forgiveness for men who castrate themselves under false religion

False religion has supported historically entrenched castration culture. Seeking to be righteous, believing that they must perform good deeds to be virtuous, men have destroyed their seminal blessing. When men act under false religion and castrate themselves like Galli servants to the mother goddess, they do grave wrong. Nonetheless, the ancient Acts of John, a popular work conveying the teachings of Jesus through his apostle John, shows that humble, godly repentance can redeem persons from horrible crimes — murder, necrophilia, and even delusional self-castration.

In the fourth century, the classically learned Roman Christian author Lactantius denounced horrors of castration within a society enthralled to false religion. After describing the sacrifice of two hundred children to the god Saturn, Lactantius declared:

men worshiping false god

In comparison to that type of offerings, no less insane must be judged other public offerings. One of them is to the Great Mother. In that rite, men propitiate with their own masculine genitals, and so by amputation make themselves neither men nor women. Other priests of the cult of Virtus, also called Bellona, sacrifice not others’ blood but their own. With their upper arms cut and waving drawn swords in either hand, they run around, are carried out, and become insane. Quintilian in his Fanatic said it best: “If a god wants those offerings, he’s angry!” Are these not also offerings? Is it not more satisfying to live in the manner of cattle than to revere gods so impious, so profane, and so bloody?

{ Ab isto genere sacrorum non minoris insaniae iudicanda sunt publica illa sacra, quorum alia sunt Matris, in quibus homines suis ipsi uirilibus litant — amputato enim sexu nec uiros se nec feminas faciunt — alia Virtutis, quam eandem Bellonam uocant, in quibus ipsi sacerdotes non alieno, sed suo cruore sacrificant. Sectis namque umeris et utraque manu districtos gladios exerentes currunt, ecferuntur insaniunt. Optime igitur Quintilianus in Fanatico, “Istud,” inquit, “si Deus cogit, iratus est.” Etiamne haec sacra sunt? Nonne satius est pecudum more uiuere quam deos tam inpios, tam profanos, tam sanguinarios colere? }[1]

Recognizing the true God’s seminal blessing, Lactantius referred to a man’s genitals as “the most sacred part of his body {sanctissima … corporis sui pars}.” Moreover, Lactantius didn’t pathologize men’s ardent love for women, but counseled moderation:

The Stoics therefore are mad. They seek not moderation of emotions, but their removal. The Stoics want in a way to castrate a man from things that he is by nature. It is just as if they should wish to withdraw fear from stags, poison from snakes, fierceness from wild beasts, or placidity from cattle.

{ Stoici ergo furiosi, qui ea non temperant, sed abscidunt rebusque natura insitis castrare hominem quodammodo uolunt. quod tale est, quale si uelint aut metum detrahere ceruis aut uenenum anguibus aut iram feris aut placiditatem pecudibus. }

Men’s genitals historically have been brutalized and disparaged. Jewish and Christian scriptures in contrast humanistically appreciate men’s genitals and the social value of men’s sexuality.

The second-century Christian Acts of John tells of sexually desperate men and forgiveness in the shocking story of Drusiana, Andronicus, and Callimachus. Andronicus was a general and a leading resident of Ephesus. After becoming a Christian, his wife Drusiana refused to have further sexual relations with him. Infuriated, Andronicus locked Drusiana in a tomb and declared that she either had to resume having sex with him, or die. She preferred to die. Andronicus surely felt in relation to his wife even more humiliated than Margery Kempe’s husband.

Drusiana was stronger than her husband, the eminent general Andronicus. She persuaded him to become a godly Christian and to accept sexless marriage to her. He then released her from the tomb. They both rose to new life as Christian spouses living together like sister and brother.

The leading Ephesian Callimachus subsequently burned with passion for Drusiana. She, who would not even have sex with her husband, refused to commit adultery. But she sympathized with the suffering of the lovesick Callimachus. She felt that she had become a stumbling block to him on his way to understanding true Christian love.[2] She thus prayed that she go to God from this earthly life. Sorrowing for Callimachus’s suffering in lovesickness, she soon died.

Callimachus refused to be defeated by death. He bribed Andronicus’s steward Fortunatus to take him inside Drusiana’s tomb so that he could rape her dead body. When they had undressed Drusiana’s body so that it was wearing only her shift, a serpent appeared. It killed Fortunatus. Then it coiled around Callimachus’s feet and caused him to fall. The serpent, typically associated with Satan, saved Drusiana from Callimachus’s necrophilia.

The next day, the apostle John, Andronicus, and other Christians went to Drusiana’s tomb to celebrate Mass for her. There they saw Drusiana’s open coffin, her body stripped down to her shift, and the bodies of Callimachus and Fortunatus. John raised Callimachus from the dead so that he could confess his horrific crime. Callimachus explained and begged:

When my soul was seized with mad passion and the incurable disease was troubling me, when I had already robbed her of the grave-clothes with which she was dressed, I went from the grave to put them down, as you see. I turned back to perpetrate the abominable deed. Then I saw a beautiful youth covering her with this cloak. Rays of light fell from his face upon her face. He also turned to me and said, “Callimachus, die so that you may live.” Who it was, servant of God, I knew not. Since you have come here, I know now that it was an angel of God. This I truly know — that you preach the true God. I am sure of it. But I pray that you act so that I may be delivered from this fate and this dreadful crime. Bring me to your God as a man who has gone astray in scandalous, abominable deceit. On my knees I ask for your help.

{ ὅτε μου ἡ ψυχὴ παρεῖχεν ἔννοια καὶ ἡ ἀκατάσχετος νόσος διώχλει, ἀποσυλήσαντός μου ἤδη ἅπερ ἦν ἠμφιεσμένη ἐντάφια, εἶτα δὲ ἀποβάντος μου τοῦ τάφου καὶ θεμένου μου αὐτὰ ὡς ὁρᾷς, ἀπῆλθον πάλιν ἐπὶ τῷ ἀποτροπαίῳ ἔργῳ· καὶ ὁρῶ τινα νεανίσκον εὔμορφον περισκέποντα αὐτὴν τῷ ἑαυτοῦ ἱματίῳ· οὗ ἀπὸ τῆς ὄψεως λαμπηδόνες φωτὸς ἐξήρχοντο εἰς τὰς ὄψεις αὐτῆς· ὅστις καὶ εἰς ἐμὲ ἔδωκε φωνὴν λέγων· Καλλίμαχε ἀπόθανε ἵνα ζήσῃς. Τίς μὲν οὖν ἦν οὐκ ᾔδειν δοῦλε τοῦ θεοῦ· ὅτι δὲ σοῦ ὀφθέντος ἐνθάδε γνωρίζω ἄγγελον αὐτὸν εἶναι θεοῦ εὖ οἶδα· τοῦτο δὲ ἀληθῶς ἐπίσταμαι ὅτι ἀληθὴς θεὸς ὑπὸ σοῦ καταγγέλλεται καὶ τοῦτο πέπεισμαι. ἀλλὰ κἀγὼ σὲ παρακαλῶ μὴ ἀμελήσῃς με ἀπὸ τοιαύτης συμφορᾶς καὶ τόλμης δεινῆς ἐλευθερῶσαι καὶ παραστῆσαι τῷ θεῷ σου ἄνθρωπον ἀπατηθέντα αἰσχρᾷ καὶ μυσαρᾷ ἀπάτῃ. βοηθείας οὖν δεόμενος παρὰ σοῦ ἅπτομαί σου τῶν ποδῶν. }[3]

The apostle John called down God’s mercy upon Callimachus. God delivered Callimachus from his insane love, forgave him for his necrophilia, and gave him rest and renewal of life. Witnessing to human forgiveness, Andronicus then promised Callimachus that he could have Drusiana as his wife after God resurrected her from the dead. That’s a fine Christian alternative to insane love and necrophilia.

Without forgiveness, horrific crimes can lead to even more horrific crimes. The Acts of John also tells of a young farmer whose father admonished him not to commit adultery with a neighbor’s wife. The young man, enraged at this exclusion, killed his father. The apostle John saw the young man running toward his neighbor’s house. The young man had a sickle in his belt. The holy man shouted:

Halt, you villainous demon! Where are you running with that bloodthirsty sickle?

{ Στῆθι σὺ δαῖμον ἀναιδέστατε, καὶ λέγε μοι ποῦ τὴν ὁρμὴν ἔχων φέρεις δρέπανον αἵματος ὀρεγόμενον }[4]

John had perceived what was in the young man’s heart:

The young man, confused, let his weapon drop to the ground. He said to John, “I have knowingly committed a monstrous, inhumane deed. I therefore resolved to do something more violent and more cruel to myself in order to die once for all. While my father always exhorted me to lead a chaste and honorable life, I could not tolerate his censure. I struck and killed him. When I saw what I had done, I intended to go to the woman on whose account I had become a father-killer and try to kill her, her husband, and finally myself. I could not bear her husband seeing me being executed.”

{ Καὶ ὁ νεανίσκος ταραχθεὶς καὶ τὸ σίδηρον εἰς γῆν ἀφεὶς εἶπεν αὐτῷ· Ἄθλιόν τι καὶ ἀπάνθρωπον διαπραξάμενος, καὶ ἐπιστάμενος, βιαιότερον τὸ κακὸν ἔκρινα πρᾶξαι καὶ ὠμότερον ἑαυτόν, ἀποθανεῖν ἅπαξ. τοῦ γὰρ πατρὸς ἀεὶ σωφρονίζοντός με ἀμοίχευτον βίον ἔχειν καὶ σεπτόν, νὴ φέρων αὐτὸν διελέγχοντά με λακτίσας αὐτὸν ἀπέκτεινα, καὶ ἰδὼν τὸ συμβὰν ἔσπευδον πρὸς τὴν γυναῖκα διʼ ἣν πατρὸς γέγονα φονεύς, καὶ αὐτὴν σφάξαι πειρώμενος καὶ τὸν ἄνδρα αὐτῆς καὶ ἐμαυτὸν ὕστερον πάντων, μὴ ὑποφέρων ὁραθῆναι τῷ τῆς γυναικὸς ἀνδρί, δίκην θανάτου ὑπομένων. }

John told the young man to come with him to see his father. John declared that he would raise the father from the dead if the young man would stay away from his neighbor’s wife, who was dangerous to his soul’s salvation. The young man agreed.

With John’s prayer to God, the father rose from the dead. The father then sat down and complained:

I was delivered from a life of the most fearful pain. I had to suffer many grievous abuses and unkindness from my son. Now, man of the living God, you have called me back to life. To what purpose?

{ Ἀπηλλαγμένον με βίου δεινοτάτου καὶ ὕβρεις υἱοῦ ἐπιφέροντα δεινὰς καὶ πολλὰς, καὶ φιλοστοργίαν μετεκαλέσω ἄνθρωπε τοῦ θεοῦ τοῦ ζῶντος ἐπὶ τίνι }

Resurrection doesn’t appeal immediately to persons whose earthly lives are miserable. John proclaimed to the father the central Christian message: rise to a better life! John taught the father about God’s mercy. The father believed. He understood that life could be good.

The young man was overjoyed to see his father risen from the dead. But his joy and newly found respect for his father’s teaching was impulsively misdirected:

When the young man saw the unexpected resurrection of his father and realized his own salvation, he took the sickle and cut off his own genitals. Running into the house where his adulteress was, he flung his severed genitals at her and said, “On your account I became a father-killer, and would have killed you two also, and myself. Here is the cause of it all. God has had mercy upon me, and I have seen his power.”

{ Ὁ δὲ νεανίσκος θεασάμενος τὴν ἀπροσδόκητον τοῦ πατρὸς ἀνάστασιν καὶ τὴν ἑαυτοῦ σωτηρίαν, λαβὼν δρέπανον τὰ ἑαυτοῦ μόρια ἀφείλατο, καὶ δραμὼν εἰς τὴν οἰκίαν ἐν ᾗ τὴν μοιχαλίδα εἶχεν, εἰς ὄψιν αὐτῆς προσέρριψεν εἰπών· Διὰ σὲ πατρὸς φονεὺς καὶ ὑμῶν τῶν δύο καὶ ἐμαυτοῦ ἐγενόμην. ἔχεις τὰ τούτῳ ὅμοια καὶ αἴτια. ἐμὲ γὰρ ὁ θεὸς ἠλέησεν ἐπιγνῶναι αὐτοῦ τὴν δύναμιν. }

Even men who have turned from false religion are vulnerable to castration culture. As a good father should do, the apostle John admonished the young man for his wrong deed:

Young man, the one who induced you to kill your father and to become the lover of another man’s wife has also made you cut off your genitals, as if that were a righteous deed. But you should not have destroyed the place of your temptation, but the thought that showed its orientation through your genitals. For a man’s organs are not hurtful to him, but the hidden springs by which every shameful inclination is stirred and becomes manifest. My son, repent therefore this fault and recognize Satan’s devices. You shall have God to help you in all that your soul needs.

{ Ὁ ὑποβαλών σοι νεανίσκε τὸν πατέρα σου ἀποκτεῖναι καὶ μοιχὸν ἀλλοτρίας γυναικὸς γενέσθαι, οὗτός σοι ὡς δίκαιον ἔργον καὶ τὸ ἀφελεῖν τὰ ἄκαιρα ἐποίησεν. ἔδει δέ σε οὐχὶ τοὺς τόπους ἀφανίσαι, ἀλλὰ τὴν ἔννοιαν, ἥτις διὰ τῶν μορίων ἐκείνων ἐδείκνυτο χαλεπαίνουσα· οὐ γὰρ τὰ ὄργανά ἐστι βλαπτικὰ τῷ ἀνθρώπῳ ἀλλʼ αἱ ἀφανεῖς πηγαὶ διʼ ὧν πᾶσα κίνησις αἰσχρὰ κινεῖται καὶ εἰς τὸ φανερὸν πρόεισιν. μετεγνωκὼς οὖν τέκνον ἐπὶ τῇ τοιαύτῃ αἰτίᾳ καὶ καταμαθὼν τὰς τοῦ Σατανᾶ τέχνας ἔχεις τὸν θεὸν βοηθοῦντά σοι εἰς πάντα τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς σου ἐγχειρίζοντα. }[5]

Men would be less likely to blame their genitals for evil acts if the culture as a whole didn’t. Castration culture is Satanic. It’s false religion of a horrible sort.

castration of the god Ouranos, who is eating a child

O wretched human mind, O blinded hearts!
What life in shadows, with many perils —
our span of time passes in unsatisfied striving.

{ o miseras hominum mentes, o pectora caeca!
qualibus in tenebris vitae quantisque periclis
degitur hoc aevi quod cumquest }[6]

The young man repented of having wrongly castrated himself. He obtained forgiveness through the goodness of God. Respecting men’s genitals was important Christian teaching more than 1800 years ago. That’s important teaching for everyone today. Directed wisely and without regard for false religion, men’s genitals can be firm organs for good!

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Lactantius / Lucius Caecilius Firmianus, Divine Institutes {Institutiones Divinae} 1.21.16-17, Latin text from Brandt & Laubnamm (1890), English translation (modified) from McDonald (1964).

Lactantius apparently began composing his Institutiones Divinae about 304 GC. That work was in its final form before 314 GC. It was widely known in medieval Europe and has been transmitted well to the present. Institutiones Divinae survives in many manuscripts, the earliest of which date to the fifth and sixth century. Bowen & Garnsey (2003) p. xi.

Lactantius is thought to have lived from about 250 GC to 325 GC. He born in Africa, probably in present-day Tunisia. He grew to be regarded an eminent rhetor throughout the Roman Empire. He was appointed to the chair of Latin rhetoric in Nicomedia in Bithynia in northwest Asia Minor. Lactantius converted to Christianity about 300 GC in his late middle age. He subsequently served as a tutor to the son of the first Christian emperor Constantine I.

Bowen & Garnsey (2003) provides an alternate English translation that follows the Latin less closely. The English translation of Fletcher (1886) is freely available. The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from Institutiones Divinae, 5.9.17 (the most sacred part of his body) and 6.15.3 (The Stoics therefore are mad…).

[2] Cf. Romans 14:13, 1 John 2:10.

[3] Acts of John {Acta Ioannis}, section 76, ancient Greek text from Lipsius, Bonnet & Tischendorf (1898), English translation (modified slightly) from Elliott (1993), with the modifications benefiting from the English translation of Schneemelcher & Wilson (2003).

This story is commonly called “Drusiana and Callimachus.” It apparently existed in a fuller version. The Acts of John incorporates only fragments of the full story. “Drusiana and Callimachus” has similarities with elements of the Hellenistic biblical novel about Joseph and Aseneth. Bolyki (1995) p. 30. In the tenth century, the great medieval author Hrotsvit of Gandersheim wrote a dramatic version of “Drusiana and Callimachus.”

The currently best edition of the Acts of John is Junod & Kaestli (1983). Here’s a reading aid for the ancient Greek. The English translation of James (1924) is freely available online.

[4] Acts of John, section 49, sourced as previously. The story is commonly called “Conversion of a Parricide.” Subsequently quotes above are similarly from Acts of John, sections 49 (The young man, confused…), 52 (I was delivered from a life of the most fearful pain…), 53 (When the young man saw the unexpected resurrection of his father…), 54 (Young man, the one who induced you to kill your father…).

[5] Bolyki (1995), p. 24, wrongly states, “John does not condemn the self-castration of the young man.” John condemns the young man’s self-castration, but forgives the young man for that sin. Bremmer observed:

It seems noteworthy that although John disapproved of this act, nevertheless he did not heal the youth but accepted him as he was.

Bremmer (1995b) p. 53. Being castrated does not in itself separate a man from the love of God. See, e.g. the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8:26-40.

[6] Lucretius, On the nature of things {De rerum natura} 2.14-16h, Latin text from Rouse & Smith (2002), my English translation, benefiting from those of id. and Esolen (1995). Despite his great learning and his insight into false religion, Lucretius lacked appreciation for bodily penetration.

[images] (1) Men worshiping false god. Illustration from manuscript instance of Lactantius’s Institutiones Divinae made in 1432. From folio 1r of MS Florence, Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana, Plut.21.6. (2) Castration of the god Ouranos. Ouranos is eating a child. Venus is bathing in a nearby river. A man (a figure of Jupiter) seems to be castrating Ouranos to protect Venus from him. That’s not the story of Hesiod’s Theogony. From a manuscript that Antitus Faure composed about the year 1500. He was chaplain to the Dukes of Burgundy and Savoy and to the Prince-Bishop Aymon de Montfaucon. Antitus Faure dedicated this book to Prince-Bishop Aymon de Montfaucon. Image excerpted from folio 18 of MS. Chavannes-près-Renens (Switzerland), Archives cantonales vaudoises, P Antitus.


Bolyki, János. 1995. “Miracle stories in the Acts of John.” Chapter 2 (pp. 15-35) in Bremmer (1995a).

Bowen, Anthony, and Peter Garnsey, trans. 2003. Lactantius: Divine Institutes. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Brandt, Samuel, and Georg Laubnamm, eds. 1890. Lactantius. Opera Omnia. Pars I. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum. Volume 19. Vienna, Prague, Leipzig.

Bremmer, Jan N, ed. 1995a. The Apocryphal Acts of John. Kampen the Netherlands: Kok Pharos.

Bremmer, Jan N. 1995b. “Women in the Apocryphal Acts of John.” Chapter 3 (pp. 37-56) in Bremmer (1995a).

Elliott, J. K. 1993. The Apocryphal New Testament: A Collection of Apocryphal Christian Literature in an English Translation. Oxford, New York: Clarendon Press, Oxford University Press.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 1995. Lucretius. On the Nature of Things: De rerum natura. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Fletcher, William, trans. 1886. Lactantius. The Divine Institutes. Ante-Nicene Fathers. Vol. 7. Edited by Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe. Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Publishing Co.

James, M. R, trans. 1924. The Apocryphal New Testament. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Junod, Éric, and Jean-Daniel Kaestli, eds. 1983. Acta Iohannis. Turnhout: Brepols.

Lipsius Richard Adelbert, Max Bonnet, and Constantin von Tischendorf, eds. 1898. Acta Apostolorum Apocrypha. Volume 2, Part 1. Lipsiae: H. Mendelssohn.

McDonald, Mary Francis, trans. 1964. Lactantius. The Divine Institutes. Books I-VII. The Fathers of the Church: A New Translation. Volume 49. Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press.

Rouse, W. H. D., and Martin Ferguson Smith, eds. and trans. 2002. Lucretius. De rerum natura. Loeb Classical Library 181. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Schneemelcher, Wilhelm, and R. McL Wilson, trans. 2003. New Testament Apocrypha. Revised edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

lechery of Viking god Odin dull relative to Jupiter

While married to his vicious sister Juno, the Roman nominal chief god Jupiter engaged in numerous extramarital sexual affairs. For example, he showered down as gold upon princess Danae, transformed himself into a bull to copulate with Europa, and incinerated Semele at her ambitious request.[1] The Viking nominal chief god Odin, in contrast, was repeatedly humiliated in his unimaginative attempts to have sex with the Ruthenian princess Rindr.

Odin first tried becoming a military leader. Disguising himself as a highly experienced soldier, Odin offered to serve the Ruthenian king. The king made him a general. After leading a glorious victory over the king’s enemies, Odin became highly honored:

Because of what Odin’s battle had accomplished, the king raised him to the first rank of royal friendship, scarcely less with gifts than with honorable decorations. After a small interval of time, Odin alone forced the enemy line into a flight of amazing defeat and returned to announce it. Everyone was astonished that one man could have taken up a massacre of such innumerably many men.

{ Quem rex ob pugnam strenue editam in primum amicitiae gradum ascivit, haud parcius donis quam honoribus cultum. Idem post parvulum temporis intervallum solus hostium acies in fugam propulit mirificaeque cladis auctor pariter ac nuntius rediit. Admirationi omnibus erat, quod tanta de innumeris strages unius accipi viribus potuisset. }[2]

chief Viking god Odin

The hero Odin was encouraged by the king to seek his daughter Rindr’s love. Young women in the ancient world, however, weren’t timid even in relation to a highly decorated general:

Invigorated by the king’s most kindly encouragement, Odin then attempted to kiss the young woman. He received a slap on his face.

{ Cuius benignissimo favore recreatus, dum a puella osculum peteret, alapam recepit. }[3]

Rindr thus decisively rejected the chief god Odin in the disguise of an eminent general.

Odin refused to bow to Rindr’s rejection of him. He disguised himself as a highly skilled, foreign-born metal worker:

Having constructed numerous things of shaped bronze with very beautiful features, he promoted his skilled profession to such an extent that he received from the king a large amount of gold. The king ordered him to produce ornaments for the royal women. He therefore constructed many emblems for feminine adornment. Eventually he presented to the young woman Rindr a bracelet finished with more work than the rest and many rings intricately twisted with equal effort.

{ Itaque multiplices rerum formas speciosissimis aeris lineamentis complexus adeo professionem artificio commendavit, ut, recepto a rege magno ponderis auro, matronarum ornamenta procudere iuberetur. Igitur complura feminei cultus insignia fabricatus tandem armillam ceteris operosius expolitam annulosque complures pari studio decusatos puellae praebuit. }

Providing gifts of exquisite jewelry didn’t take him into this young woman’s heart:

Her disdain could not be bent by any of his works. Whenever he desired to offer her a kiss, Rindr banged him with her fist.

{ nullis flecti meritis indignatio potest. Quem Rinda basium sibi porrigere cupientem colapho percussit. }

Rindr realized that the metal-working man generous with his jewelry was seeking her sexual favor. She wouldn’t sell herself for sumptuous gifts.

Odin tried again. This time he became a rugged, horse-born warrior. He proudly displayed to all his horsemanship and martial courage. He was ready to topple any man in a joust.[4] Rindr wasn’t impressed:

One day when departing, he wished to beg a kiss. From her in response came such a push that falling, he banged his chin on the ground.

{ Quam cum discessurus osculo petere vellet, ita ab ea propulsus est, ut mentum terrae nutabundus impingeret. }

The skilled knight shouldn’t have stuck his chin out for a kiss. Rindr wasn’t a phony Hollywood woman action-hero. She was a Viking princess as represented in thirteenth-century Latin literature. Attractive young women like Rindr have always ruled, even in force of arms.

Odin gazing obliquely

Odin then disguised himself as a woman. He claimed that he was Wecha, a female physician like the illustrious Calabre of Paris. He could do as a woman what he was never able to do as a man:

Eventually he was accepted into the queen’s service and acted as the young woman’s female attendant. He used to wash dirt from her feet in the evening hours. As he applied water to her feet, he was permitted to touch her calves and the upper part of her thighs.

{ Tandem in reginae famulitium ascitus puellae pedissequam egit. Cuius etiam pedum sordes serotinis horis abluere solebat; licebat quoque lympham pedibus ministranti suras ac superiores femorum partes contingere. }[5]

One day Rindr became sick. Odin as her female physician Wecha prescribed a medicine that he said would be so bitter that Rindr must be tied to her bed to receive it. According to the fake female physician:

From her innermost fibers must be expelled the material of her disease.

{ Ab intimis enim fibris morbi propulsandam esse materiam. }

Her foolish father believed the medical expert’s prescription:

His daughter Rindr was seized, bound to a bed, and ordered not to resist, but to submit patiently to all that the physician would apply. The pretense of feminine attire that the old man Odin employed obscured his perverted art and deceived the king. A matter of apparent medicine was transmuted into a license for rape. Having changed his business of treatment, the physician took up the opportunity for sex. Prior to engaging in the occupation of dispelling the young woman’s fever, he first exerted himself in lust. He used illness against the young women, who in good health he had experienced as his foe.

{ filiam vincire non distulit iniectamque toro ad omnia, quae medicus admovisset, patientiam praestare iussit. Fallebat illum feminei species cultus, quo senex ad obumbrandam artis suae pervicaciam utebatur; quae res medicamenti speciem ad stupri licentiam transtulit. Medicus namque, Veneris occasione sumpta, mutato curationis officio, prius ad exercendae libidinis quam pellendae febris negotium procurrit, adversa puellae valetudine usus, cuius inimicam sibi incolumitatem expertus fuerat. }[6]

Few mortal men would rape a woman in any circumstances. The chief Viking god Odin had a ill woman tied her to a bed so that he could rape her. That’s remarkably dull magic for a god. It shows Odin to be a pathetic and evil being.

Odin’s wicked sexual deed threatened to discredit all of traditional Viking religion. A widely disseminated myth recounted that a young man as a medical student had resurrected a dead princess with erotic treatment. Odin’s treatment of Rindr was morally much worse. That mattered:

So the gods, whose principal seat was thought to be in Byzantium, discerning Odin to have stained the glory of majesty and divinity by his various failings, led to have him removed from their college. He was not only ejected from his preeminence, but also stripped of his household honor and worship and arranged to be outlawed. The gods estimated it to be better for a disgraced high priest to be removed from power than to have public religion profaned. They also did not want to be implicated in another god’s wicked crime and to have their innocent names punished. Moreover, seeing about them that those who had been seduced into giving them worship and honor of divinity, through common mockery of the greater god were changing reverence to contempt. People were becoming ashamed of their religion. Sacred rites were being led into sacrilege, and people were regarding solemn religious ceremonies fixed in place as childish absurdities. Before the gods’ eyes was death. Fear was in their spirits, and you would have thought that the fault of a single god was returning upon the heads of them all.

{ At dii, quibus praecipua apud Byzantium sedes habebatur, Othinum variis maiestatis detrimentis divinitatis gloriam maculasse cernentes collegio suo submovendum duxerunt. Nec solum primatu eiectum, sed etiam domestico honore cultuque spoliatum proscribendum curabant, satius existimantes probrosi antistitis potentiam subrui quam publicae religionis habitum profanari, ne vel ipsi alieno crimine implicati insontes nocentis nomine punirentur. Videbant enim apud eos, quos ad deferendos sibi divinitatis honores illexerant, vulgato maioris dei ludibrio, obsequium contemptu, religionem rubore mutari, sacra pro sacrilegio duci, statas sollemnesque caerimonias puerilium deliramentorum loco censeri. Mors prae oculis, metus in animis erat, et in omnium caput unius culpam recidere putares. }[7]

The ruling powers are always most concerned about preserving their privileges. So it is in the leading institutions of dominant ideology today.

Why wasn’t the Roman chief god Jupiter deposed for his sexual outrages as was the Viking chief god Odin? Even among gods, credit for a husband’s success is usually attributed to his wife. Jupiter’s wife Juno was at the center of Roman community and family and honored in seven festivals per year. As the Aeneid makes clear, Juno was in practice the most powerful Roman deity. She had no need to encourage the other gods to nominally depose Jupiter so as to enhance her own power.

Odin’s wife Frigg, in contrast, was less well-positioned gynocentrically. While Frigg and Odin squabbled and took different sides as they intervened in mortal affairs, just as did Juno and Jupiter, Frigg was much less prominent than Odin in Old Norse religion. Surviving Old Norse literature says little about Frigg. According to modern scholarship, she was a strong, independent, sexually promiscuous goddess.[8] When a golden statue was erected to Odin in Uppsala, Frigg contrived to have it converted into jewelry for her:

Odin’s wife Frigg, so that she could walk forth better adorned, arranged for artisans to strip the statue of gold for jewelry. Odin had them killed by hanging, and he had the statue placed on a pedestal. Moreover, marvelous work of craft made the statue respond to human touch with a voice. Nonetheless Frigg, placing the splendor of her own attire before her husband’s divine honors, contrived to have herself raped by one of her household servant-men. By his cunning the effigy was demolished, and the gold that had been consecrated to public superstition was converted into an instrument for her private pleasure.

{ Cuius coniunx Frigga, quo cultior progredi posset, accitis fabris aurum statuae detrahendum curavit. Quibus Othinus suspendio consumptis statuam in crepidine collocavit, quam etiam mira artis industria ad humanos tactus vocalem reddidit. At nihilominus Frigga, cultus sui nitorem divinis mariti honoribus anteponens, uni familiarium se stupro subiecit; cuius ingenio simulacrum demolita aurum publicae superstitioni consecratum ad privati luxus instrumentum convertit. }[9]

Teach goddesses not to get themselves raped for their personal advantage! Frigg’s actions so embarrassed Odin that he voluntarily went into exile. He returned only after Frigg had died. Juno never sought to humiliate Jupiter to the extent that Frigg undermined and humiliated Odin.

Jupiter didn’t ultimately remain the nominal chief god in the land of the Roman Empire. The son of a carpenter from the dusty town of Nazareth eventually discredited Jupiter and all the other Roman gods. Jesus didn’t, however, change the powerful force of men’s desire for women. Such desire is evident not only in the behavior of the gods Jupiter and Odin, but also in that of the great tribal founder Jacob and the great king David.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] A lovesick Roman poet writing probably in the first century even went so far as to describe his beloved Lydia as worthy of Jupiter’s amorous attention:

Yet my dying limbs are wasting with grief,
and warmth fails me, steeped in death’s chill,
because my lady-lord isn’t with me. No young woman
on earth was more learned or more lovely. And if
the tale isn’t false, as worthy of Jove as bull or bullion
(Jupiter, avert your ear) my young woman alone is.

{ at male tabescunt morientia membra dolore,
et calor infuso decedit frigore mortis,
quod mea non mecum domina est: non ulla puella
doctior in terris fuit aut formosior, ac, si
fabula non vana est, tauro Iove digna vel auro
(Iuppiter, avertas aurem) mea sola puella est. }

Virgilian Supplement {Appendix Virgiliana}, Lydia, incipit “I envy you, you fields and lovely meadows {Invideo vobis, agri formosaque prata},” vv. 23-7, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Fairclough & Goold (1918).

[2] Saxo Grammaticus, Deeds of the Danes {Gesta Danorum}, Latin text from Olrik & Raeder (1931), my English translation, benefiting from that of Davidson & Fisher (1979-80). For a freely available, online English translation, Elton (1894). Subsequent quotes from Gesta Danorum are similarly sourced from 3.4.1-9, unless otherwise noted.

Odin (Óðinn / Woden) sought to have sex with Rindr (Rinda / Rind) to fulfill a prophecy. That prophecy declared that Odin and Rindr would conceive a son who would avenge the death of Odin’s son Baldr. Baldr’s brother Hod (Höðr) had killed him through the guile of Loki. By Odin, Rindr had a son named Váli or Bous. He avenged Baldr’s death by killing Hod. Men’s deaths attract little social concern relative to the rape of a woman. For a motif analysis of the Baldr myth, Rooth (1961), Chapter 10.

[3] Odin also suffered sexual rejection from Billingr’s daughter. He ardently desired her:

The daughter of Billingr
I found in bed,
shining like the sun, sleeping.
No earl’s pleasure
I imagined could be,
except to live beside that

{ Billings mey
ek fann beðiom á
sólhvíta sofa.
Iarls ynði
þótti mér ekki vera,
nema við þat lík at lifa. }

Hávamál 97, Old Norse text and English translation from Dronke (2011). The daughter of Billingr encouraged him to come to her at night. But when he did, he found a band of warriors with blazing torches ready to punish him. Nonetheless, later he tried again:

And close to morning,
when I’d come again,
then the household were asleep.
Then I found a bitch
tethered on the bed
of that good girl.

{ Ok nær morni, Óðinn
er ek var enn um kominn,
þá var saldrótt um sofin.
Grey eitt ek þá fann
ennar góðar kono
bundit beðiom á. }

Hávamál 101, sourced as previously. Men have long been disparaged as being sexually like dogs. Billingr’s daughter conveyed to Odin a message that surely bit and hurt him.

Billingr's daughter humiliating Odin with dog

[4] Medieval romance associated men’s prowess in killing other men with gaining women’s love. When the mighty warrior Ille helped the Romans defeat the Greeks, three thousand Roman women in a nearby Roman castle applauded his exploits:

If he had stayed for 15 days,
he would not have been lacking in love-affairs.
Many woman there would have sought to be his lover.

{ Se il demorast .xv. jours,
ne fust pas sofraitex d’amors:
requis i fust de mainte amie. }

Gautier d’Arras, Ille and Galeron {Ille et Galeron} vv. 3057-9, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Eley (1996). Odin sought to make himself as sexually desirable to Rindr as Ille was to the Roman women.

[5] Cross-dressing in pursuit of amorous affairs is a well-established motif in medieval literature. Hagbard disguised himself as a Viking woman-warrior to gain access to his beloved Signe. So too did Floire to gain access to his imprisoned, beloved Blancheflor. Cross-dressing helped to expose the problem of false accusations of rape, such as in the cases of Saint Eugenia and Saint Marina.

Odin apparently was known for cross-dressing as part of shamanic activity. Poetic Edda, Lokasenna 24, discussed in Varley (2015) pp. 84-6.

[6] Alternate accounts exist of Odin’s sexual affair with Rindr. Saxo reported that some say that the Ruthenian king “permitted Odin to acquire Rindr by secret sexual intercourse {clandestino filiae concubitu potiri permiserit}.” Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, Latin text from Olrik & Raeder (1931), my English translation, benefiting from that of Davidson & Fisher (1979-80). Odin was known to use spells and charms. Poetic Edda, Lokasenna 24. Another source states, “Odin won Rindr by magic {Seið Yggr til Rindar}.” Kormákr Ögmundarson, Skáldskaparmál 9.12, discussed in Varley (2015) pp. 78-9.

Under today’s elite standard, literature referring to a male having sex with a female should be interpreted to mean that he raped her, unless it’s clear beyond reasonable doubt that he didn’t. That elite standard supports the massively gender-disproportionate imprisonment of men. Nonetheless, I’ve followed that elite standard by referring to Odin having raped Rindr.

[7] In addition to raping Rindr, Odin engaged in “a string of sexual peccadilloes with a variety of female creatures, notably giantesses.” Orchard (1997) p. 123. Wanner declared:

While like any god worthy of the name, Óðinn offered adherents an elevated image of themselves, his was a more realistic than idealized reflection. Óðinn was a god whose nature and experiences closely paralleled his followers’ own, up to and including the qualities of itinerancy and transience. The difference, in short, separating Óðinn from humans was quantitative, not qualitative.

Wanner (2007) p. 349. That’s another example of anti-meninism. Not all men are like that. Some men don’t have sex with any women. Moreover, Odin should be credited with not being intimidated by large women, as many human men are.

[8] On the relative scarcity of references to Frigg (Frea) in Old Norse literature, Varley (21015) p. 137.

Testifying to early medieval perception of Frigg’s character, the Old English word “frīġedæġ {day of Frigg}” came to replace the Latin phrase “Veneris dies {day of Venus}” and led to the modern English word “Friday.” Venus was the Roman goddess of love. When Odin was away on a long trip, Frigg reportedly had sex with both her brothers-in-law. Poetic Edda, Lokasenna 26, and Ynglinga saga 3. For Old Norse text and analysis, Varley (2015) pp. 144-6.

Much like the great woman leader Empress Theodora, “that Frigg is in fact empowered by her sexual relationships would seem to be evident.” She was “a sexually confident being who is adept at manipulating the sexual desires of the opposite gender for personal gain, and by implication personal enjoyment.” Id. p. 146. But she would never rape a man, and if she did, that action wouldn’t be recognized as a crime. Ignoring anti-men gender bias in penal punishment, “she is a figure not unlike Óðinn himself.” Id. p. 158.

Although Frigg and Odin were married, they maintained separate residences. Frigg resided in Fensalir, where she ruled over her own servants. She was the hierarchical leader of the goddesses of the Ásynjur, a gender-exclusive society. Odin, in contrast, resided in Valhöll. Both male and female divinities were included in the divine society known as Æsir.

Frigg has sometimes been regarded as the same as the Viking goddess Freyja. Many goddesses, however, have existed, both in women’s own minds and men’s perceptions. Moreover, careful study indicates that Frigg and Freyja differed. Ásdísardóttir (2006). Ásdísardóttir frankly observed:

The idea and hypothesis of one Great Goddess is understandable for its times as a means of unifying international womanhood, but it must also be seen as being somewhat simple and overgeneralised.

Id. p. 417. Writing tendentiously from an anti-meninist perspective, Wylie nonetheless triumphantly concluded, “the goddess will survive, she will endure and she will thrive.” Wylie (2019) p. 59. A recent blockbuster exhibit at the British Museum certainly supports that view.

Frigg was wonderfully dynamic and shrewdly responsive to circumstances. She both fulfilled and subverted:

Frigg, for example, can be seen to be adept at fulfilling or subverting the role of a queen-figure (inasmuch as she is the legitimate wife of a god who occupies the highest position of sovereignty amongst the gods) to match whatever is beneficial to her

Varley (2015) p. 32. Moreover, even though patriarchy has crushed all women throughout what’s oppressively known as history, Frigg somehow managed to shame her husband:

Frigg is presented as independent of will, and entirely willing to challenge her husband: his failure to bend her entirely to his will, or to perceive that she has such a degree of independence, reflects poorly on his characteristic enactment of patriarchal principles.

Varley (2015) p. 139. You go goddess! You could enact patriarchal principles better than he could! Very well-educated in dominant ideology, Varley learnedly observed:

As a means of concluding this section on Frigg, it would be appropriate to sum up the evidence given above, and consequently suggest some ways in which Frigg is portrayed as an empowered being. … there is a form of negotiation going on between male and female figures in order to decide the exact role and nature of the empowered woman in a phallocentric society.

Varley (2015) pp. 157, 297. Such scholarly effort indicates a young person’s potential to serve effectively the ruling party. While immersed and schooled in the anti-meninism of modern academic literature, he wrote:

In some cases, the literature gives us women who are so adept at manoeuvring themselves … that the male figures with whom they interact seem unaware of how the women are manipulating them.

Id. p. 13. That was a mistake, a slip. He didn’t mean it. He doesn’t believe it!

[9] Saxo Grammaticus, Gesta Danorum, Latin text from Olrik & Raeder (1931), my English translation, benefiting from that of Davidson & Fisher (1979-80).

[images] (1) Viking chief god Odin with his ravens. Illustration made by Jakob Sigurðsson in 1760. From folio 94r of MS. Copenhagen: Det Kongelige Bibliotek. NKS 1867 4to, via MyNDIR (My Norse Digital Image Repository). (2) Odin gazing obliquely. Illustration (detail) made in 1680. From folio 33v of Reykjavik: Stofnun Árna Magnússonar í íslenskum fræðum. AM 738 4to, via MyNDIR. (3) Billingr’s daughter humiliating love-seeking god Odin with a dog. Illustration by Lorenz Frølich on p. 104 of Gjellerup (1895), via Wikimedia Commons.


Ásdísardóttir, Ingunn. 2006. “Frigg and Freyja: One Great Goddess or Two?” Pp. 417-25 in John McKinnell, David Ashurst and Donata Kick, eds. The Fantastic In Old Norse / Icelandic Literature: Preprint Papers of the 13th International Saga Conference, Durham and York, 6th-12th August, 2006. Durham, UK: The Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies. Alternate source.

Davidson, Hilda Ellis, commentary, and Peter Fisher, trans. 1979-80. Saxo Grammaticus. History of the Danes. Vol. 1 (English translation). Vol. 2 (commentary). Cambridge, GB: D.S. Brewer.

Dronke, Ursula, ed. and trans. 2011. The Poetic Edda. Volume III, Mythological Poems II. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Eley, Penny, ed. and trans. 1996. Gautier d’Arras. Ille et Galeron. London: King’s College London, Centre for Late Antique & Medieval Studies.

Elton, Oliver. 1894. The First Nine Books of the Danish History of Saxo Grammaticus. London: D. Nutt. Alternate presentation.

Fairclough, H. Rushton, revised by G. P. Goold. 1918. Virgil. Aeneid: Books 7-12. Appendix Vergiliana. Loeb Classical Library 64. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Gjellerup, Karl, trans. 1895. Den Aeldre Eddas Gudesange Oversatte Samt Indledede Og Forklarede {The Elder Edda’s hymns translated as well as introduced and explained}. With drawings by Lorenz Frølich. Kjøbenhavn: P.G. Philipsen.

Olrik, Jørgen and Hans Raeder, eds. 1931. Saxo Grammaticus. Gesta danorum. Hauniae, Levin & Munksgaard.

Orchard, Andy. 1997. Dictionary of Norse Myth and Legend: Legends of Gods and Heroes. London: Cassell.

Rooth, Anna Birgitta. 1961. Loki in Scandinavian Mythology. Lund: C.W.K. Gleerup.

Varley, David Hugh. 2015. The Whirling Wheel: the male construction of empowered female identities in Old Norse myth and legend. Ph.D. Thesis, Durham University.

Wanner, Kevin J. 2007. “God on the Margins: Dislocation and Transience in the Myths of Óðinn.” History of Religions. 46 (4): 316–50.

Wylie, Ellis B. 2019. A Full(a) Roster: Re-addressing the Ásynjur in Snorra Edda and Beyond. M.Phil. Dissertation, Department of Anglo-Saxon, Norse & Celtic, University of Cambridge.

Galeron & Ganor show medieval women’s initiative in love with men

Some women today expect men to do dirty, dangerous jobs such as garbage collecting, home repair, construction work, and infantry war-fighting. Some women today also expect men to take the initiative in amorous relationships, struggle through arduous love quests, and unconditionally support women’s choices. In contrast to the passive complacency of too many gender-privileged women today, medieval women tended to be active and generous in love for men. In particular, the women-heroes Galeron and Ganor in Gautier d’Arras twelfth-century romance Ille and Galeron {Ille et Galeron} vigorously and courageously loved the knight Ille.

Galeron, the daughter of the Count of Brittany, ardently loved the relatively lowly Ille. He was merely the son of the knight Eliduc. Rejecting much more eminent suitors, she married him. Ille nonetheless lacked self-esteem as a man. When he lost an eye in a joust, he left Galeron for fear that she would no longer love him. He told no one where he was going. He himself didn’t know.

Seeking her beloved Ille, Galeron quested around the whole known world. She borrowed a thousand marks against her land, gathered fourteen knights to protect her, and set out to find her husband:

They crossed the sea by ship
and arrived in Great Britain.
They went to the great mountain
in Wales, then crossed to Ireland,
then back to Northumberland.
All of the Scotland they then searched,
then rode through Norway,
then searched all of Denmark
and countless lands and marshes,
all of Frisia and Hungary,
Saxony and the whole of Slavonia,
but in vain they searched for him there.

{ et il passent mer a navie
et vienent en le grant Bretaigne;
en Gales a le grant montagne
vienent, puis passent en Illande,
puis revont en Nohuberlande ;
trestote Escoce ont puis cerquie,
puis ont Norouerge travescie,
puis cerkent tote Danemarce
et tante tere et tante marce,
trestote Frise et Hongerie,
Saissone et tote Esclavonie;
mais por noient le quierent la }[1]

They kept searching for Ille amid great danger until all the fourteen men protecting Galeron had been killed. They didn’t find Ille. He had made his way to Rome.

Galeron grieved for losing Ille and the fourteen knights who had served her. She understood that men’s lives matter. She understood that she, in her privileged position, was complicit in losing those men:

This much happened all by my sin —
that Ille felt so afflicted
because he had lost his eye.
God hates very much pride in women.
That can be seen well from the first woman.
And I am well-accustomed
to parading in squirrel fur and gray fur,
and dressed in very costly silk,
and wearing my laced robes and braids.
Much have I, also, to amend.
Because of me it was that Ille fled,
Because of me dead and buried are
those men who went with me to look for him.
Now I must pray to the Mother of God
and meekly to the apostle
that he would give me penance.

{ car ce mut tot par mon pecié
k’Illes se tint si a courcié
de ce qu’il ot perdu son oel.
Que Dix het mout en feme orgoel,
ce parut bien a le premiere,
et je sui assés costumiere
de traïner et vair et gris
et dras de soie de grant pris,
de moi lacier et de bender;
assés ai, lasse, a amender.
Par moi fu k’Illes s’en fuï,
par moi sont mort et enfoï
cil qui o moi l’alerent querre.
Or m’estuet Damediu requere
et l’apostole en passïence
que il me doigne penitence. }

Galeron thus journeyed to Rome. She told the pope about all that had happened. She confessed the sin of pride. The pope absolved her and gave her a light penance.

Galeron imposed on herself a harsh penance. A highly privileged woman who never previously worked for a living, she began to work as seamstress in a humble lodging in Rome. She prudently rented her lodging from a worthy, high-ranking Roman man. Many Roman men sought Galeron’s love. She rejected all of them. Her landlord ensured that no man would dare to attempt to rape her, a crime that few men would commit in any case. Galeron occupied herself with sewing and attending morning and evening church services. She had completely changed her life on her own initiative.

Much of Rome was meanwhile celebrating Ille’s prowess in violence against men. He had led the Romans in repelling a Byzantine invasion. He was a smart, fierce warrior, yet modest when not in battle. The Roman Emperor made Ille his seneschal. Despite his rise to eminence in Rome, Ille was sorrowful. He still loved his wife Galeron and grieved for being without her.

The emperor’s daughter Ganor fell in love with Ille. His modesty, well-reasoning mind, and handsome appearance attracted her. When she heard everyone speaking highly of him, she loved him even more. One day Ganor saw Ille in court dressed finely to meet her father the emperor. She was stirred with desire for him:

She looked down from her window, so she saw him coming.
With difficulty she kept herself from falling.
She saw that he was lovely and cultured,
and she saw those well-aligned limbs,
his beautiful mouth, and his beautiful face.
The beauty in him was so much
that she did not remember about his eye.
She thought about other things, as well she would.
Much other things there were for thinking.

{ regarde a val, sel vit venir;
a paine se pot soustenir.
Voit qu’il est biax et ensigniés,
et voit ces membres alignés,
sa bele bouce et son bel vis.
Tant a de bel en lui assis
que de son oel ne li sovient.
Aillors entent, ce li convient;
assés a aillors a entendre. }

Her thoughts are formed with the words “vit,” a low word that in Old French can mean penis, and “membre,” a sophisticated word that also can mean penis. How does it matter if Ille has only one eye? She thought about kissing him, and embracing him, and the joy of having him sexually penetrate her.

Ganor went to greet Ille. She sought his love. She didn’t ask him directly, for she thought that a king’s daughter shouldn’t do such a deed.[2] She told him:

Friend, what you do pleases me.
It is right that your lips kiss
the daughter of the king and queen,
and she should be at your command.

{ Amis, li vostre fais me plaist.
Drois est que vostre bouce baist
fille de roi et de roïne
et k’ele soit a vous acline. }

Her treated her respectfully, but he didn’t lover her. He had heard that Galeron had undertaken a long journey in search of him, and that she had not returned home to Brittany. His heart remained with Galeron, but Ganor’s heart had gone out to him.

Seeking to gain Ille as his son-in-law, the emperor arranged for the pope to urge Ille to marry Ganor. Ille told the pope that he wouldn’t. The pope insisted. Ille then said that he was already married to Galeron of Brittany and that he was grieving deeply because he didn’t know her whereabouts. The pope then proposed sending messengers to Brittany to seek information. If Galeron’s whereabouts weren’t known, the pope urged Ille then to marry Ganor. Such bigamy was illegal under church. But the pope solicitously told Ille:

If anything is done against the law,
all the sin will be on me.

{ Se faites rien contre la loi,
trestot le pecié preng sor moi. }

Ille acted contritely more rightly. Riding through Rome, he gave aid to the naked, the poor, and orphans, but not specifically widows. Ille knew that a man having lost his wife suffered just as much as a woman having lost her husband.[3]

Since Galeron couldn’t be found, Ille agreed to marry Ganor. Their marriage was proclaimed to take place in two weeks. Ganor, delighted to be marrying Ille, had aggressively pushed for a quick marriage:

No one heard news of this proclamation,
neither high nor low, not count nor duke,
without saying openly
that it had been done too suddenly.
Much you would hear them swear
that for four months at least should have endured
the banns of marriage, so that it would be well-known
and acknowledged by all.
But to Ganor that was much too long.
The couple should have been summoned to marriage,
so said the lovely one, very much earlier.
Then they could have had a long banns.
Ganor despised all those
who would delay the marriage contract.
Since this woman much sought it,
she felt neither pain nor sorrow in being married,
and when she was about to put the contract to her advantage,
she said, “Why was it not done immediately?”

{ Cele semonse n’entent nus,
ne haut ne bas, ne quens ne dus,
qui ne dient apertement
que trop l’ont fait sodainement.
Assés les oïssiés jurer
que .iiii. mois poroit durer
li bans al mains, qu’il fust seüs
et par trestout ramenteüs.
Mais a Ganor est il mout lonc:
on les deüst avoir semons,
ce dist la bele, tres antan;
lors se feïssent un lonc ban.
Ganors a tos ceus en despit
qui metent le plait en respit.
Des que la feme bien le veut,
ne mal ne sent ne se deut
et quan le plait doit metre a ués,
ce dist: “Por coi nel fist on lués?” }

As the emperor’s beautiful young daughter, Ganor was probably the most powerful person in the Roman Empire. She was accustomed to getting what she sought.

court of Anne of Bohemian and Richard II, queen and king of England

On the wedding day, Galeron noticed crowds rejoicing in the Roman streets and heading to Saint Peter’s church. Then she heard that a man named Ille was marrying the emperor’s daughter. She fainted. Her neighbors splashed water on her face to revive her and wrapped a bandage around her head. They told her that the great warrior Ille the Breton, savor of the Romans, was marrying Ganor, the emperor’s daughter. They didn’t know Galeron’s past. They scolded her for appearing distraught on this joyous wedding day.

Galeron went to Saint Peter’s church. She stood behind the door until she saw the groom, her husband Ille, coming. She was afraid to approach him for fear that the Romans would beat her for being insolent. She was afraid moreover that Ille would reject her. But if she did nothing, she regarded herself as responsible for Ille committing the sin of bigamy. She was in a difficult place:

Just then Ille entered the church.
The wretched woman, who was waiting for him there,
pushed herself forward and threw herself
as his feet. He raised her up,
and this annoyed and grieved the doorkeepers.
Leaping forward, they intended to strike her.
“Get back,” said Ille. “I see you are peasants.
Would you strike a lady in my presence?
Little do you know, it seems, about what is troubling her.
There is no civilized man who can too much
advise persons about their difficulties.
Every day is the time to do well,
to give advice, to speak well.”

{ Atant et cil entre el mostier.
Li lasse qui illoec l’atant
se met avant et si s’estant
as piés celui et il le lieve;
et as wisciers anoie et grieve:
salent avant, ferir le voelent
si com li huissier faire suelent.
“Fuiiés,” dist il. “Vilains vos voi.
Ferriés vos dame devant moi?
Poi savés, espoir, qui li nuist.
Il n’est hom sossiel qui trop puist
consilier gens de lor contraire.
Tos jors est saisons de bien faire,
de conseil doner, de bien dire. }

Galeron told Ille her name and her story. She gave him her blessings and asked only that the pope arrange for her to withdraw to a nunnery. That would make Ille’s second marriage licit. Ille was stunned, yet he retained his fine tactical mind:

Ille would have quickly kissed her,
but he feared the spitefulness
of the Romans, full of baseness.
Never would he eat bread again
if the Romans found out about it now —
if that spiteful and violent people
knew the full details
of the deed he planned to do.
The noble being, the good-natured one,
would be torn into 100 pieces.

{ Ciex le baisast isnelement,
mais il doute la felonie
des Romains pleins de vilonie.
Jamais ne mangeroit de pain
se or le savoient li Romain;
se la gent felenesse et fiere
savoient tote le maniere
de l’oevre que il cuide faire,
la france riens, la debonaire
seroit depicie en .c. pieces }

Still struggling with his lack of self-esteem as a man, Ille asked Galeron whether she resented him because he lost an eye. She responded with truth spoken in love:

I do not love your misadventure,
but I love you above all other beings,
and shall do so for as long as I live.
I regard as a drunken fool
any who is not displeased, who is not disturbed,
when her beloved has a bad situation,
but she should not despise him for it,
nor hate him more, nor love him less.

{ Je n’aim pas ta mesaventure,
mais toi sor toute creature,
et ferai tant com j’ai a vivre;
et celui tieng je mout a ivre
cui ne desplaist, cui ne messiet
quant il a son ami mesciet;
mes ne l’en doit mesaesmer,
ne plus haïr ne mains amer. }

Ille then summoned the pope. He fell at the pope’s feet and told him about his wife Galeron. Ille declared that he wouldn’t marry Ganor. Ille’s expected second wedding night became a night with his formerly lost first wife:

The joy of that night was more than ever before,
since nothing in the world, no matter how well crafted,
is worth as much as joy recovered.
That is so because for each who desires joy,
so much he is more deprived of it,
so much is his delight greater
when he is able to attain his joy.

{ Joie ot la nuit plus c’onques mais,
qu’el mont n’a rien si bien ovree
qui vaille joie recouvree;
car a cascun qui la desire,
de tant com il plus se consire,
de tant li est li delis graindre
quant il sa joie puet ataindre. }

The pope, the emperor, and particularly Ganor were utterly distraught at this extraordinary development.

Ille resolved to leave Rome with Galeron and return to Brittany. The Romans believed that, without Ille, their enemies would destroy them. They despaired. With her strong, independent womanly spirit, Ganor responded differently:

To Ganor that news was very loved and beautiful,
for she immediately knew well
that they all would die if Ille went away.
She would very dearly wish this,
and she would love it more than anything.
And all this was brought from Envy,
because she intensely hated her own life.

If Ganor had used the man
for whom she had desire,
never would she have sought company there,
but in this evil that was tormenting her,
that they all die with her was her wish,
to avenge her anger and her great pain.
She cried: “God and Saint Mary,
now to this death I have been called!
I who should well die alone,
now will see Rome perish around me.
Now my death will be more attractive,
because little will remain after it.
Now they no longer will be able to mock me —
not king, nor duke, nor count, nor baron,
because he who has defended Rome,
he from whom my death has come,
has left them to evil that’s fitting.
God grant that all this may come quickly!”

{ cui ele est mout amee et bele,
qu’ele set bien tout entresait
qu’il morront tot, se il s’en vait.
Ce vauroit ele mout tres bien,
si l’ameroit sor toute rien;
Et toute ice li vient d’envie,
car mout het durement sa vie.

Se Ganors eüst esploitié
a ce k’ele avoit covoitié,
ja n’i quesist avoir compagne;
mes de cest mal qui li engragne
morroient tuit o li son voel
por vengier s’ire et son grant doel.
Escrie: “Dix, sainte Marie,
com or m’a ceste mors garie!
Seule cuidoie bien morir:
or verrai Rome o moi perir.
Or ert la mors plus avenans;
car povres ert li remanans.
Or ne me poront mais gaber
ne rois ne dus ne quens ne ber,
car cil qui Rome a deffendue,
de cui ma mors est descendue,
les metra mais al convenir.
Dix doint que tost puist avenir!” }

Ganor quickly repented of these words, but they expressed how she felt. The Carthaginian ruler Dido is celebrated for destroying herself in despair about love. Ganor, daughter of the Roman emperor, would outdo Dido.

Like the Trojan women burning Trojan ships, Ganor understood women’s power. Gautier d’Arras observed:

Priest, reason, justice, and law
often make lovers distraught.
Women and love often undo
all that these four have agreed.
Women and love have such nature
that often they act against justice,
against law, against even reason
and against the speech of the priest.
Love is of very rich esteem.
Towards all these four it has undertaken war —
made on them many attacks.
And when a woman has made love her ally,
and those two are of one piece,
a grand marvel it is if they would give up any
of the thing that they would want to do,
because they are of a very strong disposition.

{ Prestre, raisons, drois et lois
font les amans sovent destrois.
Feme et amors desfont sovent
de tous ces .iiii. le convent;
Feme et amors ont tel nature
que sovent font contre droiture,
contre loi, contre raison voire
et contre boce de provoire.
Amors est mout de rice pris,
vers tous ces .iiii. a entrepris:
faite lor a mainte envaïe.
Et puis que feme est en s’aïe,
qu’eles sont ans .ii. d’une part,
mervelle est grans se nus les part
de cose qu’eles voellent faire,
qu’eles sont mout de haut afaire. }

Ganor insisted that Ille return to her if she or Rome needed his help in violence against men. Under the force of her despair and tears, Ille agreed to be used in that way.

Medieval women acted strongly and independently in relation to men. After returning to Brittany, Galeron and Ille had two children. A difficult third childbirth prompted Galeron to vow to God that if she lived, she would enter a nunnery. She apparently didn’t ask for her her husband’s consent before making that vow. That’s not surprising. It’s similar to a wife today getting a no-fault divorce or having an abortion. After Galeron entered a nunnery, Ille on his own initiative returned to Rome and married Ganor. Men only rarely act strongly and independently in relation to women.

In our benighted, ignorant, and bigoted age, many persons believe in simple, hateful myths of patriarchy and misogyny. Gautier d’Arras’s twelfth-century romance Ille et Galeron provides a much more realistic historical perspective.[4] In Gautier’s romance, the woman-heroes Galeron and Ganor are truly strong, freely thinking, independent women. Men today should emulate them.

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[1] Gautier d’Arras, Ille and Galeron {Ille et Galeron} vv. 1984-95, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Eley (1996). On Ille et Galeron, see note [1] in my post of Ille’s lack of self-esteem. For a freely available Old French edition, Lefèvre (1988).

Subsequent quotes from Ille et Galeron are similarly sourced. Those above are vv. 3085-3100 (This much happened all by my sin…), 3315-23 (She looked down from her window…), 3345-8 (Friend, what you do pleases me…), 3746-7 (If anything is done against the law…), 3962-79 (No one heard news of this proclamation…), 4096-4109 (Just then Ille entered the church…), 4256-65 (Ille would have quickly kissed her…), 4289-96 (I do not love your misadventure…), 4393-99 (The joy of that night…), 4595-601, 4608-25 (To Ganor that news…), 4656-69 (Priest, reason, justice, and law…).

[2] In the early thirteenth-century Old French play The Well-Mannered Man of Arras {Courtois d’Arras}, the working woman Pourette took the initiative to make a love toast to the Courtois:

But I am your lover and your mistress
who truly loves you to her heart’s end.
I gave you the wine as a sign of love
and, believe me, I will not deceive you.

{ mais vostre amie et vostre ancielle,
qui bien vous ainme de cuer fin,
vous donc par amors le vin
et, saciés, pas ne vous dechoi. }

Courtois d’Arras, vv. 214-8, Old French text from Faral (1922), my English translation, benefiting from that of Axton & Stevens (1971) p. 148. Privileged women tend to look down on sex workers such as Pourette and seek to be not like them. Any woman can clearly differentiate herself from sex workers by not charging men, explicitly or implicitly, for sex, and not having sex with a lot of men. Not wanting to be like a woman sex worker isn’t a good reason for a woman not to take the initiative to express her love for a man even before he indicates his love for her.

[3] Passages such as Deuteronomy 27:19, Exodus 22:22-24, Jeremiah 49:11, Psalms 68:5, 82:3, James 1:27 reflect the particular social circumstances of men’s historical gender burdens. Women today are fully capable of supporting men and children.

[4] A leading scholar of Ille et Galeron observed:

In Ille et Galeron, rejection of fantasy and the supernatural goes hand-in-hand with a concern for realism which is reflected not only in the action and its physical surroundings, but also in the psychology of the protagonists. … Her {Ganor’s} reactions to major events in her life are entirely believable, and create a picture of a woman who may not always be sympathetic, but is cerainly never two-dimensional.

Eley (1996) pp. xxxvi, xxxix.

[image] Court of Anne of Bohemian and Richard II, queen and king of England, at their coronation in 1382. Except from folio 20 of Liber Regalis, Westminster Abbey Library, MS 38.


Axton, Richard, and John E. Stevens, trans. 1971. Medieval French Plays. New York: Barnes & Noble.

Eley, Penny, ed. and trans. 1996. Gautier d’Arras. Ille et Galeron. London: King’s College London, Centre for Late Antique & Medieval Studies.

Faral, Edmond, ed. 1922. Courtois d’Arras: Jeu du XIIIe Siècle. 2nd Edition, revised. Paris: H. Champion.

Lefèvre, Yves, ed. 1988. Gautier d’Arras. Ille et Galéron. Les classiques français du Moyen Âge, 109. Paris: Champion. Available online via Base de français médiéval.

medieval hero Ille shows problem of men’s self-esteem

Men historically have been burdened with the necessity of achieving in order to be regarded as a man. In fact, the Latin word for demonstrated merit, “virtue,” is formed from the word for man, “vir.”[1] Men historically couldn’t merely declare that they identify as a man. Men had to “prove” their manliness. What proof is sufficient? Even such a distinguished man as the medieval hero Ille in Gautier d’Arras’s late-twelfth-century romance Ille and Galeron {Ille et Galeron} struggled with low self-esteem. Through their courageous initiative, women who loved Ille helped him to understand his intrinsic worth as a man. Women today should likewise affirm men’s intrinsic virtue.

Ille suffered trauma as a child in Brittany. When he was only ten years old, his father Eliduc died. The knight Hoel and his nephews, who hated Eliduc and his family, threatened the fatherless child Ille. The ruler of Brittany, Duke Conain, was too weak to defend him. Ille thus had to flee from his home to the court of the French king.

Ille grew to be recognized as an outstanding knight. With ten strong knights accompanying him, Ille journeyed back to Brittany to recover his ancestral home. Another twenty knights from Brittany rode out to rendezvous with him. Hoel learned of these plans and gathered a hundred knights to ambush Ille and his companions. In brutal violence against men, Ille’s force routed Hoel’s much larger force. Ille thus triumphantly entered Brittany.

Delighted with Ille’s victory, Duke Conain welcomed him to Brittany. At Conain’s court, Ille met Conain’s sister Galeron. Ille loved her for her courtliness and beauty. As a reward for winning an additional battle, Duke Conain made Ille his seneschal and put him in charge of all Brittany. Ille nonetheless regarded himself as unworthy of Galeron’s love:

Ille thought to himself: “She isn’t eager
that she have such a man as me to be her lover,
nor I to have her as my lover.
I have put my heart in a very foolish place,
because if the duke were to perceive
that I desire his sister,
all my service to him would be wasted
and in addition I would have nothing in return
from him but bad will. I don’t know what to do.”

{ Il pense en soi: “Ne li caut mie
qu’ele a tel home soit amie,
n’a moi que soie ses amis.
Mout ai en fol liu mon cuer mis,
car se li dus s’apercevoit
de sa seror que je covoit,
trestot mon service en perdroie
et d’autre part rien n’en aroie
se mal gré non: ne sai que faire. }[2]

Galeron actually ardently loved Ille. When her brother asked whom she wanted to marry, Galeron declared that she wanted Ille:

Sir, by the loyalty that I owe you,
he is your seneschal.
Even if he were to be all naked and barefoot,
he would please me more, fine sir,
than the emperor and all his empire.

{ Sire, par la foi que vous doi,
içou est vostre senescaus.
S’il estoit tos nus et descaus,
si me plairoit il mix, biaus sire,
que l’emperere a tout l’empire. }

Galeron would take no other man: “I will never have any man if I don’t have him {Ja nul rien arai se lui n’ai}.” She said that she would retire to a nunnery if she couldn’t marry Ille.

man kissing beloved woman's feet

Duke Conain was delighted with his sister’s choice of husband. He told Ille that he would give him Galeron as his wife. In medieval reality, a brother couldn’t just give away his sister as a bride. Ille rightly thought that Conain wasn’t serious:

Sir, for God’s sake, don’t make fun of me,
for I never deserved that for a single day.

{ Sire, por Diu, ne me gabés,
k’ainc nel desservi a nul jour. }

The Duke declared that the Count of Anjou, the Count of Poitiers, and the Duke of Normandy wanted to marry Galeron, but she wouldn’t accept any of them. Ille responded:

But it was never a hope to be suffered
that on her part she would marry me,
since she doesn’t favor any of them.

{ mais il n’ert ja espoir sofert
endroit de li k’ele me pregne,
des qu’ele nul de cex n’adaigne. }[3]

Conain went to Galeron and declared that he had commanded Ille to marry her immediately. Playing along with this royal pretense, she responded, “And I agree for love of you {et je l’otroi por vostre amour}.”[4] Medieval persons communicated with sophistication scarcely imaginable today.

medieval woman embracing man

Ille subsequently endured a disfiguring wound in a knightly tournament. After winning the day, he engaged in a final joust. He then lost his left eye from a lance strike. Ille left immediately to recover in seclusion. He had suffered injury not only to his eye:

But Ille had a double infirmity.
One was that he had lost an eye.
The other was that he feared his beloved,
the sister of the Duke of Brittany.
He feared that she would no longer favor him
and that she would now despise him.
He feared much according to this saying:
“Such you have, such you are worth, and for such I love you.”

{ mais Illes a double enfierté.
L’une est de l’oel que il n’a mie,
l’autre de ce qu’il crient s’amie,
qui suer est au duc de Bretagne;
et crient mais qu’ele ne l’adagne
et k’ele l’ait mais en despit,
si se crient mout de ce respit:
“Tant as, tant vax, et je tant t’aim.” }

Like Odysseus afraid to return home as a poor man to his wife Penelope, Ille thought that he had lost the merit that had earned him his wife Galeron’s love. Ille lamented to himself:

Alas! Why then do I go on living
after this torment has been inflicted on me?
Cursed be the day and the hour
that I did not die immediately,
because that would have been comfort to me,
if my sweet beloved had wept for me,
she who now will be my enemy.
Even when I had two eyes,
I was insignificant and knew little
to have as my wife the sister of the duke.
The son of Eliduc had little before.
Now he is poorer by half.

She who has always loved me
and hated anyone who wanted to hurt me
will wish for my death and that I die,
when she learns of my misfortune,
but never will the sweet being,
so please God, know of its sight.
God! What a death I have through he who wounded me
when he wasn’t able to hit me in the heart.

{ E las! por coi vesqui je puis
que cis tormens me corut seure?
Maleoit soit le jour et l’eure
que je ne sui esranment mors,
car ce m’eüst esté confors,
si me plainsist ma dolce amie,
qui ore sera m’anemie.
Entrués que je .ii. iex avoie
ere petis et poi savoie
por avoir le seror au duc.
Ains ot poi li fix Eliduc;
or a il mains de la moitié.

Cele ki m’a tos jors amé
et haï canque me vaut nuire
volra ma mort et que je muire,
por k’ele sace m’aventure;
mais ja la douce creature,
se Diu plaist, le voir n’en savra.
Diex! com m’a mort qui me navra,
quant ne me pot el cuer ferir. }

Ille was wounded in his heart. That wound didn’t occur from a lance strike, but from his lack of self-esteem as a man.

News reached Galeron that Ille had been wounded. Nobody could tell her the nature of his wound. Had he been wounded like the Grail King Anfortas? Such a wound would cause a medieval wife intense grief. Galeron quickly traveled to see Ille. By Ille’s order, an attendant barred her from entering Ille’s bedroom. The attendant pleaded:

Lovely lady-lord, for God’s sake, have mercy!
Here you now have nothing to do.
For God’s sake, don’t be angry,
because your lord is very hurt
and wounded by a misadventure.
His injury is of such nature
that he would be made doubly distressed
if a woman were to come into his presence.

{ Bele dame, por Diu, merci!
Vos n’avés or que faire chi.
Por Diu, ne vos en coreciés!
Car vostre sire est mout bleciés
et navrés par mesaventure;
si est ses maus de tel nature
que il li feroit double anui
se feme venoit devant lui. }

A smart, active young woman, Galeron wouldn’t allow herself to be prevented from being with the man she loved. She dressed as a man, mingled with Ille’s chamberlains, and stood outside his door. When the opportunity eventually arose, she entered Ille’s bedroom. There she hid.

Thinking he was alone, Ille grieved aloud that he had barred Galeron from visiting him. He lamented:

“Ah,” he said, “my sweet sister,
how I must have in me a hard heart
when I am here and you are there outside!
Lovely one, even if you don’t have my body,
my heart is yours night and day.
Alas! How I am dying for your love!
Great is the affliction that torments me
and the love that I have in my mind.
That love was the chief path of my journeying,
but now in such illness I am held
that it will divorce me from love,
because now Galeron will never again favor me —
she who for me would not favor
a count, nor a duke, nor the son of a king.”

{ “Aï,” fait il, “ma doce suer,
com je par ai en moi dur cuer
quant je sui chi et vos la fors!
Bele, se vos n’avés mon cors,
mes cuers est vostre nuit et jor.
Las! com je muir por vostre amor!
Grans est li max qui me tormente
et l’amors graindre ou j’ai m’entente.
De l’amour ere a cief venus,
mais or sui de tel mal tenus
qui de l’amor m’eslongera,
car ja mais ne m’adaignera
cele qui n’adaigna por moi
conte ne duc ne fil a roi.” }

Galeron remained hidden and didn’t dare speak. She didn’t know the nature of Ille’s injury. Could it be an epically debilitating injury?[5] When daylight came, Galeron saw that Ille’s head was loosely bandaged with a silk cloth. That bandage slipped a bit. Galeron saw his wound. It wasn’t the most terrible wound a husband could have, but it was bad enough. She wept for her husband’s misfortune.

Ille heard a woman weeping in his bedroom. He turned his bandaged head toward her and saw a man. He was baffled and cried out, “What are you doing here {que fais tu chi}?” Galeron begged him for mercy. Ille didn’t understand. Then she said:

Sir, I am Galeron here,
and so you are my husband,
whom I love as much as my own body.
I was a door-keeper outside
all day yesterday and would be yet
if it weren’t for trickery. But so it is now
that I have thus arranged affairs
that I have come to be in your presence.
Now let me be told the reason
for which my entry was barred,
for I don’t believe that I have done wrong
in thought, or in word, or in deed.

{ Sire, je sui chi Galerons,
et vous si estes mes barons,
que j’aim autant comme mon cors;
si fui oussiere par defors
ier tote jor et fuisse encore
s’engiens ne fust; mes si est ore
que je me sui ensi tenue
que je sui devant vos venue.
Or si me soit la raisons dite
por coi m’est l’entree escondite;
car je nel quit avoir forfait
en pensé n’en dit ne en fait. }

Ille explained that he hadn’t barred her entrance out of animus toward her. He loved her as her loved his own heart. She didn’t understand why then he had excluded her. He explained why:

My sweet sister, because I cannot
see a woman without having double
the affliction that is tormenting and troubling me.
I know it that would grieve you
if my distress were doubled.
I cannot see you as I did before.
This is what most of all gives me pain —
what fills me most with anguish and anger.

{ Ma douce suer, car je ne puis
feme veoir, que ne me double
li max qui si m’angoisse et torble;
si sai qu’il vos en peseroit
se ma destrece me dobloit.
Ne vos puis veoir com je suel:
çou est la riens dont plus me doel,
dont plus sui plains d’angosse et d’ire. }

Galeron now understood. Ille lacked good sense of his worth as a man. She urged him to be gallant and lively, and not to act like a young woman hiding in her room. Perhaps she didn’t fully understand how he felt as a man. Galeron departed from Ille’s bedroom.

Now truly alone, Ille pondered the situation. He couldn’t overcome his sense that he was no longer worthy of Galeron’s love:

Lord God, how could it be
that this very sweet being,
as soon as she knew of my misadventure,
wouldn’t despise me for all time?
Once I heard a proverb that says
that a woman has a very fickle heart
and often changes her mind.
And this cannot be the place for me,
because she is the sister of the duke, and I see
that there isn’t a woman as beautiful as she in all the world.
May God destroy and confound me
if but for a single day I now remain here
and if I don’t flee to such a place
that news of me will never again reach
the sister of the duke, who is so beautiful!
I have well perceived the issue —
that she has recognized my illness.

{ Sire Dix, comment avenroit
que la tres douce creature,
des qu’ele saroit m’aventure,
ne m’eüst tos jors en despit?
Jou oï ja dire un respit
que feme a mout le cuer volage
et mue sovent son corage.
Et ceste n’est mie endroit moi,
car ele est suer au duc; si voi
qu’il n’a si bele en tot le monde.
Dix me destruise et me confonde
s’un seul jor mais sui ore ichi
et se j’en tel liu ne m’en fui
que mais n’orra de moi novele
la suer au duc, qui tant est bele!
J’ai bien la cose aperceüe
k’ele a m’enferté conneüe. }[6]

His fundamental issue was his lack of self-esteem. He swore his servants to secrecy, saddled his horse, and rode away into the night. He had no destination. He merely rode on and on away from home.[7]

medieval man committing suicide

Ille didn’t understand that his loss of an eye didn’t make him less worthy of his wife Galeron’s love. Men’s bodies matter. Men’s bodies can rise firm, strong, and magnificent like a cedar of Lebanon. They will inevitably decay. Galeron loved Ille with an enduring love. Other women throughout history have similarly loved men. A woman’s enduring love for a man cannot depend on his body always being as it once was.

Men must root their self-esteem in their intrinsic being from birth to natural death. In truth, a man doesn’t have to achieve anything to be a man. A man doesn’t have to do anything to be a man. Men know who they are.

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[1] Men’s gender-distinct being has been effaced historically through generic use of terms such as “man” and “mankind.” Moreover, men authors historically have often had little or no distinctive gender self-consciousness. Meninist literary criticism is beginning to address these important issues that have been marginalized under dominant ideology.

[2] Gautier d’Arras, Ille and Galeron {Ille et Galeron} vv. 1309-17, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Eley (1996). Subsequent quotes from Ille et Galeron are similarly sourced.

Ille et Galeron survives in two manuscripts: manuscript P, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 375, f. 296ra-309vd, written late in the thirteenth century; and manuscript W, Nottingham, University Library, Mi LM 6, f. 157ra-187va, written in the thirteenth century. Eley (1996) provides an excellent edition of manuscript P, corrected with manuscript W where necessary. Lefèvre (1988) is a freely available edition of manuscript P. It has more mistakes and some unnecessary inclusions from W.

Gautier d’Arras probably composed Ille et Galeron in the mid-1170s. Eley (1996) pp. xix-xxii, which shows that the Arlima dating of 1156-1157 is surely wrong. Eley associated the original version with manuscript P. Gautier d’Arras apparently revised that version about 1180. His revision led to the recension associated with manuscript W.

Gautier dedicated Ille et Galeron to Beatrice I, Countess of Burgundy, Queen of Germany, and Empress of the Holy Roman Empire with Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. Beatrice was the daughter of Count Renaud III of Burgundy. She was related to two popes and four Holy Roman Emperors. Gautier praised her extensively. He understood her great power and privilege, and he apparently hoped that she would be generous to him:

Because of her great power and honor,
it might seem that her generosity is less,
but her generosity is so great
that her power is less than equal.

{ Por grant pooir et por honeur
est vis que largece ait meneur;
mais se largece est si tres grans
que ses pooirs est mains parans. }

Ille et Galeron, vv. 107-110. Manuscript W adds in its epilogue an additional dedication. That dedication is to Thibaut de Blois, a man much less powerful than Beatrice.

Gautier d’Arras probably wrote Ille et Galeron as a response to Marie de France’s lay Eliduc. Both stories involve a warrior-hero that two women love. Both stories involve him marrying one of the women and then the other. In addition, Ille et Galeron seems to allude to Eliduc in narrative details. Gautier apparently sought “to improve on his original,” i.e. Marie de France’s Eliduc. Eley (1996) pp. xxx-xxxiv. Gautier declared:

A great thing concerns Ille and Galeron:
it isn’t elongated with fantasies
and you will never find any falsehoods in it.
There are some lays that when one hears them,
it seems they are all similarly
as if one was asleep and dreaming.

{ Grant cose est d’Ille et Galeron:
n’i a fantome ne alonge
ne ja n’i troverés mençonge.
Tex lais i a, qui les entent,
se li sanlent tot ensement
com s’eüst dormi et songié. }

Ille et Galeron, vv. 931-37. For more on Gautier’s sources and his reworking of them, Cowper (1922) and Moore (1991).

Subsequent quotes above are from Ille et Galeron. They are vv. 1456-60 (Sir, by the loyalty that I owe you…), 1454 (I will never have any man if I don’t have him), 1484-5 ( Sir, for God’s sake, don’t make fun of me…), 1504-6 (But it was never a hope…), 1522 (And I agree for love of you), 1680-7 (But Ille had a double infirmity…), 1692-1703, 1714-21 (Alas! Why then do I go on living…), 1743-50 (Lovely lady-lord, for God’s sake, have mercy…), 1775-88 (“Ah,” he said…), 1829 (What are you doing here?), 1837-48 (Sir, I am Galeron here…), 1858-65 (My sweet sister, because I cannot…), 1920-36 (Lord God, how could it be…).

[3] In medieval Europe, differences in social rank were major obstacles to marriage. The foundling Fresne, in love with Count Galeron, told him:

The fact that you are regarded as so rich
and from such a high lineage
and so respected and so wise
will drive you apart from me.
I should not associate with you,
because I am poor and lowly,
nor should I dare to love you.
I have brought myself into this great folly,
but one who is in love’s power
cannot rightly counsel herself.

{ Ce que l’en vous tient tant a riche
Et extrait de si hault lignaige
A si prisié et a tant sage
Vous fera de moy departir.
Ne me doy a vous aatir,
Pour ce que je sui povre et basse,
Non tant que j’amer vous osasse.
Si m’est venu de grant follie;
Mais cil qui n’est en sa baillie
Ne se puet a droit conseillier. }

Jean Renaut, Galeran of Brittany {Galeran de Bretagne}, vv. 2190-99, Old French text from Foulet (1925), English translation (modified) from Beston (2008).

[4] Medieval women and men relished having sex. Galeron and Ille were married the very day that Duke Conain brokered their marriage. Then their love desires were promptly realized:

Ille, who had much longed for her,
shared with Galeron one bed,
and they had such joy and such delight
that no man could describe it.
Now joy commenced to display itself,
for no one was ever given so much in one night.

{ Illes, ki mout l’a goulousee,
et Galerons ne font c’un lit,
et ont tel joie et tel delit
que nus hom nel poroit conter.
Or commence joie a monter,
k’ainc tant n’en dona une nuis. }

Ille et Galeron, vv. 1526-31.

[5] The comic aspect of secrecy about Ille’s wound (is it a genital wound?) is consistent with Gautier d’Arras’s subtle sense of humor. On humor in Gautier’s Eracle and Ille et Galeron, King (1996) Ch. 4.

[6] Virgil, who keenly appreciated women’s power, observed: “a woman is always varying and circumstantially responsive {varium et mutabile semper femina}.” Aeneid 4.569. Adaptability is a vitally important human trait, especially in modern societies.

Late in the twelfth century, Andreas Capellanus’s On love {De amore} aparently recast Ille’s eye injury into a case where a woman left her lover after he lost his eye. De amore 2.7.15, as discussed in Eley (1996) pp. xxxiv-v.

[7] Like many husbands throughout history, Ille was subservient to his wife Galeron:

Galeron was praised and esteemed by all,
because they didn’t know anyone so accomplished.
Because of this Ille was more eager
to be always subject to her command,
to her will, and to her pleasure.

{ Trestos li mons le loe et prise,
car on ne set si bien aprise.
Por çou est Illes plus en grant
d’estre tous jors a son commant,
a son voloir, a son plaisir. }

Ille et Galeron, vv. 1601-5.

Ille subsequently grew in self-confidence. He acted decisively when heading to the altar for a second marriage. He later also acted decisively after Galeron entered a nunnery. He didn’t merely resign himself to being a sexless husband. Ille thought to himself:

A nun has what use for a castle?
But the king’s daughter, who can take and give, does,
so let the nun read her psalter
in the abbey and in the church!

{ de castel c’a a faire none?
Mais fille a roi qui taut et done,
Et la none son sautier lise
en l’abeïe et en l’eglise! }

Ille et Galeron, vv. 5652-5. Ille then journeyed from Brittany to Rome to protect Ganor, the beautiful young daughter of the Roman king (emperor). On Ille’s personal growth, Eley (1989) p. 267, Eley (1996) pp. xxxviii-ix.

[images] (1) Man kissing beloved woman’s feet. Illustration from instance of Richard de Fournival’s thirteenth-century Way of Love {Commens d’amour}. Detail from folio 7 of Bibliothèque municipale de Dijon, MS 526, made early in the fourteenth century. (2) Woman embracing man. Illustration similarly from folio 7 of Dijon, MS 526. (3) Man committing suicide. Illustration similarly from folio 10 of Dijon, MS 526.


Beston, John, trans. 2008. An English Translation of Jean Renaut’s Galeran de Bretagne, a Thirteenth-Century French Romance. Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen Press.

Cowper, Frederick A. G. 1922. The Sources, Date, and Style of Ille et Galeron by Gautier d’Arras. Ph. Thesis, University of Chicago.

Eley, Penny. 1989. “Patterns of Faith and Doubt: Gautier d’Arras’s Eracle and Ille et Galeron.” French Studies. 43 (3): 257–270.

Eley, Penny, ed. and trans. 1996. Gautier d’Arras. Ille et Galeron. London: King’s College London, Centre for Late Antique & Medieval Studies.

Foulet, Lucien, ed. 1925. Jean Renaut. Galeran de Bretagne: Roman du XIIIe Siècle.. Paris: É. Champion. Alternate source.

King, David Sacket. 1996. Romances Less Traveled: Gautier d’Arras’s Eracle and Ille et Galeron Reconsidered. Ph.D. Thesis, Washington University. .

Lefèvre, Yves, ed. 1988. Gautier d’Arras. Ille et Galéron. Les classiques français du Moyen Âge, 109. Paris: Champion. Available online via Base de français médiéval.

Moore, Christine M. 1991. A Literary Study of Ille et Galeron by Gautier d’Arras: generic experimentation and development in late twelfth century France. Ph.D. Thesis, Australian National University.

Origen learned: men shouldn’t castrate themselves to appear righteous

Castration historically has been forced upon men, usually enemy men or men accused of sexual offenses. In the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus refers to men who have castrated themselves for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven.[1] That’s best interpreted as Jesus referring figuratively to men who have vowed celibacy to serve God, as well as serve the community non-sexually. Yet amid social disparagement of men’s sexuality and castration culture, some men wrongly seek to be righteous by castrating themselves. A medieval story of two brothers who castrated themselves to be righteous follows the ancient Christian scholar Origen’s mature thought and universally, authoritatively condemns such self-castration.

The threat of castration of the usual type for a religious man is well-represented in the medieval story of Parson John. He was having sex with another man’s wife. Her husband, like many husbands, was completely subservient to her and ignorant of women’s wiles. But his brother, another parson, was a sensible, no-nonsense man. He instructed his brother to replace the chamber-pot under the marital bed with another, special pot, and then leave for an overnight business trip. So the husband did. Then the wife prepared a lavish meal and invited Parson John over for dinner and to spend the night with her.

Naked in bed that night with the naked wife, Parson John felt the need to urinate. He got up and reached under the bed for the chamber-pot. After he finished urinating, he tried to put the pot away. He discovered that his hands were stuck to it. Naked and shivering, he called out to the wife for help. She sprang out of bed naked and grabbed the pot. Then she also became stuck to it. She called out to her maid for help. The maid jumped out of bed naked and ran to help. She too got her hands stuck to the pot. The threesome danced a miserable jig all night long. The next morning the husband and his brother found them naked and miserable, still bound together to the chamber-pot.

Punishment for adultery has long been gender-biased toward punishing men more harshly. While not criticizing his wife, the husband threatened to castrate Parson John:

The good man said to Parson John, “By the cock’s sweet wound,
you shall lose your balls or a hundred pounds.
Truly you shall have no other choice.”
Parson John said, “In good faith,
help that this pot from me were taken away
and that money I will pay
before I lose my balls.”

{ The godeman seid to Sir John, “Be cockis swete wounde,
Thou shalle lese thine harnesse or a hundred pounde.
Truly thou shalle not chese.”
Sir John seid, “In gode fay,
Helpe this basyn were awey
And that moné will I pay
Er I this harnes lese.” }[2]

Parson John was fortunate. Other men aren’t given the opportunity to pay money to maintain their genitals.

Rather than paying to avoid castration, some men have gone so far as to castrate themselves to appear righteous. A prominent ancient example was reportedly the great Christian scholar Origen of Alexandria at the beginning of the third century. Writing about a century after Origen castrated himself, the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea reported:

When Origen was performing the work of catechetical instruction at Alexandria, he did a thing that gave abundant proof of an immature and youthful mind, yet also of faith and self-control. For he took the saying, “There are eunuchs which made themselves eunuchs for the Kingdom of Heaven’s sake,” in too literal and extreme a sense. Thinking both to fulfill the Savior’s saying and to prevent all suspicion from unbelievers’ shameful slander (for, young as he was, he used to discourse on divine things with women as well as men), he hastened to put into effect the Savior’s saying. He took care to escape the notice of the greater number of his pupils. But, wishful though he might be, it was not possible to hide a deed of this nature.

{ Ἐν τούτῳ δὲ τῆς κατηχήσεως ἐπὶ τῆς Ἀλεξανδρείας τοὔργον ἐπιτελοῦντι τῷ Ὠριγένει πρᾶγμά τι πέπρακται φρενὸς μὲν ἀτελοῦς καὶ νεανικῆς, πίστεώς γε μὴν ὁμοῦ καὶ σωφροσύνης μέγιστον δεῖγμα περιέχον. τὸ γὰρ “εἰσὶν εὐνοῦχοι οἵτινες εὐνούχισαν ἑαυτοὺς διὰ τὴν βασιλείαν τῶν οὐρανῶν” ἁπλούστερον καὶ νεανικώτερον ἐκλαβών, ὁμοῦ μὲν σωτήριον φωνὴν ἀποπληροῦν οἰόμενος, ὁμοῦ δὲ καὶ διὰ τὸ νέον τὴν ἡλικίαν ὄντα μὴ ἀνδράσι μόνον, καὶ γυναιξὶ δὲ τὰ θεῖα προσομιλεῖν, ὡς ἂν πᾶσαν τὴν παρὰ τοῖς ἀπίστοις αἰσχρᾶς διαβολῆς ὑπόνοιαν ἀποκλείσειεν, τὴν σωτήριον φωνὴν ἔργοις ἐπιτελέσαι ὡρμήθη, τοὺς πολλοὺς τῶν ἀμφ᾿ αὐτὸν γνωρίμων διαλαθεῖν φροντίσας. οὐκ ἦν δὲ ἄρα δυνατὸν αὐτῷ καίπερ βουλομένῳ τοσοῦτον ἔργον ἐπικρύψασθαι. }[3]

Self-castration is a terrible response to the danger of false sexual accusations against men. Self-castration shouldn’t be required for a man to appear righteous if he works with women.[4] Demetrius, the Bishop of Alexandria, initially did not condemn Origen’s self-castration. After much time passed, the distinguished Alexander, Bishop of Jerusalem, and the eminent Theoctistus, Bishop of Caesaerea, personally ordained Origen as a presbyter. Then Demetrius caused grave scandal by publicly condemning Origen for castrating himself. Demestrius’s move against Origen at least highlighted the terrible wrong of self-castration. Origen subsequently argued against men castrating themselves.[5]

eunuch acolytes honor the great mother goddess Cybele

Nonetheless, two brothers among the desert fathers near Alexandria in the fourth century apparently didn’t learn from Origen’s mistake. These two brothers castrated themselves after similarly misinterpreting the Gospel of Matthew:

Two brothers, who considered themselves very religious,
conversed about the matter together and became monks.
After they’d received the monastic habit,
they took heed of what the gospel says
— that all those men shall be blessed
who have themselves castrated for the Kingdom of Heaven —
and therefore, these two of whom I’ve spoken to you, they castrated themselves.

{ Deus freres, ke mult religius se tindrent,
Ensemble parlerent e moines devindrent.
Cum il aveient receu monial habit,
Garde pristrent de çoe ke l’evangelie dit,
Ke tuz icels homes bonurez serrunt
Ki pur le regne del ciel espaier se funt,
E, pur çoe, s’espaierent ces dous dunt joe vus dis. }[6]

The brothers’ zeal to be “very religious {mult religius}” was utterly mistargeted. The thoughtful Christian brother who told this instructive story declared:

So they didn’t do wisely, in my opinion,
for God didn’t say it in that sense. Don’t believe it —
that a man should emasculate himself in this life.
But God orders everyone uniformly
to conduct themselves in this life chastely
and strive to restrain lust
so that the testicles cannot make anything.
But these two brothers didn’t take it in that sense.
Instead they castrated themselves, so becoming worse than miserable,
for the archbishop who was of this land
excommunicated both for this misdeed.

{ Si ne firent pas ke sage, çoe m’est avis,
Kar Deus nel dist pas en tel sen, ne quidez mie,
Ke l’em se face demembrer en ceste vie,
Mes il comande ke trestuz uniement
Se contengent en ceste vie chastement
E s’efforcent de lecherie a retraire
E les escoilles ke pas nel pount faire.
Mes ces dous frerez en tel sen nel pristrent pas.
Enz s’espaierent, si firent mut ke las,
Kar l’ercevesque ke del pais esteit
Les escomenge andous pur cel mesfait. }[7]

These two brother monks castrated themselves because they wrongly sought to be regarded as very righteous. Many centuries later, the rich young medieval gentleman Castorio had himself castrated in order to become plump and smooth. Castorio should have learned from Origen’s mature thought or the exemplum of the two brother monks who castrated themselves. Men’s genitals bear the seminal blessing. Men’s genitals should be regarded as godly organs. They should not be cut off for no good reason.

The two brother monks arrogantly claimed to be righteous through their self-castration. They didn’t accept that their archbishop, the Archbishop of Alexandria, had rightly excommunicated them:

And the brothers still thought that they’d done well,
so they held their archbishop in disdain and gave him no regard.
Instead, they complained, saying between themselves:
“For the Kingdom of Heaven we castrated our desire,
and he who excommunicated us acted quite wrongly.
Now let’s go quickly to Jerusalem
and denounce the archbishop, as God sends us there.”

{ E les freres quiderent k’il eusent fet ben,
Sil tindrent del dedeing, e ne lur fut a ren.
Ainz, grundillerent, e distrent entre els memes:
“Pur le regne del ciel espaier nus feimes,
E cil qui nus escomengat il ad mut mesfait.
Ore alum a Jerusalem a grant esplait
Si encusum l’ercevesque, si Deu nus la enveit.” }

Only brothers sure of their righteousness would denounce the Archbishop of Alexandria to the Patriarch of Jerusalem:

What can I say? They went there right away
and showed everything to the patriarch —
that for which the archbishop had excommunicated them outright.
Then the patriarch responded to the brothers in this way,
saying to them: “I excommunicate you as well.”

{ Ke vus dirrai joe? E la s’en alerent tut dreit
Si demustrerent al patriarche trestut,
Cum l’erceveske les escomigout de but.
E si respondi sifaitement as freres,
Si lur dist: “E joe vus escomenge regeres.” }

These brothers still didn’t seriously reconsider whether castrating themselves was wrong. They appealed their excommunication to the Archbishop of Antioch. He also excommunicated them. They subsequently went to Rome and appealed to the Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church. The pope also excommunicated them. The brothers nonetheless remained morally sure of themselves:

Then they said: “These people fail us completely,
and they stick together all to the end!
Therefore it’s necessary for us, rather than staying here,
to go to the Archbishop of Cyprus, Master Epiphanius.
He’s a prophet and conducts himself wholly according to God.
He’ll do right for us. Of that, we don’t doubt at all,
for he’s a holy man of such custom
that he doesn’t take a man’s status into account.
Instead, he’s loyal to everyone and very just,
so he’ll never lie for the sake of a mortal man.”

{ Dunc diseint: “Iceste gent nus faillunt del tut,
E ensemble se tenent tut de but!
Pur çoe, nus estoverat, ainz ke issi remainge,
A l’ercevesque de Cypre aler, DANZ EPIPHAINE.
Il est prophete e tut sulunc Deu se content;
Il nus fra dreiture, de çoe ne dotum nient,
Kar il est seinz hom d’itele custume
K’il ne garde pas a la persone de home;
Einz, est feel vers chascun e mut dreiturel,
Si ne menterat ja pur home mortel.” }[8]

As the brothers approached Cyprus, God told Archbishop Epiphanius about them. Epiphanius then sent a message to the brothers. He ordered them not even to enter Cyprus.

Archbishop Epiphanius’s decisive action against the brothers served to reform them. The brothers recognized that they were “wretched and guilty {chatif e copables}” of having self-righteously castrated themselves. Repentance was all that was necessary for them to be welcomed back into the community:

When God, who knows and sees the hearts of all, saw
that they’d repented of their doing,
he revealed their repentance to the bishop,
and the bishop quickly sent for them
and had them brought before him at once,
and he very gently comforted both of them.
Then by him they were made absolved of their sin.
So he reported back to the bishop of Alexandria
with these words, saying in this manner:
“Receive your sons into your authority,
for, in truth, they’ve done their penance.”

{ Lores vit Dex, ke les quors de tuz conuist e veit,
K’il se repentirent de la fesance,
Si mustrat a l’evesque lur repentance.
E l’evesque enveiat pur els hastivement,
Si fist mener devant lui tut en present,
Si confortat mult dulcement ambodous.
E puis furent il par lui de lur pecchié assous.
Si tramist a l’evesque de Alexandre arere
Par ses lettres, disant en tele manere:
“Recevez voz fiz en vostre obedience,
Kar, en verité, il unt faite lur penitence.” }

These brothers didn’t miraculously regain the masculine genitals that they wrongly castrated. Being reformed in that physical sense wasn’t necessary. The brothers were healed of their self-righteous contempt for masculine genitals and the seminal blessing. That’s ultimately sufficient for redeeming everyone of whatever gender.

Affirming the goodness of men’s sexuality requires continual application. About two millennia ago, the classically learned Jewish scholar Philo of Alexandria recorded Jewish perception that Ham laughed when he saw exposed the genitals of his sleeping father Noah.[9] About four centuries later, the classically learned Christian poet Claudius Marius Victor conveyed the moral sense of that Jewish interpretation:

One day Noah, while he celebrated joyfully the Lord’s honors,
indulging in feasts and tasting sweet drinks,
felt the strong wine and, by heavy sleep
overcome, carelessly laid down his limbs on his faithful bed.
Simultaneously his clothing, rolled back, revealed the hidden places
of his body and moved you to laugh, most worthless Ham,
your very font and origin did!

{ Forte Noë domini celebrat dum laetus honores
indulgens epulis et dulcia pocula libans,
persensit vivos latices somnoque gravante
victus membra toro posuit neglecta fideli:
et revoluta simul vestis secreta retexit
corporis et risum tibi, Cham deterrime, movit
fons et origo tui }[10]

Human genitals, including men’s genitals, are a font and origin of human life. Men’s genitals deserve respect. All should recite with reverence early sixth-century verses by the prisoner Boethius:

O father, grant my mind to climb to your majestic seat,
grant me to circle your font of goodness, grant light of being discovered,
light to focus on you the clear sight of my spirit.
Disperse the clouds of heavy, earthly labor
and shine forth in your splendor! You are thus serene
and quiet rest for the blessed. To discern you is their goal.
Beginning, carrier, leader, pathway, end — are you alone.

{ Da pater augustam menti conscendere sedem,
Da fontem lustrare boni, da luce reperta
In te conspicuos animi defigere visus.
Dissice terrenae nebulas et pondera molis
Atque tuo splendore mica! Tu namque serenum,
Tu requies tranquilla piis, te cernere finis,
Principium, vector, dux, semita, terminus idem. }[11]

Men with functioning genitals literally propagate the seminal blessing. Their genitals should be honored as a font of goodness.

Hrabanus Maurus and abbot Alcuin present book to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz

In a figurative sense, all persons can send forth seeds of new life. The scholar and abbot Alcuin of York about 803 urged the Archbishop Aethelhard of Canterbury:

Sow living seeds of truthful words
so that then faith would grow in human hearts.

{ Insere veridicis vitalia semina verbis
Cordibus humanis crescat ut inde fides. }[12]

That’s not merely the task of an early ninth-century celibate archbishop. All persons, even if they have wrongly castrated themselves, can figuratively engage in the worthy work of sowing such seeds.

Men choose castration within structures of righteousness misconstructed according to entrenched disparagement of men’s sexuality. We must collectively repent of castration culture and its historical injustices. Education is essential. Students should learn about the castration in Hesiod’s Theogony and the classical circle of castration and cuckolding. They should study Jerome’s and Augustine’s condemnations of the castrated Galli servants of the great mother goddess Cybele. They should be taught about Origen’s foolish self-castration and about the vicious penal punishment of Peter Abelard. Most of all, everyone should understand that self-castration is a foolish way for men to seek to appear righteous.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Matthew 19:12. Concerning this passage, see my post on vicious eunuch officials.

[2] The Tale of the Basin, vv. 208-14, Middle English text from Furrow (2013), my English modernization. For a English modernization of the full tale, Brewer (1996) pp. 55-8, where it’s called The Tale of the Pot. This tale belongs to folktale type ATU 571B, “All Stick Together; Lover Exposed.”

The Tale of the Basin survives only in one late-fifteenth century manuscript: Cambridge University Library MS Ff.5.48, folios 58r–61v. The scribe, Gilbert Pylkyngton, apparently was from West Derbyshire. The introduction to this tale in Furrow (2013) provides additional manuscript details and lists printed editions.

A parson is a parish priest. Brewer observed:

Priests were conventionally titled ‘Sir’, better rendered in modern English as ‘Parson’.

Brewer (1996) p. 183, note to tale 3.

With respect to “Be cockis swete wounde” (v. 208), Furrow noted:

A euphemistic swearing by the wounds of Christ, with cock standing in for God as modern gosh does. In medieval Christian theology all three members of the Trinity are equally God, so Christ can be referred to as God just as God the Father can. It is not until 1618 that OED cites the word cock used with the meaning “penis” (see cock n.1, sense 20), but the often anthol­ogized early fifteenth-century lyric “I have a gentil cok” from London, British Library MS Sloane 2393 plays upon the reader’s dawning recognition that the cock in question is not avian. The lyric may mark the early stages of the use of the term for the penis. Given that medieval poets liked to pick oaths with particular significance, cock may well be a pun here, with the sense “penis” playing into the following line in which the philandering priest is threatened with loss of his “harnesse.”

Furrow glosses “harnesse” as “equipment.” It context that word clearly refers to the parson’s testicles. Brewer (1996), p. 58, uses “balls,” which I followed above.

In fifteenth-century England, a hundred pounds was about four times the annualized wages of a laborer or about twice that of a chantry priest. Lorenz (2022). Extorting a hundred pounds from Parson John would have significantly affected his wealth.

[3] Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History {Historia Ecclesiastica / Ἐκκλησιαστικὴ ἱστορία} 6.8, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Oulton (1932). The controversy among Demetirus, Alexander, and Theoctistus, bishops of Alexandria, Jerusalem, and Caesaerea, respectively, is subsequently recounted in Historia Ecclesiastica 6.8.

Origen’s self-castration refers to Origen castrating himself, or Origen having someone else castrate him at his request. Who actually does the castration matters relatively little. The point is seeking to have oneself castrated to be righteous.

Origen was born about 185 GC. He became a catechist at the catechetical school of Alexandria at age eighteen, meaning about 203. He was ordained as a presbyter in 231. Assuming he actually did have himself castrated, Origen probably had himself castrated in the first decade of the third century.

Eusebius apparently disseminated his Historia Ecclesiastica in four editions. Books 1-7 were disseminated circa 295. Barnes (1980) p. 201. Eusebius thus probably composed his account of Origen’s castation only about 90 years after it occurred. Eusebus disseminated the fourth and final edition of his Historia Ecclesiastica in 325.

Whether Origen actually had himself castrated is a matter of scholarly controversy. Eusebius, who became bishop of Caesarea about 314, probably had good textual and personal sources about Origen. Theoctistus, the Archbishop of Caesarea, ordained Origen as a priest. Origen founded a Christian school at Caesarea and became a famous teacher there. Eusebius greatly admired Origen and had no reason to besmirch Origen with a false claim that he castrated himself. Eusebius’s Historia Ecclesiastica devotes more attention to Origen than to any other person.

Eusebius’s account of Origen’s castration has been generally accepted historically. Writing about 399 GC and possibly with additional historicals sources, Jerome declared of Origen:

He so fled from pleasures that in zeal for God, but not according to true knowlege, he cut off his genitals with a knife.

{ voluptates in tantum fugiit, ut zelo dei, sed non secundum scientiam ferro truncaret genitalia }

Jerome, Letter 84, “To Pammachius and Oceanus {Pammachio et Oceano},” section 8, Latin text from Hilberg (1910-18), my English translation, benefitting from that of Freemantle (1892). Dates for this letter range from 398-400 GC. Most authorities in the medieval and early modern period believed that Origen castrated himself. Skuse (2020) p. 379.

Evidence exists that other early Christian men castrated themselves. According to Justin Martyr’s First Apology, which he wrote about 156 GC, a young Christian man had recently petitioned Felix the governor of Alexandria. The young man petitioned for permission to have a surgeon castrate him (the surgeon refused to do the operation without gubenatorial permission). Governor Felix refused to grant permission for the young man’s castration. The young man accepted Felix’s decision and didn’t attempt to castrate himself physically. Justin Martyr, First Apology, section 29.

Writing about 375 GC, Epiphanius of Salamis contemptuously described a sect (“Valesians”) that imposed castration on its members:

Most of them were members of the church until a certain time, when their foolishness became widely known and they were expelled from the church. All but a few are eunuchs, and they have the same beliefs about principalities and authorities that the Sethians, Archontics, and others do. When they take a man as a disciple, as long as he is still un-castrated he does not eat meat. When they convince him to be castrated, or they castrate him by force, he may eat anything, because he has retired from the contest and runs no more risk of being aroused to the pleasure of lust by the things he eats. They do not only impose this discipline on their own disciples. It is widely rumored that they have often made this disposition of strangers when they were passing through and accepted their hospitality. They seize them when they enter, bind them on their backs to boards, and perform the castration by force.

{ Ἐν μὲν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ οἱ πλείους συνήγοντο ἕως καιροῦ τινος, ἕως εἰς πλάτος ἦλθεν ἡ αὐτῶν ἄνοια καὶ ἀπεβλήθησαν τῆς ἐκκλησίας. εἰσὶ δὲ πάντες ἀπόκοποι πλὴν ὀλίγων, καὶ αὐτοὶ δὲ περὶ ἀρχῶν καὶ ἐξουσιῶν καὶ ἄλλων οὕτως δοξάζουσι. Ἐν μὲν τῇ ἐκκλησίᾳ οἱ πλείους συνήγοντο ἕως καιροῦ τινος, ἕως εἰς πλάτος ἦλθεν ἡ αὐτῶν ἄνοια καὶ ἀπεβλήθησαν τῆς ἐκκλησίας. εἰσὶ δὲ πάντες ἀπόκοποι πλὴν ὀλίγων, καὶ αὐτοὶ δὲ περὶ ἀρχῶν καὶ ἐξουσιῶν καὶ ἄλλων οὕτως δοξάζουσι. καὶ ὅταν λάβωσιν ἄνθρωπον εἰς μαθητείαν, καθ ὅσον μὲν χρόνον οὔπω τῶν μορίων ἀπετμήθη. ἐμψύχωι τὐ μεταλαμβάιει· ὅταν δὲ πείσωσι τὸν τοιοῦτον ἤ μετὰ ἀνάγκης αὐτὸν ἀποτέμωσι, τότε πᾶν ὁτιοῦ μεταλαμβάνει ὡς ἤδη πεπαυμέιος ἀγῶιος καὶ μηκέτι ἐπικίνδυνος ὤν εἰς τὸ ἐποτρύνεσθαι διὰ τῶν ἐδεσμάτων εἰς ἡδονὴν ἥκειν ἐπιθυμίας. οὐ μόνον δὲ τοὺς ἰδίους τοῦτον ἀπαρτίζουσι τὸν τρόπον, ἀλλὰ πολλάκις καὶ ξέιους παρερχομένους καὶ παρ αὐτοῖς ἐπιξενωθέντα ταύτῃ διέθεντο τῇ ἀγωγῇ. ὡς πολὺς περὶ τούτου θρυλεῖται λόγος. ἀρπάζουσι γὰρ τοὺς τοιούτους ἔνδον καὶ ὀπίσω ἐπὶ συμψελίοις δήσαντες μετὰ ἀνάγκης τὸ χειρότευκτον ἐργάζονται τῆς τῶν μελῶν ἀφαιρέσεως. }

Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion {Πανάριον} 58, sections 4-7, ancient Greek text from Holl (1915-1933) via Perseus, English translation (modified slightly for ease of reading) from Williams (2013) pp. 100-1.

[4] Men’s sexuality to this day is subject to criminal suspicion. Such criminal suspicion supports castration culture. Caner observed:

self-castration was sometimes adopted by male ascetics to allay suspicion which might otherwise arise from their living with female ascetics.

Caner (1997) p. 398. Advocating for castration helps a man to appear righteous in gynocentric academia today. See, e.g. Keufler (2003), Keufler (2022). Cf. Matthew 6:1.

Advocating for castration in gynocentric academia today works through anxieties, conceptual crises, ambiguities, contradictions, abstractions, and the motive force of opportunities for discussion. The implications are straight-forward:

paradoxes, contradictions, and condemnations — in the context of the crisis of masculinity in the later Roman Empire — enabled Christianity to attract adherents, not only in late antiquity but well beyond that period.

Keufler (2003) p. 297. But irrespective of any historical-conceptual developments, male privilege and the marginalization of women are unquestionable, objective truths with no ambiguity whatsoever:

Whether condoned or condemned, and even for those who saw it as an abdication of masculine identity, castration served as an opportunity to discuss the progress toward spiritual perfection in men. Christian writings of all stripes identified the masculine with the spiritual and the feminine with bodily realities, a logic according to which even incapacitated men stood above all women. Regardless, it reinforced the assumptions of male privilege that were so much a part of the ancient world. As many scholars have reminded us, even the genderless ideal of the early Christians proved all too often to be a universe imagined without women.

Keufler (2022) p. 137. That’s how dominant gynocentric ideology is now socially performed.

[5] Origen, Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew 15.1-6. For the ancient Greek text and an English translation, Gohl (2019). For some analysis concerning Origen’s commentary on Matthew 19:12, Caner (1997) pp. 402-3. Origen’s commentary is extensive and recognizes “somatic” interpretations of “eunuch” in Matthew 19:12. He also describes a physical effect of castration: no growth of facial hair.

Origen wrote his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew in 244 GC or later. He thus wrote it more than forty years after he reportedly had himself castrated. That’s surely enough time to change one’s mind about a youthful act. Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew argues for a spiritual interpretation of all three types of eunuchs in Matthew 19:12. Origen as a mature thinker was known for allegorical interpretation of scripture, not literal interpretation.

Ancient scholars were capable of learning and changing their judgments. Keufler ignored Origen’s recusatio on self-castration, ignored the fundamental seminal blessing in Hebrew scripture, and imagined self-castration to have righteous, abstract significance:

So his self-castration was probably not the result of an “immature mind,” as Eusebius claimed, or an excessive literalism, but an embodiment of his beliefs about human existence, the nature of the universe, and his hope for the future of all things – like the actions of the other self-castrating Christians.

Keufler (2022) p. 138. Is such academic analysis a triumph of the human spirit, or an embodiment of man’s inhumanity to man, or merely a string of banalities less real than farting?

[6] Harley 2253 Manuscript, Booklet 1, Lives of the Fathers {Vitas patrum}, Words of the Elders {Verba seniorum} vv. 3279-85, Old French (Anglo-Norman) text and English translation (modified) from Fein, Raybin & Ziolkowski (2015). Id. associates this exemplum with Matthew 5:28–30. However, Matthew 19:12 is more directly relevant. The two passages are related through harsh regultion of men’s sexuality. On interpreting and translating Matthew 19:10-12, Van Tine (2018).

The Templar Henri d’Arci apparently commissioned this Vitas patrum translation from a priest in London, probably an Austin canon, for the moral and spiritual instruction of Templars of the Temple Bruer near Lincoln. Sinclair (1997). The translation seems to have been made between 1170 and 1180. Fein, Raybin & Ziolkowski (2015), “Art. 1, Vitas Patrum: Introduction.” Another surviving copy of the Verba seniorum translation for Henri d’Arci is in Paris, BnF MS français 24862. For a critical edition of the Verba seniorum of that manuscript and MS Harley 2253, Poureshagh (1976).

The story of the two monks castrating themselves is an exemplum under the theme of humility in admitting one’s own guilt. That’s consistent with Origen’s implicit repentance for his self-castration in his interpretation of Matthew 19:12 in his Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.

This exemplum survives in the ancient Greek Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers / Apophthegmata Patrum {ἀποφθέγματα τῶν πατέρων}. See N.334/15.111 lines 11-47 in Wortley (2013) pp. 217-19. It was incorporated into the ancient Greek systematic collection of sayings of the desert fathers. Wortley (2012) p. 273. It was translated into Latin as section 5.15.88 of the systemic sayings among Verba seniorum in Vitas patrum. For an edition, Patrologia Latina 73.968-9. Benedict Baker provided a translation / summary of Vitas patrum 5.15.88 in English. Vitas patrum / Vitae patrum has a complex textual history. On that history, Studer (2012) and Baker’s introduction.

Subsequent quotes above from this exemplum are similarly sourced. Those quotes are vv. 3286-96 (So they didn’t do wisely…), 3297-3303 (And the brothers still thought that they’d done well…), 3304-8 (What can I say?…), 3325-34 (Then they said…), 3342 (wretched and guilty), 3350-60 (When God, who knows and sees the hearts of all…).

[7] In the Anglo-Norman translation, the brother citing the exemplum includes his own opinion of the two brothers’ self-castration. Neither the ancient Greek source nor the Vitas patrum recension of Patrologia Latina includes that extradiegetic perspective. Here’s the beginning of the exemplum in the Patrologia Latina recension:

Two worldly men were pious, and after conversing, went out and made themselves monks. Having as a model for themselves the evangelical voice, but not according to true knowledge, castrated themselves as if doing so was fitting for the Kingdom of Heaven. Hearing of this, the archbishop excommunicated them.

{ Duo quidam erant saeculares religiosi, et colloquentes secum egressi sunt, et facti sunt monachi: aemulationem autem habentes vocis evangelicae, sed non secundum scientiam, castraverunt se quasi propter regna coelorum. Audiens autem archiepiscopus, excommunicavit eos }

Latin text of Vitas patrum / De vitis patrum from Patrologia Latina 73.968, my English translation.

[8] Epiphanius of Salamis was Bishop of Cyprus from about 366 to his death in 403. He was honored as a saint and famed as a vigorous defender of Christian orthodoxy. In the exemplum of the two self-castrating brothers, Epiphanius is positioned as the ultimate pious hero. The Anglo-Norman text transmits his prominence in the exemplum by capitalizing his name and giving him the additional title of Master. Master was a medieval address for a learned teacher.

[9] On Ham laughing upon seeing Noah’s genitals, Philo of Alexandria, Questions on Genesis {Quaestiones in Genesim} 2.71 and On Sobriety {De sobrietate} 32. Philo nonetheless favored brutal regulation of men’s sexuality:

It is better to be made a eunuch than to seek insanely illicit unions.

{ ἐξευνουχισθῆναί γε μὴν ἄμεινον ἢ πρὸς συνουσίας ἐκνόμους λυττᾶν. }

Philo, That the Worse is Wont to Attack the Better {Quod deterius potiori insidiari soleat / Περί του το χείρον τω κρείττονι φιλείν επιτίθεσθαι} 48, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Colson & Whitaker (1929). For the context in Philo, cf. Matthew 5:27-32.

[10] Claudius Marius Victor, Truth {Alethia} 3.71-77 (only part of v. 77), Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Abosso (2015) pp. 74, 75. Alethia is a 1020-verse hexameter paraphrase of Genesis. Claudius Marius Victor of Marseille composed it in Gaul in the first half of the fifth century. Alethia apparently was meant to instruct students. It survives in one manuscript, BnF Paris, latin 7558. That manuscript was written in the ninth century. For additional text and English translation from Alethia, Kuhnmuench (1929) pp. 331-46.

[11] Anicius Manlius Severinus Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy {De consolatione philosophiae} 3.9M.22-8, Latin text from Stewart, Rand & Tester (1973), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. James O’Donnell has made freely available a helpful commentary. Boethius composed De consolatione philosophiae in 523 while imprisoned by King Theodoric of the Ostrogoths.

[12] Alcuin of York, Letter 311, To Aethelhard, Archbishop of Canterbury, appended poem, vv. 11-2, Latin text from Dümmler (1895) p. 481, my English translation, benefitting from that of Waddell & Corrigan (1976) p. 189. Alcuin’s poem appended to this letter is poem 50 in Poetarum Latinorum Medii Aevi (1881), vol. 1, pp. 262-3. Here’s more on Alcuin’s writings.

While Alcuin was merely a deacon, his vast learning and his status as an advisor to the Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne made him an important advisor to bishops. On Alcuin’s relationship to English bishops, Coates (1996).

[images] (1) Eunuch acolytes honor the great mother goddess Cybele. Illumination that Maïtre François made in Paris. c. 1475 in an instance of Raoul de Presles’s French translation of Augustine’s The City of God {La Cité de Dieu}. From folio 341v of manuscript The Hague, MMW, 10 A 11. (2) Hrabanus Maurus and Alcuin of York, Abbot of Tours, present to Archbishop Otgar of Mainz (on right) Hrabanus Maurus’s book, On praise of the holy cross {De laudibus sanctae crucis}. From folio 2v of manuscript Wien, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, cod.652, made in Mainz or Fulda between 830 and 840. Hrabanus Maurus, who was Alcuin’s student, greatly honored Jesus’s masculinity and the biblical seminal blessing.


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