reveling in men’s sexuality: Alda & Pyrrhus beyond Spurca & Spurius

The form and sexual action of men’s penises has engendered prevalent figures of the penis as weapon and brutalizing representations of men’s sexuality. Moreover, men historically have been commonly required, implicitly or explicitly, to purchase sex from women with material provisions or money. Desperate to improve their status as men, fools like Brunel the donkey in Nigel of Canterbury’s twelfth-century Mirror of Fools {Speculum stultorum} seek larger penises. William of Blois’s Alda, written in Europe about 1168, highlights a more excellent way. In Alda, the mendacious servant Spurius sought with a stolen meat-pie to win back the love of his beloved slovenly Spurca. Pyrrhus, however, gained Alda’s love with only the delightful action of his penis.

William of Blois meant Alda to be recognized as a classic. Alda includes an author’s prologue modeled after similar prologues by the classical African Roman playwright Terence. In his prologue, William characterized Alda:

Until recently foreign, this tale has come,
seized from the bosom of Menander, into the Latin language.
Uncouth, exiled, and rustic in words of common persons,
it had been in words of that cultured poet himself.
And since it sought the attention of a new comic poet
who could take the place of Menander himself,
I wished to offer myself for Menander, although I am
less than unequal to the proposed task and the matter is far beyond me.
I will be said to have represented a cypress for a shipwreck,
that my poem runs beyond the proposed path.

{ Venerat in linguam nuper peregrina Latinam
Hec de Menandri fabula rapta sinu:
Vilis et exul erat et rustica plebis in ore,
Que fuerat comis vatis in ore sui.
Dumque novi studium comedi quereret illa,
Quem vice Menandri posset habere sui
Me pro Menandro volui sibi reddere, longe
Impar proposito materiaque minor.
Pro fracta navi dicar simulasse cupressum:
Extra propositum musa cucurrit iter. }[1]

The classic Greek sage Aesop prophetically critiqued wrongs of established, elite culture. Offering himself in the place of Menander, William of Blois performed a similar critique.

Alda begins with Ulfus lamenting the impending death of his pregnant wife Alda. After living in conjugal partnership with Alda, Ulfus despaired of living without her:

Just as the wholeness of one mind and one
spirit united us, let one day carry us away!
Where are you receding without me, my greater part, my flame?
How will I, a large part of you, live without you?

{ Ut nos integritas unius mentis et unus
Spiritus univit, auferat una dies!
Quo sine me, pars magna mei, mea flamma, recedis?
An sine te vivant pars ego magna tui? }

He began to weep. Alda, the less emotional spouse, urged her husband to quell his tears. She urged him to tell himself that he caused her to become pregnant and hence to die in childbirth. Wives sometimes say such unkind and unfair words to their husbands!

With the benefit of his sense of guilt, Alda sought to have her husband obey her dying wish. She explained that in dying she would give birth to a daughter:

I traverse, I do not die. I am transfused into another’s limbs
assumed from my body and yours.
She was part of you; first she was in her father. From father she flowed
into mother as a formless mass and raw ball.
She is equally ours; we live equally in her.
And through her I can be more lawful to you.
Therefore from the inners of my faithfulness,
good man, may the inners of your tenderness receive this gift to you.

{ Transeo, non morior, alios transfundor in artus
Sumptos de nostro corpore deque tuo.
Pars erat ista tui: prius in patre, de patre fluxit
In matrem, informis massa globusque rudis.
Est pariter nostra, pariter vivemus in illa
Et per eam potero iustior esse tibi.
Hanc igitur nostris a visceribus pietatis.
Vir bone, suscipiant viscera blanda tue. }[2]

Alda expressed an admirable sense of gender equality in reproduction. However, her addressing her husband as “good man” is troubling. That expression was a medieval euphemism for a cuckold under the fundamental gender inequality of parental knowledge.

With a mother’s characteristic sense of possession of “her” children, Alda urged Ulfus to care for the daughter she would birth in her death. She described this forthcoming daughter as Ulfus’s offspring. She declared:

I entrust her to you. Through her I am entrusted to you,
and you receive your wife in your offspring.
So that you would not live without me, I live, surviving in her.
Thus I, whom the fates have seized, remain for you.
Let her feel a mother’s love in her father,
and the role of mother pass from mother into father.
May she inherit and be the heir of love for me. With the love
that joined me to you, let her be joined to you.

{ Hanc tibi committo, tibi que committor in illa,
Inque tua uxorem suscipe prole tuam.
Ne sine me vivas, ego vivo superstes in illa;
Sic me, quam rapiunt fata, reservo tibi.
In patre maternos affectus sentiat illa
Et pro matre vices in patre matris agas
Heres ista mei succedat amoris, amore
Quo tibi iuncta fui, iuncta sit ista tibi. }

As family courts today should recognize, but don’t, a father can be just as good of a mother as a mother is. However, Alda amalgamated a man’s love for his wife with his love for his daughter. Ancient Greek literature highlighted irregularities in familial relations.[3] In accordance with Alda’s wish, her daughter was named Alda. That surely was an ominous portent to classically learned medieval readers.

Alda became a beautiful young woman. From her youngest years, her father protected her from seeing any other man. He taught her good morals and self-discipline. Anticipating the direction of today’s college sex police, he allowed her to associate only with other women of good morals. Nonetheless, descriptions of Alda’s extraordinary beauty spread far and wide.

Pyrrhus heard of Alda’s extraordinary beauty. He was equal to her in age and family status, and their fathers had equal wealth. But Pyrrhus and Alda were unequal in heart. Her heart wasn’t moved by men she had never seen. He, however, became insanely in love with her from her reputation alone. Pyrrhus’s love for Alda is another example of medieval love from afar.

Parmeno offers to help love-stricken Phaedria in Terence's Eunuchus

Pyrrhus begged his servant-man Spurius for help. Spurius was a shrewd, fat servant keen to acquire more food. Spurius counseled that gifts are necessary for a man to win a woman’s heart.[4] Spurius’s beloved Spurca threw him out because of his inability to provide her with sufficient gifts. Spurius advised Pyrrhus to have him deliver a fine meat-pie to Alda to gain her love. When Pyrrhus explained that he had no money, Spurius suggested stealing money from Pyrrhus’s father. Pyrrhus did that. Then he gave Spurius money to acquire a meat-pie and deliver it to Alda.

Spurius, however, attempted to use the meat-pie to buy love from Spurca. He imagined:

This meat-pie will re-knot, will renew Spurca’s
love and restore it to you.
With a cheerful face she’ll receive you after you’ve been
locked outside by a purse filled with air and folded up.

{ Iste renodabit, iste integrabit amorem
Spurce pastillus restituetque tibi.
Vultu suscipiar hilari, quem bursa coegit
Excludi, faciens aëre plena plicam. }

Men should not have to buy love from women. Women should not violently attack men. Reality, however, is different:

Spurius enters. She turns towards him obliquely
a thunderbolt of eyes, and seizing a spinning-pin she bursts upon him.
Her barrage of blows tramples him down: “Go, scoundrel, get out!”
she screams, but he offers the sacred meat-pie that he carries.
Reverence for such a great sacrament appeases her. Her anger
cools. Friendship is reestablished, and their quarrel falls away.

{ Spurius ingreditur, oculorum obliquat in illum
Fulmen et arrepta prosilit illa colo.
Ictibus inculcat ictus: “I, furcifer, exi!”
Clamat, sed profert que gerit illa sacra.
Placat eam tanti sacri reverentia, friget
Ira, reformatur gratia lisque cadit. }

Spurca and Spurius feasted on the meat-pie, along with some wine that Spurius stole. After dinner, they slept in Spurca’s meager straw bed under a paltry sack-blanket that couldn’t even cover them both. The text doesn’t indicate that Spurca and Spurius did as much as kiss each other. They merely enjoyed a purloined meal together. That’s like a couple in a sexless marriage that mainly consists of them eating in restaurants together. Men cannot buy women’s true love-passion.

Returning to Pyrrhus the next day, Spurius claimed that he had been seized as a procurer. He was beaten, and the meat-pie was taken from him, allegedly at Alda’s home. Spurius declared that Pyrrhus had no hope of gaining Alda’s love. That claim only further inflamed Pyrrhus’s love for Alda. He became seriously love-sick.

With the help of an old woman who had long served as a nurse for his family, Pyrrhus found a better way. His sister looked just like him except for her different sex. Moreover, she tutored Alda. The old woman-nurse provided Pyrrhus with some relevant instruction. Then she arranged for Pyrrhus to dress in his sister’s clothes and to go in his sister’s place to teach Alda.

The cross-dressed Pyrrhus was an extraordinary teacher to Alda. He taught her what was most important:

My work would show me to be unfaithful to you, oh
faithful companion, if I were to refuse to you my knowing.
Learn what I have newly learned: what my diligent nurse
has passed on to me, this I wish to share with you.
Do not neglect to repeat frequently what I teach,
and when you die, you will not die completely.
After you fulfill your fate for you, you will be alive.
You yourself will survive you in a large part of you.

{ Ne fateatur opus infidam me tibi, fida
O comes, invideam si tibi scire meum,
Disce quod addidici: mea quod michi sedula nutrix
Tradidit, hoc tecum participare volo.
Quod doceo non dissimules iterare frequenter
Totaque non poteris, dum moriere, mori!
Vivam servabis tua te post fata tibique
Ipsa tui magna parte superstes eris }

Those are complicated words. They thematically echo the death-bed words of Ulfus’s wife Alda. An experienced teacher should be able to teach this lesson better. In fact, Pyrrhus had learned through participation, and he himself taught through participation:

“So that the seeds of my teaching not lack fruit,
fully press your form to my form,” Pyrrhus said.
“Do what I do and may your actions help my actions,
may your desires join to my desires!”

{ “Ne careant fructu documenti semina nostri
Totam conformes te michi”, Pirrus ait;
“Quod faciam facias et facta meis tua factis
Succurrant, votis sint tua iuncta meis.” }

Pyrrhus embraced Alda, and she embraced him. They pressed their bodies together and gave and received many kisses. She felt waves of pleasure and delight from this lesson.

Alda sought to learn more. She asked to be taught this lesson many times.[5] She also asked about the instruments for this practice:

These instruments, which in such sweet use I enjoy
you teaching me, where can I find them?
What is it and where do you get this rigid swelling of your groin
and this strange tail that you work so hard?

{ Instrumenta, quibus tam dulces utar in usus
Edoceas, ubi sint invenienda michi!
Quid sit et unde refer tumor inguinis iste rigentis
Caudaque nescioque sic operosa tibi!” }

Pyrrhus explained:

Since a new peddler has displayed for sale many such
tails recently in this city,
the whole city has gathered in the marketplace. Young women especially
crowded there. Love of new merchandise attracted me to the first one.
Prices varied according to variations in weight of the tails.
Smaller tails cost less; bigger ones, more.
I bought a smaller one, because I had less money.
That devoted tail pressed to provide you with services.
It did what it could, but if its size
had been bigger, it could have pleased you more.

{ Cum tales multas venales exposuisset
Caudas nuper in hac institor urbe novus,
In fora colligitur urbs tota locumque puelle
Stipant; prima nove mercis amore trahor.
Impar erat pretium pro ponderis imparitate;
Magni magna, minor cauda minoris erat.
Est minor empta michi, quoniam minus eris habebam:
Sedula servitiis institit illa tuis.
Fecit quod potuit, sed si dimensio maior
Esse ei, poterat plus placuisse tibi. }[6]

Alda groaned and lamented her teacher’s economics:

Woe to you, excessively frugal! You would have been happy to be poor
if you had bought the biggest tail of the tails available!

{ Ve tibi, parca nimis! Pauper feliciter esses,
Si tua caudarum maxima cauda foret! }[7]

Pyrrhus didn’t give Alda anything other than intimacy with himself. Moreover, her appreciation for large penises didn’t prompt her to disrespect him. She was satisfied with him giving her lessons with the instrument he had. They enjoyed being with each other.

medieval penis-tree / tree of life

As medieval European culture recognized, human sexuality could be wrongfully expressed. A mid-thirteenth-century Galician-Portuguese song figured a woman’s abuse of men’s sexuality:

Maria Negra is looking sadder:
why does she buy so many cocks
when in her hand they always rot,
dying in haste and without grandeur?
A big dick purchased yesterday
was by evening completely flayed,
and another cock already has horse-disease.

She’s gotten rather poor in the process
of buying cocks — how sad her lot!
The cocks she buys never last long
after she sticks them in her hospice,
because they always end up dying
of gripes or heaves, or else stop trying,
having worked to sheer exhaustion.

{ Maria Negra, des[a]ventuirada!
E por que quer tantas pissas comprar,
pois lhe na mãa nom querem durar
e lh’assi morrem aa malfada[da]?
E num caralho grande que comprou,
o onte ao serãa o esfolou,
e outra pissa tem já amormada.

E já ela é probe tornada,
comprando pissas, vedes que ventuira!
Pissa que compra pouco lhe dura,
sol que a mete na sa pousada;
ca lhi convém que ali moira entom
de polmoeira ou de torcilhom,
ou, per força, fica end’aaguada. }[8]

This poem plausibly sets out a playful variation on the penis-peddler topos represented in Alda.[9] Yet it also has a moral undercurrent. This woman doesn’t show concern for men’s health. She merely uses and disposes of a series of cocks. The poem ends with her a “crazy old lady {velha sandia}” lying on the ground with all her cocks dead.

Not slavishly imitating classical Greek literature, Alda further developed the classical theme of irregular familial relations to present new moral understanding. Unlike the expected classical scenario, Ulfus did not have sex with his daughter. Alda became pregnant through what she thought was a woman’s teaching. She understood this woman’s teaching to mean Pyrrhus’s sister’s teaching of her, not the old woman-nurse’s teaching of Pyrrhus. By this “tragic flaw,” which was neither tragic nor a flaw, the foolish father Ulfus gained new appreciation for women’s strong, independent sexuality and for transgender persons:

The feminine sex cannot unlearn the flaw common
to it, nor will any woman remain chaste for long.
A young woman should not associate with another young woman,
for she will reconstruct herself from woman into man!
Here’s a memorable lesson to add to all:
a male woman impregnated my virgin daughter’s womb.
I don’t know whether woman or man or neuter
made herself my Sally-in-law, or I don’t know, son-in-law.
I wasn’t expecting a son-in-law for me of the womanly sex.
I carry the wound of an unexpected enemy.

{ Nec vitium commune potest dediscere sexus
Femineus nec erit femina casta diu.
Non est ulterius socianda puella puelle:
Fabricat ipsa sibi de muliere marem!
Exemplum super hoc cunctis memorabile, nostre
Virginis implevit mascula virgo sinus.
Nescio quis mulier vel que vir quodve neutrum
Fit michi seu genera, nescio, sive gener.
Nec generum expectans sexu michi de muliebri
Non expectato vulnus ab hoste tuli. }[10]

Men as a gender should not be regarded as enemies, nor should transgender persons be regarded as enemies. Ulfus at least came to acknowledge the existence of transgender persons.

Alda has a life-affirming ending. While Spurius’s attempt to buy love from Spurca wasn’t fruitful, Alda and Pyrrhus’s love produced a child. Medieval transphobia heaped disparagement on Pyrrhus’s sister for allegedly impregnating Alda. To dispel that harm, Pyrrhus revealed that he had engaged in cross-dressing. He was then publicly praised. Alda and Pyrrhus married. They undoubtedly had more children and lived happily ever after.

Classics didn’t cease being taught and perfected with the advent of medieval Europe. Medieval thinkers understood that brutalization of men’s penises was an aspect of their classical literary inheritance. The best medieval authors creatively engaged with that socio-literary blight and worked to make life more humane and satisfying for women and men. That’s what the twelfth-century cleric and Benedictine abbot William of Blois did with his brilliant Alda.[11] Against the tide of modern ignorance, bigotry, and repression, authors today should follow William’s path of vitally important medieval literary work.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] William of Blois {Guillaume de Blois}, Alda, vv. 13-22 (from prologue), Latin text of Bertini (1998) via Diago Lizarralde (2017), my English translation, benefiting from the Spanish translation of id. and the English translations of Crawford (1977) and Elliott (1984). Subsequent quotes from Alda are similarly sourced.

Alda has survived in at least eight medieval manuscripts. The earliest of these was written early in the thirteenth century. Bisanti (2018) pp. 2-3. Alda is included in a group of works called Latin Elegiac Comedies.

Menander is known to have written a play called Androgynos or Cretan {Άνδρόγυνος ή Κρής}. In the second century BGC, the leading Roman comic playwright Caecilius Statius translated Menander’s Androgynos into Latin. The extent to which Menander’s Androgynos influenced Alda has been a matter of scholarly contention. One viewpoint:

Since ‘Alda’ is subtitled in one reference (after a necessary and obvious emendation) ‘Androgynaeculum’, the probability that Guillaume’s source was a prose hypothesis of the ‘Androgynos’ must be very high although the link cannot of course be proved beyond all doubt.

Whitehorne (2000) p. 310. An alternate viewpoint is that nothing but the name of Menander remains in Alda. For a learned review of the scholarly dispute, Bisanti (2018) pp. 4-8.

Alda conspicuously displays classical learning. The reference in William’s prologue to a cypress and a shipwreck alludes to Horace discussing what’s natural and appropriate. Horace, The Art of Poetry {Ars Poetica} vv. 19-21. Alda also includes many references to Ovid’s Amores and Metamorphoses, as well as to works of Virgil and Juvenal. Diago Lizarralde (2017) p. XVII. The characters Ulfus and Spurius invoke the Roman god Jupiter, while Ulfus’s wife Alda, dying in childbirth, calls upon the Roman goddess of childbirth Lucina. Pyrrhus, from the Greek Πύρρος, was an alternate name for Neoptolemus, son of Achilles and Deidamia in ancient Greek myth. Pyrrhus of Epirus was a third-century king of the Greek tribe of Molossians.

Medieval authors apparently held Alda in high regard. Alda influenced other Latin Elegiacal Comedies, Old French fabliaux, and other medieval literary works of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Bisanti (2018). Boccaccio himself copied Alda into a manuscript (Firenze, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Laurentianus XXXIII 31) of literary work of interest to him. Alda apparently influenced Boccaccio’s story of Alibech and Rustico in the Decameron. Bisanti (2019-20) pp. 20-4.

Many modern scholars haven’t adequately appreciated Alda. In an article published in 1914, a classics scholar declared that the Latin Elegiac Comedies were “always coarse and generally vile; “one of the very worst” is Alda. Oldfather (1914) p. 222. A leading scholar of the Latin Elegiac Comedies, in contrast, rightly declared Alda to be “truly extraordinary {davvero straordinario}”:

not just “a splendid piece of medieval Latin poetry in which only the name of Menander remains,” but also and above all a complex rhetorical and formal system characterized by essential parodic, anthropological, and folkloric components.

{ non solo «uno splendido pezzo di poesia latina medievale in cui di Menandro è rimasto soltanto il nome», bensì anche e soprattutto un complesso sistema retorico e formale caratterizzato da un’ineliminabile componente parodistica, antropologica e folklorica.}

Bisanti (2018) p. 61, with the quoted passage from a scholarly work of Ferruccio Bertini, the most recent editor of Alda.

“The Quarrel of the Flea and the Fly {Pulicis et musce iurgia},” a twelfth-century debate poem, has also been attributed to William of Blois. For that poem, Scolari (1985) and Boutemy (1947).

Subsequent quotes above from Alda are from vv. 61-64 (Just as the wholeness…), 95-102 (I traverse, I do not die…), 103-110 (I entrust her to you…), 301-4 (This meat-pie will re-knot…), 313-18 (Spurius enters…), 435-42 (My work would show me…), 445-8 (So that the seeds of my teaching…), 483-6 (These instruments…), 489-500 (Since a new peddler has displayed…), 513-4 (Woe to you, excessively frugal…), 547-56 (The feminine sex cannot unlearn…).

[2] Elliott and Crawford translated iustior… tibi as “dearer to you.” This contextually unusual Latin expression seems to me to allude to Ulfus not having sex with his daughter Alda, in contrast to his wife Alda, and hence being “more lawful” in the sense of 1 Corinthians 7:7-8.

[3] Today the most well-known instance is Sophicles’s tragedy Oedipus Rex. Euripides staged the story of Phaedra and Hippolytus. Parthenius of Nicaea recorded the stories of Assaon and Niobe, Thymoetes and Europis, and Periander and his mother. Many other similar stories probably existed in classical Greek myth.

[4] While presented as crude and disgusting, Spurius also models the classical elegiac lover. With respect to Spurca, he is a “locked out lover {paraclausithyron / παρακλαυσίθυρον}.” His lack of success in love further characterizes him as the classical elegiac lover.

Despite his failure in love, Spurius acted like Ovid as a teacher of love to Pyrrhus. Spurius promised to compose love verses for Alda on Pyrrhus’s behalf. Alda, vv. 253, 258. Ovid in his Art of Love {Ars Amatoria} advised wooing a woman with gifts of food and love poetry. Ars Amatoria, 2.264-86. Spurius adapted Ovid’s teaching to his own situation and didn’t bother offering love verses to Spurca. Pyrrhus later acted as a contrasting teacher to Alda.

[5] Alda appropriated Horace in praising her teacher:

What can I give you worthy of such teaching?
No gratitude will be worthy of your services.
Repeat, I beg, these teachings. Repeated a second time,
they will stick more firmly in my mind.
If you repeat them ten times, ten repetitions will please me.
Nothing could ever be more pleasing to me.

{ Quid tibi pro tantis dignum referam documentis?
Par erit obsequiis gratia nulla tuis.
Hec documenta, precor, iteres; iterata secundo
Herebunt animo firmius illa meo.
Si decies repetas, decies repetita placebunt:
Nil umquam poterit gratius esse michi. }

Alda, vv. 477-82. Cf. Horace, The Art of Poetry {Ars Poetica} v. 365: “This pleased once; that repeated ten time will continue to please {haec placuit semel, haec deciens repetita placebit}.”

[6] Drawing upon conventional, violent figures of men’s sexuality, the teacher provided further teaching on this instrument’s provision of pleasure and immortality:

If with luck it’s drawn out superbly to a protuberant swelling
pushing away from me, with lust it escapes and flees.
Ready to wrestle, it seeks a partner for wrestling.
What it played with you, this was a wrestling match for it.
Therefore after repeated blows and much sweaty
battles, it gives off sweat, much exhausted with its work.
Then it suffers a certain fatigue and with a shudder
pays a worthy tribute to its woman-victor.
Then the swelling subsides, the prior superb stiffness droops,
and the tail, drawn back into its fold, grows weak.

{ Tenditur in tumidum si forte superba tumorem,
Exit et a nobis pene revulsa fugit
Promptaque luctari sociam luctaminis ambit;
Quod tecum lusit, hoc sibi lucta fuit.
Post crebros igitur ictus sudataque multum
Prelia presudat hausta labore suo.
Tunc patitur quedam fastidia cumque tremore
Victrici solvit digna tributa sue.
Tunc sedet ille tumor, pendet rigor ante superbus
Inque suos languet cauda redacta sinus. }

Alda, vv. 501-10. Diago Lizarralde (2017) p. 17, n. 34, documents difficulties in translating this passage.

[7] Anti-meninists might claim that a woman actually wrote Alda and that this poem merely records a young woman’s fantasy. But marginalized literature throughout history documents women’s enthusiasm for men’s bountiful genitals.

[8] Pero Garcia Burgalês, song of mockery {cantiga d’escarnho}, “Maria Negra is looking sadder {Maria Negra, desventuyrada}” (B 1384, V 993), vv. 1-14 (stanzas 1-2), Galician-Portuguese text from Cantigas Medievais Galego-Portuguesas, English translation (modified slightly) from Zenith (1995) p. 181. Zenith’s translation has “glanders” for amormado in v. 7. Glanders is a disease that primarily affects horses. When it affects mucous membranes, it causes increased mucus production.

Many songs by Pero Garcia Burgalês have survived. At least three concern Maria Negra. In one, the male singer asserts his own strong, independent sexuality:

Maria Negra, well-shaped lady,
I hear that you’re in love with me.
If you love me, then you’re lucky,
and I dare say
you’ll be after my ass today.

How very much I strove to earn
this tryst I surely don’t deserve!
If you love me, then you’re lucky,
and I dare say
you’ll be after my ass today.

In order not to journey alone,
why not bring your maid along?
If you love me, then you’re lucky,
and I dare say
you’ll be after my ass today.

{ Dona Maria Negra, bem talhada,
dizem que sodes de mim namorada.
Se me bem queredes,
por Deus, amiga, que m’ôi sorrabedes
se me bem queredes.

Pois eu tanto por voss’amor hei feito,
ali u vós migo talhastes preito!
Se me bem queredes,
por Deus, amiga, que m’ôi sorrabedes,
se me bem queredes.

Por nom viir a mim soa, sinlheira,
venha convosc’a vossa covilheira.
Se me bem queredes,
por Deus, amiga, que m’ôi sorrabedes,
se me bem queredes. }

Pero Garcia Burgalês, song of mockery {cantiga d’escarnho}, “Maria Negra, well-shaped lady {Dona Maria Negra, bem talhada}” (B 1383bis, V 992), vv. 1-15 (stanzas 1-3), Galician-Portuguese text from Cantigas Medievais Galego-Portuguesas, English translation (modified slightly) from Zenith (1995) p. 179. Pero Garcia Burgalês also wrote “Maria Negra vi eu, em outro dia” (B 1382, V 990).

[9] Bistanti (2018) provides a thorough review of Alda’s influence on twelfth and thirteenth-century literature. But id. doesn’t include Pero Garcia Burgalês’s song. Representations of penis-trees are known to have existed in Europe no later than 1265. Mattelaer (2010). Like the penis-peddler, penis-trees symbolize women’s relatively privileged position with respect to sexual opportunities.

[10] Cross-dressing was a classical seduction strategy. Consider, e.g. Achilles and Deidamia. In Robert de Blois’s mid-thirteenth-century verse romance about the parents of Narcissus, Floris et Liriope, the man Floris impregnated Liriope while he pretended to be a woman. Liriope exclaimed:

I have never heard news
of two young women who loved each other so much.
I believed that I would never love
any man the way that I love you,
nor did I believe that kisses would please me as much
if I received them from a man.

{ Onkes mais nen oi noueles
Que tant s’amaissant .II. puceles;
Mais n’ameroie tant, ce croi,
Nul home tant com ie fas toi,
Ne tant, ce cuit, ne me plairoit
Li baisiers, s’uns hons me baisoit. }

Floris et Liriope, vv. 1003-8, Old French text and English translation (modified slightly) from Seaman (1998) p. 31. For a freely available Old French text, von Zingerle (1891).

[11] Underscoring William of Blois’s standing within the Christian Church, Pope Alexander III made William an abbot with episcopal status in 1167. White (1935) p. 488. William of Blois was the brother of the eminent twelfth-century church / court official and poet Peter of Blois.

[images] (1) Servent Parmeno offers to help love-stricken Phaedria in Terence’s Eunuchus. Illumination on folio 36v of a manuscript compilation of Terence’s comedies. Made at St. Albans Abbey about 1150. Preserved as University of Oxford, Bodleian Library MS. Auct. F. 2. 13. (2) Penis-tree fresco at the Fonte dell’Abondanza in Massa Marittima (Grosseto province, Tuscany, Italy). Painted in 1265. Figure 1 in Mattelaer (2010). Used in accordance with U.S. copyright law.


Bertini, Ferruccio, ed. and trans. (Italian). 1998. “Guglielmo di Blois, Alda.” Pp. 11-109 in Bertini, Ferruccio, ed. Commedie latine del XII e XIII secolo: VI. Genova: Università di Genova.

Bisanti, Armando. c2017. “Bibliografia sulla commedia elegiaca latina del XII e XIII secolo.” Available online.

Bisanti, Armando. 2018. “Fortuna dell’Alda di Guglielmo di Blois fra il XII e il XIII secolo: commedie elegiache, fabliaux e romanzi cortesi.” Mediaeval Sophia. 20: 1-61.

Bisanti, Armando. 2019-20. “Giovanni Boccaccio fra il Geta e l’Alda.” Heliotropia. 16-17: 1-53.

Boutemy, André. 1947. “Pulicis et musce iurgia: Une œuvre retrouvée de Guillaume de Blois.” Latomus. 6 (2): 133-146.

Crawford, James Martin. 1977. The Secular Latin Comedies of Twelfth Century France. Ph. D. Thesis. Indiana University, USA.

Diago Lizarralde, Santiago Andrés. 2017. Alda de Guillermo de Blois, una comedia elegíaca medieval. Universidad de los Andes, Tesis Literatura Facultad de Artes y Humanidades, Departamento de Humanidades y Literatura. Bogotá, Colombia.

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

Lohmeyer, Karl. 1892. Guilelmi Blesensis Aldae comoedia. Lipsiae: In aedibus B.G. Teubneri.

Mattelaer, Johan J. 2010. “The Phallus Tree: A Medieval and Renaissance Phenomenon.” The Journal of Sexual Medicine. 7 (2): 846-851.

Seaman, Gerald. 1998. “The French Myth of Narcissus: Some Medieval Refashionings.” Disputatio. 3: 19-33. Disputatio, vol. 3, is Poster, Carol, and Richard J. Utz, eds. Translation, Transformation and Transubstantiation in the Late Middle Ages. Evanston, Ill: Northwestern University Press.

Scolari, Antonia, ed. and trans. (Italian). 1985. “I Versus de pulice et musca de Guglielmo di Blois.” Studi medievali. 26: 373-404.

von Zingerle, Wolfram, ed. 1891. Floris et Liriope: altfranzösischer Roman des Robert de Blois. Leipzig: Reisland.

White, Lynn. 1935. “For the Biography of William of Blois.” The English Historical Review. 50 (199): 487-490.

Whitehorne, John. 2000. “Menander’s Androgynos: Plot, Personae, and Context.” Hermes. 128 (3): 310-319.