Eufemie led Cador in love as radical proto-meninist

Scholars have been silent about whether the thirteenth-century Old French Romance of Silence {Roman de Silence} is ultimately misandristic, transmitting an ultra-conservative message, or actually reveals radical, proto-meninist tendencies. If the latter (surprise!), is that the viewpoint of its author “Master Heldris of Cornwall {Maistres Heldris de Cornualle},” or does it result from decades of academic scholarship demonizing men as inadequate and oppressive?[1] Scholars’ anxieties have oppressively silenced these questions. No longer, for the resistance is here. To declare breaking the silence would be perversely ironic — merely more dominant, mindlessly repeated dogma. Just as in meninist critique of the medieval chantefable Aucassin et Nicolette, literary scholarship now dares to display creative imagination.

As King Evans and his men marched from Chester to Winchester, a big, fat dragon attacked them. It killed thirty men with its venom. In despair, King Evans declared that he would give any knight who killed the dragon a county and any woman he wanted to marry, as long as she wasn’t already pledged. Of course, medieval marriage required mutual consent of the spouses, so King Evans’s offer is best interpreted as royal approval for a marriage. Cador, a young and brave knight, was secretly in love with Eufemie, a beautiful and learned young woman. She was the only child of Count Renald of Cornwall. Cador thought to prove himself worthy of her love by killing the dragon. Men historically have been gender-socialized into undertaking dangerous quests to earn women’s love. Men, however, have lives just as valuable as women’s lives and are intrinsically worthy of women’s love. Eufemie understood these fundamental meninist insights. She didn’t urge Cador to kill the dragon to prove his worthiness.

After a brutal fight, Cador killed the dragon. All rejoiced at Cador’s heroic feat. He then went to his secretly beloved Eufemie:

Cador speaks to Eufemie,
who is certainly not his enemy,
for if he dared to ask her for love,
she would let her heart be softened.
She would give herself at once to him,
provided that his intentions were honorable.
She loved him much, but he didn’t know it.
And did he hate her in any way? Hate? Alas!
There was nothing in the whole world
he would love more than her, if only he dared to ask.

{ Cador parole a Eufemie
Ki pas ne li est enemie,
Car se il li osast proier
Bien se lairoit amoloier.
Tost venroit a l’amor doner,
Mais n’i pensast de viloner.
El l’ainme moult, mais ne set pas.
Et het l’il dont de rien? Het? las!
Ja n’a il cose en nule terre
Qu’il amast tant, s’il l’osast quere. }[2]

Cador’s silence about his love for Eufemie highlights men’s disproportionate gender burden in soliciting amorous relationships. In being silent, he performed an act of men’s sexed protest.

Cador soon became mortally ill. The dragon had spewed venom on him before he killed it. The king was so upset about Cador’s illness that he himself nearly died. He immediately sent for the learned Eufemie. She was the wisest doctor in the land. She said that she could completely cure Cador in two weeks. Before three barons, the king solemnly promised that if Eufemie cured Cador, he would give her any man she desired to have as husband, provided that another woman hadn’t already claimed that man. This promise was gender-symmetric to the one that the king made for any knight who killed the dragon.

Cador’s illness is a sophisticated literary figure. He plausibly suffered from dragon venom. He clearly was gravely lovesick for Eufemie. These two causes are related allegorically: dragon’s venom is an allegorical figure of systemic anti-men sexism in love. Slaying the dragon of systemic anti-men sexism isn’t a conventionally gendered heroic feat set out for men. Women and men must work together to overcome systemic anti-men sexism. That’s what Eufemie and Cador did.

While Eufemie treated him, Cador remained silent about his love for her. He observed:

She has saved me from one malady,
but a much worse one now poisons me,
for I must be drunk and mad
if I still languish now that I’m cured.
Alas, I do not dare reveal my love to her,
yet to be silent isn’t to find good water.

{ Ele m’a fait d’un mal delivre,
Mais d’un moult gregnor voir m’enivre,
Car ivres sui et esmaris
Quant jo languis, si sui garis.
Ne li os, las! amor rover,
Nel taisir ne puis bien trover. }

Nonetheless, he recognized that silence was the better choice for him:

But it’s better to be silent.
Love has caused me great distress,
and I have no hope of being cured.

{ Mais mioldres pooirs est taisir.
Amors m’a mis en marison,
Nen ai confort de guarison. }

Men’s despair under systemic anti-men sexism drives them to silence. That’s been socially constructed as men being stoic or strong, silent types. More commonly, men are silent because they know that no one cares about what they have to say.

Eufemie slowly realized that she needed to speak to lessen Cador’s gender burden of soliciting an amorous relationship with her. The narrator superficially observed:

She desires for him to know
that she would have no other lover but him,
but she doesn’t have the courage
to tell him that she’s in love with him.
Shall I say that she’s happy,
when she does absolutely nothing
with regard to her heart’s desire
except love him and not dare say so?

{ Ele desire qu’il seüst
Qu’ele altre ami que lui n’eüst:
Mais qu’en li tant de cuer n’a mie
Que die a lui qu’ele est s’amie.
Dirai jo dont qu’ele ait delit
Quant el ne fait, grant ne petit,
De quanque li siens cuers desire,
Fors lui amer sans ozer dire? }

Eufemie, however, was a proto-meninist woman. She understood that, as a matter of social justice and personal desire, she should speak to lessen the oppressive force of systemic anti-men sexism and to help her beloved man. She moved to speak to him:

It was still before dawn
when the young woman made her move.
She was on her way to her beloved man,
but halfway down the stairs
she came to her senses.
The thought of advancing she dreaded and feared.
She blamed her heart and chastised it.

{ Ançois que l’aube soit veüe,
S’en est la mescine meüe.
Viers son ami s’en violt aler,
Mais as degrés al devaler
Revient en soi meïsmes toute.
L’aler avant crient et redoute,
Blasme son cuer et sel castie }

Internalized female privilege caused her to believe that she would dishonor and shame herself by speaking first of love to a man. But she rose above female privilege in sitting down:

Now she sat down on the steps
and fainted twice in a row,
and when she was able to speak, immediately
she called Cador by name.
He is all her words in sum.

{ Atant se ciet sor le degré.
.ii. fois se pasme en un tenant.
Et quant puet parler, maintenant
Apiele Cador et si nome.
En tols ses mos est cil la some. }

In his room below her (signifying men’s subordinate status to women), Cador couldn’t hear Eufemie. She had to do more:

The day opens, and Eufemie
delays no longer. She jumps to her feet,
comes into her lover’s room, and
says to him, “Ami, speak, ah me!”
She should have said, “speak to me,”
but Love has done such a trick on her
that she should have said, “Speak, ami”
but she has said, “Speak, ah me!”
“Speak to me,” she should have said,
but “ah me!” rested in her heart.
As soon as she said, “ami,”
into the sentence “ah me!” was put.
She should have said “to me,” yet she said “ah me!”
because of the terrible sorrow within her.
She gives him a great deal of hope
when she clearly says “ah me!”
for thus she calls him “ami.”
Now he thinks he has figured it all out.
These two utterances, “ah me!” and “ami,”
have brought him great comfort.
The expression “ami” is evidence of love.
The expression “ah me!” says it loud and clear.

{ Li jors apert et Eufemie
Saut sus que ne s’atarja mie.
Vient en la cambre a son ami.
Dist li: “Amis, parlés, haymmi!”
Dire li dut: “Parlés a moi,”
Mais l’Amors li fist tel anoi
Que dire dut: “Parlés ami,”
Se li a dit: “Parlés, haymmi!”
“Parlés a mi” dire li dut,
Mais “haymmi!” sor le cuer li jut.
Si tost com ele ot dit “amis,”
En la clauze “haymmi!” a mis.
“A mi” dut dire, et “haymmi!” dist,
Por la dolor qui en li gist.
Grant esperance li a fait
Que li a dit “haymmi!” a trait,
Car el l’ot ains “ami” nomé.
Or cuide avoir tolt asomé.
Cist doi mot “haymmi!” et “amis”
Li ont moult grant confort tramis.
Cis mos “amis” mostre l’amor,
Cis mos “haymmi!” fait le clamor. }

In Old French, “ami” could mean either “friend” or “beloved.” Either meaning is a rather intimate form of address from a doctor to a patient. While Cador as a knight lacked the privilege of being thoroughly educated in the seven liberal arts, as Eufemie was, he nonetheless had good philological sense. He recognized that the combination of “ami” and “ah me!” likely signified her ardent love for him.

With Eufemie’s meninist leadership in challenging men’s gender burden in soliciting amorous relationships, Cador was no longer silent. To Cador, Eufemie was an ally, but more than that, a beloved:

Now you know that he will not fail
to speak so that she can hear him,
because she has very much put him on the right track,
and he says, “Sweet one, your lament
has filled my heart with great sorrow.
Your great goodness is an example to me.
If you suffer, then I will suffer.
If you suffer, then I will know it well.
If you are filled with pain, I too will have it.
I will rejoice in your joy,
for everything about you fills me with joy —
the way you look and walk and talk —
it elevates me in every way.
If you encounter adversity,
I must change my life accordingly.
I want to weep at your adversities,
delight in your prosperity,
and devote myself completely to you.
If you are hurt, well should I sorrow,
for that’s the way you were with me.
You gave me wellness in my illness.”

{ Or savés qu’il nel laira mie
Ne parolt ensi qu’ele l’oie, —
Car tres bien l’a mis en la voie, —
Et dist: “Dolce, li vostre plainte
M’a grant dolor el cuer enpainte.
La vostre grans bontés m’ensengne
Se vos plagniés que jo me plagne.
Se vos plagniés, bien le sarai,
Se mal ayrés, le mal avrai.
De vostre joie doi joïr,
Car vostre sens me fait joïr,
Aler, et parler, et veïr,
Et en tols sens me fait tehir.
Se nule cose avés averse,
Ma vie doi mener enverse:
Plorer de vostre aversité,
Rire en vostre prosperité.
Tolt mon pooir vos doi voloir
Se mal avés, bien doi doloir.
Car si fesistes vos del mien,
Del mal me mesistes el bien.” }

Eufemie then told Cador to take her as his wife as a reward for her service to him. He attempted to agree, but he didn’t speak clearly enough. Eufemie and Cador still didn’t fully understand their love for each other. Systemic anti-men sexism isn’t easy to overcome in love.

Eufemie again led the way to realizing love. She proposed a communicative procedure:

Now we can make our wishes known
in secret and in private —
what woman you love, and I, what man.
Why don’t we swear an oath right here and now
to hide it well, and make a pact
that you won’t say it except to me,
nor I, upon my faith, except to you.
First you tell and then I will,
and I won’t lie about anything.
You’re the man, so you go first.
You should choose before I do.

{ Or poriens nos nostre buen dire
Tolt coiement, chi a larron,
Quel feme amés, jo quel baron.
Car en faisons chi l’afiänce
Del bien celer, et l’aliänce
Que nel dites, se n’est par moi,
Ne jo, se par vos non, par foi.
Primes dirés et puis dirai,
Que ja de rien n’en mentirai.
Vos estes hom, ains devés dire,
Se devés ains de moi eslire. }

Eufemie here might be suggesting female superiority in asserting that she won’t lie, leaving the implication that if Cador went second, he would. The assertion “you’re the man, so you go first” is the anti-meninist protocol for entering dangerous terrain, just as “women and children first” is the anti-meninist protocol for evacuating persons from sinking ships. These ideological deviations don’t mean that Eufemie is an ultra-conservative anti-meninist. She is merely a woman character in a medieval romance that a man wrote, a man author with all the limitations that men have in being conscious of their own gender subordination.

Despite its shortcomings, Cador declared that he agreed to Eufemie’s communicative procedure. That was a mere formality. The most important communication between them was silent:

Each takes the other by the hand.
They are so carried away by this
that they cannot prevent themselves
from putting their mouths together.
It seems to me that, without speaking,
they are giving a fine demonstration of courtly love,
for kissing teaches them both a good lesson,
both her who causes him pain and torment,
and him whom she loves and desires.
For this is not a comradely kiss
of mother to son, of son to father;
no, it is a kiss of such savor
that it savors much of courtly love.
And if you want to know the truth,
you’ll never hear it from me —
whether they kissed often then,
or whether it was one kiss or one hundred.
But I will venture to confirm this much,
without any lying or cheating:
before they stopped kissing
and before a single word was spoken,
you could have traveled a mile.

{ Li uns prent l’autre par la destre,
Et escalfent si del tenir
Qu’il ne se pueënt abstenir
Ne mecent les boces ensanble.
Sans dire font, si com moi sanble,
De fine amor moult bone ensegne,
Car li baisiers bien lor ensegne,
Et li qu’il trait paine et martire,
Et lui qu’ele l’aime et desire,
Car n’est pas baisier de conpere,
De mere a fil, de fil a pere:
Ainz est baisiers de tel savor
Que bien savore fine amor.
Et se vus verté m’en querés,
Ja par moi sage n’en serés
Se dunques baisierent sovent,
Se cho fu uns baisiers, u .c.
Mais j’os bien verté aficier,
Tolt sans mentir et sans trecier,
Qu’anchois que de baisier cessassent,
Ne qu’il onques un mot sonasscent, —
Peüst on une liue aler. }

After this kissing, Cador spoke first, and Eufemie second:

“Beloved, I am your lover.
Your own sweet self has vanquished me
after a long and mighty battle.”
“Beloved, I want you to know
that I love you truly,
and that no one else in the whole world
could assuage my grief,
restore me to health, and promote my well-being.”

{ “Amie, jo sui vostre amis.
Li vostre cors le mien a mis
Moult longement en grant batalle.”
“Amis, cho saciés vos sans falle,
Qu’ai[n]si sui jo l[a] vostre amie
Et qu’el mont fors [vos] nen a mie
Qui ma dolor puist estancier,
Ma santé rendre, n’avancier.” }

Cador figured Eufemie as a warrior who had vanguished him in battle. Eufemie, the wisest doctor in the land, figured Cador as a doctor who with singular ability restored her to health. Each respected the other within their own gender understanding.

“And what would the whole world matter
if I didn’t have the one I love?
Little or nothing, so help me God!
If what I love is missing,
what I don’t love is of little value to me.
What good are all the efforts and struggles
of one who never has what she wants?
Dear sweet love, if I had you,
I would have enough.” “If I had you?
Beloved, you have me with you,
you know it, completely and utterly,
and whoever deprived me of your love
could not recompense me with all the world.
Nothing else delights me.”

{ Et tols li mons que me valroit,
Se cho que j’aim me fasoit falle?
Petit u nient, se Dex me valle!
Se cho que j’amer puis me faut,
Cho que jo n’aim petit me valt.
Ki onques n’a cho qu’il desire
Que li valt quanque il luite et tire?
Bials dols amis, se jo vos ai,
Assés avrai.” “Se jo vos ai?
o vos, amie, vos m’avés,
Tolt de fiänce le savés
Et qui vostre amot me tolroit
De tolt le mont ne me solroit,
Car altre riens ne me delite }

The enormity of scholarly failures in interpreting the Roman de Silence cannot be understated. Medieval wisdom counseled, “Hear, see, and keep quiet if you want to live in peace {Audi, vide, et tace, si tu vis vivere in pace}.” That’s how most scholars today respond to grotesque gender injustices against men. Eufemie in the Roman de Silence courageously spoke as a proto-meninist resisting systemic anti-men sexism. Her name comes from ancient Greek words meaning “good prophetic voice.”[3] Eufemie’s words and actions should be heard and imitated to promote gender justice in our too loveless world.

medieval woman and man in love

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[1] A conventional instance of this question form, constructed to support dominant ideology, “has generated the greatest critical response” concerning the Roman de Silence. Burr (2016) p. 33, n. 1. Gaunt divined that Heldris de Cornouaille, the author of the Roman de Silence, had “fears regarding the possible inadequacy of men.” Gaunt interpreted his projection misandristically:

He desires what he fears and his solution to the dilemma this creates is characteristically masculine: suppress and repress.

Gaunt (1990) p. 213. Neither men nor women should suppress and repress meninist literary criticism.

[2] Heldris of Cornwall {Heldris de Cornouaille}, The Romance of Silence {Le roman de Silence} vv. 549-58, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Roche-Mahdi (1992). Subsequent quotes above are similarly sourced from Roman de Silence.

Roman de Silence was written in the second half of the thirteenth century. It survives in one manuscript: Nottingham, University Library, Mi LM 6, f. 189r-223v, written in the second half of the thirteenth century. “Master Heldris of Cornwall {Maistres Heldris de Cornualle}” is named as the tale’s author in Roman de Silence, vv. 1-2. Nothing more is known about Heldris de Cornualle other than what can be garnered from the Roman de Silence.

Subsequent quotes above are from Roman de Silence vv. 549-58 (Cador speaks to Eufemie…), 659-64 (She has saved me from one malady…), 676-8 (But it’s better to be silent…), 763-70 (She desires for him to know…), 839-45 (It was still before dawn…), 866-70 (Now she sat down on the steps…), 879-900 (The day opens, and Eufemie…), 916-36 (Now you know that he will not fail…), 1076-86 (Now we can make our wishes known…), 1090-1111 (Each takes the other by the hand…), 1147-54 (Beloved, I am your lover…), 1372-86 (And what would the whole world matter…).

[3] The name Eufemie plausibly comes from the ancient Greek prefix εὐ-, meaning “good,” and the substantive φήμη, meaning “prophetic voice, oracle.” Euphemia, a woman’s name well-known in medieval Europe, has the same etymology. Roche-Mahdi interpreted Eufemie’s name as meaning “use of good speech” and then conventionally misinterpreted her as “defined by convention.” Roche-Mahdi (1992) p. xx.

[image] Medieval woman and man talk of love. Illustration for Von Buchheim in folio 271r of the Codex Manesse, made between 1305 and 1315. Manuscript preserved as UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Burr, Kristin L. 2016. “Nurturing Debate in Le Roman de Silence.” Pp. 33-44 in Laine E. Doggett and Daniel E. O’Sullivan, eds. Founding Feminisms in Medieval Studies: Essays in Honor of E. Jane Burns. Gallica, 39. Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer. Review by Jane Chance.

Gaunt, Simon. 1990. “The significance of Silence.” Paragraph. 13 (2): 202-216.

Roche-Mahdi, Sarah, ed. and trans. 1992. Silence: A Thirteenth-Century French Romance. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.

Fortunatus’s De virginitate incoherently disparages men’s sexuality

Disparaging references to men’s sexuality are readily apparent in Venantius Fortunatus’s sixth-century poem About Virginity {De virginitate}. Fortunatus in this poem also depicted a woman’s ardent, heartfelt love for her husband, including her appreciation for their physical intimacy. To foster social justice, women’s personal appreciation for men’s sexuality should be expressed more publically.

Fortunatus apparently wrote De virginitate to celebrate his friend Agnes becoming the abbess of the Abbey of the Holy Cross in Poitiers. As a nun, Agnes vowed celibacy. Fortunatus praised virginity with disparaging references to effects of sexual relations:

Most importantly, without stain virginity shines, revered by the world,
not allowing to be corrupted its good inherent by nature.
Precious, it preserves unharmed the body’s wealth,
retains forever those riches unknown to a thief.

{ quod prius est, sine sorde nitet venerabilis orbi,
naturae proprium non vitiando bonum,
corporis inlaesum servans pretiosa talentum,
perpetuas retinens nescia furis opes. }[1]

In these verses, a man’s penis figures as a thief and as a staining, corrupting, and harming instrument. Fortunatus lauded an “untouched womb {intacta alvus}” as “undefiled {intemerata}.” A woman virgin is “unviolated {inviolata}.” That’s as if a woman having sex with a man implies that he violates her. According to De virginitate, a virgin woman has a body that “no injury darkens {nulla iniuria fuscat}.” In contrast, according to Luke’s gospel, the Holy Spirit “will overshadow {obumbrabit}” Mary not to harm her, but to exalt her.[2] De virginitate describes the effects of pregnancy on the womb: “the sick dropsy of pleasure swells it {vuluptatis morbida crescit hydrus}.” That’s a disparaging recasting of a fundamental Jewish and Christian theme of the seminal blessing.

Mary enthroned and holding Jesus: mosaic in Ravenna

In De virginitate, Fortunatus sensationally depicted the sadness of a married woman. De virginitate first describes the sadness of a woman whose child is born dead or subsequently dies. Then De virginitate describes a misfortune worse than the death of a child:

What if something even worse should happen: the death of her spouse himself?
She who was a newlywed now lies as a widow.
From bridal bed to earthen grave, her white clothes so quickly change to black.
She holds the cold limbs that before gave her warmth,
arranges a funeral, and celebrates overthrowing her wedding vows.
She adorns an earthen grave, alas, stripping her marriage bed.
She often returns with laments to her husband’s tomb,
and disregarding her home, she lovingly honors the dead.
She falls upon his earthen grave seeking an empty consolation.
In the past she clung to his limbs. Now she clings to his bones.

{ quid si aliud gravius, moriatur ut ipse iugalis?
quae nova nupta fuit iam viduata iacet.
de thalamo ad tumulum, modo candida, tam cito nigra,
ante quibus caluit frigida membra tenet,
construit exequias perversaque vota celebrans
exornat tumulum, heu, spoliando torum.
saepe maritalem repetit miserando sepulchrum
contemptaque domo funus amata colit.
incumbit tumulo solacia cassa requirens;
cuius membra prius, nunc super ossa premit. }

This representation of a wife’s sadness after her husband’s death abounds in sensual references: a wedding, bridal clothes, the newlywed, and the marriage bed. As Ausonius’s parodic representation of a wedding night indicates, a wedding night typically produces great sensual joy for the bride. De virginitate refers to the wife’s memory of feeling the warmth of her husband’s limbs and to the wife lying down and clinging to her husband’s limbs. In Latin the singular for “limbs {membra}” is a word used for “penis {membrum}.” Moreover, Fortunatus’s description of the widow’s actions evokes the classical story of the widow of Ephesus. In contrasting the wife’s joy from her husband’s body with her sadness at his (inevitable) death, Fortunatus sets up another sense. The wife’s joy with her husband could well inspire a woman to seek marriage with a man.

Marriage to God is a recognized Christian alternative to marriage to a flesh-and-blood human. Fortunatus in De virginitate depicted God as loving a virgin woman passionately and sensitively:

Gently in devotion he embraces her breast,
quick in lovingly cultivating where another lover is absent.

He runs to your embrace in triumph after the acts of battle,
pressing chaste kisses to your holy lips.
He soothes, revives, venerates, honors, and overshadows you,
and places your modest body into his own wedding bed.

{ mitis in affectu pectus complectitar illud,
promptus amore colens quo alter amator abest.

currit ad amplexus post proelia gesta triumphans,
infigens labiis oscula casta sacris.
blanditur, refovet, veneratur, honorat obumbrat,
et locat in thalamo membra pudica suo. }

Fortunatus urged young women “to be not a man’s bride, but God’s beloved {non nuptura homini, sed sis amata Dei}.”[3] For more than a millennium, some woman have lived holy and happy lives as God’s beloved bride.

Despite today’s doubts and denials, God loves men just as much as women. Gender makes it difficult for men to think of themselves as the bride of God. A man might regard himself as God’s beloved son. That figure, however, lacks the erotic warmth of being God’s bride. Men and women need to accept that human language is inescapably limited.

The limits of human language don’t justify pervasive, historically entrenched disparagement of men’s sexuality. Many women personally appreciate their husbands’ or boyfriends’ sexuality, yet such appreciation lacks sufficient public representations. Men’s sexuality matters. It’s a matter not of junk but of jewels. Publicly appreciate men’s sexuality, today and every day of your life!

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[1] Venantius Fortunatus, Carmina 8.3, “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the lady Mary his mother, about virginity {In nomine domini nostri Iesu Christi et domnae Mariae matris eius de virginitate},” incipit “Many great figures fill the heavens with brilliant light {Culmina multa polos radianti lumine complent},” (De virginitate) vv. 321-4, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Roberts (2017). Leo (1881) provides a freely available Latin edition differing little from Roberts’s Latin edition.

Fortunatus probably composed De virginitate in the 570s in honor of Agnes becoming abbess of the Abbey of the Holy Cross. He apparently published it as part of his Book 8 of poems to enhance Radegund’s reputation after scandal and turmoil at the Abbey in 589. Brennan (1996) pp. 95-7.

Subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are similarly from Fortunatus’s De virginitate. They are vv. 87 (untouched womb), 103 (undefiled), 192 (unviolated), 109 (no injury darkens), 330 (the sick dropsy of pleasure swells it), 371-80 (What if something even worse…), 111-2, 125-8 (Gently in devotion he embraces her breast…).

[2] Luke 1:35. The quoted Latin text is from the Vulgate. Fortunatus was a sophisticated writer deeply engaged with Christian theological doctrine. See, e.g. Wheaton (2018).

[3] Fortunatus, Carmina 8.4, “To young women {Ad virgines},” incipit “According to the ranks of the apostles and the holy prophets {Inter apostolicas acies sacrosque prophetas},” v. 36, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Roberts (2017). Similarly Fortunatus, Carmina Appendix 23, vv. 15-26.

De virginitate, vv. 117-24, depicts God as doing battle against men seeking to love sexually a virgin woman. That passage draws upon the classical elegiac figure of a man-soldier fighting in the “army of love {militia amoris}.” See, e.g. Ovid, Art of Love {Ars amatoria} 2.233-6. This gendered figure supports sexist military conscription and laws criminalizing men “seducing” women. Cf. Brennan’s description of the “virile warrior Christ who protects the nuns of Agnes’s convent … subject to enemy attack.” Brennan (1996) p. 80.

According to Gregory of Tours, Radegund, the founder of the Abbey of the Holy Cross in Poitiers, spoke of Christ as the “spouse of virgins {sponsus virginum}.” Brennan (1996) p. 80. Such bridal imagery has an important source in the biblical Song of Solomon.

Men’s penises historically have been disparagingly figured as thorns and snakes. De virginitate describes virgin women as avoiding harm from “thorns {spinae}” and “viper, serpent, and tree snake {vipera, serps, iaculus}.” De virginitate, vv. 193, 195.

[image] Mary the mother of God mosaic made c. 560 in the New Basilica of Saint Apollinaris {Basilica di Sant’Apollinare Nuovo} in Ravenna, Italy. Image thanks to Michel Bakni and Wikimedia Commons. Fortunatus was classically educated in Ravenna in the 550s or 560s. He thus may have seen this mosaic.


Brennan, Brian. 1996. “Deathless Marriage and Spiritual Fecundity in Venantius Fortunatus’s De Virginitate.” Traditio 51: 73–97.

Leo, Friedrich, ed. 1881. Venanti Fortunati Opera Poetica (Pars Prior), Venanti Fortunati Opera Pedestria (Pars Posterior). Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi IV. Berlin: Weidmann. Another copy.

Roberts, Michael, ed and trans. 2017. Venantius Fortunatus. Poems. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 46. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Reviews by Hope Williard and by Lionel Yaceczko.

Wheaton, Benjamin. 2018. Venantius Fortunatus and Christian Theology at the End of the Sixth Century in Gaul. Ph.D. Thesis, Centre for Medieval Studies, University of Toronto.

Radegund of Thuringia loved Amalfred in Jerome’s way

Radegund of Thuringia, a sixth-century Germanic princess, queen, and founder of the Abbey of the Holy Cross at Poitiers, was a highly privileged woman like those who sought Jerome’s spiritual and intellectual guidance in late-fourth-century Rome. Radegund’s letter-poem About the destruction of Thuringia {De excidio Thoringiae} draws upon the Aeneid’s epic imagery of Troy’s destruction and elegiac lament in Ovid’s Heroines {Heroides} and Sorrows {Tristia}.[1] Many classical authors drew upon Virgil and Ovid. De excidio Thoringiae more distinctively follows Jerome’s way in shocking use of biblical and classical learning, passionate literary rhetoric, and concern for men’s disadvantaged gender position.

Radegund recognized still-prevalent gender bias toward violence against men. The epic tradition rooted in the Iliad tells of massive violence against men within the institutionally gendered violence of war. Some recently have declared that women are the primary victims of war because they lose their men, evidently valued as possessions or instruments.[2] Radegund depicted a woman’s suffering in war:

The married woman with torn hair was bound and carried away,
not even being able to say a sad farewell to her household gods,
nor was the captive permitted to press a kiss to her threshold,
nor turn her gaze back and see again familiar places.

{ hinc rapitur laceris matrona revincta capillis,
nec laribus potuit dicere triste vale.
oscula non licuit captivo infigere posti
nec sibi visuris ora referre locis. }[3]

In addition to drawing upon Virgil’s telling of Troy’s destruction, Radegund here exemplified Jerome’s outrageous wit with an allusion to Lot’s wife. Lot’s wife was turned to stone when she looked back at the home she had lost. This captive wife wasn’t allowed to look back. She thus survived, but her husband apparently was massacred:

The wife’s naked foot trampled her husband’s blood,
and the alluring sister stepped over her fallen brother.
The boy seized from his mother’s embrace weighed on her face.
With her lament, she did not confer any tears at his death.

{ nuda maritalem calcavit planta cruorem
blandaque transibat fratre iacente soror.
raptus ab amplexu matris puer ore pependit,
funereas planctu nec dedit ullus aquas }[4]

Wife, sister, and mother lived, while husband, brother, and son died. The wife dominated her husband even amid the tragedy, while the sister’s sexual value raised her fate above her brother’s. The horror was such that a mother couldn’t even manage to cry for her son seized from her and killed. As Prudentius transgressively highlighted in his Psychomachia and Radegund equally understood, epic violence is overwhelmingly violence against men.

Radegund liberating prisoners

In De excidio Thoringiae, Radegund mourned men’s deaths generally and expressed ardent love for a particular man. Like the young Greek woman lamenting Maximianus’s impotence (“I’m lamenting not a private, but universal chaos {non fleo priuatum, set generale chaos}”), Radegund declared to Amalfred:

Each person has grieved, but I alone have all their griefs.
This sorrow is to me both public and private.
Fortune was mindful of the men whom the enemy struck down,
such that I, remaining as one female survivor, weep for them all.

{ Quisque suos habuit fletus, ego sola sed omnes:
est mihi privatus publicus ille dolor.
consuluit fortuna viris quos perculit hostis;
ut flerem cunctis una superstes ago. }

Men’s love for women is vitally important for women and for the general flourishing of human society. Radegund grieved for all the men that the enemy killed.[5] She also grieved for being separated from Amalfred:

One whose tender looks solaced me with love
is released from my embrace by hostile fate.
Does care for me not gnaw at you in my absence?
Has the bitter disaster removed your sweetness of feeling?
At least remember from your earliest years what
I, Radegund, was then to you, Amalfred —
how much you, a sweet child, once loved me,
you, my loving relative, begotten from my father’s brother.
What my dead father could have been, what mother,
sister or brother could have been, only you were to me.
Taken in your kindly arms, ah!, hanging on your alluring kisses,
I, a starving little girl, was soothed by your calmness.
Barely less than an hour’s length passed without my mind recalling you.
Now ages fly and I don’t have your words.
Crushed with cares in my tortured heart, I spin
about when you will return and from where, my relative.

{ cuius in aspectu tenero solabar amore
solvit ab amplexu sors inimica meo.
an, quod in absenti te nec mea cura remordet,
affectum dulcem cladis amara tulit?
vel memor esto, tuis primaevis qualis ab annis,
Hamalafrede, tibi tunc Radegundis eram,
quantum me quondam dulcis dilexeris infans
et de fratre patris nate, benigne parens.
quod pater extinctus poterat, quod mater haberi,
quod soror aut frater tu mihi solus eras.
prensa piis manibus heu blanda per oscula pendens
mulcebar placido famine parva tuo.
vix erat in spatium, quo te minus hora referret;
saecula nunc fugiunt, nec tua verba fero.
volvebam rabidas inliso in pectore curas,
ceu revocareris, quando vel unde, parens }[6]

Radegund urgently desired to be with Amalfred:

If father, mother, or cares of the royal house held you,
though you hurried back, you would already be too late for me.
Fate was indicating how I might quickly lose you, my dear.
Urgent love doesn’t know to endure for long.
I was vexed with anxiety when one house didn’t cover us.
When you went outside, I thought you had gone far away.

{ si pater aut genetrix aut regia cura tenebat,
cum festinabas iam mihi tardus eras.
sors erat indicium, quia te cito, care, carerem:
importunus amor nescit habere diu.
anxia vexabar, si non domus una tegebat;
egrediente foris rebar abisse procul. }[7]

Radegund’s love for Amalfred didn’t arise from personal weakness. As a strong, independent, and intelligent woman, Radegund was fully capable of founding a new convent and maneuvering politically to deal with a hostile bishop.[8] But she also was perceptive enough to recognize the importance, personally and socially, of expressing ardent love for men.

Radegund wasn’t seeking sexual relations with Amalfred. At the writing of De excidio Thoringiae, she was about fifty years old and hadn’t seen Amalfred or communicated with him for about forty years. Moreover, she was then an eminent nun vowed to chastity. Years earlier she had been married to the Merovingian King Chlothar I. Their marital relations had been rather cold:

At night, when she lay with the king, she would ask to rise to ease herself according to human necessity. Then leaving their bedroom, she would lie in prayer on a hair rug thrown down in front of the outhouse. The penetrating cold would lie upon her such that only her spirit remained warm. All her flesh prefigured death. Not running from bodily torment, her mind was intent on Paradise. What she endured she counted as trivial, such that Christ wasn’t cheapened. Subsequently returning into their bedroom, she could scarcely become warm by the fireplace or in bed. Because of this, to the king it was said that he had married a nun rather than a queen. By her goodness itself the king was thus irritated and bitter. But by in part soothing and in part making offerings, she modestly bore the complaints from her husband.

{ nocturno tempore, cum reclinaret cum principe, rogans se pro humana necessitate consurgere, levans, egressa cubiculo, tam diu ante secretum orationi incumbebat iactato cilicio, ut solo calens spiritu, iaceret gelu penetrata, tota carne praemortua: non curans corporis tormento mens intenta paradiso, leve reputans quod ferret, tantum ne Christo vilesceret. Inde regressa cubiculum, vix tepefieri poterat vel foco vel lectulo. De qua regi dicebatur habere se potius iugalem monacham quam reginam. Unde et ipse irritatus, pro bonis erat asperrimus, sed illa pro parte leniens, pro parte tolerabat modeste rixas inlatas a coniuge. }[9]

Radegund apparently was the sort of woman who preferred to have cold penetrate her than to have her husband penetrate her. Given Radegund’s apparent desire for sexless marriage to King Chlothar and her subsequent profession as a nun, she surely wasn’t seeking to bed Amalfred.

Radegund leaves her husband Chlothar in bed and lies on the ground in prayer

Radegund followed Jerome in expressing ardent love for men friends. Shortly before spending five years as a Christian hermit, Jerome wrote to the monk Rufinus. Jerome expressed ardent love for Rufinus and a strong desire to see him:

Oh, if only the Lord Jesus Christ would suddenly transport me to you as Philip was transported to the eunuch, and Habakkuk to Daniel, with what a close embrace would I clasp your neck, how fondly would I press kisses upon that mouth which has so often joined with me in error or in wisdom. … I send this letter to meet you instead of coming myself, that it might bring you here to me caught in the meshes of love’s net. … Believe me, brother, I would like to see you more than the storm-tossed mariner looks for his haven, more than the thirsty fields long for showers, more than the anxious mother sitting on the curving shore expects her son.

{ o si mihi nunc dominus Iesus Christus vel Philippi ad eunuchum vel Ambacum ad Danihelum translationem repente concederet, quam ego nunc arte tua stringerem colla conplexibus, quam illud os, quod mecum vel erravit aliquando vel sapuit, inpressis figerem labiis! … has mei vicarias et tibi obvias mitto, quae te copula amoris innexum ad me usque perducant. … credas mihi velim, frater, non sic tempestate iactatus portum nauta prospectat, non sic sitientia imbres arva desiderant, non sic curvo adsidens litori anxia filium mater expectat. }[10]

Jerome neither had nor sought an erotic relationship with Rufinus. They were men friends.

Use of erotic language in friendship with men supports men’s equal human dignity. Men are gender-disproportionately burdened with the risks of soliciting amorous heterosexual relations. Among those risks is simple rejection; that is, amorous rejection without any criminal or social-media charges of malfeasance. Men endure the pain of such rejection, as well as criminalization, much more frequently than women do. Using erotic language in friendship with men supports men’s equal right, as fully human beings, to feel ardently loved. Radegund, following Jerome, understood the importance of expressing ardent love for men friends.[11]

Radegund recognized men’s disproportionate gender burden in love with women and sought to remedy that injustice. As a learned woman, Radegund surely knew that Leander many times swam across the sea to be with his beloved woman Hero. Hero not even once swam across the sea to Leander. Radegund insisted that she, like Malgherita Spolatina, was different:

If the sacred cloister of my convent didn’t hold me,
I would arrive unexpected in whatever region you dwell.
I would have eagerly gone by ship through storms of smashing waves
and gladly traveled on waters in winter gales.
Bravely I would have pushed to hang upon piled swells
and for love of you would not have dreaded what the sailor fears.
If the waves broke my ship in raging rains,
with a plank as oar I would aim for you in traveling across the sea.
If by unfortunate fate I was prevented from seizing a timber,
I would come to you swimming with weary arms.
At sight of you, I would deny the journey’s dangers —
immediately with sweetness you would ease the woes of shipwreck —
or if my ultimate fate deprived me of my troublesome life,
at least the sand on my tomb would be carried by your hands.

{ Sacra monasterii si me non claustra tenerent,
improvisa aderam qua regione sedes.
prompta per undifragas transissem puppe procellas,
flatibus hibernis laeta moverer aquis.
fortior eductos pressissem pendula fluctus,
et quod nauta timet non pavitasset amans.
imbribus infestis si solveret unda carinam,
te peterem tabula remige vecta mari.
sorte sub infausta si prendere ligna vetarer,
ad te venissem lassa natante manu.
cum te respicerem, peregrina pericla negassem —
naufragii dulcis mox relevasses onus —
aut mihi si querulam raperet sors ultima vitam,
vel tumulum manibus ferret harena tuis. }[12]

In writing Theophrastus’s Golden Book on Marriage {Aureolus liber de nuptiis}, Jerome outrageously told women how to help men. With similar concern for men, Radegund told Amalfred she would undertake what had been exclusively Leander’s burden. Radegund compassionately rejected men’s historical gender burden of undertaking dangerous love quests.

In imploring Amalfred to write to her, Radegund followed the example of Jerome in showing loving appreciation for men friends through letters. Jerome wrote to his fellow monk Antony:

Unless I’m mistaken, I’ve already sent you ten affectionate and earnest letters, while you have not deigned to make for me even a single line. The Lord speaks to His servants, but you, my brother servant, refuse to speak to me. “You are too insulting,” you say. Believe me, if reserve did not check my pen, I could show annoyance in such invective that you would have to write back to me, even if in anger. But since anger is of a worldly person, and a Christian must not do injury, I revert again to the ancient practice of entreaty. I beg you to love one who loves you, and to share words as a servant should with his fellow servant.

{ decem iam, nisi fallor, epistulas plenas tam officii quam precum misi, cum tu ne muttum quidem facere dignaris et domino loquente cum seruis frater cum fratre non loqueris. “nimis,” inquies, “contumeliose.” crede mihi, nisi stili uerecundia prohiberet, tanta laesus ingererem, ut inciperes mihi rescribere uel iratus. sed quoniam et irasci hominis est et iniuriam non facere Christiani, ad antiquum morem reuertens rursus precor, ut et diligentem te diligas et conseruo sermonem conseruus inpertias. }[13]

Showing Christian belief in the equal human dignity of women and men, Jerome expressed similar aggrievement to women who didn’t respond to his letters. To his “dearest sisters {sorores carissimae}” of the Roman colony at Aemona, he wrote:

I implore you, moreover, to forgive one hurting. I speak truly as an aggrieved man. I speak in tears and in anger. You indeed have not offered to me a single syllable for the many times I have bestowed upon you the service of writing.

{ uos autem ignoscite, obsecro, dolenti; dico enim laesus, dico lacrimans et irascens: ne unum quidem apicem totiens uobis tribuenti officium praestitistis. }

Radegund similarly chided and implored Amalfred:

Burdened by grief’s weight, I am even more tormented
because you send me no token of yourself in parchment.

Believe me, my relative, if you sent word, you wouldn’t be wholly absent:
the sent page would speak to be part of my brother to me.
All have their due, yet I have not even tears for solace.
O what injustice — that the more I love, the less I receive!

I ask, serene relative, that now at least a page of yours speed to me,
so that your kindly tongue would ease my heavy sickness.

{ Hinc potius crucior validis onerata querellis,
cur mihi nulla tui mittere signa velis.

crede, parens, si verba dares, non totus abesses:
pagina missa loquens pars mihi fratris erat.
cuncti munus habent, ego nec solacia fletus.
o facinus, quae dum plus amo, sumo minus!

quaeso, serene parens, vel nunc tua pagina currat,
mitiget ut validam lingua benigna luem. }

Jerome and Radegund regarded letters as providing artifacts of a man’s presence. As Jerome and Radegund understood, men need to know that they are appreciated, even if just through ardently desired reception of letters from them.[14]

holy Radegund curing a blind woman

Jerome’s importance to Radegund hasn’t been adequately recognized. Jerome was a Christian ascetic who spent time living in a Syrian desert. Radegund of Thuringia was a princess and queen who had a privileged life as a woman in western European cities. Radegund nonetheless was a follower of Jerome. Radegund received praise in explicit comparison to Jerome’s elite women followers:

She surpasses Eustochium in her meager diet and Paula in her self-restraint,
while Fabiola is a guide who shows her how to cure wounds of marriage.
Modeling Melania in zeal and Blesilla in piety,
becoming equal to Marcella in vigor of prayer,
she renews Martha in devotion and Mary with her tears.
She wants to be Eugenia in vigils and Thecla in enduring.

{ parca cibo Eustochium superans, abstemia Paulam,
vulnera quo curet dux Faviola monet;
Melaniam studio reparans, pietate Blesillam,
Marcellam votis aequiperare valens,
obsequio Martham renovat lacrimisque Mariam,
pervigil Eugeniam, vult patiendo Theclam. }[15]

Eustochium, Paula, Fabiola, Blesilla, and Marcella were women in Jerome’s circle of followers and supporters. As Radegund shows, Jerome’s teaching and example didn’t only foster women’s spiritual and intellectual aspirations. Jerome’s example taught women to seek gender justice for men and express love for men. Radegund of Thuringia, a woman leader in sixth-century Gaul, remains a worthy leader for women and men today.

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] About 525 GC, Hermanfred killed his brother King Bertachar to seize the Germanic realm of Thuringia. Princess Radegund, Bertachar’s daughter, was captured. Captive maidens historically have fared much better than men massacred in a conquered realm. The captive Princess Radegund, living a life of royal privilege, became a close friend of Hermanfred’s son Amalfred. Then about 532 the Frankish armies of Chlothar and Theuderic ravaged Thuringia and killed Hermanfred. Radegund again was not killed but taken captive. About 568, Radegund, as a nun and the founder of the Abbey of the Holy Cross at Poitiers {Abbaye Sainte-Croix de Poitiers}, sought to reestablish a relationship with her childhood companion Amalfred by sending him the letter-poem De excidio Thoringiae.

Wasyl (2015) analyzes the influence of Ovid’s Heroides on De excidio Thoringiae. Surviving Latin elegy after Ovid lacks erotic themes. Wasyl perceives Maximianus’s elegies and De excidio Thoringiae as exploring “dialectics between asceticism and corporeality.” Id. p. 74. Jerome’s prose works likewise explore that interplay. More importantly, these works of Jerome, Maximianus, and Radegund of Thuringia show sympathetic awareness of personal and social problems affecting men as a gender.

[2] See note [5] in my post on the troubadour Marcabru’s perspective on medieval conscription of men.

[3] Radegund of Thuringia, About the destruction of Thuringia {De excidio Thoringiae}, incipit “The sad affair of war, the cruel lottery of things {Condicio belli tristis, sors invida rerum},” vv. 21-4, Latin text (with insubstantial changes) from Roberts (2017) Appendix poem 1, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and McNamara & Halborg (1992). Cf. Aeneid 2.403-4 (Cassandra dragged by her hair), Aeneid 2.489-90 (women clinging to doors), Genesis 19:24-6, Luke 17:32 (Lot’s wife looking back at Sodom and Gomorrah being destroyed).

De excidio Thoringiae survives to the present in only the ninth-century MS Parisinis lat. 13048. Scholars believe that this poem was either published posthumously from Venantius Fortunatus’s papers or published by Fortunatus himself. Roberts (2009) p. 286. On the transmission of this poem and other appendix poems, Williard (2016) pp. 144-51.

Scholars undoubtedly are better off crediting Radegund of Thuringia rather than Fortunatus for De excidio Thoringiae. For such crediting, see e.g. Nisard (1888) and Cherewatuk (1993) p. 20. Epistolae: Medieval Women’s Latin Letters, “Historical Context” section, states:

Since Fortunatus himself speaks of the poems she {Radegund} has written and sent to him, and Gregory of Tours cites a letter written by her in his History of the Franks, 9.42, I see no reason to deny her authorship.

Radegund surely was an author. McNamara & Halborg, however, didn’t as readily deny Fortunatus’s authorship of De excidio Thoringiae: “It is likely that she {Radegund} composed the poem, or Fortunatus composed it for her….” McNamara & Halborg (1992) p. 65, n. 22. Wasyl pointed out:

it can be hardly ignored that in terms of poetic language and style De excidio strongly resembles other pieces by Fortunatus, especially those exploiting various elegiac stylistic features and topoi. … the very form is simply perfectly concordant with Fortunatus’s literary interests and tastes.

Wasyl (2015) p. 66, footnote omitted. Wasyl stretched to be agreeable:

The relationship – a deep, affectionate friendship indeed – between Radegund and Fortunatus was an unprecedented fact, hence it would be unfair not just to exclude but even to doubt that they did discuss the text together and that it does reflect Radegund’s true feelings, confessed directly to Fortunatus. She must have, at least, consulted the poem once it was ready and gave the final approval before it was to be ‘published’. In this respect, she should certainly be defined as its (co-)author.

Id. p. 66. Wasyl nonetheless argued that De excidio Thoringiae doesn’t “reflect Radegund’s true feelings, confessed directly to Fortunatus”:

Radegund as pictured in De excidio is wholly fictionalized (hence it cannot derogate from the reputation Radegund-the-nun deserves) and, indeed, used only as a literary ‘costume’: a careful reader can easily notice that the speaking ego does not fully identify with the role of a ‘lovelorn maiden’. This ostentatious literariness makes the whole situation justifiable and attractive for the readership.

Id., Abstract. Id. p. 66 also characterizes De excidio Thoringiae as displaying “ostentatious literariness.” Strenuous scholarly effort to declare Radegund “(co-)author” of De excidio Thoringiae really isn’t necessary. If Cynthia can be credited with creating Propertius’s elegies, Radegund certainly can be credited with authoring De excidio Thoringiae.

Venantius Fortunatus was born in the 530s near Treviso in present-day Italy and died between 600 and 610. He received a thorough classical education in Ravenna. In the mid-560s he became a court poet in Merovingian Gaul.

Fortunatus’s poetry was greatly admired in the Carolingian period. His poem “Sing, my tongue {Pange lingua}” (Carmina 2.1) became a hymn in the Christian liturgy. Pange lingua provided the meter for Angelbert’s ninth-century war-grief poem, “Aurora cum primo mane tetra noctis dividet {At the first light, dawn will separate the horrors of night}.” Fortunatus’s Pange lingua was parodied in the second stanza of the early-thirteenth-century Carmina Burana 77, “Were I to speak with the tongues of angels and men {Si linguis angelicis loquar et humanis}.” Fortunatus’s poem “Vexilla regis prodeunt {Banners of the king fly}” / “Hymn in honor of the Holy Cross {Hymnus in Honore Sanctae Crucis}” (Carmina 2.6) also entered the Christian liturgy and was used in Dante’s Inferno, Canto 34.

portrait of Venantius Fortunatus from late eleventh-century instance of his life of Radegund

For freely available earlier Latin editions of Fortunatus’s works, Leo (1881) and Migne (1849). Roberts’s Latin edition closely follows that of Leo. Fortunatus’s poetry survives in many manuscripts. See Leo (1881), Prologue.

Several modern English translations of Fortunatus’s works are available. George (1995) translates into English some of Fortunatus’s poems, with notes focusing on the political and social aspects. Den Boer & Den Boer (2009) provides an English translation of a small selection of Fortunatus’s poems. Pucci (2010), with keen insight into the literary sophistication of Fortunatus’s poetry, provides a free-verse English translation. None of these English translations includes De excidio Thoringiae. Roberts (2017) is a nearly complete English translation of Fortunatus’s works. Translations of Fortunatus into modern English were relatively late. Charles Nisard translated Fortunatus’s poetry into French in 1890.

Subsequent quotes above from De excidio Thoringiae are similarly sourced. Those quotes are vv. 25-8 (The wife’s naked foot…), 33-6 (Each person has grieved…), 43-58 (One whose tender looks…), 59-64 (If father, mother, or cares of the royal house…), 105-18 (If the sacred cloister of my convent…), 73-4, 79-82, 157-8 (Burdened by grief’s weight…).

[4] Cf. Aeneid 2.551 (Priam slipping in his son’s blood). “Through indirect comparison with the Aened Radegund shows the suffering of the Thuringian women surpassing that of the Trojan women.” Cherewatuk (1993) p. 27. The point seems to me rather to emphasize that epic violence predominately concerns killing men.

[5] McNamara & Halborg (1992) translated v. 35 using the genderless “those” for “men {viri}”: “Fate was kind to those whom the enemy struck down {consuluit fortuna viris quos perculit hostis}.” Just as the word “man” has been used as a genderless term for humanity, men’s deaths are commonly obscured. Consider, e.g., newspaper reports such as “Eleven persons were killed in the attack, including one woman.”

[6] Jerome wrote of love for another having developed from childhood. Jerome declared of his dear man friend Bosonus:

He and I grew up together from tender infancy to vigorous manhood, such that we were fostered in the bosoms of the same nurses and carried in the arms of the same bearers. After studying together at Rome, we lodged in the same house and shared the same food by the half savage banks of the Rhine.

{ ego et ille a tenera pariter infantia ad florentem usque adoleverimus aetatem, ut idem nos nutricum sinus, idem amplexus foverint baiulorum et, cum post Romana studia ad Rheni semibarbaras ripas eodem cibo, pari frueremur hospitio }

Jerome, Letter 3, “To Rufinus {Ad Rufinum},” from paras. 5, Latin text of Hilberg (1910-1918), English translation (modified) from Freemantle (1892).

[7] Radegund further lamented:

Between us lovers is interjected all of the globe.
The world divides us whom once no place separated.
So much earth holds my lover divided from me.

{ inter amatores totusque interiacet orbis:
hos dirimit mundus quos loca nulla prius.
quantum terra tenet tantum divisit amantem }

De excidio Thoringiae vv. 67-9. In De excidio Thoringiae, the language used to describe Radegund and Amalfred’s relationship is “very affectionate.” Wasyl (2015) p. 68.

Radegund used similarly affectionate language in writing to Amalfred’s son Artachis after he had written to her of Amalfred’s death. She declared to Artachis, “be in your love to me what he was before {sis amore meus quod fuit ille prius}.” Radegund, “To Artachis {Ad Artachin}” v. 36, Latin text and English translation from Roberts (2017) Appendix poem 3. Here’s an alternate online edition.

[8] Radegund operated effectively at the highest political / religious levels. She successfully pressured the Bishop of Soissons to dissolve effectively her marriage to King Chlothar I. She perhaps secured the help of Bishop Bermanus of Paris to prevent Chlothar from regaining her as wife. When the Bishop of Poitiers didn’t allow her Abbey of the Holy Cross to possess a relic of the holy cross, she successfully appealed to the Merovingian King Sigebert I. Moreover, she then associated her abbey with the Diocese of Arles rather than the Diocese of Poitiers. For Radegund biography, Duvall (1996) and Epistolae.

[9] Venantius Fortunatus, The Life of Holy Radegund {De vita sanctae Radegundis} para. 5, Latin text from Leo (1881), English translation (modified) from McNamara & Halborg (1992) p. 73. Here’s the Latin edition of Migne (1849).

In Fortunatus’s poem About virginity {De virginitate}, God praises a virgin laying on cold ground and praying:

Through the night she lay awake, ready if I by chance should happen to come,
she pressing her chilled limbs to the marble, which now took on warmth.
Though ice-cold, she retained fire for me in her bones.
Her heart was warm with love though her flesh was frozen stiff.

{ pervigil incubuit, si forte alicunde venirem,
marmore iam tepido frigida membra premens.
haec gelifacta meum servavit in ossibus ignem;
visceribus rigidis pectus amore calet. }

Fortunatus, Carmina 8.3, vv. 211-4, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Roberts (2017). Fortunatus also wrote hagiographic lives of six bishops. On Fortunatus’s prose hagiography in relation to ecclesiastical concerns, Navalesi (2020).

Baudonivia, a nun of Radegund’s Abbey of the Holy Cross, also wrote a life of Radegund. For the Latin text, Leo (1881) pp. 378-95. For an English translation, NcNamara & Halborg (1992). For comparison of these two lives of Radegund, Coates (1998) and Rinaldi (2014).

The sixth-century Pavian bishop Ennodius apparently influenced Fortunatus. Fiske (1955) p. 183. Ennodius had great respect for men’s seminal blessing. Among thoughtful Christians of antiquity, including Jerome, appreciation for men’s seminal blessing coexisted with appreciation for chastity.

[10] Jerome, Letter 3, “To Rufinus {Ad Rufinum},” from paras. 1 & 2, Latin text of Hilberg (1910-1918), English translation (modified) from Freemantle (1892). Cf. Acts 8:26-40 (Philip going to the Ethiopian court eunuch) and Daniel 14:33-6 (Habakkuk going to Daniel).

Writing about 716-720, the learned woman Egburg drew upon Jerome’s figure of longing in her letter to her “holy father and true man-friend {abbas sanctus veroque amicus}” Boniface:

Believe me, more than the storm-tossed sailor longs for the harbor, more than the thirsty fields desire rain, or the anxious mother watches by the shore for her son, do I long for the sight of you.

{ crede mihi, non sic tempestate iactatus portum nauta desiderat, non sic sitientia imbres arva desiderant, non sic curvo litore anxia filium mater expectat, quam ut ego visibus vestris fruere cupio. }

MGH, Epistolae Merovingici et Karolini Aevi, 6, S. Bonifacii et Lulli Epistolae, ep.13, Latin text and English translation via Epistolae.

[11] Women expressing ardent love for men friends should be careful not to foster misunderstanding. Men tend to be romantically simple. Before expressing ardent love for a man friend, a woman might frankly explain to him that she recognizes men’s gender disadvantage in love and that she affirmatively seeks to help men via her verbal expression. Disclosing that she’s professed to chastity would also help to clarify the intent of her communication with him. Some progressive men avoid misunderstanding with an informal prefatory clause, e.g., “No homo — I just want to say that you’re a beautiful man.”

[12] Fortunatus wrote to his friend Dynamius of Marseille:

The Saône and the Rhône may block our way, but we swim them inspired by love.
Though they stop our path, they cannot obstruct the movement of minds.

{ nos licet obstet Arar Rhodanusqne, natamus amore,
nec vetat ire animum qui vetat ire gradum. }

Fortunatus, Carmina 6.10, vv. 55-6, Latin text and English translation from Roberts (2017). Fortunatus had a virgin declare to her bridegroom God:

If my feet had the power, I would readily come in haste to the stars,
and suspended in air make a journey to heaven.

{ ipsa venire velim, properans si possit in astris
pendula sideream planta tenere viam. }

Fortunatus, Carmina 8.3, vv. 233-4, sourced similarly.

Jerome similarly proposed extraordinary journeys. For example, Jerome wrote to his man friend Rufinus: “Oh, if only the Lord Jesus Christ would suddenly transport me to you as Philip was transported to the eunuch, and Habakkuk to Daniel {o si mihi nunc dominus Iesus Christus vel Philippi ad eunuchum vel Ambacum ad Danihelum translationem repente concederet},” quoted above from Jerome, Letter 3, “To Rufinus.” To the bishops Alypius and Augustine, Jerome wrote:

I call God to witness that, if it could be done, I would become a dove and with wings fly to be enfolded in your embrace, as indeed always, because of the merit of your virtues, but now especially because your cooperation and your leadership is strangling the heresy of Celestius

{ testem inuocans deum, quod, si possit fieri, adsumptis alis columbae uestris amplexibus implicarer, semper quidem pro merito uirtutum uestrarum sed nunc maxime, quia cooperatoribus et auctoribus uobis heresis Caelestina iugulata est }

Jerome, Letter 143, “To the bishops Alypius and Augustine {Ad Alypium et Augustinum episcopos},” from para. 1, Latin text of Hilberg (1910-1918), English translation (modified) from Freemantle (1892).

[13] Jerome, Letter 12, “To Antony the Aemonian monk {Ad Antonium monachum Haemonae},” excerpt, Latin text of Hilberg (1910-1918), English translation (modified) from Freemantle (1892). The subsequent quote is similarly from Jerome, Letter 11, “To the young Aemonian women {Ad virgines Haemonenses}.”

[14] Fortunatus wrote of Agnes’s presence to him through the material substance of a gift of milk:

I spied fingers splayed through a milky gift,
a cast of your hand where you snatched some cream.
I must know: what made your soft nails sculpt it so?

{ Aspexi digitos per lactae munera fixos,
et stat picta manus hic ubi crama rapis.
dic, rogo, quis teneros sic sculpere conpulit ungues? }

Fortunatus, Carmina 11.14, Latin text of Roberts (2017), beautiful English translation by Pucci (2010) p. 99.

[15] Venantius Fortunatus, Carmina 8.1, “In his name to various people {Ex nomine suo ad diversos},” incipit “You who drink in the Boeotian Muses {Aonias avido qui lambitis ore Camenas},” vv. 41-7, Latin text and English translation (modified) from Roberts (2017).

Fortunatus had a warm friendship with Radegund and enjoyed her patronage. At least in his mind, he was her Jerome. Fiske associated Jerome and Fortunatus briefly at a high level of abstraction: “both had women friends, to whom they wrote, as to friends.” Fiske (1955) p. 186.

[images] (1) Radegund frees prisoners. Illustration from late-eleventh-century instance of Fortunatus’s Life of Holy Radegund {De vita sanctae Radegundis}. From folio 25v of Poitiers, Bibliotheque municipale, MS. 250. Subsequent images are similarly from this manuscript of De vita sanctae Radegundis. For analysis of its illustrations, Carrasco (1990). (2) Leaving her husband in bed, Radegund gets out of bed and lies down on the cold floor to pray. Illumination from folio 24 of De vita sanctae Radegundis. (3) Radegund curing a blind woman. Illumination from folio 34 of De vita sanctae Radegundis. (4) Portrait of Fortunatus beginning his De vita sanctae Radegundis. Illumination from folio 21v of De vita sanctae Radegundis.


Carrasco, Magdalena Elizabeth. 1990. “Spirituality in Context: The Romanesque Illustrated Life of St. Radegund of Poitiers (Poitiers, Bibl. Mun., MS 250).” The Art Bulletin. 72 (3): 414-435.

Cherewatuk, Karen. 1993. “Radegund and Epistolary Tradition.” Pp. 20-45 in Karen Cherewatuk and Ulrike Wiethaus, eds. Dear Sister: Medieval Women and the Epistolary Genre. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Coates, Simon. 1998. “Regendering Radegund? Fortunatus, Baudonivia and the Problem of Female Sanctity in Merovingian Gaul.” Studies in Church History. 34: 37-50.

Den Boer, James and Maria Den Boer, trans. 2009. Small Gifts Great Grace: The Personal Poems of Venantius Fortunatus. Elk Grove, CA: Bald Trickster Press.

Duvall, Onnie. 1996. “Radegund of Poitiers (ca. 518-587).” Entry in The ORB: On-Line Reference Book for Medieval Studies.

Fiske, Adele M. 1955. The Survival and Development of the Ancient Concept of Friendship in the Early Middle Ages. Ph.D. Thesis, Fordham University (New York City).

Freemantle, William Henry, trans. 1892.  The Principal Works of St. Jerome.  Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 6. Oxford: Parker.

George, Judith W., trans. 1995. Venantius Fortunatus: Personal and Political Poems. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Hilberg, Isidorus, ed. 1910-1918. Sancti Eusebii Hieronymi Epistulae {Letters of Saint Eusebius Hieronymus (Jerome)}. Vindobonae: Tempsky. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum (CSEL) 54 (Epistulae 1-70), 55 (Epistulae 71-120), and 56 (Epistulae 120-154).

Leo, Friedrich, ed. 1881. Venanti Fortunati Opera Poetica (Pars Prior), Venanti Fortunati Opera Pedestria (Pars Posterior). Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Auctores Antiquissimi IV. Berlin: Weidmann. Another copy.

McNamara, Jo Ann, and John E. Halborg, ed. and trans., with E. Gordon Whatley. 1992. Sainted Women of the Dark Ages. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Nisard, Charles, 1888. “Des poésies de Sainte Radegonde attribuées jusqu’ici à Fortunat.” Revue Historique. 37 (1): 49-57.

Navalesi, Kent E. 2020. The Prose Lives of Venantius Fortunatus: Hagiography, lay piety and pastoral care in sixth-century Gaul. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Pucci, Michael, trans. 2010. Poems to Friends: Venantius Fortunatus. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co.

Rinaldi, R. 2014. “The Lives of St. Radegund.” Online at David M. Reis’s Medieval Christianity course website.

Roberts, Michael. 2009. The Humblest Sparrow: The Poetry of Venantius Fortunatus. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press. Review by John Moorhead.

Roberts, Michael, ed and trans. 2017. Venantius Fortunatus. Poems. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library 46. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Reviews by Hope Williard and by Lionel Yaceczko.

Wasyl, Anna Maria. 2015. “An Aggrieved Heroine in Merovingian Gaul: Venantius Fortunatus, Radegund’s Lament on the Destruction of Thuringia, and Echoing Ovid’s Heroides.” Bollettino di Studi Latini. 45 (1): 64-75.

Williard, Hope Deejune. 2016. Friendship in the Works of Venantius Fortunatus. Ph.D. Thesis, University of Leeds, UK.

medieval count courageously advised king

Advisors telling a leader something she doesn’t want to hear can harm the advisors’ status and remuneration. Nonetheless, for advisors to add value to a leader’s decision-making, they must not merely flatter the leader and tell her what she wants to hear. This fundamental principle has been known in the consulting business at least since Aristotle advised Alexander the Great, sometimes unsuccessfully. A thirteenth-century Old French romance stated this principle explicitly through the words of a medieval count advising the king of France.

The king of France received a beautiful young man as a messenger. The king greeted the messenger and welcomed him with a kiss. The king later learned that the messenger came from a vassal-king with a message to kill the messenger. In medieval European culture, killing a messenger was regarded as dishonorable. So too was killing a person whom one had kissed in friendship. The king asked the counts of Blois, Nevers, and Clermont for advice on what he should do to the messenger.

Mary goes to her dormition

The counts debated the matter among themselves. Because he was the oldest, the count of Blois spoke first. Spouting proverbs such as “one good turn deserves another {uns bezoins altre requiert},” Blois proposed giving the messenger a forty-day reprieve on account of the kiss and then executing him. The count of Nevers agreed with this proposal. The count of Clermont, however, argued strongly that preserving the king’s honor required that he not harm the messenger. Blois and Nevers agreed with Clermont’s reasoning, but worried that Clermont’s advice wasn’t what the king wanted to hear.

sword to the mouth reveals true intentions

Clermont insisted that proper conduct was to give the king the best advice even if that wasn’t the advice the king wanted to hear. Clermont explained to Blois and Nevers:

My good lords, I have never said
that the king cannot act as he sees fit,
despite my considered opinion.
Even after I have given him
the best advice I know,
he can still do just as he wishes.
Is there then any reason to keep silent
about proper counsel, if he requests it?
By faith, no! If he asks for it,
I’m duty bound to give him sound advice,
and then let him act as befits a king!
Were I tormented by the very Devil,
I would still discharge my duty
to my lord, whom I should love,
since he asked me in good faith!
If I always tell him the best action to take,
it’s not my fault if he takes the worst.
Even if I incur the king’s displeasure,
I will not stray at any price from the right path,
as far as I can determine it.

{ Biel segnor, cho ne di jo mie
Que li rois ne puist faire bien
Trestolt son plaisir malgré mien.
Mais puis que dit li averai
Al miols que dire li sarai,
Puet il faire tolt son plaisir.
Doi li jo donc por cho taisir
Consel de droit, s’il le demande?
Nenil, par foi! s’il le conmande,
Consel li doi doner et dire,
Et puis si face comme sire!
Ja diäbles tant ne m’esmarge
Que jo del tolt ne me descarge
Viers mon segnor, cui amer doi,
Quant conjuré m’avra en foi!
Se jo li di le miols tols dis,
Quel blasme i ai s’il fait le pis?
Encor li soit il contrecuer,
Nen istrai del droit a nul fuer
Por cho que g’i puissce assener. }

Too many men remain silent when they are asked for their opinion. When they speak, too many men say what they think their leader wants to hear, especially if their leader is a woman. Much evil results from silence and conforming advice to dominant interests.

medieval advisors

Meninist literary criticism insists on men speaking frankly about women and to women in literary study. Men’s silence deserves part of the blame for gross injustices against men. But meninist literary critics aren’t doctrinaire. If a meninist literary critic’s wife or girlfriend asks him if she looks fat, well, that’s a wholly different matter!

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The above quotes are from The Romance of Silence {Le roman de Silence} by Heldris of Cornwall {Heldris de Cornuälle} vv. 4559 (one good turn deserves another) and 4692-4711 (My good lords, I have never said…), Old French text and English translation (modified slightly) from Roche-Mahdi (1992). This romance was composed in the second half of the thirteenth century. It survives in one manuscript: Nottingham, University Library, Mi LM 6, f. 189r-223v, written in the thirteenth century.

[images] (1) Mary the mother of Jesus goes to her death (Dormition). Illumination on folio 17 of the Hunterian Psalter, a manuscript produced in England about 1170. Preserved as Glasgow University Library MS Hunter 229 (U.3.2). (2) Sword piercing the mouth of a man. Cf. Hebrews 4:12. Decorated initial on folio 127 of the Hunterian Psalter. (3) Two men advisor-evangelists. Decorated initial on folio 154v of the Hunterian Psalter.


Roche-Mahdi, Sarah, ed. and trans. 1992. Silence: A Thirteenth-Century French Romance. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press.

Ennodius celebrated seminal blessing & disparaged eunuch Tribune

The early Christian church fathers Jerome and Augustine vigorously denounced classical castration culture. Yet the poet of antiquity who thrust most firmly for men’s seminal blessing was the fittingly named Magnus Felix Ennodius. Appointed bishop of Pavia about 514, Ennodius in a wedding song urged the young man Maximus to be fruitful in marital love. Ennodius also disparaged the eunuch Tribune for lacking manly seed. Moreover, Ennodius represented Pasiphae’s sexual desire for a bull as no less understandable than women’s admiration for male donkeys. In light of Ennodius’s profound appreciation for human sexuality, Christians rightly came to regard Ennodius as a saint.

Ennodius had a keen sense for historical misrepresentation of men’s sexuality. The last two verses of his wedding song (epithalamium) for Maximus are programmatic:

When cold frost suppresses inspiration,
may the warmth of swelling spring revive it.

{ Quod nunc ingenium premunt pruinae,
Distendat refouens decore uernum. }[1]

Subtly alluding to the sophisticated allegory of Prudentius, cold frost figures the persecution and repression of men’s heterosexuality. The warmth of swelling spring represents the enlivening effect of men’s sexual love for women.

While spring is a common setting for love poetry, spring envelops Ennodius’s epithalamium with specific, physical representations of human sexuality. The richness of Ennodius’s figuration is extraordinary:

The earth becomes aroused by her conjugal nature,
tumescent trees leaf wanton foliage,
milk-giving grass is pressed down into knotty turf,
and jeweled fingers start to burgeon from the branch.

{ Erigitur genio tellus tumefacta marito,
Torrida lasciuis silua uiret spoliis.
Lactans cespitibus in nodum truditur herba.
Vitea gemmatos brachia dant digitos. }[2]

Perhaps alluding to the biblical unity of the sexes, these verses alternate between feminine and masculine signs. Figuring female genitals, the innately sexual earth rises up and grassy loins, pressed, produce milk. Figuring male genitals, the tumescent trees with hard wood and wanton foliage become in tighter focus jeweled fingers extending from the branch. These verses display a sexual imagination as wonderfully physical and specific as that of Saint Jerome.

A classically learned man, Ennodius drew upon the traditional Greco-Roman deities Venus and Cupid to spur Maximus’s sexual ardor. Ennodius described the nude Venus as having “rosy nipples {roseae papillae}” and a shining body.[3] Venus declared to her son Cupid about Maximus:

Let this man’s deepest fibers come to know my lamp.
Let him begin to sigh, desire, careen, burn, beg.

{ Huius ad abstrusas ueniat mea lampada fibras:
Suspiret cupiat discurrat ferueat oret. }

Maximus begging his wife for sex suggests that he values her more than she values him. The Roman ideology of female superiority goes all the way back to the Sabine women. Superior female value was prominently represented in the tombs of Pythionice. Ennodius interpreted superior female value as honoring Maximus:

Your pure life brings a wife whose merits vanquish yours.
Because she overcomes you, she is your palm.

{ Vincentem meritis sponsam dat candida uita,
Quae cum te superat, sic tibi palma uenit. }

With the man on the bottom, that’s classical Roman ideology like Propertius crediting his beloved Cynthia for all his poetic success.[4]

Christian marriage, however, was meant to be a conjugal partnership. Husbands in normal Christian marriages have no need to beg their wives for sex. Ennodius with his epithalamium urged Maximus to have joyful, fruitful sexual relations with his wife. With magnificent irony, Ennodius had Cupid declare to Maximus, “if you believe {si credis},” then you will have “many descendants {multi nepotes}.”[5] That’s the typical effect of the Jewish and Christian seminal blessing in practice.

Ennodius disparaged the eunuch Tribune for lacking the seminal blessing. Castration in the ancient world varied from the removal of just a male’s testicles to the removal of most or all of his penis as well. Ennodius with a Latin pun represented a man being deprived of his testicles as making him into a liar:

You, Tribune, can speak falsely without testification:
your wind has a tongue with the weight of air.

{ Tutus falsa loqui poteris sine teste, Tribune:
Ventus habet linguam ponderibus uacui. }[6]

Ennodius associated a man’s penis with being rooted and weighty:

His damaged nature renders Tribune unstable.
He’ll fly away again unless chains hold him down.
Wretch, weigh your little anchor when the Zephyr comes,
for no roots offer you convenient help.

{ Instabilem faciunt naturae damna Tribunum.
Auolat hinc rursus, uincula ni teneant.
Tolle, miser, modicam zephyro ueniente saburram.
Radix nulla tuo est utilis auxilio. }

Ennodius thus implied that the eunuch Tribune lacks the preeminent Roman masculine virtue of gravitas.

A Christian perspective on the eunuch Tribune differs significantly from traditional Roman concern about gravitas. Christian teaching affirms that those who are eunuchs by birth have the same human dignity as do all human persons.[7] Men throughout history, however, have made themselves eunuchs for worldly advantage under gynocentrism. Eunuchs in ancient Rome held positions of both political-administrative and military leadership.[8] The name Tribune associates this eunuch with such worldly eminence. Ennodius said of him:

You wish to be called “rich,” “noble,” “handsome,” “a friend.”

{ Vis dici locuples sublimis pulcher amicus }

Men who castrate themselves for worldly advantage wrongly separate themselves and others from the seminal blessing. A man doesn’t truly profit if he gains the whole world and loses his seminal blessing.

Ennodius refigured the eunuch Tribune in Christian terms. The eunuch Tribune became merely a poor farmer:

This eunuch at the crossroads asks for his foul upkeep,
but has no seed to sow into the ground.
The countryside protects large buds in furrowed fields
and its youthful harvest pays back multiple.
In vain this gelding cleaves the earth’s back with his plow
unless he tills and strews about wheat seeds.

{ Eunuchus turpem poscit per compita uictum:
Semina telluri non habet unde ferat.
Grandia proscissis rus seruat germina membris.
Fetibus et messis multiplicata redit:
Incassum sectus proscindit uomere terga.
Ni findens spargat triticeam subolem. }

With “pays back multiple {multiplicata redit},” Ennodius alludes to the biblical parable of the sower, which Jerome interpreted in the context of heterosexual relations. As a eunuch, Tribune lacks the seminal blessing. If he has merely wheat seeds, he cannot incarnate the fruit of numerous descendants.

Queen Pasiphae embracing the Cretan bull

Ennodius sympathetically treated a silver goblet engraved with a representation of Pasiphae’s love for the Cretan bull. The Cretan king Minos had refused to sacrifice the beautiful Cretan bull to Poseidon. Enraged, Poseidon caused Minos’s wife Pasiphae to lust ardently for the bull. Daedalus constructed for her a cow that she used to deceive the bull into having sex with her. Women raping males should be regarded as a serious wrong. But with a sense for representational sophistication, Ennodius interpreted Pasiphae’s sexual desire for the bull as a natural female response to a physically magnificent male:

In art you, Pasiphae, won’t relinquish the young, snow-white bull.
You beg for kisses, arms entwined around his neck.

{ Pasiphae, niueum linquis nec in arte iuuencum
Diffusis collo manibus petis oscula supplex }[9]

Pasiphae and the bull behave as a wife and husband, fully ensouled like Eve and Adam:

The woman flirts, the bull responds, limbs start to move.
Who has infused souls into the mold art made?

{ Blanditur mulier, sentit bos, membra mouentur.
Attulit ars formas: quis dedit hic animas? }

Ennodius appreciated a woman’s active role in arousing a male. He also acknowledged the intense physicality of sexual intercourse:

Look! The woman like a wife again sinks below the bull.
These human flames cause that beast’s heart to heave.
How does the nape of its vast neck withstand the yoke?
The sweat! Oh, how exhausted by the leather strap!

{ Ecce iterum tauro mulier summittitur uxor,
Humanas pecudum suspirant pectora flammas.
Vasta iugum ceruix, cur suscipit area colli,
Qualiter astricto sudauit marcida loro! }

Their relationship includes physical tenderness. The bull “nuzzles his snout beneath approaching lips {admotis suspendat rostra labellis}.” While typically lacking a physical endowment as extensive as that of a bull or donkey, most men are fully capable of pleasing a woman in the same way that the Cretan bull pleased Pasiphae.[10]

woman embraces a bull

Ennodius represents the beginning of medieval literature vigorously affirming the goodness of men’s sexuality and the seminal blessing. The epic disaster of men’s impotence within the decadence of Nero’s Rome falls away. The Greek girl’s eloquent lament for Maximianus’s sexual incapacity is a counterpart to Ennodius’s epithalamium for Maximus. The past led to Maximianus, while the medieval future belonged to Maximus’s line. Ennodius, Bishop of Pavia, became recognized as a saint. Pavia became famous for lovely, warmly receptive women. But the faith is still not understood, hope is clouded, and love for men all too tenuous. Study the sign of Jonah and the Archpoet!

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[1] Magnus Felix Ennodius, Carmina 1.4 (Mulligan 8), “Wedding song delivered to Maximus, an Admirable Man {Epithalamium Dictum Maximo Viro Spectabili},” incipit “The year, its sun renewed, forms tender stalks of grain {Annus sole nouo teneras dum format aristas},” Latin edition of Hartel (1882), English translation (modified slightly) from Mulligan (2022). The Latin edition of Vogel (1885) is also important and freely available. Readily available to all also are a lemmatization of Ennodius’s poems and a compilation of resources on Ennodius.

The term “Admirable Man {Vir Spectabilis}” is an imperial Roman title for a man with senatorial rank. Vir Spectabilis was the second highest title among the imperial Roman aristocracy. It ranked below only the senatorial title “Illustrious Man {Vir Illustris}.” Mulligan (2022) p. 171, n. 252. Ennodius apparently wrote his epithalamium in the spring of 510 GC. Id. n. 251.

Ennodius is a sophisticated poet. Mulligan’s seminal translation carries across Ennodius’s verse forms:

Ennodius’ poetry deserves a verse translation, the only mode that can capture some qualities of a style that contains nice touches — and occasionally strains language to (and sometimes past) the breaking point. Creating a readable, accessible, and metrical translation of Ennodius was a perplexing, exhilarating challenge.

Mulligan (2022) p. 25. On Ennodius’s meters, id. pp. 27-34. My changes to Mulligan’s translation, which don’t necessarily reflect his verse forms, are intended to make the text more easily readable and closer to the literal meaning of the Latin to serve a general audience. More exacting poetic readers should consult Mulligan’s book.

The subsequent six quotes above are similarly from “Epithalamium Dictum Maximo Viro Spectabili,” vv. 7-10 (The earth becomes aroused…), 42 (rosy nipples), 93-4 (Let this man’s deepest fibers…), 21-2 (Your pure life brings a wife…), 121 (if you believe; many descendants).

[2] The Latin verb erigat originally applied to constructing buildings in the sense of “raise” or “erect.” Juster, discussing mentem … erigat in Maximianus, Elegies 3.3-4, observed:

The phrase mentem …. erigat (“uplift a mind”) has strong Christian overtones. See, e.g. Augustine, Sermones 4.352.2 (erigant mentes); Ennodius, Dictio 8.1.18 (erigere mens).

Juster (2018) p. 157. In Ennodius’s epithalamium, the verb erigat thus raises sexual arousal to acquiring knowledge of God.

[3] In a classical myth known as the Judgment of Paris, Venus, by baring her body won the beauty context against Juno and Minerva.

[4] In his epithalamium, Ennodius drew upon the classical Roman elegiac conceit of “love is war.” Ennodius depicted Cupid shooting arrows, and Cupid explicitly referred to sexual relations as “war {bellus}” in his epithalamium, v. 121. Ennodius, however, urged Maximus to have sex only with his wife and associated such chastity with elite behavior:

May you know only she who has been destined for you, as you were destined for her, since you did not come from the dregs of the earth.

{ solam illam tibi deputatam noueris, cui te quasi non esses ex mundi faece seruasti. }

“Ennodius to Maximus, Admirable Man {Ennodius Viro Spectabili Maximo},” Latin edition of Vogel (1885) #386, English translation of Mulligan (2022) #8. Ennodius’s letters are highly literary works:

He put the act of communication through belletristic display first, often leaving the nuts and bolts of substantive business to be entrusted to the bearer of the letter or relegated to now-lost attachments.

Kennell (2016) p. 370. Ennodius’s appeal to Maximus to be chaste uses rhetoric rather than Christian moral doctrine.

Ennodius similarly presents marital sexuality and fecundity as natural and a blessing. Wasyl aptly observed of the scene of Venus and Cupid in Ennodius’s epithalamium:

this whole scene is certainly permeated with sympathy – and not hatred at all – for the rights (if not desires) of the «flesh», or rather, to put it properly, of human nature with sexuality as its integral part.

Wasyl (2018) p. 614.

[5] Cupid laments to Venus, “there are not enough children for the nascent age {nec proles nascenti sufficit aeuo}.” Epithalamium, v. 56. Ennodius composed funeral epigrams. Among those for married women, a recurring them is matrimonial fecundity. Wasyl (2018) p. 611. The issue is not simply that Maximus needs to get to work in fulfilling Roman men’s traditional marriage obligation. Cf. Bernstein (2019) pp. 78-80. Ennodius is concerned about the seminal blessing, a fundamental good in Jewish and Christian understanding.

[6] Ennodius, Carmina 2.70 (Mulligan 138), complete epigram. The subsequent three quotes above are from Ennodius’s eunuch Tribune epigrams: Carmina 2.71 (Mulligan 139), complete epigram (His damaged nature…); 2.69 (Mulligan 137), v. 5 (You wish to be called…); 2.72 (Mulligan 140), complete epigram (This eunuch at the crossroads…).

Ennodius’s epigrams are topically and formally similar to Martial’s. Adamik (2014). But Ennodius’s epigrams are infused with Christian sensibility, while Martial’s aren’t.

[7] Matthew 19:12, Galations 3:28.

[8] Eunuchs held prominent positions in the Roman Empire from the third century onward. Steward (2014) and Steward (2017). The eunuch Narses was the supreme commander of the Eastern Roman army that sacked Gothic Rome in 552.

[9] Ennodius, Carmina 2.25 (Mulligan 83), vv. 1-2. With respect to Pasiphae, “Ennodius treats his controversial protagonist with intriguing tenderness.” Wasyl (2018) p. 609. More importantly, Ennodius’s understanding interpretation of Pasiphae isn’t merely poor-dearism. Ennodius appreciated Pasiphae’s sexual desire for the magnificent bull and so affirmed the attractiveness and goodness of male sexuality, even of a beastly sort. In Ennodius’s interpretation, “the laws of nature have not been broken by this peculiar union.” Id., Abstract.

The subsequent three quotes above are from Ennodius’s Pasiphae epigrams: Carmina 2.29 (Mulligan 84), full epigram (The woman flirts…); 2.103 (Mulligan 87) vv. 5-8 (Look! The woman like a wife…); 2.30 (Mulligan 85), v. 2 (nuzzles his snout…).

Modern scholars have vastly underestimated the sexual freedom of expression available to medieval authors. For example, with respect to Ennodius’s epithalamium, a leading scholar of Ennodius stated:

only through metaphors of vernal fecundity and mythological situations could he articulate the physical nature of marriage positively and with apposite candor. Of necessity, his poem {his epithalamium} minimizes the Christian background to the impending nuptials.

Kennell (2000) p. 92. Ausonius’s Wedding Cento {Cento nuptialis} candidly, satirically confronted the brutalization of men’s sexuality. Ennodius, in contrast, articulated positively the physical nature of marriage through Christian belief in the seminal blessing.

[10] Donkeys need not yearn for longer tails, nor men for bigger penises. Men’s gentials are sufficient for the seminal blessing. At the same time, men must recognize their limitations with respect to women.

[images] (1) Queen Pasiphae embracing the Cretan bull. Illumination from an instance of Christine de Pizan’s The Letter of Othea to Hector {L’Épître d’Othéa á Hector}. From folio 116r of the Book of the Queen, London, British Library, Harley MS 4431 (created from 1410 to 1414). (2) A woman and a bull. Excerpt from Alfred Philippe Roll’s painting from 1885, preserved as accession # 2671 in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes {National Museum of Fine Arts } (Buenos Aires, Argentina). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Adamik, Tamás. 2014. “Ennodius und Martial.” Acta Classica Universitatis Scientiarum Debreceniensis. 50: 195–205.

Bernstein, Neil W. 2019. “Nec Tibi Sufficiat Transmissae Gloria Vitae: Otium and Ambition from Statius to Ennodius.” The Classical Journal. 115 (1): 63–85.

Hartel, Wilhelm, ed. 1882. Magnus Felix Ennodius. Magni Felicis Ennodii Opera Omnia. Corpus Scriptorum Ecclesiasticorum Latinorum, Volume 6. Vienna: Gerold. Alternate presentation. Another presentation (mis-attributed to Vogel).

Juster, A. M., ed. and trans, with introduction by Michael Roberts. 2018. The Elegies of Maximianus. Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Reviews by John Talbot and by Dennis Trout.

Kennell, Stefanie A. H. 2000. Magnus Felix Ennodius: A Gentleman of the Church. Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan Press.

Kennell, Stefanie A. H. 2016. “The Letter Collection of Ennodius of Pavia.” Chapter 22 (pp. 369-383) in Cristiana Sogno, Bradley K. Storin, and Edward Jay Watts. 2016. Late Antique Letter Collections: A Critical Introduction and Reference Guide. Oakland, CA: University of California Press.

Mulligan, Bret. 2022. The Poetry of Ennodius: Translated with an Introduction and Notes. London: Routledge.

Steward, Michael E. 2014. “Eunuchs in Theoderic’s Italy.” mikeaztec. Online.

Steward, Michael E. 2017. “Breaking Down Barriers: Eunuchs in Italy and North Africa, 400-625.” Pp. 33-54 in Amelia Brown and Bronwen Neil, eds. Byzantine Culture in Translation. Byzantina Australiensia 21. Leiden: Brill.

Vogel, Friedrich, ed. 1885. Magnus Felix Ennodius. Magni Felicis Ennodi Opera. Monumenta Germaniae Historica, Volume 7. Berolini: Apud Weidmannos.

Wasyl, Anna Maria. 2018. “The Future Bishop and Pasiphae. Asceticism, Corporeality, and the Secular in Ennodius’s Poetry.” Athenaeum. Studi di Letteratura e Storia dell’Antichità pubblicati sotto gli auspici dell’Università di Pavia. 106 (2): 607-618.