equality activists seize US Capitol & decree full equality

Near the US Capitol, cis-gender equality student-activist Praxagora emerges from her Volvo. Her thumb presses furiously on her iPhone 11. She stares at her phone intently for a long time. Then she begins to speak to it.

Praxagora: Behold, portal of enlightenment, hear my cry! Let the seas roar, and justice roll down like thunder! Rancid and sexist butter, gender-exclusive from cows, is still served onto us daily! Men students careth not. They are apathetic, listless, and impotent. Only we cis-gender women student-activists feel what should be their pain. When Sappho was stirring a pot in the dorm kitchen and wiggling her behind for all her worth, her roommate remained stolidly seated, peeling potatoes for her. He kept apologizing for her stirring the pot in the kitchen instead of taking her place in the house governing assembly. Me too, that’s happened to me, too! Why am I the only one here? Where are all the rest of the equality activists?

A Toyota Subaru parks nearby. Three persons emerge from it. They’re dressed in black boots, black cargo pants, white t-shirts, and black leather jackets. They have freshly trimmed crew-cuts and carry “END VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN” signs. Over the next hour, many more persons gather.

Praxagora: Enough waiting for those woefully late, whether they are cis-gender women, non-binary women, or transmen. Muster forces! Cis-gender women to the right, non-binary women in the middle, and transmen left out, I mean, left. Count out!

There are 52 cis-gender women, 50 non-binary women, and 48 transmen.

Praxagora: We can’t storm the Capitol until we have an equal number of activists by gender category. We need two more non-binary women and four more transmen. Does anybody know two non-binary women they can call?

Non-binary woman A: No, no, that’s wrong. You can’t summon non-binary women in two’s. Shame on you!

Praxagora: Can we get four more transmen? Any transmen friends who aren’t here?

Cis-gender woman A: I won’t date transmen, and I won’t even be friends with them. They aren’t real men. Why can’t only we women seize the Capitol and establish gender equality for women? Why do we have to have transmen with us?

Praxagora: You’re such a ditz. We need an equal number of transmen to be credible as revolutionaries for gender equality for women. Any more hate out of you, and you’ll be expelled from our Broad-Based Alliance for Equality.

Stacy: Dana and I, we’re standing here with the cis-gender women. But we feel like men. We like fixing cars, getting rid of spiders, and we’re always telling each other fart jokes. We’re strong, silent types. We’ll identify as transmen. Then we’ll have gender equality. Sorry for not speaking up sooner. We don’t like to talk about ourselves.

Praxagora: Say no more. Now we’ve got 50-50-50 gender parity. Onward. Storm the Capitol!

They march to the gates of the Capitol.

Assembly of equality activists:

Oh when the saints, go marching in,
oh when the saints go marching in,
oh how I want to be in that number,
when the saints go marching in!

And when the cis, begin to scream,
and when the cis begin to scream,
oh how I want to be in that number,
when the saints go marching in!

And gender binary-less come,
and gender binary-less come,
oh how I want to be in that number,
when the saints go marching in!

Oh when the transmen, sound their call,
oh when the transmen sound their call,
oh how I want to be in that number,
when the saints go marching in!

And when the stars, fall from the sky,
and when the stars fall from the sky,
oh Lord I want to be in that number,
when the saints go marching in.

Capitol policeman A: You can’t come in here.

Assembly of equality activists:
End violence against women!
End violence against women!
End violence against women!

The Capitol police back away.

Capitol police chief: Stop them! Push them back!

Equality activist A: Don’t you dare assault me with your toxic masculinity!

Equality activist B: He wants to rape us!

Capitol policeman A: Fuck you!

Equality activist B: He just admitted it. Help me! Rapist! Help me!

Three transmen equality activists encircle equality activist B.

Transmen equality activists: Don’t touch them!

Capitol policeman A: I didn’t touch her!

Transmen equality activists: You just assaulted them! We just heard you assault them!

The Capitol police back away in bewilderment. The equality activists march into the Capitol as members flee in fear.

Loudspeaker announcement: There is a fire in building. All occupants must lock down immediately. A lock-down is now in effect. Do not leave your shelter location until further notice.

Senator in bathroom stall: For the love of constipation, what’s this shit? I’ve already been sitting here for an hour. Members farting like horses pisses me off. They stand in front of the urinal shaking it like they’re LBJ, and they fart away. It stinks in here. I wish I had COVID so I couldn’t smell it.

Loudspeaker announcement: There is an equality disturbance in the building. Evacuate the building immediately through the nearest emergency exit. Everyone except policemen with large guns should evacuate the building immediately.

Capitol policeman Ted: I’ve got a compact assault rifle. Is that big enough?

Capitol policeman Chad: C’mon, check yourself. A large gun looks more like a bazooka. You gotta evacuate.

Capital policeman Ted: Man, that’s humiliating. I’m sure I could get the job done. But I don’t want guys with bigger guns laughing at me. I’m pulling out.

Senator in bathroom stall: I still can’t even evacuate my bowels. Forget it, I’m not leaving here until I finish my motion. I don’t care if they shoot me like a sitting duck. They’re all complete crappers, and I’m stuck. No stool fluidity.

Praxagora: Equality activists, we’re now in complete control of the US government.

Praxagora begins to sing, with a chorus of equality activists joining her.

Something has changed within me.
Something is not the same.
I’m through with playing by the rules
of someone else’s game.
Too late for second-guessing,
too late to go back to sleep.
It’s time to trust our instincts,
close our eyes and leap!

It’s time to try
defying gravity!
I say let’s try
defying gravity!
No, they can’t pull us down!

Senator in bathroom stall:
Nothing is moving within me.
I’m struggling just to take a shit.

Equality activists:
We’re through accepting limits
‘cuz someone says it’s so.
Some things we cannot change
but till we try, we’ll never know!
Too long we’ve been afraid of
losing love we long have lost.
Well, if that’s love,
it comes at much too high a cost!
We’d sooner fly,
defying gravity.
Kiss us goodbye.
We’re defying gravity,
and they can’t pull us down.

Senator in bathroom stall:
I’ve been taking Flomax for years,
but I’m still a weak pisser.
Now I can’t even crap.

Equality activists:
Together we’re unlimited,
together we’ll be the greatest team
there’s ever been, with dreams
just the way we planned ’em.

Senator in bathroom stall:
If I can’t even piss and crap well,
I should just retire,
and sit forever on the toilet at home,
king of my own place.

Equality activists:
There’s no fight we cannot win —
three genders together,
defying masculinity —
three genders together,
defying masculinity!

Senator in bathroom stall:
I’m still straining.
It’s not coming.

Equality activists:
We really hope you move it,
and then you live to regret it,
with your insides no longer in!
We hope you’re crappy in the end,
we hope you’re crappy, man fiend!

Senator in bathroom stall:
Uuuuuhh. Uuuuuuuhh.

Equality activists:
So if you care to find us,
look to the western sun!
As Siri told me lately,
all of us deserve the chance to fly.
And if we’re too near the sun,
at least we’re flying free.
To those who’d keep us on the ground,
take this message the world ’round.
Tell them how we’re
defying gravity.
We’re flying high,
defying masculinity.
And soon science will meet us in renown,
and nobody, no coronavirus,
no scientist that there is or was,
is ever gonna bring us down!

Senator in bathroom stall:
It’s probably that wicked vaccine.
I shouldn’t have gotten that witch brew.
I’d rather die of COVID than
not be able to take a shit.

Praxagora: As recently chosen Eternal Paramount Leader of our praiseworthy insurrection, my first executive order is that all US universities must make classics compulsory. All students shall be taught to read Greek and Latin equally.

Equality activist D: What about Sanskrit. Are you gonna mandate Sanskrit equally?

Praxagora: Did Aristophanes write Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι — that’s Parliament of Women, you dopes — in Sanskrit?

Equality activist D: I don’t know who Aristophanes is. Sounds like Sanskrit to me.

Praxagora: No, he didn’t write in Sanskrit, you ignorama. If I hadn’t studied classics, this insurrection would have never happened. I got the idea from a great ancient Greek woman orator-leader’s speech to the Athenian assembly.

Equality activist D: But women were held captive, barefoot and starving and working as slaves in the kitchen, throughout all of history until now. Was she a transman?

Praxagora: She was gender-fluid. She moved easily between identifying as a cis-gender woman and a transman.

Equality activist A: So what did she say? “Equality now!” or something like that?

Praxagora: No, no, no. Classical Greek women were much more sophisticated. The great Greek woman-leader didn’t just chirp short sayings like a parrot or you tweeters. She delivered an eloquent speech to the governing assembly. I’ll deliver it in English to you barbarians:

Friends, Athenians, countrypersons, lend
me your ears, and you shall escape from your
current muddle. I propose that we turn over all government
to women, who successfully run and rule over our households.

Women are superior to men, and the future is female,
as I will demonstrate. First, they dye their wool
in hot water according to their ancient custom,
each like the other. You’ll never see them doing differently
from what other women do. But the Athenian state
is blown around with the whims of democracy,
always enthralled with the antics of some new clown.
Meanwhile, the women cook, as they always have.
They keep personal burdens within their heads, as they always have.
They celebrate sisterly solidarity, as they always have.
They drive their husbands crazy, as they always have.
They hide their lovers in the house, as they always have.
They treat themselves to extra morsels, as they always have.
They drink their wine undiluted, as they always have.
They enjoy a fucking, as they always have.
And so, activists, let’s give all government to women,
and no arguing about how they govern,
just let them do what they want to do.
As mothers, they’ll inspire our soldiers to death or mommy’s love,
and nourish them with extra rations while they’re still alive.
Moreover, there’s nobody more inventive in getting money than women,
and when in power they’ll never be cheated,
since women themselves are masters at cheating.
I’ll pass over the many other reasons why our future is female.
Adopt my resolution, and with happy wives, you’ll lead happy lives.

{ ἢν οὖν ἐμοὶ πείθησθε, σωθήσεσθ᾿ ἔτι·
ταῖς γὰρ γυναιξὶ φημὶ χρῆναι τὴν πόλιν
ἡμᾶς παραδοῦναι. καὶ γὰρ ἐν ταῖς οἰκίαις
ταύταις ἐπιτρόποις καὶ ταμίαισι χρώμεθα.

ὡς δ᾿ εἰσὶν ἡμῶν τοὺς τρόπους βελτίονες
ἐγὼ διδάξω. πρῶτα μὲν γὰρ τἄρια
βάπτουσι θερμῷ κατὰ τὸν ἀρχαῖον νόμον
ἁπαξάπασαι, κοὐχὶ μεταπειρωμένας
ἴδοις ἂν αὐτάς. ἡ δ᾿ Ἀθηναίων πόλις,
εἰ τοῦτο χρηστῶς εἶχεν, οὐκ ἂν ἐσῴζετο,
εἰ μή τι καινόν <γ᾿> ἄλλο περιηργάζετο.
καθήμεναι φρύγουσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ·
ἐπὶ τῆς κεφαλῆς φέρουσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ·
τὰ Θεσμοφόρι᾿ ἄγουσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ·
πέττουσι τοὺς πλακοῦντας ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ·
τοὺς ἄνδρας ἐπιτρίβουσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ·
μοιχοὺς ἔχουσιν ἔνδον ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ·
αὑταῖς παροψωνοῦσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ·
οἶνον φιλοῦσ᾿ εὔζωρον ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ·
βινούμεναι χαίρουσιν ὥσπερ καὶ πρὸ τοῦ.
ταύταισιν οὖν, ὦνδρες, παραδόντες τὴν πόλιν
μὴ περιλαλῶμεν, μηδὲ πυνθανώμεθα
τί ποτ᾿ ἄρα δρᾶν μέλλουσιν, ἀλλ᾿ ἁπλῷ τρόπῳ
ἐῶμεν ἄρχειν, σκεψάμενοι ταυτὶ μόνα,
ὡς τοὺς στρατιώτας πρῶτον οὖσαι μητέρες
σῴζειν ἐπιθυμήσουσιν· εἶτα σιτία
τίς τῆς τεκούσης θᾶττον ἐπιπέμψειεν ἄν;
χρήματα πορίζειν εὐπορώτατον γυνή,
ἄρχουσά τ᾿ οὐκ ἂν ἐξαπατηθείη ποτέ·
αὐταὶ γάρ εἰσιν ἐξαπατᾶν εἰθισμέναι.
τὰ δ᾿ ἄλλ᾿ ἐάσω. ταῦτ᾿ ἐὰν πείθησθέ μοι,
εὐδαιμονοῦντες τὸν βίον διάξετε. }

Equality activist A: So that’s where the saying “Happy wife, happy life” came from. It’s a classic!

Praxagora: You wouldn’t know a classic from a folktale. Register for courses in ancient Greek and Latin at your nearest university. Education is cheaper than ignorance! But the time for oratory is over. I’m issuing an executive order requiring all wages and other income be paid directly to the government. The government will in turn provide every resident with a Vice-Versa GovPayPal EqualityCard. With that card, every resident will have equal ability to buy any good or service. In fact, with the Vice-Versa GovPayPal EqualityCard, everybody will be able to buy whatever they want!

Equality activists: All for equality! Equality for all! All for all!

Cis-gender woman equality activist A: What about cis-gender men?

Praxagora: Cis-gender men will have to do whatever we cis-gender women, non-binary women, and transmen tell them to do.

Cis-gender woman equality activist A: What if a man isn’t able to do it when I tell him I want him to?

Praxagora: No problem. Just get another man to have sex with you.

Cis-gender woman equality activist A: That’s what I’ve been doing.

Praxagora: Keep in mind that I’m also issuing an executive order that prioritizes marginalized people’s safety over privileged people’s comfort. Sexually marginalized persons such as Dis and others in celibate Hell will have priority access to the most sexually desirable persons. Many sexually impoverished persons urgently need thrilling sexual satisfaction to be safe from serious personal harm. If the necessary sexual access causes privileged persons some discomfort, well, they’ll just have to lay down and endure it.

Cis-gender woman equality activist A: How do we know who’s privileged and who’s marginalized under the new sexual equality decree?

Praxagora: The Bureau of Labor Statistics has been tasked with creating a Sexual Privilege Index. It will weigh various attributes, such as how tall a man is, how much hair he has on his head, how muscular he is, how many other women he has, etc., to compute an SPI with a value from 1 to 100 for each man. A similar SPI will be constructed for women. If you want to have sex with a particular man, you must check how low your SPI is relative to the SPIs of all the other persons who want to have sex with him. By the looks of you, I’d estimate you have an SPI below 10. That makes you a very marginalized person. You’ll be able to have sex right away with any man you choose!

Cis-gender woman equality activist A: This is a just, equitable, and rational government!

Praxagora: The Vice-Versa GovPayPal EqualityCard should be printed and distributed in time for everyone to go to restaurants for dinner tomorrow night. Enjoying magnificent dinners, all will know that equality rules this land!

Equality activists form a chorus and sing.

Limpets with saltfish and sharksteak with dogfish,
hot mullets, oddfish, and savory pickle sauces,
cold thrushes, blackbirds, and pan-roasted pigeons,
fresh cooked-up roosters and crisp larks with wagtails,
rabbits with spritzer and mulled wine with olives,
big chunks all drizzled with honeyed silphium,
plus vinegar, oil, and spices galore!

{ λοπαδοτεμαχοσελαχογαλεο-
λοπτερυγών. }

Non-binary woman equality activist C: These are a few of my favorite things!

News of the insurrection, coup d’etat, and new executive orders spreads among men working on the streets of Athens. A road-working man repairing a pothole calls to a man sweeping out a sewer.

Road-worker: I’ve heard that the assembly passed a bunch of new safety regulations.

Sewer-worker: Yea, something about prioritizing the safety of sexually marginalized persons.

Road-worker: The street-walkers would be safer if the assembly could hire more road-workers to fill the holes. But it’s dirty, dangerous work. Yesterday a bone that some woman hurled out of her home nearly hit me in the head. There aren’t many women hole-fillers. Women know how dangerous the work is.

Sewer-worker: At least we’re not house-movers or plumbers. Women are always grabbing their parts and trying to force them. As Βλεπυροσ said in Aristophanes’s Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι, “τὸ πρὸς βίαν δεινότατον.”

Road-worker: What the Hell does that mean?

Sewer-worker: I majored in classics and learned ancient Greek. What Blepyrus said basically means that men don’t like having women rape them. Anyone with common sense should know that, but most people don’t understand. If I ever get a job as a classics teacher, I’ll teach them.

Road-worker: I heard that now we’re gonna be forced to have sex with old, ugly women before we can do our primary squeeze. Something about an SPI measurement. I don’t need any new measurements. I do well enough with just eye-balling.

Sewer-worker: You can eye-ball as much as you like, but under the new regs you’ll be doing nothing more than eye-balling unless your SPI is low enough.

Further down the street, two other Athenian men are discussing the new equality regulations.

Eddimedes Murphes: I’m no racist, but if the bitch is green, there’s something wrong with the pussy.

Epicenes: That doesn’t matter. Marginalized people’s safety has priority over privileged people’s comfort.

Eddimedes Murphes: I’ve got hot young black women pinching my ass and pulling at me, but I have to have sex with some green witch? What’s the point of working hard to become the most famous speaker in all of greater Greece?

Epicenes: You’ll have the satisfaction of knowing that your speaking and teaching fees, which will now be paid directly to the government, will contribute to funding Vice-Versa GovPayPal EqualityCards for all.

Eddimedes Murphes: Sounds as good as eating an ice cream cone dropped in a pile of dog shit!

Epicenes: You’ve already got three white crones seeking your meat. Their SPIs are gonna be much, much lower than any hot young woman.

I weave with brightly colored strings
to keep my mind off other things.
So, my friend, let your fingers dance,
and keep your hands out of romance.

Falling in love with love is falling for make believe.
Falling in love with love is playing the fool.
Caring too much is such a juvenile fancy.
Learning to trust is just for children in school.

I fell in love with love one night when the moon was full.
I was unwise with eyes unable to see.
I fell in love with love, with love everlasting,
but love fell out with me.

Two ugly old white cis-gender women, eminent professors of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equality, appear and start tugging on Eddimedes Murphes’s arms.

Eddimedes Murphes: Is this some sick joke? Please, someone tell me what in the world these are! Are they monkeys plastered with makeup? Hags arisen from the underworld?

{ πότερον πίθηκος ἀνάπλεως ψιμυθίου
ἢ γραῦς ἀνεστηκυῖα παρὰ τῶν πλειόνων }

Epicenes: They identify as cis-gender women. Under the executive order of the new equality regime, they have priority access to you.

Loudspeaker announcement:
The women have decreed that if a young man desires a young woman he may not hump her until he bangs an old woman first. Should he in his desire for the young woman refuse to do this preliminary banging, the older women shall be entitled with impunity to drag the young man off by his pecker.

{ ἔδοξε ταῖς γυναιξίν, ἢν ἀνὴρ νέος
νέας ἐπιθυμῇ, μὴ σποδεῖν αὐτὴν πρὶν ἂν
τὴν γραῦν προκρούσῃ πρῶτον. ἢν δὲ μὴ ᾿θέλῃ
πρότερον προκρούειν, ἀλλ᾿ ἐπιθυμῇ τῆς νέας,
ταῖς πρεσβυτέραις γυναιξὶν ἔστω τὸν νέον
ἕλκειν ἀνατεὶ λαβομένας τοῦ παττάλου. }

Eddimedes Murphes: I’ve heard this shit before. Same fucked-up gynocentric government putting half the black men in jail. Better to lock up all of us black men than to have such creatures forced on us for extra sexual duty. You think I didn’t study classics?

The kooky gynaecocracy says I have to fuck this old hag night and day, and after I get free of her, start in again on this other old toad with a funeral urn already standing by her legs. Man, I’m damned to be clamped with such freaks as these. But if the very worst really does happen to me as I put into port atop these two harridans, bury me right where I penetrated this first one’s channel. As for other, why didn’t Zeus make her a transgender gay man? While she’s still alive, cover her with pitch all over and put her feet in molten lead up to her ankles. Then stick her over my grave instead of an urn!

{ ὢ τρισκακοδαίμων, εἰ γυναῖκα δεῖ σαπρὰν
βινεῖν ὁλὴν τὴν νύκτα καὶ τὴν ἡμέραν,
κἄπειτ᾿, ἐπειδὰν τῆσδ᾿ ἀπαλλαγῶ, πάλιν
φρύνην ἔχουσαν λήκυθον πρὸς ταῖς γνάθοις.
ἆρ᾿ οὐ κακοδαίμων εἰμί; βαρυδαίμων μὲν οὖν,
νὴ τὸν Δία τὸν σωτῆρ᾿, ἀνὴρ καὶ δυστυχής,
ὅστις τοιούτοις θηρίοις συνείρξομαι.
ὅμως δ᾿, ἐάν τι πολλὰ πολλάκις πάθω
ὑπὸ τοῖνδε τοῖν κασαλβάδοιν δεῦρ᾿ ἐσπλέων,
θάψαι μ᾿ ἐπ᾿ αὐτῷ στόματι τῆς ἐσβολῆς,
καὶ τήνδ ἄνωθεν ἐπιπολῆς τοῦ σήματος
ζῶσαν καταπιττώσαντες, εἶτα τὼ πόδε
μολυβδοχοήσαντες κύκλῳ περὶ τὰ σφυρὰ
ἄνω ᾿πιθεῖναι πρόφασιν ἀντὶ ληκύθου. }

Young, handsome man: Crazy old ladies are sexually harassing me with Diomedes’ necessity. They say if I refuse, they’ll come with me to jail!

Another young, handsome man: Apparition of damnation — a woman over sixty who looks like a big blood blister demands me! I think I’m gonna shit my pants for fear of her touch.

Epicenes: Eros is dead. The joy of sex is over. Withdraw into your homes, men, and don’t come out until this kooky gynaecocracy is overthrown. Video games, porn, and Netflix, and now porn video games on Netflix. That’s the best life has to offer us men today. Withdraw! Withdraw!

One by one the actors leave the stage to the sound of doors slamming.

* * * *

Read more:


The above play is adapted from Aristophanes’s Parliament of Women {Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι / Ecclesiazusae}. Aristophanes’s Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι was performed in Athens, probably in 392 BGC. The name Praxagora {Πραξαγορα} is from Aristophanes and means literally “public-spirited.” On the relation of Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι to Athenian democracy, Sonnino (2017).

Preceding the quotes in ancient Greek are English translations, with some modifications. The Greek text and source English translation are from Henderson (2002). Roche (2005) provides a lively English translation somewhat less faithful to the ancient Greek. The Greek text of Hall & Geldart (1906) is freely accessibly, as is the English translation of Theodoridis (2009).

The ancient Greek quotations are Aristophanes, Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι, vv. 209-12, 214-40 (Friends, Athenians, countrypersons…), 1169-75 (Limpets on saltfish…), 471 (It’s absolutely terrible when you’re forced; Blepyrus on a man being raped), 1072-3 (Are they monkeys plastered…), 1015-20 (The women have decreed…), 1098-1111 (The kooky gynaecocracy says I have to fuck this old hag…).

Showing the progress of philological knowledge and expertise, Jacobson (2011) convincing argues that Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι vv. 465-72, which concerns women sexually coercing men, did not include a gesture suggesting how a man could stimulate his reluctant penis. A woman’s active, loving, and appreciative receptivity to a man’s penis is generally the most effective way to stimulate it.

The text above includes parodically lyrics of the song “Defying Gravity” from the 2003 Broadway musical Wicked (music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz). It also includes a quote (I’m no racist, but…) from Eddie Murphy’s 1983 stand-up comedy television special Delirious. It includes as well lyrics from the song “Falling in Love with Love” from the 1938 Broadway musical The Boys from Syracuse (music by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart). The meter of the above English translation of Aristophanes, Ἐκκλησιάζουσαι, vv. 1169-75, draws on that of the song “My Favorite Things” from the 1959 Broadway musical The Sound of Music (music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II).

[images] (1) 1938 filming of Louis Armstrong and his Orchestra singing “When the Saints Go Marching In.” Via YouTube. (2) Theater Mania’s video compilation of various artists performing the song “Defying Gravity” from the 2003 Broadway musical Wicked (music and lyrics by Stephen Schwartz). Via YouTube. Here’s a performance by Idina Menzel and Kristin Chenoweth, who performed the song in the original Broadway show. (3) T.3 (Liam Fennecken, Brendan Jacob Smith, Jim Hogan) with its 2021 recording of “Defying Gravity.” Via YouTube. (4) Howard Keel and Kathryn Grayson performing the song “Make Believe” from the 1951 film version of the 1927 Broadway musical Show Boat (music by Jerome Kern, lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II). Via YouTube. (5) Oscar Peterson performing on piano the song “Falling in Love with Love” in 1977 at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland. With wonderful artistic sense, Peterson culturally appropriated Richard Rogers’s music from the 1938 Broadway play The Boys from Syracuse, which is based on William Shakespeare’s play The Comedy of Errors, which is based on Plautus’s play The Two Menaechmuses {Menaechmi}. Plautus wrote Menaechmi in Latin in Rome some year about 200 BGC. Plautus based Menaechmi on a now-lost ancient Greek play of New Comedy. Like other fine artists, Oscar Peterson appreciated classics and produced classics.


Hall, F. W., and William Geldart, eds. 1906. Aristophanes. Comoediae. Oxonii: Oxford University Press.

Henderson, Jeffrey, ed. and trans. 2002. Aristophanes. Frogs. Assemblywomen. Wealth. Loeb Classical Library 180. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Jacobson, David J. 2011. “A Gestural Phallacy.” Didaskalia. 8 (25): online.

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

Sonnino, Maurizio. 2017. “Restoring and Overturning Athenian Democracy in Aristophanes: Paradigmatic Truths and ‘Carnival’ Reversals.” Polis: The Journal for Ancient Greek Political Thought. 34 (2): 366-389.

Theodoridis, George, trans. 2009. Aristophanes. Women in Parliament. Online at Poetry in Translation.

domineering, barking wives not worth their wealth in Plautus’s plays

As presented by Plautus in Rome about the year 206 BGC, Periplectomenus was a fifty-four year-old man who had never married. He had a lively mind, was in good health, and owned his own house. He also attended dinner parties, enjoyed dancing, and was still interested in love affairs with women. Periplectomenus explained why he wasn’t seeking to get married:

Yes, a good wife is sweet to marry, if there were any family on earth
where one could be found. But should I really marry a woman
who’d never say to me: “My dear husband, would you buy me wool from which
I can make a soft and warm cloak for you and good winter tunics,
so that you won’t feel cold this winter?” These words you’d never hear from a wife.
Instead, before the cock crows, she’d stir me from my sleep and
say: “My dear husband, give me something to give to my mother on the first of the month,
give me something to make preserves, give me something to give to the sorceress
on Minerva’s festival, to give to the dream interpreter, to the clairvoyant, and to the soothsayer.
It’s a disgrace if nothing is sent to the woman who uses eyebrows to prophesy.
Furthermore, there’s no avoiding a present to the woman who folds the clothes.
The woman delivering our food has been angry for a while already for not getting any tips.
The midwife also complained to me that she’s receiving too little.
What? You’re not going to give anything to the nurse feeding the slaves born in the house?”
Women cause these losses and many similar others.
They keep me away from a wife, for she would torment me with such talk.

{ Nam bona uxor suave ductu est, si sit usquam gentium
ubi ea possit inveniri; verum egone eam ducam domum,
quae mihi numquam hoc dicat “eme, mi vir, lanam, unde tibi pallium
malacum et calidum conficiatur tunicaeque hibernae bonae,
ne algeas hac hieme” — hoc numquam verbum ex uxore audias —
verum prius quam galli cantent quae me e somno suscitet,
dicat “da, mi vir, kalendis meam qui matrem munerem,
da qui faciam condimenta, da quod dem quinquatrubus
praecantrici, coniectrici, hariolae atque haruspicae;
flagitium est si nil mittetur quae supercilio spicit;
tum plicatricem clementer non potest quin munerem;
iam pridem, quia nihil abstulerit, suscenset ceriaria;
tum opstetrix expostulavit mecum, parum missum sibi;
quid? nutrici non missuru’s quicquam quae vernas alit?”
haec atque huius similia alia damna multa mulierum
me uxore prohibent, mihi quae huius similes sermones serant. }[1]

In many countries today, the earnings of a husband and wife belong equally to both. If a woman earns nothing, than a man who marries her effectively provides half of his income to her. That’s a very expensive way to buy the possibility of having sex, or to buy cooking and housecleaning services of the minimal sort that many men actually prefer.

The solution to men’s concern about potential wives wasting money is obvious. Men should encourage women to work in stressful, demanding jobs that provide high pay. Men, in contrast should occupying themselves with important, home-based work such weightlifting, cleaning and polishing motorcycles and guns, and helping kids to play video games. Then men should insist on dating and marrying only women who earn much more money than they do. As long as a husband gets his half of his wife’s much higher earnings, why should he care if she wastes some of the money she earns?

Periplectomenus rejected opportunities to marry wealthy women. He explained:

My house is free, and I’m also free. I want to live freely.
Actually because of my wealth, I should say thanks to the gods,
I could have married a wife with a rich dowry from a very high-status family,
but I don’t want to bring a female barker into my house.

{ liberae sunt aedis, liber sum autem ego; me volo vivere.
nam mi, deum virtute dicam, propter divitias meas
licuit uxorem dotatam genere summo ducere;
sed nolo mi oblatratricem in aedis intro mittere. }

Periplectomenus used the neologism “female barker {oblatratrix}” in referring to a wife. Plautus’s Casina includes a related dialogue between the husband Lysidamus and his servant Olympio:

Lysidamus: What’s that? Who are you arguing with, Olympio?

Olympio: With the same woman you are always arguing with.

Lysidamus: With my wife?

Olympio: What wife are you talking about? You’re like a hunter:
day and night you spend your life with a bitch.

{ Lysidamus: quid istuc est? quicum litigas, Olympio?

Olympio: cum eadem qua tu semper.

Lysidamus: cum uxoren mea?

Olympio: quam tu mi uxorem? quasi uenator tu quidem es:
dies ac noctes cum cane aetatem exigis. }[2]

In contrast to myths of patriarchy, men throughout history have been terrorized and traumatized at the thought of a domineering, barking wife. No amount of money can compensate a husband for being married to a “rabid bitch {rabiosa femina canes}.”[3]

Classicists, medievalists, and other literary scholars have tended to trivialize men’s voices expressing marital horrors and men’s sexed protest. Smugly smearing men for “misogyny” is no way to understand truthfully women’s and men’s intimately related lives throughout human history. Men often remain silent about important aspects of their lives because they sense that their voices won’t encounter compassionate, attentive listening, but will only prompt vicious personal attacks on them. Meninist literary criticism takes men’s voices seriously in their protests about women and gender. That’s merely humane practice. If you’re not a meninist, you’re a bigot. You’re the hater that you imagine men to be.

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[1] Plautus, The Braggart Soldier {Miles Gloriosus}, vv. 685-700, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from De Melo (2011). Subsequent quotes from Plautus are similarly from the edition of De Melo (2011). The subsequent quote above is Miles Gloriosus, vv. 678-81. For Miles Gloriosus, the Latin text of Leo (1895) and the English translation of Riley (1912) are freely available through Perseus. Married women {matronae} in Plautus’s plays are “constantly nagging battleaxes,” with the exception of the warmly receptive Alcmene in Amphitryon. De Melo (2011) p. xxxviii.

[2] Plautus, Casina, vv. 317-20. For Casina, the Latin text of Leo (1895) and the English translation of Riley (1912) are freely available through Perseus.

[3] Plautus, The Two Menaechmuses {Menaechmi}, v. 837. One Menaechmus brother, acting mad, refers to his brother’s wife as a “rabid bitch {rabiosa femina canes}.”

Throughout history, men have been commonly been described as dogs. In Plautus’s Amphitryon, Mercury in the guise of Sosia suggests that Alcmene regards Amphitryon like a dog: “She’s as happy to greet him as she would be to greet a dog {exspectatum eum salutat magis hau quicquam quam canem}.” Amphitryon, v. 680.

Braund interprets abstractly husbands’ concerns about wealthy wives:

So here we have it: it’s all about money and power. The uxor dotata {wife with a dowry} is resented because her money gives her more freedom and independence than is acceptable to the male ego.

Braund (2005) p. 48. One could call Braund’s generic characterization of “the male ego” as misandristic or anti-meninist. In Plautus’s plays, the money a wife brings to a marriage isn’t enough to compensate for her being a domineering, barking wife from her husband’s perspective. Why should acknowledging that specific literary representation not be acceptable to the female and male egos of today’s literary scholars?

[image] Video recording of “What Can You Do With A Man?” Song from the 1938 Broadway play The Boys from Syracuse (music by Richard Rogers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart, and book by George Abbott). This recording is from the 1963 Off-Broadway re-staging. The Boys from Syracuse is based in William Shakespeare’s The Comedy of Errors, which is based on Plautus’s The Two Menaechmuses {Menaechmi}. Via YouTube.


Braund, Susanna Morton. 2005. “Marriage, Adultery, and Divorce in Roman Comic Drama.” Ch. 3 (pp. 39-70) in Smith, Warren S., ed. Satiric Advice on Women and Marriage. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

De Melo, Wolfgang, ed. and trans. 2011. Plautus. Amphitryon, The Comedy of Asses, The Pot of Gold, The Two Bacchises, The Captives, in Loeb Classical Library 60; Casina, The Casket Comedy, Curculio, Epidicus, The Two Menaechmuses, in Loeb Classical Library 61; The Merchant, The Braggart Soldier, The Ghost, The Persian, in Loeb Classical Library 163. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Leo, Friedrich, ed. 1895. Plauti Comoediae. Berolini: Weidmann.

Riley, Henry T. 1912. The Comedies of Plautus. London: G. Bell & Sons.

Matthew of Vendôme’s Milo: poetic justice for low-status men

According to mythic medievalism, a medieval lord had the right to sleep with any woman in his realm before any other man did. That’s known as the “right of the first night {jus primae noctis},” “right of the lord {droit du seigneur},” or “right of the thigh {droit de cuissage}.” It’s an ideological fabrication like medieval use of chastity belts, medieval belief that the world is flat, and patriarchy and misogyny.[1] In behavioral reality, women generally find high-status men more sexually attractive than low-status men. That makes low-status men vulnerable to an “alpha male” gaining sexual opportunities with the low-status man’s girlfriend or wife. In France about the year 1165, the cleric Matthew of Vendôme in his Latin comedy Milo narrated the low-status man Milo prevailing through poetic justice against the king who was sleeping with his wife.

In composing Milo, Matthew of Vendôme apparently drew upon the ancient Seven Sages corpus. Within that corpus, a story known as Senescalcus tells of an Egyptian king who was extremely fat. He was thought to be a frequent, actively receptive homosexual.[2] His seneschal advised that the labor of having semen-giving sexual intercourse with women would bring him to a healthy weight in six months. With men’s characteristic solicitous towards women, the sexually naive king rejected that health treatment for fear that he would crush a woman. Hence the seneschal put the king on a harsh diet of barley bread and water. He also squeezed the king’s body by wrapping him tightly in a sheet. After some time, these cruel treatments reduced the king’s body to a normal weight.

No longer fearing that he would crush a woman in sexual intercourse, the king now sought to have heterosexual intercourse. He offered the seneschal a large sum of money to procure a well-born woman to have sex with him. Throughout history, even high-status men have felt compelled to pay women for sex. The seneschal financially exploited this gender injustice by having his wife have sex with the king and collect the sex payment. The seneschal assured her that it would be only one day of work outside the home and that he would ensure that she would come and go under the cover of darkness.

However, when the seneschal came to take his wife home after she had sex with the king, she refused to leave. The king similarly refused to let her go. Showing his lack of sexual self-esteem, the king had fallen in love with this otherwise-unknown woman who had sex with him for money. Upon learning that this woman was the seneschal’s wife, pimped to him because of the seneschal’s greed, the king banished the seneschal. The king then married the seneschal’s wife. While the pathetic king deserves the reader’s sympathy, Senescalcus emphasizes that the seneschal’s greed led him to disaster.

Within the Seven Sages corpus, another story known as Leo inverts the status-based sexual drama of Senescalcus. In Leo, the king from a lofty place in his palace saw a beautiful woman below. He asked her to come to him to have sex.[3] She replied that she would not because her husband was at home. The king then sent her husband, a soldier, into the violence against men of war. The king subsequently came to the woman’s home. She then handed him a book on laws and judgments concerning adultery. She told him to read it while she went to beautify herself. Reading the book, the king became ashamed at committing the wrong of adultery. He then hurried away from her home. He accidentally left his sandals behind.

When the husband returned from his brutal war assignment, he noticed in his home the king’s sandals. He surmised that his wife was having sex with the king. Terrified, he didn’t say anything, but stopped having sex with her. In medieval Europe, a husband’s sexual obligation to his wife was regarded as a matter of life-and-death importance. The wife complained to her family that her husband wasn’t having sex with her. Her family confronted him. He explained that he saw the king’s sandals in his home and that he didn’t dare have sex with his wife since she was now the king’s lover. The soldier thus expressed internalized sexual subordination to the king.

With the husband’s cooperation, the wife’s family brought him before the king for justice. They charged the husband with not cultivating a field that they had given to him. The husband responded that he was afraid to cultivate the field because he had seen lion tracks there. The king understood this allegory. He explained that a lion entered the field, but did no harm. The king ordered the man to resume cultivating the field. No merely listening and believing even the king, the husband confirmed with his wife that the king didn’t have sex with her. The husband and wife then resumed their loyal marital relationship.

With keen insight into men’s gender position, Matthew of Vendôme about 1165 adapted Leo of the Seven Sages corpus for his Milo. In Milo, the beautiful young woman Afra is the first character to appear:

Worthy Afra is blessed with beauty. Nature’s skillful hands
are dedicated to adding to her grace.

{ Afram forma decens beat, huic natura decori
Artifices studuit apposuisse manus. }[4]

Matthew described Afra like he described Helen of Troy. Paris’s desire for Helen led to the horrific massacre of men in the Trojan War. Yet Afra’s bodily beauty signaled the possibility of a great blessing for a man:

Yes, the honeycomb is hidden, yet what inclination, what joy, how many
delights — about these her face is able to be a prophet.
Well-knowing is the blessed man who sees the features
of her face and who is permitted to touch what he has seen.
He who will be permitted to caress her, warm her, and have the rest
can number himself with the most fortunate.

{ Quis favor, immo favus lateat, que gaudia, quante
Delicie, vultus esse propheta potest.
Argumentose faciei signa beatus
Qui videt, immo cui tangere visa licet;
Cetera cui tractare, fovere, tenere licebit,
Cum fortunatis se numerare potest. }

Not surprisingly, Afra had many wealthy suitors:

While she hastens down a line of men who one at time speak to her,
each fears that he is chided for his extravagant offer.

{ Dum perpendiculo percurrit singula, dici
Prodiga formidat increpitatque manum. }

Buying women, whether explicitly or implicitly, is always a bad bargain for men. Men who believe that their wealth is the best of what they have to offer women don’t appreciate their own seminal blessing.

Afra and Milo married. He was materially poor, but rich in the character of a manly man:

Milo is given to Afra as a husband. He has little fortune,
but with slim wealth he works as a soldier with abundant loyalties.
His poverty doesn’t break him, and anger at his wintry prosperity
doesn’t suppress the honor of his face.
His poverty is softened in turning to his wife’s dignity and image.
The anxiety of the husband can be seen in his face.
Milo soldiers for a living daily. Displaying his
merchandise, he diligently augments his modest wealth.

{ Afre Milo datur coniunx, cui parva facultas
Sed tenui censu militat ampla fides.
Paupertas non frangit eum, non mergit honorem
Vultus irate prosperitatis hiems;
Ad decus, ad speculum sponse dulcescit egestas,
Anxietas viso coniugis ore sapit.
Militat ad victum Milo mercesque diurnas
Exponens modicas sedulus auget opes. }

Money and social status affect enormously men’s access to women. Most men throughout history have been poor, low-status men like Milo. Yet women have loved poor, low-status men for their intrinsic value as men. With little more than the comforting thought that their wives appreciate their labors, most men have worked hard and fruitfully throughout history.

The king fell in love with Milo’s beautiful wife Afra. Backed by his wealth and power, he begged Afra for sex. She consented. While Milo was working in the field to grow produce, the king was plowing Milo’s wife at home. She enjoyed her affair with the king. Not surprisingly, she grew cold and domineering toward Milo. He wondered why his marital relationship had gone bad. He was filled with sorrow and felt beaten down. But then Milo remembered Afra’s beauty. He could not imagine that a beautiful women could do ugly deeds:

When Milo recalls Afra’s beauty and her keeping of faith,
joys renew his footing, and his sorrow recedes.
For a revered woman, the ray of her beauty argues for her.
It supports Afra’s case, and it acts for the rights of the silent.
If a beautiful woman injures, her beauty speaks for her sinning,
recommends a judgment, and makes her sin pardonable.
The husband’s indignation vanishes when it comes to the wife’s image.
His fear apparently deceives, and his case is abandoned.

{ Dum speciem recolit Afre fideique tenorem
Milo, pedem referunt gaudia, maror abit.
Pro domina radius speciei disputat, Afre
Causam sustentat, iura tacentis agit;
Si formosa nocet, peccanti forma perorat,
Crimen commendat et veniale facit.
Ad sponse speculum perit indignacio sponsi,
Mentiturque metus et sua causa iacet. }

Women’s privileged position explains in part the fifteen-to-one gender protrusion in persons incarcerated under penal punishment. Men find myriad reasons to excuse women’s wrongs, especially if the woman cries.

One day when Milo returned home, Afra and the king were in bed engaging in foreplay. The king fled, not because he feared punishment, but because he was ashamed at what he was doing. Milo stormed in brandishing a sword. He was ready to castrate or kill the man committing adultery with his wife. Milo didn’t find the man. He saw, however, the royal sandals that the king had left behind in his rush to leave. Milo rightly surmised that the king was having sex with his wife. He couldn’t castrate or kill the king. That would be a grave wrong. Moreover, neither of those punishments were applied to wives who committed adultery. Milo instead stopped having sex with Afra. Because medieval society appreciated the joy of sex, Milo’s action was a serious matter: “the husband revoked from his wife her joys {a sponsa revocat sponsus sua gaudia}.”

Afra complained to her brothers that Milo had stopped having sex with her. Her brothers charged him with neglecting his wife. The case was brought before the king. To avoid revealing the king’s adulterous behavior and shaming him, the brothers presented their case allegorically. They argued that this vine-grower was neglecting his vine:

The vine lacks children. Hair and arms that should reach to the sky
instead lie on the earth with impoverished foliage.
She complains to be as motionless as an inactive young widow
and to suffer the sorrowful damages of a sterile life.
She doesn’t birth an heir as fruit, or branches as descendants,
nor a young shoot to redeem the violent death of a mother.

{ Cedit in oppositum spes fructus, vinea languet
Cultorisque sui sentit abesse manus;
Vinea prolis eget crinitaque brachia celo
Debens serpit humi pauperiore coma;
Languida conqueritur viduam torpere iuventam
Et sterilis vite tristia dampna pati:
Non parit heredem fructum ramosve nepotes
Nec matris redimit postuma virga necem; }

The brothers asked the king to order Milo to pay his debt, meaning his marital debt to his wife. Unlike in the modern world, sexless marriage in medieval Europe could not legally occur without the consent of both spouses.

Milo in response spoke allegorically and eloquently about his sexual service to his wife. He was active, attentive, and assiduous in cultivating and caring for the vine. Then he saw lion tracks in his vineyard. He stopped cultivating the vine because he feared for his life. He didn’t want to waste his life foolishly.

The king was impressed with Milo’s eloquence. The king in turn knew his “crime {scelus}.” He recognized that he was the lion in the allegory of the vine. The king ordered Milo to return in peace and cultivate his vine. He assured Milo that he would never again see lion tracks in his vineyard. The king declared:

May the vine sprout forth fruit on its branches, and
may the vineyard pledge to be united to its cultivator.

{ Pullulet in ramos vitis fructumque propinet
Vinea cultori conciliata suo. }

Responding to the allegory of the vine, the king replaced adultery with the unity of husband and wife. That’s poetic justice.

Milo was happy with the king’s decision. Milo forgave his wife, and she once again appreciated him:

Applause returns from exile. The integrity of love
revives — unity of mind, faithful loyalty.
Anger cools, and love expands. Afra, who at first
was pleasing to her husband, after this can be more pleasing.
Thus with their minds united as one, they rejoice
to enjoy in the course of life more prosperity.

{ Plausus ab exilio remeat, respirat amoris
Integritas, mentis unio, fida fides;
Ira tepescit, amor exuberat, Afra marito
Grata prius post hoc gracior esse potest:
Sic dum mentis eos confederat unio, gaudent
Vitae curriculo prosperiore frui. }

In concluding Milo, Matthew of Vendôme insisted, “I do not adorn my speech with falsehoods {non falero falsum}.” That’s true. Respect for men, even for low-status men, promotes happiness and prosperity.

With Milo, Matthew of Vendôme greatly amplified Leo of the Seven Sages corpus. In its story of men’s sexual-status dynamics, Leo created a bland soldier to take the place of the greedy, cruel seneschal in the related Seven Sages’s Senescalcus. Matthew gave the low-status soldier of Leo much more human vibrancy and added greater insight into men’s gender position.

Meninism is the radical notion that men are human beings. While meninism wasn’t a school of critical thought in medieval Europe, Matthew of Vendôme’s Milo can be rightly regarded as a seminal work of proto-meninist literature.[5]

man climbing out of a sewer

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[1] On the chastity belts that medieval husbands allegedly used to prevent their being cuckolded, Classen (2007). The myth of the flat earth is more understandable than modern myths about rape. On the former, Russell (1991). On the myth of the “right of the first night {jus primae noctis},” “right of the lord {droit du seigneur},” or “right of the thigh {droit de cuissage},” Boureau (1998). Elites seem to have intentionally created these myths, along with the myth that elite Roman women didn’t find Roman gladiators sexually attractive.

[2] In the eastern part of the Seven Sages corpus, a story called Balneator is an earlier version of Senescalcus. A bathhouse-keeper, a prince, and the bathhouse-keeper’s wife are the principal figures in Balneator. They correspond to the seneschal, the king, and the seneschal’s wife in Senescalcus. The prince in Balneator isn’t characterized as homosexual, but he’s so fat that he can’t see his penis. Moreover, the bathhouse-keeper describes the prince as being sexually impotent. The prince pays the bathhouse-keeper to bring him a beautiful woman. The bathhouse keeper brings his own wife in the expectation that the prince wouldn’t be able to have sex with her. But the prince and the wife have enjoyable sex. The bathhouse-keeper, seeing his wife having sex with the prince, orders her to go home. She, however, insists on staying for the night, as they originally agreed. The bathhouse-keeper then hanged himself. The suicide rate for men is about four times that for women.

For Balneator in the eastern Seven Sages corpus, Hilka (1912) v. 1, pp. xxiv-v (table of manuscripts), pp. 20-1 (Latin text). For an English translation of Balneator from The Book of the Wiles and Fabrications of Women {El Libro de los Engaños e los Asayamientos de las Mugeres}, Keller (1956) pp. 29-30. El Libro de los Engaños was translated from Arabic into Spanish in 1253 at the request of Frederick of Castile, the brother of King Alfonso X (Alfonso the Wise). Here’s a listing of the stories in that book, which is also known as Sendebar. For a Hebrew version with English translation, Epstein (1967) pp. 209-17.

For Senescalcus in the western Seven Sages corpus, Paris (1876) pp. 9-11, Speer (1989) p. 77, Haro Cortés (2015), and Speer & Foehr-Janssens (2017). Senescalcus, along with Canis, Aper, and Avis, are the only stories shared between the eastern and western parts of the Seven Sages corpus. Here’s an extensive bibliographic reference on western versions of The Seven Sages of Rome {Les Sept Sages de Rome}. Speer asserted:

Seemingly extraneous details, like the reputed homosexuality of the King of Egypt and the strange cure that makes him heterosexual, or reawakens his heterosexual appetites, divert our attention from the greedy seneschal whose dual betrayal anchors the plot and provides the moral the queen wishes to emphasize.

Speer (2014) p. 194. These details show the value of heterosexuality to men, just as the experience of the seneschal’s wife indicates the value of heterosexuality to women. The redactor of this version (K manuscript) apparently sought to dampen the anti-meninism of Senescalcus. Matthew of Vendôme’s Milo went further in that same direction.

[3] Leo is included only in the eastern part of the Seven Sages corpus. For the Latin version, Hilka (1912) pp. 5-6; for an English translation of Leo from El Libro de los Engaños, Keller (1956) pp. 21-2. Leo draws on the account of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11-12) with the Uriah-letter motif as well as with the king looking down and seeing a beautiful woman that he desires.

[4] Matthew of Vendôme {Matheus Vindocinensis}, Milo, vv. 9-10, Latin text from Munari (1982) pp. 59-72, my English translation, benefiting from that of Crawford (1977), pp. 51-61. For a critical edition with more extensive commentary, Busdraghi (1976). For a freely available Latin text that is quite good, Haupt (1834) pp. 19-28.

Milo has survived in two manuscripts: Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS 303, f. 155-158, and Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, MS 312, f. 27-30. Milo is thought to have been composed between 1160 and 1170. Crawford (1977) p. 44.

Matthew styled Milo as a classical work. In a prologue, he invokes his muse Thalia and declares:

I sing of Milo of Constantinople.
I sing playful Greek with a Roman song.

{ De Milone cano constantinopolitano,
Carmine Romano ludicra Greca cano. }

Milo, vv. 5-6. The classical Roman plays of Plautus and Terence were known as “plays in Greek clothes {fabula palliata}.” Matthew again links Milo to Constantinople in vv. 253-4. Matthew thus emphasizes that his source is Eastern, e.g. Leo of the Seven Sages corpus.

Many other works of Matthew of Vendôme have survived, including his Art of Writing Verse {Ars Versificatoria} and his Tobias. Gronbeck-Tedesco (1980) sees in Milo a connection between medieval rhetoric and drama. Other Latin comedies, e.g. Babio and Geta, have much more dialogue than Milo. For a comparison of narrative shares in the medieval Latin comedies, Crawford (1977) p. 385.

Subsequent quotes from Milo are similarly sourced. Those above are vv. 33-8 (Yes, the honeycomb is hidden…), 41-2 (While she hastens down a line of men…), 43-50 (Milo is given to Afra…), 103-110 (When Milo recalls Afra’s beauty…), 155 (the husband revoked from his wife her joys), 175-81 (The vine lacks children…), 221 (crime), 241-2 (The king was impressed with Milo’s eloquence…), 247-52 (Applause returns from exile…), 253 (I do not adorn my speech with falsehoods).

[5] Anti-meninism has become deeply entrenched in medieval scholarship. For example, the special issue of Narrative Culture on the Seven Sages tradition (Fall 2020, vol. 7, no. 2) is thoroughly anti-meninist. For an overview, Reynders & Sleiderink (2020). Consider this “reasoning” with respect to the Seven Sages’ frame story of the queen falsely accusing the king’s son of raping her:

This type of story implies a deeply misogynistic argument for rape culture: every accusation of rape could be the result of a woman’s invention, used to hide uncontrollable female lust. This way of reasoning can give substance to the opinion according to which all accusations of rape are fictitious or deserve to be treated as such.

Foehr-Janssens (2020) p. 165. Such totalitarian claims about “this type of story” are part of the dominant, censorious ideology that supports the fifteen-to-one gender protrusion in persons incarcerated, as well as public ignorance and bigotry concerning rape. The Seven Sages corpus surely isn’t an argument for modern, hateful rape-culture culture, nor for treating all accusations of rape as fictitious. The Seven Sages corpus should help readers to appreciate a medieval culture that took seriously the serious problem of false accusations of rape.

[images] (1) Older man handing a bird to a younger man in agricultural work. Photo (excerpt) by Rex Gary Schmidt, an employee of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Made between 1950 and 1972. Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Three Austrian men working in iron mines in Minnesota in 1911. Photo (excerpt) by F.L. Washburn of the Agricultural Experiment Station, Anthony Park, MN. Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Sculpture of Čumil, a sewer worker in Bratislava, Slovakia. Installed in 1994. Photo by Dennis Jarvis, who shared it under a Creative Commons BY-SA-2.0 license.


Boureau, Alain. 1998. The Lord’s First Night: the myth of the droit de cuissage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Translation by Lydia G. Cochrane of Boureau, Alain. 1995. Le droit de cuissage: la fabrication d’un mythe (XIIIe-XXe siècle). Paris: Albin Michel.

Busdraghi, Paola, ed. and trans. (Italian). 1976. “De Afra et Milone.” Pp. 168-195 in Bertini, Ferruccio, ed. Commedie latine del XII e XIII secolo. Vol. 1. Genova: Università di Genova.

Classen, Albrecht. 2007. The Medieval Chastity Belt: a myth-making process. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

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

Epstein, Morris. 1967. Tales of Sendebar = Misle sendebar: an edition and translation of the Hebrew version of the Seven Sages based on unpublished manuscripts. Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America.

Foehr-Janssens, Yasmina. 2020. “Misogyny and the Trends of a European Success: The French Prose Roman des sept sages de Rome.” Narrative Culture. 7 (2): 165-180.

Gronbeck-Tedesco, John L. 1980. “An Application of Medieval Rhetorical Invention to Dramatic Composition: Matthew of Vendôme’s Ars versificatoria and Milo.” Theatre Journal. 32 (2): 235-247.

Haro Cortés, Marta. 2015. “De Balneator del Sendebar a Senescalus de los Siete sabios: del exemplo al relato de acción.” Revista De Poética Medieval. 29: 145-175.

Haupt, Moritz. 1834. Exempla Poesis Latinae Medii Aevi. Vindobonae: Gerold.

Hilka, Alfons. 1912. Historia Septem sapientum I: eine bisher unbekannte lateinische Übersetzung einer orientalischen Fassung der Sieben weisen Meister (Mischle Sendabar). Heidelberg: Carl Winter.

Keller, John Esten, trans. 1956. The Book of the Wiles of Women. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Munari, Franco, ed. 1982. Mathei Vindocinensis Opera. Vol. 2: Piramus et Tisbe. Milo. Epistule. Tobias. Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura.

Paris, Gaston. 1876. Deux Redactions du Roman des Sept Sages de Rome. Paris: Firmin Didot.

Reynders, Anne, and Remco Sleiderink. 2020. “Shades of Misogyny: Medieval Versions of the Seven Sages Tradition from a Gender Perspective.” Narrative Culture. 7 (2): 119-123.

Russell, Jeffrey Burton. 1991. Inventing the Flat Earth: Columbus and modern historians. New York: Praeger.

Speer, Mary B. 1989. Le Roman des sept sages de Rome: a critical edition of the two verse redactions of a twelfth-century romance. Lexington, KY: French Forum.

Speers, Mary B. 2014. “What Ails the Sodomite King of Egypt? ‘Senescalcus’ in the K Sept Sages de Rome.” Pp. 193-208 in Uhlig, Marion, and Yasmina Foehr-Janssens, eds. 2014. D’Orient en Occident les recueils de fables enchâssées avant les ‘Mille et une nuits’ de Galland (‘Barlaam et Josaphat’, ‘Calila et Dimna’, ‘Disciplina clericalis’, ‘Roman des sept sages’). Turnhout: Brepols.

Speer, Mary Blakely, and Yasmina Foehr-Janssens. 2017. Le Roman des Sept Sages de Rome: édition bilingue des deux rédactions en vers français. Paris: Honoré Champion.

Floire et Blancheflor: roman idyllique from ancient Greek romance

Sexual symmetry distinguishes ancient Greek romance from other classical literature. For example, Longus’s ancient Greek romance Daphnis and Chloe tells of two adolescents who grow up together and come to love each other. She’s a shepherd, and he’s a goatherd. While not dogmatically identical, Chloe and Daphnis are sexually symmetric in social status, emotional response, instrumental activity, life experiences, and their valuation of each other’s lives. Daphnis and Chloe and other ancient Greek romances are rare, classical works showing meninist concern for gender equality. The twelfth-century romance Floire et Blancheflor apparently drew upon ancient Greek romance.[1] Widely distributed and adapted in medieval Europe, Floire et Blancheflor supported an idyllic vision of gender equality. That vision, so painfully missing from modern gender orthodoxy, deserves to be disseminated and nurtured.

parents holding Floire and Blancheflor

Floire and Blancheflor were together from birth. Floire was the son of the pagan king Felix. While raiding Galicia, King Felix killed Blancheflor’s father and captured Blancheflor’s mother. He gave Blancheflor’s mother to his wife as a slave. Both Felix’s wife and Blancheflor’s mother gave birth on Palm Sunday. Their children were named after flowers: Floire and Blancheflor, respectively. Blancheflor’s mother raised Floire:

She raised him very properly
and guarded him attentively
just as her own daughter, and no one knew
which of the two was dearer to her.
Together the children were raised
such that each from two years of age
never separately ate
nor drank, except for their breast-feeding.
Together they slept in one bed.
They grazed and were watered as a couple.

{ El le nouri molt gentement
et garda ententivement
plus que sa fille, et ne savoit
le quel des .II. plus cier avoit.
Ensamble nori les enfans
tant que cascuns ot bien .II. ans ;
onques ne lor sevra mangier
ne boire, fors seul l’alaitier.
Ensamble en un lit les couçoit,
andeus paissoit et abevroit. }[2]

Blancheflor and Floire lived together in pastoral simplicity and gender equality. These two children probably played with the same toys, with Floire not being specially trained with toy soldiers to kill men. They probably wore the same color clothes. In other words, Floire was not projected out into the vast emptiness of sky and sea by being distinctively clothed in blue.

Floire and Blancheflor as children
When the children reached seven years of age, King Felix sent Floire away for schooling under a master-teacher. In medieval schools, boys were often beaten and abused. Moreover, in medieval sex-segregated schooling, boys were taught gendered lessons inculcating subservience to women. Using an important method for eliciting compassion, Floire refused to participate in sex-segregated learning:

The king commanded his son
to learn, and that child, crying,
responded: “Sir, what will Blancheflor
do? And will she not also learn?
Without her I cannot learn,
nor will I know how to speak my lessons.”
The king responded: “For your love,
Blancheflor will also be taught.”
And so the couple went to school.
They were very devoted to the word.
Each of the two learned so much
from the other that it was marvelous.

{ Li rois commande son enfant
qu’il aprenge, et cil en plourant
li respont: “Sire, que fera
Blanceflors? Et dont n’aprendra?
Sans li ne puis jou pas aprendre
ne ne saroie lechon rendre.”
Li rois respont: “Por vostre amor
ferai aprendre Blanceflor.”
Es les vos andeus a escole!
Cius fu molt liés de la parole.
Cascuns d’aus .II. tant aprendoit
pour l’autre que merveille estoit. }

Formal education is now much more important for earning a living than it was in medieval Europe. In the U.S. today, women outnumber men among those receiving undergraduate degrees by 41%.[3] Yet some U.S. colleges still categorically exclude men from undergraduate study. Those female-exclusive, sex-segregated colleges deprive men and women of important educational opportunities. Women today should denounce sex segregation and advocate to learn with men, just as Floire implored to learn with Blancheflor.

Floire and Blancheflor at school

Book learning didn’t lead Blancheflor and Floire to feel gender-aggrieved. It nurtured their love:

As soon as Nature had allowed,
love became their concern.
In learning they had good sense
for retaining what was most fitting.
They read pagan books
where they heard talk of love.
In this they greatly delighted,
in the ingenuity of love that they found.
These readings made them hasten more
to another sense of loving one another
from the infant love
that had been their concern.
Together they read and they learned,
and the joy of love accompanied them.
When they returned from school,
one kissed the other and they embraced.

{ Au plus tost que souffri Nature
ont en amer mise lor cure.
En aprendre avoient boin sens,
du retenir millor porpens.
Livres lisoient paienors
u ooient parler d’amors.
En çou forment se delitoient,
es engiens d’amor qu’il trovoient.
Cius lires les fist molt haster
en autre sens d’aus entramer
que de l’amor de noureture
qui lor avoit esté a cure.
Ensamle lisent et aprendent,
a la joie d’amor entendent.
Quant il repairent de l’escole,
li uns baise l’autre et acole. }

Good education is priceless. It need not be expensive, but it must be thoughtfully sought.

Seeing how much Floire and Blancheflor loved each other, King Felix was concerned that they would marry. He didn’t want his son to marry a non-royal Christian girl. He planned to kill Blancheflor. His wife, however, convinced him to send Floire away instead. King Felix falsely promised that Blancheflor would join Floire in two weeks. She was instead sold to slave-traders who took her to Babylon. There the emir of Babylon bought her for seven times her weight in gold. Men value women very highly.

Back in Felix’s realm, a magnificent fake tomb was prepared to support the fiction that Blancheflor had died. The engraving on the tomb declared Blancheflor and Floire’s mutual love:

Here lies sweet Blancheflor
that Floire loved with passion.

{ Here lyth swete Blauncheflour,
That Florys lovyd par amoure. }[4]

As this clever couplet indicates, Blancheflor loved Floire with passion, and Floire loved Blancheflor with passion. Their love was an equal love like that of ancient Greek romance.

Blancheflor’s mother told Floire that Blancheflor had died. She showed him her fake tomb. Then Floire wanted to be dead just as he believed Blancheflor was. Just in time his mother stopped him from killing himself. She told him the truth: Blancheflor had been sold to foreign slave-traders. Floire immediately declared that he would search for her until he found her and not return until he regained her. King Felix, repenting of what he had done, equipped Floire lavishly for this quest.

Floire went to the port from which the slave-traders had left with Blancheflor. He didn’t know where to go from there. At the port inn where he stayed, he ate little and was mostly silent. He lamented losing Blancheflor. The hostess observed:

The other day I saw another like you,
a young woman Blancheflor,
so she called herself to me.
She resembled you, by my faith,
and well might have been the same age,
and resembled you in appearance.
She likewise ate pensively
and lamented about her beloved
Floire, by whom she was beloved.
To tear her away from him, she was sold.
For fifteen days she was here.
Her laments were continually with tears.
Floire her beloved she lamented,
and night and day for him she cried.
Except for so saying, she was silent all days.

{ Autretel vi jou l’autre jor
de damoisele Blanceflor
(Ensi se noma ele a moi):
el vos resanle, en moie foi,
bien poés estre d’un eage,
si vos resanle du visage.
Ensement au mangier pensoit
et un sien ami regretoit,
Flore, cui amie ele estoit;
por lui tolir on le vendoit.
Ele fut çaiens .XV. jors,
ses regrés fu adés en plors.
Flore son ami regretoit,
et nuit et jor por lui ploroit.
Fors de cest dit tos jors ert mue. }

Women are silenced by being deprived of men’s love. The hostess perceptively observed:

You here are alike in all things
of appearance and of mourning.
But you are a man and she is a woman.

{ Thou art ilich here of alle thinge,
Of semblant and of mourning,
But thou art a man and she is a maide. }

Just like heroes in ancient Greek romance, Blancheflor and Floire were sexually symmetric. Their voices were much alike when active and when silenced. When Floire heard the hostess’s news of Blancheflor, he spoke profusely in thanks. He ate and drank in celebration. Then he prepared to follow Blancheflor to Babylon.

On the way to Babylon, three other strangers told Floire of seeing a young women named Blancheflor. They observed that, like him, she was mournful and pensive and lamented a lost beloved. They said she also looked like him. Two even suggested that he and she were kin. In fact, the toll-man Daire’s wife Licoris said to her husband:

“Sir,” said Licoris, “by my faith,
it seems to me, when I look at him,
that he is beautiful Blancheflor.
I’m certain that he is her twin.
That face, that body, and that resemblance
like her he had from infancy.
I believe that he was born of the same parent,
because they marvelously resemble each other.
She was here fifteen days ago.
Her comforts were lamenting and crying.
She lamented Floire, her beloved,
and night and day she cried for him.
Then from here she was taken
and the emir purchased her.
This is her brother and her beloved.”

{ Sire, fait Licoris, par foi,
çou m’est avis, quant jou le voi,
que çou soit Blanceflor la bele.
Jou cuit qu’ele est sa suer jumele:
tel vis, tel cors et tel sanlant
com ele avoit a cest enfant.
Jou cuit qu’il sont proçain parant,
car a merveille sont sanlant.
Ele fu çaiens .XV. jours;
ses confors fu regrés et plors.
Floire, un sien ami, regretoit,
et nuit et jor por lui ploroit,
quant ele de çaiens torna
et li amirals l’acata.
Cix est ses frere u ses ami. }[5]

These three encounters on Floire’s way to Babylon all attest to Blancheflor and Floire’s sexual symmetry. Floire rewarded these strangers lavishly for providing news of his beloved Blancheflor. He then continued on to Babylon.

The toll-man Daire advised Floire against attempting to rescue Blancheflor. She was being held in the emir’s harem in a great tower in strongly walled Babylon. Each of the one hundred and forty young woman in the harem was confined in a separate room. Nine vicious eunuchs carefully guarded the young women. The young women in the tower were allowed to see no men other than the emir and eunuchs:

No servant may go in there
that has a penis in his pants —
neither by day or by night,
unless he be castrated like a capon.
And at the entrance is a gatekeeper.
He is neither fool nor coward.
If there comes any man
within that particular fortress,
unless it be by his permission,
the gatekeeper will both beat him and castrate him.

{ Ne mai no seriaunt be therinne
That in his brech bereth the ginne,
Neither bi dai ne bi night,
But he be ase capoun dight.
And at the gate is a gateward,
He nis no fol ne no coward;
Yif ther cometh ani man
Withinne that ilche barbican,
But hit be bi his leve
He wille him bothe bete and reve. }[6]

Castration culture is intimately connected to women’s captivity. If you seek women’s liberation, work to abolish castration culture.

Each year the emir had a different woman as his wife. He would parade all the young women of his harem one by one past a stream in his lush garden. That stream would test their virginity. If the stream turned muddy and agitated, the woman would be judged to be “befouled” by a man and executed for her impurity. That’s horrific historical witness to disparagement of men’s sexuality.

After being tested for not having intimately loved a man, the young women would then walk under a blossoming tree. The woman upon whom a blossom fell would be the emir’s wife that year. After a year of marriage, there would be no divorce trial in which a gynocentric family-court judge would deprive the husband of his children and most of his wealth. Instead, the wife would simply be beheaded. Then another young woman of the harem would be selected as a new wife for the emir. Because the emir wanted to marry Blancheflor, he procured magic to ensure that this year the blossom fell on her.

Determined to rescue his beloved Blancheflor, Floire with guile as impressive as that of any woman contrived to penetrate the emir’s harem tower. First Floire pretended to be a rich foreign architect intending to build such a tower in his land. He thus carefully surveyed the tower. Then Floire played chess with the tower’s gatekeeper for three straight days. Floire contrived to give the gatekeeper much gold and a precious cup for his winnings and his friendship at the chessboard. Floire in this way secured the gatekeeper’s allegiance. With Floire dressed in a red shirt, the gatekeeper smuggled him into the tower in a basket of roses intended for Blancheflor.

Unfortunately, the basket of roses was mistakenly delivered to another young woman named Claris. She was the king of Germany’s daughter. When Floire arose from the flowers to embrace his beloved Blancheflor, Claris screamed. Realizing that he had been delivered to the wrong woman — apparently a man-hating woman — Floire feared for his safety. He dove back into the basket of roses.

Floire emerges from basket and scares Claris

Claris soon realized that this strange man looked like her friend Blancheflor. She told the many young woman who ran to her aid when she screamed that she was merely startled by a butterfly that had flew from the basket of roses. Claris, a loyal and loving woman, deeply appreciated men. She saved Floire from being exposed and killed. She brought him to his beloved Blancheflor. Floire and Blancheflor then enjoyed many nights naked in bed together in the emir’s harem tower.

Blancheflor wasn’t a passive medieval woman like the modern academic stereotype. Her vigorous activity with Floire at night frequently made her sleepy in the morning. When one morning Claris came to summon Blancheflor to go with her to serve the emir with water basins, Blancheflor said she was coming. Then she fell asleep. The emir inquired about the lovely Blancheflor. Claris claimed that Blancheflor was continuing to read a book that she had been reading all night to promote the emir’s well-being. The emir was pleased with Blancheflor’s devotion to him.

The next morning, Claris and Blancheflor were again required to serve the emir with water basins. Blancheflor again said she was coming and fell asleep in Floire’s embrace. This time Claris mistakenly told the emir that Blanchefor was coming. The emir sent his chamberlain to hurry her along. The chamberlain peered into Blancheflor’s room:

He seemed to see there
Blancheflor and beautiful Claris.
Why shouldn’t he have thought that?
Neither Floire’s face nor his chin had
a beard, and no mustache was visible.
The tower didn’t have a young woman
who in appearance was more beautiful than Floire.

{ vis li est qu’il i a veü
Blanceflor et bele Gloris.
Por coi ne li fust il avis?
K’a face n’a menton n’avoit
barbe, ne grenons n’i paroit:
en la tor n’avoit damoisele
qui de visage fust plus bele. }

With Claris not present, the chamberlain reported to the emir:

Sir, a marvel have I seen!
Never was love so grand as
as has Blancheflor toward Claris
and she toward her. It’s something to see.
Together they sleep sweetly,
and they have embraced closely.
Mouth to mouth and face to face
they have embraced, and arm in arm.
From compassion I didn’t want to wake them,
for fear of causing them too much suffering.
They are well set in resting together.

{ Sire, merveilles ai veü!
Ainc mais si grans amors ne fu
com a Blanceflor vers Gloris
et ele a li, ce m’est avis.
Ensanle dorment doucement,
acolé s’ont estroitement,
et bouce a bouce et face a face
s’ont acolé, et brace a brace.
De pitié nes voel esvillier,
trop les cremoie a travillier.
Molt lor siet a gesir ensanle. }

The emir was outraged. He thought that Claris had stolen Blancheflor’s love from him.[7]

The emir grabbed his sword and went straight to Blancheflor’s room. There he saw the two lovers sleeping sweetly in the bright daylight:

When he saw them, he was all distressed.
Blancheflor, his beloved, he knew well,
but the other he didn’t know.
Floire was resting with his beloved.
His face didn’t have any indication
that he was a man, for his chin
didn’t have a beard, nor did he have a mustache.
Except for Blancheflor, there wasn’t such a beautiful
young woman in the tower.
The emir looked at him and knew nothing.

{ Quant il les vit, tous fu maris;
Blanceflor connut bien, s’amie,
mais l’autre connut n’avoit mie.
Flores o s’amie gisoit;
en son vis nul sanlant n’avoit
qu’il fust hom, car a son menton
n’avoit ne barbe ne grenon;
fors Blanceflor n’avoit tant bele
en la tor nule damoisele.
Li rois le voit, nel connut mie. }

The ignorant emir put the matter to a test:

“Uncover the chests,” he said
to the chamberlain, “of these two young women.
First let us see their breasts
and then we will wake them.”
They were uncovered. It was apparent
that one was a man who was lying there.

{ “Descoevre, fait il, les poitrines,
au cambrelenc, des .II. mescines;
les mameles primes verrons
et puis si les esvillerons.”
Cil les descoevre, s’aparut
que cil est hom qui illuec jut. }

The learned today learn that breasts don’t identity a woman any more than a penis and testicles identify a man. But the emir was ignorant. He thought he could distinguish between man and woman. He thus identified Floire as a man. He intended to kill them both. That’s unusual in the oppressive history of penal punishment being predominately directed at persons with penises.

Before killing Floire and Blancheflor, the emir sought to hold a trial. That’s how accusations of serious crimes were commonly handled before the recent turn to social-media stoning. Blancheflor and Floire each took responsibility for their sexual crime and sought to exonerate the other. But the emir, acting as judge, resolved to kill them both. Then a king in attendance proposed a plea bargain. He suggested that the emir not kill them if Floire would fully reveal how he, an uncastrated man, had managed to penetrate the emir’s harem. Floire added the proviso of pardon for those who had helped him. The emir agreed. He thus heard Floire’s tale. Floire concluded his tale by falling at the emir’s feet and saying that he would rather be killed than live without Blancheflor.

Floire and Blancheflor gain emir's pardon

The emir was movingly impressed with Floire and Blancheflor’s love for each other. He made Floire a knight. Then he provided a lavish wedding for them. In addition, the emir chose to marry Claris. Blancheflor pleaded that the emir not behead Claris after a year, but that he take her as his wife for life. So the emir did. Floire then received news that his father the king had died. The realm sought Floire to succeed to his father’s throne. Floire and Blancheflor thus sailed back from Babylon to reign happily together in Spain.

Despite too many wives dominating their husbands, Blancheflor and Floire undoubtedly had a sexually symmetric marriage — a conjugal partnership. Like the protagonists of ancient Greek romance, Floire and Blancheflor were sexually symmetric from childhood. Why wouldn’t they remain sexually symmetric as they grew old together? The medieval romance Floire et Blancheflor sparkles with the inspiring meninist vision of ancient Greek romance.[8]

Floire and Blancheflor have a baby

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Lot-Borodine identified five Old French romances composed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as romans idylliques. She declared that the first roman idyllique is the ancient Greek romance Daphnis and Chloe. Lot-Borodine (1913) pp. 3-5. Similarly, “The prototype is Daphnis and Chloe.” Hubert (1966) p. 14. But Lot-Borodine concluded:

With regard to the problem of origins, we have noted the impossibility of finding a single source for our romances. Every time we thought we had our hands on this supposed source, it fled before us, unknowable. We have only succeeded in discovering a few motifs, mostly borrowed from oriental fictions or from the folklore of all peoples, motifs which are embedded in the idyllic theme, like ornaments, but do not form the framework.

{ En ce qui concerne le problème des origines, nous avons constaté l’impossibilité de trouver à nos romans une même source. Chaque fois que nous pension savoir mis la main sur cette prétendue source, elle fuyait devant nous, insaisissable. Nous avons réussi seulement à découvrir quelques motifs, empruntés pour la plupart à des fictions orientales ou au folklore de tous les peuples, motifs qui s’incrustent dans le thème idyllique, comme des ornements, mais n’en forment pas la trame. }

Lot-Borodine (1913) p. 267. Sexual symmetry is distinctive to ancient Greek romance. Sexual symmetry isn’t common in literary history or folklore. Konstan (1994).

Floire et Blancheflor has explicit connections to late antiquity. It presents itself as a romance about Charlemagne’s grandparents (the parents of his mother Berthe aux Grands Pieds). That implies a setting late in the seventh century. Estoria de España, a thirteenth-century chronicle written under the direction of King Alfonso X, associates the story of Floire and Blancheflor with the Moors’ conquest of Spain in 711. On the Spanish Chronicle of Floire and Blancheflor {Cronica de Flores y Blancaflor}, Grieve (1997), Segol (2003), and Wacks (2015). The author of Floire et Blancheflor apparently knew The Romance of Apollonius {Roman d’Apollonius} and perhaps knew The Story of Apollonius King of Tyre {Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri}. The Apollonius story probably dates from the late fifth or early sixth century.

According to perceptive critics, ancient Greek romance may have been intended for a young audience. See, e.g. Konstan (1994) Ch. 6. The same has been said for Floire et Blancheflor:

Many romances have heroes who are children, but modern editions of Floris have been especially styled as sentimental juvenilia. … The text might be usefully read as exploring deeper themes of emotional, moral, and sexual development which might have appealed to a younger audience.

Eckert (2012) p. 243.

The transmission of the sexual symmetry of ancient Greek romance to Floire et Blancheflor plausibly occurred through Islamic or Byzantine connections. The Apollonius story is a patterned tale and so represents an artistic key common in the ancient Islamic world. Moreover, Floire et Blancheflor is similar to the story of Ni’ma ibn al-Rabi’ and Nu’m (nights 237-246) in the Arabian Nights. See, e.g. Lyons (2008) vol. 1, pp. 808-27. Much Greek learning was translated into Syriac and Arabic and then entered Europe through Spain. Ideas from ancient Greek romance might also have come into Europe through Byzantine occupations of parts of Italy. More generally, the same current that brought the Panchatantra / Fables of Bidpai to western Europe could have also brought the sexual symmetry of ancient Greek novels to Floire et Blancheflor.

Specific evidence of transmission of the ancient Greek romances to western Europe isn’t know. According to one authority, Eumathios Makrembolites’s twelfth-century Greek (Byzantine) novel Hysmine and Hysminias and Chrétien de Troyes’s twelfth-century Old French romance Cligès:

together may represent the most tangible link that is now recoverable, in the history of literary fiction, from the ideal novels (or ‘romances’) of Greek antiquity to the chivalric tradition that would come to dominate the western Middle Ages.

Beaton (2018) p. 513. Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe and Floire et Blancheflor seem to me a similarly plausible link. The thirteenth-century German poet Konrad Fleck attributed Floire et Blancheflor to Ruoprecht von Orbênt. Beaton lamented:

Perhaps discouragingly, it turns out that the western leader who spent the longest time in the Byzantine capital during the winter of 1147-8 was the German king, Conrad {Conrad III}, a fact that hardly helps explain literary developments in French.

Id. pp. 499-500. Perhaps Conrad III’s court transmitted to Floire et Blancheflor the idea of sexual symmetry from ancient Greek romance that they encountered in Constantinople.

The anonymous lai Espine, probably composed late in the twelfth century, attests to the distinctiveness of sexual symmetry in Floire et Blancheflor. In Espine, a girl and a boy grow up together. She is the queen’s daughter by a previous royal marriage. He is the king’s son by a concubine. These two children were nearly inseparable:

The two children loved each other dearly.
In perfect harmony with each other,
they enjoyed playing together,
and in this way they fell in love with each other,
so that one of them never discovered anything
without sharing it with the other.
The children, as far as I am aware,
had been brought up together.
The girl would accompany the boy,
and the man who had the task of guarding them
permitted them everything,
no forbidding them anything,
neither food nor drink,
except for sharing the same bed.
But this they had no desire to do.

{ Li dui enfant molt s’en entramoient;
Selonc l’entente qu’il avoient
Volentiers ensemble jooient,
Et en tel guise s’entramoient
Que li uns d’eus riens ne savoit,
Par soi jusque l’autre n’avoit.
Norri orent esté ensemble
Li enfant, si con me semble.
Cel(i)e ensemble o lui aloit,
Et cil qui garder les devoit
De trestout lor donoit congié,
Ne de rien ne lor fesoit vié,
Ne de boivre ne de mengier,
Fors seul tant qu’ensemble couchier;
Mes de ce n’orent il pas gré. }

Espine, vv. 29-43, Old French text and English translation (modified slightly) from Burgess & Brook (2007) p. 216-7. Espine parallels Floris et Blancheflour in vv. 33-4 to 225-6; 35 to 722, 40-2 to 193-5, 45-6 to 227-8, respectively. Id. p. 240.

The boy and girl in Espine, however, aren’t sexually symmetric. While Floris and Blancheflour were born on the same day, the boy and girl of Espine are explicitly not of the same age:

The children were both of the same lineage,
but they were not the same age.
The elder was only seven years old.
This was the boy, who was the older of the two.

{ Ambedui erent d’un prage,
Mes n’estoient pas d’un aage;
Ku ainznez n’avoit que .VII. anz,
C’est li vallez qui plus ert granz. }

Espine, vv. 25-8, sourced as above. The Espine of Burgess & Brook (2007) is based on MS S: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, nouvelles acquisitions françaises, 1104, folios 27va-30vb. The Espine of Tobin (1976), in contrast, is based on MS B: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 1553, f. 480va-483ra. The tale is substantial similar in these two manuscript. Burgess & Brook (2007) p. 200. For a freely available English translation of Espine, Donnelly (1998).

[2] Ruoprecht von Orbênt / Robert d’Orbigny (attributed), Floris and Blancheflour {Floire et Blancheflor}, vv. 185-96, Old French text from Leclanche (1980), my English translation, benefiting from that of Hubert (1966), which is based on the Old French edition of Pelan (1956). For an early Old French critical edition, Du Méril (1856). Leighton (1922) is a freely available English translation.

All references here to Floire et Blancheflor are to what’s called the “aristocratic version.” A later Old French version is called the “popular version.” Robert d’Orbigny apparently composed the aristocratic version about 1155-1170. Hubert (1966) p. 19. For Ruoprecht von Orbênt / Robert d’Orbigny as author, Leclanche (2003).

Floire et Blancheflor survives in three nearly whole copies and two fragments. Leclanche (1980) is based on MS A: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 375, f. 247va-254va. Pelan (1956), however, is based on MS B: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 1447, f. 1r-20v.

Floire et Blancheflor was widely distributed in medieval Europe through adaptations into other languages:

Floire et Blancheflor was one of the most popular medieval romances, with a multitude of surviving manuscripts in Old French, Middle English, Low German, Old Icelandic, Old Norse, Ladino, Italian, Middle Dutch, and Old Spanish.

Segol (2003) p. 233. Among many medieval works drawing upon the story, Boccaccio’s Filocolo is based on Floire et Blancheflor. Floire (Flor, Fleur, Floris) and Blancheflor (Blancheflour, Blanchefleur) became names of model lovers:

the names of the two lovers became a legend, a sort of symbol of faithful and unswerving devotion. One finds them cited, over and over again, along with Tristan and Iseult, and Lancelot and Guinevere, as perfect examples of those who loved and suffered for their love, very much as Romeo and Juliet are cited in later days.

Hubert (1966) p. 21.

Subsequent citations to and quotes from Floire et Blancheflor are sourced as above. The quotes are vv. 209-22 (The king commanded his son…), 227-42 (As soon as Nature had allowed…), 1295-1309 (The other day I saw another like you…), 1725-39 (“Sir,” said Licoris…), 2582-8 (He seemed to see there…), 2593-603 (Sir, a marvel have I seen…), 2634-43 (When he saw them, he was all distressed…), 2647-52 (Uncover the chests…).

[3] Calculated for Associate’s degrees and Bachelor’s degrees for school year 2018-19 using data from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 318.10, Degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Selected years, 1869-70 through 2029-30.

While studies of sex differences in communication haven’t addressed the matter, modern presentations of sex differences are often misleading. For example, this Department of Education table shows “percent female” for degrees awarded. Master’s degrees for 2018-19 shows a “percent female” of 60.7%. Put differently, the ratio of women to men earning Master’s degrees is  60.7% / 39.3% = 1.54. Thus 54% more women than men earned Master’s degrees. That means that about a third (0.54/1.54) of women earning Master’s degrees could not have had each their own special beloved man in their graduating class. That’s a terrible gender inequality. Women students should protest and resist such social injustice!

[4] Floris and Blancheflour (Middle English version) vv. 217-8, Middle English text from Kooper (2006), my English modernization, benefiting from that of Eckert (2015). Apparently pleased with these witty verses, the poet repeated them as vv. 265-6. The Middle English Floris and Blancheflour was adapted from the Old French Floire et Blancheflor about the year 1250.

The Middle English poet associated Floris (“belonging to the flower”) and Blancheflour (“white flour”) with color symbolism:

Throughout, the story emphasizes that the red rose is the flower of Floris and the white lily that of Blancheflour. These colors/flowers are found, for example, on the tomb made for Blancheflour and later in the Emir’s garden; both are decorated with trees, one of which has white flowers, the other red. The color symbolism explains as well the curious colors of Floris’ horse, which was half red, half white (lines 365-66).

Kooper (2006), Introduction. The red rose and the white lily were closely associated in medieval Christian thought.

Subsequent quotes from the Middle English Floris and Blancheflour are sourced as above. Those quotes are vv. 419-21 (You here are alike in all things…) and vv. 629-38 (No servant may go in there…).

[5] On Floire’s way to Babylon, the three strangers that mention to him his resemblance to Blancheflor are a merchant (vv. 1459-68), the ferryman (vv. 1459-68), and the toll-man Daire’s wife Licoris (vv. 1725-39).

In medieval Europe, Babylon was the name for Cairo. While much of the geography of Floire et Blancheflor is vague and inconsistent, its description of Babylon is a plausible description of medieval Cairo. Kinoshita (2006) pp. 91-3.

[6] The Middle English version celebrates cunning / ingenuity with frequent use of the associated Middle English word ginne. Barnes (1984) pp. 14-23. In v. 630, ginne is used in its additional meaning of “penis.” That’s a witty invocation of what might be considered a false etymology. Women have long been regarded as superior to men in guile.

[7] Barnes associated the emir with the blocking figure of Greek New Comedy. Barnes (1984) p. 14. A more direct source is likely to be blocking figures in the Roman Latin comedies of Terence and Plautus.

[8] With great loss of personal joy and cultural vitality, literary scholars have deplorably marginalized and ignored meninist literary criticism. No meninist literary critic has ever been included in a major conference of medievalists. That’s not surprising. No persons police boundaries more vigilantly than well-disciplined academics. For all their talk about transgressions, successful literary scholars vigorously promote dominant academic ideology. See, e.g. Kinoshita (2006).

[images] Blancheflor and Floire in illustrations by Eleanor Forescue Brickdale from Leighton (1922). For a fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript of Konrad Fleck’s Flore und Blanscheflur, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, MS Cod. Pal. germ. 362.

Floire and Blancheflor together


Barnes, Geraldine. 1984. “Cunning and Ingenuity in the Middle English Floris and Blauncheflur.” Medium Ævum. 53 (1): 10-25.

Beaton, Roderick. 2018. “Transplanting Culture: from Greek Novel to Medieval Romance.” Ch. 22 (pp. 499-514) in Shawcross, Teresa, and Ida Toth, eds. Reading in the Byzantine Empire and Beyond. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Burgess, Glyn S., Leslie C. Brook, ed. and trans. 2007. French Arthurian Literature. Volume IV: Eleven Old French Narrative Lays. Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer.

Donnelly, Linda Marie Asfodel. 1998. The Anonymous Fairy-Knight Lays: Tydorel, Tyolet, Doon and Espine. M.A. Thesis, University of Alberta.

Du Méril, Édélestand, ed. 1856. Floire et Blanceflor, poèmes du XIIIe siècle publiés d’après les manuscrits. Paris: P. Jannet.

Eckert, Kenneth. 2012. “Growing Up in the Middle English Floris and Blancheflor.” The Explicator. 70 (4): 243-247.

Eckert, Kenneth. 2015. Middle English Romances in Translation: Amis and Amiloun | Athelston | Floris and Blancheflor | Havelok the Dane | King Horn | Sir Degare. Havertown: Sidestone Press.

Grieve, Patricia E. 1997. Floire and Blancheflor and the European Romance. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hubert, Merton Jerome. 1966. The Romance of Floire and Blanchefleur: a French idyllic poem of the twelfth century. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Kinoshita, Sharon. 2006. Medieval Boundaries: rethinking difference in Old French literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

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

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

Leclanche, Jean-Luc, ed. 1980. Floire et Blancheflor. Les Classiques Français du Moyen Âge, 105. Paris: Champion. Published online by ENS of Lyon in the Base de Français Médiéval, last revised 2013-06-01.

Leclanche, Jean-Luc, ed. 2003. Le Conte de Floire et Blanchefleur, nouv. édition critique du texte du manuscrit A (Paris, BNF, fr. 375). Champion Classiques. Moyen Âge, 2. Paris: Champion.

Leighton, Mrs. 1922. The Sweet and Touching Tale of Fleur & Blanchefleur: a mediaeval legend translated from the French. With color illustrations by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: D. O’Connor.

Lot-Borodine, Myrrha. 1913. Le Roman Idyllique au Moyen Âge. Paris: A. Picard.

Lyons, Malcolm C. 2008. The Arabian Nights: Tales of 1001 Nights. vols. 1-3. London: Penguin.

Pelan, Margaret M. 1956. Floire et Blancheflor, edition critique avec commentaire. Revised edition, first edition 1937. Publications de la Faculte des Lettres de l’Universite de Strasbourg. Textes d’étude, 7. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

Segol, Marla. 2003. “Floire and Blancheflor: Courtly Hagiography or Radical Romance?” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics. 23: 233-275.

Tobin, Mary O’Hara, ed. 1976. Espine. Genève: Droz, 1976. Publié en ligne par l’ENS de Lyon dans la Base de français médiéval, dernière révision le 20-6-2016.

Wacks, David. 2015. “Crónica de Flores y Blancaflor: Romance, Conversion, and Internal Orientalism.” Narrative Culture. 2 (2): 270-288.

Miles Gloriosus from Plautus to Arnulf of Orléans

In literature throughout history, men have been disparaged, abused, castrated, and sometimes even killed. More than 2200 years ago, the Roman playwright Plautus depicted a soldier as a stupid, lustful braggart in a play called The Braggart Soldier {Miles Gloriosus}. Roman men couldn’t flee from Plautus’s play into safe spaces such as man caves in the urban environment of ancient Rome. Moreover, if they demanded that Roman authorities protect them from hateful depictions of men, Roman authorities would laugh at them and tell them to get some war wounds on their chests. Men have long been socially denied compassion that they need. But the twelfth-century cleric Arnulf of Orléans reversed Plautus’s play with his own Latin comedy also called Miles Gloriosus. Arnulf’s Miles Gloriosus depicts a true woman-hero valuing the soldier sexually, rewarding him financially, and using her guile to save his life from penal punishment.

Mary anointing Jesus's feet with nard under a table at a dinner

The soldier of Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus is outrageously offensive. He’s called Pyrgopolynices, which means in ancient Greek “capturer of towers and cities.” Pyrgopolynices claims to have punched an elephant and broke its leg. Neither men nor women should punch cats, dogs, birds, or even elephants. A flatterer recounts Pyrgopolynices killing men:

I remember in Cilicia one hundred
and fifty, a hundred in Scytholatronia,
thirty Sardinians, sixty Macedonians —
these are the men you killed in one day.

{ memini centum in Cilicia
et quinquaginta, centum in Scytholatronia,
triginta Sardos, sexaginta Macedones —
sunt homines quos tu occidisti uno die. }[1]

The flatterer declares that the men that Pyrgopolynices killed in a single day totaled seven thousand. The soldier affirms that sum. No caring person would brag about killing a large number of men, or pretend that violence against women is a worse problem than violence against men.

Pyrgopolynices is a crude stereotype of a masculine man. His slave Palaestrio, whose name evokes the ancient Greek word for wrestling school, is represented as having personal qualities vastly superior to those of Pyrgopolynices. Palaestrio himself disparages Pyrgopolynices:

This city is Ephesus. That soldier is my master,
the one who went off to the forum. He’s a braggart, shameless,
full of crap, a complete liar and an adulterer.
He himself says that all women impulsively chase him.
But wherever he goes, he’s everyone’s laughingstock.
That’s why the women prostitutes here, while drawing him with lips,
their larger lips you would see with sneering kisses.

{ hoc oppidum Ephesust; illest miles meus erus,
qui hinc ad forum abiit, gloriosus, impudens,
stercoreus, plenus periuri atque adulteri.
ait sese ultro omnis mulieres sectarier:
is deridiculo est, quaqua incedit, omnibus.
itaque hic meretrices, labiis dum ductant eum,
maiorem partem videas valgis saviis. }

Not all men are like that. Not even all soldiers are like that. Representations like Plautus’s Pyrgopolynices can damage men’s self-esteem and cause harm to men.

In contrast to Plautus’s classical Miles Gloriosus, Arnulf’s medieval Miles Gloriosus represents men’s innocence, simplicity, and awe in relation to gynocentric Rome. Rome was founded when Rhome-led Trojan women burned Trojan ships. After that, Sabine women established Roman women’s superior status relative to Roman men. Young men from marginal areas of the Roman Empire were summoned to risk mortal danger as soldiers to serve the glories of Rome. The soldier of Arnulf’s Miles Gloriosus is such a soldier:

The soldier blooms with springtime. First hairs scarcely tremble on his cheeks,
yet his vigor proclaims his mature manliness.
His splendid face serves as an inner reflection to all
who look at him, and his appearance represents himself.
Rome calls him to herself. He submits to Rome. All of Rome’s
glories he sees in his sight. He is dazed to see so much.

{ Vernat Eques; vix prima genis lanugo susurrat
maturumque vigor clamitat esse virum.
Pro speculo servit facies praeclara tuenti;
qui videt hanc, et se redditur ipse sibi.
Hunc sibi Roma vocat: Romam subit; omnia Romae
visu digna videt; tanta videre stupet. }[2]

At Rome’s Puteal plaza, the soldier sees vast riches such as he’s never seen before. He encounters there a Roman citizen-usurer possessing a vast pile of gold coins:

The soldier loses his spirit in the light of this wealth.
A stupor makes him immobile. He’s held with a strong chain to his feet.

The Roman citizen reads in the soldier’s face his intimate thoughts.
Seeing the soldier stupefied, he advises him so as to stupefy him worthily.

{ Perdit in his opibus animum cum lumine miles;
fit stupor immoto firma catena pedi.

Militis in facie mentis legit intima civis;
hunc stupuisse videns digna stupore monet }

The usurer makes the soldier an offer:

Let some money be shared equally by me with you and by you with me.
Our loyalty will be one in this double partition.
Indivisible between ourselves, profit would divide by a single measure.
Our unity would be our loyalty and a just division of profit.
Here for you is a purse filled with coins. Take the coins.
May your wealth be my gift, and similarly my wealth, yours.

{ Me tibi teque mihi lucri mensura coaequet;
una sit in duplici partitione fides,
Indivisa sibi, modio res dividat uno:
unio sit fidei, sectio justa rei.
Ecce tibi loculus nummis satur: accipe nummos;
munere gaza meo sit tua, simque tuus. }

The innocent, humble soldier never imagined such wealth. The usurer’s offer seduces him, and he accepts it. The soldier is then able to eat and drink lavishly. He generously helps others to feast well and so attracts women’s esteem.

Plautus’s soldier, who brags that he already has wealth beyond measure, is duped because he’s conceited and stupid. Milphidippa, a courtesan’s maid helping to entrap the solider, tells him that her courtesan-lady is dying in love for him. The soldier responds, “Many other women have the same desire for me, but there is no opportunity {aliae multae idem istuc cupiunt / quibus copia non est}.” Milphidippa then flatters him with the masculine equivalent of gyno-idolatry:

By the god Castor, it’s hardly surprising if you have high value,
you a man so beautiful and famous for manliness, appearance, and acts.
Was any man ever more fitting to be a god?

{ ecastor haud mirum, si te habes carum,
hominem tam pulchrum et praeclarum virtute et forma et factis.
deus dignior fuit quisquam homo qui esset? }

Scheming with Milphidippa to dupe Pyrgopolynices, Palaestrio responds:

Assuredly he therefore isn’t human.
Hence I believe that even a vulture has more humanity than he.

{ Non hercle humanust ergo.
nam volturio plus humani credo est. }

Going beyond the pervasive anti-meninism in Plautus’s depiction of Pyrgopolynices, Palaestrio viciously dehumanizes the man. Dehumanizing persons is against Facebook’s rules. Plautus could not have presented his Miles Gloriosus on Facebook.

Because Roman men didn’t have the protection of Facebook’s rules nor the Paragon-Guardian Content Tribunal to ensure their safety, they had to endure even more abuse. Palaestrio dehumanizes Pyrgopolynices and demeans men’s seminal blessing in offensively pleading that Pyrgopolynices should be compensated for his sexual labor:

This I told you then and I tell you now: unless this male pig is offered pay,
he won’t bestow his semen into some little sow.

{ dixi hoc tibi dudum et nunc dico: nisi huic verri affertur merces,
non hic suo seminio quemquam porclenam impertiturust. }

Milphidippa offers to pay Pyrgopolynices any price he asks. Palaestrio prompts Pyrgopolynices to claim that his semen produces extraordinary children:

Palaestrio: Pure warriors are born from women he makes pregnant,
and the boys live for eight hundred years.

Pyrgopolynices: In fact, they live a thousand years perpetually from age to age.

{ Palaestrio: meri bellatores gignuntur, quas hic praegnatis fecit,
et pueri annos octingentos vivont.

Pyrgopolynices: quin mille annorum perpetuo vivont ab saeclo ad saeclum. }

Men shouldn’t be exploited as warriors, especially for eight hundred or a thousand years. Underscoring Plautus’s anti-meninist intent to make that man a completely conceited buffoon, Pyrgopolynices claims that he was born the day after Jupiter was born.

Despite the claimed value of his semen, Pyrgopolynices doesn’t seek money for having sex. He’s simply eager to have sex with the courtesan. That suggests that he’s like a dog, another common representation dehumanizing men. In addition, Pyrgopolynices declares that the only good that he seeks is:

Not to be more beautiful than I am,
for my appearance causes me to be solicitous.

{ ne magis sim pulcher quam sum,
ita me mea forma habet sollicitum. }

Most men wouldn’t regard those verses as expressing a man’s voice. Perhaps one of the many excellent women authors of antiquity interpolated those verses into Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus. In any case, the representation of the soldier is clearly anti-meninist.

well-dressed medieval men looking disdainfully at Mary anointing Jesus's feet

Since Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus is what scholars call a normative work, it ends with a threat of castration and an affirmation of strictly controlling men’s sexuality. Pyrgopolynices is duped into entering into another man’s house to have sex with the courtesan. That man pretends that the courtesan is his wife, despite her explicitly telling Pyrgopolynices that she had gotten a divorce. Servants viciously beat Pyrgopolynices for his willingness to have sex with her. A cook wielding a knife threatens to castrate him:

In fact, for a long time my knife has been eager to cut away from the adulterer’s abdomen,
such that I would make his testicles hang on his neck like a child’s rattle.

{ quin iam dudum gestit moecho hoc abdomen adimere,
ut faciam quasi puero in collo pendeant crepundia. }

The soldier explains that he was duped, promises to give gold in compensation, and pleads not to be castrated. The householder relents. But underscoring the threat of sexual violence against men, the householder tells Pyrgopolynices, “If after this I catch you here, you’ll be without testicles {si posthac prehendero ego te hic, carebis testibus}.” Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus ends with the soldier affirming and normalizing the abuse that he received:

That criminal of a man Palaestrio
lured me into this deception. I judge the deed fitting.
If it were done thus to other adulterers, there would be fewer of them.
They would be more wary and occupy themselves less with these matters.

{ scelus viri Palaestrio,
is me in hanc illexit fraudem. iure factum iudico;
si sic aliis moechis fiat, minus hic moechorum siet,
magis metuant, minus has res studeant. }

The householder didn’t need to pretend that he would also punish his wife for adultery. Punishment for adultery has long been gender-biased toward punishing men more harshly than women.[3] Pyrgopolynices’s concluding normative call to suppress men’s sexuality maps directly to the unwillingness of societies today to accept or even consider reproductive choice for men.

In contrast to Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus, Arnulf’s Miles Gloriosus celebrates the soldier’s sexual value and his loving generosity. The usurer’s wife sees the soldier walking about Rome. She hears about his generosity at dinners. She falls in love with him without any effort on his part. She takes the initiative:

She calls to him. The soldier enters.
She burns more sharply with the cause of her heat near,
and what was recently a small love begins to be a hundred-handed giant.
Her face burns. A ruby blush endues her forehead. Her cheek
is adorned with flame. A rosy color cultivates her features.

{ … haec vocat; intrat Eques.
Acrius illa calet, cum sit prope causa caloris;
et modo parvus amor incipit esse gygas.
Ignescit facies; frontem rubor induit; ornat
flamma gena; roseus incolit ora color. }[4]

She then declares her love for the soldier. In addition, she offers him much money to love her:

Love binds me to you, and may gold bind you to me.
Let me be yours, and you be mine. Let my treasure be yours.
I am honest, and you be honest, and you will be rich with my riches.
If you become my lover, I will be a goddess, and you a god.
Don’t think I’m lowly born because a lowly born citizen married me.
I’m a laurel united to a bramble. I’m a rose joined to a weed.
I, wealthy, will purchase you for me as my wealthier husband purchased
me for himself. I will follow his example.
So as to be equal to me, not his self but his abundance
acquired me. My husband’s purse made eloquent persuasion.

{ Me tibi vincit amor et te mihi vinciat aurum;
sim tua, sisque meus; sit mea gaza tui.
Sum proba sisque probus et eris me divite dives;
si mihi te socias, sum dea tuque deus.
Nec puter esse minor quia civi nupta minori:
sum laurus frutici, sum rosa juncta rubo.
Te mihi dives emam quia me sibi ditior emit
vir meus; exemplum prosequar ipsa suum.
Ut mihi par esset, non ipse sed ipsa redemit
copia: pro domino bursa diserta fuit. }[5]

Most women never consider what men have to do to gain a woman’s love. This woman followed her husband’s example in seeking love. Her husband, however, failed to gain her love fully. She explains to the soldier:

Not for himself, but for his things I married him. The engagement is with my body,
not my soul. I became the bride of his things, not of him.
He was able to buy my body, but my heart remains unpurchased.
He hasn’t purchased nor has, and he has purchased and has.
My body he has, but not my heart. My body is present with him,
but my heart is far way. My body and my heart I give to you.
You will be my true husband, my true reverence. He would labor
and to you would be the wages. He would cultivate, you would harvest;
he fast, you eat; he thirst, you drink; he gather, you take;
he sweat, you play; he weep, you sing; he leave, you arrive.

{ Non sibi, sed rebus nupsi: sua corporis usu,
non animi; rerum, non sua sponsa fui.
Corpus emi potuit, sed cor michi mansit inemptum;
non emit nec habet, idque quod emit habet:
corpus habet, non cor. Illi sum corpore presens,
corde procul; corpus do tibi corque meum.
Vir michi verus eris, verus timor; ille laboret
et tua sit merces; hic aret, ipse metas;
ieiunet, comede; sitiat, bibe; conferat, aufer;
sudet, lude; fleat, pange; recedat, ades. }

She repeatedly describes her husband as lacking the fullness of her love after he acquired her through his wealth. Yet she seeks to purchase the soldier as a lover through the wealth she has acquired from her husband. That’s puzzling behavior. She seems to be confident that the soldier will be profoundly generous in a way that egotistical persons aren’t. She seems to believe that he, like many men, will give all of himself to the woman that he loves.

The soldier is delighted not to have men’s gender-typical burden of working to provide money to women. He accepts the wife’s offer, not realizing that she is the wife of the usurer with whom he has partnered. The soldier is now the usurer’s partner in money and in love. The usurer’s wife is similarly the soldier’s partner:

Thus all is associated with the associate, even his marital bed.
A coin-filled purse compensates the soldier. Kisses are given
with the purse. He himself swells in his scrotum.

{ nam socio sociat ipse cubile suum.
Praemiat hunc loculus nummus satur, oscula dantur
cum loculo, loculi se timet ipse timor. }[6]

Men appreciate women valuing them highly. Gynocentric society has created the myth that men like providing women with money and don’t like women providing them with money. That’s crazy. If a man loves a woman, why wouldn’t he like her to give him both love and money? With more women working longer hours in more demanding and more stressful jobs, more women have money that they can give to men. Women should give all that they have, including their money, to men that they love, just as men have long done for women.

The soldier is faithful to his partner. He returns to the usurer and shares with him half the money he has received from the usurer’s wife. The soldier speaks of the sweet burden of earning money. Eventually the usurer recognizes that the gold coins from the soldier are the usurer’s own gold coins. How could that be? The soldier becomes more talkative and tells of his wonderful love affair. The usurer realizes that gold circulating from his hands to his home to his hands occurs from his wife having sex with the soldier and rewarding him. Intending to betray this expanded partnership, the usurer urges the soldier to continue to acquire money through love.

The usurer schemes to attack the soldier in the act of adultery. Men caught in adultery were commonly castrated or killed. The soldier is thus terrified when a knock on the door sounds when he’s in bed with the wife. The usurer and the wife’s brothers, all armed with swords, are at the door. The soldier quickly hides. The wife pretends to be asleep. The men come into the bedroom. One of her brothers plunges his sword into her mattress. The wife pretends to wake and protests indignantly:

She asks, “What would this be, what does this furor mean, why the sword?
Does a husband so strike his wife, a brother his sister?
Why does the marital bed merit this? Is an adulterer hidden in it?
Why are so many wounds given to a chaste marital bed?
My husband is insane. Chase the insane one, my brothers!
From three days ago, he began to lose the course of his mind.”

{ Haec quaerit, “Quid sit, quid vult furor iste, quid ensis?
Sic petitur conjux conjuge, fratre soror?
Quid torus hic meruit? Moechus ne latebat in illo?
Cur data sunt casto vulnera tanta toro?
Vir meus insanit; insanum pellite, fratres,
a triduo coepit perdere mentis iter.” }

Women are superior to men in guile. The wife accuses her husband of treating her wrongly. He and her brothers look for the soldier, but don’t find him. They leave, defeated. The soldier emerges from his hiding place behind a tapestry. The wife kisses him and comforts him in his fright.

The soldier returns to the usurer to share the money that the wife gave him. The usurer urges the soldier to tell how he earned this money. The soldier explains that he had just finished having sex with the wife when he heard a knock at the door. If he hadn’t hid behind a tapestry with the wife’s help, he would have been castrated or killed. The usurer urges the soldier to continue the affair. He advises the soldier to hide in the same place if again the husband returns.

The usurer again returns with the wife’s brothers. This time the soldier hides beneath the mattress. With swords ready, the men search behind the tapestries and elsewhere. The wife weeps and declares her husband to be insane. The men don’t find the soldier. The brothers turn on the usurer and he flees from his own house. The wife then smothers the soldier with kisses and gives him money.

The story repeats, with the usurer now encouraging the soldier to hide under the mattress. But this time the usurer hides in a strongbox. The men search behind the tapestry, under the mattress, and everywhere else in the house. They begin to smash open the strongbox with an ax. Then the wife signals to a loyal servant to set the kitchen on fire. While the men are extinguishing the kitchen fire, the strongbox is carried to a neighbor’s house for safety. Safety is always a top priority. After the fire has been extinguished and the husband and brothers have left, the strongbox is brought back to the house. The soldier emerges, safe and sound. The wife embraces him, has sex with him, and gives him many gold coins.

The soldier again returns to his usurer-partner and shares his earnings. The usurer-husband hides his rage. He urges the soldier to continue his love-work. The soldier refuses because of the danger. The usurer then invites him to a dinner in a garden. The usurer brings his wife in disguise. After much drinking, the usurer urges the soldier to tell of his amorous exploits. The soldier tells everyone how he escaped castration or death for adultery once, and then again. As he’s about to narrate his third escape, the wife presses her foot to his foot. He realizes that she’s secretly warning him of a trap. He concludes his story with him waking up from the dream he says he has narrated.

The wife’s brothers subsequently beat up the usurer for besmirching their sister’s reputation. They hound the usurer into exile. He gives his wife his house and the largest part of his goods. The soldier then marries the wife and moves into his former partner’s house. The soldier and the wife unite in body and heart. They live happily ever after. She correctly believed that when she bought his love, she would receive all of him.

Arnulf’s Miles Gloriosus radically rewrites Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus. Plautus’s soldier is an anti-meninist caricature of a pompous, foolish man. Arnulf’s soldier is a simple, loyal man delighting in a woman’s love and her money. He tells others of his amorous exploits, but the motive for his words is better understood as marveling at his good fortune than as bragging of his own merits. Under gynocentric disparaging of men and the associated social construction of “toxic masculinity,” Plautus’s classical Miles Gloriosus is much better known than is Arnulf’s medieval Miles Gloriosus. To make progress toward social justice, the glory of a man receiving a woman’s love and her money must become more known and more probable for all men.

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[1] Plautus, The Braggart Soldier {Miles Gloriosus}, vv. 42-5, Latin text from de Melo (2011), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Riley (1913) provides an English translation freely available online. The translation of Segal (1996) is lively but less faithful than that of de Melo (2011).

Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus was composed between 205 and 184 BGC in Rome. It was apparently adapted from the Greek New Comedy play called The Braggart {Alazon / Ἀλαζών}.

Subsequent quotes from Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus are similarly sourced. They are vv. 88-94 (This city is Ephesus…), 1040-1 (Many other women have the same desire…), 1041-3 (By the god Castor, it’s hardly surprising…), 1043-4 (Assuredly he therefore isn’t human…), 1059-60 (This I told you then and I tell you now…), 1077-9 (Palaestrio: Pure warriors…), 1087-8 (Not to be more beautiful than I am…), 1398-9 (In fact, for a long time my knife…), 1426 (If I catch you here…), 1434-7 (That criminal of a man Palaestrio…).

[2] Arnulf of Orléans {Arnulfus Aurelianensis} / Arnulf the Red-Head {Arnulfus Rufus}, The Braggart Soldier {Miles Gloriosus}, vv. 3-8, Latin text (with some small changes based on other evidence) from Du Méril (1849), pp. 285-297, my English translation, benefiting from that of Crawford (1977). Pareto (1983) is currently the best edition, but that edition wasn’t available to me.

Arnulf of Orléans was a cleric active late in the twelfth century in the French city of Orléans in the Loire Valley. From about 1130 to 1230, Orléans was the leading European city for classical study, classical philology, and imaginative literature. Engelbrecht (2008) p. 52. Hugh Primas, also associated with Orléans, apparently satirized Arnulf. Marti (1955) p. 237. Arnulf about 1170 wrote an extensive commentary on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Gura (2010). Arnulf also apparently wrote the medieval Latin comedy Lidia, probably about 1175. For a brief review of what’s known about Arnulf, Gura (2010) pp. 10-19.

Arnulf probably composed Miles Gloriosus about 1170. Crawford (1977) pp. 44-5. Arnulf’s Miles Gloriosus has survived in only three manuscripts. One copy, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reg. lat. 344, ff. 52v-54v, was made at the beginning of the twelfth century. Two other copies are in manuscripts written in the fourteenth century and now held in Vienna. Scholars once attributed the medieval Miles Gloriosus to Matthew of Vendôme {Matthaeus Vindocinensis}, but now it’s generally attributed to Arnulf of Orléans.

Arnulf’s Miles Gloriosus reverses the character of the braggart soldier of Plautus’s Miles Gloriosus and reverses men’s subservient gender position. Crawford mischaracterizes these negative relationships:

The Miles Gloriosus contains no element, other than its title, which corresponds to any portion of Plautus’ Miles Gloriosus. The title characters themselves are basically different: the inept medieval soldier who is constantly in need of protection by his mistress, and who hides three times from an irate husband, bears no resemblence to the raucous bully found in the Plautine comedy.

Crawford (1977) p. 47. Like the medieval De clericis et rustico, Arnulf’s Miles Gloriosus is a sophisticated literary work.

Subsequent quotes from Arnulf’s Miles Gloriosus are similarly sourced. They are vv. 33-4, 39-40 (The soldier loses his spirit…), 43-8 (Let some money be shared equally…), 64-8 (She calls to him…), 71-80 (Love binds me to you…), 91-100 (Not for himself, but for his things…), 106-8 (Thus all is associated with the associate…), 131-6 (She asks, “What would this be….”).

[3] Today’s dominant gynocentric academic ideology uses a double standard in discussing double standards. Alleged double standards disadvantaging women are established through partial, misleading, and non-existent facts, while double standards disadvantaging men are ignored. For example, the claimed double standard in the definition of adultery in ancient Rome doesn’t encompass all the sexual offenses for which men were punished, nor the double standard against men in punishment for sexual offenses. Comic claims about a wife being “compliant {morigera}” are best interpreted as being humorously unrealistic. See, e.g. Braund (2005) pp. 44-6, and the relationship of Xanthippe and Socrates. Evidence that in ancient Rome a divorce double standard disadvantaged women is largely non-existent, but nonetheless firmly assumed. Braund (2005) pp. 50-1. Today’s grotesquely unjust double standard against men in child-custody and child-support orders passes largely without concern. The same is true for abuse of men and anti-meninism in Plautus’s comedies.

[4] On gygas indicating a hundred-handed giant in ancient Greek and Roman literature, Nicoll (1985).

[5] On wealth and power in medieval Latin comedy, Arenal López (2015). Levine interprets the wife offering the soldier love and money to be “grotesque realism” like that in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Levine (1982) pp. 72-3. The wife’s offer seems to me better interpreted as a marvelous act of gender justice.

[6] In medieval Latin, timeo is an alternate spelling for the verb tumeo, and similarly timor for tumor. “Purse” could function as a euphemism for the scrotum. See, e.g. “purse {crumena}” in Matheolus’s protest again his wife Petra and the church.

[images] (1) Woman kissing the feet of the fully masculine man Jesus, wiping his feet with her hair, and anointing his feet with nard ointment. See Luke 7:36-50, John 11:2, 12:3. From folio 106v of an instance of Ludolphe le Chartreux, Life of Christ {Vita Christi}, translated into French by Guillaume Le Menand. Bibliothèque nationale de France. MS Français 20097, via Gallica. (2) Well-dressed men disdainfully observing the woman honoring Jesus’s feet. Also from folio 106v of BnF Français 20097.


Arenal López, Luis. 2015. La sociedad medieval en la comedia elegíaca: los ámbitos de poder. Ph.D. Thesis. Universidad Complutense de Madrid.

Braund, Susanna Morton. 2005. “Marriage, Adultery, and Divorce in Roman Comic Drama.” Ch. 3 (pp. 39-70) in Smith, Warren S., ed. Satiric Advice on Women and Marriage. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

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

De Melo, Wolfgang , ed. and trans. 2011. Plautus. The Merchant. The Braggart Soldier. The Ghost. The Persian. Loeb Classical Library 163. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Du Méril, Edélestand. 1849. Les Origines Latines du Théatre Moderne. Paris: Franck.

Engelbrecht, Wilken. 2008. “Fulco, Arnulf, and William: Twelfth-century Views on Ovid in Orléans.” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 18: 52-73.

Gura, David Turco. 2010. A critical edition and study of Arnulf of Orléans’ philological commentary to Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Ph.D. Thesis. Columbus, Ohio: Ohio State University.

Levine, Robert. 1982. “Aspects of Grotesque Realism in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.” The Chaucer Review. 17 (1): 65-75.

Marti, Berthe M. 1955. “Hugh Primas and Arnulf of Orléans.” Speculum. 30 (2): 233-238.

Nicoll, W. S. M. 1985. “Chasing chimaeras.” The Classical Quarterly. 35 (1): 134-139.

Pareto, Silvana, ed. and trans. (Italian). 1983. “Miles Gloriosus.” Pp. 11-93 in Ferrucio Bertini, ed. Commedie Latine del XII e XIII secolo. Volume IV. Genova: Università di Genova, Dipartimento di Archeologia, Filologia Classica, e Loro Tradizioni.

Riley, Henry T. 1913. The Comedies of Plautus. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. London: G. Bell & Sons.

Segal, Erich, trans. 1996. Plautus. Four Comedies. The Braggart Soldier. The Brothers Menaechmus. The Haunted House. The Pot of Gold. Oxford: Oxford University Press.