Arian Baptistry mosaic centered on Jesus’s navel

Jesus in the Arian Baptistry mosaic

Traditional Greco-Roman and Hebrew thought associated a navel with both the center of a man and the center of the cosmos. The Arian Baptistry mosaic, constructed in Ravenna, Italy, about the end of the fifth century, has a circular design. It shows John the Baptist baptizing Jesus in the River Jordan. At the center of the circular design is Jesus’s navel. That design figures Jesus as a divine man at the center of the cosmos.

Leonardo da Vinci’s late-fifteenth-century Vitruvian Man drawing shows a man’s penis at the center of a bounding square. That geometry represents that a man’s penis is at the center of his earthly being. In the Arian Baptistry mosaic, Jesus’s penis is clearly visible in the water of the River Jordan. That depiction emphasizes that Jesus was a fully masculine man like the man of the Vitruvian Man drawing and other earthly men.

Earthly men should not be shamed for having a penis. Nor should a man be forced to make large, arbitrary, and unreasonable financial payments simply because he served a woman with the wonderful functioning of his penis. Nor should men spreading their legs to create more room for the center of their being be judged a crime (“manspreading”). Meditate on the ancient Arian Baptistry mosaic, and you will understand.

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Writing about 20 BGC, the ancient Roman architect Vitruvius in his book De architectura (On architecture) described a man’s navel as at the center of a circle circumscribing him

The Gospels describe the baptism of Jesus. See Matthew 3:13-7, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-2, John 1:29-34. The figure on the left in the Arian Baptistry mosaic is a personification of the River Jordan.

The Ostrogoth King Theodoric the Great constructed the baptistry. He was an Arian Christian. Arianism represented an early split in Christian theology over Jesus’s status in time.

[image] Arian Baptistry mosaic (excerpt). Photo thanks to Petar Milošević, via Wikimedia Commons.

ostentatio genitalium saves world from pathological gynocentrism

Darkness covered the faces of the people and its wombs were a formless void.  Self-absorbed, virtue-signaling women and impotent, self-abasing men secretly cursed the gynocentric days of their births.

holy family with infant John the Baptist

Then among these loathing people came an extraordinary, fully masculine son. His mother and father and those closest to him embraced the human fullness of his masculine being. He was a man-child, a boy. They loved him.

the Holy Family, Andrea Mantegna

The fully masculine son was a sign that would be opposed. The inner thoughts of many were filled with hate for men. Like thousands of sons at colleges and universities today, he would suffer an agonizing trial, a mockery of justice, then scourging, spitting, and expulsion. His mother pondered all these things in her heart. She prayed over his vulnerability.

Virgin adoring baby Jesus with penis

Protected and loved, he grew up to be a man. Unknowing scholars condemned him as “hyper-masculine.” Modern-day Jezebels screeched that the man was committing symbolic violence against them, and that men they smear as misogynists must protect them from men they accuse of symbolic violence. Gynocentric thought-leaders opined that the man was a woman, or at least androgynous.

Gallino crucifix, attributed to Michelangelo

Though wholly innocent, and without any sins against women or men, the man was crucified. He was crucified for being a man who testified to the truth. He cried out in compassion for his persecutors, “Father, forgive them, for they know not a father’s love.” Blood from the wound at his side flowed down to his groin. When he was taken down from the cross, he was grasping agonizingly at his groin. Mothers, here are your sons.

Zebraku lamentation

It was finished. The women who loved him looked upon his dead body in despair. They knew the facts of life and love and procreation. They didn’t dare hope for resurrection.

three mourners look upon dead Christ, by Andrea Mantegna

The rising of the dead man happened. Some institutionally entrenched scholars doubted. One wrote archly of “what certain painted folds of drapery really conceal.” For those who have eyes to see and some appreciation for Renaissance painters’ painstaking representations of drapery, what the form of the drapery about the man’s groins represents cannot be doubt. He had risen from the dead.

Christ, man of sorrows, by Maerten van Heemskerck

Holy Trinity in a glory of angels, by Lucas Cranach

The father was well-pleased with his son who fulfilled his mission. The father put his hand under his son’s thigh and swore that once again fully masculine men would be loved in the fullness of their masculine being. Then he sat his son upon a throne of grace. Let all women and men boldly approach this throne of grace in their time of need.

throne of grace, medieval carving

The man’s ostentatio genitalium, reverberating across centuries, now is readily available for all to see. He was not ashamed to call other men his brothers. Men and women today are groaning under the bondage of pathological gynocentrism. But seeing the man’s love, who can separate us from the love of each other? In this hope we are saved.

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The above is based mainly on the seminal work of Leo Steinberg. He first presented this work publicly in 1981 in a Lionel Trilling Seminar at Columbia University. For a good appreciation of Steinberg’s contribution to artistic culture, Strauss (1997).

Despite survival bias against such images, ostentatio genitalium isn’t a marginal phenomenon in surviving Renaissance images. Steinberg implicitly defined ostentatio genitalium {showing of male genitals} as “images wherein the emphasis on the genitalia of Christ is assertive and central.” He initially estimated that the number of Renaissance ostentatio genitalium images “runs past a thousand.” In his 1996 edition, he observed in retrospect that “the number {of identified ostentatio genitalium Renaissance images} by now has probably doubled.” Steinberg (1996) pp. 109, 266.

An under-appreciated strand of literary history celebrates the seminal, generative work of penises. Within traditional, Greco-Roman culture, Octavian celebrated his victory at Actium with a monumental sculpture of a penis-baring ass-driver having dominion over a donkey. Octavian’s Actium monument seems to relate to literature, most importantly Apulieus’s Metamorphoses, acknowledging the appeal of donkeys’ large penises. Greco-Roman Priapea, on the other hand, ironically critiqued brutalizing and commodifying stereotypes of men’s sexuality. Most importantly, Maximianus’s fifth elegy concluded with a reference to death, impotence, and rising. Ostentatio genitalium can be understood as a Christian refiguring of the final verses of Maximianus’s fifth elegy.

Important works of medieval literature directly affirmed men’s redeemed penises. Bernardus Silvestris’s Cosmographia celebrates penises triumphing over death. Nigellus Wireker’s Speculum stultorum metaphorically addressed penis size and the importance of generative semen. Jean de Meun’s continuation of the Romance of the Rose concluded with uniting adoration of the Virgin Mary with the lover’s genital connection to a specific, flesh-and-blood woman. In medieval Christian understanding, Jesus saved and redeemed humanity, including men and men’s sexuality. As the courtly tales of the great late-medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini indicate, God made men’s sexuality, and it became very good.

Although daring and insightful, Leo Steinberg wasn’t a meninist art historian. At crucial points he effaced masculine distinctiveness. Consider:

If, as Christianity teaches, God abased himself in becoming man, then his assumption of human genitals sounds the nadir of his self-abasement.

Steinberg (1996) p. 239. Steinberg here uses “man” for a generic human. The generic human has “human genitals” rather than masculine genitals. But Christianity doesn’t teach that God became a generic human being (“man”). Christianity teaches that God became a fully male human being with male genitals. Throughout human history, male genitals have been socially disparaged. Throughout human history, females have been privileged under dominant gynocentrism. The self-abasement of God went to the extreme by God becoming a male human being.

Steinberg didn’t recognize that men matter as a distinctive gender. Ostentatio genitalium explicitly concerns masculine genitals. Yet Steinberg explained:

In the ostentatio genitalium, the mystery of the Incarnation is reaffirmed against the drift to complacency and regains its power to startle. The Word made flesh is, after all, a difficult dogma,and routine, nominal faith easily recoils from its consequences. One assents with reservations — “made flesh,” yes, of course, but surely within decent limits. Whereas Renaissance painters, whose calling demands that they give visible witness to the enfleshment of God, must go, or choose to go, all the way. … It now appears clearer than ever that these artists, in their dealing with the totality of man’s body, brought a unique understanding to the role Western theology assigns to the genitals.

Id. p. 226. These artists weren’t dealing with a generic human’s body (“man’s body”); they were dealing with a specific male human’s body. The genitals of Christ were masculine genitals. Without knowing Latin grammatical cases, a child could look at the ostentatio genitalium images and perceive that the images show male genitals. But scholars commonly have refused to recognize men’s maleness. Understanding masculine genitals in Western theology and Western thought has hardly begun.

Scholars have been preoccupied with arguing that Jesus was not a fully male human being. Caroline Walker Bynum contributed to her rise to the pinnacle scholarly eminence with her book, Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. See Bynum (1982). Addressing his scholarly critics, Steinberg explained:

This notion of a female Savior derives above all from a sense of Christ’s side wound as an organ capable of symbolic lactation and of giving birth to the Church. … these same medieval artists who imaged the Crucified as unsexed (asexué) refused to deny him his beard, rejecting the type of the smooth-cheeked Savior common until the 10th century. Their image of Christ does not seem to posit a shift of gender so much as an “asexuation,” an ideal of manhood without the blight of sex. Though the shaming part {sc. male genitals} is omitted, no late medieval artist insinuates that the Incarnate was other than male.

Steinberg (1996) p. 247. Steinberg interpreted Renaissance paintings depicting the crucified Christ having an erection to be an extraordinary symbol of resurrection. A critic brandished the banal accusation of gender bias against women. Steinberg aptly responded, with some exasperation:

Here was no Tiresian gender contest, no vying of male with female, because the subject of Heemskerck’s image was not the power to outperform the opposite sex, but the power to override death. And the victor in the picture is male for the sufficient reason that this was Christ’s sex. Had the Trinity’s Second Person incarnated a woman, she would doubtless have resurrected in a spectacular pregnancy.

Id. p. 325, n. 30.

In a chapter he added to his 1996 enlarged edition, Steinberg provided a thorough critique of medievalist Caroline Walker Bynum’s forty-page response to his book. In a section entitled “The Body of Christ as Female in Medieval Texts,” Bynum offered a textist critique of Steinberg’s collection of ostentatio genitalium Renaissance paintings. Citing Bernard of Clairvaux’s comments on Song of Songs 1.1-2, she asserted that this text:

makes clear not only the medieval tendency to associate breasts with food (rather than sex) but also the medieval tendency to assimilate Church as Christ’s spouse with Church as Christ’s body.

Bynum (1986) p. 414. Steinberg sensibly responded and coyly speculated:

since the Virgin is singular and her breast’s status unique, it is entirely inappropriate to cite images of the Maria lactans as evidence of how “medieval people” perceived female breasts. … I would guess that the view medieval men took of bared breasts varied with the observer, the party observed, and the spur of the moment. … {Jean de Roye in Paris in 1461} writes: “And there were also three very handsome girls, representing quite naked sirens, and one saw their beautiful upright, separate, round and hard breasts, which was a very pleasant sight….” Was this de Roye being insufficiently medieval in failing to recognize that very pleasant sight as essentially alimentary? … Far be it from me to belittle the nutritional value of the maternal breast, but when San Bernardino and fellow preachers rallied against low-necked dresses, it was not to keep sources of nourishment hid.

Steinberg (1996) p. 382.

Like many scholars writing about gender, Bynum is blind to the obvious. Consider:

Robert Campin’s Madonna and Child before a Firescreen {shown below} is featured full-page {in Bynum’s work} to attend this peremptory sentence: “Mary … presents her baby as if he were bread fresh from the oven.” That fresh bread is, of course, fetched from the writings of 14th-century mystics who, Bynum reminds us, thought of Christ’s human body as food. On the strength of that thought — and because, in Campin’s picture, flametips behind the firescreen indicate a live blaze — a spry 15th-century baby is transubstantiated into baked goods. Bynum does not ask how her pronouncement sorts with the picture’s general character; whether Campin’s Christ Child looks like one incubated in that recessed hearth; or whether the mother, who has been reading and is now preparing to suckle her sprightly boy, is “presenting” this Child like a loaf. And what will Bynum make of this latest finding: we have just learned that the painter, laboring over the composition, lowered Mary’s left hand to ensure that the Child’s penis shows.

Steinberg (1996) pp. 388-9, footnotes and parenthetical image citations omitted. The text Steinberg quoted is Bynum (1986) p. 425. Bynum’s next sentence explains her blindness and documents her tendentiousness: “Mary is assimilated to Christ and celebrant.” Id.

Robert Campin school, Madonna and Child before a Firescreen

Bynum’s scholarship has been far more influential than Steinberg’s. Bynum (1991), a collection of essays that includes her response to Steinberg, won a prestigious scholarly award and has been reprinted six times. Bynum’s work is canonical in college and post-graduate teaching on medieval literature and medieval society, and of course in gender / women’s studies. Bynum without substance characterized as questionable Steinberg’s seeing the dead Christ depicted with an erection:

Steinberg’s reading of a number of pictures of the adult Christ in which he sees an actual erection under the loincloth is questionable … I will leave aside here some of the legitimate questions critics have raised about Steinberg, such as the question of how much of the artistic attention to genitals is simply naturalism, or doubts about what certain painted folds of drapery really conceal.

Bynum (1986) pp. 404, 405. For thorough deconstruction of this rhetoric and the reality of what the paintings really represent, Steinberg (1996) pp. 310-25. Witnessing to the blind-Bynum school and the collapse of enlightenment, Wikipedia’s entry on Heemskerck’s Man of Sorrows declares: “The loincloth is claimed to be wrapped around an erection, visible to some art historians but not others.” Two presentations at the 2018 annual meeting of the Renaissance Society of America treat Bynum’s response to Steinberg as something other than risible support for oppressive, mind-numbing gynocentric ideology. See Lamoureux (2018) and Reed (2018).

Bynum is no uncompensated, evenings-and-weekends scholar freely offering cultural learning and bold, free-thinking analysis to all on the Internet. Bynum is University Professor emerita at Columbia University. She was Dean of Columbia’s School of General Studies. She served as President of the American Historical Association in 1996 and President of the Medieval Academy of America in 1997-98. She has been awarded fourteen honorary degrees, including from University of Michigan, University of Chicago, University of Pennsylvanian, and Harvard University. Bynum was awarded the Federal Republic of Germany’s Grand Merit Cross with Star and Hebrew University’s Doctor Honoris Causa. She has been elected as a Corresponding Fellow of the British Academy. She was instituted as Professor of Western Medieval History at the Institute for Advanced Study in the U.S. The Institute for Advanced Study was the home of Albert Einstein, a genius who clearly recognized American gynocentrism.

Steinberg was reluctant to challenge Bynum. He observed:

the idea that Christ’s male member could be neutered by tactics of interpretation — that it could be promoted to kinship with the stigmata as one more among the instruments of the Passion — has been remarkably well-received, and for good reason. The tactic removes an untimely reminder of Christ’s masculinity and, more important, supplants an unacceptable association with sex by an acceptable memento of suffering.

Steinberg (1996) p. 279. Now excising masculinity, demonized as “toxic masculinity” or “hyper-masculinity,” has become a pervasive social program. Steinberg expressed regret:

I regret, too, that her {Bynum’s} essay — widely assigned as required reading to neutralize mine — derailed me into a quarrel I would not have chosen to enter.

Id. p. 389. A good man, Steinberg preferred not to challenge men’s female adversaries. In the face of Bynum effacing masculinity and buttressing dominant gynocentrism, Steinberg offered the Christian understanding of neither woman nor man, but all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 4:28):

Bynum’s crtique of SC {Steinberg’s Sexuality of Christ…} thus contrives an adversarial situation, in which my perception of Renaissance pictures is seen as waging a sexual vendetta in defense of Christ’s masculinity.

This was not my design. To me, the ostentatio genitalium in the paintings discussed did not seem posed as male versus female. I read the new genital emphasis as an imaginative reintegration of the sexual into the ideally human….

Steinberg (1996) p. 365. Steinberg was a remarkably broad-minded, kind, and generous scholar. Yet his prudential weakness is all too common. If men’s Christian or non-Christian character prevents them from confronting women when necessary, then Christianity, ethics, and civilization are doomed to oblivion.

[images] (1) The Holy Family with the Infant Saint John the Baptist. Oil painting made about 1570-1573 by Flemish artist Denys Calvaert. Preserved as item P.994.3 in Hood Museum, Dartmouth College. (2) The Holy Family. Oil painting made about 1495-1500 by Italian artist Andrea Mantegna. Preserved as item AM-51-PS01 in Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister {Old Masters Picture Galley}, Dresden, Germany (via Wikimedia Commons). (3) Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Child. Oil painting made in 1483 by Italian artist Francesco Bonsignori. Preserved in Museo di Castelvecchio, Verona, Italy. (4) Crucifix. Thought to be made about 1495 and attributed to Michelangelo. Museo Nazionale del Bargello, Florence, Italy (derived from photo by Marzocco58 via Wikipedia). Here’s a similar crucifix made in 1492 and securely attributed to Michelangelo. (5) Lamentation of Christ by Master of the Žebrák Lamentation of Christ. Lime wood relief made about 1510. Preserved in the National Gallery of Prague (via Wikimedia Commons). (6) Dead Christ. Painting made about 1470-1474 by Andrea Mantegna. Preserved as item Reg. Cron. 352 in Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan, Italy (via Wikimedia Commons). (7) Man of Sorrows. Painting made about 1532 by Maarten van Heemskerck. Preserved as item S-53 in the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium (via Wikimedia Commons). (8) Holy Trinity in a Glory of Angels. Painting made about 1515-1518 by German artist Lucas Cranach the Elder. Preserved in Kunsthalle Bremen, Bremen, Germany (via WikiArt). (9) Throne of Grace (Altar of the Trinity with Saint Catherine and a bishop saint). Wood carving made about 1500 in northern Germany or Denmark. Preserved as item S30n21 in Gardner Museum, Boston, USA. On the throne of grace, Hebrews 4:16. On a pact made through a man putting his hand under another man’s thigh, Genesis 24:2. (10) Madonna and Child before a Firescreen. Oil painting, made about 1440 by the workshop of Robert Campin. Preserved as item NG2609 in the National Gallery, London, UK.

Steinberg (1996) presents and discusses all the works above, except two. One exception is the crucifix questionably attributed to Michelangelo. That crucifix has been publicly known only since 2004. Discussions of the above works and closely related works in id. are: Calvaert’s Holy Family with John the Baptist, pp. 306-9; Bonsignori’s Virgin Adoring the Sleeping Child, p. 45; Žebrák Lamentation of Christ, with other images of dead Christ with his hand on his groin, pp. 94-104, 203-6; Mantegna’s Dead Christ, p. 45; Heemskerck’s Man of Sorrows, pp. 81-90, 310-17, 324-5; Cranach’s Holy Trinity in a Glory of Angels, pp. 300-3; Throne of Grace, pp. 104-6, 210-2; Madonna and Child Before a Firescreen, pp. 259-61, 386-8.


Bynum, Caroline Walker. 1982. Jesus as Mother: Studies in the Spirituality of the High Middle Ages. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. 1986. “The body of Christ in the later Middle Ages: a reply to Leo Steinberg.” Renaissance Quarterly. 39(3): 399-439.

Bynum, Caroline Walker. 1991. Fragmentation and redemption: essays on gender and the human body in medieval religion. New York: Zone Books. {Bynum (1986), with minor writing, is Ch. 3 in this book. This book was award the 1992 Lionel Trilling Book Award. It had at least six printings by 2012.}

Lamoureux, Johanne. 2018. “Understanding the Oblivion of Steinberg’s Sexuality of Christ.” Presentation on panel “Leo Steinberg’s Sexuality of Christ Revisited II.” The 64th Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, New Orleans, 22 March – 24 March 2018 (relevant call for papers).

Reed, Julia M. 2018. “True Sex and the Truth of Sex: Interpreting the Steinberg-Bynum Exchange.” Presentation on panel “Leo Steinberg’s Sexuality of Christ Revisited I.” The 64th Annual Meeting of the Renaissance Society of America, New Orleans, 22 March – 24 March 2018.

Steinberg, Leo. 1996 (first edition in 1983). The Sexuality of Christ in Renaissance Art and in Modern Oblivion. 2nd edition, revised and expanded. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Strauss, David Levi. 1997. “Rescuing Art from Modern Oblivion.” The Wilson Quarterly. 21 (3): 34-49.

sacralizing men’s sexuality: Jacob & his wives to Jesus & his church

trivializing male sexuality in ancient Greece

From castration culture in ancient Greek myth to harsh regulation of men’s sexuality in ancient Greece to the Roman culture of trivializing and brutalizing men’s penises, the ancient Greco-Roman world devalued men’s sexuality. Ancient Hebrew culture generally treated men more humanely. Yet the account of Jacob and his wives in Genesis represents Jacob as having simple, dog-like sexuality. Within that context, the deeply learned Jewish Christian Paul of Tarsus proclaimed that men’s sexuality has sacralizing status.

Jacob saw Rachel coming with a flock of sheep to a well near Haran. With men’s deeply rooted sense that they must earn women’s love, Jacob rolled away a large stone covering the well. Then he watered Rachel’s sheep for her. This was a time before extensive and pervasive criminalization of men’s sexuality. Almost surely before securing her affirmative consent, Jacob then kissed Rachel and wept aloud. Rachel understood that Jacob wanted to marry her. She rushed home to tell her father Laban.

Laban exploited Jacob’s love for Rachel. After Jacob had worked for him for a month, earning nothing but the opportunity to be near Rachel, Laban asked Jacob what wages he sought:

Jacob loved Rachel, so he said, “I will serve you seven years for your younger daughter Rachel.” … So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her. [1]

{ וַיֶּאֱהַב יַעֲקֹב אֶת־רָחֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֶֽעֱבָדְךָ שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים
בְּרָחֵל בִּתְּךָ הַקְּטַנָּֽה

וַיַּעֲבֹד יַעֲקֹב בְּרָחֵל שֶׁבַע שָׁנִים וַיִּהְיוּ בְעֵינָיו כְּיָמִים
אֲחָדִים בְּאַהֲבָתֹו אֹתָֽהּ }

Jacob wasn’t an emotionless man. He wept in love for Rachel and joyfully worked for years in love for her.

Like many men, Jacob was romantically simple. Unlike Tobias, Jacob on his wedding night focused on fulfilling his sexual obligation. Only the next morning did he notice that the woman he had sex with was not his intended wife Rachel, but her older sister Leah. The focused, hard-working husband Jacob had fallen victim to a bed trick. He had acted narrowly in love for his wife without understanding in detail who she actually was.

Jacob served women with get-down-to-business masculine sexuality. When Laban offered, in exchange for another seven years of work, Rachel to Jacob as a second wife, Jacob accepted that offer. He then did double manly marital duty, serving both Leah and Rachel. When both Leah and Rachel sought to have more children, they sent to Jacob their maidservants. He served their maidservants sexually without any recorded deliberation or objection. The story of Leah, Rachel, and Jacob implicitly assumes that Jacob would have sex with any woman put in bed with him. That’s a beastly representation of men’s sexuality.[2]

The Jewish Christian apostle Paul of Tarsus, in contrast, taught that men’s sexuality is a precious, sacralizing gift. No more than one woman was to enjoy a given man’s sexuality, and that was to be in a mutual personal relationship of marriage:

To avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto his wife due sexual generosity and likewise also the wife unto her husband.

{ πορνείας ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἐχέτω καὶ ἑκάστη τὸν ἴδιον ἄνδρα ἐχέτω τῇ γυναικὶ ὁ ἀνὴρ τὴν ὀφειλὴν ἀποδιδότω ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἡ γυνὴ τῷ ἀνδρί } [3]

Coupling tenderness with masculine vigor, husbands’ sexual generosity to their wives is an aspect of husbands’ healthful care for their wives and helps to sanctify their wives:

Husbands, love your wives just as Christ loved the Church and give himself up for her, that he might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, so as to present a glorious church to himself, not having a spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So ought men to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no man ever hates his own body, but nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as the Lord does for the Church.

{ οἱ ἄνδρες ἀγαπᾶτε τὰς γυναῖκας καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἠγάπησεν τὴν ἐκκλησίαν καὶ ἑαυτὸν παρέδωκεν ὑπὲρ αὐτῆς ἵνα αὐτὴν ἁγιάσῃ καθαρίσας τῷ λουτρῷ τοῦ ὕδατος ἐν ῥήματι ἵνα παραστήσῃ αὐτὸς ἑαυτῷ ἔνδοξον τὴν ἐκκλησίαν μὴ ἔχουσαν σπίλον ἢ ῥυτίδα ἤ τι τῶν τοιούτων ἀλλ’ ἵνα ᾖ ἁγία καὶ ἄμωμος οὕτως ὀφείλουσιν καὶ οἱ ἄνδρες ἀγαπᾶν τὰς ἑαυτῶν γυναῖκας ὡς τὰ ἑαυτῶν σώματα ὁ ἀγαπῶν τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἑαυτὸν ἀγαπᾷ οὐδεὶς γάρ ποτε τὴν ἑαυτοῦ σάρκα ἐμίσησεν ἀλλὰ ἐκτρέφει καὶ θάλπει αὐτήν καθὼς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς τὴν ἐκκλησίαν } [4]

In Christian understanding, Christ undergoing crucifixion — his Passion — expresses God’s unbounded love for humanity in bodily action. Christian husbands are called to follow Christ in giving themselves up completely in love for their wives. Husbands’ passion for their wives in bodily action differs greatly from husbands’ loving their wives with simple, dog-like sexuality. According to Paul of Tarsus, Jesus elevated men’s sexuality to a sacralizing status. Husbands’ sexuality is for Christians a sacrament by which wives become holy.

In stark contrast to true Christian understanding, today’s demonization of men’s sexuality is a central tenet in a more oppressive  religion than has ever existed historically. Far too many couples are suffering through an epidemic of sexless marriages. Now is the time to stop believing and start questioning, even when the writer or speaker is a woman. Those who imagine themselves to be Christians have no excuse for doing otherwise.

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[1] Genesis 29:18, 20. Hebrew text (Masoretic) from Blue Letter Bible. The story as a whole spans Genesis 29-31.

[2] Jacob as “a simple man, living in tents.” Genesis 25:27. Jacob certainly was simple in his sexuality. Bible narrative recognized simple masculine sexuality. With simple, common-sense physiological reasoning, King David’s servants brought the beautiful young woman Abishag the Shunammite into his bed when he was having difficulty getting warm. King David had strong, independent sexuality, as shown in his tragic affair with Bathsheba. However, perhaps because he had gained greater ethical appreciation for his sexuality, David did not have sex with Abishag. 1 Kings 1:1-5. It’s also possible that he was irremediably impotent.

[3] 1 Corinthians 7:2-3. Greek text (Morphological GNT) here and subsequently from Blue Letter Bible. This obligation, known in medieval Europe as the “marital debt,” occasionally made defaulting men subject to harsh punishment.

[4] Ephesians 5:25-29. Coupled with the husbands’ obligation to surrender his life to his wife was a much less onerous instruction for wives:

Wives, submit yourself to your own husbands as you do to the Lord, for the husband is head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the Church, and he is the savior of the body. Therefore just as the Church is subject to Christ, so also wives should be in everything to their own husbands.

{ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἰδίοις ἀνδράσιν ὡς τῷ κυρίῳ ὅτι ἀνήρ ἐστιν κεφαλὴ τῆς γυναικὸς ὡς καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς κεφαλὴ τῆς ἐκκλησίας αὐτὸς σωτὴρ τοῦ σώματος ἀλλὰ ὡς ἡ ἐκκλησία ὑποτάσσεται τῷ Χριστῷ οὕτως καὶ αἱ γυναῖκες τοῖς ἀνδράσιν ἐν παντί }

Ephesians 5:25:22-24. Under today’s oppressive gynocentric orthodoxy, few theologians, ministers, priests, or scholars dare even to quote the above passage.

[image] Trivializing male sexuality in ancient Greece. Drunk, cavorting male nature spirits (sileni) depicted on an Attic red-figured psykter. Made between 500 and 490 BGC. Painting attributed to Douris. Preserved as item GR 1868,0606.7 (Cat. Vases E 768) in the British Museum (photo thanks to the extraordinarily generous Marie-Lan Nguyen, via Wikimedia Commons).

educating medieval men about divorce risk

stormy ahead

Despite the huge financial significance of child support and divorce law, many persons today have sex and get married in ignorance of the wildly inconsistent laws relevant to those actions. The situation was probably better in the Middle Ages. Law regulating sex was then more liberal, and family law was less sex-biased. Moreover, literature like the thirteenth-century Old French work The Little Debate {Le Petit Plet} provided useful education to men about relationships and divorce.

Persons considering sex that could produce children or pondering getting married should think carefully about the possibility of undesired change in their relationship. In addition to women being regarded as superior to men in guile, women until the modern age were also thought to be more dynamic and adaptable than men. About two millennia ago, Virgil stated, “a woman is always varying and changing {varium et mutabile semper femina}.”[1] Le Petit Plet dilated upon that commonplace:

A woman resembles a sweetbriar rose
but she behaves like the wind at sea,
now it’s to the west, now it’s to the east,
However much she chatters, just as quickly she goes silent.
There’s nothing under the sky
that’s alive and that’s mortal
that’s so prone to change, near and far,
as is the heart of a woman, when she has need.
Now it’s up, now it’s down,
now it’s inside, now it’s outside.

{ Femme resemble flur de engleter
E si se tent cum vent en mer,
Ore est al west, ore est en le est,
Quant plus jangleie, tantost se test.
N’ad desuz la chape del cel
Ren ke se moet u seit mortel,
Ke tant se change e pres e loin,
Cum quor de femme, quant ad busoin.
Si femme sent u ben u mal,
Ore est la sus, ore est la val,
Ore est dedenz, ore est dehors } [2]

Not surprisingly, authorities have declared that women are biological superior to men in the skills most important in today’s fast-changing economy. Yet women’s superior dynamism has dangers for men in their relationships with women:

Women change themselves from the past.
I have seen chaste and faithful wives
in little time become whores,
and those who were unequaled in sweetness
turn nasty in the end,
and innocent, sweet, and demure ones turn
to put their lovers in a bad scene.

{ Femmes changer sa en arere.
Jo ai veu chaste espuse e leale
En poi de ure devenir cursale,
E tele ke de dulçur n’aveit per
Mult felunesse au paraler,
E mult simple, duce e coye
Mettre sun dru en male voie. }

Of course all human relationships are fraught with risk. But women’s social superiority allows them to easily smear and destroy men, including their husbands:

Most of the divorces that occur
women make by their nastiness.
If there’s anything that displeases them,
they gather in social groups to discuss their complaints.
One says that her husband
is a great scoundrel, and not because of her.
Another says that hers is a goat.
The husband of another is a malicious villain.
This one says she has cause for a big complaint,
since he doesn’t do with her what he is obliged to do.
Thus each woman strains to cause an angry fight
by bringing shame upon her sweet lover.
Each knows well what advances her interests,
so that she can obtain a separation;
if not, she believes she’s been so dishonored
that her husband won’t have a day of peace in the rest of his life.

{ Les plus devorz ke unt esté
Firent femmes par mauvesté.
Si ren i ad ke lur desplet,
Enz en chapitres moevent lur plet.
L’une dist ke le soen mari
Est lere fort, si n’est par li.
L’autre dist ke le soen est un chevre,
L’espus a l’autre est felun e enrevre.
Icele dist ke ele ad grant dreit
Ke cil ne li fet ke fere deit.
Issi se peine por un curuz
Chescune hunir sun ami duz.
Ben quide chescune ke ben se avance,
Si porchaser poet la deseverance;
Si nun, mult se tendra hunie,
Ne il n’avera pes jur de sa vie. }

The medieval Latin masterpiece Solomon and Marcolf dramatically presented women’s political power. That political power promotes grotesquely anti-men divorce judgments.

Enlightenment is men’s best hope for improving their lives. Yet in our doctrinaire and repressive age, intellectually alive and curious persons have few contemporary learning resources for considering thoughts and perspectives outside of gynocentric orthodoxy. Studying medieval literature is thus vital for enlightenment today.

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[1] Virgil, Aeneid 4.569.

[2] Chardri, The Little Debate {Le Petit Plet} ll. 1299-1308, Old French text from Merrilees (1970), my English translation with help from Cartlidge (2015) p. 142. The subsequent two quotes are similarly from Le Petit Plet ll. 1386-92 (Women change themselves…) and ll. 1393-1408 (Most of the divorces…).

Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger) similarly appreciated women’s dynamism:

Nothing is as mobile as a woman’s will; nothing is so easily changing.

{ Nihil tam mobile quam foeminarum voluntas, nihil tam vagum. }

De remediis fortuitorum, Latin text from Palmer (1953) p. 62, my English translation. On the textual history of De remediis fortuitorum, see note [3] in my post on medieval lesson in winning women’s love.

[images] Stormy ahead. Derived from photo released under CCO / Public Domain license by Good Free Photos.


Cartlidge, Neil, trans. 2015. The works of Chardri: three poems in the French of thirteenth-century England; The Life of the Seven Sleepers, The Life of St. Josaphaz and The Little Debate. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Merrilees, Brian S., ed. 1970. Chardri. Le petit plet. Oxford: Blackwell.

Palmer, Ralph Graham, ed. 1953. Seneca’s De Remediis Fortuitorum and the Elizabethans. An essay on the influence of Seneca’s ethical thought in the sixteenth century, together with the newly-edited Latin text and English translation of 1547 by Robert Whyttynton. Institute of Elizabethan Studies: Chicago.

pious man’s hypocrisy exposed him to being raped by woman

medieval representation of lust

Introducing a story about “a certain blessed Paul {Paulo cuidam Beato}” who lived in Pisa, the eminent medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini declared:

The hypocrite is, of all types, the worst that lives.

{ Hypocritarum genus pessimum est omnium qui vivant. }

Paul was one of those destitute persons who sat outside a doorway, yet never asked for alms. Rather than speaking of his need, he waited for others to recognize his need and provide for him. That’s not what made Paul a hypocrite.

Paul sometimes sat outside a widow’s doorway. She always gave him alms in the form of food. The widow developed keen appreciation for Paul’s masculine beauty:

She, from often seeing Paul (he was beautiful), became inflamed with him. Once after giving him food, she asked him to come back the next day, saying that she would take care that he was well fed. He thus became a frequent visitor to her house. She at last asked the man to come in to take his food. He consented to this, and when he had richly stuffed his belly with food and drink, the woman, amorously impatient, embracing and kissing him, asserted that he shouldn’t depart before knowing her intimately.

{ Illa, conspicata saepius virum (erat enim formosus) exarsit in Paulum, ciboque dato rogavit, ut postridie rediret, se curaturam ut bene pranderet. Cum frequens domum mulieris accessisset, illa tandem rogavit hominem ut intus accederet ad sumendum cibum; annuit hic, et cum opipare ventrem cibo potuque farsisset, mulier, libidinis impatiens, virum amplectitur, osculaturque, asserens non inde abiturum, priusquam se cognoscat. }

From a medieval Christian perspective, Paul committed the sin of gluttony. Moreover, he hypocritically pretended to reject the sin of fornication:

He feigned reluctance and pretended to detest the woman’s fervent desiring. The widow pressed upon him lewdly, until he finally gave way to her importuning. “Since,” he said, “you are determined to bring about such a sin, I take God as my witness that all this work is yours. I am far from having any guilt. You therefore take the cursed meat (his shaft was indeed already erect) and use it as you please. I will not even touch it.” Thus he unwillingly submitted to the woman and adhering to abstinence didn’t touch the meat nearest to him. The whole sin he attributed to the woman.

{ Ille reluctanti similis, ac detestans mulieris ferventem cupiditatem, cum illa obscenius instaret, tandem cedens viduae importunitati: “Posteaquam,” inquit, “tantum malum patrare cupis, testor Deum, opus tuum erit: ego procul absum a culpa. Tu ipsa,” inquit, “cape hanc maledictam carnem” (iam enim virga erecta erat), “et ipsamet utere, ut lubet: ego enim eam minime tangam.” Ita invitus mulierem subegit, licet propter abstinentiam non tangeret carnem suam, totum peccatum tribuens mulieri. }

According to modern rape doctrine interpreted with respect for equal justice under law, Paul didn’t affirmatively consent to having sex with the widow. She therefore raped him. But women raping men isn’t defined as real rape. With more enlightened and humane understanding, medieval jurists probably would attribute some culpability to Paul. He stuffed himself with meat from the table and treated the meat in his pants hypocritically.

Men, while pretending that they are innocent and unwilling, shouldn’t entice women into having sex. Most men don’t do that. Women shouldn’t do that, either, especially given today’s viciously anti-men judgments of rape.

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The quotes above are from a story preserved by the great medieval church official Poggio Bracciolini. Poggio recorded the story as Facetiae 6, “About a widow lustfully inflamed with a pauper {De vidua accensa libidine cum paupere},” Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 1, pp. 21-4, my English translation with help from that of id. Poggio attributed this story to a person he met at a party. That person told this story when the subject of hypocrites became the subject of vigorous discussion.

Medieval authorities believed that widows had strong, independent sexuality. Medieval thinkers also closely associated the sins of gluttony and lust.

[image] A demon masturbating to satisfy his lust. From a 13th-century manuscript. Image via Grammaticus VII and Wikimedia Commons.


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

Luke’s diptych of Zechariah & Mary shows men’s weakness

Zechariah and Mary

After its dedicatory preface to Theophilus (literally, “lover of God”), the Gospel of Luke presents a diptych of birth narratives in which Zechariah and Mary have sharply contrasting positions. Zechariah served the Jerusalem temple altar that was central to Jewish religious life. He was a descendant of Aaron, the brother of Moses.[1] Mary, in contrast, was a lowly young Jewish woman living in the provincial town of Nazareth. Yet the angel Gabriel treated Mary with much more respect and generosity than he treated Zechariah. Moreover, Mary had a much stronger sense of self than did Zechariah. Luke’s diptych of Zechariah and Mary should be understood as a stunning revelation of men’s weakness.

When the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary, he treated her kindly and respectfully. He greeted her warmly and affirmatively:

Greetings, highly favored one, the Lord is with you.

{ Χαῖρε κεχαριτωμένη ὁ κύριος μετὰ σοῦ } [2]

Mary, not surprisingly, was confused by these words. She kept pondering what sort of greeting this was. Then Gabriel said to her:

Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God.

{ μὴ φοβοῦ Μαριάμ εὗρες γὰρ χάριν παρὰ τῷ θεῷ }

Gabriel went on to tell Mary that she would conceive a great son who would reign over the house of Jacob forever. Gabriel told Mary to name her son Jesus. Mary, confused, questioned the angel and offered a reason for doubt:

How can this be, since I am a virgin?

{ πῶς ἔσται τοῦτο ἐπεὶ ἄνδρα οὐ γινώσκω }

Gabriel then patiently explained to Mary that the Holy Spirit would come upon her, and that nothing is impossible with God.

The angel Gabriel treated Zechariah, in contrast, quite harshly. When Zechariah was hard at work incensing the Lord’s altar in Jerusalem, Gabriel appeared to him without any greeting and terrified him. Gabriel calmed Zechariah as he had calmed Mary, but without any personal affirmation:

Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your petition has been heard.

{ μὴ φοβοῦ Ζαχαρία διότι εἰσηκούσθη ἡ δέησίς σου }

Zechariah had found favor with God in the sense that his wife Elizabeth would bear a son. Just as Gabriel instructed Mary in naming, he instructed Zechariah to name his son John. Gabriel told Zechariah that John, like Jesus, would be a great son. Like Mary, Zechariah, confused, questioned the angel and offered a reason for doubt:

How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.

{ κατὰ τί γνώσομαι τοῦτο ἐγὼ γάρ εἰμι πρεσβύτης καὶ ἡ γυνή μου προβεβηκυῖα ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις αὐτῆς }

While to Mary’s questioning Gabriel responded warmly and receptively, to Zechariah’s questioning Gabriel responded agonistically, emphatically asserting his superior status:

I am Gabriel, who stands in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this.

{ ἐγώ εἰμι Γαβριὴλ ὁ παρεστηκὼς ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ καὶ ἀπεστάλην λαλῆσαι πρὸς σὲ καὶ εὐαγγελίσασθαί σοι ταῦτα }

Then Gabriel declared that Zechariah would be punished for his questioning:

you shall be silent and unable to speak until the day when these things take place, because you did not believe my words which will be fulfilled in their proper time.

{ ἔσῃ σιωπῶν καὶ μὴ δυνάμενος λαλῆσαι ἄχρι ἧς ἡμέρας γένηται ταῦτα ἀνθ’ ὧν οὐκ ἐπίστευσας τοῖς λόγοις μου οἵτινες πληρωθήσονται εἰς τὸν καιρὸν αὐτῶν }

Why did Gabriel treat Zechariah so harshly?[3] Could this biblical text provide insight into why ruling authorities today hold behind bars fifteen times more men than women, and hardly anyone cares?

Mary apparently had a much stronger sense of self than did Zechariah. When Mary’s relative Elizabeth called her blessed, Mary responded:

My soul exalts the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant. Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One had done great things for me, and holy is his name.

{ μεγαλυνει η ψυχη μου τον κυριον και ηγαλλιασεν το πνευμα μου επι τω θεω τω σωτηρι μου
ὅτι ἐπέβλεψεν ἐπὶ τὴν ταπείνωσιν τῆς δούλης αὐτοῦ ἰδοὺ γὰρ ἀπὸ τοῦ νῦν μακαριοῦσίν με πᾶσαι αἱ γενεαί
ὅτι ἐποίησέν μοι μεγάλα ὁ δυνατός καὶ ἅγιον τὸ ὄνομα αὐτοῦ } [4]

In these verses, Mary is centrally concerned with herself. Compare those verses with the first three verses that Zechariah sang in joy for the birth of his son John:

Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people,
and has raised up a mighty savior for us in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old

{ εὐλογητὸς κύριος ὁ θεὸς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ ὅτι ἐπεσκέψατο καὶ ἐποίησεν λύτρωσιν τῷ λαῷ αὐτοῦ
καὶ ἤγειρεν κέρας σωτηρίας ἡμῖν ἐν οἴκῳ Δαυὶδ παιδὸς αὐτοῦ
καθὼς ἐλάλησεν διὰ στόματος τῶν ἁγίων ἀπ’ αἰῶνος προφητῶν αὐτοῦ }

Zechariah never referred to himself. His joy was all for his people. While Zechariah was at work in the temple in Jerusalem, he was murdered by order of King Herod.[5] Dying on the job poignantly alludes to far too many men’s fates.

Most men and women are deeply deluded about men’s social status. The formal elite of modern societies — the persons who hold positions like Zechariah did about two millennia ago — have been primarily men. They have been a very small share of men. Moreover, far from serving the interests of all men, elite men have had little consciousness even of themselves as men.

The contrast between Zechariah and Mary in the Gospel of Luke echoes the more general theme of Jesus overturning worldly status hierarchies. But that story has not yet been fully revealed and accomplished. Christians have said almost nothing about the contrast between Zechariah and Mary. The world is still groaning under the hidden hierarchy of gynocentrism.

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[1] Zechariah is also known as Zachariah, which is a more accurate transliteration of the Greek form of his name. Zechariah belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife Elizabeth was a descendant of Aaron. Luke 1:5. Abijah headed one of the houses of the descendants of Aaron. 1 Chronicles 24:10. Connecting Zechariah less directly than Elizabeth to Aaron in Luke 1:5 might be another way in which Luke signals gynocentrism. While Zechariah periodically traveled to work in Jerusalem, his home was in the hill country of Judea. Luke 1:39. That may have been Hebron. Joshua 21:11. Hebron is about 25 miles south of Jerusalem.

As Luke’s formal address to Theophilus indicates, the Gospel of Luke was written for a relatively learned Greek audience. Luke is written in more learned Greek than is the Gospel of Mark.

[2] This and subsequent quotes are from Chapter 1 of Luke. The Greek text is the Morphological GNT from the Blue Letter Bible. The English translation is mainly the Revised Standard Version, but in some instances I’ve used a more literal translation for particular words, or adjusted the clause order to follow the Greek.

[3] Orthodox Christian tradition indicates that Zechariah was punished for the weakness of his faith in doubting the angel Gabriel’s prophecy. See the Orthodox life of Saint Zachariah. Mary also seems to have doubted Gabriel’s prophecy for her.

The Qur’an treats Zechariah (Zachariah) less harshly than Luke. It describes his muteness as a sign indicating the truth of Gabriel’s prophecy, not punishment of Zechariah for some offense. Qur’an 19:10. It also places Zechariah among the righteous with Jesus. Qur’an 6:85.

[4] This text is from the Mary’s song known as the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). Subsequent verses of the Magnificat don’t include first-personal address. The subsequent quote is from Zechariah’s song known as the Benedictus (Luke 1:68-79). None of the subsequent verses of the Benedictus include first-personal address.

[5] Matthew 23:35. Both Christian and Muslim traditions identify Zechariah, the son of Barachiah, with Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist.

[image] Zechariah and Mary. Image constructed from a medieval Georgian fresco of Zechariah in the Holy Cross Monastery in Jerusalem (via Wikimedia) and a mosaic of Mary, the mother of Jesus, made about 1118 GC in the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople (via Josep Renalias and Wikimedia Commons).

medieval men regarded themselves as inferior to women

optical illusion: man & frog

The women-are-wonderful effect has been scientifically established only in recent decades. Yet men have long regarded themselves as inferior to women. Medieval men rightly recognized that women as masters of persuasion who thoroughly dominate men.

In Chardri’s thirteenth-century work The Little Debate {Le Petit Plet}, a young worldly man bluntly explained to a naive old man the reality of men’s inferiority to women:

There’s no man living under the sky
who she can’t deceive by pretenses of beauty.
She’d make you perceive weak is strong,
she’d make you perceive what’s right is wrong,
she’d make you perceive what’s cold is hot,
she’d make you perceive what’s low is high,
she’d make you perceive what’s white is black,
what’s foolish a woman would make you perceive as wise.

There’s no woman under the clouds,
whether she’s young or old,
who if she wants to hurt you somehow,
won’t bring you to ruin.

{ N’ad suz cel home ki seit vivant
Ke ele ne deceive par beau semblant.
Ele vus fet de feble fort,
Ele vus fet de dreit le tort,
Ele vus fet de freit le chaut,
Ele vus fet de bas le haut,
Ele vus fet de blanc le neir,
De la folie vus fra le saveir.

N’ad femme ke seit desuz la nue,
Ke jofne seit u seit chanue,
Si ele vus vout gures grever,
Ke ele ne vus face mal achever. }

Even in medieval Europe, men were astonishingly willing to listen and believe women. A medieval woman convinced a medieval man that he didn’t actually see his wife having sex with another man. Another medieval man believed what his wife told him when she told him he that he had died. A man’s estate hardly mattered: a medieval priest, knight, and townsman all believed they were responsible for a woman’s pregnancy. All three surely weren’t the sperm donor.

Some men have tried to overcome their inferiority to women. Pitas Payas in medieval Brittany painted a lamb on his wife’s groin to protect her chastity while he was on a business trip. His painting skills didn’t help. Another scholarly medieval man attempted to compile a encyclopedic book of women’s wiles. He soon gave up on his scholarly project. At least both rape of women (but not of men) and falsely accusing a man of raping a woman have been regarded as serious matters throughout history until recent decades. Nonetheless, only gods saved a medieval man from his adulterous wife.

Unlike the Middle Ages, our more ignorant, bigoted, and repressive age doesn’t understand that sex differences in guile have great public significance. In the fourth century, Gregory of Nazianzus told the young bride Olympiada that then-prevalent talk about the equality of the sexes was silliness, for women are morally superior to men. That lesson has been forgotten. Gender equality will not be achieved until men penetrate the gender gap in guile.

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The quote above is from Chardri, The Little Debate {Le Petit Plet} ll. 1217-32, Old French (Anglo-Norman) text from Merrilees (1970) pp. 40-1, my English translation, benefiting from that of Cartlidge (2015) p. 140. Marie de France and Matheolus also deployed the rhetorical technique of enantiosis in describing women’s ability to persuade men to deny their own personal experience. See note [1] in my post on men’s inferiority in guile. Ovid, Ars amatoria, 1.249-253, advises men to be wary of judging women’s appearance at night. Medieval scholars recognized that warning to be insufficient.

[image] Optical illusion disc. From McLean’s Optical Illusions or Magic Panorama Box, published in 1833. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Cartlidge, Neil, trans. 2015. The works of Chardri: three poems in the French of thirteenth-century England; The Life of the Seven Sleepers, The Life of St. Josaphaz and The Little Debate. Tempe, Arizona: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Merrilees, Brian S., ed. 1970. Chardri. Le petit plet. Oxford: Blackwell.