Eufemie led Cador in love as radical proto-meninist

Scholars have been silent about whether the thirteenth-century Old French Romance of Silence {Roman de Silence} is ultimately misandristic, transmitting an ultra-conservative message, or actually reveals radical, proto-meninist tendencies. If it’s the latter (surprise!), is that the viewpoint of its author “Master Heldris of Cornwall {Maistres Heldris de Cornualle},” or does it result from decades of academic scholarship demonizing men as inadequate and oppressive?[1] Scholars’ anxieties have oppressively silenced these questions. No longer, for the resistance is here. To declare breaking the silence would be perversely ironic — merely more dominant, mindlessly repeated dogma. Just as in meninist critique of the medieval chantefable Aucassin et Nicolette, literary scholarship now dares to display creative imagination.

As King Evans and his men marched from Chester to Winchester, a big, fat dragon attacked them. It killed thirty men with its venom. In despair, King Evans declared that he would give any knight who killed the dragon a county and any woman he wanted to marry, as long as she wasn’t already pledged. Of course, medieval marriage required mutual consent of the spouses, so King Evans’s offer is best interpreted as royal approval for a marriage. Cador, a young and brave knight, was secretly in love with Eufemie, a beautiful and learned young woman. She was the only child of Count Renald of Cornwall. Cador thought to prove himself worthy of her love by killing the dragon. Men historically have been gender-socialized into undertaking dangerous quests to earn women’s love. Men, however, have lives just as valuable as women’s lives and are intrinsically worthy of women’s love. Eufemie understood these fundamental meninist insights. She didn’t urge Cador to kill the dragon to prove his worthiness.

After a brutal fight, Cador killed the dragon. All rejoiced at Cador’s heroic feat. He then went to his secretly beloved Eufemie:

Cador speaks to Eufemie,
who is certainly not his enemy,
for if he dared to ask her for love,
she would let her heart be softened.
She would give herself at once to him,
provided that his intentions were honorable.
She loved him much, but he didn’t know it.
And did he hate her in any way? Hate? Alas!
There was nothing in the whole world
he would love more than her, if only he dared to ask.

{ Cador parole a Eufemie
Ki pas ne li est enemie,
Car se il li osast proier
Bien se lairoit amoloier.
Tost venroit a l’amor doner,
Mais n’i pensast de viloner.
El l’ainme moult, mais ne set pas.
Et het l’il dont de rien? Het? las!
Ja n’a il cose en nule terre
Qu’il amast tant, s’il l’osast quere. }[2]

Cador’s silence about his love for Eufemie highlights men’s disproportionate gender burden in soliciting amorous relationships. In being silent, he performed an act of men’s sexed protest.

Cador soon became mortally ill. The dragon had spewed venom on him before he killed it. The king was so upset about Cador’s illness that he himself nearly died. He immediately sent for the learned Eufemie. She was the wisest doctor in the land. She said that she could completely cure Cador in two weeks. Before three barons, the king solemnly promised that if Eufemie cured Cador, he would give her any man she desired to have as husband, provided that another woman hadn’t already claimed that man. This promise was gender-symmetric to the one that the king made for any knight who killed the dragon.

Cador’s illness is a sophisticated literary figure. He plausibly suffered from dragon venom. He clearly was gravely lovesick for Eufemie. These two causes are related allegorically: dragon’s venom is an allegorical figure of systemic anti-men sexism in love. Slaying the dragon of systemic anti-men sexism isn’t a conventionally gendered heroic feat set out for men. Women and men must work together to overcome systemic anti-men sexism. That’s what Eufemie and Cador did.

While Eufemie treated him, Cador remained silent about his love for her. He observed:

She has saved me from one malady,
but a much worse one now poisons me,
for I must be drunk and mad
if I still languish now that I’m cured.
Alas, I do not dare reveal my love to her,
yet to be silent isn’t to find good water.

{ Ele m’a fait d’un mal delivre,
Mais d’un moult gregnor voir m’enivre,
Car ivres sui et esmaris
Quant jo languis, si sui garis.
Ne li os, las! amor rover,
Nel taisir ne puis bien trover. }

Nonetheless, he recognized that silence was the better choice for him:

But it’s better to be silent.
Love has caused me great distress,
and I have no hope of being cured.

{ Mais mioldres pooirs est taisir.
Amors m’a mis en marison,
Nen ai confort de guarison. }

Men’s despair under systemic anti-men sexism drives them to silence. That’s been socially constructed as men being stoic or strong, silent types. More commonly, men are silent because they know that no one cares about what they have to say.

Eufemie slowly realized that she needed to speak to lessen Cador’s gender burden of soliciting an amorous relationship with her. The narrator superficially observed:

She desires for him to know
that she would have no other lover but him,
but she doesn’t have the courage
to tell him that she’s in love with him.
Shall I say that she’s happy,
when she does absolutely nothing
with regard to her heart’s desire
except love him and not dare say so?

{ Ele desire qu’il seüst
Qu’ele altre ami que lui n’eüst:
Mais qu’en li tant de cuer n’a mie
Que die a lui qu’ele est s’amie.
Dirai jo dont qu’ele ait delit
Quant el ne fait, grant ne petit,
De quanque li siens cuers desire,
Fors lui amer sans ozer dire? }

Eufemie, however, was a proto-meninist woman. She understood that, as a matter of social justice and personal desire, she should speak to lessen the oppressive force of systemic anti-men sexism and to help her beloved man. She moved to speak to him:

It was still before dawn
when the young woman made her move.
She was on her way to her beloved man,
but halfway down the stairs
she came to her senses.
The thought of advancing she dreaded and feared.
She blamed her heart and chastised it.

{ Ançois que l’aube soit veüe,
S’en est la mescine meüe.
Viers son ami s’en violt aler,
Mais as degrés al devaler
Revient en soi meïsmes toute.
L’aler avant crient et redoute,
Blasme son cuer et sel castie }

Internalized female privilege caused her to believe that she would dishonor and shame herself by speaking first of love to a man. But she rose above female privilege in sitting down:

Now she sat down on the steps
and fainted twice in a row,
and when she was able to speak, immediately
she called Cador by name.
He is all her words in sum.

{ Atant se ciet sor le degré.
.ii. fois se pasme en un tenant.
Et quant puet parler, maintenant
Apiele Cador et si nome.
En tols ses mos est cil la some. }

In his room below her (signifying men’s subordinate status to women), Cador couldn’t hear Eufemie. She had to do more:

The day opens, and Eufemie
delays no longer. She jumps to her feet,
comes into her lover’s room, and
says to him, “Ami, speak, ah me!”
She should have said, “speak to me,”
but Love has done such a trick on her
that she should have said, “Speak, ami”
but she has said, “Speak, ah me!”
“Speak to me,” she should have said,
but “ah me!” rested in her heart.
As soon as she said, “ami,”
into the sentence “ah me!” was put.
She should have said “to me,” yet she said “ah me!”
because of the terrible sorrow within her.
She gives him a great deal of hope
when she clearly says “ah me!”
for thus she calls him “ami.”
Now he thinks he has figured it all out.
These two utterances, “ah me!” and “ami,”
have brought him great comfort.
The expression “ami” is evidence of love.
The expression “ah me!” says it loud and clear.

{ Li jors apert et Eufemie
Saut sus que ne s’atarja mie.
Vient en la cambre a son ami.
Dist li: “Amis, parlés, haymmi!”
Dire li dut: “Parlés a moi,”
Mais l’Amors li fist tel anoi
Que dire dut: “Parlés ami,”
Se li a dit: “Parlés, haymmi!”
“Parlés a mi” dire li dut,
Mais “haymmi!” sor le cuer li jut.
Si tost com ele ot dit “amis,”
En la clauze “haymmi!” a mis.
“A mi” dut dire, et “haymmi!” dist,
Por la dolor qui en li gist.
Grant esperance li a fait
Que li a dit “haymmi!” a trait,
Car el l’ot ains “ami” nomé.
Or cuide avoir tolt asomé.
Cist doi mot “haymmi!” et “amis”
Li ont moult grant confort tramis.
Cis mos “amis” mostre l’amor,
Cis mos “haymmi!” fait le clamor. }

In Old French, “ami” could mean either “friend” or “beloved.” Either meaning is a rather intimate form of address from a doctor to a patient. While Cador as a knight lacked the privilege of being thoroughly educated in the seven liberal arts, as Eufemie was, he nonetheless had good philological sense. He recognized that the combination of “ami” and “ah me!” likely signified her ardent love for him.

With Eufemie’s meninist leadership in challenging men’s gender burden in soliciting amorous relationships, Cador was no longer silent. To Cador, Eufemie was an ally, but more than that, a beloved:

Now you know that he will not fail
to speak so that she can hear him,
because she has very much put him on the right track,
and he says, “Sweet one, your lament
has filled my heart with great sorrow.
Your great goodness is an example to me.
If you suffer, then I will suffer.
If you suffer, then I will know it well.
If you are filled with pain, I too will have it.
I will rejoice in your joy,
for everything about you fills me with joy —
the way you look and walk and talk —
it elevates me in every way.
If you encounter adversity,
I must change my life accordingly.
I want to weep at your adversities,
delight in your prosperity,
and devote myself completely to you.
If you are hurt, well should I sorrow,
for that’s the way you were with me.
You gave me wellness in my illness.”

{ Or savés qu’il nel laira mie
Ne parolt ensi qu’ele l’oie, —
Car tres bien l’a mis en la voie, —
Et dist: “Dolce, li vostre plainte
M’a grant dolor el cuer enpainte.
La vostre grans bontés m’ensengne
Se vos plagniés que jo me plagne.
Se vos plagniés, bien le sarai,
Se mal ayrés, le mal avrai.
De vostre joie doi joïr,
Car vostre sens me fait joïr,
Aler, et parler, et veïr,
Et en tols sens me fait tehir.
Se nule cose avés averse,
Ma vie doi mener enverse:
Plorer de vostre aversité,
Rire en vostre prosperité.
Tolt mon pooir vos doi voloir
Se mal avés, bien doi doloir.
Car si fesistes vos del mien,
Del mal me mesistes el bien.” }

Eufemie then told Cador to take her as his wife as a reward for her service to him. He attempted to agree, but he didn’t speak clearly enough. Eufemie and Cador still didn’t fully understand their love for each other. Systemic anti-men sexism isn’t easy to overcome in love.

Eufemie again led the way to realizing love. She proposed a communicative procedure:

Now we can make our wishes known
in secret and in private —
what woman you love, and I, what man.
Why don’t we swear an oath right here and now
to hide it well, and make a pact
that you won’t say it except to me,
nor I, upon my faith, except to you.
First you tell and then I will,
and I won’t lie about anything.
You’re the man, so you go first.
You should choose before I do.

{ Or poriens nos nostre buen dire
Tolt coiement, chi a larron,
Quel feme amés, jo quel baron.
Car en faisons chi l’afiänce
Del bien celer, et l’aliänce
Que nel dites, se n’est par moi,
Ne jo, se par vos non, par foi.
Primes dirés et puis dirai,
Que ja de rien n’en mentirai.
Vos estes hom, ains devés dire,
Se devés ains de moi eslire. }

Eufemie here might be suggesting female superiority in asserting that she won’t lie, leaving the implication that if Cador went second, he would. The assertion “you’re the man, so you go first” is the anti-meninist protocol for entering dangerous terrain, just as “women and children first” is the anti-meninist protocol for evacuating persons from sinking ships. These ideological deviations don’t mean that Eufemie is an ultra-conservative anti-meninist. She is merely a woman character in a medieval romance that a man wrote, a man author with all the limitations that men have in being conscious of their own gender subordination.

Despite its shortcomings, Cador declared that he agreed to Eufemie’s communicative procedure. That was a mere formality. The most important communication between them was silent:

Each takes the other by the hand.
They are so carried away by this
that they cannot prevent themselves
from putting their mouths together.
It seems to me that, without speaking,
they are giving a fine demonstration of courtly love,
for kissing teaches them both a good lesson,
both her who causes him pain and torment,
and him whom she loves and desires.
For this is not a comradely kiss
of mother to son, of son to father;
no, it is a kiss of such savor
that it savors much of courtly love.
And if you want to know the truth,
you’ll never hear it from me —
whether they kissed often then,
or whether it was one kiss or one hundred.
But I will venture to confirm this much,
without any lying or cheating:
before they stopped kissing
and before a single word was spoken,
you could have traveled a mile.

{ Li uns prent l’autre par la destre,
Et escalfent si del tenir
Qu’il ne se pueënt abstenir
Ne mecent les boces ensanble.
Sans dire font, si com moi sanble,
De fine amor moult bone ensegne,
Car li baisiers bien lor ensegne,
Et li qu’il trait paine et martire,
Et lui qu’ele l’aime et desire,
Car n’est pas baisier de conpere,
De mere a fil, de fil a pere:
Ainz est baisiers de tel savor
Que bien savore fine amor.
Et se vus verté m’en querés,
Ja par moi sage n’en serés
Se dunques baisierent sovent,
Se cho fu uns baisiers, u .c.
Mais j’os bien verté aficier,
Tolt sans mentir et sans trecier,
Qu’anchois que de baisier cessassent,
Ne qu’il onques un mot sonasscent, —
Peüst on une liue aler. }

After this kissing, Cador spoke first, and Eufemie second:

“Beloved, I am your lover.
Your own sweet self has vanquished me
after a long and mighty battle.”
“Beloved, I want you to know
that I love you truly,
and that no one else in the whole world
could assuage my grief,
restore me to health, and promote my well-being.”

{ “Amie, jo sui vostre amis.
Li vostre cors le mien a mis
Moult longement en grant batalle.”
“Amis, cho saciés vos sans falle,
Qu’ai[n]si sui jo l[a] vostre amie
Et qu’el mont fors [vos] nen a mie
Qui ma dolor puist estancier,
Ma santé rendre, n’avancier.” }

Cador figured Eufemie as a warrior who had vanguished him in battle. Eufemie, the wisest doctor in the land, figured Cador as a doctor who with singular ability restored her to health. Each respected the other within their own gender understanding.

“And what would the whole world matter
if I didn’t have the one I love?
Little or nothing, so help me God!
If what I love is missing,
what I don’t love is of little value to me.
What good are all the efforts and struggles
of one who never has what she wants?
Dear sweet love, if I had you,
I would have enough.” “If I had you?
Beloved, you have me with you,
you know it, completely and utterly,
and whoever deprived me of your love
could not recompense me with all the world.
Nothing else delights me.”

{ Et tols li mons que me valroit,
Se cho que j’aim me fasoit falle?
Petit u nient, se Dex me valle!
Se cho que j’amer puis me faut,
Cho que jo n’aim petit me valt.
Ki onques n’a cho qu’il desire
Que li valt quanque il luite et tire?
Bials dols amis, se jo vos ai,
Assés avrai.” “Se jo vos ai?
o vos, amie, vos m’avés,
Tolt de fiänce le savés
Et qui vostre amot me tolroit
De tolt le mont ne me solroit,
Car altre riens ne me delite }

The enormity of scholarly failures in interpreting the Roman de Silence cannot be understated. Medieval wisdom counseled, “Hear, see, and keep quiet if you want to live in peace {Audi, vide, et tace, si tu vis vivere in pace}.” That’s how most scholars today respond to grotesque gender injustices against men. Eufemie in the Roman de Silence courageously spoke as a proto-meninist resisting systemic anti-men sexism. Her name comes from ancient Greek words meaning “good prophetic voice.”[3] Eufemie’s words and actions should be heard and imitated to promote gender justice in our too loveless world.

medieval woman and man in love

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[1] A conventional instance of this question form, constructed to support dominant ideology, “has generated the greatest critical response” concerning the Roman de Silence. Burr (2016) p. 33, n. 1. Gaunt divined that Heldris de Cornouaille, the author of the Roman de Silence, had “fears regarding the possible inadequacy of men.” Gaunt interpreted his projection misandristically:

He desires what he fears and his solution to the dilemma this creates is characteristically masculine: suppress and repress.

Gaunt (1990) p. 213. Neither men nor women should suppress and repress meninist literary criticism.

[2] Heldris of Cornwall {Heldris de Cornouaille}, The Romance of Silence {Le roman de Silence} vv. 549-58, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Roche-Mahdi (1992). Subsequent quotes above are similarly sourced from Roman de Silence.

Roman de Silence was written 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 second half of the thirteenth century. “Master Heldris of Cornwall {Maistres Heldris de Cornualle}” is named as the tale’s author in Roman de Silence, vv. 1-2. Nothing more is known about Heldris de Cornualle other than what can be garnered from the Roman de Silence.

Subsequent quotes above are from Roman de Silence vv. 549-58 (Cador speaks to Eufemie…), 659-64 (She has saved me from one malady…), 676-8 (But it’s better to be silent…), 763-70 (She desires for him to know…), 839-45 (It was still before dawn…), 866-70 (Now she sat down on the steps…), 879-900 (The day opens, and Eufemie…), 916-36 (Now you know that he will not fail…), 1076-86 (Now we can make our wishes known…), 1090-1111 (Each takes the other by the hand…), 1147-54 (Beloved, I am your lover…), 1372-86 (And what would the whole world matter…).

[3] The name Eufemie plausibly comes from the ancient Greek prefix εὐ-, meaning “good,” and the substantive φήμη, meaning “prophetic voice, oracle.” Euphemia, a woman’s name well-known in medieval Europe, has the same etymology. Roche-Mahdi interpreted Eufemie’s name as meaning “use of good speech” and then conventionally misinterpreted her as “defined by convention.” Roche-Mahdi (1992) p. xx.

[image] Medieval woman and man talk of love. Illustration for Von Buchheim in folio 271r of the Codex Manesse, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Burr, Kristin L. 2016. “Nurturing Debate in Le Roman de Silence.” Pp. 33-44 in Laine E. Doggett and Daniel E. O’Sullivan, eds. Founding Feminisms in Medieval Studies: Essays in Honor of E. Jane Burns. Gallica, 39. Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer. Review by Jane Chance.

Gaunt, Simon. 1990. “The significance of Silence.” Paragraph. 13 (2): 202-216.

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

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