how Homer and Hesiod used gender in hawk-dove metaphors

hawk attacking

Both Homer’s Iliad and Hesiod’s Works and Days employ metaphorically a strong, violent male hawk attacking a weak, helpless, female dove or nightingale. Constructed threats to females commonly function within false gender violence stereotyping to mobilize urgent concern for females. The predominate gender structure of violence in life and literature, however, is violence against men. Both Homer and Hesiod redirected gendered bird metaphors to depict violence against men.

Toward the end of Homer’s Iliad, the great Trojan warrior Hector held his ground in front of the gates of Troy, expecting the enraged, fearsome Achaean warrior Achilles to charge towards him. Then it happened:

Hector looked up, saw him, started to tremble,
nerve gone, he could hold his ground no longer,
he left the gates behind and away he fled in fear —
and Achilles went for him, fast, sure of his speed
as the wild mountain hawk, the quickest thing on wings,
launching smoothly, swooping down on a cringing dove,
and then she flits out from under, the hawk screaming
over the quarry, plunging over and over, his fury
driving him down at her to tear his kill

{ Ἕκτορα δ᾿, ὡς ἐνόησεν, ἕλε τρόμος· οὐδ᾿ ἄρ᾿ ἔτ᾿ ἔτλη
αὖθι μένειν, ὀπίσω δὲ πύλας λίπε, βῆ δὲ φοβηθείς·
Πηλεΐδης δ᾿ ἐπόρουσε ποσὶ κραιπνοῖσι πεποιθώς.
ἠύτε κίρκος ὄρεσφιν, ἐλαφρότατος πετεηνῶν,
ῥηιδίως οἴμησε μετὰ τρήρωνα πέλειαν,
ἡ δέ θ᾿ ὕπαιθα φοβεῖται, ὁ δ᾿ ἐγγύθεν ὀξὺ λεληκὼς
ταρφέ᾿ ἐπαΐσσει, ἑλέειν τέ ἑ θυμὸς ἀνώγει } [1]

Hector like a dove raced around the walls of Troy three times with the hawk Achilles in furious pursuit. Then Hector, deceived by the goddess Athena, ceased his dovish flight. He turned and stood to fight Achilles. Hector taking this socially constructed masculine position set up violence against men.[2] That’s normative violence in human societies.

Normative violence against men devalues men as a gender. After Hector failed to hurt Achilles with a spear throw, Hector realized that the goddess had deceived him. He understood that his death was near:

“So now I meet my doom. Well let me die —
but not without struggle, not without glory, no,
in some great clash of arms that even men to come
will hear of down the years!” And on that resolve
he drew the whetted sword that hung at his side,
tempered, massive, and gathering all his force
he swooped like a soaring eagle
launching down from the dark clouds to earth
to snatch some helpless lamb or trembling hare.

{ “μὴ μὰν ἀσπουδί γε καὶ ἀκλειῶς ἀπολοίμην,
ἀλλὰ μέγα ῥέξας τι καὶ ἐσσομένοισι πυθέσθαι.”
Ὣς ἄρα φωνήσας εἰρύσσατο φάσγανον ὀξύ,
τό οἱ ὑπὸ λαπάρην τέτατο μέγα τε στιβαρόν τε,
οἴμησεν δὲ ἀλεὶς ὥς τ᾿ αἰετὸς ὑψιπετήεις,
ὅς τ᾿ εἶσιν πεδίονδε διὰ νεφέων ἐρεβεννῶν
ἁρπάξων ἢ ἄρν᾿ ἀμαλὴν ἢ πτῶκα λαγωόν } [3]

The male eagle or hawk drives himself to his own death. He cannot conceive of men’s inglorious position as a gender. So it was with Hector. Achilles, at advantage with the long reach of his spear, drove its point through Hector’s throat and killed him. The death-blow to the throat is telling. Gynocentric stereotype-disseminators at the commanding heights of the classics discipline speak preposterous lies about the silencing of women. No social silence is more oppressive than the silence about violence against men.

Hesiod’s Works and Days employs a gendered bird metaphor with literary sophisticating far beyond the socially favored stereotype of the strong, brutish male attacking the weak, appealing female. Hesiod’s gendered bird metaphor is a “fable {αἶνος}” for “kings {βᾰσῐλεῖς}”:

This is how the hawk addressed the colorful-necked nightingale,
carrying her high up among the clouds, grasping her with his claws,
while she wept piteously, pierced by his curved claws. He forcefully said:
“Silly bird, why are you crying out? One far superior to you is holding you.
You are going wherever I shall carry you, even if you are a singer.
I shall make you my dinner if I wish, or I shall let you go.
Stupid is he who would wish to contend against those stronger:
he will be deprived of victory and suffer pains in addition to shame.”

{ ὧδ᾽ ἴρηξ προσέειπεν ἀηδόνα ποικιλόδειρον,
ὕψι μάλ᾽ ἐν νεφέεσσι φέρων, ὀνύχεσσι μεμαρπώς·
ἡ δ᾽ ἐλεόν, γναμπτοῖσι πεπαρμένη ἀμφ᾽ ὀνύχεσσιν,
μύρετο· τὴν ὅ γ᾽ ἐπικρατέως πρὸς μῦθον ἔειπεν·
“δαιμονίη, τί λέληκας; ἔχει νύ σε πολλὸν ἀρείων·
τῇ δ᾽ εἶς ᾗ σ᾽ ἂν ἐγώ περ ἄγω καὶ ἀοιδὸν ἐοῦσαν·
δεῖπνον δ᾽ αἴ κ᾽ ἐθέλω ποιήσομαι ἠὲ μεθήσω.
ἄφρων δ᾽ ὅς κ᾽ ἐθέλῃ πρὸς κρείσσονας ἀντιφερίζειν·
νίκης τε στέρεται πρός τ᾽ αἴσχεσιν ἄλγεα πάσχει.” } [4]

Among nightingales, the male, not the female, sings the nightingale’s well-known songs. The short epimythium for this gendered bird metaphor in fact places a male (“Stupid is he…”) in the position of the nightingale. Roman women could be more brutally violent than Roman men. According to eminent ancient Greek playwrights, Greek women behaved similarly. Sophisticated ancient Greek readers would have understood the bird gendering in the hawk fable to be merely a superficial, gynocentric stereotype.

Hesiod’s message to his readers contradicts the fable’s epimythium that the hawk declares. Hesiod as narrator describes the “might makes right” ethos as leading to societal disaster: “there will be no safeguard against evil {κακοῦ δ᾽ οὐκ ἔσσεται ἀλκή}.” Hesiod urges, “give heed to justice {σὺ δ᾽ ἄκουε Δίκης}.” When a society respects justice, that society will be spared war — institutionally structured violence against men. Moreover, in that society wives will have children that resemble their husbands: men will not be victims of reproductive fraud.[5] In stark contrast to the society of “might makes right,” the justice-respecting society will be fruitful and flourish.

The poet Hesiod associates himself with the nightingale-singer that the hawk attacks. Men vastly predominate among the victims of violence. That’s especially true in the epic violence of Homer’s Iliad. Hesiod poetically seeks to extract men from epic violence against men:

By virtue of the properties, actions, and manner of speech assigned to it, the aggressor embodies not just the value system that Hesiod will subsequently reject but also a genre of poetry (and the ethics that genre foregrounds) that prove antithetical to the larger composition in which the bird appears. … Viewed this way, the ainos {fable} forms part of an ongoing polemic within the Works and Days that compares, contrasts, and devalues martial epic and sets it against Hesiod’s current enterprise with its focus on agricultural labor, domestic arrangements, and the earth. … a hostile encounter between two birds not only configures a contrast between two ethical systems but also between the two styles and genres of poetry that articulate those values. [6]

For Hesiod, employing the hawk-nightingale anti-men gender stereotype was merely a superficial rhetorical means to engage in broad criticism of violence against men and the discursive fields that support violence against men.

Men deserve justice. Authors with enormous symbolic power now use men’s rights — men’s equal rights as fully human beings — as an operative label in what might fairly be called vicious, mindless libel.[7] Homer and Hesiod saw through the anti-men gender stereotyping of hawk-dove metaphors. You should, too.

O Perses, ponder this matter in your heart,
give heed to justice, and evict violence from your mind.
For among humans Cronus’s son Zeus set this law:
that fish and beasts and birds of prey
eat one another, since justice is not among them.
But to humans he has given justice, by far the best gift.
For one who recognizes justices and declares it publicly,
that one far-seeing Zeus gives blissful abundance.

{ ὦ Πέρση, σὺ δὲ ταῦτα μετὰ φρεσὶ βάλλεο σῇσιν,
καί νυ Δίκης ἐπάκουε, βίης δ᾽ ἐπιλήθεο πάμπαν.
τόνδε γὰρ ἀνθρώποισι νόμον διέταξε Κρονίων,
ἰχθύσι μὲν καὶ θηρσὶ καὶ οἰωνοῖς πετεηνοῖς
ἔσθειν ἀλλήλους, ἐπεὶ οὐ Δίκη ἐστὶ μετ᾽ αὐτοῖς·
ἀνθρώποισι δ᾽ ἔδωκε Δίκην, ἣ πολλὸν ἀρίστη
γίνεται· εἰ γάρ τίς κ᾽ ἐθέλῃ τὰ δίκαι᾽ ἀγορεῦσαι
γινώσκων, τῷ μέν τ᾽ ὄλβον διδοῖ εὐρύοπα Ζεύς } [8]

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[1] Homer, Iliad 22.136-42, ancient Greek text from Murray (1925), English translation (modified slightly) from Fagles (1990) p. 546. Nortwick & Steadman (2018) provides helpful notes and a vocabulary list for this passage.

Fagles’s translation obscures the female gender of the dove. Via small changes, consistent, with the Greek, I’ve included pointers to the dove’s female sex. Specifically, “and the dove flits out” I’ve changed to “and then she flits out”; and “driving him down to beak and tear his kill” I’ve changed to “driving him down at her to tear his kill.” My changes are consistent with the English translation of Murray (1925).

Fagles’s translation creates a brutalizing allusion to male sexuality. Beyond the necessary meaning of the Greek, Fagles places the hawk above the dove. In Fagles’s translation, the male hawk is “over the quarry, plunging over and over / his fury driving him down” upon the dove. That makes a brutalizing allusion to male sexuality like that in Ausonius’s Wedding Cento {Cento nuptialis}.

In Iliad 22.347, Achilles internalizes the metaphor of himself as hawk. He snarls to Hector that he desires “to carve and eat your flesh raw {ὤμ᾿ ἀποταμνόμενον κρέα ἔδμεναι}.” I use the term hawk-dove metaphor broadly to encompass the Homeric epic simile of hawk and dove as well as Hesiod’s hawk-nightingale fable.

[2] Van Nortwick commented:

So, while we may condemn him {Hector} for his failure to stand and face certain death, we may also find that running only makes him more accessible to us. We see behind the heroic gestures a fully-formed, complicated human being.

Essay on Iliad 22.131-176 in Van Nortwick & Steadman (2018). Men certainly are fully human, fully-formed, complicated human beings. Men may flee from the socially constructed, oppressive male gender position when doing so is beneficial to them.

Lonsdale commented:

The simile at X 139-42 is part of a sequence of similes with ominous import for Hektor’s eventual death. It compares Achilles in pursuit of Hektor to a hawk swooping down upon a tremulous dove. As in the Hesiodic passage the distinction between predator and prey is emphasized by the use of the contrasting masculine and feminine article.

Lonsdale (1989) p. 408. Lonsdale doesn’t recognize that the deadly omen for Hector is his ceasing to behave like a dove. Hector then becomes a man facing typical violence against men.

[3] Homer, Iliad 22.304-10, ancient Greek text from Murray (1925), English translation from Fagles (1990) p. 551. Here are helpful notes and a vocabulary list for this passage.

Using the language of men-devaluing chivalry, Van Nortwick interprets this passage as “one final nod to the Trojan hero’s gallantry”:

Although — or maybe because — he knows the issue has been decided, Hector makes one last charge, and the poet gives him a valedictory simile: he swoops like an eagle swoops at a tender lamb or a cowering hare. Since we know the imminent result, the simile only adds to the pathos in Hector’s bravado.

Essay on Iliad 22.289-336 in Van Nortwick & Steadman (2018). Rather than the conventional ideology of masculine “bravado,” this eagle simile is better interpreted as a reversal of the earlier hawk-dove simile in the context of violence against men.

[4] Hesiod, Works and Days vv. 201-11, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from Most (2018). The subsequent two short quotes are similarly from Works and Days v. 201 (no safeguard against evil) and v. 213 (give heed to justice). “The Hawk and the Nightingale” (Perry 4) fable among Aesop’s fables is similar.

[5] On society spared war, Works and Days, v. 229; on wives having children who look like their husbands, Works and Days, v. 235.

[6] Steiner (2007) pp. 181, 188. Lonsdale stated:

In the Dinner of the Seven Wise Men, Cleodorus the physician says that Aesop can more justly lay claim to being the pupil of Hesiod than the poet Epimenides (one of the candidates for a place on the list of sages) since the fable of the hawk and the nightingale (Op. 202-12) first suggested to Aesop the idea of this form of proverbial wisdom spoken by many tongues. From this passage it can be inferred that since antiquity Hesiod’s hawk and nightingale has been hailed as the oldest surviving beast fable in Greek literature.

Lonsdale (1989) p. 403, footnote omitted. The Homeric hawk-dove simile, which isn’t a fable, must be older than Hesiod’s Works and Days if Hesiod was responding to it. That’s plausible.

Nelson (1997) argues that the nightingale represents the kings, not Hesiod. Her interpretation ignores gender in the fable, as well gender in similar Homeric similes. The nightingale in Hesiod’s fable is quite sympathetically portrayed. The gender reversal in interpreting the nightingale is important in critiquing epic violence against men. These interpretative foci make the nightingale an unlikely representative for the kings in the most plausible over-all interpretation of Hesiod’s moralizing Works and Days.

[7] Nagy, who has written extensively about the hawk-nightingale fable in Hesiod, concludes a review of his views:

What the lamenting poet says about the moral outrage of “might makes right” applies not only to the crooked kings of the distant past. I think it applies just as effectively to the self-styled strongmen who dominate so much of today’s troubled world.

Nagy (2018). Moral outrage has been sadly lacking as academic strong-persons, who dominate so much of today’s intellectual life, suppress knowledge-seeking and truth.

[8] Hesiod, Works and Days vv. 274-81, ancient Greek text from Most (2018), my English translation, benefiting from those of Most (2018) and Johnson (2017).

[image] Osprey preparing to dive for a fish in Florida, USA. Source image thanks to NASA and Wikimedia Commons.


Fagles, Robert, trans. and Bernard Knox, intro. and notes. 1990. The Iliad. New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking.

Johnson, Kimberly, trans. Hesiod. 2017. Theogony and Works and Days: A New Bilingual Edition. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.

Lonsdale, Steven H. 1989. “Hesiod’s Hawk and Nightingale (Op. 202-12): Fable or Omen?” Hermes. 117 (4): 403-412.

Most, Glenn W., ed. and trans. 2018. Hesiod. Theogony. Works and Days. Testimonia. Loeb Classical Library 57. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Murray, A. T., ed. and trans., revised by William F. Wyatt. 1925. Homer. Iliad.  Loeb Classical Library 171. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Nagy, Gregory. 2019. “On a fable about the hawk as a strongman.” Classical Inquires (Harvard’s Center for Hellenic Studies). Online, June 21.

Nelson, Stephanie. 1997. “The Justice of Zeus in Hesiod’s Fable of the Hawk and the Nightingale.” The Classical Journal. 92 (3): 235.

Steiner, Deborah. 2007. “Feathers Flying: Avian Poetics in Hesiod, Pindar, and Callimachus.” American Journal of Philology. 128 (2): 177-208.

Van Nortwick, Thomas, and Geoffrey Steadman. 2018. Homer: Iliad 6 and 22. Carlisle, Pennsylvania: Dickinson College Commentaries. ISBN: 978-1-947822-11-5.

Tityrus the bellwether in the terrible ram vision of Sedulius Scottus

Dark-browed girl with beautiful glances, all stony-hearted,
embrace me, your goatherd, so that I can kiss you.
There is a sweet pleasure even in empty kisses.

{ ὦ τὸ καλὸν ποθορεῦσα, τὸ πᾶν λίθος, ὦ κυάνοφρυ
νύμφα, πρόσπτυξαί με τὸν αἰπόλον, ὥς τυ φιλήσω.
ἔστι καὶ ἐν κενεοῖσι φιλήμασιν ἁδέα τέρψις. } [1]

Tityros statuette

In Sedulius Scottus’s ninth-century bellwether poem, the stolen, castrated ram Tityrus got caught in a thicket and devoured. Meanwhile, the thief went free. Unhappiness is everywhere. The elderly, quarantined in nursing homes, are dropping dead from COVID-19. Boys and girls in separate households cannot see each other and sing to each other. We are substituting castration culture for the seminal blessing.

On a mountain in Moriah, Abraham bound his son Isaac and prepared to slaughter him for a burnt offering to God. Castration culture and the seminal blessing balanced on a knife-edge. God stopped the stroke of Abraham’s knife. God provided a ram caught by its horns in a thicket as a sacrifice in place of Isaac.

Men castrate rams to make them into more tame and tasty wethers. Wethers can’t multiply themselves. Sedulius credited God with multiplying wethers:

When lofty-powered God created the world’s animals,
which the sea, land, and sky contain,
he multiplied wethers with multiple honors,
and among those bleating, made them leaders.

Into their twin nostrils he scattered proud powers,
through multiple breaths he multiplied them.

{ Cum deus altipotens animalia condidit orbis
quae mare, quae tellus, quae tenet atque polus,
multo multones tunc multiplicavit honore
inter balantes fecit eosque duces.

naribus in geminis sparsit viresque superbas,
flatibus in multis multiplicavit eos. } [2]

Pride is a foul-smelling sin in the nose of Christians, who are grateful to God for their created being.[3] Lacking the seminal blessing carried in twin testicles, wethers comically have pride in their twin nostrils, in their own ability to breathe. Sheep and other bleating animals are known to be stupid. Being a leader among sheep is no great credit. Tityrus was a leader of sheep. He was a bellwether.

castrating lamb

Once men are castrated, they can be exploited more easily. When Iphiklos saw his father Phylakos castrating a ram, he understood and ran away.[4] Castration is the route to being slaughtered. Regarding wethers, Sedulius confessed:

Thus, I confess, my affection for them has increased,
as has my love for their fleece and fat belly.
I swear by these fingers, that in this I never lie:
that I crave them, prize them, always love them,
and not even the river Lethe will obliterate this holy love.
What my mouth proclaims, my mind consciously asserts.

{ Unde mihi, fateor, horum dilectio crevit,
crevit amor pepli, pinguis et umbilici.
Iuro per hos digitos, quod in hoc non mentior umquam:
tales quod cupio, diligo, semper amo
nec Lethes fluvius sacrum delebit amorem.
Os quod proloquitur, conscia mens perhibit. }

The Christian cleric Sedulius didn’t love wethers with the equal partnership that medieval Christianity required of wife and husband. Sedulius, who closely identified with Tityrus, sought to consume them.[5]

Sedulius figured Tityrus as a hero like Aeneas. A thief abducted the wether Tityrus. Then a pack of dogs gave chase. Tityrus was caught in a thicket, while the thief got away. Tityrus was a “pious wether {pius multo}” and a “great-hearted hero {magnanimumque ducem}.”[6] With the ravenous, barking dogs surrounding him, he fought strongly. He inflicted many wounds on the dogs, “who reckoned that the wild animal before them was like a lion {atque leoninam rentur adesse feram}.” That was an ominous simile.[7] Nonetheless, surrounded by vicious dogs, “the distinguished one shined with his pious mouth’s words {egregius fulserat ore pio}”:

“What madness is arising in your hearts?” he said.
“Recognize me, the servant of Bishop Hartgar.
I am not the bad thief, not that petty little pilferer;
rather, I am the pious wether, the eminent leader of the flock.
If for amusement you seek to overcome a tyrannical enemy,
behold, that robber is fleeing nearby. Let’s seize him!
But if to the contrary, your rage and raucous barking
would incite you to bloody war against my tranquillity,
I swear by this head of mine, by these horns, and by
this proud forehead, I will give you the rewards you deserve.”

{ “Quis furor in vestris consurgit cordibus?” inquit,
“Gnoscite me famulum praesulis Hargarii.
Non sum latro malus, non sum furunculus ille,
sed sum multo pius, dux gregis eximius.
Si vos oblectet hostem superare tyrannum,
proximus ecce fugit fur, teneamus eum.
Sin autem rabies vestri raucusque latratus
in me tranquillum bella cruenta ciet,
per caput hoc iuro, per cornua perque superbam
hanc frontem: vobis praemia digna feram.” }

Sedulius himself was a scholar-servant of Bishop Hartgar. He probably also was the leader of a flock of scholars under Hartgar at Liège.

Sedulius had reason to sympathize with Tityrus’s battle against the dogs. Relatively liberal and tolerant medieval intellectual life didn’t repress and censor vigorous and wide-ranging criticism. Sedulius probably was subject to criticism like that which Theodulf in Charlemagne’s eighth-century court directed at the Irish scholar Cadac-Andreas:

And may that wild enemy burn with zeal to criticize,
he whose power now is distant from what he would want near.
He has learned much, but nothing solid, nothing that is certain;
he who is ignorant, yet thinks that he knows all.
He didn’t learn so that he might be able to have wisdom,
but so that he would have weapons ready for contention.
You know much and discern nothing, you many-learned ignorant one!
What more hence should I say? You know, yet you don’t know.

{ Et reprehendendi studio ferus aestuet hostis,
Cui sit posse procul iam quia velle prope est.
Plurima qui didicit, nil fixum, nil quoque certum,
Quae tamen ignorat, omnia nosse putat.
Non ideo didicit, sapiens ut possit haberi,
Sed contendendi ut promptus ad arma foret.
Multa scis et nulla sapis: plura inscie nosti,
Quid dicam inde magis? Non sapis atque sapis. } [8]

Scholars readily regard their biting critics as dogs. What scholar hasn’t at some time or other felt himself to be surrounded by vicious dogs?[9]

Tityrus’s epic speech soothed most of the dogs. But Cerberus, “the dog of Hell {canis inferni},” had a triple tongue like Satan in Prudentius’s The Origin of Sin {Hamartigenia}. Cerberus told his fellow dogs not to allow this wether to deceive them like a bear dressed in a fox’s skin. He called Tityrus a liar and proclaimed, “Like a fox he’s playing his resonant, treacherous words {Ceu vulpes ludit subdola verba sonans}.” Tityrus then shook his horns and smashed Cerberus’s forehead with his own. Tityrus would have been victorious in this scholarly battle, but he fled before striking with the killing article. Cerberus then rushed in pursuit. When Tityrus got caught in a thicket, Cerberus tore into him repeatedly with blood-stained jaws. The bellwether Tityrus fell dead, “a pitiful sight {miserabile visu},” “bedewing the thorns with his purple blood {irrorans vepres sanguine purpureo}.”

Creation mourned the death of the castrated ram Tityrus. Sedulius presented him as an ordinary, innocent pastoral animal:

What did he merit, being just, simple, without deceit or malice?
Gifts of wine or fermented liquid he didn’t drink,
Drunkenness did not deflect this one from the path of righteousness,
nor did banquets of kings, nor did feasts of nobles.
His usual food was grass in the fields,
and the clear water of the Meuse gave him sweet drink.
He did not greedily desire vestments of crimson and ruby,
but was content with his hide tunic.
He didn’t proudly circle on horseback through green gardens,
but rightly migrated a path on his very own feet.
He was no liar, nor did he speak empty words:
“baa” or “bee” — mystical words he offered.

{ Iustus qui meruit, simplex, sine fraude maligna?
Munera nec Bachi non siceramque bibit;
non hunc ebrietas deflexit tramite recti,
non epulae regum nec procerumque dapes.
Illi pastus erat sollemnicus herba per agros
ac dulcem potum limphida Mosa dabat.
Non ostri vestes rubei cupiebat avarus,
sed contentus erat pellicia tunica;
nonque superbus equo lustrabat amoena virecta,
sed propriis pedibus rite migrabat iter.
Non mendosus erat nec inania verba locutus:
baa seu bee mystica verba dabat. } [10]

Lacking a functioning pipe, Tityrus never played a song. Yet the killing of Tityrus engendered a mythic scene of cosmic sadness as if that lack didn’t matter:

Nymphs wept, all of the woods resounded,
the flock of bleating sheep groaned at the crime.
You, bright two-horned moon, for that snow-white wether
you have shined; rightly you grieve as does Aries in the sky.

{ Fleverunt Nymphae, sonuerunt omnia silvae
balantumque greges ingemuere nefas.
Multonem niveum tu, candida Luna bicornis,
luxisti merito fles Ariesque poli. }

Tityrus was a pagan goatherd-poet and a castrated ram. Sedulius, however, analogized him to Christ and Isaac:

Just as the lamb enthroned on high, the son of God himself,
tasted bitter death for sinners,
so you, taking the path of death, lacerated by wicked dogs,
you perish, pious wether, for that bad thief.
Just as the holy ram became a sacrifice for Isaac,
so you continue to be a pleasing victim for the wretched.

{ Agnus ut altithronus pro peccatoribus acrem
gustavit mortem filius ipse dei,
carpens mortis iter canibus laceratus iniquis
pro latrone malo sic, pie multo, peris.
Quomodo pro Isaac aries sacer hostia factus,
sic tu pro misero victima grata manes. } [11]

Christ was a fully masculine man. Isaac procreated two children. Both Christ and Isaac differed significantly from the bellwether Tityrus.

The hungry, impoverished scholar Sedulius understood Tityrus, “a pleasing victim for the wretched,” in part as tasty meals stolen by dogs. Sedulius offered a concluding epitaph for Tityrus:

To you, good wether, farewell; renowned leader of the snow-white flock,
alas, that my garden will no longer have you alive.
Perhaps, beloved one, a hot bath might have been made for you
for no other purpose than the right of hospitality.
With devout heart I myself would have ministered pure water
to your horned head and to your heels.
You, I must confess, I have desired; now I desire your widow, and your mother,
and your brothers I will always love. Farewell.

{ Tu, bone multo, vale, nivei gregis inclite ductor!
Heu, quia nec vivum te meus hortus habet;
forsan, amice, tibi fieret calidumque lavacrum,
non alia causa iure sed hospitii.
Ipse ministrassem devoto pectore limphas
cornigero capiti calcibus atque tuis.
Te, fateor, cupii, viduam matremque cupisco,
fratres atque tuos semper amabo. Vale! }

With an ironic reference to Tityrus being alive in his garden, Sedulius imagines himself slaughtering Tityrus for the hospitality of sharing a meal. In “Our glory returns {Gloria nostra redit},” Sedulius appealed to his patron Bishop Hartgar for sheep to provide him with parchment for writing.[12] Here, Sedulius seems to be savoring memories of ram soup. As the fate of the bellwether Tityrus shows, castrating males doesn’t serve them well.

castrating boy

When the relatively enlightened European medieval era was ending, a medieval philosopher lamented the further development of castration culture. He observed:

That good man {Pope Paul IV}, who in my youth castrated so many beautiful and antique statues in his great city {Rome} so as not to corrupt our gaze, was following the advice of that other ancient good man {Ennius} who wrote, “The origin of disgraceful acts is baring the body in the city-space.” He should have recognized, as did the mysteries of the Good Goddess in which all appearances of the masculine were banned, that nothing is achieved unless one would also castrate horses and asses and finally all of nature.

{ Ce bon homme, qui en ma jeunesse, chastra tant de belles et antiques statues en sa grande ville pour ne corrompre la veue, suyvant l’advis de cet autre antien bon homme; “Flagitii principium est nudare inter cives corpora”; se devoit adviser, comme aux misteres de la Bonne Deesse toute apparence masculine en estoit forclose, que ce n’estoit rien avancer, s’il ne faisoit encore chastrer et chevaux et asnes, et nature en fin. } [13]

Western crusaders who sacked Constantinople in 1204 melted down Octavian’s triumphant statues of a naked ass-driver and ass. Castration culture promotes a generation of vipers. It ultimately leads to the destruction of human society and all of nature as well.

Let us sing, “Come, my beloved, let us go out into the fields.” Translated from urban gynocentrism to the innocence of the countryside, men-abasing gynocentric conventions of love elegy led the goatherd Tityros to lament to his beloved Amaryllis:

My head aches, but you don’t care. I will sing no longer,
but fall dead and lying here the wolves will devour me.
May that be as sweet as honey in your throat.

{ Ἀλγέω τὰν κεφαλάν, τὶν δ’ οὐ μέλει. οὐκέτ’ ἀείδω,
κεισεῦμαι δὲ πεσών, καὶ τοὶ λύκοι ὧδέ μ’ ἔδονται.
ὡς μέλι τοι γλυκὺ τοῦτο κατὰ βρόχθοιο γένοιτο. } [14]

Men must cease to lament passively and pathetically their own destruction. Men must actively join together with women of goodwill and rewrite the Aeneid. They must establish imaginatively a new, humane republic.

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[1] Theocritus, Idyll 3.18-20, Greek text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Hopkinson (2015). In this idyll, the goatherd Tityros sings outside the cave of his beloved Amaryllis.

Tityrus is a shepherd in Virgil, Eclogues 1. Most scholars think that Theocritus heavily influenced Virgil’s eclogues and that Virgil sought to redirect thematically pastoral poetry. Tityrus became associated with Virgil himself as an author. On the relation between Theocritus and Virgil, Van Sickle (2004). With inspiring dedication to philology, Van Sickle declared:

avena proves to be an example and an instrument. It reveals a poet {Virgil} determined — daring to commit catachresis and risk the charge of cacozelia — and destined to impose his metaphoric mark.

Id. pp. 352-3.

In the archaic Mediterranean world, Tityros / Tityrus apparently was a ithyphallic goat-demon who carried a cornucopia associated with fertility. The name Tityrus is rooted in references to intact genitals:

the Greek word τíτος and the Latin titus means bird used as a synonym both for the γυναικεῖον and the ἀνδρεῖον αἰδοῖον. … The use of the word tityros to signify a reed and a monkey has the same metaphorical meaning as when it is used to signify a bird. The flute called tityrinos, which was made of reeds, was an instrument of revelry.

Baur (1905) p. 165, with n. 4 indicating “reed” > “penis.” The Musimon Tityrus in Ziolkowski (1983a), p. 11, is thus best interpreted as castrated. For other ancient artistic representations likely to be more central to the ancient and medieval understanding of Tityrus, Hoffman (1964).

[2] Sedulius Scottus, About a certain wether torn apart by a dog {De quodam verbece a cane discerpto} vv. 1-4, 9-10, Latin text from Düchting (1970) via Ziolkowski (1983a) pp. 12-18, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Godman (1985) pp. 293-301. A Latin text is also freely available in Traube (1896). Ziolkowki notes that the edition of Düchting (1970) supercedes that of Traube. All subsequent quotes from De quodam verbece are similarly sourced.

Sedulius wrote De quodam verbece in Liège between 848, when Sedulius arrived there from Ireland, and 855. Ziolkowski (1983a) p. 1. The narrator of Sedulius’s poem refers to the ram as Tityron (v. 42). I use the Latin form Tityrus, rather than the Greek form Tityros, to connect more clearly to Virgil’s Eclogues.

Sedulius is an imporant forerunner to the eminent twelfth-century poets Hugh Primas (Hugh of Orleans) and the Archpoet. All three wrote begging poems and drinking songs, used nature and animals similarly, and had other sylistic similarities. Jarcho (1928). Sedulius was “the best Carolingian goliardic poet {goliardus Karolinus par excellence}.” Id. p. 578. Sedulius, like Hugh Primas and the Archpoet, sympathetically understood and poetically represented oppressive aspects of medieval men’s lives. Writng in the difficult, early years of the Russian Revolution, Jarcho missed this important point.

Subsequent quotes above from De quodam verbece are (cited by verse number): 13-18 (Thus, I confess, my affection…), 47 (pious wether), 52 (great-hearted hero), 62 (who reckoned that…), 64 (the distinguished one…), 65-74 (What madness is arising…), 84 (Like a fox…), 99 (pitiful sight), 100 (bedewing the thorns…), 105-16 (What did he merit…), 101-4 (Nymphs wept…), 117-22 (Just as the lamb…), 133-40 (To you, good wether…). In v. 99, Traube’s inferior text has “wondrous sight {mirabile visu}.”

[3] See, e.g. Proverbs 8:13, 11:2, 16:18; Luke 18:9-14; James 4:6; Romans 12:16. About 1238, the learned Italian notary-author Albertanus Brixiensis (Albertanus of Brescia) wrote:

Pride is the love of one’s own excellence, and pride makes to the contrary the beginning of sin.

{ Est autem superbia amor proprie excellentie, et fuit initium peccati superbia. }

Albertanus Brixiensis, On love and delight in God and in neighbor and other matters concerning the rule of life {De amore et dilectione Dei et proximi et aliarum rerum et de forma vitae} 4.4 (On pride {De superbia}), Latin text from Bibliotheca Augustana, my English translation.

[4] This apparently archaic Greek myth is preserved in Pherekydes, fragment 33 (scholia to the Odyssey). With some variants, it’s also preserved in two later authors, Eustathius and Apollodorus, Library {Bibliotheca} 1.9.11-12 (1.98-102). For a synoptic review of the surviving evidence, Fowler (2000) pp. 164-9. Displaying modern classical scholarship’s contempt for men’s gendered concerns, Fowler declared of this story about Phylakos and Iphiklos:

There is a fear of castration and anxiety about sexuality. … The myth thus addresses deep-rooted male guilt, fear, and anxiety about sexual inadequacy and rivalry with one’s father.

Id. p. 168. These inane abstractions function to obfuscate the reality of castration culture and oppressive institutional expressions of gynocentrism.

[5] Ratkowitsch (1989) argues that Sedulius alludes to himself with Tityrus. Like many scholars, Sedulius apparently felt that liars and slanderers were making false accusations against him. This biographical strand provides an additional interpretive line through De quodam verbece.

[6] “Pious” is a standard Virgilian epithet for Aeneas. Godman (1985) p. 296, n. for v. 47. Sedulius applies that adjective five times to Tityrus. In v. 68, Tityrus declares, “I am a pious wether {sum multo pius}.” Cf. Aeneas in Aeneid 1.378. “I am pious Aeneas {sum pius Aeneas}.” More generally, Tityrus speaks with the diction of an epic hero. Sedulius’s description of Tityrus’s death echoes Aeneid 8.645:  “the thornbush dripped with the dew of blood {sparsi rorabant sanguine vepres}.” Sedulius’s poem shows considerable classical learning with “a bedrock of classical expressions absorbed from Ovid, Persius, and Vergil.” Ziolkowski (1983a) pp. 4, 20-3.

[7] In the Iliad, Achilles is figured as a lion as he prepares to fight Aeneas. Iliad 20.164-73. Just as Achilles is about to kill Aeneas, Poseidon intervenes to save him. Paris killes Achilles near the end of the Trojan War, while Aeneas survives and goes on to found Rome.

In the Aeneid, Turnus is figured as a lion. Aeneid 9.792-6, 10.454-6, 12.4-9. Aeneas kills Turnus near the end of the Aeneid.

In the enormously influential Iliad and Aeneid, central warrior-men figured as lions thus die in combat. So too did Tityrus in De quodam verbece a cane discerpto.

[8] Theodulf of Orléans, “The entire world resounds in your praise, my king {Te totus laudesque tuas, rex, personat orbis}” (Carmena 25) vv. 227-34, Latin text from Godman (1985) p. 160, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. Here’s a freely available Latin text of Theodulf’s poem on Charlemagne’s court. Bischoff (1955) identified the Irishman as Cadac-Andreas. As Godman noted, the second distiche of v. 234 quotes Martial, Epigrams 8.20.2.

Earlier in this verse-epistle, Theodulf used an animal metaphor to threaten an Irishman:

I shall send these kisses to him as long as I live;
these the fierce wolf gives you, ass with long ears.
Sooner will the dog feed the hare or the cruel wolf feed the lambs,
or the cat turn and flee from the timid mouse,
than a Goth will join with an Irishman in a friendly treaty of peace.

{ Cui dum vita comes fuerit, haec oscula tradam,
Trux, aurite, tibi quae dat, aselle, lupus.
Ante canes lepores alet aut lupus improbus agnos,
Aut timido muri musio terga dabit,
Quam Geta cum Scotto pia pacis foedera iungat }

Carmena 25.161-5, Latin text and English translation from Godman (1985) pp. 158-9. The “Goth {Geta}” is an etymological allusion to Theodulf’s own name. Id. p. 158 n. 162ff. The Irishman is probably the same Irishman who is subsequently attacked (Cadac-Andreas), but not necessarily so. Sedulius himself wrote poems using wolves, foxes, and asps attacking sheep as metaphors for the attacks of liars and false witnesses. Ziolkowski (1983a) pp. 5-6. Facebook bans symbolic expressions that dehumanize persons. Such poetry might thus be banned on Facebook.

Theodulf’s attack on Cadac-Andreas is far more extensive than merely the quote above, which provides only the concluding verses. Prior to that quote, Theodulf taunted Cadac-Andreas:

While this is happening, while my poem is being read,
let the miserable Irishman stand there, a lawless and raging thing,
a dire thing, a hideous enemy, a horror of dullness, a terrible plague,
a bane of quarrelsomeness, a wild thing, a great abomination,
a wild thing, a foul thing, a lazy thing, a wicked thing,
a thing hateful to the pious, a thing opposed to the good,
with curved hands, its neck bent back a little,
may it fold its crooked arms across its stupid chest.
Doubting, astonished, trembling, raging, panting,
let it stand there, unstable of hearing, hand, eyes, mind and step.
With swift movement let it repress now one, now another feeling,
at one moment bellowing forth mere groans, at another fierce words.
May it turn now to the reader, now to all the chief men
who are there, it doing nothing rationally.

{ Haec ita dum fiunt, dum carmina nostra leguntur,
Stet Scottellus ibi, res sine lege furens,
Res dira, hostis atrox, hebes horror, pestis acerba,
Litigiosa lues, res fera, grande nefas,
Res fera, res turpis, res segnis, resque nefanda,
Res infesta piis, res inimica bonis.
Et manibus curvis, paulum cervice reflexa,
Non recta ad stolidum brachia pectus eant.
Anceps, attonitus, tremulus, furibundus, anhelus
Stet levis aure, manu, lumine, mente, pede.
Et celeri motu nunc hos, nunc comprimat illos,
Nunc gemitus tantum, nunc fera verba sonet.
Nunc ad lectorem, nunc se convertat ad omnes
Adstantes proceres nil ratione gerens }

Carmina 25.213-26, Latin text and English translation from Godman (1985) pp. 160-1. Godman interprets this passage as “describing a reaction which it was designed to provoke”; it’s an example of Theodulf deploying “a deadly weapon for literary feuds with his enemies.” Id. pp. 12-3. Dieter Schaller has called these verses “hateful invective.” As quoted in Knight (2012) p. 33. Such a labeling would also cause this poetry to be banned on Facebook.

In an extensive, erudite analysis of Theodulf’s verse-epistle, Knight associated it with Virgilian pastoral. She perceptively commented:

Theodulf’s injection of vigorous invective can be seen as restoring a vital element of masculine aggression to an otherwise somewhat emasculated pastoral refraction.

Knight (2012) p. 40. On Theodulf’s attack on Cadac-Andreas, id. pp. 26-9, 32-40. Both the animal metaphors and the issue of emasculation in pastoral connect Theodulf’s verse-epistle on Charlemagne’s court to Sedulius Scottus’s epyllion on the castrated ram Tityrus.

Some scholars today take a more economic approach to literary debates. For example in “Thomas on Van Sickle on Meban on Thomas and Kuipers on Hubbard,” Thomas declared:

I strongly urge all BMCR readers to buy my book immediately (it can be ordered at: {commercial link omitted}), read my chapter, and then go on line and decide whether I should have referred to Van Sickle’s 1976 APA abstract.

That’s a much less poetic approach, but more acceptable to businesses such as Facebook and Amazon.

[9] Cf. Psalm 22:16. In Christian understanding, this verse also applies typologically to Jesus. Ziolkowski (1983a) p. 5.

[10] In medieval Latin, a stupid person might be described as knowing “neither bu nor ba {nec bu nec ba}.” That expression goes back to teaching of the alphabet in schools of the Roman Empire. Petronius’s Satyricon may allude to it. Ziolkowski (1983b). Tityrus knows bu (bee) and ba (baa), and hence isn’t a stupid castrated ram.

[11] This passage associates Tityrus with Jesus, the lamb of God, crucified for sinners. John 1:29, 36. Christians understand Abraham’s offering of Isaac as a sacrifice to prefigure God offering Jesus as a sacrifice. Sedulius also associates Tityrus with John the Baptist. Cf. De quodam verbece vv. 106-7, Luke 7:33 (not drinking wine).

Tityrus being a sacrifice for the bad thief reverses the salvation balance of the good thief and the bad thief in Luke 23:39-43. The bad thief blasphemes Jesus on the cross. God may have condemned the bad thief to Hell. The good thief acknowledges Jesus, and Jesus welcomes him into Heaven.

Scholars have understood De quodam verbece to balance classical allusions, particularly to Aeneas, with Christians allusions to Isaac, Christ, and Christian martyrs. Advocating for a “both and” approach, Kratz stated:

The artistry of Sedulius’ poem turns on the balancing and not the separation of two discordant traditions.

Kratz (1976) p. 322. Similarly, Ziolkowski (1983a) p. 6. The medieval epic Waltharius performs a similar balancing of traditions.

[12] Ziolkowski (1983a) p. 2. Hartgar was Bishop of Liège.

[13] Michel de Montaigne, Essays {Essais} III.5, “On some lines of Virgil {Sur des vers de Virgile},” French text from the Villey & Saulnier (1965) version of the 1595 edition of Essais, my English translation, benefiting from that of Screech (1993) p. 970. Here’s the freely accessible English translation of Charles Cotton (1910).

Paul IV was pope from 1555 to 1559. Ennius was an early Roman poet who died about 169 BGC. Montaigne quotes Ennius as preserved in Cicero, Tusculan Disputations {Tusculanae Disputationes} 4.33.70.

Montaigne further commented:

Now my law-giver {Pope Paul IV} should have also considered, that perhaps a more chaste and fruitful practice is to let women know life as it is early rather than to allow them the liberty to conjecture according to the freedom and heat of their fantasy. In place of the true organs, they substitute, by desire and hope, others that are three times more extravagant.

{ Or se devoit aviser aussi mon legislateur, qu’à l’avanture est-ce un plus chaste et fructueux usage de leur faire de bonne heure connoistre le vif que de le leur laisser deviner selon la liberté et chaleur de leur fantasie. Au lieu des parties vrayes, elles en substituent, par desir et par esperance, d’autres extravagantes au triple. }

Essais III.5, sourced as for previous quote.

[14] Theocritus, Idyll 3.52-4, Greek text and English translation (modified insubstantially) from Hopkinson (2015). These are the final verses of this idyll.

[images] (1) Tityros statuette. Greek, middle to late fifth century BGC. Preserved as accession # 01.7777 in the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. Image thanks to the Museum of Fine Arts. (2) Johannes Flote and Anton Reite castrating a lamb in Norway about 1910. Photo (with my cropping) by Anders Folkestadås. Thanks to flickr and to the County Archives in Vestland (Fylkesarkivet i Vestland), Norway. (3) Castrating boy. Medical illustration by Charaf-ed-Din. Made about 1466. Preserved in Bibliothèque Nationale (Paris, France). Thanks to Wikimedia Commons. On castration in the ancient Islamic world, Pökel (2014).


Baur, Paul. 1905. “Tityros.” American Journal of Archaeology. 9 (2): 157-165.

Bischoff, Bernhard. 1955. “Theodulf und der Ire Cadac-Andreas.” Historisches Jahrbuch 74: 91–98

Düchting, Reinhard. 1970. “Vom Hammel, den ein Hund gerissen.” Pp. 114-27 in Schwab, Ute, and Fritz Harkort, eds. Das Tier in der Dichtung. Heidelberg: C. Winter.

Fowler, Robert L. 2000. Early Greek mythography. Vol. 2, Commentary. New York: Oxford University Press.

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

Hoffmann, Herbert. 1964. “Some unpublished Boeotian Satyr terracottas.” Antike Kunst. 7 (2): 67-71.

Hopkinson, Neil, ed. and trans. 2015. Theocritus. Moschus. Bion. Loeb Classical Library 28. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Jarcho, Boris I. 1928. “Die Vorläufer des Golias.” Speculum. 3 (4): 523-579.

Knight, Gillian R. 2012. “Talking letter, Singing Pipe: Modalities of Performance at the Carolingian Court.” Archives d’Histoire Doctrinale et Littéraire du Moyen Âge. 79 (1): 7-47.

Kratz, Dennis M. 1976. “Aeneas or Christ? An Epic Parody by Sedulius Scottus.” The Classical World. 69 (5): 319-323.

Pökel, Hans-Peter. 2014. Der unmännliche Mann: zur Figuration des Eunuchen im Werk von al-Ǧāḥiẓ (gest. 869). Würzburg: Ergon Verlag. (review by Ignacio Sánchez)

Ratkowitsch, Christine. 1989. “Der Hammel Tityrus — Versuch einer Deutung von c. 2, 41 des Sedulius Scottus.” Wiener Studien. 102: 251-266.

Screech, M. A., trans. 1993. Michel De Montaigne: the Complete Essays. London, England: Penguin Books.

Traube, Ludwig, 1896. Monumenta Germaniae Historica. Poetae Latini Aevi Carolini. Vol. 3. Berolini: Weidmannos.

Van Sickle, John B. 2004. “Virgil Bucolics 1.1-2 and Interpretive Tradition: A Latin (Roman) Program for a Greek Genre.” Classical Philology. 99 (4): 336-353.

Ziolkowski, Jan. 1983a. “Sedulius Scottus’s De Quodam Verbece a Cane Discerpto.” Mediaevalia. 9: 1-24.

Ziolkowski, Jan. 1983b. “NE BU NE BA.” Neuphilologische Mitteilungen. 84 (3): 287-290.

rape of men in Parthenius shows compassion and justice is possible

Morgan le Fay practicing evil magic

In our time of ignorance and bigotry, many persons don’t know that about as many men suffer rape as do women. Just think about the most probable origin of the expression “cover your ass.” Moreover, in reality, women rape men about as often as men rape women. Men rape victims are further assaulted with denial and trivialization of their victimization. Writing about two thousand years ago, Parthenius of Nicaea recorded stories of women raping men. These stories show a broad range of possibilities for the victimized men.

The most ordinary story is probably that of Daphnis, son of Hermes. Daphnis was a shepherd on Mount Etna in Sicily. Skilled at playing the panpipes, he was also “exceedingly good-looking {ἰδέᾱ ἐκπρεπής}.” The nymph Echenais fell in love with him. Apparently seeking to suppress Daphnis’s sexuality, Echenais worked magic against him. She told him that if he ever had sex with a woman, he would go blind. That set Daphnis up for a criminal disaster:

For a time he held out resolutely, even though not a few women were mad with love for him. Later, one of the princesses in Sicily deceived him by plying him with wine and made him want to have intercourse with her. And as a result of this, he too, like Thamyras the Thracian, was blinded through his own folly.

{ ὁ δὲ χρόνον μέν τινα καρτερῶς ἀντεῖχεν, καίπερ οὐκ ὀλίγων ἐπιμαινομένων αὐτῷ· ὕστερον δὲ μία τῶν κατὰ τὴν Σικελίαν βασιλίδων οἴνῳ πολλῷ δηλησαμένη αὐτὸν ἤγαγεν εἰς ἐπιθυμίαν αὐτῇ μιγῆναι. καὶ οὗτος ἐκ τοῦδε ὁμοίως Θαμύρᾳ τῷ Θρᾳκὶ δι᾿ ἀφροσύνην ἐπεπήρωτο. } [1]

A drunk person cannot legally consent to sex. The Sicilian princess raped Daphnis. This account blames the man victim for getting drunk and having a woman rape him. That’s about as reasonable as rape statistics that the public propaganda apparatus now disseminates. Daphnis shouldn’t be blamed for being blinded any more than men who masturbate should be blamed for going blind.

Periander of Corinth became insanely angry after a woman raped him. As a young man, he had a mild disposition and was reasonable. But then his mother developed a violent passion for him. As a mother, she of course could embrace her son. But embraces weren’t sufficient to satisfy her. She wanted to have sex with her own son.

Periander’s mother contrived a trick to have sex with her son. She told him that a very beautiful married woman was desperately in love with him. Her desire for him was torturing her. His mother pleaded with him to have compassion and mercy for the woman. Periander reluctantly agreed to have sex with her. His mother explained to him that, out of respect for the woman’s modesty, he should keep the bedroom completely dark and not seek for the woman to say anything to him. A dutiful son, Periander agreed to do everything that his mother told him to do.

Periander’s mother thus came and had sex with him. She left his bed in the morning before dawn. Later that day, she asked him whether he had a satisfying experience. He said that the sex was quite pleasing. His mother asked if he wanted to sleep with the woman again. He said that he was keen for sex with her again. So it went.

Periander had sex with this mystery woman many times and began to feel some love for her. But he wanted to know who she was. His mother forbade him from seeking to know who she was. But one night, daring to defy his mother, Periander had a servant bring a light.[2] Periander discovered that he had been having sex with his mother. He was being raped by deception. He became violently angry:

when he saw his mother he rushed upon her as if to kill her. But he desisted, checked by a divine apparition. Ever after this he was stricken in mind and soul. He plunged into savagery and murdered many of the citizens. Meanwhile, his mother, greatly bewailing her own fate, put an end to her own life.

{ κατιδὼν τὴν μητέρα ὥρμησεν ἐπὶ τὸ διεργάσασθαι αὐτήν. κατασχεθεὶς δὲ ὑπό τινος δαιμονίου φαντάσματος ἀπετράπετο, κἀκ τούτου παραπλὴξ ἦν νοῦ τε καὶ φρενῶν κατέσκηψέ τε εἰς ὠμότητα καὶ πολλοὺς ἀπέσφαξε τῶν πολιτῶν. ἡ δὲ μήτηρ πολλὰ κατολοφυραμένη τὸν ἑαυτῆς δαίμονα ἀνεῖλεν ἑαυτήν. } [3]

Being raped by his mother turned the young man with mild disposition into a mass murderer. All the persons Periander murdered were probably men. With the characteristic self-centeredness of women living within gynocentrism, Periander’s mother bewailed her own fate. Those in favor of mercy killing should credit her with killing herself. That surely was an act of mercy to those around her.

In contrast to the horrible effects of rape on Periander and the citizens around him, a woman raping a man in the very first story in Parthenius’s collection leads to extraordinary expressions of compassion, forgiveness, and social solidarity. Lyrcus, son of Phoroneus, grew up in Argos. Io, the daughter of Inachus the King of Argos, was stolen by pirates. King Inachus sent many men, including Lyrcus, on arduous journeys searching for his daughter. Despite traversing vast expanses of land and sea, Lyrcus was unable to find Io. Knowing that his life as a man was worth nothing relative to the life of the King’s daughter, Lyrcus feared to return home without having found Io.

Because he was unable to find Io, Lyrcus abandoned his home in Argos and went to live in Caunus. When Heilebia, the daughter of King Aegialus of Caunus, saw Lyrcus, she fell in love with him. She pleaded with her father to give her Lyrcus. In reality, daughters rule. The king apparently obeyed his daughter’s request. Lyrcus married Heilebia.

The royal marriage of Heilebia and Lyrcus produced no children across many years. Apparently worried that his wife and the king would blame him for the infertility, Lyrcus traveled to consult the oracle of Apollo at Didyma. Apollo speaking through a priestess told him that he would father a child with the first woman with whom he had sex after leaving the temple. In great delight, Lyrcus hurried to journey home.

Ariadne kissing Theseus

Lyrcus’s journey home took more than a day. On the way home, he spent a night at Bybastus.[4] There Dionysus’s son Staphylus gave Lyrcus generous hospitality. Staphylus supplied Lyrcus with much wine and urged him to drink heavily. Unknown to Lyrcus, Staphylus had gotten word of the oracle. For Staphylus, this was an opportunity to serve his daughters and insert his family into Caunus’s royal family.

Staphylus’s two daughters strongly desired Lyrcus. They contended with each other for who would rape the drunken Lyrcus. The daughter named Hemithea prevailed. She thus went to bed with the drunken Lyrcus and raped him. Criminal responsibility, however, has long been strongly biased toward blaming men:

On the next day Lyrcus realized what he had done when he saw Hemithea lying next to him. He took it badly and blamed Staphylus bitterly for deceiving him. But afterwards, since there was nothing he could do, he took off his belt and gave it to Hemithea. He told her to save it for their son until he grew up, so that the boy should then have a token when he came looking for his father in Caunus. And so Lyrcus sailed away.

{ Λύρκος δὲ ἐπιγνοὺς τῇ ὑστεραίᾳ οἷα ἐδεδράκει καὶ τὴν Ἡμιθέαν ὁρῶν συγκατακεκλιμένην, ἐδυσφόρει τε καὶ πολλὰ κατεμέμφετο τὸν Στάφυλον, ὡς ἀπατεῶνα γενόμενον αὐτοῦ. ὕστερον δὲ μηδὲν ἔχων ὅ τι ποιῇ, περιελόμενος τὴν ζώνην δίδωσι τῇ κόρῃ κελεύων ἡβήσαντι τῷ παιδὶ φυλάττειν, ὅπως ἔχῃ γνώρισμα, ὁπότ᾿ ἂν ἀφίκοιτο πρὸς τὸν πατέρα αὐτοῦ εἰς Καῦνον, καὶ ἐξέλευσεν. } [5]

Lyrcus didn’t blame Hemithea for raping him. Men in general are highly reluctant to blame women or even criticize women. Lyrcus blamed Staphylus for deceiving him. Lyrcus seems also to have blamed himself. But he didn’t consciously do anything wrong except fail to refuse the intoxicating hospitality that Staphylus deviously pushed on him. Both women and men should act prudently with respect to foreseeable risks. But even when they fail to do so, neither should be blamed for being victims of rape.

The rape victim Lyrcus survived to experience an extraordinary response to his being raped. When he learned what had happened, King Aegialus of Caunus sought to banish his son-in-law Lyrcus. That shows common contempt for men victims of rape. But Aegialus’s daughter Heilebia defied her father and supported her raped husband. Numerous men in Caunus also supported the rape victim Lyrcus. They fought for Lyrcus against the supporters of King Aegialus. The side supporting compassion and fairness for the raped man eventually prevailed. The rape victim Lyrcus not only survived but went on to became king of Caunus.

The ending is even more heart-warming. Like a woman who is raped and then raises the innocent offspring of that rape as her beloved son, Lyrcus embraced his rape-engendered son:

Afterwards, when the son of Hemithea and Lyrcus had grown up (he was called Basilus), he arrived in Caunus, where he was recognised by the now aging Lyrcus, who made him leader of his own people.

{ μετὰ δὲ ταῦτα ἀνδρωθεὶς ὁ ἐξ Ἡμιθέας καὶ Λύρκου (Βασίλος αὐτῷ ὄνομα) ἦλθεν εἰς τὴν Καυνίαν· καὶ αὐτὸν γνωρίσας ὁ Λύρκος ἤδη γηραιὸς ὢν ἡγεμόνα καθίστησι τῶν σφετέρων λαῶν. }

Women raping men need not be a socially suppressed reality in which raped men suffer in shame, silence, and bitterness. When such men receive the support they deserve from the women and men around them, raped men can go on to live noble, generous lives, even to the extent of loving the offspring of their rapes.

Parthenius began his collection of stories about suffering in love with the story of Lyrcus. That uplifting story shows that the marginalization of men under oppressive gynocentrism isn’t inevitable. When a woman rapes a man, that rape victim isn’t doomed to be socially killed through ignorance and bigotry. Rape victims who are men can receive compassion and justice from the women and men in their families and societies. Like Lyrcus, men rape victims can not only survive, but also flourish and became examples of human greatness.

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[1] Parthenius of Nicaea, Sufferings in Love {Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα} 29.2 (About Daphnis {Περὶ Δάφνιδος}), ancient Greek text and English translation from Lightfoot (2009). All subsequent quotes from Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα are similarly sourced, with some insubstantial changes in the English translations for clarity and ease of reading. The manchette for this story states, “Timaeus tells this story in the Sicelica {Ἱστορεῖ Τίμαιος Σικελικοῖς}.” Longus’s ancient Greek novel The Story of Daphnis and Chloe {Τα κατὰ Δάφνιν καὶ Χλόην} features a shepherd named Daphnis.

In Parthenius’s story, the nymph Echenais’s motive for cursing Daphnis isn’t clear. Other versions of the story suggest that Echenais sought to suppress permanently Daphnis’s sexuality. Lightfoot (1999) pp. 526-7. Men’s sexuality in ancient Greece was more generally repressed. Echenais’s underlying motive may have been sexual rejection or sexual jealousy.

In Greek mythologoy, Thamyras was a Thracian singer who challenged the goddess-Muses to a singing competition. Thamyras proposed that if he would win the competition, all the Muses would agree to have sex with him. Unfortunately, he lost the competition. The Muses then slashed out his eyes. This story shows gynocentric society brutally suppressing an unruly man with strong masculine heterosexuality, one who dared to challenge an entrenched, female-dominated institution.

Another story in Parthenius depicts what is probably also a relatively common pattern by which women rape men. When Heracles was bringing Geryon’s cattle back from Erythea, he stopped at the court of the Celtic king Bretannus:

This king had a daughter called Celtine. She fell in love with Heracles and hid his cattle, refusing to surrender them unless he first had sexual intercourse with her.

{ τῷ δὲ ἄρα ὑπάρχειν θυγατέρα, Κελτίνην ὄνομα. ταύτην δὲ ἐρασθεῖσαν τοῦ Ἡρακλέους κατακρύψαι τὰς βοῦς μὴ θέλειν τε ἀποδοῦναι εἰ μὴ πρότερον αὐτῇ μιχθῆναι. }

Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 30.1 (About Celtine {Περὶ Κελτίνης}). Heracles then had sex with Celtine. Celtine thus raped Heracles by means of extortion.

Within the context of scholars’ extensive, anti-meninist work on literary rapes in recent decades, Lightfoot doesn’t recognize that Daphnis was raped. She asserts that, like Daphnis, Orion “was also blinded as a result of a sexual offense committed when drunk.” Lightfoot (1999) p. 528. She places the Daphnis story within stories about men unfaithful to goddesses:

The Daphnis story fits into a broad class of narratives about men who are unfaithful to goddesses and are punished by blinding or another form of mutilation or death

Id. Classics as a scholarly field urgently needs to face honestly its gender biases.

[2] The mystery lover revealed involuntarily is a key plot element in the second-century Latin story of Cupid and Psyche in Apuleius’s Metamorphoses.

[3] Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 17.6-7 (About Periander’s mother {Περὶ τῆς Περιάνδρου μητρός}). This story has no manchette.

[4] The oracle of Apollo at Didymas {Δίδυμας} is slightly south of Miletus on the Aegean coast of present-day Turkey. Caunus {Καῦνος} is further south on the Aegean coast at the border of Caria and Lycia. Bybastus {Βύβαστος} is on the Datça Peninsula on the Aegean Sea between Didymas and Caunus. The distance between Didymas and Caunus is about 250 km. Bybastus thus is a reasonable overnight stopping point on an ancient journey from Didymas to Caunus.

[5] Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 1.5 (About Lyrcus {Περὶ Λύρκου}). The manchette for this story states, “The story occurs in Nicaenetus in his Lyrcus, and in Apollonius Rhodius’ Caunus {Ἡ ἱστορία παρὰ Νικαινέτῳ ἐν τῷ Λύρκῳ καὶ Ἀπολλωνίῳ Ῥοδίῳ Καύνῳ}.”

[6] Ἐρωτικὰ Παθήματα 1.6. Lyrcus’s son Basilus carries a name based on the ancient Greek word “king {βασιλεύς}.”

The story of Lyrcus being raped by Hemithea is similar to the story of Aegeus being raped by Aethra. The offspring of the latter rape was Aegeus’s son Theseus. The trauma of being raped by Aethra evidently damaged Aegeus’s mind and emotions. Aegeus hence accepted Medea as his consort. She had killed her children with her ex-husband Jason and also murdered his new wife Creusa.

When Theseus became a grown man, he performed a heroic feat that validated his royal stature. Theseus then presented himself to Aegeus in Athens. While Lyrcus’s wife Heilebia warmly welcomed and strongly supported the son that resulted from Lyrcus being raped, Medea arranged to have Theseus killed by the Cretan Bull. When that plot failed, Medea tried to poison Theseus. In addition to being a rape survivor, Aegeus undoubtedly suffered further trauma from Medea seeking to kill his innocent son. All women and men should reject hateful media.

I recall reading with astonishment a story of a woman who was raped and then raised with love the son she conceived through that rape. I haven’t be able to find that story. Ryan Bomberger has a similar story. He has shown amazing courage and diversity in speaking and writing.

[images] (1) Morgan le Fay practicing spells. Illustration by William Henry Margetson in Clark (1914) p. 104. Via the Camelot Project. (2) Ariadne and Theseus in love. Painting by Véra Willoughby in Willoughby (1925) p. 184. Via Hellenic Library – Alexander S. Onassis Public Benefit Foundation.


Clark, Janet MacDonald. 1914. Legends of King Arthur and his Knights, re-told for children. London: Nister.

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)

Willoughby, Véra. 1925. A Vision of Greece: described and painted by Vera Willoughby. London: P. Allan.

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 Waddell beginning 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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[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.


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