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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[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.

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