Queen Eufeme falsely accused Malduit-Silence of attempted rape

A man raping a woman has been recognized as a grave offense across three thousand years of literary history. False accusations of rape have been a related major concern, except perhaps in the past few decades. For help in understanding the historically entrenched problem of false accusations of rape, consider the early-thirteenth-century Old French Romance of Silence {Roman de Silence}. That romance tells of Queen Eufeme falsely accusing the knight Malduit-Silence of attempting to rape her.

From her position of power and privilege, Queen Eufeme burned with sexual desire for the young, beautiful, and courtly knight Malduit. Because of his difficult upbringing, Malduit also used the name Silence. The name Silence has substantial significance in the Roman de Silence. Medieval authors regarded women as much more talkative than men. Malduit went by the name Silence as a man.

Today both women and men typically prefer to keep silent about false accusations of rape. They sometimes even seek to silence those who dare to speak about false accusations of rape. Until the end of the Roman de Silence, Malduit-Silence was silent about being falsely accused of rape. But he finally told Queen Eufeme’s husband, King Evan of England, about his wife’s wicked behavior. Malduit-Silence declared:

Truth does not permit me
to keep anything from you,
nor do I care to keep silent any longer.
Do with me what you will.

{ La vertés nel puet consentir
Que jo vos puissce rien mentir,
Ne jo n’ai soig mais de taisir.
Faites de moi vostre plaisir. }[1]

Malduit-Silence breaking his silence about Queen Eufeme falsely accusing him of rape is the fundamental moral turning point in the Roman de Silence.

Malduit as a child between two minstrels

Malduit’s ordeal began when King Evan left home for a hunting trip. Queen Eufeme then summoned Malduit to her bedchamber to play harp for her. After he had played harp awhile, she told him, “Kiss me, don’t be shy {Baisiés me, ne soiés hontels}!” She was his superior, and he was obligated to follow her orders. He kissed her chastely on her forehead. Then, without seeking his affirmative consent, Queen Eufeme kissed him. By modern standards, she sexually assaulted him. She sexually assaulted him because she was upset about his kissing her on her forehead:

And the lady, who did not care
to be kissed in this manner,
gave him five drawn-out kisses,
very passionate and very skillful.
Besides the two kisses she had promised,
she sent to him so many others
that he was from this totally upset.

{ Et la dame, qui nen a cure
D’estre baisie en tel mesure,
Li done .v. baisiers traitis,
Bien amorols et bien faitis,
Et ot les .ii. baisiers promis
Li a des altres tant tramis
Que il en est tols anuiés. }

He sought to leave. She offered him her body. When he refused sex, she taunted him:

Go tell your father the count
and your mother the countess
that you will become a hermit
and take religious vows.
You’d be a very good abbot!

{ Mandés le conte vostre pere
Et la contesse vostre mere
Que vos hermites devenrés
Et que religiön tenrés!
En vos avra moult bon abé! }

Men’s lifestyle choices should be respected. More hermits and abbots should be featured on postage stamps. When he again tried to leave, she held onto him and accused him of being a greedy prostitute:

She said, “Are you trying to raise the price?
Since you know so much how to return yourself dear,
you should go into buying and selling!
Certainly you know how to imitate well
a cheap commoner in making a deal.”

{ Dist li: “Est cho chierisscement?
Quant vus si chier vus savés rendre,
Bien devriés achater et vendre!
Ciertes, bien savés contrefaire
Felon vilain de put afaire.” }

Then she claimed that she was only testing him and that he really wanted to have sex with her. Eufeme acted crazily.

Potiphar's wife sexually assaulting Joseph

Not actually crazy, Queen Eufeme felt sexually entitled and behaved viciously. Because Malduit didn’t love her, she hated him:

This lady was thinking very broadly
about ways to harm this youth.
Her heart spurred her on. She wouldn’t care
if he were hanged. In fact, she’d like that.

{ Ceste dame estoit moult engrant
Com honir peüst cel enfant.
Ses cuers i point: ne li dolroit
S’il fust pendus, ainz le volroit. }

Eufeme’s aggrieved sexual entitlement led her to place Malduit beyond gynocentric norms:

And then she thought: “If his thoughts were
toward women, nothing could have prevented him
from having just now pleasure with me.
Either I will see him totally frustrated and
completely shamed, if I can make that happen,
or I will never know a moment’s peace.
Certainly, I believe him to be a heretic,
since having a woman doesn’t delight him.
When I showed him my flanks,
he said, ‘O God, stop!’
Isn’t that well enough proof
that he despises and disdains women?
He says that he belongs to the king,
but that makes him just as much belong to me!
He didn’t reject me because of family,
but because he wants something else.
He cherishes young men very pleasantly
and cherishes their company.
He’s a heretic, I know it in faith,
and I threaten him with my love.
I will see that he is totally shamed.”

{ Et pense done: “Se cis pensast
Viers feme, rien ne s’en tensast
Qu’orains n’eüst a moi joé.
U gel verrai tolt desjoé,
En fin honi, se gel puis faire,
U ja n’iere mais sans contraire.
Certes, gel croi bien a erite
Quant a feme ne se delite.
Quant jo li mostrai mes costés,
Que il me dist: ‘Por Deu, ostés!’,
Ene fu cho moult bone ensaigne
Qu’il despist femes et desdaigne?
Il dist qu’il apartient le roi
Mais nel fait guaires plus qu’a moi.
Ainc nel lassça por parenté,
Mais el a en sa volenté.
As vallés fait moult bele chiere
Et a lor compagnie chiere.
Herites est, gel sai de fi,
Et jo de m’amor le deffi.
Honte li volrai porcacier.” }[2]

Eufeme implied that Malduit preferred to have sex with other young men like himself than to have sex with her, the queen of the realm. To her, such preference makes him a heretic. That’s a damning classification in medieval French gynocentric society. In the twelfth-century Old French Romance of Aeneas {Roman d’Eneas}, Queen Amata similarly disparaged Aeneas in attempting to dissuade her daughter Lavinia from loving him. More generally, women’s claims about men’s fears of women commonly function as camouflage for women’s romantic failings.

Queen Eufeme faked an attempted rape and physical assault in order to have Malduit executed. In preparation, she convinced Malduit that she had earlier been merely testing him when she had accosted him. She praised him for his sexual restraint. When King Evan again left the palace for a hunt, she brought Malduit into her bedchamber and locked the door. Then she grabbed him by his belt and declared:

Why are you making for us such a situation?
I have much loved you for a long time.
You have much condemned my body.
I have strongly encouraged you,
and you have injured my body.
Not long ago, I showed my love for you,
and you made of that much clamor.
You didn’t deign to listen to me,
but you took to reject me.
You wouldn’t deign to come here any longer.
I didn’t know how to get hold of you,
but such I have done by my guile,
by God, that I hold you here now.
And by the right of love possession,
take my body. There’s none like it.
Let’s be like man and woman lovers.

{ Por quoi nos fais tu tel covine?
Jo t’ai moult longement amé.
Tu m’as mon cors moult adamé:
Jo t’ai forment acoragié,
Et tu mon cors as damagié.
L’altrier te mostrai mes amors
Et t’en fesis par tolt clamors.
Ne me degnas pas escolter,
Ains me presis a deboter.
Ne degnas puis chaëns venir.
Jo ne t’i seu comment tenir,
Mais tant ai fait par mon engien,
Enon Deu, que jo vos i tiengn;
Et par meïsme le catel,
Prent chi mon cors, il n’i a tel.
Faisons com amis et amie. }

He insistently refused to have sex with her. She then faked a sexual assault:

She began to tear out her hair
as if the Devil made her do it.
She gave herself a punch in the nose,
so that she was covered with blood.
She shed tears, but without making noise or crying,
because she wanted to do this
until King Evan returned from the hunt.
She didn’t want anyone else to know.
She trampled her wimple under her feet
and held very tightly the wretched young man.
“Son of a pig!” she said, “Fool!
May your body suffer today,
you son of a filthy rogue!
The king doesn’t care for his wife
to be occupied in such a manner.
I would be wicked and very cowardly
if I didn’t have you skinned alive
for you so wanting to rape me!”

{ Commence ses cevials detraire
Si com diäbles le fait faire.
Fiert soi el nés de puign a ente:
Del sanc se solle et ensanglente.
Plore sans noise et sans criër
Qu’el velt le fait tant detriër
Que li rois Ebayns vient de cache.
N’i violt qu’altres que il le sache.
Defole sos ses piés se guinple
Et tient bien ferm le vallet sinple.
“Fils a gloton!” fait ele, “fols!
Dehet ait hui li vostre cors!
Fils a encrieme paltonier!
Li rois n’a soig de parçoignier
A sa mollier en tel maniere.
Malvaise sui et moult laniere
Se ne te fac vif escorcier
Ki si me volsis efforcier. }

Silence must have been terrified. Any evidence he might offer probably would benefit him little relative to the social weight of Eufeme’s fabrications. Penal justice systems vastly disproportionately punish persons with penises. Men’s lives should matter, but in the social context of women’s claims of rape, men’s lives often don’t matter.

To advance her false accusation of attempted rape, Queen Eufeme masterfully manipulated her husband King Evan. When he returned home from hunting, he encountered a shocking situation:

The king saw his wife bleeding
and much bloodied all over,
her hair disheveled, her face wet.
This was no laughing matter to him.
“Dear,” he said, “who did this to you?”
“Dear sir, I will tell you all.
See in front of you he who
has done this misery to me.
He thought he had found an immoral woman.
He has tested me many times.
I thought he was only joking,
but just now, when he saw his chance,
and you had gone into the woods to hunt,
he mounted the stairs right away,
entered the bedchamber, and locked the door.
Sir, see what he did to me then!
Silence has done it, sir, indeed sir,
by his madness, by his great passion!
I will allow myself now to tell you
how his madness completely overcame him.
After he had, sir, so injured me,
and torn and shredded my wimple,
he saw well that I wouldn’t yield my chastity.
He begged me to pardon him
for doing such mad destruction
and even that I just let him go.
But I never want to let
your honor be so abased.
He would be very glad if one would allow escape from this.
Dear sir, in order to deter
all people from such outrage,
such madness, such fury,
on this man take vengeance
immediately. Don’t wait for a trial!”

{ Sa feme voit li rois sanglente
Et ensegnie moult a ente,
Ronpus ses crins, mollié son vis.
Or n’i a il ne giu ne ris.
“Biele,” fait il, “qui vos fist cho?”
“Bials sire, jal vos dirai jo.
Veés chi devant vos celui
Ki m’a faite cestui anui.
Cuida sa fole avoir trovee.
Il m’a soventes fois provee:
Cuidai quel fesist par son giu,
Mais orains quant il vit son liu
Et vos fustes el bos alés,
Les degrés ot tost sormontés,
Entre en la canbre et ferme l’uis.
Sire, veés qu’il m’a fait puis!
Silences l’a fait, sire, sire,
Par sa folor, par sa grant ire.
Ne lairai ore sa folie
Que trestolte ne le vos die.
Quant il m’ot, sire, si blecie
Ma guinple rote et depecie,
Et il vit bien que g’ere caste,
De si faite folie gaste
Pria que jo li pardonasse
Et que itant le me lassasce;
Mais jo ne vol mie lasscier
Por vostre honor si abasscier.
Moult volentiers s’en volt estordre.
Bials sire, por le desamordre
Tolte gens mais de tel oltrage,
De tel folie, de tel rage,
Prendés de cestui vengement
C’onques n’atendés jugement!” }

After falsely accusing Silence of attempted rape, Eufeme sought to preempt gathering of evidence and evaluating testimony. She wanted the king simply to act on her words. She wanted him to kill Silence just as Roman men acted on Lucretia’s words to kill other men. Authorities should at least listen to men before disbelieving them and killing them.

With extraordinary strength of character, King Evan resisted a woman’s tears. Few men are capable of such a feat:

The king’s heart was so heavy
that he couldn’t form a single word
without rolling his eyeballs.
And the queen was kneeling
at the king’s feet and weeping and crying
because he was delaying her vengeance.

The queen was strongly disturbed.
Know that she was very upset
that she didn’t see the young man
burned to a crisp, or hanging from gallows.
But the king was a good man and wise
and moderate in his heart’s impulses.

{ Li rois en a si gros le cuer:
Ne desist .i. mot a nul fuer,
Mais que les ioils celui roöille.
Et li roïne s’agenolle
As piés le roi et plore et crie
Car la venjance li detrie

La roïne fort se demente.
Sachiés que moult li est a ente
Qu’ele ne voit ardoir en cendre
Le vallet, u a forces pendre.
Mais el roi a bon home et sage
Et atenpret de son corage }[3]

The king decided that to cover-up the alleged attempted rape and send Silence into exile at the king of France’s court. That’s not doing justice. Moreover, to appease the queen so that she would preserve the appearance of court morality, the king lied to her. He told her that he would have the king of France kill Silence.

Not trusting her husband the king, Queen Eufeme secretly substituted her own letter for the king’s letter. Eufeme’s letter asked the king of France to kill Silence immediately. When the king of France’s wise counselor foiled Eufeme’s murderous plot, the king made his chancellor take the blame for Eufeme’s murderous conspiracy.

Society tends to value a man only for what he can do or has achieved, rather than for his intrinsically virtuous being. When King Evan urgently needed Silence’s services as a warrior, Evan begged Queen Eufeme to allow Silence to return to the English court. Silence thus returned from France with thirty strong French knights. They engaged in brutal violence against men to win an important victory for Evan. When Silence had returned from battle to the English court as an honored hero, Eufeme claimed that he again attempted to rape her. She manipulated Evan into sending Silence away on an impossible, “don’t return unless successful” mission to capture the wizard Merlin.

Only through the wonderful help of the wizard Merlin was Eufeme finally punished for her false accusation of attempted rape. When he came to the English court, Merlin laughed and laughed as if that court was as foolish as those who believe in rape culture. When Silence referred abstractly to the truth, Eufeme immediately silenced him:

Silence, you talk too much!
You had better keep your mouth shut.

{ Silences, trop aves parole!
Vas le devriez avoir plus brieve. }

When Merlin began to reveal the truth about her crimes, Eufeme sought to intimidate him:

You certainly know how to slander women.
What good will come of your slander?
My lord shouldn’t tolerate it,
but he should have you killed
or throw you into one very foul place.

{ Com tu ses mesdire de feme!
Quels joies est de ton mesdire?
Ja nel deüst sofrir mes sire!
Ains te deüst faire tuer,
U en .i. malvais liu jeter. }

Merlin ignored Eufeme’s death threats. Moreover, King Evan finally asserted himself in relation to Queen Eufeme:

“You are wrong, lady,” the king said.
“If a Scotsman or an Irishman
were to tell me folly or wisdom,
he would be entitled to have peace
before me. Am I not a lord?
Allow me to convene and to speak
so as to do my good and my pleasure.”

{ “Tort avés, dame,” dist li rois.
“Si uns Escos u uns Irois
Me disist folie u savoir,
Se deüst il bien pais avoir
Chi devant moi. Ne sui jo sire?
Moi lasciés convenir et dire,
Faire mon bon et mon plasir.” }[4]

Evan addressed his wife respectfully. Then he got annoyed and hurled at her platitudes that have no relation to reality. In reality, men must assert themselves in relation to women or women will effectively silence them. After Evan silenced Eufeme to give Merlin and Silence an opportunity to speak, they revealed Eufeme’s wicked deeds. Evan had Eufeme executed for her crimes — crimes that included falsely accusing Malduit-Silence of attempted rape. Women are much more rarely executed for crimes than are men.[5] Nonetheless, all at this medieval English court regarded capital punishment as fitting and just for Eufeme.

Rape and false accusations of rape should be regarded as serious crimes. Whether a rape victim or false-accusation victim is a man or a woman shouldn’t matter to equal justice under law. Yet today men being raped and men being falsely accused of rape rarely are discussed seriously and compassionately. The medieval Roman de Silence provides an extraordinary opportunity to break the silence about this social injustice. So far, literary scholars have squandered this opportunity in a cesspool of anti-men sexism.[6] One might laugh or cry at this grotesque intellectual spectacle. The wizard Merlin would laugh.

A woman, a tender thing,
knows she can shame you and dares to do so.
And it was a woman who captured me.
Is it any wonder I laugh about it,
when they have deceived us both like this,
when they have set such a snare for us
as twenty thousand men couldn’t do?
Sir, I laugh about this matter.

{ Et une feme, tendre cose,
Vos poet honir et set et ose.
Et c’une feme me ra pris,
Quele mervelle est se j’en ris,
Qu’ansdeus nos ont ensi deçut,
Qu’eles nos ont tel plait esmut
Comme .xx .. .m. ne porent faire.
Sire, jo ris de cest affaire. }

* * * * *

Read more:


[1] Heldris of Cornwall {Heldris de Cornouaille}, The Romance of Silence {Le roman de Silence} vv. 6625-8, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Roche-Mahdi (1992). Subsequent quotes from Roman de Silence are similarly sourced. I’ve modified Roche-Mahdi’s translation to follow more closely the Old French source.

The discussion above uses interchangeably rape and attempted rape in which the victim is physically assaulted and bleeding profusely from the assailant’s pursuit of sex. Both types of acts are horrible wrongs. Eufeme claimed that Malduit physically assaulted her, injuring her so as to cover her with her own blood, and attempted to rape her. She also claimed that he didn’t manage to violate her chastity. According to the Roman de Silence, she lied about about all aspects of the attempted rape and physical assault.

Roman de Silence survives in only one manuscript: Nottingham, University Library, MS WLC/LM/6, f. 189r-223v. Recent dating of its composition favors the first half of the thirteenth century. The most thorough analysis puts forward “between 1169 and 1206 (probably towards the end of this range).” Ravenhall (2022) p. 71. Here’s context on the transmission of Roman de Silence.

Silence in the Roman de Silence has been twisted to serve dominant ideology. Scholars have frequently claimed that Malduit-Silence is silenced when finally identified as a woman:

Nature “recovered her rights,” our protagonist is thoroughly feminized, and the king takes her as his wife. Silence speaks no more.

Farr (2017). Silence speaks no more because the Roman de Silence ends. The rest is ideological projection. Roman de Silence isn’t about women or wives being silent, as if that were even socially possible. Roman de Silence is about silence and silencing concerning false accusations of rape and attempted rape. That social problem remains acute in dominant discourse.

Subsequent quotes above from the Roman de Silence are vv. 3759 (Kiss me, don’t be shy!), 3769-75 (And the lady, who did not care…), 3811-5 (Go tell your father the count…), 3884-8 (She said, “Are you trying to raise the price?…”), 3925-8 (This lady was thinking very broadly…), 3929-49 (And then she thought: “If his thoughts were…”), 4048-63 (Why are you making for us such a situation?…), 4075-92 (She began to tear out her hair…), 4115-48 (The king saw his wife bleeding…), 4149-54, 4183-8 (The king’s heart was so heavy…), 6274-5 (Silence, you talk too much!…), 6372-6 (You certainly know how to slander women…), 6391-7 (“You are wrong, lady,” the king said…), 6545-52 (A woman, a tender thing…).

[2] Roche-Mahdi and others haven’t faithfully translated verses in this passage. In vv. 3935 and 3947, Roche-Mahdi translated erite / herites (forms of the same word) as “queer” and “fag,” respectively, followed by Watt (1998) p. 273, n. 16. In translating these verses, Roche-Mahdi “uses particularly aggressive colloquial language.” Pitts (2017) p. 50. Waters translated erite / herites with the anachronistic term “homosexual.” Waters (1997) p. 42. Revelle stated:

The word “erite”, or “heretic” in modern English, is clearly an accusation of sodomy, stating explicitly that Silence prefers the company of young men to that of women.

Revelle (2018) p. 35. Silence, who was fifteen years old (see v. 6602), preferring the company of young men rather than women doesn’t necessarily imply that he engages in sodomy. Nonetheless, in the context of disparaging men, that’s a common insinuation.

According to the vicious Eufeme, men preferentially associating with men makes them like disbelievers in the dominant religion. Thus Eufeme, speaking from her dominant position in the gynocentric order, declared: “He’s a heretic, I know it in faith {Herites est, gel sai de fi}.” The full sense of her words is obscured in less faithful translations, e.g. “He’s a fag, I swear to it”; “He’s a fag [literally “heretic”], I’d swear to it”, and “He is a homosexual, I know it for certain”. See Roche-Mahdi (1992), p. 185; Kinoshita (1995) p. 408, n. 31; and Waters (1997) p. 42, respectively.

Underscoring learned ignorance about gender and sexual assault, Pitts declared that Eufeme “projects an entitlement to Silence’s body in a particularly aggressive, traditionally masculine fashion.” Pitts (1997) p. 39. Medieval literature at least openly recognized women’s sense of sexual entitlement.

[3] In medieval European literature, the phrase “good man {bon home}” can function as a code for calling a man a cuckold. King Evan in fact was a cuckold. Queen Eufeme was cuckolding him with a man disguised as a nun.

The author Heldris de Cornouaille strongly condemned Eufeme’s evil behavior:

Now you shall hear what disloyalty
and what misfortune transpired,
what burning lust and fury
seized this Satan in herself.
For never did Tristan for Isolde
nor lady Isolde for lord Tristan
have such anguished yearning
as did Eufeme the queen
for the young man who was a young woman.
Never did Joseph, who was imprisoned
by King Pharaoh, as one reads,
have such anguish and such evil
by the wife of the seneschal
as did Silence here from the queen.

{ Or oiés quel desloialté
Avint et ques mesaventure,
Con faite rage et quele ardure
Cis Sathanas en soi aquelt:
Car onques Tristrans por Ielt,
Ne dame Izeuls por dant Tristran
N’ot tele angoisse ne ahan
Com eult Eufeme la roïne
Por le vallet ki ert meschine;
N’onques Jozeph, ki fu prisons
Rois Pharaöns, si le lisons,
N’ot tele angoisse ne tel mal
Par la mollier al senescal,
Comme ut icis par la roïne. }

Roman de Silence, vv. 3696-3709. The double comparison with Tristan and Isolde indicates Heldris’s concern for gender equality. The explicit distinction from Potiphar’s wife emphasizes Eufeme’s extremely evil deeds. Countess Eufemie, whose name is phonetically similarly to Eufeme, behaved much differently. Cf. Roche-Mahdi (1992), pp. xx-xxi.

[4] The omniscent narrator earlier recognized the king’s prudence in not confronting his wife:

But he didn’t want to say a word against her,
because when a woman seeks to avenge herself,
she in that way is very biting.
This the king knows. And she is too quarrelsome.
When one asks her to be quiet,
then she will strive to make noise.

{ Mais ne volt son dit blastengier,
Car feme quant se violt vengier
En tel maniere est moult trençans,
Cho set li rois, et trop tençans,
Est el. Quant on le roeve taire
Dont s’esforce de noise faire. }

Roman de Silence, vv. 4265-70. Men have enormous difficulty asserting themselves in relation to women.

[5] In a U.S. Supreme Court case concerning the constitutionality of the death penalty, Justice Thurgood Marshall courageously observed:

There is also overwhelming evidence that the death penalty is employed against men and not women. Only 32 women have been executed since 1930, while 3,827 men have met a similar fate. It is difficult to understand why women have received such favored treatment since the purposes allegedly served by capital punishment seemingly are equally applicable to both sexes.

Furman v. Georgia, 408 U.S. 238 (1972) para. 276, concurring opinion of Justice Thurgood Marshall (notes omitted). While Thurgood Marshall is widely and rightly celebrated as a leading judge, his remarks on sexism in applying the death penalty have been generally ignored. The enormous gender protrusion in the population incarcerated is also generally ignored even in the context of acute concern about gender equality.

[6] For an example of an unintentionally ironic failure in teaching the Roman de Silence, Boulanger (2018).

[images] (1) Malduit-Silence as a child between two minstrels. Illumination in Roman de Silence, Nottingham, University Library, MS WLC/LM/6, folio 203r. Queer Art History has other illuminations from this manuscript, including a depiction of Queen Eufeme attempting to force Malduit to have sex with her (folio 209r). On the paintings in this manuscript, Bolduc (2002). (2) Potiphar’s wife attempting to rape Joseph. Cf. Genesis 39:5-20. Painting “Joseph and Potiphar’s Wife” by Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, called Guercino, painted in 1649. Painting preserved as accession # 1986.17.2 in the National Gallery of Art (Washington, DC). The National Gallery rightly recognizes this image to be in the public domain.


Bolduc, Michelle. 2002. “Images of Romance: The Miniatures of Le Roman de Silence.” Arthuriana. 12 (1): 101-112.

Boulanger, Jennifer. 2018. “Women Reading Silence in a Time of Social Fracture.” Medieval Studies Research Blog: Meet us at the Crossroads of Everything. Posted online October 12, 2018. Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame.

Farr, Jonanthan. 2017. “Gender-Bending in Thirteenth-Century Literature: The Roman de Silence.” Posted online Feb. 21, 2017. Nursing Clio.

Kinoshita, Sharon. 1995. “Heldris de Cornuälle’s Roman de Silence and the Feudal Politics of Lineage.” PMLA. 110 (3): 397-409.

Pitts, Jessica Renee. 2017. Sexual Assault and Masculinity in Chivalric Romance: Destabilizing the Rhetoric of Womanhood as Victimhood in the Middle Ages. Ph.D. Thesis, Department of English, Florida State University, USA.

Ravenhall, Henry. 2022. “The Date, Author, and Context of the Roman de Silence: A Reassessment.” Medium Ævum. 91 (1): 70–99.

Revelle, Anthony. 2018. “Looking at Failed Masculinity: An Attempt at Reading Medieval Sexuality.” Past Imperfect. 21 (1): 31-57.

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

Waters, Elizabeth A. 1997. “The Third Path: Alternative Sex, Alternative Gender in Le Roman De Silence.” Arthuriana. 7 (2): 35–46.

Watt, Diane. 1998. “Behaving Like a Man? Incest, Lesbian Desire, and Gender Play in Yde et Olive and its Adaptations.” Comparative Literature. 59 (4): 265-285.

captive bird teaching: Disciplina clericalis on dialectic of wisdom

According to the early twelfth-century Training Manual for Clergy {Disciplina clericalis}, a rustic had a garden in which water flowed and fresh grass grew. Birds would sing in this garden. One day the rustic, resting in his garden, heard a little bird singing delightfully. He captured the little bird in a net. When the bird asked why it had been captured, the rustic said that he wanted to listen to its song. But he was already listening to its song. He actually wanted to possess the singing bird. The bird insisted that it would not sing as a captive.[1]

After the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BGC, the Jews were taken to Babylon as captives. There they were ordered to sing:

By the rivers of Babylon
we sat and wept
as we remembered Zion.
There on the willows
we hung up our harps
when our captors required
of us a song,
when our tormentors
demanded joy, saying
“Sing for us a song of Zion!”
But how shall we sing
a song of the Lord
in a foreign land?

[2]{ על נהרות בבל שם ישבנו גם־בכינו בזכרנו את־ציון׃
על־ערבים בתוכה תלינו כנרותינו׃
כי שם שאלונו שובינו דברי־שיר ותוללינו שמחה שירו לנו משיר ציון׃
איך נשיר את־שיר־יהוה על אדמת נכר׃ }

In 523 GC, the public figure Boethius, who knew life as a captive, wrote of a caged bird:

This bird was happy once in the high trees.
You cage it in your cellar, bring it seed,
honey to sip, all that its heart can need
or human love can think of: till it sees,
leaping too high within its narrow room,
the old familiar shadow of the leaves,
and spurns the seed with tiny desperate claws.
Naught but the woods despairing pleads,
the woods, the woods again, it grieves, it grieves.

{ Quae canit altis garrula ramis
Ales caveae clauditur antro;
Huic licet inlita pocula melle
Largasque dapes dulci studio
Ludens hominum cura ministret,
Si tamen arto saliens texto
Nemorum gratas viderit umbras,
Sparsas pedibus proterit escas,
Silvas tantum maesta requirit,
Silvas dulci voce susurrat. }[3]

A captive bird refusing to sing lives in a rich literary history of captives refusing to sing.

The rustic threatened to eat the captive bird if it didn’t sing. The bird said it was small, had tough meat, and wasn’t worth eating. Moreover, the bird offered a ransom for its freedom:

I will give you three wise sayings that you will esteem more than the meat of three calves.

{ Ostendam tibi tres sapientiae manerias quas maioris facies quam trium vitulorum carnes. }[4]

The rustic agreed, and so he set the bird free. The bird then gave him the three wise sayings:

Here is the first of the promised saying: don’t believe everything said. Second: what is yours, you will always have. Third: don’t grieve for the lost.

{ Est unum de promissis: ne credas omnibus dictis. Secundum: quod tuum est, semper habebis. Tertium: ne doleas de amissis. }

The bird subsequently began to sing sweetly a psalm of praise:

Blessed be God, who covered the line of your sight and took away your wisdom, for if you had bent and searched within my stomach, you would have found one jacinth weighing an ounce.

{ Benedictus Deus qui tuorum oculorum aciem clausit et sapientiam tibi abstulit, quoniam si intestinorum plicas meorum perquisisses, unius ponderis unciae iacinctum invenisse. }

The rustic began to beat his breast and lament that he had believed what the little bird had said. The bird then lectured the rustic for being a poor learner and a faulty thinker:

How quickly forgotten is the wisdom that I told you. Didn’t I tell you: don’t believe everything that is said to you? And how can you believe that in me is a jacinth weighing one once, when I don’t weigh an ounce in total? Didn’t I tell you: what is yours, you will always have? And so how can you want to have a gem from me? Didn’t I tell you: don’t grieve for things lost? And why do you grieve for a jacinth that is in me?

{ Cito oblitus es sensus quem tibi dixi! Nonne dixi tibi: non crede quicquid tibi dicetur? Et quomodo credis quod in me sit iacinctus qui sit unius unciae ponderis, cum ego tota non sim tanti ponderis? Et nonne dixi tibi: Quod tuum est, semper habebis? Et quomodo potes lapidem habere de me volante? Et nonne dixi tibi: Ne doleas de rebus amissis? Et quare pro iacincto qui in me est doles? }

The little bird enacted an application of the three sayings. After shaming the rustic, the bird flew into the woods.

As the captive bird demonstrated, the simple wisdom “don’t believe everything” is often difficult to apply usefully in ordinary life. Immediately following the story of the captive bird in Disciplina clericalis is a brief dialogue headed “about books not to be believed {de libris non credendis}”:

A philosopher reprimanded his son, saying: “Whatever you find, read, but don’t believe whatever you have read.” The student replied to him: “I believe this to be so. Not everything in books is true. So I have already similarly read in the books and proverbs of philosophers: ‘there are many trees, but not all bear fruit. Many have fruits, but not all the fruits are edible.’”

{ Philosophus castigavit filium suum dicens: Quicquid inveneris, legas, sed non credas quicquid legeris. Ad haec discipulus: Credo hoc esse: non est verum quicquid est in libris. Nam simile huic iam legi in libris et proverbiis philosophorum: Multae sunt arbores, sed non omnes faciunt fructum; multi fructus, sed non omnes comestibiles. }[5]

Should one believe what one reads in Disciplina clericalis? One intent of the apologues in Disciplina clericalis is to promote thinking and evaluation of experience. That’s essential to learning. The captive bird didn’t merely have wisdom. It knew how to use that wisdom well.

Men today tend to be as simplistic as the rustic who captured the bird. Men must strive to overcoming their inferiority to women in guile. They must be constantly adapting and changing in response to their particular gender circumstances.

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[1] This story is from Petrus Alphonsi, Training Manual for Clergy {Disciplina Clericalis}, section 22, “Exemplum of the rustic and the little bird {Exemplum de rustico et avicula}.” Disciplina Clericalis collected and adapted stories from Barlaam and Josaphat (Ioasaph), which was composed perhaps in the seventh century. “Exemplum de rustico et avicula” corresponds to apologue 3 in Barlaam and Josaphat. See Woodward & Mattingly (1914) pp. 134-9. In medieval Europe, Disciplina Clericalis was translated into English, French, Occitan, and Italian. The thirteenth-century Old French translation is known as Correcting of a father to his son {Chastoiement d’un pere a son fils}.

Early in the thirteenth century, a version of this story was written in Old French and is known as The Lai of the Little Bird {Le lay de l’oiselet}. For an Old French text and English translation, along with a detailed introduction, Burgess & Brook (2010). Burgess & Brook (2016) includes just an English translation. Wolfgang (1990) provides a critical edition and detailed analysis of sources and analogues. For a freely available English translation, Mason (1910).

This story became widely disseminated. It’s known as “The Three Teachings of the Bird” (K604) in Stith Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk-Literature. It’s Aarne-Thompson type 150.

[2] Psalms 137:1-4, English translation adapted from widely available translations, Hebrew text of the Westminster Leningrad Codex via Blue Letter Bible.

[3] Boethius, The Consolation of Philosophy {De consolatione philosophiae} 3.M2, vv. 17-26, Latin text of Stewart, Rand & Tester (1973) via Perseus, English translation of Waddell & Corrigan (1976). Freely available online are annoted Latin text via James O’Donnell and English translations of H.R. James (1897), Walter John Sedgefield (1900), W.V. Cooper (1902), and H. F. Stewart (LCL, 1918). Here are study notes for De consolatione philosophiae.

[4] Petrus Alphonsi, Training Manual for Clergy {Disciplina Clericalis}, section 22, “Exemplum of the rustic and the little bird {Exemplum de rustico et avicula},” Latin text from Hilka (1911), my English translation, benefiting from that of Hermes & Quarrie (1977) and Wolfgang (1991) pp. 77-8. The subsequent quotes above are similarly from “Exemplum de rustico et avicula.”

[5] On trees and fruit, cf. Matthew 7:16-9.

[image] Video presentation of “Rivers of Babylon,” by the Jamaican trio The Melodians. Recorded on Trojan Records in 1970. Via YouTube.


Burgess, Glyn S., and Leslie C. Brook, ed. and trans. 2010. The Old French Lays of Ignaure, Oiselet and Armours. Gallica 18. Cambridge: Brewer.

Burgess, Glyn S., and Leslie C. Brook, trans. 2016. Twenty-Four Lays from the French Middle Ages. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Hermes, Eberhard and P. R. Quarrie, ed. and trans. 1977. Petrus Alfonsi. The Disciplina Clericalis of Petrus Alfonsi. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Hilka, Alfons. 1911. Die Disciplina clericalis des Petrus Alfonsi (das älteste Novellenbuch des Mittelalters). Heidelberg: Carl Winter. Alternate presentation.

Mason, Eugene, trans. 1910. Aucassin & Nicollete, and Other Mediaeval Romances and Legends. London: J.M. Dent & Sons.

Stewart, H. F., E. K. Rand, S. J. Tester, ed. and trans. 1973. Boethius. Theological Tractates. The Consolation of Philosophy. Loeb Classical Library 74. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Waddell Helen, trans. and Felicitas Corrigan, ed. 1976. More Latin Lyrics from Virgil to Milton. London: Gollancz.

Woodward, G.R. & H. Mattingly, eds. and trans. 1914. Barlaam and Ioasaph by St. John Damascene. Loeb Classical Library, 34. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Alternate presentation.

Wolfgang, Lenora D. 1990. “Le lai de l’oiselet: an Old French poem of the thirteenth century. Edition and critical study.” Transactions of the American Philosophical Society. 80 (5): 1-129.

Wolfgang, Lenora D. 1991. “Caxton’s Aesop: The Origin and Evolution of a Fable: Or, Do Not Believe Everything You Hear.” Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society. 135 (1); 73-83.

Socrates’s city of sows lacks roses & lilies contending beautifully

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates constructs with words a first city in which men cooperate without competing. Glaucon disparages this first city as a “city of sows {ὑῶν πόλις}.” The first city’s sows are like Odysseus’s men living a simple, carefree life in the house of Circe. That’s certainly more humane than epic violence against men. Yet competition among men doesn’t necessarily imply violence against men. Competition among men can be like roses and lilies contending in beautifying a holy altar at the center of the community.

Socrates’s first city evokes aspects of an annual ancient Greek festival called the Thesmophoria, but differs significantly from it. Both the first city and the Thesmophoria involve primitive sleeping conditions, eating of wheat and barley cakes, communal banqueting, and religious ritual. Most importantly, both the Thesmophoria and the first city are gender-exclusive. The Thesmophoria excluded men. The first city is constructed without any reference to women. The Thesmophoria could endure as a representation of the gynocentric order within Greek society as a whole. In contrast, the first city, lacking women, cannot reproduce and endure.[1]

Socrates constructs a “beautiful city {καλλίπολις}” that contains women and men, yet limits the harm to men from competition among men. War historically has been gender-structured as violence against men, But in Socrates’s beautiful city, the warrior class isn’t distinguished by gender. To realize that ideal in practice, arrangements would need to be made to ensure roughly equal representation of women and men among soldiers, as well as among soldiers dying in battle. Just as they could establish policies to produce lifespan gender equality, ruling philosophers, if so required, surely could figure out arrangements to produce substantive gender equality in military service.[2]

chariot race on poster for Ben Hur Broadway play

A more beautiful city than Socrates’s beautiful city would include women and men engaged in beautiful competition. Beautiful competition doesn’t promote violence against men or establish men’s sexual disadvantage relative to women. Such circumstances are difficult to imagine. In a poem addressed to two women, the sixth-century poet Venantius Fortunatus began with a conventional change of seasons:

The world is chained in winter’s ice,
light dies away from the flowerless field,
yet spring, when the Lord laid Tartarus low,
raises the grass heads, foliage now more than joyous.
Men decorate pulpits, doorposts with blossoms.
A woman fills her lap with fragrant roses.

{ Frigoris hiberni glacie constringitur orbis
totaque lux agri flore carente perit.
Tempore vernali, dominus quo Tartara vicit,
surgit aperta suis laetior herba comis.
Inde viri postes et pulpita floribus ornant,
hinc mulier roseo complet odore sinum. }[3]

Dante shockingly placed ice in the deepest pit of Hell’s inferno. Fortunatus here depicts the laughably wonderful resurrection of Jesus in Easter’s spring. Men’s work is directed outward to adorning raised, solid structures with blossoms. The woman’s action is directed toward herself. Fragrant roses have historically figured women’s vaginas. Fortunatus’s poem thus begins with a conventionally gendered depiction of change from winter to spring. In spring, multiple men seek to fill one woman’s lap.

mosaic of victorious red charioteer in ancient Rome

Fortunatus’s poem then changes extraordinarily. The change occurs with the action of the two women, Radegund and Agnes, whom Fortunatus addresses:

But you bring aromas not to yourselves but to Christ —
for the holy churches you give these buds.
You have dressed festive altars in colored wreaths,
painted them fresh with flowery threads.

{ At vos non vobis, sed Christo fertis odores,
has quoque primitias ad pia templa datis.
Texistis variis altaria festa coronis,
pingitur ut filis floribus ara novis. }

Radegund and Agnes didn’t establish a static harmony that couldn’t endure. They established beautiful competition. It was vigorous competition like that of men on blue and green chariot-racing teams in ancient Rome and Constantinople.[4] This different form of competition, however, was much less dangerous to men’s lives and was explicitly directed toward beauty and sensuous allure:

From crocuses a golden line goes forth, here a purple row
of violets, there scarlet glowing red meets milky white.
The Blues and Greens take their stands. Colors wage flowery war.
Imagine — in this place of peace, plants forming battle lines:
the lily pleasantly white, the rose with ruddy allure,
the lily teasingly fragrant, the rose prettier in pink,
flowers competing in varied beauty. Their colors are brighter
than any jewel, no incense more fragrant than they.

5{ Aureus ordo crocis, violis hinc blatteus exit,
coccinus hinc rubricat, lacteus inde nivet.
Stat prasino venetus, pugnant et flore colores
inque loco pacis herbida bella putas.
Haec candore placet, rutilo micat illa decore;
suavius haec redolet, pulchrius illa rubet.
Sic specie varia florum sibi germina certant,
ut color hic gemmas, tura revincat odor. }[5]

This riot of beauty and fragrance doesn’t kill any men. It’s beautiful competition among flowers. Flowers have historically been gendered as female. Men’s beauty should be better appreciated. In a “true city {ἀληθινὴ πόλις}” and a “healthy one {ὑγιής τις},” men and women would both engage in beautiful competition.[6]

flower rows racing

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates verbally constructs for his students a city of sows and a beautiful city. The only adults in the city of sows are piggish men. The women and men in the beautiful city live politically dictated lives in which they are unable to see another person as individually beautiful. Venantius Fortunatus offers an alternative: beautiful competition in adorning communal altars. Building a city in that way happens through the actions of individual persons moving beyond violence against men.

Agnes, Radegund, this is what you built.
May your fragrances breathlessly mingle with eternity’s flowers.

{ Vos quoque quae struitis haec, Agnes cum Radegunde,
Floribus aeternis vester anhelet odor. }[7]

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[1] Plato’s Republic creates its first city in words from about section 369b to section 372e. Scholars variously call this first city the primitive city, the city of pigs, and the city of sows. Aristotle calls it the “first city” in discussion beginning at Aristotle, Politics IV.4.1291a11. “City of sows {ὑῶν πόλις}” is specifically Glaucon’s disparaging phrase. Glaucon’s disparaging phrase shouldn’t be used as an established name for the city, as in “City of Sows.” On parallels between the Thesmophoria and the first city, McCoy (2015) and Zander (2019).

Socrates’s account of the first city explicitly refers to men inhabitants, but never refers to women inhabitants. Scholars apparently have inferred heterosexual sexual intercourse from a reference to its inhabitants engaging in communal wine-drinking and singing of the gods “while living in harmony with each other, not producing children beyond their means {ἡδέως συνόντες cἀλλήλοις, οὐχ ὑπὲρ τὴν οὐσίαν ποιούμενοι τοὺς παῖδας}.” Republic 372b, ancient Greek text and English translation from Emlyn-Jones & Preddy (2013). The phrase ἡδέως συνόντες cἀλλήλοις can also be translated as “being together with one another with pleasure.” Sawatzky (2013) p. 16. In Plato’s Republic, συνεῖναι “always denotes a state of ongoing interactions, usually between companions.” Id. n. 53. Sawatzky interpreted Republic 372b to imply “citizens being in their festive homes with their children” and “ongoing interactions of all sorts between spouses – including, but not limited to, sexual relations.” Festive activities are more likely to be communal than activities of nuclear families within “festive homes.” Id. Imagining conjugal sexual intercourse is a tendentious interpretive stretch not warranted in the context of Socrates’s imaginary first city.

Immediately after Socrates’s descriptions of feasting in the first city, Glaucon exclaims, “You seem to make these men have their feast without relishes {Ἄνευ ὄψου, ἔφη, ὡς ἔοικας, ποιεῖς τοὺς ἄνδρας ἑστιωμένους}.” The word ἄνδρας, the accusative plural of ᾰ̓νήρ, is a term specifically for men. The first city is best interpreted as implying convivial conversational intercourse among men, and possibly also men having sex with men or boys.

The abrupt disappearance of the first city from Socrates’s discourse is consistent with the first city’s inability to reproduce itself. The presence of children, which might include girls, doesn’t imply the first city’s ability to reproduce itself. Children, even children of both sexes, cannot reproduce demographically a city whose only adults are men. The men of the city pass on a similar life to their children (Republic, 372d) in all but the most important aspect of demographic structure. Cf. Zimbelman (2018).

Some scholars have interpreted the first city as impossible in light of human nature, inconsistent with human nature, or unstable. E.g. Bloom (1991) pp. 367-8 (inconsistent with human nature), Barney (2002) (impossible), McKeen (2004) (unstable). Recent scholarship has tended to up-value the first city, but without any particular concern for men as a gender. Socrates is serious “when he dubs the city of pigs true and healthy.” Lara (2018) p. 1. Men surely have better health as pigs than as tools for slaughter in wars such as the Trojan War. The first city is unified. Rowe (2017). But that unity involves a cramped, bureaucratic sense of justice: “justice in each city depends upon each citizen doing her job and no more than her job.” Lara (2018) p. 1.

[2] Mating competition historically has generated relatively large mating inequality among men. In Socrates’s beautiful city, mating is centrally arranged eugenically. The mating planners could thus eliminate the sexual suffering disproportionately concentrated among involuntarily celibate men. Moreover, if nothing men could do would improve their mating opportunities, men would compete less aggressively for women. That would improve men’s welfare as a whole. Brown (2017) considers whether Plato’s Republic supports feminism, but fails to consider whether it supports meninism.

[3] Venantius Fortunatus, Carmina 8.7, vv. 1-6, Latin text from Roberts (2017), English translation (modified) from Pucci (2010) p. 82. Leo (1881) provides a freely available Latin edition differing little from Roberts’s Latin edition. The subsequent three quotes above are similarly sourced from Carmina 8.7 and cover the whole poem seriatim.

[4] On chariot-racing competition between the Blues and Greens, Cameron (1976).

[5] Fortunatus’s Carmina 11.11 describes sensuous competition at a lavish feast in Radegund and Agnes’s Abbey of the Holy Cross:

Lucky guest, consider these glad delights
that fragrances furnish and taste proves:
burning red, a horde of flowers softly smiles;
in the lap of lavender, milky lilies fade to white,
a place freshly fragrant with rivalry’s smells.
Dinner is an insult to dewy buds made to play tablecloth —
why accost these lovely roses so?

{ Respice delicias, felix conviva, beatas,
quas prius ornat odor quam probet ipse sapor.
Molliter adridet rutilantum copia florum;
vix tot campus habet quot modo mensa rosas.
Albent purpureis ubi lactea lilia blattis
certatimque novo flagrat odore locus.
Insultant epulae, stillanti germine fultae.
Quod mantile solet, cur rosa pulchra tegit? }

Carmina 11.11, vv. 1-8, Latin text from Roberts (2017), English translation from Pucci (2010) p. 97. The Latin text and a mediocre English translation of this poem is freely available online at Epistolae, which treats it as prose.

[6] Transitioning from describing the first city to considering a feverish city, Socrates declares:

Now the true city is in my opinion the one we just described — a healthy one, as it were. But, if you want to, let’s look at a feverish city.

{ ἡ μὲν οὖν ἀληθινὴ πόλις δοκεῖ μοι εἶναι ἣν διεληλύθαμεν, ὥσπερ ὑγιής τις· εἰ δ’ αὖ βούλεσθε, καὶ φλεγμαίνουσαν πόλιν θεωρήσωμεν· }

Plato, Republic 372e, ancient Greek text from Emlyn-Jones & Preddy (2013), English translation (modified slightly) from Bloom (1991). The above analysis thus explicitly disagrees with Socrates. Desire for excess, “pleonexia {πλεονεξία},” is neither inevitable nor necessarily unhealthful. Too much beauty is impossible. Beautiful competition creates a good fever.

[7] In his Carmina 8.8, Fortunatus gave Radegund a gift of flowers and associated flowers with “paradise {paradisus}.” Calling her back from her Lenten retreat, he declared to her:

Accept the gift I send you of many-colored flowers.
To these instead a blessed life calls you.

{ Suscipe missa tibi variorum munera florum,
ad quos te potius vita beata vocat. }

Carmina 8.8, incipit “O powerful queen, who hold gold and purple to be base {O regina potens, aurum cui et purpura vile est},” vv. 7-8, Latin text from Roberts (2017), my English translation, benefiting from that of id. and Pucci (2010) p. 83. The Latin text and an English translation of this poem are freely available online at Epistolae.

[image] (1) Chariot race with red and white charioteers on poster advertising the Broadway premiere of Ben Hur at the Manhattan Theatre, New York, NY, c. 1899. William Young adapted this play from Lew Wallace’s novel, Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ, published in 1880. Source image via Wikimedia Commons. (2) Mosaic of victorious charioteer of the “red faction {factio russata}.” This mosaic was made in Rome in the second half of the third century or early in the fourth century. Preserved in the National Archaeological Museum of Spain, Madrid. Source image thanks to Carole Raddato, who shared it on flickr under under a CC BY SA 2.0 license. On mosaics of victorious charioteers, Dunbabin (1982). This mosaic is 17a / Fig. 11 in id., briefly discussed at id. p. 73. (3) Rows of flowers racing across Lompoc flower fields in La Salle, California, on May 30, 2015. Source image thanks to Harold Litwiler, who released this photo under a CC By 2.0 license.


Barney, Rachel. 2002. “Platonism, Moral Nostalgia, and the ‘City of Pigs.’Proceedings of the Boston Area Colloquium of Ancient Philosophy. 17 (1): 207–27.

Bloom, Allan, trans. with interpretative essay. 1991. The Republic of Plato. 2nd edition (1st edition , 1968). Basic Books.

Brown, Eric. 2017. “Plato’s Ethics and Politics in The Republic.” The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.).

Cameron, Alan. 1976. Circus Factions: Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dunbabin, Katherine M. D. 1982. “Victorious Charioteer on Mosaics and Related Monuments.” American Journal of Archaeology. 86 (1): 65-89.

Emlyn-Jones, Christopher, and William Preddy, ed. and trans. 2013. Plato. Republic. Volume I: Books 1-5. Loeb Classical Library 237. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Lara, Joel de. 2018. “Rehabilitating the ‘City of Pigs’: The Dialectics of Plato’s Account of his Beautiful Cities.” Journal of Ancient Philosophy. 12 (2): 1-22.

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

McCoy, Marina. 2015. “The City of Sows and Sexual Differentiation in the Republic.” Ch. 9 (pp. 149-160) in Jeremy Bell and Michael Naas, eds. Plato’s Animals: Gadflies, Horses, Swans and Other Philosophical Beasts. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press. Review by Deborah Achtenberg.

McKeen, Catherine, 2004. “Swillsburg City Limits (The ‘City of Pigs’: Republic 370c-372d).” Polis. 21 (1-2): 70–92.

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

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

Rowe, Christopher. 2017. “The City of Pigs: a Key Passage in Plato’s Republic.” Philosophie Antique. 17: 55-71.

Sawatzky, Nathan. 2013. “Socrates’ Proto-Liberal Feminism: Toward a Rereading of the Republic with a View to Necessity.” Online.

Zander, Shannon E. 2019. In Defense of Socrates’ City of Sows (370b7-372d3): the pedagogical role of prefiguration in the Republic. Honors Thesis. Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington, USA).

Zimbelman, Jacob. 2018. “Socrates’ Satisfied Pigs.” Global Tides. 12 (2): 1-8.

Pompeia and Fulvia in Roman de Merlin & Roman de Silence

Pompeia and Fulvia, treacherous elite women in the Roman Republic, were foremothers of evil women in medieval romance. Pompeia became the deceitful empress in the Grisandole episode of the thirteenth-century Romance of Merlin {Roman de Merlin}. Fulvia provided a template for the murderous English queen Eufeme in the thirteenth-century Romance of Silence {Roman de Silence}. The authors of these medieval romances distinguished evil women from good women. They also provided an excuse for women to act wickedly. Medieval romance didn’t realistically acknowledge evil acts like those attributed to Pompeia and Fulvia in Roman history.

In 62 BGC, Pompeia attempted to cuckold her husband Julius Caesar. He was then serving as Supreme Pontiff {Pontifex Maximus}, the most powerful position in ancient Roman religion, and City Magistrate {Praetor Urbanus}, the leading government administrator of Rome. Pompeia and Clodius Pulcher, a wealthy patrician married to Fulvia, arranged to have a tryst during the “Good Goddess {Bona Dea}” festival that the Vestal Virgins led. Not in practice associated only with goodness and virginity, the Bona Dea was a wine-soaked ritual revelry from which all men were excluded. It thus provided suitable cover for a sexual liaison. Pompeia was hosting the Bona Dea in December of 62 BGC. Clodius came to the Bona Dea in disguise: “a man in a woman’s clothes {muliebri vestitu vir}.”[1]

Like Euripides’s aged in-law Mnesilochus in Aristophanes’s Women at the Thesmophoria {Θεσμοφοριάζουσαι}, Clodius was caught penetrating the women-only festival. It was like a woman caught playing golf in disguise at a male-only club, but more horrifying:

Pompeia was celebrating this Bona Dea festival. Clodius, who was still beardless, thought he could pass unnoticed dressed and equipped as a woman lute-player. Thus looking like a young woman, he went to Pompeia’s house. He found the door open, and a maid-servant there brought him in safely. She was privy to the secret. But after she had run ahead to tell Pompeia and some time had elapsed, Clodius didn’t have the patience to wait where he had been left. Instead, he went wandering around the large house while trying to avoid the lights. One of the attendants of Julius Caesar’s mother Aurelia came upon him. The attendant asked him to play with her, as women would with each another at the Bona Dea. When he refused, she dragged him forward and asked who he was and from where he came. Clodius answered that he was waiting for Pompeia’s Chambermaid, the very name by which that maid was called. His voice betrayed him. Aurelia’s attendant at once sprang away with a scream to the lights and the crowd. She cried out that she had caught a man. The women were panic-stricken. Aurelia put a stop to the mystic rites of the goddess and covered up the emblems. Then she ordered the doors to be closed, and they went about the house with torches, searching for Clodius. He was found taking refuge in the bedroom of the young woman who had let him into the house. When they saw who he was, the women drove him out of the house.

{ ταύτην τότε τὴν ἑορτὴν τῆς Πομπηΐας ἐπιτελούσης, ὁ Κλώδιος οὔπω γενειῶν καὶ διὰ τοῦτο λήσειν οἰόμενος ἐσθῆτα καὶ σκευὴν ψαλτρίας ἀναλαβὼν ἐχώρει, νέᾳ γυναικὶ τὴν ὄψιν ἐοικώς. καὶ ταῖς θύραις ἐπιτυχὼν ἀνεῳγμέναις εἰσήχθη μὲν ἀδεῶς ὑπὸ τῆς συνειδυίας θεραπαινίδος, ἐκείνης δὲ προδραμούσης ὡς τῇ Πομπηΐᾳ φράσειε, καὶ γενομένης διατριβῆς, περιμένειν μὲν ὅπου κατελείφθη τῷ Κλωδίῳ μὴ καρτεροῦντι, πλανωμένῳ δ᾽ ἐν οἰκίᾳ μεγάλῃ καὶ περιφεύγοντι τὰ φῶτα προσπεσοῦσα τῆς Αὐρηλίας ἀκόλουθος ὡς δὴ γυνὴ γυναῖκα παίζειν προὐκαλεῖτο, καὶ μὴ βουλόμενον εἰς τὸ μέσον εἷλκε, καὶ τίς ἐστι καὶ πόθεν ἐπυνθάνετο. τοῦ δὲ Κλωδίου φήσαντος Ἅβραν περιμένειν Πομπηΐας, αὐτὸ τοῦτο καλουμένην, καὶ τῇ φωνῇ γενομένου καταφανοῦς, ἡ μὲν ἀκόλουθος εὐθὺς ἀπεπήδησε κραυγῇ πρὸς τὰ φῶτα καὶ τὸν ὄχλον, ἄνδρα πεφωρακέναι βοῶσα, τῶν δὲ γυναικῶν διαπτοηθεισῶν ἡ Αὐρηλία τὰ μὲν ὄργια τῆς θεοῦ κατέπαυσε καὶ συνεκάλυψεν, αὐτὴ δὲ τὰς θύρας ἀποκλεῖσαι κελεύσασα περιῄει τὴν οἰκίαν ὑπὸ λαμπάδων, ζητοῦσα τὸν Κλώδιον. εὑρίσκεται δ᾽ εἰς οἴκημα παιδίσκης ᾗ συνεισῆλθε καταπεφευγώς καὶ γενόμενος φανερὸς ὑπὸ τῶν γυναικῶν ἐξελαύνεται διὰ τῶν θυρῶν, τὸ δὲ πρᾶγμα καὶ νυκτὸς εὐθὺς αἱ γυναῖκες ἀπιοῦσαι τοῖς αὑτῶν ἔφραζον [p. 466] ἀνδράσι, καὶ μεθ᾽ ἡμέραν ἐχώρει διὰ τῆς πόλεως λόγος ὡς ἀθέσμοις ἐπικεχειρηκότος τοῦ Κλώδιον καὶ δίκην οὐ τοῖς ὑβρισμένοις μόνον, ἀλλὰ καὶ τῇ πόλει καὶ τοῖς θεοῖς ὀφείλοντος. }[2]

Clodius was charged with the capital crime of desecrating a woman-only religious ritual. He was acquitted with the support of popular outrage at such penal punishment. Pompeia wasn’t charged with any crime. Julius Caesar, however, divorced her. He declared, “I thought my wife should not be even under suspicion {τὴν ἐμὴν ἠξίουν μηδὲ ὑπονοηθῆναι}.”

In the Grisandole episode of the thirteenth-century Roman de Merlin, a puzzling dream troubled the Roman emperor Julius Caesar. In one legend of the founding of Rome, a she-wolf nursed the twin boys Romulus and Remus. In Julius Caesar’s troubling dream, twelve wolf cubs suckled at a sow with a golden crown. Caesar’s troubling dream seems like a transformation and amplification of the Romulus and Remus myth of Rome’s founding.[3]

Lupa capitolina: she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus

In the form of a stag, the wizard Merlin entered Rome and declared that only the wild man of the woods could truthfully interpret Caesar’s dream. The emperor promised marriage to his daughter, and thus future rule of Rome, to any man who would capture the wild man and bring him back to the court. The knight Grisandole, who was the woman Avenable in disguise, accomplished that feat. The wild man revealed that the twelve wolf cubs represent the empress’s twelve servant-women. Those servant-women were actually young men in disguise with whom the empress had been cuckolding her husband. The emperor had the twelve men executed. With highly unusual gender symmetry in punishment for adultery, he also had the empress killed. Just as for the story of Romulus and Remus, this instance of the story of Julius Caesar and his wife Pompeia is amplified. Pompeia didn’t merely conspire to cuckold her husband with one man. She actually cuckolded him with twelve men.

In the Grisandole episode, the wild man was Merlin under another disguise. Merlin, reportedly born of a virgin conception, offered the emperor insistently hedged and qualified wisdom about women:

Through women, many a man has been dishonored and deceived, and many a city torched and destroyed, and many a country devastated. But I am not telling you this because of any malice that’s in it. You yourself can see very well that many a man has been dishonored by a woman. But now don’t be upset about your wife whom you have had executed. She well deserved it. And don’t be angry with other women and don’t think them vile. There are many women whose behavior towards their lords is irreproachable. Never in a hundred years would they dishonor their name. All this comes upon women because of the sin of lust that is in them and to which they are susceptible, for woman is of such nature that when she has the best lord in the world, she thinks she has the worst. This happens because of the great weakness that is in them. But for that don’t grieve, because there are plenty of good ones in the world. And if yours has proved a disappointment, you will have one who will be a worthy empress of the high riches of an empire such as this. And you should believe that you will gain more than you have lost.

{ Car par feme sont maint preudomme houni & decheu & mainte ville arsse & destruite & mainte terre essilie. Mais iou nel di mie por malice que en li soit. & tu meismes pues bien apercheuoir que par feme sont maint homme houni. Mais ore ne te caille de ta feme que tu as destrute car ele lauoit bien deseruie & nen aies vers les autres femes corous ne si ne les tien pas por chou uiel. Car moult sont cleres semees ki en aucune maniere naient meserre enuers lor signors. Ne iamais tant comme li siecles durera ne feront senpierir non & tout che lor auendra par pechie de luxure ki est en els & dont eles sont esprises. Car feme est de tel nature ke quant ele a le millor segnor de tout le monde si quide ele auoir le pior. & ce lor ulent de la grant fragilite ki est en aus. Mais por chou ne soies mie courechies car il en ia asses de uraies el monde. Et se tu as este deceus de la toie tu auras encore tele qui bien sera digne destre empereis & de recheuoir si haut empire comme cestui. Et se tu le veus croire tui gaaigneras plus que tu ni perdras. }[4]

Merlin insisted that his characterization of women isn’t a matter of malice. He declared that many women act honorably. He also stated that women are lustful and weak. Just as women’s tears advantage them in criminal trials, claims of women’s natural weakness excuse women’s wrongful behavior. Men too are lustful and weak in their own ways. Men deserve to be similarly excused, but they generally aren’t. Merlin’s wisdom about women is reflected in his advice to the emperor. Merlin revealed that the knight Grisandole was actually the woman Avenable. Merlin urged the emperor to marry her. Merlin also instructed the emperor never to do anything contrary to Avenable’s wishes.[5]

Fulvia, who lived from about 83 to 40 BGC, manipulated men to advance her own interests in political power and wealth. She married Clodius Pulcher to gain political power in the Roman Republic. Their marriage evidently wasn’t one of mutual ardor. She apparently was unconcerned that Clodius sought to have an affair with Caesar’s wife Pompeia. But when Clodius was killed in violence against men in 52 BGC, Fulvia sensationally and ostentatiously mourned. She thus incited further violence against men and ensured that her husband’s killer was exiled. Less than two years after Clodius died, Fulvia married another leading Roman politician, Gaius Scribonius Curio. When Curio died, Fulvia married yet another leading Roman politician, Mark Antony. He enjoyed spending time with his mistresses. She enjoyed seeing men killed. Given the head of Cicero, she spit on it, pulled out its tongue, and pierced it with a hairpin. Her greed, cruelty, and viciousness as a powerful Roman woman became well-known historically.[6]

Fulvia sticking her hairpins into the tongue of Cicero's severed head

Queen Eufeme in the thirteenth-century Roman de Silence acted as evilly as did Fulvia. Queen Eufeme solicited sex from the knight Malduit, who was actually the woman Silence in disguise. When Malduit refused his queen’s amorous advances, she accused him of preferring to have sex with men. After that, she falsely accused him of raping her. She subsequently contrived a plot to have Malduit killed, and then another plot to have him exiled. When the wizard Merlin was about to expose her deceptions, she threatened him with death. Merlin nonetheless revealed that she was currently cuckolding the king with a man disguised as a nun. Queen Eufeme’s wickedness was well-recognized in the royal court:

The lady was very wicked
and full of extreme malice,
and arrogant and perfidious.
She had always been very cruel
and filled with dishonesty.
She had promised little and given less,
and had abandoned herself to much depravity.

{ Car la dame ert de grant desroi,
Et plaine de grant vilonie
Et d’orguel et de felonie.
Moult ot cruels tols jors esté
Et soufraitolse d’onesté.
Poi prometoit et mains donoit
Et moult vilment s’abandonoit. }[7]

Queen Eufeme dominated and controlled her husband the king until he finally had her executed for her crimes.

The author of the Roman de Silence, Master Heldris of Cornwall, stated wisdom like that of Merlin in the Grisandole episode of the Roman de Merlin. In concluding the Roman de Silence, Master Heldris declared to his audience:

Master Heldris at this place says
that one should praise more a good woman
than one should hate and blame a bad one.
And I will tell you well the reason:
because a woman has less motivation,
provided that she even has the choice,
to be good than to be bad.
Doing good is contrary to her nature.
Well I’ll tell you frankly
that greater account should be taken of it
than of the one who does wrong.
If today I have blamed Eufeme,
a good woman should not take offense.
If I have much blamed Eufeme,
I have praised Silence more.
A good woman should not take offense
nor take for herself someone else’s blame,
but strive more to do good.

{ Maistre Heldris dist chi endroit
Con doit plus bone feme amer
Que haïr malvaise u blasmer.
Si mosterroie bien raison:
Car feme a menor oquoison,
Por que ele ait le liu ne l’aise,
De l’estre bone que malvaise,
S’ele ouevre bien contre nature.
Bien mosterroie par droiture
C’on en doit faire gregnor plait
Que de celi qui le mal fait.
Se j’ai jehi blasmee Eufeme
Ne s’en doit irier bone feme.
Se j’ai Eufeme moult blasmee
Jo ai Silence plus loëe.
Ne s’en doit irier bone fame,
Ne sor li prendre altrui blasme,
Mais efforcier plus de bien faire. }[8]

Heldris excuses women doing wrong by declaring that doing good is contrary to women’s nature. Philosophers have said the same of men, and of humans in general. Heldris, however, turns the long historical argument about human nature to women’s advantage. He urges praising more a good woman than blaming a bad woman. Heldris’s concern is underscored in his repetition of the verse “a good woman should not take offense {ne s’en doit irier bone feme}.” Like Jehan Le Fèvre and Thomas Hoccleve, Heldris recognized women’s power and sought to avoid offending women. In presenting a woman acting as wickedly as Pompeia or Fulvia, a medieval author had to be careful. If he were prudent, he would explicitly declare that not all women are like that.

Criticizing women’s blameworthy behavior is vital important for preserving the common good. Women acting like Pompeia and Fulvia have existed from the time of the Roman Republic right on down to the present. Yet tolerance for vigorous criticism of women has continually waned since the high-water mark of Juvenal’s Satire 6 nearly two millennia ago. Medieval authors developed diverse tactics for lessening risk to themselves in criticizing women. Put under pressure, a medieval poet might declare publicly his repentance for criticizing women. Now authors must be more wary if they are to dare to criticize even women behaving as wickedly as did Pompeia or Fulvia.

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[1] Cicero, Letters to Atticus {Epistulae ad Atticum} 1.13 (dated January 27, 61 BGC), Latin text of Purser (1903). Cicero, Epitulae ad Atticum 1.12 (dated January 1, 61 BGC) also describes the Bona Dea scandal. Shuckburgh (1900) provides English translations of the letters.

The Bona Dea festival occurred in early December, 62 BGC. Clodius Pulcher was probably then married to Fulvia, or they married shortly thereafter. The Bona Dea includes the sort of revelry that men used to have at men-only clubs:

the women, including the Vestals, make merry: there are references to festive eating and drinking, music, jests, all summarized in the term ludere used in a number of source.

Versnel (1992) p. 32. Thinking strictly within the gender dogma of patriarchy in accordance with academia ritual in recent decades, Versnel perceived “potential polyvalence of myth and ritual” in the Bona Dea festival and the Thesmophoria. Id. p. 54. The goddess Bona Dea has been regarded as Damia / Demeter, but new argument indicates Latona. Miniailo (2015). For a socio-political account of Pompeia and Clodius’s attempted tryst at the Bona Dea, Tatum (1999) Ch. 3.

[2] Plutarch, Parallel Lives, The Life of Julius Caesar 10.1-5, ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly) from the Loeb Classical Library edition of Perrin (1919). The subsequent short quote is similarly from Plutarch.

Clodius entered disguised as a “woman lute-player {ψάλτρια}.” That could also be translated a woman harpist or lyre-player. Such entertainers were associated with courtesans and symposia. This female disguise, along with Aurelia’s attendant asking to play with Clodius, indicates the erotic dimension of the Bona Dea festival.

Clodius asked for Pompeia’s “Abra {Ἅβρᾰ}.” That word in ancient Greek means favorite servant-woman / chambermaid. That apparently was also the woman’s name.

Cicero wrote immediately after the Bona Dea scandal. Plutarch wrote nearly 200 years later. For other ancient accounts, Cassius Dio, Roman History 37.45 and Suetonius, Julius 6.2.

[3] The golden crown indicates that the sow is a queen. In Plato’s Republic, Socrates imagines a city that Glaucon disparages as a “city of sows {ὑῶν πόλιν}.” Plato, Republic 370b7-372d3. In learned medieval romance authors’ minds, a queen nourishing twelve wolf cubs probably would have evoked Circe nourishing Odysseus’s men as pigs. In a gynocentric interpretation of the city of sows, McCoy finds academic-conventional “tensions and paradoxes”:

Platonic philosophy exists precisely in living in the tensions and paradoxes posed by the oppositions of masculine-feminine {read: bad-good}, political-private, and marked history–cyclical history.

McCoy (2015) p. 158. Another paradox is how scholars with a simplistic view of men (they’re aggressive, status-obsessed oppressors who should behave as their women-betters) can consistently interpret texts as displaying tensions and paradoxes. For the city of sows in broader context of Socrates’s intellectual practice, Zander (2019).

[4] Romance of Merlin in prose {Roman de Merlin en prose} Chapter 23, Old French text from Sommer (1894) pp. 308-9, English translation (modified) from Roche-Mahdi (2002) pp. 15-6. On the Grisandole episode, Paton (1907) and Roche-Mahdi (1992) p. 317.

The prose Roman de Merlin is an adaptation of Robert de Boron’s verse Roman de Merlin. The Roman de Merlin drew upon Wace’s Roman de Brut, which in turn was based on Geoffrey of Monmouth’s Historia Regum Britanniae. The Roman de Merlin, composed about 1200, is the first work centered on Merlin. On this romance in relation to Merlin, Kissam (1967) Ch. 2.

[5] Roche-Mahdi (2002) p. 16. Such subordination of husbands to wives has long been conventional. A still-current proverb underscores the imperative: “happy wife, happy life.” More generally, gynocentrism helps to explain modern phenomena such as lack of concern for men’s gender protrusion in mortality, penal systems that predominately imprison persons with penises, and men’s lack of reproductive choice.

[6] Although little is known for certain about Fulvia, she was, like Josephine Crabtree, a “strong-willed, independent woman”:

Later, as the wife of Antonius {Mark Antony}, she became the most powerful woman in Rome, at one point even taking an active role in the military conflict between Antonius’s allies and Octavian, the future emperor Augustus. Her husbands’ enemies painted her as domineering, vicious, greedy, and petty. This book peels away the invective to reveal a strong-willed, independent woman who was, by many traditional measures, an immensely successful Roman matron.

Excerpt from book blurb for Schultz (2021). Lacking the benefit of such positivistic, wholly objective history, medieval authors surely regarded Fulvia as wicked — domineering, vicious, greedy, and petty. For an example of a much different historical methodology, yet the same gender orientation, McCoy (2015).

[7] Heldris of Cornwall {Heldris de Cornouaille}, The Romance of Silence {Le roman de Silence} vv. 6560-66, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Roche-Mahdi (1992).

[8] Roman de Silence, vv. 6684-6701, Old French text and English translation (modified) from Roche-Mahdi (1992).

Composing in the twelfth century, the German minnsanger Reinmar von Hagenau (also known as Reinmar der Alte) indicated his difficulties in loving a woman and also affirmed the norm of not criticizing women:

I could lament before you about this greatest peril,
only I cannot speak ill of women.

{ Ich solte iu klagen die meisten nôt —
niwan daz ich von wîben übel niht reden kan. }

Reinmar goes on to declare:

To say things now I have forborne to say of them
would be a great disloyalty.
I have loved for so long in great unrest,
and here am I now, in the same toils.
Still, to suffer like this is better
than to speak ill of women.
I shall not do that. They are too high for that by every right.

{ Spræche ich nû des ich si selten hân gewent,
dar an begienge ich grôze unstætekeit.
Ich hân lange wîle unsanfte mich gesent
und bin doch in der selben arebeit.
Bezzer ist ein herzesêr,
danne ich von wîben misserede.
Ich tuon sîn niht: si sint von allem rehte hêre. }

Reinmar von Hagenau, Song 33, “Let no suffering lover come to me for any help {Niemen seneder suoche an mich deheinen rât},” vv. 6-14, Middle High German text and English translation (modified slightly) from Goldin (1973) pp. 84-5. Here are an online Middle High German edition and modern German translation (lied 20).

[images] (1) Lupa capitolina: she-wolf suckling Romulus and Remus. Bronze sculpture made in the thirteenth century. The statuettes of Romulus and Remus were added in the fifteenth century. Preserved as accession # MC 1181 in the Capitoline Museums (Rome, Italy), Palazzo dei Conservatori, Hall of the She-Wolf. Source image thanks to Jastrow (2006) and Wikimedia Commons. (2) Fulvia sticking her hairpins into the tongue of Cicero’s severed head. Excerpt from Pavel Svedomsky’s oil painting, “Fulvia With the Head of Cicero,” made in 1898. Source image via Wikimedia Commons.


Goldin, Frederick. 1973. German and Italian Lyrics of the Middle Ages: an anthology and a history. Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor Press.

Kissam, Margaret Denslow. 1967. The Characterization of Merlin in the Middle Ages. M.A. Thesis, McGill University, Canada.

McCoy, Marina. 2015. “The City of Sows and Sexual Differentiation in the Republic.” Ch. 9 (pp. 149-160) in Jeremy Bell and Michael Naas, eds. Plato’s Animals: Gadflies, Horses, Swans and Other Philosophical Beasts. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press. Review by Deborah Achtenberg.

Miniailo, Nataliia. c. 2015. “Some New explanation of the Cult of Bona Dea.” Post-graduate student paper at Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University. Online.

Paton, Lucy Allen. 1907. “The Story of Grisandole: A Study in the Legend of Merlin.” PMLA. 22 (2): 234-276.

Purser, Louis Claude, ed. 1903. Cicero. Epistulae ad Atticum. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

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

Roche-Mahdi, Sarah. 2002. “A Reappraisal of the Role of Merlin in the Roman De Silence.” Arthuriana 12 (1): 6–21.

Schultz, Celia E. 2021. Fulvia: Playing for Power at the End of the Roman Republic. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Review by Cristina Rosillo-López.

Shuckburgh, Evelyn S., trans. 1899. The Letters of Cicero: the whole extant correspondence in chronological order. Vol. 1. Vol. 2. Vol. 3. Vol. 4. London: G. Bell and Sons.

Shuckburgh, Evelyn S., trans. 1900. Letters to Atticus. London: G. Bell and Sons.

Sommer, H. Oskar, ed. 1894. Le Roman De Merlin, or the Early History of King Arthur Faithfully Edited from the French Ms. Add. 10292 in the British Museum (about A.D. 1316). London: Private Printing for subscribers by Ballantyne, Hanson, & Co.

Tatum, W. Jeffrey. 1999. The Patrician Tribune: Publius Clodius Pulcher. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press.

Versnel, Henk S. 1992. “The Festival for Bona Dea and the Thesmophoria.” Greece & Rome. 39 (1): 31–55.

Zander, Shannon E. 2019. In defense of Socrates’ City of Sows (370b7-372d3) : the pedagogical role of prefiguration in the Republic. Honors Thesis. Whitman College (Walla Walla, Washington, USA).

Socrates wanted to suppress discussion of castration culture

In Plato’s Republic, Socrates instigated a quarrel between lowly philosophy and revered poetry. Such a quarrel served him seeking status as a philosopher. This rhetorical gambit led to the trivialization of castration culture, most notably in Sigmund Freud’s claims of men’s “castration complex.” Socrates championed perceiving the truth. He at least honesty described his plot to silence discussion of castration culture.

Speaking to Glaucon and his brother Adeimantus, Socrates expressed concern about the children. Socrates was concerned about the stories that children might hear. He asked:

Are we then going to allow our children to hear any old stories so easily created by anyone, and to let into their souls opinions that are for the most part the opposite of those that we think they ought to have when they’re grown up?

{ Ἆρ’ οὖν ῥᾳδίως οὕτω παρήσομεν τοὺς ἐπιτυχόντας ὑπὸ τῶν ἐπιτυχόντων μύθους πλασθέντας ἀκούειν τοὺς παῖδας καὶ λαμβάνειν ἐν ταῖς ψυχαῖς ὡς ἐπὶ τὸ πολὺ ἐναντίας δόξας ἐκείναις ἅς, ἐπειδὰν τελεωθῶσιν, ἔχειν οἰησόμεθα δεῖν αὐτούς }

Socrates wasn’t concerned about protecting children from disturbing stories. He was interested in ideologically shaping adults. Put differently, Socrates sought to promote proper political propaganda rather than protect children’s welfare. Socrates quickly moved from regulating tales that children hear to suppressing adult speech in general:

“Firstly,” I said, “consider the man who told the greatest lie about the greatest matters. He didn’t tell a fine lie. Hesiod told about how Uranus accomplished what he says he did, and furthermore how Cronus took revenge on him. And as for Cronus’s deeds and sufferings at the hands of his son, even if they were true, I would not think they should be told to thoughtless youngsters in this lighthearted way, but should be kept strictly quiet. And if there were any need to tell the story, then as few as possible should hear it in secret. They should hear it in secret only after sacrificing, not a pig, but some huge victim, a sacrificial victim so hard to get hold of that as few as possible would hear the story.”

{ Πρῶτον μέν, ἦν δ’ ἐγώ, τὸ μέγιστον καὶ περὶ τῶν μεγίστων ψεῦδος ὁ εἰπὼν οὐ καλῶς ἐψεύσατο ὡς Οὐρανός τε ἠργάσατο ἅ φησι δρᾶσαι αὐτὸν Ἡσίοδος, ὅ τε αὖ Κρόνος ὡς ἐτιμωρήσατο αὐτόν. τὰ δὲ δὴ τοῦ Κρόνου ἔργα καὶ πάθη ὑπὸ τοῦ ὑέος, οὐδ’ ἂν εἰ ἦν ἀληθῆ ᾤμην δεῖν ῥᾳδίως οὕτω λέγεσθαι πρὸς ἄφρονάς τε καὶ νέους, ἀλλὰ μάλιστα μὲν σιγᾶσθαι, εἰ δὲ ἀνάγκη τις ἦν λέγειν, δι’ ἀπορρήτων ἀκούειν ὡς ὀλιγίστους, θυσαμένους οὐ χοῖρον ἀλλά τι μέγα καὶ ἄπορον θῦμα, ὅπως ὅτι ἐλαχίστοις συνέβη ἀκοῦσαι. }

Socrates himself wasn’t willing to say “how Cronus took revenge on him.” Incited by his mother Gaia, Cronus castrated his father Uranus. Socrates practiced and promoted silence concerning this primordial castration in Hesiod’s genealogy of the ruling goddesses. Moreover, the sacrifice of a pig was associated with the Eleusinian Mysteries, which disparaged the marginalized Dis, and the Thesmophoria, which excluded men. Not content with these outrages, Socrates demanded a huge sacrificial victim for secret discussion of castration culture. The enormity of that sacrificial victim associates it with loss of the seminal blessing. Suppression of discussion of castration begets more castration.

Socrates discussing the republic

A republic cannot be just without overcoming castration culture and celebrating seminal blessing. End war on men. End war on women. Journey beyond the classical circle of castration and cuckolding to the good that men offer women.

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The two quotes above are from Plato, Republic, 377b and 378a (Book 2), ancient Greek text and English translation (modified slightly for ease of reading) from Emlyn-Jones & Preddy (2013). Hesiod’s account of Cronus castrating Uranus is Theogony, vv. 154-210.

[image] Socrates and friends discuss the republic / “The Relation of the Individual to the State.” Mural painted by John La Farge in 1905 in the Supreme Court Room, Minnesota State Capitol, Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA. Via Minnesota State Capitol and Wikimedia Commons.


Emlyn-Jones, Christopher, and William Preddy, ed. and trans. 2013. Plato. Republic. Volume I: Books 1-5. Loeb Classical Library 237. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.