wife crossdressed to save husband from devil’s retaliatory castration

Castration culture is a deeply entrenched, devilish problem of social justice. A Byzantine woman resisted her husband being castrated in tenth-century Italy. An English woman resisted her husband being castrated in seventeenth-century Nottinghamshire. Women today must act similarly — strongly and independently — to resist castration culture.

The woman’s action in seventeenth-century Nottinghamshire underscores the importance of breaking the cycle of castration. According to a widely printed ballad, a baker was riding a castrated male horse, a gelding, to the Nottingham market. That horse had smooth skin and a soft, fatty figure. The first-century Roman emperor Domitian had his slave boy Earinus castrated to preserve Earinus’s boyish appearance against the onset of puberty. After seeing the baker’s horse, a devil sought to have the baker castrate him so that he would have smooth skin and soft flesh like the baker’s gelding. At the devil’s request, the baker gelded the devil.

castrating the devil

Listening to the devil and facilitating castration is always a grievous wrong. Castration begets further castration. The devil suffered great pain from his castration and bitterly regretted it. The devil vowed that in revenge he would castrate the baker on the next market-day. The baker returned home full of fear and sorrow. He told his wife what had happened:

Oh, quoth the good wife, without doubt,
I had rather both thy eyes were out.

Although the baker, like most husbands, would do anything to please his wife, he didn’t know what he could do against the devil’s determination.

The wife took charge of the fight against castration. She understood that gender is merely a social construction, and used that banality against the devil. She declared to her husband:

I’ll make the devil change his note.
Give me thy hat, thy belt and coat,
thy hose and doublet add also,
and like to a man I will go.
I’ll warrant thee next market-day
to fright the devil quite away.

On her way to the market, the devil accosted the crossdressed baker’s wife and declared that he would castrate her. The crossdressed wife then shrewdly deployed women’s privileged immunity against castration culture:

The baker’s wife to the devil did say,
sir I was gelded yesterday.
Oh, quoth the devil, I mean to see,
and pulling her coat above her knee,
and so looking-upward from the ground,
oh, there he spy’d a terrible wound.

Oh, quoth the devil, now I see,
he was not cunning that gelded thee,
for when he cut out thy stones,
he should have closed up thy wounds.
But if thou’lt stay some little space,
I’ll fetch some salve to cure the place.

The devil felt compassion for what he thought was a poorly done castration. Any castration is wrongly done castration. But the devil’s compassion seems to have been mixed with wound envy. When he saw a flea creeping up her belly, he touched her there, attempting to squish it. She then powerfully farted:

Oh, said the devil, thy life’s not long,
thy breath it smells so horribly strong.
Therefore go thy way and make thy will,
thy wounds are past all human skill.
Be gone, be gone, make no delay,
for here thou shalt no longer stay.

In twelfth-century England, Roland the Farter had to fart annually for the king in order to keep his land. Men trobairitz in thirteenth-century France were willing to fart so strongly as to generate enough wind to save women caught in a lull half-way to the Holy Land. Women’s farting ability, however, has been historically marginalized. This heroic, crossdressed wife drove away the devil with a strong fart and saved her husband from castration. She should be celebrated equally with the traditional textual canon in literature classes.

Women must be men’s allies in the fight against castration culture. Women must resist castration culture by any means necessary. Women can crossdress and fart. Yet too few women today are doing what’s necessary to drive off the devil, promote social justice, and help men. Drawing inspiration from marginalized, heroic women of herstory, women must do more to resist castration culture.

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The above quotes are from the ballad “The Gelding of the Devil, or the prettiest jest that ever was known, how the baker’s wife her skill has shown. Then listen a while, and I the news will tell, between the baker and the devil of Hell.” I’ve modernized the capitalization and punctuation, and made a few other insubstantial changes for ease of reading. The last couplet of each stanza is repeated. I haven’t included that repetition above. Textual transcriptions of “The Gelding of the Devil” are available online for the ballads British Library, Roxburghe, EBBA 30663 (dated 1670?); Magdalene College, Pepys, EBBA 22015 (dated 1674-79); and British Library, Roxburghe, EBBA 31054 (dated 1763?). Other online instances are Oxford, Bodleian Bod18828 (Douce Prints S 9) and Bod24092 (Douce Ballads 3).

From the middle of the seventeenth century this song circulated relatively widely in England:

“The Gelding of the Devil” was entered as a broadside in the Stationers’ Register in 1656 and in the same year a version was printed in Sportive Wit. … The poem was often reprinted, appearing in An Antidote against Melancholy, 1661, Merry Drollery, 1661, Merry Drollery Complete, 1670, Wit and Drollery, 1682, Wit and Mirth, 3d ed., 1682, in all editions of Pills, 1719-1720, III, 147, and in other seventeenth- and eighteenth-century collections. Henry Bold’s Latine Songs, with their English, 1685, preserves the stanza form in Bold’s translation.

Simpson (1966) pp. 248-9. For the version via Henry Bold, see Bold (1685) song 19 / canticle 19. Learned Latin literature commonly crossed over into popular vernacular songs and stories. Ziolkowski (2007). “The Gelding of the Devil” may have developed out of medieval Latin works such as Guibert of Nogent’s story of the devil’s misandry and the twelfth-century poem De pulice.

By the mid-seventeenth-century, “The Gelding of the Devil” was associated with a specific tune and a country dance with written instructions. The country dance instructions were first printed in John Playford’s Dancing Master (3rd ed., 1657). Here’s a historical printing of the tune combined with the dance instructions.

Recent scholarly work has greatly misinterpreted castration culture as a “battle for chastity” that concerns only men’s experience and men’s bodies:

Over the course of a millennium, the details of the mystical castration stories move away from the individual man’s battle for chastity, but the battle remained a quintessentially male discourse embedded in male experience and the male body.

Murray (2019) p. 116. While only men suffer castration, castration culture is intimately related to the female body and female experience.

[images] (1) Castrating the devil. Woodcut illustration from English broadside ballad Magdalene College, Pepys, EBBA 22015 (dated 1674-79) (2) Performance of “The Gelding of the Devil” by ゆるアコ (2014). Via YouTube. Here’s a performance by Nomen Est Omen Medieval and Renaissance Ensemble (2013).


Bold, Henry. 1685. Latine songs with their English, and poems by Henry Bold … ; collected and perfected by Captain William Bold. London: Printed for John Eglesfield.

Murray, Jacqueline. 2019. “The Battle for Chastity: Miraculous Castration and the Quelling of Desire in the Middle Ages.” Journal of the History of Sexuality. 28 (1): 96-116.

Simpson, Claude M. 1966. The British Broadside Ballad and its Music. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2007. Fairy Tales from before Fairy Tales: the medieval Latin past of wonderful lies. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

counter-alba: men’s love for women hastens dawning of new day

A woman and man have illicitly spent the night together. Usually a watchman warns them of the dawn’s light. The couple must part to preserve the secrecy of their tryst. One laments that the dawn comes so soon.

About two millennia ago, the great lover Ovid wrote such a dawn song before he was castrated. Ovid addressed the dawn as the traditional Greco-Roman goddess Aurora:

Now over the ocean, come from her aged husband, she rises,
the golden-haired woman, who brings day to the frozen sky.
“Why hurry, Aurora, wait — the birds, your great son’s shades,
must fight to honor their father in annual blood rite.
Now I delight to lie in my love’s soft arms,
with her so sweetly joined to my side.
Now sleep is still easy, and the air is cool,
and the birds sing in full flow from slender throats.
Why hurry — you are unwelcome to young men and women.
Restrain your chariot’s dewy reins with rosy fingers!”

{ Iam super oceanum venit a seniore marito
flava pruinoso quae vehit axe diem.
“Quo properas, Aurora, mane — sic Memnonis umbris
annua sollemni caede parentet avis.
nunc iuvat in teneris dominae iacuisse lacertis;
si quando, lateri nunc bene iuncta meo est.
nunc etiam somni pingues et frigidus aer,
et liquidum tenui gutture cantat avis.
quo properas — ingrata viris, ingrata puellis.
roscida purpurea supprime lora manu! }[1]

Ovid went on to chide the dawn for being eager to flee from her elderly husband Tithonus. Ovid claimed that she would have delayed the first light if she had been in bed with the beautiful young man Cephalus, whom she abducted and raped.[2] Aurora blushed at Ovid’s words. Then dawn came as usual.

In a thirteenth-century Old Occitan dawn song, an elite woman relished spending the night with her lover. She wanted always to possess him:

In an orchard under hawthorn blooms,
a lady held her lover by her side
until the watchman cried he saw the dawn.
O God, O God, the dawn. It comes so soon!

“If only God had wanted, the night would never end
and never would my lover go away,
and the watchman would not see the dawn or day.
O God, O God, the dawn. It comes so soon!

Lovely, sweet lover, let us have a kiss
down in the meadows where the little birds sing.
Let us do it all, despite the jealous one.
O God, O God, the dawn. It comes so soon!

Lovely, sweet lover, let us play another game
in the garden where the little birds sing
until the watchman plays upon his pipe.
O God, O God, the dawn. It comes so soon!

I drank a draft of my lover’s breath
on the breeze that came from far where
he dwells — that man lovely, noble, and lively.”
O God, O God, the dawn. It comes so soon!

The lady is pleasing and graceful.
Many admire her beauty,
but her heart seeks love that is loyal.
O God, O God, the dawn. It comes so soon!

{ En un vergier sotz fuella d’albespi
tenc la dompna son amic costa si,
tro la gayta crida que l’alba vi.
Oy Dieus, oy Dieus, de l’alba! Tan tost ve.

“Plagues a Dieu ja la nueitz non falhis
ni·l mieus amicx lonc de mi no·s partis
ni la gayta jorn ni alba no vis!
Oy Dieus, oy Dieus, de l’alba! Tan tost ve.

Bels dous amicx, baizem nos yeu e vos
aval els pratz, on chanto·ls auzellos,
tot o fassam en despieg del gilos.
Oy Dieus, oy Dieus, de l’alba! Tan tost ve.

Bels dous amicx, fassam un joc novel
yns el jardi, on chanto li auzel,
tro la gaita toque son caramelh.
Oy Dieus, oy Dieus, de l’alba! Tan tost ve.

Per la doss’aura qu’es venguda de lay,
del mieu amic belh e cortes e gay,
del sieu alen ai begut un dous ray.”
Oy Dieus, oy Dieus, de l’alba! Tan tost ve.

La dompna es agradans e plazens,
per sa beutat la gardon mantas gens,
et a son cor en amar leyalmens.
Oy Dieus, oy Dieus, de l’alba! Tan tost ve. }[3[

The “jealous one” is the woman’s husband. She’s cuckolding him. Yet at the same time, “her heart seeks love that is loyal.” Men’s experience of women’s disloyalty historically has prompted men’s sexed protests. But men’s sexed protests have been no more effective in overcoming gender injustices than have been dawn songs in delaying the ordinary dawn.

Imagination is crucial for perceiving alternatives to entrenched social injustices. In the vibrantly diverse and expressively uninhibited thirteenth-century Galician-Portuguese songs, a woman speaker reversed the convention of dawn songs:

I remain lonely without my lover,
and even my eyes cannot rest,
and I pray for light with every breath.
God refuses me this favor.
But with my lover were I spending the night,
now with me would already be light.

When I and my lover slept together,
before I knew the night was gone,
but now the night goes on and on.
The light lags, the new day lags.
But with my lover were I spending the night,
now with me would already be light.

And so as I have perceived,
when I have my lamp and my lord,
soon comes the light, unpleasing to me.
The night’s hours now go and come and grow.
But with my lover were I spending the night,
now with me would already be light.

I prayed more than a hundred Our Fathers
for the one who died on the true cross,
that he might quickly bring me light.
Advent nights are all he shows.
But with my lover were I spending the night,
now with me would already be light.

{ Sen meu amigo manh’eu senlheira
e sol non dormen estes olhos meus
e, quant’eu posso, peç’a luz a Deus
e non mi a dá per nulha maneira.
Mais, se masesse con meu amigo,
a luz agora sería migo.

Quand’eu con meu amigo dormía,
a noite non durava nulha ren,
e ora dur’a noit’e vai e ven,
non ven a luz, nen pareç’o día.
Mais, se masesse con meu amigo,
a luz agora sería migo.

E, segundo, com’a mí parece,
comigo man meu lum’e meu senhor,
ven log’a luz, de que non hei sabor,
e ora vai a noit’e ven e crece.
Mais se masesse con meu amigo,
a luz agora sería migo.

Pater nostrus rez’eu máis de cento
por aquel que morreu na vera cruz,
que el mi mostre mui cedo a luz,
mais mostra-mi as noites d’avento.
Mais, se masesse con meu amigo,
a luz agora sería migo. }[4]

This song assumes the listener’s appreciation for dawn songs and the Christian Gospel. The woman speaker, yearning for her lover, fails to understand fully incarnating life. Advent nights are the longest nights in the European calendar. Yet Advent nights lead to Christmas. According to the Christian Gospel, Jesus Christ declared:

I have come as light into the world, that whoever believes in me may not remain in darkness.

{ ἐγὼ φῶς εἰς τὸν κόσμον ἐλήλυθα ἵνα πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων εἰς ἐμὲ ἐν τῇ σκοτίᾳ μὴ μείνῃ }[5]

The fourth-century Roman governor and poet Prudentius figured light as a new day of Christian life:

We lay curled up long enough.
Profound forgetfulness
has pressed, has weighed, has buried
our minds wandering in meaningless dreams.

Those things are worthless frauds indeed
that we sought, like sleepers,
for worldly glory.
Let us wake up! Here is truth.

Gold, pleasure, joy,
wealth, esteem, success
— bad things that fill us with conceit —
when morning comes, they are all nothing.

You, Christ, dispel our sleep,
you, break the chains of night,
you, get rid of the old sin,
pour in the light that is new.

{ sat convolutis artubus
sensum profunda oblivio
pressit, gravavit, obruit
vanis vagantem somniis.

sunt nempe falsa et frivola
quae mundiali gloria
ceu dormientes, egimus:
vigilemus, hic est veritas.

aurum, voluptas, gaudium,
opes, honores, prospera,
quaecumque nos inflant mala:
fit mane, nil sunt omnia.

tu, Christe, somnum dissice,
tu rumpe noctis vincula,
tu solve peccatum vetus
novumque lumen ingere! }[6]

From a Christian perspective, whether or not the woman of the thirteenth-century Galician-Portuguese song is with her lover doesn’t matter. If she knew Christ, the light of the world would already be with her.

From a Christian perspective, the incarnation of the fully masculine man Jesus points to the fullness of joy.  Jesus witnessed to love made in human flesh:

Lament of courtly love that cannot be shown —
such you always sang before the dawn rose,
the bitter after the sweet.
He who has received
love and a woman’s greeting where
they had to part from one another —
he heard much advice from you then,
when the morning star
arose. Watchman, now be silent.
Sing no more of that!

Whoever is or was accustomed
to recline with his beloved
without being hidden from spies —
he need not, for fear of morning,
rush and strive to get away.
He can stay there awaiting the day.
He need not be guided out in peril of his life.
One’s own trusted, tender wife
can give such love as this.

{ Der helden minne ir klage
du sunge ie gen dem tage,
daz sûre nâch dem süezen,
swer minne und wîplich grüezen
alsô enpfienc,
daz sie sich muosen scheiden:
swaz du dô riete in beiden,
dô ûf gienc
der morgensterne, wahtaer swîc,
dâ von niht langer sienc.

Swer pfliget odr ie gepflac
daz er bî liebe lac
den merkern unverborgen,
der darf niht durch den morgen
dannen streben,
er mac des tages erbeiten:
man darf in niht ûz leiten
ûf sîn leben.
Ein offeniu süeze wirtes wîp
kan solhe minne geben. }[7]

The fleshly love of a married couple and the blessing of children are fundamental figures in Christian understanding. They transmit the Christian sense of God as the light of the world. The thrill of illicit love has gone from dawns today. One-night trysts, at least before the corona plague, spark as easily as tinder. Fire, whether small or hellish, doesn’t provide the Christian light of the world. Men today rightly fear marriage. If you have a wife, relish your daring deed and sleep together past the dawn!

The dawn song, also known as an alba, is a prevalent poetic form historically and world-wide. The Galician-Portuguese counter-alba, with its counter-current of Christian irony, is both conceptually distinctive and personally poignant.[8] Read it to yourself and try to imagine a better way to live.

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[1] Ovid, Loves {Amores} 1.13, Latin text (with my changes to editorial punctuation) from Ehwald’s 1907 Teubner edition via Perseus, English translation adapted from that of A. S. Kline at Poetry in Translation. Here’s a Latin text with some helpful notes and the English translation of May (1930).

The dawn song often goes by different terms in relation to poetry written in different languages. In relation to medieval Occitan songs, a dawn song is called an alba. In Old French, a dawn song is called an aube; in medieval German, a tagelied. On dawn songs through history and around the world, Hatto (1965). On medieval European dawn songs, Saville (1972). This post uses alba and counter-alba as thematic terms independent of language and as synonymous with “dawn song.” “Counter-alba” similarly means “counter-dawn-song.”

[2] On Aurora, also known as Eos, kidnapping and raping Cephalus, see, e.g. Pausanias, Description of Greece 1.3.1, 3.18.10-16. More on Aurora / Eos.

[3] Anonymous, “In an orchard under hawthorn blooms {En un vergier sotz fuella d’albespi},” Old Occitan text (BdT 461.113) from Rialto, English translation (with my minor changes) from Paden & Paden (2007) p. 233. This dawn song {alba}, which has the form of a dance song {balada}, probably was written late in the thirteenth century. Id. Rialto supplies an Italian translation. Donalson (2003), “Beneath the high and leafy hawthorn-bow’r,” provides a similar Old Occitan text and an alternate English translation. A. S. Kline at Poetry in Translation also offers an alternate English translation. Here’s a throat-singing musical score for this song.

Among the surviving roughly 2,000 Old Occitan songs are about 18 albas. Of those, Poe classifies two as counter-albas and six as religous albas. Poe (1984) p. 260. Relatively popular among these songs today are Cadenet’s “If I ever was beautiful and worthy {S’anc fui belha ni prezada}” (performance by Paulin Bündgen / Ensemble Céladon; by The Mediaeval Baebes; by Théron, Hbeisch & Dargent) and Giraut de Bornelh’s “Glorious King, true Light and Splendor {Reis glorios, verais lums e clartatz}” (performance by S. Bergeron / La Nef; by Ensemble Céladon). For English translations of other albas, Paden & Paden (2007) and Hatto (1965) pp. 358-79.

[4] Juião Bolseiro, song for a beloved man {cantiga d’amigo}, “I remain lonely without my lover {Sen meu amigo manh’eu senlheira}” (B 1165, V 771), Galician-Portuguese text from Wikisource (close to that of Cantigas Medievais Galego-Portuguesas), English translation adapted from that of Zenith (1995) p. 81. For an alternate English translation, Hatto (1965), p. 325. This cantiga dates to 1250-1275. Kurtz (2018).

Laurence Marafante Brancao has made available some classroom notes about this song. Carvalho Peiruque (2015), pp. 1-2, tendentiously misses its sophistication. Resgala Júnior (2018), pp. 93-4, puts forth an anti-meninist interpretation that supports dominant gynocentric ideology. Yet two decades earlier, a scholar perceived the need to declare in the introduction to his scholarly article:

The cantigas d’amigo are clearly not woman-hating broadsides any more than they are succulent dummies devised by men to keep their women quiet.

Ashurst (1998) p. 20.

Two other cantigas d’amigo by Juião Bolseiro are closely associated with “Sen meu amigo manh’eu senlheira.” In his song, “From the night of yesterday they might well have made {Da noite d’eire poderam fazer},” a woman’s voice similarly recounts an endless night alone and a quickly ending night with her lover. For an English translation, Hatto (1965) p. 326. But this cantiga d’amigo lacks the sophisticated, Christian allusions to light in “Sen meu amigo manh’eu senlheira.” Juião Bolseiro, “These nights so long that God made in an austere day {Aquestas noites tam longas que Deus fez em grave dia}” similarly laments that God didn’t make lonely nights as long as the nights that the woman enjoys with her beloved man. These two other dawn songs lack the poignancy and depth of “Sen meu amigo manh’eu senlheira.”

The corpus of medieval Galician-Portuguese songs includes one song close to a conventional alba. It begins:

Rise up, beloved, who on cold mornings sleeps;
love is what all the world’s birds were saying –
I’m a happy soul.

{ Levad’, amigo, que dormides as manhanas frías
tôdalas aves do mundo d’amor dizían.
leda m’and’eu. }

Nuno Fernandes Torneol, cantiga d’amigo, “Levad’, amigo, que dormides as manhanas frias” (B 641, V 242), Galician-Portuguese text (alternate source) and English translation (Zenith) from Cantigas Medievais Galego-Portuguesas. For a review of medieval Galician-Portuguese dawn songs in comparative perspective, Lang (1905) pp. 1-6.

Galician-Portuguese dawn songs challenge conceptions of the alba. The watchman has been asserted to play a role “crucial to the alba.” Shapiro (1976) p. 609. The Galician-Portuguese dawn songs don’t mention a watchman. The Old Occitan counter-alba has been characterized as having “a loss of realism in the figure of the lady … a movement from the concrete to the abstract.” Poe (1984) pp. 266-7. However, the woman’s voice in the counter-alba “Sen meu amigo manh’eu senlheira” is realistic and concrete.

[5] John 12:46, ancient Greek text (mGNT) from Blue Letter Bible, English text of the Revised Standard Version. See also, e.g. John 1:5, 8:12.

[6] Prudentius, Book of the Daily Round {Liber Cathemerinon} 1, “Hymn at Cock-Crow {Hymnus ad galli cantum},” incipit “The bird that ushers in the day {Ales diei nuntius}” stanzas 22-25 (vv. 85-100), Latin text and English translation (modified slightly according to my poetic sense) from O’Daly (2012) pp. 42-3. Here’s a tabular arrangement of the Latin text, a Dutch translation, and three alternate English translations.

[7] Wolfram von Eschenbach, “Lament of courtly love that cannot be shown {Der helden minne ir klage},” medieval German text and English translation (with my minor changes) from Saville (1972) pp. 45-6. For alternate English translations, Hatto (1965), p. 454, and Wilhelm (1990), pp. 210-1. Here’s a modern German translation. Wilhelm (1990) also includes a translation of another dawn song {tagelied} by Wolfram von Eschenbach, “It has raked its talons downward through the clouds {Sîne klâwen durch die wolken sint geslagen}.” All of Wolfram’s tagelied are available with medieval German text and English translation in Hatto (1965) pp. 448-54. Wolfram probably wrote these songs about the beginning of the thirteenth century.

[8] Compared to the Galician-Portuguese counter-alba “Sen meu amigo manh’eu senlheira,” the two surviving Old Occitan counter-albas are less sophisticated and less poignant. One, composed in 1257, begins:

From pleasant
I suffer pain,
such bad
that at night I cannot sleep,
but continually toss and turn
and I long
to see the dawn.

{ Ab plazen
Ai cozen
Mal talen
Tant quel ser no puesc durmir,
Ans torney e vuelf e vir
E dezir
Vezer l’alba }

Guiraut Riquier, “From pleasant {Ab plazen}” (PC 248,3), stanza 1, Old Occitan text and English translation adapted from Hatto (1965) p. 376. For the whole song and an English translation, Donalson (2003), “Pleasant and / amorous.” The last two verses above form a refrain for the subsequent three similar stanzas.

The other Old Occitan counter-alba is ostentatiously literary. It begins:

In gratitude for the goodness shown
to me by love under whose rule I live,
and in order to lessen my sorrow,
I will write a dawn song with a new tune.
I see the night clear and serene
and hear a bird’s song
which soothes my pain,
seeking and calling upon the new day.
Oh God, what grief
the night makes for me!
So I long for the dawn.

For I swear to you by the holy Gospels
that not Andreas of Paris,
Floris, Tristan, or Amelis,
were ever so faithful to love.
Since I have given my heart to her,
I do not pray an Our Father,
such that before I say “who is in heaven,”
my spirit mourns for lacking her.
Oh God, what grief
the night makes for me!
So I long for the dawn.

{ Per grazir la bon’estrena
d’amor que·m ten en capdelh,
e per aleujar ma pena
vuelh far alb’ab son novelh.
La nuech vey clar’e serena
et aug lo chan d’un auzelh,
en que mos mals se refrena,
don quier lo jorn et apelh!
Dieus, qual enueg,
mi fay la nueg!
Per qu’ieu dezir l’alba.

Qu’ie·us jur pels sans evangelis
que anc Andrieus de Paris,
Floris, Tristans ni Amelis
no fo vas amor tant fis.
depus mon cor li doneris
us pater noster non dis,
ans qu’ieu disses: Qui es in coelis,
fon ab lieys mos esperis.
Dieus! qual enueg
mi fay la nueg!
per qu’ieu dezir l’alba.}

Uc de la Bacalaria, “In gratitude for the goodness shown {Per grazir la bon’estrena}, (PC 449,3), stanzas 1-2, Old Occitan text from Hatto (1965), p. 376, and Donalson (2003), “I am grateful to be given,” my English translation benefiting from those of Hatto and Donalson. For the whole song and an English translation, Donalson (2003), “I am grateful to be given.” The last three verses of this first stanza form a refrain for the subsequent three stanzas. In this early thirteenth-century song, the promise to “write a dawn song with a new tune” functions as a thematic boast that leads into the subsequent literary boasting.

[images] (1) Video recording of Palestrina’s antiphon “Come from Lebanon, my bride {Veni de Libano, sponsa mea}” from the Song of Solomon {Cantica Salomonis} by Palestrina Ensemble Munich, conducted by Venanz Schubert (2013). Cf. Song of Songs 4:8 and Dante, Purgatorio 30:10-12. Via YouTube. (2) Video performance of Corsican polyphony by L’Alba. “This morning, a god came / from high to comfort the terrestrial world {Sta mane un diu hè falatu / à fà e so parte à u mondu terranu}.” Here’s the Corsican song text and French translation. Via YouTube.


Ashurst, David. 1998. “Humour in the cantigas d’amigo: Its Nature and Significance.” Portuguese Studies. 14: 20-32.

Carvalho Peiruque, Elisabete. 2015. “Uma cantiga na noite do meu amigo.” Cadernos Do IL (Cadernos do Instituto de Letras, Universidade Federal do Rio Grande do Sul). 2 (35): 1-9.

Donalson, James H. 2003. Provinçal Poems. Brindin Press. Online.

Hatto, Arthur Thomas. 1965. Eos: an enquiry into theme of lovers’ meeting and partings at dawn in poetry. The Hague: Mouton.

Kurtz, Guillermo. 2018. “Dating cantigas.” Virtual Center for the Study of Galician-Portuguese Lyric. Online.

Lang, Henry Roseman. 1905. Old Portuguese Songs. Halle a.d.S: Niemeyer.

O’Daly, Gerard J. P. 2012. Days Linked by Song: Prudentius’ Cathemerinon. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (review by Catherine Conybeare)

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

Poe, Elizabeth Warren. 1984. “The Three Modalities of the Old Provençal Dawn Song.” Romance Philology. 37 (3): 259-272.

Resgala Júnior, Renato Marcelo. 2018. “Alteridades: gênero, corpo e sexualidade no discurso literário.” Revista Transformar. 12 (1): 86-102.

Saville, Jonathan. 1972. The Medieval Erotic Alba: structure as meaning. New York, London: Columbia University Press.

Shapiro, Marianne. 1976. “The Figure of the Watchman in the Provençal Erotic Alba.” MLN. 91 (4): 607-639.

Wilhelm, James J., ed. 1990. Lyrics of the Middle Ages: an anthology. New York: Garland Publishing.

Zenith, Richard, trans. 1995. 113 Galician-Portuguese Troubadour Poems. Manchester: Carcanet, in association with Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Instituto Camões.

Lucian’s True Story: a seminal work of meninist literature

Lucian of Samosata’s second-century True Story is a fantastic, seminal work of meninist literature. Lucian dared to imagine a society in which men conceived and carried to birth children via their bodies, theirselves.[1] Men were thus not biologically subject to the fundamental gender inequality in paternity knowledge. Moreover, men weren’t exposed to acute gender bias in child custody and “child support” rulings. In this men-only society, men couldn’t be subject to gender bias in criminal justice such as is starkly evident today in highly gender disproportionate incarceration of men. The elimination of these gender biases is as fantastic as men walking on the moon without any women overlooking their steps. Lucian dared to imagine gynocentric society subverting itself and permitting, even just temporarily, an alternate place of gender justice in the heavens.

man giving birth to child

Lucian imagined men’s penises as not just partnering to transmit life into a new generation, but also as a strong, independent aid to propulsion. Odysseus had himself bound to a ship’s mast to repress his sexuality in the circumstances of Sirens singing. That’s like men castrating themselves to avoid the risk of forced financial fatherhood. Men liberating themselves sexually with their own hands can be more enjoyable. Consider men in the ocean, transcending the socially constructed, technologically genderlessness of modern windsurfing:

They lie on their backs on the water, and erecting their penises, which are very large, they spread sails on them, holding the sheets in their hands, and as soon as the wind strikes them, away they sail.

{ ὕπτιοι κείμενοι ἐπὶ τοῦ ὕδατος ὀρθώσαντες τὰ αἰδοῖα – μεγάλα δὲ φέρουσιν – ἐξ αὐτῶν ὀθόνην πετάσαντες καὶ ταῖς χερσὶν τοὺς ποδεῶνας κατέχοντες ἐμπίπτοντος τοῦ ἀνέμου ἔπλεον. }[2]

“Men need women like fish need fins.” No, that’s not right, it’s this: “men need women like fish need wind.” Lucian was prescient in affirming the value of men’s sexuality. Lucian’s True Story challenges deeply entrenched castration culture.

woman windsurfing

Modern classical philology, subservient to dominant gynocentric ideology, has obscured Lucian’s figure of men’s strong, independent sexuality. Early in the seventeenth-century, Francis Hickes, a reclusive scholar-farmer who was the son of an English tapestry weaver, provided a reasonably good English translation of men’s sexual windsurfing in Lucian’s True Story:

As they lie upon their backs in the water and their privy members standing upright, which are of a large size and fit for such a purpose, they fasten thereto a sail, and holding their cords in their hands, when the wind has taken it, are carried up and down as please themselves.[3]

In the original Greek, the word αἰδοῖᾰ clearly means in context “penises.” That’s the most progressive translation in our time of oppressive gynocentrism. The relevant, direct sense of the singular Greek substantive is “honored, respected part.” Hickes translated αἰδοῖᾰ as “privy members.” In early modern English, privy meant “private, exclusive,” yet carried honor through terms such as the king’s “privy chamber {private room}.” Hickes’s translation is acceptable, particularly given that he was a reclusive rustic unaware of historically entrenched systemic sexism.

Across the past three centuries, translations of Lucian’s True Story have refused to acknowledge the extensive value of men’s penises, even out at sea. In 1780, Thomas Francklin, Doctor of Divinity and Greek professor at the University of Cambridge, ended medieval appreciation of incarnated human life and lowered the curtain on men’s sexual windsurfing:

they fastened to their middle a sail, and holding the lower part of the rope in their hands, were carried along by the wind.[4]

These men sailed without anything functioning as a mast. That’s a ridiculous fantasy, one characteristic of castration culture. Francklin, not only a prude but also a pedant, added a footnote:

their middle] Lucian says ὀρθώσαντες τὰ αἰδοῖα, ἐξ αὐτῶν ὀθόνην πετάσαντεςm &c. which the learned reader, if he thinks proper, may interpret for himself.

Nothing is improper about men’s penises, which are a vital part of the cosmos. In 1820, another English translation suggested the horrible fate of Sincopus by engaging in periphrasis: the man “erects his middle mast.” A translation in 1899 similarly dehumanized men.[5] Men do not have masts. Meninism is the radical notion that men are human beings. Men should not be socially constructed as ships that serve women in commodity trade for exotic luxury goods.

The status of men’s sexual windsurfing continued to worsen across the modern era. In 1879, a scholar at Trinity College, Oxford, authored through Oxford University’s Clarendon Press an edition of the original text of Lucian’s True Story. This text was “edited with introduction and notes for the use of middle forms in schools.”[6] It excised from Lucian’s ancient Greek text the sentence concerning men’s sexual windsurfing. A castrated, ignorance-promoting ancient Greek text of Lucian’s True Story was thus distributed to schools under the authority of an elite educational institution.

Subsequent English translations cut more specifically men’s penises. An influential, scholarly translation for Oxford’s Clarendon Press in 1905 created an implicit gender gap:

they float on their backs, erect a sail, and then, holding the sheets with their hands, catch the wind.[7]

On what did these men erect their sails? That’s a socially constructed gender gap in this translation’s description. A recent commentator aptly observed that this translation works to “reduce the Phallonauts to Phallonots.” Moreover, the authors excised passages describing men having sexual freedom and reproductive autonomy. The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University himself proofread this translation. The authors even explicitly thanked the Vice-Chancellor for valuable advice on “the difficult subject of excision.” Making this subject difficult is ideological obfuscation. It’s simple. Excising men’s genitals reflects castration culture and systemic sexism.

Another widely disseminated translation of Lucian’s True Story shows repressive anxiety about representing men’s penises. The 1913 translation for the Loeb Classical Library described the sexually windsurfing men as having “hoisted their never-mind-whats.” Never mind what? Men’s penises are at the center of their human being! The reprinting of this translation in 1921 substituted “jury-masts” for “never-mind-whats.”[8] That obscures the anxiety about men’s sexuality with a poor figure. A jury-mast is a low-quality, hastily constructed mast. Men’s penises, in contrast, have been finely crafted through biological evolution for millennia. To this day, “jury-masts” deplorably represents men’s penises in the influential Loeb edition of Lucian’s True Story.

Men students having a fully functional sense of their own gender identity deserve to be affirmed and allowed to stand erect, protected from shame. The most recent translation of Lucian’s True Story, published in 2005, describes the men engaging in sexual windsurfing as “erecting their organs.”[9] A tongue is an organ. A toe is an organ. So too is the liver. These men weren’t windsurfing with just any organ. They were windsurfing with their erect penises. All professors should profess nothing less than philological correctness in teaching classics.

In 1962, New York University classics professor Lionel Casson erected himself above the modern, anti-meninist practice of translation. Professor Casson provided a scintillating translation of men’s sexual windsurfing in Lucian’s True Story:

a man would lie on his back in the water, induce an erection, hoist a sail on it (their penises were enormous), and holding the sheets in his hands, bowl along before the wind.[10]

Not pandering to prurient tastes, Casson followed the ancient Greek in not describing explicitly how a man would “induce an erection.” At the same time, Casson evoked Lucian’s sense of classical pastoral with “bowl along before the wind.” Bowling requires balls, which these men surely had and enjoyed. Living within gynocentric society, Casson credited his wife for reviewing his translation in manuscript. With admirable meninist respect for forefathers, Casson also credited his father:

My father, as always, read and reread every page of the manuscript. The dialogue throughout has profited from his fine feeling for idiom and the exposition from his uncompromising insistence on clarity.

Classical philology’s gender failures must be relegated to the past. Moving forward, all professors teaching Lucian’s True Story should offer students an English translation at least as true and beautiful as Lionel Casson’s.

Underscoring the importance of truthful representation in translation, Lucian’s account of men’s sexual windsurfing leads into an account of women’s violence against men. Women’s violence against men tends to be socially sophisticated. In this case, Lucian and his men had endured hunger, captivity, and brutal battles before they landed on an island. What appeared to be beautiful young women like Nausicaa and her servant-girls came to welcome them. But unlike Nausicaa and her servant-girls, these young women dressed and acted like courtesans. Each woman paired off with a man and brought him back to her home as her guest. Before a woman took him home, Lucian noticed human bones and skulls piled on the ground. He prayed for his safety and the safety of his men. Then he went with the woman to her home. Men must learn to be more wary of women.

Lucian at least believed his eyes and was unafraid to question a woman. That’s necessary to ensure men’s safety:

A little while later, as my hostess was serving me, I got a glimpse of her legs. They weren’t a woman’s limbs but a donkey’s shanks. Drawing my sword, I seized her and tied her up. Then I interrogated her thoroughly. She very reluctantly admitted to me that she and the others were women of the sea called Ass-legs and that that their food was the strangers who came to the island. “We get them drunk,” she explained, “go to bed with them, and then attack them in their sleep.”

{ μετ’ ὀλίγον δὲ τῆς ξένης διακονουμένης εἶδον τὰ σκέλη οὐ γυναικός, ἀλλ’ ὄνου ὁπλάς: καὶ δὴ σπασάμενος τὸ ξίφος συλλαμβάνω τε αὐτὴν καὶ δήσας περὶ τῶν ὅλων ἀνέκρινον. ἡ δέ, ἄκουσα μέν, εἶπεν δὲ ὅμως, αὐτὰς μὲν εἶναι θαλαττίους γυναῖκας Ὀνοσκελέας προσαγορευομένας, τροφὴν δὲ ποιεῖσθαι τοὺς ἐπιδημοῦντας ξένους. “ἐπειδὰν γάρ,” ἔφη, “μεθύσωμεν αὐτούς, συνευνηθεῖσαι κοιμωμένοις ἐπιχειροῦμεν.” }[11]

In short, these Ass-legs women raped and murdered men. Yet this story has deeper significance than merely drawing needed attention to women raping men and violence against men. Why did Lucian draw his sword before he seized this criminal woman and tied her up? Holding a sword would have impeded those manual acts.

Lucian’s drawn sword affirms the value of men’s penises against the murderous Ass-legs women. Lucian’s preceding description of men’s sexual windsurfing depicts the autonomous value of men’s penises. But by the grace of God, human sexuality can also bring women and men together in pleasure and fruitfulness. Lucian raised his sword in strong protest against the Ass-legs women exploiting men’s sexuality and murdering men. After Lucian alerted his men and saved their lives, he returned to the criminal Ass-legs woman he had seized. She had dissolved into water. What was reality here? Lucian thrust his sword into the water. It turned into blood, the true remains of that blood-thirsty woman. Lucian’s sword indicates the revelatory importance of the penis’s action.[12] Eliminating men and their penises promotes a world of deceptions and lies.

Lucian revealing truth with sword

Earlier Lucian and his men came across what seemed to be a place of men’s delightful dreams. A river flowed with wine rather than water. Its source was the roots of beautiful, naked women growing like grapevines. They had grapes growing out of their fingers. Instead of hair, they had branches flourishing with leaves and grapes. These women, some exotic beauties but most merely local women, warmly welcomed Lucian and his men:

The women called out to welcome us as we came up, some in Lydian, some in Indian, but most in Greek. They also started kissing us on the lips. Everyone they kissed immediately became drunk and began to stagger. We weren’t able to pick the grapes because, as we pulled them off, the women would cry out in pain. They were burning with desire to have sexual intercourse with us. Two of my men tried it. They couldn’t be pried loose, because they were held fast by their penises. Their penises had grow into and become grafted onto the vines. Soon the two men became entwined in a network of tendrils, sprouted shoots from their fingers, and looked as if they themselves were ready to bear fruit.

{ ἀπὸ δὲ τῶν δακτύλων ἄκρων ἐξεφύοντο αὐταῖς οἱ κλάδοι καὶ μεστοὶ ἦσαν βοτρύων. καὶ μὴν καὶ τὰς κεφαλὰς ἐκόμων ἕλιξί τε καὶ φύλλοις καὶ βότρυσι. προσελθόντας δὲ ἡμᾶς ἠσπάζοντο καὶ ἐδεξιοῦντο, αἱ μὲν Λύδιον, αἱ δ᾽ Ἰνδικήν, αἱ πλεῖσται δὲ τὴν Ἑλλάδα φωνὴν προϊέμεναι. καὶ ἐφίλουν δὲ ἡμᾶς τοῖς στόμασιν· ὁ δὲ φιληθεὶς αὐτίκα ἐμέθυεν καὶ παράφορος ἦν. δρέπεσθαι μέντοι οὐ παρεῖχον τοῦ καρποῦ, ἀλλ᾽ ἤλγουν καὶ ἐβόων ἀποσπωμένου. αἱ δὲ καὶ μίγνυσθαι ἡμῖν ἐπεθύμουν· καὶ δύο τινὲς τῶν ἑταίρων πλησιάσαντες αὐταῖς οὐκέτι ἀπελύοντο, ἀλλ᾽ ἐκ τῶν αἰδοίων ἐδέδεντο· συνεφύοντο γὰρ καὶ συνερριζοῦντο. καὶ ἤδη αὐτοῖς κλάδοι ἐπεφύκεσαν οἱ δάκτυλοι, καὶ ταῖς ἕλιξι περιπλεκόμενοι ὅσον οὐδέπω καὶ αὐτοὶ καρποφορήσειν ἔμελλον. }[13]

Men’s delightful dreams turn into nightmares when sexually ravenous women insist on taking permanent possession of men’s bodies. Men typically respect women’s feelings and try to avoid causing women pain. Women should do likewise for men. More fundamentally, women must understand that men’s sexuality is a time-bounded gift to them.[14] Assimilating men into women isn’t in truth fruitful.

Unlike public discourse today, medieval literature openly and honestly depicted the systemic repression of men’s sexuality. For example, early in the ninth century, Methodius became the patriarch of Constantinople. That great Byzantine city was the capital of what remained of the Roman Empire. Amid intense political conflict over icons, one’s woman’s unsubstantiated accusation of rape was enough to threaten to topple the eminent Methodius and subject him to harsh penal punishment. Methodius, however, had a biological defense against unjust penal persecution:

The man most worthy of all reverence and honor in everyone’s sight bared his genitals. No one could not notice that his genitals had withered from disease and were deprived of all natural strength. This fact filled his evil-celebrating slanderers with shame. Pious persons, on the other hand, were glad. Surrounding him with enormous joy, they congratulated and hugged Methodius, who had no means of satisfying his sexual desire.

{ Homo omni reverentia atque honore dignissimus, in conspectu omnium pudenda nudavit: quae nemo non videbat morbo quodam emarcuisse, omnique naturali vi esse privata. pudore hoc factum opplevit calumniatores et malis gaudentes, pios autem laetitia: qui ingenti cum gaudio Methodium cingentes salutabant atque amplectebantur, neque habebant quo modo voluptati suae satisfacerent. }[15]

Sadly learning from Methodius’s horrifying experience of persecution, some men sought what seemed to be the only effective defense against a false accusation of rape:

And from this with greater understanding some men quietly solicited where a man might seek for this means of withering his genitals.

{ et quidam notioribus placide aggressus ex eo quaesivit quonam modo virilia eius ita emarcuissent. }

Grotesquely unjust persecution of men for alleged sexual crimes tends to cause men to droop with fear. Castration culture damages men’s sexuality and promotes the development of a barren, cruel society. That harm to men should be a serious social concern, for such a society is ultimately bad for women.

Literature that affirms the goodness of men’s sexuality is vital for overcoming the deeply entrenched injustices of castration culture. Achieving social justice depends on meninist literary critics recovering and celebrating obscured masterpieces of meninist consciousness. With his True Story, Lucian wrote a wonderful, seminal work of meninist literature. Lucian’s True Story deserves to be treated with philological correctness and taught to every student who aspires to be educated and truly enlightened.[16]

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Lucian’s True Story might be more accurately called True Stories {Ἀληθῆ διηγήματα}. It’s also called True History {Vera Historia} or True Histories {Verae historiae}. The title True Story seems to me to best reflect the play of Lucian’s text. On Lucian’s concern for truth, see e.g. Whitmarsh (2001), pp. 71-87, and Parrett (2013).

In the society of men on the moon, men engage in same-sex marriage and have sexual intercourse by thrusting one spouse’s penis into the other spouse’s hollow of the knee. Men themselves bear children:

Indeed it is not females but males that do the child-bearing. Marriage is between males, and there isn’t even a word for “women.” Men under twenty-five are the wives; men over twenty-five, the husbands. The embryo is carried not in the belly but in the man’s calf. Once conception takes place, the calf swells up. After a course of time, it is cut open and the child, not yet alive, is extracted. Life is induced by placing the child, mouth wide open, toward the wind.

{ μὲν τὸ μὴ ἐκ γυναικῶν γεννᾶσθαι αὐτούς, ἀλλ᾽ ἀπὸ τῶν ἀρρένων· γάμοις γὰρ τοῖς ἄρρεσι χρῶνται καὶ οὐδὲ ὄνομα γυναικὸς ὅλως ἴσασι. μέχρι μὲν οὖν πέντε καὶ εἴκοσι ἐτῶν γαμεῖται ἕκαστος, ἀπὸ δὲ τούτων γαμεῖ αὐτός· κύουσι δὲ οὐκ ἐν τῇ νηδύϊ, ἀλλ᾽ ἐν ταῖς γαστροκνημίαις· ἐπειδὰν γὰρ συλλάβῃ τὸ ἔμβρυον, παχύνεται ἡ κνήμη, καὶ χρόνῳ ὕστερον ἀνατεμόντες ἐξάγουσι νεκρά, θέντες δὲ αὐτὰ πρὸς τὸν ἄνεμον κεχηνότα ζῳοποιοῦσιν. }

Lucian of Samosata, True Story 1.22, ancient Greek text from Casey, Nimis & Hayes (2014), English translation (with minor changes) from Casson (1962) p. 23. Ancient Greek myth describes Athena and Dionysus being born from the male god Zeus’s head and thigh, respectively. Lucian satirically referred to these myths in Dialogi Deorum 12.1. Deriu (2017) pp. 5-6. Lucian seems in part to be satirizing the classical Socratic model of men teaching boys. Id. pp. 15-7. The Socratic model certainly isn’t the only possible model of male society.

Another race of men on the moon reproduces differently, but also with gender autonomy. Among these men, called Arboreals (tree-men):

A man’s right testicle testicle is cut off and planted in the ground. This produces a huge tree of flesh with a trunk like a penis. It has branches and leaves and as fruit bears eighteen-inch acorns. When ripe, these are gathered, the shells cracked open, and men are hatched from them.

{ ὄρχιν ἀνθρώπου τὸν δεξιὸν ἀποτεμόντες ἐν γῇ φυτεύουσιν, ἐκ δὲ αὐτοῦ δένδρον ἀναφύεται μέγιστον, σάρκινον, οἷον φαλλός· ἔχει δὲ καὶ κλάδους καὶ φύλλα· ὁ δὲ καρπός ἐστι βάλανοι πηχυαῖοι τὸ μέγεθος. ἐπειδὰν οὖν πεπανθῶσιν, τρυγήσαντες αὐτὰς ἐκκολάπτουσι τοὺς ἀνθρώπους. }

Lucian, True Story 1.22, sourced similarly.

[2] Lucian, True Story 2.45, ancient Greek text from Casey, Nimis & Hayes (2014), English trans. from Costa (2005) p. 232, with “penises” substituted for “organs.” All subsequent quotes from Lucian’s True Story have ancient Greek text from Casey, Nimis & Hayes (2014), which includes helpful reading notes.

[3] Lucian, True Story 2.45, English trans. from Hickes (1634), spelling modernized. Francis Hickes died in 1630. His son Thomas Hickes had his father’s translations of Lucian published. Thomas dedicated this book to “the Right Worshipful Dr. Duppa, Dean of Christ-Church, and Vice-Chancellor of the famous University in Oxford” (spelling modernized). He implored the Vice-Chancellor for patronage. On the life of Francis Hickes, see Thomas Hickes’s prefatory note “To the honest and judicious reader” and the introduction to Hickes et al. (1894).

On early English translations of Lucian, Craig (1921) and Sheldon (1919). Id. p. 21, misspelled Hickes’s name and failed to acknowledge his 1634 publication. Referring to Sheldon (1901) by title without mentioning its author, Sheldon went on review his own translation of Lucian:

It is literal, in the sense that it reproduces the author’s thought with conscientious exactness. At the same time the style is idiomatic and vivacious. The translator has been at no little pains to preserve the life and warmth, the bouquet, of the original, halting not at the use of familiar, colloquial language when the text seemed to warrant it. … Here and there in this version the colloquial tone is, perhaps, somewhat overdone, a fault, however, in the right direction; but the liveliness of the style is uniformly maintained without resort to such doubtful devices. Preceding the translation there is a clear, practical, and notably complete study of Lucian, as man and author. … Full notes — too full, perhaps, but interesting and illuminating for the general reader — are placed at the foot of the page, where they ought to be, if they ought to be at all. The London Saturday Review said of this version as a whole: “It has all the attractiveness of an original work.”

Sheldon (1919) pp. 24-5. Sheldon’s translation of Lucian’s works doesn’t include Lucian’s True Story. Here’s a historical perspective on faithful translation.

As part of a proposed, multi-translator project to publish all of Lucian’s works in English translation, John Dryden in 1696 wrote a life of Lucian. Dryden died in 1700. But Dryden’s life of Lucian was included in the posthumous Dryden (1711). That work includes Thomas Brown’s translation of Lucian’s Vera Historia. Brown’s translation of men’s sexual windsurfing was similar to Hickes’s:

they lay flat on their backs in the water, with their privities that are said to be of an extraordinary size, standing erect, to which they fastened the sail, and then holding the string in their hands, sailed as the wind carried them.

Dryden (1711) vol. 3, p. 184. Brown died in 1704, so his translation certainly was completed before then. Craig (1921) pp. 157-8.

[4] Lucian, True Story 2.45, English trans. from Francklin (1780) v. 1, p. 447. The subsequent quote is from id. A translation in 1901 similarly obliterated men’s penises:

Soon we perceived men sailing in the water, after a new fashion, by means of a sail fastened round their bodies. They hold the rope in their hands, and so are driven onward by the wind.

Campbell Davidson (1901) p. 170. Men windsurfing by means of a sail “fastened round their bodies” is completely unrealistic.

[5] For men’s sexual windsurfing, Tooke translated:

The man lays himself flat on his back upon the water, then erects his middle mast*, fastens a sail to it, holding the rope at the lower end of it in his hand, and thus sails before the wind.

Tooke (1820) vol. 2, p. 123. The asterisk appended to “mast” indicates a footnote: “Lucian says ὀρθώσαντες τὰ αἰδοῖα, (μεγάλα δὲ φέρουσιν), ἐξ αὐτῶν ὀθόνην πετάσαντες, &c.” Tooke was an Englishman who became an Anglican priest and served English merchants as a chaplain in St. Petersburg, Russia, from 1774 to 1792. His translation of Lucian is based on the German translation of Wieland (1788). For the men’s sexual windsurfing, Willson (1899), p. 147, similarly has “hoist a mast in their middle to which they attach a sail.”

[6] Jerram (1879). This book lamentably has been reprinted many times in subsequent years.

[7] Fowler & Fowler (1905) vol. 2, p. 136. The subsequent quote is from vol. 1, Preface. Fowler & Fowler’s translation of Lucian’s Vera Historia omitted almost all of sections 1.22 and 2.19. In 1981, the Great Ideas Today series of Encyclopedia Britannica (a follow-up to the Great Books canon) reproduced, without correction or attribution, Fowler & Fowler’s translation. See Adler (1981) p. 254. Redmond (2013) uses Fowler & Fowler’s translation, but silently adds in some of the expurgated text.

[8] Harmon (1913) vol. 1, p. 353 (“never-mind-whats”); reprinting in 1921 (“jury-masts”). Here’s an incorrectly dated, alternate version of a 1921 or later reprinting.

[9] Costa (2005) p. 232.

[10] Casson (1962) p. 52. The subsequent quote is from the preface to id. Reviewing id., Pearson castigated Casson for including a translation of Lucius, the Ass (Asinus):

It is a tale of neither taste nor point. Casson’s willingness to call a spade a spade leads to frequently graceless English expressions. We applaud clarity; what is most clear is that though the authenticity may be disputed, the singular vulgarity of this story cannot.

Pearson (1963) p. 140. Irrespective of whether Lucian authored it, Asinus is a magnificent classic with great relevance today. For his fine translation of that tale, Casson deserves thanks.

The Lucian of Samosata Project provides online many translations of Lucian over time, but no critical perspective on the various translations. The select bibliography of Costa (2005) mentions Harmon’s Loeb translation and declares that “two others are worth noting.” These are Fowler & Fowler (1905) and Turner (1961). Here’s how the latter translated men’s sexual windsurfing in Lucian’s True Story:

You float on your back in the water, elevate the appropriate organ — which in their case is surprisingly large — to an angle of ninety degrees, attach a sail to this improvised mast, and go scudding along before the wind, holding the sheet in one hand.

Turner (1961) p. 293. That wordy, quasi-engineering translation lacks the joyful vitality and whimsy of Lucian’s text. Turner’s translation is far less noteworthy than Casson’s.

[11] Lucian, True Story 2.46, English translation from Casson (1962), with my minor changes. Lucian’s account of the sexually alluring, men-killing donkey-footed women seems to draw upon Jason and the Argonaut’s experience with the Lemnian women, Odysseus and his men’s experience with the goddess Circe, and Odysseus’s difficulty with the Sirens. Men being strongly attracted to women, even women who treat them badly, is well-recognized in myth as well as in reality. On the mythic context of Lucian’s men-killing donkey-footed women, Newman (2017).

[12] Lucian “wields his figurative phallus, his sword, with penetrating efficiency.” Ní Mheallaigh (2009) p. 19, Ní Mheallaigh (2014) p. 215. A man does not have a phallus. In reality, he has a penis. For another academic failure to recognize the important distinction between “phallus” and “penis,” see note [3] in my post on Bernardus Silvestris’s Cosmographia. For a text-centered interpretation of Lucian’s sword figuring his penis, Larmour (1997) p. 143.

[13] Lucian, True Story 1.8, English translation from Casson (1962), with my minor changes. In his account of the sexually ravenous, men-killing vine-women, Lucian seems to have built upon Dio Chrysostom’s Libyan Myth. Dio Chrysostom, Discourses 5. On that intertextuality, Georgiadou & Larmour (1997).

[14] The account of picking grapes seems deliberately contradictory. The men didn’t pick grapes, because when they picked grapes, it caused the women pain. In accordance in dominant anti-meninist ideology, ambiguity must be resolved so as to promote even more gender-disproportionate penal incarceration of men. Picking grapes, whether or not it actually occurred, thus “hints at rape.” Ní Mheallaigh (2009) p. 18, Ní Mheallaigh (2014) p. 214.

Affirming dominant ideological obfuscation of violence against men, Ní Mheallaigh interprets Lucian’s account of the sexually ravenous, men-killing vine-women as expressing “patriarchal anxiety about female sexuality, especially the fear of entrapment.” Ní Mheallaigh (2009) p. 19, Ní Mheallaigh (2014) p. 215, drawing on Larmour (1997) p. 144. Newman applies this absurd, boiler-plate academic cant to Lucian’s account of the donkey-footed women murdering men. Newman (2017) p. 93. Enlightened thinkers recognize the reality of violence against men and women raping men.

Even while debunking the modern myth of misogyny, authorities today cannot refrain from creating substitute myths in support of the gynocentric order. Here’s a blunt declaration of the truth:

The best data from contemporary social science … suggest that the very persistence of the pervasive misogyny narrative is itself a manifestation of the opposite: society is largely biased in favor of women.

Clark & Winegard (2020). But then there’s the propitiatory substitute myth:

This does not mean, of course, that there are no biases against women. For a long time, women in the West were treated as property and were considered emotional, irrational, and incapable of contributing significantly to higher culture.

Id. Given Empress Theodora’s strong, independent sexuality, the medieval requirement for a conjugal partnership in marriage, sexual feudalism and medieval men’s life expectancy shortfall, the bureaucratic reality of marriage, the sad fate of Margery Kempe’s husband, Anne of France’s advice to her daughter, and on and on, one can only marvel that the myth “women in the West were treated as men’s property” can be solemnly affirmed as truth. Since no latter than 1992, the work of evolutionary psychologists Margo Wilson and Martin Daly has promoted this ridiculous myth. For additional relevant evidence and analysis, see my post on primatology and vegetarianism, particularly note [4], and my post on medieval women choosing whether and to whom to marry.

Of course, writers have long sought to flatter their readers. This article debunking the myth of misogyny features the epigram, “Women who seek to be equal with men lack ambition. ~Timothy Leary.” Let’s build a glorious future of female supremacy. The future is female!

[15] Latin text from a translation of the mid-eleventh-century Synopsis historion of the Byzantine historian Georgius Cedrenus. Bekker & Niebuhr (1837) pp. 147-8, my English translation. The subsequent quote is similarly from id. Versions of this story also appear in the Acta Sanctorum 23 (June 14) and in the twelfth-century Byzantine historian Johannes Zonaras’s Epitome Historiarum 16.1, 4:3. Murray (2019) p. 105, notes 42-3.

Murray (2019) describes Methodius as participating in a “battle for chastity” without any regard for gynocentric suppression of men’s sexuality. Men’s sexual struggles will become much less intense when men gain reproductive rights equal to women, when adjudication of accusations of rape become gender-neutral and are judged with due process, and rape libel no longer functions as an effective political tool for promoting penal incarceration of men.

[16] Academic failures have contributed significantly to the gender injustices that Lucian’s True Story concerns and its reception reflects. One academic declared that Lucian’s True Story is “conspicuously male dominated.” Deriu (2017) p. 11. That’s like referring to a women’s caucus as “conspicuously female dominated.” According to another academic, “True Stories represents the ultimate victory of the world of the book over the world of reality.” Ní Mheallaigh (2014) p. 208. Books and reality aren’t strictly separate worlds. The ultimate victory of Lucian’s True Story would be to bring gender equality from the world of myth to the world of reality.

[images] (1) Man giving birth to a child from his calf. Illustration by Aubrey Beardsley for Hickes et al. (1894), but suppressed from that publication. Via Parrett (2013), the Savoy, and Marillier (1899). (2) Young woman windsurfing. Source photograph by Jorge Campa, August 25, 2015. Via Wikimedia Commons. (3) Lucian testing with his sword the water that remained of the Ass-legs woman. Illustration by Joseph Benwell Clark in Hickes et al. (1894).


Adler, Mortimer J., ed. 1981. The Great Ideas Today, 1981. Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica.

Bekker, Immanuel, and Barthold Georgius Niebuhr, eds. 1837. Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae. Vol. 9, Georgius Cedrenus, v. 2. Bonn: Weberus.

Campbell Davidson, Augusta M., trans. 1902. Translations from Lucian. London: Longmans.

Casey, Eric, Stephen Nimis, and Evan Hayes, 2014. Lucian: True History. Book 1, Book 2. Carlisle, PA: Dickinson College Commentaries.

Casson, Lionel, trans. 1962. Selected satires of Lucian. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Clark, Cory, and Bo Winegard. 2020. “The Myth of Pervasive Misogyny.” Quillette. July 27, 2020. Online.

Costa, Charles Desmond Nuttall, trans. 2005. Lucian: selected dialogues. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press.

Craig, Hardin. 1921. “Dryden’s Lucian.” Classical Philology. 16 (2): 141-163.

Deriu, Morena. 2017. “How to Imagine a World Without Women: Hyperreality in Lucian’s True Histories.” Medea. 3 (1). Online.

Dryden, John. 1711. The Works of Lucian: translated from the Greek, by several eminent hands. … With the life of Lucian, a discourse on his writings, and a character of some of the present translators. Written by John Dryden. 4 volumes. London: Printed for Sam. Briscoe, and sold by J. Woodward, and J. Morphew.

Fowler, Francis George, and H. W. Fowler. 1905. The Works of Lucian of Samosata. 4 vols. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

Francklin, Thomas, trans. 1780. The Works of Lucian. Vol. 1, Vol. 2. London: Printed for T. Cadell.

Georgiadou, Aristoula and David Larmour. 1997. “Lucian’s Vine-Women (VH 1,6-9) and Dio’s Libyan Women (Orat. 5): Variations on a Theme.” Mnemosyne. 50 (2): 205-209.

Harmon, A. M. ed. and trans. 1913. Lucian. 8 vols. Loeb Classical Library 14. London: Heinemann.

Hickes, Francis, trans. 1634. Certaine select dialogues of Lucian together with his true historie, translated from the Greeke into English by Mr Francis Hickes. Whereunto is added the life of Lucian gathered out of his owne writings, with briefe notes and illustrations upon each dialogue and book, by T.H. Mr of Arts of Christ-Church in Oxford. Oxford: Printed by William Turner. (alternate instance; reprinting)

Hickes, Francis, trans. William Strang, Joseph Benwell Clark, Aubrey Beardsley, illustrations, Charles Whibley, introduction. 1894. Lucian’s True History. London: Privately printed. Reprint (without Greek text), 1902.

Jerram, C. S., ed. 1879. Luciani Vera Historia edited with Introductions and Notes for the Use of Middle Forms in Schools by C.S. Jerram, M.A. Late Scholar of Trinity College, Oxford, Editor of ‘Cebetis Tabula, ‘ &c., and Joint Editor of the ‘London Series of English Classics’. Oxford: At the Clarendon Press.

Larmour, David H. J. 1997. “Sex with Moonmen and Vinewomen: The Reader as Explorer in Lucian’s Vera Historia.” Intertexts. 1: 131-46.

Marillier, H.C., intro. 1899. The Early Works of Aubrey Beardsley. London: J. Lane.

Murray, Jacqueline. 2019. “The Battle for Chastity: Miraculous Castration and the Quelling of Desire in the Middle Ages.” Journal of the History of Sexuality. 28 (1): 96-116.

Newman, Nicholas. 2017. “ποδήρεις τοὺς χιτῶνας ἐπισυρόμεναι: The Donkey-Footed Women of Lucian’s Verae Historiae in their Mythical Context.” New England Classical Journal. 44 (2): 77-97.

Ní Mheallaigh, Karen. 2009. “Monumental fallacy: the teleology of origins in Lucian’s Verae Historiae.” Ch. 2 (pp. 11-28) in Adam Bartley, ed. A Lucian for our Times. Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars.

Ní Mheallaigh, Karen. 2014. Reading Fiction with Lucian: fakes, freaks and hyperreality. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press. (reviews by Zacharias E. Andreadakis and by Lawrence Kim)

Parrett, Aaron. 2013. “Lucian’s Trips to the Moon.” Public Domain Review. June 26, 2013. Online.

Pearson, J. 1963. “Book Review: Lionel Casson (tr.), Selected Satires of Lucian.” The Classical World. 56 (5): 139-140.

Redmond, Frank. 2013. “True History Decrypted: Full text and Commentary of Lucian’s True History.” Edition 2.2 (2016). The Lucian of Samosata Project. Online.

Sheldon, Winthrop Dudley. 1901. A Second-Century Satirist: or, Dialogues and stories from Lucian of Samosata. Philadelphia: D. Biddle.

Sheldon, Winthrop Dudley. 1919. “Lucian and His Translators.” The Sewanee Review. 27 (1): 17-31.

Tooke, William, trans. 1820. Lucian of Samosata. 2 vols. (vol. 1, vol. 2). London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown.

Turner, Paul, trans. 1961. Lucian: Satirical sketches. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Whitmarsh, Tim. 2001. Greek Literature and the Roman Empire: the politics of imitation. Oxford: Oxford University Press. (reviews by Lawrence Kim and by Clifford Ando)

Wieland, Christoph Martin, trans. (German). 1788. Lucian’s von Samosata sämtliche Werke, aus dem Griechischen übersetzt, und mit Anmerkungen und Erläuterungen versehen von C.M. Wieland. 6 vols. (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4, vol. 5, vol. 6). Leipzig: Weidmannische Buchhandlung.

Willson, John Basil Wynne, trans. and A. Payne Garnett, illustrator. 1899. Lucian’s Wonderland: being a translation of the Vera historia. Edinburgh: William Blackwood and Sons.

Chaucer, Miller’s Tale: ass-reaming theme of man’s inhumanity to man

According to Chaucer’s medieval Miller’s Tale, the wild, young, and beautiful Alisoun was cuckolding her husband, a hard-working carpenter named John. Her lover was their boarder, the cleric Nicholas. Yet another, the culturally learned parish cleric Absolon, was madly in love with Alisoun. He also sought to have sex with her.

Chaucer, Miller's Tale: Alisoun & husband John

The cleric Nicholas devised a shrewd plan to enjoy a night with Alisoun. He told her husband John that another great flood was forthcoming the following Monday. The whole world would then be washed away. While merely an unlearned carpenter, the Christian John knew the biblical story of the righteous Noah saving his family from the flood. Nicholas proposed that John tie to the roof of the house three tubs in which they could float out the flood, scheduled to last only a night. John procured three tubs, lashed them to the roof with ropes, and built a ladder for accessing them. On the fateful evening Alisoun, John, and Nicholas climbed up into the tubs. When John fell asleep, Alisoun and Nicholas climbed down for the delight of sex in the marital bed.

The cleric Absolon, educated in foolish practices of courtly love, was at Alisoun’s window late that evening, praising her sweetness and bemoaning his love sickness. No snowflake melting in fear of a man’s yearning gaze, Alisoun firmly and directly told Absolon to leave:

“Go from the window, you idiot,” she said.
“So help me God, it will not be ‘come kiss me’.
I love another — and else I were to blame —
well better than you, by Jesus, Absolon.
Go forth your way, or I will cast a stone,
and let me sleep, in the name of twenty devils!”

{ “Go fro the wyndow, Jakke fool,” she sayde;
“As help me God, it wol nat be `com pa me.’
I love another — and elles I were to blame —
Wel bet than thee, by Jhesu, Absolon.
Go forth thy wey, or I wol caste a ston,
And lat me slepe, a twenty devel wey!” }[1]

Absolon begged for a kiss for the love of Jesus. Alisoun secured Absolon’s promise to leave if he had a kiss. She then called him forth to the window. In the darkness of night, Alisoun’s white flesh shone like a moon at the window. Absolon moved in to kiss what he though was her mouth. Kissing her, he felt the hair of a beard beneath her orifice. He had kissed the bottom of her ass![2] With a laugh she pulled back and slammed the window shut.

Thoroughly humiliated, the courtly lover Absolon resolved on revenge. He borrowed from a smith a hot plow blade. Then he went back to Alisoun’s window and said that he would give a gold ring for another kiss. Nicholas was then taking a piss:

And he opened up the window hastily,
and he put out his ass stealthily
over the buttocks, to the thighs.
And then spoke this clerk, this Absolon,
“Speak, sweet bird, I know not where you are.”
This Nicholas then let fly a fart
as great as if it were a thunderbolt,
and with that stroke Absolon was almost blinded.
But he was ready with his hot iron,
and he stabbed Nicholas in the middle of the ass.

{ And up the wyndowe dide he hastily,
And out his ers he putteth pryvely
Over the buttok, to the haunche-bon;
And therwith spak this clerk, this Absolon,
“Spek, sweete bryd, I noot nat where thou art.”
This Nicholas anon leet fle a fart
As greet as it had been a thonder-dent,
That with the strook he was almoost yblent;
And he was redy with his iren hoot,
And Nicholas amydde the ers he smoot. }[3]

A gas attack violates international conventions on war. Sexual violence against men is far too prevalent.[4] Penetrated with the hot plow blade, Nicholas was egregiously wounded:

Off goes the skin a hand’s breadth about.
The hot plow blade so burned his rump
and for the pain he thought he would die.
As if he were crazy, for woe he began to cry,
“Help! Water! Water! Help, for God’s heart!”

{ Of gooth the skyn an hande-brede aboute,
The hoote kultour brende so his toute,
And for the smert he wende for to dye.
As he were wood, for wo he gan to crye,
“Help! Water! Water! Help, for Goddes herte!” }

John was asleep in a tub tied to the roof. Nicholas’s cries for water jolted John awake. John in the darkness thought that the flood had come. He quickly sliced the ropes holding the tubs to the roof. His tub then crashed hard on the floor far below. The cuckolded husband sprawled on the ground in a daze with a broken arm.[5] Students, write this down: the theme of Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale is man’s inhumanity to man!

From the enormously influential ancient Greek Homeric Iliad to present-day life, violence is vastly disproportionately violence against men. Elite young men in late-medieval England had nearly ten years less of expected life than did elite young women. Women’s life-expectancy privilege came from women suffering much less violence than men did. Alisoun suffered no injury in the Miller’s Tale. In contrast, Nicholas and John were seriously wounded. Making men’s lives matter starts with noticing injuries to men.

Chaucer, Robin the Miller playing bagpipes

Cuckolding injures men: it threatens men’s legitimate reproductive interest in knowing their biological children. Women know for certain who their biological children are. Without modern DNA testing, men don’t know. This inequality in parental knowledge is a fundamental gender inequality. Gynocentric society attempts to shame and coerce men into silently and compliantly accepting this fundamental gender inequality. In the Miller’s Tale, the drunk Miller explicit revealed the ideological imperative:

A husband shall not be inquisitive
of God’s secrets, nor of his wife’s.
So long as he may find God’s plenty there,
of the rest he need not inquire.

{ An housbonde shal nat been inquisityf
Of Goddes pryvetee, nor of his wyf.
So he may fynde Goddes foyson there,
Of the remenant nedeth nat enquere. }

This ideological imperative associates the wife with God.[6] It demands that the husband be grateful for his wife having sex with him. He should not inquire whether his wife is also having sex with other men. He should accept being cuckolded and not knowing whether children of the marriage are his biological children. Like the drunk Miller of the Miller’s Tale, men are complicit in allowing this ideological regime of cuckolding to continue.[7] The theme of Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale is man’s inhumanity to man!

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Geoffrey Chaucer, Canterbury Tales, Miller’s Tale, vv. 3708-13, Middle English text from the Harvard Chaucer Website, my modernized English, benefiting from that of id., and the glossed texts by the University of Glasgow’s STELLA, and Jack Lynch. This tale is told by Robin the Miller in response to the knight’s tale.

On the reception of the Miller’s Tale to the present, Beidler (2015). The Harvard Chaucer Website calls this tale “the best of all the fabliaux in English or French,” declares that it has “a plot of breath-taking perfection,” and cites the critic Henry Seidel Canby claiming that when Nicholas is crying in pain after he received an ass-reaming, “it seems ‘as if the heavens opened, and the gods looked down and smiled.’”

Subsequent quotes are similarly sourced from the Miller’s Tale. They are vv. 3801-10 (And he opened up the window…), 3811-15 (Off goes the skin…), and 3163-66 (A husband shall not be inquisitive…).

[2] Academic scholars of Chaucer have associated Nicholas kissing Alisoun’s ass with patriarchal oppression. As always, it’s an issue of holes:

Which hole? Alison’s sense of balance would have to be rather remarkable were she to hang only her anus, and not her vagina, out the shot window. But, since Absolon gets a mouthful of hair, he apparently didn’t kiss her backside and miss her vagina, as the Miller has with his singular noun. (See v. 3732: “And at the window she put out her hole {And at the window out she put her hol}).” While Nicholas is obsessed with Alison’s private parts, and the Miller, in telling his tale, shifts continually between holes and “pryvetee,” the Miller himself reveals his confusion about, and maybe even his ignorance of, female anatomy. … Elaine Hansen and E. Jane Burns generalize the Miller’s confusion into that of patriarchy, and lament another patriarchal appropriation of women’s bodies.

Bishop (2002) p. 240, with my inserted explanatory parenthetical. The references are to Hansen (1992) and Burns (1993). Teachers today can easily address students’ “ignorance of female anatomy” by encourage them to browse readily accessible online porn. While I haven’t benefited from teachers concerned to overcome such ignorance, I speculate that it’s possible for hair to exist on a variety of places on a woman’s ass.

[3] Absolon had good reason to fear for his safety when Nicholas farted. Absolon felt threatened by farting:

In all the town there was no brew house or tavern
that he did not visit to provide pleasure —
any where a merry barmaid was.
But truth to say, he was somewhat squeamish
about farting, and fussy about speech.

{ In al the toun nas brewhous ne taverne
That he ne visited with his solas,
Ther any gaylard tappestere was.
But sooth to seyn, he was somdeel squaymous
Of fartyng, and of speche daungerous. }

Miller’s Tale, vv. 3334-8.

[4] Under gynocentrism, sexual violence against men is treated much less seriously than sexual violence against women. Thus Tripp’s declaration of fact:

the fact remains that branding someone with a red hot piece of iron is a violent and hateful act. Certainly “unBoethian,” and in the case of a man attacking a woman, even darker than that.

Tripp (1986) p. 211.

[5] The Miller’s Tale specifies that Alisoun was eighteen years old (v. 3223) and her husband John was “old” (v. 3225). Such an age difference tends to prompt ageism and blaming the cuckolding victim:

John the Carpenter was asking for trouble by taking a wife too young for him; he becomes thus the victim of his own gullibility and the agent of his own social humiliation.

Tripp (1986) p. 211. A large age difference between husband and wife doesn’t necessarily imply cuckolding, nor justify cuckolding or ageist bigotry.

Despite the hostile pressures of ageism, age-diverse marriages have been successful. Medieval literature explicitly recognized the possibility of joy and contentment in age-diverse marriages. That’s not just an aspect of the relatively liberal and tolerant medieval period. In 1943, Oona O’Neill, age 18, married Charlie Chaplin, age 54. Oona and Charlie had a happy, 34-year-long marriage that produced eight children and lasted to the day of Charlie Chaplin’s death in 1977.

[6] Reading “pryvetee” narrowly as “sexual organs,” Bishop savors Alisoun’s private parts:

The Miller’s Tale thus blasphemously — and deliciously — elevates Alison’s private parts and their unknowability to the level of God’s.

Bishop (2002) p. 240. Along with Bishop’s focus on female sexual organs, she makes a ridiculous knowledge claim about male sexual organs:

Western culture has surrounded the penis with fearsome sanctity for centuries.

Id. p. 241. To the contrary, penises historically have been disparaged, ridiculed, and brutalized to a much greater extent than vaginas have been. Castration is deeply entrenched in Western culture.

[7] In Boccaccio’s Decameron, Madonna Filippa cuckolded her husband Rinaldo. On trial for adultery, she argued against wasting what remained of her sexual desire after she had fully satisfied her husband. Madonna Filippa’s argument won widespread public acclaim. She prevailed against being charged with adultery. Chaucer picked up the key argument of Boccaccio’s story and embedded it in a more general statement of gynocentric ideology.

Academics have uncritically celebrated the gynocentric bias of the Miller’s Tale:

In the end Alisoun, like love, remains free and we surmise in control of herself — and the situation.

Tripp (1986) p. 211. Men deserve as much control of the themselves and their situations as Alisoun has. Relatively to women, men disproportionately pay for sex, men lack control over biological parenthood, and men are subject to forced financial fatherhood. Gynocentrism isn’t merely a modern phenomenon:

The independence and freedom allotted woman here hints at a certain preference for that gender, which seems to receive further support in the treatment of Alisoun. A striking example of Alisoun’s favoring by the Miller is the fact that, by the end of the tale, she is the only figure who avoids some sort of punishment.

Lavezzo (2017). The penal bias of punishment in the Miller’s Tale is consistent with the highly gender-disproportionate incarceration of men today. Women’s privileged status shows no fragility in the Miller’s Tale, or in scholars’ criticism of it. Cf. Friedman (2019).

[images] (1) This illustration (color enhanced) for Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale depicts Alisoun and her husband John, who labored as a carpenter, as well as the young cleric suitor Absolon at the window. By W. Russell Flint from Farjeon (1930). Version from 1913 publication. (2) Robin the Miller plays the bagpipes. Illumination on folio 34v of the early fifteenth-century Ellesmere Manuscript of the Canterbury Tales. Preserved as MS. EL 26 C 9 in Huntington Library (San Marino, California). Source image via Wikimedia Commons.


Beidler, Peter G. 2015. The Lives of the Miller’s Tale: the roots, composition and retellings of Chaucer’s bawdy story. Jefferson, NC: McFarland.

Bishop, Louise M. 2002. “‘Of Goddes pryvetee nor of his wyf’: Confusion of Orifices in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale.” Texas Studies in Literature and Language. 44 (3): 231-246.

Burns, E. Jane. 1993. Bodytalk: when women speak in old french literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Farjeon, Eleanor. 1930. Tales from Chaucer: the Canterbury tales done into prose. Boston: Hale, Cushman & Flint.

Friedman, John Block. 2019. “Bottom-Kissing and the Fragility of Status in Chaucer’s Miller’s Tale.” The Chaucer Review. 54 (2): 119-140.

Hansen, Elaine Tuttle. 1992. Chaucer and the Fictions of Gender. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Lavezzo, Kathy. 2017. “The Miller’s Tale: Protest, Complaint, and Uprising in the Miller’s Tale.” Essay Chapter in The Open Access Companion to the Canterbury Tales. Online.

Tripp,, Raymond P. 1986. “The Darker Side to Absolon’s Dawn Visit.” The Chaucer Review. 20 (3): 207-212.