Merlin the magician lacked seductive love magic

Merlin entombed by Ninianne

The magician Merlin was an important figure in the Arthurian romances that circulated widely in Europe from late in the twelfth century. Merlin, full of wisdom, prophecies, and magical arts, had a conspicuous lack. He lacked the seductive love magic to promote the charms of a magical sword that, thrust upon women, would bring them wondrous, life-giving blessings. So lacking in seductive love magic was the magician Merlin that he had to beg and barter for sex with women. Merlin’s abjection in love indicates more generally men’s love magic replaced in medieval culture with men’s love servitude.

Merlin was unable to carry on a love affair while maintaining his freedom and his friendships with men. Before Merlin went to stay with his girlfriend Viviane, he said a final farewell to his friend King Arthur. Merlin also said farewell to his friend and scribe Blaise. Merlin explained:

he was going to stay with his lady, and he would never have the power to leave her or to come and go as he wished. [1]

Viviane sought to control completely Merlin’s life. One day, she said to Merlin:

I beseech you to teach me how I might keep a man imprisoned within a tower or walls or irons through wizardry, so that he could never get away but through me.

Merlin was reluctant, but incapable of saying no:

I know full well what you are thinking, and I know that you want to keep me. And I am so overcome by love of you that I must do your will

Viviane put her arms around his neck and spoke to him about their love. Merlin, falsely believing that love means never saying no to a woman, taught her the imprisoning spell. She then used the spell on him. He became imprisoned in their love, while she was free:

Merlin never thereafter left the stronghold where his lady love had put him, but she came and went as she wished.

If Merlin appreciated seductive love magic, he would have already cast such a spell on Viviane.

While wizards of seduction employ dread game, Merlin lost love by being too eager to please and too needy in love. Merlin fell in love with the beautiful woman Morgan. Merlin told her:

There is nothing you could ask of me that I wouldn’t do if I could. [2]

Men presenting themselves as doormats for women dries up women’s love for them. That’s particularly damaging for men who have children, because when a relationship fails, men are much less likely than women to retain custody of their children. So it was for Merlin. He and Morgan had a son named Yvain. Yvain would grow up to be a famous knight. But Morgan soon threw Merlin out of their home and out of his son’s life:

She drove Merlin away from her, because she saw that he loved her madly, and she told him that she would have him tortured and killed if he came near her again.

Morgan soon began living with another man. They conspired to steal Excalibur, King Arthur’s magic sword. Morgan’s mistaken handling of the sword led to her new boyfriend being gravely injured. His plotting of revenge against her put her in mortal danger. Then Merlin saved her because still “he loved Morgan greatly.” That’s nice. But that’s not an effective way to get Morgan to love him. With Merlin’s help, Morgan contrived to get her new boyfriend beheaded. That criminal favor didn’t gain for Merlin Morgan’s love.

Merlin fared even worse with Ninianne than with Viviane or Morgan. Merlin fell in love with Ninianne. He longed to have sex with her. He went to see her every day for four months. She kept him in a friend zone and never had sex with him. Secretly she hated him. She accepted his visits because she wanted to learn magic from him. When Ninianne set out on a long journey to her home country, Merlin accompanied her. Near the Lake of Diana, Merlin asked Ninianne if she wanted to see it. She said that she did, so Merlin showed it to her. He also showed her a tomb:

here lies Faunus, Diana’s lover, who loved her madly, and she was false to him and killed him by the greatest treachery in the world. Such was his reward for loving her faithfully. [3]

Ninianne asked Merlin how Diana killed Faunus. Merlin explained that, after living with Faunus for two years, Diana fell in love with another man, Felix. To get rid of Faunus, she by trickery induced him to climb naked down into the tomb. Then she sealed him in with a stone. She then got some molten lead, poured it in on him, and killed him. Like the knight in the seven sages version of the widow of Ephesus, Felix was outraged at her behavior. He beheaded her and threw her body into the lake. Ninianne learned much from that story. Merlin, despite his powers of prophecy, perceived nothing.

Ninianne hated and exploited Merlin while he loved her. Despite never having slept with Merlin, Ninianne told Merlin that she wanted him to build for her a beautiful, luxurious house by the lake:

He said that he would undertake it gladly, since she asked for it of him. [4]

She invited her guy friends to join them at her new house by the lake:

“I tell you,” she said, “that I have gold and silver, which Merlin has given me, as much as you can spend in your whole lives.”

Merlin lived with Ninianne in the house by the lake. He lived with her as a friend, but loved her passionately:

Merlin stayed with Ninianne and lived there night and day, and he loved her so passionately that he loved nothing else in the world so much. Because of the great love he had for her, he did not dare ask her to do anything for him, for he dared not anger her. He kept thinking that in some way it would happen that he could have his will with her completely {have sex with her}.

Merlin’s behavior toward Ninianne caused her to hate him even more:

there was nobody in the world she hated so mortally as she did Merlin, because she knew well that he desired her maidenhead [5]

Men’s sexuality is never more hated than when a man seeks sex servilely and imploringly as a “friend” offering many material gifts.

Ninianne murdered Merlin through adapting stories he told her. One day when they were out in a deep valley, Merlin asked Ninianne if she wanted to see a lovely little room hewn in the rocks. She said that would be a marvel. Merlin, ever the worshipful beta, declared “You are right.” Then he told her the marvelous story. A prince infuriated his father the king by falling in love with a low-born woman. Because his father threatened to kill her, he secretly had his men chisel a hidden refuge in the rocks. The prince and his beloved took up residence there for the rest of their lives. They died on the same day. Their bodies, embalmed, were placed in a sarcophagus carved in the rocks.

Ninianne re-imagined the story of the two lovers along the line of the story of Diana. Ninianne conceived a plot to kill Merlin:

When the maiden heard this story, she was full of joy, and she thought then that she would put Merlin there, if she could, and if magic and the power of words could help a woman, she thought she could accomplish it. [6]

Ninianne told Merlin to lift by magic the heavy stone covering the two lovers’ sarcophagus. She then said that she wanted to sleep in the room next to the sarcophagus. Merlin bedded down next to her “but in another bed.” Once Merlin fell asleep, Ninianne so enchanted him that he wouldn’t awake for a long time. She ordered other men to throw Merlin’s body into the sarcophagus and replace the stone covering. She then sealed the tomb with a magic spell she had learned from Merlin. Entombed by his beloved, Merlin died a slow, horrific death in the presence of the embalmed bodies of the two dead lovers.

Merlin the magician died a horrible death because he lacked the most important magic for men: seductive love magic. The equipment that all men have is largely sufficient for seductive love magic. What’s most important is true learning. Merlin could have studied how Paul seduced Thecla. He could have learned how Joseph converted Aseneth. Saint Jerome, who had many devoted women followers, provided a well-known model for being confident, authoritative, and highly entertaining. Merlin could have imitated Saint Jerome, but for carnal purposes.

Seductive love magic ultimately rests on empirical science. What happened to Merlin was highly predictable. If men abase themselves and seek love servitude to women, women will respond to them like the belle dame sans merci.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] The Story of Merlin, Ch. 57, from Old French trans. Pickens (1993) p. 416.  The subsequent two quotes are from id., and the following quote, from id. p. 417. I’ve made some minor changes in the translations for clarity. Viviane is also spelled Niviene. The Story of Merlin is part of the Lancelot-Grail Cycle of Arthurian romance (also called the Vulgate Cycle or the Prose Lancelot).  The whole cycle of five Arthurian romances was composed between 1215 and about 1235. They followed Chrétien de Troyes’s Arthurian romances of the second half of the twelfth century. Lacy’s preface to Pickens (1993) p. ix.

[2] Post-Vulgate Merlin, Ch. 15, from Old French trans. Asher (1995) p. 200. The subsequent quote is from id., with “loved her madly” translating his loving her with “fol amor.” Morgan represents the Old French name Morgue. The Post-Vulgate Cycle, probably written between 1235 and 1240, is a reworking of the Vulgate Cycle. The Post-Vulgate Cycle has also been called the Post-Vulgate Suite and the Huth-Merlin.

[3] Post-Vulgate Merlin, Ch. 31, from Old French trans. Asher (1995) p. 246. Ninianne / Niniane / Niviène is a revision of Viviane in the Vulgate. She’s also known as the Lady of the Lake (Dame du Lac). Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d’Arthur, published in 1485, names this character Nimue / Nymue. See Book IV, Ch. 1.

[4] Post-Vulgate Merlin, Ch. 32, from Old French trans. Asher (1995) p. 247. The subsequent three quotes are from id., pp. 247-8. In the Prophecies of Merlin (Arthurian romance written in the 1270s), Merlin exchanges magic teaching for sex with a variety of women. Morgan and three other woman who slept with Merlin in exchange for magic teaching become angry that Ninianne acquires more magic teaching from Merlin without even sleeping with him. Berthelot (2000) pp. 60, 71-2.

[5] Hatred for men’s heterosexuality also characterizes Diana in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Bk 3:165-252. Because Actaeon happened to see Diana naked, she was not appeased until she contrived to have him torn to death by his dogs. Diana’s attitude is now prevalent in university sex-crime tribunals.

[6] Post-Vulgate Merlin, Ch. 37, from Old French trans. Asher (1995) p. 259.  The subsequent quote is from id.

[image] The Beguiling of Merlin. Painting. Edward Burne-Jones, 1874. Lady Lever Art Gallery, Liverpool, England. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Asher, Martha, trans. 1995. “The Merlin Continuation.” The Post-Vulgate, Part I. Pp. 167-277 in Lacy, Norris J. Lancelot-Grail: the Old French Arthurian Vulgate and post-Vulgate in translation. Vol. IV. New York: Garland Publishing.

Berthelot, Anne. 2000. “Merlin and the Ladies of the Lake.” Arthuriana. 10 (1): 55-81.

Pickens, Rupert T., trans. 1993. “The Story of Merlin.” Pp. 167-424 in Lacy, Norris J. Lancelot-Grail: the Old French Arthurian Vulgate and post-Vulgate in translation. Vol. I. New York: Garland Publishing.

De amore’s sexual economics supports gender inequality

medieval sexual economics: man killing man, women watch

In Andreas Capellanus’s influential medieval treatise De amore, gender inequality takes important forms in addition to the widely celebrated debasement of men in love servitude. The sexual economics of De amore claims global welfare benefits from toil of men not free to choose in important ways. De amore’s considerable influence on normative views of love has helped to sustain anti-men gender inequality across major historical changes in public authority.

De amore defines loves as a compulsion that men suffer through uncontrollable thinking at the sight of a beautiful woman. Its definitional discourse is scholastic:

1. What would be love

Love is an inborn suffering which results from the sight of, and uncontrolled thinking about, the beauty of the other sex. This feeling makes a man desire before all else the embraces of the other sex, and to achieve the utter fulfillment of the commands of love in the other’s embrace by their common desire. [1]

In the medieval scientific consensus, Andreas’s definition of love is “a carefully constructed, properly scientific definition drawing on a long philosophical tradition.”[2] In elite thinking today, Andreas’s definition tends to be disparaged as oppressing women with men’s gaze. In any case, the definition explicitly excludes popular understanding of rape. To be love, sexual union must be by “common desire.” Yet, like under current laws regulating men’s sexuality, men lack significant freedom of choice in love. According to De amore, men must discipline their eyes not even to glance at a beautiful woman. If a man glances, his freedom to choose vanishes, and he becomes subject to considerable suffering.

De amore disparages men pursuing economically rational means for having sex with women. A fee-simple transaction with a harlot provides probably the most economical way for a man to secure sex. De amore harshly rejects men having sex with harlots, now more properly called sex workers:

If my views are asked on loving harlots, I say that all of them should be utterly avoided because intercourse with them is a most foul pursuit, the sin of lewd behavior being almost invariably committed with them. … I do not wish to instruct you on how to obtain this love, for no matter how affectionately harlots yield themselves to a suitor, they bestow these favors without the pressure of entreaties, so you should not ask for instruction on this. [3]

Andreas wants men to entreat women for sex. He thus also disparages men loving women who engage in sex readily:

Do not tie yourself with bonds to such a woman, for you could not win her love by any skill of application. A woman of this type cannot unite herself to anyone with bonds of love because of her excessive sexual appetite; she seeks satiety through the lust of many. So in vain do you seek her love, unless you regard yourself as so virile in sexual matters that you can satiate her lust. But this would be more difficult than draining the seas completely of their waters.  … love is definitely absent where favours are granted readily.

Wealthy men can trade on their wealth for sex. While Andreas says nothing about men purchasing for themselves exotic horses and ostentatious castles, he disparages men wearing perfume and making themselves “glossy with bodily adornment.” He also rejects men wooing women with lavish gifts:

if any woman is so obsessed by burning avarice as to offer herself to a lover for a gift, she is to be regarded by all as no lover, but as a counterfeiter of love, and consigned to the brothels of unchaste women. Indeed, the degenerate life of such women is more to be despised than the sensuality of those who prostitute themselves for money in public. … it is better for you to bargain with women who hang about brothels on the street, and to purchase their bodies for a small sum than to acquiesce in being robbed of your riches by the woman who like a courtesan apes a lady under pretense of love.

In Andreas’s view, wealthy men, like all other men, should toil for sex with women.

Andreas emphasizes that men must toil for sex with women. He refers to men “gaining” and “winning”  women’s love. De amore includes a lengthy section of eight dialogues instructing men on how to gain love from women. No dialogue describes women gaining love from men. In one dialogue, a common woman declares:

If no great prizes can be won unless some heavy labour’s done, you must suffer the exhaustion of many toils to be able to obtain the favours you seek, since what you ask for {sex with the woman} is a greater prize. [4]

The common man responds:

I give you all the thanks that I can express for so sagely promising me your love when I have performed great toils. God forbid that I or any other could win the love of so worthy a woman without first attaining it by many labours.

The Arthurian romance embedded within De amore has a girl instructing a knight to undertake a dangerous quest to win the love of a beautiful lady. The knight fights with one man and suffers a bloody side wound. He nonetheless grievously injuries the other man and defeats him. The knight kills a second man, severs the limb of yet another, and with hard blows to the head blinds a third. In response to his violent ordeal and great hardships, “she rewarded his labours with her love.”[5] In De amore, women are essentially entitled to sexual love. Men, in contrast, must toil, fight, and suffer for sex.

In addition to stark gender inequality in sexual labor, De amore presents men pursuing women without reasonable regard for men’s plausible self-interests. De amore considers men’s pursuit of women in terms of a nearly complete enumeration of class pairs among commoners, nobles, and higher nobles. Within that enumeration, a man of the higher nobility pursues a common woman, a noble man pursues a noble woman, and a common man pursues a woman of higher nobility.[6] The nearly complete pairings by class imply two principles of sexual economics:

  1. Men have lower sexual value than women do. Hence men pursue women, and women don’t pursue men.
  2. Men and women’s social class is instrumentally relevant to sexual pursuit, but men’s sexual interests don’t vary systematically across women. Nothing other than the essential feature of having a vagina (being a woman) predicts men’s sexual interest. Men’s sexuality is thus more animalistic than that of other animals, who typically prefer to mate with females indicating high fertility.

These principles of sexual economics are peculiar literary constructs, particularly in medieval Europe. Medieval European literature fully recognized women’s strong, independent sexuality. Men throughout history have typically preferred to have sex with beautiful, young, warmly receptive women. A woman of higher nobility could offer a man benefits from a sexual relationship that a common woman couldn’t. A common man might trade off to some extent a woman’s privilege against a lower value in beauty, youth, and warm receptivity. But what about a man of higher nobility pursuing a common woman? Holding constant beauty, youth, and warm receptivity, a woman of lower social class is less sexually attractive to men. De amore obliterates men’s plausible sexual interests in their pursuit of women.

In De amore’s sexual economics, the tight constraints on men’s sexual agency and the obliteration of men’s sexual interests are linked to large benefits in general public welfare. The man of higher nobility sets out the dominant ideology of sexual economics:

I think it is established by the clearest reasoning that men can do nothing, and can get no taste of the fount of goodness, unless they so act under the persuasion of ladies. But though all good things manifestly derive from women, though the Lord has granted them so exalted a preference, and though they are styled the cause and source of all good things, a clear obligation lies on them. To men who perform good deeds they must show themselves in such a light that the worth of such men seems to grow in every way from virtue to virtue under their gaze. [7]

Andreas in his own voice similarly declares that through women:

the whole world is ready to perform deeds of kindness, the rich have their wealth of possessions increased, plentiful provision is made for the poverty of the poor, and miserly men are brought back to the path of right behaviour and learn the way of generosity. Indeed, since women are able to reward with praise, they create the incentives for doing all the good things that are done in the world.

According to De amore, all good things in the world manifestly derive from women through men toiling to please women. This sexual-economic ideology now prevails in liberal democracies around the world.

Gender inequality should be considered truthfully along with increases in welfare in assessing sustainability. Public authorities from medieval Europe to the present have been remarkably successfully in making men subject to love servitude. But holding men in love servitude may not be sustainable forever. If men reject the dogma of love servitude to women and think freely and rationally about their self-interests, the cathedral of civilization will be challenged in a way that it hasn’t been from the Middle Ages to the present.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] De amore 1.1.1, from Latin trans. Walsh (1982) p. 33. Id. renders Quid sit amor as “What love is.” I’ve provided above a translation that more clearly distinguishes the subjunctive verb form of the heading from the indicative verb form that begins the definition of love (Amor est….). All subsequent quotations of De amore are in the translation of id., cited by page number. I’ve made some minor changes in the translations for clarity.

[2] Monson (2005) p. 21. For more extensive analysis of the Andreas’s definition of love, see id. Ch. 5. The ancient Greeks connected beauty to sexual desire. Konstan (2015).

[3] De amore 1.12.1-2, p. 223. The subsequent three quotes are from 1.10.2, 4, p. 221; 1.6.8, p. 43 (bodily adornment); 1.9.2, 10, pp. 213, 217.

[4] De amore 1.6.66, p. 69. The subsequent quote is 1.6.67, p. 59. In celebrating amour courtois, Dronke emphasizes that men must toil and suffer to “win” the woman’s love:

the way to winning such love is infinitely arduous … its beauty and value {sic} lie in the lover’s giving all he has, in his enduring pain and sacrifice for love’s sake

Dronke (1965) p. 7. Id. shows no concern about the deeply entrenched anti-men gender inequality in amour courtois.

[5] De amore 2.8.49, p. 285.  Andreas’s Arthurian romance contains echoes of Chrétien de Troyes’s romances Erec et Enide and Le chavalier de la charrette (Lancelot, the Knight of the Cart). Walsh (1982) introduction, p. 24. Andreas’s Arthurian romance is thematically within the mainstream of medieval romance.

Woman rewarding men with sex is attested far beyond romance. In the mid-fifteenth-century Distaff Gospels, a group of older women meet to share wisdom. Their leader, Dame Ysengrine, asked a older man to act as secretary, recording their words. According to the man, Dame Ysengrine said, “I would be rewarded by some of the younger ones of my choice; I was pleased by this suggestion and thanked them.” From French trans. Jay & Garay (2006) p. 77. After the man had done six days of writing their words, the meeting ended. The women:

thanked me very much for the trouble I had taken on their behalf, and for my wages, they promised to help me, if I so desired, to speak for me to some young woman.

Id. p. 189. The man declined that sexual opportunity with a metaphorical reference to his old age.

[6] De amore 1.6.21 to 1.6.564, p. 209. Andreas inexplicably omits a noble man pursuing a woman of higher nobility. Each pair in the class-based enumeration is associated with an exemplary dialogue.

[7] De amore 1.6.403, p. 159. The subsequent quote is from 1.9.19-20, p. 219. The last sentence in the second quote is: Immo laudum decoratae virtute cuncta quae in mundo bona fiunt occasionem praestant agendi. Walsh more literally translates that with flowery, periphrastic language:

Indeed, they are adorned with the meed of praise, and they afford an opportunity of doing all good things that exist in the world.

Above I provide a translation that makes the substantive meaning clearer.

[image] Man killing another man while women watch and applaud.  Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, between 1305 and 1315. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 321v. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the rise of European love-lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Jeay, Madeleine and Kathleen E. Garay, ed. and trans. 2006. The distaff gospels: a first modern English edition of Les évangiles des quenouilles. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Editions.

David Konstan. 2015. Beauty: The Fortunes of an Ancient Greek Idea. New York: Oxford University Press.

Monson, Don A. 2005. Andreas Capellanus, scholasticism, & the courtly tradition. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.

Walsh, P.G., trans. 1982. Andreas Capellanus on love {De amore}. London: Duckworth.

medieval mimesis of woman’s speech in Archpriest of Talavera

chicken egg

Andreas Capellanus’s Latin treatise De amore, probably written in the 1180s, includes eight dialogues between a man and a woman of various class pairings. Whether man or woman, commoner, noble, or higher noble, all speak the same rhetorical-scholastic discourse. The Archpriest of Talavera, a Spanish text completed in 1438, drew heavily on the third book of De amore.[1] But the Archpriest of Talavera’s treatment of speech differs fundamentally from that of De amore. The Archpriest of Talavera includes scintillating medieval mimesis of woman’s speech — realistic, in-character utterances of a wildly comic woman.

The Archpriest of Talavera’s mimesis of woman’s speech expands upon De amore’s rhetorical-scholastic characterization of women. The third book of De amore declares:

All women are also free with their tongues, for not one of them can restrain her tongue from reviling people, or from crying out all day long like a barking dog over the loss of a single egg. … We see, too, numerous women on many occasions who are so keen to talk that when they are alone they break into speech, and speak aloud to themselves. [2]

The Archpriest of Talavera dilates mimetically on the simile-exemplum “crying out all day long like a barking dog over the loss of a single egg.” It also represents mimetically a woman speaking aloud to herself. The resulting text is completely unlike the rhetorical-scholastic discourse of De amore:

What became of that egg? Who took it? Who carried it off? Where is that egg? Although it’s white, it’s a dark and ill-starred egg today. Bitch, bastard. Tell me, who took that egg? Who ate that egg? I hope she gets bit by a mad dog or gets hit by the bloody squirts or bad flow; amen! Oh, my double-yoked egg; I was keeping you to set. With one or two I’d make an omelet so golden that it would make up for all my misfortunes. And I couldn’t bear to eat you and now the devil ate you up. Oh, my egg. Oh, egg. Oh, what a rooster and a hen would be hatched from you! Of the rooster I’d make a capon who’d bring me twenty dollars and the hen fourteen. Or perhaps I’d set her and get so many chicks and pullets so that I could increase my flock and get a leg up on things. Now I won’t have any luck, I’ll be poor like I was. Oh, my egg, with the round yolk, with such a thick shell. Who ate you up? Oh, Marica, you whore, — Fatface — you’ve made me poor forever. I swear that I’ll punch you in the snout, Miss Low-Dirty-Greedy-Slut. Oh, my egg. And what will become of me? Oh, poor sad me. Lord Jesus, honey, why don’t I just go on and croak! By the Virgin Mary, wouldn’t you just pop with rage to see such a thing? Woe is me, I don’t even own an egg in my own house. Damn my luck and my life if I’m not on the point of scratching out my own eyes or pulling out all my hair, by God. How unhappy the woman who every morning gets the bran and lights a fire and works her fingers to the bone to light it and when the fire’s lit puts on the pot and heats the water and makes the chicken-feed to make layers, and as soon as the egg is laid it’s immediately snatched away. I hope the Lord gives them rabies and a heart attack. I put up with them, woe is me, and I get along as best I can, and the devil swipes them. Oh Lord, take me from this world, so that my body won’t have to taste more sorrows and my soul experience so much bitterness. Oh Lord, because you can, ease my heart of all the pain that I have to suffer every day. I’d rather die just once than be dying constantly. [3]

The mimesis of woman’s speech concerning loss of an egg is immediately followed by similar mimesis of woman’s speech concerning loss of a hen.[4] Psychological realism tends to be associated with the growth of novel writing beginning in mid-eighteenth-century Europe. Yet brilliant mimesis of woman’s speech can be found in the early fourteenth-century Archpriest of Talavera.[5]

In dilating upon De amore, the Archpriest of Talavera combined factual mistakes, fiction, and real experience. It attributed De amore to Jean Gearson. He lived from 1363 to 1429.[6] De amore was written more than a century before Jean Gearson was born. The Archpriest of Talavera describes the third book of De amore as “about God’s love and about the condemnation of the lascivious love for women.” That’s an ideological, rather than realistic, assessment of Andreas Capellanus’s intention in De amore. The speeches of women in the Archpriest of Talavera almost surely are fabrications. Moreover, not all women speak like that. In the sentence before the mimesis of woman’s speech about the lost egg, the Archpriest of Talavera declares, “So by experience you’ll see ….” The woman’s speech about her lost egg imaginatively, realistically evokes ordinary speech. That’s mimesis of woman’s speech. That’s a fundamentally important idea in fiction.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Naylor & Rank (2013) notes about 80 implicit references to De amore. Those references occur only in Part 1, Section 1, and Part 2. The over-all structure of the Archpriest of Talavera:

  • Part 1, Section 1: condemning carnal love
  • Part 1, Section 2: how fornicators transgress the ten commandments
  • Part 1, Section 3: how fornicators transgress the seven deadly sins
  • Part 1, Section 4: how the person engaged in carnal love loses all the cardinal virtues
  • Part 2: vices and faults of wicked women
  • Part 3: dispositions of men and planets and signs
  • Part 4: destiny, fortunes, signs, and planets

Id. pp. v-ix.

[2] De amore 3.100, from Latin trans. Walsh (1982) p. 317.

[3] Archpriest of Talavera, Part 2, Ch. 1, from Spanish trans. Naylor & Rank (2013) pp. 102-3.

[4] That speech includes a reference to becoming a Muslim:

Oh Lord, how much suffering and how much wickedness You put up with still! Because of who You are, console my vexations, help me in my sorrow; if not, I’ll burst with anger, or I’ll kill myself, or I’ll become a Muslim!

Id. pp. 103-4. In Part 3, Ch. 8, a woman threatens to “run off with a Moor from across the sea.” Id. p. 157. Islamic armies conquered nearly all of the Iberian peninsula by the early eighth century. By 1248, Christian forces had reconquered the peninsula.

In addressing violence against men, the Archpriest of Talavera includes considerable mimesis of woman’s speech.

[5] Somewhat less developed mimesis of woman’s speech exists in the Latin masterpiece of men’s sexed protest, Lamentationes Matheoluli, written about 1290.

[6] Archpriest of Talavera, Prologue, referring to “a scholar of Paris, John of Ausim.” Naylor & Rank (2013) p. 26. The subsequent quote is from id.

[image] Chicken egg. Thanks to Sun Ladder and Wikimedia Commons.


Naylor, Eric W., and Jerry Rank. 2013. The Archpriest of Talavera by Alonso Martínez de Toledo: dealing with the vices of wicked women and the complexions of men. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Walsh, P.G., trans. 1982. Andreas Capellanus on love {De amore}. London: Duckworth.

dogs better pets than cats in medieval European literature

medieval dog attacking murderer of its master

In medieval European literature, a dog was celebrated as man’s best friend. The proverbial cat was commonly associated with the devil.[1] Both dogs and cats were kept within homes as pets. Both had some unfavorable aspects and associations.[2] Overall, dogs had a better medieval reputation as pets than did cats.

Disliked aspects of dogs were bad temper, barking, and attacking. The Distaff Gospels, a French text probably composed in the mid-fifteenth century, explained:

When you hear dogs howling, you must put your fingers in your ears and not listen to them, because they bring bad news … If you don’t want to be attacked or barked at by dogs, by day or night, you should have a piece of good roasted cheese and give it to them while saying: In camo et freno, et cetera {In camo et freno maxillas eorum constringe qui non approximant ad te (with bit and bridle bind fast their jaws who come not near to you)} and they will not disturb you. Lovers should be aware of this trick. [3]

Feeding a dog a piece of bread for the offertory at the following Sunday mass was thought to prevent the dog from becoming bad-tempered. The first brood of puppies from a house dog were to be drowned, for they were sure to grow up to be “vicious and dangerous.”[4] Ancient literature contains a variety of disparaging references to dogs. That in part reflects dogs being non-humans, yet closely associated with humans.[5]

Compared to dogs, medieval cats presented more imaginative dangers. A tenth-century Latin allegorical poem referred to “the cat, drunken and immersed in wickedness.”[6] A twelfth-century Latin literary text describes a man as:

like THE CAT, which at one moment has the sweetest face and softest, smoothest fur on the outside. But pull its tail, then it will show its claws on all four feet and tear your hands to shreds unless you quickly let it go.[7]

The Distaff Gospels declared:

If you don’t want to be on your guard against your male cat, you must cut a piece, the size of your palm, out of its tail because, once it is four years old, it thinks night and day about how to strangle its master.[8]

At gates of the Greco-Roman underworld was the multi-headed dog Cerberus. Unlike dogs, cats tend to lurk and spring unsuspectingly. That may have encouraged the medieval association of cats, rather than dogs, with the devil.

Dogs were working animals and beloved pets in medieval Europe. Dogs were valued for hunting, herding, and guarding. Long before the Middle Ages, stories told of dogs loyalty and devotion to their owners. The eleventh-century Latin romance parody Ruodlieb included an account of a noble hunting dog that sensed and attacked a person who stole from his master.[9] Another story originating in ancient India told of a dog that saved a baby from a snake. The dog was wrongly killed through mistaken belief that he had killed the baby. In thirteenth-century Europe, such a dog was venerated as a martyr-saint.[10] Small dogs were the “medieval pet par excellence.”[11] They were given names, sometimes overfed with fine food, and loved as loyal companions.

Cats were also valued in medieval European households. Cats killed house mice and provided companionship. Late in the sixteenth century, Cesare Orsini praised his cat in an epitaph:

The cat is described as his light and dearest companion, who is always around day and night. Even when the owner {Orsini} is called to supper, the cat wanted to give “a thousand caresses” and coaxed tidbits from the dishes. The cat is described as constantly following him whenever he steps into the hall and is ready to lie down in front of the owner whenever it detects that he is melancholy. … The cat follows him into his study, prowling and pawing around his books and letters. It thus becomes the perfect scholar’s companion, rousing him from unhappy thoughts, and sitting on his desk and leaping over his books to provide amusement. … The cat jumps into his lap with gentle paws, climbs up on his shoulders, licks his face, purrs to the delight of his owner’s ears and playfully bites his hand.[12]

Orsini’s epitaph applies equally well to a scholar and cat in the medieval period. Suggesting a context of animosity toward intrusive and jealous cats, the Distaff Gospels advised:

Young men should not hate cats because they are the cause of great happiness and can assist in achieving success in matters of love with young and charming ladies. [13]

Cats were thought to protect their caretakers from bears, cows, and husbands who turn into goblins at night. The Distaff Gospels counseled:

If you have a good cat and you don’t want to lose it, you must rub its nose and four legs with butter for three days, and it will never leave the house.

A specific cat that purred, played, and pleased could easily overcome the abstract association of cats with the devil.

While the relative merits of dogs and cats today is a matter of bitter controversy, dogs were generally regarded as superior in medieval Europe. The great twelfth-century scholar, writer, and public figure Hildegard of Bingen praised the loyalty and perceptiveness of dogs. She also declared that the Devil hates dogs for their loyalty. Hildegard described cats as disloyal and remaining with persons only for food.[14] The fifteenth-century Distaff Gospels offered a more extreme evaluation of dogs versus cats:

another woman said: “Just as has been said before: if you love your dog, you love your own good. If you kill your cat, you kill your trouble.” [15]

Women’s superiority to men is now well-accepted in authoritative literature. When women today acknowledge the superiority of dogs, men will be better loved.

medieval woman holding dog

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Alcuin, Letter 181 (eighth century), from Latin trans. Ziolkowski (1993) p. 242. Walker-Meikle (2012) pp. 12-3.

[2] Images of dogs in medieval art are available here and here. Both posts use “dogs — man’s best friend” as a cliché. Medieval literature actually described a dog as a man’s best friend. Images of cats in medieval art are available here and here.

[3] Distaff Gospels (Paris manuscript), Day II, 45th gospel; Day III, 13th gospel, from French trans. Jeay & Garay (2006) pp. 219, 237.

[4] Distaff Gospels (Paris manuscript) Day III, 10th gospel, 31st gospel, from French trans. id. pp. 235, 243.

[5] Menache (1997) reviews disparaging references to dogs in ancient literature. Id., p. 1. claims, “there is clear opposition to dogs on the part of institutionalized religion.” Perhaps eventually recognizing that claim to be untenable, Menarche (1997) added the ad hoc claim:

When Western society freed itself of the protective bounds of ecclesiastical repression, the canine species was liberated from its religious image and the negative connotations inferred thereby.

Id. p. 39.  The “long journey toward humanism and a more harmonious perception of the universe” allegedly was sufficient completed in the thirteenth-century so that the Christian church no longer opposed dogs. Id. pp. 38-9. That’s ludicrous.

Human religions tend to privilege humans. Dogs, the earliest domesticated animals, serve as a salient figure for non-humans. Calling a person a dog thus serves to disparage a human or humans. See, e.g., Revelations 22:15. Institutionalized religions don’t, however, particularly oppose dogs relative to other animals such as pigs and asses. The story of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus / Companions of the Cave, celebrated in early Christian and Islamic literature, has a dog as the loyal companion to religious heroes. Abbot Thierry of St. Trond’s early twelfth-century Latin poem, “Weep, Dogs” laments the death of Pitulus, a “beloved dog.” Ziolkowski (1993) pp. 272-3. The influential, twelfth-century abbess Hildegard of Bingen praised dogs as pets. In medieval Europe, clerics commonly kept dogs as pets. Walker-Meikle (2012) pp. 3, 8.

Menache (1998) documents literary evidence of the long, mutually beneficial association of dogs and human beings. That association encompasses societies in which monotheistic religions have predominated.

[6] Eugenius Vulgarius, Carmen 11 (tenth century), from Latin trans. Ziolkowski (1993) p. 111.

[7] Response to Richard de Fournival’s Bestiaire d’amour, from French trans. Beer (1986) p. 50.

[8] Distaff Gospels (Paris manuscript), Day III, 17th gospel, from French trans. Jeay & Garay (2006) p. 239.

[9] Ruodlieb X, trans. Kratz (1984). Pliny the Elder’s Natural History, Book 8, Ch. 62, praises the loyalty of dogs and describes a dog detecting and attacking his master’s murderer.

[10] Schmitt (1983).

[11] Walker-Meikle (2012) p. 10.

[12] Cesare Orisini (lived about 1570 to 1640), Alla gatta uccisa, summarized in Walker-Meikle (2012) p. 99.

[13] Distaff Gospels (Paris manuscript), Day II, 40th gospel, from French trans. Jeay & Garay (2006) p. 217. The subsequent quote is from Day III, 16th gospel, trans. id. p. 237. On cats providing protection, Distaff Gospels (Chantilly manuscript), Day IV, para. 8-9, trans. id. pp. 251, 253.

[14] Hildegard of Bingen, Physica, cited in Walker-Meikle (2012) pp. 8, 11.

[15] Distaff Gospels (Paris manuscript), Day II, 48th gospel, from French trans. Jeay & Garay (2006) p. 219.

[image] (1) Dog identifying and attacking the murderer of its master. Bestiary and various theological texts. 1st quarter of 13th century, England. f. 21, British Library Royal 12 C XIX. (2) Bernger von Horheim and woman holding dog. Between 1305 and 1340, Germany. fol. 178r, Codex Manesse, UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848. Thanks to the University of Heidelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Beer, Jeanette M. A., trans. 1986. Master Richard’s Love bestiary and response. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Jeay, Madeleine and Kathleen E. Garay, ed. and trans. 2006. The distaff gospels: a first modern English edition of Les évangiles des quenouilles. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Editions.

Kratz, Dennis M., trans. 1984. Waltharius, and Ruodlieb. New York: Garland Pub.

Menache, Sophia. 1997. “Dogs: God’s Worst Enemies?Society & Animals. 5 (1): 23-44.

Menache, Sophia. 1998. “Dogs and Human Beings: A Story of Friendship.” Society & Animals. 6 (1): 67-86.

Schmitt, Jean-Claude. 1983. The holy greyhound: Guinefort, healer of children since the thirteenth century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Walker-Meikle, Kathleen. 2012. Medieval pets. Woodbridge: Boydell Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1993. Talking animals: medieval Latin beast poetry, 750-1150. Philadelphia: Univ. of Pennsylvania Press.

De amore dialogically manipulated men’s protest of women

medieval man and woman playing chess

Discussing injuries that men suffer from women is commonly overtaken by claims that not all women are like that. Andreas Capellanus, writer of the medieval Latin treatise De amore, responded to “not all women are like that” claims with great sophistication. He insistently, categorically declared themes of men’s sexed protest while subtly invoking tedium, insincerity, and lack of reciprocity.

Men’s protest of women is commonly dismissed merely as men showing again and again that all men hate all women and always have. In De amore, Andreas initially demurred from criticizing women:

there is nothing in the world more distasteful or tedious than an over-detailed analysis of the nature or condition of women. Let us therefore pass over this topic at this time, so that we may avoid the reputation of somehow indicting nature because of women, and because the facts are known to any man of sense. [1]

After only a few more pages of text, Andreas then recited at length themes of men’s sexed protest in extreme form.[2] According to Andreas, all women are avaricious, envious, slanderers, fickle, disloyal, vainglorious, lustful, liars, drunkards, etc. Andreas repeatedly insisted that his criticisms apply to all women, without exception. For example, Andreas declared:

no woman is ever joined in such ardent love with a man that she does not devote all her brains to draining away her partner’s wealth. This rule of thumb is never found misleading; there are no exceptions to it. [3]

In a constructed dialogue between a man and woman of higher nobility, the woman protests:

If your ire is roused by my words, you ought to level abusive quotations against me alone; it is inappropriate to rage against all women in general because of the annoyance caused by one. [4]

Andreas warmly engaged as authorities the eminent and powerful near-contemporary women Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, Marie Countess of Champagne, the Countess of Flanders Isobel of Vermandois, Ermengarde Viscountess of Narbonne, Princess Marguérite, and other women. Surely Andreas’s extreme recital of themes of men’s sexed protest would have attracted the attention of friends, family and supporters of these eminent women, along with the women themselves if they were still living. Even if men hating women was so common as to be acceptable, Andreas would have had no interest in showing that he too hated women.

Medieval readers may have perceived in Andreas’s extreme criticism of women issues of sincerity and reciprocity. In disparaging women, Andreas declared:

No man could so rejoice in women’s intimacy or affection as to be able to know the secrets of her heart or the degree of sincerity with which she addresses him, for a woman trusts no man as friend, believing that all are utter deceivers. [5]

The phrase “all are utter deceivers” echoes back to men Andreas’s categorical claims about women. In one of De amore’s exemplary dialogues, a woman of higher nobility said to a common man:

The mere fact of your ascribing to me the cunning of deceit and lying shows that you are pitted with the infection of the same vice, and that the thoughts enclosed in your heart are different from those you speak with a deceitful tongue.

This vicious circle of reciprocal deceit destroys trust and makes communication, friendship, and love impossible.

Classification of persons is one possible response to the deadlock of annihilating, reciprocal deceit. Andreas distinguished honorable, praiseworthy women from other women:

I do not state all this with the intention of detracting from honourable women as a class, but out of eagerness to rebuke the lives of those who do not blush basely to dishonour by their deeds the ranks of the venerable band of women and to debase them under the lying pretext of love. God forfend that we should ever wish or be able to make covert attacks on the deeds of praiseworthy women, or in this treatise detract from them in any sense. [6]

Drouart la Vache, who adapted De amore into French verse in 1290, distinguished between good and bad women. He declared that what he said applied only to bad women. Johann Hartlieb, who translated De amore into German about 1440, similarly distinguished between good and bad women.[7] In promoting his French translation and refutation of the Latin Lamentationes Matheoluli about 1385, Jehan Le Fèvre did likewise.

Men’s distinctions between good and bad women in men’s protest are suspect. Sexed protest shouldn’t be necessary among good women and good men. As for bad women and bad men, few are likely to acknowledge themselves as bad. The distinction between good and bad persons in sexed protest tends to generate disjoint understandings of good men protesting bad women versus good women protesting bad men. In practice, distinguishing between good and bad women tends to be associated with men seeking to gain the good will and support of powerful women.

De amore hints at an alternative to classifying persons as good and bad in responding to men’s sexed protest. Andreas began his recital of women’s vices with lack of reciprocity in love:

You could never find the reciprocal love you look for in a woman. No women ever loved her husband, nor can she ever bind herself to a lover with a reciprocal bond of love. [8]

Andreas ended his recital of themes from the literature of men’s sexed protest with a similar lament for love:

For a woman does not love with feelings from the heart. … no woman could be united in so close a bond of love to a partner that she does not begin to grow cold towards the usual consolations, and soon become a stranger to her partner once she gets no homage of presents to acknowledge. So it seems that no man of sense fittingly binds himself to a woman’s affection, because she never continues to reciprocate anyone’s love

Andreas’s outrageous, extreme recital of themes of men’s protest of women could easily generate hate for hate. At the same time, De amore’s ideology of men’s servitude to women in love is far from reciprocal. Jesus in the Gospels urges Christians to love their enemies.[9] De amore matches men’s love servitude to women with a challenge to women to love men who treat them as enemies.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] De amore 3.52-3, from Latin trans Walsh (1982) p. 303. All subsequent translations of De amore are from id., cited by page number.

[2] De amore 3.65-112, pp. 307-21. Book 3, from which this section comes, has received little serious critical analysis in the voluminous scholarship on De amore. For example, in more than 56 pages (pp. 84-5, 393-448) discussing De amore, Robertson (1962) devotes just over one page (p. 447) to Book 3.

[3] De amore 3.72, p. 309.

[4] De amore 1.6.500, p. 189. The man implicitly directed Genesis 3.6 at the woman:

it was the woman rather than the man who is first said to have served her belly against God’s command, and to have transgressed God’s orders through gluttony. And indeed the man himself would never have entered the service of the belly if he had not chanced first to be compelled to do so by the women’s excessive persuasion, deceived at her prompting.

1.6.499, p. 189. The woman responds that women are naturally “innocent and naive” and the male is “crafty and guileful in all things.” Therefore the devil approached the woman first.  According to the woman, the devil’s recognition of woman’s innocent and man’s guile explains the fall:

If the temptation had begun with the man and had been completely unsuccessful there, the woman’s resolve would have been strengthened by his example.

1.6.502, p. 191. This explanation partially shifts the blame for the fall to (not innocent) men.

[5] De amore 3.86, p. 313. The subsequent quote is 1.6.130, p. 77.

[6] De amore 1.9.19, p. 219.

[7] Wood (2015) pp. 121-3.

[8] De amore 3.65, p. 307. The subsequent quote is 3.110-2, p. 321.

[9] Matthew 5:43-4, Luke 6:27.

[image] King Otto IV of Brandenburg playing chess with a woman. Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, between 1305 and 1340. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 13r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Robertson, D. W. 1962. A preface to Chaucer; studies in medieval perspectives. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Walsh, P.G., trans. 1982. Andreas Capellanus on love {De amore}. London: Duckworth.

Wood, Lucas. 2015. “The Art of Clerkly Love: Drouart la Vache Translates Andreas Capellanus.” Pp. 113-49 iu Glei, Reinhold and Wolfgang Polleichtner, eds. 2015. Medievalia et humanistica: studies in medieval and renaissance culture. New series, number 40.

varieties of dread game in De amore (On love)

love scene: woman reading note from man

Dread game is a well-recognized technique in the modern empirical science of seduction. In the seduction literature, faking an extramarital affair is a standard prescription for a husband seeking to rekindle his wife’s sexual desire for him.[1] Dread game can be divided into two types: natural and supernatural. Natural dread game involves dread of losing a lover to another. Supernatural dread game involves dread of other-worldly punishment for not loving a person. Andreas Capellanus’s medieval treatise De amore (On love) indicates that in medieval Europe, natural dread game was more important than supernatural dread game.

Supernatural dread game is well-represented in the ancient, widely disseminated weeping-dog tale. To seduce a married woman reluctant to take on a lover, an old-woman go-between showed her a small dog weeping from being feed meat heavily peppered surreptitiously. The go-between explained that the weeping dog was a beautiful woman who had been transformed into a dog because she refused to accept a lover. The married woman, horrified with facing that fate, agreed to accept as lover the man who had hired the go-between.[2]

In De amore, a nobleman tried to run supernatural dread game on a noblewoman. After she rejected his proposition for sex, he declared, “Then hear the endless punishment awaiting you.”[3] He told the story of a squire who saw a procession of riders. Leading the procession was the god of Love. The god of Love rewards and punishes persons “depending on whether their achievements in life have been good or evil.” A beautiful woman riding an ugly, limping horse explained to the squire that the last group in the procession is women, like her, who refused all lovers. They are “the army of the dead”:

those who follow last of all in so mean an assemblage, walking along in miserable garments, deprived of any kind of assistance, and wearied with pains of every sort (you can clearly witness them with your own eyes, and I too have been thrust into their company), are the most pitiable of all women who during life closed the palace of Love on all who wished to enter, and refused to give answer according to their deserts even to those performing good deeds or seeking a motive or support from them for doing good. Instead they repulsed all who asked to serve in the army of Love; they rejected them as though they found them loathsome. They gave no thought to him who is called the god of Love, in whose army those who sought their love were striving to serve.  … Besides this punishment, we have been sentenced to many other kinds of torments which none could know unless schooled by experience. It would be impossible for me to tell them, and quite hard for you to hear them. So women still living in the world should beware not to become our partners in these punishments, for after death no repentance will avail them.

After this lesson in carpe diem, the woman guide showed the squire “greater and sterner punishment” for women who refused all lovers. These women rested in a place of Dryness:

each of the women was prepared there a seat on a bundle of thorns, which was always being rotated … so that the women were more painfully scratched by the points of the thorns, and their bare soles touched the red-hot earth. Such was the pain and suffering there that I can hardly believe it equalled amongst the very demons of Hell.

This depiction of topical torment in a supernatural realm wasn’t enough to prompt the noblewoman to rush to have sex with the tale-teller. She declared that she would test potential lovers for worthiness and accept only a worthy one.

De amore ascribes more effectiveness to natural compared to supernatural dread game. Natural dread game is based on jealousy. According to De amore, sexual jealousy is intrinsic to sexual love; jealousy “is of the nature of love itself and without which true love cannot exist.”[4] Moreover, jealousy increases love:

Love again experiences increase when genuine jealousy preoccupies one of the lovers, for jealousy is called the nurturer of love. In fact even if the lover is oppressed not by genuine jealousy but by base suspicions, love always increases because of it, and becomes more powerful by its own strength.

Jealousy is discussed throughout De amore. Three out of the thirty-one rules of love explicitly reference jealousy. De amore describes dread game in the context of testing love:

if a man wishes really to ascertain the good faith and affections of his lover, he should most circumspectly and skillfully pretend to his partner that he desires the embraces of another, and is beginning to visit her neighborhood more than usual. If he sees that his partner is upset because of this, he can assume that her love is secure, and that she is embedded in it with the utmost constancy. For when one of a pair of lovers suspects that the other is thriving on the embraces of a new love, or is contemplating some such, darts at once begin fiercely to assail her heart and mind, and to wound her inwardly with unbearable jealousy; and her face begins at once to show clearly her inner torment of mind.

The use of dread game for invigorating love isn’t explicitly described, but De amore clearly supports it. In De amore, supernatural dread game generates a skeptical, conditional response: “If your assertion is true … whether your account is true or false….”[5] Natural dread game, in contrast, is closely linked to the jealousy necessary for love.

Through false stereotypes of the Dark Ages, the cultural circumstances of medieval Europe have been deeply misunderstood. Shaping human behavior with supernatural understanding is much more difficult than shaping behavior with interpersonal schemes. For economically reinvigorating sexual love, dread game is men’s rational choice.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Dread game is much less effective for women to apply to men. Men are more likely to respond to dread game with anger and ejection from the relationship. The implications of gender asymmetry in parental knowledge for evolutionary psychology provides a plausible reason for sex asymmetry in effects of dread game.  In any case, women who engage in extra-pair sex should be concerned for secrecy. Secrecy is of considerable concern in De amore. See, e.g. 1.6.5-6, 1.6.269, 2.1.1, 2.8.46.

[2] The Lai du Trot, probably written only slightly before De amore, most likely was the source for the first part of the supernatural dread game in De amore. The Lai du Trot describes a procession of two groups on horseback. One group consists of one hundred and sixty happy alluring maidens with their elegantly dressed, beloved men. They all ride rapidly, smoothly, and happily on richly equipped horses. The other group consists of a hundred miserable maidens on poorly equipped, emaciated, weary horses moving in a slow, painful trot. A hundred men, as miserable as the maidens, follow unloved behind them. For the French text with English translation, Burgess & Brock (1999). Day 5, Story 8 (story of Nastagio degli Onesti) in Boccacio’s Decameron is an alternate version of supernatural dread game. Supernatural dread game is also known as the purgatory of cruel beauties. For discussion of other versions of supernatural dread game / purgatory of cruel beauties, Neilson (1900) and Battles (2003).

[3] De amore, 1.5.229, from Latin trans. Walsh (1982) p. 105.  The subsequent five quotes are from De amore 1.5.240-263, trans id. pp. 109-115.

[4] De amore 1.6.371, trans. id. p. 147. Similarly, De amore 1.6.377 and 1.6.399. The subsequent two quotes are from De amore 2.2.2, p. 229, and De amore 2.5.6-7, p. 237. On the latter, see the case ruling at De amore 2.7.6-8 (case 2), p. 253.

[5] De amore 1.6.276, id. p. 119.

[image] Woman and Alram von Gresten. Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, between 1305 and 1315. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 311r. Thanks to the University of Heidelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Battles, Paul. 2003. “In folly ripe, in reason rotten: The Flower and the Leaf and the ‘Purgatory of Cruel Beauties.'” Medium Aevum 72: 238-258.

Burgess, Glyn S., and Leslie C. Brook, trans. 1999. Three old French narrative lays: Trot, Lecheor, Nabaret. Liverpool: University of Liverpool, Department of French.

Neilson, William Allan. 1900. “The purgatory of cruel beauties: a note on the sources of the 8th novel of the 5th day of the Decameron.” Romania 29: 85-93.

Walsh, P.G., trans. 1982. Andreas Capellanus on love {De amore}. London: Duckworth.

De amore: Andreas Capellanus’s second-sophistic rhetoric

Andreas Capellanus, De amore

Amid scholastics engaging in dialectic and courtiers entertaining with romance in France about the year 1300, Andreas Capellanus created a work of attention-seeking rhetoric. He wrote a formally scholastic Latin treatise De amore (On love).[1] He leavened it with romance, parable, fabliau, and wisdom. Rhetoric in medieval Europe typically meant eloquence and sense of decorum. Andreas Capellanus’s De amore is ponderous and morally mixed.[2] Superficially learned and provocative, De amore is a unique work of second-sophistic rhetoric in high-medieval Europe.[3]

Consider, for example, De amore’s teaching concerning a common man seeking sexual love with a common woman. In this, the first of eight class-distinguished sections on approaching women, Andreas warns against greeting women in a way appropriate for harlots. That’s best interpreted as an in-joke among elite men with some Ovidian learning.[4] Andreas instructs men to allow the woman to speak first. Medieval literature recognized that women tend to be more socially talkative than men. Apart from harlots in the street, women are also less likely than men to initiate conversation with unknown, opposite-sex adults. Andreas’s teaching makes sense as amusing rhetoric, not literal teaching of scientific or practical knowledge.

Andreas deploys scholastic language as amusing rhetoric. He explains that, upon accosting a woman:

some men so lose their power of speech under the eyes of ladies that they forget those carefully devised remarks which they have arranged in the proper order of their minds, and they cannot develop the topic in its due order. [5]

Andreas thus describes trying to chat up a common woman with scholastic terms for an orator’s tasks. Underscoring learned distance from reality, Andreas further and inconsistently counsels:

only a bold, sagely instructed man should present himself for conversations with ladies

Andreas’s teaching plays on the surface of scholasticism in the incongruous field of heterosexual seduction.

Andreas also plays on the surface of courtly eloquence in the speech he prescribes for the common man. Imagine the common medieval man declaiming this speech to the common medieval woman:

When the divine Being fashioned you, he left himself with no further tasks. I see that your beauty is flawless, your wisdom also. No single quality in you remains imperfect, except that it seems to me that you enriched no man with your love. But I am most surprised that Love allows a woman so beautiful and so adorned with wisdom to soldier so long outside his camp. If only you begin to serve under Love’s banner, how happy above all others will he be whom you crown with your love! And if by my merits I were to deserve this great honour, no lover alive in the world could rightly be ranked with me. [6]

Men as different as the Roman lawyer Pliny the Younger and the nineteenth-century American philosopher William James addressed beloved women with solipsistic, self-degrading monologues. Andreas, in contrast, constructed a speech completely inconceivable and inappropriate for a commoner addressing a commoner. Andreas wasn’t writing in Latin for commoners. He wasn’t writing a systematic treatise of true knowledge or artful practice on how to chat up women. He was seeking the attention of clerical and courtly elites in their own languages.[7]

The distinction between pure and compounded love in De amore is matter of rhetoric rather than philosophy or ideology. De amore presents that distinction in the style of scholastic thought:

There exists such a thing as pure love, and that which is called compounded love. Pure love is that which joins the hearts of two lovers with universal feelings of affection. It embraces the contemplation of the mind and the feeling of the heart. It goes as far as kissing on the mouth, embracing with the arms, and chaste contact with the unclothed lover, but the final consolation is avoided …. By compounded love is meant that which affords its outlet to every pleasure of the flesh, ending in the final act of love. [8]

A man utters this love distinction in his wooing of a woman. Pretending that this distinction encompasses all possibilities for love, the man says to the woman:

I approve of both pure and compounded love, but the performance of acts of pure love pleases me more. So you should utterly shrug off empty fear, and choose one or other of the two loves.

The unstated love object for both types of love is the man. Moreover, engaging in “chaste contact with the unclothed lover” could easily lead to the compounding of sexual intercourse. Recognizing this obvious physiological reality, the woman states:

You utter words strange and unknown, words which one can scarcely account credible. I am startled that in any person such abstinence of the flesh has been observed, that a man was ever able to curb the onset of pleasure, and repress the motions of his body.

The woman works through the man’s rhetorical tactic in scholastic discourse. Modern readers have tended to interpret De amore’s distinction between “pure love” and “compounded love” as having great theoretical and practical significance.[9]  That’s a misunderstanding. Like “chaste contact with the unclothed lover,” the whole of De amore is rhetoric intended to attract attention.

Seeking attention differs from being funny or ironic. In addition to the apparent contrast between its first two books and its third, De amore has “a great many smaller, more local discrepancies and inconsistencies.”[10] Many are neither funny nor plausibly ironic. Some seem too obvious to be unintentional mistakes.[11] Andreas seems to create for readers opportunities to gain self-esteem through perceiving wrongs in his text. Such perceptions would prompt social communication about the work. That’s a shrewd strategy for attracting attention.

De amore takes for granted men’s subordination to women while angling for attention. Among Andreas’s “chief precepts of love” is this:

Be obedient to mistresses’ commands in all things, and always be eager to join the service of Love. [12]

That teaching is appropriate only for masochists and slave-men. While medieval misunderstanding of chivalry normalized men’s love servitude, some men rejected servitude and gender abasement. Andreas also gave voice to their view:

The lover {the man who loves a woman} is in the bonds of arduous serfdom … The lover fears to do or to say anything which could result in his co-lover {coamantis} being roused to anger for some reason, or being enraged on some pretext. Who, then, reveals himself such a fool and madman as to try to obtain what forces him with oppressive serfdom to subject himself to another’s dominion, and to be wholly tied to another’s will in all things? [13]

Andreas playfully obscures that love serfdom is, in current academic cant, “highly gendered.” Among the “co-lovers,” the man is the serf and the woman is the lord. In medieval times, just as today, some persons accepted love servitude, and some didn’t. The individual books of De amore are unified in Andreas’s intention to attract the attention of love slaves and love masters, clerics and courtiers, elite men and elite women.

In constructing a case concerning men’s love servitude, Andreas created a controversia that Seneca the Elder would have appreciated. Here’s the hypothetical case:

A certain man was head over heels in love with a lady, and began to concern himself with her obsessively. When the woman saw him so anxious for her love, she utterly refused it to him. But seeing him none the less preoccupied with longing for her love, one day she made this proposal to him: “I am truly aware that you have toiled for my love for quite a long time. But you will never be able to obtain it unless you are first willing to bind yourself with a firm promise to obey all my commands for ever, and to consent to be utterly deprived of my love if you contravene them in any way.” [14]

The man, acting as the woman-serving lover of European romance, agreed to do whatever the woman commanded:

My lady, God forfend that I should ever stray so far as to be found opposing your commands in any way. So I gladly comply with your request as a task most congenial to me.

The woman cleverly responded with a blow-off command:

Then the woman at once commanded him not to toil further for her love, nor to presume to sing her praises in the company of others.

The abject soldier of love soldiered on:

Though this was a most heavy blow, the lover patiently endured it.

He was rewarded for this blow with an opportunity to act as a white knight and champion of his lady:

One day, when this lover was sitting with other knights in the sight of some ladies, he heard his comrades speak very disparagingly of his lady, unjustly slandering her reputation in their gossip, quite unfairly and improperly. At first the lover reluctantly forbore as he observed them lingering further in depreciating the reputation of that lady, but then he attacked them harshly with words of rebuke. He began to to refute their insults as a man should and to defend the reputation of his lady.

The woman repulsed the white-knighting omega-man:

When this reached the ears of the lady concerned, she said that he should be wholly deprived of her love because by harping on her praises he had contravened her commands.

That’s the case set-up in De Amore. It’s the first of twenty-one vignettes setting up “various judgments on love.” These aren’t substantial matters for courts of love, real or imaginary.[15] They are cases like the cases of Seneca the Elder’s Controversiae. They indicate sophistic attention-seeking.

The case question is about the woman. The question or quarrel is always about women in gynocentric society. Did the woman act rightly? Because women are the most important judges in society, that’s for a woman to decide.[16] The Countess of Champagne decided:

She said that such a lady was too harsh in her command …. This lover committed no sin by trying to refute by proper correction those who blasphemed against his lady.

Even when men are falsely stereotyped as rapists, imprisoned for doing nothing more than having sex and being poor, deprived by design in concern for equality in lifespans, and designated under law as a class to die for their country, men should attack harshly those who “blaspheme” women. That’s a lesson in rhetoric, not teaching about love.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] De amore can with good reason be regarded as having been written in the 1180s in Marie de Champagne’s court in Troyes, France. Walsh (1982) pp. 2-3. Dronke argues that composition in the 1230s is “far more probable than the 1180s.” He also argues that De amore was composed in the royal court in Paris. Dronke (1994) pp. 55-6.

De amore 1.6.385 refers to its author as “the lover Andreas, chaplain {capellanus} to the royal court.” A character named Andreas of Paris apparently was the hero of a lost vernacular romance know about the time De amore was written. Moreover, capellanus may mean “votary” rather than “chaplain.” The name Andreas Capallenus may thus be a clever reference to the lost vernacular romance of Andreas of Paris and the Queen of France. Dronke (1994) p. 55. I refer to the author as Andreas Capellanus only conventionally.

De amore has influentially been described as “one of those capital works which reflect the thought of a great epoch, which explains the secret of a civilization.” Parry (1941) p. 2, quoting in translation Robert Bossuat. That’s closer to true for De amore for the second sophistic (intellectual culture of the early Roman Empire) than for high medieval Europe. The idea that Andreas Capellanus codified the principles of courtly love continues to be taught today.

[2] De amore is famous for its rule that marriage is no excuse for not having an extramarital love affair. It also claims that sexual love cannot occur in marriage. Of equal significance is a noblewoman’s astonishingly indecorous statement to a love-seeking commoner:

Knights should be naturally endowed with slim, long calves and neat feet whose length exceeds their width as if moulded by a craftsman. I observe that your calves are on the contrary podgy, bulging, round and stunted, and your feet are as broad as long, and also gigantic.

De amore 1.6.140, from Latin trans. Walsh (1982) p. 79. For the last clause (et in immensum protractos), id. has “and gigantic to boot.” That jarring pun captures a stylistic aspect of the text, but it isn’t in the Latin.

[3] Monson (2005), Ch. 2, discusses medieval rhetoric versus dialectic with respect to De amore. In the influential definition of Boethius, dialectic seeks concessions from an adversary to establish shared understanding of truth. Rhetoric seeks to persuade a judge. In medieval European culture, rhetoric was subordinate to dialectic. Rhetorical concern focused on speaking eloquently. Id. pp. 44, 47-9, 66, 70.

In broader historical perspective, rhetoric can be a means for seeking attention from an impersonal public that “judges” by its allocation of attention. Here’s an insightful discussion of the difference between competition for acclaim and competition for attention. Andreas seems to me to have been engaged in rhetoric directed towards competition for attention.

Judging by surviving documents, De amore was successful in attracting attention over the long term. The first surviving reference to it is by Albertanus da Brescia in 1238. De amore was translated into French as the Livre d’Enanchet in 1252 or earlier. It had attracted enough attention to be condemned by Etienne Tempier, Bishop of Paris, in 1277. Drouart la Vache translated De amore again into French in 1290. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Andreas Capellanus through De amore became a well-known authority on courtly love. De amore has attracted a large amount of modern scholarly attention.

[4] Ovid, Ars amatoria, 1.343-450 (all women sexually eager); Amores 1.8.43 (the only chaste woman is one that hasn’t been propositioned). The Jealous Husband in the Romance of the Rose misandristically suggests that all men must pay for sex: “all you women are, will be, and have been whores, in fact or in desire.” Romance of the Rose, l. 9155-6, from French trans. Dahlberg (1995) p. 165.

[5] De amore 1.6.23 (including subsequent quote), from Latin trans. Walsh (1982) p. 47. “bene concepta recteque disposita denotes inventio and dispositio, the first two of the orator’s tasks. See Quintilian, Inst. Or. 3.3.1.” Id p. 46, n. 36. See also Monson (2005) pp. 54-5. Walsh (1982) provides the Latin text on facing pages to the English translation. All subsequent translations from De amore are from id., cited by page number. I’ve made some minor changes to the translations for clarity. The Latin text of De amore is available online. For an alternate English translation, Parry (1941). Some excerpts of De amore in English translation are available online. The excerpts and associated paratext obscure De amore’s overall rhetorical intention.

[6] De amore 1.6.26-7, pp. 47, 49.  The commoner is subsequently described as a tradesmen. De amore 1.11 shows contempt for farmers / peasants. It analogizes farmers to horses and mules. It tells men seeking sex with peasant women to use “rough embraces” and “some compulsion.” That doesn’t mean that men commonly raped peasant women, or that men weren’t punished for raping peasant women. Medieval scholars have understood rape in medieval literature no better than they have understood rape in the U.S. today.

Andreas seems to ridicule his own love teaching in describing love of peasants:

it is not appropriate to instruct them in love’s teaching, in case we find that men’s estates which are normally harvested by their toil tuns out unfruitful for us through negligence of the cultivator.

De amore 1.11.2, p. 223. In other words, if Andreas instructed peasants, they would become so engaged in having sex that they would neglect their field work. That’s ludicrous. The second level of humor is that field work, cultivating, and plowing is a medieval metaphor for having sex. The text also suggest that the peasants would stop having children if they sought love according to Andreas’s teaching. If Andreas actually taught peasants courtly love, peasant men probably would fail to have sex much more often.

[7] Robertson (1962), pp. 403-7, insightfully describes the sophistic quality of the first dialogue. That quality prevails throughout all three books of De amore. Monson (2005) suggests that Andreas Capellanus was a broadly learned cleric who failed to realize fully and consistently his enormous intellectual ambition in writing De amore. From my perspective, Andreas Capellanus’s intellectual ambition was that of a learned sophist seeking attention among diverse elites. He greatly succeeded in that intellectual ambition.

Cherniss (1975) states that De amore “was written as a comic mock treatise.” All three of its books are unified through “inflated, overdone, essentially comic treatments of literary materials which Andreas found ready to his hand.” Id. pp. 224, 237. Attempts to attract attention often appear comic from an external perspective. At the same time, being outrageous and even clownish, if done in a sophisticated way, can be a successful means for attracting attention. See note [15] below.

Drouart la Vache described himself as laughing with “enjoyment and approval” upon reading De amore. Wood (2015) p. 116, including relevant Drouart text, with English translation. Drouart also became interested enough in De amore to translate it into French verse. His claim that he can’t help but write verse doesn’t provide a credible explanation for him translating specifically De amore. Wood (2015) shows that Drouart rendered De amore “more univocally didactic” in support of clerics’ chaste love of worldly women. Id. p. 115. De amore effectively attracted Drouart’s attention. He, however, translated it with much less concern for attracting attention from diverse elites.

[8] De amore 1.6.470-1, p. 181 (from the eighth dialogue between a man of higher nobility and a woman of higher nobility). The subsequent two quotes are from 1.6.475, 476, p. 181. Walsh translates amor quidam est purus as “such a thing as chaste love,” and mixes use of “pure love” and “chaste love” for the same type of love. I’ve consistently used the terms “pure {purus} love” and “compounded {mixtus} love.” For “compounded love,” many scholars use the term “mixed love.” “Compounded love” seems to me a clearer and more witty translation.

[9] Monson (2005) pp. 62-3, 307-10, observes that the relevant exchange is highly rhetorical, but gives relatively little significance to rhetoric in interpreting De amore. Wood describes the man as a “seductive sophist” and a “lecherous sophist.” Wood (2015) pp. 136, 137. Wood insightfully observes:

the nobilior suitor is presented as an immensely resourceful rhetorician who turns verbal somersaults in an ultimately inconclusive effort to coax his interlocutor into bed.

Wood (2015) p. 135.  Drouart la Vache eliminated nearly all of the eighth dialogue in his more narrowly directed, more substantive adaptation of De amore. Id. pp. 136-7. Andreas Capellanus throughout De amore worked much like the suitor in the eight dialogue, but with the objective of bringing his text to the attention of diverse elites.

[10] Monson (2005) p. 161. Id. pp. 161-3 discusses some of these inconsistencies. Monson observes:

if he {Andreas} was trying to be funny or ironic, he went about it so clumsily that a great many people, from Bishop Tempier {condemning De amore in 1277} in to Donaldson {Professor E. Talbot Donaldson, writing about De amore in 1965}, have not got the joke.

Id. p. 164.

[11] Some examples: in the eight dialogue, the man inexplicable shifts from being a married man to being a cleric. Compare De amore 1.6.44 to 1.6.478, 481. In the enumeration of dialogues, Andreas inexplicably excludes a dialogue between a noble man and a woman of higher nobility. Andreas’s tripartite class structure is later revealed to exclude peasants and nuns. These “mistakes” seem to me too obvious to be unintentional. Andreas’s love for a nun (De amore 1.8.4-5) similarly seems like a mistake declared for rhetorical effect.

[12] De amore 1.6.269 (precept 7), p. 117. The woman of higher nobility advises the common man that as a lover:

He must not be a lover of several ladies simultaneously, but must be the dedicated slave of all women in the service of one.

De amore 1.6.155-6, p. 85. That assertion, which relatively few have questioned, is an astonishing testament to gynocentrism.

[13] De amore 3.14,17, p. 291. Showing unity across books, a noblewoman in Book 1 declared that men’s love service appears to her to be “the worst possible slavery, and a course to be avoided in all circumstances.” De amore 1.5.218, p. 103.

[14] De amore 2.7.1 (Case 1), p. 251. Subsequent quotes are also from Case 1, pp. 251, 253.

[15] Discussing at length De amore, an article in the Stanford Law Review declared:

While there is considerable controversy within the predominantly male professions of legal and literary history as to the reality of women’s courts and the jurisdiction of love, there is no doubt that the courts of love captured the medieval literary imagination. … Law has always produced and promoted legal fictions, and I contend that the courts of love, whether real or imagined, produced judgments as jurisprudentially relevant, and useful, as more traditional legal fictions.

Goodrich (1996) p. 636. Id. then incorporated in his discussion of De amore’s courts of love Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek, Freud, Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, Niklas Luhmanns, Jacque Derrida, recent French feminist jurisprudence, Anglo-American feminist legal theory, jurist Francine Demichel’s advocacy of sexually explicit rights, Jane Larson’s proposal for a tort of sexual deceit, the psychoanalytically informed jurisprudence of American theorist Drucilla Cornell, and a variety of other tokens of elite interest. Read with understanding, id. provides considerable insight into what Andreas Capellanus was doing in De Amore.

[16] On two key questions of love, a man of higher nobility declared:

I should like to abide by the judgment of a woman, not a man.

De Amore 1.6.388, p. 153. The noble lady agreed and selected as judge the Countess of Champagne.

[image] Poet-knight serving lady. Der Schenk von Limpurg (either Walther I, fl. 1230s-1240s, or one of his sons, Walther II or Konrad I). Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, between 1305 and 1315. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 82v. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Cherniss, Michael D. 1975. “The Literary Comedy of Andreas Capellanus.” Modern Philology. 72(3): 223-237.

Dahlberg, Charles, trans. 1995.  Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. The Romance of the Rose. 3rd ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Dronke, Peter. 2008. “‘Andreas Capellanus.'” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 4(1): 51-63.

Goodrich, Peter. 1996. “Law in the Courts of Love: Andreas Capellanus and the Judgments of Love.” Stanford Law Review. 48 (3): 633-675.

Monson, Don A. 2005. Andreas Capellanus, scholasticism, & the courtly tradition. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.

Parry, John Jay. 1941. The Art of courtly love {De amore}: with introduction, translation, and notes. New York: Ungar.

Robertson, D. W. 1962. A preface to Chaucer; studies in medieval perspectives. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Walsh, P.G., trans. 1982. Andreas Capellanus on love {De amore}. London: Duckworth.

Wood, Lucas. 2015. “The Art of Clerkly Love: Drouart la Vache Translates Andreas Capellanus.” Pp. 113-49 iu Glei, Reinhold and Wolfgang Polleichtner, eds. 2015. Medievalia et humanistica: studies in medieval and renaissance culture. New series, number 40.

contract & fraud irrelevant to forced financial fatherhood

sacrifice of men's lives

Under U.S. law, men are subject to forced financial fatherhood. Forced financial fatherhood for one child typically claims about 25% of a man’s income for at least eighteen years under the deceptive label “child support.” U.S. courts have forced financial fatherhood upon a man even against a written preconception contract assuring the unmarried man simple sexual freedom. U.S. courts have forced financial fatherhood upon a man even when the man became a biological father as a result of the mother’s fraud against him. U.S. courts have forced financial fatherhood upon men who have become biological fathers as a result of being raped. Such actions under law indicate deeply entrenched anti-men gender bias. Lack of public concern about forced financial fatherhood and men’s lack of reproductive rights exemplifies social devaluation of men’s lives.[1]

Consider the case of Budnick v. Silverman (2002). In Florida in 1987, Tamara Budnick and Frederick Silverman signed a formal, written preconception agreement (contract). Budnick wanted Silverman to provide her with his sperm through heterosexual intercourse of reproductive type. Their preconception agreement stated that if a conception occurred following their sexual activity:

  1. Budnick would pay any expenses associated with that conception.
  2. If Budnick didn’t abort the conception, legally abandon the child under “safe haven” laws for mothers, or give up the child for adoption, she would be the sole custodian of the child.
  3. Budnick agreed not to place Silverman’s name on the child’s birth certificate.
  4. Budnick agreed not to tell anyone that Silverman was the child’s father.
  5. Budnick agreed not to seek monthly payments from Silverman under “child support” law. [2]

Both parties agreed that if Budnick violated her commitments under the contract, Silverman would be given the choice to have full, permanent physical custody of the child. In reliance on this agreement, Silverman had sexual intercourse with Budnick. In 1989, Budnick gave birth to a child.

Ten years later, Budnick sought monthly payments (“child support”) from Silverman. A Florida District Court of Appeals voided Budnick and Silverman’s preconception agreement and awarded Budnick monthly payments from Silverman. Silverman’s attempt to establish by contract simple male freedom to engage in penis-in-vagina intercourse failed. Silverman’s personal, intimate, consensual ejaculation of sperm into Budnick’s vagina led to the court imposing upon him a large, long-term financial burden in defiance of a written contract that both parties had relied on for a decade.

The court justified forcing financial fatherhood upon Silverman in part through well-established paths of obfuscation. The court declared:

The rights of support and meaningful relationship belong to the child, not the parent; therefore, neither parent can bargain away those rights.

Courts regularly deprive fathers of meaningful relationships with their children through discriminatory child custody decisions. Those decisions commonly reduce fathers to wallets and visitors to their child at the will of the child’s mother. Moreover, the right to receive “child support” is the custodial parent’s right. The custodial parent has no legal obligations to spend “child support” income on supporting the child. The size of “child support” payments varies directly not with the child’s need for support, but with the non-custodial parent’s income. Many children in the U.S. live in poverty. Many children in the U.S., particularly African-American children, lack a meaningful relationship with their father. Children don’t have effective rights to even poverty-level financial support and a meaningful relationship with their father.

The court in Budnick v. Silverman also exploited the all-purpose “best interests of the child” claim. The court declared:

The total abdication of parental responsibility present in the instant Preconception Agreement cannot be said to protect the best interests of the child.

After conception, women can totally abdicate parental responsibility by having an abortion. Making a “best interests of the child” claim against an adult’s choice about whether to become a parent shows that nothing limits “best interests of the child” claims. With equal justification, courts could impose payments on grandparents to support the “best interests of the child.” Or why not impose payments on a whole village?[3]

To explain how sperm donation differs from Budnick and Silverman’s agreement, the court drew a technological distinction. Sperm donation involves a man ejaculating in a cup. Silverman, in contrast, ejaculated in Budnick’s vagina. The court explained that the penis-in-vagina procedure cannot qualify as a means for sperm donation because it “has been around long enough so that it does not constitute ‘reproductive technology.’” Along this line of reasoning, perhaps the wheel doesn’t constitute transportation technology, nor fire cooking technology.

A particularly astonishing aspect of Budnick v. Silverman is that the court voided the preconception agreement after the parties had relied on it for a decade. Silverman, in accordance with that contract, didn’t establish any meaningful relationship with the child. That deprivation of a meaningful relationship with the child didn’t matter to the court. The point of the preconception agreement was to foreclose a claim for child support. That court interpreted that effort as evidence that such a claim could occur despite the contract. Apparently to avoid challenges to that peculiar interpretation of laches, the court added:

Furthermore, time alone is not enough to establish a claim on the doctrine of laches.

The court thus tore up a preconception agreement that the parties had relied on, with great significance, for a decade. The court seems to have been determined to force financial fatherhood upon Silverman.

Forced financial fatherhood shows social support for transferring resources from men to women even under fraud. In L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. (1983), a lower court found that Pamela had conceived a child through purposefully misrepresenting to Frank that she was using contraceptives. The lower court ordered that Frank make monthly payments to Pamela “only in the amount by which the mother’s means were insufficient to meet the child’s needs.” The lower court thus imposed on Frank a needs-based obligation to support the welfare of Pamela’s child.[4]

An appellate court, however, ruled that Pamela’s fraud didn’t provide grounds for limiting Frank’s payments to her to the level necessary to meet her child’s needs. The appellate court ruled that Pamela, despite her fraud, was legally entitled to payments directly related to Frank’s income. The lack of connection between Frank’s income and the needs of the child appears in the appellate courts’ arbitrary conjunctions. A lower appellate court ruling on L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. declared:

the only factors to be considered by Family Court in fixing an award of child support are the needs of the child and the means of the parents

A higher appellate court affirmed:

The primary purpose of establishing paternity is to ensure that adequate provision will be made for the child’s needs, in accordance with the means of the parents.

The father as financial provider is a gender stereotype deeply entrenched in culture and law. L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. makes clear that the biological father is legally required not only to be financial provider to the child, but also financial provider to the mother.

Forced financial fatherhood is effectively gender-targeted financial punishment of men for having sex. In L. Pamela P. v. Frank S, “adequate provision … for the child’s needs, in accordance with the means of the parents” doesn’t mean payments from the biological father to the mother “in the amount by which the mother’s means were insufficient to meet the child’s needs.” Higher payments, based on the income level of the man who had sex, must be made to the mother. Why must those payments be made to the mother? Why must those payments be made to the mother after she committed fraud against the man who had sex with her? Why are such payments called “child support”? Such payments are best understood as government-imposed, income-based sex payments from men to women in accordance with deeply entrenched stereotypes of men as material providers.[5]

Forced financial fatherhood is clearly gender-biased. In Wallis v. Smith (2001), Smith represented to Wallis that she was taking birth-control pills. Based on that representation, Wallis agreed to engage in penis-in-vagina sex with Smith. Their sexual intercourse resulted in a conception that Smith brought to term. She established herself as mother of the child and sought monthly, income-based payments (“child support”) from Wallis. A court required Wallis to make such child support payments. Wallis then sued Smith for monetary damages resulting from her misrepresentation.

An appellate court denied Wallis claim for monetary damages for fraudulently forced financial fatherhood. Reviewing cases of damages associated with a pregnancy, the court distinguished cases involving damages to women from cases involving damages to men. The court cited the case of a woman awarded damages for an ectopic pregnancy resulting from sex with a man who represented that he was infertile.[6] The court also cited the case of a woman awarded the costs of an abortion and related expenses for a pregnancy resulting from sex with a man who represented that he was sterile.[7] A related, older line of cases award women damages for contacting venereal disease following a male sex partner’s misrepresentation of the risk of disease from sex with him.[8]

The sex structure in another cited case is more subtle. In Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez (1991), a court award damages to a woman-man couple (Mrs. and Mr. Mendez). They had a child following a medical center’s faulty tubal ligation of Mrs. Mendez. The court explained:

it is virtually undisputed that some elements of damages are compensable for this tort—e.g., Mrs. Mendez’s pain and suffering associated with her pregnancy and Joseph’s birth; the cost of a subsequent sterilization; and her expenses, including lost wages, associated with the pregnancy and the birth. To be sure, the most controversial item of claimed damage—the cost of raising Joseph to adulthood—is the critical issue in this case; but it is an issue primarily involving quantification of the plaintiff’s loss. [9]

Damages sex-limited to woman aren’t controversial. The controversial item is damage payments associated with cost-based child support. The court further explained:

Mrs. Mendez’s injury — indeed, the injury of both Mr. and Mrs. Mendez — can probably be described in various ways ….

Applying this analysis to Mr. and Mrs. Mendez’s situation following her unsuccessful sterilization operation, we believe the couple suffered at least two forms of harm. First, as indicated previously, Mrs. Mendez remained fertile despite her desire to be infertile. From the standpoint of the couple, their desire to limit the size of their family—to procreate no further—was frustrated. Within the Restatement’s definition of harm, this was a loss or detriment to them.

Second, their interest in financial security—in the economic stability of their family—was impaired. The undesired costs of raising another child to adulthood—costs which they had striven to avoid and had engaged Lovelace {a medical service provider} to help them avert— were suddenly thrust upon them. This was a detriment to their pecuniary advantage— i.e., harm.

Forced financial fatherhood imposes similar harm on men. But the court seems to have been reluctant to mention men. Reasoning further about the nature of the damage, the court again focused on women:

A professional woman, for example, might seek sterilization for a reason unrelated to financial hardship. However, if a negligently performed sterilization results in an unexpected birth, her financial situation and even long-term prospects may abruptly change.

For poor men, the effect of unplanned parenthood can be incarceration. The Wallis court distinguished Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez as not involving inter-parental liability. In other words, Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez doesn’t have implications for forced financial fatherhood because it doesn’t involve forced financial fatherhood. That’s legal rationalization, not legal reasoning.

What actually distinguishes Wallis v. Smith from cases awarding damages to women and couples is reproductive damages to men. Women have reproductive rights based on judicial reasoning about fundamental constitutional rights. Men have no reproductive rights whatsoever. Ignoring that stark and highly significant gender inequality, the Wallis court further obscured gender bias:

we hold that the actions asserted here {claim for damages from fraudulently forced financial fatherhood} cannot be used to recoup the financial obligations of raising a child. We emphasize that this holding is gender neutral insofar as it precludes a monetary reimbursement for child support.

Eight times more men than women are subject to “child support” payments. Child support law is no more gender neutral than is sexist Selective Service registration.

Men have relatively poor contraceptive options. Men have no reproductive rights. Men are subject to socially constructed paternity ignorance, state-institutionalized cuckolding procedures for paternity establishment, and forced financial fatherhood. Revealing deep gender bias, these outrageous injustices are matters of almost no public concern.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Devaluation of fatherhood is readily apparent in relevant law review articles. Consider, for example, this claim:

notwithstanding paternity doctrine, blood has little to do with one’s status as father. What matters instead is one’s relationship with the mother.

Baker (2004) p. 2. Biological fatherhood is sufficient under law to impose forced financial fatherhood on a man who has had no meaningful relationship with the child. Claiming that what matters for fatherhood is the man’s relationship to the mother, rather than to the child, makes men parentally subordinate to women. With astonishing sophism, id. essentializes the biology of having a womb while claiming that parenthood isn’t about biology. The effect is to essentialize female privilege in reproduction.

Hatcher (2013) describes the extent to which low-income fathers are deprived of meaningful relationships with their children. Id. condemns essentialized fatherhood, but says nothing about essentialized motherhood. Moreover, institutionalized misrepresentation of paternity, lack of concern to achieve gender equality in knowledge of biological offspring, and gender discrimination in child custody and child support decisions are injustices that all men suffer.

[2] Case details from Budnick v. Silverman, 805 So. 2d 1112 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. (2002).

[3] A large share of “child support” payments are paid to the state as offsets to welfare payments to custodial mothers. The best interests of the child obviously would involve child support payments going to children, rather than to the state treasury. Hatcher (2007). In reality, the “best interests of the child” is merely emotive rationalization for policies that effectively transfer money from men to women.

[4] The descriptions of the various courts’ actions in L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. are from In the matter of L. Pamela P. v. Frank S., 59 NY 2d 1 – NY: Court of Appeals (1983).

[5] Fathers’ support for children in practice involves much more than providing money. Equating “child support” with paying money has been particularly damaging to low-income African-American fathers. Maldonado (2006).

[6] Barbara A. v. John G., 145 Cal. App. 3d 369 – Cal: Court of Appeal, 1st Appellate Dist., 3rd Div. (1983).

[7] In the matter of Alice D. v. William M., 113 Misc. 2d 940 – NY: City Court, Civil Court (1982).

[8] De Vall v. Strunk (Tex.Civ.App. 1936) 96 S.W.2d 245; Crowell v. Crowell (1920) 180 N.C. 516 {105 S.E. 206}; State v. Lankford (1917) 29 Del. 594 {102 A. 63}.

[9] All the subsequent quotes above are from the opinion in Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez, 805 P. 2d 603 – NM: Supreme Court (1991).

[image] Sacrifice of men’s lives: dead men on the battlefield of Gettysburg after first day’s battle. Thanks to the Library of Congress.


Baker, Katharine K. 2004. “Bargaining or Biology – The History and Future of Paternity Law and Parental Status.” Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy 14(1): 1-69.

Hatcher, David L. 2007. “Child Support Harming Children: Subordinating the Best Interests of Children to the Fiscal Interests of the State.” Wake Forest Law Review. 42 (4): 1029-1086.

Hatcher, Daniel L. 2013. “Forgotten Fathers.” Boston University Law Review 93: 897-920. University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-07.

Maldonado, Solangel. 2006. “Deadbeat or Deadbroke: Redefining Child Support for Poor Fathers.” University of California Davis Law Review. 39 (3): 991-1022.