continuing sadness of Heinrich von Morungen’s medieval alba

In Heinrich von Morungen’s alba (dawn song), which this minnesinger composed about the year 1200, a knight and a lady remembered at dawn separating from their mutual embrace. He remembered her lovely face shining as brightly as the full moon:

Oh! Oh!
Will nevermore the glow
of that fair form as white
as newly fallen snow
come to me through the night?
The sight deceived my eyes.
I thought I saw arise
the bright moon in the skies.
Then came the dawn!

{ Owê,
Sol aber mir iemer mê
geliuhten dur die naht
noch wîzer danne ein snê
5 ir lîp vil wol geslaht?
Der trouc diu ougen mîn.
ich wânde, ez solde sîn
des liehten mânen schîn.
Dô tagte ez. }[1]

Maybe he had seen the moon. But he hadn’t recently seen her. She lamented that she might never see him again:

Oh! Oh!
And will he never know
the daybreak here again,
nor watch the darkness go,
nor share my sorrow when
I cry: “Alas, ’tis day!”?
That he too used to say
when he beside me lay.
Then came the dawn!

{ Owê,
Sol aber er iemer mê
den morgen hie betagen?
als uns diu naht engê,
daz wir niht durfen klagen:
‘Owê, nu ist ez tac,’
als er mit klage pflac,
dô er júngest bî mir lac.
Dô tagte ez. }

In our starkly ideological age, such love between a woman and a man is scarcely imaginable. Women have been treated as men’s property, as men’s chattel, throughout all of history, so they say. In medieval Europe, the Church’s police force harshly regulated everyone’s sexual activities, women hadn’t yet fully civilized men, and the unmanageable risk and horror of getting pregnant petrified women. Medieval women wouldn’t dare engage in illicit love affairs with men even if they were interested in doing so, which they weren’t. That’s the medieval anti-fairy tale that everyone is now taught.

The mid-thirteenth-century minnesinger Tannhäuser freely delighted in what he saw with his male gaze. It was Christmas time, and he invited beautiful young women to dance to his song:

When the pretty maid
skips forward all my troubles are allayed.
The silken sash above
her hips waves up and down and sometimes brings me thoughts of love.

You’re kind and lovely, too.
But stop a bit, joyous wonder, you!
How fair each curly tress,
red lips and eyes as I would have them be,
your cheek is like a rose,
with your white throat how well the neck brooch goes,
you doll in summer dress
with yellow ringlets, just the kind for me,
how firm and round your breasts!
Now whirl my sweet — where all my longing rests —
and show your cute behind
a moment just for me, and I shall nearly lose my mind.

Laugh at me if you will!
Whene’er you show your pretty toes I thrill,
so well-shaped and so white.
You lovely figure, darling of my heart,
dance on and on, my sweet!
There never were before such dainty feet,
and whom they don’t delight,
I tell you, really isn’t very smart.
Her legs are white and rise
to a brown and curly mound, and soft, smooth thighs.
Her bottom’s nicely curved,
and all one wants in women she possesses, I’ve observed.

{ so sich dú gůte
schreket vor so ist mir wol zemv̊te.
vnd ir gúrtel senken.
machet dc ich vnder wilent liebe mv̊s gedenken.

Dv liebes dv gv̊tes.
tv̊ hin la stan. dv wunder wol gemv̊tes.
wol stent dine loͤkel.
din múndel rot din oͤgel als ich wolde.
rose var din wengel.
din kelli blank da vor stet wol din spengel.
dv rehtes svmer toͤkel.
reit val din har. rehte als ichs wúnschen solde.
gedrat dine brúste.
nv tanze eht hin min liebes min gelúste.
la sitv́li bleken.
ein weninc dvr den willen min. da gegen mv̊s ich schreken.

Nv lachet aber min flehen.
ich schreke so dir bloͤzent dine zehen.
die sint wol gestellet.
vil schonú forme vnd herzeliebú minne.
nv tanze eht hin min svͤssel.
so hol so smal so wurden nie kein fuͤssel.
swen dc niht gevellet.
dc wisset der hat niht gv̊ter sinne.
wis sint ir beinel.
lindú diehel reit brvn ist ir meinel.
ir sizzel gedrolle.
swc man an frowen winschen sol. des hat si gar die volle. }[2]

Tannhäuser had observed closely one of the dancing women. Cuckolds laugh to hide their contempt for men, beauty, and humanity. Preventing men from dying of lovesickness has been achieved by eliminating the incidence of lovesickness. Men deserve better healthcare than being numbed to female beauty.

Of course women shouldn’t sexually harass or rape men. In Heinrich von Morungen’s alba, the knight fondly remembered:

Oh! Oh!
A thousand times, it seems,
she kissed me as I slept,
and, til I left my dreams,
how bitterly she wept.
But then I knew how best
to put her tears to rest.
She drew me to her breast.
Then came the dawn!

{ Owê,
Si kuste âne zal
in dem slâfe mich.
dô vielen hin ze tal
ir trehene nider sich.
Iedoch getrôste ich sie,
daz sî ir weinen lie
und mich al umbevie.
Dô tagte ez. }

Under modern college sex regulations, kissing a person while she’s asleep is sexual assault. Sleeping persons cannot consent to mouth-to-mouth amorous contact. Women in medieval Europe were ignorant of such modern scholastic thinking. Not seeking to invoke the penal punishment apparatus, this woman marveled in remembering her beloved knight’s male gaze:

Oh! Oh!
So many times has he
seen what he already knew
and full uncovered me.
He wanted just to view
this form all bare and bright.
I marveled that my knight
so much enjoyed the sight.
Then came the dawn!

{ Owê,
Daz er sô dicke sich
bî mir ersehen hât!
als er endahte mich,
sô wolt er sunder wât
Mîn arme schouwen blôz.
ez was ein wunder grôz,
daz in des nie verdrôz.
Dô tagte ez. }[3]

The dawn brings light. Yet before dawn, uncovering her, he could see her beautiful body naked in the darkness. She shone like the moon. Men, romantically simple and highly visual, like to see naked women. Medieval women desired to be desired and delighted in men’s desire for them.

The alba typically enacts at dawn sorrow in the man’s departure from his beloved woman in bed. Heinrich von Morungen’s alba is usual in having the woman and man alone, sadly recalling their dawn departure. Remembering is the beginning of reconnecting men and women in love.

The male gaze is gone.
The male gaze is gone away.
The male gaze is gone, baby,
the male gaze is gone away.
You know you done me wrong, baby,
and you’ll be sorry someday! [4]

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[1] Heinrich von Morungen 30, “Alas, shall it ever again {Owê, sol aber iemer mê},” stanza 1 (of 4), Middle High German text from the medieval German faculty of Heinrich-Heine-Universität, English translation from Thomas (1963) p. 6. Here’s Leonard Cottrell’s English translation of the whole poem. The subsequent three quotes above from Heinrich von Morungen’s alba are sourced similarly, unless otherwise noted, and serially comprise the complete poem.

[2] Tannhäuser 11, “Now we should all decide {Gegen disen winnahten},” vv. 9-36, Middle High German text from the Codex Manesse, English translation (modified slightly) from Thomas (1974) p. 159.

[3] Thomas’s translation of the concluding stanza interpolates moral disapprobation of the man’s gaze:

Oh! Oh!
So many times has he
seen more than was his due
and quite uncovered me;
he wanted just to view
this form all bare and bright.
I wondered that my knight
so much enjoyed the sight.
Then came the dawn!

Thomas (1963) p. 7. The close translations of Saville (1972), p. 265, and Ryan (2012), p. 24, make clear that no such moral disapprobation exists in the Middle High German text. I’ve modified the English translation to be more faithful to the Middle High German.

Regarding verse 4.5, Ryan observed:

There has been some dispute over whether the words “min arme” refer to her arm, or whether the phrase might not mean “poor me.” I prefer the first of these alternatives, according to which “arme” is a metonym for the woman’s body as a whole.

Ryan (2012), p. 24.

[4] Cf. “The Thrill is Gone,” written by Roy Hawkins and Rick Darnell in 1951, popularized by B.B. King’s rendition in 1970. Here’s B.B. King singing “The Thrill is Gone” at the Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland) in 1993.

[images] (1) Recording of Heinrich von Morungen’s “Owê sol aber mir iemer me,” music by Frank Wulff & Stephan Wulff, from Sol’s album Ougenweide (Hamburg, 1996). Via YouTube. Here’s a sparse, mournful recording by Alrun und Olaf, Corina Kuhs’s version with harp, and a lively, folk-rock version. (2) Tannhäuser with beloved woman at dawn. Painted by Gabriel von Max about 1878. Preserved as accession # M.Ob.500 in the National Museum in Warsaw. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Ryan, Judith. 2012. The Cambridge Introduction to German Poetry. New York: Cambridge University Press.

Saville, Jonathan. 1972. The Medieval Erotic Alba: structure as meaning. New York, London: Columbia University Press.

Thomas, John Wesley. 1963. German Verse from the 12th to the 20th Century in English Translation. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Thomas, John Wesley. 1974. Tannhäuser: poet and legend, with texts and translations of his works. University of North Carolina Studies in the Germanic Languages and Literatures, no.77. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1974.

wife and husband compromise for marital love

In mid-sixteenth-century Italy, the story-collector Straparola helped to popularize fairy-tales. Straparola nonetheless had a keen sense for the earthy compromises that make ordinary life possible. For example, a medieval proverb taught, “whoever minds her own business doesn’t get her hands dirty {chi fa li fatti suoi non s’imbratta le mani}.” Straparola exemplified this proverb with a story of a wife and husband compromising to promote marital love.

In Straparola’s story, Gliceria and Bigoccio were newly married. On their wedding night, Gliceria put on gloves just before they had sex. Bigoccio asked her to take them off. He desired his wife’s naked touch. But she responded:

My good husband, at such times as these I could never bring myself to touch a man with my bare hands.

{ Signor mio, io non toccherei mai così fatte cose con le mani nude. }

In short, she had internalized disparagement of sexual activity with men as “dirty.” Bigoccio fulfilled his marital sexual obligation with his gloved wife, but he felt besmirched.

The next evening before getting into bed, Bigoccio slipped onto his penis a hawk’s jesses with many little bells attached to them. He and his wife commenced marital sexual relations as married couples normally used to do:

He at once began to caress, embrace and kiss her. She as previously was wearing gloves on her hands. Because she had by now acquired a taste for marital relations, she put her hand on her husband’s penis and discovered the jesses. Then she said, “My husband, what’s this thing I’m touching? It wasn’t there last night.”

{ cominciò accarecciarla, toccarla e basciarla. Gliceria, ch’aveva i guanti in mano, e per l’addietro gustato il mattarello, pose la mano al membro di suo marito, e trovò i getti; e disse: Marito mio, che cosa è questa ch’io tocco? Ier notte non l’avevate. }

An interpersonal difficulty apparently arose along with ringing of the bells from the husband’s sexual exertions:

Bigoccio said to her: “What you feel are jesses men use in hawking.” He tried to get into her arbor and plant his spade in the shady vale. But the jesses impeded entry. Glisceria said, “I don’t want any jesses contraptions.”

{ Rispose fra Bigoccio: I’ sono i getti d’andar a spariviere; — e montato sopra l’arbore, voleva mettere il piviolo nella val pelosa, e perchè i getti impedivano il piviolo entrare, disse Gliceria; Io non voglio i getti. }

A kind and loving husband, Bigoccio pointed out an opportunity for compromise:

“If you don’t want jesses,” the husband responded, “well, as for me, I don’t want gloves.” So by mutual consent the couple cast aside both gloves and jesses. Thereafter they had much pleasure by night and day, and Gliceria became pregnant.

{ Se tu non vuoi i getti, rispose il marito, nè io voglio i guanti. Onde di commune consentimento, gettarono via i guanti ed i getti. Dandosi adunque piacere notte e giorno, la donna s’ingravidò }

In having sex with her husband, Gliceria learned the validity of the proverb, “whoever minds her own business doesn’t get her hands dirty {chi fa li fatti suoi non s’imbratta le mani}.” A wife having sex with her husband isn’t dirtying.

Straparola’s story provides more general and important lessons, particularly for our age of gender conflict. Men most recognize the value of guile, an art in which women have traditionally excelled. Moreover, women and men need to compromise in their ordinary relations. That’s no Straparola fairy-tale.

* * * * *

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The quotes above are from Giovanni (Zoan) Francesco Straparola, The Pleasant Nights {Le Piacevoli Notti}, Night 11, Story 5, Italian text from Rua (1899), English translation (modified) from Beecher (2012). The lady Vicenza tells this story. Subsequent quotes below from Le Piacevoli Notti are similarly sourced.

Beecher has traced the story of the gloves and jesses (an inset story in Straparola’s Night 11, Story 5) to Antonio Cornazano’s The Origin of Proverbs {De origine proverbiorum}, published in Milan in 1503. Drawing upon the well-established tradition of expressive freedom in medieval Latin, the wife uses her bare hands to caress her husband’s genitals while repeating the proverb “whoever minds her own business doesn’t get her hands dirty {chi fa li fatti suoi non s’imbratta le mani}.” That plot element is suppressed in Straparola’s version. Cornazano’s story was reproduced in Proverbs of Antonio Cornazano within Witty Stories {Proverbii di Antonio Cornazano in facetie}, first published in Venice in 1518. This proverb collection was republished many times in subsequent centuries, including in French and English translations. Beecher (2012) vol. 2, pp. 496-7.

Regarding men’s genitals as dirty is mild disparagement relative to the history of brutalizing men’s genitals. Straparola’s Le Piacevoli Notti includes the story of the priest and the image-carver’s wife (Night 8, Story 3). That story is similar to the fabliau The priest crucified {Du prestre crucefié}. In Straparola’s version, a naked priest hid by posing as Christ on a cross in an image-carver’s workshop (the priest had cuckolded the image-carver). Nuns entered the workshop to get a crucifix. The image-carver pointed to the living crucifix of the priest and suggested that the nuns take that “sculpture.” The nuns exclaimed:

“Certainly that one is beautiful, and will greatly please Mother and the nuns. But just one thing is rather displeasing,” they said. “It’s that nuisance there, right before our eyes and in plain sight. It might cause no little scandal to the whole convent.”

{ Certo che è bellissimo, e piacerà molto alla madre ed alle monache. Ma una sol cosa — dissero le suori, — ne dispiace assai, che voi non avete provisto che sì scopertamente non si vedesse quel fastidio che dinanzi tiene: perciò che tal cosa potrebbe partorire non picciolo scandolo a tutto il monastero. }

Despite Jesus Christ being a fully masculine man, the nuns were referring to the priest’s genitals. Showing the relationship between disparaging men’s genitals and castration culture, the image-carver went to cut off the priest’s genitals in order to please the nuns.

Straparola’s Night 13, Story 9 (“Of Filomena the Hermaphrodite Nun,” taken from Antonio Molino), underscores social disparagement of men’s genitals. That story describes the transformation of a woman into a man. A surgeon cut open a painful swelling in Filomena’s groin:

Everyone believed that from such a wound would come putrefaction and blood, but instead emerged a certain large member of the kind that women desire, but that to see is so disgusting.

{ quando si credeva che di tal buco uscir ne dovesse o sangue, o marza, ne uscì un certo grosso membro, il quale le donne desiderano e di vederlo si schifano. }

That social sense of a man’s penis associates it with putrefaction and blood. Waters’s translation of this story elided the reference to the transman Filomena’s member (penis). Tradition philology has more generally repressed representations of men’s genitals.

[images] (1) Woman putting on white latex medical gloves. Source photo by Merco Verch, licensed under Creative Commons 2.0 By. (2) Hawk wearing jesses. Source photo by whiskymac (Reg McKenna) via Wikimedia Commons.


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

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.

mother-daughter domestic violence in medieval Europe

Policies and institutions addressing domestic violence are typically cesspools of anti-men gender bigotry. Portraying men as violent brutes beating their wives and children is popular, particularly among academics. Documenting women’s violence against men and children tends to be regarded today as hateful, or even worse, anti-feminist. Medieval European literature, however, didn’t harshly prohibit disfavored representations of social reality. Medieval poetry includes poignant, troubling sketches of mother-daughter conflict and mother-daughter violence.

Just as for fathers, most mothers throughout history have dearly loved their children. Despite being a virgin, Mary, the mother of Jesus, was regarded as a model Jewish-Christian mother. Jesus caused his mother heartache and said some cold words about her.[1] Nonetheless, Mary loved her child with all her heart and soul and strength. A twelfth-century poem imagined, during Jesus’s crucifixion, Mary crying out:

Spare my son, I beg you!
Crucify his mother
or nail both of us
to the cross together!
For him to die alone is wrong.

Return to the most sorrowful woman
his body, even lifeless,
so that he so humiliated,
crucified, may grow
with my kisses and embraces.

If only my grief were such
that I died in grieving!
For it is more grievous
to die without dying
than to perish quickly.

{ Nato, quaeso, parcite!
Matrem crucifigite
aut in crucis stipite
nos simul affigite!
Male solus moritur.

Reddite maestissimae
corpus vel exanime
ut sic minoratus
crescat cruciatus
osculis, amplexibus!

Utinam sic doleam,
ut dolore peream!
Nam plus est dolori
sine morte mori
quam perire citius. }[2]

Mary undoubtedly would have lamented likewise if her only daughter was being crucified.

Nonetheless, painful mother-daughter conflicts do occur. These conflicts commonly concern the daughter’s amorous affairs. Galician-Portuguese “songs about a beloved man {cantigas de amigo},” composed between 1200 and 1350, show enduring patterns of mother-daughter conflict. As a matter of family interests, mothers want to know about their daughters’ amorous affairs:

“Daughter, I’d really like to know
something about your boyfriend and you:
how it’s going, or how it’s turning out.”
“Mother, I want to tell you that
I love him and he loves me
and there’s nothing else, I’m telling you.”

{ “Filha, de grado queria saber
de voss’ amig’ e de vós ũa ren:
como vos vai ou como vos aven”
“Eu volo quero, mha madre, dizer:
quero lh’ eu ben e que-lo el a mi
e ben vos digo que non á mais i” }[3]

Mothers tend to suspect that there’s more than what their daughters are telling them. Moreover, some mothers are jealous of their daughters’ affections:

“Tell me, mother, why did you put me
in such a prison, and why did you deprive me
of being able to see my boyfriend?”
“Because, daughter, since you met him
he’s done nothing but try to steal you from me.”

{ “Dizede, madre, por que me metestes
en tal prison, e por que mi tolhestes
que non possa meu amigo veer?”
“Por que, filha, des que o vós conhocestes,
nunca punhou erg’ en mi vos tolher” }[4]

Daughters tend to respond defiantly to restrictions on them seeing their boyfriends:

By God, I beg you, mother, to tell me
what I did to you, that you should guard me
from going to San Leuter to talk with my boyfriend.

Do the worst that you can to me now,
because you won’t guard me, even though you’d like,
from going to San Leuter to talk with my boyfriend.

{ Por Deus vos rogo, madre, que mi digades
que vos mereci que mi tanto guardades
d’ ir a San Leuter falar con meu amigo

Fazede mh ora quanto mal vós poderdes,
ca non me guardaredes, pero quiserdes,
d’ ir a San Leuter falar con meu amigo }[5]

Boyfriends inevitably get embroiled in mother-daughter conflict. Putting their boyfriends at risk of grave criminal punishment, daughters sometimes urge their boyfriends to “abduct” them:

It’s been a long time, my boyfriend, that God didn’t want
me to be able to see you with my eyes,
and yet, for all that, my mother doesn’t keep
her eyes on mine, boyfriend, and since this is so,
arrange for us to leave here, by God,
and then let my mother do whatever she can!

I haven’t seen you for so long, nor could it be,
because my mother prevented it, since she was upset
by this whole thing, and still is, and has kept me
from seeing you, boyfriend, and since this is so,
arrange for us to leave here, by God,
and then let my mother do whatever she can!

Because I haven’t seen you for so long
and haven’t seen any joy since then,
because my mother prevented it, and so made sure
I wouldn’t see you, boyfriend, and since this is so,
arrange for us to leave here, by God,
and then let my mother do whatever she can!

And if you don’t arrange it very soon,
you’ll be killing yourself, boyfriend, and killing me.

{ Gran temp’ á, meu amigo, que non quis Deus
que vos veer podesse dos olhos meus,
e non pon, con tod’ esto, en mi os seus
olhos mha madr’, amig’, e, pois ést’ assi,
guisade de nos irmos, por Deus, daqui,
e faça mha madr’ o que poder des i

Non vos vi á gran tempo nen se guisou,
ca o partiu mha madre, a que pesou
daqueste preit’, e pesa, e min guardou
que vos non viss’, amig’, e, pois ést’ assi,
guisade de nos irmos, por Deus, daqui,
e faça mha madr’ o que poder des i

Que vos non vi á muito, e nulha ren
non vi des aquel tempo de nen un ben,
ca o partiu mha madre, e fez por en
que vos non viss’, amig’, e, pois ést’ assi,
guisade de nos irmos, por Deus, daqui,
e faça mha madr’ o que poder des i

E, se o non guisardes mui ced’ assi,
matades vos, amig’, e matades min }[6]

Criminal law commonly includes the serious crime of “abduction with intent to defile.” That crime is deeply rooted in anti-men gender bias in defining and punishing sexual offenses. Mother-daughter conflict thus can create grave risk of penal harm to men.

Queen Amata scolds Lavinia in Heinrich von Veldeke's Eneasroman

Mother-daughter conflict can more directly lead to domestic violence. Early in the thirteenth century, the minnesinger Neidhart sang about mother-daughter conflict over the daughter Jeute attending a dance:

“Mother dear, if you let me go there,
then I’ll dance proudly in the group
in front of all the guys, so that they’ll have to admit,
and you yourself will see,
that I don’t drag my toes on the ground.”

“Little daughter, if you go to
the one who sang the gympen gæmpel,
— he has been bragging — and if he catches sight of you,
then he’ll set his trap for you.
If you don’t stay home, then I’ll pinch you.”

“You’ll waste your pinches and beatings.
You want to make me angry today
by forbidding me to do what he’s asked of me.
I’ll help him to dance.
Today you’ll weed your garden without Jeute.”

“Get away from me now and be silent!
You tramp, if I catch you,
you’ll do a dance that you’ll regret,
and your back will be sore from it.
I’ll make sure that you give up your tramping around, you toad!”

{ “Muter min, læstu mich dar,
stolzlichen springe ich an der schar
vor den chnappen allen, daz si mir muzzen jehen,
selbe soltu sehen
daz ich uf der erde niht siffel mit der zehen.”

“Tohterlin, tustů den ganch,
du daz gympen gæmpel sanch,
der hat sich vermezzen, und werd im din ein blich,
er lege dir sinen strich.
bistu niht hie helme, dir wirt von mir ein zwich.”

“Zwiche und sleg hastu verlorn.
du wild hiwer ræiczen den zorn,
daz du mir verbiutest des er mich hat gebeten.
ich gehilf im treten,
du must hiwer ane Jeuten dinen garten ieten.”

“Strich von mir balde unde sweich.
hey strouche, und vergen ich dir den steich,
du getust ein springen daz dir ze leide wirt
und dinen rucke swirt.
ich geschaffe daz dich chrot diu ræise gar verbiert.” }[7]

Mothers shouldn’t beat their daughters. Mothers shouldn’t call their daughters tramps, whores, or toads. This vicious mother not surprisingly also demonizes the man who sings the gympen gæmpel, an erotic dance. Demonization of men’s sexuality contributes to the penal justice system vastly gender-proportionately incarcerating persons with penises.

Young women typically seek to wear clothing that attracts the male gaze. In an early thirteenth-century minnesong, Neidhart sang about one young woman who wanted to wear her fine clothes to a feast that a knight she fancied was attending. Her mother forbid her daughter to do so. The daughter responded rebelliously:

“Mother, who gave you such authority
that I must ask your permission to wear my fine clothing?
You didn’t spin a single thread of it.
Stop your fussing.
Where is the key? Open the closet at once.”

The clothing was locked in a chest
that was forced open with a stick.
Nothing worse had ever happened to the old mother.
When her daughter broke her trunk,
she held her tongue and didn’t say anything.

From there the daughter quickly took the little skirt
that was folded in many narrow pleats.
Her belt was a fine band.
The proud young woman threw her colorful ball
into Reuental’s hand.

The old woman took a big stick.
She began to beat and shove her daughter.
“That’s what you’ll get from Reuental.
His coat is ragged.
Now get out, let the devil take you today!”

{ “Muter min, wer gap dir daz ze lêhen,
daz ich iuch mîner wæte solde vlegen?
dern gespunt ir nie vadem.
læzzet ruwen solhen chradem.
Wa nu sluzzel? sliuzz ůf balde mir das gadem.”

Diu wat diu was in einem schrine versperret,
daz wart bi einem staffel ůf zezerret.
diu alte ir leider nie gesah.
do daz chint ir chisten brach,
do gesweig ir zunge, daz si niht ensprach.

Dar uz nam sî daz rochel also balde,
daz was gelegen in maniger chleinen valde.
ir gurtel was ein rime smal.
in des hant von Riwental.
warf diu stolcze maget ir gykelvehen pal.

Diu alte diu begreif einen rochen grozzen.
si begunde ir tohter bliwen unde stozzen.
“daz habe dir des von Riwental.
ruch ist im sîn uberval.
Nu var hin, daz hiut der tivel uz dir chal.” }[8]

Despite this mother projecting her domestic violence onto her daughter’s lover Reuental, the conflict isn’t fundamentally about Reuental. Their conflict is about challenging her authority. In another poem attributed to Neidhart, the mother relents and beats her daughter as she sends her off to meet Reuental:

The mother grabbed a heavy stick.
“All right, then, push off! I’m sick of you.”
She knocked her so hard that the whole house rang.
she gave her many swift blows
and packed her off toward Reuental.

{ Diu muoter diu krift eine kunkel swære.
“nû var hin! dû bist mir gar unmære.”
si gap ir einz, daz in dem hûse erschal;
über al
gap si ir vil starke slege schiere
und schihte sî gein Riuwental. }[9]

Mothers’ authority under gynocentrism is obfuscated. Challenging a mother’s authority makes its existence obvious. That transgression alone can be enough to prompt a violent response.

daughter shows her mature (hirsute) genitals to her medieval mother

Study of mothers and daughters in medieval German literature has put forward intricate intellectual constructions to efface these and other realistic accounts of mothers’ domestic violence against daughters. Effacing mothers’ domestic violence against daughters begins with a wholly imaginary construct: “social contexts that frequently place all women at a disadvantage.”[10] Although now authoritatively revered, no such social context has ever existed. Elite women have led lives of extraordinary privilege. Their privileged lives have depended on the vast majority of men doing dirty, strenuous, dangerous work.

Neidhart’s poems deflate men-abasing courtly love with the undeniable reality of ordinary social life. A highly influential study of mothers and daughters in medieval German literature concluding with a question:

What kinds of reading strategies has the mother-daughter relationship made meaningful for medieval German literature? [11]

If you think that the mother-daughter relationship is about making reading strategies meaningful, you should not have children.

For a realistic appreciation of gender in social history, persons should ask themselves difficult questions. What makes for a long, humane, fulfilling life? Did my father have a longer, more humane, more fulfilling life than my mother? Did my grandfather have a longer, more humane, more fulfilling life than my grandmother? To answer these questions well, it’s best to get to know well your mother and father and grandmother and grandfather. You also have to be capable of empathizing with a gender other than your own. Truthful, informed thoughts about these questions can guide changing your life and changing society.

Apparently lacking the benefit of serious thought about such questions, medieval scholarship has developed an acute gender problem. Study of mothers and daughters in medieval German literature has found “profound ambivalence” and “complex ambiguity.” A peculiar sense of profound ambivalence and complex ambiguity is evident in the overall orientation of a leading study:

the dominant medieval social order, which asserted in multiple ways the dominance of men and the subordination of women, was in fact a diffuse, contradictory, and flexible set of institutionalized power relations. What matters for my way of reading are the contradictions, the ways in which different medieval power relations and different medieval discourse amend and dispute one other. [12]

In such accounts, all is complex, ambiguous, and contradictory except “the dominance of men and the subordination of women.” Unquestioned assertion of “the dominance of men and the subordination of women” (“patriarchy”) is a precondition for participation in this discursive clique. Anti-men gender bias in penal punishment, men’s lifespan shortfall, deeply rooted violence against men and violence against men’s genitals, fundamental gender inequality in parental knowledge, men’s lack of reproductive rights, socially constructed shame in criticizing women — mere mention of such issues makes a person unclubbable in medieval scholarship and academia in general. Medieval scholarship that continues to repress and exclude meninist perspectives exemplifies a grossly hypocritical, substantively incoherent exercise of gender power. It doesn’t deserve to be studied seriously in its complex, tendentious tedium.[13]

Medieval scholarship urgently needs meninist literary criticism. Coercive control in gendered study of domestic violence shouldn’t be reproduced across medieval scholarship on mothers and daughters and other gender topics. Wise, self-respecting men students will prevent such violence against their minds and lives by not studying gender in medieval literature, or by not studying medieval literature at all. That’s a serious loss to men and women. Alienating women and men from their shared, gendered past makes them less humane.

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[1] Luke 2:41-51 (the boy Jesus, teaching in the Jerusalem temple, didn’t depart with his parents, causing them to search for him anxiously) and Matthew 12:46 (when told that his mother and brethren were outside the house waiting for him, Jesus declared that his mother and brethren are whoever does the will of God).

[2] Carmina Burana, 14 additional, “Earlier not knowing lamentation {Planctus ante nescia},” stanzas 8b-9b, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Traill (2018). Mary similarly cried out:

Spare my child,
Death, don’t spare me!
So you would heal me
as only you can do.

My blessed one, by death
may I be parted from you,
while only, son,
you not be crucified.

{ Parcito proli,
mors, mihi noli!
Tunc mihi soli
sola mederis.

Morte, beate,
separer a te,
dummodo, nate,
non crucieris. }

“Panctus ante nescia,” stanzas 7a-7b, sourced as previously. Mary lamenting at the cross is a central figure in Byzantine laments for Jesus’s crucifixion.

[3] Johan Baveca 6, song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “Daughter, I’d really like to know {Filha, de grado queria saber}” (B 1227, V 832), stanza 1 (of 3), Galician-Portuguese text (editorial marks eliminated) from Cohen (2003), English translation (modified slightly) from Cohen (2010). Here’s this song at Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs.

[4] Pedr’ Amigo de Sevilha 11, song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “Tell me, mother, why did you put me {Dizede, madre, por que me metestes}” (B 1218, V 823), stanza 1 (of 6), Galician-Portuguese text (editorial marks eliminated) from Cohen (2003), English translation (modified slightly) from Cohen (2010). Here’s this song at Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs.

[5] Lopo 6, song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “By God, I beg you, mother, to tell me {Por Deus vos rogo, madre, que mi digades}” (B 1253, V 858), stanza 1-2 (of 3), Galician-Portuguese text (editorial marks eliminated) from Cohen (2003), English translation (modified slightly) from Cohen (2010). Here’s this song at Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs.

[6] Dinis 35, song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “It’s been a long time, my boyfriend, that God didn’t want {Gran temp’ á, meu amigo, que non quis Deus}” (B 587, V 190), complete song, Galician-Portuguese text (editorial marks eliminated) from Cohen (2003), English translation (modified slightly) from Cohen (2010). Here’s this song at Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs and at Universo Cantigas.

[7] Neidhart von Reuental, Riedegg Manuscript 23 (R23), “The hedge grows green and is as beautiful as gold {Schon als ein golt grunet der hagen},” stanzas 4-7, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Starkey & Wenzel (2016). For an enumeration of all the late medieval Neidhart mother-daughter songs in relation to the manuscript corpus, Bennewitz (2021).

[8] Neidhart von Reuental, Riedegg Manuscript 51 (R51), “Now the frosty winter is finally over {Nu ist der chule winder gar zergangen},” stanzas 5-8, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Starkey & Wenzel (2016).

[9] Neidhart von Reuental, Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848 (Codex Manesse), “Listen, how the birds all sing {Losa wie die vogel aber doͤnen},” stanza 9, Middle High German text from Wikisource (alternate version) English translation (modified slightly) from Rasmussen (1997) p. 169. Riedegg Manuscript 53 (R53), which is included in Starkey & Wenzel (2016), is nearly the same poem, but lacks this concluding stanza. Note that scholarly practices in transcribing and regularizing Middle High German poems vary considerably.

[10] Rasmussen (1997) p. 222.

[11] Rasmussen (1997) p. 222. With respect to Neidhart’s poems, Rasmussen opines:

Their emphasis on peasant women’s aggression and active sexuality must be viewed not as a reflection of medieval German peasant life but as a parody of medieval aristocratic self-fashioning.

Id. p. 171. That claim seems necessary for Rasmussen’s academic self-fashioning. Persons with appreciation for women’s aggression and women’s active sexuality might well question Rasmussen’s aggressive claim about how representations of women’s aggression and women’s active sexuality “must be viewed.”

[12] Rasmussen (1997) p. 224. On “profound ambivalence” and “complex ambiguity” in Neidhart’s poems, id. p. 172. For “deep and dark ambivalence about the notion of romantic love,” id. p. 77. Romantic love is here associated with “erotic love and marriage.” Whatever romantic love actually is, Rasmussen perceives it as functioning to “reinscribe patriarchal authority by means of a new ideology of power that is founded on a hierarchy of gender and sexuality.” Id. p. 33. That’s tiresome, tendentious academic cant.

With respect to women whoring, Rasmussen described a supposed “literary convention”:

The older woman socializes the younger one by first showing her how she is sexualized (i.e., reduced to a sexual function) and then showing her how to use this cultural assumption to her material advantage.

Id. p. 189 (from chapter headed, “How a Mother Teachers Her Daughter Whoring”). This claim parallels Sanger’s nineteenth-century social science concerning women prostitutes. In this view, the poor dear has no agency as principalities, powers, world rulers, and spiritual hosts of wickedness determine “how she is sexualized (i.e., reduced to a sexual function).” Only in a wholly ideological environment could a young, aspiring whore believe an old whore teaching her such totalitarian doctrine. Woman and men’s sexuality is rooted in more than a billion years of biological evolution. Human sexuality is a central component of human personality and vitally important for creating new human beings. Nonetheless, feeling, thinking human beings cannot actually be “reduced to a sexual function.” If that reality seems common-sensical and uninteresting, scholars might discuss castration culture.

[13] Poor, Beringer & Trokhimenko (2021a) offers a sycophantic panegyric for Ramussen (1997). Lauding “Rasmussen’s path-breaking study,” it declares:

One would be hard pressed to find a person today, in 2021, particularly a scholar, who has not heard of gender and feminist studies. Its methodology and vocabulary are so familiar, so widely applied in, and so deeply interwoven with numerous disciplines from literary criticism to history, cultural studies, and art history (to say nothing of social sciences like anthropology and sociology) that it is hard to imagine a time when terms such as “gender,” “femininity,” or “masculinity” sounded innovative or even radical. This collection of essays, Gender Bonds, Gender Binds, honors Ann Marie Rasmussen, a scholar whose book, Mothers and Daughters in Medieval German Literature (1997), appeared at a time when using this vocabulary to frame the argument of a study of medieval German literature was in fact a courageous act.

Poor, Beringer & Trokhimenko (2021a) p. 1. After being a Professor of German at Duke University from 1988 and chairing the Executive Committee of the Graduate Faculty from 2010 to 2013, Rasmussen in 2015 became Professor and Diefenbacker Memorial Chair in German Literary Studies at the University of Waterloo. Whether her 1997 book was “in fact a courageous act” matters relatively little. What is unquestionably true is this: doing meninist literary criticism today is a very courageous act. More academics should strive to be courageous today.

More academics should also strive to read carefully and think critically. Consider this claim:

Mothers and Daughters did more than simply draw the reader’s attention to the plight of female characters in premodern literary texts as the victims of patriarchal society. Its innovation lay rather in the author’s willingness to examine the complexity of the workings of gender in these medieval texts.

Id. p. 1. Assuming that women characters are “victims of patriarchal society” isn’t consistent with taking seriously “the complexity of the workings of gender.” Certainly such work wasn’t the beginning of the failure of universities. But it probably contributed to lack of diversity and inclusiveness in medieval study of gender:

Rasmussen’s new approach had the effect of opening doors for many to follow in her footsteps. One cannot therefore overestimate the impact of Rasmussen’s Mothers and Daughters on medieval German studies specifically and on medieval studies generally.

Id. p. 2. All the contributors to Poor, Beringer & Trokhimeno (2021) except one apparently are women. That volume wholly excludes insights from meninist literary criticism. It exemplifies the historical development of a serious gender problem in medieval studies today.

[images] (1) Queen Amata scolds Lavinia in Heinrich von Veldeke’s Eneasroman. Detail from folio 69r of Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Berlin, Germany, Ms. germ. fol. 282. The text scoll for Queen Amata reads, “Tell me quickly and loudly what has happened to you, you nasty piece of work {Sag mir drat uber lut waz ist dir geschehen du ubel hut}.” Lavinia’s scroll shows her response, “Lady, I am confused. I don’t know what is wrong with me {Frowe ih bin verirret ih ne waiz was mir wirret}.” Text transcription and English translation from Rasmussen (1997) p. 55. (2) Daughter shows her mature (hirsute) genitals to her mother. Detail of woodblock print from page 43/40 of Neithart Fuchs (Augsburg: Johann Schaur, about 1495), Germanisches Nationalmuseum, Digitale Bibliothek, Inc. 8° 100996. The daughter’s gesture toward her mother is similar to Carfania, a Roman senator’s well-educated wife, mooning a judge.


Bennewitz, Ingrid. 2021. “Mothers and Daughters Revisited: The Mother-Daughter Songs in the Context of the Later Neidhart Tradition.” Ch. 6 (pp. 137-159) in Poor, Berninger & Trokhimenko (2021b).

Cohen, Rip. 2003. 500 Cantigas d’Amigo. Porto: Campo das Letras.

Cohen, Rip. 2010. The Cantigas d’Amigo: An English Translation. Online. 2016 edition.

Poor, Sara S., Alison L. Beringer, and Olga V. Trokhimenko. 2021a. “Introduction.” Pp. 1-23 in Poor, Berninger & Trokhimenko (2021b).

Poor, Sara S., Alison L. Beringer, and Olga V. Trokhimenko, eds. 2021b. Gender Bonds, Gender Binds: Women, Men, and Family in Middle High German Literature. Berlin, Boston: De Gruyter.

Rasmussen, Ann Marie. 1997. Mothers and Daughters in Medieval German literature. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University 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.

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

failure of universities began in the twelfth century

In twelfth-century Europe, the learned poet Hugh Primas and the ardently loving grammarian Serlo of Wilton were friends. Hugh teased Serlo with a grammatical epigram in the style of Serlo’s poem “A flower to the flower of flowers {Flos floris flori}.” Serlo responded wittily, perhaps insinuating about bestiality in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses in relation to Hugh’s poem “You’ve sent for a whore to come from the brothel, but until she’s prepared {Iussa lupanari meretrix exire, parari}”:

Primas to Serlo:
A scoundrel sends obscurities to a scoundrel.

Serlo in response:
No thanks be for your gift on account of “to a scoundrel.”
You who were once an ass to me, will always be an ass.

{ Primas Serloni:
Nebulo nebulas nebuloni.

Serlo e contra:
Null tui doni sit gratio pro ‘nebuloni’
Et michi, qui quondam, semper asellus eris. }[1]

Hugh didn’t complain to an assistant dean at Serlo’s university (probably Oxford or Paris) that Serlo had committed a micro-aggression against him. Perhaps Hugh wrote an even wittier or nastier epigram in response. Unfortunately, no such response has survived.

Serlo was unafraid of criticizing his peers. He chastised canons, learned men associated with cathedral schools:

Our canons owe their name to canon law,
for they serve well the caNOns, with NO attached.

{ Nostri canonici debent a canone dici,
Namque quod est canon bene servant, apposita non. }[2]

Serlo’s point was that canons should respect church canon law instead of violating it. Serlo, however, wasn’t seeking to invoke a formal penal apparatus like that which now predominately punishes persons with penises.

Serlo taught grammar, probably to persons about the age of those in high school today. He taught classic Latin hexameter verse, poetic quantities, and homonyms through earthy examples:

I love one from whose hook I’m never released.
{Unam semper amo, cuius non solvar ab hamo.}

Always avoid love, lest you lose yourself, my dear.
{Semper amore care, ne tu careas, mihi care.}

Often I say to my lady, “Say this to me: ‘Cling here to me at night.'”
{Dico frequenter here “michi dic: michi noctibus here.”}

You give me kisses full of honey; therefore I have bestowed my favors on you.
{Basia plena favi mihi das; ideo tibe favi.}

Even by constant prayer, I can’t be freed from the yoke of love.
{Expers esse iugi Veneris nequeo prece iugi.}

It’s pleasing to take my joy in such a way that my lover tastes my joy.
{Sic gaudere libet, ut amans mea gaudia libet.}

To die in love is to give oneself over to the rule of Venus.
{Est in amore mori Veneris se subdere mori.}

I say to my dear woman “stay” when I should arise in the morning.
{Care dico “mane,” cum debeo surgere mane.}

My sins make me sad, yet I deserve worse.
{Me mea merentem faciunt mala plura merentem.}

I recognize this about love: when it is recognized, I do not know myself.
{Hoc in amore noto, quod eo me nescio noto.}

You have beauty, Thais, to which I aspire more than anything else.
{Est tibi, Thay, nitor, in quem super omnia nitor.}

No one pleases a whore unless he satisfies her right hand with a gift.
{Scorto nemo placet nisi dextram munere placet.}

Serlo, like one unskilled, is taught how to take advantage of love.
{Serlo docetur uti, non doctus amoribus uti.}

The time is coming: come, my love! You will come. I have already come.
{En venit hora: veni, mea! Tu venies, ego veni.}

When you stumble after drinking wine, it’s not the wine’s fault, but yours.
{Cum post vina labes, non vini sed tua labes.}

We think it’s the sound of your foot, but it’s only you farting, you glutton.
{Credimus esse pedis strepitum, tu, turgide, pedis.}

Those turnips which you are devouring cause gas.
{Quas tu dente rapis, comes est inflacio rapis.}[3]

With such teaching, Serlo wouldn’t have survived a week within the repressive, intolerant environment of universities today.

masters meeting at the medieval university of Paris

Teaching institutions were changing significantly in twelfth-century Europe. General educations in cathedral schools and master-focused institutions gave way to large, professional universities. These universities were in major cities such as Bologna, Paris, and Oxford. Universities inculcated narrow, arcane ideology with little connection to ordinary speaking and understanding.[4] The ivory-tower intellectual provincialism of universities began in the twelfth century. Formerly canonical educational works for men such as Maximianus’s elegies, Claudian’s The Abduction of Proserpina {De raptu Proserpinae}, and Statius’s About Achilles {Achilleid} faded from teaching. Universities from the twelfth century began to contribute to the castration culture that tormented Peter Abelard and makes many men reluctant to attend universities today.

Serlo of Wilton knew the discomfort of a comfortable but personally barren environment. Settled probably in the coastal city Antibes in southern France, Serlo complained about his languishing creativity:

Just as it is bright in bright light and fine in fine air,
so human sense becomes leaden in leaden air.
A fatherland of sheep-like people disturbs my poems and me.
My work is weak, lacking in the weaving of Minerva.
Now far from Parnassus’s summit, instead of the Muses I’ve seen the Gorgon.
Having turned into stone, I make stony verses.
Now I contrive nothing as I once did. I banish my poems and myself,
so that if you were to unroll the verses, you would say mine aren’t equal to mine.
I conceal the name of the place that has given me such an omen.
I conceal it very zealously. “Why?” you ask. That I also conceal.
The issue by the signs is known, so that the state without a name is known.

{ Ut clarus clarum rarusque per aera rarum,
Sic hominis sensus denso fit in aere densus.
Patria vervecum turbat mea carmina mecum:
Est opus enerve, pinguis textura Minerve.
Jam procul a Nisa, pro Musis Gorgone visa,
In scilicem versus silicernos fabrico versus.
Nil ego sicut ego mediter, mea meque relego;
Nam metra si replices, non equa meis mea dices.
Celo loci nomen quo tale mihi datur omen.
Celo bono zelo; causam petis? Hanc quoque celo.
Rem per signa nota; sic res sine nomine nota. }[5]

Like for professors and students at a well-funded university, life was good and easy for Serlo in Antibes. He had good reasons to stay:

I delight in the leader, the people, and the land. You say “flee.” I refuse,
for having reached this pleasant place, I’ll leave only if compelled.
Fate may drive me away unwilling, but for nothing will that deed happen by my willing.
With no exceptions, no place is suitable for those who can’t be suited.
If I’m ever well-regarded, it’s here. If not here, than I’ll not be well-regarded anywhere.

{ Principe, gente, solo delector. Dic “Fuge”: nolo.
Namque locum nactus dulcem, discedo coactus:
Fors me nolentem pellet, res nulla volentem.
Nullis exceptis, locus omnis ineptus ineptis.
Non hic si nusquam, probus hic ero si probus usquam }

But the heart suffers for reasons that reason doesn’t understand:

Here however I suffer because the muse Clio doesn’t thrive here.
The poetic Muses, excluded, are not part of the custom here.

{ Hoc tamen excipio quia non viget hic ita Clio;
Excluse muse non sunt his partibus use. }

Serlo left that place. Poetic spirit is a terrible thing to waste.

Large, professionalized universities tend to crush creative, poetic spirits. That began to happen in the twelfth century. Writing then, the Archpoet, one of the greatest poets of all time, wasn’t a professor at a university. Universities excluded the critical gender grammar of Matheolus and supported other worldly abstractions like courtly love. Now universities have more stifling administrative bureaucracies and more rigidly impose oppressive ideological dogmas. The future of universities is grim unless they adapt to include masters like Serlo of Wilton and lively, earthy teaching of grammar.

If I’m pleasing to none, what could be dearer to anyone than nothing more?
This place is bounded: the end comes, so farewell.

{ Si placeo nulli, quis nullo carius ulli?
Hic locus est mete: venit explicit. Ergo valete. }[6]

University of Paris, Sorbonne, main entrance

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[1] Serlo of Wilton 75 (Öberg number), “Verses of Primas {Versus Primatis},” Latin text from Rigg (1992) p. 72, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Solan (1973). These epigrams appear among the proverbs of Serlo in Oxford, Digby 53, fol. 15, col. 2. Friend (1954) p. 86.

The second line of Serlo’s response quotes the last line of the fable Avianus 5, “About the donkey who put on a lion’s skin {De asino pelle leonis induto}.”

[2] Serlo of Wilton 74, Latin text from Rigg (1992) p. 72, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Solan (1973). A poem attributed to Hugh Primas and alternately to Serlo of Wilton similarly criticizes authorities’ hypocrisy:

You, canon, who makes a canon, canonized me,
and you, canon, who makes not a canon, decanonized me.
It’s reprobate to reprove the upright, whom you reprove.
Thus, by reprobating the upright, you are proven to be reprobate.

{ Canonicum qui canonice me canonicastis,
Canonicum non canonice decanonicastis.
Est reprobum reprobare probum, quem vos reprobatis,
Sic reprobos, reprobando probos, vos esse probatis. }

Latin text from Werner (1905) p. 78 (number 163), my English translation. These verses, which appear in manuscripts after Serlo’s proverbs, suggest that “Hugh and Serlo are associated together in grammar texts probably designed for use in the schools.” Friend (1954) p. 57. On the instructional context of Serlo’s proverbs, Friend (1954).

[3] Serlo of Wilton 2, “Verses about differences {Versus de differenciis},” excerpts, Latin text from Hunt (1991) vol. 3, pp. 126-31, English translation (modified slightly) from Solan (1972). Hunt’s Latin text comes from MS. Cambridge, Gonville and Caius College 136, pp. 61-5. Such verses are also called “differentiated verses {versus differentiales}.”

Serlo’s poem provides early examples of versus differentiales. Such verses later become a well-recognized form in medieval grammar education. A variety of authorities, including Christian of Lilienfield and William of Corberon, wrote such verses. Solan (1973) p. 86. Here’s an online collection of over 500 medieval versus differentiales.

[4] On the depersonalization of teachers in the development of universities, Wei (2011). Twelfth-century critics of universities emphasized the unity of knowledge, sharing learning freely and willingly, and education’s broad purposes and moral vision. John of Salisbury, particularly with his Metalogicon, was a leading critic of the nascent universities and the “Cornificians” who dominated them. For an English translation of the Metalogicon, McGarry (1955). On twelfth-century critics of universities, Ferruolo (1985).

In the middle of the twelfth century, corrupt church authorities were illegally imposing financial burdens on teachers. In a letter to King Louis VII of France, Serlo complained about being illegally forced to pay for the “right to teach {licentia docendi}” at a cathedral school in Paris:

O king, a man more than a man, prevent the destruction of the schools.
O king, more a man than a king, take control of the weapons of Pallas Athena.
Here I hide that in this, Simon, your fury Erinys reigns,
nor do I say that I am ordered to pay to teach school.
We are miserably treated: we are forced to pay and to keep quiet.
I teach by this law: I pay and refuse to be paid.
Yet in the law is written: “Whosoever of you teach,
speak the truth. When that is done, that shall be sufficient.”
Therefore I tell you, highest king, I teach openly, and I pay secretly.
But the law forbids this. I ask that I not be asked to pay.
Heir of Jove, constrain the heir of Simon so that I would not pay.
Rule me, you who rule all in the name of the king.

{ Rex, homo plus homine, studii succurre ruine;
Rex, homo plus rege, Palladis arma rege.
Hoc celo quod in his, Simon, tua regnat Erynnis,
Nec loquor istud ego: doque scolasque rego.
Tractamur misere, dare cogimur atque tacere;
Hac ego lege lego, doque darique nego.
Ast in decretis legitur: “Quicumque docetis
Verum dicatis: hoc date sitque satis.”
Ergo tibi pando, rex summe palam lego, clam do
Sed decreta vetant: hoc peto ne qua petant.
Simonis heredem, Iovis heres, comprime ne dem;
Me rege qui regis nomine cuncta regis. } 26-37

Serlo of Wilton 16, “Serlo, the least of his subjects, to the King of the French {Regi Francorum minimus sic Serlo suorum}” / “Blessed Terpsichore, whose voice rings worthy of Jove’s mouth {Felix Tersicore, que digna sonat Iouis ore},” vv. 26-37, Latin text from Friend (1954) p. 109, my Latin translation, benefiting from that of Solan (1973). Simon refers to Simon the Magician of Acts 8:9-24. Serlo probably wrote this letter between 1150 and 1170.

[5] Serlo of Wilton 24, “About his exile {De exsilio suo}” / “Just as it is bright in bright light and fine in fine air {Ut clarus clarum rarusque per aera rarum},” vv. 1-11, Latin text from Friend (1954) pp. 96-7, benefiting from that of id. and Solan (1974). The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from “De exsilio suo,” vv. 42-6 (I delight in the leader, the people, and the land…) and vv. 48-9 (Here however I suffer…).

[6] Serlo of Wilton 2, “Verses about differences {Versus de differenciis},” vv. 9, 200 in the Latin text of Hunt (1991), but the concluding couplet in the critical edition of Öberg (1965); my English translation, benefiting from that of Solan (1973).

[images] (1) Masters meeting at the medieval university of Paris. Illumination made between 1512 and 1541 by Étienne Colaud. Preserved in Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris, MS. Français 1537, folio 27v. Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Modern entrance to the University of Paris, Sorbonne. Photograph made in 2007. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Ferruolo, Stephen C. 1985. The Origins of the University: the schools of Paris and their critics, 1100-1215. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

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

Friend. A. C. 1954. “Serlo of Wilton: the early years.” Archivium Latinitatis Medii Aevii (ALMA). 24: 85–110. Alternate source.

Hunt, Tony. 1991. Teaching and Learning Latin in Thirteenth-Century England. Cambridge, UK: Brewer.

McGarry, Daniel D., trans. 1955. The Metalogicon of John of Salisbury: a twelfth-century defense of the verbal and logical arts of the trivium. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

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

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

Wei, Ian P. 2011. “From Twelfth-Century Schools to Thirteenth-Century Universities: The Disappearance of Biographical and Autobiographical Representations of Scholars.” Speculum. 86 (1): 42-78.

Werner, Jakob, ed. 1905. Beiträge zur Kunde der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters. Aarau: H.H. Sauerländer.

addressing gender inequality in love must be policy priority

The massive gender protrusion in paying for dinner dates remains remarkably firm. How many women take the initiative to ask men out so as to lessen men’s gender burden of risking amorous rejection? As men painfully understand, the question is seldom asked. Sexual feudalism should have ended hundreds of years ago.

Men historically have performed arduous feats to earn women’s love. The thirteenth-century minnesinger Tannhäuser explained what he was required to do to earn his beloved woman’s love:

My lady wishes to reward
my service and my loyalty.
Let’s thank her, all with one accord,
for having been so kind to me.
I need only to cause the Rhine
to flow no more through Coblenz land
and she will grant a wish of mine.
She’d also like some grains of sand
from out the sea where sets the sun,
then she’ll give heed to my request.
She wants a star, the nearest one
will do, it need not be the best.

My love is strong,
whate’er her song
I will not think she does me wrong,
her, my own,
to God alone
and to no other is this fair lady known.

If from the moon I steal the glow,
then may I have this noble wench.
And she’ll reward me well, I know,
if ’round the world I dig a trench.
If like the eagle I might fly,
then she would welcome my advances,
that is, if none could soar so high.
Or if I broke a thousand lances
within a day, as did the sire
of Parzival
to win the prize,
she’d gladly do what I desire,
‘t will cost my plenty otherwise.

My love is strong,
whate’er her song
I will not think she does me wrong,
her, my own,
to God alone
and to no other is this fair lady known.

If I the Elbe’s waters bound,
I’d be rewarded. Could I make
the Danube flow without a sound,
she’d love me well for custom’s sake.
A salamander I must bring
to her from searing fire and flame,
then she will grant me anything
that any loving knight might claim.
When I turn aside the rain
and snow, I’ve often heard her say,
and make the summer wax and wane,
then I shall have a lover’s pay.

My love is strong,
whate’er her song
I will not think she does me wrong,
her, my own,
to God alone
and to no other is this fair lady known.

{ Min frouwe diu wil lonen mir,
der ich so vil gedienet han.
des sult ir alle danken ir,
si hat so wol ze mir getan.
Si will, daz ich ir wende den Rin,
daz er für Kobelenze iht ge:
so wil si tuon den willen min.
mac ich ir bringen von dem se
Des grienes, da diu sunne get
ze reste, so wil si mich wern.
ein sterne da bi nahe stet,
des wil si von mir niht enbern.

Ich han den muot, swaz si mir tuot,
daz sol mich allez dunken guot.
si hat sich wol an mir behuot
diu reine.
sunder got al eine
so weiz die frouwen nieman, diech da meine.

Ich muoz dem manen sinen schin
benemen, sol ich si behaben.
so lonet mir diu frouwe min,
mac ich die werlt al umbe graben.
Meht ich gefliegen als ein star,
so taet diu liebe, des ich ger,
und hohe sweiben als ein ar,
und ich zemale tusent sper
Vertaete als min her Gamuret
vor Kamvoleis mit richer jost,
so taet diu frouwe mine bet.
sus muoz ich haben hohe kost.

Ich han den muot, swaz si mir tuot,
daz sol mich allez dunken guot.
si hat sich wol an mir behuot
diu reine.
sunder got al eine
so weiz die frouwen nieman, diech da meine.

Si giht, muge ich der Elbe ir fluz
benemen, so tuo si mir wol,
dar zuo der Tuonouw iren duz.
ir herze ist ganzer tugende vol.
Den salamander muoz ich ir
gebringen uz dem fiure her,
so wil diu liebe lonen mir
und tuot ze mir, des ich da ger.
Mac ich den regen und den sne
erwenden, des hoer ich si jehen,
dar zuo den sumer und den kle,
so mac mir liep von ir geschehen.

Ich han den muot, swaz si mir tuot,
daz sol mich allez dunken guot.
si hat sich wol an mir behuot
diu reine.
sunder got al eine
so weiz die frouwen nieman, diech da meine. }[1]

Just like celibate men, women who are unknown to any man should be respected. But men should not internalize as right their subservience to women. Tannhäuser’s lady is doing him wrong. Tannhäuser and his readers should recognized men’s subservience in love to women as a wrong against gender equality. They should denounce that wrong with more vigor than they denounce restrictions on schools instructing children on sexual orientation and gender identity prior to fourth grade.

Tannhäuser in the Codex Manesse

Men have too seldom protested against gender inequality in love. The early thirteenth-century minnesinger Neidhart raised a rare voice of men’s protest:

I have always been fonder of women than they are of me.
It does not suit them well
that I have to pay for it.
Alas, that love does not bring shared fidelity!
This has been revealed between me and a woman
who is not so inclined towards me as I am towards her.
And so my life is wasted.
It’s unjust that love is so unbalanced.
Earlier when
love was balanced,
love did not have a single crack.
No one ask me any more about it!
It will remain chipped from today until doomsday.

{ Ich was ie den wiben holder danne si mir sin.
daz ich des enkelten sol
daz enzimt in niht ze wol.
owe, daz diu hebe niht gemeiner triuwen phligt.
des ist zwischen mir und einem weibe worden schin.
diu ist mir niht als ich ir bin.
so get mir min leben hin.
ez ist ane reht daz liebe niht geliche wigt.
do diu liebe wach
hie bevor gelicher wage,
done het diu liebe ninder chrach.
niemen mich dar umbe mere vrage:
diu hat nü scharten hinnevür unz an den lesten tach. }[2]

Apparently suffering from internalized misandry, Neidhart went on to blame men for gender inequality in love:

Who is truly at fault?
We are lacking in two things:
that we men are not chaste, nor do we use fair scales
that may be balanced equally
between heart’s desire and love.

{ der die waren schulde hat.
zweier dinge gat uns abe,
daz wir man niht cheusche sin noch rehter wage wegen,
diu geliche trage
herzenliep gein der minne. }

Why can’t men have it all — heart’s desire and love? That question deserves at least as vigorous a conversation as why women can’t have it all.

Without vigorous policies to promote gender equality for men in love, heterosexual relations will remain chilly. A medieval poet prophetically described today’s calamitous love season:

Silent are the little birds
that used to put forth songs
and make for pleasant hours
in the woods.
The ground lacks grass,
the sun shines with reluctant beams,
and the days run quickly.

All power to serve Venus
lies torpid in our hearts.
Passion has departed from our chests.
Now heat gives way to cold.
Curse winter,
you who are accustomed to enjoying
pleasant hours of spring.

In every suitable place
the delight of conversation
with the female sex
has totally vanished.
For the season that has ended
may there be everlasting honor
and offering of gratitude.

{ Nam conticent aviculae,
que solebant in nemore
cantica depromere
et voluptates gignere.
Tellus caret gramine;
sol lento micat iubare
et dies currunt propere.

Ad obsequendum Veneri
vis tota languet animi.
Fervor abest pectori;
iam cedit calor frigori.
Maledicant hiemi,
qui veris erant soliti
amoenitate perfrui.

In omni loco congruo
sermonis oblectatio
cum sexu femineo
evanuit omnimodo.
Tempori praeterito
sit decus in perpetuo
et gratiarum actio. }[3]

Can loving women and men do anything other than study medieval literature and lament?

Tannhäuser in the house of Venus

Innovative policy initiatives can lessen gender inequality in love. The wise Greek lawmaker Solon established institutions equitably serving men’s needs. But men deserve better than state-run brothels. Men deserve better than being deprived of reproductive rights and being railroaded in anti-men sex-discriminatory family courts. Men deserve to be loved completely in the fullness of their natural being. No man should be oppressed under involuntary celibacy. No man should feel compelled to engage in abortion coercion. A society that does not support its men will not long endure.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Tannhäuser 10 (Codex Manesse), Middle High German text from edition of Siebert (1934) via Bibliotheca Augustana, English translation (modified slightly) from Thomas (1974). Thomas provides a diplomatic edition of the Middle High German. I’ve supplied Siebert’s text for ease of reading.

[2] Neidhart von Reuental, Riedegg Manuscript 24 (R24), “Now I mourn the flowers and the bright summertime {Nu chlach ich die blumen und die liehten sumerzit},” stanza 6, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Starkey & Wenzel (2016). The subsequent quote above is similarly from this song, vv. 7.6-10. For some of Neidhart songs with English translations, see the lyrics to Ensemble Leones’s recording Neidhart: Minnesinger and His Vale of Tears (A) – Songs and Interludes. Here’s the Ensemble Leones’s recording of this song.

[3] Carmina Burana 3 additional, The Marner, “Long past now summer {Iam dudum aestivalia / Iam dudum estivalia},” stanzas 2-4 (of 5), Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018). This poem closely follows in theme and poetic form Walther von der Vogelweide’s “The world was radiant {Diu welt was gelf}.” Id. vol. 2, p. 722 (note).

[images] (1) The minnesinger Tannhäuser. Illustration from Codex Manesse, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, folio 264r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Tannhäuser in the house of Venus. Painting by John Collier in 1901. Preserved as accession # SOPAG:95 in the Atkinson Art Gallery and Library (Southport, Lancashire, UK). Via Wikimedia Commons. This painting is based on Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser (1845).


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.

Thomas, J. W. 1974. Tannhäuser: poet and legend, with texts and translations of his works. University of North Carolina Studies in the Germanic Languages and Literatures, no.77. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 1974.

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