sharing food indicates love in Fortunatus’s poetry

The sixth-century poet and public figure Venantius Fortunatus delighted in sharing food and eating. To his dear friends Radegund of Thuringia and Agnes of the Holy Cross, Fortunatus sent a gift:

As son to mother, as likewise brother to sister,
I bear small gifts with a devoted heart.
Joined to you, one-third of three, I offer three gifts to you two:
sugared fruits fitting for souls so sweet.
But forgive me for the sort of wrapper they’ve got:
let these gifts be carried in a basket of words.

{ Matri natus ego, frater simul ipse sorori
Pectore devoto parvula dona fero.
Tertius unitus tria munera porto duabus:
Tam dulces animas dulcia poma decent.
Sed date nunc veniam mihi quod fano talis habetur:
Munera quae portet, charta canister erit. }[1]

Fortunatus’s gift evidently consisted of three sugared fruits wrapped in paper upon which he wrote this poem. Fortunatus regarded Radegund, the founder of the Abbey of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, to be like his mother. He regarded Agnes, abbess of that abbey, to be like his sister. The three fruits poignantly represent the sweetness of all three of them being together. The words of Fortunatus’s poem, literally holding tangible fruit, bring them together. Those words are meant to be as humble and love-incarnating as a manger.

Food can of course create personal difficulties. When Fortunatus visited the eminent Frankish noble Mummolenus, he knew Mummolenus to have admirable character:

He therefore satisfies with a rich banquet whoever comes to him.
Just the sight of him was for me as good as a meal.

{ Huc ergo adveniens epulis expletus opimis:
Quem vidisse mihi constitit esse cibum. }[2]

That meal was like a holiday feast:

Large platters were piled high with generous helpings,
and a dish was laden and piled up like a hillside.
On every side reared a mountain, with a sort of valley in between,
a convenient space for a fish to pursue its course.
It swam in a world where oil was water, the dish a grassy
field, and the table took the place of the sea.
Before everything else I was given a delicate fruit
that is called “Persian” in common talk.
He grew weary of giving, but I didn’t grow weary of eating,
as he urged me on with his words, as he pressed on me more food.
Soon my belly suddenly grew large as if I were about to give birth.
I marveled that my stomach had so swelled.
Inside thunderclaps rumbled with varied reports.
East and South winds were churning my belly into turmoil.
Not so is the sand stirred up by the storms of Aeolus,
nor a ship driven adrift on the sea so shivered,
not so inflated by blast of winds are bellows,
instruments the fire-scorched smith uses to service hammers.
One food discharged belches, conflicting with another’s mass,
and within me outside of my will was an uncivil battle.

{ Fercula magna quidem dapibus cumulata benignis,
Ac si colle tumens discus onustus erat.
Undique montis opus, medium quasi vallis habebat,
Quo meliore via piscis agebat iter.
Ille natans oleum pro undis, pro caespite discum
Incoluit, cui pro gurgite mensa fuit.
Attamen ante aliud data sunt mihi mitia poma,
Persica quae vulgi nomine dicta sonant.
Lassavit dando (sed non ego lassor edendo),
Vocibus hinc cogens, hinc tribuendo dapes.
Mox quasi parturiens subito me ventre tetendi,
Admirans uterum sic tumuisse meum.
Intus enim tonitrus vario rumore fremebat;
Viscera conturbans Eurus et Auster erat.
Non sic Aeoliis turbatur harena procellis
Nec vaga per pelagus puppis adacta tremit,
Nec sic inflantur ventorum turbine folles,
Malleolis famulos quos faber ustus habet.
Alter in alterius ructabat mole susurros
Et sine me mecum pugna superba fuit. }

In such a situation, one might hope for the gift of farting. That gift, like the resurrection of Lazarus, should smell of God’s grace.

second-century mosaic of Roman food

One enjoys in food, like in life, godly abundance. Fortunatus recounted:

From all sides a flood of food rushes out.
I can’t go wrong — what first to try?
Silver plate bears a mound of meat,
thick gravy where vegetables are swimming,
marble dish deposits a garden’s brood,
honeyed taste flows over my lips,
saucer-glass swells with the burden of chicken —
removing feathers doesn’t lighten it.
Apples in abundance rush from colorful wicket,
their fragrance, pleasant-flowing, sate me.
An indigo jar gives snowy cups of milk,
so stately come. It knew it was set to please.
Lady and mother, and her child: let the third one,
your servant, speak of these gifts, joined by a godly love.

{ Multiplices epulae concurrunt undique fusae;
Quid prius excipiam, me bonus error habet.
Carnea dona tumens argentea gavata perfert,
Quo nimium pingui iure natabat holus.
Marmoreus defert discus quod gignitur hortis,
Quo mihi mellitus fluxit in ore sapor.
Intumuit pullis vitreo scutella rotatu,
Subductis pinnis quam grave pondus habens!
Plurima de pictis concurrunt poma canistris,
Quorum blandifluus me saturavit odor.
Olla nigella nimis dat candida pocula lactis
Atque superba venit quae placitura fuit.
Haec dominae matri famulans, haec munera natae
Iunctus amore pio tertius ipse loquar. }[3]

Fortunatus relished gifts of food that he received from Radegund and Agnes:

All around me, delicacies raised on grass
fatten me. Eggs appear, and then prunes —
pallid, dark gifts offered in tandem provide
so varied a meal that I worry my gut won’t keep peace.
Too late you ordered me to eat two eggs.
I sucked down four — I wouldn’t lie to you.
May my soul be privileged for all my days
to obey you as I obeyed my gut just now.

{ Hinc me deliciis, illinc me pascitis herbis;
Hinc ova occurrunt, hinc mihi pruna datur.
Candida dona simul praebentur et inde nigella.
Ventre utinam pax sit sic variante cibo!
Me geminis ovis iussistis sero cibari,
Vobis vera loquor, quattuor ipse bibi.
Atque utinam merear cunctis parere diebus
Sic animo, ceu nunc hoc gula iussa facit. }

Radegund and Agnes were leading women religious. Fortunatus aspired to his soul obeying them naturally. In contrast, humans don’t need teaching in the spirit of eating:

I spread myself over jumbled delights that gorged my belly
as I gulped it all down: milk, vegetables, eggs, butter.
Now platters fitted out with new dishes appear,
a polyglot meal, more sweetly pleasant.
Butter was served to me with milk;
its fat recalls where it once had been.

{ Deliciis variis tumido me ventre tetendi,
Omnia sumendo, lac, holus, ova, butur.
Nunc instructa novis epulis mihi fercula dantur,
Et permixta simul dulcius esca placet.
Nam cum lacte mihi posuerunt inde buturum;
Unde prius fuerat, huc revocatur adeps. }

In his fatness Fortunatus would have remembered banquets that his beloved Radegund and Agnes provided. That’s not like being fat from eating bags of Doritos by yourself while watching the news on TV. Fortunatus got fat in a godly way. If you get fat, you should get fat in a godly way, too.

Christian love (agape) feast. Fresco from the early Christian Catacombs of Domitilla

Eating isn’t just about food. It’s about sharing with others. Fotunatus sought to have both food and words with Radegund and Agnes:

By piety’s duty, by the holy one who rules from the stars,
by all that mother loves, your brother himself desires
that when I take food, you say some words.
If you do, I shall be twice satisfied.

{ Per pietatis opus, per qui pius imperat astris,
Per quod mater amat, frater et ipse cupit
Ut, dum nos escam capimus, quodcumque loquaris:
Quod si tu facias, bis satiabor ego. }[4]

Words shared at table need not be serious:

A charming teacher refreshes her friend with words and food
and satisfies him with various delicious jokes.

{ Blanda magistra suum verbis recreavit et escis
Et satiat vario deliciante ioco. }

One seldom chews on words shared at a good meal. Table fellowship increases appetite. Table fellowship is the fundamental fellowship.

Extravagant food isn’t necessary for the joy of sharing a meal. Perhaps because Fortunatus overindulged in food, a doctor ordered him to fast. Radegund and Agnes supported the doctor’s order:

Amid countless feasts you send a fast
and so burn my soul gazing at mounded meals
that the eye covets, but the doctor forbids.
My purring gut is muzzled by his hand on my mouth.
Still, when you offer creamy milk to my lips,
it’s a present that any king would prefer.
I pray now, sister, with good mother, be happy,
for a bounteous table of joy holds us.

{ Inter multiplices epulas ieiunia mittis
Atque meos animos plura videndo cremas.
Respiciunt oculi medicus quod non iubet uti,
Et manus illa vetat quod gula nostra rogat.
Attamen ante aliud cum lactis opima ministras,
Muneribus vincis regia dona tuis.
Nunc cum matre pia gaudens soror esto, precamur,
Nam nos laetitiae mensa benigna tenet. }[5]

A friend and creamy milk is enough for a bounteous table of joy. As Fortunatus believed, “abundant love is seen in a small gift {munus in angustum cernitur amplus amor}.”[6]

A person should not glory in the shame of gluttony, nor make one’s stomach into a god. While Fortunatus greatly loved Radegund and Agnes and the food they gave him, he didn’t literally idolize them.[7] No Epicurean, Fortunatus believed in the soul’s immortality and blessing in bodily penetration. Whatever one believes, sharing food, however much or little, can strengthen human relationships. Sharing food has done so since the beginning of humanity.

group enjoying dinner in Bali, Indonesia

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Venantius Fortunatus, Carmina Appendix 26, Latin text from Roberts (2017), English translation (modified) from Pucci (2010) p. 119. Leo (1881) provides a freely available Latin edition differing little from Roberts’s Latin edition.

[2] Fortunatus, Carmina 7.14, incipit “While I was wearily making my way almost in the darkness of night {Dum mihi fessus iter gradior prope noctis in umbra},” vv. 15-6, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Roberts (2017). Pucci (2010) doesn’t include this poem. The subsequent quote above is similarly sourced from Carmina 7.14, vv. 17-36.

The delicate fruit called “Persian” is a peach. Roberts (2017) p. 870, notes to vv. 23-4. Gowers (1993), which discusses food in classical Latin literature, offers nothing about Fortunatus.

Fortunatus associated with the elite of Gaul. Mummolenus, a native of Soissons in present-day northern France, became an important figure in the court of Sigibert I, the Frankish king of Austrasia. Radegund was a Germanic princess and queen of Thuringia.

[3] Fortunatus, Carmina 11.10, Latin text from Roberts (2017), English translation (modified) from Pucci (2010). Carmina 11.9, incipit “With attentive devotion you bid me always to inform you {Sollicita pietate iubes cognoscere semper},” describes another lavish meal that Fortunatus received, apparently from Agnes. The subsequent two quotes above are Carmina 11.20 and 11.22a, similarly sourced.

[4] Fortunatus, Carmina 11.22, Latin text from Roberts (2017), my English translation. Here I’ve preferred to follow the Latin more closely than the translation in Pucci (2010). The subsequent quote above is similarly from Carmina 11.23a.

[5] Fortunatus, Carmina 11.19, Latin text from Roberts (2017), English translation (modified) from Pucci (2010).

[6] Fortunatus, Carmina 11.24, incipit “If you have not completed what here is called compline {Si non complestis quod hic completa vocatur},” v. 4, Latin text from Roberts (2017), my English translation.

Late in the eighth century, the Anglo-Saxon nun Berhtgyth went with her mother Cynehild to Thuringia to proclaim Christianity among non-Christian Germans. Berhtgyth deeply missed the presence of her brother Balthard. She sent him a gift of a ribbon and a short poem. Paralleling Fortunatus, she declared them to be “a little present, although small, still loaded with great love {munuscula, quamvis parva, tamen cum maxima caritate honerata}.” Berhtgyth to Balthard, Latin text and English translation from Maude (2017) p. 20. This letter has survived in Vienna, National Austrian Library, MS. Manuscript 751 (Vienna Codex), written in the middle of the ninth century.

[7] Cf. Philippians 3:18-9. Medieval men were prone to the related failing of gyno-idolatry.

[images] (1) Ancient Roman food. Second-century mosaic from a villa at Tor Marancia, near the Catacombs of Domitilla in Rome. Source photo thanks to Jastrow (2006) and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Christian love (agape) feast. Fresco from the early Christian Catacombs of Domitilla. Photo via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Group enjoying dinner in Bali, Indonesia on February 26, 2016. Photo thanks to Withlocals and Wikimedia Commons.


Gowers, Emily. 1993. The Loaded Table: Representations of Food in Roman Literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Review by Phyllis Bober.

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. Web-native presentation.

Maude, Kathryn. 2017. “Berhtgyth’s Letters to Balthard.” Medieval Feminist Forum. Subsidia Series no. 7. Medieval Texts in Translation 4. 53 (3): 1-24.

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.

Guillaume de Palerne’s medieval dream of gender equality in love

In the late-twelfth-century Old French adventure romance William of Palermo {Guillaume de Palerne}, Queen Felise and King Embron are relaxing in a garden in Palermo with their four-year-old son Guillaume. The king’s brother had conspired with nursemaids to have both the king and his son killed so that the brother could inherit the realm. But that day, a werewolf jumps into the garden, seizes Guillaume in his mouth, and runs away. It’s a male werewolf like the male dog Saint Guinefort. Guillaume de Palerne fundamentally challenges disparagement of males and men’s gender subordination in love.

Queen Felise is a traditional woman similar to the mother of the Arthurian hero Percival. Grief-stricken that a werewolf has seized her son, she screams over and over:

Help! Help! Holy Mary!
Household of the king, what are you doing?
I will kill myself now, if Guillaume isn’t rescued.

{ Aidiés, aidiés, sainte Marie
Maisnie au roi, que faites vous?
Ja me morrai, s’il n’est rescous. }[1]

Facing such emotional coercion, the king and many other men mount their horses and chase after the werewolf. Chasing werewolves is a dangerous job. The medieval Viking woman Svanhvita didn’t push onto men difficulty, dangerous jobs. Women today should reject sexist military conscription and insist that men be saved first from sinking ships.

Not regarding males as solely instrumental, Queen Felise appreciates male beauty. She laments:

Son, where are your beautiful eyes now,
so beautiful, gentle, and without pride,
your noble brow and your beautiful hair
that all seemed to be made of fine gold,
your tender face and your bright countenance?
Oh heart, why do you not go out from me?
Son, what has become of your beauty,
your noble body and your radiance,
your nose, your mouth, and your chin,
and your figure and your appearance,
your beautiful arms and white hands,
and your beautiful loins and hips,
your beautiful legs and your feet?
Woe is me, what grief and what failure.
Already you should have been made to be
for pleasure and for desire.
Now you are food for a werewolf!

{ Fix, ou sont ore ti bel oeil,
Li bel, li simple, sans orguel,
Tes frons li gens, et ti bel crin
Qui tuit sambloient fait d’or fin,
Ta tandre face et tes clers vis?
Ha! cuers, por coi ne me partis?
Qu’est devenue ta biautés
Et tes gens cors et ta clartés,
Tes nés, ta bouche et tes mentons
Et la figure et ta façons,
Et ti bel brac et tes mains blanches
Et tes rains beles et tes hanches,
Tes beles jambes et ti pié?
Lasse, quel duel et quel pechié!
Ja dévoies tu estre fais
Por devises et por souhais,
Or es a leu garoul peuture }[2]

In literary history, the “description of a beautiful young woman {descriptio puella}” is much more common that a description of a beautiful young man. But cherishing men’s physical being can help to end epic violence against men. Cherishing men’s physical being should be done more frequently.

Trojan Dolon wearing a wolf skin to spy on the Greeks at Troy

The male werewolf engages in typical paternal care for a child. He carries the child gently and ensures that the child is happy and fed. After running deeply into a forest, the male werewolf digs a den, lines it with grass and ferns and reeds, and places the child gently within. He embraces the child. But like fathers compelled to earn money outside the home to support their families, the male werewolf has to leave the child to search for food.

When the child hears a dog barking, he is afraid and cries out loudly. A cowherd hears the child crying and runs to him. He finds the child alone. Like the male werewolf, the male cowherd engaged in typical paternal care:

He bends down toward the child and calls to him.
He much cajoles and caresses him.
So sweetly does he appeal to him
that away he went with the king’s son.
The cowherd picks him up in his arms
and then he leaves quickly.
To his house he returned.

{ Vers lui s’abaisse et si l’apele;
Mult le blandist et afavele.
Tant doucement l’atrait a soi
C’o lui s’en vait li fix le roi.
Et cil entre ses bras le prent.
A tant s’en vait isnelement,
A sa maison est revenus }

The cowherd and his wife didn’t have any children. They are delighted to adopt the little boy Guillaume.

When the male werewolf returns with meat for the child, he finds the den empty. The werewolf shrieks and howls like a father deprived of custody of his children through family-court discrimination against fathers. Enraged, he assiduously sniffs and searches and follows the child’s scent. He finds Guillaume in the house of the cowherd and his wife. They are caring for the child lovingly. The male werewolf selflessly prefers for Guillaume to have a father and mother rather than a single father who is a werewolf. Oh how great is fathers’ love for their children!

ferocious werewolf

Under the cowherds’ care, Guillaume grows virtuous and tall, noble and beautiful. His foster-father loves him and teaches him how to herd animals and hunt with bow and arrow. One day, the Roman Emperor Nathaniel is hunting in the woods. He sees the werewolf chasing a stag, just as Aeneas’s son Iulus did. Then Emperor Nathaniel comes across Guillaume in the woods. He marvels at the boy’s noble appearance. After Nathaniel swears that he means to do no harm to Guillaume’s father, Guillaume brings the cowherd to him. The cowherd explains the boy’s history. Emperor Nathaniel wants to take the boy with him. The cowherd grieves and cries, but he has to acquiesce to the Emperor’s request. Guillaume thus goes from the household of cowherds to the palace of the Roman Emperor.

Emperor Nathaniel initially uses Guillaume like a hunting prize. As fathers commonly do, Nathaniel seeks to please his daughter:

The emperor has a daughter
who is called Melior.
Never before was anyone born of woman
more beautiful or more wise.
She is about the same age
as Guillaume might well be.
She is very courtly and honest,
full of generosity and honor.
So you see the emperor
gives the child to her as a present.

{ L’emperere une fille avoit
Qui Meliors fu apelee;
Mais ainc ne fu de mere nee
Nule plus bele ne plus sage.
Et meisme de tel aage
Com Guillaumes pooit bien estre;
Mult par fu cortoise et honeste,
Plaine de francise et d’ounor.
A tant es vos l’empereor
Qui de l’enfant li fait present }[3]

Melior is delighted with this gift:

Then she takes the child and leads him
into her own personal chamber.
She has some garments brought to her
and has him dressed and outfitted.
When he is appareled in clothing
and garbed in shoes and hose to her liking,
now so courtly and very handsome
and savvy is the young man
that one would not find his equal
in beauty or appearance
under the brightness of the sun.

{ Puis prent l’enfant et si l’enmaine
En la soie chambre demaine;
Uns dras li a fait aporter,
Sel fait vestir et conreer.
Quant des dras fu apareilliés
Et a sa guise fu chauciés.
Or fu si gens et si trés biax
Et si apers li damoisiax
C’on ne recovrast son pareil
Desos la clarté du soleil
De sa biauté, de sa samblance. }

Melior and Guillaume are about eleven years old. A real, live eleven-year-old boy is a far better present for a girl than any doll. Nonetheless, men and boys should not be given to woman and girls as presents like inanimate things — like marvelous pens or balls. In the late-twelfth-century Old French romance Partonopeu of Blois, Melior is a Byzantine Empress who set up the boy Partonopeu to rape her and become her husband. This Melior treats Guillaume better than that Melior.[4]

Guillaume serves Melior superbly as a personal attendant. By age fourteen, he has become renowned for his character and skills:

The young man grows well and
becomes strong and very handsome,
and robust and well-formed and beautiful.
In the chamber he is marvelously good.
Because of his nobility and his valor,
the young women above all others
bestow on him much very great honor.

{ Forment crut et bien embarni
Et devint gens li damoisiax.
Et fors et aformés et biax.
De la chambre est merveilles bien;
Les puceles sor tote rien,
Por sa franchise et sa valor
Li portent mult trés grant honor. }

Melior falls in love with Guillaume even though he is merely her outstanding servant. What woman wouldn’t? Yet like many women, Melior is reluctant to take the initiative to tell her beloved of her love for him. Men throughout history have been gender-burdened with soliciting amorous relationships. To promote gender equality, women must take the initiative in loving men.

Like many men today, Guillaume de Palerne dreams of true gender equality in love. He sees in his dream a beautiful young woman come to him. She is sad and tearful. She says to him:

Beloved, beloved, look at me.
Here I have come before you.
Open your arms, receive my body.
I am the beautiful Melior
who is pleading for your mercy and begging
that you make me your beloved.
To your nobility I wholly abandon
my body for your service and mine.
Receive my love without opposition,
because otherwise without long delay
I will die, for I won’t be able to live
if I don’t have your love, and you don’t have mine.

{ Amis, amis, regarde moi.
Ci sui venue devant toi:
Oevre tes bras, reçoif mon cors;
Je sui la bêle Meliors
Qui merci te requiert et prie
Que tu de moi faces t’amie,
Tôt t’abandon en ta francise
Mon cors au tien et mon servise.
Reçoif m’amor sans contredit,
Car autrement sans lonc respit
Morrai, que vivre ne porroie,
Se n’ai t’amoret tu la moie. }

He kisses her mouth, nose, eyes and face, and her neck and her breasts. He presses his naked flesh to her naked flesh. Men tend to be romantically simple. Guillaume is embracing his pillow. He has a dream. How long, oh proponents of social justice? Men cry for gender equality, but you do not listen. Yet the dream still has its time. It presses on to fulfillment and will not disappoint, if humanity is to endure.

When he realizes that he’s been merely dreaming, Guillaume feels great despair. He’s like a despairing meninist literary critic that anti-meninist haters seek to kill:

Thus he makes a comparison of himself
and says: “I resemble the wild boar.
When he sees the lance turn toward him,
he heads straight that way.
So he hurls himself onto the spit,
as does one who doesn’t fear death.
The lance completely pierces his entrails
and separates his heart from his chest,
and he drops dead elsewhere.
It’s just the same with me.
Onto the lance and onto the spit,
so I have killed myself for sure.

{ Ains fait de soi comparison
Et dist: “Je semble le sengler:
Quant voit l’espiel vers lui torner,
Droit cele part aqeut sa voie;
Si se fiert dedens et embroie,
Si comme cil qui mort ne doute,
Que l’entraille li perce toute
Et le cuer del ventre li part,
Que mors trebuche d’autre part.
Tot autresi est il de moi:
En l’espiel sui et el embroi;
Si m’oci tôt a essient.” }

Guillaume in this metaphor is as foolish as Suero de Quinones or Don Quixote. The great ninth-century gardener Walahfrid Strabo envisioned the beauty and fruitfulness of love. Men’s love for women should not drive them to suicide. Despair loses.

Every day Guillaume sits hidden under an apple tree in a garden below the window of Melior’s bedchamber. For fifteen days he languishes there in lovesickness. Then Melior, suffering from lovesickness herself, seeks comfort in her garden. She goes there with her most trusted and most wise servant-woman Alixandrine. Alixandrine spots Guillaume hidden under the apple tree. Both Alixandrine and Melior go to him. Melior greets him, “God bless you, sweet beloved {Diex vox beneie, amis dous}.” Guillaume hears Melior calling him “beloved {amis}.” That word can also mean merely “friend.” He’s puzzled. Alixandrine speaks to him and discerns his lovesickness for Melior. She begs Melior to be kind to Guillaume and save his life.

Melior evidently believes that men’s lives matter. Moreover, she is lovesick for Guillaume. So she does as more women should do, except that she first addresses Alixandrine as if it weren’t more fitting for her to speak directly to Guillaume:

She looks at him sweetly
and says: “Lovely woman, as God is watching me,
I would not want to be
the murderer of him or any other,
nor a sinner in such a manner.
Because of you and because of your prayer
and for him whom I see in such peril,
before he dies for me in this way,
I grant him all my love and myself.
Let this never again be in doubt.”
And she says to him: “Beloved, come forward,
for I am yours from this moment forward.
I am entirely yours and want to be,
without seigniorial authority and without pride.”

{ Cele li fait un douc regart
Et dist: “Bele, se Diex me gart,
Je ne voudroie pas de lui
Estre homecide ne d’autrui
Ne pecheresse en tel maniere;
Por vos et por vostre proiere
Et por lui qu’en tel péril voi
N’ains qu’il ensi muire por moi,
Moi et m’amor li otroi toute;
Ja mar en sera mais en doute.”
Et dist: “Amis, venés avant,
Car vostre sui d’ore en avant;
Vostre sui toute et estre vuel,
Sans signorie et sans orguel.” }

Guillaume is delighted that Melior loves him and doesn’t expect him to be subordinate to her in love. More men deserve such love.[5]

The werewolf, who acted as a caring father to Guillaume and later a loyal friend to him and Melior, appreciates Guillaume’s dream of gender equality in love. After prevailing in horrific violence against men, Guillaume marries Melior. He also learns that the werewolf is Alphonse, the son of the king of Spain. Alphonse’s stepmother Queen Brande had turned him into a werewolf to prevent him from inheriting his father’s realm. Guillaume threatens Brande with brutal death if she doesn’t turn Alphonse back into a man. She thus does. Alphonse then marries Guillaume’s sister Florence “as equal, as wife, and as companion {a per, a feme et a compaigne}.” As that marriage vow indicates, Alphonse also aspires to Guillaume’s dream of gender equality in love.

The medieval adventure romance Guillaume de Palerne shows the ideal of gender equality in love carried forward from ancient Greek novels such as Daphnis and Chloe to medieval works such as Floire and Blancheflor. However, even in the relatively enlightened medieval period, the ideal of gender equality in love wasn’t fully realized. Elite medieval men suffered a nine-year life expectancy shortfall relative to elite medieval women. Medieval men lacked the parental knowledge that medieval women naturally had. Medieval men were thus susceptible to being involuntarily cuckolded. Since police states were not yet developed, medieval men effectively had some reproductive rights. However, they could still be burdened with state-enforced involuntary fatherhood. Men endure even more oppressive gender inequality today. True gender equality in love remains a dream.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] William of Palermo {Guillaume de Palerne}, vv. 96-8, Old French text from Michelant (1876), English translation (modified slightly) from Sconduto (2004). Guillaume de Palerne probably was composed between 1194 and 1197. Id. p. 4. Sconduto’s translation, which is quite faithful, is based mainly on Micha (1990). Micha’s edition doesn’t differ substantively from Michelant (1876) in the passages quoted in this post. Wilmot-Buxton (1910), pp. 56-75, provides excerpts from Guillaume de Palerne in loose English prose paraphrase. Those excerpts don’t convey the romance’s concern for gender equality in love.

Guillaume de Palerne survives in one thirteenth-century manuscript: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Arsenal, 6565, folios 77-157. That manuscript also contains the only surviving text of Jean Renart’s Romance of the Kite {Li roumans de l’escouffle}, composed about 1200. The kite is a bird of prey. Despite Guillaume de Palerne itself surviving in only one manuscript, McKeehan (1926) characterizes this romance as a medieval “best seller.”

In the thirteenth century, an unknown poet made a Middle English alliterative verse translation of Guillaume de Palerne. That translation is known as William of Palerne. For an edition, Skeat (1876). The Old French Guillaume de Palerne includes graphic representations of brutal violence against men:

The {men} warriors hew and slice each other apart; they pierce each other’s flesh and expose and remove internal organs so that

Brains, entrails, and intestines
are spread all over the meadow.

{ Cerviax, entrailles et boieles
Espandent par la praerie. }(Guillaume de Palerne, vv. 1908-9)

The {men} warriors mar each other to the point that individuals {individual men} become unrecognizable corpses lost in a mélange of blood and guts.

Ward (2015) p. 472 (modified non-substantially). The Middle English verse translation eliminated such graphic representations. The Middle English poet apparently translated Guillaume de Palerne to cater to the social and political interests of this translation’s patron, Humphrey IX de Bohun, sixth Earl of Hereford and eleventh Earl of Essex. Id. pp. 471-2. Social and political interests commonly efface men’s gender in violence against men.

Guillaume de Palerne has also survived in a variety of other adaptations. Four editions of Pierre Durand’s Middle French prose adaptation, composed in the first half of the sixteenth century, were published in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Sconduto (2004) p. 2.

Subsequent quotes from Guillaume de Palerne are similarly sourced. Those above are vv. 135-51 (Son, where are your beautiful eyes now…), 209-15 (He bends down toward the child…), 648-57 (The emperor has a daughter…), 703-13 (Then she takes the child and leads him…), 810-16 (The young man grows well…), 1133-44 (Beloved, beloved, look at me…), 1254-65 (Thus he makes a comparison of himself…), 1464 (God bless you, sweet beloved), 1689-1702 (She looks at him sweetly…), 8770 (as equal, as wife, and as companion).

[2] This description of a young boy’s beauty begins with what’s known as the “where are {ubi sunt}” motif. That motif typically concerns the transience of life. An influential early medieval instance is “Ubi nunc fidelis ossa Fabricii manent {Where now does the bone of faithful Fabricius abide}?” From Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy {De consolatione philosophiae} 2.M7, incipit “The one who seeks precipitously only / for glory, believing in his heart it to be highest {quicumque solam mente praecipiti petit / summumque credit gloriam},” v. 15, Latin text of O’Donnell via Perseus, my English translation. For further classical examples of the “ubi sunt” formula, Bright (1893).

A penitential hymn dating to no later than the mid-thirteenth century transmited the “ubi sunt” motif to what has become a common commencement song. The relevant stanza from a Parisian manuscript begins, “Where are those who came before us in this world {Ubi sunt qui ante nos in hoc mundo fuerer}?” Randolph (1912) p. 296. That stanza was incorporated into the song now known as “Let us rejoice {Gaudeamus igitur}” or “On the brevity of life {De brevitate vitae}.”

Guillaume’s beauty is understood as indicating his noble origins even thought he worked as a cowherd. The narrator declares, “Nature proves itself in certain persons {auques se prueve nature}.” Guillaume de Palerne, v. 731. That’s a theme of the romance:

In the debate in medieval literature between nature and nurture, the poet clearly positions himself on the side of the former and agrees with the proverb, “Meulz vaut nature que nurreture” (“Nature takes precedence over upbringing”).

Sconduto (2004) p. 30, n. 16, citing proverb 1273 in Morawski (1925). Cf. the twelfth-century Old French Roman de Silence.

[3] Cf. Luke 7:28, Matthew 11:11 (“among those born of women” there is no one greater than John the Baptist).

[4] On the “intertextual game of romance” in Guillaume de Palerne, Hodgson (2015).

[5] Guillaume de Palerne shows more concern about one woman being forced to marry against her will than many men being killed. Alphonse, the King of Spain, sought to marry Guillaume’s sister Florence. When Florence and her mother Queen Felise of Sicily refused that marriage proposal, King Alphonse invaded Sicily. Under Guillaume’s leadership, the Sicilian men defeated the Spanish men. Many men were killed in this war. In seeking peace, King Alphonse declared:

We have made ourselves a gift to her,
so she can do with us all she pleases.
Cursed be he who takes a wife
when he takes her against her will!
When one takes her by her desire
and by the approval of other people,
and he does for her as best her can,
then has he not done all that is necessary?

{ De nos li avons fait douaire,
Si em puet tot son plaisir faire.
Moilliers’a prendre ait mal dehé
C’on prent outre sa volenté!
Quant on par son voloir la prent
Et par le los de l’autre gent,
Et on li fait au mix c’on puet,
N’en a on pas ce qu’en estuet. }

Guillaume de Palerne, vv. 7173-80. Wives should also do for husbands as best they can. It is also necessary that women and men to speak out vigorously against epic violence against men.

King Alphonse’s son, also named Alphonse, said nothing about the massive violence against men that his father instigated. The son, however, castigated his father for seeking a bride against her will:

You did a very great wrong
when by force you wanted to have
the young woman against her will.

{ Mult fu grande la desraisons
Quant par force voliés avoir
La pucele outre son voloir. }

Guillaume de Palerne, vv. 8056-8. Massive violence against men must be recognized as a very great wrong.

[images] (1) The Trojan Dolon wearing a wolf skin to spy on the Greeks at Troy. Painting on Attic red-figure lekythos made in 460 BGC. Preserved as accession # CA 1802 in the Louvre Museum (Paris, France). Source image thanks to Marie-Lan Nguyen (2011) and Wikimedia Commons. Odysseus and Diomedes discovered and killed Dolon. In contrast, Melior and Guillaume put on bear skins and deer skins in successfully eloping from Rome. On animal skins in Guillaume de Palerne, McCracken (2012). (2) Ferocious werewolf. Drawing thanks to LadyofHats and Wikimedia Commons.


Bright, James W. 1893. “The ‘Ubi Sunt’ Formula.” Modern Language Notes. 8 (3): 187-188.

Hodgson, Eleanor. 2015. Reflections of Writing Rewriting and Reading in Twelfth-Century French Literature: A Study of Guillaume De Palerne As a Self-Reflexive Romance. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Sheffield, UK.

McCracken, Peggy. 2012. “Skin and sovereignty in Guillaume de Palerne.” Cahiers de recherches médiévales et humanistes. 24: 361-375.

McKeehan, Irene Pettit. 1926. “Guillaume de Palerne: A Medieval ‘Best Seller.’PMLA. 41 (4): 785–809.

Micha, Alexandre, ed. 1990. Guillaume de Palerne: Roman du XIIIe Siècle. Genève: Droz.

Michelant, Henri Victor, ed. 1876. Guillaume de Palerne: Publié d’après le Manuscrit de la Bibliothèque de L’arsenal à Paris. Paris: Firmin-Didot.

Morawski, Joseph, ed. 1925. Proverbes Français Antérieurs au XVe Siècle. Paris: É. Champion.

Randolph, Charles B. 1912. “Three Latin Students’ Songs.” The Classical Journal. 7 (7): 291–305.

Sconduto, Leslie A. 2004. Guillaume de Palerne: An English Translation of the 12th Century French Verse Romance. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland.

Skeat, Walter W., ed. 1867. The Romance of William of Palerne (Otherwise Known as the Romance of “William and the Werwolf”). London: Pub. for the Early English Text Society by N. Trübner.

Ward, Renée. 2015. “Politics of Translation: Sanitizing Violence in William of Palerne.” Studies in Philology. 112 (3): 469-489.

Wilmot-Buxton, E. M. 1910. Stories from Old French Romance. New York: F.A. Stokes.

demons purged in crapping & farting in Life of Saint Martin

demons attacking Saint Anthony

If you think demons have grabbed hold of you, do something about it. Purge the demons from your soul. The widely lauded and influential fourth-century saint Martin of Tours, also known as Martin the Merciful, might be able to help. According to accounts dating from no later than 397 GC, Saint Martin drove away demons through crapping and farting.

One day Martin saw a demon go into a cook. The demon caused the cook to bite himself madly. Martin bravely put his fingers into the raving cook’s mouth and said:

If you can, devour this offered prey, you murderous wolf.
Food you would seek elsewhere is freely given to your teeth.

{ Si potes, ecce vora oblatam, lupe noxie, praedam.
Quam peteres alibi datur ultro dentibus esca. }[1]

The teeth drew back, for the demon was afraid to have them touch Martin’s holy hand. The demon-possessed cook felt a sharp pain inside himself. The demon was seeking to flee. It was afraid to exit through the cook’s mouth because Martin’s hand was there. It thus took another way:

The demon exited filthily in the way filth does by defecation.
In its foulness it left behind foul traces of its service.

{ foeda ministerii foedus vestigia linquens,
sordidus egreditur qua sordibus est via fluxu. }

Demons befoul persons with sin. If your crap smells, you have a problem. We are all sinners in need of Saint Martin’s mercy. While wearing a cloth mask to protect yourself from COVID, call on Saint Martin. Then pray to take a vigorous crap.

On another occasion, an arrogant monk named Anatolius was criticizing his fellow monks and making outrageous claims. Anatolius, dressed in golden clothing and a jeweled crown, even asserted that he himself was Christ. The humble Saint Martin kept silent. “The slippery snake then repeated his mordant hissings {lubricus hinc repetit mordacia sibila serpens}.”[2] Martin explained that angels had taken Christ up into the air and that Christ would return with marks of his crucifixion. Until he saw those marks, Martin wouldn’t believe anyone to be Christ. The pompous Anatolius dressed as a king was reduced to his substance:

Then the ineffective enemy shuddered under the lash of these words.
The airy bringer of pestilence, formed of air, slipped away,
resuming his proper form, and dissolved into nothingness.
He fled from sight like smoke in a breeze,
the insubstantial image of a shadowy shape flew away.
Barred from sight, he emptied himself of vomit in his cell.
Discerned by these signs, he made his way crapping
and farting as he fled with a stink as his attendant.

{ Mox inimicus iners, vibratus verbere verbi,
pestifer, aërius, tenuata per aethera lapsus,
in propriam speciem rediens, ad inane solutus,
effugit ex oculis, liquidas quasi fumus in auras,
et levis umbriferae volitavit imago figurae.
Visibus exclusus cellam paedore cruminans,
agnitus indiciis, sua per vestigia sordens
et foetore sibi comitante satellite fugit }

Vomiting, crapping, and farting are ordinary means for purging demons. Be grateful that you are able to engage in these practices.[3]

The fifth-century historian and bishop Gregory of Tours documented that oil from Saint Martin’s tomb could expel demons. Gregory reported the story of Aredius, an abbot at Limoges:

Since the oil had restored many possessed persons to good health, he placed some of it on the head of one man who had a more hideous demon, so I think. Immediately the man expelled the demon by flow from his bowels.

{ Sed et cum multos energumenos exinde restituisset sanitati, uni qui atrociorem, ut credo, daemonem habebat, super caput de oleo posuit: illico deamonem per fluxum ventris egessit }[4]

Was it defecation or flatulence that worked this exorcism? Let philologists debate these technical matters. Ordinary folks should simply praise the effect and hope to duplicate it.

Purging demons through crapping and farting isn’t a peculiarity of the ancient cult of Saint Martin of Tours. Perceiving “a connection between one’s bowels and one’s salvation” is deeply ingrained in Mediterranean culture.[5] Belief that bodily processes can help to cure sicknesses of the soul shows confidence in material nature. Nature isn’t merely a constraint on mind. It also keeps the soul sane.

misericord showing two men crapping

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Venantius Fortunatus, Life of Saint Martin {Vita Sancti Martini} 1.462-3, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Kay (2020). Leo (1881) provides a freely available Latin text of Vita Sancti Martini. The subsequent quote above is similarly from Fortunatus’s Vita Sancti Martini 1.469-70.

Sulpicius Severus, a learned lawyer and orator from Aquitania in Western Gaul, completed a prose Vita Sancti Martin in 397. That was the year that Martin, Bishop of Tours, died. Sulpicius met Martin as well as monks in Martin’s circle. Here is Sulpicius’s version:

Martin inserted his fingers into his mouth, and said, “If you have any power, devour these.” As if red-hot iron had entered his jaws, he indeed drew his teeth far away and took care not to touch the fingers of the saintly man. When he was compelled by punishments and tortures to flee out of the possessed body, he had no power of escaping by the mouth. He was cast out by means of flow from his bowels. It left behind disgusting traces.

{ digitos ei Martinus in os intulit: “si habes,” inquit, “aliquid potestatis, hos devora.” tum vero, ac si candens ferrum faucibus accepisset, longe reductis dentibus digitos beati viri vitabat attingere: et cum fugere de obsesso corpore poenis et cruciatibus cogeretur nec tamen exire ei per os liceret, foeda relinquens vestigia fluxu ventris. }

Sulpicius Severus, Vita Sancti Martini 17.7, Latin text (modified insubstantially) from Francese (c2015), English translation (modified) from Roberts (1894).

About 573 GC, Fortunatus adapted into verse Sulpicius Severus’s Vita Sancti Martin. Fortunatus also drew upon an earlier verse life of Martin that Paulinus of Périgueux had composed in the fifth century. Fortunatus, compared to Paulinus, emphasized Martin mediating between God and humans. Pollmann (2017), Chapter 9. Like Prudentius with his Psychomachia, Fortunatus sought to reform epic and its violence against men:

Fortunatus creates a new kind of epic that calls forth a new response from its reader. Combining epic amplitude with lyric refinement and epigrammatic wit and concision the VSM {Vita Sancti Martini} conducts its reader on a pilgrimage of meditation on the merits of Martin.

Roberts (2002) p. 187. Fortunatus’s Vita Sancti Martin is written in hexameters, the meter of epic poetry. Fortunatus also wrote short poems about Saint Martin. These different works present Martin differently. Friedrich & Gärtner (2020).

About 600 GC, Fortunatus wrote a life of Radegund of Thuringia. Fortunatus attributed to Radegund a similar demon-purging act:

A certain woman labored so heavily under an invasion of the enemy that the rebelling foe could scarcely be brought to the holy one. She commanded the adversary to lie prostrate on the pavement with fear for itself. The moment the blessed woman spoke, it threw itself onto the earth, for she frightened the one who greatly feared her. When the holy one, full of faith, walked on the woman’s neck, the adversary left her by a flow from her bowels.

{ Mulier quaedam dum inimici invasione graviter laboraret, et vix ad sanctam potuisseut hostem rebellem adducere, imperat adversario, ut se suo cum timore pavimento prosterneret. Mox ad beatae sermonem in terra se deiciens, qui timebatur extimuit. Cui sancta plena fide cum calcasset in cervice, fluxu ventris egressus est. }

Venantius Fortunatus, The Life of Holy Radegund {De vita sanctae Radegundis} para. 30, Latin text from Leo (1881), English translation (modified, including to remove sexist references to the demon) from McNamara & Halborg (1992), p. 82.

In the 990s, the English priest Ælfric of Eynsham wrote a homily for Martin’s feast day and a life of Martin. Ælfric explicitly cited Sulpicius as a source. Mertens (2017) pp. 106, 128. Perhaps reflecting the long history of disparaging men’s penises, Ælfric modified Sulpicius’s account to have the demon purged through the man’s penis:

The madman then turned away his jaws
from the saint’s hand, as if from hot iron,
and the accursed spirit departed from the man
out through his genitals, with shameful flight.

{ Se wóda ða awende aweg his ceaflas
fram ðære halgan handa. swilce fram hátum isene.
and se awyrgeda gast gewát of ðam men
út ðurh his gesceapu. mid sceandlicum fleame } 287-90

Ælfric of Eynsham, Catholic Homily for Martinmas, vv. 287-90, Old English text and modern English translation from Mertens (2017) pp. 242-3. In his Life of Saint Martin, Ælfric stated that the demon avoided the mouth, “but foully went out through his anus {ac fúllice ferde þurh his forðgang ut}.” Ælfric, Life of Saint Martin, v. 549, Old English text and modern English translation from id., pp. 310-1. According to Mertens, “in his homily, Ælfric probably preferred the word (genitals {gesceapu}) for the alliteration.” Id. p. 242, note to v. 290. Referring to the demon departing through the man’s penis would have made for a more shockingly telling story in a homily. Philologists have historically obscured the importance of men’s genitals.

[2] Fortunatus, Vita Sancti Martini 2.308, Latin text and English translation from Kay (2020). The subsequent quote above is similarly sourced from Vita Sancti Martini 2.344-51, but with my changes to the English translation.

Kay interprets the subject in this purging to be the devil and interpolates references to the devil in his translation. The Latin text, however, doesn’t explicitly distinguish between the devil and Anatolius, a wicked character from the previous story. Moreover, “he emptied himself of vomit in his cell {cellam paedore cruminans}” (v. 2.349) suggests to me a monk returning to his cell.

This story also comes from Sulpicius Severus’s Vita Sancti Martin. In Sulpicius’s original, the false Christ is explicitly identified as the devil. Martin says he won’t believe unless he sees the wounds of crucifixion. Cf. the disciple Thomas’s criterion for recognizing Christ in John 20:25. Martin’s words reveal the devil pretending to be Christ:

As these words, the devil immediately vanished like smoke. It filled the cell with such a stink as to leave indubitable indications of what the devil’s being truly is.

{ ad hanc ille vocem statim ut fumus evanuit et cellulam tanto foetore complevit, ut indubia indicia relinqueret diabolum se fuisse. }

Sulpicius Severus, Vita Sancti Martini 24.8, Latin text (modified insubstantially) from Francese (c2015), my English translation, benefiting from that of Roberts (1894).

[3] In the second half of the seventh century, Chrodobert of Tours disparaged Importunus of Paris. Chrodobert associated Importunus’s being a deceiver with farting:

There is no greater deceiver.
He grunts at the ankle,
he inflates his cheeks and howls,
he farts and runs around in a sweat,
he spits out stinking phlegm.

{ Maior nullis talis falsator.
Grunnit post talone,
Buccas inflat in rudore,
Crebat et currit in sudore,
Fleummas iactat in pudore. }

Formulae from Sens preserved in Paris, B.N. lat. 4627, Letter 4 in correspondence, ll. 53-7, Latin text and English translation from Tyrrell (2012) p. 177. Both Chrodobert and Importunus were bishops. Some scholars Latinize the Germanic name Chrodobertus / Chrodobert to Frodebertus / Frodebert. Both Chrodobert and Importunus likely knew Fortunatus’s Vita Sancti Martini. Farting doesn’t imply that a person is a deceiver. All persons fart, even women.

[4] Gregory of Tours, Book of the Glory of Blessed Confessings {Liber de gloria beatorum confessorum} 9, Latin text from Patrologia Latina 71:836, English translation (modified) from Van Dam (2004) p. 26. Id. translates “per fluxum ventris” as “in a blast of air from his bowels,” i.e. farting. Gregory of Tours wrote many accounts of miracles. De Nie (2015).

According to Gregory of Tour’s History of the Franks {Historia Francorum}, a malicious priest rebelled against Sidonius Apollinaris, Bishop of Clermont late in the fifth century. Plotting to drag Bishop Sidonius out of his church, the rebellious priest felt the call of nature:

He went into the bathroom. While he was straining to purge his bowels, he gave up his soul instead.

{ Ingressus autem in secessum suum, dum ventrem purgare nititur, spiritum exalavit. }

Gregory of Tours, History of the Franks {Historia Francorum} 2.23, Latin text from Krusch (1884), my English translation, benefiting from that of Thorpe (1974).

Death by bowel movement had an eminent predecessor in Christian theological history. The Christian priest Arius, who founded late in the third century what became known as the bitterly controversial Arian heresy, also reportedly died from a traumatic bowel movement. Socrates of Constantinople / Socrates Scholasticus {Σωκράτης ὁ Σχολαστικός}, Church History {Historia Ecclesiastica / Ἐκκλησιαστική Ἱστορία} 1.38 (“The Death of Arius”). Socrates finished this history in 439.

[5] Moreira (2010) p. 80. Moreira observed:

Gregory of Tours’s world of purgative-driven salvation is never considered in studies of purgatory. Yet his perspective on health and salvation is an important dimension in our understanding of what purgatory was to become: a place in which bodies were made healthy through the application of the medicine of purgation. Gregory’s thinking on health and miracles was entirely theological and even eschatological. Gregory saw God’s power, and that of his saints, in every facet of his environment; and that environment was replete with evidence that God purged the faithful of bodily infirmities and spiritual sickness in preparation for salvation.

Id. pp. 79-80 (footnote omitted). Purgatory certainly was not invented in the twelfth century. Cf. Le Goff (1981).

[images] (1) Demons attacking Saint Anthony. “The Torment of Saint Anthony.” Painting dated 1487 and attributed to Michelangelo. Preserved as accession # AP 2009.01 in the Kimbell Art Museum (Fort Worth, Texas). Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Misericord showing two men praying and crapping. From sixteenth-century stalls in the Basilica of Saint Materne in Walcourt, Belgium. Image thanks to Jean-Pol Grandmont and Wikimedia Commons. A late-fifteenth-century misericord in the Saint Sulpitius Church in Diest, Belgium, depicts a man giving himself an enema. A misericord (S17) in Tewkesbury Abbey, England, shows a man farting. Here’s a large collection of photographs of misericords.


De Nie, Giselle, ed. and trans. 2015. Gregory of Tours: Lives and Miracles. The Life of the Fathers. The Miracles of the Martyr Julian. The Miracles of Bishop Martin. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 39. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Francese, Christopher, ed. c2015. Sulpicius Severus. The Life of Saint Martin of Tours. Dickinson College Commentaries. Online.

Friedrich, Enno and Ursula Gärtner. 2020. “The Many Martins of Venantius Fortunatus. Venantius Fortunatus’ Martin-Poems as Instances of Individual Appropriation and Literary Offers of Ritual-Like Experience.” Arys. Antigüedad, religiones y sociedades. 18: 181-211.

Kay, N. M, ed. and trans. 2020. Venantius Fortunatus: Vita Sancti Martini. Prologue and Books 1.-2. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Review by Enno Friedrich.

Krusch, Bruno, ed. 1884. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Scriptores rerum Merovingiciarum 1.1, Gregorii Episcopi Turonensis Historiarum Libri X. Hannover: Hahn.

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. Web-native presentation.

Le Goff, Jacques. 1981. La Naissance du Purgatoire. Paris: Gallimard. Arthur Goldhammer’s English translation, 1983. The Birth of Purgatory. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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.

Mertens, Andre. 2017. The Old English Lives of St Martin of Tours: Edition and Study. Universitätsverlag Göttingen: Open Access.

Moreira, Isabel. 2010. Heaven’s Purge: Purgatory in Late Antiquity. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pollmann, Karla. 2017. The Baptized Muse: Early Christian Poetry as Cultural Authority. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Roberts, Alexander, trans. 1894. “Sulpitius Severus on the Life of St. Martin.” In A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series, Volume 11. New York.

Roberts, Michael. 2002. “Venantius Fortunatus’s Life of Saint Martin.” Traditio. 57:129–187.

Thorpe, Lewis, trans. 1974. Gregory of Tours: The History of the Franks. Harmondsworth Middlesex England: Penguin Books.

Tyrrell, Vida Alice. 2012. Merovingian Letters and Letter Writers. Ph.D. Thesis, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto. Review by Ralph W. Mathisen.

Van Dam, Raymond, trans. 2004. Gregory of Tours. Glory of the Confessors. 2nd ed; 1st ed., 1988. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Heinrich von Morungen foolishly died from gyno-idolatry

Many medieval men ardently, inordinately loved women. Such love creates grave risk of blinding, deafening gyno-idolatry. The minnesinger Heinrich von Morungen, who lived in the Germanic land of Thuringia about 1150 to 1222, loved a woman gyno-idolatrously. He accused her of cruelty and called her an assassin. He died foolishly from gyno-idolatry. Hebrew scripture that Christians and Muslims also regard as sacred repeatedly warns of idolatry’s dangers. Despite modern literary scholarship celebrating it, the “love-worship” of courtly love is suicidal. That’s what Heinrich von Morungen belatedly learned.

Can a man press fire to his chest yet his clothes not be burned?
Can a man walk on hot coals without scorching his feet?

[1]{ היחתה איש אש בחיקו ובגדיו לא תשרפנה׃
אם־יהלך איש על־הגחלים ורגליו לא תכוינה׃ }

Heinrich von Morungen’s gyno-idolatry began in the ordinary circumstances of young persons singing and dancing in a meadow. Heinrich was a knight. In the pastoral genre, a knight meets a beautiful young woman in the countryside. The troubadour Gavaudan redeemed the pastoral from some of its troubling tendencies. But Heinrich entered the pastoral obsessed with a particular woman:

I heard out on the meadow
bright voices and sweet tones
and was at once
rich in joys, in sorrows poor.
The one toward whom my thoughts have struggled and soared —
I found her in the dance, singing.
Free of sorrows, I danced too.

{ Ich hôrte ûf der heide
lûte stimme und süezen sanc.
dâ von wart ich beide
fröiden rîch und an trûrens kranc.
Nâch der mîn gedanc sêre ranc unde swanc,
die vant ich ze tanze, dâ si sanc.
âne leide ich dô spranc. }[2]

Heinrich could imagine no greater joy than love for his beloved woman:

On such a cloud of joy as this
my soul has never sailed so high before.
I hover as on wings of bliss
with thoughts of only her whom I adore,
because her love unlocked the door
which leads into my inmost heart
and entered there for evermore.

All other raptures that remain
with this great happiness cannot compare.
Let earth and sky and wood and plain
with me a time of soaring gladness share.
For, filled with hope and freed from care,
and thrilled by dreams of ecstasy,
my joy is more than I can bear.

{ In sô hôher swebender wunne
sô gestuont mîn herze ane vröiden nie.
ich var, als ich vliegen kunne,
mit gedanken iemer umbe sie,
sît daz mich ir trôst enpfie,
der mir durch die sêle mîn
mitten in daz herze gie.

Swaz ich wunneclîches schouwe,
daz spile gegen der wunne, die ich hân.
luft und erde, walt und ouwe
suln die zît der vröide mîn enpfân.
Mir ist komen ein hügender wân
und ein wunneclîcher trôst,
des mîn muot sol hôhe stân. }[3]

Heinrich von Morungen’s love for this earthly woman led to extraordinary gender fluidity. Heinrich imagined his beloved woman to be the angel Gabriel, and he himself to be the Virgin Mary:

Praised be the blissful message
whose sound went so sweetly into my ear,
and the swelling that heals all
sank with joy into my heart,
out of which a bliss sprang up
that for utter delight streamed forth
like a dew from my eyes.

Blessed be the sweet hour,
blessed the time, the sublime day,
when from her mouth went out the word
that lay so near my heart
that my body thrilled with the fright of joy,
and indeed for sheer bliss I do not know
what I can say of her.

{ Wol dem wunneclîchem maere,
daz sô suoze durch mîn ôre erklanc,
und der sanfte tuonder swêre,
diu mit fröiden in mîn herze sanc,
dâ von mir ein wunne entspranc,
diu vor liebe alsam ein tou
mir ûz von den ougen dranc.

Sêlic sî diu süeze stunde,
sêlic sî diu zît, der werde tac,
dô daz wort gie von ir munde,
daz dem herzen mîn sô nâhen lac,
daz mîn lîp von fröide erschrac,
un enweiz von wunne joch,
waz ich von ir sprechen mac. }

Heinrich confused health care for men with divine events. According to the New Testament, God sent the angel Gabriel to speak prophetic words to the Virgin Mary. After the words of the angel Gabriel went into Mary’s ear, she swelled with the joy of incarnating Christ. Mary gave birth to the redeemer of all human beings.[4] Heinrich imagined his beloved’s message to him to be like the incarnation of Christ. That’s utter gyno-idolatry.

Happy the parents who gave you birth,
happy the sun that sees you every hour,
happy the earth that you walk white-footed,
happy the breast-wrap that binds my beloved’s body,
happy the beds, Dulcis, on which you lie naked.
As birds are snared by lime, as wild pigs by nets,
so, Dulcis, am I caught in fatal love for you.
I saw you and did not touch you. I see and cannot touch.
I was totally on fire, burned but not consumed.

{ Felices illos qui te genuere parentes,
Felicem solem qui te uidet omnibus horis,
Felicem terram quam tu pede candida calcas,
Felices fascias cingentes corpus amatae,
Felices toros quibus Dulcis, nuda recumbis!
Ut visco capiuntur aves, ut retibus apri,
Sic ego nunc Dulcis diro sum captus amore.
Vidi nec tetigi; video nec tangere possum.
Totus in igne fui; non sum consumptus et arsi. }[5]

Medieval men imagined the burning bush from which God spoke to Moses, and they thought of a beloved woman with whom they yearned to be physically united. With men’s romantic simplicity, Heinrich sought to have sex with his most beautiful beloved woman:

She is my heart’s one joy, the crown
above all women I have seen,
beautiful, more beautiful, beautiful above the most beautiful
is she. That I must affirm.
Now let the whole world beg her, by her beauty:
“It is time now, lady, for you to reward him,
or else he speaks foolishness with his praise.”

{ Diu mînes herzen ein wunne und ein krôn ist
vor allen frouwen, diech noch hân gesên,
schône unde schôner unde schône aller schônist
ist sî, mîn frouwe: des muoz ich ir jên.
al diu werlt sol si durch ir schône gerne flên.
“noch wêre zît daz du, frouwe, im lônist;
er kan mit lobe anders tôrheit begên.” }[6]

Men, like women, should be regarded as sexually entitled, but not with a particular person who isn’t their spouse.

Heinrich eventually recognized the folly of his gyno-idolatry. He declared:

I have said so much in melody and verse,
that I’m hoarse from lamenting and out of breath.
I am driven by nothing but a dream,
for she will not believe what I speak:
how I love her and bear a heart that she commands.
I have not been rewarded as I have deserved.
Had I struggled toward God with half so great a will,
God would have taken me to himself before my death.

{ Ich hân sô vil gesprochen und gesungen,
daz ich bin müede und heis von mîner klage.
ich bin umbe niht wan umb den wân betwungen,
sît si mir niht geloubet, daz ich sage,
wie ich si minne, und ich sô holdez herze ir trage.
deswâr mirn ist nâch werde niht gelungen.
hêt ich nâch gote ie halb sô vil gerungen,
er nême mich hin zim ê mîner tage. }[7]

A man shouldn’t regard his beloved woman as a god or a goddess or a woman-fairy. Women are comically human beings, just as men are.

Heinrich charged his beloved woman with cruelty and murder. In medieval Europe, persons didn’t complain about micro-aggressions. They were concerned with more serious matters. Suffering a recrudescence of gyno-idolatry, Heinrich complained of murder. Nonetheless, he insisted that he would still love his murderer in life after death:

Oh sweetest, tenderest assassin,
why slay your love and me and cast aside
the hopes and gentle ties that fasten
our hearts, so just to please your woman’s pride?
Oh can you dream that, having killed me,
you then will wander free of my design?
No! No, so full your love has filled me
that evermore your soul is wed to mine.
Though here my heart may suffer sorrow
from one who lies so near it,
I tell you, soon, perhaps tomorrow,
my soul will love and serve you there,
a light and laughing spirit.

{ Vil süeziu senftiu tôterinne,
war umbe welt ir tôten mir den lîp,
und i’uch sô herzeclîchen minne,
zwâre, frouwe, gar für elliu wîp?
Wênet ir ob ir mich tôtet,
daz ich iuch danne niemer mê beschouwe?
nein, iuwer minne hât mich des ernôtet,
daz iuwer sêle ist mîner sêle frouwe.
sol mir hie niht guot geschên
von iuwerm werden lîbe,
sô muoz mîn sêle iu des verjên
dazs iuwerr sêle dienet dort als einem reinen wîbe. }[8]

Men’s deaths should be taken seriously. Men’s deaths should matter. Heinrich at least wanted others to know how he had died:

If someone is here
whose reason is clear
in this hour of gloom,
seek her who bereft me
of beauty and left me
to sorrow and doom,
and entreat her to hasten and soothe my grief
while life and breath remain.
For torments of passion and pain
I cannot restrain
are driving me to the tomb.

Then clearly make known
my fate on the stone
that covers my grave.
Tell of beauty adored
and a lover ignored,
that the knight or the knave
as he passes may learn from my woeful tale
of love that burns and rends.
There he may read how she sends
cold death to her friends,
so cruelly does she behave.

{ Ist aber ieman hinne,
der sîne sinne
her behalten habe?
der gê nach der schônen,
diu mit ir krônen
gie von hinnen abe;
Daz si mir ze trôste kome,
ê daz ich verscheide.
diu liebe und diu leide
diu wellen mich beide
vürdern hin ze grabe.

Wan sol schrîben kleine
reht ûf dem steine,
der mîn grap bevât,
wie liep sî mir waere
und ich ir unmaere;
swer danne über mich gât,
Daz der lese dise nôt
und ir gewinne künde,
der vil grôzen sünde
die sî an ir vründe
her begangen hât. }[9]

Women have failed to express sufficient concern for men’s lives. Elite men in medieval Europe suffered a nine-year lifespan shortfall relative to elite women. That was of no more concern than is sexist conscription of men today. Women must show more compassion for men. Women, be like the great medieval woman-leader Radegund of Thuringia or the wonderful medieval queen Eufemie!

minnesinger Heinrich von Morungen looking at a mirror

The gyno-idolator Heinrich von Morungen has been dead for about eight centuries. Yet many men today could look into a mirror and see a similar gyno-idolator.[10] Women can help men to overcome gyno-idolatry. Yet men must not be passive about their fate in relation to women. Men must dare to affirm their dignity as fully human beings whose lives have the same intrinsic worth as women’s lives. O happy day, when God’s creation is so redeemed!

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Proverbs 6:27-28, English translation adapted from widely used translations, Hebrew text of the Westminster Leningrad Codex via Blue Letter Bible.

[2] Heinrich von Morungen, Des Minnesangs Frühling p. 139 (MF 139), “I heard on the meadow {Ich hôrt ûf der heide},” stanza 1, Middle High German text and English translation from Golden (1973) pp. 42-3. Golden’s Middle High German text comes from Des Minnesangs Frühling. See, e.g. Lachmann, Haupt & Voght (1888). Here are an alternate English translation and a modern German translation (Lied 23) of the whole poem. On Heinrich’s songs, Heller (1998).

[3] Heinrich von Morungen, MF 125, “On such a cloud of joy as this {In sô hôher swebender wunne},” stanzas 1-2, Middle High German text from Lied 4, English translation from Thomas (1963) p. 9. The subsequent two stanzas quoted above are similarly from this song, but I quote the more literal English translation of Donke (1965) vol. 1, pp. 129-30.

[4] Luke 1:26-38.

[5] Anthologia Latina 381, “Happy the parents who gave you birth {Felices illos qui te genuere parentes},” whole poem, Latin text of Riese (1894) via Musisque Deoque, English translation (modified) of Dronke (1954) vol. 1, p. 178, n. 2. Poems of the Anthologia Latina date from before the tenth century. “Felices illos qui te genuere parentes” with its Christian allusions and appreciation for men’s sexuality is similar to Ennodius’s poetry in the sixth century.

[6] Heinrich von Morungen, MF 133, “Glances that hurt and overwhelming grief {Leitliche blicke unde grôzliche riuwe},” stanza 3, Middle High German text and English translation from Goldin (1973) pp. 44-5. For a modern German translation, see Lied 13.

[7] Heinrich von Morungen, MF 136, “Alas, why do I follow that childish dream {Owê, war umbe volg ich tumben wâne}, ” stanza 3, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Goldin (1973) pp. 46-7. For a modern German translation, see Lied 17.

[8] Heinrich von Morungen, MF 147, “Oh sweetest, tenderest assassin {Vil süeziu senftiu tôterinne}, ” whole poem, Middle High German text from Goldin (1973) p. 56, English translation (modified slightly) from Thomas (1963) p. 8. For a modern German translation, see Lied 34 and this presentation. Here’s a Polish translation.

[9] Heinrich von Morungen, MF 129, “What lady is she {Sach ieman die frouwen}, ” whole poem, Middle High German text from MF, English translation from Thomas (1963) pp. 7-8. For a modern German translation, see Lied 8. Taylor (1825), pp. 151-2, provides an early English translation.

Like Heinrich von Morungen, Leander fell into suicidal gyno-idolatry for his beloved Hero. Leander declared to her:

Therefore I cherish the love that burns me,
and follow you, a young woman more worthy of heaven —
indeed you are a heavenly one. But do delay yet on earth,
or tell me by what way I might to go to the ones above!

{ ipse meos igitur servo, quibus uror, amores
teque, magis caelo digna puella, sequor.
digna quidem caelo es, sed adhuc tellure morare,
aut dic, ad superos et mihi qua sit iter! }

Ovid, Heroines {Heroides} 18, “Leander to Hero {Leander Heroni},” vv. 167-70, Latin text from Ehwald’s edition (Teubner, 1907) via Perseus, English translation (modified) from Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 167. Leander, who never asked Hero to swim to him, died in swimming to Hero.

[10] With enormous scholarly learning, Peter Dronke ardently sought out and documented in medieval lyric poetry what he called “love-worship.” Dronke (1965). Love-worship is nothing other than gyno-idolatry. Gyno-idolatry so stultified Dronke’s mind that he couldn’t perceive human and divine love not conflicting unless loving a woman is like worshipping a goddess:

Such feelings imply (and sometimes even prompt the explicit statement) that human and divine love are not in conflict with each other, but on the contrary can become identified. If the beloved reflects divine perfections to the world, she can be a mediatrix or figura of them to her lover, and he can reach them in so far as he comes nearer to her through love-service.

Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 5. Medieval Christians who weren’t gyno-idolators believed that human and divine love could differ without necessarily conflicting. Men today should reject love-worship of a beloved woman and enjoy both human and divine love. Cf. Genesis 2:21-25 and John 15:9-11.

[images] (1) Video of Helium Vola’s recording of Heinrich von Morungen “In such high, floating pleasure {In sô hôher swebender wunne},” MF 125, from Helium Vola’s album Für euch, die ihr liebt {For the one whom I love} (Chrom Records, 2009). Via Fliegeraas on YouTube. Here’s this song in a video with subtitled lyrics in English translation. (2) Heinrich von Morungen looking at a mirror. Illustration from p. 80 of the Weingarten Manuscript {Weingartner Liederhandschrift} via Wikimedia Commons. The Weingarten Manuscript was made in the first quarter of the fourteenth century, perhaps in Konstanz (near Lake Constance in the south of present-day Germany). It’s preserved as Württembergische Landesbibliothek, Stuttgart, HB XIII 1, labeled manuscript B in minnesang studies. On Heinrich looking into a mirror, see his poem “It has gone with me as with a child {Mir ist geschehen als einem kindelîne},” MF 145, Goldin (1973) pp. 58-51, online as Lied 32. (3) Video presentation of Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples singing “Oh Happy Day,” from Aretha Franklin’s album One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism, recorded live at New Bethel Baptist Church, Detroit, MI in July, 1987. Via YouTube. “Oh Happy Day” is based on the biblical account of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:26-40). The English clergyman Philip Doddridge in 1755 wrote a hymn “”O happy day, that fixed my choice.” It was subsequently adapted for Christian baptisms and confirmation services. In 1967, the Edwin Hawkins Singers recorded a gospel arrangement of an adapted hymn. Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples covered Edwin Hawkins’s version.


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

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

Heller, Christian. 1998. Vil Süeziu Senftiu Toeterinne: Zum Minne- Und Minnesangkonzept Heinrichs Von Morungen. M.A. Thesis, Universität Regensberg, 1994/95. Regensburger Skripten zur Literaturwissenschaft, Herausgegeben von Hans Peter Neureuter, Redaktion Christine Bühler, Band 9. Regensburg.

Lachmann, Karl, Moriz Haupt, and Friedrich Hermann Traugott Vogt, eds. 1888. Des Minnesangs Frühling. Leipzig: S. Hirzel.

Riese, Alexander, ed. 1894. Anthologia Latina sive Poesis Latinae Supplementum. Vol. 1. Lipsiae: Bibliotheca scriptorum Graecorum et Romanorum Teubneriana.

Taylor, Edgar, trans. 1825. Lays of the Minnesingers or German Troubadours of the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries. London: Longman Hurst Rees Orme Brown and Green.

Thomas, John Wesley. 1963. German Verse from the 12th to the 20th Century in English Translation. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Queen Eufeme falsely accused Malduit-Silence of attempted rape

A man raping a woman has been recognized as a grave offense across three thousand years of literary history. False accusations of rape have been a related major concern, except perhaps in the past few decades. For help in understanding the historically entrenched problem of false accusations of rape, consider the early-thirteenth-century Old French Romance of Silence {Roman de Silence}. That romance tells of Queen Eufeme falsely accusing the knight Malduit-Silence of attempting to rape her.

From her position of power and privilege, Queen Eufeme burned with sexual desire for the young, beautiful, and courtly knight Malduit. Because of his difficult upbringing, Malduit also used the name Silence. The name Silence has substantial significance in the Roman de Silence. Medieval authors regarded women as much more talkative than men. Malduit went by the name Silence as a man.

Today both women and men typically prefer to keep silent about false accusations of rape. They sometimes even seek to silence those who dare to speak about false accusations of rape. Until the end of the Roman de Silence, Malduit-Silence was silent about being falsely accused of rape. But he finally told Queen Eufeme’s husband, King Evan of England, about his wife’s wicked behavior. Malduit-Silence declared:

Truth does not permit me
to keep anything from you,
nor do I care to keep silent any longer.
Do with me what you will.

{ La vertés nel puet consentir
Que jo vos puissce rien mentir,
Ne jo n’ai soig mais de taisir.
Faites de moi vostre plaisir. }[1]

Malduit-Silence breaking his silence about Queen Eufeme falsely accusing him of rape is the fundamental moral turning point in the Roman de Silence.

Malduit as a child between two minstrels

Malduit’s ordeal began when King Evan left home for a hunting trip. Queen Eufeme then summoned Malduit to her bedchamber to play harp for her. After he had played harp awhile, she told him, “Kiss me, don’t be shy {Baisiés me, ne soiés hontels}!” She was his superior, and he was obligated to follow her orders. He kissed her chastely on her forehead. Then, without seeking his affirmative consent, Queen Eufeme kissed him. By modern standards, she sexually assaulted him. She sexually assaulted him because she was upset about his kissing her on her forehead:

And the lady, who did not care
to be kissed in this manner,
gave him five drawn-out kisses,
very passionate and very skillful.
Besides the two kisses she had promised,
she sent to him so many others
that he was from this totally upset.

{ Et la dame, qui nen a cure
D’estre baisie en tel mesure,
Li done .v. baisiers traitis,
Bien amorols et bien faitis,
Et ot les .ii. baisiers promis
Li a des altres tant tramis
Que il en est tols anuiés. }

He sought to leave. She offered him her body. When he refused sex, she taunted him:

Go tell your father the count
and your mother the countess
that you will become a hermit
and take religious vows.
You’d be a very good abbot!

{ Mandés le conte vostre pere
Et la contesse vostre mere
Que vos hermites devenrés
Et que religiön tenrés!
En vos avra moult bon abé! }

Men’s lifestyle choices should be respected. More hermits and abbots should be featured on postage stamps. When he again tried to leave, she held onto him and accused him of being a greedy prostitute:

She said, “Are you trying to raise the price?
Since you know so much how to return yourself dear,
you should go into buying and selling!
Certainly you know how to imitate well
a cheap commoner in making a deal.”

{ Dist li: “Est cho chierisscement?
Quant vus si chier vus savés rendre,
Bien devriés achater et vendre!
Ciertes, bien savés contrefaire
Felon vilain de put afaire.” }

Then she claimed that she was only testing him and that he really wanted to have sex with her. Eufeme acted crazily.

Potiphar's wife sexually assaulting Joseph

Not actually crazy, Queen Eufeme felt sexually entitled and behaved viciously. Because Malduit didn’t love her, she hated him:

This lady was thinking very broadly
about ways to harm this youth.
Her heart spurred her on. She wouldn’t care
if he were hanged. In fact, she’d like that.

{ Ceste dame estoit moult engrant
Com honir peüst cel enfant.
Ses cuers i point: ne li dolroit
S’il fust pendus, ainz le volroit. }

Eufeme’s aggrieved sexual entitlement led her to place Malduit beyond gynocentric norms:

And then she thought: “If his thoughts were
toward women, nothing could have prevented him
from having just now pleasure with me.
Either I will see him totally frustrated and
completely shamed, if I can make that happen,
or I will never know a moment’s peace.
Certainly, I believe him to be a heretic,
since having a woman doesn’t delight him.
When I showed him my flanks,
he said, ‘O God, stop!’
Isn’t that well enough proof
that he despises and disdains women?
He says that he belongs to the king,
but that makes him just as much belong to me!
He didn’t reject me because of family,
but because he wants something else.
He cherishes young men very pleasantly
and cherishes their company.
He’s a heretic, I know it in faith,
and I threaten him with my love.
I will see that he is totally shamed.”

{ Et pense done: “Se cis pensast
Viers feme, rien ne s’en tensast
Qu’orains n’eüst a moi joé.
U gel verrai tolt desjoé,
En fin honi, se gel puis faire,
U ja n’iere mais sans contraire.
Certes, gel croi bien a erite
Quant a feme ne se delite.
Quant jo li mostrai mes costés,
Que il me dist: ‘Por Deu, ostés!’,
Ene fu cho moult bone ensaigne
Qu’il despist femes et desdaigne?
Il dist qu’il apartient le roi
Mais nel fait guaires plus qu’a moi.
Ainc nel lassça por parenté,
Mais el a en sa volenté.
As vallés fait moult bele chiere
Et a lor compagnie chiere.
Herites est, gel sai de fi,
Et jo de m’amor le deffi.
Honte li volrai porcacier.” }[2]

Eufeme implied that Malduit preferred to have sex with other young men like himself than to have sex with her, the queen of the realm. To her, such preference makes him a heretic. That’s a damning classification in medieval French gynocentric society. In the twelfth-century Old French Romance of Aeneas {Roman d’Eneas}, Queen Amata similarly disparaged Aeneas in attempting to dissuade her daughter Lavinia from loving him. More generally, women’s claims about men’s fears of women commonly function as camouflage for women’s romantic failings.

Queen Eufeme faked an attempted rape and physical assault in order to have Malduit executed. In preparation, she convinced Malduit that she had earlier been merely testing him when she had accosted him. She praised him for his sexual restraint. When King Evan again left the palace for a hunt, she brought Malduit into her bedchamber and locked the door. Then she grabbed him by his belt and declared:

Why are you making for us such a situation?
I have much loved you for a long time.
You have much condemned my body.
I have strongly encouraged you,
and you have injured my body.
Not long ago, I showed my love for you,
and you made of that much clamor.
You didn’t deign to listen to me,
but you took to reject me.
You wouldn’t deign to come here any longer.
I didn’t know how to get hold of you,
but such I have done by my guile,
by God, that I hold you here now.
And by the right of love possession,
take my body. There’s none like it.
Let’s be like man and woman lovers.

{ Por quoi nos fais tu tel covine?
Jo t’ai moult longement amé.
Tu m’as mon cors moult adamé:
Jo t’ai forment acoragié,
Et tu mon cors as damagié.
L’altrier te mostrai mes amors
Et t’en fesis par tolt clamors.
Ne me degnas pas escolter,
Ains me presis a deboter.
Ne degnas puis chaëns venir.
Jo ne t’i seu comment tenir,
Mais tant ai fait par mon engien,
Enon Deu, que jo vos i tiengn;
Et par meïsme le catel,
Prent chi mon cors, il n’i a tel.
Faisons com amis et amie. }

He insistently refused to have sex with her. She then faked a sexual assault:

She began to tear out her hair
as if the Devil made her do it.
She gave herself a punch in the nose,
so that she was covered with blood.
She shed tears, but without making noise or crying,
because she wanted to do this
until King Evan returned from the hunt.
She didn’t want anyone else to know.
She trampled her wimple under her feet
and held very tightly the wretched young man.
“Son of a pig!” she said, “Fool!
May your body suffer today,
you son of a filthy rogue!
The king doesn’t care for his wife
to be occupied in such a manner.
I would be wicked and very cowardly
if I didn’t have you skinned alive
for you so wanting to rape me!”

{ Commence ses cevials detraire
Si com diäbles le fait faire.
Fiert soi el nés de puign a ente:
Del sanc se solle et ensanglente.
Plore sans noise et sans criër
Qu’el velt le fait tant detriër
Que li rois Ebayns vient de cache.
N’i violt qu’altres que il le sache.
Defole sos ses piés se guinple
Et tient bien ferm le vallet sinple.
“Fils a gloton!” fait ele, “fols!
Dehet ait hui li vostre cors!
Fils a encrieme paltonier!
Li rois n’a soig de parçoignier
A sa mollier en tel maniere.
Malvaise sui et moult laniere
Se ne te fac vif escorcier
Ki si me volsis efforcier. }

Silence must have been terrified. Any evidence he might offer probably would benefit him little relative to the social weight of Eufeme’s fabrications. Penal justice systems vastly disproportionately punish persons with penises. Men’s lives should matter, but in the social context of women’s claims of rape, men’s lives often don’t matter.

To advance her false accusation of attempted rape, Queen Eufeme masterfully manipulated her husband King Evan. When he returned home from hunting, he encountered a shocking situation:

The king saw his wife bleeding
and much bloodied all over,
her hair disheveled, her face wet.
This was no laughing matter to him.
“Dear,” he said, “who did this to you?”
“Dear sir, I will tell you all.
See in front of you he who
has done this misery to me.
He thought he had found an immoral woman.
He has tested me many times.
I thought he was only joking,
but just now, when he saw his chance,
and you had gone into the woods to hunt,
he mounted the stairs right away,
entered the bedchamber, and locked the door.
Sir, see what he did to me then!
Silence has done it, sir, indeed sir,
by his madness, by his great passion!
I will allow myself now to tell you
how his madness completely overcame him.
After he had, sir, so injured me,
and torn and shredded my wimple,
he saw well that I wouldn’t yield my chastity.
He begged me to pardon him
for doing such mad destruction
and even that I just let him go.
But I never want to let
your honor be so abased.
He would be very glad if one would allow escape from this.
Dear sir, in order to deter
all people from such outrage,
such madness, such fury,
on this man take vengeance
immediately. Don’t wait for a trial!”

{ Sa feme voit li rois sanglente
Et ensegnie moult a ente,
Ronpus ses crins, mollié son vis.
Or n’i a il ne giu ne ris.
“Biele,” fait il, “qui vos fist cho?”
“Bials sire, jal vos dirai jo.
Veés chi devant vos celui
Ki m’a faite cestui anui.
Cuida sa fole avoir trovee.
Il m’a soventes fois provee:
Cuidai quel fesist par son giu,
Mais orains quant il vit son liu
Et vos fustes el bos alés,
Les degrés ot tost sormontés,
Entre en la canbre et ferme l’uis.
Sire, veés qu’il m’a fait puis!
Silences l’a fait, sire, sire,
Par sa folor, par sa grant ire.
Ne lairai ore sa folie
Que trestolte ne le vos die.
Quant il m’ot, sire, si blecie
Ma guinple rote et depecie,
Et il vit bien que g’ere caste,
De si faite folie gaste
Pria que jo li pardonasse
Et que itant le me lassasce;
Mais jo ne vol mie lasscier
Por vostre honor si abasscier.
Moult volentiers s’en volt estordre.
Bials sire, por le desamordre
Tolte gens mais de tel oltrage,
De tel folie, de tel rage,
Prendés de cestui vengement
C’onques n’atendés jugement!” }

After falsely accusing Silence of attempted rape, Eufeme sought to preempt gathering of evidence and evaluating testimony. She wanted the king simply to act on her words. She wanted him to kill Silence just as Roman men acted on Lucretia’s words to kill other men. Authorities should at least listen to men before disbelieving them and killing them.

With extraordinary strength of character, King Evan resisted a woman’s tears. Few men are capable of such a feat:

The king’s heart was so heavy
that he couldn’t form a single word
without rolling his eyeballs.
And the queen was kneeling
at the king’s feet and weeping and crying
because he was delaying her vengeance.

The queen was strongly disturbed.
Know that she was very upset
that she didn’t see the young man
burned to a crisp, or hanging from gallows.
But the king was a good man and wise
and moderate in his heart’s impulses.

{ Li rois en a si gros le cuer:
Ne desist .i. mot a nul fuer,
Mais que les ioils celui roöille.
Et li roïne s’agenolle
As piés le roi et plore et crie
Car la venjance li detrie

La roïne fort se demente.
Sachiés que moult li est a ente
Qu’ele ne voit ardoir en cendre
Le vallet, u a forces pendre.
Mais el roi a bon home et sage
Et atenpret de son corage }[3]

The king decided that to cover-up the alleged attempted rape and send Silence into exile at the king of France’s court. That’s not doing justice. Moreover, to appease the queen so that she would preserve the appearance of court morality, the king lied to her. He told her that he would have the king of France kill Silence.

Not trusting her husband the king, Queen Eufeme secretly substituted her own letter for the king’s letter. Eufeme’s letter asked the king of France to kill Silence immediately. When the king of France’s wise counselor foiled Eufeme’s murderous plot, the king made his chancellor take the blame for Eufeme’s murderous conspiracy.

Society tends to value a man only for what he can do or has achieved, rather than for his intrinsically virtuous being. When King Evan urgently needed Silence’s services as a warrior, Evan begged Queen Eufeme to allow Silence to return to the English court. Silence thus returned from France with thirty strong French knights. They engaged in brutal violence against men to win an important victory for Evan. When Silence had returned from battle to the English court as an honored hero, Eufeme claimed that he again attempted to rape her. She manipulated Evan into sending Silence away on an impossible, “don’t return unless successful” mission to capture the wizard Merlin.

Only through the wonderful help of the wizard Merlin was Eufeme finally punished for her false accusation of attempted rape. When he came to the English court, Merlin laughed and laughed as if that court was as foolish as those who believe in rape culture. When Silence referred abstractly to the truth, Eufeme immediately silenced him:

Silence, you talk too much!
You had better keep your mouth shut.

{ Silences, trop aves parole!
Vas le devriez avoir plus brieve. }

When Merlin began to reveal the truth about her crimes, Eufeme sought to intimidate him:

You certainly know how to slander women.
What good will come of your slander?
My lord shouldn’t tolerate it,
but he should have you killed
or throw you into one very foul place.

{ Com tu ses mesdire de feme!
Quels joies est de ton mesdire?
Ja nel deüst sofrir mes sire!
Ains te deüst faire tuer,
U en .i. malvais liu jeter. }

Merlin ignored Eufeme’s death threats. Moreover, King Evan finally asserted himself in relation to Queen Eufeme:

“You are wrong, lady,” the king said.
“If a Scotsman or an Irishman
were to tell me folly or wisdom,
he would be entitled to have peace
before me. Am I not a lord?
Allow me to convene and to speak
so as to do my good and my pleasure.”

{ “Tort avés, dame,” dist li rois.
“Si uns Escos u uns Irois
Me disist folie u savoir,
Se deüst il bien pais avoir
Chi devant moi. Ne sui jo sire?
Moi lasciés convenir et dire,
Faire mon bon et mon plasir.” }[4]

Evan addressed his wife respectfully. Then he got annoyed and hurled at her platitudes that have no relation to reality. In reality, men must assert themselves in relation to women or women will effectively silence them. After Evan silenced Eufeme to give Merlin and Silence an opportunity to speak, they revealed Eufeme’s wicked deeds. Evan had Eufeme executed for her crimes — crimes that included falsely accusing Malduit-Silence of attempted rape. Women are much more rarely executed for crimes than are men.[5] Nonetheless, all at this medieval English court regarded capital punishment as fitting and just for Eufeme.

Rape and false accusations of rape should be regarded as serious crimes. Whether a rape victim or false-accusation victim is a man or a woman shouldn’t matter to equal justice under law. Yet today men being raped and men being falsely accused of rape rarely are discussed seriously and compassionately. The medieval Roman de Silence provides an extraordinary opportunity to break the silence about this social injustice. So far, literary scholars have squandered this opportunity in a cesspool of anti-men sexism.[6] One might laugh or cry at this grotesque intellectual spectacle. The wizard Merlin would laugh.

A woman, a tender thing,
knows she can shame you and dares to do so.
And it was a woman who captured me.
Is it any wonder I laugh about it,
when they have deceived us both like this,
when they have set such a snare for us
as twenty thousand men couldn’t do?
Sir, I laugh about this matter.

{ Et une feme, tendre cose,
Vos poet honir et set et ose.
Et c’une feme me ra pris,
Quele mervelle est se j’en ris,
Qu’ansdeus nos ont ensi deçut,
Qu’eles nos ont tel plait esmut
Comme .xx .. .m. ne porent faire.
Sire, jo ris de cest affaire. }

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Heldris of Cornwall {Heldris de Cornouaille}, The Romance of Silence {Le roman de Silence} vv. 6625-8, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Roche-Mahdi (1992). Subsequent quotes from Roman de Silence are similarly sourced. I’ve modified Roche-Mahdi’s translation to follow more closely the Old French source.

The discussion above uses interchangeably rape and attempted rape in which the victim is physically assaulted and bleeding profusely from the assailant’s pursuit of sex. Both types of acts are horrible wrongs. Eufeme claimed that Malduit physically assaulted her, injuring her so as to cover her with her own blood, and attempted to rape her. She also claimed that he didn’t manage to violate her chastity. According to the Roman de Silence, she lied about about all aspects of the attempted rape and physical assault.

Roman de Silence survives in only one manuscript: Nottingham, University Library, MS WLC/LM/6, f. 189r-223v. Recent dating of its composition favors the first half of the thirteenth century. The most thorough analysis puts forward “between 1169 and 1206 (probably towards the end of this range).” Ravenhall (2022) p. 71. Here’s context on the transmission of Roman de Silence.

Silence in the Roman de Silence has been twisted to serve dominant ideology. Scholars have frequently claimed that Malduit-Silence is silenced when finally identified as a woman:

Nature “recovered her rights,” our protagonist is thoroughly feminized, and the king takes her as his wife. Silence speaks no more.

Farr (2017). Silence speaks no more because the Roman de Silence ends. The rest is ideological projection. Roman de Silence isn’t about women or wives being silent, as if that were even socially possible. Roman de Silence is about silence and silencing concerning false accusations of rape and attempted rape. That social problem remains acute in dominant discourse.

Subsequent quotes above from the Roman de Silence are vv. 3759 (Kiss me, don’t be shy!), 3769-75 (And the lady, who did not care…), 3811-5 (Go tell your father the count…), 3884-8 (She said, “Are you trying to raise the price?…”), 3925-8 (This lady was thinking very broadly…), 3929-49 (And then she thought: “If his thoughts were…”), 4048-63 (Why are you making for us such a situation?…), 4075-92 (She began to tear out her hair…), 4115-48 (The king saw his wife bleeding…), 4149-54, 4183-8 (The king’s heart was so heavy…), 6274-5 (Silence, you talk too much!…), 6372-6 (You certainly know how to slander women…), 6391-7 (“You are wrong, lady,” the king said…), 6545-52 (A woman, a tender thing…).

[2] Roche-Mahdi and others haven’t faithfully translated verses in this passage. In vv. 3935 and 3947, Roche-Mahdi translated erite / herites (forms of the same word) as “queer” and “fag,” respectively, followed by Watt (1998) p. 273, n. 16. In translating these verses, Roche-Mahdi “uses particularly aggressive colloquial language.” Pitts (2017) p. 50. Waters translated erite / herites with the anachronistic term “homosexual.” Waters (1997) p. 42. Revelle stated:

The word “erite”, or “heretic” in modern English, is clearly an accusation of sodomy, stating explicitly that Silence prefers the company of young men to that of women.

Revelle (2018) p. 35. Silence, who was fifteen years old (see v. 6602), preferring the company of young men rather than women doesn’t necessarily imply that he engages in sodomy. Nonetheless, in the context of disparaging men, that’s a common insinuation.

According to the vicious Eufeme, men preferentially associating with men makes them like disbelievers in the dominant religion. Thus Eufeme, speaking from her dominant position in the gynocentric order, declared: “He’s a heretic, I know it in faith {Herites est, gel sai de fi}.” The full sense of her words is obscured in less faithful translations, e.g. “He’s a fag, I swear to it”; “He’s a fag [literally “heretic”], I’d swear to it”, and “He is a homosexual, I know it for certain”. See Roche-Mahdi (1992), p. 185; Kinoshita (1995) p. 408, n. 31; and Waters (1997) p. 42, respectively.

Underscoring learned ignorance about gender and sexual assault, Pitts declared that Eufeme “projects an entitlement to Silence’s body in a particularly aggressive, traditionally masculine fashion.” Pitts (1997) p. 39. Medieval literature at least openly recognized women’s sense of sexual entitlement.

[3] In medieval European literature, the phrase “good man {bon home}” can function as a code for calling a man a cuckold. King Evan in fact was a cuckold. Queen Eufeme was cuckolding him with a man disguised as a nun.

The author Heldris de Cornouaille strongly condemned Eufeme’s evil behavior:

Now you shall hear what disloyalty
and what misfortune transpired,
what burning lust and fury
seized this Satan in herself.
For never did Tristan for Isolde
nor lady Isolde for lord Tristan
have such anguished yearning
as did Eufeme the queen
for the young man who was a young woman.
Never did Joseph, who was imprisoned
by King Pharaoh, as one reads,
have such anguish and such evil
by the wife of the seneschal
as did Silence here from the queen.

{ Or oiés quel desloialté
Avint et ques mesaventure,
Con faite rage et quele ardure
Cis Sathanas en soi aquelt:
Car onques Tristrans por Ielt,
Ne dame Izeuls por dant Tristran
N’ot tele angoisse ne ahan
Com eult Eufeme la roïne
Por le vallet ki ert meschine;
N’onques Jozeph, ki fu prisons
Rois Pharaöns, si le lisons,
N’ot tele angoisse ne tel mal
Par la mollier al senescal,
Comme ut icis par la roïne. }

Roman de Silence, vv. 3696-3709. The double comparison with Tristan and Isolde indicates Heldris’s concern for gender equality. The explicit distinction from Potiphar’s wife emphasizes Eufeme’s extremely evil deeds. Countess Eufemie, whose name is phonetically similarly to Eufeme, behaved much differently. Cf. Roche-Mahdi (1992), pp. xx-xxi.

[4] The omniscent narrator earlier recognized the king’s prudence in not confronting his wife:

But he didn’t want to say a word against her,
because when a woman seeks to avenge herself,
she in that way is very biting.
This the king knows. And she is too quarrelsome.
When one asks her to be quiet,
then she will strive to make noise.

{ Mais ne volt son dit blastengier,
Car feme quant se violt vengier
En tel maniere est moult trençans,
Cho set li rois, et trop tençans,
Est el. Quant on le roeve taire
Dont s’esforce de noise faire. }

Roman de Silence, vv. 4265-70. Men have enormous difficulty asserting themselves in relation to women.

[5] In a U.S. Supreme Court case concerning the constitutionality of the death penalty, Justice Thurgood Marshall courageously observed:

There is also overwhelming evidence that the death penalty is employed against men and not women. Only 32 women have been executed since 1930, while 3,827 men have met a similar fate. It is difficult to understand why women have received such favored treatment since the purposes allegedly served by capital punishment seemingly are equally applicable to both sexes.

Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) para. 276, concurring opinion of Justice Thurgood Marshall (notes omitted). While Thurgood Marshall is widely and rightly celebrated as a leading judge, his remarks on sexism in applying the death penalty have been generally ignored. The enormous gender protrusion in the population incarcerated is also generally ignored even in the context of acute concern about gender equality.

[6] For an example of an unintentionally ironic failure in teaching the Roman de Silence, Boulanger (2018).

[images] (1) Malduit-Silence as a child between two minstrels. Illumination in Roman de Silence, Nottingham, University Library, MS WLC/LM/6, folio 203r. Queer Art History has other illuminations from this manuscript, including a depiction of Queen Eufeme attempting to force Malduit to have sex with her (folio 209r). On the paintings in this manuscript, Bolduc (2002). (2) Potiphar’s wife attempting to rape Joseph. Cf. Genesis 39:5-20. Painting “Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife” by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino, painted in 1649. Painting preserved as accession # 1986.17.2 in the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC). The National Gallery rightly recognizes this image to be in the public domain.


Bolduc, Michelle. 2002. “Images of Romance: The Miniatures of Le Roman de Silence.” Arthuriana. 12 (1): 101-112.

Boulanger, Jennifer. 2018. “Women Reading Silence in a Time of Social Fracture.” Medieval Studies Research Blog: Meet us at the Crossroads of Everything. Posted online October 12, 2018. Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame.

Farr, Jonanthan. 2017. “Gender-Bending in Thirteenth-Century Literature: The Roman de Silence.” Posted online Feb. 21, 2017. Nursing Clio.

Kinoshita, Sharon. 1995. “Heldris de Cornuälle’s Roman de Silence and the Feudal Politics of Lineage.” PMLA. 110 (3): 397-409.

Pitts, Jessica Renee. 2017. Sexual Assault and Masculinity in Chivalric Romance: Destabilizing the Rhetoric of Womanhood as Victimhood in the Middle Ages. Ph.D. Thesis, Department of English, Florida State University, USA.

Ravenhall, Henry. 2022. “The Date, Author, and Context of the Roman de Silence: A Reassessment.” Medium Ævum. 91 (1): 70–99.

Revelle, Anthony. 2018. “Looking at Failed Masculinity: An Attempt at Reading Medieval Sexuality.” Past Imperfect. 21 (1): 31-57.

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

Waters, Elizabeth A. 1997. “The Third Path: Alternative Sex, Alternative Gender in Le Roman De Silence.” Arthuriana. 7 (2): 35–46.

Watt, Diane. 1998. “Behaving Like a Man? Incest, Lesbian Desire, and Gender Play in Yde et Olive and its Adaptations.” Comparative Literature. 59 (4): 265-285.