protect men’s jewels: making capons no way for men to gain weight

In trivializing and disparaging men, both women and men today commonly refer to men’s genitals as “junk.” One hears phrases such as “his junk,” “your junk,” or “my junk.” It was not so in less bigoted and more enlightened medieval Europe. For example, the medieval morality play Mankind described intimate-partner violence against the man named New-Guise:

I have fed my wife so well that she became my master!
I have a great wound on my head. Look! And there on it lies a bandage.
And another where I piss my ease.

{ I have fed[d]e my wiff so well till sche is my master!
I have a grett wo[u]nde on my hede, lo! and theron leyth a playster;
Ande another ther I pisse my peson. }[1]

This man’s wife struck him in the head and genitals for not sufficiently satisfying her. Domestic violence is always wrong, even domestic violence against men. Wholesome appreciation for the beauty and blessedness of men’s genitals can help to reduce domestic violence against men.

Violence against men hurts regardless of whether woman or man perpetrates it. In the medieval play Mankind, a farmer subsequently struck with his spade New-Guise’s testicles. New-Guise cried out in pain:

Alas, my jewels! I shall be disgraced to my wife!

{ Alasse, my jewellys! I shall be schent of my wiff[e]! }

By “jewels,” New-Guise meant his testicles. New-Guise treasured his testicles. When a charlatan-doctor proposed treating New-Guise’s injured testicles by amputating them, New-Guise refused such treatment:

You shall not chop off my jewels, if I can prevent that.

{ Ye shall not choppe my jewellys, and I may. }

Women and men today should likewise protect and cherish men’s jewels.

concerned rooster staring at viewer

Striving for favorably worldly appearances can lead to sacrificing men’s genitals. In many cultures throughout history, being fat was regarded as a sign of wealth, health, and well-being. But striving to look fat can lead men to losing their treasure.

Consider the case of Castorio. He was a rich young gentleman born in the Adriatic coastal city Fano. Castorio purchased a summer home in the inland farming commune Carignano. He would spend summers there with his two servants and a lady-friend.

One day while walking after dinner, Castorio met a peasant named Sandro. A fine, fat, ruddy fellow, Sandro smiled while working hard with his plow. Sandro as a forty-year-old man married a woman as fat and happy as he. Every week she carefully shaved his beard so that he would always look like a young man ready for lively love-play.

Castorio was astonished at Sandro’s zestful, well-rounded appearance. He sought to look like Sandro:

Good neighbor, how is it that I’m so lank and lean, as you can see, and you’re so ruddy and fat? I eat daily the finest food, drink the most precious wines, lie in bed as long as I please, and I don’t need anything. I desire more than anybody in the world to grow fat. However, the more strongly I try to gain weight, the more weight I lose. You during winter eat the coarsest food and drink watered-down wine. You rise up to your work when it’s yet night, and all summer long you don’t have an hour’s rest. Nonetheless, your ruddy face and well-covered ribs make you a pleasure to behold. So given my desire for more girth, can you help me to put on some pounds, the best way you know how, or show me how you’ve managed to get so fat? I’ll give you fifty gold florins up front for telling me. Beyond that, I promise to reward you such that for the rest of your life, you’ll bless me and you’ll call yourself happy.

{ Fratello, non so la causa ch’io sono sì macilente e macro, come tu vedi, e tu sei robicondo e grasso. Io d’ogni tempo mangio dilicati cibi, beo preciosi vini, giaccio in letto quanto mi piace, nulla mi manca, e desidero più che ogn’altro uomo divenir grasso; e quanto più mi sforzo di ingrassarmi, tanto più mi smagrisco. Ma tu mangi lo verno e cibi grossi, bevi l’acquatico vino, lievi su la notte a lavorare, nè mai lo state hai di riposo un’ora; e nondimeno sei sì robicondo e grasso, che è un diletto a vederti. Onde desideroso di tal grassezza, ti prego quanto so e posso, che di tal cosa mi faci partecipe, dimostrandomi il modo che tenuto hai in divenir sì grasso; e oltre i cinquanta fiorini d’oro che ora darti voglio, promettoti di guidardonarti di tal maniera, che di me per tutto il tempo della vita tua ti potrai lodare e chiamar contento. }[2]

Sandro was already happy, but he was keen to acquire fifty gold florins. Using the barnyard knowledge of a peasant, Sandro craftily explained the secret of his rotundity:

About a year ago, I had my testicles removed, and from that very moment I grew as fat as you see me now.

{ Io già un anno mi fei cavare e testicoli; e dall’ora in qua io sono in questa maniera, che vedete, grasso. }

According to Sandro, being castrated didn’t hurt at all. Interested in undergoing that operation, Castorio asked for the name of Sandro’s doctor. His doctor was now dead, according to Sandro. Castorio was sorely disappointed. But Sandro comforted him:

That great man taught me his art before he died. Since then, I’ve removed the testicles of many calves, poultry, and other animals. All of them became marvelously fat. If you’ll leave this burden to me, I’ll do it such that you’ll go forth happily.

{ Quell’uomo da bene innanzi che morisse m’insegnò quest’arte, e dall’ora in qua ho cavato e testicoli a molti vitelli, poledri e altri animali, i quali sono venuti a maraviglia grassi; e se volete lasciare il carico a me, farò sì che vi partirete contento. }

Sandro set before Castorio the choice to get himself castrated, or be a fully masculine man. Choose manly life. Treasure your jewels!

Ardently desiring to get fat, Castorio had Sandro castrate him right then and there. Sandro did the job professionally, not at all like the castration of Saturn or the castration of Peter Abelard:

Sandro, seeing that Castorio’s will was firm and steady, told him to lie down on the fresh grass and open his legs. When he did that, Sandro grabbed Castorio’s scrotum and with his testicles in hand, used an oil to soften his scrotum. Then Sandro carefully made a cut with a little knife as sharp as a razor. He stuck two fingers into the incision and with all his skill and dexterity extracted both testicles without Castorio feeling any pain. He applied to the wound a dressing made from some sweet oil and the juice of herbs. He then helped Castorio to his feet. Now Castorio was made as proper of a capon and a eunuch as a hand had ever done to a scrotum. Castorio gave Sandro fifty gold florins. Taking leave of him, Castorio then returned home.

{ Sandro, vedendo il voler di Castorio fermo e saldo, ordinò che sopra la fresca erba subito si stendesse ed aprisse le gambe. Il che fatto, tolse un coltellino, che come rasoio tagliava, e presa la cassa di testicoli in mano e con oglio commune ben mollificata, destramente diede un taglio; e messe due dita nel luoco inciso, con tanta arte e con tanta destrezza gli cavò ambi i testicoli, che quasi non sentì dolore. E fattogli certo empiastro mollificativo con oglio e sugo d’erbe, il fece levar in piedi. Castorio, già fatto cappone anzi eunuco, mise mano alla borsa, e cinquanta fiorini li donò; e tolta licenza da lui, a casa fece ritorno. }

The description of what Sandro did to Castorio includes realistic technical details of an actual castration. Without doubt, castration culture is real.

About an hour into his life as a gelding, Castorio began to experience intense pain. He couldn’t sleep because of the pain in his scrotum. Every day that pain worsened. When Sandro heard of Castorio’s suffering, he feared that Castorio would kill him. Castorio planned to do just that.

Just as a loving wife saved her husband from the devil castrating him, Sandro’s wife saved her husband from being killed. He arranged to meet Castorio in the field the next day to help him overcome his pain. Disguised in her husband’s clothes, Sandro’s wife went out to the field the next day. Castorio came and complained of the pain from what Sandro had done to him:

The crafty lady, disguised as Sandro, said, “Let me have a little look at the incision, which I can heal.” Castorio, taking off his shirt, showed the wound, which was all putrid. After she saw it, the crafty lady laughed and said, “Castorio, you are scared of death and think that this case cannot be healed. Certainly you’re totally wrong, because the incision that was done to me is bigger than yours and still hasn’t healed and is more putrid than you can believe compared to your wound. Nonetheless, you see me ruddy, fat, and fresh as a lily. So that you can believe what I’m telling you, you can see for yourself the wound that hasn’t yet healed.” And putting one leg on the ground and the other on the plow, she pulled up her clothes to the rear. She let fly a hidden rocket-fart and put his head down there to show him the wound. Castorio saw that Sandro’s incision was larger than his and that its sides hadn’t yet joined together. Smelling the great stench that went right into his nose and marveling that the penis had also been cut off, Castorio’s spirit rallied. He became determined to endure all his pain and stench. Not long thereafter, his skinniness reversed, and he became fat, just as he had always desired.

{ La moglie, che Sandro parea, disse: Lasciami un poco veder il taglio, che poi provederemo. Castorio, alciata su la camiscia, mostrò la piaga che già putiva. Il che vedendo, la moglie sorrise; e disse: Castorio, voi temete di morte, e pensate il caso esser irreparabile; certo v’ingannate, perciò che il taglio, che mi fu fatto, è maggiore del vostro, e ancora non è saldato, e putisse molto più che la piaga vostra: e nientedimeno mi vedete robicondo, grasso e fresco come giglio; ed acciò che voi crediate quello ch’io vi dico, vi voglio dimostrar la piaga non ancor saldata. E tenendo una gamba in terra, e l’altra sopra l’aratro, alciossi e panni di dietro; e tratta una rocchetta secreta, inchinò il capo e gli mostrò la piaga. Castorio, vedendo il taglio di Sandro esser maggiore del suo, nè in tanto tempo risaldato ancora, e sentendo il gran fetore che gli veniva al naso, e mirando che egli aveva inciso il membro virile, si rallegrò molto, e pacientemente sofferse ogni dolore e puzzo; nè stette gran tempo che il meschinello si riebbe, e venne grasso, sì come egli desiderava. }

Scholars might debate whether this is truly a happy ending. At least Sandro wasn’t killed, and the fat Castorio still had his penis.

capons

In Straparola’s mid-sixteenth-century The Pleasant Nights {Le Piacevoli Notti}, the noble lady Arianna told this tale of Sandro’s heroic wife. Then, according to the story-telling rules of the assembled women and men, she told a riddle:

My friend I bid you, if you please,
to lay you down, and for your ease
I’ll take the thing and hold it fast
between my hands and at the last
I’ll clap it into the gaping place.
Then pushing to and fro apace
with heedful look I’ll thrust along
a liquid thick and warm and strong.
You’ll cry enough and sore exclaim.
I’ll fill you full, but still amain,
I’ll work and work with all my might.
No stopping now till wearied quite,
we both call truce and stop the fight.

{ Ponetevi a boccone, se ’l vi piace,
Chè a mano a mano vi farò quel fatto.
In man piglio la cosa, ch’indi giace;
E nel forame ghe lo pongo un tratto.
Non vi tergete punto, state in pace;
Chè vi prometto, per espresso patto,
Di non venir a fin di questa danza.
Che d’avantaggio v’empirò la panza. }

This riddle wounded the ears of Arianna’s audience. The group’s woman-leader sharply rebuked her. Arianna, however, explained that her riddle actually wasn’t as “shameful {vergognoso}” and “dishonorable {disonesto}” as they thought. According to her, the riddle described not sexual intercourse, but a sick man receiving an enema. In humane society, both sexual intercourse and an enema should be regarded as less shameful and dishonorable than castration.

More importantly, making men into capons is no way for men to gain weight or dignity. Without men being made into capons, men’s welfare should weigh as much as women’s in public discourse.

* * * * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Mankind, vv. 246-8, Middle English text from Bevington (1975) pp. 911-2, my modernized English. Mankind, composed between 1465 and 1470, has survived only in the Macro manuscripts: Washington, DC, Folger Shakespear Library, MS. V.a. 354. Here’s some technical discussion of that manuscript. The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from Mankind, vv. 381 (Alas, my jewels! …) and 441 (You shall not chop…). New-Guise represents current fashion.

[2] Giovanni (Zoan) Francesco Straparola, The Pleasant Nights {Le Piacevoli Notti}, Night 6, Story 2, Italian text from Rua (1899) vol. 2, pp. 15-21, English translation (modified) from Beecher (2012) vol. 2, p. 30. Subsequent quotes above are similarly from this story.

For a partial English translation, Waters (1894). Waters prints the sexual passages in sixteenth-century French. On Waters’s translation, Kirkham (2016) and Beecher (2012), Vol. 1, Introduction, Ch. 7.

[images] (1) Concerned rooster. Source photo by Muhammad Mahdi Karim via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Capons in Hainan, China in 2013. Source photo by Anna Frodesiak via Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Beecher, Donald, trans. 2012. Giovanni Francesco Straparola. The Pleasant Nights. 2 vols. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Bevington, David M. 1975. Medieval Drama. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Kirkham, Victoria. 2016. “The First English Translator of Straparola, Masuccio, and Ser Giovanni: William George Waters in His Victorian World.” Arnovit: Archivo Novellistico Italiano. 1: 114-163.

Rua, Giuseppe. 1899. Le piacevoli notti di M. Giovanfrancesco Straparola da Caravaggio nelle quali si contengono le favole con i loro enimmi da dieci donne e duo giovani raccontate. 2 vols. Bologna: Romagnoli-Dall’ Acqua. Alternate presentation of 1927 edition.

Waters, W. G., trans. 1894. Giovanni Francesco Straparola. The Nights. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. London: Lawrence and Bullen. Alternate presentation: vol. 1, vol. 2.

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