why the world is sinking: a medieval view

In Europe in the twelfth century, an author lamented the state of the world. His particular concern was “the narrow paths of generosity {largitatis semitas}”:

The old ways have passed, traditional values are perishing.
Values more wretched and wicked have grown.
No one is my friend, everyone is her own friend.
Not Saturn rules now, but Louis VII.

Thus the world is sinking. No one sustains it.
It runs, it falls, it collapses. Who defends it?
No one now frequents the narrow paths of generosity.
No one represents the demanding role of a generous man.

I see, however, one form of generosity
that you clerics especially pour out in sacrifice.
I will proclaim it candidly, if you remain silent,
if with patience you will sustain my speech.

{ Transierunt vetera, perit mos antiquus;
inolevit nequior mos et plus iniquus.
Nemo meus, quilibet suus est amicus;
non Saturnus regnat nunc, immo Ludowicus.

Mundus ergo labitur, nullus hunc sustentat.
Currit, cadit, corruit, quis eum retentat?
Largitatis semitas nemo iam frequentat.
Actus largi strenuos nemo representat.

Unam tamen video formam largitatis,
quam vos specialiter, clerici, libatis.
Hanc edicam nudius, si vos sileatis,
si cum patientia me sustineatis. }[1]

Back in medieval times, everyone didn’t cower in fear of offensive speech. Candid words were often eagerly sought. Someone wanted to hear why the world is sinking:

Someone will say: “Tell all! What is it that you are saying?”
I will say: “Your Thais receives your generous gifts,
the Thais famous at the baths at Cumae and at Baiae,
the plague of Troy and the bane of the Greeks.

When naked, coupling with a naked partner for a gift,
with hand, tongue, and lips she strokes, licks, and anoints,
so that Venus rubs, tickles, and nips him all over.
Thais so drains her Pamphilus twice.

There is, however, a man who hates Thais like a corpse,
who warily shields himself from her as from a wild beast,
but while this Ganymede-lover plows his boy,
his penis with equal prong gnaws at his purse.”

{ Dicet quis: “Enuclea! Quid est hoc, quod ais?”
Dicam: “Larga munera vestra sentit Thais,
Thais illa celebris thermis, Cumis, Baiis,
illa Troiae pestilens et damnosa Grais.

Haec dum nudo nudam se propter hoc iniungit,
manu, lingua, labiis palpat, lingit, ungit;
at Venus medullitus scalpit, prurit, pungit:
Pamphilum dupliciter sic Thais emungit.

Tamen est, qui Thaidem ut cadaver odit,
ab hac ut a bestia cavens se custodit;
sed dum Ganymedicus pusionem fodit,
inguen ei loculos pari dente rodit.” }

In short, the world is sinking because sex is being commercialized. Jews, Christians, and Muslims traditionally have understood God’s blessing to be seminal generosity and fruitfulness in a relationship of love.[2] That’s not like sex with a prostitute.

In the mundane world, economics affects everything. An unmarried American man confronted with unplanned parenthood potentially faces at least eighteen years of giving up about one-third of his pre-tax income in “child support” payments. Some men in such circumstances urgently seek to persuade their girlfriends to have abortions. That’s horrible, but economically understandable.

Consider another case of sex economics. A medieval woman accused her boyfriend of dishonoring her. He vehemently asserted a limit to what he would do for money:

Why does my mistress hold me as suspect?
Why are the looks she directs at me so grim?
I testify before heaven and its heavenly beings
that of the crimes she fears I have no knowledge.
My lady is wrong toward me!

Sooner will the sky gleam white with crops,
the air bear elms loaded with vines,
the sea provide wild animals for the hunt,
than will I join the citizens of Sodom.
My lady is wrong toward me!

Though a tyrant may make me many promises,
and grave poverty oppress me,
I am nonetheless not the kind to prefer
what is profitable to what is right.
My lady is wrong toward me!

Happy with natural sex,
I didn’t learn the passive role, but the active one.
I prefer to live clean and poor
than to exist defiled and rich.
My lady is wrong toward me!

{ Cur suspectum me tenet domina?
Cur tam torva sunt in me lumina?
Testor caelum caelique numina:
quae veretur, non novi crimina.
Tort a vers mei ma dama!

Caelum prius candebit messibus,
feret aer ulmos cum vitibus,
dabit mare feras venantibus,
quam Sodomae me iungam civibus.
Tort a vers mei ma dama!

Licet multa tyrannus spondeat
et me gravis paupertas urgeat,
non sum tamen, cui plus placeat
id, quod prosit, quam quod conveniat.
Tort a vers mei ma dama!

Naturali contentus Venere
non didici pati, sed agere.
Malo mundus et pauper vivere
quam pollutus dives existere.
Tort a vers mei ma dama! }[3]

In short, the boyfriend declared that he wouldn’t work as a male prostitute serving men. Not all persons have the all-encompassing sex-work ethic of Empress Theodora. Nonetheless, economic incentives for men to have sex with men rightly raise women’s suspicions.

world sinking into darkness

Today, some think that the world is sinking because of intensifying, elite status competition and ordinary persons’ demoralization and declining willingness to work. Suppose that everyone — from a religiously New Yorker reading elite Iowa woman to a Hispanic trash-collecting man in Manhattan — most fundamentally seek to love and be loved through the specific circumstances of their mundane lives. Under that assumption, propitious circumstances for meaningful sacrifice and loving generosity keep the world afloat.

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[1] Carmina Burana 226, “The world has often undergone various changes {Mundus est in varium saepe variatus / Mundus est in varium sepe variatus},” stanzas 2, 5, and 6, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018). Immediately preceding this poem is the rubric: “The state of the world {De mundi statu}.” The subsequent quote above is similarly stanzas 7-9.

Louis VII was King of the Franks from 1138 to 1180. Traill suggests that Louis VII is the ruler referenced only as “Louis {Ludowicus}” in stanza 2. Id. vol. 2, p. 711, note to 2.4. I’ve included the specification “VII” to make clearer the specificity of the reference.

[2] See, e.g. Genesis 22:15-8, Isaiah 54:5, Ezekiel 16:8-14.

[3] Carmina Burana 95, “Why does my mistress hold me as suspect {Cur suspectum me tenet domina}?” stanzas 1-4, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018).

[image] Earth sinking into darkness. Detail of photo called Earthrise. Source photo taken on December 24, 1968 by William Anders from lunar orbit during the NASA Apollo 8 mission. Via Wikimedia Commons.


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

Bene versus Orgeluse: Gawan preferred abuse and pain in love

The ferryman Plippalinot told his daughter Bene to serve well their honored guest, the battle-weary Gawan. She led him to a bedroom and helped him to take off his armor. He thanked the sweet young woman for serving him as her father had commanded. She responded:

For your favor,
sir, I serve you more
than for any other reason.

{ ich diene iu mêre,
hêr, nâch iweren hulden
dan von andern schulden. }[1]

In medieval courtly culture, men were socially constructed as feudal serfs in relation to women. Bene, in contrast, transgressively and warmly engaged in love-service for Gawan.

Bene and Gawan expressed their willingness to do anything for each other. Gawan asked her to remain with him for his meal before sleeping. She asked him to send to her mother one of the three crested larks he was eating. He did so:

He said to the well-favored maiden
that he would do gladly as she wished,
be it in this or any other request.

{ er sprach zer meide wol gevar,
daz er gern ir willen tæte
dar an ode swes si bæte. }

After that sumptuous bedroom meal, the evening lengthened into night:

Gawan all alone, I am told,
remained there with the maiden.
If he had asked anything of her,
I believe she would have granted it to him.
He must indeed sleep, if he can.

{ Gâwân al eine, ist mir gesagt,
beleip aldâ, mit im diu magt.
het er iht hin zir gegert,
ich wæn si hetes in gewert.
er sol ouch slâfen, ob er mac. }

Gawan slept that night under Bene’s cloak. She had given it to him to help keep him warm.

Embraced by the maiden’s cloak, Gawan slept into the early morning. Wolfram von Eschenbach marveled at Bene’s womanly courage early that morning:

The maiden did not neglect her service.
On the carpet before Gawan’s bed sat
that lustrous young woman.
As for me, I seldom see, neither
in the evening nor early in the morning,
such an adventure creeping to my side.

{ Diu magt ir diens niht vergaz:
fürz bette ûfen teppech saz
diu clâre juncfrouwe.
bî mir ich selten schouwe
daz mir âbents oder fruo
sölch âventiure slîche zuo. }

Gawan was still asleep. When he awoke, he saw Bene sitting next to him. He thanked her for her service and said that he was undeserving of her favor. She responded:

I want none of your service.
I don’t desire anything but your favor.
Lord, command me.
Whatever you command, I will undertake.

{ iwers diens wil ich enbern:
ich ensol niwan hulde gern.
hêrre, gebietet über mich:
swaz ir gebiet, daz leist ich. }

The greatest commandment in Christian understanding is to love.[2] Parzival had failed to inquire compassionately about the suffering of the castrated Grail King Anfortas. Renowned as a lover, Gawan inquired to Bene about love. He inquired about the many lovely ladies glumly sitting high above him in the great hall of the “Castle of Marvels {Schastel Marveile}.” That’s not what lovely Bene wanted to hear. She begged him not to ask such questions, for they would lead him to grief. She wept in fear for him. Her loving concern for Gawan was real and right.

Love often entails forgiveness. Bene’s father Plippalinot was willing to grant Gawan extraordinary forgiveness:

It was still very early in the morning
when into the bedroom came Bene’s father.
He would not have been at all annoyed
if his well-favored maiden
had been forced to do anything there,
or if any wrestling had taken place.
She acted as if something such had happened,
that maiden rich in courtesy,
for she was sitting close to the bed.
Her father had no objection.
He said to her, “Daughter, don’t weep.
if something like this happens in jest,
if at first it provokes anger,
it is soon forgiven afterwards.”

{ dennoch was ez harte fruo:
innen des gienc ir vater zuo.
der liezez âne zürnen gar,
ob diu maget wol gevar
ihts dâ wære betwungen,
und ob dâ was gerungen:
dem gebârt se gelîche,
diu maget zühte rîche,
wand si dem bette nâhe saz.
daz liez ir vater âne haz.
dô sprach er “tohter, wein et niht.
swaz in schimpfe alsus geschiht,
ob daz von êrste bringet zorn,
der ist schier dâ nâch verkorn.” }

Those are outrageous words. Men historically have been castrated for consensual but illicit sexual affairs. Even a false accusation of rape would put a man in serious danger. Gawan quickly attempted to clarify the situation:

Gawan said, “Nothing’s happened here,
except what we would gladly tell you.
I put a few questions to this maiden.
She thought that boded ill for me
and asked me to desist.”

{ Gâwân sprach “hiest niht geschehn,
wan des wir vor iu wellen jehn.
ich vrâgte dise magt ein teil:
daz dûhte si mîn unheil,
und bat mich daz ichz lieze.” }

He asked, and when she said stop, he stopped.[3] Gawan then started asking her father about the maidens in the great hall. Anticipating Gawan’s response, as Bene had, Plippalinot reluctantly explained that they were damsels in distress. Gawan resolved to rescue those damsels in distress with much pain to himself. As Gawan armed and left, Bene lamented greatly Gawan’s foolish chivalry.[4]

Disappointing the warmly receptive and generous young Bene, Gawan loved the viciously abusive and selfishly manipulative Orgeluse. One day Gawan saw her sitting outside the Schastel Marveile:

Gawan offered her his greeting.
He said, “If I may dismount
by your good favor, lady,
if I see you disposed to accept my company,
great grief will desert me,
leaving me in joy.
Never would a knight be so happy.
May I be destined to die
if ever a woman pleased me better.

{ Gâwân bôt ir sînen gruoz.
er sprach “ob ich erbeizen muoz
mit iweren hulden, frouwe,
ob ich iuch des willen schouwe
daz ir mich gerne bî iu hât,
grôz riwe mich bî freuden lât:
sone wart nie rîter mêr sô frô.
mîn lîp muoz ersterben sô
daz mir nimmer wîp gevellet baz.” }[5]

Orgeluse, with a name derived from the Old French word for “proud,” disparaged Gawan for extravagantly praising her:

You are in the presence of my heart,
but far outside it, not within.
If you desire my love,
how have you earned love from me?
Many a man hurls his eyes
such that he might project them
with a gentler trajectory on a catapult,
if he were to avoid such looking
as wounds his heart.
Let your feeble desire trundle
in search of other love than mine.
If your hand serves for love,
if such adventure has sent you in
search of chivalrous deeds for love,
you will obtain no such reward from me.
Indeed you may well win disgrace here,
if I am to tell you the truth.

{ ir sît mînem herzen bî,
verre ûzerhalp, niht drinne.
gert ir mîner minne,
Wie habt ir minne an mich erholt?
maneger sîniu ougen bolt,
er möhts ûf einer slingen
ze senfterm wurfe bringen,
ob er sehen niht vermîdet
daz im sîn herze snîdet.
lât walzen iwer kranken gir
ûf ander minne dan ze mir.
dient nâch minne iwer hant,
hât iuch âventiure gesant
nâch minne ûf rîterlîche tât,
des lônes ir an mir niht hât:
ir mugt wol laster hie bejagn,
muoz ich iu die wârheit sagn. }

Men should not have to earn women’s love. Men are intrinsically worthy of women’s love. Gawan should have gotten back on his horse and left without saying another word to the haughty, ogre-like Orgeluse.

Gawan lacked self-respect in relation to beautiful women. He told Orgeluse that she had taken him prisoner by her looks. He put himself at her mercy. He declared himself unworthy of freely given love:

What man can have love unearned?
If I may say so to you,
such a man carries it off with sin.
If a man hastens after worthy love,
he must serve, both before and after.

{ wer mac minne ungedienet hân?
muoz ich iu daz künden,
der treit si hin mit sünden.
swem ist ze werder minne gâch,
dâ hœret dienst vor unde nâch. }

Bene would have loved Gawan without he offering her any service other than his love. The idea that men must earn women’s love is a plague causing enormous damage to society. Everyone has responsibility for ending that plague. Women and men must insist on men’s entitlement to love as human beings.[6]

Gawan instead allowed Orgeluse to use him and abuse him. She told him to go fetch her horse. When Gawan returned with her horse, she chided him, “Welcome back, you goose {west willekomn, ir gans}!” Gawan offered to help her get onto her horse. She refused to allow Gawan to touch her. She refused even to touch the reigns where Gawan had touched them, as if he spread toxin through his masculinity. When Orgeluse and her squire scornfully addressed Gawan, he beat the squire for both the squire’s and Orgeluse’s offenses. After Orgeluse had led Gawan into a dangerous duel with the fearsome knight Lischoys Gwelljus, Gawan declared:

She who has commanded this hardship of me —
she knows well how to turn sweetness sour
and make a man’s heart rare in joy
and very rich in sorrow.

{ diu mir diz ungemach gebôt,
diu kan wol süeze siuren
unt dem herzen freude tiuren
unt der sorgen machen rîche }

If a woman commands a man unjustly to endure a hardship, he should just say no. If she makes him rare in joy and rich in sorrow, he should have as little to do with her as possible. These are elementary lessons that men-abasing culture doesn’t teach men.

Gawan entered Orgeluse’s Schastel Marveile to save the damsels in distress. He walked into a chamber and saw the “Bed of Marvels {Lit Marveile}.” The floor was slippery and the bed was moving around the room. Gawan leaped onto it. The bed then repeatedly charged into the walls of the room. Gawan pulled his shield over himself and remained in the bed. How much more comfortable Gawan must have been sleeping under Bene’s cloak!

The bed eventually stopped in the middle of room. Then five hundred slings hurled stones at Gawan. After that, five hundred crossbows fired bolts at him. Gawan was grievously wounded. Then a huge lion charged at him. After a brutal fight, Gawan drove his sword deeply into the lion’s chest. The bedroom floor was covered in blood. Gawan collapsed onto the lion’s carcass. Lit Marveile represented the torments of Orgeluse’s relationship with Gawan.

Gawan wounded in bed; Arnive and maiden care for him

Damsels imprisoned in the Schastel Marveile nursed Gawan back to health. They regarded him as a hero for having endured the Lit Marveile. No other man had been able to do so. Why would any man want to do so? While caring, compassionate women tended his wounds, Gawan longed for the vicious, abusive Orgeluse.

Gawan saw within a lustrous pillar in the Schastel Marveile Orgeluse coming to the castle with the mighty knight Turkoyte. Although still suffering from his wounds, Gawan insisted on fighting Turkoyte. Gawan in the joust somehow managed to knock Turkoyte off his horse and gain his surrender. The ladies watching from the great hall were impressed with Gawan’s prowess. Orgeluse, full of malice, wasn’t:

For the present you doubtless
would like to flee hardship.
Take that! I tweak your nose.
Ride back up to the ladies.
Would you dare to behold
such a battle as I would procure,
if your heart desired
to serve me for love?

{ an disen zîten ungemach
muget ir gerne vliehen:
lât iu den vinger ziehen.
rîtet wider ûf zen frouwen.
wie getörstet ir geschouwen
strît, den ich werben solde,
ob iwer herze wolde
mir dienen nâch minne. }

Gawan grovelled to please Orgeluse:

Lady, if I have wounds,
they have found help here.
If it is suitable for your help
to deign to accept my service,
then never was such a harsh peril known
that I shall not face it to serve you.

{ frouwe, hân ich wunden,
die hânt hie helfe funden.
ob iwer helfe kan gezemn
daz ir mîn dienst ruochet nemn,
sô wart nie nôt sô hert erkant,
ine sî ze dienste iu dar benant. }

Men’s wounds should matter. But Gawan’s wounds didn’t matter to Orgeluse. She ordered him to cross “The Perilous Ford {Li Gweiz Prelljus}” and bring back to her a garland from a tree that King Gramoflanz protected. She was setting him up to do battle with Gramoflanz.

Gawan jousting with Turkoyte in Parzival

Orgeluse was closely associated with castration culture. Gramoflanz had killed Orgeluse’s first husband Cidegast, the Duke of Logroys. Orgeluse then directed the Grail King Anfortas to kill Gramoflanz for love of her. Anfortas, however, suffered a debilitating genital wound in another battle. Orgeluse then abandoned him as a potential lover. She lived as the lady of the Schastel Marveile. The lord of that castle, the castrated knight Clinschor, kept lovely young ladies imprisoned there away from their men. Wise men avoid women closely associated with castration culture.

Gawan was a chivalrous fool. After enduring much abuse from Orgeluse, he finally said to her:

You must never again offer such dishonor
to any knight inspired
by your radiant complexion.
If your scorn were to be my fate,
I’d rather be without love.

{ ir sult durch iwer varwe glanz
neheime rîter mêre
erbieten solh unêre
solt iwer spot wesen mîn,
ich wolt ê âne minne sîn. }

Then Gawan agreed to marry Orgeluse. He was never sane. Gawan was willing to suffer egregious wounds for no good reason.[7]

Too many women and men today have as cultural role models Orgeluse and Gawan. Why must an Obilot grow up to be an Orgeluse? Bene and the knight-husband in the eighth-century Bilauhar and Budasaf show a more humane, loving way to live. In our cold and lonely age, we must thus strive to imagine better.

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[1] Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival 549.20-2 in Bk. 10, Middle High German text from Lachmann (1833 / 1891), English translation (modified) from Edwards (2004). For Parzival English translations freely available online, Kline (2020), Zeydel & Morgan (1951) (some passages omitted), and Weston (1894). The character of Bene is original to Wolfram. She doesn’t exist in Chrétien de Troyes’s earlier Perceval. Gawan (Gawain) is an eminent lover-knight of King Arthur’s court.

Subsequent quotes from Parzival are similarly sourced, unless otherwise noted. Those above are, cited by section.verse, 551.12-4 in Bk. 10 (He said to the well-favored maiden…), 552.25-9 in Bk. 10 (Gawan all alone, I am told…), 554.1-6 in Bk. 11 (The maiden did not neglect her service…), 554.15-8 in Bk. 11 (I want none of your service…), 555.17-30 in Bk. 11 (It was still very early in the morning…), 556.1-5 in Bk. 11 (Gawan said, “Nothing’s happened here…), 509.1-9 in Bk. 10 (Gawan offered her his greeting…), 509.28-30, 510.1-14 in Bk. 10 (You are in the presence of my heart…), 511.12-6 in Bk. 10 (What man can have love unearned?…), 515.13 in Bk. 10 (Welcome back, you goose!), 511.12-6 in Bk. 10 (She who has commanded this hardship of me…), 599.6-13 in Bk. 12 (For the present you doubtless…), 599.15-20 in Bk. 12 (Lady, if I have wounds…), 612.16-20 in Bk. 12 (You must never again offer such dishonor…).

[2] Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-31.

[3] In a scholarly article entitled, “A Little Acknowledged Theme in the Courtly Romance: Rape,” Meister concluded:

Minnedienst — winning a lady’s love by submitting entirely to her will — is the acknowledged key to the Arthurian romance. In Wolfram’s Parzival and Hartmann’s Erec, this melody in the treble clef is usually accompanied by unacknowledged discord in the bass: rape — winning a lady’s love {sic} by forcing her to submit to the knight’s will. The plots in other examples of the genre may well be similarly out of tune.

Meister (1991) p. 34. In Parcival, Urjans, Prince of Punturtoys, is explicitly charged with rape before the court of King Arthur and nearly executed for that serious offense. Westphal-Wihl concludes her analysis of the trial of Urjans for rape with the statement, “sexual assault harms all women as members of a gendered collectivity.” Westphal-Wihl (2010) p. 101. Sexual assault on men has probably been historically equally or more prevalent than sexual assault on women. Nonetheless, just as for violence against men generally, scholars silently normalize victimization of men. On rape in medieval scholarship, see note 2 in my post on Lancelot as tool for the amorous girl’s fantasy. Here’s data on the statistical incidence of women raping men in the U.S.

The key to Arthurian romance, “Minnedienst — winning a lady’s love by submitting entirely to her will,” is a central aspect of medieval gynocentrism. Despite all the evidence, scholars are reluctant to acknowledge medieval gynocentrism. Moreover, minnedienst is grossly discordant with ideals of gender equality. Too many modern scholars seem deaf to that discord. They are more foolish than Ulrich von Liechtenstein.

[4] Gawan’s failure to receive generously Bene’s love has been interpreted moralistically / romantically. According to one scholar, that action shows “the importance of Gawan’s attachment to his future wife {Orgeluse}.” Greenfield (1999) p. 146. Gawan at that point didn’t know that Orgeluse would become his wife. More importantly, Gawan would have enjoyed better love if he had attached himself to Bene rather than to Orgeluse.

[5] Orgeluse was the Duchess of Logroys. She was the widow of Cidegast, the Duke of Logroys. Here’s some analysis of Orgeluse in relation to myth. Smith (ND) is a rare work that states the obvious: Orgeluse is an “abusive woman” and “relentlessly abusive of her adoring suitor.”

[6] Clifton-Everest argued that Parzival and Gawan in Wolfram’s Parzival “are closely bound by the reciprocal themes of knightly service and rape.” He defined knightly service as the opposite of rape, where rape is men receiving anything unearned:

it {rape} includes the ample instances in the text of violence used against ladies with sexual intent, but is not limited to them. In fact it denotes the seizure or attempted seizure of anything at all without service. It is in this sense that the two terms {knightly service and rape} may be understood as virtual opposites.

Clifton-Everest (1990) pp. 290-1. This categorization conceptually forces men into self-abasing knightly service to women and ignores women raping men.

[7] Drawing upon deeply entrenched anti-meninism, medieval scholarship has lamented “the male-female dichotomy” without acknowledging the oppressive gender position of men under gynocentrism. Consider such a scholarly declaration:

the male-female dichotomy may be seen as an archetypal representation of the very basis of society, whose history is that of opposites and adversarial relationships: good and bad, joy and sorrow, peace and war, and, perhaps most unfortunately, male and female. The dichotomy between man and woman, manifesting itself not simply in biological differences, but also in a theologically-rooted hierarchy, was established early in Christian tradition and, despite notable exceptions, readily adopted by the predominating patriarchal societies.

McConnell (1992) p. 28. Such ideology obscures that Orgeluse was a vicious, abusive woman. It also more generally obscures gender injustices against men:

Nonetheless, without Gawan’s liberation of the women (and men) of Schastel marveile, the reintegration of the feminine element within courtly society could scarcely have taken place. At the conclusion of Parzival, the accent is on union and reunion, wholeness, the reconciliation of opposites, and of paramount significance in this regard is the reintegration of the feminine element into society as underscored by both the individual marriages and the collective return of the prisoners of Clinschor’s castle.

Id. 37. At the end of Parzival, Gawan is enchained as husband to the abusive Orgeluse. Moreover, men-abasing courtly love, violence against men, and castration culture continue without serious questioning.

[images] (1) Gawan lies in bed gravely wounded from his ordeal on the “Bed of Marvels {Lit Marveile}.” Queen Arnive and a maiden tend to him. Manuscript illumination for Parzival. Painting made in 1443-1446 in Diebold Lauber’s workshop in Hagenau near the German border of present-day France. Detail from folio 425v in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339 (part 1, part 2). (2) Gawan knocking Turkoyte off his horse in a joust. Manuscript illumination for Parzival. Detail from folio 436r similarly in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339.


Clifton-Everest, John M. 1990. “Knights-Servitor and Rapist Knights. A Contribution to the Parzival / Gawan Question.” Zeitschrift Für Deutsches Altertum Und Deutsche Literatur. 119 (3): 290-317.

Edwards, Cyril W., trans. 2004. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival and Titurel. Oxford World’s Classics (2006 edition). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Greenfield, John. 1999. “Gawan’s Token of Loyalty: the Gawan – Bene Relationship in Wolfram’s Parzival.” Estudos – Studien – Studies. 1: 141-148.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2020. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Lachmann, Karl, ed. 1833. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Lieder, Parzival, Titurel, Willehalm. Berlin: G. Reimer. 5th edition (1891); alternate presentation.

McConnell, Winder. 1992. “The Denial of the Anima in Parzival.” Quondam Et Futurus. 2 (2): 28-40.

Meister, Peter. 1991. “A Little Acknowledged Theme in the Courtly Romance: Rape.” Quondam Et Futurus. 1 (4): 23-35.

Smith, Lans. ND. “Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival: Gawain and Orgeluse.” JungPlatform. Online.

Weston, Jessie L., trans. 1894. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival: A Knightly Epic. 2 vol. London: D. Nutt. Vol. 1. Vol. 2.

Westphal-Wihl, Sarah. 2010. “Orgeluse and the Trial for Rape at the Court of King Arthur: Parzival 521, 19 to 529, 16.” Arthuriana. 20 (3): 81-109.

Zeydel, Edwin H., with Bayard Quincy Morgan, trans. 1951. The Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach: Translated into English Verse with Introduction, Notes, Connecting Summaries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Alternate online presentation.

diverse tactics for lessening risk in criticizing women

Men often act like idiots in criticizing women. For example, the thirteenth-century Guide for fools {Chastie musart} criticizes rich women greedily exploiting female sexual privilege. A later hand writing in the manuscript’s bottom margin declares:

He who speaks evil of women is crude by nature.
May God curse all such men!

{ Seli qui dit mal de fame est villain de nature
dieu les maudie tous }[1]

The Chastie musart itself declares in closing:

But I tell you now at the end of my tale,
you who know what is good and what honor means,
as I find it and as to me it has been told,
he is more than shamed who shames a woman.

{ Mais itant vos vueil dire en la fin de mon conte,
Vos qui savez qu’est bien ne que a hennor monte,
Si conme ge le trueve et com l’en le me conte,
Qui plus est que honiz qui a feme fait honte. }[2]

Criticizing shameful tendencies of women in a particular time and place is the mobbing-worthy crime of misogyny. Medieval men committed that crime. Men are such misogynists!

When criticizing women, one must always carefully qualify, “not all women are like that.” Some scholars, drawing upon the rich and diverse intellectual tradition of Muslim theologians, always write or say NAWALT immediately after they write or say “women” in any context that could be construed as criticizing women or not presenting women in a positive light. NAWALT stands for “Not All Women Are Like That.” The thirteenth-century Chastie musart, which strongly criticizes women, in only one verse declares:

They’re not all like that, no need to think so.

{ Ne sont pas totes teles, ne il n’est pas mestiers }

Petrus Alphonsi, a Spanish Jew who converted to Christianity in 1106, had considerable knowledge of Islamic literature. Nonetheless, Petrus’s influential book Training Manual for Clergy {Disciplina Clericalis}, which tells tales of women’s superiority in guile, invokes NAWALT only once:

You must not believe that all women are like that. In many women is found much chastity and much goodness, and you should know that in a good woman can be found good companionship. A good woman is a faithful parent and good family.

{ Non debes credere omnes mulieres esse tales, quoniam magna castitas atque magna bonitas in multis reperitur mulieribus, et scias in bona muliere bonam societatem reperiri posse, bonaque mulier fidelis custos est et bona domus. }[3]

When criticizing women, NAWALT should be used religiously. Such a practice, however, isn’t sufficient to save a man from being damned as a women-hater, an angry, frustrated, involuntarily celibate who lives in his mother’s basement and plays video games all the time, and a likely mass-murderer. In order to lessen the grave risk in criticizing women, men must be even more rhetorically sophisticated.

The thirteenth-century Italian poem Proverbs that speak about the nature of women {Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum} models diverse tactics for lessening risk in criticizing women. One is an opening effort known as “winning of goodwill {captatio benevolentiae}.” The eminent man troubairitz Guillaume de Poitiers (William IX, Duke of Aquitaine) about 1100 began one of his famous Occitan love songs thus:

With the sweetness of the new season
woods take leaf and birds begin
each in peculiar tongue to sing
the phrases of a new refrain.
Then also is a man’s desiring,
even as these, made new again.

{ Ab la dolchor del temps novel
foillo li bosc, e li auchel
chanton, chascus en lor lati,
segon lo vers del novel chan;
adonc esta ben c’om s’aisi
d’acho don hom a plus talan. }[4]

Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum adapted and incorporated this spring opening:

This work occurred in the month of March, when flowering trees
and green grasses appear in orchards and meadows.
Summer is approaching and the temperature is soothing,
and the nights are shortening and the days growing longer.

One morning I got up with a very early star.
I entered a garden that was beside a river
and was filled with flowers more fragrant than spices.
I lay myself down on flowers near a fountain.

God, how filled with great splendor was this garden,
with beautiful, fragrant grasses and hawthorn flowers
and nightingales singing in their particular tongue!
A blackbird and a thrush sang on a pine tree.

{ Çò fo êl mes de março quando i albri florise,
per prati e per verçeri le verd’ erbe parese;
aprosema la estate e lo temp’ adolzise,
e scurtase le note e li çorni se crese.

Levaime una maitina ala stela diana:
entrai en un çardino q’era su ’na flumana,
et era plen de flore aulente plui de grana;
colgaime sule flore aprés una fontana.

Dieu, com’ de grande gloria era plen ’sto çardino,
de bele erbe aulente e de flore de spino,
e de rosignoli qe berna en so latino!
Lo merlo e lo tordo cantava sopra ’l pino. }[5]

Within this spring setting, a reader expects a love poem. Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum then strongly criticizes women:

As I rested among the fragrant flowers,
a thought occurred to me that disturbed my mind:
how the love of women is fraudulent,
how they make men wretched when men trust in them,

and how false they are, full of betrayal,
and never hold back from doing an evil thing.
Now I will say something about their wickedness,
so that men can guard themselves from their deceptions.

{ Sì com’ eu repausavame sovra le flor aulente,
uno pensero veneme qe me torbà la mente:
de l’amor dele femene, com’ este fraudolente,
quand l’om en elle enfiase como ’l mena reamente;

e como son falsiseme, plene de felonia,
et unqa mai no dotano far caosa qe rea sia;
or dirai qualqe caosa dela ler malvasia,
ond se varde li omini dela soa triçaria. }

Sometimes the truth hurts. If one intends to tell a painful truth, one best does so in a setting of love. As medieval Christians believed, speak the truth in love.[6]

Citing science also helps to lessen risk in criticizing women. Today government officials and journalists authoritatively proclaim the science creed that one must believe to be a faithful, science-believing person. In medieval Europe, “science {scientia}” meant what was written in ancient, highly respected books. Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum declares:

Gentlemen, if you will listen to me, I will give you a lecture.
If you wish to listen to it and understand its reasoning,
you will find many examples similar to those from Cato,
Ovid, Pamphilus, and Tullius Cicero.

In ancient books that the poets wrote,
I have found and learned all these parables.
Whoever has studied in school, if he shows and tells learning to others,
neither commoner nor noble can reproach him for doing that.

{ Segnori, s’entendeteme: diraive un sermone,
se lo volé enprender et entender la rasone;
molti ne trovarete deli ’sempli Catone,
d’Ovidio e de Panfilo, de Tulio e Cicerone.

En libri anciani, qe li poeti fese,
stratute ’ste paravole ò trovate et entese;
cui à enpreso en scola, se ad altri mostra e dise,
no li pò dar reproço vilano ni cortese. }[7]

No matter how high and mighty they are, those who don’t have faith in science, whether in medieval Europe or today, will likely find themselves in Hell:

The Queen of France along with Henry Plantagenet
are known throughout the world for she having made him a laughing-stock.
That which to all is filthy, to her was good and beautiful.
She placed a cuckold’s horn under the hat of the King.

And about the Holy Roman Empress I will tell you:
she made a Burgundian knight her lover
and then fled with him. Thus it’s true I tell you:
she placed a cuckold’s horn on the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick.

Yet another fact I have remembered:
the high Marquise of Monferrato
who often played false dice with her husband,
placed more than twelve cuckold’s horns on him.

And the Sicilian Queen Margaret
with Admiral Maio led a very dishonest life.
So he had a horn-like sword placed firmly on his head.
With it Matthew Bonellus took Maio’s life.

For the Byzantine Emperor, known as Stammerer,
the Empress put together much evil.
Under his hat she placed two cuckold’s horns so branched
that he felt them resound in Greece and France.

{ La raina de França con Rigo Curt Mantelo,
per questo mondo sonase qual ela fé çanbelo:
a cuiqe fose laido, a liei fo bon e belo,
q’ela plantà le corne al re soto ’l capelo.

E dela enperatrice questo ensteso ve dico,
ke se fé un cavalier borgoignon per amico
e poi fuçì com elo: questo vero ve dico
q’ela plantà le corne a l’enperer Ferico.

Ancor d’un altro fato eu me son recordato,
de l’alta marqesana qe fo de Monferato:
çugav’ alo marì spesor con falso dato;
con plu de set’ e cinque le corne i à plantato.

E la ceciliana raina Margarita
con Maio l’amiraio molto menà rea vita,
on’ el av’ enla testa fort’ una spaa fita:
Matheu Bonel com essa li·nde tolé la vita.

A l’enperer de Grecia c’om dis Banbacoradi,
la enperatrice feceli molti mali mercadi:
soto ’l capel li pose doi corni sì ramadi
qe per França e per Grecia ben sono resonadi. }[8]

Unlike men, women cannot be cuckolded. Gender inequality in parental knowledge is a fundamental gender inequality. Men must be taught that simple biological fact.

illustrated quatrains on folio 103v of Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum

In addition to an opening captatio benevolentiae and invoking science, risk in criticizing women can also be lessened with categorical construction. Categorical construction works to make objection unpalatable. Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum begins:

Good people, hear why I made this book.
For wicked women I composed it in rhyme,
for those who don’t keep their established agreements with men.
The more a man serves her, the more she holds him foolish and mad.

Know that these charges aren’t spoken for every woman.
I believe that these writings will not please many.
The good ones will rejoice in these righteous rhymes,
and the wicked ones, when they hear them, will be pained and sad.

Never by a good woman — wise, pure, and courteous —
will these truthful rhymes be rebuked.
If good women listen to them, once they have understood them,
they will without doubt praise the man who composed and wrote them.

{ Bona çent’ entendetelo perqué ’sto libro ài fato:
per le malvasie femene l’aio en rime trovato,
quele qe ver’ li omini no tien complito pato:
cui plui ad elle serveno, plui lo tien fol e mato.

Saçai, per ogna femena ’ste cause no vien dite
k’asai creço qe sea·nde cui no plas queste scrite:
le bone se ’n alegra de queste rime drete,
e le rei, quando le aude, stane dolente e triste.

Unca per bona femena saça, pura e cortese
queste verasie rime cà no serà represe:
se le bone le ’scoltano, quando l’avrà entese
laodarà sença falo qi le trovà e fese. }

By its first word, Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum constructs its readers as good. Good women will rejoice in its rhymes and praise this work’s author. Women who don’t rejoice in this work are wicked women. That’s like declaring that men who won’t acknowledge that they are misogynists prove in that way that they are the worst misogynists. Both are categorical constructions for coercing consent. Such construction might be necessary to limit risk in criticizing women.

To avoid a future of female supremacism (“The future is female!”), ways must be found to criticize women doing wrong, if women were ever to do wrong. The difficulty is enormous. Nonetheless, ingenious medieval writers such as the author of the medieval Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum rose to that supreme challenge.[9] We must learn from them.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Guide for fools {Chastie musart / Chastiemusart} from BnF Fr. 19152 folios f. 105ra-107va, marginal note at the bottom of folio 106r about v. 140. Old French text and English translation (modified) from Psaki (2016) p. 247, n. 13. Here’s the relevant folio 106r (monochrome version). For a freely accessible edition of the Chastie musart from BnF Fr. 19152, Jubinal (1839) vol. 2, pp. 478-89.

The subsequent two quotes above are similarly sourced from Chastie musart. These quotes are vv. 321-4, stanza 81 (But I tell you now at the end of my tale…) and v. 309, from stanza 78 ( They’re not all like that, no need to think so).

[2] Christine de Pizan’s Letter of the God of Love {Epistre au Dieu d’Amours}, vv. 723-4, echoes Chastie musart, v 324. On the former, see note 3 on my post on scholarly anti-meninism. Moralizations counseling men against criticizing women support women’s social privilege.

[3] Petrus Alphonsi, Training Manual for Clergy {Disciplina Clericalis}, section 14, “Exemplum about the well {Exemplum de puteo},” Latin text from Hilka (1911), my English translation, benefiting from that of Hermes & Quarrie (1977), as cited by Psaki (2016) p. 114, n. 44.

[4] Guillaume de Poitiers (William IX, Duke of Aquitaine), “With the sweet beauty of the new season {Ab la dolchor del temps novel},” st. 1, Old Occitan text and English translation (capitalization modified) from Merwin (1955). For other English translations, see note 8 in my post on Bernart de Ventadorn and the season for love. Medieval love poems commonly begin, like this one does, with an invocation of springtime.

[5] Proverbs that speak about the nature of women {Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum}, stanzas 13-15, Old Italian text from Meneghetti & Tagliani (2019) pp. 125-6, my English translation, benefiting from the Italian translation of Bonghi & Mangieri (2003) and the English translations of some stanzas in Psaki (2019). On the dense literary references in these stanzas, Meneghetti & Tagliani (2019) pp. 388-9. The influence of spring openings in medieval Latin love songs seems under-appreciated.

Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum has survived in only one manuscript: MS. Berlin, Staatsbibliothek und Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Saibante-Hamilton 390, 98r-113v. Tobler (1886) was the pioneering critical edition. Here’s the subsequent edition of Gianfranco Contini (1960). The best edition is now Meneghetti & Tagliani (2019).

Subsequent quotes from Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum are similarly sourced. They are stanzas 16-7 (As I rested among the fragrant flowers…), 18, 69 (Gentlemen, if you will listen to me…), 51-5 (The Queen of France along with Henry Plantagenet…), 1-3 (Good people, hear why I made this book…).

[6] Cf. Ephesians 4:15.

[7] Ovid is explicitly cited as a source in recounting the story of Myrrha and that of a queen (“raina Triesta”) who killed her son. Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum v. 170 and v. 162, respectively. The queen hasn’t been clearly identified. Meneghetti & Tagliani (2019) pp. 397-8. The story of Tiresias is sourced as “in the books {en le geste}.” Proverbia, v. 347.

The references to Ovid and other authorities in Latin literature underscore the contribution of Latin literature to this early Italian text. Play across high and low culture is particularly a sensibility of learned medieval Christian authors. For analysis of Ovid in Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum, Premi (2018). On Ovid in medieval Italian texts more generally, Van Peteghem (2013).

[8] Henry Plantagenet (Henry II) was King of England from 1154 to 1189. The Queen of France, Eleanor of Aquitaine, became Henry II’s wife in 1152. Eleanor supported a revolt of their eldest son Henry against her husband.

Frederick I (Frederick Barbarossa) was Holy Roman Emperor from 1155 to 1190. Frederick divorced his wife Adelheid of Vohburg in 1153. Some sources indicate that Adelheid committed adultery.

Margaret of Navarre was Queen of Sicily with King William I from 1154 to 1166. Maio of Bari was a Sicilian admiral who worked closely with Queen Margaret. Matthew Bonnellus murdered Maio in 1160.

Alexius I Comnenus “the Stutterer {Bambacorax}” was Byzantine Emperor from 1081 to 1118. His wife was the Empress Irene Doukaina. She fought bitterly with Emperor Alexius’s mother, Anna Dalassene.

[9] Writing within the context of ridiculous medieval scholarship on “misogyny,” Psaki calls the narrator of Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum “a buffoon and a jaundiced informant.” He is “unable to reason his way out of a paper bag.” Psaki (2019) pp. 136, 134. The Proverbia’s author, however, is “exceptionally clever and deft.” Id. p. 135. That distinction seems to me to miss the narrator participating in clever rhetorical strategies for lessening risk in criticizing women.

[image] Folio 103v (stanzas 67-72) of Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum in MS. Berlin, Staatsbibliothek und Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Saibante-Hamilton 390. Psaki observed:

five of the six quatrain illustrations on folio 103v depict the Narrator at work, not only in composing the book but sharing it: in the first two he responds to two men who criticize him and a woman who reproaches him; in the third he instructs two pupils; in the fourth he is blamed by a woman; and in the fifth he writes into his book what he sees in observing a couple.

Psaki (2019) p. 126. Four of the illustrations explicitly depict the book Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum. Every quatrain of Proverbia is illustrated with attention to the text. Other illustrations also depict the book itself. Meneghetti & Tagliani (2019) provides a brief description / interpretation of each illustration.


Bonghi, Giuseppe, and Cono A. Mangieri, trans. (Italian) with notes. 2003. Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum. Biblioteca dei Classici Italiani. Online. Alternate source.

Hermes, Eberhard and P. R. Quarrie, ed. and trans. 1977. Petrus Alfonsi. The Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alfonsi. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hilka, Alfons. 1911. Die Disciplina clericalis des Petrus Alfonsi (das älteste Novellenbuch des Mittelalters). Heidelberg: Carl Winter. Alternate presentation.

Jubinal, Achille. 1839. Oeuvres complètes de Rutebeuf, trouvère du XIII siècle. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. Paris: Pannier.

Meneghetti, Maria Luisa and Roberto Tagliani. 2019. Il Manoscritto Saibante-Hamilton 390: Edizione Critica. Images. Roma: Salerno Editrice.

Merwin, W. S. 1955. “Two Provençal Poems.” The Hudson Review. 8 (2): 208-211.

Premi, Nicolò. 2018. “Filigrane ovidiane nei Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum.” Medioevi. 4: 27-53.

Psaki, F. Regina. 2016. “The Guide for Fools: The Chastiemusart in BnF Fr. 19152.” Pp. 231-263 in Philip E. Bennett, Leslie Zarker Morgan, and F. Regina Psaki, eds. 2016. The Epic Imagination in Medieval Literature: Essays in Honor of Alice M. Colby-Hall. Romance Monographs S-5. University of Mississippi.

Psaki, F. Regina. 2019. “Medieval misogyny and the French of Italy: the Chastiemusart and the Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum.” Pp. 101-140 in Nicola Morato et Dirk Schoenaers, eds. Medieval Francophone Literary Culture Outside France: Studies in the Moving Word. Medieval Texts and Cultures of Northern Europe, 28. Turnhout: Brepols.

Tobler, Adolf. 1886. “Proverbia que dicuntur super natura feminarum.” Zeitschrift Für Romanische Philologie. 9 (1-4): 287-331. Alternate presentation of edited text.

Van Peteghem, Julie. 2013. Italian Readers of Ovid: From the Origins to Dante. Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia University, New York City, USA.

Obilot in love with Gawan triumphed over her sister Obie

Gawan, an honored knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, approached the castle at Bearosche. The haughty young princess Obie disparagingly told her mother that Gawan looked like a merchant. Obie’s younger sister Obilot, only about seven years old, was wise beyond her years in love and respect for men. She reprimanded her older sister:

Sister, you should be ashamed of yourself!
He never earned a merchant’s name.
He has so lovely looks —
I want to have him as my knight!
May desire reward his love-service here, and
I’ll grant him that with affection.

{ swester, des mahtu dich schamen:
er gewan nie koufmannes namen.
er ist sô minneclîch getân,
ich wil in zeime ritter hân.
sîn dienst mac hie lônes gern:
des wil ich in durch liebe wern. }[1]

By not treating with affection King Meljanz of Liz, Obie had prompted extensive violence against men. A squire explained:

One day it came to the point
that the young king asked Obie
for her love in return for his service.
She cursed his sense,
asking him what he was thinking,
why he was so dispensing with sense.
She said to him, “If you were so old
that under your shield you
had spent many hours worthily
with helmet buckled to your head
facing arduous perils
in days numbering five years,
if you had won fame in such a way
and returned at my command,
were I then at last to say “yes,”
that would be too early
for me to grant you your desire.

{ eins tages gedêhez an die stat
daz si der junge künec bat
nâch sîme dienste mînne.
si verfluochte im sîne sinne,
unde vrâgte in wes er wânde,
war umb er sich sinnes ânde.
Si sprach hin zim “wært ir sô alt,
daz under schilde wære bezalt
in werdeclîchen stunden,
mit helm ûf houbt gebunden
gein herteclîchen vâren,
iwer tage in fünf jâren,
daz ir den prîs dâ het genomn,
und wært ir danne wider komn
ze mîm gebote gewesen dâ,
spræche ich denne alrêste jâ,
des iwer wille gerte,
alze fruo ich iuch gewerte.” }

Women should not encourage men to engage in violence against men. Men should not have to engage in dangerous quests to prove that they are worthy of women’s love. Men are intrinsically worthy of women’s love. Women should value highly loving men. The young girl Obilot rightly condemned her older sister’s behavior:

Boorishness has commanded still more of her.
Upon King Meljanz of Liz
she inflicted her arrogant behavior
when he asked her for love.
A curse upon such cold feelings!

{ unfuoge ir dennoch mêr gebôt:
geim künege Meljanz von Lîz
si kêrte ir hôchverte vlîz,
dô er si bat ir minne.
gunêrt sîn sölhe sinne! }

Obie actually loved Meljanz, but she was acting haughty and playing hard to love. Her folly prompted Meljanz in anger to declare war on her father. As always, women’s heartlessness leads to men’s deaths. Men’s lives should matter.

Women who lack compassion toward men are prone to domestic violence. In our benighted and gender-bigoted age, women are socially constructed as angels incapable of physical violence, unless of course they righteously seek to be media-lionized as professional football players or military commandos. When Obilot suggested that Gawan was a better knight than Meljanz, Obie violently attacked her:

And then the elder one began,
and hot with anger now was she:
“You, brat, you’ve the effrontery
and may it prove your downfall too,
to dare to scorn a young man so,
whom I have sought to praise,” cried she.
“Take this then for now, and see
you hold your tongue another time.”
And she slapped her cheek, meantime,
so all her fingers left a mark.

{ Et cele maintenant li vient
et dist con anflamee et chaude:
“Vos, garce, vos fustes si baude
que par vostre male avanture
osastes nule criature
blasmer que j’eüsse loee!
Si an tenez ceste joee
et vos an gardez autre foiz.”
Lors la fiert si que toz les doiz
li a enz el vis seelez }[2]

Women should not commit domestic violence against their sisters or against men. Persons sincerely concerned about gender equality should be particularly concerned about violence against men.

Even as a seven-year-old medieval girl, Obilot understood fundamentals of gender equality. Rejecting men’s traditional gender burden of soliciting amorous relationships, Obilot on her own initiative, like the great medieval woman hero Malgherita Spolatina, asked Gawan for his love:

As God knows full well,
you, lord, are the first man
with whom I have intimately conversed.
If my courtesy can be preserved,
and my sense of modesty as well,
I will profit in happiness,
for my governess told me
that speech is the mind’s clothing.
Sir, I plead with both you and me.
Acute pain teaches me to do so,
pain that I will name, if you so please.
If you think worse of me for that,
know that I have kept within proper limits,
for when I plead with you, I plead with myself.
You in truth are I,
although the names diverge.
You must posses my person’s name.
Be now both maiden and man.
I request that of both you and me.
If you let me, lord, depart from you
shamefully without reward,
your fame must answer to
to your courtesy
since I am a virgin seeking your favor.
If your pleasure, lord, is so inclined,
I will give you my love
with heartfelt affection.

{ got sich des wol versinnen kan:
hêrre, ir sît der êrste man
der ie mîn redegeselle wart:
ist mîn zuht dar an bewart,
und och mîn schamlîcher sin,
daz gît an freuden mir gewin:
wan mir mîn meisterin verjach,
diu rede wære des sinnes dach.
hêr, ich bit iwer unde mîn:
daz lêrt mich endehafter pîn.
den nenne ich iu, geruochet irs:
habt ir mich ihtes deste wirs,
ich var doch ûf der mâze pfat,
wande ich dâ ziu mîn selber bat.
ir sît mit der wârheit ich,
swie die namen teilen sich.
mîns lîbes namen sult ir hân:
nu sît maget unde man.
ich hân iwer und mîn gegert.
lât ir mich, hêrre, ungewert
nu schamlîche von iu gên,
dar umbe muoz ze rehte stên
iwer prîs vor iwer selbes zuht,
sît mîn magtuomlîchiu fluht
iwer genâde suochet.
ob ir des, hêrre, ruochet,
ich wil iu geben minne
mit herzenlîchem sinne. }[3]

Medieval Christianity taught the biblical unity of male and female persons in love. The seven-year-old Obilot requested that the famed knight Gawan unite with her person. That’s what love meant to Obilot, wise beyond her years. This bold girl didn’t simply present herself naked to the man she loved. She clothed her acute love pain for him with a sophisticated understanding of love.

Gawan had previously pledged to serve only another woman, the vicious, abusive Orgeluse. Obilot’s bold initiative and sophisticated understanding of love warmed Gawan’s heart. Nonetheless, he thought about one of his bodily interests as a man:

Yet supposing that my service and affection
would turn to your love,
before you could give love in return,
you must live for another five years.
That’s the count for your love season’s arrival.

{ doch lât mich dienst unde sinne
kêren gegen iwerre minne:
ê daz ir minne megt gegebn,
ir müezet fünf jar ê lebn:
deist iwerr minne zît ein zal. }

No pedophile, Gawan wasn’t going to have sex with a seven-year-old girl. Nor was he going to endure five years of sexless marriage, to say nothing of six. The five-year waiting period that Gawan proposed parallels the five years of violence that Obie said wouldn’t be enough for her beloved Meljanz. Obilot rewound Obie’s lack of loving generosity.

Men in fact are not dogs. While he wouldn’t seek bodily unity with Obilot for at least five years, Gawan embraced her understanding of unity in love:

He vowed to the little maiden
that he would fight for her.
He went on to say to her:
“Let my sword be in your hands.
If any knight desires to joust against me,
you must ride in that charge.
You must fight in my place.
People may see me in battle there,
but it must fall to you to fight for me.

{ dô lobter dem freuwelîn,
er wolde durch si wâpen tragen.
er begunde ir fürbaz mêre sagen
“in iwerre hende sî mîn swert.
ob iemen tjoste gein mir gert,
den poynder müezt ir rîten,
ir sult dâ für mich strîten.
man mac mich dâ in strîte sehn:
der muoz mînhalp von iu geschehn.” }

As a proto-meninist, Obilot wouldn’t support men-only military conscription. She would stand with her man and fight at her man’s side. She would strive to keep her man safe:

She said, “I fear little in doing that.
I am your protection and your shield,
and your heart and your solace,
now that you have redeemed me from doubt.
Guarding you against mishap,
I am your guide and your companion,
a roof against misfortune’s storm.
I am your easeful resting-place.
My love shall protect you,
give you good fortune in peril,
so that your courage will not fail,
even if only the castle-master remains alive.
I am castle-master and castle-mistress
and will be by your side in battle.
If you hold to this hope,
fortune and courage will not desert you.”

{ Si sprach “vil wênc mich des bevilt.
ich pin iur scherm und iwer schilt
und iwer herze und iwer trôst,
sît ir mich zwîvels hât erlôst.
ich pin für ungevelle
iwer geleite und iwer geselle,
für ungelückes schûr ein dach
bin ich iu senfteclîch gemach.
mîn minne sol iu fride bern,
gelückes vor der angest wern,
daz iwer ellen niht verbirt
irn wert iuch vaste unz an den wirt.
ich pin wirt und wirtîn
und wil in strîte bî iu sîn.
swenne ir des gedingen hât,
sælde und ellen iuch niht lât.” }

Gawan held her little hand between his big hands. That was a feudal gesture of his subservience to her. She generously refrained from rebuking him for that affront to gender equality. Intent on acquiring a suitable love-token to give to him to take into battle, she told him that she had to leave because she had important work to do. Gawan understood the importance of her work. He wasn’t offended by her abruptly leaving him.

Obilot went away with her playmate Clauditte. Clauditte was a generous young girl who supported Obilot’s love for Gawan. She sought to help her little friend:

She said, “Now tell me, my lady,
what do you have in mind to give him?
Since we have nothing but dolls,
if any one of mine is more beautiful,
give that one to him. I don’t mind.
There wouldn’t be any quarreling over that.”

{ diu sprach “nu saget mir, frouwe mîn,
wes habt ir im ze gebne wân?
sît daz wir niht wan tocken hân,
sîn die mîne iht schœner baz,
die gebt im âne mînen haz:
dâ wirt vil wênec nâch gestriten.” }

Obilot was a more sophisticated girl. She asked her father Prince Lyppaut for help. Obilot wanted to show her love for Gawan tangibly, and she didn’t know how:

If I have nothing to give him,
what use am I alive,
since he has offered me love-service?
Indeed I must blush for shame
if I have nothing to give him.
Never was a man so dear to a maiden!

{ hân ich im niht ze gebenne,
waz toug ich dan ze lebenne,
sît er mir dienst hât geboten?
sô muoz ich schämeliche roten,
ob ich im niht ze gebne hân.
nie magede wart sô liep ein man. }

Fathers typically do whatever they can to please their daughters. Her father went to Obilot’s mother, his wife, and asked for help. Mothers ruled medieval households.

Not at all existing merely as her husband’s chattel-property, Lyppaut’s duchess-wife apparently was independently wealthy and unafraid to express her own views. Lyppaut emphasized his love for Obilot in appealing to his wife:

Lyppaut went before the duchess,
along with Obilot his daughter.
He said, “Lady, give us both your aid.
My heart cried out for joy
when God gave me this girl-child
and removed my sorrow.”

{ Lyppaut gienc für die herzogîn,
unt Obylôt diu tohter sîn.
dô sprach er “frouwe, stiurt uns zwei.
mîn herze nâch freuden schrei,
dô mich got dirre magt beriet
und mich von ungemüete schiet.” }

Less expressive and more practical, Lyppaut’s wife responded:

What would you have of my property?

{ waz welt ir mînes guotes hân? }

Sumptuary laws have never been sustained historically because men like to give women fancy clothes. Lyppaut responded:

Lady, if you are willing to help us,
Obilot would like better clothes.
She’s thinks she’s worthy of them,
since such a worthy man desires her love
and offers her much love-service
and desires from her a love-token.

{ frouwe, sît irs uns bereit,
Obylôt wil bezzer kleit.
si dunket si’s mit wirde wert,
sît sô werder man ir minne gert
und er ir biutet dienstes vil
und ouch ir kleinœte wil. }

Well-connected to household gossip, the mother knew that her daughter Obilot was in love with Gawan. She praised Gawan’s male gaze: “His glance is truly like May’s gleam {sîn blic ist reht ein meien glast}!” She ordered for Obilot an outfit made from samite from the banks of the Tiber, furs from India, and silk woven with gold from the Caucasus. Obilot had Clauditte take to Gawan a sleeve from that dress. Gawan bowed again and again to Clauditte to express his delight. He pinned Obilot’s sleeve to his shield.

The next morning, Gawan fought strongly against the enemy besieging Obilot’s mother’s castle at Bearosche. Many men were killed:

All the worthy men who lost their lives
paid ignobly for Obie’s anger,
because her foolish arrogance
brought hardship to many.

{ swelch wert man dâ den lîp verlôs,
Obîen zorn unsanfte er kôs,
wande ir tumbiu lôsheit
vil liute brâht in arbeit. }

Joisting againt King Meljanz, Gawan speared him in the arm. In subsequently sword-fighting, Gawan forced Meljanz to surrender. That was only one of Gawan’s noted victories.[4]

Back at the castle that evening, Gawan asked to see Obilot. She was delighted to come to him:

He pressed the well-favored child
like a doll to his breast,
as loving inclination prompted him.

{ er dructez kint wol gevar
als ein tockn an sîne brust:
des twang in friwentlîch gelust. }

Gawan ordered King Meljanz to surrender to the seven-year-old girl Obilot:

“You must acknowledge that none
but her hand took you captive here,”
said the worthy Gawan.
“My fame she alone must possess.”

{ “ir sult si dâ für hân erkant,
iuch envienc hie niemen wan ir hant:”
sus sprach der werde Gâwân
“mînen prîs sol si al eine hân.” }

Husbands today commonly give all the credit for their achievements to their wives. That’s been a practice under gynocentrism going all the way back to classical Rome. Gawan explained to King Meljanz:

Your hand has surrendered to me.
Be free of that oath, grant it here instead.
The guarantor of all of my joys
sits here in my arms.
It’s her prisoner you must be!

{ iwer hant mir sicherheite jach:
der sît nu ledec, und gebt si her.
aller mîner freuden wer
sitzet an dem arme mîn:
ir gevangen sult ir sîn. }

Although a proto-meninist, Obilot didn’t insist that she and Gawan maintain separate credit accounts. She sought to promote love:

She commanded that Meljanz
his oath of surrender
that he had made to her hand
be transferred to her sister Obie.
“You must have her as your lover
so as to win knightly fame.
She must have you as her lord and lover
always and willingly.
I’ll except no excuse from either of you!”

{ Meljanze si dâ nâch gebôt
daz er sicherheit verjæhe,
diu in ir hant geschæhe,
ir swester Obîen.
“zeiner âmîen
sult ir si hân durch ritters prîs:
zeim hêrren und zeim âmîs
sol si iuch immer gerne hân.
ine wils iuch dwederhalp erlân.” }

Obilot thus reconciled Obie and Meljanz. Obie wept and kissed Meljanz’s arm where he had been wounded. They subsequently married.

Despite Obilot’s commendable actions as a strong, independent little girl, she wasn’t able eliminate the systemic structure of ongoing violence against men. In the fighting around her mother’s castle at Bearosche, Gawan or Meljanz could have been killed. Many other men were killed. Moreover, Gawan didn’t renounce fighting as a knight and take up gardening as he waited for Obilot to reach sexual maturity. Gawan instead departed to do more violence against men out of his foolish love for the vicious, abusive Orgeluse. What could Obilot do?

At this Obilot wept profusely,
saying, “Now take me away with you!”
But the young, sweet maiden’s wish
Gawan refused.
Her mother scarcely could tear her away from him.
Gawan said his farewells to all.

{ Obilôt des weinde vil:
si sprach “nu füert mich mit iu hin.”
dô wart der jungen süezen magt
diu bete von Gâwâne versagt:
ir muoters kûm von im gebrach.
urloup er dô zin allen sprach. }

One little girl cannot easily transform the world. Obilot at least saved her mother’s castle from siege and reconciled Obie and Meljanz. Yet to end violence against men and to promote respect and love for men, much work remains to be done.

Remember Obilot. Take Obilot away with you!

Gawan rides away with Orgeluse in Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parzival

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Wolfram von Eschenbach, Parzival 352.21-6 (Bk. 7), Middle High German text from Lachmann (1833 / 1891), English translation (modified) from Edwards (2004). For Parzival English translations freely available online, Kline (2020), Zeydel & Morgan (1951) (some passages omitted), and Weston (1894).

Subsequent quotes from Parzival are similarly sourced, unless otherwise noted. Those above are, cited by section.verse: 345.27-346.14 (One day it came to the point…), 353.18-22 (Boorishness has commanded…), 369.3-30 (As God knows full well…), 370.13-7 (Yet supposing that my service and affection…), 370.22-30 (He vowed to the little maiden…), 371.1-16 (She said, “I fear little in doing that….), 372.16-21 (She said, “Now tell me, my lady…), 373.21-6 (If I have nothing to give him…), 374.6-12 (Lyppaut went before the duchess…), 374.14 (What would you have of my property?), 374.15-20 (Lady, if you are willing to help us…), 374.24 (His glance is truly like May’s gleam!), 386.15-8 (All the worthy men who lost their lives…), 395.22-4 (He pressed the well-favored child…), 394.17-20 (You must acknowledge that none…), 395.26-30 (Your hand has surrendered to me…), 396.10-8 (She commanded that Meljanz…), 397.15-20 (At this Obilot wept profusely…).

[2] Chrétien de Troyes, Perceval (Percival) or the story of the Grail {Perceval ou le Conte du Graal} vv. 5010-19, Old French text (MS Paris, BnF, fr. 794) of Kunstmann (2009), English translation (modified) from Kline (2019). For a comparison of the Obilot / Obie stories in Chrétien de Troyes and Wolfram von Eschenbach, Morgan (1913) pp. 189-192.

[3] Gurnemanz, a knight and the Prince of Graharz, instructed the young Parzival:

Man and women are all one,
just like the sun that shone today
and the name that denotes day.
Neither of these may be separated from the other.
The blossom from a single seed.
Mark this with discernment.

{ man und wîp diu sint al ein;
als diu sunn diu hiute schein,
und ouch der name der heizet tac.
der enwederz sich gescheiden mac:
si blüent ûz eime kerne gar.
des nemet künsteclîche war. }

Parzival, 173.1-6 in Bk. 3. The seven-years-old Obilot knew that wisdom. On the wise young girl in medieval German literature, Hughes (2003). On the education of noble girls in Chrétien de Troyes, Polets (2008) Ch. 3.

[4] Obie taunted her sister Obilot when it appeared that Meljanz had outperformed Gawan in violence against men. Obilot responded:

He may well make amends.
I’m still confident that he’s courageous enough
to redeem himself from your scorn.
He shall render me service,
and I will increase his joy.
Since you say he is a merchant,
he shall market my reward.

{ er mac si’s wol erholn:
ich gib im noch gein ellen trôst,
daz er dîns spottes wirt erlôst.
er sol dienst gein mir kêren,
unde ich wil im freude mêren.
sît du gihst er sî ein koufman,
er sol mîns lônes market hân. }

Parzival, 358.8-14 in Bk. 7. Obilot surely didn’t intend to suggest that Gawan would market her sexually to others (prostitute her). As a proto-meninist, she probably didn’t truly support violence against men, either.

[image] Gawan rides away with Orgeluse. Illustration made in 1443-1446 in Diebold Lauber’s workshop in Hagenau near the German border of present-day France. Detail from folio 449v in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339 (part 1, part 2).


Edwards, Cyril W., trans. 2004. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival and Titurel. Oxford World’s Classics (2006 edition). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Hughes, Jolyon Timothy. 2003. “Wîse Maget.” Quidditas. 24 (5): 55-83.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2019. Chrétien de Troyes. Perceval (Or The Story of the Grail). Poetry in Translation. Online.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2020. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Kunstmann, Pierre. 2009. Chrétien de Troyes. Conte du Graal (Perceval). Ottawa, Canada: Université d’Ottawa, Laboratoire de Français Ancien. Publié en ligne par l’ENS de Lyon dans la Base de français médiéval, dernière révision le 2020-03-01. Alternate presentation.

Lachmann, Karl, ed. 1833. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Lieder, Parzival, Titurel, Willehalm. Berlin: G. Reimer. 5th edition (1891); alternate presentation.

Morgan, Bayard Quincy. 1913. “Some Women in Parzival.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology. 12 (2): 175-198.

Polets, Iryna. 2008. Constructing the Ideal of Noble Youth: Chrétien de Troyes and His Influences on Thirteenth Century Educational Literature. MA Thesis in Medeival Studies. Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.

Weston, Jessie L., trans. 1894. Wolfram von Eschenbach. Parzival: A Knightly Epic. 2 vol. London: D. Nutt. Vol. 1. Vol. 2.

Zeydel, Edwin H., with Bayard Quincy Morgan, trans. 1951. The Parzival of Wolfram von Eschenbach: Translated into English Verse with Introduction, Notes, Connecting Summaries. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. Alternate online presentation.

medieval men’s sexed protest against female sexual privilege

Throughout history, men have provided women with material goods in having sexual relations with them. Throughout history, most persons paying for sex have been men. Most prostitutes have been women. Modern sex taxes on men, socially constructed as “child support,” are bizarrely irrational and harshly punish men lacking reproductive choice. As obvious as it is scarcely speakable today, women’s sexuality has long been more highly valued than men’s sexuality. In medieval Europe, some men bitterly protested this female sexual privilege.

The Guide for fools {Chastie musart}, a thirteenth-century Old French poem of men’s sexed protest, recognized wealth inequality in protesting female sexual privilege. Apparently writing with the mentality of a tradesman, its author protested women’s greed, deceit, and indiscriminate valuing. Regarding women trading sex for material goods, the Chastie musart declared:

One should excuse the wantonness of a poor woman
who has only one dress that’s fit for her to wear.
She doesn’t use trickery to beguile the menfolk.
How can a poor woman refuse a chance for gain?

I’m not amazed if a poor woman comes
to behave wantonly in such circumstances.
If there weren’t necessity, maybe she’d never
come to that point. Well would that suit her.

A woman who has five or six pairs of dresses
lined with fur whether white or gray,
or her fine houses or her rich property,
should be well jeered if she fucks for a price.

There are many of these women who fuck for a fee,
for the gifts they receive, though they haven’t need of them.
But there’s no merchant or knight in the world
who can’t learn better by reading this book.

{ L’en doit bien povre feme de folie escuser
Qui n’a que une cote que li convient user:
El ne sert pas de guile de la gent amuser:
Comment puet povre feme son gaaig refuser?

Ge n’ai mie merveille s’a povre feme avient
Qu’ele face folie, au siecle se devient:
Ses estovoirs li faillent, ne jamais se devient
A cel point n’avenra : bien faire li convient.

Feme qui a de robes ou .v. peres ou .vj.
Forrees d’escurex ou de vair ou de gris,
Ou ses beles maisons ou son riche porpris,
L’en la doit bien huer quant ele fout por pris.

Mult en i a de celes qui foutent por looier,
Por les dons qu’en reçoivent, et si n’en ont mestier:
Mais el siecle n’a nul borjois ne chevalier
Por qu’il lise cel livre, ne s’en puist chastoier. }[1]

The Chastie musart repeatedly associates female sexual privilege with economic privilege:

The more alluring and more elegant the woman is,
the more foolish and more mad he is who frequents her.
She doesn’t care who bangs her, whether in the ass or in the fine front hole,
as long as he gives her money or dresses or a fine blanket.

You’ll never find faith or constancy in a woman,
even if she be appealing, elegant, or lovely.
As long as she can gain something, she’ll never regret it,
because for each lustful man, she’d like to have thirty.

The one who is most haughty or who is most overbearing,
who resembles the castle-mistress of Péronne or of Roye,
doesn’t care whom she conquers or takes in or pleases
in exchange for one necklace of silver or for a belt.

No worthy man will ever by loved or held dear by a woman
if he isn’t dressed in a little green or squirrel-fur.
A woman won’t be strongly attracted to him if he’s poor and naked,
but if he gives richly, he’ll will be well-received.

{ De tant con la feme est plus mignote et plus cointe,
De tant est plus musarz et plus fox qui l’acointe:
Ne li chaut qui la fiere, ou de cul ou de pointe,
Ou qu’il li doint deniers ou robe ou coute pointe.

Ja mar avrez en feme fiance ne atente,
Qui tant soit bobenceuse ne mignote ne gente,
Puis qu’el puist gaaignier que jamais se repente:
Que por .i. lecheour en vorroit avoir .XXX.

Cele qui plus s’orgueille et qui plus se desroie,
Qui sanble chastelaine de Péronne ou de Roie,
Ne li chaut qui el mate ou enprant ou enroie
Por .i. taissu d’argent ou por une corroie.

Ja preudom n’ert de feme amez ne chier tenuz
S’il n’est vestuz de vert ou d’escuriex menuz:
Feme ne fait force s’il est povres et nuz:
Mais qu’il doint largement, il sera bien venuz.}[2]

This work of men’s sexed protest careens from concerns and circumstances of women at the top of medieval society to the language of uncouth tradesmen. It challenges fundamental social inequalities.

man offering woman money for sex

Men paying women for sex isn’t as oppressive as poor men being deprived of women’s love because of their poverty. The Chastie musart fundamentally concerns dehumanization resulting from men having to pay for women’s love:

A woman puts herself up for sale — let the buyer beware.
A woman knows much about trickery, fraud, and cheating.
Better for him to buy, without deception, a straw mat,
for a woman resembles three things: she-wolf, vixen, and female cat.

She-wolf, vixen and female cat are three predators:
the female cat hunts, the vixen lurks, the she-wolf ravages and predates.
He who would, should believe me in this: a woman will never love
any man who doesn’t have to give either clothes or cash.

{ Feme se met en vente, gart soi bien qui l’achate,
Feme set mult d’enging, de barate et de frape:
Mielz li venroit, sanz faille, acheter une nate;
Feme sanble .iii. choses: louve, goupille et chate.

Louve, goupille et chate sont .iii. bestes de proie:
Chate cherche, goupil gaite, louve ravit et proie.
Ja feme n’amera, qui que velt si m’en croie,
Nul home s’el n’en a ou robes ou monnoie. }[3]

Men historically have been dehumanized as dogs, pigs, and wolves. Dehumanizing women as she-wolves, vixen, and female cats is similar. The comparison to buying a straw mat emphasizes the extent to which monetizing love for men makes society primitive.

Who declares the law
of beauty? Let it be whores!

{ Quid lex edixit
de formosa? meretrix sit }[4]

Today, medieval literature of men’s sexed protest is marginalized and disparaged. The Chastie musart explicitly addressed its own transgressiveness:

One thinks the poor man foolish and the rich man wise,
but the poor man has one very big advantage:
he can speak his mind, if his heart wishes to do that.
To the most brightest of all he will never pay the price.

The rich man won’t speak freely. Instead he observes and listens.
What he has, which he’s afraid of losing, makes him follow the line.
And what does the poor man do? He strikes and thrusts,
because for a man who has nothing to lose, he has nothing to fear or dread.

{ L’en tient le povre a fol et le riche a saige,
Mais d’itant a li povres .i. mult grant aventaige:
Qu’il puet dire son boen, si li vient a coraige:
De trestot le plus cointe ja n’en plaiera gaige.

Ce ne fait pas li riches, ainz oreille et escoute;
Son avoir, qu’il crient perdre le fait aler en route.
Et li povres que fait? Cestui fiert, celui boute,
Quar hom qui n’a que perdre ne crient riens ne ne dote. }

These verses might as well be speaking to modern medieval scholars trivializing men’s sexed protest with superficial name-calling (“misogyny”). The extent to which a society is able to accommodate criticism and dissent, even of matters concerning women and divine liturgy, is a measure of its self-confidence and adaptability. With respect to men’s sexed protest, modern societies lag far behind medieval Europe.[5]

man sticking out tongue

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Guide for fools {Chastie musart / Chastiemusart} from BnF Fr. 19152, st. 51-4, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Psaki (2016). Subsequent quotes from the Chastie musart are similarly sourced. For a freely accessible edition of the Chastie musart from BnF Fr. 19152, Jubinal (1839) vol. 2, pp. 478-89 (alternate presentation). Meyer (1886) provides text from a different manuscript.

The Chastie musart probably was written sometime between late in the twelfth century and late in the thirteenth century. More precise specifications are a muddle: “no one now seems to date it earlier than the mid- to late-thirteenth century.” Psaki (2019) p. 106, which footnotes Eusibi (1998) p. 41, which gives the earliest possible date as late in the twelfth century, and the latest possible date as 1233. The Chastie musart consists of Alexandrine quatrains. The length of the poem varies considerably across manuscript instances.

[2] Chastie musart, st. 35-9. According to the Chastie musart, a competitive, commercial market for sex gives women high sexual value and allows them to acquire luxuries:

Whether she wears scarlet, vermilion, or purple,
rich Stanford cloth or fine dark brown and laces herself neatly,
if she wants money, she doesn’t care who gets it for her.
She grateful to anyone who gets money for her.

A woman shows a lovely face — sweet, merciful, and tender —
to the rich man when she thinks he has something she can take.
The poor man drinks last because he has nothing to offer.
A woman is very wicked when she sells herself costly.

{ S’ele vest escarlate vermeille ou paonace,
Estanfort ou brunete, et cointement se lace,
S’ele velt gaaignier, poi li est qui li face:
Ençois l’en set bon gré qui gaaig li porchace.

Feme fait bele chiere, douce, piteuse et tenre
Au riche home ou el cuide ou il ait riens a prandre;
Le povre boute arriere por ce qu’il n’a que tenre:
Feme set trop de mal qui se fait chieres a venre. }

Chastie musart. st. 56-7. Acute concern for inequalities pervades this poem.

[3] Chastie musart, st. 68-9. The subsequent quote above is Chastie musart, st. 3-4.

[4] Serlo of Wilton, proverb 41, Latin text from Friend (1954), p. 200, my English translation. A related proverb recorded in fifteenth-century England:

The smaller the peas, the more to the pot; the fairer the woman, the more giglot.

Cited by id. to Tilley (1950), proverb 137. Cited to the fifteenth-century MS. Sloane 1210 in Northall (1892) p. 508.

[5] A leading scholar of the Chastie musart ignored systemic issues of gender and economic inequality and suggested that its author was an angry misogynist not sophisticated enough to subvert dominant discourse:

I conclude from the narrative voicing of the Chastiemusart that this text is indeed a straight-faced entry in the misogyny stakes — or one with its tongue only incidentally, tentatively, and potentially in its check. It does nonetheless give the close reader a hint or two that the misogynous diatribe might both derive from personal dyspepsia, and ultimately backfire on the attempted and apparent gravitas of its speaker.

Psaki (2019) pp. 115-6. Given the prevalence of such historical microaggressions, medieval literary scholarship urgently needs to be more inclusive and welcoming of diverse voices.

[image] (1) Man offering a woman money for sex. From folio 142v of British Library Add MS 49622 (Gorleston Psalter made in England (Suffolk) between 1310-1324). (2) Man sticking out tongue. From folio 123r of British Library Add MS 49622


Eusebi, Mario. 1998. “Le quartine proverbiali del Chastie-musart.” Pp. 35-67 in Mélanges in memoriam Takeshi Shimmura. Tokyo: Comité de publication des Mélanges in memoriam Takeshi Shimmura.

Friend, A. C. 1954. “The Proverbs of Serlo of Wilton.” Mediaeval Studies. 16: 179-218.

Jubinal, Achille. 1839. Oeuvres complètes de Rutebeuf, trouvère du XIII siècle. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. Paris: Pannier.

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