De coniuge non ducenda: angels save Gawain from marriage

Gawain tempted by wife of Bercilak de Hautedesert: De coniuge non ducenda!

Sometimes your friends really aren’t looking out for your best interests. Especially if they’re married, and they’re urging you to marry. De coniuge non ducenda, a Latin work of men’s sex protest written between 1225 and 1250, tells how three angels saved Gawain from marriage.

The married men who were Gawain’s friends didn’t act like angels. They instead sought company to the end of their miserable days. Gawain easily could have joined them:

And all these made wild,
By women that they used.
Though I be now beguiled,
I think I might be excused. [1]

Gawain explained:

I once had planned to take a wife
(To follow others’ wretched life),
A tender, juicy, winsome maid —
By her alone my heart was swayed.

Some friends advised me on the spot
To run and tie the nuptial knot
(“The married life’s the way for you!”),
To join me in their woeful crew.

My hasty wedding they did press
To cheer their gloom by my distress,
But through three angels all was well:
God snatched me from the gates of hell. [2]

Gawain’s vigorous, celebrated knightly life could have ended with a lament like that of Matheolus in a Latin work of the late-thirteenth century:

Just as I, though sad, am less disturbed in marriage
Because my fellow husbands provide solace in their misery.
Oh, single life! Be sad that single life ends in sadness
Increased only because it is allowed to end. [3]

What made all the difference was the appearance of three angels. Just as three angels appeared to Abraham at Mamre, so too three angels came to Gawain at Mamre.[4] Is anything too wonderful for the Lord?

One angel was Peter of Corbeil, elevated to archbishop of Sens in 1200. Courtly poets described abstractly men’s love servitude to women. Peter of Corbeil described the life of the ordinary, married working man:

Who takes a wife a millstone ties
around his neck until he dies.
The wife commands, the man obeys;
He once was free, but slave he stays.

His work piles up in rows and rows;
Where one job ends, another grows.
The man’s an ass pricked on by spur
To feed the brats produced by her. [5]

Patriarchy is a hateful fiction beguiling foolish students. Husbands have long lacked equal opportunities with wives to withdraw from paid work. The angel Peter proclaims, “Let Gawain shun the married life!”

The second angel was Lawrence. He was probably the poet Lawrence, prior of Durham, who died in 1154. Lawrence explained how biological inequality in parental knowledge works to oppress men:

So rancour grips the married male
Who keeps a wife who’s up for sale.
He names as heir another’s brat
And feeds what someone else begat.

Thus bitter grief and shame begin —
The child that’s been conceived in sin.
Its mother knows its bastard line,
The foolish husband says, “It’s mine.”

Under English common law, a child born within a marriage is indisputably presumed to be the husband’s responsibility. Thus a New York court in 1975 ruled that a prisoner was the father of four children his wife had while he was securely locked away from her in prison. The angel Lawrence proclaims, “Let Gawain therefore wife eschew!”

The third angel was John Chrysostom. Known in the ancient world as the golden-mouthed, with God’s grace he spoke harsh truth to men:

A married man’s a slave for sure,
His flesh and spirit pain endure —
Like ox from market homeward led
To work the plough until he’s dead.

Who takes a wife accepts a yoke;
Not knowing pain, with pain he’ll choke.
Who takes a wife, himself is caught
And to eternal serfdom brought.

A wife’s demands are always met;
If not, she’ll quarrel, rage and fret.
The noise defeats the patient spouse;
He yields to her and quits the house.

Is it any wonder that men’s lifespan is on average shorter than women’s? Some say that’s because men prefer to die than remain married. In truth, the matter hasn’t been seriously investigated. International authorities don’t care about gender inequality in lifespan that shortchanges men. The angel John advises, “If wise, then marriage you’ll forbear!”

Marriage is a foolish game in which a wife is entitled to swing a legal axe at her husband’s neck. There is no equal exchange under gynocentric law. When the axe strikes the husband’s neck, his head will be severed from his body. It will never re-attach. Gawain had magic that Merlin lacked. But magic didn’t save Gawain’s neck. Against the selfish advice of his married friends, the Holy Trinity of angels Peter, Lawrence, and John interceded on Gawain’s behalf. Give thanks and glory to them!

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

[1] Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ll. 2425-9, close translation from Middle English by Benson (2012) p. 179. Like the bookish scholar, the knight Gawain learned from experience of the superior wiles of women. The verse romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was probably written in the latter half of the fourteenth century. Surviving only in one manuscript (British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x.), it’s written in an English dialect associated with Cheshire (northwestern England). On Gawain’s relation to the literature of men’s sexed protest, Dove (1972).

[2] De coniuge non ducenda I2-I4, from Latin trans. Rigg (1986) pp. 67-9. A Latin text is freely available online in Wright (1841) pp. 77-85. De coniuge non ducenda survives in 55 Latin manuscripts. Considerable variation among manuscripts suggests transmission through scribal memory. Rigg’s text is based mainly on the manuscript Cambridge, Corpus Christi College MS 450, dating from about 1310. Rigg chose it to represent the best-known and earliest form of the work. Id. pp. 1, 61. Like Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, De coniuge non ducenda encompasses realistic descriptions of mundane, non-bookish activities.

A French version of De coniuge non ducenda exists in the Harley 2253 manuscript as Article 83, De Mal Mariage (Against Marriage). Fein (2014). The Harley version, which is less sophisticated than Andreas Capellenus’s De amore, inserts qualifiers limiting claims to “bad women” and “bad marriages.” Another French version, Douce 210, lacks those qualifiers. Dove (2000) p. 341. There’s also a Middle English version of De coniurge non ducenda attributed to John Lydgate and entitled Payne and Sorowe of Evyll Maryage. Salisbury (2002).

De coniuge non ducenda is part of the Latin tradition of men’s sex protest that encompasses Juvenal’s Satire 6, Jerome’s Golden Book on Marriage attributed to Theophrastus, Walter Map’s Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum, and Lamentationes Matheoluli. Rigg (1986), pp. 101-2, outlines parallels between De coniuge non ducenda and Lamentationes Matheoluli. He argues that the former, written in the second quarter of the thirteenth century, influenced the the latter, written about 1290.

[3] Lamentationes Matheoluli ll. 326-9, my translation from the Latin text of Van Hamel (1892) vol. 1, p. 23:

Sicut ego, tristis, minus hinc conturbor in istis;
Ut socios habeant solacia sunt miserorum.
Ve solis! doleant, quia solis puncta dolorum
Augmentatur eo quod eam soli paciuntur.

[4] On the three angels appearing to Abraham at Mamre, Genesis 18:1-15.

[5] De coniuge non ducenda P2-P3, trans. Rigg (1986) p. 73. The subsequent quotes are from id. pp. 79-99. Kuczynski (2000) reports:

one nineteenth-century reader of De conjuge non ducenda (no. 83), one of Harley’s antifeminist diatribes, spoke for many when he scrawled above the title of the Latin text in a book at the Tulane University Library, “A brutal piece of Monkish foulness, worse than any Classical smittishness. Luther is here justified.”

Id. p. 141. Rigg (1986), in contrast, observes that De coniuge {conjuge} non ducenda is “a cheerful poem and not very serious.” The poem’s assertions:

stress not the obstacles that marriage poses to the scholar or cleric but the disadvantages for the ordinary working man. … the context is an ordinary working man’s household, beset above all by financial worries.

Id. preface, p. 4. Men’s burdens historically have tended to be disparaged and depreciated.

[image] Wife of Bercilak de Hautedesert attempts to seduce Gawain in bed. Illumination detail from f. 125/129 recto from British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x, the only surviving manuscript of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Thanks to the Cotton Nero A.x. Project.


Benson, Larry Dean, trans. 2012. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: a close verse translation. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

Dove, Mary. 1972. “Gawain and the Blasme des Femmes Tradition.” Medium Aevum 41: 20-26.

Dove, Mary. 2000. “Evading textual intimacy: the French secular verse.” Pp. 329 – 349 in Fein, Susanna Greer. 2000. Studies in the Harley manuscript: the scribes, contents, and social contexts of British Library MS Harley 2253. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Fein, Susanna, ed. with David B. Raybin, and Jan M. Ziolkowski, trans. 2014. The complete Harley 2253 Manuscript (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Kuczynski, Michael P. 2000. “An ‘electric stream’: the religious contents.” Pp. 123-161 in Fein, Susanna Greer. 2000. Studies in the Harley manuscript.

Rigg, A. G. 1986. Gawain on marriage: the textual tradition of the De coniuge non ducenda with critical edition and translation. Toronto, Ont., Canada: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Salisbury, Eve. 2002. The trials and joys of marriage. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Van Hamel, Anton Gerard, ed. 1892. Mathéolus, Jean Le Fèvre. Les lamentations de Mathéolus et le livre de leesce de Jehan Le Fèvre, de Ressons: poèmes français du XIVe siècle. Paris: Bouillon.

Wright, Thomas, ed. 1841. The Latin poems commonly attributed to Walter Mapes. London: Printed for the Camden Society, by J.B. Nichols and Son.

medieval life expectancy: gender difference through history

medieval chivalry greatly reduced men's life expectancy relative to women's

In England, homicides per capita fell roughly by a factor of thirty from the fourteenth-century to the late twentieth century.[1] This progress of civilization wasn’t associated with a secular reduction in gender inequality in life expectancy. Elite men’s life expectancy in medieval England was perhaps nine years less than elite women’s. Men achieved near equality with women in life expectancy in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. But men’s lifespan shortfall subsequently grew to about five years in late-twentieth-century England. These facts of gender difference in life expectancy are largely unknown. Reducing gender inequality that disfavors men has never been of public concern. Whether that anti-men bias continues may determine the future of civilization.

Violence against men in late medieval England made men’s life expectancy much less than women’s. The best available data are for the legitimate offspring of British kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses. For such persons born from 1330 to 1479, men’s and women’s expected additional years of life at age twenty were 21.7 years and 31.1 years, respectively. Men at age twenty thus expected to have 9.4 less additional years of life than women had. The share of violent deaths to all deaths for men ages 15 and older was 46%.  If men dying from violence are excluded from the life-expectancy calculation, men and women at age twenty had nearly the same expected additional years of life.[2] Violence against men in medieval England explains why men expected to have much shorter lives than women did.

Men probably had much shorter life expectancy than women did across late medieval Europe. The sparse available evidence indicates that the male/female ratio of homicide victims was 13, 7, and 3, in the thirteenth-to-sixteenth centuries, the seventeenth century, and the eighteenth century, respectively.[3] The leading scholar of long-term historical trends in homicide observed:

Generally, the shift toward lower homicide rates appears to have been primarily — but not exclusively — a drop in male-to-male violent encounters. [4]

Violence has always been vastly disproportionately directed against men.[5] Homicidal violence was high enough in medieval Europe to be a considerable factor in life expectancy. These facts imply that medieval European men had a considerable life-expectancy shortfall relative to women.[6]

During the European Age of Enlightenment of the seventeenth and eighteenth century, women and men apparently had nearly equal lifespans. Life expectancy calculated from English parish registers indicates that males had roughly a half-year advantage in life expectancy on average across the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.[7] The experience of the Age of Enlightenment makes clear that there is nothing natural or inevitable about men suffering relatively short life expectancy. Use of reason in pursuing social reform can promote gender equality in the most fundamental dimension: gender equality in life expectancy.

The growth of men’s life expectancy shortfall from the early nineteenth century to the late twentieth century probably reflects men’s historically disproportionate burden of financially supporting families. In England, excluding decades of world wars, men’s life expectancy shortfall peaked at 6.2 years in the 1970s.[8] In the U.S., men’s life expectancy shortfall peaked at 7.7 years about 1970. Subsequent movement toward gender equality in life expectancy is plausibly associated with women’s greater participation in the paid labor force, particularly in highly stressful jobs previously associated with men.

Much work remains to be done to achieve gender equality in life expectancy.  Men continue to face enormous gender discrimination in family court decisions. Men continue to be deprived of equal opportunities with women to withdraw temporarily or permanently from the paid workforce and be financially supported by their partners or spouses. The effects of gender inequality can be measured ultimately in life. In England and the U.S., men currently fall about four years short in life expectancy relative to women. The long shadow of medieval chivalry remains in devaluing men’s lives to this day.[9]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Data: workbook on female and male life expectancy at birth in medieval Europe to the present (Excel version)


[1] Eisner (2003) p. 96, Fig. 3:

homicide per capita in England from Middle Ages to present

Cf. Pinker (2011) p. 61, Fig. 3-2, “Source: Graph from Eisner, 2003.”

[2] Hollingsworth (1957) pp. 10, 8. Life expectancy at birth was 24.0 years for males and 32.9 years for females. The full time-series data are available in the life-expectancy gender trend worksheet.

In documenting medieval English mortality, Clark (2007), Table 6.2 p. 122, has an imprecise population description (“English aristocrats”) and an incorrect source citation. Table 6.2’s data on life expectancy at birth are for British kings, queens, dukes, and duchesses. Its source is Hollingsworth (1957) p. 8. The data on “fraction of deaths from violence” appears to be an estimate for male deaths from violence relative to all male deaths, rather than the directly reported figures for the male violent death share for deaths after age 15. Clark’s estimates appear to be made by using the survivors per 100 males born at age 5 and 20 (64 and 54, respectively), id. p. 11, to estimate 57 survivors at age 15. Assuming all violent deaths occurred after age 15 gives Clark’s Table 6.2 violent death share estimates. Pinker (2011) p. 81, Fig. 3-7, is a line graph of Clark’s death share estimates, described as for “English male aristocrats.”

[3 Eisner (2003) p. 118, Table 5.

[4] Id. p. 119.

[5] Deuteronomy 20:12-15 describes a general commandment to massacre all the men, but take the women and children as spoils. A mass grave at Schöneck-Kilianstädten (Germany) from about 7000 years ago clearly indicates a massacre of at least nine men ages 20 to 40, no women of those ages, and eleven children ages seven or under. That demographic distribution strongly suggests that women ages 20 to 40 were present, but abducted rather than killed. Meyer et al. (2015).  Demographic data from human groups at Sredny Stog and Novodanylovka about 7000 years ago indicate that life expectancy at birth was 7.8 years longer for females than for males. Estimated life expectancy at birth was for females, 43.6 years; for males, 35.8 years.

[6] Prospects of survival apparently favored aristocratic women relative to aristocratic men in tenth and eleventh century Saxony. Violence against men is a plausible explanation. Leyser (1975) pp. 56-7. Leading medieval biologist Albertus Magnus in his Cologne lectures in 1258 declared that, in exception to an Aristotelian generality, women then outlived men. See Albertus Magnus, Quaestiones super libris de animalibus, Bk. 15, quaestio 8. Herlihy (1975), pp. 11-2, found Albertus’s view consistent with other medieval evidence from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries. For a detailed, somewhat tendentious review of Albertus’s claim, Biller (2000) pp. 286-95. Here are links to Albertus’s works available online.

Among first marriages in the elite Nesle family in northern France, 1100 to 1300, wives outlived husbands nearly two to one. Hadju (1980) p. 129. The implications of that statistic for gender differences in life expectancy depends on gender differences in age at first marriage. Among person born in British ducal families from 1330 to 1470, men at first marriage were 5.3 years older than women at first marriage. Hollingsworth (1957) p. 14. In the Nesle family data, the average length of widowhood was 19.5 years and 35% of widows remarried. Those facts suggest that widows’ former husbands were dying quite young.

[7] Wrigley (1997) Figure 6.21, Table 6.27, pp. 307-8. These calculations included only married persons. Childbirth created some additional mortality risk for women. If unmarried persons were included, then perhaps women would have had a slight life expectancy advantage. For the data, see the life expectancy gender trend worksheet.

[8] Based on national vital statistics for England and Wales. Estimates compiled in the Human Mortality Database. See the life expectancy gender trend worksheet for details.

[9] Chivalry can take subtle forms. Consider the UK Longevity Science Advisory Panel’s conclusions on gender inequality in life expectancy:

The gender gap in human lifespan is profoundly affected by societal and behavioural factors and movement towards greater parity in lifestyle between men and women is a major factor in the recent reduction in gender gap in life expectancy. Nevertheless there is such a significant range of genetic, endocrine, cell and molecular biology differences between men and women with impacts on longevity that we are led to the conclusion that a gender difference in longevity will persist. At age 65 this is probably of the order of 1-2 years.

Finally we believe that raw data exists which could be analysed to eliminate social and environmental factors and provide a more accurate estimate of the underlying gender gap in longevity. We plan to explore this possibility in the near future.

Pattison et al. (2012) p. 44. Humans have never and can not exist apart from “social and environmental factors.” The “underlying gender gap in longevity” is a meaningless concept. Achieving gender equality in the fundamental human capability of being alive is clearly feasible. The remaining important question is whether gender equality is truly a constitutional public value.

[image] Knights killing other knights while women watch and applaud.  Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, created between 1305 and 1315. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 17r. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Biller, Peter. 2000. The measure of multitude: population in medieval thought. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clark, Gregory. 2007. A farewell to alms: a brief economic history of the world. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

Eisner, Manuel. 2003. “Long-Term Historical Trends in Violent Crime.” Crime and Justice. 30: 83-142.

Hajdu, Robert. 1980. “The Position of Noblewomen in the Pays Des Coutumes, 1100-1300.” Journal of Family History. 5 (2): 122-144.

Herlihy, David. 1975. “Life Expectancies for Women in Medieval Society.” Pp. 1-22 in Rosmarie Thee Morewedge, ed. 1975. The role of women in the Middle Ages: papers of the sixth annual conference of the Center for Medieval and Early Renaissance Studies, State University of New York at Binghamton 6-7 May 1972. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York Press.

Hollingsworth, T. H. 1957. “A Demographic Study of the British Ducal Families.” Population Studies. 11 (1): 4.

Leyser, Karl. 1979. Rule and conflict in an early medieval society: Ottonian Saxony. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Meyer, Christian, Christian Lohr, Detlef Gronenborn, and Kurt W. Alt. 2015. “The massacre mass grave of Schöneck-Kilianstädten reveals new insights into collective violence in Early Neolithic Central Europe.PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, US). Published online before print August 17, 2015, doi: 10.1073/pnas.1504365112 The online supplement includes the demographic data on the bodies in the grave.

Pattison, John, Klim McPHerson, Colin Blakemore, Steven Haberman. 2012. Life expectancy: Past and future variations by gender in England & Wales. LSAP paper 2. Longevity Science Advisory Panel.

Pinker, Steven. 2011. The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined. New York: Viking.

Wrigley, E.A. 1997. English population history from family reconstitution, 1580-1837. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

blasme des femmes: misogyny in the myth of patriarchy

Pravda: Soviet official meets with Hitler in 1940

Le blasme des femmes (The culpability of women) is medieval vernacular literature of men’s sexed protest. It’s scarcely understood or tolerated today. Many persons now believe that men ruling in patriarchy have brutally oppressed their wives, mothers, daughters and all other women throughout history. Belief in patriarchy and men’s brutality toward women has to explain away the literature of men’s sexed protest. Why have some men cried out about the abuse, deceptions, and betrayals that they felt men suffer from women?

A man cannot withstand her guile
Once she has picked him for her wile;
Her will to power will prevail,
She vanquishes most any male.

Woman lives in constant anger,
Do I even dare harangue her? [1]

Patriarchy myth-makers dismiss men’s sexed protests as misogyny. While ruling over women, exploiting women, and controlling women as their own personal property, men complained bitterly about women simply because men hate women, according to the now dominant mythic view of men. Hate is a word for mobilizing social repression. Calling men’s sexed protest misogyny socially justifies repressing it.

A man who slanders women
Is a man I must condemn,
For a courtier whom one respects
Would never malign the opposite sex. [2]

As master narratives, patriarchy and misogyny are social obfuscation. The lives of men and women have always been intimately intertwined in successfully reproducing societies. Those aren’t plausible circumstances for absolute, hierarchical rule and hatred of the other. Men’s sexed protest doesn’t indicate misogyny. Patriarchy has no significance to most men. Men’s sexed protest, and the social suppression of it, reflect men’s social subordination and women’s social dominance.

I would tell it clearly,
But all truths are not good to say. [3]

Today men are incarcerated for doing nothing more than having consensual sex and being too poor to fulfill their obligations of forced financial fatherhood. Through state-institutionalized undue influence, misrepresentations, and mis-service, forced financial fatherhood is imposed on many men without regard for the biological truth of paternity. Men face massive discrimination in child custody decisions, the criminalization of men’s sexuality is ever-expanding, the vastly disproportionate violence against men attracts no public concern, and men continued to be sex-selected for disposal in military service. Why aren’t more men protesting the privileges of women relative to men?

Therefore each man ought to honor
And value women above all. [4]

When men protest the sex-based injustices they suffer, gynocentric society generates quarrels about women, apologies for women, and defenses of women. Men’s servitude to women is deeply entrenched in European culture. Men historically have tended to understand their worth as persons in terms of defending women and children, and in providing resources to women and children. Women are superior to men in social communication. Women are the decision-makers for a large majority of consumer spending. In many high-income countries, women also make up the majority of voters by a larger margin than that which commonly decides major elections. Myths of patriarchy and misogyny work to keep men in their socially subordinate place.

There’s no clerk so shrewd,
Nor any other so worthy,
Who would want to blame women
Nor argue anything against them,
Unless he be of base lineage.
Because of this, they say nothing but good. [5]

Are women equally to blame for the evil done to men? The current dominant view is that the injustices done to men are all men’s fault. Blame patriarchy for the highly disproportionate suicides of men.  Blame patriarchy for the highly disproportionate incarceration of men. Blame “toxic masculinity” for men’s suffering. But don’t blame women. Say nothing but good about women.

Sweet friend, be assured
That he will be cursed by God
Who, with evil and empty words,
Speaks dishonor or contempt to women. [6]

Le blasme des femmes is necessary for true democratic equality.[7] Women and men, whose lives have always been intimately intertwined, are equally responsible for injustices against women and men.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Le blasme des femmes {The culpability of women} ll. 113-6,  142-3, from Anglo-Norman French trans. Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989) pp. 127, 129. Le blasme des femmes appears to have been composed for oral recitation. Manuscripts of it exist with many variations. Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989)’s version is based on the manuscript Cambridge, University Library, Gg I.i, f. 627r. Text dated 1272-1310. Id. pp. 15-6. Another version of Le blasme des femmes exists in the Harley 2253 Manuscript, Art. 77.

The Cambridge manuscript of Le blasme des femmes concludes with five lines of Latin verse. The last line:

uxorem duxi quod semper postea luxi
{Now, ever since I took a wife,
Calamity has marred my life.}

Id. pp. 130-1. The concluding Latin verse has the leonine rhyme that Matheolus used in his seminal work of men’s sexed protest.

Medieval literature of men’s sexed protest was much less prominent and influential than medieval literature of courtly love. Courtly love literature abased men and pedestalized women.

[2] Le bien des fames {The good of women} ll. 1-4, from Francien French trans. Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989) p. 107. Text dated 1272-1310. For the source text word courtois I’ve used “courtier” rather than “chap.”

[3] La contenance des fames {The ways of women} ll. 170-1, from Francien French trans. Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989) pp. 97, 104 (literal translation version). Text dated 1272-1310. The source text:

Cleremont le deviseroie,
Mais touz voirz ne sont bonds a dire.

Above I’ve added the explicit translation “but” for mais.

[4] Le dit des femmes {The song on women) ll. 65-6, MS Harley 2253, Art. 76, from Anglo-Norman French trans. Fein (2014).

[5] Le dit des femmes {The song on women) ll. 51-6, MS Harley 2253, Art. 76, from Anglo-Norman French trans. Fein (2014).

[6] ABC a femmes {ABC of Women} ll. 276-9, MS Harley 2253, Art. 8, from Anglo-Norman French trans. Fein (2014).

[7] Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989) p. xi explains:

The greater space given to the anti-female material in our discussions reflects the misogynic tradition that prevailed in medieval times and subtly persists into our own age. Since, according to Webster’s dictionary definition, the word feminist refers to one who advocates the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes or generally defends the rights and interests of women, we have avoided the words pro-feminist and anti-feminist, preferring instead pro- and anti-female.

The subtle incoherence of Webster’s alternate definitions of feminist seems to have eluded these scholars. The underlying social problem is far from subtle. On the term antifeminist, see my Matheolus post, note [7].

[image] Front page of Pravda (Moscow, USSR) newspaper, 18 November, 1940. It features a photo of Soviet Commissar M.B. Molotov and Adolf Hitler meeting in Berlin. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Fein, Susanna, ed. with David B. Raybin, and Jan M. Ziolkowski, trans. 2014. The complete Harley 2253 Manuscript (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Fiero, Gloria, Wendy Pfeffer, and Mathé Allain. 1989. Three medieval views of women: La contenance des fames, Le bien des fames, Le blasme des fames. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.

the devil’s gateway & putting the devil back into Hell

devil's gateway

In a treatise addressed to “you … best beloved sisters” about the year 200, the Christian writer Tertullian vigorously disparaged women’s fancy apparel. Tertullian understood pride as the preeminent sin. His beloved sisters apparently wore necklaces and anklets of gold, emeralds and pearls, and embroidered fabrics colored with expensive dyes. Tertullian’s beloved sisters must have been very wealthy, high-status women. He served them a heaping plate of humble pie:

You are the devil’s gateway: you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree: you are the first deserter of the divine law: you are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert—-that is, death—-even the Son of God had to die. And do you think about adorning yourself over and above your tunics of skins?

Those words could easily be interpreted as being vicious and hateful. We who are morally far superior to Tertullian could feel pride that we would never write anything like that. Tertullian’s work in general uses extravagant rhetoric that would not be acceptable in our less tolerant age.

In medieval Christian Europe, Giovanni Boccaccio, a literary genius not prone to sanctimony, responded outrageously to Tertullian’s outrageous rhetoric. A humble sense for men’s common carnal interest suggests that the devil that enters the “devil’s gateway” is man’s penis. Boccaccio created for his fellow Christians and anyone else interested in entertaining tales the story of the hermit Rustico and the beautiful girl Alibech. Rustico taught Alibech how to “put the devil back into Hell.” Alibech enjoyed immensely that activity. In our current age of intense concern for verbal orthodoxy, Boccaccio’s medieval stories show more liberal possibilities for understanding.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


The above quote is from Book I, Ch. I of Tertullian’s treatise On the Apparel of Women, from Latin translated by Rev. S. Thelwall. In Book I, Ch. II of that work, Tertullian declares:

you too (women as you are) have the self-same angelic nature promised as your reward, the self-same sex as men, the self-same advancement to the dignity of judging

Tertullian apparently was like Jerome in implicitly affirming women’s ability to understand sophisticated rhetoric. At the same time, Tertullian’s Christian teachings undoubtedly presented serious challenges to prevailing ways of life for both women and men. Little is known about Tertullian’s life. But Jerome clearly had intense concern for women and a strong following among women.

Modern scholars commonly regard Tertullian’s On the Apparel of Women as misogynistic. Jon Huckins provides an example of a typical current response to Tertullian referring to his “best beloved sisters” as “the devil’s gateway.”

Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato si’ (24 May 2015) took up Tertullian’s concerns about consumerism:

Since the market tends to promote extreme consumerism in an effort to sell its products, people can easily get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending. … Obsession with a consumerist lifestyle, above all when few people are capable of maintaining it, can only lead to violence and mutual destruction.

Para. 203-4. Unlike Tertullian, Pope Francis emphasized the effect of consumerism on the earth’s natural environment. But like Tertullian, Francis began with a figure implying humility:

We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.

Para. 2.

A more sensational figure of humility is inter faeces et urinem nascimur (“we are born between feces and urine”). That phrase has been widely mis-attributed to Augustine of Hippo. It was probably minted in the nineteenth century. The attribution to Augustine is consistent with modern stereotyping of Augustine’s thought. The phrase, liberally construed, is consistent with biological reality and Christian theological understanding of original sin and the necessity of baptism.

[image] Devil’s Gate, Wyoming. Photo released to the public domain thanks to Ryan Reeder and Wikicommons.

vindicating Macarius of false sex accusation enabled new birth

Saint Macarius of Egypt, spiritbearer

Saint Macarius, known as the great luminary and spiritbearer, was early in his life falsely accused of a masculine sex crime. Macarius was an Egyptian Christian born about the year 300. As has been common for men historically, Macarius was pressured into marriage and a career. He sought only to withdraw from society and save his soul. Through the terrible injustice of a false sex accusation against Macarius, God guided him to realizing his dream of becoming a holy man. The Life of Saint Macarius of Scetis has inspired many other men and women to seek solace in wastelands and give birth to souls filled with the holy spirit.

The false sex accusation against Macarius originated in plans to marry. A young woman and young man loved each other. They sought to marry. Men, however, are expected to offer not only their loving being in marriage, but also material resources. Because the young man’s parents were poor, he wasn’t able to marry the young woman. They nonetheless had sex. In accordance with the fundamental reality of biology, she got pregnant. They feared that their parents would kill them both for what they had done.

The young woman and young man plotted together to accuse falsely Macarius of the masculine sex crime of “getting a woman pregnant.” The Life of Saint Macarius of Scetis explains:

When the parents of the young girl found out that this had happened to her, they asked her, “What has happened to you? Who did this? Tell us!” She, just as she had been instructed by the young man, said, “I went to see the anchorite {Macarius} one day. It was he who did this to me. He got me pregnant.” [1]

The parents, supported by a crowd, confronted Macarius. Without even bothering to hear Macarius’s response to the charge, the crowd “beat him badly enough to enough to kill him.” Macarius, who had done no wrong, protested, “What has happened that you hit me so mercilessly like this?”[2] The crowd didn’t respond to Macarius’s question. The crowd instead proceeded to humiliate him:

they bound to his back some pots smeared with soot and dragged him through the middle of the village, with a crowd of children walking with him, beating him and pulling him this way and that like they do to those who are crazy, all of them crying out about him in a single voice and saying, “He stuck the girl!”

Macarius suffered a brutal physical beating and public humiliation. Those punishments, imposed on him without due process, were the result of a false accusation of “getting a woman pregnant.”

Macarius also had child support payments imposed on him. After some Christians heard Macarius’s account of what had happened, they responded:

“What you people are saying is not true. We know from our previous experience with him that this man is faithful and righteous.” And they stood around him and loosened the bonds and also broke the pots smeared with soot that had been placed around his neck.

The father of the young man insisted, however, that Macarius pay child support as a condition for being freed:

You can’t do that {free Macarius} until he guarantees that when the young girl gives birth he will pay the cost of her delivery and provide for the raising of her child.

One of Macarius’s close supporters agreed to provide that guarantee so that Macarius could be freed. Macarius the anchorite humbly accepted forced financial fatherhood:

When he entered his cell, he said to himself, “Macarius, look! You have found yourself a wife. Now the situation requires you to work night and day so you can provide for yourself and for her and her child.” And so he diligently got to work and he gave the baskets that he made to his supporter in order to sell them and give the money he made to the woman so that when she gave birth she could use it for herself and her child. [3]

Macarius thus became subject to the sort of indentured servitude that has oppressed many men throughout history.

Oppressing men hurts women. In the case of Macarius, it prevented the joy of new birth:

when the time came for that wretched young girl to give birth, the labor pains were severe and difficult. She was in danger of dying for four days and four nights and was not able to give birth. Her mother said to her, “What is happening to you, my daughter? Look, much longer and you’ll be dead.” She {the daughter} said, “Truly I deserve to die; not only have I sinned but I have also falsely accused God’s servant the anchorite. That holy man did not touch me at all; no, it was such and such young man who got me pregnant.”

After confessing the truth about her false accusation against Macarius, the young woman was able to give birth. When news of the young woman’s redirected charge of “getting her pregnant” reached the young man, he wisely fled. Crowds came to see Macarius and glorified and praised him. Macarius wisely fled to the Scetis desert.[4]

Today men recognizing the reality of men’s social position are fleeing to desert isolation like Macarius did. Everyone should be concerned, because men withdrawing from society hurts women.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] The Life of Saint Macarius of Scetis s. 14, from Coptic (primarily from Codex Vaticanus LXIV) trans. Vivian (2004a) pp. 165-6. Subsequent quotes above are from id. pp. 166-8. The name Macarius means in Greek “blessed.” Id. p. 19.

The Life of Saint Macarius of Scetis s. 14 earlier describes gender mutuality in the young woman and young man’s plotting:

The two of them were afraid that their parents would kill them on account of the shame they had brought them and so they devised a plan filled with iniquity, adding another great sin on top of their previous fornication. Each partner said to the other, “What will we do? If our parents find out about it they will kill us, but let’s say that the priest, the anchorite, is the one who did it because he’s a stranger and no mercy will be shown to him.”

Trans. id. 165. The subsequent text has the woman make the accusation, with responsibility for the accusation shifted to the man (“just as she had been instructed by the young man”). The text thus depicts women’s social privilege of relatively credibility and men’s relative burden of blame.

The Life of Saint Macarius of Scetis has survived in three, tenth-century Coptic manuscripts. It was probably written between 623 and 784 GC. Id. p. 35. A shorter version of the story of falsely accusing Macarius of paternity exists in the first part of the section on Macarius the Great in the Greek Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Apophthegmata Patrum) and similarly and nearly identically in the closely related Coptic Sayings of the Desert Fathers. For an English translation of the story in the Greek Sayings, Ward (1984) pp. 124-5, available online. For the story in the Coptic Sayings, Vivian (2004a) pp. 51-3. For an overview of ancient literature on Macarius, Evelyn White (1932) pp. 60-72. The Life of Macarius of Egypt in the Greek Lausic History of Palladius doesn’t include this story. The Coptic Life of Macarius of Egypt likewise doesn’t include the false accusation story. For a translation of the latter, Vivian (2004b) pp. 93-130.

[2] Cf. John 18:23.

[3] In the translation from Vivian (2004a), p. 167, I’ve replaced “his servant” with “his supporter.” The man who helped Macarius live as an anchorite wasn’t a servant in the modern sense of a menial-subservient person working for a wealthy, high-status person. Early Christian monks who lived isolated, austere lives in the Egyptian desert had persons who provided minimal necessary connections to the rest of the world. The man collecting baskets from Macarius was such a person.

[4] Palladius apparently wrote the Apophthegmata Patrum in Asia Minor long after he left Egypt. The text in its surviving form apparently is from Palestine and dates no earlier than the late-fifth century. Brakke (2013) p. 240. Yet the story of the false accusation of Macarius is historically significant:

even the strangest and most supernatural anecdote may have some root in actual monastic experience. … we may never ascertain what actually happened before traditions began to circulate, but the investigation into how monastic stories were transmitted and revised nonetheless helps us to see the concerns and values that animated early monks — and these concerns and values were certainly real.

Id. p. 251.

[image] Ancient fresco of Saint Macarius of Egypt. Thanks to Roman Zacharij and Wikimedia Commons.


Brakke, David. 2013. “Macarius’s Quest and Ours: Literary Sources for Early Egyptian Monasticism.” Cistercian Studies Quarterly 48(2): 239-51.

Evelyn White, Hugh G., with Walter Hauser, and Albert M. Lythgoe. 1932. The monasteries of the Wadi ‘N Natrun, Part II: the history of the monasteries of Nitria and of Scetis. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Vivian, Tim. 2004a. Saint Macarius, the spiritbearer: coptic texts relating to Saint Macarius the Great. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Vivian, Tim, with Rowan A. Greer. 2004b. Four desert fathers: Pambo, Evagrius, Macarius of Egypt, and Macarius of Alexandria: Coptic texts relating to the Lausiac history of Palladius. Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press.

Ward, Benedicta. 1984. The sayings of the Desert Fathers: the alphabetical collection. Rev. ed. Kalamazoo, Mich: Cistercian Publications. (the relevant story, Macarius the Great, s. 1, is identical to that in the original, 1975 edition).

coverture, domestic violence & criminalization of men

In a poem that a judge living in Georgia wrote in 1837, a judge heard a criminal domestic violence case. Henry Day, “a mild-looking man with a youthful face,” was accused of having beaten his large strong wife, Julia Sweet. Day pleaded to the court:

I don’t deny I beat my wife;
And for that part where you aver
That Satan did my spirit stir —
‘Tis true; for I was moved by her.
The dying sinnner’s wildest groans
Are music to her gentlest tones;
And for her blows! alas, my bones!
Well, let it pass; perhaps ‘t was wrong;
But I had borne her curses long,
And I am weak, and she is strong;
Let that, too, pass. I’ve done my best;
My counsel there must say the rest. [1]

Day’s counsel might have invoked for him a claim to self-defense or a claim to be a battered spouse. Such legal strategies in actual domestic violence cases work almost exclusively for women defendants. With sound legal judgment of likely outcomes, Day’s counsel turned instead to a ludicrous defense based on the common-law concept of coverture.

Coverture was the idea that husband and wife are one under law. More specifically, coverture assigned to the husband responsibility and punishment under law for his wife’s criminal acts. Coverture also protected women from mass imprisonment for debt in early modern England. In this case, Day’s counsel claimed that, according to coverture, a husband had an equal right to beat his wife as he did to beat himself. The prosecutor countered that if a husband killed his wife, he would be charged with murder, not suicide. The presiding judge summarized the law of coverture to the sitting jury:

If any ill the wife hath done,
The man is fined; for they are one:
If any crime the man doth do,
Still he is fined; for they are two.
The rule is hard, it is confessed:
It can’t be helped, lex ita est. [2]

Coverture was among a range of institutions and ideas that generated highly disproportionate imprisonment of men. Legal history conventionally interprets coverture as a legal concept oppressing women.[3] Coverture oppressed women in the same way that men-only Selective Service registration oppresses women today.

Coverture has been badly misunderstood in legal history. Coverture assigned to husbands responsibility for their wives’ criminal acts and their wives’ debts. Coverture increased the criminalization of men. Coverture didn’t give husbands the legal right to beat their wives. Men have long been punished for committing domestic violence, as well as punished for having domestic violence committed against them. Legal historians have stressed wife-beating and largely ignored husbands getting attacked by their wives.[4] Law and policy similarly treats domestic violence with anti-men bias today. Anti-men bias in invoking coverture is a general rhetorical pattern built upon deep structures of gynocentrism.

princess imagination

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Robert M. Charlton, “The State vs. Henry Day,” in Charlton & Charlton (1839) pp. 92-104. The quotes above are from id. pp. 96, 97. In 1834, Charlton became Judge of the Supreme Court of the Eastern District of Georgia. From 1853-53, he served as a U.S. Senator for Georgia. See Robert Milledge Charlton biography. The poem is dated 1837. Charlton & Charlton (1839) p. 99. A long, final footnote added:

Note to the Note.

As the prose note to this poetical report has gone the rounds of the papers, headed “The way they do things in Georgia,” perhaps it would be as well for the author to acknowledge that it is a highly exaggerated statement of the existing state of affairs in Georgia, and ought not to be received as evidence against the firmness and wisdom of the bench and bar of this State. The author was a member of the judiciary of Georgia at the time “the State vs. Henry Day” was composed, and therefore very little inclined to attack that branch of the government.

Id. pp. 103-4. “The State vs. Henry Day” appeared with the author’s initials “R.M.C.” in The American Jurist, vol. 20 (Oct. 1838) pp. 237-43. The poem there is dated May, 1837. Id. p. 237.

[2] Lex ita est is Latin for “thus is the law.” After citing the verses in which the judge declared men’s double criminal responsibility, Hartog (2000) p. 104 observed:

The poem was a plausible fiction, coherent with the contemporary law.

As if unequal justice under law for men doesn’t matter, Hartog moved from the poetic declaration of men’s double criminal responsibility to the conventional one-sided, false understanding of the incidence of domestic violence. Coverture was a legal fiction rarely determinative of legal results. Id. p. 106. The legal fiction of coverture, however, supported general gynocentric bias toward disproportionate punishment of men.

[3] Wikipedia, which has struggled with the problem of feminist bias, features considerable anti-men bias in its entry on coverture.

[4] E.g. Hartog (2000) pp. 104-110, with includes poorly informed discussion of the “rule of thumb.” The myth that a husband could legally beat his wife with a stick no thicker than his thumb (the mythic “rule of thumb”) is prevalent in scholarly family history. For a thorough review of formal law, Kelly (1994). Commenting on a court’s declaration that it wouldn’t interfer in minor incidents of violence at home or in the schoolyard, Kelly mythologizes law in action and endorses conventional gender stereotyping of domestic violence:

the court would have made the same judgment {not all minor violence belongs in criminal court} if the wife had done the beating. One cannot conclude, therefore, that husbands were allowed a special latitude in chastising their wives, except, of course, in the sense that husbands were much more prone to such misconduct than wives and would more readily benefit from the court’s conclusion.

Id. p. 346, n. 25. Especially if domestic violence is defined to encompass minor violence, e.g. slapping, women almost surely would be found to be more prone to domestic violence than are men. Almost all minor violence isn’t in fact taken into criminal court and could not feasibly be policed in a non-totalitarian state. Charlton & Charlton (1839), p. 104, writing from judicial experience, frankly points to the legal difficulty of fairly judging domestic violence. Judges today would hardly dare to make that common-sense observation. More generally, Kelly (1994) falls to recognize the gynocentric structures supporting the “rule of thumb” myth and their implications for the criminalization of men.

[image] Princess.  Thanks to Clipartcottage for making the image available under a Creative Commons Attribution license.


Charlton, Robert M., and Thomas Jackson Charlton. 1839. Poems. Boston: C.C. Little and J. Brown. (2nd ed., 1842)

Hartog, Hendrik. 2000. Man and wife in America: a history. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Kelly, Henry Ansgar. 1994. “‘Rule of Thumb’ and the Folklaw of the Husband’s Stick.” Journal of Legal Education. 44 (3): 341-65.

Marina: patron saint for men falsely accused of rape

While false accusations of rape have been trivialized in recent years, throughout most of recorded history both rape and false accusations of rape have been matters of serious concern. Accusations against men have tended to conflate impregnating a woman, seducing a woman, and raping a woman. In its various versions from the sixth century to the fifteenth century, the Life of Saint Marina the Monk presents false sexual accusation, along with cuckoldry, as essential problems of men’s sexuality. God ultimately vindicated Saint Marina beyond humans’ bodily sense. Saint Marina thus stands as a poignant, patron saint for men falsely accused of rape.

The Life of Marina was probably first written in Syriac sometime from the fifth to the seventh centuries. It subsequently became known in a wide range of languages spanning western Eurasia and northern Africa.[1] The Life of Marina was included in Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend (Legenda aurea), compiled in Latin about 1260. By the late-thirteenth century, a version of Marina’s life existed in French verse. By the early-fourteenth century, at least two versions existed in English verse.[2] While all the versions of the Life of Marina represent the victimization of innocent men, men’s virtues and men’s victimization are particularly well-represented in the early-fourteenth-century English verse version in the Harley manuscript.

Saint Marina and father entering monastery

The Harley Life of Marina highlights a father’s love for his children. Marina’s father was a man “who lived in purity, piety, and in the fear of God.” Marina’s mother, who was married to her father, was “honorable and devout.”[3] When Marina’s mother died, her father, rather than remarrying, sought to live a life of holiness by joining a monastery.  In the early Syriac and Greek texts, Marina begged her father to be allowed to join him in entering a monastery. Marina proposed to cut off her hair, put on men’s clothes, and enter the monastery with her father. In the Harley version, Marina comes into the story only after her father spiritually married himself to the Virgin Mary and became a monk. The father living as a monk longed to see his absent, flesh-and-blood daughter. Expressing his longing to his abbot, he falsely stated that his child was a boy. The virtuous father lied in love for his daughter.

Lies about men’s sexual behavior, in contrast, are vicious and evil. Marina joined her father’s monastery disguised as a boy named Marin. With her father’s loving guidance, Marina / Marin became an exemplary monk. One day, Marin was sent on a household business trip outside the monastery. Marin stopped at a house where the householder’s daughter had secretly become pregnant as a result of an illicit sexual affair with a soldier. The daughter falsely accused Marin of causing her pregnancy. That false accusation devastated Marin’s life.

The specific circumstances in which an alleged man allegedly caused a pregnancy matters little in practice. Formal legal trial of the crime of rape must examine in detail the facts of how sexual intercourse occurred. In the case of Marin, whether the daughter accused him of getting her pregnant or raping her depends on the specific version of the Life of Marin and difficult questions of philology.[4] Literary scholars have generally ignored those literary subtleties and declared that the woman accused Marin of rape.[5] Across the versions of the Life of Marina, the punishment of Marin seems to have followed only from the fact of the woman’s pregnancy and her blaming Marin. Marin was expelled from the monastery and lived for years outside its gates as a hungry, homeless person.

Like men today facing state-institutionalized cuckoldry, Marina / Marin was obliged to support a child who was not her own. The women who falsely accused Marin of rape (or of just getting her pregnant) gave birth to a son. She abandoned her son with Marin. Marin, as a starving, homeless person, did his best to support the child who was not biologically his. Marina in the person of Marin thus took on an additional injustice that men distinctively suffer in gynocentric society.

Saint Marina with child she was falsely accused of begetting

Exoneration from the false accusation came only with the realization that Marin was not biologically a man. After enduring years of harsh treatment resulting from the false accusation, Marin died. When the monks prepared to wash Marin’s body, they discovered that he didn’t have male genitals. Marin’s culpability had essentially rested only on the accusation and belief that he had a penis. With the recognition that Marin lacked a penis, the monks realized that they had gravely wronged Marin / Marina.[6] They resolved to “honor her in every way.” Marina was honored as a saint who could mediate God’s blessings. God posthumously gave her miraculous power. Her tomb became the site of a miraculous healing of the woman who had falsely accused Marin.

Saint Marina took upon herself suffering wrongfully imposed upon men. In the Greek version, after the abbot informed Marina / Marin of the woman’s accusation against her, Marina confessed, “Forgive me, father, for I have sinned as a man.”[7] Christians confess to having sinned. Being a man is no sin. To confess to having “sinned as a man” seems to refer ironically to Marina not being capable of sinning through action biologically distinctive to men.

Saint Marina is venerated for her patience and humility in the face of outrageous injustice. Under gynocentrism that permeates even monasteries, men are criminally suspect because of their penises.[8] Saint Marina’s life points beyond that criminal essentialism. Through the Life of Saint Marina, men falsely accused of rape can understand that the suffering wrongfully imposed on them can ultimately end in honor and power.

How could you endure
The pain that was imposed on you
Wrongly and without good cause?
Yours will be the final reward, and the failure, mine. [9]

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] The Life of Saint Marina the Monk has survived in Syriac, Coptic, Greek, Latin, Arabic, Armenian, Ethiopic, French, High German, and English texts from the fifteenth century or earlier.  Hourani (2013) p. 19. Marina’s life may have originated, along with roughly ten other lives of women transvestite saints, among monks of the Scetis desert near Alexandria in the middle of the fifth to the start of the sixth centuries. Anson (1974) p. 12. Authorities variously date Marina’s life from the fifth to the seventh century. Among surviving early manuscripts are a Syriac manuscript dated to 778 GC and three Greek manuscripts from the Mount Athelon monastery. Hourani (2013) p. 21. The earliest of the Greek manuscripts dates to the tenth century. For an English translation of the Syriac life, Lewis (1900) pp. 36-45 (pdf pages 468-77). For an English translation of the Greek life, Constas (1996).

Marina is a Latin name that corresponds to the Greek name Pelagia. Saint Pelagia, however, has a different life from Saint Marina. In western Europe, Saint Marina’s life has in some texts become confused with Saint Margaret’s life.

[2] The Latin Life of Marina is available in Patrologia Latina 73: 692-6. The version from the Golden Legend is available in English translation in Ryan & Duffy (2012) Ch. 84. Large excepts of the late-thirteenth century French version are available in English translation in Cazelles (1991) pp. 238-57. English versions are in the Harley 2253 Manuscript, Article 32, in Fein (2014); and the Northern Homily Cycle, Homily 15, ll. 137-356, in Thompson (2008).

[3] From Greek version, trans. Constas (1996) p. 7. The Harley version describes Marina’s father as a man:

Who greatly loved God’s command,
And exerted himself by all his strength
To serve God both day and night.
He was a man of good works,
And deeply he loved his soul’s comfort.

Trans. Fein (2014).

[4] In the Greek version of the Life of Marina, an innkeeper’s daughter falsely accused Marin of “causing a pregnancy”:

The young monk from the monastery, the attractive one called Marinos, he made me pregnant.

Trans. Constas (1996) p. 9. The Syriac version is similar in making causing the pregnancy the wrong:

The monk whom ye praise for being holy did this {pregnancy} to me, and by him I am with child.

Trans. Lewis (1900) p. 40. In the French version, Marin is accused of deceptive seduction:

It is he who made me pregnant
No other man has ever touched me.
He has deceived me
And is the cause of my distress.
I thought he was a religious man
And was eager to converse with him.
But he is so malicious
That he induced me to sin,
Causing me to fall into shame.
I mistook his intentions.

French Life of Saint Marina, ll. 424-433, trans. Cazelles (1991) p. 247. In the Harley version, a dairyman’s daughter falsely accused Marin of acting “unlawfully”:

In the barn, there we were
And he took me forth, unlawfully —
All in truth, so it was!

Trans. Fein (2014) ll. 98-100. Accusation of unlawful sex in medieval Europe encompassed consensual sex outside of marriage (a consensual roll in the hay, perhaps in a barn), as well as rape. The English for “unlawfully” in the Harley version is more literally translated as “against the peace.” That more directly suggests an accusation of violence. The Northern Homily Cycle makes the false accusation of rape explicit:

And she told them that the monk Marin
Had forced her, and they were angry

Homily 15, ll. 204-5, my English modernization. The Latin Life of Marina uses the accusation ipse me oppressit, which could mean he pressed down on me (in the physical act of sex), he surprised me (deceptive seduction), or he raped me. See Patrologia Latina 73: 692.

[5] With respect to the Greek version, Constas (1996) intro., p. 3 (“rape”). With respect to the Harley version, Fein (2014) intro. (“rape”). Misleading use of the word rape is now exploited in major newspapers to criminalize a large share of men worldwide.

[6] Directing attention to the vagina, an eminent medievalist imagined the monks relishing the sight of a dead woman’s vagina:

These ignorant holy men are also, however, at the climax of the text they could not read, richly rewarded with an ample viewing. Male desire is deflected, refocused, and then abundantly fulfilled. One can hardly avoid {sic!} the supposition that the compiler chose this tale precisely for titillation of that continuing interest in what women have “under gore,” this time the curiosity being the spur of the story rather than the conventional ending of the love poem. And even though Marina escaped the male gaze in life, the suddenly crowded viewing of her in death — by the monks and the “other men mo” (where did they come from?) — seems rather to compensate the men for their lost opportunity. Miraculous moment is indelibly marked with prurient response.

Fein (2000) p. 364. That interpretation goes beyond constructing men as dogs to assuming them to be necrophiliacs. The implications for women, as always, are dire even after their deaths:

Women may not be free of men. Instead they must choose from an array of ways in which they will meet their defining fate: to be constructed accord to male desire and actualized in acceding to it.

Id. 361. Such scholarship subtly gestures toward the emancipatory potential of masturbation.

[7] From Greek trans. Constas (1996) p. 9.

[8] Study of the Life of Marina has highlighted scholarly fantasies. For example, a scholar fantasized that women are the cause of lust, but women don’t experience lust. Anson (1974) p. 17. Moreover, this scholar perceived the Life of Marina to represent the “wish-fulfillment dream of the domestication of the demonic seductress.” Id. False accusations of rape and wrongfully imposing paternity on men are serious public issues. Those issues are more directly relevant to thinking seriously about the Life of Marina than are abstract psychological speculations.

[9] Words of the abbot in the French version of the Life of Marina, ll. 1058-61, trans. Cazelles (1991) p. 256. Cazelles’s explication of the Life of Marina points to Christine de Pizan and current academic boilerplate:

Christine de Pizan sought to destabilize the hagiographic canon by unmasking its ideological implications.

Id. p. 84. Scholarship can be more interesting than that. The Life of Marina unmasks trivializing false accusations of rape and devaluing men’s paternity interests.

The Life of Marina may have been written by a woman and probably had many women readers / listeners. Scholars have tended to dismiss the possibility of women as readers and writers of early transvestite saints’ lives:

they are with the exception of Thecla products of a monastic culture written by monks for monks

Anson (1974) p. 5. Scholars now generally believe that a woman or community of women wrote the Acts of Paul and Thecla. A woman probably also authored Joseph and Aseneth. Women probably comprised a significant share of readers / listeners to these saints’ lives as well as lives of other saints. Marina’s life addresses issues that men are generally afraid to discuss. Most medieval women loved men and would have cared about issues of vital concern to men. A woman may have wrote the Life of Marina for women who cared deeply about men.

Other lives of transvestite women saints also present false accusations of rape and false attributions of paternity. In the Life of Eugenia, Eugenia dressed as Brother Eugene is falsely accused of raping Melancia. The lives of Saint Margaret (Pelagius) and Saint Theodora present transvestite women saints falsely attributed paternity. These lives can be found in the Jacobus de Voragine’s Golden Legend. The Life of Eugenia also survives in an early Syriac text. Lewis (1900) pp. 1-35.

The significance of these saints’ lives have been obscured in ideological posing. Consider how Cazelles interprets these stories of women falsely accusing of rape or paternity women dressed as men:

the profound significance of their stories is that, whether dressed, undressed, or cross-dressed, they {the women} are similarly and inexorably defenseless in the face of masculine desire.

Cazelles (1991) pp. 66-7. Such claims reflect the social process of criminalizing men in gynocentric society.

[images] (1) Marina and her father entering monastery. Illumination in f. 139v, Jacques de Voragine.  Légende dorée. Manuscript dated 1348, written in French. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Français 241. (2) Saint Marina in Benedictine dress. She, with her face dirty in poverty, lovingly holds the child she was falsely accused of begetting. Illumination in f. 74r, Guillelmus a Mederio, Calendarium sive Commemorationes sanctorum monachorum, Missa et officium sanctarum reliquiarum, Officia sancti Georgii et sanctae Marinae. Manuscript dated 1400-1425, written in Latin. Bibliothèque nationale de France, Département des manuscrits, Latin 5264. Images thanks to Gallica, Bibliothèque nationale de France.


Anson, John. 1974. “The female transvestite in early monasticism: the origin and development of a motif.” Viator. Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, University of California, Los Angeles. 5: 1-32.

Cazelles, Brigitte. 1991. The Lady as saint: a collection of French hagiographic romances of the thirteenth century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Constas, Nicholas, trans. 1996. “Life of St. Mary / Marinos.” Ch. 1 (pp. 1-12) in Talbot, Alice-Mary. 1996. Holy women of Byzantium: ten saints’ lives in English translation. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection.

Fein, Susanna. 2000. “A saint ‘Geynest under Gore’: Marina and the love lyrics of the seventh quire.” Pp. 351-76 in Fein, Susanna, ed. 2000. Studies in the Harley manuscript: the scribes, contents, and social contexts of British Library MS Harley 2253. Kalamazoo, Mich: TEAMS (The Consortium for the Teaching of the Middle Ages) in association with the University of Rochester. Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

Fein, Susanna, ed. with David B. Raybin, and Jan M. Ziolkowski, trans. 2014. The complete Harley 2253 Manuscript (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Hourani, Guita. 2013. “The Vita of Saint Marina in the Maronite Tradition.” Notre Dame University, Lebanon. 17-39.

Lewis, Agnes Smith. 1900. Select Narratives of Holy Women from the Syro-Antiochene or Sinai Palimpsest as written above the old Syriac gospels by John the Stylite, of Beth-Mari-Qanun in a.d. 778. Syriac text and English translation. Studia Sinaitica No. IX. London: C.J. Clay and Sons.

Ryan, William Granger and Eamon Duffy trans. and ed. 2012. Jacobus de Voragine. The golden legend: readings on the saints. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Thompson, Anne B. 2008. The Northern homily cycle. Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications.