Wednesday’s flowers

purple haze

Valerii ad Rufinum: speaking truth in love for a friend

Ulysses and the Sirens, a allusion in Valerii ad Rufinus

Today, as in Europe in the days of Valerius and Rufinus, men are silenced. Loqui prohibeor et tacere non possum. They forbid me to speak, and I cannot be silent. I detest the incessant howling of humans who lack the songs of a dog except one. Rufinus, Valerius’ friend, wanted to marry. Heloise urged Abelard not to marry. They now say that’s misogyny. They forbid me to speak.

Women encircling men delight them with the attention, praise, and bodies of women. You will become a husband surrounded by one threefold monster with the face of a taskmaster, the belly of an accepted fatty, and a tail you hardly ever see. Ulysses too was enchanted by women, especially the Sirens. Veritatis vinculis sibi vim fecit, ut vitaret voraginem. I foretell you will remain a man, but many are becoming manboobs. I am afraid. They forbid me to speak.

Lest you become a pig or an ass, I cannot be silent. Walter Duranty, a Pulitzer-Prize winning journalist, reported for the New York Times from the Stalinist Soviet Union amid the famines of 1932-1933. He explained to readers:

But—to put it brutally—you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and the Bolshevist leaders are just as indifferent to the casualties that may be involved in their drive toward socializaton as any General during the World War who ordered a costly attack in order to show his superiors that he and his division possessed the proper soldierly spirit. In fact, the Bolsheviki are more indifferent because they are animated by fanatical conviction.

Generals who order a costly attack cause the deaths of men. Deaths of men matter little to today’s queens and kings. My beloved friend, the Bolsheviks caused not only the deaths of millions of men, but also the deaths of millions of women and children who weren’t even forced to be soldiers. Your life is worth nothing to them. They will even lie about persons who count.

Now Ezra Klein, a minister of Babel positioned in new media like Walter Duranty was in old, has taught readers the merits of arbitrary criminalization of men’s sexuality. Recently Klein coolly wrote:

Critics worry that colleges will fill with cases in which campus boards convict young men (and, occasionally, young women) of sexual assault for genuinely ambiguous situations. Sadly, that’s necessary for the law’s success. It’s those cases — particularly the ones that feel genuinely unclear and maybe even unfair, the ones that become lore in frats and cautionary tales that fathers e-mail to their sons — that will convince men that they better Be Pretty D–n Sure.

Convicting men for “genuinely ambiguous situations” is “law’s success” only in a culture of misandry without reason. That’s our mire in which you want to marry. I cannot be silent.

You have many advocates for your desire. They pour you honeyed poison that goes down pleasantly. It pleases you. I cry out bitter truth that you loath. They forbid me to speak.

Prima primi uxor Ade post primam hominis creationem primo peccato prima solvit ieiunia contra preceptum Domini. In the beginning in the apes’ forest, scholars have said that males were demonic and social groups gynocentric. Truth, which cannot be deceived, says otherwise. I have no wife to lay down for you. I will lay down my life for you. I cannot be silent.

Det tibi Deus omnipotens omnipotentis femine fallatia non falli. Let the women go first. Let them go first into the elevator to ride to the top of modern life. May the fire of my love shine a light into your heart. I have written boldly, perhaps with incivility, but that is necessary. Heloise understood. I am afraid. Stay here with me. Farewell.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

The above includes text from Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum philosophum ne uxorem ducat (Letter of Valerius to the philosopher Rufinus, dissuading him from marrying). Walter (Gualterus) Map wrote that Latin work probably in the late 1170s. Map, who was Welsh, was a courtier to King Henry II of England. Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum apparently circulated on its own. Map later incorporated it into his De nugis curialium (1180-1183) as Distinction IV, Chapter 3. The Latin text and English translation, with interpretive and textual notes, are available in Hanna & Lawler (1997). The Latin text is freely available online in James (1914) pp. 143f.

Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum was a highly popular medieval work. It has survived in at least 158 medieval manuscripts and generated at least seven medieval commentaries. Cartlidge (1998) p. 156 (manuscript count) and Lawler & Hanna (2014) (commentaries, with English translations). In medieval Europe, Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum tended to be falsely attributed to the ancient Roman author Valerius Maximus. Falsely attributed to Jerome, it was occasionally printed with Jerome’s work. It thus appeared in a 1468 printed edition of Epistolae Hieronymi. Goldschmidt (1943) p. 40. A leading medieval Latin scholar called Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum “a rhetorical tour de force, which is amusing precisely because it defies both moderation and logic.” Cartlidge (1998) p. 158.

Neither medieval commentators nor modern scholars have appreciated Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum as literature of men’s sexed protest. Four of the medieval commentaries are primarily concerned to explicate classical allusions. The other three moralizing commentaries, according the book blurb for Lawler & Hanna (2014), “mount eloquent defenses of women.” For example, one declares, “Of Lais, Livia, Deinira and Lucilia I concede that they were dangerous; (but not all women are dangerous).” Lawler & Hanna (2014) p. 288 (Commentary Four, “Valerius qui dicitur parvu,” on Chapter Six).  A manuscript of the medieval commentary “Hoc contra malos religiosos” explains:

What he means to say is that the number of bad women is very much greater than that of the good. Indeed, morally speaking, this is just as true of men, which is something to be regretted.

Cartlidge (1998) p. 159. Lawler & Hanna (2014) follow the approach of those medieval men commentators and ponders at length “anti-feminism” in Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum. Scholars today might more usefully ponder the male gender protrusion in mortality and incarcerating men for having done nothing more than have consensual sex and subsequently not being able to make the legally required payments.

The Latin phrases in the text above are from Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum. Here are English translations of those phrases:

  • Loqui prohibeor et tacere non possum. They forbid me to speak, and I cannot be silent.
  • Veritatis vinculis sibi vim fecit, ut vitaret voraginem. He made himself strong with the shackles of truth so as to avoid the whirlpool.
  • Prima primi uxor Ade post primam hominis creationem primo peccato prima solvit ieiunia contra preceptum Domini. The first wife of the first Adam after the first creation of humanity by the first sin ended the first fast, against God’s command.
  • Det tibi Deus omnipotens omnipotentis femine fallatia non falli. May almighty God grant you the grace not to be tricked by the trickery of almighty woman.

Trans. adapted from Hanna & Lawler (1997).  The text above also includes English phrases adapted from Hanna & Lawler (1997)’s translation.

[image] Ulysses and the Sirens. Herbert James Draper, c. 1909. Oil on canvas. Held in Ferens Art Gallery, KINCM:2005.4878. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Cartlidge, Neil. 1998. “Misogyny in a Medieval University? The ‘Hoc contra malos’ Commentary on Walter Map’s ‘Dissuasio Valerii’.” Journal of Medieval Latin 8: 156-91.

Goldschmidt, Ernst Philip. 1943. Medieval texts and their first appearance in print. London: Bibliographical Society.

Hanna, Ralph and Traugott Lawler, eds. 1997. Jankyn’s book of wikked wyves. Vol. 1: The Primary Texts (with translations). Walter Map’s Dissuasio; Theophrastus’ De Nuptiis; selections from Jerome’s Adversus Jovinianum. University of Georgia Press: Athens.

James, Montague Rhodes, ed. 1914. Walter Map De nugis curialium. Anecdota Oxoniensia. Medieval and Modern Series. Part XIV. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Lawler, Traugott, Ralph Hanna, eds. and trans. 2014. Jankyn’s Book of Wikked Wyves: Seven Commentaries on Walter Map’s “Dissuasio Valerii.” Athens: University of Georgia Press.

females key to peaceful, egalitarian bonobo society

male bonobo grooms female bonobo

A view across primates provides insights into making a peaceful, egalitarian society. In the U.S., about four times as many men die from violence as do women. That’s about the same sex ratio for violent deaths among adult chimpanzees.[1] The overall effect of sex-biased violence, mortality, and social expulsion in chimpanzees produces chimpanzee social groups that have two to four times as many adult females as adult males.[2] Bonobo, in contrast, hardly ever engage in violent killings. Bonobo groups have closer to equal adult sex ratios.[3] Study of bonobo suggests that adult females are key to promoting a peaceful, egalitarian society.

Bonobo mothers strongly support their sons in social life. In a mixed-sex bonobo party, females tend to be in the center. Males tend to be in the periphery. However, if the mother of an adult male bonobo is in the party, he is more likely to be in the center. An adult male with a mother tends to be dominant over an adult male without a mother.[4] Mothers will even aggressively fight for their adult sons. A primatologist reported observations among wild bonobo:

When {bonobo} males begin agonistic interactions, their mothers sometimes join in support of their sons. …in December, {Sen, a mother} began to attack the sons of {Kame, another mother}, probably to support {Ten, her adult son}. On December 14, in a big fight involving many individuals, {Sen} and {Ibo, adult son of Kame} severely fought while grasping each other, and {Ibo} fled from {Sen}. I first observed fighting between {Kame} and {Sen} on December 19.  They had a hand-to-hand fight while rolling on the ground, and finally, {Sen} held {Kame} down. After {Sen} left the place, {Kame} continued to scream.  After this incidence, fights between {Sen} and {Kame} occurred several times, but {Kame} never defeated {Sen}.[5]

In addition to social status, the presence of mothers also helps their adult sons to get copulation opportunities.[6]  Maternal support for adult sons seems to be a central element of the relatively egalitarian sex opportunities for adult male bonobo and relatively peaceful bonobo society.

Bonobo adult females being relatively receptive to sex with males also contributes to peaceful society. Adult female bonobo are sexually receptive (in estrus) for a much large share of their normal adult lifespan than are adult female chimpanzee. That greatly increases males’ opportunities for copulations.[7] In chimpanzee society, alpha males highly disproportionately copulate with females. The sexual skew is much less severe among bonobo males who have more numerous sexual opportunities.[8] Primate societies that provide all males with plentiful sexual opportunities are more egalitarian and more peaceful.

Females determine the nature of primate society. With human politics failing to advance the welfare of men, caring women should look to other primates. If nothing more human can be done, woman can strive to emulate bonobo females for the sake of men.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Across 18 chimpanzee communities studied for decades, intergroup killings (observed and inferred) of weaned (adult) victims comprised 23 male victims and 6 female victims.  The corresponding numbers for intragroup killings were 9 male victims and 2 female victims. Tabulated from Wilson et al. (2014) Extended Data Tables 1 & 3. Captive chimpanzees re-introduced into the wild suffer less harm if they are female. Formerly captive females have been successfully accepted into wild groups, but males have not.   Wild chimpanzees frequently injure severely re-introduced captive male chimpanzees. Among such males, 40-50% of them would have died from the conspecific attacks if they had not received veterinary intervention. Goossens et al. (2005).

[2] Furuichi (2011) p. 135, Table 1, gives the adult sex ratio (males/females) for chimpanzees at Mahale and Gombe as 0.27 and 0.51, respectively.  The absolute level of mortality is much lower among humans than among chimpanzees.  However, among persons ages 15 to 59 across the world, median mortality probability is 64% higher for men than for women. That fundamental gender inequality has been largely ignored in discussions of gender and development.

[3] The adult sex ratio (males/females) for bonobo at Wamba is 0.75. Id. According to a popular authority, bonobo are a “female-centered, egalitarian primate species that substitutes sex for aggression.” De Waal & Lanting (1997) p. 4. Id. includes a section entitled, “Who’s the Boss?” In that section, primatologist Barbara Fruth declares, “Adult females (bonobo) are dominant in every possible way. Even younger females sometimes dominate adult males.” Id. p. 79. Cf. Furuichi (2011) pp. 136-7. In discussing bonobo as an eqalitarian primate species, de Waal queries, “Could it be that cultural sensitivities surrounding the relation between men and women in our own societies led to a period of denial of this unique arrangement in one of our closest relatives?” De Waal & Lanting (1997) pp. 76, 79-80. Those sorts of cultural sensitivities continue to suppress recognition of the social construction of male dominance and the reality of gynocentrism across primates.

[4] Id. pp. 137-9. Furuichi (1997) p. 866-70.

[5] Furuichi (1997) p. 866.

[6] Surbeck, Mundry & Hohmann (2011). This effect also occurs in the northern muriqui, a  monkey species. Strier et al. (2011).

[7] Furuichi (2011) p. 134-6.

[8] Id. p. 135, Table 1 calculates the male/in-estrous female sex ratio to be 4.2, 12.3, and 2.8 for chimpanzee (Mahale), chimpanzee (Gombe), and bonobo (Wamba), respectively.

[image] Male bonobo grooms female bonobo at Wamba. From Furuich (2011) p. 138.

References:

Furuichi, Takeshi . 1997. “Agonistic Interactions and Matrifocal Dominance Rank of Wild Bonobos (Pan paniscus) at Wamba.” International Journal of Primatology 18(6): 855-875.

Furuichi, Takeshi. 2011. “Female contributions to the peaceful nature of Bonobo society.” Evolutionary Anthropology. 20 (4): 131-142.

Goossens, B., J. M. Setchell, E. Tchidongo, E. Dilambaka, C. Vidal, M. Ancrenaz and A. Jamart. 2005. “Survival, interactions with conspecifics and reproduction in 37 chimpanzees released into the wild.” Biological Conservation 123: 461-475.

Strier, Karen B., Chaves, Paulo B., Mendes, Sérgio L., Fagundes, Valéria, and Di Fiore, Anthony.. 2011. “Low paternity skew and the influence of maternal kin in an egalitarian, patrilocal primate.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108 (47): 18915-9.

Surbeck Martin, Mundry, Roger, and Hohmann, Gottfried. 2011. “Mothers matter! Maternal support, dominance status and mating success in male bonobos (Pan paniscus).” Proceedings. Biological Sciences / The Royal Society. 278 (1705): 590-8.

Waal, F. B. M. de, and Frans Lanting. 1997. Bonobo: the forgotten ape. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Wilson, Michael L., Christophe Boesch, Barbara Fruth, Takeshi Furuichi, Ian C. Gilby, Chie Hashimoto, Catherine L. Hobaiter, et al. 2014. “Lethal aggression in Pan is better explained by adaptive strategies than human impacts.” Nature. 513 (7518): 414-417.

Mary of Egypt in the thought of Heloise of the Paraclete

holy kiss in painting Saint Peter and Paul's farewell

Heloise of the Paraclete was a highly intelligent woman who boldly expressed her strong, independent sexuality. As a young, unmarried woman, she delighted in a sexual affair with Peter. As a scholar, she studied the neglected history of great women who came before her. One such great woman was Mary of Egypt. Medieval scholars, who historically have been predominately men, haven’t adequately appreciated Mary of Egypt as a foremother to Heloise of the Paraclete.[1]

Mary of Egypt’s extra-marital sexual experience was much more extensive than that of Heloise of the Paraclete. Mary, living in Alexandria probably about 600 GC, was very sexually liberated:

I threw myself entirely and insatiably into the lust of sexual intercourse. … For more than seventeen years … I was a public temptation to licentiousness, not for payment, I swear, since I did not accept anything although men often wished to pay me. I simply contrived this so that I could seduce many more men, thus turning my lust into a free gift. [2]

Requiring men to pay for sex, or having men always be the gender paying for dinner and entertainment, undermines gender symmetry and sex equality. Mary of Egypt was a champion of sex equality. She was also a sex champion more generally:

one summer day I {Mary of Egypt} saw a huge crowd of Libyan and Egyptian men running toward the sea. … I ran toward the sea, where I saw the other people running. And I saw some young men standing at the seashore, about ten or more, vigorous in their bodies as well as in their movements, who seemed to me fit for what I sought … I rushed shamelessly into their midst, as was my habit. “Take me where you are going,” I said, “Surely you will not find me useless.” Then, uttering other even more obscene words, I made everyone laugh, while they, seeing my penchant for shamelessness, took me and brought me to the boat they had prepared for the journey. … What tongue can declare, or what ears can bear to hear what happened on the boat and during the journey and the acts into which I forced those wretched men against their will? There is no kind of licentiousness, speakable or unspeakable, that I did not teach those miserable men. [3]

In modern terms, Mary of Egypt confessed to raping a boatload of men. Men raping women has been throughout history a serious public concern. But even today, women raping men isn’t taken seriously. That Mary of Egypt raped a boatload of men shouldn’t be held against her.

Heloise of the Paraclete must be appreciated similarly within her own historical context. Just as in our time, medieval Europe was a time of intensified attacks on women and oppression of women. Within her twelfth-century, clergy-dominated society, Heloise constructed Peter as her “one-and-only.”[4] Heloise thus internalized the oppressive medieval European norm of monogamy in her extra-marital affair with Peter.

Both Mary of Egypt and Heloise of the Paraclete struggled with appealing memories of extra-marital sex with men. For seventeen years, Mary of Egypt struggled with sexual memories:

an irrational desire for lascivious songs entered my mind, always disturbing me profoundly and trying to seduce me into singing the demonic songs that I have learned. … How can I describe to you those thoughts that were urging me again to fornication? Indeed, deep in my miserable heart a burning desire was kindled and set my whole {being} aflame and excited my desire for intercourse. [5]

Heloise of the Paraclete also for years struggled with such memories:

The lovers’ pleasures we enjoyed together were so sweet to me that they cannot displease me and can scarcely fade from my memory.  Wherever I turn they are always there before my eyes, bringing with them awakened longings and fantasies which will not even let me sleep.  Even during the celebration of the Mass, when our prayers should be purer, lewd visions of those pleasures take such a hold on my most unhappy soul that my thoughts are on their wantonness rather than on prayer.  I, who should be grieving for the sins I have committed, am sighing rather for what I have lost.  The things we did and also the places and times we did them are stamped on my heart along with your image, so that I live though them all again with you.  Even in sleep I know no respite. [6]

While the modern elite work to criminalize the heterosexual love that 25% of men experience across wide swaths of the world, medieval clerics had sympathy for monks’ unintentional nocturnal emissions. Highlighting the gender inequality implicit in that sympathy, a medieval scholar recently recognized Heloise’s pioneering scholarly work:

It is precisely this “maleness” of monastic temptation that Heloise confronts and contests with her claims of nocturnal fantasies. She makes the point — still largely unacknowledged at this time in the early twelfth century — that women religious also suffer from sexual temptation and that the existing pastoral literature makes no space either to recognize this or to deal with it sympathetically. Heloise achieves this not simply by “confessing” (or appearing to confess) her sexual temptations, but by actively regendering her sexual desire as “male” sexual desire. [7]

This analysis devalues Heloise as a strong, independent thinker. Heloise taught Peter boldness and courage. Heloise spoke out strongly against marriage. With the support of Mary of Egypt as a role model (female role models are crucial for women’s advanced thinking), Heloise of the Paraclete was strong enough to affirm that her sexual desire was a woman’s sexual desire.

Culminating in leading twentieth-century philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe, Heloise of the Paraclete is part of a long, distinguished chain of women thinkers who have developed the importance of intentions. Heloise explained to the highly respected scholar Peter:

It is not the deed but the state of mind of the doer which makes the crime, and justice should weigh not what is done but the spirit in which it is done. What my intention toward you has always been, you alone who have known it can judge.

A philosophically striking aspect of this thought is the assertion that Person A’s intention is known completely by Person B, with the implicit assertion that Person A knows that Person B knows completely Person A’s intention. This is an important philosophical path to theory of mind. Heloise also anticipated the development of theory of embodied cognition:

it is not so much what things are done as the mind in which they are done that we must consider if we wish to please him who tests the heart and loins [8]

The mind in which acts are done are linked to the heart and the lions. Only a small step further leads to the recognition of loins as a force of thought.

In her thinking about intention, Heloise of the Paraclete seems to have drawn upon insights into intention in the life of Mary of Egypt. Mary recounted to Zosimas her life as a liberated woman with strong, independent sexuality. Zosimas, a monk, was enthralled with her account. In Zosima’s return visit to her, she ordered him to recite the holy creed of the Christian faith and to say the Our Father:

When this was done and the prayer came to an end, according to custom she gave the monk the kiss of love on his mouth. [9]

In Christian churches in the second century and earlier, kisses on the lips were exchanged between women and men in the Mass for the kiss of peace (holy kiss/ kiss of love). Because of concerns about concupiscence, heterosexual kisses for the liturgical kiss of peace were forbidden in the third century.[10] Heloise, an keen biblical and patristic scholar, probably recognized that the labial kiss of peace included in the life of Mary of Egypt taught readers the importance of intention. Mary of Egypt gave Zosimas that kiss “according to custom.” Her intention was pure. Zosimas reception of her kiss, one assumes, was also with purity of mind, as are the minds of the monks and others reading the life of Mary of Egypt.

The roughly contemporaneous life of Matrona of Perge elaborates further on the importance of state of mind. Matrona had disguised herself as a eunuch and joined a monastery. The monastery’s abbot eventually learned her true sex:

{He} said to her, “So be it. You have all the while escaped notice as a woman, and have done no harm to us who were unaware of this. But how have you approached the divine mysteries with your head uncovered? And have you offered the kiss of peace to the brethren? Said she, “During the divine mysteries I have pulled my cloak halfway over my head, feigning a headache. And as for the symbol of peace and seal of love, I have not shunned it, for I considered that I offered myself not unto human mouths, but unto God’s angels and men free of passion.” [11]

In the Middle Ages, men and women were separated on different sides of the nave in churches. That separation helped to prevent women and men from kissing each other for the kiss of peace. Heloise of the Paraclete expressed concern about her nuns associating with men.[12] As a scholar and a philosopher, Heloise of the Paraclete thought deeply about Zosimas and Mary of Egypt’s kiss on the lips, and perhaps also the kisses of Matrona of Perge and the monks. She understood the difficulty of intentions.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] The Life of Mary of Egypt was well known in medieval Europe. Many medieval manuscripts of her life have survived. Kouli (1996) p. 67. In the Western church, her life was celebrated in the liturgical calendar with a feast day on April 2. Abelard referred to Mary of Egypt in a letter to Heloise. He stated:

she struggled with superhuman courage against what anchorites suffer, so that holy women should lead in both kinds of monastic life.

Letter 7.40, from Latin trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) p. 331. The phrase “what anchorites suffer” could encompass appealing memories of sexual activities.

[2] The Life of Mary of Egypt, the former Harlot, who in Blessed Manner Became an Ascetic in the Desert of the {River} Jordan, s. 18, from Greek trans. Kouli (1996) p. 80. The later Latin Life of Mary of Egypt is available in English translation in Ward (1987), pp. 35-56. The Latin life follows the Greek life closely.

[3] Life of Mary of Egypt, s. 19-21, trans. Kouli (1996) pp. 80-2. The phrase “speakable or unspeakable” suggests with the second term sexual acts not of reproductive type.  Compared to the lusty vitality of the life of Mary of Egypt, Burrus (2004) offers precious, precious academic posturing with “erotics of ancient hagiography,” “countereroticism,” Foucault, Irigaray, Boudrillard, etc, leading to “Postscript (Catching My Breath)”:

Inspire: write and be read! Expire: let go of the self! In the midst, in between such daunting imperatives, our lives transpire. Heavy breathing, shallow breaths, suspenseful breathlessness … Can breath be “caught”? It is neither prey nor disease. Yet we speak of “catching the wind” … When my first child was born, after an exhausting twelve hours of mutual labor, he paused delicately — such a beautiful in-between blue, I thought dreamily.

Burrus (2004) p. 160. Does anyone get excited by that sort of writing?

[4] E.g. Heloise to Abelard, Letter 2, concluding, “farewell, my one-and-only.” From Latin trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) p. 141.

[5] Life of Mary of Egypt, s. 28-29, trans. Kouli (1996) pp. 85-6. In the Islamic world, singing was a highly valued attribute of courtesans.

[6] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 4.12,  trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) p. 171.

[7] Ruys (2008) p. 394. This work underscores the value of further study of gender in Aucassin and Nicolette.

[8] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 2.13, trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) p. 137 (first quote in paragraph);  Heloise to Abelard, Letter 6.25, id. p. 251 (second quote). See also 6.24.

[9] Life of Mary of Egypt, s. 35, trans. Kouli (1996) p. 90.

[10] Paul urged the Romans, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” Romans 16:16. See also 1. Cor. 16:20, 2 Corinthians 13:12, 1 Thessalonians 5:26. Peter used a slightly different form, “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” 1 Peter 5:14. The “kiss of peace” became part of the Mass:

From Augustine’s account, and those of many others, we also learn that the kiss of peace was a full, labial act. In the second century and most likely earlier, this kiss was exchanged between members of the opposite sex as well as between members of the same sex.

Foley (2010) p. 60.  Because of concerns about concupiscence, in the third century the kiss was restricted to same-sex pairs. Id. p. 61.  Apparently that restriction didn’t end concern about concupiscence. In thirteenth-century Europe, kissing a “pax brede” (peace board) replaced direct interpersonal kissing in some churches. Id. 70. Interpersonal kissing on the lips during Mass was no longer practiced by 1570. Id. In further scholastic development, kissing on college campuses may require clear, prior, individual affirmative consent. Only the scholastic officials deciding cases know what the law requires.

[11] The Life and Conduct of the Blessed and Holy Matrona, s. 7, from Greek trans. Featherstone (1996) p. 26.

[12] Heloise tendentiously queried:

Which is more fitting for our religious life: for an abbess never to offer hospitality to men, or for her to eat with men she has allowed in? It is all too easy for the souls of men and women to be destroyed if they live together in one place,and especially at table, where gluttony and drunkenness are rife, and wine “which leads to lechery” is drunk with enjoyment.

Heloise to Abelard, Letter 6.4, trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) p. 221.

[image] Farewell of Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Alonzo Rodriguez. 17th century. Held in Museo Regionale di Messina, Italy. Thanks to Maria lo sposo and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Burrus, Virginia. 2004. The sex lives of saints: an erotics of ancient hagiography. Philadelphia, Pa: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Featherstone, Jeffrey, trans. and Cyril Mango, intro. 1996. “Life of St. Matrona of Perge.” Pp. 13-64 in Talbot, Alice-Mary Maffry, ed. 1996. Holy women of Byzantium: ten saints’ lives in English translation. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Foley, Michael P. 2010. “The Whence and Whither of the Kiss of Peace in the Roman Rite.” Antiphon 14.1: 49-54.

Kouli, Maria. 1996. “Life of St. Mary of Egypt.” Pp. 65-94 in Talbot, Alice-Mary Maffry, ed. 1996. Holy women of Byzantium: ten saints’ lives in English translation. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Luscombe, David, and Betty Radice, ed. and trans. 2013. The letter collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

Ruys, Juanita Feros. 2008. “Heloise, Monastic Temptation, and Memoria: Rethinking Autobiography, Sexual Experience, and Ethics.” Pp. 383-404 in Classen, Albrecht, ed. Sexuality in the Middle Ages and Early Modern Times: New Approaches to a Fundamental Cultural-Historical and Literary-Anthropological Theme. Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Ward, Benedicta. 1987. Harlots of the desert: a study of repentance in early monastic sources. Kalamazoo, Mich: Cistercian Publications.

Tagged:

Wednesday’s flowers

maze of red tentacles

friendship for Tito and Gisippo from Athens to Rome

Decameron X.8, the story of Tito and Gisippo, has an unusual setting. While most of the Decameron’s tales are set within two generations before the catastrophic plague of 1348, the tale of Tito and Gisippo begins and ends in Rome between 43 BGC and 30 BGC. That was the period of the Second Triumvirate. The Lex Titia of 43 BGC formally declared the constitution of the Roman Republic to be restored. In actual effect, the Lex Titia set the road to the establishment of the Roman Empire in 30 BGC. The story of Tito and Gisippo similarly reveals, under Athenian formal ideals of civic friendship, narrow interests and dominating power shaping friendship and political relations.[1]

Portrait of Two Friends, e.g. Tito and Gisippo

Ideals of friendship occur prominently earlier in Decameron VIII.8. In that story, Spinelloccio and Zeppa are young men and next-door neighbors with common status:

they spent a great deal of time in one another’s company, and to all appearances, they loved one another as if they had been brothers, or even more. [1]

Despite their mutual affection, Spinelloccio began sleeping with Zeppa’s wife. Zeppa eventually discovered their affair. To avenge that betrayal, Zeppa arranged to have sex with Spinelloccio’s wife on top of a chest. Moreover, Spinelloccio had been locked in that chest while seeking to avoid detection in an amorous visit to Zeppa’s wife.  Hearing and feeling his wife and his friend’s dance of sexual action just above him, Spinelloccio:

recalled that he was the one who had given the first offense, that Zeppa was right to have done what he had done, and that he had not only displayed humanity in dealing with him, but had treated him like a true friend. Consequently, he resolved that if Zeppa permitted it, he would be a better friend to him than ever. [2]

Spinelloccio and Zeppa had always shared everything in common. Now they agreed to share also their wives in common. The true friends and their wives lived happily ever after in polyamory. This story of sexual betrayal by a friend, sexual revenge on the friend in return, and the triumph of friendship is a parody of classical ideals of friendship.

The tale of Tito and Gisippo ends like the tale of Spinelloccio and Zeppa. Tito took into his Roman home his Athenian friend Gisippo. He made Gisippo “joint owner of all his wealth and possessions.” Moreover, Tito gave Fulvia in marriage to Gisippo. The true friends and their wives lived happily ever after together in the same house. Tito’s wife Sofronia had formerly been Gisippo’s apparent wife. Gisippo’s wife Fulvia was Tito’s “sorella.” That’s an Italian word for sister with a Latin root extending to cousin and female friend. Boccaccio was willing to suggest sexual practice that swerved from authorized acts. The tale of Tito and Gisippo ends with a perverse echo of Spinelloccio and Zeppa’s parody of classical ideals of friendship.[3]

Parody of classical ideals of friendship had political force in Tito’s long speech to the Athenian families of Gisippo and Sofronia. The Athenian Sofronia was the Athenian Gisippo’s intended wife. Because his Roman friend Tito had become lovesick to the brink of death for Sofronia, Gisippo secretly gave her in marriage to him. That action eventually had to be made public. The Athenians denounced Tito’s action. They called for him to be severely punished. After enduring for a time their attacks on his friend, Tito decided to address the problem:

knowing that the Greeks had the habit of making a lot of noise and threats until there was someone to answer them back, at which point they would become not merely humble, but quite abject, he decided their prattle could no longer be tolerated and that he needed to respond to it. [4]

Tito gathered the Athenian families of Gisippo and Sofronia and delivered to them a long speech filled with supra-reasonable rhetorical arguments. Consider Tito’s classical arguments:

  1. The immortal gods pre-determined everything. What is was meant to be: “it’s been ordained ab eterno that she {Sofronia} should belong to me rather than to him, as we now know by the outcome.”
  2. Gisippo acted according to the “sacred laws of friendship.” As if none of the Athenians had considered themselves to be Gisippo’s friends, “none of you should marvel that Gisippo valued my life more than your goodwill, since I am his friend, as I consider myself to be.”
  3. I’m a more worthy man than Gisippo. Being a Roman makes me a superior rather than an outsider: “Although it’s true that he’s an Athenian and I’m a Roman, if we argue about the merits of our cities, let me say that I come from one that is free, while his pays tribute; that mine is the mistress of the entire world, while his remains its subject; and that soldiers, statesmen, and the arts are all flourishing in mine, while his has only the last to recommend it.”
  4. I’m well-born and wealthy. I’m from an ancient and glorious Roman family. I’m wealthy and modestly reluctant to tell you I’m wealthy. My family and my wealth could help you.
  5. Good results are more important than bad acts. “If Gisippo has done a good job in marrying off Sofronia, then to go around complaining about him and the manner in which he did it is a piece of gratuitous folly.”
  6. Don’t blame me. Sofronia should have affirmatively asked for my name before she had sex with me.
  7. Don’t cross me. Happily accept what has occurred, or else you will pay: “treating you as lifelong enemies, I will see to it that you learn through experience just what Roman hearts, once roused to anger, are capable of.”

Tito finished his speech with his face “completely contorted by the anger he felt.” Taking Gisippo in hand, he immediately left the speaking venue with him. Tito walked out “turning his head from side to side and casting menacing looks all about him.”[5]

The Athenians appreciated Tito’s classical arguments and his power as a Roman:

so they went to find Tito and told him how pleased they were that Sofronia should be his, adding that they were glad to have him as a dear family member and Gisippo as a good friend. Once they were done celebrating both their friendship and their kinship together, they went their separate ways

Philosophers’ in their minds created classical ideals of friendship. They imagined republics founded on those ideals. While the tale of Tito and Giseppo recognized classical ideals of friendship, it parodied them. The tale of Tito and Giseppo points to the underlying reality of narrow interests (sexual desire)  and dominating power (Rome relative to Athens). For Boccaccio, friendship, like love, is about flesh-and-blood human life.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Sorieri (1937) traces Boccaccio’s sources for this story in Italian, French, English, and Spanish literature. Two sources in Latin literature are Lantfrid and Cobbo (about the 10th century), Cambridge Songs 6; and the Perfect Friend in Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis (beginning of the 12th century).  The latter clearly has roots in Arabic literature. The stream in Arabic literature that produced the Tale of Attaf probably also produced the Perfect Friend in Disciplina Clericalis and contributed to Tito and Gisippo. In the Tale of Attaf, Baghdad is dominant over Damascus. In the Perfect Friend, Baghdad is dominant over Egypt.

[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 8, Story 8, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) pp. 665-6.  The appended clause “or even more” suggests a connection to Ja’far and Attaf’s relationship in the Tale of Attaf.

[2] Id. p. 659. In the quote above, “true friend” is my replacement for “friend” in Rebhorn’s translation. The Italian source has “compagno” and “amico” for the first and second instances of friend. In Boccaccio’s context, the first instance of friend is an amplification of friendship relative to the second instance.  Musa & Bondanella (1982) translated the first instance as “true friend.” I’ve used that phrase above.

[3] Earlier in the story in discussing what to do about Tito’s lovesickness for Gisippo’s intended wife Sofronia, Gisippo said to Tito:

I can’t remember ever having anything what wasn’t as much yours as it was mine. And so, even if things had advanced to the point where there was no other possible course of action, I’d still be willing to do with her {Sofronia} what I’ve done with everything I possessed in the past, but as the matter stands at present, I can ensure that she’ll be yours alone.

Id. pp. 805-6. Sharing Sofronia sexually wasn’t an inconceivable idea for Gisippo.

[4] Id. pp. 809-10. Subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 810-15. The Italian text uses the names Tito, Gisippo, and Sofronia. Rebhorn translated the names to the Latin forms Titus, Gisippus, and Sophronia. I’ve used the Italian name forms in the quotations above.

[5] A very knowledgeable scholar of Boccaccio has written of the tale of Tito and Gisippo:

More than anything else, what makes the dominance of reason evident in this tale is the predominance of logical discourse, particularly Tito’s apologia, a tour-de-force of epideictic oratory. … Friends, orators, and Stoic philosophers, they {Tito and Gisippo} come as close to being Christian as conceivably possible, by nation, epoch, and ethics. Emblems of Hellenic and Latin civilization at its finest moment, they are a fitting pair for the closing sequence in the Decameron’s magnificent finale.

Kirkham (1986) pp. 230-1. Boccaccio probably would enjoy a hearty laugh at that panegyric. Another scholar perceived “a certain ambivalence with regards to ideal friendship in the tale.” She wrote:

If ideal friendship is defined by the Golden Rule (“Do unto others”), mutual goodwill, reciprocal love and the sharing of both grief and good fortune, perhaps the young men’s friendship is not so perfect after all.

Gill (2008) p. 74, ft. 33; p. 75. Perfect friendship is unrealistic to expect of imperfect human beings. Boccaccio had a keen sense for human being.

[image] Portrait of Two Friends. Pontormo (Jacopo Carucci). Panel, c. 1522. Collezione Vittorio Cini, Venice. The paper in the painting contains a passage from Cicero’s De amicitia. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Gill, Amyrose Joy McCue. 2008. Vera amicizia: conjugal friendship in the Italian Renaissance. Thesis (Ph. D. in Italian Studies)–University of California, Berkeley, Fall 2008.

Kirkham, Victoria. 1986. “The Classic Bond of Friendship in Boccaccio’s Tito and Gisippo (Decameron 10.8).” Pp. 223-235 in Aldo S. Bernardo and Saul Levin, eds. 1990. The Classics in the Middle Ages. Papers of the Twentieth Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval & Early Renaissance Studies. Binghamton, NY.

Musa, Mark and Peter Bondanella, with an introduction by Thomas G. Bergin. 1982. Giovanni Boccaccio. The Decameron. New York: New American Library.

Rebhorn, Wayne A., trans. 2013. Giovanni Boccaccio. The Decameron. New York : W.W. Norton & Company.

Sorieri, Louis. 1937. Boccaccio’s story of “Tito e Gisippo” in European literature. New York: Institute of French Studies.

Tagged:

multi-species bird communities cluster their songs

huge bird flock

Suppose birds sing to communicate information efficiently among birds of their species. Suppose different bird species don’t communicate with each other. Then different bird species in the same sound space would advantageously evolve their songs to minimize noise from each other. Birds would act like a couple at party moving to a less crowded, quieter spot to more easily hear each other in conversation.

In fact, birds congregate in sound space rather than disperse. That’s the finding of Tobias, Planqué, Cram & Seddon (2014). They studied 307 bird species living together in the Amazonian rainforest. Data on individual bird species’ songs are available here. The surprising clumping of bird song may arise in part from communication between different bird species. As a neuroecologist insightfully noted, “interspecies communication shouldn’t be too shocking: we all understand a growl when we hear it, right?”

The Every Noise at Once music genre map by glenn mcdonald is a sophisticated, data-intensive mapping of human music. Comparing the study of bird song to the music genre map doesn’t make sense if birds sing to communicate information. Human music surely doesn’t arise from efficiently communicating information. I suspect the same is true for birds. Perhaps a map of every bird species’ song would have some relation to the human music genre map.

*  *  *  *  *

Reference:

Tobias Joseph A., Robert Planqué, Dominic L. Cram, and Nathalie Seddon. 2014. “Species interactions and the structure of complex communication networks.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 111 (3): 1020-5.

[image] Red-billed Quelea Quelea quelea flock at waterhole.  Thanks to Alastair Rae and Wikimedia Commons.

Heloise wholly innocent of disastrous marriage with Abelard

Following Heloise and Abelard’s affair, her pregnancy and childbirth, and their marriage, her uncle and his relations broke into Abelard’s lodgings and castrated him. Only two of the perpetrators were caught. Both were both castrated and blinded. Reviewing Abelard’s account of these calamities, Heloise wrote to him:

Who is there who was once my enemy, whether man or woman, who is not moved now by the compassion which is my due? Wholly guilty thought I am, I am, as you know, wholly innocent. [1]

In a subsequent letter, Heloise explained:

But even if my conscience is clear through innocence, and no consent of mine makes me guilty of this crime, too many earlier sins were committed to allow me to be wholly free from guilt. I yielded long before to the pleasures of carnal desires, and merited then what I weep for now. [2]

In Heloise’s apparent understanding, Abelard’s castration and the castration and blinding of the other two men flowed not from Heloise and Abelard’s sexual affair, but from their disastrous marriage. That disastrous marriage led to Heloise, who did not suffer any physical violence, being deprived of her delight in Abelard’s sexuality. Heloise is worthy of compassion and wholly innocent because she strongly objected to that marriage. Throughout history, few persons have argued as forcefully and eloquently against marriage as did Heloise. Men and women everywhere should listen to Heloise.

caught in marriage net

Heloise selflessly recognized that her marriage to Abelard would oppress Abelard. She urged Abelard not to marry her. After their disastrous marriage, Abelard mournfully recalled Heloise’s sagacity:

{Heloise said} it would be a sorry scandal if I should bind myself to a single woman and submit to such base servitude. She most strongly rejected this marriage; it would be nothing but a disgrace and burden to me. Along with the loss to my reputation she put before me the difficulties of marriage … What harmony can there be between pupils and serving women, desks and cradles, books or tablets and distaffs, pens or quills and spindles? Who can concentrate on thoughts of Scripture or philosophy and be able to endure babies crying, nurses soothing them with lullabies, and all the noisy crowd of men and women about the house? Who will put up with the constant muddle and squalor which small children bring into the home? [3]

Jerome fabricated words of Theophrastus to persuade widows to reject marriage out of compassion for men. Like many holy women in Jerome’s own time, Heloise, even as a single woman, took to heart Jerome’s lesson. She counseled Abelard:

St. Jerome in the first book of his Against Jovinian recalls how Theophrastus sets out in considerable detail the unbearable annoyances of marriage and its endless anxieties, in order to prove by the clearest possible arguments that a wise man should not take a wife [4]

Heloise figured herself as Marcella, one of Jerome’s close female associates, and Abelard as Jerome.[5] Jerome did not marry. Heloise wanted Abelard to live like Jerome (“blessed Jerome”), with additional pleasure.

Heloise’s courageous rejection of the formal institution of marriage did not imply rejecting sexual relations. Heloise and Abelard delighted in having sex with each other. Heloise recognized that day-to-day association in the ordinary affairs of life can dull romantic ardor. She explained to Abelard:

if we had to be parted for a time, we should find the joy of being together all the sweeter the rarer our meetings were. [6]

Heloise insisted:

The name of wife may seem holier or more valid, but sweeter for me will always be the word friend or, if you will permit me, concubine or whore.  … you keep silent about many of my arguments for preferring love to marriage and freedom to a chain. God is my witness that if Augustus, emperor of the whole world, thought fit to honour me with marriage and conferred all the earth on me to possess forever, it would seem dearer and more honorable to be called not his empress but your mistress. [7]

Heloise preferred to be Abelard’s whore or mistress than be Abelard’s wife. She surely was wholly innocent of their disastrous marriage.

A disastrous marriage is much more likely for men today. Family law is now a whirlpool of anti-men bigotry. For example, if a wife bears a child from an extramarital affair, the law will impose a conspiracy of silence and force financial obligations upon the cuckolded husband.[8] Men should listen to Heloise. Men should not get married.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 2.13, from Latin trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) p. 137.  Id. has Historia calamitatum as Letter 1.  Other collections have the subsequent letter as Letter 1.

[2] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 4.11, id. p. 169.

[3] Abelard to a friend, consoling him, Letter 1 (Historia calamitatum) 24-5, id. pp. 35, 37.

[4] Id. p. 37.

[5] In her preface to Problemata Heloissae. Heloise quoted Jerome praising Marcella, as well as praising Asella. Heloise then wrote to Abelard:

What do these statements mean, I ask you, who are dear to many, but dearest of all to me? They are not mere testimonies; they are admonitions, reminding you of your debt to us, which you should not delay in paying.

In Abelard’s rule for the nuns of the Paraclete, Abelard described Jerome as “the greatest doctor of the Church and glory of the monastic profession.” He counseled the nuns:

in your love and study of sacred writings model yourselves on those blessed disciples of St. Jerome, Paula and Eustochium, for it was mainly at their request that this doctor with so many volumes lit up the Church.

S. 123, 128, trans. Luscombe & Radice (2013) pp. 509, 517. In a letter to the nuns of the Paraclete, Abelard put forward Jerome’s advice to Laeta on the upbringing of her daughter Paula and other examples of Jerome’s guidance to women. Letter 9, trans. Ziolkowski (2008) pp. 10-33. Abelard, however, felt that Jerome sometimes went too far in his solicitude for women and his praise of women:

he seems to go somewhat beyond the bound of truth in their praise, as if he felt in himself what he mentions elsewhere: “Love has no limit.” … in writing to the virgin Demetrias, he began his letter with such remarkable praise of her that he seems to give way to excessive adulation.

Abelard to Heloise, Letter 7.49, id. p. 347. Boccaccio addressed the under-appreciated historical problem of men’s excessive adulation for women through his under-appreciated creative wit in El Corbaccio.

[6] Abelard to a friend, consoling him, reporting Heloise’s advice, Letter 1 (Historia calamitatum) 26, id. p. 43.

[7] Heloise to Abelard, Letter 2.10, id. p. 133.

[8] Of course, current times are also difficult for unmarried men. Instead of thuggish relatives, the state now deploys vast resources to punish unmarried men for consensual sexual intercourse that produces a child.

[image] Sunset over Lake Erie through fishing net, Erie, Pennsylvania, September 5, 2004. Thanks to Sensor and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Luscombe, David, and Betty Radice, ed. and trans. 2013. The letter collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise. Clarendon Press: Oxford.

Ziolkowski, Jan. M., ed. and trans. 2008. Letters of Peter Abelard, beyond the personal. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.

Tagged:

Wednesday’s flowers

purple-dot flowers

friendship: weeping & laughing in the Tale of Attaf

Perspectives: Chiharu Shiota at Sackler Gallery

The Tale of Attaf the Syrian (The Power of Destiny) begins with Caliph Harun al-Rashid restless and uneasy. The Caliph, the Commander of the Faithful, opened a book. Reading it, he both wept and laughed profusely. His companion, his vizier Ja’far ibn Yahya, exclaimed:

O King of the Age, how is it I see you reading and weeping and laughing at one and the same moment when no one does that except madmen and maniacs? [1]

Ja’far’s sensible question infuriated the Caliph. The Caliph immediately expelled his vizier:

Get away from me and address me not again nor sit as vizier until you answer your own question and you tell me what is written and decreed in that book I was reading and you learn why I wept and why I laughed at one and the same hour. Out and away with you, and don’t face me again except with the answer, or else will I slay you in the most brutal way.

Ja’far ibn Yahya was a member of the Barmakids family. The Barmakids, thought to have Indian origins, were closely associated with al-Rashid. They served him as favored advisers and ministers.  However, in 803, al-Rashid turned upon the Barmakids, confiscated their wealth, imprisoned leading members, and executed Ja’far. In the Tale of Attaf the Syrian, al-Rashid’s strange rejection of Ja’far prompted Ja’far to leave Baghdad and journey to Damascus. The close relationship between the Caliph and his vizier became distant.

Influential ancient literature presents ideal friendship as persons being willing to lay down their lives for their friends. The story of Damon and Pythias, known in fourth-century Greek culture, told of Damon’s willingness to lay down his life for his friend Pythias. Damon and Pythias were followers of the philosopher Pythagoras. While both were in Syracuse, Pythias was sentenced to death for allegedly plotting against the tyrant of Syracuse. Pythias begged for leave to travel home to settle his affairs and say farewell to his family before he was executed. Damon pledged to remain in Syracuse and be executed in the place of Pythias if Pythias didn’t return. The tyrant accepted that ancient form of bail and allowed Pythias to travel. Unfortunately, his return was delayed. Just before Damon was to be executed, Pythias returned. He recounted his extraordinary efforts overcoming obstacles that had hindered his return. Impressed with Damon and Pythias’ dedication to each other in friendship, the tyrant pardoned both from death.

The friendship of Damon and Pythias doesn’t just concern that story. A renegade Jew living in the eastern Mediterranean area instructed his followers similarly about friendship. Foreshadowing his brutal execution in love for his friends, he told his followers:

This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. [2]

Friendship among men has been central to the formation of large-scale human societies. The men who have created and led such societies throughout history have needed trusted, loyal men. The personal safety of the ruler, sound administration of the realm, and defense against external enemies has depended on friendship among men. Across Eurasia, in organizations of warrior men like the comitatus, men pledged to lay down their lives for each other and for their ruler. Fear and material interests haven’t been and probably cannot be a sufficient basis for long-lasting, large-scale human societies.[3]

Laying down one’s life for a friend was culturally elaborated into laying down one’s wife for a friend.  Consider a story about the pre-Islamic Christian Arab Hatim Tai. He was renowned for his generosity. Abu Said of the Banu Hilal tribe sought to test Hatim Tai’s generosity. Disguised as a dervish, Abu Said went to the tents of the Tayy (Tai) tribe. Hatim Tai, who was his tribe’s chief, invited all to come to this table. Abu Said declared that he would have a meal with Hatim Tai only if he received Hatim Tai’s wife. Hatim Tai, with his wife’s acquiescence, agreed to give her to Abu Said. Early the next day, Abu Said departed with Hatim Tai’s wife.

Abu Said’s request for Hatim Tai’s wife was a test for friendship. While traveling home, Abu Said placed his sword between himself and the woman when they slept. When he arrived home, he gave the woman her own tent and did not bring her into his tent. Abu Said then invited Hatim Tai to visit. Abu Said hosted Hatim Tai with great hospitality. Abu Said also offered his sister to Hatim Tai. He accepted. He took the woman home. There, uncovering her, he discovered that she was his own wife.[4]

Laying down one’s wife for a friend occurs with literary, religious, and cultural sophistication. In the story of Abu Said and Hatim Tai, Abu Said placing his sword between himself and the women is an ironic literary wink to the repressed phallus. Zayd ibn Harithah, a companion (close friend) of Muhammad, divorced his wife Zaynab bint Jahsh so that Muhammad could marry her.[5] The European Latin poem of Lantfrid and Cobbo, probably from the tenth century, tells of Lantfrid giving up his wife to his dear friend Cobbo. Like in the story of Abu Said and Hatim Tai, Cobbo left with Lantfrid’s wife. Cobbo, however, soon returned with the woman. He gave her, untouched, back to Lantfrid.[6] Historically and right up to the present, men’s lives have been socially less valued than women’s lives. For a man, laying down one’s wife for a friend indicates a more socially sophisticated friendship sacrifice than laying down one’s life for a friend.

In the even more culturally sophisticated Tale of Attaf, Attaf gave up intercourse with his wives to offer hospitality to Ja’far. Attaf, a handsome, noble young man with a godly smile, noticed the traveler Ja’far just outside of Damascus. Attaf invited Ja’far to join his banquet. Attaf and Jafar quickly became close friends. After the banquet, the time came for sleep:

eunuchs came in and spread for Ja’far delicately crafted bedding at the head of the hall in its place of honor. The eunuchs placed other bedding alongside. Seeing this, Ja’far the vizier said to himself, “Perhaps my host is a bachelor, and so they would spread his bed to my side; however, I will venture the question.” Accordingly he addressed his host saying, “O Attaf, are you single or married?” “I am married, O my lord,” said Attaf. Ja’far followed up, “Why then do you not go within and lie with your wives?”  “O my lord,” replied Attaf, “my wives are not about to take flight, and it would be nothing but disgraceful to me were I to leave a visitor like you, a man whom all revere, to sleep alone while I pass the night with my wives and rise early to enter the baths. I would consider such action to be uncourteous and failure to honor a luminary like your Honor.  In very truth, O my lord, so long as your presence deigns to favor this house, I will not sleep with my wives until I say goodbye to your Worship and you depart in peace and safety to your own place.”  “This is amazing,” said Ja’afar to himself, “and perhaps further events will be more so for me.”  So they lay together that night. When morning came they arose and went to the baths. Attaf had sent there for the use of his guest a suit of magnificent clothes. He had Ja’afar put the suit on before leaving the baths.

This account of sleeping together decorously suggests same-sex eroticism. Subsequently, by day, Attaf took Ja’far around Damascus to see the various places and sights. At night, they returned home to sleep together as they did on the first night. These activities continued for four months.

Ja’far apparently tired of his affair with Attaf. Ja’far suggested that he would like to wander about Damascus by himself. Attaf graciously offered Ja’far a carriage. Ja’far declined. Attaf then gave Ja’far some money. A Victorian archaic-English translation of the Tale of Attaf poignantly has at this point:

Ja’far took from Attaf a purse of three hundred dinars and left the house gladly as one who issueth from durance vile

Wandering about Damascus, Ja’far’s eyes found a beautiful young lady:

a model of comeliness and loveliness and fair figure and symmetrical grace, whose charms would animate all who gaze upon her

Ja’far fell desperately in love with her at first sight.[8] That beautiful young lady turned out to be one of Attaf’s wives. When he found out the cause of his friend’s dangerous lovesickness, Attaf arranged to divorce that wife and have her marry Ja’far.

Courtly and clerical thinking about idealized friendship contributed to the development of the horrors of courtly love in medieval Europe. That thinking, heavily influenced by Cicero’s De amicitia, privileged relational abstractions of friendship. Friendship was a voluntary association of autonomous equals. Friends were self-aware and self-controlled. The perfect friend was another self. Those lifeless ideals of friendship prompted men to believe that they must woo and win that one woman who is their other self, perfectly matching them except that women are exalted and men must serve them.[7] Weeping and laughing in the Tale of Attaf, Caliph Harun al-Rashid reveals better understanding of friendship and love.

Differences among men and between men and women are ineluctable reality that does not necessarily make friendship impossible. Cicero observed that “in the whole range of {Greco-Roman} history only three or four pairs of friends are mentioned.”[9] That literary history is a poor guide to actual human relationships. Friendships depend on faith, hope, and generous care. Friendships encounter faults and risk despair and forsakenness. Large-scale societies need many such friendships, especially among men.

Back in Baghdad, Ja’far told Caliph al-Rashid the story of Attaf. Doing so reconciled him to the Caliph. Ja’far returned Attaf’s wife to him untouched. Attaf had suffered impoverishment, imprisonment, and near execution after his generosity to Ja’far. Ja’far made Attaf ten times as wealthy as he was before he had met Ja’far. At Attaf’s request, the Caliph pardoned Attaf’s persecutor. With this happy ending, the bloody historical ending of the relationship between Caliph al-Rashid and his vizier Ja’far could almost be forgotten.

*  *  *  * *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Tale of Attaf the Syrian, from Arabic trans. Burton (1886) vol. 6.  A longer title for that tale is The Power of Destiny, or, Story of the Journey of Giafar {Ja’far} to Damascus comprehending the Adventures of Chebib (Habíb) and his family. Chebib (Habíb) seems to have been an alternate name for Attaf. Burton used the Arabic text of Dom Denis Chavis (Dionysius Shawish), transcribed about 1790. Chavis was a Syrian monk who had studied in Constantinople and come to Paris. Mahdi (1995) pp. 51-61. Since the Chavis manuscript refers to cannon fire, it’s probably from later than the fourteenth century. Burton’s text also includes a second English translation of another manuscript of the Tale of Attaf. The translator of that text was Alexander J. Cotheal, Consul-General for Nicaragua in New York. Cotheal acquired his manuscript from the estate of “a deceased American missionary who had brought it from Syria.” The manuscript was written in 1685. Burton describes the text in the Supp. Vol. 6 (Vol. 16 overall) in his translator’s forward. Burton’s description of the Cotheal manuscripts and Cotheal’s English translation is placed immediately after Burton’s translation of the Chavis manuscript. Another version of the Tale of Attaf was brought back to England by Dr. Patrick Russell, “the historian of Aleppo,” in 1771. Mahdi (1995) p. 56. I have modernized and clarified Burton’s translation, which itself was a quite loose translation from the Arabic.  All subsequent quotations from the Tale of Attaf are from Burton’s translation of the Chavis manuscript. Cotheal’s manuscript seems to be a latter version of the tale.  It explicitly indicates that it is the text of a reciter (rawi).

[2] Jesus of Nazareth, in John 15:12-13.

[3] Valerius Maximus, who flourished 14 to 37 GC, declared:

It {friendship} deserves almost the same veneration that we pay to the rites of the immortal gods. The survival of our state depends on those rites, but our survival as private people depends on the power of friendship. And if the temples are the sacred homes of the gods, then the loyal hearts of humans are like temples filled with the sacred spirit of friendship.

Factorum ac dictorum memorabilium, Bk. 4, 7.1ext, from Latin trans. Walker (2004) p.  152. Friendship wasn’t just a matter of “our survival as private people.” In a letter to Charlemagne in 798, Alcuin declared his desire to help his friend Charlemagne in any way that he could. Alcuin wrote to Charlemagne:

And if this is to be observed diligently in a friend and coequal, that the integrity of his {the friend’s} mind should remain inviolate, how much more in a lord and in such a person who loves to exalt and govern his subjects in all honor?

From Latin trans. Jaeger (2012) p. S107. Alcuin, a scholar and adviser to Charlemagne, described his friendship-dedication to Charlemagne like that of a warrior of the comitatus. Advisers to leaders in the Islamic world similarly presented themselves as loving, subordinate friends to the ruler. Waqid ‘Amr ibn-Tamini’s account of Babak and the Khurrami revolt in the early nineth century in central Mesopotamia includes a reference to a chief’s comitatus.

[4] Crane (1921) pp. 202-3, from German of Prym & Socin (1881) vol. ii, p. 24. Prym & Socin’s source was a manuscript they received from a Jacobite Christian in Damascus about 1870.  Since the text is in Neo-Aramaic, it may convey a quite ancient story.

[5] Qur’an 33:37. Ibn Hisham, who died about 830 GC, edited one of the earliest surviving versions of ibn Ishaq’s biography of Muhammed, the Prophet of Islam. Ibn Hisham’s text states that Zayd ibn Harithah divorced Zaynab bint Jahsh so that Muhammad could marry her.

[6] “Lantfrid and Cobbo,” Cambridge Songs, Song 6, from Latin trans. Ziolkowski (1994) pp. 22-7.

[7] On the influence of Cicero’s De amicitia and the connection between ancient ideals of friendship and the development of courtly love in twelfth-century Europe, Ziolkowski (1995). On men serving women, see, e.g. the United Nations’ current HeForShe campaign.

[8] Ja’far fell dangerously lovesick. His ever solicitous friend Attaf called for a doctor. The doctor diagnosed Ja’far’s lovesickness from his pulse. That was a popular story that goes back at least to Valerius Maximus’s account of Antiochus’s lovesickness. Antiochus fell in love with the wife of his father, King Seleucus. To save his son, Seleucus gave him his wife. Valerius Maximus, Memorable Deeds and Sayings, Bk. 5, 7.ext 1. trans. Walker (2004) pp. 190-1.

[9] Cicero, De amicitia, sec. 15. An editorial note explains:

The three pairs are Theseus and Pirithous, Achilles and Patroclus, Orestes and Pylades; the fourth, probably in Cicero’s mind (Cic. Off. III.45; Fin. II.79), was Damon and Phintias (vulg. Pythias).

Cicero praised above all the “friendship of faultless men.” Id. sec. 22, 100. Such men are very rare.

[image] Perspectives: Chiharu Shiota, at Sackler Gallery through June 7, 2015. My photograph.

References:

Burton, Richard Francis. 1886. Supplemental nights to the book of The thousand nights and a night. Vol. 6. Benares: Printed by the Kamashastra Society for private subscribers only.

Crane, Thomas Frederick. 1921.  “The Sources of Boccaccio’s Novella of Mitridanes and Natan (Decameron X, 3).”  The Romanic Review 12(3): 193-215.

Falconer, W.A. ed. and trans. 1923. Cicero. De amicitia (On Friendship). Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, vol. XX

Jaeger C. Stephen. 2012. “Alcuin and the music of friendship.” MLN – Modern Language Notes. 127 (SUPPL. 5): S105-S125.

Mahdi, Muhsin. 1995. The thousand and one nights. Leiden: Brill.

Prym, Eugen, and Albert Socin. 1881. Der neu-aramaeische Dialekt des Ṭûr ‘Abdîn. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Walker, Henry J., trans. 2004. Valerius Maximus. Memorable deeds and sayings: one thousand tales from ancient Rome. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1994. The Cambridge songs (Carmina Cantabrigiensia). New York: Garland Pub.

Ziolkowski, Jan. M. 1995. “Twelfth-Century Understandings and Adaptations of Ancient Friendship.” Pp. 59-81 in Welkenhuysen, Andries, Herman Braet, and Werner Verbeke, eds. Mediaeval antiquity. Leuven, Belgium: Leuven University Press.

Next Page »