Versus Eporedienses playfully mythologized Pavia’s lovely women

In their ardent love for women, men commonly proclaim that the women of their place are more lovely than women anywhere else. Late in the eleventh century near Pavia, a learned cleric apparently made that sort of boast. His love poem, known as Verses from Ivrea {Versus Eporedienses}, is a work of extraordinary literary sophistication. It also exemplifies the playfulness that generated the medieval tradition of Cyprian’s Banquet {Cena Cypriani} and outrageous parodies of the liturgy and even of women. The leading scholar of Versus Eporedienses has pointed to “its unique place in the history of Medieval Latin literature.”[1] Versus Eporedienses provides early medieval examples of metrical love poetry, description of a young woman {descriptio puella}, eternal glory via poetry, and engagement with classical Trojan myth. Beyond those merits, Versus Eporedienses should be further credited with playfully mythologizing Pavia’s women as lovely and accessible.

Versus Eporedienses characteristically begins with a small, odd change to a classical literary convention. When the winter has passed and new flowers appear, love is in the air along with birds and bees and fantasies. So Versus Eporedienses begins:

While it pleased me to play along the banks of the river Po,
chance and desire granted that a nymph returned from the river.
It was the season of flowers which is the whole source of love,
in the month of April, when writing is a pleasing allure.

{ Cum secus ora uadi placeat mihi ludere Padi,
Fors et uelle dedit, flumine Nimpha redit.
Tempus erat florum, quod fons est omnis amorum,
Mense sub Aprili cum placet esca stili. }[2]

In this first-person love poem, the narrator should be loving in April, not writing. The poem continues oddly:

At last I approached, checking who she might be.
Offering her a seat, I took a step closer.
Immediately struck by her beauty, I noticed her memorable actions,
and scarcely restrained myself from violating her.

{ Accessi tandem scrutatus que sit eandem,
Inuitans sedem de prope duco pedem.
Mox specie tactus memorandos conspicor actus
Et uix continui quod sua non minui }

Checking out persons of amorous interest is normal. However, inviting a river nymph on the banks of the Po to sit down seems strange, particularly since the narrator hasn’t yet spoken to her. Moreover, seating for river nymphs usually isn’t a feature of river banks. The scene plays as if the lover has invited a woman friend into his home. But then he observes her “memorable actions {memorandi actus}.” Is she wiggling her ichthyic hips swimmingly as she sits down? He immediately declares that he could hardly restrain himself from violating her. That “suggests a sexual assault.”[3] Immediately following his urge to violate her, he reveals that he’s too shy to speak:

And having become like a mute, I finally uttered these few words,
very timidly but still passionately:
“Young woman, halt your step by the charming Po
and by other streams. I beg you not to leap so quickly.”

{ Factus et ut mutus, tandem sum pauca locutus
Et multum pauide sed tamen hec auide:
“Siste, puella, gradum per amenum postulo <P>adum
Et per aquas alias tam cito <n>e salias.” }

Leaping in streams suggests that the girl has a fish’s tail in place of legs. That makes his reference to her “step {gradus},” like his earlier invitation for her to be seated, incongruous. He praises her beauty briefly and declares:

You outshine Juno when she comes back from Jove.

{ Iuno tibi cedit, de Ioue quando redit. }

Juno and Jove weren’t an ardently loving couple in classical myth. Moreover, Venus outshone Juno in the goddesses’ beauty contest. The author of Versus Eporedienses is an extremely learned poet. The oddities of his poem are best regarded as deliberately playful.[4]

The river nymph shuns the man and turns away her head. In the Aeneid, Dido burned with love for Aeneas. The river nymph perhaps knew Dido’s fate: “she feared talking as much as being burned by fire {sic timet ipsa loqui sicut ab igne coqui}.” But unable to restrain herself, she speaks:

If you want to know about my lineage, a royal lineage honors me.
Noble is my mother, noble is my father.
If you inquire about my forefathers, you seem to do violence to gods
from whose blood every market square knows I descend.
Make no mistake about this: the land of Troy brought me forth,
a land consecrated to a god famous for my progenitor.

{ Si de prole uoles, decorat me regia proles,
Nobilis est mater, nobilis ipse pater.
Si proauos queris, dis uim fecisse uideris,
Sanguine de quorum me sapit omne forum.
Ne super hoc erra, genuit me Trohica terra,
Terra dicata deo nota parente meo. }

This river nymph is no ordinary river nymph, but a descendant of Trojan nobility with a divine bloodline. No wonder she couldn’t restrain herself from speaking. She’s been convincingly associated with Ovid’s Amores 3.6 and Rhea Silvia, mother of Romulus and Remus in influential Roman founding myth.[5] Rhea Silvia lived before Christians established pride as a cardinal sin. The river nymph could thus freely brag that even the rabble in every market square recognize her divine blood.[6] The goddess Venus favored Troy and mothered Aeneas, a mythological forefather of Rhea Silvia and Rome. Versus Eporedienses implies that the river nymph isn’t quite as beautiful as Venus. She probably isn’t as beautiful as the Greek woman Helen either. Troy, more closely associated with Hecuba than Helen, isn’t famous for attractive women.

After the river nymph declares that she is a Trojan princess, the man in Versus Eporedienses isn’t shy about expressing his interest in her. He doesn’t seek a politically useful marital alliance. He seeks caring, joyful sex:

If picking flowers from this meadow could be pleasing,
you might, moved by the offering of my prayers,
you might often under this sunshade, beautiful young woman,
be in joyful play as a man’s desired care.

{ Si foret hoc gratum floris decerpere pratum,
Tu posses mecum munere mota precum,
Sepe sub umbella posses, speciosa puella,
Ludere letari, cura cupita mari. }

“Deflowering” is a brutalizing metaphor for a man having sex with a virgin woman. This man, in contrast, highlights joy and care in repeated sexual play. He would also would like to gaze on her naked:

A spring of fresh water runs beneath a leafy olive’s branches,
beneath the tender boughs is the shelter of the goddess Venus.
In springtime it might perhaps be pleasing to bathe,
so advises the spring, the fresh grass, and the worthy place itself.

{ Currit aque uiue fons frondes subter oliue;
Ramis sub teneris umbra dee Veneris.
Tempore sub ueris placeat quod forte laueris,
Fons monet herba recens et locus ipse decens. }

There’s nothing subtle about suggesting a bath together in fresh spring water amid greenery in a shelter of the goddess of love. Yet this proposition is just the beginning of Versus Eporedienses.

Versus Eporedienses primarily concerns inviting the beloved river nymph into a city. As the leading scholar of Versus Eporedienses observed, the poet is redirecting myth:

The Ivrean poet-narrator not only appropriates Thetis’s golden cups (VE, line 58), Berenice’s onyx stone (VE, line 64), the tent that once belonged to Darius, Alexander the Great, Evander, and the Emperor Henry IV (VE, lines 151–56), the garments that Paris offered to Helen (VE, lines 215–16) etc., he also, and most importantly, seduces a Trojan princess! The erudite message is that the Po Valley now is the new Troy.[7]

In Amores 3.6, the lover seeks his beloved in the country, across a mountain stream. In Versus Eporedienses, the lover seeks to bring his beloved into a city:

Since you please the crowd, if you want, let us stay in the city;
all that you seek, you will get from the city.
The glory of the city is very great: it has rich inhabitants,
no man can know such a great drinking vessel.

There you may see all that is, except the pains of Hell.
Cities are for pursuing pleasure; they’re places with desired beauty.

If you shun the face of people to escape the commotion,
if you look for pleasure, seek within the city walls.
A hundred chambers are there, by no means lacking clients’ praise,
elegantly furnished and decorated, suffering no defect or decay.

{ Cum placeas turbe, si uis, maneamus in urbe:
Totum quod queres, illud ab urbe feres.
Maximus urbis bonos: dites habet illa colonos,
Tantum scire sinum nemo potest hominum.

Omne quod est cernas ibi penas preter Auernas:
Urbs est cura ioci, forma cupita loci.

Si populi uultum uites uitando tumultum,
Si qua placere tenes, menia quere penes.
Sunt camere centum minime sine laude clientum:
Cultus opis uarie labe carens carie. }[8]

The city is the “delightful place {locus amoenus}” at scale. In the city, one woman can please a crowd, and in a hundred elegant chambers, a hundred women please their lovers. The city is a place of commercial love.

Men have long sought to acquire women’s love through sumptuous provisioning. A poem from tenth-century Europe begins:

Come soon, sweet beloved,
you whom I love as my own heart,
come into my little room,
laden with many ornaments.

Couches are laid out there,
and the house is ready with curtains,
and in the house flowers are scattered
and fragrant herbs mixed with them.

A table is prepared there,
laden with every food.
Acclaimed wine is abundant there,
and whatever delights you, dear one.

Sweet harmonies sound there,
and flutes blow above them.
A servant-boy and a well-trained servant-girl there
compose beautiful songs for you.

He strokes his guitar with a pick,
she composes a melody with her lyre,
and helpers bring platters
full of colored cups.

{ Iam, dulcis amica, venito
quam sicut cor meum diligo:
intra in cubiculum meum
ornamentis cunctis onustum.

Ibi sunt sedilia strata
atque velis domus parata
floresque in domo sparguntur
herbaeque fragrantes miscentur.

Est ibi mensa apposita
universis cibis onusta:
ibi clarum vinum abundant
et quiquid te, cara, delectat.

Ibi sonant dulces symphoniae,
inflantur et altius tibiae;
ibi puer et docta puella
pangunt tibi carmina bella.

Hic cum plectro citharam tangit,
illa melos cum lira pangit;
Portantque ministri pateras
pigmentatis poculis plenas. }[9]

These stanzas insistently invite the beloved to go to a place of abundance. However, understanding that men’s gender burden of provisioning women tends to demean men, the man asserts his human being and his human love beyond providing things:

Not pleasing so much to me is the feasting,
rather more the sweet conversation,
not the abundance of so many things,
as much as delightful intimacy.

Come right now, my chosen sister
and my delight beyond all others,
come beaming light of my eyes
and greater part of my soul.

{ Non me iuvat tantum convivium
quantum predulce colloquium,
nec rerum tantarum ubertas
ut dilecta familiaritas.

Iam nunc veni, soror electa
et pre cunctis mihi dilecta,
Lux mee clara pupille
parsque maior anime mee. }[10]

Not appreciating Christian understanding of incarnate love, the beloved woman prefers rustic solitude:

I have been alone in the woods
and delighted in hidden places.
I have often fled commotion
and avoided multitudes of people.

{ Ego fui sola in silva
et dilexi loca secreta:
Frequenter effugi tumultum
et vitavi populum multum. }

This woman has lived like the river nymph along the backs of the Po. In Versus Eporedienses, the man invites the woman, not into his room, but into a city. The city offers her far more riches that those of the man’s home in the earlier invitation poem.

Versus Eporedienses amplifies the earlier “Come soon, sweet beloved {Iam, dulcis amica, venito}” to comic incongruity. It offers the beloved everything in exaggeration. It’s the clowning charmer, intending to provoke giggles, outdoing the imploring gentleman. Versus Eporedienses doesn’t explicitly describe the results of its invitation. “Who wouldn’t know what followed {cetera quis nescit}?”[11] Of course the beautiful river nymph settled in the city with her charming-clown lover.

While not explicitly named, the city in Versus Eporedienses is best understood to be Pavia. Pavia was the capital of the Kingdom of the Lombards, who ruled most of Italy from 568 to 774. After Charlemagne conquered the Lombards, subsequent emperors were crowned King of Italy in Pavia before they traveled to Rome to be crowned as Holy Roman Emperor. Pavia, politically the most important city in the medieval Po Valley, was then and there the most appropriate mythic successor to Troy.[12]

Pavia had a medieval reputation for beautiful, sexually eager women. Queen Eadburh of Wessex, characterized in the Life of Alfred {Vita Ælfredi} as sexually eager and pursuing sexual relationships even as an abbess, ended her life begging (and also perhaps working as a prostitute) in ninth-century Pavia. In his late-eleventh-century chronicle, Landulf Senior (Landulf of Milan) recited a learned saying: “Milan for clerics, Pavia for pleasures, Rome for buildings, and Ravenna for churches {Mediolanum in clericis, Papia in deliciis, Roma in aedificiis, Ravenna in ecclesiis}.”[13] Writing about 1163, the Archpoet proclaimed:

Who in the fire’s depths feels not the flame?
Who detained in Pavia, lives there without blame,
where Venus, beckoning youths to the game,
seduces with her eyes, her quarry set to tame?

Put down Hippolytus in Pavia today,
there’d be no Hippolytus the succeeding day.
To love, beneath the sheets, leads every single way.
Among all those towers, Truth hasn’t place to stay.

{ Quis in igne positus igne non uratur?
quis Papiae demorans castus habeatur,
ubi Venus digito iuvenes venatur,
oculis illaqueat, facie praedatur?

Si ponas Hippolytum hodie Papiae,
non erit Hippolytus in sequenti die.
Veneris in thalamos ducunt omnes viae,
non est in tot turribus turris Alethiae. }[14]

Versus Eporedienses isn’t primarily political mythology. Versus Eporedienses is mythology about how Pavia came to be the leading medieval city for beautiful women engaged in commercial sexual relations.

Versus Eporedienses probably contributed to making the women of Pavia famous. Following classical precedents, its poet promises his beloved woman immortality:

Any who desires to give herself to me lives in my praise.
She will be immortal, unless my Muse perishes.
My Muse cannot die or age in a thousand years.
She will continue to endure, nor will what she has loved disappear.
Homer’s verse lives, deserving to be commonly known in recitation,
and makes Nireus, whom he has honored, into a god.
Your Lycoris, O Horace, lives perennially,
nor can she die who, through your verse, is made famous in public talk.
Take careful note of why Corinna is recognized:
Ovid made her live when he put her name on everyone’s lips.
In order to endure forever, take care to place yourself under me.
If you so resolve, you will be made eternal by poetry.

{ Laude mea uiuit mihi se dare queque cupiuit,
Inmortalis erit, ni mea Musa perit.
Musa mori nescit nee in annis nulle senescit,
Durans durabit nec quod amauit abit.
Quod decet ore teri uiuit dictamen Omeri
Et facit esse deum quem coluit Nereum.
Perpetuis horis tua uiuit, Flace, Liquoris,
Nec ualet illa mori carmine fama fori.
Perspicue signa quare sit nota Corinna:
Viuere Naso facit quando per ora iacit.
Vt semper dures, mihi te subponere cures,
Quod si parueris, carmine perpes eris. }[15]

Lycoris and Corinna were more like living women than the never-named river nymph of Versus Eporedienses. Yet compared to the love poetry of Horace and Ovid, Versus Eporedienses contains much more realia. Versus Eporedienses creates love myth for a real city. The beautiful, unnamed river nymph that the poet invites into Pavia replaces the war-inciting Helen that Paris brought into Troy. Unlike the destroyed Troy, many women reproducing across generations made Pavia a preeminent place of pleasure. Love conquers war in Versus Eporedienses’s translatio of Troy.

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[1] Kretschmer (2020) p. 22. Versus Eporedienses has survived in only one manuscript: Ivrea, Biblioteca capitolare 85. Id. p. 13. Kretschmer, the leading scholar of the poem, has described it as:

written in 150 leonine elegiac distichs around the year 1080 and attributed to an otherwise unknown Wido of Ivrea

Kretschmer (2021) p. 108, with omitted footnote describing the attribution to Wido of Ivrea as “highly hypothetical.” Distinguishing aspects of the poem:

an early example of metrical love poetry, descriptio puellae, poet’s pride, a unique poetical expression of the economic and cultural growth of the eleventh century, and a prime example for showing the use of the classics at the dawn of the renaissance of the “long twelfth century”.

Kretschmer (2020) p. 22.

[2] Versus Eporedienses vv. 1-4, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Kretschmer (2020) pp. 26-7. That Latin text is also available in Kretschmer (2021) pp. 126-33. Kretschmer’s Latin text is a revised version of Dümmler (1872) pp. 94-102.

Subsequent quotes from Versus Eporedienses are similarly sourced. In addition to lineating Kretschmer’s English translation, in some cases I’ve made insubstantial changes in accordance with my sense of a pleasing and easily read English translation. Where I’ve made particularly substantial changes to Kretschmer’s translation, I’ve noted and explained those changes.

The subsequent quotes from Versus Eporedienses are vv. 5-8 (At last I approached…), 9-12 (And having become like a mute…), 18 (You outshine Juno…), 22 (she feared talking…), 25-30 (If you want to know about my lineage…), 37-40 (If picking flowers…), 45-8 (A spring of fresh water…), 181-4, 221-2, 229-32 (Since you please the crowd…), 291-300 (Any who desires to give herself to me…).

[3] Kretschmer (2020) p. 52, note to v. 8, “Et uix continui quod sua non minui.” Kretschmer translated that verse as, “and hardly restrained myself from violating her privacy.” The qualification “privacy” is a reasonable interpretation in context.

Nonetheless, considering other possibilities for the violation seems to me important. Kretschmer’s note itself suggests sexual assault. More generally, ambiguity was an aspect of play in medieval Ovidian love poetry. Kretschmer (2015). That aspect of play is also evident in the Iliac Tablets from about Ovid’s time. Squire (2014). In behavioral reality, primate males rarely rarely sexually assault females, and women rape men about as often as men rape women.

[4] Regarding intertextuality in the Versus Eporedienses (VE), Kretschmer summarized: “Ovid permeates the VE.” Kretschmer (2020) p. 101. In addition to many textual echoes of Ovid, Kretschmer has documented in Versus Eporedienses textual borrowings from Virgil, Juvenal, Lucan, and possibly Martial, Statius, and Horace as well. Id. Appendix 1. Versus Eporedienses engages intricately with the matter of Troy. On references to Troy, Kretschmer (2013) p. 46. On the distinctiveness of intricate engagement with Trojan myth in eleventh-century European literature, Tilliette (1999) pp. 3-7.

Giovini (2012) perceives “grotesque and parodic {grotteschi e parodici}” elements in Versus Eporedienses. Kretschmer perceives playfulness but not parody. Kretschmer (2020) pp. 20-1. Ernst Robert Curtius called Versus Eporedienses a “charming idyll {reizende Idyll}.” Cited in id. p. 16, n. 15.

[5] Kretschmer (2016).

[6] Even within the “proud poet {dichterstolz}” section (vv. 281-300) of Versus Eporedienses, the poet takes care to disclaim pride:

By no means do I exalt myself, although Apollo yields to me,
he begrudges me and yields, since Minverva has granted the knowledge.

{ Me minus extollo, quamnis mihi cedit Apollo,
Inuidet et cedit, scire Minerua dedit. }

Versus Eporedienses vv. 287-8.

[7] Kretschmer (2016) p. 41.

[8] In Versus Eporedienses v. 184, Kretschmer interpreted sinum as the accusative singular of sinus and translated “asylum.” I think the accusative singular of sinum (“drinking vessel”) is a better choice in the context of lavish provisioning.

Both vv. 181 and 229 are at paragraph marks in the manuscript, as indicated in Kretschmer’s edition of the Latin text. Kretschmer (2020) pp. 34, 38. These two verses present contrasting relations to crowds while reasoning to the same action: enter the city. About the Shrewd Envoy {De nuntio sagaci}, an Ovidian poem that dates about the same time as Versus Eporedienses, shows similar sophistic reasoning in encouraging love.

[9] “Come soon, sweet beloved {Iam, dulcis amica, venito}” st. 1-5, Latin text from Dronke (1984) p. 235, my English translation, benefiting from those of id. p. 219, Gray (2013) pp. 375-6, Ewing (2002), and Ziolkowski (1998). The poem has survived in two different versions: the receptive-woman version (MS. Paris, BnF lat. 1118, fol. 247v) and the desperate-man version (MS. Vienna 116, fol. 157v; and Cambridge Songs 27). Dronke (1984), Appendix, provides Latin text for both, as does Ziolkowski (1998). On the Cambridge Songs generally, id. The two versions don’t differ much in the first five stanzas, but in the subsequent stanzas the two versions differ considerably. I have quoted from the desperate-man (Vienna) version, which dates to the tenth century. Dronke prejudicially calls that version the “seducer” version.

[10] “Iam, dulcis amica, venito” (desperate-man / Vienna version) st. 6-7, sourced as above. The subsequent quote is similarly from “Iam, dulcis amica, venito,” st. 8. For the conclusion of this poem, see my post on how to argue nicely about sex with your boyfriend.

[11] Ovid, Amores 1.5.25. Lacking sufficient appreciation for men’s comic, earthy love-play, Peter Dronke judged that “explorations of love are subordinate to the virtuosity of the grammaticus” in Wido’s Versus Eporedienses:

In his three hundred leonine verses a young prince proposes to a princess descended from Troy, offering her every delight and luxury of which Wido had ever heard or read — in the Song of Songs, in the Cyclops’ proposal to Galatea (Metam. XIII. 789ff.), in the Christian visions of paradise, in Pliny, Martianus Capella, and the encyclopedists. His ‘paradise of dainty devices’ occupies three-quarters of ther poem, which ends not only in praises of the girl but in a rodomontade of self-praise. Wido’s passion is not love at all, but learned and exotic language. The motifs of spring and love provide only a flimsy casket for a concoction which is delightful and unique.

Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 243 (first quote), p. 243, n. 1 (second, extended quote). Similarly, Giovini (1996) p. 44, as cited in Kretschmer (2016) p. 36, n. 11.

[12] Kretschmer observed:

Lombard centres of power surrounding the Po such as, for instance, the city of Pavia, would aspire to represent a nova or secunda Roma.

Kretschmer (2020) p.17 (notes omitted; one points out that Henry IV aspired to be crowned in Pavia, and Holy Roman Emperors before him were). The Holy Roman Emperors were crowned in Pavia with the Iron Crown. That crown has survived to the present.

Medieval Pavia’s city gates featured an inscription, dated to about 1100, that has the classical sophistication of Greek epigram:

Whoever enters now, may that one kneel and say:
“You who are passing over, touching the door’s threshold, say this:
‘Second Rome, hail, imperial capital of the world,
you conquer Thebes in war, Athens in thought.
The peoples fear you, the mighty bow to you.'”

{ Quisquis nunc intrat deflexo poplite dicat,
Dic prope qui transis, qui porte limina tangis:
Roma secunda, uale, mundi caput imperiale.
Tu bello Thebas, tu sensu uincis Athenas.
Te metuunt gentes, tibi flectunt colla potentes. }

From Opicinus de Canistris, Book in Praise of the Citizens of Pavia {Liber de laudibus ciuitatis Ticinensis}, or In Praise of Pavia {De laudibus Papiae}, dated 1330, with Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Kretschmer (2020) p. 18. Pavia’s city leaders probably were too modest to proclaim Pavia’s sexually exuberant and eagerly receptive women on its city gates.

By about 1200, Pavia was proverbial for wealth according to French verse. In the lai Horn {Cor}, Queen Guinevere vehemently asserts that she’s loyal to her husband King Arthur:

On earth there is no man so rich,
not even the King of Rome,
that I would love him
for all the gold of Pavia,
nor any emir or count.

{ sour cel n’ad si riche houme,
nent li roi de Roume,
que jeo amase mie
pur tout le or de Pavie,
në amirail, ne counte. }

Cor, vv. 359-63, Old French text from Dubin (1974) p. 79, English translation (modified slightly) from Burgess & Brook (2016) p. 127. After the horn had shamed all the other knights of his court just as it had shamed him, King Arthur declared:

The man who gave me this horn
gave me a great gift.
By the faith I owe
to all those whom I see here,
I would not give it away
for all the gold of Pavia.

{ qui cest corn me dona
graunt doun me presenta;
par la foi que jeo doi
a tous ceus ke ci voi,
jeo nel doroie mie
pur tout le or de Pavie }

Cor, vv. 461-6, sourced as previously.

[13] Landulf of Milan, Historia Mediolanensis 3.1, cited in Morgan (2018). More than a millenium earlier, Catullus seemed to refer to civic rivalry in amorous opportunities between Verona and Rome:

Therefore, when you write that it’s shameful that Catullus is in Verona,
while here all the best-regarded persons
warm their cold limbs in a deserted bed,
that, Manlius, isn’t shameful, it’s more like wretched.

{ quare, quod scribis Veronae turpe Catullo
esse, quod hic quisquis de meliore nota
frigida deserto tepefactet membra cubili,
id, Manli, non est turpe, magis miserum est. }

Catullus 68.27-30, Latin text from Fitzgerald (1995) p. 202 (which presents textual and interpretive issues), my English translation benefiting from that of id.

[14] Archpoet’s Confession, “Deep inside me I’m ablaze with an angry passion {Estuans intrinsecus ira vehementi},” st. 8-9, Latin text from Raby (1959), English translation (modified slightly) by A. S. Kline. The Archpoet probably wrote this poem about 1163.

Later reference also attest to Pavia’s association with beautiful women readily available for non-marital sex. The Romance of the Rose {Roman de la Rose}, vv. 1619-20 (Guillaume de Lorris’s part, composed about 1230), associates Pavia with envy and lasciviousness. In the fourteenth century, Eustache Deschamps’s ballade “Voyage des princes en Lombardie” refers to Pavia as a city where one can find warmly receptive, beautiful young women. The wealthy knight January enjoyed decades of non-marital sex with women in Pavia according to Chaucer’s late fourteenth-century Merchant’s Tale, vv. 1245-50. In the sixteenth century, Girolamo Cardano visited Pavia and wrote:

I lingered indeed next to an ancient temple of the blessed Mary of Loving. I believe that the town was once dedicated to Venus.

{ Habitabam enim iuxta templum antiquissimum beatae Mariae Venereae: credo oppido quod Veneri olim esset dicatum. }

Pavia in medieval Latin commonly was written Papia. Paphian was epithet for Venus, honored in the city of Paphos. Given that p was commonly confused with ph in medieval Latin, Pavia might have been connected with Venus etymologically. For these reference and this etymological analysis, Brown (1970).

[15] For Versus Eporedienses, vv. 299-300:

Vt semper dures, mihi te subponere cures,
Quod si parueris, carmine perpes eris.

Kretschmer has in English translation:

In order to live on forever, make sure that you submit yourself to me, and if you obey, you will be everlasting in poetry.

Kretschmer (2020) p. 43. For v. 299, id. p. 100 observes: ‘mihi te subponere cures: note the double entendre (literally “make sure you place yourself under me = lie under me”).’ I use the more literal translation to bring out the sexual innuendo. I also invoke the relational connotations of curare as “to take care.” In v. 300, I interpret parueris as a variant / metrical elision of paraveris, which seems to me to make much better sense in context. For the concluding clause, my translation “you will be made eternal by poetry” attempts to bring out reproductive sex as a form of poetry making a person eternal through biological descendants.

Nireus (Nereus), a Greek man fighting in the horrible violence against men of the Trojan War, gained from Homer’s verse fame not for his exploits in battle, but for being the second-most beautiful man in the Greek camp. On Nireus’s beauty, Iliad 2.673-4, and subsequent citations given in Kretschmer (2020) p. 99.

[images] (1) Beach Boys performing “California Girls” on the The Jack Benny Show on Nov 3, 1965, with a short skit with Bob Hope and Jack Benny. Via YouTube. (2) The Beatles performing “Back in the U.S.S.R.” from their 1968 eponymous studio album (White Album). The recording was remastered and incorporated into this video in 2018. Via YouTube.


Brown, Emerson. 1970. “The Merchant’s Tale: Why Was Januarie Born ‘Of Pavye’?” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen. 71 (4): 654-658.

Burgess, Glyn S., and Leslie C. Brook, trans. 2016. Twenty-Four Lays from the French Middle Ages. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1984. The Medieval Poet and His World. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.

Dubin, Nathaniel Edward. 1974. The Parodic Lays: a critical edition. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Washington.

Dümmler, Ernst, ed. 1872. Anselm der Peripatetiker nebst andern Beitragen zur Litteraturgeschichte Italiens im eilften Jahrhundert. Halle: Buchhandlung des Waisenshauses.

Ewing, Thor. 2002. “Iam, Dulcis Amica.” Historical Arts. Online.

Fitzgerald, William. 1995. Catullan Provocations: Lyric Poetry and the Drama of Position. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Giovini, Marco. 1996. “Quod decet ore teri – Giovenale e il mito delle Eliadi nei Versus Eporedienses (XI sec.).” Maia – Rivista di letterature classiche. 48: 39-50.

Giovini, Marco. 2012. “Il flatus vocis d’amore come delirio di onnipotenza verbale: i Versus Eporedienses.” Bollettino di Studi Latini. 42 (1): 64-83.

Gray, Eric. 2013. “Come Be My Love: The Song of Songs, Paradise Lost, and the Tradition of the Invitation Poem.” PMLA. 128 (2): 370-385.

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. 2015. “The Play of Ambiguity in the Medieval Latin Love Letters of the Ovidian Age.” Pp. 247-263 in Christian Høgel and Elisabetta Bartoli, eds. Medieval Letters: Between Fiction and Document. Utrecht Studies in Medieval Literacy 33. Brepols: Turnhout.

Kretschmer, Marek Thue. 2016. “Amores 3.6 and the Versus Eporedienses.” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 26: 31-42.

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.

Kretschmer, Marek Thue. 2021. “Two Poems in Search of an Author: A Note on the Versus Eporedienses and the Novus Avianus Astensis.” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch. 56 (1): 108-133.

Morgan, Llewelyn. 2018. “Hippolytus > Priapus.” Lugubelinus (online), Feb. 14.

Raby, Frederic James Edward, ed. 1959. The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Squire, Michael. 2014. “Figuring Rome’s Foundation on the Iliac Tablets.” Ch. 6 (pp. 151-189) in Naoíse Mac Sweeney, ed. Foundation Myths in Ancient Societies: Dialogues and Discourses. Philadelphia, PA: De Gruyter.

Tilliette, Jean-Yves. 1999. “Troiae ab oris: Aspects de la révolution poétique de la seconde moitié du xi e siècle.” Latomus. 58 (2): 405-431. (cited by page numbers in online version)

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1998. The Cambridge songs (Carmina Cantabrigiensia). Tempe, Ariz: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.

medieval men cursed in response to being sexually abused & raped

Deeply entrenched castration culture supports castration of men as well as men being sexually abused and raped. Within gynocentric society, men’s sufferings are cruelly marginalized. Yet prior to modern social and technological means of repression and censorship, men could openly and vigorously curse those who abused them. Such cursing affirms men’s humanity and should be supported as a vital expression of men’s sexed protest.

In his collection and comparative study of ancient political constitutions, the great Greek philosopher Aristotle recorded that the Elians under King Pantaleon castrated men from other polities seeking to communicate with them. Aristotle implicitly condemned as immoderate the castration culture that Pantaleon brutally enacted:

Pantaleon, who was overbearing and severe, ruled among them. He castrated ambassadors who had come to him and compelled them to eat their testicles.

{ Πανταλέων ἐβασίλευσεν ἐν τούτοις, ὑβριστὴς, καὶ χαλεπός. Οὗτος πρέσβεις πρὸς αὐτὸν ἐλθόντας ἐκτεμὼν ἠνάγκασε καταφαγεῖν τοὺς ὄρχεις. }[1]

In archaic Greek myth, the ruling goddesses and gods established their rule in part through Saturn’s mother-led castration of his father. Men themselves internalized castration culture. The great Roman poet Ovid drew upon castration culture to curse another man:

May another hack off your genitals, as Saturn so
cut away those parts from which he was created.

{ Sic aliquis tua membra secet, Saturnus ut illas
Subsecuit partes, unde creatus erat. }[2]

Cursing other men with castration highlights that castration culture is systemic. Both men and women are complicit in castration culture. Women and men raping men and sexually harassing men, crimes too often trivialized and ignored today, violate men’s sexuality just as do ultimate forms of castration.

Chalcidian Eye Cup from archaic Greece: flying face

In circumstances of persons being oppressed and otherwise powerless to effect change, cursing can function as protest. Ovid engaged in such cursing. He was thought in medieval Europe to have fallen in love with a beautiful, sixteen-year old woman. He offered an old woman, who had once been the young woman’s devoted nurse, expensive gifts to act as a go-between. Initially reluctant because she feared the young woman’s father, eventually she “devotes herself to the Furies {furiis se devovet}” and agreed to work for Ovid in his love-quest.[3]

After several meetings with the young woman, the old woman declared to Ovid that the young woman loved him more than any other person in the world, but couldn’t acknowledge her love. Her parents apparently were hostile to Ovid’s interest in their daughter. The old woman, however, arranged a trick to get Ovid in bed with the young woman in her parent’s house. The young woman would secretly go at night to sleep in a maid’s room. The old woman would ensure that the doors of the house would be unlocked. Then Ovid could secretly enter and join the young woman in bed in the maid’s room.

Ovid eagerly looked forward to a night of love with the young woman. Just as men in the Islamic world extensively prepared themselves for strenuous erection labor, Ovid also carefully prepared himself for love-work:

I bathed myself a little and trimmed my beard and pubic hair.
Yielding to myself a brief sleep in the afternoon, I prepared
my penis and other limbs to spend a night without rest. Then
I fed myself bone-sucked liquids and drank fresh grape-juice.

{ abluo me modicum, barbam pubemque recido
dansque brevi post meridiem mea membra sopori
praeparor insomnem noctem ducturus et inde
me cibo sorbilibus, me musto poto recenti. }

Bone-sucked liquids and fresh grape-juice were regarded as aphrodisiacs for men in medieval Europe. Men have long worked hard to serve women sexually. Nonetheless, men commonly pay women for sex. To promote social justice, women should pay for men’s erection labor.

Despite his careful preparations, Ovid’s love-journey went badly. Leaving his home at night, he smashed his forehead on a doorpost and got a bloody gash. Then he tripped and fell down his stairs. He felt that he was plagued by Furies, and perhaps also Harpies, known for crapping on men’s tables and stealing their food.[5] Finally Ovid arrived at his beloved’s house and stealthily got into bed with her. But then he realized an even more disastrous injury:

The ancient Greek love-lyre’s sound turned into lament, stupefied
were my hopes of delight, and the torch of my amorous fire died.
Whatever it was that my liver had sent out by windy turbulence
and that had made me erect, suddenly languished and fell.
My manliness went to sleep; my penis and all my limbs became cold.
Who would believe that a young woman who had turned
sixteen recently could grow old so quickly!
Never has a rose shriveled in so little time.

{ vertitur in luctum citharae sonus inque stuporem
deliciarum spes, moritur fax ignis amoris.
Si quid erat, quod hepar ventoso turbine misso
fecerat arrectum, subito languetque caditque;
sopitur virtus, frigescunt omnia membra.
Credere quis posset, quod virgo quattuor implens
nuper olympiades adeo cito consenuisset!
Numquam tam modico rosa marcuit. }

The old woman had tricked Ovid by putting herself in the maid’s bed instead of the young woman. In short, Ovid suffered rape by deception.

Harpies attack Phineus

Of course, no one in medieval Europe or anywhere today would actually prosecute a woman for raping a man by deception, even if she did more than lie about her age. In fact, women teachers today are scarcely punished for raping their boy-students. Ovid turned to the best instrument of justice he possessed. He harshly and at length cursed the old woman. His curse ended with reference to bodily functions in a way not permissible in our more repressive and dogmatic time:

May her crying be continuous and her tears be perennial,
her sobbing sudden, and her sighs often and frequent.
May her mouth gape, distended with breath and stiffness, and
her belching stink, and she be unable to blow her nose.
May all the pus and inflammation descend into her mouth;
may she not even spit this out, but swallow it and vomit it out.
May neither her bladder nor her anus contain neither urine
nor shit, but may she be continuously soaked in front and back.

{ Fletus ei sit continuus lacrimaeque perennes,
singultus sibiti, suspiria crebra frequenter,
oscitet halitibus distenta rigoribus atque
feteat eructatio, non emungere nares
possit, in os sanies descendat tota coryzae,
nec spuat hoc etiam, sed glutiat evomitura.
Nec vesica vel anus contineat vel urinam
vel stercus, sed continuo fluat ante retroque }

Not surprisingly, Ovid was eventually castrated for not sufficiently supporting gynocentrism.

As organs of propaganda continually inform the public today, men’s relations to women consist not just of rape, but also of sexual harassment. Ovid in medieval Europe was known to have suffered sexual harassment by an old woman:

Now gnawing herself from inside with love-madness,
an unhappy old woman asked me to have sex with her.
“My sweet hope,” she said, “if you would wish to press your penis here,
all things that are mine, my sweet hope, you will have!”

{ Ista furore suo nunc se corrodit ab intra
tristis anus, quae me suppositare rogat.
“Spes mea dulcis,” ait, “velis hic si figere membrum,
omnia quae mea sunt, spec mea dulcis, habe!” }[6]

Ovid preferred to have sex with young women. He didn’t welcome this old woman’s sexual advance. Thus under today’s codes of conduct, she is therefore guilty of sexual harassment. Rather than complain to his and her managers, write a denunciation to be published in a newspaper, or attempt to arouse a social-media mob, Ovid cursed the old woman:

May the gods multiply worms in your vagina and nearby anus,
and may your mouth be augmented with the delight of shit!

{ Di geminent vermes vulva culoque propinquo
delicium et merdae crescat in ore tuo! }

Now that medieval Europe has fallen, men living in its broken heritage can no longer similarly curse in response to sexual harassment. If men today dare to protest any injustices against men, they must fear for their safety from multitudes of ignorant, intolerant, university-educated fanatics.

Freedom to curse must be vigorously supported today. As medieval Europe understood, freedom to curse is fundamental to social justice. Cursing is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Aristotle, Political Constitutions {Πολιτεῖαι}, fragment 27, from the Constitution of the Elians, Greek text (with slightly regularized orthography) and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Dilts (1971) pp. 22-3. This is Aristotle, fragment 611.21 in Rose (1886).

Elis is located in the western part of the Peloponnese peninsula in present-day Greece. Elis sought to control Zeus’s sanctuary at Olympia and the surrounding area of Pisa. Olympia was the location of the archaic and classic Olympic games. The Pisatan kings Pantaleon, Damophon and Pyrrhos contested Elean power. Pantaleon, son of Omphalion, controlled Olympia in 668 BGC and celebrated the Olympic games of that year. The ambassadors that Pantaleon castrated and sexually abused were probably Elian envoys protesting his celebration of the Olympic games. Kõiv (2013) pp. 322, 353. On the history of Elis and Pisa, id. On the history of the Olympic games, Christesen (2005).

[2] Ovid, Ibis vv. 273-4, Latin text from Merkel & Ehwald (1889) Teubner edition via Perseus, my English translation. A. S. Kline’s English translation of Ibis is freely available.

[4] Pseudo-Ovid, About the Old Woman {De vetula} 2.397, Latin text of Klopsch (1967), modified insubstantially, via Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. De vetula was a widely read medieval work. It has survived in nearly 60 manuscripts. See notes in my post on Ovid castrated.

The Furies (Erinyes) of ancient Greek myth are three: Allecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone. The Furies punished persons who committed crimes.

Subsequent quotes from De vetula are similarly sourced. They are from Book 2, vv. 440-3 (I bathed myself…), 488-95 (The ancient Greek love-lyre’s sound…), and 540-7 (May her crying be continuous…).

[5] The Harpies are half-women, half-bird, long-clawed flying creatures. Harpies tormented King Phineus of Thrace by befouling his table and stealing his food. Harpies similarly harassed Aeneas and his men on the Strophades Islands. Aeneid 3.209-277. In some instances the Harpies worked on behalf of the Furies. See, e.g. Odyssey 20.61ff.

[6] Pseudo-Ovid, About a Certain Old Woman {De quadam vetula} vv. 1-4, Latin text of Klopsch (1961) via Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The subsequent quote above is similarly sourced from De quadam vetula vv. 45-6, which end the poem.

De quadam vetula has survived in a single, fifteenth-century manuscript: Venice, Marciana lat. XII 192. Id. p. xxi. This story has a much different direction than another medieval story, About the Guile and Art of Old Women {De dolo et arte vetularum}, story 13 in Wright (1842).

[images] (1) Chalcidian Eye Cup (flying face). Painted by Phineus Painter about 520 BGC in southern Italy within Greek Chalcidian culture. Preserved as Object # 86.AE.50 in the J. Paul Getty Museum (Malibu, CA, USA), available courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content program under CC By 4.0 license. (2) Harpies attack Phineus at table. Attic Red Figure vase attributed to the Kleophrades Painter, c. 480 BGC. Held as object # 85.AE.316 in the J. Paul Getty Museum until 2007, then transferred to the Italian Government.


Christesen, Paul. 2005. “Imagining Olympia: Hippias of Elis and the First Olympic Victor List.” Ch. 14 (pp. 319-356) in Aubert, Jean-Jacques, and Zsuzsanna Várhelyi, eds. A Tall Order: Writing the Social History of the Ancient World; Essays in Honor of William V. Harris. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Dilts, Mervin R., ed. and trans. 1971. Heraclidis Lembi Excerpta Politiarum. Durham, N.C.: Duke University.

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.

Klopsch, Paul. 1961. “Das pseudo-ovidianum De quadam vetula.” Orpheus. 8: 137-141.

Klopsch, Paul. 1967. Pseudo-Ovidius: De Vetula. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Kõiv, Mait. 2013. “Early History of Elis and Pisa: Invented or Evolving Traditions?Klio. 95 (2): 315-368.

Rose, Valentin, ed. 1886. Aristotelis qui ferebantur librorum fragmenta. Lipsiae: Teubner.

Wright, Thoma, ed. 1842. A Selection of Latin Stories from Manuscripts of the Thirteenth and Fourteenth centuries : a contribution to the history of fiction during the Middle Ages. Early English Poetry, Ballads and Popular Literature of the Middle Ages. 8 (1). London: Richards, printer, for Percy Society.

Lienor overcame injustice with false accusation of rape in medieval romance

Jean Renart’s early thirteenth-century Romance of the Rose or of Guillaume de Dole {Roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole} shows justice done with deception. This innovative medieval romance assumes basic understanding about rape. Rape of women, but not rape of men, has long been a matter of grave concern in the administration of justice. False accusations of rape against men have also long been a serious public concern, except in recent decades. Emperor Conrad’s capricious love for Lienor meets Lienor’s deceptive path to justice in Roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole. Amid many interlaced lyrical songs, that’s the astonishing romance of this medieval romance.

Despite his lords’ concern that he produce a legitimate heir, Emperor Conrad of Germany as a young man wasn’t interested in marriage. He preferred to enjoy springtime parties in the woods with many beautiful women. Out in the woods on such occasions, Emperor Conrad would send away boring men to hunt wild animals. Then he would summon his truly chivalrous knights with a battle cry for pleasure: “Here, knights, to the ladies {Ca, chevaliers, as dames}!” The luxuriously dressed, pleasure-seeking women and men of Conrad’s court would enjoy lavish food and drink, laughter, singing, and sex. As one woman sang:

Down there, beneath the bough,
that’s where he who loves should go.
The fountain wells up clear, oh!
That’s where he should go, who has a fair love.

{ La jus, desoz la raime,
einsi doit aler qui aime,
clere i sourt la fontaine, ya!
Einsi doit aler qui bele amie a. }[1]

Not surprisingly, young women found Emperor Conrad attractive:

A young woman tied to his robe
with her own hands a beautiful tie
from the laces of her white under-dress
(may the fair hand that put it on him
be a 100 times blessed!)
and replaced his belt
with her own little white one.
May she keep his belt well, the noble, gentle girl!

{ Une pucele li atache
de ses mains une bele atache
des laz de sa blanche chemise
(la bele main dont el l’a mise
ait or .C. foiz bone aventure!)
et si li change sa ceinture
a une corroiete blanche;
or la gart bien, la preuz, la franche }

Of course, from a medieval Christian perspective, women and men are most blessed in marital love that produces children. That unnamed young woman had neither marriage or children with Emperor Conrad.

knights and ladies trysting in woods

Emperor Conrad became deeply enamored of Lienor merely from hearing her name. Conrad’s minstrel Jouglet told him of a very beautiful woman and a valiant knight who loved her, and then of another woman just as beautiful and her noble brother. Jouglet said that the second beautiful woman was named Lienor.[2] Conrad was enthralled:

Love struck a spark
with this beautiful name very near to his heart.
From then on, I assure you, were made one
all other women next to this one.
“Blessed be the one who made this name
and the parish priest who christened her!
I would make him the archbishop of Reims
if I were the king of France.”

{ Amors l’a cuit d’une estencele
de cel biau non mout pres del cuer;
or li seront, sachiez, d’un fuer
totes les autres por cesti.
“Beneoiz soit qui cest non basti
et li prestres qui fu parrins!
Il fust arcevesqes de Rains,
se je fusse sires de France.” }

Conrad asked to hear more about Lienor. Jouglet told him all that he knew. Conrad then exclaimed:

Ah! God, how blessed that she was ever born,
and that more so for whom she will love!

{ Ha! Dex, com buer fu onques nee,
et cil plus cui ele amera! }

Jouglet suggested that Conrad was in love with Lienor. Conrad, laughing, responded:

You idiot,
what now of such faulty thought!
Do you truly believe that I’m thinking
less of the brother than of the sister?
Neither my kingdom nor my honor
allows for her to be my beloved.
But since that could never
come to be, at least I can think about it.
She has made pass pleasantly for us
this day, after all.

{… Gars provez,
com ez ore de mal apens!
Or cuides tu, voir, que ge pens
mains au frere q’a la seror?
En mon roiaume n’en m’onor
n’afferroit pas q’el fust m’amie.
Mes por ce qu’el n’i porroit mie
avenir, i voel ge penser.
Or nos a fet soëf passer
la jornee, soe merci. }

Conrad’s defensiveness and invocation of gender equality barely obscured the truth. He was already in love with Lienor, or at least with her name.

Conrad promptly summoned to his court Lienor’s brother, Guillaume de Dole. In lengthy conversations with Guillaume, Conrad came to admire him greatly. Guillaume was a courageous, highly skilled, and generous knight. Guillaume’s good character inspired Conrad to love Guillaume’s sister Lienor even more ardently. Before he had ever met her, Conrad wished to marry her. He told Guillaume:

Now you should know that I would like to make her,
if it pleases God, my beloved and my wife,
and she will be queen and lady
over all other women in the empire.

{Or sachiez que g’en voudrai fere,
se Deu plest, m’amie et ma feme
et qu’ele iert et roïne et dame
de totes celes de l’empire. }

At first Guillaume thought that Conrad was jesting. Lienor was an orphan, and not from a royal family, nor from a family possessing vast lands. Conrad, however, insisted that he wished to marry Lienor.

Conrad’s seneschal, the chief justice of his realm, plotted to tarnish Lienor’s reputation. The seneschal perhaps understood that Lienor as queen would rank above not only all other women in the empire, but also all other men. He secretly traveled to see Lienor and her mother. Lienor’s mother wouldn’t allow her to see any man without her brother Guillaume present. However, by pretending to be devoted to Guillaume and by giving the mother expensive gifts, the seneschal learned much about Lienor. He even learned that that she had a crimson-rose birthmark on her tender, white thigh.

Back at the emperor’s court, Conrad told his seneschal that he planned to marry. Like other lords of the realm, the seneschal had long urged the emperor to make a strategically favorable marriage. The emperor said that he planned to marry a virtuous, wise, and beautiful virgin. She was Lienor, the sister of Guillaume. The seneschal responded that the princes and lords of the realm would never permit Conrad to marry Lienor. Stunned, Conrad pressed for an explanation. The seneschal declared that he had taken her virginity. He described the crimson rose on her thigh as proof that he had enjoyed her body. The emperor was appalled. Marrying Lienor was now impossible for him.

News that the emperor’s marriage to Lienor was canceled because she was debauched stunned the emperor’s court. Guillaume was utterly distraught and became deathly ill. When one of Guillaume’s nephews learned of the deception, he declared that Lienor must be killed. The nephew quickly rode away weeping. He was going to Dole to murder Lienor. That gender structure of honor killing, while sentimentally appealing, isn’t dominant. Despite the usual anti-men bigotry, men and women are victims of honor-based killings at about the same frequency.

When Guillaume’s nephew arrived at Lienor’s home, a page ran out to greet him. But the nephew ignored the page, drew his sword, and strode toward the house. At the threshold, he yelled:

Where is the slut, the harlot,
who would have been lady and empress,
if not for her own lechery?

{ Ou est la jaiaus, la mautriz,
qui fust dame et empereriz,
se sa ribaudie ne fust? }

Fortunately, as he was charging into the house:

Just then he tripped over a piece of wood
and went sprawling, sword and all.
A servant, who had spitted
a goose between two ducks,
who was neither a weakling nor a coward,
rushed at him and held his arms.
Now the boy had no power to do
any great harm, except with words.
Another man leaped on him and gripped him,
and the two held him tightly.

{ Il s’est abuissiez a un fust
si qu’il chaï o tot s’espee.
Un serjans, qui ot espaee
une jante entre .II. mallars,
qui n’iert ne foibles ne coars,
li vient erroment, si l’embrace.
Or n’a il pooir que il face
trop grant mal, se n’est de parole.
Uns autres li saut, si l’acole,
si le tienent amdui mout cort. }

Men commonly put their lives at risk to save women’s lives. That’s the case even for men much less privileged than women, even for men who are essentially women’s servants. So it was for Lienor’s servant-men.

When she realized what the seneschal had done, Lienor’s mother fainted. Lienor, both a virgin and a strong, independent woman, confidently comforted her mother about the seneschal’s false claim:

Beautiful mother, before the end of April,
which is already very near,
I will have totally exposed
his villainy and his deception.
I will make him recant all
that he has made the king believe.

{ Bele mere, ainz la fin d’avril,
qui ja est mout pres de l’issue,
avrai ge tote aconseüe
sa vilonie et sa mençonge.
Tot li ferai tenir a songe
quanqu’il a fet le roi cuidier. }

Lienor immediately traveled to Mainz. That was where her and the emperor’s marriage was to have been celebrated.

After she had settled in Mainz, Lienor summoned a clever page to act as a go-between. She gave him a brooch, a fancy cloth belt, and an alms-purse containing a fine emerald ring. She instructed the page to give those items to the seneschal as love gifts from the Châtelaine of Dijon. Apparently well-connected to court gossip, Lienor knew that the seneschal had long courted the Châtelaine. She, however, had never consented to give him a pledge of her love. The page was to tell the seneschal that the Châtelaine had softened toward him and was offering him these gifts. But if he ever wanted to see her again, he must tie them on his bare skin beneath his shirt.

After the page has completed his mission, Lienor went to the great assembly of nobles in Mainz to make her case for justice. When she entered the hall, all were stunned at the beauty of this unknown lady. She fell at the emperor’s feet and cried out for mercy. The emperor promised to give her justice. He also promised to do whatever she asked him to do. Beautiful young women easily rule the world.[3]

Lienor declared to the emperor and the assembled nobles that she had been victimized. She described her victimization:

It was a day some time ago
that this man here, your seneschal
(here she pointed him out to the emperor)
came to a place, by chance,
where I was doing my sewing.
He did me great harm and outrage,
for he took my virginity.
And after that great foulness,
he also took my belt
and my alms-purse and my brooch.
I demand here from the seneschal,
for taking my honor and my virginity
and my treasures, compensation.

{ Il fu uns jors, qui passez est,
que cil la, vostres seneschaus
(lors le mostre as emperiaus),
vint en un lieu, par aventure,
ou ge fesoie ma cousture.
Si me fist mout let et outrage,
qu’il me toli mon pucelage.
Et aprés cele grant ledure,
si m’a tolue ma ceinture
et m’aumosniere et mon fermal.
Ice demant au seneschal:
et m’onor et mon pucelage
et de mes joiaus le domage. }

Lienor thus falsely accused the seneschal of raping and robbing her. The seneschal quickly responded that he had never seen her before and that he hadn’t taken her virginity or her treasure. Since justice in medieval Europe respected due process, the emperor didn’t simply listen and believe the woman. Moreover, the emperor didn’t listen and believe his seneschal regarding an unknown woman. If Lienor had revealed her identity at this point, all would understand that the seneschal had repudiated his claim to have taken her virginity. She then could have recanted her accusation. However, the seneschal similarly could have recanted his denial of having ever seen her before.

The emperor considered how to resolve this she-said / he-said case. Lienor then described the belt and purse that he allegedly had taken from her. She declared that the seneschal had them tied to his body under his shirt. She asked the emperor to look under the seneschal’s shirt. Since the emperor had promised to do whatever Lienor requested, he had a knight pull up the seneschal’s shirt. Underneath was the belt and purse, exactly as Lienor had described them.

The evidence seemed to condemn the seneschal to death. That would be the penalty for raping Lienor. The lords, who knew the seneschal well, pleaded for mercy. The seneschal lamented that he wasn’t given an opportunity to speak against this new evidence. He desperately pleaded to the lords:

I could make swear
a 100 knights, if the emperor wished,
that this evil and this misfortune
have come upon me through enchantment.
For I don’t know for certain
that the belt was hers,
but, by God and by our childhood,
by my worth and by my love,
let him at least do me such honor
for all that I declare here —
that I never saw her before in all my life,
never caused her shame or outrage,
never violated by force her virginity —
that he let me swear by an ordeal
as a reward for my service.
And without more delay, if in that I
fail, have me hanged!

{ Je li feroie ja jurer,
s’il voloit, a .C. chevaliers
que ciz maus et ciz enconbriers
m’est venuz par enchantement.
Car ge ne sai certainement
s’ele fu soe, la ceinture;
mes, por Deu et por norreture,
por ma deserte et por m’amor,
me face encore tant d’onor
que, de ce que je mis en ni
que onques mes jor ne la vi
ne ne quis honte ne outrage
ne ne forçai son pucelage,
qu’il m’en let purgier par juïse
en guerredon de mon servise;
et se g’en ce, sanz plus atendre,
enchiece, si me face pendre! }

The lords conveyed the seneschal’s request to be tried by ordeal. The emperor felt pity for the seneschal, who had for many years served him well. Yet he wasn’t willing to allow the seneschal a trial by ordeal unless the unknown beautiful woman who had charged him with rape agreed. Lienor graciously agreed. The seneschal was thus thrown into a pool of water. He sunk to the bottom. That validated his claim that he had never before seen Lienor.

seneschal in water ordeal to test guilt

Events had turned out just as the smart, guileful Lienor had planned. She went before the emperor and now complained that the seneschal had falsely tarnished her reputation by claiming that he had seen the rose on her thigh and enjoyed her virginity. She claimed the honor and queenship that had been intended for her. Thus she revealed that she was Lienor. That she had made a false accusation of rape was understood as merely a tactic for securing justice. The emperor leaped up and embraced her. He kissed her a hundred times, not even asking for her affirmative consent before each and every kiss. All the nobles now approved Conrad marrying Lienor. With Lienor wearing an exquisite wedding dress depicting the matter of Troy, she and Conrad were promptly married.[4]

Emperor Conrad and Lienor marry

Conrad planned to put the seneschal to death for falsely besmirching Lienor’s reputation. Lienor, however, intervened to grant him a reprieve. Instead of being directly killed, the seneschal was sent into the terrible violence against men of Christians battling with Muslims for control of the Holy Land.[5]

Making a false accusation of rape isn’t an ideal way for a woman to vindicate her integrity. Justice by whatever means necessary contradicts due process, a fundamental ideal of justice. As the mass incarceration of men makes clear, justice systems can produce unjust effects. In Roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole, unjustified love triumphs through a perverse process of justice. That’s more than a romance. Beyond meninist insistence on taking false accusations of rape seriously, women appreciating men’s love for them is the most important means for securing justice for all.[6]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Jean Renart, The Romance of the Rose or of Guillaume de Dole {Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole} vv. 295-9, Old French text from Lecoy (1962), English translation (modified slightly) from Psaki (1995). Psaki also provides an Old French text, but Lecoy’s is more accessible to the non-specialist. For an alternate English translation, Durling & Terry (1993). The previous short quote (Here, knights, to the ladies) is from v. 223.

Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole dates to 1212-1225. It has survived in only one manuscript: Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reginensi latini, 1725, folios 68va-98va. That manuscript was written roughly about 1300. Psaki (1995) pp. xii, xxviii.

Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole is notable for including forty-six love-lyric insertions within its verse narrative. The lyric insertion at vv. 295-9 is by an unknown singer. Other lyric insertions are by known singers, including Gace Brulé, Châtelain de Couci, Jaufré Rudel, Renart de Beaujeu, and Bernart de Ventadorn. Guillaume de Machaut’s fourteenth-century Voir Dit includes lyric insertions more intimately interwoven with the surrounding verse.

Subsequent quotes from Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole are similarly sourced. The subsequent quotes above are from vv. 247-54 (A young woman tied to his robe…), 793-800 (Love struck a spark…), 817-8 (Ah! God, how blessed…), 829-38 (You idiot…), 3016-9 (Now you should know…), 3016-9 (Where is the slut…), 3924-33 (Just then he tripped…), 4026-31 (Beautiful mother…), 4778-90 (It was a day some time ago…), 4908-24 (I could make swear…).

[2] As many scholar have observed, Jouglet’s doubling of the beautiful woman has parallels with Jean Renart’s Lay of the Reflection {Lai de l’Ombre}. The motif “love from afar {amour de loin}” is associated with the man trobairitz Jaufré Rudel. An excerpt from one of Rudel’s songs about amour de loin, “When the days are long in May {Lanquan li jorn son lonc e may},” is included in Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole, vv. 1301-7.

Lienor is pronounced with three syllables. Hence that name has also been written Lïenor and Liénor.

[3] Second only to beautiful, young women in social dominance are mothers. With striking honesty, a scholar writing late in the nineteenth century commented about Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole:

Of all the beauties of the poem, doubtless none is so unique, so naive, so characteristic, so charming, as the affectionate deference shown by Guillaume for his mother.

Todd (1886) p. 157.

[4] No jaded, passionless lover, Conrad enjoyed intensely his wedding night with Lienor:

I haven’t yet told you
what pleasure the king had that night.
If any man can have delight
in holding his beloved in his arms
in a beautiful bed all night long,
then one can know well that Conrad had that.
When Tristan most loved Isolde,
and he could best take pleasure
in holding and kissing her,
and all the rest that went with it,
and when Lanval and another 20
lovers like these could do the same,
still you may know in truth,
that one could not compare
their pleasure lightly to his.

{ Je ne vos ai mie conté
quel siecle li rois ot la nuit.
Se nus hom puet avoir deduit
a tenir s’amie embraciee
en biau lit, la nuit anuitiee,
donc pot on bien savoir qu’il l’eut.
Quant Tristrans ama plus Yseut
et il s’en pot miex aaisier
et d’acoler et de baisier
et dou sorplus qu’il i covint,
et Lanvax, et autretex .XX.
amant com cil orent esté,
ce sachiez vos de verité,
ne peüst on aparellier
lor siecle a cestui de legier. }

Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dol, vv. 5501-15. Lienor almost surely enjoyed their wedding night even more than Conrad did.

The day after her wedding night, lords came to beg Lienor to grant mercy to the seneschal. Jean Renart then lightly mocked historically pervasive brutalization of men’s sexuality:

She was very beautifully
dressed, adorned and braided,
and didn’t have much injuring,
thank God, from what the emperor
had given to her the previous night.

{ Mout estoit en bele meniere
vestue, acesmee et trecie,
que ne l’avoit pas si blecie
la nuit, Deu merci, l’emperere
que de ce dont la proiere ere }

Id. vv. 5559-66.

[5] Psaki commented:

The Roman of the Rose is eminently suited to analysis using a feminist approach. Issues of gender and representation are vividly engaged, for example, in the figure of Lïenor, fixedly absent throughout most of the tale, whose appropriation and misrepresentation by the seneschal raises disquieting questions about the representation of her by Jouglet, Conrad, Guillaume, and most particularly by the author himself.

Psaki (1995) p. xv. Psaki declares that this tale lacks:

a “really feminist” ending, an ending in which Lïenor deposes Conrad and rules the Empire herself or dispenses with him altogether to open a orphrey-shop with her mother in Mainz.

Id. p. xvi. In a truly feminist ending, Lienor might also castrate her brother Guillaume, burn down Mainz, and found a new city in Amazonia for her orphrey-shop with her mother. Lienor would of course have her servant-men transport to her orphrey-shop the two large chests filled with all her fine clothes and jewels that had been packed for her wedding to the emperor. See Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole vv. 4066-71.

[6] Lacy favored interpreting the tale as being about creating fictions:

Both Jean and his characters are involved in literary creation and elaboration, and he invites us to participate in that same enterprise, to share actively in his creation. If we view the work as a poem about poetry, or a romance about romance, if we see it not as a mimetic replication of reality, but simply as a text containing various subtexts consciously created or re-created by characters who are themselves similar creations, then we must judge it more favorably. As roman d’aventures or roman courtois, it may well be something of a failure; as pure fiction or as a drama of language, it is a notable, even remarkable achievement.

Lacy (1981) p. 787. In his chapter entitled “Women and Love,” Baldwin favored a conventional, crude, totalizing fiction:

In medieval society, gender relations were asymmetric; patriarchy was ingrained and misogyny was prevalent. … Misogyny is not limited to a few overt expressions, but pervades all medieval literature in more subtle and indirect ways, which feminist critics have sought to expose. Nor is misogyny limited merely to negative evaluations of women. The praise of female attributes or the introduction of forceful female characters may also have served to manipulate, co-opt, marginalize, or otherwise entice women to conform to asymmetrical gender positions with a male-dominated society. Since these covert and subversive techniques are difficult to uncover, I shall simply take it for granted that both my authors and their society were patriarchal and misogynistic.

Baldwin (2000) pp. 123, 125. Baldwin thus excluded men from loving in his chapter entitled “Women and Love.” By popular academic diktat, negative evaluations of men, or massive slaughter of men, don’t count as misandry. Given such ideological context, de Looze in interpreting Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole not surprisingly suggested that all men are self-centered fantasists:

Inherent in the seneschal’s failure to recognize the woman with whom he claims to have had carnal knowledge is perhaps the suggestion that the erotic experience for the male is more one of fantasy projection than communication and coming to know his psychic other.

de Looze (1991) p. 603. Medieval literature of men’s sex protest provides much better insight into gender and love between women and men.

[images] (1) Knights and ladies trysting in the woods. Wood engraving by Louis Bouquet from Mary (1921) p. 5. (2) The seneschal undergoes the water ordeal to test his innocence. Wood engraving by Louis Bouquet from id. p. 100. (3) Emperor Conrad and Lienor marry. Similarly from id. p. 107.


Baldwin, John W. 2000. Aristocratic Life in Medieval France: the romances of Jean Renart and Gerbert de Montreuil, 1190-1230. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press.

de Looze, Laurence. 1991. “The Gender of Fiction: Womanly Poetics in Jean Renart’s Guillaume de Dole.” The French Review. 64 (4): 596-606.

Durling, Nancy Vine and Patricia Terry, trans. 1993. Jean Renart. The Romance of the Rose or Guillaume de Dole. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Lacy, Norris J. 1981. ‘“Amer par oïr dire”: Guillaume de Dole and the Drama of Language.’ The French Review. 54 (6): 779-787.

Lecoy, Félix. ed. 1962. Jean Renart. Roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole. Paris: Champion. Publié en ligne par l’ENS de Lyon dans la Base de français médiéval, dernière révision le 30-12-2010.

Mary, André, trans. (French). 1921. Jean Renart. La Pucelle à la Rose: roman d’amour & de chevalerie de l’an 1200. Paris: Éditions de la Banderole.

Psaki, Regina, ed. and trans. 1995. The Romance of the Rose or of Guillaume de Dole (Roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole). New York: Garland Publishing.

Todd, Henry Alfred. 1886. “Guillaume de Dole: An Unpublished Old French Romance.” Transactions and Proceedings of the Modern Language Association of America. 2: 107-157.

Aeneid against Rhome & Trojan women burning ships to found Rome

The Aeneid, Virgil’s Latin epic of Trojan survivors establishing a new kingdom in central Italy, has been central to Rome’s imaginative foundation for more than two thousand years. The Aeneid draws thematically and stylistically on Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey. Widely known and revered in Virgil’s Mediterranean world, those Homeric epics say nothing about Rome’s founding. However, non-Homeric Greek epic apparently told of the woman Rhome leading other Trojan women in burning Trojan ships. These women’s ship-burning caused the founding of a city named after Rhome. In the context of that epic account of Rome’s founding, the Aeneid poignantly depicts an escape from men’s impotence in relation to women’s power.

The Greek epic tradition is now understood to have been rich in archaic myth concerning the Trojan War. In addition to the Iliad and Odyssey, another set of archaic Greek epics, called the Epic Cycle, has survived in fragments. In contrast to the arduous, death-bringing, and highly constraining “heroic” gender role imposed on men in Homeric epic, the Epic Cycle poems “relish romantic intrigue and provocative, even perverse details.”[1] Treachery among intimates and friends is unthinkable in Homeric epic. In contrast, the Epic Cycle, like ancient Greek literature generally, abounds in perverse betrayals.

Trojan women starting to burn ships in Aeneid

The Epic Cycle poem Telegony tells the story of Telegonus, the son of Circe and Odysseus. That story is important for the founding of Rome because Circle’s isle of Aeaea is in the west across from Tyrrhenia in Ausonia. By the end of the sixth century BGC, Aeaea was localized at Monte Circe, about 100 kilometers southeast of Rome.[2] According to the Telegony, Telegonus unknowingly killed his father at Ithaca. That terrible event led to a happy ending:

When he learned whom he had killed, Telegonus on Minerva’s orders returned to his home on the island of Aeaea along with Telemachus and Penelope. They returned Odysseus’s dead body to Circe. There they buried him. Again on Minerva’s orders, Telegonus married Penelope and Telemachus married Circe.

{ Quem postquam cognovit qui esset, iussu Minervae cum Telemacho et Penelope in patriam reduxerunt, in insulam Aeaeam; ad Circen Ulixem mortuum deportaverunt. Ibique sepulturae tradiderunt. Eiusdem Minervae monitu Telegonus Penelopen, Telemachus Circen duxerunt uxores. }[3]

Other surviving evidence indicates that Circe made Penelope, Telemachus, and Telegonus immortal. Humans being made immortal is a well-recognized transformation in ancient Greek myth. Moreover, women marrying their deceased husbands’ sons from relationships with other women isn’t bizarre within all of ancient Greek myth. Nor would it be extraordinary for Odysseus, unhappy with his burdensome obligations under Penelope in their Ithacan household, to have recalled and sought a carefree, never-ending life with Circe. She, after all, required from men nothing more than for them to be like pigs.[4]

The Epic Cycle probably included a story of the woman anti-hero Rhome leading other Trojan women in burning Trojan ships to found Rome in the company of Odysseus and Aeneas. Dionysius of Halicarnassus, a Greek historian writing in Rome a few years after the Aeneid began circulating, reported:

The man who compiled the Priestesses at Argos and the events during the tenure of each of them says that Aeneas went with Odysseus from the land of the Molossians to Italy. He founded the city Rome and named it after Rhome, one of the Trojan women. This woman, he says, urged the other Trojan women on and, together with them, set the ships on fire, since she was tired of wandering around. Damastes of Sigeum and some other people also agree with him.

{ ὁ δὲ τὰς Ἱερείας τὰς ἐν Ἄργει καὶ τὰ καθ’ ἑκάστην πραχθέντα συναγαγὼν Αἰνείαν φησὶν ἐκ Μολοττῶν εἰς Ἰταλίαν ἐλθόντα μετ’ Ὀδυσσέως οἰκιστὴν γενέσθαι τῆς πόλεως, ὀνομάσαι δ’ αὐτὴν ἀπὸ μιᾶς τῶν Ἰλιάδων Ῥώμης· ταύτην δὲ λέγει ταῖς ἄλλαις Τρωάσι παρακελευσαμένην κοινῇ μετ’ αὐτῶν ἐμπρῆσαι τὰ σκάφη βαρυνομένην τῇ πλάνῃ· ὁμολογεῖ δ᾿ αὐτῷ καὶ Δαμάστης ὁ Σιγειεὺς καὶ ἄλλοι τινές. }[5]

The man who compiled Priestesses at Argos was Hellanicus of Lesbos. He was a prolific and influential fifth-century Greek historian. Not narrowly a historian in the modern sense, Hellanicus also wrote about the Hesperides.[6] They were daughters of the Titan god Atlas and nymphs associated with lands west of Greece. Odysseus betraying his Greek family and friends to travel with Aeneas to Italy, perhaps also taking the Palladium, perhaps to be with Circe at Aeaea, is the sort of romantic treachery at home in the Epic Cycle. So too is Trojan women betraying their leading Trojan men and burning Trojan ships. The story ending happily with Rome being named after the ship-burning Trojan woman ringleader Rhome echoes the spirit of the Telegony’s ending. Dionysius apparently preserved a genuine fragment from Hellanicus. That fragment plausibly provides myth from the Epic Cycle or other non-Homeric archaic Greek epic tradition concerning Rome’s founding.[7]

Aristotle the philosopher is attributed a more rational report about women burning ships to found Rome. Immediately following Hellanicus’s account of Rome’s founding, Dionysius provided an account that he attributed to Aristotle the philosopher:

Aristotle the philosopher recounts that some of the Achaeans returning home from Troy, as they were sailing around Malea, were suddenly taken by a violent storm. For a long time they wandered around many places of the sea, carried around by the winds. Eventually they arrived at that place in the land of the Opici which is called Latinium and is situated near the Tyrrhenian Sea. Happy to see land, they pulled their ships ashore at that location and spent the winter season there, preparing to sail at the beginning of spring. But when their ships were set on fire at night, not knowing how they could set sail, they were forced against their will to settle their abode in the place where they had disembarked. This happened to them because of female prisoners, whom they happened to be carrying along from Troy. These women had burnt down the ships out of fear for the Achaeans’ return home, believing that they would be carried into slavery.

{ Ἀριστοτέλης δὲ ὁ φιλόσοφος Ἀχαιῶν τινας ἱστορεῖ τῶν ἀπὸ Τροίας ἀνακομισαμένων περιπλέοντας Μαλέαν, ἔπειτα χειμῶνι βιαίῳ καταληφθέντας τέως μὲν ὑπὸ τῶν πνευμάτων φερομένους πολλαχῇ τοῦ πελάγους πλανᾶσθαι, τελευτῶντας δ’ ἐλθεῖν εἰς τὸν τόπον τοῦτον τῆς Ὀπικῆς, ὃς καλεῖται Λατίνιον ἐπὶ τῷ Τυρρηνικῷ πελάγει κείμενος. ἀσμένους δὲ τὴν γῆν ἰδόντας ἀνελκῦσαί τε τὰς ναῦς αὐτόθι καὶ διατρῖψαι τὴν χειμερινὴν ὥραν παρασκευαζομένους ἔαρος ἀρχομένου πλεῖν· ἐμπρησθεισῶν δὲ αὐτοῖς ὑπὸ νύκτα τῶν νεῶν οὐκ ἔχοντας ὅπως ποιήσονται τὴν ἄπαρσιν, ἀβουλήτῳ ἀνάγκῃ τοὺς βίους, ἐν ᾧ κατήχθησαν χωρίῳ, ἱδρύσασθαι. συμβῆναι δὲ αὐτοῖς τοῦτο διὰ γυναῖκας αἰχμαλώτους, ἃς ἔτυχον ἄγοντες ἐξ Ἰλίου· ταύτας δὲ κατακαῦσαι τὰ πλοῖα φοβουμένας τὴν οἴκαδε τῶν Ἀχαιῶν ἄπαρσιν, ὡς εἰς δουλείαν ἀφιξομένας. }

Having Trojan women burn their Greek captors’ ships doesn’t imply treachery toward one’s own people. Moreover, eliminating the woman anti-hero Rhome and naming of Rhome after her provides a less outrageous history. Compared to the account he attributed to the myth-historian Hellanicus, Dionysius reported from Aristotle the philosopher a more reasonable version of Rome’s founding.

An earlier epitome of Aristotle suggests more amorous intrigue in Rome’s founding. Heraclides Lembus, a second-century BGC Egyptian scholar and civil servant, wrote an epitome of Aristotle’s Constitutions. That work describes the history and formal political structure of 158 city-states. Many centuries later, authors report that Heraclides, describing the founding of Rome, mentioned the Trojan woman Rhome. She was “a certain young woman of marriageable age {virgo quidam tempestiuus}.” Moreover, she was “high-born {nobilis},” or even “very high-born {nobilissima}.”[8] Given her characteristics, the men with her most likely found her sexually attractive.

Men’s love for women figures in an alternative account of women burning ships to found Rome. About 100 GC in central Greece, the Greek essayist Plutarch explained:

Why do women kiss their relatives on the mouth? … Is it for the reason which Aristotle the philosopher has recounted? For that well-known deed, which is said to have taken place in many locations, was dared, it seems, by the Trojan women in Italy as well. When, after disembarking, the men had gone off, the women set the ships on fire, since they wanted to bring an end to their wanderings at sea by any means necessary. Fearing the men, they greeted their relatives and other members of the household by kissing and embracing whoever encountered them. And when the men had put an end to their anger and had been reconciled, the women continued to use this way of greeting them.

{ διὰ τί τοὺς συγγενεῖς τῷ στόματι φιλοῦσιν αἱ γυναῖκες; … δι’ ἣν Ἀριστοτέλης ὁ φιλόσοφος αἰτίαν ἱστόρηκε; τὸ γὰρ πολυθρύλλητον ἐκεῖνο καὶ πολλαχοῦ γενέσθαι λεγόμενον, ὡς ἔοικεν, ἐτολμήθη ταῖς Τρῳάσι καὶ περὶ τὴν Ἰταλίαν. τῶν γὰρ ἀνδρῶν, ὡς προσέπλευσαν, ἀποβάντων ἐνέπρησαν τὰ πλοῖα, πάντως ἀπαλλαγῆναι τῆς πλάνης δεόμεναι καὶ τῆς θαλάττης· φοβηθεῖσαι δὲ τοὺς ἄνδρας ἠσπάζοντο τῶν συγγενῶν καὶ οἰκείων μετὰ τοῦ καταφιλεῖν καὶ περιπλέκεσθαι τοὺς προστυγχάνοντας. παυσαμένων δὲ τῆς ὀργῆς καὶ διαλλαγέντων ἐχρῶντο καὶ τὸ λοιπὸν ταύτῃ τῇ φιλοφροσύνῃ πρὸς αὐτούς. }[9]

Plutarch’s account acknowledges the obvious interpersonal reality that men would be furious at the women burning their ships. But men love to have women kiss and embrace them. In contrast to modern myths, women never have been like men’s property. In fact, women actively kissing and embracing men can be powerful enough to overcome men’s anger at women’s destructive acts.

The Aeneid’s account of Trojan women burning Trojan ships is best interpreted in its historical context. When Virgil wrote the Aeneid, stories of the Trojan woman anti-hero Rhome leading other women in burning ships to found Rome were well-known. In the Aeneid, Aeneas directed the Trojan ships to land in Sicily to ride out a storm. There the Trojan men held funeral games to honor Aeneas’s deceased father Anchises. The funeral games included Trojan boys staging mock battles on horseback. That taught the boys their gender role as participants and victims of violence against men. The Trojan women engaged in gender-typical behavior starkly different from the boys joyfully training to kill or be killed:

Far separated on the lonely seashore, the Trojan women
wept for the lost Anchises, all looking out upon
the deep sea and weeping. “Ah, for the weary too many shoals,
and yet more of the sea to survive!” — so one voice for all the women.
For a city they pray, disgusted with enduring oceans of hardship.

{ At procul in sola secretae Troades acta
amissum Anchisen flebant, cunctaeque profundum
pontum adspectabant flentes. “Heu tot vada fessis
et tantum superesse maris!” vox omnibus una.
Urbem orant; taedet pelagi perferre laborem. }[10]

While weeping for the dead Anchises, the women mourned their own difficult lives. Unlike men, women typically have a strong sense of self-concern. That sense of self-concern, both in the Epic Cycle and in the Aeneid, helps to explain women’s willingness to burn ships.

The Aeneid underscores women’s obliviousness to men’s gender burdens. Like many women today, the goddess Juno, the cosmos’s queen consort and regnant in action, nursed anger about “her ancient grievance not yet sated {necdum antiquum saturata dolorem}.” She sent the messenger-goddess Iris to incite further trouble for the Trojans. Taking the form of the aged Trojan woman Beroë, she called for female solidarity in self-pity:

“O we wretched women,” she said, “whom Greek hands in the war
didn’t drag to death beneath our fatherland’s walls! O unhappy
people, what ruin does Fortune reserve for you?
The seventh summer has turned since Troy’s destruction,
with all the oceans and lands traversed, so many inhospitable stones
and stars we’ve endured, while through the great sea
we chase fleeing Italy and roll about on the waves.
Here are the borders of our brother Eryx and also our host Acestes.
Who forbids casting up walls here and giving citizens a city?”

{ “O miserae, quas non manus” inquit “Achaïca bello
traxerit ad letum patriae sub moenibus! O gens
infelix, cui te exitio Fortuna reservat?
Septuma post Troiae exscidium iam vertitur aestas,
cum freta, cum terras omnes, tot inhospita saxa
sideraque emensae ferimur, dum per mare magnum
Italiam sequimur fugientem, et volvimur undis.
Hic Erycis fines fraterni, atque hospes Acestes:
quis prohibet muros iacere et dare civibus urbem?” }

In referring to citizens, Beroë invoked foremost the women themselves to whom she appealed. Yet those who die in war’s fighting or in the sacking of a city are much more likely to be men than women.[11] Moreover, in the ancient world as in most countries today, heavy, dangerous manual labor such as constructing city walls is assigned primarily to men. However, compared to men, women have always been more potent in complaining.

In the Aeneid, Juno’s envoy disguised as Beroë incited the Trojan women to burn their own ships on the Sicilian shore so that the Trojans couldn’t voyage further. After her complaining speech, Beroë seized a piece of burning wood from Neptune’s altar and threw it at the Trojan ships. The Trojan women initially were bewildered. Then the eldest Trojan woman declared that the figure of Beroë wasn’t actually Beroë, but a woman with “signs of divine beauty {divini signa decoris}.” The other Trojan women wavered:

At first the Trojan mothers with spiteful eyes
looked upon the ships doubtfully, torn between wretched love
for the present land and the kingdom to which fate called them.
When the goddess Iris rose through the sky on her twin wings,
cutting a huge rainbow in her flight under the clouds,
then, truly astonished by the marvels and made furious,
they scream and seize fire from the inner hearths.
Some plunder the altars — garlands and boughs and burning wood
they hurl together. Loosed from his reins, the fire god Vulcan rages
through the ships’ rowing benches and oars and painted pine sterns.

{ At matres primo ancipites oculisque malignis
ambiguae spectare rates miserum inter amorem
praesentis terrae fatisque vocantia regna,
cum dea se paribus per caelum sustulit alis,
ingentemque fuga secuit sub nubibus arcum.
Tum vero attonitae monstris actaeque furore
conclamant, rapiuntque focis penetralibus ignem;
pars spoliant aras, frondem ac virgulta facesque
coniciunt. Furit immissis Volcanus habenis
transtra per et remos et pictas abiete puppes. }

The Trojan men were laboring on those benches and at those oars to bring themselves and their women to Rome, the city founded in alternate myth by Remus (literally, “oar”) and his twin brother Romulus.[12] But without even speaking to their men and considering their men’s views, the Trojan women in a fury burned their own ships. If their ships were destroyed, the Trojans couldn’t depart from Sicily to continue on to found Rome.

The Aeneid’s account of what happened is much different from the romantic, non-Homeric epic account of the woman anti-hero Rhome leading Trojan woman in burning Trojan ships to found Rome. In the Aeneid, the leaderless Trojan women burst into incoherent rage after being incited by the goddess Iris, disguised as the old woman Beroë. The Trojan women’s actions didn’t lead to the founding of Rome. The Trojan women’s actions merely threatened to strand the Trojans in Sicily. Sicily was already the kingdom of the Trojan exile Acestes.

For readers of the Aenead, Trojans settling in Sicily would be a bad alternative to them founding Rome. Acestes was an honored figure, but also regarded as wild and primitive. He was the legendary founder of the Sicilian city that came to be known as Segesta. About 307 BGC, the Greek despot Agathocles of Syracuse, returning from war with Carthage, was welcomed into Segesta. Agathocles betrayed Segesta, killed all its men, and took its women and children as captives. Roman readers of the Aeneid would have known that terrible history.

In Sicily, honoring Anchises with funeral games near his tomb, the Trojan men saw black smoke rising from their burning ships. Aeneas’s son Ascanius, leading other boys in a mock-battle formation, turned his horse and raced to the burning ships moored at the Trojan camp. The women at the camp were in chaos and doing nothing about their burning ships. The boy Ascanius shouted out:

“What new madness is this? What now, what is your point?” he cries,
“Oh, wretched women citizens! Not the enemy or a hostile Greek
camp, but your own hope you burn. How could you, I am your
own Ascanius!” Before his feet he threw down his worthless helmet,
which in play he had put on to rouse the semblance of battle.

{ “Quis furor iste novus? Quo nunc, quo tenditis?” inquit,
“heu, miserae cives! Non hostem inimicaque castra
Argivum, vestras spes uritis. En, ego vester
Ascanius!” Galeam ante pedes proiecit inanem,
qua ludo indutus belli simulacra ciebat }

Men’s willingness to fight and die is worthless against their own women’s treachery. Although only a boy, Ascanius understood the despair of Trojan men. That despair is much different from naming Rome in honor of the woman Rhome for leading Trojan women in burning Trojan ships.

Trojan men see disaster of Trojan women burning Trojan ships

The Trojan men labored to put out the flames consuming the ships while the Trojan women scattered and hid like frightened rabbits. The men’s efforts, however, weren’t sufficient to save them. As so many men have done throughout history, the Trojan leader Aeneas dramatically offered his chest in battle for his people:

Then pious Aeneas tears his robe from his shoulders,
for help he calls to the gods and imploringly extends his palms:
“All-mighty father Jove, if you not yet despise every one
of the Trojan men, if your ancient piety still respects
men’s labors, may our fleet evade the flames,
father, as you now snatch from ruin the tenuous Trojan story.
Or you send what remains of us to death with your destroying lightening,
if I so deserve, and here overthrow us with your strong right hand.”

{ Tum pius Aeneas umeris abscindere vestem,
auxilioque vocare deos, et tendere palmas:
“Iuppiter omnipotens, si nondum exosus ad unum
Troianos, si quid pietas antiqua labores
respicit humanos, da flammam evadere classi
nunc, Pater, et tenues Teucrum res eripe leto.
Vel tu, quod superest infesto fulmine morti,
si mereor, demitte, tuaque hic obrue dextra.” }

With a father’s loving care for his family, Jove created a wild black storm of life-giving rain. That rainstorm drenched the ships and extinguished the flames. Although damaged, all the Trojan ships except four were saved from ruin.

The Trojan women’s treachery and the resulting damage to the ships traumatized Aeneas. Full of anguish, he considered yielding to the women’s preference and settling in Sicily. That’s the non-Homeric Greek epic pattern, with Sicily substituted for Rome. However, the learned old man Nautes offered Aeneas consolation and advice contrary to traditional Greek epic. Nautes advised Aeneas to continue his voyage, but leave behind in Sicily the complaining women as well as the old, the feeble, the timid, and anyone else who chose to remain.

Like many men, Aeneas was reluctant to leave behind even whiny, treacherous women. Then Aeneas saw glide down from the sky his father Anchises’s spirit. Anchises greeted his dear son. Then he advised him to follow the untraditional advice of the old man Nautes. As fathers tend to do, Anchises offered his son much other advice as well. Then Anchises disappeared into the air like a wisp of smoke. With the support of those two respected old men, Aeneas finally gained the strength to defy archaic Greek tradition and leave the behind the complaining, ship-burning Trojan women.[13]

When time for separation came, those who wanted to remain changed their minds to no effect. The Trojans feasted together for nine days. Then the day came for some to depart:

From along the curving shore came forth unusual weeping.
They delayed, embracing one another for a day and a night.
Now the very mothers, the very men, to whom earlier
the sea’s face seemed harsh and its name intolerable,
wished to go and endure all the toils of voyaging.
Good Aeneas comforts them with friendly words
and tearfully commends them to his kinsman Acestes.

{ Exoritur procurva ingens per litora fletus;
complexi inter se noctemque diemque morantur.
Ipsae iam matres, ipsi, quibus aspera quondam
visa maris facies et non tolerabile nomen,
ire volunt, omnemque fugae perferre laborem.
Quos bonus Aeneas dictis solatur amicis,
et consanguineo lacrimans commendat Acestae. }

Not a yes-dearing man like Vulcan in relation to Venus, Aeneas remained firm about the established plan. With the eight salvageable ships repaired, he didn’t welcome all to join the further voyage in only the remaining two-thirds of their ships. Leaving the rest behind, the eager Trojan men and women sped away to found Rome.[14]

The Aeneid’s treatment of the ship-burning women is a radical departure from Greek epic tradition. The archaic Greek epic myth of Rome being named after Rhome, the ringleader of ship-burning Trojan woman, represents men accommodating women’s destructive acts. That myth includes the comforting conclusion that women’s destructive acts work for social good. Virgil rejected such childish delusions. In the Aeneid, he narrated Juno’s implacable hate and Allecto’s war-inciting evil. He depicted Dido’s suicidal sense of sexual entitlement and Juturna’s naive, narrow-minded actions on behalf of Juno’s hate.

Because so many men are terrified of challenging the gynocentric order, Virgil’s bracing lessons about women have been largely lost or marginalized in the literary reception of the Aeneid. In now-marginalized medieval literature, Marcolf provided vital wisdom about women’s power to the gyno-idolatrous King Solomon.[15] Marcolf better understood the Aeneid than have modern readers. Men must escape from their denial, complacency, and impotence in relation to women’s power, as Aeneas did, if humane civilization is to endure.

ships burning after attack at Pearl Harbor

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Read more:


[1] Manolova (2011) p. 102. Similarly, Griffin (1977). Griffin observed:

most un-Homeric of all is the treacherous murder of an ally for selfish reasons. … Treachery and revenge on one’s friends are alike excluded by the noble ethos of the Iliad.

Id. p. 46. Unlike Homeric epic, the Epic Cycle included such actions. After reviewing some “outlandish bits” in the Epic Cycle, Konstan concluded:

I am inclined to believe that the Cyclic epics were more permissive than the Homeric poems in respect to comic dissonances within the context of heroic narrative, though always in a controlled and self­-conscious way. If I may offer an analogy with another genre, we may perhaps see a roughly comparable (by no means identical) contrast between the comedies of Plautus, with their broad, occasionally slapstick humor, and the more restrained style of Terence, who was more faithful, on the whole, to the relatively demure tone of Menander. To the extent that one may judge from the meager fragments of Roman comedy, Plautus represented the dominant fashion and Terence was the exception. Homer too seems to have been the exception in the genre of archaic Greek epic, and the prevailing taste might rather have approved the more extravagant compositions of his rivals.

Konstan (2015) p. 321. The relationship between Homeric epic and the Epic Cycle more generally is a contentious subject. For overviews, Burgess (2015) and Nagy (2015). On the Trojan cycle specifically, Burgess (2016).

[2] Burgess (2017b) p. 142. A Roman colony “with the significant name Circeii” was founded at Monte Circeo by the end of the sixth century BGC. Id.

[3] Gaius Julius Hyginus, Fables {Fabulae} 127 (Telegonus), Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Tsagalis (2015) p. 706. Hyginus wrote about the time of Virgil. This is the fragment denoted F 5 (a). Eustathius of Thessalonica, a twelfth-century Greek scholar and Archbishop of Thessalonica, attests to this fragment in his commentary on Odyssey 16.118. So too does Pseudo-Apollodorus, Bibliotheca, Epitome 7.37, from the first or second century GC. Id. p. 705.

The Telegony {Τηλεγόνεια}, attributed to Eugammon of Cyrene, is dated to early sixth century BGC (no later than 570 BGC). Tsagalis (2015) pp. 692-5. For a plot summary based on surviving fragments, id. pp. 678-9. On the literary context of Odysseus death, Burgess (2014), Burgess (2017b), and Arft (2017).

[4] In Odyssey 23.247-84, “resourceful {πολύμητις}” Odysseus tells Penelope that he will have to spend a few years traveling around with his shapely oar until he receives a sign to plant it in the earth far from the sea. That parallels Odysseus’s tale to the Phaeacians of Tiresias’s prophecy to him. Odyssey 11.119-37. With deep philological expertise and keen imaginative sense, an eminent classicist has suggested that with this tale Odysseus received or invented an excuse to have again some extramarital affairs in exotic places. Rather than merely enduring a husband’s ordinary household burdens, Odysseus with that tale might also enjoy again the leisurely position of being Circe’s kept man near Rome. On wanderings of Odysseus outside of the Odyssey, Burgess (2017a).

The Telegony as a whole shows concern about blurring the categories of mortals and immortals. Tomasso (2020). For Odysseus, the choice between Penelope and Circe, like that between Penelope and Nausicaa, wasn’t simple. Epic singers likely exploited these complexities in competing with each other. Id.

[5] Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities {Ῥωμαϊκὴ Ἀρχαιολογία} 1.72.2, Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Verhasselt (2019) p. 679. The subsequent quote concerning the account in Aristotle’s Political Constitutions {Πολιτεῖαι} is similarly from Roman Antiquities 1.72.3-4.

[6] Here’s more information about Hellanicus of Lesbos {Ἑλλάνικος ὁ Λέσβιος} and ancient reference to Hellanicus. In addition to writing about the Hesperides {Ἑσπερίδες}, Hellanicus wrote a mythography of Troy, the Troica {Τρωικά}. Parthenius of Nicaea in his Sufferings in Love {Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα} 34 attributes the story of Corythus to the second book of Hellanicus’s Troica. Inconsistency among Hellanicus’s accounts of Aeneas’s exile doesn’t indicate the unreliability of Hellanicus or that the Hellanicus fragment concerning Rhome leading ship-burning Trojan women is spurious. Cf. Horsfall (1987) pp. 12-5. Archaic Greek epic didn’t consist of a unitary myth.

[7] Scholars have contested the authenticity and relevance of the Hellanicus fragment concerning Rome’s founding. Galinsky interpreted it to reflect a broad literary and historical tradition:

Before Hellanicus brought Aeneas to Rome, which is only a reflection in literature of the tradition of Aeneas in Etruscan art and the Etruscan influence on Rome, a Greek version had been current according to which some captive Trojan women, led by Rhome, burnt the ships of their Greek masters and thus forced them to stay in Latium and to found Rome. Hellanicus temporarily tried to reconcile the Trojan and the Aeneas tradition with somewhat awkward results: the Trojan Rhome burns the ships, and Trojan Aeneas has no choice but to found Rome. In the greater part of the fifth century, however, the Aeneas legend was eclipsed by the Trojan legend centering on Rhome. So far as it appears from the extant sources, Aeneas was not related to Rhome or connected with her in any way by Greek historians until the third century B.C., which merely reflects the revival of the Aeneas legend by the Romans at that time.

Galinsky (1969) p. 105. Gruen, in contrast, regarded the Hellanicus fragment as making an extraordinary claim, and he judged it as spurious:

How likely is it that Hellanicus took any notice of Rome, an insignificant little town in the fifth century? It strains credulity to image that any Greek writer at that time would consider it worthwhile to speculate on the origins of Rome. … If the fragment properly belongs to Hellanicus, it stands quite isolated; no clear evidence of Hellenic speculation on the origins of Rome exists for perhaps another century. Better to suppose that Dionysius erred in ascribing this text to Hellanicus, or that another writer composed a treatise with this title, or that a later scholar interpolated the material. … A more plausible setting would seem to be the later fourth century when tales of Aeneas and Latium, of Odysseus’ western ventures, and of arsonist Trojan women were circulating in the school of Aristotle and elsewhere.

Gruen (1992) pp. 17-8. For similar skepticism, Horsfall (1987) pp. 15-6.

The Iliac Tablets {Tabulae Iliacae} from late in the first-century BGC or early first century GC refer to the Epic Cycle. On the Capitoline Iliac tablet {tabula Iliaca Capitolina} (tablet 1A), a central scene shows the destruction of Troy and Aeneas carrying his father and leading his son away. Inscriptions under that scene refer both to Homeric Epic and the Epic Cycle:

Ilioupersis by Stesichorus. Troikos. Iliad by Homer. Aethiopis by Arctinus of Miletus. Little Iliad as told by Lesches of Pyrrha.

{ Ἰλίου πέρσις κατὰ Στησίχορον. Τρωικός/ Ἰλιὰς κατὰ Ὅμηρον Αἰθιοπὶς κατὰ Ἀρκτῖνον τὸν Μιλήσιον. Ἰλιὰς ἡ μικρὰ λεγομένη κατὰ Λέσχην Πυρραῖον. }

Squire (2014) p. 158 (including drawing of tablet). An inscription under a depiction of Aeneas boarding a ship declares, “Aeneas with his family setting off to the West {Αἰνήας σὺν τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀπαί[ρ]ων εἰς τὴν Ἑσπερίαν}.” Id. 160. The Iliac Tablets clearly show appreciation for the Epic Cycle, Homeric Epic, and the lyric poetry of Stesichorus. Earlier scholarship tended to discount the significance of the Epic Cycle and Stesichorus in the Tabulae Iliacae. See, e.g. the title of Horsfall (1987) and the analysis of the earlier scholarship in Squire (2011) pp. 106-8. The diverse possibilities of interpreting the depictions and inscriptions of the Tabulae Iliacae apparently are fundamental aspects of their art and use. Squire (2011), Squire (2014).

The long scholarly debate on Rome’s founding hasn’t specifically considered the Trojan women burning ships. On some arbitrary basis of counting, between twenty-five and thirty “different Greek versions of the origins of Rome” have survived. Erskine (2001) p. 151. Within that mythic diversity, the historical trajectory and significance of the myth of Aeneas founding Rome remains contentious. Horsfall (2001). Odysseus was more prominent than Aeneas in earlier surviving evidence of Greek myth concerning Rome’s founding. Erskine (2001) pp. 19-21. The past two decades of scholarly work on the Epic Cycle has increased general understanding of the diversity and importance of non-Homeric archaic Greek epic. That scholarly development should encourage study and analysis of ship-burning Trojan women in Rome’s founding.

Rhome leading ship-burning Trojan women to found Rome is a plausible element of non-Homeric archaic Greek epic. Specific citations in the Aeneid to the meager surviving fragments of the Epic Cycle haven’t been detected. Yet the Aeneid includes themes and events included in the Epic Cycle, but not in Homeric epic, in contexts where reference to the Epic Cycle is plausible. Gärtner (2015).

Even if not part of the Epic Cycle, Rhome leading Trojan women burning ships to found Rome surely was significant context for Virgil’s account of Trojan women burning Trojan ships in the Aeneid. The story of the Trojan ship-burning women was well known by the third century BCE. The Aeneid’s specific literary presentation of Trojan woman burning ships makes best sense in relation to the well-establish literary tradition of women burning ships causing the founding of Rome.

[8] Describing Rhome {Ῥώμη} as of marriageable age, Festus, Summary of the Deeds and Accomplishments of the Roman People {Breviarium Rerum Gestarum Populi} 7 (fourth century GC). Describing Rhome as a high-born woman, Servius auctus (Servius Danielis), Commentary on Virgil’s Aeneid 1.273 (roughly 400 GC).  Describing Rhome as a very high-born woman, Gaius Julius Solinus, Polyhistor 1.2 (third century GC). For the relevant full quotes and complete citations, Verhasselt (2019) p. 675.

[9] Plutarch, Moralia, Roman Questions {Αἴτια Ῥωμαϊκά / Quaestiones Romanae} 265B–D, Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Verhasselt (2019) pp. 677-8.

[10] Virgil, Aeneid 5.613-7, Latin text of Greenough (1900) and my English translation, benefiting from those of Fagles (2006), Kline (2002), and Fairclough & Gould (1999). Subsequent quotes above are from the Aeneid, Book 5, and are similarly sourced. They are vv. 608 (her ancient grievance not yet sated), 623-31 (O we wretched women…), 647 (signs of divine beauty), 654-63 (At first the Trojan mothers…), 670-4 (What new madness…), 685-92 (Then pious Aeneas tears his robe…), 765-71 (From along the curving shore…)

[11] Modern scholars have been largely oblivious to horrendous violence against men in ancient epic. Willful perversion of reality with respect to violence against men has been extraordinary in the past half century. Consider:

The matres {mothers} whether Iliades {Trojan women} or Latinae {Latin women}, are the real victims of epic heroism. They are the persons without a voice in the epic decisions; yet they pay the terrible costs of war.

Zarker (1978) p. 22 (I’ve added the parenthetical translation of Latin terms). Zarker thus anticipated Hillary Clinton’s influential claim in 1998, “Women have always been the primary victims of war.” See note [5] in my post on Marcabru and medieval conscription.

Obtuseness about men’s deeply entrenched status as expendable persons, especially in war, seems to be learned. Consider a woman scholar criticizing Virgil and two earlier women scholars of Virgil:

In Glazewski’s and Swallow’s texts, as in Vergil’s, the women are unquestionably expendable. For the voices of these female critics, the identification with the male subject position is so complete that it even precipitates some degree of misreading (for Glazewski on sacrifice, for Swallow on the women’s contentment) as well as the construction of “practical” reasons for Aeneas’ action which are not articulated in the text (such as “danger” and a kind of corporate “re-organization”).

Nugent (1992) p. 277. A leading man scholar of Virgil prudently praised Nugent’s perspective on women in the Aeneid: “The role of women in the poem has been well discussed, from different perspectives than mine.” Putnam (2001) p. 167, n. 13, citing Nugent (1999). Nugent (1999) concerns not Juno nor Allecto nor Juturna, but Dido. While Dido in the Aeneid has generated sympathetic readers for nearly two millennia, Dido has not been well-discussed, not by Nugent, nor by men scholars other than in recent meninist work.

[12] In a locally sourced myth of Rome’s founding, Romulus and Remus are twin sons of the Vestal virgin Rhea Silvia and the god Mars. Fearing a threat to his rule, King Amulius ordered the twins to be killed. They were instead abandoned on the bank of the river Tiber. With the aid of the river-god Tibernius, Romulus and Remus were saved. A she-wolf suckled them in a cave called the Lupercal. Romulus grew up to kill Remus in a dispute about the location of the new city they had decided to build. Romulus built the new city and called it Rome. On that myth of Rome’s founding, Bremmer (1987) and Rodriguez-Mayorgas (2010). The Aeneas and Romulus / Remus myths of Rome’s founding were combined over time.

[13] In considering the ship-burning Trojan women, Nugent impressively deployed the poor-dearism that sustains the gynocentric order, as well as the sentimental clichés now at the heart of unquestionable, all-encompassing academic orthodoxy:

The Trojan women are constructed here as the quintessential Other. In this way the text emphasizes that the Trojan society is divided within itself and, finally, that the masculine segment is appropriately ascendent over the feminine. … Now, in the conclusion of Book V, Aeneas and his men will be similarly successful in abandoning the collective women, with their inappropriate attention to mundane issues such as fatigue, the passage of time, and the registering of pain and loss. Vergil’s text successfully separates off and then rejects the women’s concerns, thereby establishing both division within the society and the subordination of the women to the men as of the weak and worthless to the strong and able.

Nugent (1992) pp. 267, 275. That interpretation completely ignores the mythic context of ship-burning Trojan women in Virgil’s time and the extraordinary silencing of men’s public voices today, e.g. concerning abortion and reproductive choice.

[14] Some Trojan women continued with Aeneas and other Trojan men to Italy to found Troy. See Aeneid 9.217 (Euryalus’s mother) and 11.35 (Trojan women mourning the death of Pallas). As the Aeneid indicates, women who don’t destructively assert their power tend not to attract attention under gynocentrism. Cf. Nugent (1992) pp. 271-2.

[15] Solomon and Marcolf, 2.11-18. For Latin text with English translation, Ziolkowski (2008). Solomon and Marcolf is thought to have been written about 1200 in central Europe.

[images] (1) Trojan women setting fire to Trojan ships on the Sicilian shore. Excerpt (color-enhanced) of painting by Claude Lorrain, painted c. 1643. Preserved as accession # 55.119 in The Metropolitan Museum (New York, USA). Credit: Fletcher Fund, 1955. (2) Aeneas sees Trojan women, incited by the goddess Iris, running on the shore after having set fire to the Trojan ships. Excerpt of copper engraving published in Lang, Eimmart & Buggel (1688) plate 20. Thanks to Dickinson College Commentaries. (3) U.S. ships burning in the Pearl Harbor Attack on 7 December 1941. Excerpt from photo of USS West Virginia (BB-48) afire forward, immediately after the Japanese air attack. USS Tennessee (BB-43) is on the sunken battleship’s opposite side. Excerpt from official U.S. Navy photograph, catalog # NH 97398, from the collections of the U.S. Naval History and Heritage Command.


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Verhasselt, Gertjan. 2019. “Heraclides’ Epitome of Aristotle’s Constitutions and Barbarian Customs: Two Neglected Fragments.” The Classical Quarterly. 69 (2): 672-683.

Zarker, John W. 1978. “Vergil’s Trojan and Italian Matres.” Vergilius. 24: 15-24.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2008. Solomon and Marcolf. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University.

lai Conseil elevated Latin rhetoric of De nuntio sagaci into French

The Old French lai Advice {Conseil}, probably written in the second decade of the thirteen century, emphasizes in its meta-comments that it’s a translation into French. That probably isn’t literally true. That claim instead functions as sophisticated rhetoric. With learned speech like that in medieval Latin schools, Conseil elevated the learned, exploitative speech of the twelfth-century Latin seduction epic About the Shrewd Envoy {De nuntio sagaci} to provide more courtly love instruction in French.

Introductory and concluding meta-comments in Conseil play across French and implicitly Latin. The first verses of Conseil self-confidently declare:

Anyone who wishes to listen to fine words
in French can learn a great deal from them,
providing they are willing to retain them.

{ Cil qui velt a biaus dis entendre
De romanz molt i puet aprendre,
Por qu’il les veille retenir. }[1]

Listening, learning, and retention were central concerns of students studying in Latin in medieval schools. In Conseil, the schooling is explicitly in French. Concluding meta-comments further explain:

A knight who did not want
this adventure to be at its end
has put this lai into French for us
in order to teach true lovers.
He has done this as best as he could,
translating it word for word.

{ Uns chevaliers qui ne volt mie
Que l’aventure fust fenie,
Nos a cest lai mis en romanz
Por ensaignier veraiz amanz.
Le plus bel que il sot l’a fet,
L’un mot aprés l’autre retret }[2]

Perhaps alluding to low-status Jews translating Hebrew scripture into Greek, the classical Roman author Horace complained about what he regarded as poor translators: “you take care to render word for word as a faithful translator {verbo verbum curabis reddere fidus interpres}.”[3] While Christian reverence for sacred scripture supported the ideal of word for word translation, such translation isn’t sensible in most contexts. Word for word translation is an impossible origin for Conseil, a long secular poem of rhymed octosyllabic couplets in French. Conseil’s audience surely knew that it wasn’t literally translated word for word into French. They, however, would have relished the conceit of teaching true lovers in French. Conseil presents French as more courtly than Latin for schooling in love.

Socrates thinking

Conseil’s rhetorically sophisticated schooling in French has particular merit as a response to the closely related early twelfth-century Latin poem De nuntio sagaci. Both poems concern heterosexual seduction and love. Both are structured mainly as dialogue between a woman and a rhetorically sophisticated man. However, De nuntio sagaci includes vicious acts and apparently ends in a fist-fight between the woman and the man. Conseil includes men’s self-abasement to women and cuckolding a husband. Within gynocentric society, such behavior carries little moral opprobrium. Moreover, the woman and man in Conseil rejoice in their love for a long time. They also happily marry after the woman’s husband dies. The love advice of Conseil leads to a much happier ending than does the love shrewdness of De nuntio sagaci.

De nuntio sagaci is patently outrageous. A shrewd envoy helps a young man who has already been extraordinarily successful in love. That young man boasts:

My pleasing appearance actually drew all to love.
Behold, Love, a mob of your girls follows me:
Daphnis and Europa, Deianira with Phyllis, and
the fleeing Io stops fleeing. Juno and Pallas Athena desire me.
Ready with arrows, lustful Diana follows me —
she threatens death if she doesn’t conquer love through me.
Even Venus herself insists on joining herself with me in a union.
Helen doesn’t care for Paris when she sees me so great-looking.
Consider how Proserpina is carried away upon the Stygian waves.
She doesn’t wish to be saved, unless she joins herself to me in love.
I conquered all of them and made them, Love, your subjects.

{ Nam mea forma placens ad amorem traxerat omnes.
Ecce puellarum sequitur me turba tuarum:
Daphnis et Europa, cum Philide Deianira;
Profuga cessat Io, me vult cum Pallade Iuno,
Telis succincta sequitur lasciva Diana
Promittens mortem, per me nisi vincat amorem,
Instat et ipsa Venus sibi mecum iungere foedus,
Nec curat Paridem, quia me videt Helena talem.
Respice quod Stigiis Proserpina fertur in undis
Nec vult salva fore, nisi me sibi iungat amore.
Has omnes vici subiectas et tibi feci. }[4]

Despite his love affairs with all these classical beauties, the young man is inflamed with love when he sees an extremely beautiful young woman:

I once saw a young woman more splendid than a star.
She was noble and distinguished such as has never been in our time.
Her body was graceful, her flesh whiter than milk,
her face shining and wonderfully cultivated in every way.
Her eyebrows were black and her eyes were full of light.
You would regard her mouth as having the kisses that you desire,
and when she laughed, her teeth then appeared milky white.
Long blond hair hovers along her ivory neck.
Dressed in gold, she was more beautiful than gold itself.
The beauty of her hand exceeded that of an elegant gem.
Why should I say more? She was very cultivated in every way.
She walked softly, in all ways she carried herself sufficiently aptly.

{ Splendidior stella fuerat michi visa puella,
Nobilis et talis, non hoc in tempore qualis:
Corpus ei gracile, sua candidior caro lacte,
Purpureus vultus, mirabilis undique cultus,
Nigra supercilia fuerant sibi, lumina clara.
Oscula quae cuperes, os eius habere putares.
Et cum ridebat, tunc dentes lactis habebat.
Caesaries flava volitat per eburnea colla;
Auro vestita fuit auro pulchrior ipsa,
Pulchra manus superat quod gemma decoris habebat.
Quid referam multa? Multum fuit undique culta.
Molliter incessit, apte satis omnia gessit. }

The young man pleads with Athena, Venus, and Juno — the three goddesses of the classical beauty contest — that he longs for this woman’s love. Then he takes action himself. He sends to the young woman a shrewd envoy “offering all my goods and me myself, if pleasing, and my gifts {mandans quaeque bona, me, si placet, et mea dona}.”[5] As always, men feel that they have to pay for women’s love even while offering themselves as a gift in love to women.

The man’s love envoy and the young woman engage in rhetorically sophisticated banter. The envoy presents the young man as the medieval ideal of a man for a woman to love:

He who sent me here lives without any sin.
He lives, he blooms with a young body, he has strength for everything,
and his beautiful face is sufficient for him to be a young woman.
Noble and humble, prudent and very faithful,
he is rich, generous, truthful, and careful in everything.
What more can I say? This young man seeks you as a lover.
He seeks, he desires to have you. Thus he ordered me to tell you.

{ Hue me qui misit, omni sine crimine vivit,
Vivit, ad omne valet, iuvenili corpore floret,
Et facie pulchra posset satis esse puella,
Nobilis ac humilis, prudens multumque fidelis,
Est dives, largus, verax et ad omnia cautus.
Ultra quid dicam? Puer hic te quaerit amicam,
Quaerit, habere cupit; sic me tibi dicere iussit. }[6]

The woman pretends to be uncertain about what the young man seeks to do in love with her. The envoy urges the young woman to stay calm and at least be willing to talk with the young man. If she judges him worthy, she might give him her pledge of love. She in turn accuses the envoy of being sophisticated, and she feigns simplicity:

Ah, too cunning one, all your replies to me are careful.
Tell me now: where he is who gives his gifts to a young woman?
Let me at least see him so that afterwards I can speak his praises.
What? Did I say “let me see him”? If I said so, it’s repented forever.

{ Ah, nimis astute, michi reddis singula caute!
Dic ubi nunc ille qui dat sua dona puelle;
Fac saltem videam quod laudem postea dicam.
Quid? dixi ‘videam’? Si dixi, paenitet, unquam. }

While the young woman earlier recognized that the young man desired to have her in bed, she pretends not to understand “the deed {factum}” that he seeks to do. In fact, “the deed {factum}” is a Latin term for sexual intercourse.[7] The envoy describes his proposition as offering the woman benefit:

Listen to what I say: I desire for you to live in good health,
and if you believe me, you will see what happens to please you.

Take me as your teacher. Come, put aside your fear.
You are ignorant of him who offers himself as your lover.
If you knew him well, you would touch him as if he were a lamb.
He doesn’t know what love is. He’s modest when a women touches him.

{ Audi quid dicam: cupio te vivere sanam,
Et michi si credis, fit quod placuisse videbis.
Me cape ductorem; venias, postpone timorem.
Ignoras ilium qui se promittit amicum;
Si bene cognosses, velut agnum tangere posses.
Quid sit amor, nescit. Pudor est ubi femina tangit. }

This mendacious envoy / love-teacher prevails. He convinces the young woman to visit the young man who ardently desires her.

The young woman’s meeting with the young man goes badly. He kisses her sweetly at the door. She then wants to talk with him at length. But the young man takes the young woman into a bedroom. The envoy leaves, and the young man rapes her. Like women raping men, men raping women is a terrible crime.[8] The woman mainly blames the envoy for her being raped:

That perjurer willingly made a thousand promises
and wickedly deceived me. If I live, it won’t go well for him.
Where has that lying dog fled, that worthless lecher?
If he were here, I would quickly kill him.

{ Sponte fides mille periurus fecerat ille.
Me male decepit; si vixero, non bene fecit.
Quo fugit ille canis mendax, lecator inanis?
Si presens esset, a me cito mortuus esset. }

Murder as punishment for perjury, like social-media lynching, is uncivilized social justice and morally wrong. When the envoy returns, the young woman openly declares his deception to be unjust:

I was wickedly deceived, received into the young man’s custody,
and wickedly handled. Your deception called me to this.
Was I deaf in that I didn’t understand your words?
I acted sufficiently wary. Why wasn’t I myself then afraid?
If you had forewarned me, crafty Odysseus would have spoken through me.
You surely are the worst. I testify to this openly before all.
You have no fidelity. In no way was this just,
for a vile servant never loves a just deed.

{ Sum male decepta puero custode recepta,
Et male tractata, te deceptore vocata.
Numquid eram surda, quod non sensi tua verba?
Cauta satis fueram; Cur tunc non ipsa timebam?
Si praedixisses, pro me recitasset Ulixes.
Pessimus es certe, cunctis hec testor aperte.
Nulla fides tecum; non hoc etiam foret aequum.
Nam servus nequam numquam rem diligit aequam. }

The shrewd envoy responds with more duplicitous words to the distraught woman. It’s time for you to marry. Everyone does such things. This young man is noble and wise, a favorite of other women for good reason. The envoy concludes:

The custom is ancient that a male lover should seek a female lover.
Who wouldn’t commend that a beautiful man love a beautiful woman?

{ Mos est antiquus, ut amicam quaerat amicus.
Quis non laudabit, si pulchram pulcher amabit?” }

The envoy’s despicable reasoning supports gender inequality. Men historically being burdened with soliciting amorous relationships doesn’t justify that custom in the present or future. Why shouldn’t a beautiful woman love a beautiful man? Love should be women’s work as well as men’s work.

The young woman foolishly accepts the envoy’s teaching. She listens and believes, and thus declares:

You speak truth. What’s the benefit of a big complaint?
So I’ll tell you the matter: this young man seeks me as his lover.
Not all women who do such things will thus be ruined.
Many are saved who are proven to have sinned more.
I’m not the only one who would be called cursed.
Jupiter and Juno are joined in one bed,
Mars wed Venus, and Vulcan also loved her.
Who can speak against it? Nothing is evil, all is lawful.
I don’t care if bitter words are spoken to me.
I’m happy to have tried what I often wanted — those very things.
Now that young men himself, whether he wishes or not, will keep me.
If he agrees, I’ll keep him; if not, I myself will still keep him.
It’s destiny that I should arise and embrace his neck in my arms.

{ Tu dicis vera. Quid prodest magna querela?
Ut res est dicam: puer hic me quaerit amicam.
Talia qui faciunt non omnes inde peribunt;
Multi salvantur, qui plus peccasse probantur.
Non ego sum sola quae sit maledicta vocanda.
Iupiter et Iuno lecto sociantur in uno,
Mars duxit Venerem, Vulcanus amavit eandem.
Quis dicit contra? Nusquam scelus, omnia iusta.
Non curo verba michi si dicuntur acerba;
Saepe quod optavi feliciter ipsa probavi.
Nunc velit aut nolit, sibi me puer ipse tenebit.
Si placet, hunc teneo, si non, tamen ipsa tenebo.
Fas est ut surgam, sibi collo brachia iungam. }

The young woman then gets up and, without seeking prior affirmative consent, embraces the young man and kisses him. She then praises the envoy:

If I were queen, I would order that he have honor,
and rightly so order, for I don’t know anyone alive so great.
He is well-raised, very crafty, and clever in everything.
He is noble, capable, and stands worthy of my reward.

{ Si regina forem, facerem quod haberet honorem,
Et merito facerem, quia nescio vivere talem.
Est bene nutritus, bene cautus, ad omne peritus.
Nobilis est, aptus, nostro stat munere dignus. }

The young woman’s praise for the envoy’s learned sophistication can’t be taken seriously. It’s learned folly.

In fact, with more false words the envoy later betrays the young women to her parents. A strong, combative young woman, she in turn begs her parents to torture him. She also strikes the envoy with her fist and so starts a physical fight with him. For all the clever rhetoric of De nuntio sagaci, it ends in a public brawl between the love envoy and the young woman he sought to entice.

Socrates tears Alcibiades from woman's bed

Conseil transformed the rhetoric of De nuntio sagaci to be more consistent with Christian moral teaching. The beloved woman in Conseil, rather than being young and at least innocent-acting, is a “wealthy and powerful lady {une dame riche et poissanz}.” At a Christmas Eve feast, she sees a knight sitting alone. He is a courtly knight, properly subservient to women:

She called him immediately.
The knight jumped to his feet
when the lady had called him,
then came and sat beside her.

{ Ele l’apele maintenant.
Li chevaliers em piez sailli,
Si vint seoir delez li
Quant la dame l’ot apelé. }

The lady is pondering a transformed version of the judgment of Paris. Three knights love her. She asks the knight she had summoned which of those three he thinks to be most deserving of her love. That’s an apparently selfish question for a lady to pose to a lonely knight. However, her question might have been merely a pretext for engaging him in talk about love.

The knight, now engaged as the lady’s advisor, doesn’t tell that wealthy, powerful lady to check her female privilege. He instead prepares to provide informed advice for her. He asks about the characteristics of the three knights who love her. She explains that the first knight is rich, bold, and brave, but badly educated and a dull wooer. The second knight is rich and handsome, but lacking in valor in violence against men. He is also a braggart. The third knight is neither rich nor handsome, but he is courtly and learned. He woos her with lais, letters, and romances. The knight-advisor condemns the characteristics of the first two knights. He praises the third knight as having been “well-educated {bien apris}.” Nonetheless, the knight-advisor urges the lady to make her own choice:

I make no judgment for you.
But just as you desire,
choose a lover, because that is right.

For certainly, he commits great folly
who thinks that he is wise in all matters.

{ Je ne vos faz nul jugement,
Mes trestout a vostre talent
Fetes ami, que ce est drois.

Car certes, grant folie embrace
Cil qui de tout cuide estre sages. }

Perhaps the knight-advisor is actually the third knight who loves the lady. He wouldn’t want to make a prideful choice of himself. In any case, he takes a humble position. Humility was a central Christian value in medieval Europe.

The lady then makes a rhetorically sophisticated request for her knight-advisor to teach her about love. She politely requests of him:

But now teach me how to love,
and how I can keep it secret,
if you please, correctly and properly,
because I wish above all things
to follow your advice in all,
and we have much good leisure
to make love bear fruit.

{ Mes or m’aprenez a amer,
Et comment je me puis celer,
S’il vos plet, si bel et si bien,
Car je me voil sor toute rien
Du tout a vo conseil tenir
Et nos avons molt bon loisir
De fruitoier envers amors }

This married lady also modestly explains that she is fearful of the pain that she hears that one suffers from love. The knight-advisor in response condemns those who deride love:

From good love no harm comes,
but rather it comes from false and disloyal wretches
who wish to deride love
and are constantly more prepared to lie
than a sparrowhawk is to fly.
About these people I cannot tell you a tale
with a good beginning or a good end,
for they all are always on the route
of bringing into the world suffering.

{ De bone amor ne vient nus maus,
Mes des felons, faus desloiaus
Qui amors veulent escharnir
Et tot jors sont prest de mentir
Plus qu’esprevier n’est de voler.
De ceus ne vos sa[i] ge conter
Bon commencier ne bone fin,
Qu’il sont tot adés au chemin
Du siecle mener a dolor. }

In De nuntio sagaci, the envoy begs for love that lasts for only a day. In medieval Europe, De nuntio sagaci probably would be interpreted as deriding love, or at least making it ridiculous.

With learned rhetoric, Conseil praises courtly love leading to erotic intimacy. The knight-advisor declares that such courtly love provides more joy and pleasure than the most extensive landholdings:

No joy can be compared
to the heart that maintains courtly love.
My lady, I will be severely reprimanded
by slanderers when they hear this,
but I am not afraid of those who understand,
those who know what beloved means,
thus I call upon them as supporters,
for all of them to be my witnesses
that love conquers all and always will,
as long as the world lasts.

{ Nule joie ne s’apartient
Au cuer qui fine amor maintient.
Dame, assez me reprenderont
Li mesdisant, quant il l’orront,
Mes les entendanz ne dout mie,
Ceus qui sevent qu’espiaut amie,
Ainz les en trai bien a garant,
Que tuit m’en seront tesmoingnant
Qu’amors vaint tot et vaintera,
Tant con li siecles durera. }

The influential Roman love poet Gallus, as recorded by Virgil, declared: “Love conquers all {omnia vincit Amor}.”[9] Jesus, love incarnate in Christian understanding, promises to be with his disciples as long as the world lasts. The knight-advisor in Conseil conflates these two eminent teachers.

Not like a child, the knight-advisor treats Christian teaching with rationalizing sophistication. The Hebrew Bible depicts Adam and Even uniting in one flesh as powers like one another. The Gospels depict women and men as equally sinners in need of a doctor and equally beloved children of God. But in accordance with courtly gynocentrism and perhaps in part responding to medieval literature of men’s sexed protest, the knight-advisor privileges women:

The woman must be the bridge
for the whole world’s joy
since all good things abound in her.
We should not speak badly of her,
but we all have need of a doctor
to cure us of the ill that holds us,
that is the willingness that comes over us
to say outrageous and wicked things.

I say to you that I don’t know of anything,
surely, other than good in women.

{ La fame doit estre li pons
De toute la joie du monde,
Quar toz li biens nos en abonde.
Nos n’en devrions pas mesdire,
Mes tuit avons mestier de mire
Por garir du mal qui nos tient,
C’est de volenté qui nos vient
De dire outrage et felonnie.

Je vos di que je ne sai point,
Certes, en fames se bien non. }

That’s a tendentious re-interpretation of Christian understanding of Jesus born of Mary and of love for neighbor. According to the knight-advisor, a young woman who rejected all lovers endured hellish suffering as an old woman. In addition, after describing a woman pleasuring her body in a lovely garden with her arms around her beloved man, the knight-advisor declares:

You should do what pleases you
with your lover, when you have him,
if you find sufficient sense in him.
just like the others do
who have wise and courtly lovers.
All the men and women who likewise
do, my lady, pray for mercy
from Jesus, our creator,
when by old age or by sickness
they must leave this world.
Their misdeeds make them repent
entirely from such a good heart
that Jesus Christ generously
pardons them of all their sins,
Jesus who is worthy and just
and provides us well with an example.

{ Qu’a vo plesir en fetes fere
A vostre ami, quant vos l’avrez,
Se tant de sens en lui trovez,
Ausi comme les autres font
Qui sages et cortois les ont.
Cil et celes qui tout ainsi
Font, dame, si prient merci
Jhesu, le nostre creator,
Quant par viellece ou par langor
Les covient du siecle partir.
Lor mesfez les fet repentir
De si bon cuer entierement
Que Jhesu Criz generaument
Lor pardonne toz lor pechiez,
Qui est dignes et droituriers,
Et bien nos mostre la semblance }

That’s similar to medieval clerics rationalizing their desire for women against a requirement of clerical celibacy. The knight-advisor’s rhetorical rationalizations, however, are in French, not Latin.

The lady is deeply impressed with her knight-advisor’s fine words. His learned rhetoric, expressed in French, prompts love:

She saw that he was so wise and courtly
and well-spoken and well-learned
that she fixed her heart completely
on loving him without any regrets.
She was kind and noble.
For some time she had heard it said
that he knew how to speak eloquently about love.
Now she wished to reveal to him
the great wish and desire
that she had to give him her love.

{ Tant le voit et sage et cortois
Et bien parlant et bien apris
Qu’ele a du tout son cuer mis
En lui amer sanz repentance.
Ele estoit debonere et franche.
S’ot bien pieç’a oï parler
Qu’il savoit biau d’amors conter.
Or se velt a lui descouvrir
Le grant talent et le desir
Qu’ele a de lui s’amor donner. }

She awards him her belt made of silk and silver. She tells him to make a present of it as he desires. She says that whomever receives her belt will have her love. Her knight-advisor takes it from around her waist. He doesn’t forego the opportunity he feels:

He was wise and clever,
worthy, courtly, and perceptive.

{ Il estoit sages et adroiz,
Preuz, cortois et aparcevans. }

He wraps her belt around himself and, “happy and delighted and joyful {biaus et liez et joianz},” declares that he will be her lover. Since her husband is wealthy, the lady is able to give this impecunious knight many horses and much sports equipment. He thus gains a beautiful women’s love and freedom from having to work to earn money. For a man, the only woman better than a beautiful, learned, and warmly receptive woman is one that is also wealthy, or at least has high income from her work.

Medieval Latin, rather than Old French, is typically associated with the most sophisticated rhetoric for teaching and learning. Within its broad freedom of expression, medieval Latin instructed men on how to avoid sexual harassment, described frankly men’s sexual desires, and protested against gender injustices and gynocentrism in society at large. Chaucer’s Nun’s Priest’s Tale tells of how the cock Chauntecleer was nearly devoured for lack of Latin learning. In medieval Europe, Ovid was regarded as the great teacher of love. Ovid, of course, wrote in Latin.

Jean Renart’s early thirteenth century Romance of the Rose or of Guillaume de Dole {Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole} indicates rivalry between Old French and Latin. The lovely young heroine Lienor, arriving for her vindication before the Emperor and assembled nobles in Mainz, speaks to her knights “in French, without Latin {en romanz sanz Latin}.”[10] That’s apparently meant to characterize her as plain-speaking and without guile. In the introductory verses of this romance, Jean Renart explicitly refers to writing in French:

The one who put this tale into French
and had beautiful lyrics written in it
for remembrance of those songs
wants his praise and renown
to go to Rheims in Champagne
and for the fair Milon de Nanteuil,
one of the nobles of the realm, to learn of it.

{ Cil qui mist cest [con]teen roma[n]s
ouil a fet noter biaus cha[n]s
por ramenbrance des cha[n]cons
veut q[ue] ses pris et se renons
voist en rainciens en cha[m]paigne
et q[ue] libiaus miles lapregne
De nantuel uns des preus del regne }

Jean Renart boasted of his romance:

You may be very sure that
this surpasses the others by far,
No one will ever tire of hearing it.

{ce sachiez de fi et devoir
bien a cist les autres passez
Ianuls niert deloir lassez }

His romance tells “of arms and of love {darmes et damors.}” It seems to be audaciously challenging Virgil’s revered Aeneid. That Latin epic begins, “Of arms and the man I sing {Arma virumque cano}.” Jean Renart tells of love that goes beyond only men.

Challenging men-dominated medieval Latin learning in a similar way, the Old French lai Conseil engages in highly sophisticated rhetoric concerning love. Conseil replaces the learned, exploitative speech of De nuntio sagaci with learned, rhetorical play between a wealthy, powerful woman and an impecunious, socially isolated knight.[11] The wealthy woman and the impecunious knight realize a worldly form of courtly love more mutually beneficial than just a self-abasing man serving an idealized beloved woman. That’s certainly a lesson, taught in Old French, that would be more appealing to medieval women and men than the debacle of De nuntio sagaci.

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[1] Conseil, vv. 1-3, Old French text (MS S, also called MS C; BnF nouv. acq. fr. 1104) from Brook (2016), English translation (modified) from Burgess & Brook (2016) p. 257. All Conseil verse numbers in this post refer to MS S, unless otherwise noted.

The anonymous lai Tyolet describes explicitly stories being recorded in Latin and then translated into the vernacular. At court, King Arthur’s knights would recount adventures:

Worthy clerics of that time
had them all written down.
They were put into Latin
and written down on parchment,
so that when the time was right,
they would be heard with pleasure.
Now they are told and recounted,
translated from Latin into the vernacular.
The Bretons composed a number of lays about them,
as our ancestors tell us.

{ Li preude clerc qui donc estoient
Totes escrire les fesoient.
Mises estoient en latin
Et en escrit em parchemin,
Por ce qu’encor tel tens seroit
Que l’en volentiers les orroit.
Or sont dites et racontees,
De latin en romanz trovees;
Bretons en firent lais plusors,
Si con dïent nos ancessors. }

Tyolet, vv. 27-36, Old French text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Burgess & Brook (2007) pp. 108-9. Tyolet, which was probably composed at the beginning of the thirteenth century, survives only in MS S: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, nouvelles acquisitions françaises, 1104, folios 15va-20ra. Scholars are sceptical of Tyolet’s account of the origin of Breton lais. Id. p. 87.

Conseil is written in rhymed octosyllabic couplets. The Old French word romanz can mean either the French language or a long, narrative poem in rhymed octosyllabic couplets. Grigoriu, Peersman & Rider (2013) p. 51, n. 1. Both in v. 2 and v. 859, “French” seems to be the most sensible meaning of romanz.

Conseil survives in five manuscripts. For a list of the manuscripts and brief description of each, Grigoriu, Peersman & Rider (2013) pp. 7-8. Id. uses MS A (BnF fr. 837, formerly 7218) as the base text for its critical edition. That’s also the text translated into English. Some verse numbers in MS A differ slightly from those in MS S.

Conseil is generally thought to have been written in the first decades of the thirteenth century. Id. p. 9. Beston (2013) dates it to the second decade of the thirteenth century. Maddox (2005) argues that Conseil is a rewriting of Marie de France’s Le Chaitivel. At least one leading scholar of lais finds Maddox’s argument unconvincing.

Subsequent quotes from Conseil are sourced as above. They are vv. 857-62 (A knight who did not want…), 18 (wealthy and powerful lady), 30-3 (She called him…), 212 (well-educated), 185-7, 190-1 (I make no judgment for you…), 221-7 (But now teach me…), 231-9 (From good love no harm comes…), 661-70 (No joy can be compared…), 306-13, 348-9 (The woman must be the bridge…), 526-41 (You should do what pleases you…), 750-9 (She saw that he was so wise and courtly…), 770-1 (He was wise and clever…), 787 (happy and delighted and joyful).

[2] With respect to v. 862, L’un mot aprés l’autre retret, Grigoriu, Peersman & Rider (2013), p. 133, translates the same verse in MS A (v. 854) as “Adding one word after the other.” That’s a less accurate translation that apparently misinterprets retret.

[3] Horace, Art of Poetry {Ars Poetica} vv. 133-4, Latin text from Rushton Fairclough (1926), my English translation. Horace was a highly regarded and widely quoted author in medieval Europe.

[4] About the Shrewd Envoy {De nuntio sagaci}, vv. 15-25, Latin text from Rossetti (1980) via Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. In medieval Latin orthography, -ti- before a vowel is commonly written as -ci-. Hence in medieval Latin, De nuntio sagaci is written as De nuncio sagaci.

Incorrectly attributed to Ovid in medieval Europe, De nuntio sagaci is also called The Young Women’s Ovid {Ovidius puellarum}. For other editions, Lieberz (1980), Alton (1931), and Jahnke (1891) pp. 69-87. On medieval European Ovidian love poetry, Kretschmer (2013). De nuntio sagaci has complications in its textual transmision. It may not have survived in its entirety.

In De nuntio sagaci v. 16, Daphnis, a male name, was a Sicilian shepherd in Greco-Roman myth. Daphnis might be a mistake for Daphne, a woman whom the god Apollo loved. Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020) p. 463, note. Europa was a Phoenician princess that the god Zeus seduced. Io was turned into a cow as a result of Zeus seducing her. Juno, Athena, and Venus were goddess in the beauty contest that Paris judged. The Roman goddess Diana (who absorbed much of the Greek mythology of Artemis) was a fiercely chaste huntress. Given the general ridiculousness of the man’s claims in vv. 15-25, having the first named person be the male Sicilian shepherd Daphnis might be intended to contribute to the over-all effect.

De nuntio sagaci is cited in the Tegernsee love-letters and Letters of Two Lovers {Epistolae duorum amantium}. Dronke (1979) p. 229, n. 26, and Newman (2016) p. 254. Based on its leonine hexameter verse form (unusual for what’s conventionally called medieval elegiac comedy), Dronke dates De nuntio sagaci to c. 1080, prior to Pamphilus (c. 1100). Dronke (1979) p. 230. Newman is less certain. Newman (2016) p. 334, n. 135. Lieberz (1980) regards De nuntio sagaci as having been written in the twelfth century.

Subsequent quotes from De nuntio sagaci are similarly sourced. They are vv. 37-48 (I once saw a young woman…), 55 (offering all my goods…), 90-6 (He who sent me here…), 114-7 (Ah, too cunning one…), 139-40, 144-7 (Listen to what I say…), 198-201 (That perjurer willingly…), 224-31 (I was wickedly deceived…), 255-6 (The custom is ancient…), 257-69 (You speak truth…), 279-82 (If I were queen…).

[5] For medieval instruction on how a man is to employ a love envoy (go-between), see About Love {De amore} vv. 4-71, available in Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020) pp. 350-3. De amore is an extract from the twelfth-century poem Courtly living: Manners and life {Facetus: Moribus et vita} / Facetus of Aurigena.

[6] The love envoy’s name is revealed in v. 383 (of 386) to be Davus. That’s a typical name for a crafty servant or comic slave in Plautus, Terence, Horace, and Persius. Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020) p. 464, note.

[7] Medieval European love thought distinguished five stages of love: “seeing {visus},” “talking {colloquium},” “touching {contactus},” “kissing {basia},” and sexual intercourse, called “the deed {factum / actum}.” Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020) pp. 463-4, notes.

[8] After the envoy left and the young woman found herself alone with the young man, she fearfully exclaimed (v. 191), “This young man seeks to love me {Puer hic me quaerit amare}.” Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020), p. 121, wrongly translates this as, “The boy wants to rape me here.” Cf. v. 258, which repeats exactly the same text. Specifying rape among fictional characters in an outrageous medieval Latin poem is much less important than combating ignorance and indifference about women raping men today.

[9] Virgil, Eclogues 10.69. Gallus influentially associated love and war. On Jesus being with his disciples to the end of the age, Matthew 28:20.

[10] Jean Renart, Romance of the Rose or of Guillaume de Dole {Le roman de la Rose ou de Guillaume de Dole} v. 4195, Old French text and English translation (modified slightly) from Psaki (1995). The subsequent three quotes are similarly from vv. 1-7 (The one who put this tale into French…), 16-8 (You may be very sure that…), and 24 (of arms and of love). With respect to v. 1, Psaki noted:

“en romans” can mean “in French” (as in “en romans sans latin” [4195]), in which case Jean Renart refers to translating it out of a “conte” in another language; it can also mean “into a romance,” in which case refers to expanding it from a shorter narrative.

Psaki (1995) p. 262, note to v. 1.

[11] On the rhetorical and psychological sophistication of Conseil, Brook (2000) and Beston (2012). On the relationship between twelfth-century Latin comedy and Old French romance, Hunt (1978).

[images] (1) Socrates thinking. Statue of Socrates at the Academy of Athens. By Leonidas Drosis, made in the ninteenth century. Source image thanks to C messier and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Socrates tears Alcibiades from a woman’s bed. Painting (excerpt) by Jean-Baptiste Regnault. Painted c. 1791. Preserved as accession # RF 1976-9 in the Louvre Museum, Paris. Via the Louvre website and Wikimedia Commons.


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