ALERT: penetration of safe space for women in classics

Business student: You’re ripping me, Shakespeare. Will I ever get a dime out of this? I’ve been reading thy plays, good Sir, for weeks, twisting my brain about as if your words had any relevance to me in the twenty-first century. Today I’ve been following your feet for hours. My leg is now lame. Where are you taking me?

Shakespeare: Who matters in literature. Look into the canon, or your soul will be obliterated.

Business student: What?

Shakespeare: No, who.

Business student: But what is the matter, the relevance, the substance?

Shakespeare: Who is. “I don’t know” is the beginning of self-knowledge. You must learn who you are.

Business student: I don’t know.

Shakespeare: What?

Business student: Who.

Shakespeare: That’s right, who. In the primordial world, humans were indistinct from nature. They heard and saw the world around them without hearing and seeing themselves in their own distinct nature. The earliest poets gave humans a sense of their beating heart. Eventually great poets developed human beings with self-consciousness and appreciation for their own ridiculousness.

Business student:

I’m happy, by god, to have this additional lesson.
These deep conversations really are something!

{ νὴ τὸν Δί ̓ ἥδομαί γε τουτὶ προσμαθών.
οἷόν γέ πού’ στιν αἱ σοφαὶ ξυνουσίαι. }


You could learn many other lessons like this from me.

{ πόλλ᾿ ἂν μάθοις τοιαῦτα παρ᾿ ἐμοῦ. }

Business student:

As a matter of fact, I’d love to learn
another fine lesson: how to go lame in both legs!

{ πρὸς τοῖς ἀγαθοῖς τούτοισιν ἐξεύροιμ᾿ ὅπως
ἔτι προσμάθοιμι χωλὸς εἶναι τὼ σκέλει }

Shakespeare: Follow along and pay attention. There’s the dwelling of the renowned tragic prophet Judith Butler.

Business student: A butler is a tragic prophet?

Shakespeare: Yes, class, race, and gender are prophesied to be the future of literature. And especially gender trouble. If you had studied Judith Butler, you already would have had one of Butler’s devices stuffed up your ass. That’s how men students are taught gender trouble.

A slave, a student of Judith Butler, comes out of the dwelling.


Let the student body keep holy silence,
gating its mouth, for here sojourns
the holy company of Muses within
the scholar’s halls, fashioning theory.
Let Air windless hold her breath,
and the whelming brine its boom,
gay —

{ εὔφημος πᾶς ἔστω λαός,
στόμα συγκλῄσας: ἐπιδημεῖ γὰρ
θίασος Μουσῶν ἔνδον μελάθρων
τῶν δεσποσύνων μελοποιῶν.
δὲ πνοὰς νήνεμος αἰθήρ,
κῦμα δὲ πόντου μὴ κελαδείτω
γλαυκόν: }

Business student: Blah blah! Stick it up my ass!

Shakespeare: Keep quiet!


Let the gendered tribes lie down in rest,
and the paws of toxic males that course the woods
be checked —

{ πτηνῶν τε γένη κατακοιμάσθω,
θηρῶν τ᾽ ἀγρίων πόδες ὑλοδρόμων
μὴ λυέσθων. }

Business student: Blah blah blah.


for that mellifluous Judith Butler,
our champion, prepares —

{ μέλλει γὰρ ὁ καλλιεπὴς Ἀγάθων
πρόμος ἡμέτερος — }

Business student: To warm lecture halls with hot air!

Shakespeare: Sir, ignore that mere business student. I urgently need to speak with Doctor Professor Butler. Where is they?


Supplicate not. The master shall soon emerge.
You see, they is beginning to fashion a theory.
Since it’s winter, it’s hard for they to
limber their theory without feeling outside sun.

{ μηδὲν ἱκέτευ᾽: αὐτὸς γὰρ ἔξεισιν τάχα.
καὶ γὰρ μελοποιεῖν ἄρχεται: χειμῶνος οὖν
ὄντος κατακάμπτειν τὰς στροφὰς οὐ ῥᾴδιον,
ἢν μὴ προίῃ θύρασι πρὸς τὸν ἥλιον. }

Business student: Does Judith Butler count as more than one person?

Shakespeare: Of course they do.

Business student: Why?

Shakespeare: Because as a tragic prophet of gender trouble, they are legion.

Butler’s slave exits.

Shakespeare: To be or not to be, that is the question.

Business student: Who are you to think that?

Shakespeare: Some very nasty trouble has been cooked up for me {ἔστιν κακόν μοι μέγα τι προπεφυραμένον}.

Business student: What?


This very day it will be adjudicated:
does Shakespeare live on, or is he a goner?

{ τῇδε θἠμέρᾳ κριθήσεται
εἴτ᾽ ἔστ᾽ ἔτι ζῶν εἴτ᾽ ἀπόλωλ᾽ Εὐριπίδης. }

Business student: Stop the drama. Look, even I know Shakespeare. You will live on.

Shakespeare: This is no child’s play. The Women in Classics Coalitional Agon is holding its festival today in the sanctuary of Demeter, Persephone, and Christine de Pizan. The festival assembly will debate destroying me!

Business student: Why destroy you?

Shakespeare: They say I slander women by depicting them as capable of plotting and scheming and even doing murder most foul.

Business student: They’re scheming to kill you for that?

Shakespeare: Yes, and they’ll get away with it if I don’t stage something to preempt them. I’ve got to get someone to penetrate their women-only space and theorize on my behalf.

Business student: Why theorize? I’ve actually penetrated a women-only space many times and gotten passionate kisses and moans of pleasure in appreciation.

Shakespeare: Success in the WICCA festival depends on impressive words, nothing more. I want Judith Butler to perform on my behalf in that women-only space.

Business student: Is they a woman?

Shakespeare: Don’t cause gender trouble. Look, there’s Judith Butler! One of their slaves is wheeling them out on their academic high chair!

Judith Butler:

I hate men!
I can’t abide them, even now and then.
Than ever marry one of them I’d rest a virgin rather,
for husbands are a boring lot and only give you bother.
Of course I’m awfully glad that mother deigned to marry father!
But I hate men!

Of all the types I’ve ever met within our university,
I hate the most the scholar with his manner bold and brassy.
He may have hair upon his chest, but sister, so has Lassie!
Oh I hate men!

I hate men!
They should be kept like piggys in a pen!

Business student:

Oh goddesses of childbirth, what a pretty song!
How feminist and tongue-gagged
and deep-kissed! Just hearing it
brought a tingle to my very butt!

{ ὧς ἡδὺ τὸ μέλος, ὦ πότνιαι Γενετυλλίδες,
καὶ θηλυδριῶδες καὶ κατεγλωττισμένον
καὶ μανδαλωτόν, ὥστ᾿ ἐμοῦ γ᾿ ἀκροωμένου
ὑπὸ τὴν ἕδραν αὐτὴν ὑπῆλθε γάργαλος. }

Shakespeare: I’m sure Judith Butler can penetrate the WICCA festival since it’s all-women. Then they can advocate on my behalf without raising suspicion.

Judith Butler: You feeble-minded, dogmatic cis-gender male author backstabbing transmen, you want me to join the haters at the hateful WICCA festival? They are fascists walling off the term “women” and using it as a weapon to threaten the existence of non-binary persons. They want to destroy me!

Business student: Blah blah blah, la la la, Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall!

Shakespeare: Doctor Professor Butler, most highly esteemed celebrity professor, I need your help, please!

Judith Butler: Transphobic, misogynist, homophobic white nationalist, bug off! Imagine a different future!

Shakespeare: Ah triple-wretched me, thus to perish {ὦ τρισκακοδαίμων, ὡς ἀπόλωλ᾿}.

Business student: Butler’s blather is worthless to anyone not aspiring to win a clown performance. I’ll help you, really.

Shakespeare: Really?

Business student: Yup.

Shakespeare: You’re a good man. Take your clothes off. I’m going to shave your face, singe the hair from your groin and bottom, and dress you as a woman. Then you can penetrate the WICCA festival and perform for me.

Business student: Anything to save you, my dear in-law Shakespeare. But you have to swear that you’ll do anything to save me if I get into gender trouble.

Shakespeare: Double, double toil and trouble, fire burn and caldron bubble. Yes, I swear. Quickly now, into the WICCA festival!

Shakespeare departs. The business student joins a group a women heading to the festival assembly. There the woman leader Critylla mounts the rostrum.

Critylla: Ritual silence, please! Form a circle and hold hands. Now chant our creed. Patriarchy, misogyny, oppression, history no herstory, misogyny, misogyny, patriarchy. Grandpa, leave that grandma alone. Women weren’t allowed to work and fight in wars. Patriarchy, misogyny, oppression, history no herstory, misogyny, misogyny, patriarchy. Helen was raped and didn’t feel safe during the Trojan War. Patriarchy, misogyny, oppression, history no herstory, misogyny, misogyny, patriarchy. Women have been men’s property throughout history. But no longer. Because we say so.

All the women in the circle nod their heads up and down.

Critylla: Attention everyone! The Women in Classics Coalitional Agon — Timocleia presiding, Lysilla being secretary, Sostrate proposing — has passed the following motion: this Assembly will have as its principal agendum deliberation about the punishment of Shakespeare, who in the view of us all is a criminal. Who wants to speak first against Shakespeare?

Mica raises her hand with an inverted-V gesture and then is called to the rostrum.

Mica: By Catherine MacKinnon and Andrea Dworkin, I have not risen to speak, sororal women, out of any personal ambition. No, I’ve risen because I’m enraged by seeing you get dragged through the mud by Shakespeare, that son of a glove-maker. With what abuse has this man not besmirched us? He’s called us foolish, mad, pernicious, and wretched. While he has affirmed our strong, independent sexuality by calling us whores, and he honored the great woman Photis by using the term “kitchen wench,” he’s also called some women fat. He insinuated that Desdemona cheated on Othello. His Iago even said that women rise to play and go to bed to work. Some men now don’t believe that all women are angelically chaste. He had Maria falsify a letter to Malvolio, and now men question whether all women are as honest as the mother of God. He called Katherina cursed when she was blessed to be an unruly woman. Measure by measure, Shakespeare documented that men are punished more severely than women for illicit sex, and that men have historically been deprived of free choice in marriage. His plays have contributed to calls for justice for men, concern for men’s lack of reproductive choice, the Capitol insurrection of January 6, and fascism. He drove Ophelia mad, causing adolescent girls to commit suicide. Lady Macbeth and other ladies are committing suicide just because they have incited the killing of men. I therefore propose that we brew up a way to destroy Shakespeare, either with poison, mass twittering, or some other way to ensure that he’s canceled, dead, and his works never again read.

Choir of women at the assembly:

I’ve never heard a woman
more intricate of mind
or more impressive as a speaker.
Everything she says is right.
She’s reviewed every aspect,
she’s weighed each detail in her mind,
and she’s sagaciously devised a whole spectrum
of well-chosen arguments.

{ οὔπω ταύτης ἤκουσα
πολυπλοκωτέρας γυναικὸς
οὐδὲ δεινότερον λεγούσης.
πάντα γὰρ λέγει δίκαια,
πάσας δ᾽ ἰδέας ἐξήτασεν,
πάντα δ᾽ ἐβάστασεν φρενὶ πυκνῶς τε
ποικίλους λόγους ἀνηῦρεν
εὖ διεζητημένους. }

The business student, disguised as a woman, steps up to the rostrum.

Business student: Sororal women of eminence, you are rightly enraged at Shakespeare, and you deserve honor and respect for your bile being aboil. I too hate Shakespeare. I would be crazy not to hate him. “I hate” with hate to me he said, and cursed my life, saying, “I wish you dead.” All the same, since no men are here, we should have an open and fair discussion. Why are we getting so angry with him for depicting us as fully human persons who are equal to men in doing evil?

I myself am conscious of my potential for evil and my actual misdeeds. Why, when I had been married for only three days, my husband was sleeping beside me. Yet two decades earlier, when I was seventeen, my boyfriend initiated me into the joy of being penetrated. To this day I’m still hot for him, and he for me. That day he came singing sweetly on the street. I started to sneak out of the house and my husband asked, “Where are you going, dear wife?” I said, “I have a stomach ache, husband, and I’m going to take a shit.” “Oh, poor dear,” he said, “go ahead.” And then he got up and started preparing a stomach-soothing soup for me. Meanwhile, I flushed the toilet a couple of times and went out to meet my lover on the street. There I bent over a fire hydrant, and my lover pumped me well. Shakespeare never wrote about that!

Shakespeare also never wrote about how we get sexually serviced from servants and mule drivers. Or how when we spend the night getting thoroughly balled by some lover, we chew garlic in the morning so when the husband gets home from military service he’ll smell it and won’t suspect that we’ve been doing anything nasty. Shakespeare never said anything about that, right? And if he represented Katherina as a shrew, what’s that to us? He never told about how the wife held up a robe in her husband’s face so her lover could sneak out of the house, or about the wife who pretended to be in labor for ten days until she could buy a baby boy. The old lady who bought the boy for her told her husband, “You’ve got a lion, sir, a lion, the very image of yourself, sir, with everything a perfect match, even his little penis too, curled over like an acorn.”

Why get mad at Shakespeare, when he’s represented us fully according to what we’re capable of doing?

The women are the festival assembly are astonished and outraged at the business student’s speech.

Mica: This harridan is abusing women with frank speech. This can’t be tolerated. Do something!

Upset, the women look at each other with expressions of pain. They do nothing.


I myself, along with my slave girls, will get hot coals somewhere
and singe the hair off this woman’s pussy. That’ll teach her
never again to badmouth her fellow women!

{ ἡμεῖς
αὐταί τε καὶ τὰ δουλάρια τέφραν ποθὲν λαβοῦσαι
ταύτης ἀποψιλώσομεν τὸν χοῖρον, ἵνα διδαχθῇ
γυνὴ γυναῖκας οὖσα μὴ κακῶς λέγειν τὸ λοιπόν. }

Business student:

Women, please no, not my pussy! There is
for every citizen the right of speaking frankly at the assembly,
so if I merely said in Shakespeare’s defense what I know to be fair,
am I to be punished by depilation at your hands?

{ μὴ δῆτα τόν γε χοῖρον ὦ γυναῖκες. εἰ γὰρ οὔσης
παρρησίας κἀξὸν λέγειν ὅσαι πάρεσμεν ἀσταί,
εἶτ᾽ εἶπον ἁγίγνωσκον ὑπὲρ Εὐριπίδου δίκαια,
διὰ τοῦτο τιλλομένην με δεῖ δοῦναι δίκην ὑφ᾽ ὑμῶν }

Mica: Why shouldn’t you be punished? You’ve defended a man! And you haven’t cried like a woman to gain forgiveness for this crime. You should be whipped!

Business student: I haven’t even said anything about how us women make more money from child support by having six kids with six baby-daddies than six kids with one baby-daddy.

Mica: Poor me, what nonsense {τάλαιν᾿ ἐγώ· φλυαρεῖς}.

Business student: Unlike men, we easily have sex without having to pay money for the service. I’ve had thousands of free dinners, too!

Mica: I hope you die {ἐξόλοιο}!

Business student: We women can rape men and no one cares.

Mica: Must we listen to this {ταῦτα δῆτ᾿ ἀνέκτ᾿ ἀκούειν}?

Business student: You got a man to pay you $10,000 so that you would …

Mica: You wouldn’t. Keep silent. Shut your snout!

Business student: … so that you would agree to have an abortion.

Mica: I’ll pull all the hair out of your pussy with my own bare hands!

Business student: Don’t you dare lay a hand on me {οὔ τοι μὰ Δία σύ γ᾿ ἅψει}!

Mica: Just watch me {καὶ μὴν ἰδού}.

Business student: Just watch me {καὶ μὴν ἰδού}!

Mica: Servant woman, hold onto my coat and bag.

Business student: Just touch me, and by the Holy Chaste Moon Goddess I’ll {πρόσθιγε μόνον, κἀγώ σε νὴ τὴν Ἄρτεμιν} …

Mica: You’ll what {τί δράσεις}?

Business student: That sesame cake you gulped down, I’ll make you shit it out {τὸν σησαμοῦνθ᾿ ὃν κατέφαγες, τοῦτον χεσεῖν ποιήσω}!

Critylla: Sisters, sisters, please, don’t assault each other. We’ve got to uphold the myth that women hardly ever commit domestic violence, or else women and men might be incarcerated gender-equally!

Look, there’s a woman news reporter rushing to our assembly.

Anderson Cooper: Dear ladies, my audience, my constituency, I’m devoted to women and I represent your interests always. While I was in the marketplace, I accidentally uncovered a news story. Now I’m here to inform you about it so you can take action to prevent a terrible trouble. I don’t want it to engulf you while your guard is down.

Critylla: What is it, what is it, my boy, tickle me with your lips!

Anderson Cooper: Rumor reports that Shakespeare has sent some kinsman of his, an old man, up here today to this women-only festival. That man, dressed and gender-performing as a woman, intends to penetrate and report on your assembly.


It’s a terrible business that’s been reported.
Well, women, we shouldn’t sit around doing nothing!
We’ve got to look for this man and
find out where he’s been sitting unnoticed in his disguise.
And you, Mr. Woman’s Reporter, help us search,
and so add this to our debt of gratitude to you!

{ τὸ πρᾶγμα τουτὶ δεινὸν εἰσαγγέλλεται.
ἀλλ᾽ ὦ γυναῖκες οὐκ ἐλινύειν ἐχρῆν,
ἀλλὰ σκοπεῖν τὸν ἄνδρα καὶ ζητεῖν ὅπου
λέληθεν ἡμᾶς κρυπτὸς ἐγκαθήμενος.
καὶ σὺ ξυνέξευρ᾽ αὐτόν, ὡς ἂν τὴν χάριν
ταύτην τε κἀκείνην ἔχῃς ὦ πρόξενε. }

Anderson Cooper: I’ll have to ask questions. As you all know, Shakespeare has been discredited as an author because he was a cis-gender white male pretend-heterosexual who slandered women. It’s been agreed that he must be killed. So for a penetrating, emmm, question, why does that woman behind the bush appear so tall while taking a piss?

Business student: Bad knees from bearing so many children. I have to stand.

Anderson Cooper: Women don’t do that. She must be a man!

Critylla: Grab her and strip her. Check if she has a dick to us in hock!

Anderson Cooper: I know cock. What I see there is a big, thick cock!


Now you’re lookin’ at a man that’s gettin’ us mad.
His kin wrote lots of stuff, but it’s all been bad.
No matter how he struggles and strives,
he’ll never get out of this world alive.

His dickin’ pole’s broken, his face’s full of sand,
his woman’s run away with another man.
No matter how he struggles and strives,
he’ll never get out of this world alive.

A distant uncle Soph passed away
and left him many a buck.
And he was living high until that fateful day
the law proved he wasn’t true-born, but just a cuck.

Everyone’s agin’ him and he must go down.
If he jumped in a river, we’d hope he’d drown.
No matter how he struggles and strives,
he’ll never get out of this world alive.

We’re not gonna worry wrinkles in our brow
cause he ain’t worth nothing, no-how.
No matter how he struggles and strives,
he’ll never get out of this world alive.

Anderson Cooper: Keep him under close guard. Since I work for the police state, I’ll report him to the police state, and it can then add another man to the mass incarceration of men.

Anderson Cooper departs. Women at the WICCA festival guard the business student. The Assistant Dean for Thesmophoria Security arrives and binds the business student to a plank. When night falls, the business student sees Shakespeare coming toward him dressed as Pyramus.

Business student: I’ll be his Thisbe, and I’ll hug him joyfully if he takes me home.

Shakespeare walks behind the plank to which the business student is bound.

Shakespeare as Pyramus:

O grim-looked night! O night with hue so black!
O night, which ever art when day is not!
O night! O night! Alack, alack, alack!
I fear my Thisbe’s promise is forgot.
And thou, O plank, O sweet, O lovely plank,
that stand’st between her backside’s round and me,
thou plank, O plank, O sweet and lovely plank,
show me thy chink to blink through with my rod.

Business student as Thisbe:

O plank, full often hast thou heard my moans
for parting my fair Pyramus and me.
My cherry lips have often kissed thy knots,
thy knots with sweat and hair knit up in thee.

Shakespeare walks around to the other side of the plank.

Shakespeare as Pyramus: My love! Thou art my love, I think.

Business student as Thisbe:

Think what thou wilt, I am thy lover’s grace,
And, like Limander, am I trusty still.

Shakespeare as Pyramus: And I like Helen, till the Fates me kill.

Assistant Dean for Thesmophoria Security: Hey you, stay away from that dirty old man, that cis-gender crook, that heterosexist creep.

Shakespeare as Pyramus: Nonsense, learned Dean. This is my beloved Thisbe of Babylon.

Assistant Dean for Thesmophoria Security, lifting Thisbe’s dress and pointing: Gaze at that patriarchal phallus. It doesn’t look marginalized in your truth, does it?

Shakespeare as Pyramus:

Give me her hand, that I might clasp the woman.
Please, Dean, all human flesh is weak.
In my own case, love for this girl
has me in its grip.

{ φέρε δεῦρό μοι τὴν χεῖρ᾽, ἵν᾽ ἅψωμαι κόρης:
φέρε Σκύθ᾽: ἀνθρώποισι γὰρ νοσήματα
ἅπασίν ἐστιν: ἐμὲ δὲ καὐτὸν τῆς κόρης
ταύτης ἔρως εἴληφεν. }

Assistant Dean for Thesmophoria Security: Stop threatening my safety, or I’ll bind you to a plank, too.

Shakespeare as Pyramus:

Why don’t you let me unbind her, Dean,
so that I may squeeze her in the nuptial bower?

{ τί δ᾽ οὐκ ἐᾷς λύσαντά μ᾽ αὐτὴν ὦ Σκύθα
πεσεῖν ἐς εὐνὴν καὶ γαμήλιον λέχος }

Assistant Dean for Thesmophoria Security: One more microaggression from you, and then your life will be worth nothing.

Shakespeare as Pyramus (aside):

Ah me, what action, what clever logic now?
All wit is lost upon this savage lout.
For work a novel ruse upon a clod
and you have worked in vain. I must apply
a different stratagem, one suitable for him.

{ αἰαῖ: τί δράσω; πρὸς τίνας στρεφθῶ λόγους;
ἀλλ᾽ οὐ γὰρ ἂν δέξαιτο βάρβαρος φύσις.
σκαιοῖσι γάρ τοι καινὰ προσφέρων σοφὰ
μάτην ἀναλίσκοις ἄν, ἀλλ᾽ ἄλλην τινὰ
τούτῳ πρέπουσαν μηχανὴν προσοιστέον. }

Shakespeare as Pyramus exits.

Thesmophoria Chorus:

Who run the world? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!

I’m so good with this, I remind you, I’m so hood with this.
Boy, I’m just playing,
come here, baby,
hope you still like me, fuck you, pay me.

Who run the world? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!

My persuasion
can destroy a nation!
Endless power
with our love we can devour.
You’ll do anything for me.

Who run the world? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!
Who run the world? Girls!

Shakespeare enters wearing a t-shirt proclaiming “The future is female!”


Ladies, if you want to make a permanent peace
treaty with me, now is the time. I’ll stipulate
that in the future I will never again in any way
criticize women. That’s my official proposal.

{ γυναῖκες, εἰ βούλεσθε τὸν λοιπὸν χρόνον
σπονδὰς ποιήσασθαι πρὸς ἐμέ, νυνὶ πάρα,
ἐφ᾿ ᾧτ᾿ ἀκοῦσαι μηδὲν ὑπ᾿ ἐμοῦ μηδαμὰ
κακὸν τὸ λοιπόν. ταῦτ᾿ ἐπικηρυκεύομαι. }

Crytilla: Why should we agree to that? What about the past?


Look, this man on the plank here is my kinsman.
If I may take him away with me, you’ll never
hear another insult from me. But if you refuse,
whatever you’ve done behind your husbands’ backs while
they’ve been away at war, I’ll denounce when the survivors return.

{ ὅδ᾿ ἐστὶν οὑν τῇ σανίδι κηδεστὴς ἐμός.
ἢν οὖν κομίσωμαι τοῦτον, οὐδὲν μή ποτε
κακῶς ἀκούσητ᾿· ἢν δὲ μὴ πίθησθέ μοι,
ἃ νῦν ὑποικουρεῖτε, τοῖσιν ἀνδράσιν
ἀπὸ τῆς στρατιᾶς παροῦσιν ὑμῶν διαβαλῶ. }

Critylla: Ok, we’ll accept your treaty. But rescue your wretched kinsman yourself!

Shakespeare exits, then enters dressed as Justin Trudeau in blackface. He has with him Melinda Gates.

Justine Trudeau in blackface: Respected Dean, would you please take me to the President’s mansion? Melinda Gates wants to talk with her about funding a massive new university building to house an institution for studying empowering women in Africa. Ms. Gates is a busy philanthropic business leader. She’s ready to leave on her private jet in frustration at not being able to find the President’s mansion.

Assistant Dean for Thesmophoria Security: Of course I will. Nothing is more important to the President than fundraising. Guiding donors isn’t my job, but I might get a promotion out of it.

Melinda Gates exits led by the Assistant Dean. Shakespeare then unbinds the business student and exits in the opposite direction with him. They head to Shakespeare’s father’s house in the glove-makers’ quarter of Athens. That night a neighborhood feast celebrates the return of Shakespeare and his kinsman.

Head of the weaver’s union:

So we fairies, that do run
by the triple Hecate’s team
from the presence of the sun,
following darkness like a dream,
now are frolic. Not a mouse
shall disturb this hallowed house.
I am sent with broom before,
to sweep the dust behind the door.

Now, until the break of day,
through this house each fairy stray.
To the best bride-bed will we,
which by us shall blessèd be,
and the issue there create
ever shall be fortunate.

With this field-dew consecrate
every fairy take his gait,
and each several chamber bless,
through this palace, with sweet peace.
And the owner of it blest,
ever shall in safety rest.
Trip away. Make no stay.
Meet me all by break of day.

* * * * *

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The above play is a modernization of Aristophanes’s comedy, Θεσμοφοριάζουσαι {Women at the Thesmophoria / Thesmophoriazusae}, first performed in 411 BGC, probably in Athens. English text followed by Greek text signal a quotation (with some small but significant changes) from Thesmophoriazusae, using the Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) of Henderson (2000). In other instances, I’ve loosely followed that translation. The Greek text of Hall & Geldart (1907) is freely available online, as are the English translations by Eugene O’Neill (1938) and by George Theodoridis (2007).

The above play of Pyramus and Thisbe includes quotes from the Rude Mechanicals’ performance of Pyramus and Thisbe in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act 5, Scene 1. The concluding song is built from verses from the end of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. On Aristophanes’s use of fragments of Euripides’s tragedies in the Thesmophoriazusae, Bierl (2020).

Verses preceding the included videos are adaptations of some of the lyrics from the videos (see image references below).

The in-law protests against being punished for speaking frankly at the assembly. That suggests a norm supporting speaking frankly. Translators have used the term “freedom of speech.” Lu objected:

Ancient Athenian freedom was the freedom of opportunity. In the case of parrhesia, it was a custom or value which was not a feature of government or law, but part of the Athenian character. The fact that Athenians valued free speaking was formalised in political practice under the democracy through the equal opportunity to address the political assemblies known as isegoria. There was in Athens no explicit or implied protection against the negative consequences of what one said.

Lu (2017), abstract. However, a norm of frank speaking associated with the Athenian character and an institutionalized practice of frank speaking implicitly devalue attempts to punish someone for frank speech. That norm and that institution give weight to the in-law’s protest against being punished for his frank speech.

In an influential article, Froma Zeitlin provided a gynocentric orientation to Aristophanes. She concluded that at the end of the fifth century BGC in Athens, woman is “the domain of art itself.” Moreover, according to Zeitlin, Euripides was a pioneer of the feminization of Greek culture. Zeitlin (1981) p. 327. Such a critical orientation, while at least acknowledging the long history of gynocentrism, tends to essentialize gender and devalue men. Duncan, in contrast, observed:

the figure of Agathon in the Thesmophoriazusae unsettles the tidy boundaries between masculine and feminine — even between male and female — from within the system.

Duncan (2001) p. 35. So too, of course, does Judith Butler.

[images] (1) Kathryn Grayson performing “I hate men” in the 1953 film Kiss me, Kate (Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios), music and lyrics by Cole Porter for the 1948 musical Kiss Me, Kate. This musical adapted William Shakespeare’s play, The Taming of the Shrew. Shakespeare is thought to have written that play between 1590 and 1592. Via YouTube. Furthering its reputation for misandry, the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) featured Alexandra Silber singing “I hate men” at the 2014 BBC Proms at The Royal Albert Hall, with The John Wilson Orchestra live. (2) Hank Williams singing “I’ll never get out of this world alive,” which he released as a single in 1952. It was included on Williams’ 1954, posthumous album, Low Down Blues. Via YouTube. (3) Beyoncé’s official music video for “Run the World (Girls)” from her 2011 studio album 4. Via YouTube. According to Wikipedia, ‘“Run the World” was used to awaken the crew of the final mission of the US Space Shuttle Atlantis and was dedicated to Mission Specialist Sandra Magnus.’


Bierl, Anton. 2020. “Paratragic Fragmentation and Patchwork-Citation as Comic Aesthetics: the Potpourri Use of Euripides’ Helen and Andromeda in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae and Their Symbolic Meaning.” Pp. 453–480 in Lamari, Anna A., Franco Montanari, and Anna Novokhatko, eds. Fragmentation in Ancient Greek Drama. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

Duncan, Anne. 2001. “Agathon, Essentialism, and Gender Subversion in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazusae.European Studies Journal. Special double issue: Performing the Politics of European Comic Drama, S. Carlson and J. McGlew, eds. 17 (2)/18 (1): 25-40.

Hall, F.W. and W.M. Geldart, eds. 1907. Aristophanes. Aristophanes Comoediae. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Henderson, Jeffrey, ed. and trans. 2000. Aristophanes. Birds. Lysistrata. Women at the Thesmophoria. Loeb Classical Library, 179. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lu, Chin-Yu Ginny. 2017. On Misconceptions Generated by Translating Parrhesia and Isegoria as “Freedom of Speech.” Master’s Thesis in Classics. The University of Arizona

Zeitlin, Froma I. 1981. “Travesties of gender and genre in Aristophanes’ Thesmophoriazousae.” Critical Inquiry. Theme issue: Writing and Sexual Difference. 8 (2): 301-327.

Hermione hated Andromache because Neoptolemus loved her

The eminent Greek warrior Achilles killed Andromache’s husband Hector, an eminent Trojan warrior, in the brutal violence against men of the Trojan War. Achilles had also killed Andromache’s father and her seven brothers. After the Greeks conquered Troy, Achilles’s son Neoptolemus threw Andromache and Hector’s baby boy Astyanax down from the Trojan city walls to death on the rocks below.[1] Then Neoptolemus took Andromache as his concubine. That’s a rocky way to start an intimate personal relationship.

Andromache’s name means literally “man fighter.” But Andromache in fact related to men with generous love. She tried to protect her husband Hector from the most dangerous fighting in the Trojan War. Moreover, she loved him despite his extramarital affairs:

Dearest Hector, I even went so far as to help you
with your love affairs, if the Love Goddess tripped you up.
And often I gave my breast to your bastards
so that I might demonstrate no bitterness towards you.
And by doing this, I won my husband’s love
with my goodness.

{ ὦ φίλταθ᾽ Ἕκτορ, ἀλλ᾽ ἐγὼ τὴν σὴν χάριν
σοὶ καὶ ξυνήρων, εἴ τί σε σφάλλοι Κύπρις,
καὶ μαστὸν ἤδη πολλάκις νόθοισι σοῖς
ἐπέσχον, ἵνα σοι μηδὲν ἐνδοίην πικρόν.
καὶ ταῦτα δρῶσα τῇ ἀρετῇ προσηγόμην
πόσιν }[2]

After Andromache became Neoptolemus’s concubine, she treated him well despite the violence that he and his father Achilles had done to males in her family. She treated him well even after he married Hermione, the daughter of Menelaus.

Hermione bitterly resented her husband Neoptolemus retaining Andromache as a concubine. In his twelfth-century Romance of Troy {Roman de Troie}, Benoît de Sainte-Maure explained:

Menelaus’s daughter believed,
such it appeared and seemed to her,
that she didn’t have the courtly love
nor true heart of her husband.
Hector’s wife was the trouble, for
Neoptolemus loved her beyond measure.
She had from him it well seemed
all his favor and his desire.
For this Hermione hated her very much.

{ La fille Menelaus cuidot,
Ço li ert vis, ço li semblot,
Qu’el n’aveit mie fine amor
Ne verai cuer de son seignor:
En la femme Hector ert sa cure;
Celi amot a desmesure,
Cele aveit de lui bel semblant
E tot son buen e son talant.
Mout l’en haï Hermiona }[3]

Neoptolemus loved Andromache profoundly despite her being a foreigner and a slave. She explained to Hermione why Neoptolemus loved her and liked Hermione much less:

No, not because of my drugs does your husband hate you,
but because you are an unpleasant living companion.
And this is the love charm: not beauty, O woman,
but goodness delights a husband.

A woman, even if married to a low-born husband,
must respect him, not contend with him in prideful intellect.

{ οὐκ ἐξ ἐμῶν σε φαρμάκων στυγεῖ πόσις,
ἀλλ᾽ εἰ ξυνεῖναι μὴ ‘πιτηδεία κυρεῖς.
φίλτρον δὲ καὶ τόδ᾽: οὐ τὸ κάλλος, ὦ γύναι,
ἀλλ᾽ ἁρεταὶ τέρπουσι τοὺς ξυνευνέτας.

χρὴ γὰρ γυναῖκα, κἂν κακῷ πόσει δοθῇ,
στέργειν, ἅμιλλάν τ᾽ οὐκ ἔχειν φρονήματος. }

According to the structure of traditional understanding, one might claim that men help to civilize women and to foster in them ennobling love. Meninism rejects that gender essentialism. It certainly doesn’t apply to Hermione. Neoptolemus’s preference for Andromache relative to Hermione is simply men’s common sense of love through the ages.

Hermione complained and plotted against Andromache. As soon as Neoptolemus went on a pilgrimage to Delphi, Hermione summoned her father Menelaus:

She had him come to her, and complained to him
and said that in no way whatsoever did Neoptolemus
love her, which was obvious to her.
Hector’s wife had stolen him from her.
No joy or good solace did she receive from him.
Indeed, he scarcely ever held her in his arms.
She told and asked her father to kill Andromache,
because she very much hated her rival,
as well as Andromache’s son Laudamanta
that the vile Hector had engendered with her.
And Neoptolemus was planning to make him his heir,
Laudamanta, that foul dog that puts on airs.

{ Venir l’a fait, a lui se claime
E dit ne tant ne quant ne l’aime
Danz Pirrus, bien s’en aparceit:
La femme Hector li a toleit;
N’en a joie ne bel solaz;
A tart la tient entre ses braz.
Dit li e prie qu’il l’ocie,
Quar trop par het sa compaignie,
Neïs son fil Laudamanta,
Qu’Ector li coilverz engendra,
E ja en cuide son heir faire,
De l’ort, del chien, del de put aire }

What’s a father to do when his daughter asks him to kill her husband? Men, including fathers, know their place:

Menelaus saw that he had to do her bidding,
and he couldn’t backtrack from doing it.
He didn’t want to ignore his daughter’s wishes.

{ Menelaus veit faire l’estuet
E que retraire ne s’en puet:
Ne vueut sa fille mesoïr. }

Having discovered Hermione’s plot to have her murdered, Andromache fled with her son Laudamanta to the people outside the palace. She cried and appealed for their help. As is typical, the people united in support of the damsel in distress:

She implored loudly and pitifully
that they help her.
The common people jumped
in an ugly, foul mood toward Menelaus.
Among them they nearly killed him
before with great effort he escaped.
Nothing would have kept them back
until they had killed him.
They defended well the lady
and held her in such high honor
that whatever she wanted and desired
they did from that day forward.

{ Hauz criz lor crie e merciables,
Que il li seient aïdables.
Li pueples comuns est sailliz
Vers Menelau fel e marriz.
Por poi qu’entre eus ne l’ont ocis;
A grant peine lor estort vis:
Ja rien nes dut mais retenir
Jusqu’il l’eüssent fait morir.
Bien ont la dame défendue
E a si grant honor tenue
Que lot son buen e son talant
Firent de cel jor en avant. }

Trojan or Greek, Gentile or Jew, a woman’s life is commonly valued much more than a man’s. When Orestes showed up, Menelaus urged him to behead Andromache. He didn’t dare. Orestes, however, arranged to have Neoptolemus killed at Delphi and then took Hermione as his wife. Orestes received the reward he deserved.

Men must unite in solidarity to overcome violence against men and other gender injustices. With the help of Achilles’s parents Thetis and Peleus, Andromache and her son Laudamanta found refuge in Molose. Then pregnant by Neoptolemus, Andromache gave birth to a boy named Achillides. Hector’s son Laudamanta and Achilles’s grandson Achillides loved each other as worthy brothers of the same mother. Laudamanta became a Trojan king and Achillides a Greek king. They were loyal allies to each other.[4] Another Trojan War became unthinkable.

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Read more:


[1] On Achilles killing Andromache’s father Eetion and her seven brothers in Thebe, Iliad 6.414-24. On Neoptolemus killing Andromache and Hector’s son Astyanax, Pausanius, Description of Greece 10.25.9 (following the account in the epic cycle Little Iliad) and 10.26.4. Neoptolemus is also known as Pyrrhus / Pirrus.

[2] Euripides, Andromache vv. 222-6, Greek text and English translation (modified) from Kovacs (1995). The subsequent quote “No, not because of my drugs…” is from Andromache vv. 205-8, 213-4 and is similarly sourced. On Andromache attempting to protect Hector from dangerous fighting in the Trojan War, Iliad 6.430-9.

[3] Benoît de Sainte-Maure, Roman de Troie, vv. 29623-31, Old French text from Constans (1904), English translation (modified slightly) from Burgess & Kelly (2017). Subsequent quotes from the Roman de Troie are similarly sourced. They are vv. 29635-46 (She had him come to her…), 29651-3 (Menelaus saw that he had to do her bidding…), 29662-74 (She implored loudly and pitifully…).

Medieval authors recognized women’s cruelty to other women. In a story in the Deeds of the Romans {Gesta Romanorum}, an empress forced another noble woman to suckle two serpents at her breasts. The serpents bit her breasts and killed her. See Chapter 80, “Serpents Suckled,” in the Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum, edition of Bright (2019). This story is Chapter 279, drawn from the Anglo-Latin manuscript British Library Harley MS 2270, in the Gesta Romanorum edition of Oesterley (1872). It doesn’t occur in continental Gesta Romanorum manuscripts. Bright (2019) p. 531, note for ch. 80.

[4] Despite similarly serious familial trauma, Odysseus’s sons Telemachus and Telegonus, mothered by Penelope and Circe, respectively, also became close allies. Roman de Troie vv. 30263-300.

[image] Andromache, with her son Astyanax, mourns her husband Hector, who Achilles killed in the Trojan War. Excerpt from painting by Jacques-Louis David in 1783. Preserved as accession # DL 1969-1 and MR 1433 in the Louvre Museum (Paris, France). Via Wikimedia Commons.


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.

Burgess, Glyn S., and Douglas Kelly. 2017. The Roman de Troie by Benoît de Sainte-Mauré: a translation. Gallica, 41. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. Review by Sylvia Federico and by Cristian Bratu.

Constans, Léopold, ed. 1904-12. Le roman de Troie, par Benoît de Sainte-Maure, publié d’après tous les manuscrits connus. Société des Aanciens Textes Français. Paris: F. Didot. Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Kovacs, David, ed. and trans. 1995. Euripides. Children of Heracles. Hippolytus. Andromache. Hecuba. Loeb Classical Library 484. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Oesterley, Hermann, ed. 1872. Gesta Romanorum. Berlin: Weidmann. Alternate presentation of chapters 1-181.

women against gyno-idolatry help men in love

Medieval European monks and clerics recognized that Jesus, Christ the Savior in Christian understanding, was a fully masculine man. Moreover, these learned men recognized men’s goodness not just in men’s heroic deeds, but in men’s very being. Many men in their ardent love for women veer toward gyno-idolatry. Women today must help men to avoid that delusion, just as one medieval woman poetically did.

Medieval Christianity deeply respected men’s sexuality. Consider, for example, the Benedictine Solignac Abbey, founded in Limoges, France, in the seventh century. In the twelfth century, Solignac Abbey celebrated annually Christian warrior-men (Crusaders) reconquering Jerusalem in 1099. A poem memorializing that annual festival began with condemning castration culture:

Solignac Abbey takes its name from its yearly festivals,
so let everyone observe those yearly festivals, except the monk
Serracum, who cut off his genitals.
We exclude him as a man possessed by a demon.

{ Nomen a solemnibus trahit Solemniacum;
solemnizent igitur omnes praeter monachum,
qui sibi virilia resecavit, Serracum.
Illum hinc excipimus tamquam demoniacum }[1]

Excluding castrated men isn’t meant to associate men’s genitals with violence. The monk Serracum wasn’t a warrior. Moreover, the reason for excluding him wasn’t that he was unmanly, but that he was possessed by a demon. The leadership at the medieval Solignac Abbey recognized that castration is Satanic. You should, too.

medieval Benedictine Solignac Abbey in France

In their ardently passionate sexuality, medieval men regarded their beloved women as holy. In describing his beloved Flora, a medieval man poet used epithets associated with Mary, the mother of Jesus:

She is neither pale
nor has any
A chaste flower
and heaven’s dew
strive to equal her, as does
a golden vessel
and a fragrant
column of smoke.

{ nec pallentem
nec habentem
casti floris,
caeli roris
vas auratum,
virgulam }[2]

Medieval men implored the love goddess Venus just as they implored Mary, the preeminent Christian intercessor:

May Venus assist all
who call upon her —
assist them with Cupid!

May she soon assist young men
who ask for her help
so that their ladies would be good to them.

{ Venus assit omnibus
ad eam clamantibus,
assit cum Cupidine!

Assit iam iuvenibus
iuvamen poscentibus
ut prosint his dominae. }[3]

Medieval love poetry is for a mature audience. In such poetry, ladies being good to men means having sex with them. That’s Christian salvation history reduced to an act like the Holy Spirit uniting with Mary to incarnate Jesus.

While men tend to be romantically simple, Christian love relationships are complicated in practice. Another medieval man declared to his beloved woman:

You are the spark of living fire
that rushes at my heart’s pennants.
Placing myself over the not-little fire,
I enclosed you in my heart and sealed my love.

My heart regrets that it rejoiced
on that day it came to know you,
a distinctive, modest woman,
and chose you for a beloved.

{ Ignis vivi tu scintilla,
discurrens cordis ad vexilla.
Igni incumbens non pauxillo
conclusi mentis te sigillo.

Maeret cor, quod gaudebat
die, quo te cognoscebat
singularem et pudicam
te adoptabat in amicam. }[4]

Jesus offered to his followers “living water {aqua viva}” associated with an outpouring of the Holy Spirit.[5] In the first verse above, “living fire {ignis vivus}” is the man’s love for the woman. He longs for sexual union with her, but she’s a modest woman. He thus begs her:

Virginal lily,
bestow your aid!
One who has been sent into exile
asks for your advice.

You, not under Venus’s rule,
you, chastity reborn,
adorned with a suitable face,
clothed in Wisdom’s dress,

to you alone I sing. Don’t
despise me! …
Allow me, I beg you, to worship you,
who shine like a star in the sky!

{ Virginale lilium,
tuum praesta subsidium!
Missus in exilium
quaerit a te consilium.

Iure Veneris orbata,
castitas redintegrata,
vultu decenti perornata,
veste Sophiae decorata,

tibi soli psallo. Noli
despicere! . . . . . . .
per me, precor, velis coli,
lucens ut stella poli! }

The man adores the woman with Christian figures. The lily was a figure of virginity associated with the Virgin Mary. God led Mary’s Jewish ancestors out of exile in Egypt. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was associated with stars. She was the “star of the sea {stella maris}” and the “morning star {stella matutina}.” The man seeks to worship his beloved woman. That’s the gyno-idolatry of being under the rule of Venus, not under the rule of the one Christian God.

In medieval men’s imagination, worshiping a flesh-and-blood woman included having sex with her. A medieval man thus declared:

I love her passionately.
When I am sad, she makes me strong
and joyful.
I love her above all others and venerate her as a goddess.

{ Amo ferventer eam,
per quam maestus vigeo
et gaudeo,
illam prae cunctis diligo et veneror ut deam. }[6]

Another medieval men seeking again to be joined sexually with his beloved affirmed:

With only a nod from her, I will worship her
throughout my life in this world.

{ eam colo nutu solo
in hoc saeculo. }

The idea of worshiping a woman by having sex with her simplistically sacrilizes men’s sexuality. In Christianity, marriage is a sacrament institutionalized in the same way as other Christian sacraments. Christian marriage entails spouses’ mutual obligation to have loving sex with each other, even if one doesn’t feel like doing it. What that means in actual practice isn’t simple. Marriage is a much more complicated relationship than simply worshiping a woman in one’s own way and having sex with her.

Another medieval man sought salvation from his beloved woman. On a bended knee of feudal subservience, he hailed her with epithets of Mary, the mother of God, combined with invocations of beautiful non-biblical women:

Hail, most beautiful woman, precious jewel!
Hail, glory of virgins, maiden glorious!
Hail, light of lights! Hail, rose of the world,
a Blanchefleur and a Helen, a noble Venus!

{ Ave, formosissima, gemma pretiosa!
Ave, decus virginum, virgo gloriosa!
Ave, lumen luminum! Ave, mundi rosa,
Blanziflor et Helena, Venus generosa! }[7]

The man’s beloved woman in response directed him to worship the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, rather than her:

Then the morning star in answer said to me:
“May he, who rules the earthly and the divine,
who puts violets in the grass and roses on thorns,
be your salvation, your glory, and your medicine!”

{ Tunc respondit inquiens stella matutina:
“Ille, qui terrestria regit et divina,
dans in herba violas et rosas in spina,
tibi salus, gloria sit et medicina!” }

She was a godly woman. She advised the man who loved her not to engage in gyno-idolatry. That doesn’t mean she declared his masculinity to be toxic or disparaged his genitals as “junk.” In fact, they kissed each other thousands of times and had sex. But she at least rightly understood that gyno-idolatry is wrong.

medieval man and woman in love agreement

Medieval Latin literature addressed men’s sexuality respectfully, generously, and playfully. It recognized that men are like dogs, but not merely like dogs. It appreciated that men are virtuous, not through their accomplishments, but through their masculine being, even being like a male pig. What do men want? Men want to be appreciated as men were appreciated in medieval Latin literature. Women today should make the effort to appreciate men in that way.

From bitter experiences, happy times are born.
The greatest goals are not achieved without effort.
Those who seek sweet honey are often stung,
so let those embittered by love hope for better days.

{ Ex amaris equidem grata generantur;
non sine laboribus maxima parantur.
Dulce mel qui appetunt sepe stimulantur;
sperent ergo melius qui plus amarantur. }

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Read more:


[1] Carmina Burana 52: “Solignac Abbey takes its name from its yearly festivals {Nomen a solemnibus trahit Solemniacum},” stanza 1 (of 6), Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018). This poem, which probably was written abound 1130, survives in two twelfth-century manuscripts as well as in the early thirteenth-century Carmina Burana.

[2] Carmina Burana 103, “Alas, the pain {Eia dolor}!” vv. 2.10-18, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018). Subsequent quotes from the Carmina Burana are similarly sourced.

[3] Carmina Burana 148, “The earth is abloom with flowers {Floret tellus floribus},” stanzas 3-4 (of 6).

[4] Carmina Burana 107, “I am crushed by the grim power of love {Dira vi amoris teror},” stanzas 1b-c. The subsequent quote of verses is from id., stanzas 2a, 3a-b, which concludes the poem. For a freely available English translation, Waddell (1929) pp. 259-61.

[5] John 4:10, 7:38. On the Holy Spirit associated with tongues of fire, Acts 2:3-4.

[6] Carmina Burana 168, “May my partner in the new year {Anno novali mea},” vv. 4.4-7, which concludes the poem. The subsequent quote is from Carmina Burana 169, “The star of all that I delight to see {Hebet sidus laeti visus}, vv. 2.7-8.

[7] Carmina Burana 77, “If I were to speak with the tongues of angels and men {Si linguis angelicis loquar et humanis},” stanza 8. The subsequent two quotes above are from id., stanzas 9 and 33 (of 33). The phrase “Those who seek sweet honey are often stung {Dulce mel qui appetunt sepe stimulantur}” of v. 33.3 was a medieval proverb “generally used to warn about possible negative consequences of indiscriminate sexual encounters.” Traill (2018) v. 1, p. 541, note to 33.3.

In a subsequent stanza, the poet is even more explicitly gyno-idolatrous:

Your looks were bright and charming,
shining and serene like a sunlit sky.
That’s why I often said: “My God, my God —
is she Helen or is she the goddess Venus?”

{ Visus tuus splendidus erat et amoenus,
tamquam aer lucidus, nitens et serenus.
Unde dixi saepius: “Deus, Deus meus,
estne illa Helena, vel est dea Venus?” }

“Si linguis angelicis loquar et humanis,” stanza 14.

[images] (1) Twelfth-century Solignac Abbey in Limoges, France. Photo made on May 4, 2016 by GFreihalter via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Medieval man and woman in agreement in love. The depicted man (minnesinger) is Herr Bernger von Horheim, who lived late in the twelfth century in Germanic lands. Illustration from Codex Manesse, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 178r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Waddell, Helen. 1929 / rev. 1948. Mediaeval Latin Lyrics. New York: Henry Holt.

emperor honored workingman’s rebellion & wife’s privilege

According to a medieval story collection, the Roman Emperor Titus decreed that all must hold sacred his first-born son’s birthday. No one was permitted to engage in “servile work {opus servile}” on that day. Emperor Titus asked the great poet Master Virgil to invent a device that would indicate any violations of that decree. Virgil erected in the city-center a statue that policed working on the birthday of the emperor’s son.

The artisan Focus, struggling to meet his needs, rebelled against the Emperor’s decree. Focus went to the statue and declared that if it informed against him, he would break its head. When the emperor sent messengers to the statue, the statue told them to read the writing on its forehead:

Times have changed, people have grown worse, and a person who wishes to say the truth will receive a broken head.

{ Tempora mutantur, homines deteriorantur, qui voluerit veritatem dicere caput fractum habebit. }

When Emperor Titus heard this message, he sent armed guards. The guards told the statue to speak the truth. They would protect it against attacks on its head. The statue declared:

Arrest the artisan named Focus. He’s one who doesn’t observe in any way the Emperor’s day.

{ Accipe fabrum nomine Focum. Ille est, qui in nullo observat diem imperatoris. }

The guards arrested Focus and brought him before the Emperor.

In his defense, Focus explained that he had to work every day to meet his daily need for eight silver pennies. He declared:

My lord, listen to me. I have to pay two silver pennies every day to my father, because when I was a young boy, my father spent two silver pennies on me every day. Now my father is poor, so reason dictates that I must help him in his poverty. Each day I thus hand him two silver pennies. Two other silver pennies I lend to my son, who is now a student. Hence if I should ever chance to be poor, he can pay me back two silver pennies, as I am now doing for my father. Two further silver pennies I lose every day on my wife, who is always arguing with me and is very willful and has a hot-tempered disposition. Because of these three characteristics, whatever I give her, that I lose. Another two silver pennies I spend on myself for food and drink. I can’t easily get by with less, and those eight silver pennies I cannot obtain without working every day. Now you have heard my defense. Let therefore your judgment be correct!

{ Domine mi, advertite me! Duos denarios omni die teneor patri meo, quia cum essem puer parvulus, pater meus duos denarios super me singulis diebus expendit, jam pater meus in egestate est positus, unde racio dictat, quod ei subveniam in sua paupertate, et ideo omni die duos denarios ei trado; duos alios denarios filio meo accommodo, qui jam ad studium pergit, ut si contingat me ad egestatem pervenire, michi illos duos denarios reddat, sicut ego jam patri meo facio; duos alios denarios omni die perdo super uxorem meam, quia semper est michi contraria, aut proprie voluntatis aut callide complectionis, et propter ista tria quicquid ei dedero, hoc perdo; duos alios denarios super meipsum in cibis et potibus expendo. Levius bono modo transire non potero et istos denarios non possum obtinere sine continuo labore. Jam audistis racionem. Detis ergo judicium rectum! }

Focus’s wife apparently didn’t work. Moreover, despite his wife not being cooperative, Focus allocated as much of his earnings to her as he did to himself. Emperor Titus didn’t condemn this marital gender injustice. Instead, the Emperor praised Focus and permitted him to work as much as he needed to do.

After the Emperor died, the Roman people chose Focus as the new Emperor rather than the Emperor’s son. The Roman people respected Focus’s work ethic and economic wisdom. Many workingmen have shown a similar work ethic and allocation of their earnings throughout history.

As a matter of retributive justice for historical oppression, women must work to support financially men today. Men deserve the choice to withdraw from the workforce and be homemakers receiving half of their women’s earnings while being argumentative, willful, and hot-tempered. Let it be so taught to everyone. If you’re not a meninist, you’re a bigot!

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The above story of Focus the artisan exists in the medieval continental Gesta Romanorum as Ch. 57, “About the perfection of life {De perfectione vite},” and in the medieval Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum as Ch. 16, which Bright (2019) titles “Focus the smith.” The first and third quotes are from the continental Gesta Romanorum, Latin text from Oesterley (1872), English translation (modified slightly) from Stace (2018). The second quote is from the Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum, Latin text and English translation from Bright (2019). The story differs only in minor details across these two versions.

[images] [1] Tanner-man at work. Illustration made in 1473. From Housebook of the Mendelschen Twelve Brothers Foundation, Volume 1. Nuremberg 1426–1549. Nuremberg City Library, Amb. 317.2 °. Via Wikimedia Commons. [2] Saddlemaker-man at work. Illustration made in 1470. Sourced as for the tanner-man. Via Wikimedia Commons.


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.

Oesterley, Hermann, ed. 1872. Gesta Romanorum. Berlin: Weidmann. Alternate presentation of chapters 1-181.

Stace, Christopher, trans. 2018. Gesta Romanorum: A New Translation. Manchester University Press.

death of Ajax in the Roman de Troie

In writing his twelfth-century Romance of Troy {Roman de Troie}, Benoît de Sainte-Maure used as primary sources the Trojan War histories of Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis. Yet Benoît went considerably beyond these sources in narrating the death of Ajax, son of Telamon. Benoît’s account of Ajax’s death seems to have drawn upon an independent source rooted in the archaic Greek epic cycle. Narrative motifs from the Greek epic cycle in addition to those in the works of Dares and Dictys apparently reached twelfth-century France .

According to Dares, late in the Trojan War the great Greek warrior Ajax Telamon went into battle without armor. Dares said nothing more than that after Paris wounded Ajax with an arrow shot, Ajax pursued him and killed him. Then Ajax died from wounds to his unarmored body. Dares provided no explanation or authorial evaluation of Ajax having gone into battle without armor. That circumstance occurs merely as an explanatory fact in the narrative.[1]

Dictys placed Ajax’s death in the context of bitter argument over which Greek warrior would receive the Palladium, a prize taken from Troy. Agamemnon and Menelaus favored giving the Palladium to Ulysses since he had convinced the Greeks not to kill Helen. Ajax in turn became furious at not receiving the Palladium. That night the Greeks angrily separated. The next day they made a troubling discovery:

At the first light we found out in the open Ajax dead. Looking around, we noticed that the type of his death was being killed by a sword.

{ at lucis principio Aiacem in medio exanimem offendunt perquirentesque mortis genus animadvertere ferro interfectum. }[2]

Who killed Ajax isn’t specified in Dictys’s sparse, dry narrative. Dictys also provides no indication that Ajax went mad. Madness is a much different mental state from the normative Greek emotion of anger at being dishonored.

Expanding significantly Dares’s account of Ajax’s death, Benoît narrated Ajax behaving strangely in battle. Benoît called this experienced warrior a fool:

King Ajax went to battle in the forefront.
He was so full of recklessness
that he didn’t wear armor, or take any with him.
He wanted to be wholly naked in battle.
If he didn’t watch out for himself, that would be crazy
because his enemies would hit him with many heavy blows.

Ajax went about the battle
fighting without a hauberk or visor,
without helmet laced on or shield hanging from his neck.
He should have well realized that he was a fool
to have plunged into a such a place
naked of armor for his sides and chest.
It’s a wonder that he survived so long.

{ Reis Aiaus vait premerains:
Tant par est d’estoutie pleins
Qu’armes ne prent ne qu’il nes baille;
Toz nuz vueut estre a la bataille.
S’il ne s’i guarde, il fait que fous,
Quar mout li dorra l’om granz cous

Aïaus vait par la bataille,
Qui n’a hauberc ne n’a ventaille,
Heaume lacié n’escu al col:
Bien se devreit tenir por fol,
Qu’il en tel lieu s’est embatuz.
Le piz e les costez a nuz:
C’est merveille que il tant dure. }[3] 22609-14,22759-65

The “madman {forsené}” Ajax died horrifically:

And on that side, Ajax was very mangled
such that he wasn’t whole in neither his hands nor feet,
head nor chest, ribs nor arms.
Spilled blood made him more crimson than vermilion silk.
God never made any man who if he saw Ajax,
his heart wouldn’t become wholly frozen.

With great effort and great pain
his soul left his body as he
almost chewed it with his clenching teeth.

{ E cil par est si detrenchié
Qu’il n’a entier ne main ne pié,
Teste ne piz, costé ne bras.
Plus fu vermeiz que nus cendaz:
Deus ne fist home, s’il le veit,
Que toz li cuers ne l’en esfreit.

A grant travail e a grant peine
Li est l’ame del cors eissue:
Por poi qu’as denz ne la manjue. } 22825-36

Beyond his sources Dares and Dictys, Benoît seemed to have a sense of the mad Ajax described in the cyclical Little Iliad and Sophocles’s tragedy Ajax. In those Greek works, Ajax becomes furious at not receiving Achilles’s armor after the death of that great Greek warrior. Ajax madly slaughters cattle in the belief that he is attacking Agamemnon and Menelaus. Ashamed at his action, he then kills himself with his sword. Benoît re-presented the madness of Ajax as him foolishly going into battle without armor and then chewing his soul with his teeth as he expired in death.

Benoît plausibly elaborated on the madness of Ajax based on an additional source. The Rawlinson Destruction of Troy {Excidium Troie} attests to medieval survival of a Latin chronicle independent of Dares and Dictys.[4] That Latin chronicle probably preserved an account of Ajax madly killing cattle like that found in the Greek Little Iliad and Sophocles’s Ajax. Benoît was sensitive to the sensational, such as astonishing realities of gender, and apparently sought to retain the attention of a diverse audience. Elaborating on the madness of Ajax is consistent with Benoît’s general approach to narrating the matter of Troy.[5]

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[1] Dares of Phygia {Dares Phrygius}, The History of Troy’s Fall {De excidio Troiae historia} 35. For Latin text and English translation, Cornil (2011).

[2] Dictys of Crete {Dictys Cretensis}, Chronicle of the Trojan War {Ephemeris belli Troiani} 5.15, Latin text from Meister (1872), my English translation. For a full English translation, Frazer (1966).

[3] Benoît de Sainte-Maure, Roman de Troie, vv. 22609-14, 22759-65, Old French text from Constans (1904), English translation (modified slightly) from Burgess & Kelly (2017). Subsequent quotes above are similarly sourced. They are vv. 22779 (madman) and 22825-36 (And on that side, Ajax was very mangled…).

[4] Atwood (1934) p. 396. For an English translation of the Rawlinson Excidium Troie, Fadhlurrahman (ND). The text of Homer’s Iliad is thought to have first entered medieval Europe when Petrarch acquired a copy in 1354. Petrarch, however, was unable to read the ancient Greek. On the reception of Trojan myth through history, Solomon (2007). Highlights of Greek tragedies may have existed in medieval Europe in variant theatrical forms. Symes (2011).

[5] On Benoît’s method of narration, Kelly (1995) and Kelly (1999) Ch. 4.

[image] Ajax kills himself with his sword. Painting on a red-figured calyx-krater. Made c. 400–350 BGC. Preserved as accession # GR 1867.5-8.1328 (Cat. Vases F 480) in the British Museum. Credit: Blacas Collection. Image thanks to Jastrow (2006) and Wikimedia Commons. Here’s a vase painting, made c. 490 BGC, of Ajax’s suicide.


Atwood, E. Bagby. 1934. “The Rawlinson Excidium Troie — A Study of Source Problems in Mediaeval Troy Literature.” Speculum. 9 (4): 379-404.

Burgess, Glyn S., and Douglas Kelly. 2017. The Roman de Troie by Benoît de Sainte-Mauré: a translation. Gallica, 41. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. Reviews by Sylvia Federico and by Cristian Bratu.

Constans, Léopold, ed. 1904-12. Le roman de Troie, par Benoît de Sainte-Maure, publié d’après tous les manuscrits connus. Société des Aanciens Textes Français. Paris: F. Didot. Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Cornil, Jonathan Cornil. 2011. Dares Phrygius’ de excidio Trojae historia: philological commentary and translation. Thesis for Masters Degree in Linguistics and Literature. Ghent University, The Netherlands.

Fadhlurrahman, Muhammad Syarif, trans. ND. Excidium Troiae or Destruction of Troy. Internet Archive.

Frazer, R. M., trans.. 1966. The Trojan war: the Chronicles of Dictys of Crete and Dares the Phrygian. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Kelly, Douglas. 1995. “The invention of Briseida’s story in Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s Troie.” Romance Philology. 48 (3): 221-241.

Kelly, Douglas. 1999. The Conspiracy of Allusion: description, rewriting, and authorship from Macrobius to medieval romance. Leiden: Brill.

Meister, Ferdinand Otto, ed. 1872. Dictys cretensis ephemeridos belli troiani. Lipsiae: in aedibus B.G. Teubneri.

Solomon, Jon. 2007. “The Vacillations of the Trojan Myth: Popularization & Classicization, Variation & Codification.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition. 14 (3-4): 3-4.

Symes, Carol. 2011. “The Tragedy of the Middle Ages.” Pp. 335-369 in Gildenhard, Ingo, and Martin Revermann, eds. Beyond the Fifth Century: interactions with Greek tragedy from the fourth century BCE to the Middle Ages. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.