women resisting medieval anti-meninism in Neidhart’s songs

Joy has come to us. May has come to us,
and many kinds of flowers have come.
Now the birds are coming to us with their sweet sound.
The beloved summertime
that gives joy to so many hearts has come.
Let no one remain sad.

{ Chomen ist uns diu wunne,chomen ist uns der maye,
chomen sint diu blumen manger hande laye,
nů choment uns die vogel mit ir suzzen schraye.
chomen ist uns diu lieb sumerzit,
diu vil mangem herzen vroude git.
sin trŏren niemen langer haye. }[1]

They always spoil our joy with hardened hate. Anti-meninism does that. Yes, even in compassionate and passionately loving medieval Europe there was anti-meninism. Consider what a woman said to her girlfriend in one of Neidhart’s early-thirteenth-century German songs:

Dear friend, now be quiet. Don’t waste your preaching.
Even if I help you to increase your joy,
who will increase mine? Men are not honorable
because they desire our love secretly.
I want to abstain from their false love.
Customs are being perverted!

{ Troutgespil, nu swige, niht verlius din leren.
ob ich dir noh hilfe dine vroude meren,
wer meret mir di minen? die man sint niht in eren,
daz si tougen unser minne geren.
ich wil von in valscher minne enberen,
die site welent sich vercheren. }

Her friend was telling her about some dreamy guy and about how great it would be to have him and how she should help her get him. She could have invited them both to a dinner party and a game of twister. Instead she said that men are not honorable. That’s anti-meninism. Not all men are like that:

Then the second one answered, “Men differ from one another.
Let those who serve women and maidens faithfully
be pleasing to you, but let the worthless ones be hateful to you.
If someone heartless courts us,
then copper is dearer to him than gold.
Let him be scorned by them both.”

{ Sa do sprach diu ander: “die man sint underscheiden.
die mit triwen dienen wiben under mayden,
die sælben la dir lieben und die bosen læiden.
istg uns iemen an herze holt,
dem ist chůpher lieber danne golt.
gehoenet werd er von in beiden.” }

Many men are honorable. Many men, while not being self-abasing women-servers, love women faithfully. Anti-meninism hurts men, and hurts women, too. Resist anti-meninism!

peasants assailing Neidhart

Another woman in another of Neidhart’s songs also resisted anti-meninism. Her friend was complaining that she didn’t want to dress up for a spring dance:

“For whom should I dress up?”
said a young woman,
“Those fools are asleep.
I am lost.
All the world despises joy and honor.
Men are fickle.
No man will court a woman who will bring him honor.”

{ “Gein wem solt ich mich zaffen?”
so redet ein maget.
“die tumben sint entslaffen,
ich bin verzagt.
vreud und ere is al der wærld unmære,
die man sint wandelbære:
deheiner wirbet ump ein wip, der er getiwert wære.” }[2]

That’s anti-meninism! Not all men are like that:

“You should keep that talk to yourself,”
said her friend.
“We should enjoy ourselves as we grow older.
There are many men
who still like to serve honorable women.
Don’t say such things.
A man is courting me who can dispel sorrow.”

{ “Die red soltu behalten,”
sprach ir gespil,
“mit vrouden sul wir alten.
der manne ist vil,
die noch gerne dienent guten weiben.
lat solhe red beliben.
ez wirbet einer umbe mich, der trouren chan vertreiben.” }

Love for men ennobles women and makes them more honorable. A woman should dress in compassion, sympathy, generosity, and receptivity to men. Then a man might dispel her sorrow and bring her joy and honor.

Young man, please don’t delay!
I’ll do your bidding —
sleep with me, if you would so wish!
There’s no more to say,
— woe is me! —
and no more to do,
as I’m squandering my life
while I myself
could reclothe it luxuriously.

{ Iuuenis, ne moreris!
Faciam quod precipis.
Dormi mecum, si uelis,
Tedet plura dicere,
— heu misella! —
atque magis facere,
perdens uitam cum
possim recingere
memetipsam. }

Resisting anti-meninism saves lives!

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[1] Neidhart von Reuental, Riedegg Manuscript 10 (R10), “This change in seasons brings great joy {Disiu wandelunge mange vroude bringer},” stanza 2, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Starkey & Wenzel (2016). The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from “Disiu wandelunge mange vroude bringer,” stanzas 4 and 5, respectively.

Neidhart and Neidhart von Reuental are merely conventional identifiers. Little is known about the actual thirteenth-century German poet:

Although for decades scholars referred to the author as “Neidhart von Reuental,” this name appears seldom, and only in three so-called Trutzstrophen, strophes appended to songs in later manuscripts redactions that were almost certainly not composed by Neidhart. Since these strophes are first attested in the fifteenth century, they cannot be used as evidence that this was our thirteenth-century poet’s name. … For the sake of brevity in the rest of this book, we will often refer to the author as Neidhart. Yet in reading our words and the poems presented here, it is crucial for the reader to hold in her or his mind that this name is in fact a hollow form, representing not a historical author, but various fictional roles created by a now unknown and unknowable poet, and mediated by medieval scribes and redactors.

Starkey & Wenzel (2016) pp. 10, 12, endnotes omitted.

[2] Neidhart von Reuental, Riedegg Manuscript 15 (R15), “I never saw the meadow {Ine gesah die heide},” stanza 4, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Starkey & Wenzel (2016). The subsequent quote is similarly from “Ine gesah die heide,” stanza 5.

[3] “A nun is lamenting with tears {Plangit nonna, fletibus},” vv. 55-63, Latin text (simplified presentation of edited version) from Alturo i Perucho & Alaix i Gimbert (2020) p. 26, my English translation, benefiting from that of Dronke (1965) vol. 2, pp. 358-9. Dronke’s Latin edition is inferior to that Alturo i Perucho & Alaix i Gimbert (2020). Showing the progressive development of knowledge in manuscript study and philology, the newer edition makes significant changes to the text.

“Plangit nonna, fletibus” is now thought to date to the second half of the eleventh century. This poem is found only in MS. Roma, Vat. lat. 3251, folio 178v. For contextual analysis locating the poem’s origin in Fleury, Alturo i Perucho & Alaix i Gimbert (2019).

[images] (1) Peasants assailing Lord Neidhart. Illustration from Codex Manesse, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, folio 273r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Recording of “Plangit nonna, fletibus” by Flemish Radio Choir (Bo Holten, composer and conductor) in 2013. Via YouTube.


Alturo i Perucho, Jesús and Tània Alaix i Gimbert. 2019. “A new critical edition of the Vatican Planctus monialis and another unknown Planctus monialis from Obarra.” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch. 54: 299-314.

Alturo i Perucho, Jesús and Tània Alaix i Gimbert. 2020. “El Planctus monialis del Vaticà: novament editat i traduït al català.” Bellaterra Institut d’Estudis Medievals, online.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. 2 vols. Vol. 1Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Starkey, Kathryn and Edith Wenzel. 2016. Neidhart: selected songs from the Riedegg Manuscript (Staatsbibliothek Preussischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, mgf 1062). Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Serlo of Wilton shows medieval men’s love ambition

Scholars in medieval Europe knew well Latin classics, especially Virgil, Horace, and Ovid. By the twelfth century, the leading medieval master-teacher of love was Ovid. Just like Jesus, Ovid taught love for all:

A shining-white woman captures me, the golden-haired girl captures me,
and love is also pleasing with a dusky-colored woman.
Does dark-darling hair hang down on a snow-white neck?
Leda was famous for her black hair.
If it’s golden, Aurora pleased with her yellow hair.
My love conforms itself to all those tales.
The young woman entices me, an older woman enchants me —
the one pleases with her body’s looks, the other with greater worth.
All in all, whichever young woman one might praise in the city,
my love aspires to them all.

{ candida me capiet, capiet me flava puella,
est etiam in fusco grata colore Venus.
seu pendent nivea pulli cervice capilli,
Leda fuit nigra conspicienda coma;
seu flavent, placuit croceis Aurora capillis.
omnibus historiis se meus aptat amor.
me nova sollicitat, me tangit serior aetas;
haec melior, specie corporis illa placet.
Denique quas tota quisquam probet urbe puellas,
noster in has omnis ambitiosus amor. }[1]

With broader self-consciousness and with a sense of his flawed biological being, the twelfth-century cleric Serlo of Wilton aspired to know more than Ovid:

Ovid was inclined to love, but I am more inclined.
Gallus was inclined to love, but even more inclined am I.
Corinna charmed Ovid, Lycoris charmed Gallus,
every woman charms me. Not that I think I’d satisfy each.
One sexual action conquers me, while young women can do a thousand.
I can scarcely do one completely, so how could I do a thousand?
I long to please her, while a young woman pleases me.
But I long for one untouched. Once touched she fails to please.
I love only in hope of first intercourse. That hope satisfied,
what’s more to hope? Nothing is beyond that hope.

{ Pronus erat Veneri Naso, sed ego mage pronus,
Pronus erat Gallus, sed mage pronus ego.
Nasoni, Gallo placuere Corinna, Lycoris —
Queque mihi; nec me cuique placere putem:
Unus me coitus vincit, non mille puellas —
Unum qui vix do, quomodo mille dabo?
Opto placere tamen, mihi dum placet ulla, sed a me
Nondum tacta placet — tacta placere sinit.
Spe tantum primi coitus amo; spe satiatus
Ultra quid sperum? Spe nichil ulterius. }[2]

Medieval Christians were taught to incarnate love — to make love in the flesh. The learned Serlo of Wilton recognized the difficulty of doing that with even just two women:

I am placed at a juncture. I love two women. I’d try to pull
either, or neither, but I cannot decide upon which.
One satisfies, the other satisfies, both are noted for extremely lovely
faces. For her I burn, for her I rave in my heart.
She is Venus, the other Thetis. She excels in courtesy, the other in wit,
She cries, “Be mine!” The other fondly loves me.
The fond one deceives me, the crying one so much spurns me.
The crying one will be spurned, the loving one will be deceived!
Her I love more, the other I love more, neither more. So for me double
is love. I am a man with a sort of a double-beseeching heart.
So I desire both, but not that both be given to me.
What, not? Indeed, I do so desire. This love is free of deceit.
I’d prefer to be without my beloved than to win a cheating triumph.
Fraud in a lover is the gravest and greatest of all frauds.
Who is certain and doubts? Only I. Who avoids his
joy? I alone. I rule myself mindlessly.
When oppressed by both, an even more oppressive demon vexes me,
and I fear more a lonely end. Let it not end like this!

{ In bivio ponor: binas amo, ducere conor
unam vel neutram nec mihi constat utram.
Hec satis, illa satis, nimis utraque pulcra notatis
vultibus. Hac uror, hac mihi corde furor.
Hec Venus, illa Thetis; hec comibus, illa facetis
prevalet. Hec clamat: “Sis meus”; hec sat amat.
Fallit que sat amat, spernit que talia clamat:
spernetur clamans, decipietur amans!
Hanc plus, hanc amo plus: neutram plus. Sic mihi duplus
est amor: his suplex sum quasi corde duplex.
Sic utramque volo, quod utramque dari mihi nolo.
Nolo, quid? imo volo: spes vacat ista dolo.
Malo carere mea quam ferre dolosa trophea:
fraude magis quavis fraus in amante gravis.
Quis certus dubitat? ego solus. Quis sua vitat
gaudia? solus ego. Me sine mente rego.
Dum gravor a binis, gravior me vexat Herinis;
plus vereor finis quod mihi non sit in his. }[3]

Although learned in scholastic reasoning, Serlo proposed a simple solution:

I am sort of surviving, when I love so, yet I am about to perish
when I hope in vain. So I am, so I am not.
May every goddess, may every god, allow that I join with both
in having sex! What is better? What further should I ask?

{ Sum quasi mansurus, dum sic amo; sum periturus,
dum frustra spero: sic ero, sic nec ero.
Queque dee, quique dent dii, coiturus utrique
iungar! Quid pocius? Quid precer ulterius? }

Today most persons living in high-income secular societies would find Serlo’s reasoning and request irrefutable. They should appreciate more medieval literature, which includes reason to question Serlo’s desire.

Serlo was a very clever poet. In a poem of 106 verses about love, he formed an internal rhyme in each verse by having two words become one word. One of those verses was this:

I don’t love anything chaste. What I love is nothing but love.

{ Castam non amo rem, quia nil amo preter amorem. }[4]

Through to the Middle Ages, Jewish and Christian teachers emphasized the biblical unity of women and men — the two becoming one flesh. Serlo’s poem about love poetically emphasized two becoming one, and one becoming two.

Serlo ultimately sought the Christian understanding of love in the rigor and simplicity of life as an early Cistercian monk. About 1155, Serlo saw a vision of one of his disciples in a gown of parchment covered with written arguments from the seven arts of scholastic study. That disciple was suffering terribly in purgatory. He explained that his cloak of worldly knowledge was heavily weighing him down. The disciple warned Serlo that he would soon die and suffer a similar fate. Serlo then decided to give up his position as a teacher at the nascent university of Paris and become a monk. Serlo explained his new direction in a couplet:

I leave croaking to frogs, crowing to crows, and vanity to the vain.
I now go to the logic that does not fear the natural coming of death.

{ Linquo coax ranis, cra corvis, vanaque vanis;
Ad logicam pergo que mortis non timet ergo. }[5]

Lady Philosophy in her tattered dress knowingly tried to guide Boethius to marital joy with his wife Rusticiana. An unmarried cleric about fifty years old, Serlo turned to monastic communal life oriented simply toward love of God and neighbor. He eventually became the abbot of the Cistercian abbey at L’Aumône in central France.

The fleshly love ambition of the younger Serlo of Wilton exemplifies medieval men’s passion for women. In late fourteenth-century Catalonia, a secular leader imposed a limit on marital sexual intercourse. In a love case brought before her, the Queen of Aragon, probably Violant de Bar, ruled against a husband for requiring too much sexual intercourse with his wife:

After mature deliberation in her counsel, that good Queen, in order to give for all times a rule and example of the moderation and modesty required in a proper marriage, ordained for the limits of legitimacy and necessity the number six times per day. She thus sacrificed and surrendered much of the need and desire of her sex in order to establish, she said, an undemanding standard and consequently one permanent and immutable.

{ apres meure deliberation de conseil, cette bonne Royne, pour donner reigle et exemple à tout temps de la moderation et modestie requise en un juste mariage, ordonna pour bornes legitimes et necessaires le nombre de six par jour ; relachant et quitant beaucoup du besoing et desir de son sexe, pour establir, disoit elle, une forme aysée et par consequent permanante et immuable }[6]

That standard is undemanding relative to the heroic sexual performance of Charlemagne’s peer Oliver. However, the sixteenth-century legal official and philosopher Michel de Montaigne doubted his own ability to satisfy that medieval legal standard. With the growth of ignorance and bigotry since Montaigne explored himself, many minds now believe that almost everybody shunned pleasure and love in medieval Europe. That’s a more apt description of the barren lifestyle of the fervently busy intellectual-apparatchiks of our time.

Ponder, for example, a witty anecdote from the learned and influential medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini. Poggio recounted:

At Tivoli, an insufficiently thoughtful friar was preaching to the people. He was piling up many words and cursing adultery, saying among other things, that adultery was such a grave sin that he would rather carnally know ten virgins than one married woman. Many men who were present would choose the same.

{ Praedicabat Tibure Frater parum consideratus ad populum, aggravans multis verbis ac detestans adulterium, dixitque inter caetera, adeo esse grave peccatum, ut mallet decem virgines cognoscere quam unicam mulierem nuptam. Hoc et multi, qui aderant, elegissent. }[7]

Many medieval men knew that the Kingdom of Heaven is like ten virgins. Learned medieval authors parodied sacred liturgy and even women. In our sternly moralistic age, prudent persons must now choose their words fearfully. Serlo of Wilton wouldn’t be tolerated as a holy man in the dominant orthodoxy of today.

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[1] Ovid, Loves {Amores} 2.4.39-48, Latin text from the Teubner edition of Ehwald (1907) via Perseus, my English translation. For online, freely available English translations of Amores, Drake (2005), Kline (2001), Showerman (1914), and Marlowe (1580s).

[2] Serlo of Wilton, “Ovid was inclined to love, but I am more inclined {Pronus erat Veneri Naso, sed ego mage pronus},” vv. 1-10, Latin text from Dronke (1965), vol. 2, p. 504, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Serlo taught as a grammarian {grammaticus} in Paris. He wrote his love poems before he became a monk about 1155.

This and other of Serlo’s love poems follow Ovidian models. Serlo’s “Pronus erat Veneri Naso, sed ego mage pronus” apparently extends Ovid, Amores 2.4 (excerpted above). Serlo’s “I am placed at a juncture. I love two women. I’d try to pull {In bivio ponor: binas amo, ducere conor}” builds upon Ovid, Amores 2.10. Serlo’s “A certain night, in a certain place, I was with a certain young woman {Quadam nocte, loco quodam, cum virgine quadam}” is “a brilliant attempt to out-Ovid Ovid, to surpass even Amores, I.5, in graphic detail.” Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 241. This poem and an English translation are in id., vol. 2, pp. 505-7. Serlo displays “effortless mastery of rhythm and rhyme.” Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 241.

The current best edition of Serlo’s poetry is Öberg (1965). Dronke (1965) vol. 2, pp. 493-512, provides Serlonian verse, mainly concerning love. For four previously unpublished religious works of Serlo, Braceland (1988). Serlo also collected proverbs in Latin and in vernacular languages. For these, Friend (1954) and Solan (1973) for English translations of the Latin proverbs. On Serlo’s poems in BnF Latin 6765, Hauréau (1890) pp. 302-24. For a summary of Serlo’s writings, Rigg (1992) pp. 70-2. Solan (1973) reviews Serlo’s life and provides an English translation and literary analysis for all the poems in Öberg (1965).

[3] Serlo of Wilton, “I am placed at a juncture. I love two women. I’d try to pull {In bivio ponor: binas amo, ducere conor},” vv. 1-18, Latin text from Dronke (1965), vol. 2, p. 493, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The subsequent quote above is similarly from “In bivio ponor” vv. 29-32 (of 32).

Dronke and Rigg argue that Serlo’s love poems are playful, intellectual exercises that are far from the poet’s personal experience. Rigg (1992) p. 71; Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 241. According to Dronke, Serlo was unquestionably the most brilliant “among the authors of amatory essais de style.” Id. p. 239. Primates, including men, very rarely rape females, so Serlo’s “Quadam nocte, loco quodam, cum virgine quadam” should be regarded as unrealistic. Other of Serlo’s love poems seem to me likely to reflect his personal experience.

[4] Serlo of Wilton, “Cypris Aphrodite, the gods fear you: you are mightier than wealthy Jove {Cipre, timent dii te: tu fortior es Iove dite},” v. 6, Latin text from Dronke (1965), vol. 2, p. 497, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Dronke supplies the whole poem, with an English translation.

Dronke called “Cipre, timent dii te: tu fortior es Iove dite” Serlo’s “greatest tour de force.” Its punning leonine verse “Serlo either invented or made distinctively his own.” More generally:

Serlo is a virtuoso delighting in language for its own sake, delighting in finding new similarities of sound, making many-sidedness of thought simply an extension of the many-sidedness of language.

Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 239, 240-41 (including two previous short quotes).

[5] Jacques de Vitry, Common Sermons {Sermones vulgares}, verse cited in exemplum 31, Latin text from Crane (1890) p. 12, English translation (modified slightly) from id. p. 146. This exemplum tells the story of Serlo’s conversion from clerical teaching to monastic life.

manuscript from Serlo of Wilton's life: Troyes, Bibliothèque municipale, MS. 0946, folio 5v, excerpt

A slightly different version of Serlo’s conversion story survives in Troyes, Médiathèque du Grand Troyes, Ms. 946 (Troyes, Bibliothèque municipale, 946). This version, the earliest version, was available to Serlo himself. A marginal note in red ink explains:

This vision, as described here, had been received by a monk as certain from Abbot Serlo himself. Nevertheless, we later came to be less sure about it, not surprisingly given what we heard. When a brother asked him about it informally, at Clairvaux in the presence of others of our Order, the Abbot would neither confirm nor deny it. On the contrary, he left us uncertain, for he did not even want to set eyes on the account of it in this book when it was offered to him. He expressed his regret that he had given rise to it by his words. He added, however, in support of some certainty, that the story of his conversion was not to be dismissed lightly. It was that of a man both inflated by much education and enmeshed in carnal desires and the chains of the present life, as he admitted had been the case with him.

{ Licet hanc visionem ut scribitur quidam monachus a domno abbate Serlone pro certo accepisset, tamen postea eam incertam, nec inmerito, tenemus, quoniam super hujus visionis certitudine a quodam fratre apud Claram Vallem familiariter inquisitus coram quibusdam ex nostris, idem abbas nec confessus est, nec negavit, sed incertos nos reliquit, quia nec eam videre in hoc libro sic scriptam cum ad videndum obtulissemus voluit, penitentiam agens quod umquam eam oretenus depronsit; subjungens tamen, ad argumentum alicujus certitudinis, quod non pro minimo ducenda est sue causa conversionis, utpote viri tam multis inflati litteris quam carnalibus desideriis irretiti et vite presentis vinculis, sicut ipse de se testatus. }

Troyes, Ms. 946, folio 166r, Latin transcription from Legendre (2000) p. 67 n. 94 & pp. 420-1, English translation (modified) from Thomson (1999) p. 4. On this text, Schwob (1899), and on Schwob’s study of it, Stead (2007). On the various accounts of Serlo’s conversion, Hauréau (1876), pp. 242-6, Crane (1890), pp. 145-6, and Solan (1973), pp. 18-33.

Serlo initially became a Cluniac monk at Charité-sur-Loire. But the laxity of the discipline there displeased him. He subsequently switched to the newly formed Cistercian order that emphasized Saint Benedict’s original monastic ideals of communal work, austerity, fellowship, and prayer. He become a Cistercian monk at L’Aumône Abbey in the 1160s and become abbot there about 1173. Serlo died in 1181. On Serlo’s biography, Rigg (1996), Raby (1953) pp. 340-2.

Jacopo Passavanti in his Mirror of True Penitence {Specchio di vera penitenza}, a collection of Lenten sermons preached about Florence in 1354, included a translated and slightly elaborated version of Serlo’s couplet:

I leave croaking to the frogs and crowing to the crows and vain things of the world to the vain men, and I go to such logic that does not fear the finality of death, namely to the Holy Religion.

{ Io lascio alle rane il graccidare e a’ corvi il crocitare, e le cose vane del mondo agli uomini vani; e io me ne vado a tale loica, che non teme le conclusione della morte: cioè alla santa Religione. }

Italian text (early Florentine dialect) and English translation (modified) from Houston (2010) p. 110. Passavanti’s translation underscores the religious orientation of the couplet.

[6] Michel de Montaigne, Essays {Essais} 3.5 (389v), “On some lines of Virgil {Sur des vers de Virgile},” French text from the Villey & Saulnier (1965) version of the 1595 edition of Essais, English translation (modified) from Screech (1993) p. 965. Screech cites this love-court ruling to André Tiraqueau {Andreas Tiraquellus}, About marital laws {De legibus connubialibus} 15.1. Tiraquellus’s De legibus connubialibus was first published in Lyon in 1513 and then revised and expanded through to 1546.

Tiraquellus doesn’t specify who is the Queen of Aragon, but indicates that the case was in Catalonia. Courts of love are discussed in Andreas Capellanus’s late-twelfth-century treatise, On Love {De amore}. Capellanus doesn’t refer to a Queen of Aragon. The ruling that Tiraquellus cites seems to have come from a subsequent love court:

In Spain the work of Andreas served as a textbook for those courts of love that were established in Barcelona by King Juan of Aragon (1350-1396) and his wife Violant de Bar. These courts were supposed to be a revival of those that had formerly been conducted by Queen Eleanor and Countess Marie, but the spirit of the Catalan courts was quite different from that which had animated the earlier ones, for here it was the rule that no gentleman could pay court to a lady without first obtaining the permission of her husband, and most of the affairs seem to have consisted only of lengthy discussions of elaborate problems of love casuistry. These courts reached their height during the years 1387-1389, when King Juan fell under the influence of Na Carrosa de Vilaragut, and it appears that the Catalan translation of Andreas’s book was made at this time.

Parry (1941) p. 23.

The great ancient Greek lawmaker Solon required marital sex no less than three times a month:

It also proves that Solon was a very experienced legislator of marriage laws. He prescribed that a man should consort with his wife not less than three times a month — not for pleasure surely, but as cities renew their mutual agreements from time to time, just so he must have wished this to be a renewal of marriage and with such an act of tenderness to wipe out the complaints that accumulate from everyday living.

{ τόν τε Σόλωνα μαρτυρεῖ γεγονέναι τῶν γαμικῶν ἐμπειρότατον νομοθέτην, κελεύσαντα μὴ ἔλαττον ἢ τρὶς κατὰ μῆνα τῇ γαμετῇ πλησιάζειν, οὐχ ἡδονῆς ἕνεκα δήπουθεν, ἀλλ᾿ ὥσπερ αἱ πόλεις Bδιὰ χρόνου σπονδὰς ἀνανεοῦνται πρὸς ἀλλήλας, οὕτως ἄρα βουλόμενον ἀνανεοῦσθαι τὸν γάμον ἐκ τῶν ἑκάστοτε συλλεγομένων ἐγκλημάτων ἐν τῇ τοιαύτῃ φιλοφροσύνῃ. }

Plutarch, Moralia, The Dialogue on Love 769, Greek text and English translation from Minar, Sandbach & Helmbold (1961). Similarly, Plutarch, Life of Solon 20.

[7]  PoggioFacetiae 44, “About a preacher who preferred to choose ten virgins rather than one married woman {De praedicatore qui potius decem virgines quam nuptam unam eligebat},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 1, p. 79, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. On the Kingdom of Heaven being like ten virgins, Matthew 25:1.

[images] (1) A medieval teacher instructing students in an edition of Guyart des Moulins’s Historical Bible or History for Students {La Bible historiaux ou les histoires escolastres}. Guyart’s Bible Historiale, which he completed about 1294, was the first and most important medieval Bible written in French. This illumination comes from a manuscript made in the first quarter of the fifteenth century. Excerpt (color adjusted) from folio 1 of Paris, Bibliothèque Mazarine, ms. 0313. (2) Decorated initial and text made from folio 5v of Troyes, Bibliothèque municipale, MS. 0946. Serlo of Wilton apparently saw this manuscript. It thus must have been made between 1174 and 1181. See note 5 above and Thomson (1999) p. 4.


Braceland, Lawrence C.. 1988. Serlo of Savigny and Serlo of Wilton: seven unpublished works. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications.

Crane, Thomas Frederick. 1890. The exempla, or illustrative stories from the sermones vulgares of Jacques de Vitry. London: D. Nutt.

Drake, David. 2004. Ovid. Amores II:4. Online.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. 2 vols. Vol. 1Vol. 2. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

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

Hauréau, Barthélémy. 1876. “Mémoire sur les récits d’apparitions dans les sermons du Moyen Âge.” Mémoires de l’Institut National de France. 28 (2): 239-263.

Hauréau, Jean-Barthélemy. 1890. Notices et extraits de quelques manuscrits latins de la Bibliothèque Nationale. Paris.

Houston, Jason. 2010. Building a Monument to Dante Boccaccio as Dantista. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2001. Ovid: The Amores. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Legrendre, Olivier, ed. 2000. Le Liber Visionum et Miraculorum: Édition du Manuscrit N° 946 de la Bibliothèque Municipale de Troyes. Thesis, Histoire. Ecole Nationale des Chartes. HAL Open Science.

Marlowe, Christophers, trans. 1580s. Ovid’s Elegies. Roma Gill.

Minar, Edwin L., F. H. Sandbach, and W. C. Helmbold, ed. and trans. 1961. Plutarch. Moralia, Volume IX: Table-Talk, Books 7-9. Dialogue on Love. Loeb Classical Library 425. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Öberg, Jan, ed. 1965. Serlon de Wilton: Poèmes Latins. Stockholm: Almqvist och Wiksell.

Parry, John Jay, trans. 1941. Andreas Capellanus. The Art of Courtly Love. New York: Columbia University Press.

Poggio. 1879. Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini. The facetiae or jocose tales of Poggio, now first translated into English with the Latin text. Paris: Isidore Liseux (vol. 1vol. 2).

Raby, Frederic James Edward. 1953. A History of Christian-Latin poetry from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middles Ages. 2nd Edition (1st edition, 1927). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rigg, A. G. 1992. A History of Anglo-Latin Literature, 1066-1422. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rigg, A. G. 1996. “Serlo of Wilton: Biographical Notes.” Medium Aevum65 (1): 96-100.

Schwob, Marcel. 1899. La Légende de Serlon de Wilton, Abbé de l’Aumône. Paris. Reprinted as pp. 361-77 in vol. 7 of Pierre Champion, ed. 1928-1930. Les oeuvres complètes de Marcel Schwob, 1867-1905. Mélanges d’histoire littéraire et de linguistique. L’argot, Villon, Rabelais. Paris: F. Bernouard.

Screech, M. A., trans. 1993. Michel De Montaigne: the Complete Essays. London, England: Penguin Books.

Showerman, Grant, ed. and trans. Revised by G. P. Goold. 1914. Ovid. Heroides. Amores. Loeb Classical Library 41. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Solan, Edward William. 1973. A Study of the Life and Works of Serlo of Wilton. Ph.D. Thesis, Language and Literature, Indiana University.

Stead, Évanghélia. 2007. “Marcel Schwob, l’homme aux livres.” Pp. 29-49 in Berg, Christian, Monique Jutrin, Agnès Lhermitte, and Alexandre Gefen, eds. Retours à Marcel Schwob D’un siècle à l’autre (1905-2005). Presses universitaires de Rennes.

Thomson, R. M. 1999. “Serlo of Wilton and the schools of Oxford.” Medium Aevum. 68 (1): 1-12.

eminent medieval knight Gahmuret forced to marry Queen Herzeloyde

According to Christian doctrine well-established by the twelfth century, the freely given consent of both spouses is necessary for a valid Christian marriage. Men thus cannot be treated merely as passive objects in women’s marital schemes. Nonetheless, in medieval Europe the eminent knight Gahmuret was forced to marry Herzeloyde, Queen of Waleis. That actually was a fortunate event for him. Herzeloyde was a warm and gracious wife who loved her husband, provided him with material resources, and respected his independent interests.

No Stepford wife, Herzeloyde was a strong, independent woman such as is seldom seen since medieval times. While still a virgin, she resolved to marry. She desired to marry a valiant knight, one extremely skilled and indefatigable with his stiff spear. To get such a husband, she arranged a high-profile tournament of knights near her castle in Kanvoleis. She declared that the knight who performed best in that tournament would receive a large tract of land from her, and she would marry him.

Men historically have been forced to engage in arduous quests to earn love from their desired women. Herzeloyde’s tournament was different. Medieval knights regularly participated in tournaments for training and sport. Herzeloyde’s tournament rule was as if a woman leader of the Olympic Committee declared that she would marry the man who won the gold medal in freestyle wrestling. Being forced to marry wouldn’t be a prize that competing men necessarily wanted. But what leader has ever pondered what men want?

After performing much violence against men in Herzeloyde’s tournament, Gahmuret was universally acclaimed as the best knight. Herzeloyde thus intended to marry him. But he was already married outside the Christian church to Queen Belacane of Zazamanc in northeast Africa. As a stay-at-home husband to his beautiful black sugar Belacane in her castle in Zazamanc’s capital Patelamunt, Gahmuret inexplicably had begun to yearn for additional knightly action:

But the black woman to him
was dearer than his own life.
No woman had a better figure.
That lady’s heart never neglected
to give him good companionship,
and womanly bearing alongside true chastity.

{ Doch was im daz swarze wîp
lieber dan sîn selbes lîp.
ez enwart nie wîp geschicket baz:
der frouwen herze nie vergaz,
im enfüere ein werdiu volge mite,
an rehter kiusche wîplich site. }

Acting like a jerk, Gahmuret left his wife Belacane at Patelamunt to seek other knightly deeds. Now with Herzeloyde insisting on marrying him as the winner of her tournament, Gahmuret grieved for Belacane:

No, I have no choice but to grieve.
I long for my queen.
I left behind in Patelamunt
one for whom my heart is wounded.
In her pure nature she’s a sweet woman.
Her noble chastity calls to my mind
sorrow for love of her.
She gave me her people and her lands.
Lady Belacane deprived me
of manly joy as a knight,
yet it is very manly
for a man to be ashamed of inconstancy in love.
The lady’s restrictions so tethered me down
that I could find no knightly deeds.
Then I thought that knight-craft
would free me from discontent’s power.
Some knightly deeds I have performed here.
Now many an ignorant man
believes that her blackness drove me away.
But I would rather look upon that than the sun.
Thought of her womanly honor causes me sorrow.
She is the emblem on nobility’s shield.

{ nein, ich muoz bî riwen sîn:
ich sen mich nâch der künegîn.
ich liez ze Pâtelamunt
dâ von mir ist mîn herze wunt,
in reiner art ein süeze wîp.
ir werdiu kiusche mir den lîp
nâch ir minne jâmers mant.
si gap mir liute unde lant.
mich tuot frô Belakâne
manlîcher freuden âne:
ez ist doch vil manlich,
swer minnen wankes schamet sich.
der frouwen huote mich ûf pant,
daz ich niht rîterschefte vant:
dô wânde ich daz mich rîterschaft
næm von ungemüetes kraft.
der hân ich hie ein teil getân.
nu wænt manc ungewisser man
daz mich ir swerze jagte dane:
die sah ich für die sunnen ane.
ir wîplich prîs mir füeget leit:
si ist [ein] bukel ob der werdekeit. }

Medieval romance doesn’t tell simplistic, black-and-white tales. Medieval romance encompasses the full turmoil of human feelings.

Belacane entertains Gahmuret at her castle

Ampflise, the Queen of France, also ardently sought to marry Gahmuret. She had been Gahmuret’s friend from childhood and supported him materially as an adult. Showing no respect for Herzeloyde’s tournament rule, Ampflise sent her chaplain and three young princes to Gahmuret at Kanvoleis. There they gave him an elegant ring and letter from her:

To you I send love and greeting,
I who have known no cure for my sorrow
since I first felt love for you.
Your love is the lock and fetter
of my heart and its joy.
Your love puts me to death.
If your love estranges itself from me,
then love will cause me great distress.
Return, and accept at my hand
crown, scepter, and land.

{ dir enbiutet minne unde gruoz
mîn lîp, dem nie wart kumbers buoz
sît ich dîner minne enphant.
dîn minne ist slôz unde bant
mîns herzen unt des fröude.
dîn minne tuot mich töude.
sol mir dîn minne verren,
sô muoz mir minne werren.
Kum wider, und nim von mîner hant
krône, zepter unde ein lant. }

Queen Ampflise regarded herself as more worthy of Gahmuret’s love than was Queen Herzeloyde. She insisted that Gahmuret was hers:

You are to be my knight
in the land of Waleis,
at its capital of Kanvoleis.
I don’t care whether the queen sees that.
She cannot do me much harm.
I’m more beautiful and more powerful,
and know better how, with greater charm,
to receive love and to give love.
If you would live in accord with noble love,
then take my crown as love’s reward.

{ du solt ouch mîn ritter sîn
ime lande ze Wâleis
vor der houbtstat ze Kanvoleis.
ine ruoche obez diu küngin siht:
ez mac mir vil geschaden niht.
ich bin schœner unde rîcher,
unde kan och minneclîcher
minne enphâhn und minne gebn.
wiltu nâch werder minne lebn,
sô hab dir mîne krône
nâch minne ze lône. }

When Herzeloyde declared her possession of Gahmuret as the winner of her tournament, Ampflise’s chaplain leaped to his feet and vigorously protested:

He said, “No! By rights he belongs to
my lady, who has sent me to this land
in pursuit of his love.
She lives consumed in love for him.
Upon him her love has a vested claim.
She has a right to keep hold on him,
because she cherishes him more than do all other women.”

{ er sprach “niht. in sol ze rehte hân
mîn frouwe, diu mich in diz lant
nâch sîner minne hât gesant.
diu lebt nâch im ins lîbes zer:
ir minne hât an im gewer.
diu sol behalden sînen lîp:
wan sist im holt für elliu wîp.” }

This was the sort of complex dispute that could only be solved in love courts. Herzeloyde warned Gahmuret:

The noble Frenchwoman
urges her love upon you.
Now honor all women by me,
and let me have my rights.
Remain here until I have the court verdict.
Otherwise, you’ll put me to shame.

{ iu biutet vaste ir minne
diu werde Franzoysinne.
nu êret an mir elliu wîp,
und lât ze rehte mînen lîp.
sît hie unz ich mîn reht genem:
ir lâzet anders mich in schem.}

Of course Gahmuret had to honor all women within medieval gynocentrism. While lawsuits are always regrettable, at least this case wasn’t an impoverishing, soul-crushing divorce proceeding.

Herzeloyde and Gahmuret

Medieval love courts didn’t enrich lawyers, and they ruled quickly. The court considering Herzeloyde’s love case issued its verdict near noon on the very next day:

Whichever knight has here buckled on his helmet,
having come here in pursuit of knight-craft,
if he has won the prize here,
the queen shall have him.

{ swelch ritter helm hie ûf gebant,
der her nâch rîterschaft ist komn,
hât er den prîs hie genomn,
den sol diu küneginne hân.}

Queen Herzeloyde thus won a decisive legal victory. She graciously said to Gahmuret:

Sir, now you are mine.
I shall show you love-service to win your favor,
and make you a participant in such joy
that you shall be merry after your grief.

{ hêr, nu sît ir mîn.
ich tuon iu dienst nâch hulden schîn,
und füege iu sölher fröuden teil,
daz ir nâch jâmer werdet geil.}

Gahmuret responded prudently:

Lady, if I am to live with you,
then let me be free of surveillance.
If grief’s power ever leaves me,
I would gladly do knightly deeds.
If you do not allow me to go tourneying,
then I am still capable of that old trick,
as when I ran away from my former wife,
whom I also won by knightly deeds.
When she tethered me, keeping me from battle,
I abandoned her people and lands.

{ frowe, sol ich mit iu genesen,
sô lât mich âne huote wesen.
wan verlæt mich immer jâmers kraft,
sô tæt ich gerne rîterschaft.
lât ir niht turnieren mich,
sô kan ich noch den alten slich,
als dô ich mînem wîbe entran,
die ich ouch mit rîterschaft gewan.
dô si mich ûf von strîte bant,
ich liez ir liute unde lant. }

Herzeloyde in turn promised not to rule too harshly over her husband:

She said, “Sir, set your own standards.
I’ll let you have your own way in plenty.”

{ si sprach “hêr, nemt iu selbe ein zil:
ich lâz iu iwers willen vil.” }

Beneath claims of men’s nominal authority, women dominate men. In medieval Europe, women dominated men graciously, with appreciation for men’s gender-distinctive and fully human being. Juno was never so indulgent with Jove.

Herzeloyde and Gahmuret begot a son named Parzival. He grew up to be a man who didn’t serve women by engaging in violence against men. Unlike the previous Grail King Anfortas, Parzival was never castrated. Parzival was exclusively devoted to his wife Condwiramurs, whom he regarded as the most beautiful and loyal woman in the world. She allowed him to spend considerable time away from home. Moreover, she wasn’t furious with him for not being home at the birth of their twins.

Parzival became the new King of the Holy Grail. Gahmuret’s forced marriage to Herzeloyde was a happy fault. It produced a worthy guardian of the most sacred earthly totem, the Holy Grail.

* * * * *

Read more:


The above story is from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Arthurian romance Parzival, Books 1 & 2. Wolfram wrote Parzival in Middle High German probably in the first decade of the thirteenth century. Overall, Wolfram’s Parzival drew upon Chrétien de Troyes’s late twelfth-century Old French verse romance Perceval or the Story of the Grail {Perceval ou le Conte du Graal}. In Chrétien’s Perceval, Perceval / Parzival’s mother (Herzeloyde) is an important figure, while his father (Gahmuret) is only mentioned and never appears personally. Neither Herzeloyde nor Gahmuret is named in Perceval.

Wolfram shows subtle concern for systemic violence against men. One scholar courageously observed:

in the events described in the first three Books alone, Wolfram’s audience learns of the chivlric deaths of Parzival’s great grandfahter Addanz, his grandfather Gandin, his uncle Galoes, his father Gahmuret, Schionatulander, Ither, Schentaflurs, Lascoyt, and Gurzgri, to name only some of the most significant knightly fatalities … The weight given to chivalric death and its effects, particularly in the adventures of the title hero and the events pertaining to them, suggests that this problem, the existential limit of chivalry, is one of the central concerns of Wolfram’s text… .

Hasty (1999) p. 226. Most literary authors have scarcely considered how to end epic violence against men.

Some readers see Gahmuret as a father archetype:

Constancy was a highly prized virtue in the Middle Ages and the sheer amount of times it is mentioned in Von Eschenbach’s epic poem in relation to all of the archetypes would make one think it was the highest virtue of them all. The first time we encounter this virtue however, is in its more challenging aspect through the figure of our hero Parzival’s father, Gahmuret. … Though Gahmuret wears the persona of the steadfast and constant hero through his armour and shield he cannot escape the conflicting inner self, the restless spirit that yearns for continual movement and adventure despite courting its reckless dangers and lack of familial responsibility.

Such analysis doesn’t take seriously Gahmuret being forced to marry Herzeloyde. For a more morally complex view of Gahmuret and Herzeloyde, Christoph (1984) and Gentry (1999). The true father archetype seems to me closer to Valerius Maximus’s alien father.

With their female gaze, women found Gahmuret sexually attractive. For an analysis of the female gaze in Parzival, Summers (2013), Chapter 5. Id. strains to link the female gaze to patriarchy and apparently concludes with a call for women to masturbate:

The primary purpose of containing and regulating the gaze of women, as seen in the examples of conduct and romance literature, was to prevent women from taking charge of their own sexuality; this emancipation, of course, is the main goal of the feminist movement.

Summers (2013) p. 125.

For the quotes above from Parzival, the Middle High German text is from Lachmann (1833 / 1891). The English translation (modified slightly) is from Edwards (2004). For Parzival English translations freely available online, Kline (2020), Zeydel & Morgan (1951) (some passages omitted), and Weston (1894).

The quotes above from Parzival, by section.verse in Book 1 (sections 1-58) and Book 2 (sections 58-116) are: 54.21-6 (But the black woman to him…), 90.17-91.8 (No, I have no choice but to grieve…), 76.23-77.2 (To you I send love and greeting…), 76.23-77.2 (You are to be my knight…), 87.10-16 (He said, “No! By rights he belongs to…), 88.25-30 (The noble Frenchwoman…), 96.2-5 (Whichever knight has here buckled on his helmet…), 96.7-10 (Sir, now you are mine…), 96.25-97.4 (Lady, if I am to live with you…), 97.5-6 (She said, “Sir, set your own standards…).

[images] (1) Queen Belacane entertains Gahmuret at her castle in Zazamanc. 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 27r in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339 (part 1part 2). (2) Queen Herzeloyde, Gahmuret, and two serving-ladies. Manuscript illumination for Parzival. Detail from folio 62v similarly in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339.


Christoph, Siegfried. 1984. “Gahmuret, Herzeloyde, and Parzival’s ‹erbe›.” Colloquia Germanica. 17 (3-4): 200-219.

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

Gentry, Francis G. 1999. “Gahmuret and Herzeloyde: Gone but not Forgotten.” Pp. 3-11 in Hasty (1999b).

Hasty, Will. 1999a. “At the Limits of Chivalry in Wolfram’s Parzival: An Arthurian Perspective.” Pp. 223-241 in Hasty (1999b).

Hasty, Will, ed. 1999b. A Companion to Wolfram’s Parzival. Columbia, SC: Camden House.

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.

Summers, Sandra Lindemann. 2013. Ogling Ladies: Scopophilia in Medieval German Literature. Gainesville, FL: University Press of Florida.

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

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.


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.

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[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.


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.

Antikonie fiercely defended Gawan, falsely accused of raping her

The knight Gawan journeyed to Schampfanzun to defend himself against a false accusation of treacherously killing King Kingrisun of Ascalun. Kingrisun’s brother Kingrimursel had challenged Gawan to meet him there for judicial combat. That was a medieval practice of administering justice.

With his company of five hundred knights, the new king of Ascalun, Kingrisun’s son Vergulaht, met Gawan near Schampfanzun. Vergulaht told Gawan:

Sir, you can see before you Schampfanzun.
Up in that castle there resides my sister, a maiden.
Of all that persons have spoken of beauty,
she has a full share.
Look on it as truly good fortune then,
that she must take it upon herself
to attend you until I arrive.
I’ll be with you more quickly than I ought —
indeed you won’t mind at all waiting for me,
once you have seen my sister.
You wouldn’t object, if I were to take even longer!

{ hêrre, ir seht wol Schamfanzûn.
dâ ist mîn swester ûf, ein magt:
swaz munt von schœne hât gesagt,
des hât si volleclîchen teil.
welt irz iu prüeven für ein heil,
deiswâr sô muoz si sich bewegen
daz se iwer unz an mich sol pflegen.
ich kum iu schierre denn ich sol:
ouch erbeit ir mîn vil wol,
gesehet ir die swester mîn:
irn ruocht, wolt ich noch lenger sîn. }

In addition to being an eminent knight of King Arthur’s Round Table, Gawan was also renowned as a lover of women. Vergulaht’s sister was the beautiful young queen Antikonie. Vergulaht’s words thus promised Gawan a beautiful woman’s warm reception.

King Vergulaht inviting Gawan to enjoy his sister Antikonie's hospitality in the castle at Schampfanzun

A knight escorted Gawan to Queen Antikonie. She encouraged Gawan to be intimate with her:

Sir, come closer to me.
You are my courtesy’s mentor.
Now command and instruct.
If time is to pass pleasantly for you,
that must depend upon your command.
Since my brother has to me
so warmly commended you,
I’ll kiss you, if a kiss is in order.
Now command, according to your standards,
what I am to do or omit to do.

{ hêr, gêt nâher mir.
mîner zühte meister daz sît ir:
nu gebietet unde lêret.
wirt iu kurzewîle gemêret,
daz muoz an iwerm gebote sîn.
sît daz iuch der bruoder mîn
mir bevolhen hât sô wol,
ich küsse iuch, ob ich küssen sol.
nu gebiet nâch iweren mâzen
mîn tuon odr mîn lâzen. }

Antikonie’s words “what I am to do or omit to do” echo the Christian liturgical confession of sin. Here her words might have anticipated sexual sin:

Gawan said, “Lady, your mouth
is so kissably shaped
that I must have your kiss in greeting!”
Her mouth was hot, full, and red.
To it Gawan offered his own.
There ensued an unstrangerly kiss.

{ Gâwân sprach “frouwe, iwer muont
ist sô küssenlîch getân,
ich sol iweren kus mit gruoze hân.”
ir munt was heiz, dick unde rôt,
dar an Gâwân den sînen bôt.
da ergienc ein kus ungastlîch. }

Gawan eagerly sought to proceed further along the medieval stages of love. Antikonie courteously demurred:

Sir, if you are discerning in other respects,
this may seem to you sufficient.
I’ve offered to you, at my brother’s request,
more than Ampflise ever offered
to Gahmuret, my uncle,
other than sleeping with him. My loyalty
would ultimately weigh heavier by much,
if anyone were to weigh these relations accurately,
for I don’t know, sir, who you are!
Yet in such a short time
you wish to have my love.

{ Hêrre, sît ir anders kluoc,
sô mages dunken iuch genuoc.
ich erbiutz iu durch mîns bruoder bete,
daz ez Ampflîse Gamurete
mînem œheim nie baz erbôt;
âne bî ligen. mîn triwe ein lôt
an dem orte fürbaz wæge,
der uns wegens ze rehte pflæge:
und enweiz doch, hêrre, wer ir sît;
doch ir an sô kurzer zît
welt mîne minne hân. }

Gawan point out that he was a nephew of Queen Guinevere, wife of King Arthur. Gawan urged Antikonie not to restrain herself with the false belief that he was a low-born man.

Gawan holds Queen Antikonie's hand and urges her toward him

Antikonie and Gawan then enjoyed more wine. After all the serving-women had left the chamber, Gawan caressed Antikonie’s vagina under her dress:

With that his distress was magnified.
Love brought such extremity
upon the maiden and the man,
that something nearly happened there,
if evil eyes hadn’t espied it.
They were both ready and willing!
Now see, their hearts’ sorrow draws near.

{ des wart gemêret sîn pîn.
von der liebe alsölhe nôt gewan
beidiu magt und ouch der man,
daz dâ nâch was ein dinc geschehen,
hetenz übel ougen niht ersehen.
des willn si bêde wârn bereit:
nu seht, dô nâht ir herzeleit. }

Men typically adore women’s vaginas, which poetic literature has historically figured as flowers. Antikonie apparently appreciated Gawan’s appreciation for her sexuality.

But then a white knight turned Antikonie and Gawan’s pleasure into sorrow. The white knight burst into the room and cried out to the men of the castle, “To arms!” He repeatedly shouted at Gawan:

Ugh and alas
for my lord whom you killed!
And as if that weren’t crime enough,
you’re also raping his daughter here!

{ ôwê unde heiâ hei
mîns hêrren den ir sluoget,
daz iuch des niht genuoget,
irn nôtzogt och sîn tohter hie. }

Neither of those extremely serious charges were true.

Men are violently attacked with little care for truth and justice. Gawan turned to Antikonie for advice in this dire situation:

Gawan said to the young woman,
“Lady, now give me your counsel.
Neither of us has much here for defense.
If only I had my sword!” he said.
The noble young woman said in reply,
“We must retreat to defend ourselves.
Let’s flee up to that tower there.
It stands close by my chamber.
With luck we might get away!”

{ Gâwân zer juncfrouwen sprach
“frowe, nu gebet iweren rât:
unser dwederz niht vil wer hie hât.”
er sprach “wan het ich doch mîn swert!”
dô sprach diu juncfrouwe wert
“wir sulen ze wer uns ziehen,
ûf jenen turn dort fliehen,
der bî mîner kemenâten stêt.
genædeclîchez lîhte ergêt.” }

In medieval Europe, true-hearted women heroically defended men falsely accused of rape. Those women were strong, independent women who loved men. Men’s lives mattered to them.

Knights, merchants, and rabble from the town assailed Gawan. Antikonie stood with her beleaguered man. She tried to reason with the mob seeking to kill Gawan for allegedly raping her:

She repeatedly appealed to the people to desist,
but they were making such a hubbub and racket
that none of them took any notice of her.

{ si bat siz dicke mîden:
ir kradem unde ir dôz was sô
daz ez ir keiner marcte dô. }

Antikonie went to the top of the tower. Gawan defended the door below.

The battle raged — woman and man against a vicious, benighted mob. Gawan pulled the bolt out of the tower door and used it a weapon against the attacking men. Up above, Antikonie found a stone chess set with a beautiful, stone-inlaid chessboard. She brought the chessboard to Gawan to use as a shield. She herself went back up to the top of the tower and fought strongly:

Heedless of whether it were king or rook,
she hurled it against the enemy.
The chess pieces were big and heavy.
The tale they tell of her says that,
whomever there her throw hit,
he tumbled down without regard to his will.
The mighty queen fought
there like a good knight,
making a good show of defense alongside Gawan.
The peddler-women of Dollnstein
never fought better at Shovetide,
for they act out of ribaldry
and exert themselves
without it being forced upon them.

{ ez wære künec oder roch,
daz warf si gein den vînden doch:
ez was grôz und swære.
man sagt von ir diu mære,
Swen dâ erreichte ir wurfes swanc,
der strûchte âne sînen danc.
diu küneginne rîche
streit dâ ritterlîche,
bî Gâwân si werlîche schein,
daz diu koufwîp ze Tolenstein
an der vasnaht nie baz gestriten:
wan si tuontz von gampelsiten
unde müent ân nôt ir lîp. }

Antikonie’s amorous affection for Gawan was constant and loyal even amid ferocious battle. He looked upon her with admiration and sexual desire. She inspired his courage in battle:

Gawan weighed his enemies’ hostility
very lightly whenever he looked upon the maiden.
In consequence many of his foes lost their lives.

{ Gâwânen wac vil ringe
vînde haz, swenn er die magt erkôs;
dâ von ir vil den lîp verlôs. }

Men’s deaths are always regrettable. Literature throughout history narrates the killing of many more men than women. With her wonderful love for men, Antikonie didn’t seek men’s deaths. She wept in battle grievously while killing men. She had to kill men because they sought to kill her beloved Gawan.

12th-century chess pieces

Then King Vergulaht arrived. Would the King insist on due process for the unjustly beleaguered Gawan? Would the King fight by his sister’s side as she defended her beloved? Medieval romance isn’t that unrealistic. King Vergulaht ordered his men to join in the attack on the alleged rapist Gawan and the alleged rape victim Antikonie.

Then Kingrimursel arrived. He had vowed safe passage to Gawan to go to Schampfanzun for their judicial combat. Kingrimursel deeply regretted the violation of his vow. Joining the battle on Gawan side, he drove attackers away from the tower. Vergulaht then ordered the tower to be demolished. His sister Antikonie and his guest Gawan were inside the tower. They would likely die if it were demolished. In solidarity with them, Kingrimursel called out to Gawan:

Warrior, grant me safe conduct to join you in there.
I desire to share companionable distress
with you in this extremity.
Either the king must strike me dead,
or else I will save your life!

{ helt, gib mir vride zuo dir dar în.
ich wil geselleclîchen pîn
mit dir hân in dirre nôt.
mich muoz der künec slahen tôt,
odr ich behalde dir dîn lebn. }

Gawan granted safe conduct to the man he had promised to fight. Kingrimursel thus joined Antikonie and Gawan in the besieged tower.

The besiegers faltered. Kingrimursel was their respected burgrave (military governor). He was King Vergulaht’s cousin. The people cried out to Vergulaht for a truce:

Worldly fame will pour scorn upon
you, if you slay your guest.
You will heap shame’s load upon yourself.
Moreover, the other man is your own
kinsman. Against his safe-conduct
you raise this quarrel. You must desist.
You will be reviled for this!
Now grant us a truce
for as long as this day lasts.
Let the truce hold for this night too.
What you then decide
will still stand entirely in your hands,
whether you be praised or disgraced.

{ werltlîch prîs iu sînen haz
teilt, erslaht ir iwern gast:
ir ladet ûf iuch der schanden last.
sô ist der ander iwer mâc,
in des geleite ir disen bâc
hebt. daz sult ir lâzen:
ir sît dervon verwâzen.
nu gebt uns einen vride her,
die wîl daz dirre tac gewer:
der vride sî och dise naht.
wes ir iuch drumbe habt bedâht,
daz stêt dannoch ziwerre hant,
ir sît geprîset odr geschant. }

Concerned about the disgrace of killing his sister and his cousin, King Vergulaht declared a truce.

Antikonie chastised her brother for his unchivalrous behavior. In the presence of the people of the castle, Antikonie declared:

Whatever compensation you are now seen to make,
you have nonetheless acted wrongly towards me,
if womanly fame is to be accorded its rights.
I have always heard that, whenever it happened
that a man sought refuge in a woman’s protection,
courageous pursuit ought to
flinch from fighting with him,
if manly courtesy were present there.
Sir Vergulaht, your guest’s refuge,
which he sought with me in the face of death,
will yet teach your fame the extremity of disgrace.

{ swâ man iuch nu bî wandel siht,
ir habt doch an mir missetân,
ob wîplîch prîs sîn reht sol hân.
Ich hôrt ie sagen, swa ez sô gezôch
daz man gein wîbes scherme vlôch,
dâ solt ellenthaftez jagen
an sîme strîte gar verzagen,
op dâ wære manlîch zuht.
hêr Vergulaht, iurs gastes vluht,
dier gein mir tet für den tôt,
lêrt iwern prîs noch lasters nôt. }

Antikonie, Vergulaht’s sister, the alleged victim of Gawan’s rape, so shamed Vergulaht. Moreover, Vergulaht’s cousin Kingrimursel also accused Vergulaht of bringing disgrace in seeking to kill Gawan, the guest that Kingrimursel was going to seek to kill in judicial combat because Gawan had been falsely accused of wrongfully killing Vergulaht’s father, who was also Kingrimursel’s brother. What a mess!

While the King gathered his counsel to consider this complex matter of justice, Antikonie attended to Gawan:

Without any misdemeanor
she took Gawan by the hand
and led him to where she wished to be.
She said to him, “If you had not survived,
all lands would have lost by it!”
And with the queen hand in hand
walked the noble son of Lot, Gawan.
He had good reason to be delighted.

{ ân alle missewende
nam si Gâwânn mit ir hende
unt fuort in dâ si wolte wesn.
si sprach zim “wært ir niht genesn,
des heten schaden elliu lant.”
an der küneginne hant
gienc des werden Lôtes suon:
er mohtz och dô vil gerne tuon. }

Antikonie and Gawan remained together in a chamber at least until night came. Then Antikonie ordered a lavish banquet for them for dinner. She herself cut and served food to Gawan.

What happened subsequently that night apparently was a matter of conflicting reports. The next morning Antikonie led Gawan by his hand into the public hall:

The queen led Gawan
by his hand before the king.
A garland was her headdress.
Her mouth took fame from flowers.
None laced in the garland
grew anywhere near as red.
If to anyone she graciously offered her kiss,
the woods would have no choice
but to be laid waste by uncountable jousts!
With praise we must now greet
the chaste and sweet
free of falsity.
She lived according to such precepts,
that in no respect was her fame
trampled by false words.
On hearing of her fame,
the mouths of all wished for her then
that her fame may continued to preserved,
against false, murky report.
Pure, as far-reaching as a falcon’s gaze,
was the balsam-like constancy she possessed.

{ diu küngîn fuorte Gâwân
für den künec an ir hende.
ein schapel was ir gebende.
ir munt den bluomen nam ir prîs:
ûf dem schapele decheinen wîs
Stuont ninder keiniu alsô rôt.
swem si güetlîche ir küssen bôt,
des muose swenden sich der walt
mit manger tjost ungezalt.
mit lobe wir solden grüezen
die kiuschen unt die süezen
vor valscheit die vrîen.
wan si lebte in solhen siten,
daz ninder was underriten
ir prîs mit valschen worten.
al die ir prîs gehôrten,
ieslîch munt ir wunschte dô
daz ir prîs bestüende alsô
bewart vor valscher trüeben jehe.
lûter virrec als ein valkensehe
was balsemmæzec stæte an ir. }

Methinks he doth protest too much. In any case, Antikonie urged her brother to act honorably. Her brother declared that he would renounce his anger at Gawan, if Gawan would seek to win the Holy Grail. That’s honorable. Gawan agreed.

Gawan had to leave Antikonie to search for the Holy Grail. Queen Antikonie lamented Gawan’s departure:

The queen said in all sincerity,
“If you had gained more by me,
my joy would have lorded over my sorrow.
No better truce is possible for you as it is.
Yet believe me, wherever you suffer torment,
if chivalry leads you into grievous troubles,
know then, my lord Gawan,
you will be in my heart’s keeping,
whether loss or gain ensues.”
Then the noble queen
kissed Gawan’s mouth.

{ diu küngîn sprach ân allen vâr
“het ir mîn genozzen mêr,
mîn fröude wær gein sorgen hêr:
nu moht iur vride niht bezzer sîn.
des gloubt ab, swenne ir lîdet pîn,
ob iuch vertreit ritterschaft
in riwebære kumbers kraft,
sô wizzet, mîn hêr Gâwân,
des sol mîn herze pflihte hân
Ze flüste odr ze gewinne.”
diu edele küneginne
kuste den Gâwânes munt. }

How Antikonie and Gawan expressed their love for each other the previous night matters less than the fact of their love. No greater love has a woman than that she risk death to defend a man falsely accused of raping her.

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The above story is from Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Arthurian romance Parzival, Book 8. Wolfram wrote Parzival in Middle High German probably in the first decade of the thirteenth century. For the quotes above, the Middle High German text is from Lachmann (1833 / 1891). The English translation (modified slightly) is from Edwards (2004). For Parzival English translations freely available online, Kline (2020), Zeydel & Morgan (1951) (some passages omitted), and Weston (1894).  Here are a brief summary of the books of Parzival, and a more extended book summary.

The story of Antikonie and Gawan probably came from Chrétien de Troyes’s late twelfth-century Old French verse romance Perceval or the Story of the Grail {Perceval ou le Conte du Graal}. In that source, Antikonie isn’t named. The name Antikonie apparent is derived from the great ancient Greek woman hero Antigone. In Sophocles’s tragedy Antigone, Antigone in defiance of a royal edict honored her brother’s corpse with burial. Wolfram didn’t have access to ancient Greek texts. He may have found the name Antigone in the Old French Roman de Thèbes. Ultimately Parzival, not Gawan, won the Holy Grail.

On the medieval stages of love, see note 1 in my post on Baucis et Traso. Gawan touched Antikonie’s hüffelîn, which literally means “little hip.” That has been wrongly translated as “thigh.” The context in Parzival makes clear that Gawan is touching Antikonie’s vagina. On Wolfram’s bawdy, Marchand (1977).

The quotes above from Parzival are, by section.verse in Book 8, 402.20-30 (Sir, you can see before you Schampfanzun…), 405.5-14 (Sir, come closer to me…), 405.16-21 (Gawan said, “Lady, your mouth…), 406.1-11 (Sir, if you are discerning…), 407.4-10 (With that his distress was magnified…), 407.16-9 (Oh and alas…), 407.22-30 (Gawan said to the young woman…), 408.6-8 (She repeatedly appealed…), 408.29-409.11 (Heedless of whether it were king or rook…), 410.10-2 (Gawan weighed his enemies’ hostility…), 411.19-23 (Warrior, grant me safe conduct…), 412.19-23 (Worldly fame will pour scorn…), 414.28-415.8 (Whatever compensation you are now seen…), 422.23-30 (Without any misdemeanor…), 426.26-427.17 (The queen led Gawan…), 431.22-432.3 (The queen said in all sincerity…).

[images] (1) King Vergulaht inviting Gawan to enjoy his sister Antikonie’s hospitality in the castle at Schampfanzun. 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 294v in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339 (part 1part 2). (2) Gawan holds Queen Antikonie’s hand and urges her toward him. Manuscript illumination for Parzival. Detail from folio 299v similarly in Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 339. (3) Chess pieces (Lewis chessmen) from the twelfth century. Discovered on the Isle of Lewis in Scotland. Source image via Wikimedia Commons.


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

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.

Marchand, James W. 1977. “Wolfram’s bawdy.” Monatshefte Für Deutschen Unterricht, Deutsche Sprache Und Literatur. 69 (2): 131-149.

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