how to argue nicely about sex with your boyfriend: a medieval lesson

sacred and profane love

Couples commonly argue about sex. Continually imbibing the poisons of rape-culture culture, women today readily feel hatred toward men. That makes girlfriend-boyfriend arguments about sex particularly nasty. Medieval Latin literature, which isn’t just for men, shows a more excellent way. It supports imagining what’s scarcely imaginable today. A woman can treat a man’s sexual feelings with compassion and respect, yet insist on what she understands to be proper conduct.

In twelfth-century France, a boyfriend and a girlfriend argued nicely about sex. They argued in Latin, the language regarded as appropriate for serious arguments. In accordance with the medieval church’s insistence on mutuality in marriage, this couple took turns saying to each other four-line stanzas of Latin poetry. They argued humanely, learnedly, and eloquently. The man started first, because his feelings were compelling him to rise.

I’m conquered and tormented by you, my sweet girlfriend:
your beauty prohibits that you demand excessively to be chaste.
Do what pleases Venus, or stop looking like Venus.
With me as teacher you can quickly learn Venus’s ways.

This pleases me and I desire that you in this way always be my boyfriend,
and this displeases me and I mourn that you sometimes be not chaste.
Flee from lust, I beg you, and embrace love.
One advises even a beautiful young man to maintain chastity.

{ Amicus:
Conqueror et doleo de te, mea dulcis amica:
quod prohibet facies, nimis exigis esse pudica.
Fac placeas Veneri, Veneris vel desine formam;
Me doctore potes Veneris cito discere normam.

Hoc placet et cupio, meus ut sis semper amicus;
displicet et doleo, nisi sis quandoque pudicus.
Luxuriam fugias, precor, amplectaris amorem.
Convenit et pulcro iuveni servare pudorem. } [1]

The boyfriend starts strongly be asserting incongruities. His sweet girlfriend is bitterly defeating him and tormenting him. Being chaste is associated with sexual modesty. That’s a form of moderation.[2] Yet this sweet girlfriend is demanding moderation “excessively.” To make matters worse, she looks like Venus, the goddess of love, but doesn’t act with the sexual vigor of Venus. These incongruities don’t make sense. The boyfriend charitably offers to teach his girlfriend how to conduct herself with logical consistency.

The girlfriend responds by affirming the goodness of her boyfriend’s sexual feelings. His vigorous, manly sexuality pleases her. She desires that he be her boyfriend. She recognizes that he is a beautiful young man. Moreover, she doesn’t seek to dominate her boyfriend as a woman in gynocentric society. She begs him rather than commands him. Nonetheless, she frankly states her own feelings. She values chastity and understands that love doesn’t mean only sex. She recognizes that her boyfriend doesn’t always think about sex. She’s unhappy because “sometimes” he is unchaste.

The author of the book of love doesn’t support you.
By that author, no lover can always remember chastity.
But perhaps you aren’t a lover, although you confess so.
Your tongue sounds, yet your inner being seeks another way.

My sweet boyfriend, don’t offend my heart’s secret:
I love you more than too much, although you don’t believe me.
My love is thus no pretense, if that’s what you meant to say.
If they knew how to speak, what could my outsides say?

{ Amicus:
Non te testatur libri dictator amoris,
non valet ullus amans semper memor esse pudoris.
Sed fortassis amans non es, licet esse fateris:
lingua sonat, tamen interius producere quaeris.

Dulcis amice mei, cordis non intima laedas:
diligo plus nimio te, quamvis non mihi credas.
Non sic fictus amor meus est, si dicere velles.
Scire loqui possint, poterant quid dicere pelles? } [3]

The boyfriend then invokes on his side Ovid, the great medieval teacher of love. Ovid authored The Art of Love {Ars Amatoria} and Loves {Amores}. Recognizing women’s power and authority, Ovid quoted the strongly drinking, independently thinking woman Dipsa on the merits of modesty:

Modesty indeed suits a pale face, and
if faked, it’s profitable, but the real thing often obstructs.

{ decet alba quidem pudor ora, sed iste,
Si simules, prodest; verus obesse solet. } [4]

When the time is right, the teacher of love advised boldness:

Now’s time to speak to her: flee rustic modesty, far
from here: Fortune and Venus favor the bold.

{ Conloquii iam tempus adest; fuge rustice longe
Hinc pudor; audentem Forsque Venusque iuvat. } [5]

The boyfriend questioned on good authority whether his girlfriend was truly a lover. Moreover, in that questioning’s references to tongue, sounding, and love, the boyfriend implicitly invoked one of the highest Christian authorities, Saint Paul in his biblical letter to the Corinthians:

If I speak with the tongues of humans and angels, but I have not love, I am as sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.

{ si linguis hominum loquar et angelorum caritatem autem non habeam factus sum velut aes sonans aut cymbalum tinniens

ἐὰν ταῖς γλώσσαις τῶν ἀνθρώπων λαλῶ καὶ τῶν ἀγγέλων ἀγάπην δὲ μὴ ἔχω γέγονα χαλκὸς ἠχῶν ἢ κύμβαλον ἀλαλάζον } [6]

Women rely on the power of gynocentric society. Wise men recognize authority from God the Father. This boyfriend was no sniveling woman-server.

In response to her boyfriend’s blunt criticism of her, the girlfriend responds sweetly. She re-affirms that he is “my sweet boyfriend.” She declares that she loves him very much with her heart. The boyfriend may have been disappointed not to perceive her face flushing, her body tingling, and her voice trembling. But if the love she felt inside herself had been able to express itself on her exterior, that’s what would have happened. In short, she affirms that she does want him sexually.

I don’t deny that I have caressed your breasts under your clothes,
for indeed anyone similarly permitted would have similarly caressed them.
Your thighs’ whiteness, even if you are unwilling, I would like thus to know,
if only through excessive manliness I could defeat you.

Your disposition is too simple, but not boring;
you don’t know the thinking of a virgin’s mind.
In prohibiting touching, she wants not to seem like a prostitute.
Yet she grieves inside that what she denies doesn’t happen.

{ Amicus:
Non nego me sub veste tua tractasse papillam,
namque modo simili tractasset quislibet illam.
Crura tui, non sponte tua, sic candida nossem,
te nisi per nimias vires devincere possem.

Simplicis ingenii nimis es, non insipientis;
virgineae nescis quae sit meditatio mentis.
Cum prohibit tactum, vult ne meretrix videatur;
condolet interius nisi, quod negat, illud agatur. }

With rhetorical sophistication, the boyfriend notes that they have already consensually engaged in some sexual intimacies. He affirms that in acting sexually with her permission, he did only what men normally do. Like adult male primates generally, men rarely force women to have sex, and they do so no more frequently than women force men to have sex. The boyfriend once again states his natural and valid sexual interest further down his girlfriend’s body.[7] Men frankly stating their sexual interest requires manly boldness. The boyfriend laments that his manly boldness isn’t enough to inspire his girlfriend to have the full measure of sex with him.

The girlfriend compassionately understands that men are romantically simple. She’s pleased that her boyfriend isn’t an insipid automaton who never says anything daring or offensive. She herself is a virgin and probably also debt-free and without tattoos. She doesn’t aspire to walk proudly in public as a self-identified slut. She doesn’t even want to seem to be behaving like a prostitute. At the same time, she’s a healthy woman with natural, healthy sexual desire for men. With self-conscious human sophistication, she doesn’t act on her every desire.

From love’s beginning this typically happens,
when an unexpected love burns in its first hours.
The other’s conduct is other when she finally knows.
If they like it, this is done otherwise because she then asks.

Blame yourself, don’t blame me, for confusing loves,
since I cannot become familiar with your various conduct.
Your youth rushes you here, there, and everywhere,
and so my love deservedly shows itself to you slowly.

{ Amicus:
Tunc solet hoc fieri cum principium fit amoris,
improvisus amor cum primis fervet in horis;
alterius mores alter cum denique noscit,
si placeant, facit haec alter quod postea poscit.

Culpa tui, non culpa mei, perturbat amores,
namque tui varios nequeo cognoscere mores.
Evolat hac illac multa tua parte iuventus,
unde meus merito monstratur amor tibi lentus. }

The boyfriend knowingly explains that virgin women typically act shyly. In part because of such behavior, men historically have been structurally oppressed with a disproportionate gender burden of soliciting amorous relations. The boyfriend discretely and decorously explains, using biblical terminology for sex (“know”), that once a virgin woman has sex with a man, she enthusiastically seeks to do it again. That supports gender equality because she then asks the man for sex.

Having never heard of promoting gender equality in love, the girlfriend doesn’t understand and becomes flustered. She is less experienced than her boyfriend is, but knowingly parries the sexually loaded term “know” with a different word, “become familiar with.” She understands more about love than her boyfriend does. She understands that love for God is different from love for a human being. She understand that loving one’s neighbor, including loving the husband next door, isn’t the same as loving one’s own husband. She interprets her boyfriend’s interest in no longer carrying men’s disproportionate gender burdens as inconsistent conduct. She thus takes up the complaint with which her boyfriend began the argument. She insists that love with her progress slowly. As long as she pays for an equal share of their dates, her boyfriend might rightly continue to see her. As a woman in a gynocentric culture, she wields the privilege of having the last word. Resist!

My dearest, do not hold back,
let us dedicate ourselves now to loving!
Without you I cannot go on living:
now we must consummate our love.

Why, chosen one, does it please you to defer
what must be done eventually?
Do quickly what you will do:
in me there is no delay!

{ Karissima, noli tardare,
studeamus nos nunc amare!
Sine te non potero uiuere:
iam decet amorem persicerere.

Quid iuuat differe, electa,
que sunt tamen post facienda?
Fac cita quod eris factura:
in me non est aliqua mora! } [8]

Mary Magdalene clinging to Jesus's flesh

The medieval girlfriend and boyfriend argued nicely about sex. The girlfriend didn’t dehumanize her boyfriend by calling him a dog. She didn’t falsely accuse him of attempting to rape her. She didn’t verbally and physically attack him, and then get the police to arrest him for domestic violence against her. This medieval couple might even be able to discuss meaningfully abortion. In our age of ignorance, bigotry, and superstition, all couples should study medieval meninist literary criticism and learn from this couple.[9]

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[1] Carmina Rivipullensia 9, titled “Ad amicam {To his girlfriend},” first line “Conqueror et doleo de te, mea dulcis amica {I’m conquered and tormented by you, my sweet girlfriend},” st. 1-2, Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from Wolff’s French translation. Subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are seriatum from the rest of this poem (covering all of it) and are similarly sourced.

The boyfriend here alludes to Paris’s letter to Helen of Troy:

Did you think this beauty of yours could lack fault?
Either you change your beauty, or be not obstinate – that’s necessary.
Great beauty is quarreling with modesty.

{ hanc faciem culpa posse carere putas?
aut faciem mutes aut sis non dura, necesse est;
lis est cum forma magna pudicitiae. }

Ovid, Heroides 16.288-90, Latin text from Wikisource, my English translation.

[2] The Latin root for both “modesty” and “moderation” is modus, meaning measure, bound, or limit.

[3] The question mark at the end of line 16 isn’t editorial. It’s from the manuscript. Dronke (1979) p. 24. That’s consistent with using punctuation to clarify the sense of the text. On that practice, Parkes (1978) pp. 138-9. For relevant discussion, see my post on punctuation poems, especially note [5].

[4] Ovid, Amores 1.8.35-6, Latin text from Perseus Digital Library, my English translation. Here’s A.S. Kline’s translation of the whole elegy.

[5] Ovid, Ars Amatoria 1.607-8, Latin text from Perseus Digital Library, my English translation. Here’s A.S. Kline’s translation of Ars Amatoria, Book I, Part XV (“At Dinner Be Bold”).

[6] 1 Corinthians 13:1, Greek text and Vulgate translation (by which the Bible was known in medieval Europe) from Blue Letter Bible, my English translation adapted from standard biblical translations.

[7] Not all men seek to complete a sexual act of reproductive type. A medieval man declared to his girlfriend:

My sweet girlfriend, if you seek what I want, I would like
touching, not the deed, my sweet girlfriend.
My sweet girlfriend, it is enough to caress your breasts,
joining with you in kisses, my sweet girlfriend.

{ Dulcis amica mei, si quaeris quid volo, vellem
tactum, non factum, dulcis amica mei.
Dulcis amica mei, satis est tractare papillam,
oscula iungendo, dulcis amica mei. }

Carmina Rivipullensia 6, titled “Ad amicam {To his girlfriend},” first line “Dulcis amica mei, valeas per saecula multa {My sweet girlfriend, may you be healthy through many ages},” ll. 14-6 (last four lines), Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from Wolff’s French translation.

[8] Carmina cantabrigiensia {Cambridge Songs} 27, “Iam, dulcis amica, uenito {Now, sweet friend, come},” st. 9-10, Latin text from Vienna, Österreiche Nationalbibliothek, Codex vindobonensis 116, folio 157v, edited in Ziolkowski (1994) pp. 334-5, my English translation, benefiting from the English translations of Dronke (1984) p. 221, Ziolkowski (1994) p. 95, Hase (n.d.), and Gray (2018) p. 62. Codex vindobonensis 116 is from the tenth century, while the Cambridge Songs (from Cambridge, University Library, MS Gg.5.35) is a poetic collection put together late in the eleventh century. Ziolkowski (1994) pp. 251, xviii.

These last two stanzas in the Vienna version seem to allude to both John 20:17, “don’t touch me {Noli me tangere},” and John 13:27, “Do quickly what you are going to do {Quod facis fac citius}.” The whole poem draws significantly on the biblical Songs of Songs. This medieval poem, however, highlights men’s gender burden of providing luxurious goods to women in pursuing amorous relations. For detailed scholarly commentary on the Cambridge version, Ziolkowski (1994) pp. 251-60. For more general poetic commentary, Gray (2018) pp. 59-62.

The Vienna version ends with the two stanzas quoted above, while the Cambridge version ends with (st. 10):

Now come already, chosen sister
and … loved one,
bright light of my eye
and better part of my soul.

{ Iam nunc ueni, soror electa
ac om …. dilecta,
lux mee clara pupille
parsque maior anime mee. }

Latin text (reconstructed, with one lacuna) and English translation (modified slightly) from Ziolkowski (1994) pp. 94-5.

[9] Meninism isn’t concerned with only men. Meninist literary criticism includes both men and women and helps both men and women. It thus furthers the meninist project of promoting gender equality within humane, sophisticated civilization.

[images] (1) Sacred and profane love. Painting by Titian. Dated 1514. Preserved as accession # 147 in Galleria Borghese (Italy). Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Resurrected Jesus telling Mary Magdalene not to cling to him. It’s commonly called Noli me tangere (“don’t touch me”) after an imprecise Latin translation of John 20:17. Painting by Antonio da Correggio. Made about 1525. Preserved as accession # P000111 in Museo del Prado (Spain). Via Wikimedia Commons. In Christian understanding, Jesus in his earthly life was fully an adult human male. After his bodily resurrection, he retained fully his adult male body.


Dronke, Peter. 1979. “The Interpretation of the Ripoll Love-Songs.” Romance Philology. 33 (1): 14-42.

Dronke, Peter. 1984. The Medieval Poet and His World. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.

Gray, Erik Irving. 2018. The Art of Love Poetry. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hase, Patrick, trans. n.d. “Carminia Mediaevalia.” Online on liguae.

Parkes, M. B. 1978. “Punctuation, or pause and effect.” Pp. 127-142 in James J. Murphy, ed. Medieval Eloquence: studies in the theory and practice of medieval rhetoric. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Wolff, Etienne. 2001. Le Chansonnier amoureux: Carmina Rivipullensia. Monaco: Rocher.

Ziolkowski, Jan M., ed. and trans. 1994. The Cambridge Songs (Carmina cantabrigiensia). New York: Garland Pub.

an impious medieval man’s response to gender injustice

Rembrandt's portrait of dismay

In twelfth-century France, Niobe was destroying Walter. She was draining his purse and driving him sexually insane:

When I offer Niobe money,
I’m afforded the right to unlock her entrance.
If I come showing reverence for Love,
but nothing render, I’m locked out;
I push in nowhere.
If I pour out my entreaties,
I benefit as much as by pounding air.
From now on,
I won’t bang her box,
for I can’t wish a whore into a wife.

To top such great distress,
my groin’s requirement has now drained my sack.
The threat of that tumultuous tempest
has made me a ridiculous man.
After just a little longer,
I’ll be forced into shackles
unless I give a little to her voracious gullet.
Already my knob
and the length of my purse
have gone down the wildcat’s gaping throat.

{ Dum offero Niobe staterem,
ius affero, fores ut reserem.
Si uenero uenerans Venerem
nec dedero, tulero carcerem.
Nil egero,
si preces fudero,
tantum profecero uerberans aerem.
De cetero
non utar utero,
quia non lauero luteum laterem.

Ad cumulum tanti discriminis
iam loculum hausit lex inguinis.
Periculum turbidi turbinis
ridiculum me fecit hominis.
Post paululum
cogar ad uinculum,
nisi dem poculum gule uoraginis.
Iam nodulum
et burse modulum
abstulit patulum guttur uiraginis. } [1]

A troubled man is often told to get a grip on himself. But as Walter seems to have understood, simply getting a grip on oneself is draining and not satisfying. Men, who are fully human beings, crave intimate union with women. They should not suffer economic exploitation while engaging in heterosexual relations.

In response to the structural gender injustices that men suffer, some men retreat into defeatism and disengagement. About two thousand years ago, discussing a man’s funeral, another man said:

The mourning party was great, for he’d freed several slaves, but his widow was grudging with her tears, as if he weren’t the best of husbands! But a woman as a woman is a bird of prey. One should never do no good to none of them. It’s like throwing all you’ve got down a well. Yup, an old love is like a tumor.

{ Planctus est optime — manu misit aliquot — etiam si maligne illum ploravit uxor. Quid si non illam optime accepisset! Sed mulier quae mulier milvinum genus. Neminem nihil boni facere oportet; aeque est enim ac si in puteum conicias. Sed antiquus amor cancer est. } [2]

Not all women are like that. A Byzantine woman in war-torn tenth-century Italy bravely intervened to save her husband from being castrated. The trobairitz Castelloza in thirteenth-century Occitania spoke out against anti-men gender inequality in love. Saint Eugenia and Saint Marina exposed the injustice of false rape accusations against men. Heloise compassionately urged Abelard not to get married. And of course, Penelope remained faithful to Odysseus through his long absence.

Bitter from women’s mistreatment of them, some men become cynical. In thirteenth-century Occitania, Peire Cardenal declared:

I never won anything so great
as when I lost my mistress:
for, losing her, I won myself back
when she had won me over.
He wins little who loses himself,
but if one loses that which does one harm,
then I think it’s a gain.
For I had given myself in faith
to one who was destroying me,
I know not why.

Giving myself, at her mercy I put myself,
my heart and my life
were hers, who cast me aside and abandoned me
and changed me for another.
He who gives more than he keeps
and loves another more than himself
chooses a bad deal.
He has no care nor thought for himself,
and he forgets himself
for what doesn’t profit him.

I take my leave of her for ever
so that I may never more be hers,
for at no time I found in her fairness or faith,
only guile and deceit.
Ah! Sweetness full of venom,
how love blinds the seeing man
and leads him astray
when he loves that which ill benefits him
and that which he ought to love,
he quits and distrusts.

{ Anc non gazanhèi tan gran re
Com quam perdèi ma mia;
Quar, perden leis, gazanhèi me,
Qu’ilh gazainhat m’avia.
Petit gazainha qui pèrt se,
Mas qui pèrt sò que dan li te
Ieu cre que gazainhs sia.
Qu’ieu m’èra donatz, per ma fe,
A tal que.m destruzia,
Non sai per qué.

Donant me, mes en sa mercé
Mi, mon còr e ma via —
De leis, que.m vir’e.m desmanté
Per autrui, e.m cambia!
Qui dona mais que non reté
Et ama mais autrui que se,
Chauzís àvol partia,
Quan de se no.ilh cal ni.l sové,
E per aco s’oblia
Que pro no.ilh te.

De leis pren comjat per jassé
Que ja mais sieus non sia;
Qu’anc jorn no.i trobèi lei ni fe,
Mas engan e bauzia.
Ai! Doussors plena de veré,
Qu’amors eissòrba cel que ve
E l’òsta de sa via,
Quant ama sò qu.ilh descové
E sò qu’amar deuria
Gurp e mescré! } [3]

Christians have traditionally understood love as the complete gift of self to another. Christian love involves sacrifice of self. Christian love imitates Jesus coming to die on the cross to redeem humanity from iniquity. The passion of Jesus colors the meaning of passion for Christians in love.[4] Peire instead adopted the self-benefit model of love so prevalent today:

He who gives more than he keeps
and loves another more than himself
chooses a bad deal.

{ Qui dona mais que non reté
Et ama mais autrui que se
Chauzís àvol partia }

That’s the ethos for commercial trading, or for rational sexual relations and marriage under U.S. family law. Peire apparently “quit and distrusts {gurp e mescré}” Christianity.

Peire should be credited with endorsing gender equality in love. He resolved to treat his mistress with now-acclaimed norms of gender equality:

Never will my mistress possess me
if I have not possessed her;
nor will she ever have joy from me
if I had not joy from her.
I’ve made a decision, good and sure:
I’ll treat her as she treats me.
Then if she deceives me
she’ll find me a deceiver,
and if she goes straight for me,
for her I won’t make it rocky.

With a loyal mistress it’s required
that one be a loyal lover;
but with her who would be
relying on deception,
then one should deceive, with reason for that.

{ Ja m’amia no mi tenra
Si ieu leis non tenia;
Ni ja de mi non jauzira
S’ieu de leis non jauzia.
Conseilh n’ai pres, bon e certà:
Farai li segon que.m farà.
E s’ella mi galia
Galïador mi trobarà,
E si.m vai dreita via
Ieu l’irai pla.

De leial amia cové
Qu’òm leials amics sia;
Mas de leis estaria be
Qu’en galïar se fia,
Qu’òm galïès, quan sap de qué. }

Meninism, a progressive ideology of gender equality, asserts that women should treat men as they would like men to treat them. Peire favors a more conservative stance: “I’ll treat her as she treats me {Farai-li segon que’m farà}.” Both positions are consistent with gender equality in a social equilibrium.

Peire’s mistress ultimately got the lover she deserved. As Peire observed, women tend to favor jerks and bad boys for love: “the clown, the felon, and the trickster {li fòl e.l felon, e.l moyssart}.”[5] His mistress’s new lover played her along those lines, while preserving his own interests. Peire explained:

So I was pleased when it happened
that I found her with one who deceives her,
who guards himself and his honor
from harm and folly
and keeps her on a tight rein.

{ Per qu’a mi plai quan s’esdevé
Qu’ieu trob qui la galia,
E garda sa honor e se
De dan e de folia tira.l fre. }

Peire learned too late to be such a man to succeed in love as the women around him practiced it. Even some men in medieval Europe lacked sufficient knowledge of medieval Latin literature.

One might question the sincerity of Peire’s commitment to gender equality in love. Men commonly slide into gyno-idolatry. In practice, many men will do whatever women want them to do. Peire, however, told a fable about a world that went insane while one man took a nap. He ended this fable with a moralization:

The best sense mortals here have known
is to love God, fear Him alone
and always keep the Lord’s commands.
In our times such good sense is banned.

A reign of covetousness fell
over this world and us as well,
spreading a huge malicious pride
that preys on humans far and wide,

and if one man’s preserved by God,
it’s clear to all he’s sick or odd;
if he has sense they don’t all share,
they’ll leave him wriggling in the air.

God’s wisdom is called lunacy,
while the Lord’s friend, where’er he be,
knows they’re all mad, the whole damned horde,
who’ve lost the good sense of the Lord,

while they know he just crazy: he
refused this world’s mad sanity.

{ Que-l majer sens c’om pot aver
Si es amar Dieu e temer
E gardar sos comandamens;
Mas ar es perdutz aquel sens.

Li plueia sai es cazeguda:
Cobeitatz, e si es venguda
Un’ erguelhoz’e granz maleza
Que tota la gen a perpreza.

E si Dieus n’a alcun gardat,
L’autre-l tenon per dessenat
E menon lo de tomp en bilh
Car non es del sen que son ilh.

Que-l sens de Dieu lor par folia,
E l’amix de Dieu, on que sia,
Conois que dessenat son tut,
Car lo sen de Dieu an perdut.

E ilh, an lui per dessenat,
Car lo sen del mon a laissat. } [6]

The man who took a nap could equally as well have woken up in a world in which gender equality had come to mean gender bigotry. The truly impious today are those who see the world in a more enlightened way.

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[1] Walter of Châtillon, St-Omer 22, “As I seek a cure for myself {Dum queritur michi remedium},” st. 4-5, Latin text from Traill (2013) p.46, my English translation benefiting from that of id. p. 47. In conjunction with his detailed philological and metrical analysis, Traill describes this poem as a “verbal tour de force,” with a light tone and “racy puns.” Id. pp. lvii-iii. This poem is part of the Niobe cycle, St-Omer 21-3. Preceding it is “In the autumn chill {Autumnali frigore},” and following it is “As the tender breasts of spring / were nourishing the young flowers {Dum flosculum tenera / lactant ueris ubera}.” Id. pp. 42-51 (full Niobe cycle).

For non lauero luteum laterem (4.10), Traill translates literally “I can’t wash a mud-brick clean” and notes “proverbial expression of futility.” My translation alludes to the related, present-day proverb, “you can’t turn a ho into a housewife.” Regarding 5.8-10, Traill notes, “this final description of Niobe’s insatiable pecuniary demands also suggests an act of fellatio.” Id. pp. 46-7.

[2] Petronius, Satyricon 42, Latin text from Heseltine & Rouse (1913), my English translation, benefiting from that of id.

[3] Peire Cardenal, “I hold him indeed for a fool and a timewaster {Ben teinh per fol e per musart},” st. 3-5, Occitan text and English translation (modified slightly) from Press (1971) pp. 282-5. The subsequent four quotes are similarly from “Ben teinh per fol e per musart”: “He who gives more than he keeps…,” st. 4; “Never will my mistress possess me…,” st. 2, 7.1-5; “So I was pleased…,” st. 7.6-10 (end of song); “the clown, the felon, and the trickster,” st. 1.8. Here’s the full text, with a modern French translation. Here’s another Occitan text.

Peire Cardenal was a prolific and eminent thirtheenth-century man trobairitz. About ninety-six of his songs have survived. Press gave a tendentious and misleading summary of this canso:

rejecting the exaggerations of contemporary troubadours and reaffirming the original ideal of mutual devotion and loyalty, it neatly summarizes the poet’s concept of courtly love.

Press (1971) p. 280. Men’s self-abasement to women, not mutuality, characterizes courtly love.

Bernart de Ventadour condemned a trading approach to love, which he called “common love {amors comunaus}”:

This is not love; such
has only its name and its look,
which loves no thing if it doesn’t gain.

If I would speak the truth of it,
I know well from whom comes the delusion:
from those women who love for pay,
and they are commercial whores.

{ Aisso non es amors; aitaus
No.n a mas lo nom e.l parven,
Que re non ama si no pren.

S’eu en volgues dire lo ver,
Eu sai be de cui mou l’enjans:
D’aquelas c’amon per aver,
E son merchadandas venaus. }

“Chantars no pot gaire valer,” Occitan text from Press (1971) p. 66, my English translating, benefiting from that of id. p. 67. For alternate English translations, A.Z. Foreman and Paden & Paden (2007) pp. 74-5. Men surely deserve some blame for not insisting on equality in love with women. Peire Cardenal above condemns unequal trades, not trading per se. In short, he favors “fair trade” love.

[4] See John 10:13, 15:13, 1 John 3:16.

[5] Bernart de Ventadour complained:

But he gains more from love who courts
with pride and deceit
than one who every day supplicates
and goes about most humbly,
for Love scarcely wants one
who is so honest and noble as I am.
This has made nothing from all my doings,
because I was never false or tricky.

{ Mais a d’amor qui domneya
Ab orgolh et ab enjan
Que cel que tot jorn merceya
Ni.s vai trop umilian,
C’a penas vol Amors celui
Qu’es francs e fis si cum eu sui.
So m’a tout tot mon afaire:
C’anc no fui faus ni trichaire. }

“The nightingale makes merry {Lo rossinhols s’esbaudeya},” st. 2, Occitan text from Press (1971) p. 72, my English translation benefiting from that of id. p. 73. Here’s an online Occitan text of the full song. Recognizing reality is a good beginning. One must then decide how to respond to that reality.

[6] Peire Cardenal, “There was a town, I can’t say where {Una ciutatz fo, no sai cals},” st. 14-18 (end of song), Occitan text and English translation (W. D. Snodgrass) from Kehew (2005) pp. 274-7. Here’s the full Occitan text and a modern French translation. Cardenal probably wrote this fable/song about 1260.  The Boston Camerata’s album Provence Mystique includes a modern arrangement of this song. The man trobairitz Guilhem Montanhagol also wrote a song with the “new world after a long sleep” motif, “Non estarai, per ome qe·m casti.” This motif encompasses Washington Irvings’s early-nineteenth-century story of Rip Van Winkle, Jacob of Serugh’s early-sixth century story of seven sleepers from Ephesus, and the third-century historian Diogenes Laertius’s account of Epimenides of Knossos.

[image] Rembrandt self-portrait (excerpt). Painted in 1660. Preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York) as accession # 14.40.618. Bequest of Benjamin Altman, 1913.


Heseltine, Michael and W. H. D. Rouse, trans., revised by E. H. Warmington. 1913. Petronius Arbiter, Seneca. Satyricon. Apocolocyntosis. Loeb Classical Library 15. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Kehew, Robert, ed. 2005. Lark in the Morning: the verses of the troubadours, a bilingual edition. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

Press, Alan R., ed. and trans. 1971. Anthology of Troubadour Lyric Poetry. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Traill, David A., ed. and trans. 2013. Walter of Châtillon, the Shorter Poems: Christmas hymns, love lyrics, and moral-satirical verse. Oxford Medieval Texts.

men’s sense of women’s disloyalty prompts men’s sexed protests

Bible of Alard: Song of Songs

Literature of men’s sexed protest — literature in which men protest gender injustices that they suffer — has been written throughout recorded history. This important literature has commonly been trivialized, disparaged, and marginalized. But ask yourself: why would men protest so bitterly about women’s treatment of them? The truth about gender relations is both clear and nearly unspeakable. Women have held dominating power over men’s welfare, and men-oppressing structures of gender inequality have been prevalent. Women’s loyalty to men works to mitigate both women’s power over men and gender inequality. Hence women’s disloyalty and betrayal of men particularly prompts men’s sexed protests.

Some expressions of angry protest, although permitted in relatively liberal medieval Europe, today would be categorized as hate speech. For example, early in the twelfth century, a woman student in the women’s convent at Regensburg wrote a short letter to her man teacher. In that letter, she dehumanized him:

You should be called a monkey or a sphinx. You look like them
with your deformed face and your unkempt hair!

{ Simia dicaris, vel spinx, quibus assimilaris
Vultu deformi, nullo moderamine come! } [1]

Women in the women’s convent in twelfth-century Regensburg probably encountered few men. Men are characteristically more hairy than women. The woman student’s disparagement of her man teacher apparently was a gender-based attack.

Now-prevalent codes of conduct typically prohibit gender-based dehumanizing speech-attack. For example, Facebook’s community standards define hate speech:

We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability. We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define attack as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation.

Tier 1 of Facebook’s hate speech, the most severe of its three tiers of hate speech, specifically includes dehumanizing speech:

Dehumanizing speech or imagery in the form of comparisons, generalizations, or unqualified behavioral statements to or about:
– Insects
– Animals that are culturally perceived as intellectually or physically inferior

Monkeys today are culturally perceived as intellectually inferior to humans. The woman in the women’s convent in twelfth-century Regensburg thus engaged in “hate speech” under Facebook’s community standards. For a young woman today, being expelled from Facebook for hate speech amounts to harsh social exclusion. It’s like a woman in the twelfth-century Regensburg women’s convent being ordered to remain alone in her physical room.

An early twelfth-century letter from a woman student at Tegernsee more explicitly engages in a gender-based attack on men. The woman student wrote to her man teacher:

You men certainly are sly, or to say it better, deceitful. You habitually ensnare us simple young girls in talk. We almost always, from our simplicity of mind, proceed with you into the field of words. You pierce us with the right reasoning, so you think, of your darts.

{ vos quippe, viri astuti, vel ut melius dicam versuti, nos simplices puellulas capere soletis in sermone, quia plerumque ex mentis simplicitate procedente vobiscum in campo verborum, nos percutitis iaculorum vestrorum, ut putatis, iusta ratione. } [2]

The woman student figures her man teacher as a sexual predator. That’s Tier 1 hate speech according to Facebook’s community standards. The reference to piercing with darts alludes to Cupid’s characteristic action to drive a person into lovesickness. Moreover, piercing with a sharp object evokes deeply entrenched disparagement of men’s genitals and violent imagery of men’s heterosexuality. The woman student categorizes “men” as deceitful. That’s vulgar stereotyping. It’s arguably “hate speech” under Facebook’s community standards.

Not common meanness, but a sense of personal and political injustice drives men’s sexed protest. Consider a twelfth-century lament of Hugh Primas:

On these Ides of May, misery like that of Menelaus
made me weep, not knowing who had taken from me Flora.
The time was the flower season when she, my flower, the finest blossom,
left where we’d been sleeping and caused my sorrow and my weeping.
Perhaps another at a penny’s price has carried you away,
the lowest of the base, not knowing from where we grieve.
Just as a turtledove, away from her man, flies mournfully —
deprived once of her mate, she then neither loves nor cares to be loved —
so I fly around directionless and recline alone at home in misery.
To change by deceit the one familiar to me at my side — that I refuse.
In conduct I am like the turtledove, whom by nature is chaste,
for whom, as soon as cruel death has taken his first wife,
would have no pleasure in trying a second in his bed.
But you, mendacious and cunning, laugh while I weep,
you not sleeping alone, now fickle like Venus’s pigeons.
Passion in their loins makes them change one bed for another.

{ Idibus his Mai miser exemplo Menelai
flebam nec noram quis sustulerat michi Floram.
Tempus erat florum cum flos meus, optimus horum,
liquit Flora thorum, fons fletus, causa dolorum.

Alter fortassis precio te transtulit assis,
vilis et extremus neque noscens, unde dolemus.
Ut solet absque mare turtur gemebunda volare,
que semel orba pari nec amat neque curat amari;
sic vagor et revolo, recubans miser in lare solo,
qui mutare dolo latus assuetum michi nolo,
turturis in morem, cui dat natura pudorem,
quod, simul uxorem tulerit mors seva priorem,
non sit iocundum thalamum temptare secundum.
Set tu mendosa rides me flente dolosa,
sola nec accumbis, levibus par facta colunbis,
quis calor in lumbis mutare facit thalamum bis. } [3]

Men love women deeply and loyally, sometimes even within a sexless marriage. At the same time, men depend upon women for comfort and support within the oppressively anti-men circumstances of gynocentric society. That exacerbates the danger of gyno-idolatry. Women have far greater sexual privilege than men do, as the historical prevalence of men paying women for sex attests. When an woman betrays a man for material benefit, she rubs in his face her female privilege. When she betrays him for a penny’s price, she shows contempt for his loving heart and his need for her.

Men suffering gender injustice and personal betrayal sometimes write with understandable anger strong words of men’s sexed protest. These men’s words deserve to be heard. In twelfth-century France, a man declared:

Whoever you are who believes in the loyalty of a woman,
do you not see that only broken loyalty remains in a woman?
Believe me, if you believe her, that you will be deceived,
for that loyalty she gives to you, she will violate right away.
When she swears to you that she cares for you above all,
notice that what she swears only shortly endures.
She will owe you nothing after what you have becomes hers.
After you leave and believe her loyalty to you,
if then a man approaches her with a gift —
any unknown man — you henceforth will soon be forgotten.
If he’s ugly or one-eyed or dark-skinned,
then he will be preferred to you, if he gives more gifts.
She swears to him by the body of God, by the body of saints,
that apart from him she doesn’t love any men.
Thus beware: don’t allow yourself to be captured by any woman,
for no woman knows indeed to maintain loyalty.

{ Quisquis eris qui credideris fidei mulieris
nonne vides quam curta fides manet in muliere?
Crede mihi, si credis ei, quia decipiere,
nam dabit ipsa fidem tibi quam violabit ibidem.
Cumque tibi iurat quod te super omnia curat,
aspice, quod iurat, quam parvo tempore durat.
Nil tibi debebit, postquam quod habes habebit.
Postquam discedes et eam fidam tibi credes,
attribuens munus si tunc accesserit unus,
quilibet ignotus, tu mox eris inde remotus.
Turpis vel luscus si sit vel corpore fuscus,
hunc tibi praeponet, si magna munera donet.
Iurat ei per membra Dei, per membra piorum,
quemquam praeter eum quod non amat illa virorum.
Ergo cave, ne tu prave capiaris ab ulla.
Namque fidem servare quidem scit femina nulla. } [4]

In this poem, the Latin word for “loyalty” is the same word for “faith.” Jews, Christians, and Muslims in medieval Europe knew the story of Eve and Adam, as it’s now called. Before Eve came to be celebrated as a strong, independent woman, she was criticized (gasp!) for believing words of the satanic serpent and leading her husband astray. This poem connects the sins of Eve (in following the serpent’s advice) and Adam (in following his wife’s advice) to disloyalty in women generally. This poem protests powerfully against the common tendency to believe women and women behaving with contempt for men’s interests.

Women’s disloyalty toward men hurts women. In our gynocentric society, media-directed attention to any issue focuses on how it affects women. Particularly given knowledge of grotesque injustices of family law, women’s disloyalty to men makes enduring relationships between women and men less prevalent. That reduces the birth rate of female babies. Female babies grow up to be women and contribute to making the future female. On the other hand, women’s disloyalty to men also reduces the birth rate of male babies. That counts as an offsetting benefit under today’s dominant ideology. Yet what ultimately matters is women’s feelings now. Women’s disloyalty to men hurts women by causing women to feel lonely, especially in springtime.

A gentle breeze arises from the west and a warming sun comes forth;
now the earth bares her bosom and flows out with her sweetness.
Spring has come forth, dressed in crimson, and donned her finery;
she scatters flowers on earth and leaves on the trees of the forest.
Animals build lairs, and birds, sweet nests;
among flowering trees they sing out their joys.
While I see this with my eyes and hear this with my ears,
alas, instead of those great joys I swell with great sighs.
As I sit alone and, thinking these thoughts, turn pale.
If by chance I lift my head, I neither hear nor see.
You, for the sake of spring, at least listen and ponder
the leaves, flowers, and grass — for my soul is ailing.

{ Leuis exsurgit zephirus et sol procedit tepidus,
iam terra sinus aperit, dulcore suo difluit.
Ver purpuratum exiit, ornatus suos induit,
aspergit terram floribus, ligna siluarum frondibus.
Struunt lustra quadrupedes et dulces nidos uolucres,
inter ligna florentia sua decantant gaudia.
Quod oculis dum uideo et auribus dum audio,
heu pro tantis gaudiis tantis inflor suspiriis.
Cum mihi sola sedeo et hec reuolvens palleo,
si forte capud subleuo, nec audio nec uideo.
Tu saltim, veris gratia, exaudi et considera
frondes, flores et gramina; nam mea languet anima. } [5]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Regensburg Songs 5, Latin text from Dronke (1965) v. 2, p. 424, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Newman (2016) p. 260. The Regensburg Songs, which are probably from the early twelfth century, have surviving in only one manuscript: Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, MS Clm 17142. Newman notes:

These aristocratic convent {women} pupils never forget that, by virtue of their social rank, it is they who hold the real authority {relative to their men teachers}.

Id. Many women students today have a similar attitude toward their men professors.

[2] Tegernsee Love-Letters 10, “To her own she who is his own — to her self, herself {Suo sua sibi se},” Latin text from Dronke (2015) p. 242,  my English translation, benefiting from that of id. p. 243 and Newman (2016) p. 252. For a freely available Latin text close to Dronke’s, see Lachmann & Haupt (1888) p. 224. The translation of the first, unusual line Suo sua sibis se is from Dronke. Newman has “To her own from his own.”

The Tegernsee Love-Letters are from the Bavarian abbey at Tegernsee. Dronke noted:

even if these love letters stem from or were sent to a convent {of young women: conventus iuvencularum} or a foundation of canonesses, this does not necessarily mean that the writers had dedicated themselves to the religious life. On the contrary, the writer of the longest and subtlest of the Tegernsee letters — the first in my group of three — {and also the author of letter 10, the third in Dronke’s group of three} makes explicit that she also moves in the world of curialitas {courtliness}: indeed, she says things in praise of knights that disquiet the clerical friend to whom she writes them. We should envisage her not as a nun, but as a well-born girl who is spending some years at a cultivated women’s foundation which is, so to speak, her finishing-school, from where she will probably return, highly prized for her humanistic education, to a world of curialitas and aristocratic marriage.

Dronke (2015) p. 217.

The letter-writer’s invocation of “us simple young girls” is disingenuous. Dronke observed:

The sheer affective and expressive range in her two letters is unusual; and her uses of literary allusion are perspicacious and penetrating. Cicero and Horace, the Song of Songs and the Book of Job, Ovidius puellarum and Boethius, all enter her argument effortlessly.

Dronke (2015) p. 226. Not innocent of the tactic of rhetorical projection, the letter-writer quoted a German proverb:

what the goat knows of himself,
he blames the she-goat for the same.

{ daz der boch an ihm selber weiss,
desselbig zeihet er die geiss }

Text and translation from Dronke (2015) pp. 242-3, drawing on Lachmann & Haupt (1888) p. 224. Women’s strong, independent sexuality is now widely celebrated. Women’s pretenses of simplicity and sexual continence have historically supported the criminalization of men “seducing” women and anti-men gender bias in administration of criminal law.

Newman ignores the anti-meninism of this letter. She calls it a “little gem of a letter – witty, affectionate, yet fierce.” She interprets the woman student’s disparagement of her man teacher and all men in a way that reflects now-pervasive criminalization of men’s burden of soliciting amorous relations:

she calls him out on his duplicity. This teacher and his ilk, she argues, encourage their students to turn girlish crushes into love by writing over-the-top letters about fidelity and friendship, mastering the hyperbolic mode of their day. Then, once the teacher has bated his trap — or, in the writer’s metaphor, lured a “simple young girl” onto the battlefield of words — he strikes, perverting his victim’s “good and wholesome [words]” in order to proposition her. Undeceived, the writer rebukes her would-be seducer in no uncertain terms.

Newman (2016) p. 253. This analysis is ideologically similar to Sanger’s pioneering, nineteenth-century social-scientific study of prostitution.

[3] Hugh Primas, Poems 6, “On these Ides of May, misery like that of Menelaus {Idibus his Mai miser exemplo Menelai},” ll. 1-4, 19-30 (last line of poem), Latin text from McDonough (2010) pp. 156-9, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Here’s an online Latin text of the full poem.

[4] Ripoll Songs 18, “Whoever you are who believes in the loyalty of a woman {Quisquis eris qui credideris fidei mulieris},” Latin text from Wolff (2001) p. 84, my English translation, benefiting from the French translation of id., p. 85.

Much earlier the African poet Pentadius, writing about 290 GC, expressed a similar sentiment:

Trust your ship to the winds, but don’t trust your heart to a girl;
for a sea-wave is more trustworthy than a woman’s loyalty.
No good woman exists, or, if one turns out to be good,
I don’t know the decree by which a bad thing has been made good.

{ Crede ratem ventis, animum ne crede puellis;
namque est feminea tutior unda fide.
femina nulla bona est, vel, si bona contigit una,
nescio quo fato est res mala facta bona. }

Pentadius, “About woman {De femina}, Latin text from Brittain (1962) p. 68, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Regarding the author of this poem:

It has been ascribed to a variety of authors besides Pentadius — to Marcus Cicero, to his brother, to Petronius, to Ausonius, and to Porphyrius, the panegyrist of Constantine. The epigram has been claimed for Quintus Cicero as a vigorous expression of a thought which might have been in his mind after his divorce (Ad Att. XIV. 13. 3). But it cannot be argued that either the situation or the reflection was by any means peculiar to him.

Duff & Duff (1934) pp. 520-1.

[5] Cambridge Songs 40, “A gentle breeze arises from the west and a warming sun comes forth {Leuis exsurgit zephirus et sol procedit tepidus},” Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Ziolkowski (1994). My modifications draw upon Ziolkowski’s thorough notes, id. pp. 289 (note to 3.1), 290 (note to 6.1).  Here are English translations by Helen Waddell, Peter Dronke, and David Ferry. In 6.2, I follow Dronke’s more literal translation of anima as “soul” rather than Ziolkowski’s translation “heart.” The word sola in 5.1 identifies this poem’s speaker as a woman.

[image] Love. Opening illumination (color enhanced) for the Song of Songs in the Bible of Alard, produced at the Abbey of Saint-Amand in the third quarter of the eleventh century. From Valenciennes, Bibliothèque Municipale, MS. 10, f. 113r. Here’s another image of this illumination. On illuminated books produced at the Abbey of Saint-Amand, Grasso (2019) pp. 31-2.


Brittain, Frederick. 1962. The Penguin Book of Latin Verse: with plain prose translations of each poem. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dronke, Peter. 2015. “Women’s Love Letters from Tegernsee.” Pp. 215-245 in Høgel, Christian, and Elisabetta Bartoli, eds. Medieval Letters: Between Fiction and Document. Turnhout: Brepols Publishers.

Duff, J. Wight and Arnold M. Duff, ed. and trans. 1934. Minor Latin Poets, Volume II: Florus. Hadrian. Nemesianus. Reposianus. Tiberianus. Dicta Catonis. Phoenix. Avianus. Rutilius Namatianus. Others. Loeb Classical Library 434. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Grasso, Maria R. 2019. Illuminating Sanctity: the body, soul and glorification of Saint Amand in the miniature cycle in Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 500. Leiden: Brill

Lachmann, Karl, and Moriz Haupt. 1888. Des Minnesangs Frühling. Leipzig: Hirzel.

McDonough, Christopher J., ed. and trans. 2010. The Arundel lyrics; The poems of Hugh Primas. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 2. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Newman, Barbara. 2016. Making Love in the Twelfth Century: Letters of two lovers in context. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Wolff, Etienne. 2001. Le Chansonnier amoureux: Carmina Rivipullensia. Monaco: Rocher.

Ziolkowski, Jan M., ed. and trans. 1994. The Cambridge Songs (Carmina cantabrigiensia). New York: Garland Pub.

sailing to old Pavia as Archpoet: an eternal truth about humanity

medieval galley sailing to Byzantium

This is no country for young men. The old in one another’s Facebook feeds, the girls — that sterile generation — twittering fake wage-gap claims to macking men in bars; this me-too-too’ing will turn to dust. Caught in such frenzied solitude all neglect monuments of unageing intellect.

The young man is but disparaged thing, an oppressor with a stick, unless minds work their reach and think, and bravely think, through every failing in their reasoning. There is no thinking school, but engaged minds open to their own magnificence. And therefore we shall sail as Archpoet to the sinning city of old Pavia.

Honored Archbishop, to you I do confess,
it’s a goodly death I die, self-murder by excess:
stricken to the heart by female loveliness,
those that I cannot touch, I mentally possess.

It’s a matter most difficult, to overcome our nature,
seeing some maiden fair, keeping our minds pure;
being young how can we obey so harsh a law,
for the body’s lightness no one has a cure.

Who in the fire’s depths feels not the flame?
Who detained in Pavia, lives there without blame,
where Venus, beckoning youths to the game,
seduces with her eyes, her quarry set to tame?

Put down Hippolytus in Pavia today,
there’d be no Hippolytus the succeeding day.
To love, beneath the sheets, leads every single way;
among all those towers, Truth hasn’t place to stay.

{ Praesul discretissime, veniam te precor,
morte bona morior, dulci nece necor,
meum pectus sauciat puellarum decor,
et quas tactu nequeo, saltem corde moechor.

Res est arduissima vincere naturam,
in aspectu virginis mentem esse puram;
iuvenes non possumus legem sequi duram
leviumque corporum non habere curam.

Quis in igne positus igne non uratur?
quis Papiae demorans castus habeatur,
ubi Venus digito iuvenes venatur,
oculis illaqueat, facie praedatur?

Si ponas Hippolytum hodie Papiae,
non erit Hippolytus in sequenti die.
Veneris in thalamos ducunt omnes viae,
non est in tot turribus turris Alethiae. }

Where can Truth abide? Medieval Latin lyrics explain fundamentals of the cosmos.

The gods drew out of the ancient mass the form of physical things, which mindfully unfolded and constructed the connected systems of the world. Nature had already preconceived what she would create.

Nature stirred into action the causal agencies of the world-structure. Thinking at length about our young woman, she adorned her more, provided her more honor, and bestowed her as a privilege and reward for labor.

In this young woman more than in all the rest of creation, Nature’s handiwork sparkles. She bestowed so many gifts of her favor on no other. This woman she exalted beyond the rest.

And Nature, who in her miserly way usually apportions one gift apiece to each young woman, eagerly expended beauty’s gifts on her more abundantly and unstintingly.

{ A globo veteri
cum rerum faciem
traxissent superi
mundi que seriem
prudens explicuit
et texuit
iam preconceperat,
quod fuerat

Que causas machine
mundane suscitans,
de nostra virgine
iam dudum cogitans
Plus hanc excoluit,
plus prebuit
dans privilegium
et pretium

In hac pre ceteris
totius operis
Nature lucet opera.
tot munera
nulli favoris contulit,
sed extulit
hanc ultra cetera.

Et, que puellulis
avara singulis
solet partiri singula:
huic sedula
impendit copiosius
et plenius
forme munuscula. }

That woman beckoning to the young man in old Pavia is more beautiful than any other woman, more beautiful than anything in the natural world. She is an extraordinary creation of Nature.

Graced with utmost loveliness by Nature’s ardor, her brow rivals the lily. It is white as snow and disfigured by no wrinkles. Her artless, darling eyes flash with the brilliance of stars.

She draws to herself lovers’ every glance, as she promises a remedy in the modest playfulness of her laughter. Twin arches separate her eyebrows.

From the boundary of her eye, in a judgment of restrained balance, the projection of her nose extends charmingly and with a certain restraint. It does not rise up unduly nor is it abnormally flat.

She entices with the sweet words and kisses of her gently swelling lips. The fragrance of nectar is infused into her rose-colored mouth. Her row of teeth sit evenly, white as ivory, matching the radiance of snow.

Her breast, chin, neck, and checks rival snow and glow gently, but to prevent them from fading into pallor with excessive whiteness, Nature rather cleverly tempers this brilliance in advance by marrying the rose with the lily, so that out of these two arises a more suitable and graceful combination.

{ Nature studio
longe venustata,
contendit lilio
rugis non crispata
frons nivea.
simplices siderea
luce micant ocelli.

Omnes amantium
trahit in se visus,
spondens remedium
verecunda risus
arcus supercilia
discriminant gemelli.

Ab utriusque luminis
moderati libraminis
naris eminentia
producitur venuste
quadam temperantia:
nec nimis erigitur
nec premitur

Allicit verbis dulcibus
et osculis,
castigate tumentibus
roseo nectareus
odor infusus ori.
pariter eburneus
sedet ordo dentium
par nivium

Certant nivi, micant lene
pectus, mentum, colla, gene;
sed, ne candore nimio
evanescant in pallorem,
precastigat hunc candorem
rosam maritans lilio
prudentior Natura,
ut ex his fiat aptior
et gratior
mixtura. }

This is a description of objective Truth. Every woman, colored and shaped variously, is that woman in the eyes of a man who loves her. So was Flora, a well-known woman of old Pavia.

She herself restored me to life!
It turned out happily, happened beyond the hope
of my miserable mind;
when she totally gave herself over
to the influence of Venus,
Venus in the heavens
burst out laughing
from her rejoicing star.

My longing is no little hindered
when my chest can scarcely contain the joy
that I feel,
when Flora revives me with
talk of Venus,
when I devour the honey as she entices
with the gift of her kiss.

I often recall moving freely
over her soft breast, and so to beings above
adding myself to their number.
I shall rule over all, blissful again
if I caress,
as I desire, her tender breast,
touching it freely.

{ Ipsa vivere mihi reddidit!
Cessit prospere, spe plus accidit
menti misere:
que dum temere totam tradidit
se sub Venere,
Venus ethere risus edidit
leto sidere.

Desiderio nimis officit,
dum vix gaudio pectus sufficit,
quod concipio
dum Venerio Flora reficit
me colloquio,
dum, quem haurio, favus allicit
dato basio.

Sepe refero cursum liberum
sinu teneto: sic me superum
addens numero.
Cunctis impero, felix iterum
si tetigero
quem desidero, sinum tenerum
tactu libero. }

What is past, or passing, or to come is life, continuing in a chain of being coupled. If sick humanity is not to die in global love cooling, we must never place ourselves outside of Nature. We must remain able to conceive as persons did in old Pavia.

replica of a medieval cog

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The above post is in part a parodic response to William Butler Yeats’s famous poem, “Sailing to Byzantium,” first published in 1928.

Medieval Pavia was associated with the pleasures of love. In his late-eleventh-century chroniclde, Landulf Senior (Landulf of Milan) recited a learned saying, “Milan for clerics, Pavia for pleasures, Rome for buildings, Ravenna for churches {Mediolanum in clericis, Papia in deliciis, Roma in aedificiis, Ravenna in ecclesiis}.” From Historia Mediolanensis 3.1, cited in Morgan (2018).

The first quote is from a poem known as the Archpoet’s Confession, “Estuans intrinsecus ira vehementi {Deep inside me I’m ablaze with an angry passion},” st. 6-9, Latin text and English translation (by A.S. Kline, modified slightly) from Hase (nd). This poem has survived as Carmina Burana 191. Here’s A.Z. Foreman’s English translation, with notes.

As Morgan points out, the Archpoet’s Confession builds in part on Ovid’s Amores 2.4:

I haven’t the strength or will to control myself;
I am swept away like a ship driven by fast-moving water.
There is no particular beauty that provokes my love:
I have a hundred reasons to be constantly in love!

Keep silent about me, who is enamored by anyone I touch;
put Hippolytus in my place and he’ll turn into Priapus!

{ nam desunt vires ad me mihi iusque regendum;
auferor ut rapida concita puppis aqua.
non est certa meos quae forma invitet amores—
centum sunt causae, cur ego semper amem.

ut taceam de me, qui causa tangor ab omni,
illic Hippolytum pone, Priapus erit! }

Amores 2.4.7-10, 31-2, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Morgan (2018). Here’s the full Latin text and an English translation of Amores 2.4.

The second and third quotes are from “A globo veteri {An ancient mass},” st. 1a-5a, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from McDonough (2010) pp. 16-23. The poem’s last stanza is 5b, which is available here. That stanza identifies the described marvel of Nature as specifically the young woman Coronis. This poem has survived as Arundel Lyrics 4 and Carmina Burana 67. It’s plausibly attributed to Peter of Blois and dates to about 1170.

“A globo veteri” has a significant textual problem in the fourth line of its first stanza. The problem has been resolved in a greatly under-appreciated, glorious article of humanistic scholarship:

If we read mundi que, we are left with faciem as the improbable antecedent for que. If, on the other hand, we read mundique we place the perfect indicatives explicuit and texuit alongside the pluperfect subjunctive traxissent. Meyer sought a third solution by placing a colon after superi, reading mundi que, and taking Natura to be the postponed antecedent of que. Meyer’s text is open to the objections that the strong pause after superi is unnatural and that the postponement of the antecedent is very awkward in this sentence. Odd, too, is the sequence of tenses — perfect in the relative and then pluperfect in the main clause. Schumann reads mundique and continues his cum-clause to Natura. … The principal objection to Schumann’s text is that it makes the author of this elegant masterpiece guilty of extremely awkward Latin. The shift from the pluperfect subjunctive to the perfect indicative with the cum-clause is a glaring solecism. Moreover, with Natura relegated to the cum-clause, the main verb, preconceperat, is left without an obvious subject. Natura is by no means easily supplied from the cum-clause. The sentence printed by Schumann could come only from the pen of an ignorant and incompetent writer, whereas the learned allusions in the first stanza itself and the elegance and sophistication of the rest of the poem clearly characterize our poet as a man of refined education and unimpeachable Latinity.

Traill (1988) pp. 149-50. McDonough’s Latin text follows Traill’s prefered text, but McDonough’s translation seems to me not to reflect Traill’s insight with respect to the allusion to Bernard’s Cosmographia. I’ve attempted to follow Traill’s learning in the translation above. Traill more generally explains:

In an amusing conceit, he {the author of “A globo veteri”} suggests that Nature was thinking not about man {humanity} in general, but about his puella {young woman} in particular.

Id. p. 151. I broadly follow that insight above. “A globo veteri” is much more sophisticated than a conventional descriptio puellae. It is a poem written by a scholar for a scholarly audience. Id.

The final quote comprise “Ipsa vivere michi reddidit,” Latin text from the Latin Library, my English translation benefiting from that of McDonough (2010) pp. 15, 17. The Latin text of id. has the same words, but different lineation of the stanzas. This poem survives as Arundel Lyrics 3.

[images] (1) Galley carrying the body of John Chrysostom (died 407 GC) from Komana (Cappadocia) to Constantinople,the capital of Byzantium. Detail from an icon from Kimolos Island in the Aegean Sea. Source image thanks to Bogdan and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Hansekogge replica of the fourteenth-century Bremen cog. Source image thanks to VollwertBIT and Wikimedia Commons.


Hase, Patrick, trans. nd. “Carminia Mediaevalia.” Online on liguae.

McDonough, Christopher J., ed. and trans. 2010. The Arundel lyrics; The poems of Hugh Primas. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 2. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Morgan, Llewelyn. 2018. “Hippolytus > Priapus.” Lugubelinus (online), Feb. 14.

Traill, David A. 1988. “Notes on ‘Dum Diane vitrea’ (CB 62) and ‘A globo veteri’ (CB 67).” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 23: 143-151.

sympathetically understanding why some men distrust all women

medieval wheel of fortune

Some men distrust all women. Not all men are like that, but some are. Calling those men nasty names like “misogynist” is childish and hard-hearted. One should try to understand sympathetically why those men became so distrustful of women. With respect to that issue, as for many others, medieval literature provides a vital tool for seeking enlightenment.

Most men find themselves strongly attracted by nature to young, beautiful women. Love for women can put men in danger and cause men suffering. A twelfth-century lyric laments:

Love, common to all,
is sweet in its beginning.
What others might repress
now in me awakens.
I suffer many injuries,
openly and secretly,
so that I might rest sweetly,
welcomed in your little bed.
Oy, oy, oy.

Love, love, love,
wonderful it is.
You are the enemy to all,
so intolerable
that whomever you can strike
with your fiery dart
is subject, for sure,
to grave danger.
Oy, oy, oy.

{ Amor communis omnibus
dulcis inicio,
aliis repugnantibus,
hoc in me sentio,
qui multa mala suffero,
palam et clanculo,
ut quiescam dulce tuo
amice lectulo.
Oy, oy, oy.

Amor, amor, amor,
tu es hostis omnibus
quem tuo vales igneo
ferire spiculo
subiacebit utique
graui periculo.
Oy, oy, oy. } [1]

Another poet-author in the twelfth century described how love can lead free men into slavery:

Like the lily withers
in the autumn chill,
my body is cold on the outside,
yet I feel flames within.
Foolish through diligence,
I protest to the logicians
that I support
two contraries.

I gaze at her eyes,
the likeness of twin stars,
and the little blooms of her lips,
worthy of a god’s kisses.
I seem to transcend
the wealth of ancient kings
and yet I am mixed up once
and again.

May I submit myself by obligation
to the yoke of love.
Let some, rightly,
think it reproachful;
thus is my way of life.
Let me therefore be her slave.
Her looks provide wisdom
for me to act silly.

{ Autumnali frigore
marcescente lilio
foris algens corpore
flammas intus sentio.
Stultus ex industria
logicis obicio,
quod duo contraria

Dum contemplor oculos
instar duum syderum
et labelli flosculos
dignos ore superum,
transcendisse uideor
gazas regum ueterum,
dum semel commisceor
et iterum.

Amoris ex debito
me iugo subiciam,
licet quis, et merito,
reputet infamiam.
Moris est sic uivere.
Licet ergo seruiam,
uisus michi sapere
desipiam. } [2]

Men who believe in courtly love ideology defy logic and empirical science. Reality punishes those foolish men. They become despised slaves of women. Those men also, quite naturally, become bitter and frustrated. Men, don’t let that happen to you. Study marginalized medieval women’s love poetry to learn to seek love propitiously.

Bitter, frustrated men  sometimes express distrust of all women. Lacking enlightenment about loving women, Bernart de Ventadorn in twelfth-century Provence acted foolishly, suffered accordingly, and expressed himself poignantly:

Alas, I thought I’d grown so wise;
in love I had so much to learn:
I can’t control this heart that flies
to her who pays love no return.
Ay! Now she steals, through love’s sweet theft,
my heart, my self, my world entire;
she steals herself and I am left
only this longing and desire.

Losing control, I’ve lost all right
to rule my life; my life’s her prize
since first she showed me true delight
in those bright mirrors, her two eyes.
Ay! Once I’d caught myself inside
her glances, I’ve been drowned in sighs,
dying as fair Narcissus died
in streams that mirror captive skies.

Deep in despair, I’ll place no trust
in women through I did before;
I’ve been their champion so it’s just
that I renounce them evermore;
when none will lift me from my fall
when she has cast me down in shame,
now I distrust them, one and all,
I’ve learned too well they’re all the same.

{ Ai, las! tan cuidava saber
d’amor, e tan petit en sai!
car eu d’amar no·m posc tener
celeis don ja pro non aurai.
tout m’a mo cor, e tout m’a me,
e se mezeis e tot lo mon;
e can se·m tolc, no·m laisset re
mas dezirer e cor volon.

Anc non agui de me poder
ni no fui meus de l’or’ en sai
que·m laisset en sos olhs vezer
en un miralh que mout me plai.
Miralhs, pus me mirei en te,
m’an mort li sospir de preon,
c’aissi·m perdei com perdet se
lo bels Narcisus en la fon.

De las domnas me dezesper;
ja mais en lor no·m fiarai;
c’aissi com las solh chaptener,
enaissi las deschaptenrai.
pois vei c’una pro no m’en te
vas leis que·m destrui e·m cofon,
totas las dopt’ e las mescre,
car be sai c’atretals se son. } [3]

Bernart de Ventadorn’s difficulties apparently started with a serious case of one-itis for a woman who didn’t return his love. Instead of moving on, he led himself into lovesickness. Medieval literature suggests cures for lovesickness, but Bernart seems to have preferred to die. That’s folly. Men should value their lives highly, even as gynocentric society doesn’t.

Bernart implies that women around him didn’t reach out to him and offer him mercy. We must teach women to be more merciful to men, especially to disadvantaged and suffering men. Women must listen to these men, believe what they say, and seek to help them by any means necessary. For far too long men have been subject to structural sexual injustice. All women are complicit in that structural injustice. Too many men fear that their death is imminent. Men’s safety must be of primary importance to society. All must work for reconciliation and peace. To have a peaceful world, we must seek justice for men.

Despite yes, all women being complicit in injustices against men, men have been admirably reluctant to hate women. With keen appreciation for personal, emotional relationships between women and men, a medieval man analyzed the situation rationally:

Why love, if I’m not loved?
More fitting it is for love
to be turned into hate.
But away with that, that lovers
find their cure in hate,
that a relationship begun by joy
might end in divorce,
by the contrary of joy
being obtained.

To turn to hate
the firm law of love:
no, that’s not an advisable end.
If I end
love with hate,
if I support
vice with vice,
if by study
of sanity I go insane,
and not be healed,
I play the clown.

{ Cur amo, si non amor?
Satius est, ut amor
in odium vertatur.
Sed absit, quod amantium
remedium sit odium,
quod initum per gaudium
consorcium divorcium
per gaudii contrarium

In odium converti
nec ius amoris certi
nec finis est probandus.
Amorem enim odio
si finio, si vitio
per vitium subvenio,
desipio, si studio
sanitatis insanio
non sanandus. } [4]

Men’s rationality has been enormously beneficial to humanity, including greatly lowering maternal fatalities in childbirth. Toxic femininity, in contrast, turns love into hate. The social construction of femininity must be reconstructed to embrace men’s rationality about love. Instead of women-dominated elementary schools pathologizing boys, elementary schools should seek to develop loving masculine rationality in both girls and boys.

To regain the trust of men who now distrust all women, women should study medieval literature and learn from what men have written. Men’s voices haven’t been heard as distinctively gendered voices. Listening to men and understanding them are first steps to regaining men’s trust. Further steps include reducing the huge gender protrusion among persons incarcerated, repealing laws that deny men reproductive rights and encourage abortion coercion, eliminating gross anti-men sex discrimination in child custody and child support rulings, resolutely affirming that a man’s life has equal value to a woman’s life, and decriminalizing truly loving relationships. Until such social progress occurs, the fact that most men don’t distrust all women should be regarded as a wonderful testament to men’s love for women.

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[1] “Amor communis omnibus,” st. 1-2, Latin text from Stock (1971b) p. 34, my English translation benefiting from that of id. p. 35. This poem has survived only in the manucript Paris, BnF Ms. Lat. 11.130. The poem probably was written about 1125. Stock (1971a) pp. 351-2.

[2] Walter of Châtillon, “Autumnali frigore” (St. Omer 21), st. 1, 4-5 (of five stanzas), Latin text from Traill (2013) pp. 42-44, my English translation benefiting from those of id. and Stock (1971b) pp. 39-41.

[3] Bernart de Ventadorn, “Can vei la lauzeta mover {Now when I see the skylark lift},” st. 2-4, Occitan text and English translation (W.D. Snodgrass) from Kehew (2005) pp. 74-5. Here’s the full Occitan text of the song (another source). Arnaut Catalan and King Alfonso X of Castille parodied this song in their tenso “Senher abatyons conven quer {My lord, I come now to ask}.” See note [1] in my post on Arnaut Daniel’s protest.

In this poem, Bernart de Ventadorn further protested:

She acts as any woman would —
no wonder I’m dissatisfied.
She’ll never do the things she should;
she only wants all that’s denied.

{ D’aisso’s fa be femna parer
ma domna, per qu’e·lh o retrai,
car no vol so c’om deu voler,
e so c’om li deveda, fai. }

“Can vei la lauzeta mover,” st. 5.1-4, sourced as above, with insubstantial changes to Snodgrass’s translation. Medieval women’s love poetry teaches men how to deal with such difficulties.

Bernart’s poem today probably would be censored from major social media because it would be labeled misogynistic. It thus deserves special attention from those seeking not the approved views of the ruling despots, but enlightenment.

[4] Peter of Blois, “Invehar in Venerem,” Latin text from Stock (1971b) pp. 44, 46, my English translation benefiting from that of id. This song has survived with a musical score. On the music that accompanies Peter of Blois’s poetry, Thornton (2007). Steven Sametz’s choral symphony Carmina amoris (Songs of Love) includes an interpretation of his poem. Here’s the piece online.

[image] Wheel of Fortune, depicted as a woman. Illumination from fol. 1r of MS Bavarian State Library, Munich, Codex Buranus (Carmina Burana) Clm 4660. Thanks to the Bavarian State Library and Wikimedia Commons.


Stock, Brian. 1971a. “Amor communis omnibus: Paris, B.N., Lat. 11, 130.” Mediaeval Studies. 33: 351-353.

Stock, Brian, trans. 1971b. Medieval Latin Lyrics: Translated and introduced by Brian Stock, original woodcuts by Fritz Kredel. Boston: David Godine, Publisher.

Thornton, Lyndsey. 2007. Musical characteristics of the songs attributed to Peter of Blois (c. 1135-1211). Thesis, Master of Music. Florida State University.

Traill, David A., ed. and trans. 2013. Walter of Châtillon, the Shorter Poems: Christmas hymns, love lyrics, and moral-satirical verse. Oxford Medieval Texts.

not men’s property: medieval women chose whether & to whom to marry

woman's fancy hat

Many persons, including scholars in anthropology and other academics fields, believe that women have been regarded as men’s property except recently in enlightened places. According to this mythic history, women passed between fathers and husbands as transactions in men’s interests. Women were merely men’s “chattels.”[1] Medieval women themselves ridiculed a much less extreme version of that view. The medieval Christian church doctrinally required a woman’s free consent for a valid marriage. Moreover, the thirteenth-century Old French epic Aymeri of Narbonne makes abundantly clear that women’s consent to marriage was vitally important.

Aymeri was a noble, highly respected knight. At the request of Emperor Charlemagne, Aymeri led taking the city of Narbonne from a strong Muslim force. Aymeri then became King of Narbonne. He ably defended Narbonne and surrounding areas from attacks and acquired wide renown. When his father Count Hernaut and his mother died, Aymeri, an only child, inherited their titles and all their wealth.

According to this thirteenth-century French epic, once Aymeri had acquired wealth and noble titles, “Now it was appropriate for him to have a wife {Or li covenist fame}.”[2] Men can lead worthwhile lives without marrying a woman. Moreover, men need only themselves, not wealth and prestige, to be a worthy husband. But all those around Aymeri, “the small and the great persons {li petit et li grant},” adhered to gender norms that oppress men. They all urged Aymeri to marry.

Aymeri sought for a wife a woman who was beautiful, wise, noble, and not close kin to him. One of his lords proposed Princess Hermenjart. She lived in Pavia, a place known in the Middle Ages for women generous in love to men. Princess Hermenjart reportedly had heard much pleasing to her about Aymeri. Aymeri in turn was pleased with what he heard of Hermenjart:

Golden is one so known, by God who doesn’t lie,
that if I don’t have her, I’ll create such a battle
that a thousand iron-clad men will die
for the love of this young woman!

{ Or en sai tant, par Deu qui ne menti,
Se ge ne l’ai, tel plet m’avez basti,
Dont il morront .m. home fervesti,
Por l’amor la pucele! }

While governments today dedicate billions to addressing violence against women, the entrenched gender injustice is quite the opposite: violence has always been overwhelmingly gender-structured as violence against men. Aymeri sent a force of sixty heavily armed knights, lords of his realm, to Pavia to convey his proposal of marriage to Hermenjart. With the confidence that makes a man attractive to a woman, he assumed that she desired to marry him. The anticipated obstacle was her brother King Boniface of Pavia and other nobles. If they didn’t allow Hermenjart to fulfill her desire to marry Aymeri, many men would engage in brutal battle and die.[3]

Aymeri’s envoy to Pavia frightened King Boniface. Moreover, the liberality of Aymeri’s lords to the people of Pavia made King Boniface look poor and miserly in comparison. To enhance his standing relative to Aymeri’s envoy, Boniface pretended that they had intended to take Hermenjart against her will. He then spoke wisely and patronizingly to them:

My lords, know one thing that is true:
very foolish and dreamy-headed is the man
who takes a wife against her will,
for that man won’t have a wife who loves him
or honors him or serves him well.
But so that in this none find blame in me,
I’ll go to the young woman, if you want.
If she accepts what you have said here,
then I’ll give her to you, freely and with love.

{ Mes une chose sachiez qu’est veritez,
Molt est li hom fox et musarz provez,
Qui fame prant outre ses volentez.
Ja se li hom n’est de sa fame amez,
N’en sera bien serviz ne annorez.
Mes ja, de ce ne quier estre blasmez,
la pucele irai, se vos volez.
Se ele ostroie ice que dit avez,
Donrai la vos, volentiers et de grez. }

Aymeri’s lords course agreed, for they had sought Hermenjart only according to her will. Just as in highly developed democracies today, all understand that the deciding factor is what women want.

While Hermenjart was from Pavia, renowned for generously loving women, she was ungenerous with her love. Many men with great wealth and high titles had courted her. She had spurned them all. Refusing to appreciate that men typically acquire great wealth and high status only when they are relatively old, Hermenjart disparaged her eminent suitors, particularly for being old men:

Spoleto’s ruler, with a large group of lords,
Othon the King, with a similar domain;
and Savaris, the white-haired,
the German lord, who must be a big fool —
because I’d like better to be buried alive
than to waste my love as such an old man’s wife.
And the Duke Ace, an official in Venice
for more than a year sought much and pleaded.
Similarly André, ruler of Hungary, sought me;
He’s a rich man, this I don’t deny —
ten cities are within his domain —
but he shall not have me as companion
because he is old and has a white beard,
his head is red and his flesh isn’t fruitful.
By that faith I owe Saint Mary,
I wouldn’t take him, though I should lose my life.
I’d like better to be burned upon a fire
than lie in bed with his withered belly!
So help me God who has all under his rule,
I’ll never have an old man.

{ Cil d’Apolice a molt grant baronnie,
Ce est rois Otes qui a tant a seignorie,
Et Savaris a la barbe florie,
Li Alemenz qui cuidoit grant folie,
Car mieuz vosisse estre vive enfoie,
Que tex viellarz eust ma druerie.
Et li dus Aces c’a Venice en baillie,
Plus a d’un an me requiert molt et prie.
Si me requiert rois Andreus de Hongrie;
Riches hom est, ce ne desdi ge mie;
.X. citez a dedanz sa seignorie,
Mes il n’avra ja a moi conpangnie,
Car il est vieuz, s’a la barbe florie,
Et si est rox et la char a bles mie.
Par cele foi que doi sainte Marie,
Ne le prendroie por a perdre la vie
Mieuz vodroie estre enz en .j. feu broie,
Que ja jeusse lez sa pance flestrie.
Si m’eist Dex qui tot a en baillie,
Je n’avrai ja viel home. }

The eleventh-century Latin epic Ruodlieb recognized that sexual symmetry in spouses’ ages isn’t necessary for a happy marriage. Hermenjart, in contrast, while valuing men for their wealth and status, was also hatefully ageist.[4] Like many highly privileged women, she wanted it all.

Aymeri was an extraordinary man: wealthy and with high titles, but also young. When Aymeri met Hermenjart, he assured her that she could continue to live her life of privilege far above even that of elite men:

I am Aymeri
who would be your lord and husband.
As soon as you have arrived in my hall,
more than two thousand prized knights
will serve your wish in any way at all.

{ ge sui Aymeris
Qui vostre sire doit estre et voz mariz.
S’or vos avoie menée en mon pais,
Plus de .ij. mile de chevaliers de pris
a Vos serviroient tot a vostre devis. }

Aymeri knew that Hermenjart loved him and desired to be his wife. Yet, like a well-instructed college boyfriend wanting to kiss his girlfriend, he sought her formal, verbal consent before engaging in any expression of affection:

“Beautiful lady,” he said, “what are you thinking?
What do you make of me, concealing from me nothing?
From far I’ve come seeking you, you know well;
If this request to you is such that you don’t want me,
then reveal your wish to me right here,
and beyond this you need say no more words,
because you know well, if you refuse me,
would one give me all the gold of ten cities,
I wouldn’t take you, if you don’t want to be my wife.

{ “Béle,” dist il, “quiex est vostre pansez?
Que vos resenble de moi, nel me celez?
De long vos vieng querre, bien le savez;
Por ce vos pri que, se ne me volez,
Que vo talant ici me descovrez,
Ainçois c’avant en soit plus moz sonez,
Car bien sachiez, se vos me refussez,
Qui me donroit tot l’or de .x. citez,
Ne vos prendroie, s’il ne vos ert a grez.” }

Hermenjart affirmed to Aymeri “I love you more than any man who has ever lived {plus vos aim que home qui soit nez}.” They then married and lived happily ever after, with Aymeri suffering terrible wounds in battles and many men being killed.

Over the past millennium in western Europe, women probably have had more choice in marriage than men have. Locality, social relations, and economic realities limited the pool of potential mates to a small number for both men and women. But men have historically faced the gender burden of bringing disproportionate economic resources to a heterosexual relation. Men unable to provide money, both in the past and in the present, have been regarded as “unmarriable.” That women have been men’s property is less historically accurate than that men have been women’s servants.

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[1] Margo Wilson and Martin Daly have long pushed that absurd claim with astonishing success. See, e.g. Wilson & Daly (1992). For some analysis, see my post on primatology and vegetarianism, particularly note [4].

[2] Bertrand de Bar-sur-Aube, Aymeri of Narbonne l. 1333, Old French text from Daimson (1887) v. 2, my English translation benefiting from that of Newth (2005). Newth’s translated this line as “A wife alone was lacking.” That translation subtly reverses the sense of the text to fit the gender myth of women as men’s property. In that misleading translation, Aymeri, who now has much land and material goods, lacks only a wife, analogous to another material good. What the text actually states is “Now it was appropriate for him to have a wife {Or li covenist fame}.” Material goods and social status function as prerequisites for men to marry. Women are not similarly constrained in their choice to marry.

Subsequent quotes are similarly from Aymeri of Narbonne (cited by line numbers in the Old French text): 1334, “the small and the great persons”; 1383-6, “Golden is one so known…”; 2392-40, “My lords, know one thing…”; 2462-81, “Spoleto’s ruler…”; 3287(2nd half)-91, “I am Aymeri…”; 3311-19, “Beautiful lady…”; 3323 (part), “I love you….” For translating from Old French, the online Anglo-Norman dictionary is helpful.

[3] Underscoring that men’s lives counted little relative to a woman’s life, the narrator commented about Aymeri’s envoy to Boniface:

If Boniface were not in his best senses,
and out of pride, or ill-advised, objected
to do their will in any way required,
his town at once would be so fiercely threatened
that fifty men, then fifty more would perish
for this fair maiden’s love.

{ Se Boniface n’a or le cuer sené,
Que par conseil ou par sa grant fierté
Ne veille fere riens de lor volenté,
Tost li movront tel plet en sa cité,
Dont .с. Lonbart seront a mort livré,
Por l’amor la pucele. }

Aymeri of Narbonne, ll. 1603 -08, Old French text from Daimson (1887) v. 2, English translation from Newth (2005).

[4] Even old men can be sexually vigorous. Consider Phileros’s eulogy for Chrysanthus:

how many years do you think he carried? Seventy and more. He was a horny old bird, carried his age well, hair as black as a crow. I had known him for ever and ever, and he was all the while lecherous. No, my god Hercules, I don’t think in his house he left even the dog unmolested. Yes, he was even a boy-chaser, a man of all the practical arts. I don’t blame him; his penis was all that he took with him in death.

{ quot putas illum annos secum tulisse? Septuaginta et supra. Sed corneolus fuit, aetatem bene ferebat, niger tanquam corvus. Noveram hominem olim oliorum et adhuc salax erat. Non mehercules illum puto in domo canem reliquisse. Immo etiam pullarius erat, omnis Minervae homo. Nec improbo, hoc solum enim secum tulit. }

Satyricon 43, Latin text from Heseltine & Rouse (1913), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Walsh (1996).

Newth applauds Hermenjart’s vicious ageism and her character more generally:

Her spirited speeches in criticism of her previous suitors’ unsuitability, her brother Boniface’s meanness and her Lombard countrymen’s cowardice, are the verbal highlights of the work, adding a human and often humorous depth to the heroic surface of the the tale … Hermenjart is possessed of an exotic beauty, an equal courage and moral strength to that of her French hero {Aymeri}, and a greater charisma and enterprise to muster men, in small or large supply, to her and her support.

Newth (2005) p. xxi-ii. Newth sees in Hermenjart qualities typically associated with a Saracen (Muslim) princess in French epic. Elite Muslim women under the caliphs were highly privileged and could dominate the caliph himself.

[image] Woman’s sailor hat from Grand Rapids, Michigan (USA) about 1890. Preserved as accession #M.83.231.69 in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Demaison, Louis, ed. 1887. Aymeri de Narbonne: chanson de geste; texte, glossaire, et tables. Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Publications de la Société des Anciens Textes Français. Paris: F. Didot et cie.

Heseltine, Michael and W. H. D. Rouse, trans., revised by E. H. Warmington. 1913. Petronius Arbiter, Seneca. Satyricon. Apocolocyntosis. Loeb Classical Library 15. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Newth, Michael A, trans. 2005. Aymeri of Narbonne: a French epic romance. New York: Italica Press.

Walsh, Patrick G, trans. 1996. Petronius Arbiter. The Satyricon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wilson, Margo and Martin Daly. 1992. “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Chattel.” Ch. 7, pp. 289-322, in J.H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, J. Tooby, eds. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. Oxford University Press. New York.

respect men’s real fears: dangers of gyno-idolatry

Byzantine Greek fire, a naval weapon

In twelfth-century France, a young man was hunting with his dogs in April. While men are commonly regarded as dogs, men themselves typically distinguish between persons and dogs. Most men have no interest in becoming romantically involved with a female dog, a bitch. Yet a young man hunting with his dogs in April might be stirred with love:

In April time, when the wood is decked green
and the field with rosy flowers is dressed,
tender youth is inflamed with love.

Inflamed with love is tender youth,
all the little birds sing out together
and the wild blackbird calls sweetly.

{ Aprilis tempore, quo nemus frondibus
et pratum roseis ornatur floribus,
iuuentus tenera feruet amoribus.

Feruet amoribus iuuentus tenera,
pie cum concinit omnis auicula,
et cantat dulciter siluestris merula. } [1]

Sunsets and feeling lonely tend to prompt men to yearn for love. This young man had never before loved a woman. His heart felt pain:

Coming back from the hunt at that time of year,
with the sun going down to set in the west,
I started to call for my wandering dogs.

Looking around I could not find them,
which gave me no small sadness
so I did not stop seeking them.

{ Venatu rediens eodem tempore,
sol cum descenderat uergente cardine,
errantes catulos cepi requirere.

Quos circumspeciens nusquam reperio,
unde non modicum sed satis doleo;
non cessans igitur perditos querito. }

A young, beautiful, warmly receptive woman is far more attractive to most men than is a dog, or even a group of dogs that he might have together.

The mischievous man-child Cupid and his award-winning mother Venus assailed the young man. Cupid, leaning on his bow and looking as sexy as Apollo, said:

To stop worrying is my advice to you now.
It is not right to hunt at times like this;
rather we must play at love.

Perhaps you do not know of Cupid’s games?
It would be a great shame if such a fine youth
didn’t frequently play in the court of Venus.

If you should once play in her game of love,
for nothing else would you ever give it up,
but forever faithfully serve her in your soul.

{ Dimittas moneo laborem itaque;
non est conueniens hoc tali tempore
venari; potius debemus ludere.

Ignoras forsitan ludos Cupidinis,
sed ualde dedecet, si talis iuuenis
non ludit sepius in aula Veneris.

Si semel luseris in eius curia,
non eam deseres ulla penuria,
illi sed seruies mente continua. } [2]

The young man thought of love. He was shaken, scared, and taken:

Hearing his words, I was shaken to the core;
as if in great fear I fell to the ground,
and so a new flame burst out inside me.

{ Ad cuius monitus totus contremui,
uelut exterritus ad terram cecidi;
sic nouis ignibus statim incalui. }

The young man hunting with his dogs in April was hunted and snared in thought. In springtime, nature is beautiful, fecund, undeniably real, and influential.[3]

De ramis cadunt folia: manuscript

Men have good reason to fear the fire of their love. Men understand that spring is only a season, and that winter will come:

The leaves fall from the branches,
for all that is green has died,
warmth now has left all
and departed,
for the last of the Zodiac signs
the sun has reached.

{ De ramis cadunt folia,
nam viror totus periit;
iam calor liquit omnia
et abiit
nam signa caeli ultima
sol petiit. } [4]

Margery Kempe’s husband understood what that stanza means. Yet for generation after generation, despite gynocentric oppression, men have been on fire in love for women:

Now all that is, freezes,
but I alone am hot;
or rather it’s my heart
that burns.
This fire is a girl
for whom I languish.

My fire is nourished by the kiss
and soft touch of the girl.
In her eyes shines
the light of lights.
None across the whole age
is more divine.

Greek fire is extinguished
with wine turned bitter,
but this fire is never extinguished
for the saddest lover.
Rather, it’s sustained by fuel
most fruitful.

{ Modo frigescit quicquid est,
sed solus ego caleo;
immo sic mihi cordi est
quod ardeo;
hic ignis tamen virgo est,
qua langueo.

Nutritur ignis osculo
et leni tactu virginis
in suo lucet oculo
lux luminis,
nec est in toto saeculo
plus numinis.

Ignis graecus extinguitur
cum vino iam acerrimo,
sed iste non extinguitur
immo fomento alitur
uberrimo. }

Men’s fundamental sin is gyno-idolatry. Lucretius, the great dispeller of delusions, described the problem clearly in ancient Rome. Christians in medieval Europe understood Lucretius. Consider the man-narrator’s claim: “In her eyes shines / the light of lights. None across the whole age / is more divine.” In Christian understanding, Jesus is the King of Kings and the light of the world.[5] Regarding a human woman, one not even the mother of Jesus, as more divine than Jesus is blasphemy.

The final stanza makes an obscure comparison to Greek fire. Greek fire literally means an incendiary weapon that the Byzantine navy used. In this poetic context, Greek fire alludes to sexual passion, particularly sexual passion associated with eating and drinking at Greco-Roman symposia. At his last supper with his disciplines, Jesus poured wine and told his disciples to take that, his blood, and drink of it. Thirsting in the passion of his crucifixion for humanity’s sins, Jesus was given only sour wine to drink.[6] With understanding of the passion of Christ, Christian disciples were expected to leave behind the sexual passions of Greco-Roman symposia. But not all Christians substantially did so. The saddest lover is the Christian so enthralled in gyno-idolatry that his delusions continually fuel the fire of his love.

The medieval Christian poet was willing to describe gyno-idolatry explicitly. Gyno-idolatry was understood as a fundamental danger for men:

As in kindling
fire burns ardently
when it is introduced,
so my mind
for you, goddess,
is inflamed and burns up.

Say, who is so hard,
who is so pure,
devoid of all sin,
and capable of such being,
that none of your gifts
could seduce him?

Long live Cato,
to whom God gave
such rigidity,
but by your flower
he would be held, burning
in love.

{ Ut in lignis
ardet ignis,
siccis cum subducitur,
sic mens mea
pro te, dea,
fervet et comburitur.

Dic, quis durus,
quis tam purus,
carens omni crimine,
esse potest,
quem non dotes
tuae possint flectere?

Vivat Cato,
Dei dato,
qui sic fuit rigidus:
in amore
tuo flore
captus erit fervidus. } [7]

In the relatively liberal and tolerant circumstances of medieval Europe, a beautiful, young woman’s gifts could be described without fear of censorship, virtual stone-throwing, or attack by an angry, ignorant mob. Thus the poet-narrator declared:

Venus would have wished
your locks
to be her own,
if she had seen them,
and she would have mourned
because they excelled her own.

Your face and throat
are without wrinkles,
and your angelic visage
indicates to humans
that you are heavenly,
not earthly.

Your teeth
shine, seated
within your beautiful lips,
which if ever
I might touch,
give honeyed kisses.

And your
beautifully small,
not swelling,
gleam white,
whiter than snow.

What about the hands,
a belly so flat,
and a graceful figure —
you are so formed,
so adorned —
could one be better fashioned?

Your legs radiate sleekly —
but why say more?
The goddesses
of heaven
and earth
you surpass
in beauty and lineage.

{ Fore suum
crinem tuum
Venus ipsa cuperet,
si videret;
et doloret
suum quod exuperet.

Frons et gula
sine ruga
et visus angelicus
te caelestem,
non terrestrem,
denotant hominibus.

Tibi dentes
sunt candentes,
pulcre sedent labia,
que si quando
ore tango
mellea dant suavia.

Et tuarum
forma satis parvula
non tumescit,
sed albescit,
nive magis candida.

Quid quod manus,
venter planus
et statura gracilis
te sic formant
et cohornant
quod nimis es habilis?

Nitent crura.
Sed quid plura?
deas pulchritudine
et caelestes
et terrestres
superas et genere. }

So the man makes his beloved woman into a goddess, or rather, he imagines her to be better than a goddess. With respect to a beautiful woman, gyno-idolatry among men is completely understandable:

And therefore,
blessed girl,
no one should be surprised
if my mind
for you, goddess,
has been wounded by Venus.

{ Et idcirco,
pia virgo,
nulli sit mirabile,
si mens mea
pro te, dea,
lesa sit a Venere. }

If men are to lose their chains and become liberated, they must recognize their primary weakness. Men must reject gyno-idolatry and embrace women as equal human beings.

Meninism is the simple idea that men are equal to women as human beings. If you’re not a meninist, you’re a bigot. Unfortunately, most men aren’t meninists. Much work remains to be done to achieve social justice for men.

*  *  *  *  *

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[1] Carmina Rivipullensia 1, titled “Quomodo primum amavit {How he has loved for the first time},” first line “Aprilis tempore, quo nemus frondibus {In April time, when the wood is decked green},” st. 1-2, Latin text and English translation from Preater (2015). This poem is probably from the twelfth century and survives only in MS Ripoll 74. On that manuscript, see note [1] in my post on the medieval joy of sex.

The subsequent three quotes above are similarly sourced (with a few minor changes in translation) from “Aprilis tempore, quo nemus frondibus”: st. 4-5 (Coming back from the hunt…), 8-10 (To stop worrying…), 11 (Hearing his words…). For the translation of line 8.3, Dronke (1979) p. 21. The poem has 11 stanzas in total. For a Latin text and French translation, Wolff (2001) pp. 20-3.

[2] Thiébaux perceives Cupid’s “insinuating, gently bullying mockery” of the young man; the poem displays “light malice in treating this relation between the lover and the god.” That is the style of Ovid’s Ars Amatoria. Thiébaux (1974) p. 101. Id., pp. 101-2, provides a slightly inaccurate translation of the poem.

In st. 8, the original reading in the third line was Veneri {of Venus} rather than venari:

The manuscript originally read “Veneri”, but it is corrected to “venari” in the same hand as the original.

Raby (1957) v. 2, p. 238. See also Dronke (1979) pp. 20-1.

[3] Another medieval Latin poem tells of a man unsuccessfully hunting with his dogs. When he blew his horn to recall his dogs, a king’s daughter was stirred with love:

At this sound a noble maiden
trembled all over, about to enter her father’s land.
That young man, discerning, hastened towards her.
He saw and spoke with her, felt his lips kissing hers.
Then he and the king’s daughter, considering the matter,
traversed the utmost boundary of love.

{ Ad cuius sonitum erilis filia
Tota contremuit itura patria,
Quam cernens iuvenis adiit properans:
Vidit et loquitur, sensit os osculans:
Et sibi consulens et regis filie
Extremum Veneris concessit linee. }

“Surgens Manerius summo diluculo {Arising in the early dawn, Manerius},” ll. 13-8 (the last three couplets of the poem), Latin text from Raby (1933), my English translation, benefiting from that of Thiébaux (1974). The poem, commonly called Manerius, dates from before 1168. It survives in cod. Vat. Christ. No. 344, fol. 38, where it’s entitled “De quodam iuvene {About a certain young man}.” Raby (1933) p. 205. A man raising his horn and blowing vigorously displays his potency. If a man cannot be chaste, he should at least be careful.

[4] “De ramis cadunt folia” st. 1, Latin text from Dronke (1965) v. 1, p. 288, my English translation, benefiting from those of id. and Hase (nd). The subsequent quote above is similarly sourced. It covers st. 4-6, the last three stanzas of the poem.

This twelfth-century poem is relatively well-known for a Latin lyric. Raby (1959) n. 234, p. 353, and Brittain (1962) provide Latin texts, with the latter including an English translation. A Latin reading blog provides a Latin text with learning notes and Helen Waddell’s English translation. This poem survives, with musical notation, only in the conductus-manuscripts of Saint-Martial, BnF (Paris) lat. 3719 fol. 42r-v. Dronke (1965) v. 1, p. 288. Here’s a modern sung adaptation from the album Les Chants Funestes by O Quam Tristis.

[5] Calling Jesus the King of Kings {βασιλεὺς τῶν βασιλευόντων}: 1 Timothy 6:15, Revelation 17:14, 91:16; Jesus as light of the world {φώς τοῦ κόσμου}: John 8:12, 9:5.

[6] Jesus giving wine to his disciples: Matthew 26:27-9, Mark 14:23-5, Luke 22:17-8; soldiers giving sour wine to Jesus on the cross: Matthew 27:34, Mark 15:36, Luke 23:36, John 19:29. The Latin reading blog notes:

Greek fire was a weapon used by the Byzantines against ships. It is of unknown composition. The statement by the poet that this fire can be extinguished by vinegar (vinum acrum) is of course nonsense.

That note seems to me to miss the poetic point.

[7] Carmina Rivipullensia 3, titled “In praise of his girlfriend {Laudes amicae},” first line “Sidus clarum {Bright star},” st. 4-6, Latin text from Wolff (2001) (but retaining medieval Latin spellings), my English translation benefiting from Wolff’s French translation and the English translation of Hase (nd). The subsequent two quotes are similarly sourced from st. 7-12 (Venus would have wished…) and 13 (And therefore…). This song has a total of 14 stanzas. On the question form of verse 11, Dronke (1979) p. 22. Dronke interprets that stanza as implying the woman’s inexpressible beauty.

[images] (1) Byzantine Greek fire being used against the enemy ship of Thomas the Slav. From the Codex Skylitzes Matritensis, Bibliteca Nacional de Madrid, Vitr. 26-2, Bild-Nr. 77, folio 34v. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons. (2) Manuscript text, including musical notation, from the beginning of “De ramis cadunt folia.” Folio 42r in Miscellanea of manuscripts from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Preserved as Bibliothèque nationale de France. Département des manuscrits. Latin 3719.


Brittain, Frederick. 1962. The Penguin Book of Latin Verse; with plain prose translations of each poem. Baltimore: Penguin Books.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1979. “The Interpretation of the Ripoll Love-Songs.” Romance Philology. 33 (1): 14-42.

Hase, Patrick, trans. nd. “Carminia Mediaevalia.” Online on liguae.

Preater, Jason. 2015. “Cancionero de Ripoll- In April Time.” Online (June 27, 2015) at Writing Finger.

Raby, Frederic J. E. 1933. “Surgens Manerius Summo Diluculo… .” Speculum. 8 (2): 204-208.

Raby, Frederic J. E. 1957. A History of Secular Latin poetry in the Middle Ages. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Raby, Frederic J. E. 1959. The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse. Oxford: Clarendon.

Thiébaux, Marcelle. 1974. The Stag of Love; the chase in medieval literature. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Wolff, Etienne. 2001. Le Chansonnier amoureux: Carmina Rivipullensia. Monaco: Rocher.

“I had a dream”: medieval imagining of gender justice

medieval dream lovers

Men today seared in the flames of vicious gender injustice can scarcely imagine a comforting night of compassion and love. As if human rights weren’t men’s rights, men are persecuted for the gaze of their eyes and the spread of their legs. Men are convicted of serious crimes without even the possibility of speaking and being believed. Men carry the crushing gender burden of soliciting amorous relations and then paying for the check, as if the bank of justice is bankrupt and men’s lives don’t matter.

Burning inwardly with violent wrath,
in bitterness let me speak to my soul.

{ Estuans intrinsecus ira vehementi
in amaritudine loquar mee menti. } [1]

A young man in twelfth-century France had a dream one night. He sees in front of his eyes a beautiful woman. That day he had called out to a beautiful woman, but she ignored him. The young woman in the Song of Songs had a similar experience when she called to a young man whom she loved.[2] So who is this young woman who appears to the young man in his dream?

Her shapeliness at first fills me with doubt:
is this the young woman to whom I called by day?

{ Cuius forma mihi primum satis est dubitata,
an foret haec virgo fuerat quae luce vocata. } [3]

Women and men deserve better than being ignored by those they love. That amorous injustice predominately hurts men, as the dominant structure of prostitution historically attests. Men deserve medieval Latin poetic justice:

But after recognizing this woman to be lovelier than the other,
I forget the other and caress this one’s breasts.
She moves into my embrace, chest close to chest,
and that beautiful girl gives me kisses in a million ways.
I feel joy that almost no other woman would give me.

{ Postquam cognovi quod erat speciosior illa,
illa neglecta, fuit illico tacta papilla.
Venit in amplexus, pectus iacuit prope pectus;
oscula mille modis dum dat mihi pulchra puella,
gaudia persensi quae vix mihi nunc daret ulla. }

As the learned know, most men are romantically simple. So was this young man:

Her kisses join with mine, yet my hope vainly pushed up,
for when I seek to hug her tender neck,
she flees to I know not where, not even uttering a single word.

{ Oscula iungebat, sed me spes vana ferebat.
Namque sui tenerum volo dum circumdare collum,
nescio quo fugit, nec verbum protulit unum. }

Aeneas had a similar experience when he sought to hold on to his wife and his father.[4] Yet despite crushing gynocentric oppression, this man held onto the dream of gender justice. He retained hope in Aeneas’s mother Venus:

So I grieve much, but I judge I would grieve even more
if, what I held in my dream, I wouldn’t watchfully retain.

{ Unde nimis doleo, puto sed magis inde dolebo,
ni, quod per somnium tenui, vigilans retinebo. }

He held onto the dream that men one day would have poetic justice in love.

Another young man in twelfth-century France had a dream. He recounted:

In April time, I was sleeping alone
in a green meadow already quite flowery,
when a most beautiful girl, with a shining face,
a descendant coming from royal blood,
appeared in front of me. With her ornate robe
she fashioned for me with great effort a breeze.
While enlivening me that way, she sometimes with sweet
kisses joined her honey-dripping mouth to mine,
and she would have joined flank-to-flank with me,
but at first she feared that I would respond harshly.

{ Aprilis tempore, dum solus dormio
In prato viridi, iam satis florido,
Virgo pulcherrima, vultu sidereo,
Et proles sanguine progressa regio,
Ante me visa est, que suo pallio
Auram mihi facit cum magno studio.
Auram dum ventilat, interdum dulcia
Ore mellifluo iungebat basia,
Et latus lateri iunxisset pariter,
Sed primum timuit ne ferrem graviter. } [5]

In the relatively tolerant Middle Ages, kisses were not considered to be equivalent to full-on, flank-to-flank sexual assault. Not a vicious rapist, this young woman sought to please the man she loved. She explained that she had come to him with a life-and-death problem:

At the call of Venus
I come to you, beloved young man;
Cupid’s torch has inflamed my heart.
I love you with my soul and whole body.
If you don’t love me as I love you,
trust me that I will die from excessive grief.
And so I beg you, the glory of young men,
that you not disregard me, but give me solace.

{ Monitu Veneris
ad te devenio, dilecte iuvenis;
face Cupidinis succensa pectore,
Mente te diligo cum toto corpore.
Ni me dilxeris sicut te diligo,
credas quod moriar dolore nimio.
Quare te deprecor, o decus iuvenum,
ut non me negligas, sed des solacium. }

In traditional Greco-Roman religion, no one could resist the love-spurring strike of Cupid, acting under gynocentrism according to the will of his mother Venus. In what’s known as the Great Commandment, the sacred law of the Jews declares: “love your neighbor as yourself { בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ }.” Jesus of Nazareth urged his Christian disciples to follow the Jewish Great Commandment. He added, “love one another as I have loved you {diligatis invicem sicut dilexi vos}.”[6] Neither of these commandments are quite equivalent to the Cupid-stricken young woman’s request: “love me as I love you {me dilxeris sicut te diligo}.” She shrewdly further supported her request with the threat of her death. Men have long striven to save women from death. Few men in the ancient world would be so harsh and unmerciful as to reject this woman’s Greco-Roman Jewish-Christian supplication.

Nonetheless, the beautiful young woman gave additional strong reasons for the young man to love her. She declared:

Nor can you rightly now disregard me,
since I am coming from royal blood.
Gold and ornate robes, purple vestments,
grey Celtic garments, and various animal-skins —
more I will give to you, if you will be welcoming
and, as I love you, so you will love me.
If you seek a beautiful and illustrious figure,
here I am; take me, since I love you.
Because no more beautiful woman exists for you in our age,
I desire that you have the most beautiful lover.

{ Nec iuste poteris nunc me negligere,
quippe sum regio progressa sanguine.
Aurum et pallia, vestes purpureas,
rhenones griseos et pelles varias,
plures tibi dabo, si gratus fueris
et, ut te diligo, sic me dilexeris.
Si pulchram faciem quaeris et splendidam,
hic sum; me teneas, quia te deligam.
Cum nullus pulchrior te sit in saeculo,
ut pulchram habeas amicam cupio. }

Men tend to strive for high social status in order to be attractive to women. This woman offered to raise the man’s social status through her own high status. Moreover, husbands historically have disproportionately carried the gender burden of working outside the home to provide goods to their wives. This woman offered to provide luxurious material goods to the man she loved.[7] Most importantly, men tend to value highly a woman with an attractive physical figure and beautiful appearance. This young woman was the most beautiful woman of her time. Oppressed with men’s burden of soliciting amorous relationships, what man wouldn’t be delighted with this woman’s urgent request for love?

Men are generally generous and eager to please women. Not surprisingly, the sleeping young man promptly responded to the young woman’s plea:

Immediately aroused by these words of the young woman,
I seize her with a firm embrace.
I kiss her cheeks, caress her breasts,
after which I fill fully her sweet secret.
Thus I can deduce I would be exceptionally
happy, indeed so and more than exceptionally,
if I could hold that girl when I were awake,
whom I held in the field until I was awake.

{ His verbis virginis commotus illico,
ipsam amplexibus duris circumligo.
Genas deosculans papillas palpito,
post illud dulcius secretum compleo.
Inferre igitur possum quod nimium
felix ipse forem et plus quam nimium,
illam si virginem tenerem vigilans
quam prato tenui, dum fui vigilans. } [8]

He had a dream one day. He had a dream that men would no longer be shackled with repeated rejections in love. He had a dream that men would no longer be regarded as generic humans — “man” — but welcomed and treated with dignity as distinctively gendered persons. He had a dream that academia and all societies throughout the world would rise up and live out the true meaning of gender equality. While many men wallow in the valley of despair, committing suicide much more frequently than women, he had a dream in a green flowering field in April. He had a dream of gender justice and togetherness.

dream love

We must not be unmindful of the suffering that the men-abasing ideology of courtly love has generated throughout history. While a man had a dream of gender justice and togetherness in twelfth-century France, another man about that time and place sang of his despair, exile, and impending death:

All mercy’s gone, all pity lost —
though at the best I still knew none —
since she who should yield mercy most
shows me the least of anyone.
Wrongful it seems, now, in my view,
to see a creature’s love betrayed
who’d seek no other good but you,
then let him die without your aid.

Since she, my Lady, shows no care
to earn my thanks, nor pay Love’s rights
since she’ll not hear my constant prayer
and my love yields her no delights,
I say no more; I silent go;
she gives me death; let death reply.
My Lady won’t embrace me so
I leave, exiled to pain close by.

{ Merces es perduda, per ver,
Et eu non o saubi anc mai,
Car cilh qui plus en degr’ aver,
No.n a ges; et on la querrai?
A! can mal sembla, qui la ve,
Qued aquest chaitiu deziron
Que ja ses leis non aura be,
Laisse morrir, que no l.aon

Pus ab midons no.m pot valer
Precs ni merces ni.l dreihz qu’eu ai,
Ni a leis no ven a plazer
Qu’eu l’am, ja mais no.lh o dirai.
Aissi.m part de leis e.m recre;
Mort m’a, e per mort li respon ,
E vau m’en, pus ilh no.m rete,
Chaitius, en issilh, no sai on. } [9]

Women must do more to aid men. Men’s deaths should not be a matter of indifference. Men care for women and labor to protect them from death, even in dreams. Beginning from within their imagination, women should do the same for men.

Now is the time to make real the promises of gender equality. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of men-hating me-too-ism to the sunlit path of gender justice. Now is the time to lift our world from the quicksands of gender bigotry to the solid rock of sexual intimacy. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.[10]

A medieval man had a dream. His dream is still a dream today, a horribly unknown dream, a dream that deserves to be fulfilled one day.

On that day, blue-collar men operating garbage trucks in Florida will know their children, and their children their fathers, and men will be disproportionately incarcerated no more.

On that day, career women in New York City will live to ripe old ages with their satisfied lovers, not their cats and dogs.

On that day, a man speaking out for justice at the University of Cambridge won’t be smeared with a milkshake, and activists in Portland will fight for men thrown in debtor’s prison because they lack reproductive rights.

On that day, women and men academics at the University of Texas won’t discount men’s labor within the home, and a woman academic at Southwestern Illinois College will be embarrassed to have helped develop a sexism scale that is deeply sexist.

On that day, a woman executive leading a mega-corp in California will marry a handsome, young, penniless and uneducated immigrant from Mexico, and she will respect him for the work he does for their family within their home.

Love between women and men will not flourish until justice rolls down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream. The vision still has its time, it presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Twelfth-century poem (c. 1165) known as the Archpoet’s Confession, ll. 1-2, Latin text from Latin wikisource, my English translation. A.S. Kline has a full translation, reproduced on linguae. This poem is included in the Carmina Burana as no. 191. Writing the poem with classical Latin spelling changes Estuans to Aestuans and mee to meae.

[2] Song of Songs 5:6, which is part of the dream sequence 5:2-7.

[3] Carmina Rivipullensia 8, titled “Aliud somnium {Another dream},” first line “Illud si verum fieret quod somnia monstrant {If it turns out to be true what dreams show},” ll. 5-6, Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from the French translation of id. This poem is probably from the twelfth century and survives only in MS Ripoll 74. On that manuscript, see note [1] in my post on the medieval joy of sex.

The subsequent three quotes above are similarly from this poem, ll. 7-11 (But after recognizing…), 12-4 (Her kisses join with mine…), 15-6 (So I grieve much…). The poem has 16 lines.

[4] Aeneid 2.793-4 and 6.701-2. A woman had a similar experience in a dream:

I held out my arms and pressed my body to his.
Utterly drained of blood I froze,
for he had vanished! I was holding nothing!
Freed from sleep, I cried out loudly:
“Where are you fleeing, please. Why so swiftly?
Halt your step, or if you will, I too shall enter,
for I want to live with you for ever!”

{ Extensis brachiis corpus applicui,
exsanguis penitus tota derigui
Evanuit enim! nichil retinui!
Sopore libera exclamo fortiter:
“Quo fugis, amabo? Cur tam celeriter?
Siste gradum, si vis inibo partier,
nam tecum viver volo perhenniter!” }

“Foebus abierat subtractis cursibus {Phoebus had fled, his voyage done},” Latin text and English translation (modified to follow the Latin more closely) from Dronke (1965) v. 2, pp. 334-6. This poem apparently was written in northern Italy about 1000 GC. Here’s a less literal, poetic translation of the whole poem. Poetic imagination is wonderfully unbounded. Yet in relation to dominant social structures, a woman coming in love to a man in his dream is far more transgressive.

[5] Carmina Rivipullensia 7, titled “De somnio {About a dream},” first line “Si vera somnia forent, quae somnio {If the dreams I dream would be true},” ll. 3-12, Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from the French translation of id. Here’s a partial Spanish translation. The subsequent three quotes are similarly from this poem: ll. 13(2nd half)-20 (At the call of Venus…), 21-30 (Nor can you rightly now…), 31-8 (Immediately aroused…). Line 38 is the last line of the poem.

[6] For the Great Commandment of Jewish law, Leviticus 19:18. The Hebrew text differs subtly from subsequent Greek and English translations. For Jesus teaching the Great Commandment to his disciples, Matthew 19:19, 22:39; James 2:8. For Jesus extending that commandment to imitating his love, John 15:12. The Gospels and Christian epistles were originally written in Greek. I have quoted John in Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, the Biblical text most widely read in medieval Europe.

[7] Dronke, a leading expositor of men-abasing courtly love, read the young women’s righteous offer to the young men as alluding to Satan tempting Jesus (Matthew 4:9, Luke 4:6-7). Dronke (1965) v. 2, p. 339. That seems to me a hellish misreading of a Christian gesture of turning the world upside-down for justice.

Dronke interprets “De somnio” as “a humorous piece of wishful thinking” with “delightful elements of burlesque.” Id. pp. 339, 341. That description, which might equally serve as a classical interpretation of the Gospels, expresses an aspect of “De somnio.” Yet Christian literary work and Christian beliefs incorporate such characteristics into a more profound understanding of the world. The tenth-century Latin epic Walthurius brilliantly displays that understanding.

[8] An earlier reading corrects the last line to “quam prato tenui dum fui somnians.” See. e.g. Raby (1959) p. 339 (no. 227). But the original text makes good poetic sense and should be preserved. Dronke (1979) pp. 23-4.

[9] Bernart de Ventadorn, “Can vei la lauzeta mover {Now when I see the skylark lift},” st. 6-7, Occitan text and English translation (W.D. Snodgrass) from Kehew (2005) p. 77. An alternate manuscript spelling is “Qan vei la lauzeta mover.” Here’s the full Occitan text of the song (another source). The song survives with a melody; here’s a performance of it. Bernart is regarded as “one of the greatest love poets among the troubadours.” Paden & Paden (2007) p. 74. He was active in the middle of the twelfth century.

Above I’ve made some insubstantial changes to Snodgrass’s translation. In addition, I changed line 7.8 from “I leave, exiled to pain for aye” to “I leave, exiled to pain close by.” That change preserves the meter and rhyme. It seems to me more understandable (the woman he loves curtly dismisses him from her presence) and more poignant. In Snodgrass’s text and translation, the subsequent stanza then gives the lover’s further action: “I leave to wander, none knows where.” A more literal translation of the Occitan text for 7.7-8 is “If she abandons me, I will go away / a wretch in exile, I know not where.” Paden & Paden (2007) p. 79 (from stanza 5 in that text).

[10] The text above draws upon Martin Luther King’s famous speech for social justice, “I have a dream.” He delivered that speech, which drew upon a wide range of sources, on August 28, 1963. The parallels between dominant institutions’ views of racial justice in 1963 and dominant institutions’ views of gender justice today provides a critical perspective on urgently needed change.

[images] (1) Medieval woman and man hugging each other in bed. The depicted man (minnesinger) is Herr Hug von Werbenwag. He lived in thirteenth-century Germanic lands. Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 252r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Medieval man dreaming while woman hugs him. The depicted man (minnesinger) here apparently is Herr Konrad von Altstetteng. He is known to have sung between 1320 and 1327 about the Upper Rhine Valley. Similarly from UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 249v.


Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1979. “The Interpretation of the Ripoll Love-Songs.” Romance Philology. 33 (1): 14-42.

Kehew, Robert, ed. 2005. Lark in the Morning: the Verses of the Troubadours: a bilingual edition. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

Paden, William D., and Frances Freeman Paden, trans. 2007. Troubadour Poems from the South of France. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Raby, F. J. E. 1959. The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Wolff, Etienne. 2001. Le Chansonnier amoureux: Carmina Rivipullensia. Monaco: Rocher.