Grottaferrata Digenis Akritis: self-consciousness under gynocentrism

gynocentrism: the big picture

The Grottaferrata version of the medieval Greek epic Digenis Akritis encompasses subtle self-consciousness of men’s position under gynocentrism. Romanos the Melodist’s sixth-century kontakia on Mary at the foot of the cross reflects gynocentrism, but uncritically. The kontakia’s representation of gynocentrism seems to result mainly from particular circumstances of symbolic competition. Major literature of men’s sex protest such as Lamentationes Matheoluli directly confronts gynocentric dominance with unruly men’s recalcitrance. Unlike either, the Grottaferrata Digenis Akritis has a gynocentric orientation that’s both self-conscious and complex.

Consider the exchange of oaths between Digenis and the girl who became his wife. He declared to her:

In you is my every beginning and my end
that had its beginning with God, until my death;
and if ever I should wish to grieve you, my soul,
and if I do not preserve untroubled your love for me
and your most pure desire until my death,
may I not die a Christian, may I not prosper,
may I not win my parents’ blessings;
and may you, high-born girl, preserve the same feelings. [1]

Like Ruodlieb’s nephew pledging to his bride reciprocally “constant and enduring faith,” Digenis offered a reciprocal pledge to his beloved: “may you … preserve the same feelings.” She in response implicitly rejected gender symmetry in love and expressed ungenerous suspicion:

Leaving parents, brothers and household,
I entrust myself to you, youngster, with God;
grant me him as a witness that you will not grieve me
but make me your lawful wife till the end.
For many lovers have set aside their words,
despite having previously shown themselves passionate to the girls they desire.

Digenis had invoked a curse upon himself if he should grieve her. He had asked her to preserve the same feelings. She didn’t. Instead, she called on him to swear again before God that he would not grieve her. Digenis acquiesced, but with a complaining coda:

By the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit,
I will never grieve you, highest-born of girls,
but I will make you mistress of my possessions and my lady,
my wife and spouse until the end of my life,
if you keep your desire for me pure,
as I said to you before, my dearest soul.

She said nothing further. The mighty warrior Digenis thus submitted to his future wife’s degrading conditions. He didn’t ask her to swear before God not to grieve him. He didn’t declare to her that many women betray their words to men. The narrator observed, “they had bound each other well through their oaths.”[2] That observation is best understood as a subtle, ironic critique of gynocentrism.

Digenis himself behaved ambivalently with respect to gynocentric imperatives and values. Under gynocentrism, women amorously favor the man who acts like the bigger jerk. When Digenis suddenly realized that imperative from the love affair of Aploravdis’s daughter, he raped her. He subsequently deeply regretted being such a jerk. When the Amazon Maximou came to behead him, Digenis fought her in accordance with the gynocentric value that only men should be killed. Digenis subsequently became furious with himself for upholding that gender injustice. He returned to slay Maximou. Digenis came from a prominent family in a matriarchal society. While he honored his parents, he chose to leave matriarchal society and live only with his wife. They never had children.[3]

While Digenis sought to live apart from gynocentrism, he never appreciated his own intrinsic value as a man. Digenis on his deathbed recounted to his wife his many heroic deeds:

{heroic deeds}
it was out of my boundless love for you, my dearest,
that I did all this, so that I could win you.

{more heroic deeds}
I dared to do these things for love of you,
for I preferred death to your grieving in any way.

{more heroic deeds}
These deeds I performed for the sake of your love,
to which I preferred neither the world nor life.

{another heroic deed}
And this deed I performed out of the excess of my love
for you, my very dearly beloved girl, so that I could win you.

{another heroic deed}
And many more other things for love of you, my soul,
I achieved, so that I might win you,
and I missed my aim, I failed in my expectations;
for know for certain that I am dying. [4]

Underscoring the folly of men orienting their life wholly toward winning a woman’s love, Digenis died young from a sickness he caught while taking a bath at home in a pleasure garden. That’s a most unheroic death. Digenis Akritis is a subtle tale of a man’s troubled and ultimately failing struggle to escape gynocentrism.

Literary scholars have failed to appreciate the profound, critical perspective on men’s lives in Digenis Akritis. The psychologically complex Digenis has been superficially derided as “violent and boorish.”[5] A subtle tale of a man’s struggle with gynocentrism had been crudely misrepresented as:

the philistine fantasy world of Digenes Akrites, a man’s man who lived in the country, never met an intellectual, and devoted himself to sex and violence.[6]

While disparaging “a man’s man,” intellectuals studying Digenis Akritis have engaged in lengthy, tedious tribal battles over the merits of the Grottaferrata version relative to the Escorial version. Few persons would be interested in meeting such intellectuals. A concluding comment to a book-length study subtitled “New Approaches to Byzantine Heroic Poetry” observed:

specifically literary study of Digenes Akrites, in any of its versions, remains a neglected area. [7]

More significant than neglect of literary study of Digenis Akritis has been lack of literary appreciation for men’s lives under gynocentrism. Digenis Akritis can be adequately appreciated only with sympathetic understanding of men in relation to women.

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[1] Digenis Akritis, Grottaferrata version, 4.555-62, from Greek trans. Jeffreys (1998) pp. 99, 101. The subsequent two quotes are from 4.570–5 and 4.578-83, id. p. 101. For “my every beginning and my end,” cf. Revelation 22:13.

[2] Digenis Akritis, Grottaferrata version, 4.584, trans. Jeffreys (1998) p. 101. In the Escorial version, the girl first makes a vow ending with “my God find you out, my lord, if you cause me pain.” Digenis then makes an oath in response to that concern:

Benevolent Lord God, creator of the ages:
if I think of causing you pain,
may wild beasts tear me apart
and may I not take pleasure in my youthfulness, my prodigious bravery,
and may I not be buried as a Christian and may I never prosper,
may I never inherit my mother’s blessing
and may I never take pleasure in your prodigious love,
if ever I think of causing you pain.
But you, dark-eyed one, see that you give no offence.

Digenis Akritis, Escorial version ll. 902-10, trans. Jeffreys (1998) p. 307. In the Escorial version, the girl doesn’t implicitly reject Digenis’s call for reciprocity. Digenis also more directly insists on the girl’s reciprocal obligation. These differences suggest that the Grottaferrata’s version of the oaths represents a sophisticated literary choice.

While both version represent Byzantine matriarchy, the Escorial version is more directly matriarchal than the Grottaferrata version. For the curse, the Escorial declares “may I never inherit my mother’s blessing”; the Grottaferrata has “may I not win my parents’ blessings.” The Escorial has lengthy prayers of Digenis’s mother for him before he went to abduct the girl who became his wife. It also states that Digenis attacked the guerillas “on foot supported only by my mother’s blessing.” Escorial 811-23 (mother’s prayers), 1212 (attacking with mother’s blessing). Neither of those features is in the Grottaferrata version.

[3] Trilling interprets the childlessness of Digenis and his wife with a crude allegory:

In allegorical terms he has no children because his life, however remarkable in itself, leads nowhere.

Trilling (2016) p. 159. Byzantium was a Christian society in which celibate men and women were highly honored. Celibacy, which in a strict form implies childlessness, was a well-recognized path to holiness. Moreover, being a warrior didn’t exclude a childless quest for holiness. Digenis Akritis explicitly invoked childless military saints: Theodore of Heraclea, Theodore of Amasea, George, and Demetrios of Thessaloniki. The childlessness of Digenis is better understood as setting him apart from the familial relations of matriarchy and gynocentrism.

[4] Digenis Akritis, Grottaferrata version, 8.63-124, trans. Jeffreys (1998) pp. 221, 223. Both l. 8.123 and 8.124  begin with καί; l. 8.124 could also be translated as “and know for certain that I am dying.” In any case, Digenis failure wasn’t necessarily that he didn’t win the girl’s true, worldly love. His aim and his expectation may well have been to have a long life in love with the girl. By dying young, he failed in that aim and expectation. Cf. Galatariotou (1987) pp. 65-6.

[5] Kaldellis (2007) p. 269.

[6] Magdalino (1984) p. 69.

[7] Ricks (1993) p. 170.

[image] Detail from Cameo Shores by Austin Neill. Available from unsplash under a Creative Commons Zero license.


Galatariotou, Catia. 1987. “Structural Oppositions in the Grottaferrata Digenes Akrites.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 11 (1): 29-68.

Jeffreys, Elizabeth, ed. and trans. 1998. Digenis Akritis: the Grottaferrata and Escorial versions. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Kaldellis, Anthony. 2007. Hellenism in Byzantium: the transformations of Greek identity and the reception of the classical tradition. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press.

Magdalino, Paul. 1984. “Byzantine Snobbery.” Pp. 58-78 in Angold, Michael, ed. The Byzantine aristocracy, IX to XIII centuries. Oxford, England: B.A.R.

Ricks, David. 1993. “Digenes Akrites as literature.” Ch. 14 (pp. 161-70) in Beaton, Roderick and David Ricks, eds. Digenes Akrites: New Approaches to Byzantine Heroic Poetry. Center for Hellenic Studies, King’s College, London.

Trilling, James. 2016. “Re-Introducing Digenis Akritis: A Byzantine Poem of Strength, Weakness, and the Disturbing Absence of God.” Viator. 47 (3): 149-170.

Timarion learned that intellectual life is better in Byzantine Hell

Byzantine icon: harrowing Hell

Vomiting and diarrhea gripped Timarion. Completely drained and unable to produce any publishable articles, he attempted to sleep. Two spirits came to conduct away his soul. One said to the other:

Here is the man who lost the fourth of this constituent elements by vomiting up all his bile. He cannot be allowed to go on living on the strength of his remaining three. Aesculapius and Hippocrates have said as much in the decree they wrote down and posted in Hades whereby no man, even if his body be in good shape, shall go on living if he has been deprived of one of his four elements. [1]

Which of the two types of bile Timarion lost isn’t worth a bitter argument. Timarion was dead according to the decree of leading medical authorities. The spirits thus pulled his soul out of his body through his nose and mouth, as through a yawn, and conducted it to the abode of the dead. Yet Timarion wasn’t actually dead. Moreover, public reason in Byzantine Hell was good enough to restore life wrongly taken from a corpse.

In Byzantine Hell, Timarion brought suit against the officials who had conducted his soul to Hades. Called before a judicial panel to defend their actions, those spirits testified:

As for the poor devil Timarion, we had observed him in the process of losing through dysentery his fourth element all the way from Thessalonica to the greatest river in Thrace. Acquainted as we are with the law laid down by the greatest medical brains to the effect that no man shall violate the law of nature by living on the basis of three elements, when we saw all his bile emptied out over a space of thirty days, we went to his bed and summoned forth his soul, since it was not lawful for it to remain in a body so deprived. But, your most worshipful judges, it is for you to render your verdict; we will submit ourselves to the law. [2]

Declaring that the case required expert medical knowledge, the judges summoned Aesculapius and Hippocrates. They in turn called for Erasistratus. With the most revered medical authorities in Hell attending, how could the case not be judged rightly?

The medical authorities quickly displayed their expertise. They demanded that the defendants diagnose the disease and the state of Timarion’s soul. The defendants responded:

Greatest of the physicians, we have in no way disobeyed or dishonored your regulations. After all, it was you and your colleagues on earth who established the hard and fast rule that no one should keep on living or breathing who was not fully comprised of the four elements — blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile — and that whoever happened to be deprived of one of these four should under no circumstances be allowed to live.

Therefore, in fulfillment of our allotted duty in the upper world, on seeing this poor wretch continuously coughing up bile mixed with blood for thirty days and nights, we perceived on the basis of our medical expertise that he could not be allowed to live any longer. We ask you, how could he possibly have had any of this elemental humor left in him after coughing it up in such quantities for so many days? You may then rest assured that we had no need to use force to separate his soul from his body. Quite the contrary, we went in gently through the nostrils and drew it up with a light sucking action. It put up no resistance, since his body was by that time completely exhausted from its continuous secretions.

Timarion’s advocate Theodore of Smyrna rose in rebuttal:

Your Honors, and you, too, presidents and executive members of the medical association, you have just heard the babbling excuses of these accursed devils and the pathetic and illogical pretense of an argument they have attempted to string together. Now, in rebuttal, I shall show how they have hoisted themselves with their own petard.

Theodore pointed out that a soul is rightly conducted to Hades only after proper religious rituals have been performed. For Christian souls, funeral rites are performed on the third, ninth, and fortieth days after death. Timarion received no such rites before being conducted to Hades. Moreover, Timarion’s soul still had bits of living flesh sticking to it. Theodore called for “some officials with good eyesight” (not leading physicians or leading theologians) to examine thoroughly the state of Timarion’s soul.[3] Two officials did so and reported to the court:

External examination shows the entire soul to be defiled by gore, of a color commonly found on men who fall in battle, the result of sweat mixing with blood. But our detailed internal investigation discloses that some parts of the soul are still suffused with pure blood and still emit some particles of living breath. Furthermore, some pieces of flesh are stuck to it, containing blood and the essence of life.

Timarion’s advocate drew out the implications for the court:

There you have it, gentlemen, the vindication of my own argument. For if the soul was still managing to cling obstinately to the body, how could its fourth element have been entirely drained away? According to the theories of the most distinguished doctors, nature surrenders a soul without a struggle when it actually has lost an element. But in this case, it was not the element itself that was voided, but rather the food ingested every day was forcibly expelled when turned into a secretion that was bile-like but not real bile, as a result of inflammation of the liver. This is quite clear from the results of the second examination. That part of the soul of Timarion which was near to the liver when the bleeding began is all rendered down into bile. And, organically speaking, it is precisely there that our daily intake of food, once transformed into a bile-like substance, produces and gets rid of our bodily refuse which is equally bile-like. There can be only one conclusion. What was secreted was not pure elemental bile but ordinary bodily wastes that are voided along with bile, more than usual in this particular case because of the inflamed condition of the liver.

The judges, not surprisingly, ruled that the defendants had transgressed the laws of the dead in conducting Timarion’s soul to Hades. The judges ordered that the defendants be removed from their office and that Timarion be restored to life in his body. In short, judges in Byzantine Hell established that an authoritative decree should not be followed in contradiction to facts of life. That’s better quality public reason than typically prevails elsewhere, especially today.

Timarion’s advocate Theodore of Smyrna directly declared the superiority of intellectual life in Byzantine Hell. He stated:

Let me tell you, in the life above it was verbal dexterity and crowd-pleasing wit that counted. Down here, it is all philosophy and true culture, with less demagogic display. [4]

Theodore of Smyrna followed prominent Byzantine intellectuals Michael Psellos and Ioannes Italos in holding the title “Chief of the Philosophers” in Constantinople.[5] He participated in high-level political-ecclesiastical meetings and wrote learned commentary on Aristotle. Well-known for his resonant delivery and impressive size, he was the biggest sophist in Constantinople early in the twelfth century. In Byzantine Hell, a vegetarian diet greatly reduced Theodore’s size and improved his bodily health. His testimony to the superiority of intellectual life in Byzantine Hell carries great weight. His words should settle the matter in intellectual life today.[6]

Outside of Byzantine Hell, a man cries in despair at the public response to a woman kick-boxer assaulting her celebrity boyfriend. She punched him in the face, broke his nose, and split in his lip. In response, he promoted a fund-raising campaign for White Ribbon Australia. That’s the domestic violence organization that bullied the founder of the first modern domestic violence shelter because she refused to misrepresent the facts about domestic violence against men. Eminent authorities and their decrees dominate the reality of men’s lives in public discussion today. We would all have more reasonable lives in Byzantine Hell.

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[1] Timarion 13, from Greek trans. Baldwin (1984) p. 51. Two of the four constituent elements (humors in ancient medical theory) are bile: yellow bile and black bile. The Timarion never substantially distinguishes between these two bile elements.

The Timarion is generally thought to have been written in twelfth-century Constantinople. Its author isn’t convincingly known. For a brief, accessible review of thoughts on dating and authorship, Strain (2013) pp. 2-3.

The Timarion has survived in only one manuscript, Codex Vaticanus graecus 87. That manuscript also contains works of Lucian. The Timarion has considerable intertextuality with Lucian’s works. Lucian, however, surely didn’t write it. The Timarion contains many factual references to Byzantine history and real Byzantine persons.

All subsequent quotes from the Timarion will be cited by source section and page number in Baldwin’s translation. I’ve changed a few words to their standard spelling in American English.

[2] Timarion 35, p. 66. The conductors of souls reason like the Pharisees examining the blind man whom Jesus cured with mud on the Sabbath. John 9:1-41.

Subsequent quotes are from the Timarion 38, pp. 68-9 (Greatest of the physicians…); 39, p. 69 (Your Honors…); 40, p. 70 (External examination…), 40, pp. 70-1 (There you have it…) 24, p. 59 (Let me tell you…).

[3] The officials’ names transliterated into English are Oxyderkion and Nyktoleustes. Translated into English they are Sharpeye and Nightspy. Baldwin (1984) p. 127, n. 219, crediting Tozer (1881). Krallis observes:

The judges’ verdict appears based purely on a medical rather than moral diagnosis.

Krallis (2010) p. 222. The charge before the court turns on a medical, not moral issue. Yet none of the eminent medical authorities Aesculapius, Hippocrates,  Erasistratus, and Galen provides the medical diagnosis. It comes via officials whose only recognized credential is keen eyesight. That’s good satirical play in a work where the descent to Hades functions “as a platform where intellectual, authorial, and fictional issues may be displayed and discussed.” Nilsson (2016) p. 181. See also Bzinkowsky (2015).

While including real persons and events and satirizing actual practices, the Timarion is imaginative literature that draws upon conventional mythological and literary motifs such as katabasis. Krallis observes:

Given the medical staff present at the trial, and the information provided by Theodore of Smyrna on its members, we can draw a few conclusions about Timarion’s condition. Theodore’s fear of Galen is evidence that there was indeed a medical condition. … What could have excited Timarion enough to make him sick?

Id p. 238. Such analysis lacks both reason (its assertions have no necessary relation to each other) and imagination (the subject is fictional literature). Taking literally Konstantinos Akropolites’s letter conveying the Timarion is a similar mistake. See Kaldellis (2007) p. 277, Krallis (2010) p. 221.

[5] Nilsson recognizes the importance of this statement to the Timarion as a whole. She explains:

I read it in light of the situation and attitudes of twelfth-century professional rhetors, whose authorial personae expressed the idea that they were forced to exhibit qua entertain, which prevented engagement in “true” philosophy, i.e., paideia and logoi. Seen from this perspective, the Hades of the Timarion offers weary rhetoricians a rest from the constraints of their trade, reminiscent rather of the Isle of the Blessed where Homer was placed in Lucian’s True Histories. Such an interpretation does not exclude philosophical or political connotations; it simply puts the focus on the metaliterary potential and sociocultural significance of the work.

Nilsson (2016) p. 190.

[5] According to the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (ed. Kazhdan), Theodore of Smyrna was:

high-ranking official and scholar; born mid-11th C., died after 1112. He was magistros and judge in 1082 and later held the post of quaestor with the titles of protoproedros and protokouropalates (Laurent, Corpus 2, nos. 1118–19). After the deposition of John Italos, Theodore was appointed hypatos ton philosophon. In 1112 he engaged in discussions in Constantinople with the Latin theologian Peter Grossolano.

Other information about Theodore in the paragraph above comes from Baldwin (1984) p. 113, n. 149, and the Timarion itself.

The title hypatos ton philosophon {Chief of the Philosophers} was created for Michael Psellos about 1047. The title subsequently passed to Ioannes Italos (John Italos) and then Theodore of Smyrna. The Timarion refers to that title with the phrase “sophistic chair in Constantinople.” Timarion 23, p. 58. A more literal translation is “Throne of Sophistry in Constantinople.” The medieval Greek text of the Timarion doesn’t use the word philosophy. Its diction emphasizes that Theodore is a sophist. Krallis (2010) p. 229, n. 40.

[6] Educational institutions are part of the problem. Kaldellis observes:

The Timarion, in other words, presents a satirical but nevertheless serious history of education in Byzantium. … the text basically offers a politicized commentary on the history of higher education in late eleventh- and early twelfth-century Constantinople, one that I believe should be taken seriously today.

Kaldellis (2012) pp. 281, 287. Strain’s poignant conclusion should trouble academics today:

Those who can enjoy the entertainment {that the Timarion provides} are reminded that they are, perhaps, clever enough to serve and entertain their masters. But should they tell, or hide, from rulers and paymasters, the folly and fragility of the world they help them rule?

Strain (2013) pp. 14-5. A world in which authoritative knowledge claims dominate reality is foolish and fragile. Those paid to promote the dominant ideology hide from their paymasters the truth at their own peril.

[image] Harrowing of Hell. Detail from mid-15th century Byzantine icon. Attributed to Andreas Ritzos. Held in the State Hermitage Museum, St. Petersburg (Russia). Thanks to Shakko and Wikimedia Commons.


Baldwin, Barry, trans. and commentary. 1984. Timarion. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Bzinkowsky, Michal. 2015. “Notes on eschatological patterns in a 12th century anonymous satirical dialogue the Timarion.” Eos. 102(1): 129-148.

Kaldellis, Anthony. 2007. Hellenism in Byzantium: the transformations of Greek identity and the reception of the classical tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Kaldellis, Anthony. 2012. “The Timarion: Toward a Literary Interpretation.” Pp. 275-288 in Odorico, Paolo, ed. 2012. La face cachée de la littérature byzantine le texte en tant que message immédiat: actes du colloque international, Paris, 5-6-7 juin 2008. Paris: Centre d’études byzantines, néo-helléniques et sud-est européennes, École des hautes études en sciences sociales.

Krallis, Dimitris. 2010. “Harmless satire, stinging critique: Notes and suggestions for reading the Timarion.” Ch. 12 (pp. 221-245) in Dimiter Angelov and Michael Saxby, eds. Power and subversion in Byzantium: papers from the 43rd Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Birmingham, March 2010. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Variorum.

Nilsson, Ingela. 2016. “Poets and Teachers in the Underworld: From the Lucianic katabasis to the Timarion.” Symbolae Osloenses. 90 (1): 180-204.

Strain, Michael. 2013. “How does satire work in the Timarion and whom/what it is aimed at?” Teaching Material for MA Byzantine Studies, Centre for Byzantine, Ottoman and Modern Greek Studies, University of Birmingham.

Konstantinos Akropolites burning the book of neo-pagan Timarion

book burning

The Byzantine Emperor promoted Konstantinos Akropolites to grand logothete in Constantinople about 1294. Akropolites thus became the administrative head of the Byzantine bureaucracy. As the son of Giorgos Akropolites, an eminent bureaucrat and historian who lived from 1217 to 1282, Konstantinos Akropolites undoubtedly had extensive knowledge of bureaucracy in action.[1] Such experience encourages indirect expression and a wry sense of humor. In a letter to a friend, Akropolites harshly disparaged the outrageously impious and amusing Byzantine literary work the Timarion. Akropolites’s letter should be read as sophisticated rhetoric testing intellectual broad-mindedness.

Like the ninth-century Arabic rhetorician al-Jahiz writing on misers, Konstantinos Akropolites engaged in subtle irony in disparaging the Timarion. Akropolites blandly praised the Timarion’s account of the festival of Saint Demetrius of Thessalonike:

I cannot imagine what motivated him to attack the Christian faith. It is all the more strange since, by starting with the festival of the famous martyr St. Demetrius, he did make a good and appropriately solemn start before degenerating into his quite unsuitable tale. [2]

Saint Demetrius was the patron saint of the western European crusaders who took Antioch from the Turks in 1098, and then brutally took Constantinople from the Byzantines in 1204. In Byzantine eyes the crusaders were barbarians. The barbarians enlisting Demetrius as their patron saint directly concerned Byzantium:

there is no doubt that Byzantium was very much on the minds of crusaders at Antioch. They had sound reasons to expect Emperor Alexius to come to their aid and grew increasingly disappointed when he did not. … the appearance of Eastern saints in two of the early narratives of the battle of Antioch was intended to make a powerful statement not only about the worthiness of the crusaders, but also about the unworthiness of Byzantium. When Demetrius and other saints joined the crusaders, they abandoned the Byzantines. … the claim that Demetrius intervened on the side of crusaders was conceivably a reproach to Emperor Alexius in person. [3]

The Timarion used the festival of Saint Demetrius in Thessalonike to represent political difference:

The staging itself of this story in Thessalonike inevitably highlights the crucial divide between the Western present of the empire and its Eastern past. Timarion is a Cappodocian visiting this city in the Western part of the empire. He draws his origins from lost Byzantine territory, which, at that time, lay beyond the empire’s eastern frontier. His presence in Thessalonike puts the loss of the east in stark relief. Timarion accentuate this loss by listing the nations visiting the fair. These are mostly Western Europeans, as well as “Greeks” from Boeotia and the Peloponnese. The few Eastern visitors are from areas outside the empire, like Egypt, Phoenica and the Black Sea. … If Thessalonike attracts the Western Byzantines and numerous foreigners, the representatives of the Byzantine East are to be found in Hades. [4]

Konstantinos Akropolites probably recognized the struggle for Saint Demetrius and the political differences that the Timarion represented in Thessalonike and Hades. Akropolites staunchly opposed Byzantine Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos moving toward union with the Church of Rome. Akropolites’s praise of the Timarion’s “good and appropriately solemn start” — the tale of Timarion’s journey from Constantinople to Thessalonike and his experience of the worldly festival of Saint Demetrius there — creates suspicion of irony.

The conclusion of Akropolites’s letter makes its ironic rhetoric more clear. The Timarion probably was written in the twelfth century. Writing more than a century later, Akropolites describes the author of the Timarion as an “oldish barbarian who came late in life to catch up with things here in Constantinople.” That extra-textual assertion reverses the polarities of Timarion’s journey to Thessalonike. If the Timarion’s author actually was an “oldish barbarian” who migrated to Constantinople, he quickly gained detailed knowledge of Byzantine intellectual figures and culture. In any case, Akropolites then ostensibly moved toward an extremely crude form of intellectual interaction:

as soon as I had got to the end of his book {the Timarion}, I felt I should consign it to the flames so that in the future it would not fall into the hands of any Christian. And my intention would have become a fait accompli had not the sense of respect for a fellow believer which I have long maintained intervened to stop me. This held my hand, so to speak, and restrained me from my intent, thus saving this insane book from the fate which I think it so richly deserves.

So, my godlike friend, I have disclosed to you what I think about the enclosed volume. In return, I want very much to have your opinion.

The Timarion has survived in only one manuscript. Imaging Akropolites having pulled back from throwing that manuscript into his fire isn’t reasonable. Akropolites almost surely wouldn’t have encountered the sole manuscript of a barbarian author who wrote more than a century earlier, and he wouldn’t have known extra-textual information about that author. The Timarion almost surely was a work that circulated in multiple manuscripts and gained some notoriety for its author. The Timarion almost surely fell into the hands of Christians many times before Akropolites encountered it.

Akropolites’s letter is literally unreasonable. After harshly and unequivocally condemning the Timarion for madly disrespecting Christian truths and reviving pagan myths, to his godlike friend Akropolites declared “I want very much to have your opinion.” If the Timarion truly offended Akropolites, or if he actually believed that outrageously impious work should be harshly repressed, he wouldn’t have circulated it further. With a literal reading of his letter, Akropolites sending the Timarion to his godlike friend and seeking his opinion makes no sense.[5]

Akropolites asserted that his piousness toward his godlike friend stayed his hand and stopped him from burning the Timarion. Backing away from burning a book is at the center of an elaborate, concluding rhetorical figure in the mid-fifteenth-century Spanish masterpiece of men’s sexed protest, The Archpriest of Talavera. Akropolites’s concluding rhetoric is best interpreted as figuratively drawing upon Abraham’s binding of Isaac.[6]

Here is the inner meaning of Akropolites’s letter about the Timarion. I send you an outrageously impious text. If you are a sophisticated intellectual, read it and enjoy it. No harm will come of this.

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[1] Biographical information about Konstantine Akropolites is from Baldwin (1984) p. 26 and the Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium (Kazhdan, ed.), heading Constantine Akropolites. He wrote more than thirty lives of saints. That shouldn’t be understood to mean that he was an austerely pious persons. Akropolites died in or before May 1324.

[2] Konstantine Akropolites, letter to a friend, from Greek trans. Baldwin (1984) pp. 25-6. All subsequent quotes from the letter are from id.

[3] Lapina (2009) pp. 106-7.

[4] Krallis (2010) pp. 230-1. The Timarion’s description of the Saint Demetrios festival in Thessaloniki rewrites the description of the festival at Delphi in Heliodoros’s Aithiopika. MacDougall (2016). MacDougall observes:

The shade of the hero Neoptolemos/Pyrrhus – who had been unjustly murdered at Delphi by Orestes – appeared when Delphi was attacked by the Gauls in 279 BCE. As a cultic hero and defender of the city, Neoptolemos is a parallel to the martyr Demetrios, whose cult and fame exploded precisely in response to his role in defending Thessaloniki from a different set of barbarian invaders from the North: the Slavs and Avars. It was in this guise – as a bulwark of the city against foreign invaders – that Demetrios was most well-known throughout Byzantine history, even as he is to the present day.

Id. p. 149. That account ignores the crusaders’ appropriation of St. Demetrios after their victory in the Battle of Antioch in 1098. Assuming that the author of the Timarion recognized the crusaders’ appropriation of St. Demetrios (which also implies that the Timarion was written after 1098) seems to me to better fit with the Timarion’s satire and Akropolites’s irony.

[5] Both Kaldellis and Krallis read Akropolites’s letter literally and give it considerable weight in their interpretations of the Timarion. Kaldellis (2007) p. 277; Krallis (2010) p. 221.

[6] Genesis 22:1-19.

[image] Book burning. Color-enhanced detail from oil-on-panel painting entitled St. Dominic de Guzman and the Albigensians. Painted by Pedro Berruguete from 1493 to 1499. Held in Prado Museum (Madrid, Spain) item P00609. Color-enhanced detail via derechoaleer. Full image thanks to the Prado Museum and Wikimedia Commons.


Baldwin, Barry, trans. and commentary. 1984. Timarion. Detroit: Wayne State University Press.

Kaldellis, Anthony. 2007. Hellenism in Byzantium: the transformations of Greek identity and the reception of the classical tradition. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Krallis, Dimitris. 2010. “Harmless satire, stinging critique: Notes and suggestions for reading the Timarion.” Ch. 12 (pp. 221-245) in Dimiter Angelov and Michael Saxby, eds. Power and subversion in Byzantium: papers from the 43rd Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies, Birmingham, March 2010. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate Variorum.

Lapina, Elizabeth. 2009. “Demetrius of Thessaloniki: Patron Saint of Crusaders.” Viator. 40 (2): 93-112.

MacDougall, Byron. 2016. “The festival of Saint Demetrios, the Timarion, and the Aithiopika.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 40 (01): 136-150.

Peter Lombard’s Sentences: conjugal partnership, not courtly love

Peter Lombard writing Sentences

Unlike a more humane, more passionate understanding of chivalry, the long-reigning ideology of courtly love deepens men’s subordination to women. Courtly love ideology proclaims that women are morally superior to men. It urges men to labor for women’s “enobling  love.” Peter Lombard, medieval Europe’s most influential systematic theologian, rejected that ideology.[1] Drawing upon the most highly regarded Jewish and Christian authorities, Lombard established in his monumental Sentences that men and women in love are intended to have an equal conjugal partnership.

Peter Lombard understood the creation of Eve from Adam’s rib to indicate that women and men belong together in an equal partnership. In his Sentences, he explained:

she {Eve} was formed not from just any part of his body {Adam’s body}, but from his side, so that it should be shown that she was created for the partnership of love, lest, if perhaps she had been made from his head, she should be perceived as set over man in domination; or if from his feet, as if subject to him in servitude. Therefore, since she was made neither to dominate, nor to serve the man, but as his partner, she had to be produced neither from his head, nor from his feet, but from his side, so that he would know that she was to be placed beside himself

{non de qualibet parte corporis viri, sed de latere eius formata est, ut ostenderetur quia in consortium creabatur dilectionis: ne forte si fuisset de capite facta, viro ad dominationem videretur praeferenda; aut si de pedibus, ad servitutem subicienda. Quia igitur viro nec domina nec ancilla parabatur, sed socia, nec de capite nec de pedibus, sed de latere fuerat producenda, ut iuxta se ponendam cognosceret} [2]

Lombard emphasized that marriage is a conjugal partnership of equals:

consent to carnal joining or to cohabitation does not make a marriage, but consent to conjugal partnership, expressed by words of present tense, as when a man says: I take you as my wife, and neither as one to lord it over me, nor as a slave-girl. … she is not given as slave-girl or as one to lord it over him; in the beginning she was not formed either from the highest part, nor from the lowest, but from the side of man, for the sake of conjugal partnership.

{consensus cohabitationis vel carnalis copulae non facit coniugium, sed consensus. coniugalis societatis, verbis secundum praesens tempus expressus, ut cum vir dicit: Ego accipio te in meam, non dominam, non ancillam, sed coniugem. … Quia enim non ancilla vel domina datur, ideo nec de summo nec de imo a principio formata est, sed de latere viri, ob coniugalem societatem.} [3]

Courtly lovers abase themselves and pedestalize women. Yet woman are flesh-and-blood humans just like men are. Those who believe otherwise deny human nature and deny revelation that ancient Jewish and Christian authorities understood.

Many Christians have believed in the sinfulness of man in the sense of those decrying “toxic masculinity.” Medieval theologian Peter Lombard, in contrast, provided sympathetic understanding of Adam’s sin.[4] According to Lombard, Adam knew that eating fruit from the tree of knowledge was a sin, but, out of concern for Eve, Adam didn’t go his own way:

Adam … reflected on penance and God’s mercy, even as he humoured the woman and consented to her persuasion, not wishing to sadden her and leave her alienated from herself, lest she should perish. He judged that it {eating the fruit} was a venial, not a mortal, sin.

Adam … de poenitentia et Dei misericordia cogitavit, dum uxori morem gerens, eius persuasioni consensit, nolens eam contristare et a se alienatam relinquere, ne periret, arbitratus illud esse veniale, non mortale delictum. [5]

Adam’s fundamental sin was being too meek and submissive toward a woman. Courtly love encourages and celebrates exactly that horrendous sin.[6]

In our age of ignorance, superstition, and bigotry, many believe that men are privileged relative to women. These believers believe that violence against women is the most pressing human rights problem in the world today. The fact that violence is much more frequently directed against men doesn’t matter to the believers’ beliefs about gender equality. The believers shudder at perceived threats to women’s constitutionally established reproductive rights, but they show no concern about forced financial fatherhood currently imposed on men and men having no reproductive rights whatsoever. The believers look upwards and gaze upon the genitals of mega-corporation CEOs and national political leaders. They don’t see the gender of the many more numerous persons authoritatively deprived of custody of their children or locked up in prison and jails, even when those persons are their relatives and neighbors. We are living in a Dark Age.

We have never been medieval like the medieval theologian Peter Lombard. His systematic, enlightened thinking about women and men in love rejected the oppressive, gynocentric ideology of courtly love. Although highly influential, Lombard’s reason wasn’t enough to overcome the darkness in which men disbelieve what they see with their own eyes.[7] Better education in medieval literature offers men and women the best hope for enlightenment.

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[1] Born about 1100, Peter Lombard became a professor at the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris about 1145 and Bishop of Paris in 1159. He was a renowned master-teacher who engaged with other leading theologians such as Hugh of St. Victor and Peter Abelard. Lombard finished his second and final draft of the Sentences in 1158.

Lombard’s Sentences became the most commented upon Christian work other than the Bible. More than 1,400 commentaries on it are known to have been written. Lombard’s Sentences was the standard university-level textbook on theology from the early thirteenth century to the mid-sixteenth century throughout western Europe. Rosemann (2004) pp. 3-4. On its influence, Rosemann (2007).

From the middle of the eleventh century to the Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, clerics trained in cathedral schools rose in influence to become the agenda-setters and arbiters of elite reasoned belief. The University of Paris, which helped to institutionalize clerics’ broad societal importance, was founded about 1150 as a corporation associated with the cathedral school of Notre Dame in Paris. For intellectual history of Lombard’s Sentences within the socio-intellectual development of the clerical class, Monagle (2013).

[2] Peter Lombard, Libri Quatuor Sententiarum {Sentences}, Bk. 2, Distinction 18, Ch. 2, from Latin trans. Silano (2007) Bk. 2, p. 77. Silano’s translation is based on Ignatius Brady’s 1971 critical edition. The Latin text is from the Quaracchi edition of 1916, available online at Magister Sententiarum. While the Quaracchi edition has faults, they don’t seem relevant to the quotes above.

[3] Lombard, Libri Quatuor Sententiarum, Bk. 4, Distinction 28, Ch. 3.2 and 4.1, trans. Silano (2007) Bk. 4, p. 172. I have made some non-substantive changes in the translation to better align it with the Latin. On “lording it over,” cf. Matthew 20:25, Mark 10:42.

Scholars today find Lombard’s view surprising for the wrong reasons. For example, Finn (2011), p. 60, called Lombard’s view on conjugal partnership “a surprising conclusion, given the patriarchalism of his world and his sources.” Notional patriarchy is merely the integument of gynocentrism. Lombard’s view is surprising in its overt recognition of the possibility of women’s dominance and its decisive rejection of that dominance. The situation within local churches may have been particularly salient to Lombard’s concern about women dominating men.

[4] A particularly shameful example of claiming “toxic masculinity” is pathologizing men who are vastly disproportionately victims of lethal violence. The influential work of Augustine of Hippo taught that the sin of Eve and Adam is propagated through all subsequent humans through men’s semen. See Augustine, On Marriage and Concupiscence.

[5] Lombard, Libri Quatuor Sententiarum, Bk. 2, Distinction 22, Ch. 4.1., trans. Silano (2007) p. 100. I’ve made non-substantial changes to the translation to make it more easily readable. Rosemann comments:

From our contemporary perspective, Lombard’s description of Adam’s motives for sinning must appear slightly amusing

Rosemann (2007) p. 110. Lombard’s description might not appear amusing to those who judge our contemporary orthodoxy about demonic males to be absurd and hateful.

[6] Silano began the introduction to Lombard’s Sentences with a story honoring a woman’s adultery:

A story that was already old by the end of the Middle Ages had it that there had once been three brothers, born of an adulterous union. Their mother, on her deathbed, confessed her sin, and her confessor, noting its gravity, urged her to much sorrow and penance. The woman acknowledged that adultery is a great sin, but professed an inability to feel compunction, in view of the great good that had come of it, since each of her sons had become a luminary in the Church. The confessor agreed that her sons had done much useful work for the Church, but this had been God’s gift; her contribution had been the commission of adultery, and for this she ought to sorrow, or at least she ought to sorrow at her inability to feel sorrow. The three brothers born of this unrepented sin were Peter Comestor, Gratian, and Peter Lombard.

Silano (2007) Bk. 1, p. vii. Silano characterized the story as “charming” and asserted “it makes important points.” Silano interpreted the story allegorically. Yet the story also indicates that, throughout history, authorities have treated women adulterers more leniently than men adulterers. More generally, courtly love ideology and anti-men gender bias in judging culpability supports deeply unjust anti-men bias in criminal justice and incarceration.

[7] Literature and philosophy throughout history have generally failed to recognize men’s distinctively masculine being and have tended to consider humans generically. That failure is starkly apparent in Johnson’s Dictionary (1755) and continues in current scholarship. Monagle (2015) provides a gynocentric perspective on Peter Lombard’s failure to appreciate men’s distinctively masculine being.

[image] Peter Lombard within illuminated initial from one of the earliest manuscripts of Lombard’s Sentences. Lombard is writing Omnes sitientes venite ad me {all you who thirst, come to me}. A scribe named Michael of Ireland wrote this manuscript in 1158. Michael plausibly worked for the abbey of St. Victor in Paris. He thus would have seen Peter Lombard in person. Rosemann (2004) pp. 41-2. Illumination from Troyes. Bibliothèque Municipale MS 900, fol. 1r. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Finn, Thomas M. 2011. “Sex and Marriage in the Sentences of Peter Lombard.” Theological Studies. 72 (1): 41-69.

Monagle, Clare. 2013. Orthodoxy and controversy in twelfth-century religious discourse: Peter Lombard’s Sentences and the development of theology. Turnhout: Brepols.

Monagle, Clare. 2015. “Christ’s Masculinity: Homo and Vir in Peter Lombard’s Sentences.” Ch. 2 (pp. 32-47) in Broomhall, Susan, ed. 2015. Ordering emotions in Europe, 1100-1800. Leiden: Brill.

Rosemann, Philipp W. 2004. Peter Lombard. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rosemann, Philipp W. 2013. The story of a great medieval book: Peter Lombard’s Sentences. North York, Ontario, Canada: Univ. of Toronto Press.

Silano, Giulio, trans. 2007-2010. Peter Lombard. The Sentences {Libri Quatuor Sententiarum}. 4 vols. {Book 1: The mystery of the Trinity; Book 2: On creation; Book 3: On the Incarnation of the Word; Book 4: On the Doctrine of Signs}. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Jaye’s Red Pill documents social failure to promote gender equality

Martin Luther King, Jr., mugshotWarning signs of collapsing public reason are readily apparent, particularly in the U.S. Yet distinguishing bluster and posing from what truly matters isn’t easy. Women and men have lived in intimate, enduring relationships with each other for as long as the human species has existed. Relationships between men and women truly matter. Cassie Jaye’s new film documentary, The Red Pill, provides a horrifying look at how lies, fraud, and anti-men bigotry at the highest levels of society have perverted ideals of gender equality and deeply damaged women and men’s relationships.

A Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) news report illustrates the extent of the problem. To understand The Red Pill and “the culture of men’s rights activism,” the CBC interviewed a professor of Women’s Studies at the University of Calgary. This news report thus drew together vitally important public institutions — a major broadcasting entity, a news report, and a professor at a public university. From the perspectives of many reasonable persons, the CBC “news report” was an outrage and a farce. It utterly misrepresented The Red Pill. The CBC failed to address serious issues affecting men and boys, and women and girls who care about men and boys and whose lives are intimately entangled with theirs.

To understand vitally important issues, you cannot count on leading public institutions to inform you. You must investigate for yourself. A good start is to watch The Red Pill. There are a wide array of options for buying, renting, or streaming The Red Pill. Watch it and learn about issues central to women and men’s relationships.

After you’ve watched The Red Pill, study how mainstream institutions currently work to advance ignorance and anti-men bigotry. Karen Straughan, a heroic and intellectually brilliant analyst of men’s issues, provides insightful commentary on the CBC news report. Paul Elam, who has worked tirelessly over the past decade raising consciousness about men being deprived of human rights, brings to the CBC news report justified anger and warranted mockery. Relative to the CBC and a professor at the University of Calgary, Karen Straughan and Paul Elam have very little institutional authority. Yet in reason and in sense of justice, they tower above many of today’s powerful institutional authorities.

The failure of the CBC news report seems to me to go deeper than Karen Staughan’s and Paul Elam’s critiques indicate. The University of Calgary professor emphasized that The Red Pill movie is “dangerous” and “scary.” Within the U.S. today, a woman merely stating to criminal justice authorities that she “feels afraid” of another person is enough to have that other person’s basic civil liberties suspended under domestic violence emergency law. In fact, the totalitarian regime of domestic violence emergency law is invoked an estimated 1.7 million times per year across circumstances that are far from any reasonable understanding of an emergency. In reality, claims that women are scared have already gutted the U.S. Constitution. The University of Calgary professor’s claim of being scared should be understood within the context of totalitarian suspension of basic civil rights and liberties.

Given that the commanding institutions of society are forcefully arrayed against them, justice-seekers depicted in The Red Pill show heart-warming moral courage. Harry Crouch, President of the National Coalition for Men, comes across as a quiet, modest, ordinary human being confronting extraordinarily difficult circumstances. Erin Pizzey, a pioneer in starting a domestic violence shelter for women, refused to demonize men and paid a heavy price for her basic human decency. Fred Hayward tells outrageous and poignant stories about his love for his son and how he lost him. While serving his country as a soldier, Carnell Smith was attacked with a fraudulent paternity claim. His country did nothing to help him. He has worked energetically to help his country to understand the injustice of paternity fraud. If civilization endures and advances, such men and women will be celebrated as social-justice heroes.

The Coalition to Create a White House Council on Boys & Men sponsored a screening of The Red Pill in Washington, DC, on March 7, 2017. In March, 2009, President Obama created to great acclaim a high-powered White House Council on Women and Girls. The need for a White House Council on Boys and Men is much greater. Yet creating one would generate not acclaim, but withering criticism from entrenched interests at the commanding heights of public life. Any smart president would be no more likely to create a White House Council on Boys and Men than any smart politician would challenge men not having equal reproductive rights and reproductive choice, anti-men sex discrimination in child custody and child support, the vastly disproportional incarceration of men, the predominance of violence against men, and many other major injustices in men’s lives.

Watching Cassie Jaye’s The Red Pill will raise your consciousness about injustices against men. It will also help you to understand just how badly leading public institutions are performing. Understanding truthfully where we are is a key step in moving forward.

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[image] Mugshot of Martin Luther King Jr following his 1963 arrest in Birmingham, Alabama. Image thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

Amazon Maximou ultimately failed in gambit for women’s privilege

Amazon warrior women

Maximou was a renowned Amazon warrior, a descendant of the Amazons that Alexander the Great had brought from India. Maximou commanded more than a thousand men soldiers. Her kinsman Philopappous, himself an experienced and feared fighter, turned to her for help in abducting a young woman.

In asking Maximou for help, Philopappous didn’t tell her that only one man protected the young woman. Maximou gathered a hundred experienced, well-equipped men soldiers to make the raid. When she learned that her force was to engage only one man, she berated Philopappous:

You thrice-accursed old man,
was it because of one man that you have put me and my people to such trouble?
I shall cross over to get to him on my own, making my boast with God’s help,
and shall remove his head, without need of you. [1]

That man whom Maximou set out to behead was Digenis Akritis the frontiersman. Showing more agency than Alexander the Great, Digenis told Maximou not to cross the river. Digenis crossed the river himself to get to her and fight with her.[2]

Digenis quickly defeated Maximou. He recounted:

I made for Maximou with all my heart and skill.
Since she was already well-prepared, she ran to meet me
and struck me a glancing blow on the breast-plate with her spear.
I was not hurt at all, but I broke her spear.
Brandishing my sword again I spared her,
but promptly cut off her horse’s head,
and the carcass collapsed awkwardly to the ground.
She leapt off, overwhelmed with terror,
and falling down before me cried out: “Young man, let me not die.
I have been led astray like a woman by listening to Philopappous.” [3]

Women’s power comes not mainly from the force of their arms, but from the effects of their beauty on men. Digenis pitied “her marvelous beauty” and turned to attack the men who had come with Maximou. He killed many of them. As always, nameless, numberless men die while the story centers on a woman’s fate.

After praising and blessing Digenis, Maximou requested the opportunity to fight with him again. Digenis agreed and gave her a new horse for the fight. He also told her that she could bring men to fight with her against him. Reflecting men’s vastly disproportionate deaths from violence, men can always be found willing to fight for a woman against other men.

The second battle between Maximou and Digenis went as might have been expected. Maximou showed up very well dressed:

She was seated on a black, most noble steed,
she wore a surcoat over her breastplate all of pure purple silk,
a green turban embroidered with gold,
a shield painted with eagle’s wings,
and Arab spear and a sword slung from her belt. [4]

Maximou and Digenis charged at each other and exchanged spear thrusts. They repeatedly struck each other with swords. Digenis adhered to gynocentric ideology within this potentially deadly fight:

I avoided harming her, my good friend,
for it is a reproach to men not only to kill a women
but even to start fighting with them.
But she was amongst those with a reputation for bravery at that time,
and because of that I was not at all ashamed of fighting;
I struck her right hand just above the fingers;
and the sword which she held fell to the ground;
she was seized with terror and very great fear.

Digenis had merely wounded Maximou in the hand. He recounted:

I shouted out: “Maximou, don’t be frightened;
I have pity on you since you are a woman and full of beauty.
And so that you may clearly know from my deeds who I am,
I shall use your horse to display my strength.”
And at once I drove my sword with a downward stroke
into the charger’s loins and he was split down the middle,
half falling on one side with her
and the rest collapsing to the ground on the other side.

Despite already being privileged as a woman, Maximou shifted tactics to gain further privilege:

She leapt up, very agitated,
and cried out in a choking voice: “Have mercy on me,
have mercy, lord, for I have erred greatly.
Or rather, if you do not think it beneath you, let us make a pact,
for I am still a virgin, not violated by any man.
You alone have defeated me, it is you who shall win me completely
and you alone shall have me as your comrade against your enemies.

In short, Maximou proposed marriage to Digenis. He, however, was already married. He said to her:

You are not going to die, Maximou,
but I cannot take you as my wife
for I have a lawful wife, high-born and beautiful,
whose love I shall never dare to deny.
Come then, let us go into the shade of the tree
and I shall tell you all about myself.

The reality that Maximou, a professional warrior, had attacked him and sought to kill him apparently vanished from Digenis’s mind. In fighting men, Maxmiou had advantages that men lacked. She soon revealed some of them:

she threw off her surcoat, for the heat was intense.
Maximou’s shift was gossamer-thin,
and it revealed her limbs as in a mirror
and her breasts rising just a little above her chest.
And my soul was wounded, for she was beautiful.

Maximou wasn’t a passive maiden:

As I got down from my horse, she called out loudly,
“Greetings, my master,” as she ran towards me,
“I have truly become your slave by the chance of war.”
And she kissed my right hand sweetly. [5]

Maximou didn’t ask for affirmative consent before she kissed Digenis’s hand. If she were he, and they were on a U.S. college campus today, he probably would be found guilty of sexual assault. In the more liberal and tolerant circumstances of twelfth-century Byzantium, Maximou and Digenis went on to have sex. Afterwards, as Digenis prepared to leave, Maximou “tried urgently to compel me to return.”

Digenis returned, but not to provide Maximou with further sexual pleasure. Arriving home late, Digenis seemed to have given his wife a partial account of his engagement with Maximou:

having pity on her {Maximou} as a woman and weak by nature,
I washed her hand thoroughly and bound up her wound,
and I am late for that reason, my perfumed light,
so that I should not be reproached for having killed a woman. [6]

What Digenis’s wife said in reply isn’t known. But Digenis explained:

turning the girl’s {his wife’s} remarks over in my mind
and working myself up in my anger,
I immediately rode off, as if to hunt,
and caught up with her and pitilessly slew her,
the adulterous creature, committing a badly disordered murder. [7]

On his deathbed, recounting to his wife his life’s deeds, Digenis reminisced:

I unhorsed Maximou, I destroyed those with her,
then obeying your words I ran back
and slew her then secretly, without your knowledge.
And many more other things for love of you, my soul,
I achieved, so that I might win you [8]

With a keen sense of social justice, Digenis’s wife may have chided Digenis for not killing Maximou, while killing many men with whom he had fought. In our age of anti-men gender bigotry, such a gender-egalitarian perspective is barely conceivable. But Digenis, belatedly and sub-consciously, apparently understood the injustice. In returning to kill Maximou, Digenis repudiated women’s privilege and rebelled against gynocentrism.

Literary scholars have outrageously and shamelessly mis-interpreted Digenis’s killing of Maximou. Consistent with current, absurd claims about rape, a recent scholarly book refers to Digenis’s rape of Maximou:

the rape of Maximou in Digenis Akritas, where Digenis, not content with his martial victory over the Amazon, seeks to complete her humiliation with an unwanted sexual assault. … he even kills the Amazon in order to silence the story of the rape and prevent his own shaming. [9]

That interpretation shows the extent to which anti-men gender bigotry permeates current literary scholarship.[10] Scholars forcefully impose on literature the dominant, hateful gender ideology of demonic males determined to kill all females. An influential and highly regarded scholarly article, for example, explains:

Once Maximo {Maximou} loses her virginity, she becomes “fully female,” and as such is too dangerous to be allowed to exist. … It falls on the greatest representative of male honour in the poem (Digenes) to obliterate transgressors of the patriarchal gender role system and restore patriarchal order. He does so … by killing Maximo, too dangerous to be quashed by marriage or rape. [11]

That interpretation is irrational and bereft of textually sensitive literary imagination. But the literary failure goes deeper. Another recent work of literary scholarship reasons:

the killing cannot be excused: Maximo has reverted to a female role by offering her virginity to Digenes; she is no longer an asexual warrior. [12]

Warriors throughout history have been almost exclusively men. Forced to wage war against other men on behalf of their societies, men are not “asexual”. In the epic story of his life, Digenis killed many men who attacked him. Digenis initially didn’t kill Maximou after she similarly attacked him, but then he returned and summarily killed her. Why?[13] Literary scholars have utterly failed to answer that literary question in a way that truly respects the literary text and the reality of life.

Many today question the value of literary study. That’s mainly the result of literary scholarship’s failings. Appreciating literature such as Digenis Akritis, the Aeneid, Lamentationes Matheoluli, and Solomon and Marcolf could contribute enormously to creating more humane lives today.

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[1] Digenis Akritis, Grottaferrata version, 6.564-7, from Greek trans. Jeffreys (1998) p. 185. All subsequent citations and quotations from Digenis Akritis are from the Grottaferra version unless otherwise noted. Citations are to lines and pages in Jeffreys’s Greek text and English translation, respectively.

On Maximou being a descendant of Amazons, Digenis Akritis 6.386-7. Here’s more on Alexander the Great’s interaction with the Amazons.

The name Philopappous has linguistic roots in “loving grandfather.” He was fifty-two at the time of the events in the epic. Digenis Akritis 6.355, p. 173. The Escorial version refers to him as a “moulting hawk.” Escorial 1361, p. 341. That’s plausibly, playfully figures a man going bald. When Maximou learns that her opponent is only one man, she disparages Philopappous:

Get out of here, mad old man, son of perdition;
extreme old age has withered your cock.
I reckoned he had armies and brave youngsters

Digenis Akritis, Escorial 1519-21, trans Jeffreys (1998) p. 351. Women disparaging men’s penises is relatively common within castration culture.

[2] In the Greek Alexander Romance, Alexander the Great and the Amazon leaders sparred over who would come to whom. Alexander urged the Amazons, “cross your river and let us see you.” The Amazons responded, “We give you permission to come to us and to see our country.” Alexander Romance 3.26, from Greek trans. Stoneman (1991) pp. 143-4.

Dominant gender ideology tends to construct women as passive. Failing to recognize the intertextuality with the Alexander Romance, Galatariotou interpreted through dominant gender ideology Digenis crossing the river to fight Maximou:

Digenis tells her {text citation: “don’t cross over. It is natural for men to come to women.” 569-70, p. 185}, and he crosses the river. Thus the image is re-created whereby mobility is possessed by men, women being expected to remain immobile and inactive.

Galatariotou (1987) p. 60. Maximou was far from immobile and inactive. She traveled and fought on horseback. The relevant context in Digenis Akritis apparently refers to men’s structural gender disadvantage. Nonetheless, the Alexander Romance provides a closer literary context for interpreting the river crossing.

[3] Digenis Akritis 6.583-92, pp. 185, 187.  For l. 592, Jeffreys has “I have been led astray by listening to Philopappous, like a woman.” I’ve shifted the dangling final adverbial phrase “like a woman” (ὡς γυνὴ) to be adjacent to the verb.

[4] Digenis Akritis 6.735-39, p. 195. The subsequent five quotes are from 6.748-55, p. 195 (I avoided harming her…); 6.756-63, p. 195 (I shouted…); 6.764-70, pp. 195, 107 (She leapt up…); 6.771-6, p. 197 (You are not going to die…); 6.781-5, p. 197 (she threw off…).

[5] At this point in the story, a folio is missing from the Grottaferrata manuscript. That loss probably resulted from moral concern about Maximou’s seduction of Digenis. However, a manuscript reconstruction (Z) apparently provides the relevant lines. The above lines are from Z3699-702, from Greek trans. Jeffreys (1998) p. 197. The subsequent quoted phrase “tried urgently to compel me to return” is from Z3720.

[6] Digenis Akritis 6.788-91, p. 201.

[7] Digenis Akritis 6.794-98, p. 201. In l. 6.798, Jeffreys translated μοιχεíαν as “promiscuous creature,” but noted that the word literally means “adulteress.” I’ve used the literal translation above. The illicit combination might metaphorically suggest Maximou being a warrior yet also claiming women’s privilege in avoiding death in battle. Maximou was literally neither promiscuous nor an adulteress.

Also in l. 6.798, Jeffreys translated ἀθλίως as “wretched.” Within the semantic range of that Greek word is the sense “badly disordered.” The later translation seems to me more contextually appropriate. That’s what I’ve used above.

[8] Digenis Akritis 8.118-22, p. 223.

[9] Moore (2013) p. 160, n. 27, p. 138, n. 32. The assertion that Digenis raped Maximou is echoed in the scholarship of Jeffreys, who prepared the critical edition. She referred to “Digenes’s rape and murder of Maximou.” Jeffreys (1993) p. 27. Galatariotou, who shows scant concern for injustices against men, nonetheless observed, “Maximou is not raped.” Galatarioutou (1987) p. 61.

[10] On anti-men bias in discussing rape in medieval literary scholarship, Birge (1997).

[11] Galatariotou (1987) pp. 61-2.

[12] Penninck (2007) p. 245.

[13] Trilling, apparently “in a fit of self-loathing and hideously misconceived atonement,” attributed Digenis killing Maximou to Digenis’s “emotional weakness”:

Basil {Digenis}, in a fit of self-loathing and hideously misconceived atonement, rides after Maximou and murders her … His surrender to sexual temptation, his murderous outburst of rage against Maximou — as though he could kill his lust by killing its object — and his insistence on a showy, symbolic atonement for his infidelity, are all aspects of the same emotional weakness.

Trilling (2016) pp. 156, 163. There’s no reason to think that Digenis or his wife seek to kill his lust for women. That claim perhaps reflects Trilling’s own personal ambition. For a scholarly authority on the Amazons, Trilling cites Adrienne Mayor’s 2016 cheerleading book on Amazon warrior women. A knowledgeable reviewer of that book observed:

Mayor presses her argument well beyond the available evidence. … The Amazons is rich in research but weak in the accepted methods of scholarship.

Keith (2016) p. 177. On Mayor’s claims about the Amazons, see notes [1], [11], and [23] in my post on Walter of Châtillon’s Alexandreis. From the perspective of social justice, arguing about the historical Amazons is much less important that promoting gender equality in military service today.

[image] Two Amazon women warriors fighting a Greek man warrior. Pentelic marble frieze from mid-fourth century BGC. Attributed to the school of Bryaxis or Tymotheos. On display in the Room 28 of the National Archaeological Museum in Athens. Image thanks to Sharon Mollerus and Wikimedia Commons.


Birge Vitz, Evelyn. 1997. “Rereading Rape in Medieval Literature: Literary, Historical, and Theoretical Reflections.” Romanic Review. 88 (1): 1-26.

Galatariotou, Catia. 1987. “Structural Oppositions in the Grottaferrata Digenes Akrites.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 11 (1): 29-68.

Jeffreys, Elizabeth. 1993. “The Grottaferrata Version of Digenes Akrities: A Reassessment.” Ch. 3 (pp. 26-37) in Beaton, Roderick, and David Ricks, eds. Digenes Akrites: new approaches to byzantine heroic poetry. Aldershot, G.B.: Variorum.

Jeffreys, Elizabeth, ed. and trans. 1998. Digenis Akritis: the Grottaferrata and Escorial versions. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Keith, Alison. 2016. “Review. Adrienne Mayor. The Amazons: Lives and Legends of Warrior Women across the Ancient World.” American Journal of Philology. 137 (1): 174-176.

Moore, Megan. 2013. Exchanges in Exoticism: Cross-cultural Marriage and the Making of the Mediterranean in Old French Romance. University of Toronto Press.

Penninck, Mieke. 2007. “Two heroes, two lives in the Grottaferrata Digenes Akrites.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 31(1): 32-52.

Stoneman, Richard, trans. 1991. Pseudo-Callisthenes. The Greek Alexander romance. London, England: Penguin Books.

Trilling, James. 2016. “Re-Introducing Digenis Akritis: A Byzantine Poem of Strength, Weakness, and the Disturbing Absence of God.” Viator. 47 (3): 149-170.

Digenis regretted being bigger jerk in response to woman loving jerk

Byzantine lovers

“He’s nice” usually functions as a polite opposite for “He’s hot.” The more gynocentric society encourages men to be weak, effeminate, apologetic women-pleasers (“nice guys”), the more women swoon for jerks. Most men don’t enjoy acting like jerks. Men who seek beautiful women’s love often feel torn between being a bigger jerk than the other guy and withdrawing from gynocentric society. [1] In the twelfth-century Byzantine epic Digenis Akritis, Digenis vacillated between acting like the bigger jerk and living separately from gynocentric society.

Aware of his father’s suffering under matriarchy, Digenis left his family to journey to inner Syria and the isolated plains of Arabia. He was only fifteen years old. Digenis journeyed and lived with only his wife. He commonly left her in their tent and traveled roads alone. Alone on the road, he could be his own man in his thoughts and in finding directions. Back in the tent with his wife, he could also be a man in relation to her.[2] They could delight in each other and not have their joy weighed down by the jealousies and derangements of others mired in gynocentric ideology.

One day, Digenis felt thirsty while traveling alone on a road through the desert. He saw a palm tree. Palm trees figured sexual intercourse in Byzantine culture.[3] Digenis headed toward the palm tree with the hope that he could slake his thirst in a spring moistening it. He found a spring near the palm tree. In it was a beautiful, naked, young woman crying mournfully. When she saw Digenis, she immediately jumped up and clothed herself.[4]

The girl joyfully called out to Digenis. Just as women do to men who are just their friends, the girl sought emotional comfort from Digenis. She said to him:

Where are you from, fine young man, and where are you traveling on your own?
Surely you too are not lost here because of passion?
But since it looks as though you have been guided by God
to rescue me in my misery from the desert,
rest here for a while, my lord,
so that you can hear more exactly what has happened to me
and I can find some consolation for my sorrow. [5]

Listening to sob stories isn’t the type of consolation that most men prefer to provide to beautiful women. But Digenis felt joyful. At least the girl wasn’t a demonic damsel in distress attempting to lure him to his doom.

Digenis dismounted from his horse and placed his spear between the roots of the palm tree. He satisfied his thirst with some water. Then he listened to the girl’s story. She was an Arab girl, a Muslim, and the daughter of an Arab general. Her father captured a Byzantine Christian in battle. This prisoner was tall, young, blond, and the son of a famous Byzantine general. The girl fell in love with him. While the girl’s father was away, engaged in the men-on-men violence of war, she and her mother freed the prisoner. They gave him her father’s best horses and established him as a local ruler in Syria. The Arab Muslim girl deeply loved her Byzantine Christian boyfriend. He seemed to love her.

The boyfriend urged the girl to escape with him to Byzantine territory. He feared her father’s return. He swore he would marry her if she agreed to flee. So she did. When her mother fell sick and all in the house were wailing at her death-bed, the girl and her boyfriend seized many valuables from the house. Following their carefully laid plans, they fled on horseback into a moonless night.

The girl nostalgically recalled their escape. They shared passionate delight that substituted for rites of marriage. She recounted:

I blush to speak of our rites of passion
and the love shown me by him.
For he named me his soul, he called me the light of his eyes,
and after a while he said I was his wife and his dearest,
kissing me insatiably, holding me in his arms.

Eventually they came to the spring where she now was. There for three days and nights they indulged in “insatiable and passionate lovemaking.” While they were sleeping together on the third night, the boyfriend quietly got out of bed, collected their money and provisions, and saddled their horses. The girl eventually perceived her boyfriend’s preparations. She got up and dressed for traveling.

The boyfriend mounted his horse and rode off without the girl. He even led her horse away so that she could move only on foot. The girl perceived disaster:

I ran behind, on foot as I was, shouting,
“Are you going off, my dearest? Where are you leaving me on my own?
Have you forgotten the kindness which I showed you?
Do you not remember your exceptional oaths at the beginning?”
When he did not turn around, I cried out all the more,
“Have mercy, take pity, save me in my misery,
do not leave me here to be eaten by wild beasts.”
And I made further pleas like this to him as I lamented,
but he just vanished without saying a word.

The girl lay down, alone and exhausted. Her feet were bloody from running over rocks. She eventually, painfully, walked back to the spring. There she had been crying and lamenting for ten days.

Digenis urged the girl to have hope. He gently restrained her hands from pulling at her braided hair. She lamented her loss of her boyfriend:

Alas, alas, most wretched and most miserable fate,
to be deprived unexpectedly of such a benefit,
to have lost sweet beauty before drinking it,
and to have withered before time like a newly planted tree.

Suddenly, more than a hundred Arab warriors burst out of the marsh and attacked Digenis. He counter-attacked fiercely and killed many of those men. Others then recognized that he was the renowned Digenis Akritis. They threw down their weapons and fled. Digenis was the biggest man among men.

The girl had climbed a tree and watched the battle. It revealed to her that the man who had found her was the renowned Digenis Akritis. After the battle, she climbed down from the tree and rushed to met him. She had heard that Digenis had saved her ex-boyfriend from being killed. Nonetheless, she worried that her ex-boyfriend, whom she still called “my dearest,” had subsequently died from a wound. Just after he had slaughtered countless men in a surprise battle, the first question the girl asked Digenis was whether her ex-boyfriend was still alive.

Digenis wasn’t the most important man to the girl. She didn’t ask whether he had been hurt. She didn’t ask what she could do to help avoid another surprise attack like the one that had just occurred. The girl’s heart and mind were still filled with love for her ex-boyfriend. Digenis recounted:

Astonishment seized me and made me wonder
as I saw the girl’s great love for the boy
who was responsible for her unimaginable disasters —
separation from her parents, deprivation of her wealth,
and horrifying desertion in a trackless desert
where she could expect nothing except for an unjust death.
And then for the first time I discovered that a woman’s love
is much more intense than that of men,
and wrongful and illegal intercourse corrupts it more.

By “wrongful and illegal intercourse corrupts it more” Digenis meant that such intercourse makes women love more intensely. That’s a distasteful pill for norm-abiding men to swallow.

When Digenis offered to force her ex-boyfriend to marry her, the girl was “carried away with joy.” Religious belief was no obstacle to a Christian marriage, because the girl had already renounced her Islamic faith and converted to Christianity:

I had received holy baptism
before my union with the man, on his instructions;
for, enslaved as I was by desire, I could do nothing other
than carry out what I was told by him,
the man for whom I reckoned my parents and relations as nothing.

Her ex-boyfriend was a foreigner and a vicious jerk. How could this woman love him so passionately and so devotedly?

Personally encountering the reality of the girl’s love for a jerk deeply disturbed Digenis. The subliminal message “be a bigger jerk” kindled a fire within Digenis:

When, my friend, I heard this from the girl’s mouth
it was as if a flame entered my heart
and aroused passion and illegal intercourse.

I could not control what came over me, I was all on fire,
with passion growing overwhelmingly within me.
Dismounting then to perform our natural functions
— my eyes in beauty, my hands in touch,
my mouth with kisses and my hearing with words —
I began to do everything that was unlawful.
And all that I wanted to do was done,
and our journey was besmirched by the lawlessness,
with the complicity of the devil and my soul’s heedlessness,
even if the girl resisted the act vigorously,
calling to witness God and her parents’ souls. [6]

Digenis raped the girl. Despite hateful and absurd claims about rape widely distributed through authoritative media today, men, like other primates, almost never force women to have sex with them. Most men strongly believe that raping a woman is being a complete jerk, as well as committing a felony crime. After raping the girl, Digenis brought her to her ex-boyfriend and forced him to marry her. Digenis told her ex-boyfriend that if he ever sought to leave her, he would be killed. Killing a person is even worse than raping her or him. After hearing the story of the girl’s jerk boyfriend, Digenis acted like a bigger jerk.

Digenis ardently sought for his wife to love him like the girl loved her jerk boyfriend. The intensity of women’s passion for jerk men indicates the intensity of gynocentrism. But Digenis didn’t want to be a big jerk. He came to deeply regret raping the girl.[7] He never expressed any remorse for forcing marriage upon the ex-boyfriend and threatening him with death for divorce. Such stark differences between concern for women and concern for men characterize gynocentric societies. After a while, Digenis understood that his actions resulted not just from his personal failings, but also from women and men’s preferences and values under gynocentrism.

Digenis again withdrew from gynocentric society. He decided to “move away on my own with my lovely girl.” They moved to an isolated garden. There Digenis expressed his love for his wife by acting like the chivalric hero of European romances. He slayed a dragon for her. Many men still fantasize about behaving likewise. Withdrawing from gynocentric society isn’t enough for men to realize their own intrinsic human worth. Withdrawing from gynocentric society isn’t enough for men to gain sex, admiration and devotion from women they love. Men must have imagination to understand that only their masculine being is enough.[8]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Scholars haven’t sufficiently appreciated the tension between men’s human dignity and gynocentric society. With respect to the Escorial version of Digenis Akritis, scholars have argued:

The ideal hero is represented by a man who reinforces society, accepting its code and imposing it on its enemies.

Ekdawi, Fann & Philokyprou (1993) p. 33. Within society that systematically devalues men’s lives and treats men as merely instruments for providing resources to women and children, heroic men in sophisticated literary representations can express tension between reinforcing gynocentric society and realizing themselves. The Grottaferrata version of Digenis Akritis is pitched at higher literary level than the Escorial version. The tension between the hero Digenis and the imperatives of gynocentric society is stronger in the Grottaferrata version.

[2] Magdalino emphasized the “decisive importance of oikos and genos {parentage} in the social world of Digenes.” Magdalino (1989) p. 194. Houses represent sedentary civilizations like that of Byzantium. Tents were associated with nomadic people such as the Bedouins of Arabia. Living in a tent emphasized Digenis and his wife’s separation from Byzantine society. On the opposition between house (oikos) and tent (tenda) in Digenis Akritis, Galatariotou (1987) pp. 37-40.

[3] E.g. Eumathios Makrembolites, Hysmine and Hysminias 10.3.2:

if she is not satisfied with kisses alone and her passion is not assuaged with lips but, like female palm trees, she seeks a shoot from the male palm to penetrate into her innermost soul, I shall demonstrate first with you

Trans. Jeffreys (2012) p. 254. For related discussion, see my post on men’s romantic simplicity.

[4] Women bathing naked in a spring is the context for Imruʼ al-Qays’s Muʻallaqah as well as al-Farazdaq’s witty re-enactment of it. Both these sophisticated works of classical Arabic literature are deeply concerned with social regulation of men’s sexuality. Biographical stories about Imruʼ al-Qays tell of him allying with the Byzantines and dying from betrayal far from home. For discussion, see note [12] in my post on al-Farazdaq.

The girl’s city was Meferke (modern-day Silvan in Turkey). Her father, an emir, was Aploravdis (Haplorrabdes), and her mother was Melanthia. Digenis Akritis, Grottaferrata 5.66-68, from Greek trans Jeffreys (2012) p. 139. On these names, id. pp. 388, 394.

[5] Digenis Akritis, Grottaferrata 5.45-51, from Greek trans. Jeffreys (1998) p. 137. Subsequent quotes, which also are from the Grottaferrata version, are (cited by book.lines and page in id.):  5.105-9, p. 141 (I blush to speak…); 5.113, p. 141 (insatiable and passionate lovemaking); 5.126-34, p. 143 (I ran behind…); 5,173-6, p. 145 (Alas, alas…); 5.204-12, p. 147 (Astonishment seized me…). 5.226-30, pp. 147, 149 (I had received holy baptism…); 5.231-3, 240-50, p. 149 (When, my friend…); 6.13, p. 153 (move away).

[6] Digenis’s response to the girl’s devotion to her jerk boyfriend is psychologically complex and surprising. Galatariotou simplistically interpreted the rape through currently dominant gender ideology: “{Digenis’s} own negative feelings towards such a transgressor of gender norms are expressed by his own act of asserting his physical power over her.” Galatariotou (1987) p. 58. Laiou psychologically flattened the story through impersonal reasoning:

This rape is presented with a certain equanimity, which, however, is not difficult to understand. … Although she did not consent to sex with the hero, her prior life was such that sex was almost inevitable

Laiou (1993) pp. 213-4. Apparently following such tendentious, men-disparaging literary analysis, Jeffreys perceived in the story “psychological crudity”; “Digenis is unable to think beyond her womanly weakness in surrendering to illicit sexual urges”; “The prior life of Aploravdis’ daughter and her being alone on the open highway meant Digenis’ actions were almost inevitable….” Jeffreys (1998) p. 135, intro. note; p. 147, note for 210-12; p. 149, note for 256.

Trilling superficially analyzed Digenis’s actions toward the girl in terms of abstract moralizations:

In terms of the story, the offense for which he displays such ostentatious remorse is a catastrophic failure of self-control. Married to a woman whom he adores, he is nevertheless unable to resist the temptation of the moment. That he satisfies his lust by force only underlines his perfect selfishness.

Trilling (2016) pp. 154-5. Men aren’t beasts who restrain themselves from satisfying their lust by force only through exercise of rational self-control. For most men, satisfying lust by force is repugnant. Most men greatly prefer to satisfy their lust with a warmly receptive woman than by force. Primates other than humans lack humans’ highly developed understanding of rational self-control. Non-human primates also rarely satisfy their lust by force. Digenis’s behavior toward the girl at the spring is a sophisticated literary representation that requires subtle literary analysis.

[7] The story of Digenis and the girl at the spring isn’t in the Escorial version of the epic. Nonetheless Digenis’s character and his relation to society are similar in both the Escorial and Grottaferrata versions. With respect to the Escorial version, scholars have insightfully observed:

Digenis, who fights alone, lives in isolation with his wife, and does not produce an heir, is motivated in his actions by the needs or desires created by society

Ekdawi, Fann & Philokyprou (1993) p. 33. That’s also true with respect to the women-loving-jerks dynamic exemplified in the story of the woman at the spring in the Grottaferrata version.

[8] Galatariotou argues that the fundamental dynamic of Digenis Akritis is “one man’s fruitless pursuit of one woman’s unconditional love.” Galatariotou (1987) p. 66. Trilling asserts:

the central motif of Digenis Akritis: the vividly realized man of action who excites our interest (and perhaps even our sympathy) in precisely the degree to which he fails as a human being.

Trilling (2016) p. 162. Both Galatariotou and Trillings’s interpretations both seem to me too individualistic. Within the subtle literary text of Digenis Akritis, they don’t convincingly account for Digenis’s surprising behavior toward the woman at the spring, nor for Digenis’s withdrawal from gynocentric society.

[image] Seated man (perhaps Digenis) embracing woman. Byzantine sgraffito ceramic plate. Probably from northern Greece or Eastern Thrace, 12th or first half of 13th century. Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth (item no. 1685).


Ekdawi, Sarah, Patricia Fann, and Elli Philokyprou. 1993. “Bold Men, Fair Maids and Affronts to their Sex: The characterisation and structural roles of men and women in the Escorial ∆ιγενής Aκρίτησ.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 17 (1): 25-42.

Galatariotou, Catia. 1987. “Structural Oppositions in the Grottaferrata Digenes Akrites.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 11 (1): 29-68.

Jeffreys, Elizabeth, ed. and trans. 1998. Digenis Akritis: the Grottaferrata and Escorial versions. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Jeffreys, Elizabeth, trans. and notes. 2012. Four Byzantine novels: Theodore Prodromos, Rhodanthe and Dosikles; Eumathios Makrembolites, Hysmine and Hysminias;  Constantine Manasses, Aristandros and Kallithea; Niketas Eugenianos, Drosilla and Charikles. Liverpool: Liverpool University Press.

Laiou, Angeliki E. 1993. “Sex, Consent, and Coercion in Byzantium.” Part Two: Byzantium (pp. 109-221) in Angeliki E. Laiou, ed. 1998. Consent and coercion to sex and marriage in ancient and medieval societies. Boston, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Magdalino, Paul. 1989. “Honour among Romaioi: the framework of social values in the world of Digenes Akrites and Kekaumenos.” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies. 13 (1): 183-218.

Trilling, James. 2016. “Re-Introducing Digenis Akritis: A Byzantine Poem of Strength, Weakness, and the Disturbing Absence of God.” Viator. 47 (3): 149-170.