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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Notes:

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.

References:

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.

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