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.

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