misused violence prevents women from loving men well

Mothers beat daughters for loving the wrong men or loving men in the wrong way. Women beat men who love them within the rigidly gendered sadomasochism of courtly love. Ending epic violence against men isn’t enough. All violence that prevents women from loving men well must end.

In sixth-century Italy, the young woman Aquilina suffered beatings from her mother for her love for the young man Maximianus. Perhaps Aquilina’s mother felt that love with Maximianus wouldn’t be sufficiently lucrative. In any case, Aquilina’s mother sought to treat her daughter’s love-wounded heart with anger-driven, punishing wounds. Initially Aquilina and Maximianus had a secret love affair:

Yet not for long! Her mother sensed our secret love
and, getting set to treat wounds with wounds,

she nagged and slapped. The blaze was kindled by her slaps
like tinder tossed on pyres to stoke the flames.

{ nec longum genetrix furtivum sensit amorem
et medicare parans vulnera vulneribus

increpitat caeditque foventur caedibus ignes
ut solet adiecto crescere flamma rogo }[1]

Beatings by her mother became a sign and testament for Aquilina’s love for Maximianus:

She’s shameless — rolling back blood-stained clothes to recall.
Joyfully she even credits them to me.

She says, “I’m glad to suffer pains endured for you.
You’ll be the sweet return on so much blood.

Just let your faith be certain and your will unbroken.
Passion that ruined nothing never was.”

{ nec memorare pudet turpesque revolvere vestes
immo etiam gaudens imputat illa mihi

pro te susceptos iuvat inquit ferre dolores
tu pretium tanti dulce cruoris eris

sit modo certa fides atque inconcussa voluntas
quae nihil imminuit passio nulla fuit }

A parodic figure of the great philosopher then bought off Aquilina’s mother. But Maximianus no longer burned to have sex with Aquilina. The brutality of her mother combined with the crassness of the philosopher ruined the love affair:

We split up, equally resentful and unhappy.
The reason for the split was chaste living.

{ ingrati tristes pariter discedimus ambo
discidii ratio tota pudica fuit }

Paying to whore differs from receiving sacrificial love. Insufficient appreciation for men’s love deadens it. Violence against women who love men hurts men and women by wrongly founding sacrificial love.

In ancient Greece, Acontius loved Cydippe with the abject subservience that encourages women to abuse men who love them. Not a passive recipient of abuse, Acontius actively sought Cydippe’s love. He engaged in a challenging love quest of the sort with which men historically have been gender-burdened. His approach was ingenious: when Cydippe was in the temple of Artemis, he rolled at her feet a golden apple. A golden apple had prompted the goddesses Juno, Minerva, and Venus to compete to be declared the most beautiful. Acontius, however, regarded Cydippe as the most beautiful. He had inscribed on the apple, “By Artemis, I shall marry Acontius {μὰ τὴν Ἄρτεμιν Ἀκοντίῳ γαμοῦμαι}.”[2]

Cydippe pondering golden apple from Acontius

Cydippe picked up the golden apple and read it aloud in the temple of Artemis. She thus formally, unintentionally vowed to marry Acontius. She, however, was already preparing to marry someone else. Just before the wedding ceremony she became mortally ill. The marriage was postponed, and she recovered. Just before the postponed marriage ceremony, she again fell mortally ill. The marriage again was postponed, and she recovered. The same sequence of events occurred a third time. Her father then inquired of Apollo at the oracle in Delphi. Apollo explained that Cydippe must fulfill her vow to Artemis. Acontius thus gained Cydippe’s hand in marriage without any great hardship or great risk to his life.

But Acontius invited Cydippe to abuse him as Cynthia abused Propertius. He accepted her anger at his ingenious marriage ploy. He promised to serve her as a slave even in her anger:

You may chide me and, if you wish, be angry,
if only while you are angry you let me enjoy you.
I who caused it will likewise sooth the anger,
if you allow me a small opportunity to please you.
Permit me to stand weeping before your face,
and permit me to add words that suit my tears,
and let me, like a slave in fear of savage lashes,
stretch out submissive hands to touch your feet.
You ignore your rights. Call me! Why accuse me in absence?
In the manner of a woman-lord, order me to come immediately.
With your own ruling hand you may tear my hair,
and make my face bruise-colored with your fingers.
I will endure all. I fear only that perhaps
your hand might be hurt in hitting my body.
But do not chain me with shackles or fetters.
I shall be kept bound in firm love for you.
When your anger has been fully satisfied as much as you wish,
you will say to yourself, “How patiently he loves!”
You will say to yourself, when you have seen me bearing all,
“He who serves so well, let him always serve me!”

{ Quamlibet accuses et sis irata licebit,
Irata liceat dum mihi posse frui.
Idem, qui facimus, factam tenuabimus iram,
Copia placandi sit modo parva tui.
Ante tuos liceat flentem consistere vultus
Et liceat lacrimis addere verba suis,
Utque solent famuli, cum verbera saeva verentur,
Tendere submissas ad tua crura manus!
Ignoras tua iura; voca! cur arguor absens?
Iamdudum dominae more venire iube.
Ipsa meos scindas licet imperiosa capillos,
Oraque sint digitis livida nostra tuis.
Omnia perpetiar; tantum fortasse timebo,
Corpore laedatur ne manus ista meo.
Sed neque conpedibus nec me conpesce catenis —
Servabor firmo vinctus amore tui!
Cum bene se quantumque voles satiaverit ira,
Ipsa tibi dices: “quam patienter amat!”
Ipsa tibi dices, ubi videris omnia ferri:
“Tam bene qui servit, serviat iste mihi!” }[3]

Cydippe should have been angry at the goddess Artemis. That goddess, not Acontius, forced Cydippe to marry him. With the wife given license to assault her husband and treat him as her slave, their marriage doesn’t represent true love. In the sixth century, an idealistic author recounted men’s enduring dream of love in marriage with a woman:

The two of them, their eyes shining like stars, reflected back the other’s light with yet greater brightness and so rejoiced in their mutual radiance.

{ ἄμφω δὲ λαμπροῖς ὄμμασιν, οἷον ἀστέρες ἀνταυγοῦντες ἀλλήλοις, φαιδρότερον τῆς ἀλλήλων ἀπέλαυον ἀγλαίας. }[4]

Such couldn’t have been the love of Cydippe and Acontius. Mutual love cannot be realized with women having license to commit domestic violence against men and treat men like inferior beings.

Women must address women’s violence against men, children, and other women throughout history. Break the silence about women’s violence! Break the silence about women’s violence until the violence ends! Meninism, which is the radical notion that men are human beings, makes words clear. Women abusing men, children, and women isn’t the same as loving them.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Maximianus, Elegies 3.29-32, Latin text and English translation from Juster (2018). An earlier edition of the Latin text is freely available online. The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from Maximianus, Elegies 3.37-42 (She’s shameless…) and 3.93-4 (We split up…). The great philosopher is named Boethius.

[2] Aristaenetus, Letters {Epistolae} 1.10, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified) from Bing & Höschele (2014). The earliest source for this story is Callimachus, Aetia frs. 67-75 (ed. Pfeiffer). Kelly, Sheridan, and Halhed (1854) provides a freely available, loose English translation of Aristaenetus’s letters.

An apple is an ancient love token. For references, Rynearson (2009) p. 342, n. 3. In medieval European understanding, Eve and Adam ate an apple in the garden of Eden.

[3] Ovid, Heroides 20 (Acontius to Cydippe {Acontius Cydippae}) vv. 71-90, Latin text of Ehwald (1907) Teubner via Perseus, English translation (modified) of Showerman (1914). The English translations of Kline (2001) and Hunter (2013) are freely available online. Here’s a commentary.

Rosenmeyer ignores the violence that Acontius invites Cydippe to inflict on him. She instead focuses on the sensational abstraction of “textual violence”:

Acontius’ scripts have all entailed violence against his reader: she is coerced, deceived, entrapped, and finally here erased.

Rosenmeyer (1996) p. 30. Writers should not commit such violence against readers. Writers should also show more concern about institutionalized paternity deception and the erasure of men’s reproductive rights.

[4] Aristaenetus, Letters {Epistolae} 1.10, concluding sentence, ancient Greek text and English translation from Bing & Höschele (2014). Stephens (2015) provides the ancient Greek text with an English translation.

[image] Cydippe pondering the golden apple from Acontius. Painting by Paulus Bor about 1645 to 1655. Preserved as accession # SK-A-4666 in the Rijksmusem (Amsterdam, Netherlands). Also available on Wikimedia Commons.


Bing, Peter, and Regina Höschele, ed. and trans. 2014. Aristaenetus. Erotic Letters. Atlanta, GA: Society of Biblical Literature. Introduction. Review by Anna Tiziana Drago.

Juster, A. M., ed. and trans, with introduction by Michael Roberts. 2018. The Elegies of Maximianus. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Reviews by Douglas Galbi and by Dennis Trout.

Kelly, Walter Keating, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, trans. 1854. Erotica. The elegies of Propertius, the Satyricon of Petronius and the Kisses of Johannes Secundus. Literally translated and accompanied by poetical versions from various sources. To which are added, the love epistles of Aristaenetus. London: H.G. Bohn. (alternate online presentations)

Rosenmeyer, Patricia A. 1996. “Love Letters in Callimachus Ovid and Aristaenetus or the Sad Fate of a Mailorder Bride.” Materiali e Discussioni per l’Analisi dei Testi Classici. 36: 9-31.

Rynearson, Nicholas Charles. 2009. “A Callimachean Case of Lovesickness: Magic Disease and Desire in Aetia Frr. 67-75 Pf.” American Journal of Philology. 130 (3): 341–65.

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

Stephens, Susan. 2015. Callimachus: Aetia. Carlisle, PA: Dickinson College Commentaries, 2015.

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