wives disparaging husbands with female privilege: the case of Humayda

man shitting loose stools

Ḥumayda bint Nu‘mān ibn Bashīr (Humayda), who died in 684 GC, was a daughter of a Companion of the Prophet. Humayda was a woman close to the ideal woman of our time: “She was a poet with tongue, contrariness, and evil, and she would satirise her spouses.” She had at least three husbands. In disparaging her third husband, Humayda sounded common notes of female privilege and viciously applied them to abusing him.

Humayda’s third husband was named Fayd. That name literally means in Arabic “overflowing.” It’s typically understood in the sense of generosity. Fayd’s wife Hamayda declared in Arabic poetry:

Your name is Fayd but you overflow with nothing
Save your excrement between door and dwelling

That’s like calling your husband a piece of shit. At least such abuse doesn’t disparage men for their gender disadvantages. However, Humayda also declared in Arabic poetry:

Fayd does not overflow with gifts for us
Rather he is overflowing with loose stool for us
A scowling ill-tempered lion when he sets on us
Yet in wars he is timid of bosom and menstruating

Men commonly give women material gifts and money in the hope of getting in return sex and love. Women seldom do the same for men. Wars are institutionally structured as men-on-men violence. Ancient Arabic poetry records women assailing men’s masculinity to incite them into violence. Even to this day, about four times more men than women die from violence. Humayda in essence disparaged her husband for not sufficiently supporting her female privilege.

Overturning female privilege starts with breaking the gynocentric conspiracy of silence and speaking obvious truths. Classical Arabic poetry tells of the original understanding of chivalry before it became men-degrading love servitude. The classical Arabic poet Layla l-Akhyaliyya wrote poems poignantly representing men’s social disposition. Nazhun’s muwashshah provides an astonishingly perceptive guide for men seeking sex with women without unequal gift-giving. Studying classical Arabic poetry, and talking and writing about it, can help to overturn female privilege.

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The quote characterizing Humayda is from Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī’s tenth-century Kitāb al-Aghānī {Book of Songs} 16:38 (ed. Beirut, 2004), from classical Arabic trans. Hammond (2005) p. 257. The poems come from a ninth-century collection of Ibn Tayfūr (Ibn Abī Ṭāhir Ṭayfūr), Balāghāt al-Nisā’ {Eloquence of Women} 97-8, part of Ibn Tayfūr’s Kitab al-Manthur wa al-Manzum {Book of prose and poetry}. On Ibn Tayfūr, Shawkat (2005). The English translations from classical Arabic are those of Hammond (2014) pp. 260-1. Whether Humayda actually wrote these poems, or they are just attributed to her, is uncertain. The poems at least attest to a public perception of Humayda’s character. In the second poem, the word ḥayyāḍ {menstruating} occurs only in Ibn Tayfūr’s version of the poem. Hammond convincingly argues that other redactors mis-corrected the Arabic text. More generally, women’s abuse of men tends to be socially obscured.

[image] Man suffering from diarrhea (non-bloody stool). Image created by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) for identifying symptoms of Ebola. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Hammond, Marlé. 2014. “The Foul-Mouthed Faḥla: Obscenity and Amplification in Early Women’s Invective.” Ch. 15 (pp. 254-265) in Talib, Adam, Hammond, Marlé and Schippers, Arie, eds. The Rude, the Bad and the Bawdy: Essays in honour of Professor Geert Jan van Gelder. Warminster: Gibb Memorial Trust.

Toorawa, Shawkat M. 2005. Ibn Abī Ṭāhir Ṭayfūr and Arabic writerly culture: a ninth-century bookman in Baghdad. London: RoutledgeCurzon.

Poggio Bracciolini’s vital, lost insight into husbands’ sexual failures

Jacob asked Laban for Rachel, but was bed-tricked into taking Leah

The great medieval churchman Poggio Bracciolini made a much more important contribution to world culture than merely recovering from obscurity an ancient manuscript of Lucretius’s De rerum natura. Poggio recorded for posterity Facetiae. Poggio’s Facetiae are towering monuments to medieval freedom of expression and a lost age of critical engagement with prevailing orthodoxy. Despite great medieval reverence for mother Church, Poggio even dared to write words that risked offending women.

Consider Poggio’s sexually edifying tale of the Florentine knight Rosso de Ricci and his wife Telda. Rosso de Ricci was a great man who was both spirited and serious. His wife was vindictive, scheming, and verbally abusive toward him. She was also old and far from beautiful. Not surprisingly, Telda and Rosso had a sexless marriage. Rosso naturally began sexually harassing a servant girl working within their home. Medieval servant girls were strong, independent woman fully capable of immediately reporting sexual harassment to a supervisor. This servant girl immediately reported Rosso’s sexual harassment to her supervisor, the mistress of the house, Rosso’s wife Telda.

Telda exploited for her own interests Rosso’s sexual harassment of their servant girl. Telda instructed the servant girl to engage in inappropriate action:

She advised her to assent and to arrange an assignation with Rosso at a specific time in a dark place. Then Telda would secretly bring herself in place of the servant girl.

{ Suasit ut assentiretur, ac certo in loco subobscuro horam Rosso assignaret, in quem pro ancilla se Telda clam contulit. }

Telda’s scheme fooled her husband Rosso, but didn’t succeed:

Arriving at the place, Rosso spent much time fondling the woman whom he thought was the servant girl, but his drooping penis would do nothing.

{ Accedens ad locum Rossus, ac mulierem pro ancilla diutius tractans, tandem, demissa mentula, nihil agere potuit. }

Telda characteristically responded with abuse:

Then his wife shouted: “Ey,” she said, “you horse shit, if the servant girl had been here, you would have raised up rightly to have her.

{ Tum exclamans uxor: “Eia,” inquit, “Eques merdose, si hic ancilla extitisset, recte cum ea rem habere potuisses.” }

Rosso then politely explained to his wife the genius of a man’s penis:

Then the knight: “Oh! Telda my dear, by God!” he said, “this companion of mine is wiser by far than I am. For even after I, in my ignorance, embraced you as the servant girl, he immediately knew that you are bad flesh for putting out, and for that reason he shrunk back into his normal position for me.

{ Tum Miles: — “Oh! Telda mi, per Deum!” inquit, “hic meus socius prudentior admodum est quam ego. Nam postquam te pro ancilla ignarus attigi, statim ille malam carnem te esse cognovit, ac propterea retrocedens me restituit.” }

Men today are commonly disparaged as thinking with their penises, their little heads. That continues a long, sordid history of disparaging men’s penises. As the great medieval churchman Poggio Bracciolini recognized, men’s penises are amazingly smart. Men’s penises deserve respect. They are jewels, not junk.

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The story above is from Poggio Bracciolini, Facetiae 85, Faceta jocatio militis Florentini {A fine jest of a Florentine knight}, Latin text from Poggio (1879) vol. 1, pp. 136-7. The quotes above provide my English translations, drawing upon that of id., but tracking the Latin more closely. Men historically have faced burdensome obligations of bodily performance.

[image] Jacob asks Laban for permission to marry his younger daughter Rachel. From Foster (1897) p. 46, via Wikimedia Commons. Laban tricked Jacob by substituting the older daughter Leah for Rachel in Jacob’s bed. Showing admirable manly vigor that is important in both the Jewish and Christian religions, Jacob took both as wives and produced children with both women. See Genesis 29-30.


Foster, Charles. 1897. Bible pictures and what they teach us. Philadelphia: Foster Pub. Co

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

men desiring women must swerve from dream vision to bodily reality

dream vision of beautiful woman

mirage of water in a desert

In his first, seminal experience of sexuality, a young man commonly dreams of a beautiful woman who is naked and warmly receptive. Lucretius, the classical Roman dispeller of delusions and superstition, described in De rerum natura {On the nature of things} the natural outcome: the young man ejaculates and soils his bedsheets.[1] Men’s dream vision fails to show them women’s bodily reality. Now is the time to swerve completely. In our age of mass sexual persecution of men, men must turn from the deification of women to perceive that women are beastly beings just as men are.

Throughout history, men in love have been like those who are thirsty and dream of water. Dream water cannot satisfy men’s natural needs. Lucretius in De rerum natura explained:

As a thirsty man will dream of drinking water, but
No water is there to quench his parching body —
he strives for the shadow of water and struggles for nothing,
gulping the rush of the river and yet still thirsty,
so lovers fall for a Love Goddess and shadows.

{ ut bibere in somnis sitiens quom quaerit et umor
non datur, ardorem qui membris stinguere possit,
sed laticum simulacra petit frustraque laborat
in medioque sitit torrenti flumine potans,
sic in amore Venus simulacris ludit amantis } [2]

Men’s dreams prepare them for their historical lot: a life of thirsting, sexual rejection, and deprivation. Even worse, men enslaved in love to women support the gynocentric society that broadly oppresses men.[3]

While so-called courtly love has long been celebrated, men enslaved in love lead miserable lives. Lucretius with his sober, scientific commitment to direct, unadorned reason and truth described men’s abasement in love to women as a bodily disease. Men’s self-abasement goes beyond physical lovesickness:

Add that they sexually labor to the point of exhaustion,
that they waste their time at another’s beck and call!
Their duties fall faint, their fame grows sick and totters,
their business fails and their wealth is turned into
ointments from Persia and sweet Sicyonian slippers.
Sure! and great emeralds with their grass-green shine
are enclosed in gold, and the purple robe’s worn sheer
from the constant rubbing, soaked and stained with sex.
Father’s hard-earned estate? Bonnets or scarves
for whores — or long lush robes or lingerie.
Then formal dinners and delicacies and games,
goblets all round, crowns, garlands, lotions, all
for nothing: from the very fount of pleasure
the bitter will surge and in love’s flower beds
clutch — for regrets bite back at the conscious mind,
to have lost his years to idleness and whoring,
or maybe the girlfriend’s tossed some two-edged word
that sticks in the lover’s heart and blooms like fire,
or her roving gaze has lit on another lover —
he thinks he sees the traces of her smile.

{ Adde quod absumunt viris pereuntque labore;
adde quod alterius sub nutu degitur aetas,
languent officia atque aegrotat fama vacillans.
labitur interea res et Babylonia fiunt
unguenta, et pulchra in pedibus Sicyonia rident;
scilicet et grandes viridi cum luce zmaragdi
auro includuntur, teriturque thalassina vestis
adsidue et Veneris sudorem exercita potat;
et bene parta patrum fiunt anademata, mitrae,
interdum in pallam atque Alidensia Ciaque vertunt.
eximia veste et victu convivia, ludi,
pocula crebra, unguenta, coronae, serta parantur,
nequiquam, quoniam medio de fonte leporum
surgit amari aliquid quod in ipsis floribus angat,
aut cum conscius ipse animus se forte remordet
desidiose agere aetatem lustrisque perire,
aut quod in ambiguo verbum iaculata reliquit
quod cupido adfixum cordi vivescit ut ignis,
aut nimium iactare oculos aliumve tueri
quod putat in voltuque videt vestigia risus. } [4]

Why do men act so stupidly toward women? Why do men allow themselves to be ensnared into oppressive relationships? Part of the problem is that men engage in elaborate self-deception and doubletalk:

For men are blinded by their lustful desires
and grant their loved ones graces they don’t have.
The vile, the crooked — these, we see, are sweethearts
and are honored in the highest by their lovers.
Men laugh at a fellow who’s stuck with an ugly girlfriend,
“You better go keep your Venus happy!” Fools!
Their own troubles are worse, and they can’t see them.
She’s black as soot? “Honey-tan.” She’s slovenly and smelly?
“Casual!” Cat-eyed? “A goddess!” She’s knobby and wiry?
“A gazelle.” A dwarf’s “my petite,” “my little charmer”;
a big bruiser’s “one who’ll take your breath away.”
The stammerer “lisps,” the mute one, she’s just “bashful,”
while the spiteful little spitfire’s “a real sparkler.”
Then it’s “svelte” for a woman too withered to be alive,
and the half-dead hacker’s got “a delicate frame.”
But a “diva” is she with great gargantuan boobs,
and Fat Lips is “one big kiss,” and Pug Nose “my puppy.”
I could go on forever with such stuff.

{ nam faciunt homines plerumque cupidine caeci
et tribuunt ea quae non sunt his commoda vere.
multimodis igitur pravas turpisque videmus
esse in deliciis summoque in honore vigere.
atque alios alii inrident Veneremque suadent
ut placent, quoniam foedo adflictentur amore,
nec sua respiciunt miseri mala maxima saepe.
nigra melichrus est, inmunda et foetida acosmos,
caesia Palladium, nervosa et lignea dorcas,
parvula, pumilio, Chariton mia, tota merum sal,
magna atque inmanis cataplexis plenaque honoris.
balba loqui non quit, traulizi, muta pudens est;
at flagrans odiosa loquacula lampadium fit.
ischnon eromenion tum fit, cum vivere non quit
prae macie; rhadine verost iam mortua tussi.
at tumida et mammosa Ceres est ipsa ab Iaccho,
simula Silena ac saturast, labeosa philema.
cetera de genere hoc longum est si dicere coner. } [5]

Such fallacious perceptions can persist. Men last off sinking ships shows a culture of toxic masculinity, patriarchy explains why men have no reproductive rights, and structural oppression of women causes men to be held vastly disproportionately in prisons, jails, and other structures of incarceration. Believing in a world completely detached from reality is a prevalent human practice.

Now is the time to swerve completely. In writing his masterpiece Il Corbaccio, Boccaccio accurately understood Lucretius’s insight in De rerum natura. Lucretius pointed out that every man’s love goddess farts like any other woman:

No doubt she does (we know it) what the homely do:
she farts at times, poor lady, with vile smells,
while her maids scurry away and chuckle in secret.
But the weepy locked-out lover buries the steps
under flowers and wreaths, and oils the haughty posts
with majoram, planting kisses on the door —
pathetic. Just let him in and let him take
one awful whiff! He’ll look for a decent reason
to get out; the whiny poem he’s got by heart
falls, and he curses himself for being a blockhead,
for granting her more than is right to grant a mortal.

{ nempe eadem facit, et scimus facere, omnia turpi
et miseram taetris se suffit odoribus ipsa,
quam famulae longe fugitant furtimque cachinnant.
at lacrimans exclusus amator limina saepe
floribus et sertis operit postisque superbos
unguit amaracino et foribus miser oscula figit;
quem si, iam admissum, venientem offenderit aura
una modo, causas abeundi quaerat honestas
et meditata diu cadat alte sumpta querella,
stultitiaque ibi se damnet, tribuisse quod illi
plus videat quam mortali concedere par est. } [6]

Often in Roman love elegy, the locked-out lover {exclusus amator}, always a man, maintains a love vigil at the door of his beloved woman. He’s an abject, thoroughly deluded slave of love {servitium amoris}. In Il Corbaccio, a dead narrator describes thunderclaps and fetid air emanating from his wife’s anus. She, like all other flesh-and-blood human beings, occasionally farted. Women are far from ethereal beings. Men who know the nature of things know that women stink just like men do.

Acting in their own interests, women work to preserve men’s delusions about women. Lucretius in De rerum natura observed:

Our goddesses are no fools. No! They themselves
guard all the backstage secrets of women
from those they want to hold in the bonds of love

{ nec Veneres nostras hoc fallit; quo magis ipsae
omnia summo opere hos vitae poscaenia celant
quos retinere volunt adstrictosque esse in amore } [7]

The secrets of women aren’t difficult to learn. Any boy who has a sister knows. Any man who has lived for more than a month with a woman knows. Women are flesh-and-blood human beings. Even though a woman farts, if she’s good-hearted and not shrewish, her universal human failings can be overlooked.

Woman pretend that they do men a favor by having sex with them. That helps to support the long-standing, oppressive social practice of men paying women for sex. In reality, most women enjoy having sex with men:

If it weren’t for mutual joy they’d never do it —
a joy that tricks them into being enchained together.
So I say again: the pleasure goes two ways.

{ quod facerent numquam, nisi mutua gaudia nossent,
quae iacere in fraudem possent vinctosque tenere.
quare etiam atque etiam, ut dico, est communis voluptas. }

Men should swerve and insist that women buy them dinner. Women should swerve and value highly men’s erection labor.

With his playful literary perversity, the fourth-century Christian scholar Jerome has been one of the most insightful readers of Lucretius’s De rerum natura. Jerome composed a brief biography of Lucretius:

The poet Titus Lucretius is born. Later on, a love potion swerved him into derangement. Having composed between bouts of insanity several books that Cicero later corrected, Lucretius killed himself by his own hand at age 44.

{ Titus Lucretius poeta nascitur. Postea, amatorio poculo in furorem uersus, cum aliquot libros per interualla insaniae conscripsisset, quos postea Cicero emendauit, propria se manu interfecit anno aetatis XLIIII. } [8]

No direct testimony contradicts Jerome’s account of Lucretius’s life. However, like Theophrastus’s Golden Book on Marriage, this biography of Lucretius is almost surely Jerome’s literary conceit. It implicitly credits the knowledgeably reasoning Lucretius with having personally experienced the insanity of a slave of love. With Jerome’s characteristically biting irony, Lucretius in this mock biography killed himself with his own hand after he correctly described his own affliction. Jerome rightfully regarded the slave of love and the locked-out lover as fools for false gods. Across many centuries of gynocentric valorization of men’s self-abasement in love with women, many readers of Lucretius have lacked Jerome’s insight.[9] Many readers have superficially dismissed Lucretius’s depiction of men’s ignorance and delusions in relation to women. Such failure of reason has had terrible consequences for men’s lives.

Now is the time to swerve completely. The dominant culture asserts that men should be taught not to be men. That’s nonsense.[10] Men should turn from sleep-walking while dreaming of mother and sweet goddess lover, open their eyes, and face women as beasts like themselves. As Lucretius makes clear, men with their own reason can rise to see the light of the sun.

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[1] Lucretius, De rerum natura {On the nature of things} 4.1034-6:

These things so tickle and rouse the seed-swollen place
that it gushes out — as if the job were done —
in the flow of a mighty stream and soils the linen.

{ qui ciet inritans loca turgida semine multo,
ut quasi transactis saepe omnibus rebus profundant
seminis ingentis fluctus vestemque cruentent. }

Latin text from Brown (1987) p. 148, English translation from Esolen (1995) p. 151. Here and in subsequent quotes from De rerum natura, the Latin is from Brown’s edition (a quite good Latin text is available online) and the English translation is based on Esolen’s. In quoting from Esolen’s translation, I silently make some insubstantial changes for ease of reading for non-specialists. Since readers today tend to find verse intimidating, I don’t capitalize the initial word of each line so that the lines look more like prose.

Through the course of their lives men typically do a large amount of erection labor. During a wet dream and other similar work, a man typically performs mighty labor to produce a mighty stream. This male-gendered job historically has been poorly compensated and immiserated. Women’s sexual harassment of men, which is now pervasive, often causes men to do more uncompensated erection labor.

[2] De rerum natura 4.1096-1101. For l. 1101, Esolen has “So lovers are fooled by Venus and her shadows.” Since many readers today don’t know the classical meaning of Venus, I’ve adapted this line in a straightforward way while making the five beat per line metrical structure clearer.

[3] Lucretius recognized the conventional gynocentric perception of the world:

Lucretius frames his cosmos around strong, female figures: the Earth Mother, the goddess Venus, and Nature herself. Each figure helps propel the world forward, working in tandem to produce, organize, and nurture every species in existence. Lucretius uses language of pregnancy and birth to describe the fundamental cycles of the cosmos, depicting the female gender not only as present, but necessary and formative to his world.

Lochtefeld (2016) pp. 19-20. Responding to Nugent (1994), a thoroughly gynocentric study, Fowler took the position of a strange and pathological being attempting to appease an intellectual goddess like Athena. He began:

ONE of the most stimulating and productive developments in gender studies has been the realization that gender is a relevant aspect of all texts, not merely of those whose subject-matter is most directly ‘women’s things’. If the first wave of feminism directed our attention away from what scholars had been brought up to regard as central — war, politics, technological advance — to the marginalized worlds of women, the second wave has returned to the traditional world of men: a world, however, seen no longer as natural and normal, but as strange and pathological.

Fowler (2002) Appendix C, p. 444. With the intellectual orientation of a eunuch serving in a goddess cult, Fowler lamented about De rerum natura: “It is clearly not possible to claim that {the} text embodies tout court an acceptable attitude to women.” Id. p. 445. Despite his Epicurean commitments, Lucretius surely would have been deeply disturbed by such scholarship.

Genders studies that take seriously men’s well-justified sexed protest largely don’t exist. Men understanding themselves to be pathological has been normalized. That’s a terrible legacy of misguided scholarship. Scholars should show the capacity to learn.

[4] De rerum natura 4.1121-40. For l. 1121, Esolen has “Add that they spend their strength to the point of exhaustion.” Above I’ve clarified the reference to men’s erection labor. The second line refers to women dominating men. That’s a pervasive but rarely discussed effect. Copley translated that line with perceptive clarity: “add that the will of a woman rules their life.” Copley (1977) p. 108. Medieval Latin poetry recognized the folly of men soldiering for love.

The gifts that the man gives to his beloved women are exotic Hellenistic luxuries that Romans began acquiring after the Roman conquests of Greece and Carthage in the second century BGC. Brown (1987) p. 250. “Sweet Sicyonian slippers” refers to “a high quality brand of shoe, apparently used mainly by women” and made near Corinth. Id. pp. 256-7, Esolen (1995) p. 269. The adjective thalassina, attested only in this text, is a Greek transliteration: “{t}he precise sense of thalassina is disputed but it probably means ‘sea-dyed,’ i.e. dyed purple with murex.” Brown (1987) p. 259. For Esolen’s “seaside” I have used above “purple.” With respect to “Alidensia Ciaque,” Brown notes “the text of the mss. poses grave difficulties … the context requires a reference to luxurious clothing materials.” Id. p. 262. The gender gap in consumption (men control less than a third as much consumer spending as women do) is much larger that the widely misrepresented gender gap in wages (women are paid only 78% as much as men, not speaking of not controlling for hours worked, job experience, non-pecuniary factors such as the risk of being killed in a coal-mining accident, etc.).

[5] De rerum natura 4.1153-70. Regarding the contrasting personal descriptions, Brown commented:

In nearly every case a direct and usually derogatory Latin description, often drawn from vulgar speech and “unpoetical” in the usual sense, is set against a fanciful Greek hypocorism. This stresses the lover’s perversion of language and conveys in concrete fashion the distance between his idealized picture of the beloved and her real appearance.

Brown (1987) p. 282.

[6] De rerum natura 4.1174-84. Classical Latin philologists have been slow to recognize that the beloved lady farts. In 1897, the eminent, no-nonsense classical Latin philologist A. E. Housman proposed that the lady farts. Most subsequent scholars and translators of De rerum natura made up a variety of excuses to dodge that reality. In a 2017 publication, Brown displayed astonishing scientific integrity in recognizing that his detailed commentary published 30 years earlier mistakenly described se suffit odoribus as referring to “medical fumigation, which was widely practiced as a gynecological treatment.” Brown (1987) p. 296. Brown now recognizes that farting provides the most reasonable, most coherent reading for De rerum natura 4.1175. Brown (2017). Ordinary readers have recognized earlier that the lady farts. For example, Oudenos in 2010 loosely translated 4.1175 as “they fart too, and their farts stink.”

Understanding se suffit odoribus as farting provides crucial context for understanding why the lady’s maids scurry away and chuckle in secret. Their pretentious lady acts as if she’s a goddess. But she farts just as her maids do.

In Book 2 of De rerum natura, Lucretius described turbulent flow of atoms using the verb declino (2.221, 2.259) and the noun clinamen (2.292). Scholars haven’t recognized the relevance of these terms to De rerum natura 4.1174-84. The female human body features a decline from the clitoris to the meeting of labia lines at the base of the vagina, and then a continuing decline to the anus. When the ignorant and deluded exclusus amator travels that path in understanding, he completely reverses his direction. That’s an allusive meaning of clinamen.

Lucretius’s invocations of declino and clinamen have been incoherently interpreted as swerving to support mythic history and the current direction of elite ideology. The medieval churchman Poggio Bracciolini discovered a manuscript of De rerum natura in 1417. Poggio then helped to bring De rerum natura to scholarly attention. Poggio’s vitally important discovery has yet to produce clinamen in relation to gynocentric society.

[7] De rerum natura 4.1185-7. The term Veneres nostras {“our goddesses,” or more literally, “our Venuses”} carries irony in the context of women scheming to cover up repulsive human bodily functions. The figure retinere adstrictos in amore resonates in literature of men’s sexed protest. See also 4.1207. The subsequent quote above is 4.1206-8.

[8] Jerome’s addition to Eusebius’s Chronicle for the year 94 BGC (or possibly 93 BGC). Latin text from Gain (1969) p. 545, my English translation, drawing on that in the entry for Lucretius in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Gain concludes, “no part of St Jerome’s account of the life of Lucretius can simply be dismissed as untrue.” Id. p. 553. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t an artful literary construct.

[9] Nussbaum greatly misunderstood Jerome’s biography of Lucretius. Of derangement from a love potion, Nussbaum declared:

this experience, and the criticism that arose from it, were highly atypical and peculiar. The madness of love was not any ordinary erotic experience; it was a compulsive state induced by a drug.

Nussbaum (1989) p. 2. Love madness not drug-induced was conventional in Roman love elegy. Moreover, lovesickness has long been recognized as a naturally occurring, debilitating condition. Nussbaum then freely wanders further from reasonableness:

And the condemnations of love that were written {by Lucretius} in the ‘lucid intervals’ can, in consequence, be seen as outpourings of bitterness and misery produced by an unwilling addict, rather than as rational criticism constructed through reflection by a free thinking being.

Id. Freely thinking without relevant learning doesn’t produce reasoned thought. In Jerome’s mock biography, Lucretius learned about love madness, and then in an interval of rationality, wrote about what he had learned from his experience. Nussbaum seems to project onto Jerome her own evident concern in her scholarly article to reach a conclusion edifying and therapeutic, in a comforting, complacent sense, for herself and her elite academic gynocentric circle.

[10] A classicist in Kansas declared:

my approach finds something both correct and salutary in the dominant culture’s complaint that the Garden {the Epicurean learning academy} was teaching men not to be men.

Gordon (2002) p. 106. The dominant culture now hatefully teaches men not to be men.

Men should be taught that women are not superior by nature to them. De rerum natura 4.1030-1287 offers such teaching with brilliant Latin poetry. Yet, perhaps because of gynocentric resistance to teaching real gender equality, De rerum natura 4.1030-1287 hasn’t been included in the school curriculum. On the history of suppressing De rerum natura 4.1030-1287, Buttterfield (2012), esp. pp. 96, 109.

[image] (1) Vision of beautiful woman. Image released under CCO Public Doman license thanks to Max Pixel. (2) Mirage of water in the Mojave Desert, 23 May 2007. Thanks to Brocken Inaglory and Wikimedia Commons.


Brown, Robert D. 1987. Lucretius on love and sex: a commentary on De rerum natura IV, 1030-1287, with prolegomena, text, and translation. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Brown, Robert D. 2017. “Lucretius’ malodorous mistress (De rerum natura 4.1175).” Classical Journal. 113 (1): 26-43.

Butterfield, David. 2012. “Contempta relinquas: anxiety and expurgation in the publication of Lucretius’ De rerum natura.” Ch. 5 (pp. 94-114) in Harrison, Stephen J., and Christopher Stray, eds. 2014. Expurgating the classics: editing out in Greek and Latin. London, England: Bloomsbury Academic.

Copley, Frank O., trans. 1977. The nature of things. New York: Norton.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 1995. Lucretius. On the nature of things: De rerum natura. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Fowler, Don. 2002. Lucretius on atomic motion: a commentary on De rerum natura 2.1-332. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gain, D. B. 1969. “The Life and Death of Lucretius.” Latomus. 28 (3): 545-553.

Gordon, Pamela. 2002. “Some Unseen Monster: Rereading Lucretius on Sex.” Ch. 3 (pp. 86-109) in Fredrick, David, ed. The Roman gaze: vision, power, and the body. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Lochtefeld, Vera Jane. 2016. “A Cyclical Cosmos: The Female in Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura.” Essay, April 8. St. Olaf College, Minnesota (US).

Nugent, S. Georgia. 1994. “Mater matters: The female in Lucretius’ De rerum natura.” Colby Quarterly 30: 179–205

Nussbaum, Martha. 1989. “Beyond Obsession and Disgust: Lucretius’s Genealogy of Love.” Apeiron. 22 (1): 1-60.

visions inspired daughter to reject life of female privilege

man with hoe baffled by idea of male privilege

About 1700 years ago, Christian monks recorded a story memorializing female privilege and urging young women to turn from it. The setting is straight-forward:

A good man, who was very simple and God-fearing, every day labored in the fields and with the work of his hands earned a mediocre living. His wife, in contrast, stayed all day long in the home, eating and drinking with dissolute companions. Whatever her husband was able to acquire, she consumed in self-indulgent living.

{ homine bono, qui simplex erat valde et timens Deum, et cotidie laborans in agro de labore manuum mediocriter vivebat. Uxor autem in domo remanens tota die cum leccatoribus manducabat et bibebat, et, quecumque maritus ejus poterat acquirere, luxuriose vivens consumebat. }

Many wives throughout history have been reluctant to share the burden of working outside the home. Today, many wives work outside the home. However, many of them consider work outside the home to concern their personal fulfillment rather than fulfilling an obligation to reduce the burden on their husbands. These wives often withdraw temporarily or permanently from the workforce while denying their husbands similar opportunities to quit their jobs. Those wives thus betray ideals of gender equality and set a bad example for their daughters.

In this case, the couple had one daughter. After her parents died, the daughter had to determine the course of her life. Should she live a life of female privilege as a wife idly exploiting the labor of her husband? Or should she be a strong, independent woman who courageously supports a stay-at-home husband and provides him with a wide range of opportunities for eating, drinking, enjoying the company of dissolute friends, and freely seeking personal fulfillment?

She began to think about whether she should imitate the life of her father, or the life of her mother. The devil placed before her eyes the life of her father. His life had always been excessively hard and rough. He had always lived in sadness and misery. Her mother, in contrast, had lived in great pleasure and joy, and in great happiness. At this point, her soul was nearly induced to have contempt for her father’s way of life and to imitate her mother.

{ Que cepit cogitare utrum vitam patris aut matris sue deberet imitari. Dyabolus autem ante oculos ejus ponebat quod vita patris ejus dura nimis et aspera fuisset, et quod in dolore et miseria semper vixisset; mater vero ipsius in magnis deliciis et gaudio et in magna felicitate vixerat. Et jam pene adhuc animus ejus inducebatur ut, contempta patris conversatione, matrem imitaretur. }

Many women today falsely believe that their mother, grandmothers, great-grandmothers, and all the women in their lineage going back to the beginning of humanity lived much more oppressed and constrained lives than those of all the men in their lineage. That’s delusional, as the lives of this ancient couple makes clear. The devil presented to the daughter the truth that her mother had a much easier and more pleasurable worldly life than her father did. Most women and men would prefer to live the worldly life of her mother.

In Christian understanding, the Lord hears the cries of the poor and vindicates the oppressed. While female privilege and oppressing men is today regarded as virtuous or at least deserved payback, Christianity more truthfully supported gender equality. The daughter thus experienced visions:

The next night an angel of the Lord appeared to her in a dream. It seemed to her that he led her to some horrible and fetid place of torment, where she saw among other condemned her mother burned black by a fire of intolerable flame. Serpents were gnawing and tearing at all her limbs with bitter bites. Then she began to cry as if howling: “Come, my daughter, see that because of vile and transitory pleasures I endure torments without end and never obtain pardon. Take heed therefore, my daughter, do not imitate my miserable and most shameful life, because you would not be able to escape eternal torments.” Then it seemed to her that she was led to a most beautiful and glorious place, where in the company of holy and honored spirits she saw her father shining brighter than the sun and crowned with glory and honor. To her the angel said: “Which life do you wish to imitate, your father’s or your mother’s?” She responded: “Lord, I swear to you, I promise that I will never imitate the life of my mother, but the example of my father I want to follow completely in penance and labor.” The next morning to do so, she gave whatever she had to the poor, and withdrew to live in a cave and follow a most laborious life.

{ Proxima vero nocte angelus Domini apparuit ei in sompnis, et videbatur ei quod duceret eam ad quedam fetida et horribilia loca tormentorum, ubi inter alios dampnatos videbat matrem suam nigerrimam igne intollerabili igne succensam, et serpentes omnia ejus membra morsu amarissimo corrodebant et laniabant. Tunc ilia cepit quasi ululando clamare: “Veni, filia, quia propter viles et transitorias delicias sine fine cruciabor, et nunquam veniam obtinebo. Cave igitur, filia mea, ne miserabilem et turpissimam vitam imiteris, quia nullo modo posses evadero cruciatus eternos.” Postmodum videbatur illi quod duceretur ad locum amenissimum et gloriosum, ubi in consortio sanctorum et honorum spirituum videbat patrem suum sole splendidiorem, gloria et honore coronatum. Cui angelus ait: “Cujus vitam vis imitari patris tui aut matris?” Cui ilia: “Domine, juro vobis, promitto quod nunquam matris mee vitam imitabor, sed exemplo patris mei in penitentia et labore vitam meam volo consumare.” Mane autem facto, quicquid habebat pauperibus erogavit, et artissimam vitam ducens in spelunca se reclusit. }

Many men have lived lives of hard work spent mostly in seclusion in their man-caves. Many women have no appreciation for the difficulties of men’s lives. Through these visions, the daughter gained sympathetic appreciation for her father’s life and recognized her father’s righteousness.

Parents, teach your daughters to reject lives of female privilege! Many education resources today for teaching about gender equality merely perpetuate modern ignorance, anti-men bigotry, and superstition. Through the largely unheralded work of medieval Latin philologists, vitally important medieval Latin literature has been transmitted to the present. Medieval Latin literature offers one of the best available resources today for teaching truly about gender equality.

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Read more:


The story above is exemplum 289 in the preaching handbook Sermones Vulgares of the early thirteenth-century European church leader Jacques de Vitry.  The Latin text is from Crane (1890) pp. 121-2. The English translation is mine, drawing upon the English paraphrase of id. pp. 260-1. This exemplum comes from a more detailed story in the Vitae Patrum {Lives of the Fathers}, a collection of stories mainly from the third and fourth centuries. The stories are drawn from the lives of Christian monks living in the deserts of Egypt and Syria. The story above was disseminated in the variety of medieval collections, including Libro de los Exemplos and Magnum Speculum Exemplorum.

[image] Man with a Hoe. Oil on canvas painting by Jean-François Millet. Made about 1861. Held in the Getty Center (Los Angeles, US), accession # 85.PA.114. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Crane, Thomas Frederick. 1890. The exampla or illustrative stories from the Sermones vulgares of Jacques de Vitry. London: David Nutt.

fathers for cuckolding: the problem of gender justice & grandchildren

fathers for gender justice

Fathers 4 Justice emerged early in the twenty-first century as super-courageous social justice advocates. Fathers, however, generally have done little to advocate for men. Because of favoritism toward women, love for grandchildren, and gender inequality in parental knowledge, fathers typically favor cuckolding husbands over justice for men.

A medieval Latin story from the fifteenth-century churchman Poggio Bracciolini perceptively highlights the problem. A nobleman divorced his wife after a few years because she hadn’t become pregnant. In many countries today, either spouse can unilaterally terminate a marriage without needing any reason. However, in medieval Europe, spouses needed a valid reason for divorce. Infertility was a valid reason. Divorce for infertility didn’t necessarily imply blame on either party.

The wife’s father initially blamed her for the divorce. He thought she had behaved improperly:

her father secretly reproached her for not having given herself freely to others for the work of creation.

{ objurgavit eam secreto pater, quod non, et cum aliis, creandis liberis operam dedisset. } [1]

But she kindly explained that he was wrong:

“My father,” she said, “For this issue I carry no fault. I have tried all the man-servants and even all the stable-boys, and couldn’t conceive, and the usage didn’t do me any good.”

{ “Mi pater,” inquit, “nulla hujus rei residet in me culpa: omnes enim famulos, etiam stabularios sum experta, an possem concipere, et nullius usus profuit mihi.” }

Her father then understood that his daughter wasn’t to be blamed:

The father grieved for his daughter’s fortune, for she was far from being culpable for being infertile.

{ Doluit filiae fortunam pater procul existentis a sterilitatis culpa. }

The message is clear: as long as a wife has sex with many different men, she shouldn’t be blamed if her and her husband remain childless.[2] Some husbands don’t object to being cuckolded. Some husbands have even worked with their wives within the home to generate family income. Nonetheless, cuckolding, particularly state-institutionalized cuckolding, should be understood as a grave gender injustice perpetrated against men throughout evolutionary history.

Many mothers advocate for women, even though mothers have both daughters and sons. More fathers should express gender solidarity with men. As a matter of gender justice, fathers should not encourage their daughters to be wives who cuckold their husbands.

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[1] Poggio, Facetiae 221, “Excuse of an infertile daughter to her father {Excusatio sterilitatis filiae ad patrem},” Latin text from Poggoi (1879) vol. 2, pp. 148-9. Here and subsequent quotes include my English translation, drawing upon that of id., but tracking the Latin more closely. All subsequent quotes above are similarly from id.

[2] More than 2000 years ago, the Roman author Lucretius wrote of the importance of trying different sexual partners to find a fertile combination:

And many a barren and often-wedded woman
Will find the man to enable her at last
To carry the sweet treasure of a child.
And men whose wives, though fertile, could never bear
Children, have found concordant women too
To fortify their age with progeny.
So much it matters that the seeds can fuse
In the fit way to cause conception: thick
Most suitable for the runny and vice versa.

{ et multae steriles hymenaeis ante fuerunt
pluribus et nactae post sunt tamen unde puellos
suscipere et partu possent ditescere dulci.
et quibus ante domi fecundae saepe nequissent
uxoris parere, inventast illis quoque compar
natura, ut possent gnatis munire senectam.
usque adeo magni refert, ut semina possint
seminibus commisceri genitaliter apta,
crassaque conveniant liquidis et liquida crassis. }

Lucretius, De rerum natura {On the nature of things} 4.1251-1259, Latin text from Brown (1987) p. 160 (nearly identical that that from the Latin Library), English translation from Esolen (1995) p. 157. Poggio Bracciolini discovered a manuscript of Lucretius’s De rerum natura and helped to re-introduce that work into European literary culture. Jews, Christians, and Muslims are less concerned that sex result in children. They at least nominally disapprove of adultery and cuckolding, even for the instrumental purpose of having children.

[image] Fathers 4 Justice, Day of the Dad demonstration.  London, June 20, 2004 (Father’s Day). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Brown, Robert D. 1987. Lucretius on love and sex: a commentary on De rerum natura IV, 1030-1287, with prolegomena, text, and translation. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 1995. Lucretius. On the nature of things: De rerum natura. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

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

Ecloga Theoduli: subtle social protest to popular medieval schoolbook

Ecloga Theoduli - male and female shepherd in battle of the sexes

Arising within roughly the same eleventh-century Germanic literary context as the gynocentric Latin romance Ruodlieb, Ecloga Theoduli {Eclogue of Theodulus} provides a subtle, sophisticated protest against socially devaluing men relative to women. Medieval and modern scholars with the skills, interest, and courage to discuss such a work have numbered few. Hence Ecloga Theoduli became merely a popular medieval schoolbook teaching pagan myths and Christian history. It was one of the most widely read books in medieval Europe.[1] With public reason disintegrating and ideals of gender equality being a farce in practice, reading Ecloga Theoduli well is now more important than ever.

Ecloga Theoduli starkly contrasts female and male shepherds. A female shepherd introduced in its prologue guides a flock of sheep; a male shepherd, a flock of goats. In the gospel of Matthew, the judgment of God upon the world is figured as separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep will inherit the kingdom prepared for them from the time of the world’s creation. The goats will be sent into eternal fire prepared for the devil and his helpers. In modern terms, the prologue of Ecloga Theoduli figures females as wonderful and males as demonic.[2]

The appearance and behavior of the shepherds encourages sympathy for the female and contempt for the male. The female shepherd is a lovely young woman descended from the line of King David. Sitting near a fountain and a river, she plays a harp. The music she makes is so sweet that, entranced in listening, the river stops flowing and her sheep stop eating their fodder. The male shepherd, in contrast, isn’t described as young and beautiful, nor is royal descendant attributed to him. He’s dressed in a motley panther skin. With inflated, rigid cheeks from blowing on his pipe, he forcefully scatters a thousand notes. Moreover, he’s agitated with envy’s bile and apparently fears the river. From a safe point on a mound on the opposite side of the river, the male shepherd calls out crudely to the female: “Why, Alithia, do you sing these stupid songs to mute beasts {Cur, Alithia, canis rebus stultissima mutis}?”[3] The male shepherd thus appears as just another despicable man harassing a wonderful female coworker. Not surprisingly, the male shepherd’s name is Pseustis, a Greek transliteration meaning falsehood. The female shepherd’s name is Alithia. That’s a Greek transliteration for truth.

Beneath men-devaluing caricatures of female and male, Ecloga Theoduli subtly questions gynocentric values. In proposing a contest, the male shepherd describes the female shepherd as seeking to dominate him:

If conquest’s what you seek, the chance to strive is here.
If you should win, my flute will then be yours, but if
You lose, I’ll win your harp: let’s settle on this deal.

{ Si iuvat, ut vincas, mecum certare potestas:
Fistula nostra tuum cedet, si vincis, in usum;
Victa dabis citharam; legem cœamus in æquam. } [4]

Under this deal, one shepherd would have a flute and harp, and another shepherd would have neither. The male shepherd thus sets up abolishing gender (figured as persons possessing different instruments) as the necessary outcome of the contest. Under gynocentrism, truly abolishing gender is overwhelmingly in men’s interest.

In response to the male shepherd’s proposed contest, the female shepherd invokes deeply rooted social suspicion of men:

She replied: “Your words don’t move me, nor do the rewards
Appeal to me, since I am gnawed by just one doubt:
However things turn out, without a careful witness here,
If you should lose, you won’t admit that I have won.”

{ Illa refert: “Nec dicta movent nec præmia mulcent
Me tua nunc adeo, quia vulnere mordeor uno:
Quo res cumque cadit, testis nisi sedulus assit,
Si victus fueris, non me vicisse fateris.” }

Under gynocentrism, everyone is strongly encouraged to believe women and disbelieve men. That’s part of the structural gender oppression that results in about fifteen times more men than women held behind bars in prisons and jails around the world. Does wisdom offer hope for dispelling this acute gender injustice?

In Ecloga Theoduli, “mother wisdom” by chance strolls into the scene. Men and women of good will might hope that she would understand the fundamental gender trouble. Instead, mother wisdom frivolously agrees to judge the contest:

Then Mother Wisdom spoke: “Although my parents said
That when my flock was watered, I should hurry home
And not forget the punishment if I were late,
I’ll gladly bear it, sensing fun in such a fight!
Now, you go first, Falsehood, since you’re a man. She’ll
Then match you in zeal. You’ll speak in fours: Pythagoras
Decreed this number’s role. May Sun increase our time!”

{ Tunc mater Fronesis: “Adaquato me grege quamvis
Accelerare domum iussisset uterque parentum
Nec dubitem pœnas, si quicquam tardo, paratas,
Læta feram talis præsumens gaudia litis.
Perge prior, Pseusti, quia masculus; illa sequaci
Aequabit studio. Sit tetras in ordine vestro.
Pitagoræ numerus. Sol augeat, obsecro, tempus.” } [5]

Pythagoras described ten as the essence of number, because it’s the sum of the first four numbers.[6] Compare that arcana to widely experienced reality: women and men fighting with each is hugely destructive and far from fun. “Women first” has been a social principle since the Sabine women of ancient Rome. Ecloga Theoduli ironically reverses that principle of women’s privilege with disparaging men as false: “You go first, Falsehood, since you’re a man {Perge prior, Pseusti, quia masculus}.”

In their literary contest, the female shepherd Truth doesn’t overwhelmingly defeat the male shepherd Falsehood even though she draws upon the dominant narratives of medieval Christian society and he draws upon marginal non-Christian narratives. Consider the first round in their contest. The male shepherd states:

From Cretan shores came Saturn; he was first of all
And then he spread the age of gold throughout the earth.
He had no sire: no one preceded him in time;
The noble race of gods enjoys descent from him.

{ Primus Cretæis venit Saturnus ab oris
Aurea per cunctas disponens sæcula terras;
Nullus ei genitor nec quisquam tempore maior;
Ipso gaudet avo superum generosa propago. }

The male shepherd thus obliterates the act of castration associated with Saturn (Chronos) in Hesiod’s Theogony and establishes instead a beneficent father god. In response to that fabulous, realistic depiction of masculine goodness, the female shepherd Truth declares:

The first man dwelt and lived in verdant paradise
Until, persuaded by his spouse, the viper’s poison
He drank and mixed the cup of death for all of us.
We children feel today what once our parents did.

{ Incola primus homo fuit in viridi paradiso.
Coniuge vipereum donec suadente venenum
Hausit eo cunctis miscendo pocula mortis:
Sentit adhuc proles, quod commisere parentes. }

Unlike today’s dominant culture, Truth recognizes women’s culpability and women’s death-dealing. By the first round of the shepherds’ contest, the prologue’s stark caricature of women’s superiority has already been undermined.

Ecloga Theoduli forthrightly recognizes men’s vulnerability to women. While skipping over Omphale’s domestic violence against Hercules, the male shepherd Falsehood narrates Hercules’s heroic acts and then tells that Hercules’s mistress Deaneira jealously and stupidly killed him:

The club of Hercules despoiled the dragon’s watch;
He stole Geryon’s pride and killed the Hydra dead;
To him fell Cacus and the janitor of Hell.
His mistress Deianeira burned him in the end.

{ Alcidæ vigilem spoliavit clava draconem;
Gerionis pompam rapit et consumpserat ydram;
Cacus cessit ei, succumbit ianitor Orci:
Incendit demum pælex Deianira superbum. }

The female shepherd Truth describes the similar life and death of Samson:

His limbs enclosed in lion’s skins, great Samson slew
A thousand men; with foxes he burned up the fields.
He took the city’s locks and broke the sinew bonds.
Delilah cut his hair, her final treachery.

{ Samson exuviis indutus niembra leonis
Sternit mille viros, devastat vulpibus agros,
Urbis claustra tulit, nervorum vincula rupit:
Fraude sua tandem præcidit Dalida crinem. }

Falsehood and Truth all but kiss and agree that woman can lead even great heroes to their deaths.

Ecloga Theoduli also recognizes the serious problem of women falsely accusing men of rape. Phaedra, Hippolytus’s step-mother, accused him of raping her after he refused her sexual advances. The male shepherd Falsehood instructively adds that the goddess Diana, outraged about the persecution of Hippolytus, called him back to life:

Hippolytus, accused by cruel Phaedra, died
Torn by his chariot, when waves brought seals ashore.
Diana’s wrath abhorred the loss to chastity
And called him back to life. He’s now named Virbius.

{ Ipolitus sæva perit accusante noverca
Discerptus bigis focas agitantibus undis.
Dampna pudicitiæ non pertulit ira Dianæ:
Ipolitum revocat; modo nomine Virbius extat. }

The female shepherd Truth invokes the life of Joseph. Potiphar’s wife sexually assaulted Joseph and then falsely accused him of rape. Joseph overcame the false accusation of rape and became the Pharoah’s vizier:

Sold as a slave by brothers’ malice, Joseph spurned
His mistress’s desire and threats. Confined
In chains he analyzed the Pharoah’s dreams, and so
The kingdoms of all Egypt were assigned to him.

{ Venditus in servum Ioseph livore suorum
Ardentits dominæ dum spernit vota minasque,
Addictus vinclis discussit somnia regis
Et subduntur ei totius regna Canopi. }

Both male and female shepherds recognized the serious problem of women falsely accusing men of rape. Both offered stories of hope for wronged men. In Ecloga Theoduli, men’s lives matter.

Ecloga Theoduli recognizes that women are no less vicious than men and that the greatness of women is like that of men. The male shepherd sings of the bitter rivalry between Niobe, who had fourteen children, and Latona, the goddess of childbirth, who had only two children:

“Burn incense on your hearths, if you would keep alive
Your children” — so Diana, Latona’s child, bade.
A thousand darts, a thousand strings, hung from her arm
To take revenge on Niobe for boastful words.

{ Thura cremate focis, si quos servare velitis
Fetus incolumes: iubet hoc Latonia proles.
Ex humero Triviæ dependent spicula mille
Cum totidem nervis, Niobæ vindicta loquacis. }

Taking revenge, Latona’s daughter Diana viciously killed all of Niobe’s daughters. The female shepherd in response sings about the beautiful maiden Susannah:

The elders’ passion could not be restrained by their
Old age nor by the virtue of so great a sex.
Although she saw that deadly fates were aimed at her,
Susannah overcame the law that nature gave.

{ Presbiteris flammas nec longi temporis ætas
Nec tanti sexus potuit restringere virtus;
Sed districta licet mortis sibi fata videret,
Quam natura dedit legem, Susanna subegit. }

Even old men are sexually attracted to young, beautiful women. Young women tend to be sexually attracted to powerful, high-status men who are often considerably older than them. Yet women aren’t necessarily passive victims to these natural laws. Susannah, a strong, independent woman, but with a rather different character than Empress Theodora, resolutely rejected the elders’ coercive proposition for sex. At the same time, this account complements the male shepherd’s story of Diana and Niobe with further reason to dismiss gynocentric claims of women’s moral superiority relative to men. The phrase “virtue of so great a sex” equates women to men through the Latin root vir (adult male human being) of “virtue.” The greatness of the female sex is like the greatness of the male sex.

The most telling round of the shepherds’ contest is the most antagonistic one. The male shepherd Falsehood boldly tells uncomfortable truth:

A man’s firm mind is felled by women’s waywardness:
They handle potions, bloodying their limbs by taste.
A woman’s strength is known to Tereus’ bitter house;
Medea knows: she killed her young in hateful death.

{ Mens robusta viri levitate cadit muliebri:
Ypomanes tractant, gustu sua membra cruentant.
Femina quid possit, Terei domus aspera novit,
Scit Medea suis infesta clade peremptis. }

The female shepherd Truth recoils in protest, but then affirms with the example of Judith and Holofernes the truth of what Falsehood sang:

Lest these loud insults taint the air, let them now cease!
Duke Holofernes feared a woman’s might:
That splendid widow snared him in a crazy love.
Assyrians lament his trust in woman’s word.

{ Aëra ne fedent, isthæc convicia, cessent.
Femineas vires expavit dux Olofernes
Insignis viduæ vesano captus amore:
Deflent Assiri, quod crediderit mulieri. } [7]

Women in truth aren’t necessarily wonderful or truthful. Belief otherwise is a social construction of gynocentrism. So too is the pervasive social endeavor to silence voices of men’s sexed protest.

Ecloga Theoduli’s poetic contest of course ends with female victory. With a pretense of defiance, the male shepherd Falsehood sings:

 If she surpasses me today with all her tricks,
I’ll mourn like Calchas after Mopsus won the prize.
But I won’t let myself be crushed by girlish fraud:
A thousand fights I’ll fight, unless the evening comes!

{ Ista suis hodie si prevalet artibus in me,
Dum cessit Mopso, Calcantis more dolebo,
Fraude puellari sed non patiar superari:
Millesies repetam, nisi subtrahat Hesperus horam. }

Invoking pregnancy while depreciating erection labor is the ultimate trump card of gynocentrism. Add to that ploy fraudulently obscuring that Jesus was a male human being and you have the response song of the female shepherd Truth:

0 Thales, falsehood’s feigner, would that you were here!
I’ll trust the four evangelists and their great books,
Which tell how God took on our human body from
A maid: the effort will not burden me at all!

{ Nunc utinam Tales, falsorum fictor, adesses!
Quatuor imprimis evangelicæ rationis
Nitar codicibus, nostrum de virgine corpus
Ut Deus accepit, nec me labor iste gravabit. }

The male shepherd immediately concedes defeat to the female shepherd. Darkness overcomes all. Mother wisdom ironically concludes the poem by urging silence as the only alternative to despair:

Now don’t say any more, lest desperation hurt.

{ Desine quod restat, ne desperatio lædat. }

Over the past millennium, far too many men have obeyed that wisdom while enchained under gynocentrism.

Ecloga Theoduli is sophisticated literature. Its author was a well-read scholar who drew upon a wide range of Christian and non-Christian sources from across the previous millennium. It presumes extensive knowledge of pre-Christian Greco-Roman myth.[8] It includes unusual words, including words that suggest knowledge of Greek. Ecloga Theoduli isn’t merely a schoolbook for teaching dominant culture. Underneath the form of a schoolbook affirming female superiority, Ecloga Theoduli voices men’s sexed protest against gynocentric domination and exploitation.[9]

Ecloga Theoduli addresses a major literary challenge that still looms today. While about four times more men than women suffer death from violence, public discourse and billions of public dollars are focused on violence against women. Men have no reproductive rights and are imprisoned without the benefit of counsel for being too poor to make sex payments that the state imposes on them solely because they had sex of reproductive type. Decades of high-profile, bitter public debate about abortion and choice has irrationally ignored choice for men. Firm belief in a deliberately misrepresented “gender wage gap” is public orthodoxy, while grotesque anti-men discrimination in the criminal justice system attracts little public concern. To make matters worse, leading news sources now peddle outrageously mendacious claims about men raping women. How can this colossal failure in reason and imagination be addressed?

Ecloga Theoduli and Solomon and Marcolf are sharply contrasting examples of medieval literature of men’s sex protest. Both feature extensive, highly structured dialog. Ecloga Theoduli works within elite culture. Solomon and Marcolf, in contrast, confronts elite culture with the barnyard and lower bodily function such as farting and mooning authorities. Ecloga Theoduli was neutered into a popular schoolbook within medieval gynocentric society.[10] Solomon and Marcolf, on the other hand, had relatively little circulation before the fifteenth century. Both works are vital for understanding approaches to challenging gynocentrism, but neither offers an example of success.

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[1] Theodulus literally means “worshipper of God”. The influential clerical leader Jacques de Vitry recommended the Ecloga Theoduli as the second work in a list that included the Distiches of Cato, the fables of Avianus, works of Prudentius, Prosper, and Sedulius, and the versified Bible. Hamilton (2009) pp. 7-10. In the thirteenth century, Ecloga Theoduli was the only medieval text among the Sex auctores (six authors) recommended for schools. By the fifteenth century, Ecloga Theoduli was part of the Auctores octo morales (eight moral authors) that comprised the canon of school texts. Ecloga Theoduli became highly popular:

The Eclogue of Theodulus enjoyed a remarkable popularity for several centuries and an influence which was, for a work written in the early Middle Ages, unsurpassed, perhaps unequaled. From its origins in the tenth century to the early seventeenth it was one of the most widely read books in Europe, as manuscripts, commentaries, catalogs, citations and educational treatises testify.

Green (1982) p. 49. Ecloga Theoduli has survived in more than 200 manuscripts and was printed at least 24 times before 1500. Five distinctly authored commentaries on it have survived. Continuous commentaries on the text are included in 92 of the surviving manuscripts. Thomson & Perraud (1990) p. 114, based on the compilation of Quinn (1971); Hamilton (1909) pp. 11-2.

[2] The gospel reference is Matthew 25:31-46. Chance suggested that Hrotsvit authored Ecloga Theoduli. Chance (1994) pp. 355-60. Hrotsvit, along with other medieval women writers, showed courageous  and transgressive concern for men. Sophisticated understanding of Ecloga Theoduli is consistent with Hrotsvit’s concern for men, but that doesn’t necessarily imply her authorship.

In considering the question of authorship, Heren essentially belittled medieval women writers’ scope of thinking and sympathetic understanding. He declared:

There were women writers in the early and central Middle Ages — Duodha, Hrotswitha, Hildegard, Heloisa — and some parts of the poem are surely consistent with female authorship: the words “of so great a sex” in reference to Susanna, the rebuke to Pseustis, “let these insults stop lest they pollute the air,” and I would add Alithia’s words in round 34: “a woman is a sweet thing to a man.” But we shall probably never know the author’s sex or identity.

Heren (2007) p. 215. Medieval women writers weren’t narrow-minded female supremacists, as many scholars are today.

[3] Ecloga Theoduli 16, from Latin trans. Heren (2007) p. 218. Thomson & Perraud (1990) and Rigg (2008) provide alternate English translations. The translations of Heren, Thomson & Perraud, and Rigg are based on the Latin texts of Green (1982), Huygens (1954 / 1977), and Osternacher (1902), respectively. Rigg’s translation is in verse; the others are in prose. I note any substantial differences among the translations. The Latin text above is that conveniently available via the Latin Library (which wrongly attributes the text to the fifth century). I have made a few minor corrections of obvious textual corruption.

[4] Ecloga Theoduli 17-19, trans. Rigg (2008). Subsequent quotations are Ecloga Theoduli 20-3 (She said…); 30-6 (Then mother wisdom…); 37-40 (From Cretan shores…); 41-4 (The first man…); 173-6 (The club of Hercules…); 177-80 (His limbs enclosed…); 135-8 (Hippolytus, accused…); 139-42 (Sold as a slave…); 261-4 (“Burn incense…); 265-8 (The elders’ passion…); 269-72 (A man’s firm mind…); 273-6 (Lest these loud insults…); 325-8 (If she surpasses me…); 329-42 (O Thales…); 344 (Now don’t say any more…). I’ve made a few non-substantial changes to these translations.

[5] For l. 30, Herren’s translation doesn’t include the reference to “mother”. It has just “Then Phronesis replied.” Herren (2007) p. 219. A collation of manuscripts of Ecloga Theoduli includes mater. If that word is excluded from Green’s Latin text, that may reflect a medieval editor’s concern that Martianus Capella’s On the Marriage of Philology and Mercury has Alithia as the sister of Phronesis. Thomson & Perraud (1990) p. 157, n. 156, observes that latter point.

[6] Aetius (Pseudo-Plutarch), Opinions of the Philosophers 1.3.8 states:

Ten is the very nature of number. All Greeks and all barbarians alike count up to ten, and having reached ten revert again to the unity. And again, Pythagoras maintains, the power of the number 10 lies in the number 4, the tetrad. This is the reason: If one starts at the unit (1) and adds the successive number up to 4, one will make up the number 10 (1 + 2 + 3 + 4 = 10). And if one exceeds the tetrad, one will exceed 10 too…. So that the number by the unit resides in the number 10, but potentially in the number 4.

via Kate Hobgood.

[7] In his late-eleventh-century commentary on Ecloga Theoduli, Bernard of Utrecht rightly condemns Alithia’s attempt to silence the male shepherd:

This leads to the impropriety of Alithia and proves by her deceptions

{ Hoc ad improprium Alithiae inducit probatque per maleficia }

Latin text quoted by Chance (1994) p. 389.

[8] In setting, characters, and contest, Ecloga Theoduli draws upon Virgil’s ecologues, particularly his Eclogue 3 and 7. Competing shepherds in Virgil are not, however, of differing sexes. The language and content of Ecloga Theoduli also indicates knowledge of Virgil’s Aeneid and Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Its author probably also knew Statius, Lucan, Calpurnius, Claudian, and the Latin Iliad. Green (1982) pp. 97-99, 105.

[9] Herren (2007) recognized that, beneath its surface, Ecloga Theoduli doesn’t clearly represent biblical examples of truth triumphing over pagan myth. That isn’t a daring observation today. Moreover, such cultural ecumenism wouldn’t be shocking to many learned persons in medieval Europe.

The truly subversive theme of Ecloga Theoduli is gender. Its prologue of female supremacism reflects dominant ideology under gynocentrism. But Ecloga Theoduli then dramatizes the complete lack of connection between female supremacism and well-known myth, history, and inter-personal reality:

Adjective that qualify females are almost always unflattering: for example, prefida uxor (115), saeva noverca (124), ardentis dominae (130), Juno ferox (158). Females are portrayed as treacherous, like Jezebel, Dalilah, Judith, Proserpina, and Lot’s wife; lustful, like Phaedra, Scylla, Phyllis, Potiphar’s wife, and the wives and concubines who ruined Solomon; venal and greedy, like Eriphyle, who demanded the fateful necklace of Harmonia, and Danae, whom Theodulus says gold corrupted; jealous and vengeful, like Juno and Deianira; boastful chatterboxes, like Niobe; haughty and disobedient to their husbands, like Queen Vashti; cruel viragos like Procne and Medea; venal, like Danae and Eriphyle, baneful and threatening, like Diana and Helen; or man-killers, like Judith and Medusa. No fewer than sixteen quatrains contain derogatory implications about the nature of women.

Thomson & Perraud (1990) pp. 124-5. Dismissing these examples as merely medieval “anti-feminism” is anachronistic and facile. Ecloga Theoduli presents highly sophisticated, deeply critical dialectical representations of gender.

[10] The transformation of Ecloga Theoduli into a popular schoolbook didn’t happen quickly. It was probably written in the tenth century. The first surviving reference to Ecloga Theoduli as a schoolbook is in Bernard of Utrecht’s dedicatory letter to Bishop Conrad of Utrecht. That letter was written between 1075 and 1099. Ecloga Theoduli isn’t named in lists of recommended school texts until the list of Conrad of Hirsau early in the twelfth century. Thomson & Perraud (1990) pp. 112-3.

[image] Prefatory woodcut in an edition of Ecloga Theoduli printed by Konrad Kachelofen in Leipzig in 1492. Ex Bibliotheca Gymnasii Altonani (Hamburg). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Chance, Jane. 1994. Medieval mythography. Vol. 1. From Roman North Africa to the School of Chartres, A.D. 433-1177. Gainesville, Florida: Univ. Press of Florida. (Wetherbee’s review)

Green, R. P. H. 1980. Seven versions of Carolingian pastoral. Reading: Department of Classics, University of Reading.

Green, R. P. H. 1982. “The Genesis of a Medieval Textbook: The Models and Sources of the Ecloga Theoduli.” Viator. 13: 49-106.

Hamilton, George L. 1909. “Theodulus: A Mediaeval Textbook.” Modern Philology. 7 (2): 169-185.

Herren, Michael. 2007. “Reflections on the meaning of the Ecloga Theoduli: Where is the authorial voice?” Pp. 199-230 in Otten, Willemien, and Karla Pollmann, eds. Poetry and exegesis in premodern Latin Christianity: the encounter between classical and Christian strategies of interpretation. Boston: Brill.

Huygens, R. B. C., 1954 / 1970. Bernard d’Utrecht. Accessus ad auctores: Commentum in Theodolum. Leiden: Brill.

Osternacher, Johann E., ed. 1902. Theoduli eclogam recensuit et prolegomenis instruxit Joannes Osternacher: liber separatim typis expressus ex “programmate” Collegii Petrini. Ripariae prope Lentiam.

Quinn, Betty N. 1971. “Theodulus.” Pp. 383-408 in Cranz, F. Edward, and Paul Oskar Kristeller. 1971. Catalogus translationum et commentariorum; Medieval and Renaissance Latin translations and commentaries: annotated lists and guides. Vol. 2. Washington. DC: Catholic University of America Press.

Rigg, George, trans. 2008. “Eclogue of Theodulus.” Available at http://medieval.utoronto.ca/ylias/web-content/theoduli.html

Thomson, Ian, and Louis A. Perraud. 1990. Ten Latin schooltexts of the later Middle Ages translated selections. Lewiston, N.Y.: E. Mellen Press.

Lucretius on how women can overcome men’s protective stone walls

old stone wall

Ancient Roman men, with good reason, were reluctant to marry. With boldness and freedom of expression inconceivable today under totalitarian gynocentrism, the ancient Roman poet Juvenal described in detail how women annoy, oppress, and destroy men. Many men for self-protection metaphorically construct stone walls separating themselves from women, including their own wives. Recognizing the proverbial strife that women cause men, the learned Epicurean poet Lucretius described how a woman could peacefully unite with a man.

Lucretius as an Epicurean regarded traditional Greco-Roman religion as foolish superstition, but he seems to have appreciated wisdom and literary sublimity in the Hebrew Bible. Greek translations of the Hebrew Bible would have been readily available to Lucretius. In the Bible’s Proverbs Lucretius could have read:

It is better to live on a corner of the roof than in a house shared with a contentious wife.

It is better to live in a desert than with a contentious and vexing woman.

A continual dripping on a rainy day is like a quarrelsome wife. To restrain her is to restrain the wind or to grasp oil in one’s right hand.

the contentions of a wife are a constant dripping

טוב לשבת על־פנת־גג מאשת מדינים ובית חבר

טוב שבת בארץ־מדבר מאשת מדונים וכעס

דלף טורד ביום סגריר ואשת מדונים נשתוה׃
צפניה צפן־רוח ושמן ימינו יקרא

ודלף טרד מדיני אשה

Proverbial invocation of dripping water goes back at least to the fifth-century BGC epic poet Choerilus of Samos. A surviving fragment of Choerilus’s poetry:

with persistence a drop of water hollows out the stone

{ πέτρην κοιλαίνει ῥανὶς ὕδατος ἐνδελεχείῃ } [2]

The Hebrew Bible took the common image of dripping water and perceptively drew an analogy to a contentious wife. Most men, even if they just have a long-term girlfriend or two, instantly recognize the uncanny aptness of that literary figure. A first-century Greek work on literary style Περί ύψους {On the sublime} referred to Moses as a sublime author. The author of Proverbs belongs in that same category.

Lucretius seems to have responded with a pleasant alternative to these proverbs from the Hebrew Bible. Lucretius wrote:

Nor is it by hand of god and shafts of Venus
that a little woman of uglier shape may yet find love.
For sometimes by her works and ways,
by obliging manners, cleanliness, and proper dress,
a woman may win you to share a life with her.
What matters most is habit, the builder of affection.
for things though lightly but constantly struck,
in the end are overcome and must give way.
Do you see how even drops of water, falling
on stone, in course of time bore through the stone?

{ Nec divinitus interdum Venerisque sagittis
deteriore fit ut forma muliercula ametur.
nam facit ipsa suis interdum femina factis
morigerisque modis et munde corpore culto,
ut facile insuescat <te> secum degere vitam.
quod superest, consuetudo concinnat amorem;
nam leviter quamvis quod crebro tunditur ictu,
vincitur in longo spatio tamen atque labascit.
nonne vides etiam guttas in saxa cadentis
umoris longo in spatio pertundere saxa? } [3]

Men are strongly attracted to young, beautiful women like Helen of Troy (she probably also wasn’t fat). Yet if a woman wants to get close to a man in a long-term relationship, she, like any friend, should strive to be pleasant and obliging and not to have a repulsive smell or repugnant dress. Only badly educated women believe that men other than masochistic boot-lickers are willing to live with women who are contemptuous of men in general.

Drops of water dissolving stone figure Epicurean eternal intimacy. In Epicurean understanding, all material bodies are constructed of atoms. Women with kindness and generosity of body and spirit can be drops of water for thirsty men. Women can thus penetrate the stone walls that men erect to protect themselves from contentious women. As stone dissolved in drops of water, a man and woman can overcome separating walls and become commingling atoms in the eternal universe of atoms.

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[1] Proverbs 21:9 (see also 25:24), 21:19, 27:15-6, 19:13.

[2] Choerilus of Samos, Fragment 10, Greek text from Kinkel (1878) vol 1, p. 271, English translation from Speake (2015) p. 59. The bucolic poet Bion of Smyrna about 100 BGC wrote:

It is said that a continual dripping will even wear a hollow in a stone

{ . . . ἐκ θαμινᾶς ῥαθάμιγγος, ὅπως λόγος, αἰὲς ἰοίσας
χἀ λίθος ἐς ῥωχμὸν κοιλαίνεται. . . . }

Bion of Smyrna, Fragment 15, Greek text and English translation (modernized) from Edmonds (1912) pp. 414-5. Ovid, in Epistulae Ex Ponto 4.10.5, wrote:

a water drop hollows a stone, not by force, but by continually dripping

{ gutta cavat lapidem, non vi, sed saepe cadendo }

Latin text from the Latin Library. A similar expression exists in Chinese:

Constant dripping of water wears away the stone

{ 水滴石穿 }

Via Steven Wrigley, Global Outreach Alliance, blog post, Oct. 30, 2009.

[3] Lucretius, De Rerum Natura {On the Nature of Things} 4.1278-87, Latin text from Brown (1987) p. 162 (nearly identical that that from the Latin Library). Copley translated this passage as:

Nor is it by hand of god and shafts of Venus
that a girl ill favored of form may yet find love.
For sometimes by her works and ways,
by kindness, patience, neatness, and good taste,
woman may win you to share a life with her.
An anyway, habit’s the builder of affection.
for things though lightly struck, yet constantly,
in the end are overcome and must give way.
You see how even drops of water, falling
on stone, in course of time bore through the stone.

Copley (1977) p. 112. Above I’ve adapted Copley’s translation to follow the Latin more closely and be more easily readable. Esolen’s translation is more poetic but looser:

It’s not an act of god or the arrows of Venus
That makes a homely little woman loved.
She brings it about herself by what she does.
By her yielding temper and her clean appearance;
You’ll easily learn to spend your life with her.
For habit is the recipe for love.
A thing struck over and over, no matter how lightly,
Will give in at long last and totter and fall.
Notice how water dripping upon a stone
Bores a hole through that stone eventually?

Esolen (1995) pp. 157-8

[image] Medieval city wall in Worms, Germany. Photo thanks to Mike Chapman. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Brown, Robert D. 1987. Lucretius on love and sex: a commentary on De rerum natura IV, 1030-1287, with prolegomena, text, and translation. Leiden: E. J. Brill.

Copley, Frank O., trans. 1977. The nature of things. New York: Norton.

Edmonds, J. M., ed. and trans. 1912. The Greek Bucolic Poets. Loeb Classical Library 28. London: William Heinemann.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 1995. Lucretius. On the nature of things: De rerum natura. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Kinkel, Godofredus, ed. 1878. Epicorum Graecorum Fragmenta. Leipzig: Teubner. (vol. 1, vol. 2)

Speake, Jennifer. 2015. Oxford dictionary of proverbs. Oxford: Oxford University Press.