Guy of Warwick feared punishment for loving Felice in medieval romance

Not only have men been disproportionately gender-burdened with soliciting amorous relationships and enduring rejection, punishment for adultery historically has been gender-biased against men. In the medieval romance Guy of Warwick {Gui de Warewic}, composed about 1200, Guy of Warwick feared mortal punishment merely for loving the noble Felice. She herself threatened to have him drawn and quartered just because he told her of his ardent love for her. Women must show more compassion for men’s oppressive gender position.

Guy of Warwick actually had been authorized to serve Felice. She was the daughter of Rualt, the wealthy and powerful count of Warwick. At a feast to celebrate Pentecost, Count Rualt saw Guy, the son of his seneschal Sequart:

So he called Guy to himself,
and said and commanded him
that he go to the room
of his daughter Felice to greet her,
and that he should properly serve her
so as to bring her well to pleasure.

{ A sei l’ad donques apelé,
Si lui ad dit e comandé
Qu’il en la chambre alast,
Sa fille Felice saluast,
E qu’il la deust le jur servir
Ke ben lui vienge a pleisir. }

Courtly love constructs men as feudal servants to women. The handsome, well-dressed Guy went to Felice in her room. He knelt before her and declared that her father ordered him to serve her according to her wishes. He thus was in the servant position of a man as a courtly lover.

face within heart: marginalia in fifteenth-century prose manuscript of Guy of Warwick

Guy sought to serve Felice even beyond her wishes. He did all that she desired:

Guy exerted himself to serve her well.
The young woman had much pleasure
in the good service to which he put himself.

{ Gui se pena de bel servir
La pucele ben a pleisir,
en bel servir mist s’entente. }

Many men will do anything to serve beautiful, young women. Guy yearned to serve Felice, a name derived from “bliss {felicité},” in sexual love:

Felice the beautiful with her radiant face
had so seized Guy in love
that he didn’t know what to do at any time,
so much by love was he ravished.
From then on he often sighed and thought.

{ Felice la bele od le cler vis,
En s’amur est Gui si suspris
Que il ne set que faire a nul jur,
Tant par est suppris d’amur,
Desore suspire e pense sovent }

Men are romantically simple. What Guy was thinking cannot be doubted. He didn’t dare show his loving arousal. He asked for leave and, distressed and sorrowful, left Felice’s room.

face with disturbed heart: marginalia in fifteenth-century prose manuscript of Guy of Warwick

Guy languished in love for Felice. He would speak to himself in sorrow:

What shall I do, alas, such a wretch am I!
Such evil fate that I saw Felice with the radiant face!
And to her I don’t dare show my pain
that I have both night and day because of her.
I will never show it to her,
since this I wouldn’t dare to do.
Isn’t she the daughter of my lord,
to whom I should bear great reverence?
If I were to love her and he knew of it,
then he would be able to punish me.
He would have me burned or beheaded,
hung on high or drowned in the sea.
And I, alas, what then shall I do?
I love one whom I will never have.

{ Que frai jo, las, tant sui chaitifs!
Tant mar vi Felice od le cler vis!
A lui n’os mustrer ma dolur,
Que pur lui ai e nuit e jur,
Ne jamés ne li musterai;
Iço coment faire ne l’oserai.
Dune est ele fille mun seignur,
A qui dei porter grant honur?
Si jo l’amasse e il le seust,
Et il puis ateindre me peust,
Arder me freit u decoler,
Pendre en halt u en mer noier;
E jo, las, dunc que frai?
Cele aim que jamés n’averai. }

Men shouldn’t be punished for loving women. Men’s lives should matter. The goodness of men’s love for women must be vigorously affirmed. These are planks in a grass-roots platform for a progressive future. Guy suffered alone in medieval Warwick. Like many men, he refrained from voicing his anguish.

Guy ultimately resolved to throw himself at the mercy of his beloved woman Felice. He accepted the social reality of grotesque devaluation of men’s lives amid public celebration of divine and demonic women:

My pain is nothing to her.
Little she cares now for my life.
Not for anything shall I allow myself,
whether it brings evil or good,
now indeed not to go to her.
I will put myself entirely at her mercy.
She will be able to kill me well,
if she would be pleased to do that to me.
Indeed it’s much better if she kills me
than that I long endure this life.

{ De ma dolur ne li est mie,
Poi li chaud ore de ma vie;
Ne larrai mes pur nule rien,
Avenge n’en u mal u ben,
Que ne voise ore certes a li;
Del tut me mettrai en sa merci,
Oscire ben me purra,
Ço que li pleist de mei fera;
Mielz voil certes qu’ele me oscie
Ke lunges me dure ceste vie. }

Elite men’s life expectancy in medieval England was about nine years less than elite women’s. Under historically entrenched gynocentrism and gyno-idolatry, men’s lives have been terribly devalued. Guy of Warwick narrates that social injustice.

Guy of Warwick declares his love to Countess Felice

Wretched and distressed, Guy went to Felice and declared his ardent love for her. The extent of medieval men’s passionate love for women is scarcely conceivable today:

There is nothing that I desire more than you —
my heart from you cannot leave.
Above all else I have love for you.
For fear of death I will not allow
that I not love you every day,
as long as I am a living man.
Under Heaven there is nothing,
whether that be bad or good,
which for your love I wouldn’t do,
and for fear of death nothing would I refuse.
You are my life and my death —
without you I have no solace,
and I love you much more than I love myself.
I will die in extreme distress for you.
If you won’t take pity on me,
my life will be in extreme peril.
If you knew the extreme despair
that I have for your love,
and the complete grief and the pain
that for you I suffer both night and day,
I know well in faith
that you would have mercy on me.

{ La rien estes que plus desir,
De vus ne pot mis quer partir;
Sur tote rien amé vus ai.
Pur la mort pas ne larrai
Que ne vus aim a tut dis,
Tant cum serrai home vifs.
Suz ciel n’est icele rien,
Fust ço mal u fust ço bien,
Que pur vostre amur ne feisse,
Pur la mort nel desdeisse.
Vus estes ma vie e ma mort,
Sanz vus n’avrai jo confort;
Asez vus aim plus de mei,
Murrai pur vus a grant desrei;
Se vus ne prenge de mei pité,
A grant peril serrai livré.
Se saviez la grant tristur
Que ai pur la vostre amur,
E la grief peine e la dolur
Que pur vus soffre e nuit e jur,
Tresbien savereie de fi
Que vus avriez de mei merci. }

To Guy’s passionate, desperate proclamation of love, Felice responded matter-of-factly and dismissively:

Are you not that Guy,
the son of the seneschal Sequart?
Much now you take me for a fool,
when you have asked me for love.
You are indeed too bold.

{ Dune estes vus iço Gui?
Fiz estes al senescal Sequart;
Mult vus tienc ore a musart,
Quant d’amur m’avez requis;
Trop estes certes hardis. }

She could have begun by praising Guy’s passionate and lively heart. Why was Felice instead so hard-hearted and cruel? Guy’s father the seneschal was the steward for Felice’s father. That doesn’t rank Guy with a duke, a marquis, or a count, but he had social status far above a mere peasant. Men today aren’t permitted to reject a woman because she’s slutty, fat, or domineering. Felice rejected Guy because he was merely a seneschal’s son.

Guy of Warwick, hat in hand, before Felice

Loving women can easily condemn men to the penal system. In this medieval romance, Felice went so far as to threaten Guy with penal punishment merely for verbally expressing his love for her:

Too extreme a folly, Guy, you imagined
when you spoke to me about love,
because by the faith that I owe my mother,
if I go to speak to my father,
he will cut off your members
and have you pulled apart by horses,
by which would be warning
enough to many of the folly
of doing such a dishonor
to the daughter of their lord.
Get up quickly and get out of here.
Take care that you never return!

{ Trop grant folie, Gui, pensastes,
Quant vus de amur a mei parlastes;
Car par la fei que dei ma mere,
Se jol vois dire a mun pere,
Des menbres te freit desfaire,
E a chevals trestuit detraire,
Par quei serreient chastiez
De la folie plusurs assez,
De faire itel deshonur
A la fille lur seignur;
Alez d’ici, tost levez,
Gardez que mes n’i repairez! }

This daughter owes faith to her mother and apparently gives orders to her father. Cutting off a man’s members includes his penis. Guy risked being castrated and killed merely for expressing his love to Felice. Literary scholars have largely ignored or rationalize this outrage. Such a grotesque system of penal punishment regrettably remains with us to this day.

The medieval romance Guy of Warwick indicates the harsh regulation of men’s sexuality throughout history. The past need not define the future. Contempt for men dying of lovesickness need not continue. Progress toward a more humane future could start with women appreciating men’s distinctive lived experiences.

faces in manuscript marginalia

* * * * *

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The incidents above are from the medieval Anglo-Norman verse romance Guy of Warwick {Gui de Warewic}. Weiss dates this anonymous romance to (shortly) “before 1204.” Weiss (2008) p. 14. The Anglo-Norman version is commonly called Gui of Warwick. For simplicity I’ve used above the English name “Guy.” Warwick is a city in England. This romance thus became part of the “matter of England.” Guy of Warwick became a hero in England second only to King Arthur.

Across both French and English versions, Gui de Warewic survives in sixteen medieval manuscripts. That’s more than any other romance with an English hero or heroine. In addition to the c. 1200 Anglo-Norman version, Gui de Warewic also exists in a fifteenth-century French prose version and various adaptations into German and English. An English adaptation is attested to have been composed no later than the early fourteenth century through its presence in the Auchinleck manuscript (Edinburgh, National Library of Scotland, Advocates, 19.2.1). Stories of Guy of Warwick circulated widely in England through to the nineteenth century.

Felice’s hard-hearted and mortally threatening response to Guy’s proclamation of his love for her was eventually tempered in an English version, but also made more gynocentric. Consider, for example, Felice and Guy’s interaction in G.L. (1706). Guy declares his love to Felice (Phaelice):

Fairest of all the curious works of nature, whose equal never breathed in common air, more wonderful than any earth can yield, the bright idea of celestial beauty. Eternal honor wait upon thy name. The suit I have to thee is much like that which once Leander came to Hero with, hoping thereby to reap more lovely fruit than ever Mars gained from the queen of Love, when he outwitted Vulcan. The present which I bring, is a heart filled with love, and love can only satisfy my soul. Incline then, madam, to my humble motion: compassionate the griefs that I endure, and let that life that rests at your devotion be regarded. With pity take my dying heart in cure, and let it not expire in groaning torments, nor burst with griefs, because too well it loves thee. I know, dear Phaelice, that great princes love thee and deeds of honour for thy sake have done. But neither king nor prince can love thee more, no, nor so much as I, though but the son of thy great father’s steward, for so inestimable is my love, that whatsoever all others shall pretend, can never countervail it.

Phaelice responds with similar, lofty tone:

O gentle youth, speak not of love, I pray thee, for that is a thing I have no mind to hear of: virginity with me shall live and die. Love is composed of play and idleness, and leadeth only unto vain delight. Besides, it is in thee too great a boldness, for thou art far inferior to my degree: and should thy love be to my father told, I know it would procure thee a reproof. And therefore learn instruction from the proverb, ‘That princely eagles scorn to catch at flies.’ Then, if thou in thy suit wouldst have success, let thy desires be equal to thy fortune, and aim not at those things that are above it. Thou ownest, thyself, princes have courted me; then why should I, that have refused their courtship, stoop down so low as to my father’s steward; nay, lower yet unto his steward’s son? My youth and beauty is but in its bloom, and I have no mind to throw it away on one that is so much inferior to me.

G.L. (1706) pp. 14-5.

The quotes in the main section above are from the medieval Anglo-Norman Gui de Warewic, with the Old French (Anglo-Norman) edition of Ewert (1933) and my English translation, benefiting from that of Weiss (2008). Those quotes are vv. 179-84 (So he called Guy to himself…), 209-11 (Guy exerted himself to serve her well…), 217-21 (Felice the beautiful with her radiant face…), 251-64 (What shall I do, alas, such a wretch am I…), 289-98 (My pain is nothing to her…), 311-32 (There is nothing that I desire more than you…), 334-8 (Are you not that Guy…), 361-74 (Too extreme a folly, Guy, you imagined…).

[images] (1) Face within a heart. Marginialia (top margin) in fifteenth-century manuscript of a Middle English prose instance of Guy of Warwick. On folio 257v of British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI (Talbot Shrewsbury Book). This manuscript, containing poems and romances, was written in 1444-1445. (2) Face within disturbed heart. Marginialia (top margin) on folio 257r of British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI. Many heart-shaped top marginalia exist in this instance of Guy of Warwick. (3) Guy of Warwick entreats Countess Felice. Cover-page woodblock print (color-enhanced) from instance of L’hystoire de Guy de Waruich chevalier d’Angleterre {The History of Guy of Warwick, Knight of England}, published in Paris for Jean Bonfons in 1550. From instance offered for sale. (4) Guy of Warwick, hat in hand, before Felice. Illustration on page 12 of the sixteenth edition (dated 1800) of G.L (1706). (5) Faces in marginalia at the end of Guy of Warwick. From folio 266r of British Library, Royal MS 15 E VI


Ewert, Alfred,ed. 1933. Gui de Warewic, Roman du XIIIe Siècle. 2 vols. Les classiques français du Moyen Âge, 74-75. Paris: Champion.

G.L. (1706). The noble and renowned history of Guy, Earl of Warwick : containing a full and true account of his many famous and valiant actions … Extracted from authentick records; and the whole illustrated with cuts suitable to the history. Printed by W.O. for E.B. and sold by A. Bettesworth, London. Here’s an 1829 edition.

Weiss, Judith, trans. 2008. Boeve de Haumtone and Gui de Warewic: Two Anglo-Norman Romances. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 332; The French of England Translation Series, 3. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Piers Plowman: sober, common labor over symposia of Plato & Xenophon

In Athens nearly 2500 years ago, the philosopher Plato represented a Socratic symposium. In Plato’s Symposium, elite men drink wine and compete in giving speeches in praise of erotic love. Writing about two decades after Plato, the eminent Greek military leader Xenophon also represented a Socratic symposium. Xenophon’s Symposium includes music, dancing, and physical acrobatics, as well as elite men drinking wine and discussing love, pride, wisdom, and other abstractions. Piers Plowman in fourteenth-century England dreamed the symposia of Plato and Xenophon into a new, expansive symposium of a whole society interacting with personified concepts such as truth, do-well, and wit. In this new symposium, sober, common labor, rather than pleasing speech or reasoned discussion, best serves love and truth.

Plato’s Symposium consists primarily of speeches in praise of erotic love. The seven elite men participants laud a male’s sexual desire for another male. In classical Athens, such sexual desire was typically directed toward a male shortly before his first beard began to grow. But in the final speech, a drunk Alcibiades, who was an eminent Athenian statesman and general, speaks of his love for Socrates, an eminent Athenian philosopher. Both are well beyond the ages of their first beards. Participants in Plato’s Symposium speak abstractly about different aspects of love and its consequences. Their speeches aren’t narrowly focused on sex.

ancient Geek symposium

Unlike Plato’s Symposium, Xenophon’s Symposium moves discursively from topic to topic. Xenophon, however, begins with a central concern of Plato’s Symposium. Xenophon begins with silent appreciation for the beauty of the young man Autolycus:

A person who took note of what happened would have come at once to the conclusion that beauty is something naturally regal, especially when, as in the present case of Autolycus, its possessor joins with it modesty and self-control. For in the first place, just as the sudden glow of a light at night draws all eyes to itself, so now the beauty of Autolycus compelled everyone to look at him. And second, there was not one of the onlookers who did not feel his soul stirred by the boy. Some of them grew quieter than before, others even assumed some kind of a pose.

{ Εὐθὺς μὲν οὖν ἐννοήσας τις τὰ γιγνόμενα ἡγήσατ᾿ ἂν φύσει βασιλικόν τι τὸ κάλλος εἶναι, ἄλλως τε καὶ ἢν μετ᾿ αἰδοῦς καὶ σωφροσύνης καθάπερ Αὐτόλυκος τότε κεκτῆταί τις αὐτό. πρῶτον μὲν γὰρ ὥσπερ ὅταν φέγγος τι ἐν νυκτὶ φανῇ, πάντων προσάγεται τὰ ὄμματα, οὕτω καὶ τότε τοῦ Αὐτολύκου τὸ κάλλος πάντων εἷλκε τὰς ὄψεις πρὸς αὐτόν. ἔπειτα τῶν ὁρώντων οὐδεὶς οὐκ ἔπασχέ τι τὴν ψυχὴν ὑπ᾿ ἐκείνου· οἱ μέν γε σιωπηρότεροι ἐγίγνοντο, οἱ δὲ καὶ ἐσχηματίζοντό πως. }[1]

Xenophon indicates that some of the men felt erotic desire for Autolycus. Interrupting the general awe, the childish jester Philip enters. He seeks food as an uninvited guest. To earn his meal he attempts to provoke laughter. He fails, and then he weeps for his failure. The elite men in relation to Autolycus presaged the jester Philip. Without any coquettish invitation from Autolycus, they ridiculously feasted on him.

Like Socrates, Piers Plowman identifies love, which it closely associates with truth, as the most important human concern. Characters in Piers Plowman critically discuss erotic love, with explicit reference to Plato, and perhaps implicit reference to Xenophon. The narrator Will recounted:

A most marvelous dream came to me then
that I was fetched away forcibly — Fortune seized me
and into the land of longing and love she brought me,
and made me look into a mirror called Middle Earth.
Afterwards she said to me, “In this you might see wonders,
and recognize what you really want and reach it, perhaps.”
Then Fortune had following her two fair damsels.
Concupiscentia-Carnis men called the elder maid,
and Covetousness-of-Eyes the other was called.
Pride-of-Perfect-Living pursued them both
and said that for appearance’s sake I should pay small heed to Clergy.
Concupiscentia-Carnis clasped me about the neck
and said, “You are young and yeasty and have years enough ahead
to live a long life and make love to ladies,
and in this mirror you might see mirths by the score
that will lead you to delight all your lifetime.”
The second said the same: “I shall serve your pleasure;
till you’re a lord and have land, I’ll not leave you ever,
but will follow in your fellowship if Fortune pleases.”
“He shall find me his friend,” said Fortune then.
“The fellow that followed my will never failed to have bliss.”

{ A merveillous metels mette me thanne.
For I was ravysshed right there — for Fortune me fette
And into the lond of longynge and love she me broughte,
And in a mirour that highte Middelerthe she made me to biholde.
Sithen she seide to me, “Here myghtow se wondres,
And knowe that thow coveitest, and come therto, peraunter.”
Thanne hadde Fortune folwynge hire two faire damyseles:
Concupiscencia Carnis men called the elder mayde,
And Coveitise of Eighes ycalled was that oother.
Pride of Parfit Lyvynge pursued hem bothe,
And bad me for my contenaunce acounten Clergie lighte.
Concupiscencia Carnis colled me aboute the nekke
And seide, “Thow art yong and yeep and hast yeres ynowe
For to lyve longe and ladies to lovye;
And in this mirour thow might se myrthes ful manye
That leden thee wole to likynge al thi lif tyme.”
The secounde seide the same: “I shal sewe thi wille;
Til thow be a lord and have lond, leten thee I nelle
That I ne shal folwe thi felawship, if Fortune it like.”
“He shal fynde me his frend,” quod Fortune therafter;
“The freke that folwede my wille failled nevere blisse.” }[2]

Providing a vision of what one truly wants is Socratic. Yet Fortune “fetched away forcibly {ravysshed}” Will. That medieval term for rape hints at Fortune’s duplicity. Old Age countered Fortune:

Then was there one called Old Age that was unhappy of countenance.
“Man,” said he, “if I meet you, by Mary of Heaven,
you’ll find Fortune failing you at your greatest need,
and Concupiscentia-Carnis will clean forsake you.
Your curses will be bitter, both day and night,
for Covetousness-of-Eyes, that ever you knew her.
And Pride-of-Perfect-Living will put you in great danger.”

{ Thanne was ther oon that highte Elde, that hevy was of chere,
“Man,” quod he, “if I mete with thee, by Marie of hevene
Thow shalt fynde Fortune thee faille at thi mooste nede,
And Concupiscencia Carnis clene thee forsake.
Bittrely shaltow banne thanne, bothe dayes and nyghtes,
Coveitise of Eighe, that evere thow hir knewe;
And Pride of Parfit Lyvynge to muche peril thee brynge.” }

Recklessness and Childishness, however, urged Will to entertain the lovely maidens:

“Really? Don’t take him seriously,” said Recklessness, standing forth in ragged clothes.
“Follow whatever Fortune wills. You’ve far to go till Age.
It’s time enough for a man to stoop when he starts going bald.
‘Man proposes,’ said a poet then, and Plato was his name,
and ‘the Deity disposes,’ said he. Let God do his will.
If Truth will witness, it’s well done to follow Fortune.
Concupiscentia-Carnis and Covetousness-of-Eyes
will not grieve you greatly, nor unless you wish, beguile you.”
“Yes, farewell, Phippe,” said Childishness, and drew me forth with him
till Concupiscentia-Carnis accorded to all my deeds.

{ “Ye? Recche thee nevere!” quod Rechelesnesse, stood forth in raggede clothes
“Folwe forth that Fortune wole — thow has wel fer til Elde.
A man may stoupe tyme ynogh whan he shal tyne the crowne.
‘Homo proponit,’ quod a poete, and Plato he highte,
And ‘Deus disponit’ quod he, lat God doon his wille.
If Truthe wol witnesse it be wel do, Fortune to folwe,
Concupiscencia Carnis ne Coveitise of Eighes
Ne shal noght greve thee graithly, ne biglie thee but thow wolt.”
“Ye, farewel Phippe!” quod Faunteltee, and forth gan me drawe,
Til Concupiscencia Carnis acorded til alle my werkes. }

Childishness sarcastically called Old Age “Phippe,” a childish form of Philip. That would have been an appropriate nickname for the jester Philip in Xenophon’s Symposium. Plato never wrote, “Man proposes, the deity disposes {homo proponit, deus disponit},” particularly not in Latin. But the god of erotic love led Will to life in the flesh:

Covetousness-of-Eyes comforted me straightway
and followed me forty winters and a fifth more,
so that I didn’t give a damn for Do-Well and Do-Better.
I had no liking, believe me, to learn the least thing about them.
Covetousness-of-Eyes came more often to my mind
than Do-Well or Do-Better did among all my doings.
Covetousness-of-Eyes often comforted me.

So sweet were this wench’s words I did what she said
till my young days were done and I’d drifted into age.
And then Fortune was my foe for all her fair promises,
and poverty pursued me and put me low.

{ Coveitise of Eighes conforted me anoon after
And folwed me fourty wynter and a fifte moore,
That of Dowel ne Dobet no deyntee me thoughte.
I hadde no likyng, leve me, [o]f the leste of hem ought to knowe.
Coveitise of Eighes com ofter in mynde
Than Dowel or Dobet among my dedes alle.
Coveitise of Eighes conforted me ofte.

By wissynge of this wenche I dide, hir wordes were so swete,
Til I foryat youthe and yarn into elde.
And thanne was Fortune my foo, for al hir faire biheste,
And poverte pursued me and putte me lowe. }

Concern to live rightly (“Do-Well”) animates Socratic discussion. Will wasn’t interested in such learning. Xenophon’s exemplary men — “the morally autonomous elite / the beautiful and good {καλοκάγαθος}” — don’t age and fall into poverty. In ordinary life, men and women do.

figure of Reason in Piers Plowman

Love in Piers Plowman is far from the drinking and high-status intellectual practices of symposia. Dame Study claims to have taught Plato and Aristotle their learning, as well as ordinary folk all the practical arts classcially attributed to Prometheus. She directs Will to Clergy to learn about living rightly (“Do-Well”):

I shall acquaint you with my cousin — Clergy is his name.
He has wedded a wife within these six weeks
who is sib to the seven arts. She is called Scripture.
These two, as I hope, after my request
will direct you to Do-Well. I dare so warrant it.

{ I shal kenne thee to my cosyn that Clergie is hoten.
He hath wedded a wif withinne thise sixe monthes,
Is sib to the sevene arts–Scripture is hir name.
They two, as I hope, after my techyng,
Shullen wissen thee to Dowel, I dar wel undertake. }

According to Dame Study, the way to Clergy and Scripture isn’t sympotic. It’s a high way of sober, modest living:

“Ask for the highway,” said she, “from here to Suffer-
Both-Welfare-And-Woe, if you wish to learn.
And ride on past Riches — don’t rest there,
for if you keep company with him, you’ll never come to Clergy.
And also the long pastureland, Lechery by name,
leave it on your left hand a long mile or more
till you come to a castle, Keep-Well-Your-Tongue-
Then you shall see Sobriety and Sincerity-Of-Speech,
so that every one will be willing to share his wits with you.
Then you will come to Clergy, who knows many kinds of things.

{ “Aske the heighe wey,” quod she, “hennes to Suffre-
Bothe-wele-and-wo, if that thow wolt lerne;
And ryd forth by richesse, ac rest thow noght therinne,
For if thow couplest thee therwith to Clergie comestow nevere.
“And also the likerouse launde that Lecherie hatte–
Leve hym on thi left half a large myle or moore,
Til thow come to a court, Kepe-wel-thi-tunge-
Thanne shaltow se Sobretee and Sympletee-of-speche,
That ech wight be in wille his wit thee to shewe;
And thus shaltow come to Clergie, that kan manye thynges.” }

What Will must learn from Clergy and Scripture, one cannot learn through study. It’s a matter of theology beyond Dame Study, as she herself confessed:

But Theology has troubled me ten score times.
The more I muse on it, the mistier it seems,
and the deeper I divined, the darker I thought it.
It’s surely no science to argue subtly in.
If it weren’t for the love that lies in it, it would be a lame study.
But since it allows so much to Love, I love it the better,
for wherever Love is leader, there’s no lack of grace.
Be sure to love loyally if you’d like to Do-Well,
for Do-Better and Do-Best are drawn from Love’s school.

{ Ac Theologie hath tened me ten score tymes:
The moore I muse therinne, the myst[lok]er it semeth,
And the depper I devyne, the derker me it thynketh.
lt is no science, forsothe, for to sotile inne.
[If that love nere, that lith therinne, a ful lethi thyng it were];
Ac for it let best by love, I love it the bettre,
For there that love is ledere, ne lakked nevere grace.
Loke thow love lelly, if thee liketh Dowel,
For Dobet and Dobest ben of loves k[e]nn[yng]. }[3]

In Piers Plowman, Light, a figure of Jesus, declares:

For I who am Lord of Life, love is my drink,
and for that drink today I died upon earth.
I struggled so I’m thirsty still for man’s soul’s sake.

{ For I that am lord of lif, love is my drynke,
And for that drynke today, I deide upon erthe.
I faught so, me thursteth yet, for mannes soule sake. }

Plato’s Symposium involves drinking and talk of erotic love. In Piers Plowman, desire for drink links to love through a figure of Jesus. Socrates taught the immortality of the human soul. Piers Plowman has Jesus make souls immortal through his life and death. Piers Plowman completely reconfigures Socratic discourse.[4]

friar in Piers Plowman

Ancient Greek symposia often included entertainers. In Xenophon’s Symposium, a Syracusan impresario brings in a flute girl, a dancing girl skilled in acrobatic tricks, and a boy who plays the kithara and dances. After the girl danced while juggling twelve hoops, Socrates marveled at women’s ability to learn. When she turned somersaults about a hoop set with upright swords, Socrates praised her “courage / manliness {ἀνδρεία}.” Antisthenes then proposed that the girl’s stunt could promote the city’s use of men in violence against men:

“Well then,” asked Antisthenes, “wouldn’t it be best for this Syracusan to exhibit his dancer to the city and announce that if the Athenians pay him money, he’ll give all the men of Athens the courage to charge the spear points?”

{ Καὶ ὁ Ἀντισθένης εἶπεν· Ἆρ᾿ οὖν καὶ τῷδε τῷ Συρακοσίῳ κράτιστον ἐπιδείξαντι τῇ πόλει τὴν ὀρχηστρίδα εἰπεῖν, ἐὰν διδῶσιν αὐτῷ Ἀθηναῖοι χρήματα, ποιήσειν πάντας Ἀθηναίους τολμᾶν ὁμόσε ταῖς λόγχαις ἰέναι }

The jester Philip, like many journalists today, favored such a scheme for promoting violence against men:

“Well said!” interjected Philip, “I’d certainly like to watch Peisander the popular leader learning to turn somersaults into the knives. As it is, his inability to look spears in the face makes him shrink even from going on campaign!”

{ Καὶ ὁ Φίλιππος, Νὴ Δί᾿, ἔφη, καὶ μὴν ἔγωγε ἡδέως ἂν θεῴμην Πείσανδρον τὸν δημηγόρον μανθάνοντα κυβιστᾶν εἰς τὰς μαχαίρας, ὃς νῦν διὰ τὸ μὴ δύνασθαι λόγχαις ἀντιβλέπειν οὐδὲ συστρατεύεσθαι ἐθέλει. }

That’s conventional, gender-obtuse elite political banter. It favors praising women and devaluing men’s lives.

figure of Pride in Piers Plowman

Elite discourse, whether or not it includes women participants, typically fails men as a gender in fundamental ways. In Xenophon’s Symposium, a low-status entertainer provides implicitly the only critical perspective on violence against men:

At this point the boy performed a dance. He elicited from Socrates the remark, “Did you notice that, as beautiful as the boy is, he looks even more beautiful in the poses of the dance than when he’s at rest?”

{ Ἐκ τούτου ὁ παῖς ὠρχήσατο. καὶ ὁ Σωκράτης εἶπεν, Εἴδετ᾿, ἔφη, ὡς καλὸς ὁ παῖς ὢν ὅμως σὺν τοῖς σχήμασιν ἔτι καλλίων φαίνεται ἢ ὅταν ἡσυχίαν ἔχῃ }

Socrates jokingly declares that he would like to learn to dance to develop his body’s suppleness. He gives good reasons why dance is good exercise. Charmides, underscoring lack of concern about violence against men, says that he doesn’t know how to dance, but he shadowboxes. Shadowboxing is formally similar to dancing, but it’s completely opposite in instrumentalizing a man’s body. Philip the jester then estimates the weight of Socrates’s body parts as one would estimate the weight of meat. Philip accentuates with dance the triviality of their sympotic talk:

He got up and mimicked in detail the dancing of both the boy and the girl. To begin with, since the company had applauded the way the boy’s natural beauty was increased by the grace of the dancing postures, Philip made a burlesque out of the performance by rendering every part of his body that was in motion more grotesque than it naturally was. Whereas the girl had bent backward until she resembled a hoop, he tried to do the same by bending forward. Finally, since they had given the boy applause for putting every part of his body into play in the dance, he told the flute girl to quicken the tempo and he danced away, flinging out legs, hands, and head all at the same time. When he was quite exhausted, he exclaimed as he took to his couch, “Here’s proof, gentlemen, that my style of dancing also affords excellent exercise. It has certainly made me thirsty. Let the slave fill up for me the big drinking vessel!”

{ Ἐπειδὴ δ᾿ ἀνέστη, διῆλθε μιμούμενος τήν τε τοῦ παιδὸς καὶ τὴν τῆς παιδὸς ὄρχησιν. καὶ πρῶτον μὲν ὅτι ἐπῄνεσαν ὡς ὁ παῖς σὺν τοῖς σχήμασιν ἔτι καλλίων ἐφαίνετο, ἀνταπέδειξεν ὅ τι κινοίη τοῦ σώματος ἅπαν τῆς φύσεως γελοιότερον· ὅτι δ᾿ ἡ παῖς εἰς τοὔπισθεν καμπτομένη τροχοὺς ἐμιμεῖτο, ἐκεῖνος ταῦτα εἰς τὸ ἔμπροσθεν ἐπικύπτων μιμεῖσθαι τροχοὺς ἐπειρᾶτο. τέλος δ᾿ ὅτι τὸν παῖδ᾿ ἐπῄνουν ὡς ἐν τῇ ὀρχήσει ἅπαν τὸ σῶμα γυμνάζοι, κελεύσας τὴν αὐλητρίδα θάττονα ῥυθμὸν ἐπάγειν ἵει ἅμα πάντα καὶ σκέλη καὶ χεῖρας καὶ κεφαλήν. ἐπειδὴ δὲ ἀπειρήκει, κατακλινόμενος εἶπε· Τεκμήριον, ὦ ἄνδρες, ὅτι καλῶς γυμνάζει καὶ τὰ ἐμὰ ὀρχήματα. ἐγὼ γοῦν διψῶ· καὶ ὁ παῖς ἐγχεάτω μοι τὴν μεγάλην φιάλην. }

Socrates, in what could be taken as a parody of profundity, suggested in response that they all don’t drink too much. In Plato’s Symposium, Socrates sets the stage for the men’s speeches by dismissing the flute girl, the only entertainer at that symposium. That doesn’t mean that the men’s speeches are worth more than entertainment.[5]

In Piers Plowman, Dame Study condemns speaking as entertainment. She favors sober, common labor:

He does best who desists, day and night,
from squandering any speech or any space of time.
“Who offends in one point is guilty of all.”
And Truth knows what’s true: time that is wasted
on earth is most hated by those who are in Heaven,
and then the squandering of speech, which is the sprout of grace
and God’s music-maker, and a merriment of Heaven.
The faithful father would never wish that his fiddle were untuned,
nor his gleeman a gadabout, a goer to taverns.
All sincere and steady men who desire to work,
our Lord loves them and allows, great or small,
grace to go with them and let them gain their livelihoods.

{ He dooth best that withdraweth hym by daye and by nyghte
To spille any speche or any space of tyme:
Qui offendit in uno, in omnibus est reus.
[Tyn]ynge of tyme, Truthe woot the sothe,
Is moost yhated upon erthe of hem that ben in hevene;
And siththe to spille speche, that spire is of grace,
And Goddes gleman and a game of hevene.
Wolde nevere the feithful fader his fithele were untempred,
Ne his gleman a gedelyng, a goere to tavernes.
To alle trewe tidy men that travaille desiren,
Oure Lord loveth hem and lent, loude outher stille,
Grace to go to hem and of gon hir liflode }[6]

After dismissing “ribalds for their ribaldry {harlotes for hir harlotrie}” and “jesters and jugglers and jabberers of tales {japeris and jogelours and jangleris of gestes},” Dame Study describes clerics as acting no better than minstrels:

But minstrelsy and mirth among men nowadays
are filthiness, flatteries, and foolish tales.
Gluttony and great oaths — these are games nowadays,
but if they discourse of Christ, these clerks and laymen,
at meals in their mirth when minstrels are still,
then they tell of the Trinity how two slew the third,
and bring a threadbare argument to bear, take Bernard to witness,
and proffer an assumed probability as proof of a truth.
Thus they drivel on the dais a definition of Godhead,
and set their teeth in God’s gorge when their guts are full.

{ Ac murthe and mynstralcie amonges men is nouthe
Lecherie, losengerye and losels tales–
Glotonye and grete othes, this [game] they lovyeth.
“Ac if thei carpen of Crist, thise clerkes and thise lewed,
At mete in hir murthe whan mynstrals beth stille,
Thanne telleth thei of the Trinite [how two slowe the thridde],
And bryngen forth a balled reson, and taken Bernard to witnesse,
And puten forth a presumpcion to preve the sothe.
Thus thei dryvele at hir deys the deitee to knowe,
And gnawen God with the gorge whanne hir guttes fullen. }

Piers Plowman is vernacular verse in a lively alliterative scheme. It’s probably similar to the work of sophisticated minstrels.[7] Just as Piers Plowman relates to common entertainers, it also relates to clerics. It’s a symposium against symposia.

lawyer in Piers Plowman

Piers Plowman includes Socratic irony. “Mental Vision {Ymaginatif}” tells the clerical Will to change his ways from writing books like Piers Plowman:

And you meddle with making verse and might go say your Psalter,
and pray for them that provide your bread, for there are plenty of books
to tell men what Do-Well is, Do-Better and Do-Best both,
and preachers to explain it all, with many a pair of friars.

{ And thow medlest thee with makynges–and myghtest go seye thi Sauter,
And bidde for hem that yyveth thee breed; for ther are bokes ynowe
To telle men what Dowel is, Dobet and Dobest bothe,
And prechours to preve what it is, of many a peire freres. }

Will, however, rationalizes his mental activity:

I saw well he spoke the truth, and somewhat to excuse myself
said, “Cato comforted his son, clerk though he was,
to solace himself sometimes. So I do when I write.
‘Interpose some pleasures at times among your cares.’
And I’ve heard it said of holy men, how they now and then
played to be more perfect in their prayers afterward.
But if there were anyone who would tell me
what Do-Well and Do-Better were, and Do-Best at the last,
I would never do any work but wend to Holy Church
and stay there saying prayers, save when I ate or slept.”

{ I seigh wel he seide me sooth and, somwhat me to excuse,
Seide, “Caton conforted his sone that, clerk though he were,
To solacen hym som tyme — a[lso] I do whan I make:
Interpone tuis interdum gaudia curis.
“And of holy men I herde,” quod I, “how thei outherwhile
Pleyden, the parfiter to ben, in [places manye].
Ac if ther were any wight that wolde me telle
What were Dowel and Dobet and Dobest at the laste,
Wolde I nevere do werk, but wende to holi chirche
And there bidde my bedes but whan ich ete or slepe.” }

We humans are rationalizing animals. We should feel free to play without reason.

Plato’s Symposium and Xenophon’s Symposium for millennia have been influential exemplars of elite drinking and talking. A feast of words about doing good isn’t the same as doing good. What you know is sufficient for you to do good. Life cannot be lived in examining it. The many artful words of Piers Plowman indicate that sober, common labor, like bringing together good earth and a well-functioning plow, does more good than symposia.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Xenophon of Athens, Symposium 1.8-10, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Marchant, Todd & Henderson (2013). Subsequent quotes from Xenophon’s Symposium are similarly sourced, unless otherwise noted.

Xenophon’s Symposium explicitly presents as examples the relatively insignificant acts of “the morally autonomous elite / the beautiful and good {καλοκάγαθος}”:

To my mind it is worthwhile to relate not only the serious acts of the morally autonomous elite, but also what they do in their playful moments.

{ Ἀλλ᾿ ἐμοὶ δοκεῖ τῶν καλῶν κἀγαθῶν ἀνδρῶν ἔργα οὐ μόνον τὰ μετὰ σπουδῆς πραττόμενα ἀξιομνημόνευτα εἶναι ἀλλὰ καὶ τὰ ἐν ταῖς παιδιαῖς }

Xenophon, Symposium 1.1, with my changes to the translation of the key terms καλοκάγαθος and παιδία. Neither “gentleman” nor “philosopher” seems to me an adequate translation of καλοκάγαθος. Cf. Reid (2022).

The symposia of Plato and Xenophon are the only surviving ancient Socratic symposia. Compared to Plato’s Symposium, Xenophon’s Symposium is closer to symposia depicted in other sources. Hobden (2004) p. 122. The entertainers in Xenophon’s Symposium significantly shape the conversation. Id.

A considerable corpus of ancient literature concerns symposia. Lengthy ancient representations of symposia include Athenaeus of Naucratis, The Learned Banqueters {Deipnosophistae / Δειπνοσοφισταί}; Macrobius, Seven Books of the Saturnalia {Saturnaliorum Libri Septem}; Plutarch, Banquet of the Seven Sages {Septem Sapientium Convivium / Ἑπτά σοφῶν συμπόσιον}; and Methodius of Olympus, Symposium or Banquet {Συμπόσιον ἢ περὶ ἁγνείας} / Banquet of Ten Virgins {Convivium decem virginum}. The classical Arabic literature of al-Jahiz is similar to sympotic literature. On symposia in ancient Greek poetry, Cazzato, Obbink & Proi (2016). On ancient symposia more generally, König (2012).

Subsequent quotes above are from Xenophon’s Symposium 2.13 (“Well then,” asked Antisthenes…), 2.14 (Well said!” interjected Philip…), 2.15 (At this point the boy performed a dance…), 2.21-2 (He got up and mimicked in detail the dancing…).

[2] William Langland (attributed), Piers Plowman / William’s Vision of Piers Plowman {Visio Willelmi de Petro Ploughman} 11.6-26, Middle English text (B version) from Schmidt (1978) via Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, English modernization (modified slightly) from Donaldson, Kirk & Anderson (1990). Subsequent quotes from Piers Plowman are similarly sourced and cited by (passus.verses) in Schmidt’s edition. The leading scholarly edition (Bx) is online at the Piers Plowman Electronic Archive. I’ve used Schmidt’s edition because it’s easier for non-specialists to read.

Subsequent quotes above from Piers Plowman are vv. 11.27-33 (Then was there one called Old Age…), 11.34-43 (“Really? Don’t take him seriously,”…), 11.46-52, 59-62 (Covetousness-of-Eyes comforted me straightway…), 10.150-4 (I shall acquaint you with my cousin…), 10.159-69 (“Ask for the highway,” said she…), 10.182-90 (But Theology has troubled me ten score times…), 18.365-7 (For I who am Lord of Life…), 9.97-106 (He does best who desists…), 10.30 (ribalds for their ribaldry), 10.31 (jesters and jugglers and jabberers of tales), 10.48-57 (But minstrelsy and mirth among men nowadays…), 12.16-9 (And you meddle with making verse…), 12.20-8 (I saw well he spoke the truth…).

[3] Consider an academic-sympotic display of Study:

Langland’s poem negotiates the discourses of reading, recognizing the competition between the accepted female discursive mode and the call to social activism: Piers Plowman embodies that competition in the figure of Study.

Bishop (1998) p. 112.

[4] Plato’s Symposium is known to have been translated into Latin no earlier than the fifteenth century in Italy. Clay (2007), Hankins (2009) pp. 337-8. On the reception of Plato’s Symposium more generally, Lesher (2004). Xenophon’s Symposium is known in Latin only beginning with the translation of the Frankfurt Humanist Johann Haynpul {Janus Cornarius} in 1546. Hankins (2009) p. 338. Nonetheless, “Latin readers in the medieval West had a reasonably good sense of who Socrates was” through classical Latin authors discussing him. Id. p. 337.

The twelfth-century School of Chartres was a leading center of Platonism. John of Salisbury served as Secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury and then became Bishop of Chartres in 1176. John’s work shows significant Platonic influence. So too does the twelfth-century Cosmographia of Bernardus Silvestris. Piers Plowman explicitly mentions Plato three times, and Aristotle, four times.

Writing in England late in the fourteenth century, the author of Piers Plowman / William Langland had no known access to either Plato’s Symposium or Xenophon’s Symposium. How William Langland managed to write such an interesting intertext to those symposia matters much less than that he did. Scholars have not recognized even the latter, despite the evidence readily available today.

[5] Socrates dismisses the flute girl in Plato, Symposium 176e. In Plato’s Protagoras, Socrates condemns elite men enjoying low, hired entertainment. Protagoras 347c5-e1.

While Xenophon is generally regarded as an earnest writer, careful reading suggests that he appreciated silliness and irony. In his Symposium, Xenophon mixes “playfulness {παιδία}” and “seriousness {σπουδή}.” For example, Xenophon evidently was joking about Socrates dancing. Readers from the ancient world to the present have failed to recognizes this humor. Huss (1999). Recent scholarship also suggests that Xenophon in his Symposium encoded doubts about Socrates limiting love between men and boys to spiritual love. Konstan (2023). As a military leader, Xenophon used men as tools in violence against men. But he may also have had a sense of men’s beauty. Men’s beauty emphasizes the folly of measuring men only through violence against men.

Socrates in Xenophon explicitly compares the symposium participants to entertainers in providing pleasure:

Then Socrates resumed the conversation. “Gentlemen,” he said, “these people show their competence to give us pleasure, and yet I’m sure we consider ourselves far superior to them. Won’t it be shameful, then, if we don’t even try, while we’re here together, to give one another some benefit or pleasure?”

{Ἐκ τούτου δὲ πάλιν εἶπεν ὁ Σωκράτης· Οὗτοι μὲν δή, ὦ ἄνδρες, ἱκανοὶ τέρπειν ἡμᾶς φαίνονται· ἡμεῖς δὲ τούτων οἶδ᾿ ὅτι πολὺ βελτίονες οἰόμεθα εἶναι· οὐκ αἰσχρὸν οὖν εἰ μηδ᾿ ἐπιχειρήσομεν συνόντες ὠφελεῖν τι ἢ εὐφραίνειν ἀλλήλους }

Xenophon, Symposium 3.2. Socrates states that Hermogenes’s discourse would be more agreeable accompanied by pipe music and physical posing. Id. 6.4. Socrates also sings to overcome the symposiasts’ clamor. Id. 7.1.

[6] Dame Study, who dominates her husband like Xanthippe did Socrates, paraphrases James 2:10 in Latin in Piers Plowman 9.99. She appears in a “disarmingly comic” interlude. She, however, is a complex, significant character:

The tirade that the gaunt, earthy wife vents upon her husband Wit may divert us from several evident inconsistencies about her. … If Study communicates with her students orally, she is nevertheless reading as she does so, and reading from the same trivial and quadrivial texts that had re-established literate science in the late eleventh and the twelfth centuries. The immediacy of preliterate communication is recovered as the integrity of reader and text within the idea that the tropological level of Scripture becomes fully realized only when the reader internalizes it as a change of life. The orality to which the “lewed” are condemned becomes, in the Study episode, not a cause for anxiety, but the oral reading of a text, the first stage of lectio divina, and a necessary condition for textual understanding.

Harwood (1990) pp. 7, 13. Dame Study is also significant in relation to pathologies of orality in symposia.

“Hawkin the Active Man {Haukyn the Actif Man},” who’s called a minstrel, leads an active life of lechery. It leads merely to merry tales in old age:

For every maid that he met he made her a gesture
suggesting sin
, and some he would savor
about the mouth, or beneath begin to grope,
till their wills grow keen together and they get to work,
as well on fasting days as Fridays and forbidden nights
and as lief in Lent as out of Lent, all times alike.
Such works with them were never out of season
till they might do no more, and then told merry tales
and of how lechers make love laugh and joke,
and in their old age told of their whoring and wenching.

{ For ech a maide that he mette, he made hire a signe
Semynge to synneward, and somtyme he gan taste
Aboute the mouth or bynethe bigynneth to grope,
Til eitheres wille wexeth kene, and to the werke yeden,
As wel fastyng dayes as Fridaies and forboden nyghtes,
And as lef in Lente as out of Lente, alle tymes yliche:
Swiche werkes with hem were nevere out of seson,
Til thei myghte na moore–and thanne hadde murye tales,
And how that lecchours lovye laughen and japen,
And of hir harlotrye and horedom in hir elde tellen. }

Piers Plowman, 13.344-53. Will regarded such work not only as sinful, but also as fruitless. Marital sex was a different activity. Wit declared, “Do-Well in this world is wedded people who live truly {in this world is Dowel trewe wedded libbynge folk}.” Piers Plowman 9.108.

[7] Pettitt insightfully stated:

Piers Plowman is not in Latin prose, nor designed exclusively for an audience of learned clerks. It is a skilled exercise in English word-craft which is in various ways (in varying degrees) vernacular, some of which ways may take it disturbingly close to the verbal production of those men of words from whom Langland seems anxious to distance himself. Or in a formulation he would have found more vexing: how clearly and how confidently, as belonging to different orders of cultural production, can we distinguish between Piers Plowman and “a dido … a dysoures tale {a Dido … a minstrel’s tale}”, or even “rhymes of Robyn hood”?

Pettitt (2021) pp. 18-9, quoting Piers Plowman 13.172, with my added gloss in brackets. Other scholars have similarly perceived Langland’s association with minstrelsy:

It is possible that Langland was, at least in his youth, a minstrel of sorts. Our knowledge of fourteenth-century minstrelsy is far from complete and our ideas of the profession are, I believe, unduly influenced by a romantic, Sir-Walter-Scott picture which probably makes the suggestion in the last sentence offensive to certain readers. But we have it on Cobham’s and Langland’s word that there were a few pious minstrels who wrote and spoke on religious subjects and we certainly have sufficient examples of the works they might have read aloud or recited. … It is interesting that when one works through the poem in an attempt to discover what sort of minstrel the poet could have been, one encounters a number of things reminiscent of the goliardic tradition — and this, despite the fact that the tradition itself and Piers Plowman are worlds apart.

Donaldson (1949) p. 153. On Langland’s sense of himself as a vernacular verse-maker in relation to minstrels, Schmidt (1987) Chapter 1.

[images] (1) Fresco of ancient Greek symposium in the Tomb of the diver in Paestum, Italy. Painted 480-470 BGC. Source image thanks to Velvet and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Figure of Reason in manuscript instance of Piers Plowman. Illustration on the margin of folio 19r of Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Douce 104. This manuscript was made 1427-8. (3) Friar in Piers Plowman. Illustration similarly from folio 67r of MS Douce 104. (4) Figure of Pride in Piers Plowman. Illustration similarly from folio 24r of MS Douce 104. (5) Lawyer in Piers Plowman. Illustration similarly from folio 41r of MS Douce 104. On the illustrations in MS Douce 104, Scott (1990).


Bishop, Louise. 1998. “Dame Study and Women’s Literacy.” Yearbook of Langland Studies. 12: 97-115.

Cazzato, Vanessa, Dirk Obbink, and Enrico Emanuele Prodi, eds. 2016. Cup of Song: Studies on Poetry and the Symposion. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Review by Max Leventhal.

Clay, Diskin. 2007 “The Hangover of Plato’s Symposium in the Italian Renaissance from Bruni (1435) to Castiglione (1528).” Chapter 15 in Lesher, James, Debra Nails, and Frisbee Sheffield, eds. Plato’s Symposium: Issues in Interpretation and Reception. Hellenic Studies Series 22. Washington, DC: Center for Hellenic Studies.

Donaldson E. Talbot. 1949. Piers Plowman: The C-Text and Its Poet. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.

Donaldson, E. Talbot, trans., Elisabeth D. Kirk, and Judith H. Anderson, eds. 1990. William Langland. Will’s vision of Piers Plowman. New York: W.W. Norton.

Hankins, James. 2009. “Socrates in the Italian Renaissance”. Chapter 21 (pp. 337–352) in Sara Ahbel-Rappe and Rachana Kamtekar, eds. A Companion to Socrates. Blackwell Companions to Philosophy. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Publishing.

Harwood, Britton J. 1990. “Dame Study and the Place of Orality in Piers Plowman.” ELH. 57(1): 1–17.

Hobden, Fiona. 2004. “How to Be a Good Symposiast and Other Lessons from Xenophon’s Symposium.” Proceedings of the Cambridge Philological Society. 50: 121–40.

Huss, Bernhard. 1999. “The Dancing Sokrates and the Laughing Xenophon, or the Other Symposium.” The American Journal of Philology. 120(3): 381–409.

König, Jason. 2012. Saints and Symposiasts: The Literature of Food and the Symposium in Greco-Roman and Early Christian Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Konstan, David. 2023. “Sexual Transition in Xenophon’s Symposium.” Draft presented to Italian-US Online Study Group on Scholarly Entertainment.

Lesher, James. 2004. “The Afterlife of PLato’s Symposium.” Ordia Prima. 3: 89-105.

Marchant, E. C., and O. J. Todd, ed. and trans. Revised by Jeffrey Henderson. 2013. Xenophon. Memorabilia. Oeconomicus. Symposium. Apology. Loeb Classical Library 168. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Original 1923 edition online.

Pettitt, Tom. 2021. “The Man of Letters and the Men of Words: Langland, Piers Plowman, and Vernacular Culture.” Internet Paper.

Reid, L. Heather. 2022. “A Gentleman or a Philosopher? Xenophon vs. Aristotle on Kalokagathia.” Pp. 121-134 in David Konstan and David Sider, eds. Philodorema: Essays in Greek and Roman Philosophy in Honor of Phillip Mitsis. Siracusa: Parnassos Press.

Scott, Kathleen L. 1990. “The Illustrations of Piers Plowman in Bodleian Library Ms. Douce 104.” The Yearbook of Langland Studies. 4: 1–86.

Schmidt, A. V. C., ed. 1978. William Langland. The Vision of Piers Plowman: A Complete Edition of the B-Text. London: J.M. Dent.

Schmidt, A. V. C. 1987. The Clerkly Maker: Langland’s Poetic Art. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

Robert redeemed his mother’s prayer to Satan to conceive child

Medieval women and men who didn’t identify with consecrated religious life typically desired intensely to have children. For them, to be barren, to have no heir, was a miserable condition. In The Romance of Robert the Devil {Le roman de Robert le Diable}, composed about 1300, the Duchess and Duke of Normandy across seventeen years of marriage longed fruitlessly for children. The Duchess subsequently prayed to Satan that she would conceive. She thus conceived Robert the Devil.

In the relatively enlightened medieval period, adults understood how babies are made. Medieval adults didn’t believe that women just found themselves pregnant. Medieval adults even honestly acknowledged the problem of husbands being cuckolded. For example, in the late-fourteenth-century poem Piers Plowman, Friar Flatterer and Sir Penetrans-Domos came to offer medical care at the home of the sick Conscience. Peace, however, held them at the door:

Unless you’re competent in some craft, you’re not coming in here.
I knew such a one once, not eight winters ago,
who came in thus coped to a court where I lived,
and served as surgeon for both our sire and our dame.
And at the last this low friar, when my lord was out,
he salved our women so till some were with child.

{ But thow konne any craft, thow comest nought herinne!
I knew swich oon ones, noght eighte wynter passed,
Coom in thus ycoped at a court there I dwelde,
And was my lordes leche — and my ladies bothe.
And at the laste this lymytour, tho my lord was oute,
He salvede so oure wommen til some were with childe. }[1]

Wrath, who served as a cook at a convent, stirred trouble with gossip:

I prepared stews for the prioress and other poor ladies
and served them juicy suggestions — that Dame Joan was a bastard,
and Dame Clarice a knight’s daughter, but her daddy was a cuckold,
and Dame Parnel a priest’s wench — “She’ll never be prioress
for she had a child in cherry-time. Our whole chapter knows it!”
With vicious verbiage I, Wrath, cooked their vegetables
till “You lie!” and “You lie!” leapt out at once,
and each hit the other under the cheek.
Had they had knives, by Christ, they’d have killed each other.

{ I was the prioresse potager and other povere ladies,
And maad hem joutes of janglyng–that Dame Johane was a bastard,
And Dame Clarice a knyghtes doughter–ac a cokewold was hir sire,
And Dame Pernele a preestes fyle–Prioresse worth she nevere,
For she hadde child in chirie-tyme, al oure Chapitre it wiste!
Of wikkede wordes I Wrathe hire wortes made,
Til “Thow lixt!” and “Thow lixt!” lopen out at ones
And either hitte oother under the cheke;
Hadde thei had knyves, by Crist! hir either hadde kild oother. }[2]

Being born outside of wedlock, having a father who was a cuckold, carrying on an affair with a priest — these were common occurrences. Nonetheless, most persons in medieval Europe regarded such situations as involving sin, or at least not being ideal.

Praying to Satan to have a child takes sinfulness to a diabolical level. In Le roman de Robert le Diable, the childless Duchess of Normandy lost her faith through self-pity and grief:

“God, you must hate me!” she cried.
“Fruitless is how you want me to be!
To a powerless pauper, oh Lord,
you will give a child in no time,
while I, who have riches and wealth,
it seems clear, must live on, deprived.
What a powerless God you are, Lord,
unable to grant what I ask.” She paused.
“Satan,” she cried, “to you I pray,
may you now turn your attention to me
so that you give me a child,
such I pray to you from this hour forward.”

{ “Dieu,” fait ele, “com me haés.
Que fruit doner ne me volés!
Une caitive non poissant,
Donés vous, sire, leus enfant;
Et moi qui tant ai, sire, avoir
Ne puis, che m’est vis, nul avoir.
Espoir que nul pooir [n’]avés,
Que vous, sire, nul me donés.
Diable,” fait el, “je te proi
Que tu entenges ja vers moi:
Se tu me dones un enfant,
Che te proi dès ore en avant.” }[3]

Soon the Duke returned to their castle and found his wife in bed. She looked beautiful, and he desired her. Immediately he delighted her in marital sexual intercourse. There’s nothing devilish about that, usually. This occasion, however, was different. The devil had used the Duke and Duchess as tools to engender a devilish child: Robert the Devil.[4]

From a vicious, bawling, and biting baby, Robert grew to be a tall, handsome, and strong young man. He was also thoroughly wicked. Everyone at the Duchess and Duke’s palace fled from him for fear of Robert beating or killing them. Robert then went into the forest and became the leader of a band of brigands. They killed many merchants and pilgrims and set fire to abbeys and granges. Any beautiful woman Robert encountered, he raped. One day he went into an abbey, raped and killed fifty nuns, and then burned the abbey to cinders.

Conscious of his own wickedness, Robert thought that he must have been stained from birth. He went to his mother. He threatened to kill her unless she explained to him why he was so wicked. She told him the truth about her childless despair and her prayer to Satan for a child. Robert indeed was a child from Hell by Satan’s intervention in his conception.

Robert the Devil seeking penance from the Pope

Robert then resolutely rejected his devilish birth identity. He began his transition by throwing away his sword and having his head shaved. He changed into a rough, old cloak and discarded his shoes. He then walked as a pilgrim to seek penance from the Pope. The Pope directed him to a holy hermit living alone deep in a forest called Marabonde.

Robert’s penance, which the hermit learned through a divine message, was horrific. The hermit hesitated to impose such a harsh penance. Robert insisted:

“Sir,” said Robert, “Know now:
there is nothing in the world that I would not do
so as to recover my soul
from the devil, who claims to have birthed it.

{ “Sire,” dist Robers, “or sachiés:
N’est riens el mont que ne feïsse,
Por coi je m’arme rescoussisse
Al diable, qui part i claime.” }[5]

For Robert’s penance, he was to act like a madman and allow all, without retaliation, to insult him, chase him, throw stones at him, and beat him. He was also required to remain silent. Moreover, he could eat only food that he wrestled away from dogs.

Robert the Devil receiving his penance from the hermit that the Pope reveres

Robert performed his penance on the streets of Rome and then in the Roman Emperor’s palace. Three times an envoy of God brought him armor and a white charger so that he could defend the Emperor from a Turkish attack. In the massive battles, Robert killed tens of thousands of men as an unknown white knight of extraordinary prowess. Robert kept hidden that he was that white knight. He thus disassociated himself from violence against men, even when it was necessary for defense of the realm.

Most importantly, Robert subverted the devil by identifying with dogs. Although he wrestled his food away from dogs as his penance required, Robert then fed dogs with food from his own mouth. He also slept with dogs under the stairs of the Emperor’s palace. Men have long been disparaged as dogs for their vibrant and dynamic sexuality. In the end, the beautiful, compassionate, and wise daughter of the Roman Emperor sought to marry Robert. If Robert had married her, he would have become the Emperor’s successor and eventually ruled the whole realm next to his wife. Robert instead became a disciple of the hermit in the forest. The devil was thoroughly defeated. Robert had shown to all that men are not merely dogs.[6]

The moral lesson of Le roman de Robert le Diable is fundamentally biblical. It highlights under-appreciated aspects of the life of the prophet Elisha. Following God’s command, the great prophet Elijah anointed Elisha as his successor when he found Elisha plowing with twelve pairs of oxen.[7] Elisha was thus engaged in extraordinarily vigorous plowing. With his mantle, Elijah engulfed Elisha to signify his anointing. Elisha then sacrificed his oxen and used the wood of his plow to cook the meat and share it with the people. The symbolism of Elisha’s change in station subverts castration culture to celebrate a man’s freely given gift of himself in service to the people.

Elisha subsequently engaged in miraculous deeds distinguishing him from the stereotype of men as dogs. Late in spring in Shunem, a wealthy married woman came to him and gave him food. She was childless and longed to have a child. She offered Elisha food whenever he was in Shunem. Eventually she said to her husband:

Let us make a small room on the roof with walls and put for him there a bed, a table, a chair, and a lamp. Whenever he visits us, he can stay there.

[8]{ נַעֲשֶׂה־נָּא עֲלִיַּת־קִיר קְטַנָּה וְנָשִׂים לֹו שָׁם מִטָּה
וְשֻׁלְחָן וְכִסֵּא וּמְנֹורָה וְהָיָה בְּבֹאֹו אֵלֵינוּ יָסוּר
שָׁמָּה׃ }

Why wouldn’t a husband want a strange man whom his childless wife has been feeding to sleep in their home at night? The husband supported his wife’s desire. Elisha stayed in their house overnight. The next spring, about a year later, the wife gave birth to a son. No one believes that Elisha cuckolded the Shunammite woman’s husband. Elisha was not a devilish dog, but a man of God. The Shunammite couple gained a child as a blessing from God for their hospitality to Elisha.

Women desiring the blessing of children need not pray to Satan nor cuckold their husbands. Laughably improbably wonders are possible. Moreover, not having children doesn’t necessarily imply a barren life. Robert the Devil was childless and an evil-doer. He transitioned to a new identity as a hermit devoted to God. That devotion was fruitful:

For his sake God made many miracles
in this world before Robert died,
not just after his life had ended.

{ Por lui fist Dieus mainte miracle
En cest siècle, anchois qu’il finast
Ne que sa vie aterminast }[9]

Even childless persons can do worldly good and thus be fruitful.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] William Langland (attributed), Piers Plowman / William’s Vision of Piers Plowman {Visio Willelmi de Petro Ploughman} 20.343-8, Middle English text (B version) from Schmidt (1978) via Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, English modernization (modified slightly) from Donaldson, Kirk & Anderson (1990).

The Middle English word “leche” referred to a physician and is a near-homonym for the Middle English “lechour,” which means “lecher / man engaged in inappropriate sexuality.” To “salve” means both to treat medicinally and to greet. It also ironically alludes to Mary’s conception of Jesus. This wordplay is discussed in Schmidt (1995), p. lii.

The friar called Sir Penetrans-Domos has a name that comes from Latin words in the Vulgate translation of 2 Timothy 3:6. Speaking of the godless, Timothy declares:

Among them are those who penetrate into households and captivate little women weighed down with sins, women led by various desires, always learning and never coming to true knowledge.

{ ex his enim sunt qui penetrant domos et captivas ducunt mulierculas oneratas peccatis quae ducuntur variis desideriis, semper discentes et numquam ad scientiam veritatis pervenientes }

2 Timothy 3:6, Latin text of the Vulgate, my English translation.

I used the phrase “low friar,” with the low for alliteration and to express disrepute, where the text refers to a “limiter.” The term “limiter” refers to a friar holding a license to beg in a limited area. Donaldson, Kirk & Anderson (1990) pp. 252-3, gloss for “friar.”

[2] Piers Plowman 5.155-63. sourced as previously. Dame Clarice apparently was the same woman as “Clarice of Cock’s Lane {Clarice of Cokkeslane}” in Piers Plowman 5.311. Cock’s Lane was a street in London on which were legal brothels. On Parnel’s fiercely sinful flesh, Piers Plowman 5.62-5. Although nuns, Clarice and Parnel apparently also were prostitutes. On striking on the cheek, cf. Matthew 5:39, Luke 6:29.

[3] The Romance of Robert the Devil {Le roman de Robert le Diable} vv. 37-48, Old French text from Löseth (1903), my English translation, benefitting from that of Rosenberg (2018).

Commerce with the devil is a motif in medieval literature. In a sixth-century Byzantine story, Theophilus transferred his soul’s allegiance to the devil in exchange for worldly status and wealth. In a miracle of Saint Basil composed between the seventh and ninth century, Proterius gave his soul to the devil in exchange for a woman’s love. In Le roman de Robert le Diable, it’s not that a “childless duchess makes a pact with the devil to conceive a child.” Hahn (2019) p. 887. The duchess merely prayed to the devil.

Irregularities in conceiving a child are also a motif in medieval literature. In Geoffrey of Monmouth’s twelfth-century History of the Kings of Britain {Historia regum Britanniae}, the wizard Merlin was born of a woman who never had sex with a flesh-and-blood man. She was thought to have coupled with a daemon. The Scottish saint Kentigern reportedly was the son of a virgin mother. A lady in Marie de France’s lai Yonec became pregnant with a hawk transformed into a knight. In the lai Tydorel, a queen likewise became pregnant with an otherworldly knight.

Le roman de Robert le Diable survives in two manuscripts, conventionally denoted A and B. They are A: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 25516 (written about 1280) and B: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 24405 (written in the late fourteenth or early fifteenth century). The primary text in Löseth (1903) comes from MS. A.

Le roman de Robert le Diable was widely distributed and adapted. The Dominican monk Étienne de Bourbon / Stephen of Bourbon {Stephanus de Borbone} included an abridged retelling of the story in his Treatise on Various Preachable Materials {Tractatus de diversis materiis praedicabilibus}, which he composed in the 1250s. Jean Gobi the Younger similarly included a retelling in his Ladder to Heaven {Scala coeli}, an exempla collection that he wrote between 1327 and 1330. A short version was included in the thirteenth-century Chronicle of Normandy {Chronique de Normandie}. In the fourteenth century, a short version was included in the Large Chronicle of Normandy {Grande Chronique de Normandie}. The fourteenth century also saw a poetic adaption for moral instruction, Song of Robert the Devil {Dit de Robert le Diable}, and a play Miracle of Robert the Devil {Miracle de Robert le Diable} included in the collection Miracles of Our Lady through other persons {Miracles de Nostre Dame par personnages}. Many other adaptations in a variety of languages have occurred right through to the present. For a brief review of the reception history, Rosenberg (2018) pp. 2-4.

[4] Without textual warrant, Rosenberg’s translation brutalizes the Duke’s sex with the Duchess after she had prayed to Satan for a child:

No word did he utter as she lay there in bed,
He rushed and thrust until he was spent.

{ Que il l’enporte sor son lit
Tantost, et en fait son délit. }

Le roman de Robert le Diable vv. 61-2, Old French text from Löseth (1903), English translation from Rosenberg (2018). Rosenberg thus perpetuated the terrible social injustice to men that Ausonius parodied with his fourth-century Wedding Cento {Cento nuptialis}. Weiss (2018) courageously pointed out Rosenberg’s failing here. A much better translation for those verses:

When he had carried her onto their bed,
immediately with her he did her delight.

{ Que il l’enporte sor son lit
Tantost, et en fait son délit. }

Le roman de Robert le Diable vv. 61-2, Old French text from Löseth (1903), my English translation. The pronoun “son” can also mean “his,” but in v. 62 it’s best translated as “her” in appreciation for the sexual pleasure that men give to women.

Robert the Devil was distinctive in that he not only engaged in violence against men, but he also was violent toward women, even his mother and his nurses. Even as a baby, Robert was vicious:

Not for feeding nor for nursing
did he wish to give up his cruelty
but howled and wailed and loudly cried.
All the time fussing about this life,
all the time vicious and angry,
he was always swinging around with his feet.
And when they came to nurse the demon,
he all the time bit his nurses,
all the time howling, all the time attacking,
he was never at ease without screaming.
His nurses were averse to him,
fearing so much to nurse him,
that they prepared for him a tube
so that they would never have to nurse him directly.
Much they feared him, because he bit
each one when she lifted him.
When he could not bit or scratch them,
then he would go bash them with his feet.

{ Por paistre ne por alaitier
Ne vaut sa cruaité laissier
Ains hule et brait et forment crie.
Tos tans demaine ceste vie;
Tous tans est il fel et iriés,
Il regibe toudis des piés;
Et quant li malfés alaitoit,
Sa noriche tous tans mordoit,
Tous tans hule, tous tans resquinge,
Ja n’ert a aisse s’il ne winge.
Les noriches cel aversier
Redoutent tant a alaitier
Que un cornet li afaitierent,
Que onques puis ne l’alaitierent.
Mout le redoutent, qu’il mordoit
Cascune quant el le levoit.
Quant il ne pot mordre et grater
Dont les va il des piés bouter. }

Le roman de Robert le Diable vv. 99-116, Old French text from Löseth (1903), my English translation, benefiting from that of Rosenberg (2018). Rosenberg’s translation is quite loose here. It even uses a negative metaphor with a dog in translating v. 101: “He brayed like a beast; he barked like a dog.” Dogs, however, have a redemptive function relative to Robert the Devil.

Sir Gowther, a Middle English adaptation of Le roman de Robert le Diable, accentuates the violence of baby Robert the Devil into killing his wet nurses:

He sucked them so that they lost their lives —
soon he had slain three!
The child was young and he grew quickly.
The Duke had sent for six more wet nurses —
pay heed, gentle audience —
before twelve months had passed
nine nurses had he slain,
ladies fair and free-born.

{ He sowkyd hom so thei lost ther lyvys,
Sone had he sleyne three!
Tho chyld was yong and fast he wex –
The Duke gard prycke aftur sex –
Hende harkons yee:
Be twelfe monethys was gon
Nine norsus had he slon
Of ladys feyr and fre. }

Sir Gowther vv. 113-20, Middle English text from Laskaya & Salisbury (1995), my English modernization. For a modernization of the whole poem, Scott-Robinson (2016).

[5] Le roman de Robert le Diable vv. 830-3, Old French text from Löseth (1903), my English translation, benefiting from that of Rosenberg (2018).

Other medieval romances feature knights undergoing extended penance. For discussion of the Middle English penitential romances Sir Gowther, Sir Isumbras / Sir Ysumbras, Guy of Warwick, and Robert of Cisyle, Hopkins (1990).

[6] Robert’s redemption in relation to dogs has attracted considerable attention in the context of Sir Gowther, a fourteenth-century Middle English adaptation of Le roman de Robert le Diable. These studies have ignored the masculine gendering of dogs and historical disparagement of men as dogs. See, e.g. Huber (2015) and Zacher (2017). Disparaging men as dogs associates them with religious others. Resnick (2013).

A dog brings the penitent Gowther (the figure of Robert the Devil) in the forest a loaf of bread to eat three times on each of three successive days. That specific act of canine compassion, associated by the number three with Christian salvation, isn’t in Le roman de Robert le Diable. On its significance, Zacher (2017) pp. 284-5. Canine compassion for the repentant Robert the Devil echoes the compassion of dogs for the exiled Tristan in the Iseut-Tristan story corpus.

Le roman de Robert le Diable differs significantly from Sir Gowther. Robert the Devil doesn’t marry the Roman Emperor’s daughter or any other woman in Le roman de Robert le Diable, but the man-devil figure Gowther marries the princess in Sir Gowther. Le roman de Robert le Diable thus more directly challenges medieval gynocentrism.

Scholars writing in the misandristic tradition have obliterated the meninist perspective in both Le roman de Robert le Diable and Sir Gowther. For example, one such scholarly article begins with platitudes of dominant gender ideology:

The sensationalist opening sequence of the late Middle English poem Sir Gowther (c. 1400) reveals a pattern of male violence and abuse, which locates power in the patriarchal structures of the court, even when it insinuates the destructive and sometimes sterile consequences of hyper-masculinity.

Adler (2017) p. 49. Such intellectual work is so barren that one might rightly wonder whether it arises from prayers to Satan for scholarly publications under today’s dominant interests.

Underscoring the problem of men being falsely accusations of rape, both Huber and Zacher claim that the devil raped the duchess in Sir Gowther. Huber (2015) p. 289, and Zacher (2017) p. 432. There’s no clear textual warrant for that grave charge of rape. Even the devil deserves her due.

[7] 1 Kings 19:19-21 (Elijah anointing Elisha as his prophetic successor).

[8] 2 Kings 4:8-17 (Elisha ministers to the childless Shunammite woman). With his body Elisha was able to enliven even dead boys. By laying on the widow of Zarephath’s dead son three times, Elisha brought him back to life. 1 Kings 17:17-24. Elisha similarly resurrected the Shunammite woman’s dead son, with this instance specifying that Elisha put his mouth on the boy’s mouth. 2 Kings 4:32-37. Elisha’s action suggests an ancient form of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. As the story of David and the Shunammite woman Abishag underscores, one should not presume sexual conduct.

[9] Le roman de Robert le Diable vv. 5042-4, Old French text from Löseth (1903), my English translation, benefiting from that of Rosenberg (2018).

[images] (1) Robert the Devil seeking penance from the Pope. Illumination in instance of Le roman de Robert le Diable. On folio 177v of Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Français 25516 (made about 1280). (2) Robert the Devil receiving his penance from the hermit that the Pope reveres. Robert carries a club. That club associates him with the wildman Rainoart in Aliscans, a chanson de geste in the Cycle of William of Orange {Cycle de Guillaume d’Orange}. Similarly from folio 180v of Français 25516. (3) Robert the Devil receives a knight’s armor and equipment from an angel. The Roman Emperor’s daughter, who came to love Robert, looks on. Similarly from folio 186v of Français 25516.


Adler, Gillian. 2017. “Canine Intercessors and Female Religious Metaphor in Sir Gowther.” Comitatus: A Journal of Medieval and Renaissance Studies. 48: 49-71.

Donaldson, E. Talbot, trans., Elisabeth D. Kirk, and Judith H. Anderson, eds. 1990. William Langland. Will’s Vision of Piers Plowman. New York: W. W. Norton.

Hahn, Stacey. 2019. ‘Review. “Robert the Devil”: The First Modern English Translation of “Robert le Diable,” an Anonymous French Romance of the Thirteenth Century by Samuel N.Rosenberg.’ Speculum. 94(3): 886-888.

Hopkins, Andrea. 1990. The Sinful Knights: A Study of Middle English Penitential Romance. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Huber, Emily Rebekah. 2015. “Redeeming the Dog: Sir Gowther.” The Chaucer Review. 50(3-4): 284–314.

Laskaya, Anne and Eve Salisbury, eds. 1995. The Middle English Breton Lays. Kalamazoo, MI: Published for TEAMS (the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages) in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Löseth, Eilert, ed. 1903. Robert le Diable: Roman d’Aventures. Paris: Firmin Didot. Alternate source.

Resnick, Irven M. 2013. “Good Dog/Bad Dog: Dogs in Medieval Religious Polemics.” Enarratio: Publications of the Medieval Association of the Midwest. 18: 70-97.

Rosenberg, Samuel N. 2018. Robert the Devil: The First Modern English Translation of Robert le Diable, an Anonymous French Romance of the Thirteenth Century. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press. Reviewed by Hahn (2019) and Weiss (2018).

Schmidt, A. V. C., ed. 1978. William Langland. The Vision of Piers Plowman: A Complete Edition of the B-Text. London: J.M. Dent.

Schmidt, A. V. C., ed. 1995. William Langland. The Vision of Piers Plowman: A Critical Edition of the B-Text Based on Trinity College Cambridge Ms B.15.17. 2nd ed. London: J.M. Dent.

Scott-Robinson, Richard. 2016. Sir Gowther: A modern English translation. eleusinianm. Online.

Weiss, Judith. 2018. “Review. Rosenberg, Samuel N. Robert the Devil: The First Modern English Translation of Robert le Diable, an Anonymous French Romance of the Thirteenth Century. University Park: The Pensnylvania State University Press, 2018.” The Medieval Review. Online 18.11.02.

Zacher, Samantha. 2017. “Sir Gowther’s Canine Penance: Forms of Animal Asceticism from Cynic Philosophy to Medieval Romance.” The Chaucer Review. 52(4): 426–55.

Gregory the Great’s aunt Gordiana loved man like Piers Plowman

Amid the ruins of Rome in the sixth century, Gregory the Great preached on Jesus’s parable that begins:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man, a king, who gave a wedding feast for his son.

{ ὡμοιώθη ἡ βασιλεία τῶν οὐρανῶν ἀνθρώπῳ βασιλεῖ ὅστις ἐποίησεν γάμους τῷ υἱῷ αὐτοῦ }[1]

A proponent of Christian asceticism, Gregory the Great explicated this parable in part with a story about his aunts Tarsilla, Gordiana, and Aemiliana. These three high-born, wealthy sisters as young women consecrated themselves apart from men in devotion to God. Gordiana, however, eventually left this consecrated life to get married. Gordiana’s desire for a man came to be interpreted in medieval Latin literature as her desire for a “plowman.” The great fourteenth-century Christian vision Piers Plowman figured the plowman as Christ. In the reception of her story, the married Gordiana became an exemplar of incarnating the seminal blessing with a husband.

Gregory the Great / Pope Gregory I seated with his bishop's staff

While condemning Gordiana’s infidelity to consecrated life, Gregory the Great also disparaged Gordiana as “destined to be among unconsecrated women {inter laicas deputata}.” In Gregory’s account, Tarsilla and Aemiliana contrasted with Gordiana as good with bad:

My father had three sisters. All three were consecrated virgins. One was named Tarsilla, the other Gordiana, and the third Aemiliana. They were all transformed by one passion, and they were all consecrated at one time. They led life in common in their own home under strict, regular discipline. When they had been so converted for a long time, Tarsilla and Aemiliana began to grow daily in love for their Creator. Only their bodies remained here. Their souls by day crossed to the eternal. In contrast, Gordiana’s soul through daily harms to the innermost love began to become lukewarm and to return little by little to love of this world.

{ Tres pater meus sorores habuit, quae cunctae tres sacrae virgines fuerunt: quarum una Tharsilla, alia Gordiana, alia Aemiliana dicebatur. Uno omnes ardore conversae, uno eodemque tempore sacratae, sub districtione regulari degentes, in domo propria socialem vitam ducebant. Cumque essent diutius in eadem conversatione, coeperunt quotidianis incrementis in amorem conditoris sui Tharsilla et Aemiliana succrescere, et, cum solo hic essent corpore, quotidie animo ad aeterna transire. At contra Gordianae animus coepit a calore amoris intimi per quotidiana detrimenta tepescere, et paulisper ad hujus saeculi amorem redire. }[2]

Gordiana was a young woman like most other young women:

She enjoyed the society of young, worldly women, and to her, being a woman not dedicated to this world was very burdensome.

{ Puellarum gaudebat societate laicarum, eique persona valde onerosa erat quaecunque huic mundo dedita non erat. }

Love of the world is not bad in itself. Christians are called to love God and love their neighbors in this world.[3] Different Christians can pursue that dual commandment in different ways — including through living consecrated religious life and in living ordinary life within the world.

Tarsilla and Aemiliana were saintly consecrated women. Before she died, Tarsilla received a vision of Jesus summoning her to him. A delightful smell of perfume accompanied her death. When her body was washed for burial, her knees and elbows were found hard with calluses from constant prayer on the ground. A few days after she died, Tarsilla appealed from Heaven for her sister Aemiliana to join her there. With heart-warming sisterly solicitousness, Aemiliana was reluctant to leave her wayward sister Gordiana alone. But Tarsilla declared that Gordiana was going to the world, so Aemiliana shouldn’t hesitate to leave her for Heaven. A few days later, Aemiliana died and joined Tarsilla in celebrating the Epiphany of the Lord in Heaven.

As Tarsilla foresaw, Gordiana went into the world. Gregory colored Gordiana’s new direction as evil:

Gordiana in contrast soon found herself thus alone and left behind. Her vices increased, and what earlier was concealed in the desire of her thought she afterward occupied herself with accomplishing in wicked action. Thus having forgotten fear of the Lord, having forgotten chastity and self-respect, having forgotten her consecration, she later married the steward of her agricultural estates.

{ Gordiana autem mox ut solam remansisse se reperit, ejus pravitas excrevit, et quod prius latuit in desiderio cogitationis, hoc post effectu pravae actionis exercuit. Nam oblita dominici timoris, oblita pudoris et reverentiae, oblita consecrationis, conductorem agrorum suorum postmodum maritum duxit. }

In Latin grammar, a man typically leads a woman into marriage. The steward, however, was Gordiana’s social inferior. Gregory represented that status difference grammatically in having Gordiana lead her steward into marriage.[4] Gregory summarized his story of his aunt Gordiana:

Behold, my brothers, how Gordiana, of whom I spoke earlier, falls from the excellence of the holy life into torture.

{ Ecce, fratres mei, Gordiana, quam superius dixi, a sanctimonialis habitus excellentia corruit ad poenam }

Marriage can be torture, but it’s not always that. Marriage to her steward evidently was an arrangement that Gordiana ardently sought. Gregory meant his story of the three sisters to illustrate Jesus’s epimythium to his parable about the Kingdom of Heaven and the wedding feast: “Many are called, but few are chosen {πολλοὶ γάρ εἰσιν κλητοὶ ὀλίγοι δὲ ἐκλεκτοί}.” Two of the sisters, Tarsilla and Aemiliana, died young and became saints. The third sister, Gordiana, married and lived longer in this world. With respect to these three sisters, Gordiana was in the life-course minority. She literally maps to the few.

With a story about the death-bed repentance of a dissolute man, Gregory in this same homily emphasized that the fate of one’s soul is never certain at any point in one’s earthly life. That lesson also applies to Gordiana.[5] Only God knows whether she went to Hell after she died. Subsequent literary history strongly suggests that she didn’t.

Egbert of Liège’s early eleventh-century schoolbook, The Well-Laden Ship {Fecunda ratis}, shows a significant change in the story of Gordiana. Egbert’s motley collection of one-verse proverbs includes a verse about Gordiana:

O wicked deed! Gordiana has followed in marriage a plowman!

{ O malefactum, Gordiana secuta bubulcum }[6]

The Latin bubulcus is “from bōs (“ox”) +‎ -bulcus (“-herd”), likely by analogy of subulcus {swineherd}.”[7] Medieval farmers used oxen for plowing. The meaning of bubulcus thus readily encompassed “plowman.” Rather than leading her steward into marriage, Gordiana in this proverb followed a plowman into marriage. That linguistic construct lowers Gordiana’s social status and highlights her natural sexual desire for a man. If Gregory the Great’s aunt Gordiana had any pride in her lofty birth, that pride was utterly destroyed in the medieval reception of her life.

medieval plowman plowing with oxen

The fourteenth-century Christian masterpiece Piers Plowman supports Gordiana’s choice to marry. Piers Plowman through the voice of Wit affirms marital sexuality as providing pleasure and realizing the seminal blessing in children:

It is an uncomely couple, by Christ, I think,
when a young wench is wedded to a worn-out gaffer,
or any widow wedded for the wealth she possesses,
who will never bear a baby unless it be in her arms.
In jealousy, joyless, and in jangling abed,
many a pair since the pestilence have pledged their vows.
The fruit that they bring forth are foul words.
They have no children but chafing and exchanges of blows.

Therefore I counsel all Christians not to crave to be married
for a fat fortune or family connections.
But virgins and virgins should make vows with one another,
and widowers and widows should wed in the same way.
For no lands but for love look to it that you marry,
and then you’ll get the grace of God and goods enough to live with.

{ It is an uncomly couple. by Crist! as me thynketh —
To yeven a yong wenche to an [y]olde feble,
Or wedden any wodewe for welthe of hir goodes
That nevere shal barn bere but if it be in armes!
In jelousie joyelees and janglynge on bedde,
Many a peire sithen the pestilence han plight hem togideres.
The fruyt that thei brynge forth arn.[manye] foule wordes;
Have thei no children but cheeste and chopp[es] hem bitwene.

Forthi I counseille alle Cristene coveite noght be wedded
For coveitise of catel ne of kynrede riche;
Ac maidenes and maydenes macche yow togideres;
Wideweres and wodewes, wercheth the same;
For no londes, but for love, loke ye be wedded,
And thanne gete ye the grace of God, and good ynough to live with. }[8]

Disparaging marriages between young women and weak, worn-out old men suggests appreciation for vigorous plowing. Piers Plowman more crudely recognizes men’s sexual desire:

And every manner of secular man that cannot remain continent
wisely go wed and ward off sin,
for fantasies of the flesh are the Fiend’s lures.
While you’re young and yeasty and your weapon yet keen,
work it out in wiving if you would be excused.
While you’ve strength galore, don’t waste it on a whore.
For o’er the door is writ this lore: “A call girl’s death’s door.”

{ And every maner seculer that may noght continue,
Wisely go wedde, and ware hym fro synne;
For lecherie in likynge is lymeyerd of helle.
Whiles thow art yong, and thi wepene kene,
Wreke thee with wyvyng, if thow wolt ben excused:
Dum sis vir fortis, ne des tua robora scortis.
Scribitur in poriis, meretrix est ianua mortis. }

In circumstances of true love between spouses, “that deed done in the dark … it delights God Almighty {that ilke derne dede … it liketh God almyghty}.”

In Piers Plowman, the plowman is a figure of Christ. Amid vices tumultuously attacking, corruption among priests and friars, and many persons losing a sense of sin, the figure of Conscience begins a long journey to seek redemption through Piers the Plowman:

Sloth saw that, and so did Pride,
and came to attack Conscience with keen will.
Conscience cried again to Clergy to help,
and bade Contrition to come to keep the gate.
“He lies drowned in dream,” said Peace, “and so do many others.
The Friar with his physic has enchanted the folk here,
and given them a drugged drink. They dread no sin.”
“By Christ,” said Conscience then, “I will become a pilgrim,
and walk as wide as the world reaches
to seek Piers the Plowman, who might expunge Pride,
and see that friars have funds who flatter for need
and contradict me, Conscience. Now Kind avenge me,
and send me heart and health till I have Piers the Plowman.”
And Conscience cried for Grace until I became wakeful.

{ Sleuth seigh that, and so dide Pryde,
And comen with a kene wille Conscience to assaille.
Conseience cryed eft [Clergie come] helpe hym,
And [bad] Contricion [come] to kepe the yate.
“He lith adreynt,” seide Pees, “and so do manye othere;
The frere with his phisyk this folk hath enchaunted,
And plastred hem so esily [that hii] drede no synne!’
“By Crist!” quod Conscience tho, “I wole bicome a pilgrym,
And walken as wide as the world lasteth,
To seken Piers the Plowman, that Pryde myghte destruye,
And that freres hadde a fyndyng, that for nede flateren
And countrepledeth me, Conscience. Now Kynde me avenge,
And sende me hap and heele, til I have Piers the P1owman!”
And siththe he gradde after Grace, til I gan awake. }

Gordiana didn’t merely seek a plowman. She married one. In doing so, she gave up her pride. From the perspective of Piers Plowman, Gordiana’s marriage to the plowman looks redemptive.

Piers Plowman disparages chastity without earthly love. “A lady lovely of look {a lovely lady of leere},” a figure for the holy Mother Church, declared:

For though you are true of your tongue and truly earn your profits
and are as chaste as a child crying at a church service,
unless you really love and relieve the poor
and share in a goodly way such goods as God sends you,
you have no more merit in Mass nor in Hours
than Malkin for her maidenhead that no man desires.

{ For though ye be trewe of youre tonge and treweliche wynne,
And as chaste as a child that in chirche wepeth,
But if ye loven leelly and lene the povere
Of swich good as God sent, goodliche parteth,
Ye ne have na moore merite in Masse ne in houres
Than Malkyn of hire maydenhede, that no man desireth. }

Malkin was a traditional English name for a promiscuous woman. Here Malkin is so unattractive that no man desires to have sex with her. Her chastity is not to her spiritual credit. The same goes for those who are chaste without being charitable:

Let chastity without charity be chained in Hell!
It’s as lifeless as a lamp that has no light in it.
Many chaplains are chaste, but their charity is missing.

Love is Life’s doctor, and next our Lord himself,
and also the strait street that goes straight to Heaven.

{ “Forthi chastite withouten charite worth cheyned in helle;
It is as lewed as a lampe that no light is inne.
Manye chapeleyns arn chaste, ac charite is aweye;

Love is leche of lif and next Oure Lord selve,
And also the graithe gate that goth into hevene. }

In Jesus’s parable about the king’s wedding feast, both good and bad persons attend the wedding feast. One guest is thrown out. That guest isn’t characterized as good or bad, but as not wearing a wedding garment. Gregory the Great interpreted the wedding garment to mean charity.[9] Was Gordiana charitable toward her plowman husband? Sex with one’s spouse in some circumstances can be a charitable act. Gordiana with her land and wealth could have been materially charitable to others. Gregory said nothing about whether Gordiana wore the wedding garment of charity.

Piers the Plowman holding a three-pronged plow-handle

The Kingdom of Heaven is like an all-encompassing royal wedding feast. A chaste life in devotion to God and in charity to one’s neighbors is holy. Yet in Christian understanding, Jesus, the son of a carpenter and a young, provincial woman, turned the world upside down with his fleshly life. God so loved the world that he entered into it. Jesus’s first miracle in the presence of others was turning water into wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Drink some wine and celebrate the elite Roman virgin Gordiana enjoying a plowman as her husband!

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Matthew 22:2. Gregory the Great in his homily quoted a Latin translation of this scripture:

The Kingdom of Heaven is like a man, a king, who made a wedding feast for his son.

{ Simile est regnum coelorum homini regi qui fecit nuptias filio suo }

Jerome’s Vulgate translation adds dynamism to the simile with the inserted word factum: “The making of the Kingdom of Heaven {Simile factum est regnum coelorum}…”

Jesus’s parable of the wedding feast is Matthew 22:1-14. Cf. Luke 14:15-24. Gregory associated the parable in Matthew with nuptials in the temporal church. The parable in Luke he associated with the final banquet of eternity.

[2] Gregory the Great {Gregorius Magnus} / Pope Gregory I, 40 Homilies on the Gospels {Homilae xl in Evangelia}, Homily 38 on Matthew 22:1-14, section 15, Latin text of Migne (1849) in Patrologia Latina 76.1075-1181, my English translation. Here’s an English translation of the whole homily. The subsequent three quotes above are similarly from this homily, sections 15-6.

Gregory the Great was chosen Pope Gregory I on September 3, 590. He delivered this homily at the Basilica of Blessed Clement in Rome on Sunday, February 10, 592.

Gregory had one of the most distinguished lineages of his time. Gregory’s great-great-grandfather was Pope Felix III (the pope from 483-492). Gregory’s mother Silvia was a noble woman honored as a saint soon after her death. Gregory’s father Gordianus was a patrician who served as a Roman Senator and Prefect of the City of Rome. Gordianus owned a luxurious villa on Rome’s Caelian Hill and large estates in Sicily. Gregory himself served as Prefect of Roman in 574, when he was about 33 years old. Gregory’s aunts Tarsilla, Gordiana, and Aemiliana followed an elite life-course in becoming consecrated women:

Gregory’s aunts, then, belong to a line of women of the Roman senatorial aristocracy that can be traced back to the second half of the 4th century, who lived mainly in the family home in a monastic fashion under a private or public vow.

Müller (2013) p. 83. Tarsilla (also called Trasilla) and Aemiliana (also spelled Emiliana) came to be honored as saints, as did Gordianus, Silvia, and Gregory himself. On Gregory’s life and his use of saints, Lupton (2013) chapters 1-2.

Gregory became a strong supporter of Christian monasticism. In 574, he experienced “the grace of conversion {conversionis gratia}” to monastic life after difficult public service. He then founded six monasteries in Sicily. He also converted his family home on Rome’s Caelian Hill into a monastery dedicated to Saint Andrew the Apostle. Gregory himself entered that monastery. He remained there until 579. Then he was appointed as the papal ambassador to Constantinople. He returned to St. Andrews monastery in 585. He remained there until 590, when he was appointed pope.

[3] Matthew 22:37-40.

[4] Latin for a man marrying typically is ducere uxorem (literally “to lead a wife”} while Latin for a woman marrying is typically nubere (to wed). Gregory, in contrast, used the unusual construction maritum duxere, where maritus means “husband.” In sixth-century northern European / Anglo-Saxon languages, cognates with “husband” were associated with managing or farming land.

[5] The dissolute man was the brother of a monk living in Gregory’s monastery of Saint Andrews on Caelian Hill. Gregory’s story of the dissolute man, like his story of his three aunts, is personally connected to him.

Gregory acknowledged sexual passion even in extremely unpropitious circumstances of marital life. Specifically, Gregory heard from Abbot Stephen of Rome that a married man in Norcia was ordained a priest. After his ordination, the priest of Norcia ceased to have sex with his wife. He wouldn’t even go near her. The reason for his reticence subsequently became clear:

After a long life, forty years of which he spent in priestly ministry, he was seized with a severe fever and brought to the point of death. When his wife saw him lying there half-dead, with all the strength of his body wasted away, she put her ear to his face and tried to catch the least sound of breath.

When he sensed her presence, he mustered all his strength and with the little breath that was still in him, he rasped in a hoarse whisper, “Go away from me, woman. The fire still lives. Take away the tinder.”

{ Hic ergo venerabilis presbyter cum longam vitae implesset aetatem, anno quadragesimo ordinationis suae inardescente graviter febre correptus, ad extrema deductus est. Sed cum eum presbytera sua conspiceret solutis jam membris, quasi in morte distentum, si quod adhuc ei vitale spiramen inesset, naribus ejus apposita curavit aure dignoscere.

Quod ille sentiens, cui tenuissimus inerat flatus, quantulo adnisu valuit, ut loqui potuisset, infervescente spiritu collegit vocem atque erupit, dicens: “Recede a me, mulier, adhuc igniculus vivit, paleam tolle.” }

Gregory the Great, Dialogues about the lives and miracles of the Italian fathers {Dialogi de vita et miraculis patrum Italicorum} 4.12, Latin text of Migne (1849) from Patrologia Latina 77 (Books 1, 3, 4) and 66 (Book 2), English translation (modified slightly) of Zimmerman (1959) pp. 203-4. Medieval men were very lively in their ardent love for women.

Gregory emphasized mutuality in marital relations. A husband or wife couldn’t refuse to have sex with a spouse even to enter religious life:

Thenceforth when good spouses either wish to increase merit or to eliminate the sins of a former life, let them be allowed to bind themselves to continence and to strive for a better life. But if a wife does not follow the continence that a husband desires or the husband rejects that which the wife desires, the marriage cannot be separated because it is written: “The wife does not have power over her own body, but the husband does; and the husband does not have power over his own body, but the wife does.”

{ Proinde cum boni coniuges aut meritum augere desiderant aut anteactae vitae culpas delere, ut se ad continentiam astringant, et meliorem vitam appetant, licet. Si vero continentiam quam vir appetit uxor non sequitur aut quam uxor appetit vir recusat dividi coniugium non licet, quia scriptum est: “Mulier sui corporis potestatem non habet, sed vir; et vir sui corporis potestatem non habet, sed mulier.” }

Gregory the Great, Register of Letters {Registum Epistolarum} 11.27, “Gregory to the patrician Theoctista {Gregorius Theoctistae Patriciae},” letter dated February, 601, Latin text from Ewald & Hartmann (1887-91), English translation of Ashleigh Imus on Epistolae. Gregory quotes in Latin translation 1 Corinthians 7:4. See similarly Gregory, Registum Epistolarum 11.30 (wrongly numbered 11.50), “Gregory to Adrian, Notary of Panormus {Gregorius Adriano notario Panormitano},” dated Febrary 601, Latin text and English translation.

For the current best Latin edition of Gregory the Great’s letters, Norberg (1982). Here are selected letters of Gregory in English translation. For a more recent translation of all of Gregory’s letters, Martyn (2004). For a review of Gregory’s thoughts and actions in relation to women, Wilkins (1991). Writing within the you-go-girl scholarly tradition, Wilkins lamented, “Gregory was certainly no feminist in his thoughts and actions.” Id. p. 594.

[6] Egbert of Liège, The Well-Laden Ship {Fecunda ratis} 1.562, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Babcock (2013).

[7] Etymological note for bubulcus on Wiktionary, citing De Vaan (2008) p. 75 (entry for “bōs”), with my added gloss for subulcus.

[8] William Langland (attributed), Piers Plowman / William’s Vision of Piers Plowman {Visio Willelmi de Petro Ploughman} 9.165-71, 9.176-81, Middle English text (B version) from Schmidt (1978) via Corpus of Middle English Prose and Verse, English modernization (modified slightly) from Donaldson, Kirk & Anderson (1990). Subsequent quotes from Piers Plowman are similarly sourced.

The Northern Homily Cycle / The North-English Homily Collection, written early in the fourteenth century, includes a version of Gregory’s story about his aunts Tarsilla, Gordiana, and Aemiliana. Gerould (1902) p. 89. The English homily story states only that Gordiana took a husband. The fourteenth-century Ethical Mirror {Speculum morale}, which was added to Vincent de Beauvais’s thirteenth-century Greater Mirror {Speculum maius}, followed Gregory more closely in specifying that Gordiana married “the custodian of her agricultural estates {custos agrorum suorum}.” Id. Both The Northern Homily Cycle and Speculum morale are far less sophisticated literary works than is Piers Plowman.

Subsequent quotes above from Piers Plowman are similarly sourced. They are Piers Plowman 9.182-85c (And every manner of secular man…), 9.192-3 (that deed done in the dark…), 20.373-86 (Sloth saw that, and so did Pride…), 1.3 (A lady lovely of look), 1.179-84 (For though you are true of your tongue…), 1.188-90, 1.204-5 (Let chastity without charity be chained in Hell…).

[9] Gregory the Great, Homilae xl in Evangelia, Homily 38, section 9.

Thomas Aquinas’s sequence for the Mass of Corpus Christi likens eucharistic communion to the wedding feast of Matthew 22:1-14 in being morally inclusive:

The good enter, the evil enter,
with end so unequal:
eternal life or eternal destruction.

{ Sumunt boni, sumunt mali:
sorte tamen inaequali,
vitae vel interitus. }

Aquinas, “Praise, O Zion, your Savior {Lauda Sion Salvatorem},” 9.1-3, Latin text from the Roman Missal, my English translation.

[images] (1) Gregory the Great {Gregorius Magnus} with staff seated on bishop’s chair. From twelfth-century manuscript containing excerpts from Gregory’s works. Illustration from folio 1v of Bibliothèque municipale de Douai, MS. 315, tome II. (2) Medieval plowman plowing with oxen. Illumination in Psalter (“The Luttrell Psalter”) made between 1325 and 1340. From folio 170r of British Library, Add MS. 42130. (3) Piers the Plowman holding tri-pronged plow-handle. Illumination (color-enhanced) on the margin of folio 35r of Bodleian Library, Oxford, MS Douce 104. This manuscript was made 1427-8. Scott (1990), pp. 38-9, describes Piers the Plowman as holding a plow-handle (“stiua”) in his right hand. She doesn’t comment on its triune character. With the face of contemplation drawn above this figure, Piers could be interpreted as contemplating the Trinity.


Babcock, Robert Gary, ed. and trans. 2013. Egbert of Liège. The Well-Laden Ship {Fecunda ratis}. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 25. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

De Vaan, Michiel. 2008. Etymological Dictionary of Latin and the Other Italic Languages. Leiden Indo-European Etymological Dictionary Series, 7. Leiden: Brill

Donaldson, E. Talbot, trans., Elisabeth D. Kirk, and Judith H. Anderson, eds. 1990. William Langland. Will’s vision of Piers Plowman. New York: W.W. Norton.

Ewald, Paulus and Ludovicus Hartmann, eds. 1887-91. Gregorius Magnus. Registrum Epistularum. MGH Epp. in Quart 2: Gregorii papae registrum epistolarum. Berlin: Weidmann.

Gerould, Gordon Hall. 1902. The North-English Homily Collection: A Study of the Manuscript Relations and of the Sources of the Tales. Bachelor of Arts Dissertion, University of Oxford, 1901. Lancaster, PA: New Era Printing.

Lupton, Brendan P. 2013. St. Paul as a Model and Teacher in the Writings of St. Gregory the Great. Dissertation for Sacred Theology Doctorate, Catholic University of America.

Martyn, John R. C., trans. 2004. The Letters of Gregory the Great. 3 volumes. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Müller, Barbara. 2013. “Gregory the Great and Monasticism.” Ch. 4 (pp. 83-108) in Bronwen Neil and Matthew Dal Santo, eds. A Companion to Gregory the Great. Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition, Volume 47. Leiden: Brill.

Norberg, Dag, ed. 1982. S. Gregorii Magni: Registrum Epistularum. Turnhout: Typographi Brepols Editores Pontificii.

Scott, Kathleen L. 1990. “The Illustrations of Piers Plowman in Bodleian Library Ms. Douce 104.” The Yearbook of Langland Studies. 4: 1–86.

Schmidt, A. V. C., ed. 1978. William Langland. The Vision of Piers Plowman: A Complete Edition of the B-Text. London: J.M. Dent.

Wilkins, Walter J. 1991. “‘Submitting the Neck of Your Mind’: Gregory the Great and Women of Power.” The Catholic Historical Review. 77(4): 583–94.

Zimmerman, Odo John, trans. 1959. Dialogues: Saint Gregory the Great. Fathers of the Church, a New Translation, vol. 39. Washington, DC: Catholic University of America Press.

conflicts and death don’t part Josiane & Boeve

In the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman romance Boeve de Haumtone, the English boy Boeve of Hampton was sold to traveling merchants. He was lucky. His mother wanted him dead after he complained about her arranging to have his father killed. In a slave market far from England, King Hermin of Egypt bought Boeve. In Egypt, Boeve grew to be an excellent young knight. He helped King Hermin to repel the attacking king of Damascus. King Hermin then urged his beautiful young daughter Josiane to help Boeve undress and to serve him food in his room.

After helping Boeve to remove his armor, the Saracen princess Josiane brought him meat. She herself cut and served him meat. After he had eaten all that he wanted, she said to him:

Beautiful sir Boeve, I won’t seek to hide it from you —
love for you has made me weep many tears
and many nights made me lie awake with too much breath,
and for that reason, beautiful sir, I would like to beg you
that you would not refuse my love.
If you refuse it, I will not be able to endure any longer,
I must die and perish of grief.

{ Beau sire Boefs, ne vus en quer celer,
vostre amour me ad fet meint lerme plurer
e meint nuit me ad fet so vent trop veiller;
e pur ceo, beau sire, jeo vus voil prier
que vus ne voillez mie ma amour refuser;
si vus la refusez, ne purrai plus durrer,
de doel me covent morer e afiner. }

In medieval Europe, lovesickness was regarded as a grave medical condition. Moreover, medieval women were strong, active leaders in love with men. Men, however, have long suffered from lack of self-esteem. So it was with Boeve:

“My beautiful young lady,” so said to her Boeve,
“by God, let this great folly cease.
Already King Bradmund has asked for you in marriage.
There isn’t a king, so I believe, in the entire world,
nor prince, emir, count, or baron,
who would not desire you, if he would see your face.
I am a poor knight from another land.
I have not yet seen my fief nor my house.”

{ “Ma bele damoisele,” ceo li dist Bovoun,
“pur dieu lessez ester ceste grant folesoun,
ja vus ad demaundé le roi Brademound;
il n’i ad roi, ceo crei, en tretut le mound
ne prince ne admiré ne counte ne baroun,
que il ne vus desirrunt, si il veient vostre fasoun;
jeo sui un povere chevaler de un autre regioun,
jeo n’i vi unkes uncore mon fu ne ma meisoun.” }

Too many men don’t understand their intrinsic worth. Josiane declared to Boeve that she loved him more in his tunic than she would a king with ten kingdoms. She again asked for his love.

Boeve again rejected Josiane’s love. She blushed, felt profound grief, and wept. Then she said:

By God! Sir Boeve, you tell the truth.
In our age there isn’t a king, prince, or emir who doesn’t admire me,
who wouldn’t willingly take me, if he came to please me.
You’ve refused me like a depraved peasant.
You’d be better off mending ditches,
and rubbing down saddled horses with straw,
and running like an errand-boy crudely on foot,
than being a knight in an honored court.
Go to your own country, you wretched, proven low-born man!
May Mahomet, who made us all, destroy you!

{ Par dieu! sire Boefs, vus dites verité:
el secle n’i ad roi ne prince ne admiré
ke ne me preist volunters, si me venist a gre.
Vus me avez refusé cum velein reprové
Meuz vus avenist redrescer ceo fossés
e torcher a un torchoun ceo chevaus selés
e coure cum coursseler vileinement a pe
ke estre chevaler ou en court honuré.
Alez en vostre pais, truaunt vil prové;
Mahun vus confoundue, ke tuz nus ad formé! }

Josiane’s harsh words caused Boeve to feel slandered and insulted. He said he would return to his country, and she would never see him again for the rest of her life. He also said that he would return the magnificent horse Arundel that she had given him. She fell in a faint. He swiftly left the room.

Later Josiane sent a messenger to ask Boeve to come to her. Boeve told the messenger that he wouldn’t go to her. However, he gave the messenger a silk tunic ornamented with gems as a reward for his service. Josiane was impressed with Boeve’s generosity. Not wearing a cloak, she herself went to Boeve, He saw her coming and pretended to be asleep and snoring. She came and stood before his bed:

“Wake up, beautiful, sweet, dear friend,” she said.
“I would like to talk a little to you in person.”

{ “Enveilez vus,” fest ele, “beau duz amy cher,”
un petitet vodrai a vus ore parler.” }

He wearily told her to let him rest. Then she began to weep. She begged for his pity, promised to make amends for the wrong she had done him, and said she would become a Christian for his sake. Boeve understood that she valued him highly. He forgave her for her nasty words to him. They kissed lovingly.

Boeve then suffered a characteristically gendered false accusation. Two knights falsely reported to King Hermin that Boeve had slept with his daughter Josiane. Those knights didn’t even falsely claim that Boeve had raped her. Without hearing from Boeve or Josiane, the king sent Boeve to convey a letter to the King of Damascus. That letter instructed the King of Damascus to imprison Boeve for life.

Boeve of Hampton imprisoned by King Bradmund of Damascus

Josiane, in contrast, wasn’t punished for allegedly having sex with Boeve. Her father arranged for her to marry King Yvori of Munbraunt. Because she loved Boeve with all her heart, she felt wretched to be marrying King Yvori. She resolved to maintain her virginity even after marrying:

She had learned some kind of enchantment,
and she made a very tight belt of silk.
The belt was made by such a technique
that if a women wore it underneath her clothes,
there wasn’t a man living in the world
who would have any desire to sleep with her,
nor to approach the bed there where she had reclined.
The young woman girded herself very tightly with the belt
so that Yvori of Munbraunt wouldn’t be able to touch her.

{ Ele out apris aukes de enchantement,
une ceinture fist de seie bien tenaunt,
la ceinture fu fete par tele devisement,
se une femme le ust ceinte desuz son vestement,
il n’i avereit homme en secle vivant
ki de cocher ove li avereit accun talent
ne aprucher au lit la ou ele fu gisaunt.
La pucele se ceint mult estreitement,
ke il ne la dust tocher Yvori de Munbraunt. }

With this magic man-repellent, Josiane remained a virgin through seven years of marriage to King Yvori. He must have wondered about his lack of sexual desire for his beautiful, young wife. Perhaps he felt that he was tragically impotent.

After seven long years of brutal imprisonment, Boeve escaped. Disguised as a holy pilgrim, he made his way to Munbraunt. There he entered the palace and sought a meal from Queen Josiane. She was still weeping and lamenting for her lost beloved Boeve:

“Alas,” she said. “Sir Boeve, I used to love you so much.
Indeed my love for you will make me insane.
Since I lost you, I no longer seek to live.”

{ “Hai!” dist ele, “sire Bores, tant vus solai amer,
ja me fra vostre amur afoler;
kant je vus ai perdu, vivere mes ne qer.” }

Josiane asked the pilgrim where he was born. When he said England, she asked if he knew a knight named Boeve. He said that Boeve’s father was his kin, and that he had seen Boeve perform mighty deeds. He further said that Boeve had returned to England, killed his stepfather, and married a beautiful woman. Josiane fell to the ground in despair when she heard that Boeve had married another woman.

Boeve disguised as pilgrim meets Queen Josiane at Munbraunt

Josiane looked at the pilgrim. He looked like Boeve. When she asked him if he was Boeve, he lied and then changed the subject:

“Certainly not,” he said. “Don’t even begin to talk of such nothingness.
But I have often heard talk of a warhorse.
Do you have him within this place? I’d like to see him.
I would be pleased to see if he is as fierce as is said.”

{ “Nanal certis,” dist il. “de nent comencez parler.
Mes jeo ai oy sovent parler de un destrer;
le avez vus seyns? Jeo lui voil ver;
volunters verrai, si il est si fer.” }

Josiane’s squire Bonefey then came forward and said that this pilgrim looked just like Boeve. When the warhorse Arundel heard his beloved knight’s name, his heart was filled with joy. He broke his chains and ran through the court neighing. The pilgrim said that he wanted to mount the horse. Nobody could do that but Boeve. When he mounted, Arundel pawed the ground proudly and began to gallop. Everyone then knew that the pilgrim was indeed Boeve.

Josiane wasn’t going to take any more nonsense. She gave Boeve his prized sword named Murgleie to complement his prized warhorse Arundel. Boeve then said that he would go to England by himself to fight for his inheritance. But first he would have to defeat Josiane. She declared:

“By God,” said the young woman, “you will not do it!
You will bring me with you when you go there.”

{ “Par deu!” dist la pucele, “nun freyz!”
Vus me amenerés o vus, kant vus en alez.” }

Boeve objected that she was a noble queen and he was merely a young man. Moreover, her father had caused him to be imprisoned for seven years. In addition, Boeve had recently made confession to the Patriarch, who ordered him not to take a wife “unless she was a virgin without falsification {si ele ne fust pucele sanz fauser}.” Boeve said that Josiane couldn’t be a virgin since she was married to King Yvori for seven years. She, however, was eager for him to test her:

“Boeve,” said Josiane, “let all that be,
because, by that God that I must honor,
I can show you and well assure you
that Yvori was never able to touch my body.
Let’s go to England. I want to implore you,
when I have been baptized,
that if I’m not a virgin when it comes to the test,
then you can send me back here
naked in my tunic, without penny or nickel.”

{ “Boves,” dist Josian, “tut ceo lessez ester;
ke, par cele deu ke dei honurer!
jeo vus pus mustrer e ben assurer
ke unkes Yvori ne pout mun cors tocher.
Alum en Engletere, jeo vus voile prier,
kant jeo me averai fet baptizer,
si jeo ne sey pucele, kant vent al prover,
ke vus me facez arere enveyer
nue en ma cote, sanz maile ou dener.” }

Josiane prevailed. Boeve agreed. They embraced joyfully.

Before Josiane and Boeve could go to England, they had to escape from King Yvori at Munbraunt. Josiane wanted to take ten horses laden with gold. Boeve was aghast at traveling with so much baggage. Josiane, however, insisted that they needed it. Boeve agreed. That was much less difficult than attempting to fight with her. With the help of Josiane’s faithful squire Bonefey, they drugged their guards and left secretly at night.

When Yvori’s men awoke, they realized that Boeve had left with Josiane. A large, armed party set out in pursuit. Seeing that pursuit, Bonefey advised hiding in a cave. Josiane, Boeve, and Bonefey hid in the cave, but they had no food. Josiane complained that she was hungry. Boeve left to search for food, while Bonefey stayed to protect Josiane.

Then two lions attacked Josiane and Bonefey. Bonefey attempted to protect Josiane, but the lions tore him to pieces. The lions dragged Josiane to the top of a rock. They didn’t eat her because she was a princess. Like a princess, Josiane cried out in complaint to Boeve:

Alas, sir Boeve, you delay too long!
Now these beasts want to kill me.
Never again will you see me healthy and whole.

{ Hai! sire Boves, trop fetes demorer!
ore me vodront ceo bestes estrangler,
james ne me veras sen ne enter. }

Boeve returned carrying a stag that he had killed for food for Josiane. He saw parts of Bonefey’s body scattered around. Then he saw the two lions guarding Josiane:

Josiane saw Boeve and started to shout,
“Come avenge the death of Bonefey the squire!”
“So I will,” said Boeve, “you can be well sure
that by my two hands I will come to meet with them.”
The two lions heard him and started to rise.
Josiane held on to one of them, so it could not go.
By the skin around its neck she seized it,
and so firmly she held it that it couldn’t move.
Boeve told her to let it go.

{ Josian veyt Boun si comensa a crier:
“Venez venger la mort Bonefey l’esquier,”
“Si frai,” dist Bores, “beu poez saver,
par me deus mains les covendra passer.”
Les deus lions li oyerunt si comencent lever;
Jusian tint li un, ke ne put aler,
par le pel li prist entur le coler,
ausi ferme le tint com out le pouer;
Boves la dist ke le lessa aler. }

When the medieval Lombard husband confronted a snail in his field, he also had to deal with his wife’s advice about fighting it. Confronting two raging lions, Boeve also had to fight with his beloved:

He gripped his strong shield and took his steel sword.
“Let the other raging lion come.”
“No, I won’t,” said Josiane, “so help me God!
Not until you have killed the other one.”
“By God,” said Boeve,”that would be dishonesty,
for if I were in England, which is my kingdom,
and before my barons I boasted
that I had killed two lions,
you would come forward and swear by God,
that in truth you held one
until I had killed the other one.
But I don’t want to hear that for all Christendom.
Now let the lion go, or if you don’t wish to do that,
I will go from here, and you will remain.”

{ Le forte escu enbrace e prist le branc asseré.
“Lessez vener l’altre lion aragé.”
“Nun frai,” dist ele, “si me eyde de!
jekes a tant ke vus eyez l’altre tué.”
“Par deu!” dist Boves, “ceo sereit fauseté;
ke si jeo fuse en Engletere, mun regné,
e jeo me avantas devant mon baroné
ke jeo avai deus lions tué,
vus vendrés avan e jurez par de,
ke vus tenistis l’un pur verité,
tant ke jeo use l’altre tué;
mes ceo ne vodray pur tut cristienté.
Ore ly lessez aler, ou si ne le volez,
jeo m’en iray e vus remeyndrez.” }

For once Josiane relented in a fight with her beloved. She let the raging lion go. She prayed, “May Jesus Christ, who was born of a mother, protect you {Jhesu Crist vus garde, ke de mere fu ne}.” Mary, the mother of Jesus, was the most powerful figure in medieval Europe. Josiane wasn’t about to allow Boeve to be without a woman’s protection.

The two lions then attacked Boeve. He struck one with a strong sword-blow, but couldn’t penetrate the lion’s tough hide. When the lion opened its mouth to swallow Boeve, he thrust his sword within and pieced its heart. When he withdrew, the lion died. The other lion rushed at Boeve, raised its front feet, and began to tear at him. Boeve cut off the lion’s feet. It fell to the ground, snarling fiercely. Boeve then killed it. He thus managed to rescue Josiane from two raging lions without her direct help.

Boeve (Bevis of Hampton) killing two lions

Josiane could be compassionate to a foe. After the Saracen giant Escopart attempted to seize her for King Yvori, Boeve’s horse Arundel knocked Escopart to the ground and sat on him. Boeve then sought to cut off Escopart’s head. But Josiane urged Escopart to become a Christian and Boeve’s vassal. Boeve wondered whether he could trust the Saracen giant. Josiane declared that she would stand surety for him. Escopart then did homage to Boeve and served him well for awhile. But Escopart eventually betrayed Boeve and abducted Josiane. Her guidance of Boeve turned out to be faulty in this instance.

If necessary, Josiane could deal with dangers herself. One day in Cologne, the count Miles captured Josiane and married her against her will. That night he took her to bed:

Before Miles could come into their bed,
the beautiful Josiane took her belt.
Without doubt she wrapped it around Miles’s neck.
The bed was high where he slept,
and the count Miles sat himself on one side,
and the young woman jumped on the other side,
pulled him to her, and broke his neck.

{ Avant que Miles poit vener en son lit,
Josian la bele sa seynture prist,
outre le col Miles le gita tot de fist.
Le lit fu haut ou il gist,
e li quens Miles de une part se sist,
e la pucele de altre part sailist,
a sey le tret e le col li rumpist. }

Miles was found dead the next morning. Josiane had killed him with the same silk belt that she had used to prevent her husband King Yvori from having sex with her through seven years of marriage. Yvori should have been grateful that, rather than depriving him of sex, she didn’t kill him.

Despite Josiane’s domineering personality and serious conflicts between her and her beloved Boeve, they married and had three children. Their oldest son Gui became a king. When his mother was seriously sick, Gui sought to comfort her. She had only one request:

“Beautiful son,” she said, “call Boeve to me.”
The young man called Boeve, and Boeve came running.
When he saw his lady-lord, he took her into his arms
and commended Gui, their child, to the Lord God.
Then the lady-lord died, and Boeve too.
Angels carried their souls to the blessed.

{ “Beau fiz,” dist ele, “apellez Boun avant”
Li enfes Boim apele, e il vint corant.
Kant veit la dame, entre ses bras la prent,
a dampnedeu command Gui, lur enfant.
Ja morust la dame e Boves ensement;
les almes aportent les angles as innocens. }

Arguments and conflicts don’t necessarily compel persons to separate. They might remain together in a relationship of love, without even death parting them.

Boeve and Josiane traveling by boat to England

* * * * *

Read more:


The above story of Josiane and Boeve of Hampton is from the twelfth-century Anglo-Norman work Boeve de Haumtone, also known as Beuve de Hamptone. Just as Boeve is also known as Beuve, Josiane is also known as Josian. Whether Boeve de Haumtone is a medieval romance or a “song of deeds {chanson de geste}” is a matter of scholarly controversy. Ailes (2008). The story is set during the reign of King Edgar of England, who reigned 959-975.

The Egyptian princess Josiane was a Saracen, a medieval Christian term for Muslim. On the cultural geography of the story, Blurton (2019). Like the Saracen princes Guiborc, Josiane is both a domineering and loving woman. Her dramatic initiative in grabbing hold of the lion to lessen the risk to Boeve’s life puts her in the line of proto-meninist women who act to lessen violence against men. Cf. Waugh (2018). Boeve’s remarkable willingness to defy his beloved Josiane’s will points to medieval Christian understanding of an equal conjugal partnership. Cf. Saunders (2008). Nonetheless, violence in Boeve de Haumtone is overwhelmingly violence against men. Many unnamed, voiceless men are brutally killed in this story.

Boeve’s father was Count Gui of Hampton. As an old man, he was disparaged for never having married. To quell such criticism, he married the young, beautiful daughter of the king of Scotland. They had the son Boeve. When Boeve was about ten years old, his mother sent a message to Doon, Emperor of Germany, promising to marry him if he killed her husband Gui. When Doon agreed, she sent Gui into an ambush, where Doon beheaded him. She married Doon the day after he killed her husband.

The story of Boeve and Josiane was widely distributed. The Anglo-Norman version is the oldest surviving version, while continental Old French and Franco-Italian versions also exist. The Anglo-Norman version apparently was adapted into Middle English and gave rise to the surviving text known as Bevis of Hampton, dating about 1324. For an edition, Herzman, Drake & Salisbury (1999) and for a modernized English version, Scott-Robinson (2019). For an edition and English translation of a fifteenth-century Irish version, Robinson (1907). Medieval prose translations also exist in Dutch, Romanian, Russian, Welsh, and Yiddish.

The above quotes are from the Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone, Old French (Anglo-Norman) text from Stimming (1899), English translation (modified) from Weiss (2008). The current best edition, Martin (2014), wasn’t readily available to me. The above quotes are vv. 670-7 (Beautiful sir Boeve, I won’t seek to hide it…), 680-7 (“My beautiful young lady,” so said to her Boeve…), 695-705 (By God! Sir Boeve, you tell the truth…), 756-7 (“Wake up, beautiful, sweet, dear friend,”…), 999-1007 (She had learned some kind of enchantment…), 1390-2 (“Alas,” she said…), 1428-31 (“Certainly not,” he said…), 1467-8 (“By God,” said the young woman…), 1477 (unless she was a virgin without falsification), 1480-8 (“Boeve,” said Josiane…), 1675-7 (Alas, sir Boeve, you delay…), 1696-1704 (Josiane saw Boeve and started to shout…), 1707-20 (He gripped his strong shield…), 1722 (May Jesus Christ, who was born of a mother, protect you), 2110-6 (Before Miles could come into their bed…), 3831-6 (“Beautiful son,” she said, “call Boeve to me.”…).

[images] (1) Boeve of Hampton imprisoned by King Bradmund of Damascus. Illumination from instance of Beuve de Hantone made about 1280 in northern France. From folio 18r of Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Français 25516. (2) Boeve disguised as pilgrim meets Queen Josiane at Munbraunt. Similarly from folio 24v of Beuve de Hantone, MS. Fr. 25516. (3) Boeve (Bevis of Hampton) killing two lions. Boeve (Bevis of Hampton) killing two lions. Illumination in The Taymouth Hours (Book of Hours, Use of Sarum) made in the second quarter of the fourteenth century in England. From folio 12r (via Wikimedia Commons) of British Library MS. Yates Thompson 13. (4) Boeve and Josiane traveling by boat to England. Similarly from folio 50r of Beuve de Hantone, MS. Fr. 25516.


Ailes, Marianne. 2008. “The Anglo-Norman Boeve de Haumtone as a chanson de geste.” Chapter 1 (pp. 9-24) in Fellows & Djordjević (2008).

Blurton, Heather. 2019. “‘Jeo Ai Esté a Nubie’: Boeve de Haumtone in the Medieval Mediterranean.” Neophilologus. 103: 465–77.

Fellows, Jennifer and Ivana Djordjević, eds. 2008. Sir Bevis of Hampton in Literary Tradition. Woodbridge UK: D.S. Brewer.

Herzman, Ronald B., Graham Drake, and Eve Salisbury. 1999. Four Romances of England: King Horn, Havelok the Dane, Bevis of Hampton, Athelston. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS (the Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages) in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Martin, Jean-Pierre, ed. 2014. Beuve de Hamptone: Chanson de geste anglo-normande de la fin du xiie siècle, édition bilingue établie, présentée et annotée. Paris, France: Honoré Champion. Review by Claude Lachet.

Robinson, Frank N., ed and trans. 1907. The Irish Lives of Guy of Warwick and Bevis of Hampton. Halle a.S: M. Niemeyer.

Saunders, Corinne. 2008. “Gender, Virtue and Wisdom in Sir Bevis of Hampton.” Chapter 10 (pp. 161-175) in Fellows & Djordjević (2008).

Scott-Robinson, Richard, trans. 2019. Sir Bevis of Hampton. eleusinianm. Online.

Stimming, Albert, ed. 1899. Der Anglonormannische Boeve De Haumtone. Halle: M. Niemeyer.

Waugh, Robin. 2018. “Josian and the Heroism of Patience in Bevis of Hampton.” English Studies. 99(6): 609–23.

Weiss, Judith, trans. 2008. Boeve de Haumtone and Gui de Warewic: Two Anglo-Norman Romances. Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 332; The French of England Translation Series, 3. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.