The Corbaccio: our heartless, dark age of literary criticism

Corbaccio: big crow bearing unpleasant news

Leading Boccaccio scholars have produced the authoritative tome Boccaccio: A Critical Guide to the Complete Works.  The prestigious University of Chicago Press published it this year.   This work could have been vitally important to compassionate women and men pondering Boccaccio’s complex masterpeice Il Corbaccio.  Today compassionate women and men are urgently seeking new ethical language and narratives to protest incarcerating men for doing nothing more than having consensual sex, to summon concern about raping men, and to denounce punishing men for being raped.  The Critical Guide, however, offers only a place to sit and sip scholarly status amid heartless ethical darkness.

In our desperate circumstances, the subversive literary genius of Il Corbaccio offers strong imaginative resources and a critical measure of literary culture.  Men, seeking directions, need good guides.  Here are the first two sentences of the Critical Guide on Il Corbaccio:

On its surface, Boccaccio’s Corbaccio reads as a misogynistic blast with insults added to injuries, scurrilous terminology, imagery descending to the pornographic, bad puns, and unrelenting lists of female vices far beyond the limits of decency or plausibility.  The two main characters in dialogue are sour aging men on whom no modern women in her right mind would wish to waste a word, let alone seek their company. [1]

Apparently the women who lived before the era of “modern women” were compassionate and sophisticated enough to talk with such men, to seek their company, and to try to understand their concerns.  In our heartless, dark age of literary criticism, many critics are incapable of sympathetically considering literature of men’s sexed protests.  They misandristically label it misogyny and dismiss it with superficial, contrived analysis.

For these critics, Boccaccio’s masterpiece Il Corbaccio is just another piece to be processed in tallying the literary wrongs done to women and men, respectively, since the invention of writing.  Criticizing women, or disciplinary norms forbid, making fun of women, is always wrong.  Since Il Corbaccio is superficially classified as invective, it thus adds many points to the tally of literary wrongs done to women.  Fortunately, hard-working literary scholars have dug up Lucrezia Marinella’s 1601 treatise entitled, with uncanny literary sophistication, The Nobility and Excellence of Woman and the Defects and Vices of Men.  The Critical Guide’s article on Il Corbaccio declares approvingly:

Lucrezia Marinella sized up Il Corbaccio‘s repulsiveness with a meaty chapter titled “Boccaccio’s Opinion Adduced Here and Destroyed.”  She understood the rhetoric of invective perfectly and righted the imbalance by praising women’s virtues and condemning men’s far more numerous and serious faults. [2]

Of course Lucrezia Marinella didn’t “right the imbalance” in 1601.  Tally-keepers believe it’s necessary to continue to emphasize violence against women even though in the U.S. today four times as many men die from violence as do women.  Reading Boccaccio on the governance of friendship thus naturally means directing attention to violence against women.

Boccaccio’s trangressive Il Corbaccio cannot be adequately appreciated without deep appreciation for men’s position within a culture that produced Ulrich von Liechtenstein and Suero de QuinonesIl Corbaccio combines comic realism with great literary sophistication:

Boccaccio, having destabilized the character of the guide through the conflating of specific Dantean intertextualities, warns the reader that the guide holds a less than authoritative position.  The misogynistic diatribe that spews forth from the guide serves as a further indication of the demented state of the guide’s intellect.  Boccaccio must have really enjoyed composing this section; rare indeed is the opportunity for an author to assume the voice of an almost comically deranged mind; such was also the case for Ovid in his Ibis. [3]

Ovid unquestionably was deeply hurt by his exile.  Men unquestionably suffer deep wounds from women.  Nether Ovid’s Ibis nor Boccaccio’s Corbaccio can be adequately read merely as playful invective.  In contrast to superficial readings of its preface, Boccaccio’s Decameron was written for men to instruct them in the comic reality of love for flesh-and-blood women.  With that same fundamental ethical concern Boccaccio also wrote Il Corbaccio.[4]  Il Corbaccio outrageously imagines the comic reality of love as a new Vita Nuova.  Our culture desperately needs that humane vision.

That humane vision doesn’t require great literature insightfully read.  One summer during my college years, I got a job in a large corporation focused on engineering and technology.  Most of the employees in my department were middle-aged career men.  One secretary was a young, beautiful, curvy woman who emphasized her sexual power with provocative dress.  A relatively old co-worker, perhaps noticing my vulnerability, said to me, “Yeah, but imagine how she looks bent over taking a shit.”  Scholars who dismiss Il Corbaccio as misogynistic would probably also dismiss that comment as misogynistic.  That comment highlights that the young, stunningly attractive woman was a flesh-and-blood human, just like us men.  That’s a much different view of a woman than Dante’s view of Beatrice in Dante’s Vita Nuova.

In the relatively illiberal and oppressive historical circumstances of our intellectual life, Boccaccio offers an inspiring monument of ethical concern and intellectual courage.  A scholar recently recognized Boccaccio’s under-appreciated contemporary importance:

My most sincere hope is that the reader will, when walking the streets of Florence with the tourist hordes, look at the many monuments to Dante and Petrarca in that once lovely city and remember one name: Giovanni Boccaccio. [5]

Remembering Boccaccio’s name isn’t enough.  We should also remember Boccaccio’s use of Jerome’s artful literary construction, Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage.  To foster for men and women a more pleasurable life without trespassing the sign of reason in any way, we must adequately appreciate Boccaccio’s Corbaccio.

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Notes:

[1] Panizza (2014) p. 183. Id. goes on to declare that the Corbaccio “has its fascinations” for relatively unimportant reasons, ending with “it offers a therapy for dealing with immoderate sexual passions.”  That latter reason follows Solomon (1997)’s deeply misandristic analysis of Alonso Martínez de Toledo’s Archpriest of Talavera and Jaume Roig’s Spill.

[2] Id. p. 193.  The most well-known medieval author of this sort of work is Christine de Pizan.

[3] Houston (2010) p. 116.

[4] Within circumstances of narrow and strongly constrained male self-consciousness, academics continue to fail to appreciate the Corbaccio.  In a recent example, a literal reading of the Decameron’s Proem revealed that it was written for “gentle ladies of Florence’s salons.”  In addition:

The message in the Corbaccio could not be more opposed to the Decameron; so too Boccaccio aims these two works at different audiences, confirming his tendency to target specific audiences for his writings.

Houston (2010) p. 120.  Houston suggests that the Corbaccio “can be made to support any reading” and offers a highly contrived reading of the Corbaccio as “a satire against the critics of vernacular poetry with an embedded parody of the Dominican preachers {specifically Bartolomeo di San Concordio and Jacopo Passavanti}  and their limited view of literature.”  Id. p. 122, see in general pp. 100-23.

[5] Id. p. 11.

[image] American Crow (Corvus brachyrhynchos), Singing Sands, Bruce Peninsula National Park, Ontario, Canada.  June, 2007.  Thanks to Wikipedia.  Panizza (2014) p. 184 states:

The title itself, Il Corbaccio, offers a typical medieval play on Boccaccio’s name.  It inverts the first part, turning bocca, “mouth,” into corba, “crow” or “raven,” and keeps -accio as a suffix qualifying the noun, suggesting something huge, ugly, coarse, or unpleasant.  Boccaccio playfully inverts his name, transforming a “big, vulgar writer of novelle” into a “big, ugly, coarse crow/raven” bearing harsh news.

Crow as a verb can mean “to shout in exultation or defiance; to brag” and “to utter a sound expressive of joy or pleasure.”  Those additional verbal meanings provide insight into Il Corbaccio’s perspective on men’s courtly fantasies about women.

References:

Houston, Jason M. 2010. Building a monument to Dante: Boccaccio as Dantista. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Panizza, Letizia. 2014. “Rhetoric and Invective in Love’s Labyrinth (Il Corbaccio).”  Pp. 183-93 in Victoria Kirkham, Michael Sherberg, and Janet Levarie Smarr, eds. 2014. Boccaccio: a critical guide to the complete works. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Solomon, Michael. 1997. The literature of misogyny in medieval Spain: the Arcipreste de Talavera and the Spill. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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Secundus the Silent Philosopher on men’s troubles

Secundus Silent Philosopher

Secundus the Silent Philosopher (or the Life of Secundus) in an anonymous Greek text from about the second century GC.  Like the Genesis story of eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil, the Secundus text describes disastrous consequences of seeking knowledge.  The Secundus text more specifically describes disastrous consequences of men seeking knowledge about women.  It documents men’s troubled sense of who they are in relation to women.

Secundus heard that all women would have sex for money.  Unrecognized as a Cynic philosopher, Secundus sought to verify that proposition by propositioning his own mother.  Secundus’ mother was then a widow.  She accepted Secundus’ proposition.

Now after the two had finished dinner, and when they had started to go to bed, she was expecting to have carnal intercourse with him; but he put his arms around her as he would around his own mother, and, fixing his eyes upon the breasts that had suckled him, he lay down and slept until early morning.  When the first light of dawn appeared Secundus rose up with the intention of going out, but she laid hands on him and said, “Did you do this only in order to convict me?” And he answered, “No, lady mother, I refrained because it is not right for me to defile that place from which I came forth at birth, God forbid.”  Then she asked him who he was, and he said to her, “I am Secundus, your son.” [1]

This isn’t just of a sensational story of proving your mother’s a whore.  Secundus’ mother was a widow.  In the ancient world, widows were expected to be sexually eager.  That a man would have to pay a widow for sex would be shocking within ancient understanding.  Moreover, this wasn’t a pay-for-the-act porni transaction.  The man and woman had dinner together and then spent the whole night sleeping together.  The woman indicated that, with respect to the social norms of her time, she did wrong apart from knowing Secundus’ actual identity.

Secundus seems troubled by the bodily reality of male sexuality and procreation.  Incest is a near universal taboo across cultures and throughout history.  Secundus stared at his mother’s breasts.  He figured his male sexuality as defiling the place of his birth.  Unlike the general taboo of incest, Secundus’ horror seems to arise from the physical connection between sites of male heterosexual desire and procreation.  Secundus conveys a troubled sense of male sexuality and male bodily origin.

Secundus seeking the truth about women had terrible results.  Although she had not done anything wrong knowingly from the perspective of most non-Christians in the ancient Greco-Roman world, Secundus’ mother was tormented with her own sense of guilt and shame.  She hung herself.  Secundus, believing himself to be culpable for his mother’s death, resolved to remain silent for the rest of his life.  None of this makes carefully reasoned philosophical sense.  Secundus’ silence is consistent with the more general theme of suppressing knowledge and reasoning.  That suppression serves to preserve women’s social dominance.

Secundus, however, left of written record of wisdom.  It consisted of questions that the Emperor Hadrian asked Secundus, and the answers that Secundus wrote.  Originally there seems to have been twenty questions and answers.  The questions and answers are ontological with cosmic scope.  Here are the first seven questions:

  1. What is the Universe?
  2. What is the Ocean?
  3. What is God?
  4. What is the Day?
  5. What is the Sun?
  6. What is the Moon?
  7. What is the Earth?

Then comes three more questions and answers.  These cast light on the story of Secundus’ propositional test:

  1. What is Human Being?  Mind clothed in flesh, vessel containing a spirit, receptacle for sense-perception, toil-ridden spirit, temporary dwelling-place, phantom in the mirror of time, organism fitted with bones, scout on the trail of life, Fortune’s plaything, good thing that does not last, one of life’s expenditures, exile from life, deserter of the light, something that earth will reclaim, corpse forever.
  2. What is Beauty?  Picture drawn by Nature, self-made blessing, short-lived piece of good fortune, possession that does not stay with us, pious man’s ruin, accident of the flesh, minister to pleasure, flower that withers, uncompounded product, human’s desire.
  3. What is Woman?  Man’s desire, wild beast that shares one’s board, worry with which one rises in the morning, intertwining lustfulness, lioness sharing one’s bed, viper in clothes, battle voluntarily chosen, incontinence in the form of bed-partner, daily loss, storm in the house, hindrance to serenity, wreck of an incontinent man, stock-in-trade of adulturers, sacking of one’s estate, expensive war, evil creature, too much of a burden, nine-wind tempest, venomous asp, means of procreating humans, necessary evil. [2]

The answers to “What is Human Being?” concerns dualism of mind/spirit and body.  In the story of his test of his mother, Secundus was troubled by the connection between his sexuality and his bodily origin.  Secundus’ dualistic understanding of human being similarly shows lack of integral sense of person.

The answers to “What is Beauty?” seem implicitly weighted toward a man’s appreciation of another person’s physical beauty.  Human physical beauty fleeting with age underlies understanding beauty as “short-lived piece of good fortune, possession that does not stay with us, … accident of the flesh, minister to pleasure, flower that withers.”  The last answer to “What is Beauty?”, “human’s desire,” is sexually unmarked.  But it connects to the first answer to “What is Woman?”, “man’s desire.”  For most men, beauty is closely linked to women.

The answers to “What is Woman?” are understandings of women in relation to men.  The answers suggest men’s vulnerability to women and men’s lack of power in relation to women within the homeDomestic violence against men continues to generate almost no help for men, men continue to face huge anti-men gender discrimination in family law, and men continue to have much worse opportunities than women do to withdraw from the paid workforce and be supported for work within the home.  Secundus’ definition of woman tends to be misandristically dismissed as misogyny.  It should be understood within the context of the literature of men’s sexed protests.

Men’s understanding of women covered a wide range. The first answer to “What is Woman?” was not only “man’s desire” (ἀνδρός ἐπιθεμία).  Within the surviving Greek manuscript corpus of the Secundus text, other manuscripts have for that phrase “man’s despondency” (ἀνδρός αθυμια) and “man’s comforter” (ἀνδρός παραμυθιά).[3]  Working from a Greek text that had “man’s despondency,” Willelmus Medicus’ influential late-twelfth century Latin translation used the phrase “man’s confusion” (hominis confusio).[4]  A late-twentieth-century male academic translated “hominis confusio” as “man’s undoing.”[5]  That translation of the Latin seems to reflect the description of Pandora in Hesiod’s Greek Works and Days.[6]  Throughout history, men have not consistently understood women.

Secundus’ text doesn’t include the question “What is Adult Male Human {Man}?” corresponding to the question “What is Woman?”  Man, meaning adult male human, historically has been a category of relatively little explicit public consideration.  The distinctiveness of men has been obscured within generic consideration of humans.  Progressive scholars need to bring more awareness of men’s being into literature and public life.

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Notes:

[1] Secundus the Silent Philosopher, from Greek trans. Ben E. Perry in Hansen (1998) pp. 68-9.

[2] I’ve modified Perry’s translation to better track the Greek text given in Perry (1964) pp. 82-4.  The answers in Greek are typically short phrases that do not include any definite articles.  Perry’s translation used a mix of definite and indefinite articles as the first words of the answer clauses.  I have eliminated those articles.  In addition, Perry translated both ἄνθρωπος (human being) and ἀνδρός (adult male) as “man”.  I have clarified the sexual distinction between those word-forms.

[3] Perry (1964) p. 84, textual notes.

[4] Id. p. 96.  Willelmus Medicus in 1167 brought from Constantinople a Greek manuscript of Secundus the Silent Philosopher.  That Greek manuscript has survived and is identified as R in Perry’s manuscript corpus analysis.  Id. pp. 23-38.   Blamires in Blamires, Pratt & Marx (1992), p. 100, mis-identifies Willelmus’ translation “hominis confusio” as a mis-reading of the Greek ἀνδρός ἐπιθεμία.  But the Greek R manuscript that Willelmus used has the variant Greek ἀνδρός αθυμια.  Vincent of Beauvais (1190-1264) used Willelmus’ Latin translation (Vita Secundi Philosophi) in his Speculum historiale, an influential medieval European encyclopedia.

[5] Blamires in Blamires, Pratt & Marx (1992), p. 100.

[6] Hesiod, Works and Days, ll. 58, 90-105.

[image] Imaginary rendition of Secundus the Silent Philosopher.  Constructed from image of Luni marble portrait of Plato made by Silanion ca. 370 BGC for the Academia in Athens. Musei Capitolini MC1377.  Copy in the sacred area in Largo Argentina, 1925.  Source image thanks to Jastrow and Wikipedia.

References:

Blamires, Alcuin, Karen Pratt, and C. William Marx. 1992. Men Impugned, Woman Defamed and Woman Defended: an anthology of Medieval texts. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Hansen, William F., ed. 1998. Anthology of ancient Greek popular literature. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Perry, Ben Edwin Perry. 1964. Secundus, the silent philosopher: Critically ed. and restored so far as possible together with transl. of the Greek and Oriental versions, the Latin and Oriental texts, and a study of the tradition. New York: The American Philological Association.

self-fashioning in late twenthieth-century academia

My subject is self-fashioning from Greenblatt to Brown; my starting point is quite simply that in twentieth-century academia there were both selves and a sense that they could be fashioned.  Of course, these is some absurdity in so bald a pronouncement of the obvious: after all, there are always selves — a sense of personal order, a characteristic mode of address to the world, a structure of bounded desires — and always some elements of deliberate shaping in the formation and expression of identity.  One need only think of Housman’s extraordinary subtle and wry manipulations of persona to grasp that what I propose to examine does not suddenly spring up from nowhere when 1899 becomes 1900.   Moreover, there is considerable empirical evidence that there was may well have been less autonomy in self-fashioning in the twentieth century than before, that family, state, and religious institutions now impose a more rigid and far reaching discipline upon their middle-class and aristocratic subjects (the lower classes are preserved from these effects).  Autonomy is an issue but not the sole or even the central issue: the power to impose a shape upon oneself is an aspect of the more general power to control identity — that of others at least as often as one’s own.

What is central is the perception — as old in academic writing as al-Jahiz and al-Farazdaq — that there is in the early modern period a change in the intellectual, social, psychological, aesthetic, social-intellectual, psycho-social, and social-psycho-aesthetic structures that govern the generation of identities.  This change is difficult to characterize intelligibly because it is not only complex but resolutely unintelligible. If we say that there is a new stress on the executive power of the will, we also say that there is the most sustained and relentless assault upon the will; if we say that there is a new social mobility, we also say that there is a new assertion of power by both family and state to determine all movement within the society; if we say that there is a heightened awareness of the existence of alternative modes of social, theological, psychological, social-theological, social-psycho, and theo-social organization, we also say that there is a new dedication to the imposition of control upon those modes and ultimately to the destruction of alternatives, most importantly, the alternative of forming a broad-based coalition of progressive organizations to struggle for the liberation of men from gynocentric microcapillaries of power in the fashioning of human beings from the cradle to primary school.

Perhaps the simplest observation we can make is that in the late-twentieth-century there appears to be increased self-consciousness about self-consciousness of fashioning of human identity as a manipulable, artful process.  Such self-consciousness about self-consciousness appears in Brown’s 1988 preface to The Body and Society:

I have begun to benefit, slowly, from the gains of a remarkable recent development in the study of the religious world of women, most especially from the chastening sophistication of {feminist} viewpoint that this study can now offer.  At a crucial moment in my own work, I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to take heart from the humbling serenity and unaffected craftsmanship of Michel Foucault, in what I was not to know were his last years.

Foucault and his crazy-cult followers fashioned The Body.  Before The Body became fashionable, there was only my body, your body, and that pile of bodies that were buried there.  Brown’s preface concludes with a most un-Foucauldian eulogy:

No one known to me has maintained with such unremitting vigor the necessity of truth in historical studies than has Arnaldo Momigliano.  It is to his sense of truth, as well as to the magnificently unconstricted range and human warmth of his concern for the role of Judaism and Christianity in the history of the ancient world, that I have turned, for all of thirty years now, as a model and inspiration.  It is an honor for me to make clear, through the dedication of this book to him, the fact that he has been my teacher and my friend.

Brown’s new introduction to the twentieth anniversary (2008) edition of The Body and Society mentions in the first paragraph “guides as different from one another as Michel Foucault, Caroline Bynum, and Arnaldo Momigliano.”  The new introduction ends not with a eulogy to a champion of historical truth, but with an invocation of poetry:

It is easy to make rhetoric (indeed, polemic) out of the pros and cons of a Christian past when we do not attempt to make its living texture our own but are content to sit in judgment on it.  But to make this past part of ourselves, if only for a moment, is, perhaps, the best way to make poetry from it.

Plato wept.  The French Revolution failed.  Arnaldo Momigliano turned over in his grave.  Monkeys in a cage pissed on a typewriter.  And a bird shat on a stone statue of Byrd.

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Notes:

A model for this post is Greenblatt (1980), Introduction, pp. 1-2.  In a new preface to the 2005 edition, Greenblatt states “Renaissance Self-Fashioning was the book in which I first found my own voice.” (p. xi)  The publisher’s blurb declares that this book “spawned a new era of scholarly inquiry” and is now “a classic text in literary studies.”

A good of example of continuing self-fashioning is this passage from the preface Greenblatt added to the 2005 edition of Renaissance Self-Fashioning:

Because Renaissance Self-Fashioning has often been characterized as a grimly pessimistic account of the containment of subversion, a sour recognition that what looks like free choice is actually institutionally determined, a disenchanted acknowledgment of the impossibility of apocalyptic change. (“There is subversion, no end of subversion, only not for us.”)  It is true that the end of the war {Vietnam War} did not usher in the millennium.  The year that my book came out was the year that Ronald Reagan defeated Jimmy Carter.

Connecting apocalyptic change to the election of one U.S. presidential candidate rather than another indicates poetic historicism detached from ordinary persons’ experiences of everyday life.  Greenblatt goes on to declare that “coursing through these chapters is an eradicable principle of hope, hope in many different forms, often crushed but then springing up again in spite of everything.”  One can still hope for better poetry and a new enlightenment.

A.E. Housman is probably now most famous for the concluding sentence of his 1921 essay,“The Application of Thought to Textual Criticism”:

Knowledge is good, method is good, but one thing beyond all others is necessary; and that is to have a head, not a pumpkin, on your shoulders and brains, not pudding, in your head.

That leading twentieth-century academics had powerful brains in their heads seems to me to be beyond question.

References:

Brown, Peter. 1988. The body and society: men, women, and sexual renunciation in early Christianity. New York: Columbia University Press.

Greenblatt, Stephen J. 1980. Renaissance self-fashioning: from More to Shakespeare. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

women and men belong to different communication cultures?

Olmec Head

Some communications scholars have argued that men and women belong to different communication cultures.  A scholar who both achieved considerable mass-market success and gained a prestigious academic position stated:

boys and girls grow up in what are essentially different communication cultures, so talk between women and men is essentially cross-cultural communication. [1]

A scholarly review of this work noted:

Many best-selling books aimed at the general public have propounded this “different cultures” thesis in recent years… . The idea that men and women belong to different communication cultures has also gained wide acceptance in academic circles. …In brief, the different cultures thesis maintains that gender-specific socialization of boys and girls leads to different masculine and feminine speech communities. [2]

This review indicated that the different cultures thesis has great importance:

The pragmatic implications that follow from the different cultures thesis are just as far reaching as its theoretical and methodological consequences. The remedy for the “cross-cultural” misunderstandings that plague communication between men and women is to increase “multicultural” awareness and sensitivity. Educators are encouraged by proponents of the different cultures perspective to develop programs that foster “multicultural awareness” of stylistically different, but functionally equivalent, approaches to communication events such as “troubles talk.” [3]

The idea that women and men belong to “different communication cultures,” like the idea of cultural cognition, avoids questions of biological reality.  Sex differences in communication that evolve through differential reproductive success in evolutionary time apparently are beyond the boundaries of acceptable academic research and study.

Despite widespread elite support for multiculturalism, communication unicuturalists have vigorously attacked communication multiculturalists.  The issue is clearly cultural.  Five communication scholars earnestly reasoned within the social-scientistic standards of their discipline:

A reasonable question is: “How big a difference does there need to be between groups to be indicative of a ‘cultural’ difference?” Although any answer to this question necessarily contains an arbitrary element, the question remains an important one. … We suggest that the degree of nonoverlap in group distributions should exceed the degree of overlap on relevant variables (i.e., that Cohen’s U > .50). This corresponds to a standardized mean difference of d > 0.87 (and to r2 or η2 > .16). This appears to be a reasonable criterion; if there is not at least this much separation in the two distributions, it is hard to see how a claim of “cultural” (or even subcultural) difference can be maintained. [4]

Based on this difficulty in seeing how claims of cultural (“or even subcultural”) differences could be made, these scholars forcefully rejected multiculturalism as unsubstantiated, irresponsible, and potentially harmful:

the substantive claims of the different cultures myth lack an appropriate evidentiary foundation. Thus, there is no reasonable basis for entertaining its theoretical, methodological, or practical implications. … The mythical status of the different cultures thesis is now so evident, especially with respect to supportive communication, that we believe it is, henceforth, inappropriate (and irresponsible) for authors of textbooks, self-help books, and similar publications to feature favorably this thesis or leading statements of it. … it is past time for the myth of gender cultures to lose its narrative force, as well as its privileged place in the professional and popular literatures, for it has been shown to be a story that is false and potentially harmful. [5]

The unicultural thesis holds that women and men have common standards of communication skill. In addition, on at least one important measure of communication skill, proponents of this thesis found that women are more skilled than men:

although men and women exhibit differential skill with respect to the provision of supportive communication, they are not members of different cultures. …On average, however, women are more adept than men at providing sensitive emotional support. This finding may explain why – contrary to predictions of the different culture thesis – both men and women largely prefer to seek and receive emotional support from women. … We underscore, however, that these skill differences are inconsistent with the different cultures thesis, which holds that there are different standards for what counts as skillfulness in feminine and masculine speech communities. [6]

Uniculturalist proponents suggest that gender differences in socialization and gender roles among adults account for differences in male and female communication skills:

Perhaps gender-linked socialization experiences, such as the extent to which caretakers talk about feelings with boys and girls, as well as the different roles that men and women fill in post-industrial Western societies, lead women, as a group, to be somewhat more skilled {than men} at the complex psychological and communicative tasks associated with providing emotional support to distressed others. [7]

For both multiculturalists and uniculturalists, gender-specific socialization explains sex differences in communication.  Those scholars, however, do not connect gender-specific socialization of children to knowledge about genetics, behavioral patterns in non-human animals, and the social circumstances in which humans evolved.

Gender-specific socialization of children implies nothing about nature versus nurture.  Human nature might imply particular patterns of nurture, e.g. care for helpless young.  Without such nurture, humans would naturally die or fail to achieve their natural level of human functioning.  Moreover, gender patterns of socialization of children cannot simply be changed so as to change gender-associated behavior in the desired way.  In humane societies, parents typically have considerable freedom to decide how to raise their children.  Children, of course, often have a strong sense of their own interests.  Parental attempts to mold their children into persons that parents want their children to be are often remarkably unsuccessful.  Social policies on gender socialization of children are likely to be even less successful.

Nonetheless, gender socialization of children remains a focus of elite concern about gender inequality.  In 2005, a prominent gender scholar declared:

We should allow all of the evidence that men and women have equal cognitive capacity to permeate through society.  We should allow people to evaluate children in relation to their actual capacities, rather than one’s sense of what their capacities ought to be, given their gender. [8]

Allowing every person to freely realize her or his capabilities, irrespective of gender, is admirable.  Allowing all of the evidence that men and women have equal communication capabilities, and all of the evidence that they don’t, to permeate through society would be reasonable and democratic.  The specific form of the prominent gender scholar’s proposal indicates the direction of failure.

Describing sex differences in communication as cultural has little scientific significance.  Male and female humans undoubtedly have shared considerable common culture since the beginning of humanity.[9]  Human living-groups are typically mixed-sex.  Contemporary democracies embrace both men and women in common public deliberation.  At the same time, sex-differentiated bodily relations to offspring and sex-differentiated social environments are human universals highly relevant to the evolution and development of human communication capabilities.  The gender socialization of children and adult gender roles are not merely arbitrary social constructions.  They likely have elements essential to humane flourishing of humans, male and female.

Understanding sex differences in communication is crucial for understanding stark sex differences in social concern.  Perhaps that’s why serious discussion of sex differences in communication is suppressed.

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Notes:

[1] Tannen (1990) p. 18.  Tannen is a professor at Georgetown University.  Her biography states:

she is one of only two in the College of Arts and Sciences who hold the distinguished rank of University Professor. She has been McGraw Distinguished Lecturer at Princeton University, and was a fellow at the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences in Stanford, California, following a term in residence at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. She has published twenty books and over 100 articles and is the recipient of five honorary doctorates.

With her idea of gender-based communication cultures, Tannen has achieved extraordinary success in the extremely competitive U.S. intellectual marketplace.

[2] MacGeorge et al. (2004) pp. 143, 144.

[3] Id. 145.

[4] Id. 145-6, ft. 6.

[5] Id. pp. 72, 173.  Robert Sapolsky, a highly regarded academic and scientist (see notes [6]-[8] here), declared:

For a wonderful overview of gender differences in emotional expressivity, see Deborah Tannen’s 1990 book, You Just Don’t Understand (New York: Morrow). I firmly believe this should be required reading for all newlyweds.

Sapolsky (1997) p. 173.  Only seven years later, in a remarkable slide into totalitarian thinking, the academic communication authorities warned that Tannen’s views are inappropriate, responsible and “potentially harmful.”

[6] MacGeorge et al. (2004) p. 171, references omitted.  MacGeorge, as an Assistant Professor at Purdue University, received for this article the 2005 Distinguished Publication Award from the Association for Women in Psychology.

[7] Id. Despite the reference to “post-industrial Western societies,” this scholarship analyzes communication with terms such as “provision of support,” “message units,” “support messages,” and “responses to supportive messages.”  These terms have their conceptual roots in mechanized production and information transfer.  Much of what persons value in communication cannot be well understood within a model of message production and transfer.  See Sense in Communication.

[8] Spelker, in Pinker & Spelke (2005).  How such evidence is not allowed to permeate through society and how people are not allowed to evaluate their children in that way is not clear. To find out the effects of discrimination and social biases on the highly disproportionate violence against men, one might like to use the procedure that Spelke proposes, “We need to do the experiment, getting rid of discrimination and social pressure, in order to find out.”  However, getting rid of social pressure probably would not be a feasible social experiment even within the most authoritarian society.  Eliminating social pressure seems not feasible even in deliberation among scientists.

[9] Boehm (1999) argues that a hunter-gatherer egalitarian political lifestyle shaped human nature. Women are thought to have participated fully in the moral life their communities:

One area in which women seem to enjoy a far more equal footing politically, is in holding down male upstarts of whom we have been speaking. My main hypothesis is that egalitarian societies are created and maintained by moral communities, and women participate quite fully in the moral life of their community.

Id. p. 8.  Experimental evidence on strong reciprocity in humans shows similar behavior among men and women, but it has fundamental weaknesses.

[image] Colossal Head 4 (replica) of Olmec ruler, Olmec Culture, San Lorenzo Tenochtitlan, Veracruz, Mexico, date 1200 – 900 B.C.E.  Located outside of the Smithsonian National History Museum, Washington, DC.

References:

Boehm, Christopher. 1999. Hierarchy in the forest: the evolution of egalitarian behavior. Cambridge, Mass., Harvard University Press.

MacGeorge, Erina L., Angela R. Graves, Bo Feng, Seth J. Gillihan and Brant R. Burleson. 2004. “The Myth of Gender Cultures: Similarities Outweigh Differences in Men’s and Women’s Provision of and Responses to Supportive Communication.” Sex Roles 50(3/4): 143-175.

Pinker, Steven, and Elizabeth Spelke. 2005. “The Science of Gender and Science: Pinker vs. Spelke.”  Edge The Third Culture.

Sapolsky, Robert M. 1997. The trouble with testosterone: and other essays on the biology of the human predicament. New York, NY, Scribner.

Tannen, Deborah. 1990. You Just Don’t Understand: Women and Men in Conversation. New York, William Morrow and Co.

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strong, independent Kenyan rejects Unbound gender bigotry

pith helmet in the style of 2nd French Empire

Like most cutting-edge international development organizations, the sponsorship organization Unbound has been attacking failures in poor communities to conform to world-elite standards of gender equality.  In a recent mailing to Unbound sponsors, an article entitled online “Bank accounts offer independence and opportunity to families” got an extra super-title and cover billing: “MOTHERS KNOW BEST.”  This article explains:

In countries such as India and Kenya, sponsorship benefits are distributed to families through individual bank accounts.  With the assistance of Unbound staff members, the mothers of sponsored children manage the accounts until the children are of age.  These bank accounts are created to empower mothers to decide how to best use the sponsorship funds for the development of their families. [1]

Notice how “distributed to families” is equated to “distributed to mothers.”  Contrary to gender lies propagated through leading educational institutions and powerful media, males across all primates commonly have been excluded from equal relationships with their children.  In the U.S., men face huge gender discrimination in decisions about child custody and child support.  Nothing has been done to address that gender inequality.  Unbound and many other international development organizations are perpetuating and worsening gender inequalities against men worldwide.

Unbound’s literature provides a fine case study in the soft power of cultural imperialism in spreading gender bigotry.  A recent edition of an Unbound magazine had 12 pages (about half the total pages in the magazine) devoted to “girls and women.”[2]  That’s a conceptual category largely unknown in relatively high-income, cosmopolitan cities and poor rural villages only a few decades ago.  Are women really more akin to girls than boys are to girls?  If you doubt that conceptual doctrine, then you aren’t fully educated to today’s world-elite standards.

Unbound’s literature aggressively disseminates cultural constructs of gender bigotry.  Here are some more examples:

  • Article titled “GIRL POWER / sponsorship provides opportunities for girls, women.”  The phrase “girl power,” like “girls rule” and “boys are stupid, throw rocks at them,” now appear on girls’ t-shirts in the U.S.  You can count on Unbound to bring these phrases to girls living in material poverty in villages around the world.  After all, persons in high-income countries have an abundance of spiritual poverty.  They can contribute their spiritual poverty to persons living in material poverty.
  • Article titled “Women in India establish identity.”  Western experts in lack of identity ask poor, under-educated others whether they have an identify.  The other responds with a look of complete bewilderment.  The Western expert records that the other does not have an identity.  Western expert then helps the other “establish identity.”
  • Article titled “Giving Girls the Power to Dream.” How can girls dream without the help of highly developed teen-girl magazines (“polish your nails with the color of your dreams!”) and specially designed go-girl video programming (“Glamor and Drama in STEM — the adventures of supergirl hero who works 80 hours a week as a computer programmer at Facebook”)
  • Another article featuring the exemplary indoctrination of Sonia in Guatemala.  The article begins:

    “I have so many dreams!” Sonia said as her mother looked on proudly. “I see myself graduating from the university as a business administrator or an auditor.  I dream of working in a big company and doing important things.”

    Sonia has thus received outstanding preparation for joining the global workforce of corporate drones.  I’m sure when she’s fifty years old, shuffling papers and counting the days until she can retire and spend more time home alone with her cats, she’ll look back fondly on her original and truly inspiring childhood dreams.

  • Article titled “Challenging Traditions.” This article describes how Sophia, a Greek-named woman living in “the traditional Maasai community in southern Kenya,” plans to “continue her education.”  Making clear that Sophia has been well-educated, the article reports:

    “I have learned that girls are equally as important as boys,” Sophia said. “I have been empowered to fight for the rights of the girls who are suffering in my community.”

    How generous, empathetic, and community-spirited!  To better understand how to serve her community, Sophia might examine how her values relate to sexist values in the World Values Survey.

  • Article titled “Staff member sees effects of gender inequality.” Unbound staff member Sara Asmussen answers questions about “gender inequality.”  Here’s a typical question, “How does {Unbound} help to empower women and their families?” Asmussen says nothing about gender inequalities disadvantaging men or disadvantaging boys.  A reasonable inference is that Unbound doesn’t care about inequalities hurting men or hurting boys.
  • Pull quote from Unbound founder Bob Hentzen: “My joy and inspiration is to work with strong, independent women.  They are my heroes and I love them.”  Unbound apparently is rooted in fashionable, old-fashioned, insipid sexism.  Parroting the women-are-wonderful effect is not inspiring. [3]

Culturally dominant persons offering the poor desperately needed material resources and gender bigotry are an enormously powerful force worldwide.  But heroic acts of resistance are possible.  For example, David, a strong, independent Kenyan, stood up to Unbound’s gender-biased programming:

One requirement of {Unbound} sponsorship is the family taking an active part in the program. In some projects this can include being part of a mothers group.  As the name implies, these small groups are typically made up of mothers.  A main goal is to empower members to become economically self-sufficient through microlending.

Because Caroline {David’s wife) spent so much time at the market, she couldn’t attend the group meetings. So David went instead. “I am a member of a support mothers group, although I am a man,” David said. “My group is called Nguono group, and we have 30 members. It is from this group that I was able to grow and come up with the idea of starting my welding workshop.” [4]

Women and men worldwide should look for inspiration to courageous persons like David.  The future of civilized life depends on such action.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] From feature article, p. 4, in Unbound’s publication Impact, Spring 2014 issue, cover title: “MOTHERS KNOW BEST / Celebrating mothers around the world.”

[2] Christian Foundation for Children and Aging, renamed CFCA, renamed Unbound, publication sacredground (vol. 32, no. 2, fall/winter 2013), pp. 10-19, 22-23.

[3] All these examples are from sacredground, id.

[4] From feature article, p. 5, in Unbound publication Impact, Summer 2014 issue, cover title: “A FIRE WITHIN / Sponsorship sparks opportunities for fathers full of potential.”  That title is misleading.  One father’s refusal to accept being excluding by gender from Unbound’s programming allowed him to acquire resources to open his own welding shop.  Here’s an online version of the article.

[image] Pith helmet in the Second French Empire style, worn by soldiers in the army of Madagascar Queen Ranavalona III (reigned 1883 – 1897).  Thanks to Rama and Wikipedia.

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beyond Origen: Jerome, spiritual doctor in Galen’s persona

Late in the fourth century, Jerome brought the Greek biblical scholarship of Origen to the Latin-speaking western Roman Empire.  From Jerome’s perspective, Origen’s primary merits were:

  1. Origin was an extremely hard-working scholar.  He produced an enormous body of biblical scholarship.
  2. Origin engaged in thorough textual study.  He knew the original languages of scripture and compared manuscripts and translations.
  3. Origin produced a precious scholarly legacy of enduring value.  His work deserves continued, careful study. [1]

Those merits also characterize well Galen in relation to the Hippocratic corpus.  In his efforts to instruct, in his pugnaciousness, and in his melding of scholarship and practice, Jerome advancing himself among Christian authorities writing in Latin was much like Galen advancing himself among non-Christian authorities writing in Greek.

Jerome in the desert

In a letter written in 384, Jerome claimed to have vowed to forsake worldly books.  Jerome as a young man received a broad education  in non-Christian Greek and Latin works.  He found Cicero and Plautus particularly attractive.  However, one night early in his life he dreamed that he was caught up in the spirit and dragged to the judgment seat.  Amid dazzling light:

I was asked to state my legal status; I replied that I was a Christian.  But He who presided said: “You lie.  You are a follower of Cicero, not a follower of Christ.  ‘For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.'”  Straightway I became dumb, and amid the strokes of the whip — for He had ordered me to be scourged — I was even more bitterly tortured by the fire of conscience [2]

Angelic bystanders gave Jerome an opportunity to repent:

At last the bystanders fell at the knees of Him who presided, and prayed for Him to pardon my youth and give me opportunity to repent of my error on the understanding that the extreme of torture should be inflicted on me if ever I read again the works of Gentile authors.  In the stress of that dread hour I should have been willing to make even larger promises, and making an oath I called upon His name: “O Lord, if ever again I possess worldly books or read them, I have denied you.”

Jerome’s vow, contained within a tissue of allusions to Virgil, is best understood as a literary bow to  Origen.[3]  Origin reportedly gave away his library of ancient Greek literature in turning from a career as a Greek grammarian to a new career of sacred studies.  In his dream, Jerome followed Origen.[4]

Jerome remained engaged with non-Christian literature and rhetoric throughout his life.  Jerome’s writings are filled with references to Horace, Terrence, Virgil, and Cicero.  His library at Bethlehem, where he retreated to live as a Christian scholar-monk, contained a wide range of non-Christian books.[5]  Jerome apparently first read Juvenal between 382 and 385.[6]  Juvenal was an important literary influence in Jerome’s construction of Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage.  In a letter to an orator dated to 397, Jerome discretely observed:

You ask me at the close of your letter why it is that sometimes in my writings I quote examples from secular literature and thus defile the whiteness of the church with the foulness of heathenism. … You must not adopt the mistaken opinion, that while in dealing with the Gentiles one may appeal to their literature in all other discussions one ought to ignore it; for almost all the books of all these writers — except those who like Epicurus are no scholars — are extremely full of erudition and philosophy.  I incline indeed to fancy — the thought comes into my head as I dictate — that you yourself know quite well what has always been the practice of the learned in this matter. [7]

Jerome’s letters are written in highly polished literary Latin.  After he spent about two years in Constantinople from 380, Jerome became a proponent of Greek Christian learning.[8]  He probably also gained greater appreciation for Greek non-Christian literature.

Jerome seems to have first read Galen in or shortly before 393.   Jerome’s Adversus Jovinianum, written in 393, explicitly cited Galen twice.  In the course of making functional-teleological arguments common in Galen, Jerome declared:

Hyena’s gall restores brightness to the eyes, and its dung and that of dogs cures gangrenous wounds. And (it may seem strange to the reader) Galen asserts in his treatise on Simples, that human dung is of service in a multitude of cases. [9]

Galen here appears as an authority capable of carrying a surprising claim.  The reference to the specific Galenic work underscores that Galen’s surprising claim isn’t a commonplace.  Later in Adversus Jovinianum, Jerome explicitly specified Galen’s authority and cited him congenially:

Galen, a very learned man and the commentator on Hippocrates, says in his exhortation to the practice of medicine that athletes whose whole life and art consists in stuffing cannot live long, nor be healthy: and that their souls enveloped with superfluous blood and fat, and as it were covered with mud, have no refined or heavenly thoughts, but are always intent upon gluttonous and voracious feasting. [10]

Both of these citations to Galen are accurate, technical, and specific.  While Jerome had an extraordinarily good memory, he probably didn’t remember these citations from long before.[11]

Galen would have been an attractive figure for Jerome.  Galen studied the Hippocratic corpus with the reverence and textual-philological attention that Jerome brought to the Bible.  Galen emphasized that a good physician must be extremely hard-working.  Galen produced an enormous corpus of scholarly work.  His work presents a persona “combative, opinionated, pedantic, long-winded, even unscrupulous.”[12]  Those adjectives also characterize Jerome’s persona.  Galen harshly attacked the Epicureans.  Galen declared:

{the excellent physician} will, necessarily, not only despise money, but also be extremely hard-working. And one cannot be hard-working if one is continually drinking or eating or indulging in sex: if, to put it briefly, one is a slave to genitals and belly. [13]

In Adversus Jovinianum, Jerome attacked Jovinian as “the Epicurus of Christianity.”  Jerome’s rhetoric, translated from Latin into Greek, would need no other modification to fit within a Galenic work:

I must in conclusion say a few words to our modern Epicurus wantoning in his gardens with his favourites of both sexes.  On your side are the fat and the sleek in their festal attire.  If I may mock like Socrates, add if you please, all swine and dogs, and, since you like flesh so well, vultures too, eagles, hawks, and owls.  We shall never be afraid of the host of Aristippus.  If ever I see a fine fellow, or a man who is no stranger to the curling irons, with his hair nicely done and his cheeks all aglow, he belongs to your herd, or rather grunts in concert with your pigs. [14]

Both Jerome and Galen positioned themselves as critics of their contemporary scholarly world and as seekers of true knowledge.[15]  Both were anti-sophists working in the style of sophists.

Both Jerome and Galen advanced scholarship from within another profession.  Galen treated patients in his long and laborious clinical practice as a doctor.[16]  Jerome spent perhaps eighteen months living as a hermit in the desert outside Antioch.[17]  He spent much of his later life living as a monk in a small monastery in Bethlehem.  While Jerome built for himself in Bethlehem an expensive library, he did not live the life of an urban orator or teacher seeking to develop a school of rich and well-connected male students.[18]  Women financially supported Jerome.  He in turn instructed them in Christian ascetic living.  Jerome, like Galen, had a profession open to persons with little formal learning.

Galen wrote a treatise declaring that the best physician is also a philosopher.  Jerome through his work implicitly claimed that the best Christian ascetic is also a biblical scholar.  Both attacked what they regarded as bad scholarship in ways that scholars (at least today) regard as uncollegial.  Seeing Jerome in the persona of Origen obscures Jerome and Galen’s common position across Greek and Latin, Christian and non-Christian knowledge competition.

Institutionalization of knowledge competition naturally tends to generate intellectual cartelization, disciplinary barriers, and self-interested discursive civility.  Latin classics, Greek classics, and patristics have thus developed as separate spheres of professional scholarship.  Professional scholars, keenly aware of the importance of collegiality for professional advancement, shun pugnacious, opinionated, and outrageous work.  More appreciation for Jerome and Galen might help to spark renaissance and enlightenment.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:

Notes:

[1] Vessey (1993) pp. 141-3.

[2] Jerome, Letter 22 (To Eustochium, dated 384) s. 30, from Latin trans. Wright (1933) pp. 127-9, with amendments, e.g. modernizing archaic English.  The translation in Freemantle (1892) is similar.  The quote within the quote is from Matthew 6:21, Luke 12:34.  The subsequent quote is also from Letter 22.30.

[3] Williams (2006) pp. 27.   Id. pp. 26-7 observes, “it seems likely that the story of the dream is a fiction.”

[4] Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Bk. 6, states:

having come to the conclusion that he ought not to depend on the support of others, he {Origen} gave away all the books of ancient literature that he possessed, though formerly he had fondly cherished them, and was content to receive four obols a day from the man who purchased them.

Trans. Williams (2006) p. 133.  Origen apparently had a material interest in “giving away” his books of ancient literature.  Id. p. 134 asks:

Could Eusebius’s account of the fate of Origen’s library have played a role — perhaps an unconscious one — in Jerome’s concoction of the story of his dream?

Jerome was highly creative.  Jerome seems to me likely to have constructed his dream to follow Origen giving up pagan literature.  Jerome probably regretted that he didn’t have a daily financial stipend to support his scholarly work.

[5] Id. pp. 36, pp. 162-5.  Rufinus accused Jerome of working in Bethlehem as a grammaticus, teaching boys to read Virgil, Horace, and Terence.  Jerome didn’t deny that charge.  Williams (2006) pp. 163-4.  In his De viris illustribus (On Illustrious Men), Jerome eulogized Origen:

his immortal genius, how that he understood dialectics, as well as geometry, arithmetic, music, grammar, and rhetoric, and taught all the schools of philosophers, in such wise that he had also diligent students in secular literature, and lectured to them daily, and the crowds which flocked to him were marvelous.  These, he received in the hope that through the instrumentality of this secular literature, he might establish them in the faith of Christ.

De viris illustribus, s. 54.  Jerome probably followed Origen in such practice.

[6] Adkin (2000) p. 126.

[7] Jerome, Letter 70 (To Magnus an Orator of Rome, dated 397) s. 2, 6, from Latin trans. Freemantle (1892) pp. 368, 374.  In his Adversus Rufininus (dated 402), Jerome claimed that he merely remembered secular literature from his boyhood education:

I learned the seven forms of Syllogisms in the Elements of logic; I learned the meaning of an Axiom, or as it might be called in Latin a Determination; I learned how every sentence must have in it a verb and a noun; how to heap up the steps of the Sorites, how to detect the clever turns of the Pseudomenos and the frauds of the stock sophisms. I can swear that I never read any of these things after I left school. I suppose that, to escape from having what I learned made into a crime, I must, according to the fables of the poets, go and drink of the river Lethe.

Jerome, of course, knew “the fables of the poets.”  His claims in Adversus Rufininus about this knowledge of worldly literature is best understand as participating in sophistic argument.

[8] Williams (2006) p. 28.

[9] Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum (Against Jovinian, dated 393) Bk. 2, s. 6, from Latin trans. Freemantle (1892) p. 865.  On Galen’s discussion of the use of human feces, see Keyser (1997) p. 189, citing Galen, De Simp. Medicament. Facultatibus (On the Powers of Simple Remedies) 10.2.14.

[10] Id. Bk. 2, s. 11, Freemantle (1892) p. 871.  Cf. Galen, An Exhortation to Study the Arts, s. 11.

[11] Another explicit citation to Galen is in Jerome, Letter 54 (To Furia, dated 394), s. 9:

Physicians and others who have written on the nature of the human body, and particularly Galen in his book entitled On matters of health, say that the bodies of boys and of young men and of full grown men and women glow with an interior heat and consequently that for persons of these ages all food is injurious which tends to promote this heat: while on the other hand it is highly conducive to health in eating and in drinking to take things cold and cooling. Contrariwise they tell us that warm food and old wine are good for the old who suffer from humours and from chilliness.

Trans. Freemantle (1892) p. 276.  I haven’t been able to find any other explicit reference to Galen in Jerome’s corpus besides the three cited.  The three references to Galen all date to 393-4.  This is when controversy over Origen’s orthodoxy emerged.  Jerome may have considered Galen as an additional model of work apart from the controversy over Origen.

[12] Nutton (2013) p. 234.  Mattern (2013), p. 4, observes of Galen’s personality:

{it} was typical of his time, place, and social strata, and Galen was not more competitive, hostile, or self-aggrandizing than his peers.

That persona arose within knowledge competition that wasn’t highly institutionalized.

[13] Opt. Med., from Greek trans. Singer (1997) p. 33.  Jerome declared of Jovinian:

For although he boasts of being a monk, he has exchanged his dirty tunic, bare feet, common bread, and drink of water, for a snowy dress, sleek skin, honey-wine and dainty dishes, for the sauces of Apicius and Paxamus, for baths and rubbings, and for the cook-shops. Is it not clear that he prefers his belly to Christ, and thinks his ruddy complexion worth the kingdom of heaven?

Adversus Jovinianum, Bk. 1, s. 40, trans. Freemantle (1892) p. 837.

[14] Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum, Bk. 2, s. 36, trans. Freemantle (1892) p. 904.  Id. also mocks Jovinian’s followers as declaring, “we follow vice, not virtue; Epicurus, not Christ; Jovinianus, not the Apostle Paul.”  The reference to “the Epicurus of Christianity” is from id. Bk. 1, s. 1.

[15] In Letter 52 (To Nepotian, dated 394) s. 4, Jerome declares:

To what end, you ask, these recondite references? To show that you need not expect from me boyish declamation, flowery sentiments, a meretricious style, and at the close of every paragraph the terse and pointed aphorisms which call forth approving shouts from those who hear them.

Trans. Freemantle (1892) p. 246.  The “recondite references” were merely citations of scripture in a letter instructing clergy.  In Letter 28 (To Marsella, dated perhaps 384), Jerome disparaged “foolish knowledge of the knowing.”  That’s a key theme in Galen’s writings.

[16] On Galen’s practice of medicine, Mattern (2013) esp. Ch. 7.

[17] Williams (2006) pp. 29, 273.  Jerome lived as a hermit in Chalcis.  The length of that experience isn’t clear and tends to be exaggerated.

[18] Id., Ch. 4, describes Jerome’s large, expensive library.

[image] Jerome in the desert, meditating on the cross. Angelo Caroselli (Italian, 1585-1652). Painting, Rome, c. 1620-1630. The Walters Art Museum 37.1910.

References:

Adkin, Neil. 2000. “Jerome, Seneca, Juvenal.” Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire 78 (fasc. 1, Antiquite – Oudheid): 119-128.

Freemantle, William Henry, trans. 1892.  The Principal Works of St. Jerome.  Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 6. Oxford: Parker.

Keyser, Paul T. 1997. “Science and Magic in Galen’s Recipes (Sympathy and Efficacy).” Pp. 175-98 in Armelle Debru, ed. Galen on Pharmacology: Philosophy, History and Medicine. Proceedings of the 5th International Galen Colloquium, Lille, 16-18 March 1995, Leiden, New York, and Cologne, 1997 .

Mattern, Susan P. 2013. The prince of medicine: Galen in the Roman Empire. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Nutton, Vivian. 2013. Ancient medicine. 2nd. ed. London: Routledge.

Singer, P. N., trans. 1997. Galen. Selected works. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Vessey, Mark. 1993. “Jerome’s Origen: The Making of a Christian Literary Persona.” Studia Patristica: Papers Presented to the International Conference on Patristic Studies 28: 135–45.

Williams, Megan Hale. 2006. The monk and the book: Jerome and the making of Christian scholarship. Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Wright, F.A., trans. 1933. Jerome: select letters. Loeb Classical Library. London: W. Heinemann.

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Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage: Jerome’s creativity

The late-fourth-century Christian ascetic and scholar Jerome had such extraordinary literary creativity that scholars to this day have barely recognized his genius.  Jerome wove Christian scripture, non-Christian Greco-Roman literature, and the work of early Christian thought leaders into innovative, outrageous, transgressive forms.  One of Jerome’s greatest and most influential works, Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage, has been so badly misunderstood that many scholars believe that Theophrastus, Aristotle’s successor at the Athenian lyceum, wrote it.  Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage is a sophisticated literary artifice.  Written by Jerome from his personal perspective as a man, Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage inconceivably tells women what men want.[1]

Golden Book, after that of Theophrastus

With remarkable daring, Jerome addressed Theophrastus’ Golden Book to women.  Theophrastus’ book occurs as a small section in Jerome’s voluminous treatise, Adversus Jovinianum.  Jerome sought in Adversus Jovinianum to confute a theologian’s claim that “virgin maidens, widows, and married women” have statuses of equal merit as Christians.  Immediately before citing Theophrastus’ Golden Book, Jerome declares:

what am I to do when the women of our time press me with apostolic authority, and before the first husband is buried, repeat from morning to night the precepts which allow a second marriage?  Seeing they despise the fidelity which Christian purity dictates, let them at least learn chastity from the heathen. [2]

Jerome thus constructed Theophrastus’ Golden Book as instruction for women.  As Aristotle’s successor in leading the Athenian lyceum, Theophrastus was an eminent classical philosophical authority.  Through Theophrastus, Jerome provided authoritative heathen teaching for women.

Jerome introduced Theophrastus’ Golden Book with a parody of wisdom attributed to Solomon.  Solomon is traditionally identified as the author of the biblical book Proverbs.  Like the biblical book Sirach, Proverbs concludes with a Hebrew acrostic.  Proverbs’ concluding acrostic has a genre that was probably as popular in the ancient world as it is today: an encomium to the strong, independent woman.  The first and last two lines of Proverbs’ encomium carry its main points:

A woman of strength, who can find?
Her price is greater than rubies.

Comeliness is deceit and beauty a vapor,
but a woman who fears the Lord — she will be praised.
Give her the fruit of her hands,
and let her deeds praise her in the gates. [3]

Proverbs’ strong woman works outside the home, independent of her husband, in the breadwinner role that traditionally has been imposed on men as their exclusive, natural burden.

Jerome reconfigured the values of Proverbs’ encomium to the strong, independent woman.  Jerome artfully declares:

Theophrastus’ book about marriage, in which he asks whether a wise man should marry, is said to be worth its weight in gold.  And after specifying that, yes, occasionally a wise man might venture on marriage — if the woman is beautiful, of good character and honest parentage, and he himself healthy and rich — he immediately concludes, “but all these things rarely coexist in a marriage.  Therefore, a wise man should not marry.” [4]

Because the woman that Proverbs’ praises is actually rare, Theophrastus’ book is worth its weight in gold.  It prevents a mistaken evaluation of the worth of a wife.  Proverbs disparages the value of a wife’s beauty and emphasizes her earning potential.  But if a man is already rich, a woman’s earning potential has little marginal value to him in marriage.  Theophrastus’ book highlights a woman’s beauty and her social status.  In addition, the husband being healthy alludes to him being able to exercise fully the sexual opportunities that marriage potentially provides.  In short, Jerome through Theophrastus instructs Christian women that Proverbs’ encomium to the strong, independent woman is bunk.[5]

Jerome also reconfigured in non-Christian terms the Christian gospel’s wisdom about serving two masters.  The gospel of Matthew declares:

No one can serve two masters: for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to one and despise the other.  You cannot serve God and wealth. [6]

Jerome explains:

marriage impedes the pursuit of philosophy, nor may any man serve both books and wife.

Books here substitute for seeking God, and a wife, for seeking wealth.  Jerome immediately expands satirically the latter point:

There are many things which are necessary for married women’s practices: expensive clothes, gold, gems, shopping sprees, maids, all kinds of furniture, litters, a gilt two-wheeled chariot.

Jerome also represents the reversal of love and hate.  He describes the wife’s jealousy of others and the husband’s attempts to establish friendships with others.  Jerome observes:

She {the wife} suspects that her husband’s love goes the same way as her hate.

In Jerome’s creative allegory, just as marriage impedes a non-Christian pursuing learning, marriage impedes a Christian serving God.

Biblical wisdom presents contrasting views of women.  Chapter 26 of Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) alternates twice between describing the wicked wife and the good wife.  The obvious question is how to get a good wife rather than a wicked one.  Jerome through Theophrastus reasons:

there is no picking out a wife, but we have to take whatever comes along.  If she has a temper, if she is foolish, malformed, proud, smelly, whatever vice it is, we learn it only after the wedding.  A horse, a donkey, a bull, a dog, and the most worthless slaves, even clothes and kettles, a wooden stool, a goblet, and an earthen pitcher all are tested first and then bought or not.  Only a wife is not shown, lest she should displease before she is wed.

Jerome through Theophrastus thus instructs women about men’s reluctance to marry.  Men cannot distinguish between good and bad women before marriage.[7]  Out of respect for men’s lack of knowledge, even a woman who believes herself to be good should not urge a man to marry her.

With Theophrastus’ Golden Book, Jerome displayed his mastery of Juvenal’s towering classical work of men sexed protests.  Like Juvenal, Jerome through Theophrastus protests wives’ rule of the household.[8]  Juvenal’s mimesis of a wife’s words is stilted and tendentious, with a style little different from his rhetorical questions.[9]  Jerome’s mimesis of a wife’s words is more realistic and more comic:

That woman looks so much prettier when she goes out; this one is honored by everyone; when women get together, they despise me as a wretch.  Why were you staring at the woman next door?  What were you talking about with the maid?  What did you bring home from the forum? [10]

Jerome makes similar points of protest to Juvenal, but in a more refined, more charitable way.  In protesting wives’ sexual relations with household eunuchs, Juvenal graphically describes a young man getting his testicles torn off so as to serve better sexually the mistress of the house.  Jerome more decorously mentions, “her eunuch, gelded to prolong her pleasure and to make it safe.”  Juvenal describes wives brutally flogging household servants.[11]  Jerome merely hints discretely about workplace sexual harassment:

Upon whomever she sets her heart, they must have her love though they want her not.[12]

Juvenal graphically describes wives sneaking out at night to work in brothels and having sex with gladiators.  He also describes men having consensual sex with other men’s wives as if those men were brutish attackers:

her lover lurks concealed, impatiently keeping quiet while drawing back his foreskin. [13]

Jerome, in contrast, more charitably recognizes men’s attractive qualities:

One man tempts by his shape, another by his brains, another by his jokes, yet another by his generosity.  What is attacked from all sides will fall, one way or another.

Juvenal suggests as an alternative to a wife a boy sex-object.[14]  Jerome more humanely suggests a faithful servant, friends, and relatives.  Juvenal elaborates at length about wives’ propensities toward superstition and willingness to poison their husbands.[15]  Jerome addresses these problems briefly and pragmatically.  In a key symbolic gesture, Jerome refers to a good and kind wife as “a rare bird.”  He thus cites Juvenal’s description of a suitable wife as “a rare bird on this earth, exactly like a black swan.”[16]  Jerome, with brevity and graciousness, trumped Juvenal in addressing this earthly life.

Within Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage, Jerome also poignantly points to a greater life.  Describing a husband’s solicitude for a good and kind wife, Jerome declares:

when she gives birth, we groan with her; when she is in danger, we, too, are tortured with her.

The husband experiences continually being with his wife.  Jerome implicitly recognizes the good of that experience with an abrupt shift to describing an alternate experience:

A wise man can never be alone.  He has with him all men who are and who have ever been good, and he turns his free mind wherever he likes.  What his body cannot do, he embraces in this thought.  And if he lacks men to speak to, he speaks with God.  He will never be less alone than when he is alone.

Jerome thus described his experience of Christian ascetic life.  Jerome’s Christian ascetic life encompassed strenuous scholarly study and writing.  Wealthy women who admired and patronized Jerome provided vital support for his scholarly study and writing.  Jerome concluded Theophrastus’ Golden Book with fitting words for patrons:

to spend your money well while you are still alive would be a more certain inheritance than to leave what you acquired by your own hard work to be used for who knows what.

Juvenal’s satire is all bite.  Jerome made with Juvenal’s satire a much greater work.  Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage explains to women the value of men’s Christian ascetic life.  It also suggests to wealthy women that they should financially support men in Christian ascetic life.[17]

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Notes:

[1] Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage (Aureolus Liber de Nuptiis) was widely disseminated throughout medieval Europe.  Jerome, however, was not credited with writing it.  The most extensive recent scholarly analysis of Jerome’s satire takes literally Jerome’s claim that Theophrastus wrote that book.  It also provides this fine piece of learned, ingenuous analysis:

Bickel explained the resemblances between Juvenal and the extract from Theophrastus as follows: when Jerome was copying Theophrastus from Porphyry, memories of Juvenal’s sixth satire entered his mind and he added these reminiscences to the extract … These views were seriously challenged by J. van Wageningen, who explained the apparent reminiscences of Juvenal by the theory that Jerome derived the ecloga Theophrasti from Seneca’s De matrimonio, which was also used by Juvenal in composing his sixth satire.  Van Wageningen’s argument takes too little account of Bickel’s cogent demonstration that the ecloga Theophrasti shows numerous traces of Jerome’s own Latin style. … In praise of Jerome, however, it may be said that if he had not admitted that Theophrastus’ attack on women was not his own original work, the reader would hardly have guessed it, so markedly is his adaptation of the passage stamped with his own satiric style.

Weisen (1964) pp. 153-5.  A scholarly work published in 1997 and focusing on Chaucer wisely observed:

the evidence suggests strongly that no such book {Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage} ever existed in Greek and that it was Jerome who composed it and simply invented the ascription.

Hanna & Lawler (1997) p. 8.  In a magisterial commentary on Jerome’s Libellus de Virginitate Servanda (Letter 22, to Eustochium), a leading scholar of Jerome greatly disparaged Jerome’s creativity:

Jerome’s brilliance often turns out to be no more than the glitter of pilfered tinsel.  … Any meretricious formulation that caught Jerome’s eye was memorized for redeployment later … Jerome recognized the limitations of his own intellectual ability: he knew that he was not really capable of independent and creative thought. … it is precisely originality of form which is often lacking in Jerome. … Jerome’s own contribution to the debate {about virginity} is often tasteless and bizarre.

Adkin (2003) pp. 2-5.  Properly attributing to Jerome Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage should help to correct that mistaken evaluation.

[2] Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum, I.47, from Latin trans. Freemantle (1892) p. 846.  Jerome was confuting Jovinian.  Jerome’s quotation of Jovinian’s claim is in I.3.

[3] Proverbs 30:10, 30-1, from Hebrew trans. Fox (2009) pp. 888-9.  The above English translation presents the Hebrew lines as paired English lines.

[4] Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum, I.47, trans. Hanna & Lawler (1997) p. 150.  This translation is similar to that in Freemantle (1892) p. 846.  I’ve represented the text after “concludes” as a quotation, as in id.  In addition, I’ve replaced “virtuous, and from a good family” with “of good character, and honest parentage,” as in id.  The underlying Latin is “si bene morata, si honestis parentibus.”  All subsequent quotations of Jerome, unless otherwise noted, are from Adversus Jovinianum, I.47 (Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage), trans. Hanna & Lawler (1997).

[5] Solomon and Marcolf, a work widespread in fifteenth-century Europe, similarly challenges and parodies the wisdom of Solomon.

[6] Matthew 6:24, Luke 16:13.

[7] Many men today attempt to learn about a women through cohabitation before marriage.  Such an approach has serious problems with incentives and ecological relevance.  It also ignores the significance of marital law.  In any case, non-marital cohabitation was less feasible in the fourth century because fewer men and women had the resources to maintain households separate from their families.  Cohabitation choices had then broader social significance.

[8] Cf. Juvenal, Satire 6, ll. 149-52, 210-24.

[9] Consider, for example this dialog between husband and wife:

{wife} “Crucify that slave.”
{husband} “What crime has he committed to deserve punishment? Who says they witnessed it? Who accused him? Give him a hearing!  No hesitation is ever long enough when a person’s life is at stake.”
{wife} “You idiot! Is a slave a person?  All right, let’s accept that he hasn’t done anything.  But it’s my wish and my command.  Let my will be reason enough.”

Juvenal, Satire 6, ll. 219-23, from Latin trans. Braund (2004) p. 253.

[10] Jerome is thus an unappreciated father of the scintillating dialogue in the medieval (c. 1400) French work 15 Joys of Marriage.

[11] Juvenal, Satire 6, ll. 366-78 (man having testicles torn off).  Here’s discussion of the sexual merits of eunuchs in Juvenal.  Id. ll. 474-93 (wife flogging household servants).

[12] Trans. Fremantle (1892) p. 847.  Hanna & Lawler (1997), p. 152, has for this line:

Those whom she loves must be loved in return, whether they want to or not.

That translation has similar meaning, but is more obscure.

[13] Id. ll. 237-8.

[14] Id. ll. 33-7.

[15] Id. ll. 542-91 (superstition), ll. 659-61 (poisoning husband).

[16] Id. ll 165.

[17] Not all men favor a Christian ascetic life.  A leading scholar of Jerome observed:

Despite all his austerities J.’s {Jerome’s} mind still seethed with lust.

Adkin (2003) p. 59.  In other words, Jerome had sexuality like that of an ordinary, healthy man.  Nonetheless, Jerome chose a Christian ascetic life.  Women can show love for men who do not choose such a life by taking care of them sexually in addition to financially supporting them.  That would be enough for most men.  Most men don’t demand to have it all.

[image] Modified version of Binding from Five Poems (increased color saturation, intensified highlights). Original 16th century Persia, The Walters Art Museum, W.610.binding.  Thanks to the Walters for preserving this binding and sharing liberally an image of it.

References:

Adkin, Neil. 2003. Jerome on virginity: a commentary on the Libellus de virginitate servanda (Letter 22). Cambridge: Francis Cairns.

Braund, Susanna Morton, trans. 2004. Juvenal and Persius. Loeb Classical Library 91. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Fox, Michael V. 2009.  Proverbs 10-31: a new translation with introduction and commentary.  The Anchor Yale Bible Commentaries. Vol. 18B. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Freemantle, William Henry, trans. 1892.  The Principal Works of St. Jerome.  Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 6. Oxford: Parker.

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

Wiesen, David S. 1964. St. Jerome as a satirist: a study in Christian Latin thought and letters. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.

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Jerome’s Adversus Jovinianum: method in madness about marriage

In 393, in his lengthy treatise Adversus Jovinianum, Jerome confuted Jovinian’s position on marriage for women.  Jovinian had declared that “virgin maidens, widows, and married women” have statuses of equal merit as Christians.[1]  Jerome fundamentally disagreed.  He strongly urged women not to marry and to remain virgins.[2]  Elite academic schools today have largely adopted a variant of Jerome’s position, with lesbianism understood to have no implications for the bodily integrity of virginity.  Nonetheless, the brilliance of Jerome’s Adversus Jovinianum remains under-appreciated.

Jerome’s emphasis on urging women not to marry is a significant, largely ignored aspect of Adversus Jovinianum.  The literature of men’s sexed protests, which has existed since men learned to write, commonly urges men not to marry.  The Roman poet Juvenal urged his friend Postumous, and by extension men in general, not to marry.  Juvenal was well-known by the fourth century.[3]  The Roman Emperor Augustus passed specific laws to punish men unwilling to marry.  The prominence of literature and policies concerning men marrying contrasts with Jerome’s focus.  By focusing on urging women not to marry, Jerome pushed into virgin territory in elite Roman discourse.

Scholars have struggled to understand Jerome’s method in Adversus Jovinianum.  In a preliminary section of that work, Jerome declared:

we do not follow the {heretical} views of Marcion and Manichæus, and disparage marriage; nor, deceived by the error of Tatian, the leader of the Encratites, do we think all {sexual} intercourse impure … We are not ignorant of the words, “Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled.” … while we honour marriage, we prefer virginity, which is the offspring of marriage. [4]

Nonetheless, Jerome analogized marriage to excrement.[5]  Moreover, in a parody of the Pauline injunction, “it is better to marry than to burn {with lust},”  Jerome disingenuously praised Dido, the first Queen of Carthage, for preferring to burn rather than to marry.[6]  Jerome observed of Greco-Roman culture:

It is a proof of the little esteem in which they held marriage that among the scorpions, centaurs, crabs, fishes, and capricorn {the signs of the Zodiac}, they did not even thrust in a husband and wife. [7]

Jerome put forward transparently ridiculous reasoning:

“It is good,” he {Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:1} says, “for a man not to touch a woman.” If it is good not to touch a woman, it is bad to touch one: for there is no opposite to goodness but badness. [8]

Jerome was one of the most learned men of his time.  Nonetheless, a late-twentieth-century scholar complained:

Jerome proves himself again and again in Adversus Jovinianum incapable of sustained and systematic logical argumentation. … {in addition} He quite simply presents as historical fact a number of examples which he (or anyone conversant with Roman history) must have known were untrue. [9]

Jerome might produce another obscene gesture in response to such misunderstanding of what he was doing in Adversus Jovinianum.

bonobos mating

With Adversus Jovinianum, Jerome brilliant satirized Jovinian’s work supporting women marrying.  Jerome accused Jovinian of bombast, vile language, and not making sense.  Jerome reproduced and exaggerated those faults in Adversus Jovinian.  Jovinian wrote voluminously.  Adversus Jovinianum piled up a voluminous array of texts and examples from the Old and New Testaments and Greek and Roman literature.  At the same time, Jerome expressed concern about being tedious and claimed to be running quickly through his arguments and examples.[10]  In the context of women pressing him to authorize their second marriages, Jerome included a book he attributed to Aristotle successor Theophrastus.  Theophrastus declared that a wise man doesn’t marry.  Theophrastus described hardships of marriage from a male perspective.  Jerome’s ridiculous argument seems to be that out of Christian charity for men’s suffering in marriage, women shouldn’t seek to marry.[11]  In a letter defending Adversus Jovinianum against its many contemporary critics, Jerome wrote of one such critic:

he must condescend to send me his account of the matter, and to correct my indiscreet language, not by censure but by instruction. … if he refuses to write, and fancies that abuse is as effective as criticism, then, in spite of all the lands and seas and peoples which lie between us, he must hear at least the echo of my cry, “I do not condemn marriage,” “I do not condemn wedlock.” Indeed — and this I say to make my meaning quite clear to him — I should like every one to take a wife who, because they get frightened in the night, cannot manage to sleep alone. [12]

That men should marry if they are afraid of sleeping alone at night should not be interpreted in its clear literal meaning.  Jerome was a highly satirical writer.  To read Jerome well, readers must appreciate his sophisticated satire.

grasshoppers mating

Jerome was deeply dependent on women who patronized and supported him.  These women evidently appreciated Jerome’s thinking and writing in a way hardly conceivable today.  Readers today might best understand Jerome’s outrageous, pugnacious satire by imaginatively inhabiting his circle of women admirers — Paula, Marcella, Lea, Eustochium, Blesilla, Asella, and undoubtedly others.[13]

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Notes:

[1] Jerome, Adversus Jovinianum, I.3, Jerome quoting Jovinian.  Jovinian explicitly specified all else equal: “if they are in par in other respects.”   The Latin text is “virgines, viduas, et maritatas.”  All three words are specific to women.

[2] Augustine of Hippo, while agreeing that virginity was superior in Christian merit to marriage, declared that readiness for martydom had superior Christian merit relative to virginity.  Disposition to Christian martydom was less observable in the late fourth century than it was in earlier centuries.  Moreover, the problem of observability implied humility:

Since it is possible that a virgin may not be ready for martydom and that a married person may be, Augustine argued, no virgin could ever legitimately consider herself to be superior to a married person. … Augustine urged all Christians to meditate on the fact that they do not know the limits of their own virtues, nor do they know the hidden and, perhaps, superior virtues that other people may posses.

Hunter (2007) p. 280, citing Augustine, De sancta virginitate (Of Holy Virginity) 47.

[3] Jerome in his Epistle 50 (“To Dominio”) quoted Juvenal Satire I.15.  That epistle was written in 394 in response to criticism of Adversus Jovinianum.  On Jerome’s knowledge of Juvenal, Adkin (1994) and Adkin (2000).

[4] Id., from Latin trans. Freemantle (1892).  The quote is Hebrews 13:4.

[5] Id. I.7.

[6] 1 Corinthians 7:9, Adversus Jovinianum I.43.  In Virgil’s Aeneid, Dido intensely sought to marry Aeneas.  She committed suicide by sword and was immolated when Aeneas left her and Carthage.  Fraioli (1988), p. 178, observes that this quip apparently originated in Tertullian’s De exhortatione castitatis 13.3 and De Monogamia 17.2.

[7] Adversus Jovinianum I.41, trans. Freemantle (1892).

[8] Id. I.7.

[9] Hanna & Lawler (1997) pp. 18, 27.  On Jerome’s misuse of Greek and Roman history, Fraioli (1988) pp. 176-9.

[10] Adversus Jovinianum I.13 (“our author is so voluminous that we cannot linger over every detain”); I.6 (“I have perhaps explained his position at too great length, and become tedious to my reader”); I.21 (“my purpose is at full speed to touch lightly on each topic and to sketch the outline”); I.36 (“I shall briefly reply”); I.39 (“The day would not be long enough were I to attempt to relate all”), etc.  Trans. Freemantle (1892).

[11] Id. I.47.  Fraioli (1988), pp. 181-3, insightfully identifies this satire.  Theophrastus’ book is known as Liber aureolus de nuptiis (The Golden Book of Marriage).  No evidence exists of the book apart from Jerome’s inclusion of it.  Jerome apparently composed Liber aureolus de nuptiis and falsely claimed it to be translated from a Greek work of Theophrastus.  Hanna & Lawler (1997) pp. 8-9 and further discussion.

[12] Jerome, Epistle 50 (“To Domnio”) s. 5, trans. Freemantle (1892).  Adversus Jovinianum is filled with Jerome’s abuse of Jovinian.  Weisen (1964), p. 261, states:

Jerome was fully aware that malice and acid bitterness have no place in the Christian heart.  He would hardly have mentioned the odiousness of invidia so frequently had he not felt deeply uneasy about his own penchant for malevolence.

Another possibility is that Jerome regarded himself as a highly sophisticated rhetorician battling for Christian ascetic values while otherwise living those values.

[13] A study of Jerome’s satire observed:

The biography of Jerome reveals that he was able to evoke in women an enthusiasm and devotion which counterbalanced the hostility which men so frequently felt toward him.

Weisen (1964) pp. 117-8.  Jerome carried on a voluminous correspondence with women.  On Jerome’s circle of elite Roman women interested in ascetic living, Cain (2009) pp. 35-37, 68-78.

[images] Bonobos mating, thanks to Rob Bixby and Wikipedia; grasshoppers mating, thanks to Crisco 1492 and Wikipedia.

References:

Adkin, Neil. 1994. “Juvenal and Jerome.” Classical Philology. 89 (1): 69-72.

Adkin, Neil. 2000. “Jerome, Seneca, Juvenal.” Revue Belge De Philologie Et D’histoire. 78 (1): 119-128.

Cain, Andrew. 2009. The Letters of Jerome: Asceticism, Biblical Exegesis, and the Construction of Christian Authority in Late Antiquity. Oxford Early Christian Studies. Oxford University Press.

Fraioli, Deborah A. 1988.  “The importance of satire in Jerome’s Adversus Jovinianum as an argument against the authenticity of the Historia calamitatum.”  Fälschungen im Mittelalter Hannover: Hahn, Bd. 5, pp. 167-200.

Freemantle, William Henry, trans. 1892.  The Principal Works of St. Jerome.  Philip Schaff, ed. Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd Series, vol. 6. Oxford: Parker.

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

Hunter, David G. 2007. Marriage, celibacy, and heresy in ancient Christianity: the Jovinianist controversy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wiesen, David S. 1964. St. Jerome as a satirist: a study in Christian Latin thought and letters. Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press.

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Frate Alberto, Filostrato, and Mary: ways of love

In Day 4 of the Decameron, the story of Frate Alberto displays extraordinary viciousness.  Filostrato in the preface to that story complained, “every hour of my life I die a thousand deaths without ever having received even a tiny morsel of pleasure.”[1]  He ordered Pampinea to tell “some savage tale that partly resembles my own predicament.”  Pampinea prefaced her story with a savage attack on the clergy.  She concluded her attack by declaring “may it please God that what happened to a Franciscan should happen to them {the clergy} on account of all their lies.”  The Franciscan, Frate Alberto, suffered brutalization.  He was smeared with honey, covered with feathers, had a chain put around his neck, and was publicly displayed for verbal and physical abuse.  He then was incarcerated.  Frate Alberto spent the rest of his life in utter misery.  Pampinea proclaimed that it will give her “the greatest pleasure” to tell the story of Frate Alberto.[2]  She concluded her story of Frate Alberto with a curse, “May it please God that the same thing should befall all the others like him.”

angel Gabriel greets Mary

The story of Frate Alberto, like many stories in the Decameron, describes guile and deception in sexual activity.  Hearing the confession of the married woman Madonna Lisetta, Frate Alberto asked her, unprompted, whether she had a lover.  That’s improper.  Madonna Lisetta responded with a declaration of chastity supported by extreme vanity:

Hey, Messer Friar, don’t you have eyes in your head?  Do you think my charms are just like everybody else’s?  I could have lovers to spare if I wanted, but my kind of beauty is not something for just anybody who happens to be attracted to it.  How many women have you seen whose good looks are anything like mine?  Why, I’d be counted a beauty even in Paradise.

Frate Alberto’s response figured passionate love as inversely related to personal merit:

Frate Alberto saw immediately that this one {Madonna Lisetta} was something of an idiot, and since she seemed like good soil for him to plow, he fell passionately in love with her then and there.

Frate Alberto subsequently told Madonna Lisetta that the angel Gabriel appeared to him, declared her “celestial beauty,” and ordered him to convey a message to her:

he’s sent me to inform you that he wants to come one night and spend time in your company, and because he’s an angel and you would not be able to touch him in that form, he says that for your pleasure he would like to come in the form of a man.  Therefore, you should let him know when you want him to be here and in whose shape, and he’ll do it.

Angels typically act as God’s messengers.  In this story, Madonna Lisetta employed Frate Alberto to send a message to the angel Gabriel about how he could best serve her sexual preferences.  Emphasizing her estrangement from personal reality, she expressed no preferences about the male body angel Gabriel will incarnate for her.  Frate Alberto then reasoned about costs and benefits to her:

you can do me a great favor that will cost you nothing, namely, you should have him use this body of mine when he comes to you.  Let me explain how you’ll be doing me a favor: the moment he enters my body, he’s going to remove my soul and place it in Paradise, where it will remain for as long as he’s down here with you.

Madonna Lisetta readily agreed to that favor.  Frate Alberto, dressed in angelic gewgaws, thus repeatedly enjoyed carnal intercourse with Madonna Lisetta.

The story leads to an extremely unhappy end for Frate Alberto.  Although she had promised secrecy, Madonna Lisetta eventually bragged to a lady friend about her affair with the angel Gabriel.  The lady friend spread that amusing gossip around town.  Madonna Lisetta’s in-laws soon caught her and Frate Alberto in bed.  Frate Alberto escaped with a leap from a high window into a river.  However, subsequently duped into playing the part of a wild man in a carnival, Frate Alberto was exposed, brutalized, and incarcerated.  The story describes no punishment for Madonna Lisetta.  Frate Alberto’s crime was having sex by means of an absurd delusion, like the delusion that a woman will stay young and beautiful forever, without makeup.

The story of Frate Alberto is more than just a story of sexual deception and vicious punishment of the man.  The story of Frate Alberto reconfigures the Christian story of incarnation.  In the Christian story of incarnation, the angel Gabriel came to Mary, who was engaged to Joseph.  The angel Gabriel told Mary that she had found favor with God.  The angel Gabriel told her that God would come to her and impregnate her.  She would become pregnant with a son.[3]  Is Frate Alberto’s story more ridiculous than the Christian story of Mary of Nazareth?  Was Boccaccio formally ridiculing a fundamental Christian belief?

Boccaccio wasn’t the first to present a story like the Christian story of incarnation.  The historian Flavius Josephus told the story of Mundus and Paulina.  Carrying out a scheme for Mundus, the eldest priest of the Temple of Isis in Rome informed Paulina that the god Anubis had fallen in love with her and wanted to have sex with her.  She came to the temple and had sex with Mundus, disguised as the god Anubis.[4]  In the Alexander romance, the last Egyptian pharaoh Nectanebo fled Egypt and came to Macedonian.  He told Alexander the Great’s mother Olympias that she must have sex with the god Ammon incarnated as a serpent.  Disguised as that incarnation of Ammon, Nectanebo repeatedly had sex with Olympias.[5]  Boccaccio apparently read Josephus in Latin translation.[6]  He also knew the Alexander romance.  Boccaccio wrote that Alexander would have been more admirable if he hadn’t claimed that his mother had sex with “Jupiter” disguised as a serpent.[7]

Attending to the narrative framework transforms understanding of the story of Frate Alberto.  Filostrato ruled Day 4.  His name has the Greek etymology “lover of war.”  Frustrated with his rejection in love, Filostrato ordered stories of love leading to unhappiness.  To his companions, gathered in a refuge from the plague to enjoy imaginative pleasure, Filostrato explained:

Loving ladies, ever since I could distinguish good from evil, it has been my misfortune, because of the beauty possessed by one of your number, to be perpetually enslaved to love.  I have been humble and obedient and followed his rules, to the extent that I understood them, but all to no avail, for first I would be abandoned for another lover, and then things would always go from bad to worse for me — and I think they will continue to do so from now on until the day I die.  Consequently, it is my pleasure that the subject for us to talk about tomorrow should be none other than the one that fits my situation best, namely, those whose love came to an unhappy end.  For I myself expect a most unhappy one in the long run, and that is the reason why the name you use to address me was conferred on me by someone who certainly knew what it meant.[8]

Filostrato is an Ulrich von Liechtenstein, a Suero de Quinones, and an Elliot Rodgers, all of whom needed professional helpTrue love doesn’t lead to slavery, violence, and an unhappy end.

Providing a shining counterpoint to Filostrato, Boccaccio inserted in the introduction to Day 4 a vigorous, first-person affirmation of true love.  The imagined author of the Decameron declared:

no one can justly say anything about me or any of the others who love you except that we are acting naturally.  In order to oppose the laws of Nature, one has to have exceptional powers,and they are often employed not only in vain, but to to the greatest harm of the person who makes use of them.  Such strength I confess I lack, nor do I have any desire to acquire it for such a purpose.  In fact, even if I did possess it, I would lend it to others rather than use it myself.  Therefore, let my detractors be silent, and if they cannot find any warmth in themselves, let them live in their cold rancor, and while they pursue their own delights, or rather, their corrupt appetites, may they allow me to pursue mine during the brief life that is granted to us.[9]

Frate Alberto and Madonna Lisetta incarnated narrow, selfish love: corrupt appetites.[10]  Their story is narrated via Pampinea’s and Filostrato’s cold rancor.  The Christian story of Mary describes love incarnate joyously making God greater.  That, for Boccaccio, was love according to the laws of Nature.

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Notes:

[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 4, story 2, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 319.  All subsequent quotes from the story of Frate Alberto are from id. pp. 319-329.

[2] Pampinea included nasty characterizations not necessary to carry the plot.  She referred to Madonna Lisetta as a “frivolous, empty-headed young lady.”  She also called Madonna Lisetta names: Lady Pumpkinhead, Madonna Simple, and Madonna Noodlepate.  She described Frate Alberto as “a pimp, a forger, and a murderer.”  That’s characterization far beyond the story of a guileful seducer.  She declared that Berto della Massa, who became Frate Alberto, moved to “Venice, that receptacle of every sort of filth.”

[3] Luke 1:26-38.

[4] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.3.4.  The context in Josephus (immediately following his account of Jesus) and a fourth-century description of the text suggests that Josephus was mocking the Christian story of incarnation.  Bell (1976).

[5] Alexander Romance, Bk I.1-7, from Greek trans. Stoneman (1991) pp. 35-41.  A story of a man pretending to be an eminent religious figure in order to be accepted as a woman’s lover exists in an early eighteenth-century collection of Persians tales translated into French.  See François Pétis de La Croix, Les Mille et un jours (1710-1712), Days 109-115 (Historie de Malek).  In that story, the man pretends to the be the prophet of Islam.  A nineteenth-century English translation of the story (“The story of Malek and the Princess Schirine”) changed the religious figure to the King of the Genii.

[6] Kirkham, Sherberg & Smarr (2013) pp. 334, 340.

[7] Id. p. 243, citing Boccaccio, Genealogia deorum gentilium (On the Genealogy of the Gods of the Gentiles) 13.7.

[8] Decameron, Day 3, Conclusion, trans. Rebhorn (2013) pp. 296-7.  Id, note, and id. p. lxxviii states that Boccaccio thought that Filostrato means “he who is cast down or overcome by love.”  In the broad context of the Decameron, Boccaccio seems to me to have only pretended to be certain of that wrong etymology.

[9] Decameron, Day 4, Introduction, trans. id. p. pp. 306-7.

[10] Marcus (1979) focuses on Frate Alberto’s transgression:

Frate Alberto’s transgression is more than sexual. … When we examine the particular mode of the friar’s misconduct, we learn that his crime is a literary one — that he has appropriated for his own selfish uses the unique poetic strategies of Scriptures.

Separating “unique poetic strategies of Scripture” from myth-making generally is inconsistent with Boccaccio’s general approach to myth.  Gittes (2008).  In addition to uncritically accepting the story’s sexual balance of fault, Marcus (1979) doesn’t recognize the broader narrative connections of the story of Frate Alberto within and beyond the Decameron.

[image] Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo, Annunciation (angel Gabriel’s message to Mary), Spain, 1655.  Held in Hermitage Museum.  Thanks to Enrique Cordero and Wikipedia.

References:

Bell, Albert A. 1976. “Josephus the Satirist? A Clue to the Original Form of the ‘Testimonium Flavianum.'” The Jewish Quarterly Review. 67 (1): 16-22.

Gittes, Tobias Foster. 2008. Boccaccio’s naked muse: eros, culture, and the mythopoeic imagination. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Kirkham, Victoria, Michael Sherberg, and Janet Levarie Smarr, eds. 2013. Boccaccio: a critical guide to the complete works. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

Marcus, Millicent. 1979. “The Accommodating Frate Alberto: a Gloss on Decameron IV, 2.” Italica. 56 (1): 3-21.

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

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

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hair samples from first 14 US presidents thanks to John Varden

hair samples from first 14 US presidents, collected by John Varden

Hard-headed practical types tend to question the value of work such as an analysis of the twelfth-century Syriac Book of Medicines.  What’s the point?  Who cares?  Of what use is that knowledge?  Enlightened persons know that pursuit of knowledge is based on faith.  True scholars must have faith in the value of knowing.

Consider the work of John Varden.  Varden was a leading nineteenth-century American promoter of public knowledge.  In 1836, he opened the Washington Museum, a one-room museum in his own home in Washington, DC.  Varden invited the public to view his collection of thought-inspiring artifacts such as ostrich eggs, the jaw bone of a porpoise, a stone in the shape of a potato, winged insects from India, etc.  In 1841, to gain the support of a much larger institution, Varden sold his collection to the National Institute for the Promotion of Science.  The National Institution for the Promotion of Science displayed its collection to the public at no charge in the palatial National Gallery of the US Patent Office.  Varden became an employee of the National Gallery of the US Patent Office.  Varden’s job title has been variously described as curator and janitor.[1]  Titles don’t matter to true scholars.

While working to maintain the collection at the National Institute for the Promotion of Science, Varden in 1850, on his own initiative, established a hair collection.  He collected hair samples from “persons of distinction,” including US presidents.  Varden’s hair collection includes hair from the first 14 US presidents, as well as hair from Senators Henry Clay and Jefferson Davis, Generals Winfield Scott and Sam Houston, Professor Samuel F.B. Morse, a telegraph pioneer, and sculptor Clark Mills.[2]  Others collected hair less systematically.  An author recently noted:

On one occasion in 1842, for example, {former President Andrew Jackson} entertained some two hundred schoolgirls, who according to one reporter, “procured so many of his snow white locks as to give his head the appearance of having just passed from the hands of the barber.” [3]

Most such hair samples probably have been lost.  Moreover, hair samples from historically important, well-defined populations are rare.

Varden’s collection of hair samples can now be recognized to be potentially an enormous contribution to knowledge.  With advances in molecular analysis, hair can provide important biological information.  Varden’s hair collection may enable study of the health of the first 14 US presidents.  Moreover, DNA may exists in small skin fragments attached to the hair.  Varden’s collection may enable DNA typing of the first 14 US presidents.  In addition, technologies for DNA transfer are advancing rapidly.  In the difficult and uncertain future that the US faces, bringing back to life George Washington may become feasible for next-generation US leadership.

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Read more:

Notes:

[1] Bird (2013) p. 19.  Other information about Varden in the above paragraph is from id. pp. 19-27.

[2] The hair of the presidents was originally included with the hair of persons of distinction.  On the back of a separate display of hair samples of persons of distinction is a note:

Hair of Presidents of the United States with other Persons of Distinction / Prepared and arranged by John Varden, February, 1853 / N.B. Those having hair of Distinguished Persons / will confere a Favor by adding to this Collection.

Id p. 173, note for p. 130.  Varden was thus a pioneer in crowd-sourcing.

[2] Id. p. 130 (doesn’t provide a specific reference for the quotation).  A framed lock of Andrew Jackson’s hair from 1845 exists.  Its provenance is better documented than Varden’s sample. Id. pp. 128-9.  A lock of Sir Walter Scott’s hair in 1832 is also available with specific information about provenance.  Id. pp. 94-5.

[image] Hair of the Presidents, Washington D.C., 1855, from the collection of the U.S. National Museum of American History.

Reference:

Bird, William L. 2013. Souvenir nation: relics, keepsakes, and curios from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. New York: Princeton Architectural Press in association with National Museum of American History (U.S.).

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