Galeron & Ganor on men’s worth versus medieval anti-meninism

What determines a man’s worth? Today some women would say the quality of the shoes he wears, how expensive his watch is, and whether he drives a luxury car. In Gautier d’Arras’s late-twelfth-century romance Ille and Galeron {Ille et Galeron}, the women-heroes Galeron and Ganor declared that the quality of a man’s heart, not his family’s social status, determines his worth. Moreover, in contrast to medieval anti-meninism, neither Galeron nor Ganor required from Ille arduous personal service to gain their love. Galeron and Ganor freely loved Ille for his fine heart and his masculine jewels.

In particular, after Princess Galeron endured on a long, unsuccessful quest to find her husband Ille, she went to Rome to seek penance from the pope. The pope gave her a light penance. She did additional, humbling penance by working as a seamstress while living in modest lodgings in Rome. One day, standing behind the door of Saint Peter’s church, she waited for Ille to enter on his way to a second marriage with the Roman emperor’s daughter Ganor. Galeron said to herself:

By enough great folly have I thought,
when I have taken notice of his lineage!
Whatever man under Heaven was his father,
he himself is worth more than an emperor.
From him is very well evident who he is:
from a worthy heart are worthy conquests,
worthy words, and worthy deeds.
From each man is very well evident what he does.

{ Trop par ai pensé grant folage
quant j’ai pris garde a son parage!
Ques hom sossiel que fust ses pere,
si vaut il mix c’uns emperere.
A lui pert mout bien qui il est:
de rice cuer rice conquest,
rice parole et rice fait.
A cascun pert mout bien qu’il fait. }[1]

In Galeron’s understanding, a man’s heart determines his worth. That’s profound appreciation for men as human beings, not merely instruments.

MIT dance workshop, 1989

Like the relationship between faith and works in Christianity, the relationship between a man’s worthy heart and his worthy deeds can easily be misconstrued.[2] Men historically have been required to do manly deeds in order to be recognized as a man. A man, however, does manly deeds because he’s a man. A man with a worthy heart similarly does worthy deeds if he’s able to do them. However, a man with a wicked heart might also do worthy deeds in order to deceive others about his heart. Do not be deceived! Value men for the quality of their hearts, not for the eminence of their deeds.

A rival to Galeron for Ille’s love, the Roman emperor’s daughter Ganor shared Galeron’s appreciation for men. When Ille resolved to abort his marriage to Ganor and return to his newly found wife Galeron, he attempted to console Ganor. He told her that he was merely the son of Eliduc, a minor noble of Brittany. Ganor strongly rebuked him:

By God, the king of Heaven,
what does your ancestry matter to me?
I seldom see a man loved
because it’s clamored that he’s from royalty,
nor does one who lives like a king
have the merit of a courtly king.
And if your father were a peasant,
never for that reason would you be worth less.
In the heart of each man resides
the motive for him receiving contempt or honor.
It doesn’t come to him from any greater distance.
No one seeks from him any other witness.

{ Por Diu, le roi celestre,
que t[a]int a moi de vostre ancestre?
Je ne voi gaires home amer
por ce c’on l’ot roial clamer,
ne nul qui vive comme rois
ne vaille un roi, s’il est cortois;
et vostre pere soit vilains,
ja por ce ne vaurés vos mains.
A cascun en son cuer demore
por coi on l’aville u honore:
ne li vient mie de plus long;
on ne li quiert autre tesmong. }

Ganor was speaking of her own judgment of a man’s worth. Others sometimes treat with contempt men who have worthy hearts. Those men should be treated honorably. Nonetheless, whether those men are treated with contempt or with honor doesn’t change the worthiness of their hearts.

MIT Dance Workshop performance

In contrast to Galeron and Ganor appreciating the worth of men’s hearts, the narrator of Ille et Galeron voices anti-meninism. Over the past century, scholars on high speaking platforms have extensively discussed medieval anti-feminism.[3] Medieval anti-meninism has largely been obscured in scholarly silence, with discussion of this grave matter actively marginalized and suppressed. Simply reading aloud verses from Ille et Galeron can contribute to breaking the silence about medieval anti-meninism:

No man of low or high status
was then half as bold
as men are now.
Now a man presumes to have used a woman
before he has done forty days of courting her.
Because if he hasn’t used her within a week,
he will never visit her again.
One no longer sees lengthy keeping of love-seeking,
no longer is every man timid in speaking to a woman,
because if he encounters her denying his request,
then he goes again to seek the same elsewhere.
If he gets his desire, he doesn’t seek further.

{ Ne li bas home ne li haut
n’estoient mie lors si baut
com il sont ore la moitié:
or cuide il avoir esploitié
ains qu’il ait fait le quarentaine.
Car s’on n’esploite en la semaine,
ja n’i querra on puis venir.
On ne veut mais lonc plet tenir:
nus hom n’est mais coars del dire,
car se ce vient a l’escondire,
aillors revait querre autretel;
s’il a son bon, il ne quiert el. }[4]

Not all men are like that, neither in medieval Europe nor anywhere in the world today. The medieval women-heroes Galeron and Ganor appreciated the worth of men’s hearts. Resisting the elite anti-meninism now pressing down on everyone everywhere, you too should appreciate the worth of men’s hearts.

Men are unquestionably necessary for a thriving human society. Nonetheless, many men now feel over-worked, under-appreciated, disrespected, and even demonized. Historical injustice in the social construction of manhood has undermined men’s self-esteem. Today the world is suffering from an acute crisis in men’s self-esteem. It’s more of a global emergency than many of today’s other global emergencies. Government programs focused on improving men’s welfare are urgently needed. Much work remains to be done. Women’s active participation is vitally important. Women must do more to lessen men’s burdens, to make men feel respected, and to cherish men’s worthy hearts.

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[1] Gautier d’Arras, Ille and Galeron {Ille et Galeron} vv. 4081-8, 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 above are similarly sourced from Ille et Galeron. They are vv. 4711-22 (By God, the king of Heaven…) and 1227-38 (No man of low or high status…).

[2] On faith and works in Christian life, see e.g. Romans 3:28, Ephesians 2:8-9, James 2:20, 26. In contrast to centuries of vigorous Christian debate about faith and works, men throughout history have commonly been thought to become men through their manly works.

[3] In disparaging medieval literature of men’s sexed protest, a eminent professor ominously referred to the “monstrous bulk of antifeminist literature in the Middle Ages.” Mann (1991) p. 2. In reality, medieval authors were cautious about protesting women’s ill treatment of men. They rightly feared punishment under women’s power.

[4] The anti-meninist diatribe that the narrator voices probably doesn’t reflect the author Gautier d’Arras’s personal opinion. Gautier was a sophisticated writer. He expressed keen understanding of men’s difficulties in love with women, from both critical and sympathetic orientations. Moreover, lamenting the rottenness of the current world, its imminent collapse, and moral decay relative to a golden age, are well-established motifs in medieval literature.

Ille himself nostalgically misunderstood chivalry. He declared:

Knights now joke about love
and turn everything into jesting.
Yet once chivalry was
by love first maintained
and was love’s protege and retainer,
and knights were fired by love’s spirit
to acquire honor and praise and renown.
That was its original occasion.

{ Chevalier gabent mais d’amors
et tornent tout a jouglerie;
si fu peruec cevalerie
par amors primes maintenue
et avoee et retenue,
et furent par amor espris
d’aquerre honor et los et pris;
ce fu l’ocoisons premeraine. }

Ille et Galeron, vv. 3915-22, sourced as above. Chivalry tragically evolved from men vigorously loving women into men’s prowess in violence against men. Love in truth requires lessening violence against men as much as possible.

[images] (1) Photo of MIT Dance Workshop performance, 1989. (2) Photo from the same performance.


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

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.

Mann, Jill. 1991. Apologies to Women: inaugural lecture delivered 20th November 1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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