Juno’s hate sent Allecto to inflame Amata, Turnus, and bitches

In the Aeneid that Virgil wrote more than two thousand years ago, the ruling goddess of the cosmos Juno bitterly resented that Venus was judged more beautiful than she. Juno was furious at her husband Jove for seeking joyful, loving affairs with other women and with that boy Ganymede. She burned at the injustice of Aeneas abandoning Dido who ardently desired Aeneas’s love. With the hate not called hate under gynocentric dictate, Juno hated men, especially Trojan men. She summoned the infernal harridan Allecto, more megera than Megaera, to inflame Amata, Turnus, and bitches. Working from the Latins’ queen down to female dogs, Juno thus incited massive violence against men in ancient Italy.

Juno sends Allecto to incite war

Riding through the sky on a golden throne much more regal and luxurious than a broomstick, Juno looked down and saw the Trojan refugees happily building homes in Italy. Aeneas and his fellow Trojans had endured the horrendous violence against men of the Trojan War and fled from the Greeks’ capture of Troy. Their happy, peaceful new start in Italy enraged Juno:

Ah, the race I loathe, and Trojan destiny contrary to our
destiny! Why didn’t they perish on Troy’s plains?
Captured, why didn’t they suffer captivity? Why didn’t burning
Troy consume these men? Between battle lines, between flames,
they find a way. I believe my powers at last
lie exhausted, or I desist, my hate sated.

Yet I, Jove’s mighty spouse, have left nothing undared
that I could, unhappy me. I have turned myself in every way,
and I am conquered by Aeneas. If what are my powers are not
great enough, I should hardly delay in imploring anywhere what is:
if I cannot bend the gods above, I will incite Hell!

{ Heu stirpem invisam et fatis contraria nostris
fata Phrygum! Num Sigeis occumbere campis,
num capti potuere capi, num incensa cremavit
Troia viros? Medias acies mediosque per ignis
invenere viam. At, credo, mea numina tandem
fessa iacent odiis aut exsaturata quievi.

Ast ego magna Iovis coniunx, nil linquere inausum
quae potui infelix, quae memet in omnia verti,
vincor ab Aenea. Quod si mea numina non sunt
magna satis, dubitem haud equidem implorare quod usquam est:
flectere si nequeo superos, Acheronta movebo. }

Hate can never be sated. Juno swooped down into the underworld to summon the infernal grief-bringing harridan Allecto. Pluto, Allecto’s father, hated her. Even her sisters, Furies themselves, hated Allecto. Yet Juno incited her with a plea for solidarity among women, irrespective of moral worth:

Grant me for myself, virgin born of night, this labor,
this work, so that our honor and fame isn’t weakened, yielded
from its place, nor Aeneas’s people able to bring Latinus around
with marriages and occupy Italy to its bounds.
You can rouse to fighting brothers living in unity
and overturn homes with hate. You bring under one roof the lash
and the funeral torch. You have a thousand names,
and a thousand evil arts. Shake your fertile breast,
shatter the peace pact, sow causes of war:
let those men want, demand, and grab their weapons.

{ Hunc mihi da proprium, virgo sata Nocte, laborem,
hanc operam, ne noster honos infractave cedat
fama loco, neu conubiis ambire Latinum
Aeneadae possint Italosve obsidere finis.
Tu potes unanimos armare in proelia fratres
atque odiis versare domos, tu verbera tectis
funereasque inferre faces, tibi nomina mille,
mille nocendi artes. Fecundum concute pectus,
disice compositam pacem, sere crimina belli:
arma velit poscatque simul rapiatque inventus. }

Women are complicit in violence against men. Like the insane Dido, Juno conjured terrible violence against men. With a thousand condemning names and a thousand evil arts, she undermined men’s loving tradition of thousands of kisses from Catullus to Secundus.

Latinus promotes peace with Trojans via gift of horses

Bloated with Gorgon venom, Allecto in service to Juno rushed up from Hell to make mad and miserable Queen Amata. Her husband King Latinus sought to ensure peace between the Latins and the Trojans by giving the Trojans horses and by having their daughter Lavinia marry the Trojan King Aeneas. Queen Amata thought that the foreigner Aeneas lacked heterosexual ardor. She preferred that Lavinia marry a local man, the unquestionably masculine man Turnus. Subverting Queen Amata’s high valuation of masculine heterosexuality, Allecto thrust an evil snake down Amata’s dress. It slid between her smooth breasts, breathed fire into her heart, and poisoned her mind. Amata began to complain and criticize her husband’s judgment:

Is it to exiled Trojans Lavinia is to be wed,
O her father? Have you no pity on your daughter and yourself?
Nor pity for her mother, when with the first north-wind the perfidious
traveler will cast off to the deep, abducting our virgin as booty?
Or was it not so when the Phrygian shepherd Paris entered Lacedaemon
and hauled off Leda’s Helen to Trojan towns?
What of your sacred pledge? What of your old care for your people
and your right hand so often pledged to your blood-kin Turnus?

{ Exsulibusne datur ducenda Lavinia Teucris,
O genitor, nec te miseret gnataeque tuique ?
Nec matris miseret, quam primo aquilone relinquet
perfidus alta petens abducta virgine praedo?
An non sic Phrygius penetrat Lacedaemona pastor
Ledaeamque Helenam Troianas vexit ad urbes ?
Quid tua sancta fides, quid cura antiqua tuorum
et consanguineo totiens data dextera Turno? }

Not a weak, yes-dearing husband like Vulcan, Latinus refused to acquiesce to his wife’s manipulation of him. With Allecto’s poison taking effect, Queen Amata didn’t respect Latinus for being a strong, independent husband. She spun with insane visions of ghastly horrors as if she were a spinning top that children lashed into motion.

Disregarding her husband’s joint custody of their virgin daughter, Queen Amata abducted Lavinia and took her deep into mountainous woods. The raving Amata pretended to be possessed by Bacchus, the god of wine and pleasure. She sought to devote their virgin daughter to that god. Following Amata’s mad example, other mothers in a wild frenzy similarly deserted their homes:

They desert their homes and bare their necks and hair to the winds.
Some fill the air with quivering wails while
dressed in fawn-skins and carrying spears wrapped with vines.
Herself among them, the fervid Amata holds up a flaming pine-brand
and sings a wedding song for her daughter and Turnus.
Rolling her blood-shot eyes, fiercely and suddenly
she cries out: “O, mothers of Latinum, hear me, wherever you are.
If in your pious hearts remains thankfulness for Amata,
if care for a mother’s rights causes you to bite,
loosen the ties of your hair and take up orgies with me!”

{ deseruere domos, ventis dant colla comasque,
ast aliae tremulis ululatibus aethera complent,
pampineasque gerunt incinctae pellibus hastas;
ipsa inter medias flagrantem fervida pinum
sustinet ac natae Turnique canit hymenaeos,
sanguineam torquens aciem, torvumque repente
clamat: “Io matres, audite, ubi quaeque, Latinae:
Siqua piis animis manet infelicis Amatae
gratia, si iuris materni cura remordet,
solvite crinalis vittas, capite orgia mecum.” }

In ancient Rome, mothers could pretend to be possessed by Bacchus to engage in orgies in the woods. That’s like a woman’s bible study in some Unitarian Universalist churches today. King Latinus, like many men today, could do little else but be racked with grief for his lost daughter, his Hellishly poisoned wife, and mad women’s rule of the realm.

The infernal harridan Allecto then turned to disturb the sleeping king Turnus. She disguised herself as the wrinkled, white-haired Calybe, decrepit priestess of Juno’s temple in Turnus’s city. Calybe conveyed to Turnus Juno’s divine decree ordering him into violence against men:

This message to you, lying calmly in the night,
Saturn’s all-powerful daughter Juno herself commanded me to declare publicly:
go into action! Arm your men and move them from the gates
into the battlefield joyfully prepared. Trojan leaders along our lovely river
are sitting — burn them and their painted ships!
The great power of the heavens decrees so. Let King Latinus himself,
unless he agrees to give you your bride and thus obey his word,
feel and at last experience Turnus in arms.

{ Haec adeo tibi me, placida cum nocte iaceres,
ipsa palam fari omnipotens Saturnia iussit.
Quare age et armari pubem portisque moveri
laetus in arma para, et Phrygios qui flumine pulchro
consedere duces pictasque exure carinas.
Caelestum vis magna iubet. Rex ipse Latinus,
ni dare coniugium et dicto parere fatetur,
sentiat et tandem Turnum experiatur in armis. }

Turnus already knew that the Trojan ships had anchored in the river. He didn’t believe that Juno was filled with men-hating hate. He dismissed Calybe’s alarming message as merely the ravings of an old woman. Not remembering that Lysistrata had declared war to be women’s work, Turnus foolishly declared war to be men’s work.

Dropping her disguise, Allecto attacked Turnus. She shoved him back flat onto his bed, pulled twin snakes from her hair, and cracked her whip. Rolling her fiery eyes, she uttered fervid words:

“Look back on me: I come from the seat of the dreaded sisters.
War and death I bear in my hand.”
Having so prophesied, she hurled a torch at the young man and impaled
its wooden shards, smoking with dark light, into his chest.

{ Respice ad haec: adsum dirarum ab sede sororum,
bella manu letumque gero.”
Sic effata facem iuveni coniecit et atro
lumine fumantis fixit sub pectore taedas. }

With sweat drenching Turnus’s body, this nightmare shatters his sleep. He jumps up, shouts for armor, and lusts to thrust his sword. Under Allecto’s infernal spell, he calls his captains to arms and spurs his loyal, admiring men to the terrible work of violence against men.

Allecto then sped to inflame other men. Seeing Aeneas’s son Iulus hunting along the river with female hounds, she smears their noses with a male deer’s scent. That was the scent of an amazingly beautiful stag with large, protruding masculine antlers. As a fawn, he had lost his single mother, perhaps though an attack by a female bear or female boar (a feral pig). Tyrrhus’s father-headed family of shepherds adopted the orphan fawn. Tyrrhus’s unnamed sons tenderly nurtured him. Tyrrhus’s daughter Silvia trained the young male deer to obey her commands. The stag was tame to the touch, came to Tyrrhus’s table for dinner, and slept in Tyrrhus’s house.

Iulus’s frenzied bitches tore after this fine stag as he was restfully cooling himself on a grassy riverbank. Iulus fired an arrow at the fleeing male animal. The arrow whirled into the stag’s loins and pierced his genitals. Like men living under castration culture today, the stag went home with a bloody wound:

The wounded creature fled back to his familiar home,
crawled groaning into his stall and, blood-stained,
like one imploring filled the whole house with his complaints.

{ Saucius at quadrupes nota intra tecta refugit
successitque gemens stabulis questuque cruentus
atque imploranti similis tectum omne replebat. }

At least this stag made his feelings heard. Unable to save a beloved male animal from castration as the Byzantine wife did, Tyrrhus’s daughter Silvia summoned rustic men to vengeance. Savage Allecto further incited violence against men by sounding the shepherds’ general call to arms. Trojans heard the commotion and streamed out of their camp to defend Iulus. Many men died in the resulting brawl. Even worse, the Italians and Trojans now prepared for all-out war.

Allecto inciting wounding of stag causes men's deaths

King Latinus couldn’t control men soaking up the lethal influence of the goddess Juno’s hate, the vicious plots of her infernal harridan Allecto, and raving mad Queen Amata and all her women supporters. Just as the magnificent stag fled from the vicious bitches, Latinus could only retreat into his palace. The mob demanded that King Latinus declare war in the customary way by opening the Gates of War. Latinus firmly opposed war. They could deprive him of his power and authority as king, but he had enough personal integrity to refuse to validate the mob’s cries for massive violence against men. Juno swooped down and opened the Gates of War herself.

In our age of ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance, learning about what Juno and Allecto did in the Aeneid is scarcely permitted. The Aeneid suggests that men kill each other because they lack the courage to withstand women’s incitements to violence against men. That’s now an unsafe thought that must be suppressed. Virgil was a misogynist, and his Aeneid should be burnt, or as least removed from schools and libraries. Women are wonderful, men are evil, and gender is socially constructed. Understood? Gynocentric society is a myth, and anyone who says gynocentric society exists is an enemy of our society. Understood? Learn the creed that all must now recite. Post that creed on your front lawn for extra social credit. Don’t hear this whisper, just a soft murmur — remember Juno, remember Allecto.

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The above account of Juno and Allecto inciting war between the Italians and the Trojans largely follows the Aeneid, Book 7, vv. 286-622. The quotes are with Latin text of Greenough (1900) and my English translations, benefiting from those of Fagles (2006), Kline (2002), and Fairclough & Gould (1999). Francese & Reedy (2016) (which now covers Book 7) and the Vergil Project provide freely available online help with reading the Aeneid in its original Latin. The specific verses cited above are Aeneid, Book 7, vv. 293-98, 308-12 (Ah, the race I loathe…), 331-40 (Grant me for myself…), 359-66 (Is it to exiled Trojans…), 394-403 (They desert their homes…), 427-34 (This message to you…), 454-7 (Look back on me…), 500-2 (The wounded creature fled…).

While the Fury Allecto was known in earlier Greek literature, Virgil apparently was the first author to refer to Allecto by name in Latin literature. Virgil compelling depicted Allecto as a horrible person:

Her father Pluto himself hates her. Her Hellish sisters
also hate the monster. She twists herself into many faces,
her figure is so savage, and her hair sprouts many black snakes.

{ Odit et ipse pater Pluton, odere sorores
Tartareae monstrum: tot sese vertit in ora,
tam saevae facies, tot pullulat atra colubris. }

Aeneid 7.327-9. Allecto {Ἀληκτώ} literally means “implacable or unceasing anger.” “For Vergil’s first readers, Allecto was a gruesome innovation.” Fantham (2009) p. 137. “The fury is like a virus that replicates itself in her victim, often in multiple copies …. Thus Allecto, called up by Juno in Aeneid 7, finally leaves the upper world when she had created versions of herself in Amata, Turnus and the Italian shepherds.” Hardie (1993) p. 41, cited by Fantham (2009) p. 139.

Readers have tended to sympathize with Queen Dido, who warmly received the Trojans in Carthage in Book 1 of the Aeneid. In Book 7, Juno and Allecto clearly are hostile to the Trojans who have gone on to land in Italy. Yet Juno and Allecto’s actions in inciting massive violence against men in Italy has attracted relatively little attention in the past two thousand years. Allecto appears only three times in a magisterial review of the first fifteen hundred years of the Virgilian tradition. Ziolkowski & Putnam (2008).

A textual detail indicates telling gender trouble in the reception of the Aeneid. In Aeneid 7.479, Allecto comes upon Iulus hunting with “hounds {canes}.” That substantive can be either masculine or feminine. The grammatical context doesn’t indicate the hounds’ sex, but the broad semantic context is strongly gendered. The hounds are chasing an “adult male deer {cervus}” with large antlers. That magnificent stag is a gentle intimate of Tyrrhus’s daughter Silvia. In Aeneid 7.493, the feminine plural adjective “rabid {rabidae},” echoing the noun “rage {rabies}” from Aeneid 7.479, makes clear that the hounds are female. Virgil has created a profoundly recalcitrant gendering: rabid bitches are chasing a magnificent, gentle stag. The text plays out as if Virgil meant to delay the full force of his transgressive gender representation.

The treatise On Hunting (Cynegeticus) {Κυνηγετικός}, which Xenophon of Athens wrote roughly about 400 BGC, describes using hounds {κύνες} for hunting. While Κυνηγετικός is mainly concerned with hunting hares, section 9 addresses hunting deer, including fawns. Xenophon explicitly refers to using both female and male dogs. Κυνηγετικός 7.6. In ancient Greek, “bitch {κῠ́ων}” was also used as a derogatory term for a woman. Men historically have been disparaged as being like dogs. Virgil surely deliberately chose to gender female the hounds that Allecto incited to chase a magnificent, gentle stag.

Under the gynocentrism that also shaped the reception of Virgil’s Dido, scholars and translators have largely ignored Virgil’s gendering of the rabid bitches. They are represented merely as hounds / dogs in all English translations of the Aeneid that I have seen, including John Dryden (1697), Christopher Pitt (1740), J. M. King (1847), J. W. Mackail (1885), Christopher Pearse Cranch (1886), E. Fairfax Taylor (1907), Theodore C. Williams (1910), H. Rushton Fairclough (1916), Rolfe Humphries (1951), Patric Dickinson (1961), Fairclough & Gould (1999), Kline (2001), and Fagles (2006). Even within Cullick’s recent scholarly study of the female demonic, Cullick’s own translation of the Latin obliterated the gendering of the hounds. Cullick (2016) pp. 228-9. This literary history underscores the importance of recognizing Virgil’s radical critique of gynocentrism in his nearly unseen, gendered representation of rabid bitches chasing a magnificent, gentle stag.

Scholars have disparaged Virgil’s story of the stag being hunted, suffering an arrow wound to its genitals, and returning home wailing in pain. Badly misreading the Aeneid, Macrobius without good reason assumed that Virgil regarded this incident as “excessively light and childish {leve nimisque puerile}.” Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.17.2, Latin text from Kaster (2011) p. 406, my English translation. Nonetheless, the story apparently was attractive enough in antiquity to be illustrated in both the Vergilius Vaticanus and the Vergilius Romanus. Modern scholars have disparaged this story and given it relatively little serious attention. Griffin (1986) pp. 170-2.

The most thorough treatment of Virgil story of the stag is Putnam (1998). Putnam is a leading Virgilian scholar with enormous knowledge of Virgil works. In many articles, he magisterially analyzes Virgil’s writings in detail. Nonetheless, Putnam (1998) doesn’t mention the gender of the hounds. Moreover, that article associates the hounds with masculinity with its five references to hounds each having Iulus as possessive, e.g. “Iulus and his hounds” (three times). Changing that phrase to “Iulus and his bitches” would significantly disrupt the gender complacency of Putnam’s article.

Gynocentrism has distorted readings of the Aeneid. For example, Putnam imagined:

the stag has been separated from its mother (Virgil uses the phrase matris ab ubere raptum, “torn from its mother’s udder”) by men, father Tyrrhus (Tyrrhus pater) and his sons. There is no mother within this new world, only a sister, Silvia, who tames the savage and humanizes the feral. (Virgil co-opts the language of elegy to transform the stag metaphorically into a human lover.)

Putnam (2001) p. 168, footnotes omitted. Cf. Putnam (1998) p. 110. That’s a telling imaginative construction. Blaming men, in particular Tyrrhus and his sons, for tearing the stag as a fawn from its mother doesn’t exist in the Aeneid. In textual reality, the unnamed sons of Tyrrhus nurtured the fawn. Cf. Aeneid 7.484-6. The emotional charge from imagining men tearing a child from its mother contributes to deeply entrenched, profoundly unjust and damaging gender discrimination against men in child custody decisions.

Virgil in Aeneid 7 makes several plausible allusions to Catullus. Juno uses Catullus’s joyous “brothers of one spirit {fratres uanimi}” (Catullus 9) in instructing Allecto to overturn homes with hate. On that and other intextualities between the Aeneid and Catullus, Joseph (2009). Aeneid 7.427-8 seems to me to cite similarly in contrast a thousand kisses and more in Catullus 5.

In the violence against men prevalent throughout history, men’s genitals have often been targeted. Iulus’s arrow struck the stag “through his belly …. through his genitals {perque uterum … perque ilia}.” Aeneid 7.499. For rare recognition of this wound as a genital wound, Putnam (1998) p. 112, which cites relevant use of ilia in Catullus 11.20, 63.5, and 80.8. The genital wounding of the stag, in the context of castration culture well-established from Hesiod, underscores the inaptness of associating the stag with Dido. Cf. Putnam (1998) pp. 111-2.

Latinus in the Aeneid has been interpreted as a weak king. Cowan (2015). King Latinus “now old, ruled through the tranquility of long-lasting peace {iam senior longa placidas in pace regebat}.” Aeneid 7.47. Latinus deserves much credit for those many years of peace. But Latinus was no stronger than King Solomon facing a women’s rebellion in Solomon and Marcolf. Latinus was no stronger than all-powerful Islamic caliphs in relation to their slave-girls. A literary scholar indicated that Latinus was “lacking in self-assertion.” Sanders (1921) p. 20. She didn’t understand men’s difficulties with self-assertion in relation to women. Latinus was no more lacking in pragmatic political knowledge than was Aristotle. Modern readers have under-estimated Latinus’s personal strength, relative to most other men, in opposing women inciting violence against men. Horsfall (2000) p. 41.

Scholars have failed to appreciate the Aeneid’s profound critic of violence against men and anti-men gender oppression. Sophisticated analysis of the Aeneid tells of patriarchal power, patriarchal sovereignty, patriarchal rule, patriarchal ordering, incumbent “patriarch,” patriarchal role, patriarchal policy, patriarchal power, pseudo-patriarchal Aeneas, and patriarchal magnanimity. Those are phrases merely from Putnam (2001). In an earlier article, Putnam dared to suggest that men contribute to civilization:

Virgil may be suggesting here that fatherhood (except in the twisted version of Camilla where paternity is in fact a form of maternity bordering on animality) and maybe even the male world in general by definition shares in the artistry of civilization-making.

Putnam (1998) p. 132. Such a bold, problematic statement is scarcely permissible under the totalitarian gynocentrism that now dominates academia. Not surprisingly, Putnam subsequently changed his view:

in the epic’s culminating moment, emotionality, with specific resonances of both Juno and Venus, wins the day as irrationality, which Virgil so regularly associates with his female characters, for one last time gains victory over any counterbalancing thrusts the poem may contain toward the ordered, measured uses of power for which Latinus and his scepter briefly stand. No Vulcanic shield results from Aeneas’ passionate reaction, only a happenstance that helps the reader realize that Rome, in her pursuit of acculturation for her empire, may abandon the restraints with which patriarchal magnanimity encloses her and become as beholden to nature as those she attempts to subject to her sway. And it is with nature and her double propensity to nurture or to annihilate that Virgil steadfastly associates his female characters throughout his extraordinary poem.

Putnam (2001) p. 183. The phrase “patriarchal magnanimity” seems to appropriate and transform phrases of men’s sex protest, e.g. “beautiful evil {καλὸν κακόν)” and “sweet poison {dulce venenum}.” Men commonly have been dehumanized as lacking emotion. That occurs despite well-known men literary figures, including Jupiter as lover, Achilles as warrior, Vulcan as yes-dearing husband, Matheolus as tormented husband, and Nitin Nohria committing Harvard Business School to making women students feel loved. More importantly, this analysis centers Virgil’s female characters as both nature and nurture. That encompasses everything human. That’s gynocentrism. Virgil forcefully critiqued the mad, men-debasing love of Gallus and epic violence against men. Nonetheless, even sophisticated readers have failed to understand Virgil’s gender intent:

Had Turnus been snatched away, that is, had Aeneas practised the paternal, civilizing role, practised the clementia his father suggests to him in the Underworld and spared his humbled antagonist, we would have quite a different epic, with Silvia and all she stands for in triumph at the end. But this was not Virgil’s intent.

Putnam (1998) p. 133, footnote omitted. This vision of “Silvia and all she stands for in triumph at the end” is pastoral-romantic gynocentrism completely inconsistent with Virgil’s depiction of Juno and Allecto. Latinus himself ruled over many years of peace. Latinus and all he stands for wasn’t triumphant at the end because women intent on destruction easily led men into massive violence against men. Virgil surely intended to show that in his Aeneid.

[images] (1) Juno sends Allecto to incite war between the Trojans and the Latins. Painted enamel on copper by Master of the Aeneid, made c. 1530-35 in France. Preserved as accession # 45.60.6 in The Metropolitian Museum of Art (New York, USA). Credit: Fletcher Fund, 1945. (2) Latinus promotes peace with Trojans via gift of horses. Cf. Aeneid 7.274-9. Excerpt (color enhanced) from folio 63r of the Vergilius Vaticanus (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225), which is texts of Virgil in an illuminated manuscript made about 400 GC. (3) Hunting, Iulus wounds with an arrow-shot a magnificent stag. That’s after Allecto gives Iulus’s bitches the stag’s scent and they flush him from his resting place. Excerpt (color-enhanced) from folio 163r of Vergilius Romanus (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3867), which is texts of Vergil in an illuminated manuscript created about 450 GC. (4) Illustration of Virgil’s story of the stag. Violence against men and men’s deaths result from Allecto giving bitches the scent of a stag and Iulus wounding the stag. Excerpt (color-enhanced) from folio 66v of the Vergilius Vaticanus (Vatican City, Biblioteca Apostolica, Cod. Vat. lat. 3225). On the Vergilius Vaticanus (Vatican Vergil), Wright (1993) and Sloane (2006). On the Vergilius Romanus (Roman Vergil), Wright (2001). Claude Lorrain’s painting Landscape with Ascanius shooting the Stag of Sylvia (painted 1681-2) transforms this violent incident into a majestic landscape.


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Ziolkowski, Jan M., and Michael C. J. Putnam. 2008. The Virgilian Tradition: the first fifteen hundred years. New Haven: Yale University Press.

beauty contests: De tribus puellis no judgment of Paris

In the ancient account of the judgment of Paris, the noble shepherd Paris judged a beauty contest between the goddesses Juno, Athena, and Venus. For choosing her, Venus promised Paris the love of the most beautiful woman in the world, Helen of Troy. Paris eloping with the already-married Helen led to the massive violence against men of the Trojan War. The medieval Latin elegiac-verse narrative About Three Young Women {De tribus puellis} rewrote the judgment of Paris to lead only to love for men. Beyond the horror of violence against men in ancient epic, beauty and love triumphed in medieval Latin literature.

In De tribus puellis, a man was traveling alone and longing for a woman’s love. Suddenly he saw in the distance three young women running. Able to outrun even the heroine huntress Atalanta, the man sprinted and caught up with the three young women:

Venus, Juno, or beautiful Pallas Athena scarcely
could I compare with these young women.
Soon their faces, their long, flowing hair, their bodies
and their fingers intensely pleased me,
because the love god Cupid himself had driven under my heart
his arrows and his blazing torches.

{ vix Venerem, vix Iunonem, vix Pallada pulchram
istis virginibus assimilare queam.
Mox facies, mox caesaries, mox corpus earum,
mox manus et digiti complacuere mihi,
namque Cupido suam nostro sub corde sagittam
ardentesque faces fixerat ipse suas. }[1]

These young women were competing, not in running, but in singing. The tallest of them was as beautiful as the man-hating huntress Diana, who had Acteon killed merely because he gazed on her naked. The man fearlessly offered to judge their singing contest. All the young women readily accepted his offer.

Atalanta running race picking up apples

The three women chose different themes to showcase their singing talents. The first woman sang of the fierce battles between Jupiter and the giants. That song recalls epic violence against men. The second woman sang of Paris’s love for Helen of Troy. That song too recalls epic violence against men. The third woman, however, sang of Jupiter’s strong, independent sexuality and his ability to overcome his wife’s jealousy and other obstacles to enjoy numerous extra-marital affairs. What loving person wouldn’t like such a song?

Her voice, pleasing to everyone, pleased more only me,
for I was the only one who was pleasing to her.
Each time when sound poured forth from her rosy lips,
the surrounding stones echoed the sound.
No differently long ago among the Ismarian hills Orpheus
sang, stirring all with the music of his lyre.
So too the Sirens are said to have once sung
when they wished to delay Odysseus’s ships.
Each one by her song contrived to capture Odysseus,
but they couldn’t detain that shrewd man.
What if he had heard the voice of my young woman?
Only she would have been able to detain him with song.

{ Vox sua grata fuit conctis, mihi gratior uni;
unus enim fueram qui sibi gratus eram.
Haec quotiens sonitum roseo fundebat ab ore,
reddebant sonitum proxima saxa suum,
haud secus Ismariis in collibus Orpheus olim
cantabat cythara cuncta movendo sua.
Sic quoque Sirenes quondam cecinisse feruntur,
cum vellent Ithacas detinuisse rates;
cantu quaeque suo retinere parabat Ulixem,
non tamen astutum detinuere virum.
Quod si vox nostrae foret hinc audita puellae,
sola licet cantu detinuisset eum.}

The man of course declared the victor to be the young woman who rejected commemorating violence against men and who beautifully affirmed men’s sexuality. The other two women were extremely and foolishly upset at not having been judged best.

The victorious young woman promised the judge any reward that he desired. With the romantic simplicity that characterizes men, the judge asked for her:

Now I ask you, I seek, I desire to sleep with you
— for you surely please me — if perhaps that’s pleasing to you.
I swear that no gift is more precious than you.
If you give yourself to me, you will give me a great prize.
When Venus, Pallas Athena, and Juno came to Paris,
each offered to him her own particular gift.
When they were presenting their gifts, he chose one of the three gifts.
As is known, he chose that a beautiful young woman be given to him.
But if he had known of anything more precious than a young woman,
he wouldn’t have chosen for himself a beautiful young woman.
His example thus teaches what gifts we should request.
Following his example, I ask for you, lovely one.

{ Nunc peto te, quaeso, cupio tibi consociari
— tu mihi nempe places — si tibi forte placet.
Nullum me teste donum pretiosius est te;
te mihi si dederis praemia magna dabis.
Cum Venus ad Paridem, Pallas Iunoque venirent
offerreque sibi munera quaeque sua,
cum sibi dona ferunt, elegit de tribus unum,
scilicet ut pulchra virgo daretur ei,
sed si quid sciret pretiosius esse puella,
non electa sibi pulchra puella foret.
Exemplo docet ergo suo quae dona petamus.
Huius ad exemplum te, speciosa, peto }

This medieval man clearly was classically well-educated. In colleges and university today, men aren’t taught about truth and beauty and right choices. No wonder that love between women and men is now listless. But life in more enlightened medieval Europe was more blessed.

MIT Dance Workshop

Compared to women today, women in medieval Europe were stronger and more assertive. The prize-winning young medieval virgin woman declared to the man that he should have no doubt about her gift to him:

I alone will be joined to you alone in love.
You will be mine and I will give you my virginity,
because for you is reserved my virginity’s honor.
And so that in dubious hope you aren’t pulled for a long time,
on this night you will have your promised reward.

{ sola quidem soli iungar amore tibi.
Noster eris nostramque dabo tibi virginitatem,
nam tibi servatur virginitatis honor.
Et ne spe dubia per tempora longa traharis
hac in nocte tori munera pacta feres. }

One can scarcely imagine a woman saying such today. It’s well-nigh unthinkable. It’s probably now unsharable on Facebook and even illegal to read.

That evening, the woman took the man to her bedroom in a castle. She was not only young and beautiful, but evidently also wealthy and well-connected. Even though medieval society was relatively welcoming and inclusive of heterosexually vigorous men, this medieval man questioned the reality of the woman’s words. Following the scientific practice of questioning and testing, the man said that he wished to return home immediately. As was possible only before modern sex regulations, the woman immediately, without asking for prior affirmative consent, kissed the man with the sweetest kisses. Then she said:

“For you here dinner is prepared with me,” she said,
“For you here are the mutual joys of my bed.
Here one passion and one love would anoint us.
Shadowy night comes, night holds the entire world,
and the moon doesn’t shine serenely in its heaven.
No gate is open through which you can depart,
nor can you go home through the shadows alone.
Indeed often the spirits of the night have harmed
those who often in the night continue on their way.
Here night and love attempt to keep you:
behold, each reason impedes you in going your way.
I am the third reason. I try to keep you with my prayers.
Do not, I beg, make my prayers be in vain.
I marvel if three — night, love, and a beautiful young woman —
cannot keep you, who are only one man.
Dear one, I beg, remain: soon you will feel aroused
with love’s fires, if you don’t have a heart of iron.”

{ “Hic tibi nobiscum cena paretur,” ait,
“hic tibi sint nostri communia gaudia lecti,
hic nos una Venus ungat et unus Amor.
Nox tenebrosa venit, totum nox occupat orbem,
nec nitet in caelo luna serena suo,
ianua nulla patet per quam possis remeare
nec potes in tenebris solus abire domum.
Saepe solent etiam noctis simulacra nocere
his qui nocte viam continuare solent.
Hinc nox, hinc et amore te conantur retinuere:
impedit ecce tuas utraque causa vias.
Tertia sum, quae te conor precibus retinere;
tu modo non vanas fac, precor, esse preces.
Miror si tria, nox et amor et pulchra puella,
non poterunt unum te retinere virum.
Care, precor, remane: motus sensurus amoris
atque faces, si non ferrea corda geris.” }

To ensure his safety, which is always everyone’s most important priority, the man remained with the beautiful young woman. The dinner included plentiful meat, and the woman encouraged the man to eat:

“My dear, eat now these thighs that I extend to you,
just as tonight I will offer you my thighs.
I am giving you a great gift, for in taking my thighs,
you will be taking a large prize, if you actually take them.”
I took them and ate the bones with the flesh;
never to me was sweeter any other dish.

{ “Care meus, comede quas nunc tibi porrigo coxas,
ut tribuam coxas hac tibi nocte meas.
Grande tibi pretium do, name mea crura ferendo
praemia magna feres, si tamen illa feres.”
Has ego suscepi, cum carnibus ossa comedi,
nam non ulla mihi dulcior esca fuit }[2]

She praised his meat-eating and gave him a drink from a golden cup. He drank from the same place on the cup that she had earlier drank.

After dinner, the woman and man lay together on a luxurious bed. Flames from a golden lamp lit the room. This young woman hadn’t been taught in literature class that the male gaze is evil and oppressive:

She made herself naked, for she wished to be seen naked,
and on her tender flesh there wasn’t any blemish.
Now believe me, lovers, if you wish to believe:
her body was whiter than snow,
not snow that, touched by the sun, has melted,
but snow that no sun has yet warmed.
Ah! What shoulders and what arms I saw!
Her white legs were no less very arousing.
Her nipples were small, suitable, and beautiful,
if a little rigid now, no less suitable.
Her chest was flat, flat too her belly under her chest,
and her two hips shaped the body in between.
I will not tell, even though I could tell of better
when I saw her naked, but I will not tell you.

{ Se facit haec nudam, voluit quoque nuda videri,
at non in tenera carne fuit macula.
Nunc mihi credatis, si credere vultis, amantes:
membra fuere sibi candidiora nive,
nec nive quae tacta Phoebo fuerat liquefacta,
sed nive quam nullus sol tepefecit adhuc.
Ah! Quales umeros et qualia brachia vidi;
candida crura nimis non valuere minus.
Parva papilla fuit, fuit apta, fuit speciosa,
si paulo rigida, non minus apta fuit.
Pectus erat planum, planus sub pectore venter,
formabat medium corpus utrumque latus.
Non referam, quamvis poteram meliora referre,
illam cum vidi, sed tibi non referam. }[3]

While evincing a healthy and inspiring appreciation for human sexuality, medieval Latin literature isn’t pornographic. Medieval Latin literature includes a sense of Christian modesty so conspicuously absent in post-Christian, attention-seeking media.

Alexandre Cabanel, Birth of Venus

Just as Christianity centers on love, so does outstanding medieval Latin literature. The woman and man incarnated love in the flesh:

Immediately pulling her white neck into my arms,
I began to give my lady pressing kisses.
I gave a thousand kisses, and she gave back to me just as many.
A thousand were given to her, and a thousand were returned to me.
She joined her side to my side;
my side rejoiced at being planted into her side.
Then she pressed her belly to my belly
and sought to please me in a thousand ways.

{ Protinus, adductis ad candida colla lacertis,
incepi dominae basia pressa dare;
oscula mille dedi, totidem mihi reddidit illa,
sunt data mille sibi, reddita mille mihi.
Illa suum nostro lateri latus associavit;
gaudebam lateri conseruisse latus.
Ventre suo ventrum nostrum tunc illa premebat
quaerebatque modis mille placere mihi. }

These thousands of kisses are part of the great tradition of kissing in Latin poetry from Catullus to Secundus.[4] Generous, loving, and learned medieval women encouraged men in love:

“Quickly complete your desire with me,” she declared,
“for the black night soon flees and day itself returns.”
Then she asked for my right hand. My right hand I offered to her,
but she gave her breasts to me: “What do you feel now?” she asked.
As I held them, I spoke to her in this way:
“I feel,” I responded, “a prize that pleases me.
The prize I now hold is what I have always desired to hold,
and how greatly I wished for the prize that I hold.”
Then I pulled back my hand and stroked her tender thighs.
They were much sweeter to me than honey.
Soon I said: “No gold is more precious.
No matter in the world is more pleasing to me.
I truly enjoyed the dove’s thighs that you gave me,
but the thighs that I hold now I enjoy even more.
Therefore let us join our two bodies, let us press them together,
and let our bodies accomplish their parts.”

{ “Tu mihi velle tuum comple velociter,” inquit,
“nam mox atra fugit et redit ipsa dies.”
Inde rogat dextram, dextram porreximus illi;
sed mihi dans mammas: “Quid modo sentis?” ait.
Quas dum tenui, dicens ego taliter illi:
“Sentio,” respondi, “munera grata mihi.
Munera iam teneo quae saepe tenere cupivi,
et nimis optavi munera quae teneo.”
Inde manus retrahens, palpabam crura tenella,
illa fuere mihi dulcia melle magis.
Mox dixi: “Non est ullum preciosius aurum.
Non est in mundo res mihi commodior.
Dilexi vero nobis data crura columbae,
sed quae nunc teneo diligo crura magis.
Ergo iungamus duo corpora, iuncta premamus,
et peragant partes corpora nostra suas.” }

A Roman couple traditionally joined right hands to signify their marital partnership.[5] This generous young woman, however, thought first of her beloved man’s pleasure. She had given him delicious dove thighs to eat for dinner, but as he frankly declared in his romantic simplicity, her thighs pleased him more. He also understood what more than a billion years of sexual reproduction on earth had designed their bodies to do. Like Ovid, this man with Christian modesty refrained from telling the rest of what they did in bed. But who in relatively enlightened medieval Europe wouldn’t know? Amost everyone then appreciated how babies are made.

Classical Latin literature reached its fullest development in medieval Europe. Just as Virgil redirected the matter of Troy with his Aeneid, medieval Latin literature further developed Virgil’s critique of gynocentrism. De tribus puellis replaces the massive violence against men of both Homeric epic and the Aeneid with a beautiful young woman’s generous, incarnate love for a man.[6] After the fall of medieval Europe, ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance blanketed the literary heritage of European culture. Few persons today have even heard of De tribus puellis. To rebuild a culture of love, De tribus puellis must be given its rightful place at the center of the classics canon.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] About Three Young Women {De tribus puellis} vv. 19-24, Latin text from Pittaluga (1976a) via Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020), my English translation, benefiting from those of id. and Elliott (1984). For a freely available Latin text, Jahnke (1891) pp. 91-102.

De tribus puellis apparently was written in the twelfth century in the Loire Valley of France. Pittaluga (1976a) pp. 281-8, cited by Kretschmer (2013) p. 38. Since 139 of its 300 verses echo verses from Ovid, it has been called an Ovidian cento. Pittaluga (1976b) pp. 4-12, cited by Kretschmer (2013) p. 39, n. 21. It has survived in two fifteenth-century manuscripts and several incunables. Elliott( 1984) p. xlvii. On its textual history, Pittaluga (1976a), Reeve (1980), Pittaluga (1983), Reeve (1985), and Reeve (1997) (none of which I’ve been able to examine because of coronaplague-related closures).

The opening of De tribus puellis, “I was traveling by chance along a certain path {Ibam forte via quadam},” parodies Horace, Satires 1.9.1, “I was traveling by chance along the Sacred Way {Ibam forte Via Sacra}.” Laughter is vital for affirming men’s lives and renewing humanistic culture.

Susequent quotes above are from De tribus puellis and are similarly sourced. They are vv. 91-102 (Her voice, pleasing to everyone…), 127-38 (Now I ask you, I seek…), 150-4 (I alone will be joined…), 166-82 (For you here dinner is prepared…), 205-10 (My dear, eat now these thighs…), 249-62 (She made herself naked…), 273-80 (Immediately pulling her white neck…), and 281-96 (Quickly complete your desire with me…).

[2] For similar erotic play with food, consider Lucius enjoying Photis stirring her pot in the kitchen in Apuleius, Metamorphoses 2.7.

[3] Cf. Ovid, Loves {Amores} 1.5. After praising the appearance of a fully dressed woman in a typical medieval “description of the young woman {descriptio puellae},” a medieval man expressed heterosexual men’s typical joy in seeing a beloved woman naked:

And I think that no dress and no accessories
could have suited her better than if she was without clothes.
O, if only I could see her naked at least once, if to touch her naked
is not my destiny, if no more is given to me!

{ Et puto, quod nullus cultus nullusque paratus
aptior esset ei, quam si sine vestibus esset.
O utinam nudam videam, si tangere nudam
non est fas, saltemque semel, si non datur ultra! }

About the old woman {De vetula} 2.329-32, Latin text from Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020) p. 216, my English translation, benefiting from that of id.

[4] On Catullus’s claimed influence on De tribus puellis, Arcaz Pozo (2005). Most scholars believe that Catullus was known in ninth-century Tours, then lost and only rediscovered around 1300. That Catullus influenced De tribus puellis is not an accepted scholarly claim. It’s not even a claim that has attracted significant scholarly attention. On Catullus’s reception history and claims of medieval Catullan influence, Butrica (2007) pp. 45-52.

[5] On the ancient Roman tradition of joining right hands to signify marriage, see note [14] in my post on the centos of Ausonius and Proba.

[6] De tribus puellis isn’t an aberrational medieval poem. A cleric at Ivrea in northwestern Italy about the year 1080 wrote Versus Eporedienses, a Latin poem of 150 leonine distichs. Versus Eporedienses plausibly influenced De tribus puellis. Kretschmer (2013). For a magisterial study of Versus Eporedienses, Kretschmer (2020).

Ovid in Amores 1.1 accidently avoided epic, but he turned back to epic in his Metamorphoses. Medieval authors learned from Ovid being castrated and developed themes from the Metamorphoses in more realistic, socially engaged ways.

[images] (1) The Race between Hippomenes and Atalanta (excerpt). Painting by Noël Hallé, painted between 1762 and 1765. Preserved as INV 5270 in Louvre Museum (Paris, France). Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) MIT Dance Workshop performance c. 1990. (3) The Birth of Venus. Painting by Alexandre Cabanel, painted in 1863. Preserved as accession # RF 273 in Musée d’Orsay (Paris, France). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Arcaz Pozo, Juan Luis. 2005. “La poesia latina en el contexto amoroso de la comedia elegiaca medieval: Catulo y Ovidio en el De tribus puellis.Cuadernos De Filología Clásica. Estudios Latinos (Madrid, Spain). 25 (1): 101-110.

Butrica, J. L. 2007. “History and Transmission of the Text.” Ch. 2 (pp. 34-56) in Skinner, Marilyn B, ed. A Companion to Catullus. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

Elliott, Alison Goddard, trans. 1984. Seven Medieval Latin Comedies. New York: Garland.

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.

Jahnke, Richard, ed. 1891. Comoediae Horatianae Tres. Lipsiae: Teubner.

Kretschmer, Marek Thue. 2013. “The Elegiac Love Poems Versus Eporedienses and De Tribus Puellis and the Ovidian Backdrop.” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 23: 35-47.

Kretschmer, Marek Thue. 2020. Latin Love Elegy and the Dawn of the Ovidian Age: A Study of the Versus Eporedienses and the Latin Classics. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers.

Pittaluga, Stefano, ed. and trans. (Italian). 1976a. “De tribus puellis.” Pp. 304-333 in Bertini, Ferruccio, ed. Commedie latine del XII e XIII secolo. Vol. 1. Genova: Università di Genova.

Pittaluga, Stefano. 1976b. “Le De tribus puellis, Comédie Ovidienne.” Vita Latina. 61: 2-13 (article part 1), .

Pittaluga, Stefano. 1977. “Le De tribus puellis, Comédie Ovidienne.” Vita Latina. 62: 2-14 (article part 2).

Pittaluga, Stefano. 1983. “Encore au sujet du De tribus puellis.” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch. 18: 128-130.

Reeve, Michael D. 1980. “Early editions of De tribus puellis.” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch. 15: 131-133.

Reeve, Michael D. 1985. “The tradition of De tribus puellis.” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch. 20: 124-127.

Reeve, Michael D. 1997. “Dating Three Girls.” Filologia Mediolatina. 4: 319-324.

queen consorts: 9th-century Eadburh didn’t affect 11th-century Emma

To support the myth of women’s historical powerlessness, modern historians distinguish between queens regnant and queen consorts. A queen regnant is formally the realm’s ruler. A queen consort is formally only the wife of the king.[1] In 802, the West Saxons rebelled against the murderous, backstabbing Queen Eadburh and insisted that future queens be called only the wife of the king. Prior to its modern variant, that practice lasted only to the mid-tenth century. Men’s orientation toward elite women is more typically represented in the Praise of Emma the Queen {Encomium Emmae Reginae} written with much misinformation for Queen Emma of Normandy in the eleventh century. Women’s power can only be understood in relation to men’s propensity to do whatever pleases women.

Eadburh was the daughter of King Offa. He formally ruled the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Mercia in central England from 757 to 796. Eadburh in 789 married King Beorhtric, nominal ruler of the Anglo-Saxon kingdom of Wessex in southern England. Princess Eadburh thus became Queen Eadburh.

The gender and status of Queen Eadburh as merely the king’s wife didn’t constrain her capability to act like a tyrant. As queen, “she began to behave like a tyrant in the manner of her father {more paterno tyrannice vivere incepit}.” Eadburh pursued her own interests in contrast to those of her husband King Beorhtric:

She loathed every man whom Beorhtric liked, and she did all things hateful to God and men. She denounced all those whom she could before the king, and by snares thus deprived them of either life or power. If she could not achieve that through the king, she killed the men with poison.

{ omnem hominem execrari, quem Beorhtric diligeret, et omnia odibilia Deo et hominibus facere, et omnes, quos posset, ad regem accusare, et ita aut vita aut potestate per insidias privare. Et si a rege illud impetrare non posset, veneno eos necabat. }[2]

After conducting such schemes as queen for more than a decade, in 802 Queen Eadburh sought to poison a “certain young man very dear to the king {adolescens quidam regi dilectissimo}.” In poisoning that young man, Queen Eadburh also accidentally poisoned her husband King Beorhtric.

In response to her murderous scheming culminating in their king’s death, the West Saxons deposed Queen Eadburh. Moreover, they established a new gender policy for queens:

The West Saxon people henceforth did not allow the queen to sit beside the king, nor indeed did they allow her to be called “queen,” but rather “the king’s wife.” … For as a result of her very great wickedness, all the inhabitants of the land swore that they would never permit any king to reign over them who during his lifetime invited his queen to sit beside him on the royal throne.

{ Gens namque Occidentalium Saxonum reginam iuxta regem sedere non patitur, nec etiam reginam appellari, sed regis coniugem, permittit. … Pro nimia namque illius reginae malitia omnes accolae illius terrae coniuraverunt, ut nullum unquam regem super se in vita sua regnare permitterent, qui reginam in regali solio iuxta se sedere imperare vellet. }

Asser of St. David’s, a Welsh monk who became Bishop of Sherborne in the 890s, probably authored this account.[3] Medieval Christianity taught the biblical unity of male and female and conjugal partnership in marriage. Asser condemned constraining the status that a woman could acquire through marriage. Across a short passage, he called demoting a queen to the king’s consort “a perverse custom {perversa consuetudo},” “a contradiction, indeed, dishonor {controversia, immo infamia},” “a destructive moral corruption {pestifer tabes},” and “this perverse and detestable custom in Saxon land, contrary to the practice of all Germanic peoples {haec perversa et detestabilis consuetudo in Saxonia, ultra morem omnium Theotiscorum}.” In Christian understanding, the king’s wife rightly had all his power and privilege.[4]

Queen Eadburh used her power and privilege in part to advance her sexual interests. After being deposed as queen, Eadburh sailed to Europe. She took with her “countless treasures {innumerabiles thesauri}.” She then went to the court of the great Frankish king Charlemagne. She offered him many gifts. He tested whether her wisdom and character made her fit to be a queen:

Charlemagne said: “Choose, Eadburh, whom you wish between me and my son, who is standing with me on this throne.” She, foolishly replying without thinking, said: “If the choice is left to me, I choose your son, as he is younger than you.”

{ Karolus ait: “Elige, Eadburh, quem velis inter me et filium meum, qui mecum in solario isto stat.” At illa, sine deliberatione stulte respondens, [dicens] ait: “Si mihi electio conceditur, filium tuum, in quantum te iunior est, eligo.” }

Eadburh apparently regarded young men as more sexually vigorous than older men. That’s generally true. However, men offer women in love much more than just their sexuality. The wise king Charlemagne told Eadburh that she could have neither him nor his son. He also didn’t offer her his very sexually vigorous peer Oliver. Charlemagne gave Eadburh the position of abbess for a large convent. Not having learned the wisdom that Charlemagne apparent sought for her to learn, she served as abbess for only a few years:

When finally she was caught publicly fornicating with a certain man of her own people, she was thrown out of the monastery by order of Charlemagne the king. She then led her life up to her death in poverty and misery. As we have heard from many who saw her, in the end she had only one slave boy and, begging every day, she died in misery in Pavia.

{ Nam a quodam suae propriae gentis homine constuprata, demum palam deprehensa, de monasterio, imperio Karoli regis, deiecta, in paupertate et miseria leto tenus vituperabiliter vitam duxit; ita ut ad ultimum, uno servulo comitata, sicut a multis videntibus eam audivimus, cotidie mendicans, in Pavia miserabiliter moreretur. }

By the late eleventh century, Pavia was known as a city of fleshly pleasure. In the twelfth century, the Archpoet sang of the beautiful, warmly receptive women of Pavia. Perhaps Eadburh in the ninth century helped to build Pavia’s reputation for sexually eager women.

The lesson that Eadburh taught about women’s tyranny through the power of marriage didn’t last. Men readily return to their normal practice of praising and promoting women, sometimes even to the extent of gyno-idolatry. While the king’s wife apparently was kept in the background according to ninth-century Anglo-Saxon records, the queen once again rose in power in the tenth century. In 973 King Edgar’s wife Ælfthryth was formally consecrated as queen. She was referred to simply as “queen {regina},” as were king’s wives subsequent to her reign.[5] In the early eleventh century, the wife of King Cnut of England was referred to as Queen Emma. She signed royal documents immediately after the king and before archbishops.[6]

Men throughout history, including the very small number of kings, typically have not acted independently of their concern for women and women’s influence on them. Men commonly strive to please their mothers, impress potential female sexual partners, and receive the gynocentric merit of praising women. Men have long credited all their work to women.

Queen Emma of Normandy

Women’s power, like most political power, is gender-relational. Men have long striven to increase women’s status and power. For example, a Flemish monk about the year 1041 praised the King of England’s mother, Emma of Normandy:

That your excellence transcends the skill of any one speaking about you shines more clearly than the very radiance of the sun to all to whom you are known. I therefore esteem you as one who has regarded me as being so favorably deserving that I would sink to death unafraid if I would believe that my action would lead to your advantage. For this reason, and also according to your command to me, I am eager to transmit to posterity through my literary work a record of acts carried out, acts which, I declare, touch upon your honor and your attainments. … O reader, having thoroughly investigated this construction with the watchful indeed perspicacious eye of your mind, understand that the course of this little book resounds entirely in praises of Queen Emma.

{ Quod enim cuiuslibet peritiae loquentis de te virtus tua preminet, omnibus a quibus cognosceris ipso solis iubare clarius lucet. Te igitur erga me adeo bene meritam magnifacio, ut morti intrepidus occumberem, si in rem tibi provenire crederem. Qua ex re, mihi etiam ut precipis, memoriam rerum gestarum, rerum inquam tuo tuorumque honori attinentium, litteris meis posteritati mandare gestio. … o lector, vigilique immo etiam perspicaci oculo mentis perscrutato textu, intellige, huius libelli seriem per omnia reginae Emmae laudibus respondere. }[7]

Men writers have commonly served highly privileged women patrons. Flattering patrons is common practice for dependent and vulnerable writers. But this encomiast didn’t merely follow literary convention under huge power inequality between woman patron and man writer. His Praise of Emma the Queen {Encomium Emmae Reginae} overwhelmingly describes the deeds of men engaged in violence against men. Women are intimately implicated in the deeds of men, yet women’s dominant agency is typically hidden in the story of men political leaders and men slaughtered. The encomiast explained:

Who can deny that the Aeneid, written by Virgil, resounds everywhere in praises of Octavian, although nearly no or clearly very little mention of him is seen to be introduced?

{ Aeneida, conscriptam a Virgilio, quis poterit infitiari ubique laudibus respondere Octoviani, cum pene nihil aut plane parum eius mentio videatur nominatim interseri? }

The encomiast was more explicit than Virgil in mentioning the implicit ruling power. He mentioned King Cnut thirty times, but also mentioned Queen Emma nine times.[8]

The encomiast told of King Cnut eagerly soliciting marriage with Emma. Not merely desiring a young, beautiful, fertile woman, King Cnut sought a woman worthy to be his partner in marriage:

The king lacked nothing except for a most noble spouse. Such he ordered to be inquired for on his behalf everywhere. When she was found, he would obtain her hand lawfully, and when she was wedded to him, he would make her the partner of his rule. Therefore journeys were undertaken through realms and cities, and a royal bride was sought. After a difficult, thorough searching far and wide, a worthy one was ultimately discovered. This imperial bride was in fact found within the bounds of Gaul, more precisely, in the Norman region. She was in lineage and wealth the richest and furthermore the most beautiful and delightfully wise, the most distinguished of all women of that time, namely a famous queen. In accordance with her various distinctions, she was much desired by the king.

{ nil regi defuit absque nobilissima coniuge; quam ubique sibi iussit inquirere, ut inventam hanc legaliter adquireret, et adeptam imperii sui consortem faceret. Igitur per regna et per urbes discurritur, et regalis sponsa perquiritur; sed longe lateque quaesite, vix tandem digna repperitur. Inventa est vero haec imperialis sponsa in confinitate Galliae et praecipue in Normandensi regione, stirpe et opibus ditissima, sed tamen pulchritudinis et prudentiae delectamine omnium eius temporum mulierum praestantissima, utpote regina famosa. Propter huiuscemodi insignia multum appetebatur a rege }

The marital gender policy enacted after the disastrous rein of Queen Eadburh had been abandoned. The woman that King Cnut desired as his queen-partner was Emma of Normandy. She was then about 33 years old, with three children from a previous marriage.[9] The Danish King Cnut had two children from a previous marriage. The encomiast emphasized Emma’s marital bargaining power in relation to King Cnut:

Pleaders were sent to the lady, royal gifts were sent, and entreating messages were sent. But she utterly refused to become the bride of Cnut unless he would affirm to her by oath that he would never establish to rule after him any other wife’s son, if it so happened that God should give her a son by him. She had word that the king had sons by some other woman. Prudently providing for her offspring, she knew in her wise mind how to make arrangements in advance profiting them. The king consequently found what the lady said acceptable, and when the oath had been taken, the lady found the will of the king acceptable. And thus, thanks be to God, the lady Emma, noblest of women, became the wife of the most mighty King Cnut.

{ Mittuntur proci ad dominam, mittuntur dona regalia, mittuntur et verba precatoria. Sed abnegat illa, se unquam Chnutonis sponsam fieri, nisi illi iusiurando affirmaret, quod nunquam alterius coniugis filium post se regnare faceret nisi eius, si forte ille Deus ex eo filium dedisset. Dicebatur enim ab alia quadam rex filios habuisse; unde illa suis prudenter providens, scivit ipsis sagaci animo profutura preordinare. Placuit ergo regi verbum virginis, et iusiurando facto virgini placuit voluntas regis; et sic Deo gratis domina Emma mulierum nobilissima fit coniunx regis fortissimi Cnutonis. }

According to the encomiast, King Cnut yielding to Emma’s demand for a prenuptial oath brought joy and peace to England and much of Western Europe:

Gaul rejoiced and the fatherland of the English also rejoiced when so great an honor was conveyed across the sea. Gaul, I say, rejoiced at having given birth to such a great one worthy of so great a king. The fatherland of the English indeed rejoiced to have received such a one into its towns. What an event, sought with a million prayers, and at length barely brought to pass under the Savior’s favoring grace! This was what the armies on both sides had long eagerly desired: that so great a lady and so great a man, she worthy of her husband as he was worthy of her, bound together in matrimony, should lay to rest the disturbances of war.

{ Letatur Gallia, letatur etiam Anglorum patria, dum tantum decus transvehitur per aequora. Letatur, inquam, Gallia tantam tanto regi dignam se enixam; Anglorum vero letatur patria, talem se recepisse in oppida. O res millenis milies petita votis, vixque tandem effecta auspicante gratia Salvatoris. Hoc erat quod utrobique vehementer iam dudum desideraverat exercitus, scilicet ut tanta tanto, digna etiam digno, maritali convinculata iugo, bellicos sedaret motus. }

The encomiast never mentions Queen Emma’s first husband, King Æthelred of England. The Danish King Cnut overthrew King Æthelred. Emma, the disposed monarch’s wife, probably was caught in Cnut’s seige of London. The Anglo-Saxon Chronicle suggests that Cnut fetched Emma for marriage from a situation of her serious disadvantage. Encomium Emmae Reginae is best understood as a literary effort to construct an appealing story of a glorious queen establishing a ruling conjugal partnership with her husband the king.[10] That’s how queens, whether queens regnant or queen consorts, have commonly been understood throughout European history.

With willful ideological blinders, scholars now lament women’s historical lack of “independent” agency. Encomium Emmae Reginae praised the king for “being in all things obedient to the counsels of his mother {maternis per omnia parens consiliis}.” Women exercise power and rule over men mainly through exploiting men’s solicitousness toward women. In ninth-century England, the viciousness of Queen Eadburh prompted the Anglo-Saxons to limit the queen’s power to the status of the king wife, a status historians today call queen consort. That independent power-status lasted less than two centuries. Women don’t have independent power because men insistently support women with actions like writing Encomium Emmae Reginae.

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[1] In addition to one man typically being the formal ruling king, men typically fight and die in political violence to a far greater extent than women. Most men killed in political violence have much less privilege and power than elite women such as the king’s wife. From the perspective of almost all men throughout history, the modern distinction between queen regnant and queen consort has mattered little relative to the enormous gap in power between them and either category of queen. On historical terms for the king’s wife, Stafford (1997) Ch. 3.

Institutions of regency (rulers appointed for a time on behalf of a ruler currently unable to rule on her or his own) create additional formal complications. Anne of France in late-fifteenth-century Europe shows that women’s power can also transcend the formal structure of regency.

[2] Asser of St. David’s, Life of Alfred, King of the Anglo-Saxons {Vita Ælfredi regis Angul Saxonum} 14, Latin text from Stevenson (1904), English translation (modified slightly) from Keynes & Lapidge (1983). For an earlier, freely available English translation of Vita Ælfredi, Giles (1848). On its title, a convention that Stevenson established, Martin (2016) pp. 91-7. Two royal charters from 801 refer to Eadburh as “queen {regina}.” In addition:

An entry dating to between 825 and 850 in the Reichenau Liber vitae shows an ‘Eadburg’, abbess of a large Lombard convent. Eadburh’s story thus acquires verisimilitude (and Asser’s life plausibility).

Nelson (2004). On the textual history of the account of Eadburh in Vita Ælfredi, Martin (2016) pp. 130-4.

Asser apparently wrote Vita Ælfredi about 893. Martin (2016) pp. 106-7. It circulated very little and survived in only one early-eleventh-century manuscript, British Library, Cotton Otho A.xii. That manuscript perished in a fire in 1731. On its manuscript history and its reconstruction, Martin (2016) and Keynes & Lapidge (1983) pp. 223-7.

Throughout history, the wife of the ruling king (the queen consort) typically has been called simply the queen. Asser emphasized the historicity of his account of Queen Eadburh and the associated change in the queen’s status:

That I have heard from my Alfred, truthful king of the Anglo-Saxons, who still often tells me about it. He likewise had heard it from many truthful sources, indeed in part from men who remembered the event in extensive details.

{ Quod a domino meo Ælfredo, Angul-saxonum rege veredico, etiam saepe mihi referente, audivi; quod et ille etiam a veredicis multis referentibus, immo ex parte non modica illud factum commemorantibus, audierat. }

Asser, Vita Ælfredi 13. This and all other quotes above concerning Eadburh are similarly from Vita Ælfredi, sections 13-15.

[3] Some scholars have argued that Vita Ælfredi is a forgery from perhaps the eleventh century. On that scholarly debate, Martin (2016) pp. 1-2, 12-6; Keynes & Lapidge (1983) pp. 50-1. While doubt is always possible, the evidence seems to me to favor strongly the judgment that Vita Ælfredi is authentically the work of a well-educated Welsh cleric named Asser who personally knew King Alfred the Great.

[4] Monastic education in Anglo-Saxon England taught the Christian ideal of conjugal partnership using an early fifth-century Christian poem in which a husband says to his wife:

Now you, faithful companion, wrap yourself about me for this battle,
you whom God has provided as help for a weak man.
With care restrain me in pride, comfort me in sorrow,
let us both be examples of pious life.
Be guardian of your guardian, mutually giving back.
Raise my slipping, rise with assistance of my lifting,
so we be not only one flesh, but likewise also our minds
be one and one spirit nourish us both.

{ tu modo, fida comes, mecum isti accingere pugnae,
quam Deus infirmo praebuit auxilium.
sollicita elatum cohibe, solare dolentem;
exemplum vitae simus uterque piae.
custos esto tui custodis, mutua redde;
erige labentem, surge levantis ope,
ut caro non eadem tantum, sed mens quoque nobis
una sit atque duos spiritus unus alat. }

Prosper of Aquitaine (attributed), “Verses to his spouse {Versus ad coniugem}” /  Song to his wife {Carmen ad uxorem},” incipit “Age iam, precor, mearum / comes inremota rerum {Come now, I pray, / close companion of my deeds}” vv. 115-122 (of 122), Latin text from Hartel (1894) Appendix, Carmen 1, pp. 344-8, my English translation, benefiting from that of Chiappiniello (2007) p. 136. For an earlier Latin text, Patrologiae Latinae 51, cols. 611-16, available here. On Versus ad coniugem in monastic education in Anglo-Saxon England, Schrunk Ericksen (2019). An English translation was printed in 1539. Page (1983).

Versus ad coniugem survives among works of Prosper of Aquitaine in Vatican Library MS Reginensis latinus 230 and 206, both written in the ninth century. For other manuscripts of this poem, Chiappiniello (2007) p. 115, n. 1, and Parker (1983) p. 344. The poem, which is in the tradition of epithalamia, has been spuriously attributed to Paulinus of Nolas. Cf. Paulinus of Nola, Carmen 25.

[5] Stafford (1983) p. 17, Keynes & Lapidge (1983) p. 235, n. 28. Ælfthryth acted formally as an advocate (forespeca) in at least seven legal cases. Rabin (2009). When King Edgar died in 975, he had a son Edward by his prior wife Æthelflæd, and a son Æthelred by Queen Ælfthryth. In 978, Ælfthryth apparently arranged for the murder of Edward so that her son Æthelred would become king. That’s a common gender pattern of violence against men.

[6] Campbell (1949) pp. xlvi-ii.

[7] Praise of Emma the Queen {Encomium Emmae Reginae} Prologue {Prologus} ll. 4-9, Argument {Argumentum} ll. 33-4, Latin text and English translation (modified to follow the Latin more closely and be more easily readable) from Campbell (1949). The Latin text at Bibliotheca Augustana differs in a few instances.

Subsequent quotes above are from Encomium Emmae Reginae: Argument ll. 7-9 (Who can deny that the Aeneid…), Book 2.16.1-8 (The king lacked nothing except for a most noble spouse…), 2.16.10-7 (Pleaders were sent to the lady…), 2.16.18-23 (Gaul rejoiced…), and Argument 30 (being in all things obedient…).

[8] Orchard (2001) p. 161. Encomium Emmae Reginae mentions eight times Svein Forkbeard, King of Denmark and the father of Cnut the Great. It also mentions eight times the Danish Viking warrior leader Thorkell the Tall. Id.

[9] Emma of Normandy (Ælfgifu), the child of Richard I (Richard the Fearless), the Count of Rouen, and Gunnor, the Duchess of Normandy. Emma had three children with King Æthelred the Unready: Edward the Confessor, Godgifu (Goda), and Alfred Aetheling. Queen Emma became extremely wealthy. She had vast landholdings in England and had a large household of subservient men and women. Stafford (1997) Ch. 5 and Appendix II. On Emma’s relations with her children, Beaumont (2006) pp. 194-232.

[10] Emma of Normandy’s marriage to Cnut the Great didn’t bring peace to England in the long term. The Norman conquest in 1066 ended Anglo-Saxon England.

[11] According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, entry for 1017 in Manuscript D: “The king ordered King Æthelred’s widow, Richard’s daughter, to be fetched to him as his wife {het se cyng feccan him Æðelredes lafe þes oðres cynges him to cwene Ricardes dohtor}.” Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, Manuscript C and Manuscript E have similar entries. The Old English phrase “fetched {het feccan}” in relation to persons “is always used of those at some serious social or other disadvantage.” Orchid (2001) p. 176. Evidence suggests that Emma was under siege in London when Cnut fetched her for marriage. Id. pp. 176-82.

Modern historians have joined with the encomiast in boosting Queen Emma. A leading Anglo-Saxon historian declared:

when we seek to judge the Encomium as a historical source, there is little to be gained from censuring the author for his ‘suppression’ of Emma’s marriage to Æthelred, or for the various misconceptions which pervade his account of the Scandinavian conquest of England, or for seeming to represent Edward and Alfred as sons of Emma and Cnut. We should marvel, instead, at the wondrous audacity which lies behind the Encomiast’s exposition of events which took place in the the 1030s, for example in the invention of the forged letter from Emma to her children, or in his treatment of Earl Godwine’s part in the story of Alfred’s capture and death, and we should relish the thought that Emma should have commissioned a work of this nature in order to secure her political objectives. The Encomium represents the triumph of literary artifice over historical truth… .

Simon Keynes, Introduction, p. lxxi, in 1998 reprint of Campbell (1949). We might also marvel, in the midst of grossly gender disproportionate incarceration of men, at the “wondrous audacity” of mass-media reports that a large share of men confess to raping women. A you-go-girl presentation is particularly favored in mass publications:

Her version of history suggests how she managed to make herself indispensable. The Encomium reveals an active and forceful medieval woman participating in the writing of history, reshaping the story of her own life in a way that suited her interests.

Parker (2017). Tyler significantly observed:

It is this self-conscious view of made-up stories on the part of the Encomiast that I would like to underline. While many of his fictions have long been recognized as such by scholars, I do not think we have recognized how openly and deliberately fictional the Encomium is.

Tyler (2017) p. 58. Many public beliefs today are similarly openly and delibertely fictional.

[image] Emma of Normandy receiving Encomium Emmae Reginae from its author. Her sons Harthacnut (by Cnut the Great) and Edward the Confessor (by Æthelred the Unready) observe. From folio 1v (color adjusted) of British Library, MS. Additional 33241.


Beaumont, Naomi. 2006. Mothers, mothering and motherhood in late Anglo-Saxon England. PhD thesis, University of York

Campbell, Alistair, ed. and trans. 1949. Encomium Emmae reginae. London: Offices of the Royal Historical Society.

Chiappiniello, Roberto, 2007. “The Carmen ad uxorem and the Genre of the Epithalamium.” Ch. 5 (pp. 115-38) in Otten, Willemien, and Karla Pollmann, eds. Poetry and Exegesis in Premodern Latin Christianity: the encounter between classical and Christian strategies of interpretation. Leiden: Brill.

Giles, J. A, trans. 1848. Six old English Chronicles; of which two are now first translated from the Monkish Latin originals. London: Bell & Daldy. Reprinting of Giles’s Annals of the Reign of Alfred the Great.

Hartel, Guilelmus de, ed. 1894. Sancti Pontii Meropii Paulini Nolani, Carmina. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) 30. Vindobonae: Verlag der Österreichischen Akademie der Wissenschaften.

Keynes, Simon, and Michael Lapidge, trans. 1983. Alfred the Great: Asser’s Life of King Alfred and other contemporary sources. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.

Martin, Christopher John. 2016. Un-editing Alfred: rethinking modern editions of pre-modern texts from a post-modern sensibility. Ph.D. Thesis. Department of English, University of Washington.

Nelson, Janet L. 2004. “Entry for Eadburh [Eadburga].” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Orchard, Andy. 2001. “The Literary Background to the Encomium Emmae Reginae.” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 11: 156-183.

Page, R. I. 1983. “Matthew Parker’s Copy of Prosper His Meditation With His Wife.” Transactions of the Cambridge Bibliographical Society. 8 (3): 342-349.

Parker, Eleanor. 2017. “Out of the Margins: The Queen’s Encomium.” History Today. 67 (5) / May 2017. Online.

Rabin, Andrew. 2009. “Female Advocacy and Royal Protection in Tenth-Century England: The Legal Career of Queen Ælfthryth.” Speculum. 84 (2): 261-288.

Schrunk Ericksen, Janet. 2019. “A Textbook Stance on Marriage: The Versus ad coniugem in Anglo-Saxon England.” Ch. 5 (pp. 97-112) in Kozikowski, Christine E., and Helene Scheck, eds. New Readings on Women and Early Medieval English Literature and Culture: Cross-Disciplinary Studies in Honour of Helen Damico. Leeds: Arc Humanities Press. (introduction)

Stafford, Pauline. 1997. Queen Emma and Queen Edith: queenship and women’s power in eleventh-century England. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishers.

Stafford, Pauline. 1981. “The King’s Wife in Wessex 800-1066.” Past & Present. 91 (1): 3-27.

Stevenson, William Henry, ed. 1904. Asser, Bishop of Sherborne. Life of King Alfred. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Tyler, Elizabeth M. 2017. England in Europe: English royal women and literary patronage, c.1000-c.1150. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Catullus to Secundus, then fall to ignorance, bigotry & intolerance

Nearly 2100 years ago within the Roman Republic, the Veronese poet Catullus wrote passionate Latin poems of incarnated love. Writing in Latin about 1535 in Spain, the young Dutch poet Janus Secundus expressed the continuing vitality of Catullus’s sense of love. But post-seventeenth-century obfuscations of men’s sexual windsurfing in translations of Lucian’s second-century True Story show the historical swerve. William Sanger’s pioneering mid-nineteenth-century social-scientific study of New York prostitution documents increasing criminalization of men’s sexuality. Sanger disparaged classical Latin authors for including “the coarsest words” in their writings. The Brothers Grimm in early nineteenth-century Germany similarly created fairy tales effacing the fleshly grandeur of incarnated love. Today’s ideologically puerile societies with a broken heritage of European culture desperately need a renaissance of understanding lost after the misnamed European Middle Ages. Today’s ideologically puerile societies, mired in ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance, desperately need to recover mature, humanistic appreciation for men’s sexuality.

The ancient Latin poet Catullus understood men’s sexuality to be a blessing. Like a learned philosopher, Catullus in Carmen 7 answered a difficult love question and declared his answer’s ethical implications:

You ask how many of your kissing sessions,
Lesbia, for me would be satisfying enough and more:
as great as number the Libyan sand-grains
that lie on silphium-bearing Cyrene
between the oracle of passionate Jove
and the sacred tomb of aged Battus,
or as many as the stars that, when the night rests,
see the secret loves of human beings.
So much I kiss you with so many kisses
satisfying enough and more for mad Catullus,
that neither the assiduous are able to count
nor an evil tongue able to penis-charm.

{ Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis
oraclum Jouis inter aestuosi
et Batti veteris sacrum sepulcrum;
aut quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox,
furtivos hominum vident amores:
tam te basia multa basiare
vesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua. }[1]

Catullus’s answer to his girlfriend’s question about his satisfaction with her kissing is ostentatiously learned. His adjective Libyan {Lybyssus} comes from the Greek Λιβύη, while silphium {lasarpiciferis} appears in Catullus newly translated into Latin from the Greek term σίλφιοφόρος. Silphium provides a foul-smelling medicinal resin called asafoetida. Moreover, Cyrene, a Greek colony in present-day Libya, is the birthplace of the eminent Hellenistic poet Callimachus. Battus is both the name of Cyrene’s mythical founder and the name of Callimachus’s father. Jove as Jupiter Ammon in fact had a revered oracle at the oasis of Ammonium (Siwah) within the Libyan desert.[2] These are crazy learned references in a love poem by a poet who third-personally describes himself as mad.

The method in Catullus’s madness comes from the combination of sand and stars. The mathematician Archimedes, working in the third century BGC, calculated in his treatise The Sand Reckoner {Ψαμμίτης} an upper bound for the number of grains of sand that would fill the universe: ten raised to the sixty-third power.[3] With respect to stars, a modern literary scholar noted:

Even on the clearest nights the number of stars visible is no more than 3000. Catullus would have been a little surprised at this fact, just as I was astonished when I first heard it.

{ Es sind auch in den klarsten Nächten nicht mehr als 3000. C. würde sich über diese Tatsache nicht wenig gewundert haben, genau wie ich erstaunt war, als ich sie zuerst hörte. }[4]

From 3000 to a sixty-four-digit number is a huge range for the number of kisses that would more than satisfy Catullus. With respect to the figures of sand and stars, a learned literary scholar noted, “The two conceits do not appear to be elsewhere amalgamated.” Attributing both to Hellenistic poetry in general would make Hellenistic poetic inhabit a huge expanse of subsequent Latin poetry.[5] Moreover, both figures are elsewhere amalgamated. Surely almost all medieval European thinkers would quickly recognize a blessing:

I will surely bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.[6]

{ כִּֽי־בָרֵךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ וְהַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ
כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְכַחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל־שְׂפַת הַיָּם }

Both Horace and Cicero disparaged faithful translators. Those translators were plausibly Jews living in Rome. Catullus, with all his learning, surely could have encountered Hebrew scripture, perhaps in Greek translation. Both Jews and Christians, like Catullus, had a cosmic perspective on love and life. Kissing for Catullus is associated with the seminal blessing of abundant life.

Catullus’s Carmen 7 emphasizes in its final verse an evil tongue. The present active infinitive of fascino has been commonly translated in Carmen 7 as “bewitch.”[7] But fascino is associated with a fascinum, a penis-shaped amulet. The evil tongue penis-charms by engaging tongues and mouths solely in forming words. That was the preoccupation of learned Hellenistic poets engaged, like merchants, in seeking, counting, and accumulating poetic figures and meters. In contrast, tongues and mouths in personal human experience of love are truly good and blessed in kissing that leads to genital communication. Lacking appreciation for the penis, modern readers have failed to appreciate the implicit concluding good in Catullus’s Carmen 7.

The expression of love hidden in Catullus’s Carmen 7 is made more explicit in his Carmen 5. Those assiduous in counting are thoroughly overwhelmed:

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love.
The talk of very stern old women
all that isn’t worth one cent.
Suns are able to die and rise again,
but for us, when our one brief light has died,
night is one perpetual sleep.
Bestow on me a thousand kisses, then another hundred
then a thousand add then a second hundred
then a further thousand add then another hundred
then, when we have done many thousands,
we’ll confuse our counting, so we won’t know how many.
At least an evil person cannot refuse to see us
when she knows that our kisses are that many.

{ Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis.
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum,
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum. }

Life and love are inextricable in the history and future of humanity. In Catullus’s time, and much more so in our time, stern authorities of gynocentric social sentiment have sought to suppress viciously and unjustly men’s sexuality to the detriment of women and men. These authorities seek to make flesh-and-blood human beings invisible to each other. When Catullus and Lesbia kiss each other beyond counting, they insist on their substantial existence as persons in love. Life in love overcomes evil.

You! You who read about many thousand kisses,
you think I’m not much of a masculine man?
I with my dick will bang up your crapper and stuff your mouth.

{ vos quod milia multa basiorum
legistis, male me marem putatis?
pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo. }[8]

Brutalizing representations of men’s penises are deeply entrenched in millennia of human communication, yet sophisticated literature affirmed the goodness of men’s seminal blessing. The first century Songs of Priapus {Carmina Priapea} subtly challenged the brutalization of men’s sexuality. That subtle critique has largely been lost within modern anti-men bigotry. In ninth-century Germany, the learned Christian monk Walahfrid Strabo replaced Gallus’s figure of men waging war for women’s love with loving mutuality and joy in plowing a garden. Similarly, the great medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini, in addition to recovering Lucretius’s On the nature of things {De rerum natura} with its brilliant critique of gyno-idolatry, sought to affirm men’s sexuality with humane, delightful tales. Yet Poggio’s most important work — his collection of tolerant, men-affirming tales — tends to be ignored or trivialized in modern moralistic literary studies.

The last vibrant literary expression of Catullus’s understanding of incarnated love was the early modern kissing poems best represented by Janus Secundus’s Kisses {Basia}. Secundus recognized that brutalizing representations of men’s penises suppress life-creating love:

“Give me a sweet little deep kiss, charming young woman,” I said.
Soon you brushed my lips with your lips.
Then like one jumping back in terror after stepping on a snake,
you abruptly pulled your mouth far from my mouth.
That isn’t giving a sweet little deep kiss, my light, but merely giving
a tearful desire for a sweet little deep kiss.

{ Da mihi suaviolum, dicebam, blanda puella;
libasti labris mox mea labra tuis.
Inde, velut presso qui territus angue resultat,
ora repente meo vellis ab ore procul.
Non hoc suaviolum dare, Lux mea, sed dare tantum
est desiderium flebile suavioli. }[9]

One might give a sibling or a grandparent a sweet little kiss, but this sweet little kiss was a mutual, passionate brush of lips. It didn’t involve penetration. Secundus wanted more:

A hundred kisses times a hundred,
a hundred kisses times a thousand,
a thousand kisses times a thousand,
and as many thousands
as there are drops in the Sicilian sea,
as there are stars in the sky.

{ Centum basia centies,
centum basia millies,
mille basia millies,
et tot milia millies,
quot guttae Siculo mari,
quot sunt sidera caelo }[10]

The woman pulled back with a disparaging figure of a man’s penis — a snake. Secundus was left with only his tearful desire for her. Drawing imaginative force from Christian understanding of love, Secundus associated suffering with passion:

If you count tears, you may count kisses, but if
you don’t count tears, don’t count kisses.
And give me, as empty solace for wretched anguish,
uncountable kisses for uncountable tears.

{ Si numeras lacrimas, numeres licet oscula, sed si
non numeras lacrimas, oscula ne numeres;
et mihi da, miseri solatia vana doloris,
innumera innumeris basia pro lacrimis. }

The central medieval European understanding of love in its most important expression was Jesus’s bodily suffering of crucifixion and the boundless love of Christ. Medieval art explicitly depicted Jesus Christ as a fully masculine human being. Secundus’s empty solace of uncountable kisses for uncountable tears lacks the consummation of promised new life. That promise depends on a woman’s vagina encompassing a man’s penis.

Grotesque anti-men gender bias in both public discussion of rape and punishment for sex offenses, along with state-imposed forced financial fatherhood, make men particularly vulnerable in the heterosexual act that creates life. Secundus imagined his beloved woman protecting him from persecution for his passionate, vigorous heterosexuality:

Some say that I unite in kisses too effusively,
not in the manner that our aged fathers learned.
Hence when I draw your neck tightly in my desiring arms,
my light, and I die in your little kisses,
should I anxiously ask what everyone’s saying about me?
Who I am, or where I might be, barely comes to my mind.
Lovely Neaera heard and laughed. She then
encircled my neck with her snow-white hands
and gave me a little kiss, one no less lustful
than any charming Venus planted on her lover Mars.
“Why,” said she, “do you fear the decrees of the stern mob?
Only my court has competence in this case.”

{ Basia lauta nimis quidam me iungere dicunt,
qualia rugosi non didicere patres.
Ergo, ego cum cupidis stringo tua colla lacertis,
Lux mea, basiolis immoriorque tuis,
anxius exquiram quid de me quisque loquatur?
Ipse quis, aut ubi sim, vix meminisse vacat.
Audiit, et risit formosa Neaera, meumque
hinc collum nivea cinxit et inde manu;
basiolumque dedit, quo non lascivius umquam
inseruit Marti Cypria blanda suo;
et, “quid,” ait, “metuis turbae decreta severae?
Causa meo tantum competit ista foro.” }

That’s a masculine fantasy. Lack of facts or lack of competence hasn’t forestalled modern mobs from virtually stoning men for sex crimes against women. Men’s lives begin with women’s choices, and women’s choices can also end men’s lives.

naked man riding phallic snail

Men are reticent to express their feelings because women often don’t respond sympathetically to men’s feelings. Men thus often become emotionally and sexually repressed within gynocentric society. Secundus poignantly depicted that effect:

Why are you offering me your flaming little lip?
No, I do not wish to kiss you, hard woman,
harder than hard marble Neaera.
Would I make these placid kisses
of yours so passionate, proud one,
that, so often with my rigid organ erect,
I would perturb my tunic and yours
and mad with vain desire
I would wretchedly waste away with my cock burning?
Where are you fleeing? Wait, don’t deny me your little eyes,
nor your flaming little lip.
You now, I wish to kiss you, soft woman,
softer than soft goose down.

{ Quid profers mihi flammeum labellum?
Non te, non volo basiare, dura,
duro marmore durior Neaera.
Tanti istas ego ut osculationes
imbelles faciam, superbe, vestras,
ut, nervo toties rigens supino,
pertundam tunicas meas, tuasque;
et, desiderio furens inani,
tabescam, miser, aestuante vena?
Quo fugis? Remane, nec hos ocellos,
nec nega mihi flammeum labellum:
Te iam, te volo basiare, mollis,
molli mollior anseris medulla. }

In this poem, Secundus initially rejected the placid kisses so common today in sexless marriages. When he explained his bodily desire and suffering to Neaera, she turned to flee. In response, Secundus in the last three verses suppresses his feelings and settles for separating love from the sexual act that makes new life. That’s a characteristically modern position.

Men writers have always endured a difficult position in relation to women. If they forego writing about genderless persons and openly express their experiences as men in relation to women, they risk incurring women’s wrath and might even be called misogynists. From his unsafe position, Secundus dared to offer strong words:

Because I sing about chaste kisses in my limp book,
dusky Lycinna makes fun of my verses,
and Aelia calls me a poet of the droopy little penis —
she who sells her love at crossroads and under colonnades!
Of course they expect also to get to know my penis.
Hold off, you wicked little ones. My cock is nothing to me.
I neither sing for you, nor thrust in kisses for you.
May the awkward bride of the tender young man read them,
so also the tender bridegroom, not yet mature for the wars
that the nurturing love goddess practices in various ways.

{ Casta quod enervi cantamus Basia libro,
Versibus eludit fusca Lycinna meis,
Et me languiduli vatem vocat Aelia penis,
Quae venerem in triviis porticibusque locat.
Scilicet exspectant nostrum quoque noscere penem!
Parcite turpiculae, mentula nulla mihi est.
Nec vobos canto, nec vobis basio figo:
Ista legat teneri sponsa rudis pueri.
Ista tener sponsus, nondum maturus ad arma,
Exercet variis quae Venus alma modis. }[11]

While bearing a burden of performance, men also endure attacks on their masculinity. Castration culture encourages men to deny their own penises. Secundus, however, denied his penis as a man writer within an elaborate rhetorical mocking of hostile women readers like Lycinna and Aelia. Until they gain maturity and experience, those not sophisticated enough to understand how the penis relates to kissing interpret kissing to be just kissing.

man showing his asshole

Appreciation for Catullus’s sense of incarnated love shriveled in the seventeenth century and the subsequent modern period. Catullus and Janus Secundus bind roughly in time the sense of incarnated love that reached its most vibrant expression between them. In our age of ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance, few can imagine the joy of sex poignantly described in medieval Latin literature. No man poet today could write about women of old Pavia as the Archpoet did in the twelfth century. The vibrant celebration of diversity, scholarly study, and heterosexuality in King Alfonso X’s song about the dean of Cádiz is inconceivable today. Contrary to modern stereotypes, medieval clerics loved women across an expansive understanding of love. With carnal and creative representations of sex, medieval men protested men’s subordination to women and women’s exploitation of men. The thirteenth-century Romance of the Rose humorously transfigured in its end the sense of incarnated love that medieval thought associated with human salvation. Failing to understand the source of Catallus’s figure of seminal blessing is a telling mistake.[12] Now more than ever, modern culture must swerve to embrace the seminal blessing that comes through incarnated love.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Catullus, Carmen 7, Latin text from Catullus Online, my English translation, benefiting from those of Beck (2017), Wong (2017) p. 20, Daniel San (2004), Kline (2001), and Burton & Smithers (1894). To help the general reader understand the sound of the Latin, I’ve replaced u and i with v and j, respectively, in the appropriate places in the Latin text. The subsequent quote from Catullus’s Carmen 5 is similarly sourced. Lesbia is thought to represent Clodia Metelli, the wife of Quintus Metellus Celer.

Catullus apparently introduced into Latin poetry the words basio and basium, and he created the related substantive basiatio {kissing session}. Catullus wasn’t, however, the person who originally brought basio from a Gallic dialect into Latin. Wong (2017) p. 20. Cf. Fordyce (1990) pp. 106-7.

[2] On these obscure references, Elder (1951) p. 108, and Commager (1965) p. 85 and p. 106, notes 7 and 12. Some critics have interpreted this song as representing childish love. “This dainty little poem is a work of dalliance.” Elder (1951) p. 107. For citations of similar interpretations, Commager (1965) p. 84, and n. 6, p. 106. Commager aptly observed:

The poem suggests, rather, a formal catechism: question (quaeris …), answer (quam magnus numerus…), and conclusion (tam te basia … satis et super Catullo est).

Id. p. 84.

[3] Aaronson (1999) p. 3. For an English translation of Archimedes’s Sand-Reckoner, Mendell (2003).

[4] Friedrich (1908), comment on Catullus 7.7, cited by Segal (1968) p. 294, n. 18.

[5] The statement that the two conceits (poetic figures) of sand and stars are not elsewhere combined is from Segal (1968) p. 106, n. 14. Segal (1974) strains to find an allusion to Hellenistic poetry in the second conceit concerning stars (Catullus 7.7-8). A figure of stars as over-seers {ἐπἰσκοποι} surely isn’t limited to Helenistic poetry. Cf. id. p. 139.

[6] Genesis 22:17. Cf. Genesis 15:5, 26:4; Exodus 32:13; 1 Chronicles 27:23.

[7] “Bewitch” is used in the English translations of Catullus 7.12 in Wong (2017) p. 20, Daniel San (2004), Kline (2001), and both Burton and Smithers in Burton & Smithers (1894). Fordyce (1990), p. 110, puts forward that translation. Beck (2017) has “put a curse.” On fascina, Whitmore (2017).

[8] Catullus, Carmen 16, vv. 12-14, sourced as previously. Wong (2014) / Wong (2017) recognizes that Carmen 16 relates to Carmen 5 and 7, as well as Carmen 48 and 99The vos quod of 16.12 is an early humanistic correction for hosque. For some analysis, Wong (2014) pp. 33-5.

[9] Janus Secundus, Basia 3, Latin text from Burmannus & Bosscha (1821) via the Latin Library, my English translation, benefiting from the translations of Wong (2017) p. 71, Price (1996) p. 75, Nichols (1979) p. 491, and Kelly, Sheridan & Halhed (1854) p. 375-6, which provides the English translations of John Nott (1775) and Thomas Stanley (1647). Subsequent quotes from Secundus are similarly sourced. Although written about 1535, Secundus’s Basia were first published in full posthumously in 1541.

Both Nichols (1979) and Kelly, Sheridan & Halhed (1854) translate all of Secundus’s Basia, as well as his Wedding Poem {Epithalamium}. Black Cat Poems apparently provides Secundus’s Basia in a light adaptation of Nott’s 1775 translation.

In Secundus’s Basia 3, the most difficult translation issue is the word suaviolum, used three times in this six-verse poem. According to the fourth-century Roman grammarian and rhetoric teacher Aelius Donatus, Latin distinguishes three types of kisses:

oscula were formal duty, basia chaste affection, and savia lustful or with loving desire

{ oscula officiorum sunt, basia pudicorum affectuum, savia libidinum vel amorum }

Donatus, Commentum Terenti, Latin text from Wong (2017) p. 20, my English translation. Maurus Servius Honoratus, a Roman grammarian writing about 400 GC, similarly stated:

An osculum must be understood to be pious, and a savium to be voluptuous. Some say, however, that an osculum is given to children, a basium to one’s wife, and a savium to a whore.

{ sciendum osculum religionis esse, savium voluptatis, quamvis quidam osculum filiis dari, uxori basium, scorto savium dicant. }

Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil 1.256, Latin text from the edition of Thilo & Hagen (1881) via Perseus, my English translation. Savium is an early form of suavium; suaviolum is a dimunitive of the latter. Catullus used saviolum in Carmen 99, verses 2 & 14.

These distinctions between Latin words for kisses were often ignored in practice. Ovid, who hardly wrote about kissing as a formal duty or as affection for children, exclusively used osculum. Fordyce (1990) pp. 107. On the occurence of different Latin words for kissing, Roth (2006).

Secundus’s Basia 3 seems to me to benefit from Donatus’s and Servius’s distinctions among kisses and transfered sense from suavis {sweet}. Moreover, contrast is a typical aspect of Secundus’s poetics. Price (1993) pp. 9, 33. “The quintessential Basium has a strong volta that marks a contradiction in sentiment or style.” Id. p. 59. Embracing Secondus’s use of contrast, I’ve translated suaviolum in Secundus’s Basia 3 as “sweet little deep kiss.” Wong, Price, Nichols, and Nott translated that word as “little kiss.”

[10] Secundus, Basia 7.1-6 (full, poetic translation of Basia 7). This poem obviously draws upon Catullus, Carmen 5 and 7. Secundus more directly refers to Lesbia and Catullus:

Give me a hundred kisses,
give me as many kisses as Lesbia gave
to her many-seeking poet, as she received.

{ da mi basia centum,
da tot basia, quot dedit
vati multivolo Lesbia, quot tulit }

Basia 16.3-5. The subsequent three quotes are from Basia 6.23-6 (If you count tears…), 11 (Some say that I unite in kisses…), and 14 (Why are you offering me…).

Like Catullus, Secundus makes clear that he wasn’t interested in just kissing. In a non-Christian second-century Greek novel perhaps written for young persons, a character devalues sexual intercourse:

The love act itself comes to an end and one is soon sated with it. It is nothing if you take away the kisses from it. The kiss does not come to an end, never brings satiety, and is always fresh.

{ τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἔργον τῆς Ἀφροδίτης καὶ ὅρον ἔχει καὶ κόρον, καὶ οὐδέν ἐστιν, ἐὰν ἐξέλῃς αὐτοῦ τὰ φιλήματα· φίλημα δὲ και ἀόριστόν ἐστι καὶ ἀκόρεστον καὶ καινὸν ἀεί. }

Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon {Λευκιππην και Κλειτοφωντα} 4.8, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified) from Gaselee (1969) pp. 204-5. In this passage, Clitophon expresses his anguish at the thought of Charmides kissing Clitophon’s beloved Leucippe.

Being satisfied with passionate kissing is inconsistent with fundament Jewish and Christian values. Wong uses the above quote from Leucippe and Clitophon as an epigram to his book. Wong (2017) p. ix. Perhaps he meant that quote to be understood ironically. Such a construction would be consistent with Catullus and Secundus’s poetic style.

[11] Secundus, Epigrams 1.24, “On his little book of kisses {De libello suo basiorum}.” Price (1996) p. 87 provides a Latin text and English translation, while Kelly, Sheridan & Halhed (1854), p. 367, provides an English translation by George Ogle (1731). Wong (2017) p. 102 provides a partial English translation. In v. 1 above, the adjective “chaste {enervis}” also suggests castration. Above I’ve used “cock {mentula}” as a less formal translation of “penis {penis}.” Secundus’s rhetorical invocation of castration culture is apparent elsewhere:

Go away, go far away, you molesting crowd,
you shameful old and young women.
How much more chaste is my Neaera,
who certainly likes little books without a cock
better than a poet without a cock.

{ Ite hinc, ite procul, molesta turba,
matronaeque, puellulaeque turpes;
quanto castior est Neaera nostra,
quae certe sine mentula libellum
mavult, quam sine mentula poetam. }

Basia 12.14-18. Martial expressed a similar sentiment more impersonally:

Don’t be wishing that my little books would be castrated.
Nothing is more repulsive than a Priapus like a eunuch Gallus.

{ nec castrare velis meos libellos.
Gallo turpius est nihil Priapo. }

Martial, Epigrams 1.35, Latin text from Heraeus & Borovskij (1976) via Perseus, my English translation.

Secundus. along with his brothers Grudius and Marius, appreciated women’s strong, independent sexuality. Secundus’s beloved Neaera is thought to be a Spanish prostitute. Price (1996) pp. 26-7, 59. Moreover, Secundus in his elegies sings his ardent love for Julia. Murgatroyd (2000). In a letter to his brothers Secundus and Marius, Grudius wrote:

Julia (yours when this was reported) was for long enough ill with an eye ailment and ailments of other parts of her body. They suspected that she had the noble disease. I don’t think so. Now she shows the best complexion and agility and is most elegantly dressed. She is seen to have some other defilement. If you ask what affairs she’s carrying on, she goes about with her mother and her sister and (which is a sign of good health and a good cunt):
she continues to arrange her various charms for love work
and to wriggle her pliable ass with soft art
until Venus totally floods her inners with desired drops
and she falls back, languid from the sweet labor.
Be well and be diligent in your studies. That is the best way to recline, and in fact exactly what our father orders, and such is besides what the matter urges.

{ Iulia (quando etiam hoc vestra refert) satis diu aegrotavit et ex oculo et ex aliis corporis partibus; sunt qui suspicentur fuisse morbum nobilium. Id ego non puto, nunc enim prodit colore optimo, et agilis, et vestita cultissime; videtur habere aliquem pollum. Quod si quaeritis quid rerum gerat, agit cum matre et sorore, et (quod signum est bonae valetudinis et boni cunni),
Pergit opus Veneris variis disponere formis,
Et docilem molli flectere ab arte natem,
Dum quaesita Venus totis guttata medullis
Perfluat, et dulci laxa labore cadat. Valete, et diligenter studiis vestris, hoc est optimis incumbite; quod ipsum et ipse iubet pater, et alioqui res ita urget. }

Letter from Grudius to his brothers Marius and Secundus, May 29, 1532. Latin text from Guépin (2000), section 2.2.1, my English translation, benefiting from that of Endres (1981) p. 25. The “noble disease” is syphilis. On the rhetoric of this letter, Godman (1988) pp. 264-5.

[12] The tradition from Catullus to early modern kissing poems fundamentally concerns the presentation of masculinity. Wong (2017) pp. xiii, 115, 314-5. Wong interprets the issue in relation to hard {durus} and soft {mollis} aspects of masculinity:

In simplified terms, what continues in Secundus from his ultimate model, the ‘father of kisses’, is the sense of two registers in competition: one hard, aggressive, demonstratively masculine, and rapacious; the other soft, passive, effeminate, tender. Both registers are ironized, each by the other, and both relate sexuality to poetry through the idea of style. Catullus 5 and 7 alone do not provide this tension; they do so in relation to poem 16 and to the corpus as a whole.

Wong (2017) p. 103. Is masculinity in Jewish and Christian understanding “hard” or “soft”? No good answer exists, and the question itself isn’t interesting. Understanding Catullus’s concern to be incarnated love encompasses masculine love that’s both hard and soft, and in both senses intensely personal. Christianity largely carried that sense of incarnated love across medieval Europe through the early modern period and basia. The genre of basia faded in the seventeenth century. Wong (2017) p. 11. So too did elite appreciation for incarnated love as reflected in Catullus’s poetry and Jewish and Christian understanding.

Other scholars have recognized a change in the representation of love about the eighteenth century. Analyzing the reception of Catullus 5, Braden observed:

the intervening seventeen-hundred years have done drastic things to Catullus’ subject matter. The love of which Catullus speaks is of course sexual: “of course” because almost no classical author, not even the senes seueriores, would imagine any other form of love between a man and a woman. Catullus’ ambitions for that love, the range of values with which he seeks to invest it, are extraordinary, possibly even unprecedented, and ultimately disastrous; yet the physical dimension itself is not what needs explaining or excusing. Lesbia certainly does not have to be talked into accepting sex as a part of her life, and Carmina 5 seems anyway to deal with an affair already begun; the real issue is not the sexuality of their love, but its quality and intensity. The intervention of Christian morality, however, alters the terms on which Catullus’ poem could be imitated, and probably even the very way it could be perceived. A poem about sexual love must now devote a sizable amount of its energies to defending the rightness of such love in general, and by a serious shift in the center of gravity, the adaptations of Viuamus, mea Lesbia have to become, with only a few exceptions, seduction poems.

Braden (1979) pp. 207-9. Braden’s argument hinges on the deus ex machina of “Christian morality.” That’s completely incredible to anyone with broad knowledge of medieval European literature. For the unambitious, just read the tenth-century Exeter riddles and the Roman Catholic priest William Dunbar’s The Treatise of the Two Married Women and the Widow {The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo}, written about 1500In exasperation, one is tempted to make Saint Jerome’s obscene gesture to Jovinian.

[images] (1) Knight riding a snail with a penis-shaped head. Folio 184v of Morgan Library MS M.358 (Book of Hours made in southern France c. 1440-1450). More on snails, classical epic, and gender. (2) Man displaying his asshole. From folio 61r of British Library Add MS 49622 (Gorleston Psalter made in England (Suffolk) between 1310-1324).


Aaronson, Scott. 1999. “Who Can Name the Bigger Number?” Online.

Beck, Melissa. 2016. “Let us Live and Let us Love: My Translation and Interpretation of Catullus Poem 5.” The Book Binder’s Daughter. Online, December 29,  2016.

Beck, Melissa. 2017. “How Many Kisses are Enough?: My Translation of Catullus Poem 7.” The Book Binder’s Daughter. Online, January 28, 2017.

Braden, Gordon. 1979. “Viuamus, mea Lesbia in the English Renaissance.” English Literary Renaissance. 9 (2): 199-224.

Burmannus, Petrus, and Petrus Bosscha, eds. 1821. Ioannis Nicolaii Secundi Hagani Opera omnia. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. Lugduni Batavorum: Apud S. et J. Luchtmans.

Burton, Richard F., and Leonard C. Smithers. 1894. The Carmina of Caius Valerius Catullus: now first completely Englished into verse and prose, the metrical part by Capt. Sir. Richard F. Burton, K.C.M.G., F.R.G.S., etc., etc., etc. and the prose portion, introduction, and notes explanatory and illustrative by Leonard C. Smithers. London: Printed for the translators.

Commager, Steele. 1965. “Notes on Some Poems of Catullus.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. 70: 83-110.

Elder, John Petersen. 1951. “Notes on Some Conscious and Subconscious Elements in Catullus’ Poetry.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. 60: 101-136.

Endres, Clifford. 1981. Joannes Secundus: the Latin love elegy in the Renaissance. Hamden, CT: Archon Books.

Fordyce, C. J. 1990. Catullus: a commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Friedrich, Gustav. 1908. Catulli Veronensis Liber. Leipzig and Berlin: B.G. Teubner.

Gaselee, S., ed. and trans. 1969. Achilles Tatius. Leucippe and Clitophon. Loeb Classical Library 45. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Godman, Peter. 1988. “Johannes Secundus and Renaissance Latin Poetry.” The Review of English Studies. 39 (154): 258-272.

Guépin, Jan Pieter. 2000. De drie dichtende broers Grudius, Marius, Secundus: in brieven, reisverslagen en gedichten. Groningen: Styx Publications.

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

Kline, A. S. 2001. Catullus: The Poems. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Mendell, Henry. 2003. Archimedes, Sand-Reckoner (Arenarius). Online.

Murgatroyd, Paul, ed. and trans. 2000. The Amatory Elegies of Johannes Secundus. Leiden: Brill.

Nichols, Fred J., ed. and trans. 1979. An Anthology of Neo-Latin Poetry. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Price, David. 1992. “The Poetics of License in Janus Secundus’s Basia.” The Sixteenth Century Journal. 23 (2): 289-301.

Price, David. 1996. Janus Secundus. Tempe, Arizona: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies. Chapter 4 draws on Price (1992).

Roth, Conrad H. 2006. “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me: for the Latin lover.” Varieties of unreligious Experience. Online, September 3, 2006.

Segal, Charles. 1968. “Catullus 5 and 7: A Study in Complementaries.” The American Journal of Philology. 89 (3): 284-301.

Segal, Charles. 1974. “More Alexandrianism in Catullus VII?” Mnemosyne. 27 (2): 139-143.

Whitmore, Alissa M. 2017. “Fascinating Fascina: Apotropaic Magic and How to Wear a Penis.” Pp. 47-66 in Cifarelli, Megan, and Laura Gawlinski, eds. What shall I say of clothes?: theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of dress in antiquity. Boston, MA: Archaeological Institute of America.

Wong, Alex. 2014. “The Hard and the Soft in the Humanist Poetry of Kissing.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition. 21 (1): 30-66.

Wong, Alex. 2017. The poetry of kissing in early modern Europe. From the Catullan Revival to Secundus, Shakespeare and the English Cavaliers. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Ltd. Chapter 4 draws on Wong (2014). (review by Syrithe Pugh)

BBC & Mary Beard remove fig leaf obscuring castration culture

Dominant authorities have long trivialized the castration culture deeply entrenched in Western civilization. Rather than listening to its victims, believing them, and expressing compassion for their sufferings, dominant authorities have long dismissed men’s penal fears as merely the psychological pathology “castration anxiety.” However, the recent sober documentary Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) educated the public with seminally important investigative news reporting. That program included an exposé entitled “Mary Beard Peeks Beneath The Fig Leaf.” The coverup is over. No longer will leading institutions of public propaganda be able to dismiss placidly castration culture.

Mary Beard: something has happened to his penis

Those who bravely read classics, despite all the social-justice horrors of classics, should recognize the reality of castration culture. Chronus’s castration of Uranus in Hesiod’s Theogony, the Roman Emperor Domitian’s castration of his boy-love Earinus, and the personal tragedy of Ovid’s castration were part of the systemic castration culture more broadly shown in the Galli serving the goddess Ceres. Of course, castration culture is nowhere more sensationally presented than in Apuleius’s late-second-century Metamorphoses.

Castration culture was classically associated with rape-culture culture. Both rape and false accusations of rape were taken very seriously throughout history, except for false accusations of rape in recent decades. In Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, a rustic servant boy accused even Lucius the donkey of being a rapist:

Every time he gets a glimpse of some traveler ahead — whether it’s a beautiful married woman or a marriageable young woman or a tender little boy — he immediately upsets his load and sometimes even throws off his pack-saddle and rushes madly at them. Then this lover with such high desire assaults these human beings and knocks them to the ground. Breathing hard, he attempts illicit and unspeakable lusts and urges upon these victims of his bestial desire a union in which the love goddess shows her backside. He even falsifies kissing by nudging and biting them with his nasty mouth. This business is going to cause us substantial lawsuits and quarrels, in my opinion, perhaps even criminal charges.

{ Ut quemque enim viatorem prospexerit, sive illa scitula mulier seu virgo nubilis seu tener puellus est ilico disturbato gestamine, nonnunquam etiam ipsis stramentis abiectis, furens incurrit et homines amator talis appetit, et humi prostratis illis inhians illicitas atque incognitas temptat libidines, et ferinas voluptates aversa Venere invitat ad nuptias. Nam imaginem etiam savii mentiendo ore improbo compulsat ac morsicat. Quae res nobis non mediocres lites atque iurgia, immo forsitan et crimina pariet. }

Within this claim of systematic raping, the rustic servant boy accused Lucius of a specific act of rape:

Just now he saw an honorable young woman. He threw off and scattered the wood he was carrying and made a furious assault on her. Our jovial lover here laid her out on the dirty ground and was making as if to mount her right there in front of everybody. If it hadn’t been for some travelers who heard the woman’s pleas and cries and came running up to help and snatched her from between his hoofs and freed her, the poor woman would have been trampled down and split apart. She herself would have suffered an excruciating end, and she would have bequeathed to us the death penalty for it.

{ Nunc etiam visa quadam honesta iuvene, ligno quod devehebat abiecto dispersoque, in eam furiosos direxit impetus. Et festivus hic amasio humo sordida prostratam mulierem ibidem incoram omnium gestiebat inscendere. Quod nisi ploratu questuque femineo conclamatum viatorum praesidium accurrisset ac de mediis ungulis ipsius esset erepta liberataque, misera illa compavita atque dirupta ipsa quidem cruciabilem cladem sustinuisset, nobis vero poenale reliquisset exitium. }

Without a trial or even asking the donkey to respond to this charge, one herdsman proposed to kill him. But another proposed a more exploitative punishment:

“It’s wrong,” he said, “to kill such a beautiful donkey as that. By charging him with wantonness and debauchery you lose his work and services. But if you cut off his genitals, he will be completely unable to rise to the occasion but will relieve you of any fear of danger. Moreover he will become much stouter and heavier. I have seen it happen with lots of animals. Not just lazy donkeys, but even the wildest horses who suffered from such an excessive sexual drive that they turned savage and mad. After this detesticulation, they became tame and gentle, manageable for carrying packs and submissive in every other sort of service. So, if you are willing to follow my advice, just give me a bit of time to go to the nearest market, as I planned, and I can fetch from home the hardware I have ready to take care of this job. I can come back to you right away and take that savage and disagreeable lover of yours, spread his thighs apart, castrate him, and make him gentler than any castrated ram.”

{ “Nefas” ait “tam bellum asinum sic enecare et propter luxuriem lascivamque amatoriam criminatos opera servitioque tam necessario carere, cum alioquin exsectis genitalibus possit neque in venerem nullo modo surgere vosque omni metu periculi liberare, insuper etiam longe crassior atque corpulentior effici. Multos ego scio non modo asinos inertes, verum etiam ferocissimos equos, nimio libidinis laborantes atque ob id truces vesanosque, adhibita tali detestatione mansuetos ac mansues exinde factos et oneri ferundo non inhabiles et cetero ministerio patientes. Denique, nisi vobis suadeo nolentibus, possum spatio modico interiecto, quo mercatum proximum obire statui, petitis e domo ferramentis huic curae praeparatis, ad vos actutum redire trucemque amatorem istum atque insuavem dissitis femoribus emasculare et quovis vervece mitiorem efficere.” }

The usefulness of castrated males within gynocentric society encourages castration. Limiting the exploitation of men helps to constrain castration culture.

Mary Beard gropes penis

Lucius, even though transformed into a donkey, valued his genitals highly. In an ancient Greek predecessor to Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, Lucius declared:

I was already in tears at the immediate prospect of losing the manhood in my donkey’s body, I thought I didn’t wish to live any longer if I should become a eunuch. I therefore decided to starve myself to death from that moment or to throw myself from the mountain. Although from there hurled to a most miserable death, I could at least lie dead with my body whole and unmutilated.

{ ἐγὼ δὲ ἤδη ἐδάκρυον ὡς ἀπολέσων αὐτίκα τὸν ἐν τῷ ὄνῳ ἄνδρα καὶ ζῆν οὐκέτι ἐθέλειν ἔφην, εἰ γενοίμην εὐνοῦχος· ὥστε καὶ ὅλως ἀποσιτῆσαι τοῦ λοιποῦ ἐγνώκειν ἢ ῥῖψαι ἑαυτὸν ἐκ τοῦ ὄρους, ἔνθα ἐκπεσὼν θανάτῳ οἰκτίστῳ ὁλόκληρος ἔτι καὶ ἀκέραιος νεκρὸς τεθνήξομαι. }

Gynocentric society has long been complicit in castration culture. When another crime occurred, an anti-meninist mob again without any justification supported extra-judicial castration:

Definitely tomorrow you may gladly remove that despicable donkey’s genitals, and his head too. You will have no lack of assistance from these people here.

{ plane crastino libet non tantum naturam, verum etiam caput quoque ipsum pessimo isto asino demere. Nec tibi ministerium deerit istorum. }

Penal justice systems worldwide vastly disproportionately punish persons with penises. The just response to that penal injustice isn’t castration culture. Systemic sexism and gender discrimination in criminal justice must be eliminated along the path of progressively dismantling castration culture.

Mary Beard: limited castration

The views of classicist Mary Beard are trumpeted across the British public propaganda apparatus. The BBC has broadcasted “Mary Beard Peeks Beneath The Fig Leaf.” Since the BBC and Mary Beard have now uncovered castration culture, no one should be afraid of appearing to be an independent thinker in discussing castration culture. Women and men, long silenced about castration culture, can now speak out about its terrible history and enduring effects.

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Read more:


The BBC first broadcasted its two-episode documentary Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude in early February, 2020. The publicity blurb for episode 1 declares:

In the first programme [of] her provocative two-part essay, classicist and broadcaster Mary Beard takes on the nude. As she says ‘There are an awful lot of naked bodies in western art, and they are often causing trouble even now.’ … For Mary, the nude stands on some of the deepest fault lines running through society, speaking to issues of men, women, gender and sex gender [sic], sex and moral transgression.

The public is thus taught that this is a shockingly important program. Exactly what a viewer is meant to learn from this program is then described more specifically:

Mary argues we mustn’t forget the edgy and dangerous nature of the nude – which is why it remains such a magnetic subject for artists and viewers alike – exploring in her words ‘how for so long men got away with it’.

Students, note how edgy and courageous it is for your professor to have you watch this BBC documentary during class time. Never forget “how for so long men got away with it.” What is it? Is it being slaughtered and sexually abused in wars, being subject to castration culture, having no reproductive rights whatsoever, or is it something else? Well, at least you can learn that a highly regarded classics scholar and BBC broadcaster supports your animosity towards men. You can get away with that.

Emma Park’s review in Apollo showed learning from Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude. Her review reported:

The relationship between Christianity and sex, Beard reminds us, ‘has never been simple’.

Authorities have taught students that the relationship between sex and Christianity is simple: Christ teaches that incarnated love is very bad and should be avoided as much as possible. The uninstructed surely know better, particularly if they’re Christian or know any Christians. BBC authority Mary Beard thus rightly reminds us to have healthy skepticism toward authorities. However, according to Emma Park, apparently channeling anti-meninist Mary Beard, sex itself across all persons, cultures, and circumstances is simple:

Women’s bodies in most cultures have been in men’s control, one way or another, for most of human history.

Actually, it would be more reasonable to believe, “Men’s bodies in most cultures have been in women’s control, one way or another, for most of human history.” Consider who dies for whom, including in Du Fu’s eighth-century Chinese poem, “Song of the War Carts.” Given that women’s and men’s lives have always been intimately intertwined in all enduring human societies, one might suspect that who controls whom isn’t simple. But authorities and journalists refuse to acknowledge that complexity. Courageous gender truth-tellers have tried to disabuse the public of hateful myths, but gynocentrism and its supporters have largely silenced gender truth-tellers.

The above quotes from Apuleius’s Metamorphoses provide Latin passages and English translations (modified slightly based on my sense of the Latin passage and for ease of reading) from Hanson (1989). The quotes are from Book 7, sections 21 (Every time he gets a glimpse…; Just now he saw…) and 28 (Definitely tomorrow…).

The quote from the Greek predecessor to Apuleius’s Metamorphoses is from Lucius or the Ass {Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ}, also known as The Ass {Ονοσ / Onos / Asinus}, section 33, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from MacLeod (1967). Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ, traditionally attributed to Lucian of Samosata, was probably written in the second century before Apuleius wrote his Metamorphoses. Metamorphoses 7.24 parallels this passage from Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ, but is slightly less detailed. For help in reading the Greek of Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ and some parallel passages from Metamorphoses, Hayes & Nimis (2012).

The language of Apuleius’s Metamorphoses is generally more extravagant than that of Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ. For example, in Metamorphoses 7.22, Lucius the donkey, falsely accused of rape, is smeared as “that public husband {publicus iste maritus}” and an “all-community adulterer {communis omnis adulter}.” Public, in the sense of being open to all, has long been a figure of sexual promiscuity and adultery among humans. For example, Théodore de Bèze, who became the spiritual leader of the Calvinists late in the sixteenth century, warned Ligurinus that his wife was regarded as public property:

That city officer, Ligurinus, whom
you discovered naked with your wife,
wasn’t doing anything, I swear, except his official duty.
He wanted to evict you from public property.

{ Aedilis ille, Ligurine, qui tua
Repertus a te nudus est cum coniuge,
Nil hercle fecit praeter officium suum,
Qui evincere a te rem voluerit publicam. }

Théodore de Bèze, Iuvenilia (first edition, 1548), Epigrams 72, “To Ligurinus {In Ligurinum},” Latin text and English translation (modified) from Summers (2001) pp. 280-1.

[images] (1-3) Mary Beard examines and gropes the genitals of a nude male sculpture (a plaster cast of the Apollo Belvedere) in Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery after a museum curator removed a fig leaf covering the man’s genitals. Still images from BBC Select except of BBC documentary Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude, episode 1. (4) BBC Select excerpt from Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude, episode 1. Sourced via YouTube. This BBC Select excerpt is entitled “Mary Beard Peeks Beneath The Fig Leaf” / “What you find when you remove a fig leaf.” Its publicity blurb begins, “Christianity and sex have always had a conflicted relationship.” But Mary Beard says it’s not simple.


Hanson, J. Arthur, ed. and trans. 1989. Apuleius. Metamorphoses (The Golden Ass). Volume II: Books 7-11. Loeb Classical Library 453. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hayes, Evan and Stephen Nimis, eds. 2012. Lucian’s The Ass: An Intermediate Greek Reader. Greek text with running vocabulary and commentary. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing.

MacLeod, M. D., ed. and trans. 1967. Soloecista. Lucius or The Ass. Amores. Halcyon. Demosthenes. Podagra. Ocypus. Cyniscus. Philopatris. Charidemus. Nero. Loeb Classical Library 432. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Park, Emma. 2020. “Naked positions – Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude, reviewed.” Apollo: The International Art Magazine. Online, February 5, 2020.

Summers, Kirk M., ed. and trans. 2001. A View from the Palatine: the Iuvenilia of Théodore de Bèze. Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, v. 237. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.