emperor honored workingman’s rebellion & wife’s privilege

According to a medieval story collection, the Roman Emperor Titus decreed that all must hold sacred his first-born son’s birthday. No one was permitted to engage in “servile work {opus servile}” on that day. Emperor Titus asked the great poet Master Virgil to invent a device that would indicate any violations of that decree. Virgil erected in the city-center a statue that policed working on the birthday of the emperor’s son.

The artisan Focus, struggling to meet his needs, rebelled against the Emperor’s decree. Focus went to the statue and declared that if it informed against him, he would break its head. When the emperor sent messengers to the statue, the statue told them to read the writing on its forehead:

Times have changed, people have grown worse, and a person who wishes to say the truth will receive a broken head.

{ Tempora mutantur, homines deteriorantur, qui voluerit veritatem dicere caput fractum habebit. }

When Emperor Titus heard this message, he sent armed guards. The guards told the statue to speak the truth. They would protect it against attacks on its head. The statue declared:

Arrest the artisan named Focus. He’s one who doesn’t observe in any way the Emperor’s day.

{ Accipe fabrum nomine Focum. Ille est, qui in nullo observat diem imperatoris. }

The guards arrested Focus and brought him before the Emperor.

In his defense, Focus explained that he had to work every day to meet his daily need for eight silver pennies. He declared:

My lord, listen to me. I have to pay two silver pennies every day to my father, because when I was a young boy, my father spent two silver pennies on me every day. Now my father is poor, so reason dictates that I must help him in his poverty. Each day I thus hand him two silver pennies. Two other silver pennies I lend to my son, who is now a student. Hence if I should ever chance to be poor, he can pay me back two silver pennies, as I am now doing for my father. Two further silver pennies I lose every day on my wife, who is always arguing with me and is very willful and has a hot-tempered disposition. Because of these three characteristics, whatever I give her, that I lose. Another two silver pennies I spend on myself for food and drink. I can’t easily get by with less, and those eight silver pennies I cannot obtain without working every day. Now you have heard my defense. Let therefore your judgment be correct!

{ Domine mi, advertite me! Duos denarios omni die teneor patri meo, quia cum essem puer parvulus, pater meus duos denarios super me singulis diebus expendit, jam pater meus in egestate est positus, unde racio dictat, quod ei subveniam in sua paupertate, et ideo omni die duos denarios ei trado; duos alios denarios filio meo accommodo, qui jam ad studium pergit, ut si contingat me ad egestatem pervenire, michi illos duos denarios reddat, sicut ego jam patri meo facio; duos alios denarios omni die perdo super uxorem meam, quia semper est michi contraria, aut proprie voluntatis aut callide complectionis, et propter ista tria quicquid ei dedero, hoc perdo; duos alios denarios super meipsum in cibis et potibus expendo. Levius bono modo transire non potero et istos denarios non possum obtinere sine continuo labore. Jam audistis racionem. Detis ergo judicium rectum! }

Focus’s wife apparently didn’t work. Moreover, despite his wife not being cooperative, Focus allocated as much of his earnings to her as he did to himself. Emperor Titus didn’t condemn this marital gender injustice. Instead, the Emperor praised Focus and permitted him to work as much as he needed to do.

After the Emperor died, the Roman people chose Focus as the new Emperor rather than the Emperor’s son. The Roman people respected Focus’s work ethic and economic wisdom. Many workingmen have shown a similar work ethic and allocation of their earnings throughout history.

As a matter of retributive justice for historical oppression, women must work to support financially men today. Men deserve the choice to withdraw from the workforce and be homemakers receiving half of their women’s earnings while being argumentative, willful, and hot-tempered. Let it be so taught to everyone. If you’re not a meninist, you’re a bigot!

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The above story of Focus the artisan exists in the medieval continental Gesta Romanorum as Ch. 57, “About the perfection of life {De perfectione vite},” and in the medieval Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum as Ch. 16, which Bright (2019) titles “Focus the smith.” The first and third quotes are from the continental Gesta Romanorum, Latin text from Oesterley (1872), English translation (modified slightly) from Stace (2018). The second quote is from the Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum, Latin text and English translation from Bright (2019). The story differs only in minor details across these two versions.

[images] [1] Tanner-man at work. Illustration made in 1473. From Housebook of the Mendelschen Twelve Brothers Foundation, Volume 1. Nuremberg 1426–1549. Nuremberg City Library, Amb. 317.2 °. Via Wikimedia Commons. [2] Saddlemaker-man at work. Illustration made in 1470. Sourced as for the tanner-man. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Bright, Philippa, ed. and trans. 2019. The Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum: from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce MS 310. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Oesterley, Hermann, ed. 1872. Gesta Romanorum. Berlin: Weidmann. Alternate presentation of chapters 1-181.

Stace, Christopher, trans. 2018. Gesta Romanorum: A New Translation. Manchester University Press.

death of Ajax in the Roman de Troie

In writing his twelfth-century Romance of Troy {Roman de Troie}, Benoît de Sainte-Maure used as primary sources the Trojan War histories of Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis. Yet Benoît went considerably beyond these sources in narrating the death of Ajax, son of Telamon. Benoît’s account of Ajax’s death seems to have drawn upon an independent source rooted in the archaic Greek epic cycle. Narrative motifs from the Greek epic cycle in addition to those in the works of Dares and Dictys apparently reached twelfth-century France .

According to Dares, late in the Trojan War the great Greek warrior Ajax Telamon went into battle without armor. Dares said nothing more than that after Paris wounded Ajax with an arrow shot, Ajax pursued him and killed him. Then Ajax died from wounds to his unarmored body. Dares provided no explanation or authorial evaluation of Ajax having gone into battle without armor. That circumstance occurs merely as an explanatory fact in the narrative.[1]

Dictys placed Ajax’s death in the context of bitter argument over which Greek warrior would receive the Palladium, a prize taken from Troy. Agamemnon and Menelaus favored giving the Palladium to Ulysses since he had convinced the Greeks not to kill Helen. Ajax in turn became furious at not receiving the Palladium. That night the Greeks angrily separated. The next day they made a troubling discovery:

At the first light we found out in the open Ajax dead. Looking around, we noticed that the type of his death was being killed by a sword.

{ at lucis principio Aiacem in medio exanimem offendunt perquirentesque mortis genus animadvertere ferro interfectum. }[2]

Who killed Ajax isn’t specified in Dictys’s sparse, dry narrative. Dictys also provides no indication that Ajax went mad. Madness is a much different mental state from the normative Greek emotion of anger at being dishonored.

Expanding significantly Dares’s account of Ajax’s death, Benoît narrated Ajax behaving strangely in battle. Benoît called this experienced warrior a fool:

King Ajax went to battle in the forefront.
He was so full of recklessness
that he didn’t wear armor, or take any with him.
He wanted to be wholly naked in battle.
If he didn’t watch out for himself, that would be crazy
because his enemies would hit him with many heavy blows.

Ajax went about the battle
fighting without a hauberk or visor,
without helmet laced on or shield hanging from his neck.
He should have well realized that he was a fool
to have plunged into a such a place
naked of armor for his sides and chest.
It’s a wonder that he survived so long.

{ Reis Aiaus vait premerains:
Tant par est d’estoutie pleins
Qu’armes ne prent ne qu’il nes baille;
Toz nuz vueut estre a la bataille.
S’il ne s’i guarde, il fait que fous,
Quar mout li dorra l’om granz cous

Aïaus vait par la bataille,
Qui n’a hauberc ne n’a ventaille,
Heaume lacié n’escu al col:
Bien se devreit tenir por fol,
Qu’il en tel lieu s’est embatuz.
Le piz e les costez a nuz:
C’est merveille que il tant dure. }[3] 22609-14,22759-65

The “madman {forsené}” Ajax died horrifically:

And on that side, Ajax was very mangled
such that he wasn’t whole in neither his hands nor feet,
head nor chest, ribs nor arms.
Spilled blood made him more crimson than vermilion silk.
God never made any man who if he saw Ajax,
his heart wouldn’t become wholly frozen.

With great effort and great pain
his soul left his body as he
almost chewed it with his clenching teeth.

{ E cil par est si detrenchié
Qu’il n’a entier ne main ne pié,
Teste ne piz, costé ne bras.
Plus fu vermeiz que nus cendaz:
Deus ne fist home, s’il le veit,
Que toz li cuers ne l’en esfreit.

A grant travail e a grant peine
Li est l’ame del cors eissue:
Por poi qu’as denz ne la manjue. } 22825-36

Beyond his sources Dares and Dictys, Benoît seemed to have a sense of the mad Ajax described in the cyclical Little Iliad and Sophocles’s tragedy Ajax. In those Greek works, Ajax becomes furious at not receiving a war spoil (Achilles’s armor). Ajax madly slaughters cattle in the belief that he is attacking Agamemnon and Menelaus. Ashamed at his action, he then kills himself with his sword. Benoît re-presented the madness of Ajax as him foolishly going into battle without armor and then chewing his soul with his teeth as he expired in death.

Benoît plausibly elaborated on the madness of Ajax based on an additional source. The Rawlinson Destruction of Troy {Excidium Troie} attests to medieval survival of a Latin chronicle independent of Dares and Dictys.[4] That Latin chronicle probably preserved an account of Ajax madly killing cattle like that found in the Greek Little Iliad and Sophocles’s Ajax. Benoît was sensitive to the sensational, such as astonishing realities of gender, and apparently sought to retain the attention of a diverse audience. Elaborating on the madness of Ajax is consistent with Benoît’s general approach to narrating the matter of Troy.[5]

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[1] Dares of Phygia {Dares Phrygius}, The History of Troy’s Fall {De excidio Troiae historia} 35. For Latin text and English translation, Cornil (2011).

[2] Dictys of Crete {Dictys Cretensis}, Chronicle of the Trojan War {Ephemeris belli Troiani} 5.15, Latin text from Meister (1872), my English translation. For a full English translation, Frazer (1966).

[3] Benoît de Sainte-Maure, Roman de Troie, vv. 22609-14, 22759-65, Old French text from Constans (1904), English translation (modified slightly) from Burgess & Kelly (2017). Subsequent quotes above are similarly sourced. They are vv. 22779 (madman) and 22825-36 (And on that side, Ajax was very mangled…).

[4] Atwood (1934) p. 396. For an English translation of the Rawlinson Excidium Troie, Fadhlurrahman (ND). The text of Homer’s Iliad is thought to have first entered medieval Europe when Petrarch acquired a copy in 1354. Petrarch, however, was unable to read the ancient Greek. On the reception of Trojan myth through history, Solomon (2007). Highlights of Greek tragedies may have existed in medieval Europe in variant theatrical forms. Symes (2011).

[5] On Benoît’s method of narration, Kelly (1995) and Kelly (1999) Ch. 4.

[image] Ajax kills himself with his sword. Painting on a red-figured calyx-krater. Made c. 400–350 BGC. Preserved as accession # GR 1867.5-8.1328 (Cat. Vases F 480) in the British Museum. Credit: Blacas Collection. Image thanks to Jastrow (2006) and Wikimedia Commons. Here’s a vase painting, made c. 490 BGC, of Ajax’s suicide.


Atwood, E. Bagby. 1934. “The Rawlinson Excidium Troie — A Study of Source Problems in Mediaeval Troy Literature.” Speculum. 9 (4): 379-404.

Burgess, Glyn S., and Douglas Kelly. 2017. The Roman de Troie by Benoît de Sainte-Mauré: a translation. Gallica, 41. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. Reviews by Sylvia Federico and by Cristian Bratu.

Constans, Léopold, ed. 1904-12. Le roman de Troie, par Benoît de Sainte-Maure, publié d’après tous les manuscrits connus. Société des Aanciens Textes Français. Paris: F. Didot. Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Cornil, Jonathan Cornil. 2011. Dares Phrygius’ de excidio Trojae historia: philological commentary and translation. Thesis for Masters Degree in Linguistics and Literature. Ghent University, The Netherlands.

Fadhlurrahman, Muhammad Syarif, trans. ND. Excidium Troiae or Destruction of Troy. Internet Archive.

Frazer, R. M., trans.. 1966. The Trojan war: the Chronicles of Dictys of Crete and Dares the Phrygian. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Kelly, Douglas. 1995. “The invention of Briseida’s story in Benoît de Sainte-Maure’s Troie.” Romance Philology. 48 (3): 221-241.

Kelly, Douglas. 1999. The Conspiracy of Allusion: description, rewriting, and authorship from Macrobius to medieval romance. Leiden: Brill.

Meister, Ferdinand Otto, ed. 1872. Dictys cretensis ephemeridos belli troiani. Lipsiae: in aedibus B.G. Teubneri.

Solomon, Jon. 2007. “The Vacillations of the Trojan Myth: Popularization & Classicization, Variation & Codification.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition. 14 (3-4): 3-4.

Symes, Carol. 2011. “The Tragedy of the Middle Ages.” Pp. 335-369 in Gildenhard, Ingo, and Martin Revermann, eds. Beyond the Fifth Century: interactions with Greek tragedy from the fourth century BCE to the Middle Ages. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.

master Virgil’s magic mirror saved husband from murderous wife

Just before he left to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, a married knight was walking through the streets of Rome. Master Virgil looked at him closely and told him that he needed help immediately. The knight begged for an explanation. Virgil responded:

Your wife is a whore and this very day has planned and arranged such that you will die.

{ Uxor tua meretrix est et isto die providit et ordinavit ut moriaris. }[1]

What would a husband say to such an outrageous claim?

wife and husband warily eyeing each other

Virgil was a highly respected poet-magician in medieval Europe. According to legend, he had built in Rome a magnificent set of statues that signaled whenever a Roman province was rebelling.[2] Such power of discernment had obvious relevance to the center’s rebellion in the knight’s situation. The knight in fact validated Virgil’s claim and prudently asked for help:

O kind lord, I know very well that my wife has been a whore for a long time, but about my death I am completely ignorant. I ask you, however, if there is some remedy to prevent my death, tell me. If you are able to save my life, all my goods will be at your wish.

{ O bone domine, scio peroptime quod uxor mea meretrix est a multo tempore, sed de morte mea penitus ignoro. Sed rogo te, ut si sit aliquodam remedium contra mortem meam, michi dicas, et, si vitam meam poteris salvare, omnia bona mea erunt ad voluntatem vestram. }

Virgil explained that the knight’s wife loved another man. To get rid of her husband, she asked a necromancer to kill him. The necromancer created an wax image of the knight, fixed it to a wall, and prepared to shoot arrows at it. By piercing the wax image, the necromancer with his magic art would kill the knight.

Virgil instructed the knight to take off his clothes and get into a bathtub. When the knight had done so, Virgil handed him a mirror. Virgil reportedly created for Rome a mirror that would show any imminent danger to the city.[3] The mirror that Virgil gave the knight showed the necromancer preparing to shoot an arrow at the wax image. Virgil instructed the knight to submerge his head under the water when he saw the necromancer draw the bow.[4] After doing so, the knight looked into the mirror. He saw that the necromancer was angry because his arrow-shot had missed the image.

The necromancer again drew his bow. Again the knight put his head under the water, and the necromancer’s arrow-shot again missed. On the necromancer’s third attempt, the arrow bounced back and killed the necromancer. Grief-stricken, the knight’s wife buried the necromancer’s body under her bed.

After rewarding Virgil lavishly for saving his life, the knight returned home. His wife deceitfully welcomed her husband home with joy. After a few days, he summoned his wife’s parents and declared to them:

Friends, this is the reason why I have sought you: this is your daughter, my wife. She has committed adultery against me, and what is worse, she has contrived to kill me.

{ Carissimi, hec est causa, quare misi pro vobis: hec est filia vestra, uxor mea, que adulterium sub me commisit et, quod pejus est, in mortem meam machinata est. }[5]

Many medieval men endured their wives’ adulterous affairs. But no husband can endure being killed. Attempting to murder one’s spouse should be regarded as a very serious crime, even if the target is a husband. In fact, the wife incurred the death penalty for her crimes. The husband then remarried, had children, and lived the rest of his life in peace.

Men today cannot count on the master Virgil to ensure their safety. After all, most men today have never even heard of Virgil, nor read Virgil’s masterpiece the Aeneid. If a man dares to marry, he must be certain that he’s marrying a good woman. Rather than cuckolding him and attempting to have him killed, a good woman will be faithful to her man and strive to save him from castration culture.

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[1] Anglo-Latin (Bodleian Library, Douce MS 310) Deeds of the Romans {Gesta Romanorum} 7 (“Wax Image”), Latin text (modified to distinguish u and v) and English translation (adapted slightly) from Bright (2019). The subsequent quote is similarly sourced.

The earliest surviving manuscript of the Gesta Romanorum, MS. Innsbruck, Universitatsbibiliothek, Codex Latin 310 (dated 1342), identifies the man helping the knight as “master Virgil {magister Virgilius}.” MS. Innsbruck 310, chapter 157, cited in Bright (2019) p. 37, n. 47. The Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum refers to him as a “clerk {clericus},” while Oesterley’s edition of the continental Gesta Romanorum refers to him as a “skilled master {magister quidam peritus}.” Id. Above I conflate various versions, which differ little, to make what seems to me the best story.

[2] This structure, built upon the Capitolium, was called the “salvation of Rome {Salvatio Roma}.” On that structure, Wright (1851) v. 1, p. 108; Ziolkowski & Putnam (2008) pp. 855-7, documenting Alexander Neckam, On the natures of things {De naturis rerum} ch. 174, written c. 1190-1200; id. pp. 867-9, documenting a story in Oesterley’s augmented Gesta Romanorum, 186 germ. 18, Oesterley (1872) pp. 590-1.

[3] On Virgil constructing a magic mirror to warn the city of danger, Johannes Gobi, The Ladder of Heaven {La Scala Coeli}, relevant Latin text and English translation in Ziolkowski & Putnam (2008) p. 859. Gobi apparently wrote La Scala Coeli in the 1330s, about the time that the Gesta Romanorum probably was written.

[4] According to William of Malmesbury, Deeds of the Kings of the English {Gesta Regum Anglorum}:

Nothing effected by necromancy can, when put into water, deceive the sight of the beholders.

{ nihil enim quod per nigromantiam fit potest in aqua aspectum intuentium fallere }

Gesta Regum Anglorum, Book 2, Ch. 10, Latin text from Patrologiae Latina, Vol. 179, Vol. 1, col. 1144, English translation from Giles (1847) p. 180, cited in Bright (2019) p. 39, n. 50.

[5] Continental Gesta Romanorum 102 (“About the transgression of the soul and its wounds {De transgressionibus anime et vulneribus ejus}”), Latin text from Oesterley (1872), English translation (modified slightly) from Stace (2018).

[image] Roman Emperor Pompeius meeting his wife. Illumination from Ancient Roman History {Les anciennes hystoires rommaines}. Made in the last quarter of the 14th century. Source illumination from folio 343 of MS. British Library Royal 16 G VII.


Bright, Philippa, ed. and trans. 2019. The Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum: from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce MS 310. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Giles, J.A., trans. 1847. William of Malmesbury’s Chronicle of the Kings of England: From the Earliest Period to the Reign of King Stephen, with Notes and Illustrations. London: Henry G. Bohn. Alternate presentation.

Oesterley, Hermann, edOesterley, Hermann, ed. 1872. Gesta Romanorum. Berlin: Weidmann. Alternate presentation of chapters 1-181.

Stace, Christopher, trans. 2018. Gesta Romanorum: A New Translation. Manchester University Press.

Wright, Thomas. 1851. Narratives of Sorcery and Magic, from the most authentic sources. 2 vols. London: Richard Bentley, New Burlington Street. Vol. 1, Vol. 2.

Ziolkowski, Jan M., and Michael C. J. Putnam. 2008. The Virgilian Tradition: the first fifteen hundred years. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.

Valerius Maximus on a sacrificial father and his repentant son

Writing about 30 GC, the Roman rhetorician Valerius Maximus collected instructive stories on traditional Roman religion and morals in his massive work, Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings {Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX}. Valerius marked as unusually sourced a story about a sacrificial father and his repentant son. That story, which is best read as a transformation of the binding of Isaac, may have been a Jewish version of what became the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke’s Gospel. In fact, the story was allegorized in relation to the Parable of the Prodigal Son in the medieval exempla collection Deeds of the Romans {Gesta Romanorum}.

Valerius explicitly and implicitly marked this story as unusual. He typically cites by name the illustrious protagonist of his stories, for example, “L. Brutus is Romulus’ equal in glory … Cassius emulated his example {L. Brutus, gloria par Romulo … huius aemulatus exemplum Cassius},” “A. Fulvius, a man of senatorial rank {A. Fulvius, vir senatorii ordinis},” “the elder Scipio Africanus {superior Scipio Africanus},” etc. Concluding his section on “more merciful manners of fathers {patrum mores clementiae},” Valerius declared:

To the merciful actions of great men, I shall add a design of strange and unusual reasoning of an alien father.

{ Magnorum virorum clementibus actis ignoti patris novae atque inusitatae rationis consilium adiciam. }[1]

Valerius gives no name for this “alien father {ignotus pater}.” Jews had low social status in first-century Rome. Citing a Jewish father wouldn’t have served Valerius’s attempt to project moral authority.[2]

binding of Isaac in the Golden Haggadah

Valerius’s story seems to have domesticated and re-arranged the plot of the binding of Isaac. While mothers have always been at the center of Jewish life, Jews formally appreciate the role of fathers in their families and tribe. The father in Valerius’s story explicitly addressed the threat of domestic violence in relation to paternity uncertainty:

When he discovered that his son was plotting to kill him, he could not bring himself to believe that his own true blood had gone to this criminal extent. He drew his wife aside and begged her not to hide the truth from him any longer. He begged her to say whether she had substituted the young man for their son or conceived him by someone else.

{ qui cum a filio insidias necti sibi comperisset, nec inducere in animum posset ut verum sanguinem ad hoc sceleris progressum crederet, seductam uxorem suppliciter rogavit ne se ulterius celaret sive illum adulescentem subiecisset sive ex alio concepisset. }

The wife swore that she had neither swapped children nor committed adultery. The father then took extraordinary action:

He led his son to a solitary place and handed him a sword that he had secretly brought with him. The father, offering his throat to be cut, declared that the son needed neither poison nor an assassin for his parricide to be completed.

{ in locum desertum filio perducto gladium, quem occultum secum adtulerat, tradidit ac iugulum feriendum praebuit, nec veneno nec latrone ei ad peragendum parricidium opus esse adfirmans. }

Then suddenly, as if with a flash of divine insight, the son flung away the sword and declared:

Father, go on living, and outlive me also, if you are so obliging as to allow your son to pray for that. I ask only that you do not think my love for you more lowly because it arises from repentance.

{ pater, vive, et si tam obsequens et hoc precari filio permittas, me quoque exupera. sed tantum quaeso, ne meus erga te amor eo sit tibi vilior, quod a paenitentia oritur. }

Parthenius of Nicaea’s early story-collection Sufferings in Love {Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα} includes stories of personal moral reflection leading to repentance. This son seems not to have worked out his moral transformation thoughtfully. Divine intervention apparently changed his action, just as happened to Abraham preparing to sacrifice his son Isaac.[3]

Valerius concluded this story with an authorial comment on the world turned upside-down. He used his characteristically elaborate rhetoric to emphasize the point:

Ah, solitude is better than living with blood relations, forests are safer than the household hearth, steel is more persuasive than nurturing, and offering death is a more auspicious benefit than having bestowed life!

{ solitudinem sanguine meliorem pacatioresque penatibus siluas et alimentis blandius ferrum ac mortis oblatae quam datae vitae felicius beneficium! }

Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium provides instructive stories that Valerius intended to be used to set the world upright. Valerius characterized the above story, in contrast, as ridiculously turning the world upside-down. That story probably wasn’t from the authoritative stream of traditional Roman culture.

The fourteenth-century Gesta Romanorum eliminated Valerius’s deprecatory framing of the story and made it more sensational. Now the story has a named father within an eminent family. The medieval version begins:

The extremely wise Alexander reigned. He accepted the daughter of the King of Syria as his wife, and she gave birth by him to a beautiful son.

{ Alexander regnavit prudens valde, qui filiam regis Syrie in uxorem accepit, que filium pulcherrimum ei peperit. }[4]

Highlighting fundamental gender inequality in parental knowledge, the medieval version added dialog between the uxorious emperor and the assertive empress about the paternity of their son. Paternity deception was a high-profile issue in medieval literature of men’s sexed protest.

In contrast to Valerius’s mocking conclusion, turning the world upside-down is a central, lauded transformation in Jewish and Christine scripture.[5] Nonetheless, the medieval story ends not with an assertion of the world turned upside-down, but with a medieval representation of good order:

The son succeeded his father to the throne and ruled with great wisdom. At the end of his life, when he was about to die, he had a banner carried throughout the whole of his empire. On the banner was written: “All things pass except the love of God.”

{ filius vero regnum obtinuit et satis prudenter regebat. In fine vero vite ejus cum mori deberet, vexillum per totum imperium portari fecit et omnibus ostendit, in quo scriptum erat: Omnia transiunt preter amare deum. }

The words on the banner are a medieval European proverb squarely within Jewish and Christian religious tradition.[6] As its incorporation into the Gesta Romanorum suggests, so too is Valerius’s story as a whole.

The Gesta Romanorum aligned Valerius’s story with the Parable of the Prodigal Son. In the Gesta Romanorum version, when the son suddenly repents, he uses words of the prodigal son. The father in turn responds with actions from the parable:

Immediately the son threw the sword away and knelt before his father’s body and, weeping greatly, begged him for mercy, saying: “O good father, I have sinned against you, and I have wronged you. I have been wicked. I am no longer worthy to be called your son. I beg you to forgive me and love me and henceforth I will be your beloved son. I will follow your will in all things and serve you.”

Hearing this, the father embraced his son’s neck and kissed him. He said: “O dearly beloved son, henceforth sin no more, be a faithful son to me, and I will be a gracious father to you.” And saying this, he clothed him in costly garments and led him home himself. There he made a great banquet that included all the imperial governors.

{ statim gladium a se projecit et coram patre genua flexit cum fletu magno misericordiam ab eo petens, ait: “O bone pater, peccavi in te, quia male egi; iniquitatem feci. Jam non sum dignus vocari filius tuus. Peto, ut remittas michi et me diligas et ammodo ero filius tuus dilectus, et per omnia secundum tuam voluntatem ministrabo tibi.”

Pater hec audiens cecidit super collum ejus et osculatus est eum et ait: “O fili dilectissime, ammodo non pecces, esto michi fidelis filius, et ero tibi graciosus pater.” Et hoc dicto induit eum vestimentis preciosis, et eum secum ad domum duxit et magnum convivium satrapis imperii fecit. }

The Gesta Romanorum made these and other minor changes in Valerius’s story to bring it closer to the Parable of the Prodigal Son.[7]

Rembrant, Return of the Prodigal Son

The moralization of Valerius’s story in the Gesta Romanorum explicitly invokes the Parable of the Prodigal Son. As is typical in the Gesta Romanorum, the moralization is schematic and wide-ranging. It’s an allegory in which the Emperor Alexander is Jesus Christ, the Empress is the Holy Church, and the son is a bad Christian. The bad Christian seeks the death of Christ. The sword is the free will with which God endows humans. Seeking Christ’s death means abandoning the Lord, which is like going to a far land and there squandering one’s wealth and acting shamefully. The moralization associates the son’s non-filial violence and repentance with the Prodigal Son’s departure and return. The moralization’s conclusion parallels the story’s conclusion, but theologizes it:

And then throughout the city of your heart you will be able to display the banner of the valiant soldier of Christ. On that banner will be written: “All things pass except the love of God.” In other words, all my evil sins have been blotted out through penance, and now I bear with me trembling respect for God and his grace, through which I will obtain eternal life.

{ Et tunc poteris per civitatem cordis tui ostendere vexillum boni militis Christi, scilicet ubi erit scriptum: “Omnia pretereunt preter amare deum” i.e. omnia peccata mea mala per penitenciam sunt deleta, et jam dei timorem et graciam ejus mecum porto, per quam vitam eternam obtinebo }

The moralizer of the story, who probably also modified it, understood the story in relation to the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

Valerius’s story of a sacrificial father and his repentant son preceded Luke’s Gospel and probably originally came from a Jewish source. The original Jewish story is best read as a recasting of the binding of Isaac. That recasting points in the direction of Parable of the Prodigal Son. It was understood in relation to that parable in the medieval Gesta Romanorum.

From early first-century Rome to the relatively enlightened European Middle Ages, perceptive authors have recognized the social importance of affirming fathers’ love for their children. Meninist literary critics and all other persons of good will must continue this vitally important work today. Otherwise, the future will be female and civilization will collapse under extreme gynocentrism.

Divine anger proceeds with slow steps to take its vengeance, and it compensates for its tardiness of punishment by its severity.

{ lento enim gradu ad vindictam sui divina procedit ira, tarditatemque supplicii gravitate pensat. }[8]

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Valerius Maximus, Nine Books of Memorable Deeds and Sayings {Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium libri IX} 5.9.4, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Shackleton Bailey (2000). A freely available online English translation (revised from Samuel Speed’s translation in 1678) is available at Attalus. The currently best critical edition is Briscoe (1998), which I haven’t been able to consult. Subsequent quotes from Valerius are similarly sourced from Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium 5.9.4. The previous short quotes are from id. 5.8.1-2,5 and 5.6.7.

In his Book 5, chapters 7-9, Valerius provided successively sets of stories about “gentle fathers {lenitatis patres},” “harsh fathers {asperitatis patres},” “more merciful manners of fathers {patrum mores clementiae}.” The doubling of gentle and merciful fathers emphasizes fathers’ goodness in Valerius’s perspective.

Valerius’s Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium was well-known in first-century Rome. It attracted citations from Pliny the Elder and Plutarch. It went on to be the second most copied non-sacred Latin prose work in medieval Europe, behind only Priscian’s Grammar. More than 800 manuscript copies of Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium have survived.

[2] As far as I’m aware, there has been no discussion of possible Jewish sources for Valerius. About the first century, Jews certainly existed in significant numbers in Rome, but were economically and culturally marginal:

In the city as a whole, the Jewish population has been estimated at 40,000-50,000. They were generally poor.

MacMullen (2020) p. 54.

[3] On Abraham’s binding of Isaac for sacrifice, Genesis 22:1-19.

[4] Deeds of the Romans {Gesta Romanorum} (continental version), Ch. 9 (“On overcoming natural malice through gentleness {De naturali malitia per mansuetudinem superanda}”), Latin from Oesterley (1872), English translation (modified slightly) from Stace (2018). Subsequent quotes from Valerius’s story as received in the Gesta Romanorum are similarly sourced.

This exemplum occurs as Ch. 58 in the Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum. There it’s captioned “an exemplum concerning patience and humility {de paciencia et humilitatis exemplum}.” Bright (2018) pp. 378-9. The Anglo-Latin version is more compact. Neither the exemplum itself nor its moralization refers to the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

[5] See, e.g. Psalm 118:22-3, Luke 17:25, Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11-2, 17:6.

[6] The standard form of the proverb is “All things pass except the love of God {omnia praetereunt praeter amare deum}.” That form is used in the moralization. The sixth-century Latin poet and Christian hymnist Venantius Fortunatus used this phrase in one of his poems. See Venantius Fortunatus, Books of Song {Carminum libri} 4.26.32.

Drawing upon this medieval literary heritage, Harvard-educated New England Puritan minister Michael Wigglesworth invoked the proverb to conclude his popular poetry book, The Day of Doom: or, A Poetical Description of the Great and Last Judgment. Wigglesworth was highly successful with his poetry:

Published in 1662, The Day of Doom became America’s first best seller, circulating 1800 copies during the first year. It has been estimated that at one time one copy was owned for every thirty-five people in all of New England; every other family must have had The Day of Doom on its parlor table. The poem went through ten editions in the next fourteen decades, four in the seventeenth century and six in the eighteenth.

Stern & Gross (1978). Harvard now strongly supports intellectual Puritanism, but without Wigglesworth’s appreciation for medieval Latin literature.

[7] For the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Luke 15:11-32. In the Vulgate text of this parable, the son says to the father:

I have sinned against Heaven and before you. Now I am no longer worthy to be called your son.

{ peccavi in caelum et coram te iam non sum dignus vocari filius tuus }

Luke 15:18-9. In the parable, the father embraces the son, kisses him, clothes him in an expensive robe, puts a ring on his finger, and holds a banquet for him. On the medieval reception of the Parable of the Prodigal Son, Delcorno (2018). For a modern interpretation of it in accordance with modern liberal ideology, Eng (2019).

[8] Valerius Maximus, Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium 1.1.ext 3, Latin text from Shackleton Bailey (2000), my English translation, benefiting from that of id.

[images] (1) Abraham prepares to sacrifice Isaac. Illumination from the Golden Haggadah. Made in Spain in the 2nd quarter of the 14th century. On folio 4v on MS British Library Additional 27210. (2) Son seeks to kill father. In secluded spot, father offers son sword for secret parricide, but son repents. Illumination of story 5.9.4 from Valerius Maximus’s Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium, translated by Simon de Hesdin and Nicolas de Gonesse, Les Fais et les Dis des Romains et de autres gens. Made in France between 1473 and about 1480. Illumination on folio 42r of British Library Harley MS 4375/1. (3) The Return of the Prodigal Son. Painting by Rembrandt c. 1668. Preserved as accession # 742 in the Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia). Image thanks to Google Arts & Culture and Wikimedia Commons.


Bright, Philippa, ed. and trans. 2019. The Anglo-Latin Gesta Romanorum: from Oxford, Bodleian Library, Douce MS 310. Oxford Medieval Texts. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Briscoe, John, ed. 1998. Valeri Maximi Facta et dicta memorabilia. Stutgardiae: Teubneri. Reviewed by D. Wardle.

Delcorno, Pietro. 2018. In the mirror of the Prodigal Son: the pastoral uses of a biblical narrative (c. 1200-1550). Based on doctoral dissertation in History, Radboud University Nijmegen, Netherlands, 2016. Leiden: Brill. Table of Contents. Introduction.

Eng, Daniel K. 2019. “The Widening Circle: Honour, Shame, and Collectivism in the Parable of the Prodigal Son.” The Expository Times. 130 (5): 193-201.

MacMullen, Ramsay. 2020. “The Unromanized in Rome.” Ch. 2 (pp. 47-64) in Cohen, Shaye J.D., and Ernest S. Frerichs, eds. Diasporas in Antiquity. Brown Judaic Studies. Atlanta: Scholars Press.

Oesterley, Hermann, ed. 1872. Gesta Romanorum. Berlin: Weidmann. Alternate presentation of chapters 1-181.

Shackleton Bailey, D. R., ed. and trans. 2000. Valerius Maximus. Memorable Doings and Sayings, Loeb Classical Library 492 (Books 1-5), 493 (Books 6-9). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Stace, Christopher, trans. 2018. Gesta Romanorum: A New Translation. Manchester University Press.

Stern, Milton R., and Seymour L. Gross. 1978. American Literature Survey. Colonial and federal to 1800. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Helen and Paris’s love affair in medieval imagining

“The season of flowers has arrived {tempus adest floridum}!” proclaimed a young woman in a medieval love poem. She urged her young women friends to go out and play love games in the flowers with young men students. She imagined a scholar saying to a woman:

O beloved lady, why so distant?
Don’t you know, o dearest one, that you’re ardently loved?
If you were Helen, I’d want to be Paris!
In any case, our love can be made such as theirs.

{ O dilecta domina, cur sic alienaris?
An nescis, o carissima, quod sic adamaris?
Si tu esses Helena, vellem esse Paris!
Tamen potest fieri noster amor talis. }[1]

Helen was famous for her contest-winning beauty. When King Menelaus of Sparta returned to Crete with his wife Helen after the Greek victory in the Trojan War, persons of low estate interpreted Helen and Paris’s adulterous affair to be a horrific curse:

All came to see Lady Helen,
because of whom the world suffered such pain,
because of whom Greece had lost
so many noble knights,
because of whom the world is worse,
because of whom the noble and the best
are dead, vanquished and cut to pieces,
because of whom kingdoms have been laid waste,
because of whom Troy was burned and destroyed.
Such a crowd had never before been seen
as those who came to look at her again
and to gaze in wonder.
Hash words for her were held
among all those of the lower people.

{ Veneient veeir dame Heleine,
Par cui li monz a trait tel peine,
Par cui Grece est si apovrie
De la noble chevalerie,
Par cui li siegles est peior,
Par cui li riche e li meillor
Sont mort, vencu e detrenchié,
Par cui sont li regne eissillié,
Par cui Troie est arse e fondue.
Si faite gent ne fu veüe
Come il la veneit remirer
E a merveilles esguarder.
Fiere parole en ont tenue
Entre eus tote la gent menue. }[2]

Queen Helen of the Greek city of Sparta and Prince Paris of the Trojan city of Troy engaged in an elite love affair. Ordinary persons, particularly the mass of men slaughtered in the Trojan War, suffered greatly from their affair.

This love affair started when Helen heard news that Paris would honor Venus at her temple festival on the Greek island of Cythera. Helen thus decided to attend the festival while Menelaus her husband was on a business trip. There Helen and Paris gazed at each other. The female gaze, so neglected by modern literary critics, had significant effects:

Helen asked and inquired
whose son and from where Paris was.
She marveled at his fierce beauty.
Much she liked him and much he pleased her.
Paris was wise and knowledgeable,
clever, cunning, and crafty.
Quickly he saw, knew, and understood
her fondness for him, and recognized
that she had good intentions towards him.
To him she was not too reserved,
even letting herself go as far as to
tell him some of her feelings for him.

{ Ele ot demandé e enquis
Cui fiz e dont esteit Paris;
Fiere beauté en lui mirot:
Mout l’aama e mout li plot.
Paris fu sage e sciëntos,
Veiziié, cointe e enartos:
Tost sot, tost vit e tost conut
Son bon semblant e aparçut,
E que vers lui a bon corage:
Ne li fu mie trop sauvage,
Anceis s’en est mise ert itant
Qu’auques li dist de son talant. }

Helen and Paris fell in love with each other. Paris then organized a Trojan raid on the festival at Venus’s temple. Many men, Greeks and Trojans, died in the raid’s massacre and subsequent fighting. Nonetheless, the Trojans escaped with much treasure, including Greek women. Among those Greek women was the beautiful Helen. To this raid and abduction “she seemed happily to consent {bien fist semblant del consentir}.”

In contrast to war institutionally structured as violence against men, the women captives were treated well. Rome was founded with the Sabine women’s female privilege. Paris told the Greek women captives about their female privilege:

Those men should be thoroughly dismayed,
the men who are held in our captivity.
But you women will never be held basely,
nor will you be separated from those
whom you love and who love you.
Those men of yours will be liberated.
The women who have husbands here,
or if any one of you has her beloved,
they will all be released and liberated.
In this land you can live
in great joy and in great bliss.
Never will you be made dishonored.

{ Cil se deivent bien esmaier,
Qui sont tenu en chaitivier:
Vos ne sereiz ja vius tenues,
Ne a ceus ne sereiz tolues
Qui vos aiment ne quos ameiz;
Quites delivres les avreiz.
Celes que lor seignor ont ci,
Ne s’aucune i a son ami,
Si l’avra tot quite e delivre.
En ceste terre porreiz vivre
A grant joie e a grant baudor:
Ja ne vos iert fait deshonor. }

Although a captive, Queen Helen effectively resumed her previous position as de facto ruler:

To Helen’s wish and what pleases her,
I will make all Troy obey.
The realm will be under her command,
and she will be the sovereign over it.
Never will one have any fear of bad
if she would like for that person nothing but good.
She can make persons wealthy and prosperous.
No one will oppose her in any way.
To the poorest one among you here
she can give, if she wishes it,
greater wealth and possessions than
the most wealthy woman ever could.

{ E au voleir de son plaisir
Ferai tote Troie obeïr.
Cist regnes iert en sa baillie,
Soë en sera la seignorie.
Ja mar avra paor de rien
Cil a cui el voudra nul bien;
Riches mananz les porra faire:
Ja rien ne l’en fera contraire.
A la plus povre que ci est
Porra doner, se bon li est,
Greignor aveir c’onques n’en ot
La plus riche ne aveir pot. }

Paris declared his loving subservience to Helen:

Now I have so given my heart to you,
and love for you has so inflamed me,
that I am entirely devoted to you.
A faithful lover and faithful spouse
I will be to you throughout my whole life.
Of this you may be sure and certain.
Everyone will obey you
and all will serve you.
Although I have brought you from Greece,
a more beautiful and more rich country
you will find in this land,
where all will be according to your pleasure.
All that you would wish, I will wish,
and so too all that you will command.

{ Or ai mon cuer si en vos mis,
E si m’a vostre amor espris,
Que del tot sui enclins a vos.
Leiaus amis, leiaus espos
Vos serai mais tote ma vie:
D’iço seiez seure e fie.
Tote rien vos obeïra
E tote rien vos servira.
Se vos ai de Grece amenee,
Plus bele e plus riche contree
Verreiz assez en cest païs,
Ou toz iert faiz vostre plaisirs.
Tot ço voudrai que vos voudreiz
E ço que vos comandereiz. }

Paris then apparently served Helen with his masculine biological capability, rightly understood in its full dignity: “she was served most nobly that night {mout la fist la nuit gent servir}.” Helen and Paris were formally married the next day. Just as captive Greece took its captor Rome captive, just as women rule under gynocentrism, the complexities of sex and human culture defy superficial master narratives.

In addition to her commanding authority, the Greek captive Helen also lived a life of extraordinary material privilege. At his children’s request, Trojan King Priam gave Helen the “Alabaster Chamber {Chambre de Labastrie}.” That was a magnificent room resplendent with gold and precious gems. It contained pillars of precious stone, fine mirrors, and animated sculptures. Its alabaster walls permitted persons within the chamber to see what was happening outside, but no one outside could see those inside. The Alabaster Chamber was an enormously expensive and precious possession. It signaled Helen’s worth. Helen in turn gave gifts to Trojans from her other valuable possessions.[3]

After many years of the Trojan War’s brutal violence against men, the famous Greek warrior Ajax Telamon within a ferocious battle thrust a sword through Paris’s beautiful face. Paris immediately fell dead. Dismayed and grief-stricken at Paris’s death, the Trojans carried his body back into Troy on his shield. At Paris’s burial, Helen showed extreme grief in a self-centered lament. She exclaimed:

Alas! At what an inauspicious hour I was born!
Why did such a destiny become mine,
so that the world would be destroyed because of me?
Very strange fruit was engendered
in me by my father when I was conceived.
It’s a great sorrow that I ever existed.
At my birth there came on the earth
anger and sorrow and murderous war,
and joy and peace fell away from the world.
May no such woman ever be born again!
My heart would break, if I had my wish.
Ah! I have brought grief to many a lady,
in that their husbands and their beloveds
have already been buried.
For me no one will ever say a prayer.
Upon me a torrent of curses
are and will be from those now alive
and those who will be born through the ages.
Alas! Why will they hate me?
I am sorry that I ever lived.
I would have preferred never to be conceived.
I am sorry that I was ever born.
At an accursed hour I began life,
at an even more evil hour I shall end my life.
A thousand measures of blood from the valiant bodies
of worthy and loyal knights
have been spilled by my cause.
Who will say my benediction?
Certainly no living persons will do so.

{ Lasse! a quel hore fui jo nee,
Ne por quei oi tel destinee
Que li monz fust par mei destruit?
Bien engendra estrange fruit
Mis pere en mei, quant jo conçui.
C’est grant dolor que onques fui:
A ma naissance vint sor terre
Ire e dolor e mortel guerre;
Del mont chai e joie e pais.
Ja tel femme ne naisse mais!
Li cuers me partireit, mon vuel.
Ha! tante dame ai mise en duel,
Dont lor seignor e lor ami
Sont ja par mei enseveli!
Por mei n’iert ja fait oreisons;
Sor mei torront les maudiçons
De ceus qui sont e qui seront
E qui el siegle mais naistront.
Lasse! por quei serai haïe!
Ço peise mei, que j’oi onc vie.
Ja ne vousisse estre engendree:
Ço peise mei, que onc fui nee.
En maudite hore començai,
En plus male definerai.
Mil mui de sanc de cors vassaus
De chevaliers proz e leiaus
Sont espandu par m’acheison:
Qui me fera beneïçon?
Ço n’iert ja nule rien vivant. }

Despite Helen’s confession of how her life had made the world much worse, people readily sympathized with her crying, as they do generally with women’s tears:

People felt greater pity for Helen
by half more than for Paris.
A thousand tears she cried that night.
Neither man nor woman, young nor old,
could look on her without being moved to tears.

{ De li a l’om greignor pitié
Que de Paris l’une meitié.
Mil lermes fist la nuit plorer:
Ne la poëit nus esguarder,
Hom ne femme, jovnes ne vieuz,
Qu’el ne feïst plorer des ieuz. }

Paris had been brutally killed. Helen was still alive. In accordance with the pleading of King Priam and Ulysses on her behalf, the Greeks didn’t kill the treacherous Helen of Troy. Menelaus took her back as his wife, and Helen again became Queen of Sparta.

The transformation of stories through history can reveal fundamental human social structure. Just as the raging, self-destroying Dido of the Aeneas became the sympathetic “poor Dido” of literary history, the love affair of Helen and Paris became to some a model romance. To escape the shackles of social structure on thought, one must read widely and imaginatively.

The carefree judgment of proud Paris,
and Helen’s beauty, loved excessively,
caused Troy’s fall and the destruction of Ilium.

{ Superbi Paridis leve iudicium,
Helenae species amata nimium
fit casus Troiae deponens Ilium. }[4]

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Carmina Burana 142, “The season of flowers has arrived! Flowers now arise {Tempus adest floridum! Surgunt namque flores},” st. 3 (of 3), Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018).

The song book Pious church and school songs of the ancient bishops {Piae Cantiones ecclesiasticae et scholasticae veterum episcoporum}, first published in Finland in 1582, includes the first nine half-verses of “Tempus adest floridum.” The Piae Cantiones version develops in the direction of love of God rather than heterosexual love. Here’s text and musical notation for all the Piae Cantiones. Here’s a recording of “Tempus adest floridum” from Utopia Chamber Choir’s 2018 album Piae Cantiones.

In 1853, English hymnist John Mason Neale used the melody of the Piae Cantiones‘s “Tempus adest floridum” to create the Christmas carol “Good King Wenceslas.” That Christmas carol recounts a legend from the life of the tenth-century Wenceslaus I, Duke of Bohemia. Here’s a comparison of the songs arising from “Tempus adest floridum.”

[2] Benoît de Sainte-Maure, Roman de Troie, vv. 28425-38, Old French text from Constans (1904), English translation (modified slightly) from Burgess & Kelly (2017).

Subsequent quotes from Benoît’s Roman de Troie are similarly sourced. Those above are vv. 4343-54 (Helen asked and inquired…), 4506 (she seemed happily to consent), 4685-96 (Those men should be thoroughly dismayed…), 4701-12 (To Helen’s wish and what pleases her…), 4741-54 (Now I have so given my heart to you…), 4771 (she was served most nobly that night), 22933-61 (Alas! At what an inauspicious hour I was born!…), 23023-8 (People felt greater pity for Helen…).

[3] For a description of the Alabaster Chamber, Roman de Troie vv. 14631-936. Eneas, Polidamas, and Troilus visited Helen when she was in a luxurious ebony chamber. There she gave them some of her valuable possessions as gifts. Roman de Troie vv. 11913-20.

[4] Carmina Burana 99, “The carefree judgment of proud Paris {Superbi Paridis leve iudicium},” st. 1 (of 20), Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Traill (2018). In accordance with the pattern of blaming men for heterosexual relations that go bad, Carmina Burana 99a, attributed to Peter of Riga, more directly absolves Helen of agency:

Love burns Paris, he wants Helen, he abducts her.
The deed is discovered, the enemy arrives, they fight. Troy falls.

{ Urit amor Paridem; vult Tyndaridem, rapit illam.
Res patet, hostis adest; pugnatur; Pergama cedunt. }

Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Traill (2018). Another song, in contrast, bitterly blames Helen:

The cause of such history was a doom-laden whore,
a death-causing woman, a woman pregnant with evil.

{ Causa rei talis meretrix fuit exitialis,
Femina fatalis, femina feta malis. }

Carmina Burana 101, “I want to weep for Troy, given up to the Greeks by Fate alone {Pergama flere volo, fato Danais data solo},” st. 45, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Traill (2018). As these quotes make clear, medieval Europe embraced a diversity of expression scarcely conceivable today.

[images] (1) Helen and Paris beginning their love affair. Miniature from manuscript of an anonymous French translation, The Book of Famous and Noble Women {Le livre de femmes nobles et renomées} made from Giovanni Boccaccio’s About Illustrious Women {De claris mulieribus}. Made c. 1440. On folio 39v of British Library MS Royal 16 G V. (2) Trojan Prince Paris being killed in the Trojan War. Miniature (color enhanced) from Ancient History to Caesar {Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César}, second redaction. Made in the 2nd quarter of the 14th century. On folio 150v of British Library MS Royal 20 D I. (3) Recording of “Good King Wenceslas” featuring Bing Crosby from his 1955 CBS radio broadcast that was made into a 1956 album A Christmas Sing with Bing Around the World. Via YouTube.


Burgess, Glyn S., and Douglas Kelly. 2017. The Roman de Troie by Benoît de Sainte-Mauré: a translation. Gallica, 41. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer. Reviews by Sylvia Federico and by Cristian Bratu.

Constans, Léopold, ed. 1904-12. Le roman de Troie, par Benoît de Sainte-Maure, publié d’après tous les manuscrits connus. Société des Aanciens Textes Français. Paris: F. Didot. Vols. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.