Pirro learned from Lidia in Decameron 7.9

Samson and Delilah, foremother of Lidia

Boccaccio’s Decameron 7.9 seems like just another story about the deception and abuse of men.  In that story, Nicostrato was a rich and noble elderly man living in the ancient Greek city Argos.[1]  He had a young and beautiful wife named Lidia.  To win the love of Pirro, a young retainer in their household, Lidia killed Nicostrato’s treasured hawk, pulled out a tuft of hair from his beard, and yanked out one of his healthy teeth.  To further display her mastery of Nicostrato, Lidia arranged to have sex with Pirro while Nicostrato watched.[2]  This horror story highlights the importance of men’s ability to perceive the truth and adapt to women’s dominance.

Lidia rationalized extra-marital sex within her privileged life.  Lidia explained to her chambermaid-confidante:

I’m young and vigorous, as well as being abundantly supplied with everything a woman could desire.  In short, I have nothing to complain about, with one exception, which is that my husband is too old for me, so that I have been getting too little of that which gives young women the greatest pleasure. [3]

She meant the sex that a chivalrous husband provides.  Lidia decided to “try to find another way to obtain my happiness and my salvation.”  Lidia sought that “my enjoyment in this should be as complete as it is in everything else.”  From a Christian perspective, sex is necessary neither for happiness nor salvation.  Jesus said that he offered his teaching so that “your joy may be made complete.”[4]  Lidia’s way to happiness, salvation, and complete joy is a parody of the Christian way.  Lidia’s way is also a parody of reason through her assumption of sexual entitlement.[5]

Lidia sought extra-marital sex as a ruler relating to a servant.  She was the lady of the house.  Pirro was a servant.  She told her chambermaid:

I’ve decided that our Pirro is the one to take care of my needs with his embraces, for he is worthier in this regard than any other man, and such is the love I bear him that I feel sick whenever I’m not gazing at him or thinking about him.  In fact, unless I can be with him very soon, I truly believe I’m going to die.  Therefore, if you value my life, you must acquaint him with my love for him in whatever way you think best, and beg him on my behalf to be so good as to come to me whenever you go to fetch him.

Lidia thus sought to expand Pirro’s responsibilities as a servant to servicing her sexually.

Pirro at first gave priority to Nicostrato’s interests.  Pirro abruptly rejected the proposition that the chambermaid conveyed from Lidia.  He told the chambermaid, “never talk to me about such things again.”  The chambermaid made clear to Pirro that Lidia’s interests ruled:

 if my lady orders me to speak to you about this, or about anything else, I’ll do so as often as she tells me to, whether you like it or not.  But you now, you really are an ass!

Pirro was an ass because he didn’t understand who really ruled the house.

The chambermaid subsequently brought the matter up again to Pirro.  She explained to him that he should be grateful for Lidia’s proposition.  She pointed out the material benefits and status promotion Lidia would provide him if he sexually serviced her.  She argued that Nicostrato really wasn’t loyal to him.  She also suggests that he would be responsible for Lidia’s death from lovesickness if he didn’t acquiesce to her sexual demands.  In short, Decameron 7.9 depicts a classic case of workplace sexual harassment.  But just as for rape, that offense attracts much less public concern (and interest from literary critics) when the victim is a man.

After mulling the matter over for a long time, Pirro recognized reality and also verified it.  Pirro told the chambermaid to tell Lidia that he would “do whatever she wishes without a moment’s hesitation” if she first killed Nicostrato’s treasured hawk in his presence, plucked a tuft of hair from his beard, and pulled out one of his healthy teeth.  Lidia agreed to these conditions.  She gratuitously added that she would arrange for them to have sex in front of Nicostrato.  Then she would convince Nicostrato that the sex he saw didn’t actually happen.  With boldness and guile, Lidia promptly accomplished all these mock-chivalric feats.

Boccaccio adapted Decameron 7.9 from Lidia, a twelfth-century Latin elegiac poem.  The summary that prefaces Lidia declares:

I have shown all that a woman is capable of
so you may flee forewarned: after all,
you too may have a Lidia in your life. [6]

The Decameron’s account of Lidia’s domestic violence against her husband concludes more subtly:

so, the wretched, deluded husband returned with his wife and her lover to the palace, where from that time on, it became much easier for Pirro to get together with Lidia at frequent intervals for their mutual pleasure and delight.  And may God grant as much to all of us. [7]

The difference between fleeing from Lidia and having sex with her is the difference between Nicostrato, her husband, a rich noble, and Pirro, her lover, their household retainer.  Nicostrato lost faith in his ability to perceive the truth.  Pirro recognized the truth that women are superior to men in guile and that women’s interests dominate men’s interests.[8]  Pirro made the best of that situation.  In their own way, men today must do likewise.

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[1] In adapting the twelfth-century Latin elegiac poem Lidia, Boccaccio changed the husband’s name from Decius to Nicostrato and located his house in “Argos, that most ancient Greek city.”  See Elliott (1984) pp. 126-46.  Argos might be an allusion to the mythic, 100-eyed giant Argos.  Ovid wrote:

We always strive for what’s forbidden: want what’s denied:
so the sick man longs for the water he’s refused.
Argus had a hundred eyes, at front and back –
but Love alone often deceived them

Ovid, Amores, Book III, Elegy IV.  This passage was well-known in the European Middle Ages.  Forbidden love and deception are central themes of Decameron 7.9.

[2] Variants of this tale exist across central and western Eurasia.  The claim of an enchanted tree (the pear tree) and the issue of seeing the truth connect these tales to the Genesis story of Adam and Eve.  See Wicher (2013).  One literary critic declared that the tale of Lidia “pleases because it is so amusing … {it} teaches as well as delights.”  Kuhns (1999) pp. 724, 726.  Boccaccio, who wrote the Decameron for men, describes the ladies’ response to Decameron 7.9: “mourning for the innocent pair tree that had been chopped down.”  See introductory text for Decameron 7.10.  Boccaccio’s satire on misandry remains vibrant and unrecognized among literary critics.

[3] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 7, story 9, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 573.  All subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from the Decameron’s story of Lida (Decameron 7.9), id. pp. 572-82.

[4] John 15:11.

[5] A literary critic described Lidia’s speech to her chambermaid as “a fine example of forensic oratory justifying her adulterous appetite.”  He also noted, “She {Lidia} is reminiscent of Madonna Filippa, whose eloquent defence of her rights to adultery is a high point of Decameronian rhetoric.”  Usher (1989) p. 344, inc. n. 15.  This critical analysis reflects the social dynamics and quality of reason well-represented in the medieval French work 15 Joys of Marriage.

[6] From Latin trans. Elliott (1984) p. 146.  The summary prefacing the poem is known as the argumentum.

[7] In Rebhorn’s translation above, I’ve replaced “poor, deluded husband” with “wretched, deluded husband.”  The original Italian is “misero marito schernito.”  Given that the husband is rich and the group is returning to their palace, “wretched” rather than “poor” seems to me a clearer translation for “misero.”  “Poor” has a polysemous irony that could cause confusion.

[8] Panfilo tells the story of Lidia.  He prefaces that story with incoherent self-assurance:

I do not believe, esteemed ladies, that there is any enterprise, no matter how difficult or dangerous, that someone passionately in love would not dare to undertake. … In it {the story of Lidia} you will hear about a lady whose deeds were far more favored by Fortune than guided by reason, which is why I do not advise any of you to risk following in her footsteps, because Fortune is not always so well disposed, nor are all the men in the world equally gullible.

His first sentence above describes the ideal behavior of the conventional chivalrous man.  The second sentence describes risks that the first sentence has dismissed for women and men.  Moreover, the story doesn’t indicate that Lidia’s deeds were favored by Fortune.  All men in the world need not be equally gullible for men in general to be subordinate through women’s guile.

[image] Samson and Delilah, Lucas Cranach the Elder (German, Kronach 1472–1553 Weimar) , ca. 1528-30, oil of wood.  Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1976.201.11.  Bequest of Joan Whitney Payson, 1975.


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

Kuhns, Richard Francis. 1999. “Interpretative Method for a Tale by Boccaccio: An Enchanted Pear Tree in Argos (Decameron VII.9).” New Literary History. 30 (4): 721-736.

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

Usher, Jonathan. 1989. “Rhetorical and Narrative Strategies in Boccaccio’s Translation of the Comoedia Lydiae.” The Modern Language Review. 84 (2): 337-344.

Wicher, Andrzej. 2013. “Geoffrey Chaucer’s The Merchant’s Tale, Giovanni Boccaccio’s The Tale of the Enchanted Pear-Tree, and Sir Orfeo Viewed as Eroticized Versions of the Folktales about Supernatural Wives.” Text Matters – A Journal of Literature, Theory and Culture. 3 (3): 42-57.


indirect aggression through social communication

Luncheon of the Boating Party, Pierre-Auguste Renoir

From an evolutionary perspective, sophisticated social communication plausibly has been more significant for woman than for men.  Among non-human primates, both females and males compete physically and aggressively with other group members.  Among humans, physical aggression is more characteristic of men than of women.[1]  That sex difference doesn’t mean that women are essentially more peaceful and cooperative than men.  Aggression can be indirect:

just like the other primates, coalitional relationships among women also function to facilitate aggressive within-group competition for valuable, monopolizable resources; unlike other primates, this aggression {women’s aggression} relies not on physical but informational capabilities. [2]

Arguments that physical aggression is more costly for women than for men indicate that, all else equal, indirect aggression is relatively more valuable for women than for men.[3]

According to scholarly research, women collect, analyze, and disseminate information to attack the reputations of other women in competition for material and social resources.  Indirect aggression is much more characteristic of adolescent girls than of adolescent boys.[4]  Human evolution plausibly has generated greater capabilities for indirect aggression in women than in men:

Because gossip is an excellent strategy for the high within-group competition females face, and because it is effective in attacking and defending difficult-to-assess aspects of reputation, gossip may have been a more effective weapon in female intrasexual competition than it was in male intrasexual competition, increasing selection for psychological adaptations for informational aggression in females. It follows that women should be better than men in using informational aggression, and that women should be more sensitive than men to threats of informational aggression. [5]

Women are intelligent organisms whose purposeful activities have evolutionary significance.[6]  Human communication capabilities affect not only humans’ success in competition with other species, but also competition among humans.  Indirect aggression or informational aggression and attacks on reputation makes sense within social-evolutionary understanding of humans.

An abstract concept of reputation, however, does not relate well to empirical knowledge about actual practices of communicative competition.  Consider this hypothesis:

Compared to men, a greater fraction of female reputation depends on difficult-to-confirm dimensions of reputation [7]

Because reputation has many possible dimensions, evidence relevant to this hypothesis isn’t easy to assess.  Moreover, the implications of different dimensions of reputation depend on the particular circumstances under consideration.  A woman’s reputation for being easily sexually accessible might have positive value in competition among women for copulations with males, but negative value in competition among women for male parental investment.  Competition among daughters for maternal resources is one possible type of competition.  Competition among daughters for life-long male mates is another.  The balance between these two forms of competition and the distribution of resources between women and men affects whether a reputation of loyalty to one’s mother has positive or negative overall reproductive value for women.

Indirect aggression is becoming more important with the expansion of communication networks.   Competition among women and men is primarily intrasexual.  Women’s indirect aggression is primarily directed at other women.  Yet women increasingly believe that their most important rivals are men.  Greater indirect aggression in the context of intersexual competition is likely to contribute to women’s dominance.

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[1] Archer (2004) pp. 302-5.

[2] Hess & Hagen (2006) p. 112.

[3] Campbell (2002) and Taylor et al. (2000) emphasize the cost of physical aggression to women.

[4] Archer & Coyne (2005) pp. 223, 225. 226.  Sex differences in indirect aggression among adults aren’t well-documented.  Hess & Hagen (2006) found that, compared to young men, young women expressed a stronger desire to aggress indirectly.  Women’s indirect aggression can be seen, for example, in scholarly work concerning the French Revolution, evolutionary psychology, violence against men, and rape of men.

[5] Hess & Hagen (2006) p. 66.  See also Hess & Hagen (2003).

[6] Exposition of this obvious point is central to the work of the influential scholars Sarah Blaffer Hrdy and Anne Campbell.

[7] Hess & Hagen (2006) p. 60.  See also Hess & Hagen (2003).

[image] Luncheon of the Boating Party, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, French, c. 1880.  In The Phillips Collection, Washington, DC.  Thanks to Google Art Project and Wikipedia.  The sex differences in social communication depicted in this painting differ from general patterns of sex differences in communication found in social-scientific studies.


Archer, John. 2004. “Sex Differences in Aggression in Real-World Settings: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Review of General Psychology 8(4): 291-322.

Archer, John and Sarah M. Coyne. 2005. “An Integrated Review of Indirect, Relational, and Social Aggression.” Personality and Social Psychology Review 9(3): 212-230.

Campbell, Anne. 2002.  A mind of her own : the evolutionary psychology of women. Oxford ; New York, Oxford University Press.

Hess, Nicole H. and Edward H. Hagen. 2006. “Informational Warfare.”

Hess, Nicole H. and Edward H. Hagen. 2006. “Sex Differences in indirect aggression: Psychological evidence from young adults.” Evolution and Human Behavior 27: 231-245.

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.


bad metaphor: Neifile and Filostrato on wolves and sheep

wolf on the prowl

At the conclusion of the Decameron’s Day 3, Neifile, the ruler for the day, selects Filostrato as the ruler for the next day.  Neifile then declares to Filostrato:

We will soon see if the wolf knows how to guide the sheep better than the sheep did the wolves. [1]

The wolf and wolves in this metaphor are, respectively, Filostrato and the men of the group (the brigata).  The sheep are the women.  Neifile’s metaphorical mixing is pure in abasement.  In the Decameron, wolves are vicious, and sheep are stupid and in need of guidance.[2]  Neifile’s quip spurs jousting between Neifile and Filostrato over whether men’s or women’s sexuality is more wolfish.  Neifile triumphs with the claim that women’s sexuality is more wolfish.

Neifile seems to be taunting Filostrato with his hunger for love.  Filostrato understands himself to be enslaved in unhappy, unrequited love for an unidentified woman of the brigata.  An unidentified man of the brigata loves Neifile.[3]  Filostrato’s passion may be for Neifile.  Neifile orders stories on the theme “people who have relied on their resourcefulness to acquire something they really desired or recover something they had lost.”  Filostrato rigidly adheres to gynocentric rules for love and fails to recognize better ways for men.  In his misery, he orders stories on the theme “those whose love came to an unhappy end.”

Filostrato’s response to Neifile begins with braggadocio and ends in whining.  In response to Neifile’s remark reversing the metaphorical guidance of wolves and sheep, Filostato laughs and says:

Had they listened to me, the wolves would have taught the sheep how to put the Devil in Hell no worse than Rustico did with Alibech.  But you should not call us wolves, since you have not been acting like sheep. [4]

Filostrato is a complete failure in love.  If the other men of the brigata listened to Filostrato’s love advice, which they didn’t, they too would be bitter and frustrated in love.  Dioneo, who lived his life surrounded by women, understands much better how to seduce women.  Moreover, Neifile’s metaphor of wolves and sheep is poorly made.  Filostrato adds to the metaphorical muddle (wolves teaching sheep?) and then complains about the inaptness of the metaphor.

Neifile silences Filostrato with her retort.  She says to him:

if you men had tried to teach us to put the Devil in Hell, you might have learned a lesson from us the way Masetto da Lamporecchio did from the nuns, for you would have recovered your ability to speak at just about the time when the wind would have been whistling through your hollow bones. [5]

In Day 3, Story 1 of the Decameron, Masetto sought a job as a gardener at a convent.  He pretended to be deaf-mute.  Recognizing a good opportunity, all the nuns and the Abbess secretly contrived to have sex repeatedly with Masetto.  Exhausted and unable to satisfy so many women, Masetto broke his silence and begged for a reduction in his sexual work.  Neifile’s retort suggests both that Filostrato wouldn’t have sought relief from continual sexual activity and that he wouldn’t have been able to endure in the flesh such activity.  Filostrato doesn’t respond to Neifile’s figure of women’s wolfish sexual nature.  In that sense, Neifile triumphs in their flyting.[6]

Christian metaphors of wolves and sheep don’t favor wolfish nature.  Being sheep among wolves requires extraordinary behavior:

I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.

Persons with the inner nature of wolves are dangerous and to be avoided:

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.

Jesus was the good shepherd who protected the sheep from wolves:

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away; and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd.  I know my own and my own know me … I lay down my life for the sheep. [7]

Men figured as wolves are ravenous and dangerous.  Those aren’t good qualities for a guide.[8]  Figuring women as sexually ravenous makes women no better than men.

Women are no better and no worse than men.  With a bad metaphor and sexual antagonism, neither Neifile nor Filostrato understands that inner truth.

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[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 3, Conclusion, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 296.

[2] Decameron, Day 5, Story 3, id. p. 411 ( “wolf seizing her and ripping open her throat”); Day 9, Story 7, id. p. 730 (“wolf rips up his wife’s throat and face”); Day 3, Story 3, id p. 224 (“dumb sheep of a friar”); Day 6, Story 8, id. p. 498 (“no more understanding … than a sheep would have”);  Day 3, Story 7, p. 257 (“as if constancy and steadfast behaviour came more easily to the sheep than to their shepherds”).

[3] Decameron, Day 3, Conclusion, id. p. 297 (Filostrato loves); Day 1, Introduction id. p. 18 (Neifile is loved).

[4] Decameron, Day 3, Conclusion, p. 296.

[5] Id.

[6] Literary critics working as earnest apparatchiks have failed to recognize Boccaccio’s linguistic game with the bad metaphor of wolves and sheep:

Rather than being taken aback by his {Filostrato’s} innuendo, Neifile outdoes him by suggesting that he needs to be taught a lesson. … Neifile shows that she is a force to be reckoned with because she is in full possession of knowledge that would allow her to resist men’s advances.  By implication, she has overturned the paradigm of male mastery and female tutelage by informing him that women are not men’s pupils, eagerly awaiting their instruction. Neifile’s witty retory is so effective that she literally silences him, causing him to desist from his lecture

Perfetti (2003) pp. 93-4.  You go girl!

[7] Matthew 10:16, Matthew 7:15, John 10:12-15 (previous three quotes).  John 10:9 depicts the good shepherd lying down in the sheepfold gate to prevent wolves from entering and taking sheep. A medieval Latin proverb warned of sheep with wolfish minds: pelle sub agnina latitat mens saepe lupina (under a sheep’s skin often hides a wolfish mind).

[8] While figuring Filostrato as a wolf, Neifile selects him as ruler for Day 4.  In Day 4, Story 2, Pampinea ironically describes Berto della Massa as having “changed from a wolf into a shepherd” in becoming Frate Alberto.  Frate Alberto preyed on the persons he pretended to shepherd.

[image] Wolf in a zoo in Stockholm, Sweden.  Thanks to Daniel Mott and Wikipedia.


Perfetti, Lisa Renée. 2003. Women & laughter in medieval comic literature. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

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


Juvenal’s Satire 6 is no longer laughing matter

In his Satire 6, the Roman poet Juvenal (sounds like juvenile) criticizes marriage and women.  Even worse, he’s an extremist.  Juvenal ridicules marriage and women extremely.  Juvenal’s Satire 6 has nothing like the personal abuse that Warner heaps on the monk Moriuht in an eleventh-century Norman Latin text (“you plant kisses on  her buttocks. … keep your gums moist with shit.”).  Juvenal’s Satire 6 doesn’t describe vicious physical violence like the violence against men in medieval French fabliaux.  Juvenal’s Satire 6 doesn’t disparage women’s genitals like fabliaux disparage men’s penises.  The main point of Juvenal’s Satire 6 is to dissuade his friend Postumus from marrying.  Juvenal declares early in the satire:

And yet, in our day and age, are you preparing an agreement and contract and wedding vows?  Are you already having your hair combed by a master barber and have you perhaps already given her finger your pledge?  Well, you used to be sane, all right.  Postumus, are you really getting married? [1]

The satire ends with references to how wives kill their husbands — double-headed axes, knives, poisons, etc.  Juvenal failed to dissuade his friend Postumus from marrying.  Postumus (sounds like posthumous) apparently died.  Today readers tend to be more comfortable with men’s deaths than with Juvenal’s satire of marriage and women.

old hinny (offspring of female donkey and male horse)

Juvenal’s Satire 6 begins with an ironic description of a primitive, golden age.  It’s a time of pastoral cold, constraint, stink, gloom, viciousness, and ugliness:

the era when a chilly cave provided a tiny home, enclosing the fire and hearth god and herd and its owner in communal gloom, when a mountain wife made her woodland bed with leaves and straw and the skins of her neighbors, the beasts. … she offered her paps for her hefty babies to drain, and she was often more unkempt than her acorn-belching husband. [2]

At least that acorn-belching man wasn’t dead or forcibly separated from his children.  Moreover, the mountain woman didn’t rape the man like the mountain woman did the Archbishop of Hita, lost and looking for directions in the countryside.  And even if she had raped him, he probably wouldn’t have had to pay child support like raped men do today.

Juvenal had great appreciation for women’s strong, independent sexuality.  From the introductory theme of chastity, Juvenal moves on to describe the “moment of pure Woman”:

The shout is repeated in unison from the entire grotto: “Now’s the time! Send in the men!”  If her lover’s asleep, she’ll tell his son to put on his hood and hurry along.  If that’s no good, there’s an assault on the slaves.  If there’s no prospect of slaves available, they’ll pay the water delivery man to come in.  If they can’t find him and there’s a deficit of humans, not a moment passes before she voluntarily offers her arse to be tupped by a donkey. [3]

Juvenal’s reference to a donkey reconfigures the donkey figure in Semonides of Argos’ bestiary of women, written more than 2500 years ago:

Another type is from a drab, gray ass;

She’ll do her work all right, and won’t complain;
but then she eats all day, all night — she eats
everything in sight, in every room.
And when it comes to sex, she’s just as bad;
she welcomes any man that passes by. [4]

While male donkeys readily mate with female horses to produce mules, female donkeys are much less willing to mate with male horses.  But human sexuality is socially constructed to be different from animal sexuality.  Any statement indicating, by what is said or what is not said, that male sexuality is different from female sexuality is essentially sexist and must be forcefully suppressed.  Female sexuality should be understood as the same as male sexuality, only stronger and more independent, because it’s always been suppressed.

While men’s sexuality has never been suppressed, men have had their testicles cut off.  Some men today geld themselves in the hope that doing so will make today’s ideal woman favor them more.  Juvenal indicates that such a strategy worked for some men in ancient Rome:

Some women are delighted by un-macho eunuchs with their ever gentle kisses and their unfulfilled beard — and there’s no need to use abortion drugs.  The height of their pleasure is when a crotch that’s already ripe with the blood of youth and its black quill is taken to visit the surgeons.  So it is that the testicles are allowed to drop and told to grow first and then, once they make two pounds in weight, Heliodorus {a surgeon} tears them off, to the loss of the barber and no one else.  … You can let him sleep with his mistress, Postumus, but don’t entrust your Bromius to a eunuch when he’s no longer soft and needs a haircut. [5]

The mature eunuch with the heavy equipment would be too big for Postumus’ boy-friend Bromius, but not too big for Postumus’ wife, who probably also enjoys donkeys.  Men, unless you are gifted with two-pound testicles and hung like a donkey, don’t allow your testicles to be torn off to satisfy women’s demands for un-macho eunuchs.

The idea that Roman men enjoyed reading to each other work like Juvenal’s Satire 6 is laughable.  Juvenal probably wrote his satires about the year 100, but they were largely unknown until the fourth century.[6]  Work like Juvenal’s Satire 6 discomforts men much more than it does women.  Juvenal wrote:

I’m making all this up, am I, letting satire put on tragic high heels?  I’ve exceeded the legal limits of my predecessors and I’m ranting with rotundity worthy of Sophocles a grand song that’s new to the Rutulian hills and the Latin sky?  If only this were really nonsense! [7]

Juvenal’s Satire 6 became widely read only with historical distance.  That Juvenal’s Satire 6 isn’t widely read today is deeply troubling.

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[1] Juvenal, Satire 6, ll. 25-8, from Latin trans. Braund (2004) p. 235.  All subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are trans. id.  Translations of Juvenal’s Satire 6 are available online by A.S. Kline (2011) and by G.G. Ramsay (1918).  Courtney (1980), a massive commentary on Juvenal’s satires, is fully available online.  Braund (1992) points out that Juvenal’s primary orientation in Satire 6 is dissuading men from marriage, not attacking perceived faults of women.  Augustus’ laws encouraging marriage suggests that elite Roman men were reluctant to marry.

[2] Id., ll. 2-7, 11-13.

[3] Id. ll. 328-334.

[4] Semonides of Argos, Catalog of Women, ll. 42, 45-9, from Greek trans. Diane Arnson Svarlien (1995).   Here’s an alternate translation by Wm. Blake Tyrrell.  With an insightful analysis of this poem, Konstan (2014) concludes:

Semonides’ poem is less a critique of the vices of wives than a satire on the fatuousness of husbands.

That understanding is similar to one wave of literary analysis of Boccaccio’s Corbaccio.

[5] Juvenal, Satire 6, ll. 366-78.

[6] Braund (2004), introduction, p. 29.

[7] Id. ll. 634-8.  After much academic posturing and positioning, Toscano (2013) challenges the “settled view of Attic Greek male homosociality that was entirely blind to or unmoved by female desire.”  If only this wasn’t really nonsense!  Id., p. 35, romantically concludes:

Though it is difficult to penetrate the inscrutable gazes of the figures in Attic vase paintings, nevertheless, in the spaces in between them — in the gap between possibility and fulfillment — may be caught a fleeting glimpse of female desire.

In more enlightened times, female desire was well-recognized.

[image] Old hinny (offspring of female donkey and male horse) in Oklahoma, U.S.  Thanks to Ragesoss and Wikipedia.


Braund, Susanna H. 1992. “Juvenal — Misogynist or Misogamist?” The Journal of Roman Studies. 82: 71-86.

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

Courtney, Edward. 1980.  A Commentary on the Satires of Juvenal. California Classical Studies 2 (2013 reprint). Berkeley, CA.

Konstan, David. 2014. “Laughing at Ourselves: Gendered Humor in Classical Greece.”  In Anna Foka and Jonas Liliequist, eds. Humour, Gender and Laughter Across Times and Cultures. Hampshire: Palgrave MacMillan.

Toscano, Margaret M. 2013. “The Eyes Have It: Female Desire on Attic Greek Vases.” Arethusa. 46 (1): 1-40.

physical size and voice pitch: biology of physical versus social advantage

silverback gorilla

Among non-human primates, females compete physically and aggressively.  For example, pairs of female chimpanzees have been observed snatching and eating other females’ infants.[1]  Females killing other females’ infants, while discussed much less than male infanticide in the scholarly literature, has been observed in over 50 species.[2]  Females also engage in group physical aggression:

In social primates, aggressive exchanges often involve kin of the principal protagonists. In vervet monkeys, adult females who have been displaced from food sources may seek out and attack their displacer’s relatives. In macaques, members of different matrilineal groups ally with each other and individuals that have been displaced or attacked by members of another matriline commonly respond by attacking a vulnerable member of the aggressor’s matriline. [3]

The general understanding that females are less physically aggressive than males is true for humans.[4]  But that’s not true for all female animals.

Human adult males on average are larger than human adult females.  Across twenty-two small-scale societies for which data are available, a man is typically 7.4 kg heavier and 10.7 cm taller than a woman.[5]  That means in a direct physical confrontation, all else equal, a man is likely to have an advantage over a woman.  Humans are highly social, highly communicative animals.  Communication is valuable for organizing and coordinating coalitions and prevailing in conflicts.[6]  In conflicts between multi-party antagonists, women’s communicative superiority to men becomes more important.

Men’s larger physical size relative to women has a communicative cost.  A larger vocal organ makes a lower frequency sound.  Across animal species, lower frequency sounds are associated with competition for dominance and hostile interactions.  Higher frequency sounds cause less distress and are more associated with affiliative behavior.[7]  Men on average have much lower pitch voices than women do.[8]  This sex dimorphism in vocal pitch implies that, all else equal, both women and men prefer supportive communication with women.  In societies in which persons predominately value and remember how persons made them feel, women’s higher average voice pitch is a biological advantage.

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[1] Pusey, Williams & Goodall (1997).  High-status female chimpanzees have significantly greater reproductive success than low-ranking female chimpanzees.

[2] Digby (2000) p. 429.

[3] Clutton-Brock & Parker (1995) p. 211.

[4] Archer (2004) pp. 302-5.

[5] Calculated using data in Walker et al. (2006), Tables 2 and 3.  Given values calculated based on the median of sex ratios, evaluated at median male figures (weight 55.6 kg, height 158.5 cm). As id., p. 305, notes, male growth rates are less plastic across societies.

[6] Owings & Morton (1998), pp. 101-4, discusses vocal communication as a substitute for fighting with large muscle movements.

[7] Id. pp. 105-25.  Puts, Gaulin & Verdolini (2006).

[8] An average value for the fundamental frequency of human speech is 120 Hz for men and 210 Hz for women. At the fundamental frequencies, this difference amounts to about 10 semitones. The standard deviation for male and female fundamental voice frequencies is about 3 semitones. Traunmüller (1995) p. 1.  In ordinary life, adult voice pitch is a good sex determinant.


Archer, John. 2004. “Sex Differences in Aggression in Real-World Settings: A Meta-Analytic Review.” Review of General Psychology 8(4): 291-322.

Clutton-Brock, T. H. and G. A. Parker. 1995. “Punishment in animal societies.” Nature 373: 209-216.

Digby, Leslie. 2000. “Infanticide by female mammals: implications for the evolution of social systems.” Pp. 423-65 in Carel P. Van Schaik and Charles H. Janson, eds. Infanticide by males and its implications. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Owings, Donald H. and Eugene S. Morton. 1998. Animal vocal communication: a new approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Pusey, Anne, Jennifer Williams and Jane Goodall. 1997. “The Influence of Dominance Rank on the Reproductive Success of Female Chimpanzees.” Science 277(5327): 828-831.

Puts, Andrew David, Steven J.C. Gaulin and Katherine Verdolini. 2006. “Dominance and the evolution of sexual dimorphism in human voice pitch.” Evolution and Human Behavior 27: 283-296.

Traunmüller, Hartmut and Anders Eriksson. 1995. “The frequency range of the voice fundamental in the speech of male and female adults.”

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.


Baghdad to Rouen: Warner’s cosmopolitan literary ambition

About the year 1000, eastern Eurasia arguably had a higher level of social development than western Eurasia.  Moreover, within western Eurasia, Normandy was then far from the leading centers of civilization.  The largest cities in western Eurasia about the year 1000 were Córdoba, Constantinople, and Baghdad.  The largest had a population about 200,000.  London then had a population of less than 25,000.[1]  Rouen, the leading city of Normandy, had much less developed culture than London.  Yet Warner, writing in Rouen early in the eleventh century, produced poetry that measures up to the outrageous urbanity of leading Abbasid literary provocateurs.  The only plausible reason for Warner and others producing big-city work in a remote, small town is cosmopolitan literary ambition.

wild man like Moriuht

One of Warner’s poems is a satirical Latin poem concerning an Irishman named Moriuht.  Warner dedicated this poem to Archbishop Robert of Rouen and the Archbishop’s mother.  This poem isn’t the sort of work one now might imagine being written for a leading cleric and his mother.  The poem declares:

This slow-witted Moriuht, named from the origin of death, … in his own eyes lives as a grammarian.  Scholar, rhetorician, geometer, painter, scribe — let him be all things to you; for me he is Caper himself!  For he knows more about his own goat’s cunt than what force dialectic carries, or the nature of geometry’s power. [2]

The phrase “scholar, rhetorician, geometer, painter, scribe” is a quote from a Roman satire of Juvenal, written about 900 years earlier.[3]  The phrase “let him be all things to you” plausibly parodies 1 Corithinians 9:22.   The word caper means “a stinking, randy goat.”  It was also the proper name of a second-century grammarian.[4]  These learned references contrast sharply with the reference to “his own goat’s cunt.”

Moriuht overflows with sexual activity.  Vikings capture Moriuht, piss on his bald head, and anally rape him.  Moriuht is then sold to nuns.  He vigorously and promiscuously services sexually the nuns.  People catch Moriuht having sex with a nun, beat him, and sell him as a slave to a widow.  Moriuht then vigorously has sex with the widow.  He earns his freedom through that work.  While searching for his wife, who was also captured by Vikings, Moriuht has sex with “countless young men, nuns, widows, and married women.”[5]  Moriuht was a man of strong, independent, transgressive sexuality.  Celebrating such sexuality in learned writing isn’t a modern academic development.

Warner’s poem attacks Moriuht’s merits as a poet.  The poem includes insults directly addressed to Moriuht:

Your mistress {the widow} held you dear because of the performance of your dangling penis. This man {Virgil} was valued in Rome for the beauty of his poetry.  He earned his lands because of the nobility of his great verse.  You gained your liberty by fucking her stiffly erect clitoris.

Contrasting Virgil’s poetry with fucking would be unusual in any discourse.  It’s particularly amazing to find in eleventh-century Norman Latin poetry.  While the poem describes Moriuht’s verses as “worthy of little pages made of shit,” is also links such crude insults to sophisticated technical discussion of poetic meter:

You goat!  May you completely eat the cunt of your nanny-goat and, in equal measure, her sexual organs and her buttocks, before the wise poems of our Virgil disappear and before {the syllables} “fo” and “mo” have two tempora {poetic beats}, as well as {the syllable} “fex.” [6]

What did the Archbishiop and his mother think of this?  In addition to coarsely presented sexual activity, Moriuht also includes sacrifices to heathen gods that succeed in producing magical effects.  Who would have appreciated such learned, scurrilous, blasphemous writing in eleventh-century Rouen?

While some Baghdadi sophisticates cherished such writing, Rouen was far from Baghdad.  In the twelfth century, an English chronicler writing a history of Normandy declared that, prior to about 1042, “scarcely any Norman spent his time in liberal studies.”  The chronicler observed:

the Normans, who issuing from Denmark were more addicted to the pursuit of arms than of learning, and up to the time of William the Bastard {1066} devoted themselves to war rather than reading or writing books. [7]

The English chronicler in part seems to be putting forward a claim that post-Norman-conquest England conquered her rude conqueror culturally.[8]  But to be effective such a claim must have been at least plausible.  Careful study of eleventh-century Latin culture at Rouen indicates that “the court at Rouen was by no means an artistic desert.”[9]   Moriuht makes sense as a niche product within a highly developed social-cultural field.   The court at Rouen surely was not such a field.

Moriuht’s manuscript context suggests little interest in the work, but provides closely related poems.  Moriuht survives in a codex written in Caroline minuscule, probably late in the eleventh century in eastern France, perhaps in Metz.  The contents of the codex:

  • 1  blank flyleaf
  • {missing} toponymic work: “provinces, jurisdictions, mountains, rivers”
  • {missing} Vita et actus Tirii Apolonii (Appollonius, King of Tyre)
  • 2r-9r  Warner, Moriuht
  • 9r-11v  Warner, Runaway Monk, a satiric verse dialogue between Warner and a runway monk of Mont-Saint-Michel
  • 11v-27r Pseudo-Plautus, Querolus (a comedy composed in Gaul c. 400)
  • 28r-30r anonymous, satiric, dialogic poem Jezebel
  • 30r-32r anonymous, satiric, dialogic poem Semiramis
  • 33r-33v text describing rules for making organ-pipes
  • 34r-34v blank, except for table of contents written in the 14th century [10]

The missing works, which are listed in the table of contents, apparently were cut away from an earlier binding of the codex.[11]  A note added to the table of contents declares: “They were robbed and cut away by perverse and iniquitous people.”[12]  Moriuht, Jezebel, and Semiramis have survived only in this codex.  Those works apparently were rarely re-copied and weren’t useful or interesting enough to steal.  Moreover, the disparate bundle of works in the codex suggests cultural circumstances in which highly sophisticated literary works were rare.

Moriuht, Runaway Monk, Jezebel, and Semiramis are closely associated, learned literary works.  Consider some lines from Jezebel:

Whence do you come, Jezebel? – From the foul prison of Babel-Babylon.

What do you have to do with Nazareth? — Much, for my bush is in bloom.
Why have your buttocks swollen? — From a sow’s udder.
What power keeps you laughing? — Practice as a prostitute.
For what do you search above all? — Priapus, in a hundred whorehouses.
What do you seek constantly? — To be mounted, pressed down.
What do you desire least? — People chaste in body. [13]

Like Moriuht, Jezebel couples coarse sexual explicitness with academic allusiveness.  For example, the Latinization of Nazareth means flower.  The word for bush resonates with vagina and the sumac bush, which was believed to constrain heavy menstruation.[14]  Moriuht, Runaway Monk, Jezebel, and Semiramis casually invoke pagan gods and acts blasphemous to Christians.  All four feature poetically sophisticated dialogue in leonine hexameters.  Moriuht and Runaway Monk contain dedications identifying their authors as Warner.  The anonymous Jezebel and Semiramis, if not also authored by Warner, seem to have been authored by someone with a very similar cultural and literary orientation.

Plausible immediate social and political contexts for these works further narrow their local audience.  An interpretation of Jezebel’s now highly obscure opening lines suggests that Jezebel is a satire on Ælfgifu of Northampton.[15]  Ælfgifu was King Cnut’s concubine prior to his marriage with Emma of NormandyHarold Harefoot, Ælfgifu and Cnut’s son, reigned as King of England from 1035 to 1040.  Semiramis seems to be a satire on Emma’s marriage to King Cnut, who killed her former husband King Æthelred II.[16]  The figure Semiramis stands for Emma, the horned adulterer for King Cnut, and the augur for Emma’s brother, the Archbishop Robert of Rouen.  In Semiramis, Archbishop Robert in the figure of the augur appears “weak, pompous and rather pitiful.”[17]  Emma as Semiramis, like Moriuht, has strong, independent sexuality:

Never did any courtesan on earth burn more fiercely than wanton Semiramis, taking her paramour from the fields: it was a bull found to be adulterer in Ninus’ reign.  If a queen sought out a rude bull among the vetch, why did a heifer not wear the royal crown? … Such lewd disorder spread from Babylon.  What prostitute in the whole world could have been more debased? … The woman who took Babylon has submitted to the bull.  One of many, she crushed the city, alone she had crushed her modesty. [18]

While Semiramis provides mythic justification for her behavior, doubting rationalizations of a woman’s behavior was possible before our age of enlightenment.  Emma probably wouldn’t have been interested in patronizing, praising, and disseminating the work of Semiramis’ author.[19]  Appreciation for Warner and closely associated poets who wrote work like Moriuht, Runaway Monk, Jezebel, and Semiramis could easily have been politically dangerous in eleventh-century Normandy.

Warner and any other poets among the authors of Moriuht, Runaway Monk, Jezebel, and Semiramis apparently imagined an audience like that which existed in the high Arabic literary culture of the Islamic world.  While Old French fabliaux feature coarse, explicit sexual acts, they lack the literary sophistication of Moriuht, Runaway Monk, Jezebel, and Semiramis.[20]  Moriuht mixes crude sexual references with technical discussions of grammar.  Runaway Monk mixes satire on vocational infidelity with a technical discussion of music theory.[21]  Al-Jahiz (ninth century Baghdad) and al-Maʿarrī (died 1056 in Aleppo) provide good models of such work within the Islamic world.[22]

Moriuht, Runaway Monk, Jezebel, and Semiramis have a broad geographic scope of literary interest.  In addition to references from Latin ecclesiastic culture and Greco-Roman culture, they also refer to pagan Danes, Swabians, and Numidians.  Jezebel in the Hebrew Bible was the non-Jewish princess of Tyre before she became Ahab’s queen.[23]  Semiramis was a legendary Assyrian queen.  Both Jezebel and Semiramis refer to Babel/Babylon.  Those references may have had some contemporary literary resonances.  Buttocks are of particular sexual interest in Moriuht and Jezebel.[24]  Buttocks were also a prominent focus of sexual interest in Arabic literature.  Rouen is known to have attracted foreign scholars, including scholars from Italy.[25]  Perhaps Rouen also attracted some scholars from the world of Arabic literature.

Cosmopolitan literary ambition best explains Moriuht, Runaway Monk, Jezebel, and Semiramis being written in eleventh-century Rouen.  The complex literary allusiveness and crude sexual explicitness of these works indicates niche products in a highly developed literary field.  Possibilities for patronage, praise, and distribution of such work in eleventh-century Rouen, or even across Normandy and England, were very narrow.  Warner and perhaps other closely associated authors seemed to have imagined themselves writing at the forefront of literary culture of their time.  That cosmopolitan ambition would have encompassed literary creativity in Córdoba, Cairo, and Baghdad.

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[1] According to calculations based on the best available evidence, the East had higher social development than the West from 550 GC to 1750 GC.  Morris (2010) Graph 60, p. 193; p. 199.  The historical city size estimates, except for London, are from id. pp. 110, 112.  Other estimates for population c. 1000 GC are 1,200,000 for Baghdad and 450,000 for Córdoba.

[2] Moriuht, ll. 49-54, from Latin trans. McDonough (1995) p. 75.  No specific information about Warner is known outside of the text of the poems Moriuht and Runaway Monk.  Warner almost surely wrote those works within the vicinity of Rouen.  Where Warner was born isn’t known.

[3] Juvenal, Satire 3.76, cited in McDonough (1995) notes, p. 125.

[4] Id. notes, p. 126.

[5] Moriuht, l. 173, trans. id. p. 85

[6] Moriuht, ll.185-8, 338, 447-9 trans. id. pp. 85, 95, 103 (previous three quotes).

[7] Orderic Vitalis, Historia Aecclesiastica, Book 4, 2:250-1, Book 3, 2:2-3, trans. Chibnall, relevant lines given in Ziolkowski (1989) pp. 38-9.

[8] Cf. Horace, Epistles 2.1.156: “Captive Greece took captive her rude conqueror and brought the arts to rustic Latium.”

[9] Ziolkowski (1989) p. 39.

[10] Adapted from id. pp. 28-30, which also provides the judgment of dating and geographic provenance.  The codex is Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, lat. 8121A.  Three scribes wrote the codex:

one wrote folios 2-27, another folios 28-32, and a third folio 33.  The hands of the first two scribes resemble each other closely.  The hand of the third scribe differs from the first two, but nonetheless seems to belong to the same milieu.

Id. p. 29.

[11] McDonough (1995), p. 64, observes that following the blank flyleaf are “remains of two leaves that have been excised.”  More than two leaves undoubtedly were needed to hold the toponymic work and Apollonius, King of Tyre.   Evidently the codex originally had more gatherings at the beginning.

[12] Ziolkowski (1989) p. 29.

[13] Jezebel, ll. 8, 12-17, from Latin trans. Ziolkowski (1989) p. 75.

[14] Id. notes, pp. 90-1.

[15] Galloway (1999).

[16] Van Houts (1992)

[17] Id. p. 21.

[18] Semiramis, ll. 5-9, 11-12, 16-17, from Latin trans. Dronke (1970) p. 71.  Van Houts (1992) p. 21 states, “Throughout the poem Semiramis is pictured as a strong, intelligent and brisk woman.”

[19] Id. p. 23 notes of Semiramis:

The author should surely have sought anonymity, not so much to avoid the anger of Emma and her new husband, as to protect himself against reproaches from Emma’s children and to remain in favour with the ducal family and in particular with Archbishop Robert.  The primate of Normandy can hardly have been pleased by his caricature as an effective pagan necromancer.

[20] Cf. McDonough (1995) p. 53.

[21] Id. p. 66.  Ziolkowski (1995), p. 32, summarizes Runaway Monk (Warner Satire 2).

[22] For the latter, see Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī, Risālat al-ghufrān, from Arabic trans. van Gelder (2013).

[23] 1 Kings 16:31.  Jezebel was the daughter of King Ethbaal of the Sidions.  That made Ethbaal King of Tyre and Jezebel a princess of Tyre.  Perhaps the connection through Tyre helped to motivate the inclusion of Apollonius King of Tyre in the codex.  The plot of Moriuht is also similar to events in Apollonius King of Tyre.

[24] Jezebel ll. 13, 44, 47, 56, 60, 99, 103.  See also note to l. 56, Ziolkowski (1989) pp. 113-4.  Moriuht ll. 22251-44 declares:

all the way up to his buttocks {he was} naked.  And to relate further, his genitals were visible in their entirety, and the black hairs of his arse and groin.  In addition, his anus also constantly gaped so openly when he bent his head and looked down on the ground, that a cat could enter into it and rest {there} for an entire year, passing the winter in company with his consort cat, that in the vast forest of his groin a stork could build its nest and a hoopoe could have a place of its own.

A reviewer of Ziolkowski (1989) complained:

Remarkably, the concept of misogyny is barely acknowledged by Ziolkowski (he occasionally cites it at second hand), and the word “gender” is missing from his otherwise exhaustive commentary.  This curious blind spot ….

Nelson (1995) p. 446.  The more insightful concept of men’s literature of sexed protest has now replaced the misandristic concept of misogyny.  Jezebel could be interpreted as a burlesque of a pious scholar incapable of dealing with the learned guile of a vicious, sex-obsessed woman.   The Old French fabliau La Saineress provides a variation on that theme.

[25] Ziolkowski (1989) p. 40.

[image] Kniender Wild Man, bronze with lacquer patina13.1 x 8 x 5.5 cm, originally attached to a chandelier, 2nd half of 15th century, Frankfurt, Museum of Arts and Crafts. Thanks to Wikipedia.


Dronke, Peter. 1970. Poetic individuality in the Middle Ages: new departures in poetry, 1000-1150. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Galloway, Andrew. 1999. “Word-play and political satire: solving the riddle of the text of Jezebel.” Medium Aevum. 68 (2): 189-208.

Van Houts, Elisabeth M.C. 1992. “A Note on Jezebel and Semiramis, Two Latin Norman Poems from the Early Eleventh Century.” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 2 (1): 18-24.

McDonough, Christopher J. 1995. Warner of Rouen. Moriuht: a Norman Latin poem from the early eleventh century. Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies.

Morris, Ian. 2010. Social Development.  ianmorris.org

Nelson Janet L. 1995. Review. Ziolkowski (Jan M.). Jezebel. A Norman Latin Poem of the Early Eleventh Century. Revue belge de philologie et d’histoire. 73(2): 444-7.

Van Gelder, Geert Jan. 2013. Classical Arabic literature: a library of Arabic literature anthology. New York: New York University Press.

Ziolkowski, Jan M. 1989. Jezebel: a Norman Latin poem of the early eleventh century. New York: P. Lang.

Madonna Filippa ridiculed moralizing formalists

portrait of Italian noblewoman imaginatively representing Madonna Filippa

In Boccaccio’s Decameron, the story of Madonna Filippa explicitly sets up righteous moralizing.  The story begins with a description of a legal statute.  Such descriptions have been fodder for moralizing formalists from the enactment of Hammurabi’s code to the present.  The male story-teller declares the statute to be “no less reprehensible than harsh.”  Then, from his position of moral superiority, he describes it:

a statute … that condemned women taken in adultery to be burned alive, making no distinction between one whose husband caught her with her lover and one who was doing it with somebody for money. [1]

The story itself begins with Madonna Filippa’s husband Rinaldo having discovered her in their bedroom in the arms of a man from an enemy family.  Rinaldo didn’t kill either Madonna Filippa or the man: “it would have been unlawful for him to kill her.”  Laws have commonly allowed a husband to kill a man having sex with the husband’s wife if caught in the act.[2]  Killing men is of much less public concern than is killing women.  The story of Madonna Filippa ignores the fate of the man committing adultery with Madonna Filippa.

Law in action cannot be understood merely by quoting statutes.  Rinaldo denounced Madonna Filippa.  He had her summoned to court.  Her friends advised her to dodge the law:

though many of her friends and relations discouraged her from doing so {obeying the summons}, she was firmly resolved to appear in court, confess the truth, and die bravely rather than flee like a coward and live in exile because she had defied the law

Exile apparently was an alternative to being burned alive under law.  Exile isn’t currently offered as an alternative to the death penalty in U.S.  Between 1973 and 2010, the U.S. executed 1,220 men and 12 women.[3]  Men  in practice have always been much more likely to be subject to the death penalty.  A woman being executed under law is a sensational story.  A man being executed under law is normal practice.

The judge felt pity for Madonna Filippa.  He counseled her about how to avoid the death penalty under the adultery statute:

My lady, as you can see, your husband Rinaldo is here, and he’s lodged a complaint against you, alleging that he caught you committing adultery with another man.  Consequently, he’s demanding that I punish you according to the requirements of a statute that’s in force here and have you put to death.  I can’t do that, however, unless you confess.  So, be very careful now about how you reply, and tell me if what your husband accuses you of is true.”

The judge obviously was encouraging Madonna Filippa to lie.  Instead, she truthfully confessed that she had committed adultery.  She rejected the usual law in action for women.

Madonna Filippa instead presented formal arguments.  She declared:

laws should be impartial and should only be enacted with the consent of those affected by them.  In the present case, these conditions have not been met, because this law applies only to us poor women who are much better than men at giving satisfaction to a whole host of lovers.  Moreover, when it was passed, not only were there no women present to give their consent to it, but since then, not once have they ever been consulted about it.  And that’s why, for all these reasons, it could with justice be called a bad law. [4]

Madonna Filippa was a noblewoman and well-known in her city.  Across medieval Europe, most men were peasants, day labors, and vagabonds.  Property and criminal law was not impartial between nobles and peasants.  Most men had no opportunity to consent to the laws that applied to them, nor were they ever consulted about those laws.  Madonna Filippa’s invocation of “us poor women” should generate derisive laughter.  Yet such remarks don’t do so even in similar circumstances today.

Perhaps frustrated with those too obtuse to recognize the joke, Madonna Filippa turned to a more outrageous joke.  Madonna Filippa declared that she had always fully satisfied her husband sexually.  In response to the judge’s inquiry, her husband affirmed that fact.  Madonna Filippa then declared:

If he’s always obtained what he needed from me and was pleased with it, what was I supposed to do — in fact what am I to do now — with the leftovers?  Should I throw them to the dogs?  Isn’t it much better to serve some of them up to a gentleman who loves me more than his very own life than to let them go to waste and have them spoil?

Madonna Filippa’s argument quotes in Italian translation the first part of Matthew 7:6, “Do not give what is holy to dogs.”  In the Latin Bible pervasive in fourteenth-century Europe, the relevant text is “Nolite dare sanctum canibus.”  In the context of elite theological discourse or courtly love, “sanctum” was a term used for a woman’s body.[5]  In addition, Madonna Filippa’s argument resonates with Jesus mocking his disciples in Matthew 15:21-28.  That joke also has largely been lost.  At a cruder level, serving up Madonna Filippa’s leftover sexuality to dogs suggests bestiality.  The celebrity Madonna of the late twentieth-century U.S. seems to have understood the outrageous sexual suggestion of Madonna Filippa better than have learned Boccaccistas.[6]

In a pattern popular from ancient times to the present, Rinaldo leaves the courtroom “utterly abashed” and Madonna Filippa returns home “in triumph.”  The large crowd at the trial rose in unison to support the woman:

they immediately shouted in one voice that she was right and that it was all well said.  Then, at the suggestion of the podéstà {judge}, before they left, they modified their cruel statute, restricting it so that it only applied to those women who betrayed their husbands for money.

That odd, remaining second provision of the statute encourages more thoughtful interpretation.  What’s the difference between a married woman betraying her husband without monetary return and a married woman betraying her husband for money?  A married woman might commit adultery for money because she loves her husband and her husband desperately needs money.[7]  That’s love in the mercantile spirit of the Decameron.  She might also commit adultery for her own personal, material interests.  That’s simply the mercantile spirit of the Decameron.

The story of Madonna Filippa evokes superficial moralizing for rich humor.  A leading male professor of Romance literature, introducing in 1982 what became the most popular English translation of the Decameron, declared:

if they {readers of the Decameron} want to hear a true spokeswoman of “women’s lib” avant la lettre, let them attend to saucy Filippa of Pisa (VI, 7). [8]

Many readers have followed that line.  Madonna Filippa, in arguing before the judge deciding her fate, was more funny, more crude, and more sophisticated than many readers in our enlightened age.  The interpretive history of the story has augmented its humor.

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[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 6, Story 7, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 494.  All subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from id. pp. 494-6.

[2] Under the Roman law of Augustus, a husband catching his wife in the act of adultery with a man could kill the man, but not his wife.  Similar statutes persisted in U.S. states until the 1970s.  Punishment for adulterous wives in Boccaccio’s time was typically much less severe than death.  Pennington (1977) p. 902.

[3] Streib (2010) p. 3.

[4] Knowledgeable persons in medieval Europe recognized women to be sexually more capable than men.

[5] Rebhorn (2013) notes,  n. 3, p. 907.

[6] The singer Madonna’s 1992 book Sex included a photograph suggesting Madonna positioning herself to have a dog lick her vagina.

[7] A wife makes such a suggestion in the Old French fabliau Le sacristain ou Du segretain moine (The Sacristan Monk).  For discussion and references, see note [1] discussing that fabliau.

[8] Introduction by Thomas G. Bergin, Sterling Professor of Romance Languages Emeritus, Yale University, in Musa & Bondanella (1982) p. xxx.  The introduction subsequently appeared in Signet Classics editions of 2002 and 2010.  Boccaccio’s text of the story contains three instances of “Madonna Filippa.”  It never uses the name “Filippa of Pisa.”  At the time of the story, Madonna Filippa lived in Prato.  A scholar has recognized common misunderstanding of the story:

Most importantly, although Madonna Filippa has become famous as an example of Love giving courage and bravery to a woman, Boccaccio used her only as a vehicle: the joke is the important element of the tale, not the characters.

Pennington (1977) p. 905.  The joke goes beyond the tale.  Consider Brown University’s Decameron Web.  It features a page entitled, “Madonna Filippa (VI.7): Feminist Mouthpiece or Misogynistic Tool?”  Many academics today seem oblivious to alternatives to such a dichotomy.  The story of Madonna Filippa has serious points: gynocentrism and social rationalization.

[image] Portrait of a Woman, c. 1590, painting by Alessandro Allori, Italian (Florence, Italy 1535 – 1607 Florence, Italy), thanks to Harvard’s Fogg Museum.


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

Pennington, Kenneth. 1977. “A Note to Decameron 6.7: The Wit of Madonna Filippa.” Speculum. 52 (4): 902-905.

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

Streib, Victor,  2010.  “Death Penalty for Female Offenders, January 1, 1973, through October 31, 2010.”  Death Penalty Information Center website.


human vocal communication and humpback whale songs

The social environment is highly relevant to the evolution of human communication capabilities.   Human communication evolved through primates living in groups.  Living in groups creates opportunities for synchronized physiological states, cooperative predator defense, coordinated food acquisition, diffusion and inheritance of behavioral innovations, and exchange of goods such as food, sexual activity, and grooming.  Living in groups also creates opportunities for individual and coalitional action to shift the distribution of food, mating, and physical risks among group members.[1]  Communication capabilities have evolutionary significance both for cooperation and competition within social groups.

15 humpback whales bubble-net fishing

Relative to other animals, humans have greater social complexity and engage in more complex communication.  Consider, for comparison, humpback whales.  Humpback whales work together in role-differentiated teams to feed upon schools of fish.[2]  Male humpback whales also engage in behaviorally elaborate mating competition that includes complex vocalizations (songs).[3]  The coding bandwidth required to communicate a male humpback whale song, however, is roughly fifty times less than the coding bandwidth required to communicate spoken English.[4]  Many organisms are social and communicate with each other in a variety of forms.  Humans form intricate social groups and communicate with each other vocally at a much higher coding complexity per unit time than do other animals.

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[1] Mitani (2006) describes the importance of differences in group demographics for differences in chimpanzee behavior.  He notes that demographic context has often been overlooked as a cause of intraspecific behavioral variation.  Laskowski & Pruitt (2014) recently established the importance of group demographics for spider personality.

[2] Such behavior is called bubble-net fishing.

[3] For a review of knowledge about humpback whale song, see Parsons, Wright & Gore (2008).

[4] Humpback whales on the Hawaiian breeding ground communicate in song at 0.6 bits/unit, with 2.5 seconds/unit, giving 0.24 bits/second.  Suzuki (2006) pp. 1860, 1862.  Australian humpback whales migrating away from their breeding ground had coding bandwidth about a third less than the Hawaiian whales.  Miksis-Olds et al. (2008) p. 2391.  I calculate the bandwidth of spoken English as 69 bits/second, based on 1 bit/letter, 5 letters/word, and 200 words per minute.  These figures should be understood as rough approximations.

[image] 15 humpback whales bubble-net fishing off the coast of Alaska on 18 August 2007.  Thanks to Evadb and Wikipedia.


Laskowski Kate L., and Jonathan N. Pruitt. 2014. “Evidence of social niche construction: persistent and repeated social interactions generate stronger personalities in a social spider.” Proceedings. Biological Sciences / The Royal Society. 281 (1783).

Miksis-Olds Jennifer L., John R. Buck, Michael J. Noad, Douglas H. Cato, and M. Dale Stokes. 2008. “Information theory analysis of Australian humpback whale song.” The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America. 124 (4): 2385-93.

Mitani, John C. 2006. “Demographic influences on the behavior of chimpanzees.” Primates 47: 6-13.

Parsons, E.C.M., A.J. Wright, and M.A. Gore.  2008. “The Nature of Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) Song.”  Journal of Marine Animals and Their Ecology 1 (1): 21-30.

Suzuki, Ryuji, John R. Buck and Peter L. Tyack. 2006. “Information entropy of humpback whale song.” Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 119(3): 1849-1866.


Gualtieri & Giannetta: virtue triumphs over rationalization

In Boccaccio’s Decameron, Pampinea chartered the brigata for enjoyment “without ever trespassing the sign of reason in any way.”[1]  Pampinea thus presented reason as a external, public constraint.  Human reason, however, can function merely to rationalize a desired path.  The sign of reason significantly governs desire only in conjunction with virtue.  In Decameron 2.8, Gualtieri and his daughter Giannetta repel reason that serves only as rationalization.  Their actions demonstrate virtue and are highly rewarded at the end of the story.[2]

reason with virtue sets the world aright

Gualtieri, the Count of Antwerp, was governing the Kingdom of France while the King and the King’s son were fighting in Germany.  The wife of the King’s son fell in love with Gualtieri.  She summoned Gualtieri on the pretext of having matters to discuss with him.  She had him sit down on a sofa next to her.  He asked her why she summoned him.  She remained silent.  He asked again.  Again,  she didn’t answer.  Finally, her love for Gualtieri prompted her to speak:

Sweet friend and lord, O my dearest, since you are wise, you surely understand how frail men and women are ….  in my opinion, the advantages the rich woman possesses should go a long way toward excusing her, should she, by chance, slip and fall into love.  And if, in addition, she chose a wise and valiant lover on whom to bestow her favors, then she would need no excuse whatsoever.  Now, in my opinion, I meet both of these requirements, and since I have other reasons as well for falling in love, such as my youth and my husband’s absence, it is only fitting that these things should come to my aid and defend my burning love in your sight. [3]

The lady’s formally structured reasoning is rationalization of her desire for a love affair.  She continued with further rationalization (“as long as it remains hidden, I don’t think there’s any harm in it”) and finally concluded by declaring that the object of her desire is none other than Gualtieri.  Then she burst into tears:

These words produced such an abundance of tears that even though she intended to go on pleading with him, she no longer had the ability to speak.  Instead, very nearly overcome by emotion, she bowed her head, and still weeping, allowed it to rest on his breast.

Gualtieri would have none of the lady’s rationalizations:

{he} began to upbraid her sternly for her insane passion, pushing her away as she tried to throw her arms about his neck.  With many an oath, he swore that he would sooner allow himself to be drawn and quartered than permit such harm to be done to his lord’s honor, either by himself or by anyone else.

The lady, furious, responded with a false rape accusation:

No sooner did the lady hear this than she instantly forgot all about love, and burning now with savage fury, she said to him: “So, base knight, this is how my desire is going to be flouted by you?  Since you want to be the cause of my death, I’ll be the cause of yours, so help me God, and I’ll have you driven from the face of the earth.”  Having said this, she tore at her hair with her hands until it was completely disheveled, ripped apart her clothes at her breast, and began screaming out loud:  “Help, help! The Count of Antwerp is trying to rape me!” [4]

Gualtieri (the Count of Antwerp) recognized what has long been a common position for men facing a false rape accusation: “he feared that they would sooner believe the lady’s wickedness than his claims of innocence.”  Gualtieri, who was a widower, wisely gathered his children and fled with them.  He had to flee quickly:

At the sound of the lady’s screams, many people came running and when they saw her and heard what she was shouting about, not only did they believe everything she said, but they were now convinced that the Count had been using his charm and his refined manners all along for just this purpose.  In a fury they rushed to his residence in order to arrest him, but failing to find him there, they ransacked the place and then razed it to the ground. [5]

Gualtieri’s rejection of the lady’s rationalizations and her proposition for an affair caused great harm to him.  His action in light of an assessment of possible consequences might be judged unreasonable.  But he acted virtuously, as he understood virtue and right conduct.

Gualtieri’s daughter Giannetta similarly acted virtuously.  Having fled to England, the now destitute Gualtieri placed his daughter as a servant in a noble home.  He counseled his daughter not to tell anyone of her noble parentage and desperate flight.  That was a wise precaution to avoid further persecution.  The noble family that Giannetta was serving had a son.  The son fell in love with the servant Giannetta.  That was not a match his parents would approve.  The son thus fell gravely ill with lovesickness.  A wise doctor, noticing changes in the son’s pulse when Giannetta appeared, correctly diagnosed that the son was lovesick for Giannetta.[6]  The mother contrived to have the son confess to her his love for Giannetta.  She then promised to try to get for him Giannetta’s love.

The mother schemed in various ways to procure Giannetta as a lover for her son.  The mother suggestively asked Giannetta whether she had a lover.  Giannetta replied that for her to take a lover would not be proper.  The mother not only approved of Giannetta taking a lover, but also proposed to provide her with one.  The mother told Giannetta:

Well, if you don’t have a lover, we’d like to give you one, a man with whom you’ll lead a merry life and enjoy your beauty even more.  It’s just not right for a lovely young lady like you to be without a lover.

Giannetta balked:

I really should do whatever you wish.  But in this case not only will I never oblige you, but I think I am right in refusing to do so.  If it’s your pleasure to present me with a husband, then that’s the man I intend to love, and no one else.  For the only thing I have left that I’ve inherited from my ancestors is my honor, and I’m determined to safeguard and preserve it for as long as I live.

Pressing her case with a hypothetical, the mother asked Giannetta if she would deny the King if he wanted to take her as a lover.  Giannetta responded:

The King could take me by force, but he would never get my consent unless his intentions were honorable.

Giannetta’s reference to rape apparently inspired the mother.  She told her son that she would put Giannetta in a bedroom with him and “he could do his best to have his way with her.”  The son, like most men, was not interested in raping a woman.  His lovesickness worsened to the point of death.  His parents then realized that they could save their son only be allowing him to marry Giannetta.  Giannetta was very happy to marry the son.  He instantly recovered, and they lived happily as a married couple.

The story ends with great rewards for the virtuous Gualtieri and Giannetta.  In her deathbed confession, the wife of the King’s son revealed that she had falsely accused Gualtieri of rape.  Much less harm would have been done if the wife had confessed her lies much sooner, or if people hadn’t been so willing to believe her lies.  Nonetheless, Fortune favored the virtuous Gualtieri and Giannetta.  The King established a large reward for anyone who could find Gualtieri and his children.  Through a highly improbable chain of events, Gualtieri and his children were reunited.  Giannetta’s husband collected the rich reward for finding them.  Although his house had been ransacked and razed, Gualtieri somehow “recovered everything he had once possessed.”  Moreover, he was “raised to a rank far higher than the one he used to hold.”  Gualtieri “spent the rest of his days in Paris, leading a life there more glorious than ever before.”

The story of Gualtieri and Giannetta doesn’t end realistically.  Being falsely accused of rape is realistic.  Hope that virtue will truly be rewarded remains to the end of the age.  So be it.

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[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 1, Introduction.  On “the sign of reason,” Kirkham (1993) intro.

[2] The name Gualtieri re-appears in Decameron 10.10.  There it’s the name of the Marquis of Saluzzo.  The Marquis of Saluzzo establishes his wife’s good character with inhumane tests.  The failure of reason in that story is much more stark than rationalization.

[3] Decameron, Day 2, Story 8, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) pp. 157-173.  All subsequent quotes are from id.  The purported reason that a rich woman is less culpable for having an affair is that she “has ample leisure and possesses everything she needs to gratify her desire.”  Contemporary social critics describe such reasoning as the wheel-spinning of the rationalization hamster.

[4] Here’s more on false rape accusation culture.

[5] This type of “damsel in distress” response in common in gynocentric societies.  Other examples are the Archpriest of Talavera’s medieval account of a woman inciting her lover to attack another man, the medieval Greek story of a wife punishing her husband for improper talk, and another medieval story of cuckolding obscured through women’s social communication.

[6] A similar account of a physician detecting a case of lovesickness exists in Valerius Maximus’s story of King Seleucus I’s son Antiochus.  Galen told a similar story about his own skill.  See discussion in note [7] in lovesickness post.

[image] photograph from Joan and Elmer Galbi’s climb of Dog Mountain.


Kirkham, Victoria. 1993. The sign of reason in Boccaccio’s fiction. Firenze: L.S. Olschki.

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


Asaph, the writer and historian of the Hebrews

Asaph sucked into black hole

A text probably authored before the fourth century GC refers to “Asaph the writer and historian of the Hebrews.”  The text is preserved in a Syriac translation of a Greek text attributed to “Andronicus the Wise, the Philosopher, and the Learned.”  That Andronicus cannot be confidently identified.  The text concerns the naming of the signs of the Zodiac:

The impression that one gathers from the wording of the translation is, however, that Andronicus was a Christian writer speaking of olden Pagan times of Greece.  He relates how before his time a certain literary man called Asaph, a Jew and a “historian of the Hebrews,” had given to the twelve signs of the Zodiac the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. [1]

Here’s the key text related to Asaph:

Asaph the writer and historian of the Hebrews explains and teaches clearly the history of all these, but does not write and show them with Greek names, but according to the names of the sons of Jacob.  As to the effect and influence of these στοιχεíα {signs of the Zodiac} he, too, enumerates them fully without adding or diminishing anything, but in simply changing in a clear language their names into those of the Patriarchs.  He begins them in the Aramaic language and puts at the head Taurus, which he calls “Reuben.” [2]

The phrase “without adding or diminishing anything” signals a central concern in Syriac translations from Greek in the sixth and seventh centuries.  Ancient Hebrew scholars, like everyone else, were interested in astrology despite its precarious theological status.  Asaph the writer and historian of the Hebrews, as described in this text, is a plausible historical figure from before the fourth century.

The Syriac Chronicle of Michael the Great, written in Damascus late in the twelfth century, supports the existence of Asaph the writer and historian of the Hebrews.  In the context of political chronicle, Michael the Great refers to Asaph as a historical source consistent with other, non-Jewish histories:

The history of the Magian Menandros and the second book of Asaph say the following … Sarug began to teach Nahor the worship of the Chaldeans, namely magic and astrology, as Asaph says in his book, which is in agreement with the table of the generations.  … This account is confirmed by Asaph who says, “The Egyptians learned astrology from the Chaldeans in the time of Terah. They erected an image of Ninos made of gold.” [3]

Michael the Great also refers to the first book of Asaph and the seventh book of Asaph.[4]  Asaph seems to have been a significant Jewish writer and historian known at least from about the third century to the twelfth century.

References to Asaph have been difficult to situate historically.  According to the Hebrew Bible, King David appointed Asaph son of Berechiah as a singer before the tabernacle.[5]  Another Asaph, Asaph the Chronicler, apparently lived about twelve generations later.[6]  About a thousand years ago, both Hebrew and Arabic texts described Asaph as the vizier of King Solomon.[7]  The Hebrew Book of Medicine attributed to Asaph the Physician is documented from about 1200 GC.  It contains a wide range of material, including astrology.  The tradition of Asaph as the vizier of King Solomon and material in the Book of Medicine attributed to Asaph the Physician may have been based in part on a lengthy historical work of Asaph, writer and historian of the Hebrews.  Although Asaph’s work apparently was well-known for nearly a millennium, few traces of it now remain.

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[1] Mingana (1918) p. 86.  The manuscript is in The John Rylands Library, cataloged as Cod. Syr. 44.  The manuscript dates to not later than the fifteenth century.  The copyist was “an extremely bad Syriac scholar” and the Syriac has been corrupted in a variety of ways.  Id. p. 80.

[2] Id. p. 89.  From the fourth to the seventh centuries, Greek words were frequently included in Syriac translations.  Brock (1982) p. 18.

[3] Syriac Chronicle of Michael the Great, from Bk. 2, Ch. 3-5, from Syriac trans. Moosa (2014) pp. 40, 41, 42 ).  In French translation, Chabot (1899) vol. 1, pp. 22, 23, 26.

[4] Syriac Chronicle, from Bk. 2, Ch. 7, trans. Moosa (2014) pp. 43, 45; Chabot (1899) vol. 1, pp. 28, 29.  Note that Moosa’s organization of chapters differs slightly from Chabot’s.  The latter attempts to preserve the tripartite page layout of the original manuscript, which creates ambiguity in chapter identifications.  The Syriac Chronicle contains some references to Asaph the singer whom David appointed.  See Bk. 2, Ch. 10, trans Moosa (2014) p. 60; Chabot (1899) vol. 1, p. 60.  No other references to Asaph exist in the whole Syriac Chronicle.

[5] 1 Chronicles 6:39; 15:17, 19; 16:5, 7, 37; 25:1.

[6] 2 Kings 18:18, 37.  Asaph the Chronicler lived under King Hezekiah of the Davidic line.

[7] Mingana (1918) p. 86-7 (Jewish legends).  Asaph (Asaf) son of Barkhiya is identified at Solomon’s vizier in the 1001 Nights, nights 3, 571, 759, Macnaghten Calcutta II text.  Trans. Lyons (2008) vol. 1, p. 22; vol. 2, p. 530; vol. 3, p. 97.

[image] Simulated view of a black hole in front of the Large Magellanic Cloud.  Thanks to Alain r. and Wikipedia.


Brock, Sebastian. 1982. “From Antagonism to Assimilation: Syriac Attitudes to Greek Learning.”  Pp. 17-34 in Nina G. Garsoïan, Thomas F. Mathews, and Robert W. Thomson, eds., East of Byzantium: Syria and Armenia in the Formative Period. Dumbarton Oaks Symposium 1980. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1982.  Reprinted in Brock (1984), Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity, Ch. V.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste, trans. 1899. Chronique de Michel le Syrien, patriarche jacobite d’Antioche (1166-1199), éditée pour la première fois et traduite en français par J.-B. Chabot. Paris: E. Leroux.(vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4)

Lyons, Malcolm C. 2008. The Arabian nights: tales of 1001 nights. vols. 1-3. London: Penguin.

Mingana, Alphonse.  1918. “Some Early Judaeo-Christian Documents in the John Rylands Library.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 4 (1): 59-118.

Moosa, Matti, trans. 2014. The Syriac Chronicle of Michael Rabo (the Great): a universal history from the creation. Teaneck, N.J.: Beth Antioch Press.

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