demon won’t bring home bacon for marriage worse than Hell

The raucous and outrageous medieval literature of men’s sexed protest witnesses to women’s dominance of medieval society. In relatively liberal and tolerant medieval Europe, exasperated men were permitted to express their exasperation. Moreover, medieval preachers broadly communicated men’s feelings in their homilies. Medieval women could thus understand men’s concerns and act more lovingly towards their husbands. Voice and exit are alternate forms of protest.[1] More attention to men’s voices would mean fewer men exiting from marriage.

Drawing upon wisdom probably originating in the ancient civilizations of India, the French Christian church official Jacques de Vitry early in the thirteenth century recounted a demon’s difficulties in marriage. The demon disguised as a man served a rich merchant. In gratitude for this servant’s crafty, evil service, the merchant gave him his daughter in marriage with a lavish dowry. Marrying rich women, or women enslaved to lucrative careers, has obvious advantages for men. Nonetheless, after a year of marriage, the husband declared to his father-in-law that he wanted to return to his own country. The father-in-law was mystified:

The father of the wife said: “Have I not given to you much, so that you lack nothing? Why do you wish to leave?” The husband said to him, “In every way I wish to return to my fatherland.” To which the father-in-law said, “Where is your fatherland?”

{ pater uxoris ait: “Nonne multa tibi dedi, ita quod nichil desit tibi? Quare uis recedere?” Dixit ille: “Modis omnibus uolo repatriare.” Cui socer ait: “Vbi est patria tua?” }[2]

Then the rich merchant learned who this servant actually was and why he adamantly sought to leave. The servant said:

I will tell you, and I will not conceal the truth. My fatherland is Hell. There I have never endured as much discord and irritation as I have suffered this year from my quarrelsome wife. I prefer to be in Hell than to remain any longer here with her.

{ Dicam tibi et ueritatem non celabo: patria mea est infernus, ubi nunquam tantam discoriam uel molestiam sustinui quantam hoc anno passus sum a litigiosa uxore mea. Malo esse in inferno quam amplius cum ipsa commorari. }

A quarrelsome, irritating wife can drive a husband to Hell. But not all women are like that. Some heroic, loving wives have saved their husbands from castration, even from castration by the devil.

devil Belfagor prefers Hell to marriage

One exasperated medieval husband commended his wife to the devil. She was “bad, quarrelsome, and adulterous {pessima, litigiosa et adultera}.” He thus decided to take a long pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. As he was leaving, she said:

My lord, behold, you are leaving. To whom do you commend me?

{ Domine, ecce receditis; cui me commendabitis? }[3]

Her husband angrily responded, “I commend you to the devil {dyabolo te commendo}.” Then he left. While the husband was away, the wife enticed man after man to come to her home for sex. But the devil threatened all those men and deterred them from having sex with her. When the husband returned from pilgrimage, the devil said:

Receive your wife, whom you commended to me. I have watched over her with great effort. More willingly would I serve ten wild horses than such a bad woman.

{ Recipe uxorem tuam quam michi commendasti, et eam cum magno labore custodiui. Libencius decem equos siluestres seruarem quam talem et tam pessimam mulierem. }

A husband shouldn’t tell his wife to go to Hell if the Devil wouldn’t let her into Hell. That wouldn’t be reasonable. It’s not nice, nor Christian, either.

holy man blessing young, newly married couple

Wives and husbands must work together to bring home the bacon of a happy marriage. In a thirteenth-century sermon, Jacques de Vitry recounted:

Once I passed through a certain village in France where they suspended a ham haunch or bacon on a plate. They did so with the following condition: whoever wished to swear legally that having lived through one whole year after contracting marriage with a wife, that he wasn’t sorry for anything, he would have the bacon. And while it hung there for ten years, not a single young man acquired the bacon. All were regretting within a year of their marital contract.

{ Aliquando transiui per quandam uillam in Francia, ubi suspenderant pernam seu bachonem in platea hac condicione, ut qui uellet iuramento firmare, quod uno integro anno post contractum matrimonium permansisset cum uxore, ita quod de matrimonio non penituisset, bachonem haberet. Et cum per decem annos ibi pependisset, non est unus solus inuentus qui bachonem lucraretur, omnibus infra annum de matrimonio contracto penitentibus suis. }[4]

These husbands might have been regretting getting married. They might have been regretting wrongs that they had done to their wives during their first year of marriage. In any case, men should not be exclusively gender-burdened with an obligation to bring home the bacon in a behavioral or a financial sense. Women and men must both contribute to bringing home the bacon in a spirit of tolerance and generosity.

Men today have good reasons for avoiding marriage or long-term cohabitation with women. Men lack any reproductive rights and are subject to outrageously unjust paternity determinations. Family courts administer alimony, child custody, and “child support” with grotesque anti-men gender discrimination. A false allegation of domestic violence can put a man into the Hell of a penal system that vastly disproportionately punishes persons with penises. These are social justice issues resolutely ignored by most persons concerned about social justice. Moreover, anyone who dares to mention these injustices risks being demonized and censored.

Given the gender injustices men face, marriage prevalence is declining significantly, particularly among those who can least afford a real-world divorce. In the U.S., the share of unmarried men rose from 30% to 37% from 1990 to 2021.[5] Among the lowest 20% of persons ranked by income, the share of currently married persons in the 33 to 44 age group fell from 60% to 38% from 1979 to 2018.[6] The U.S. is becoming a country in which a large share of men, not just demons, would prefer Hell to marriage.

Medieval literature includes men’s voices that are now marginalized and repressed in service to ideological orthodoxy. Such censorship impedes understanding of human reality. Medieval literature can help women and men imagine what’s necessary to bring home the bacon again in marriage.

You shall swear by custom of confession,
That you ne’er made nuptial transgression;
Nor, since you were married man and wife,
By household brawls, or contentious strife,
Or otherwise at bed or board,
Offended each other in deed or in word,
Or since the parish clerk said, Amen,
Wished yourselves unmarried again,
Or in twelvemonth and a day,
Repented in thought any way,
But continue true in thought and desire,
As when you joined hands in holy quire.
If to these conditions without all fear,
Of your own accord you will freely swear,
A whole gammon of bacon you shall receive,
And bear it hence with love and good leave:
For this is our custom at Dunmow well known,
Tho’ the pleasure be ours, the bacon’s your own. [7]

married couple taking home the bacon flitch from Dunmow

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Hirschman (1970) offers an influential analysis of exit and voice. Here’s an overview of exit and voice.

[2] Jacques de Vitry, Sermons for particular weekdays and ordinary days {Sermones Feriales et Communes}, Sermon 17, Section 7, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Muessig (1999) pp. 154-5, 23. The subsequent quote above is similarly from id. Muessig’s Latin texts are from MS. Liège, Université de Liège, Bibliothèque Générale, Centre d’Information et de Conservation des Bibliothèques, 347, folios 92ra-98va, written in the fifteenth century. This and similar stories shouldn’t be interpreted to imply that husbands are demons. Jacques de Vitry wasn’t an anti-meninist.

A story of a demon afraid of a nasty wife occurs in the ancient Indian story-collection Seventy Tales of the Parrot {Shuka Saptati}. See stories 46 and 47 in Wortham (1911) pp. 92-4. Jacques de Vitry’s story of the devil fleeing from marriage to a woman is the first surviving instance of that story in Europe. Jacques almost surely took the story from another source. The story subsequently appeared in Mathieu of Boulogne’s influential work of men’s sexed protest, The Book of the Lamentations of Little, Little Matheus {Liber lamentationum Matheoluli}, written about 1290. See Book 2, vv. 3853-4034.

A version of this story subsequently appeared as Niccolò Machiavelli’s The Fable of Belfagor the Archdaemon {La Favola di Belfagor Arcidiavolo}, which Machiavelli wrote between 1518 and 1527. For an English translation, DiMatteo (2015). The story also occurs in Giovanni (Zoan) Francesco Straparola, The Pleasant Nights {Le Piacevoli Notti} (1550), Night 2, Story 4, and Barnabe Rich’s Riche His Farwell to the Militarie Profession (1581). Machiavelli’s Belfagor was translated into English and published in London in 1647 under the title The Devil a Married Man: or The Devil Hath Met with His Match. On the literary history of the story of the devil fleeing from marriage to Hell, Beecher (2012) vol. 1, pp. 339-51.

In Straparola’s version, the wife impoverishes her devil-husband with her demand for luxury clothes and accouterments. Beecher noted:

controlling women may take comfort in the Devil’s incapacity to quell their voices, even though they must take care that their imperious feeding does not kill off their hosts.

Beecher (2012) vol. 1, p. 351.

[3] Jacques de Vitry, Sermons for particular weekdays and ordinary days {Sermones Feriales et Communes}, Sermon 17, Section 7, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Muessig (1999) pp. 156, 24. All the quotes above related to this story are similarly sourced from id. Cf. Luke 23:46: “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”; in the Vulgate, “Pater in manus tuas commendo spiritum meum.”

[4] Jacques de Vitry, Sermons for particular weekdays and ordinary days {Sermones Feriales et Communes}, Sermon 17, Section 8, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Muessig (1999) pp. 155, 23-4.

Following now-prevalent practice in medieval literary scholarship, Muessig (1999) ponders the extent to which Jacques de Vitry is guilty of “anti-feminism” and “misogyny.” Jacques de Vitry, a Christian cleric, was an ardent supporter of the Beguine Marie d’Oignies. Id. p. 39. That Jacques de Vitry wrote some words that might offend present-day readers makes him even more worthwhile to study seriously, particularly from a newer and more progressive meninist perspective.

The figure “bringing home the bacon” is associated with the Dunmow Flitch Trials, thought to date to 1104 at the Augustinian Priory of Little Dunmow. In that year, the local Lord Reginald Fitzwalter:

gifted some of his land to the Priory on the condition that a flitch of bacon would be given to any couple that could come to the Priory and prove their continued devotion to each other a year and a day after their marriage.

Essex Record Office (2022). This story is probably apocryphal. However, writing about 1395, Chaucer had the Wife of Bath say:

I set my husbands so to work, by my faith,
that many a night they sang “Woe is me!”
The bacon was not fetched for them, I believe,
that some men have in Essex at Dunmow.
I governed them so well, according to my law,
that each of them was very blissful and eager
to bring me gay things from the fair.
They were very glad when I spoke to them pleasantly,
for, God knows it, I cruelly scolded them.

{ I sette hem so a-werke, by my fey,
That many a nyght they songen `Weilawey!’
The bacon was nat fet for hem, I trowe,
That som men han in Essex at Dunmowe.
I governed hem so wel, after my lawe,
That ech of hem ful blisful was and fawe
To brynge me gaye thynges fro the fayre.
They were ful glad whan I spak to hem faire,
For, God it woot, I chidde hem spitously. }

Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Wife of Bath Prologue, vv. 215-33, Middle English text and English modernization (modified insubstantially) from Larry Benson’s Geoffrey Chaucer Website. The Wife of Bath committed horrible domestic violence against her husband, the jolly clerk Jankin. They certainly didn’t have a happy, peaceful marriage. Jacques de Vitry’s sermon from early in the thirteenth century apparently is the first credibly documented instance referring to the flitch-of-bacon marital test. For a popular history of that custom, Andrews (1877).

[5] Calculated from U.S. Census Bureau, Table MS-1. Marital Status of the Population 15 Years Old and Over, by Sex, Race and Hispanic Origin: 1950 to Present.

[6] Statistics from Reevens & Pulliam (2020).

[7] Oath that the spousal claimants to Dunmow Flitch allegedly recited while sitting on sharp rocks. From Percy& Perch (1826 / 1868) p. 146.

[images] (1) The devil Belfagor, who found Hell preferable to marriage to an earthly woman. Engraving from Collin de Plancy (1863) p. 89, via DiMatteo (2015). (2) Blessing a young, newly married couple. Prefatory drawing by John Gilbert in Ainsworth (1856). (3) Married couple taking home the bacon flitch from Dunmow. Drawing by John Gilbert between pages 288 and 289 in Ainsworth (1856).


Ainsworth, William Harrison. 1856. The Flitch of Bacon, or the Custom of Dunmow: a custom of English home. London: Routledge.

Andrews, William. 1877. History of the Dunmow Flitch of Bacon Custom. London: W. Tegg.

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

Collin de Plancy, Jacques Albin Simon. 1863. Dictionnaire Infernal. Répertoire universel des êtres, des personnages, des livres, des faits et des choses qui tiennent aux esprits. Paris: H. Plon.

DiMatteo, Christopher, trans. 2015. Niccolò Machiavelli. The Fable of Belfagor the Archdevil. Online.

Essex Record Office. 2022. “Curiosity Cabinet: The Dunmow Flitch.” Online, posted March 25, 2022.

Hirschman, Albert O. 1970. Exit, Voice, and Loyalty: responses to decline in firms, organizations, and states. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Muessig, Carolyn. 1999. The Faces of Women in the Sermons of Jacques de Vitry. Toronto, Canada: Peregrina Publishing.

Percy, Sholto, and Reuben Percy. 1826 / 1868. The Percy Anecdotes. Collected and edited by Reuben and Sholto Percy. Verbatim reprint of the original ed., with a pref. by John Timbs. London: F. Warne.

Reeves, Richard V. and Christopher Pulliam. 2020. “Middle class marriage is declining, and likely deepening inequality.” Report. Brookings Institution. Online, dated March 11, 202o.

Wortham, Biscoe Hale, trans. 1911. The Enchanted Parrot: being a selection from the “Suka Saptati,” or, The Seventy Tales of a Parrot, translated from the Sanskrit text. London: Luzac & Co.

gender equality and paradise in Le jeu d’Adam

Elaborating upon the biblical account of Eve and Adam, the mid-twelfth-century dramatic masterpiece The Play of Adam {Le jeu d’Adam} represents love, obedience, and gender equality in a highly sophisticated way. An introductory rubric directs the play to begin with Adam and Eve in relation to God:

Let them both stand before the God-Figure — Adam somewhat nearer and with a peaceful countenance, but Eve not sufficiently submissive.

{ stent ambo coram Figura — Adam tamen propius, vultu composito, Eva vero parum demissiori }[1]

Eve’s self-assertiveness in relation to God doesn’t make Adam annoyed or resentful. He has a peaceful countenance. But as Le jeu d’Adam shows, Eve and Adam’s relationship with God has implications for their relationship with each other.

In Genesis, God places the sexually undifferentiated Adam-Eve in Eden before separating Eve’s body from Adam’s. In Le jeu d’Adam, Adam and Eve exist as separate bodily entities from the beginning. God places both of them in the paradisaical garden. That’s a significant change. It allows Eve and Adam’s relationship with God to develop along with their relationship with each other.

Le jeu d’Adam begins with God calling to Adam. God in this play conflates the two biblical accounts of him creating humans in addressing Adam:

I have formed you in my likeness.
In my image I have made you of earth.
You must never make war against me.

{ Je te ai fourmée a mun semblant
A ma imagene t’ai feit de tere
Ne moi devez ja mais mover guere. }[2]

God’s words emphasize mutually. Adam is like God and must never fight with God. Adam responds:

I will not, but I will trust you.
My creator I will obey.

{ Nen frai ge, mais te crerrai,
Mun creatur obeïrai }

Adam’s vow to obey his creator comes in the context of trust and mutuality. The hierarchical obligation of obedience here is meant to be consistent with similarity and mutuality. Moreover, God created both male and female in his image. Eve, created from Adam’s rib, in made of earth through the intermediate step of making Adam. God’s words are equally fit for Eve.

God then instructs Adam about Eve and marriage. Similarity and mutuality again conflate with hierarchical obligation of obedience. God says to Adam:

I have given you a worthy companion:
your wife, Eve by name.
She is your wife and partner.
You ought to be entirely faithful to her.
Love her, and let her love you,
if you two both would be mine.
She is to be at your command
and you two both subject to my wish.
From your side I have formed her.
Born from you, she is no stranger to you.
I fashioned her from your body,
from within you she came, not from outside.
Govern her reasonably.
Let no dispute come between you,
but have great love and much help.
Such is the law of marriage.

{ Je t’ai duné bon cumpainun:
Ce est ta femme, Eva a noun.
Ce est ta femme e tun pareil:
Tu le devez estre ben fiël.
Tu aime lui, e ele ame tei,
Si serez ben ambedui de moi.
Ele soit a tun comandement
E vus ambe deus a mun talent.
De ta coste l’ai fourmee;
N’est pas estrange, de tei est nee.
Jo la plasmai de ton cors;
De tei eissit, non pas de fors.
Tu la governe par raison.
N’ait entre vus ja tençon,
Mais grant amor, grant conservage:
Tel soit la lei de mariage. }

Eve was to be formally at Adam’s command, and he was to govern her reasonably.[3] Moreover, he must understand that she is like him. He is to love her and let her love him. That’s far from despotism or “patriarchy.” Women have long controlled households in practice. God declaring husbands to have formal authority over their wives strengthens men’s disadvantaged household position and is best interpreted as affirmative action to foster gender equality.

After first addressing Adam to boost his self-esteem, God turns to Eve. He isn’t reluctant to talk to a woman. He says to her:

To you I will speak, Eve.
Be mindful of this, do not take it in vain.
If you would do my will,
in your heart cherish goodness,
love and honor me, your creator,
and recognize me as Lord.
To serving me devote your care,
all your strength, and all your mind.
Love Adam, and hold him dear.
He is your husband, and you his wife.
Toward him in all things stay favorably disposed.
Do not depart from his instructions.
Serve and love him in good spirit,
because that is justice in marriage.
If you do well as his assistant,
I will place you with him in glory.

{ A tei parlerai, Evain.
Ço garde tu, nel tenez en vain:
Si vos faire ma volenté
En ton cors garderas bonté,
Moi aim e honor ton creator,
E moi reconuis a Seignor.
A moi servir met ton porpens,
Tote ta force e tot tun sens.
Adam aime, e lui tien chier.
Il est marid, e tu sa mullier.
A lui soies tot tens encline,
Nen issir de sa discipline.
Lui serf e aim par bon coraje,
Car ço est droiz de mariage.
Se tu le fais bon adjutoire,
Jo te mettrai od lui en gloire. }

Unlike in speaking to Adam, God has to remind Eve to take him seriously. God emphasizes that Eve should be her husband’s assistant and follow her husband’s lead. Moreover, she isn’t to be sullen or resentful about doing that. She is to be favorably disposed toward her husband in all things, and both serve and love him in good spirit. In contrast to modern mythology, Eve isn’t her husband’s chattel or slave.

Adam lacks the self-assertion to respond to God’s instruction about marriage. Eve, in contrast, confidently responds that she will follow God’s instructions:

I will do, sire, as you wish.
I would not like to stray from that.
You I will recognize as Lord,
Adam as my partner and as stronger than I.
I will always be faithful to him.
From me he will have good counsel.
Your wish, your service
I will do, sire, in every way.

{ Jol frai, sire, a ton plaisir;
Ja n’en voldrai de rien issir.
Toi conustrai a seignor,
Lui a paraille e a forzor.
Jo lui serrai tot tens feël;
De moi avra bon conseil.
Le ton pleisir, le ton servise
Frai, sire, en tote guise. }

Eve recognizes that Adam is physically stronger than her, but she suggests that she’s wiser than him. She will advise him on what to do. He is her partner.

In Le jeu d’Adam, the biblical garden of Eden becomes a paradise that Eve and Adam’s relationship centrally characterizes. Emphasizing the importance of this garden, Le jeu d’Adam begins with a rubric describing “paradise {paradisus}”:

Let paradise be constructed in a prominently high place. Let curtains and silk hangings be placed around it at such a height that those persons who will be in paradise can be seen from the shoulders up. Let sweet-smelling flowers and foliage be planted there. Within paradise let there be various trees, with fruit hanging from the trees such that it is seen to be a most delightful place.

{ Constituatur paradisus loco eminentiori; circumponantur cortinae et panni serici ea altitudine ut personae, quae in paradiso feurint, possint videri sursum ad humeros; serantur odoriferi flores et frondes; sint in eo diversae arbores et fructus in eis dependentes, ut amoenissimus locus videatur. }

Paradise is a reference point throughout the play. God sends both Adam and Eve into paradise. Then God explicitly describes the nature of that place:

I will tell you the nature of this garden.
You will not find here anything delightful to be lacking.
Any good in the world that a creature might covet
can be found here in its own proper measure.
Here woman will experience no anger from man,
nor man from woman have shame or fear.
Man here is no sinner for having sex,
nor does woman here experience pain in bearing children.
You will live forever, so you will have here a good lifetime.
You will never experience change in your age.
Death you will never fear here, nor can it harm you.
I do not wish for you to leave. Here you must make your dwelling.

{ De cest jardin tei dirrai la nature:
De nul delit n’i trovrez falture.
N’et bien al mond, que covoit criature,
Chescons n’i poisset trover a sa mesure.
Femme do home n’i avra irur,
Ne home de femme verguine ne freür.
Por engendrer n’i est hom peccheor,
Ne a l’emfanter femme n’i sent dolor.
Tot tens vivras, tant i ad bon estage;
N’i porras ja changer li toen eage.
Mort n’i crendras, ne te ferra damage.
Ne voil qu’en isses; ici feras manage. }

Literally central to this description isn’t flowers and fruit, but a joyful, life-creating relationship between Eve and Adam. Losing such a relationship implies being expelled from paradise.

On the Sistine Chapel's ceiling, Michelangelo's depiction of the Fall and expulsion of Eve and Adam from the garden of Eden

In Le jeu d’Adam, Satan tempts both Adam and Eve with equality. Satan’s long, sophisticated attempt to seduce Adam culminates in Satan urging Adam to eat the forbidden fruit:

Eat it, and you’ll do well.
You then will have nothing to fear from your God.
Instead, in all you will be his equal.
For that reason he has forbidden it.
Will you trust me? Taste of the fruit!

{ Manjue le, si fras bien.
Ne crendras pois tun Deu de rien;
Aienz serras puis del tut son per.
Por ço le quidat veer.
Creras me tu? Guste del fruit. }

Adam refuses to try to become God’s equal. Satan withdraws in frustration at Adam’s “stupidity {soz}.” Satan, however, soon returns to tempt Adam again:

Listen, Adam, pay attention to me.
I will counsel you in faith
how you can be without a master
and the equal of your creator.
I will tell you all to the top.
If you eat of the apple,
you will reign in majesty.
You can share power with God.

{ Escut, Adam, entent a moi:
Jo te conseillerai en fei
Que porras estre senz seignor,
E seras per del creatur.
Jo te dirrai tute la summe:
Si tu manjues la pome
Tu regneras en majesté.
Od Deu poez partir poësté. }

Adam doesn’t grasp for equality with God.[4] He understands Satan to be seeking to “remove me from joy, put me in sadness {tolir de joie, mettre en dolor}.” He tells Satan to go to Hell. Satan withdraws in sadness, “with a submissive countenance {vultu demisso}.” Adam has triumphed over Satan.

Then Satan approaches Eve. Satan begins tempting Eve by disparaging her man Adam. Satan says, “He’s too much of a fool {trop est fols}.” Eve concedes, “He’s a little hard {Un poi est durs}.” Perhaps she meant that compared to her, he has rocks for brains. Never concede anything to Satan. Then Satan declares, “He is harder than fire {Il est plus dors que n’est emfers}!” Satan means that Adam is harsh toward Eve. His words, however, could also be understood to imply ironically that Adam doesn’t succumb to Hell. Eve counters for Adam, “He is very noble {It est mult francs}.” Adam wasn’t noble in the sense of a being a self-abasing courtly lover. In paradise, he was probably noble in the sense that he vigorously fulfilled the original ideal of masculine chivalry.

Satan again re-interprets and contradicts Eve’s word. He disparages Adam at length and tempts Eve with a courtly lover’s flattery:

To the contrary, Adam is servile.
He lacks the will to take care of himself.
He should at least take care of you.
You are a delicate and tender thing,
and you are fresher than a rose.
You are whiter than crystal,
whiter than snow that falls on ice in the valley.
A badly matched couple the Creator has made.
You are too tender, and he, too hard.
But nonetheless you are wiser.
Your mind has discovered great wisdom.

{ Ainz, est mult serf.
Cure nen voelt prendre de soi.
Car la prenge sevals de toi.
Tu es fieblette e tendre chose,
E es plus fresche que n’est ros;
Tu es plus blanche que cristal,
Que neif que chiet sor glace en val.
Mal cuple em fist li Criator:
Tu est trop tendre, e il, trop dur.
Mais neporquant tu es plus sage;
En grant sens as mis tun corrage. }

Disparaging men to their beloved women is Satan’s work. Having thus weakened Eve, Satan urges her to take the fruit and lead Adam into disaster for them both:

Take it first and give it to Adam.
You will at once possess the crown of Heaven.
You will be the Creator’s equal.
He will not be able to hide secrets from you.
As soon as you have eaten of the fruit,
at once your hearts will be changed.
Without fail you will be in relation to God
of equal goodness, of equal power.
Taste of the fruit!

{ Primes le pren, e a Adam le done.
Del ciel averez sempres corone.
Al Creator serrez pareil;
Ne vus purra celer conseil.
Puis que del fruit avrez mangié,
Sempres vus iert le cuer changié
O Deus serrez, sanz faillance,
De egal bonté, de egal puissance.
Guste del fruit. }

The introductory rubric describing Eve as “not sufficiently submissive {parum demissior}” before God foreshadowed Satan’s tactic in tempting her. Even more than in tempting Adam, Satan emphasizes to Eve the promise of being equal to God.

Adam’s lack of confidence and self-assertiveness in relation to Eve leads to their exile from paradise. Eve takes the forbidden fruit and urges Adam to eat it. Adam, however, confesses his sense of vulnerability: “I’m fearful of it {J’en duit}.” Eve then doesn’t sympathetically comfort Adam and accommodate his justified fear. She instead taunts him, “Stop being afraid {Lai le}!” Adam and Eve would have been better off if Adam had said firmly, “I don’t want fruit. Wife, make me a sandwich, please.” Students, that’s a fundamental insight of meninist literary criticism.

After Eve taunts him with being afraid, Adam attempts to assert himself. He says to Eve: “I won’t eat it {Nen frai pas}.” Men should have the right to decide what they eat and don’t eat. Disrespecting her husband, Eve twists his words and taunts him, “You delay out of cowardice {Del demorer fai tu que las}.” She knows that she can dominate her husband by shaming him. It’s merely a matter of how long before she gets him to do what he said he won’t do. The delay is brief. Promptly reversing his decision about what he would eat, Adam declares: “I’ll take it {E jo le prendrai}.” Underscoring her dominance, Eve then puts herself first:

Eat. Take the fruit!
By it you will know both good and evil.
I’ll eat some first.

{ Manjue. Ten!
Par ço saveras e mal e bien.
Jo en manjerai premirement. }

Women leaders equally fail men. Eve declares that the apple tastes great and has wonderful effects. She’s delusional, or perhaps seeking company in her grave error. Respecting Eve’s judgment, Adam says to her, “I’ll trust you in this. You are my equal. {Jo t’en crerra. Tu es ma per.}” Eve again exhorts Adam, “Eat! Don’t be fearful {Manjue. Nen poez doter.}.” Adam then eats of the fruit. That’s a paradigmatic gender catastrophe from the perspective of meninist literary criticism.[5]

Adam immediately recognizes the disastrous consequences of his failure of self-assertiveness with respect to his wife. He understands that they are sinful wretches that have gravely offended God. He believes that they are destined to die and go to Hell, along with all subsequent humans. Adam expresses only vague awareness that humans’ situation could change. Eve significantly has the finally word in what’s merely conventionally and misleadingly called Le jeu d’Adam:

The wicked serpent, the viper of evil appearance,
caused me to eat the apple of antagonism.
I gave it to you, so I thought that to be good.
Why wasn’t I favorably disposed to the Creator?
Why, sire, didn’t I hold to your instructions?
You did wrong, but I was the root of it.
For our evil, the cure will be long.
My wrong, my enormous misdoing,
will cost dearly for our progeny.
The fruit was sweet, but the pain is harsh.
Evil it was to eat. Ours is the guilt.
But nonetheless in God is my hope.
For this wrong our flesh will be fully reconciled.
God will offer me his grace and his favor.
He will rescue us from Hell by his power.

{ Li fel serpent, la guivre de mal aire,
Me fist mangier la pome de contraire.
Jo t’en donai; si quidai por bien faire,
E mis toi en pecchié, dont ne te pois retraire.
Por quei ne fui al Criator encline?
Por quei ne tien jo, sire, ta discipline?
Tu mesfesis, més jo sui la racine.
De nostre mal, long en est la mescine.
Le mien mesfait, ma grant mesaventure,
Compera chier la nostre engendreore.
Li fruiz fu dulz, la paine est dure.
Mal fu mangiez; nostre iert la fraiture.
Mais neporquant en Deu est ma sperance.
D’icest mesfait char tot iert acordance:
Deus me rendra sa grace e sa mustrance:
Gieter nus voldra d’emfer par pussance. }

Using words that echo God’s instructions to her, Eve laments that she didn’t respect Adam’s marital leadership. She recognizes the disaster of gender antagonism. She also has hope in God that female and male flesh will be reconciled. She believes that God will offer to her grace and favor, and rescue them from Hell. Meninist literary critics might see here another indication of women’s privilege. Yet as long as Eve faithfully adheres to God’s instructions on how she is to honor and respect Adam, this women’s privilege in receiving God’s grace and favor isn’t like to oppress men as a gender.[6]

Adam and Eve ashamed at their nakedness. Painting in Christian catacombs.

Particularly over the past half-century, misinterpretations of story of Eve and Adam have bolstered gender inequality. Women dominated medieval society. Today persons at commanding heights of the propaganda apparatus proclaim that the future is female. Many women and men today already feel that they are living in a gender Hell. Progress toward a humane, gender-equal future depends on fully functioning human minds and hearts. As marginalized and excluded meninist literary criticism emphasizes, we must learn from Eve and Adam.

They exchange souls, entangled bodies made into one
body. By their spirits their hearts are made penetrable.
Slow, easy transfusion of spirits brings back their bodies,
and each dying to oneself lives in the other partner.

{ Alternant animas, laqueataque corpus in unum
Corpora spiritibus pervia corda parant.
Corpora spirituum transfusio languida reddit,
Dumque sibi moritur vivit uterque pari. }[7]

* * * * *

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[1] The Play of Adam {Le jeu d’Adam}, from introductory Latin rubric, Latin text from Bevington (1975) p. 80, English translation (modified) from id. All subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are similarly serially from Le jeu d’Adam. For a freely available Old French text, Studer (1918). Axton & Stevens (1971) includes an English translation.

This play survives in only one manuscript: Tours, Bibliothèque municipale, 927, f. 20r-40r, written in the second half of the twelfth century. For a close technical analysis of the play in its manuscript context, Chaguinian (2017). Le jeu d’Adam is also known as The scriptural play (mystery play) of Adam {Le mystère d’Adam} and The Service for Representing Adam {Ordo Repraesentationis Adae}.

[2] Cf. Genesis 1:27, 2:7.

[3] In medieval thought, a marriage needed to be governed in the same sense that any realm or organization needed to be governed. In modern terms, any realm or organizations needs a formal account of status relations and formal decision-making procedures. This formal structure may have little relation to decision-making in practice.

[4] Cf. Philippians 2:15. Psalms 8:4-5 proclaims that humans already have an exalted position:

What is a man that you are mindful of him,
and a son of man that you care for him?
Yet you have made him little less than a god,
and crowned him with glory and honor.

{ מה־אנוש כי־תזכרנו ובן־אדם כי תפקדנו׃
ותחסרהו מעט מאלהים וכבוד והדר תעטרהו׃ }

[5] Reading Le jeu d’Adam in light of medieval European gender, Adams commented:

The woman’s greater intelligence was to blame for Adam’s fall. Eve was justly punished because she should have known better, while Adam, as the Devil truly said, was a dull animal, hardly worth the trouble of deceiving. … They {the medieval audience of Le jeu d’Adam} recognized the man as, of course, stupid, cowardly, and traitorous.

Adams (1904) p. 206. Le jeu d’Adam regrettably perpetrated negative stereotypes of men. Medieval writers, however, had relatively broad expressive freedom.

Auerbach interprets the serpent’s intervention between vv. 292 and 293 as completely changing Eve’s character and her relation to Adam. Auerbach declared:

Eve, in fact, is clumsy, very clumsy, even though her clumsiness is not hard to understand. For without the Devil’s special help she is but a weak — though curious and hence sinful — creature, far inferior to her husband and easily guided by him. That is how God created her from Adam’s rib. … Eve is fearful, submissive, self-conscious. She feels she cannot cope with his clear and reasonable and manly will. The serpent alone changes all this. It upsets the order of things established by God, it makes the woman the man’s master, and so leads both to ruin.

Auerbach (1957) p. 149. This interpretation goes far beyond the text. Moreover, it has the prevalent gender pattern of blaming another for a woman’s action and so excusing her. The introductory rubric characterizing Eve as “not sufficiently submissive {parum demissior}” directly contradicts Auerbach’s tendentious interpretation. Moreover, God designating Adam as the leader within Eve and Adam’s marriage doesn’t imply that Eve is inferior to Adam as a human being. The New Testament proclaims woman’s equality with man and also designates the husband as the leader within marriage. Galations 3:28, Ephesians 5:22-4, Colossians 1:18.

[6] After scrutinizing Le jeu d’Adam, which would be better titled Le jeu d’Eve, Grimbert (1992) judged its author not to be a male chauvinist pig. Its author has even received the ultimate modern laurel — being labeled a feminist:

Attention has often been called to the skill with which the anonymous author of the twelfth-century Jeu d’Adam presents the temptation of Eve by Satan. A closer study of certain aspects of this play and of its relationship with the Biblical counterpart suggests that Satan was not entirely untruthful when he praised Eve to the detriment of Adam, at least insofar as her conduct after the Fall is concerned. Indeed, the philogynous touch in the Jeu d’Adam is not confined to the serpent’s ill-intentioned flattery. On the contrary, a current of sympathy for the dignity and strength of Eve runs so strongly throughout the play that even the epithet “feminist” is not necessarily out of order in a religious context. Not only is Eve Adam’s equal; she is superior to him in some respects. Commentators of this play typically see Adam, not Eve, as spokesman for mankind. But reconsideration of the evidence shows that, while Adam makes a poor showing as head of the human race after the Fall, Eve dominates the scene by exemplifying perfectly the proper attitude of a repentant sinner and a believer in the mercy of God.

Kostoroski-Kadish (1975) pp. 209-10. Such analysis justifies God’s affirmative action on behalf of men within marriage. The author of Le jeu d’Adam is best regarded as a meninist.

[7] “Behold, beauty and the pleasing delight of love return {Ecce redit species et amoris grata voluptas},” vv. 18-21 (of 21), Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 449, English translation (modified) from id. p. 450. This poem, apparently composed by an Anglo-Norman poet, survives in Roma, Vatican MS Reg. lat. 585, folio 4v (written in the twelfth century) and Escorial, MS. O. III. 2, folio 98r-v (written in the fourteenth century).

[images] (1) The Fall and expulsion of Eve and Adam from the garden of Eden. Michelangelo’s depiction on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Vatican City, Rome. Painted between 1508 and 1512. Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Adam and Eve ashamed at their nakedness. Painting in the Catacombs of Saints Marcellinus and Peter, Rome. Painted between 306 and 337 GC. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Adams, Henry. 1904. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press.

Auerbach, Erich. 1957. Mimesis: the Representation of Reality in Western Literature. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. Originally published in German in 1945.

Axton, Richard, and John E. Stevens, trans. 1971. Medieval French Plays. New York: Barnes & Noble.

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

Chaguinian, Christophe, ed. 2017. The Jeu d’Adam: MS Tours 927 and the Provenance of the Play. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications.

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

Grimbert, Joan Tasker. 1994. “Eve as Adam’s pareil: Equivalence and Subordination in the Jeu d’Adam.” Pp. 29-37 in Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox, eds. Literary Aspects of Courtly Culture. Selected Papers from the Seventh Triennial Congress of the International Courtly Literature Society, University of Massachusetts, Amherst, USA, 27 July–1 August, 1992. Cambridge: Brewer.

Kostoroski-Kadish, Emilie. 1975. ‘“Feminism” in the Jeu d’Adam.’ Kentucky Romance Quarterly. 22 (2): 209-221.

Studer, Paul, ed. 1918. Le mystère d’Adam: an Anglo-Norman drama of the twelfth century. Manchester: Manchester University Press.

men to their health’s peril work only for beautiful women

According to classical myth, the goddess Discordia wasn’t invited to the wedding of Thetis and Peleus. Outraged by that insult, Discordia comes uninvited:

She makes something to grieve rich and poor,
Slightly wounded, she deeply wounds many hearts.
She goes to the place that Juno, Pallas, and Venus
have chosen. Then a new, evil cunning is released.

Among them she throws a little apple on which she wrote:
“This is for the most beautiful. May it soon be what she desires.”
What and how many are affected by this evil she prepares —
the deed’s lamentable consequences declare.

Now the serenity of peace is utterly removed.
Strife enters, to then unknown among the celestials,
strife not for the prize of the apple, but for what the apple makes known.
From quarreling are born threats. The abode trembles all over.

{ Facit unde doleant dives et egenus,
Multos lesa paululum ledit corde tenus;
Locum quem elegerant Iuno, Pallas, Venus
Petit. Tunc effunditur novum doli genus.

Inter eas pomulum iacit quo notarat
“Istud habe pulchrior, iam sit quod optarat”
Nam quid et quampluribus per hoc mali parat
Rei miserabilis exitus declarat.

Iam pacis tranquillitas prorsus est amota,
Lis succedit, usque tunc superis ignota.
Non pro pomi pretio sed pro pomi nota;
Rixa minas parturit, domus fremit tota. }[1]

The wedding of Thetis and Peleus halts. The goddesses Juno, Pallas, and Venus compete aggressively for the apple.

Judgment of Paris by Lucas Cranach the Elder

The beautiful, young shepherd-prince Paris judges the competition. Juno declares her worth:

The scepter’s high renown, awe-inspiring office,
and wealth are ruled by me. If by your judgment
I win the prize, I will give you the greatest kingdom.

{ Sceptrorum sublimis honor fascesque tremendi
Divitieque mei iuris. Te iudice palmam
Si tulerim, regno per me donabere summo. }

Being a great man is a great honor. Men value honor, but not just honor. Pallas then declares her worth:

Sky and land, sea and the human world —
all these I govern by firm law. Without me no order exists.
If you follow me, impassable error will not divert you.

{ Que celum, que terra regit, que pontus et orbis,
Legibus astringo certis. Nil me sine rectum.
Te si me sequeris non abstrahet invius error. }

Men value the wisdom to discriminate between true and false and to follow the correct path. But men value more than honor and wisdom. Venus then declares her worth:

Sounds of lutes, games, cheers, lustful pleasure —
all these are mine. If you prefer me to the others, I myself
will give you as reward a young woman more lovely than any other.

{ Plectra sonora, ioci, plausus, lasciva voluptas —
Hec mea. Si reliquis me prefers, ipsa puellam
Pro mercede dabo qua non formosior ulla. }

Some sources report that Venus shed her clothes to better show her appeal. That isn’t necessary. Most men know what they want. Paris’s judgment in favor of Venus isn’t surprising:

Your beauty pleases me, and your gifts please me.
More than any other you fill my mind. Behold, in this contest
you have the prize. Victor, here is the notable golden apple.

{ Grata michi tua forma, Venus, tua munera grata.
Plus aliis michi mente sedes. Certaminis, ecce,
Pignus habe, victrix, auri spectabile malum. }

The medieval author of this account of the judgment of Paris concluded with a proverbial lesson: “sensual delight attracts many; honor and wisdom, few {luxus habet multos, honor et sapientia paucos}.”

Judgment of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens

Men throughout the ages have not only sought sensual delight, but also strenuously engaged in it. About the year 1200, a poet advised his friend Candidus:

Why are you infirm? Why pale? Why wasting away?
You rightly seek my advice, Candidus.
If the lovely Corinna didn’t please you so justifiably,
you would have no reason, Candidus, to be made ill.
You are always having sex — sickness and thinness follows from sex.
One habitually having sex is from that perpetually pale.

{ Cur infirmaris? cur palles? cur maceraris?
Queris consilium, Candide, iure meum.
Ni tibi plus iusto formosa Corina placeret,
Nulla foret morbi, Candide, causa tui.
Sepe cohis — cohitum morbus maciesque sequntur
Ex quibus assiduus pallor inesse solet. }[2]

Even societies that show contempt for men’s lives should at least be concerned about the environmental impact:

Lips weakened from assiduous love labor grow dry.
All those drained kisses leave no honey for bees.

{ Arent assiduo tenuata labella labore
Totque exhausta apibus oscula mella negant. }[3]

Bees, including male worker bees, are essential for pollinating plants. If bees starve from lack of honey, many humans too will starve in the resulting ecological disaster. The fundamental point should be obvious: men shouldn’t attempt to be sexual superheroes like Roland’s peer Oliver. Why should a man work himself to death or to ill health? Men deserve better healthcare. Moreover, men’s erection labor within the home should be fairly valued, and men should receive unemployment benefits when they’re laid off. At least until men receive adequate social support for their sensual work, men should value more highly honor and wisdom.

The great Christian biblical scholar Saint Jerome urged a young priest to seek wisdom. Jerome recounted “secrets of the divine scrolls {divinorum voluminum sacramenta}”:

Once a fighting man, David at age seventy was chilled in his old age. He wasn’t able to become warm. They thus looked for a young woman for him throughout all the ends of Israel. They brought in Abishag the Shunamite to sleep with the king and warm his aged body. Wouldn’t this seem to you, if you follow the letter that kills, that this figment is from a pantomime show or an Atellan farce? The old man’s cold body is wrapped in blankets, but nothing other than a young woman’s embrace can warm him. Bathsheba was still alive and so was his first wife Abigail, together with all his other wives and concubines of whom Scripture records. All of them are rejected as cold. Only in the embrace of one young woman does the aged man grow warm.

{ David annos natus septuaginta, bellicosus quondam vir, senectute frigente non poterat calefieri. Quaeritur itaque puella de universis finibus Israhel Abisag Somanitis, quae cum rege dormiret et senile corpus calefaceret. Nonne tibi videtur, si occidentem sequaris litteram, vel figmentum esse de mimo vel Atellanarum ludicra? Frigidus senex obvolvitur vestimentis et nisi conplexu adulescentulae non tepescit. Vivebat adhuc Betsabee, supererat Abigea et reliquae uxores eius et concubinae, quas scriptura commemorat: omnes quasi frigidae repudiantur, in unius tantum grandaevus calescit amplexibus. }[4]

Jerome recognized the enduring marital vitality of biblical men:

Abraham was far older than David, but while Sarah was still living he did not seek another wife. Isaac had twice David’s years, and yet never felt cold with his wife Rebecca even when she was an old woman. I say nothing of the men before the flood. They after nine hundred years must have found their members not merely aged but almost rotten with time. They nonetheless never sought a young woman’s embraces. Certainly Moses, the leader of the people of Israel, lived to be a hundred and twenty without changing his wife Sephora.

{ Abraham multo David senior fuit et tamen vivente Sarra aliam non quaesivit uxorem; Isaac duplices David annos habuit et cum Rebecca iam vetula numquam refrixit; taceo de prioribus ante diluvium viris, qui post annos nongentos non dico senilibus, sed paene iam cariosis artubus nequaquam puellares quaesiere conplexus; certe Moyses, dux Israhelitici populi, centum viginti annos habebat et Sephoram non mutavit. }

Unlike much media today, the Bible assumes intelligent, noble-minded, and well-disposed readers. A paragon of a biblical reader, Jerome pondered in his heart Abishag the Shunamite:

Who then is this Shunamite, this wife and virgin, so hot as to warm a cold man, so holy as not to excite to lust him whom she has warmed?

{ Quae est igitur ista Somanitis uxor et virgo tam fervens, ut frigidum calefaceret, tam sancta, ut calentem ad libidinem non provocaret? }

Drawing upon the biblical King Solomon, who knew first-hand difficulties with alluring women, Jerome recognized that Abishag the Shunamite is a figure of wisdom:

Nearly all bodily excellencies change with age. Wisdom alone increase with age. All else decays. … Plato died in his eighty-first year with a pen in his hand. Isocrates filled ninety-nine years with the labor of teaching and writing. I say nothing of the other philosophers Pythagoras, Democritus, Xenocrates, Zeno, and Cleanthes. In long life they continually flourished in studies of wisdom. I come to the poets Homer, Hesiod, Simonides, and Stesichorus. In their old age. when death drew near, they sang a swan’s song sweeter even than their usual. Sophocles in extremely old age neglected his affairs and was accused by his sons of mental incapacity. But then he read to the court his recently composed play, Oedipus. In spite of his bodily weakness, it gave so clear proof of his wisdom that he turned the strict judgment of a tribunal into the enthusiastic applause of a theatre. Nor need we wonder after considering Cato, the most eloquent of the Romans. After he had been censor and was an old man, he wasn’t ashamed to learn Greek literature nor despaired of studying.

{ Omnes paene virtutes corporis mutantur in senibus et increscente sola sapientia decrescunt ceterae … Plato octogesimo et uno anno scribens est mortuus; Isocrates nonaginta et novem annos in docendi scribendique labore conplevit; taceo ceteros philosophos, Pythagoram, Democritum, Xenocratem, Zenonem, Cleanthem, qui iam aetate longaeva in sapientiae studiis floruerunt: ad poetas venio, Homerum, Hesiodum, Simonidem, Stesichorum, qui grandes natu cygneum nescio quid et solito dulcius vicina morte cecinerunt. Sophocles, cum propter nimiam senectutem et rei familiaris neglegentiam a filiis accusaretur amentiae, Oedipi fabulam, quam nuper scripserat, recitavit iudicibus et tantum sapientiae in aetate iam fracta specimen dedit, ut severitatem tribunalium in theatri favorem verteret. Nec mirum, cum etiam Cato, Romani generis disertissimus, censorius iam et senex, Graecas litteras nec erubuerit nec desperaverit discere. }

Jerome dared to express his love for wisdom as the lovely young woman Abishag the Shunamite:

Let wisdom alone embrace me. Let my Abishag who never grows old rest on my chest.

{ Amplexetur me modo sapientia et Abisag nostra, quae numquam senescit, in meo requiescat sinu. }

Men should learn from Saint Jerome. For gyno-idolatrous men, the beginning of wisdom is to seek wisdom.[5] Those who pursue sensual delight to the exclusion of wisdom are on a path to exhaustion and sickness.

* * * * *

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[1] “Poem about the judgment of Paris {Rhymus de iuditio Paridis}, incipit “Thetis was destined to give birth to a son {Constans erat Thetidem parituram natum},” vv. 17-28, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, pp. 534-8. This poem survives in MS. Gent, Archive de la Cathédrale 12, folio 1r-v, written in Flanders in the second half of the fifteenth century.

With the help of Venus, Paris eloped with Menelaus’s wife Helen of Troy and married her. That caused the Trojan War’s horrific violence against men.

Subsequent quotes above concerning the judgment of Paris are similarly from this poem. Those quotes are vv. 52-4 (The scepter’s high renown…), 55-7 (Sky and land…), 58-60 (Sounds of lutes…), 61-3 (Your beauty pleases me…), 67 (sensual delight…).

[2] Full text of poem, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 466. This poem survives in MS. Oxford, Rawlinson G. 109, written about 1200, probably in France. Id. p. 570.

[3] Full text of epigram, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 487. This poem survives in BnF lat. 11867, folio 218v, written in the second half of the thirteenth century, possibly at Saint-Germain-des-Prés. It’s a fragment from “Young man, you at length study what is love, what beauty is worth {Disce puer tandem quid amor, quid forma valeret}” in MS. Vatican Reg. lat. 585, folio 5v, written in the twelfth century. Id. pp. 573-4, 578.

[4] Jerome, Letters 52, To the clergyman Nepotian {Ad Nepotianum Presbyterum} 2, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wright (1933). For a freely available English translation, Freemantle (1892). The subsequent quotes above from Jerome’s letter to Nepotian are similarly sourced from sections 2-3. On David and Abishag, 1 Kings 1:1-4. On the letter that kills, 2 Corinthians 3:6.

Jerome wrote this letter in 394 GC to Nepotian:

Nepotian was the nephew of Heliodorus, a life-long friend of Jerome (cf. Letter XIV), who had become Bishop of Altinum. Both Nepotian and Heliodorus had been soldiers before joining the Church.

Wright (1933) p. 189, note.

[5] Proverbs 4:7. Cf. Psalms 111:10.

[images] (1) The Judgment of Paris by Lucas Cranach the Elder. Painted ca. 1528. Preserved as accession # 28.221 in The Met (New York City, USA). Credit line: Rogers Fund, 1928. (2) The Judgment of Paris by Peter Paul Rubens. Painted probably between 1597 and 1599. Preserved as accession # NG6379 in the National Gallery (London, UK). Via Wikimedia Commons.


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

Freemantle, William Henry, trans. 1892. The Principal Works of St. Jerome. Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 6. Oxford: Parker.

Wright, F. A., ed. and trans. 1933. Select Letters of St. Jerome. Loeb Classical Library, no. 262. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

the loneliness of Christine de Pizan in narrow-mindedness

While not an institutional leader nor as learned as the great medieval woman authors Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, Hildegard of Bingen, and Heloise of the Paraclete, Christine de Pizan is probably now the most well-known medieval woman author. Christine is celebrated today for her gynocentric The Book of the City of Ladies {Le Livre de la Cité des Dames}, which built upon Giovanni Boccaccio’s About Famous Women {De mulieribus claris}. Christine also wrote a large body of lyrical poetry. Her lyrical poetry poignantly depicts a woman’s loneliness. Scholars in their narrow-mindedness have failed to consider adequately why Christine might have felt lonely.

Medieval women sang of languishing in love for a beloved man. They sang of grieving for a beloved man departing at dawn from their bed. Christine de Pizan wrote a poem in that tradition:

This month of May all is joy,
except for me, who am full of woe,
for I don’t have my long-held boy
and I weep with a voice that’s low.
I had a love that made me glow,
but now he’s staying far from me.
Alas! Come back, come soon, ami!

In this month when all turns green,
let us go sporting in the park
or hear the nightingale who preens
or listen to the warbling lark.
You know where. So please do hark
to a voice that whispers lovingly,
Alas! Come back, come soon, ami!

Yes, in this month Love’s little boy
goes forth to prey, and he commands
every lover to find some joy,
every lady with her man.
None should be left to go single-hand,
night or day, it seems to me.
Alas! Come back, come soon, ami!

This heart of mine for your love grieves.
Alas! Come back, come soon, ami!

{ Ce moys de may, tout se resjoye,
Ce me semble, fors moy, lassette,
Qui n’ay pas cil qu’avoir souloie,
Dont je souspire a voix bassette:
C’estoit ma belle amour doulcette
Qui ores est si loings de my.
Hé las! reviens tost, mon amy.

En ce doulz mois ou tout verdoye,
Si yrons jouer sus l’erbette
Ou orrons chanter, a grant joye,
Rossignolz et mainte allouette,
Tu scez bien ou. A voix simplette,
Encor te pry, disant: ay my!
Hé las! reviens tost, mon amy.

Car en ce mois ou Amours proye
Prent souvent, m’est vis que c’est debte
A tout amant qu’il se resjoye
Avec sa dame et s’amiette.
Ne la doit pas laissier seulette,
Ce me semble, jour ne demy.
Hé las! reviens tost, mon amy.

Pour t’amour, mon cuer fent par my;
Hé las! reviens tost, mon amy. }[1]

This poem offers no insight into the man’s concerns and feelings. Why would a man not return to a woman who loves him?

loving man presenting a complaint to a woman

In medieval Galician-Portuguese “songs about a beloved man {cantigas d’amigo},” women describe their difficulties in love with men. One woman was unwilling to take the lead in asking her boyfriend for sex:

My boyfriend can’t have any favors
from me, friend, you see why not.
He doesn’t tell me, so help me God,
and I don’t tell him, this is what happens.
He, out of fear, doesn’t dare mention it,
and I, friend, can’t be the one to ask.

And it’s already been a long time, in good faith,
that he could have had my favors,
yet he never dared to say it to me,
and I’ll tell you how the matter stands.
He, out of fear, doesn’t dare mention it,
and I, friend, can’t be the one to ask.

And for a long time I’ve understood —
because they told me — but he was afraid
to upset me, and by Our Lord,
I would like to, and we stay like this.
He, out of fear, doesn’t dare mention it,
and I, friend, can’t be the one to ask.

And it would make sense for this relation to climax,
but there’s nobody willing to take the lead.

{ O meu amigo non pod’ aver ben
de mi, amiga, vedes por que non:
el non mho diz, assi Deus mi perdon,
nen lho dig’ eu, e assi nos aven:
el con pavor non mho ousa ’mentar;
eu, amiga, non o posso rogar

E gran sazon á ja, per bõa fe,
que ele meu ben podera aver
e ja mais nunca mho ousou dizer
e o preito direi vos eu com’ é:
el con pavor non mho ousa ’mentar;
eu, amiga, non o posso rogar

E gran temp’ á que lho eu entendi,
ca mho disseron, mais ouv’ i pavor
de mi pesar e, par Nostro Senhor,
prouguera m’ end’ e estamos assi:
el con pavor non mho ousa ’mentar;
eu, amiga, non o posso rogar

E o preito guisad’ en se chegar
era, mais non á quen o começar }[2]

Like many women, this woman narrow-mindedly interprets sex as a “favor” that a woman does for a man. But a man having sex with a woman is similarly a “favor” to her, particularly in circumstances where men have no reproductive rights. If women valued men’s sexuality equally to their own, they would be more willing to take the lead in soliciting sex with men. Women should appreciate more men’s seminal blessing!

Christine de Pizan seems to have led her husband Etienne du Castel in their marital sexual relationship. She wrote a poem in praise of marriage and in praise of him:

A sweet thing is marriage.
I can well prove it by my own experience.
It is true for one who has a good and wise husband
like the one God helped me to find.
Praised be He who wanted to save him for me,
for I can strongly vouch
for his great goodness,
and surely the gentle man loves me well.

On our wedding night
I was immediately able to recognize
his great worth, for he never did anything
to offend me or cause me pain.
But before the time had come to arise,
he had kissed me a hundred times, I vow,
without ever demanding any other base conduct.
And surely the gentle man loves me well.

And he said, with such sweet words:
“God guided me to you,
sweet beloved, and I believe
He had me nurtured for your use.”
Thus, he went on dreaming
without otherwise losing control.
And surely the gentle man loves me well.

{ Doulce chose est que mariage,
Je le puis bien par moy prouver,
Voire a qui mary bon et sage
A, comme Dieu m’a fait trouver.
Louez en soit il qui sauver
Le me vueille, car son grant bien
De fait je puis bien esprouver,
Et certes le doulz m’aime bien.

La premiere nuit du mariage
Très lors poz je bien esprouver
Son grant bien, car oncques oultrage
Ne me fist, dont me deust grever,
Mais, ains qu’il fust temps de lever,
Cent fois baisa, si com je tien,
Sanz villennie autre rouver,
Et certes le doulz m’aime bien.

Et disoit, par si doulz langage;
“Dieux m’a fait a vous arriver,
Doulce amie, et pour vostre usage
Je croy qu’il me fist eslever.”
Ainsi ne fina de resver
Toute nuit en si fait maintien
Sanz autrement soy desriver,
Et certes le doulz m’aime bien. }[3]

Many men would be offended by a wedding night limited to kissing. So too would many women. Medieval authorities didn’t regard sex within marriage to be “base conduct {villennie}.” Christine’s husband seems to have been subservient to her. He told her that God had created him “for your use {pour vostre usage}.”

Women who insist on having power and control over beloved men are more likely to lose them. If a woman shows contempt for a beloved man, he might get angry at her. If a woman refuses to acknowledge a man’s justified anger with her and refuses to go to him to seek forgiveness and reconciliation, she’s not likely to see him again. A woman in a medieval Galician-Portuguese song apparently lost her boyfriend through attempting to dominate him emotionally:

My boyfriend got angry with me
and doesn’t want to talk with me any more.
If he thinks that I would go to him —
if I find out that he thinks so —
I’ll make sure that love keeps him
in such sorrow that he comes to me.

And once my boyfriend finds out
that I’ll do this, he won’t wait
for me to go to him, but will come right away
to me, and if he does anything else,
I’ll make sure that love keeps him
in such sorrow that he comes to me.

My boyfriend will never have the power
to get angry in any way with me —
more than I might want him to be —
and if he acts in any other way,
I’ll make sure that love keeps him
in such sorrow that he comes to me.

{ O meu amigo, que xi m’ assanhou
e que non quer ja comigo falar,
se cuidou el que o foss’ eu rogar,
se lh’ eu souber que o assi cuidou,
farei que en tal coita o tenha
por mi amor que rogar me venha

E, pois que o meu amigo souber
que lh’ esto farei, non atenderá
que o eu rogue, mais logo verrá
el rogar a mi e, se end’ al fezer,
farei que en tal coita o tenha
por mi amor que rogar me venha

Nen averá meu amigo poder
de nulha sanha filhar contra mi
mais que eu non quiser que seja assi,
ca, se doutra guisa quiser fazer,
farei que en tal coita o tenha
por mi amor que rogar me venha }[4]

A woman who insists on controlling her boyfriend’s anger and sorrow doesn’t truly love him. If her boyfriend has any respect for his own humanity, he will leave her and never return.

Some women in their narrow-mindedness don’t recognize hypocrisy in concern for gender equality. For example, some women pathologize angry men, yet sacralize their own anger:

I’m going to give you very good advice,
oh my boyfriend, so may I have pleasure.
If you see that I’m going to get angry,
do not hold my anger in disdain,
because otherwise I know well what will happen —
if I get angry, someone will be whining.

If I get angry, don’t do anything else
but put up with my anger in your heart,
because I can do you favors or harm.
It’s only right that you put up with it,
because otherwise I know well what will happen —
if I get angry, someone will be whining.

And since I have such great power over you,
and will have too, as long as I’m alive,
you can never have any happiness
if you cannot put up with my anger,
because otherwise I know well what will happen —
if I get angry, someone will be whining.

{ Quero vos ora mui ben conselhar,
ai meu amig’, assi me venha ben,
se virdes que me vos quer’ assanhar,
mha sanha non tenhades en desden,
ca se non for, mui ben sei que será:
se m’ assanhar, alguen se quexará

Se m’ assanhar, non façades i al,
e sofrede a sanha no coraçon;
pois vos eu posso fazer ben e mal,
de a sofrerdes faredes razon,
ca se non for, mui ben sei que será:
se m’ assanhar, alguen se quexará

E, pois eu ei en vós tan gran poder
e averei en quant’ eu viva for,
ja non podedes per ren ben aver
se non fordes de sanha sofredor,
ca <se non for, mui ben sei que será:
se m’ assanhar, alguen se quexará }[5]

A man shouldn’t hold his girlfriend’s anger in disdain. If he acted wrongly toward her, he should seek forgiveness from her. If she’s angry at others or at the world, he should attempt to comfort and console her. He shouldn’t whine in response to her anger. Moreover, if she uses her anger to exercise power over him and to make him whine submissively to her, he should leave her and never return.

Just as for most men throughout history, no words of Etienne du Castel have survived. He is remembered only as Christine’s husband. Typically he’s characterized by the work he did to earn money to support Christine and their three children. Christine regarded Etienne as a good husband. He died from the plague ten years after he married Christine.[6]

Christine de Pizan apparently felt lonely after her husband died. She never remarried. Deprived of a husband providing her with money, she wrote for money:

Alone am I and alone I want to be,
alone as my sweet love left me,
alone am I, no friend nor master near me,
alone am I, grieving and yet angry,
alone am I, and so in languor suffer,
alone am I, living without a lover.

Alone am I at every door and window,
alone am I concealed in some corner,
alone am I to feed on tears of sorrow,
alone am I, grieving perhaps or calmer,
alone am I, nothing can please me better,
alone am I, enclosed within my chamber,
alone am I, living without a lover.

Alone am I, everywhere, in every way.
alone am I, whether walking or seated,
alone am I, more than any other this day,
alone am I, from whom all folk retreated,
alone am I, brought low now and defeated,
alone am I, bathed in tears forever,
Alone am I, living without a lover.

{ Seulete suy et seulete vueil estre,
Seulete m’a mon doulz ami laissiée,
Seulete suy, sanz compaignon ne maistre,
Seulete suy, dolente et courrouciée,
Seulete suy en languour mesaisiée,
Seulete suy plus que nulle esgarée,
Seulete suy sanz ami demourée.

Seulete suy a huis ou a fenestre,
Seulete suy en un anglet muciée,
Seulete suy pour moy de plours repaistre,
Seulete suy, dolente ou apaisiée,
Seulete suy, riens n’est qui tant me siée,
Seulete suy en ma chambre enserrée,
Seulete suy sanz ami demourée.

Seulete suy partout et en tout estre.
Seulete suy, ou je voise ou je siée,
Seulete suy plus qu’autre riens terrestre,
Seulete suy de chascun delaissiée,
Seulete suy durement abaissiée,
Seulete suy souvent toute esplourée,
Seulete suy sanz ami demourée. }[7]

Christine sought sympathy from rich and influential potential patrons:

Princes, sad now is my every morrow,
alone am I menaced by every sorrow,
alone am I, than any dark dye bluer,
alone am I, living without a lover.

{ Princes, or est ma doulour commenciée:
Seulete suy de tout dueil menaciée,
Seulete suy plus tainte que morée,
Seulete suy sanz ami demourée. }

Christine’s lyric poetry isn’t meant to be overheard in the way of early Romantic poetry. In contrast to prevalent narrow-mindedness in reading Christine de Pizan’s work, one should ponder the authenticity of her loneliness, why she might have felt lonely, and what action she could have taken to be less alone.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Christine de Pizan, The Hundred Ballades of a Loving Man and a Lady {Les Cent Balades d’Amant et de Dame}, Ballade 79, Middle French text from Cerquiglini-Toulet (1982), English translation (modified slightly) from Wilhelm (1990) p. 181. Christine apparently wrote these poems from 1407 to 1410. They have survived in only one manuscript: the Book of the Queen, London, British Library, Harley MS 4431. In accordance with dominant gynocentric ideology, Pious (2018) translated Les Cent Balades d’Amant et de Dame as 100 Ballades of a Lady and a Lover.

Les Cent Balades d’Amant et de Dame should be distinguished from an earlier ballade collection that Christine wrote, probably from 1399 to 1402. That earlier collection is known simply as The Hundred Ballades {Les Cent Balades}. Kline (2020) provides a complete English translation of the 1399-1402 ballade collection, while Pious (2018) provides a complete English translation of the 1407-1410 collection, along with the Middle French text of Cerquiglini-Toulet (1982). For earlier Middle French text of both collections, Roy (1886-96), vol. 1, pp. xxvi-xxx, 1-100 et 297-300 (first 100 ballades), vol. 3, pp. 209-308 (second 100 ballades). Part 1 of Tarnowski (2018) provides a helpful review of editions, translations, and study resources for Christine’s works.

In writing her Les Cent Balades and the subsequent collection, Christine drew upon the form that five men poets had earlier established. In 1398, Jean le Senseschal, Philippe d’Artois, De Boucicaut le Jeune, and Jean de Crésecque collaborated to compose The Book of a Hundred Ballades {Le Livre des Cent Ballades}. Unlike Christine’s lone-author books, the men’s book was a collaborative effort and open to further contributions. Pious (2018) pp. 24-5. Many men enjoy relationships with others as well as relational efforts that have continuing potential for further fruit. The men’s book has attracted much less attention than Christine’s book.

[2] Johan Airas (João Airas de Santiago) 7, song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “My boyfriend can’t have any favors {O meu amigo non pod’ aver ben}” (V 600), 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.

[3] Christine de Pizan, More Ballades {Autres Balades} 26, Middle French text from Roy (1886-96), vol. 1, p. 237, English translation from Willard (1993) p. 51.

[4] Johan Airas (João Airas de Santiago) 10, song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “My boyfriend got angry with me {O meu amigo, que xi m’ assanhou}” (B 1014, V 604), 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.

Within its immense store of wisdom, medieval Latin poetry counseled against enduring anger between lovers:

May thus your anger, you who love, be rare and brief.
Frequent anger is madness, and long-lasting anger a crime.
Through such is dissolved harmony of behavior that joins minds
and grace that binds life-companions with a double cord.

{ Ira igitur tua, quisquis amas, sit rara brevisque:
Ira frequens furor est et diuturna scelus;
Solvitur hac animos socians concordia morum
Et duplici sodos grada fune ligans. }

“To one who each day reproaches and each day implores {Cuidam cotidie obiurganti, cotidie supplicanti},” vv. 17-20 (of 20), Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 448, English translation (modified) from id. p. 449. This poem survives in Roma, Vatican MS Reg. lat. 585, folio 4v (written in the twelfth century) and Escorial, MS. O. III. 2, folio 98r-v (written in the fourteenth century).

[5] Johan Vaasquiz de Talaveira (João Vasques de Talaveira) 8, song about a beloved man {cantiga de amigo}, “I’m going to give you very good advice {Quero vos ora mui ben conselhar}” (B 795, V 379), Galician-Portuguese text (editorial marks eliminated) from Cohen (2003), English translation (modified slightly) from Cohen (2010). Here’s this song at Universo Cantigas and at Galician-Portuguese Medieval Songs.

[6] In 1379 at age fifteen, Christine de Pizan married Etienne du Castel. He was nine years older than she. As a university-educated man with connections to the royal court, he had good material prospects. Christine’s father proposed the marriage. Under medieval marital law, freely given consent of both women and man was necessary for the couple to marry. Christine readily consented to marry Etienne. In 1380, Etienne was appointed a notary and a royal secretary. For biographical information about Christine and Etienne, see Christine’s The Vision of Christine {L’Avision de Christine}, translated in Willard (1993) pp. 8-10, and Willard’s biographical summary, id. pp. x-xi.

[7] Christine de Pizan, The Hundred Ballades {Les Cent Balades}, Ballade 11, vv. 1-21, Middle French text from Roy (1886-96) vol. 1, p. 12, English translation (modified slightly) from Kline (2020). The subsequent quote above is similarly from vv. 22-5 (of 25).

[images] (1) The lover presents his complaint to his lady at the start of Christine de Pizan’s Another Complaint of a Loving Man {Une Autre Complainte Amoureuse}. Excerpt from folio 56v of the Book of the Queen, London, British Library, Harley MS 4431. This lavish manuscript of Christine de Pizan’s works was created from 1410 to 1414. Christian presented it Isabel (Isabeau) of Bavaria, Queen Consort of Charles VI of France. (2) VocaMe performing Christine de Pizan’s ballade “Alone am I and alone I want to be {Seulete suy et seulete vueil estre}” from their 2015 album, Christine De Pizan – Chansons et Ballades. Via YouTube. Here’s a recording of French actress Renée Faure reading this poem.


Cerquiglini-Toulet, Jacqueline, ed. 1982. Christine de Pisan. Cent Ballades d’Amant et de Dame. Paris: Union Générale d’Éditions.

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

Cohen, Rip. 2010. The Cantigas d’Amigo: An English Translation. Online. Quotes are based on the 2016 edition.

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

Kline, A. S., trans. 2020. Christine de Pisan. The Hundred Ballads (Les Cent Ballades). Poetry in Translation. Online.

Pious, Samantha Spotswood Weil. 2018. The Cent Ballades D’amant Et De Dame Of Christine De Pizan: A Critical Introduction And Literary Translation. Ph.D. Thesis. Publicly Accessible Penn Dissertations. 2768.

Roy, Maurice, ed. 1886-96. Œuvres poétiques de Christine de Pisan. Paris: Firmin Didot pour la Société des anciens textes français. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. Vol. 3.

Tarnowski, Andrea, ed. 2018. Approaches to Teaching the Works of Christine de Pizan. New York, NY: The Modern Language Association of America. Part 1.

Wilhelm, James J., ed. 1990. Lyrics of the Middle Ages: An Anthology. New York: Garland Publishing.

Willard, Charity Cannon, ed. 1993. The Writings of Christine de Pizan. New York: Persea Books.

medieval feminine power: divine to demonic in elite discourse

Christine de Pizan presented her lengthy defense of women, The Book of the City of Ladies {Le Livre de la Cité des Dames}, to Queen Isabel of France in 1414. Christine presenting her luxurious book to the Queen capped two centuries of women’s overwhelming dominance of medieval French society. That isn’t the claim of some radical meninist. That’s the wholly credible historical evaluation of Henry Adams. As a scion of the Boston-based Adams family that produced two U.S. Presidents, Henry Adams knew intimately elite power. A Harvard graduate who went on to become a Harvard professor, Adams wrote the enormously influential nine-volume work, The History of the United States of America 1801–1817. Adams’s evaluation of feminine power in medieval France deserves equally serious consideration as Christine de Pizan’s Le Livre de la Cité des Dames.

Christine de Pizan presented her work to the Queen of France

Henry Adams appreciated the difficulties that men face in discussing women. He also recognized the fundamental importance of gender for an enduring, humane, and prosperous society. He observed:

The proper study of mankind is woman and, by common agreement since the time of Adam, it is the most complex and arduous. … If it were worth while to argue a paradox, one might maintain that Nature regards the female as the essential, the male as the superfluity of her world. [1]

Recent scientific study more contingently claims women’s superiority. Little public concern for men’s gender protrusion in mortality and men’s lack of reproductive rights certainly suggest that men are socially regarded as less important than women today.

Henry Adams focused on medieval France and drew upon Louise Garreau’s learned study. Women and men, according to Garreau, behaved similarly in twelfth- and thirteenth-century France:

A trait very peculiar to this epoch is the close resemblance between the manners of men and those of women. There wasn’t at all established then that such sentiments or acts, permitted to one sex, were forbidden to the other. Men had the right to burst into tears, and women the right to speak without prudery. If circumstances demanded, it was natural for a man to beg, clasping his arms to the knees of the one he implores. It was natural also for a woman, in the administration of justice, to condemn another to be tortured to death. Warriors took care of their hair, artfully styled to float on their necks. Their robes, the most elaborate of which have persisted to our day in the dress of religious orders, used combinations and colors that were changed every day. Their luxury, their risky fashions, no less than women’s apparel, furnished matter for the concerned wisdom of preachers. The ladies were, like their husbands, adept at horseback-riding and hunting, and ladies wouldn’t be disturbed by the need to direct defenses in a place at war.

{ Un trait bien particulier à cette époque, c’est la presque similitude entre les allures de l’homme et celles de la femme. Il n’est guère établi, alors, que tel sentiment ou tel acte, permis à un sexe, est interdit à l’autre. Les hommes ont le droit de fondre en larmes, et les femmes celui de parler sans pruderie. Si les circonstances le demandent, il paraît naturel qu’un homme supplie en se tordant les bras, aux genoux de celui qu’il implore. Il parait naturel aussi qu’une femme, dans l’exercice du droit de justice, condamne au dernier supplice. Les guerriers soignent leur chevelure qui flotte artistiquement sur leur cou; leurs robes, dont les modèles les plus graves ont persisté jusqu’à nos jours dans les costumes des ordres religieux, se prêtent à des combinaisons de couleurs et de formes chaque jour renouvelées, en sorte que leur luxe, leurs modes hasardées, ne fournissent pas moins que les toilettes féminines ample matière aux épigrammes des prédicateurs. Les dames sont, comme leurs maris, habiles à l’équitation, à la chasse, et ne s’étonnent pas de diriger au besoin la défense d’une place de guerre. }[2]

As today’s sophisticated students of gender understand, women and men are equal, but women are superior to men. Garreau’s nineteenth-century analysis of women and men in twelfth- and thirteenth-century France had a similar conceptual structure:

If we consider their intellectual level, the women appear distinctly superior. They are more serious and more subtle. With them, it doesn’t seem that we are dealing with the less advanced civilization to which their husbands belong. … As a rule, the women seem to be accustomed to weighing their actions and not yielding to the moment’s impulse. While Christian understanding is usually more developed in them than in their husbands, women on the other hand show more perfidy and more art in crime.

{ Si nous considérons le niveau intellectuel, les femmes paraissent nettement supérieures. Elles ont plus de sérieux, plus de finesse. Avec elles, il ne semble pas qu’on ait affaire à l’âge de civilisation peu avancée auquel appartiennent leurs époux. … Toujours est-il que les femmes paraissent accoutumées à peser leurs actes, à ne point céder à l’impression du moment. Si le sens chrétien est d’ordinaire plus développé en elles qu’en leurs maris, dans le crime, d’autre part, elles montrent plus de perfidie et plus d’art. }

Adams himself had no doubt about the reality of feminine power in medieval France:

The superiority of the woman was not a fancy, but a fact. Man’s business was to fight or hunt or feast or make love. The man was also the travelling partner in commerce, commonly absent from home for months together, while the woman carried on the business. The woman ruled the household and the workshop; cared for the economy; supplied the intelligence, and dictated the taste. Her ascendancy was secured by her alliance with the Church, into which she sent her most intelligent children; and a priest or clerk, for the most part, counted socially as a woman. Both physically and mentally the woman was robust, as the men often complained, and she did not greatly resent being treated as a man. [3]

With his elite familial pedigree, Adams was particularly well-suited to perceive feminine power among the elite of medieval France:

The greatest men of the eleventh, twelfth, and thirteenth centuries were William the Norman; his great grandson Henry II Plantagenet; Saint Louis of France; and, if a fourth be needed, Richard Cœur-de-Lion. Notoriously all these men had as much difficulty as Louis XIV himself with the women of their family. … In Normandy, the people of Caen have kept a tradition, told elsewhere in other forms, that one day, Duke William, — the Conqueror, — exasperated by having his bastardy constantly thrown in his face by the Duchess Matilda, dragged her by the hair, tied to his horse’s tail, as far as the suburb of Vaucelles; and this legend accounts for the splendour of the Abbaye-aux-Dames, because William, the common people believed, afterwards regretted the impropriety, and atoned for it by giving her money to build the abbey. The story betrays the man’s weakness. The Abbaye-aux-Dames stands in the same relation to the Abbaye-aux-Hommes that Matilda took towards William. Inferiority there was none; on the contrary, the woman was socially the superior, and William was probably more afraid of her than she of him, if Mr. Freeman is right in insisting that he married her in spite of her having a husband living, and certainly two children. If William was the strongest man in the eleventh century, his great-grandson, Henry II of England, was the strongest man of the twelfth; but the history of the time resounds with the noise of his battles with Queen Eleanor whom he, at last, held in prison for fourteen years. Prisoner as she was, she broke him down in the end. … That Saint Louis, even when a grown man and king, stood in awe of his mother, Blanche of Castile, was not only notorious but seemed to be thought natural. Joinville recorded it not so much to mark the King’s weakness, as the woman’s strength … According to Joinville, King Louis always hid himself when, in his wife’s chamber, he heard his mother coming. … For a hundred and fifty years, the Virgin and Queens ruled French taste and thought so successfully that the French man has never yet quite decided whether to be more proud or ashamed of it.

The dominant approach to feminine power seems to be a combination of pride and shame. Society typically prides itself on whatever additional power women gain and expresses shame that women in the past didn’t have the new power that now they have gained. The power that women have always had tends to be obscured and denied.

portrait of Judy Chicago as a goddess

The Citi exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic, now at the British Museum, shows the peculiar structure of feminine power. The global bank Citi supported this major exhibition:

Bringing together sculptures, sacred objects and artworks from the ancient world to today, and from six continents, the exhibition highlights the many faces of feminine power – ferocious, beautiful, creative or hell-bent – and its seismic influence throughout time. [4]

Many persons deny that women have had enormous power and seismic influence throughout time. This exhibition explicitly declares and demonstrates women’s power throughout history while also implicitly denying it to justify itself. The two exhibition curators, both women, have lined up five guest commentators, all women, for this exhibition focused on powerful women. Like a woman with a loudspeaker thundering at length about women being silenced, these powerful women with parochial gender consciousness discuss powerful women:

Join our five guest commentators – Leyla Hussein, Mary Beard, Elizabeth Day, Rabia Siddique and Deborah Frances-White – in considering how spiritual belief in female power, and its many manifestations, can shape our views on femininity today.

Many men experience feminine power. That’s especially true when men are sent to the back of the line for boarding lifeboats on sinking ships, when men are subject to sex-discriminatory military conscription, and when men endure acute sex discrimination in family courts awarding child custody and counter-part payment obligations (“child support”). Do men’s lived experiences of feminine power not matter?

Feminine power: the divine to the demonic is a family-oriented exhibition. On a Saturday or Sunday trip to this exhibition, families might ponder Judy Chicago’s print The Creation. The curators who chose to include this artwork explained:

Creation narratives told by different cultures and faiths around the world are as varied as they are numerous. This vibrant print, The Creation, by the contemporary artist Judy Chicago reimagines the Christian creation story from a feminist perspective. It challenges, in the artist’s words, the ‘fake news’ of a male god creating the first man by showing a female deity lying in a birthing position. Primordial life flows from her vulva as she grasps the sun in her right hand and her left breast erupts as a volcano. [5]

Make sure that your children memorize “primordial life flows from her vulva” to pass the test at their elementary school. Associated with the exhibition is a two-day set of events billed as “family activities” and titled Feminine power: Ferociously feminine. These family activities are:

  • “Empowerment Badges with Anna Saunders: Create flamboyant paper badges celebrating all the qualities that make you fabulous.”
  • “Glorious Goddesses Storytelling with Xanthe Gresham: Listen to tales and folklore exploring goddesses from around the world.”
  • “Drag Queen Storytelling: Listen to Aida H Dee at the truly fabulous Drag Queen Storytelling.”
  • Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief Book Launch with Nosy Crow: Join historian Janina Ramirez to hear about her new children’s book Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief.”
  • “Feminine power tattoo parlor: Roll up to the empowerment tattoo parlor where you can pick up and apply temporary tattoos inspired by the book Goddess: 50 Goddesses, Spirits, Saints and Other Female Figures Who Have Shaped Belief published by Nosy Crow in collaboration with the British Museum.” [6]

Lucretius, the great classical Roman dispeller of delusions about other-worldly beings, satirized men’s tendency toward gyno-idolatry. Fathers who bring their families to these family activities probably are living under delusions of gyno-idolatry. Let’s hope that boys there are allowed to have fun farting, giggling, running around, and making faces at people. Please do not cruelly force boys to sit still and listen at these events!

Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière: stained glass window of Chartres Cathedral

The exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic scarcely mentions the most powerful figure in medieval Europe: Mary, the mother of Jesus. This young, provincial Jewish girl became to many the Queen of Heaven, the Mother of God, the Queen Mother. From 1194 to 1220 as part of a massive church construction program in medieval France, Mary the mother of Jesus was lavishly honored in the magnificent Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres. Henry Adams declared:

The Queen Mother was as majestic as you like; she was absolute; she could be stern; she was not above being angry; but she was still a woman, who loved grace, beauty, ornament, — her toilette, robes, jewels; —who considered the arrangements of her palace with attention, and liked both light and colour; who kept a keen eye on her Court, and exacted prompt and willing obedience from king and archbishops as well as from beggars and drunken priests. She protected her friends and punished her enemies. She required space, beyond what was known in the Courts of kings, because she was liable at all times to have ten thousand people begging her for favours — mostly inconsistent with law — and deaf to refusal. She was extremely sensitive to neglect, to disagreeable impressions, to want of intelligence in her surroundings. She was the greatest artist, as she was the greatest philosopher and musician and theologist, that ever lived on earth, except her Son, Who, at Chartres, is still an Infant under her guardianship. Her taste was infallible, her sentence eternally final. This church was built for her in this spirit of simple-minded, practical, utilitarian faith, — in this singleness of thought, exactly as a little girl sets up a doll-house for her favourite blonde doll. [7]

Nearly every church built at great expense in Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries was dedicated to Mary. Mainly men, not little girls, did the arduous work of building these churches to “Our Lady.” Henry Adams noted:

Mary concentrated in herself the whole rebellion of man against fate; the whole protest against divine law; the whole contempt for human law as its outcome; the whole unutterable fury of human nature beating itself against the walls of its prison-house, and suddenly seized by a hope that in the Virgin man had found a door of escape. She was above law; she took feminine pleasure in turning hell into an ornament; she delighted in trampling on every social distinction in this world and the next. She knew that the universe was as unintelligible to her, on any theory of morals, as it was to her worshippers, and she felt, like them, no sure conviction that it was any more intelligible to the Creator of it. To her, every suppliant was a universe in itself, to be judged apart, on his own merits, by his love for her, — by no means on his orthodoxy, or his conventional standing in the Church, or according to his correctness in defining the nature of the Trinity.

The medieval church taught that Mary was not a goddess. In medieval Europe, Mary’s status was higher than any goddess and higher than any mortal ruler. Mary probably remains more important to the people of Europe than any of the goddesses on display in British Museum’s exhibition, Feminine power: the divine to the demonic.

Are any of the goddesses on display in the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic doing anything to stop Russia’s horrific, irrational war on Ukraine? Do the family activities in the associated event, Feminine power: Ferociously feminine, provide any insight into how the Russian war on Ukraine is affecting families? Ukrainian men between the ages 18 and 60, with minor exceptions, are legally forbidden to leave Ukraine. In contrast, Ukrainian women between those ages are permitted to leave.[8] That’s brutal, anti-men gender discrimination within brutally desperate circumstances. Women in Ukraine and Russia probably are much less interested in the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic than they are in praying that Mary, the mother of God, will save their particular beloved men from the massive, ferocious violence against men now ongoing in Ukraine.

Concern to maintain publicly cultic goddess-worship, as well as fear of undermining current casting fashion in big-budget action movies, might be partly motivating the gender-obscuring of what’s happening now in Ukraine. Reporting on a transwoman fearing difficulties in fleeing Ukraine, CBS News, like other major corporate news operations, obscured a fundamental gender reality:

If she makes it to the border of a neighboring country offering refuge, she’s not even sure if they’ll let her in, as her passport identification does not match her gender. The LGBTQ community has become more visible and accepted over the years, but for transgender people, it’s more complicated. [9]

Anti-men sex discrimination in the U.S conscription system continues to this very day in much less desperate circumstances. It’s not complicated. The relevant gender reality is simple enough for most children to understand. Women are much more socially powerful than men are. Societies are much more concerned about women’s welfare than about men’s welfare. Elites construct and perpetuate gender delusions in service to their own obsessions, fears, and interests.

the global bank citi, supporter of exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic

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[1] Adams (1904) p. 198. Adams’s book attracted a wide range of readers. The eminent scholar Ernest Robert Curtius described it, along with Adams’s The Education of Henry Adams, as “admirable works.” Curtius declared:

The American conquest of the Middle Ages has something of that romantic glamor and of that deep sentimental urge which we might expect in a man who should set out to find his lost mother.

Curtius, in lecture delivered on July 3, 1949, at the Goethe Bicentennial Convocation in Aspen, Colorado; printed in Curtius (1953) p. 587. Most scholars now deny the existence of that mother.

[2] French text of Garreau (1899) pp. 155-6, my English translation. The subsequent quote above is similarly from id. pp. 156-7. Adams quoted in English translations most of these two passages. Adams (1904) p. 199.

[3] Adams (1904) pp. 199-200. The subsequent quote above is from id. pp. 201-2, 205.

[4] From British Museum’s main web page for the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic. The subsequent quote above is from Crerar & Dahlsen (2022). The main web page states:

Enhanced by engagement with contemporary worshippers, faith communities and insights from high-profile collaborators Bonnie Greer, Mary Beard, Elizabeth Day, Rabia Siddique and Deborah Frances-White, the exhibition considers the influence of female spiritual power and what femininity means today.

Other than feminists, what specific “contemporary worshippers” and “faith communities” were engaged isn’t clear. A knowledgeable art reviewer described British Museum trustee Mary Beard as a “noisy presence” at this exhibition at the British Museum. Many other women’s voices also insistently sound:

The first thing we encounter is a set of large video screens on which a full house of female thinkers instructs us on different ways to view the event ahead.

“This exhibition is about transition,” the writer Bonnie Greer announces, “so you better leave all your baggage behind . . . because you’re going to be changed.” “Question who society is heroising and who society is othering,” the journalist and novelist Elizabeth Day demands. “Don’t expect any simple answer here,” the historian Mary Beard warns, “but get ready to explore a problem that every culture in the history of the world has faced.”

Too much of the determined revisionism being unleashed here feels more like projection than scholarship. The often tortuous attempts to thrust feminist readings on to unruly ancient art makes this show feel shrill and preachy.

Januszczak (2022). Adams observed:

The scientific mind is atrophied, and suffers under inherited cerebral weakness, when it comes in contact with the eternal woman — Astarte, Isis, Demeter, Aphrodite, and the last and greatest deity of all, the Virgin.

Adams (1904) p. 198. Perhaps this effect explains the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic.

[5] From Crerar & Dahlsen (2022).

[6] The British Museum’s web page for Ferociously feminine states:

Come explore and celebrate goddesses, demons, witches and other spiritual beings at the British Museum this May half-term with these free events. Join us for crafts and storytelling celebrating female power and divinity.

The medieval church didn’t promote the cult of the Virgin Mary so crudely.

[7] Adams (1904) p. 90. The subsequent quote above is from id. p. 276. Mary was also honored at Marian shrines such as Our Lady of Walsingham in England. Adam of Saint Victor’s hymn “Hail, O mother of our Savior {Salve, mater Salvatoris}” exemplifies medieval European devotion to Mary. Adams observed:

The measure of this devotion {to Mary}, which proves to any religious American mind, beyond possible cavil, its serious and practical reality, is the money it cost. According to statistics, in the single century between 1170 and 1270, the French built eighty cathedrals and nearly five hundred churches of the cathedral class, which would have cost, according to an estimate made in 1840, more than five thousand millions to replace. Five thousand million francs is a thousand million dollars, and this covered only the great churches of a single century. The same scale of expenditure had been going on since the year 1000, and almost every parish in France had rebuilt its church in stone; to this day France is strewn with the ruins of this architecture, and yet the still preserved churches of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, among the churches that belong to the Romanesque and Transition period, are numbered by hundreds until they reach well into the thousands. … Nearly every great church of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries belonged to Mary, until in France one asks for the church of Notre Dame as though it meant cathedral; but, not satisfied with this, she contracted the habit of requiring in all churches a chapel of her own, called in English the “Lady Chapel,” which was apt to be as large as the church but was always meant to be handsomer; and there, behind the high altar, in her own private apartment, Mary sat, receiving her innumerable suppliants, and ready at any moment to step up upon the high altar itself to support the tottering authority of the local saint.

Id. pp. 94-5. None of the online materials associated with the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic makes any mention of Mary, the mother of Jesus. That exhibition thus reflects poorly on global bank Citi’s understanding of the financial dimension of feminine power in European history.

[8] Ukraine’s gender-discriminatory border policy has narrow exceptions that recognize marginally men’s role in caring for children:

Under Ukrainian law there are exceptions to the ban on men leaving the country. Male Ukrainian nationals can cross the border if they are financially supporting three or more children under the age of 18, are single fathers of children under 18, or have children or are guardians of children with disabilities.

Tondo (2022). Men on a marginalized and demonized forum have complained bitterly about this policy. A forty-year old Ukrainian woman might well be more valuable to the Ukrainian war effort than an eighteen-year-old Ukrainian man. One might hope that all members of the Ukrainian gender-activist group Femen have headed to the front lines to fight equally with Ukrainian men for Ukraine.

[9] Cohen (2022). Within the headline to this article, the phrase “a war within a war” verbally associates Russia’s war on Ukraine with another, different “war” on transgender women within Ukraine. That’s the now prevalent discursive strategy of emptying words of any commonly understood correspondence to reality.

[images] (1) Christine de Pizan presenting of book of her collected work (the Book of the Queen) to Isabel (Isabeau) of Bavaria, Queen Consort of Charles VI of France. Excerpt from folio 3r of the Book of the Queen, London, British Library, Harley MS 4431. This lavish manuscript of Christine de Pizan’s works was created from 1410 to 1414. (2) Portrait of the American “feminist artist, art educator, and writer” Judy Chicago. Contributed by Megan Schultz (assistant to Judy Chicago). Via Wikimedia Commons. This portrait of Judy Chicago has similar iconography to the cover of Rosalía’s highly acclaimed album El mal querer {The Bad Loving}. (3) Women in a castle watch knights fighting. Illumination in an instance of Christine de Pizan, The Book of the Duke of True Lovers {Le Livre du Duc des vrais amants}. Excerpt from folio 150r of the Book of the Queen, London, British Library, Harley MS 4431. For English translations of this book, Binyon & Maclagan (1908) and Fenster (1991). Christine argued that courtly love glorified men and ruined women. Modern scholars have taken Christine’s claim seriously. (4) Notre-Dame de la Belle-Verrière {Our Lady of the Beautiful Glass} stained-glass window in the south ambulatory of Chartres Cathedral in France. Image thanks to Vassil and Wikimedia Commons. The central image of the Virgin Mary was made in the twelfth century. Here’s a guide to praying in front of this magnificent religious artwork. (5) Citi exhibition supporter notice on the main British Museum web page for the exhibition Feminine power: the divine to the demonic.


Adams, Henry. 1904. Mont Saint Michel and Chartres. Cambridge, MA: Riverside Press.

Curtius, Ernst Robert. 1953. European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages. Translated from the Germany by Willard R. Trask. New York: Pantheon Books.

Laurence Binyon, Laurence, and Eric R. D. Maclagan, trans. 1908. Christine de Pizan. The Book of the Duke of True Lovers. London: Chatto & Windus.

Cohen, Li. 2022. ‘“A war within a war”: Transgender woman says transphobia and discriminatory laws keeping her hostage in Kyiv during Russian invasion.’ CBS News. Posted online Mar. 1, 2022.

Crerar, Belinda Crerar (Lead Curator: Feminine power) and Lucy Dahlsen (Project Curator: Feminine power). 2022. “An introduction to Feminine power.” British Museum Blog. Posted April 11, 2022.

Fenster, Thelma S., trans. 1991. Christine de Pizan. The Book of the Duke of True Lovers. New York: Persea Books.

Garreau, Louise. 1899. L’État Social de la France au Temps des Croisades. Paris: E. Plon, Nourrit.

Januszczak, Waldemar. 2022. “Feminine Power at the British Museum: Mary Beard roars on to the battlefield.” The Times (London). Posted May 22, 2022.

Tondo, Lorenzo. 2022. “Ukraine urged to take ‘humane’ approach as men try to flee war.” The Guardian. Posted online Mar. 9, 2022.