hear, see, and keep quiet if you want to live in peace

The early-fourteenth-century story collection Deeds of the Romans {Gesta Romanorum} tells of the knight Acheron and his beautiful wife. She became madly in love with another knight. When her husband traveled abroad, she and that knight at night got together in bed at her house.

Three cocks lived in the house. While the wife and her lover committed adultery, a cock crowed. The wife asked her maidservant what the cock said. The maidservant answered:

The cock is saying in his song that you are doing your husband wrong.

{ Gallus dicit in cantu suo quod facis iniuriam viro tuo.

The cok saithe in his songe þat thowe dost thyn husbond wrong. }[1]

Not interested in hearing the truth, the wife ordered the cock to be killed immediately. Then another cock crowed. Again the wife asked her maidservant what the cock said. The maidservant answered:

My companion has lost his life by telling the truth and rests very low.

{ Socius meus pro sua veritate perdidit vitam suam et iacet valde basse.

My felawe for his sothe sawe hathe lost his lyfe and lythe fulle lowe. }

The wife ordered that cock also to be killed immediately. Then the third cock crowed. In response to the wife’s query, the maidservant recounted that the cock said:

Hear, see, and keep quiet if you want to live in peace.

{ Audi, vide, et tace, si tu vis vivere in pace.

Se and here and holde þe stille, than myghtis þowe lyffe and haue þi wille. }[2]

The third cock crowed prudent advice for men living under gynocentrism. If men want to live in peace, they should not acknowledge or criticize women’s social dominance, to say nothing of men’s lack of reproductive rights, acute sex discrimination against men in child-support and child-custody rulings, the vastly gender-disproportionate incarceration of men, etc., etc., and so on, and so on.

In a story that Rüdiger von Munre wrote about 1300, a husband learned from his wife, his daughter, and their young cleric-lovers not to believe or report what he saw or heard. The husband and wife, along with the daughter, were hosting in their home two visiting young clerics. One night, while the wife was having sex with one cleric, the other cleric, dressed as the wife, took her place in bed next to her husband. The husband didn’t notice that the person sleeping next to him wasn’t his wife. Seeking to engage in intimate conjugal relations, the husband kissed and embraced his imposter-wife:

The husband strove energetically
for sweet love
and with this in mind
he pulled up his wife’s nightshirt.
Then he found things
exactly as God had created them.
This troubled the poor fool
and dampened his spirits.
He wondered what was wrong.
He quickly pulled back his hand
and then took another feel,
but it was just the same.
His mind was paralyzed.
“Who has falsified my wife?
Now she has the body of a man.
I’ve never heard such a strange thing.
God is angry with me in earnest
since I am so led astray.
But now I remember the advice
my grandmother gave me,
that I should pay no attention
to what I seem to notice.”

{ Der wirt dô mit vlîze kreik,
daz er die süeze minne
verstæle, in deme sinne
daz hemde er ir ûf las;
dô vant er dâ, rehte als ez was
von Gote dar geschaffen.
Daz machte dem affen
sîn trüebe gemüete swære,
in wunderte, waz ez wære;
die hant zukte (er) snel[lek]lîchen dan
und greif aber wider dar an,
dô was ez aber alsam;
des wart er an den sinnen lam.
“Wer hât mir vervelschet daz wîp?
Si hât nû (gar) mannes lîp;
diu vrembde mære ich nie mê vernam.
Mir ist God wol mit vlîze gram,
dâ von ich sus verirret bin.
Nû gedenke ich an den sin,
den mich mîn bâbe lêrte,
daz ich mich dar an niht kêrte,
ob mich ihtes bedûhte.” }[3]

Nonetheless, the husband shook the imposter-wife awake and accused her of turning into a man. Playing his role well, the imposter-wife strongly denied that horrible accusation:

Be still, husband,
you don’t know what you’re talking about.
When you never know enough to hold your tongue
about what happens to you,
you’re in for trouble.
I can tell that you’ve
been seeing things again.
I surmise that much from the fact
that you think I’m a man.
Not I, in truth. I’m a woman.
After all, you’ve been familiar
with my body for many years.
Test it again with your hand.
Since you’re so eager for it,
you shouldn’t object to it.

{ Habe, herre, dîn gemach;
dû enweist niht, waz dû sagest.
Nû dû nimmer niht verdagest,
waz dir sulhes wider vert,
sô ist dir ungemach beschert.
Nû sage ich dir ez wol, daz
dich bedunket aber etewaz;
daz kiuse ich (vil) wol dar an,
daz dich dunket, ich sî ein man
nein ich, z’wâre, ich bin ein wîp.
Nû hâst dû doch mînen lîp
manik jâ (vil) wol bekant:
versuoch’ ez baz mit dîner hant;
sint daz dû mîn wil lâgen,
sô endarf dich es niht betrâgen. }

The husband felt again his imposter-wife’s genitals. Lacking modern learning, he then foolishly declared her to be a man. The wife insisted that she would fetch a candle and show that she’s a woman. Then the imposter-wife got up and swapped places with the actual wife:

She went to the bed and
brought the candle in her hand
and said, “It’s too much
that you run me ragged
and don’t recognize
your own wife, and it’s a good thing
I can give you proof now.
So take hold and see,
admit it and say
that I am indeed a woman.
What I wouldn’t give for a husband
with a little more sense!”

{ Vür daz bette gienk si stân,
daz lieht si in der hant truok;
si sprach, “Des dunket mich genuok,
daz dû mich sus umb trîbes
und dînes eigen wîbes
niht erkennes; daz ist wol,
sint ich dir’z nû zeigen sol,
sô grîf vil ebene unde sich,
bekenne mich (nû) baz, und sprich,
daz ich vür wâr ein wîp bin.
Waz gæbe ich umbe den sin,
der [n]iht bezzer wære!” }[4]

Of course the wife went on to give her husband advice:

It seems to me that it would be a good thing
if you with your foolishness
would turn to me for counsel
and recognize better
the ways of those evil demons
who are forever causing you
to announce whatever
they put before your eyes.

{ Miche dûhte daz noch rehte guot,
daz dû dînen tumblen muot
an mînen rât gewentes,
und ein teil baz erkentes
der übelen ungehiuren site,
die pflegen dir des immer mite,
wilt dû ez allez gesagen,
daz si dir ze den ougen tragen. }

The husband then felt his wife, who identified as a woman, to be a woman. Realizing his confusion and ignorance, he apologized profusely to his wife:

Forgive me for my error
and be patient with me, my lady.
I can see now what ails me.
Alas, I’m deprived
of my senses.
Whatever I do
and whatever happens to me,
I’ll never again give way
to my gullibility,
even if I’m beset
nine times a day.
I’ll act blind
and dumb
if I can only avoid
this sort of thing.

{ nû vergib mir mîne schult,
vrouwe, mit grôzer gedult,
Ich sihe wol, was mir wirret,
ich bin ot verirret
leider [mir] mîner sinne;
swie sô ich es beginne,
ez engeschiht mir nimmer mê,
wære mir alle tage wê
mêr den niun stunt an eime tage,
daz ich nimmer mêr gesage
keinen swachen gelouben.
Eime blinden touben
dem wold’ ich mich gelîchen,
möht’ ich dâ mite entwîchen
alsus getânen sachen }

Henceforth no matter what he heard or saw, the husband kept quiet.[5] He never again accused his wife of being a man or behaving wrongfully. This husband thus put into practice the contemporary saying, “Hear, see, and keep quiet if you want to live in peace {audi, vide, et tace, si tu vis vivere in pace}.” His wife and daughter were then able to carry on easily and happily their affairs with the young clerics. Since Rüdiger von Munre wrote this story near Aachen about 1300, many men have behaved likewise. Happy wife, happy life!

The gender context of “Hear, see, and keep quiet if you want to live in peace {audi, vide, et tace, si tu vis vivere in pace}” has been scarcely preserved. The Freemasons are an all-men organization that has for centuries provided a safe space for men under gynocentrism. Quite appropriately, the motto “hear, see, and keep quiet {audi, vide, tace}” appeared in the Freemasons’ calendar for 1777. That motto was incorporated into the coat of arms of the Freemasons’ United Grand Lodge of England in 1813.[6] Freemason lodges that keep quiet about admitting only men may still survive to our day. Such lodges, however, possess nowhere near the wealth and status of today’s elite women-only colleges such as Wellesley College in the United States.

In modern folklore, the wisdom of hearing, seeing, and saying nothing was separated from appreciating women’s superiority in guile relative to men. The English proverbial saying “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” has its origin in “three wise monkeys.” That’s a Japanese cultural artifact with Confucian and Buddhist resonances:

The Japanese words associated with the Wise Monkey figures ‘Mi-zaru, kika-zaru, iwa-zaru {not seeing, not hearing, not speaking}’ are in the nature of a pun, for the Japanese word for monkey (‘saru’) becoming voiced as it does after a vowel (thus ‘zaru’) is then the same as the negative ending of a verb. Only in Japanese are the words (Not seeing, not hearing, not speaking) appropriately and wittily illustrated by monkey images.[7]

The first known English reference to the Three Wise Monkeys exists in Satow and Hawes’s Handbook for Travellers in Central and Northern Japan, published in 1884. The first known western reference to figures of the Three Wise Monkeys is in the 1926 Catalogue of the Army and Navy Stores of London.[8] Today, the only hint of the relation of the saying “hear no evil, see no evil, speak no evil” to gynocentrism is a variant statue composition in which one monkey protects his genitals. As meninist literary criticism has revealed, castration culture connects medieval culture to modern culture.[9] Men, amid evil, protect your genitals!

* * * * *

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[1] Anglo-Latin (Bodleian Library, Douce MS 310) Gesta Romanorum 53 (“Cockcrows”), Latin text and English translation (adapted slightly) from Bright (2019). The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from id. This story also occurs in the continental Gesta Romanorum. For a loose English translation, see tale 68 in Swan & Hooper (1876).

The Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum has the maidservant speak in Middle English. The clerical author then translates her words into Latin. Above the Latin is then translated into modern English. For the third cock’s saying, the Latin slightly re-arranges the Middle English, probably to fit an existing Latin proverb.

“Cockcrows” probably arose in India within the folk tradition of talking parrots. It then diffused to Europe. “Cockcrows” is a folktale of Aarne-Thompson-Uther type 243A and Stith Thompson motif J551.1 (under “Intemperate zeal in truth-telling”). For variants and analogues, Ashliman (1999) and Clouston (1887) v. 2, p. 196 (“The Merchant, his wife, and his parrot”).

[2] Walther (1963) lists three versions of this proverb: 1709, “‘Hear, perceive, keep quiet’ is a good way to live in peace {Audi, cerne, tace! bona res est vivere pace}”; 1712, “Hear, believe, keep quiet, if you want to live in peace {Audi, fide, tace, si tu vis vivere pace}”; 1720, “Hear, see, and keep quiet, if you want to live in peace {Audi, vide, tace, si tu vis vivere pace}.”

Taylor dated the first Latin instance of this proverb to a sermon about 1300. Taylor (1958) p. 26, citing Hauréau (1890) vol. 3, pp. 90, 102. In that sermon, the proverb is attributed to Lombards (“say Lombards {dicunt Lombardi}”). Lombards had a medieval reputation for cowardice.

Taylor dated the first English instance to around 1430. Taylor (1958) p. 27. “Cockcrows” in the Anglo-Norman Gesta Romanorum indicates that the proverb existed in English more than a century earlier.

Eustache Deschamps evoked similar proverbial wisdom in a balade that he wrote in 1392:

He who would live peacefully
without peril to his body
should have a mouth like an elephant,
eyes as blind as a mole,
and hear only as much as a smoked herring,
if he wants to preserve his body and goods.
And he should act as if he were dead,
without seeing, hearing, nor speaking.

{ Qui veult vivre paisiblement
Sanz avoir peril de son corps,
Si ait gueule comme oliphant,
Et com taupe les oeulx dehors,
Et n’oie ne c’uns harens sors
S’il veult son corps et biens garder,
El face ainsi com s’il fust mors,
Sans veoir, oir ne parler. }

Balade no. 83, Old French text via Taylor (1958) p. 26 from Édouard & Raynaud (1878) pp. 186-7, English translation (modified slightly) from Mieder (1987) p. 159. Deschamps titled this balade “In order to live in peace, it’s necessary to be blind, deaf, and mute {Pour vivre en paix il faut être aveugle, sourd, et muet}.” Id.

[3] Rüdiger von Munre, Wayward One and Lusty Rascal {Irregang und Girregar} vv. 1126-47, Middle German text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Benson & Andersson (1971) pp. 124-93. Id. reprints, with minor changes, the Middle German text of Hagen (1850) vol. 3, pp. 43-82. Irregang und Girregar survived in only one manuscript, Königsberg, Universitätsbibliothek MS 907 b. That manuscript was lost during World War II. The cross-gender person substitution motif also occurs in Decameron VII.7 and VIII.8.

No evidence other than Irregang und Girregar exists about Rüdiger von Munre. Some aspects of the text suggest that it was written near Aachen. Benson & Andersson (1971) p. 124.

Subsequent quotes from Irregang und Girregar are similarly sourced. They are vv. 1162-76 (Be still, husband…), 1212-23 (She went to the bed…), 1227-34 (It seems to me that it would be a good thing…), 1237-51 (Forgive me for my error…).

[4] The phrase “tace is Latin for candle” is attested no later than 1676. That phrase is thought to have originated in expressing disapproval by throwing down a candle in order to end a religious service or theater performance. But it has also been associated with a “curtain lecture.” Samuel Johnson’s English dictionary (1755) defined a “curtain lecture” as “a reproof given by a wife to her husband in bed.” Tréguer (2017). Combining a candle and a wife in bed admonishing her husband to be silent is a prominent feature of Irregang und Girregar.

More generally, the phrase “tace is Latin for candle” has ironic precision in relation to the Latin proverb “Hear, see, and keep quiet, if you want to live in peace {Audi, vide, et tace, si tu vis vivere in pace}.” A candle sheds light, commonly associated with knowledge, on the circumstances around itself. The Latin proverb counsels to keep quiet about what the candle allows one to see.

[5] The ability of women to confound men’s senses is a theme in literature of men’s sexed protest of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. It occurs in fables of Marie de France and Matheus of Boulogne’s Lamentations of Little, Little Matheus {Lamentationes Matheoluli}. See note [1] in my post on men’s inferiority in guile.

[6] Square (2020).

[7] Smith (1993) p. 144. Smith appropriately questioned Taylor (1958)’s claim that the medieval European proverb “Audi, vide, et tace, si tu vis vivere in pace” is related to the Three Wise Monkeys:

considering the medieval predilection for animal illustration, the whole ‘fable’ tradition and the virtually total absence of any such association with the sentiment ‘Audi, vide, tace’ in any language, I feel Archer Taylor’s case is far from made. No medieval Sam Weller can be found who added the clause ‘ut dixit simius {as the monkey said}’.

Smith (1993) p. 145.

[8] Mieder (1987) pp. 164-5. Mieder’s Chapter 5, “The Proverbial Three Wise Monkeys: Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil,” follows Taylor (1958)’s claim about a medieval European source for the Three Wise Monkeys. The Three Monkeys became popular in Europe only from the twentieth century. Smith (1993) p. 145. On current ardent collectors of Three Monkeys’ figurines, Three Monkeys (2004).

[9] British weather has been described with the saying “cold enough to freeze the balls off a brass monkey.” Smith (1993) p. 149. That saying directly relates castration culture to a common material realization of the Three Wise Monkeys.

[images] (1) Three Wise Monkeys miming “speak no evil, see no evil, hear no evil.” Representation of Mahatma Gandhi’s smaller statue of the three monkeys Bapu, Ketan and Bandar, at the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad, Gujarat, India. Source image and description thanks to Kalyan Shah and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Billboard, probably from the late 1940s, encouraging workers at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory not to talk about their work. Oak Ridge National Laboratory was established in 1943 as part of the Manhattan Project to build an atomic bomb. On the history of Oak Ridge, Freeman (2015). Source image thanks to James E. Westcott and Wikimedia Commons. (3) Four wise monkeys in brass. The additional brass monkey protects his genitals from attack. Source image thanks to Bildforyou7 and Wikimedia Commons.


Ashliman, D. L. 1999. “Hear No Evil, See No Evil, Speak No Evil.” Online at University of Pittsburgh.

Benson, Larry D. and Andersson, Theodore Murdock. 1971. The Literary Context of Chaucer’s Fabliaux: texts and translations. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Bright, Philippa, ed. and trans. 2019. The Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum: from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce MS 310. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clouston, W. A. 1887. Popular Tales and Fictions, their migrations and transformations. Edinburgh/London: William Blackwood & Sons. Vol. 1, Vol. 2.

Édouard, Auguste Henry, Marquis de Queux de Saint-Hilaire, and Gaston Raynaud. 1878. OEuvres complètes de Eustache Deschamps, pub. d’après le manuscrit de la Bibliothèque nationale par le marquis de Queux de Saint-Hilaire. Paris: Firmin Didot & Cie.

Freeman, Lindsey A. 2015. Longing for the Bomb: Oak Ridge and Atomic Nostalgia. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press.

Hagen, Friedrich Heinrich, ed. 1850. Gesammtabenteuer: Hundert allfeutsche Erzählungen: Ritter- und Pfaffen-Mären Stadt- und Dorfgeschichten Schwänke, Wundersagen und Legenden von Jakob Appet, Dietrich von Glatz, dem Freudenleeren, Heinz dem Kellerer, Jansen Enenkel, Heinrich und Johannes von Freiberg, Hermann Fressant, dem Hufferer, Konrad von Würzburg, Niemand, Rafold, Rüdiger dem Hunthover, Rüdiger von Müner, Ruprecht von Würzburg, Sibot, dem Stricker, Volrat, dem Vriolsheimer, Wernher dem Gartener, von Wildonie, dem Zurngäuer und Anderen, meist zum erstenmal gedruckt und hrsg. Stuttgart und Tübingen: J.G. Cotta’sche Verlag. Vol. 1, Vol. 2, Vol. 3.

Hauréau, Jean-Barthélemy. 1890-1893. Notices et extraits de quelques manuscrits latins de la Bibliothèque Nationale. Paris: C. Klincksieck.

Mieder, Wolfgang. 1987. Tradition and Innovation in Folk Literature. Hanover: Published for University of Vermont by University Press of New England.

Smith, A. W. 1993. “On the Ambiguity of the Three Wise Monkeys.” Folklore. 104 (1-2): 144-150.

Square (editorial). 2020. “Audi, vide, tace.” The Square Magazine (“the foremost independent magazine for Freemasons worldwide”). April, 2020 issue.

Swan, Charles, and Wynnard Hooper, trans. 1876. Gesta romanorum: entertaining moral stories. New York: Dover Publications Inc. (reprint edition of 1969).

Taylor, Archer. 1958. “‘Audi, Vide, Tace,’ and the Three Monkeys.” Fabula. 1 (1): 26-31.

Three Monkeys. 2004. “The Three Monkeys: A 400 year old Japanese image for a 2,500 year old Chinese code of conduct.” The Three Monkey Collector’s Website. Updated: December 10, 2020.

Tréguer, Pascal. 2017. “The mysterious origin of ‘tace is Latin for candle.’word histories. Online.

Walther, Hans. 1963-1969. Proverbia sententiaeque latinitatis Medii Aevi: lateinische Sprichwörter und Sentenzen des Mittelalters in alphabetischer Anordnung. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

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