men keenly attuned to women’s feelings toward them

In medieval Germany, a man saw women doing a women-only circle dance. Many men don’t like to be excluded because of their gender from activities, spaces, and colleges. This man perceived these women to be female segregationists:

What we see here dancing around —
they are all young women.
They want to spend without men
all this summer!

{ Swaz hie gât umbe,
daz sint alle megede;
die wellent ân man
allen disen sumer gân! }[1]

Perhaps this man introduced himself pleasantly and asked to join their dancing. After all, men aren’t toxic, and many men can dance. Yet, like far too many men throughout history, such a man could get a contemptuous response from a woman:

Rosy Lips, how you dishonor yourself!
Stop your laughing!
Shame on you that you laugh
to your own detriment!
This isn’t done well.
Cursed be the lost opportunity
if so lovely a mouth
is going to produce such a lack of love.

{ Rôter munt, wie dû dich swachest!
lâ dîn lachen sîn!
Scheme dich, swenne dû sô lachest
nâch dem schaden dîn!
Dest niht wol getân.
ôwî sô verlorner stunde,
sol von minneclîchem munde
solch unminne ergân! }[2]

Men have suffered the historical injustice of being being vastly disproportionately burdened with soliciting amorous relationships, to say nothing of the criminalization of men “seducing” women, castration culture, and epic violence against men. As a matter of gendered social justice, women should treat men nicely. Rosy Lips instead perpetuated contempt for men.

13th-century minnesinger Gottfried von Neifen attempts to please a woman

Not all women are like that. The pastoral genre typically features a country scene in which a man solicits a woman in accordance with oppressive gender norms. But a lovely medieval poem transgressed the pastoral genre:

One morning I was supposed to cross a broad meadow,
when I saw standing there a young women who greeted me without hesitation.
She said: “Dear friend, where are you headed? Do you need company?”
I bowed down low before her and thanked her for her offer.

{ Ich solde eines morgenes gân eine wise breite;
dô sah ich eine maget stân, diu grüezte mich bereite.
si sprach: “liebe, war wend ir? dürfent ir geleite?”
gegen den füezen neigt ich ir, gnâde ich ir des seite. }[3]

That’s how all women should relate to men. Men appreciate women’s company. Men delight in women’s love for them. A medieval German poet wrote:

Past is the cold winter, which caused me such distress.
The green wood is in full leaf, which fills my heart with joy.
No one can grow old at such a time!
A woman’s goodness has brought me all sorts of joy.

{ Zergangen ist der winder kalt, der mich sô sêre müte,
geloubet stât der grüene walt; des fröiet sich min gemüete.
nieman kan nû werden alt!
vröivde hân ich manecvalt von eines wibes güete. }[4]

In a world that devalues men’s lives, women’s love can make men feel good:

I am an emperor without a crown
and without land. This is what I mean:
I have never felt so splendid!
Praise be to her love, which makes me feel so good!
This is what a fine lady has done for me.
I will serve her forever more.
I have never seen a woman so well-disposed.

{ Ich bin keiser âne krône
unde âne lant. daz meine ich an dem muot:
ern gestuont mir nie so schône.
wol ir liebe, diu mir sanfte tuot!
daz machet mir ein vrowe guot.
ich wil ir dienen iemer mer;
ich engesach nie wip so wol gemuot. }[5]

This isn’t social-justice activism that only extraordinary women can undertake. A medieval poet listed a variety of women that he regarded as praiseworthy, but less praiseworthy than his beloved woman:

She is more beautiful than Lady Dido was.
She is more beautiful than Lady Helen.
She is more beautiful than Lady Pallas.
She is more beautiful than Lady Hecuba.
She is worthier of love than Lady Isabel
and happier than Gaudile.
The clover of my heart
is richer in virtue than Baldine.

{ Si ist schœner den vrowe Dido was,
si ist schœner denne vrowe Helena,
si ist schœner denne vrowe Pallas,
si ist schœner denne vrowe Ecubâ;
si ist minnechlîcher denne vrowe Isabel
unde uroelicher denne Gaudile;
mines herzen klê
ist tugende richer denne Baldine. }[6]

The first four ladies listed are eminent classical women, with Hecuba not regarded as particularly beautiful. Isabel and Gaudile are names in medieval romance languages. Baldine is a woman’s name from Flanders. Many different women have long commanded men’s attention. All women are at least capable of appreciating men and caring for them.

Medieval women valued highly their beloved men. One medieval woman loved her man even more than she loved her mother:

“My spirits are high in anticipation of new
joys,” said a beautiful woman.
“A knight does what I want him to do.
He has made my life delightful.
I will always be more devoted to him
than to any of my relatives.
I will show him a woman’s unwavering loyalty.”

{ “Ze niuwen vröiden stât min muot
hôhe,” sprach ein schœnez wîp.
“ein ritter mînen willen tuot;
der hât geliebet mir den lîp.
ich wil im iemer holder sin
danne deheinem mâge min.
ich erzeige ime wîbes triuwe schîn.” }[7]

If they married, that man would have no reason to worry about his mother-in-law. Consider also the case of Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was one of the wealthiest and most powerful persons in twelfth-century Europe. Yet a man’s love mattered more to her than all her wealth and power:

Were the world all mine
from the sea to the Rhine,
I would renounce it all
to have the King of England lie in my arms.

{ Wære diu werlt alle min
von deme mere unze an den Rîn,
des wolt ich mich darben,
daz künic von Engellant lege an mînem armen! }[8]

Men have long been taught to do anything to please women. Today women should be taught that a man in a relationship with her should feel as valued as the King of England was by Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Valuing men means showing concern for them. That doesn’t mean being possessive and clingy. Concern for men starts with always having regard for men’s welfare:

“Tell me, that I might forever reward you:
have you seen the man that I love so much?
Is it true he lives as fine a life
as they say and as I hear you assert?”
“Lady, I saw him. He is happy.
His heart, if you so ordain, will always be elated.”

{ “Sage, daz ich dirs iemer lône:
hâst dû den vil lieben man gesehen?
ist ez wâr, lebet er sô schône,
als si sagent vnde ich dich hœre jehen?”
“vrowe, ich sach in: er ist vrô.
sîn herçe stât, ob ir gebietet, iemer hô.” }[9]

The man this woman loved apparently left her because she wasn’t fulfilling his needs. He then found more joy and happiness with another woman. Since she loved him, she should be happy to learn that he is now living a fine life. Loving women should protect men:

I see the morning star shine forth.
Now, hero, don’t allow yourself to be seen!
My love, that is my advice!
It’s most excellent to love secretly
when eagle eyes keep watch on intimate friendship.

{ Ich sihe den morgensterne brehen.
nû, helt, lâ dich niht gerne sehen!
vil liebe, dest mîn rât.
swer tougenlîchen minnet, wie tugentlîch daz stât,
dâ friunschaft huote hât! }[10]

A poem of a dawn parting is known as an alba. In this one, the woman refers to her beloved man as a hero. Men delight in being heroes to women. She expresses concern for her beloved man’s safety and gives him advice. Even better would be for a woman to take specific action to help keep men safe. Men’s safety should be women’s highest priority.

As meninist literary scholarship emphasizes, women rape men. A medieval proverb warned men about women sexual harassing them as a prelude to raping them:

If you don’t flee when touched, you will scarcely escape being raped.

{ Ni fugias tactus, vix evitabitur actus. }[11]

Women must be taught not to rape men. Women must not be taught to hate men.

To love men well, women must overcome the bigotry and narrow-mindedness of our benighted age. Women must reject sexist double standards, especially concerning choice and abortion. Women must seek to end epic violence against men and abolish sexist conscription requirements. Medieval women’s love for men ennobled them. Love for men can ennoble women today, too.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Carmina Burana 167a, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) by James Schultz in Traill (2018). Subsequent Middle High German poems from the Carmina Burana are similarly sourced. The Middle High German texts have been normalized and hence differ from other, more direct transcriptions of the manuscript. Here’s the German text before being normalized. Subsequently, such text will be linked at the poem number. Here are modern German translations (here too) for many of the Carmina Burana’s love songs, including those in Middle High German.

Dronke provided a more interpretive translation and declared:

It was up to the men to pluck up courage and enter the charmed circle next to the girl of their choice.

Dronke (1968) p. 189. In what sense was the circle “charmed” and why did men need courage to enter it? Why didn’t the women warmly invite the man of their choice to enter the circle? These are the sort of questions that meninist literary criticism considers.

[2] Carmina Burana 169a, by Walther von der Vogelweide. This minnesinger {Minnesänger} lived from about 1170 to 1230. Here are three of his songs, with modern German paraphrases (alternate source).

[3] Carmina Burana 142a. Here’s an alternate translation.

In analyzing the pastoral, literary scholars in the last few decades have frequently highlighted men raping women. See, e.g. Lange-Joppe (2010). Since literary scholars typically classify medieval literature depicting women cuckolding their husbands as misogyny, medieval literature depicting men raping women should be classified as misandry.

[4] Carmina Burana 139a.

[5] Carmina Burana 150a, by minnesinger Heinrich von Morungen about the year 1200.

[6] Carmina Burana 155a.

[7] Carmina Burana 143a, by Reinmar the Elder {Reinmar der Alte} / Reinmar von Hagenau. For an English translation of the full (two stanza) song, Jackson (1981) p. 31. Jackson (1975) provides a vigorous defense of Reinmar’s poetic capabilities.

In another poem, a woman longs for her beloved man:

What brings relief from the longing
that a woman has for the man she loves?
How glad my heart would be to find that out,
for it feels such distress!

{ Waz ist für daz senen guot,
daz wip nâch liebem manne hât?
wie gerne daz min herze erkhande,
wan daz ez sô betwungen stât! }

Carmina Burana 113a, vv. 1-4. These are the opening verses of a multi-stanza poem by the twelfth-century minnesinger Dietmar von Aist.

[8] Carmina Burana 145a. On the identity of the figures in this song, Traill (2018) in Notes to the Translation. Banduroszka performed a version of this song, “Uvere diu Werlt alle min {Were the world all mine},” on its 2017 album Eheu memoriam.

[9] Carmina Burana 147a, by Reinmar der Alte. For a full English translation, Jackson (1981) p. 15. Jackson (1975), pp. 187-9, provides earlier analysis of this song.

[10] Carmina Burana 183a.

[11] Carmina Burana 63a. Traill described this poem as “advice addressed to a youth about avoiding homosexual rape.” Traill (2018) v. 1, p. 527. The poem connects what other medieval literature calls the third and the fifth stages of love. On medieval stages of love, see note [1] in the post on Baucis et Traso.

A thirteenth-century poem included Carmina Burana 63a in the context of other stages of love:

Looking and addressing, then touching; after kissing, the deed of sex.
If you don’t flee when touched, you will scarcely escape the sex act.
After looking, laughter; after laughter one goes to being familiar,
after being familiar, touching; after touching one goes to the sex act.

{ Visus et alloquium, tactus, post oscula factum.
Ni fugias tactus, vix evitabitur actus.
Post visum, risum, post risum transit in usum,
Post usum tactus, post tactum transit in actus. }

Latin text from MS. München, Clm 17210, fol. 40v (13th century); Clm 12725, fol. 16r (15th century), as transcribed by Dronke (1965) v. 2, p. 488, my English translation. Id. seems to me to provide a less exact English translation. Dronke isn’t clear about which verses exist in which manuscript. The 13th-century text may be only the first two verses above.

Carmina Burana 63a appears in a summary of canon law that Henry of Segusio {Hostiensis} wrote between the 1230s and 1253. There the admonition is clearly associated with heterosexual relations. In particular, Summa IV, “About him who gets to know his wife’s female relative {De eo qui cognovit consanguineam uxoris suae},” from section 1: “If you don’t flee when touched, you will scarcely escape having sex {ni fugias tactus, vix evitabitur actus}.” See Hostiensis, Summary of the papal decisions {Summa super titulis Decretalium}, later called the Golden summary {Summa aurea}, as cited by Gallagher (1978) p. 72, n. 26. Through the influence of Hostiensis’s Summa aurea, Carmina Burana 63a was subsequently widely quoted.

[image] Medieval man attempting to please a medieval woman. The depicted man (minnesinger) is Gottfried von Neifen, who flourished in the middle of the thirteenth century in Germanic lands. Illustration from Codex Manesse, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 32v. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. 2 vols. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1968. The Medieval Lyric. London: Hutchinson University Library.

Gallagher, Clarence. 1978. Canon law and the Christian community: the role of law in the Church according to the Summa aurea of Cardinal Hostiensis. Roma: Università Gregoriana.

Jackson, William E. 1975. “Reinmar der Alte in Literary History: A Critique and a Proposal.” Colloquia Germanica. 9: 177-204.

Jackson, William E. 1981. Reinmar’s Women: a study of the woman’s song (“Frauenlied” and “Frauenstrophe”) of Reinmar der Alte. Amsterdam: J. Benjamins.

Lange-Joppe, Ingrid de. 2010. “‛Ich solde eines morgenes gan …’ De liefdesliederen in de Carmina Burana.” Priesters, Prostituees En Procreatie. Seksuele Normen En Praktijken in De Middeleeuwen En Vroegmoderne Tijd. 25 (December): 131-147.

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

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