females key to peaceful, egalitarian bonobo society

male bonobo grooms female bonobo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes:

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

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

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

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

[5] Furuichi (1997) p. 866.

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

friendship for Tito and Gisippo from Athens to Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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multi-species bird communities cluster their songs

huge bird flock

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

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

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

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Reference:

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

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

friendship: weeping & laughing in the Tale of Attaf

Perspectives: Chiharu Shiota at Sackler Gallery

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Notes:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

References:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sex differences in birds and their songs

male Northern Cardinal

Sex differences aren’t created merely through socialization. Both male and female Northern cardinals sing.  However, across cardinal chicks raised individually in an acoustically controlled environment, young males take about three times as long to learn songs as do young females. Males, however, are later more versatile singers as adults.[1] Among free-living cardinals, song control brain regions in adult males are 1.5-2.0 times larger than those in adult females.[2] Bird song is produced through complex interactions across sexes. Those communication systems encompass characteristic differences between females and males.

Sex differences depend on social circumstances. Among cowbirds,  juvenile males housed without adult male cowbirds develop different singing characteristics than juveniles housed with adult males.[3] Unlike humans, cowbirds themselves lack oppressive and discriminatory institutions that separate juvenile males from adult males.  Cowbirds are unlikely to be capable of developing such institutions.  Thus cowbird song is strongly fixed in cowbird social nature.

Whether communicative behavior is determined genetically or socially has little significance if social structure responds to environmental changes at a timescale similar to that of changes in genetically coded behavior. Chickadees naturally experience significantly different social structures.  Chickadees living alone or in a pair make less complex calls than chickadees living in larger groups.  That change in call type occurs in weeks following a change in the chickadees’ social group.[4]  However, most birds’ pattern of social living changes little through a bird’s lifetime. The social structure of most bird species is an emergent property of their particular nature. To a significant extent, social structure changes in a reproductively fruitful way only with changes in the nature of the bird.

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Notes:

[1] Yamaguchi (2001). Social factors also affect cardinals’ singing.  Vondrasek (2006).

[2] Jawor & MacDougall-Shackleton (2008).

[3] White, King & West (2002).

[4] Freeberg (2006).

[image] Male Northern Cardinal in Columbus, Ohio, USA, 2011. Thanks to Stephen Wolfe and Wikimedia Commons.

References:

Freeberg, Todd M. 2006. “Social Complexity Can Drive Vocal Complexity: Group Size Influences Vocal Information in Carolina Chickadees.” Psychological Science. 17 (7): 557-561.

Jawor, Jodie M., and Scott A. MacDougall-Shackleton. 2008. “Seasonal and sex-related variation in song control nuclei in a species with near-monomorphic song, the northern cardinal.” Neuroscience Letters. 443 (3): 169-173.

Vondrasek, Joanna R. 2006. “Social factors affect the singing rates of female northern cardinals Cardinalis cardinalis.” Journal of Avian Biology. 37 (1): 52-57.

White, David J., Andrew P. King, and Meredith J. West. 2002. “Facultative development of courtship and communication in juvenile male cowbirds (Molothrus ater).” Behavioral Ecology. 13 (4): 487

Yamaguchi Ayako. 2001. “Sex differences in vocal learning in birds.” Nature. 411 (6835): 257-8.

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men’s studies: academic struggling against patriarchal prison

Despite the high value of bringing men’s perspectives to academia, men’s perspectives haven’t been welcomed.  Consider the experience of a U.S. professor who in 1988 wrote an “emancipatory reading of selected works of contemporary American popular men’s art.”  It was finally published in 1994.  In a preface to that book, the professor explained:

{this book} has had a spotty history since I first wrote it in the fall of 1988: enthusiastically embraced by a series of editors at university presses (six or seven of them, I think), who sent it out for external evaluation to feminist scholars of American popular culture and social history; returned by almost all those scholars with recommendations not to publish, despite a determined sympathy with my project that was invariably eroded by anxiety, even anger.[1]

This book in men’s studies considered Spencer, hero of Robert B. Parker’s series of detective novels and subsequently the protagonist of the late 1980’s television series, Spenser: For Hire.  It considered Rambo, the hero of David Morrell’s novel First Blood and the 1982 blockbuster movie starring Sylvester Stallone.  It also considered Bruce Springsteen, “the Boss,” a rock star since the 1970s.  It’s not as if the struggling professor was writing about the global conspiracy to obscure the gender protrusion in men’s mortality.  He didn’t expose deep anti-men sexism in the World Values Survey.  He didn’t ridicule sexist social-scientistic studies of sexism.  Why would this professor’s work on “popular men’s art” provoke anxiety and even anger?

The problem seems to have been that he tried to be the one good man.  In his book, he identified the hegemonic forces of patriarchal society:

It is essential, certainly, as a first step in a project of emancipation, to identify the forces that hold you fast, to explore the prison block in which you are incarcerated; but to dwell on incarceration exclusively seems to me ultimately counterproductive, leading to an overwhelming sense of your powerlessness before the hegemonic forces of patriarchal society. [2]

Identifying himself and his readers as “us counterhegemonic few,” he set out a master narrative of modern history:

The emergence and establishment of the middle classes in the modern era has meant the progressive feminization of Western society, the gradual displacement of medieval masculinity, with its reptilian territorialism, by humanizing feminine voices and values. That history has been punctuated, however, by recurrent periods of remasculinization, periods in which patriarchy, as it were, has panicked at social change and slammed on the brakes.

Within this deeply sexist master narrative, he recognized two types of critical tasks:

For the ideological critic, the pressing task is to map every square inch of the jailcells in which we are currently trapped; for the utopian critic, the crucial task is to engineer a jailbreak.

Despite these concrete images, the fundamental problem seems to be unconscious, abstract ideas and evil voices generated within persons’ bodies:

An emancipatory gender politics requires, it seems to me, a relaxation of the programmed suspicions that keep us in thrall to patriarchy. The sheer unconscious effectiveness of patriarchal ideology makes this possibility seem so utopian as to be virtually {un?}attainable …. If men can’t relax the inner patriarchal voice that objectifies and demonizes women, and women can’t relax the inner patriarchal voice that objectifies and demonizes men, we’ll all remain in the same trap.

The professor proposed a “transformative engagement” with feminism to liberate women and men from the patriarchal prison:

I take feminism to be a transformative engagement with the patriarchal prison that attempts to liberate the women incarcerated there. I assume that a healthy feminism will naturally work to help men liberate themselves from the same prisons (possibly from trusteeships in that prison – we have more power and greater rewards, but we are no less incarcerated.)

The professor seemed to understand his work as a contribution to the pro-feminist men’s movement, “dedicated to the liberation of men from patriarchal gender programming.” At least among professors, this is much more respectable than “whiny men jumping on the victimization bandwagon or playing cowboy and Indians at warrior weekends and beating drums in sweat lodges.”[3] The professor explained:

my primary audience is male, other men like me who have begun to detonate the patriarchal walls that have hemmed us in.

Yet for all the high talk about patriarchal prisons and liberating men, the professor showed no awareness that among persons held in real prisons, men outnumbered women by a factor of twenty.[4]  Men are vastly more likely to be imprisoned than are women.  Efforts to vastly increase the number of men imprisoned have intensified in recent years.

circus elephants doing tricks

Despite this professor’s apparent capacity for tending and befriending fashionable thought, he found himself acutely stressed in circumstances he perceived as highly antagonistic.  He explained:

In her Presidential address to the women’s breakfast at the 1987 American Studies Association Convention in New York, … Lois Banner took issue with the very idea of “men’s studies,” denying the need for men to study masculinity on our own terms. “I think it is time for all of us to use the term ‘feminist’, ” Banner said. “This term encompasses the rest: thus we have the feminist study of women, of men, and of gender.”

This address acutely distressed him:

When I first read Banner’s speech in the ASA {American Studies Association} Newsletter, I thought my chest would burst with pent-up anxiety; I felt small, infantile, powerless, faced with an all-powerful mother who was telling me exactly how to behave so as to please her. I was five years old, about to burst into tears – or, since both of my parents always ridiculed me for crying, into a more “masculine” display of anger. I remember pacing restlessly around our bedroom with the text of Banner’s speech in my hand, reliving all those childhood fears and frustrations, wondering what to do.

Finally, he wrote a response that he described as “calling for a kind of truce … {for} relaxation of the polarized recriminations that drive the battle of the sexes.”  Unfortunately, his response, printed on the back page of a subsequent ASA Newsletter, did not have that effect.  Along with his response the newsletter printed a reply from the Lois Banner, President of the ASA:

“Professor Robinson’s remarks sadden me,” she wrote. “They seem hysterical and overblown and filled with ageism. I’m tempted to say that they sound like a small boy having a tantrum, but to do so would be only to engage in the kind of name-calling in which Professor Robinson indulges.”

The distress the professor felt from this response was even more acute:

Hysterical: because I admitted my feelings, I suppose. I had thought “hysterical” was patriarchy’s name for women (especially, since the 1960s, feminists) who do not toe the official line by repressing rebellious impulses; now established feminists accuse “rebellious” men of the same? What does this say? Overblown: out of all proportion to the real hurt suffered, this seems to mean. Men can’t be hurt; they’re oppressors. Stop whining and melodramatizing your “plight.” Ageist: because I spoke of her as an established feminist, someone my mother’s age in a position of power in the academy. And then that last sentence, which really pulls the iron band tight around my chest – that subtly extended and quickly withdrawn insult, that infantilization that I can analyze, intellectually, as fear-driven maternal rhetoric, but without much impact on my somatic response: halfway into my analysis my neocortex is shut down by my own fear, that infantile terror of mommy’s anger.

That’s a glimpse into intellectual life in a dark age of ignorance, bigotry, and superstition.  Humane civilization and human reason become astonishingly tenuous as human institutions age and stagnant.

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Notes:

[1] Robinson (1994) pp. 12, 5.

[2] Id. p. 17.  Subsequent quotes above are from id. pp. 13, 20, 22, 23, 26, 6, 27, 28.

[3] Id. p. 25 notes that many academic men, in response to this unattractive image, began “calling what they do men’s studies, rather than the men’s movement – some even swearing off men’s studies, for fear of association with drumming.”  Non-institutionalized men have taken other paths.

[4] See U.S Bureau of Justice Statistics, Prisoners in 1994, Table 10.

[image] Ansar Shrine Circus, Oct. 28, 2007.  Thanks to Katherine Johnson.

Reference:

Robinson, Douglas. 1994. No less a man: masculist art in a feminist age. Bowling Green, Ohio, Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

oxytocin & testosterone underlie male disposability

Sex-differentiated physiological responses to stress favor male disposability.  Oxytocin, a neuroactive hormone linked to maternal behavior and enhanced by estrogen, facilitates approach behavior and more generally, social affiliation. Oxytocin has been found to increase trust in mammals.[1]  Oxytocin is more up-regulated in women’s stress response than in men’s.  In response to stress, women tend-and-befriend in-group members and rally social antagonism toward out-group individuals.  Men’s response to stress tends toward decreasing trust, indiscriminate avoidance, and isolation.  Men’s behavioral response to stress is associated with down-regulation of oxytocin.[2]

Compared to women, men have on average about a ten times higher level of serum testosterone.  Increases in testosterone suppress immune system functioning and are correlated with competing for dominance.[3]  The large difference in males’ and females’ basal testosterone levels is also correlated with greater male risk of predation, greater male susceptibility to infectious diseases, much higher male suicide rates, and increased male-female mortality protrusion under conditions of chronic stress.

Gender protrusion in male mortality is common across animals and is linked to stress.  Among 26 mammalian species for which data are available, the median male/female predation death ratio is about 1.7.[4]  Death from parasites (infectious disease) is also male-biased.[5]  In the U.S., the male/female suicide mortality ratio is 3.9, the highest sex ratio among enumerated causes of death.  Under conditions of chronic stress, male testosterone levels typically fall while female testosterone levels rise.  Russia from 1990 to 2000 provides a historical example of significant, sex-differentiated effects of chronic stress.  Across those years, the gender protrusion in mortality grew from 10 years shorter expected lifespan for males to 13 years shorter expected lifespan for males.[6]

A man’s physiological response to stress tends to separate him from others and increase his mortality risk.  A woman’s physiological response to stress tends to integrate her with others and socialize concern about risk to her.  Social effects of those biological mechanisms of male disposability are starkly evident in the sex-differentiated social response to interpersonal violent injury and to rape.

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Notes:

[1] Anacker & Beery (2013), Curley & Keverne (2005), Lieberwirth & Wang (2014).  As Lieberwirth & Wang (2014) p. 8 observes, sex differences in hormonal response have been relatively under-studied.

[2] Taylor et al. (2000), Tamres, Janicki & Helgeson (2002), De Dreu et al. (2011), Palgi, Klein & Shamay-Tsoory (2014).  Estrogen strongly increases oxytocin’s effects.  Taylor (2006) p. 276.

[3] Grant (2005) p. 2.  In males, testosterone is secreted primarily from the testes.  In females, testosterone originates in peripheral tissues.  On behavioral effects of sex differences in testosterone, Klein (2000), Grant (2005) pp. 3-11, Lamason et al. (2006), and Edwards (2006).  Grant convincingly argues that dominance, understood as “acting overtly to change the views or actions of another” is not the same as aggression.  She also documents that dominance is more closely correlated with testosterone differences than is aggression.  The hormone arginine vasopressin (AVP) also has sex-differentiated activity:

In men, AVP stimulates agonistic facial motor patterns in response to the faces of unfamiliar men and decreases the perceptions of the friendliness of those faces. In contrast, in women, AVP stimulates affiliative facial motor patterns in response to the faces of unfamiliar women and increases perceptions of the friendliness of those faces.

Thompson et al. (2006) p. 7889.  In males, AVP is associated with the formation of bonds with female mates, as well as territorial marking and aggression. Curley & Keverne (2005) p. 562.

[4] Christe, Keller & Roulin (2006).

[5] Lamason et al. (2006).

[6] See workbook Male-Female Gender Protrusion in Mortality in Russia (Excel version).  That data come from World DataBank Gender Statistics.  The WorldBank’s summary page for the Russian Federation reflects now-dominant anti-men gender bigotry.  Shkolnikov & Meslé (1996) Table 4.1 provides a century-long perspective.

References:

Anacker, Allison M. J., and Annaliese K. Beery. 2013. “Life in groups: the roles of oxytocin in mammalian sociality.” Frontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience. 7.

Christe, P., L. Keller and A. Roulin. 2006. “The predation cost of being a male: implications for sex-specific rates of ageing.” Oikos 114(2): 381-384.

Curley, James P. and Eric B. Keverne (2005). “Genes, brains and mammalian social bonds.” Trends in Ecology and Evolution 20(10): 561-567.

De Dreu Carsten K.W., Lindred L. Greer, Gerben A. Van Kleef, Shaul Shalvi, and Michel J.J. Handgraaf. 2011. “Oxytocin promotes human ethnocentrism.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 108 (4): 1262-6.

Edwards, David. 2006. “Competition and testosterone.” Hormones and Behavior 50: 681-3.

Grant, Valerie J. 2005. “Dominance, Testosterone and Psychological Sex Differences.” Pp. 1-28 in Janice W. Lee, ed. Psychology of Gender Identity. New York, Nova Science Publishers: 1-28.

Klein, Sabra L. 2000. “Hormones and mating system affect sex and species differences in immune function among vertebrates.” Behavioural Processes 51(1-3): 149-166.

Lamason, Rebecca, Po Zhao, Rashmi Rawat, Adrian Davis, John C. Hall, Jae Jin Chae, Rajeev Agarwal, Phillip Cohen, Antony Rosen, Eric P. Hoffman and Kanneboyina Nagaraju. 2006. “Sexual dimorphism in immune response genes as a function of puberty.” BMC Immunology 7(2): 1-14.

Lieberwirth, Claudia, and Zuoxin Wang. 2014. “Social bonding: regulation by neuropeptides.” Frontiers in Neuroscience. 8 (4).

Palgi, Sharon, Ehud Klein, and Simone G. Shamay-Tsoory. 2014. “Intranasal administration of oxytocin increases compassion toward women.” Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience. (5).

Shkolnikov, Vladimir M. and France Meslé. 1996. “The Russian Epidemiological Crisis as Mirrored by Mortality Trends.” In Julie DaVanzo and Gwen Farnsworth, eds. Russia’s Demographic “Crisis”. RAND Conference Proceedings CF-124-CRES.

Tamres, Lisa K., Denise Janicki, and Vicki S. Helgeson. 2002. “Sex Differences in Coping Behavior: A Meta-Analytic Review and an Examination of Relative Coping.” Personality and Social Psychology Review. 6 (1): 2-30.

Taylor, Shelley E., Laura Cousino Klein, Brian P. Lewis, Tara L. Gruenewald, Regan A.R. Gurung and John A. Updegraff. 2000. “Biobehavioral Responses to Stress in Females: Tend-and-Befriend, not Fight-or-Flight.” Psychological Review 107(3): 411-429.

Taylor, Shelley E. 2006. “Tend and Befriend: Biobehavioral Bases of Affiliation Under Stress.” Current Directions in Psychological Science. 15 (6): 273-277.

Thompson, R. R., K. George, J. C. Walton, S. P. Orr and J. Benson. 2006. “Sex-specific influences of vasopressin on human social communication.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Science 103(20): 7889-7894.

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Boccaccio protested men’s subservience to women

woman holding child and grimacing

In his fourteenth-century Latin humanist work The Downfall of Illustrious Men, Boccaccio vehemently protested against men’s subservience to women.  Boccaccio counseled men:

if you will control the unrestrained passion which you have within you, then women will set their net and try their wiles in vain.  Even if they have the grace to want children (which is not often the case), it is not necessary to be their slaves. [1]

From Roman love elegy to all-powerful ancient caliphs to Dante’s dolce stil novo in his Vita Nuova, men have made themselves into slaves to women.  Men who make themselves subservient to women hope to be loved like children.  Men have mythically exaggerated women’s love for children.  Men don’t understand that women typically won’t love men who act like children.

Boccaccio’s reference to “unrestrained passion” is misunderstood simply as sexual passion.  In the European Middle Ages, women’s passion was commonly recognized to exceed that of men’s and be more difficult to restrain.  A key challenge for a husband was to be always ready to satisfy his wife’s sexual urges.  To Boccaccio, unrestrained passion meant men acting like children toward women.

Boccaccio’s figure of women setting their net was well-established in the literature of men’s sexed protests.  A Latin text of men’s sexed protests, probably from the eleventh century, concluded:

Woman overcame man living without pain.
Freedom lacks foul, tight reins.
Not entombed, not paying for their chains,
Happy are they not caught in this net. [2]

Boccaccio did not favor men going their own way apart from women.  Boccaccio celebrated heterosexual relations.  He imagined men living freely and happily in love with women.

While he described men cast down by forces beyond their control, Boccaccio emphasized women’s skills in self-fashioning.  Boccaccio observed:

they {women} consult one another, and anything about their person which seems excessive, they reduce, and any defect they patch with marvelous skill.  A woman who is too thin will eat sweets and pastries, and a fat one get thin by fasting and exercise.  Women are busy keeping their curves from fading, lowering their shoulder line, bracing whatever has sagged, extending their necks, heightening themselves if short, and even correcting a limp. [3]

Women fashioning themselves into whom they want to be represents a humanistic ideal.  Women’s humanistic merit, however, doesn’t depend on classical scholarship.  Boccaccio noted that “without calling in the learned Hippocrates”:

women obtain waters to make black hair golden, curling irons to make straight hair ringed and wavy; they make their forehead higher by pulling out their hairs; eyebrows that are too big and joined together they separate with pincers making the arc less thin.  Any teeth which by chance have fallen out, they replace with ivory.  What hair they cannot remove from their face with a razor, they remove with nitre, and they scrape away skin that is too thick.  By these techniques they remake themselves so that if you thought before they were unattractive and shapeless, now you think them Venus herself.

The Downfall of Illustrious Men emphasizes the power of Fortune over men’s status.  Women dominate Fortune and determine their own status.  If a tooth falls out, a woman will replace it with a tooth of ivory.  She will make herself by force of her own will to look like Venus.

Women’s relatively good access to riches aids their self-fashioning.  With rhetorical sophistication, Boccaccio declared:

Need I mention the flowers, garlands, fillets, or coronets decked with gold and gems they decorate themselves with?  It is as if they took off their clothes and dressed themselves in a little of the thinnest gold.  How can I describe these clothes?  They are robes glittering with gold and precious stones fit only for a king.  This woman dresses herself like the Narbonnese, that one like one from the Cote d’Or, this one like the Cyprians, others like the Egyptians, Greeks, or even the Arabs.  It is no longer sufficient to be dressed like an Italian.

The unmentionable and indescribable is easily known.  Only one man is king.  Ordinary men in Bocaccio’s time and place dressed like Italians.  Women’s dress represented women’s privileged status relative to men.

Reason cannot free men from subservience to women.  Cultivating reason was central to the humanistic project.  But reason doesn’t enable men to live freely and happily in love with women:

The reason of man is blinded by feminine wiles, for women know just how to walk, just when to show a little of their alluring breasts or their legs, how they ought to use their eyes in looking at a man, what fleeting gesture will attract, what laugh is most appealing, and (this they know best) when it is the moment to show that they want what they really do not want.  But how can I attempt to list their secrets?  It would be easier to count the grains of sand by the seaside.

The grains of sand by the seaside figure in the biblical promise of being blessed with numerous descendents.[4]  Believing that one can know God completely and make God do one’s own bidding was at the core of the medieval understanding of hubris.  Within his rhetorical game of reticence and disclosure, Boccaccio had no illusions that men, even experts like him, could dominate women:

I think it is more courteous to keep undisclosed how well every woman knows those mysterious, honeyed words, those enticements, those seductions, those opportune tears which men find very moving.  It is by such tricks as these that the most expert observers of women are most often captured.

Men’s desire for women in necessary for the blessing of numerous descendants.  Men’s reason is no match for women’s ability to manipulate men’s desire.

To free men from subservience to women, Boccaccio emphasized the medieval virtue of self-mastery over the humanist expedient of self-fashioning.  The virtue of self-mastery differs from the humanist expedient of self-fashioning.  The virtue of self-mastery depends on a sense of true, best nature.  The humanist expedient of self-fashioning is merely instrumental.  It is directed to ends that Fortune whimsically chooses for societies under the ideological guise of subjectivity, boundlessly socially constructed.  With a sense for their own true, best nature as humans with equal dignity to women, men must master their passion for importuning women, supplicating to women, and slavishly serving women.[5]

Confronting artfully the question of men’s relation to women and protesting against men’s subservience, Boccaccio built a new synthesis of medieval virtue and humanistic reason.  Boccaccio’s protests against women tend to be misandristically dismissed as misogyny.  Using reason provides more fecund understanding.  Men excel in instrumental reason.  Men’s skillful use of tools has largely built the material structure of human civilization.  Men’s reason, however, is no match for women’s skill in self-fashioning and in controlling men’s desire.  Men remain subservient to women unless they achieve virtuous self-mastery within the everyday world.

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Notes:

[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, The Downfall of Illustrious Men (De Casibus Virorum Illustrium), Bk. 1, penultimate section, “The tricks women use to capture the reason of men are many and varied.”  From Latin trans. Hall (1965) p. 45.  De Casibus Virorum Illustrium is commonly translated as The Fates of Illustrious MenThe Downfall of Illustrious Men is a more accurate translation.  The work, which consists of nine books, was composed about 1358 and revised in 1373.  Marchesi (2014) p. 245.  The work includes profiles of women, e.g. Jocasta, Queen of Thebes; Dido, Queen of Carthage; Olympiade, Queen of Macedonia.  In 1361, Boccaccio wrote a similar volume of exclusively female biographies, Famous Women (De mulieribus claris).  Both works attracted in the subsequent two centuries much more attention than did Boccaccio’s Decameron.  In recent decades, Famous Women has attracted much more critical interest than The Downfall of Illustrious Men.

[2] From a manuscript (Gudianus 192) of a poem in Latin leonine hexameters, incipit Arbore sub quadam dictavit clericus Adam.  See post on medieval men protesting devaluation of masculine love.  The relevant Latin text and English translation is at the bottom of column 5 and 3, respectively, in the online version of Arbore sub quadam dictavit clericus Adam.

[3] Boccaccio, The Downfall of Illustrious Men, Bk. 1, penultimate section, trans. Hall (1965) p. 42.  The subsequent quotes above are from id. pp. 42-3.

[4] Genesis 22:17.

[5] In the subsequent section of The Downfall of Illustrious Men, Boccaccio wrote that he had written enough about “those who carry love to foolish extremes.”  Trans. Hall (1965) p. 46.  Dante’s relationship to Beatrice and Petrarch’s relationship to Laura fit that description.

[image] Woman holding child and grimacing, from the Helen Richey Collection of the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives.

References:

Hall, Louis Brewer, trans. 1965. Giovanni Boccaccio. The fates of illustrious men. New York: F. Ungar Pub. Co.

Marchesi, Simone. 2014.  “Boccaccio on Fortune (De Casibus Virorum Illustrium).” Pp. 245-254 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.

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Boccaccio criticized Petrarch and Dante with Theophrastus

Petrarch teaching Boccaccio

In fourteenth-century Florence, Boccaccio worked in the shadow of his great predecessor Dante.  Boccaccio figured Dante as an excellent father who called Boccaccio “my son.”  Boccaccio also worked amid great regard for the European-wide celebrity Petrarch.  Petrarch, a classical humanist writing Latin poetry, was crowned a new poet laureate of Rome (the first since the fall of the Roman Empire) in a ceremony at the Roman Capitol in 1341.  Boccaccio referred to Petrarch as “my excellent and reverend teacher.”[1]  Despite his high regard for Dante and Petrarch, Boccaccio with subtle irony used Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage to criticize both.

Boccaccio ironically praised Dante for achieving literary greatness despite being married.  As imagined in his Vita Nuova, Dante at age nine fell madly in love with Beatrice.  He may not have seen her again for another nine years.  In any case, Dante’s parents arranged a marriage for him at age twelve to Gemma Donati.  Dante and Gemma had four or five children.  Beatrice died young.  Dante never mentioned his wife Gemma in his writings.  Beatrice, in contrast, was a major presence in Dante’s work, particularly his Commedia.  From a literary perspective, Dante might as well have been unmarried.

Boccaccio deployed Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage in playful appreciation for Dante’s achievement.  Writing in praise of Dante in a literary construction of his life, Boccaccio declared:

Academic endeavors (and especially those of philosophy, to which our Dante, as has been shown, devoted himself), usually require solitude, freedom from anxiety, and tranquility of mind.  Instead of this serene retirement and quiet which Dante almost from the beginning of his life and up to the day of his death searched for, he had to endure an uncontrollable passion of love, a wife, familial and civic responsibilities, exile, and poverty, not to mention other special troubles which naturally arise out of these.  I will explain all of them one by one, so that their burden may become more evident. [2]

In describing the burden of having a wife, Boccaccio lifted text nearly verbatim from Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage.  Amid reciting from that well-known text, Boccaccio expressed concern about giving “too long a sermon.”[3]  Then he wittily expanded upon a point in Theophrastus’ Golden Book:

it is enough to discuss one matter that pertains to almost all women: they believe that doing a good job always keeps the lowliest servant in the household, while doing the opposite leads to dismissal.  As a result, they feel that if they themselves do their work well, they are simple acting like menials; they can remain great ladies only when they do their jobs poorly, but avoid the fate of the dismissed servant.

Boccaccio then winked at the reader:

But why should I want to keep on proving in detail what most of us already know?  I believe it is better to hold my tongue than to offend our lovely ladies by my talk.

Many men are deathly afraid of offending women.  Boccaccio wasn’t.  He went on to cite another point from Theophrastus’ Golden Book.  Boccaccio concluded with a classical invocation of the highest love:

Let no one believe that I am suggesting, from what I have stated, that men should not take wives.  In fact, I recommend this highly, but I must say that it is not for everyone.  Permit philosophers to leave marriage to wealthy fools, to noblemen and peasants, and let them take their delight with Lady Philosophy, who is a far better bride than any other. [4]

The list “wealthy fools, noblemen, and peasants” light-heartedly casts a net over the major classes of medieval society.  Philosophers, in contrast, remain apart from wealth, the world, and flesh-and-blood women.  Boccaccio in the outrageous comic realism of his Corbaccio mocked the courtly love fantasy of Dante’s Vita Nuova.  Boccaccio found inspiration in flesh-and-blood ladies, not the Muses on Mount Parnassus.  Boccaccio admired and valued Dante’s civic engagement.[5]  Boccaccio idealized the solitary, disengaged philosopher only to praise Dante’s achievement in real life.  That real life was not with Beatrice, but with his flesh-and-blood wife Gemma.

In emphasizing the burden of having a wife, Boccaccio elevated Dante relative to Petrarch.  Petrarch did not marry, stood apart from contemporary civic concerns, and took delight in Lady Philosophy and a Laura no more real that Beatrice.  Boccaccio wrote:

What will those say now whose houses are not sufficient for their studies and who thus seek solitude in the forests?  Or, those who have complete repose, and whose ample facilities without any anxiety are supported by every opportunity?  Or those who, free from wife and children, have as much leisure as they desire?  Many of those are such that, if they were not sitting in comfort, or if they were to hear a murmur, they would not be able to read or write, let alone reflect, if their elbows were not at rest. [6]

Scholars have suggested that, “whether deliberate or unintentional,” Boccaccio is describing Petrarch.[7]  Boccaccio was from the merchant class in which persons kept their elbows moving and sharp.  Men from that class also had wives and were aware of women’s guile.  Boccaccio followed Petrarch in recovering classical learning and creating new humanist literature in Latin.  At the same time, Boccaccio was critical of Petrarch’s disengagement from everyday life.

Boccaccio further used Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage to assert his own sense of humanism against Dante’s theological ascent and Petrarch’s classical models.  In Canto XVI of Dante’s Inferno, Jacopo Rusticucci, suffering in Hell, complained, “it is my fierce wife who pains me most of all.”[8]  Boccaccio provided a conventional literal exposition of that line: Rusticucci’s shrewish wife drove him to seek satisfaction in sodomy to his eternal perdition.  Then Boccaccio provided a round-about introduction to Theophrastus’ Golden Book:

St. Jerome writes in one of his books called Against Jovinianus the Heretic that Theophrastus, who was a venerable philosopher and student of Aristotle, composed a book that is called De nuptiis {On marriage}.  In a part of that work, he questions whether a wise man should take a wife. [9]

Boccaccio then copied into his work the text of De nuptiis (Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage), which he silently translated from Latin into Italian.  The only significant change Boccaccio made to De nuptiis was to excise these two outrageous sentences about the wife:

You have to show deference to her nurse and her maid, the servant from her father’s house, and her foster-child, and her handsome attendant and her curly-haired “assistant,” and her eunuch, gelded to prolong her pleasure and to make it safe: behind these titles there is an adulterer hiding.  Upon whomever she sets her heart, they must have her love though they want her not. [10]

Boccaccio wasn’t afraid to write about women’s sexual eagerness and women’s guile.  The problem with the above text for a learned, free-writing person is that eunuchs did not exist in Theophrastus’ Athens.  The eunuch reference signals to the learned that Theophrastus’ De nuptiis is a post hoc literary artifice.[11]  Boccaccio seems to have been in on Jerome’s ruse.  Boccaccio concluded his account of De nuptiis and its relevance to Dante’s account of Jacopo Rusticucci with artful, more general moralizing:

Let those who prepare to take a wife, then, be alert and let them keep an eye on others, for all too rarely does it happen that a man gets a Lucretia, a Penelope, or someone of like ilk.  As I have heard many men say, although they seem like angels in the daylight, they are devils in your bed at night. [12]

A woman who is a “devil in your bed at night” isn’t a conventional figure of a shrewish, domineering, selfish, and unsatisfying wife.  In the Decameron‘s story of Alibech and Rustico, Rustico urged Alibech to “put the Devil back into Hell” as means to have sex with her.  With sound literary insight, the translator of Boccaccio’s text noted that a woman who is a devil in your bed at night “may not seem in modern times to be so bad.”[13]  The classical heroines Lucretia and Penelope don’t represent true, humanistic understanding of men imagining wives.  “Oh, my little devil” is a universal fantasy of real men throughout history.[14]  More in the fullness of the real world than his father Dante, Boccaccio outwitted his teacher Petrarch in humanistic understanding.

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Notes:

[1] Filosa (2014) p. 220, citing Boccaccio’s De casibus virorum illustrium 8.16 and 9.23.7.

[2] Giovanni Boccaccio, Trattatello in laude di Dante (Little Treatise in Praise of Dante, also know as Life of Dante), s. 3, from Italian trans. Bollettino (1990) p. 10, adapted slightly.  The text has survived in three version, which apparently do not differ in this passage.  In a letter on Dante to Boccaccio (Familiares 21.15), Petrarch declared:

my father, compelled by other matters and by concern for his family, resigned himself to exile, while his friend {Dante} resisted and began devoting himself all the more vigorously to his literary pursuits, neglecting all else and desirous only of glory.  In this I can scarcely admire and praise him too highly when nothing — not the injustice suffered at the hands of his fellow citizens, not exile, poverty, or the stings of envy, not his wife’s love or his devotion to his children — diverted him from his course once he had embarked upon it, when many other great talents, being weak of purpose, would be distracted by the least disturbance.

From Latin trans. Bernardo (2005) v. 3, p. 203.  Petrarch seems to have rewritten Boccaccio’s text into a veiled critique of Dante.  Cachey (2009) pp. 25-8.

[3] Expressing concern about prolixity follows Jerome’s rhetorical strategy in Adversus Jovinianum.

[4] Boccaccio, Trattatello in laude di Dante, trans. Bollettino (1990) pp. 16-7 (previous three quotes above).

[5] Houston (2010).

[6] Gloss that Boccaccio added to shortened Chigi version of Trattatello in laude di Dante.  From Italian trans. Filosa (2014) p. 219.

[7] Filosa (2014) pp. 219-20.

[8] Dante, Inferno, XVI.44-5, cited by Boccaccio, from Italian trans. Papio (2009) p. 577.

[9] Boccaccio, Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante, “Canto XVI: Literal Exposition,” s. 28, from Italian trans. Papio (2009) p. 578.

[10] Liber De Nuptiis (Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage), from Latin trans. Hanna & Lawler (1997) p. 152, with the second sentence amended as described in note [12] here.  Boccaccio replaced those two sentences with relatively bland sentiment:

indeed, more than any other person, he must show that he loves her father — and any other relative or person whom she holds dear.

Boccaccio, Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante, “Canto XVI: Literal Exposition,” s. 34, from Italian trans. Papio (2009) p. 579.

[11] Scholars who have discussed the reference to eunuchs have rationalized it as later interpolation.  The truth seems to be simpler: Jerome brilliantly created Theophrastus’ Golden Book on Marriage.

[12] Boccaccio, Esposizioni sopra la Comedia di Dante, “Canto XVI: Literal Exposition,” s. 46, from Italian trans. Papio (2009) p. 580.

[13] Id., notes, n. 16, p. 707.   Papio added to his note a cautionary reference to Boccaccio’s exposition of Canto XV (15.83).  There Boccaccio refers to the sin:

committed when a man and a woman (even a husband and a wife) come together in a fashion that is less than moral or against the rule of Nature or, indeed, against canon law.

Trans. id. p. 568.  That’s the literal level of understanding “my little devil.”  It’s inner meaning in life can be recognized in the sly gusto of Decameron 9.10 and innuendo Boccaccio made in the conclusion to the Decameron.  See note [4] in post on masculine love.  While devilish behavior has its attractions, medieval men also considered heterosexual intercourse preoccupied with intercourse of non-reproductive type to be oppressive, demoralizing, and wrong.

[14] Men’s fantasies about their wives and lovers are not equivalent to men admiring sluts or desiring a long-term relationship with such women.  In Famous Women (De mulieribus claris), Boccaccio described the life of Leontium, a famous Greek female literary scholar:

prompted either by envy or feminine temerity, she dared to write an invective against Theophrastus, a famous philosopher of that period {late-fourth-century BGC Macedonian, about the time of Alexander the Great}.

Boccaccio condemned Leontium’s sexual behavior:

What disgraceful behavior!  Living in the brothels among pimps, vile adulterers, and whores, she was able to stain Philosophy, the teacher of truth, with ignominy in those disgraceful chambers, trample it with wanton feet, and plunge it into filthy sewers — if indeed the splendor of Philosophy can be dimmed by the infamous action of an unchaste heart.  We must certainly bewail the fact that so brilliant a talent, bestowed as a sacred gift from heaven, could be subject to so filthy a way of life.

Boccaccio, Famous Women (De mulieribus claris), Ch. LX, from Latin trans. Brown (2001) pp. 251-2.  Boccaccio may have invented this whole biography to provide an opportunity for him to defend Theophrastus and philosophy.  Boccaccio’s criticism of Dante and Petrarch shouldn’t be interpreted to imply contempt for philosophy and endorsement of licentiousness.

[image] Petrarch teaching Boccaccio, illumination in Giovanni Boccaccio, De casibus virorum illustrium in French translation (Des cas des ruynes des nobles hommes et femmes), translated by Laurent de Premierfait, France, Central (Paris?), 1st quarter of the 15th century.  British Library, Royal 20 C IV f. 269.

References:

Bernardo, Aldo S., trans. 2005. Francesco Petrarca. Letters on familiar matters = Rerum familiarium libri. New York: Italica Press.

Bollettino, Vincenzo Zin, trans. 1990. Giovanni Boccaccio, the life of Dante (Tratatello in laude di Dante). New York: Garland.

Brown, Virginia, trans. 2001. Giovanni Boccaccio. Famous women {De mulieribus claris}. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Cachey, Theodore J. “Between Petrarch and Dante: Prolegomenon to a Critical Discourse.” Pp. 3-49 in Zygmunt G. Barański and Theodore J. Cachey. 2009. Petrarch & Dante: anti-Dantism, metaphysics, tradition. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press.

Filosa, Elsa, 2014.  “To Praise Dante, To Please Petrarch (Trattatello in laude di Dante).” Pp. 213-220 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.

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.

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

Papio, Michael, trans. 2009. Boccaccio’s Expositions on Dante’s Comedy. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

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virilocality & polygyny in evolution of communicative sex differences

wedding party at wife's family's home: no virilocality

Virilocality and polygyny probably have been common features of human groups across evolutionary time.  Virilocality means heterosexual mates tend to establish a home near the man’s kin.  Uxorilocality is the corresponding term for locating near the woman’s kin.  Polygyny means one man tends to have concurrently either no or multiple heterosexual mates.  Polyandry is the corresponding term for women.  Among about 330 societies that European anthropologists have described at early dates of European contact, 70% were virilocal, 10% bilocal, and 20% uxorilocal.  About 80% practiced polygyny to some extent.[1]  Among societies classified as foragers, residence patterns have been summarized as flexible.[2]  The independence and representativeness, over an evolutionarily relevant time scale, of the data points underlying these statistics are highly problematic.[3] The expansion of agricultural societies has strongly affected the distribution and ecology of hunter-gatherer societies and plausibly their residence arrangements as well.[4] More sophisticated phylogenetic comparative analysis indicates that Proto-Indo-European social organization was virilocal and Proto-Malayo-Polynesian, uxorilocal.  Virilocality appears to be more stable than is uxorilocality.[5]

More interpretive social-geographic analysis associates key developments in human communication with virilocal and polygynous societies.  Research systematically analyzing ethnographic data from around the world for patterns in social structure identified Middle Old World social structure:

The Middle Old World includes North and Northeast Africa, the Middle East, South and Central Asia, most of China, and the Vietnamese. … for most of history the economic center of Eurasia was in this region. … The Middle Old World has a combination of two kinds of constraints – it is constrained both to being unilineal and to being patricentric.

The ecology of the Middle Old World favored competition for assets – domesticated animals, pasture land, and other capital and land associated with capital-intensive agriculture.  Probably driven by the interests of dominant, asset-rich men, social life in the Middle Old World strongly limited men’s and women’s freedom of association and freedom of sexual interaction:

the Middle Old World shows a strong tendency for women to be restricted from public roles, with little political or economic autonomy. Purdah, veiling of women, foot-binding, infibulation, the suttee, and the honor-shame complex, all originated within the Middle Old World.

The Middle Old World also was the locus of significant developments in human communication:

Most of the earliest Eurasian civilizations are in the Middle Old World – Egypt, Mesopotamia, the Indus Valley, and China. Most of the important empires of Old World history were in the Middle Old World, and all of the major world religions originated in this region, as did many of the world’s writing systems.[6]

Significant communicative developments thus occurred in social environments favoring virilocality and polygyny.

Virilocality and polygyny bias men’s communication toward kin and women’s communication toward non-kin.  Virilocality implies men’s continuing communication with kin.  Women, in contrast, under viriloclity have to establish intensive communicative relationships with new, non-kin.  Under polygyny, men’s mate-typical communication occurs across multiple mates.  Those mates, living in a common familial space, have more complex communicative relationships among each other.  The human evolutionary history of virilocality and polygyny together suggests that non-kin social communication has been more evolutionarily significant for women than for men.

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Notes:

[1] Based on data and coding for Murdock’s Ethnographic Atlas, as reported in Burton et al. (1996), Table 1.  Number of societies: 311 coded for marital residence, 348 coded for mating (marriage) type.  The societies are almost exclusively non-European societies that European-oriented anthropologists described at early dates of European contact.

[2] Alvarez (2004) and Marlowe (2004).

[3] Marlowe (2004) uses the Standard Cross-Cultural Sample (SCCS), which he describes as “186 societies with good ethnographic coverage that have been chosen to create an unbiased sample of the world’s societies with respect to geographic region, language family, and cultural area.”  However, the definition of society is highly problematic and not external to the SCCS.  In addition, geographic region, language family, and cultural area do not together define a consistent, well-defined sampling frame that would make the statistical concept of “unbiased sample” meaningful.  Id. p. 278,  ft. 4, notes:

North America is overrepresented among foragers (83% in the EA {Ethnographic Atlas}, 50% in the SCCS {Standard Cross-Cultural Sample}) because there were many foragers there when ethnographies were first written, while the Circum-Mediterranean region is completely absent because foragers had disappeared there before ethnographies were written.

Even in geographic regions where foraging societies exist, the advance of agricultural societies has strongly affected the distribution of foraging societies.  Alvarez (2004) analyzes fifty hunter-gathering societies selected from the Ethnographic Atlas.  The relevance of this sample to general patterns of human social organization is unclear.

[4] For example, starting from about 4000 years ago, Bantu farmers from southern Cameroon spread across sub-equatorial Africa and displaced foragers living in locations propitious for agriculture.  Wood et al. (2005).  The social organization of ethnographically described hunter-gather societies may not be more evolutionarily relevant than the social organization of non-human great apes, or the social organization of ethnographically described humans in non-hunter-gatherer societies.  Given human-Neandertal interbreeding, dispersed development of agriculture prior to 11,000 years ago, and relatively rapid genetic evolution, significant human evolution may have occurred in social circumstances different from those of current (marginalized) human foraging societies.

[5] Fortunato & Jordan (2010).  Copeland et al. (2011), using much different methods, finds evidence of virilocality in ancient hominin species.

[6] Burton et al. (1996) pp. 100-1 (previous three quotes).

[image] wedding of Miss Watts of Bonmahon, Co. Waterford, Ireland, on 29 Apr. 1907 at Watts family home.  From original glass plate negative. Thanks to National Library of Ireland and flickr Commons.

References:

Alvarez, Helen Perich. 2004. “Residence Groups Among Hunter-Gatherers: A View of the Claims and Evidence for Patrilocal Bands.” Pp. 420-441 in Bernard Chapais and Carol M. Berman, eds. Kinship and behavior in primates. Oxford: Oxford University Press: .

Burton, Michael L., Carmella C. Moore, John W. M. Whiting and A. Kimball Romney. 1996. “Regions Based on Social Structure.” Current Anthropology 37(1): 87-123.

Copeland, Sandi R., Matt Sponheimer, Darryl J. de Ruiter, Julia A. Lee-Thorp, Daryl Codron, Petrus J. le Roux, Vaughan Grimes, and Michael P. Richards. 2011. “Strontium isotope evidence for landscape use by early hominins.” Nature. 475 (7357): 532.

Fortunato Laura, and Fiona Jordan. 2010. “Your place or mine? A phylogenetic comparative analysis of marital residence in Indo-European and Austronesian societies.” Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. Series B, Biological Sciences. 365 (1559): 3913-22.

Marlowe, Frank W. 2004. “Marital Residence among Foragers.” Current Anthropology 45(2): 277-284.

Wood, Elizabeth T., Daryn A. Stover, Christopher Ehret, Giovanni Destro-Bisol, Gabriella Spedini, Howard McLeod, Leslie Louie, Mike Bamshed, Beverly I. Strassmann, Himla Soodyall and Michael F. Hammer (2005). “Contrasting patterns of Y chromosome and mtDNA variation in Africa: evidence for sex-biased demograhic processes.” European Journal of Human Genetics 13: 867-876.

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