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:

Notes:

[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.

References:

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.

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