Peter Dronke’s death and a renaissance of medieval Latin literature

How are you commanding me, little boy,
for what are you telling me, little son,
to sing a sweet song,
while I am far away in exile,
within this sea?
O why are you commanding me to sing?

{ Ut quid iubes, pusiole,
quare mandas, filiole,
carmen dulce me cantare,
cum sim longe exul valde
intra mare?
o cur iubes canere? } [1]

Pope Gregory IV receives book from Hrabanus Maurus

The eminent, amazing medieval Latin scholar Peter Dronke died on April 19, 2020. He was born in Nazi Germany in 1934. In 1960, as a junior research fellow at Oxford, Dronke married Ursula Brown. She was then an outstanding scholar of medieval Icelandic and Old Norse sagas and a tutor at Oxford. She was fourteen years older than he.

About a year later, Peter Dronke received a lectureship in medieval Latin at the University Cambridge. Ursula then led Peter to their new home in Cambridge. She managed domestic affairs there for a decade, including supervising their only child, a daughter born in 1962. In 1970, Ursula moved on to another management position as Head of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Munich. She worked there for three years. In 1976, she become a fellow of Linacre College, Oxford, and Vigfússon Reader in Old Icelandic Literature and Antiquities, an Oxford University professorship. She held those Oxford positions until 1988.

Achieving success that would not have been possible without his wife, Peter rose through the Cambridge academic hierarchy. He become a fellow of Clare Hall in 1964, received a Readership in Medieval Latin Literature in 1979, and was awarded a chair as Professor of Medieval Latin Literature in 1989. He held that Cambridge University professorship until 2001. For many years Ursula and Peter thus had to communicate their nuptial love in part through words transmitted between the academic heights of Oxford and Cambridge.[2]

Peter Dronke championed medieval courtly love lyrics, poetic individuality, and women writers. The men-abasing ideology of courtly love has been enormously damaging to heterosexual relations and gender equality. Concern for poetic individuality drove the early nineteenth-century Romantic movement, particularly in Germany. That’s plausibly associated with communicative changes that produced massively disproportionate incarceration of men. A revered scholar of medieval Latin literature sympathetically acknowledged Dronke’s “unique responsiveness to ‘goddess’ figures in medieval texts.”[3] A laudatory obituary for Dronke asserted, “his streak of feminist partisanship was inextricably intertwined with a profound commitment to a language of tolerance and equality.”[4] Perhaps Dronke welcomed Dronke’s Women Writers of the Middle Ages: A Supplement; or, Medieval Women Writers’ Loving Concern for Men. Perhaps Dronke would have tolerated or even encouraged medieval meninist literary criticism. In light of Dronke’s life and scholarly work, I doubt it. His support for tolerance, gender equality, and enlightenment probably didn’t go that far.[5]

Study of medieval Latin literature is largely corrupt and decaying. The sneering, smearing, anachronistic label “anti-feminist” has been sufficient to foreclose serious attention to magnificent, meaningful medieval Latin works such as the thirteenth-century Lamentations of Little, Little Matheus {Lamentationes Matheoluli}. With respect to Letters of Two Lovers {Epistolae duorum amantium}, a leading medieval scholar declared:

When the Man in the flush of reciprocated love wrote that “you are I and I am you,” he surely had no sinister project in mind. Yet the lovers lived in a patriarchal society where no heterosexual relationship, even outside marriage, could remain a genuine friendship of equals. [6]

Did Ursula or Peter Dronke speak out against that categorical, nonsensical scholarly dogma?

Medieval Latin scholarship that embraces contempt for men as a gender has a dismal future. In 2001, when Peter Dronke retired as Professor of Medieval Latin Literature at the University of Cambridge, Cambridge didn’t appoint another scholar to that chair. Reviewing the festschrift for Dronke, a medieval scholar commented:

There is a particular poignancy to this volume. In a revealing and nuanced introduction to the volume, on Dronke’s formative role in promoting the study of Medieval Latin at Cambridge, Marenbon laments the University’s apparent decision not to continue with teaching the subject, on the grounds of the small number of students who choose to take it up — a policy decision which many medievalists may recognize as all too familiar in university administrations. [7]

In the U.S. today, about twice as many women as men are earning advanced degrees in literary and humanistic fields.[8] Literary scholarship as it’s now conducted is much less interesting to men than to women. That should be a serious concern. Particularly with respect to medieval Latin literature, scholars deserve nearly all the blame for repelling today’s men students.[9]

Medieval Latin literature has great potential to speak to men students. An eminent medieval Latin scholar, one who studied under Peter Dronke, observed:

The best way to conceive of Latin in the Middle Ages may be as a father tongue. This description conveys Latin’s special quality as a language spoken by no one as a mother tongue. Furthermore, it hints at the status of Latin as a mainly male language, since most of the people who had the opportunity to learn Latin were boys and men (more likely to be figurative Fathers in the Church than flesh-and-blood patresfamilias) who occupied posts within a strongly patriarchal system. [10]

The reference to “a strongly patriarchal system” is best ignored as merely bowing to current, unquestionable academic dogma. The important point is that most of the persons who studied and wrote medieval Latin literature were boys and men. Medieval Latin literature includes poignant, relevant voices of men’s sexed protest, sophisticated poetry depicting women’s sexual exploitation of men, and heart-wrenching poems on violence against men. Grazida Lizier, or even Marguerite Porete, didn’t produce more interesting medieval literature than the Archpoet’s “As Fame sounds the trumpet {Fama tuba dante sonum}.”

Modern anthologies aren’t appealing entrées for men students into medieval Latin literature. When Dronke went to Cambridge, Frederick Brittain was teaching medieval Latin literature there. Brittain’s The Penguin Book of Latin Verse, first published in 1962, ends with a poem by Allen Beville Ramsay, who was Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge, from 1925 to 1947. Ramsay’s poem ends:

Give me a pious heart, I beg, and to be worthy
of my mother’s love.

{ De pium pectus, precor, et mereri
Matris amorem. } [11]

Given that’s how The Penguin Book of Latin Verse ends, most men students will flee as far back to the beginning of Latin verse as they can go. Ramsay’s poem is entitled “The Eve of Saint Nicholas.” Men students surely would be much more interested in the medieval Latin poetic roots of “The Eve of St. Agnes.”

Medieval Latin literature is mutilated and abused in James Wilhelm’s Lyrics of the Middle Ages. This book was published in 1990. Its first section is “Latin Hymns and Lyrics from 850 to 1300.” Why not from 500 to 1500? Wilhelm’s prefatory text explains:

The anthology begins with Gottschalk, whose moving poem to a young novice prefigures the love poetry that had been silent since the end of the Roman Empire, but which would break forth with renewed energy in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. … Latin went on after the year 1300, but by this time most of the works had become secular and were more Renaissance in spirit than medieval. [12]

Gottschalk’s moving poem probably wasn’t written to be literally a love poem to a young novice.[13] With a similar vision, but much greater medieval influence, Boethius’s early sixth-century Consolation of Philosophy {Consolatio Philosophiae} includes a poignant strand of profound personal love. Maximianus’s sixth-century love elegies treat men’s fundamental emotional concerns as humanely and sympathetically as any poetry ever written. Maximianus’s love elegies were rightly part of the thirteenth-century Latin school curriculum known as the Six Authors {Sex Auctores}. Boethius and Maximianus sixth-century medieval Latin poems are essential literature not just for men students, but for all students.

Wilhelm’s claim that medieval Latin works after the year 1300 “were more Renaissance in spirit than medieval” is vacuous at best. The great Poggio Bracciolini, a medieval church official who died in 1459, assiduously searched for classical texts, recovered Lucretius’s incomparable On the Nature of Things {De rerum natura}, and helped to transmit medieval stories of men’s sexed protest to the present. The fifteenth-century Alphabetical Song Concerning the Evil Woman {Canticum alphabeticum de mala muliere} is part of a long medieval tradition of important, challenging teaching for men students. Guillaume Du Fay’s medieval motet, O Saint Sebastian — O martyr Sebastian — O how wonderful {O sancte Sebastiane – O martyr Sebastiane – O quam mira} is a medieval work that speaks poignantly to present-day anxieties about the corona-virus plague. In our benighted ignorance and bigotry, we are more medieval than the Middle Ages ever were.

Apart from promoting the childish delusion of the Middle Ages, Wilhelm amputated a vital organ of medieval Latin literature. The second section of his anthology is “The Carmina Burana.” Put together early in the thirteenth century, the Carmina Burana is “the largest surviving collection of secular medieval Latin verse.”[14] Its poem are as much medieval Latin hymns and lyrics as the poems in Wilhelm’s prior section, “Latin Hymns and Lyrics from 850 to 1300.” Implicitly justifying his division of Latin lyrics, Wilhelm declared:

As an entity, the Burana celebrate nature, love, and fortune in a way that runs directly counter to the supernatural doctrines of the Church. … Some of the poems … are almost grotesque parodies. … If these {other Carmina Burana} poems are comic, they are also diabolical, no matter how much like schoolbook exercises they may seem. [15]

Medieval intellectuals were less prone to searching out and quarantining the supernatural and/or diabolical. Medieval Latin authors wrote poetry celebrating asses for the liturgy, biblical centos on a monk unfairly castrated for adultery, and parodies of sacred liturgy and even of women. The ninth-century Latin author Sedulius Scottus wrote a brilliant bellwether poem concerning nature, love, and fortune. That medieval Latin poem points in the opposite direction from Wilhelm’s death-promoting division of medieval Latin literature.[16]

No book on medieval Latin literature has been more welcoming to men students since Helen Waddell’s Mediaeval Latin Lyrics was published in 1929. With wide-ranging personal experience, a first-class honors B.A. plus M.A. in literature from Queen’s University, Belfast, scholarships from Oxford, and admirable dedication to caring for her step-mother, Helen Waddell was an unconventional medievalist.[17] A man academic, with characteristic lack of gender self-consciousness, complained about Helen Waddell’s medieval scholarship:

She is so insistent that we shall see medieval scholars as men, she forgets that they are both scholars and medieval. [18]

For far too long, scholars have written about man — abstract, genderless, generic man. Helen Waddell understood that men are distinctively male and that being male is significant and not a birth defect. She understood, as today’s female supremacists don’t, that a humane future cannot be just female.

Waddell’s Mediaeval Latin Lyrics begins with “Dancing Girl of Syria {Copa Surisca}.” Perhaps that poem would have been more accurately titled Darling Syrian Woman Tavern-Keeper {Copa Syrisca}.” Far more important is that Waddell began her anthology of medieval Latin lyrics with that poem. Waddell’s anthology ends with “She herself restored me to life {Ipsa vivere mihi reddidit}.” Waddell appreciated men and medieval Latin literature in a humane and enlightened way, far beyond the oppressive ideology of men-abasing courtly love.[19]

Hrabanus holy men: carmin figuratus

Helen Waddell and Peter Dronke are dead. In her own understanding, Waddell has gone to be with the God of most of medieval Latin literature. In his own understanding, Dronke is probably just dust. Dust might count as more material remains than what’s left of Dronke’s chair of medieval Latin literature at Cambridge. To honor best Peter Dronke’s learned, careful, thoroughly researched and documented medieval Latin scholarship, scholars should welcome and include in such scholarship Helen Waddell’s religious openness, meninist insight, and literary creativity. Then medieval Latin literature will attract more men students, and probably more women students, too. That’s the way toward a renaissance of medieval Latin literature and a more fruitful future for humanity.

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Read more:


[1]  Gottschalk of Orbais, “How are you commanding me, little boy, {Ut quid iubes, pusiole},” Latin text from The Gottschalk Homepage, my English translation, benefiting from that of Godman (1985), p. 229, and Carr (2018). Here’s a fine recorded performance of “Ut quid iubes, pusiole,” as performed by Cantilena Antiqua in Jaroslaw, Poland in 2009.

Gottschalk probably wrote “Ut quid iubes” after becoming immersed in bitter conflict with Hrabanus Maurus. Hrabanus, a highly influential church leader, celebrated men’s seminal blessing and fiercely sought to suppress what he regarded a heresy. To Hrabanus, Gottschalk’s views on predestination were heresy. Hrabanus and other church leaders thus had Gottschalk incarcerated in the Hautvillers monastery in 849. Gottschalk was labeled a “dangerously insane figure.” Gillis (2017) p. 148. Secular rulers in 851 confirmed Gottschalk’s condemnation. Gottschalk probably wrote “Ut quid iubes” in response to his exile-incarceration for life, without hope for further appeal. An alternate view is that Gottschalk wrote this poem early in his life, perhaps about 825. Godman (1985) p. 40.

[2] Peter Dronke was the son of Maria Kronfeld, a Catholic with close Jewish family relations, and Adolf Dronke, a secularist. Dronke went with his sister and parents to live in New Zealand in 1939. There Dronke obtained a B.A. from Victoria University of Wellington in 1953 and an M.A. in 1954. He then received a scholarship to study English at Magdalen College, Oxford. He received an Oxford degree in 1957 and subsequently received an Italian government scholarship to study in Rome during the academic year 1957-8. Dronke then became a Junior Research Fellow at Merton College, Oxford. On the biography of Peter Dronke, Marenbon (2001), Boltani (2020), Gentili (2020), Sequentia tribute (2020), and Warner (2020).

While Ursula Brown changed her name to Ursula Dronke, that shouldn’t be interpreted as her subordination to her husband. When Ursula Brown and Peter Dronke married, Peter probably asked Ursula for permission to change his last name to Brown. She, being older and wiser, and also a generous-hearted person, probably decided that she would change her name to Dronke so as to help Peter as a young scholar to establish his career. Peter then conformed to his wife’s decision.

Ursula’s choice to take the name Dronke was more reasonable than both spouses adopting a hyphenated last name formed from their prior last names, with the order of the last names in the hyphenated new name chosen by the wife in accordance with the reality of gynocentrism. That hyphenating naming practice has double the administrative and reputational cost of a single marital name change. It also isn’t sustainable intergenerationally. On the biography of Ursula Dronke, O’Donoghue (2012) and Warner (2012). Ursula and Peter Dronke are lamentably excluded from Chance (2005).

Ursula and Peter Dronke’s only child, their daughter Cressida, went on to have two children herself, Gabriel and Lara. Peter Dronke had many students. He also had these two grandchildren.

[3] Wetherbee (2004) p. 243. Like many societies, medieval Europe was highly gynocentric.

[4] Warner (2020).

[5] According to Warner, Ursula Brown and Peter Dronke shared “a commitment to socialist principles.” Warner (2012). Peter Dronke however, donated most of his scholarly work to publishers. Those publishers have disseminated Dronke’s work as private property accessible only to those with sufficient resources to purchase it. Dronke could have done much more to make his scholarly work freely available, as a common good, to everyone worldwide. He seems to have done nothing to promote anything other than the privatization of his work.

[6] Newman (2016) p. 31.

[7] Mews (2008). Dronke taught John Marenbon medieval Latin literature in 1975-6 when Marenbon was an undergraduate at Cambridge. Marenbon observed:

Medieval Latin will cease to be a proper subject in the University, represented by someone teaching, supervising research and championing the interests of the discipline. Just as in the bad old days, students will no longer be able to receive ‘a formation in medieval Latin literature’.

Marenbon (2001) p. 5.

[8] Among degrees awarded in the U.S. in the the academic year 2017-18, women received more than twice as many masters degrees as did men (10,538 masters degrees to women, 5,169 masters degrees to men). Women received more than 50% more doctorate degrees (1,766 doctorate degrees to women, 1,170 doctorate degrees to men). Here are the data as a Google Sheets web page and an LibreOffice spreadsheet. For a related compilation for the academic year 2010-11, see note [4] in my post, “women and men on medieval women writers.”

These data are from the U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics. The National Center for Education Statistics obscures this gender comparison by distributing the relevant data across four separate, “web only,” highly detailed tables.

[9] Both women and men scholars have been largely silent about the real gender trouble in the humanities. Reviewing broadly medieval literature, Mortensen declared:

if we as medieval textual scholars do not wish to abandon the entire field to complete fragmentation and private initiative – or to one-sided ideological exploitation – we need to find ways to supplement our existing master-narratives for this extremely large and multifaceted record of verbal art and premodern human insight.

Mortensen (2017) p. 60. With respect to gender, literary scholarship has already become a field of one-sided ideological exploitation. A medievalist might consider “feminist criticism of the role of gender in the author’s writing and in our reading.” Ziolkowsk (1996) p. 530. Meninist literary criticism, in contrast, continues to be viciously marginalized and suppressed.

[10] Ziolkowski (1996) p. 506.

[11] Allen Beville Ramsay, “Nicholas, merciful father and guardian {Nicola, clemens pater atque custos},” Latin text from Brittain (1962) p. 363, my English translation benefiting from that of id.

[12] Wilhelm (1990) p. 3. On the periodization with respect to medieval Latin literature, Ziolkowski (1996) pp. 508-11.

[13] Godman stated:

Ut quid iubes? is imprecisely allusive … Whatever the personal circumstances of this poem’s composition, nothing in the text licenses us to interpret it biographically, nor do we need to do so. … Gottschalk’s theme is less the difficulties he experienced on Reichenau while exiled from Fulda than a condition of mind … it is poetry symbolic of a state of sensibility in which consciousness of personal suffering vies with the duty of divine praise.

Godman (1985) p. 42.

[14] The Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library recently published David Traill’s magnificent edition of the Carmina Burana. Traill (2018). The quoted phrase is on the flyleaves of both volumes.

[15] Wilhelm (1990) pp. 27-8. The third section in Wilhelm’s book is entitled “Provençal Lyrics.” Its introduction begins:

The Provençal lyric bursts upon the late medieval world like a welcomed ray of spring sunlight.

Id. p. 45. In fact, Raimon Berenguier IV, Arnaut Catalan, Bernart de Cornilh, and Raimon de Durfort discussing in Provencal lyrics the extent of men’s obligations to serve women is squarely within the great tradition of earlier medieval Latin literature such as Waltherius and Ruodlieb, and stories in the chronicles of Guibert of Nogent and Liudprand of Cremona.

[16] In addition to contempt from medievalists, medieval Latin literature has also suffered from contempt from classicists:

Until recently classicists, with few exceptions, have taken almost no interest in Medieval Latin, and indeed have often been hostile to or contemptuous of it. This attitude goes back to — in fact is almost a definition of — the Renaissance Humanist culture that prided itself on having rediscovered classical antiquity — not only Greek but ‘pure’ Latin. From the sixteenth century on, the efforts of Latinists have been directed to preserving the Latin language and literature of the late years of the Republic and the early years of the Empire. Style, spelling and metre were taught according to classical models; the reform of spelling took immediate effect and was confirmed by the invention of printing. As a result over a thousand years of Latin literature was dismissed as ignorant and barbaric. I recall a New Zealand professor of Latin who read the entire Oxford Book of Medieval Latin and found only one piece that he liked (Peter Riga’s poem on the hermaphrodite). Religious attitudes (not, of course, just among classicists) have also played their part. A great deal of Medieval Latin literature concerns the Virgin, the saints, and other (from a Protestant point of view) dubious topics. Anticlericalism was not confined to Protestant countries: the epithet ‘monkish’ has often been enough to condemn an author to permanent obscurity. In modern times even being religious at all — let alone moral — puts a medieval writer at a serious disadvantage with his {modern} reader.

Rigg (1992) p. 3. In contrast to much of medieval Latin literature, Rigg’s presentation of medieval Latin literature is wholly lacking in rhetorical sophistication and verbal allurement. His book thus functions as a learned reference work for all but the most dedicated students of medieval Latin literature.

[17] For an anti-meninist biography of Waddell, see FitzGerald (2005). FitzGerald’s biography is one chapter in Chance (2005), a monumental work of gynocentrism.

[18] Jones (1928) pp. 497-8. Jones declared of Waddell:

One can read her discussion of the Carolingian scholars and scarcely suspect that the interminable tomes of the Poetae Karolii Aevi are, unless sifted, a weariness of the flesh, a stupendous compound of bad verse, of dull homily, of empty panegyric, of monotonous elegy, of abecedaria and acrostic and anagram and palindrome, of edifying discourse and endless sermon and monkish chronicle and versified stale small-beer.

Id. p. 498. The interminable tomes of modern academic literary criticism are far less diverse, less useful, and less interesting than medieval Latin literature.

[19] Waddell’s anthology lacks beautiful medieval Latin hymns. In her postscript to her 1948 edition, Waddell made clear that she appreciated all of medieval Latin literature:

The intervening years have made more apparent to me the justice of a complaint brought by a discriminating critic against the principle of selection in this anthology: that is has preferred “the hilarity and mockery of the last masks of paganism” — a harsh phrase for verse as innocent as Herrick’s — to the sanctum saeculare of the mediaeval hymns. Yet it is a preference in seeming only. The greatest things in mediaeval Latin, its “living and victorious splendours,” are not here, because I cannot translate them. Even in secular Latin there are things before which translation is abashed: for these others, nondum propalatam esse viam sanctorum: “the way into the holiest of all was not yet made manifest.”

Waddell (1929 / 1948) p. viii.

[images] (1) Pope Gregory IV receives a book from Hrabanus Maurus. Illumination made in Fulda between 831 and 840. From instance of Hrabanus, On praise of the holy cross {De laudibus sanctae crucis}, folio 2 of MS. Austrian National Library, Codex 652. Via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Holy men in carmen figuratus, from another instance of Hrabanus, On praise of the holy cross {De laudibus sanctae crucis}, folio 19v of MS. Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) Latin 11685.


Boltani, Plero. 2020. “Dronke, medievista e latinista dell’amore.Il Sole (Italy). April 24.

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

Carr, Simonetta. 2018. “Gottschalk of Orbais – Bold Witness and Sweet Poet.” Place for Truth. Sept. 12. Online.

Chance, Jane. 2005. Women Medievalists and the Academy. Madison, Wis: University of Wisconsin Press.

FitzGerald, Jennifer. 2005. “Helen Waddell (1889-1965): The Scholar-Poet.” Ch. 24 (pp. 323-338) in Chance (2005).

Gentili, Sonia. 2020. “L’immaginazione poetica del suo Medioevo liberato.” quotidiano comunista / il manifesto (Italy). May 3.

Gillis, Matthew Bryan. 2017. Heresy and Dissent in the Carolingian Empire: the case of Gottschalk of Orbais. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (review by Scott Ashley)

Godman, Peter. 1985. Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance. London: Duckworth.

Jones, Howard Mumford. 1928. “Book review: The Wandering Scholars by Helen Waddell.” Modern Philology. 25 (4): 497-499.

Marenbon, John, 2001. “Peter Dronke and Medieval Latin at Cambridge.” Pp. 1-6 in Marenbon, John, ed. Poetry and Philosophy in the Middle Ages: a festschrift for Peter Dronke. Leiden: Brill.

Mews, Constant. 2008. “Book Review: Marenbon, ed., Poetry and Philosophy in the Middle Ages.” The Medieval Review. Online, January 12.

Mortensen, Lars Boje. 2017. “The Canons of Medieval Literature from the Middle Ages to the Twenty-First Century.” Analecta Romana Instituti Danici. 42: 47-63.

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

O’Donoghue. Heather. 2012. “Ursula Dronke obituary: Inspirational teacher of Old Norse literature specialising in the sagas and poetry of medieval Iceland.” The Guardian (UK). March 25.

Rigg, A. G. 1992. A History of Anglo-Latin Literature, 1066-1422. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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

Waddell, Helen. 1929 / rev. 1948. Mediaeval Latin Lyrics. New York: Henry Holt.

Warner, Marina. 2012. “Obituary. Ursula Dronke: Enlightening scholar of medieval literature.” Independent (UK). April 6.

Warner, Marina. 2020. “Peter Dronke obituary: Scholar of medieval Latin who shone light on Hildegard of Bingen and other female writers of the Middle Ages.” The Guardian (UK). Online, May 14.

Wetherbee, Winthrop. 2004. “Book Review: Poetry and Philosophy in the Middle Ages: A Festschrift for Peter Dronke.” Speculum. 79 (1): 242-244.

Wilhelm, James J., ed. 1990. Lyrics of the Middle Ages: an anthology. New York: Garland Publishing.

Ziolkowski, Jan. M. 1996. “Towards a History of Medieval Latin Literature.” Section GA (pp. 505-536) in Mantello, Frank, Anthony Carl, and Arthur George Rigg, eds. Medieval Latin: an introduction and bibliographical guide. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.

moral reflection in Parthenius’s poets summons to self-judgment

poetic inspiration from Mount Helicon

According to Parthenius of Nicaea, both the eminent ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle and ancient writers of sensational Milesian tales told the story of Cleoboea and Antheus. Cleoboea was the wife of the ruler of Miletus, a city of the western coast of present-day Turkey. Antheus was a young man from the royal house of the nearby city of Assesos. Cleoboea’s husband captured Antheus and held him hostage. Then Cleoboea fell in love with Antheus.

Cleoboea sought to have sex with Antheus. Antheus, however, repeatedly refused her advances. Men in such circumstances face both the risk of being raped and the risk of being falsely accused of rape. Antheus implored Cleoboea to fear being discovered and not to dishonor and infuriate her husband. Antheus declared that he was a guest in Cleoboea’s house and appealed to Juno’s husband Zeus, the god of hospitality, for protection. Cleoboea nonetheless refused to respect the young man. With audacious lack of self-consciousness, she even accused him of being merciless and arrogant.

Because Antheus refused to have sex with her, Cleoboea plotted to kill him. She pretended to have gotten over her passion for him. Then she chased a tame partridge into a deep well. She asked Antheus to retrieve the partridge from the well. With men’s characteristic willingness to help women, Antheus readily consented to help Cleoboea. When Antheus had climbed down into the well to retrieve the partridge, Cleoboea threw a large stone down on top of him and killed him.

Without specific motivation, Cleoboea reflected on what she had done. Cleoboea had no reason to act further, but some movement in her self-consciousness occurred:

Then she began to reflect on her crime. She was still on fire with love for the young man, and so she hanged herself.

{ ἡ δὲ ἄρα ἐννοηθεῖσα ὡς δεινὸν ἔργον δεδράκοι, καὶ ἄλλως δὲ καιομένη σφοδρῷ ἔρωτι τοῦ παιδὸς, ἀναρτᾷ ἑαυτήν. } [1]

That’s not like a grief-stricken person committing suicide. Reflection requires emotional detachment. Cleoboea’s action is best interpreted as her judging herself and punishing herself. She recognized that she had committed the crime of murdering someone whom she loved. She killed herself as appropriate punishment for her crime.

According to Parthenius, the eminent woman poet Moero from the Hellenistic city of Byzantium told a related story in her now lost work Curses {Ἀραί}. As the daughter of Polybus, King of Corinth, Alcinoe was a highly privileged woman. She was married to Amphilochus and had a servant-woman whom she treated badly. Xanthus, a man from the powerful and wealthy city of Samos across the Aegean Sea from Corinth, arrived in Corinth. Xanthus was probably exchanging wine from the vineyards of Samos for gold from Corinth. Alcinoe fell in love with him. Abandoning her husband and children, Alcinoe sailed away with Xanthus.

Alcinoe inexplicably reflected on what she had done. She had no specific reason to do so:

But once in mid-ocean she began to reflect on what she had done, and at that started to weep copiously and call now on her husband, now on her children. Finally, though Xanthus offered plenty of consolation and declared that he would make her his wife, she was not persuaded and threw herself into the sea.

{ γενομένην δὲ κατὰ μέσον πόρον ἔννοιαν λαβεῖν τῶν εἰργασμένων, καὶ αὐτίκα πολλά τε δάκρυα προΐεσθαι καὶ ἀνακαλεῖν, ὁτὲ μὲν ἄνδρα κουρίδιον, ὁτὲ δὲ τοὺς παῖδας, τέλος δέ, πολλὰ τοῦ Ξάνθου παρηγοροῦντος καὶ φαμένου γυναῖκα ἕξειν, μὴ πειθομένην ῥῖψαι ἑαυτὴν εἰς θάλασαν. } [2]

Alcinoe unquestionable grieved for the husband and children that she had abandoned. Her suicide, however, seems to have been thoughtful. She apparently understood that she had grievously wronged her husband Amphilochus and their children. She could not be the wife to Xanthus that she recognized that she should have been to Amphilochus, but wasn’t. She thus threw herself into the sea to obliterate her life.

The Lydian historian Xanthus, writing in the fifth century BGC, also told a story involving unmotivated reflection and self-judgment. After his wife died in a hunting accident, Assaon fell in love with his daughter Niobe. He wanted to marry her. Niobe apparently was a widow with children. Nonetheless, she refused to marry her widower-father. Assaon then summoned Niobe’s children to a banquet and burned them all to death. Niobe subsequently committed suicide by throwing herself off a high rock. Assaon then consciously recognized his wrong:

As for Assaon, when he reflected on his crimes, he took his own life.

{ ἔννοιαν δὲ λαβόντα τῶν σφετέρων ἁμαρτημάτων διαχρήσασθαι τὸν Ἀσσάονα ἑαυτόν. } [3]

Killing your daughter’s children because she wouldn’t marry you isn’t a wrong that most persons today would require reflection to recognize. In the ancient Greek cultural sphere, such moral judgment, at least in some cases, required personal reflection.

A person exposing a moral wrong without personal reflection could suffer horribly. Consider a story from Phylarchus in the third century BGC. Thymoetes married his cousin Euopis. He then realized that she was having sex with her brother. He revealed his wife’s incestuous behavior to her father. After cursing her husband for exposing her, as if he had wronged her, she then hung herself.  Thymoetes soon experienced a bizarre horror:

Not long afterwards, Thymoetes encountered a very beautiful woman who had been cast ashore by the waves. He fell in love with her and had sexual intercourse with her dead body. When the body at last began to decompose, owing to the length of time it had been exposed, he heaped up a great funeral mound for the woman. When his passion did not abate even so, he killed himself over her tomb.

{ ἔνθα δὴ τὸν Θυμοίτην μετ᾿ οὐ πολὺν χρόνον ἐπιτυχεῖν γυναικὶ μάλα καλῇ τὴν ὄψιν ὑπὸ τῶν κυμάτων ἐκβεβλημένῃ, καὶ αὐτῆς εἰς ἐπιθυμίαν ἐλθόντα συνεῖναι. ὡς δὲ ἤδη ἐνεδίδου τὸ σῶμα διὰ μῆκος χρόνου, χῶσαι αὐτῇ μέγαν τάφον καὶ οὐδ᾿ ὣς ἀνιέμενον τοῦ πάθους ἐπικατασφάξαι αὑτόν. } [4]

Thymoetes didn’t understand himself to be a man physician giving a beautiful woman’s corpse life-restoring masculine erotic treatment, as did the young medical student in The Story of Apollonius King of Tyre. Thymoetes seems to have been suffering from insane love.

bucolic muse Polymnia

Parthenius collected these stories of “sufferings in love {ἐρωτικὰ παθήματα}” for his friend Cornelius Gallus.[5] Gallus was a Roman politician, a poet who wrote love elegies, and a close friend of Virgil. According to Virgil, Gallus was wandering like the love-crazed Pasiphae about the mountain of poetic inspiration. Gallus was preoccupied with “anxious loves {sollicitos amores}.” Bucolic poets favored a more moderate, Epicurean approach to sexual relations:

All ask: “From where is that love of yours?” Apollo came:
“Gallus, what is this madness?” he said, “Lycoris your lover
follows another man through snows and horrid camps.”
Silvanus came with rustic honors on his brow,
waving his fennel flowers and tall lilies.
Arcady’s god Pan came, whom we saw ourselves,
red with vermilion and crimson elderberries:
“Will there ever be a limit?” he said. “Love doesn’t care for this:
Love’s not sated with tears, nor the grass with streams,
the bees with clover, or the goats with leaves.”

{ omnes “unde amor iste” rogant “tibi?” venit Apollo:
“Galle, quid insanis?” inquit. “tua cura Lycoris
perque nives alium perque horrida castra secuta est.”
venit et agresti capitis Silvanus honore,
florentis ferulas et grandia lilia quassans.
Pan deus Arcadiae venit, quem vidimus ipsi
sanguineis ebuli bacis minioque rubentem:
“ecquis erit modus?” inquit. “Amor non talia curat:
nec lacrimis crudelis Amor nec gramina rivis
nec cytiso saturantur apes nec fronde capellae.” } [6]

Gallus, however, insisted that love madness is unalterable and impervious to the natural world of bucolic poetry:

No labor of ours can alter that god, not even
if we drink the Hebrus in the heart of winter
and endure the Thracian snows with wintry rain,
not even if we drive the Ethiopian sheep to and fro,
under Cancer, while dying bark withers on tall elms.
Love conquers all: and let us give way to Love.

{ non illum nostri possunt mutare labores,
nec si frigoribus mediis Hebrumque bibamus
Sithoniasque nives hiemis subeamus aquosae,
nec si, cum moriens alta liber aret in ulmo,
Aethiopum versemus ovis sub sidere Cancri.
omnia vincit Amor: et nos cedamus Amori. }

A perceptive critic observed:

The response of Gallus to the insights proferred most robustly by Pan, reflects a radical failure on his part to grasp, or at least to admit, the grave ramifications of his underlying sickness. What is more damning, he never really makes a sincere effort to engage in therapeutic self-examination in the manner of say, the Corydon of Ecl. 2; instead he chooses to indulge in fantasy-projection and superficial escapism. The irony of his flight of fancy is all the more acute in that he ignores the ongoing critique of elegiac amor that recurs in Vergilian bucolic. … An absolute sine qua non of a trouble-free desire, in this school of thought, is the mental act of imposing a limit (peras; modus; finis) on unruly passions. [7]

In Virgil’s thinking, following Lucretius, madness should be confronted with natural reason, except for the madness of poetic inspiration. Unbounded love is natural only for poetry.[8]

Parthenius’s stories of unmotivated personal reflection indicate another way out of love madness. A leading philosopher has described reflection as an activity that “aims, in response to a problem, at determining what we have reason to think or do.”[9] Reflection in Parthenius’s collection isn’t a response to a problem. It isn’t an activity that a person rationally chooses to do. Reflection in Parthenius’s collection seems to be a divine infusion like poetic inspiration, but with a reversed creative sign. Poetic inspiration in classical understanding prompts creative acts of inter-personal communication. Reflection in Parthenius’s collection prompts destructive acts of self-punishment that end love madness.[10]

Parthenius’s collection could have suggested to Cornelius Gallus and subsequent love elegists a path of generic enrichment that Virgil didn’t take. Suppose that unbounded love for a god gave one a spiritual advocate, an advocate for the truth and the way. Divine inspiration from this spiritual advocate could limit love madness by providing a specific form for love:

A new commandment I give to you: that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

{ ἐντολὴν καινὴν δίδωμι ὑμῖν ἵνα ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους καθὼς ἠγάπησα ὑμᾶς ἵνα καὶ ὑμεῖς ἀγαπᾶτε ἀλλήλους } [11]

After not having loved in that way, divine inspiration could prompt a person to self-judgment. Such self-judgment need not lead to self-destruction. It could also prompt a person to repentance and reform. Parthenius’s collection of poets’ stories concerning sufferings in love may have contributed to the development of Christian self-consciousness.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Parthenius of Nicaea, Sufferings in Love {Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα} 14.4 (Antheus), ancient Greek text and English translation from Lightfoot (2009). All subsequent quotes from Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα are similarly sourced, with a few insubstantial changes to the translations for ease of reading.

Cleoboea was also called Philaechme. Her husband was Phobius, a Neleid. A woman named Cleoboea was the first to bring the orgies of the Demeter Kabeiroi (Cabeiri) from Paros to Thasos. Lightfoot (2009) p. 457, citing Pausanias 10.28.3. Discussing Plutarch’s story of Temoclea and Alexander (from the Alexander historian Aristobulus), Lightfoot observed:

It is as if there existed a narrative pattern in which a man was pushed down a well by a woman and killed, a murder associated with polluting, especially sexual, crime. But the protagonist may be either a righteous woman who is defending herself against the man who polluted her by a vicious sexual crime, or a criminal anti-heroine who punishes an innocent man and incurs pollution by this very action.

Lightfoot (1999) p. 456. A significant commonality is violence against men.

Parthenius lived in Rome in the first century BGC. The Suda refers to him as the son of Heraclides and Eudora, or the son of Heraclides and Tetha. It indicates that Parthenius came from Nicaea (or Myrlea) in Bithynia. Roman forces captured Parthenius during the third Mithridatic War and brought him to Rome. Scholars dispute whether Parthenius was captured in 73 BGC or 66/5 BGC. Parthenius apparently wrote his first poems before 54 BGC. Lightfoot (2009) pp. 11-3.

Parthenius became a famous author:

Teacher of Virgil — as his earliest editors never tire of telling us — and intimate of the elegist and lover Cornelius Gallus, he was also the favourite reading of the emperors Tiberius and Hadrian. Testimonia rank him with Callimachus as an elegist — what greater compliment? — and with Euphorion and Lycophron in the recherché quality of his subject-matter.

Lightfoot (2009) p. 1. Macrobius recorded:

There’s a verse of Parthenius, who taught Virgil Greek language and literature

{ versus est Parthenii quo grammatico in Graecis Vergilius usus est }

Macrobius, Saturnalia 5.18, Latin text and English translation from the Loeb edition of Kaster (2011).

Parthenius wrote Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα sometime between 52 and 26 BGC. Lightfoot (2009) p. 217. It has survived through only one manuscript, Palatinus Heidelbergensis graecus 398. That manuscript, associated with Allen’s scriptorum, apparently was written in Byzantium in the middle of the ninth century. Id. pp. 303-5.

A Greek text and English translation of Parthenius’s Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα are freely accessible online. Gaselee & Thornley (1916). Here’s a convenient presentation of Gaselee’s translation. Here’s a partial Greek text in machine-readable format.

[2] Parthenius, Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 27.2 (Alcinoe). The consolation {παρηγορέω} that Xanthus gave Alcinoe seems to me in context to be sexual consolation.

Alcinoe’s husband Amphilochus is described as the son of Dryas. Nothing more is known of him. The Greek syllable “amphi {ἀμφί}” means “both kinds” and “lochos {λοξός}” can mean “bending to the side.” Hence the name Amphilochus might suggest the husband’s care for both his wife and children. It would thus underscore Alcinoe’s wrongful betrayal of him.

Another story in Parthenius associates change of mind with a contrary emotion inexplicably welling up in a person. According to Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 21 (Peisidice), Achilles plundered cities of Lesbos, but Methymna put up fierce resistance. Then Peisidice, the Methymnaean king’s daughter, fell in love with Achilles after seeing him in battle from afar. Through a nurse-intermediary, she offered to hand over Methymna to Achilles if he would make her his wife. Achilles strategically agreed, but lacked the emotional control to follow through:

For the time being he agreed. But when he got control of the city, he was disgusted / outraged at what she had done and urged his soldiers to stone the girl.

{ ὁ δὲ τὸ μὲν παραυτίκα καθωμολογήσατο· ἐπεὶ μέντοι ἐγκρατὴς <τῆς>1 πόλεως ἐγένετο, νεμεσήσας ἐπὶ τῷ δρασθέντι προὐτρέψατο τοὺς στρατιώτας καταλεῦσαι τὴν κόρην. }

Lightfoot’s translation of νεμεσητός changed from “disgusted” in Lightfoot (1999) to “outraged” in Lightfoot (2009). Achilles apparently couldn’t control his new emotion. He seems not to have deliberately betrayed Peisidice.

In Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 22, Croesus’s daughter Nanis betrayed Sardis to King Cyrus of Persia under the condition that Cyrus marry her. Cyrus took Sardis, but didn’t keep his promise to Nanis. Parthenius provides no indication why Cyrus didn’t keep his promise.

[3] Parthenius, Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 33.3 (Assaon). According to the marginal note (manchette) describing the story source:

The story is told by Xanthus in his Lydiaca, in the second book of Neanthes, and by Simmias of Rhodes.

{ Ἱστορεῖ Ξάνθος Λυδιακοῖς καὶ Νεάνθης β΄καὶ Σιμίας ὁ Ῥόδιος }

Parthenius states that he is recounting a version different from the majority version.

[4] Parthenius, Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 31.2 (Thymoetes). Euopis was the daughter of Thymoetes’s brother Troezen. “It is an unusual story, for its theme, necrophilia, is not common in Greek myth.” Lightfoot (1999) p. 535.

[5] Parthenius’s collection is explicitly addressed to Gallus: “Parthenius to Cornelius Gallus, greetings {Παρθένιος Κορνηλίῳ Γάλλῳ χαίρειν}.” This epistolary preface continues:

Thinking, Cornelius Gallus, that the collection of sufferings in love was very appropriate to you, I have selected them and send them in as brief a form as possible. For those among them which occur in certain poets where they are not narrated in their own right, you will find out for the most part from what follows. You, too, will be able to render the most suitable of them into hexameters and elegiacs. Think none the worse of them because they lack that quality of refined elaboration which you pursue. For I have collected them after the fashion of a little notebook, and they will, I trust, serve you in the same way.

{ Μάλιστα σοὶ δοκῶν ἁρμόττειν, Κορνήλιε Γάλλε, τὴν ἄθροισιν τῶν ἐρωτικῶν παθημάτων, ἀναλεξάμενος ὡς ὅτι μάλιστα ἐν βραχυτάτοις ἀπέσταλκα. τὰ γὰρ παρά τισι τῶν ποιητῶν κείμενα τούτων, μὴ αὐτοτελῶς λελεγμένα, κατανοήσεις ἐκ τῶνδε τὰ πλεῖστα· αὐτῷ τέ σοι παρέσται εἰς ἔπη καὶ ἐλεγείας ἀνάγειν τὰ μάλιστα ἐξ αὐτῶν ἁρμόδια. <μηδὲ> διὰ τὸ μὴ παρεῖναι τὸ περιττὸν αὐτοῖς, ὃ δὴ σὺ μετέρχῃ, χεῖρον περὶ αὐτῶν ἐννοηθῇς. οἱονεὶ γὰρ ὑπομνηματίων τρόπον αὐτὰ συνελεξάμεθα, καὶ σοὶ νυνὶ τὴν χρῆσιν ὁμοίαν, ὡς ἔοικε, παρέξεται. }

Some scholars have questioned whether Parthenius wrote this epistolary preface. Whitcomb (2014) p. 9. In any case, the thematic relevance to Gallus’s love elegy remains.

Parthenius may have suggested to Gallus the subject of the Grynean grove found in Euphorion. The enlarged commentary on Virgil known as Servius auctus or Servius Danielis, which is based in part on the commentary of the early fifth-century grammarian Maurus Servius Honoratus, comments for Eclogue 6.72:

This (sc. the origin of the Grynean grove) is treated in Euphorion’s poems, which Gallus adapted into Latin language.

{ hoc autem Euphorionis continent carmina, quae Gallus transtulit in sermonem Latinum }

Latin text from Lightfoot (1999) p. 61, my English translation. In Virgil, Eclogue 6.69-73, the eminent shepherd-singer Linus tells Gallus:

The Muses give these reeds to you — take them —
which before they gave to old Ascraean. He with them would
lead rigid ash trees down mountains with song.
Let the origin of the Grynean grove be sung with these by you,
so that there may be no other wood in which Apollo glories more.

{ hos tibi dant calamos, en accipe, Musae,
Ascraeo quos ante seni, quibus ille solebat
cantando rigidas deducere montibus ornos.
his tibi Grynei nemoris dicatur origo,
ne quis sit lucus, quo se plus iactet Apollo. }

Latin text from Fairclough & Goold (1999), English translation adapted from that of Seider (2016) p. 8. The old Ascraean is the eminent archaic Greek poet Hesiod. Parthenius’s poem Delos mentions the Grynean grove. Lightfoot (1999) pp. 106-7, 149-51.

[6] Virgil, Eclogue 10.21-30, Latin text from Fairclough & Goold (1999), English translation (with my minor modifications to track the Latin more closely) from A.S. Kline (2001). On Gallus wandering like the love-crazed Pasiphae, see Eclogue 6.64-73. Gallus wandered in a bucolic setting by the Permessus, a stream which arises from Mount Helicon. Mount Helicon is in Aonia, an ancient Greek district in Boeotia. Mount Helicon is associated with the springs of the Greek muses and poetic inspiration. The description of Gallus’s “anxious loves {sollicitos amores}” is from Eclogue 10.6. The subsequent quote above is similarly sourced from Eclogue 10.64-9. At the end of Eclogue 10, goats are sated. On that ending, Seider (2016) pp. 18-9.

[7] Davis (2012) p. 150. Davis masterfully analyzes the relationship between Virgil’s thought in his Eclogues and Lucretius’s Epicurean thought in De rerum natura. Davis’s analysis of Virgil’s critique of the elegiac lover and “insane love {amor insanus}” in chapters 7 & 8 is particularly important. Above I’ve drawn on Davis’s analysis of the Eclogues.

[8] When Octavian defeated Marc Antony and his lover Cleopatra at Alexandria in 30 BGC, Octavian appointed Gallus governor of the new Roman province of Egypt. Whitcomb (2014) argues that Parthenius dedicated the Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα to Gallus after Gallus become the Roman governor of Egypt. The love of Cleopatra and Marc Antony could be regarded as “insane love {amor insanus}.” Parthenius thus would have been offering a friendly critique to Gallus of insane love, yet a critique based on relevant history, not Epicurean philosophy as in Virgil’s Eclogues.

[9] Larmore (2010) p. 8. Larmore emphasizes that reflection is intentional:

Does reflection, impersonal or not, really aim at truth? Is it an organ of knowledge, and if so, what can it provide knowledge of? These questions would appear to admit of a ready answer. We reflect in order to be better able to discern how we ought to think or act in the given circumstances, and that seems clearly to count as an object of knowledge. For it is something of which we begin by feeling ignorant and seek, by reflecting, to gain a correct grasp. What we ought to do is tantamount to what there is reason for us to do. So reflection, in essence, aims at knowledge of reasons for belief and action.

Id. p. 9.

Reflection has no apparent motivation in the story summaries discussed above. Parthenius’s story of Byblis, however, includes reasoning preceding self-punishment:

But as for her {Byblis}, her passion {for Caunus} did not abate; and in addition, when she considered that she was the reason for Caunus’ departure, she fastened her girdle to an oak tree and put her neck in it.

{ τὴν δὲ ἄρα, ὑπὸ τοῦ πάθους μὴ ἀνιεμένην, πρὸς δὲ καὶ δοκοῦσαν αἰτίαν γεγονέναι Καύνῳ τῆς ἀπαλλαγῆς, ἀναψαμένην ἀπό τινος δρυὸς τὴν μίτραν ἐνθεῖναι τὸν τράχηλον. }

Parthenius, Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 11,3 (Byblis). The manchette states, “Aristocritus tells the story in his On Miletus, and Apollonius of Rhodes in the Foundation of Caunus {Ἱστορεῖ Ἀριστόκριτος περὶ Μιλήτου καὶ Ἀπολλώνιος ὁ Ῥόδιος Καύνου κτίσει}.”

[10] Klooster pointed to the “amazingly rich poetic landscape of the Hellenistic and Roman era … a wealth of erotic mythological poetry in various forms.” Klooster (2012) p. 330. Parthenius himself probably didn’t invent the unmotivated personal reflection and self-judgment that some of his summaries show. Seider (2016), interpreting Virgil’s depiction of Gallus biographically, understands both Virgil and Gallus as engaged in generic enrichment. On generic enrichment more generally, Harrison (2007).

[11] John 13:34, with ancient Greek text (MGNT) from BlueLetterBible. See also John 14:16, 26. Larmore recognized that reflection doesn’t necessarily involve universal reasoning:

reflection can proceed from more than one type of standpoint of evaluation. It need not aim at being impersonal — that is, at judging how we ought to think or act irrespective of our own interests and attachments. We may, for instance, base our evaluation of the options before us on what we imagine some individual (real or fictional) whom we hold dear would do in our place, or would want us to do. Philosophers tend to neglect this mode of reflection, perhaps because they believe themselves to be above it, but they are certainly wrong to do so. All of us lean from time to time on various exemplars, internalized heroes and idols, to figure out how we ought to think and act. Moreover, modeling ourselves on others is not in itself a vice, as though the proper course were always to think on our own.

Larmore (2010) pp. 7-8. Christians would reflect on how one should act to best be incarnated like Christ (“what would Jesus do”).

I use “personal reflection” above to mean reflection that a person undertakes concerning themselves, in contrast to “impersonal reflection” like light reflected on a lake. Above Larmore distinguishes impersonal reflection and personal reflection by types of reasoning both associated with what I call “personal reflection.”

[images] (1) Apollo and the Muses on Mount Helicon. Painting by Claude Lorrain. Painted in 1680. Preserved as accession # 12.1050 in the Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, USA). (2) Bucolic muse Polymnia (Polyhymnia). Painted attributed to Francesco del Cossa. Painted between 1455 and 1460. Preserved in the Gemäldegalerie (Berlin, Germany). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Davis, Gregson. 2012. Parthenope: The Interplay of Ideas in Vergilian Bucolic. Leiden: Brill. (review by Kristi Eastin)

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.

Gaselee, Stephen and George Thornley, with J. M. Edmonds. 1916. Daphnis and Chloe: and the Love Romances of Parthenius. London: William Heinemann.

Harrison, Stephen J. 2007. Generic Enrichment in Vergil and Horace. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (review by Brian W. Breed)

Klooster, Jacqueline J.H. 2012. ‘“ΕἸΣ ἜΠΗ ΚΑῚ ἘΛΕΓΕΊΑΣ ἈΝΆΓΕΙΝ”: the Erotika Pathemata of Parthenius of Nicaea.’ Pp. 309-332 in Baumbach, Manuel and Silvio Bär, eds. Brill’s Companion to Greek and Latin Epyllion and its Reception. Leiden: Brill.

Larmore, Charles. 2010. “Reflection and Morality.” Social Philosophy and Policy. 27 (2): 1-28.

Lightfoot, J. L. 1999. Parthenius of Nicaea: The poetical fragments and the  Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα. Oxford: Clarendon Press. (review by Christopher Francese)

Lightfoot, J. L. 2009. Hellenistic Collection: Philitas, Alexander of Aetolia, Hermesianax, Euphorion, Parthenius. Loeb Classical Library, 508. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press. (reviews by Giambattista D’Alessio, by Claudio De Stefani, and by Iiro Laukola)

Seider, Aaron M. 2016. “Genre, Gallus, and Goats: Expanding the Limits of Pastoral in Eclogues 6 and 10.” Vergilius. 62: 3-23.

Whitcomb, Katheryn. 2014. “Beware the Enemy! Parthenius’ Dedication to Gallus in the Erotika Pathemata.” Presentation to the 110th Annual Meeting of the Classical Association of the Middle West and South (CAMS). Waco, Texas, April 2-5.

Archpoet suffered like Jonah & offered to castrate himself for wine

In 1164, the Archpoet begged his patron Rainald of Dassel for help. Rainald was Archbishop of Cologne and Archchancellor of Italy for the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa. When Rainald came to be honored at Vienne in Burgundy, nobles, actors, musicians, and entertainers all hoped to receive gifts. The much more learned and cultured Archpoet, however, bowed his head in shame, “as if a brother to thieves {tamquam frater sim latronum}.”[1] The Archpoet had done moral wrong and been deprived of many goods. He was truly a brother to thieves in the most wicked sense of being willing to castrate himself for wine.

Jonah swallowed and spewed from whale

The Archpoet depicted himself as the biblical prophet Jonah. In his poem “As Fame sounds the trumpet {Fama tuba dante sonum},” the Archpoet explained to his patron Rainald:

Having seized Jonah by chance
as the one guilty of the sudden storm,
condemned by his ship-mates,
the gates of the whale soon swallowed him.
And thus I, deserving of death,
having lived wickedly and perversely,
I whose flesh was engulfed
(but whose heart perhaps still remains)
is guilty before you and fears you.
You perhaps will have pity on me.

Behold, your Jonah weeps,
not ignorant of his fault,
for which the whale ate him;
he wants and begs for mercy,
that from the disease he suffers,
you may release him, you whom he honors,
fears, worships, and adores.

{ Ionam deprehensum sorte
reum tempestatis orte,
condempnatum a cohorte
mox absorbent ceti porte.
sic et ego dignus morte
prave vivens et distorte
cuius carnes sunt absorte
(sed cor manet adhuc forte)
reus tibi vereor te
miserturum mihi forte.

Ecce Ionas tuus plorat,
culpam suam non ignorat,
pro qua cetus eum vorat:
veniam vult et implorat,
ut a peste qua laborat
solvas eum quem honorat
tremit colit et adorat. } [2]

Lacking the insights of meninist literary criticism, scholars haven’t understood well the whale that swallowed the Archpoet. The Archpoet’s poetic forefather Hugh Primas brilliantly depicted whores exploiting him and other love-deprived men.[3] Moreover, the Archpoet’s illustrious contemporary Walter of Châtillon described being legally, financially, and sexually swallowed by a whore:

I’ll be forced into shackles
unless I give a little to her voracious gullet.
Already my knob
and the length of my purse
have gone down the wildcat’s gaping throat.

{ cogar ad vinculum,
nisi dem poculum gule voraginis.
Iam nodulum
et burse modulum
abstulit patulum guttur viraginis. } [4]

In medieval Europe, women with strong, independent, and highly active sexuality were thought to have unusually large vaginas. The whale that swallowed the Archpoet is best understood as a rapacious whore’s vagina.[5]

Scylla on ancient Greek vase

In describing his being swallowed by a rapacious whore’s whale-vagina, the Archpoet rejected men-abasing courtly love for an idolized woman. Within the structural gender injustices of heterosexual love-seeking, the Archpoet apparently was love-impoverished. Poor in this fundamental sense, he turned to a whore for sexual consolation. She engulfed his flesh, but didn’t hold his heart: “but the heart remains {sed cor manet}.” Supporting his appeal for patronage, the Archpoet extravagantly expressed his love for his patron Rainald of Dassel, the one “whom he honors, / fears, worships, and adores {quem honorat / tremit colit et adorat}.” The Archpoet represented his love for Rainald to be as a courtly lover loves his idealized beloved. The Archpoet implied that, despite his whoring, his heart always remained with his patron.[6]

The Archpoet conditionally promised to turn from sex with whores to poetry. He implored Rainald:

If you pardon this guilty man,
and if you give order to the whale,
the whale whose mouth is wide,
it may, offering its customary gap,
vomit the made-bald poet
to his very intended port,
him made thin by hunger.
Thus the poet of poets might again
write for you a pleasing work.

With my life I’ll surpass the lives of the fathers,
shunning those things that you shun;
poetry yet unheard
I’ll write for you, if you enrich me.

{ Si remittas hunc reatum
et si ceto des mandatum,
cetus cuius os est latum
more suo dans hiatum
vomet vatem decalvatum
et ad portum destinatum
feret fame tenuatum,
ut sit rursus vates vatum
scribens opus tibi gratum.

vincam vita patrum vitas
vitans ea que tu vitas.
poetrias inauditas
scribam tibi, si me ditas. } [7]

The Archpoet’s intended port contrasts with the whore’s port, the “common port” that’s a well-known figure in medieval poetry of men’s sexed protest. While the whore’s vagina is wide, the Archpoet’s penis is made thin by hunger. It can then more easily be withdrawn. The Archpoet figuratively and literally vowed to shift his creative work from his penis to his pen. He recognized himself to be like the prodigal son leaving his father:

A stream of tears flows,
those that the fugitive pours out,
he only half-alive within the whale.
I was once your adopted son,
but my plural genitive testicles,
too evil and lascivious,
have been made injurious to me.

Wanting to enjoy pleasure,
I was comparable to a brute;
with a holy man I was not holy.
For that, fearing your anger,
like Jonah before his God,
I hurried, an exile seeking flight.

Already past time, I will speak plainly:
I’m pressed by the plague of poverty,
fool that I am, who in your service,
with money, horses, food, clothing,
led all festive days.
Now more insane than Orestes,
living badly and grievously,
dishonestly tramp-wandering,
I lead all sad days.
This matter needs no witness.

{ Lacrimarum fluit rivus
quas effundo fugitivus
intra cetum semivivus,
tuus quondam adoptivus;
sed pluralis genitivus
nequam nimis et lascivus
mihi factus est nocivus.

Voluptate volens frui
conparabar brute sui
nec cum sancto sanctus fui.
unde timens iram tui
sicut Ionas dei sui
fugam petens fuga rui.

Ut iam loquar manifeste:
paupertatis premor peste
stultus ego qui penes te
nummis equis victu veste
dies omnes duxi feste;
nunc insanus plus Oreste,
male vivens et moleste,
trutannizans inhoneste
omne festum duco meste;
res non eget ista teste. } [8]

Furies pursuing Orestes

The enraged Orestes sought, with some justification, to kill his mother. Then vengeful, female monsters relentlessly pursued him. The miserably impoverished Archpoet sought, with some justification, to withdraw from his rapacious whore-lover. Despite his wrongs, the Archpoet returned to his patron-father Rainald of Dassel. As a Christian bishop, Rainald should love generously, as did the father of the prodigal son. The Archpoet knowingly asked Rainald for goods. Expelled naked from the whale’s gap, the Archpoet rightly could hope to receive from Rainald a new cloak, an expensive ring, and an honorary feast.[9]

After having extensively discussed, well-understood experiences like that of Jonah, Orestes, and the prodigal son, the Archpoet proposed a classical horror and blasphemy against God’s blessing. He offered to sacrifice his genitals at Rainald’s wish:

Peace’s author, avenger of strife,
be gentle to your poet,
don’t believe the inexperienced;
already with testicles put to sleep,
I live holier with hermits.
Whatever you know to be evil in me,
I will amputate, if you wish.
So that thirst would not seize us,
I will be the branch and you the vine.

{ Pacis auctor, ultor litis,
esto vati tuo mitis
neque credas imperitis;
genitivis iam sopitis
sanctior cum heremetis:
quicquid in me malum scitis
amputabo, si velitis.
ne nos apprehendat sitis,
ero palmes et tu vitis. } [10]

Men deserve to have choice among alternate lifestyles, such as the life of a celibate hermit or poet. But having a man amputate his testicles differs categorically. No man should be compelled to castrate himself. Resist and reject castration culture!

In the context of castration, the Archpoet’s final verse is a gross misuse of holy scripture. Jesus in the Gospel of John declares:

I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. … I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.

{ ego sum vitis vera et Pater meus agricola est. omnem palmitem in me non ferentem fructum tollet eum et omnem qui fert fructum purgabit eum ut fructum plus adferat. … ego sum vitis vos palmites qui manet in me et ego in eo hic fert fructum multum quia sine me nihil potestis facere.

ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ἡ ἀληθινή καὶ ὁ πατήρ μου ὁ γεωργός ἐστιν. πᾶν κλῆμα ἐν ἐμοὶ μὴ φέρον καρπόν αἴρει αὐτό καὶ πᾶν τὸ καρπὸν φέρον καθαίρει αὐτὸ ἵνα καρπὸν πλείονα φέρῃ. … ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ἄμπελος ὑμεῖς τὰ κλήματα ὁ μένων ἐν ἐμοὶ κἀγὼ ἐν αὐτῷ οὗτος φέρει καρπὸν πολύν ὅτι χωρὶς ἐμοῦ οὐ δύνασθε ποιεῖν οὐδέν. } [11]

For Jesus’s words “I am the vine, you are the branches {ego sum vitis vos palmites},” the Archpoet himself declared to his patron Rainald “I will be the branch and you the vine {ero palmes et tu vitis}.” Thus after adoring Rainald as if he were the Virgin Mary, the Archpoet figured him as Jesus! Even worse, the biblical context of pruning branches corresponds to the Archpoet offering himself to be castrated. Men’s seminal fruitfulness is essentially linked with men’s genitals. Enraged at obstinate heretics troubling his beloved Christian community, Saint Paul hurled the ultimate insult:

I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!

{ utinam et abscidantur qui vos conturbant

ὄφελον καὶ ἀποκόψονται οἱ ἀναστατοῦντες ὑμᾶς } [12]

The Archpoet’s offer to castrate himself draws from his thirst for wine. In Christian understanding, Eurcharistic wine is transubstantiated into the blood of Christ. Men’s genitals, in contrast, are themselves God-created flesh. Men’s genitals work to fulfill the fundamental blessing of Hebrew scripture. Surely men’s thirst for women is more dangerous than their thirst for wine. Yet men’s genitals should not be sacrificed for wine or any other worldly goods.

The Archpoet, swallowed by a rapacious whore’s whale-vagina, suffered like Jonah. Like the prodigal son, the Archpoet returned impoverished to his father-patron, Rainald of Dassel. The Archpoet’s poignant, enormously learned poem wasn’t censored and canceled in relatively liberal and tolerant medieval Europe.[13] Yet castration culture, then and now, is a scandal of social justice and an insult to God. All deserve to know fully the blessing of well-tended branches producing an abundance of fruit.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Archpoet of Cologne, “As Fame sounds the trumpet {Fama tuba dante sonum}” v. 14, Latin text from the Latin Library, my English translation benefiting from those by Robert Levine (who also provides a good scholarly overview of the Archpoet) and Adcock (1994). All subsequent quotes from “Fama tuba dante sonum” are similarly sourced. The currently best edition of the Latin text is Watenphul & Krefeld (1958). For this poem, it’s essentially identical to the Latin Library text.

Rainald of Dassel was arriving to be seated in honor in Vienne in Middle Francia, part of historical Frankish Burgundia. Vienne is in the present-day Isère department of France. In “Fama tuba dante sonum,” v. 6, the word “Vienna” doesn’t refer to the present-day city of Vienna in Austria. Skinner (1973), p. 2, wrongly identifies the Archpoet’s “Vienna.”

“Fama tuba dante sonum” suggests that the Archpoet was intricately engaged with musical representation and numerical relations. Howlett (2008) pp. 245-9. Howlett concluded, “If even a fraction of this analysis is correct, the Archpoet earned both his title and his keep.” Id. p. 249.

The German band Helium Vola recorded an impressive performance of “Fama tuba dante sonum” in 2001 on its studio album Helium Vola. That performance includes only selected verses from the original poem.

Little is known about the Archpoet apart from his ten surviving, attributed poems. Godman stated:

Facts about the Archpoet are few. One of them is fundamental: the identification of him with ‘Rainald H’, a notary in the service of Rainald of Dassel, archchancellor of Italy and archbishop of Cologne, between 1158 and 1167. The complicity which distinguishes patron and client, unparalleled in the Latin literature of the Middle Ages, developed within a context of companionship. Itinerant but no vagans, our author accompanied his chief in the chancery on journeys throughout Germany, Burgundy and Italy. Places and dates of their travels are provided by charters which ‘Rainald H’ composed and copied. They leave little room for doubt that, more than any other identifiable member of his master’s entourage, he remained at Rainald of Dassel’s side.

Godman (2011) p. 31. Peter Dronke was skeptical of the claim that the Archpoet was this Rainald H. Adcock (1994) pp. xx-xxi (written by Dronke).

[2] Archpoet, “Fama tuba dante sonum” vv. 31-47. The Archpoet’s diction picks up words from the Vulgate text of Jonah. Cf. Jonah 1:3, 2:1-2. “A fish swallows a man” is a well-established folktale motif.  For discussion of this motif (ATU 1889G), Ziolkowski (2007) Ch. 2. Ziolkowski (1984), an early version of that chapter, has the great advantage of being freely accessible online.

In Jonah, the sea-creature that swallows Jonah is described as a “large fish.” Jonah 1:17. Drawing upon the description of Jonah being swallowed in Matthew 12:40, Jerome influentially declared:

In Hebrew, however, we read “large fish” for what the translators of the Septuagint and the Lord in the Gospel call a whale. The later two make clear the same thing more concisely. For in the Hebrew is said “dag gadol,” which is translated as “large fish.” There is no doubt that it means whale.

{ In hebraico autem PISCEM GRANDEM legimus pro quo LXX interpretes et Dominus in Euangelio cetum uocant, rem ipsam breuius explicantes. In hebraico enim dicitur “dag gadol” quod interpretatur PISCEM GRANDEM. Haud dubium quin cetum significet. }

Jerome, Commentary on the Prophet Jonah {Commentarius in Ionam prophetam} 2.1a, Latin text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Duval (1973), as cited by Ziolkowski (2007) p. 388, n. 79. For related discussion, id. pp. 80-1. Jerome’s enormously influential Vulgate translation of Matthew 12:40 employed the word “cetus {whale}.”

Jonah was important in Christian exegesis. Hebrew scripture tells of a large, powerful, threatening sea-creature — Leviathan or Behemoth. See, e.g. Job 40:15-41:34. In Job 41:1 (40:20 in the Vulgate), God challenged Job, “Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook {Vulgate: an extrahere poteris Leviathan hamo}?” Jesus was understood to have done just that:

Christ was the fisherman (piscator) who made himself the bait (esca) and crucified himself on the hook (hamus) in order to catch the whale (cetus).

Ziolkowski (2007) p. 82. With the help of Matthew 12:39-41 and Jonah 2:2-6, Christians understood the mouth of the whale to be the entrance to Hell, the path to “the belly of Sheol” (Jonah 2:2). Jonah’s three days in the whale’s belly prefigured Jesus’s three days in the tomb before his resurrection.

[3] The Archpoet’s “Fama tuba dante sonum” is written in the meter of Hugh Primas’s poem “I was rich and cherished {Dives eram et dilectus}.” The Archpoet’s poem also shares with Hugh’s poem the theme of a fall into poverty and disgrace from being rich and cherished. On the close relation between these poems, Dronke (1997) pp. 97-8. Dronke declared of the Archpoet:

the relation between his poetry and that of Hugh Primas are in certain respects close enough, in my view, to suggest that at some stage, perhaps around 1150, he {the Archpoet} was a disciple of Primas at Orleans.

Id . p. 96. Similarly, id. p. 99 and Adcock (1994) pp. xxi-xxii (written by Peter Dronke). With respect to the Archpoet’s “Fama tuba dante sonum,” see in particular Hugh Primas, Carmen 7 (“What are you grieving for, poet? Why cry over a whore? {Quid luges, lirice, quid meres pro meretrice?}”) and Carmen 8 (“You’ve sent out for a whore, but she won’t leave the brothel before {Iussa lupanari meretrix exire, parari}”).

Both Hugh Primas and the Archpoet were highly learned, court poets. Neither was a vagaband poet like the medieval poetic figure of Golias — “Bishop Golias as an incarnation of the libertine spirit in mediaeval culture.” Both Hugh and the Archpoet, however, contributed to that figure:

Certainly it is to Hugo of Orleans {Hugh Primas} and the Archpoet of Cologne that Golias primarily owes his substance, for without them he would be but the shadow of a name — the mere embodiment of a churlish reproach against freedom and the lust of life.

Hanford (1926) pp. 38, 57.

[4] Walter of Châtillon, St-Omer 22, “As I seek a cure for myself {Dum queritur michi remedium},” 5.6-10, Latin text from Traill (2013) p.46, my English translation benefiting from that of id. p. 47.

[5] Letaldus of Micy’s late-tenth-century poem About a Certain Fisherman Whom a Whale Swallowed {De quodam piscatore quem ballena absorbuit} seems to have informed the Archpoet’s figure of the whale. Letaldus describes the whale that swallowed the fisherman as having an “ever-gaping gullet {gutture semper hianti}.” De quodam piscatore, v. 39. Cf. Walter of Châtillon, Dum queritur michi remedium, vv. 5.7, 10. The whale has a mouth and eyes like those of the female sea-monsters Scylla and Charybdis (De quodam piscatore, v. 38). Those female sea-monsters lure men sailors to their deaths. Scylla and Charybdis are invoked in ancient and medieval men’s sexed protest. For example, Anaxilas states in Neottis:

And isn’t Phryne behaving just like Charybdis,
by grabbing the ship-owner and gulping him down, boat and all?

{ ἡ δὲ Φρύνη τὴν Χάρυβδιν οὐχὶ πόρρω που ποεῖ, τόν τε ναύκληρον λαβοῦσα καταπέπωκ᾿ αὐτῷ σκάφει }

Athenaeus, The Learned Banqueters 13.558c, ancient Greek text and English trans. Olsen (2010) pp. 238-9. See also Alan of Lille, Anticlaudianus 4.307, 314-18.

Letaldus also associated the whale with the frequently erupting Mount Etna and the Furies:

Raging like the whale, Mount Etna spews forth sulphurous fumes
and batters the bright stars with the ashes it discharges.
Scarcely otherwise, this Eumenides, incited by the swift fires,
seethes, thrusting its jaws through the loudly sounding waves.

{ Sulphureos velut ille fremens vomit Ethna vapores
lucidaque elatis diverberat astra favillis,
haut secus eumenides rapidis haec acta caminis
aestuat, altisonas fauces exerta per undas. }

De quodam piscatore vv. 73-6, Latin text from Bisanti (2010) and Wilmart (1938), English translation (with my minor changes) from Ziolkowski (2007) p. 245. In Boccaccio’s Corbaccio, the anus of the narrator’s ex-wife is described similarly to this description of Mount Etna. In outrageous caricature, a whore’s changing behavior toward a man customer, as well as her natural menstrual cycle, might be understood in relation to Mount Etna.

The Furies are ancient Greek female divinities of vengence. Often they are named with the apotropaic double-talk Euminedes (Εὐμενίδες {the kindly ones}). Double-talk is a characteristic way in which men attempt to appease women. The Furies were commonly thought to be three in number (Eumenides is a plural form for Eumedis {Εὐμενίς}). Letaldus uses Eumenides to represent a singular female Fury.

Letaldus further associated the Furies with the whale that swallowed the fisherman named Within (the fisherman’s Latin name is only inadvertently allegorical in English):

“I am Within,” he said, “whom with ravenous throat this tormenting
Eumenides has raped and engulfed in its embittering guts.

{ “Within,” ait, “sum, quem rabidis haec faucibus angens
eumenides rapuit et viscere mersit acerbo.” }

De quodam piscatore vv. 73-6, Latin text (with insubstantial changes) from Bisanti (2010) and Wilmart (1938), my English translation, benefiting from that of Ziolkowski (2007) p. 247, which has for the second quoted part, “whom with ravening throat this choking Fury has seized and submerged in it pitiless gut.” I’ve translated the two verses within the semantic range of the given Latin words, but with contextual relation to the whale swallowing the Archpoet in “Fama tuba dante sonum.” In that poem, the Archpoet described himself as “now more insane that Orestes {nunc insanus plus Oreste}.” That obscure reference makes best sense in relation to Letaldus’s association of the man-swallowing whale with the Eumenides.

Skinner superficially interpreted as comic the whale that engulfed the Archpoet:

The great fish is a particular source of fun. The monstrous size of his {sic} jaws is caricatured …  Technique is deliberately stressed at the expense of content.

Skinner (1973) pp. 1-2. The content of “Fama tuba dante sonum” is actually ingenious and full of significance.

Godman similarly effaced in conceptual abstraction the whale that engulfed the Archpoet:

Looming large in the sea of the client’s alienation from his patron, it is not only a figura of punishment but also a figure of fun.

Godman (2014) p. 218 (footnote omitted that documents “the metaphor of the sea as alienation”). Godman interpreted “Fama tuba dante sonum” as cryptically conveying signals between the Archpoet and his patron Rainald. Medieval masters, who did not marginalize men’s sexed protests under superficial, virtue-signaling labels (“anti-feminist”), probably more readily understood “Fama tuba dante sonum” than have modern professors.

[6] Skinner interpreted the Archpoet to be figuring his patron Rainald as God:

the symbolic association between Reinald von Dassel and God has almost become an identity. … the symbolic identification of the patron with the biblical Jehovah {sic} is developed by use of this extended metaphor {of the Archpoet as Jonah}.

Skinner (1973) p. 3. That’s too abstract of an interpretation. Ideologically deluded men tend to regard women as gods. The Archpoet’s god-like treatment of Rainald is explictly contextualized with respect to human love and gyno-idolatry. A more detailed and perceptive reading of the relation between the Archpoet and Rainald reconized “the complicity between them, which is expressed in their shared sense of humour.” Godman (2011) p. 57.

[7] Archpoet, “Fama tuba dante sonum” vv. 48-56, 68-71. Jewish scriptural interpreters and Christian artists understood Jonah to have lost his hair (and according to some, his clothes) when he was in the belly of the large fish. Ziolkowski (2007) pp. 85-88, Friedman (1988). A man who loses clothes and is more generally impoverished through paying women for sex is common in literary history. See, e.g. Johannes de Hauvilla, Architrenius 9.242-7; poems of Hugh Primas; and Alphabetical song concerning the evil woman {Canticum alphabeticum de mala muliere}, stanzas 9, 17, 20, 24.

[8] Archpoet, “Fama tuba dante sonum” vv. 18-30, 72-81. The phrase pluralis genitivus is clearly a grammatical metaphor for the poet’s testicles. Medieval poetry such as Alan Lille’s The Plaint of Nature {De Planctu Naturae} and Matheolus’s Lamentationes Matheoluli used grammatical metaphors for sexual organs and acts.

The Archpoet in vv. 72-81 alludes to Venantius Fortunatus’s sixth-century Easter hymn, “Hail, festive day {Salve festa dies}.” That hymn associates Jesus’s death, his harrowing of Hell, and his resurrection with Jonah’s experience after being swallowed by the large fish:

The greedy monster,
whose huge throat
had swallowed all mankind,
is now thy prey, O God!

Hail, thou festive…

The savage beast now trembling
vomits forth the victims he had made,
and the lamb tears the sheep
from the jaw of the wolf.

Hail, thou festive…

{ Inferus insaturabiliter
cava gruttura pandens,
Qui rapuit semper,
fit tua praeda, Deus.

Salve festa dies…

Evomit absorptam
trepide fera belua plebem,
Et de fauce lupi
subtrahit agrnus oves.

Salve festa dies… }

St. 17-8, Latin text and English translation from SSPX.

On the reference to Orestes, see note [5] above concering the reference to Eumenides in Letuldus of Micy’s De quodam piscatore quem ballena absorbuit. In v. 83, trutannizans is “a medieval verb of vagrancy.” Godman (2014) p. 224.

[9] Cf. Luke 15:22-3 (the prodigal son returns home to his father).

[10] Archpoet, “Fama tuba dante sonum” vv. 82-90. As v. 84 points out, celibate hermits or celibate clerics, inexperienced in the ways of women, shouldn’t naively judge men’s claims of being victimized by women.

[11] John 15:1-2, 5, Latin text (Vulgate) and Greek text (MGNT) via BlueLetterBible.

[12] Galatians 5:12, Latin text (Vulgate) and Greek text (MGNT) via BlueLetterBibleTranslations of this verse vary in explicitness. The King James Version has “cut off”; the English Standard Version and the New International Version, “emasculate”; and the New Revised Standard Version, “castrate.” Paul and his opponents are arguing over the necessity of circumcision for Christians.

[13] Such work of the Archpoet, along with similiar poems of Hugh Primas and Walter of Châtillon, was often in medieval literature compilations distinguished with the term “Goliardic.” In historical context, “Goliardic” apparently “identifies difference, otherness, potential danger.” Bridges (2012) p. 78. In contrast to modern pieties about celebrating difference and welcoming otherness, medieval culture seems to have been actually more supportive of such characteristics of symbolic works.

[images] (1) clothed Jonah going into whale’s mouth (right), naked, bald Jonah leaving whale’s mouth (left). Wall painting by Albertus Pictorin the Härkeberga Church (Uppsala County, Sweden). Painted c. 1480. Image thanks to Lars-Olof Albertson and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Sword-bearing Scylla with a sea-monster’s tail and three dog heads protruding from her waist. Painting on a Boeotian red-figure bell-crater. Made between 450 and 425 BGC. Preserved as accession # CA 1341 in the Louvre Museum (Paris). Image thanks to Jastrow and Wikimedia Commons. (3) The Remorse of Orestes or Orestes Pursued by the Furies. Painting by William-Adolphe Bouguereau. Painted in 1862. Preserved as accession # 71.623 in the Chrysler Museum of Art (Norfolk, VA; USA). Image thanks to Google Art Project and Wikimedia Commons.


Adcock, Fleur, trans. 1994. Hugh Primas and the Archpoet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (review by Paul Pascal)

Bisanti, Armando. 2010. “Il Within piscator (De quodam piscatore quem ballena absorbuit) di Letaldo di Micy.” Course resource, academic year 2010-2011, University of Palermo, Italy.

Bridges, Venetia. 2012. “‘Goliardic’ Poetry and the Problem of Historical Perspective: medieval adaptations of Walter of Châtillon’s quotation poems.” Medium Aevum. 81 (2): 249-270.

Dronke, Peter. 1997. “The Archpoet and the Classics.” Ch. 4 (pp. 83-100) in Dronke, Peter. Sources of Inspiration: studies in literary transformations, 400-1500. Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura. Originally published in  Godman, Peter, and Oswyn Murray, eds. 1990. Latin Poetry and the Classical Tradition: essays in medieval and Renaissance literature. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Duval, Yves-Marie. 1973. Le livre de Jonas dans la litterature chretienne grecque et latine: sources et influence du Commentaire sur Jonas de saint Jerome. Paris: Etudes augustiniennes.

Friedman, John B. 1988. “Bald Jonah and the Exegesis of 4 Kings 2.23.” Traditio. 44: 125-144.

Godman, Peter. 2011. “The Archpoet and the Emperor.” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes. 74: 31-58.

Godman, Peter. 2014. The Archpoet and Medieval Culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hanford, James Holly. 1926. “The Progenitors of Golias.” Speculum. 1 (1): 38-58.

Howlett, David. 2008. “Notes on the text and the name of the Archpoet.” Bulletin Du Cange. 66: 237-249.

Olson, S. Douglas, ed. and trans. 2010. Athenaeus VI, the learned banqueters. Loeb Classical Library. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Skinner, Marilyn B. 1973. “The Archpoet’s use of the Jonah-figure.” Neophilologus. 57 (1): 1-5.

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

Watenphul, Heinrich and Heinrich Krefeld, eds.. 1958. Die Gedichte des Archipoeta. Münchener Texte, 6. Heidelberg: C. Winter.

Wilmart, André. 1938. “Le poème héroïque de Létald sur Within le pêcheur.” Studi Medievali (new series) 9: 188-203.

Ziolkowski, Jan. 1984. “Folklore and Learned Lore in Letaldus’s Whale Poem.” Viator. 15: 107-118.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2007. Fairy Tales from Before Fairy Tales: the medieval Latin past of wonderful lies. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

teacher-martyrs defy authority for peace, justice, and truth

Governments address domestic violence with billions of dollars directed through the highest fora. The world needs good government action. Looking for a way out of the COVID-19 quarantine, the greatest problem in the world today, I hoped to receive the favor of wisdom from what has been and is. I knelt before my Internet-connected computer, a marvel of human engineering. In tears I thought of my wasted intellectual efforts and the stinging pain of my failures. I lifted my face to Heaven and remembered my inspiring second-grade teacher. Then I read a story from Livy.

ancient Roman students beating their teacher

In 406 BGC, the city of Rome went to war against its rival Etrurian city Veii. The Roman consular tribune Marcus Furius Camillus led a siege of Veii’s allied city Capena. The Romans under Camillus won Capena’s surrender and looted that city in 398 BGC. Two years later, Camillus led a Roman force that violently overcame Veii. The Romans then killed all the men of Veii.

The Etrurian city of Falerii, Veii’s only remaining major ally, still defied Rome. Brutal violence against men and many men’s deaths seemed inevitable. However, the foremost scholar in Falerii undertook a daring initiative for peace:

The Faliscans customarily employed the same person as teacher and attendant of their children. They entrusted a number of boys simultaneously to the care of one man. This practice still obtains in Greece. As is commonly the case, the sons of the city leaders were under the tuition of the man regarded as their foremost scholar. This man had in peacetime regularly led the boys out in front of the city for play and exercise. During the war, he made no change in his routine. With this and that game and story, he would draw them sometimes a shorter, sometimes a longer distance from the city gate. One day, being farther away than usual, he seized the opportunity to bring the boys to the enemy Roman outposts, then into the Roman camp to the headquarters of Camillus.

{ Mos erat Faliscis eodem magistro liberorum et comite uti, simulque plures pueri, quod hodie quoque in Graecia manet, unius curae demandabantur. Principum liberos, sicut fere fit, qui scientia videbatur praecellere erudiebat. Is cum in pace instituisset pueros ante urbem lusus exercendique causa producere, nihil eo more per belli tempus intermisso, modo brevioribus modo longioribus spatiis trahendo eos a porta lusu sermonibusque variatis, longius solito ubi res dedit progressus inter stationes eos hostium castraque inde Romana in praetorium ad Camillum perduxit. } [1]

The teacher-scholar explained to Camillus that by holding the sons of the leading men of Falerii, the Romans would be able to take Falerii without having any men killed.

With all-too-prevalent contempt for men’s lives, Camillus scornfully refused this opportunity to take Falerii without any violence against men. Instead, Camillus engaged the Faliscan students in humiliating their peace-seeking teacher:

Then Camillus had the teacher stripped naked and his hands bound behind his back. He gave him up to the boy-students to lead back to Falerii. He provided them with rods to scourge the traitor as they drove him back into the city.

{ Denudatum deinde eum manibus post tergum inligatis reducendum Falerios pueris tradidit, virgasque eis quibus proditorem agerent in urbem verberantes dedit. }

A large crowd of Faliscans watched the naked teacher being flogged by his students on the way back into Falerii. Camillus’s action so impressed the men of Falerii that they decided to yield peacefully to Rome.[2] The teacher-scholar thus succeeded in preventing brutal violence against the men of Falerii — except for the brutal violence against himself. That teacher-scholar, whose name has not even been preserved, is an unrecognized martyr-hero of ancient Roman history.

Teachers who defy authority to promote peace, justice, and truth too often are martyred. Perhaps recognizing the dangers of gyno-idolatry that Lucretius so brilliantly depicted, a medieval teacher sought to teach young men about women. He urged them:

Listen to a learned
alphabetical song
about what kind is the love
and favor of women.

{ Audite alphabetica
Cantica sophistica,
Cuius sit amor generis
Et favor muliebris. } [3]

Unlike different tribes, ethnicities, or races, women and men have always led intimately related lives in all societies not doomed to extinction. What could be more important teaching for men than teaching them about women? The teacher began his alphabetic instruction with a stern warning, in the classical tradition of Lucretius, about how women affect even very learned men:

The deeply thinking academic
often turns dreamer
burning, gorged with crime
and work of perversity.

{ Altum scolasticum
Sepe facit fantasticum
Fervens, fartum sceleris
Et opus pravitatis. }

That’s a plausible description of much modern academic work on courtly love. The medieval teacher then drilled his students with the rest of the alphabetical lesson:

A woman is two-tongued,
as unstable as air;
she deceives multitudes
like thieves in the night.

A bloody beast,
she stretches out on the earth,
deriding and deceiving
the clerical estate.

A cunning Delilah,
strong in all harm,
confounding and destroying
a person’s reputation.

Eve is announced,
the deceiver of man;
beware of her presence
as one leading to damnation.

Furtively withdraw,
flee from the dancing girl;
your mind becomes demented —
recognize the courtesan.

Garrulous and fatuous,
empty of all honor,
messenger of falsehood,
collector of gossip.

He owning, not being needy,
is made into a beggar;
the proud lord
transformed into a servant.

Hellish fire,
Gehenna-like punishment,
anger and envy
for all those who are married.

Divine charity
she by herself obscures,
a wicked one creating chaos.
Cease loving her!

She circles the streets
in processions and choruses,
visits parishes,
schools, and taverns.

Mediator of Mammon
for the wretched wicked,
the death of body and soul
comes without repenting.

Neither wants to leave,
everyone wants to love,
you have the cleric ensnared
and the layman defrauded.

She deceives all men:
popes, cardinals,
monks, elders,
the one defying bishops.

She gives birth to many children
outside the law; she makes bastards.
She wants to be heirs those
she produces as common servants.

She seeks écu and obol,
groat and florin.
She doesn’t seek honor,
but stretches away from chastity.

Director of the old and young,
the poor and the rich,
she herself is dirty,
and so she makes the whole world.

She sucks in the wise,
swallows the prudent;
thus was done to Samson,
Plato, and Solomon.

She shaves off yours, keeps what’s hers;
she benumbs and tortures the soul.
She makes the good-willed
frivolous and jealous.

Vanity, silliness,
vanity of vanities —
let us render honor to God
and with him we will live.

To works of Christ
and of her husband she’s contrary;
her words and acts
are nefarious.

She sells the sacraments
of the church of Jesus;
thus she herself grabs
the benefit of divine honor.

Jealous and unstable,
frequently making changes,
on account of your gifts
she is shown to be lovable.

{ Bilinguis mulier
Instabilis ut aer
Decipit quam plures,
Velut in nocte fures.

Cruenta bestia,
Tendit ad terrestria,
Derisio, delusio
Status clericalis.

Dolosa Dalila,
Ad omne malum valida,
Confusio, destructio
Fame personalis.

Euam pronuntiat,
Viri fallatricem,
Cuius cave praesentiam
Velut damnatricem.

Furtive subtrahit,
Fugias saltatricem;
Mentis tue dementiam,
Agnosce meretricem.

Garrula et fatua,
Omnis honoris vacua,
Gerula mendacii,
Verborum comportatrix.

Habentem, non egentem
Facit mendicantem,
Dominum superbum
Transmutat in servum.

Ignis infernalis
Pena gehennalis,
Ira et invidia
Per ipsa committuntur.

Karitas deifica
Per ipsam obfuscatur;
Chaos creans malefica;
Desiste, amator.

Lustrat per plateas
Pompas et choreas,
Visitat parochias,
Scholas et tabernas.

Mediatrix Mammone,
Miseri mechantis
Mors carnis et anime
Fit non penitentis.

Neutrum vult dimmitere,
Quemquam vult amare,
Clericum decipere
Et laicum defraudare.

Omnes fallit homines,
Papales, cardinales,
Monachos, presbiteros
Discordat prelatos.

Plures parit filios
Abs lege, facit spurios,
Quos vult esse heriles,
Servos facit viles.

Querit es et obolum
Grossum et florenum
Non querit honorem
Sed tendit ad pudorem.

Rectrix senis, iuuenis,
Pauperis et diuitis,
Ipsa lutibundum
Totum facit mundum.

Sorbet sapientiam
Deglutit prudentiam,
Ut fecit Samsoni,
Platoni, Salomoni.

Tondet tua, tenet sua
Torpet, torquet animum,
Frivolum, zelotypum,
Facit benivolum.

Vanitas, fatuitas,
Vanitatum vanitas
Honorem Deo demus
Et cum eo vivemus.

Xristiani operibus,
Viro suo contraria,
Verbis et factis
Est nefaria.

Yesi vendidit
Ecclesie sacramenta,
Sic ipsa rapuit
Honoris incrementa.

Zelotypa et instabilis,
Fit sepe variabilis,
Propter tua munera
Ostenditur amabilis. }

Those are harsh, upsetting lessons. Yet they don’t encompass at length medieval paternity fraud, men’s suffering in medieval marriage, and gender-disparate medieval punishment for adultery. To understand the problem, imagine that a teacher today, even a law-school professor, taught students about imprisonment of men for sex-payment debts, abortion coercion, and rape of men. What do you think would happen to that teacher?[4]

students killing Saint Cassian of Imola

The fourth-century teacher Cassian of Imola testifies to the fate of teachers who defy authority. Cassian taught stenography to boys. As a teacher, he sternly pushed his students to learn. Cassian was also a Christian at a time when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians. Cassian refused to sacrifice at the altars of traditional Roman gods such as Cybele, Venus, Minerva, and especially Juno, goddess-wife and ruler of Zeus. A Roman official thus arranged for Cassian to be brutally killed:

He is stripped of his clothing and his hands are bound behind his back.
His flock of students, armed with their sharp pens, arrives.
As much hate as each had held in silent anger,
each freely pours forth at length, burning with gall.
Some throw their brittle tablets against his face.
The tablets shatter, with fragments flying from his brow,
waxed box-wood rumbling from impact with his blood-stained cheeks,
the broken slabs red and wet from the hits.
Others now thrust forward sharp iron pricks
whose bottom part digs furrows in wax for writing,
and whose tops efface the letter-cuts so that the rough
surface is again restored to be smooth and shining.
Christ’s follower is stabbed with one; with the other, cut up.
One part penetrates the soft guts, the other part carves off skin.
All two hundred hand-limbs together have pierced him,
and from all these wounds drops of blood drip at once.
A greater torturer was the child who pricked the skin-top,
compared to the one who penetrated deep guts.
That one, the light hitter who prevents death,
knows to be cruel through the pain of only sharp stings.
This one, as much as he strikes the interior, hidden vitals,
gives more relief by bringing death nearer.

{ Vincitur post terga manus spoliatus amictu,
adest acutis agmen armatum stilis.
Quantum quisque odii tacita conceperat ira,
effundit ardens felle tandem libero.
Coniciunt alii fragiles inque ora tabellas
frangunt, relisa fronte lignum dissilit,
buxa crepant cerata genis inpacta cruentis
rubetque ab ictu curta et umens pagina.
Inde alii stimulos et acumina ferrea vibrant,
qua parte aratis cera sulcis scribitur,
et qua secti apices abolentur et aequoris hyrti
rursus nitescens innovatur area.
Hinc foditur Christi confessor et inde secatur,
pars viscus intrat molle, pars scindit cutem.
Omnia membra manus pariter fixere ducente
totidemque guttae vulnerum stillant simul.
Major tortor erat, qui summa pupugerat infans,
quam qui profunda perforarat viscera,
ille, levis quoniam percussor morte negata
saevire solis scit dolorum spiculis,
hic, quanto interius vitalia condita pulsat,
plus dat medellae, dum necem prope applicat. } [5]

Cassian begged his students to strike him harder so that he would die more quickly and suffer less. But his students, tiring in writing with the flesh and blood of their teacher, took breaks from their work. Their teacher deprived them of holidays, yet now they had no need to ask him for a break. The students taunted their teacher with his teaching. His suffering was drawn out at length. Only Christ, showing mercy, ultimately liberated Cassian into death. Any teacher who attempted to teach his students uncomfortable truths about gender would probably suffer a similar fate.[6]

A teacher who doesn’t challenge students acts as a servant, not a teacher. Today the teacher Cassian of Imola is a little-known saint-martyr. Only a teacher with great faith, or exceptionally understanding students, would dare to follow the example of Cassian of Imola. Servants are prevalent. True teachers can scarcely be found.[7]

Saint Cassian of Imola, how wonderful is your witness! Great and praiseworthy was your courage as a teacher. You have renewed my hope. Toward true teachers may all students always show kindness and compassion.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Livy, History of Rome / From the Founding of the City {Ab urbe condita} 5.27, Latin text and English translation (modified insubstantially to be more easily readable) from Foster (1924). Here’s an alternate, freely accessible English translation of Canon Roberts (1912). The subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are similarly sourced from Livy, Ab urbe condita 5.27.

[2] Regarding the men of Falerii, Camillus declared to his fellow Romans and the Faliscan teacher:

I, through the Roman practice of manliness, work, and weapons, will conquer them as I conquered Veii.

{ ego Romanis artibus, virtute opere armis, sicut Veios vincam. }

Livy, Ab urbe condita 5.27.8, my English translation. Camillus’s Roman practice probably would have caused the deaths of many Roman men and of all the men of Falerii.

[3] Gaspar de Rossis de Perusio (attributed), Alphabetical song concerning the evil woman {Canticum alphabeticum de mala muliere} st. 1, Latin text from Puig (1998), my English translation, benefiting from the Spanish translation of Puig (1995), pp. 40-7, and the Portuguese translation of Dias (2014) pp. 109-12. Puig (1995), p. 39, described Canticum alphabeticum de mala muliere as probably from the thirteenth century. Puig (1998) convincingly places the poem in the first half of the fifteenth century. Cf. Dias (2014). The subsequent two quotes are similarly from Canticum alphabeticum de mala muliere and cover the whole poem seriatim.

Stanzas 2 through 24 of Canticum alphabeticum de mala muliere form an alphabetic acrostic, an abecedarius. Each Latin stanza begins with a successive letter of the Latin alphabet. On the history of the abecedarius, see note [3] in my post on Angelbert’s “Aurora cum primo mane tetra noctis dividet {At the first light, dawn will separate the horrors of night},” also an abecedarius.

[4] Dias (2014), pp. 119-20, urges using Canticum alphabeticum de mala muliere in introductory-level teaching of Latin at secondary schools and universities. But if this poem were properly contextualized as literature of men’s sexed protest, any teacher teaching it surely would be in grave danger.

[5] Prudentius, Book about the Crowns {Liber Peristephanon} 9, The Passion of Saint Cassian of Cornelius’s Forum {Passio Sancti Cassiani Forocorneliensis} vv. 43-64, Latin text from Thomson (1949) vol. 2, p. 224-6, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Subsequent quotes below concerning Cassian are similarly from Prudentius’s account. Cornelius’s Forum is the northern Italian town now called Imola. Prudentius’s account is the earliest surviving record of the martyr-saint Cassian of Imola.

Ancient and medieval teachers seem to have regularly beaten boy students. Laes stated:

A cursory glance at the ancient literary record reveals that teaching at schools went hand in hand with meting out physical punishments. Aristotle’s argument that education and pain are closely connected is embedded in a tradition of education that included violence. Even limiting ourselves to the Latin literary sources, numerous examples come to the mind. Notorious are Horace’s plagosus Orbilius; Ovid’s description of children with hands swollen from the rod; Martial’s annoyance with his neighbour, the verbally abusive schoolmaster who disturbs his sleep; and Juvenal’s biting satire on cruel and recalcitrant teachers. Manum ferulae subducere (“to withdraw one’s hand from the rod”) was a phrase that suggested the end of schooldays, or at least the transition from the grammaticus to the rhetor. In the so-called colloquia or conversation books meant for use in schools, it is stated unabashedly that the pupil who knows his lesson is praised and the one who fails is beaten.

Nothing changed in Late Antique schools. Augustine mentions the blows he got from his teachers and the fact that his parents had a good laugh over it. In his Protrepticus, Ausonius exhorts his grandson not to fear the schoolmaster. The man looks forbidding because of his age, and his hard voice and short-tempered expression seem menacing, but the child is to endure all this with philosophical resignation: it would be a sign of weakness to fear the whip, the screaming, the blows, and the harsh words. The cane (ferula), rod (virga), and whip (scutica) are referred to as tools of the master. Ausonius even offers the boy the cold comfort that both his father and mother had to go through the same — an unmistakable indication of the fact that girls, too, had to put up with physical violence at school.

Laes (2019) pp. 93-4, footnotes omitted. Coming after the lengthy account of evidence about beating boy students, the one reference to beating girl students is noticeable. Boys are subject to violent attacks on their genitals much more frequently than girls are. Men suffer death from physical violence about four times more frequently than women do. Ancient and medieval physical violence surely was predominately directed at boys and men.

According to Prudentius, Cassian’s boy students regarded him as a harsh teacher. The boy students were “bitter {amarus}” towards Cassian. They regarded him with “anger and fear {ira et metus}.” The resented that Cassian didn’t give them a “holiday {feria}.” The local church administrator knowingly told Prudentius, “no discipline is sweet for any children {nec dulcis ulli disciplina infantiae est}.”

Cassian of Tangier, thought to have been beheaded in 298 GC, is another martyr-stenographer. Cassian of Tangier was serving as a court reporter for the trial of the Christian Marcellus the Centurion in Roman north Africa. When Cassian heard the sentence of death for Marcellus, Cassian threw down his pen in disgust, denounced the verdict, and declared that he too was a Christian. Cassian was then arrested and put to death. Prudentius refers to Cassian of Tangier in Peristephanon 4.45-8.

Prudentius in Peristephanon 9 recounts a journey of men’s renewal like that of Aeneas in the Aeneid. However, Prudentius’s journey is primarily personal, yet also witnesses to a universal path. Aeneas, in contrast, works on behalf of the Trojans to refound their society in worldly terms. Cf. O’Hogan (2014).

[6] Prudentius’s account of the teacher-martyr Cassian isn’t merely about the “predicament of a Christian teacher instructing pagan pupils.” Cooper (2019) p. 34. Prudentius’s account of Cassian of Imola fundamentally concerns dissent. In a volume that she edited, Copeland declared:

the explorations of dissenting practices in this volume do not take for granted the polarity of victim and oppressor, or resistance and authority. For this binarism too is the product of normalizing historical narratives that want to assimilate the habit of dissent into knowable and interpretively actionable forms of represention. Such a “normalizing” history might, for example, render Prudentius’ legend as no more than a cautionary tale of student rebellion against pedagogical severity. Indeed, such normalizing historical narratives would reproduce the mechanisms of law iteself (pedagogicval law, the “law” of the Christian imperium) which summons dissent into legally or symbolically actionable forms of representation. But the modulations of resistence in this story, from the violent rebellion in the grammar classroom to the institutional dislocation of grammatica itself, are precisely what resist linear representation through the binarism of “orthodoxy” and “dissent.”

Copeland (1996) p. 14. Cf. Laes (2019). Copeland associates Cassian of Imola with the institutional history of grammar, but she doesn’t acknowledge modern philology’s penis problem. Morever, no voice of meninist literary criticism is heard in the volume that she edited. Graduate students taught without integrity produce tedious, mind-numbing work. See, e.g. Marshall (2015).

[7] Literary history records other teachers whom their students killed. According to writings of Gregory of Nazianzus and Sozomenus, students killed their teacher Bishop Mark in the fourth-century Thracian town Arethusa. According to the twelfth-century historian William of Malmesbury, ninth-century Germanic students stabbed to death their teacher, the philosopher Johannes Scotus Erigena. Four other medieval teachers apparently died similarly: Artemas of Pozzuoli, Archippus of Colossi, Felix of Pincis, and Cassian of Todi. Laes (2019) pp. 104-5.

[images] (1) Students of Falerii beating their teacher. Illumination (excerpt) from Guerber (1896)’s retelling of Livy’s account of Camillus taking Falerii. (2) Cassian of Imola being killed by his students. Painting made about 1500 by Innocenzo di Pietro Francucci da Imola. Via Wikimedia Commons and Regina. (3) Pink Floyd performing “Another Brick in the Wall,” Part II, from that group’s 1979 rock opera The Wall. Video on YouTube thanks to NoMadU55555. Early in the song are lyrics describing abusive men teachers:

But in the town, it was well known,
when they got home at night,
their fat and psychopathic wives
would thrash them
within inches of their lives.

In a 1980 broadcast interview with Jim Ladd, Roger Waters of Pink Floyd explained:

We actually, at the school I was at, had one guy {teacher} who I would fantasize that his wife beat him. Certainly she treated him like shit and he was a really crushed person and he handed as much of that pain onto us as he could and he did quite a good job of it.

Domestic violence against men should not continue to be denied, ignored or marginalized.


Cooper, Kate. 2019. “The Master’s Voice: Martyrdom and the Late Roman Schoolroom in Prudentius’s Passio Sancti Cassiani.” Pp. 33-50 in Janet E. Spittler, ed. The Narrative Self in Early Christianity: essays in honor of Judith Perkins. Atlanta, GA: SBL Press. (volume review by David Brakke)

Copeland, Rita. 1996. “Introduction: dissenting critical practices.” Pp. 1-23 in Copeland, Rita, ed. Criticism and Dissent in the Middle Ages. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Dias, Paula Barata. 2014. “La donna è mobile…: Portuguese version and commentary of the alphabetical poem about the wickedness of women (Canticum alphabeticum de Mala Muliere, anonym, XIII C.E.).” Boletim De Estudos Clássicos. 59: 105-121.

Guerber, Helene A. 1896. The Story of the Romans. New York: American Book Co.

Foster, Benjamin O., ed and trans. 1924. Livy. History of Rome. Vol. III: Books 5-7. Loeb Classical Library 172. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Laes, Christian. 2019. “Teachers Afraid of Their Pupils: Prudentius’ Peristephanon 9 in a Sociocultural Perspective.” Mouseion. 16 (S1): 91-108.

Marshall, Christabel Nadia. 2015. Rewriting Masculinity with Male Bodies: the sexualization of male martyrs in Prudentius’ Peristephanon. Thesis for Master of Arts in Classics. Victoria University of Wellington, New Zealand.

O’Hogan, Cillian. 2014. “An Intertextual Journey in Prudentius, Peristephanon 9.” Mnemosyne. 67 (2): 270-288.

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

Puig, Mercè Rodríguez-Escalona. 1998. “Canticum alphabeticum de mala muliere.” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch 33: 119–27.

Thomson, Henry John, ed. and trans. 1949. Prudentius. Loeb Classical Library 387, 398. Vol. 1, Vol. 2. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Paragon-Guardian Content Tribunal fights against patriarchy-tyranny

Thalia, muse of comedy

Another-Slave-Man: Hey, One-Slave-Man, you fool, what are you doing?

One-Slave-Man: (waking up) I’m getting ready to type out notes, “Topics to Study for the Mid-Term.”

Another-Slave-Man: Good luck. Ask something that’s not in the study notes, they’ll kick you in the ribs in the course evaluation.

One-Slave-Man: I know, and I don’t want to think about it.

Another-Slave-Man: It’s dangerous work, but they don’t care, and why should I? I think I’ll turn off the webcam, put the phone on silent mode, and take a snooze like you were.

One-Slave-Man: Do what you want. But I’m gonna give my students a play for their money. It’s time that they get a sense of the plot. (He turns on his webcam and microphone.) Hey students, you must press @ within 30 seconds to get credit for attending this class. (His admin dashboard subsequently shows 46 @’s out of 65 registered students).

Look, I’ll keep this brief, and you shouldn’t expect anything uplifting. I’m no Mary Beard, so you can’t brag about having attended a course by a member of the Board of the British Museum. But that’s no reason to put your mic on mute and ignore me. What I’ve got for you is simple and praise-worthy, just like you. The Paragon-Guardian Content Tribunal had deputized an army of cyber-residents to help Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other Internet mega-corps moderate content. It’s even worse than that. Most of the PGCT’s deputy paragon-guardians are young women, and our own university president, Love-Dworkin, is the head of the PGCT. She’s seriously sick. What do you think she’s doing? You want to guess? Go ahead.

Hey, Nitin Nohria, you say that she’s working to make women feel loved? No, that’s what Professor Proserpina was doing, before Emma Penelope betrayed her with their very own son!

And you, Vivek Wadhwa, you say she’s promoting women in technology? Get real. How many women do you think want to spend their days staring at a computer screen, alone and focused on writing code? Tech companies already have more software project managers and tech HR specialists than coders, plus huge stacks of women’s applications for those tech jobs. Women who go into tech today have to be coders. They’d have to be bugged out on the autism spectrum to want to be coders!

You’re all babbling nonsense, as usual. Just shut up and I’ll tell you what President Love-Dworkin is doing. She’s sex-trafficking in young women on behalf of Internet mega-corps. She’s enslaving them in the demeaning and mind-numbing work of content moderation. She tells them that working for meager wages as a Paragon-Guardian Content Tribunal deputy paragon-guardian content moderator is a very prestigious position. She tells them it’s an important stepping stone to becoming a published writer, or even a journalist.

President Love-Dworkin’s daughter, Hate-Dworkin, is trying to save our girls. So she’s ordered us to teach you Aristophanes’s great comedy, Wasps. If you study this play and learn all that we have to teach, you’ll find for yourself a much better life than orchestrating mobs on Twitter as a deputy paragon-guardian content moderator. Write that point down in your notes and double underline it!

(A message alert pops up on Another-Slave-Man’s screen. It’s from Hate-Dworkin.)

Hate-Dworkin: Teach them about the romance writer’s hate-fest against each other. Who would want to work on content-moderating that? Teach them that romance novels perpetuate sexist stereotypes and that romance novels are a form of women’s porn.

One-Slave-Man: Look, young lady, you ordered us to teach Aristophanes’s Wasps. Now you want us to teach romance novels? What sort of comedy is this?

Hate-Dworkin: Have you found my mother’s iPhone yet? She’s sure to call women students and try to seduce them into allowing her to be their mentor.

Another-Slave-Man: Her iPhone? Lady, we’ve already taken from her two iPhones, an Android, and a Blackberry.

Hate-Dworkin: The campus police told me that their Stingray is still picking up mobile phone calls from my mother’s iPhone 11 to women students. She must have another iPhone. Find it and get rid of it!

One-Slave-Man: Ok, if that’s what you want me to do to help women students.

(An email-received notification pops up on Another-Slave-Man’s screen. He opens the new email.)

Another-Slave-Man: Hmmm… “Prof. Another-Slave-Man, Hi! Instead of a 10-page paper on resisting misogyny in Wasps, can I write a 10-page paper on Nathan Taylor’s hate postings and moderating Twitter communication about knitters’ yarn colors to fight white supremacy? I think that’s more relevant and would help me get a good summer internship. Thanks. :)” … Well, well.

Hate-Dworkin: My mother has spoken with her. For sure.

Another-Slave-Man: So what do you want me to do?

Hate-Dworkin: Tell her no, you idiot! She can’t write a paper on Internet content moderation for a classics course on Aristophanes’s Wasps!

Another-Slave-Man: You want me to just tell a woman student “No”?

Hate-Dworkin: Yes!

Another-Slave-Man: Ok, whatever you say, you’re the college president’s daughter.

(A chorus of women students complaining about their mothers starts to fill the course chatroom.)

I’m fed up with social-media relations. I don’t want to be a paragon-guardian content moderator. I wanna be an elementary school teacher, an elementary school art teacher! Don’t call me again!

Stop texting me all the time. I just don’t care, ok? Patriarchy-tyranny, patriarchy–tyranny, patriarchy-tyranny — I just don’t care!

You’re my daughter. I raised you. What’s wrong with you?

Stop complaining about my father. We haven’t seen him for years. Just, like, let it go. My classics professor, he cares about me. I’ve got to write a paper on Wasps in relation to Thesmophoriazusae for him. No you can’t listen in. Leave me alone.

I am NOT your therapist. Stop posting all our family drama on Facebook, or I’ll unfriend you. I’ve got to FaceTime with my girlfriends, we need to figure out what to write about Wasps. Oh please, you know my boyfriend is black and a Muslim. It’s a play by Aristophanes!

One-Slave-Man: Students, please ensure that your devices aren’t on speakerphone when you’re in the course chatroom. We’re getting a lot of background conversations.

Chorus Leader: Being confined to our homes is ruining our college experience. Let’s write a group email to our glorious role model, the president of our college, a true woman leader, President Love-Dworkin. She’s always spoken out against women in the home.

(President Love-Dworkin’s icon pops up in the course chatroom.)

Love-Dworkin: The home is a prison. Liberate women!

(The president’s daughter’s icon pops up in the course chatroom.)

Hate-Dworkin: Mom, you were the one who closed down the campus and ordered all students to go home.

Love-Dworkin: I want them to roam about freely as virtual residents of vast cyber-space, searching out hateful content and suppressing patriarchy-tyranny through collective Twittering.

Hate-Dworkin: That’s ugly, nasty work.

Love-Dworkin: Young women must be champions of social justice!

Hate-Dworkin: Most would prefer to get together with their friends and talk about who went where last night, where you can get the best deal on that, what that bitch did, and boys.

Love-Dworkin: Women of the chorus, you future glorious deputy paragon-guardian content moderators, did you read what my daughter just wrote? She’s sexist, misogynist, and heterosexist. Denounce her, denounce her, cancel her virtual existence! Chase her from the course chatroom. Now! Start Twittering! Storm Facebook!

One-Slave-Man: Neither President Love-Dworkin nor her daughter Hate-Dworkin are registered for this classics course. You’re disrupting our teaching of Aristophanes’s Wasps. You two college officials, please leave the course chatroom.

Love-Dworkin: WASPs? White supremacist! You’re done teaching at this college! Just wait ’til I text the Board of Trustees!

Hate-Dworkin: Don’t forget that I’m the one who manages my mom’s online Fidelity account and who makes electronic payments to professors. I’m staying to monitor the course content. Tell my mom’s yes-woman chorus to leave.

Leader of the Chorus: We’re not leaving. We’re going to indict you as a criminal.

Hate-Dworkin: In Heaven’s name, stop raving, you lunatic woman. What joke of justice is this?

Chorus: You’re complicit in patriarchy-tyranny. That’s not licit, as long as love flows through our fists. Take this! (The chorus in unison moons the college president’s daughter.)

Another-Slave-Man: Uh-oh, we’re in big trouble. Switch to ancient Greek to calm the chatroom. They won’t understand.


ὡς ἅπανθ᾿ ὑμῖν τυραννίς ἐστι καὶ ξυνωμόται,
ἤν τε μεῖζον ἤν τ᾿ ἔλαττον πρᾶγμά τις κατηγορῇ.

{ Patriarchy-tyranny and co-conspirators everywhere, according to you,
as soon as you hear any critical voice, no matter how marginal. }


ἆρα δῆτ᾿ οὐκ αὐτὰ δῆλα
τοῖς πένησιν, ἡ τυραννὶς ὡς λάθρᾳ γ᾿ ἐ —
λάμβαν᾿ ὑπιοῦσά με

{ It’s now white as light for all to see clearly,
how patriarchy-tyranny seeps through micro-slights,
creeps up and tries to jump us with white supremacy. }


ἢν μὲν ὠνῆταί τις ὀρφῶς, μεμβράδας δὲ μὴ ᾿θέλῃ,
εὐθέως εἴρηχ᾿ ὁ πωλῶν πλησίον τὰς μεμβράδας·
“οὗτος ὀψωνεῖν ἔοιχ᾿ ἅνθρωπος ἐπὶ τυραννίδι.”
ἢν δὲ γήτειον προσαιτῇ ταῖς ἀφύαις ἥδυσμά τι,
ἡ λαχανόπωλις παραβλέψασά φησι θἀτέρῳ·
“εἰπέ μοι· γήτειον αἰτεῖς· πότερον ἐπὶ τυραννίδι;
ἢ νομίζεις τὰς Ἀθήνας σοὶ φέρειν ἡδύσματα;”

{ If someone buys sea-perch, but doesn’t want smelt,
the smelt seller in the next stall pipes up:
“Disgrace! This guy buys fish like a patriarch-tyrant!”
And if he asks for an onion for free to pep up his smelt,
the offended lady selling onions gives him an evil eye, saying:
“Asking for an onion because you want to be a patriarch-tyrant?
Or maybe you think Athens grows spices as post-colonial tribute to you?” }


κἀμέ γ᾿ ἡ πόρνη χθὲς εἰσελθόντα τῆς μεσημβρίας,
ὅτι κελητίσαι ᾿κέλευον, ὀξυθυμηθεῖσά μοι
ἤρετ᾿ εἰ τὴν Ἱππίου καθίσταμαι τυραννίδα.

{ The graduate student I’m sleeping with also got testy with me
when I went to her room yesterday noon and asked her to ride me.
She claimed that I, like Aristotle, seek to support patriarchy-tyranny! }


Ancient Greek is dead, dead letters,
teach in English, we’ll understand better!
Busy students have no time for philology,
teach in English & give us a classics degree!

One-Slave-Man: Bag groceries?

Another-Slave-Man: I did that for awhile. It’s not so bad.

Love-Dworkin: Stop teaching WASPs. If you don’t teach Aristophanes in support of social justice and fighting hate, you’ll be serving women by bagging groceries, if I have any breath left in me!

One-Slave-Man: Yup, women are grateful if you carry heavy bags for them.

Love-Dworkin: Offer to carry a heavy bag for me, and I’ll tear open your testicles with my stilettos.

Hate-Dworkin: Not all women are like that.

Love-Dworkin: Shut up! Who asked you? Didn’t I teach you as a little girl, when I took you to faculty meetings and parked your stroller in the conference room, to be seen but not heard?

Hate-Dworkin: Can’t we engage in dialogue and discussion without all this fighting and shrill screaming?

Love-Dworkin: Hold your tongue before I smack you, you over-educated little twit. You’re just like your father.

Hate-Dworkin: I thought you said he wasn’t actually my father.

Love-Dworkin: Not now, honey, not now.

Hate-Dworkin: Mom, are you happy?

Love-Dworkin: I’d be happy if I could mentor a whole army of women students to be deputy paragon-guardian content moderators.

Hate-Dworkin: Wouldn’t you be happier if you had a warm and cheerful young girlfriend, well-educated in classics and a good cook, too?

Love-Dworkin: Well, yes.

Hate-Dworkin: So instead of organizing mob actions on Twitter, why don’t you spend some time browsing Scissr?

Love-Dworkin: How do you know about Scissr? What does Scissr have to do with social justice?

Hate-Dworkin: It’s like classics, mom. It’s like Sappho’s poetry.


Your daughter is wise beyond her years. Listen to her!
Your daughter understands the ways of the world. Listen to her!

Love-Dworkin: Later, my dear. I can’t give up on Internet content moderating while knowing that there’s so much hate out there.

Hate-Dworkin: How about you moderate your own use of social media? We can feed your Facebook, Google, Instagram, Whatsapp, Pinterest, Snapchat, WeChat, and whatever accounts into one unified moderating app. There you can review each item you would have posted and discuss them at length with a committee of women deputy paragon-guardian content moderators.

Love-Dworkin: Hmmm, would you help gather that group of young women for me?

Hate-Dworkin: Gladly.

Love-Dworkin: Let’s do it, right away.

Leader of the Chorus: Now please, students, listen to what I have to say. You’ve seen a mother and daughter reconciled in a classics course chatroom after it was flooded with ancient Greek. Can any of you now question the value of studying ancient Greek? Your hardworking classics professors, One-Slave-Man and Another-Slave-Man, respond to emails, answer phone calls, and text back to you even when fatigued and needing sleep. They have inserted jibberish in the margins of your essays so that you know that they have opened the electronic papers you have sent them. They deserve to be honored. Give them a five-star rating in your course evaluation for their course on Aristophanes’s Wasps.

(A warning pops up on the admin dashboard. It’s 2 minutes until the end of the recorded lecture.)

Another-Slave-Man: My lecture’s nearing its end. Should I cut to the edict on doing the reading? That should take their minds off all the COVID-19 executive orders.

One-Slave-Man: Yea, stream that piece out to the students.

(An image of the face of Another-Slave-Man appears above the course chatroom.)

Another-Slave-Man: (via pre-recorded video) All students must do the reading. You must do the reading. I repeat, you must do the reading. Watching YouTube videos does not substitute for doing the reading. You may do an virtual-reality performance of the play as a substitute for writing a term paper, but not as a substitute for the mid-term multiple-choice examination. Students may not collaborate in taking the mid-term. The college will use its full array of surveillance and monitoring systems installed on your computers, your phones, your watches, your televisions, your smart speakers, your earphones, and your refrigerators to ensure that you do not engage in illicit communication with each other concerning answers to the mid-term multiple-choice exam. I remind you that possible answers to each mid-term question are A, B, C, D, or E. On the day of the mid-term, no student may use any of these letters in communicating with any other student. Thank you for your strict adherence to this important prohibition.

Another-Slave-Man: (live) Today’s class is about to end. Press @ within 30 seconds to get credit for attending this class. (His admin dashboard subsequently shows 17 @’s out of 65 students).

Another-Slave-Man: Where can they be? All the cafes, restaurants, and bars are closed.


We’re making faces about that girl wearing braces;
poor little dear, she’s so queer!
And what a pattern on her blouse,
and the mousy brown hair, she’s so queer!
She’s coming over here, so we’re gonna dance,
dance right out of here!


*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


The above play is loosely based on Aristophanes’s comedy Wasps. Wasps was performed in Athens in 422 BGC. The Atticist has generously made freely available online an ancient Greek text for Aristophanes’s Wasps, an English translation that follows closely the ancient Greek, and commentary and notes. Here’s an alternate ancient Greek text and alternate English translation. Above I’ve quoted Wasps vv. 488-9, 463-5, 493-9, and 500-2, using Greek text from the Loeb edition of Henderson (1998). I’ve taken considerable liberties with the English translations below the Greek texts.

[images] (1) Thalia, the ancient Greek muse of comedy, holding a comic mask. Detail from the “Muses Sarcophagus” that was found by the Via Ostiense. Made in the second century GC. Preserved as accession # Ma 475 (MR 880) in the Louvre Museum (Paris). Image thanks to Jastrow and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Detail from a bust sculpture of Aristophanes. Made between the 4th and 1st centuries BGC. Image from the book, Greek Dramas by Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides, and Aristophanes, D. Appleton and Company, New York, 1900, hence in the public domain in the U.S. Via Encyclopedia Britannica.


Henderson, Jeffrey, ed. and trans. 1998. Aristophanes. Vol. 2, Clouds, Wasps, Peace. Loeb Classical Library, 488. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

women & men debate sex in Old French jeux-partis

medieval love: couple embracing in bed

Some women complain that men are overly devoted to getting their job done. Old French jeux-partis, probably written in the thirteenth century, indicate that before marriage, women complain about men’s concern for their job, but after marriage, women appreciate men’s dedication to their work. Moreover, wives appreciate their husbands’ work so much that they are willing to tolerate their husbands’ occasional extra-marital affairs. As inconceivable as that it is today, so it was in medieval France.

In one Old French jeu-parti, a lady and her boyfriend debate how men treat their beloved women. The lady asks her boyfriend:

My boyfriend, who is more worthy:
he who lies all night
with his beloved, with great love-play,
and without consummating his desire,
or he who comes quickly and takes quickly,
and when he has done it, hurries off,
for he cares not for what remains,
he just plucks the flower and neglects the fruit?

{ Amis, ki est li muelz vaillans:
Ou cil ki gist toute la nuit
Aveuc s’amie a grant desduit
Et sans faire tot son talent,
Ou cil ki tost vient et tost prent
Et quant il ait fait, si s’en fuit,
Ne jue pais a remenant,
Ains keut la flor et lait le fruit? } [1]

This question is like, “Do I look fat?” To avoid being a victim of domestic violence, and then getting arrested for perpetrating domestic violence, most men understand that they dare answer only “no,” irrespective of what they actually think. Similarly, this man’s safe, subservient answer to his girlfriend’s question is that the second hypothetical man is a very bad man; a savage, brutish man; a bad boy, a jerk. In short, that second hypothetical man is just the sort of man for whom women’s loins typically tingle.

This man apparently isn’t an ignorant, chivalrous toady destined for tepid friendship with her. Though learned in gynocentric norms of courtesy and deference to women, he has at least enough sense of self to be willing to state his own interest:

My lady, what my heart feels about this
I will tell you, but don’t let it vex you:
from doing it comes the pleasure,
and he who does that and only that
can remove himself lightly,
for all other acts are vain
if one doesn’t do it sooner or later.
Therefore, doing it is preferable, I think.

{ Dame, ceu ke mes cuers en sent
Vos dirai, maix ne vos anuit:
Del faire viennent li desduit
Et ki lou fait tan soulement
Partir s’en puet ligierement:
Car tui li autre fait sont vuit
S’on ne.l fait aprés ou davant;
Dont valt muelz li fiares, je cuit. }

Not all men are like that. But men should have enough strength to say what they want. Moreover, what men want should matter.

Not surprisingly, the lady has a different preference for how the man should behave. She declares:

My boyfriend, more preferable are embracing
and playing and enjoying,
pleasuring and caressing,
imploring and gazing,
than doing it and then leaving;
because so sweet is lingering
and so grievous is parting.

{ Amis, muelz valt li acoleirs
Et li jüers et li joïrs,
Li desduires et li sentirs,
Li proiers et li esgardeirs
Que li faires et puis aleirs,
S’a faire n’est li grans loixirs;
Car trop est doulz li dmorers
Et trop est griés li departirs. }

The man appreciates his lady’s interest, but highlights the seriousness of the issue:

My lady, very nice is playing
and kissing and lying side by side,
pleasuring and caressing,
imploring and gazing,
yet that is murder without doing it.
That is the root of all sighs
and of all that is bitter in love.
Hence more preferable to do it and flee.

{ Dame, moult est boens li jueirs
Et li baixiers et li gesirs,
Li desduires et li sentirs,
Li proiers et li esgardeirs;
Sans lou faire c’est li tueirs,
C’est la racine des sospirs
Et ceu k’en amors est ameirs;
Dont valt muelz faire et li foïrs. }

In most criminal justice systems, murder is ranked as an even more serious crime than rape. Teach women not to murder men. With laudable common sense, no one would even consider doing that. Men, if you fear you will be murdered, you may have consensual sex, but flee if you can!

Like too many women, the man’s girlfriend refuses to recognize the extent of violence against men. She also as a woman audaciously informs him about how men feel:

My boyfriend, I do not regard it as love
to hurry to do it and hurry to leave:
such love is not desirable,
for it has no savor.
But he doesn’t have such big suffering
who can embrace at leisure,
and kissing brings him even greater joy.
To enter into such love makes sense.

{ Amis, ne tieng pais a amors
Lou tost faire ne tost alier:
Teille amor ne fait a amer
Car elle n’ait poent de savor.
Maix cil n’ait pais moult grant dolor
Ke puet a loisir acolleir,
Et baissier ait joie grignor.
En teil amor fait sen entreir. }

As a man, the boyfriend surely has better knowledge than she has of men’s feelings and sufferings. He explains:

My lady, I have never seen one healed even for a day
by staying lying beside his beloved.
No one who has been wounded by love is healed
if she doesn’t grant him a good turn.
Such love resembles fire in an oven
that has no way by which it can vent,
but has within it such great heat
that one cannot extinguish it.

{ Dame, onc ne vi guerir nul jor,
Por soi deleis s’amie esteir,
Nullui ki fust navreis d’ameir,
S’on ne li fist aucun boen tor.
Teil amor semble feu en for
Ke ne s’en ait par ou aleir,
Mais enclos ait si grant chalor
C’on ne le puet desalumeir. }

Women should listen to men when men talk about their feelings and their sufferings. Listening to men is a necessary beginning of compassion for men.[2]

In another Old French jeu-parti, a wife affirms the importance of her husband having sex with her. Rolant de Reims set out a hypothetical for a gracious lady to consider:

Sweet lady, you have taken a husband,
a handsome and worthy young knight.
Some people who do not like you
let you know that he does not cease going out
with other women. I want to ask you
to tell me please, in the name of love,
which would be preferable to you, for your part:
having exclusive possession of him sexually,
while he let his longings roam elsewhere,
or to suffer others to possess him sexually,
while for you only was his longing always?

{ Douce dame, vos aveis prins marit,
Bel et vaillant et jone baicheleir.
Aucune gent qui ne vos ainme mi
Vos font savoir k’il ne fine d’aleir
Deleiz femes. Je vos voil demandeir
Ke mi dittes par amors, je vos prie,
Lou keil ariez plus chier, en vos partie,
Ou lou pooir de lui entierement
Et aillors fut sa volenteit menant,
Ou li pooirs de lui fut mis aillours
Et a vos fut sai volenteit tous jours? } [3]

The wife values her husband’s work for her:

By God, Rolant, given the dilemma you have proposed,
I am confident that I can ascertain the better.
I take possessing my husband, I tell you,
for I have a good body to carry such weight.
To sip from an empty bowl is all too wretched a mood.
Let his longings be allowed to go everywhere,
but let me have sexual pleasure from him.
I hold much more dear to have sex with him frequently,
than a longing from which I can take nothing.
The woman is worthless who does not have love’s joy
and who does not feel night and day its sweetness.

{ Par Deu, Rollant, teil jeu m’aveis partit
Ke je cuit bien au millour aseneir.
Je pran lou poir mon marit, jou vos di,
Que j’ai bien cors por teil fais a porteir.
Au veude escuele fait trop mavais humeir.
Sa volentei soit par tout otroïe,
Mais ke j’aie de lui la druwerie.
J’ai trop plus chier pooir que vient sovent
Ke volenteit ou je ne pran niant.
Feme ne vaut qui n’ait joie d’amors
Et qui n’en sent nuit et jour lai dousour. }

Perhaps drawing upon his own experience of epic failure, Rolant declares:

Lady, to the worse you have consented,
as I wish through reason to demonstrate.
You are lying next to your husband, let’s suppose,
and you well believe that he is fully capable of performing,
but his desire isn’t in accord with sexually performing.
Instead, he gets up and leaves your company
to go where his desire invites him.
You are left distraught, with a lamenting heart.
Now jealousy attacks you
and makes you think that he loves another,
which brings you both sorrow and anger.

{ Dame, au pïour vos aveis asenti,
Je lou vos voil bien par raison monstreir.
Leiz vos maris gixeis, or soit ansi,
Et bien santeis qu’il ait boin poir d’ovreir,
Mais volenteiz ne s’i welt acordeir,
Ainz lieve sus et lait vos compaignie,
Et si s’en vait ou volenteit li prie.
Vos demoreis marrie, a cuer dolant;
Jalozie vos court sus maintenant
Et fait panceir qu’il ainme autre ke vos,
Dont vos aveis et mezaixe et corrous. }

Men are not, in fact, dogs. Men are emotionally and sexually complex human beings. A man cannot always force himself to perform sexually when a woman demands it from him. Men’s desires matter for their sexual performances. A wife who wants her husband to have sex with her frequently should work to cultivate and maintain his desire for her. Authorities on outrageous, disreputable men’s websites suggest that women not get fat, that they keep their hair long, and that they strive for a joyful, warm, and receptive personality.

As meninist literary criticism makes clear, medieval literature has enduring value for women and men. Study medieval literature assiduously to enjoy a better life!

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Lady & her Boyfriend {Dame & Ami}, a game in parts {jeu-parti}, “My boyfriend, who is more worthy {Amis, ki est li muelz vaillans}” st. 1, Old French text (Lorraine dialect) from Doss-Quinby (2001) p. 100, English translation (with my modifications to track the Old French more closely) also from id. The subsequent five quotes are similarly sourced and cover serially stanzas 2-6. Two additional stanzas exist for this song, but those two stanzas are clumsily written and have a different rhyme scheme. They probably aren’t authentic to this song. Dronke (2007) p. 331. In not naming either participant, this jeu-parti is unique in the corpus of jeux-partis. Id. p. 330.

The music for this song is a contrafactum (re-use) of the music for Bernart de Ventadorn’s “Now when I see the skylark lift {Can vei la lauzeta mover}.”  “Amis, ki est li muelz vaillans / Amis, quelx est li mieuz vaillanz” reads as “as a spirited ‘take’ on Bernart’s lyric.” Murray (2015) p. 70.

The term jeu-parti developed into the rather different English word “jeopardy”:

“Jeu parti” passed into Anglo-French as juparti, and from there it was borrowed into Middle English and respelled “jeopardie.” At first, the English word was used to refer to the risks associated with alternative moves in the game of chess. Soon, however, the term came to be used more generally in the “risk” or “danger” sense that it has today.

Via Merriam-Webster online page for “jeopardy.” The English meaning of jeu-parti anticipated men’s position under modern college sex regulations.

[2] Women should listen particularly to men who tell them what they would prefer not to hear. Taking the opposite, “courtly” path, Dronke speculated:

was this poet a man, trying to justify a brutish, macho view of sex against women’s notions of tenderness surrounding the act of love? Or, was the anonymous poet a woman, arguing subtly for a more sensitive conception of love, while presenting her partner as simpleminded, lustful and coarse — the Baron Ochs of his generation? I am inclined to think so.

Dronke (2007) p. 332. Ausonius wrote his Wedding Mix {Cento nuptialis} as an outrageous amplification of such fawning anti-meninism.

[3] Lady & Rolant de Reims {Dame & Rolant de Reims}, a game in parts {jeu-parti}, “Sweet lady, you have taken a husband {Douce dame, vos aveis prins marit}” st. 1, Old French text (Lorraine dialect) from Doss-Quinby (2001) p. 94, English translation (with my modifications to track the Old French more closely) also from id. The subsequent two stanzas are similarly from id. They are cited serially and cover all three stanzas of the song. Three stanzas are unusually few for a jeu-parti. This song, which survives in just one manuscript, may well be incomplete. Dronke (2007) p. 332.

A man trouvère named Rolant participated in 25 jeux-partis. Outside of those songs, nothing is known of him. Dronke (2007) p. 332. In four of those 25 jeux-partis, Rolant queries women’s privilege.

Barker interprets the wife having sex with her husband “in terms of power over” him and argues that the wife is “focusing on the benefits of tangible power over her husband.” Barker (2013) p. 251. The crucial verb pooir seems to me much better read as “to have capability” than as “to have power.” Barker further interprets:

The ‘good’ lover, for the two feminine voices, becomes the man they can see in front of them, doing things they can see and manage, which force the lover into real interaction with the lady.

Barker (2013) p. 254. Men shouldn’t be forced in love. Rape of men occurs about as frequently as rape of women. Neither women nor men should force each other in love.

[image] Medieval couple embracing in bed. Illumination made in the 1390s. From Österreichische Nationalbibliothek Codex Vindobonensis 2762 (Wenceslas Bible {Wenzelsbibel}), fol. 86.


Barker, Camilla. 2013. Dialogue and Dialectic in Twelfth- and Thirteenth-Century Occitan and Old French Courtly Lyric and Narrative. Ph. D. Thesis, King’s College, London.

Doss-Quinby, Eglal, Joan Tasker Grimbert, Wendy Pfeffer, and Elizabeth Aubery. 2001. Songs of the Women Trouvères. New Haven: Yale University Press. (review by Carol Symes)

Dronke, Peter. 2007. “Women’s Debates in Medieval French Lyric.” Ch. 18 (pp. 323-336) in Dronke, Peter. Forms and Imaginings: from antiquity to the fifteenth century. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.

Murray, David Alexander. 2015. Poetry in Motion: the Mobility of Lyrics and Languages in the European Middles Ages. Ph. D. Thesis. King’s College, London.

generation of vipers will be overcome when cocks crow

Mind and mother are out of control: they have lost dominion over themselves.[1]

Small-minded local officials allow householders in cities and suburbs to have families of hens without even a single rooster. Those hens produce sterile eggs that are worse than seedless watermelons. We are complicit in the generation of vipers. Our corrupt hearts and minds birth wickedness and lies. Listen for the glorious sound of cocks crowing. When once again our societies are welcoming and inclusive of cocks crowing, the deadliest plague will vanish. All will then rejoice in the fullness of life.

generation of vipers; vipers mating

We cannot flee from the terrible effects of generating vipers. In the fourth century, the learned Roman poet Prudentius described how females and males relate in circumstances of perverse gynocentrism:

Her genitals don’t make her fertile, nor does
her womb swell from lying together, but when she burns with the fire
of female lust, that obscene one opens wide her mouth,
thirsting for her soon-to-die husband. He inserts his three-tongued head
into his mate’s jaws, entering with hot kisses,
by oral sex injecting seminal lust-juice.
His wife, wounded with the force of pleasure, draws him in;
within the bonds of sweet love she uses her teeth to break his neck.
She drinks the infused spittle of her dying dear one.
By these allurements the father is killed, and
the enclosed offspring kill their mother; for after the seed matures,
small little bodies in their warm refuge begin
to slither, and quivering they strike her shaking womb.
The internal crime against filial piety inflames the mother;
conscious of her guilty sex, she bemoans her executioner,
her progeny, as they rupture the enclosing barriers to birth.
Since no birth canal provides an open exit, her belly
is tortured by her offspring straining toward the light.
Their tearing opens a way through her lacerated guts.
At last, with the death of their nourisher, the brood of sorrows emerges,
with difficulty struggling along a path into life and carving out
their birth through crime. The creeping cubs lick the cadaver
that birthed them, offspring orphaned at birth,
having experienced daylight only after their poor mother’s death.

{ non sexu fertilis aut de
concubitu distenta uterum, sed cum calet igni
percita femineo, moriturum obscena maritum
ore sitit patulo; caput inserit ille trilingue
coniugis in fauces atque oscula fervidus intrat,
insinuans oris coitu genitale venenum,
nupta voluptatis vi saucia mordicus haustum
frangit amatoris blanda inter foedera guttur,
infusasque bibit caro pereunte salivas.
his pater inlecebris consumitur, at genitricem
clausa necat subolis; nam postquam semine adulto
incipiunt calidis corpuscula parva latebris
serpere motatumque uterum vibrata ferire,
aestuat interno pietatis crimine mater
carnificemque gemit damnati conscia sexus
progeniem, saepti rumpentem obstacula partus,
nam quia nascendi nullus patet exitus, alvus
fetibus in lucem nitentibus excruciata
carpitur atque viam lacerata per ilia pandit,
tandem obitu altricis prodit grex ille dolorum
ingressum vitae vix eluctatus et ortum
per scelus exculpens; lambunt natale cadaver
reptantes catuli, prolis dum nascitur orba,
haud experta diem miserae nisi postuma matris } [2]

That’s the generation of vipers.[3] That’s a soul mating with three-tongued Satan and giving birth to a litter of deadly sins. That’s not the medieval joy of sex. That’s castration culture in its ultimate, deadly expression.[4]

human chimeras - mates; from Bern Physiologus

Cocks crowing signify light and new life. Satanic forces demean cocks as obscene and seek to exterminate them. Prudentius rejected that Satanic gynocentric practice. He recognized the virtue of cocks:

They say that wandering demons
who love night’s darkness
are terrified when the cock crows,
then demons, dispersing, fear and flee.

They hate the nearness
of light, salvation, divinity,
that bursts through the stagnant dark
and scatters the agents of night.

They are prescient, they know
this sign of promised hope
that will free us from sleep
to hope for the advent of God.

{ ferunt vagantes daemonas
laetos tenebris noctium
gallo canente exterritos
sparsim timere et cedere.

invisa nam vicinitas
lucis, salutis, numinis,
rupto tenebrarum situ
noctis fugat satellites.

hoc esse signum praescii
norunt repromissae spei,
qua nos soporis liberi
speramus adventum dei. } [5]

The Apostle Peter connects the cock to both betrayal and love of Christ. Prudentius explained:

What this bird means
the Savior showed to Peter,
declaring that he would be denied
three times before the cock crew.

For sins are committed
before the herald of coming dawn
lights up the human race
and brings an end to sinning.

And so the denier wept
for the evil that slid from his lips,
though his mind remained blameless
and his heart kept the faith.

And never after did he say
such a thing, a slip of the tongue.
Recognizing the cock’s crow,
he stopped sinning, a just man.

That’s why we all believe
that in this time of sleep,
when the exultant cock crows,
Christ has returned from the dead.

{ quae vis sit huius alitis,
Salvator ostendit Petro,
ter antequam gallus canat
sese negandum praedicans.

fit namque peccatum prius
quam praeco lucis proximae
inlustret humanum genus
finemque peccandi ferat.

flevit negator denique
ex ore prolapsum nefas,
cum mens maneret innocens
animusque servaret fidem.

nec tale quidquam postea
linguae locutus lubrico est,
cantuque galli cognito
peccare iustus destitit.

inde est quod omnes credimus
illo quietis tempore
quo gallus exultans canit
Christum redisse ex inferis. }

The cock is the seminal sign. We must stop denying the cock and brutalizing the cock. We must start loving the cock. Look:

The bird that ushers in the day
foretells that it will soon be light.
The one who wakes our souls
now is Christ — he call us to life.

So let’s rise up with energy!
The cock wakes those who lie prostrate
and castigates the somnolent.
The cock confutes the deniers.

When the cock crows, hope returns,
health is restored to the sick,
the robber’s sword is put away,
faith comes back to the fallen.

{ Ales diei nuntius
lucem propinquam praecinit;
nos excitator mentium
iam Christus ad vitam vocat.

Surgamus ergo strenue;
gallus iacentes excitat
et somnolentes increpat.
gallus negantes arguit.

gallo canente, spes redit,
aegris salus refunditur,
mucro latronis conditur,
lapsis fides revertitur. } [6]

The wonderful cock is fully masculine, just like Jesus. Reader, hear this cock crow!

cock from medieval Physiologus

While delighting in their masculine blessing and following the cock in crowing, men must also remember that they, like women, are sinners. Prudentius expressed his willingness to be judged, not as a superhero, but as merely an ordinary man:

For me, it’s enough if I don’t see a Tartarean minister’s
face, if the flame of greedy Gehenna doesn’t
devour this soul plunged into its deepest furnace.
If the failings of my body are such that will require
me to be licked in the mournful fire of cave-like Avernus,
at least may the burning be mild and slow, exhaling
warm mist, with fire diminishing so its heat would warm gently.
Let boundless splendor and temples circled by garlands
glorify others: may I have light punishment that mercifully burns.

{ at mihi Tartarei satis est si nulla ministri
occurrat facies, avidae nec flamma gehennae
devoret hanc animam mersam fornacibus imis.
esto, cavernoso, quia sic pro labe necesse est
corporea, tristis me sorbeat ignis Averno:
saltem mitificos incendia lenta vapores
exhalent aestuque calor languente tepescat;
lux inmensa alios et tempora vincta coronis
glorificent me poena levis clementer adurat. } [7]

In referring to the punishing place, Prudentius united the ancient Greek underworld Tarturus, the Roman entrance to the underworld Avernus, and the Jewish-Christian place of fiery torment, Gehenna.[8] Moreover, in his poem’s final line Prudentius associated himself with Ovid. Exiled to Tomus on the Black Sea, Ovid wrote his Sorrows {Tristia}. Ovid’s book of poetry seeks in Rome a good reader, a reader who understands his suffering:

and silently to herself, such that no hurtful man should hear, wishes
that Caesar be more lenient so that my punishment be light.

{ et tacitus secum, ne quis malus audiat, optet,
sit mea lenito Caesare poena levis. } [9]

Ovid was castrated for defying the great goddess Cybele. Prudentius personally understood the impurity of men’s sexual desire and gynocentric forces favoring harsh punishment of men’s sexuality. Prudentius voluntarily consigned himself to punishment in textual relation to Ovid.

In his poem’s final couplet, Prudentius also covertly declared his masculine poetic self worthy of garlands. The final line contains an anagram of a signature phrase {sphragis}. When that signature phrase is unscrambled, the final couplet reads:

Let boundless splendor glorify others and temples circled with garlands
glorify me: Aurelius the prudent proclaims himself.

{ lux inmensa alios et tempora vincta coronis
glorificent me poena levis clementer adurat. } [10]

In referring to the generation of vipers, John the Baptist declared that God could raise up children to Abraham from stones. All is possible with God. But remember, too, that the pinnacle of God’s creation is humans.[11]

According to traditional Greco-Roman religion, a flood wiped out all the people of the world except Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha. They wept in loneliness. Deucalion said to Pyrrha:

O wife and sister, the last woman alive,
our common race, our family, our marriage bed,
and now the perils themselves have united us.
In all the lands from sunrise to sunset
we two are the whole population; the sea holds the rest.

{ o soror, o coniunx, o femina sola superstes,
quam commune mihi genus et patruelis origo,
deinde torus iunxit, nunc ipsa pericula iungunt,
terrarum, quascumque vident occasus et ortus,
nos duo turba sumus; possedit cetera pontus. } [12]

Humanity had been reduced to a woman and a man. Deucalion then pondered an even more horrible loss:

Poor soul,
what would you feel like now if the Fates
had taken me and left you behind? How could you bear
your fear alone? Who would comfort your grief?
You can be sure that if the sea already held you,
I would follow you, my wife, beneath the sea.

{ quis tibi, si sine me fatis erepta fuisses,
nunc animus, miseranda, foret? quo sola timorem
ferre modo posses? quo consolante doleres!
namque ego (crede mihi), si te quoque pontus haberet,
te sequerer, coniunx, et me quoque pontus haberet. }

Deucalion longed to reproduce human beings:

O, if only I could restore the people of the world;
by my father’s arts, breathe life into molded clay!
Now the human race depends on the two of us.
We are, by the gods’ will, the last of our kind.

{ o utinam possim populos reparare paternis
artibus atque animas formatae infundere terrae!
nunc genus in nobis restat mortale duobus.
sic visum superis: hominumque exempla manemus. }

Lacking the conjugal teaching of Abraham’s God in Genesis, Deucalion and Pyrrha went to the temple of Themis:

When they reached the temple steps, husband and wife
prostrated themselves. With trembling lips they kissed
the cold stones and said, “If divine hearts can be softened
by righteous prayers, if the wrath of the gods can be deflected,
tell us, O Themis, how our race can be restored,
and bring aid, O most mild one, to a world overwhelmed!”

{ ut templi tetigere gradus, procumbit uterque
pronus humi gelidoque pavens dedit oscula saxo
atque ita “si precibus” dixerunt “numina iustis
victa remollescunt, si flectitur ira deorum,
dic, Themi, qua generis damnum reparabile nostri
arte sit, et mersis fer opem, mitissima, rebus!” }

In figured language the goddess told them to throw stones behind their backs. When they did, those stones began to change form and grow into humans.

As Prudentius understood, kissing cold stones and generating children from stones is no more necessary than the generation of vipers. God made cocks that can crow with the beginning of new life. The man poet Aurelius, not chaste but prudent, proclaimed his glorious masculine self. The ultimate poetic work, the poetic work most deserving of garlands, is creating new humans. For those men and women that embrace the cock and create with desires that threaten the stain of sin, may the fires of Hell be mild.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Dykes (2011) p. 152. Dykes here is interpreting Prudentius’s account of the generation of vipers in Hamartigenia.

[2] Prudentius, The Origin of Sin {Hamartigenia} vv. 584-607, Latin text from Thomson (1949) pp. 244-6, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Malamud (2011) pp. 30-1.

About Prudentius’s time, Hamartigenia seems to have had the title Amartigenia. The late-fifth-century author Gennadius refers to it by that title. The oldest manuscript of Hamartigenia, dating from the sixth century and designated A, also uses that title. Dykes (2011) p. 249. This title is rooted in the ancient Greek words for fault {ἁμαρτία} and origin {γένεσις}. However, as Dykes points out, “the aetiology of sin is by no means the poet’s only concern.” Id. p. 251.

Prudentius’s writings, particularly his Psychomachia, were highly respected in relatively learned medieval Europe. About 300 manuscripts of Prudentius have survived. These manuscripts have been the subject of vigorous philological debate according to high standards of reason. See, e.g., Cunningham (1968) and Cunningham (1971). The best Latin text of Prudentius’s Hamartigenia is currently Pallia (1981).

Prudentius is a highly creative and extremely sophisticated poet. Cunningham noted:

Not only do the poems of Prudentius, for the most part, lack direct filiation in the classical Latin tradition; a good many of them in fact represent striking innovations even in terms of contemporary practice so far as we know it.

Cunningham (1976) p. 61.

[3] The generation of vipers is well-known in ancient literature. Writing about 440 BGC, Herodotus explained the generation of vipers:

As it is, when they pair, and the male is in the very act of generation, the female seizes him by the neck. She doesn’t release her grip until she has devoured him. Thus the male dies, but the female is punished for his death. The young avenge their father. They eat their mother while they are still within her. They don’t come forth until they have devoured her womb.

{ νῦν δ᾽ ἐπεὰν θορνύωνται κατὰ ζεύγεα καὶ ἐν αὐτῇ ᾖ ὁ ἔρσην τῇ ἐκποιήσι, ἀπιεμένου αὐτοῦ τὴν γονὴν ἡ θήλεα ἅπτεται τῆς δειρῆς, καὶ ἐμφῦσα οὐκ ἀνιεῖ πρὶν ἂν διαφάγῃ. ὁ μὲν δὴ ἔρσην ἀποθνήσκει τρόπῳ τῷ εἰρημένῳ, ἡ δὲ θήλεα τίσιν τοιήνδε ἀποτίνει τῷ ἔρσενι: τῷ γονέι τιμωρέοντα ἔτι ἐν τῇ γαστρὶ ἐόντα τὰ τέκνα διεσθίει τὴν μητέρα, διαφαγόντα δὲ τὴν νηδὺν αὐτῆς οὕτω τὴν ἔκδυσιν ποιέεται. }

Herodotus, Histories 3.109, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified unsubstantially for readability) by Godley (1920) via Persesus. Similarly, Pliny, Natural History 10.62.169-70 in Latin with diction apparently unrelated to Prudentius’s description.

The Physiologus, probably written in Greek in Egypt in the second half of the third century and translated into Latin soon thereafter, is closely associated with Prudentius’s figure of the generation of vipers. The Physiologus explicitly refers to John the Baptist calling the crowd coming to him a generation of vipers. Matthew 3:7, Luke 3:7. The Physiologus uses the distinctive term catuli {cubs} in referring to the viper’s offspring:

When it does sexual intercourse, the male inserts his head into the female, and she swallows his semen. She bites off his masculine genitals and he immediately dies. You understand, therefore, what falsely alluring sexual relations will do. And when the cubs come forth from the belly of the female viper, their gnawings perforate her side and they send out their mother to the dead.

{ Quando coitum facit masculus infert os eius in feminam, et illa degluciens semen. abscidit virilia eiusdem masculi et moritur statim. Intellege ergo, quid faciet concubitus meretricius. Cum autem creverint catuli in ventre viperam perforant mordentes latus ejus et exeunt mortua matre. }

Latin text dating from no later than the eleventh century from Maurer (1967) p. 81, my English translation. The ninth-century Bern Physiologus describes the male and female vipers as human-crocodile chimeras, but their sexual intercourse is similar. Malamud (2011) p. 132. Other medieval versions of the Physiologus moralize the vipers’ sexual intercourse more extensively in relation to humans. See, e.g. White (1954) pp. 170-3. On the dating of the Physiologus, Scott (1998). The Physiologus / beastiary literature has an enormously complex literary history. On that literary history, Kay (2016).

[4] Prudentius described the devil as three-tongued and having a coiled belly like a snake. Hamartigenia vv. 195-205. Regarding Prudentius’s description of the generation of vipers, Dykes commented perceptively:

the union of the snakes is blatantly eroticized and blankly explicit … Actions and words seem not to be well matched here. We have the vocabulary of love, romance and the marriage covenant, mixed with the pejorative, the quasi-medical and the abusive; this adds additional unease to the reader’s experience.

Dykes (2011) p. 150. The reader should feel uneasy. In Hamartigenia, “Sin is responsible for the present configuration of the world.” Moreover, “the world is a microcosm of man”; “the world projects human responsibility.” Id. pp. 39, 41, and the title for id., Ch. 2. In Prudentius’s words, “the life of the human gives an example for all else to sin {exemplum dat vita hominum, quo cetera peccent}.” Hamartigenia v. 250. Acccording to Conybeare, “What is at stake is the spiritual health of the reader.” Conybeare (2007) p. 226. The stakes are actually much bigger.

[5] Prudentius, Book of the Daily Round {Liber Cathemerinon} 1, “Hymn at Cock-Crow {Hymnus ad galli cantum},”  st. 10-12 (vv. 37-48), Latin text and English translation (modified slightly according to my poetic sense) from O’Daly (2012) pp. 40-1. The subsequent quote above is similarly from “Hymn at Cock-Crow” st. 13-17 (vv. 49-68) (What this bird means…). Pope (1895) provides a freely available Latin text and English translation of all of Prudentius’s hymns. Those prone to angrily “flip someone the bird” should meditate upon Prudentius’s “Hymn at Cock-Crow.”

Historically, cocks have been castrated to make them more easily raised to be slaughtered and eaten. A castrated cock is called a capon, which is different from a cuck. Castrating cocks is one element in the overall configuration of castration culture.

[6] The first quoted stanza above is “Hymn at Cock-Crow” st. 1 (vv. 1-4), sourced as previously. The subsequent two stanzas are from Ambrose of Milan, “Eternal creator of things {Aeterne rerum conditor}” st. 5-6 (vv. 17-24), Latin text and English translation from O’Daly (2012) pp. 55-6. Here’s an alternate English translation of “Aeterne rerum conditor.” On the close relationship between the two hymns, Mans (1990).

Four distichs in Aeterne rerum conditor, st. 3-4, begin with hoc. This repeated word evokes the sound of a cock crowing. The poetic effect is meaningful:

Each of these four distichs that begin with hoc have this in common: they propound a dark dilemma, whether it be night itself, or nocturnal criminality, or the tendency of sailors to stray far from land and perish at sea, or the murky spiritual issues of forgetfulness and guilt at stake in the Gospel account of Peter’s denial of Christ. Each of the four areas of difficulty is resolved by the cock’s crow: the natural light of the sun puts the darkness of night to flight; justice is restored on earth, at least until evening falls again, while wrongdoers retreat from the exposure of daylight; comfort and hope is provided to those who, at sea, are especially susceptible to the dangerous and unforgiving forces of nature; and repentance with its healing tears comes to Peter when he realizes that he has denied the one who was most important to him.

Springer (2014) p. 167. Springer deserves credit for recognizing Ambrose’s poetic sophistication in this hymn. Springer, however, regrettably lacked the courage to consistently refer to cocks as cocks. At seminal points, such as titling, he bends and shrinks to the less evocative term “rooster.”

[7] Prudentius, Hamartigenia vv. 958-66, Latin text from Thomson (1949) pp. 270-2, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Malamud (2011) pp. 46-7. These are the concluding verses of Hamartigenia.

Prudentius regretted that as a young man he engaged in misdirected and imprudent lust. In his Preface {Praefatio} to his collected works, Prudentius described himself about age 16 (having taken the toga virilis) as being “infected with vices {infectus vitiis}”:

Then lascivious brazenness
and arrogant luxury — oh, it shames and pains me! —
defiled my youth with the mud and dirt of wickedness.

{ tum lasciva protervitas
et luxus petulans — heu pudet ac piget! —
foedavit iuvenem nequitiae sordibus ac luto. }

Praefatio st. 4 (vv. 10-12), Latin text from O’Daly (2012) p. 386, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. The description infectus vitiis is from Praefatio v. 9. Here are some Latin reading notes for Prudentius’s Praefatio and the English translation of Pope (1895). While men’s sexuality is a blessing, it can be turned to wickedness.

Prudentius apparently recognized that women’s dominant position within gynocentrism arises from neither greater physical strength nor stronger intellect relative to men. Gynocentrism is a social phenomenon. Prudentius’s frank appraisal of women’s strengths relative to men doesn’t imply that Prudentius “had a low opinion of women.” Hershkowitz (2017) p. 14. Prudentius’s views of women apparently were similiar to those of Jerome. Jerome had profound concern for women, and women admired and supported him. The same was probably true of Prudentius.

[8] Prudentius similarly invoked both Tartarus and Avernus in his Psychomachia, vv. 89-97. For relevant commentary, Mastrangelo (2008) p. 26 and p. 188, n. 48.

[9] Ovid, Sorrows {Tristia} 1.1.29-30, Latin text from the Loeb edition of Wheeler (1939), my English translation. Malamud helpfully identifies Prudentius’s allusion to Ovid in the conclusion to Hamartigenia, but interprets that allusion in terms of abstract communicative problems and misunderstood theology:

In the final line of the Hamartigenia, then, Prudentius casts himself in the role of Ovid … The pointed allusion to Tristia 1.1 suggests that Prudentius saw his carmen, like Ovid’s, as double-edged, as likely to bring down the wrath of his ruler as to redeem him. It cannot but be implicated in the duplicities and snares of human language, but at the same time it offers his only hope for salvation. … How can he tell if his poetry, which he imagines as all he can offer to God, is acceptable or not? In a fallen world, where accurate vision, knowledge, and understanding are unavailable and even the word of God is subject to misinterpretation, how can a writer determine whether his words reflect divine truth or are implicated in the snaky coils of error?

Malamud (2911) p. 190. Human communication and human life in general inevitably are implicated in errors and failings. Certainly Christ, not what Prudentius wrote, was Prudentius’s hope for salvation. Prudentius’s allusion to Ovid, medieval Europe’s great teacher of love, is best understand as pointing to the importance of incarnated, flesh-and-blood love. A reader must recognize his responsibilty to live well. Dykes (2011) pp. 17-8. A reader may need to change or convert her life. Mastrangelo (2008) pp. 166-9.

[10] Prudentius, Hamartigenia vv. 965-6, my English translation of the anagram that Malamud identified and explicated. Malamud (2011) pp. 190-1, correcting an error identified in Cameron (1995) p. 482. Malamud fairly engages with criticism and reasonably justifies her reading. Id. pp. 210-11, notes 37-41. The analysis above supports Malamud’s reading, although with a much different direction of interpretation.

[11] Matthew 3:9, Luke 3:8 (stones into children of Abraham); Matthew 19:26, Luke 1:37 (all things possible with God); Genesis 1:26-30 (humans as pinnacle of God’s creation).

[12] Ovid, Metamorphoses 1.351-5, Latin text from Magnus (1892) via Perseus, English trans. (with my minor modifications) from Lombardo (2010) p. 15. The subsequent three quotes are similarly sourced from Metamorphoses 1.358-61 (Poor soul…), 1.363-6 (Oh, if only I could restore…), 1.375-80 (When they reached the temple steps…).

[images] (1) Generation of vipers. Illumination from Physiologus manuscript. Made in the second quarter of the 13th century. On folio 94r (slider page 204) in Oxford, MS. Bodleian 764. (2) Male and female human-serpent chimeras. Color-enhanced illumination from the Bern Physiologus. Made about 830. Bern, Burgerbibliothek, Cod. 318, f. 11r – Physiologus Bernensis ( (3) Cock. Illumination from Physiologus manuscript. Made in the second quarter of the 13th century. On folio 85v (slider page 186) in Oxford, MS. Bodleian 764.


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