fiere.
Feme est tos jors de tel tesmoing
que mius li vient plus en est loing
por qu’il n’i soit bien acointiés,
et teus i est bien empointiés
qui s’en reboute bien arriere
por dolouser en tel maniere.
A feme n’est pas de grant pris
hom puis que trop en est soupris,
mais celui aime, celui prise
qui l’a sous piés, qui l’a souprise.
Jel di por moi qui feme sui:
ja ai je fait maint home anui;
quant je estoie jovene touse
je n’amaisse home por Toulouse
por qu’il m’amast, ains l’amusoie,
ne mais du sien tos jors prendoie:
a ceus le donoie a droiture
qui de m’amor n’avoient cure }

Most men throughout history have had great love for women. That’s not to men’s advantage. The old women counseled Paridés to be moderate in his love. She assured him that she could acquire for him love from the woman whom he loved. A strong, independent, self-confident woman, she explained:

There isn’t any woman, if I so seek,
whom I cannot make to believe in my god.
I’m not speaking of the god of history,
of the “Our Father” and of the gospel.
I know of such trickery and guile
that your good would be obtained,
even if it were with the empress.

{ Il n’i a nule, se je voel,
que je ne face en mon diu croire:
je parol bien d’el que d’estoire,
de patre nostre et d’evangile;
tant sai de barat et de gile
que vostres bons ert acomplis,
se c’ert nes li empereïs. }

The old woman’s god was sex. Devotion to that god provided her with mammon. Paridés fainted when he heard her mention the empress. The old woman then discerned that he was in love with the empress. She assured him that she could help him even with the empress.[5] Then she encouraged him to take some soup. Paridés’s mother, distressed that her son was wasting away without eating, was so delighted with him taking soup that she gave the old woman a good cloak and much money.

The old woman then acted as a go-between in arranging a sexual encounter for the empress and Paridés. Under those arrangements, Athenaïs rode out to the festival on a prized, frisky horse. As she was passing by the old woman’s house, she struck the horse. It bucked and she fell into a pre-arranged puddle. She then went into the old woman’s house to change her clothes and treat her alleged rheumatism with warmth and rubbing. The men imperial guards stood outside the house. Inside, the old woman opened a trap door. Paridés was waiting for Athenaïs in an underground den. They met for the first time and quickly had bestial sex.[6] Then Athenaïs returned to her place in front of the fire. The old woman closed the trap door and covered it to make invisible the existence of a man within an underground chamber. Athenaïs’s guards were completely fooled.

Emperor Laïs’s divine counselor Eracle perceived immediately that the empress had committed adultery. He informed the emperor, who then ceased besieging the rebel city and returned to Rome. Athenaïs knew that Eracle with his extrasensory perception would perceive her crime. She knew that cuckolding the emperor would subject Paridés to the death penalty and her probably to some less severe punishment. In her love madness, she committed adultery despite the expected cost to her beloved and her.

Eracle declared that Emperor Laïs was at fault. Showing considerable concern for his own reputation as a counselor, Eracle declared to Laïs:

It’s your fault for what she has done.
She was chaste and noble and free from sin.
She was the best woman in all the world
when you put her in prison,
so making a great mistake.
I told you in public
that you would lose her for this.

{ que c’est par vos canqu’ele a fait.
Ele ert et caste et fine et monde,
ele ert li miudre riens del monde;
quant le mesistes en prison,
si fesistes grant mesproison,
que je vos dis tout en oiant
que vos le perderiés par tant }

That Laïs did wrong doesn’t imply that he’s to blame for Athenaïs doing wrong. But blaming a man makes for a more popular story. With Christian compassion, Eracle advised:

If you don’t want to keep her any longer,
let her go as is suitable.
You can arrange an amicable parting from her
by the Pope’s law.

{ Se vos nel volés mais tenir,
toute le laissiés convenir;
se vos en partés bielement,
par l’apostole loiaument }

Despite his distress, Laïs recognized his wrong in not following Eracle’s earlier advice. He realized that he must follow the wise-fool Eracle’s advice now. Laïs thus granted mercy to Paridés, a divorce to Athenaïs, and provisions such that the two could marry. In ceasing to besiege a city and acting mercifully toward his wayward wife, Emperor Laïs rejected Gallus’s love madness and love warfare. He acted instead with the wisdom of fools for Christ.[7]

Gallus’s figures of love madness and love as war have been even more damaging to human relationships than has been the men-abasing ideology of courtly love. Those who know nothing of classical and medieval love poetry nonetheless love under its influence through representations all around them. Freedom from the shackles of oppressive poetic culture doesn’t come easily. At least Christians can strive to be madly in love as fools for a much different love god.

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[1] Gautier d’Arras, Eracle vv. 2992-6, Old French text from Pratt (2007), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Raynaud de Lage (1976) represents an earlier critical edition. Besieging a city / a man insistently pleading for entry at the door of a beloved woman’s house is a figure of Gallus’s insane love.

Subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are similarly from Eracle. They are vv. 2997-3006 (And even a wise man…), 3030-7 (Lord, if you restrain her…), 3317-24 (I see nothing that isn’t a thing…), 4139-60 (Not even the most lowly woman in Rome…), 4174-80 (There isn’t any woman, if I so seek…), 4972-8 (It’s your fault for what she had done…), 5007-10 (If you don’t want to keep her any longer…).

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:21. More generally, 1 Corinthians 1:18-31, 3:18-20, 4:1-14. On not being afraid, e.g. Isaiah 40:9-11, Mark 5:35-43. On the Christian god being love, e.g. John 13:34, 1 John 4:7-21, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.

[3] Eracle here alludes to god setting prisoners free in Psalm 107:14-6.

[4] Pratt (2007) translated “qui sont d’amor soupris” (v. 3509) as “those who have fallen madly in love.” A more literal translation is “those who are captivated by love.” In Gallus’s figures of love, the military metaphor of being captured is closely associated with being madly in love.

[5] The old woman go-between is a well-established character in medieval literature. Examples can be found in the weeping-dog fabliau, Libro de buen amor (Trotaconventos), Judah al-Harizi’s Tahkemoni, medieval Welsh erotic poetry, and La Celestina (Celestina), among other medieval works.

In the thirteenth-century pseudo-Ovidian About an old woman {De vetula}, an old woman was extremely reluctant to take up the work of a go-between for Ovid:

I implore you, by the gods, do not trouble me further
about this matter! I ask that you permit me to finish
my old age in peace. I would prefer to live in safety
than for the sake of riches go to the dead with bloody hands.
This poverty of mine should suffice for me
for the few days that fate, one thinks, will grant me.
Let me pass! I would prefer to live in safety
than have your promise subject me to so much fear.

{ Obsecro per superos ne sollicitaveris ultra
Me super his! In pace meam finire senectam
me, rogo, permittas. Magis eligo vivere tuta,
sufficiatque mihi paupertas haec mea paucis,
quos mihi concedunt fatalia pensa, diebus,
quam pro divitiis adeam cum sanguine manes,
Esto, quod evadam! Magis eligo vivere tuta,
quam metui tanto tua me promissio subdat! }

De vetula vv. 2.371-8, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020) pp. 220-1. The old woman eventually took up the job for high pay. Unable or unwilling to convince the young woman to sleep with Ovid, the old woman arranged a bed-trick to sleep with Ovid herself.

[6] Pratt interprets Gautier d’Arras to be rationalizing Athenaïs committing adultery: “he has produced a largely sympathetic account of how an active heroine responds to marital injustice and loss of freedom.” Pratt (2007) p xl. Another scholar has interpreted Eracle to be critical of courtly love: “courtly love, masquerading as a superficial veneer for animal passion, is being satirised by Gautier.” Id., citing Pierreville (2001) p. 191. Pierreville’s reading seems to me more perceptive. In satirizing courtly love, this section of Eracle may have influenced the thirteenth-century Old Occitan Flamenca.

[7] Pratt seems to me to misinterpret the love contrast between Laïs and Athenaïs / Paridés: “The couple’s concept of fin’amor (4913-44), a compulsion which cannot easily be broken, is similarly contrasted with Laïs’s possessive love (2959-68, 2983-3009).” Pratt (2007) p. xliii. Ovidian fin’amor is a development of Gallus’s love madness. Both Laïs and Athenaïs / Paridés behave according to that pattern, which includes possessiveness and jealousy. In the end, however, Laïs shifts to Christian expressions of love: repentance, self-sacrifice, and mercy.

The hagiography and folk-tale episodes preceding the adultery episode in Eracle establish Eracle as a wise-fool. He’s conceived when his mother follows bizarre angelic instructions to have sex with her husband on a particular carpet placed on the floor. Eracle and his mother accept selling him into slavery to get more money for alms-giving. Eracle’s apparently foolish recommendations concerning stones, horses, and women turn out to be astonishingly wise. Emperor Laïs belatedly recognized the wisdom of the wise-fool Eracle in relation to women.

The adultery episode in Eracle has a didactic thrust. It doesn’t celebrate love madness briefly consummated in a hole in the ground. It doesn’t ridicule Laïs or laugh with him about the comic position of husbands. Cf. Konstan (2014) on adulterous wives in classical Greece. The adultery episode in Eracle goes beyond satire to function as a substantive Christian critique of Gallus-Ovidian love madness.

[image] Holy fool Nikolay Salos reproaches Ivan the Fearsome (Ivan IV) for bloodthirstiness at Pskov. Painting by Pelevin Ivan Andreevich {Пелевин Иван Андреевич}. Painted in 1877. Preserved in the Art Gallery of the Foundation of Generations of the Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug of Ugra {Художественная Галерея Фонда поколений ХМАО Югры} (Russia). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Hexter, Ralph J., Laura Pfuntner, and Justin Haynes, ed. and trans. 2020. Appendix Ovidiana: Latin poems ascribed to Ovid in the Middle Ages. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 62. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Konstan, David. 2014. “Laughing at Ourselves: Gendered Humor in Classical Greece.”  In Anna Foka and Jonas Liliequist, eds. Humour, Gender and Laughter Across Times and Cultures. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.

Pierreville, Corinne. 2001. Gautier d’Arras: l’autre Chrétien. Paris: H. Champion.

Pratt, Karen, ed. and trans. 2007. Gautier d’Arras. Eracle. King’s College London Medieval Studies 21. London: King’s College London, Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies.

Raynaud de Lage, Guy, ed. 1976. Gautier d’Arras. Eracle. Paris: Champion. Published online in by ENS de Lyon in the Base de français médiéval, last revised 28-5-2013.

Lysistrata leads men’s strike: “Not while I’m bleeding!”

Joe: Hail, most manly of all women {χαῖρ᾿, ὦ πασῶν ἀνδρειοτάτη}. Lysistrata, you’re the last hope for men and for the whole world. Please help us!

Lysistrata: You ignorant hater, sometimes I think you deserve to be locked up for losing your job and not being able to produce your mandatory monthly child-support payments. I told you my pronouns are he/him. According to feminists, you’ve been operating patriarchy worldwide since the dawn of agriculture. You should at least be able to get my gender right.

Joe: I’m sorry, Lysistrata, truly I am. On top of having to borrow money for those sex-penalty payments, my brother was just killed working construction, and my father has been falsely accused of rape. My mind’s a little unsettled. Forgive me. You’re the most manly of all men. Please help us!

Lysistrata: Here’s the first step: we men have to stop working so hard on gender gaps. Gaps are everywhere, yet our minds are obsessed with one particular type of gender gap. Let’s get a grip on ourselves and rub that erection out!

Joe: I’d like to. Believe me, a lot of boys and men do. But for me it’s awkward. I still bleed from the chafing of my prosthetic against the hip stump left from the Taliban IED. It takes time to unwrap the bandages and get access to myself.

Lysistrata: Do you have any self-consciousness as a man?

Joe: Sure, I do whatever repairs my wife tells me to do, I buy for her birthday and her wedding anniversary whatever she tells me she wants. I kill any bugs or rodents she finds in the house, I take out the garbage, take care of the yard, and do all kinds of stuff that doesn’t count as housework. She doesn’t let me cook and clean. She says I don’t do it right.

Lysistrata: No, no, that’s just doing stuff for your honey that she doesn’t want to do herself. Do you have any self-consciousness as a man, as a human being that bleeds human blood?

Joe: Sometimes she’ll scratch me or or she’ll slash at me with a kitchen knife. But I can still hobble and dodge quickly, despite having lost most of one leg in Afghanistan. I’ve always managed to bandage my wounds before they bleed too much.

Lysistrata: Men don’t understand the extent of their bleeding. Women and men for decades have been allocating massive resources to fighting violence against women and inventing new reasons to incarcerate even more men. But violence against men is much more prevalent than violence against women. Men bleed more than women do. Violence against men must end.

Iwo Jima Marine Corps Memorial info panel: remembering Marines

Joe: That’s just the way it is. Spartan mothers wanted their sons to die in battle rather than flee. You don’t see mothers today marching to demand that sexist Selective Service registration be repealed. Mothers still prefer to have their sons die in battle rather than their daughters. Whatever mothers want is the way it is.

Lysistrata: If we men unite, we can end violence against men. Look at all the men coming to the Mall. It’s as if they had as much consumer spending power as women. Do someone tell them there’s free beer and televised football here?

Joe: No. Word spread across online gaming sites that Lysistrata is organizing a massive men’s strike to end violence against men. Gamers know that men are used and abused and that media gaslighting creates fake news for a gynocentric world.

Zuck’s chorus:

You know those dead white men,
oh, woe’s me, when will it end,
they keep on putting us down,
silencing us all around!

Tweet, squish, void, you go, Aristophanes, Cicero!
Tweet, squish, void, you go, Aristophanes, Cicero!


I sat at home one day, exhausted, spent
from classical political infighting,
and I’m so really irritated and fed up.
I tried to pump the magazine’s lead posts
into his brain. No harm. He didn’t read.
Full Harvard Press. He’s still not squished, not fired.

Zuck’s chorus:

He had it coming, he had it coming,
he only had himself to blame!
If you had been there, if you had read it,
you would have burned his work the same!

Tweet, squish, void, you go, Aristophanes, Cicero!
Tweet, squish, void, you go, Aristophanes, Cicero!


Facebook, forget it, no one will share his work.
They can’t like it, even if they like it,
he’s a dead white man. Aiee!
Come Hecate, with us Artemis, even
Amazon join Google. AI his head!
We’ll burn his work to cinders — yes we can!

Zuck’s chorus:

He had it coming, he had it coming,
he took classics at its prime,
and then he used it, and he abused it.
We did a murder, but not a crime!

Tweet, squish, void, you go, Aristophanes, Cicero!
Tweet, squish, void, you go, Aristophanes, Cicero!

You know those dead white men,
they keep on putting us down,
oh, woe’s me, when will it end,
silencing us all around!

Lysistrata: Ignore that razzle dazzle. This is going to be bigger than the Men’s March for More Men Elementary School Teachers.

Aeneas: Sorry I’m late. We got hit by a storm at sea. Are we men really going do something to prevent disasters like the Trojan War?

Lysistrata: You should have departed earlier from Dido at Carthage.

Aeneas: No kidding. Mad, mad woman, but she did burn up our bed.

Lysistrata: Good to see you, Dosikles. You’re looking beautiful and thus virtuous.

Hercules: Yup, I’d say he’s attractive. No bravery needed.

Lysistrata: Good to see you here, Hercules. Did Omphale recant her claim that you beat her?

Hercules: Yup, but the prosecutor locked me up anyway. Alcmene bailed me out, bless my mom’s heart.

Hippolytus: Not all mothers are like that. Socrates should bring this question to light. Where is he?

Juvenal: His wife Xanthippe didn’t allow him to leave the house.

Lysistrata: We don’t need Socrates and his academy in the clouds. We need to take decisive action. Men of the world, unite! It’s time to strike!

Hercules: If your woman calls the cops on you, you’ll be in jail no matter what.

Lysistrata: Think, you knuckle-dragger. We’re gonna strike with words!

Euripides: Words? You think we’ll win with words? Not against women.

Lysistrata: You write too much. Poetry didn’t get women where they are.

Euripides: What will we perform, if not poetry? If we don’t perform, we won’t win.

Hector orders Paris from women to war

Lysistrata: Men must stop performing for praise. From now on, whenever anyone wants a man to perform, that man must refuse, saying, “Not while I’m bleeding.” Men, gather round. Everyone practice saying plaintively, mournfully, “Not while I’m bleeding.”

Joe: That’s pathetic.

Hippolytus: That’s prophetic.

Lysistrata: This isn’t just a sex strike. It’s a garbage-removing strike, a fix-it strike, a lift-it strike, a do-this strike, a do-that strike. It’s a “meninism is the radical notion that men are human beings” strike. It’s a strike for men’s lives. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, “Let war be women’s occupation {πόλεμος δὲ γυναιξὶ μελήσει}.”

Aristotle: Alexander the Great refused to learn when I tried to teach him. Listen and learn: U.S. active duty deaths in the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf wars were 95,156 dead men and 25 dead women.

Joe: Since 2015, women have been fully integrated into the U.S. armed forces.

Aristotle: Since 2015, U.S active duty military deaths have been 89 dead men and 4 dead women. When will gender equality be achieved? Equality must not be just for the present but also with thoughtful consideration of the deeply entrenched historical inequality in valuing men’s and women’s lives.

Lysistrata: It’s just as I keep saying, “Let war be women’s occupation {πόλεμος δὲ γυναιξὶ μελήσει}.” Men should no longer engage in violence against men. Our posture should be hard. We should stand prominently erect. We should proudly declare: “Not while I’m bleeding.” Tell that to Neil Golightly and his ex-colleagues at Boeing. Let men suffer war no more. Let men enjoy sexual wind-surfing!

Gallus: I know that love is war, and I did declare that love conquers all, but I never tried to use women in the Roman army. I’ve heard that the Roman historian Orosius regarded women as fierce fighters.

Lysistrata: I myself have commanded women in a successful assault on men:

You, spawn of the marketplace, sally forth,
you garlic-vendors-gardeners-grain-dispensers,
you bakers-greens-growers-barmaids,
punch them, pound them, smash them,
call them names, the nastier the better!

{ ὦ ξύμμαχοι γυναῖκες ἐκθεῖτ᾽ ἔνδοθεν,
ὦ σπερμαγοραιολεκιθολαχανοπώλιδες,
ὦ σκοροδοπανδοκευτριαρτοπώλιδες,
οὐχ ἕλξετ᾽, οὐ παιήσετ᾽, οὐκ ἀράξετε;
οὐ λοιδορήσετ᾽, οὐκ ἀναισχυντήσετε; }

These women, heroic female saviors of Athens, won an overwhelming victory.

Menelaus: All those women had to do was to bare their breasts. Then the men would have surrendered, forgiven all, and served them as they always have.

Lysistrata: That won’t happen after I get all the men to bind themselves with a solemn vow and a formal ritual.

Valerius: That sounds like it’s a prelude to an expensive, special-day wedding ceremony. My beloved brothers, I’m afraid for you. Don’t do it!

Lysistrata: Calm down, just calm down. Men, let’s parade to the Washington Ex-Cooke Football Stadium. There we’ll pour three pints of ale for each other, and chant together: “Not while I’m bleeding!” Once we all have memorized that strike phrase, we’ll make our solemn vow of men’s solidarity and men’s liberation, and we’ll burn our jock straps.

Dis: Hell yes!

(At the Washington Ex-Cooke Football Stadium, crowds of men whirling jockstraps over their heads enter the stadium to the booming music of Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird.)

Lysistrata (over the PA system): What do we want?

Crowd of men in stadium: Beer!

Lysistrata: When do we want it?

Crowd of men: Now!

Lysistrata: How do we get it?

Crowd of men: Pour it for each other!

Lead Gaffer / Key Grip addresses the audience, narrating the action:

Men of all race, color, creed, and religion, old men and young men, classics professors and construction workers, married and unmarried men — all then take turns pouring each other beers. When they have each drunk three cups, they start a huge fire in the middle of the football stadium. Then the men throw their jock straps on the fire and cheer raucously. After the fire begins to subside and the cheers diminish to loud, friendly banter, Lysistrata starts the solemn oath.

Lysistrata: To every request for us to do, what do we in our human being say?

Crowd of men: Not while I’m bleeding!

Lysistrata: Say it again!

Crowd of men: Not while I’m bleeding!

Lysistrata: Again!

Crowd of men: Not while I’m bleeding!

Lysistrata: Say it loud, say it proud, not just monthly, but every minute of every hour of every day and night! We are human beings, we are men! Let’s hear us roar!

Crowd of men: Not while I’m bleeding!


Ask any of the supplicators pegged in my pen,
they’ll say I’m the most domineering mother hen.
I love ’em all and all of them love me
because the system works, it is what it is,
the system called gynocentrism and gyno-idolatry.

Got a little motto,
about the system true —
when you’re good to Big Mama,
Big Mama’s good to you.

There’s a lot of favors
I’m prepared to do.
You do one for Big Mama,
I’ll do one for you.

Zuck’s chorus:

Racist, sexist, let ’em protest — drink
your tears, you dogs. No one cares at all.
Racist, sexist systemic injustice — we declare
the social structures of gender underwear!
Racist, sexist, homophobic men-loving
men! Silence those creeps for safety, or else!

Andromache mourning dead Hector

Lysistrata: The yes-woman choir of the men-hating media must be overthrown. Men of the vanguard, we go to conquer the citadel of manufacturing mental slavery. Phalanx, forward!

Man news reader: Women of Washington, cowering at home under COVID-19 house arrest, liberation has come! Today is a new day at DC’s premier television news station, WPMS. Heroic men have seized WPMS. With our must-see line-up of new news programming, we will free your minds for happiness, not bait you and provoke you to misery with the same old story. And never again will docker-haters castrate all the herm statues in this city.

In our top news story, men around the globe are continuing not to do anything. Today Eve Cuntler declared that men must stop the rape of women. Let’s ask Augustine of Hippo what he is going to do to stop the rape of women.

Augustine of Hippo: I’m going to meditate on my breathing and do absolutely nothing. And I’m going to urge all men likewise to do absolutely nothing. Not while we’re bleeding.

Man news reader: Wives are demanding that their husbands do more woman-standard cooking and cleaning. Husbands are responding, “Not while I’m bleeding.” Girlfriends are demanding sex from their boyfriends, and their boyfriends are responding, “Not while I’m bleeding.” Men are leaving the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines because they no longer want to fight for their country. “Not while I’m bleeding,” they say.

The situation has gotten so bad that many men are baring their chests and scratching themselves with their own nails. Then they tape sanitary napkins to their chests to absorb the flow of blood. In ancient Rome, men displayed war wounds on their chests to get public respect. For men today, having sanitary napkins taped to their chests has become a fashionable emblem of men’s new meninist self-consciousness and self-respect.

Another man news reader: In these gender-troubled times, public policy needs Great Ideas. You can count on WPMS to serve the public interest. We thus now present to you, live, the Great Ideas Policy Canon. On one side are diverse pundits favoring meninism. On the other side are diverse pundits supporting anti-meninism. All these pundits have years of experience as journalists interviewing each other. Have at it!

Meninist pundit: This crisis is a result of a global conspiracy by all women {τουτὶ τὸ πρᾶγμα πανταχόθεν ξυνομώμοται ὑπὸ τῶν γυναικῶν}. Name a single woman who has done anything to overturn sexist draft registration and gender-equalize combat deaths. We’re got a long way to go to achieve gender equality.

Anti-meninist pundit: Why don’t you shut your snout and die? Lots of grave sites here. Go buy a coffin. I’ll make a funeral cake for you. {σὺ δὲ δὴ τί μαθὼν οὐκ ἀποθνῄσκεις; χωρίον ἐστίν· σορὸν ὠνήσει· μελιτοῦτταν ἐγὼ καὶ δὴ μάξω.}

Meninist pundit: You shut up, or I’ll bang and ball you out of your decrepit hide. {εἰ μὴ σιωπήσει, θενών σου ᾿κκοκκιῶ τὸ γῆρας.}

Anti-meninist pundit: I’ll tear out your lungs and your inners with my fangs. I’ll be the last bitch that bites off your balls. I’ll kiss you whether you consent or not. {βρύκουσά σου τοὺς πλεύμονας καὶ τἄντερ᾿ ἐξαμήσω. ἄλλη σου κύων τῶν ὄρχεων λάβηται. ἤν τε βούλῃ γ᾿ ἤν τε μή.}

Meninist pundit: Rape! … Can’t live with the devils, can’t live without them. {οὔτε σὺν πανωλέθροισιν οὔτ᾽ ἄνευ πανωλέθρων.}

Anti-meninist pundit: Women, beat your breasts for Adonis! {κόπτεσθ᾿ Ἄδωνιν!}

Meninist pundit: Men of the world, dicks out for Harambe!

Anti-meninist pundit: Men! Awful, nasty men, hard at work. No decent men, no god-fearing men, would ever behave like this. {ἄνδρες πονωπονηροί· οὐ γάρ ποτ᾿ ἂν χρηστοί γ᾿ ἔδρων οὐδ᾿ εὐσεβεῖς τάδ ἄνδρες.}

A member of Zuck’s choir: The whole world’s gone dull-void. Thing’s ain’t what they used to be.

Another member of Zuck’s choir: They sure ain’t, girl-girl. They sure ain’t. It’s all gone.

Zuck’s choir:

Whatever happened to fair reading?
And pure ethics?
And nice manners?
Why is it everyone now is a pain in the ass?
Whatever happened to classical class?

Oh, classical class, oh Prince Paris!
Now there ain’t no gentlemen
to open up Athenian doors.
There ain’t no courtesan ladies now,
only just pigs and whores.
Even a nobody blogger will knock you down
for literary amusement and some gas.
Nobody’s got no classical class.

Now, no one even says “oops” when they’re
having a laugh and passing their gas.
Whatever happened to classical class?

All you read about lately is rape and rape.
Lock up more men, and defund the police.
Catharine MacKinnon Almighty, I can’t feel my own hate!
Nobody’s got no classical class.

Zuck: Women at Harvard Business School feel unloved!

Choir member: Every guy’s an oppressive devil.

Another choir member: Every gal’s a poor, innocent angel.

Yet another choir member: Holy shit, what a shame.

Zuck’s choir, all together: What became of classics?

(Zuck’s choir morosely, silently departs from the theater.)

Lysistrata: The women are withdrawing. We’re victorious!

Joe: Please don’t leave. I’ll bleed for you!

Lysistrata: Traitor!

(The men gather into a choir on stage. Confused, they silently, morosely gaze upon the women leaving.)

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


The above play is an adaptation of Aristophanes’s ancient Greek comedy Lysistrata. Lysistrata was performed in Athens in 411 BGC. The ancient Greek phrases above are from Lysistrata and are preceded by my English translations, benefiting from the English translations of Roche (2005) and Henderson (2000). The quotes from Lysistrata are used above in the manner of a cento. The full Greek text of Lysistrata is available in the edition of Hall & Geldart (1906) via Perseus and Hayes & Nimis (2017), which includes a parallel English translation by Ian Johnston. The full English translations of George Theodoridis (2000) and Edward Einhorn (2005) are freely available online.

The above play includes parodies of songs from the musical Chicago. Chicago premiered on Broadway in New York City in 1975, was revived in 1996, and made into a movie in 2002. The original score is available through the Internet Archive. The songs parodied above are “Cell Block Tango,” “When You’re Good to Mama,” and “Class.” Here’s “What Became of Class” from the 2002 movie.

The old women of Lysistrata (quoted in part in the agon above) have been interpreted as exemplifying heroic female action to save Athens. Faraone (1997). More generally, Lysistrata has tended to be interpreted gynocentrically:

The Lysistrata has had a deeply divided reception in the last half century or so, hailed as the first feminist text in western culture and at the same time dismissed as an early example of pornography that degrades women.

Faraone (2006) p. 207. Implicitly supporting gynocentrism, classicists have treated uncritically violence against men and continuing sexist draft registration of men, even in societies filled with pious professions of intense concern for gender equality.

The reception of Aristophanes’s Lysistrata is similar to the reception of Virgil’s Dido. However Lysistrata is interpreted, she should be revered as an “intelligent female leader”:

As I now see it, in his portrayal of Lysistrata Aristophanes cleverly alternates between two very different images of an intelligent female leader. As scholars have recognized, in some scenes he casts her in the role of an aristocratic priestess of Athena — very like the much respected priestess of Athena at the time of the play’s performance, a woman who in fact has a similar sounding name: Lysimache. Commentators have not, however, fully appreciated a second persistent image of female authority in the play: Lysistrata the courtesan, who knows how to manipulate men sexually and who controls the sexuality of a group of young and attractive women in a manner not at all unlike the way a madam runs a brothel.

Faraone (2006) p. 207. Classical Arabic literature and medieval European literature provide a more critical perspective on courtesans.

The U.S. military active-duty death statistics by sex that Aristotle quotes are factually correct. The figures for the Korean, Vietnam, and Persian Gulf wars are from CRS (2020) Table 3. The figures for 2015 and subsequent years are those for Operation Freedom’s Sentinel, which represents U.S military operations in Afghanistan from Jan. 1, 2015. Id. p. 27 and Table 23. The figures encompass active-duty deaths through July 16, 2020. Additional U.S. military active-duty death statistics are available online through the Defense Casualty Analysis System of the U.S. Defense Manpower Data Center.

[images] (1) Information panels “Here We Remember Them All” placed on the left and right side of the Iwo Jima Marine Corps War Memorial in Rosslyn, VA. Photo by Douglas Galbi. (2) Hector disparages Paris for remaining with Helen and orders him to participate in the Trojan War. Painted by Johann Heinrich Wilhelm Tischbein in 1786. Preserved in the Augusteum (Oldenburg, Germany). Image thanks to James Steakley and Wikimedia Commons. (3) Andromache mourning over the dead body of Hector, killed in the Trojan War. Painted by Jacques-Louis David (excerpted) in 1783. Preserved as accession # D.L. 1969-1 in the Louvre Museum (Paris, France). Via Wikimedia Commons. Images (2) and (3) illustrate elements of Homer’s Iliad.


CRS (Congressional Research Service). 2020. American War and Military Operations Casualties: Lists and Statistics. Updated July 29, 2020. RL32492.

Faraone, Christopher A. 1997. “Salvation and Female Heroics in the Parodos of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies. 117: 38-59.

Faraone, Christopher A. 2006. “Priestess and Courtesan: The Ambivalence of Female Leadership in Aristophanes’ Lysistrata.”  Pp. 207-23 in Faraone, Christopher A. and Laura McClure, eds. Prostitutes and Courtesans in the Ancient World. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press.

Hall, F. W. and W. M. Geldart, eds. 1906. Aristophanes. Comoediae. 2nd ed. 2 vols: vol. 1, vol. 2. London: Oxford University Press.

Hayes, Evan and Stephen Nimis, eds. 2017. Aristophanes’ Lysistrata: A Dual Language Edition. Greek text edited by F. W. Hall and W. M. Geldart; English translation and notes by Ian Johnston. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing.

Henderson, Jeffrey, ed. and trans. 2000. Aristophanes. Birds. Lysistrata. Women at the Thesmophoria. Loeb Classical Library, 179. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Roche, Paul, trans. 2005. Aristophanes. The Complete Plays. New York, N.Y.: New American Library.

Eracle’s annunciation to Athenaïs in relational and cultural context

In the twelfth-century Old French romance Eracle, a thousand beautiful young women competed in a bride-show to select the emperor’s wife. The divinely perceptive imperial advisor Eracle determined that none of them was worthy to be the emperor’s wife. Returning from the bride-show on his fine horse, Eracle saw in the old quarter of Rome a beautiful young woman dressed in an old tunic. When she saw Eracle approaching her, she was troubled and afraid. She ran into her aunt’s house and hid there.

Holy Virgin Kataphigi (of refuge)

Eracle went to the house and greeted the aunt. He asked who was the young woman wearing the old tunic. She was Athenaïs, an orphan living in poverty in the care of her aunt. Athenaïs was the daughter of an eminent Roman senator from the revered ancient Greek city of Athens. But her father had died, and her mother too. Her fortune then dramatically fell. Delighted with this young woman, Eracle asked her aunt to have her come out to him.

In the ancient world, mothers experienced similar situations in relation to their daughters. For example, Crobyle and her daughter Corinna were living in poverty after the money-providing father of their family had died. Crobyle was barely keeping her daughter and herself fed by doing some weaving and spinning. She understandably hoped that Corinna would become a high-earning young woman.

Corinna received a good sum of money for having sex for the first time with the young man Eucritus. She regarded him fondly. Her mother encouraged her to sleep with other young men as well. Her mother wanted her to become a courtesan like Daphnis’s daugher Lyra. That proposition upset the young, innocent Corinna. Her mother responded:

What’s so terrible about that? It means you can have lots of lovers and be as rich as she. Why are you weeping, Corinna? Don’t you realize how many girls are courtesans? How the men run after them, and how much money they make? God forgive me for saying, but I know for a fact that Daphnis dressed in rags until her daughter grew up. Now look at how she goes out with her gold jewelry, embroidered gowns, and four servants.

{ Οὐδὲν τοῦτο δεινόν· καὶ σὺ γὰρ πλουτήσεις ὡς ἐκείνη καὶ πολλοὺς ἐραστὰς ἕξεις. τί ἐδάκρυσας, ὦ Κόριννα; οὐχ ὁρᾷς ὁπόσαι καὶ ὡς περισπούδαστοί εἰσιν αἱ ἑταῖραι καὶ ὅσα χρήματα λαμβάνουσι; τὴν Δαφνίδος1 γοῦν ἐγὼ οἶδα, ὦ φίλη Ἀδράστεια, ῥάκη, πρὶν αὐτὴν ἀκμάσαι τὴν ὥραν, περιβεβλημένην· ἀλλὰ νῦν ὁρᾷς οἵα πρόεισι, χρυσὸς καὶ ἐσθῆτες εὐανθεῖς καὶ θεράπαιναι τέτταρες. }[1]

Corinna’s mother explained how Daphnis’s daughter became so successful:

First of all, she dresses attractively and tastefully. And she’s cheerful with all the men, not that she giggles at the least little thing like you do, but she smiles sweetly and enticingly. When men come and visit her or take her out, she knows how to talk to them, and without throwing herself at them, she gives them what’s coming to them. Whenever she’s invited to a dinner party as a paid escort, she never gets drunk — that’s making a fool of yourself; men can’t stand women who do that — and never behaves like a pig and gorges herself. She handles her food with the tips of her fingers, doesn’t smack her lips over a mouthful, and doesn’t gobble away with both cheeks full. She drinks slowly, never gulping, but just sipping.

{ Τὸ μὲν πρῶτον κατακοσμοῦσα ἑαυτὴν εὐπρεπῶς καὶ εὐσταλὴς οὖσα καὶ φαιδρὰ πρὸς ἅπαντας, οὐκ ἄχρι τοῦ καγχαρίζειν ῥᾳδίως καθάπερ σὺ εἴωθας, ἀλλὰ μειδιῶσα ἡδὺ καὶ ἐπαγωγόν, εἶτα προσομιλοῦσα δεξιῶς καὶ μήτε φενακίζουσα, εἴ τις προσέλθοι ἢ προπέμψειε, μήτε αὐτὴ ἐπιλαμβανομένη τῶν ἀνδρῶν. ἢν δέ ποτε καὶ ἀπέλθῃ ἐπὶ δεῖπνον λαβοῦσα μίσθωμα, οὔτε μεθύσκεται—καταγέλαστον γὰρ καὶ μισοῦσιν οἱ ἄνδρες τὰς τοιαύτας—οὔτε ὑπερεμφορεῖται τοῦ ὄψου ἀπειροκάλως, ἀλλὰ προσάπτεται μὲν ἄκροις τοῖς δακτύλοις, σιωπῇ δὲ τὰς ἐνθέσεις οὐκ ἐπ᾿ ἀμφοτέρας παραβύεται τὰς γνάθους, πίνει δὲ ἠρέμα, οὐ χανδόν, ἀλλ᾿ ἀναπαυομένη. }

Corinna in her innocence asked her mother if Daphnis’s successful daughter drinks slowly even when she’s thirsty. Her mother responded sharply, and then provided further instruction:

Especially when she’s thirsty. She never says more than she should, never makes fun of the other guests, and always has eyes only for the man who’s paying her. That’s why they all think so much of her. When it’s time for her to sleep with the man, she’s never lewd but never acts as if she doesn’t care. Her only concern is to lead a man on and make him passionate about her. So they all praise her. Now, if you’d only learn these things, we could be just as blessedly happy as Daphnis is.

{ τότε μάλιστα, ὦ Κόριννα. καὶ οὔτε πλέον τοῦ δέοντος φθέγγεται οὔτε ἀποσκώπτει ἔς τινα τῶν παρόντων, ἐς μόνον δὲ τὸν μισθωσάμενον βλέπει: καὶ διὰ τοῦτο ἐκεῖνοι φιλοῦσιν αὐτήν. καὶ ἐπειδὰν κοιμᾶσθαι δέῃ, ἀσελγὲς οὐδὲν οὐδὲ ἀμελὲς ἐκείνη ἄν τι ἐργάσαιτο, ἀλλὰ ἐξ ἅπαντος ἓν τοῦτο θηρᾶται, ὡς ὑπαγάγοιτο καὶ ἐραστὴν ποιήσειεν ἐκεῖνον: ταῦτα γὰρ αὐτὴν ἅπαντες ἐπαινοῦσιν. εἰ δὴ καὶ σὺ ταῦτα ἐκμάθοις, μακάριαι καὶ ἡμεῖς ἐσόμεθα. }

Corinna wanted to know if all the men who hire girls are like her charming Eucritus.

Not all. Some, of course, are even nicer. Some are more masculine. And some aren’t good-looking at all.

{ οὐ πάντες, ἀλλ᾽ ἔνιοι μὲν ἀμείνους, οἱ δὲ καὶ ἤδη ἀνδρώδεις, οἱ δὲ καὶ οὐ πάνυ μορφῆς εὐφυῶς ἔχοντες. }

With a hint of the resentment some daughters feel at their mothers’ demands, Corinna asked if she must have sex with men who aren’t good-looking.

Certainly. They’ll even pay you a better price. The good-looking ones care about one thing only, their good looks. And you must always keep your eye on the better price if you want to hurry the day when people will point you out and say, “Look, that’s Corinna, Crobyle’s daughter. She’s so rich. And she’s made her mother so happy!” What do you say? Will you do it? You will, I know you will, and you’ll be the best of them all, easily. You’d better run along and take your bath now if your Eucritus is coming today. He promised, you know.

{ μάλιστα, ὦ θύγατερ: οὗτοι μέν τοι καὶ πλείονα διδόασιν: οἱ καλοὶ δὲ αὐτὸ μόνον καλοὶ θέλουσιν εἶναι. καὶ σοὶ δὲ μελέτω ἀεὶ τοῦ πλείονος, εἰ θέλεις ἐν βραχεῖ λέγειν ἁπάσας ἐνδειξάσας σε τῷ δακτύλῳ, Οὐχ ὁρᾷς τὴν Κόρινναν τὴν τῆς Κρωβύλης θυγατέρα ὡς ὑπερπλουτεῖ καὶ τρισευδαίμονα πεποίηκε τὴν μητέρα; τί φής; ποιήσεις ταῦτα; ποιήσεις, οἶδα ἐγώ, καὶ προέξεις ἁπασῶν ῥᾳδίως. νῦν δ᾽ ἄπιθι λουσομένη, εἰ ἀφίκοιτο καὶ τήμερον τὸ μειράκιον ὁ Εὔκριτος: ὑπισχνεῖτο γάρ. }

The happiness of mothers knowing that their sons have died in battle rather than prudently fled or surrendered has historically been celebrated. However, because of systemic sexism, mothers have little reason to encourage their sons to have sex with many women. Corinna faced the burden of her mother’s expectations in the context of privileged opportunities for women.

Nonetheless, attempting to please mother has at times been a burden even for daughters. One young woman got in trouble with her mother for kissing a man she shouldn’t and not having sex with the man she should:

And then you didn’t sleep with him? You actually sang while he was moaning and groaning? My dear daughter, don’t you realize we’re penniless? Have you forgotten all we’ve gotten from him, how we would have had to struggle last winter if the love goddess hadn’t sent him to us?

{ εἶτα οὐδὲ συνεκάθευδες, ἀλλὰ καὶ ᾖδες ἐκείνου δακρύοντος; οὐκ αἰσθάνῃ, ὦ θύγατερ, ὅτι πτωχαί ἐσμεν, οὐδὲ μέμησαι ὅσα παρ᾽ αὐτοῦ ἐλάβομεν ἢ οἷον δὴ τὸν πέρυσι χειμῶνα διηγάγομεν ἄν, εἰ μὴ τοῦτον ἡμῖν ἡ Ἀφροδίτη ἔπεμψε }[2]

Another mother complained that her daughter was dating a man who wasn’t paying her anything, but only promising to marry her in the future. Meanwhile, she was refusing to sleep with men offering her a lot of money. Her mother scornfully recounted:

Yesterday that farmer from Acharnia — he didn’t have a beard either — came here with two big bills, money from the wine his father had sent him to sell. You turned up your nose at him. You had to sleep with your Adonis, that boy Chaereas.

{ καὶ πρῴην μὲν ὅτε ὁ γεωργὸς ὁ Ἀχαρνεὺς ἧκε δύο μνᾶς κομίζων, ἀγένειος καὶ αὐτός — οἴνου δὲ τιμὴν ἀπειλήφει τοῦ πατρὸς πέμψαντος — σὺ δὲ ἐκεῖνον μὲν ἀπεμύκτισας, καθεύδεις δὲ μετὰ τοῦ Ἀδώνιδος Χαιρέου. }[3]

Not all young women desire financial success, nor do all young women dream of triumphing in a bride-show for the emperor, or in a beauty pageant broadcast worldwide on major television networks. A mother should tolerate a daughter who complacently loves just one boyfriend and wants to marry him, without even receiving money from him or the promise of a lavish wedding.

A young woman can feel coerced into competing with other young women. For example, Philinna’s man Diphilus was kissing and whispering to Lamprias’s woman Thais. Philinna explained to her mother:

Thais was the one who got up and danced first. And she pulled her dress way up high — as if she’s the only girl in the world with lovely ankles. When she was done, Lamprias didn’t applaud or say a word, but Diphilus praised her for how graceful she was, what an interesting dance she did, how well she kept time to the music, her beautiful ankles, and on and on, as if she were the Venus de Milo instead of Thais. I don’t need to tell you what she looks like — we’ve both seen her at the baths. And do you know the dirty crack she made right to my face? “If someone wasn’t so ashamed of her skinny legs, she’d get up and dance too.” I’ll admit it, Mother, I got up and danced. What else was I to do? Sit there and make it look like she was telling the truth? Let that Thais lord it over the whole party?

{ ἡ Θαῒς δὲ ἀναστᾶσα ὠρχήσατο πρώτη ἀπογυμνοῦσα ἐπὶ πολὺ τὰ σφυρὰ ὡς μόνη καλὰ ἔχουσα, καὶ ἐπειδὴ ἐπαύσατο, ὁ Λαμπρίας μὲν ἐσίγα καὶ εἶπεν οὐδέν, Δίφιλος δὲ ὑπερεπῄνει τὸ εὔρυθμον καὶ τὸ κεχορηγημένον, καὶ ὅτι εὖ πρὸς τὴν κιθάραν ὁ ποὺς καὶ τὸ σφυρὸν ὡς καλὸν καὶ ἄλλα μυρία, καθάπερ τὴν Καλάμιδος Σωσάνδραν ἐπαινῶν, ἀλλ᾿ οὐχὶ Θαΐδα, ἣν καὶ σὺ οἶσθα συλλουομένην ἡμῖν οἵα ἐστί. Θαῒς δὲ οἷα καὶ ἔσκωψεν εὐθὺς ἐς ἐμέ· Εἰ γάρ τις, ἔφη, μὴ αἰσχύνεται λεπτὰ ἔχουσα τὰ σκέλη, ὀρχήσεται καὶ αὐτὴ ἐξαναστᾶσα. τί ἂν λέγοιμι, ὦ μῆτερ; ἀνέστην γὰρ καὶ ὠρχησάμην. ἀλλὰ τί ἔδει ποιεῖν; ἀνασχέσθαι καὶ ἐπαληθεύειν τὸ σκῶμμα καὶ τὴν Θαΐδα ἐᾶν τυραννεῖν τοῦ συμποσίου }[4]

The competition starts off with showing off ankles, but then the dress gets pulled up higher and higher until all the young women are wearing short-shorts divided in the front and the back. What young woman, in her own free choice, would feel comfortable walking around in shorts like that?

Aphrodite Kallipygos

Competition between women builds upon social pressure among women and the devaluation of women’s enduring relationships with men. Magara taunted Bacchis for not attending a wild all-women event because Bacchis wanted to be with her boyfriend:

Only you have a lover whom you love so much that you can’t be separated from him even for a moment. By Lady Aphrodite, that’s disgusting! Even though you were invited by Glycera to her sacrificial feast such a long time ago (for she sent us the invitations at the time of the Dionysia) you didn’t come — perhaps because of him you can’t stand even to see your girlfriends. You’ve become virtuous and are in love with your lover, congratulations on that reputation! We, on the other hand, are shameless whores.

{ Σοὶ μόνῃ ἐραστὴς γέγονεν, ὃν φιλεῖς οὕτως ὥστε μηδὲ ἀκαρῆ πως αὐτοῦ διαζευχθῆναι δύνασθαι. τῆς ἀηδίας, δέσποινα Ἀφροδίτη. κληθεῖσα ὑπὸ Γλυκέρας ἐπὶ θυσίαν εἰς τοσοῦτον χρόνον — ἀπὸ τῶν Διονυσίων γὰρ ἡμῖν ἐπήγγειλεν — οὐχ ἥκεις, εἰ μὴ δι᾽ ἐκείνην οὐδὲ τὰς φίλας ἰδεῖν γυναῖκας ἀνασχομένη. σώφρων γέγονας σὺ καὶ φιλεῖς τὸν ἐραστήν, μακαρία τῆς εὐφημίας· ἡμεῖς δὲ πόρναι καὶ ἀκόλαστοι. }[5]

Unlike Bacchis, Magara and the other women walked proudly as sluts. They enjoyed getting together in all-women safe spaces to explore how to overcome society’s repression of women. Magara taunted Bacchis:

What a drinking party we had — why shouldn’t I make you regretful? — full of great delights! Songs, jokes, drinking till cockcrow, perfumes, garlands and sweetmeats. Our place of reclining was shaded by some laurels. Only one thing was missing: you, nothing else. We have often caroused, but rarely with this much pleasure. But what gave us the most delight was that a fierce quarrel arose between Thryallis and Myrrhine concerning which of them had the most beautiful and smooth buttocks.

{ οἷον ἡμῶν ἐγένετο τὸ συμπόσιον — τί γὰρ οὐχ ἅψομαί σου τῆς καρδίας; — ὅσων χαρίτων πλῆρες. ᾠδαὶ σκώμματα πότος εἰς ἀλεκτρυόνων ᾠδὰς μύρα στέφανοι τραγήματα. ὑπόσκιός τισι δάφναις ἦν ἡ κατάκλισις· ἓν μόνον ἡμῖν ἔλιπε, σύ, τὰ δ᾽ ἄλλα οὔ. πολλάκις ἐκραιπαλήσαμεν, οὕτω δὲ ἡδέως ὀλιγάκις. τὸ γοῦν πλείστην ἡμῖν παρασκευάσαν τέρψιν, δεινή τις φιλονεικία κατέσχε Θρυαλλίδα καὶ Μυρρίνην ὑπὲρ τῆς πυγῆς ποτέρα κρείττω καὶ ἁπαλωτέραν ἐπιδείξει. }[6]

As aporia-engendering as it is to men of a rational-philosophical sort, many women relish social drama. If they don’t have drama in their lives, they will create some at any cost. In the buttocks beauty debate at the women’s sacrificial symposium, Myrrhine was the first to swing from words into action:

And Myrrhine, having first loosened her girdle — her dress was made of silk — swayed her hips which quivered like honey-cheesecake through her dress, while she was looking back at the movements of her buttocks. Then she sighed gently like she was making love so that, by Aphrodite, I was astounded.

{ καὶ πρώτη Μυρρίνη τὸ ζώνιον λύσασα — βόμβυξ δ᾽ ἦν τὸ χιτώνιον — δι᾽ αὐτοῦ τρέμουσαν οἷόν τι μελίπηκτον γάλα τὴν ὀσφῦν ἀνεσάλευσεν, ὑποβλέπουσα εἰς τοὐπίσω πρὸς τὰ κινήματα τῆς πυγῆς· ἠρέμα δ᾽ οἷον ἐνεργοῦσά τι ἐρωτικὸν ὑπεστέναξεν, ὥστε ἐμέ, νὴ τὴν Ἀφροδίτην, καταπλαγῆναι. }

Myrrhine recreated the pose of the famous Aphrodite Kallipygus {Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks}.[7] How could Thryallis ever press a claim to have better buttocks than that beauty?

Thryallis, however, didn’t give up, but outdid Myrrhine in shamelessness. “I shall not compete behind curtains,” she said, “nor play coy, but play as in a men’s gymnastic contest, for a contest isn’t created from excuses.” She took off her dress, tightened her buttocks and said, “There, look carefully at the skin, Myrrhine, how pure, how spotless it is. Look here at the pink lining of the hips, the slope towards the thighs, which are neither too fat nor too thin, and the dimples at the sides. But, by Zeus, they don’t quiver” — and at the same time she smiled — “like Myrrhine’s do.” Then she made her buttocks quiver so much, and she whirled the whole thing around, to and fro, over her loins, like it was flowing. We all applauded and declared that the victory belonged to Thryallis.

{ οὐ μὴν ἀπεῖπέ γε ἡ Θρυαλλίς, ἀλλὰ τῇ ἀκολασίᾳ παρευδοκίμησεν αὐτήν· “οὐ γὰρ διὰ παραπετασμάτων ἐγώ” φησίν “ἀγωνίσομαι, οὐδὲ ἀκκιζομένη, ἀλλ᾽ οἷον ἐν γυμνικῷ· καὶ γὰρ οὐ φιλεῖ προφάσεις ἀγών.” ἀπεδύσατο τὸ χιτώνιον καὶ μικρὸν ὑποσιμώσασα τὴν ὀσφῦν “ἰδού, σκόπει τὸ χρῶμα” φησίν “ὡς ἀκριβῶς, Μυρρίνη, ὡς ἀκήρατον, ὡς καθαρόν, τὰ παραπόρφυρα τῶν ἰσχίων ταυτί, τὴν ἐπὶ τοὺς μηροὺς ἔγκλισιν, τὸ μήτε ὑπέρογκον 6 αὐτῶν μήτε ἄσαρκον, τοὺς γελασίνους ἐπ᾽ ἄκρων· ἀλλ᾽ οὐ τρέμει, νὴ Δία,” — ἅμ᾽ ὑπομειδιῶσα — “ὥσπερ ἡ Μυρρίνης”. καὶ τοσοῦτον παλμὸν ἐξειργάσατο τῆς πυγῆς, καὶ ἅπασαν αὐτὴν ὑπὲρ τὴν ὀσφῦν τῇδε καὶ τῇδε ὥσπερ ῥέουσαν περιεδίνησεν, ὥστε ἀνακροτῆσαι πάσας καὶ νίκην ἀποφήνασθαι τῆς Θρυαλλίδος. }[8]

The female gaze is as real as is the male gaze. Both are socially constructed, as is human sexuality. With suitable social pressure, all young woman might be made to enjoy gazing on the naked, prominently shaken buttocks of another woman. Some university administrators and literature professors seem to have that as their fundamental project and great moist hope.

The twelfth-century Old French romance Eracle contradicts classical authorities. Eracle asked to see the beautiful young woman Athenaïs. She was living in poverty with her aunt. Her aunt responded:

For God’s sake, young man, pray have mercy;
your pleasure is not to be found here.
This is not what you are seeking.
I don’t know what you’re hoping for,
but we would prefer her to be pulled to pieces
rather than passionate madness be done to her body,
for that would be an evil sin.
She has no interest in it whatsoever, know that well!
Nor has any living person ever
heard her speak of passionate madness.
Even hearing of it so grieves her
that if others talk of it, she leaves.
She had a father who was a very worthy man;
her mother was of good repute.
This one is not of base stock.
Seek your pleasure elsewhere.
Here is utterly nothing to your purpose.

{ Por Dieu, vallés, vos pri merchi;
vostre deduis n’est mie chi,
çou n’est pas çou que vos querrés.
Je ne sai que vos esperés,
nos le lairiesmes ains detraire
que de son cors folie faire,
car ce seroit mals et peciés,
n’ele n’a cure, che saciés;
onques encor ne fu en vie
qui l’oïst parler de folie;
nes li oïrs itant li grieve,
s’ele en ot parler, si s’en lieve.
Trop fu ses pere a çou prodom,
se mere fu de boin renon;
ceste n’est pas des noaillors,
querrés vostre deduit aillors,
ci n’a a vostre oés nule riens. }[9]

The aunt knew that young women could earn money for having sex with men. Despite their poverty, neither she nor Athenaïs were interested in that opportunity. The aunt also knew about the bride-show to select the emperor’s wife. She didn’t seek to have Athenaïs compete in it.

Annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of Jesus

What hope could Athenaïs have? Nothing is impossible with God. Eracle chose Athenaïs to be the emperor’s wife. Subtly alluding to the words of Simeon cradling the child Jesus, Athenaïs’s aunt proclaimed:

So help me God, beautiful Lord,
now no longer have I grief or anger,
now I’m not concerned about when I die,
now no longer can death harm me.
Bringing up one whom I thought was an orphan,
I have in fact brought up an empress.

{ Aïe Dieus, biaus sire,
or n’ai je mais ne duel ne ire,
or ne me calt il quant je muire,
or ne me puet mais li mors nuire.
Norir cuidai une orfenine
et j’ai nori une roïne. }[10]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Lucian of Samosata, Dialogue of the Courtesans {Ἑταιρικοὶ Διάλογοι} 6, “Crobyle and Corinna {Κρωβύλη καὶ Κόρινανα}, ancient Greek text from Jacobitz (1896) via Perseus, English translation (modified slightly) from Casson (1962). For help with the Greek text, Hayes & Nimis (2016). The subsequent four quotes above are similarly from Lucian’s dialogue between Crobyle and her daughter Corinna.

Fowler & Fowler (1905), which bowdlerized Lucian, didn’t translate this dialogue in its translation of Lucian’s Dialogue of the Courtesans. The text in English translation is free available online in A.L.H. (1928).

The name Corinna {Κόρινανα} is cognate with κόρη, which can mean simply a young woman. But Corinna also has specific literary references. Corinna of Tanagra (in Boeotia) was a famous ancient Greek woman poet. Corinna is a beloved young woman in Ovid’s Loves {Amores}. On Ovid’s invocation of Corinna, Heath (2013). In Lucian’s Dialogue of the Courtesans, Corinna is probably best interpreted as a representative young woman {κόρη}.

Lucian’s approach to courtesans is realistic. His depiction of these women’s relational difficulties still seems true:

Lucian sets his depiction of courtesan life apart from his predecessors’ by his use of realism. … Lucian’s realism is enhanced by the fact the courtesans speak for themselves and share their experiences with the audience in their own voices.

Shreve-Price (2014) pp. 179-80. Similarly, id. pp. 1, 111-6, 151. Shreve-Price asserts that Lucian’s realism makes him a feminist. Id., p. 198. Lucian realistically depicts competition between women and women exploiting women. Realism in general, and that realism specifically, is better labeled as meninist.

The courtesan Neaira, who lived in Athens about 342 BGC, began working as a courtesan at a very young age. Apollodorus (previously attributed to Demosthenes), Against Neaira 22. Neaira apparently had a daughter Phano who also prostituted herself following the example of her mother. Id. 50. While Apollodorus almost surely slanted the facts to favor his case, his oration suggests that being a courtesan was regarded as a profession passed down within a family like other professions.

In Hebrew scripture, the prophet Ezekiel similarly depicts prostitution as an enterprise in which daughters were apprentices to their mothers. Condemning the holy city of Jerusalem for being a whore in relation to her lover God, Ezekiel declared:

Behold, everyone who uses proverbs will use this proverb about you, “like mother, like daughter.”

{ הִנֵּה כָּל־הַמֹּשֵׁל עָלַיִךְ יִמְשֹׁל לֵאמֹר כְּאִמָּה בִּתָּהּ׃ }

Ezekiel 16:44.

Egbert of Liège’s early eleventh-century schoolbook, The Well-Laden Ship {Fecunda ratis}, included related proverbs:

How the courtesan wishes that all women would live unchastely!
A whore castigates her daughter, “What I am, don’t you abandon.”

{ Quam cuperit meretrix incestas vivere cunctas!
Castigat natam “quod sum, ne desere” scortum. }

Fecunda ratis 1.30-1, Latin text and English translation (modified to follow the Latin more closely) from Babcock (2013).

[2] Lucian, Dialogue of the Courtesans {Ἑταιρικοὶ Διάλογοι} 3, “Philinna and her mother {μήτηρ καὶ Φίλιννα}, ancient Greek text from Jacobitz (1896) via Perseus, English translation (modified slightly) from Casson (1962).

[3] Lucian, Dialogue of the Courtesans {Ἑταιρικοὶ Διάλογοι} 7, “Musarium and her mother {μήτηρ καὶ Μουσάριον}, ancient Greek text from Jacobitz (1896) via Perseus, English translation (modified slightly) from Casson (1962).

In New Comedy and elegy, a young courtesan commonly has an absent father and a mother-guardian. Konstan (2009) pp. 59-60. In one epigram, a mother seeks a share of her daughter’s sexual enterprise:

I was much in love with the young woman Alcippe, and one day
I succeeded in persuading her and embraced her secretly on her bed.
Both hearts were beating, for fear anyone would come near,
anyone see the secrets of our surpassing passion.
But her mother noticed and looked in suddenly and
said, “Hermes shares, my daughter.”

{ Παρθένον Ἀλκίππην ἐφίλουν μέγα, καί ποτε πείσας
αὐτὴν λαθριδίως εἶχον ἐπὶ κλισίῃ.
ἀμφοτέρων δὲ στέρνον ἐπάλλετο, μή τις ἐπέλθῃ,
μή τις ἴδῃ τὰ πόθων κρυπτὰ περισσότερον.
μητέρα δ’ οὐκ ἔλαθεν κείνης λάλον· ἀλλ’ ἐσιδοῦσα
ἐξαπίνης· “Ἑρμῆς κοινός,” ἔφη, “θύγατερ”. }

Marcus Argentarius, Greek Anthology 5.127, ancient Greek text and English translation (adapted slightly) from Konstan (2009) p. 58. The phrase “Hermes shares” refers both to a “lucky find {ἕρμαιον}” that should be shared and the ithyphallic form of publicly erected Hermes pillars. Hendry (1991).

[4] Lucian, Dialogue of the Courtesans {Ἑταιρικοὶ Διάλογοι} 3, “Philinna and her mother {μήτηρ καὶ Φίλιννα}, sourced as previously. For other examples of agressive rivalry between women, see Sarah and Hager in Genesis 21:10-14 and Peninah and Hannah in 1 Samuel 1:4-7.

[5] Alciphron, Letters 4, Letters of the Courtesans {Επιστολαι Εταιρικαι} 14, Magara to Bacchis {Μεγάρα Βακχίδι}, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Granholm (2012). Id. has “because of her,” a mistake for “because of him.” The subsequent four quotes are similarly from id. All other quotes from Alciphron are similarly sourced, unless otherwise noted. Anon (1896) is an earlier, less scholarly translation.

[6] Magara added:

There were also comparisons of hips and breast competitions. However, nobody dared to compare her belly with Philoumene’s, since she had not born any children and was plump.

{ ἐγένοντο δὲ καὶ περιάλλων συγκρίσεις καὶ περὶ μασταρίων ἀγῶνες· τῆς μὲν γὰρ Φιλουμένης γαστρὶ ἀντεξετασθῆναι οὐδ᾽ ἡτισοῦν ἐθάρσησεν· ἄτοκος γὰρ ἦν καὶ σφριγῶσα. }

Alciphron, Letters 4, Letters of the Courtesans {Επιστολαι Εταιρικαι} 14, Magara to Bacchis {Μεγάρα Βακχίδι}.

To those learnedly ignorant, Alciphron’s Letters of the Courtesans “prove that female sexuality can be portrayed as active even in the Foucauldian sense, and therefore that women in literature can be sexual agents.” Funke (2008) p. 1. See also Empress Messalina, Empress Theodora, active enjoyment of being sexually penetrated, and Hajdarević (2018).

[7] Funke (2018) p. 150. Myrrhine {μυρρίνη} is Attic Greek for myrtle. “The rose and the myrtle are sacred to Aphrodite and connected with the story of Adonis {μυρσίνην Ἀφροδίτης τε ἱερὰ εἶναι καὶ οἰκεῖα τῷ ἐς Ἄδωνιν λόγῳ}.” Pausanias, Description of Greece 6.24.7, ancient Greek text and English translation from Jones (1933). See also id. 2.32.3 and Virgil, Eclogue 7.61-3, Georgics 2.64.

Alciphron lived in the late-second or early-third century GC. But Alciphron, like Lucian, wrote in the Attic Greek used more than 500 years earlier. His letters evoke the cultural context of Menander’s comedies. Funke (2016). Alciphron is associated with a particular type of nostalgia:

This version of nostalgia is not centered on a wish to restore the past, but rather marked by the self-awareness of the impossibility of such a task. Mimesis takes priority over re-creation … moments in which text and image merge in the Letters create a mimesis of nostalgia while simultaneously undermining it; the momentary passing of an image replicates the transitory experience of nostalgia but does not linger long enough for its accuracy to be appraised.

Funke (2018) p. 139. Such nostalgia has commonalities with pornography. With his Letters 4.13 and 4.14, Alciphron has been called the inventor of pornography:

the fictional letter is ideally suited to the kind of prying into the most private, and concealed, zones of another’s life that pornography implies. … the private nature of letters often requires the reader to fill in details that are presumed to be known to the correspondents themselves, and authors of fictional collections can imitate this lacunose element in the narrative, obliging the reader to enter, as it were, into complicity with the writer so as to complete the sense where it is merely intimated or left obscure. … In a fictional letter, it can contribute to the sense that the reader is ferreting out hidden implications or insinuations, even things that have been modestly left unsaid between intimates: οἶδας ὅ τι λέγω – You know what I mean, O reader! … At a certain moment in the second century (most probably), the rising popularity of epistolary fiction, combined with the fixation of the literary culture on a remote age which offered (among other things) an idealized image of erotic freedom (and of its converse, romantic love, as in the Greek novels), provided just the right conditions for this kind of lubricious tension. Alciphron seems to have been the first to capture it in his epistles (he was not followed in this by Aristaenetus or any other ancient writer, to my knowledge), and in this regard he may rightly enjoy the distinction of having invented pornography.

Konstan (2011) pp. 330-2. That’s learned literary analysis. Alciphron’s Letters 4.13 and 4.14 seem to me too artistically sophisticated for an ordinary person today to regard them as pornographic. Beyond that, the matter is complicated. Briand (2016).

[8] Alciphron, Letters 4.13.10 reports that at a feast “there were eggs, which quivered like buttocks {ᾠά τε τὰ τρέμοντα ταῦτα ὥσπερ αἱ πυγαί}.” Meineke (1853) interpolated “like Thryallis’s {τῆς Θρυαλλίδος}.” Benner & Fobes (1949) p. 283, n. 13.

Ancient Greek literature includes an instance of connoisseurship with respect to women’s buttocks:

I judged the buttocks of three women; for they themselves
chose me and displayed to me the naked splendor of their limbs.
Rounded dimples marked the first,
her buttocks glowing with white softness;
the second’s snowy flesh blushed where her legs parted,
redder than a crimson rose;
the third was like a calm sea furrowed by a silent wave,
her delicate flesh jiggling involuntarily.
If the judge of the goddesses had seen those buttocks,
he would have refused to look again at the previous ones.

{ Πυγὰς αὐτὸς ἔκρινα τριῶν· εἵλοντο γὰρ αὐταὶ
δείξασαι γυμνὴν ἀστεροπὴν μελέων.
καί ῥ᾽ ἡ μὲν τροχαλοῖς σφραγιζομένη γελασίνοις
λευκῇ ἀπὸ γλουτῶν ἤνθεεν εὐαφίῃ·
τῆς δὲ διαιρομένης φοινίσσετο χιονέη σὰρξ
πορφυρέοιο ῥόδου μᾶλλον ἐρυθροτέρη·
ἡ δὲ γαληνιόωσα χαράσσετο κύματι κωφῷ,
αὐτομάτη τρυφερῷ χρωτὶ σαλευομένη.
εἰ ταύτας ὁ κριτὴς ὁ θεῶν ἐθεήσατο πυγάς,
οὐκέτ᾽ ἂν οὐδ᾽ ἐσιδεῖν ἤθελε τὰς προτέρας. }

Rufinus, Greek Anthology 5.35, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Paton & Tueller (2014). For another ancient Greek example of buttocks competition, Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters 12.554c-e. Classical Arabic literature shows extensive appreciation for women’s buttocks.

[9] Gautier d’Arras, Eracle vv. 2631-47, Old French text from Pratt (2007), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Raynaud de Lage (1976) represents an earlier critical edition.

[10] Gautier d’Arras, Eracle vv. 2749-54, sourced as previously. Both Hannah, the wife of Elkanah, and Mary, the mother of Jesus, sing of God bringing about enormous reversals of fortune. 1 Samuel 2:4-8, Luke 1:46-53. Cf. Psalm 113:7-9.

[images] (1) The Holy Virgin Kataphigi {of Refuge}. Detail from a double-sided processional icon made about 1395 and kept in the Poganovo Monastery, Bulgaria. Currently preserved in the Museum of the Archaeological Institute, Sofia, Bulgaria. Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Aphrodite Kallipygos {Aphrodite of the Beautiful Buttocks}, originally in the Farnese collection. White marble statue from 1st or 2nd century BGC (excluding head, right arm, and left leg), restored by Carlo Albacini in the 1780s. Preserved in the National Archaeological Museum, Naples, Italy. Source image via Wikimedia Commons. (3) The annunciation of the angel Gabriel to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Luke 1:26-38. Oil on canvas painting by Johann Christian Schröder. Painted between 1685 and 1691. Preserved in the Ptuj Ormož Regional Museum (Ptuj, Slovenia). Via Google Art Project and Wikimedia Commons.


A.L.H.,  trans. 1928. Lucian of Samosata. The Mimes of the Courtesans. New York: Privately printed by the Press of Classic Lore.

Anon. 1896. Alciphron, literally and completely translated from the Greek, with introduction and notes. Athens: Privately printed for the Athenian Society. (alternate presentation)

Babcock, Robert Gary, ed. and trans. 2013. Egbert of Liège. The Well-Laden Ship {Fecunda ratis}. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 25. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Benner, A. R, and F. H. Fobes, ed. and trans. 1949. Alciphron, Aelian, Philostratus. Alciphron, Aelian, and Philostratus: The Letters. Loeb Classical Library 383. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Briand, Michel. 2016. “The Girlfriends’ Letters: Poikilia in the Book 4 of Alciphron’s Letters.” Paper presented at the conference Les Lettres d’Alciphron: la possibilité d’une œuvre / The Letters of Alciphron: To Be or not To be a Work? Nice, France. June 2016.

Casson, Lionel, trans. 1962. Selected satires of Lucian. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Fowler, Francis George, and H. W. Fowler. 1905. The Works of Lucian of Samosata. 4 vols. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

Funke, Melissa. 2008. Sexuality and gender in Alciphrōn’s Letters of Courtesans. M.A. Thesis, The University of British Columbia (Vancouver, Canada).

Funke, Melissa. 2016. “The Menandrian World of Alciphron’s Letters.” Ch. 12 (pp. 223-238) in Marshall, C. W., and Tom Hawkins, eds. Athenian Comedy in the Roman Empire. London: Bloomsbury.

Funke, Melissa. 2018. “Nostalgic Authority: Alciphron’s Use of Visual Culture.” Ch. 8 (pp. 138–154) in Biraud, Michèle, and Arnaud Zucker, ed. The Letters of Alciphron: a unified literary work? Mnemosyne, Supplements 424. Leiden: Brill.

Granholm, Patrik, ed. and trans. 2012. Alciphron: Letters of the Courtesans. Uppsala: Institutionen för Lingvistik och Filologi, Uppsala Universitet.

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

Hayes, Evan and Stephen Nimis. 2016. Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans: an intermediate Greek reader; Greek text with running vocabulary and commentary. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing.

Heath, John. 2013. “Why Corinna?” Hermes. 141 (2): 155-170.

Hendry, Michael. 1991. “A Hermetic Pun in Marcus Argentarius XII GP (A. P. 5.127).” Hermes. 119 (4): 497.

Jacobitz, Caroli, ed. 1896. Luciani Samosatensis Opera. Biblioteca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana. Lipsiae: Teubner.

Jones, W. H. S., ed. and trans. 1933. Pausanias. Description of Greece, Volume III: Books 6-8.21 (Elis 2, Achaia, Arcadia). Loeb Classical Library 272. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Konstan, David. 2009. “Between Epigram and Elegy: Horace as an Amatory Poet.” Pp. 55-69 in Pereira, Maria Helena da Rocha, José Ribeiro Ferreira, and Francisco de Oliveira, eds. Horacio e a sua perenidade. Coimbra: Centro Internacional de Latinidade Léopold Senghor.

Konstan, David. 2011. “Alciphron and the Invention of Pornography.” Ch. 15 (pp. 323-335) in Lambert, S. D., ed. Sociable Man: essays on ancient Greek social behaviour in honour of Nick Fisher. Swansea: Classical Press of Wales.

Paton, W.R., trans. and Michael A. Tueller, revised. 2014. Greek Anthology. Books 1-5. Loeb Classical Library 67. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Pratt, Karen, ed. and trans. 2007. Gautier d’Arras. Eracle. King’s College London Medieval Studies 21. London: King’s College London, Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies.

Raynaud de Lage, Guy, ed. 1976. Gautier d’Arras. Eracle. Paris: Champion. Published online in by ENS de Lyon in the Base de français médiéval, last revised 28-5-2013.

Shreve-Price, Sharada Sue. 2014. Complicated Courtesans: Lucian’s Dialogues of the Courtesans. Ph. D. Thesis, University of Iowa.

Lavinia’s love for Aeneas began with her mother’s murderous threat

Way back in ancient history, Aeneas and Turnus prepared to fight in single combat for the privilege of marrying Lavinia and thus becoming king of the Latins in Italy. Lavinia’s mother Queen Amata recognized women’s responsibility for violence against men:

“Daughter,” she said, “I know and see well
that because of you has come this evil
that has brought the country to destruction
and by which so many men have been killed.”

{ “Fille,” fait el, “bieu sai et vei
que cist mals est metiz por tei,
ki a essil met cest païs
et dont tant home sont ocis.” }[1]

If you want peace, work for justice, including justice for men imprisoned because they lack reproductive rights. Queen Amata advised her daughter Lavinia to love Turnus and hate Aeneas. What man would want to marry a woman who hates him? Queen Amata seems to have reasoned that if Lavinia made clear to Aeneas that she hates him, he wouldn’t seek to marry her and would leave Italy in search of another passionately loving woman like Dido of Carthage. Queen Amata had a more plausible and sustainable peace plan than any Lysistrata ever proposed.

Because men’s lives mattered to her, Queen Amata supported her peace plan with a threat of lethal force. She patiently explained the reality of love at length to her daughter. Then she declared:

You cannot deceive me about it for long.
If I know or perceive
that you turn your heart
to love Aeneas the traitor from Troy,
you must die at my two hands.
Such love I could never endure.
Turnus loves you and wants to marry you.
You should give yourself in love to him.
Love him, daughter!

{ Ne m’en porras longues deceivre;
se puis saveir ne aperceivre
que ton cuer voilles atorner
al traïtor de Troie amer,
mes deus poinz t’estuet morir;
ce ne puis ge onkes sofrir.
Turnus t’aime, si te vuelt prendre;
vers lui deis tu d’amor entendre.
Aime le, fille! }

Aeneas deprived himself of Dido’s love because he felt that he had a responsibility beyond himself to leave Carthage for Italy. Lavinia likewise had a responsibility to honor her mother, the queen of the Latins and the preeminent authority within that gynocentric society.

Centuries later, the highly sophisticated Roman Empress Athanaïs, speaking freely within her own mind, recognized the flaw that would subvert Queen Amata’s peace plan. She observed:

Women and children often do
the thing that they’re most forbidden to do.
The thing that most harms their reputation
they want to do and always do.
I say this is certainly true for me,
and for many others that I see.
I want him who doesn’t want me.
I’m distressed because he isn’t distressed.
I’m distressed because he doesn’t know
whether my heart loves or hates him.

{ car feme et enfes font sovent
le cose c’on plus lor desfent;
le cose el mont qui lor valt pis
ce voelent faire et font toudis.
Ce puis je bien dire por moi,
et por mainte autre que je voi:
je voel celui qui ne me velt;
por ce me duel que ne se deut,
por ce me duel que il nel set
se mes cuers l’aime u il le het. }[2]

Athanaïs went on to cuckold her husband the Emperor Laïs when he was away on a long military campaign of violence against men to suppress a rebellion. In contrast to that typical violent suppression, many cannot even imagine that women could be rebels. Men under-estimate women’s dynamism, adaptability, and strong, independent character to their own peril.

Lavinia, who loved Aeneas

The female gaze led to Lavinia’s rebellion. The Trojans and the Latins had arranged a truce. Aeneas was surveying the fortifications of the Latin city of Laurentum. From a tower within Laurentum, Lavinia saw him:

From a window she looked down
and saw Aeneas who was below.
She looked intently at him above all.
He seemed to her very handsome and noble.
Well she had heard how
all in the city praised him
for his prowess and his beauty,
well she noted this in her heart.
There where she was in her chamber,
love struck her with its dart.

{ d’une fenestre esguarda jus,
vit Eneas ki fu desoz,
forment l’a esguardé sor toz.
Molt li senbla et bel et gent,
bien a oï comfaitement
le loent tuit par la cité
et de proece et de belté;
bien le nota en son corage
la o el fu en son estage.
Amors l’a de son dart ferue }

No literary professors condemn the female gaze. But the female gaze has its dangers. When women gaze upon beautiful men, they risk falling in love with them. Thus Lavinia fell in love with Aeneas, and so Lavinia rebelled against her mother’s peace plan for Italy.

Queen Amata perceived that her daughter was in love. Lavinia showed all the telltale signs. She slept poorly, felt sick, sweated and sighed and groaned. At first Lavinia denied that she was in love. Her mother suggested that she was in love with Turnus. Lavinia insisted that she didn’t love Turnus and wasn’t in love. But her mother knew the signs.

Finally, Lavinia confessed that she was in love. Then the question was with whom. Lavinia didn’t want to name her beloved:

I don’t dare, mother, for I think
that you will be very angry at me for it.
You have much disparaged him to me,
you have much warned me about him,
hence I have been more attracted to him.
Love has no concern about warnings.
If I were to name my beloved,
I fear that his name would trouble you.

{ Ge nen os, dame, car ge cui
que vos m’en savriëz mal gre;
vos le m’avez molt desloé,
vos m’en avez molt chastiëe;
de tant m’en sui plus aprismiee:
amors nen a soing de chasti.
Se vos nomoe mon ami,
ge criembroe que vos pesast. }

Eventually Lavinia literally spelled out the name of her beloved to her mother. He was Aeneas. Her mother was furious:

This wretch is of such nature
that hardly has he any concern for women.
He values more a wholly different occupation.
He doesn’t want to hunt for a female’s eggs,
he loves more a boy’s flesh.
He prefers to embrace a boy
rather than you or another women.
He doesn’t know how to play with women,
how to pass through the small gate.
He loves the bowels of a young man.
On this the Trojans were raised.
You have chosen very badly.
Have you not heard how
he treated Dido badly?
Never did a woman have any good from him,
nor will you have, so I think,
from a traitor, from a sodomite.
He will always be eager to abandon you.

{ Cil cuiverz est de tel nature
qu’il n’a guaires de femme cure;
il prise plus le plein mestier;
il ne vuelt pas bische chacier,
molt par aime char de maslon;
il prisereit mielz un garçon
que tei ne altrë acoler.
A femme ne set il joer,
ne passereit pas al guichet;
molt aime froise de vallet.
En ce sont Troïën norri.
Molt par as folement choisi.
N’as tu oï comfaitement
il mena Dido malement?
Onkes femme n’ot bien de lui,
nen avras tu, si com ge cui,
d’un traïtor, d’un sodomite.
Toz tens te clamereit il quite }[3]

Recent scholarship suggests that domineering women in the ancient world desired pubescent boys in the way that some men did.[4] Queen Amata sardonically suggested a similar scenario to her daughter:

If he has any lovely boy,
then it will seem good and fine
that you let him make his pleasure there.
If he can attract the boy with you,
he wouldn’t find it strange
to make such an exchange
that the boy have his enjoyment from you,
while the boy in turn being sufficient for him.
He will gladly let the boy mount you,
if he for his part can ride the boy.
Aeneas doesn’t love pussy.

{ se il aveit aleun guadel;
ce li sereit et buen et bel
quel laissasses a ses druz faire;
s’il les poeit par tei atraire,
ne trovereit ja si estrange
qu’il ne feïst asez tel change,
que il feïst son buen de tei
por ce qu’il le sofrist de sei;
bien le laireit sor tei monter,
s’il repoeit sor lui troter.
II n’aime pas pel de conin.}

Because women have not been silenced, the mother went on to attempt to guilt-trip her daughter:

The end of our age would quickly come
if all the men remaining
in the world were such as he.
No woman would ever conceive,
there would be a huge shortage of persons,
no woman would ever bear children, and
this age would pass away in less than a hundred years.

{ De cest siegle sereit tost fin,
se tuit li home ki i sont
esteient tel par tot le mont;
ja mais femme ne concevreit,
grant sofraite de gent sereit;
l’en ne fereit ja mais enfanz,
li siegles faldreit ainz cent anz. }

Would Lavinia contribute to extinguishing the human species? Would she be so selfish and unreasonable? If Lavinia continued to love Aeneas, her mother said that she would stop loving her:

Daughter, you’ve lost much good sense
when with such a man you’d make your pleasure,
a man who will never have care for you,
and who acts so contrary to nature
that he takes men and leaves women,
destroying the natural union.
Beware, never speak to me of him again.
I want you to let go of love
for this sodomite, this wretch.
Turn you heart in another direction!
Love the one who loves you,
that is Turnus, who for seven years has
placed in you all his devotion.
Beware that he doesn’t repudiate it.
If you wish to enjoy my love,
then let this traitor remain as he is,
and turn your love towards the one
that I have praised to you. Leave that other one,
who should be to you held as a total stranger.

{ Fille, molt as le sens perdu,
quant de tel home as fait ton dru,
que ja de tei nen avra cure;
et ki si fait contre nature,
les homes prent, les femmes lait,
la naturel copie desfait.
Guarde, nel me dies ja mais,
ceste amistié voil que tu lais,
del sodomite, del coart;
ton corage tome altre part!
Aime celui ki t’amera,
ce est Turnus, ki set anz a
que tote a mise en tei s’entente:
guarde que il ne s’en repente.
Se tu joïr vuels de m’amor,
donc laisse ester le traïtor
et t’amor tome vers celui
dont ge te pri, si lai cestui,
que te sereit toz tens estrange. }

All her mother’s harsh words only further inflamed Lavinia’s passion for Aeneas.

Showing admirable initiative and directness, Lavinia wrote a love letter to Aeneas. She wrote that nothing meant more to her than him. She declared that she was dying in love for him. She explained that she felt tortured and distressed while yearning for his manly presence. What man wouldn’t be delighted with such a letter, even if he didn’t love the woman who wrote it? She begged him to have pity on her. She even wrote her letter in Latin, the language in which medieval men were relatively free to express their feelings. She wrapped her letter around a barbed arrow and had an archer shoot the arrow toward the Trojan men. That was an action fraught with possible misinterpretation. But Lavinia, a strong, independent woman, wasn’t afraid to take risks to gain a man’s love.

Aeneas unwrapped the letter from the arrow and read it. He was very happy with Lavinia’s love for him. Yet he didn’t let that show, for he didn’t want his men to know. Not having been taught that the male gaze is evil, Aeneas gazed at Lavinia standing at a window in the tower. She saw that he was gazing at her. She didn’t denounce him to authorities for sexually assaulting her. Instead, she graciously gestured to him that she would love him even if he were a man who actively enjoyed being sexually penetrated:

She kissed her finger, then extended it to him.
And Aeneas understood it well —
that she had sent him a kiss.
But he didn’t feel it, nor did he know
of what taste was her kiss.

{ baisa son deit, puis li tendi,
et Eneas bien l’entendi,
que un baisier li enveiot,
mais nel senti, ne il nel sot,
de quel savor ert li baisiers }

Aeneas didn’t know that Queen Amata had crudely disparaged his sexuality to her daughter Lavinia. He understood well that she loved him. But the physical experience of love that Lavinia was offering him — that he didn’t know. He later rode slowly back to his tent, greatly confused and full of thought.

Aeneas was passionately in love with Lavinia. He slept poorly, felt sick, sweated and sighed and groaned. He felt inspired to perform great feats of violence against men to be sure of not losing her love. He recognized that women are superior to men in guile and worried that she was two-timing him with Turnus. But her letter, written in Latin, convinced him of her sincerity. He told himself that if had felt such love for Dido, he wouldn’t have left behind the opportunity to be king of Carthage. He considered sending his own love letter to Lavinia. But Aeneas realized that he, like Lavinia, should reverse oppressive gender norms:

Don’t do it. A man should protect himself well.
He shouldn’t show all his heart
to a woman whom he wants to love.
Let him be slightly aloof to her,
so that she feels the difficulty of love,
for if a woman were to manage it
such that she had upper hand, he would regret it.
One should make a woman doubt.
One shouldn’t show fully
how one is suffering for her love.
She will in that way love so much more.

{ Ne faire, on se deit molt covrir;
ne deit pas tot son cuer mostrer
a femme, ki la vuelt amer;
un poi se face vers li fier,
que de l’amor ait le dangier,
car se la femme le saveit
qu’el fust desus, il s’en plaindreit.
L’en deit femme faire doter,
ne li deit l’en pas tost mostrer
come l’en est por li grevez;
de tant aime ele plus asez }

Aeneas didn’t send a return love letter to Lavinia. For several days he didn’t even go out into the field where he could gaze upon her in her stone-hard, upright tower. Instead, he was sick in bed with love for her.

Not seeing Aeneas in the field again, Lavinia angrily imagined that her mother was right. She wasn’t angry with herself for doing the opposite of what her mother had advised. She was angry at Aeneas for having the sexual orientation that her mother said he had:

Women mean very little to him;
he wants his pleasure from boys.
He loves no one except his male whores.
He has his Ganymede with him,
and little of me is enough for him.
He is very long in rutting —
having boys’ middles is his delight.
When he has sated his passion on those,
no woman matters to him.

Aeneas would have prized me much more
if I had split my dress
and put on short trousers
and leggings pulled tight.
He has enough boys around him;
the worst boy he loves better than me.
He has split their shirts, and
many he has at his service.
Their pants are often lowered —
thus they earn their wages.

{ de femme li est molt petit,
il vuelt le deduit de garçon,
n’aime se masles putains non.
S’un Ganimede a avuec sei,
asez li est or poi de mei;
il est molt longuement en ruit,
as garçons meine son deduit;
quant a mené o els son galt,
de nule femme ne li chalt.

Molt me prisast mielz Eneas,
se g’eusse fenduz les dras
et qu’etisse braies chalciees
et lasnieres estreit liëes.
Il a asez garçons o sei,
le peior aime mielz de mei,
fendue trueve la chemise;
maint en i a en son servise,
lor braies sovent avalées:
issi deservent lor soldées. }

Lavinia tried to hate Aeneas, as her mother had instructed her to do. But she failed. Love won, and so she suffered greatly for him.

Then Aeneas rode out into the field toward Lavinia. She repented of all the cruel words she had said about him. She gave him a sweet look. He gazed at her and sighed deeply. She and he exchanged looks and signs. Neither then doubted that they loved each other. Then Aeneas left to engage in violence against men.

Aeneas killing Turnus

Queen Amata’s peace plan ultimately failed. After her mother told her to hate Aeneas, Lavinia loved him. Mothers, learn from medieval literature. Tell your daughters to love the ones that you want them to hate!

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Roman d’Eneas vv. 7859-62, Old French text from Salverda de Grave (1891), English translation from Yunck (1974), with my modifications. Burgess & Kelly (2021) is a more recent English translation. Unfortunately it wasn’t available to me when I wrote this post.

Roman d’Eneas, which survives in seven nearly complete manuscripts, apparently was written about 1156. Yunck (1974) pp. 3-4. It follows closely Virgil’s Aeneid, except for a greatly expanded account of the love affair of Lavinia and Aeneas. Roman d’Eneas was influential in shaping the literary form of romantic love. Id. pp. 27-38.

In the Aeneid, Lavinia is described as the “cause of such great evil {causa mali tanti}.” Aeneid 6.93, 11.479. When King Latinus was lighting altar fires, Lavinia’s hair caught fire. Omen-readers interpreted Lavinia’s burning hair to presage a great war of violence against men. Aeneid 7.69-83.

Unless otherwise indicated, subsequent quotes above are similarly from Roman d’Eneas. They are vv. 7945-54 (You cannot deceive me…), 8048-57 (From a window she looked down…), 8540-7 (I don’t dare, mother…), 8567-84 (This wretch is of such nature…), 8585-95 (If he has any lovely boy…), 8596-8602 (The end of our age…), 8603-21 (Daughter, you’ve lost much good sense…), 8877-81 (She kissed her finger…), 9078-88 (Don’t do it. …), 9132-40, 9155-64 (Women mean very little to him…).

[2] Gautier d’Arras, Eracle vv. 3901-10, Old French text from Pratt (2007), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Raynaud de Lage (1976) represents an earlier critical edition.

[3] Manuscripts have variants for this passage, and the meanings of some of the terms are obscure. For alternate translations and analysis, Burgwinkle (2004) pp. xi-ii and Guynn (2007) pp. 81-5.

A common tactic for shaming a man is to disparage his sexuality. In Marie de France’s lai Lanval, Lanval rejected Queen Guinever’s amorous solicitation of him. Bewildered and enraged that a man would refuse to have sex with an importuning woman, she chided him:

“Lanval,” she says, “it’s quite clear to me
you have no interest in that pleasure.
People have often told me
that you have no desire for women.
You have shapely young men
and take your pleasure with them.
Base coward, infamous wretch,
my lord is greatly harmed
by having allowed you near him.
I believe that he will lose God by it!”

{ “Lanval,” fet ele, “bien le quit,
vuz n’amez gueres tel delit.
Asez le m’ad humme, dit sovent
que des femmez n’avez talent.
Vallez avez bien afeitiez,
ensemble od eus vus deduiez.
Vileins cuarz, mauveis failliz,
mut est mi sires maubailliz
que pres de lui vus ad suffert;
mun escient que Deus en pert!” }

Lanval, vv. 278-87, Old French text and English translation from Waters (2018). Queen Guinevere then falsely charged to King Arthur that Lanval had attempted to seduce her. That charge could have produced a penal execution of Lanval

Girart d’Amiens’s Arthurian romance Escanor similarly includes disparaging men as being amorously interested in only men. When the sober-minded knight of the Round Table Dinadan declares at King Arthur’s court that he avoids women because they create danger for men, he’s derided as being sexually interested in men. See Escanor, vv. 1636-1858. Cf. id. v. 1847, where the Arthurian knight Gauvain is disparaged as a sodomite. On relationships between women and men in Escanor, Brook (2002) and Brook (2005).

[4] Konstan (2002). The law in action governing women’s sexuality is much more lenient than law in action governing men’s sexuality. That’s historically entrenched gender discrimination.

[images] (1) Portrait of Lavinia, princess of Latium. Illumination from instance of Boccaccio’s About Famous Women {De Mulieribus Claris}. Folio 35v in MS. Bibliothèque nationale de France (BNF), Français 599. Via Gallica. (2) Aeneas killing Turnus. Oil on canvas painting by Luca Giordano in the 17th century. Preserved in Palazzo Corsini (Florence, Italy). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Brook, L. C. 2002. “Demons and Angels: Female Portrayal in Escanor.” Reading Medieval Studies. 28: 23-38.

Brook, Leslie C. 2005. “A Knight with Reservations: the Role of Dinadan in ‘Escanor.’Studi Francesi. 147 (XLX | III): 477-485.

Burgess, Glyn S., and Douglas Kelly, trans. 2021. The Roman de Thèbes and The Roman d’Eneas. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Burgwinkle, William E. 2004. Sodomy, Masculinity and Law in Medieval Literature France and England, 1050–1230. Cambridge University Press.

Guynn, Noah D. 2007. Allegory and Sexual Ethics in the High Middle Ages. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Konstan, David. 2002. “Women, Boys, and the Paradigm of Athenian Pederasty.” Differences: A Journal of Feminist Cultural Studies. 13 (2): 35-56.

Pratt, Karen, ed. and trans. 2007. Gautier d’Arras. Eracle. King’s College London Medieval Studies 21. London: King’s College London, Centre for Late Antique and Medieval Studies.

Raynaud de Lage, Guy, ed. 1976. Gautier d’Arras. Eracle. Paris: Champion. Published online in by ENS de Lyon in the Base de français médiéval, last revised 28-5-2013.

Salverda de Grave, Jean-Jacques, ed. 1891. Énéas: texte critique. Bibliotheca Normannica, 4. Halle: Niemeyer.

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

Yunck, John A. 1974. Eneas: a twelfth-century French romance. New York: Columbia University Press.