piggish men rebel against constraints of men’s lives

Men have long been disparaged as pigs. In the ancient Greek Odyssey, Queen Circe welcomed some of Odysseus’s men to her island of Aeaea. Then, with drugs and a stroke of her magic wand, she turned them into pigs. Women shouldn’t make men into their kept pigs.

Odysseus rescued his men. He threatened Circe with his sword. Seeing his tool, she supplicated him and begged him to unite with her in bed. But Odysseus, a man alive in more than just his little head, was wary:

Circe, how can you ask me to treat you with warmth,
you who in your halls have made my men into pigs,
and now detain me here, with guile bidding me
into your bed-chamber so that once I lie there
naked you may make me unmanly and vile.
Go to bed with you? Not me, not
until you consent to swear, goddess, a binding oath
that you’ll never plot new intrigue to hurt me.

{ ὦ Κίρκη, πῶς γάρ με κέλεαι σοὶ ἤπιον εἶναι,
ἥ μοι σῦς μὲν ἔθηκας ἐνὶ μεγάροισιν ἑταίρους,
αὐτὸν δ᾽ ἐνθάδ᾽ ἔχουσα δολοφρονέουσα κελεύεις
ἐς θάλαμόν τ᾽ ἰέναι καὶ σῆς ἐπιβήμεναι εὐνῆς,
ὄφρα με γυμνωθέντα κακὸν καὶ ἀνήνορα θήῃς.
οὐδ᾽ ἂν ἐγώ γ᾽ ἐθέλοιμι τεῆς ἐπιβήμεναι εὐνῆς,
εἰ μή μοι τλαίης γε, θεά, μέγαν ὅρκον ὀμόσσαι
μή τί μοι αὐτῷ πῆμα κακὸν βουλευσέμεν ἄλλο. }

After Circe swore not to trick him and not to emasculate him, Odysseus slept with her.

Of course Odysseus couldn’t joyfully do manly work while his men were kept as pigs. To hearten Odysseus, Circe released her kept pigs and returned them to their natural manly form. Odysseus and his men rejoiced to once again enjoy manly fellowship.

Odysseus remained at Circe’s home for a full year. He fulfilled husbandly duties for her while relaxing and feasting every night with his men. Odysseus and his men probably became fat. While men deserve a relaxing and comfortable home-based life, getting fat is bad for men’s health.

Odysseus’s men urged him to think of his home in Ithaca, where his wife Penelope and his son Telemachus awaited his return. Odysseus had been a conventional husband and father. He managed the queendom and fought to defend it. Circe required no such work from him. Some argue that a man must be insane to marry. Why should Odysseus, relaxing and feasting in Circe’s home, return to his conventional married life in Ithaca? He probably feared that if he didn’t return, he would be remembered not as a hero, but as a liar and a pig.

About two millennia later, Ersilia and Galeotto, rulers of the queendom of Anglia, were childless. Then three fairies charmed Ersilia. She subsequently gave birth to a son who appeared to be a pig. Ersilia and Galeotto loved their son even though he was a pig:

The child then, brought up carefully, would often come to his mother and, raising himself on his hind feet, put his snout and forefeet in her lap. The loving mother would in turn caress him, putting her hands on his bristly back, and hug and kiss him, no differently than if he were a human creature. And the child would curl his tail and show with obvious signs that the maternal caresses pleased him very much. The piglet, once somewhat grown, began to speak like a human and go about the city. Where there was garbage and filth, he would thrust himself into it, as pigs do. Afterwards, all dirty and stinking, he would return home. Running up to his father and mother and rubbing himself around their clothes, he made them all filthy with dung. But because he was their only son, they suffered everything in patience.

{ Il bambino adunque, diligentemente nodrito, sovente veniva alla madre, e, levatosi in piedi, le poneva il grognetto e le zampette in grembo. E la pietosa madre all’incontro lo accarezzava, ponendoli le mani sopra la pilosa schiena, ed abbracciavalo e basciavalo, non altrimenti che creatura umana si fusse. Ed il bambino avinchiavasi la coda, e con evidentissimi segni le materne carezze esserli molto grate le dimostrava. Il porcelletto, essendo alquanto cresciuto, cominciò umanamente parlare e andarsene per la città; e dove erano l’immondizie e le lordure, sì come fanno i porci, dentro se li cacciava. Dopo, così lordo e puzzolente, si ritornava a casa: e, accostatosi al padre ed alla madre e fregandosi intorno alle vestimenta loro, tutte da letame gli le imbruttava; e perciò che egli gli era unico figliuolo, ogni cosa pazientemente sofferivano. }[2]

When the pig grew older, he told his mother that he wanted to marry. His mother warned him that no woman would have a pig-man as her husband.

One day the pig declared that he wanted to marry a particular young woman. She was the eldest daughter of a poor woman with three daughters. Being married to a prince would be highly advantageous to the daughter and her mother, even if the prince were a pig. The daughter didn’t want to marry the pig-prince. Her mother persuaded her to marry him.

The daughter planned to kill her pig-husband on their wedding night. But the pig learned of her plan. After she had fallen asleep, he killed her in self-defense. Killing a spouse in self-defense is legal under the broad “battered wife” legal doctrine. Nonetheless, the queen harshly reproached her pig-son for killing his wife.

The pig wanted to marry his deceased wife’s sister. In response, the king favored killing his son to prevent him from committing more acts of self-defense. But the queen refused to allow her pig-son to be killed. Moreover, she persuaded the poor woman and her second-eldest daughter to accept a marriage to the pig-prince. Unfortunately, that marriage went as did the prior one. The pig killed his second wife in self-defense.

Now the pig wanted to marry the third daughter. Pig-men just don’t learn from experience. He told his mother of his desire. Furious, she absolutely denied his request. Then the pig threatened to kill his mother if she didn’t do what he wanted. That’s despicable. Nonetheless, still loving her son, she didn’t have him arrested and imprisoned for threatening murder. Instead, she humbly begged the poor woman’s youngest daughter, named Meldina, to marry her pig-son:

Meldina, my daughter, I want you to take Sir Pig for your husband. Do not have regard for him, but for his father and me. If you will come to know how to make yourself comfortable with him, you will be the luckiest and happiest lady that one can find.

{ Meldina, figliuola mia, voglio che tu prendi messer lo porco per tuo sposo: nè aver rispetto a lui, ma al padre suo e a me; che, se tu saprai ben esser con esso lui, sarai la più felice e la più contenta donna che si trovi. }

Meldina calmly responded that she would be honored as a poor woman to marry into the royal family. The queen wept at Meldina’s sweet spirit. The queen also feared for Meldina’s safety.

The just-married Meldina, dressed in lavish clothes and precious jewels, eagerly awaited her husband. Sir Pig arrived in his usual filthy state. The queen, who had supplied Meldina with her lavish attire, told her to push the pig away. But Meldina wisely said to the queen:

Sacred Majesty, of old
three wise lessons I’ve been told:
first, don’t waste your effort, please,
to seek impossibilities;
second, don’t go trusting quite
in things that are not fair and right;
third, the precious gift you hold
value as the rarest gold.

{ Tre cose ho già sentite raccontare,
Sacra corona veneranda e pia:
L’una, quel ch’è impossibile truovare,
Andar cercando, è troppo gran pazzia;
L’altra, a quel tutto fede non prestare,
Che ’n sè non ha ragion nè dritta via;
La terza, il dono prezioso e raro
C’hai nelle mani, fa che ’l tenghi caro. }

In light of such wisdom, wife and husband not only tolerated each other, but also loved each other dearly:

Sir Pig, who was not sleeping but heard clearly everything his wife had said, rose to his feet. He licked her face, her throat, her breasts, and her shoulders. She in turn caressed and kissed him, so that he was totally kindled with love. When the hour of repose came, the bride went to bed, waiting for her dear husband to come. It was not long before that husband, all filthy and stinking, went to bed. And she, raising the cover, bid him to come nearer to her. She set his head on the pillow, covering him well and closing the curtains so that he wouldn’t get a chill. When daylight came, Sir Pig, leaving the mattress full of manure, went off to feed.

{ Messer lo porco, che non dormiva ma il tutto chiaramente intendeva, levatosi in piedi, le lingeva il viso, la gola, il petto e le spalle; ed ella all’incontro l’accarezzava e basciava, sì che egli tutto d’amore si accendeva. Venuta l’ora di posare, andossene la sposa in letto, aspettando che ’l suo caro sposo se ne venisse; e non stette molto che ’l sposo, tutto lordo e puzzolente, se n’andò al letto. Ed ella, levata la coltre, se lo fece venire appresso, e sopra il guanciale li conciò la testa: coprendolo bene e chiudendo le cortine, acciò che freddo non patisse. Messer lo porco, venuto il giorno, e avendo lasciato il materasso pieno di sterco, se n’andò alla pastura. }

The queen feared that she would find her daughter-in-law dead after one night of marriage to her pig-son. Meldina instead was happy, even though her bed was covered with filth.

Some days later, the pig-prince revealed his secret to his wife. He showed her that he was merely wearing a stinking and dirty pigskin. Underneath that skin he was a fully human being, a man, an attractive and handsome young man. He embraced Meldina. All night long they enjoyed the delights of intimacy in their common human form. The following morning Meldina’s husband put on again his pigskin. He apparently didn’t want to be a man within the sexual feudalism of the court, nor to incur men’s obligation to risk death in the gender-discriminatory, men-on-men violence of war.[3]

Soon Meldina became pregnant. She birthed a handsome son, not a pig-human hybrid, but a fully human son. The queen and king were delighted to be grandparents of a fully human being. So too was Meldina. She couldn’t restrain herself from revealing her husband’s secret to her mother-in-law:

Most prudent queen, I thought that I was married to a beast. But you have given me for a husband the most handsome, the most virtuous, and the best-mannered young man that nature ever created. When he comes into my bedroom to lie down beside me, he takes off his stinking hide and, dropping it on the ground, becomes a tidy and lovely young man. No one could believe it, if she didn’t see it with her own eyes.

{ Prudentissima Reina, io mi credevo esser accompagnata con una bestia; ma voi mi avete dato per marito il più bello, il più vertuoso e il più accostumato giovane che mai la natura creasse. Egli, quando viene in camera per accoricarsi appresso me, si spoglia la puzzolente scorza, e, in terra quella diposta, un attilato e leggiadro giovane rimane. Il che niuno potrebbe credere, se con gli occhi propi non lo vedesse. }

The queen, who thought that she knew her own son, didn’t believe her daughter-in-law. So Meldina told her to come at night and peep into their bed-chamber.

That night the queen brought candles and the king to peep upon their son and daughter-in-law in bed. Looking into the bedroom, they saw a pigskin dropped on the floor. Men commonly drop with their clothes on the floor. In the bed, their son, looking and acting like a fully human man, was embracing his wife. The queen and king rejoiced. The king, undoubtedly following his wife’s order, commanded that the pigskin be shredded. Of course the royal couple never asked their son why he sought to avoid appearing to be a man. Men’s protests against gender injustices have long been suppressed.

Melinda’s husband became the new nominal king of Anglia. The people called him the Pig-King. He ruled in a way that pleased all the women of the realm. The men of the realm didn’t complain. Men relatively rarely complain. Meldina and her husband loved each other dearly and lived happily ever after. Their story is a conventional fairy tale for those who cannot perceive a piggish voice of men’s sexed protest.

* * * * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Homer, Odyssey 10.337-44, ancient Greek text from Murray (1919) via Perseus, my English translation, benefiting from those of id., Kline (2004), and Fagles (1996). Steadman (2020) provides helpful reading resources.

[2] Giovanni (Zoan) Francesco Straparola, The Pleasant Nights {Le Piacevoli Notti}, Night 2, Story 1, Italian text from Rua (1899), English translation (modified) from Smarr (1983) pp. 167-73. Le Piacevoli Notti was first published in Venice in 1550. Subsequent quotes above are similarly from this story. For alternate English translations, Beecher (2012) and Waters (1894).

Beecher offered a gynocentric interpretation of this pig-man tale:

Embedded in the narrative genes of Straparola’s tale is a memory of the struggle for purgatorial purification and redemption; in its future is the struggle for the psychological reform that makes a man fit company for female society. One is vestigial, the other in ovo.

Beecher (2012) vol. 1, p. 281. To the contrary, Straparola’s tale seems to me to provide women with insight into being loving spouses for men as they are. The challenge is significant, but the reward is great. Beecher at least declared, “Amusingly, our sympathy is on the side of the pig.” Id. p. 285. More sympathy for men would help to reduce systemic gender injustices causing, among other horrible effects, a massive male gender protrusion in the population of persons incarcerated.

Folklorists categorize this story as a “beast-bridegroom” tale, ATU 425A. It’s related to the well-know fairy-tales “Beauty and the Beast” and “Cinderella.” Beecher considered it to be rooted in Indian literature. He ignored the story of Circe, Odysseus, and his men in the Odyssey.

[3] Beecher characterized this tale as:

an emblematic depiction of the necessary adjustments within the couple whereby wifely tolerance and compassion ultimately reform the savage beast, allowing him to escape from his arrested self. That feature was later enhanced in the ‘Beauty and the Beast’ tradition in which the beast with a potential for kindness finds his better self through the ministrations of a sympathetic woman.

Beecher (2012) vol. 1, p. 282. The pig-husband revealed his secret to his wife because she loved him for what he was. That meninist moral has nothing to do with reforming a savage beast.

[image] Group of pigs. Photo by kallerna at a pig farm in Vampula, Finland, on July 31, 2021. Via Wikimedia Commons.

References:

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

Fagles, Robert, trans. 1996. Homer. The Odyssey. New York: Penguin Publishing Group.

Kline, A. S. 2004. Homer: The Odyssey. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Murray, A. T., ed. and trans., revised by George E. Dimock. 1919. Homer. Odyssey. Volume I: Books 1-12. Loeb Classical Library 104. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University 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.

Smarr, Janet Levarie, trans.. 1983. Italian Renaissance Tales: Selected and Translated, with an Introduction. Rochester, MI: Solaris Press.

Steadman, Geoffrey. 2020. Odyssey 9-12 Commentary. Online.

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

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