Galen engaged in anatomical displays and patient care

The second-century physician Galen wrote a massive corpus of scholarly works.  These texts shaped medicine in western Eurasia for more than a millennium.  Along with prodigious scholarly work, Galen was also a physician in bloody, strenuous, and difficult engagements with living bodies in anatomical displays and patient care.

As a young physician in his hometown of Pergamum, Galen performed anatomical displays.  Galen disemboweled a living monkey, emptied its intestines, and then challenged observing physicians to replace the intestines.  According to Galen, none stepped forward to do so.  Galen then surmounted the challenge himself.  Galen similarly would sever a monkey’s artery and challenge rival physicians to stop the bleeding.  Galen would demonstrate that, unlike other physicians, he knew how to stop the bleeding.[1]

At the age of twenty-seven, Galen in 157 was appointed physician to the gladiators in Pergamum.  Just like players in major-league team sports today, gladiators were valuable assets to their promoter-owners.  Galen made ointments and bandages for gladiators’ wounds.  He himself applied and monitored daily the wound treatments.  He sutured deep-tissue wounds and performed abdominal surgery on gladiators.  Galen’s care for the gladiators was much more successful than that of his predecessors.  He served five successive terms as physician to the Pergamum gladiators through the year 161.[2]  Galen subsequently left for Rome.  Rome offered a successful and ambitious physician much greater opportunity for achievement.

Galen gained famed in Rome through amazing anatomical displays.  Galen became friends with Flavius Boethus, a Roman senator and ex-consul who was an avid fan of anatomical displays.  Galen dissected pigs, goats, cattle, monkeys, cats, dogs, mice, snakes, fish, and birds.  He also dissected an elephant at least once.  Dissecting living pigs and goats in front of elite spectators, Galen demonstrated the function of the recurrent laryngeal nerve:

“the finest nerves, a pair of them like hairs,” as he writes, proud of his ability to locate minute anatomical structures.  There were his own discovery, unknown to his predecessors, and he also emphasizes the startling power of these delicate threads: for when they were cut, they would silence the animal without damaging it in any other way. [3]

By ligating the laryngeal nerve with needle and thread, Galen could silence and restore the animal’s voice at will.  In the ancient world, oratory was a primary source of public power.  Galen demonstrated that he could exert precise control over voice.

Galen performed many other types of difficult, bloody anatomical displays.  He vivisected pregnant goats and displayed the fetus breathing and moving.  He cut open living animals’ skulls and showed how pressing on different areas of the brain would change the animals physical capabilities, e.g. blind it.  He also cut open living animals to show their beating heart.  He would show that the animal could run, eat, and drink while having its beating heart exposed to view.[4]

Galen’s anatomical displays helped him to provide care for patients.  In one case, a slave boy of Maryllus the mime-writer suffered a wrestling injury.  An abscess formed in the boy’s sternum.   After several months, the boy was in danger of death:

Maryllus called together several physicians, including Galen, to consult on the case.  They all agreed that the affected part of the sternum needed to be cut out; no one, however, dared to perform the operation, knowing that the slightest error would result in catastrophic perforation of the pleural membrane.  But Galen had vivisected hundreds of animals.  He had held their beating hearts in his fingers.

Galen attempted the operation:

The operation went well at first — the infection had spared the veins and arteries around the wound — but when Galen removed the affected bone, he saw, to his despair, that part of the pericardium beneath had putrefied and disintegrated, forcing him to excise it.  Then, “we saw the heart as clearly as we see it when we deliberately lay it bare during {animal} dissection.” [5]

The boy recovered and subsequently lived for many years. Galen probably performed the operation without the use of anesthesia.

surgical treatment of skull fracture

Galen’s strenuous, life-long project was not just knowledge-seeking.  A fine recent biography of Galen observed:

Despite the energy he devoted to dissecting, writing, and showing off, Galen never lost sight of the idea that medicine is about treating patients; and he treated all kinds of patients.  His anecdotes, although personal in tone, betray barely a hint of condescension toward any patient except for one silly rich man.  He would root around in a farmer’s yard fora suitable ingredient for a plaster.  He would wheedle information from a chambermaid if it helped him to make a better diagnosis.  He would perform insanely risky surgery on the slim chance of saving a slave boy’s life, with professional disgrace as the price of failure. [6]

Galen, like Paul of Tarsus, was both a highly learned thinker and a person passionately involved in ordinary life.

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[1] Mattern (2013) pp. 83-4.  By today’s standards, Galen’s anatomical displays involved grotesque cruelty to animals.  But in the Roman Empire, watching gladiators grievously wound or kill each other was a popular activity.  Galen’s treatment of animals wasn’t much crueler than prevalent treatment of humans in his time and place.

[2] Id. Ch. 3.

[3] Id. p. 148.

[4] Id. pp. 142-4.  These anatomical displays involved flailing animals, cries of pain, and flows of blood.  They were sensually the elite equivalent of gladiator shows.

[5] Id. pp. 184-5 (including previous quote).

[6] Id. pp. 288-9.

[image] Medieval treatment of compound skull fracture. From Roger Frugard of Parma, Chirurgia. France, N. (Amiens); 1st quarter of the 14th century.  f. 2 of Sloane 1977, thanks to British Library.


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


scholarly literature on sex differences in communication

Studying scholarly literature on sex differences in communication is insightful.  Popular books on sex differences usually lack solid scientific support but appeal to common sense.  They are easily understandable and occasionally amusing.  Reading excruciatingly detailed technical analysis of the scholarly weaknesses of these books indicates contrasting values in the scholarly marketplace.  For example, in an article entitled “‘You Just Don’t Have the Evidence’: An Analysis of Claims and Evidence in Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand,” two communication scholars noted:

there is widespread agreement that gender differences in communication are typically small. This pattern is evident in the foregoing review of research in various areas {of communication} and has also been noted by other authors who have conducted similar reviews. For example, Canary and Hause (1993) reviewed 15 meta-analyses on various communications topics, summarizing more than 1,200 studies of gender differences in communication. The average effect size is small (average weighted d = .24) and accounts for about 1% of the variance. [1]

Effect sizes and shares of variance depend strongly on experimental design.[2]  Effect sizes and shares of variance from unnatural, laboratory experiments are thus difficult to interpret in relation to the ordinary behavior of men and women in ordinary life.  The cited meta-analysis, Canary and Hause (1993), summarized the scholarly situation in 1993:

The problem is that fifty years of research on the topic of sex differences in communication have provided no clear findings. … Is there any reason to research sex differences in communication? On both empirical and conceptual levels the answer is “no,” assuming current practices continue. [3]

This scholarship carefully preserved the possibility of doing further academic work in this area:

We believe there are sex differences in communication, but they are eluding us. Perhaps a definitive answer to the question of sex differences in communication will arrive within the next fifty years. [4]

This scholarly work also lamented the influence of sexual stereotypes on scholarly work, the polarization of the sexes in scholarly deliberation, scholars’ failure to distinguish clearly between sex (nature) and gender (nurture), a dearth of theory about gender, and excessive scholarly enthusiasm for studying sex differences.  As the popular adage goes, if what you’re doing isn’t succeeding, keep doing it until it succeeds.

stack of scholarly papers on sex differences

Meta-analysis and moving to a higher level of abstraction is a common scholarly tactic.  A communication scholar subject to harsh criticism for her view that women and men communicate differently declared:

The pervasiveness of agonism, that is, ritualized adversativeness, in contemporary western academic discourse is the source of both obfuscation of knowledge and personal suffering in academia. Framing of academic discourse as a metaphorical battle leads to a variety of negative consequences, many of which have ethical as well as personal dimensions. [5]

Recent scholarship has emphasized sex differences in competitiveness.  With a striking mix of positive and normative phrases, an economics article published in 2007 was entitled, “Do Women Shy Away from Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?”[6]  Consider an alternative title of similar form: “Do Men Compete Vigorously? Are Women Too Averse to Competition?”  The latter title probably wouldn’t have been published, and almost surely wouldn’t have scored as many subsequent citations exploring the roots of gender inequality.  Another social scientist has queried:

What kind of motives are more likely to lead to good science: Competitive motives, like the motive J. D. Watson described in The Double Helix, to get the structure of DNA before Linus Pauling did? Or nurturant motives of the kind that Doug Melton has described recently to explain why he’s going into stem cell research: to find a cure for juvenile diabetes, which his children suffer from? [7]

Scholarly attempts to evaluate this question are likely to be less successful that past scholarly attempts to evaluate sex differences in communication.  Appealing to care for children, however, is a propitious social-rhetorical strategy.

Communication scholars need not step far from calculations of effect sizes in laboratory communication experiments to find more meaningful evidence of sex differences in communication.  From the 1970-1 to the 2010-11 academic years, the sex ratio of students receiving bachelor degrees in “communications, journalism, and related programs” in the U.S. rose from 0.55 women per man to 1.67 women per man.  Bachelor degrees awarded in communications, journalism, and related programs grew about seven times as rapidly as did bachelor degrees in all fields.  That rapid growth was relatively women-biased: the sex ratio in bachelor degrees conferred in communications, journalism, and related fields (1.67 in the 2010-11 school year) is much higher than the sex ratio for all bachelors degrees (1.34).[8]  In short, the academic discipline of communication has grown relatively strongly to serve predominately female students.  Communications scholars pondering sex differences in communication should consider those real-world facts.

In a jazz club the waitress recommended the crab cakes to me, and they turned out to be terrible. I was uncertain about whether or not to send them back. When the waitress came by and asked how the food was, I said that I didn’t really like the crab cakes. She asked, “What’s wrong with them?” While staring at the table, my husband answered, “They don’t taste fresh.” The waitress snapped, “They’re frozen! What do you expect?” I looked directly up at her and said, “We just don’t like them.” She said, “Well, if you don’t like them, I could take them back and bring you something else.” [9]

You should be able to enjoy the food you ordered in a restaurant.  You must be really upset.  You were so right to send those crab cakes back!

The evidence for sex differences in communication is voluminous, socially significant, and willfully disparaged.

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[1] Goldsmith & Fulfs (1999) p. 26, footnote omitted.  Id., p. 2, noted that Tannen (1990) had achieved huge market success:

The cover of the 1990 paperback edition proudly proclaims that the book has appeared on the New York Times best-seller list for more than 4 years, generated more than 1.5 million copies, and received favorable reviews from the New York Times Book Review, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, and San Franscisco Chronicle. The book has been excerpted and cited for millions of readers in such popular magazines as Newsweek, Time, Redbook, Reader’s Digest, Working Woman, Ladies’ Home Journal, and People and in newspapers such as the Christian Science Monitor and USA Today.

Following the success of the book, Tannen has made numerous television appearances and has written articles and book reviews in a wide variety of publications with large circulation, including Reader’s Digest, the Washington Post, McCall, USA Today, and New York Times Magazine, to name only a few.

[2] The effect sizes calculated in meta-analyses of social-scientific experiments typically depend on variables that are defined conventionally and that have little ecological significance. The variance observed depends greatly on the specific variable description. Consider, for example, a study of sex differences in height. If the study includes women and men both standing and mounted on horseback, then the effect size of sex on height will be much less than if just height standing is measured. MacGeorge et al. (2004) p. 148, Fig. 1, demonstrates the significance of this issue.  If the message type “change the subject” was not included in the experiment, the variance of “likelihood of use” would be much smaller, and the effect size of sex in the experiment would be much larger.  Moreover, sex differences in variance can be significant. Walker et al. (2006) documents cross-cultural sex differences in height, weight, and in the variance in bodily growth trajectories.  Using the “average within-sex standard deviation” (e.g. Hydep (2005) p. 582) in calculating effect sizes makes effect sizes even less interpretable in relation to actual human behavior in ordinary circumstances.

[3] Canary & Hause (1993) pp. 129, 141.

[4] Id. p. 141.

[5] Tannen (2002) p. 1651. Cf. Goldsmith & Fulfs (1999).

[6] Niederle & Vesterlund (2007).

[7] Spelke in Pinker & Spelke (2005).

[8] U.S. Dept. of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics: 2012, Tables 348 and 310.  The sex ratio of female to male communications bachelor degree recipients peaked at 1.83 in the 2003-04 school year.  Across the seven years prior to that peak, communications degrees conferred grew much faster than all bachelor degrees conferred, with growth rates of 52% and 19%, respectively.  In the subsequent seven years, communications degrees conferred grew slightly slower than all bachelor degrees, with growth rates of 21% and 23%, respectively.  Thus the ratio of females to males receiving communications degrees has become less unequal as communications, journalism, and related fields have become much less attractive to students.  These data are gathered and summarized in the Communications Degrees Sex Bias Workbook (Excel version).

[9] Tannen (1990) p. 29.


Canary, Daniel J. and Kimberley S. Hause. 1993. “Is There Any Reason to Research Sex Differences in Communication?” Communication Quarterly 41(2): 129-144.

Goldsmith, Daena J. and Patricia A. Fulfs. 1999. “”You Just Don’t Have the Evidence”: An Analysis of Claims and Evidence in Deborah Tannen’s You Just Don’t Understand.” Communication Yearbook 22: 1-49.

Hyde, Janet Shibley. 2005. “The Gender Similarities Hypothesis.” American Psychologist 60(6): 581-592.

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.

Niederle, Muriel, and Lise Vesterlund. 2007. “Do Women Shy Away from Competition? Do Men Compete Too Much?“. Quarterly Journal of Economics. 122 (3): 1067-1101.

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

Tannen, Deborah. 1990. You just don’t understand: women and men in conversation. New York, NY: Morrow.

Tannen, Deborah. 2002. “Agonism in academic discourse.” Journal of Pragmatics 34: 1651-1669.

Walker, Robert, Michael Gurven, Kim Hill, Andrea Migliano, Napoleon Chagnon, Roberta De Souza, Gradimir Djurovic, Raymond Hames, A. Magdalen Hurtado, Richard Kaplan, Karen Kramer, William J. Oliver, Claudia Valeggia and Taro Yamauchi. 2006. “Growth Rates and Life Histories in Twenty-Two Small-Scale Societies.” American Journal of Human Biology 18: 295-311.


mocking stork gesture in Persius and Comoedia Lydiae

In his first, programmatic satire, the Roman poet Persius addressed the relationship between writer and patron.  Acclaimed by the patron with “Bravo!” and “Lovely!”, the writer imagines saying to the patron:

You know how to serve up hot tripe, you know how to give some poor shivering fellow writer a worn-out cloak, and then you say, “I love the truth.  Tell me the truth about myself.”  How, actually?  Do you really want me to?  You’re a fool, baldy, your fat paunch sticking out with an overhang of a foot and half.  Lucky Janus, never banged from behind by a stork or by waggling hands imitating a donkey’s white ears or by a tongue as long as a thirsty Apulian dog’s.  You, of patrician blood, who have to live without eyes in the back of your head, turn around and face the backdoor sneer! [1]

The patron rewards the writer with neither meaningful appreciation for his work (only “Bravo” and “Lovely”) nor sufficient material support (only a “worn-out cloak”).  The patron only pretends to want to know the truth.  The writer imagines telling the patron the truth: the patron is old, fat, and a fool.  Then the writer describes three mocking gestures that are being made at the patron behind his back.  Waggling hands imitating a donkey’s ears is easy to understand as mocking the patron as an ass.  The mocking stork gesture hasn’t even been clearly understood formally.  The long-tongued, thirsty-dog gesture hasn’t been understood meaningfully.[2]

head of stork

Comoedia Lydiae, a late twelfth-century Latin elegiac comedy, provides key context to understand the mocking stork gesture.  In this tale, Lidia, the wife of the duke Decius, is deeply in love with the knight Pearus.[3]  To demonstrate the depth of her love for Pearus, Lidia wrings the neck of Decius’ prized falcon in front of Decius and guests, plucks hairs out of his beard, and yanks out one of his healthy teeth.  To further display her mastery of her husband, Lidia arranges to have sex with Pearus while Decius watches.  While Lidia is going with Decius and Pearus to the garden to perform that feat of cuckoldry, the servant-woman Lusca follows them.  She is in on the cuckolding scheme: “mouth agape, she trails along behind, making at Decius the gesture of the stork.”[4]  Lusca means in Latin “one-eyed.”  That name playfully contrasts with Persius’ Janus, a two-faced god who has eyes in the front and back of his head.[5]  Lusca’s mocking of Decius behind his back in Comoedia Lydiae evokes the mocking of the patron behind his back in Persius’ satire.  The context in Comoedia Lydiae suggests that the stork gesture ridicules male heterosexual failure.  Decius failed to fulfill his wife’s sexual desire and was thus cuckolded.

A gesture plausibly similar to the stork gesture has endured through millennia.  Near Boston in the late 1980s, a young man of first-generation Italian-American heritage and of strong, independent heterosexual desire would regularly make to his male friends a gesture plausibly similar to the stork gesture.  He would point an index finger straightly erect, and then droop it into a curved position.  That gesture declared a perceived lack of heterosexual vigor in the guy to whom it was directed.

finger in mocking stork gesture

The three mocking gestures in Persius have subtle complexity.  In the focal passage from Persius, I translated the Latin verbal form pinsit as “banged from behind.”  The most recent, authoritative academic translation of Persius translated pinsit as “pummeled from behind.”  The verb pinsit is difficult:

pinsit, ‘strikes’, an extension based on the analogy of the partial synonym tundit, pinso usually means “crushes, grinds, pounds”, but {Persius} seems to have none of these senses in mind.  pinsit, rather than say, ludit, is of course prompted by what the gesture represents. [6]

However, the stork gesture occurs in Jerome without any verb like pinsit:

They will fawn upon you with fulsome praise and do their best to blind your judgment; yet if you suddenly look behind you, you will find that they are making gestures of derision with their hands, either a stork’s curved neck or the flapping ears of a donkey or a thirsty dog’s protruding tongue. [7]

Moreover, the verb pinsit grammatically applies to the other two gestures:

The lines involve a zeugma.  From pinsit (58), the idea of ‘mock’ has to be supplied. [8]

With the stork gesture interpreted as mimesis of male erectile dysfunction, pinsit works as verbal irony.  A penis in the condition of the stork gesture is incapable of pinsit, meaning heterosexual intercourse of reproductive type.  Flapping could evoke lack of testicular tension as well as being an ass.  The thirsty dog’s protruding tongue adds a concluding note of male sexual frustration.  Rather than being crudely transparent, Persius’ three mocking gestures are highly literary.

Centuries of male scholars scrutinizing Persius’ satire failed to generate appreciation and insight into the mocking stork gesture.  Male scholars haven’t been reading texts with sufficient male consciousness.

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[1] Perseus, Satires 1.53-63, from Latin trans. Braund (2004) p.53.  I’ve replaced “pummeled from behind” by “banged for behind” for reasons subsequently explained above.  I’ve also replaced “client” with “fellow writer” for clarity.  The underlying Latin word is “comitem.”  Gildersleeve (1875) provides an online version of the Latin text.  A.S. Kline has generously provided an online translation into English.

[2] “The exact nature of this ‘stork’ gesture is not discoverable.”  Harvey (1981), p. 33.  “Perhaps symbolising cacophony,” according to Bramble (1974) p. 116.  Id. notes that a sign of a thirsty dog, an ass, and a parrot occurs in Callimachus’ second Iambus.  How that recognition helps to read Persius isn’t clear.  In ancient Sanskrit literature, a parrot is linked with intended cuckoldry.  A recent scholarly work, “drawing upon recent scholarship in gender studies and Lacanian film theory,” interprets the mocking gestures in Persius as evoking elite male anxiety about anal penetration.  King (2006) p. 74, p. 249 n. 18.

[3] Elliott (1984), pp. 126-46, provides an English translation of Lidia, with some translation notes.  The poem is attributed to Arnulf of Orléans.  Boccaccio adapted Lidia in Decameron 7.9.

[4] My translation of the Latin, “Rictibus ora trahit Decioque ciconiat usu.”  Elliott (1984), p. 141, has as the translation:

Her lips curve up into a smile, and at Decius
she makes the gesture of the crane

That seems to me less exact.  The full Latin text is available online in Du Méril (1854).  See esp. id. p. 371.  Boccaccio’s version of Lidia, Decameron 7.9, doesn’t include the mocking stork gesture.

[5] The prologue to Lidia refers to a parrot imitating human speech.  A parrot imitating human speech also figures in the prologue to Persius’ satires.

[6] Harvey (1981) p. 33.  The relevant Latin lines from Persius, 1.58-60:

o Iane, a tergo quem nulla ciconia pinsit
nec manus auriculas imitari mobilis albas
nec linguae quantum sitiat canis Apula tantum.

From Braund (2004) p. 52.  Gildersleeve (1875) notes for l. 58:

ciconia pinsit = pinsendo ludit. The fingers of the mocker imitate the clapping of the stork’s bill.  Pinsit, ‘pounds,’ because the ciconia levat ac deprimit rostrum dum clangit, Isidor., Orig., 20, 15, 3.  ‘Pecks at’ is not correct; ‘claps’ is nearer.  What seems to be meant is mock applause.

[7] Jerome, Letter 125 (To Rusticus, dated 411) s.18, from Latin trans. Freemantle (1892) p. 597.  I’ve inserted “curved” within “stork’s neck.”  The underlying Latin:

si subito respexeris aut ciconiarum deprehendes post te colla curvari aut mans auriculas agitari asini aut aestuantem canis protenti linguam.

[8] Harvey (1981) p. 33.


Bramble, J. C. 1974. Persius and the programmatic satire: a study in form and imagery. Cambridge: University Press.

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

Du Méril, Édélestand.  1854. Poésies inédites du moyen âge, précédées d’une histoire de la fable ésopique. Paris: Franck.

Elliott, Alison Goddard, ed. and trans. 1984. Seven medieval Latin comedies. New York: Garland.

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.

Gildersleeve, Basil L. 1875. The satires of A. Persius Flaccus. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Harvey, R. A. 1981. A commentary on Persius. Leiden: Brill.

King, Richard Jackson. 2006. Desiring Rome: male subjectivity and reading Ovid’s Fasti. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

rape of men about as prevalent as rape of women

The 2010 National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS) found that 1.1% of non-incarcerated men were forced to have sex with another person in the past year.  Defining rape victimization with the gender-neutral concept of being forced to have sex (including being “made to penetrate”), NISVS found that 1.1% of men and 1.1% of women were raped in the past year among persons outside of jails and prisons.[1]  When is the last time you heard that roughly equal numbers of non-incarcerated men and women are raped?  When is that last time you heard any concern about rape of men?

tree rotten to core

Men being forced to have sex by being forced to penetrate sexually is scarcely recognized.  Before 2012, the Federal Bureau of Investigations’ Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) definition of rape explicitly limited rape to rape of females.  The UCR apparently now includes as rape men being made to penetrate.  Making that inclusion explicit is clearly needed for clarification.  The major, annual, government-administered National Crime Victimization Survey doesn’t ask about men being forced to penetrate.  NISVS asked men about being forced to penetrate, but NISVS didn’t include men being forced to penetrate under the category rape.  NISVS pretended that men being forced to have sex with their penises isn’t real rape.  That’s gender bigotry like surveys labeling men, and only men, as rapists in circumstances of true love.

NISVS buried the facts about rape of men.  The executive summery of NISVS’s summary report listed as its first key finding:

Nearly 1 in 5 women (18.3%) and 1 in 71 men (1.4%) in the United States have been raped at some time in their lives, including completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration. [2]

These statistics don’t include men “made to penetrate” sexually another persons.  NISVS found a lifetime prevalence of men raped in that way to be 4.8%.[3]  Moreover, NISVS asked participants to recall sexual victimization across their whole lifetime and across the past year.  Lifetime recall is much more likely to be faulty and biased than past-year recall.  For example, regretted sex can be rationalized over time in memory as drunken sex.  NISVS classifies drunken hetero-sex as rape of the woman.  The best, non-gender-biased rape measure from NISVS is that 1.1% of women and 1.1% of men were raped in the past year.  Those key statistical findings are nowhere compellingly communicated in the NISVS summary report.  The National Center for Injury Prevention and Control within the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention administered NISVS and publicly reported its results.  Burying the facts about rape of men shows anti-men bias shaping public communication of an expert, government agency.

Anti-men bigotry combines with farce in a recent scholarly article.  The scholarly article, entitled “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions,” was published in the prestigious American Journal of Public Health.  It begins thus:

The sexual victimization of women was ignored for centuries.  Although it remains tolerated and entrenched in many pockets of the world, feminist analysis has gone a long way toward revolutionizing thinking about the sexual abuse of women, demonstrating that sexual victimization is rooted in gender norms and is worthy of social, legal, and public health intervention. [4]

This article doesn’t begin with concern about sexual victimization of men in America.  It begins gynocentrically.  A similar rhetorical strategy shapes the introduction to a scholarly article exploring the much neglected topic of men suffering much higher injury mortality than women, including men suffering a death rate from violence 4.1 times higher than that of women.  Here, the scholarly article’s first sentence is simply preposterous.  Sexual victimization of women has been of intense concern across all of recorded history.  False accusation of rape has been of intense concern across all of recorded history until recent decades.  The history of concern about false accusations of raping a woman makes no sense without parallel concern about raping women.

Acknowledging the reality of rape apparently isn’t possible without working earnestly to support entrenched discursive interests.  The scholarly article observes:

The survey {NISVS} found that men and women had a similar prevalence of nonconsensual sex in the previous 12 months (1.270 million women and 1.267 million men).  This remarkable finding challenges stereotypical assumptions about the gender of victims of sexual violence.  However unintentionally, the CDC’s publications and the media coverage that followed instead highlighted female sexual victimization, reinforcing public perceptions that sexual victimization is primarily a women’s issue. {bolding added to original text} [5]

Highlighting female sexual victimization was no more unintentional than is marketing stories with understanding of market demand.  Female victimization attracts massive attention.  No one wants to hear about male victimization.

Entrenched discursive interests are readily apparent in the scholarly article.  With standard academic cant, the article declares:

We have interrogated some of the stereotypes concerning gender and sexual victimization, and we call for researchers to move beyond them.  First, we question the assumption that feminist theory requires disproportionate concern for female victims. [6]

The article’s first concern is what feminist theory requires.  Why should anyone care about requirements of feminist theory, as defined by the ruling feminist theoreticians?  Elites today care, because if they don’t confirm their allegiance to feminist theory, they will be expunged from mainstream public discourse.  The article concludes with a declaration worthy of feminist theory:

Finally, a gender-conscious analysis of sexual victimization as it affects both women and men is needed and is not inconsistent with a gender-neutral approach to defining abuse.  Indeed, masculinized dominance and feminized subordination can take place regardless of the biological sex or sexual orientation of the actors. [7]

Biological sex or sexual orientation shouldn’t be relevant to concern for human suffering.  While discounting those irrelevant factors, the article maps sexual victimization onto “masculinized dominance” and “feminized subordination.”   The difference between hating men and hating masculinity is worse than splitting hairs.  It’s chopping penises.  “Masculinized dominance” and “feminized subordination” are worse abstractions than “feminized dominance” and “masculinized subordination.”  The latter provides a better metaphor for reality today.

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[1] Basile et al. (2011) pp. 18-9, Tables 2.1 and 2.2.  These results are based on non-incarcerated persons’ statements about sexual victimization in response to survey questions.  They are not findings of rape under criminal law.  Rape in NISVS includes “completed forced penetration, attempted forced penetration, or alcohol/drug facilitated completed penetration.”  The statistics cited above add to the NISVS “rape” category the sexual violence of men “made to penetrate” sexually another person.

[2] Id. p. 1.  NISVS did not survey incarcerated persons.  Men are highly disproportionately represented among incarcerated persons.  Incarcerated persons suffer a much higher prevalence of sexual violence.  If incarcerated men are appropriately recognized as “men in the United States,” rape of men is considerably higher than the NISVS statistics indicate.

[3] Id. p. 19, Table 2.2.

[4] Stemple & Meyer (2014) p. e19.

[5] Id.

[6] Id. p. e20.

[7] Id. p. e25.  The article pursues “intersectional approaches.”  Intersectional approaches detract attention from the fact that black men, Hispanic men, low-income men, mentally ill men, gay men, disabled men, and homeless men are all men.  Consider, for example, this statement:

Because the United States disproportionately incarcerates Black, Hispanic, low-income, and mentally ill persons, accounting for the experience of the incarcerated population will help researchers and policymakers better understand the intersecting factors that lead to the sexual victimization of already marginalized groups.

Id. p. e25.  The article thus fails to mention that men are highly disproportionately incarcerated.  About ten times more men are currently held in U.S. prisons and jails relative to women there.  Gender-biased understandings of crime, such as gender-biased understanding of the crime of rape, contribute to the highly disproportionate incarceration of men.


Basile, Kathleen C., Michele C. Black, Matthew Joseph Breiding, Jieru Chen, Melissa T. Merrick, Sharon G. Smith, Mark R. Stevens, and Mikel L. Walters. 2011. National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey 2010 summary report. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Division of Violence Prevention.

Stemple, Lara, and Ilan H. Meyer. 2014. “The Sexual Victimization of Men in America: New Data Challenge Old Assumptions.” American Journal of Public Health. 104 (6): e19-e26.


authors beware: 80% of books sell less than 100 copies

pile of books

Most published books sell few copies.  According to BookScan data:

79 percent of all new books sold in the United States in 2004 sold fewer than 99 copies, with 16.91 percent of all books selling between 100 and 999 copies.[1]

In 2004, BookScan covered about 70% of all U.S. book sales.[2]  The book industry today, like other industries marketing symbolic works, is based on hugely popular blockbusters.  Most authors, even authors of published books, earn nothing for all their work.

Books that sell less than 100 copies are not a waste.  An author may have enjoyed writing a book.  A few readers may value the book greatly. Of course, authors, like everyone else, need some way to support themselves.  A book that sells less than 100 copies is not likely in itself to provide significant financial benefit to the author.  A reasonable strategy for such books is to make them freely available to everyone on the Internet.  On the Internet, such books potentially can remain economically accessible to billions of persons forever.  Together they can greatly enrich the public landscape of human creativity and knowledge.

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Read more:


[1] Greco, Rodríguez & Wharton (2007) p. 212.

[2] Id.

[image] pile of Nordic books.  Thanks to Johannes Jansson and Wikipedia.


Greco, Albert N., Clara E.  Rodríguez and Robert M.  Wharton. 2007. The culture and commerce of publishing in the 21st century. Stanford, Calif., Stanford Business Books.


Roman epitaph to Julia Galbina

Roman epitaph to Julia Galbina

Above is a photograph of a Roman epitaph from the second century GC.  Translated from Latin, it states: “To the sacred memory of Julia Galbina; she lived 45 years. Gnaeus Haius Iustus, to his most devoted wife.”

In the U.S. in 1790, expected lifespan at birth was 44 years for white females and white males.  Now it’s 79 years for females and 74 years for males.  You can now expect to live longer than Julia Galbina.  But will you be remembered 1800 years from now?

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[image] My photograph of marble stone on display at the Portland Art Museum.  Sally Lewis Collection of Classical Antiquities 26.68.


Bernard of Cluny’s De Contemptu Mundi trivializes men’s sexed protests

Now we flee from standing firm and we stream toward evil; let us stand up for goodness.  It is the final hour, the most wicked of times — be watchful! [1]

Bernard of Cluny’s De Contemptu Mundi is a long, twelfth-century Latin poem that complains about everything.  Its complaints are conventional: everything used to be better, the world’s gone to hell, everyone now is obsessed with money, sex, power, and their stomachs.  A scholar has described this work as containing “one of the most vehement, nasty outpourings of antifeminism in the Middle Ages.”[2]  But its vehemence and nastiness has a hollow core.  De Contemptu Mundi lacks the outrageously transgressive pseudo-realism of Jaume Roig’s Spill, the intricate poetic parodies of Libro de buen amor, and the keen psychological insights of Marie de France’s work.  Bernard of Cluny’s De Contemptu Mundi trivializes men’s sexed protests.

De Contemptu Mundi favors narrow technical proficiency over broad social change.  De Contemptu Mundi complains about everything while maintaining a difficult leonini cristati trilices dactylici meter throughout its 3,000 lines.  Bernard fundamentally misunderstands virility:

Bernard speaks of this metre with great pride, pointing out in his prologue that other poets had not used it for more than a handful of lines, whereas he has managed to keep it up for three thousand. [3]

Literature from the Islamic world describes the much more impressive feat of Abu’l Hayloukh.  Bernard wrote De Contemptu Mundi for his monastic brethren.  Enforcing the intensely difficult leonini cristati trilices dactylici on himself often required Bernard “to torture syntax, vocabulary, and word order.”[4]  Torture, like going down on sinking ships, hurts men.

De Contemptu Mundi Virī

Bernard places women at the center of the world.  His gynocentric imagination ignores men and connects abstract evils to shameless whores, woman, the evil woman, and even a specific woman:

Excess thrives, impiety stands erect, injustice abounds.  The impious crowd, the troop of whores, defiles all.  The life of shameless whores is to walk without restraint; their tongue is defilement, their heart is drunkenness, their life is the belly.  Their one and only glory is to love the lewd desires of the flesh, to defile hearts in their abyss, to defile bodies in their lust.  Woman is filthy, woman is faithless, woman is feeble; she pollutes the clean, she contemplates the impious, she wears away one’s abundance.  An evil woman becomes a spur to wickedness, a rein to goodness.  An evil woman is a wild beast; her sins are as sand.  I am not going to revile righteous women whom I ought to bless, but since I must, in my poem I sting those who think like Locusta. [5]

While “impiety stands erect” surely suggests a masculine contribution, Bernard doesn’t dilate that figure.  He immediately moves on to whores.  Men throughout history have served as whores, but historians, who have been predominately men, have ignored them.  Underscoring his lack of recognition of men, Bernard abruptly moves from whores to women.  Two verses later, the subject is the evil woman.  Bernard claims that he isn’t going to revile righteous women.  That’s transparently incredible since he has reviled “woman” only a few verses earlier.  From the highly abstract claim “excess thrives” to the specific, historical reference “those who think like Locusta,” Bernard never thinks of men.

Bernard distracts attention from his disregard for men with an insincere distinction between person and acts.  Immediately following the above passage, Bernard declares:

Now the evil woman becomes my theme, she becomes my discourse.  Her I regard as good, but her acts I condemn, and therefore I censure them. [6]

After only a few more verses, Bernard tramples the distinction between person and acts.  He describes “woman” as pulchra putredo (“beautiful rottenness”), dulce venenum (“sweet poison”), semita lubrica (“a slippery path”), fossa novissima (“the deepest ditch”), and publica janua (“a public doorway”).[7]  All these descriptions are directed at the person.  With their specific forms, these figures are gendered to exclude men.[8]

Bernard himself doesn’t appreciate the seriousness of his disparagement of the literature of men’s sexed protests.  Bernard rattles off verses that seem to be merely technical exercises:

Foemina perfida, foemina foetida, foemina foetor
{Woman is faithless, woman is foul, woman is foulness} [9]

Bernard joins a long history of ridiculing cuckolded men:

What woman keeps sacred agreements … so that offspring given to her husband, sired by him and not by a servant, shows his father’s face and manifests the father’s deeds? For what woman does the promise or the blessing at the altar remain firm? What woman has pious eyes, what woman is good? A rare one, believe me! This bird is very rare, this plant is difficult to find. I attack such things, I ridicule such things, but not without weeping. [10]

A leading scholar of Latin literature observed:

In view of the violent diction and strained ornamentation we have seen, and the conscious imitation of satirical conventions, I suspect that the misogynistic poems which flourished in the twelfth century were comic in effect, if not in purpose. Perhaps they were all for show. [11]

The effects of literature like De Contemptu Mundi aren’t comic.  The literature of men’s sexed protests addresses real, serious issues in men’s lives.  It concerns issues such as men’s paternity interests, violence against men, men’s need for compassionate and helpful direction, and men’s inferiority in guile. Bernard of Cluny’s De Contemptu Mundi doesn’t broach any of these issues.  De Contemptu Mundi implicitly reveals contempt for men.

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Read more:


[1] Bernard of Cluny, De Contemptu Mundi, I.1077-8, from Latin trans. Pepin (1991) p. 75.  I’ve replaced “the times are most wicked” with “the most wicked of times” for better w-alliterated rhythm.  Bernard, who is also known as Bernard of Morlaix (or Morval and related variants), wrote De Contemptu Mundi about 1140.  On Bernard and his works, Belnaves (1997) Ch. 1.

[2] Pepin (1991), intro. p. xvii.

[3] Mann (1994) p. 163.

[4] Id.

[5] De Contemptu Mundi, II.439-50.  In describing shameless whores walking without restraint, Bernard may have been referring to a medieval version of the post-modern slutwalkLocusta was a strong, independent businesswoman in first-century Rome.  She acquired considerable wealth working directly for the Roman Emperor Nero.  The Roman Emperor Galba (probably not related to Galbi, which is more likely a name of Roman Arabic slaves who quarried rocks) condemned Locusta to death.

[6] De Contemptu Mundi, II.451-2.

[7] Id. II. 459, 460, 461.  Phrases like pulchra putredo (beautiful rottenness) play in a rhetorical game that goes back to Hesiod’s Theogony and its reference to the first woman as a καλός κακός (beautiful evil).  On 12th-century Latin rhetoric disparaging woman, Pepin (1993).  A long series of paired Latin antonyms describing love occur in the 12th-century poem, “Vix nodosum valeo….”  See ll. 6-9, trans. Wetherbee (2013) pp. 521-33.

[8] This problem may have cosmic generality.  Bloch (1987), p. 19, declares that a writer “can only be defined as a woman.”  Bloch sees the exclusion of men as defining the whole literary enterprise:

The discourse of misogyny runs like a rich vein throughout the breadth of medieval literature. … it is the equation of women with the illusory that serves to identify the misogynistic with the literary. … The danger of women, according to this reading of the phenomenon of misogyny, is that of literature itself.

Id. pp. 1, 15, 20.  Professors could address this problem by making literature classes more welcoming to men and by encouraging more men to read fiction.  Bloch’s analysis seems to draw upon earlier work pushing fully human men to the margins:

Unlike the pusillanimous pastor he {Bernard of Cluny} does not refrain from condemning such powerful depravity for fear of losing an earthly stipend.  Yet like the meek pastor he remembers with compassion his equality in nature to those whose faults he disciplines with the rigor of zeal.  In his Christian fashion he accommodates to the iniquity of carnal lust the tears of Heraclitus and the laughter of Democritus, the alternative responses of pagan satire to the vanity of human prudence: he laments the evil woman while deriding her viciousness.  … although Bernard voices the conventional disclaimer that his diatribe is directed only against evil women and only against their sins, he nevertheless proclaims in the era of the false Christian the universality of the evil woman foreshadowed in Eve and in the licentious contemporaries of Noah and Juvenal, who now takes her part in the ambiance of iniquity which portends the coming of Christ in judgment as it anagogically had attended His coming in mercy.

Engelhardt (1964) p. 166.  Fully human men, most of whom have been low-status men, have had low social valuation throughout history.

[9] De Contemptu Mundi, II.517.

[10] Id. II.531-40.

[11] Pepin (1993) p. 663.


Balnaves, Francis John. 1997. Bernard of Morlaix: the literature of complaint, the Latin tradition and the twelfth-century “renaissance.” PhD thesis, Australian National University, March 1997.

Bloch, R. Howard. 1987. “Medieval Misogyny.” Representations. 20 (1): 1-24.

Engelhardt, George J. 1964.  “De Contemptu Mundi of Bernardus Morvalensis, Book 2.”  Mediaeval Studies 26: 109-152.

Mann, Jill. 1994. Review. “Ronald E. Pepin, Scorn for the World: Bernard of Cluny’s De contemptu mundi. The Latin Text with English Translation and an Introduction.” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 4 (1): 163-169.

Pepin, Ronald E., trans. 1991. Bernard of Cluny. Scorn for the world: Bernard of Cluny’s De contemptu mundi: the Latin text with English translation and an introduction. East Lansing, Mich: Colleagues Press.

Pepin, Ronald E. 1993. “The Dire Diction of Medieval Misogyny.” Latomus. 52 (3): 659-663.

Wetherbee, Winthrop, trans. 2013. Alain de Lille. Literary works. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

sexual innuendo: rising for marriage in Libro de buen amor

In the fourteenth-century Spanish work Libro de buen amor, the Easter arrival of Sir Love prompted wide-ranging rejoicing.  The sun was radiant, birds sang, and trees sent forth foliage and blooms.  Instruments of human construction also played:

The Moorish guitar sang its lament,
High and harsh in tone.
The portly lute accompanies a rustic dance,
And the Western guitar joins them.

The screaming rebec with its high note,
qalbī ʼaʻrābī does its rote play;
The Psaltery in their company is higher than La Mota.
The quill plectrum guitar dances in time with them. [1]

The Arabic phrase qalbī ʼaʻrābī seems to refer to a zajal that began:

qalbī bi-qalbī,
qalbī ʼaʻrābī. [2]

That’s plausibly translated as:

{I give} my heart {in exchange} for a heart,
{for} my heart is a Bedouin heart.

These lines suggest a necessity of love and an insistence on a fair bargain in love.  In Latin, galbus means yellow.  I prefer to believe that the root of galbi is the Arabic qalbī (heart).

secluded waterfall

Libro de buen amor narrates the Archpriest of Hita’s failures in love.  The Archpriest tells of his experience on the Sunday after Easter:

On Sunday after Easter I saw churches and cathedrals
All filled with festivals and marriages and joyous song;
They had great celebrations and they spread delicious banquets;
From wedding on to wedding, priests and minstrels ran along.

Those who were single just before are married now in turn;
I saw them pass, accompanied by wives for whom they burned;
I strove to think how I might taste such joy as they had earned,
For he who’s single and alone has many a hard concern. [3]

The Archpriest surely wasn’t imagining the fifteen joys of marriage, because that subtle and creative book hadn’t been written yet.[4]  In the Archpriest’s insistent yearning for a mistress, a reader might perceive a less cultured interest.  A sober and judicious scholarly authority on sexual innuendo has written:

Reading sexual innuendo in medieval literature is a delicate balancing act. … Balance requires that we see medieval sexuality as being no different in practice, if not in moral sanction, than our own; but it also requires that we do not uncritically seek a mirror to, or rather affirmation of, contemporary sexual culture or politics.  Between the two extremes there remains much fertile soil to be plowed. [5]

The Archpriest had a hard plow.  Fertile soil scarcely responded to his strenuous efforts.  In Korean, galbi is a barbeque rib dish made from beef.  Properly prepared, it’s delicious.

Between a good meal and a heart for a heart wanders Libro de buen amor.

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Read more:


[1] Libro de buen amor, s. 1228-9, from Old Spanish trans. Monroe (2011) p. 31.  Verse 1229b is “badly garbled in our manuscripts” and scholars have argued over the correct reading.  Willis (1972) intro., pp. lviii-lix.  See also the discussion in Monroe (2011) pp. 31-32, 33 ft. 16.

[2] Monroe (2011) p. 32, which also provides the subsequent translation above.

[3] Libro de buen amor, s. 1315-6, from Old Spanish trans. Daly (1978) p. 329.  Daly’s translation turns up the heat of s. 1316 with “burned” (cf. 1 Corinthians 7:9) and “hard concern (cf. tumescence of his penis).  The Old Spanish text for s. 1316 is:

Los que ante son solos, desque eran casados,
veíalos de dueñas estar aconpañados;
pensé cómo oviese de tales gasajados,
ca omne que es solo sienpre piens{a} cuidados.

Zahareaus’ text in Daly & Zahareas (1978) p. 328.  An alternate, close prose translation of s. 1316:

As soon as those who formerly had been alone were married, I saw that they had the companionship of ladies; I pondered how I could have such pleasure from company, for a man who lives alone always has many cares.

Willis (1972) p. 356.  The context, however, is subtly sexual.  The date is the Sunday after Easter (“Dia de Cuasimode”), i.e. Quasimodo Sunday or Low Sunday.  The name Quasimodo Sunday comes from the first two words of the Quasimodo Sunday mass’s Latin Introit:

Quasi modo geniti infantes, rationabile, sine dolo lac concupiscite {As newborn babes, with innate reason desire milk}

Libro de buen amor describes desire for sex as innate reason (“rationabile, sine dolo”), meaning a fundamental, natural part of human being:

Wise Aristotle says, and what he says of course is true,
That all men struggle most for two things: first, what he must do
To feed himself and keep alive, and second, in this view,
To have sex with a pleasing woman who is compliant, too.

And that he speaks the truth is proven with no artifice:
Mankind and birds and beasts, animals in caves and dens,
Desire by nature ever new, sweet paramours and bliss,
And man has much more itch than all the rest who’re moved by this.

Libro, ss. 71, 73, trans. Daly (1978) p. 43. The attribution to Aristotle is fallacious, and in general, Libro de buen amor ridicules Aristotle and other institutional authorities.  However, the sexual interpretation of Quasimodo Sunday is consistent with popular practice in medieval France:

This week {beginning with Quasimodo Sunday} marked the beginning of spring carnival and a universal relaxation of social convention.  Jeay states that despite local variations “the character of the celebrations was everywhere the same: couples formed outside marriage, and it was the woman who took the initiative.”

Pitts (1985) p. 143, n. 3, quoting Jeay (1977) p. 138.  Libro de buen amor can fairly be judged to be rife with sexual innuendo.  Its “Cruz Cruzada” lyric (s. 115-122):

is so replete with sexual “double entendres”, that it may be considered one of the most, if not the most obscene poem in the entirety of Spanish literature.

Monroe (2011) p. 36.

[4] Les Quinze joies de mariage, written in Old French about 1400, trans. Pitt (1985).

[5] Christoph (2008) p. 292.  The sexual innuendo here, whether intentional or not, is delightfully incongruous with the over-all style of this scholarly article.


Christoph, Siegfried. 2008. “The Limits of Reading Innuendo in Medieval Literature.” Pp. 279-292 in Classen, Albrecht, ed. Sexuality in the Middle Ages and early modern times new approaches to a fundamental cultural-historical and literary-anthropological theme. Berlin, New York: Walter de Gruyter.

Daly, Saralyn R., trans. and Anthony N. Zahareas, ed. 1978. Juan Ruiz. The book of true love {Libro de buen amor}. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Jeay, Madeleine.  1977. “Sur quelque coutumes sexuelles du Moyen Ages.”  Pp. 123-41 in Bruno Roy, ed. 1977. L’Érotisme au moyen âge.  Institut d’Etudes Medievales, Montréal: Éditions de l’Aurore.

Monroe, James T. 2011. “Arabic literary elements in the structure of the Libro de buen amor (I).” Al-Qanṭara. 32 (1): 27-70.

Pitts, Brent A., trans. 1985. The fifteen joys of marriage = Les XV joies de mariage. New York: P. Lang.

Willis, Raymond S., ed. 1972. Juan Ruiz, Arcipreste de Hita. Libro de buen amor. Princeton N. J: Princeton University Press.


Telesphoros at National Gallery’s Heaven & Earth

Heaven & Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections, at the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. through March 2, 2014, exhibits a culture that tends to be viewed through stereotypes of stagnant elite theocracy, widespread superstition, and Byzantine bureaucracy.  Such phenomenon are far removed from the lived experience of ordinary persons in Washington today.  Yet a crucial function of art is to provide alternative, imaginative perspectives on the world.  For those who take time to appreciate this exhibition, Heaven & Earth shows little recognized mixtures under high artistic abstractions.

Escaping the provincialism of one’s own values and way of life isn’t easy.  In the eleventh century, a Byzantine princess married a high public official from Venice.  A Catholic Christian monk, hostile to the Byzantine princess’s Orthodox Christian culture, observed:

Such was the luxury of her habits . . . that she did not deign to touch her food with her fingers, but would have it cut up into small pieces which she would impale on a certain golden instrument with two prongs and thus carry to her mouth. [1]

Civilized persons in eleventh-century Venice ate with their fingers.  Some golden instruments with two prongs have survived from Byzantium.  Until recently they were identified as medical tools.[2]  They are now recognized as table forks.  You can see five of such forks in the Heaven & Earth exhibition.

Byzantine art is usually thought of as icons and mosaics.  Icons are like Michael Jordan, Marlyn Monroe, and Abraham Lincoln.  When you see an emblem of splayed legs and arm reaching high above, you think big jump and score.  Marlyn gives you a sexy feeling.  Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves.  Byzantine icons were like that in Christianity-imbued Byzantine culture.  Heaven & Earth presents superheroes of Byzantine Christianity in their most famous poses.  These image were thought to have special powers of communication.  Images thought to have special powers of communication have been prevalent throughout history and across cultures.  Icons are not merely a Byzantine curiosity.

Mosaics are explicitly combinations.  They are constructed from discrete, small pieces of colored glass or stone.  The small pieces within a class are both unique in microscopic details and similar in general color and size.  Many pieces from various classes combine to form a larger image, a mosaic.  Heaven & Earth includes a portion of a wall mosaic showing a full-length figure of the Apostle Andrew, pivoting to his left in a vigorous, athletic pose.  A floor mosaic shows a fruit-bearing personification of Autumn.  Another mosaic shows a running fountain and vegetation.[3]  With only minor changes, all three of these mosaics could have been in Christian or non-Christian contexts.  In early Christian Europe and in Byzantium, persons asserted affinity with Greco-Roman culture as a way of presenting themselves as cultural elites.[4]


Heaven & Earth includes astonishing works of interrelation.  One is a large icon of a peaceful Virgin Mary with the Christ child.  That icon is associated with protection or shelter.  It’s constructed as a portable mosaic with gold and silver tesserae (constitutive mosaic pieces).  It was a rare and expensive object even in its own time.[5]  Andreas Pavias’s crucifixion icon combined Byzantine and Western European artistic styles and materials.  The image is composed with egg tempera on wood — traditional materials of icons.  It has an other-worldly gold background, but depicts realistically a bustling, diverse city of people around the foot of the cross.  Even just the large number of different styles of headwear among persons in the crowd, all carefully painted, is extraordinary.  Pavias, based in fifteenth-century Crete, served both Orthodox Christian and Catholic Christian clients.[6]

The entrance wall for Heaven & Earth insightfully includes a collection of marble statuettes.  These statuettes apparently were part of a domestic shrine in a wealthy home in early fourth-century Corinth.  The domestic shrine consisted of at least nine marble statuettes of Greco-Roman gods.  The largest is a statuette of the female god Roma.  The irises of her eyes are defined with flecks of gold.  This unusual domestic presence of a Roma statuette suggests that the householder “held high office, or at the very least had aspirations to join the governing classes.”[7]  Worshiping favored gods has always been politically expedient.  Corinth, a bustling trading town, had Christian communities from Paul of Tarsus’s missionary work in the first century.  Christianity in Corinth coexisted for centuries with worship of other gods.

scuplture of Asklepios with Telesphoros

Telesphoros, as depicted in one of the Corinthian domestic statuettes, provides a striking counterpoint to the The Dying Gaul, a magnificent Greco-Roman sculpture now also on display at the National Gallery.  The Corinthian statuette collection includes two statuettes of Asklepios.  Asklepios is a god of medicine and healing, perennial domestic interests.  One of the Asklepios statuettes shows Asklepios with his dwarf son Telesphoros.  Telesphoros in ancient representations always wears a cowl with the pointed cap over his head.  Most prominently associated with a shrine in Pergamon, Telephoros is generally thought to be a Gallic god that Romans absorbed from Galatians in Anatolia.[8]  But look at the face of Telesphoros and at the face of the dying Gaul.  Telesphoros has a wide, round face, a broad nose, a low nose bridge, relatively narrow eyes, and prominent eyelids.  The dying Gaul has a narrow face, a narrow nose, a high nose bridge, and roundish eyes.[9]  Today people tend to associate the facial features of Telesphoros with persons from eastern Eurasia, and the facial features of the dying Gaul, with persons from western Eurasia.  Sculptors in the ancient Greco-Roman world apparently associated both types of facial features with the Gauls.

Heaven & Earth: The Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections is well worth a careful examination.  Important artistic signs are amid the details.

*  *  *  *  *

Part II: the Athenodora stone on exhibit in Heaven & Earth

Related posts:


[1] Petrus Damianus, Institutio monialis, 11, PL 145, c. &44C, trans. Norwich (1982) p. 60.  The Byzantine princess was probably Maria Argyropoulina.  Her Venetian husband was Giovanni Orseolo, eldest son of Venetian Doge Pietro II Orseolo.

[2] Drandaki et al. (2013) p. 235, Description for no. 105, “Five Bronze Forks,” by Nikolaos D. Siomkos.

[3] Drandaki et al. (2013), mosaic of Andrew the Apostle, no. 47, pp. 128-9; personification of Autumn, n. 97 (p. 228); fountain and vegetal scroll, no. 45, pp. 124-5.

[4] Stirling (2005) provides extensive discussion of elite interest in Greco-Roman culture.

[5] Drandaki et al. (2013) no. 55, p. 135.

[6] Id. no. 172, p. 324-5.

[7] Stirling (2008) pp. 108-9, 132.

[8] The other statuette shows Asklepios enthroned, a posture associated with representations of Asklepios at the ancient temple of Asklepios in Epidauros.  That statuette doesn’t include Telesphoros.  The statuette with Telesphoros is a type known as Asklepios Giustini.  Both (marble) statuettes are thought to have been carved in an Athenian workshop.  The enthroned Asklepios is dated to the second half of the second century.  The Asklepios Giustini is dated to the third or fourth century.  On representations of Telesphoros, Wroth (1882).  The name Telesphoros has a Greek etymology “carrying to the end,” generally interpreted as convalescence.

[9] Stirling (2008) p. 125 describes this Telesphoros as having a “wide, pear-shaped face with closed eyes and a broad nose.”  I closely examined the sculpture in the Heaven & Earth exhibition.  Telephoros appears to me to have large epicanthic folds, but open eyes.  Other representations of Telesphoros are much less finely detailed.  Here’s an image of the dying Gaul’s face.  For the best view of both faces, go to the National Gallery while both Heaven & Earth and The Dying Gaul are still on exhibition.

[images] Andreas Pavias, Icon of the Crucifixion, second half of 15th century, National Gallery, Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens; Statuette of Asklepios and Telesphoros, 3rd or 4th century, Archaeological Museum of Ancient Corinth.  Both images courtesy of the National Gallery of Art’s press office.


Drandaki, Anastasia, Demetra Papanikola-Bakirtze, and Anastasia Tourta. 2013. Heaven & earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections.  Athens: Hellenic Ministry of Culture and Sports and the Benaki Museum, Athens.

Norwich, John Julius. 1982. A history of Venice. New York: Knopf.

Stirling, Lea M. 2005. The learned collector mythological statuettes and classical taste in late antique Gaul. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Stirling, Lea M. 2008. “Pagan Statuettes in Late Antique Corinth: Sculpture from the Panayia Domus.” Hesperia. 77 (1): 89-161.

Wroth, Warwick. 1882. “Telesphoros.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies. 3: 283-300.


Galen and Isidore to the defense of astrology

The book Secret of Secrets was an influential guide to counselors in medieval Europe.  Secret of Secrets offered rulers advice on eating, sleeping, drinking, having sex, and curing illnesses and ailments.  Secret of Secrets formulated that advice in part based on the position of the sun, moon, and stars.  In Europe late in the thirteenth century, scholars apparently had doubts about Secret of Secrets’ defense of the physiological significance of the positions of the moon and stars.  A European recension added supporting rhetoric, enlisted the great ancient scholars Galen (129 – c. 216) and Isidore of Seville (c. 560 -636), and substituted the term astronomy for the term astrology.  These changes buttressed the credibility of Secret of Secrets’ astral-based advice.  In modern terms, these changes supported Secret of Secrets’ defense of astrology.

medical astrology for King Alexander

Secret of Secrets originated in the early Islamic world.  Claiming to convey advice from Aristotle, Secret of Secrets seems to have arisen as an effort of Persian elites to win favor among the new Arab rulers of Persia.  Astronomy and astrology were closely associated with medical practice in the ancient Islamic world.  Secret of Secrets supported the significance of celestial signs with stories of contrasting reversals of professional fortunes based on time of birth (the stories of the sons of the weaver and the Indian king).  As would be formally appropriate in the Islamic world, Secret of Secrets acknowledged that God is all-powerful and superior to celestial bodies.  Secret of Secrets endorsed using astral signs to prompt prayers to avoid undesirable indications.

Study of astral signs had intellectual credibility and professional importance in the early Islamic world.  Measuring and predicting positions of celestial bodies was a highly respected field of knowledge.  That field is now known as the science of astronomy.  The Arab rulers and scholarly elites believed that the position of the moon and stars was crucial to the success of medical treatments.  Such claims, which supported a lucrative practice of medicine, are now associated with the pseudo-science of medical astrology.   In the Islamic world, careful empirical study and the interest of patrons in medical treatment drove study of astral signs to a high level of intellectual and professional development.  Secret of Secrets conveyed astral-based advice from the Islamic world to less developed medieval Europe.

Secret of Secrets raised concerns about credible beliefs among some scholars in late thirteenth century Europe.  In his translation of Secret of Secrets from Latin into French about 1300, Paris-based Dominican Jofroi of Waterford used the term astronomy in Secret of Secrets‘ defense of of the physiological significance of the positions of the moon and stars.  Jofroi probably supported Isidore of Seville’s distinction between astronomy and astrology:

There is a difference between astronomy and astrology.  Astronomy consists of the turning of the sky, the rise, setting and movement of the stars, and why they were named.  Astrology is partly of the natural world, and partly superstitious.  It is part of nature when it follows the course of the sun and moon, or the placement of the stars in certain seasons.  Superstition is when the astrologers make predictions by the stars, arrange the twelve signs of the sky through each part of the body and soul, and attempt to predict the birth and characteristics of human beings by the course of the constellations. [1]

Jofroi excised from Secret of Secrets material on alchemy, magic substances, and astrology.  He explained that such stuff is “more like fable than truth or philosophy, and all clerks who understand Latin well know this.”[2]  The stories of the weaver and the Indian king’s sons were moved from the section on choosing counselors to the section of physiognomy.[3]  Those stories are very much like fables.  Fables, like the term astrology, evidently lessened credibility within thirteenth-century European scholastic circles.

To support Secret of Secrets’ astral-based advice, a medieval European recension added rhetorical arguments.  James Yonge translated Jofroi’s French into English in Dublin in 1422.  Compared to its Arabic source, the Jofroi-Yonge recension added the authority of Galen and Isidore of Seville in defense of astronomy:

As Galen the very wise physician says and Isidore the good scholar witnesses, a man may not perfectly know the science and craft of medicine unless he is an astronomer.  Therefore you will do nothing, and namely that which pertains to the keeping of your body, without the counsel of astronomers. [4]

That’s a highly generic argument from authority for medical astrology-astronomy.  Compared to its Arabic source, the Jofroi-Yonge recension supported the physiological significance of celestial bodies’ positions by describing the effect of the moon on the sea.  It generalized that effect to all animals having the nature of water:

The sea moves and it withdraws according to the moving, growing, and decreasing of the moon that has mastery and lordship upon the water and upon all things that have the nature of water.  Therefore, oysters and crabs, the brain and marrow of all beasts, increase and decrease after the moon. [5]

Putting in series oysters, crabs, and the brain and marrow of all beasts makes sense only in attempting to connect rhetorically the sea to general animal physiology.  Concern that this effect is not readily apparent in a cup of water doesn’t matter to such an exercise.  Essentially following the Arabic source, the Jofroi-Yonge recension declared:

it well seems that those men are great fools that say that science and judgment of stars is not profitable to know since by them a man may better understand diverse perils and shun harm by knowledge and foresight.  However, as much as the knowledge of a man is not sufficient without the help of God, the sovereign remedy against all harm and suffering is to pray to God almighty that He, for His great mercy, would turn harm into good, for His power is not made less, defiled, or disturbed by the virtues of the stars.

That claim was highly popular in medieval Europe.[6]  The Jofroi-Yonge recension added to that argument for prayer a medieval European sense of sinfulness and hope:

And if we so do, we may have hope that He will deliver us from that harm that we have well deserved.[7]

In thirteenth-century Europe, weaknesses in the credibility of Secret of Secrets‘ astral-based advice prompted rhetorical, not substantial, revisions.

Secret of Secrets’ astral-based advice had a sound foundation in underlying interests.  Eating, sleeping, drinking, having sex, and curing illnesses and ailments are perennially propitious areas for offering advice.  Secret of Secrets claimed to provide up-market advice with authority of Aristotle and Islamic learning.  Faithful looking to God see stars.  Scholars have long studied the movement of the stars.  Secret of Secrets’ astral-based advice was too well-positioned to be consigned to the realm of superstition.

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[1] Isidore of Seville, Etymologies, III.27, from Latin trans. Throop (2005).  Isidore’s distinction between astronomy and astrology was not, in my view, consistently maintained in subsequent literature.  Fluidity in use of the terms is apparent in the biographies of physicians in the early Islamic world; Asaph the Physician’s roughly tenth-century Hebrew Book of Medicines and David ben Yom Tov’s fourteenth-century Hebrew Kelal Qatan; and in the writing and profession of Petrus Afonsi in twelfth-century Spain.  With respect to Roger Bacon in thirteenth-century Europe:

Bacon himself uses the word Astrology in the most general sense, as the whole body of knowledge concerning the stars, subdividing it into judiciary and operative Astronomy.

Steele (1920) p. xxviii.  For an example, see id. p. 5.  Manuscripts of Philip of Tripoli’s Prologue to Secret of Secrets used astronomy and astrology inconsistently.  Williams (2003) p. 361, ft. 39: “astronomia ]Pa3 astrologia.”  The context, “postetatem astrorum in astronomia,” is astrological in Isidore’s terms.   Williams (2004) also uses astronomy and astrology inconsistently.  See, e.g. id. pp. 409, 419.  As discussed above, astronomy had more more credibility in narrow reason, while astrology offered a broader basis for marketing claims to practical knowledge.

[2] O’Byrne (2012) p. 52.  Philip of Tripoli translated the Arabic source of Secret of Secrets into Latin about 1230.  Jofroi of Waterford (Geoffrey of Waterford) used primarily Philip’s Latin translation.  On Jofroi’s revisions of Philip’s text, see Williams (2003) Ch. 7.  Jofroi also drew upon Barthélemy de Messine’s translation (from Greek to Latin) of a pseudo-Aristotelian text on physiognomy.  Monfrin (1964).  Jofroi’s text has not been published.  Jofroi entitled Ch. 31 “Que astrenomie est necessaire a la garde du cors (That astronomy is necessary for the keeping of the body).”  O’Byrne (2012) p. 65, Table 1.1.  That chapter corresponds to the chapter in Yonge’s text (Ch. 39) that cites Galen and links “the science and judgment of stars” to prayer.

[3] Id. p. 63, suggesting that Jofroi moved the stories rather than Yonge.  Jofroi, associating with Parisian scholastics, seems to be the more likely party to have reduced the profile of astrology in Secret of Secrets.  The stories were moved to Ch. 55.

[4] James Yonge’s Secret of Secrets (Secreta secretorum), Ch. 39, trans. into modern English, Kerns (2008) p. 80.  For the old English text, Steele (1898) pp. 195-196.

[5] James Yonge’s Secret of Secrets, modern English in Kerns (2008) pp. 80-1.

[6] Williams (2004) p. 425.

[7] James Yonge’s Secret of Secrets, modern English in Kerns (2008) p. 81.

[image] From Pseudo-Aristotle, Secretum Secretorum, translated by Philip of Tripoli (Philippus Tripolitanus), f. 53v, detail illustration, King with an astrologer and a physician, British Library Add MS 47680 (dated 1326-1327).


Kerns, Lin, trans. 2008. The secret of secrets (Secreta secretorum): a modern translation, with introduction, of The governance of princes. Lewiston: Edwin Mellen Press.

Monfrin, Jacques. 1964.  “Sur les sources du Secret des secrets de Jofroi de Waterford et Servais Copale.” In Mélanges de linguistique romane et de philologie médiévale offerts à Maurice Delbouille, 2:509–530. Gembloux: J. Duculot.

O’Byrne, Theresa. 2012. Dublin’s Hoccleve: James Yonge, scribe, author, and bureaucrat, and the literary world of late medieval Dublin. Ph.D. Thesis. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame.

Steele, Robert, ed. 1898.  Three prose versions of the Secreta secretorum. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner.

Steele, Robert, ed. 1920. Opera hactenus inedita Rogeri Baconi.  Vol. 5. Secretum secretorum, cum glossis et notulis : Tractatus brevis et utilis ad declarandum quedam obscure dicta. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Throop, Priscilla, trans. 2005. Isidore of Seville’s etymologies: the complete English translation of Isidori Hispalensis Episcopi Etymologiarum sive Originum Libri XX. Charlotte, Vt: MedievalMS.

Williams, Steven J. 2003. The secret of secrets: the scholarly career of a pseudo-Aristotelian text in the Latin Middle Ages. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Williams, Steven J. 2004. “Reflections on the Pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum secretorum as an Astrological Text.”  Micrologus.  Natura, scienze e società medievali 12, Il sole e la Luna:  407-434.


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