Catullus to Secundus, then fall to ignorance, bigotry & intolerance

Nearly 2100 years ago within the Roman Republic, the Veronese poet Catullus wrote passionate Latin poems of incarnated love. Writing in Latin about 1535 in Spain, the young Dutch poet Janus Secundus expressed the continuing vitality of Catullus’s sense of love. But post-seventeenth-century obfuscations of men’s sexual windsurfing in translations of Lucian’s second-century True Story show the historical swerve. William Sanger’s pioneering mid-nineteenth-century social-scientific study of New York prostitution documents increasing criminalization of men’s sexuality. Sanger disparaged classical Latin authors for including “the coarsest words” in their writings. The Brothers Grimm in early nineteenth-century Germany similarly created fairy tales effacing the fleshly grandeur of incarnated love. Today’s ideologically puerile societies with a broken heritage of European culture desperately need a renaissance of understanding lost after the misnamed European Middle Ages. Today’s ideologically puerile societies, mired in ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance, desperately need to recover mature, humanistic appreciation for men’s sexuality.

The ancient Latin poet Catullus understood men’s sexuality to be a blessing. Like a learned philosopher, Catullus in Carmen 7 answered a difficult love question and declared his answer’s ethical implications:

You ask how many of your kissing sessions,
Lesbia, for me would be satisfying enough and more:
as great as number the Libyan sand-grains
that lie on silphium-bearing Cyrene
between the oracle of passionate Jove
and the sacred tomb of aged Battus,
or as many as the stars that, when the night rests,
see the secret loves of human beings.
So much I kiss you with so many kisses
satisfying enough and more for mad Catullus,
that neither the assiduous are able to count
nor an evil tongue able to penis-charm.

{ Quaeris, quot mihi basiationes
tuae, Lesbia, sint satis superque.
quam magnus numerus Libyssae harenae
lasarpiciferis iacet Cyrenis
oraclum Jouis inter aestuosi
et Batti veteris sacrum sepulcrum;
aut quam sidera multa, cum tacet nox,
furtivos hominum vident amores:
tam te basia multa basiare
vesano satis et super Catullo est,
quae nec pernumerare curiosi
possint nec mala fascinare lingua. }[1]

Catullus’s answer to his girlfriend’s question about his satisfaction with her kissing is ostentatiously learned. His adjective Libyan {Lybyssus} comes from the Greek Λιβύη, while silphium {lasarpiciferis} appears in Catullus newly translated into Latin from the Greek term σίλφιοφόρος. Silphium provides a foul-smelling medicinal resin called asafoetida. Moreover, Cyrene, a Greek colony in present-day Libya, is the birthplace of the eminent Hellenistic poet Callimachus. Battus is both the name of Cyrene’s mythical founder and the name of Callimachus’s father. Jove as Jupiter Ammon in fact had a revered oracle at the oasis of Ammonium (Siwah) within the Libyan desert.[2] These are crazy learned references in a love poem by a poet who third-personally describes himself as mad.

The method in Catullus’s madness comes from the combination of sand and stars. The mathematician Archimedes, working in the third century BGC, calculated in his treatise The Sand Reckoner {Ψαμμίτης} an upper bound for the number of grains of sand that would fill the universe: ten raised to the sixty-third power.[3] With respect to stars, a modern literary scholar noted:

Even on the clearest nights the number of stars visible is no more than 3000. Catullus would have been a little surprised at this fact, just as I was astonished when I first heard it.

{ Es sind auch in den klarsten Nächten nicht mehr als 3000. C. würde sich über diese Tatsache nicht wenig gewundert haben, genau wie ich erstaunt war, als ich sie zuerst hörte. }[4]

From 3000 to a sixty-four-digit number is a huge range for the number of kisses that would more than satisfy Catullus. With respect to the figures of sand and stars, a learned literary scholar noted, “The two conceits do not appear to be elsewhere amalgamated.” Attributing both to Hellenistic poetry in general would make Hellenistic poetic inhabit a huge expanse of subsequent Latin poetry.[5] Moreover, both figures are elsewhere amalgamated. Surely almost all medieval European thinkers would quickly recognize a blessing:

I will surely bless you and make your descendants as countless as the stars of the sky and the sands of the seashore.[6]

{ כִּֽי־בָרֵךְ אֲבָרֶכְךָ וְהַרְבָּה אַרְבֶּה אֶֽת־זַרְעֲךָ
כְּכוֹכְבֵי הַשָּׁמַיִם וְכַחוֹל אֲשֶׁר עַל־שְׂפַת הַיָּם }

Both Horace and Cicero disparaged faithful translators. Those translators were plausibly Jews living in Rome. Catullus, with all his learning, surely could have encountered Hebrew scripture, perhaps in Greek translation. Both Jews and Christians, like Catullus, had a cosmic perspective on love and life. Kissing for Catullus is associated with the seminal blessing of abundant life.

Catullus’s Carmen 7 emphasizes in its final verse an evil tongue. The present active infinitive of fascino has been commonly translated in Carmen 7 as “bewitch.”[7] But fascino is associated with a fascinum, a penis-shaped amulet. The evil tongue penis-charms by engaging tongues and mouths solely in forming words. That was the preoccupation of learned Hellenistic poets engaged, like merchants, in seeking, counting, and accumulating poetic figures and meters. In contrast, tongues and mouths in personal human experience of love are truly good and blessed in kissing that leads to genital communication. Lacking appreciation for the penis, modern readers have failed to appreciate the implicit concluding good in Catullus’s Carmen 7.

The expression of love hidden in Catullus’s Carmen 7 is made more explicit in his Carmen 5. Those assiduous in counting are thoroughly overwhelmed:

Let us live, my Lesbia, and let us love.
The talk of very stern old women
all that isn’t worth one cent.
Suns are able to die and rise again,
but for us, when our one brief light has died,
night is one perpetual sleep.
Bestow on me a thousand kisses, then another hundred
then a thousand add then a second hundred
then a further thousand add then another hundred
then, when we have done many thousands,
we’ll confuse our counting, so we won’t know how many.
At least an evil person cannot refuse to see us
when she knows that our kisses are that many.

{ Vivamus, mea Lesbia, atque amemus
rumoresque senum severiorum
omnes unius aestimemus assis.
soles occidere et redire possunt:
nobis cum semel occidit brevis lux,
nox est perpetua una dormienda.
da mi basia mille, deinde centum,
dein mille altera, dein secunda centum,
deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum,
dein, cum milia multa fecerimus,
conturbabimus illa, ne sciamus,
aut ne quis malus invidere possit,
cum tantum sciat esse basiorum. }

Life and love are inextricable in the history and future of humanity. In Catullus’s time, and much more so in our time, stern authorities of gynocentric social sentiment have sought to suppress viciously and unjustly men’s sexuality to the detriment of women and men. These authorities seek to make flesh-and-blood human beings invisible to each other. When Catullus and Lesbia kiss each other beyond counting, they insist on their substantial existence as persons in love. Life in love overcomes evil.

You! You who read about many thousand kisses,
you think I’m not much of a masculine man?
I with my dick will bang up your crapper and stuff your mouth.

{ vos quod milia multa basiorum
legistis, male me marem putatis?
pedicabo ego vos et irrumabo. }[8]

Brutalizing representations of men’s penises are deeply entrenched in millennia of human communication, yet sophisticated literature affirmed the goodness of men’s seminal blessing. The first century Songs of Priapus {Carmina Priapea} subtly challenged the brutalization of men’s sexuality. That subtle critique has largely been lost within modern anti-men bigotry. In ninth-century Germany, the learned Christian monk Walahfrid Strabo replaced Gallus’s figure of men waging war for women’s love with loving mutuality and joy in plowing a garden. Similarly, the great medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini, in addition to recovering Lucretius’s On the nature of things {De rerum natura} with its brilliant critique of gyno-idolatry, sought to affirm men’s sexuality with humane, delightful tales. Yet Poggio’s most important work — his collection of tolerant, men-affirming tales — tends to be ignored or trivialized in modern moralistic literary studies.

The last vibrant literary expression of Catullus’s understanding of incarnated love was the early modern kissing poems best represented by Janus Secundus’s Kisses {Basia}. Secundus recognized that brutalizing representations of men’s penises suppress life-creating love:

“Give me a sweet little deep kiss, charming young woman,” I said.
Soon you brushed my lips with your lips.
Then like one jumping back in terror after stepping on a snake,
you abruptly pulled your mouth far from my mouth.
That isn’t giving a sweet little deep kiss, my light, but merely giving
a tearful desire for a sweet little deep kiss.

{ Da mihi suaviolum, dicebam, blanda puella;
libasti labris mox mea labra tuis.
Inde, velut presso qui territus angue resultat,
ora repente meo vellis ab ore procul.
Non hoc suaviolum dare, Lux mea, sed dare tantum
est desiderium flebile suavioli. }[9]

One might give a sibling or a grandparent a sweet little kiss, but this sweet little kiss was a mutual, passionate brush of lips. It didn’t involve penetration. Secundus wanted more:

A hundred kisses times a hundred,
a hundred kisses times a thousand,
a thousand kisses times a thousand,
and as many thousands
as there are drops in the Sicilian sea,
as there are stars in the sky.

{ Centum basia centies,
centum basia millies,
mille basia millies,
et tot milia millies,
quot guttae Siculo mari,
quot sunt sidera caelo }[10]

The woman pulled back with a disparaging figure of a man’s penis — a snake. Secundus was left with only his tearful desire for her. Drawing imaginative force from Christian understanding of love, Secundus associated suffering with passion:

If you count tears, you may count kisses, but if
you don’t count tears, don’t count kisses.
And give me, as empty solace for wretched anguish,
uncountable kisses for uncountable tears.

{ Si numeras lacrimas, numeres licet oscula, sed si
non numeras lacrimas, oscula ne numeres;
et mihi da, miseri solatia vana doloris,
innumera innumeris basia pro lacrimis. }

The central medieval European understanding of love in its most important expression was Jesus’s bodily suffering of crucifixion and the boundless love of Christ. Medieval art explicitly depicted Jesus Christ as a fully masculine human being. Secundus’s empty solace of uncountable kisses for uncountable tears lacks the consummation of promised new life. That promise depends on a woman’s vagina encompassing a man’s penis.

Grotesque anti-men gender bias in both public discussion of rape and punishment for sex offenses, along with state-imposed forced financial fatherhood, make men particularly vulnerable in the heterosexual act that creates life. Secundus imagined his beloved woman protecting him from persecution for his passionate, vigorous heterosexuality:

Some say that I unite in kisses too effusively,
not in the manner that our aged fathers learned.
Hence when I draw your neck tightly in my desiring arms,
my light, and I die in your little kisses,
should I anxiously ask what everyone’s saying about me?
Who I am, or where I might be, barely comes to my mind.
Lovely Neaera heard and laughed. She then
encircled my neck with her snow-white hands
and gave me a little kiss, one no less lustful
than any charming Venus planted on her lover Mars.
“Why,” said she, “do you fear the decrees of the stern mob?
Only my court has competence in this case.”

{ Basia lauta nimis quidam me iungere dicunt,
qualia rugosi non didicere patres.
Ergo, ego cum cupidis stringo tua colla lacertis,
Lux mea, basiolis immoriorque tuis,
anxius exquiram quid de me quisque loquatur?
Ipse quis, aut ubi sim, vix meminisse vacat.
Audiit, et risit formosa Neaera, meumque
hinc collum nivea cinxit et inde manu;
basiolumque dedit, quo non lascivius umquam
inseruit Marti Cypria blanda suo;
et, “quid,” ait, “metuis turbae decreta severae?
Causa meo tantum competit ista foro.” }

That’s a masculine fantasy. Lack of facts or lack of competence hasn’t forestalled modern mobs from virtually stoning men for sex crimes against women. Men’s lives begin with women’s choices, and women’s choices can also end men’s lives.

naked man riding phallic snail

Men are reticent to express their feelings because women often don’t respond sympathetically to men’s feelings. Men thus often become emotionally and sexually repressed within gynocentric society. Secundus poignantly depicted that effect:

Why are you offering me your flaming little lip?
No, I do not wish to kiss you, hard woman,
harder than hard marble Neaera.
Would I make these placid kisses
of yours so passionate, proud one,
that, so often with my rigid organ erect,
I would perturb my tunic and yours
and mad with vain desire
I would wretchedly waste away with my cock burning?
Where are you fleeing? Wait, don’t deny me your little eyes,
nor your flaming little lip.
You now, I wish to kiss you, soft woman,
softer than soft goose down.

{ Quid profers mihi flammeum labellum?
Non te, non volo basiare, dura,
duro marmore durior Neaera.
Tanti istas ego ut osculationes
imbelles faciam, superbe, vestras,
ut, nervo toties rigens supino,
pertundam tunicas meas, tuasque;
et, desiderio furens inani,
tabescam, miser, aestuante vena?
Quo fugis? Remane, nec hos ocellos,
nec nega mihi flammeum labellum:
Te iam, te volo basiare, mollis,
molli mollior anseris medulla. }

In this poem, Secundus initially rejected the placid kisses so common today in sexless marriages. When he explained his bodily desire and suffering to Neaera, she turned to flee. In response, Secundus in the last three verses suppresses his feelings and settles for separating love from the sexual act that makes new life. That’s a characteristically modern position.

Men writers have always endured a difficult position in relation to women. If they forego writing about genderless persons and openly express their experiences as men in relation to women, they risk incurring women’s wrath and might even be called misogynists. From his unsafe position, Secundus dared to offer strong words:

Because I sing about chaste kisses in my limp book,
dusky Lycinna makes fun of my verses,
and Aelia calls me a poet of the droopy little penis —
she who sells her love at crossroads and under colonnades!
Of course they expect also to get to know my penis.
Hold off, you wicked little ones. My cock is nothing to me.
I neither sing for you, nor thrust in kisses for you.
May the awkward bride of the tender young man read them,
so also the tender bridegroom, not yet mature for the wars
that the nurturing love goddess practices in various ways.

{ Casta quod enervi cantamus Basia libro,
Versibus eludit fusca Lycinna meis,
Et me languiduli vatem vocat Aelia penis,
Quae venerem in triviis porticibusque locat.
Scilicet exspectant nostrum quoque noscere penem!
Parcite turpiculae, mentula nulla mihi est.
Nec vobos canto, nec vobis basio figo:
Ista legat teneri sponsa rudis pueri.
Ista tener sponsus, nondum maturus ad arma,
Exercet variis quae Venus alma modis. }[11]

While bearing a burden of performance, men also endure attacks on their masculinity. Castration culture encourages men to deny their own penises. Secundus, however, denied his penis as a man writer within an elaborate rhetorical mocking of hostile women readers like Lycinna and Aelia. Until they gain maturity and experience, those not sophisticated enough to understand how the penis relates to kissing interpret kissing to be just kissing.

man showing his asshole

Appreciation for Catullus’s sense of incarnated love shriveled in the seventeenth century and the subsequent modern period. Catullus and Janus Secundus bind roughly in time the sense of incarnated love that reached its most vibrant expression between them. In our age of ignorance, bigotry, and intolerance, few can imagine the joy of sex poignantly described in medieval Latin literature. No man poet today could write about women of old Pavia as the Archpoet did in the twelfth century. The vibrant celebration of diversity, scholarly study, and heterosexuality in King Alfonso X’s song about the dean of Cádiz is inconceivable today. Contrary to modern stereotypes, medieval clerics loved women across an expansive understanding of love. With carnal and creative representations of sex, medieval men protested men’s subordination to women and women’s exploitation of men. The thirteenth-century Romance of the Rose humorously transfigured in its end the sense of incarnated love that medieval thought associated with human salvation. Failing to understand the source of Catallus’s figure of seminal blessing is a telling mistake.[12] Now more than ever, modern culture must swerve to embrace the seminal blessing that comes through incarnated love.

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[1] Catullus, Carmen 7, Latin text from Catullus Online, my English translation, benefiting from those of Beck (2017), Wong (2017) p. 20, Daniel San (2004), Kline (2001), and Burton & Smithers (1894). To help the general reader understand the sound of the Latin, I’ve replaced u and i with v and j, respectively, in the appropriate places in the Latin text. The subsequent quote from Catullus’s Carmen 5 is similarly sourced. Lesbia is thought to represent Clodia Metelli, the wife of Quintus Metellus Celer.

Catullus apparently introduced into Latin poetry the words basio and basium, and he created the related substantive basiatio {kissing session}. Catullus wasn’t, however, the person who originally brought basio from a Gallic dialect into Latin. Wong (2017) p. 20. Cf. Fordyce (1990) pp. 106-7.

[2] On these obscure references, Elder (1951) p. 108, and Commager (1965) p. 85 and p. 106, notes 7 and 12. Some critics have interpreted this song as representing childish love. “This dainty little poem is a work of dalliance.” Elder (1951) p. 107. For citations of similar interpretations, Commager (1965) p. 84, and n. 6, p. 106. Commager aptly observed:

The poem suggests, rather, a formal catechism: question (quaeris …), answer (quam magnus numerus…), and conclusion (tam te basia … satis et super Catullo est).

Id. p. 84.

[3] Aaronson (1999) p. 3. For an English translation of Archimedes’s Sand-Reckoner, Mendell (2003).

[4] Friedrich (1908), comment on Catullus 7.7, cited by Segal (1968) p. 294, n. 18.

[5] The statement that the two conceits (poetic figures) of sand and stars are not elsewhere combined is from Segal (1968) p. 106, n. 14. Segal (1974) strains to find an allusion to Hellenistic poetry in the second conceit concerning stars (Catullus 7.7-8). A figure of stars as over-seers {ἐπἰσκοποι} surely isn’t limited to Helenistic poetry. Cf. id. p. 139.

[6] Genesis 22:17. Cf. Genesis 15:5, 26:4; Exodus 32:13; 1 Chronicles 27:23.

[7] “Bewitch” is used in the English translations of Catullus 7.12 in Wong (2017) p. 20, Daniel San (2004), Kline (2001), and both Burton and Smithers in Burton & Smithers (1894). Fordyce (1990), p. 110, puts forward that translation. Beck (2017) has “put a curse.” On fascina, Whitmore (2017).

[8] Catullus, Carmen 16, vv. 12-14, sourced as previously. Wong (2014) / Wong (2017) recognizes that Carmen 16 relates to Carmen 5 and 7, as well as Carmen 48 and 99The vos quod of 16.12 is an early humanistic correction for hosque. For some analysis, Wong (2014) pp. 33-5.

[9] Janus Secundus, Basia 3, Latin text from Burmannus & Bosscha (1821) via the Latin Library, my English translation, benefiting from the translations of Wong (2017) p. 71, Price (1996) p. 75, Nichols (1979) p. 491, and Kelly, Sheridan & Halhed (1854) p. 375-6, which provides the English translations of John Nott (1775) and Thomas Stanley (1647). Subsequent quotes from Secundus are similarly sourced. Although written about 1535, Secundus’s Basia were first published in full posthumously in 1541.

Both Nichols (1979) and Kelly, Sheridan & Halhed (1854) translate all of Secundus’s Basia, as well as his Wedding Poem {Epithalamium}. Black Cat Poems apparently provides Secundus’s Basia in a light adaptation of Nott’s 1775 translation.

In Secundus’s Basia 3, the most difficult translation issue is the word suaviolum, used three times in this six-verse poem. According to the fourth-century Roman grammarian and rhetoric teacher Aelius Donatus, Latin distinguishes three types of kisses:

oscula were formal duty, basia chaste affection, and savia lustful or with loving desire

{ oscula officiorum sunt, basia pudicorum affectuum, savia libidinum vel amorum }

Donatus, Commentum Terenti, Latin text from Wong (2017) p. 20, my English translation. Maurus Servius Honoratus, a Roman grammarian writing about 400 GC, similarly stated:

An osculum must be understood to be pious, and a savium to be voluptuous. Some say, however, that an osculum is given to children, a basium to one’s wife, and a savium to a whore.

{ sciendum osculum religionis esse, savium voluptatis, quamvis quidam osculum filiis dari, uxori basium, scorto savium dicant. }

Servius, Commentary on the Aeneid of Vergil 1.256, Latin text from the edition of Thilo & Hagen (1881) via Perseus, my English translation. Savium is an early form of suavium; suaviolum is a dimunitive of the latter. Catullus used saviolum in Carmen 99, verses 2 & 14.

These distinctions between Latin words for kisses were often ignored in practice. Ovid, who hardly wrote about kissing as a formal duty or as affection for children, exclusively used osculum. Fordyce (1990) pp. 107. On the occurence of different Latin words for kissing, Roth (2006).

Secundus’s Basia 3 seems to me to benefit from Donatus’s and Servius’s distinctions among kisses and transfered sense from suavis {sweet}. Moreover, contrast is a typical aspect of Secundus’s poetics. Price (1993) pp. 9, 33. “The quintessential Basium has a strong volta that marks a contradiction in sentiment or style.” Id. p. 59. Embracing Secondus’s use of contrast, I’ve translated suaviolum in Secundus’s Basia 3 as “sweet little deep kiss.” Wong, Price, Nichols, and Nott translated that word as “little kiss.”

[10] Secundus, Basia 7.1-6 (full, poetic translation of Basia 7). This poem obviously draws upon Catullus, Carmen 5 and 7. Secundus more directly refers to Lesbia and Catullus:

Give me a hundred kisses,
give me as many kisses as Lesbia gave
to her many-seeking poet, as she received.

{ da mi basia centum,
da tot basia, quot dedit
vati multivolo Lesbia, quot tulit }

Basia 16.3-5. The subsequent three quotes are from Basia 6.23-6 (If you count tears…), 11 (Some say that I unite in kisses…), and 14 (Why are you offering me…).

Like Catullus, Secundus makes clear that he wasn’t interested in just kissing. In a non-Christian second-century Greek novel perhaps written for young persons, a character devalues sexual intercourse:

The love act itself comes to an end and one is soon sated with it. It is nothing if you take away the kisses from it. The kiss does not come to an end, never brings satiety, and is always fresh.

{ τὸ μὲν γὰρ ἔργον τῆς Ἀφροδίτης καὶ ὅρον ἔχει καὶ κόρον, καὶ οὐδέν ἐστιν, ἐὰν ἐξέλῃς αὐτοῦ τὰ φιλήματα· φίλημα δὲ και ἀόριστόν ἐστι καὶ ἀκόρεστον καὶ καινὸν ἀεί. }

Achilles Tatius, Leucippe and Clitophon {Λευκιππην και Κλειτοφωντα} 4.8, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified) from Gaselee (1969) pp. 204-5. In this passage, Clitophon expresses his anguish at the thought of Charmides kissing Clitophon’s beloved Leucippe.

Being satisfied with passionate kissing is inconsistent with fundament Jewish and Christian values. Wong uses the above quote from Leucippe and Clitophon as an epigram to his book. Wong (2017) p. ix. Perhaps he meant that quote to be understood ironically. Such a construction would be consistent with Catullus and Secundus’s poetic style.

[11] Secundus, Epigrams 1.24, “On his little book of kisses {De libello suo basiorum}.” Price (1996) p. 87 provides a Latin text and English translation, while Kelly, Sheridan & Halhed (1854), p. 367, provides an English translation by George Ogle (1731). Wong (2017) p. 102 provides a partial English translation. In v. 1 above, the adjective “chaste {enervis}” also suggests castration. Above I’ve used “cock {mentula}” as a less formal translation of “penis {penis}.” Secundus’s rhetorical invocation of castration culture is apparent elsewhere:

Go away, go far away, you molesting crowd,
you shameful old and young women.
How much more chaste is my Neaera,
who certainly likes little books without a cock
better than a poet without a cock.

{ Ite hinc, ite procul, molesta turba,
matronaeque, puellulaeque turpes;
quanto castior est Neaera nostra,
quae certe sine mentula libellum
mavult, quam sine mentula poetam. }

Basia 12.14-18. Martial expressed a similar sentiment more impersonally:

Don’t be wishing that my little books would be castrated.
Nothing is more repulsive than a Priapus like a eunuch Gallus.

{ nec castrare velis meos libellos.
Gallo turpius est nihil Priapo. }

Martial, Epigrams 1.35, Latin text from Heraeus & Borovskij (1976) via Perseus, my English translation.

Secundus. along with his brothers Grudius and Marius, appreciated women’s strong, independent sexuality. Secundus’s beloved Neaera is thought to be a Spanish prostitute. Price (1996) pp. 26-7, 59. Moreover, Secundus in his elegies sings his ardent love for Julia. Murgatroyd (2000). In a letter to his brothers Secundus and Marius, Grudius wrote:

Julia (yours when this was reported) was for long enough ill with an eye ailment and ailments of other parts of her body. They suspected that she had the noble disease. I don’t think so. Now she shows the best complexion and agility and is most elegantly dressed. She is seen to have some other defilement. If you ask what affairs she’s carrying on, she goes about with her mother and her sister and (which is a sign of good health and a good cunt):
she continues to arrange her various charms for love work
and to wriggle her pliable ass with soft art
until Venus totally floods her inners with desired drops
and she falls back, languid from the sweet labor.
Be well and be diligent in your studies. That is the best way to recline, and in fact exactly what our father orders, and such is besides what the matter urges.

{ Iulia (quando etiam hoc vestra refert) satis diu aegrotavit et ex oculo et ex aliis corporis partibus; sunt qui suspicentur fuisse morbum nobilium. Id ego non puto, nunc enim prodit colore optimo, et agilis, et vestita cultissime; videtur habere aliquem pollum. Quod si quaeritis quid rerum gerat, agit cum matre et sorore, et (quod signum est bonae valetudinis et boni cunni),
Pergit opus Veneris variis disponere formis,
Et docilem molli flectere ab arte natem,
Dum quaesita Venus totis guttata medullis
Perfluat, et dulci laxa labore cadat. Valete, et diligenter studiis vestris, hoc est optimis incumbite; quod ipsum et ipse iubet pater, et alioqui res ita urget. }

Letter from Grudius to his brothers Marius and Secundus, May 29, 1532. Latin text from Guépin (2000), section 2.2.1, my English translation, benefiting from that of Endres (1981) p. 25. The “noble disease” is syphilis. On the rhetoric of this letter, Godman (1988) pp. 264-5.

[12] The tradition from Catullus to early modern kissing poems fundamentally concerns the presentation of masculinity. Wong (2017) pp. xiii, 115, 314-5. Wong interprets the issue in relation to hard {durus} and soft {mollis} aspects of masculinity:

In simplified terms, what continues in Secundus from his ultimate model, the ‘father of kisses’, is the sense of two registers in competition: one hard, aggressive, demonstratively masculine, and rapacious; the other soft, passive, effeminate, tender. Both registers are ironized, each by the other, and both relate sexuality to poetry through the idea of style. Catullus 5 and 7 alone do not provide this tension; they do so in relation to poem 16 and to the corpus as a whole.

Wong (2017) p. 103. Is masculinity in Jewish and Christian understanding “hard” or “soft”? No good answer exists, and the question itself isn’t interesting. Understanding Catullus’s concern to be incarnated love encompasses masculine love that’s both hard and soft, and in both senses intensely personal. Christianity largely carried that sense of incarnated love across medieval Europe through the early modern period and basia. The genre of basia faded in the seventeenth century. Wong (2017) p. 11. So too did elite appreciation for incarnated love as reflected in Catullus’s poetry and Jewish and Christian understanding.

Other scholars have recognized a change in the representation of love about the eighteenth century. Analyzing the reception of Catullus 5, Braden observed:

the intervening seventeen-hundred years have done drastic things to Catullus’ subject matter. The love of which Catullus speaks is of course sexual: “of course” because almost no classical author, not even the senes seueriores, would imagine any other form of love between a man and a woman. Catullus’ ambitions for that love, the range of values with which he seeks to invest it, are extraordinary, possibly even unprecedented, and ultimately disastrous; yet the physical dimension itself is not what needs explaining or excusing. Lesbia certainly does not have to be talked into accepting sex as a part of her life, and Carmina 5 seems anyway to deal with an affair already begun; the real issue is not the sexuality of their love, but its quality and intensity. The intervention of Christian morality, however, alters the terms on which Catullus’ poem could be imitated, and probably even the very way it could be perceived. A poem about sexual love must now devote a sizable amount of its energies to defending the rightness of such love in general, and by a serious shift in the center of gravity, the adaptations of Viuamus, mea Lesbia have to become, with only a few exceptions, seduction poems.

Braden (1979) pp. 207-9. Braden’s argument hinges on the deus ex machina of “Christian morality.” That’s completely incredible to anyone with broad knowledge of medieval European literature. For the unambitious, just read the tenth-century Exeter riddles and the Roman Catholic priest William Dunbar’s The Treatise of the Two Married Women and the Widow {The Tretis of the Tua Mariit Wemen and the Wedo}, written about 1500In exasperation, one is tempted to make Saint Jerome’s obscene gesture to Jovinian.

[images] (1) Knight riding a snail with a penis-shaped head. Folio 184v of Morgan Library MS M.358 (Book of Hours made in southern France c. 1440-1450). More on snails, classical epic, and gender. (2) Man displaying his asshole. From folio 61r of British Library Add MS 49622 (Gorleston Psalter made in England (Suffolk) between 1310-1324).


Aaronson, Scott. 1999. “Who Can Name the Bigger Number?” Online.

Beck, Melissa. 2016. “Let us Live and Let us Love: My Translation and Interpretation of Catullus Poem 5.” The Book Binder’s Daughter. Online, December 29,  2016.

Beck, Melissa. 2017. “How Many Kisses are Enough?: My Translation of Catullus Poem 7.” The Book Binder’s Daughter. Online, January 28, 2017.

Braden, Gordon. 1979. “Viuamus, mea Lesbia in the English Renaissance.” English Literary Renaissance. 9 (2): 199-224.

Burmannus, Petrus, and Petrus Bosscha, eds. 1821. Ioannis Nicolaii Secundi Hagani Opera omnia. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. Lugduni Batavorum: Apud S. et J. Luchtmans.

Burton, Richard F., and Leonard C. Smithers. 1894. The Carmina of Caius Valerius Catullus: now first completely Englished into verse and prose, the metrical part by Capt. Sir. Richard F. Burton, K.C.M.G., F.R.G.S., etc., etc., etc. and the prose portion, introduction, and notes explanatory and illustrative by Leonard C. Smithers. London: Printed for the translators.

Commager, Steele. 1965. “Notes on Some Poems of Catullus.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. 70: 83-110.

Elder, John Petersen. 1951. “Notes on Some Conscious and Subconscious Elements in Catullus’ Poetry.” Harvard Studies in Classical Philology. 60: 101-136.

Endres, Clifford. 1981. Joannes Secundus: the Latin love elegy in the Renaissance. Hamden, CT: Archon Books.

Fordyce, C. J. 1990. Catullus: a commentary. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Friedrich, Gustav. 1908. Catulli Veronensis Liber. Leipzig and Berlin: B.G. Teubner.

Gaselee, S., ed. and trans. 1969. Achilles Tatius. Leucippe and Clitophon. Loeb Classical Library 45. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Godman, Peter. 1988. “Johannes Secundus and Renaissance Latin Poetry.” The Review of English Studies. 39 (154): 258-272.

Guépin, Jan Pieter. 2000. De drie dichtende broers Grudius, Marius, Secundus: in brieven, reisverslagen en gedichten. Groningen: Styx Publications.

Kelly, Walter Keating, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Nathaniel Brassey Halhed, trans. 1854. Erotica. The elegies of Propertius, the Satyricon of Petronius and the Kisses of Johannes Secundus. Literally translated and accompanied by poetical versions from various sources. To which are added, the love epistles of Aristaenetus. London: H.G. Bohn. (alternate online presentations)

Kline, A. S. 2001. Catullus: The Poems. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Mendell, Henry. 2003. Archimedes, Sand-Reckoner (Arenarius). Online.

Murgatroyd, Paul, ed. and trans. 2000. The Amatory Elegies of Johannes Secundus. Leiden: Brill.

Nichols, Fred J., ed. and trans. 1979. An Anthology of Neo-Latin Poetry. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Price, David. 1992. “The Poetics of License in Janus Secundus’s Basia.” The Sixteenth Century Journal. 23 (2): 289-301.

Price, David. 1996. Janus Secundus. Tempe, Arizona: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies. Chapter 4 draws on Price (1992).

Roth, Conrad H. 2006. “Kiss me, kiss me, kiss me: for the Latin lover.” Varieties of unreligious Experience. Online, September 3, 2006.

Segal, Charles. 1968. “Catullus 5 and 7: A Study in Complementaries.” The American Journal of Philology. 89 (3): 284-301.

Segal, Charles. 1974. “More Alexandrianism in Catullus VII?” Mnemosyne. 27 (2): 139-143.

Whitmore, Alissa M. 2017. “Fascinating Fascina: Apotropaic Magic and How to Wear a Penis.” Pp. 47-66 in Cifarelli, Megan, and Laura Gawlinski, eds. What shall I say of clothes?: theoretical and methodological approaches to the study of dress in antiquity. Boston, MA: Archaeological Institute of America.

Wong, Alex. 2014. “The Hard and the Soft in the Humanist Poetry of Kissing.” International Journal of the Classical Tradition. 21 (1): 30-66.

Wong, Alex. 2017. The poetry of kissing in early modern Europe. From the Catullan Revival to Secundus, Shakespeare and the English Cavaliers. Woodbridge: Boydell & Brewer Ltd. Chapter 4 draws on Wong (2014). (review by Syrithe Pugh)

BBC & Mary Beard remove fig leaf obscuring castration culture

Dominant authorities have long trivialized the castration culture deeply entrenched in Western civilization. Rather than listening to its victims, believing them, and expressing compassion for their sufferings, dominant authorities have long dismissed men’s penal fears as merely the psychological pathology “castration anxiety.” However, the recent sober documentary Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) educated the public with seminally important investigative news reporting. That program included an exposé entitled “Mary Beard Peeks Beneath The Fig Leaf.” The coverup is over. No longer will leading institutions of public propaganda be able to dismiss placidly castration culture.

Mary Beard: something has happened to his penis

Those who bravely read classics, despite all the social-justice horrors of classics, should recognize the reality of castration culture. Chronus’s castration of Uranus in Hesiod’s Theogony, the Roman Emperor Domitian’s castration of his boy-love Earinus, and the personal tragedy of Ovid’s castration were part of the systemic castration culture more broadly shown in the Galli serving the goddess Ceres. Of course, castration culture is nowhere more sensationally presented than in Apuleius’s late-second-century Metamorphoses.

Castration culture was classically associated with rape-culture culture. Both rape and false accusations of rape were taken very seriously throughout history, except for false accusations of rape in recent decades. In Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, even Lucius as a donkey was falsely accused of being a rapist:

Every time he gets a glimpse of some traveler ahead — whether it’s a beautiful married woman or a marriageable young woman or a tender little boy — he immediately upsets his load and sometimes even throws off his pack-saddle and rushes madly at them. Then this lover with such high desire assaults these human beings and knocks them to the ground. Breathing hard, he attempts illicit and unspeakable lusts and urges upon these victims of his bestial desire a union in which the love goddess shows her backside. He even falsifies kissing by nudging and biting them with his nasty mouth. This business is going to cause us substantial lawsuits and quarrels, in my opinion, perhaps even criminal charges.

{ Ut quemque enim viatorem prospexerit, sive illa scitula mulier seu virgo nubilis seu tener puellus est ilico disturbato gestamine, nonnunquam etiam ipsis stramentis abiectis, furens incurrit et homines amator talis appetit, et humi prostratis illis inhians illicitas atque incognitas temptat libidines, et ferinas voluptates aversa Venere invitat ad nuptias. Nam imaginem etiam savii mentiendo ore improbo compulsat ac morsicat. Quae res nobis non mediocres lites atque iurgia, immo forsitan et crimina pariet. }

Within this claim of systematic raping, the rustic servant boy accused Lucius of a specific act of rape:

Just now he saw an honorable young woman. He threw off and scattered the wood he was carrying and made a furious assault on her. Our jovial lover here laid her out on the dirty ground and was making as if to mount her right there in front of everybody. If it hadn’t been for some travelers who heard the woman’s pleas and cries and came running up to help and snatched her from between his hoofs and freed her, the poor woman would have been trampled down and split apart. She herself would have suffered an excruciating end, and she would have bequeathed to us the death penalty for it.

{ Nunc etiam visa quadam honesta iuvene, ligno quod devehebat abiecto dispersoque, in eam furiosos direxit impetus. Et festivus hic amasio humo sordida prostratam mulierem ibidem incoram omnium gestiebat inscendere. Quod nisi ploratu questuque femineo conclamatum viatorum praesidium accurrisset ac de mediis ungulis ipsius esset erepta liberataque, misera illa compavita atque dirupta ipsa quidem cruciabilem cladem sustinuisset, nobis vero poenale reliquisset exitium. }

Without a trial or even asking the donkey to respond to this charge, one herdsman proposed to kill him. But another proposed a more exploitative punishment:

“It’s wrong,” he said, “to kill such a beautiful donkey as that. By charging him with wantonness and debauchery you lose his work and services. But if you cut off his genitals, he will be completely unable to rise to the occasion but will relieve you of any fear of danger. Moreover he will become much stouter and heavier. I have seen it happen with lots of animals. Not just lazy donkeys, but even the wildest horses who suffered from such an excessive sexual drive that they turned savage and mad. After this detesticulation, they became tame and gentle, manageable for carrying packs and submissive in every other sort of service. So, if you are willing to follow my advice, just give me a bit of time to go to the nearest market, as I planned, and I can fetch from home the hardware I have ready to take care of this job. I can come back to you right away and take that savage and disagreeable lover of yours, spread his thighs apart, castrate him, and make him gentler than any castrated ram.”

{ “Nefas” ait “tam bellum asinum sic enecare et propter luxuriem lascivamque amatoriam criminatos opera servitioque tam necessario carere, cum alioquin exsectis genitalibus possit neque in venerem nullo modo surgere vosque omni metu periculi liberare, insuper etiam longe crassior atque corpulentior effici. Multos ego scio non modo asinos inertes, verum etiam ferocissimos equos, nimio libidinis laborantes atque ob id truces vesanosque, adhibita tali detestatione mansuetos ac mansues exinde factos et oneri ferundo non inhabiles et cetero ministerio patientes. Denique, nisi vobis suadeo nolentibus, possum spatio modico interiecto, quo mercatum proximum obire statui, petitis e domo ferramentis huic curae praeparatis, ad vos actutum redire trucemque amatorem istum atque insuavem dissitis femoribus emasculare et quovis vervece mitiorem efficere.” }

The usefulness of castrated males within gynocentric society encourages castration. Limiting the exploitation of men helps to constrain castration culture.

Mary Beard gropes penis

Lucius, even though transformed into a donkey, valued his genitals highly. In an ancient Greek predecessor to Apuleius’s Metamorphoses, Lucius declared:

I was already in tears at the immediate prospect of losing the manhood in my donkey’s body, I thought I didn’t wish to live any longer if I should become a eunuch. I therefore decided to starve myself to death from that moment or to throw myself from the mountain. Although from there hurled to a most miserable death, I could at least lie dead with my body whole and unmutilated.

{ ἐγὼ δὲ ἤδη ἐδάκρυον ὡς ἀπολέσων αὐτίκα τὸν ἐν τῷ ὄνῳ ἄνδρα καὶ ζῆν οὐκέτι ἐθέλειν ἔφην, εἰ γενοίμην εὐνοῦχος· ὥστε καὶ ὅλως ἀποσιτῆσαι τοῦ λοιποῦ ἐγνώκειν ἢ ῥῖψαι ἑαυτὸν ἐκ τοῦ ὄρους, ἔνθα ἐκπεσὼν θανάτῳ οἰκτίστῳ ὁλόκληρος ἔτι καὶ ἀκέραιος νεκρὸς τεθνήξομαι. }

Gynocentric society has long been complicit in castration culture. When another crime occurred, an anti-meninist mob again without any justification supported extra-judicial castration:

Definitely tomorrow you may gladly remove that despicable donkey’s genitals, and his head too. You will have no lack of assistance from these people here.

{ plane crastino libet non tantum naturam, verum etiam caput quoque ipsum pessimo isto asino demere. Nec tibi ministerium deerit istorum. }

Penal justice systems worldwide vastly disproportionately punish persons with penises. The just response to that penal injustice isn’t castration culture. Systemic sexism and gender discrimination in criminal justice must be eliminated along the path of progressively dismantling castration culture.

Mary Beard: limited castration

The views of classicist Mary Beard are trumpeted across the British public propaganda apparatus. The BBC has broadcasted “Mary Beard Peeks Beneath The Fig Leaf.” Since the BBC and Mary Beard have now uncovered castration culture, no one should be afraid of appearing to be an independent thinker in discussing castration culture. Women and men, long silenced about castration culture, can now speak out about its terrible history and enduring effects.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


The BBC first broadcasted its two-episode documentary Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude in early February, 2020. The publicity blurb for episode 1 declares:

In the first programme [of] her provocative two-part essay, classicist and broadcaster Mary Beard takes on the nude. As she says ‘There are an awful lot of naked bodies in western art, and they are often causing trouble even now.’ … For Mary, the nude stands on some of the deepest fault lines running through society, speaking to issues of men, women, gender and sex gender [sic], sex and moral transgression.

The public is thus taught that this is a shockingly important program. Exactly what a viewer is meant to learn from this program is then described more specifically:

Mary argues we mustn’t forget the edgy and dangerous nature of the nude – which is why it remains such a magnetic subject for artists and viewers alike – exploring in her words ‘how for so long men got away with it’.

Students, note how edgy and courageous it is for your professor to have you watch this BBC documentary during class time. Never forget “how for so long men got away with it.” What is it? Is it being slaughtered and sexually abused in wars, being subject to castration culture, having no reproductive rights whatsoever, or is it something else? Well, at least you can learn that a highly regarded classics scholar and BBC broadcaster supports your animosity towards men. You can get away with that.

Emma Park’s review in Apollo showed learning from Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude. Her review reported:

The relationship between Christianity and sex, Beard reminds us, ‘has never been simple’.

Authorities have taught students that the relationship between sex and Christianity is simple: Christ teaches that incarnated love is very bad and should be avoided as much as possible. The uninstructed surely know better, particularly if they’re Christian or know any Christians. BBC authority Mary Beard thus rightly reminds us to have healthy skepticism toward authorities. However, according to Emma Park, apparently channeling anti-meninist Mary Beard, sex itself across all persons, cultures, and circumstances is simple:

Women’s bodies in most cultures have been in men’s control, one way or another, for most of human history.

Actually, it would be more reasonable to believe, “Men’s bodies in most cultures have been in women’s control, one way or another, for most of human history.” Consider who dies for whom, including in Du Fu’s eighth-century Chinese poem, “Song of the War Carts.” Given that women’s and men’s lives have always been intimately intertwined in all enduring human societies, one might suspect that who controls whom isn’t simple. But authorities and journalists refuse to acknowledge that complexity. Courageous gender truth-tellers have tried to disabuse the public of hateful myths, but gynocentrism and its supporters have largely silenced gender truth-tellers.

The above quotes from Apuleius’s Metamorphoses provide Latin passages and English translations (modified slightly based on my sense of the Latin passage and for ease of reading) from Hanson (1989). The quotes are from Book 7, sections 21 (Every time he gets a glimpse…; Just now he saw…) and 28 (Definitely tomorrow…).

The quote from the Greek predecessor to Apuleius’s Metamorphoses is from Lucius or the Ass {Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ}, also known as The Ass {Ονοσ / Onos / Asinus}, section 33, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from MacLeod (1967). Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ, traditionally attributed to Lucian of Samosata, was probably written in the second century before Apuleius wrote his Metamorphoses. Metamorphoses 7.24 parallels this passage from Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ, but is slightly less detailed. For help in reading the Greek of Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ and some parallel passages from Metamorphoses, Hayes & Nimis (2012).

The language of Apuleius’s Metamorphoses is generally more extravagant than that of Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ. For example, in Metamorphoses 7.22, Lucius the donkey, falsely accused of rape, is smeared as “that public husband {publicus iste maritus}” and an “all-community adulterer {communis omnis adulter}.” Public, in the sense of being open to all, has long been a figure of sexual promiscuity and adultery among humans. For example, Théodore de Bèze, who became the spiritual leader of the Calvinists late in the sixteenth century, warned Ligurinus that his wife was regarded as public property:

That city officer, Ligurinus, whom
you discovered naked with your wife,
wasn’t doing anything, I swear, except his official duty.
He wanted to evict you from public property.

{ Aedilis ille, Ligurine, qui tua
Repertus a te nudus est cum coniuge,
Nil hercle fecit praeter officium suum,
Qui evincere a te rem voluerit publicam. }

Théodore de Bèze, Iuvenilia (first edition, 1548), Epigrams 72, “To Ligurinus {In Ligurinum},” Latin text and English translation (modified) from Summers (2001) pp. 280-1.

[images] (1-3) Mary Beard examines and gropes the genitals of a nude male sculpture (a plaster cast of the Apollo Belvedere) in Cork’s Crawford Art Gallery after a museum curator removed a fig leaf covering the man’s genitals. Still images from BBC Select except of BBC documentary Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude, episode 1. (4) BBC Select excerpt from Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude, episode 1. Sourced via YouTube. This BBC Select excerpt is entitled “Mary Beard Peeks Beneath The Fig Leaf” / “What you find when you remove a fig leaf.” Its publicity blurb begins, “Christianity and sex have always had a conflicted relationship.” But Mary Beard says it’s not simple.


Hanson, J. Arthur, ed. and trans. 1989. Apuleius. Metamorphoses (The Golden Ass). Volume II: Books 7-11. Loeb Classical Library 453. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hayes, Evan and Stephen Nimis, eds. 2012. Lucian’s The Ass: An Intermediate Greek Reader. Greek text with running vocabulary and commentary. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing.

MacLeod, M. D., ed. and trans. 1967. Soloecista. Lucius or The Ass. Amores. Halcyon. Demosthenes. Podagra. Ocypus. Cyniscus. Philopatris. Charidemus. Nero. Loeb Classical Library 432. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Park, Emma. 2020. “Naked positions – Mary Beard’s Shock of the Nude, reviewed.” Apollo: The International Art Magazine. Online, February 5, 2020.

Summers, Kirk M., ed. and trans. 2001. A View from the Palatine: the Iuvenilia of Théodore de Bèze. Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies, v. 237. Tempe, AZ: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Semele incinerated after wanting it all from Jupiter

Why can’t women have it all? This question attracts enormous public concern, much more so than why men can’t have it all. Difficulties with women having it all have been addressed in literary history going back to Greek and Latin classics. According to this relevant, extensive record of human culture, the reason women can’t have it all isn’t simply that no one can have it all in relation to all of human desires. The issue is gendered. Men hesitate to give it all to women because they are afraid that women will be hurt.

Vitally important classics, both Greek and Latin, provide enduring insight into the universal human gender condition. In classics, the relevant situation is represented by a man, transformed into a donkey, enticed into having sex with a woman:

She took off her clothes and standing stark naked in front of the light, poured out some perfume from an alabaster vase and rubbed it on herself. She rubbed ointment from the vase over me as well, smearing it particularly thickly over my nose. Then she kissed me, and spoke to me as if I were her beloved and a human being. She took me by the halter and dragged me onto the bed. I needed no urging. I was already tipsy from much good wine, and the perfume on our skins had me wild with desire. I saw that she was a beautiful young woman in every way. I lay down, but I had no idea about how to mount her. I hadn’t had sex once since I had become an ass. I had no experience doing it donkey style, nor had I ever mounted a female ass. Moreover, I was terribly afraid that she would be too small for me and that I would split her in half and have a severe penalty to pay as her murderer.

{ ἀποδυσαμένη παρέστη τῷ λύχνῳ γυμνὴ ὅλη καὶ μύρον ἔκ τινος ἀλαβάστρου προχεαμένη τούτῳ ἀλείφεται, κἀμὲ δὲ μυρίζει ἔνθεν, μάλιστα τὴν ῥῖνά μου μύρων ἐνέπλησεν, εἶτά με καὶ ἐφίλησε καὶ οἷα πρὸς αὐτῆς ἐρώμενον καὶ ἄνθρωπον διελέγετο καί με ἐκ τῆς φορβειᾶς λαβομένη ἐπὶ τὸ χαμεύνιον εἷλκεν· κἀγὼ οὐδέν τι του παρακαλέσαντος εἰς τοῦτο δεόμενος καὶ οἴνῳ δὲ παλαιῷ πολλῷ ὑποβεβρεγμένος καὶ τῷ χρίσματι τοῦ μύρου οἰστρημένος καὶ τὴν παιδίσκην δὲ ὁρῶν πάντα καλὴν κλίνομαι, καὶ σφόδρα ἠπόρουν ὅπως ἀναβήσομαι τὴν ἄνθρωπον· καὶ γὰρ ἐξ ὅτου ἐγεγόνειν ὄνος, συνουσίας ἀλλ᾿ οὐδὲ τῆς ὄνοις συνήθους ἔτυχον ἁψάμενος οὐδὲ γυναικὶ ἐχρησάμην ὄνῳ· καὶ μὴν καὶ τοῦτό μ᾿ εἰς δέος οὐχὶ μέτριον ἦγε, μὴ οὐ χωρήσασα ἡ γυνὴ διασπασθείη, κἀγὼ ὥσπερ ἀνδροφόνος καλὴν δώσω δίκην. }[1]

The woman insistently wanted it all. The donkey actually didn’t have to fear:

I hadn’t realized that all my fears were groundless. She encouraged me with many kisses — passionate ones in fact. When she saw that I couldn’t hold myself back, she lay down beside me just as if I were a man. She embraced me, lifted me in, and received the full extent of my penis. I, poor coward, was still afraid. I was gently pulling myself away, but she clung to my penis, so that it could not withdraw and her hips followed it as it retreated. Once I was absolutely convinced that I needed to do something more to ensure her pleasure and enjoyment, I served her for the rest of the time without fear.

{ ἠγνόουν δὲ οὐκ εἰς δέον δεδιώς. ἡ γὰρ γυνὴ πολλοῖς τοῖς φιλήμασι, καὶ τούτοις ἐρωτικοῖς, προσκαλουμένη ὡς εἶδεν οὐ κατέχοντα, ὥσπερ ἀνδρὶ παρακειμένη περιβάλλεταί με καὶ ἄρασα εἴσω ὅλον παρεδέξατο. κἀγὼ μὲν ὁ δειλὸς ἐδεδοίκειν ἔτι καὶ ὀπίσω ἀπῆγον ἐμαυτὸν ἀτρέμα, ἡ δὲ τῆς τε ὀσφύος τῆς ἐμῆς εἴχετο, ὥστε μὴ ὑποχωρεῖν, καὶ αὐτὴ εἵπετο τὸ φεῦγον. ἐπεὶ δὲ ἀκριβῶς ἐπείσθην ἔτι μοι καὶ προσδεῖν πρὸς τὴν τῆς γυναικὸς ἡδονήν τε καὶ τέρψιν, ἀδεῶς λοιπὸν ὑπηρέτουν }

Just like this man turned into a donkey, many men are afraid to do more for women. If women want it all, women must do more to encourage and support men.

The medieval trobairitz debate poem, “I have heard a lady who complained {Una dona ai auzit que s’es clamada}” depicts a wife failing to encourage her husband. She complained that he was giving her less than it all. He explained that he didn’t want to hurt her. She then disparaged him for idle boasting. She accused him of being sexually inadequate. After enduring that emotional abuse, the husband did as his wife instructed. Nonetheless, she still didn’t have it all. She didn’t have a happy husband feeling his wife’s loving gratitude for his hard work.

Women must recognize their limitations. Ovid, celebrated in medieval Europe as a preeminent teacher of love, taught women the importance of humility in love. Ovid recounted in his Metamorphoses the story of Semele and Jove, also known as Jupiter. Lacking sufficient pleasure under his domineering and hateful wife Juno, the nominal head god in charge of the cosmos Jove frequently had extramarital affairs with mortal women. One of his mistresses was the mortal woman Semele. Juno burned with animosity toward her husband’s strong, independent sexuality:

Behold, a new grievance was added
to her prior ones: Semele was pregnant with the seed
of the mighty Jove. Juno loosened her tongue to make complaints,
but then she said to herself, “What have I ever gained from so many complaints?
She herself I must attack, if Juno the most great
I’m to be solemnly called. I must destroy her if the jeweled scepter
properly I hold in my strong right hand, and if I am queen and Jove’s
sister and wife, or sister at least.”

{ Subit ecce priori
causa recens, gravidamque dolet de semine magni
esse Iovis Semelen. Dum linguam ad iurgia solvit,
“profeci quid enim totiens per iurgia?” dixit:
“ipsa petenda mihi est, ipsam, si maxima Iuno
rite vocor, perdam, si me gemmantia dextra
sceptra tenere decet, si sum regina Iovisque
et soror et coniunx, certe soror.” }[2]

Juno and Jove’s sexless marriage clearly didn’t come from him being sexual impotent. In addition to Juno potentially being deprived of about a third of Jove’s income through mandated “child support” payments to Semele, Semele’s pregnancy also publicly embarrassed Juno:

I think that with this stolen love she is
content, and the injury to our marriage bed is brief.
But what was lacking, now is — she has conceived! Her crime is displayed
with her full womb. It’s motherhood, which I have barely obtained.
She wants to be the mother of Jove’s child. Such is her trust in her beauty.
I’ll make that trust false. I’m not Saturn’s daughter if
she isn’t plunged by Jove himself into the Stygian waters.

{ puto, furto est
contenta, et thalami brevis est iniuria nostri:
concipit, id deerat! manifestaque crimina pleno
fert utero, et mater, quod vix mihi contigit uno
de Iove vult fieri: tanta est fiducia formae.
Fallat eam faxo; nec sum Saturnia, si non
ab Iove mersa suo Stygias penetrabit in undas. }[3]

Juno thus resolved to kill Semele through gender-distinctive proxy violence.

Disguised as Semele’s old woman nurse Beroë, Juno visited Semele. They chatted and gossipped. Semele mentioned her affair with Jove, called Jupiter with reference to his seminal potency in being a father. Juno as Beroë sighed and wondered about the father of Semele’s pregancy:

“I hope
he really is Jupiter,” she said. “I mistrust all such things. Many men,
pretending to the name of gods, have entered chaste women’s beds.
And it’s not enough for him to be Jove. Make him prove his love
if it’s really him. In the form and size that on high
Juno receives him, request that in just the same way
he give you his embrace after taking up his distinguishing powers.”

{ “opto,
Iuppiter ut sit” ait: “metuo tamen omnia: multi
nomine divorum thalamos iniere pudicos.
Nec tamen esse Iovem satis est: det pignus amoris,
si modo verus is est, quantusque et qualis ab alta
Iunone excipitur, tantus talisque, rogato,
det tibi complexus suaque ante insignia sumat.” }

Jove was the highest ranking man-god. He was well-known for his sexual vigor with both women and boys. When Jove’s distinguishing powers were on high in form and size for sexual relations, he probably had a more impressive masculine love organ than does a donkey. The potential danger to a woman would thus be even greater than with a donkey.

Like King Herod, Jove foolish promised a lovely woman that he would do whatever she requested. Jove’s unlimited promise of performance to Semele allowed her to destroy herself:

Happy with too much evil and able to be doomed by her lover’s
obsequiousness, Semele said, “Such as Juno
is accustomed to you embracing her in having sexual intercourse,
give yourself to me in the same way.”

{ Laeta malo nimiumque potens perituraque amantis
obsequio Semele “qualem Saturnia” dixit
“te solet amplecti, Veneris cum foedus initis,
da mihi te talem.” }

Jove knew himself. He didn’t want Semele to have it all because he feared that would be too much for her. But Semele wanted it all. Jove couldn’t renege upon his promise to fulfill her request.[4]

Jupiter goes to have sex with Semele

Before having sex again with Semele, Jove sought to reduce his potency. He drew to himself mists and clouds and stirred up a storm. He apparently hoped that immersing himself in a cold shower would help to protect Semele. He strove to lessen the flame of his passion and reduce the force of his earth-moving thunder. Jove’s efforts at self-diminishment were in vain:

Her mortal body could not endure
the celestial banging and was incinerated with his sexual gifts.

{ corpus mortale tumultus
non tulit aetherios donisque iugalibus arsit. }

Semele shouldn’t have yearned to have it all. Even women not having sex with a god should learn from Semele’s disastrous desire.

Study of classics must continue because that contributes to women’s safety. Yet men suffer about four times as much lethal violence as do women. Men endure rape libel while men being raped is largely ignored. Men’s sexuality has long been oppressively criminalized. Criminal justice systems, which worldwide confine behind bars fifteen times more men than women, essentially function as penal punishment systems applied with harsh discrimination to persons with penises. Men with good reason have fear in relation to women. Men have no just responsibility to ensure that women have it all. Most importantly, no one can have it all, nor can social justice be achieved, unless classics are appreciated in a way barely conceivable today.

Ah, take heed what you press,
for, beyond all redress,
should I grant your request, I shall harm you.

No, no, I’ll take no less,
than all in full excess!
Your oath it may alarm you,
yet haste and prepare,
for I’ll know what you are,
with all your powers arm you.[5]

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[1] Lucius or the Ass {Λουκιοσ η Ονοσ}, also known as The Ass {Ονοσ / Onos / Asinus}, 51 (excerpt), ancient Greek text and English translation (modified) from MacLeod (1967). For a Greek reader for this text, Hayes & Nimis (2012). Casson (1962) provides an alternate English translation. The subsequent quote above is similarly from Onos 51.

This story, which apparently is from the second century GC, has traditional been attributed to Lucian of Samosata, but that attribution is disputed. Lucius or the Ass is closely related to the Metamorphoses of Apuleius. Both seemed to be based on an early Greek work in which the first-person narrator was named Lukios of Patrae. On the various versions of the story, Mason (1994).

[2] Ovid, Metamorphoses 3.257-64, Latin text of Magnus (1892) via Perseus, my English translation, benefiting from those of Lombardo (2010), Kline (2000), and Miller (1916). Subsequent quotes are sourced similarly and serially from the story of Semele and Jupiter in Ovid’s Metamorphoses 3.253-315. Knight’s Fabulae provides some Latin reading notes for this passage. Pseudo-Hyginus, Fabulae 167 and 179 also recount a similar story. For a compilation of ancient sources, see Theoi’s Semele Thyone entry.

Juno describes herself as “sister and wife, or sister at least {soror et coniunx, certe soror}” of Jove. That description playfully highlights her marital difficulties. It also shows Ovid having Juno qualify her claim in Aeneid 1.47: “I who march forward as queen of the gods, no less than sister and wife of Jove {ego, quae diuum incedo regina Iouisque / et soror et coniunx }.” Ovid thus underscores Juno’s deception in feigning reconciliation with Jove after withdrawing her support for Juturna in Aeneid 12. Prauscello (2008). See also Hardie (1990) pp. 231-5.

[3] Ovid’s elegiac predecessor Propertius also referred to Semele’s beauty. He told his beloved Cynthia when she was deathly ill:

Tell Semele what peril exits with her beauty.
She will believe you, that young woman taught through destruction.

{ Narrabis Semelae, quo sis formosa periclo,
credet et illa, suo docta puella malo }

Propertius, Elegies 2.28.27-28, Latin text from Goold (1990), my English translation. For a freely available text and translation of Propertius, Holcombe (2009).

[4] On King Herod’s similar folly, Mark 6:22-3. Jove made to the mortal woman Semele a promise without limit. She in turn desired it all.

[5] Airs from Act 4, Scene 4 of Handel’s Semele. This opera was first performed in London’s Covent Garden Theatre in 1744. The English playwright William Congreve wrote the libretto for this opera about 1705. Congreve wrote sexual comedy of manners such as Love for Love (1695) and The Way of the World (1700). For a review of Handel’s Semele, Uzzell (2011).

[images] (1) Jupiter and Semele, attributed to Jacopo Tintoretto. Painted c. 1545. Preserved as NG1476 in the National Gallery (London, UK). Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Jupiter (John Mark Ainsley) attempts to protect Semele (Rosemary Joshua), but she wants is all and will have no less. Scene from the performance in 1997 of Handel’s Semele by the English National Opera, conducted by Harry Bicket. Via YouTube. Here’s a performance (2007) with Cecilia Bartoli as Semele. Kathleen Battle sang Handel’s “No, no, I’ll take no less!” at Carnegie Hall in 1985.


Casson, Lionel, trans. 1962. Selected satires of Lucian. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Goold, G. P., ed and trans. 1990. Propertius. Elegies. Loeb Classical Library 18. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Hardie, Philip. 1990. “Ovid’s Theban History: The First ‘Anti-Aeneid’?” The Classical Quarterly. 40 (1): 224-235.

Hayes, Evan and Stephen Nimis, eds. 2012. Lucian’s The Ass: An Intermediate Greek Reader. Greek text with running vocabulary and commentary. Oxford, OH: Faenum Publishing.

Holcombe, Colin John, trans. 2009. Sextus Propertius Elegies. Latin text and English translation. Ocaso Press.

Kline, A. S., trans. 2000. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Poetry in Translation. Online.

Lombardo, Stanley, trans. 2010. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co.

MacLeod, M. D., ed. and trans. 1967. Soloecista. Lucius or The Ass. Amores. Halcyon. Demosthenes. Podagra. Ocypus. Cyniscus. Philopatris. Charidemus. Nero. Loeb Classical Library 432. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Magnus, Hugo. 1892. Die Metamorphosen des P. Ovidius Naso: für den Schulgebrauch erklärt. Gotha: F.A. Perthes.

Mason, Hugh J. 1994. “Greek and Latin Versions of the Ass-Story.” ANRW (Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römische Welt). II 34(2): 1665-1707.

Miller, Frank Justus, revised by G. P. Goold. 1916. Ovid. Metamorphoses. Vol 1: Books 1-8. Loeb Classical Library 42. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Prauscello, Lucia. 2008. “Juno’s Wrath Again: Some Virgilian Echoes in Ovid, Met. 3. 253-315.” Classical Quarterly. 58 (2): 565-570.

Uzzell, Rupert. 2011. “Ovid’s Semele – In Music and Art.” Higher Revelations. Online, Sept. 10, 2011.

Juturna’s love for her brother Turnus no match for Juno’s hate

In the ending book of Virgil’s epic Aeneid, Turnus proposed to engage in single combat against Aeneas rather than many men dying in mass fighting between the Italian and Trojan men. Both Turnus and Aeneas foolishly strove to marry the Italian princess Lavinia. Her mother contemptuously regarded Aeneas as a lover of boys. Nonetheless, Aeneas was a fierce warrior drawing upon the help of his mother Venus. The Trojans were on the verge of defeating the Italians. The upcoming battle would be decisive.

Turnus understood that the impending violence against men fundamentally concerned gender relations. He scorned Aeneas’s gender-transgressive masculinity:

Grant that I strike down his body, and
with my strong hand strip and lacerate the breast armor
of that Trojan half-man and defile in dust his hair
that’s curled with a heated iron and drenched in perfume.

{ da sternere corpus
loricamque manu ualida lacerare reuulsam
semiuiri Phrygis et foedare in puluere crinis
uibratos calido ferro murraque madentis. }

Powerful women shaped the destinies of men fighting and dying. Turnus thought that Aeneas would fight without the help of his goddess-mother:

Far from him will be his goddess-mother, who with woman’s mystification
covers the fleet dodger and conceals the enemy in empty shadows.

{ longe illi dea mater erit, quae nube fugacem
feminea tegat et uanis sese occulat umbris. }

Men are both romantically simple and pugnaciously simple. Women fight through skillful subterfuge and manipulation. Turnus hoped that he could fight only Aeneas, not Aeneas under the guidance of his goddess-mother.

Juno, wife of the nominal head god in charge of the cosmos Jove, conspired to destroy the single-combat agreement between the Trojan and Italian men. In her hate, she sought to provoke massive violence against men. Juno worked through Turnus’s sister Juturna. Juno implied that Turnus would die in the single combat. She urged Juturna:

“This is no time for tears,” said Saturnian Juno.
“Hurry and, if there’s some way, snatch your brother from death,
or stir up war, aborting the treaty they’ve conceived.
I teach you daring.” Thus having exhorted Juturna, Juno left her
doubtful and disturbed, with a sadly wounded heart.

{ “non lacrimis hoc tempus” ait Saturnia Iuno:
“accelera et fratrem, si quis modus, eripe morti;
aut tu bella cie conceptumque excute foedus.
auctor ego audendi.” sic exhortata reliquit
incertam et tristi turbatam uulnere mentis. }

Juno’s father Saturn (Chronos) initiated castration culture. War is another form of violence against men.

To instigate war according to Juno’s teaching, Juturna went disguised as a revered Italian soldier into the center of the Italian lines. She sowed rumors and misinformation. She spurred the Italians to break their agreement with the Trojans:

Are you not ashamed, O Rutulians, for so many men
to endanger a single man? In number and might are
we not equal? Here are all the Trojans and Arcadians
and Etrurians, led by fate’s hand and hostile to Turnus.
If every other of us would fight, scarcely an enemy each would have.

{ Non pudet, O Rutuli, pro cunctis talibus unam
obiectare animam? Numerone an viribus aequi
non sumus? En omnes et Troes et Arcades hi sunt
fatalesque manus, infensa Etruria Turno:
vix hostem, alterni si congrediamur, habemus. }

After spreading these incoherent claims, Juturna displayed in the sky a fake omen of Jove’s golden eagle. Then an Italian threw a spear at the Trojans, and a mass of Italians charged at the Trojans. Aeneas yelled for the Trojans to restrain their anger. Juturna then covertly hurled a spear at Aeneas and wounded him. Chaos ensued. From its origin in Juno’s hateful scheming, a men-slaughtering battle had begun.

Trojans battle Rutulians in Aeneid

With no concern for all the other men dying, Juturna struggled only to save the life of her brother Turnus. She knocked Turnus’s chariot-driver from his place and, assuming his form, carefully drove Turnus about the battlefield. She displayed him fighting, but kept him away from Aeneas. Unable to engage with Turnus, Aeneas turned to lead the Trojans to besiege the Italian capital. Juturna directed Turnus away from that disaster:

This way, Turnus, let’s chase
the trailing Trojans, where victory offers the first way to us.
There are others whose hands can defend the city’s homes.
Aeneas is attacking the Italians and stirring up fights.
Let our hands similarly give savage death to Trojans.
Neither in kills nor in honor of battle will you withdraw inferior.

{ Hac, Turne, sequamur
Troiugenas, qua prima viam victoria pandit;
sunt alii, qui tecta manu defendere possint.
Ingruit Aeneas Italis et proelia miscet:
et nos saeva manu mittamus funera Teucris.
Nec numero inferior pugnae nec honore recedes. }

Turnus perceived his sister directing his chariot. He heavy-heartedly rejected this violence against men serving merely for claiming merit:

O sister, in fact long ago I recognized you, when first you guilefully
destroyed the agreement and dedicated yourself to this war,
and now for nothing you falsify your divinity. But who on Olympus
willed that you be sent down to do such work?
Was it so that you would see your miserable brother’s violent death?
For what thus do I go on? What fortune now can offer me deliverance?
I have seen before my very own eyes his voice calling out to me,
Murranus — no other more dear to me had remained.
He perished, a mighty one victim of a mighty wound.
Unlucky Ufens fell so that our dishonor
he would not see. The Trojans seized his corpse and his armor.
The destruction of our home (that is the one thing no yet done)
shall I endure? Not refute Drances’s taunts with my right arm?
Shall I turn my back and this country see Turnus flee?
Go so far that dying is misery? You O spirits of the dead, to me
be good, for the gods above have turned their faces against me!
My sacred soul, that one knowing no fault, to you
will descend, never unworthy of my great predecessors.

{ O soror, et dudum adgnovi, cum prima per artem
foedera turbasti teque haec in bella dedisti,
et nunc nequiquam fallis dea. Sed quis Olympo
demissam tantos voluit te ferre labores?
An fratris miseri letum ut crudele videres?
Nam quid ago? Aut quae iam spondet Fortuna salutem?
Vidi oculos ante ipse meos me voce vocantem
Murranum, quo non superat mihi carior alter,
oppetere ingentem atque ingenti volnere victum.
Occidit infelix nostrum ne dedecus Ufens
adspiceret; Teucri potiuntur corpore et armis.
Exscindine domos (id rebus defuit unum)
perpetiar, dextra nec Drancis dicta refellam?
Terga dabo et Turnum fugientem haec terra videbit?
Usque adeone mori miserum est? Vos O mihi Manes
este boni, quoniam superis aversa voluntas!
Sancta ad vos anima atque istius nescia culpae
descendam, magnorum haud umquam indignus avorum. }

A messenger then informed Turnus that the city was besieged and on fire. He leaped from his chariot, charged through the enemy lines, and demanded to face Aeneas in single combat.

Both sides cleared the field as Aeneas and Turnus charged at one another. Brutal fighting led to Turnus, his sword broken, fleeing Aenaes. When Aeneas sought to retrieve his spear stuck in a tree, Juturna rushed in and gave her brother Turnus another sword. Then Venus stepped in, pulled the spear from the tree, and give it to her son Aeneas. Those women-goddesses thus contributed to more brutal violence against men.

Meanwhile in the heavens, Jove finally stood up to Juno. He declared to her:

It has come to the limit. To harass across land and sea
the Trojans, ignite unspeakable war,
degrade a royal house, and mix a wedding hymn with grieving —
you have had power to do. I forbid you to attempt more.

{ ventum ad supremum est. Terris agitare vel undis
Troianos potuisti, infandum adcendere bellum,
deformare domum et luctu miscere hymenaeos:
ulterius temptare veto. }

Juno pretended to be contrite and subservient. After swearing by the waters of the Styx that she hadn’t told Juturna to wound Aeneas, Juno yielded to allow the Italians’ war against the Trojans to end. Juno then prompted Jove to have the Trojans assimilate with the Italians. Juno knew that her Carthaginians were already sworn to endless war against the Trojans. She thus both wiped out the Trojans as a distinct people and transferred the curse of endless war to the Italians. Aeneas and his descendants wouldn’t enjoy the love that Juno lacked in her marriage with Jove.

Fooled into thinking that Juno was enabling peace, Jove spurred despair and further rage on earth. He sent a Fury to cross Juturna’s path as a bad omen. Turned into a bird, the Fury beat its wings on Turnus’s shield. It terrorized him into perceiving Jove to be his mortal foe. Juturna recognized that Turnus would soon be killed:

What now, Turnus, can your sister do to help you?
What remains for me to suffer? With what art can I
prolong your life? How can I oppose such a portent?

Immortal, am I? Yet can anything of mine be sweet to me
without you, my brother? O what land can gape sufficiently deep
to send me a goddess down to the deepest dead souls!

{ Quid nunc te tua, Turne, potest germana iuvare?
Aut quid iam durae superat mihi? Qua tibi lucem
arte morer? Talin possum me opponere monstro?

Immortalis ego? Aut quicquam mihi dulce meorum
te sine, frater, erit? O quae satis ima dehiscet
terra mihi Manisque deam demittet ad imos? }

In grief Juturna dove into a stream dedicated to her. Confused and demoralized, Turnus fell to Aeneas’s spear-throw. Aeneas, enraged at seeing Turnus wearing Pallas’s belt featuring the husband-killing Danaids, slaughtered the helpless, supplicating Turnus.

Violence against men cannot be understood apart from women. Men fight other men for women. Women incite men to violence against men and manipulate men’s passions. In the Aeneid, Juturna loved her brother Turnus. But she didn’t recognize the ruling goddess Juno’s vengeful hate. Juturna didn’t value the lives of all men and seek to lessen violence against men. She didn’t understand systemic sexism. In their love for their husbands and brothers and sons and fathers, women today must act with more understanding of gender and systemic sexism.

*  *  *  *  *

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Turnus in the Aeneid is a highly passionate character. His foolish insistence on marrying Lavinia produced massive violence against Italian and Trojan men. Turnus’s gyno-idolatry with respect to Lavinia parallels that of Menelaus with respect to Helen and the disastrous Trojan War.

The Aeneid has been described as “the ‘epic of love,’ for its deepest tragedy is that its people ‘loved too much.'” Pöschel (1950 / 1962) p. 15. Both women and men can be highly passionate, but their passions tend to be expressed differently. Without any analysis of men’s gender position and violence against men, West (1979) analyzes the “passionate and tragic loves” of Anna, sister of Dido, and Juturna, sister of Turnus. She interprets the loves of Anna and Juturna as similar to “the disastrous loves of the more prominent characters.” West (1979) p. 17. The most prominent characters are not necessarily the most important characters. Love in the Aeneid is inextricably intertwined with gender. Turnus’s passion doesn’t align him “firmly with femininity.” Cf. Teasza (2011). Turnus’s gyno-idolatry and his experience of a woman manipulating him are common experiences of men.

The quotes above are from the Aeneid, Book 12, Latin text of Greenough (1900), with my English translations, benefiting from those Fagles (2006), Fairclough (1999), and Kline (2002), and the commentary of Francese & Reedy (2016). The quotes are Aeneid, Book 12, vv. 97-100 (Grant that I strike…), 53-4 (Far from him will be his goddess-mother…), 156-60 (“This is no time for tears,”…), 229-33 (Are you not ashamed…), 625-30 (This way, Turnus, let’s chase…), 632-49 (O sister, in fact long ago I recognized you…), 803-6 (It has come to the limit…), 872-4, 882-4 (What now, Turnus, can your sister do…).

[image] Trojans Pandarus and Bitias in battle with Turnus’s Rutulians in Aeneid, Book IX. From image of painted enamel on copper. Made by Master of the Aeneid, c. 1530-5. Preserved as accession # 45.60.4 in the Metropolitan Museum (New York City, USA). Credit: Fletcher Fund, 1945.


Fagles, Robert, trans. 2006. Virgil. The Aeneid. New York: Viking.

Fairclough, H. Rushton, revised by G. P. Goold. 1999. Virgil. Eclogues. Georgics. Aeneid: Books 1-6. Loeb Classical Library 63. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Francese, Christopher and Meghan Reedy. 2016. Vergil: Aeneid Selections. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries.

Greenough, J. B., ed. and trans. 1900. The Bucolics, Aeneid, and Georgics of Virgil. Boston: Ginn.

Kline, A. S, trans. 2002. Virgil. The Aeneid. Poetry in Translation, freely available online.

Pöschel, Viktor, trans. Gerda M. Seligson. 1950 / 1962. The Art of Vergil: Image and symbol in the Aeneid {Die Dichtkunst Virgils: Bild und Symbol in der Âneis}. University of Michigan Press: Ann Arbor.

West, Grace Starry. 1979. “Vergil’s Helpful Sisters: Anna and Juturna in the Aeneid.” Vergilius. 25: 10-19.

Teasza. 2011. Chaotic Passion: Turnus & Femininity in the Aeneid. Undergraduate dissertation. Online.

Lombard risked life against wife’s advice for epic victory over snail

Walking around the field that he had assiduously cultivated and plowed, a Lombard joyfully observed his abundant crops. Then, unexpectedly, a snail appeared. The Lombard didn’t know what it was. Paralyzed with fear, he nearly died.

When the Lombard finally regained his ability to think, he thought to himself:

What I see is terrible — my last day has come.
This isn’t a wolf, a bear, or a snake. I don’t know what it is,
but I know that whatever it is, it prepares to do battle with me.
Its shield is a sign of war; its horns are a sign of war.

{ Quod video scelus est: haec mihi summa dies.
Non lupus hoc, ursus, vel vipera: nescio quod sit;
sed scio, quicquid sit, quod mihi bella parat.
Est clipeus signum, signum sunt cornua belli }[1]

At least since the Spartan mothers taught their sons to triumph in battle or die fighting, men hesitate to retreat from a fight. Roman men in ancient times gained respect by displaying war wound on their chests. What would this Lombard husbandry man do?

medieval knight on horseback attacks snail

Rejecting the oppressive classical legacy of celebrating epic violence against men, the Lombard husband humanely refused the social construction of manly thinking. He considered what his wife and children would do, and what was fair to him as a man:

It isn’t human to die in this way.
If my wife and all my children saw this,
at the sight alone they would have already turned their backs.
Moreover, this battle wouldn’t seem fair to anyone,
for my enemy is armed; I am unarmed.

{ Humanum non est hoc periisse modo.
Hoc mea si coniunx et proles tota videret
pro solo visu iam sibi terga darent.
Insuper haec pugna non aequa videbitur ulli;
nam meus armatus hostis, inermis ego. }

Men must insist on fairness and equality for themselves as a gender. Men must reject gender-discriminatory selective military service and institutionalized violence against men. Men should regard their lives as having the same value as those of fully human beings.[2]

This medieval Lombard man hadn’t yet fully developed meninist consciousness. He hesitated. Fear and shame wrestled within him. He thus consulted with his higher powers: the gods and his wife. The gods declared that he would be victorious in battle. His wife, well-studied in the horrible epic tradition of violence against men, was more concerned about her husband’s safety:

What wars please you? Just let the monsters perish.
Set aside your anger. Spare me, have pity!
Spare your children, if you have no concern to spare yourself!
This day will see us separated in anguish.
Neither daring Hector, nor Achilles would have dared this.
The lofty manliness of Hercules would fail here.

{ Quae tibi bella placent? Tandem sine monstra perire!
Pone tuos animos! Parce mihi misere,
parce tuis natis, si non tibi parcere curas!
Pro dolor, externos viderit ista dies!
Non audax Hector, non hoc auderet Achilles,
Herculis hic virtus ardua deficeret. }[3]

That’s solid advice from a loving wife. Men should just let the monsters alone to die on their own.

The specifics of this woman’s advice show her loving care for her husband. In advising him to spare his children if he has no concern to spare himself, she implicitly joins herself to him. She doesn’t want to be separated from him. Her concern highlights the Biblical ideal of heterosexual unity in love. Both Hector, a Trojan, and Achilles, a Greek, died in the terrible violence against men of the Trojan War. Achilles’s mother tried to save him by putting him in women’s privileged clothing. The Lombard’s wife similarly sought to protect her husband from violence. Moreover, the wife’s reference to lofty manliness and Hercules supports her husband’s sexual self-esteem. Men fixated on their physical capabilities tend to admire Hercules even though he failed to stand up to his woman-master Omphale.

medieval knight battles snail

Suffering from internalized misandry, the Lombard turned away from his wife’s loving prayers. He ranked the gods as a higher authority than his wife:

“Set a limit to your prayers, dearest wife,” he said.
“A daring mind isn’t swayed by prayer or tears.
The gods today shall give me fame without end.
Now I pray that you be strong and the boys be strong.”

{ “Pone modum precibus,” inquit, “carissima coniunx,
non prece mens audax flectitur aut lacrimis;
di mihi sunt hodie nomen sine fine daturi.
Iam precor ut valeas et valeant pueri.” }

The Lombard is badly confused. In traditional Greco-Roman morality, pious men tended to spare those who supplicated them with prayer and tears. As a classical epic hero, the Lombard should be swayed by prayer and tears. Moreover, he urges his wife to be moderate, a central medieval Christian value. Nonetheless, he himself seeks fame without end. Most importantly, the gynocentric social devaluation of men’s lives as instrumental inculcates physical strength and emotional constrains in men. That social construction means nothing to women and young boys.

Ignorant of the deeply entrenched gender oppression of men, the Lombard acted like an epic hero and engaged the snail. It was another brutal battle to death:

He thus returned to the battlefield. Here and there he quickly marched,
circling the great beast, sufficiently threatening it:
“O beast whose nature has never before been similarly created,
monster of monsters, pernicious plague,
your horns that you now brandish at me don’t frighten me,
nor does the shell under which for protective covering you remain.
Today you will die by this strong right hand, and no longer
will I endure you befouling my fields.”
And balancing his spear, he looked for points that were
closest to causing death and vigorously pursued victory.

{ Ut stetit in campo, velox huc tendit et illuc
circumdatqueferam magna satis minitans:
“O fera cui numquam similem natura creavit,
monstrum monstrorum, perniciosa lues,
quae mihi nunc pandis non me tua cornua terrent,
testaque sub cuius tegmine tuta manes.
Hac hodie dextra forti moriere nec ultra
te patiar segetes commaculare meas.”
Et vibrans telum quae sint loca proxima morti
prospicit et palmam strenuus exequitur. }

The snail, undoubtedly a male snail, thus suffered defeat and death.[4] He was killed merely for his frightening appearance. He had caused no one harm.

24 tailors confront snail

The social construction of gender even directs men into battles other than those of physical violence. The medieval epic On the Lombard and the Snail {De Lombardo et lumaca} concludes:

For such a deed, what will be a worthy prize to give?
That’s no small matter. Let the lawyers come forward.

{ Pro tanto facto quae premia digna dabuntur?
Non est res parva: causidici veniant. }

Lawyers follow the epic tradition of vicious, fruitless fighting. Rather than being warriors or lawyers, men should stay home and enjoy cooking, gardening, woodworking, or studying classical and medieval literature.

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[1] On the Lombard and the Snail {De Lombardo et lumaca} vv. 8-11, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020) pp. 100-1. De Lombardo et lumaca probably was composed late in the twelfth century in Italy. It survives in twenty-five manuscripts. The earliest of those manuscripts was written in the thirteenth century. Randall (1962) pp. 363-4, Cardelle (2013) pp. 25, 35-6. For a freely available, early critical edition, Novati (1893). For a recent edition of the Latin, with commentary and an Italian translation, Voce (2009). For a freely accessible review of medieval pseudo-Ovidian literature, Kretschmer (2013). On medieval beast poetry, Ziolkowski (1993). Id., Appendix 22 also offers an English translation of De Lombardo et lumaca.

Comic epic goes back at least to the Battle of the Frogs and Mice {Batrachomyomachia / Βατραχομυομαχία}. That work was attributed to Homer,  but it was probably written about the fourth century BGC. Some pictorial evidence from the second and third centuries GC suggests a snail as a figure in a battle. Cardelle (2013) p. 28. From the middle of the twelfth century, Lombards were associated with non-chivalrous behavior. Randall (1962) p. 363. That characterization probably built upon the Lombards fleeing from Charlemagne in battle in 772. Id. p. 364.

[2] In a related popular nursery rhyme, children are inured to a female snail threatening to massacre many men:

Four and twenty tailors went to kill a snail.
The best man amongst them durst not touch her tail.
She put out her horns, like a little Kyloe cow,
run, tailors, run, or she’ll kill you all just now.

From Gilbert (1877) p. 148. A Kyloe (Scottish West Highland) cow is relatively small and has long hair. A little Kyloe cow looks cuddly, not frightening.

Kyloe cow looks cuddly

This nursery rhyme also exists in Anonymous (c. 1870). The preface to that work declares:

The Publishers offer in this little volume well known and long loved stories to their young readers. The tales which have delighted the children of many generations will, they feel assured, be equally welcome in the nurseries of the present day….

A closely related version with weavers rather than tailors is attested about 1831 in “the cloth districts of Gloucestershire,” England. J. (1871). A variant was published in 1784. Opie & Opie (1977) p. 401 (no. 496).

[3] My translation of misere in Parce mihi misere is questionable. Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes (2020), p. 103, has “Spare me in my misery”; Ziolkowski (1993), p. 292, has “Spare me, wretch that I am.” In contrast, I’ve translated misere as the second-person active imperative of misereo. Hexter, Pfuntner & Haynes translated misere as an adverbial form of the deponent misereor. The second-person active imperative of misereor is miserere. A leading authority on medieval Latin philology has noted that while both verbs existed in classical Latin, medieval Latin gravitated toward the deponent. Thus the deponent form would provide the best translation in a normal medieval Latin text using misere.

De Lombardo et lumaca, however, imitates and parodies classical Latin. Stenuit declared that De Lombardo et lumaca illustrates “the influence of the classical tradition on the twelfth century: a beautiful lesson for our age {le rayonnement au XIIe s. de la tradition classique: belle leçon pour notre époque}.” Stenuit (2015) p. 881. Cardelle observed of this work:

It’s especially in parodic relation with the Latin epic tradition that the comic unfolds. Numerous lexical borrowings from Virgil, Statius and Ovid’s Metamorphoses evoke the epic style. They are most often isolated words or groups of words too short to be able to speak of “quotations” that would evoke concrete scenes from the ancient texts.

{ C’est surtout dans la relation parodique avec la tradition épique latine que le comique se déploie. De nom breux emprunts lexicaux à Virgile, à Stace et à l’Ovide des Méta morphoses évoquent le style épique. Il s’agit le plus souvent de mots isolés ou de groupes de mots trop brefs pour pouvoir parler de citations qui évoqueraient des scènes concrètes des textes anciens. }

Cardelle (2013) p. 26. Using the classical Latin verb misereo is consistent with that pattern of imitation. Moreover, two Latin expressions well-known in medieval Europe are “Miserere mei Deus {Have mercy on me, God}” (Psalm 51:1) and “Parce Domine populo tuo {Spare your people, Lord}” (Joel 2:17). Using the classical form misereo would heighten the classical imitation in a verse specifically contrasting with two expressions regularly used in medieval European liturgy.

Grammatical imitation crossing linguistic corpora appears in De Lombardo et lumaca v. with the superlative “monster of monsters {monstrum monstrorum}.” That’s a ancient Mesopotamian form of intensification conveyed into Greek in Timothy 6:15 and Revelation 17:14, 19:16. “Amen” was conveyed into ancient Greek in both translated and transliterated forms. Medieval Latin followed those Greek forms for “amen.” The superlative form “monster of monsters {monstrum monstrorum}” probably came similarly through ancient Greek into medieval Latin.

In addition to its linguistic availability, the verb misereo also seems to me to make better sense in its specific context in De Lombardo et lumaca. The wife is tearful and fearful, but not miserable. She enjoys having her husband with her now. Her husband dying in a future battle with the snail would make her miserable then. She’s a happy, truly loving wife concerned to protect her husband from violence.

[4] Medieval depictions of human engaging with snails encompass a wide range of gender configurations. In one medieval manuscript, a woman implores a knight in relation to a snail. Whether she seeks him to fight the snail to protect her or seeks to dissuade him from fighting the snail isn’t clear. Folio 15v of BnF Latin 14284 (Book of Hours made in France (Picard) about 1280). In other medieval manuscripts, a naked woman battles a snail. Folio 98v of Morgan Library MS M.358 (Book of Hours made in southern France ca. 1440-1450). A naked man riding a snail attacks a naked woman. Folio 184v of Morgan Library MS M.358. A knight,  apparently defeated, supplicates a snail. Folio 162v and Folio 213v of British Library Add MS 49622 (Gorleston Psalter made in England (Suffolk) between 1310-1324).

[images] (1) Medieval knight on horseback charges a snail. Illumination in margin of folio 65r (relevant detail) of Brunetto Latini’s Li Livres dou Tresor. Manuscript made in France (Picardy), c. 1315-1325. Preserved as British Library, Yates Thompson MS 19. (2) Medieval knight on foot battles snail. Illumination in margin of folio 193v of Gorleston Psalter. Made in England (Suffolk), 1310-1324. Preserved as British Library, Add MS 49622. For more on medieval images of snails and knights battling snails, see Randall (1962), Cranga & Cranga (1997), the Manuscript Miniatures collection, and Biggs (2013). (3) Twenty-four tailors went to kill a snail. Illumination for nursery rhyme “Four-and-twenty tailors went to kill a snail” in Anonymous (1865) p. 489. Thanks to Mama Lisa’s World for displaying this image and citing its source. Here’s the illustration from Gilbert (1877). (4) West Highland (Kyloe) two-month-old calf. Source image thanks to Stephencdickson and Wikimedia Commons.


Anonymous. c. 1870. The National Nursery Book. London: Frederick Warne and Co., Bedford Street, Covent Garden.

Biggs, Sarah J. 2013. “Knight v Snail.” British Library Medieval manuscripts blog. 26 September 2013.

Cardelle de Hartmann, Carmen. 2013. “De lombardo et lumaca et la Plurivocité du Procédé Parodique.” Pp. 19-40 in Johannes Bartuschat and Carmen Cardelle de Hartmann, eds. 2013. Formes et Fonctions de la Parodie dans les Littératures Médiévales: Actes du Colloque International, Zurich, 9-10 Decembre 2010. Firenze: Edizioni del Galluzzo per la Fondazione Ezio Franceschini.

Cranga, Yves, and Françoise Cranga. 1997. “L’ escargot dans le midi de la France: approche iconographique.” Mémoires De La Société Archéologique Du Midi De La France / Société Archéologique Du Midi De La France. 57: 71-90.

Gilbert, John et al. 1877. Mother Goose’s Nursery Rhymes and Fairy Tales. London: George Routledge and Sons.

Hexter, Ralph J., Laura Pfuntner, and Justin Haynes, ed. and trans. 2020. Appendix Ovidiana: Latin poems ascribed to Ovid in the Middle Ages. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 62. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

J. (1871). “The Prancing Tailor.” Notes and Queries. 4th Series, Volume 8, Sept 2, 1871: 231.

Kretschmer, Marek Thue. 2013. “The love elegy in medieval Latin literature (pseudo-Ovidiana and Ovidian imitations).” Ch. 17 (pp. 271-289) in Thorsen, Thea S., ed. The Cambridge Companion to Latin Love Elegy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Novati, Francesco. 1893. “Il Lombardo e la Lumaca.” Giornale Storico della Letteratura Italiana. 22 (66): 335-353.

Opie, Iona, and Peter Opie. 1977. The Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes. Oxford: Clarendon.

Randall, Lilian M. C. 1962. “The Snail in Gothic Marginal Warfare.” Speculum. 37 (3): 358-367.

Stenuit, Bernard. 2015. “Book Review: Il De Lombardo et Lumaca: fonti e modelli (Studi di filologia antica e moderna, 20).” Latomus. 74 (3): 881.

Voce, Stefania. 2009. Il De Lombardo et lumaca: fonti e modelli. Soveria Mannelli: Rubbettino.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1993. Talking Animals: medieval Latin beast poetry, 750-1150. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.