Jephthah’s daughter sought bigger name than Abraham’s son Isaac

Jephthah sacrificing his daughter

Whatever a man can do, a woman can do even better. Behind every great man is an even greater woman. Every husband knows that all his success he owes to his wife. Who would dare to challenge such popular wisdom? Few persons have throughout history. In the ancient Hebrew biblical world, Jephthah’s daughter sought to gain an even more famous name than Abraham’s son Isaac. Not surprisingly, about 1900 years ago in a Hebrew work now known as Pseudo-Philo’s Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum {Book of Biblical Antiquities}, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob recognized that girls rule.

Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute. His father was Gilead. This was a time before sex workers received their due respect. Gilead, the name of Jephthah’s prostitute-visiting father, means in Hebrew “eternal happiness.” What became known as the balm of Gilead, the universal cure for men?[1] Like biological anthropologists who still don’t understand sexual selection in practice, biblical scholars still can’t imagine what ancient Hebrew men thought the balm of Gilead was.

Jephthah was also a mighty warrior. Societies have long exploited men to fight their wars. Drafting or inciting Jephthah to fight for his society was more complicated than normal. Because Jephthah wasn’t their mother’s son, the sons of Gilead’s wife had driven Jephthah from their home. In gynocentric society, men’s relationship with women determines the right to stay in one’s home. Jephthah thus became an outcast brigand. To get Jephthah to fight for them, the elders of Gilead’s society agreed to make Jephthah their chief if he led the fight against their enemy the Ammonites, if they prevailed, and if he lived.

Jephthah vowed to God for a victory. He vowed that if God would allow him to defeat the Ammonites, whoever came out first to meet him when he returned home victorious would be God’s — would be offered to God as a burnt offering. Jephthah was victorious over the Ammonites. He undoubtedly killed many Ammonite men, and many men of Gilead were probably killed as well. When Jephthah returned home, he was greeted first by his only child joyously shaking timbrels and dancing. This only child was a young woman. Would Jephthah kill a young woman, his daughter, to fulfill his vow to God?

Many ancient and medieval thinkers found reason for Jephthah not sacrificing his daughter. Mosaic law condemns instances of sacrificing children, and it provides monetary equivalents for human sacrifices.[2] Surely honoring a vow to God to perform an action that God condemns can’t be right. Joining the Hebrew phrases for “would be God’s” and “would be offered to God as a burnt offering” is a Hebrew letter that the twelfth-century rabbi Joseph Kimhi interpreted as “or” rather than “and.” Perhaps Jephthah fulfilled his vow by dedicating his daughter to the Lord as an alternative to immolating her.[3] Many men undoubtedly were killed in the battle between the Ammonites and Jephthah’s men. Yet the fate of Jephthah’s daughter has attracted far more concern than the fate of all the men who were killed.

The great medieval thinker and poet Peter Abelard provided words of Jephthah’s daughter. Judges records Jephthah’s daughter urging him to sacrifice her:

she said to him, “My father, since you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone forth from your mouth, now that the Lord has avenged you on your enemies, the Ammonites.” [4]

{ ותאמר אליו אבי פציתה את־פיך אל־יהוה עשה לי
כאשר יצא מפיך אחרי אשר עשה לך יהוה נקמות מאיביך
מבני עמון }

What father wouldn’t do what his daughter asked him to do? Yet fathers in their loving concern seek what’s best for their daughters. Being killed usually isn’t good for a person. Jephthah’s daughter had to spend additional words to persuade her father to do what she wanted him to do:

Abraham wishing to sacrifice his son
did not receive this grace from the Lord,
that the Lord would accept from him the boy as an offering.
He who spurned a boy,
if he accepts a girl —
think, what an honor it would be for my sex!

{ Immolare filium uolens Abraham
non hanc apud Dominum habet gratiam,
ut ab ipso puerum uellet hostiam.
Puerum qui respuit,
si puellam suscipit —
quod decus sit sexus mei percipe! } [5]

Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son Issac according to God’s command. At the last moment, an angel of God stayed Abraham’s knife-wielding hand. Jephthah’s daughter sought do better than Isaac. She eagerly imagined that God might not intervene, and that being killed, she would win glory as being better than Isaac. Like many women today, Jephthah’s daughter ardently sought to be like a man, but better.[6]

Jephthah’s daughter told her horror-stricken and wavering father to man up. She harshly declared to him:

As in sex, so in spirit,
be now a man, I pray!
Do not impede my glory or your own!

{ Ut sexu sic animo
uir esto nunc, obseto!
Nec mee nec tue obstes glorie! }

Women constantly tell men how to be a man. Wise men choose their own way, consistent with the innate goodness of their being. Jephthah should have gently but firmly told his daughter not to instruct him about how to be a man. Then he should have said to her, “If you have sorrow for your offense and love for me, go make me a sandwich.” Instead, he allowed her to continue to instruct him disrespectfully:

Would you wish to hold me before your soul
and by this perverse example harm others?

If love should allow you
to prefer this girl to the Lord,
then offending the Lord together with the people,
you would also destroy the people by displeasing the Lord.

What the tender young woman does not fear to endure,
let the man’s right arm suffer to inflict,
as the solemn promise of his own vow requires!

{ Si tue preferre me uis anime
exemplo que prauo cunctos ledere?

Sinat te delectio
proferat hanc Domino,
unaque tu Dominum offendens cum populo,
amittas et populum displicendo Domino.

Quod ferre non trepidat uirgo tenera
inferre sustineat uiri dextera,
sponsio quem obligat uoti propria! }

Even with this provocation, Jephthah didn’t immediately go ahead and kill his daughter. Like most fathers, he loved his daughter completely.[7]

Like most fathers, Jephthah lacked the strength to stand up to his daughter. She demanded and received time and supplies from him to enjoy a two-month hiking trip in the wilderness with her young single female friends.[8] When Jephthah’s daughter returned from her wilderness trip, she enjoyed a bath in her own bedroom, with her servant-handmaidens serving her. Jephthah’s daughter was a highly privileged woman.

After her bath, Jephthah’s daughter ordered her father to prepare to kill her. Her servant-handmaidens adorned her with a necklace of gems and pearls, and with golden earrings, rings, and bracelets. Annoyed by the weight of these luxurious accessories, she quickly pushed herself from her soft bed to her feet. She was in a sense a strong and independent woman: “At once she seizes the naked blade which she delivered to her father {Mox quem patri detulit ensem nudum arripit}.” Like the highly privileged women of ancient Jerusalem, Jephthah’s daughter had material riches but no husband. Her death would for her substitute for a marriage feast.[9]

Throughout history, Jephthah has been blamed for his daughter’s death. Jephthah has been blamed for rashly making a vow to God while facing a terrifying battle with the Ammonites. Jephthah has been blamed for being faithful to his vow to God. But Jephthah has scarcely ever been blamed for doing as his daughter wished him to do:

O senseless mind of a judge!
O insane zeal of a prince!
O father, but enemy of your family,
which you destroy by the death of your only child.

{ O mentem amentem iudicis!
O zelum insanum principis!
O patrem, sed hostem generis,
unice quod nece diluis. }

Most early Jewish and Christian commentary condemned Jephthah for fulfilling his vow.[10] In the course of a lengthy review of ancient and medieval commentary on Jephthah and his daughter, a modern scholar refered to Jephthah killing his daughter as “Jephthah’s senseless deed.” Another modern scholar lamented:

Ephrem is not the only ascetic patristic author who fails to denounce Jephthah unequivocally. Jerome, for one, equivocates. [11]

Gynocentric society encourages fathers to do anything to please their daughters. Women should share the blame with men for the resulting pain and suffering.

With women typically regarded as wonderful, Jephthah’s daughter has been celebrated among the most wonderful women. Pseudo-Philo’s God in Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum {Book of Biblical Antiquities} declared of Jephthah’s daughter:

I have seen that she is wiser than her father and that the young woman is smarter than all the wise men who are here. Now let her soul be given up in accord with her request, and her death will be precious before me always, and she will go and depart into the bosom of her mothers.

{ Ecce nunc conclusi linguam sapientum populi mei in generationem istam, ut non possent respondere filie Iepte ad verbum eius, ut compleretur verbum meum, nec destrueretur consilium meum quod cogitaveram. Et ipsam vidi magis sapientem pre patre suo, et sensatam virginem pre omnibus qui hic sunt sapientibus. Et nunc detur anima eius in petitione eius, et erit mors eius preciosa ante conspectum meum omni tempore, et abiens decidet in sinum matrum suarum. } [12]

In addition to insisting that her father kill her, Jephthah’s daughter had another credit to her name. The biblical account declares that through to the time of her death, “she didn’t have sex with any man {ידעה איש}.”[13] Many young women majoring in Women’s Studies today will die unmarried, hugging to the hope that in death they’ll depart into the bosom of their mothers. They are heirs to generations of women taught life-depriving lies:

Chant, young Hebrew women,
in memory of that famous young woman,
that glorious girl of Israel —
that young woman truly raises your status.

{ Hebree dicite uirgines,
dicite uirginis memores,
inclite puelle Israel —
hac ualde uirgine nobiles. }

According to the biblical account, four days every year the women of Israel honor the memory of Jephthah’s daughter. That commemorative ritual came to be known as tekufah. Jews throughout medieval German and medieval northern France observed tekufah regularly.[14]

Gynocentric society’s yearning to create a goddess can have astonishing effects. Writing to cure religious misunderstanding about 1650 years ago, Epiphanius of Salamis observed:

The profundities and glories of the sacred scripture, which are beyond human understanding, have confused many. … in Sebasteia, which was once called Samaria, they have declared Jephthah’s daughter a goddess, and still hold a festival in her honor every year.

{ πολλοὺς γὰρ ἐφαντασίασε τὰ βαθύτατα τῆς θείας γραφῆς καὶ ἔνδοξα καὶ ὑπεραίροντα διάνοιαν ἀνθρωπίνης φύσεως. … ἐν δὲ τῇ Σεβαστείᾳ τῇ ποτὲ Σαμαρείᾳ καλουμένῃ, τὴν θυγατέρα Ἰεφθάε θεοποιήσαντες ἔτι ταύτῃ τελετὴν κατ’ ἔτος ἄγουσιν. } [15]

The great thinker Paul of Tarsus, deeply learned in Jewish culture, warned strongly against gyno-idolatry. Neither Jews nor Christians nor Greeks nor anyone else have consistently taken to heart Paul’s profound wisdom about women.

Jephthah’s daughter sought to gain more glory that Abraham’s son Isaac by insisting that her father kill her. Jephthah should have rebuked his daughter’s foolish attempt to lean into his sword. Today, even more so than in biblical times, women strive to outperform men. That’s a recipe for an unhappy, lonely death.

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[1] For the story of Jephthah and his daughter, Judges 11. On the balm of Gilead, Jeremiah 8:52, 46:11. According to the Wikipedia on the name Gilead:

In Hebrew, גלעד (transcribed Gilad or Ghil’ad) is used as a male given name and is often analysed as deriving from גיל (gil) “happiness, joy” and עד (ad) “eternity, forever”; i.e. “eternal happiness”.

Perhaps originating in a very ancient time before pervasive disparagement of men’s sexuality, Gilead has a complementary root meaning “hard, stony region.”

[2] Leviticus 18:21, 20:2-5, 27:1–8; Deuteronomy 18:10. The issue is historically complicated. Child sacrifice apparently did licitly occur in ancient Hebrew society. Cf. Thompson, who asserts:

the sheer unlawfulness of Jephthah’s vow in light of the biblical prohibition against human sacrifice and the provision of the Mosaic law (in Lev. 27:1–8) for such a vow to be redeemed monetarily.

Thompson (2001) p. 170.

[3] Jephthah’s vow is in Judges 11:31. Rabbi David Kimhi wrote this grammatical argument about Judges 11:31 early in the thirteenth century. He attributed it to his father, Rabbi Joseph Kimhi. Thompson (2001) pp. 150-1.

[4] Judges 11:36.

[5] Peter Abelard, Planctus uirginum Israel super filia Iepte Galadite {The Lament of the Young Women of Israel over the Daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite} ll. 36-41, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly in some places) from Ruys (2014). Abelard probably wrote this planctus in the mid-1130s. Id. pp. 8, 65. Ruys characterized Abelard’s six planctus as perhaps his “most remarkable literary achievement.” Ruys (2006) p. 1.

All subsequent quotes from Planctus uirginum Israel super filia Iepte Galadite are similarly sourced. Those quotes are (cited by verse number in Ruys’ Latin text): 44-6 (As in sex…); 47-52, 61-3 (Would you wish…); 111 (At once she seizes the naked blade…); 120-3 (O senseless mind…); 124-7 (Chant, young Hebrew women…). The planctus ends with l. 127.

Planctus uirginum Israel super filia Iepte Galadite has a complex poetic form. The manuscript text is written with multiple vertical columns and explicit musical notation. Carefully study of the text and its metrical patterns suggest that two lacuna might exist. Orlandi (2001) pp. 329-37. I simply follow Ruys’ Latin text.

A Latin text (significantly inferior to Ruys’) and German translation of Abelard’s Planctus uirginum Israel super filia Iepte Galadite is freely available online at Heloïsa und Abaelard. Here’s a better Latin text and French translation, also freely available online.

For Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac and the angel’s last-minute intervention, Genesis 22:1-19.

[6] A chorus of young women of Israel provide framing song for the drama of Planctus uirginum Israel super filia Iepte Galadite. In their introductory song they sing, “O how rare the man like her {O quam rarum illi uirum similem}!” Planctus l. 16. The chorus understood Jephthah’s daughter to have successfully competed with men, particularly with Abraham’s son Isaac. For a detailed comparison of the biblical texts concerning the two incidents, Shemesh (2017) pp. 119-22.

Visual representations of Jephthah sacrificing his daughter have long been prominently paired with Abraham being restrained from sacrificing Isaac. Within the great church (Justinian’s basilica) of Saint Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai, seventh-century encaustic paintings of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac and Jephthah’s sacrifice of his daughter frame the altar of the sanctuary. In the Monastery of Saint Anthony at the Red Sea, a thirteenth-century wall painting over the altar also depicts both events. Weitzmann (1964), Schroeder (2012). For visual representations of Jephthah and his daughter more generally, Drewer (2002).

[7] Ruys perceptively commented:

the entire poem turns upon the question of the relationship between biological sex and social gender. …  Abelard’s Planctus uirginum thus profoundly challenges traditional identification of sex and gender and explores the question of what constitutes the sexed female body and what it means to be, and to become, a woman.

Ruys (2006) pp. 10-1. What’s missing from this analysis, and from literary studies in general, is a meninist perspective. Abelard’s Planctus uirginum Israel super filia Iepte Galadite profoundly challenges daughters dominating their fathers and young women disastrously constructing their identity in terms of competing with men.

Abelard’s Planctus also challenges privileging mothers’ relationships with their children relative to fathers’ relationships with their children. Inverting the sex stereotype of the absent father, Abelard makes no mention of the young woman’s mother. Moreover, the daughter says to her father:

Behold, she who is the fruit of your womb

{ Uteri qui tui fructus inspice }

Planctus, l. 42. Ruys learnedly observed:

Certainly in Classical Latin ‘uterus’ can mean any bodily cavity, but it can hardly be disputed that it is a word with very strong feminine overtones, most commonly used to designate the womb. This is especially the case in Abelard’s time, a period when the twelfth-century veneration of the Virgin Mary and the virgin birth was well under way and was being expressed in an increasing number of hymns explicitly in praise of the ‘uterus Virginis’.

Ruys (2006) p. 11. Similarly, Ruys (20014) p. 277, note to l. 42. Id. adds that this line echoes God’s blessing in the Vulgate text of Deuteronomy 28:4, “Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb {benedictus fructus ventris tui}.” Those are the same words of Elizabeth to Mary in the Vulgate for Luke 1:42. Jephthah’s daughter thus figures her father as being as important to her as a mother. That sense of gender equality contrasts sharply with gross anti-father sex-discrimination in child custody rulings today.

Dronke declared, “As Abelard has presented Jephtha and his daughter, we cannot, strictly, identify with either of them.” Dronke (1970) p. 144. I think many men can significantly identify with Jephthah, and many women, with Jephthah’s daughter. Part of the problem for Dronke seems to be his one-sided perspective on women and men.

[8] Jephthah’s daughter said to Jephthah:

But you will grant
a period of two months
in which, wandering through valleys and hills with my companions
and weeping, I may give myself over to laments
that thus the Lord should deprive me of progeny.

{ Sed duorum mensium
indulgebis spatium,
quo ualles et colles cum sodalibus
peragrans et plorans, uaccem planctibus
quod sic me semine priuet Dominus. }

Planctus ll. 64-8. Both the words indulgebis (indulgeo) and uaccem (uaco) have connotations of indulgence and idleness. The word semine (semen) literally refers a bodily component of the precious gift of men’s sexuality. Jephthah’s daughter here projects onto the Lord her culpability for her impending, barren death.

[9] For death as a wedding substitute in literary history and oral folktales in relation to Jephthah’s daughter, Alexiou & Dronke (1971).

[10] Blaming Jephthah was commonly combined with celebrating his daughter:

Early Jewish and Christian commentary, however, commonly condemned Jephthah for his vow while honoring the daughter, often seeing her as a martyr. … Prior to Kimhi, rabbinic literature had mostly vilified Jephthah along lines followed also by Pseudo‐Philo.

Thompson (2001) abstract for electronic edition of Ch. 3 and p. 150. Thompson refers to “Jephthah’s senseless deed” and “Jephthah’s senseless vow.” Id. pp. 119, 149. A significant counterpoint to disparaging Jephthah is Hebrews 11:32-4.

Dante’s preeminent guide Beatrice faulted Jephthah while making no reference to his daughter’s powerful influence:

Let not mortals take vows lightly.
Be faithful and, as well, not injudicious,
as was Jephthah, offering up what first he saw,
who had done better had he said “I have done ill”
than keeping faith and doing worse. And you can find
this sort of folly in the leader of the Greeks,
who made Iphigenia lament the beauty of her face
and who made all those, whether wise or foolish,
who heard reports of such a rite lament as well.

{ Non prendan li mortali il voto a ciancia;
siate fedeli, e a ciò far non bieci,
come Ieptè a la sua prima mancia;
cui più si convenia dicer ‘Mal feci,’
che, servando, far peggio; e così stolto
ritrovar puoi il gran duca de’ Greci,
onde pianse Efigènia il suo bel volto,
e fé pianger di sé i folli e i savi
ch’udir parlar di così fatto cólto. }

Dante, Paradiso 5.64-71, Italian text and English translation from the Princeton Dante Project and Robert & Jean Hollander. More so than Dante, Guibert of Nogent thought deeply about the sacrifice of Iphigenia and Lucretius’s De rerum natura.

[11] Schroeder (2012) p. 294.

[12] Pseudo-Philo, Liber antiquitatum biblicarum 40.4, Latin text and English translation from Jacobson (1996) pp. 60, 161. Here’s a online Latin version.

[13] Judges 11:39.

[14] Baumgarten (2007) analyzes the tekufah in detail.

[15] Epiphanius of Salamis, Panarion 35 (55) 1.9-10, Greek text from Patrologia Graeca 41:973, English translation from Williams (1994) v. 2, p. 79.

Despite modern pretensions, critical analysis of the story of Jephthah and his daughter has improved little over the past two millennia. On the literary and artistic history, Sypherd (1948) and Thompson (2001), Ch. 3. Sypherd (1948) ignorantly dismisses much insightful medieval work. Thompson (2001), Ch. 3, devotes extensive, non-critical attention to modern anti-meninist scholarship. That’s an oppressive, gender-bigoted aspect of current dominant ideology. Moreover, Thompson projects onto medieval thinkers the obliteration of the father in modern gynocentric ideology. Thus:

minds both theological and pious attempted to identify with Jephthah’s daughter, reading their own lives and concerns and ecclesial contexts into her story in order to recall the witness of her truncated life — in mourning, warning, and grace.

Thompson (2001) p. 178. Serious study of great medieval Latin men writers, e.g. Matheus of Boulogne, Boncompagno of Signa, and Walter Map, might help to remedy such narrow-mindedness.

[image] On left, Jephthah’s daughter and her young single female friends lamenting in the wilderness. On right, Jephthah beheading his daughter. Illumination from folio 54r of the Paris Psalter of Saint Louis. Created from 1270-74 in Paris. Preserved as Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS Latin 10525.


Alexiou, Margaret and Dronke, Peter. 1971. “Lament of Jephtha’s Daughter: Themes, Traditions, Originality.” Studi Medievali 12 (2): 819-63. Reprinted, with minor revisions, as Ch. 12 (pp. 345-88) in Dronke, Peter. 1992. Intellectuals and poets in Medieval Europe. Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura.

Baumgarten, Elisheva. 2007. “‘Remember That Glorious Girl’: Jephthah’s Daughter in Medieval Jewish Culture.” The Jewish Quarterly Review. 97 (2): 180-209.

Drewer, Lois. 2002. “Jephthah and His Daughter in Medieval Art: Ambiguities of Heroism and Sacrifice.” Pp. 35-59 in Hourihane, Colum. 2002. Insights and Interpretations: studies in celebration of the eighty-fifth anniversary of the Index of Christian art. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1970. Poetic Individuality in the Middle Ages: new departures in poetry 1000-1150. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Jacobson, Howard. 1996. A Commentary on Pseudo-Philo’s Liber antiquitatum biblicarum: with Latin text and English translation. Leiden: Brill.

Orlandi, Giovanni. 2001. “On the text and interpretation of Abelard’s Planctus.” Pp. 327-42 in John Marenbon and Peter Dronke, eds. Poetry and Philosophy in the Middle Ages: a festschrift for Peter Dronke. Leiden.

Ruys, Juanita Feros. 2006. “Ut sexu sic animo‘: the resolution of sex and gender in the Planctus of Abelard.” Medium Aevum. 75 (1): 1-23.

Ruys, Juanita Feros. 2014. The Repentant Abelard: family, gender and ethics in Peter Abelard’s Carmen ad Astralabium and Planctus. New York, N.Y.: Palgrave Macmsillan.

Schroeder, Caroline T. 2012. “Child Sacrifice in Egyptian Monastic Culture: From Familial Renunciation to Jephthah’s Lost Daughter.” Journal of Early Christian Studies. 20 (2): 269-302.

Shemesh, Yael. 2017. “Jephthah — Victimizer and Victim: A Comparison of Jephthah and Characters in Genesis.” Journal of the Ancient Near Eastern Society (JANES). 32 (1): 117-131.

Sypherd, Wilbur Owen. 1948. Jephthah and his Daughter: a study in comparative literature. Newark: University of Delaware.

Thompson, John L. 2001. Writing the Wrongs: women of the Old Testament among biblical commentators from Philo through the Reformation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Williams, Frank, trans. 1987/1994. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis. Vol. 1: Book I, Sects 1-46, Vol. 2: Books II and III (sects 47-80). Leiden: Brill.

Weitzmann, Kurt. 1964. “The Jephthah Panel in the Bema of the Church of St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai.” Dumbarton Oaks Papers. 18: 341-352.

displaying cruelty to women spurs crusade against men-killing man

medieval hanging of five kings

Today, men’s lives are valued far less than women’s. Men’s lives were also valued less than women’s lives in medieval Europe. The problem isn’t merely chivalrous men killing other men in service to women. A more fundamental problem is violence against men being normalized as only violence. In thirteenth-century Italy, Alberigo da Romano, the ruler of the city Treviso, brutally killed many men. Yet the Cardinal of Lombardy shrewdly displayed Alberigo’s cruelty to women to spur a crusade among local men to kill Alberigo and his family.

Men’s violent deaths tend to be less notable than cruelty to women. Consider how the thirteenth-century Franciscan monk Salimbene reported a particularly horrific instance of Alberigo’s violence:

Alberigo had twenty-five civic leaders of Treviso hanged on a single day, yet they had neither offended nor harmed him in any way. … And he required thirty noble women — their mothers, wives, daughters, and sisters — to come and watch the hangings. And not only that; he also wanted to cut off the noses of these women. But by the good deed of one who is called Alberigo’s bastard son, but who isn’t, that action was dismissed. However, he had their clothes cut off from their breasts down so that with their whole bodies nude they were seen by those who were being hanged. And he had the men hung near the ground, and he forced the nude women to pass between the men’s legs. With their legs and feet they kicked the women’s faces as they were dying in the bitterness of their lives. And the women had to endure such mockery in their anguish and sorrow of being alive.

{ XXV de maioribus Trivisii fecit una die suspendi, et non offenderant nec leserant eum in aliquo … Et XXX nobiles mulieres, matres istorum, uxores, filias et sorores, fecit venire, ut viderent suspendendo, et ipsi eas; quibus voluit nasum precidere, sed benefitio cuiusdam, quem appellabat filium suum spurium, sed non erat, fuit dimissum. Verumtamen usque ad mamillas fuerunt vestes earum precise, ita quod totum corpus cuiuslibet earum nudum erat, et viderunt eas qui suspendendi erant. Et ita iuxta terram fuerunt suspensi, quod iste mulieres cogebantur per tibias eorum transire, et illi cum tibiis et pedibus vultum earum percutiebant, dum moriebantur in amaritudine animarum suarum; et iste in angustia et dolore vivebant, dum talia ludibria sustinerent. }

The men being hung had to see women they loved sexually exposed. Alberigo forced the women to go between their men’s involuntarily jerking legs and feet as the men suffocated and died in hanging. That arrangement viciously parodies sexual intercourse. Amid the horrific cruelty was a successful intervention to save the women from having their noses cut off. Salimbene’s concluding concern is that women had to endure mockery as they lived. The men endured terrible mockery and were killed. As is commonly the case, the men’s fate was less notable, and more brutal.

Salimbene continued with a focus on the women. He reported:

After this Alberigo had the women carried off beyond the river called Sial or Sile, and then to go wherever they wished. The women made for themselves with the pieces of garment that they had about their breasts coverings for their genitals, that is their vaginas. Then they walked the whole day for fifteen miles through wild fields, through thorns and briars and nettles and burrs and thistles, with naked feet and totally naked bodies and being bitten by flies. They went weeping, for they had cause for weeping, and they had nothing to eat.

{ Post hec fecit eas poni ultra fluvium qui dicitur Sila vel Siler, ut irent quo vellent. Et fecerunt sibi coopertoria de modico indumento, quod habebant circa mammillas, et operuerunt sibi menbra genitalia, id est pudenda, et ambulaverunt tota die illa per XV miliaria per terram incultam, per spinas et tribulos et urticas et lappas et paliuros et cardetos, et nudis pedibus incedebant et nude toto corpore et a muscis mordebantur; et flendo ibant, quia causam flendi hadebant, nec habebant quid manducarent. }

The women had just watched men they love be brutally killed. That undoubtedly hurt them more than briars and flies. That undoubtedly caused them to weep more than for not having anything to eat. Weeping women are a potent persuasive force. Salimbene thought not of the men hanging dead, but of the weeping women.

When the women became mired in the Venetian lagoons at night, a lone fisherman working then saw them and helped them. With his little boat he transferred them across the lagoon one by one to the safety of solid ground. The last remaining woman he treated differently:

After he had transported all of them except one, he took this last one to his fisherman’s home and fed her well and treated her with kindness, courtesy, humanity, love, and respect.

{ postquam omnes transtulit preter unam, illam ultimam ad domum suam piscatoriam duxit et optime pavit et benigne, curialiter et humane et caritative et honeste tractavit. }

Authorities today would suspect the man of raping or at least sexually harassing that nearly naked woman. But the impoverished single fisherman apparently helped the desperate, nearly naked women without compensation of any sort. Men are innately virtuous and good. As he had promised the women, early the next morning he got a larger boat and transported all of the women to the Church of San Marco in Venice. Then the fisherman went to Lord Ottavio, the Cardinal and papal representative in Lombardy, and told him of the women’s great suffering and their present location.

The Cardinal both helped the women and exploited them politically. The Cardinal immediately went to the women. He had food given to them, but not clothing. Like a shrewd media operative today, the Cardinal recognized an opportunity:

he sent a messenger throughout the city saying to all: come swiftly and quickly and without any delay to the Cardinal at the Church of San Marco — all men and women, all the small and the great, young men and young women, the old with the young. Come, for he had such to tell them, as they had never before heard, and such to show them, as they had never before seen. What more? The call very quickly gathered all the citizens of Venice to the Cardinal in the square of the Church of San Marco. There they heard from him the whole story written above. When he recited it, he made come before them the women in their shameful and nude state, as the wicked Alberigo had shamefully done to them.

{ misit per totam civitatem dicendo, quod celeriter atque festine et sine aliqua mora omnes venirent ad ipsum ad ecclesiam sancti Marci, tam viri quam mulieres, tam parvi quam magni, iuvenes et virgines, senes cum iunioribus quoniam talia diceret eis, que nunquam audiverant, et talia ostenderet eis, que nunquam viderant. Quid plura? Dicto cicius congregata est tota civitas Venetorum ad eum in platea ecclesie sancti Marci, et audiverunt ab eo totam historiam suprascriptam. Quam cum recitasset, fecit venire dominas illas ita dehonestatas et nudas, sicut ille maledictus Albricus dehonestari fecerat. }

Women historically have mobilized men to kill other men. The response to abuse of women in thirteenth-century Italy was similarly violent, but with a medieval understanding of gender equality:

When the Venetians had heard the whole story told above and looked upon those nude ladies, they cried out in loud voices, saying: “Let him die, let that wicked man die! Burn him and his wife alive, and all their progeny eradicate from this age! Then the Cardinal said, “Holy Scripture agrees with you, for it likewise curses the impious man … Let them be blotted out of the book of the living, and with the just let them not be written.” Then they all cried out, “So be it! So be it!” After this, by the will of the entire city, all men and women, the Cardinal preached a crusade against the wicked Alberigo. Whoever would take it up and go to destroy Alberigo — or send someone in his place, paying all expenses — would receive a plenary indulgence for all the sins he had. With the authority of all-mighty God and the blessed Apostles Peter and Paul as well as by his authority as legate vested in him by the apostolic chair, he confirmed giving that indulgence of repentance to all. All were thus excited, and all — man and woman, from little to the great — took the cross.

{ Cum autem audivissent Veneti omnem historiam supradictam et dominas ita nudatas conspexissent, elevata voce clamaverunt dicentes: “Moriatur, moriatur maledictus ille et vivus ardeat cum uxore, et tota eius progenies de hoc seculo extirpetur!” Tunc cardinalis dixit: “Scriptura divina concordat vobiscum, que taliter homini impio imprecatur … Deleantur de libro viventium et cum iustis non scribantur.” Tunc clamaverunt omnes dicentes: “Fiat, fiat!” Post hec de voluntate totius civitatis, tam virorum quam mulierum, predicavit crucem contra maledictum Albricum, et quicumque eam assumeret et iret vel mitteret loco sui aliquem suis expensis ad destruendum eum, plenariam indulgentiam omnium peccatorum suorum haberet. Quam auctoritate omnipotentis Dei et beatorum Petri et Pauli apostolorum eius necnon et legatione, qua ab apostolica sede fungebatur, indulgentiam datam omnibus peniter confirmavit. Animati sunt igitur omnes et crucesignati a parvo usque ad maximum, a viro usque ad mulierum }

By telling of Alberigo’s vicious acts and displaying the near-naked women, the Cardinal incited all the people of Venice to what he formulated as a Christian mission: to kill Alberigo and his family

The Venetians subsequently brutally fulfilled this mission against Alberigo. They were like a Twitter mob enraged against a man who criticized a woman, but the medieval Venetians were less gender-biased and more reality-based:

Alberigo, along with his wife and sons and daughters, perished by a wicked death. Those who killed them yanked off the children’s arms and legs while they were still alive, while their parents were watching, and struck the father and mother in the mouth with those limbs. Then they tied the mother and daughters to stakes and burned them. And those daughters were young and the most beautiful of women in the world. They were guilty of nothing. Their killers didn’t spare the innocence and beauty of the daughters because of great hatred for their father and mother … From there they came at Alberigo with pincers and each one in the street tore flesh from Alberigo’s body while he was still living. Thus they destroyed his body amid jeers and insults and heavy torments.

{ mala morte periit cum uxore et filiis et filiabus. Extrahebant enim qui interfecerunt eos tibias et brachia filiorum puerorum de corpore eorum, cum adhuc vivi essent, parentibus videntibus, et cum eis percutiebant os patris et matris; postmodum ligaverunt uxorum et filias ad palos et conbusserunt eas. Et erant nubiles et pulcherrime virgines de mundo nec erant culpabiles; et non pepercerunt innocentie et pulcritudini earum propter odium patris et matris. … Unde et veniebant ad Albricum cum tenacibus et extrahebant de corpore eius, cum adhuc viveret, in platea quilibet unum bolum, et sic destruxerunt corpus eius ludibriis et opprobriis et gravibus tormentis. }

Hateful gender bias existed even in medieval Europe. The husband was killed much more viciously than the wife, yet surely the wife deserves equal credit for her husband’s deeds. Moreover, Alberigo’s wife Margaret “called noble ladies and matrons whores and prostitutes {nobiles dominas et matronas appellabat putanas et meretrices}.” Why wasn’t she killed as viciously as her husband was? Salimbene expressed special solicitousness toward the young and beautiful daughters. Salimbene scarcely noted the sons’ deaths. In contrast to dominant myths, in reality it’s a women’s world, especially if the women are young and beautiful.

The story of the Venetians’ crusade against Alberigo underscores the importance of women. In thirteenth-century Italy, Albertanus of Brescia wrote of how Prudence dissuaded her husband Melibee from launching a vendetta against neighboring men. If the Treviso women had refused to allow Cardinal Lord Ottavio to make a spectacle of their nakedness and suffering, Alberigo and Margaret might have been restrained more humanely. Their innocent sons and daughters might have been spared.

Women should refuse to allow their suffering to be exploited to incite horrific violence. The Spartan mothers ordering their sons to victory or death is barbaric. Even strong, independent, highly privileged single women lamenting the cruelties they have endured must contribute to reducing violence against men.

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The killings of Alberigo da Romano, his wife Margaret, and their children occurred in Treviso (in northern Italy) on August 26, 1260. Alberigo’s killing of men leaders of Treviso apparently happened in 1258. Holder-Egger (1905) p. 363, n. 11; p. 366, n. 1. Salimbene described himself as a first-person witness to the killing of Alberigo and his family: “I saw these things with my own eyes {Vidi ista oculis meis}.”

The above account of Alberigo da Romano’s rule, acts, and fate is from Salimbene’s Cronica. For all the quotes, the Latin texts are from Holder-Egger (1905) pp. 363-6. The English translations I have adapted from those of Baird, Baglivi & Kane (1986) pp. 365-9.

[image] Hanging of five kings. Realistic medieval depiction illustrating Joshua 10:26-27. Upper register of folio 11v in the Crusader Bible / Morgan Picture Bible of Louis IX. Generally thought to have been made in Paris about 1245. Preserved as MS M.638 in the Morgan Library & Museum (New York). Here’s detailed analysis of the Crusader Bible / Morgan Picture Bible.


Baird, Joseph L., Giuseppe Baglivi, and John Robert Kane. 1986. The Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam. Binghamton, N.Y.: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies.

Holder-Egger, Oswald. 1905-1913. Cronica Fratris Salimbene de Adam. Monumenta Germaniae Historica 32. Hannoverae et Lipsiae: Impr. bibliopolii Hahniani.

medieval Italian theatricality: a bed-trick & other acts of Apostles

naked St. Francis being clothed by Bishop of Assisi

In 1260 in Parma, Italy, Gerard Segarelli established the Order of Apostles as a mendicant religious order of the Catholic Church. Salimbene de Adam’s Chronicle, which he wrote from 1283 to 1288, is the most detailed surviving source about Segarelli and the Order of Apostles. Salimbene’s harsh criticism of Segarelli’s movement depicts vibrant theatricality in thirteenth-century Italy. Salimbene shows that an intricate bed-trick and outrageously recast acts were within medieval imagination long before Shakespeare’s comedies.

Within circumstances of considerable and conflicted Christian attention to theater, Salimbene explicitly described Gerard Segarelli as an actor. Theatricality is deeply rooted in Christian sensibility. Romanos the Melodist’s sixth-century kontakia present realistic, emotional dialogue. De Maria Magdalena, a text that a Cistercian monk probably wrote in France about 1200, is a theatrical lectio divina. Closer to folk performance, the story of the tumbler of Notre Dame, probably from early in the thirteenth century, depicts a monk engaging in full-body devotional performance. Yet Christians also associated theater with ridiculous and immoral Greco-Roman beliefs and lewd popular performances. Salimbene linked Segarelli with that latter Christian sense of theater:

This Gerard Segarelli, who was their founder, became so demented that he took on the clothes of an actor and became a minstrel, that is, a mime, and went through the streets and squares like a fool. He has a vain heart, seeking after vanities and inventing vanities.

{ Iste Ghirardinus Segalellus, qui primus eorum fuit, ad tantum dementiam iam devenit, quod in habitu histrionum incedit et factus ioculator, id ist mimus, per plateas et vicos stulticando vadit. Habet enim cor vanum et vana sequitur et vana inveniet } [1]

Segarelli understood himself to be a mendicant monk following the practices of the first Christian apostles. But as Salimbene presented Segarelli, he was an insane monk-minstrel.

Just before Salimbene characterized Segarelli as an actor, minstrel, and mime, he told a story about three members of Segarelli’s Order of Apostles. The story features earthy wit and humor:

a certain wealthy young man with a father and a mother still living had recently married. On the first evening before he had sex with his wife, he received as guests into his house three rogues from those who say they are apostles and are not. They persuaded the young man not to have sex with his wife or sleep in the same bed with her on that first night until they indicated to him. This they said in order to forestall and deceive the young man and thereby sleep first with his wife. That they indeed did. All three of them that night went to her bed one after another at short intervals and had sex with her. When on the fourth time the young man went in to have sex with his wife, she was astonished and said to him, “Three times in succession tonight you have had me sexually, and still you have the strength to do this work?” Then the young man realized that those rogues had deceived him. He had them captured and complained strongly to the police chief. Then they were led to be executed by hanging.

{ quidam iuvenis dives, qui habebat patrem et matrem, noviter duxisset uxorem, primo sero, antequam uxorem cognosceret, tres ribaldos, recepit hospitio ex his qui se dicunt apostolos esse et non sunt, qui suaserunt iuveni, ne uxorem cognosceret nec cum ea in eodem lecto prima nocte dormiret, nisi quando dicerent ei. Hoc autem ideo dicebant, quia volebant iuvenem prevenire atque decipere et prius cum uxore eius dormire, sicut factum est, quia omnes tres illa nocte iverunt ad lectum eius, unus post alium facto modico intervallo, et cognoverunt eam. Cum autem quarta vice iuvenis sponsus eius vellet eam cognoscere, mirata uxor eius dixit ei: “Tribus vicibus in hac nocte carnaliter mecum fuisti et adhuc vis agere opus istud?” Tunc cognovit iuvenis ab istis ribaldis se esse deceptum, et fecit eos capi et conquestus est potestati, et ducti sunt ad suspendium }

According to Salimbene, Segarelli’s apostles included “rogues, seducers, deceivers, thieves, and fornicators {ribaldi et seductores et deceptores et latrones et fornicatores}.” These so-called apostles:

spend every day running throughout the cities seeking out women … as they themselves told me, when they travel through the world, they turn aside to prostitutes, or if, in the places they stay, lascivious women solicit them to sin or to transgressing, they consent to the women, and little is the apostles’ resistance.

{ tota die per civitates discurrunt mulieres videndo … ut michi dixerunt, quando vadunt per mundum, ad meretrices declinant et in domibus, in quibus hospitantur, si a lascivis mulieribus sollicitantur ad peccatum sive ad peccandum, consentiunt eis, et parva est pugna } [2]

These are the sort of monks who would perform a triple bed-trick long before Shakespeare’s plays.[3] Salimbene probably thought that those monks should pay for that act with their lives. So they reportedly did.

Salimbene’s tale of the three monks’ triple bed-trick is unlikely to be historical. The monks were mendicants. Characterizing the young man as wealthy sets up an inversion of the idea that a lord had the right to be the first to have sex with his serfs’ brides (droit du seigneur {right of the lord}, also known as jus primae noctis {law of the first night}).[4] The added detail that the young man had a father and mother still living suggests that the wedding night would have been carefully orchestrated. Segarelli’s three apostles apparently also duped the groom’s parents. The bride’s question to her groom late on their wedding night is too comically deadpan to be realistic. Moreover, if she said that, surely the bride or groom wouldn’t have reported it to Salimbene or anyone else. About a century and half after Salimbene wrote, the great medieval church official Poggio included two closely related versions of this story in his collection of courtly tales known as Facetiae. As Poggio recognized, the story that Salimbene recorded is truly a fantastic story. Salimbene apparently adapted it to serve in his disparagement of the Order of Apostles for not honoring chastity.

Salimbene described Segarelli himself behaving theatrically. Actors represent characters in part though choosing costumes and other externals:

This Gerard Segarelli, who was their leader, sought to be like the son of God. So he had himself circumcised, which is against the teaching of the Apostle

{ Igitur de Ghirardino Segalello, qui fuit istorum principium, sciendum, quod filio Dei voluit similari. Nam fecit se circumcidi, quod est contra apostolum }

Being a good representation of Jesus thus mattered more to Segarelli than following the apostolic teaching of Paul as conveyed through holy scripture.[5] Yet Segarelli also acted out a parable of Jesus in a misleading way:

standing in the middle of the road, from his excessive simplicity he said to passersby in a clear voice: “Go you also into my vineyard!” And those who knew him recognized his foolishness. They knew that he had no vineyard there. The actual mountain people, who did not know him, went into the vineyard toward which he stretched out his hand. There they ate grapes that were not his. They wrongly believed that they had received permission from the owner.

{ stans in media via ex nimia simpicitate transeuntibus clara voce dicebat: Ite et vos in vineam meam! Et qui cognoscebant eum, reputabant eum fatuum, scientes, quod nullam vineam ibi habebat. Montanarii vero, qui eum non cognoscebant, ingrediebantur vineam, versus quam manum extenderat, et comedebant uvas non suas, credentes sibi hoc a proprio vinee domino imperatum. }

Segarelli’s act didn’t involve him proclaiming in the person of Jesus. He proclaimed the words of the landowner in Jesus’s parable on laborers in the vineyard.[6] In Salimbene’s story, Segarelli, who sought to be like Jesus, wrongly acted as vineyard-owner.

Salimbene depicted Segarelli as acting out a sensational chastity test. Jerome’s late fourth-century Life of Paul the First Hermit recounts a Christian martyr successfully resisting a beautiful woman attempting to rape him in a bed within a sensuous garden. The early Christian martyr Chrysanthus retained his chastity despite his father procuring and placing in Chrysanthus’s bed young virgin women who solicited sex from him. Segarelli put himself to a similar sensuous test:

when he was living with a certain little widow, who had a beautiful, nubile daughter, he told the widow that God had revealed to him that he should sleep all night nude with her nude daughter in order to test whether or not he could preserve his chastity. And thinking herself blessed, the mother consented, and the daughter did not refuse.

{ cum hospitaretur apud aliquam muierculam viduam, filiam nubilem et speciosam habentem, dicebat siba a Domino revelatum, quod cum illa puella debebat illa nocte nudus cum nuda in eodem lecto dormire, ut probaret, si castitatem servare posset necne. Consentiebat mater reputans se beatam, et puella minime hoc negabat. }

Salimbene didn’t report the results of Segarelli’s self-created chastity test. Given Salimbene’s interest in disparaging Segarelli, apparently neither Segarelli nor the girl disappointed the girl’s mother. Segarelli being heroically chaste would have been less significant to Salimbene than that Segarelli performed a sensational chastity test.[7]

According to Salimbene, Segarelli also acted out a variant of the lactation of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. One day, the Virgin Mary reportedly gave the adult Bernard of Clairvaux a squirt of milk from her breasts, the same breasts that nourished the baby Jesus. Salimbene claimed of Segarelli:

He also lay in a cradle, wrapped in swaddling clothes, and sucked milk from the breasts of a certain woman unaware of him

{ in cunnubulis iacuit fasciis involutus et lac et mammas suxit cuiusdam nescie mulieris. }

That’s a scarcely believable story. A full-grown man could hardly be wrapped in swaddling clothes in a cradle. A woman might give a man milk from her breasts, but she certainly would be aware of what she was doing. This story is best interpreted as a parody of the lactation of Saint Bernard of Clairvaux. It depicts Segarelli as a ridiculously bad actor attempting to play Jesus.

Salimbene also presented Segarelli acting badly in attempting to play Saint Francis of Assisi. Francis reportedly took off all his clothes in the center of the city of Assisi in 1206 and vowed to follow a life of poverty.[8] Twelfth-century European sermons commonly exhorted Christians “to follow naked the naked Christ {nudus nudum Christum sequi}.” Francis and his order of monks early in their existence earnestly followed that path. According to Salimbene, Segarelli and his monks acted more pruriently:

he {Gerard Segarelli} and all the others {of his followers} undressed themselves completely, so that their penises had not even trousers or any other clothing covering their nudity. They stood stood all around against the wall like a barefoot army in formation, but neither one ordained nor decent nor honorable. He wanted to strip them so that naked they might follow the naked Christ. Following his master’s command, one of them placed in the middle of the room their clothing tied into a bundle. Then by the command of their master, while they were indecently standing there, a woman was brought in … Gerard Segarelli, that master of theirs, ordered her to distribute whatever clothing she wished to grant to these paupers deprived and denuded of their personhood.

{ se et omnes alios denudavit usque adeo, quod etiam membra genitalia sine bracis et aliquo velamine nuda essent, et stabant apodiati ad murum in acie circum circa. sed non in acie ordinata nec honesta nec bona. Volebat enim eos expropriare, ut nudi nudum Christum decetero sequerentur. Posuerat enim quilibet eorum ex precepto magistri vestimenta sua in medio domus ligata seorsum. Tunc ex precepto magistri, cum ita inhoneste starent, introducta est mulier … Cui Ghirardinus Segalellus, qui magister erat istorum, precepit, ut pauperibus sic expropriatis et a propriis denudatis vestimenta que vellet tribueret. }

Saint Francis of Assisi humbled himself relative to all of humanity. According to Salimbene, Segarelli humiliated himself and his followers to a particular woman. Men have a tendency to humiliate and abase themselves relative to women. In Salimbene’s account, Segarelli acted as a type of anti-Francis and enacted the folly of courtly lovers.[9] That’s not truly acting holy.

While Salimbene probably fabricated most of what he reported of the acts of Gerard Segarelli and the Order of Apostles, Salimbene convincingly witnesses to vibrant theatricality in thirteenth-century Italy. Salimbene’s theatrical disparagement of Segarelli and the Order of Apostles suggests that men in thirteenth-century Italy were thoroughly engaged in acting in loving women and serving God — two central and often wrongly conflated interests in men’s lives.[10] Men throughout history have often been confined to the narrow gender role of providing resources to women and children and fighting to protect gynocentric society. Outrageous acting, along with guile and bed-tricks, provide vital paths for men’s liberation.

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[1] Salimbene de Adam, Cronica {Chronicle}, Latin text from Holder-Egger (1905) p. 620, English translation adapted from Baird, Baglivi & Kane (1986) p. 627. Segarelli is also known as Segarello, e.g. in id.

Medieval Italian theatricality could combine high and low culture. The brilliant rhetorician Boncompagno da Signa put on a outrageous performance in Bologna about 1195 to ridicule academic stupidity.

A Dominican inquisitor, a forefather of today’s university administrators, burned Segarelli as a heretic in Parma, Italy, on July 18, 1300. Ordinary Christians and church officials typically admired and supported Segarelli’s Order of Apostles through 1290. The Order of Apostles were entangled in complex rivalries among mendicant orders, including with Salimbene’s Franciscans, the Friars Minor.

Surviving historical sources about Gerard Segarelli and his Order of Apostles are meager. All are hostile towards that movement. They depict it as a Christian heresy. For studies concerning Segarelli and the Order of Apostles, Pierce (2012), Jacobs (2007), Carniello (2006), and Wessley (1976).

Subsequent quotes from Salimbene’s Cronica are sourced as described previously and cited by page in Holder-Egger (1905). The citations for the subsequent quotes above are: “a certain wealthy young man…”, p. 620; “rogues, seducers…”, p. 287; “spend every day running…”, pp. 256, 269; “This Gerard Segarelli…”, p. 257; “standing in the middle of the road…”, p. 257; “when he was living with a certain little widow…”, p. 257; “He also lay in a cradle…”, p. 257; “he {Gerard Segarelli} and all the others {of his followers} undressed themselves…”, p. 264. Holder-Egger’s page numbers are quite close to those of Baird, Baglivi & Kane.

[2] In disparaging the Order of Apostles, Salimbene repeated like a refrain his claim that they run through the cities seeking out women (less emphatically he also accused them of having sex with other men and with boys). Salimbene similarly repeated that the members of Segarelli’s Order of Apostles were men who “say they are apostles, and are not {qui se dicunt apostolos esse et non sunt}.” They are “a synagogue of Satan {synagoga Sathane}.” Cronica, p. 255. Salimbene adapted for both these phrases Revelation 2:9: “those who say they are Jews are not, but are a synagogue of Satan.” Consistent with its members running around seeking out women, Salimbene mockingly described the Order of the Apostles as a dispersion: “About the congregation, or rather the dispersion, of those rogues {De congregatione seu potius dispersione illorum ribaldorum}…” Cronica, p. 255.

Salimbene was well-educated. He continually displayed his knowledge of scripture by quoting it. Salimbene characterized Segarelli and his followers are ignorant rustics:

Thus it truly was with these Apostles of Gerard Segarelli, who call themselves apostles, but are rogues and deceivers, who shun the hoe and keep themselves from labor. They are more suited to keeping themselves busy with tending cows or pigs or scouring latrines or some other base work or at least pursuing agriculture.

{ Revera ita accidit istis Apostolis fratris Ghirardini Segalelli, qui se apostolos nominant, cum sint ribaldi et deceptores, qui ligonem vitant et laborare recusant, quibus vaccas et porcos custodire magis incomberet seu purgare latrinas aut alia vilia opera exercere vel saltem agriculture insistere. }

Cronica, p. 293.

Salimbene recognized that women can seriously harm men, yet he lacked practical knowledge about intersexual dynamics. He quoted an ancient Christian warning: “Whenever a woman is with a man, the laughter of Satan isn’t lacking {Ubi femina erit cum viris, non deerit riscarium diaboli}.” Cronica, p. 270, quoting pseudo-Jerome, Letter 42. But not all men, nor all women, are that vulnerable. Salimbene also quoted Alan of Lille:

If you follow, she follows; if you flee, she is put to flight;
if you give in, she gives in; if you flee, she flees.

{ Persequitur, si tu sequeris, fugiendo fugatur,
si cedis, cedit, si fugis, illa fugit. }

Cronica, p. 271, quoting Allan of Lille, Liber parabolum I.37-8. The reality is rather the oppposite, as medieval women’s love poetry indicates. Medieval school texts were generally of better quality.

[3] The bed-trick, meaning one person taking the place of another in bed and then having sex without the sexual partner being aware of the switch, has a long literary history. Jacob suffered a bed-trick when on his wedding night he unknowingly had sex with Leah rather than his intended bride, Leah’s younger sister Rachel.

A bed-trick features in Boccaccio’s Decameron, Day 3, Story 9 (about Beltramo and Giletta). That story was the basis for Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well. Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure also include a bed-trick. For a review of the literary history of the bed-trick, Doniger (2000).

[4] The droit de seigneur was a claim known in fifteenth-century Europe. It apparently never was a common sexual practice at any time in history. Boureau (1998). However, droit de seigneur was invoked symbolically in fifteenth century Europe. It expresses symbolically a reasonable understanding of the relationship between men’s status and men’s mating success. Wettlaufer (2000). The droit de seigneur belongs with the chastity belt, the belief that the world is flat, and patriarchy as ridiculous modern myths about medieval European beliefs and practices.

[5] The Apostle Paul taught that Christians need not have themselves circumcised. Galations 5:2-6.

[6] Matthew 20:1-16.

[7] Jerome, The Life of Paul the First Hermit, s. 3, describes a sensational chastity test. The chastity test of Chrysanthus is from the Acts of Chrysanthus and Daria. Salimbene subsquently cited Chrysanthus’s chastity test. According to Salimbene, when Chrysanthus encountered the young virgins soliciting him in bed, he prayed to God to rise up and provide rain:

he lay immobile in prayer and, warding off their embraces and kisses like arrows off the shield of his faith, he called out to the Lord: “Rise up, Lord.”

{ Iacebat autem in oratione immobilis et amplexus earum et oscula quasi sagitarum ictus scuto sue fidei excipiens, clamabat ad Dominum dicens: “Exurge, Domine.” }

Salimbene, Cronica, p. 271. Chrysanthus didn’t bring charges of sexual assault against the young women. Moreover, not all men favor celibate life. Many men would be grateful for these young women taking on men’s burden of seduction. Many men would also be grateful if their father’s would take the sort of dramatic initiative that Chrysanthus’s father did, however misguidedly, to promote his son’s sexual welfare.

Syneisactism, meaning a man and woman living together under vows of chastity in a spiritual marriage, is an ancient Christian practice. It persisted as a Christian practice for at least a millennium. Reynolds (1968). Sexless marriage, a common situation in high-income secular countries today, was more unusual in medieval Christian Europe. Margery Kempe and her husband are, however, a medieval Christian example of a marriage turned sexless. Sexless marriage differs from syneisactism. In a sexless marriage, at least one spouse would strongly prefer to have sex within the marriage. Syneisactism, in contrast, includes a mutual preference to refrain from sex.

Gerard Segarelli’s night naked with the beautiful naked daughter was not a marriage of any sort. It was a simple, sensational chastity test similiar to the one that Jerome described and Chrystanthus reportedly underwent. Cf. Jacobs (2007) p. 153.

[8] The National Shrine of Saint Francis of Assisi in the U.S. explains:

The growing friction between Francis and his father exploded publicly in October of 1206 when Pietro Bernardone pursued his son to the central piazza of the city and demanded repayment for all that Francis had squandered in his generosity to the poor — and for the money Francis had spent in his {church} restoration work.

Before all the townspeople gathered there, Francis stripped himself naked, renounced his hereditary rights, and gave his fine clothes back to his astonished father. The Bishop of Assisi, who had witnessed the dramatic gesture, wrapped his cloak around the young man, who thereafter dressed himself in a simple flaxen tunic tied at the waist with a cord.

From the National Shrine’s account of the life of Saint Francis.

[9] On Gerard Segarelli as an anti-type of St. Francis more generally, Carniello (2006). Carniello perceptively noted:

Salimbene’s ‘Anti-Francis’ was part of a larger movement among Franciscans and Dominicans in the last quarter of the thirteenth century to construct their mendicant rivals as perverting mendicant piety and even as heretical enemies of the Christian faith. During this process, they activated religious sentiments that were bound to transform into radical dissent. By burning Gerardo Segarelli as a heretic in July 1300, Dominican inquisitors fuelled the fire for extremists who called for radical dissent against a ‘corrupt’ Church to find new followers. It was in this atmosphere of militant opposition between the condoned and the condemned that Fra Dolcino stepped forward in August 1300 and that the Order of Apostles completed its descent into heresy.

Id. p. 251. Major corporations now acting to represses communication and suppress dissent should learn from medieval failures.

[10] In contrast to his representation of Segarelli and the Order of Apostles, Salimbene depicted medieval women’s loving concern for men realistically rather than theatrically. Specifically, Salimbene observed that, as an expression of their commitment to poverty, Segarelli and his Apostles refused to own more than one robe. Salimbene disparaged them for that commitment:

they expose themselves to the hazards of colds or greater sickness or even death, which can very easily and quickly happen. No person has the right to kill oneself. … with one robe, which is all they possess, they expose themselves to many miseries, such as lice, which they cannot eliminate, and also sweat and dirt and stench, because they cannot take off the robe and wash it, without being completely naked. Thus once, a certain woman said to two Friars Minor derisively, “Do you know, I have a naked Apostle in my bed, and there he will be until his robe, which I have washed for him, has dried.”

{ exponunt se discrimini frigoris et magne infirmitatis seu etiam mortis, quam de facili cito possent incurrere. Nullus enim debet interficere semetipsum. … cum una tunica, qua solummodo utuntur, exponunt se mutis miseriis tam pediculorum, quos excutere non possunt, quam etiam sudoris et pulveris et fetoris, quia tunicam nec excutere nec lavare possunt, nisi remanserint nudi. Unde quadam di dixit quedam mulier duobous fratribus Minoribus diredendo: “Noveritis, quod habeo unum Apostolum nudum in lecto meo, et erit ibi, quousque tunica sua siccetur, quam lavi.” }

Cronica, p. 284. Along with Salimbene’s usual jab at the Apostle’s lack of chastity, this account has many realistic details.

[image] Naked Francis of Assisi being covered up by the Bishop of Assisi. Fresco made between 1297 and 1299 in the Upper Basilica of San Francesco d’Assisi in Assisi, Italy. Artist unknown; formerly attributed to Giotto di Bondone. Image thanks to Web Gallery of Art and Wikimedia Commons.


Baird, Joseph L., Giuseppe Baglivi, and John Robert Kane. 1986. The Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam. Binghamton, N.Y.: Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies.

Boureau, Alain. 1998. The Lord’s First Night: the myth of the droit de cuissage. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Translation by Lydia G. Cochrane of Boureau, Alain. 1995. Le droit de cuissage: la fabrication d’un mythe (XIIIe-XXe siècle). Paris: Albin Michel.

Carniello, Brian R. 2006. “Gerardo Segarelli as the Anti-Francis: Mendicant Rivalry and Heresy in Medieval Italy, 1260-1300.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History. 57 (2): 226-251.

Doniger, Wendy. 2000. The Bedtrick: tales of sex and masquerade. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Holder-Egger, Oswald. 1905-1913. Cronica Fratris Salimbene de Adam. Monumenta Germaniae Historica 32. Hannoverae et Lipsiae: Impr. bibliopolii Hahniani.

Jacobs, Robert C. 2007. Locating the Franciscans within the cities of thirteenth century northern Italy using the Chronicle of Salimbene de Adam. Master of Arts Thesis, University of Manitoba.

Pierce, Jerry B. 2012. Poverty, Heresy, and the Apocalypse: the Order of Apostles and Social Change in Medieval Italy 1260-1307. London: Bloomsbury Publishing (underlying 2004 Univerity of Arizona Ph.D. dissertation).

Reynolds, Roger E. 1968. “Virgines Subintroductae in Celtic Christianity.” The Harvard Theological Review. 61 (4): 547-566.

Wessley, Stephen E. 1976. Enthusiasm and Heresy in the year 1300: Guglielma of Milan, Armanno Pungilupo of Ferrara and Gerard Segarelli of Parma. Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia University.

Wettlaufer, Jörg. 2000. “The jus primae noctis as a male power display: a review of historic sources with evolutionary interpretation.” Evolution and Human Behavior. 21 (2): 111-123.

Boncompagno da Signa against his rivals, critics, and plagiarists

medieval master teaching students

In contrast to our intolerant and repressive age, robust and vibrant public discourse existed in the relatively liberal medieval world. Medieval intellectuals, like unlearned children today, were intellectually capable of distinguishing between sticks and stones in some persons’ hands, and words in the mouths of others. Inquisitions and tribunals didn’t strive, with administrative torture, expulsions, and other vicious punishments, to make everyone safe from offensive communication. No pervasive codes of conduct promoted tyranny. Persons could vigorously disagree with each other, strongly dissent from prevailing orthodoxy, and deliver harsh criticism. No one had to fear being mobbed and destroyed because someone said that he made her feel uncomfortable. The great thirteenth-century rhetorician Boncompagno da Signa provides an inspiring example of the robust and vibrant public discourse so lacking today.

Boncompagno targeted his rivals with harsh invective that figured them as a monstrous beast. He allegorized his rivals as sin. They were the beast of jealousy, whose mother is pride:

This beast has nine heads, doubled horns, three tails and four feet. Each of these fights by itself, harms by itself, nor does it strike without pouring out venom. It is also horrible to be seen. It never rests, but surveys the world, tracking down any sort of good fortune, and always tries to mess it up, but is confounded. It grumbles, shrieks, rages, becomes delirious, swallows up, harasses, becomes livid, becomes pale, clamors, becomes nauseated, hides, barks, bites, raves, foams at the mouth, rages, seethes, snarls, and groans when it cannot cause harm. It holds its mouth open. It has very sharp teeth and tongues like arrows of continually burning lightning.

{ Hec namque habet capita novem, cornua duplicata, tres caudas, et quatuor pedes. Quorum quodlibet per se pugnat, per se nocet, nec percutit sine fusione veneni. Est etiam horribilis ad videndum, et tempore aliquo non quiescit, sed terrarum orbem regirans quamlibet felicitatem insequitur, et probitatem semper invenire satagit quam confundat. Murmurat, stridet, fremit, delirat, devorat, anxiatur, livet, pallet, perstrepit, nauseat, delitescit, latrat, mordet, furit, spumat, insanit, ignit, gannit et gemit quando nocere non potest, ora tenet aperta, dentes habet acutissimos et linguas tamquam sagittas fulguris perignitas. } [1]

As one would want to say upon seeing a coven of anti-meninists, Boncompagno wrote, “O how terrible and abominable is the sight of this beast {O quam terribilis et abhominabilis est huius bestie aspectus}!” Like cancer, it causes innumerable deaths and afflicts many with various torments.

Boncompagno vigorously affirmed the value of his own work. One of his most important works, sometimes called Rhetorica antiqua {The Rhetoric of Antiquity}, Boncompagno actually titled with his own name:

I {this work} am titled Boncompagnus from my composer’s name. He, wheeling about to rule the field of eloquence with exalted genius and a solemn style, has brought me into the light of day for the enlightenment of the nations and the glory of the scholastic profession.

{ Boncompagnus in nomine compositoris appellor, qui pratum eloquentie celebri vena et solempni stilo regirans me ad illuminationem gentium et gloriam scolastice professionis eduxit in lucem }

The prologue to this work features a dialogue between the work and its author. The work asks Boncompagno:

I ask to be instructed by you: how should I respond to those poisoned by the venom of jealousy, those who say that I am too prolix and confused?

{ A te postulo edoceri, qualiter veneno invidie toxicatis qui me dicunt esse prolixum nimium et confusum debeam respondere? }

Long before Ralph Waldo Emerson, Boncompagno’s large mind contained multitudes and his work was like a mighty cleansing flood. Boncompagno thus responded to his work’s question about jealous rivals:

You should pull on their neck with bit and bridle. You should say that you are probably similar to the Nile, which irrigates scattered islands and lands by its adjacent rivulets and everywhere makes them germinate. Yet the depth of its waters does not change. It is certain and the effect of the matter shows that you could be divided into a thousand particles and more. Each of them might irrigate an arid heart with the fluid of doctrine and bring forth a sprout of thought like a rivulet derived from a river. Thus divide your water in the streets. Do not care what the envious may say. Because of others’ happiness, the envious burn with inextinguishable fire.

{ In chamo et freno manilla eorum constringas, et dicas quod Nilo probabiliter similaris, qui per rivulos adiacentes diffusus aridas insulas et terras irrigat, easque facit uberius germinare: et tamen alvei profunditas non mutatur. Certum est, et rei effectus ostendit, quod dividi potes in mille particulas, et ultra, quarum quelibet humore doctrine aridum cor irrigatet intellectus germen producit tanquam rivulus a flumine derivatus. Aquam tuam igitur divide in plateis, et noli curare quid invidi referant, qui propter aliorum felicitates igne inexstinguibili aduruntur } [2]

Boncompagno hoped that “with the most truthful arguments I shall have the strength to break the teeth of my rival {emulorum dentes verissimis valeam frangere argumentis}.”[3] Boncompagno produced many books addressing complex issues of rhetoric and ars dictaminis. Boncompagno also fought courageously for social justice. But the world was too corrupt to be washed clean by the flood of Boncompagno’s work.

Nonetheless, Boncompagno persisted. After writing Palma, an introduction to technical terms in the study of letter-writing, Boncompagno wrote Oliva:

The dove brought back to Noah a verdant olive branch. This gesture signaled that Noah could leave the ark at will, because the waters of the flood were already receding from the face of the earth. Under that representative likeness, I therefore dare to title my present book. By its effect, this title Oliva fully convinces me that my books and treatises are received everywhere and authenticated by the judgment of the wise. Hence swarms of envious persons are struck dumb. They might be likened to those in the waters of a flood.

{ Ramum uirentis oliue ad Noe columba reduxit, ut per hoc innueret, quod libere poterat egredi ex archa, quia iam cessauerant aque diluuii a facie terre. Sub quadam igitur subiectiua similitudine librum presentem audeo appellare Oliuam, quia michi per effectum plenius intimat, quod mei libri atque tractatus ubique recipiuntur et facti sunt autentici iudicio sapientum. Vnde inuidorum turme stupescunt, que possunt aquis diluuii quodammodo simulari. } [4]

Boncompagno wasn’t an apparatchik. He didn’t produce a stream of work currying favor with influential colleagues and supporting dominant ideology. He fought strongly against his rivals on behalf of truth and love, yet also with mercy:

The reasons why this book should be called the Oliva should not be left in silence. It can deservedly be titled the Oliva, since the oil of adulation does not come from it, but instead a liquid of sincere love. I had first made the Palma, which rendered me victorious over the envious. Now I wish to add a sibling Oliva to it, so that I may father a double victory. Many people carry olive branches in hand as a sign of victory and of happiness. To touch in brief summary the complete truth, this book is titled the Oliva, because olive oil is the material of piety itself, and it signifies mercy.

{ Quare autem liber iste dicatur Oliua, non est sub silentio reliquendum. Potest namque merito appellari Oliua, quoniam ab ipso non adulationis oleum, set liquor sincere caritatis procedit. Vel quia prius feceram Palmam, que de inuidis me reddidit uictoriosum. Vnde sibi germanitatem uolui addere Oliue, ut michi duplicata uictoria generetur. Profecto in signum uictorie atque iocunditatis plurimi portant in manibus ramos oliue. Et ut summam totius ueritatis breuius tangam, liber iste ideo appellatur Oliua, quia materiale oleum ipsius pietatis est et misericordie significatiuum. }

In our benighted age of ignorance and bigotry, academics and intellectuals everywhere should turn to Boncompagno da Signa for inspiration and guidance.

Boncompagno endured vicious intellectual attacks and mendacious acts. One of Boncompagno’s early works was Five Tables of Salutations {Quinque tabule salutationum}, a work on how to begin a letter. Boncompagno’s rivals stole that work from him. In the prologue to his Palma, Boncompagno declared:

I therefore implore those into whose hands this book shall come that they should not wish to give it to my rivals. After erasing its title page, my rivals said that I did not compose the Quinque tabule salutationum. They are those who have been applying smoke to my works on letter-writing. Darkened by the smoke, these works seem to have been composed in much earlier times. With such wickedness they take away my glory.

{ Rogo igitur illos, ad quorum manus hic liber pervenerit, quatinus ipsum dare non velint meis emulis, qui raso titulo me Quinque salutationum tabulas non composuisse dicebant et qui mea consueverunt fumigare dictamina, ut per fumi obtenebrationem a multis retro temporibus composita viderentur et sic mihi sub quodam sceleris genere meam gloriam auferrent. } [5]

Boncompagno displayed sharp wit and sophisticated rhetoric in associating his critics with plagiarists:

By Almighty God I swear that furtive plagiarists not excoriate these books by scraping off their titles, just as some have excoriated my other books. Indeed, may those scribes who disfigure all urbanity of eloquence with falsifying pens and those jealous and furtive plagiarists be struck with the sword of excommunication.

{ Coniuro per Omnipotentem furtiuos depilatores, ne abrasis titulis ipsos excorient, sicut quidam meos alios libros turpiter excoriarunt. Scriptores nempe, qui penna mendacii omnem eloquentie urbanitatem deturpant, cum inuidis et furtiuis depilatoribus excomunicationis gladio feriantur. } [6]

To excoriate literally means to scrape off skin. That’s what a person would literally do in scraping off a title from a vellum manuscript. Excoriate more figuratively means to criticize harshly. Boncompagno thus sarcastically presented his rivals as both harshly criticizing his work and seeking to appropriate it. In addition, the pen and sword are closely associated in poetry. In invoking “the sword of excommunication,” Bongcompagno implied both a serious church penalty and those furtive, falsifying scribes ceasing to write.

New, huge technology companies are now establishing excommunication as a policy to be applied broadly, vaguely, and arbitrarily. The medieval cultural inheritance supporting relatively vibrant and open public discourse is rapidly vanishing. Formal freedom of speech isn’t sufficient for enlightened intellectual life. A public propaganda apparatus and pervasive fear can arise even without the construction of a Siberian gulag. Democracy dies without vigorous dissent against the nomenklatura and the ruling elites.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Boncompagno da Signa, Boncompagnus / Rhetorica antiqua {Rhetoric of Antiquity}, Prologue 3.3, Latin text from Basso (2015), English translation (modified) from Wight (1998). The subsequent four quotes above are similarly from Boncompagnus, Prologue 3.7 (O how terrible and abominable…), 1.1 (I am titled Boncompagnus…), 3.19 (I ask to be instructed…), and 3.20 (You should pull on their neck…).

Boncompagno’s main rivals apparently were Bene da Firenze and Guido Faba. On these three thirteenth-century Italian rhetoricians, Raccagni (2013b) pp. 74-8. Around 1218, Boncompagno moved from Bologna to Venice. Id. p. 77. Bene da Firenze and Guido Faba:

probably referred to him {Boncompagno} when they respectively invited Bologna to rejoice at being rid of the ‘ridiculus Geta’, and described as erring sheep those who had left Bologna for other academic institutions.

Raccagni (2013a) p. 599.

Arguing about the presentation of cursus in teaching ars dictiminis, Boncompagno derided other teaches as “masters of dactyls {magistri dactylii}.” He declared:

It is not a virtue but vulgar, even heresy, to conclude prose composition under dactyl feet. For “prose” derives from “protoi proson,” which means in Latin “first long,” just as “protomartyr” means “first martyr.” Thus the Greeks defined “prose composition”: “Prose composition is speech drawn out according to the will of the dictator and obligated to no laws of meter.” For they had this definition from the Creator himself of all things, because when He commanded to Adam that he should not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, He truly said: “Eat from every tree of Paradise. But do not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” Behold: God finished his clause with a dactyl foot.

{ Item non est uirtus sed consuetudo, immo heresis, concludere prosaicum dictamen sub pedibus dactilis. Nam prosaicum dicitur a “protoi proson”, quod latine interpretatur “primo longum”, sicut dicitur “protomartir” idest “primus martir”. Greci autem sic diffiniunt istud dictamen prosaicum: “Prosaicum dictamen est oratio secundum libitum dictantis extensa nullumque metrorum legibus obligata.” Nam ab ipso rerum omnium Creatore hanc diffinitionem habuerunt, quia quando ipse precipit Ade, ne de ligno scientie boni et mali comederet, hic uero dixit “De omni ligno Paradysi comede. De ligno autem scientie boni et mali ne comedas.” Ecce Deus distinctionem suam in pede dactilico finit. }

Boncompagno, Tractatus virtutum Boncompagni {Boncompagno’s Treatise of Virtues} 35 (masters of dactyls), 31-2 (It is not a virtue…). Boncompagno further argued:

To issue a single set of definite and binding rules involving dactyls and spondees for the beginnings and ends of prose clauses would not, therefore, be a sensible doctrine, but instead the utter confusion of the dictatores.

{ Dare igitur sub una forma certas et necessarias regulas in prosa de datilis et spondeis, principiis et finibus clausularum, nec esset doctrina salutifera, sed perpetua confusio dictatorum }

Boncompagno, from Bibliothèque nationale de France, MS. Latin 8654, folio 2v, from Cornelius (2010) p. 316, citing Valois (1881) p. 196.

Within the vibrant intellectual life of medieval Europe, vigorous disputes about such issues endured for centuries. Simon O., in his Summa dictandi from the first quarter of the fifteenth century, harshly criticized other teachers:

Certain idiots may boldly blurt out that terminations of this sort are not included in the set of cadences. These people ignorantly rave, for they speak without understanding. Indeed, philosophers who seek out the truth devised terminations of this sort in order to preserve their meanings: for it would be difficult for them and for preachers and composers of homilies to attach their intention to a single termination’s cadence.

{ Quidam ignari forsitan temere prorumpent, quod huiusmodi terminciones non continentur sub serie cadenciarum: qui stolide delirant, quod inquiunt ignorantes. Nam huiusmodi terminaciones philosophi invenerunt, qui veritatem sunt prosecuti, pro sentenciis observandis, qu<ia> deficile esset eis et sermonistis ac collacionum compositoribus sub una terminacionis cadencia <propositum> applicare. }

Cited in Cornelius (2010) p. 322-3. The classical Arabic world encompassed similar disputes.

[2] Luke 3.17 describes God’s judgment as burning chaff in “inextinguishable fire {Vulgate: igni inextinguibili}.”

[3] Boncompagno, Isagoge {Introduction}, Prologue 2, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wight (1998).

[4] Boncompagno, Oliva {Olive Branch}, Prologue 1.1, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wight (1998). The subsequent quote is similarly from Oliva, Prologue 1.5-7.

[5] Boncompagno, Palma {Palm}, Prologue 1.1, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wight (1998).

[6] Boncompagno, Oliva {Olive Branch}, Prologue 1.11-2, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Wight (1998). Boncompagno advised his book Boncompagnus:

if anyone should presume to excoriate you, you will appeal to the magistracy and you will able to bring legal actions against them for theft and injuries.

{ si te aliqui excoriare presumpserint, ad magistratus cathedras appellabis, et poteris eos furti et iniuriarum actionibus convenire }

Boncompagno, Boncompagnus, Prologue 3.17, Latin text from Basso (2015), English translation (modified) from Wight (1998).

[image] Medieval master-professor teaching eager students. From folio 4v in instance of Gossuin de Metz, L’Image du monde, made in 1464. Preserved in British Library as MS Royal 19 A IX. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Basso, Martina. 2015. Il 1 Libro del Boncompagnus di Boncompagno da Signa: Edizione Critica e Glossario. Ph.D. Thesis. Università degli Studi di Padova (Italy).

Cornelius, Ian. 2010. “The Rhetoric of Advancement: Ars dictaminis, Cursus, and Clerical Careerism in Late Medieval England.” New Medieval Literatures. 12: 289-330.

Raccagni, Gianluca. 2013a. “Reintroducing the emperor and repositioning the city republics in the ‘republican’ thought of the rhetorician Boncompagno da Signa.” Historical Research. 86 (234): 579-600.

Raccagni, Gianluca. 2013b. “The teaching of rhetoric and the Magna Carta of the Lombard cities: the Peace of Constance, the Empire and the Papacy in the works of Guido Faba and his leading contemporary colleagues.” Journal of Medieval History. 39 (1): 61-79.

Valois, Noël. 1881. Étude sur le rythme des bulles pontificales. Bibliothèque de l’école des chartes. 42: 161-198 (part 1), 257-272 (part 2).

Wight, Steven M., ed. 1998. Boncompagno da Signa. Medieval diplomatic and the “ars dictandi”. Scrineum (online): Universita degli Studi di Pavia.

men forced to offer sacrifices amid intimate-partner violence

one man begin sawed into two

Contrary to widely propagated lies, men suffer terribly from intimate-partner violence. Both old, fat men and young, handsome men are victimized. What domestic-violence experts teach to women also applies to men. No man is safe from those who claim to love him.

Consider the case of Enguerrand I de Boves. He was born in France in the middle of the eleventh century. Enguerrand married Ade de Marle. She had previously been married to Aubry, Viscount of Coucy.[1] Enguerrand’s marriage to Ade de Marle made him Lord of Marle. Ade had two children, Thomas and Robert, within her marriage to Enguerrand. He apparently suspected that at least Thomas (his “reputed {ut dicitur}” son) wasn’t his biological child. Enguerrand divorced Ade, most plausibly for betraying his reproductive interests despite professing to love him.[2]

Although Enguerrand showed more backbone toward Ade than many men show toward their wives, Enguerrand typically allowed women to dominate him. Guibert of Nogent noted of Enguerrand:

He was so much devoted to women’s love that, whatever women surrounded him, whether they were indebted to him in love or money-seeking women, he would do almost nothing but what their impudence dictated.

{ amori foemineo adeo deditus, ut quascunque circa se aut debitas aut usurarias mulieres haberet, nihil pene faceret, nisi quod ei earundem petulantia dictitaret. } [3]

After Enguerrand divorced Ade, he became enamored of Sibylle de Porcien. She was Count Godfrey’s wife. Godfrey was a very handsome man and much younger than Enguerrand. However, Godfrey and Sibylle were having marital problems, and Sibylle was a woman with strong, independent sexuality:

Her husband was fulfilling his martial duty less than she would have desired. Whether she kept herself from other men can be know from this one thing: she would have never come to such a public and monstrous scandal if she had not descended one step at a time through clandestine evil acts. In particular, she was already pregnant with another man’s child when she married the man who is now her husband. Her past debaucheries everyone knows.

{ Cui, cum minus quam volebat mariti debitum redderetur, utrum alia sese cohibuisset, hoc uno sciri potest, quod ad tam evidentis et immanis flagitii saltum nunquam venisset, nisi clandestinorum malorum gradibus descendisset, praesertim cum externis concubitibus gravida veniret ad istum, quem nunc obsidet. Nam praeteritarum ejus libidinum ea apud omnes }

Enguerrand and Sibylle had a secret affair. She then left her husband and married Enguerrand. Both her former husband Count Godfrey and her father, Roger, Count of Porcien, were furious with Enguerrand for what he had done. Both sides killed many men in the resulting violence against men.

Enguerrand subsequently had to make a humiliating sacrifice for his wife Sibylle. As Enguerrand became old and put on weight, his social status declined:

he was ridiculed by tavern-keepers and butchers for getting old and fat — many pounds with many years

{ sui aevi gravitatem caupones et macellarii irriderent } [4]

In light of these personal developments, his wife Sibylle took decisive action:

his wife, with the pretense of chastity but really because of his age and fatness, began to refuse to have sex with Enguerrand. She, however, would not be deprived of her customary enjoyment of lovers. So she began to lust for a suitable young man.

{ uxor, cum jam sub specie continentiae pro senio et corporis mole aspernaretur Ingelrannum, veteri tamen amasiorum usu carere non poterat. Unde et juvenem idoneum cum amaret } [5]

What could an old, fat, sexually desperate husband do in this situation? Some might say he should divorce his wife and find a new one, or at least find an eager girlfriend. But Enguerrand had already been divorced once. Real-world divorce is expensive in a variety of ways. After Enguerrand’s divorce from Ade, Thomas de Marle, Enguerrand’s reputed son with Ade, hated him and violently attacked him and his allies. Divorce often promotes family violence.

Rather than divorcing Sibylle, Enguerrand resolved that sharing is better than lacking. He apparently accommodated Sibylle’s desire in order to be allowed to have sex with her:

Enguerrand kept her away from all communication with the young man, until she drove Enguerrand so mad with sexual enticements that he summoned the young man, set him up in their house, and betrothed her very young daughter to him to conceal the young man’s wicked affair with Enguerrand’s own wife.

{ eam Ingelrannus ab ejus omnino confabulatione arceret, tantis repente hominem lenociniis dementavit, ut eum ad se accersiret, in domo sua statueret, filiam suam parvulam ad palliandos amores nefarios pactis sponsalibus daret }

Husbands historically have shared their wife with other men when the wife was reluctant to work outside the home. But for good evolutionary-biological reasons (powerfully re-enforced by gynocentric paternity laws) men typically prefer that, for a woman with whom they hope to have children, she exclusively have sex with him. Enguerrand sacrificed an exclusive arrangement with his wife in order to avoid the harm and violence of divorce.

Even young men are forced to offer sacrifices because of intimate-partner violence. Consider a situation of complicated intimate partnerships and violence in ancient Rome. The gladiator Encolpius apparently became a sexual consort for the wealthy married merchant Lichas, and perhaps also had sex with Lichas’s wife. The wealthy, highly privileged woman Tryphaena owned both Encolpius and a sixteen-year-old servant youth named Giton. Encolpius and Giton had a consensual sexual relationship. Exploiting her position of power and authority over Giton, Tryphaena frequently sexually assaulted him. Encolpius and Giton fled from Tryphaena’s household and thus became runaway slaves. Tryphaena was enraged by the loss of her beloved chattel and her sexual privilege. Lichas was enraged that Encolpius had deserted him to be with Giton. The grave risks of further intimate-partner violence are obvious.

Tryphaena, Lichas, Encolpius, and Giton found themselves unexpectedly together on a ship at sea. With Tryphaena keen to sexually assault Giton, Encolpius courageously defended the youth:

Thrusting my fists into Tryphaena’s face, I cried out in a clear and free voice that I would use violence if that wicked woman didn’t abstain from hurting Giton, for she was the only person on the ship who deserved a beating.

{ intentans in oculos Tryphaenae manus usurum me viribus meis clara liberaque voce clamavi, ni abstineret a Gitone iniuriam mulier damnata et in toto navigio sola verberanda. } [6]

A brawl subsequently broke out. Tryphaena, her maids, Lichas, and other subservient men were on her side; Encolpius, Giton, Eumolpus, and Eumolpius’s servant-man fought against them. Blood streamed from wounds on both sides, yet the intimate-partner violence raged undiminished. Then Giton dramatically offered a horrific sacrifice:

Then the supremely brave Giton put a razor to his own manly genitals and threatened to excise the cause of all the misery

{ Tunc fortissimus Giton ad virilia sua admovit novaculam infestam, minatus se abscisurum tot miseriarum causam }

Tryphaena quickly responded with an offer of forgiveness for all past offenses. The warring parties then established a formal peace treaty. Lichas was compelled not to disparage Encolpius about his relationship with Giton:

Lichas, you express your understanding that you will not pursue Encolpius with insulting words or grimaces, nor inquire where he sleeps at night. If you do so inquire, you will pay him two hundred denarii for each injurious act.

{ Licha, ex tui animi sententia, ut tu Encolpion nec verbo contumelioso insequeris nec vultu, neque quaeres ubi nocte dormiat, aut si quaesieris, pro singulis iniuriis numerabis praesentes denarios ducenos. } [7]

Tryphaena was compelled not to sexually harass Giton without pay:

You will give the youth no repugnant demand for a hug, a kiss, or to be held tight in sexual intercourse, without for each act paying a hundred denarii.

{ tu nihil imperabis puero repugnanti, non amplexum, non osculum, non coitum venere constrictum, nisi pro qua re praesentes numeraveris denarios centum. }

A woman paying a subordinate for sexual services that she demands is more just than her receiving those services for free. In our more ignorant and barbaric age, women who raped men can receive state-mandated monthly payments from their victims. While the treaty that ended this intimate-partner violence was far from perfect, at least it established peace.

Cuckolding and castration culture cast a long, dark shadow over human history. Men too often have been called upon to make enormous sacrifices to stop intimate-partner violence. Women must take equal responsibility for stopping intimate-partner violence. But that’s not enough. Establishing a propitious environment for human love is the most important task for everyone.

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[1] Ade de Marle is also known as Adèle of Marle and Adèle of Roucy. Aubry of Coucy is also known as Alberic de Beaumont, seigneur de Coucy. Enguerrand I de Boves became Count of Amiens in 1085 and Lord of Coucy in 1086. Bourgin (1907) p. 133, n. 1. Ade and Enguerrand had their first son, Thomas de Marle, in 1073.

Enguerrand had “a very close relative {plurima sibi consanguinitate affinis}” with another Enguerrand who became Bishop of Laon in 1098 or 1099. Bishop Enguerrand of Laon apparently died in 1104. Guibert, Monodiae 3.3; Bourgin (1907) p. 132, n. 1. Both Bishop Enguerrand of Laon and Enguerrand de Marle were probably grandsons of Aubry of Coucy and hence first cousins. Bourgin (1907) p. 133, n. 1;  Archambault (1996) p. 124, n. 10.

An Enguerrand associated with Laon participated in the First Crusade, 1095-1099. Writing about the First Crusade, Guibert reported:

But count Stephen, with certain bishops of our kingdom, among whom were Hugh of Soissons, William of Paris, fine, noble men, who were splendid, accomplished young rulers, and Enguerrand of Laon — would that he had been as preeminent in his religious belief as he was in appearance and eloquence — together with many dignitaries of all ranks, entered the city of Constantinople.

{ At Stephanus comes cum quibusdam pontificibus regni nostri, inter quos Hugo Suessionicus, et Parisiorum Guillelmus illustris indolis generisque viri, qui praesulatui suo in primaevo flore clarissimis moribus ministrabant, et Engelrannus Laudunensis, vir sicut forma et eloquentia, utinam sic religione! conspicuus, cum multa ordinum omnium dignitate moenia Constantinopolitana subintrant. }

Guibert of Nogent, Gesta Dei per Francos {God’s Deeds through the Franks} 8.6, Latin text from Guizot (1825), English trans. from Levine (1997). Archambault identifies this Enguerrand as Enguerrand de Marle. Archambault (1996) p. 125, n. 12. It seems to me more probably Bishop Enguerrand of Laon.

[2] Guibert repeatedly refers to Thomas de Marle as “Enguerrand’s reputed son {ut dicitur Ingrelranni filium}.” E.g. Monodiae 3.11. Benton states:

He {Enguerrand} divorced Adèle of Roucy, the mother of Thomas of Marle, on charges of adultery, leading Guibert to say throughout this work {Monodiae} that Thomas was Enguerrand’s “reputed” son.

Benson (1970) p. 148, n. 2. Archambault, however, argues:

Guibert is not casting doubt on Thomas’s legitimacy, or casting aspersions on Enguerrand’s first marriage to Ade de Marle, Thomas’s mother, when he states: “contra Thomam, quem irremediabiliter ipse, qui dicebatur pater, oderat {against Thomas, who irremediably hated that one who is called his father}.” He is showing, rather, how unnatural Enguerrand’s sentiments have become toward Thomas de Marle, whom both he and he second wife, Sibylle, intend to disinherit.

Archambault (1996) p. 169, n. 113. I think Guibert is both depicting “unnatural” familial sentiments and recording doubt about Thomas’s legitimacy. Guibert states of Enguerrand: “in entering into marriages he had been unfortunate {cum in sortiendis matrimoniis infortuniosus esset}.” Monodiae 3.3. Guibert also describes Thomas’s intense hatred toward both Enguerrand and Sibylle. That hatred is plausibly the hatred of a son toward those who had exposed his mother’s adultery and his illegitimacy in contemporary eyes.

[3] Guibert of Nogent, Monodiae {Songs of Self} 3.3, Latin text from Bourgin (1907), my English translation benefiting from those of Archambault (1996) and McAlhany & Rubenstein (2011). All subsequent quotes from Monodiae are similarly sourced. The subsequent quote above is also from Monodiae 3.3.

[4] Guibert, Monodiae 3.14. Enguerrand was a lord and a count. Being ridiculed by inn-keepers and butchers is a stunning status reversal. The Latin text refers wittily to the “weight of his age {gravitas aevi}”; gravitas, used here ironically, is a venerable Roman virtue.

[5] Guibert, Monodiae 3.11. The subsequent quote above is from id. While less so in medieval Europe than in today’s high-income countries, marriage turning sexless has always been a risk.

[6] Petronius, Satyricon 108, Latin text from Heseltine & Rouse (1913), my English translation benefiting from that of id. and Walsh (1996). All subsequent quotes from the Satyricon are similarly source. The next quote above is also from Satyricon 108.

[7] Petronius, Satyricon 109. The subsequent quote above is from id. The denarius was an ancient Roman silver coin.

Payments of 200 and 100 denarii were enormous sums relative to the income of ordinary Roman men. The Satyricon is thought to have been written about 64 GC. Toward the end of the first century GC, men engaged in unskilled agricultural labor on estates in Roman Egypt earned roughly 5 obols per day. A denarius was worth 28 obols. Hence the daily wage for men engaged in unskilled labor was about 0.2 denarii a day. For the equivalence and data, Harper (2016) Table 2, p. 814, and Figure 9, p. 828. Here’s Harper’s extensive dataset on Roman prices and wages.

[image] One man being sawed into two parts. Illumination on folio 107r in Epistolarium (Amiens) {Épistolier à l’usage d’Amiens}. Illumination by Maître d’Antoine Clabault, made about 1490. Preserved in Bibliothèque nationale de France as Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal. MS-662.


Archambault, Paul J., trans. 1996. A Monk’s Confession: the memoirs of Guibert of Nogent. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Benton, John F., trans. 1970. Self and society in Medieval France: the memoirs of Abbot Guibert of Nogent. New York, NY: Harper & Row.

Bourgin, George, ed. 1907. Guibert of Nogent. Histoire de sa vie: 1053-1124. Paris: Picard.

Guizot, François, trans. 1825. Histoire des Croisades. Collection des mémoires relatifs à l’histoire de France, 10. Paris: Brière.

Harper, Kyle. 2016. “People, Plagues, and Prices in the Roman World: The Evidence from Egypt.” Journal of Economic History. 76 (3): 803-839.

Heseltine, Michael and W. H. D. Rouse, trans., revised by E. H. Warmington. 1913. Petronius Arbiter, Seneca. Satyricon. Apocolocyntosis. Loeb Classical Library 15. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Levine, Robert. 1997. The Deeds of God through the Franks: a translation of Guibert de Nogent’s Gesta Dei per Francos. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

McAlhany, Joseph, and Jay Rubenstein, trans. 2011. Guibert of Nogent. Monodies and the Relics of Saints: the autobiography and a manifesto of a French monk from the time of the crusades. New York, NY: Penguin Books. (review by Scott G. Bruce, review by Bruce L. Venarde)

Walsh, Patrick G, trans. 1996. Petronius Arbiter. The Satyricon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Roscelin mischaracterized Abelard’s subservience to Heloise

Come, Abelard! for what hast thou to dread?
The torch of Venus burns not for the dead.
Nature stands check’d; Religion disapproves;
Ev’n thou art cold — yet Eloisa loves.
Ah hopeless, lasting flames! like those that burn
To light the dead, and warm th’unfruitful urn. [1]

Abelard kissing Heloise

Under gynocentrism, men are subservient to women. Women expect men to come when women call. Men are taught to work to provide money to women and children and to be prepared to die for their country. The public propaganda apparatus proclaims to men, “work sets you free {arbeit macht frei}.” Not surprisingly, men are expected, in one way or another, to pay for having sex with women. That’s crucial context for understanding Roscelin of Compeigne’s vicious letter to Peter Abelard about his affair with Heloise of the Paraclete.

In Paris early in the twelfth century, Abelard had been a teacher of Heloise. Their relationship developed into a torrid sexual affair and then marriage. Angry with Abelard over difficulties that had developed in Abelard’s marriage with Heloise, Heloise’s uncle Canon Fulbert arranged to have a band of thugs break into Abelard’s bedroom and castrate him. That terrible form of violence against men is deeply entrenched in human society. Despite being castrated, Abelard continued to work as a teacher. Like most men, he provided money to his wife Heloise. She became abbess of the Benedictine Oratory of the Paraclete. In addition to receiving money from Abelard, Heloise assigned him various literary and theological work to do for the nuns of the Paraclete.[2]

Following a heated exchange of theological views with Abelard, Roscelin of Compeigne about 1120 derided Abelard for providing money to Heloise. Abelard taught Heloise the profound meaning and practice of human love. Roscelin disparaged Abelard for his teaching. Roscelin reduced Abelard’s relationship with Heloise to unfulfilled prostitution:

you do not stop teaching what should not be taught, even when if it were to be taught, you should not teach it. You collect money for the falsehoods that you teach, and you don’t even send the money to your whore as payment for expected sexual intercourse — you take it to her yourself. While you were able, you expected to be given sexual pleasure for a price. Now you give payment, more as compensation for past sins than as buying future sin. And the teaching that you once abused for sexual pleasure, you to this day abuse due to your inclination. But, thank God, even in your need, you are not able.

{ non docenda docere non desinis, cum et docenda docere non debueras, atque collecto falsitatis quam doces pretio, scorto tuo in stupri praemium nequaquam transmittis, sed ipse deportas et quid, dum poteras, in pretium exspectatae voluptatis dabas, modo das in praemium, plus utique remunerando stuprum praeteritum peccans, quam emendo futurum, et qua prius cum voluptate abutebaris, adhuc ex voluntate abuteris: sed Dei gratia ex necessitate non praevales. } [3]

Men who are not able — men suffering from impotence, or even worse, social or physical castration — deserve sympathy, compassion, and disability payments. Abelard, as a castrated man, surely did not provide money to his wife Heloise as compensation for his past sexual sin, which was also her past sexual sin. He provided his wife with money because that’s men’s long-established, oppressive gender role. For teaching Heloise, Abelard probably received room, board, and money. Abelard almost surely never paid Heloise for sex.[4] In contrast to Roscelin’s false, gender-stereotyped claim, Heloise’s family paid for her opportunity to develop a sexual relationship with Abelard. If it weren’t for castration culture, that pay to Abelard would have been money well-spent in helping Heloise to live a full and happy life.

Compared to the mythic gender wage gap, the gender protrusion in payment for sex is a far worse social injustice. Like the mythic gender wage gap, men paying women for sex is used against men even when it doesn’t exist in reality. Every man waiting for a woman (a young, attractive, meninist woman) to call him and ask him out to dinner at a restaurant (a good, expensive restaurant) understands the fundamental gender injustice. What remains is to change it.

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[1] Alexander Pope, Eloisa to Abelard (excerpt). Pope wrote this poem in 1717.

[2] Work that Heloise assigned to Abelard included writing hymns for liturgy in the Oracle of the Paraclete and writing answers to theological questions that Heloise sent to him (Problemata Heloissae).

[3] Roscelin of Compiegne, Letter to Abelard {Epistola ad Abaelardum} (excerpt), Latin text from Patrologia Latina 178:369BC, via Heloïsa und Abaelard, my English translation.

Roscelin claimed, “what from Dan to Beersheba is famous we shall unfold {quod a Dan usque Bersabee notum est replicemus}.” In the Hebrew Bible, Dan is the northernmost city of the tribes of Israel. Dan is associated with the idolatry of Jeroboam’s golden calves. 2 Kings 10:29, 2 Chronicles 13:8. Beersheba is a place in the desert in the kingdom of Simeon, south of the the main part of the kingdom of Judah. Beersheba is associated with the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham and Isaac. Genesis 21:22-34, Genesis 26:23-33.

In the relatively liberal and enlightened medieval period, scholars engaged in vigorous, spirited, and open contention. Roscelin claimed that Abelard lived “in the monastery that is in fact that of St. Dionysius {in monasterio siquidem beati Dionysii).” He claimed that there was “gathered together a multitude of barbarians {congregata barbarorum multitudine}.” According to Roscelin writing to Abelard, that was a place “where you would devote yourself to your inclination and lust {ubi voluntati voluptatique tuae deservires}.” In literary history, men’s sexually has commonly been harshly disparaged.

[4] In an earlier letter to Abelard, Heloise declared that she preferred to be Abelard’s whore {meretrix} rather than Abelard’s wife. See Letter 2.10 in Luscombe & Radice (2013) pp. 132-3. Like Theophrastus and Matheolus, Heloise courageously and generously recognized disadvantages that men suffer in marriage. Heloise’s willingness to be Abelard’s whore doesn’t imply that Abelard actually paid Heloise for sex.

[image] Abelard kissing Heloise to provide her with a short break from her strenuous intellectual work. Illumination from between pages 12 and 13 in Fortescue-Brickdale (1919). The great medieval humanist Boccaccio in 1361 wrote an influential volume entitled Famous Women {De mulieribus claris}. Fortescue-Brickdale (1919) follows in that tradition.


Fortescue-Brickdale, Eleanor. 1919. Golden Book of Famous Women. London: Hodder.

Luscombe, David, and Betty Radice, ed. and trans. 2013. The Letter Collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

women’s beauty and men’s under-appreciated work of desire

Bathsheba bathing, with David onlooking yearningly

Important recent classical scholarship has established that “the classical Greek notion of beauty is closely related to erôs, that is, passionate desire.”[1] The learned, twelfth-century monk Guibert of Nogent understood beauty classically. Guibert, however, went beyond the ancient Greek notion of beauty to highlight men’s under-appreciated work of desire.

Guibert presented beauty with a superficial contrast. Consider how Guibert described his greatest blessing:

I have already said, Pious and Holy One, that I am thankful to you for your gifts. I thank you, first and foremost, for having given me a mother who is beautiful yet chaste and modest and exceedingly God-fearing. Mentioning her beauty alone would be profane and foolish if I didn’t add (to show the vanity of the word “beauty”) that the severity of her appearance was sure proof of her chastity.

{ Dixeram, pie et sancte, quod de tuis tibi beneficiis gratularer. Primum potissimumque itaque gratias ago, quod pulchram, sed castam, modestam mihi matrem timoratissimamque contuleris. Pulchram profecto satis seculariter ac inepte protuleram, nisi certae castitatis severissima fronte hoc nomen inane firmassem. } [2]

Guibert’s mother is beautiful {pulcher}, yet she has a severe appearance. So does she look like Saint Pelagia, or like a viciously anti-meninist woman? Guibert immediately explained:

Fasting for the poor, who have no choice for when food is available, is really a form of torture and is therefore less praiseworthy. In the same way, if rich people abstain from food, their merit is derived from abundance. So it is with beauty, which is all the more praiseworthy if it resists flattery while knowing itself to be desirable.

{ Sicut sane in omnino pauperibus jejunia videntur extortitia, quibus non suppetunt ciborum suffragia, et ideo minus laudabilia, frugalitas autem divitum pro sua habet copia pretium; sic forma quanto appetibilior, si contra lenocinia duruerit, tanto omnimodae titulo laudis evectior. }

Guibert’s mother evidently is a woman that men desire, like men do Saint Pelagia. His mother’s severity isn’t repellent bitterness and hostility toward men. Her severity is merely her reason and judgment strong enough to resist the servile flattery of weak, self-abasing men.

Guibert went on to consider a classical understanding of beauty. He stated:

Sallust was able to consider beauty praiseworthy independent of moral considerations. Otherwise he never would have said about Aurelia Orestilla, “Good men never praised anything in her except her beauty.” Sallust seems to have meant that Aurelia’s beauty, considered in isolation, could still be praised by good people, while admitting how corrupt she was in everything else.

{ Sallustiuse Crispus nisi solam sine moribus pulchritudinem laudi duxisset, nunquam de Aurelia Orestilla dixisset: “Inqua, ait, praeter formam nihil unquam bonus laudavit.” Si formam ejus, quam excipit, a bono laudari asserit, quia tamen in caeteris omnibus turpem } [3]

Aurelia Orestilla came from a leading political family in the Roman Republic of the early first century BGC. She was the wife of the eminent Roman commander Catiline when he engaged in a conspiracy to burn Rome and overthrow the Republican government. Cicero associated Aurelia Orestilla with obscenity.[4] She was probably similar to her contemporary Sempronia, a type of woman profusely celebrated in mass media today:

Sempronia was a woman who had often committed many crimes of masculine daring. In family heritage and beauty, and in her husband and her children, she was abundantly favored by fortune. She was well-read in the literature of Greece and Rome, and able to play the lyre and to dance more skillfully than an honest woman would find necessary. She had many other accomplishments that aid voluptuousness. Nothing she valued so little as modesty and chastity. You could not easily say whether she was less sparing of her money or her honor. Her sexual desires were so ardent that she sought men more often than they sought her. Even before the time of the conspiracy she had often broken her word, repudiated her debts, and been privy to murder. Experiences of poverty and extravagance had combined to drive her forward. Nevertheless, she was a woman of no paltry endowments. She could write verses, bandy jests, and use language modest, tender, or wanton. In short, she possessed a high degree of wit and charm.

{ erat Sempronia quae multa saepe virilis audaciae facinora commiserat. Haec mulier genere atque forma, praeterea viro atque liberis satis fortunata fuit; litteris Graecis et Latinis docta, psallere et saltare elegantius, quam necesse est probae, multa alia, quae instrumenta luxuriae sunt. Sed ei cariora semper omnia quam decus atque pudicitia fuit; pecuniae an famae minus parceret, haud facile discerneres; lubido sic accensa, ut saepius peteret viros quam peteretur. Sed ea saepe antehac fidem prodiderat, creditum abiuraverat, caedis conscia fuerat, luxuria atque inopia praeceps abierat. Verum ingenium eius haud absurdum; posse versus facere, iocum movere, sermone uti vel modesto vel molli vel procaci; prorsus multae facetiae multusque lepos inerat. } [5]

The Latin word for beauty used to characterize both Aurelia Orestilla and Sempronia is forma. The Latin word that Guibert used to characterize his mother is pulcher. The word forma is beauty much more narrowly limited to physical appearance.[6]

Like Bishop Nonnus with respect to Pelagia, Guibert had a realistic understanding of womanly beauty. Writing in a more liberal and less doctrinaire age than ours, Guibert frankly explained:

Speaking for Sallust, I think he might just as well have said that Aurelia deserved to be praised for a natural, God-given gift, impaired though she was by all the other impurities that made up her being. Likewise a statue can be praised for the harmony of its parts, no matter what material composes it. It may be regarded as an idol by the Apostle Paul from the viewpoint of faith, and indeed nothing may be called or is more impious, but one can still admire the harmony of its limbs.

{ dicit, secure pro Sallustio loquor sic sensisse, ceu diceret, digne dote naturae a Deo approbari, licet eam constet adjectivis quibuslibet impuritatibus impiari. Laudatur itaque in idolo cujuslibet materiei partibus propriis forma conveniens, et licet idolum ab Apostolo, quantum spectat ad fidem, nihil appelletur nec quippiam profanius habeatur, tamen illa membrorum apta diductio non ab re laudatur. }

Men sexually desire beautiful women even if those women are morally bad. Women, on the other hand, sexually desire bad boys even if those boys aren’t beautiful. Reality resists social constructions of gender. Beauty is an aspect of natural, God-given reality.

The classical understanding of beauty closely linked beauty with desire, but commonly trivialized men’s work of desire. Consider, for example, the classical poet Eumolpus. One day while bathing in a Roman bathhouse with other naked men, he attempted to recite learned poetry. His fellow bathers ridiculed him, attacked him, and drove him out of the bath. Outside, a huge crowd surrounded another naked man. Eumolpus sarcastically reported:

In contrast to their treatment of me, a huge crowd surrounded that other man’s groin and clapped their hands in humblest admiration. He had genitals that hung down with such weight that you would have thought that the man himself was a mere appendage to his penis. What a hard-working young man he must be! I suspect that he has to begin today to finish tomorrow. So it wasn’t long before he got himself an assistant — some Roman noble or other, with a dubious reputation, they say — who gave his clothes to cover him up and brought him home with him, I believe, to enjoy his good fortune in private. … It just shows that it’s more profitable to work your genitals than your brains.

{ ilium autem frequentia ingens circumvenit cum plausu et admiratione timidissima. Habebat enim inguinum pondus tam grande, ut ipsum hominem laciniam fascini crederes. O iuvenem laboriosum: puto ilium pridie incipere, postero die finire. Itaque statim invenit auxilium; nescio quis enim, eques Romanus ut aiebant infamis, sua veste errantem circumdedit ac domum abduxit, credo, ut tam magna fortuna solus uteretur. … Tanto magis expedit inguina quam ingenia fricare. } [7]

Eumolpus thus trivialized the erection labor of even a man with very heavy equipment.[8] More generally, in the defective classical understanding of beauty, men’s desire requires of men negligible labor.

Showing important development of reasoned, empirical thinking, Guibert highlighted that desire requires labor from men. Guibert sympathetically reported why an older man became a monk:

Another man was from a noble Beauvaisien family with rich estates in Noyon. He was elderly, and his body had been worn out long ago. Yet he had a wife vigorous in the business of the marriage bed. That’s greatly pernicious. So, deserting married life and the world, he professed vows as a monk.

{ Alter quidam, genere nobilis Bellovagensium, Noviomagensium quoque locuples, aetate evectus, et effoeto jam corpore, quod talibus pestiferum est, uxorem habens vegetiorem officio thalamorum, desertis conjugio ac saeculo, monachum inibi profitetur. } [9]

With great love for women, men engage in tiring work in bed. Other medieval literature similarly tells of men exhausted by their erection labor. Desire requires strength-sapping labor from men.

In the more liberal and less doctrinaire medieval period, women both under-appreciated and over-appreciated men’s erection labor. Men generally endure less risk to their health when women under-appreciate men’s sexuality. Today, however, many women insist on being on top. Yet women also eagerly buy seedless watermelons and urgently pursue an ideal of zero emissions. Men’s health is thus endangered and men’s erection labor is devalued. Women’s beauty is good for society only when men are adequately compensated for their erection labor.

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[1] Konstan (2015) p. 62.

[2] Guibert of Nogent, Monodiae {Songs of Self} 1.2, Latin text from Bourgin (1907), English trans. from Archambault (1996) (adapted). All subsequent quotes from Guibert, unless otherwise noted, are similarly sourced from Monodiae 1.2.

Guibert ended his discussion of his mother’s beauty in a way that underscores the close relationship between beauty and desire:

Thank you, God, for instilling virtue into my mother’s beauty. The seriousness of her whole bearing was enough to show her contempt for all vanity. Her lowered eyes, paucity of speech, and unexcitable facial expression by no means indicated acquiescence to flirtatious looks.

{ Gratia igitur tibi, Deus, qui praestillaveras decori ejus virtutem: illius enim habitudinis gravitas tolius vanitatis poterat insinuare contemptum; oculorum namque pondus, raritas eloquendi ac faciei motuum difficultas, minime levitatibus intuentium obsecundat. }

Id. Guibert here shifts to referring to his mother’s beauty with the Latin word decor. That word most commonly represents physical beauty. Konstan (2015) p. 142. Guibert’s mother is physically beautiful, but she in other ways distances herself from sexual desire.

As many mothers throughout history have with respect to their sons, Guibert’s mother dominated him. He regarded her as almost God-like and was greatly concerning to follow her instructions. She regarded Guibert’s sexual desire as dangerous to him. That’s certainly true for men under gynocentrism today.

[3] Guibert quotes from Sallust, The War With Catiline {Bellum Catilinae} 15.2. Here’s the Loeb edition of The War With Catiline, with Latin text and English translation by John C. Rolfe (1921/1931). Catiline’s full name in Latin is Lucius Sergius Catilina.

[4] On Aurelia Orestilla family background, Evans (1987). Catiline’s wife Aurelia plausibly was Catiline’s daughter via his adulterous relationship with her mother. Consider words of Cicero, with ancient commentary:

“Whenever you were caught in adultery, whenever you caught adulterers yourself, when arising from the same act of gross indecency you found yourself a woman to be both wife and daughter.” It is said that Catilina committed adultery with the woman who was later his mother-in-law, and took to wife the female offspring of that fornication, although she was his daughter. This charge Lucceius also levels against Catilina in the orations which he wrote attacking him. I have not yet discovered the names of these women.

{ “Cum deprehendebare in adulteriis, cum deprehendebas adulteros ipse, cum ex eodem stupro tibi et uxorem et filiam invenisti.” Dicitur Catilina adulterium commisisse cum ea quae ei postea socrus fuit, et ex eo natam stupro duxisse uxorem, cum filia eius esset. Hoc Lucceius quoque Catilinae obicit in orationibus quas in eum scripsit. Nomina harum mulierum nondum inveni. }

Cicero’s speech In his white gown {In toga candida}, according to the commentary of Asconius 91C. Latin text and English translation from Lewis (2006) pp. 183-4. A correction written in Poggio’s manuscript of Asconius added, “the name of his wife was Aurelia Orestilla, of his mother-in-law, I don’t know {nomen uxori fuit Aurelia Orestilla, de socru ignoro}.” Id. (in editor’s note).

Cicero, in his Letters to Friends {Epistulae ad Familiares} 9.15 associated Aurelia and Lollia with obscenity. Cicero stated, “if we use the word Aurelia or Lollia we must prefix an apology {sin de Aurelia aliquid aut Lollia, honos praefandus est}.” Latin text and English translation from Loeb edition of William Glyn (1927).

[5] Sallust, The War With Catiline {Bellum Catilinae} 25, Latin text and English translation (adapted) from the Loeb edition of Rolfe (1921/1931). This Sempronia was the wife of Decimus Junius Brutus. On her involvement in the conspiracy, Bellum Catilinae 40.5. For a modern apology for the perhaps adulterous Sempronia, wife of Scipio Aemilianus, Beness & Hillard (2016). Here’s some analysis of modern reporting of men being cuckolded.

Despite Aurelia Orestilla almost surely being deeply involved in what has been called the Catiline conspiracy, she apparently suffered relatively little from that failed uprising. Catiline in 62 BGC was killed fighting for the conspiracy attempt. But in 50 BGC Aurelia Orestilla was making an elite marriage for her daughter. Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares 8.7.7, discussed in Evans (1986) p. 70.

Ben Jonson’s tragedy Catiline His Conspiracy (1611) plausibly elaborates on Aurelia Orestilla’s character. Brian Jay Corrigan’s Compendium of Renaissance Drama recognizes Jonson’s gender-critical insight in Catiline His Conspiracy:

After their respective meetings, both men and women conspirators convene in the early hours of the morning to take their leave and make a final statement of confidence. Eventually, when the conspirators are sentenced to death, it is understood that the women, including Aurelia, are not punished.

See Aurelia in Corrigan’s character list. A gender protrusion in men’s mortality and sex discrimination in punishment are common aspects of gynocentrism.

[6] The word forma most specifically refers to physical shape or figure, but it can take on the meaning “beauty” in context. The Latin words for beauty formosus and formositas, which are derived from forma, highlight that physical meaning of beauty. Konstan (2015) pp. 144, 148.

[7] Petronius, Satyricon 92, Latin text from Heseltine & Rouse (1913), English translation from Walsh (1996) (adapted). The well-endowed man is Ascyltus, a rival to Encolpius for amorous relations with Giton. On classical literature admiring large penises, see commentary to Satyricon 92 in Schmeling (2011).

[8] Despite Eumolpus’s disdain’s for Ascyltus’s erection labor, Eumolpus himself experienced sexual exhaustion in his relationship with the Pergamene youth. Eumolpus threatened to alert the father of the Pargamene youth if that youth didn’t stop pressing him for more sex. Satyricon 82-7. On the literary context of this story, Harrison (1998). The gender-political implications of the story have been regrettably overlooked.

[9] Guibert, Monodiae 2.5, Latin text from Bourgin (1907), English trans. from Archambault (1996) (adapted).

[image] Bathsheba sexually harassing David. As a result of that sexual harassment, one man suffered a reproductive injury and a man and a boy were killed. Specifically, Bathsheba’s husband Uriah was cuckolded and killed, and Bathsheba and David’s newly born son died. 2 Samuel 11-12. In recent decades scholars have tended to blame the victim and condemn men in such situations for “the male gaze.” That reflects the growing influence of carceral anti-meninism. Illumination on f. 71 of French Book of Hours, made c. 1485. Preserved as British Library MS Harley 2863.


Archambault, Paul J., trans. 1996. A Monk’s Confession: the memoirs of Guibert of Nogent. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Beness, J. Lea, and Tom Hillard. 2016. “Wronging Sempronia.” Antichthon. 50: 80-106.

Bourgin, George, ed. 1907. Guibert of Nogent. Histoire de sa vie: 1053-1124. Paris: Picard.

Evans, Richard J. 1987. “Catiline’s wife.” Acta Classica. 30: 69-71.

Harrison, Stephen J. 1998. “The Milesian Tales and the Roman Novel.” Groningen Colloquia on the Novel. 9: 61–73.

Heseltine, Michael and W. H. D. Rouse, trans., revised by E. H. Warmington. 1913. Petronius Arbiter, Seneca. Satyricon. Apocolocyntosis. Loeb Classical Library 15. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Konstan, David. 2015. Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lewis, R.G, ed. and trans. 2006. Asconius: Commentaries on Speeches of Cicero. New York: Oxford University Press.

Schmeling, Gareth L. 2011. A Commentary on the Satyrica of Petronius. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Walsh, Patrick G, trans. 1996. Petronius Arbiter. The Satyricon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Guibert of Nogent in Heloise’s light: dark nights of internalized misandry

Guibert presents to Christ his commentary

In France early in the twelfth century, Heloise of the Paraclete became a famous author and religious leader. Guibert of Nogent lived and died there and then as an obscure abbot. Those who dare to defy orthodoxy readily recognize that gynocentrism has privileged women throughout history. Yet Guibert’s lack of recognition relative to Heloise doesn’t simply reflect structural gender oppression. Guibert himself internalized misandry. In his despair, he failed to appreciate his own being.

Even when the eminent twelfth-century abbot Peter the Venerable was a youth, the fame of Heloise’s “distinguished and praiseworthy studies {honesta et laudabilia studia}” were known to him. Many years later Peter the Venerable wrote to Heloise:

I heard then that a woman, though still not freed from worldly ties, was deeply devoted to literary studies, which is most unusual, and to the pursuit of wisdom, albeit wisdom of the world. I heard that she could not be prevented by worldly pleasures, frivolities, and delights from the useful purpose of learning the arts. In a time when detestable laziness keeps almost everyone from these studies, and when the progress of wisdom can come to a standstill — I do not say among women, by whom it is entirely rejected, but it can hardly find virile minds among men — you, through your praiseworthy zeal, have completely excelled all women, and surpassed almost all men.

{ Audiebam tunc temporis, mulierem licet necdum saeculi nexibus expeditam, litteratoriae scientiae quod perrarum est, et studio licet saecularis sapientiae, summam operam dare, nec mundi voluptatibus, nugis, vel deliciis, ab hoc utili discendarum artium proposito retrahi posse. Cumque ab his exercitiis detestanda desidia totus pene torpeat mundus, et ubi subsistere possit pes sapientiae, non dicam apud sexum femineum a quo ex toto explosus est, sed vix apud ipsos viriles animos invenire valeat, tu illo efferendo studio tuo, et mulieres omnes evicisti, et pene viros universos superasti. } [1]

Men love to praise women. Some men even experience a certain pleasure from imagining women beating men. In contrast, men compete aggressively with other men. Guibert recounted his own experience of religious study in a monastery:

While some in my monastery once saw me as far beneath them in age and education as well as influence and understanding, they realized now that the gift of Him alone, who is the key of all knowledge, had instilled into my senses an appetite for learning, and that I had begun to equal them, or, if I may say so, completely surpass them. Their scornful wickedness flared up against me with great fury, and I grew exhausted from the constant debates and controversies. I wished I had never seen literature, much less learned any of it. They made every effort to disrupt my studies. Many times, seizing on an opportunity from the literature itself, they would stir up quarrels through constant questioning. It seemed that the only purpose behind their exertions was to make me shrink away from my eagerness in this study and to shackle my talents.

{ Nam nostratium aliqui, cum me olim longe infra se aetate ac literis, potentia et cognitione vidissent, et, solius ejus dono ipso discendi appetitum meis sensibus instinguente, qui totius est clavis scientiae, me sibi exaequari, aut omnino, si dici fas est, excellere persensissent, tanto furore adversum me eorum indignabunda excanduit nequitia, ut me, frequentibus controversiis et simultatibus fatigatum, multoiens et vidisse et scisse literas poeniteret. Studium plane meum ab eis tantopere turbabatur, ac tot, de ipsis literis sumpta occasione, per continuas quaestiones jurgia motabantur, ut ad hoc solum, quatinus ab ea cura mea resiliret intentio meumque praepediretur ingenium, eniti viderentur. } [2]

Guibert lacked encouragement and support for his learning. His fellow monks’ attacks on him, however, spurred Guibert to more intensive learning:

But just as oil poured on a fire intensifies the flames it seems to extinguish, so in the same way the more my enthusiasm was gripped in this difficult work, the more it heated up as in an oven, and the better it functioned. Questions in which I was judged to be dull served only to sharpen my mind. The difficulties contained in their objections forced me to ponder assiduously about hypotheses. I perused books of all kinds to comprehend the multiple meanings of words and to find adequate answers. This behavior of mine made them hate me even more. But you know, O Lord, that I did little if anything to return their hate.

{ Sed, sicut oleum camino additum, unde putatur extinguere, inde flamma vivaciore proserpit, eo instar clibani quo amplius mea super eo labore solertia premebatur, tanto suis reddita valentior aestibus in melius agebatur. Quaestiones, quibus aestimabar obtundi, intelligentiae plurimam mihi acrimoniam ministrabant, et objectionum difficultates crebra conjecturarum mearum ruminatione et diversorum versatione voluminum, multiplicitatem sensuum et respondendi mihi efficaciam pariebant. Hoc itaque modo, etsi gravissime eis invidiosus eram, tu tamen nosti, Domine, quam parum aut nihil tali bus invidebam } [3]

Overcoming the hostile environment that he experienced, Guibert surpassed nearly all women and men in learning. Moreover, he was from a noble family, and he had a handsome appearance. Yet Guibert became much less famous than Heloise.

Peter the Venerable praised Heloise for her worldly literary studies and for her pursuit of worldly wisdom. Perhaps hoping to gain more appreciation from his peers, Guibert turned to study of worldly poetry:

I left aside all the seriousness of scared Scripture for this vain and ludicrous activity. Sustained by my folly, I had reached a point where I was competing with Ovid and the pastoral poets by striving to achieve an amorous charm in well-crafted epistles and in the way of arranging images. Forgetting the proper rigor of the monastic calling and casting away its modesty, my mind became so enraptured by the seductions of this contagious indulgence that I valued one thing only: that what I was writing in a courtly manner might be attribute to some poet.

{ ut universa a divinae paginae seria pro tam ridicula vanitate seponerem, ad hoc ipsum, duce mea levitate, jam veneram, ut Ovidiana et Bucolicorum dicta praesumerem, et lepores amatorios in specierum distributionibus epistolisque nexilibus affectarem. Oblita igitur mens debiti rigoris, et professionis monasticae pudore rejecto, talibus virulentae hujus licentiae lenociniis lactabatur, hoc solum trutinans, si poetae cuipiam comportari poterat quod curialiter dicebatur } [4]

Writing courtly love poetry is an activity for ignorant, desperate men living in fantasies. Guibert both read courtly love poetry and produced it himself. His body relished this imaginative action:

I was being seized from both directions. The sweet-sounding words that I took in from the poets, and then spewed forth myself ensnared me in their wanton frivolity. Since I kept coming back to them and things like them, immodest stirrings of my flesh all too frequently held me captive.

{ Cujus nimirum utrobique raptabar, dum non solum verborum dulcium, quae a poetis acceperam, sed et quae ego profuderam lasciviis irretirer, verum etiam per horum et his similium revolutiones immodica aliquotiens carnis meae titillatione tenerer } [5]

Heloise delighted in remembering her actual sexual intercourse with Abelard. Guibert engaged only with amorous words and himself.

One night, Guibert’s tutor had a holy vision of an old man with white hair. The old man indicated that Guibert, with understanding of God’s judgment of him, would turn away from secular love poetry. Guibert nonetheless felt for some time what he described as “inner madness {interior rabies}.” He longed for love and praise:

And yet you know, Lord, and I confess it, that at that time neither fear of you, nor shame at myself, nor respect for this holy vision made me behave with any more self-restraint. Indeed, I did not refrain at all in my inner life from the scandalous indecencies of my trifling compositions. In secret I composed the same poems, not daring to show them to any, or scarcely any, of my companions, and yet I often recited them to whom I could, under the name of a false author. I took joy in the praise they received from those who shared religious vows with me. I thought it would be inappropriate to admit that the poems were mine. Since their author could not profit from the fruits of their praise, all that was left to rejoice in were the fruits — or rather the disgrace — of sin.

{ Et tu nosti tamen, Domine, et ego confiteor, quia tunc temporis nec tuo timore, nec meo pudore, nec sacrae hujus visionis honore castigatiora peregerim: et nempe irreverentia , quia interius me habebam, et scriptorum nugantium nequaquam scurrilitatibus temperabam. Latenter quippe cum eadem carmina cuderem, et nemini aut vix omnino meis consimilibus illa prodere auderem, saepius tamen mentito auctore, ipsa quibus poteram recitabam, et laetabar ea a voti mei consortibus collaudari: quae mea fore rebar prorsus inconveniens profiteri, et quod ad fructum ullius auctori suo non proderat laudis, solo restabat fructu, immo turpitudine gaudere peccati. }

As a Christian man, Guibert should have understood that in God he lived, and moved, and had his being. He should have understood that he was a child of God. Guibert and all men, who are God’s creation, are very good.[6] God loves men. Men living under gynocentrism and internalizing misandry often don’t love men. The relatively hostile environment in which he strove to acquiring learning wasn’t the worst social injustice that Guibert experienced. Worst of all, Guibert was deprived of love for himself.[7]

While Guibert condemned himself merely for studying and writing secular love poetry, the eminent twelfth-century abbot Peter the Venerable didn’t condemn Heloise for having sex with Abelard before their marriage. Peter wrote to Heloise to console her after Abelard’s death:

Now, venerable and dearest sister in the Lord, this man to whom you were bound first first by the ties of the flesh and later by the stronger and better bond of divine love, with whom and under whom you have long served the Lord — this man, I say, in your place and as another you, the Lord cherishes in his own embrace. At the coming of the Lord, when He descends from heaven with the singing of archangels and the sound of the trumpet, the Lord, who holds him, will restore him to you by His grace.

{ Hunc ergo venerabilis et carissima in domino soror, cui post carnalem copulam tanto validiore, quanto meliore divinae caritatis vinculo adhesisti, cum quo et sub quo diu domino deservisti, hunc inquam loco tui, vel ut te alteram in gremio suo confovet, et in adventu domini, in voce archangeli, et in tuba dei descendentis de caelo, tibi per ipsius gratiam restituendum reservat. } [8]

A scholar perceptively noted:

The great abbot of Cluny {Peter the Venerable} does not shun a language rich in erotic connotations. At this solemn moment he uses sexual expressions consciously and daringly: in the compass of a single sentence, the words carnalis copula, vinculum, adherere, gremium, confovere all serve to establish a perspective which is both human and divine, and which brings with it profound optimism: the lovers Abelard and Heloise will be reunited in heaven as lovers. The heavenly bond of caritas is stronger and finer (validior, melior) than the physical bond (carnalis copula) — yet Peter feels no need to disparage that bond. Not a word about their being washed clean of the foulness of earthly lust [9]

Heloise didn’t even have to shed tears to have Peter the Venerable overlook her sexual sin. Disparagement of human sexuality throughout history has overwhelmingly been disparagement of men’s sexuality. Peter Abelard himself addressed such gender injustice in his Planctus Dine filie Iacob. Yet from Abelard’s time to our own time, persecution of men’s sexuality has expanded to an absurdly irrational extent.

Both women and men must address reasonably the reality of gynocentrism. An influential work on marriage in medieval France ended with these sentences:

We must not forget the women. Much has already been said about them. But how much do we really know? [10]

Women and men continually strive to uphold women’s interests. Lucretius long ago pointed out that many husbands don’t even know the truth about their own wives. That’s not from lack of attention to them. In contrast, despite the relatively prolific output of men writers throughout history, men’s writers are virtually unknown. The few that have arisen have been treated mainly with ignorant, hateful name-calling. We know less about men, as distinctively gendered persons, than we know about women. To build a more humane and gender-egalitarian future, students should study Guibert of Nogent’s memoirs and other vital works of medieval Latin literature.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Peter the Venerable, letter to Heloise of the Paraclete, Latin text from Constable (1967) 1.303-8, via Heloïsa und Abaelard; English trans. (adapted slightly) from McLaughlin & Wheeler (2009) pp. 293-8. Abelard died in 1142. Peter the Venerable probably wrote this letter in 1143. Id. p. 293.

Peter the Venerable served as abbot of the large, rich, and important Benedictine abbey at Cluny. The Cluny Abbey had a basilica larger than that in Rome and one of the largest libraries in Europe. Guibert became the abbot of a small, poor abbey at Nogent.

[2] Guibert of Nogent, Monodiae {Songs of Self} 2.16, Latin text from Bourgin (1907), English trans. from McAlhany & Rubenstein (2011) (adapted slightly). In subsequent quotes from the Monodiae, the Latin text is always from Bourgin (1907).

[3] Guibert, Monodiae 2.16, English trans. from Archambault (1986) (adapted slightly). Cf. Matthew 5:44, Luke 6:27-8. Guibert became a monk in the monastery at Saint-Germer de Fly. That monastery was a place “where a multitude of literary scholars flourished {ibi literatorum floreat multitudo}.” Monodiae 2.5.

Men are generally viewed less favorably than women. That effect extends to children. A recent econometric study found that in French middle schools, teachers grade girls higher than boys. Terrier (2016). Despite popular media myth-making, that finding is consistent with a variety of other empirical findings. The tremendous gender disparity among elementary school teachers attracts shamefully little concern among those purporting to be concerned about gender equality.

When Guibert entered the monastery at Saint-Germer, he eagerly sought learning:

Henceforth a strong desire for learning filled my spirit, and only this matter alone I sought to inhale, and I considered a day wasted if I did not accomplish any learning. O how often I was thought to be asleep, keeping my fragile body warm under its sheet, when really my spirit was concentrating on reciting texts or else, fearing the complaints of others, I was reading under my blanket. And you, dear Jesus, knew my intention as I did these things. I sought to garner as much praise as possible and to acquire the greatest possible honor in this world.

{ Praeterea tanto discendi affectu repente sum animatus, ut huic soli rei unice inhiarem, et incassum me vivere aestimarem, si diem sine tali quolibet actu transigerem. O quotiens dormire putabar, et corpus sub pannulo fovere tenellulum, et spiritus meus aut dictaturiens arctabatur, aut quippiam objecta lodice, dum judicia vereor aliena, legebam. Et tu, Jesu pie, non nesciebas qua intentione id facerem, conquirendae utique gratia laudis, et ut praesentis saeculi honorificentia major occurreret. }

Monodiae 2.15, English trans. from Archambault (1986) (adapted). Guibert deeply regretted having those worldly motivations.

[4] Guibert, Monodiae 2.17, English trans. from Archambault (1986) (adapted slightly). The pastoral poets surely would have included Virgil’s Eclogues. The well-crafted epistles were probably imitations of Ovid’s Heroides. The arranging of images may have been composing a descriptio puellae {description of a young woman}.

Guibert wrote his Monodiae about 1115. The men-abasing ideology of courtly love was then gaining force. Courtly love was exemplified later in the twelfth century in Chrétien de Troyes’s manlet Lancelot. Boncompagno da Signa’s early-thirtheenth-century debunking of courtly love has had regrettably little influence.

[5] Guibert, Monodiae 2.17, English trans. from McAlhany & Rubenstein (2011) (adapted slightly). The subsequent quote above has the same source.

[6] Acts 17:28, Genesis 1:26-31.

[7] Archambault stated:

Even in an age when it was common to present a dramatically heightened picture of one’s sinfulness, Guibert seems harsh on himself compared to famous contemporaries like Bernard of Clairvaux, Abbot Sugar, Anselm of Canterbury, or Abelard. These religious personalities might have discerned in his hyperbolic professions of abjectness a subtle, familiar form of monastic hubris. What is unmistakeable about Guibert’s confession is that, whatever else his early life might have taught him, it never taught him to love himself.

Archambault (1986) p. xxiv. Guibert didn’t achieve the fame of those famous men contemporaries, or the fame of his famous woman contemporary Heloise. Men raised under gynocentrism have long been taught that achievement is central to their worth as men — their virtue. Guibert suffered from gynocentric society refusing to recognize that men have intrinsic virture. Men are intrinsically good and worthy of love.

[8] Peter the Venerable, letter to Heloise of the Paraclete, Latin text from Constable (1967) 1.303-8, via Heloïsa und Abaelard; English trans. (adapted slightly) from McLaughlin & Wheeler (2009) pp. 293-8.

Heloise herself showed considerable concern about sin and sexual sin in the forty-two exegetical questions she posed for Abelard in a work known as Heloise’s Questions {Problemata Heloissae}. See, e.g. question 8, concerning the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11); question 11, concerning the extent of the Lord’s joy over a sinner repenting (Luke 15:7); question 16, concerning how love is the fulfillment of God’s law (Romans 13:9); question 19, concerning judging others (Matthew 7:1-2); question 42, “whether anyone can sin in doing what the Lord has permitted or even commanded.” Cf. Genesis 1:28. For an English translation of Problemata Heloissae, McLaughlin & Wheeler (2009) 213-67.

[9] Dronke (1992) p. 267. Epitaphs apparently written in the twelfth century celebrated Heloise and Abelard’s sexual unity of persons:

This is sufficient as an epitaph: here lies Peter Abelard,
his beloved Heloise held at his side.

One now in the tomb, as before one in the marriage bed,
one in declaring professions of monastic life.
One is their eternal life at home in the stars above. Amen.

{ Est satis in titulo: petrus his iacet Habaelardus,
Dilectumque tenens huic Heloisa latus.

Unus nunc tumulus, sicut et ante thorus,
Unum propositum viteque professio sacre,
Una perennis eis sit super astra domus. Amen. }

Est satis in titulo: petrus his iacet Habaelardus, Latin text from Dronke (1992) p. 285, my English translation. The epitaph survives in whole only in MS Zürich, Zentralbibliothek C 58/275, s. XII, f. 5va. Another epitaph similarly celebrates Heloise and Abelard’s sexual unity of persons:

One was their flesh, one is the tomb that contains them,
the spirits of both were no less the spirit of one.
Now together they are given a common marital bed of good earth.
Here is Abelard; here also Heloise is there:
in the depths both to be known by your Christ. Amen.

{ Una fuere caro, tumulus quos continet unus,
Nec minus amborum spiritus unus erat.
Nunc quoque communem dat bene terra thorum.
Habelardus his est; hec illius est Heloysa:
Imo utrosque tuos, Christe, fuisse scias. Amen. }

Epitaph of Peter Abelard that he himself composed {Epitaphium Petri Baiolardi a semet conpositum}, incipit Servi animam servans, ancillis redde cadaver, Latin text from Dronke (1992) p. 285, my English translation.

Some epitaphs of Heloise and Abelard concern them only as individuals. One is a couplet which, compared to the first epitaph above, differs only in its second verse:

This is sufficient as an epitaph: here lies Peter Abelard,
to whom alone was evident whatever was knowable.

{ Est satis in titulo, Petrus hic jacet Abaelardus,
Cui soli patuit scibile quidquid erat. }

Latin text from the epitaph page of Heloïsa und Abaelard, my English translation. For additional individualistic medieval epitaphs of Abelard and Heloise in English translation, McLaughlin & Wheeler (2009) pp. 305-7.

[10] Duby (1983) p. 284. This claim evidently was so attractive that it was included in the marketing blurb for the book and on the back cover of the book in a laudatory quote from Ken Turan of the popular magazine Time.

Not surprisingly, Duby interpreted “the rules of courtly love” as being usefully “designed to impose a degree of discipline” on unruly young men. Id. That sexist view is associated with the idea that women are necessary to “civilize” men and that men servilely abasing themselves to women “ennobles” men.

[image] Christ receiving from Guibert his commentary on the biblical books Hosea, Jeremiah, and Amos. The figure labeled Abbot Guibert (lower left) in a black monk’s robe raises his book to the central figure of Christ. On the lower right the prophet Hosea holds a scroll. St. Jerome, the figure on the upper left, may be figuratively feeding the Holy Spirit with scripture. Illumination from folio 1, MS Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat. 2502. This manuscript, which comes from Guibert’s abbey at Nogent, is a unicum for Gilbert’s commentary. Guibert’s Monodiae has survived in full in only a seventeenth-century transcription, MS Paris Bibliothèque Nationale, Baluze 42.


Archambault, Paul J., trans. 1996. A Monk’s Confession: the memoirs of Guibert of Nogent. University Park, PA: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Bourgin, George, ed. 1907. Guibert of Nogent. Histoire de sa vie: 1053-1124. Paris: Picard.

Constable, Giles, ed. 1967. The Letters of Peter the Venerable. Harvard Historical Studies, v. 78. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1992. Intellectuals and poets in Medieval Europe. Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura. Ch. 9 (pp. 247-294) reprints Dronke, Peter. 1976. Abelard and Heloise in Medieval testimonies: the twenty-six W.P. Ker Memorial Lecture delivered in the University of Glasgow 29th October, 1976. Glasgow: University of Glasgow Press.

Duby, Georges. 1983. The Knight, the Lady, and the Priest: the making of modern marriage in medieval France. New York: Pantheon Books.

McAlhany, Joseph, and Jay Rubenstein, trans. 2011. Guibert of Nogent. Monodies and the Relics of Saints: the autobiography and a manifesto of a French monk from the time of the crusades. New York, NY: Penguin Books. (review by Scott G. Bruce, review by Bruce L. Venarde)

McLaughlin, Mary Martin, and Bonnie Wheeler, trans. 2009. The Letters of Heloise and Abelard. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.

Terrier, Camille. 2016. “Boys Lag Behind: How Teachers’ Gender Biases Affect Student Achievement.” MIT Department of Economics, School Effectiveness & Inequality Initiative (SEII) Discussion Paper #2016.07. (related studies)