marriages between rich old men and poor young women

face of an old man

Marriages between rich old men and poor young women can regrettably experience difficulties. These marriages can contribute greatly to reducing wealth inequality. However, men under the oppressive social construction of gender experience crushing pressure to perform. Poor young women married to rich old men should make a special effort to encourage and support their husbands’ sexuality.

All wives, and especially young women married to old men, should guard against circumstances that might cause their husbands to become exhausted. One issue is men’s tendency toward competitiveness and men’s disregard for their own age and health. Consider the case of an old man married to a young woman in early fifteenth-century Florence. A handsome young nobleman fell in love with the wife. Nightly he would serenade her from the street outside her home. This became a mortal issue for the husband. He met with the young man’s father, a good friend for years, and bitterly complained that his son was killing him. The friend, horrified, asked how that could be. The husband explained:

Your son is desperately in love with my wife. Frequently with flutes and singing, he at night is waking up my wife and me. When we are aware of what’s going on, in order that my wife not desire another man, I try to have sex with her. As this happens too often, I am now not able to perform this manly work. If your son doesn’t desist from what he has undertaken, such sleeplessness will soon surely kill me.

{ Uxorem meam deperit filius tuus, saepiusque suis tibiis et sonitu, me et uxorem noctu dormientes suscitat, quo fit ut vigilans, ultra quam vires ferant, uxorem, ne alium appetat, coner subagitare. Quod cum saepius accidat, jam deficiunt ad id opus vires. Ita ni tuus filius ab incepto desistat, jamjam tali vigilia peream necesse est. }

The friend immediately ordered his son to stop serenading the old man’s wife. He thus saved the old man’s life. Wives of older men should be careful not to put their husbands’ lives at risk in this way. A simple preventive measure would be for wives to suggest gently to their husbands that they both together get sound-suppressing hearing aids to wear while sleeping. If the husband’s hearing aids already have such functionality, only one new set of hearing aids would have to be purchased.

All newly married women, and especially young women newly married to old men, should warmly nurture and support their husbands’ sexuality. Consider another case of an old man married to a young woman in early fifteenth-century Florence. Just as many women do today, the young women had received bad advice about men:

When a dearly beloved young woman married, older women indoctrinated her to refuse her husband’s first leap into her and not to surrender her bunker in the first tussle. The wife thus refused to have sex with her husband on their wedding night. The husband to navigate the passage expended the labor of having his mast full and ready. When he recognized her resistance, he asked why she wouldn’t yield herself to him. The maiden said that the reason was her headache. The husband, his staff lowering, turned around and slept until dawn.

{ uxorem duxit adolescentulam, quae a matronis edocta, ut primo insultu noctis obsisteret viro, neque primo praelio arcem traderet, renuit congressum. Vir, ad navigandum plenis ad id impensa opera velis paratus, ubi illam renitentem cognovit, quaesivit cur sibi non obsequeretur. Cum virgo dolorem capitis causata esset, vir, demissa virga, in aliud latus revolutus, usque ad diluculum dormivit. }

So much for the joy of their wedding night. The young bride attempted to salvage this special occasion:

The girl, no longer feeling his embrace, regretted that she had followed the given advice and hadn’t consented to his request. She woke her husband and told him that she no longer had a headache. To her the husband then responded: “But now I have a tail-ache.” The virgin wife thus so remained.

{ Puella sentiens se non amplius peti, dolensque consilium datum, et se postulanti non consensisse, excitato viro dixit, se non amplius dolere caput. Tum ille: – “At ego nunc doleo caudam,” respondit, uxore virgine, ut erat, relicta. }

That’s a terrible beginning for a marriage. It’s an ominous portent of sexless marriage. Neither husbands nor wives get any younger and more physically vigorous over time. Wives should happily make the most of each day that they can enjoy being with their husbands, especially when their husbands are older men.

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
To-morrow will be dying.

The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.

That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.

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Notes:

The great medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini recorded the cases of the two elderly Florentine men married to young women. The first is Facetiae 243, “The humorous petition of an elderly man incapable of his work of copulations {Faceta petitio senis laborem copulae non potentis},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 2, pp. 182-4, my English translation with help from that of id. The second case is Facetiae 231, “About the dear young woman mocked by her elderly husband {De adolescentula per senem maritum delusa},” similarly from id. vol. 2, pp. 162-3. Here are the Latin texts in machine-readable form.

The concluding stanzas of poetry are from Robert Herrick’s seventeenth-century poem, “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.”

[image] Face of an old man. Excerpt from a photo that Neill Kumar graciously contributed to Unsplash. The pictured old man of course has no specific relation to the cases of the old men in early fifteenth-century Florence.

Reference:

Poggio. 1879. Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini. The facetiae or jocose tales of Poggio, now first translated into English with the Latin text. Paris: Isidore Liseux (vol. 1, vol. 2).

Phaedra and Hippolytus through Apuleius’s stepmother to Petrus Pictor

Hippolytus refusing Phaedra

Classical literature presents family and social relations in the light of eternal truth, harmony, and beauty. From Phaedra and Hippolytus in the classical Greek dramas of Euripides to the stepmother and stepson in Apuleius’s second-century Metamorphosis to Petrus Pictor’s twelfth-century Latin poetry, classical literature continued to become more profound. When a false accusation of rape incites a town to throw a man into a river and then celestial thunder in recompense blasts the town, classical literature has reached its ultimate depth. It cannot be any more entertaining and instructive.

Petrus Pictor’s poem begins with love like Phaedra’s love for Hippolytus, but amplified in Apuleius’s unforgettable style of realistic detail mixed with elaborate rhetoric. The mother confesses her love for her son:

I see you, son, outstanding in masculine beauty,
grace adorns your face, and fame embellishes your elegance.
Such an excellent boy, so lovely, so special,
I would be very joyful if I pleased you as more than a mother,
and as more than a son you made me an intimate associate.
Your beautiful, smiling, and sensual appearance
and your well-protruding lips, full of sweet flavor,
that inwardly beautify you and with which you are inwardly beautified,
burn me excessively and, if you want, convey me to you.
Therefore, son, now that you shine in the flower of youth,
now that you with the first heat of puberty are stiffened,
don’t waste your tender flower and so much beauty;
to the contrary, lie down your will to sexual unifications.
Behold, you foresee yourself flying quickly to exhausted old age,
if we do not enjoy ourselves, but carry ourselves full of sorrows.
And since like a rude novice you don’t know how to play these games
that Venus herself loves and that Love urges upon lovers,
unite yourself only with me, trust only in who will teach you:
I will complete these games with you and teach you at this very moment.
Therefore, obey my wishes, be intimate with me.
What you do with me I will keep secret, in complicity with you.

{ Te uideo, fili, forma prestare uirili,
Exornat uultum tibi gratia, gloria cultum.
De puero tali, tam pulchro, tam speciali
Multum gauderem, tibi si plus matre placerem,
Et plus quam natus faceres michi consociatus.
Visus formosus, ridens et luxuriosus
Et bene pressa foris labra, dulcis plena saporis,
Que te condecorant penitus penitusque decorant,
Me nimis incendunt et me, si uis, tibi uendunt.
Quapropter, fili, dum flore nites iuunili,
Dum modo pubescis primoque calore rigescis,
Ne perdas florem tenerum tantumque decorem,
Immo sit ad cunctas ueneres tuo prona uoluntas:
Canis confecta celer aduolat ecce senecta,
Cum non ludemus, sed tristia cuncta feremus.
Et quia tyro rudis nescis his ludere ludis
Quos amat ipsa Venus et Amor persuadet amenus,
Tantum consenti michi, tantum crede docenti:
Illos complebo tecum iamiamque docebo.
Ergo meis pare uotis, michi consociare,
Quicquid ages mecum celabo, conscia tecum. }

His mother’s incestuous proposition upset, paralyzed, and stupefied the son. In tears, he begged his dear mother to repent of it. He lovingly warned her of the eternal damnation that Christian understand to be punishment for incest. He telling her to remain chaste deeply offended her:

And, permitting herself to feel that her son was ungrateful in this instance,
she does not give up her error or her incipient madness;
rather, badly wounded in secret, for a long time
she attacks and persecutes him, but by that doesn’t obtain her wishes.
He endures grave punishments, but doesn’t ride with the reins of Venus,
and by resisting Venus, his struggle makes the matter worse.
She doesn’t curb her evil, but her acts inflame her more.
After she sees that her son spurns this evil,
that her words are wasted, and her harvest lost in the weeds,
she arms herself with deceit, and focuses on destroying the young man.
Thus consequently shifting from one major crime to another,
she runs to the judge’s court, entering there swelling with tears.
She accuses her son, hurling for that a dreadful charge

{ Et, licet ingratum sibi sentiat hac uice natum,
Non tamen errori cedit ceptoque furori,
Hunc sed in occulto male saucia tempore multo
Impetit, insequitur, nec eo pro uelle potitur,
Fertque graues penas, Veneris nec stringit habenas,
Dumque reluctatur Veneri luctando grauatur,
Nec sua compescit mala, sed magis acta calescit.
At postquam cernit quia filius hanc male spernit,
Quod pereunt uerba, perit et sua messis in herba,
Fraudibus armatur, studet ut iuuenis perimatur.
Hac igitur causa maius scelus ob scelus ausa,
Iudicis ad sedem currit, flens introit edem.
Accusat natum, iacit in quem dira reatum }

With what would a woman charge a young man in order to destroy his life? It’s the same charge throughout history. She declared:

Turn your eyes here, fathers, mothers,
you godly children, always well loved by your parents,
you whom incestuous fires of Venus don’t corrupt.
Run, cry with me, condemn, lament
the disgrace I bear from a monstrous crime.
I refer to a vile matter, shameful to divulge, but nonetheless I will divulge it,
that for which I lament, with lamenting that is short of the truth.
I have an insane son, a liar as well as impious,
whom I’m ashamed to have birthed as he has bared me to shame,
who was born with sadness as I’m sick to see him talk foolishly.
He in the way of beasts was captivated in love for his mother.
When recently he was unable to stop raging wickedly at his mother,
he gave her presents and multiplied his entreaties.
To prevail, with me struggling to prevent rape,
he bloodied my face with his hands and tore my dress.
(As evidence of this accusation she shows her torn dress.)
Like so he pursued me, so he wildly held me down,
yet he didn’t press into me, for my screaming caused him to withdraw.
Thus judge and prudent senate, to please God,
ponder what would be just to follow for such acts,
which civil law strongly condemns,
through which the greatest honor of the republic is upheld.
The dignity of fathers diminishes along with the city’s honor
if causes of wrongs are not corrected.
This dishonor is done not so much against me alone as against
the innumerable crowd that resides within the walls of the city.
No mercy for my son, for neither appearance nor age
of whatever sort can move one to piety. I beseech you,
obscene rape can be curbed only with vengeful punishment.
So I submit to you leaders, young and old alike.

{ Huc, patres, oculos hus uertite, matres,
Vosque, pii nati, patribus bene semper amati,
Quos non incestus Veneris contaminat estus.
Currite, deflete mecum, dampnate, dolete
Dedecus illatum michi monstriferumque reatum.
Rem referam fedam, pudet edere, sed tamen edam,
Vnde querar refero, minor est querimonia uero.
Est puer insanus michi, lubricus atque prophanus,
Quem peperisse pudet me cum mea turpia nudet,
Quem doleo natum, male cum uideam fatuatum.
Hic pecudum more, materno captus amore,
Cum male seuiret nuper matremque nequiret
Donis oblatis, precibus quoque multiplicatis,
Vincere, luctantis contra stuprumque negantis
Ora cruentauit manibus, uestes lacerauit
(Criminis et testes laceras monstrat sibi uestes)
Sic et sic egit, sic me ferus ille subegit,
Non tamen oppressit, quia me clamante recessit.
Ergo Deo gratus iudex prudensque senatus
Pertractent secum quid sit de talibus equum,
Quorem censura pollent ciuilia iura,
Per quos maiorem res publica sumpsit honorem.
Patrum maiestas uilescit et urbis honestas,
Ni meliorate fuerint cause uiciate.
Non uni tantum fit dedecus hoc michi quantum
Innumeris turbis que presunt menibus urbis.
Nulla mei pietas nati, non forma uel etas
Quamlibet etatem moueat, precor, ad pietatem,
Stupra sed obscena compescant uindice pena
Parui, maiores, iuunes simul et seniores. }

In contrast to enlightened practices of reason, persons throughout history have tended to listen and believe when a woman accuses a man of rape. In this case, the son went a step further and protected his falsely accusing mother:

He stands, silent about her words, not returning bitter for bitter;
in contrast, ashamed, lamenting, and blushing,
he wets his beautiful face with streams of tears.
He depicts himself as guilty and stained with much crime,
preferring to be tortured than to allow his mother to be disgraced,
preferring to be condemned than to dirty her with crime.

Therefore this wretched one must undergo death,
at the urgent behest of the judge and the request of his mother.
He is seized on all sides and dragged away, pulled, pressed, and torn,
and thus condemned, he is finally hurled
to the bottom of the swirling river and receives his second baptism.

{ Stat, silet ad uerba nec acerbis reddit acerba,
Immo uerecundus, lacrimabilis et pudibundus
Vultum preclarum riuis rorat lacrimarum,
Seque reum pingit et multum crimine tinguit,
Malens torqueri quam matris probra fateri,
Malens dampnari quam crimine commaculari.

Ergo miser tandem mortem subiturus eandem,
Iudicis urgente monitu, genetrice petente,
Vndique raptatur, trahitur, premitur, laceratur,
Et sic dampnatus, postremo precipitatus
Gurgitis in fundum, sibiit patisma secundum. }

Men are vastly disproportionately subject to criminal punishment. Worldwide in 2010, about fifteen men were in prison for every woman in prison. In England, the ratio is closer to twenty men in prison per woman in prison. The British Justice Secretary recently announced an initiative that relates to this enormous gender protrusion. The Justice Secretary announced an initiative to reduce the number of women held in prison. That’s about as reasonable as recent public claims about rape. Has the ideal of gender equality become an utter farce?

The complacent, ruling mothers of gynocentric society and their male lackeys should study classical medieval Latin literature. Euripides commonly ended his plays unexpectedly with a swift plot turn known as deus ex machina. Petrus Pictor similarly ended his reworking of the Phaedra and Hippolytus story:

Ultimately the hidden crime didn’t go unpunished.
For the Lord, avenger of crimes, pious judge of the just,
so as to make manifest to the people the mother’s incest,
sent repeatedly thunder and darkness upon them.
The city, the executioner, the boy, and the boy’s mother
were respectively burned, frustrated, saved, and destroyed.

{ At scelus occultum tandem non cessit inultum.
Nam scelerum uindex Dominus, iusti pius iudex,
Vt foret incestus matris populo manfestus,
Fulminibus crebris missis ortisque tenebris
Vrbem, carnificem, puerum, pueri genitricem,
Vssit, turbauit, saluauit, dilacerauit. }

Classical ideals will prevail. Justice will be done. Harmony and beauty will be restored, and women and men will unite in love.

*  *  *  *  *

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Notes:

The Latin quotes above are from Petrus Pictor, About the evil woman {De muliere mala}, ll. 97-220. That section of the poem has the title Of her who shamelessly loved her own son {De illa quae impudenter filium suum adamavit}. The Latin text is from Acker (1972), reproduced in Puig Rodríguez-Escalona (1995) pp. 179-201. The English translation is mine, with insight from the Spanish translation of id.

Petrus Pictor {Peter the Painter} was a canon at the cathedral at Saint-Omer in northern France. He flourished about the year 1100. Little else is known about him. Yet his poem De muliere mala is one of the most vigorous works of men’s sexed protest across all of literary history. One scholar described it as “an incredibly sharp satire.” Nissan (2016) p. 354. Bravely criticizing powerful groups, Petrus Pictor also sharply criticized clerical avarice in his Against simony {Contra simoniam} and protested against clerical ignorance in his The Lord be with you {Dominus vobiscum}. Petrus Pictor’s poems were included in Lambert of Saint-Omer’s Liber floridus. Lambert wrote Liber floridus between 1090 and 1120. Other medieval manuscripts, such as Bodliean Library, MS. Digby 65 (13th century), also include Petrus Pictor’s poems.

Whether Petrus Pictor knew Apuleius’s Metamorphoses is a matter of scholarly dispute. Metamorphoses 10.2-12 is a story of a stepmother lusting for her stepson and accusing him of rape and poisoning after he rebuffed her sexual advances. Reviewing the scholarly dispute, Carver states:

The connection between the two passages is not particularly strong. … The only elements in common are incest, passion‐turned‐to‐vengeance, and wrongful accusation — elements that could easily be derived from Apuleius’ own source, Seneca’s Hippolytus, or from a combination, say, of the account of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife (Genesis 39) with aspects of the incest stories in Ovid (e.g. Myrrha, Met. 10. 312 ff.). It is interesting, however, that Petrus Pictor is associated with Saint‐Omer (in northern France) which would become home to an important Class‐I manuscript of The Golden Ass (Saint‐Omer 653).

Carver (2007) p. 78. The style of Petrus Pictor’s story, rather than merely its plotting, seems to me to point to influence of Apuleius. Apuleius apparently sought maximum affect. So too did Petrus Pictor.

Jaume Roig’s mid-fifteenth-century Catalonian poem L’Espill, vv. 9443-9469, tells of a mother seeking an incestuous relation with her son. When he rebuffs her, she falsely accuses him of seeking to rape her. He is sentenced to be thrown in the river, but with the intervention of St. Andrew is miraculously saved. Puig Rodríguez-Escalona (1996) interprets Roig’s story as coming through medieval reception of Apulieus, particularly as represented in Petrus Pictor. The story, with St. Andrew, also occurs in Latin in the Golden Legend {Legenda aurea} Ch. 2, no. 5. Ysern i Lagarda (1996-1997) pp. 168-70.

Fumo (2010) argues strongly that Apuleius influenced the thirteenth-century Old French Romance of the Rose {Roman de la rose}. The beginning of the Roman de la Rose considers dreams in way that relates to the peculiar story of Socrates and Aristomenes in the Metamorphoses. Amant’s sense of wonder parallels that of Lucius’s. Photis in the Metamorphoses has specific connections to Oiseuse in the Roman. Most obviously, roses are the focus of quests of both Lucius and the Amant. See Fumo (2010) pp. 357-77 for impressive, detailed analysis. The Roman de la Rose does not, however, seem to me to seek maximum affect as do the Metamorphoses and Petrus Pictor’s poem.

[image] Hippolytus rejecting any sexual interest in his step-mother Phaedra. Painting by Pierre-Narcisse Guérin in 1802. Preserved under accession number RF 1982-13 in the Louvre Museaum, Paris. Via Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Acker, Lieven van, ed. 1972. Petri Pictoris carmina: nec non Petri de Sancto Audemaro Librum de coloribus faciendis. Turnholti: Brepols.

Carver, Robert H. 2007. The Protean ass: the Metamorphoses of Apuleius from antiquity to the Renaissance. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Fumo, Jamie C. 2010. “Romancing the Rose: Apuleius, Guillaume de Lorris, and Moral Horticulture.” Modern Philology. 107 (3): 343-379.

Nissan, Ephraim. 2016. “Review of Albert Derolez,The Making and Meaning of theLiber Floridus:A Study of the Original Manuscript, Ghent, University Library MS 92. (Studies in Medieval and Early Renaissance Art History, 76) Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2015.” Philology. 2016 (2): 339-357.

Puig Rodríguez-Escalona, Mercè. 1995. Poesía misógina en la Edad Media latina (s. XI-XIII). Barcelona: Universitat de Barcelona.

Puig Rodríguez-Escalona, Mercè. 1996. “Un episodi d’Apuleu a Jacme Roig.” Pp. 559-62 in Tradició Clàssica: Actes de l’XI Simposi de la Secció Catalana de la SEEC, 1993. Andorra: Govern d’Andorra, Ministeri d’Educació, Joventut i Esports.

Ysern i Lagarda, Josep Antoni. 1996-1997. “Retórica sermonária, exempla i construcció de l’Espill de Jaume Roig.” Revista De Lenguas Y Literaturas Catalana, Gallega Y Vasca. 5: 151-182.

John Lydgate’s early-15th-century poem of warning to men, in modern English

don't eat a fly!

Look well about you who lovers be,
let not your lusts lead you to dotage.
Be not enamored with all things that you see:
Samson the strong and Solomon the sage,
deceived were for all their great courage.
Men deem it right that they see with eye,
but ever beware: the blind swallows many a fly!

I mean of women, for all their sexy looks,
trust not too much; their truth is oft lacking.
The fairest outer they can well-construct.
Their steadfastness lasts only a season;
they feign friendliness and work at treason.
And since they are changeable naturally,
beware, therefore: the blind swallows many a fly.

Though all this world does its anxious work
to make women stand in stableness,
it may not be; it is against nature.
The world has doubt when they lack doubleness.
They laugh and love not; men know this in fullness.
In them to trust — it is but fantasy.
Therefore, beware: the blind swallows many a fly.

Some man in love who trusted on their faces,
shall have at last his payback and his wages.
They shave nearer than do razor or shears.
All is not gold that glitters, men take heed!
Their bile is hid under a sugared weed;
it is quite hard their fantasies to descry.
Beware, therefore: the blind swallows many a fly.

Women by kind have conditions three:
the first is they be full of deceit,
to spin also is their tendency,
and women have a wonderful conceit:
they weep often, and all is but a sleight.
And when they desire, the tear is in the eye.
Therefore, beware: the blind swallows many a fly.

In truth to say, though all the earth so ashen
were parchment smooth, white, and writable,
and the great sea, called ocean,
were turned to ink, blacker than is sable,
each stick a pen, each man a writer able,
they all couldn’t write women’s treachery.
Beware, therefore: the blind swallows many a fly!

——–

{ Loke wel aboute, ye that lovers be;
Lat nat your lustes lede you to dotage;
Be nat enamoured on al thing that ye see.
Sampson the fort, and Salamon the sage
Deceived were, for al hir gret corage;
Men deme hit is right as they see at y;
Bewar therfore; the blinde et many a fly.

I mene, in women, for al hir cheres queinte,
Trust nat to moche; hir trouthë is but geson;
The fairest outward ful wel can they peinte,
Hir stedfastnes endureth but a seson;
For they feyn frendlines and worchen treson.
And for they be chaungeáble naturally,
Bewar therfore; the blinde et many a fly.

Though al the world do his besy cure
To make women stonde in stablenes,
Hit may nat be, hit is agayn nature;
The world is do whan they lak doublenes;
For they can laughe and love nat; this is expres.
To trust in hem, hit is but fantasy;
Bewar therfore; the blind et many a fly.

What wight on-lyve trusteth in hir cheres
Shal haue at last his guerdon and his mede;
They can shave nerer then rasóurs or sheres;
Al is nat gold that shyneth! Men, take hede;
Hir galle is hid under a sugred wede.
Hit is ful hard hir fantasy t’aspy;
Bewar therfore; the blinde et many a fly.

Women, of kinde, have condicions three;
The first is, that they be fulle of deceit;
To spinne also hit is hir propertee;
And women have a wonderful conceit,
They wepen ofte, and al is but a sleight,
And whan they list, the tere is in the y;
Bewar therfore; the blinde et many a fly.

What thing than eyr is lighter and meveable?
The light, men say, that passeth in a throw;
Al if the light be nat so variable
As is the wind that every wey [can] blow;
And yet, of reson, som men deme and trow
Women be lightest of hir company;
Bewar therfore; the blind et many a fly.

In short to say, though al the erth so wan
Were parchëmyn smothe, whyte and scribable,
And the gret see, cleped the occian,
Were torned in inke, blakker then is sable,
Ech stik a penne, ech man a scriveyn able,
They coud nat wryte wommannes traitory;
Bewar therfore; the blinde et many a fly. }

Why did John Lydgate write this Middle English poem? Modern scholars commonly label his poem misogyny or anti-feminism. Those labels suggest that John Lydgate was a misogynist or an anti-feminist. But according to dominant ideology, women throughout history, except perhaps in recent decades (much work remains to be done), have been treated as chattel. Why would men hate their chattel, or even be interested enough in their chattel to write poems about them? Something is rotten in the state of modern scholarship.

Perhaps John Lydgate wrote this poem to warn men about being deceived by women. Warning men about their weaknesses relative to women is scarcely permitted in our more repressive and totalitarian time. Men’s weakness and the social control of men’s speech are interpretive keys to understanding reasonably John Lydgate’s poem.

*  *  *  *  *

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Notes:

The above poem in Middle English is printed as poem 14 in Skeat (1898), where it’s entitled “A Balade: Warning Men to Beware of Deceitful Women.” Forni (2005) has a new edition. The poem is attributed to John Lydgate. He was a monk and prolific poet who lived from about 1370 to 1450.

A blind man swallowing a fly was a proverbial expression associated with literature of men’s sexed protest. In Lydgate’s Middle English, that expression is “the blynde eteth many a flye” (Forni edition). Another Middle English poem of men’s sexed protest commented on it:

But whether that the blind eat meat or fish,
I pray God keep the fly out of my dish!

{ But whether that the blynde ete flessh or fyssh,
I pray God kepe the fly out of my dyssh! }

See ll. 20-1 in “Of theyre nature they gretly theym delyte,” available in Forni (2005). About 1603, Thomas Heywood wrote a now-lost play called “the blinde eates many a flye.” A seventeenth-century ballad entitled “The Blind eats many a Flye: or, The Broken Damsel made Whole” describes a woman deceiving a man into marriage and cuckolding. Other seventeenth-century ballads with similar titles also express the theme of men being deceived by women.

“Loke wel aboute, ye that lovers be” includes references to other themes of men’s sexed protest. Lydgate’s ballad that begins “This world is ful of variaunce” (Skeat (1898) no. 13) offers a repressed, satirical view of what it asserts to be women’s gender-characteristic “doubleness.” Regarding the three conditions (characteristics) of women, medieval Latin included the proverbial expression:

To lie, to cry, to spin: these three are of women.

{ Fallere, flere, nere, tria sunt hec in muliere. }

Skeat (1898) note for l. 29, p. 516; Forni (2005) note for ll. 29-34. Spinning is an occupation historically associated with women’s work. In this context, spin also has metaphorical significance associated with deceiving. Across literary history, medieval Latin generated the most vibrant and creative literature of men’s sexed protest.

Supporting dominant gynocentric ideology, modern scholars have tended to dismiss literature of men’s sexed protest with the superficial and anachronistic label “anti-feminist.” See, e.g. the section introduction in Forni (2005). The academics Margo Wilson and Martin Daly have been peddling for decades the myth that women historically have lacked agency and have been men’s chattel. See note [4] and associated text in my post on primatology and vegetarianism. Men’s communicative and social inferiority relative to women has increased in importance with the shift from manufacturing to symbolic economies.

[image] Fly on cake. Excerpt from photo released to the public domain thanks to Petr Kratochvil on freestockphotos.biz.

References:

Forni, Kathleen, ed. 2005. The Chaucerian Apocrypha: A Selection. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications.

Skeat, Walter William, ed. 1898. Chaucerian and Other Pieces. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

she for him: healthy, potent husbands vital to wives’ health

He for She logo

In Italy early in the fifteenth century, a woman named Giovanna become ill. A “handsome, little-knowing and untaught physician {scitulus et indoctus medicus}” came to treat her. Making a pretense of an ancient medical diagnostic procedure, the physician asked for a specimen of her urine. Giovanna’s young, unmarried daughter gave him a specimen of her own urine. The physician immediately prescribed sexual intercourse.

While the doctor may have been untaught, he had good physical instinct. Many young, unmarried women today self-prescribe sexual intercourse. Self-prescribing medicine is dangerous. Doing that can lead to terrible addictions and other health problems. But the situation with respect to married women is rather different. Married women commonly fail to realize the health benefits of having sex with their husbands.

Like most husbands, Giovanna’s husband cared deeply for her welfare. He took up the work of filling the doctor’s prescription:

When the husband rose for that prescription, he first arranged to take a lavish meal into his stomach, and then starting having sex with his wife. She in her debilitated condition found this irksome, being ignorant of what the physician’s advice was. She cried out frequently from the novelty of the experience, “What are you doing, my husband? You’re killing me.”

{ Cum id viro nuntiatum extitisset, curato in coena opipara stomacho, cum uxore concubuit. Illa, cum hoc sibi ex debilitate molestissimum esset (ignara enim Medici consilii erat), clamaretque saepius ob rei novitatem, “Quid agis, mi vir? Me quidem occidis.” }

Men’s sexuality tends to be disparaged with violent imagery, even though it commonly functions as a peacemaker. Despite his wife’s offensive language, the kind-hearted husband didn’t get angry. He showed marital leadership, and then continued with his work:

“Be quiet,” the husband responded. “This is the best treatment for curing you, according to the physician’s knowledge, because this is the settled way that someone will be saved and restored to health.”

{ “Tace,” vir inquit, “haec optima est, ex Medici sententia, ad te curandam medela; nam isto quidam pacto liberaberis, et restituetur valetudo.” }

Husbands are seldom recognized for being right. But the husband was right:

He wasn’t mistaken in his opinion. For after humping her four times, the next day her fever disappeared. Thus the deception that was served upon the physician was the cause of her being restored to good health.

{ Neque eum fefellit opinio. Nam cum quater eam subagitasset, postero die omnis febris abscessit. Ita Medici deceptio causam praebuit sanitatis. }

The young, unmarried daughter offering her urine to the handsome physician worked out for the benefit of her mother. That’s an astonishing lesson from medieval Latin literature. It’s worth, if not imitation, at least careful consideration.

If only to preserve their own health, wives should strive to keep their husbands in good health. That requires moderation of sexual exuberance to preserve strength for medical necessity. Consider the tragic case of a young man from medieval Verona:

A young man of Verona was excelling in guiding his beautiful, young wife. When he indulged rather too frequently in conjugal relations, his face became pale and emaciated, and his body thin and debilitated.

{ Adolescens quidam Veronensis praestanti forma adolescentulam uxorem duxit. Is cum plus aequo indulgeret matrimonio, pallorem vultus macies ac debilitas corporis secuta est. }

Wives must be on guard against their husbands loving them too much. If a wife doesn’t take sufficient care of her husband, his mother might take protective action. That’s what happened in this case:

His mother, concerned for her son and fearing that his illness would worsen, sent her son into the countryside, far away from his wife. She, grieving with desire for her husband, saw a pair of sparrows mating. “Go somewhere else,” she said, “so that my mother-in-law will not see you, for she would pull you apart to different locations.”

{ Mater filio sollicita, ac deteriorem morbum verita, filium rus longe ab uxore ablegabat. Illa, viri moerens desiderio, coeuntes passeres conspicata: “Abite” inquit, “ne si vos socrus conspiciat, et vos alio in diversa distrahat loca.” }

Despite men’s aspirations and delusions, most men aren’t sexual superheroes. Wives should gently discourage their husbands from attempting to be sexual superheroes. Ordinary men’s sexuality is wonderful and fully sufficient for women.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

The above quotes are from two accounts that the great medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini preserved. The first is Facetiae 111, “About an untaught physician who, thanks to urine, declared that a wife needed sexual intercourse {De medico indocto qui urinae gratia indicavit mulierem coitu indigere},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 1, pp. 178-9, my English translation with help from that of id. The second account is Facetiae 201, “About the young woman separated from her husband {De adolescentula segregata a viro},” similarly from id. vol. 2, pp. 122-3. Here are the Latin texts in machine-readable form. The second account apparently includes an allusion to 1 Timothy 2:15.

[image] Logo for the United Nations HeForShe campaign. Used in accordance with fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Image via Wikimedia Commons.

Reference:

Poggio. 1879. Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini. The facetiae or jocose tales of Poggio, now first translated into English with the Latin text. Paris: Isidore Liseux (vol. 1, vol. 2).

men-loving Venus victorious; she shames Juno and Minerva

Venus de Milo in Paris

A delicate and vulnerable young woman, Venus, also known as Dione (“Divine One”), appealed to Paris for help. Juno had sharply criticized her. Minerva had been mean to her. Venus implored:

If the Divine One is faithful, understanding and cruel to no one,
consider what misfortune presses on my case, from where comes the tumult,
the threats! Since the first light of the sunrise on my going forth,
I have warmed man, tenderly consoling him through his hard labors,
and sympathizing with his grave misfortunes. Thus in gratitude
men have built for me public temples, and their incense I have deserved.
This is the cause for the goddesses’ anger and hatred. Have pity on me, at least
you, to whom I am driven in exile. Accused by the heavens I appeal to the earth,
which I honor; peoples, defend your fellow citizen!

{ si pia, si facilis, si nulli dura Dione,
pendite, quis causam casus premat, unde tumultus,
unde mine! cum prima meos lux extulit ortus,
fovi hominem duros tenere solata labores
et casus miserata graves. sic publica grati
templa michi struxere viri, sic thura merebar.
hinc ire, hinc odii cause. miserescite saltem
vos, quibus exul agor. celi rea deprecor orbem,
quem colui; vestram, populi, defendite civem! }

Venus was well-known to be an earthy goddess. She was deeply engaged in the fundamental work by which human life continues.

Minerva, in contrast, frivolously engaged in fictions of poetry. Venus spoke simply and truthfully about Minerva:

“She is credited with being called the greatest of the Muses.”
That I don’t deny, for she’s truly second to none in the art of fabricating;
she teaches fiction-writers her schemes, teaches them to exploit weak ears
and to lead blind senses to the frivolous.

{ …“at emeruit Musarum maxima dici”:
non nego, fingit enim nullique hac arte secunda
falsigraphos commenta docet, docet auribus uti
mollibus et cecos per frivola ducere sensus }

Many scholars in the humanities today foolishly follow Minerva rather than Venus. Those scholars write about trivialities instead of writing almost exclusively about what’s most important: sex.

Venus boldly challenged the dominant ideology that imagines glory in violence against men. Minerva, also known as Pallas Athena, was the first woman warrior to receive the epithet “bright-eyed {γλαυκῶπις}.” Venus argued that Minerva deserved little credit for this first for women:

Let her, victorious,
carry standards dripping with gore; our triumphs are without killing.
Or am I being tormented because I don’t fight my nature?
If I was alluring to Anchises, did I betray my sex?
If I gave birth, whom did I harm? My Cupid dwells in the stars,
your Aeneas in Phrygia: so where’s the fault?
Venus thus strives to destroy the gods and the world?
Offspring such as these I bestow upon men and gods. Thus unmarried Pallas
would criticize the morals of meritorious Venus? Is she beloved,
beloved among men, whom war destroys? Is she revered among girls,
whose gender she disdains?

{ … rorantia tabo
signa ferat victrix, nostri sine cede triumphi.
an, quia nature non obluctata, fatigor?
Anchise si blanda fui, sexumne fefelli?
si peperi, cui facta nocens? meus astra Cupido,
Eneas Frigiam vester colit, heccine culpa?
hoc Venus exicium superis molitur et orbi?
hiis homines, hiis dono deos. ergo innuba Pallas
sic merite mores Veneris notet? illane grata,
grata viris, quos Marte vorat? placanda puellis,
quarum fastidit sexum? }

The answers are no and no. Men inexplicably don’t favor for amorous affairs high-achieving, aggressive career-women like Minerva. Most women inexplicably don’t like to work for such women. Can this really be? Venus considered that question with respect to Minerva:

“But she is a virgin.” Aglauros says no, the enclosed serpent says no.
Nonetheless I keep silent about that. “But she has a beautiful face.”
The water’s wave expressly cries out to the contrary.
“But the ghostly Gorgon’s head from Perseus’s victory
has wrenched away titles and honors from cowardly Olympus.”
So Pallas says about herself. So it’s proper to believe.

{ “at virgo est”: negat Aglauros, negat anguis opertus.
sed taceo. “at facie pollet”: consulta reclamat
unda tumorque gene.
… “at victrix Persee Gorgonis umbra
extorsit titulos palmamque imbellis Olimpi”:
sic de se meminit Pallas. sic credere oportet }

Here Venus is being sarcastic. As she well understood, men shouldn’t just listen and believe. Men’s propensity to believe women, along with women’s potential for horrific violence, drove Venus to tears. Her tears undoubtedly evoked Paris’s solicitude.

Venus then turned to the case of Juno, the wife of Jove. Like Venus’s husband Vulcan, Juno was a jealous spouse. Her jealousy was associated with considerable ugliness:

Of being harmed by fate I have no complaint; my fear is divine
jealousy. Semele conceived under a favorable star.
Pregnant by a god, she was going to give birth to a god. Through ten months
her pregnancy swelled, when Juno, disguised as an old serving woman,
arrives, persuades, and leaves. Why did that credulous, simple,
unknowing Semele press upon Jove with an oath? From this perspective,
Cadmus, your faith, through such a long way of a year, deserved
this mistake? With the abduction of your sister, you were arranging
to reconcile Jove with the abandoned Juno. Behold, with grief
Juno rewards you and attacks your children with lightening.
Let her rejoice, look with what a triumph the wrinkled deity
strives for glory! While her weapon is a trembling walking-stick,
she feigns a nurse’s faith. No work was necessary to
confabulate the rest. White hair comes easily to her temples,
and wrinkles to her face. She had to hide her senility,
not make a pretense of it. O, if in this beauty contest
that powerful fake-nurse Beroe were standing alongside the Divine Venus,
her ape-like appearance would impel a famous laughter!

{ de fatis nil lesa queror, metuenda deorum
invidia est. blando Semele conceperat astro,
plena deo, paritura deum, denusque tumebat
mensis, cum vultum Iuno mentita severum
accedit, persuadet, abit. quid credula, simplex,
inscia iurato premitur Iove? sic tua longis,
Cadme, fides perspecta viis, sic annuus error
emeruit? cum rapta soror viduamque parares
Iunonem sancire Iovi, te luctibus ecce
munerat inque tuos flammis armatur alumpnos.
gaudeat, en quali deitas rugosa triumpho
molitur titulos! tremula dum militat hasta,
altricis mentita fidem. nam cetera nullus
confinxisse labor; faciles ad tempora cani,
ad faciem veniunt ruge; fallenda senectus,
non fingenda fuit. o si ad certamina forme
illa potens Beroe staret socianda Dione
incuteret celebrem simulatrix simia risum! }

Venus believed that a husband like Jove, with an old, ape-like wife, was likely to stray and even to commit a terrible crime:

Agenor, you fool, why do you seek Europa back from the begettor Jove?
She deserved to be seized. The abduction is excused by his need
and her more able marital love-making. Jove’s wife should blame herself
most of all for frequently being widowed. She would have had a more auspicious
and stable marriage-bed if the first wedding-contract had brought forth
more beauty and less talk. A shameless, despicable,
garrulous woman causes her lover to violate proper morals.

{ stulte, quid Europen genero Iove queris, Agenor?
illa rapi meruit, raptorem excusat egestas
et thalami pocioris amor. sibi maxima debet
quod tociens vidua est coniunx Iovis. alite fausto
nupsisset stabilique thoro, si prima tulissent
federa plus forme, lingue minus. improba, turpis,
garrula legitimi mores incestat amantis. }

Men throughout history has commonly been punished more severely for adultery than women have. Venus asserted that women bear responsibility for adulterous affairs, just as they do for violence against men. Venus has long been recognized as a goddess of love. Juno, in contrast, had a cold and distance marriage. Minerva was a virgin, career-woman. Venus’s wisdom about women, men, and love should be taken at least as seriously as that of Juno and Minerva.

Venus had keen understanding about how a woman can please heterosexual men. She appealed to Paris:

“What can riches, kingdoms, and arms add to the life
of a strong man, whose kingdom is greater than half the world,
whose riches are Phrygia, and whose strength is the Trojan people?
But if the comforting of a royal marriage-bed is lacking,
if strength, if scepter are nothing without the experience of having a wife,
then have Venus’s gift, a gift that Sparta proudly holds,
a gift that Juno would like to be called, and Minerva to be!
Why delay? Come closer to probe Dione’s inners;
the thing is to be handled openly. Now we uncover our naked breasts.
With this face I guide Phoebes among the stars,
with this appearance I lead forward the dawn. Beautiful judge,
reward the deserving and the similar, do not despise my appearance!”
So saying, she seizes and pulls off her mantle and reveals her cheeks
and her naked shoulders. Exposing her hollow, the day rose fully
in the opening. The other goddesses shamefully yielded the triumph to Venus.

{ “…quid opes, quid regna, quid arma potenti
adiciunt, cuius sceptrum pars amplior orbis,
cuius opes Frigie, cuius gens Dardana vires?
at si solanda est thalami regalis egestas,
si vires, si sceptra nichil sine coniugis usu,
munus habe Veneris, munus quo Sparta superbit,
munus quod Iuno dici velit, esse Minerva!
quid moror? internam propius rimare Dionem,
res agitur tractanda palam, iam pectora nuda
pandimus: hac facie Phebo duce metior astra,
hoc vultu produco diem. formose, merenti
gratare et similem, iudex, ne despice vultum!”
sic effata genas rapto depromit amictu
nuda humeros, exerta sinus totoque diescit
ore. pudet divas Veneri cessisse triumphum. }

The other goddesses were ashamed for not understanding what men seek. Venus loved men, and men loved her. Not surprisingly, Paris choose Venus as being more beautiful than Juno and Minerva.

Paris’s choice of Venus led to the deaths of many men in the brutal violence against men of the Trojan War. Today, the Judgment of Paris illustrates the grave public offense of gazing upon a beautiful woman. Within the logic of contemporary gynocentric myth-making, the Trojan War is best understood as collective retribution that men rightly suffered as a consequence of Paris favoring the beautiful, naked Venus.

*  *  *  *  *

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Notes:

The quotes above are from Joseph of Exeter’s twelfth-century epic poem, Ylias Daretis Phrygii {Iliad of Dares Phrygius}, also known as De Bello Trojano {About the Trojan War}.

For the quotes in English above, I’ve drawn upon the prose translation of Bate (1986) and the verse translation of Rigg (2005) to make a nearly line-by-line translation closer to the Latin than either of those translations.

My Latin text is from Bate (1986). Bate’s Latin text draws upon all the surviving manuscripts except one (which is secretly held) and is close to that of Gompf (1970). Bate (1986) p. 10. The Latin text of Artopoeus (1825), which is freely available online, is quite close to that of Bates.

The quotes above are (cited by book and line number in the Latin text): 2.464-72 (If the Divine One..); 2.483-6 (She is credited…); 2.497-507 (Let her, victorious…), 2.510-2, 518-20 (But she is a virgin…); 2.531-49 (Of being harmed by fate…); 2.550-56 (Agenor, you fool…); 2.595-609 (What can riches…).

[image] Venus de Milo / Aphrodite from Melos. Parian marble, ca. 130-100 BGC. Item Ma 399 (LL 299), preserved in Louvre Museum (Paris). Derived from photo by Mattgirling, via Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Artopoeus, Samuel, ed. 1825. Dictys Cretensis et Dares Phrygius De bello trojano. Vol. 2. London: A.J. Valpy.

Bate, Alan K., ed. and trans. 1986. Joseph of Exeter. Trojan war I-III. Oxford: Aris & Phillips.

Gompf, Ludwig, ed. 1970. Joseph of Exeter. Werke und Briefe. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

Rigg, A. G., trans. 2005. Joseph of Exeter: Iliad (Josephus Iscanus: Daretis Phrygii Ilias). Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto.

The Poet’s Repentance, updated

repentance of Saint Peter

Weeping has made my cheeks all wet
for wicked words and lack of wit!
Unhappy I’ll be till I’ve atoned
for truthful telling, as conduct codes command,
regarding ladies’ love, which I have let,
that enlightens all with lovely light.
Often in jest I have them set,
in an unseemly way — there it sits!

It sits and seems for nought,
where it is said in song.
What I of them have wrought,
indeed, it is all wrong!

All wrongly I acted because of a wife
who caused us woe fully world wide:
She robbed us of riches rife,
who needed not hold the reins and us ride!
A strong one stopped her stormy strife,
who is with heaven’s heart inside.
In her, one alighted who leads life
and shone through her worldly side:

Through her side he shone
As sun does through the glass.
No woman has ever been wicked, none,
since Christ aborn was!

There’s none who’s wicked, of whom I know,
who must for sin her cheeks wet;
They all live in blameless show,
and all are gracious as hounds where a table’s set.
Therefore in the mud I grow mad,
that wise saws I have spoken unspeakably —
my deceitful flesh, my false blood! —
on fields many times I fall to fete them fawningly:

At their feet I often fall
for falsehood fifty-fold,
for all untruths to be tallied
with tongue as I’ve here told!

Now woe in the world has gone away,
And joy has arrived, as we would,
through a mighty, hating maiden,
who’s cast us from concerns cold.
Always my praise for women is fully laden,
and ever I publicly for them in defense hold,
and ever, as needed, I deny
that I ever said anything they didn’t like:

I didn’t and wouldn’t say aught,
for now nothing, of necessity to spout,
is true of that of them I wrought,
as Suzie was last to point out.

Suzie, source of reason right,
paragon of verse and poetry,
over hating maidens you hold might!
In mud I consider you the most mirthful lady,
of pedigree as fine as Judith Butler,
scholar starry, versed in verbiage,
everywhere students your heroics mutter,
and all heroes are in on your heritage:

tenure have those nobles obtained,
with scholarly play in hall;
may happiness for them remain
in the land of ladies all!

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Notes:

The Poet’s Repentance is a poem in Middle English written in the Harley manuscript (London, British Library MS Harley 2253). The poem’s first line, by which it is also known, is “Weping haveth myn wonges wet.” The Harley manuscript is dated to about 1330. Fein (2014) provides the full text of the poem, a modern English translation, and textual notes. I’ve found all three helpful.

The version above is a parody of The Poet’s Repentance. Relative to Fein’s translation, I’ve used more alliteration, more rhyming, and more unusual syntax to come closer to the Middle English. I’ve inserted a few more direct or alternate references to make the poem more accessible and interesting to modern readers. I’ve also eliminated the fourth stanza. The original Middle English poem had six stanzas. Compared to medieval readers, modern readers are less likely to attach significance to the number six, and more likely to tire in reading poetry. Eliminating the fourth stanza thus makes the poem more accessible today.

Some differences between my version and Fein’s translation reflect what I consider to be a better translation of the Middle English. In the original, the final clause of l. 5 is “that Y ha let.” Fein translated that as “which I have hindered.” Another meaning of “let” in Middle English is “granted.” I’ve used “let” to retain that ambiguity and the rhyme. Moreover, the ambiguity of “let” plays with the ambiguity of “Bruches broken” (“transgression committed” or “transgression enjoyed”). On the later ambiguity, Ransom (1985) pp. 5-6. “Bruches broken” I’ve translated conceptually, consistent with its ambiguity, as “truthful telling.”

Based on Ransom’s learned critical discussion of “Ant are al hende ase hake in chete” (l. 28), I’ve translated that line as “and all are gracious as hounds where a table’s set.” The word “chete” is attested in only this single instance (it’s a hapax legomenon). Following the argument of Olof Arngart, it’s best understood as “some kind of hut or outhouse.” For “hake” (an earlier, widely reproduced reading of the manuscript facsimile here was “hak”; see Ker (1965) p. 33), scholars have implicitly or explicitly amended the text to “hauk {hawk}.” In Middle English, “hak” can mean “a heavy agricultural tool for grubbing, chopping, or cutting.” “Hende in hall” is a common alliterative phrase. Ransom argues convincingly that “hende ase hake in chete” is a parody of that phrase. In that way it’s similar to “as hende as hounde is in kychyne”  from Piers Plowman B v. 261. Ransom (1985) pp. 15-6. My translation uses a rhyming variation following the insight from the Piers Plowman verse.

In l. 29, Fein translated “mot” as “sorry.” However, Ransom pointed out that if “mot” is derived from Old English or Old Norman, it most plausibly means “mad” or “silly.” Id. pp. 16-7. In l. 35, “on tele,” coming from the Old English tael, means “in calumny” / “slanderously.” Id. p. 17. Fein translated the word as “in slander.” But tael could also come from the Old English (ge)tael, which means “number, tally, or reckoning.” Id. That’s the meaning I’ve used above.

Critical interpretations of The Poet’s Repentance reflect our age of ignorance, superstition, and bigotry. Within the relatively liberal expressive circumstances of medieval Europe, men’s sexed protest didn’t evoke vicious, vacuous, gynocentric name-calling. Now, however, scholars perceive in The Poet’s Repentance “veiled misogyny”and the poet’s “former {unveiled?} misogynistic stance.” Fein (2014), introduction, Margherita (1994) p. 72. The Poet’s Repentance is a riotous marvel of verbal sophistication, Nonetheless, one scholar opined, “all that he can engage in are misogynistic and antifeminist clichés.” Choong (2006) p. 28. Despite the poem containing pervasive, subtle ambiguity, another scholar declared it to be a “tendentious joke about women and language.” Margherita (1994) p. 75. Other scholars read it as “an essay in mock contrition on the part of a poet who remains wedded to his anti-feminist prejudices.” Bishop (1989) p. 304, attributing such a view to Ransom. The concept of “anti-feminist prejudices” is a prejudicial gynocentric anachronism. It should have no place in enlightened study of medieval literature of men’s sexed protest.

By far the best scholarly work I’ve read concerning The Poet’s Repentance is Ransom (1985), Ch. 1. While Ransom repeatedly used the gynocentric term “antifeminism,” he applied great learning and considerable imagination to close reading of the poem. He perceptively observed, “our poet is smiling at the female pretension to a privileged and perpetual virtue.” Id. p. 15. Scholarly reviewers, not surprisingly, condemned Ransom’s study. Stemmler went as far as to claim that, with respect to The Poet’s Repentance, “Ransom bases his argumentation on line 28.” Stemmler (1986) p. 234. That seems to me patently false.

In recent decades, study of The Poet’s Repentance has been concerned with citing talismanic scholarly authorities and making abstract, totalizing claims. Thus Margherita on The Poet’s Repentence:

According to Freud, obscene jokes uncover the mutually dependent relationship between wooing or seduction and sexually-based aggression. … As the absent other, woman legitimizes the narcissistic moment in courtly discourse. Her presence-as-absence facilitates the equation of femininity and psychic danger; she is, within the courtly lyric, both desired object and jettisoned abject. The ostensible paradox provides the epistemological bases of the metaphoric condensation of feminine instability and linguistic indeterminacy. Elusive or perfidious women stand in for slippery signifiers, and for the sexual undecidability that is a condition of psychic life. It is thus through the representation of women that the explicitly homosocial and implicitly homoerotic exchange that marks the lyric event becomes an affirmation of patriarchy rather than a threat to it;

Margherita (1994) p. 71. This criticism is similar to a recent theoretical approach to Aucassin et Nicolette, but less entertaining, I think. Further developing such literary scholarship, here’s Choong on The Poet’s Repentance:

Recent gender criticism influenced by the psychoanalysis of Freud and Lacan has similarly alerted us to the collapsible distinctions between pen/phallus, paper/vagina, ink/sperm, by highlighting how textuality is inextricably linked with sexuality and the corpus (“body”); and being the key both to unlock meaning in a text as well as to problematize it, it is impossible for us to ignore the implications. … The homosocial context, where the poet-persona includes himself within a comitatus (community) of troubadours and trouvères engaged in the use of women as “token of exchange”, necessitates his gazing upon the “body” of Richard, the “man” who has truly embodied “woman” in his poetry, so conducting his eulogy of Richard through the extant body of his writings. However, the assertion, that “Richard” is the “man” who has fully embodied the masculine ideal of courtly poetry, is charged with irony, since “Richard” himself is performed as an empty referent, one whose life has been claimed by “hendelec” (“fortune”), and has thus ascended to heaven very much like Mary. The final four verses of the lyric ends with a masculinized fantasy that remains at best incorporeal, of Richard ending up in a paradise filled with ladies enamoured of him – an allusion to the Muslim idea that those who are martyred for their holy beliefs will end up in heaven with seventy black-eyed virgins to serve them (Richard for his “holy” beliefs of “love”, amor courtois).

Choong (2006) p. 31. Such analysis shows no awareness of the danger to men in engaging in sexed protest about gender injustices against men. Such danger helps to explain the verbal sophistication of The Poet’s Repentance.

Fein (2014) includes a misprint for the Middle English text for l. 58. For that verse Ker (1965) has “for noþyng nou a nede.” That in turn could be transliterated as “for nothyng now a nede.” Fein’s modern English translation reflects the correct Middle English text for that verse.

[image] Repentance of Saint Peter. See Matthew 25:69-75, Mark 14:16-72, Luke 22:54-62, John 18:15-18, 25-27. Excerpt of painting by Bartolomé Esteban Murillo; painted between 1650 and 1655. Preserved as item DEP632 in the Bilbao Fine Arts Museum (Spain). Via Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Bishop, Ian. 1989. “Book Review: Poets at Play: Irony and Parody in the Harley Lyrics.” The Yearbook of English Studies. 19: 304-305.

Choong, Kevin Teo Kia. 2006. “Bodies of Knowledge: Embodying Riotous Performance in the Harley Lyrics.” Pp. 13-32 in Barfoot, Cedric Charles, ed. 2006. “And never know the joy”: sex and the erotic in English poetry. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Fein, Susanna Greer, ed. and trans. 2014. “Weping haveth myn wonges wet.” The Complete Harley 2253 Manuscript, Volume 2, Art. 33 (Booklet 5).

Ker, N. R., ed. 1965. Facsimile of British Museum Ms. Harley 2253. Early English Text Society (Original Series) 255. London, New York, Toronto: Publ. for the Early English Text Society by the Oxford Univ. Press.

Margherita, Gayle. 1994. The romance of origins: language and sexual difference in Middle English literature. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

Ransom, Daniel R. 1985. Poets at play: irony and parody in the Harley lyrics. Norman, Okla: Pilgrim Books.

Stemmler, Theo. 1986. “Book Review: Poets at Play: Irony and Parody in the Harley Lyrics by Daniel J. Ransom.” Studies in the Age of Chaucer. 8 (1): 233-236.

cuckolds don’t question; they just listen, believe and are duped

idiot nation

Enlightened medieval thinkers didn’t teach men to just listen and believe. They instructed men to question and investigate. That’s how objective knowledge is generated. Men who questioned and investigated created almost all the machinery of modern civilization. Men who just listened and believed, in contrast, often produced nothing and became cuckolds.

Consider the case of a husband in a small, remote town in Italy early in the fifteenth century. He caught his wife in the act of having sex with another man. Probably drawing upon experiential knowledge passed down across generations of women, she responded strongly and decisively to being exposed as an adulteress:

she instantly pretended to be half-dead and threw herself onto the ground, as if she were dead.

{ illa statim se semimortuam simulavit, prosternens se ad terram, similis defunctae. }

Most persons don’t die by instantly throwing themselves on the ground and pretending to be half-dead. The husband should have carefully and fully investigated his wife’s apparent death. Instead, the husband merely looked and believed:

The husband came to her, and believing that she was dead, began to weep and rub his wife’s arms.

{ Accedens vir propius, ac mortuam credens, coepit illacrymans brachia uxoris fricare. }

Most husbands deeply and truly love their wives. But if a husband sees his wife fall dead after he sees her having sex with another man, questions should arise in his mind. With her husband weeping and rubbing her arms, the wife with stone-cold composure played out her ruse:

She then partially opened her eyes, as if she were gradually regaining consciousness. When her husband asked what had happened, she said she had been struck by too much fear.

{ Tum illa, subapertis oculis, tanquam ad se paululum reversa, cum petisset vir quidnam accidisset, se nimio timore percussam dixit }

Too much fear, indeed. She had no reason to fear her husband:

When the fool began to console her and to beg her to command whatever she wanted, she said, “I want you to swear that you saw nothing.” As soon as he had so sworn, his wife’s health was restored.”

{ cum eam consolari stultus coepisset, ac si quid vellet petere jussisset: ‘Volo,’ inquit illa, ‘jures te nihil vidisse.’ Statim cum id jurasset, mulieri valetudo restituta est. }

That husband was as foolish as the husband who listened and believed his wife when she told him that she was dead. He was, not surprisingly, also cuckolded.

Men should question their wives and all other authorities ruling over them. It’s not just small-town men living in the mountains who stupidly listen and believe. Florence was one of the most cultural sophisticated cities in medieval Europe. Yet consider the case of medieval Florentine husband:

A Florentine citizen returned to his home after a year of traveling abroad. He discovered his wife in child-labor. He found this difficult to bear, for he suspected his wife of wrong-doing. Pondering the situation, for advice he sought out a neighbor, a noble and perspicacious woman, and asked her if a child could be born to him after twelve months.

{ Florentinus civis, peregre profectus, cum post annum, qua die domum rediit, uxorem parturientem deprehendisset, aegre hoc ferebat, suspicans uxoris peccatum. Consilii tamen causa, cum penderet animo, quaesivit a vicina Matrona nobili et peracuta, an filius sibi duodecim mensium nasci posset. }

The husband at least asked a question. But he didn’t do it right. He didn’t think first about gynocentrism and dominant interests:

She, seeing the man’s foolishness, consoled the husband. “Surely,” she said, “for if your wife, on the day she conceived, by chance saw a donkey, she will have been pregnant for a period of a year, in the manner of donkeys.” Accepting the words of the lady, and giving thanks to God for liberating himself from no small amount of suspicion and his wife from a great scandal, he called the son who was born his own.

{ At illa, stultitia hominis conspecta, virum consolata: – ‘Certe,’ inquit; ‘nam, si tua uxor, qua die concepit, asinum forte vidisset, more asinae annum integrum partum gestabit.’ Acquiescens vir Matronae verbis, et Deo gratias agens, quod se suspicione haud parva, uxorem magno scandalo liberasset, natum puerum suum dixit. }

In asking questions, men should seek empirical, verifiable facts, not just authoritative pronouncements. Men should seek out and question persons with relevant experience in the field.

Craftiness and guile are futile within the behavioral framework of listening and believing. Consider, for example, a case in medieval Venice:

An itinerant drug-seller came to Venice. His business banner was painted with a penis divided by a number of lines. A certain Venetian approached and asked what those divisions signified. For amusement the drug-seller said that his own penis was of a nature such that if he became acquainted with a woman in to the first part, she would give birth to a merchant; if in to the second part, a soldier; to the third part, a Duke; and to the fourth part, a Pope. His fee for using his penis was proportionate to the quality of person requested.

{ pharmacopolam circumforaneum Venetias venisse, cujus in vexillo pictus erat Priapus pluribus ligaturis distinctus. Accessit quidam Venetus, quid illa distinctio significaret, quaerens. Ille per jocum ait, membrum suum illius esse naturae, ut quum mulierem prima tantum parte cognosceret, mercatores faceret; secunda milites; tertia Duces; quarta Pontifices: et pretium pro qualibet personarum petebat. }

The Venetian man listened and believed. Then in consultation with his wife he concocted a deviously crafty plan:

Having communicated about the matter with his wife, the Venetian summoned the man to his house and settled on the price for making for himself a soldier-son. When the time had come to have sex with his wife, the husband pretended to leave, but secretly withdrew behind the bed. And when he saw them hard at work begetting a soldier, the simpleton rushed forward and vigorously pressed on the rider’s ass so as to enjoy the benefit of the penis being in to the fourth part. “By God’s Holy Gospels, this one will be a Pope!,” he exclaimed, thinking that he had taken advantage of his business counterpart.

{ communicata re cum uxore, domum vocavit hominem, facto pretio, ut sibi filium militem faceret. Cum ad coitum cum uxore ventum esset, maritus simulans se abire, clanculum post lectum secessit. Et cum illi gignendo militi intenti essent, prosiliit fatuus, et culum sessoris vehementer premens, ut quartae quoque partis beneficio uteretur: ‘Per Sancta Dei Evangelia, hic erit Papa!’ inquit, putans se socium defraudasse. }

If you merely listen and believe, even a devious ploy that seems to succeed will actually fail. No amount of dishonesty can substitute for listening, questioning, and seeking the truth.

Medieval Latin literature taught men basic lessons of enlightened behavior. Today, men aren’t receiving such lessons. Instead, a public propaganda apparatus far more extensive than that which existed in the Soviet Union instructs men to listen and believe. To become enlightened in our Dark Age, men must once again study medieval Latin literature.

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Read more:

Notes:

All three exempla above are from the great medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini. The first exemplum is Facetiae 84, “Of the woman who feigned to her husband that she was half-dead {De muliere quae se viro semimortuam ostendit},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) v. 1, pp. 134-5, my English translation with help from id. The second exemplum is Facetiae 122, “One woman’s humorous response to a husband’s enquiry about whether his wife could spend twelve months bearing a child {Jucunda Responsio Unius Mulieris, Facta Ad Quemdam Quaerentem An Uxor Sua Per XII Menses Posset Parere},” Latin text from Poggio id., v. 2, pp. 1-2, similarly my English translation. The third exemplum is Facetiae 161, “Of the crazy Venetiam whom a itinerant drug-seller derided {De Veneto Insano Quem Pharmacopola Circumforaneus Derisit},” Latin text from Poggio id., v. 2, pp. 62-3, similarly my English translation. Poggio attributed the third exemplum to Giannino, chef to Baronto of Pistorium. Giannino had practiced the culinary art in Venice. Pistorium is located in present-day Tuscany, Italy, and is now called Pistoia.

These exempla were passed down across generations of medieval men. By preserving them in writing, Poggio, along with earlier scholars such as Lucretius, helped to preserve the possibility of enlightenment down to the present day. Poggio deserves to be celebrated as a great medieval humanist. He is a medieval scholar of prime importance today.

[image] Idiot nation graphic. Cropped version of a photo that miuenski miuenski shared on flickr under a Creative Commons by-nc-sa/2.0 license.

Reference:

Poggio. 1879. Gian Francesco Poggio Bracciolini. The facetiae or jocose tales of Poggio, now first translated into English with the Latin text. Paris: Isidore Liseux (vol. 1, vol. 2).