Socrates’s city of sows lacks roses & lilies contending beautifully

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates constructs with words a first city in which men cooperate without competing. Glaucon disparages this first city as a “city of sows {ὑῶν πόλις}.” The first city’s sows are like Odysseus’s men living a simple, carefree life in the house of Circe. That’s certainly more humane than epic violence against men. Yet competition among men doesn’t necessarily imply violence against men. Competition among men can be like roses and lilies contending in beautifying a holy altar at the community’s center.

Socrates’s first city evokes aspects of an annual ancient Greek festival called the Thesmophoria, but differs significantly from it. Both the first city and the Thesmophoria involve primitive sleeping conditions, eating of wheat and barley cakes, communal banqueting, and religious ritual. Most importantly, both the Thesmophoria and the first city are gender-exclusive. The Thesmophoria excluded men. The first city is constructed without any reference to women. The Thesmophoria could endure as a representation of the gynocentric order within Greek society as a whole. In contrast, the first city, lacking women, cannot reproduce and endure.[1]

Socrates constructs a “beautiful city {καλλίπολις}” that contains women and men, yet limits the harm to men from competition among men. War historically has been gender-structured as violence against men, But in Socrates’s beautiful city, the warrior class isn’t distinguished by gender. To realize that ideal in practice, arrangements would need to be made to ensure roughly equal representation of women and men among soldiers, as well as among soldiers dying in battle. Just as they could establish policies to produce lifespan gender equality, ruling philosophers, if so required, surely could figure out arrangements to produce substantive gender equality in military service.[2]

chariot race on poster for Ben Hur Broadway play

A more beautiful city than Socrates’s beautiful city would include women and men engaged in beautiful competition. Beautiful competition doesn’t promote violence against men or establish men’s sexual disadvantage relative to women. Such circumstances are difficult to imagine. In a poem addressed to two women, the sixth-century poet Venantius Fortunatus began with a conventional change of seasons:

The world is chained in winter’s ice,
light dies away from the flowerless field,
yet spring, when the Lord laid Tartarus low,
raises the grass heads, foliage now more than joyous.
Men decorate pulpits, doorposts with blossoms.
A woman fills her lap with fragrant roses.

{ Frigoris hiberni glacie constringitur orbis
totaque lux agri flore carente perit.
Tempore vernali, dominus quo Tartara vicit,
surgit aperta suis laetior herba comis.
Inde viri postes et pulpita floribus ornant,
hinc mulier roseo complet odore sinum. }[3]

Dante shockingly placed ice in the deepest pit of Hell’s inferno. Fortunatus here depicts the laughably wonderful resurrection of Jesus in Easter’s spring. Men’s work is directed outward to adorning raised, solid structures with blossoms. The woman’s action is directed toward herself. Fragrant roses have historically figured women’s vaginas. Fortunatus’s poem thus begins with a conventionally gendered depiction of change from winter to spring. In spring, multiple men seek to fill one woman’s lap.

mosaic of victorious red charioteer in ancient Rome

Fortunatus’s poem then changes extraordinarily. The change occurs with the action of the two women, Radegund and Agnes, whom Fortunatus addresses:

But you bring aromas not to yourselves but to Christ —
for the holy churches you give these buds.
You have dressed festive altars in colored wreaths,
painted them fresh with flowery threads.

{ At vos non vobis, sed Christo fertis odores,
has quoque primitias ad pia templa datis.
Texistis variis altaria festa coronis,
pingitur ut filis floribus ara novis. }

Radegund and Agnes didn’t establish a static harmony that couldn’t endure. They established beautiful competition. It was vigorous competition like that of men on blue and green chariot-racing teams in ancient Rome and Constantinople.[4] This different form of competition, however, was much less dangerous to men’s lives and was explicitly directed toward beauty and sensuous allure:

From crocuses a golden line goes forth, here a purple row
of violets, there scarlet glowing red meets milky white.
The Blues and Greens take their stands. Colors wage flowery war.
Imagine — in this place of peace, plants forming battle lines:
the lily pleasantly white, the rose with ruddy allure,
the lily teasingly fragrant, the rose prettier in pink,
flowers competing in varied beauty. Their colors are brighter
than any jewel, no incense more fragrant than they.

{ Aureus ordo crocis, violis hinc blatteus exit,
coccinus hinc rubricat, lacteus inde nivet.
Stat prasino venetus, pugnant et flore colores
inque loco pacis herbida bella putas.
Haec candore placet, rutilo micat illa decore;
suavius haec redolet, pulchrius illa rubet.
Sic specie varia florum sibi germina certant,
ut color hic gemmas, tura revincat odor. }[5]

This riot of beauty and fragrance doesn’t kill any men. It’s beautiful competition among flowers. Flowers have historically been gendered as female. Men’s beauty should be better appreciated. In a “true city {ἀληθινὴ πόλις}” and a “healthy one {ὑγιής τις},” men and women would both engage in beautiful competition.[6]

flower rows racing

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates verbally constructs for his students a city of sows and a beautiful city. The only adults in the city of sows are piggish men. The women and men in the beautiful city live politically dictated lives in which they are unable to see another person as individually beautiful. Venantius Fortunatus offers an alternative: beautiful competition in adorning communal altars. Building a city in that way happens through the actions of individual persons moving beyond violence against men.

Agnes, Radegund, this is what you built.
May your fragrances breathlessly mingle with eternity’s flowers.

{ Vos quoque quae struitis haec, Agnes cum Radegunde,
Floribus aeternis vester anhelet odor. }[7]

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[1] Plato’s Republic creates its first city in words from about section 369b to section 372e. Scholars variously call this first city the primitive city, the city of pigs, and the city of sows. Aristotle calls it the “first city” in discussion beginning at Aristotle, Politics IV.4.1291a11. “City of sows {ὑῶν πόλις}” is specifically Glaucon’s disparaging phrase. Glaucon’s disparaging phrase shouldn’t be used as an established name for the city, as in “City of Sows.” On parallels between the Thesmophoria and the first city, McCoy (2015) and Zander (2019).

Socrates’s account of the first city explicitly refers to men inhabitants, but never refers to women inhabitants. Scholars apparently have inferred heterosexual sexual intercourse from a reference to its inhabitants engaging in communal wine-drinking and singing of the gods “while living in harmony with each other, not producing children beyond their means {ἡδέως συνόντες cἀλλήλοις, οὐχ ὑπὲρ τὴν οὐσίαν ποιούμενοι τοὺς παῖδας}.” Republic 372b, ancient Greek text and English translation from Emlyn-Jones & Preddy (2013). The phrase ἡδέως συνόντες cἀλλήλοις can also be translated as “being together with one another with pleasure.” Sawatzky (2013) p. 16. In Plato’s Republic, συνεῖναι “always denotes a state of ongoing interactions, usually between companions.” Id. n. 53. Sawatzky interpreted Republic 372b to imply “citizens being in their festive homes with their children” and “ongoing interactions of all sorts between spouses – including, but not limited to, sexual relations.” Festive activities are more likely to be communal than activities of nuclear families within “festive homes.” Id. Imagining conjugal sexual intercourse is a tendentious interpretive stretch not warranted in the context of Socrates’s imaginary first city.

Immediately after Socrates’s descriptions of feasting in the first city, Glaucon exclaims, “You seem to make these men have their feast without relishes {Ἄνευ ὄψου, ἔφη, ὡς ἔοικας, ποιεῖς τοὺς ἄνδρας ἑστιωμένους}.” The word ἄνδρας, the accusative plural of ᾰ̓νήρ, is a term specifically for men. The first city is best interpreted as implying convivial conversational intercourse among men, and possibly also men having sex with men or boys.

The abrupt disappearance of the first city from Socrates’s discourse is consistent with the first city’s inability to reproduce itself. The presence of children, which might include girls, doesn’t imply the first city’s ability to reproduce itself. Children, even children of both sexes, cannot reproduce demographically a city whose only adults are men. The men of the city pass on a similar life to their children (Republic, 372d) in all but the most important aspect of demographic structure. Cf. Zimbelman (2018).

Some scholars have interpreted the first city as impossible in light of human nature, inconsistent with human nature, or unstable. E.g. Bloom (1991) pp. 367-8 (inconsistent with human nature), Barney (2002) (impossible), McKeen (2004) (unstable). Recent scholarship has tended to up-value the first city, but without any particular concern for men as a gender. Socrates is serious “when he dubs the city of pigs true and healthy.” Lara (2018) p. 1. Men surely have better health as pigs than as tools for slaughter in wars such as the Trojan War. The first city is unified. Rowe (2017). But that unity involves a cramped, bureaucratic sense of justice: “justice in each city depends upon each citizen doing her job and no more than her job.” Lara (2018) p. 1.

[2] Mating competition historically has generated relatively large mating inequality among men. In Socrates’s beautiful city, mating is centrally arranged eugenically. The mating planners could thus eliminate the sexual suffering disproportionately concentrated among involuntarily celibate men. Moreover, if nothing men could do would improve their mating opportunities, men would compete less aggressively for women. That would improve men’s welfare as a whole. Brown (2017) considers whether Plato’s Republic supports feminism, but fails to consider whether it supports meninism.

[3] Venantius Fortunatus, Carmina 8.7, vv. 1-6, Latin text from Roberts (2017), English translation (modified) from Pucci (2010) p. 82. Leo (1881) provides a freely available Latin edition differing little from Roberts’s Latin edition. The subsequent three quotes above are similarly sourced from Carmina 8.7 and cover the whole poem seriatim.

[4] On chariot-racing competition between the Blues and Greens, Cameron (1976).

[5] Fortunatus’s Carmina 11.11 describes sensuous competition at a lavish feast in Radegund and Agnes’s Abbey of the Holy Cross:

Lucky guest, consider these glad delights
that fragrances furnish and taste proves:
burning red, a horde of flowers softly smiles;
in the lap of lavender, milky lilies fade to white,
a place freshly fragrant with rivalry’s smells.
Dinner is an insult to dewy buds made to play tablecloth —
why accost these lovely roses so?

{ Respice delicias, felix conviva, beatas,
quas prius ornat odor quam probet ipse sapor.
Molliter adridet rutilantum copia florum;
vix tot campus habet quot modo mensa rosas.
Albent purpureis ubi lactea lilia blattis
certatimque novo flagrat odore locus.
Insultant epulae, stillanti germine fultae.
Quod mantile solet, cur rosa pulchra tegit? }

Carmina 11.11, vv. 1-8, Latin text from Roberts (2017), English translation from Pucci (2010) p. 97. The Latin text and a mediocre English translation of this poem is freely available online at Epistolae, which treats it as prose.

[6] Transitioning from describing the first city to considering a feverish city, Socrates declares:

Now the true city is in my opinion the one we just described — a healthy one, as it were. But, if you want to, let’s look at a feverish city.

{ ἡ μὲν οὖν ἀληθινὴ πόλις δοκεῖ μοι εἶναι ἣν διεληλύθαμεν, ὥσπερ ὑγιής τις· εἰ δ’ αὖ βούλεσθε, καὶ φλεγμαίνουσαν πόλιν θεωρήσωμεν· }

Plato, Republic 372e, ancient Greek text from Emlyn-Jones & Preddy (2013), English translation (modified slightly) from Bloom (1991). The above analysis thus explicitly disagrees with Socrates. Desire for excess, “pleonexia {πλεονεξία},” is neither inevitable nor necessarily unhealthful. Too much beauty is impossible. Beautiful competition creates a good fever.

[7] In his Carmina 8.8, Fortunatus gave Radegund a gift of flowers and associated flowers with “paradise {paradisus}.” Calling her back from her Lenten retreat, he declared to her:

Accept the gift I send you of many-colored flowers.
To these instead a blessed life calls you.

{ Suscipe missa tibi variorum munera florum,
ad quos te potius vita beata vocat. }

Carmina 8.8, incipit “O powerful queen, who hold gold and purple to be base {O regina potens, aurum cui et purpura vile est},” vv. 7-8, Latin text from Roberts (2017), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Pucci (2010) p. 83. The Latin text and an English translation of this poem are freely available online at Epistolae.

[image] (1) Chariot race with red and white charioteers on poster advertising the Broadway premiere of Ben Hur at the Manhattan Theatre, New York, NY, c. 1899. William Young adapted this play from Lew Wallace’s novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, published in 1880. Source image via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Mosaic of victorious charioteer of the “red faction {factio russata}.” This mosaic was made in Rome in the second half of the third century or early in the fourth century. Preserved in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid. Source image thanks to Carole Raddato, who shared it on flickr under under a CC BY SA 2.0 license. On mosaics of victorious charioteers, Dunbabin (1982). This mosaic is 17a / Fig. 11 in id., briefly discussed at id. p. 73. (3) Rows of flowers racing across Lompoc flower fields in La Salle, California, on May 30, 2015. Source image thanks to Harold Litwiler, who released this photo under a CC By 2.0 license.


Barney, Rachel. 2002. “Platonism, Moral Nostalgia, and the ‘City of Pigs.’Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium of Ancient Philosophy. 17 (1): 207–27.

Bloom, Allan, trans. with interpretative essay. 1991. The Republic of Plato. 2nd edition (1st edition , 1968). Basic Books.

Brown, Eric. 2017. “Plato’s Ethics and Politics in The Republic.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Cameron, Alan. 1976. Circus Factions: Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dunbabin, Katherine M. D. 1982. “Victorious Charioteer on Mosaics and Related Monuments.” American Journal of Archaeology. 86 (1): 65-89.

Emlyn-Jones, Christopher, and William Preddy, ed. and trans. 2013. Plato. Republic. Volume I: Books 1-5. Loeb Classical Library 237. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lara, Joel de. 2018. “Rehabilitating the ‘City of Pigs’: The Dialectics of Plato’s Account of his Beautiful Cities.” Journal of Ancient Philosophy. 12 (2): 1-22.

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.

McCoy, Marina. 2015. “The City of Sows and Sexual Differentiation in the Republic.” Ch. 9 (pp. 149-160) in Jeremy Bell and Michael Naas, eds. Plato’s Animals: Gadflies, Horses, Swans and Other Philosophical Beasts. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press. Review by Deborah Achtenberg.

McKeen, Catherine, 2004. “Swillsburg City Limits (The ‘City of Pigs’: Republic 370c-372d).” Polis. 21 (1-2): 70–92.

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

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.

Rowe, Christopher. 2017. “The City of Pigs: a Key Passage in Plato’s Republic.” Philosophie Antique. 17: 55-71.

Sawatzky, Nathan. 2013. “Socrates’ Proto-Liberal Feminism: Toward a Rereading of the Republic with a View to Necessity.” Online.

Zander, Shannon E. 2019. In Defense of Socrates’ City of Sows (370b7-372d3): the pedagogical role of prefiguration in the Republic. Honors Thesis. Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington, USA).

Zimbelman, Jacob. 2018. “Socrates’ Satisfied Pigs.” Global Tides. 12 (2): 1-8.

Pompeia and Fulvia in Roman de Merlin & Roman de Silence

Pompeia and Fulvia, treacherous elite women in the Roman Republic, were foremothers of evil women in medieval romance. Pompeia became the deceitful empress in the Grisandole episode of the thirteenth-century Romance of Merlin {Roman de Merlin}. Fulvia provided a template for the murderous English queen Eufeme in the thirteenth-century Romance of Silence {Roman de Silence}. The authors of these medieval romances distinguished evil women from good women. They also provided an excuse for women to act wickedly. Medieval romance didn’t realistically acknowledge evil acts like those attributed to Pompeia and Fulvia in Roman history.

In 62 BGC, Pompeia attempted to cuckold her husband Julius Caesar. He was then serving as Supreme Pontiff {Pontifex Maximus}, the most powerful position in ancient Roman religion, and City Magistrate {Praetor Urbanus}, the leading government administrator of Rome. Pompeia and Clodius Pulcher, a wealthy patrician married to Fulvia, arranged to have a tryst during the “Good Goddess {Bona Dea}” festival that the Vestal Virgins led. Not in practice associated only with goodness and virginity, the Bona Dea was a wine-soaked ritual revelry from which all men were excluded. It thus provided suitable cover for a sexual liaison. Pompeia was hosting the Bona Dea in December of 62 BGC. Clodius came to the Bona Dea in disguise: “a man in a woman’s clothes {muliebri vestitu vir}.”[1]

Like Euripides’s aged in-law Mnesilochus in Aristophanes’s Women at the Thesmophoria {Θεσμοφοριάζουσαι}, Clodius was caught penetrating the women-only festival. It was like a woman caught playing golf in disguise at a male-only club, but more horrifying:

Pompeia was celebrating this Bona Dea festival. Clodius, who was still beardless, thought he could pass unnoticed dressed and equipped as a woman lute-player. Thus looking like a young woman, he went to Pompeia’s house. He found the door open, and a maid-servant there brought him in safely. She was privy to the secret. But after she had run ahead to tell Pompeia and some time had elapsed, Clodius didn’t have the patience to wait where he had been left. Instead, he went wandering around the large house while trying to avoid the lights. One of the attendants of Julius Caesar’s mother Aurelia came upon him. The attendant asked him to play with her, as women would with each another at the Bona Dea. When he refused, she dragged him forward and asked who he was and from where he came. Clodius answered that he was waiting for Pompeia’s Chambermaid, the very name by which that maid was called. His voice betrayed him. Aurelia’s attendant at once sprang away with a scream to the lights and the crowd. She cried out that she had caught a man. The women were panic-stricken. Aurelia put a stop to the mystic rites of the goddess and covered up the emblems. Then she ordered the doors to be closed, and they went about the house with torches, searching for Clodius. He was found taking refuge in the bedroom of the young woman who had let him into the house. When they saw who he was, the women drove him out of the house.

{ ταύτην τότε τὴν ἑορτὴν τῆς Πομπηΐας ἐπιτελούσης, ὁ Κλώδιος οὔπω γενειῶν καὶ διὰ τοῦτο λήσειν οἰόμενος ἐσθῆτα καὶ σκευὴν ψαλτρίας ἀναλαβὼν ἐχώρει, νέᾳ γυναικὶ τὴν ὄψιν ἐοικώς. καὶ ταῖς θύραις ἐπιτυχὼν ἀνεῳγμέναις εἰσήχθη μὲν ἀδεῶς ὑπὸ τῆς συνειδυίας θεραπαινίδος, ἐκείνης δὲ προδραμούσης ὡς τῇ Πομπηΐᾳ φράσειε, καὶ γενομένης διατριβῆς, περιμένειν μὲν ὅπου κατελείφθη τῷ Κλωδίῳ μὴ καρτεροῦντι, πλανωμένῳ δ᾽ ἐν οἰκίᾳ μεγάλῃ καὶ περιφεύγοντι τὰ φῶτα προσπεσοῦσα τῆς Αὐρηλίας ἀκόλουθος ὡς δὴ γυνὴ γυναῖκα παίζειν προὐκαλεῖτο, καὶ μὴ βουλόμενον εἰς τὸ μέσον εἷλκε, καὶ τίς ἐστι καὶ πόθεν ἐπυνθάνετο. τοῦ δὲ Κλωδίου φήσαντος Ἅβραν περιμένειν Πομπηΐας, αὐτὸ τοῦτο καλουμένην, καὶ τῇ φωνῇ γενομένου καταφανοῦς, ἡ μὲν ἀκόλουθος εὐθὺς ἀπεπήδησε κραυγῇ πρὸς τὰ φῶτα καὶ τὸν ὄχλον, ἄνδρα πεφωρακέναι βοῶσα, τῶν δὲ γυναικῶν διαπτοηθεισῶν ἡ Αὐρηλία τὰ μὲν ὄργια τῆς θεοῦ κατέπαυσε καὶ συνεκάλυψεν, αὐτὴ δὲ τὰς θύρας ἀποκλεῖσαι κελεύσασα περιῄει τὴν οἰκίαν ὑπὸ λαμπάδων, ζητοῦσα τὸν Κλώδιον. εὑρίσκεται δ᾽ εἰς οἴκημα παιδίσκης ᾗ συνεισῆλθε καταπεφευγώς καὶ γενόμενος φανερὸς ὑπὸ τῶν γυναικῶν ἐξελαύνεται διὰ τῶν θυρῶν, τὸ δὲ πρᾶγμα καὶ νυκτὸς εὐθὺς αἱ γυναῖκες ἀπιοῦσαι τοῖς αὑτῶν ἔφραζον [p. 466] ἀνδράσι, καὶ μεθ᾽ ἡμέραν ἐχώρει διὰ τῆς πόλεως λόγος ὡς ἀθέσμοις ἐπικεχειρηκότος τοῦ Κλώδιον καὶ δίκην οὐ τοῖς ὑβρισμένοις μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῇ πόλει καὶ τοῖς θεοῖς ὀφείλοντος. }[2]

Clodius was charged with the capital crime of desecrating a woman-only religious ritual. He was acquitted with the support of popular outrage at such penal punishment. Pompeia wasn’t charged with any crime. Julius Caesar, however, divorced her. He declared, “I thought my wife should not be even under suspicion {τὴν ἐμὴν ἠξίουν μηδὲ ὑπονοηθῆναι}.”

In the Grisandole episode of the thirteenth-century Roman de Merlin, a puzzling dream troubled the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. In one legend of the founding of Rome, a she-wolf nursed the twin boys Romulus and Remus. In Julius Caesar’s troubling dream, twelve wolf cubs suckled at a sow with a golden crown. Caesar’s troubling dream seems like a transformation and amplification of the Romulus and Remus myth of Rome’s founding.[3]

Lupa capitolina: she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus

In the form of a stag, the wizard Merlin entered Rome and declared that only the wild man of the woods could truthfully interpret Caesar’s dream. The emperor promised marriage to his daughter, and thus future rule of Rome, to any man who would capture the wild man and bring him back to the court. The knight Grisandole, who was the woman Avenable in disguise, accomplished that feat. The wild man revealed that the twelve wolf cubs represent the empress’s twelve servant-women. Those servant-women were actually young men in disguise with whom the empress had been cuckolding her husband. The emperor had the twelve men executed. With highly unusual gender symmetry in punishment for adultery, he also had the empress killed. Just as for the story of Romulus and Remus, this instance of the story of Julius Caesar and his wife Pompeia is amplified. Pompeia didn’t merely conspire to cuckold her husband with one man. She actually cuckolded him with twelve men.

In the Grisandole episode, the wild man was Merlin under another disguise. Merlin, reportedly born of a virgin conception, offered the emperor insistently hedged and qualified wisdom about women:

Through women, many a man has been dishonored and deceived, and many a city torched and destroyed, and many a country devastated. But I am not telling you this because of any malice that’s in it. You yourself can see very well that many a man has been dishonored by a woman. But now don’t be upset about your wife whom you have had executed. She well deserved it. And don’t be angry with other women and don’t think them vile. There are many women whose behavior towards their lords is irreproachable. Never in a hundred years would they dishonor their name. All this comes upon women because of the sin of lust that is in them and to which they are susceptible, for woman is of such nature that when she has the best lord in the world, she thinks she has the worst. This happens because of the great weakness that is in them. But for that don’t grieve, because there are plenty of good ones in the world. And if yours has proved a disappointment, you will have one who will be a worthy empress of the high riches of an empire such as this. And you should believe that you will gain more than you have lost.

{ Car par feme sont maint preudomme houni & decheu & mainte ville arsse & destruite & mainte terre essilie. Mais iou nel di mie por malice que en li soit. & tu meismes pues bien apercheuoir que par feme sont maint homme houni. Mais ore ne te caille de ta feme que tu as destrute car ele lauoit bien deseruie & nen aies vers les autres femes corous ne si ne les tien pas por chou uiel. Car moult sont cleres semees ki en aucune maniere naient meserre enuers lor signors. Ne iamais tant comme li siecles durera ne feront senpierir non & tout che lor auendra par pechie de luxure ki est en els & dont eles sont esprises. Car feme est de tel nature ke quant ele a le millor segnor de tout le monde si quide ele auoir le pior. & ce lor ulent de la grant fragilite ki est en aus. Mais por chou ne soies mie courechies car il en ia asses de uraies el monde. Et se tu as este deceus de la toie tu auras encore tele qui bien sera digne destre empereis & de recheuoir si haut empire comme cestui. Et se tu le veus croire tui gaaigneras plus que tu ni perdras. }[4]

Merlin insisted that his characterization of women isn’t a matter of malice. He declared that many women act honorably. He also stated that women are lustful and weak. Just as women’s tears advantage them in criminal trials, claims of women’s natural weakness excuse women’s wrongful behavior. Men too are lustful and weak in their own ways. Men deserve to be similarly excused, but they generally aren’t. Merlin’s wisdom about women is reflected in his advice to the emperor. Merlin revealed that the knight Grisandole was actually the woman Avenable. Merlin urged the emperor to marry her. Merlin also instructed the emperor never to do anything contrary to Avenable’s wishes.[5]

Fulvia, who lived from about 83 to 40 BGC, manipulated men to advance her own interests in political power and wealth. She married Clodius Pulcher to gain political power in the Roman Republic. Their marriage evidently wasn’t one of mutual ardor. She apparently was unconcerned that Clodius sought to have an affair with Caesar’s wife Pompeia. But when Clodius was killed in violence against men in 52 BGC, Fulvia sensationally and ostentatiously mourned. She thus incited further violence against men and ensured that her husband’s killer was exiled. Less than two years after Clodius died, Fulvia married another leading Roman politician, Gaius Scribonius Curio. When Curio died, Fulvia married yet another leading Roman politician, Mark Antony. He enjoyed spending time with his mistresses. She enjoyed seeing men killed. Given the head of Cicero, she spit on it, pulled out its tongue, and pierced it with a hairpin. Her greed, cruelty, and viciousness as a powerful Roman woman became well-known historically.[6]

Fulvia sticking her hairpins into the tongue of Cicero's severed head

Queen Eufeme in the thirteenth-century Roman de Silence acted as evilly as did Fulvia. Queen Eufeme solicited sex from the knight Malduit, who was actually the woman Silence in disguise. When Malduit refused his queen’s amorous advances, she accused him of preferring to have sex with men. After that, she falsely accused him of raping her. She subsequently contrived a plot to have Malduit killed, and then another plot to have him exiled. When the wizard Merlin was about to expose her deceptions, she threatened him with death. Merlin nonetheless revealed that she was currently cuckolding the king with a man disguised as a nun. Queen Eufeme’s wickedness was well-recognized in the royal court:

The lady was very wicked
and full of extreme malice,
and arrogant and perfidious.
She had always been very cruel
and filled with dishonesty.
She had promised little and given less,
and had abandoned herself to much depravity.

{ Car la dame ert de grant desroi,
Et plaine de grant vilonie
Et d’orguel et de felonie.
Moult ot cruels tols jors esté
Et soufraitolse d’onesté.
Poi prometoit et mains donoit
Et moult vilment s’abandonoit. }[7]

Queen Eufeme dominated and controlled her husband the king until he finally had her executed for her crimes.

The author of the Roman de Silence, Master Heldris of Cornwall, stated wisdom like that of Merlin in the Grisandole episode of the Roman de Merlin. In concluding the Roman de Silence, Master Heldris declared to his audience:

Master Heldris at this place says
that one should praise more a good woman
than one should hate and blame a bad one.
And I will tell you well the reason:
because a woman has less motivation,
provided that she even has the choice,
to be good than to be bad.
Doing good is contrary to her nature.
Well I’ll tell you frankly
that greater account should be taken of it
than of the one who does wrong.
If today I have blamed Eufeme,
a good woman should not take offense.
If I have much blamed Eufeme,
I have praised Silence more.
A good woman should not take offense
nor take for herself someone else’s blame,
but strive more to do good.

{ Maistre Heldris dist chi endroit
Con doit plus bone feme amer
Que haïr malvaise u blasmer.
Si mosterroie bien raison:
Car feme a menor oquoison,
Por que ele ait le liu ne l’aise,
De l’estre bone que malvaise,
S’ele ouevre bien contre nature.
Bien mosterroie par droiture
C’on en doit faire gregnor plait
Que de celi qui le mal fait.
Se j’ai jehi blasmee Eufeme
Ne s’en doit irier bone feme.
Se j’ai Eufeme moult blasmee
Jo ai Silence plus loëe.
Ne s’en doit irier bone fame,
Ne sor li prendre altrui blasme,
Mais efforcier plus de bien faire. }[8]

Heldris excuses women doing wrong by declaring that doing good is contrary to women’s nature. Philosophers have said the same of men, and of humans in general. Heldris, however, turns the long historical argument about human nature to women’s advantage. He urges praising more a good woman than blaming a bad woman. Heldris’s concern is underscored in his repetition of the verse “a good woman should not take offense {ne s’en doit irier bone feme}.” Like Jehan Le Fèvre and Thomas Hoccleve, Heldris recognized women’s power and sought to avoid offending women. In presenting a woman acting as wickedly as Pompeia or Fulvia, a medieval author had to be careful. If he were prudent, he would explicitly declare that not all women are like that.

Criticizing women’s blameworthy behavior is vital important for preserving the common good. Women acting like Pompeia and Fulvia have existed from the time of the Roman Republic right on down to the present. Yet tolerance for vigorous criticism of women has continually waned since the high-water mark of Juvenal’s Satire 6 nearly two millennia ago. Medieval authors developed diverse tactics for lessening risk to themselves in criticizing women. Put under pressure, a medieval poet might declare publicly his repentance for criticizing women. Now authors must be more wary if they are to dare to criticize even women behaving as wickedly as did Pompeia or Fulvia.

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[1] Cicero, Letters to Atticus {Epistulae ad Atticum} 1.13 (dated January 27, 61 BGC), Latin text of Purser (1903). Cicero, Epitulae ad Atticum 1.12 (dated January 1, 61 BGC) also describes the Bona Dea scandal. Shuckburgh (1900) provides English translations of the letters.

The Bona Dea festival occurred in early December, 62 BGC. Clodius Pulcher was probably then married to Fulvia, or they married shortly thereafter. The Bona Dea includes the sort of revelry that men used to have at men-only clubs:

the women, including the Vestals, make merry: there are references to festive eating and drinking, music, jests, all summarized in the term ludere used in a number of source.

Versnel (1992) p. 32. Thinking strictly within the gender dogma of patriarchy in accordance with academia ritual in recent decades, Versnel perceived “potential polyvalence of myth and ritual” in the Bona Dea festival and the Thesmophoria. Id. p. 54. The goddess Bona Dea has been regarded as Damia / Demeter, but new argument indicates Latona. Miniailo (2015). For a socio-political account of Pompeia and Clodius’s attempted tryst at the Bona Dea, Tatum (1999) Ch. 3.

[2] Plutarch, Parallel Lives, The Life of Julius Caesar 10.1-5, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from the Loeb Classical Library edition of Perrin (1919). The subsequent short quote is similarly from Plutarch.

Clodius entered disguised as a “woman lute-player {ψάλτρια}.” That could also be translated a woman harpist or lyre-player. Such entertainers were associated with courtesans and symposia. This female disguise, along with Aurelia’s attendant asking to play with Clodius, indicates the erotic dimension of the Bona Dea festival.

Clodius asked for Pompeia’s “Abra {Ἅβρᾰ}.” That word in ancient Greek means favorite servant-woman / chambermaid. That apparently was also the woman’s name.

Cicero wrote immediately after the Bona Dea scandal. Plutarch wrote nearly 200 years later. For other ancient accounts, Cassius Dio, Roman History 37.45 and Suetonius, Julius 6.2.

[3] The golden crown indicates that the sow is a queen. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates imagines a city that Glaucon disparages as a “city of sows {ὑῶν πόλιν}.” Plato, Republic 370b7-372d3. In learned medieval romance authors’ minds, a queen nourishing twelve wolf cubs probably would have evoked Circe nourishing Odysseus’s men as pigs. In a gynocentric interpretation of the city of sows, McCoy finds academic-conventional “tensions and paradoxes”:

Platonic philosophy exists precisely in living in the tensions and paradoxes posed by the oppositions of masculine-feminine {read: bad-good}, political-private, and marked history–cyclical history.

McCoy (2015) p. 158. Another paradox is how scholars with a simplistic view of men (they’re aggressive, status-obsessed oppressors who should behave as their women-betters) can consistently interpret texts as displaying tensions and paradoxes. For the city of sows in broader context of Socrates’s intellectual practice, Zander (2019).

[4] Romance of Merlin in prose {Roman de Merlin en prose} Chapter 23, Old French text from Sommer (1894) pp. 308-9, English translation (modified) from Roche-Mahdi (2002) pp. 15-6. On the Grisandole episode, Paton (1907) and Roche-Mahdi (1992) p. 317.

The prose Roman de Merlin is an adaptation of Robert de Boron’s verse Roman de Merlin. The Roman de Merlin drew upon Wace’s Roman de Brut, which in turn was based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. The Roman de Merlin, composed about 1200, is the first work centered on Merlin. On this romance in relation to Merlin, Kissam (1967) Ch. 2.

[5] Roche-Mahdi (2002) p. 16. Such subordination of husbands to wives has long been conventional. A still-current proverb underscores the imperative: “happy wife, happy life.” More generally, gynocentrism helps to explain modern phenomena such as lack of concern for men’s gender protrusion in mortality, penal systems that predominately imprison persons with penises, and men’s lack of reproductive choice.

[6] Although little is known for certain about Fulvia, she was, like Josephine Crabtree, a “strong-willed, independent woman”:

Later, as the wife of Antonius {Mark Antony}, she became the most powerful woman in Rome, at one point even taking an active role in the military conflict between Antonius’s allies and Octavian, the future emperor Augustus. Her husbands’ enemies painted her as domineering, vicious, greedy, and petty. This book peels away the invective to reveal a strong-willed, independent woman who was, by many traditional measures, an immensely successful Roman matron.

Excerpt from book blurb for Schultz (2021). Lacking the benefit of such positivistic, wholly objective history, medieval authors surely regarded Fulvia as wicked — domineering, vicious, greedy, and petty. For an example of a much different historical methodology, yet the same gender orientation, McCoy (2015).

[7] Heldris of Cornwall {Heldris de Cornouaille}, The Romance of Silence {Le roman de Silence} vv. 6560-66, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Roche-Mahdi (1992).

[8] Roman de Silence, vv. 6684-6701, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Roche-Mahdi (1992).

Composing in the twelfth century, the German minnsanger Reinmar von Hagenau (also known as Reinmar der Alte) indicated his difficulties in loving a woman and also affirmed the norm of not criticizing women:

I could lament before you about this greatest peril,
only I cannot speak ill of women.

{ Ich solte iu klagen die meisten nôt —
niwan daz ich von wîben übel niht reden kan. }

Reinmar goes on to declare:

To say things now I have forborne to say of them
would be a great disloyalty.
I have loved for so long in great unrest,
and here am I now, in the same toils.
Still, to suffer like this is better
than to speak ill of women.
I shall not do that. They are too high for that by every right.

{ Spræche ich nû des ich si selten hân gewent,
dar an begienge ich grôze unstætekeit.
Ich hân lange wîle unsanfte mich gesent
und bin doch in der selben arebeit.
Bezzer ist ein herzesêr,
danne ich von wîben misserede.
Ich tuon sîn niht: si sint von allem rehte hêre. }

Reinmar von Hagenau, Song 33, “Let no suffering lover come to me for any help {Niemen seneder suoche an mich deheinen rât},” vv. 6-14, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Goldin (1973) pp. 84-5. Here are an online Middle High German edition and modern German translation (lied 20).

[images] (1) Lupa capitolina: she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. Bronze sculpture made in the thirteenth century. The statuettes of Romulus and Remus were added in the fifteenth century. Preserved as accession # MC 1181 in the Capitoline Museums (Rome, Italy), Palazzo dei Conservatori, Hall of the She-Wolf. Source image thanks to Jastrow (2006) and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Fulvia sticking her hairpins into the tongue of Cicero’s severed head. Excerpt from Pavel Svedomsky’s oil painting, “Fulvia With the Head of Cicero,” made in 1898. Source image via Wikimedia Commons.


Goldin, Frederick. 1973. German and Italian Lyrics of the Middle Ages: an anthology and a history. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press.

Kissam, Margaret Denslow. 1967. The Characterization of Merlin in the Middle Ages. M.A. Thesis, McGill University, Canada.

McCoy, Marina. 2015. “The City of Sows and Sexual Differentiation in the Republic.” Ch. 9 (pp. 149-160) in Jeremy Bell and Michael Naas, eds. Plato’s Animals: Gadflies, Horses, Swans and Other Philosophical Beasts. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press. Review by Deborah Achtenberg.

Miniailo, Nataliia. c. 2015. “Some New explanation of the Cult of Bona Dea.” Post-graduate student paper at Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University. Online.

Paton, Lucy Allen. 1907. “The Story of Grisandole: A Study in the Legend of Merlin.” PMLA. 22 (2): 234-276.

Purser, Louis Claude, ed. 1903. Cicero. Epistulae ad Atticum. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Roche-Mahdi, Sarah. 2002. “A Reappraisal of the Role of Merlin in the Roman De Silence.” Arthuriana 12 (1): 6–21.

Schultz, Celia E. 2021. Fulvia: Playing for Power at the End of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Review by Cristina Rosillo-López.

Shuckburgh, Evelyn S., trans. 1899. The Letters of Cicero: the whole extant correspondence in chronological order. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. Vol. 3. Vol. 4. London: G. Bell and Sons.

Shuckburgh, Evelyn S., trans. 1900. Letters to Atticus. London: G. Bell and Sons.

Sommer, H. Oskar, ed. 1894. Le Roman De Merlin, or the Early History of King Arthur Faithfully Edited from the French Ms. Add. 10292 in the British Museum (about A.D. 1316). London: Private Printing for subscribers by Ballantyne, Hanson, & Co.

Tatum, W. Jeffrey. 1999. The Patrician Tribune: Publius Clodius Pulcher. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Versnel, Henk S. 1992. “The Festival for Bona Dea and the Thesmophoria.” Greece & Rome. 39 (1): 31–55.

Zander, Shannon E. 2019. In defense of Socrates’ City of Sows (370b7-372d3) : the pedagogical role of prefiguration in the Republic. Honors Thesis. Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington, USA).

Socrates wanted to suppress discussion of castration culture

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates instigated a quarrel between lowly philosophy and revered poetry. Such a quarrel served him seeking status as a philosopher. This rhetorical gambit led to the trivialization of castration culture, most notably in Sigmund Freud’s claims of men’s “castration complex.” Socrates championed perceiving the truth. He at least honesty described his plot to silence discussion of castration culture.

Speaking to Glaucon and his brother Adeimantus, Socrates expressed concern about the children. Socrates was concerned about the stories that children might hear. He asked:

Are we then going to allow our children to hear any old stories so easily created by anyone, and to let into their souls opinions that are for the most part the opposite of those that we think they ought to have when they’re grown up?

{ Ἆρ’ οὖν ῥᾳδίως οὕτω παρήσομεν τοὺς ἐπιτυχόντας ὑπὸ τῶν ἐπιτυχόντων μύθους πλασθέντας ἀκούειν τοὺς παῖδας καὶ λαμβάνειν ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ ἐναντίας δόξας ἐκείναις ἅς, ἐπειδὰν τελεωθῶσιν, ἔχειν οἰησόμεθα δεῖν αὐτούς }

Socrates wasn’t concerned about protecting children from disturbing stories. He was interested in ideologically shaping adults. Put differently, Socrates sought to promote proper political propaganda rather than protect children’s welfare. Socrates quickly moved from regulating tales that children hear to suppressing adult speech in general:

“Firstly,” I said, “consider the man who told the greatest lie about the greatest matters. He didn’t tell a fine lie. Hesiod told about how Uranus accomplished what he says he did, and furthermore how Cronus took revenge on him. And as for Cronus’s deeds and sufferings at the hands of his son, even if they were true, I would not think they should be told to thoughtless youngsters in this lighthearted way, but should be kept strictly quiet. And if there were any need to tell the story, then as few as possible should hear it in secret. They should hear it in secret only after sacrificing, not a pig, but some huge victim, a sacrificial victim so hard to get hold of that as few as possible would hear the story.”

{ Πρῶτον μέν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, τὸ μέγιστον καὶ περὶ τῶν μεγίστων ψεῦδος ὁ εἰπὼν οὐ καλῶς ἐψεύσατο ὡς Οὐρανός τε ἠργάσατο ἅ φησι δρᾶσαι αὐτὸν Ἡσίοδος, ὅ τε αὖ Κρόνος ὡς ἐτιμωρήσατο αὐτόν. τὰ δὲ δὴ τοῦ Κρόνου ἔργα καὶ πάθη ὑπὸ τοῦ ὑέος, οὐδ’ ἂν εἰ ἦν ἀληθῆ ᾤμην δεῖν ῥᾳδίως οὕτω λέγεσθαι πρὸς ἄφρονάς τε καὶ νέους, ἀλλὰ μάλιστα μὲν σιγᾶσθαι, εἰ δὲ ἀνάγκη τις ἦν λέγειν, δι’ ἀπορρήτων ἀκούειν ὡς ὀλιγίστους, θυσαμένους οὐ χοῖρον ἀλλά τι μέγα καὶ ἄπορον θῦμα, ὅπως ὅτι ἐλαχίστοις συνέβη ἀκοῦσαι. }

Socrates himself wasn’t willing to say “how Cronus took revenge on him.” Incited by his mother Gaia, Cronus castrated his father Uranus. Socrates practiced and promoted silence concerning this primordial castration in Hesiod’s genealogy of the ruling goddesses. Moreover, the sacrifice of a pig was associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, which disparaged the marginalized Dis, and the Thesmophoria, which excluded men. Not content with these outrages, Socrates demanded a huge sacrificial victim for secret discussion of castration culture. The enormity of that sacrificial victim associates it with loss of the seminal blessing. Suppression of discussion of castration begets more castration.

Socrates discussing the republic

A republic cannot be just without overcoming castration culture and celebrating seminal blessing. End war on men. End war on women. Journey beyond the classical circle of castration and cuckolding to the good that men offer women.

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The two quotes above are from Plato, Republic, 377b and 378a (Book 2), ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly for ease of reading) from Emlyn-Jones & Preddy (2013). Hesiod’s account of Cronus castrating Uranus is Theogony, vv. 154-210.

[image] Socrates and friends discuss the republic / “The Relation of the Individual to the State.” Mural painted by John La Farge in 1905 in the Supreme Court Room, Minnesota State Capitol, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA. Via Minnesota State Capitol and Wikimedia Commons.


Emlyn-Jones, Christopher, and William Preddy, ed. and trans. 2013. Plato. Republic. Volume I: Books 1-5. Loeb Classical Library 237. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Eleanor of Aquitaine and Louis VII’s marital problems

In 1137, King Louis VI of France arranged for his seventeen-year-old son Louis VII to marry the fifteen-year-old Eleanor of Aquitaine. She was the Duchess of Aquitaine and one of the wealthiest and most privileged women in Europe. A week after their marriage, Eleanor and Louis VII became France’s Queen and King. Eleanor of Aquitaine is often celebrated today as being a strong, independent woman, much like the sixth-century Byzantine Empress Theodora. Louis VII is much less famous. Despite having six children and leading armies in numerous wars, Louis VII has been disparaged as not adequately fulfilling his marital obligations to Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Within twelve years of marriage, Eleanor and Louis VII were having serious marital difficulties. On the Second Crusade with Louis in Antioch, Eleanor became enamored of their host, her father’s brother Raymond of Poitiers. He was about seventeen years older than she. When Louis sought to travel on to Jerusalem, Eleanor wanted to remain with Raymond in Antioch:

When the king specifically then made haste to wrest her away, she mentioned their kinship, saying it was illicit for them to remain married since they were related in the fourth and fifth degrees. Even before they had departed, this statement had been heard in France. The late Bartholomew, Bishop of Laon, had calculated the degrees of kinship, but it was uncertain whether the computation was true or false.

{ Cum uero rex eam inde properaret auellere, ipsa parentele mentionem faciens dixit illicitum esse ut diutius commanerent, quia inter eos cognatio in quarto gradu uertebatur et quinto. Hoc autem uerbum antequam recederent auditum fuit in Francia, Bartholomeo bone memorie Laudunensi episcopo gradus cognationis computante; sed fida fuerit an infidelis supputatio incertum est. }[1]

Eleanor thus viciously escalated her dispute with her husband. Drawing upon an unconvincing pretext, she essentially declared that they must get divorced. Louis and his army had already suffered a devasating attack from the Turks. Now Eleanor was crusading against Louis:

At this the king was much troubled. Although he had loved the queen with an affection that he nearly permitted to be immoderate, he acquiesced to divorce her if his counselors and the French nobility would allow it. One knight among the king’s secretaries, Thierry Galeran, was a eunuch that the queen had always hated and mocked. But the eunuch was faithful and very close to the king, as he was before to the king’s father. Thierry boldly persuaded him not to endure delay any longer in Antioch, both because “guilt under kinship’s guise could lie concealed” and because he would threaten perpetual shame to the kingdom of the Franks if, among the other disasters of the Crusade, it was said that the king was robbed of his wife or deserted by her. This is what Thierry argued, either because hated the queen or because he really believed it and was moved perhaps by widespread opinion. Therefore the queen was forced to draw away and leave with the king for Jerusalem. The wound remained in their hearts and again rose higher, although they hid it as best they could.

{ Cum uero rex eam inde properaret auellere, ipsa parentele mentionem faciens dixit illicitum esse ut diutius commanerent, quia inter eos cognatio in quarto gradu uertebatur et quinto. … Vnde rex plurimum turbatus est; et licet reginam affectu fere immoderato diligeret, tamen acquieuisset eam dimittere si consiliarii sui et Francorum proceres permisissent. Erat inter secretarios regis miles eunuchus quem illa semper oderat et consucuerat deridere, fidelis et familiarissimus regi, sicut et patri eius antea fuerat, Terricus scilicet Gualerancius. Is ei persuasit audentius ne ipsam Antiochie morari diutius pateretur, tum quia cognato poterat nomine culpa tegi, tum quia regno Francorum perpetuum opprobrium imminebat si inter cetera infortunia rex diceretur spoliatus coniuge uel relictus. Hoc ille, uel quia reginam oderate uel quia sic sentiebat, diuulgata fortasse motus opinione. Abstracta ergo coacta est cum rege Ierosolimam proficisci, et in cor utriusque uicissim altius ascenderat et, licet dissimularent ut poterant, manebat iniuria. }

The eunuch Thierry Galeran quoted Phaedra’s letter to Hippolytus from Ovid’s Heroines {Heroides}.[2] That letter comes in the context of Phaedra attempting to coercive her stepson Hippolytus into having sex with her. The verse “guilt under kinship’s guise could lie concealed {cognato poterat nomine culpa tegi}” suggests that Eleanor was using a claim of kinship with Louis to hide the guilt of her seeking sex with Raymond.

When a Byzantine naval attack forced Eleanor and Louis to land in Sicily in 1149 on their way back to France, Pope Eugenius III sought to heal their marriage. The pope taught Eleanor and Louis the fundamental importance of wife and husband sleeping together in a place of beauty, peace, and joy:

After hearing separately the accounts each gave of the discord that was formed in Antioch, the pope reconciled the king and queen. He prohibited any further mention of consanguinity between them and confirmed their marriage, both orally and in writing. He commanded under threat of anathema that no attacking of it should be heard and that it shouldn’t be dissolved under any circumstances whatsoever. This ruling brought much delight to the king’s face. He loved the queen ardently and nearly in a childish way. The pope made them sleep in the same bed, which he had decorated with his own priceless cloth hangings. And daily during their brief visit he strove by friendly conversation to restore love between them.

{ Discordiam regis et regine, quae Antiochie concepta fuerat, auditis querelis utriusque seorsum omnino sedauit, prohibens ne de cetero consanguinitatis inter eos mentio haberetur; et confirmans matrimonium tam uerbo quam scripto sub anathematis interminatione inhibuit ne quis illud impetens audiretur et ne quacumque solueretur occasione. Regi uisa est placuisse plurimum constitutio, eo quod reginam uehementer amabat et fere puerili modo. Fecit eos in eodem lecto decumbere, quem de suo preciosissimis uestibus fecerat exornari. Et singulis diebus illius morule familiari colloquio redintegrare studuit caritatem. }[3]

Pope Eugenius III thus acted as a good pastor would for a troubled married couple today.

Eleanor of Aquitaine reading in bed

Eleanor and Louis’s marriage nonetheless failed. Lack of mutual sexual ardor apparently was a problem. One source reported:

When the king together with his wife had returned from the East to their own land, not without the ignominy of an incomplete endeavor, the former love between them gradually grew cold. Reasons for a separation also began to multiply. She was extremely offended by the king’s habits and argued that she had married not a king but a monk.

{ Cumque idem rex ab oriente una cum coniuge, non sine infecti negotii dedecore, ad propria fuisset reuersus, amore pristino inter eos paulatim refrigescente, causae quoque discidii succrescere coeperunt, illa maxime moribus regiis offensa et causante se monacho non regi nupsisse. }[4]

While marital sexual disputes are realistic, Eleanor’s claim about her husband seems both hyperbolic and literary. They apparently did sleep together, at least on some occasions, and they begot two daughters. Moreover, Fortunatus’s life of the sixth-century queen and nun Radegund of Thuringia reports a contemporary claim about frigidity in marital relations: Radegund’s husband, King Chlothar I reportedly “had married a nun rather than a queen {habere se potius iugalem monacham quam reginam}.”[5] Eleanor’s complaint seems to adapt that earlier claim. In any case, eight weeks after her marriage to Louis was annulled, Eleanor married Henry, the Duke of Normandy. Another source provided a different perspective on these events:

Henry, Count of Anjou, Duke of Normandy, and afterward King of England, took as a wife the abandoned wife of Louis, King of the Franks. From this war arose between Henry and Louis. Because of his wife’s incontinence Louis had left her. She behaved not as a queen, but nearly as a prostitute.

{ Relictam Ludovici Regis Francorum uxorem duxit Henricus somes Andegavensis, et dux Northmanniae, postea rex Angliae. Unde guerra orta est inter eos. Hanc reliquit Ludovicus, propter incontinentiam ipsius mulieris, quae non sicut regina, sed fere sicut meretrix se habebat. }[6]

Louis didn’t abandon Eleanor. He sought a divorce from her with her consent. Whether Eleanor was like a prostitute or Louis like a monk, their personal incompatiblity seems to have been sexual. Castration culture, or even just disparagement of men’s sexuality, undermines marriages.

King Louis VII of France

Christians have long cherished the ideal of marriage as an equal, life-long union of a woman and a man. A sixth-century Christian poet offered this blessing for a marriage:

May you advance, long joined in limbs and united in heart,
both equal in character, in merits and manners both equal,
each ornamenting your gender with your laudable actions.
May you encircle one another’s necks in a single embrace
and spend all your years in peaceful amusements.
May each desire what delights the other,
and both share equal health protecting your two hearts.
May one love, held firm in living union, nourish you.

{ Ite diu iuncti membris et corde iugati,
ambo pares genio, meritis et moribus ambo,
sexum quisque suum pretiosis actibus ornans,
cuius amplexu sint colla conexa sub uno,
et totos placidis peragatis lusibus annos.
Hoc velit alterutrum quidquid dilexerit alter;
Aequa salus ambobus eat duo pectora servans;
unus amor vivo solidamine iunctus alescat. }[7]

Healthy spouses are long joined in limbs and held firm in a delightful, living union. Underscoring this erotic imperative, the sixth-century Christian wedding song concludes:

May you thus celebrate again as parents your children’s wedding vows,
and may you have grandchildren, your own children’s offspring.

{ Sic iterum natis celebretis vota parentes
et de natorum teneatis prole nepotes. }[8]

The marital difficulties of Eleanor and Louis in twelfth-century France are now systemic in high-income, westernized societies. While husbands’ sexual obligation to their wives is vitally important, a husband’s burden of performance can be debilitating. Husbands should be supported and encouraged, not belittled. If only for the sake of children, men’s sexuality and Christian marriage must be better appreciated.

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[1] John of Salisbury, Pontifical History {Historia Pontificalis} c. 23, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Chibnall (1956) p. 53. The subsequent quote above is similarly sourced from Historia Pontificalis c. 23. Louis and Eleanor reached Antioch in March, 1148. Id.

John of Salisbury studied at Paris and Chartres. He was a leading humanist cleric of his time and became the Bishop of Chartres in 1176. In his thinking, John emphasized moderation and respect for nature. His understanding of scientific knowledge as always open to questioning and re-evaluation contrasts with today’s dogmatic assertions of scientific truth.

Historia Pontificalis covers only the years 1148 to 1152. John was employed in the Papal Curia for at least some of those years. He apparently drafted Historia Pontificalis in 1164. Historia Pontificalis survives in only one manuscript, Bern MS 367. Chibnall (1956) pp. xxiv, xxvii-xxx, xlvii.

[2] Ovid, Heroines {Heroides} 4, “Phaedra to Hippolytus {Phaedra Hippolyto},” v. 138.

[3] John of Salisbury, Historia Pontificalis c, 29, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Chibnall (1956) p. 61. These events occurred on October 9-10, 1149. John was then with Pope Eugenius III at Tusculum, so John was able to write as a well-connected contemporary on location. Id. p. xlv.

[4] William of Newburgh / William Parvus, The History of English Affairs {Historia rerum Anglicarum} 1.31, “Of the divorce of the king of France from his wife, and of her marriage with the future king of England {De divortio inter regem Francorum et uxorem ejus celebrato, et quomodo ipsa nupserit futuro regi Anglorum},” excerpt, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Walsh & Kennedy (1988). Hamilton (1856) provides a freely available Latin edition.

[5] 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 more on Radegund of Thuringia.

[6] Hélinand de Froidmont, Chronicle {Chronicon}, entry for the year 1152, Latin text from Patrologiae Latina 212, columns 1057-8, English translation (modified) from Adams (2005) p. 142.

An enormous literature has developed concerning the life of Eleanor of Aquitaine. Scholars now tend to defend Eleanor as a strong, independent woman maligned for her transgressive sexual desire. Wikipedia comically states that Eleanor was “a key leading figure in the unsuccessful Second Crusade.” Cf. Evans (2014) Ch. 1. For recent gynocentric study of Eleanor of Aquitaine and her historical reception, Wheeler & Parsons (2002) and Evans (2014).

[7] Venantius Fortunatus, Carmina 6.1, “About the lord and king Sigibert and queen Brunhilda {De domno Sigiberctho rege et Brunichilde regina},” incipit “With the coming of spring, when the earth has thrown off the frost {Vere novo tellus fuerit dum exuta pruinis},” vv. 132-9, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Roberts (2017). Leo (1881) provides a freely available Latin edition differing little from Roberts’s Latin edition. The subsequent quote above is from “Vere novo tellus fuerit dum exuta pruinis” vv. 142-3.

Fortunatus wrote this wedding song (epithalamium) for Sigibert I, King of Austrasia, and Princess Brunhilda, the daughter of Athanagild, King of the Visigoths. Brunhilda and Sigibert married in Metz in 566.

[8] Praising equality of woman and man and urging the couple to have children has long been conventional among Christians. In an epithalamium for the marriage of Ruricius and Hiberia about 460 GC, the Christian Roman aristocrat Sidonius Apollinaris declared that Ruricus and Hiberia “correspond in wealth, beauty, and lineage {census, forma genusque conveniunt}.” Sidonius’s epithalamium ends thus:

Then the goddess of Paphos, clasping the right hands of the young man and young woman, chanted the solemn blessing in few words, unwilling that even words should cause delay: “Pass your lives in happiness and concord. May you have children and grandchildren. May your great-grandchildren perceive in their great-grandparents that which they themselves would desire.”

{ tum Paphie dextram iuvenis dextramque puellae complectens paucis cecinit sollemnia dictis, ne facerent vel verba moram: “feliciter aevum ducite concordes; sint nati sintque nepotes; cernat et in proavo sibimet quod pronepos optet.” }

Sidonius Apollinaris, Carmina 11.91, 11.129-33, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Anderson (1936). The goddess of Paphos is Venus, the classical goddess of fleshly love. On Ruricius and Hiberia, Mathisen (2019).

[images] (1) Eleanor of Aquitaine reading in bed. Tomb effigy in the church of Fontevraud Abbey. Photo thanks to Adam Bishop and Wikimedia Commons. (2) King Louis VII of France. Painted by Henri Decaisne in 1837 for a series of portraits of kings of France for the Musée Historique {Historical Museum} in the Palace of Versailles. Via flickr and Wikimedia Commons.


Adams, Tracy. 2005. Violent Passions: Managing Love in the Old French Verse Romance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Anderson, W.B. 1936. Sidonius: Poems and Letters. With an English translation, introduction, and notes. Loeb Classical Library 296. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Chibnall, Marjorie. 1956. The Historia Pontificalis of John of Salisbury. London: Nelson.

Evans Michael. 2014. Inventing Eleanor: The Medieval and Post-Medieval Image of Eleanor of Aquitaine. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Review by Elena Woodacre.

Hamilton, Hans Claude, ed. 1856. Historia Rerum Anglicarum Willelmi Parvi ordinis Sancti Augustini canonici regularis in coenobio Beatae Mariae de Newburgh. Londini: Sumptibus Societatis.

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.

Mathisen, Ralph. 2019, “Ruricius of Limoges.” Subject entry in Paul J.J. van Geest, et al., eds. Brill Encyclopedia of Early Christianity. Leiden: Brill.

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.

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.

Walsh, P. G. and M. J Kennedy, ed. and trans. 1988. William of Newburgh. The History of English Affairs. Book 1. Warminster, UK: Aris.

Wheeler, Bonnie and John Carmi Parsons, eds. 2002. Eleanor of Aquitaine: Lord and Lady. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

god of love advised medieval victim of war on men

A medieval man suffering grief in love fell asleep. Most persons in the relatively enlightened medieval period didn’t believe that a god of love exists. But the entity that this grieving lover encountered in his dream was unmistakable:

I saw a king who was adorned wondrously. He was wearing a crown having gold all over, torques about his neck, and a splendid pearl fixed to his chest. He was admirably dressed, with precious clothes in the manner of a great king. Moreover, the shape of his face and his appearance was very excessively beautiful. In his right hand he held a placard, written in golden letters, declaring: “Come to me, all you who are lovers, and I will give you rest.” On his chest was written: “I am the god of love.”

{ vidi regem quendam miriffice adornatum, coronam auream abentem in quapite et torques in collo, et in pectore margaritam splendentem tenebat. Erat etenim digniter indutus, preciossisimus vestibus ad modum magni regis. Forma autem faciei et aspectus erat pulcerima multum nimis. Titulum vero in manu dextera tenebat, scriptum literis hec aureys continentem: “Omnes amatores, venite ad me et reficiam vos.” In pectore namque erat scriptum: “Deus sum amoris.” }[1]

Written on the placard were words like those of Jesus, whom Christians regard as the one God incarnate. But this man clearly wasn’t Jesus. The biblical first letter of John states, “God is love {θεὸς ἀγάπη ἐστίν}.”[2] This man had written on his chest, “I am the god of love {Deus sum amoris}.” He was a different god of love.

Medieval Latin poetry highlights the need for a god of love. To a woman he loved, a medieval man declared in anguish:

Polished creation by the skill of a heavenly artificer,
you to whom Nature said, “Thais, be my masterpiece,”
ah you, whom I beg too much, are to me more iron and stone.
Be less iron, I implore, be less stone!

{ Celitus artifici res elimata paratu,
Cui Natura “Meum sis, Thai,” dixit “opus”
Ei mihi plus nimio ferrumque lapisque roganti!
Esto minus ferrum, queso, minusque lapis. }[3]

Begging never works to gain a woman’s love. This man complained that his beloved woman had a heart like Mars, the Roman god of war. He urged her:

Abolish your Mars, that divinity sent down from the stars.
Mutual love is preserved by spells of peace.

{ Tolle tuum Martem demissum numen ab astris:
Mutuus alterna pace tuetur amor. }

Perpetual war on men makes misery for men and women. A god of war is a poor alternative to a god of love.

Men suffering in the war on men often fail to see alternatives. One medieval man complained:

It’s certain and apparent that I love — but Love doesn’t provide for me.
My young manhood lacks its flower, my flesh fades, and my skin dries.
I’m barely impeded from moving quickly by the reins of Love.
The cause of my grief is the bedroom-hating Lycoris.
She has never learned to yield, but abhors to couple or to be coupled —
she disdains her lover’s kisses and peaceful times in bed!

{ Constat et apparet quod amo — nec Amor mihi paret.
Flore iuventa caret, caro defluit, et cutis aret.
Impedior loris vix expediendus Amoris;
Causaque meroris, thalamos exosa Licoris.
Non didicit flecti, sed haborret nectere, necti —
Oscula dilecti fastidit et ocia lecti! }[4]

Lycoris preferred to make war than to make love:

Young woman more wild than wild beasts, you who don’t pity the pitiful,
what war are you waging against me? Why seek to defeat one already defeated?
What means or end, what goddess of vengeance has seduced you?
Lay down a limit to your threats. Leave roaring to the Sabine women!

{ Plus fera virgo feris, que non miseris misereris,
Quid mihi bella geris? quid victum vincere queris?
Quis modus aut finis, que te seduxit Erinis?
Finem pone minis; ruditatem linque Sabinis! }

After Roman men captured them, the Sabine women captured those men in marriage and insisted on female privileges. Roman men originally were neither pitiful nor defeated. They would have been more free if they hadn’t captured the Sabine women and married them. Every man should remember the Sabine women, as this medieval man did. But instead of begging a woman not to be like the Sabine women, a man should flee from women like the Sabine women.

The god of love offered the lovelorn, dreaming medieval man timeless wisdom. With Christian humility, the god of love pointed out that men have no need for the god of love of many men’s dreams:

So tell me, what is the cause of your grief? You have lost your beloved. Why are you calling me? Or what do you answer? If indeed you have lost her, rejoice! Rome will give you young women just as beautiful. Rome contains, so it is said, everything that has been in the world.

{ Et dic, que est causa meroris tui? Perdidisti amasiam tuam. Quid me vocas? Aud quid respondes? Si enim perdidisti, letare, quoniam tot tibi tamque dabit formosas Roma puellas. Hec habet, ut dicas, quidquid in orbe fuit. }[5]

The god of love gave the man “a most lovable and beautiful young woman {virgo gratissima atque pulcra}.” God’s grace is sufficient for men.

Waking from his dream, the man stopped sighing and groaning. The poem ends with the man giving thanks and praise:

Then at last I offered thanks and praise to the highest, true God, and to his only-begotten Son, and to the Holy Spirit, just as is proper.

{ Demum autem gratias et laudes summo deo vero filioque unigenito suo atque spiritui sancto optuli prout decet. }

Late has he loved you, beauty so ancient and so new, late has he loved you!

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] “I’ll now compose a song telling of my sorrow {Cantica conponam nunc in me tristia narrans},” ll. 20-9, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, pp. 523-34. Cf. Matthew 11:28, which in the Vulgate is:

Come to me all you who are laboring and are burdened, and I will give you rest.

{ venite ad me omnes qui laboratis et onerati estis et ego reficiam vos }

“Cantica conponam nunc in me tristia narrans” is a narrative poem mixing verse and prose. It survives in MS. Escorial T. II. 16, folios 68v-73r, written in the fifteenth century. That manuscripts also contains About the Flea {De pulice}. Id. p. 553.

[2] See 1 John 4:8 and 4:16.

[3] “Polished creation by the skill of a heavenly artificer {Celitus artifici res elimata paratu},” vv. 1-4, Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 469-9, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The subsequent quote above is similarly from vv. 11-12 (of 12).

“Celitus artifici res elimata paratu” survives on folio 26r of MS. Munich, Clm 17212, written in the thirteenth century. That manuscript is a poetic miscellany that includes verses of Hildebert of Lavardin and Marbod of Rennes. Id. p. 565.

[4] “It’s certain and apparent that I love — but Love doesn’t provide for me {Constat et apparet quod amo — nec Amor mihi paret}, vv. 1-6, Latin text from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, pp. 465-6, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The subsequent quote above is similarly from vv. 7-10 (of 10).

“Constat et apparet quod amo — nec Amor mihi paret” survives on p. 66 of MS. Oxford, Rawlinson G. 109, written about 1200. That manuscript includes poems of Hugh Primas, as well as the epigram Carmina Burana 121a:

Love is not a crime, because, if it were a sin to love,
God would not join even divine entities in love.

{ Non est crimen amor, quia, si scelus esset amare
nollet amore Deus etiam divina ligare. }

Latin text and English translation from Traill (2018).

[5] “Cantica conponam nunc in me tristia narrans,” ll. 48-51, Latin text from Dronke (1965) p. 524, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from ll. 151 (a most lovable and beautiful young woman) and 162-3 (Then at last I offered thanks and praise…).

[image] Taylor Tripodi, “Late Have I Love You,” video via YouTube.


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

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.