wives predominate in seeking divorce: an unusual medieval case

Joachim embracing Anna

On the British Isles in the seventh century, a husband sought to divorce his wife. Whether this husband suffered abuse from his wife, as Matheolus did in twelfth-century France, isn’t know. What’s clear is that this husband didn’t find God in love with his wife. He thus looked elsewhere:

I want to turn to my God;
I do not want my wife.
Lord, I ask this of you;
I long to serve you alone.
Wife, depart from me!

{ Ad deum meum convertere volo:
uxorem meam ego nolo.
Domine, hoc tibi rogo:
tibi soli servire volo.
Recede a me, uxor! } [1]

Available data from the late-nineteenth century through to the present indicates that wives seek divorce about 2.5 times as frequently as husband do.[2] This medieval case of a husband seeking divorce is probably rather unusual.

God has joined us fairly,
but my mind shall have joy.
Lord, what am I asking of you?
I myself long to serve you.
Wife, depart from me!

{ Bene nobis iunxerat deus,
et gaudebit animus meus.
Domine, quid tibi rogo?
Ipse te servire volo.
Recede a me, uxor! } [3]

Family law helps to explain why wives seek divorce about 2.5 times as frequently as husbands do. Children are typically a highly valued good in a marriage. Anti-men sex discrimination in child custody and child support decisions is today enormous. This vitally significant sexism attracts remarkably little public concern. That’s a result of deeply entrenched gynocentrism. Despite recent fabrications of family-law history, wives in practice have probably always predominantly received custody of children upon divorce or separation. Medieval tales tell of fathers made into only wallets. Husbands’ higher probably of losing custody of their children makes them more reluctant than wives to seek marital separation or divorce.

Fathers have typically loved their children dearly. Both Jewish and Christian scripture describes God as a father. That gender figure isn’t meant to be understood literally. It’s meant to communicate God’s loving care for his children. The gender figure of God the father makes no sense without ancient, popular understanding of a father’s love for his children. A tenth-century poem sings of a father’s joy and the laughter that he brings to his children:

Turning somersaults he clowns on the branches;
vivid from behind he glitters like gold-leaf.
His happy antics make all viewers laugh.

He hangs on the nest above his young nestlings
showing himself off to their admiring faces;
he can outsing all his chick’s little voices.

{ Giro se turnat, in ramo iucundat;
respectu clarus, lucet tamquam aurum;
ut laetus mimus, tales facit risos.

Nido suspensus ad suos pullones;
ut eam cernat sui amatores,
cunctas praecellit parvulorum voces. } [4]

Whether bird or man, most fathers delight in life with their children. That, along with discrimination against husbands in child custody decisions, reduces husbands’ relative incentive to seek divorce.

Medieval marriage was a more attractive institution than is marriage today in high-income westernized countries. Under medieval canon law, a marriage could be legally contracted only with the freely given assent of both persons. Most medieval persons in their poverty didn’t envision marriage merely as a bucket-list checkbox to experience an extravagant special-day wedding ceremony. The medieval ideal of marriage was a conjugal partnership. Drawing upon the different skills of husbands and wives and benefiting from sharing of material resources, economic partnership was an important aspect of the medieval marital partnership. Moreover, under canon law, medieval spouses were indebted to have sex with each other, even if one didn’t feel like it. Hence medieval spouses were much less likely to find themselves experiencing sexless marriage.

What a calamity! Will you leave me?
But you shouldn’t say these words to me!
I want you to stay —
in the middle of the night I’ll need you
as my gentle husband.

Day and night I’ve been in tears
because of my dear husband:
God will defraud me,
so that he won’t lie at my side
as my gentle husband.

{ Calamitas! De me recedis?
Et ista verba non me dices!
Vellim moraris:
media nocte te requiram
ut dulcis iugalix meus!

Die ac nocte fui in fletu
propter viro meo caro:
fraudabit me deus
ut non iacet ad latus meum
ut dulcit iugalix meus! } [5]

This medieval wife was devastated that her husband would seek divorce. She was afraid that God would deprive her of her legally married husband. She wanted God to call her husband to account for seeking to divorce her. She refused to believe that God would allow her husband to engage in the fraud of divorce. Few spouses today hold such beliefs. When a husband today finds that his wife is divorcing him, to whom can he turn for hope? Perhaps he might plead to God that his wife doesn’t accuse him of domestic violence as a tactic to extract higher alimony and child support payments.

I’ll put myself into a hidden place
and fling myself into the deep sea.
This will wipe out my name and me.
May God call you to account for this,
as my gentle husband!

I’m raising my head in return to God.
He will not break my heart,
that man who slanders me that God
will defraud me of my husband,
my gentle husband!

{ Fatio me in absconso
et iaceo me in mare profundo.
Hic delebit nomen mecum:
tibi hec requirat deus
ut dulcis iugalix meus!

Caput levo contra deum,
et non fringet pectus meum
qui me blasfemat illum deum
qui me fraudabit virum meum,
ut dulcis iugalix meus! }

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] “I want to turn to my God {Ad deum meum convertere volo}” st. 1, Latin text and English translation from Dronke (1995) p. 192. On the late-seventh-century dating of the poem, Lapidge (1985). For textual analysis, Dronke (1986).

[2] For U.S. data on percent of divorce filings in which the woman was the plaintiff, for various samples from 1867 to 1995,  Brinig & Allen (2000) Table 1, p. 128. Brinig & Allen collected 46,547 divorce certificates from 1995 for Connecticut, Virginia, Oregon, and Montana. While failing to report summary statistics, id. reports for “correct estimations” 66.43. That figures appears to be the percentage of women plaintiffs. It implies that wives filed for divorce twice as frequently as husbands did.

Data from the National Survey of Families and Households for 1987-88 and 1992-94 indicate that five times as many wives as husbands wanted their marriage to end against the preference of the other spouse to remain married. Brinig & Allen (2000) p. 159, Appendix table (338 women vs. 67 men). The most recent data available in the National Survey of Families and Households is for 2001-2003.

Dankowski et al. (2017) is by far the highest quality study of divorce. It reports:

We examined all 243 divorce cases filed in Middlesex County, Massachusetts in May 2011. Excluding a single case involving a same-sex couple, 72.3 percent of the cases were filed by women. I.e., a woman was more than 2.5 times more likely to file a divorce lawsuit as a man. This is in a jurisdiction where the woman can expect to win sole custody and, for a given level of defendant income, roughly twice the level of child support profit as in the average U.S. state.

See id., Causes of Divorce.

Rosenfeld observed:

It is a well-established fact that most divorces in the US are wanted primarily by the wife. In Goode’s (1956) sample of recently divorced women from the 1940s in Detroit, about two thirds of the recently divorced women described themselves as the initiators of their divorces. More recent US data show a similar pattern, with roughly two thirds of divorces wanted by the wife {omitted references}. Most divorces are wanted by the wife not only in the US, but in Europe {omitted references} and Australia {omitted references} as well.

Rosenfeld (2017) p. 3. Goode’s (1956) data indicates that 264 divorces were initiated by the wife, while 105 where initiated by the husband. Those figures indicate that wives initiated divorce 2.5 times as frequently as husbands did. Rosenfeld got the figure “about two thirds” by counting mutually initiated divorces as half-initiated by wives before calculating the percentage of wife-initiated divorces. Id. p. 3, n. 1. That’s not a good statistic. Id.’s survey, “How Couples Meet and Stay Together” recorded among married couples getting divorced, 56 wives wanted the breakup more, compared to 18 husbands wanting the breakup more. Id. p. 29, Table 1, Source text. That gives a ratio of 3.1 for the divorce preference of wives relative to husbands.

Rosenfeld’s study exemplifies the ideological blinders of scholars working in accordance with dominant gynocentric ideology. Showing learned blindness to acute anti-men sexism in family law and the enormous financial implications of divorce, Rosenfeld states:

The fact that wives have been more likely to want divorce implies that wives were less satisfied with their marriages than their husbands, at least among couples who divorced.

Id. p. 3. The fact that wives upon divorce typically acquire a key marital good (the couple’s children) and large financial payments from the husband obviously affects relative divorce incentives. The flood of divorces in the Netherlands preceding the reduction in alimony duration from 12 to 5 years underscores the importance of financial incentives for divorce. Rosenfeld seems obtuse to incentives in context:

The simplest version of the power theory of relationships gives the initiative to the partner with more power or status. Therefore: Hypothesis 4: Individuals with more power, more status, or more income are more likely to want to break up.

Id. p. 9. That’s a nonsensical hypothesis. Relative costs and benefits of a break-up, not absolute levels of status and income, drive divorce incentives. Under the inequality-promoting structures of family law, persons have a strong incentive not to marry a partner who earns much less because of the financial risk of large income transfer upon divorce.

Family scholars fit their thinking to gynocentric ideology in a way consistent with the development of Soviet science:

Sassler and Miller (2011) found that among young heterosexual couples, men had the privilege of asking their partner to marry, meaning men controlled the marriage decision.

Id. p. 5. Men face the burden of attempting to gauge whether a partner is interested in marrying, and men endure the burden of rejection if they miscalculate. Men “controlled the marriage decision” only according to the realty-denying diktats of gynocentric ideology.

Rosenfeld found that wives prefer divorce about three times as frequently as husbands, but such a gender imbalance doesn’t hold among unmarried heterosexual cohabitors. That finding is consistent with the acute anti-men sex discrimination in family court decisions.

Rosenfeld concluded that his analysis is “consistent with the view that heterosexual marriage is a gendered institution.” Id. p. 20. What exactly does that mean?

Despite the institution of marriage changing and adapting (Cherlin, 2004) and becoming more diverse in terms of who marries whom (Rosenfeld, 2007), feminist scholars view heterosexual marriage as a gendered institution (Berk, 1985), which is a potential reason why wives might selectively want divorce. By gendered institution, scholars mean that heterosexual marriage reproduces and reifies traditional gender roles for men and women (Berk, 1985; Shelton & John, 1993). In their description of the post-1960 gender revolution as a stalled revolution, Hochschild and Machung (1989) describe how wives’ careers were constrained by their husbands’ expectations that the afternoon and evening shift of housework and childcare was fundamentally women’s work. Even husbands and wives who thought of themselves as holding gender egalitarian ideals were found by Hochschild and Machung to be living (and justifying to themselves) traditional gender expectations of childcare and housework as women’s work.

Id. p. 5. In short, Rosenfeld concludes that his study supports dominant gender ideology. Generating support for gynocentrism is a socially valued function of academics. That seems to be the dominant objective of much academic work today.

Tendentious, misleading studies of household labor distribution wrongly inform understanding of household economics. These studies don’t adequately count work that men do within the household. In addition, wives’ standards for how a household should be maintained are assumed to govern what work men should do. These scholarly assumptions reflect the biases of gynocentrism.

Studies asserting that wives’ living standards fall after divorce also mis-represent reality. A couple’s aggregate welfare necessarily falls following divorce due to dis-economies of separate living. Men still predominantly carry the burden of earning money to support married couples. To maintain of wife’s living standard post-divorce would require higher than 50% effective tax on the husband’s income. Faced with such a gross injustice, husbands through demoralization are likely to experience a large decline in earnings. As much as gynocentric society demands that women be protected from any harm, that’s not feasible in the context of divorce. In short, a wife with much lower earnings than her husband should expect a reduction in her living standard upon divorce.

[3] “Hear an honorable verse {Audite versum dignum}” st. 2, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Dronke (1995) p. 193. This poem closely follows the structure of “Ad deum meum convertere volo.” Like the latter, it’s earliest source is a ninth-century manuscript. Both poems probably have a common source.

[4] “Most brilliant of birds with his jewel-decked head {Caput gemmato, caeteris praeclarus}” st. 4-5, Latin text from Fickermann (1935), English translation (modified slightly) from Adcock (1983). Adcock entitles this poem, “The golden oriole at the monastery.” It’s also available in Latin in Raby (1959) p. 147 (poem no. 106). Raby calls it a “charming poem.” Id. p. 474. Dated to the tenth century, it’s probably of northern Italian origin. Id. pp. 147, 474.

[5] “Hear an honorable verse {Audite versum dignum}” st. 4-5, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Dronke (1995) p. 193. The subsequent quote is similarly from id., st. 6-7 (final stanza).

[image] Joachim and Anna at the Golden Gate of Jerusalem, celebrating that they would have a child. Their child was Mary the mother of Jesus. Illumination in Book of Hours, with the Hours of the Virgin, the Short Hours of the Holy Cross, Prayers and Suffrages. Made about 1420, apparently used in Utrecht. From folio 4v in British Library, MS Additional 50005.


Adcock, Fleur. 1983. The Virgin and the Nightingale: medieval Latin poems. Newcastle upon Tyne: Bloodaxe Books.

Brinig, Margaret F. and Douglas W. Allen. 2000. “‘These boots are made for walking’: why most divorce filers are women.” American Law and Economics Review. 2 (1): 126-169.

Dankowski, Alexa, Suzanne Goode, Philip Greenspun, Chaconne Martin-Berkowicz, and Tina Tonnu. 2017. Real World Divorce: Custody, Child Support, and Alimony in the 50 States. Online.

Dronke, Peter. 1986. “‘Ad deum meum convertere volo’ and early Irish evidence for lyrical dialogues.” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies. 12: 23–32.

Dronke, Peter. 1995. “Two Versions of an Insular Latin Lyrical Dispute.” Filologia Mediolatina. 2: 109-125. Cited from reprint as Ch. 10 (pp. 191-219) in Dronke, Peter. 2007. Forms and Imaginings: from antiquity to the fifteenth century. Roma: Edizioni di Storia e Letteratura.

Fickermann, Norman. 1935. “Zwei lat. Gedichte. I. Ein frühmal. Liedchen auf den Pirol. II. Das Admonter Fragment eines Planctus Heinrici VII.” Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für Ältere Deutsche Geschichtskunde zur Beförderung einer Gesamtausgabeder Quellenschriften deutscher Geschichten des Mittelalters. 50: 582-599.

Lapidge, Michael. 1985. “A Seventh-Century Insular Latin Debate Poem on Divorce.” Cambridge Medieval Celtic Studies. 10: 1-23.

Raby, F. J. E. 1959. The Oxford Book of Medieval Latin Verse. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rosenfeld, Michael J. 2017. “Who wants the Breakup? Gender and Breakup in Heterosexual Couples.” Forthcoming as chapter in Duane F. Alwin, Diane Felmlee, and Derek Kreager, eds. Social Networks and the Life Course: Integrating the Development of Human Lives and Social Relational Networks. Springer.

Dante’s Folquet de Marseille praised Rahab in paradise

Yet we don’t feel remorse, we laugh in ease —
not for the sin we have no memory of,
but for that power that orders and forsees.
We gaze on the adorning art of love,
the good that makes creation beautiful,
that turns the world below by the world above.
But that you’ll leaved fulfilled in every will
risen in you to know about this sphere,
I must go on a little longer still.

{ Non però qui si pente, ma si ride,
non de la colpa, ch’a mente non torna,
ma del valor ch’ordinò e provide.
Qui si rimira ne l’arte ch’addorna
cotanto affetto, e discernesi ‘l bene
per che ‘l mondo di sù quel di giù torna.
Ma perché tutte le tue voglie piene
ten porti che son nate in questa spera,
procedere ancor oltre mi convene. } [1]

Rahab helping Joshua's spies

In twelfth-century southern France, the man trobairitz (troubadour) Folquet de Marseille wrote love songs to the wife of Raymond Geoffrey, Viscount of Marseille. Loving another’s wife was illicit in Christian Europe. Folquet prudently struggled to conceal his love:

I wish to show you the pain that I feel,
and to others, hide and conceal
that I cannot ever secretly speak my heart to you.
If then I know not how to cover myself, who will cover for me?
Who will be faithful to me, if I am a traitor to myself?
If one cannot hide himself, there is no reason
for others to hide him, for they do not benefit.

{ A vos volgra mostrar lo mal qu’ieu sen
et als autres celar et escondire;
qu’anc no.us puec dir mon cor celadamen;
donc, s’ieu no.m sai cobrir, qui m’er cubrir?
Ni qui m’er fis, s’ieu eis mi sui traire?
Qui si no sap celar non es razos
que.l celon cil a cui non es nuls pros. } [2]

A foolishly courtly lover, Folquet couldn’t resist writing love songs to another’s wife. After marrying and having two children, Folquet had a change of heart and entered a monastery. Medieval European Christianity was tolerant and forgiving, quite unlike the denounce-and-banish canceling culture of today. Folquet subsequent become Bishop of Toulouse and played a leading role in high politics of early-thirteenth-century southern France. Dante in his great Comedy {Comedia} placed Folquet, more justly called called Folc, in the third sphere of paradise, that of Venus and lovers.

Another man trobairitz subsequently ridiculed Folquet of Marseilles’s unworldliness. Taking advantage of the broad latitude of medieval freedom of speech, this troubadour parodied Folquet’s stanza concerned with covering up love:

I wish to show you the dick that hangs from me,
and to sit my balls above your ass;
and I say that only for the sake of banging you often,
because I have focused all my thoughts on fucking,
such that the dick sings, when it sees the cunt laugh.
And for fear that the jealous one will return,
I put my dick in and retain my balls.

{ A vos volgra metre lo veit qe·m pent
e mos coillos de sobre·l cul assire:
eu non o dic mais per ferir sovent
car en fotre ai mes tot mon albire;
qe·l veit chanta qan el ve lo con rire,
e per paor qe no i venga·l gelos
li met mon veit e rete‹nc› los coillos. } [3]

With earthy description of human bodily anatomy, this song emphasizes mutual sexual joy in singing and laughing. It indicates the man’s concern not to ejaculate, and thus to avoid cuckolding the jealous one, probably meaning the woman’s husband. Support for cuckolding men is characteristic of gynocentric culture. Christianity, in contrast, centers on God incarnated as a fully masculine man, Jesus. Medieval Christianity affirmed conjugal partnership, not men’s abasement in the courtly love that shaped the young Folquet’s songs.

The idea that men are naturally able to sing and please with their penises challenges men’s labor to acquire worth under gynocentrism. Men trobairitz, who were often materially poor, commonly sang songs to please elite, highly privileged women.[4] Yet such labor isn’t necessary and isn’t always fully rewarding. A poetic exchange between two men trobairitz brings out this reality of men’s labor:

Sir Peire, by my beautiful singing
I have from my lady gloves and a ring,
and many others have similar things
from ladies by their song.
And so those who speak against singing
seem to be merely full of nonsense.

Hugh, if you have from her jewelry,
another has her meat and skin,
and while you sing, he’s in her nest,
and while you fill her glove,
the other is filling the lark’s skin
that you seek with your bird calls.

{ En Peire, per mon chantar bèl
Ai de mi dons gans et anèl,
E mant autre n’an atressi
Agut de donnas per lur chan;
E cel que contra chantar di
Sembla ben c’ane rebuzan.

Hugo, si vos n’aves joèl,
Autre n’a la carn e la pèl,
E chantas cant el es el ni.
E cant vos enformas son gan,
Autre enforma l’alauzi
Dont vos anas brezanejan. } [5]

Like all human beings, men, who certainly are human beings, have a human right to sexual intimacy. Men should not feel compelled to labor to earn sex like they labor to acquire material goods. Love ultimately cannot be earned.

Love isn’t equivalent to sex. An under-appreciated medieval trobairitz song poignantly highlighted lacking satisfaction in sex without love:

A fucker who was not in love
with any woman, but wanted to fuck,
always had a boner and was eager
to fuck any woman he could fuck.
He was all so eager to fuck that

He was called Sir Fucker,
a fucker, alas! unhappy and sad,
and he said one dies badly and lives worse
who doesn’t fuck the one he loves.

This fucker was so anxious to fuck
that the stronger he fucked, the more he fucked dying of sadness
that he wasn’t fucking more. He would have fucked as two
of the best fuckers in Lombardy,
for in fucking he said, “I would be happy if I were fucking!”

He was called Sir Fucker,
a fucker, alas! unhappy and sad,
and he said one lives badly who doesn’t fuck
night and day the one he loves.

{ Us fotaires que non fo amorós
De neguna, mais que fotre volria,
Està totjorn areis e voluntós
De fotre celas que fotre poria.
Tal volontat a de fotre tot dia

Qu’En Esfotanz se clama,
Fotaire las dolens chaitiu,
E ditz que mal mòr e peiz viu
Qui non fot la qui ama.

Lo fotaire es tant de fotre angoissós,
Com plus fòrt fot, mòr fotant de felnia
Que plus non fot, qu’el fotria per dos
De fotedors melhors de Lombardia,
Qu’en fotant ditz : “Garitz som, se fotria!”

En Esfotanz se clama,
Fotaire las dolens chaitiu,
E ditz qui non fot que mal viu
Nòit e jorn la que ama. } [6]

This song ostentatiously uses an early form of the quite unusual and interesting word “fuck.” Its refrain clearly declares the misery of he who doesn’t have sex with the one he loves. More subtly, the song doesn’t merely advocate for more sex. The man having much sex with women was “unhappy and sad,” even to the point of “dying of sadness.” He wanted to have sex as vigorously as “two of the best fuckers,” not just a single sexual champion. Sex without sadness is a coupled activity. Most astonishing of all, “Sir Fucker” while fucking subjunctively declared, “I would be happy if I were fucking!” He wasn’t experiencing the true act. He wasn’t experiencing love. Far too many men and women are similarly deprived.

Rahab earned her living as a prostitute in the ancient Canaanite city of Jericho. Two Israelite spies came and spent the night with her at her inn. Those spies didn’t come to her as Abraham did for his niece Mary. On her own Rahab turned to know the true God and sought to help those whom God favored. She helped the two spies to escape from the city and thus helped Joshua to lead God’s chosen people to conquer Jericho in the Promised Land. Christians from the early church Fathers have regarded Rahab as a blessed woman.[7] In Christian understanding, the prostitute Rahab is a figure of the Christian church. She foreshadowed the coming of the church, just as Joshua did his namesake Jesus. Her choice to do great good wiped away her sinful acts as a prostitute.

In the third sphere of paradise of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Folquet de Marseille praised Rahab. Both Folquet and Rahab were converts from foolish, adulterous love. Rahab was a woman who risked her life to save men’s lives. She defied gynocentrism with godly love. Rahab thus played a larger, better role than Folquet in salvation history, as Christians understand it. Folquet rightly regarded Rahab as greater than he:

You’d like to know who shines beside me here
as scintillating in her lamping fire
as rays of sunlight when the lake is clear.
Know that within it Rahab finds her peace.
The highest of our saints, she seals her light
on every rank of spirits in our choir.

{ Tu vuo’ saper chi è in questa lumera
che qui appresso me così scintilla
come raggio di sole in acqua mera.
Or sappi che là entro si tranquilla
Raab; e a nostr’ ordine congiunta,
di lei nel sommo grado si sigilla. } [8]

Ovid sought to teach men the art of love. Medieval Europe recognized Ovid as a master teacher of love. As a courtly lover, Folquet was ignorant of vitally important Ovidian teaching. The prostitute Rahab understood better Ovid’s classical learning about love than did Folquet. Yet Ovidian learning alone wasn’t sufficient to make Rahab a star scintillating in the firmament of paradise. She needed to learn a further art of love.

We gaze on the adorning art of love,
the good that makes creation beautiful,
that turns the world below by the world above.

{ Qui si rimira ne l’arte ch’addorna
cotanto affetto, e discernesi ‘l bene
per che ‘l mondo di sù quel di giù torna. }

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Dante, Comedy {Comedia}, Paradise {Paradiso} 9.103-11, medieval Italian text of Petrocchi via the Princeton Dante Project, English translation (adapted slightly) from Esolen (2004). Boccaccio was the first to refer to Dante’s Comedia as the Divine Comedy {Divina Comedia}. Dante’s work might better be called the Earthy and Divine Comedy.

For si ride in the quote above, I’ve replaced “smile at ease” in Esolen’s translation with “laugh in ease.” The latter translation is consistent with the Latin root verb rideo. That’s also the root for the Occitan verb rire used subsequently above. Laughter is an under-appreciated aspect of the true Christian sense of redemption and salvation.

[2] Folquet de Marseilles, “Love, have mercy! Don’t let me die so often! {Amors, merce!: no mueira tan soven!}” st. 5 (ll. 29-35), Old Occitan text from Stroński 1910 (Song 9), via Rialto, English translation (adapted) from Schulman (2001), Appendix, Song 9. Textual variants exist across surviving manuscripts, but they matter little to the meaning of this stanza.

This song survives with a melody. For a transcription, Washer (2002) pp. 301-2. The Troubadours Art Ensemble recorded it on Troubadour songs: music in a courtly world, an album from their concert in Tartu, Estonia, in 2003. Here’s a complete discography of recordings of Folquet’s songs.

Schulman carefully reviewed the different names used for Folquet, and judged Folc, the non-dimunitive Occitan nominative form, to be the most appropriate. Id. pp. xvii-xx. I use Folquet de Marseille because it’s the most popular form of his name today, and more relevant to his career as a troubadour. The corresponding Occitan form is Folquet de Marselha.

Folquet de Marseille lived in Occitania from about 1150 to 1231. He probably became a Cistercian monk about 1195. He was elected Bishop of Toulouse in 1205. On Folquet’s biography, id.

About twenty-seven of Folquet’s songs have survived. His songs were widely known, and he apparently interacted with leading trobairitz and troubadours. “Amors, merce!: no mueira tan soven!” survives in twenty-three manuscripts. Moreover, parts of it are re-used in different ways in ten different works. Washer (2007) p. 566.

In lines 4-5 of st. 5 (above), Folquet echoes the first part of a famous aphorism from Hillel the Elder (florished from about 30 BGC to 10 GC), preserved in Pirkei Avot 1:14: “If I am not for myself, who is for me? But if I am only for my own self, what am I? And if not now, when? { הוּא הָיָה אוֹמֵר, אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא }” Here’s some analysis of that aphorism.

[3] Anonymous cobla, Occitan text from the critical edition of Francesco Carapezza (2002), via Rialto, my English translation benefiting from the French translation of Bec (1984) p. 171 and the partial English translation of Lazar (1989) pp. 267-8. Here’s Bec’s similar Occitan text.

The Occitan verb ferir, which I’ve translated as “banging,” uses a metaphor historically associated with disparagement of men’s sexuality. Cf. Bec (1984) p. 171, note to v. 3. Bec perceives in v. 7 the practice of coitus interruptus and suggests “à cause de la menace du gelos (mari) {as a result of fear of the gelos (husband)}.” Id. p. 172. Men have long been concerned to practice birth control to avoid the burdens of pregnancies that they don’t want. Those burdens today are primarily associated with large financial obligations (“child support” payments) that governments impose on men solely because a man had sex of reproductive type. By deliberate state legal construction, men are thus deprived of reproductive choice. The only way a man can escape the risk of that sex penalty is by having sex with another man’s wife. A man seeking to avoid cuckolding a husband thus shows love for the husband, not fear of him.

Washer throughly discusses transformations of Folquet’s “Amors, merce!: no mueira tan soven!” On this particular transformation, she comments: “the author reveals the hidden truth of fin’amour {courtly love}, the real way to cure the pain of love.” The author of this cobla closely read and adapted Folquet’s song. Washer (2007) pp. 579-80.

[4] In the tenson between Uguet and Reculaire, “I would like to challenge you, Reculaire {Scometre·us vuoill, Reculaire},” Uguet describes Reculaire as destitute and wearing old clothes. Uguet has been identified as the troubadour Uc de Saint-Circ and Reculaire as the troubadour Sordel. Guida (2006), as discussed in Mathias (2014) pp. 174-6.

[5] “Sir Peire, by my beautiful singing {En Peire, per mon chantar bel},” Occitan text as emended by Poe (2000) p. 211 (Bec’s Occitan text; Meyer’s Occitan text), my English translation, benefiting from that of id., and the French translation of Bec (1984) p. 45 and that of the Peire Cardenal website.

“En Peire, per mon chantar bel” survives in only one manuscript, MS f (BnF 12472), called the Giraud chansonnier. That manuscript dates to the first half of the fourteenth century. Poe (2000) pp. 207, 216, n. 2. In that manuscript, the song is attributed to Uc de Maensac and Peire Cardenal. Poe argues convincing that the named Peire is Peire de Maensac, and the named Uc is an unidentified troubadour. Id. pp. 213-5. She suggests that, based on its theme, this song dates to the first quarter of the thirteenth century.

Poe recognized that “En Peire, per mon chantar bel” took its metrical pattern from “From the sweetness of the new season {Ab lo dolchor del temps novel},” a famous song of Guilhem IX, Duke of Aquitaine. The fourth stanza (ll. 19-24) of that song describes Guilhem’s desire:

I still remember one morning
when we stopped quarreling,
and she gave to me so great a gift,
her loving and her ring.
God let me live until again
I put my hands beneath her cloak.

{ Enquer me menbra d’un mati
que nos fezem de guera fi,
e que.m donet un don tan gran:
sa drudari’ e son anel.
Enquer me lais Dieus viure tan
qu’aia mas mans soz so mantel! }

Occitan text and English translation from Poe (2000) p. 212, adapted with the help of the translation of Paden & Paden (2007) p. 25. “En Peire, per mon chantar bel” makes more explicit and more intensive the carnal theme in Guilhem’s song.

[6] “A fucker who was not in love {Us fotaires que non fo amorós},” Occitan text from Bec (1984), via Corpus des Troubadours, English translation (modified) from Paden & Paden (2007) p. 238. Trobar has an alternate English translation. Here’s an Italian translation.

For the English translation above, I’ve changed the layout slightly relative to that of Paden & Paden so as to highlight the distinctive refrain. In addition, I’ve associated the extra word “that {Qu’}” in the first refrain with the prior stanza. That catch word is less noticeable and doesn’t add an extra syllable in the Occitan original.

“Us fotaires que non fo amorós” survives only in MS. G (Biblioteca Ambrosiana (Milan), MS. R 71 sup.), where it is grouped with parodies of other troubadour songs. A marginal annotation in that manuscript apparently attributes the song to the troubadour Tribolet. Tribolet is otherwise unknown.

Both Bec and Paden & Paden under-appreciate this song. Bec implies that it isn’t serious, and that “c’est bien une parodie graveleuse de la fin’amor {it is indeed a smutty parody of courtly love}.” Bec (1984) p. 167. According to Paden & Paden, it’s an “exercise in obscenity …. The repetition of the sexual verb expresses the strength of desire in an exaggerated and comical way.” Paden & Paden (2007) p. 238. The last lines of both refrains are open to the possibility of homosexual desire. Whether the unsatisfied desire involves homosexual or heterosexual love seems to me less important than the song’s poignant sense of sexual frustration.

[7] On Rahab, Joshua 2:1-24, Hebrews 11:31, James 2:25. Rahab may be in the genealogy of Jesus. Matthew 1:5.

[8] Dante, Paradiso 9.112-7, medieval Italian text of Petrocchi via the Princeton Dante Project, English translation from Esolen (2004). The subsequent quote is similarly from Paradiso 9.106-8.

[image] Rahab helping Joshua’s spies. 17th century oil on canvas painting by unknown artist. Preserved in Musée des Beaux-Arts, Nimes (France). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Bec, Pierre. 1984. Burlesque et Obscénité chez les Troubadours: pour une approche du contre-texte médiéval. Paris: Stock.

Esolen, Anthony M., trans. 2004. Dante Alighieri. Paradise. New York: Modern Library.

Guida, Saverio. 2006. “Sulla tenzone tra Uget e Reculaire.” Studi mediolatini e volgari. 52: 98-130.

Lazar, Moshe. 1989. “Carmina Erotica, Carmina Iocosa: The Body and the Bawdy in Medieval Love Songs.” Pp. 249-276 in Lazar, Moshe, and Norris J. Lacy, eds. Poetics of Love in the Middle Ages: texts and contexts. Fairfax, Va: George Mason University Press.

Matheis, Eric. 2014. Capital, Value, and Exchange in the Old Occitan and Old French Tenson (Including the Partimen and the Jeu-Parti). Ph.D. Thesis, Columbia University.

Paden, William D., and Frances Freeman Paden, trans. 2007. Troubadour Poems from the South of France. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

Poe, Elizabeth W. 2000. “A Bird in the Hand: Toward an Informed Reading of En Peire, per mon chantar bel (PC 335,23 = PC 453,1).” Pp. 207-219 in Uitti, Karl D., Renate Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Kevin Brownlee, and Mary B. Speer. Translatio Studii: Essays by His Students in Honor of Karl D. Uitti for His Sixty-Fifth Birthday. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Schulman, Nicole M. 2001. Where Troubadours were Bishops: the Occitania of Folc of Marseille (1150-1231). New York: Routledge (based closely on dissertation).

Stroński, Stanisław. 1910. Le Troubadour Folquet de Marseille. Cracovie: Académie des Sciences.

Washer, Nancy. 2002. “Los motz e.l so”: words, melody, and their interaction in the songs of Folquet de Marseille. Ph.D. Thesis. Louisiana State University.

Washer, Nancy. 2007. “Paraphrased and parodied, extracted and inserted: the changing meaning of Folquet de Marseille’s ‘Amors, Merce!’Neophilologus : An International Journal of Modern and Mediaeval Language and Literature. 91 (4): 565-581.

remembrance of love fills men with anguish and desperate hope

nude woman dreaming

In twelfth-century France, a young man was forced to abandon his girlfriend. With medieval concern for gender equality, he described her as having more merit than all the men engaged in violence against men or in pursuing carnal love. He said that she had more merit than all the women dedicated to chastity or to carnal love. He declared his girlfriend to be more beautiful than the goddess Diana herself.[1] That goddess was renowned for shunning men and punishing harshly the male gaze. The young man’s girlfriend, in contrast, loved him warmly and generously. Now held distant from her, he lamented and suffered:

Recalling that time when by auspicious charm
the friendly Love-God joined me to you and you to me,
I lament and suffer that, even as I was before accustomed to do,
I am not able to unite my body with yours.
But if as I desire I could couple myself with you,
nothing, I think, could hinder my happiness.
Indeed your hair and your discerning, twinkling eyes
nourish me as do your sweet words themselves.
I would strive for kisses while caressing your delicious flesh,
which I think would be able to stir the celestial gods.
Having captured kisses, perhaps to that sweeter secret
I would be aroused, moved with fire for you.

{ Temporis illius recolens, quo carmine fausto
me tibe teque mihi iunxit amica Venus,
conqueror et doleo, quod sic velut ante solebam
me sociare tibi corpore non valeo.
Sed si, quod cuperem, tibe me coniungere possem,
nil mihi felici posse nocere puto.
Namque tuos crines cernens oculosque micantes,
pascerer ipse tuis dulcibus adloquiis;
oscula captarem carnes palpando suaves,
quae puto caelestes posse movere deos;
oscula captando forsan quod dulcius esset
temptarem tacitus, tactus ab igne tui. } [2]

Men remember past loves, both good and disastrous. When a man is imprisoned for not being able to pay the “child support” exaction resulting from a misguided one-night fling, he has no basis for hope. Men deprived of meaningful contact with their children through the anti-men sexism of family courts can scarcely dream of justice. Such men often become numb and emotionally deadened. But a man experiencing warm remembrance of good love typically moves on to anguish and desperate hope.

Forced to abandon his girlfriend, the young man delighting in remembering their love became filled with anguish and desperate hope. He wrote to her:

Alas! This sadness now deeply disturbs my mind.
If it doesn’t dissipate, believe me, I will die.
Therefore, worthy young woman, dearer to me than the whole world,
if you want me to live, let your fidelity be without stain.
And since my body cannot be coupled with yours,
may I remain in your mind, as you remain in my mind.
That envious one because of whom we cannot be together —
may he not be able to live, and may death come for him.
As quickly as possible, believe me, sweetheart, I will return,
and, if that’s not possible, my love for you will destroy me.
Begging God therefore, insistently ask that our second
ship that fears the tumultuous seas would go with the wind.

{ Heu! Dolor iste meam mentem iam commovet intus;
qui nisi discedat, crede mihi, moriar.
Quare, virgo decens, toto mihi carior orbe,
vivere si me vis, sit tibi pura fides,
Et quia non possum tibe corpore consociari,
mente tibi iaceam, nam mihi mente iaces.
Invidus ille modo pro quo simul esse nequimus,
vivere non possit nec sibi mors veniat.
Quam citius potero, credas mihi, nympha, redibo,
et, si non potero, rumpar amore tuo.
Supplex ergo Deum rogites ut nostra secundo
navis eat vento quae freta mota timet. }

Medieval thinkers developed prescriptions to prevent men from dying of lovesickness. Moreover, most men want from a woman more than just love in the mind. Many men have learned from experience to doubt women’s loyalty. Not so for this young men. He clung to the extraordinary hope that the envious one who had separated him and his girlfriend would die and that a favorable wind would return him to her.

Another young man in twelfth-century France acted similarly, but with more concern for his self-esteem. His hard situation arose while he was relaxing in an olive-tree’s shade on a beautiful spring day:

While gazing at flowers,
ears feasting on birdsong,
inwardly I drifted back
to my old love.
My spirit languished,
and my heart drank desire.

While I thought of her womb,
while I recalled her breasts,
while I was united with her,
once and then again,
I seemed to surpass
the treasures of ancient kings.

{ Dum flores aspicerem,
aures cantu pascerem,
relabor medullitus
in amorem ueterem.
Langue michi spiritus
et cor bibit uenerem.

Dum contemplor uterum,
dum recordor uberum,
dum illi commisceor
et semel et iterum,
transcendisse uideor
gazas regum ueterum. } [3]

These two stanzas move from external sensuousness to remembrance of sensual love. Women’s wombs and breasts have long been valued more highly than men’s penises and chests. Men, to their economic misfortune, typically don’t value and remember a woman for her high-income career. As all but those educated to ignorance know, women have never been men’s property. In medieval Europe, a woman could choose another man in a way that a man’s property couldn’t. The woman that this man loved seems to have moved on to another man.

Anguished in remembering his love affair with her, this man obsessed about his status as her lover. He was a cleric. Her new lover apparently was a knight. Recognizing love rivalry between clerics and knights, he strove to self-identify as a knight:

If a knight rides you,
love has ennobled me.
Don’t you know what is read,
“All lovers soldier”
constantly agitated by cares,
and they dwell in camps.

So that I no longer doubt
whether you love a knight,
O my life and soul,
or if for you I should soldier,
don’t look down on a beloved,
but look back upon a soldier.

{ Si te miles equitat,
amor me nobilitat.
Nescis quia legitur,
“omnis amans militat”,
semper curis agitur
et in castris habitat.

Vt ultra non hesitem,
an diligas equitem,
siue tibe militem,
amoris ne despice,
sed respice militem. } [4]

Throughout history, women have looked down on their foolish, courtly lovers. Since, as he remembered, he rode her, he claimed the status of a knight. Desperate to validate that status, he urged her to look back upon her lover, whether a knight or him a cleric, to confirm that both are knights. In the middle of this intricate literary gambit, he inserted a transliterated Greek endearment. That highlights his intellectual accomplishment as a cleric. When he remembered the treasure of repeatedly having sex with his beloved, against all hope this cleric in hope believed that he might do so once again.

When warm remembrance of love stirs a man’s heart, he doesn’t merely dwell in delight. Restlessness, anguish, and hope grow within him. This lovesickness can kill him. Women must do more to keep men safe. Totalitarian gender ideology that destroys love between women and men helps to keep men safe by depriving men of dangerous love memories. Yet alternative policy possibilities exist. Broader, more compassionate, more generous love for men is a more excellent way.

Love is in my heart,
no frigidity makes me feel cold.

{ Amore est in pectore
nullo frigens frigore. } [5]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] The man began his song thus:

As many as are the young men taking pleasure in serving fierce Mars,
or those that want to be under the yoke of Venus,
as many as are the young women dedicated to taking pleasure
in Diana’s way of life, or those ladies who worship Venus —
my sweet girlfriend, more beautiful than Diana herself —
all their praises should be for you, for more goods are yours.

{ Quot iuvenes Marti gaudent servire feroci,
quotque velut dominae sub iuga sunt Veneris,
quotque puellarum studio cultuque Dianae
gaudent, ut dominam quotque colunt Venerem,
dulcis amica mei, formosior ipsa Diana,
tot tibi sint laudes, sed bona plura tibi. }

Carmina Rivipullensia 20, titled “Ad desertam amicam {To his deserted girlfriend},” ll. 1-6, Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from Wolff’s French translation.

[2] Carmina Rivipullensia 20, ll. 7-18, sourced as above. The subsequent quote covers ll. 21-32 (end of poem).

[3] Walter of Châtillon, St-Omer 23, “As the tender breasts of spring / were nourishing the young flowers {Dum flosculum tenera / lactant ueris ubera},” st. 3-4, Latin text from Traill (2013) p. 49, my English translation benefiting from that of id.

[4] Walter of Châtillon, “Dum flosculum tenera,” st. 6-7 (the last stanza of the poem). Traill notes that 6.4 alludes to Ovid, Amores 1.9.1: “Militat omnis amans.” In ancient Latin, miles means foot-soldier, and eques means a horse-born soldier. The traditional understanding of chivalry was associated with a husband always being ready to have sex with his wife. In contrast to a man serving a woman by riding her, the woman being on top was associated with the dissolution of marriage and women being cheated.

[5] Walter of Châtillon, St-Omer  18, “Inopportune for Venus {Inportuna Veneri},” refrain (for poem of four stanzas). Latin text from Traill (2013) p. 36, my English translation benefiting from that of id.

[image] Nude woman reclining and dreaming (sleeping Venus). Oil on canvas painting by Giorgione and Titian, made in 1508. Preserved in Gemäldegalerie Alte Meister {Old Masters Gallery}, Dresden, Germany. Via Wikimedia Commons.


Traill, David A., ed. and trans. 2013. Walter of Châtillon, the Shorter Poems: Christmas hymns, love lyrics, and moral-satirical verse. Oxford Medieval Texts.

Wolff, Etienne. 2001. Le Chansonnier amoureux: Carmina rivipullensia. Monaco: Rocher.

Phyllis & Flora on knight v. cleric: Council of Remiremont ruling

Hildegard's depiction of ecclesia (church)

Young women were continually arguing with each other. The matter demanded a swift, general resolution. Thus the “Chief Lady {Cardinalis Domina}” called an assembly of the young women of Remiremont in the middle of the twelfth century. Sources reported:

In the spring, around the middle of April,
the assembly of young women of Remiremont
held council in the convent on the mountain.

Such we have never heard nor believe has ever been
across the extent of the earth from the beginning of the world.
Such has never been done, nor ever will be in the future.

In this council, only the subject
of love was discussed, which has never been done,
nor of the Gospel was there any mention made.

{ Veris in temporibus sub Aprilis Idibus
habuit concilium Romarici montium
puellaris contio montis in coenobio.

Tale non audivimus nec fuisse credimus
in terrarum spatio a mundi principio.
Tale numquam factum est sed neque futurum est.

In eo concilio de solo negotio
Amoris tractatum est, quod in nullo factum est;
sed de Evangelio nulla fuit mentio. } [1]

This Council of Remiremont excluded men, except for some favored clerics from Toul. Even some women were excluded:

Old ladies are barred at the door,
all those who are disgusted by every joy,
the joy and more that those of a tender age want.

{ Veteranae dominae arcentur a limine
quibus omne gaudium solet esse taedium,
gaudium et cetera quae vult aetas tenera. }

Only “loving young women {puellae amantes}” were admitted to the Council. As the Christian Gospel teaches, love is a vitally important matter. Men, and old ladies too, are capable of love. The Council of Remiremont apparently discriminated against men and old women because it was specifically concerned about disputes between young women in love. It apparently assumed that others had nothing to contribute in considering such disputes.

Pushing aside discrimination against men and discrimination against old women, all are encouraged to consider how two young women, Phyllis and Flora, differed in their preferences for men. These highly privileged women were similar in many ways but one:

Neither in birth, nor appearance, nor dress
nor in young women’s years and spirit did they differ,
but they were a little unequal and a little hostile,
for a cleric delighted one and a knight delighted the other.

{ Nec stirpe, nec facie, nec ornatu viles,
et annos et animos habent iuveniles,
sed sunt parum impares et parum hostiles,
nam huic placet clericus et huic placet miles. } [2]

Most men strive to please all young, attractive women. But the results of their efforts vary. In this case, the knight Paris had captured the heart of Phyllis. The cleric Alcibiades owned the heart of Flora. Phyllis and Flora yearned for Paris and Alcibiades, respectively. They both cried and sighed deeply for the men that they loved.

Phyllis and Flora taunted each other. Each spoke out in praise of the man that she loved. Then the other young woman derided that man. When Phyllis praised the knight Paris, Flora laughed, rolled her eyes, and jeered, “You might as well have said that you love a beggar {Amas poteras dicere mendicum}.” Phyllis scolded Flora for her harsh words. She then said to her words calculated to upset her: “Behold a pure-hearted young women whose noble breast is a slave to an Epicurus {Ecce virgunculam corde puro cuius pectus nobile servit Epicuro}!”[3] Phyllis further disparaged the cleric Alcibiades that Flora loved:

Arise, arise, poor wretch, from foul madness!
A cleric, I believe, is only an Epicurus.
I acknowledge no elegance in the cleric,
for his sides bulge with a mass of fat.

His heart is far removed from Love’s camp,
for he longs for sleep and food and drink.
Oh noble young woman, all know well
how far a knight’s devotion is from this devotion.

A knight is happy with only the necessities;
sleep, food, and drink aren’t his focus as he lives.
Love prevents him from being sleepy.
A knight’s food and drink are love and youth.

Who would couple our friends as an equal team?
Would law or nature permit them to be coupled?
Mine knows how to play at love, yours how to feast.
Mine is always personally giving; yours, taking.

{ Surge, surge, misera, de furore foedo!
Solum esse clericum Epicurum credo;
nihil elegantiae clerico concedo,
cuius implet latera moles et pinguedo.

A castris Cupidinis cor habet remotum,
qui somnum desiderat et cibum et potum.
O puella nobilis, omnibus est notum,
quam sit longe militis ab hoc voto votum.

Solis necessariis miles est contentus,
somno, cibo, potui non vivit intentus.
Amor illi prohibet, ne sit somnolentus;
cibus, potus militis amor et iuventus.

Quis amicos copulet nostros loro pari?
lex, natura sineret illos copulari?
Meus novit ludere, tuus epulari.
Meo semper proprium dare, tuo dari. } [4]

The most famous Alcibiades, born more than a century before Epicurus, was a good-looking soldier and politician whom the philosopher Socrates loved most of all. Alcibiades was from an eminent, wealthy Athenian family and was renowned for his infidelity. The most famous Paris was the son of King Priam of Troy. Rich and handsome, Prince Paris eloped with the married woman Helen of Troy and thus provoked the brutal Trojan War. Perhaps Alcibiades’s love affair with Socrates associated him with twelfth-century clerics. Perhaps Paris causing the men-slaughtering Trojan War associated him with twelfth-century knights. Both Paris and Alcibiades were wealthy, handsome, charming jerks. They thus had in common the masculine characteristics most attractive to most women throughout the ages.

Phyllis and Flora nonetheless chided each other at length about their boyfriends. After Phyllis had praised her knight boyfriend Paris and disparaged Flora’s cleric boyfriend Alcibiades, Flora accused Phyllis of lying:

You said of the cleric that he is self-indulgent;
you call him a slave of sleep, drink, and food.
True worth tends to be described so by the envious.
Allow a moment here, I’ll respond to you.

So many and so great things, I confess, are my boyfriend’s,
that he never gives a thought to others’ stuff.
Storerooms of honey, oil, wheat, wine,
gold, precious stones, and goblets are at his service.

Amid the sweet abundance of clerical life,
which is such that no word can embellish it,
Love flies and applauds with both wings,
Love that never falters, Love that never dies.

The cleric feels Desire’s spears and Love’s shafts,
yet he isn’t emaciated or distressed,
for indeed he lacks no aspect of joy
and his soul responds to his lady’s passion without faking.

Emaciated and pale is your chosen one,
he’s poor and a cloak without fur barely covers him.
Neither is his penis strong, nor his heart robust,
for when the cause is lacking, so too is the effect.

Shameful is poverty hanging over a lover.
What can a knight offer a requester?
The cleric, however, gives much from his abundance;
so great is his wealth, so great are his revenues.

{ Dixisti de clerico, quod indulget sibi.
Servum somni nominas et potus et cibi.
Sic solet ab invido probitas describi.
Ecce, parum patere, respondebo tibi.

Tot et tanta, fateor, sunt amici mei,
quod numquam incogitat alienae rei.
Cellae mellis, olei, Cereris, Lyaei,
aurum, gemmae, pocula famulantur ei.

In tam dulci copia vitae clericalis,
quod non potest aliqua pingi voce talis,
volat et duplicibus Amor plaudit alis,
Amor indeficiens, Amor immortalis.

Sentit tela Veneris et Amoris ictus,
non est tamen clericus macer et afflictus,
quippe nulla gaudii parte derelictus,
cui respondet animus dominae non fictus.

Macer est et pallidus tuus preelectus,
pauper et vix pallio sine pelle tectus.
Non sunt artus validi nec robustum pectus,
nam cum causa deficit, deest et effectus.

Turpis est pauperies imminens amanti.
Quid praestare poterit miles postulanti?
Sed dat multa clericus et ex abundanti;
tantae sunt divitiae reditusque tanti. }

Whether a cleric or a knight, a man as a human being deserves adequate food, clothing, and shelter. Loving a man for his money demeans his person. Because he was poor, Odysseus was afraid to return home to his wife Penelope. As Flora recognized, a man lacking adequate food and clothing isn’t likely to feel love’s ardor. Lacking necessities, he cannot think about the joy of sex. Flora pointed out that such a man couldn’t adequately provide sexual satisfaction to his girlfriend: “neither is his penis strong, nor his heart robust {non sunt artus validi nec robustum pectus}.”[5] Men in ill health deserve women’s support, not women’s scorn.

In response to Flora’s attack on knights and praise of clerics, Phyllis disparaged clerics. She also strongly rebutted Flora’s contempt for knights:

When the dawn hour of a feast day gladdens the world,
then the cleric appears rather disreputable;
his tonsured head and his dark clothing
convey testimony to his gloomy pleasures.

No one is so foolish or blind
that a knight’s splendor isn’t apparent to her.
Your lover, in his idleness, is like a beast of the field;
mine wears a helmet, mine rides a horse.

My lover destroys hostile positions with his weapons,
and if by chance he joins a battle alone and on foot,
while his beloved helper holds his illustrious charger,
he thinks of me amid the slaughter.

With the enemy routed and the fighting finished, he returns
and pushes back his helmet and gazes at me repeatedly.
For this and other reasons rightly
my first choice is for a knight’s life.

{ Orbem cum laetificat hora lucis festae,
tunc apparet clericus satis inhoneste,
in tonsura capitis et in atra veste
portans testimonium voluptatis maeste.

Non est ullus adeo fatuus aut caecus,
cui non appareat militare decus.
Tuus est in otio, quasi brutum pecus;
meum terit galea, meum portat equus.

Meus armis dissipat inimicas sedes,
et si forte proelium solus init pedes,
dum tenet Bucephalam suus Ganymedes,
ille me commemorat inter ipsas caedes.

Redit fusis hostibus et pugna confecta
et me saepe respicit galea reiecta.
Ex his et ex aliis ratione recta
est vita militiae michi praeelecta. }

Describing a man as like a “beast of the field” is hate speech according to Facebook’s regulations. Women should be taught not to engage in hate speech against their girlfriends’ boyfriends. Moreover, women should not celebrate men engaging in violence against men. But at least Flora appreciated the male gaze.

Flora wasn’t going to let the angry Phyllis have the final word. She fired back at Phyllis:

You are forsaking honey for gall and truth for falsehood
in approving knights and reproving clerics.
Is it love that makes a knight restless and wild?
No! To the contrary, it’s poverty and lacking possessions.

Lovely Phyllis, if only you would love wisely
and not further contest true feelings.
Your knight is vanquished by thirst and hunger,
for which he seeks the path of death and hell.

A knight’s calamities are very wearing;
his fortune is harsh and confining,
for his life exists in an uncertain balance
just so he can prevail to possess life’s necessities.

You wouldn’t call disreputable, if you know his way of life,
the black dress and shorter hair of a cleric.
These traits give him the highest distinction,
and signify that he is greater than all others.

It is well-known that the entire world bows to the cleric,
and he bears the ruler’s sign with his crown of shaved head.
He gives orders to knights and is generous with gifts.
Greater than the servant is the person giving orders.

You swear that the cleric is always idle.
He spurns vile and harsh work, I confess.
But when his mind soars to his concerns,
he analyzes the way to heaven and the natures of things.

My boyfriend is dressed in purple, yours in metal armor.
Yours is on the battlefield, mine in a sedan chair
where he recalls the ancient deeds of leaders;
he writes, inquires, and reflects only about his girlfriend.

As for the power of Desire and the god of love,
my cleric was the first to know and teach about them.
From being a cleric he became a knight of Desire.
By these and similar ways your words are refuted.

{ Mel pro felle deseris et pro falso verum,
quae probas militiam reprobando clerum.
Facit amor militem strenuum et ferum?
Non! immo pauperies et defectus rerum.

Pulchra Phyllis, utinam sapienter ames
nec veris sententiis amplius reclames!
Tuum domat militem et sitis et fames,
quibus mortis petitur et inferni trames.

Multum est calamitas militis attrita.
Sors illius dura est et in arto sita,
cuius est in pendulo dubioque vita,
ut habere valeat vitae requisita.

Non dicas obprobrium, si cognoscas morem,
vestem nigram clerici, comam breviorem.
Habet ista clericus ad summum honorem,
ut sese significet omnibus maiorem.

Universa clerico constat esse prona;
et signum imperii portat in corona.
Imperat militibus et largitur dona.
Famulante maior est imperans persona.

Otiosum clericum semper esse iuras.
Viles spernit operas, fateor, et duras.
Sed cum eius animus evolat ad curas,
caeli vias dividit et rerum naturas.

Meus est in purpura, tuus in lorica.
Tuus est in proelio, meus in lectica,
ubi gesta principum recolit antiqua,
scribit, quaerit, cogitat, totum de amica.

Quid Dione valeat et amoris deus,
primus novit clericus et instruxit meus.
Factus est per clericum miles Cythereus.
His est et huiusmodi tuus sermo reus. } [6]

Without outside intervention, Phyllis and Flora could have gone on arguing forever about the merits and failings of each other’s boyfriends. So might many young women today still do, if it weren’t for the Council of Remiremont.

The Council of Remiremont represented authority and knowledge about love. That authority and knowledge was apparent from the very beginning of the proceedings:

All the young women entered in lines.
Among them was read, like the Gospel,
the precepts of Ovid, the illustrious teacher.

The reader of so propitious a gospel was
Eva de Danubrio, mighty in the office
of love’s practice, as the others affirm.

Among many not just anyone but the two Elizabeths
sang together, quite melodiously,
love poems of measured song.

What Love commands wasn’t hidden from these two.
The art of love is familiar to them,
but they are ignorant of acts that a man knows how to do.

{ Intromissis omnibus virginum agminibus,
lecta sunt in medium, quasi Evangelium,
praecepta Ovidii, doctoris egregii.

Lectrix tam propitii fuit Evangelii
Eva de Danubrio, potens in officio
artis amatoriae, ut affirmant aliae.

Cantus modulamina et amoris carmina
cantaverunt pariter, satis et sonoriter
de multis non quaelibet, duae sed Elizabet.

Has duas non latuit quicquid Amor statuit.
Harum in notitia ars est amatoria;
sed ignorant opere quid vir sciat facere. } [7]

In medieval Europe, Ovid was widely regarded as a master teacher of love. All three women who served in the opening proceedings had recognized experience in acts of love, with the two Elizabeths explicitly noted for their exclusively heterosexual orientation. One Elizabeth testified:

Ever since we have been able, we have served Love.

{ Nos ex quo potuimus Amori servivimus.}

A second Elizabeth advocated strongly for loving clerics:

I would praise the grace and reputation of clerks.
We have always loved them and we desire to love them;
their friendship produces no delaying of pleasure.

Coupling with clerics — this is our rule.
Us it holds and has held, delights and has delighted;
the clerics whom we know are affable, pleasing, and lovable.

{ Clericorum gratiam, laudem et memoriam
nos semper amavimus et amare cupimus,
quorum amicitia nil tardat solacia.

Clericorum copula, haec est nostra regula,
nos habet et habuit et placet et placuit,
quos scimus affabiles, gratos et amabiles. }

The Chief Lady then heard from the women conflicting testimony concerning the relative merits of clerks and knights as lovers. As many surviving debate poems indicate, medieval Europe valued highly ideological diversity and vigorous debate.

The women attending the Council of Remiremont vigorously debated loving clerics versus loving knights. One young woman earnestly testified:

The uprightness of clerics and their goodness —
such character always seeks schooling in love’s joy,
and on their joy the whole fatherland smiles.

Clerics praise us in all rhythms and meters.
Such, at Desire’s command, I love prior to others.
Sweet, intimate friendship is glory for clerics.

Whatever others may say, clerics are apt for their work.
A cleric is capable, sweet, and affable.
If I have him as a companion, I can have no greater joy.

{ Clericorum probitas et eorum bonitas
semper quaerit studium ad amoris gaudium,
sed eorum gaudia tota ridet patria.

Laudant nos in omnibus rhythmis atque versibus.
Tales, iussu Veneris, diligo prae ceteris.
Dulcis amicitia clericis est gloria.

Quicquid dicant aliae, apti sunt in opere.
Clericus est habilis, dulcis et affabilis.
Hunc habendo socium, nolo maius gaudium. }

Another young woman explained:

No reason is able to disunite clerics
from our soothing; their work is all-pleasing.

{ nulla valet ratio a nostro solacio
clericos disiungere omni gratos opere }

Some women, however, spoke out forcefully in favor of knights:

Those who are students of martial arts are in our thoughts.
Their military spirit and sensuousness pleases us.
To their service we devote our study.

{ Qui student militiae nobis sunt memoriae.
Horum et militia placet et lascivia.
Horum ad obsequium nostrum datur studium. }

Another woman argued that knights are subservient to women even at the cost of their lives:

Knights are bold to go battle for our favor.
That they may have us for themselves and please us,
they fear no hardships, nor death, nor wounds.

{ Audaces ad proelia sunt pro nostra gratia.
Ut sibi nos habeant et ut nobis placeant,
nulla timent aspera, nec mortem nec vulnera. }

In other words, knights, especially white knights, are upholders of gynocentrism and women’s privilege. Despite their devotion to women-serving, such knights are typically unsuccessful in having women for themselves. Not surprisingly, another woman disparaged knights’ love:

settled and well-known is the nature of knights’ love,
such is detestable, wretched, and unsteady.

{ certum est et cognitum quid sit amor militum,
quam sit detestabilis, quam miser et labilis. }

Through the course of this vigorous and vital twelfth-century debate, an important fact emerged: clerics were regarded as wealthier than knights. Clerics “give lovely gifts {pulchra donant munera}” to women. In addition to being “firm {firmus},” an important masculine sexual attribute, the love of clerics is “useful {utilis}.”

Under historically entrenched, gynocentric structures of gender oppression, women have valued men for their usefulness, particularly in providing women with material resources. The great master-teacher of love Ovid quoted a poet’s lament:

Does anyone admire the noble arts these days,
or think that talent’s displayed in tender verse?
Once genius was rated more than gold:
but now to have nothing shows plain stupidity.
Though my lovely girl’s delighted with my books,
where the books can go, I can’t go myself.
While she praised them, her door closed on my face.
Disgraced but a genius, I go here and there.
Look, some newly-rich blood-drenched knight
made wealthy by his wounds grazes my pastures!
Can you hug him in your lovely arms, my sweet girl?
Life of mine, can you lie there in his embrace?
If you don’t know, that head once wore a helmet;
there was a sword bound to that thigh that serves you;
that left hand, with new-won golden ring unsuited,
held a shield: touch his right –- it was stained with blood!
Can you touch that right hand by which others perished?
Ah, where is that tender-heartedness of yours?
See the scars, the marks of former battles –-
whatever he has, he earned with his body.
Perhaps he’ll tell you how many men he’s murdered!
Avaricious girl, can you touch those revealing hands?
Am I, the pure priest of Apollo and the Muses,
to sing idle songs at unyielding doors?

{ Et quisquam ingenuas etiamnunc suspicit artes,
Aut tenerum dotes carmen habere putat?
Ingenium quondam fuerat pretiosius auro;
At nunc barbaria est grandis, habere nihil.
Cum pulchrae dominae nostri placuere libelli,
Quo licuit libris, non licet ire mihi;
Cum bene laudavit, laudato ianua clausa est.
Turpiter huc illuc ingeniosus eo.
Ecce, recens dives parto per vulnera censu
Praefertur nobis sanguine pastus eques!
Hunc potes amplecti formosis, vita, lacertis?
Huius in amplexu, vita, iacere potes?
Si nescis, caput hoc galeam portare solebat;
Ense latus cinctum, quod tibi servit, erat;
Laeva manus, cui nunc serum male convenit aurum,
Scuta tulit; dextram tange — cruenta fuit!
Qua periit aliquis, potes hanc contingere dextram?
Heu, ubi mollities pectoris illa tui?
Cerne cicatrices, veteris vestigia pugnae —
Quaesitum est illi corpore, quidquid habet.
Forsitan et, quotiens hominem iugulaverit, ille
Indicet! hoc fassas tangis, avara, manus?
Ille ego Musarum purus Phoebique sacerdos
Ad rigidas canto carmen inane fores? } [8]

Under gynocentrism, wounds to men’s bodies matter little to women or other men. What matters is how much material resources men can provide to women. Ovid thus showed the knight being prefered in love to the poet-cleric.

With the growth of the symbolic economy from ancient Rome to medieval Europe, clerics became wealthier in general than knights. Flora’s cleric boyfriend Alcibiades commanded more material resources than Phyllis’s knight boyfriend Paris. The Council of Remiremont recognized that clerics provide better material gifts to women than do knights. In accordance with the teachings of Ovid, the Council of Remiremont ruled in favor of clerics.[9] So compelling was the Council’s ruling that today women don’t argue about whether clerics or knights make better lovers. Given the lucrative payments now available by law for spousal support and child support, the question of whether women should seek high-income men for sex and marriage isn’t reasonably open to debate.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] The Council of Remiremont {Concilium Romarici Montis} ll. 1-9, Latin text from Pascal (1993), my English translation, benefiting from that of Lee (1981). The inexpressability assertion of l. 4 recalls the inexpressable consequences of loving God in 1 Corinthians 2:19. The Council of Remiremont, authored anonymously, was probably written between 1140 and 1164. Id. p. 5. For accessible discussion of this text, Warren (1907). Lee and others describe the women at the Council of Remiremont as “nuns,” but they weren’t necessarily so. They may have included local elite women who came to the abbey for the Council.

About 625, a monastery for men and women was founded in the area of Remiremont, now Saint-Mont, near Strasbourg in the Vosges Department of eastern France. The men’s community dissipated after perhaps two centuries. By the early twelfth century, the women at Remiremont were wealthy and associated with the high nobility. By 1404, the Remiremont Abbey was more an institution of elite local governance than a monastery. Id. pp. 12-51.

Subsequent quotes from the Council of Remiremont are similarly sourced. The subsequent two quotes above are (cited by line numbers) 22-4 (Old ladies…) and l. 17 (loving young women).

[2] Carmina Burana 92, “About Phyllis and Flora {De Phyllide et Flora},” first line “In the flowering season, with clear sky {Anni parte florida, caelo puriore},” st. 4, Latin text from Traill (2018) v. 1, my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Walsh (1993). This poem is also called “The debate of Phyllis and Flora {Altercatio Phyllidis et Florae}.” While Traill’s text is the best available, here’s a good-quality online text of the whole poem (preserving medieval spellings).

De Phyllide et Flora / Anni parti florida has close connections to Andreas Capellanus’s De amore. The latter probably was written about 1186. In Traill’s learned opinion, De amore influenced De Phyllide et Flora. That ordering is consistent with the scholarly judgment that De Phyllide et Flora was composed toward the end of the twelfth century. Traill (2018) v. 1, p. 551 (note).

In ancient Latin, miles means foot-soldier, and eques means a horse-born soldier. The latter’s equipment was more costly and many fewer such soldiers were fielded. Not surprisingly, the eques was generally wealthier and higher status than the miles. In medieval Latin, miles became the common word for knight after 1100. Morillo (2001) pp. 175-7.

The subsequent six quotes above are from De Phyllide et Flora and are similarly sourced. Those quotes, cited by stanza (and dot line number, where less than the whole stanza), are: 13.4 (You might as well have said…), 15.3-4 (Behold a pure-hearted young woman…), 16-19 (Arise, arise, poor wretch…), 22-7 (You said of the cleric…), 29-32 (When the dawn hour…), and 34-41 (You are foresaking honey…). For accessibility to the general reader, I’ve used relevant concepts and descriptions in the place of Roman mythic figures (Venus, Amor / Cupid, and Ganymede) and Alexander’s horse Bucephalus.

[3] Cf. Isaiah 7:14. In the Bible, the imperative “behold” (a call for attention) is quite common. It may be a verbal structure that originated in popular pictorial story-telling.

[4] Song of Songs 2:10, 13 urges a young beloved to arise and come to delight. Ephesians 5:14 urges a sleeper to arise from the dead. Phyllis in De Phyllide et Flora implores a misdirected young woman in love to arise from her foul madness in loving a cleric and turn to the delightful love of a knight. With a double surge, De Phyllide et Flora combines elements of both biblical exhortations. On unequal coupling, 2 Corinthians 6:14.

The troubadour Guillem de Peiteus (William IX, Duke of Aquitaine) condemned women who love clerics rather than knights:

Grave mortal sins such ladies make
who won’t make love for a knight’s sake;
and they’re far worse, the one who’ll take
a monk or priest —
they ought to get burned at the stake
at very least.

{ Domna fai gran pechat mortal
Qe no ama cavalier leal:
Mas si es monges o clergal,
Non a raizo:
Per dreg la deuri’ hom cremar
Ab un tezo. }

“I’ll write a verse, since I’m sleepy {Farai un vers, pos mi somelh},” st. 2, Old Occitan text and English trans. (by Snodgrass, modified slightly) from Kehew (2005) pp. 27-8. This Old Occitan text is from the edition of Jeanroy (1913). Trobar has a slightly different Old Occitan text, with an English translation. Here’s further analysis of “Farai un vers, pos mi somelh.”

[5] For a man to have vigorous sexual functioning, he typically needs adequate food and clothing, as well as rest time from horrible worldly battles. The rather abstract explanation “for when the cause is lacking, so too is the effect {nam cum causa deficit, deest et effectus}” further allows Flora to insinuate that Phyllis isn’t highly sexually stimulating.

Translations of 26.3-4 have obscured the penis’s significance. The Latin word nervus literally means “sinew” or “tendon.” Nervus can mean “penis.” Adams (1982) p. 38. Artus literally means “joint” or “joints.” Like nervus, artus is associated with muscular strength and power. In the context of De Phyllide et Flora 26.1, artus surely carries the figurative meaning “penis,” with pectus having the figurative meaning “heart / love.” Walsh and Traill translated 26.1 respectively as “His limbs are frail, his chest unhealthy”;  “His limbs are weak and his upper body puny”. Walsh (1993) p. 112, Traill (2018) p. 386. Those are, I think, poor translations. All of civilization owes traditional philology and its experts much gratitude and appreciation for bringing forward in time accurate meaning of vitally important texts. Nonetheless, one should recognize that traditional philology has a penis problem.

Reviewers of Traill’s Carmina Burana have been oblivious to the penis problem in De Phyllide et Flora. Scott G. Bruce’s review provides relevant historical details and some close textual analysis. Bruce states that Traill’s work is “reason to celebrate” and that it provides “clear and accurate translation.” Bruce (2019). Indeed, Traill’s translation is almost always clear and accurate, as one might expect from an eminent medieval Latin scholar committed to seeking truth. Yet a significant mistake that Traill made as mortal man living in a philological tradition should be recognized.

Michael Fontaine justly calls Traill’s two volumes “a magnificent achievement”; “it deserves a Pindaric victory ode.” Fontaine further declares of Traill:

He is always accurate (note 3) and always suitably interpretative rather than excessively literal, so that his translation functions as a running mini-commentary on the hard parts.
Note 3: A single exception proves the rule: in 25.6 “laugh to scorn” for deridet must be a typo (likewise, in 103.3b, delete the comma and 104.2.5, delete the period).

Fontaine (2019). Fontaine clearly read Traill’s volumes closely. Yet he either didn’t notice or didn’t dare comment upon the penis problem. Medieval scholars should recognize the gender trouble in their field.

[6] The poet’s invocation of res naturas {the natures of things} in the context of caeli vias dividit (39.4) recalls Lucretius’s De rerum natura. The cleric, surpassing Lucretius, understands that different things have different natures. Guibert of Nogent early in the twelfth century seems to have also disparaged Lucretius’s De rerum natura.

[7] The Council of Remiremont {Concilium Romarici Montis} ll. 25-6. The subsequent quotes above from The Council of Remiremont are (cited by line number): 61 (Ever since we have been able…), 67-72 (I would praise the grace…), 142-150 (The uprightness of clerics…), 92-3 (No reason is able…), 112-4 (Those who are students of martial arts…), 115-7 (Knights are bold…), 83-4 (settled and well-known…), 76 (give lovely gifts), 90 (firm, useful).

[8] Ovid, Loves {Amores} 3.8.1-24, Latin text from Ehwald’s Teubner edition (1907), English (modified slightly) from A. S. Kline.

[9] Even before the Council of Remiremont’s official ruling, a woman at the Council declared:

Undertaking knights is a great impropriety.
This misdeed for you is both forbidden and illicit.

{ magna est abusio militum susceptio.
Nefas est et vetitum et vobis illicitum. }

Council of Remiremont, ll. 95-6. The concluding excommunication of women who love knights is extremely harsh:

By the order of Love, to you and all others
who lay down yourself to knights in love affairs,
may you experience confusion, terror, and grief,
toil, unhappiness, pain and anxiety,
fear and sorrow, war and discord,
the dregs of folly, habit of inconstancy,
dishonor and weariness, long-standing ignominy,
the specter of madness, mourning, and destruction.
May the Moon, Jove’s servant-woman, and Phoebus, his servant-man,
deny you their light because of your crimes.
Thus may you lack light and not be comforted.
May no festival days take you from the darkness.
May the wrath of Jove from the heavens destroy you utterly.
May the joys of this world be reproaches to you.
May you who favor laymen always be
regarded as horrible and abominable by all clerics.
May no one say “hail” to you when they encounter you.
May even your joys be without peace.
May you have inner and outer sadness.
May you live daily in the pit of misery.
May shame and disgrace be with you always.
Toil and weariness or extreme shame,
if any of that remains, may it be yours forever,
unless you spurn laymen and favor clerics.
If any of you shall repent and make amends,
doing penance will lead to forgiveness.

{ Vobis, iussu Veneris, et ubique ceteris
quae vos militaribus subditis amoribus,
maneat confusio, terror et contritio,
labor, infelicitas, dolor et anxietas,
timor et tristitia, bellum et discordia,
faex insipientiae, cultus inconstantiae,
dedecus et taedium, longum et opprobrium,
furiarum species, luctus et pernicies.
Luna, Iovis famula, Phoebus, suus vernula,
propter ista crimina negent vobis lumina.
Sic sine solamine careatis lumine.
Nulla dies celebris trahat vos de tenebris.
Ira Iovis caelitus destruat vos penitus.
Huius mundi gaudia vobis sint opprobria.
Omnibus horribiles et abominabiles
semper sitis clericis, quae favetis laicis.
Nemo vobis etiam “Ave” dicat obviam.
Vestra quoque gaudia sint sine concordia.
Vobis sit intrinsecus dolor et extrinsecus.
Vivatis cotidie in lacu miseriae.
Pudor, ignominia vobis sint per omnia.
Laboris et taedii vel pudoris nimii
sed si quid residuum, sit vobis perpetuum
nisi, spretis laicis, faveatis clericis.
Si qua paenituerit atque satisfecerit,
dando paenitentiam consequetur veniam. }

Id. ll. 215-40.

[image] Ecclesia {Church}. Illumination for Hildegard of Bingen’s Scivias 2.5, folio 66r in Eibingen, Abtei St. Hildegard, Cod. 1, which is a handmade copy of the now-lost Rupertsberg Scivias (Wiesbaden, Hessische Landesbibliothek, Hs 1). The latter was produced in the Rupertsberg scriptorium around 1165. Source image via Wikimedia Commons.


Adams, James Noel. 1982. The Latin Sexual Vocabulary. London: Duckworth.

Bruce, Scott G. 2019. “Review of Traill, David A. Carmina Burana (Volumes 1 and 2). Dunbarton Oaks Medieval Library. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.The Medieval Review, online.

Fontaine, Michael. 2019. “Review of David A. Traill, Carmina Burana. (2 vols.) Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2018.” Bryn Mawr Classical Review, online.

Kehew, Robert, ed. 2005. Lark in the Morning: the Verses of the Troubadours: a bilingual edition. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

Lee, Reuben Richard. 1981. A New Edition of “The Council of Remiremont.” The University of Connecticut. Ph.D. Thesis.

Morillo, Stephen. 2001. “Milites, Knights and Samurai: Military Terminology, Comparative History, and the Problem of Translation.” Pp. 167-184 in Abels, Richard P., Bernard S. Bachrach, and C. Warren Hollister, eds. The Normans and their Adversaries at War: essays in memory of C. Warren Hollister. Woodbridge, UK, Rochester, NY: Boydell Press.

Pascal, Paul, ed. 1993. Concilium Romarici Montis (The Council of Remiremont). Bryn Mawr Commentary. Presented online by J.J. O’Donnell (introduction, text, commentary).

Traill, David A. 2018, ed. and trans. Carmina Burana. Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 48-49. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press.

Walsh, Patrick G. 1993. Love Lyrics from the Carmina Burana. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press.

Warren, F. M. 1907. “The Council of Remiremont.” Modern Language Notes. 22 (5): 137-140.

warm-hearted medieval woman saved man dying from lovesickness

Joy of my life, give yourself to me, for I give myself to you!
Let me be a goddess, you a god — let me be yours, you mine.

{ Vite dulcedo, mihi te da, nam tibi me do!
Sim dea tuque deus: sim tua tuque meus. } [1]

Bathsheba with David's letter

In twelfth-century France, a young man was dying from lovesickness. He moaned:

Alas, extreme sadness now grasps my heart.
What is hidden deep inside bites and binds me.

{ Heu dolor immodicus, mea qui nunc pectora tangit!
Quod latet interius penitus me mordet et angit. } [2]

A gender compassion protrusion disadvantages men. Men’s sufferings typically generate much less concern than women’s sufferings. Although today men compared to women live on average six years less and suffer about four times as many deaths from violence, few persons care. Men are accused of being silent and emotionless. At the same time, few persons are willing to listen to what men say and appreciate how men feel.

Medieval men had faith in love for them. This young man once had a girlfriend among the sisters back at the Remiremont Abbey. He believed that she would be willing to help him in dire need. With well-nourished faith he thus declared:

But I think if I reveal the cause of my madness,
by that revelation I will be given medicine for my sadness.
Come then, Light, with Poetry attend to my verses of lament,
come also warm-hearted Love, who will help a friend.

{ Sed, puto, si nostri causam manifesto furoris,
in manifestando dabitur medicina doloris.
Versibus ergo meis cum Musis, Phebe, venito,
adsit et alma Venus, quae subsidietur amico. }

On this summer day, with his mind burning in the heat of love, the young man sought relief in his bedroom, which was adorned with roses. He lay down in his bed, but his love-heat didn’t lessen, nor did his mind, anguished with his hotness, find any rest.

While he was suffering so in bed, behold! Love transformed into the appearance of his girlfriend came to him. She hurried to his bed, cuddled up beside him, and said:

Alas for me, my brother, why now is your life leaving you?
Woe is me, what am I to do? I will die if you die.
I think that will not happen, if only you enjoy a woman.
This you are now suffering is none other than love-fever.
Hence to be healthy, you must burst the bars of modesty.
Believe me, no medicine will make you healthy
if this fire of yours for a woman isn’t first cooled.
Therefore quickly hasten to extinguish the excessive fire,
which is causing you to endure now mortal sadness.
Seek out a noble young woman with an excellent appearance;
truly loving her tender beauty will make you healthy.

{ Heu mihi, mi frater, cur nunc te vita relinquit?
Me miseram, quid agam? Moriar si tu morieis.
Quod, puto, non fierit, modo si muliere frueris.
Hoc quod nunc pateris, nihil est nisi fervor amoris.
Ut valeas, igitur, rumpantur claustra pudoris.
Crede mihi, quod nulla tibi medicina valebit,
ni calor iste tuus prius in muliere tepebit.
Ergo citus propera, nimios extingue calores,
qui modo mortiferos faciunt te ferre dolores.
Egregia specie generosam quaere puellam,
cuius tu formam valeas adamare tenellam. }

This young man’s dream-girlfriend had a keen sense of what a woman could do for a man.[3] She was a warm-hearted, generous woman who sought to help her distant, dying boyfriend. Not all women are like that, but some are.

The young man hesitated to follow his dream-girlfriend’s lead. Perhaps he knew of a man who brought disaster upon himself and his beloved woman by following her advice. Perhaps he recognized that men’s lives are carelessly destroyed in war and in the criminal justice system. He himself explained:

She had spoken; yet like a young soldier terrified before battle,
so I myself, not accustomed to the pleasure of Love, was tormented.
Thus desire and illness advised me to seek my girlfriend,
but modesty and fear, as usual, were impeding.

{ Dixerat; utque novus miles data bella perhorret,
sic me non solitum luxu Venus ipsa remordet.
Hinc amor et morbus quaeratur amica monebant,
sed pudor atque timor, velut est mos, impediebant. }

His dream-girlfriend, however, was sensitive to his feelings:

She perceived what it was that made me afraid of desire,
and why, if I would be healthy, I wanted to avoid love.

{ Illico persensit, quid erat quod amore timebam,
et cur, si valeam, Venerem vitare volebam. }

Smiling, she said to him:

I fear that you will die,
you who for absolutely nothing so endure what you are suffering.
You, undoubtedly because you shun and fear shame,
spurn desire that would bestow upon you life instantly.
But surely that is childish, my sweet boyfriend,
you living so chastely so as to lose what is to be lived.
I beg you, therefore, my brother, to defer this modesty,
which makes you flee from life as you spurn desire.
Perhaps you would say, “I cannot find any young woman
who would suit me here in our region.”
That I confess to be so, but what you long for here you would be able
to find, if you intend to return by Remiremont.”

{ Vereor ne tu moriaris,
qui pro tam nihilo suffers quod sic patiaris.
Tu quia, ni fallor, vitas metuisque pudorem
qui tibi donaret vitam modo, spernis amorem.
Sed puerile quidem nimis est, mi dulcis amice,
vivere si perdes nimium vivendo pudice.
Quare mi frater, precor, hunc postpone pudorem,
qui facit ut fugias vitam, dum spernis amorem.
Forsan tu dices: “Nequeo reperire puellam
quae mihi conveniat nostris in partibus ullam.”
Hoc quoque confiteor, sed quod cupis hic reperire
posses, si velles Romarici Monte redire. }

What a compassionate and intelligent woman! What a warm-hearted and caring woman! Early Christian women and men suffered martyrdom for the sake of their chaste devotion to God. But this young man didn’t want to be a love-martyr. His problem was not having a beautiful, warmly receptive, and discrete young woman nearby. His distant girlfriend thus compassionately appeared to him in a dream and urged him to return to Remiremont Abbey.

The young man didn’t delay in traveling back to Remiremont Abbey. By the twelfth century, Remiremont Abbey in eastern France had a reputation as the home of highly privileged women with strong, independent sexuality.[4] Among the many young women there the young man found the medicine he needed:

Then at that distant place you find for me what well suits,
and her too beautiful appearance pleases me.
I love her, who equally surrenders to love;
thus is suddenly given to me the medicine itself for my sadness.

{ Illic tunc reperi mihi quae bene conveniebat,
et cuius species nimium mihi pulchra placebat.
Hanc ego dilexi, pariter quae cessit amori;
sic datur ipsa meo subito medicina dolori. }

The woman who restored the young man to good health may have been his earlier girlfriend. Or perhaps, with a doctor’s devotion to her patient, she found another woman who would be better medicine for him. He himself may have begun to enjoy more suppliers of love medicine than he had been prescribed. In any case, after some time the situation took a turn for the worse: “envy at present has ruptured our love {livor nostros ad praesens rupit amores}.” From the viewpoint of eternity, any earthly medicine for a man can at best only postpone his death. So it was for this man.

Dour literary critics might claim that this whole story of a man’s lovesickness merely displays a typical masculine fantasy. That’s unreasonable. Many men cannot even imagine a women being so warm-hearted, compassionate, and generous. Moreover, some flesh-and-blood women actually are warm-hearted, compassionate, and generous. Today’s anti-meninists fantasize that women don’t enjoy sex with men. Readers seeking enlightenment should stretch their minds to perceive a woman’s voice in medieval Latin poetry.

Come, dearest love,
with ah! and oh!
to visit me — I will please you,
with ah! and oh! and ah! and oh!
I am dying with desire
with ah! and oh!
How I long for love!
with ah! and oh! and ah! and oh!

If you come with the key,
with ah! and oh!
you will soon be able to enter,
with ah! and oh! and ah! and oh! [5]

{ Veni, dilectissime,
et a et o,
gratam me inuisere,
et a et o et a et o!
in languore pero,
et a et o —
uenerem desidero,
et a et o et a et o!

Si cum claue ueneris,
et a et o
mox intrar poteris,
et a et o et a et o! }

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Anonymous Latin lyric from MS. Munchen, Clm 6911, fol. 128r, Latin text and English translation (modified slightly) from Dronke (1965) vol. 2, p. 490. This poem is from the thirteenth or fourteenth century. Id.

[2] Carmina Rivipullensia 9, titled “Lamentatio pro separatione amicae {Lament for being separated from his girlfriend},” first line “Heu dolor immodicus, mea qui nunc pectora tangit! {Alas, extreme sadness now grasps my heart},” ll. 1-2, Latin text from Wolff (2001), my English translation benefiting from Wolff’s French translation. Subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are similarly sourced from this poem. Quoted lines: ll. 3-6 (But I think if I reveal…), 16-26 (Alas for me…), 27-30 (She had spoken…), 31-32 (She perceived…), 33 (part)-44 (I fear that you will die…), 51 (envy at present…).

[3] In a tenso with Macabru, Uc Catola testified to the curative power of a woman’s love for a man:

Marcabru, when I’m tired and sad
and my good girlfriend greets me
with a kiss while I whisk off my clothes,
I go away well and safe and cured.

{ Marcabrun, qant sui las e·m duoill,
e ma bon’ amia m’acuoill
ab un baissar qant me despuoill,
m’en vau sans e saus e gariz. }

“My friend Macabru, let’s compose {Amics Marchabrun, car digam},” ll. 45-8 (st. 13), Occitan text from Gaunt, Harvey and Paterson via Rialto, English translation (modified) from trobar. Here’s another Occitan textual version, with Italian translation.

[4] The Remiremont Abbey in the early twelfth century had extensive land holdings and a secular orientation. Judith, Abbess of Remiremont from about 1114 to 1162, belonged to high nobility. She was the daughter of a count and the sister of another count. Lee (1981) pp. 35-6. As Abbess, Judith vigorously acted to retain Remiremont’s wealth and independence from local officials. In a bull issued on March 17, 1151, Pope Eugenius III denounced the Remiremont nuns for their “carnal behavior {conversatio carnalis}” and ordered that their “lasciviousness of sin should be converted into spiritual fervor {pecati lasciviam in ardorem spirtalibus convertendam}.” As cited by Daichman (1986) p. 59.

[5] Carmina cantabrigiensia {Cambridge Songs} 49, “Veni, dilectissime {Come, dearest love},” st. 1, 3, Latin text (simplified presentation of reconstruction) and English translation from Ziolkowski (1994) pp. 126-7. This poem is attested only in the Carmina cantabrigiensia (Cambridge, University Library, MS Gg.5.35). While persons in medieval Europe enjoyed relatively liberal freedom of speech, someone during the Middle Ages rubbed out most of the words of this poem. Peter Dronke, with great learning and keen insight, was able to reconstruct at least part of it. Dronke (1965) vol. 1, p. 274. The reference to “key” and “entering” indicates that a woman addresses a man with this poem.  The “e” that ends the first line also indicates that the addressee is a man.

[image] Bathsheba with David’s letter. Painting by Willem Drost, made about 1654. Preserved as accession RF 1349 in the Louvre Museum (Paris). Via Wikimedia Commons.


Daichman, Graciela S. 1986. Wayward Nuns in Medieval Literature. Syracuse: N.Y.

Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the Rise of European Love-Lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Lee, Reuben Richard. 1981. A New Edition of “The Council of Remiremont.” The University of Connecticut. Ph.D. Thesis.

Wolff, Etienne. 2001. Le Chansonnier amoureux: Carmina rivipullensia. Monaco: Rocher.

Ziolkowski, Jan M., ed. and trans. 1994. The Cambridge Songs (Carmina cantabrigiensia). New York: Garland Pub.

Peire Cardenal: thirteenth-century troubadour MGTOW

troubadour Peire Cardenal

War historically has been structured as violence against men. Even today, sex discrimination remains entrenched in Selective Service registration for being drafted into war. Violence within the home (domestic violence) is more gender-symmetric. But since intimates are intimately vulnerable to each other, domestic violence can be more horrifying than war. The thirteenth-century troubadour Peire Cardenal perceptively wrote:

War’s too close if you’ve got it on your land,
but it’s even closer if you’ve got it in your bed.
When a husband displeases his wife,
that’s worse than war between neighbors.

{ Prop a guerra qui l’a en mieg son sòl,
Mas plus prop l’a qui l’a a son coissi.
Can lo maritz a la moiller fai dòl,
So es guerra peior que de vezi } [1]

Some husbands attempt to avoid domestic violence through fawning subservience to their wives. That tends only to increase their wives’ contempt for them. Authorities administer domestic violence law with acute anti-men gender bias. What then can a man do to avoid the horror of domestic violence in his life?

The thirteenth-century troubadour Peire Cardenal presented an answer. He became what’s now known as a Man Going His Own Way (MGTOW):

I dare to claim love now cannot
rob me of appetite or sleep,
can’t turn me cold, can’t turn me hot,
can’t make me yawn or sigh or weep
or stay out nights to wander;
love can’t torment or vanquish me —
now I go grief- and anguish-free,
I pay no page or pander;
love can’t hoodwink me, can’t betray;
I palmed my dice and walked away.

I’ve found my joy in life’s to be
neither betrayer nor betrayed;
traitor and traitoress can’t scare me
nor jealous husband’s bright sword blade;
I cut no more mad capers;
I don’t get wounded or cast down,
plundered like some poor captive town;
don’t stew in brainless vapors;
I don’t say I’ve been love-oppressed;
don’t claim my heart’s ripped from my breast;

don’t say for her sweet self I yearn;
don’t claim that she’s so fair I’ll die;
don’t say I beg for her and burn;
don’t praise her name and sanctify;
don’t kneel in her observance;
don’t say my life to her I gave;
don’t claim to be her serf or slave;
don’t sign on with her servants;
don’t wear love’s chains; far better, I’m
making my getaway in time.

{ Ar me puesc ieu lauzar d’Amór,
Que no-m tol manjar ni dormir;
Ni-n sent freidura ni calór
Ni no-n badalh ni no-n sospir
Ni-n vauc de nueg arratge
Ni-n soi conquistz ni-n soi cochatz,
Ni-n soi dolenz ni-n soi iratz
Ni no-n logui messatge;
Ni-n soi trazitz ni enganatz,
Que partitz m’en soi ab mos datz.

Autre plazer n’ai ieu maior,
Que no-n traïsc ni fauc traïr,
Ni-n tem tracheiris ni trachor
Ni brau gilos que m’en azir;
Ni-n fauc fol vassalatge,
Ni-n soi feritz ni derocatz
Ni no-n soi pres ni deraubatz;
Ni no-n fauc lonc badatge,
Ni dic qu’ieu soi d’amor forsatz
Ni dic que mos cors m’es emblatz.

Ni dic qu’ieu mor per la gensor
Ni dic que-l bella-m fai languir,
Ni non la prec ni non l’azor
Ni la deman ni la dezir.
Ni no-l fas homenatge
Ni no-l m’autrei ni-l me soi datz;
Ni non soi sieus endomenjatz
Ni a mon cor en gatge,
Ni soi sos pres ni sos líatz
Anz dic qu’ieu li soi escapatz. } [2]

Peire Cardenal completely and resolutely rejected the men-abasing cult of courtly love. So too should all men.

Courtly love celebrates the man who continues to love a woman who has turned him away unmercifully and continues to treat him like her servant. In other words, courtly love honors men who are losers. Peire Cardenal had the audacity to speak the truth:

Speaking the truth, men ought to praise
winners, not losers — victory’s head
and brow goes crowned with wreaths of bays;
losers lie down in graveyards, dead.
Who’s conquered his heart’s treachery
and the insane desire that brings
men to do such outrageous things
— all foolishness and lechery —
he should find honor in that crown
more than in conquering many a town.

{ Mais deu hom lauzar vensedor
Non fai vencut, qui-l ver vol dir,
Car lo vencens porta la flor
E-l vencut vai hom sebelir;
E qui venc son coratge
De las desleials voluntatz
Don ieis lo faitz desmezuratz
E li autre outratge,
D’aquel venser es plus onratz
Que si vensía cent ciutatz. }

To free themselves from gender slavery, men must free themselves from mental slavery. They must recognize their propensity to gyno-idolatry and act to control reasonably their inclination. Men must reject unfair wages of love. They must act rightly, which isn’t the same as desperately seeking women’s approval and praise. With powerful alliteration, Peire Cardenal poignantly declared:

Praiseworthiness, not praise, I prize.
Some clods can’t quit cramped cages —
like lovers laid low by love’s lance.
Whatever good gay gifts grace grants,

I wouldn’t want love’s wages.
Nor would I want a wayward will
whose feigned free flight fails to fulfill.

{ Plus pres lauzables que lauzatz :
Trop ten estreg ostatge
Dreitz drutz del dart d’amor nafratz.
Pus pauc pres, pus pres es compratz.

Non voilh voler volatge
Que-m volv e-m vir mas voluntatz
Mas lai on mos vols es volatz. }

Mothers raising sons without fathers should sing to their sons Peire Cardenal’s song. We need a new generation of strong, independent men who love themselves as much as they love women.

Violence against men will not cease being normal until all join MGTOW to fight for a new V Day. This V Day will not be a vagina-centric day. This V Day will celebrate the victory of truth over widely spread lies about violence. Some may think that the time is early. But the time for a new dawn of peace and love is now. All persons of good will toward men, arise!

With pale sun rising, in the clear east, not yet bright,
the morning sheds, on earth, ethereal light:
while the watchman, to the idle, cries: “Arise!”

Dawn now breaks; sunlight rakes the swollen seas;
ah, alas! It is he! See there, the shadows pass!

Behold, the heedless, torpid, yearn to try
and block the insidious entry, there they lie,
whom the herald summons urging them to rise.

Dawn now breaks; sunlight rakes the swollen seas;
ah, alas! It is he! See there, the shadows pass!

{ Phebi claro nondum orto iubare
Fert aurora lumen terris tenue:
Spigulator pigris clamat: “Surgite!”

L’alb’apar, tumet mar at ra’sol;
po y pas, a! bigil, mira clar tenebras!

En encautos ostium insidie
Torpentesque gliscunt intercipere,
Qus suadet preco clamat surgere.

L’alb’apar, tumet mar at ra’sol;
po y pas, a! bigil, mira clar tenebras! } [3]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Peire Cardenal, “These amorous ladies, if someone reproves them {Las amairitz, qui encolpar las vol},” st. 2.1-4, Old Occitan text from the Peire Cardenal website (which dates it before 1209 and also provides a French translation), English translation from Paden & Paden (2007) p. 176. For all of Peire’s surviving songs, Lavaud (1957).

[2] Peire Cardenal, “I dare to claim love now cannot {Ar me puesc ieu lauzar d’Amor},” st. 1-3, Old Occitan text from the Peire Cardenal website (which dates it to 1204-1208 and also provides a French translation), English translation (by W.D. Snodgrass, modified slightly) from Kehew (2005) p. 279. Id. p. 278 provides a substantially identifical Old Occitan text. Alan M. Rosiene has provided an alternate English translation freely available online.

My most significant change to Snodgrass’s translation is the first line of the poem. Snodgrass has “I dare to claim, now, Love cannot.” I switched the order of the third iamb because I think, in context, “now” merits stress more than “love.” With that change, the commas are superfluous. I’ve also eliminated the capitalization of “love” to make the word easier for the general reader to understand.

The image of dice alludes to men’s risk in soliciting amorous relations. Dice are also a figure for men’s genitals in troubadour poetry. See, e.g. “Sir, your dice are too small {Don, vostre dat son menudier}” (l. 51) in Guilhem IX of Aquitaine’s “I’d like for everyone to know {Ben vuelh que sapchon li pluzor}.” Here’s James H. Donalson’s English translation of that song, and here’s Leonard Cottrell’s.

The subsequent two quotes above are similarly from “Ar me puesc ieu lauzar d’Amor.” The lines quoted are: st. 4 (Speaking the truth…) and st. 5.7-10 and st. 6 (Praiseworthiness, not praise…). The song spans six stanzas.

“Ar me puesc ieu lauzar d’Amor” has survived with a melody. The Peire Cardenal website provides the melody and a musical interpretation by Jean-Marie Carlotti. Manu Théron, Youssef Hbeisch, and Grégory Dargent’s album Sirventes, appropriately substitled “Occitan protest songs,” also offers a musical interpretation of this song.

Peire Cardenal’s “Ar me puesc ieu lauzar d’Amor” is a parodic imitation of Guiraut de Bornelh’s “Non puesc sofrir.” Both songs share the same melody.

[3] “With pale sun rising, in the clear east, not yet bright {Phebi claro nondum orto iubare},” st. 1-2 (with refrain), Latin/Old Occitan text from The Centos Project, English translation (modified slightly) by A.S. Kline. The Centos Project also has Ezra Pound’s English translation (1905). For another English translation, Paden & Paden (2007) p. 17.

Kline’s translation retains the references to Phoebus (the late Hellenistic sun god) and Aurora (the Roman goddess of dawn). To make the poem more accessible to the general reader, I’ve used instead more natural terms.

This poem is now dated to the eleventh century. Paden & Paden (2007) p. 17. An example of a dawn song (a forerunner of the alba), it has three stanzas in total. It’s thought to have come from the monastery at Fleury-sur-Loire in France. It survives only in MS Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, Reginense Latino 1462. Here’s a more detailed textual representation and an Italian translation.

“Phebi claro nondum orto iubare” survives with a melody. For a transcription of that melody, Dronke (1968) p. 237.

[image] Peire Cardenal. Illumination in chansonnier provençal (Chansonnier K). Made in the second half of the 13th century. Folio 149r in manuscript preserved as Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) MS. Français 12473.


Dronke, Peter. 1968. The Medieval Lyric. London: Hutchinson.

Kehew, Robert, ed. 2005. Lark in the Morning: the verses of the troubadours, a bilingual edition. Chicago, Ill: University of Chicago Press.

Lavaud, René, ed. and trans. (French). 1957. Poésies Complètes du Trobadour Peire Cardenal (1180-1278). Toulouse: Privat.

Paden, William D., and Frances Freeman Paden, trans. 2007. Troubadour Poems from the South of France. Cambridge: D. S. Brewer.

the gift of farting: affirming natural bodily functioning

sperm whale blowing

The last words of the distinguished Roman Emperor Tiberius Claudius Caesar Augustus included an indirect reference to farting:

His last voicing heard among humans was when he emitted a louder sound from that part of him that speaks more easily and said: “Woe is me, I think I’ve shit myself.”

{ ultima vox eius haec inter homines audita est, cum maiorem sonitum emisisset illa parte, qua facilius loquebatur: “vae me, puto, concacavi me.” } [1]

That’s known as a wet one. That can happen even to a Roman Emperor. Despite being associated with explosive sounds and noxious smells, farting is a natural bodily function and normally not lethal. A fart is no more likely to produce death than to exorcise a demon from its issuer.[2]

Emperor Claudius himself recognized the merits of farting. He considered the matter with sensible concern for his subjects:

When he learned of person endangered by holding in through modesty, he is said to have even pondered an edict giving permission to rumble farts and blow the loin’s wind at banquets.

{ Dicitur etiam meditatus edictum, quo veniam daret flatum crepitumque ventris in convivio emittendi, cum periclitatum quendam prae pudore ex continentia repperisset. } [3]

The very wealthy and thus wise Roman Trimalchio recognized that women, including his wife Fortunata, fart. Trimalchio humanely explained:

None of us was born rock-solid. I can’t think of any torture worse than having to hold one in. This is one thing that even almighty Jove can’t forbid. You’re smiling, Fortunata, for that’s how you usually keep me awake at night? Even in the dining room I let all do as they please, and doctors forbid retention. But if something more is coming, everything’s ready outside: water, pots, and all the other trifles. Believe me, the vapors go to the brain and disturb the whole body. I know many have died this way, while refusing tell themselves the truth.

{ Nemo nostrum solide natus est. Ego nullum puto tam magnum tormentum esse quam continere. Hoc solum vetare ne Iovis potest. Rides, Fortunata, quae soles me nocte desomnem facere? Nec tamen in triclinio ullum vetuo facere quod se iuvet, et medici vetant continere. Vel si quid plus venit, omnia foras parata sunt: aqua, lasani et cetera minutalia. Credite mihi, anathymiasis in cerebrum it, et in toto corpore fluctum facit. Multos scio periisse, dum nolunt sibi verum dicere. } [4]

The truth is this: repressing farts hurts one’s health. Emperor Claudius’s farting death was exceptional. The great, golden-tongued Cicero himself quoted Stoic wisdom:

they say that we should fart and belch with equal liberty. So let us therefore honor the festival for married women!

{ illi etiam crepitus aiunt aeque liberos ac ructus esse oportere. honorem igitur Kalendis Martiis. } [5]

Husbands, by farting and belching for their own health, preserve their lives and extend their service to their wives. Stoic wisdom on farting is an eternal truth of classics.

Men can more directly help women with farting. An anonymous trobairitz eager for sex aggressively accosted the man trobairitz Montan. He didn’t harshly denounce her for sexually harassing him. He instead generously offered to serve her in the traditional manner of chivalry. Drawing upon oppressive, brutalizing representations of men’s sexuality, the trobairitz responded ungratefully and skeptically:

Since you have so threatened me with fucking,
I would like to know, sir, your tool,
because I have armored my entrance nobly
in order to bear the weight of large balls,
after which I’ll start kicking in such a way
that you won’t be able to hold the front hair
and you’ll have work again from behind.

{ Pois tan m’aves de fotre menazada,
saber volria, Seingner, vostre van,
car eu ai gen la mia port’armada
per ben soffrir los colps del coillon gran;
apres comensarai tal repenada
que no·us poiretz tener als crins denan,
anz de darier vos er ops far tornada. } [6]

A woman eagerly seeking to outfight a man in love is ridiculous. Such challenges shouldn’t be taken too seriously. Montan graciously responded with a promise of healthful music:

Know, lady, that I agree to all this.
As long as we are together until morning,
my penis shall ram into your armored entrance;
then you’ll know whether my wood is worth nothing,
since I’ll make you cast from your ass
such farts as will sound like they come from a horn
— and with that you’ll compose a dance song.

{ Sapchatz, Midons, que tot aizo m’agrada
— sol que siam ensems a l’endeman,
mon viet darai en vostra port’armada;
adoncs conoisseretz s’eu sui truan
qu’eu vos farai lanzar per la culada
tals peitz que son de corn vos senblaran
— et ab tal son fairetz aital balada. }

With their sexuality, men offer women a precious gift. When having sex, if a man can lead a woman to fart and dance, she should be even more grateful for the gift of his tonic masculinity.[7] Nonetheless, men such not regard such action as an obligation and an additional burden of performance.

sperm whale spouting

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Lucius Annaeus Seneca (Seneca the Younger), Ἀποκολοκύντωσις {Apocolocyntosis} divi Claudii {The pumpkinification of the divine Claudius} 4.39-41, Latin text from Eden (1984), my English translation benefiting from that of id. and Heseltine & Rouse (1913). The Apocolocyntosis was probably written in 54 GC. It states that Claudius died while listening to comic actors. Suetonius, in the Life of Claudius, similarly refers to comic actors in the context of Claudius’s death. Rolfe (1914) v. 2, 5.45.

Claudius, who killed many political rivals, wasn’t deified. However, according to Tertullian, Claudius himself sought to have Jesus of Nazareth deified in the traditional Roman way:

There was an old decree that no god should be consecrated by a general without the approval of the Senate. M. Aemilius learned this in the case of his god Alburnus. This, too, goes in our favor, because among you divinity is weighed out by human caprice. Unless a god is acceptable to man, he will not be a god: man must now be propitious to a god. Accordingly Tiberius {Emperor Claudius}, in whose time the Christian name first made its appearance in the world, laid before the Senate news from Syria Palestine. That news revealed to him the truth of the divinity there manifested. Tiberius supported a motion to deify Jesus with his own vote. The Senate rejected the motion because it had not itself given its approval. Caesar {Emperor Claudius} held to his own opinion and threatened danger to the accusers of the Christians.

{ vetus erat decretum, ne qui deus ab imperatore consecraretur nisi a senatu probatus. Scit M. Aemilius de deo suo Alburno. Facit et hoc ad causam nostram, quod apud vos de humano arbitratu divinitas pensitatur. Nisi homini deus placuerit, deus non erit; homo iam deo propitius esse debebit. [2] Tiberius ergo, cuius tempore nomen Christianum in saeculum introivit, adnuntiatum sibi ex Syria Palaestina, quod illic veritatem ipsius divinitatis revelaverat, detulit ad senatum cum praerogativa suffragii sui. Senatus, quia non ipse probaverat, respuit; Caesar in sententia mansit, comminatus periculum accusatoribus Christianorum. }

Tertullian, Apology {Apologeticum} 5.1-2, Latin text from Becker (1961), English translation (with my modifications) from Souter (1917). For thorough documentation concerning Tertullian’s Apologeticum, see its page on tertullian.org. Claudius’s action with respect to Jesus is as ridiculous as the debate on deifying Claudius in the Apocolocyntosis.

[2] Diarrhea can be lethal. According to Suetonius, the Roman Emperor Vespasian died after an attack of diarrhea. Life of Vespasian, available in Rolfe (1914) v.2, 10.24. While scholars have long believed that Claudius was poisoned by this wife Agrippina, who had strong, independent sexuality, careful medical review of the limited available evidence suggest that Claudius died suddenly from cerebrovascular disease. Marmion & Wiedemann (2002). Claudius was 64 years old when he died.

Farting has been used to turn a blessing into a curse. From a prayer to God to give another joy, health, pleasure, patience, and righteousness came this Occitan song:

May god, sovereign over farts, protect you
and grant you during the week to make two such
that are heard by all who come to see you;
And when the next evening comes,
may one such descend from you to your bottom
that it makes you clench and tear your ass.

{ Dieus vos sal, dels petz sobeirana,
E vos don far dui tals sobre setmana
Qu’audan tuit cil que vos vendràn vezer;
E quan vendrà lo sendeman al ser,
Ve’n posca un tal pel còrs aval descendre
Que’us faça’l cul e sarrar e ‘scoissendre. }

Occitan text from Bec (1984) p. 166, my English translation benefiting from the French translation of id. Like most human capabilities, farts can be wrongly used for evil purposes.

[3] Suetonius, Life of Claudius, Latin text from Rolfe (1914) v. 2, 5.32, my English translation, benefiting from that of id.

[4] Petronius, Satyricon  47, Latin text from Heseltine & Rouse (1913), my English translation benefiting from that of id. and Walsh (1996).

Dante’s Inferno depicts the conventional negative view of farting. There in Hell the demon Malacoda (“Eviltail”) farted: “he had made a trumpet of his asshole {elli avea del cul fatto trombetta}.” Inferno 21.139, Italian text and English translation from Robert Hollander in the Princeton Dante Project.

[5] Cicero, Epistulae ad Familiares {Letters to familiar persons} 9.22 (letter 189, To L. Papirius Paetus (at Naples)), Latin text from Purser (1901), my English translation benefiting from that of Shackleton Bailey (2001) and Evelyn S. Shuckburgh (1908-9).

Kalendis Martiis translates literally as the “Kalendes of March,” meaning the first of March. That was the date of the Matronalia, the Roman festival of married women. Husbands traditionally gave their wives gifts on that day.

As should be apparent, Cicero took a raucously humorous approach to farting. Just before the above remark, he declared:

Why even an action is sometimes respectable, sometimes indecent, is it not? It’s shocking to break wind. Put the culprit naked in the bath, and you won’t blame him.

{ quid quod ipsa res modo honesta, modo turpis? suppedit, flagitium est; iam erit nudus in balneo, non reprehendes. }

Epistulae ad Familiares 9.22, Latin text and English translation from Shackleton Bailey (2001). Farting in the bath amounts to making bubbles. McConnell (2014) Ch. 4 provides at detailed analysis of Cicero’s letter 9.22, but studiously ignores its humor.

[6] An anonymous trobairitz and Montan, “I come to you, Sir, with my skirt lifted {Eu veing vas vos, Seingner, fauda levada},” st. 3, Occitan text from Nappholz (1994) p. 98, my translation benefiting from that of id. p. 99 and that of trobar.org. That latter makes freely available online Occitan text and an English translation for the full poem. The subsequent quote above is similarly from “Eu veing vas vos, Seingner, fauda levada” st. 4 (the last stanza). Montan literal means “the mounter,” an appropriate name for this hard-working troubadour.

[7] In the context of intimate relations, medieval men occasionally complained about women farting. In a thirteenth-century Galician-Portugese lyric, King Alfonso X the Wise sings:

I don’t like an ugly damsel
who flatulates at my gate.

I don’t like an ungly damsel
who is hairy as a bitch,
who flatulates at my gate
and smells like a stinky plant.
I don’t like an ugly damsel
who flatulates at my gate.

{ Nom quer’eu donzela fea
que ant’a mia porta pea.

Nom quer’eu donzela fea
e velosa come cam
que ant’a mia porta pea
nem faça come alarmã.
Nom quer’eu donzela fea
que ant’a mia porta pea. }

Songs of mockery and insult {Cantigas d’escarnho e de mal dize} No. 7, Galician-Portugese text available online and from Lapa (1970), English translation (adapted slightly) from Lazar (1989) p. 268. Here’s a recording of this song.

[images] (1) Sperm whale blowing. Taken in Kaikoura, New Zealand, 15 Dec. 2012. Image thanks to Marion & Christoph Aistleitner, via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Another sperm whale blowing. Taken in Kaikoura, New Zealand, 28 March 2015. Image thanks to Oren Rozen, via Wikimedia Commons.


Bec, Pierre. 1984. Burlesque et Obscénité chez les Troubadours: pour une approche du contre-texte médiéval. Paris: Stock.

Eden, P.T., ed. and trans. 1984. Lucius Annaeus Seneca. Apocolocyntosis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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.

Lapa, Manuel Rodrigues. 1970. Cantigas d’escarnho e de mal dizer: dos cancioneiros medievais galego-portugueses. 2nd edition. Vigo: Editorial Galaxia.

Lazar, Moshe. 1989. “Carmina Erotica, Carmina Iocosa: The Body and the Bawdy in Medieval Love Songs.” Pp. 249-276 in Lazar, Moshe, and Norris J. Lacy, eds. Poetics of Love in the Middle Ages: texts and contexts. Fairfax, Va: George Mason University Press.

Marmion, V. J., and T. E. J. Wiedemann. 2002. “The Death of Claudius.” Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. 95 (5): 260-261.

McConnell, Sean. 2014. Philosophical Life in Cicero’s Letters. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Nappholz, Carol Jane, trans. 1994. Unsung Women: the anonymous female voice in troubadour poetry. New York: Lang.

Purser, Louis Claude, ed. 1901. Cicero. M. Tulli Ciceronis Epistulae (Epistulae ad Familiares {Letters to familiar persons}). Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Rolfe, John Carew, ed. and trans. 1914. Suetonius. Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Loeb Classical Library 31, 38. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Shackleton Bailey, D. R., ed. and trans. 2001. Cicero. Letters to Friends. Loeb Classical Library 205, 216, 230. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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