against war on women: Byzantine wife saves husband from castration

satan castrating men

Tedald led Italian forces besieging Byzantine castles near Benevento in southern Italy early in the tenth century. When his forces captured some Byzantine soldiers, he castrated them and sent them back to the Byzantine side. Then he taunted the Byzantine military leader:

Since I have discovered that nothing is more precious to your holy emperor than eunuchs, I respectfully endeavor to send him just these few for now, but I will send him some more as soon as possible, with God favoring the enterprise.

{ Quoniam quidem vestro sancto imperatori spadonibus nil pretiosius esse cognovi, hos studui pauculos sibi verecunde trasmittere, plures quantocius Deo propitio transmissurus. } [1]

Eunuchs occupied high positions in the Byzantine imperial court. But castrated Byzantine soldiers serving in Italy weren’t likely to become elite courtiers in Constantinople.

The Byzantine force subsequently made a sortie against Tedald’s Italian force. The Italians captured many of the Byzantine soldiers. Tedald began castrating the captives and sending them back to the castle. But then a wife courageously intervened on behalf of her husband:

a certain woman, inflamed by love for her husband and not a little worried about his member, left the castle enraged, with loosened hair. Then she lacerated her face with bloody fingernails and cried with a loud voice before Tedald’s tent.

{ mulier quaedam, mariti amore succensa, eius pro membris non parum sollicita, passis crinibus de castello exiit furibunda. Quae cum cruentis unguibus ora discerperet atque ante Tedbaldi tentorium clamosis vocibus fleret } [2]

Women in ancient Greece mourned deaths by exposing their hair in disarray, lacerating their faces, and wailing loudly. This wife loved her husband and, like Maximianus’s beautiful and wise Greek girl, deeply appreciated his genitals. She was mourning her husband’s impeding castration.

She was also guilefully plotting to save her husband. Responding to her wailing, Tedald, as incredulous as a sexless husband today, asked the wife to explain herself. She declared:

It is a new and unheard-of crime, O hero, that you wage war on unarmed women. No bloodline of ours leads back to the Amazons; in fact, we are given over solely to the activities of Minerva {weaving, making handcrafts, and engaging in small-scale commerce}, and we are wholly ignorant of weapons.

{ Novum hoc inauditumque facinus est, heroes, ut bellum non repugnantibus mulieribus inferatis. Nostrarum nulla ex Amazonarum sanguine prosapiam ducit; Minervae quippe solum operibus deditae armorum poenitus sumus ignarae. }

The Amazons were ancient men-haters who waged war on men, to their own loss. The wife who loved her husband obviously wasn’t an Amazon; she was a woman who worked to provide material goods for her husband and herself. Tedald understood and affirmed men’s historical gentleness toward women. He also implicitly recognized that women determine who is a hero. He responded:

What hero with sound mind ever waged war on women, except in the time of the Amazons?

{ Quis umquam sani capitis heros praeter Amazonarum temporibus bellum mulieribus intulit? }

The loving wife explained to the ignorant Tedald:

What more cruel war on women could you wage, I ask, and how could you make it more uncomfortable for them, than to try to amputate the testicles of their men, in which lies the replenishment of our bodies, and, what is most important of all, in which lies our hope for future children? For you remove not what is theirs but what is ours when you turn them into eunuchs. … I shudder before, I flee, and I want to avoid by any means this particular great loss, as cruel as irreparable. Holy gods, all of you, avert such a plague from me!”

{ Quod, cedo, credulius mulieribus bellum inferre, quidve incommodius his potestis auferre, quam ut earum viris certetis orchidia amputare, in quibus nostri refocilatio corporis et, quod omnium potissimum est, nasciturae spes extat prolis? Dum enim eos eunuchizatis non quod illorum, sed quod nostrum est tollitis. … iacturam hanc tantum, tam crudelem tamque inrecuperabilem modis omnibus horreo, fugio, nolo. Sancti dei omnes talem a me avertite pestem! } [3]

This Byzantine Christian woman pretended to be so ignorant as not to know that God is one. All the men in and around Tadald’s tent laughed at her. But her loving appreciation for men gained their favor.[4] They not only returned her husband to her, with his genitals fully intact, but also returned to her animals that they had seized from her.

No pushover and no fool, the wife both dominated within the home and understood the social weight of institutionalized violence against men. Tedald sent a messenger to ask her to tell him what to do if her husband again came out to fight against the Italian men. The wife responded shrewdly and ironically:

Those eyes … are his, as are his nostrils, hands and feet. If he needs it, let Tedald remove what belongs to my husband, but let him leave alone what is mine, I mean, what belongs to his humble servant.

{ Oculi … sunt illi, nares, manus et pedes. Si hoc egerit, sibi quae sua sunt auferat; quae mea, suae scilicet ancillulae, derelinquat. }

The wife isn’t Tedald’s humble servant. She formally might be regarded as her husband’s humble servant, but she owns his genitals. If you own a man’s genitals, you own him. Castration culture, gynocentrism, and women’s actual dominance over men has changed little throughout history. What makes this wife special is her decisively intervening to save her husband from castration. Few wives today even understand the force of castration culture bearing down on their husbands.

The Byzantine wife’s bold action to save her husband is even more admirable in the context of the long, sordid history of ridiculing and disparaging men’s genitals. In tenth-century Italy, a prisoner appeared before the King:

when he was led before him {the King} without leggings, wearing only a short tunic, and he quickly fell prostrate at the king’s feet, all nearly died from laughter at the revelation of his genitals.

{ Enimvero dum ante eum sine femoralibus, curta indutus endromade ductus regis ad pedes pronus concite caderet, in genitalium ostensione membrorum risu omnes emoririer. } [5]

Men’s genitals aren’t ridiculous. Men’s genitals wonderfully contribute to the perpetuation of humanity.

Along with ridicule of men’s genitals comes contempt for men’s sexual welfare. To test the police in Constantinople, the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI (reigned 886 to 912) went out on the streets alone at night. When the police detained him and asked where he was going, he said that he was just one of the many men going to a brothel. The emperor Constantine the Great had built a large brothel in Constantinople to serve sexually deprived men, in accordance with the wisdom of Solon. Yet contempt for men’s sexual welfare subsequently re-emerged. The guards beat and held in custody the man who pathetically wanted to visit a brothel. When the detained man declared that he was actually Emperor Leo VI, a prison guard scornfully declared:

Am I to believe that the emperor is a dirty man who squanders his wealth on prostitutes?

{ Egon — inquit — hominem inpurum, bona sua cum meretricibus abligurrientem, imperatorem credam? } [6]

Many rulers have spent great wealth to gain the sexual favor of particular women. Men exchanging money for sexual access to women aren’t dirty. They might be more fairly characterized as being sexually impoverished, lacking in verbal and social sophistication, and pathetic.

The long-entrenched gender structure of war favors women. For example, consider the actions of Egyptian invaders attacking the Italian city of Genoa in the tenth century:

while the {Genoese} citizens were unaware, they entered the city, killing all except children and women

{ civibusque ignorantibus civitatem ingrediuntur, cunctos pueris exeptis et mulieribus trucidantes } [7]

Contrary to present-day dogma, violence against men has been and remains the dominant gender pattern of violence. So it was when Hungarians attacked the Saxon city of Merseburg in the tenth century:

they {the Hungarians} had taken captive no small number of children and women, and had made an immense massacre of men

{ eos non modicam parvulorum ac mulierum habere praedam, virorum vero inmensam fecisse stragem }

The heroic Byzantine wife accepted the gender structure of war as violence against men. She accepted in war mutilation of her husband’s body other than castration. A wife cannot individually overturn the gender oppression of war as it historically has been structured. But wives and mothers should strive to protect their husbands and sons from it as best as they can.

Mass-market commercials today use violence against men’s genitals for laughter. Castration culture has long been exploited for laughter. Under gynocentrism, scholars in recent decades have argued at length about whether the tenth-century story of a wife saving her husband from castration expresses misogyny.[8] One might perhaps charitably interpret that scholarship as a joke. There is a more excellent way: recognizing and promoting love for men.

Men will not save themselves. The Byzantine woman opposed war on women and saved her man from castration. Women of the world, do likewise!

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Notes:

[1] Liudprand of Cremona, Antapodosis {Retribution} 4.9, Latin text from Chiesa (1998), English translation from Squatriti (2007). All subsequent quotes from Antapodosis are similarly sourced. In some cases I’ve made minor changes to Squatriti’s English translation to track the Latin more closely. For earlier, freely available Latin text and English translation, Dümmler (1877) and Wright (1930). Both are of reasonably good quality.

Liudprand wrote Antapodosis about 960. It circulated widely. This work is now known in whole or in part in 19 manuscripts. The earliest, Munchen, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, Clm 6388 (Freising manuscript), dates from the second half of the tenth century. This manuscript belonged to Abraham, the late-tenth-century bishop of Freising. It apparently contains Liudprand’s own handwriting.

The Latin text names the Italian leader Tedbald. Squatriti identifies him as Tedald, who died in 936 and was appointed military leader (margrave) by King Hugh of Arles in 929. Squatriti (2007) p. 145, n. 18. I follow Squatriti in referring to the Italian military leader as Tedald rather than Tedbald.

Liudprand, also spelled Liutprand, was a scholar, a court official, and bishop of Cremona. He lived from about 920 to 972. Liudprand was born into an elite Lombard family and became part of the household of Italian King Hugh of Arles at a young age. Berenger II, an Italian potentate, sent Liudprand in 949 on a diplomatic mission to the Byzantine Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus in Constantinople. Liudprand subsequently served the German King Otto I.

On his mission to Constantinople, Liudprand presented Emperor Constantine with many expensive gifts. These gifts included:

four carzimasia slaves, to this emperor the most precious of all these things. For the Greeks {Byzantines} call a child-eunuch, with testicles and penis cut off, a carzimasium. The merchants of Verdun do this on account of the immense profit they can make, and they are accustomed to bring them to Spain.

{ mancipia IIIIor carzimasia; imperatori nominatis omnibus preciosiora. Carzimasium autem Greci vocant amputatis virilibus et virga puerum eunuchum; quod Verdunenses mercatores ob inmensum lucrum facere et in Hispaniam ducere solent. }

Antapodosis 6.6. Castration culture has had a terrible effect on boys and men throughout history.

Liudprand himself disparaged eunuchs. He stated that the Byzantine emperor put a eunuch at the head of the Byzantine army. Liudprand referred to that eunuch as:

a sort of man — I called him “sort of” since he ceased to be male and did not become a woman

{ hominem quandam — sed quandam eo dixi, quia mas esse desiit, mulier fieri nequit }

Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana {Embassy} 29, Latin text from Chiesa (1998), English trans. (adapted slightly) from Squatriti. See also Relatio 63, which refers to a eunuch-bishop as a capon (castrated rooster) and a caupon (innkeeper). Neither situation was in accordance with canon law.

[2] Antapodosis 4.10. The narrative arc implies that the sortie was subsequent to Tedald’s first, mocking reference to castrating men and creating desired eunuchs. The subsequent four quotes concerning the wife saving her husband from castration are from id. On women’s mourning rituals in ancient Greece, Dillon (2003) Ch. 9.

[3] The wife’s perspective on her husband’s castration differs significantly from the narrator’s in a way directly relevant to the historical practice of castration. The narrative voice describes the wife as worried about her husband’s membrum (penis). Yet when the wife herself spoke, she described the importance of her husband’s testicles in the context of women having children. Castration most commonly involved only the excision of testicles. Men so castrated retained the ability to have penis-in-vagina sex with women, but couldn’t contribute to a pregnancy. Liudprand artfully left uncertain the specific type of castration that Tedald was performing.

Scholars analyzing the story of the wife saving her husband from castration have ignored the difference between the narrative voice and the wife’s voice and different forms of castration. Balzaretti described the wife’s desire for her husband’s penis:

At the start of the story this woman’s love (amor) for her husband is set alongside her need for his penis but her love is not taken up later on, when only desire is important. We are left in no doubt that her relationship to her husband is primarily a sexual one, in which what we may care to see as her Freudian desire for his penis, although couched in terms of procreation rather than pleasure, is presented as something she needs and, indeed, has rights over.

Balzaretti (2002) p. 120. Grabowski similarly didn’t consider carefully male genital components, their specific values to women, and different forms of castration. He, like Balzaretti, merely assumed that the wife’s concern focused on her husband’s penis, not his testicles:

In the woman’s reasoning, the penis, a source of pleasure and giver of hope for a child, was property of the wives. … The woman’s explanation that the man’s penis is actually in the possession of his wife does not show her fixation on that part of human body. … it can be clearly said that Tedbald’s men laugh not at the sex-oriented woman who thinks only about a penis … The enumeration of parts and members he {Tedald} can cut off from his {her husband’s} body is meant to show how sex-oriented and penis-focused the woman was. … Both women seek pleasure and see penis as a way to achieve it … The soldier’s wife wants to save the penis to have children, secure herself in the society, and protect her husband from mutilation.

Grabowski (2015) pp. 248, 250, 256, 257, 260. Id., p. 258, In Chronicon Salernitanum 147 (alt. Latin text), Idta saves her husband Guaimar I of Salerno from castration about the year 897. Specifically, when a group of men ambushed Guaimar, one “would have amputated his testicles {amputaret testiculis}” if Idta hadn’t then pleaded to save Guaimar’s testicles. Nonetheless, Grabowski declared, “Idta wanted to save Guaimar’s penis.” Id. p. 260. The fundamental problem is socially pervasive lack of appreciation for men’s specific sexed being, including sexed injustices against men.

[4] The Byzantine wife’s physical and verbal performance for Tedald is highly sophisticated. Grabowski recognized its sophistication in a variety of dimensions, but not the Byzantine’s wife pretense of pagan polytheism to go with her references to Athena and Minerva. Grabowski (2015) pp. 256-7. Grabowski thus gave the gathered group of men too much understanding in their laughter:

The gathered people see it that way and laugh. They laugh at the well devised speech, as everyone must at least praise such a creation of a smart woman, but also at their lord who becomes a victim of his own words.

Id. Reifying contemporary academic gender ideology, Balzaretti speculated that the dominance of the wife over the husband perhaps was “the funniest aspect for contemporary readers.” Balzaretti (2002) p. 119. Women’s dominance probably wasn’t funny for learned, tenth-century readers who studied classical literature, knew the life of Aesop, understood without self-deception the position of General Belisarius, and read romances like Ruodlieb.

[5] Antapodosis 2.63. Men’s genitals clearly have a figurative problem in poetry.

[6] Antapodosis 1.11. Men typically prefer to have sex with a woman who isn’t a prostitute. Among other reasons, prostitutes are more likely to exploit men.

[7] Antapodosis 4.5. The subsequent quote is from id. 2.28. Men as a gender are not essentially preferable for fighting and dying. Women as soldiers potentially have significant combat advantages.

[8] Scholars have treated Liudprand as “prime example of medieval misogyny.” Grabowski (2015) p. 243. Balzaretti explained: “at the root of misogyny is not simple hatred of women but rather a refusal to portray women as they really are.” Balzaretti (2002) p. 125. Under today’s gynocentrism, the way women “really are” is socially constructed as essentially sugar and spice, and everything nice. Not surprisingly, “It is obvious that from today’s perspective Liudprand has to be considered a misogynist.” Grabowski (2015) p. 244.

Buc (1995) pointed out the Liudprand, in the evaluative framework of his time, contrasted admirable German women with whorish Italian women. In the evaluative framework of our time, Buc “tried to argue away Liutprand’s obvious misogyny.” Balzaretti (2002) p. 124.

Working under today’s dominant gynocentric ideology, La Rocca evaluated whether Liudprand should be posthumously charged with misogyny. She went through Liudprand’s Antapodosis chapter by chapter and classified each chapter as presenting a positive, neutral, or negative image of females. La Rocca (2007) p. 295. According to this line of analysis, even a fictional account of men-hating in academia must include a sufficiently large number of positive portrayals of women, or it’s subject to being arraigned on a capital charge of misogyny.

In gynocentric society, castrating men is considered with respect to misogyny. Does the story of the Byzantine wife saving her husband from castration indicate misogyny? Balzaretti warned against accepting objections against the charge of misogyny:

It might be objected that the woman gets what she wants as her husband is not castrated and is released. While true, this does not mean that Liutprand had an enlightened view of women but rather that he did not have a fully worked out, consistent view of gender in which all parts added up to a coherent whole.

Balzaretti (2002) p. 120. Enlightened persons now have a fully worked out, consistent view of gender: women are wonderful, and men are evil. In presenting men being castrated, Liudprand engaged in “abstract humour well suited to all patriarchal societies.” Id. p. 128. Abstract analysis ignoring injustices against men is well suited to all gynocentric societies.

[image] Satan devours children (foreground); Attis and other Galli castrate themselves to serve Cybele (background). Illumination from manuscript of Augustine’s De civitate Dei {City of God}, trans. from Latin into French by Raoul de Presles. Made in Paris about 1475.  Excerpt from fol. 344v of MS. MMW 10 A 11, in Koninklijke Bibliotheek, The Hague.

References:

Balzaretti, Ross. 2002. “Liutprand of Cremona’s Sense of Humour.” Ch. 5 (pp. 114-28) in Guy Halsall, ed., Humour, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Buc, Philippe. 1995. “Italian Hussies and German Matrons. Liutprand of Cremona on Dynastic Legitimacy.” Frühmittelalterliche Studien. 29: 207-225.

Chiesa, Paolo, ed. 1998. Liudprand of Cremona. Antapodosis; Homelia pachalis; Historia Ottonis; Relatio de Legatione Constantinopolitana. Corpus Christianorum, Continuatio Mediaevalis, 156. Turnholt: Brepols.

Dillon, Matthew. 2003. Girls and women in classical Greek religion. London: Routledge.

Dümmler, Ernst Ludwig, ed. 1877. Liudprand of Cremona. Liudprandi episcopi Cremonensis opera omnia. Hannoverae: Imp. bibl. Hahniani. (alternate source)

Grabowski, Antoni. 2015. “From Castration to Misogyny. The Meaning of Liudprand of Cremona’s Humour.” Acta Poloniae Historica. 112: 243.

La Rocca, Cristina. 2007. “Liutprando da Cremona e il paradigma femminile di dissoluzione dei Carolingi.” Pp. 29-307 in La Rocca, Cristina, ed. Agire da donna: modelli e pratiche di rappresentazione (secoli VI – X); atti del convegno, Padova, 18-19 febbrario 2005. Turnhout: Brepols.

Squatriti, Paolo, trans. 2007. The Complete Works of Liudprand of Cremona. Washington: Catholic University of America Press.

Wright, F.A., trans. 1930. The Works of Liudprand of Cremona. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Dante in ring of lust saw men being purified of their sexual sins

Jacob embracing angel, by Rembrandt

Led by Virgil his guide, Dante in Purgatory came upon the ring of lust:

And here the walls shot out a blast of flame,
but the ring sent a breeze from down below,
driving it back and sheltering a slim
pathway along the unprotected edge,
for walking one by one. This side, I feared
the fire; that side, the sheer fall from the ledge.
“All round this ring,” my guide began to say,
“you’d better keep a tight rein on the eyes.
On small misstep and you’ll have gone astray.”

{ Quivi la ripa fiamma in fuor balestra,
e la cornice spira fiato in suso
che la reflette e via da lei sequestra;
ond’ ir ne convenia dal lato schiuso
ad uno ad uno; e io temëa ‘l foco
quinci, e quindi temeva cader giuso.
Lo duca mio dicea: “Per questo loco
si vuol tenere a li occhi stretto il freno,
però ch’errar potrebbesi per poco.” } [1]

Virgil was warning Dante about the male gaze. Many men enjoy gazing upon beautiful women, especially if the women are naked or nearly so. In the relatively enlightened medieval period, the male gaze wasn’t dogmatically defined as an act of violence against women. The male gaze was more rationally understood as tempting men into lust, including lust within men’s hearts. Men, especially lively and wonder-filled men, have difficulty controlling their eyes.

So it was with Dante walking about the burning ring of lust. A song caught his attention, and his eyes roamed:

Out of the bosom of the ardent fire
“God of the greatest clemency” was sung,
and turning toward them, equal in desire,
I beheld spirits walking through the flame —
so, portioning my glances here and there,
I looked at them, and watched the way I came.

{ “Summae Deus clementiae” nel seno
al grande ardore allora udi’ cantando,
che di volger mi fé caler non meno;
e vidi spirti per la fiamma andando;
per ch’io guardava a loro e a’ miei passi,
compartendo la vista a quando a quando. } [2]

Those singing had committed sexual sins — some heterosexual sins, some homosexual sins, and probably some gyno-idolatry. Dante humbly and rightly regarded himself as “equal in desire” to these passionate sinners. They weren’t condemned to the inferno of Hell. They were being purified of their sins through fire in Purgatory.

The hymn the spirits were singing, “O God of greatest clemency {Summae Deus clementiae},” is a frightening, seventh-century exemplar of long-enduring castration culture. In this hymn, the chanting men beg God to castrate them:

God of greatest clemency,
who made the world’s machinery,
one in power of action,
three in persons,

Devotedly, with kindness,
receive our tears mingled with songs,
so we, hearts of foulness purified,
may enjoy you more abundantly.

Our diseased loins and livers,
cauterize with fitting fire,
so that they may be continually in our pants,
far away from the worst lust.

{ Summae Deus clementie
mundique factor machinae,
unus potentialiter,
trinusque personaliter,

Nostros pius quum canticis
fletus benigne suscipe,
quo corda pura sordibus
te perfruamur largius;

Lumbos iecurque morbidum
adure igni congruo,
accincti ut sint perpetim
luxu remoto pessimo } [3]

The spirits in the ring of lust in Dante’s Purgatory were being purified with fire,  not being castrated with fire. They were self-consciously appealing for forgiveness, not literally calling for themselves to be castrated. Within their earthly life, men should exercise self-control to keep their pants on when doing so is right. But even if men have failed to keep their pants girt around their waists, Dante’s Divine Comedy offers them a way to Heaven.

Dante’s way to Heaven for lustful men draws upon the biblical account of Jacob wrestling at Peniel. In Hebrew scripture, the blessing of God is primarily fecundity: offspring as numerous as the stars of the sky and the sand of the sea. With help of his mother’s guile, Jacob took the blessing his father intended for his first-born son, Jacob’s older twin brother Esau. Esau subsequently sought to kill Jacob. To make matters worse, Jacob, like Dis in celibate Hell, struggled to gain a wife. Jacob had to work fourteen years in order to be allowed to marry his beloved Rachel. After Jacob has gained Rachel, he still had to face an attack from Esau. Jacob had to protect his blessing by protecting his family.[4]

One night Jacob sent his family across the Jabbok ford and remained alone on the near side. Then someone started wresting with him. With his strong, dog-like sexuality, Jacob continued wrestling until daybreak. The other, moving sharply and unexpectedly, wrenched Jacob’s hip in its socket. Jacob, however, refused to let go until he was further blessed. The God-woman then conceded, declaring that Jacob had wrestled with God and women and had prevailed. Jacob thus received the blessing of God and continued to enjoy the blessing of women. He had engaged God face-to-face and survived. Yet, with his injured groin, he could no longer could be as sexually vigorous as he had been. His dog-like sexuality had been domesticated.[5]

The fourth-century scholar and bishop Ambrose of Milan provided keen insight into Jacob’s wrestling. Ambrose explained:

For what is wrestling with God if not venturing upon the fight for virtue, and coming to grips with one more powerful and stronger than the rest, becoming an imitator of God?

{ quid est enim luctari cum deo nisi virtutis suscipere certamen et cum superiore congredi potioremque ceteris imitatorem fieri dei? } [6]

Jacob initially thought he was wrestling with a man in usual man-on-man violence. But his wrestling had called forth someone stronger than himself, a woman. Jacob had imitated God’s action as Adam explained it with an enveloping Hebrew phrase:

this one shall be called woman,
for out of man was taken this one.

{ לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻֽקֳחָה־זֹּֽאת } [7]

In extracting a woman from a man, Jacob had become an imitator of God. He thus encountered God. That’s what men’s sexuality does for women and men. Yet a price was paid for this blessing. That price was the sexual wounding of men.

The biblical account of Jacob’s wrestling is complex and enigmatic. Prudentius’s fourth-century poem, “Night and darkness and dense clouds {Nox et tenebrae et nubila},” summarizes well the story and its meaning:

Through the dark night Jacob
dared wrestle with an angel
until the light arose,
sweating in an unequal fight.

But when the sunbeam shone,
his hamstring gave in, lamed,
defeated, his thigh crippled,
he lost the power to sin.

He grew weak in his wounded groin,
far below the heart,
the lower part of his body,
that feeds lust’s ominous flames.

From such examples we are taught,
that a man enclosed in darkness,
if he refuses to yield to God,
loses his rebellious strength.

So much more he will be blessed,
with his unruly member lamed,
when day’s dawn will discover him,
diminishing from wrestling.

{ Sub nocte Iacob caerula,
luctator audax angeli,
eo usque dum lux surgeret,
sudavit inpar proelium;

Sed cum iubar claresceret,
lapsante claudus poplite
femurque victus debile
culpae vigorem perdidit.

Nutabat inguen saucium,
quae corporis pars vilior
longeque sub cordis loco
diram fovet libidinem.

Hae nos docent imagines
hominem tenebris obsitum,
si forte non cedat Deo,
vires rebellis perdere.

Erit tamen beatior,
intemperans membrum cui
luctando claudum et tabidum
dies oborta invenerit. } [8]

From no later than the seventh century, Christians lit candles to begin their Easter Vigil. Celebrating the coming of light, they sang, “O happy fault that earned so great, so glorious a Redeemer! {O felix culpa quae talem ac tantum meruit habere redemptorem!}.”[9] Jacob, wrestling with the one who accosted him, lost the ominous, rebellious element of his lust through daringly exercising it. He became more blessed. The universal implication is this: men’s dog-like sexuality, even with resulting wounds, can bring blessings in unexpected ways.

Jacob wrestling, 13th-century Exultate hymn

The spirits being purged of their sexual sins through fire in Dante’s ring of lust sung more than “O God of greatest clemency.” They also sung of marital love:

Returning to their singing, they would cry
of wives and husbands who were chaste and lived
as virtue’s laws and marriage both demand.

{ Indi al cantar tornavano; indi donne
gridavano e mariti che fuor casti
come virtute e matrimonio imponne. } [10]

Paul of Tarsus advised men that it’s better to marry than to burn.[11] In considering marriage, men today must consider the danger of a marriage becoming sexless, being cuckolded and then enduring large financial obligations for being a cuckold, being summarily stripped of everything, including the right to live in their own home, to say nothing of anti-men sex discrimination in child custody and child support rulings. But the alternative isn’t just castration with a burning implement. From the story of Jacob at Peniel, men might hope that their non-marital sexual wrestling will lead to blessing. From Dante’s Purgatorio, men at least have the comfort of knowing that their sexual sins can be forgiven.

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Notes:

[1] Dante, Divine Comedy, Purgatory 25.112-20, Italian text and English translation from Esolen (2004). Esolen’s translation is poetic yet quite faithful to the Italian text. The Princeton Dante Project provides the Latin text, Robert Hollander’s English verse translation, and a variety of other resources for studying the Divine Comedy. Dartmouth’s Dante Lab Reader provides the Italian text and the English translation of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1867).

[2] Dante, Divine Comedy, Purgatory 25.121-6, from Esolen (2004). As Hollander commented, Jacopo della Lana’s near-contemporary commentary (written 1324-28) on Purgatorio 25.121-124 provides the Latin text of Summae Deus clementiae as Dante likely knew it.

[3] “O God of greatest clemency {Summae Deus clementiae},” st 1-3, Latin text from Walsh (2012) p. 148, my English translation. My translation benefited from Walsh’s. I’ve sacrificed the meter to make the translation more literal and accessible. The original text of this hymn has only one additional, concluding stanza:

So we who break the hours of night
now singing together,
with the gifts of our blessed fatherland
may all be amply enriched.

{ Ut quique oras noctium
Nunc concinendo rumpimus,
Donis beate patrie
Ditemur omnes affatim. }

Id., similarly my English translation.

The phrase mundi … machinae in the first stanza echoes Lucretius, De rerum natura 5.96. Lucretius sought to dispel men’s delusions about women, including the delusion that women are angels. Walpole (1922), p. 274, provides helpful textual notes in addition to Walsh’s.

Summae Deus clementiae exists in various forms (list of manuscripts). The above version is an Ambrosian hymn from the seventh century. It exists in the New Hymnal from the tenth century and the Mozarabic Breviary. Walsh (2012) p. 149, McGrath (1939) p. 118. Pope Urban VIII in 1632 muted the sexual references in the third stanza and changed the first line to Summae Parens clementiae {Father of greatest clemency}. Here’s the revised version as translated by Edward Caswell (1849) and by John David Chambers (nineteenth century). Here’s a chanted version. The different forms are easily conflated and confused. See, e.g. Donahoe (1908) pp. 44, 261.

[4] On the blessing of numerous offspring, Genesis 15:5, 22:17, 26:4, Exodus 32:13. On Jacob’s personal history, Genesis 25:19 – 35:29.

[5] For Jacob’s wrestling, Genesis 32:22-32. The text describes the one who initially started wrestling with Jacob as “a man” (אִישׁ ‘iysh). His opponent declares that Jacob has struggled “with God and with men” (אֱלֹהִים ‘elohiym, אֱנוֹשׁ ‘enowsh), but the term “men” might best be understand as adult human beings. I’ve used “with God and with women” above because that seems to me the most relevant meaning in context.

Beginning with the third-century BGC Septuagint, translators have differed on the meaning of this passage. Kugel (2003) pp. 29-30. Jacob says of his experience of wrestling, “I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” Genesis 32:30. One interpretation is that Jacob initially saw an angel. That angel was actually God. Id. pp. 27-32.

[6] Ambrose of Milan, Of Jacob and blessed life {De Iacob et vita beata} 2.7.30, Latin text and English translation from O’Daly (2012) p. 77. Ambrose’s interpretation is similar to many others in the fourth century. Sheridan (2012). It has roots in Philo of Alexandria’s allegorical exegesis of Hebrew scripture:

We shall also find that the change of Jacob’s name to Israel is much to the purpose. Why so? Because Jacob is the supplanter, and Israel he who sees God. It is the task of a supplanter in the practice of virtue to disturb and shake and upset the supports on which passion rests, and all the firmness and stability which they have. That is a work which cannot commonly be done without hard effort and the stains of the arena, but only when one maintains the contests of wisdom to the end, and drilled in the gymnastics of the soul wrestles with the thoughts which oppose and hold it fast in their grip.

{ Ἀλλὰ καὶ τὸν Ἰακὼβ μετονομάζεσθαι συμβέβηκεν εἰς τὸν Ἰσραήλ, οὐκ ἀπὸ σκοποῦ. διὰ τί; ὅτι ὁ μὲν Ἰακὼβ πτερνιστής, ὁ δὲ Ἰσραὴλ ὁρῶν τὸν θεὸν καλεῖται. πτερνιστοῦ μὲν οὖν ἔργον ἀσκοῦντος ἀρετὴν τὰς βάσεις τοῦ πάθους, αἷς ἐφίδρυται, καὶ εἴ τι ὀχυρὸν καὶ ἱδρυμένον ἐν αὐταῖς κινεῖν καὶ σαλεύειν καὶ ἀνατρέπειν—ταῦτα δὲ οὐ δίχα ἀγωνίας ἀκονιτὶ φιλεῖ γίνεσθαι, ἀλλ’ ἐπειδάν τις τοὺς φρονήσεως ἄθλους διαθλῶν γυμνάζηταί τε τὰ τῆς ψυχῆς γυμνάσματα καὶ πρὸς τοὺς ἀντιπάλους καὶ τραχηλίζοντας αὐτὴν λογισμοὺς παλαίῃ }

Philo of Alexandria, De mutatione nominum 81, cited in Sheridan (2012) p. 319. See id. pp. 318-27 for related analysis. In contrast to Philo’s exegesis, the wrestling of Jacob the sexual athlete isn’t against his dog-like sexual passion, but with the God-woman. The unwilled, blessed result is to cripple his dog-like sexual passion and supplant it with domesticated sexual desire for a fully human wife.

[7] From Genesis 2:23. That passage includes etymological reasoning: “woman” (אִשָּׁה ‘ishshah) is derived from “out of man” (אִישׁ ‘iysh). The account of Jacob wrestling is also centrally concerned with etymology. Genesis 32:28, 30. For etymological analysis of Jacob wrestling, but not recognizing the sexual level, Kugel (2007) pp. 160-2.

[8] Prudentius, Cathemerinon 2, Morning Hymn {Hymnus Matutinus}, O night and darkness and dense clouds {Nox et tenebrae et nubila}, st. 19-23, Latin text from O’Daly (2012), my English translation, benefiting from those of id., Walsh (2012), and Richardson (2016). Pope (1895) provides an online Latin text and English translation.

Richard translates stanza 23 to contrast, rather than elaborate upon, stanza 22:

These figures teach us that the man
who is in darkness overwhelmed,
if he does not give way to God,
is ruined by rebellious strength.

But far more blessed will he be,
whose body dawning daylight finds
with his unruly member lamed,
and wasted from the bitter strife.

Richardson (2016) pp. 36-7. He explains, “This stanza {st. 22} describes the man who does not give way to God, and so his ‘rebellious strength’ destroys him (cf. 20.3 culpae vigorem), by contrast with st. 23, where one who eventually yields like Jacob is ‘far more blessed’.” But losing the power to sin is a victory / blessing that st. 23 elaborates upon. That’s the interpretation of O’Daly:

His wrestling is an image of the victory of virtue over vice, a victory that, paradoxically, involves a defeat against an unequal, because divine, adversary (l. 76). His victory‐in‐defeat entails the loss of the power to sin (l. 80), and this is reiterated in the generalizing l. 88, applicable to all humans who wrestle with the divine: there is loss of the energy to rebel.

O’Daly (2012) pp. 77-8. This interpretation I find more convincing.

[9] From the Exsultet (full Latin text and English translation; its liturgical history). The Vulgate version of Psalm 80 (now typically numbered Psalm 81) begins:

Sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.

{ laudate Deum fortitudinem nostram iubilate Deo Iacob }

By the early 13th century, psalters began this psalm with exultate rather than laudate. See, e.g. British Library Royal 1 D X, folio 74v. It is now commonly titled Exultate Deo. These changes appropriately associate Jacob with a “happy fault.”

[10] Dante, Divine Comedy, Purgatory 25.133-5, from Esolen (2004).

[11] 1 Corinthians 7:9.

[images] (1) Jacob wrestling with the angel (woman). Oil on canvas painting by Rembrandt about 1659. Preserved under accession no. 828 in Gemäldegalerie (Berlin, Germany). Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Jacob wrestling. Historiated initial “e” for exultate beginning Psalm 80 (Vulgate numbering; now typically numbered Psalm 81) in manuscript created in Oxford, England, between about 1200 and 1220. From manuscript preserved in British Library, Royal 1 D X, folio 74v.

References:

Donahoe, Daniel Joseph. 1908. Early Christian Hymns: translations of the verses of the most notable Latin writers of the early and middle ages. New York: The Grafton Press.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 2004. Dante Alighieri. Purgatory {second section of the Divine Comedy}. New York: Modern Library.

Kugel, James L. 2003. The God of Old: inside the lost world of the Bible. New York: Free Press.

Kugel, James L. 2007. How to Read the Bible: a guide to scripture, then and now. New York: Free Press.

McGrath, George Warren. 1939. The Revision of the Hymns of the Roman breviary under Urban VIII. Thesis (M.A.). Loyola University of Chicago, 1939.

O’Daly, Gerard J. P. 2012. Days Linked by Song: Prudentius’ Cathemerinon. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Pope, R. Matin, trans. 1895. The Hymns of Prudentius. London: J.M. Dent.

Richardson, Nicholas J., trans. 2016. Prudentius’ Hymns for Hours and Seasons: the Liber Cathemerinon. New York: Routledge.

Sheridan, Mark. 2012. “Jacob and Israel: A Contribution to the History of an Interpretation.” Pp. 316-34 in Mark Sheridan, From the Nile to the Rhone and Beyond: studies in early monastic literature and scriptural interpretation. Analecta monastica, 12; Studia anselmiana, 156. Roma: Pontificio Ateneo Sant’Anselmo.

Walpole, Arthur Sumner, ed. 1922. Early Latin Hymns: with introduction and notes. Cambridge Patristic Texts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Walsh, Peter G., ed. and trans., with Christopher Husch. 2012. One Hundred Latin Hymns: Ambrose to Aquinas. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, vol. 18. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

John Climacus endorsed Bishop Nonnus gazing on actress-dancer Pelagia

icon of Saint John Climacus

Living in the Sinai desert in seventh-century Egypt, John Climacus was a monk writing for monks, a man writing for men. John recounted a story he had heard:

There was a man who, having looked on a body of great beauty, at once gave praise to its Creator and after one look was stirred to love God and to weep copiously, so that it was marvelous how something that could have brought low one person managed to be the cause of a heavenly crown for another. And if such a man feels and behaves in similar fashion on similar occasions, then he has already risen to immortality before the general resurrection. [1]

That’s the story of Bishop Nonnus gazing upon the semi-naked actress-dancer Pelagia as she paraded by. John endorsed that story with a parallel:

The same guideline ought to direct us when when we sing songs and hymns, for the lovers of God are moved to holy joy, divine love, and tears by songs both worldly and spiritual, just as lovers of pleasure are moved to the opposite.

By lovers of pleasure, John meant men loving worldly pleasures as merely worldly experiences. The pleasure that most men naturally receive from gazing upon beautiful women and hearing beautiful songs can inspire rightly oriented men to divine love.

Worldly love and divine love are opposite poles, yet John perceived that they have a common pattern. John explained:

Someone truly in love keeps before his mind’s eye the face of the beloved and embraces it there tenderly. Even during sleep the longing continues unappeased, and he murmurs to his beloved. That is how it is for the body. And that is how it is for the spirit. A man wounded by love had this to say about himself — and it really amazes me — “I sleep (because nature commands this) but my heart is awake because of the abundance of my love.” [2]

The man wounded by love was the great King Solomon in the Song of Songs, the wonderful biblical poem of natural love. Divine love expresses the perfected pattern of natural, worldly love. That’s the sense in which divine love overcomes worldly love.[3] About three centuries after John wrote, Symeon the New Theologian poetically and evocatively expressed John’s insight.

John Climacus understood men’s propensity to sexual sin. With respect to young, beautiful, warmly receptive women’s awesome bodily attractiveness, John urged his fellow monks:

We should strive in all possible ways neither to see nor to hear of that fruit we have vowed never to taste. It amazes me to think we could imagine ourselves to be stronger than the prophet David, something quite impossible indeed. [4]

John perceived in the dominant sexual division of labor and reward the providence of God:

The great concern of the good Lord for us is shown by the fact that shyness acts as a curb on the shamelessness of women. For if the woman chased the man, no flesh would be saved.

John’s belief might help to explain the vibrant and dynamic sex lives of many homosexual men. But for heterosexual persons, the burden of chasing is allocated more complexly. Women in today’s decaying democracies aren’t generally shy. However, even low sexual-status women shamelessly chase only men at the top of the sexual-status hierarchy. One result is acute sexual inequality: a small share of men have abundant sexual opportunities, and many men suffer total sexual impoverishment. Another result is that many men, even given their propensity to sexual sin, have relatively good opportunities to live as monks and to cultivate divine love. Many men today should consider whether they should join with John Climacus in acknowledging “the great concern of the good Lord for us.”

Women and men should at least sympathetically understand men’s difficult position. Writing to men, John Climacus declared:

All demons try to darken our minds so that they may then suggest to us what they want us to do, and so long as the mind stays awake we will not be robbed of our treasure. But the demon of fornication tries harder than all the others. … it urges and inclines us in the presence of other people to do things that only the mad would think of.

Men and women should not be passive in the face of the demon of fornication and the criminalization of men seducing women. Men have reason to hope that God may forgive themyes, even men — for fornication. Yet women and men keeping their minds awake and striving to understand truly is a better way.

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Notes:

[1] John Climacus, Κλῖμαξ {Ladder of Divine Ascent}, from Step 15 (Περὶ ἁγνείας {On Chastity}), from Greek trans. Luidhéid & Russell (1982) p. 179. The subsequent quote is similarly from id. Here’s the ancient Greek text (right column).

The Ladder of Divine Ascent has circulated widely since the seventh century. From the eighth century to the nineteenth century, 511 Greek manuscripts have survived. The earliest of the surviving manuscripts are two from the eighth century. Popova (2016) p. 369. Bishop Kallistos stated:

With the exception of the Bible and the {liturgical} service books, there is no work in Eastern Christendom that has been studied, copied and translated more often than The Ladder of Divine Ascent by St. John Climacus. Every Lent in Orthodox monasteries is is appointed to be read aloud in church or in the refectory, so that some monks will have listened to it as much as fifty or sixty times in the course of their life.

Luidhéid & Russell (1982) p. 1 (from Kallistos’s Introduction).

[2] Ladder of Divine Ascent, from Step 30 (Περὶ ἀγάπης, ἐλπίδος καὶ πίστεως {On love, faith, and hope}), from Greek trans. Luidhéid & Russell (1982) p. 287. Cf. Matthew 26:41, Song of Songs 5:2.

[3] Eros plays an important part in John’s thinking. He “delights in the imagery of erotic love and fire.” Chryssavgis (2004) p. 202. On John’s understanding of eros, id. pp. 124-5, 202-8, and Kordochkin (2003) pp. 267-7.

[4] Ladder of Divine Ascent, from Step 15, trans. Luidhéid & Russell (1982) p. 180. The subsequent three quotes are from id. pp. 181, 185. David committed adultery with Bathsheba. 2 Samuel 11. Medieval literature frequently reminded men that they should not regard themselves as stronger than the prophet and king David, or stronger than Samson, Solomon, Uriah, Naboth, or Joseph. With the intensification of gynocentrism, literature recognizing men’s weakness relative to women has been more strongly repressed.

[image] Icon of Saint John Climacus, with Saint George (on left) and Saint Blaise (on right). Made in second half of the thirteenth century. Preserved under accession number ДРЖ-2774 in the State Russian Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia). Via Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Chryssavgis, John. 2004. John Climacus: from the Egyptian Desert to the Sinaite Mountain. Aldershot, Hants, England: Ashgate Pub.

Kordochkin, Andrey. 2003. John Climacus and the spiritual tradition of the IV-VII centuries. Ph.D. Thesis. Durham: University of Durham.

Luibhéid, Colm and Norman Russell, trans. 1982. John Climacus: the Ladder of Divine Ascent. New York: Paulist Press.

Popova, Tatiana G. 2016. “The Most Ancient Greek Manuscripts of the Ladder of John Climacus.
” Scrinium. 12 (1): 368-374.

Salve, mater Salvatoris: honoring the great woman in medieval Europe

Mary, mother of Jesus, dominating little men

In twelfth-century Europe, Christians were intensely devoted to Mary, the mother of Jesus. Within “a prevailing climate of fevered Marianism,” the Christ of Christianity, like so many other men, became merely a nominal leading figure:

the cult of the Virgin had assumed such proportions and evoked so much fervour that the figure of the Mother Of Christ began to eclipse that of her Son {Jesus} and of all the apostles and saints. It might seem almost true to say that, in the later Middle Ages, the central object of the popular cult was in actual fact the Virgin Mary, exalted to the rank of Queen of Heaven, crowned with the twelve stars, and invested with all those human and tender attributes in which the early Church had first clothed the figure of the Saviour. [1]

Adam of Saint Victor’s early twelfth-century liturgical hymn (sequence) “Hail, O mother of our Savior {Salve, mater Salvatoris}” exemplifies intense devotion to Mary and its implications for men.

“Hail, O mother of our Savior” brings together many figures of Mary, including some that directly relate to men’s sexuality. The sequence begins in praise of Mary as an appropriate medium for bringing a savior to humanity:

Hail, mother of our Savior,
chosen vessel, honored vessel,
vessel of heavenly grace,
vessel foreseen from eternity,
noble vessel, vessel chiseled
by Wisdom’s hand!

{ Salve, mater Salvatoris,
vas electum, vas honoris,
vas caelestis gratiae,
ab aeterno vas provisum,
vas insigne, vas excisum
manu sapientiae! } [2]

The vessel in which Mary carried Christ to the world was literally her womb. Mary was a very special woman. But what about ordinary men? The next stanza separates Mary from disparaged masculine sexuality:

Hail, holy parent of the Word,
blossom from thorn, lacking thorn,
thorn tree’s glory and its flower:
we are the thorn tree, we suffer
bloodstains from our sins’ thorn-pricking;
you, however, know no thorn.

{ Salve, Verbi sacra parens,
flos de spina, spina carens,
flos, spineti gloria;
nos spinetum, nos peccati
spina sumus cruentati,
sed tu spinae nescia. }

The virgin Mary knowing no thorn identifies a thorn with a man’s penis. The bloody sins of thorn-pricking are men’s sexual sins, especially in relation to virgin women. These sins are also women’s, since men get blamed for women’s sexual sins. Mary, like all women, had an ancestral thorn tree of fathers. But Mary, unlike any other mother before artificial insemination, thornlessly blossomed into pregnancy. Thorns typically evoke pain, yet ordinary women commonly delight in being subject to thorn-pricking. As this Latin Christian sequence and many other poetic texts make clear, men’s penises have an image problem.

The penis’s image problem is associated with devaluing men’s work. Historically, men have in net transferred a significant share of their laboriously earned resources to women. Moreover, men historically have done heavy work in agricultural fields — work such as plowing. “Hail, O mother of our Savior” devalues that men’s work:

You are a humble valley,
earth unsuited to the plow,
yet earth that brought forth fruit.
Blossom of the field,
singular lily of the valley,
Christ from you came forth.

{ Tu convallis humilis,
terra non arabilis
quae fructum parturiit,
flos campi, convallium
singulare lilium,
Christus ex te prodiit. } [3]

Men typically must labor to have an agricultural field produce fruit. Moreover, plowing is a common figure for men’s sexual work. Here, the virgin Mary produces the greatest fruit, Christ, without men’s agricultural or sexual work. Mary, as the sequence states explicitly, was a “singular lily of the valley.” In our age of ignorance and bigotry, many single women believe that they are most fruitful without men. Thought leaders have gone as far as to suggest that men aren’t necessary. Not surprisingly, the share of agriculture in the economy has fallen as the share of sexless marriages has risen.

Mary provides a model of women’s privilege that has extended far beyond her specific Christian life. Within the public life of today’s decaying democracies, Mary is Everywoman:

Singular is the palm you bear,
none on earth can be your equal,
none in heaven’s court above;
you, the praise of humankind,
are privileged with virtues
more than all the rest.

As the sun outshines the moon,
and the moon in turn the stars,
so is Mary worthier
than all creatures everywhere.
Light that knows no eclipse
is the virgin’s chastity.
Her immortal caring
is a never-failing ardor.

{ Palmam praefers singularem,
nec in terris habes parem,
nec in caeli curia;
laus humani generis
virtutum prae ceteris
habes privilegia.

Sol luna lucidior,
et luna sideribus;
sic Maria dignior
creaturis omnibus.
Lux eclipsim nesciens,
virginis est castitas;
ardor indeficiens
immortalis caritas. }

Education and media institutions have for decades sought to promote women’s self-esteem. Forty is the new thirty. Chastity is the burning ardor of the single woman who sleeps with man after man because she cares for them, or doesn’t. In any case, it’s the men’s fault. She still regards herself as a virgin. You must address her as she says. Everywoman is now like a non-Christian Virgin Mary.

Intense devotion to the Virgin Mary, like intense devotion to Everywoman today, tends to position men as women-servers. The medieval Latin sequence takes care not to endorse female supremacism:

O Mary, star of the sea,
singular in dignity,
above all ranks
are you ranked in heaven above.

Set at the highest pole,
commend us to your son,
so neither the terrors nor deceits
of our enemies cause us to stumble.

Standing ready for battle,
let us be safe under your protection.
May the perverse and crafty
force yield to your power, and
guile yield to your providence.

Jesus, Word of the highest Father,
watch over your mother’s servants,
absolve sinners, save them freely,
and shape us to the glory
of your splendor.

{ O Maria stella maris,
dignitate singularis,
super omnes ordinaris
ordines caelestium.

In supremo sita poli,
nos commenda tuae proli,
ne terrores sive doli
nos supplantent hostium.

In procinctu constituti
te tuente simus tuti,
pervicacis et versuti
tuae cedat vis virtuti,
dolus providentiae.

Iesu, Verbum summi Patris,
serva servos tuae matris,
solve reos, salva gratis,
et nos tuae claritatis
configura gloriae. } [4]

These men are mother’s servants. However, they at least recognize a true father and pray to Jesus, a fully masculine man.[5] Medieval Latin literature didn’t suppress the sighs of oppressed men. It stimulated men’s hearts in a heartless world of violence against men. It prevented gynocentrism from becoming wholly soulless.

Girls and boys in schools today are taught that “the future is female.” Modern science supports that dogma with empirical evidence of the women-are-wonderful effect and studies establishing that women are superior to men in social communication. Yet women dominated social communication in the past, women have long been regarded as wonderful, and human societies have long been resolutely gynocentric. While “the future is female” is merely current unquestionable dogma, that the past and present have been female are widely suppressed facts. To find enlightenment today, students must study medieval Latin songs such as “Hail, O mother of our Savior.”

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Notes:

[1] Raby (1953) p. 365. The immediately preceding quote is from Ziolkowski (2018) vol. 1, p. 128 (section “Cistercians and the Virgin”).  Ziolkowski declared:

Veneration of the Mother of God belonged among the paramount manifestations of Christian practice. To go further, it reigned supreme in that same class.

Id. p. 129.

[2] Adam of Saint Victor {Adamus Sancti Victoris}, “Hail, O mother of our Savior {Salve, mater Salvatoris},” st. 1, Latin text from Grosfillier (2008), my English translation drawing on that of Mousseau (2013) and Walsh (2012). The Latin text is freely available online in Blume & Bannister (1915) pp. 383-6 (no. 245). Mousseau reports no different between that Latin text and the Latin text of Grosfillier (2008). Mousseau (2008) pp. vii-i, 221-3. Mousseau’s English translation adheres to the literal meaning of the Latin words. Id. p. vii. Walsh’s English translation (with the help of Christopher Husch) faithfully imitates the Latin rhythmic meter, but not the Latin rhyme. Walsh (2012) pp. xxi-ii. My approach has favored accuracy over meter, while attempting to preserve more of the song of the sequence in following Walsh. Subsequent quotes above are from this sequence and have the same sources.

Scholarly work has identified Adam of Saint Victor as Adam Precentor. He wrote religious songs in Paris early in the twelfth century and was associated with the Cathedral of Notre Dame and the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris. On Adam’s biography, Fassler (1984) and Fassler (2011) pp. 207-10. I use the more common name Adam of Saint Victor to refer to Adam Precentor.

The title (first line) of the sequence, “Salve, mater salvatoris,” is literally translated as “Hail, mother of the Savior.” The sequence is commonly known according to a looser translation of that line, “Hail, O mother of our Savior.” I’ve used the latter form in referring to the sequence.

A list of manuscripts containing the sequence is available via Cantus. For an older Latin text and English translation, Wrangham (1881) vol. 2, pp. 218-25 (no. 73). Also readily available online is reasonably good Latin text and a poor-quality English translation. Another online English translation attempts to preserve the Latin rhyme and thus produces miserable English poetry. The best way to appreciate the poetry of the Latin original is simply to read it as best you can, even if you understand no Latin. Here’s a sung performance of the Latin sequence.

The liturgical hymn “Hail, O mother of our Savior” is more precisely called a sequence. A sequence is music traditionally song before the Gospel in the Christian Mass. For more information on sequences as liturgical music, see the Catholic Encyclopedia and Wikipedia. Those who refer to a sequence as a hymn risk incurring the ire of learned specialists in medieval music. Within the liturgical calendar, “Hail, O mother of our Savior” occurs in the Mass of the Nativity of the Virgin Mary on September 8.

[3] Wrangham evocatively translated “terra non arabilis” as “soil that never felt the plow.” Wrangham (1881) v. 2, p. 221. Soil that has been plowed has been vitally important for the perpetuation and development of human civilization.

[4] Here I’ve split each stanza into two stanzas to make the poetry more accessible to ordinary readers today.

[5] Avoiding totalitarian gynocentrism, Adam of Saint Victor’s sequences centered on Mary commonly end with a plea to Jesus or God the Father. See “O Mary, star of the sea {O Maria, stella maris},” “Let us give solemn thanks of this day {Gratulemur in hac die},” “Hail, singular virgin, mother of our salvation {Ave, virgo singularis / mater nostri salutaris},” and “Hail, singular virgin, / portal of life, star of the sea {Ave, virgo singularis, / porta vitae, stella maris}.” Cf. “Let us adorn the temple of the heart {Templum cordis adornemus}” (for the feast of the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Feb. 2). All these sequences are in Mousseau (2013).

Adam even went as far as to balance single motherhood with single fatherhood:

Made mother without a father,
she bore in time
the Word of the Father without mother.

{ Verbum patris sine matrre
facta mater sine patre
genuit in tempore. }

“Hail, singular virgin, / portal of life, star of the sea {Ave, virgo singularis, / porta vitae, stella maris}” st. 10, Latin text and English translation Mousseau (2013) pp. 156-7. Today, single fatherhood is much less recognized, and acute anti-men sex discrimination prevails in child custody rulings.

[image] The Virgin of Mercy (Mary the mother of Jesus dominating little men). Painting (tempera on oak panel), made about 1480. Preserved in the Museum of Fine Arts (Budapest, Hungary). Image via Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Blume, Clemens, and Henry Bannister. 1915. Liturgische prosen des überrgangsatiles und der zweiten epoche insbesondere di dem Adam von Sankt Victor zugeschrieben. Analecta Hymnica Medii Aevi 54. Leipzig: Reisland.

Fassler, Margot E. 1984. “Who Was Adam of St. Victor? The Evidence of the Sequence Manuscripts.” Journal of the American Musicological Society. 37 (2): 233-269.

Fassler, Margot. 2011. Gothic song: Victorine sequences and Augustinian reform in twelfth-century Paris. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Grosfillier, Jean. 2008. Les séquences d’Adam de Saint-Victor: étude littéraire (poétique et rhétorique), textes et traductions, commentaires. Turnhout: Brepols.

Mousseau, Juliet, trans. 2013. Adam of Saint-Victor. Sequences. Leuven: Peeters.

Raby, Frederic James Edward. 1953. A History of Christian-Latin Poetry: from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages. 2nd Ed. (1st ed, 1927). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Walsh, Peter G., ed. and trans., with Christopher Husch. 2012. One Hundred Latin Hymns: Ambrose to Aquinas. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, vol. 18. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wrangham, Digby S., ed. and trans. 1881. The Liturgical Poetry of Adam of St. Victor: From the Text of Gautier. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, & Co. Vols. 1, 2, 3.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2018. The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity. Volume 1: The Middle Ages. Worldwide: OpenBook Publishers.

Adam of Saint Victor and Le Tumbeor Nostre Dame

Virgin Mary statue in Monasterio de San Jerónimo, Granada

In the more liberal and less repressive circumstances of medieval Europe, men understood that they could serve women with their bodies as well as their minds. Medieval men had poignant examples of both types of woman-serving. Early in twelfth-century Paris, Adam of Saint Victor composed rhythmic Latin hymns to honor Mary, the mother of Jesus. About a century later, a tumbler engaged in vigorous physical activity to please Mary. Men deserve freedom to engage in one, both, or neither of these forms of woman-serving while at the same time having their own intrinsic human dignity and worth respected and appreciated.

Deeply devoted to Mary, Adam of Saint Victor directed his extraordinary literary skills to honoring her. According to a story preserved in a text written early in the thirteenth century, Mary herself acknowledged Adam’s intellectual effort:

The venerable Master Adam, canon of Saint Victor’s in Paris, was composing the sequence Salve mater Salvatoris. When he had just written another strophe of rhythmic poetry, namely:

Hail Mother of piety
And noble resting place
of the entire Trinity

the glorious Virgin appeared to him. As if repaying him for the homage he had paid to her, she beseechingly bowed her head in the highest humility to him while he was thinking.

{ Unde venerabilis magister Adam, canonicus sancti Victoris Parisiis, cum in dictanda sequentia Salve mater Saluatoris, illum rhythmi versiculum edidisset, videlicet:

Salve mater pietatis,
Et totius Trinitatis
Nobile triclinium

Gloriosa virgo apparens ei, & quasi pro honoris laude satisfaciens, cogitanti eidem supplex altissimae humilitatis verticem inclinauit. } [1]

These events took place in the crypt of the Abbey of Saint Victor. To commemorate these events, a statue of the Virgin Mary, with her head bowed, was erected there. Adam of Saint Victor is an impressive role model for men serving women with verbal sophistication.

While not all men have brilliant verbal skills, every man has the wonderful endowment of a distinctively masculine body. The Old French story Le Tumbeor Nostre Dame {The Tumbler of Notre Dame}, probably from early in the thirteenth century, tells of a monk alone in the crypt of the Abbey of Clairvaux.[2] He lacked any of the learning of Adam of Saint Victor. However, this monk was “graceful, noble, and handsome {beaus et gens et bien formez}.” Moreover, he had a strong, firm body like a “young male goat {cavreçon}.” He sought to delight Mary with his near-naked body in action:

He removed his cloak and undressed
and put before the altar his removed clothes.

And there he stood with his body undressed;
he is well outfitted and equipped.

Then he begins to turn flips for her,
low and small and high and great,
first frontwards, then backwards.
Then he gets on his knees

Then he jumps and leaps and celebrates.
He does the vault of Metz over his head.

Then he does for her the French vault
and then the Champagne vault
and then the vault of Spain
and the vaults one does in Brittany
and the vault of Lorraine.
He cares little for his own exertions.
Afterwards he does the Roman vault,
and puts his hand before his face
and dances quite graciously

Then he falls with his feet in the air
and comes and goes on his two hands,
so that no more of him touches the ground,
and he dances with his feet and weeps with his eyes.

{ Se cape oste, si se despoille,
Delés l’autel met se despoille,

Si est en pur le cors remés,
Il s’est bien chains et achesmés.

Lors il comenche a faire saus
Bas et petis et grans et haus,
Primes desor et puis desos,
Puis se remet sor ses genos

Lors tume et saut et fait grant feste,
Le tor de Mes entor la teste.

Après li fait le tor françois,
Et puis le tor de Champenois,
Et puis liu fait le tor d’Espaigne
Et les tors c’on fait en Bretaigne,
Et puis le tor de Loheraine:
De quantqu’il onques puet se paine.
Après li fait le tor romain
Et met devant sen front se main,
Et bale trop mignotement

Lors tume les piés contremont
Et va sor ses deus mains et vient,
Que de plus a terre n’aveint;
Bale des piés et des eus plore. } [3]

The man performed long and hard until he was exhausted and covered in sweat. Then the statue of Mary came to life. Holding a white cloth, Mary bent down to her tumbler-monk:

She fans her minstrel with it,
very gently before the altar.
The noble, merciful lady,
his neck, his body, and his face,
fans to refresh him.
She interposes herself well to help him;
the lady well does it unrestrainedly.

{ S’en avente sen menestrel
Mout doucement devant l’autel.
Li france dame deboinaire
Le col, le cors et le viaire
Li avente por refroidier:
Bien s’entremet de lui aidier:
Li dame bien s’i abandone }

She appreciated his bodily service, and she in turn served him bodily and boldly. That’s the mutuality central to the medieval understanding of marital love. Men today are socially constructed as criminals or consumers. Intimate mutuality between women and men depends on men understanding that they are fully human beings who have physical capabilities that women want. Men can physically serve women well according to the traditional understanding of chivalry.

Virgin Mary feeding Romanos the Melodist

Adam of Saint Victor and the tumbler receiving supernatural appreciation for their woman-serving differs significantly from common stories of apparitions, divine interventions, and statues coming to life. Consider, for example, the story of the Virgin Mary feeding Romanos the Melodist. On a sixth-century Christmas Eve at the Marian shrine in Blachernae, just outside the city walls of Constantinople, the Virgin Mary appeared to a hoarse-voiced young Syrian man. She held aloft a scroll containing writing and told him to swallow it. The man followed her command. Then he mounted the ambo of the church and sang the hymn “The Virgin today gives birth.” That man subsequently became known as the great Byzantine hymnist Romanos the Melodist.[4] In this story, the Virgin Mary created Romanos’s talent. She didn’t respond in appreciation for his performance. Adam of Saint Victor and the tumbler, in contrast, exemplify men in distinctive ways taking up their burden of performance and receiving extraordinary female gratitude for their efforts. Compared to the story of Romanos the Melodist, the stories of Adam of Saint Victor and the tumbler are more important examples of men’s actions and the female gratitude that men deserve.[5]

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Notes:

[1] Thomas of Cantimpré {Thomas Cantipratensis}, The Universal Goodness of Bees {Bonum universale de apibus} 2.29, Latin text and English translation (adapted slightly to be more literal) from Fassler (1984) p. 233. Fassler’s source for the Latin text is a 1627 printing at Douai (p. 279) (downloadable version). Bonum universale de apibus allegorizes bees and collects various stories to serve preaching moral instruction. It was a widely distributed work that has survived in at least 116 manuscripts. This story was omitted in a recent French edition of Bonum universale de apibus. See Berlioz, Collomb & Polo de Beaulieu (2001).

Thomas of Cantimpré, who lived from 1201 to 1272, was a highly learned Dominican cleric, professor, and encyclopedist. Between 1237 and 1240, he lived at the Dominican studium of St. James in Paris. He frequently visited the Abbey of Saint Victor. Fassler (1984) p. 233. The story of the Virgin bowing to Adam of Saint Victor was thus almost surely known by 1240. On the later history of erecting a sculpture to memorialize the story, Gautier (1858) vol. 2, p. 200.

Cleric-scholars mourned their lack of bodily action. Yet they weren’t foolish enough to assume that they could do and have it all.

[2] Ziolkowski (2018) is a monumental work covering this story, its reception to the present, the challenges today of appreciating medieval humanism and medieval enlightenment, and the still-unfulfilled promise of a medieval renaissance. Le Tumbeor Nostre Dame was written no latter than 1268, probably in Picardy at the northern tip of France. Some scholars speculate that Le Tumbeor Nostre Dame was written about 1200, while a detailed analysis suggests that it was written in the third decade of the thirteenth century. Id. vol. 1, ch. 1, especially notes to the Section “Picardy.” Le Tumbeor Nostre Dame thus may have been written about the time that Thomas of Cantimpré heard the story about the Virgin Mary bowing to Adam of Saint Victor.

[3] Le Tumbeor Nostre Dame ll. 137-8, 144-5, 163-6, 171-2, 175-83, 198-201, Old French text and English translation from Wilkie (1979) (with my changes in the translation to follow the Old French more closely). Bretel (2003) is the preferable critical edition. but it’s not readily available to me now. It doesn’t differ greatly from Wilkie’s text. The subsequent quote is similarly from id. ll. 427-33.

[4] Arentzen (2017) pp. 1-3, drawing on the biographical sources in Grosdidier de Matons (1977) pp. 159-98. Cf. Ezekiel 2:8-3:2, Revelations 10:9-10. The Menologion of Basil II, created about 1000, depicts this story. So the story dates from no later than about 1000.

[5] To understand the contemporary importance of this literary history, consider a recent performance of George Yancy, a professor of philosophy at Emory University. He put forth in the New York Times a lengthy, tedious opinion piece entitled “#IAmSexist.” His performance showed no understanding of the reality of violence, or of gender injustice generally. His attempt at woman-serving was so bad that a woman reader responded, “I think you’re making fun of me.” She, probably like most readers, couldn’t bear to endure Yancy’s performance to its end.

[images] (1) Sculpture (detail) of the Virgin Mary in the Monasterio de San Jerónimo, Granada, Spain. Source image thanks to Jebulon via Wikimedia Commons. (2) The Virgin Mary giving Romanos the Melodist a scroll to eat. Illumination from MS Vatican gr.1613. f. 78. The author of this painting has been dead for more than 900 years. The Vatican Library preserves this manuscript presumably for the common good. However, it “reserves all rights” to their image of this Christian cultural treasure. That action seems to me to be lacking in Christian generosity. Moreover, according to Wikimedia Commons’s expert and influential interpretation of U.S. copyright law, the Vatican doesn’t hold the right to prevent copying of this image and derivative works in the U.S. Here’s a version on Wikimedia Commons. I also judge my use of the image above to be consistent with fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law.

References:

Arentzen, Thomas. 2017. The Virgin in Song: Mary and the Poetry of Romanos the Melodist. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Berlioz, Jacques, Pascal Collomb, and Marie Anne Polo de Beaulieu. 2001. “La face cachée de Thomas de Cantimpré: Compléments à une traduction française récente du Bonum universale de apibus.” Archives D’histoire Doctrinale Et Littéraire Du Moyen Âge. 68 (1): 73-94.

Bretel, Paul, ed. and trans. 2003. Le Jongleur de Notre-Dame. Traductions des Classiques du Moyen Âge, vol. 64. Paris: Honoré Champion.

Fassler, Margot E. 1984. “Who Was Adam of St. Victor? The Evidence of the Sequence Manuscripts.” Journal of the American Musicological Society. 37 (2): 233-269.

Gautier, Léon. 1858. Œuvres poétiques d’Adam de S. Victor, précédées d’un essai sur sa vie et ses ouvrages. Première édition complète. Paris.

Grosdidier de Matons, José. 1977. Romanos le Mélode et les Origines de la Poésie Religieuse à Byzance. Paris: Éditions Beauchesne.

Wilkie, Everett C. 1979. “Our Lady’s Tumbler.” Allegorica 4 (1&2): 80-120.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2018. The Juggler of Notre Dame and the Medievalizing of Modernity. Vol. 1: The Middle Ages, Vol. 2: Medieval Meets Medievalism, Vol. 3: The American Middle Ages, Vol. 4: Picture That: Making a Show of the Jongleur, Vol. 5: Tumbling into the Twentieth Century, Vol. 6: War and Peace, Sex and Violence. Worldwide: OpenBook Publishers.

epic to ordinary: heaven and earth in Christian Latin hymns

Jesus riffling book pages in Mary's lap

The Christian Gospels conflate traditional Greco-Roman distinctions of epic and ordinary. The Gospel story of Lazarus epitomizes that extraordinary mixing. Christian Latin hymns followed the Gospels in bringing heaven to earth. Heaven in earthy incarnation characterizes the Christian way of salvation.

“Let every age now recognize {Agnoscat omne saeculum},” a hymn probably written in the sixth century for the celebration of Christmas, brings together the epic and the ordinary, heaven and earth:

So Mary in her womb conceived
by seed bestowed by faithful word;
him whom a world does not sustain
a young girl’s belly now contains.

A manger’s confines he endured
who was author of light itself;
he with the father formed the sky,
he his mother’s swaddling donned.

{ Maria ventre concepit
verbi fidelis semine;
quem totus orbs non baiulat
portant puellae viscera.

Praesepe poni pertulit
qui lucis auctor exstitit;
cum patre caelos condidit,
sub matre pannos induit. } [1]

The poet doesn’t shy from referring to a man’s semen in figuring conception and to Mary’s specific belly. Yet the poet also refers to Jesus with an epic image associated with Alexander the Great. Jesus who with God the father formed the sky, with its sun and moon, covers his little moon with swaddling clothes he received from his earthly mother. Heaven has come to earth in a truly earthy way.

The hymn “How blessed was that bed of straw {Quam beatum stratum}” similarly brings together the epic and the ordinary. In twelfth-century France, Heloise of the Paraclete’s ex-lover Peter worked for her to write this hymn for her to use at work on Christmas as a career woman. This hymn celebrates the once-common practice of a woman giving birth and living with her husband in impoverished circumstances. Yet the woman Mary, a virgin married to her husband Joseph, gives birth to an extraordinary child:

How blessed was
that bed of straw, on which
rested the flank
of that virgin so great,
on which was laid
that baby at his birth,
in whose small palm
the heavens are enclosed.

In silken cloths
all other queens always
with utmost pain
give birth to their children;
this blessed couch
made out of worthless straw
had no sense
of any pain at all.

For the nurture
of the children of kings,
the breasts of wet nurses
are commandeered;
this child was reared
upon a virgin’s milk;
the virgin bore him
with hymen intact.

{ Quam beatum
stratum hoc straminis,
tantae latus
quod pressit virginis,
quo parvulus
mascens excipitur
cuius palmo
caelum concluditur.

In sericis
reginae ceterae
summo solent
dolore parere;
vilis strati
beatus lectulus
omnis fuit
doloris nescius.

Regum satis
in alimonia
sunt subacta
nutricum ubera.
Educatur
lacte virgineo,
virgo clauso
quem fudit utero. } [2]

The baby who can enclose the heavens in the palm of his hand is born onto a bed of straw. Epic, tragedy, and other high literature typically concerns kings and queens. This baby boy and his mother weren’t like other kings and queens. A king as a baby wouldn’t even suckle at his mother’s breast. A courtier might lose his head for referring to a queen’s hymen. Yet Christians celebrated the human bodily reality of Jesus and Mary.

False piety has distorted understanding of Christianity. Dante’s gyno-idolatry is less Christian than Boccaccio’s outrageously earthy humanism. The conclusion of the Romance of the Rose offers profound Christian moral instruction. Ancient Latin Christian hymns appreciated men’s sexuality. So too should all Christians. And not just all Christians, but all the world.

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Notes:

[1] “Let every age now recognize {Agnoscat omne saeculum},” st. 3, 5, Latin text and English translation (adapted slightly) from Walsh (2012) pp. 234-5. Here’s the full Latin text. This hymn has been attributed to Venantius Fortunatus, but it doesn’t appear in his collected works. The hymn doesn’t appear in the Old or New Hymnal. Walsh regards its attribution Venantius Fortunatus as only an “attractive possibility.” Id. p. 465. The hymn’s similarity in content and style to Fortunatus’s hymns make it likely that it was composed in the sixth century.

[2] Peter Abelard, “How blessed was that bed of straw {Quam beatum stratum}” st. 1-3, Latin text and English translation (adapted slightly) from Walsh (2012) pp. 288-9. Abelard used the rhetorical technique known as synoeciosis. Raby declared:

Abélard stands in a special position as a hymn writer, as he stands alone as a philosopher. He broke away from tradition, and left no successors. The hymns bear the mark of an original genius, and would have attracted attention apart from the immense fame of their author.

Raby (1953) p. 326.

The Latin term alimonia that Abelard used above means “nourishment” or nurturing food and drink. In modern English, the term “alimony,” like “child support,” is used as a misleading term for state-mandated financial payments that depend mainly on the payer’s income at the time of the order, not the payee’s need for nourishment or loving parental support. These financial obligations are vastly disproportionately imposed on men through systemic anti-men sex discrimination.

[image] Jesus, in the lap of Mary, riffling the pages of her book. Excerpt from oil-on-panel painting known as the Durán Madonna. Made by Netherlandish painter Rogier van der Weyden between 1435 and 1438. Preserved under accession number P02722 in the Prado National Museum (Madrid, Spain).

References:

Raby, Frederic James Edward. 1953. A History of Christian-Latin Poetry: from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages. 2nd Ed. (1st ed, 1927). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Walsh, Peter G., ed. and trans., with Christopher Husch. 2012. One Hundred Latin Hymns: Ambrose to Aquinas. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, vol. 18. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

ancient Latin Christian hymns appreciate men’s sexuality

Saint Ambrose of Milan

In the fourth century, Ambrose of Milan composed a Latin hymn for the Christmas season. With sexual frankness nearly unspeakable today, Ambrose’s hymn “Redeemer of the Gentiles, come {Veni, redemptor gentium}” set Jesus’s conception and gestation in parallel with men’s sexual generosity:

Redeemer of the Gentiles, come;
show forth the birth from virgin’s womb;
let every age show wonderment;
such birth is fitting for our God.

Not issuing from husband’s seed,
but from the Spirit’s mystic breath,
God’s Word was fashioned into flesh,
and thrived as fruit of her womb.

The virgin’s womb begins to swell;
her chaste enclosure remains intact:
the banners of her virtues gleam;
God in his temple lives and stirs.

From wedding-chamber he comes forth,
from the royal court of chastity,
as giant of his twin natures,
eager to hasten on his way.

{ Veni, redemptor gentium;
ostende partum virginis:
miretur omne saeculum;
talis decet partus Deo.

Non ex virili semine
sed mystico spiramine
Verbum Dei factum est caro,
fructusque ventris floruit.

Alvus tumescit virginis,
claustrum pudoris permanet;
vexilla virtutum micant,
versatur in templo Deus.

Procedat e thalamo suo,
pudoris aula regia,
geminae gigas substantiae
alacris ut currat viam. } [1]

Why is birth from a woman who never had sex with a man fitting for God? Ambrose explains that God’s mystic breath did the work of a husband’s semen. Carrying forward the figure of displaced, near-divine masculine sexuality, Ambrose implicitly contrasts the swelling of the womb with the swelling of a man’s penis. The later commonly penetrates a beloved woman’s vagina, but Ambrose explicitly elaborates that “the chaste enclosure remains intact.” Abstractly celebrating the bodily reality of a woman’s genitals late in a pregnancy, Ambrose declares, “the banners of her virtue gleam.” The subsequent stanza associates God’s temple with a wedding chamber, again proclaims the mother’s chastity, and declares Jesus “a giant of his twin natures.” Given the bodily figuration of these four stanzas, that phrase plausibly carries the punning meaning, “a giant of testicular substance.”[2] The virgin mother set forth from her womb a wonderfully masculine son.

Translators seem to have lacked the good faith to read Ambrose’s hymn frankly. Bodily figuration is prevalent in Hebrew scripture, and the Hebrew psalms were the primary hymns of the nascent Christian church. Yet an influential mid-nineteenth-century British translation of Ambrose’s hymn rendered the bodily “not issuing from husband’s seed” as “with virgin honour all unstained.” A mid-nineteenth-century American translation is “Of the virgin undefiled!”[3] A man having licit, loving sex with a woman neither stains her nor defiles her. Womb, flesh, swelling, gleaming intact banners of the enclosure — all these are lost in lofty, pious abstractions of prominent English translations. They provide words not brought to life in the flesh.

Other early Christian hymns also show appreciation for men’s sexuality. A hymn entitled “O Christ, redeemer of all {Christe, redemptor omnium}” recognized both that Jesus was born of a woman who never had sex with a man and that Jesus was a fully masculine man:

Remember, our salvation’s author,
that long ago you took the form,
out of an untasted young woman,
of our own body, and were born.

{ Memento, salutis auctor,
quod nostri quondam corporis
ex illibata virgine
nascendo formam sumpseris. } [4]

Early Christian men understood, as all men should, that our bodies, our selves, was the form that God chose to be. Toxic masculinity is a demonic claim. Medieval literature described husbands’ sexual obligation to their wives as having life-saving importance. An ancient Christian hymn “O Jesus, our redemption {Iesu, nostra redemptio}” alluded to the salvific form of men’s sexuality:

The burning enclosure you penetrated,
your captives you redeemed,
victor in noble triumph,
on the Father’s right you sit.

{ Inferni claustra penetrans
tuos captivos redimens,
victor triumpho nobili
ad dextram Patris residens. } [5]

Most healthy women who don’t hate men find particular men captivating. Men redeem such women by penetrating their burning enclosures. From a burning bush Moses heard the voice of God.[6] Christians properly understand men’s sexuality as sacralizing.

While men should be appreciated in their romantic simplicity, men, like women, can become sexually corrupt. The early Christian hymn “Jesus, you are the virgins’ crown {Iesu, corona virginum}” shows poignant masculine self-consciousness. It includes the masculine fantasy of being surrounded and adored by young, devoted women:

You who among the lilies feast,
enclosed by bands of virgins there,
a bridegroom handsome in your fame,
and rendering prizes to your brides.

Wherever you advance,
the virgins follow you and race,
singing your praises, in your wake,
and make their sweet hymns to resound.

{ Qui pascis inter lilia
saeptus choreis virginum,
sponsus decorus gloria,
sponsisque reddens praemia.

Quocumque pergis, virgines
sequuntur, atque laudibus
post te canentes cursitant
hymnosque dulces personant. } [7]

Those praying the hymn then ask for greater vision and recognize the risk of becoming corrupt in love:

We pray you now, more generously
give added vision to our minds,
to have no truck with any wounds
inflicted by corruption’s dart.

{ Te deprecamur, largius
nostris adauge mentibus
nescire prorsus omnia
corruptionis vulnera. }

Corruption’s dart alludes to the arrow of the traditional Greco-Roman god Cupid. Paul of Tarsus explicitly denounced sexual failings among Christians. The goodness of men’s sexuality doesn’t prevent it from being used wrongly.

Christians have joyfully sung hymns since the birth of Christ. The hymns above are included in the Roman Breviary {Breviarium Romanum} and the Liturgy of the Hours {Liturgia Horarum} — books that church leaders and devoted faithful have long used for daily prayer.[8] With their frank appreciation for men’s sexuality, these hymns can guide all men and women to wonderful singing.

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Notes:

[1] “Give ear, O king of Israel {Intende, qui regis Israel},” stanzas 2-5, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Walsh (2012) pp. 14-5. This hymn now commonly begins without the first stanza and thus is known as “Redeemer of the Gentiles, come {Veni, redemptor gentium}.” Here’s the full Latin text.

A fifth-century Latin Christian hymn similarly emphasizes Mary’s virginity:

Celestial grace does enter in
the enclosed belly of the girl;
the girl’s womb as burden bears
such mysteries are she knew not.

Directly is the dwelling of
her chaste bosom made God’s temple;
untouched and not knowing men,
she by the word a son conceived.

{ Clausae puellae viscera
caelestis intrat gratia;
venter puellae baiulat
secreta quae non noverat.

Domus pudici pectoris
templum repente fit Dei;
intacta nesciens virum
verbo concepit filium. }

“Away from sunrise’s hinge {A solis ortus cardine},” stanzas 3-4, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Walsh (2012) pp. 86-7. Walsh translated “intacta nesciens virum” as “untouched and innocent of men.” Men should not be essentially associated with guilt.

[2] Alan of Lille’s erudite twelfth-century poem Undoing the Knot {Vix nodosum valeo} uses geminus frater {twin brothers} in the sense of testicles. That straight-forward metaphor plausibly was used many centuries earlier.

[3] The mid-nineteenth-century British translator is John Mason Neale. The American translator is William M. Reynolds. The Clerk of Oxford provides both translations.

[4] “Christe, redemptor omnium,” stanza 3, Latin text and English trans. (modified) from Walsh (2012) pp. 170-1. This sixth-century hymn has long been song at Vespers on Christmas Day. Id. p. 446. This hymn and the subsequent two were part of the New Hymnal. That book of Christian liturgical hymns probably originated in tenth-century France. Id. p. xii.

Walsh exchanged the order of the third and fourth verses in translation. That seems to me to downplay the importance of Jesus being incarnate like other men. For “ex illibata virgine,” Walsh translated “out of a virgin without stain.” The Latin illibata is rooted in libatus, which can mean a drink poured out in honor of god or gods. A man having licit, loving sex with a woman doesn’t stain her.

[5] “O Jesus, our redemption {Iesu, nostra redemptio},” stanza 3,  Latin text and English trans. (modified) from Walsh (2012) pp. 178-9. The revised Roman Breviary has this hymn at First Vespers on Ascension Thursday. Id. p. 448. The first line of this stanza Walsh translated as “Hell’s gate you penetrated.” My translation, which is more literal, helps to bring out the inter-textuality with Tertullian’s On the Apparel of Women. The stanza refers most directly to the Harrowing of Hell. See Matthew 27:52-4.

[6] In medieval European thought and poetry, the burning bush was associated with Mary’s womb: “This {the burning bush not consumed with flames} prefigured the blessed Virgin, whom the fire of the Holy Ghost illuminated with offspring, yet defiled not with the flame of concupiscence.” Honorius Augustodunensis, Speculum ecclesiae, quoted in Raby (1953) p. 369.

Adam of Saint-Victor perceptively connected the burning bush with moistening:

The dew descends over the fleece,
and the flame glows in the bush,
yet neither is harmed.
It was Christ assuming the flesh,
yet not consuming
your purity {Mary’s purity} when he was born.

{ Super vellus ros descendens
et in rubo flamma splendens,
neutrum tamen laeditur.
Fuit Christus carnem sumens,
in te tamen non consumens
pudorem, dum gignitur. }

“Let us give solemn thanks on this day {Gratulemur in hac die},” st. 17-18, Latin text and English trans. Mousseau (2013) pp. 168-9.

[7] “Jesus, you are the virgins’ crown {Iesu, corona virginum},” stanzas 2-3, Latin text and English trans. (modified) from Walsh (2012) pp. 194-5. The subsequent quote is similarly from stanza 4 (the last stanza). Here’s the full Latin text. This hymn was composed for the Common of Virgins prayer day.

[8] The Magnificat and the Benedictus are Jewish hymns incorporated into Luke’s Gospel. Luke 1:46-55, 68-79. The Gospels of Mark and Matthew record a hymn sung in conjunction with the last supper with Jesus. Mark 14:26, Matthew 26:30.

[image] Mosaic of Ambrose of Milan (excerpt). Fifth-century mosaic in the Basilica of Sant’Ambrogio, Sacello di San Vittore in Ciel d’Oro. Image used under fair-use provisions of U.S. copyright law.

References:

Mousseau, Juliet, trans. 2013. Adam of Saint-Victor. Sequences. Leuven: Peeters.

Raby, Frederic James Edward. 1953. A History of Christian-Latin Poetry: from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages. 2nd Ed. (1st ed, 1927). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Walsh, Peter G., ed. and trans., with Christopher Husch. 2012. One hundred Latin hymns Ambrose to Aquinas. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, vol. 18. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Symeon the New Theologian overcame Christian gender disadvantage

Origen castrating himself, Empedocles throwing himself in fire

Christian men are gender-disadvantaged relative to Christian women. Mary, the first and preeminent Christian disciple, conceived and nurtured Jesus within herself, as all subsequent Christians, including men, were to do. Scripture and Christian tradition figure the Christian Church as feminine — the bride of Christ.[1] The fully masculine man Jesus calls both Christian women and men to love him personally and passionately. With gynocentrism and heterosexuality dominant in human societies, ordinary men tend to be marginalized in the Christian Church and struggle to understand personally God’s passionate love for them.

In eleventh-century Byzantium, Symeon the New Theologian understood personally the extreme abasement of God in becoming a male human being. As the revered Trojan epic cycle makes clear, thousands of men’s lives matter less than the life of one beautiful woman Helen. Gyno-idolatry has been prevalent throughout human history. Byzantine society, not surprisingly, was deeply gynocentric, and men’s sexuality was devalued. Symeon probably had his testicles cut off as a youth for career advantage in the Byzantine civil service.[2] Symeon surely understood that God became incarnate as a man, not a woman, to unite the extremes of divinity and humanity as commonly perceived.[3]

Symeon the New Theologian had lived a dissolute life as a leading eunuch in the imperial court at Constantinople. Symeon confessed his evil acts:

I would like to tell them {my evils} here, but certainly not all, O Word,
for they are innumerable beyond the stars,
beyond the drops of rain, and the sand
of the sea, beyond the multitude of surging waves.

I had become a murderer — listen everyone
so that you may weep sympathetically — but the manner
of murder, I leave aside, on account of too long a speech.
Alas, I had also become an adulterer at heart,
and a sodomite in deed and by free choice.
I became a philanderer, a wizard, and a corrupter of boys,
a perjurer, a blasphemer, a money-grabber,
a thief, a liar, shameless and rapacious — woe is me!
abusive, brother-hating, exceedingly jealous
and money-loving, reckless, and also every
other form of wickedness I have committed.
Yes, trust me, I say these things truly,
and not in imagery, not in clever metaphor! [4]

Eunuch officials in Byzantium were commonly despised for their viciousness. At age 28, Symeon withdrew from his eminent position in the imperial court to become a monk.

Symeon understood that he needed God’s love to be saved from darkness, sorrow, and loneliness. Symeon proclaimed:

But if it is possible to be saved
without love, O my Christ,
how shall this be?

Impossible!

If we were separated from the light,
how shall we flee the darkness?
If we were deprived of the joy,
how would we be free from sorrow?
Having been found outside the bridal chamber,
how would we be completely happy?

Having fallen out of the Kingdom,
— I speak of seeing you, O Savior —
what other salvation,
and what sort of consolation,
or in what other kind of place
would we be able to find salvation?

Certainly, absolutely nowhere,
even if some foolishly perceive it so

Symeon described God’s love as spiritual light and fire. He experienced himself united with God. That experience wasn’t outside of his body. Symeon’s experience of God involved the same senses as human erotic experience:

He is seen by me and he looks at me, he who looks upon all things.
Amazed, I am astonished at the shapeliness of his beauty,
and how the Creator stooped down when he opened the heavens
and displayed his unspeakable and strange glory to me.
Who therefore shall also come closer to him?
Or how shall one be carried up to the immeasurable heights?
When I considered this, he himself was found within me,
flashing forth within my wretched heart,
illuminating me from all directions with immortal radiance,
shining upon all my members with his rays,
folding his entire self around me, he tenderly kisses all of me.
He gives his whole self to me, the unworthy,
and I take my fill of his love and beauty,
and I am filled full of divine pleasure and sweetness.

Symeon understood that Jesus loves men as passionately as he loves women. That gift of love can be experienced right here on earth:

I revel in the unspeakable and divine joy;
I make merry in love’s beauty, I often embrace it,
I kiss it, and fall down in worship, I have great thankfulness
to those who have arranged for me to see what I was desiring,
to partake in the inexpressible light, and to become light,
and to share in the light’s gifts here on earth,
and to obtain the provider of all good things,
and to lack no spiritual gifts. [5]

Symeon urged others to partake of this joyful, divine eros. Far too many persons don’t experience this joy.

Hatred of men and demonization of men’s sexuality destroys human and divine eros. Scholars today are embarrassed that Jesus was a fully masculine human being. In service of dominant gynocentric ideology, they pontificate about “the mystery of the dual-gendered sexuality of the total Christ.”[6] In more enlightened eleventh-century Byzantium, Symeon recognized that Jesus had a penis, and that men shouldn’t be ashamed of their penises:

We were made members of Christ, and Christ becomes our members

And so thus you well know that both my finger and my penis are Christ.
Do you tremble or feel ashamed?
But God was not ashamed to become like you,
yet you are ashamed to become like him? [7]

Those who seek worldly status in our ignorant and bigoted age write lengthy discourses on the problematics of essentializing gender and the essential androgyny of non-hyper-masculinity. In reality, Christian men must develop the strength of love that Symeon knew:

Love put to flight a column of demons,
it chased away cowardice,
it introduced manliness.

Our time desperately needs Symeon’s witness of Christian manliness.

Christian Dionysos statuette from Hermitage

A Roman statuette of Dionysos, repurposed in eighth- or ninth-century Byzantium, illustrates possibilities for overcoming gynocentrism and men’s Christian gender disadvantage. The statuette’s display of male genitals wouldn’t have shocked Byzantines in Constantinople. They were accustomed to a monumental classical sculpture of a naked ass-driver and ass and a statue of Priapos holding in his left hand his erect penis.[8] Two cross-shaped monograms stamped on the statuette’s chest are pointed with Greek letters representing “Lord help me.”[9] That inscription obliterates Roman men’s pride in acquiring war wounds on their chests. Accentuating the statuette’s lithe waist is inscribed text of Psalm 29:3. In a medieval liturgy for Epiphany, that text generated words for consecrating water:

I have heard Your voice, Lord, crying in the wilderness, when You thundered over the mighty waters, bearing witness to Your son. [10]

A Byzantine crafts-person apparently repurposed the Roman statuette of Dionysos to be a personal receptacle for consecrated holy water. The figure of Dionysos may have been appropriately re-visioned as Jesus Christ. Symeon the New Theologian sought to bring the spiritually complacent to an epiphany of divine eros.[11] The Byzantine maker and owner of this statuette understood Symeon’s message before he proclaimed it. Even in our more ignorant and bigoted age, we too should be able to appreciate a masculine representation of divine eros.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Romanos the Melodist’s kontakion On Mary at the Cross characterizes Mary as a mother who nearly dominates Jesus. The Grottaferrata version of the early Byzantine epic Digenis Akritis poignantly addresses gynocentrism. Images of Mary were mass-produced in Crete in 1499. Milliner (2014) pp. 21-2. The same was probably true earlier and elsewhere. Among late twentieth-century Christian pilgrimage sites in Western Europe, about two-thirds primarily concern Mary. Nolan & Nolan (1989) pp. 116-7.

[2] Symeon lived from about 949 to 1022 GC. Niketas Stethatos’s eleventh-century hagiographic life of Symeon, entitled The Life and Conduct of Our Father among the Saints Symeon the New Theologian, Elder and Superior of the Monastery of Saint Mamas Xerokerkos, states:

Symeon, this man so renowned for his virtue, was born in the region of Paphlogonia …. His home was a village called Galati by the local inhabitants. His parents, who were of noble and rich stock, were Basil and Theophano, known by the surname Galatones. While still at a tender age, he was taken to Constantinople by his parents, like some precious object, and entrusted to his grandparents who were at that time well known at the imperial court. He was also handed over to a schoolteacher and taught the elementary curriculum.

Life of Saint Symeon, Ch. 2, from Greek trans. Greenfield (2013) p. 5. Symeon’s paternal uncle was a bed chamberlain (koitonites), an influential imperial position close to the Byzantine Emperor. The bed chamberlain was usually a eunuch. Undoubtedly with his uncle’s help, Symeon quickly earned the rank of spatharokoubikoularios (“Gentleman Sword-Bearer of the Imperial Bedchamber”), a position historically reserved for eunuchs, although not necessarily so in Symeon’s time. Life of Saint Symeon, Ch. 3; Greenfield (2013) p. 400, notes 1, 3, 4; McGuckin (2005) p. 199, n. 4; Tougher (2008) p. 62.

According to the Life of Saint Symeon, the pious man Philotheos helped to construct “a holy monastery for ascetics at Anaplous on the Byzantine Bosphorus.” Philotheos became a monk in that monastery. He then had a vision of Symeon as a “gray-haired man, a respectable and dignified-looking eunuch with a particularly angelic appearance and a face full of divine grace.” That eunuch identified himself to Philotheos as Symeon. Life of Saint Symeon, Chs. 145, 147, trans. Greenfield (2013) pp. 361, 365.

Given the evidence, Symeon almost surely was a eunuch. McGuckin in several places reasonably assumes that Symeon was a eunuch. McGuckin( 2005) p. 197; p. 197, n. 8; p. 200, n. 55. Above I also regard Symeon as a eunuch. On the specific form of Symeon’s castration, see note [7] below.

[3] Symeon, Τῶν θείων ὕμνων οἱ ἔροτες {Hymns of Divine Eros} 7.42 refers to God incarnate in Jesus as uniting two extremes.

[4] Symeon, Hymns of Divine Eros 24.64-67, 71-83, from Greek trans. Griggs (2010). All but the final quote are similarly from Hymns of Divine Eros, with citations (cited by beginning words of quote, hymn.lines): But if it is possible…, 17.426-42; He is seen by me…, 16.17-30; I revel in the unspeakable…, 18.116-24; We were made members of Christ…, 15.140, 160-3; Love put to flight…, 17.390-2. I’ve made some insubstantial changes to the translations. Koder (1969-73) provides a critical edition of the Greek text.

[5] Răducan (2011) analyzes the conflation of eros and agape in Symeon’s hymns. Symeon described what is known in Orthodox Christian thought as theosis. Krueger observed:

He {Symeon} cannot convey or understand the love of God independent of human emotions and experience. … This relationship between carnal desire and desire for God does not reduce to a “mere metaphor” or simple binary, one that might erase the metaphor’s referent by transferring its sense to another thing. Rather, knowledge of the experience of one contributes to the indescribable experience of the other. Under these conditions, carnal and spiritual eros engage in mutual constitution, shaping, defining, but not necessarily bounding each other.

Krueger (2018) pp. 318, 336 {references omitted}. Krueger shows that Symeon’s descriptions of love are similar to those in Byzantine romances.

[6] Milliner (2014) p. 26. In response to Steinberg’s seminal presentation of Renaissance ostentatio genitalium, Milliner used Byzantium to advance contemporary academic gender orthodoxy. Rachel Fulton Brown courageously and astutely responded:

Scandalous as it might be actually to agree with Steinberg, I have a rather different take on the matter. As I read it, it was never Steinberg’s main point that only Renaissance artists ever attempted to show Christ in his humanity, only that when they did, given their commitment to a certain style of naturalism, they found themselves obliged to represent the full humanity of Christ as a man, including his genitalia — and for good theological reasons.

Brown (2014) p. 2. Missing the obvious specificity of Renaissance naturalism, Robert Nelson in response to Milliner began with an ad hominen disparaging memory of Steinberg and then lamented Steinberg’s neglect of iconic presence. On the latter, Galbi (2003). Nelson cursorily dismissed “Steinberg’s flawed thesis that is now thankfully fading into the past.” Id. p. 1. Steinberg’s thesis is fading into the past only because academics are becoming more narrow-minded, bigoted, and doctrinaire.

[7] Cf. 1 Corinthians 12:12-27. In his original Greek text, Symeon unambiguously refers to his penis:

πάντως οὖν οὕτως ἔγνωκας καὶ δάκτυλόν μου Χριστὸν
καὶ βάλανον — οὐκ ἔφριξας, ἢ σὺ καὶ ἐπῃσχύνθης;
Άλλὰ Θεός σοι ὅμοιος οὐκ ᾐσχύνθη γενέσθαι,
σὺ δὲ ἐκείνῳ ὅμοιος αἰσχύνῃ γεγονέναι

Hymns of Divine Eros 15.160-3, Greek text from Hoder (1969-73) vol. 1, p. 290. Byzantine writers were willing to refer to genitals. John Tzetzes, perhaps the greatest classical of all time, recast a Homeric epithet to form an erudite allusion to women’s genitals. A fourteenth-century Byzantine poem compared the penises of a donkey and an ox. Unlike for today’s elite, for medieval elite the typical bodily reality of sexually dichotomous genitalia would not have been shocking or embarrassing.

D.T. Nguyen at Asian Orthodoxy aptly observed:

It’s too simplistic to say that Symeon has no patience for puritanical prudery and stop there. Really, these hymns are a slap to the face of those who demand the Divine to manifest itself only outside that which is deemed lowly (opposed to heavenly), impure (opposed to pure), or secular (opposed to sacred). … We are always expecting an apocalyptic enlightenment totally alienated from the mundane mediocrity of our daily lives. Instead, we receive the anti-climatic insight that this here and now – this really is it. However, we now see it as God sees it: and God saw that it was good.

Nguyen quotes the Outer Chapters of the Zhuangzi addressing the same fundamental issue.

Although Symeon was probably a eunuch, his confession of being a sodomite and his reference to his penis suggest that his testicles were excised, but his penis wasn’t cut off. That was a common form of castration. It is attested in Juvenal’s Satire 6. In missing Symeon’s point, Milliner assumed that Symeon lacked a penis:

But to isolate the penis in this hymn (Symeon was, after all, an eunuch) is to miss the larger point.{note 60: Among other reasons not to overly emphasize phallic imagery in this poem is because Symeon was probably castrated for court service as an eunuch when a boy.}

Milliner (2014) p. 15. Having a penis is personally relevant to Christian men in representing to oneself receiving the Eucharist, following Mary in incarnating Jesus, and having a passionately loving relationship with Jesus.

[8] On the statue of Priapos, Patria 2.12, referenced in note [21] of my post on the naked ass-driver.

[9] From Courtauld Institute of Art (2006) p. 171, which provides a catalog entry for the statuette. Peers (2014) draws attention to the Dionysos statuette, and asks with respect to Byzantine culture:

How did sex in art get activated, sublimated, accomplished in that culture? How did it serve devotion, assimilation and union with God’s own body?

Peers (2014) p. 2. In addition to Symeon’s Hymns on Divine Eros, the progymnasmata of Nikephoros Basilakes provide good insight into those questions.

[10] These words (in Greek) “form part of the liturgical reading of Kosmas the Melode, bishop of Maiuma, uttered during the consecration of water during the feast of the Epiphany.” Courtauld Institute of Art (2006) p. 171 (including quoted text above). Id. suggests the statuette’s use:

Liturgical ewers bearing this text are known, which were used to hold holy water. Ewers originating from excavations in Corinth and Vrap, in Albania, are usually dated to the period of iconoclasm, around the eight and ninth centuries. … It is possible that the statue {statuette} of Dionysos, reworked in the early Middle Ages, began to serve as a distinctive receptacle for consecrated oil or water: this is suggested by the opening in Dionysos’s head, similar to the neck of a jug, and also by the form and average dimensions of glass pilgrim vessels for unction oil and water. If this hypothesis is correct, a glass capsule would have been placed inside the figure through the opening of the head, and the opening would then have been sealed with wax.

Id. According to the Hermitage’s page for it, the statuette is 32 cm tall.

[11] In entitling Symeon’s hymns “Τῶν θείων ὕμνων οἱ ἔροτες {Hymns of Divine Eros},” Niketas Stethatos alluded to Dionysos:

The title {Hymns of Divine Eros} is meant to evoke the Erotikoi Hymnoi of Hierotheos, whom Dionysius speaks of as his mystical teacher in Divine Names 3.2.

McGuckin (2005) p. 199, n. 2.

[images] (1) Origen (at center) castrates himself to make himself more welcomed as a teacher for nuns (on the left). Empedocles (on right) throws himself into a fire in an attempt to establish his immortality. Illustration in Romance of the Rose, “manuscript made for Louise of Savoy, mother of Francis I, with many miniatures in the style of Robinet Testard, French, late 15th century.” Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS. Douce 195, fol. 122v, via Wikimedia Commons. Romance of the Rose, manuscript created in Paris about 1405, MS. J. Paul Getty Museum, Ludwig XV7, f. 107, similarly contains an illustration of Origen castrating himself and Empedocles in a fire. According to the Romance of the Rose (Ch. 97), both Origen and Empedocles committed outrages against nature. (2) Statuette of Dionysus with a Text of a Psalm, made in Rome in the second-third century, Psalm 29:3 engraved in seventh-ninth century. Found fortuitously by the River Don in 1867. Preserved as item До.1864-2/2 in Hermitage Museum (St. Petersburg, Russia), image used in accordance with permission for “interactive forms used for the presentation of scholarly works.” Catalog entry 139 in Courtauld Institute of Art (2006) p. 171.

References:

Brown, Rachel Fulton. 2014. “Penisgate: Response to Matthew J. Milliner, ‘The Sexuality of Christ in Byzantine Art and in Hypermodern Oblivion.’” Religion and Culture Web Forum. University of Chicago Divinity School.

Courtauld Institute of Art. 2006. The Road to Byzantium: Luxury Arts of Antiquity. London: Fontanka.

Galbi, Douglas. 2003. “Sense in Communication.” Online.

Greenfield, Richard P. H., ed. and trans. 2013. Niketas Stethatos. The Life of Saint Symeon, the New Theologian. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library vol. 20. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Griggs, Daniel K., trans. 2010. Divine Eros: Hymns of St. Symeon, the New Theologian. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Koder, Johannes, ed and trans (French). 1969-73. Hymnes: Syméon le Nouveau Théologien. Sources Chrétiennes, no. 156 (Hymns 1-15), 174 (Hymns 16-40), 196 (Hymns 41-58). Paris: Éditions du Cerf.

Krueger, Derek. 2018. “Divine Fantasy and the Erotic Imagination in the Hymns of Symeon the New Theologian.” Ch. 15 (pp. 315-341) in Neil, Bronwen, and Evangelia Anagnostou-Laoutides, eds. Dreams, memory, and imagination in Byzantium. Leiden: Brill.

McGuckin, John Anthony. 2005. “Symeon the New Theologian’s Hymns of Divine Eros: A Neglected Masterpiece of the Christian Mystical Tradition.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality. 5 (2): 182-202.

Milliner, Matthew J. 2014. “The Sexuality of Christ in Byzantine Art and in Hypermodern Oblivion.” Religion and Culture Web Forum. University of Chicago Divinity School.

Nelson, Robert S. 2014. “Response to article of Matthew J. Milliner.” Religion and Culture Web Forum. University of Chicago Divinity School.

Nolan, Mary Lee, and Sidney Nolan. 1989. Christian Pilgrimage in Modern Western Europe. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Peers, Glenn. 2014. “Response to Matthew Milliner, ‘The Sexuality of Christ in Byzantine Art and in Hypermodern Oblivion.’” Religion and Culture Web Forum. University of Chicago Divinity School.

Răducan, Ana-Maria. 2011. “Meanings of the Term Eros at Saint Simeon the New Theologian.” Cogito. 2: 27-39.

Tougher, Shaun. 2008. The Eunuch in Byzantine History and Society. London: Routledge.