Fortunatus’s De virginitate incoherently disparages men’s sexuality

Disparaging references to men’s sexuality are readily apparent in Venantius Fortunatus’s sixth-century poem About Virginity {De virginitate}. Fortunatus in this poem also depicted a woman’s ardent, heartfelt love for her husband, including her appreciation for their physical intimacy. To foster social justice, women’s personal appreciation for men’s sexuality should be expressed more publically.

Fortunatus apparently wrote De virginitate to celebrate his friend Agnes becoming the abbess of the Abbey of the Holy Cross in Poitiers. As a nun, Agnes vowed celibacy. Fortunatus praised virginity with disparaging references to effects of sexual relations:

Most importantly, without stain virginity shines, revered by the world,
not allowing to be corrupted its good inherent by nature.
Precious, it preserves unharmed the body’s wealth,
retains forever those riches unknown to a thief.

{ quod prius est, sine sorde nitet venerabilis orbi,
naturae proprium non vitiando bonum,
corporis inlaesum servans pretiosa talentum,
perpetuas retinens nescia furis opes. }[1]

In these verses, a man’s penis figures as a thief and as a staining, corrupting, and harming instrument. Fortunatus lauded an “untouched womb {intacta alvus}” as “undefiled {intemerata}.” A woman virgin is “unviolated {inviolata}.” That’s as if a woman having sex with a man implies that he violates her. According to De virginitate, a virgin woman has a body that “no injury darkens {nulla iniuria fuscat}.” In contrast, according to Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit “will overshadow {obumbrabit}” Mary not to harm her, but to exalt her.[2] De virginitate describes the effects of pregnancy on the womb: “the sick dropsy of pleasure swells it {vuluptatis morbida crescit hydrus}.” That’s a disparaging recasting of a fundamental Jewish and Christian theme of the seminal blessing.

Mary enthroned and holding Jesus: mosaic in Ravenna

In De virginitate, Fortunatus sensationally depicted the sadness of a married woman. De virginitate first describes the sadness of a woman whose child is born dead or subsequently dies. Then De virginitate describes a misfortune worse than the death of a child:

What if something even worse should happen: the death of her spouse himself?
She who was a newlywed now lies as a widow.
From bridal bed to earthen grave, her white clothes so quickly change to black.
She holds the cold limbs that before gave her warmth,
arranges a funeral, and celebrates overthrowing her wedding vows.
She adorns an earthen grave, alas, stripping her marriage bed.
She often returns with laments to her husband’s tomb,
and disregarding her home, she lovingly honors the dead.
She falls upon his earthen grave seeking an empty consolation.
In the past she clung to his limbs. Now she clings to his bones.

{ quid si aliud gravius, moriatur ut ipse iugalis?
quae nova nupta fuit iam viduata iacet.
de thalamo ad tumulum, modo candida, tam cito nigra,
ante quibus caluit frigida membra tenet,
construit exequias perversaque vota celebrans
exornat tumulum, heu, spoliando torum.
saepe maritalem repetit miserando sepulchrum
contemptaque domo funus amata colit.
incumbit tumulo solacia cassa requirens;
cuius membra prius, nunc super ossa premit. }

This representation of a wife’s sadness after her husband’s death abounds in sensual references: a wedding, bridal clothes, the newlywed, and the marriage bed. As Ausonius’s parodic representation of a wedding night indicates, a wedding night typically produces great sensual joy for the bride. De virginitate refers to the wife’s memory of feeling the warmth of her husband’s limbs and to the wife lying down and clinging to her husband’s limbs. In Latin the singular for “limbs {membra}” is a word used for “penis {membrum}.” Moreover, Fortunatus’s description of the widow’s actions evokes the classical story of the widow of Ephesus. In contrasting the wife’s joy from her husband’s body with her sadness at his (inevitable) death, Fortunatus sets up another sense. The wife’s joy with her husband could well inspire a woman to seek marriage with a man.

Marriage to God is a recognized Christian alternative to marriage to a flesh-and-blood human. Fortunatus in De virginitate depicted God as loving a virgin woman passionately and sensitively:

Gently in devotion he embraces her breast,
quick in lovingly cultivating where another lover is absent.

He runs to your embrace in triumph after the acts of battle,
pressing chaste kisses to your holy lips.
He soothes, revives, venerates, honors, and overshadows you,
and places your modest body into his own wedding bed.

{ mitis in affectu pectus complectitar illud,
promptus amore colens quo alter amator abest.

currit ad amplexus post proelia gesta triumphans,
infigens labiis oscula casta sacris.
blanditur, refovet, veneratur, honorat obumbrat,
et locat in thalamo membra pudica suo. }

Fortunatus urged young women “to be not a man’s bride, but God’s beloved {non nuptura homini, sed sis amata Dei}.”[3] For more than a millennium, some woman have lived holy and happy lives as God’s beloved bride.

Despite today’s doubts and denials, God loves men just as much as women. Gender makes it difficult for men to think of themselves as the bride of God. A man might regard himself as God’s beloved son. That figure, however, lacks the erotic warmth of being God’s bride. Men and women need to accept that human language is inescapably limited.

The limits of human language don’t justify pervasive, historically entrenched disparagement of men’s sexuality. Many women personally appreciate their husbands’ or boyfriends’ sexuality, yet such appreciation lacks sufficient public representations. Men’s sexuality matters. It’s a matter not of junk but of jewels. Publicly appreciate men’s sexuality, today and every day of your life!

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[1] Venantius Fortunatus, Carmina 8.3, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the lady Mary his mother, about virginity {In nomine domini nostri Iesu Christi et domnae Mariae matris eius de virginitate},” incipit “Many great figures fill the heavens with brilliant light {Culmina multa polos radianti lumine complent},” (De virginitate) vv. 321-4, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Roberts (2017). Leo (1881) provides a freely available Latin edition differing little from Roberts’s Latin edition.

Fortunatus probably composed De virginitate in the 570s in honor of Agnes becoming abbess of the Abbey of the Holy Cross. He apparently published it as part of his Book 8 of poems to enhance Radegund’s reputation after scandal and turmoil at the Abbey in 589. Brennan (1996) pp. 95-7.

Subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are similarly from Fortunatus’s De virginitate. They are vv. 87 (untouched womb), 103 (undefiled), 192 (unviolated), 109 (no injury darkens), 330 (the sick dropsy of pleasure swells it), 371-80 (What if something even worse…), 111-2, 125-8 (Gently in devotion he embraces her breast…).

[2] Luke 1:35. The quoted Latin text is from the Vulgate. Fortunatus was a sophisticated writer deeply engaged with Christian theological doctrine. See, e.g. Wheaton (2018).

[3] Fortunatus, Carmina 8.4, “To young women {Ad virgines},” incipit “According to the ranks of the apostles and the holy prophets {Inter apostolicas acies sacrosque prophetas},” v. 36, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Roberts (2017). Similarly Fortunatus, Carmina Appendix 23, vv. 15-26.

De virginitate, vv. 117-24, depicts God as doing battle against men seeking to love sexually a virgin woman. That passage draws upon the classical elegiac figure of a man-soldier fighting in the “army of love {militia amoris}.” See, e.g. Ovid, Art of Love {Ars amatoria} 2.233-6. This gendered figure supports sexist military conscription and laws criminalizing men “seducing” women. Cf. Brennan’s description of the “virile warrior Christ who protects the nuns of Agnes’s convent … subject to enemy attack.” Brennan (1996) p. 80.

According to Gregory of Tours, Radegund, the founder of the Abbey of the Holy Cross in Poitiers, spoke of Christ as the “spouse of virgins {sponsus virginum}.” Brennan (1996) p. 80. Such bridal imagery has an important source in the biblical Song of Solomon.

Men’s penises historically have been disparagingly figured as thorns and snakes. De virginitate describes virgin women as avoiding harm from “thorns {spinae}” and “viper, serpent, and tree snake {vipera, serps, iaculus}.” De virginitate, vv. 193, 195.

[image] Mary the mother of God mosaic made c. 560 in the New Basilica of Saint Apollinaris {Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo} in Ravenna, Italy. Image thanks to Michel Bakni and Wikimedia Commons. Fortunatus was classically educated in Ravenna in the 550s or 560s. He thus may have seen this mosaic.


Brennan, Brian. 1996. “Deathless Marriage and Spiritual Fecundity in Venantius Fortunatus’s De Virginitate.” Traditio 51: 73–97.

Leo, Friedrich, ed. 1881. Venanti Fortunati Opera Poetica (Pars Prior), Venanti Fortunati Opera Pedestria (Pars Posterior). Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi IV. Berlin: Weidmann. Another copy.

Roberts, Michael, ed and trans. 2017. Venantius Fortunatus. Poems. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 46. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Reviews by Hope Williard and by Lionel Yaceczko.

Wheaton, Benjamin. 2018. Venantius Fortunatus and Christian Theology at the End of the Sixth Century in Gaul. Ph.D. Thesis, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto.

Radegund of Thuringia loved Amalfred in Jerome’s way

Radegund of Thuringia, a sixth-century Germanic princess, queen, and founder of the Abbey of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, was a highly privileged woman like those who sought Jerome’s spiritual and intellectual guidance in late-fourth-century Rome. Radegund’s letter-poem About the destruction of Thuringia {De excidio Thoringiae} draws upon the Aeneid’s epic imagery of Troy’s destruction and elegiac lament in Ovid’s Heroines {Heroides} and Sorrows {Tristia}.[1] Many classical authors drew upon Virgil and Ovid. De excidio Thoringiae more distinctively follows Jerome’s way in shocking use of biblical and classical learning, passionate literary rhetoric, and concern for men’s disadvantaged gender position.

Radegund recognized still-prevalent gender bias toward violence against men. The epic tradition rooted in the Iliad tells of massive violence against men within the institutionally gendered violence of war. Some recently have declared that women are the primary victims of war because they lose their men, evidently valued as possessions or instruments.[2] Radegund depicted a woman’s suffering in war:

The married woman with torn hair was bound and carried away,
not even being able to say a sad farewell to her household gods,
nor was the captive permitted to press a kiss to her threshold,
nor turn her gaze back and see again familiar places.

{ hinc rapitur laceris matrona revincta capillis,
nec laribus potuit dicere triste vale.
oscula non licuit captivo infigere posti
nec sibi visuris ora referre locis. }[3]

In addition to drawing upon Virgil’s telling of Troy’s destruction, Radegund here exemplified Jerome’s outrageous wit with an allusion to Lot’s wife. Lot’s wife was turned to stone when she looked back at the home she had lost. This captive wife wasn’t allowed to look back. She thus survived, but her husband apparently was massacred:

The wife’s naked foot trampled her husband’s blood,
and the alluring sister stepped over her fallen brother.
The boy seized from his mother’s embrace weighed on her face.
With her lament, she did not confer any tears at his death.

{ nuda maritalem calcavit planta cruorem
blandaque transibat fratre iacente soror.
raptus ab amplexu matris puer ore pependit,
funereas planctu nec dedit ullus aquas }[4]

Wife, sister, and mother lived, while husband, brother, and son died. The wife dominated her husband even amid the tragedy, while the sister’s sexual value raised her fate above her brother’s. The horror was such that a mother couldn’t even manage to cry for her son seized from her and killed. As Prudentius transgressively highlighted in his Psychomachia and Radegund equally understood, epic violence is overwhelmingly violence against men.

Radegund liberating prisoners

In De excidio Thoringiae, Radegund mourned men’s deaths generally and expressed ardent love for a particular man. Like the young Greek woman lamenting Maximianus’s impotence (“I’m lamenting not a private, but universal chaos {non fleo priuatum, set generale chaos}”), Radegund declared to Amalfred:

Each person has grieved, but I alone have all their griefs.
This sorrow is to me both public and private.
Fortune was mindful of the men whom the enemy struck down,
such that I, remaining as one female survivor, weep for them all.

{ Quisque suos habuit fletus, ego sola sed omnes:
est mihi privatus publicus ille dolor.
consuluit fortuna viris quos perculit hostis;
ut flerem cunctis una superstes ago. }

Men’s love for women is vitally important for women and for the general flourishing of human society. Radegund grieved for all the men that the enemy killed.[5] She also grieved for being separated from Amalfred:

One whose tender looks solaced me with love
is released from my embrace by hostile fate.
Does care for me not gnaw at you in my absence?
Has the bitter disaster removed your sweetness of feeling?
At least remember from your earliest years what
I, Radegund, was then to you, Amalfred —
how much you, a sweet child, once loved me,
you, my loving relative, begotten from my father’s brother.
What my dead father could have been, what mother,
sister or brother could have been, only you were to me.
Taken in your kindly arms, ah!, hanging on your alluring kisses,
I, a starving little girl, was soothed by your calmness.
Barely less than an hour’s length passed without my mind recalling you.
Now ages fly and I don’t have your words.
Crushed with cares in my tortured heart, I spin
about when you will return and from where, my relative.

{ cuius in aspectu tenero solabar amore
solvit ab amplexu sors inimica meo.
an, quod in absenti te nec mea cura remordet,
affectum dulcem cladis amara tulit?
vel memor esto, tuis primaevis qualis ab annis,
Hamalafrede, tibi tunc Radegundis eram,
quantum me quondam dulcis dilexeris infans
et de fratre patris nate, benigne parens.
quod pater extinctus poterat, quod mater haberi,
quod soror aut frater tu mihi solus eras.
prensa piis manibus heu blanda per oscula pendens
mulcebar placido famine parva tuo.
vix erat in spatium, quo te minus hora referret;
saecula nunc fugiunt, nec tua verba fero.
volvebam rabidas inliso in pectore curas,
ceu revocareris, quando vel unde, parens }[6]

Radegund urgently desired to be with Amalfred:

If father, mother, or cares of the royal house held you,
though you hurried back, you would already be too late for me.
Fate was indicating how I might quickly lose you, my dear.
Urgent love doesn’t know to endure for long.
I was vexed with anxiety when one house didn’t cover us.
When you went outside, I thought you had gone far away.

{ si pater aut genetrix aut regia cura tenebat,
cum festinabas iam mihi tardus eras.
sors erat indicium, quia te cito, care, carerem:
importunus amor nescit habere diu.
anxia vexabar, si non domus una tegebat;
egrediente foris rebar abisse procul. }[7]

Radegund’s love for Amalfred didn’t arise from personal weakness. As a strong, independent, and intelligent woman, Radegund was fully capable of founding a new convent and maneuvering politically to deal with a hostile bishop.[8] But she also was perceptive enough to recognize the importance, personally and socially, of expressing ardent love for men.

Radegund wasn’t seeking sexual relations with Amalfred. At the writing of De excidio Thoringiae, she was about fifty years old and hadn’t seen Amalfred or communicated with him for about forty years. Moreover, she was then an eminent nun vowed to chastity. Years earlier she had been married to the Merovingian King Chlothar I. Their marital relations had been rather cold:

At night, when she lay with the king, she would ask to rise to ease herself according to human necessity. Then leaving their bedroom, she would lie in prayer on a hair rug thrown down in front of the outhouse. The penetrating cold would lie upon her such that only her spirit remained warm. All her flesh prefigured death. Not running from bodily torment, her mind was intent on Paradise. What she endured she counted as trivial, such that Christ wasn’t cheapened. Subsequently returning into their bedroom, she could scarcely become warm by the fireplace or in bed. Because of this, to the king it was said that he had married a nun rather than a queen. By her goodness itself the king was thus irritated and bitter. But by in part soothing and in part making offerings, she modestly bore the complaints from her husband.

{ nocturno tempore, cum reclinaret cum principe, rogans se pro humana necessitate consurgere, levans, egressa cubiculo, tam diu ante secretum orationi incumbebat iactato cilicio, ut solo calens spiritu, iaceret gelu penetrata, tota carne praemortua: non curans corporis tormento mens intenta paradiso, leve reputans quod ferret, tantum ne Christo vilesceret. Inde regressa cubiculum, vix tepefieri poterat vel foco vel lectulo. De qua regi dicebatur habere se potius iugalem monacham quam reginam. Unde et ipse irritatus, pro bonis erat asperrimus, sed illa pro parte leniens, pro parte tolerabat modeste rixas inlatas a coniuge. }[9]

Radegund apparently was the sort of woman who preferred to have cold penetrate her than to have her husband penetrate her. Given Radegund’s apparent desire for sexless marriage to King Chlothar and her subsequent profession as a nun, she surely wasn’t seeking to bed Amalfred.

Radegund leaves her husband Chlothar in bed and lies on the ground in prayer

Radegund followed Jerome in expressing ardent love for men friends. Shortly before spending five years as a Christian hermit, Jerome wrote to the monk Rufinus. Jerome expressed ardent love for Rufinus and a strong desire to see him:

Oh, if only the Lord Jesus Christ would suddenly transport me to you as Philip was transported to the eunuch, and Habakkuk to Daniel, with what a close embrace would I clasp your neck, how fondly would I press kisses upon that mouth which has so often joined with me in error or in wisdom. … I send this letter to meet you instead of coming myself, that it might bring you here to me caught in the meshes of love’s net. … Believe me, brother, I would like to see you more than the storm-tossed mariner looks for his haven, more than the thirsty fields long for showers, more than the anxious mother sitting on the curving shore expects her son.

{ o si mihi nunc dominus Iesus Christus vel Philippi ad eunuchum vel Ambacum ad Danihelum translationem repente concederet, quam ego nunc arte tua stringerem colla conplexibus, quam illud os, quod mecum vel erravit aliquando vel sapuit, inpressis figerem labiis! … has mei vicarias et tibi obvias mitto, quae te copula amoris innexum ad me usque perducant. … credas mihi velim, frater, non sic tempestate iactatus portum nauta prospectat, non sic sitientia imbres arva desiderant, non sic curvo adsidens litori anxia filium mater expectat. }[10]

Jerome neither had nor sought an erotic relationship with Rufinus. They were men friends.

Use of erotic language in friendship with men supports men’s equal human dignity. Men are gender-disproportionately burdened with the risks of soliciting amorous heterosexual relations. Among those risks is simple rejection; that is, amorous rejection without any criminal or social-media charges of malfeasance. Men endure the pain of such rejection, as well as criminalization, much more frequently than women do. Using erotic language in friendship with men supports men’s equal right, as fully human beings, to feel ardently loved. Radegund, following Jerome, understood the importance of expressing ardent love for men friends.[11]

Radegund recognized men’s disproportionate gender burden in love with women and sought to remedy that injustice. As a learned woman, Radegund surely knew that Leander many times swam across the sea to be with his beloved woman Hero. Hero not even once swam across the sea to Leander. Radegund insisted that she, like Malgherita Spolatina, was different:

If the sacred cloister of my convent didn’t hold me,
I would arrive unexpected in whatever region you dwell.
I would have eagerly gone by ship through storms of smashing waves
and gladly traveled on waters in winter gales.
Bravely I would have pushed to hang upon piled swells
and for love of you would not have dreaded what the sailor fears.
If the waves broke my ship in raging rains,
with a plank as oar I would aim for you in traveling across the sea.
If by unfortunate fate I was prevented from seizing a timber,
I would come to you swimming with weary arms.
At sight of you, I would deny the journey’s dangers —
immediately with sweetness you would ease the woes of shipwreck —
or if my ultimate fate deprived me of my troublesome life,
at least the sand on my tomb would be carried by your hands.

{ Sacra monasterii si me non claustra tenerent,
improvisa aderam qua regione sedes.
prompta per undifragas transissem puppe procellas,
flatibus hibernis laeta moverer aquis.
fortior eductos pressissem pendula fluctus,
et quod nauta timet non pavitasset amans.
imbribus infestis si solveret unda carinam,
te peterem tabula remige vecta mari.
sorte sub infausta si prendere ligna vetarer,
ad te venissem lassa natante manu.
cum te respicerem, peregrina pericla negassem —
naufragii dulcis mox relevasses onus —
aut mihi si querulam raperet sors ultima vitam,
vel tumulum manibus ferret harena tuis. }[12]

In writing Theophrastus’s Golden Book on Marriage {Aureolus liber de nuptiis}, Jerome outrageously told women how to help men. With similar concern for men, Radegund told Amalfred she would undertake what had been exclusively Leander’s burden. Radegund compassionately rejected men’s historical gender burden of undertaking dangerous love quests.

In imploring Amalfred to write to her, Radegund followed the example of Jerome in showing loving appreciation for men friends through letters. Jerome wrote to his fellow monk Antony:

Unless I’m mistaken, I’ve already sent you ten affectionate and earnest letters, while you have not deigned to make for me even a single line. The Lord speaks to His servants, but you, my brother servant, refuse to speak to me. “You are too insulting,” you say. Believe me, if reserve did not check my pen, I could show annoyance in such invective that you would have to write back to me, even if in anger. But since anger is of a worldly person, and a Christian must not do injury, I revert again to the ancient practice of entreaty. I beg you to love one who loves you, and to share words as a servant should with his fellow servant.

{ decem iam, nisi fallor, epistulas plenas tam officii quam precum misi, cum tu ne muttum quidem facere dignaris et domino loquente cum seruis frater cum fratre non loqueris. “nimis,” inquies, “contumeliose.” crede mihi, nisi stili uerecundia prohiberet, tanta laesus ingererem, ut inciperes mihi rescribere uel iratus. sed quoniam et irasci hominis est et iniuriam non facere Christiani, ad antiquum morem reuertens rursus precor, ut et diligentem te diligas et conseruo sermonem conseruus inpertias. }[13]

Showing Christian belief in the equal human dignity of women and men, Jerome expressed similar aggrievement to women who didn’t respond to his letters. To his “dearest sisters {sorores carissimae}” of the Roman colony at Aemona, he wrote:

I implore you, moreover, to forgive one hurting. I speak truly as an aggrieved man. I speak in tears and in anger. You indeed have not offered to me a single syllable for the many times I have bestowed upon you the service of writing.

{ uos autem ignoscite, obsecro, dolenti; dico enim laesus, dico lacrimans et irascens: ne unum quidem apicem totiens uobis tribuenti officium praestitistis. }

Radegund similarly chided and implored Amalfred:

Burdened by grief’s weight, I am even more tormented
because you send me no token of yourself in parchment.

Believe me, my relative, if you sent word, you wouldn’t be wholly absent:
the sent page would speak to be part of my brother to me.
All have their due, yet I have not even tears for solace.
O what injustice — that the more I love, the less I receive!

I ask, serene relative, that now at least a page of yours speed to me,
so that your kindly tongue would ease my heavy sickness.

{ Hinc potius crucior validis onerata querellis,
cur mihi nulla tui mittere signa velis.

crede, parens, si verba dares, non totus abesses:
pagina missa loquens pars mihi fratris erat.
cuncti munus habent, ego nec solacia fletus.
o facinus, quae dum plus amo, sumo minus!

quaeso, serene parens, vel nunc tua pagina currat,
mitiget ut validam lingua benigna luem. }

Jerome and Radegund regarded letters as providing artifacts of a man’s presence. As Jerome and Radegund understood, men need to know that they are appreciated, even if just through ardently desired reception of letters from them.[14]

holy Radegund curing a blind woman

Jerome’s importance to Radegund hasn’t been adequately recognized. Jerome was a Christian ascetic who spent time living in a Syrian desert. Radegund of Thuringia was a princess and queen who had a privileged life as a woman in western European cities. Radegund nonetheless was a follower of Jerome. Radegund received praise in explicit comparison to Jerome’s elite women followers:

She surpasses Eustochium in her meager diet and Paula in her self-restraint,
while Fabiola is a guide who shows her how to cure wounds of marriage.
Modeling Melania in zeal and Blesilla in piety,
becoming equal to Marcella in vigor of prayer,
she renews Martha in devotion and Mary with her tears.
She wants to be Eugenia in vigils and Thecla in enduring.

{ parca cibo Eustochium superans, abstemia Paulam,
vulnera quo curet dux Faviola monet;
Melaniam studio reparans, pietate Blesillam,
Marcellam votis aequiperare valens,
obsequio Martham renovat lacrimisque Mariam,
pervigil Eugeniam, vult patiendo Theclam. }[15]

Eustochium, Paula, Fabiola, Blesilla, and Marcella were women in Jerome’s circle of followers and supporters. As Radegund shows, Jerome’s teaching and example didn’t only foster women’s spiritual and intellectual aspirations. Jerome’s example taught women to seek gender justice for men and express love for men. Radegund of Thuringia, a woman leader in sixth-century Gaul, remains a worthy leader for women and men today.

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[1] About 525 GC, Hermanfred killed his brother King Bertachar to seize the Germanic realm of Thuringia. Princess Radegund, Bertachar’s daughter, was captured. Captive maidens historically have fared much better than men massacred in a conquered realm. The captive Princess Radegund, living a life of royal privilege, became a close friend of Hermanfred’s son Amalfred. Then about 532 the Frankish armies of Chlothar and Theuderic ravaged Thuringia and killed Hermanfred. Radegund again was not killed but taken captive. About 568, Radegund, as a nun and the founder of the Abbey of the Holy Cross at Poitiers {Abbaye Sainte-Croix de Poitiers}, sought to reestablish a relationship with her childhood companion Amalfred by sending him the letter-poem De excidio Thoringiae.

Wasyl (2015) analyzes the influence of Ovid’s Heroides on De excidio Thoringiae. Surviving Latin elegy after Ovid lacks erotic themes. Wasyl perceives Maximianus’s elegies and De excidio Thoringiae as exploring “dialectics between asceticism and corporeality.” Id. p. 74. Jerome’s prose works likewise explore that interplay. More importantly, these works of Jerome, Maximianus, and Radegund of Thuringia show sympathetic awareness of personal and social problems affecting men as a gender.

[2] See note [5] in my post on the troubadour Marcabru’s perspective on medieval conscription of men.

[3] Radegund of Thuringia, About the destruction of Thuringia {De excidio Thoringiae}, incipit “The sad affair of war, the cruel lottery of things {Condicio belli tristis, sors invida rerum},” vv. 21-4, Latin text (with insubstantial changes) from Roberts (2017) Appendix poem 1, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and McNamara & Halborg (1992). Cf. Aeneid 2.403-4 (Cassandra dragged by her hair), Aeneid 2.489-90 (women clinging to doors), Genesis 19:24-6, Luke 17:32 (Lot’s wife looking back at Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed).

De excidio Thoringiae survives to the present in only the ninth-century MS Parisinis lat. 13048. Scholars believe that this poem was either published posthumously from Venantius Fortunatus’s papers or published by Fortunatus himself. Roberts (2009) p. 286. On the transmission of this poem and other appendix poems, Williard (2016) pp. 144-51.

Scholars undoubtedly are better off crediting Radegund of Thuringia rather than Fortunatus for De excidio Thoringiae. For such crediting, see e.g. Nisard (1888) and Cherewatuk (1993) p. 20. Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Latin Letters, “Historical Context” section, states:

Since Fortunatus himself speaks of the poems she {Radegund} has written and sent to him, and Gregory of Tours cites a letter written by her in his History of the Franks, 9.42, I see no reason to deny her authorship.

Radegund surely was an author. McNamara & Halborg, however, didn’t as readily deny Fortunatus’s authorship of De excidio Thoringiae: “It is likely that she {Radegund} composed the poem, or Fortunatus composed it for her….” McNamara & Halborg (1992) p. 65, n. 22. Wasyl pointed out:

it can be hardly ignored that in terms of poetic language and style De excidio strongly resembles other pieces by Fortunatus, especially those exploiting various elegiac stylistic features and topoi. … the very form is simply perfectly concordant with Fortunatus’s literary interests and tastes.

Wasyl (2015) p. 66, footnote omitted. Wasyl stretched to be agreeable:

The relationship – a deep, affectionate friendship indeed – between Radegund and Fortunatus was an unprecedented fact, hence it would be unfair not just to exclude but even to doubt that they did discuss the text together and that it does reflect Radegund’s true feelings, confessed directly to Fortunatus. She must have, at least, consulted the poem once it was ready and gave the final approval before it was to be ‘published’. In this respect, she should certainly be defined as its (co-)author.

Id. p. 66. Wasyl nonetheless argued that De excidio Thoringiae doesn’t “reflect Radegund’s true feelings, confessed directly to Fortunatus”:

Radegund as pictured in De excidio is wholly fictionalized (hence it cannot derogate from the reputation Radegund-the-nun deserves) and, indeed, used only as a literary ‘costume’: a careful reader can easily notice that the speaking ego does not fully identify with the role of a ‘lovelorn maiden’. This ostentatious literariness makes the whole situation justifiable and attractive for the readership.

Id., Abstract. Id. p. 66 also characterizes De excidio Thoringiae as displaying “ostentatious literariness.” Strenuous scholarly effort to declare Radegund “(co-)author” of De excidio Thoringiae really isn’t necessary. If Cynthia can be credited with creating Propertius’s elegies, Radegund certainly can be credited with authoring De excidio Thoringiae.

Venantius Fortunatus was born in the 530s near Treviso in present-day Italy and died between 600 and 610. He received a thorough classical education in Ravenna. In the mid-560s he became a court poet in Merovingian Gaul.

Fortunatus’s poetry was greatly admired in the Carolingian period. His poem “Sing, my tongue {Pange lingua}” (Carmina 2.1) became a hymn in the Christian liturgy. Pange lingua provided the meter for Angelbert’s ninth-century war-grief poem, “Aurora cum primo mane tetra noctis dividet {At the first light, dawn will separate the horrors of night}.” Fortunatus’s Pange lingua was parodied in the second stanza of the early-thirteenth-century Carmina Burana 77, “Were I to speak with the tongues of angels and men {Si linguis angelicis loquar et humanis}.” Fortunatus’s poem “Vexilla regis prodeunt {Banners of the king fly}” / “Hymn in honor of the Holy Cross {Hymnus in Honore Sanctae Crucis}” (Carmina 2.6) also entered the Christian liturgy and was used in Dante’s Inferno, Canto 34.

portrait of Venantius Fortunatus from late eleventh-century instance of his life of Radegund

For freely available earlier Latin editions of Fortunatus’s works, Leo (1881) and Migne (1849). Roberts’s Latin edition closely follows that of Leo. Fortunatus’s poetry survives in many manuscripts. See Leo (1881), Prologue.

Several modern English translations of Fortunatus’s works are available. George (1995) translates into English some of Fortunatus’s poems, with notes focusing on the political and social aspects. Den Boer & Den Boer (2009) provides an English translation of a small selection of Fortunatus’s poems. Pucci (2010), with keen insight into the literary sophistication of Fortunatus’s poetry, provides a free-verse English translation. None of these English translations includes De excidio Thoringiae. Roberts (2017) is a nearly complete English translation of Fortunatus’s works. Translations of Fortunatus into modern English were relatively late. Charles Nisard translated Fortunatus’s poetry into French in 1890.

Subsequent quotes above from De excidio Thoringiae are similarly sourced. Those quotes are vv. 25-8 (The wife’s naked foot…), 33-6 (Each person has grieved…), 43-58 (One whose tender looks…), 59-64 (If father, mother, or cares of the royal house…), 105-18 (If the sacred cloister of my convent…), 73-4, 79-82, 157-8 (Burdened by grief’s weight…).

[4] Cf. Aeneid 2.551 (Priam slipping in his son’s blood). “Through indirect comparison with the Aened Radegund shows the suffering of the Thuringian women surpassing that of the Trojan women.” Cherewatuk (1993) p. 27. The point seems to me rather to emphasize that epic violence predominately concerns killing men.

[5] McNamara & Halborg (1992) translated v. 35 using the genderless “those” for “men {viri}”: “Fate was kind to those whom the enemy struck down {consuluit fortuna viris quos perculit hostis}.” Just as the word “man” has been used as a genderless term for humanity, men’s deaths are commonly obscured. Consider, e.g., newspaper reports such as “Eleven persons were killed in the attack, including one woman.”

[6] Jerome wrote of love for another having developed from childhood. Jerome declared of his dear man friend Bosonus:

He and I grew up together from tender infancy to vigorous manhood, such that we were fostered in the bosoms of the same nurses and carried in the arms of the same bearers. After studying together at Rome, we lodged in the same house and shared the same food by the half savage banks of the Rhine.

{ ego et ille a tenera pariter infantia ad florentem usque adoleverimus aetatem, ut idem nos nutricum sinus, idem amplexus foverint baiulorum et, cum post Romana studia ad Rheni semibarbaras ripas eodem cibo, pari frueremur hospitio }

Jerome, Letter 3, “To Rufinus {Ad Rufinum},” from paras. 5, Latin text of Hilberg (1910-1918), English translation (modified) from Freemantle (1892).

[7] Radegund further lamented:

Between us lovers is interjected all of the globe.
The world divides us whom once no place separated.
So much earth holds my lover divided from me.

{ inter amatores totusque interiacet orbis:
hos dirimit mundus quos loca nulla prius.
quantum terra tenet tantum divisit amantem }

De excidio Thoringiae vv. 67-9. In De excidio Thoringiae, the language used to describe Radegund and Amalfred’s relationship is “very affectionate.” Wasyl (2015) p. 68.

Radegund used similarly affectionate language in writing to Amalfred’s son Artachis after he had written to her of Amalfred’s death. She declared to Artachis, “be in your love to me what he was before {sis amore meus quod fuit ille prius}.” Radegund, “To Artachis {Ad Artachin}” v. 36, Latin text and English translation from Roberts (2017) Appendix poem 3. Here’s an alternate online edition.

[8] Radegund operated effectively at the highest political / religious levels. She successfully pressured the Bishop of Soissons to dissolve effectively her marriage to King Chlothar I. She perhaps secured the help of Bishop Bermanus of Paris to prevent Chlothar from regaining her as wife. When the Bishop of Poitiers didn’t allow her Abbey of the Holy Cross to possess a relic of the holy cross, she successfully appealed to the Merovingian King Sigebert I. Moreover, she then associated her abbey with the Diocese of Arles rather than the Diocese of Poitiers. For Radegund biography, Duvall (1996) and Epistolae.

[9] Venantius Fortunatus, The Life of Holy Radegund {De vita sanctae Radegundis} para. 5, Latin text from Leo (1881), English translation (modified) from McNamara & Halborg (1992) p. 73. Here’s the Latin edition of Migne (1849).

In Fortunatus’s poem About virginity {De virginitate}, God praises a virgin laying on cold ground and praying:

Through the night she lay awake, ready if I by chance should happen to come,
she pressing her chilled limbs to the marble, which now took on warmth.
Though ice-cold, she retained fire for me in her bones.
Her heart was warm with love though her flesh was frozen stiff.

{ pervigil incubuit, si forte alicunde venirem,
marmore iam tepido frigida membra premens.
haec gelifacta meum servavit in ossibus ignem;
visceribus rigidis pectus amore calet. }

Fortunatus, Carmina 8.3, vv. 211-4, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Roberts (2017). Fortunatus also wrote hagiographic lives of six bishops. On Fortunatus’s prose hagiography in relation to ecclesiastical concerns, Navalesi (2020).

Baudonivia, a nun of Radegund’s Abbey of the Holy Cross, also wrote a life of Radegund. For the Latin text, Leo (1881) pp. 378-95. For an English translation, NcNamara & Halborg (1992). For comparison of these two lives of Radegund, Coates (1998) and Rinaldi (2014).

The sixth-century Pavian bishop Ennodius apparently influenced Fortunatus. Fiske (1955) p. 183. Ennodius had great respect for men’s seminal blessing. Among thoughtful Christians of antiquity, including Jerome, appreciation for men’s seminal blessing coexisted with appreciation for chastity.

[10] Jerome, Letter 3, “To Rufinus {Ad Rufinum},” from paras. 1 & 2, Latin text of Hilberg (1910-1918), English translation (modified) from Freemantle (1892). Cf. Acts 8:26-40 (Philip going to the Ethiopian court eunuch) and Daniel 14:33-6 (Habakkuk going to Daniel).

Writing about 716-720, the learned woman Egburg drew upon Jerome’s figure of longing in her letter to her “holy father and true man-friend {abbas sanctus veroque amicus}” Boniface:

Believe me, more than the storm-tossed sailor longs for the harbor, more than the thirsty fields desire rain, or the anxious mother watches by the shore for her son, do I long for the sight of you.

{ crede mihi, non sic tempestate iactatus portum nauta desiderat, non sic sitientia imbres arva desiderant, non sic curvo litore anxia filium mater expectat, quam ut ego visibus vestris fruere cupio. }

MGH, Epistolae Merovingici et Karolini Aevi, 6, S. Bonifacii et Lulli Epistolae, ep.13, Latin text and English translation via Epistolae.

[11] Women expressing ardent love for men friends should be careful not to foster misunderstanding. Men tend to be romantically simple. Before expressing ardent love for a man friend, a woman might frankly explain to him that she recognizes men’s gender disadvantage in love and that she affirmatively seeks to help men via her verbal expression. Disclosing that she’s professed to chastity would also help to clarify the intent of her communication with him. Some progressive men avoid misunderstanding with an informal prefatory clause, e.g., “No homo — I just want to say that you’re a beautiful man.”

[12] Fortunatus wrote to his friend Dynamius of Marseille:

The Saône and the Rhône may block our way, but we swim them inspired by love.
Though they stop our path, they cannot obstruct the movement of minds.

{ nos licet obstet Arar Rhodanusqne, natamus amore,
nec vetat ire animum qui vetat ire gradum. }

Fortunatus, Carmina 6.10, vv. 55-6, Latin text and English translation from Roberts (2017). Fortunatus had a virgin declare to her bridegroom God:

If my feet had the power, I would readily come in haste to the stars,
and suspended in air make a journey to heaven.

{ ipsa venire velim, properans si possit in astris
pendula sideream planta tenere viam. }

Fortunatus, Carmina 8.3, vv. 233-4, sourced similarly.

Jerome similarly proposed extraordinary journeys. For example, Jerome wrote to his man friend Rufinus: “Oh, if only the Lord Jesus Christ would suddenly transport me to you as Philip was transported to the eunuch, and Habakkuk to Daniel {o si mihi nunc dominus Iesus Christus vel Philippi ad eunuchum vel Ambacum ad Danihelum translationem repente concederet},” quoted above from Jerome, Letter 3, “To Rufinus.” To the bishops Alypius and Augustine, Jerome wrote:

I call God to witness that, if it could be done, I would become a dove and with wings fly to be enfolded in your embrace, as indeed always, because of the merit of your virtues, but now especially because your cooperation and your leadership is strangling the heresy of Celestius

{ testem inuocans deum, quod, si possit fieri, adsumptis alis columbae uestris amplexibus implicarer, semper quidem pro merito uirtutum uestrarum sed nunc maxime, quia cooperatoribus et auctoribus uobis heresis Caelestina iugulata est }

Jerome, Letter 143, “To the bishops Alypius and Augustine {Ad Alypium et Augustinum episcopos},” from para. 1, Latin text of Hilberg (1910-1918), English translation (modified) from Freemantle (1892).

[13] Jerome, Letter 12, “To Antony the Aemonian monk {Ad Antonium monachum Haemonae},” excerpt, Latin text of Hilberg (1910-1918), English translation (modified) from Freemantle (1892). The subsequent quote is similarly from Jerome, Letter 11, “To the young Aemonian women {Ad virgines Haemonenses}.”

[14] Fortunatus wrote of Agnes’s presence to him through the material substance of a gift of milk:

I spied fingers splayed through a milky gift,
a cast of your hand where you snatched some cream.
I must know: what made your soft nails sculpt it so?

{ Aspexi digitos per lactae munera fixos,
et stat picta manus hic ubi crama rapis.
dic, rogo, quis teneros sic sculpere conpulit ungues? }

Fortunatus, Carmina 11.14, Latin text of Roberts (2017), beautiful English translation by Pucci (2010) p. 99.

[15] Venantius Fortunatus, Carmina 8.1, “In his name to various people {Ex nomine suo ad diversos},” incipit “You who drink in the Boeotian Muses {Aonias avido qui lambitis ore Camenas},” vv. 41-7, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Roberts (2017).

Fortunatus had a warm friendship with Radegund and enjoyed her patronage. At least in his mind, he was her Jerome. Fiske associated Jerome and Fortunatus briefly at a high level of abstraction: “both had women friends, to whom they wrote, as to friends.” Fiske (1955) p. 186.

[images] (1) Radegund frees prisoners. Illustration from late-eleventh-century instance of Fortunatus’s Life of Holy Radegund {De vita sanctae Radegundis}. From folio 25v of Poitiers, Bibliotheque municipale, MS. 250. Subsequent images are similarly from this manuscript of De vita sanctae Radegundis. For analysis of its illustrations, Carrasco (1990). (2) Leaving her husband in bed, Radegund gets out of bed and lies down on the cold floor to pray. Illumination from folio 24 of De vita sanctae Radegundis. (3) Radegund curing a blind woman. Illumination from folio 34 of De vita sanctae Radegundis. (4) Portrait of Fortunatus beginning his De vita sanctae Radegundis. Illumination from folio 21v of De vita sanctae Radegundis.


Carrasco, Magdalena Elizabeth. 1990. “Spirituality in Context: The Romanesque Illustrated Life of St. Radegund of Poitiers (Poitiers, Bibl. Mun., MS 250).” The Art Bulletin. 72 (3): 414-435.

Cherewatuk, Karen. 1993. “Radegund and Epistolary Tradition.” Pp. 20-45 in Karen Cherewatuk and Ulrike Wiethaus, eds. Dear Sister: Medieval Women and the Epistolary Genre. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Coates, Simon. 1998. “Regendering Radegund? Fortunatus, Baudonivia and the Problem of Female Sanctity in Merovingian Gaul.” Studies in Church History. 34: 37-50.

Den Boer, James and Maria Den Boer, trans. 2009. Small Gifts Great Grace: The Personal Poems of Venantius Fortunatus. Elk Grove, CA: Bald Trickster Press.

Duvall, Onnie. 1996. “Radegund of Poitiers (ca. 518-587).” Entry in The ORB: On-Line Reference Book for Medieval Studies.

Fiske, Adele M. 1955. The Survival and Development of the Ancient Concept of Friendship in the Early Middle Ages. Ph.D. Thesis, Fordham University (New York City).

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.

George, Judith W., trans. 1995. Venantius Fortunatus: Personal and Political Poems. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Hilberg, Isidorus, ed. 1910-1918. Sancti Eusebii Hieronymi Epistulae {Letters of Saint Eusebius Hieronymus (Jerome)}. Vindobonae: Tempsky. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) 54 (Epistulae 1-70), 55 (Epistulae 71-120), and 56 (Epistulae 120-154).

Leo, Friedrich, ed. 1881. Venanti Fortunati Opera Poetica (Pars Prior), Venanti Fortunati Opera Pedestria (Pars Posterior). Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi IV. Berlin: Weidmann. Another copy.

McNamara, Jo Ann, and John E. Halborg, ed. and trans., with E. Gordon Whatley. 1992. Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Nisard, Charles, 1888. “Des poésies de Sainte Radegonde attribuées jusqu’ici à Fortunat.” Revue Historique. 37 (1): 49-57.

Navalesi, Kent E. 2020. The Prose Lives of Venantius Fortunatus: Hagiography, lay piety and pastoral care in sixth-century Gaul. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Pucci, Michael, trans. 2010. Poems to Friends: Venantius Fortunatus. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co.

Rinaldi, R. 2014. “The Lives of St. Radegund.” Online at David M. Reis’s Medieval Christianity course website.

Roberts, Michael. 2009. The Humblest Sparrow: The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Review by John Moorhead.

Roberts, Michael, ed and trans. 2017. Venantius Fortunatus. Poems. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 46. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Reviews by Hope Williard and by Lionel Yaceczko.

Wasyl, Anna Maria. 2015. “An Aggrieved Heroine in Merovingian Gaul: Venantius Fortunatus, Radegund’s Lament on the Destruction of Thuringia, and Echoing Ovid’s Heroides.” Bollettino di Studi Latini. 45 (1): 64-75.

Williard, Hope Deejune. 2016. Friendship in the Works of Venantius Fortunatus. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Leeds, UK.

medieval counselor courageously advised king

Advisors telling a leader something she doesn’t want to hear can harm the advisors’ status and remuneration. Nonetheless, for advisors to add value to a leader’s decision-making, they must not merely flatter the leader and tell her what she wants to hear. This fundamental principle has been known in the consulting business at least since Aristotle advised Alexander the Great, sometimes unsuccessfully. A thirteenth-century Old French romance stated this principle explicitly through the words of a medieval counselor advising the king of France.

The king of France received a beautiful young man as a messenger. The king greeted the messenger and welcomed him with a kiss. The king later learned that the messenger came from a vassal-king with a message to kill the messenger. In medieval European culture, killing a messenger was regarded as dishonorable. So too was killing a person whom one had kissed in friendship. The king asked the counts of Blois, Nevers, and Clermont for advice on what he should do to the messenger.

Mary goes to her dormition

The counselor counts debated the matter among themselves. Because he was the oldest, the count of Blois spoke first. Spouting proverbs such as “one good turn deserves another {uns bezoins altre requiert},” Blois proposed giving the messenger a forty-day reprieve on account of the kiss and then executing him. The count of Nevers agreed with this proposal. The count of Clermont, however, argued strongly that preserving the king’s honor required that he not harm the messenger. Blois and Nevers agreed with Clermont’s reasoning, but worried that Clermont’s advice wasn’t what the king wanted to hear.

sword to the mouth reveals true intentions

Clermont insisted that proper conduct was to give the king the best advice even if that wasn’t the advice the king wanted to hear. Clermont explained to Blois and Nevers:

My good lords, I have never said
that the king cannot act as he sees fit,
despite my considered opinion.
Even after I have given him
the best advice I know,
he can still do just as he wishes.
Is there then any reason to keep silent
about proper counsel, if he requests it?
By faith, no! If he asks for it,
I’m duty bound to give him sound advice,
and then let him act as befits a king!
Were I tormented by the very Devil,
I would still discharge my duty
to my lord, whom I should love,
since he asked me in good faith!
If I always tell him the best action to take,
it’s not my fault if he takes the worst.
Even if I incur the king’s displeasure,
I will not stray at any price from the right path,
as far as I can determine it.

{ Biel segnor, cho ne di jo mie
Que li rois ne puist faire bien
Trestolt son plaisir malgré mien.
Mais puis que dit li averai
Al miols que dire li sarai,
Puet il faire tolt son plaisir.
Doi li jo donc por cho taisir
Consel de droit, s’il le demande?
Nenil, par foi! s’il le conmande,
Consel li doi doner et dire,
Et puis si face comme sire!
Ja diäbles tant ne m’esmarge
Que jo del tolt ne me descarge
Viers mon segnor, cui amer doi,
Quant conjuré m’avra en foi!
Se jo li di le miols tols dis,
Quel blasme i ai s’il fait le pis?
Encor li soit il contrecuer,
Nen istrai del droit a nul fuer
Por cho que g’i puissce assener. }

Too many men remain silent when they are asked for their opinion. When they speak, too many men say what they think their leader wants to hear, especially if their leader is a woman. Much evil results from silence and conforming advice to dominant interests.

medieval advisors

Meninist literary criticism insists on men speaking frankly about women and to women in literary study. Men’s silence deserves part of the blame for gross injustices against men. But meninist literary critics aren’t doctrinaire. If a meninist literary critic’s wife or girlfriend asks him if she looks fat, well, that’s a wholly different matter!

* * * * *

Read more:


The above quotes are from The Romance of Silence {Le roman de Silence} by Heldris of Cornwall {Heldris de Cornuälle} vv. 4559 (one good turn deserves another) and 4692-4711 (My good lords, I have never said…), Old French text and English translation (modified slightly) from Roche-Mahdi (1992). This romance was composed in the second half of the thirteenth century. It survives in one manuscript: Nottingham, University Library, Mi LM 6, f. 189r-223v, written in the thirteenth century.

[images] (1) Mary the mother of Jesus goes to her death (Dormition). Illumination on folio 17 of the Hunterian Psalter, a manuscript produced in England about 1170. Preserved as Glasgow University Library MS Hunter 229 (U.3.2). (2) Sword piercing the mouth of a man. Cf. Hebrews 4:12. Decorated initial on folio 127 of the Hunterian Psalter. (3) Two men advisor-evangelists. Decorated initial on folio 154v of the Hunterian Psalter.


Roche-Mahdi, Sarah, ed. and trans. 1992. Silence: A Thirteenth-Century French Romance. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.

Ennodius celebrated seminal blessing & disparaged eunuch Tribune

The early Christian church fathers Jerome and Augustine vigorously denounced classical castration culture. Yet the poet of antiquity who thrust most firmly for men’s seminal blessing was the fittingly named Magnus Felix Ennodius. Appointed bishop of Pavia about 514, Ennodius in a wedding song urged the young man Maximus to be fruitful in marital love. Ennodius also disparaged the eunuch Tribune for lacking manly seed. Moreover, Ennodius represented Pasiphae’s sexual desire for a bull as no less understandable than women’s admiration for male donkeys. In light of Ennodius’s profound appreciation for human sexuality, Christians rightly came to regard Ennodius as a saint.

Ennodius had a keen sense for historical misrepresentation of men’s sexuality. The last two verses of his wedding song (epithalamium) for Maximus are programmatic:

When cold frost suppresses inspiration,
may the warmth of swelling spring revive it.

{ Quod nunc ingenium premunt pruinae,
Distendat refouens decore uernum. }[1]

Subtly alluding to the sophisticated allegory of Prudentius, cold frost figures the persecution and repression of men’s heterosexuality. The warmth of swelling spring represents the enlivening effect of men’s sexual love for women.

While spring is a common setting for love poetry, spring envelops Ennodius’s epithalamium with specific, physical representations of human sexuality. The richness of Ennodius’s figuration is extraordinary:

The earth becomes aroused by her conjugal nature,
tumescent trees leaf wanton foliage,
milk-giving grass is pressed down into knotty turf,
and jeweled fingers start to burgeon from the branch.

{ Erigitur genio tellus tumefacta marito,
Torrida lasciuis silua uiret spoliis.
Lactans cespitibus in nodum truditur herba.
Vitea gemmatos brachia dant digitos. }[2]

Perhaps alluding to the biblical unity of the sexes, these verses alternate between feminine and masculine signs. Figuring female genitals, the innately sexual earth rises up and grassy loins, pressed, produce milk. Figuring male genitals, the tumescent trees with hard wood and wanton foliage become in tighter focus jeweled fingers extending from the branch. These verses display a sexual imagination as wonderfully physical and specific as that of Saint Jerome.

A classically learned man, Ennodius drew upon the traditional Greco-Roman deities Venus and Cupid to spur Maximus’s sexual ardor. Ennodius described the nude Venus as having “rosy nipples {roseae papillae}” and a shining body.[3] Venus declared to her son Cupid about Maximus:

Let this man’s deepest fibers come to know my lamp.
Let him begin to sigh, desire, careen, burn, beg.

{ Huius ad abstrusas ueniat mea lampada fibras:
Suspiret cupiat discurrat ferueat oret. }

Maximus begging his wife for sex suggests that he values her more than she values him. The Roman ideology of female superiority goes all the way back to the Sabine women. Superior female value was prominently represented in the tombs of Pythionice. Ennodius interpreted superior female value as honoring Maximus:

Your pure life brings a wife whose merits vanquish yours.
Because she overcomes you, she is your palm.

{ Vincentem meritis sponsam dat candida uita,
Quae cum te superat, sic tibi palma uenit. }

With the man on the bottom, that’s classical Roman ideology like Propertius crediting his beloved Cynthia for all his poetic success.[4]

Christian marriage, however, was meant to be a conjugal partnership. Husbands in normal Christian marriages have no need to beg their wives for sex. Ennodius with his epithalamium urged Maximus to have joyful, fruitful sexual relations with his wife. With magnificent irony, Ennodius had Cupid declare to Maximus, “if you believe {si credis},” then you will have “many descendants {multi nepotes}.”[5] That’s the typical effect of the Jewish and Christian seminal blessing in practice.

Ennodius disparaged the eunuch Tribune for lacking the seminal blessing. Castration in the ancient world varied from the removal of just a male’s testicles to the removal of most or all of his penis as well. Ennodius with a Latin pun represented a man being deprived of his testicles as making him into a liar:

You, Tribune, can speak falsely without testification:
your wind has a tongue with the weight of air.

{ Tutus falsa loqui poteris sine teste, Tribune:
Ventus habet linguam ponderibus uacui. }[6]

Ennodius associated a man’s penis with being rooted and weighty:

His damaged nature renders Tribune unstable.
He’ll fly away again unless chains hold him down.
Wretch, weigh your little anchor when the Zephyr comes,
for no roots offer you convenient help.

{ Instabilem faciunt naturae damna Tribunum.
Auolat hinc rursus, uincula ni teneant.
Tolle, miser, modicam zephyro ueniente saburram.
Radix nulla tuo est utilis auxilio. }

Ennodius thus implied that the eunuch Tribune lacks the preeminent Roman masculine virtue of gravitas.

A Christian perspective on the eunuch Tribune differs significantly from traditional Roman concern about gravitas. Christian teaching affirms that those who are eunuchs by birth have the same human dignity as do all human persons.[7] Men throughout history, however, have made themselves eunuchs for worldly advantage under gynocentrism. Eunuchs in ancient Rome held positions of both political-administrative and military leadership.[8] The name Tribune associates this eunuch with such worldly eminence. Ennodius said of him:

You wish to be called “rich,” “noble,” “handsome,” “a friend.”

{ Vis dici locuples sublimis pulcher amicus }

Men who castrate themselves for worldly advantage wrongly separate themselves and others from the seminal blessing. A man doesn’t truly profit if he gains the whole world and loses his seminal blessing.

Ennodius refigured the eunuch Tribune in Christian terms. The eunuch Tribune became merely a poor farmer:

This eunuch at the crossroads asks for his foul upkeep,
but has no seed to sow into the ground.
The countryside protects large buds in furrowed fields
and its youthful harvest pays back multiple.
In vain this gelding cleaves the earth’s back with his plow
unless he tills and strews about wheat seeds.

{ Eunuchus turpem poscit per compita uictum:
Semina telluri non habet unde ferat.
Grandia proscissis rus seruat germina membris.
Fetibus et messis multiplicata redit:
Incassum sectus proscindit uomere terga.
Ni findens spargat triticeam subolem. }

With “pays back multiple {multiplicata redit},” Ennodius alludes to the biblical parable of the sower, which Jerome interpreted in the context of heterosexual relations. As a eunuch, Tribune lacks the seminal blessing. If he has merely wheat seeds, he cannot incarnate the fruit of numerous descendants.

Queen Pasiphae embracing the Cretan bull

Ennodius sympathetically treated a silver goblet engraved with a representation of Pasiphae’s love for the Cretan bull. The Cretan king Minos had refused to sacrifice the beautiful Cretan bull to Poseidon. Enraged, Poseidon caused Minos’s wife Pasiphae to lust ardently for the bull. Daedalus constructed for her a cow that she used to deceive the bull into having sex with her. Women raping males should be regarded as a serious wrong. But with a sense for representational sophistication, Ennodius interpreted Pasiphae’s sexual desire for the bull as a natural female response to a physically magnificent male:

In art you, Pasiphae, won’t relinquish the young, snow-white bull.
You beg for kisses, arms entwined around his neck.

{ Pasiphae, niueum linquis nec in arte iuuencum
Diffusis collo manibus petis oscula supplex }[9]

Pasiphae and the bull behave as a wife and husband, fully ensouled like Eve and Adam:

The woman flirts, the bull responds, limbs start to move.
Who has infused souls into the mold art made?

{ Blanditur mulier, sentit bos, membra mouentur.
Attulit ars formas: quis dedit hic animas? }

Ennodius appreciated a woman’s active role in arousing a male. He also acknowledged the intense physicality of sexual intercourse:

Look! The woman like a wife again sinks below the bull.
These human flames cause that beast’s heart to heave.
How does the nape of its vast neck withstand the yoke?
The sweat! Oh, how exhausted by the leather strap!

{ Ecce iterum tauro mulier summittitur uxor,
Humanas pecudum suspirant pectora flammas.
Vasta iugum ceruix, cur suscipit area colli,
Qualiter astricto sudauit marcida loro! }

Their relationship includes physical tenderness. The bull “nuzzles his snout beneath approaching lips {admotis suspendat rostra labellis}.” While typically lacking a physical endowment as extensive as that of a bull or donkey, most men are fully capable of pleasing a woman in the same way that the Cretan bull pleased Pasiphae.[10]

woman embraces a bull

Ennodius represents the beginning of medieval literature vigorously affirming the goodness of men’s sexuality and the seminal blessing. The epic disaster of men’s impotence within the decadence of Nero’s Rome falls away. The Greek girl’s eloquent lament for Maximianus’s sexual incapacity is a counterpart to Ennodius’s epithalamium for Maximus. The past led to Maximianus, while the medieval future belonged to Maximus’s line. Ennodius, Bishop of Pavia, became recognized as a saint. Pavia became famous for lovely, warmly receptive women. But the faith is still not understood, hope is clouded, and love for men all too tenuous. Study the sign of Jonah and the Archpoet!

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Magnus Felix Ennodius, Carmina 1.4 (Mulligan 8), “Wedding song delivered to Maximus, an Admirable Man {Epithalamium Dictum Maximo Viro Spectabili},” incipit “The year, its sun renewed, forms tender stalks of grain {Annus sole nouo teneras dum format aristas},” Latin edition of Hartel (1882), English translation (modified slightly) from Mulligan (2022). The Latin edition of Vogel (1885) is also important and freely available. Readily available to all also are a lemmatization of Ennodius’s poems and a compilation of resources on Ennodius.

The term “Admirable Man {Vir Spectabilis}” is an imperial Roman title for a man with senatorial rank. Vir Spectabilis was the second highest title among the imperial Roman aristocracy. It ranked below only the senatorial title “Illustrious Man {Vir Illustris}.” Mulligan (2022) p. 171, n. 252. Ennodius apparently wrote his epithalamium in the spring of 510 GC. Id. n. 251.

Ennodius is a sophisticated poet. Mulligan’s seminal translation carries across Ennodius’s verse forms:

Ennodius’ poetry deserves a verse translation, the only mode that can capture some qualities of a style that contains nice touches — and occasionally strains language to (and sometimes past) the breaking point. Creating a readable, accessible, and metrical translation of Ennodius was a perplexing, exhilarating challenge.

Mulligan (2022) p. 25. On Ennodius’s meters, id. pp. 27-34. My changes to Mulligan’s translation, which don’t necessarily reflect his verse forms, are intended to make the text more easily readable and closer to the literal meaning of the Latin to serve a general audience. More exacting poetic readers should consult Mulligan’s book.

The subsequent six quotes above are similarly from “Epithalamium Dictum Maximo Viro Spectabili,” vv. 7-10 (The earth becomes aroused…), 42 (rosy nipples), 93-4 (Let this man’s deepest fibers…), 21-2 (Your pure life brings a wife…), 121 (if you believe; many descendants).

[2] The Latin verb erigat originally applied to constructing buildings in the sense of “raise” or “erect.” Juster, discussing mentem … erigat in Maximianus, Elegies 3.3-4, observed:

The phrase mentem …. erigat (“uplift a mind”) has strong Christian overtones. See, e.g. Augustine, Sermones 4.352.2 (erigant mentes); Ennodius, Dictio 8.1.18 (erigere mens).

Juster (2018) p. 157. In Ennodius’s epithalamium, the verb erigat thus raises sexual arousal to acquiring knowledge of God.

[3] In a classical myth known as the Judgment of Paris, Venus, by baring her body won the beauty context against Juno and Minerva.

[4] In his epithalamium, Ennodius drew upon the classical Roman elegiac conceit of “love is war.” Ennodius depicted Cupid shooting arrows, and Cupid explicitly referred to sexual relations as “war {bellus}” in his epithalamium, v. 121. Ennodius, however, urged Maximus to have sex only with his wife and associated such chastity with elite behavior:

May you know only she who has been destined for you, as you were destined for her, since you did not come from the dregs of the earth.

{ solam illam tibi deputatam noueris, cui te quasi non esses ex mundi faece seruasti. }

“Ennodius to Maximus, Admirable Man {Ennodius Viro Spectabili Maximo},” Latin edition of Vogel (1885) #386, English translation of Mulligan (2022) #8. Ennodius’s letters are highly literary works:

He put the act of communication through belletristic display first, often leaving the nuts and bolts of substantive business to be entrusted to the bearer of the letter or relegated to now-lost attachments.

Kennell (2016) p. 370. Ennodius’s appeal to Maximus to be chaste uses rhetoric rather than Christian moral doctrine.

Ennodius similarly presents marital sexuality and fecundity as natural and a blessing. Wasyl aptly observed of the scene of Venus and Cupid in Ennodius’s epithalamium:

this whole scene is certainly permeated with sympathy – and not hatred at all – for the rights (if not desires) of the «flesh», or rather, to put it properly, of human nature with sexuality as its integral part.

Wasyl (2018) p. 614.

[5] Cupid laments to Venus, “there are not enough children for the nascent age {nec proles nascenti sufficit aeuo}.” Epithalamium, v. 56. Ennodius composed funeral epigrams. Among those for married women, a recurring them is matrimonial fecundity. Wasyl (2018) p. 611. The issue is not simply that Maximus needs to get to work in fulfilling Roman men’s traditional marriage obligation. Cf. Bernstein (2019) pp. 78-80. Ennodius is concerned about the seminal blessing, a fundamental good in Jewish and Christian understanding.

[6] Ennodius, Carmina 2.70 (Mulligan 138), complete epigram. The subsequent three quotes above are from Ennodius’s eunuch Tribune epigrams: Carmina 2.71 (Mulligan 139), complete epigram (His damaged nature…); 2.69 (Mulligan 137), v. 5 (You wish to be called…); 2.72 (Mulligan 140), complete epigram (This eunuch at the crossroads…).

Ennodius’s epigrams are topically and formally similar to Martial’s. Adamik (2014). But Ennodius’s epigrams are infused with Christian sensibility, while Martial’s aren’t.

[7] Matthew 19:12, Galations 3:28.

[8] Eunuchs held prominent positions in the Roman Empire from the third century onward. Steward (2014) and Steward (2017). The eunuch Narses was the supreme commander of the Eastern Roman army that sacked Gothic Rome in 552.

[9] Ennodius, Carmina 2.25 (Mulligan 83), vv. 1-2. With respect to Pasiphae, “Ennodius treats his controversial protagonist with intriguing tenderness.” Wasyl (2018) p. 609. More importantly, Ennodius’s understanding interpretation of Pasiphae isn’t merely poor-dearism. Ennodius appreciated Pasiphae’s sexual desire for the magnificent bull and so affirmed the attractiveness and goodness of male sexuality, even of a beastly sort. In Ennodius’s interpretation, “the laws of nature have not been broken by this peculiar union.” Id., Abstract.

The subsequent three quotes above are from Ennodius’s Pasiphae epigrams: Carmina 2.29 (Mulligan 84), full epigram (The woman flirts…); 2.103 (Mulligan 87) vv. 5-8 (Look! The woman like a wife…); 2.30 (Mulligan 85), v. 2 (nuzzles his snout…).

Modern scholars have vastly underestimated the sexual freedom of expression available to medieval authors. For example, with respect to Ennodius’s epithalamium, a leading scholar of Ennodius stated:

only through metaphors of vernal fecundity and mythological situations could he articulate the physical nature of marriage positively and with apposite candor. Of necessity, his poem {his epithalamium} minimizes the Christian background to the impending nuptials.

Kennell (2000) p. 92. Ausonius’s Wedding Cento {Cento nuptialis} candidly, satirically confronted the brutalization of men’s sexuality. Ennodius, in contrast, articulated positively the physical nature of marriage through Christian belief in the seminal blessing.

[10] Donkeys need not yearn for longer tails, nor men for bigger penises. Men’s gentials are sufficient for the seminal blessing. At the same time, men must recognize their limitations with respect to women.

[images] (1) Queen Pasiphae embracing the Cretan bull. Illumination from an instance of Christine de Pizan’s The Letter of Othea to Hector {L’Épître d’Othéa á Hector}. From folio 116r of the Book of the Queen, London, British Library, Harley MS 4431 (created from 1410 to 1414). (2) A woman and a bull. Excerpt from Alfred Philippe Roll’s painting from 1885, preserved as accession # 2671 in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes {National Museum of Fine Arts } (Buenos Aires, Argentina). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Adamik, Tamás. 2014. “Ennodius und Martial.” Acta Classica Universitatis Scientiarum Debreceniensis. 50: 195–205.

Bernstein, Neil W. 2019. “Nec Tibi Sufficiat Transmissae Gloria Vitae: Otium and Ambition from Statius to Ennodius.” The Classical Journal. 115 (1): 63–85.

Hartel, Wilhelm, ed. 1882. Magnus Felix Ennodius. Magni Felicis Ennodii Opera Omnia. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Volume 6. Vienna: Gerold. Alternate presentation. Another presentation (mis-attributed to Vogel).

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

Kennell, Stefanie A. H. 2000. Magnus Felix Ennodius: A Gentleman of the Church. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Kennell, Stefanie A. H. 2016. “The Letter Collection of Ennodius of Pavia.” Chapter 22 (pp. 369-383) in Cristiana Sogno, Bradley K. Storin, and Edward Jay Watts. 2016. Late Antique Letter Collections: A Critical Introduction and Reference Guide. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Mulligan, Bret. 2022. The Poetry of Ennodius: Translated with an Introduction and Notes. London: Routledge.

Steward, Michael E. 2014. “Eunuchs in Theoderic’s Italy.” mikeaztec. Online.

Steward, Michael E. 2017. “Breaking Down Barriers: Eunuchs in Italy and North Africa, 400-625.” Pp. 33-54 in Amelia Brown and Bronwen Neil, eds. Byzantine Culture in Translation. Byzantina Australiensia 21. Leiden: Brill.

Vogel, Friedrich, ed. 1885. Magnus Felix Ennodius. Magni Felicis Ennodi Opera. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Volume 7. Berolini: Apud Weidmannos.

Wasyl, Anna Maria. 2018. “The Future Bishop and Pasiphae. Asceticism, Corporeality, and the Secular in Ennodius’s Poetry.” Athenaeum. Studi di Letteratura e Storia dell’Antichità pubblicati sotto gli auspici dell’Università di Pavia. 106 (2): 607-618.

Chrétien de Troyes excused Philomena for killing her innocent son

Ancient Greek literature tells tales of brutal violence. Epic violence against men institutionalized as war was the most prevalent brutality. But horrific violence also occurred within families. Oedipus blinded himself after killing his father and marrying his mother. Clytemnestra slayed her husband and his concubine. Medea murdered her ex-husband’s new wife and the children she had with him. The ancient Greek story of Philomena, Procne, Tereus, and Itys similarly involves horrific familial violence. When Chrétien de Troyes adapted the latter story from Ovid’s Latin version into Old French in the twelfth century, he both deplored Philomena killing her innocent son and excused her action.

Ovid and Chrétien de Troyes depicted Tereus as a barbarian monster. Philomena and Procne were princesses of Athens, the preeminent city in Greece. Tereus was king of Thrace, a region far from central Greece. Procne married Tereus to establish an enduring political alliance after he had routed “barbarian hordes {barbara agmina}” besieging Athens.[1] By origin and action, Tereus was thus associated with barbarians.

Tereus acted like a monster. After being married to Procne for five years and having a son named Itys with her, Tereus returned to Athens to bring Philomena to visit her sister Procne. But as soon as Tereus saw the beautiful Philomena, he lusted ardently for her like a dog. Tereus lied to Philomena and her father. After promising to bring Philomena back soon, Tereus returned to Thrace. During this return voyage he continually eyed Philomena with his bestial male gaze. Tereus confined Philomena in a house in the woods near his Thracian palace. He then raped her. To prevent her from telling anyone of his horrible crime, he cut out her tongue. After brutalizing her in this way, he returned to rape her repeatedly. With his lack of loyalty to his wife, his violent, bestial sexual desire for his wife’s sister, and his deceptiveness, Tereus is characterized squarely within the misandristic tradition. Men have felt defamed by literary representations of Tereus.[2] But who cares?

Procne and Philomena understandably burned with anger at Tereus’s horrible crimes. In the ancient and medieval world, women were credited with being capable of acting just as horrifically or more horrifically than any monstrous man. After learning of her husband’s crimes, Procne declared to her sister:

“This is no time for tears,” she said, “what’s to be done
can be done only with steel, or if you have it, something stronger
than steel. I am ready for any crime, sister,
whether to burn the palace down and
throw the schemer Tereus amid the flames,
or his tongue and eyes, and his genitals that stole from you
chastity — to snatch them off with steel and through a thousand wounds
expel his guilty soul. I am ready for something great.
What it is, I am still uncertain.”

{ “non est lacrimis hoc” inquit “agendum,
sed ferro, sed si quid habes, quod vincere ferrum
possit. In omne nefas ego me, germana, paravi.
Aut ego, cum facibus regalia tecta cremabo,
artificem mediis inmittam Terea flammis,
aut linguam, aut oculos et quae tibi membra pudorem
abstulerunt, ferro rapiam, aut per vulnera mille
sontem animam expellam. Magnum quodcumque paravi:
quid sit, adhuc dubito.” }[3]

Violence against men’s genitals has historically been common, all the way through to Super Bowl commercials. Such violence has even been formalized as a primitive punishment for rape. Procne, however, didn’t seek justice. She sought great vengeance. She wanted to burn Tereus’s body, deprive him of senses, and send his soul to be condemned. She sought to outdo Tereus in vicious crime.

Procne and Philomela grabbing Itys to kill him

Happenstance and the resemblance of Procne’s innocent son Itys to his father Tereus spurred her to violence. Itys appeared just as Procne was searching for a great crime. Ovid recounted with detachment:

While Procne was so exhausting herself,
Itys came to his mother. What might be to her
is proposed, and looking at him with pitiless eyes she said,
“Ah, how similar to your father you are.” Saying no more,
she secretly contrived a mournful deed in her boiling anger.
But when the boy approached her and greeted his mother,
brought forth his little arms and put them around her neck,
combining flattering mixed with kissing as little boys do,
the mother is indeed moved, and her firmly standing anger broken.
Against her will, her eyes began to moisten with tears.

{ Peragit dum talia Procne,
ad matrem veniebat Itys. Quid possit, ab illo
admonita est: oculisque tuens inmitibus “a quam
es similis patri” dixit. Nec plura locuta
triste parat facinus tacitaque exaestuat ira.
Ut tamen accessit natus matrique salutem
attulit et parvis adduxit colla lacertis
mixtaque blanditiis puerilibus oscula iunxit,
mota quidem est genetrix infractaque constitit ira
invitique oculi lacrimis maduere coactis }

Chrétien de Troyes added emotionally heightened diction and moral commentary in expanding this scene:

And as she said these words, her son
unluckily came into the room
destined to be his place of doom.
He was a truly handsome boy,
but that day Procne did not enjoy
the sight of him. In a quiet voice
she spoke words that were the Devil’s choice:
“Ha! I see here a vile, devilish thing
that looks too much like that traitor king!
Bitter, bitter, your death will be
because of your father’s villainy.
You are the one who’ll pay for his crime.
You’ll have to die before your time,
unjustly die for just one reason:
innocent though you are of treason,
and though you’re not the one who’s hated,
never before has God created
anyone else, any other pair
so much alike — to that I swear.
That’s why I will cut off your head.”
The child heard nothing his mother said.
He ran to greet her. When he kissed her
so joyfully, how could she persist
in the frightful plan she had in mind?
Nature ordains for humankind,
as human law itself requires
and piety in our hearts desires,
that no mother could have the will
to mutilate her child, or her child kill.

{ Atant ses fiz devant li vint
Qui biaus estoit a desmesure
Si l’amena mesavanture
Que li estoit a avenir.
La mere voit son fil venir
Et dit an bas une mervoille
Si con Deables li consoille.
“Ha,” fet ele, “chose sanbable
Au traïtor, ou vil deable!
Morir t’estuet de mort amere
Por la felenie ton père.
Sa félonie conparras.
Por son forfet a tort morras
Qui ne l’as mie desservi,
Fors solemant qu’onques ne vi
Ne Deus ne fist mien esciant
Chose a autre miauz ressanblant,
Et por ce te vuel descoler.”
Li anfes la cort acoler
Qui de tot ce n’ot rien oï.
Tant la beisa et conjoï
Que Progne deûst estre ostee
Del panser ou ele iert antree
Si con requiert droiz et nature
De tote humainne creature
Et si con pitiez le deffant,
Que mere ne doit son anfant
Ne ocire ne desmanbrer. }[4]

In Chrétien’s version, Procne implicitly was overtaken by the devil, for she spoke “as if the devil were advising her {si con Deables li consoille}.” In becoming similar to Tereus, Procne saw in her innocent little boy Itys a “traitor or vile devil {traïtor, ou vil deable}.” Although she explicitly declared Itys to be innocent, she would kill him merely because of his surface form. Medieval Christian clerics theologically understood inner being to be more significant than surface form. Chrétien commented that, by nature, human law, and divine law, no mother would kill her child. In planning to kill her child, Procne became no longer a mother.

Philomena and Procne killing Itys

Procne and Philomena’s murder of Procne’s innocent son Itys is more explicitly horrific in Ovid’s version. While maintaining detached narration, Ovid employed a violent simile, terrified direct speech, and details of brutality:

Without delay, she dragged Itys as a tiger drags
a suckling female fawn through the dark woods along the Ganges.
When they reached a remote part of the high house,
and the boy saw his fate, he stretched out his hands
and screamed, “Mother! Mother!” and he sought to cling to her neck.
Procne struck him with a knife where his chest meets his side,
and didn’t turn her face. Even this one wound was sufficient
to send him to his fate, yet Philomena also slit his throat,
and they sliced apart his body while it retained life
and breath. Parts boil in bronze kettles,
other parts hiss on spits, and the room drips with gore.

{ Nec mora, traxit Ityn, veluti Gangetica cervae
lactentem fetum per silvas tigris opacas.
Utque domus altae partem tenuere remotam,
tendentemque manus et iam sua fata videntem
et “mater, mater” clamantem et colla petentem
ense ferit Procne, lateri qua pectus adhaeret,
nec vultum vertit. Satis illi ad fata vel unum
vulnus erat: iugulum ferro Philomela resolvit.
Vivaque adhuc animaeque aliquid retinentia membra
dilaniant. Pars inde cavis exsultat aenis,
pars veribus stridunt: manant penetralia tabo. }[5]

Aedon killing Itys

While modern scholars have commonly shrouded the enormity of their deeds in silence, Procne and Philomena became in no way inferior to Tereus in wicked inhumanity. Chrétien de Troyes’s version shows the historical tendency to elide these women’s brutality:

Even as lovingly her son
embraced her, the Devil’s will was done.
Pride made her listen to what he said
and do evil — cut off her child’s head
and give it to Philomena. They shared
in the cooking of the meat, prepared
not just in one way, but in two:
part they put in a pot for stew
and the other part they roasted.

{ Li petiz anfes par chierté,
Par Deablie et par fierté,
Que Deables li amoneste,
A l’anfant copee a la teste,
Si l’a Philomena bailliee,
Puis ont la char apareilliee;
Antr’eles deus mout bien et tost.
Partie an mirent cuire an rost
Et en esseu l’autre partie. }

Pride and the devil are closely associated in medieval Christian thought. Chrétien faulted Procne with pride, a frequent human failing. He blamed the devil, commonly figured as male, for Procne murdering her innocent son and cooking his dead body. Depriving women of agency is a means for depriving women of responsibility for their crimes.[6]

Both Ovid and Chrétien de Troyes highlighted the sadistic glee with which Procne and Philomena fed Itys’s cooked flesh to his father Tereus, but they end the tale much differently. Ovid described “cruel joys {crudelia gaudia}” with which Procne told Tereus that his son was inside of him. He described Philomena unexpectedly appearing to Tereus:

Just as she was, hair stained with furious murder,
she leaps forward and hurls Itys’s bloody head
into his father’s face. At no time did she want any more
to be able to speak and declare with words the joy of her heart.

{ sicut erat sparsis furiali caede capillis,
prosiluit Ityosque caput Philomela cruentum
misit in ora patris: nec tempore maluit ullo
posse loqui et mentis testari gaudia dictis. }

That’s sad, sick joy. After Philomena and Procne were transformed into birds, Ovid had them appropriately designated:

Even now their breasts have not lost
marks of their excess. Their feathers are impressed with blood.

{ neque adhuc de pectore caedis
excessere notae, signataque sanguine pluma est. }

Indicating the unending trajectory of vengeance’s joy, Tereus became a hoopoe, a bird with a beak like a sword. These metamorphoses are only partial. A morally engaged reader might hope for further change.

Philomena and Procne dismembering and cooking Itys

Chrétien de Troyes recounted at length how Procne gulled Tereus and fed him more and more of the cooked body of their son Itys. When Tereus insistently asked for Itys’s company, Procne taunted him to prompt Philomena’s action:

“Inside of you is what you seek,
yet you’ve not tasted every bit.
Outside remains a part of it.”
Philomena, who in readiness had been
concealed in a nearby room, just then
comes out with Itys’s head in her hands,
and doesn’t pause until she stands
in front of Tereus. She throws
the head, from which the blood still flows,
into his face.

{ “Dedanz toi as ce que tu quiers,
Mes n’i est mie toz antiers.
Partie an as dedanz ton cors
Et partie an a defors”.
Philomena, qui s’iert reposte
An une chanbre iluec decoste
S’an issi fors atot la teste.
Jusque devant lui ne s’areste,
Si li a tote ansanglantee
La teste an mi le vis gitee. }

Chrétien described Philomena as extraordinarily beautiful, talented, and learned. Men sought her company.[7] Perhaps she underwent a metamorphosis in character before her metamorphosis into a nightingale. In any case, the metamorphoses into birds in Chrétien’s version are elaborated with a gender-biased moralization and a chilling threat:

A very great miracle indeed
happened, as the Fates decreed.
Tereus was changed into a bird,
old and scrawny, ugly, absurd.
The little claws that tried to grip
his sword were forced to let it slip.
It was a hoopoe he became
in punishment for his crime, the shame
inflicted on a woman — so
the story tells us. And we know
that Procne was changed into a swallow.
Philomena does not forget her woe.
A nightingale, famed for her song,
she still accuses those who do wrong —
traitors, liars. She seeks to destroy
those who have no respect for joy,
and those vile felons who mistreat,
slander, abuse, and also cheat
honorable women, who are gentle and wise.
Woodlands still resound with her cries.
After the winter months have passed
and summer is beginning at last,
her sweetest song comes from her woes
and bitter hatred for her foes.
“Kill! Kill!” demands the nightingale,
and here I’ll end Philomena’s tale.

{ La, si con plot as destinees
Avint une si granz mervoille
Qu’onques n’oïstes sa paroille,
Car Tereus devint oisiaus
Orz et despiz, petiz et viauz.
De son poing li cheï l’espee
Et il devint hupe copee,
Si con la fable le raconte,
Por le pechié et por la honte
Qu’il avoit fet de la pucele.
Progné devint une arondele
Et Philomena rossignos.
Ancore qui crerroit son los,
Seroit a honte trestuit —
Li desleal mort et destruit
Et li felon et li parjure
Et cil qui de joie n’ont cure
Et tuit cil qui font mesprison
Et felenie et traïson
Vers pucele sage et cortoise,
Car tant l’an grieve et tant l’an poise
Que, quant il vient au prin d’esté,
Que tot l’iver avons passé,
Por les mauves qu’ele tant het
Chante au plus doucemant qu’el set
Par le boschage: “Oci! Oci!” —
De Philomena leirai ci. }

Chrétien de Troyes’s version ends with a defense of women against all those bad men. Procne brutally killing her son Itys is effaced and silenced. The perpetually aggrieved Philomena, even transformed into a nightingale, continually threatens murder.[8] That’s a telling moralization of Philomena’s, Procne’s, and Tereus’s horrific violence.

The historical intensification of gynocentrism has tended to exculpate women and promote penal systems’ vastly disproportionate punishment of persons with penises. In the ancient Greek Odyssey, Penelope recognize the regret of Aedon, turned into a nightingale:

Frequently varying the strains of her voice, she pours out varied melody,
mourning Lord Zethos’s son, her very own son Itylos,
whom she once killed with bronze in her absence of thought.

{ ἥ τε θαμὰ τρωπῶσα χέει πολυδευκέα φωνήν,
παῖδ’ ὀλοφυρομένη Ἴτυλον φίλον, ὅν ποτε χαλκῷ
κτεῖνε δι’ ἀφραδίας, κοῦρον Ζήθοιο ἄνακτος· }[9]

Aedon was much less culpable for killing her innocent son than Procne was. Nonetheless, roughly two thousand years later in Chrétien de Troyes’s telling of the story, Procne as a nightingale cried out, “Kill! Kill! {Oci! Oci!}.” That’s not a sweet song. Reject endless, unjust violence, and mourn its victims. Listen for the actual voice of nightingales. The singing nightingales are male.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.423, Latin text of Magnus (1892) via Perseus, my English translation. Ovid’s Latin uses the name Philomela, from the ancient Greek Φιλομήλα. The name Philomela became Philomena in Old French. For simplicity I consistently use the name Philomena above.

In the sixth century BGC, the Persian Achaemenian Empire ruled Thrace. The Greeks and the Persians became enemies and fought long wars against each other through to the time of Alexander the Great.

Chrétien de Troyes’s version, adapted from Ovid’s tale, added its own barbarian sign with its claim that barbarians approved of incest. Specifically, Chrétien declared that if Procne’s sister Philomela (Tereus’s sister-in-law) had been his biological sister, pagan law would have permitted him to have sex with her:

Therefore, if she were her fraternal sister
the love would not at all have been villainous,
for one of the gods that they had,
according to the law that they observed,
had decided that they might do whatever
their desire and their pleasure wanted.
Such a law had that one written for them,
that whatever pleased or delighted them,
each one could do without committing a sin.
Such was the law that paganism observed.
Therefore, if he had to defend it,
and the god who had willed it hadn’t revoked it,
whatever would have pleased him to do,
no one ought to have considered it evil.
But now let us let their law be.

{ Por ce, s’ele iert sa suer germaine,
N’estoit mie l’amors vilaine,
Car uns lor deus que il avoient
Selonc la loi que il tenoient
Establi qu’il feïssent tuit
Lor volanté et lor deduit.
Tel loi lor avoit cil escrite
Que quanqu’il lor plest ne delite
Pooit chascuns feire sanz crime:
Itel loi tenoit paiennime.
Por ce se poïst cil deffandre,
S’il fust qui l’an vosist reprandre,
Ne ce qu’il li pleisoit a feire
Ne devoit nus a mal retreire.
Mes or leissons lor loi ester. }

Philomena, vv. 219-33, Old French text from Cormier (1986), English translation (modified slightly) from Vaughan (2020). I’ve used this rather literal translation for clarity in what Chrétien de Troyes asserted about “paganism {paiennime}.” Chrétien seems to have invented such a law. He probably drew upon traditional Greco-Roman belief that Jupiter married Juno, as well as medieval perception of Epicureanism. He perhaps humorously meant to allude to use of the word “sister” for a man’s woman-lover or wife in medieval European languages drawing upon the biblical Song of Solomon.

In classical Athens, Tereus would have been perceived to be a barbarian. Procne killing her son Itys could be understood as “a radically formulated claim for and defense of autochthony and national purity.” Räuchle (2015) para. 37.

[2] Replacing Procne’s name with the simple generic “the victim” (obscuring her murder of her innocent son Itys) and replacing Tereus’s name with the simple generic “the rapist,” Krueger pretentiously declared:

If the victim is more fully developed as a courtly subject in Chrétien’s version, so, too, is the rapist. … But it is true that Chrétien’s presentation makes the rapist a more complex, and therefore more troubling, character.

Krueger (2005) pp. 95, 96. Declaring complexities and ambiguities has become a threadbare convention of academic literary scholarship. Complexities, ambiguities, and troubling character are typical of real persons. Tereus, in contrast, is a misandristic, zenophobic caricature.

Writing in 1997, a scholar of medieval French literature courageously broke the silence and made some nearly unspeakable observations:

The following essay is a reflection on rape. More precisely, it bears on the ways in which the theme of rape has been handled in some recent scholarship — in a number of books and articles, and in a wide array of lectures and conference presentations that I have heard at academic gatherings in the past several years. (Every conference now devotes sessions to rape and sexual violence against women.) Some of this work is sound and provocative. But much of this scholarly trend is, in my view, plagued by a tendency towards naive, anachronistic, and inappropriate readings of literary works, high levels of indignation and self-pity, and a pervasive hostility to men.

Vitz (1997) p. 1. Since 1997, literary scholarship has become more misandristic while continuing to remain silent about the gender reality of women raping men.

[3] Ovid, Metamorphoses 6.611-9, Latin text of Magnus (1892) via Perseus, my English translation, benefiting from that of Lombardo (2010) and Melville (1986). For freely available online translations, Kline (2000) and More (1922).

Subsequent quotes above from Ovid’s Metamorphoses are similarly sourced. They are 6.619-28 (While Procne was so exhausting herself…), 6.636-46 (Without delay, she dragged Itys as a tiger drags…), 6.657-60 (Just as she was, hair stained with furious murder…), 6.669-70 (Even now their breasts have not lost…).

[4] Chrétien de Troyes, Philomena vv. 1292-1319, Old French text from Cormier (1986), English translation (modified slightly) from Terry (1995).

In contrast to my translation as “piety,” the Old French word “pitiez” is typically translated as “pity.” Hence a more common, literal translation of v. 1317 would be “and as pity forbids it {et si con pitiez le deffant}.” The Anglo-Norman Dictionary notes:

The words pitié and pieté, though deriving from the same etymon (pietas), are usually treated separately by dictionaries, with a distinctive semantic shift in: ‘pity’ versus ‘piety’. Classical Latin pietas originally only had the sense ‘piety, holiness’, but soon developed ‘pity, compassion’ as an extended sense, and it is mainly the later that is found in medieval vernacular (cf. OED etymology of pity n.). In Anglo-Norman, the sense ‘pity’ prevails entirely for both spellings, and the sense ‘piety’ does not appear to be unequivocally attested. As a result, it was decided to treat both forms in the same entry. It is only in the seventeenth century that English pity and piety become truly differentiated, both formally and semantically.

Chrétien de Troyes wrote not in Anglo-Norman but in the Champenois dialect of Old French. The meaning “piety” is apparently attested in that dialect. Moreover, Philomena is rooted in Latin as an adaptation of the story of Philomela, Procne, Tereus, and Itys in Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In addition, “pitiez” is the third prong of a conceptualization in which the other two prongs are nature and human law. In that context, “piety / divine law” makes better sense.

Chrétien de Troyes apparently wrote the Philomena between 1165 and 1170. It is thus the earliest known work of Chrétien. The Philomena is found only within the Ovide Moralisé, an early-fourteenth-century French adaptation of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. The attribution of the Philomena to Chrétien de Troyes isn’t certain, but it’s now generally accepted.

De Boer (1909) is an earlier, freely accessible Old French edition of Philomena. Vaughan (2020) provides a line-by-line, literal translation, including a translation of the associated allegory in the Ovide Moralisé.

Subsequent quotes above from Chrétien de Troyes’s Philomena are similarly sourced. They are vv. 1329-37 (Even as, lovingly, her son…), 1403-12 (Inside of you is what you seek…), 1442-68 (A very great miracle indeed…).

[5] Procne’s brutal treatment of her son Itys in Ovid’s Metamorphoses is astonishingly misrepresented in an article published in a leading journal of medieval scholarship. This article begins:

In the twelfth-century Philomena attributed to Chretien de Troyes, one of the changes the author makes to his Ovidian source is his identification of Procne as the murderer of her son. Whereas Ovid recounts that Procne’s sister, Philomena, cuts off Itys’s head, in Chretien’s rewriting of the story it is the mother, Procne, who kills her son, and the two women then dismember, cook, and feed him to Tereus, Procne’s husband, in revenge for his rape of Philomena. This change is part of what has been identified as a demonization of the character of Procne in Chretien’s version of the story…

McCracken (2002) p. 55. That’s grossly misleading. In Ovid’s version, Itys’s mother Procne dragged Itys like a tiger, struck him with a knife below the ribs, and helped her sister carve up Itys’s dead body. Ovid doesn’t specify who cut off Itys’s head. That’s not important. What should not be obscured in silence is that Procne also acted monstrously in Ovid’s version.

[6] When they haven’t kept silent about this brutality, modern literary scholars have worked to excuse Philomena and Procne’s horrific murder of Procne’s son Itys. McCracken (2002) ponderously deployed abstractions (e.g. patriarchal family, patriarchal authority) to problematize why Procne’s killing and dismembering her son Itys isn’t explained as a sacrifice “in the service of some higher good or higher purpose.” Id. p. 56. That’s best interpreted as a grotesque response to a mother viciously murdering and dismembering her innocent son. Cf. Räuchle (2015), particularly the example of Praxithea, Queen of Athens, who had as husband Erichthonios; and the revered Spartan mothers.

Moore suggested “considerations of the legal definition of justifiable homicide to the ultimate satisfaction of revenge.” Moore (2021) p. 57. The definition of crimes has long been biased to excuse women, but not yet to that extent. Literary scholars, however, are working to increase the enormous anti-men gender inequality in penal systems:

Recent interpretations of Procne’s killing and cooking of her son reflect the text’s ambivalence about female revenge and power. Burns emphasizes Procne’s transformative resistance; she acts to ‘extricate herself from an unwitting collusion in producing ravishers of women’ and to ‘stop the cycle of abuse’.

Krueger (2005) p. 100. Men are not naturally “ravishers of women.” A mother killing her innocent son doesn’t “stop the cycle of abuse.”

Krueger exemplified interpreting the story within the now-dominant academic misandristic tradition:

It {Ovid’s narrative of Philomela, Procne, Tereus, and Itys} portrays the force of feminine ingenuity and artifice and reveals the power of narrative simultaneously to cover and expose the truth, revealing, in this case, the violence against and silencing of women that underlies patriarchal relations, as Patricia Joplin has shown.

Krueger (2005) p. 91. Philomena and Procne’s horrific murder of Procne’s son Itys reveals ingenuity and artifice in deploying literary scholarship’s socially constructed myth of patriarchal relations. It’s all complex and ambiguous, except for that. Hence Moore evidently felt the need to declare:

I do not seek to attenuate the violence against women that structures many medieval texts or patriarchy in general (that is, I do not reclaim or characterize this text as articulating gender equality), but rather I wish to suggest that the text builds a shared culture of exceptionalism that is articulated through emotions, here thematized through an erotics of grief.

Moore (2021) p. 49. Is it any wonder that women are receiving twice as many Ph.D.’s in the humanities as men are? On narrow-mindedness in humanities students, see e.g. Kim-Worthington (2020). The humanities urgently needs to welcome and include meninist literary criticism before more men flee from the humanities.

[7] After describing at length Philomena’s great beauty, Chrétien continued:

Philomena understood
so many things that I can swear
she was as wise as she was fair —
truly learned. She knew all sorts
of entertaining games and sports –
more than the men best known to us,
like Tristan or Apollonius.
Both chess and backgammon she could play,
“Six and Ace” from an earlier day,
and “Buffet and Battle.” She was adored
and wooed by many a noble lord
for her most delightful company.
She was excellent at falconry,
with peregrine and sparrow hawk
and even lanners, though they balk.
Falcons, tercels, goshawks – all three
she brought through their molts. She loved to be
out hawking close to a river’s shore
or in the field. Yet no one had more
talent for working cloth dyed rich
crimson. She had the skill to stitch
figured silk or fine brocade
and ghostly Hellequins portrayed
in beautifully colored thread.
Skilled in language too, well-read,
the woman could write both verse and prose,
and she could perform, as she chose,
music on psaltery or lyre.
Who has the art it would require
to tell all her talents? She could play
the vielle to accompany a lai –
there wasn’t a tune she did not know –
and when she talked her words were so
full of wisdom. She could teach
without a book, just through her speech.

{ Ne fu pas mains sage que bele,
Se je la verité recort.
Plus sot de joie et de deport
Qu’Apoloines ne que Tristanz:
Plus an sot voire voir dis tanz.
Des tables sot et des eschas,
Del vieil jeu et del “sis et as,”
De la bufe et de la hamee.
Por son deduit estoit amee
Et requise de hauz barons.
D’espreviers sot et de faucons
Et del jantil et del lanier;
Bien sot feire un faucon mulier
Et un ostor et un tercuel,
Ne ja ne fust ele son vuel
S’an gibier non ou an riviere.
Avuec c’iert si bone ovriere
D’ovrer une porpre vermoille
Qu’an tot le mont n’ot sa paroille.
Un diaspre ou un baudequin
Nes la Mesniee Hellequin
Seüst ele an un drap portreire.
Des autors sot et de grameire
Et sot bien feire vers et letre,
Et, quant li plot, li antremetre
Et del sautier et de la lire:
Plus an sot qu’an ne porroit dire,
Et de la gigue et de la rote.
Soz ciel n’a lai ne son ne note
Qu’el ne seüst bien vieler,
Et tant sot sagemant parler
Que solemant de sa parole
Seüst ele tenir escole. }

Philomena, vv. 172-204. This extraordinary characterization was probably meant to heighten the horror of Tereus brutally depriving Philomena of her tongue.

Philomena surely wasn’t composed as a realistic story. Nonetheless, Cormier described “a griping and realistic vengeance scene”: Philomena and Procne viciously murdering Procne’s innocent son Itys, cooking his body, feeding it to Tereus, and then throwing Itys’s bloody head into Tereus’s face. Cormier (1986) p. 185. Cormier also perceived “a powerful psychological portrait of compulsion in Tereus’ unrestrained outburst of animal lust” for Philomena. Id. Medieval scholars remain sickly unconscious of the misandristic tradition.

[8] Classical Greek poets typically made Procne the nightingale (e.g. Aristophanes, Birds vv. 659-667) and Philomela the swallow. Classical Latin poets, in contrast made Procne the swallow and Philomela the nightingale. Melville (1986) p. 413, note to vv. 6.668-9. Ovid actually didn’t specify the particular birds into which Procne and Philomela were transformed. Cf. Lombardo (2010) p. 169.

[9] Odyssey, vv. 19.521-3, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Levaniouk (2011) Ch. 12, pp. 213-4. As Levaniouk carefully and convincingly argued, Penelope’s simile is commonly and wrongly thought to refer to the story of Philomela, Procne, Tereus, and Itys. It’s best interpreted as referring to the related story of Aedon, Niobe, Zethos, and Itylos. The former story seems to have been better known. It was the basis for the now-lost tragedy Tereus by Aeschylus’s nephew Philocles and for Sophicles now-fragmentary tragedy Tereus. In both stories, mothers killed their wholly innocent sons.

Evidently working withing the misandristic tradition, McDonald interpreted Penelope’s simile of Aedon as expressing her “powerful wish to slay the son, flee the husband, and be free, alone, singing a beautiful song of grief.” McDonald (1997) p. 18. That’s an ugly interpretation.

[images] (1) Procne and Philomela prepare to kill Itys. Illustration on Attic red-figure wine cup, attributed to Makron. Made about 480 BGC. Preserved as item G 147; Cp. 929 in the Louvre Museum (Paris, France). Alternate image in Dickinson College Commentaries. (2) Philomena and Procne killing Itys. Illustration from folio 176r of an instance of Ovid Moralized {Ovide Moralisé} by Chrétien Legouais. Made c. 1325. Preserved as Bibliothèque municipale de Rouen. Ms O 4. (3) Aedon / Procne killing Itylos / Itys. Illustration on Attic red-figure clay vase, made about 500-450 BGC. Preserved at Munich, Staatliche Antikensammlungen {State Collection of Antiquities} 2638. Alternate images here and here. (4) Philomena and Procne dismembering and cooking Itys. Image via Wikimedia Commons. This poorly sourced illustration apparently is from a fifteenth-century Ovid Moralized {Ovide Moralisé}. Among instances of Ovide Moralisé, the illustration may be from København, Det Kongelige Bibliotek, Ms. Thott 399, but it’s surely not from BnF Arsenal MS 5069, BnF Lyons MS 742, nor Bnf Français 137. On illustrations in Ovide Moralisé, Clier-Colombani (2017), Possamaï & Besseyre (2015), and Lord (1975).


Clier-Colombani, Françoise. 2017. Images et Imaginaire dans l’Ovide Moralisé. Essais sur le Moyen Âge, 63. Paris: Honoré Champion.

Cormier, Raymond J., ed. and trans. 1986. Three Ovidian Tales of Love: Piramus et Tisbé, Narcisus et Danaé, and Philomena et Procné. New York: Garland.

De Boer, Corneilis, ed. 1909. Philomena, conte raconté d’après Ovide. Paris: Geuthner.

Kim-Worthington, Chaerim. 2020. “ΜΕΛΟΣ ΦΙΛΟΜΗΛΗΣ: The Songlover’s Song — The Nightingale’s Song — The Voice of Philomela.” Prizewinning story in the 2020 Paideia Institute High School Essay Contest. Medium. Online.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2000. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Krueger, Roberta L. 2005. “Philomena: Brutal Transitions and Courtly Transformations in Chrétien’s Old French Translation.” Pp. 87-102 in Norris J. Lacy et Joan Tasker Grimbert, eds. A Companion to Chrétien de Troyes. Cambridge: Brewer.

Levaniouk, Olga. 2011. Eve of the Festival: Making Myth in Odyssey 19. Hellenic Studies Series 46. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Lombardo, Stanley, trans. 2010. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co.

Lord, Carla. 1975. “Three Manuscripts of the Ovide moralisé.” The Art Bulletin. 57 (2): 161-175.

McCracken, Peggy, 2002. “Engendering Sacrifice: Blood, Lineage, and Infanticide in Old French Literature.” Speculum. 77 (1): 55-75.

McDonald, W. E. 1997. “On Hearing the Silent Voice: Penelope and the Daughters of Pandareus.” Helios 24:3–22.

Melville, A. D., trans. 1986. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Oxford World’s Classics. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Moore, Megan. 2021. The Erotics of Grief: Emotions and the Construction of Privilege in the Medieval Mediterranean. Cornell, NY: Cornell University Press.

More, Brookes, trans. 1922. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Boston, MA: Cornhill Publishing Co.

Possamaï, Marylène and Marianne Besseyre, eds. 2015. L’Ovide moralisé illustré. Cahiers de recherches médiévales et humanistes 30. Online.

Terry, Patricia, trans. 1995. The Honeysuckle and the Hazel Tree: Medieval Stories of Men and Women. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Alternate source.

Räuchle, Viktoria Johanna. 2015. “The Myth of Mothers as Others.” Cahiers Mondes Anciens. 6. Online since 16 February 2015.

Vaughan, Míċeál F., trans. 2020. “The Philomena of Chrétien de Troyes.” Online.

Vitz, Evelyn Berge. 1997. “Rereading Rape in Medieval Literature: Literary, Historical, and Theoretical Reflections.” Romanic Review. 88 (1): 1-26.