Hildegard of Bingen’s antiphon for fathers, O magne pater

O Magne Pater in revelation illumination

English translation Latin text L#
O great Father, O magne Pater, 1
in great need are we. in magna necessitate sumus. 2
Now therefore we beg, we beg of you Nunc igitur obsecramus, obsecramus te 3
according to your Word, per Verbum tuum 4
according to which you created us per quod nos constituisti 5
full of all that we lack. plenos quibus indigemus. 6
Now may it please you, Father, Nunc placeat tibi, Pater, 7
as it behooves you — look upon us quia te decet, ut aspicias in nos 8
with your kindly aid, per adiutorium tuum, 9
that we would not fail, ut non deficiamus, et 10
that your name be not extinguished within us, ne nomen tuum in nobis obscuretur, 11
and by your own name et per ipsum nomen tuum 12
graciously help us. dignare nos adiuvare. 13

Hildegard of Bingen, who lived nearly nine centuries ago, was a visionary. Her poignant antiphon O magne Pater faces the eternal possibility of failing to love fathers.[1] Loving fathers involves calling out to them for help.

The first two lines of O magne Pater echo greatness in the greatness of God the Father and humanity’s great need.  That need, as will develop in the hymn, is the need for God the Father. The third line repeats “beg,” making a plea to the cosmos into a plea to a personal “you.” The fourth and fifth lines resonate with the majestic opening of John’s gospel:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. … to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become the children of God [2]

The sixth line highlights human imperfection and desire. Humans desire to receive God and believe in who he is. That desire pleases God and is fulfilled with God’s help, for humans alone are prone to allow the name of the Father to be forgotten (lines seven through eleven). The closing two lines celebrate that the grace of God extends even to helping humanity to sing always of God.[3]

Hildegard of Bingen connected humans and God in a resonating unity. Fatherhood is central to Hildegard’s understanding of human and divine harmony:

Oh humans, look at the human being! For it contains heaven and earth and other creatures in itself, and is one form, and all things hide in it. This is what fatherhood is like. In what way? The round of the wheel is fatherhood, the fullness of the wheel is divinity. All things are in it and all stem from it, and beyond it there is no creator. [4]

The roundness of the wheel is the specific human bodily form. The fullness of the wheel is the fullness of human life. Without fatherhood there is no creation, no cosmos, no specific human person.

One thing I ask of the Lord;
this is what I seek:
To live in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
To gaze upon the beauty of the Lord,
and to seek him in his temple. [5]

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[1] O magne Pater is from Hildegard of Bingen’s Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum (Symphony of the Harmony of Heavenly Revelations), Song 6. The Latin text above is from the transcription of Beverly Lomer and the edition of Barbara Newman, as provided on the O magne Pater page of the International Society of Hildegard von Bingen Studies. The English translation above I’ve adapted from those of Nathaniel M. Campbell (O magne Pater page) and Newman (1998) p. 105.

[2] John 1:1, 1:12.

[3] After an extensive analysis of O magne Pater, Karmen McKendrick observed of this antiphon:

altogether musically, deixis becomes reverberation, in which one vibration—the call of created desire, the creative divine voice—sets up another on the same frequency, so that we have the “same” sound, but more so, louder by addition, enriched by another voice, closer to Paradisical perfection. Humanity’s very need, put into song, perfects divine delight. Hildegard’s musicality informs her cosmology both intellectually and sensuously. Taking seriously the notion of a world called into being by voice, she likewise takes seriously the fullness of desire that calls back, the soul as a resonating chamber for the voice that reads aloud the unnamed name of the you, in an address and a reply that can only call to both gratifying completeness and endless need.

MacKendrick (2013) p. 224.

[4] Hildegard of Bingen, Causae et Curae, from Latin trans. Dronke (1984) p. 172. That translation omits a section label written in a different hand. I’ve also eliminated an unnecessary paragraph division. Id. observes of this text, “fluctuations of outlook are notable.” That can be understood as a different perspective on reverberations. Cf. MacKendrick (2013). Newman uses this text on fatherhood as an introduction to the Mother of God and theology of the feminine. Newman (1989) Ch. 5.

[5] Psalm 27:4.

[image] The Day of the Great Revelation, illustration from Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, Part III.12, Rupertsberg Codex, based on copy made at Hildegard Abbey in Eibingen, 1927-1933, via Böckeler (1954) Plate 33. Nathaniel Campbell argues persuasively that Hildegard helped to design the illuminations.

[embedded video] Canto litúrgico cristiano performing Hildegard of Bingen’s O magne Pater. Many other performances of O magne Pater are on YouTube.


Böckeler, Maura. 1954. Wisse die Wege. Scivias. Nach dem Originaltext des illuminierten Rupertsberger Kodex ins Deutsche übertragen und bearb. Salzburg: O. Müller.

Dronke, Peter. 1984. Women writers of the Middle Ages: a critical study of texts from Perpetua († 203) to Marguerite Porete († 1310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

MacKendrick, Karmen. 2013. “The Voice of the Mirror: Strange Address in Hildegard of Bingen.” Glossator 7: 209-226.

Newman, Barbara. 1989. Sister of wisdom: St.Hildegards theology of the feminine. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Newman, Barbara, ed. and trans. 1998. Hildegard of Bingen. Symphonia: a critical edition of the “Symphonia armonie celestium revelationum” (Symphony of the harmony of celestial revelations). 2nd ed. Ithaca (N.Y.): Cornell University Press.

gender, egalitarian relationships, and institutional constraints

equals isn't egalitarian without males

In a recent survey of unmarried, childless persons ages 18 to 32 years old, about a third of women and men didn’t prefer an egalitarian long-term relationship.[1] That’s surprising. Why don’t all young women and men today say that they prefer an egalitarian relationship?

An egalitarian relationship means sharing equally housework and/or childcare. In scholarly research, housework is commonly defined as cooking, cleaning, shopping, sewing, home decorating, arranging furniture, and other such tasks. Discussing various choices for completing these tasks also counts as housework. Do you think that the mauve towels go with the granite vanity countertop? Exhausting, viciously competitive, recreational cycling doesn’t count as housework. Neither does killing animals for fun (hunting). Whether telling the kids to go out and play or plopping kids down in front of the television counts as childcare in official tallying isn’t clear.

Men tend to disagree with women on the necessary level of housework and childcare. In the past, experts prescribed standards for homekeeping and childcare. Today experts have moved on to prescribe standards of gender equality in work and family life (excluding gender equality in child custody and child support awards under anti-men family law). The experts solved the fundamental problem of sex differences in housekeeping and child-care preferences by sweeping that problem under the rug. They commonly assume that women determine the necessary standard of housework and childcare. In surveys, a person choosing egalitarian splitting of housework and childcare is free to assume that the housework and childcare is split is based on her standard of what must be done. Who wouldn’t want someone else to do half the work that she thinks needs to be done?

An egalitarian relationship means equally sharing the burden of financially supporting the household. To do that, both partners need to have roughly equal incomes. Under family law, both partners’ income is typically attributed equally to each partner. So if you’re making $30,000 a year and you marry someone making $200,000 a year, you’ve just raised your effective income to $115,000 and lowered your partner’s effective income to $115,000. Imputed income equality is imposed by law only upon divorce. While divorce has become relatively common, persons seeking an egalitarian relationship don’t seek to marry someone making a lot more money than they. With egalitarian relationships, the poor marry the poor, the rich marry the rich, and the social distribution of income becomes more entrenched and more unequal.

Given all the social-status benefits of saying that you favor an egalitarian relationship, why do about a third of women and men refuse to say that? Perhaps they believe that egalitarian relationship is a code word for gynocentrism. It’s like sexism in the World Values Survey and sexism in the Modern Sexism Scale and sexism in major international organizations statistics on gender disparities in lifespans. It’s like a sign for “equals” that includes only the sign for females. That’s the sign the University of Texas used in its press release touting the study on preferences for egalitarian relationships. That study, entitled “Can We Finish the Revolution? Gender, Work-Family Ideals, and Institutional Constraint,” is tendentiously gynocentric.[2] So too is the widespread press coverage of the study’s press release. About a third of women and men reject implicitly gynocentric egalitarianism.

Scholarly and public discussion of egalitarian relationships and gender equality is a farce.  That farce is built upon men dying violent deaths in vastly disproportionate numbers and men being imprisoned in vastly disproportionate numbers. Only in marginal websites does one find real discussion of anti-men gender biases. Anti-men gender biases have a huge effect on family life, work life, and society generally. But no one is allowed to take seriously anti-men gender bias and survive in powerful institutions today.  That’s the key institutional constraint.[3]

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[1] Pedulla & Thébaud (2015) Fig. 2, Condition 2 (egalitarian option). The survey was of the U.S. in  2012. It was completed by 45% of the sample, but 33% of the respondents who completed the survey weren’t able retrospectively to describe correctly the question that they answered. Id. pp. 123, 136, n. 11. That left 329 responses that were analyzed. While the survey was nationally representative, it is quite small and could suffer from unrecognized sampling biases as well as non-sampling biases. For the specific wording of the egalitarian option, see id. p. 135. The text of the egalitarian response:

I would like to have a lifelong marriage or committed relationship where financially supporting the family and managing the household (which may include housework and/or childcare) are equally shared between my spouse or partner and I.

[2] The study begins:

In recent decades, women have entered the labor force en masse, yet this trend has not been matched with a corresponding increase in men’s share of unpaid household work, men’s entry into traditionally female-dominated occupations, or substantial reforms to government and workplace policies. Furthermore, women still comprise only a small minority of elite leadership positions in government, business, and academic science. For instance, women make up just 4 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and 18 percent of the 535 members in the U.S. Congress.{scholarly references omitted}

Pedulla & Thébaud (2015) p. 116. This introduction gynocentrically ignores much more welfare-significant gender inequalities. In U.S. military action in Afghanistan and Iraq since 2001, forty times more U.S. men soldiers have been killed compared to U.S. women soldiers killed. At the same time, the U.S. still maintains by law sexist Selective Service registration. In civilian work, thirteen times as many men suffer workplace fatalities, but that stark gender inequality has attracted much less attention than claims about gender gaps in earnings (gaps not controlling for earnings-relevant factors such as time on the job, time in the workplace, and non-pecuniary job costs and benefits). In civilian life, four times as many men die from violence, but violence against men is of much less social concern than violence against women. U.S. universities are now leading anti-men, gender-biased rape inquisitions that make medieval inquisitions seem like models of enlightenment. About as many men report suffering rape as do women. That reality has attracted very little public concern amid the strong push to enact anti-men rape inquisitions. Such issues are major obstacles to truly gender egalitarian relationships.

[3] Id. has a much narrower view of institutional constraints. Condition 3 (supportive policies) states:

Raising children, caring for ill family members, and/or taking care of household responsibilities involves a considerable amount of time and energy. In the United States, the cost of paying others to help with these responsibilities (such as childcare) is also high. However, if policies were in place that guaranteed all employees access to subsidized childcare, paid parental and family medical leave, and flexible scheduling (such as the ability to work from home one day per week), which of the following options best describes how you would ideally structure your future work and family life?

Id. p. 135. While such policies are helpful, eliminating alimony payments, child-support payments, and anti-men bias in family courts undoubtedly would be much more effective for promoting egalitarian relationships.


Pedulla, David S. and Sarah Thébaud. 2015. “Can We Finish the Revolution? Gender, Work-Family Ideals, and Institutional Constraint.” American Sociological Review 80 (1): 116-139.

appreciation for men’s sexuality in Hildegard’s Causae et curae

Hildgard of Bingen's universal man

In Causae et curae, the twelfth-century scholar and woman religious Hildegard of Bingen described four types of men. A subsequent scribe apparently labeled these types by well-established humoral temperaments: choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic.[1] Characterizations of men, like discussion of man, historically have tended to be asexual. Hildegard, however, didn’t describe types of men conventionally. Using natural metaphors, she characterized four types of men by their sexual desire and sexual behavior. Unlike earlier writers, who were almost all men, Hildegard of Bingen recognized fundamental importance and diversity in men’s sexuality.[2]

The types of men labeled melancholic and phlegmatic Hildegard placed at extremes of a brute / culture continuum. She described melancholic men as heterosexually “without restraint like asses.” Such men are “like animals and vipers.” They behave sexually like “ravaging wolves”; “in their hearts they are as violent as lions and they behave in the manner of bears.” In sexual intercourse, a melancholic man’s erect penis “twists vehemently like a viper.”[3] He performs sexually as if he would like to kill the woman. Melancholic men, like brutes, lack the human capacity to have sex as an expression of love.

Phlegmatic men, in contrast, are womanly and cultured. Phlegmatic men lack male characteristics. They have no beard or only a sparse one. Hildegard described the color of their faces as womanly, and their flesh, “soft like woman’s.” These men have difficulty achieving an erection; “they fail now and then in the act of procreation.” They have difficulty holding an erection to ejaculate at “the right moment.”[4] Phlegmatic men, however, are witty and verbal:

in their thoughts and delivery of speech they are daring and quick, like a fire whose flame rises suddenly and falls as rapidly. Likewise, they show some daring in their deportment but not in their deeds. In closer contact they reveal that for them it is more a matter of intention than deed.

Delivery of speech, deportment, and intention are aspects of human behavior that are highly elaborated culturally.  Melancholic men are associated with the nature of brutes. Phlegmatic men are men associated with women and culture.

Like melancholic men, choleric and sanguine men need sex with women. Hildegard declared of choleric men:

Whenever they have {sexual} intercourse with a woman they are healthy and happy. If deprived of it they dry up in themselves and walk about as if moribund unless they can force out the foam of their semen in lustful dreams or thoughts or in some other perverse act. They feel such lustful ardor that they will, on occasion, also have contact with some insentient and lifeless object and torment themselves with it so that, exhausted, in defense against and as a relief from this ardor, so to speak, they will ejaculate the foam of their semen with lust and in the torment of this ardent passion that is in them. For continence is difficult for these men.

Sanguine men in the absence of women are better able to alleviate lust:

They free themselves more easily than others from the ardent heat of lust, be it spontaneously or by other means.

Nonetheless, intercourse with women is also essential for sanguine men:

If they are without women, the males mentioned above remain as inglorious as a day without sun. As fruit is prevented from drying on such a day and throughout a day without sun, so these men will be in a moderately calm mood when they remain without a woman. Yet around women they are as delightful as a day with bright sun.

For all men but phlegmatic men, frequent sexual intercourse with women is necessary for their good health and happiness.

Hildegard contrasted choleric and sanguine men with natural metaphors for sexual desire. In traditional Greco-Roman culture, the god Cupid shooting arrows into persons’ hearts caused them to be struck with love. In late European medieval literature, Cupid shot arrows into persons’ eyes to make them love-struck.[5] Although Hildegard undoubtedly knew stories of Cupid, she described choleric men’s sexual desire with arrows used in a naturalistic simile along with other naturalistic similes:

Their blood burns with great ardor when they have seen or heard a woman or brought her to mind in their thoughts, because upon seeing a woman, their eyes are directed like arrows toward the love of woman and, upon hearing a woman, their speech is like a powerful windstorm and their thoughts are like a hurricane that cannot be restrained from descending upon the earth.[6]

Hildegard contrasted sanguine men with choleric men using Aristotelian metaphors of harmony and nobility:

They {sanguine men} can live with women in honesty and fertility, practice abstinence too, and look with beautiful and sober eyes at women. Whereas the eyes of other men {choleric men} are directed like arrows toward women, theirs {sanguine men’s} are honorably in harmony with women. Whereas the speech of other men acts like a powerful storm toward women, theirs has the sound of a cithara. Whereas the thoughts of other men are like a hurricane, these men are called thoughtful lovers full of honorableness.[7]

Hildegard further described sanguine men with abstract, philosophical language:

they are referred to as the golden edifice in proper embrace because in them rationality senses why this is so. Therefore these men will act with self-control and show a human attitude.

The odd phrase “golden edifice in proper embrace,” which is associated with rationality, seems to be a refashioning of the Aristotelian idea of the golden mean. Hildegard, with appreciation for men’s real experience of their humanity, touchingly added:

On the other hand, they often endure much pain when {sexually} controlling themselves as much as possible.

Both choleric and sanguine men have strong, natural sexuality without the moral coloring of brutishness. Sanguine men characteristically transform their strong, natural sexual desire with self-control and rationally seek honor and harmony. Choleric men, however, are also capable of acting “rightly and in a well-balanced manner in the ardor of embrace.” In Hildegard’s thought, types of men are tendencies that allow within themselves differences in behavior.

Men by virtue of their human dignity are intrinsically entitled to be healthy and happy. As Hildegard of Bingen perceptively recognized and courageously expounded, most types of men need frequent sexual intercourse with women to be healthy and happy.[8] A well-ordered society seeks to fulfill men’s sexual entitlement just as it seeks health and happiness for all its members.

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[1] Causae et curae has survived mainly in one thirteenth-century manuscript. The temperament labels, along with other labels, are inserted in a different hand from the writing of the rest of the text. Cadden (1984) pp. 165-6. On authorship and modern editions of Causae et curae, see note [1] in earlier post on Hildegard and men’s sexuality.  Hildegard also provided a textually and conceptually independent four-fold characterization of women. Dronke (1984), pp. 180-183, focuses on the four-fold characterization of women.

[2] While I use the traditional humoral temperament labels for convenience, Hildegard’s descriptions of types of men are unprecedented in important ways:

Hildegard tries to work out the implications for personality of the four humoral temperaments, with a vividness and richness of detail unparalleled in earlier medical or physiognomic tradition. What is particularly new and startling in her procedure is that she interprets the four humours fundamentally in terms of sexual behavior, and that she gives a separate detailed account for four temperaments of women as well as for those of men

Dronke (1984) p. 180.

[3] Causae et curae, 54b-55a, from Latin trans. Berger (1999) pp. 60-61.  All subsequent quotes are from id. 51b-56a, pp. 57-62, unless otherwise noted. While sexual behavior predominates in Hildegard’s characterization of men, she also includes some typical elements of physiognomy.

[4] The “right moment” is connected in Causae et curae to women’s pleasure, the subject of the immediate next sentence in that text.

[5] Stewart (2003), intro. The mid-thirteenth-century masterpiece Romance of the Rose narrates:

The God of Love {Cupid} … took an arrow and, when the string was in the nock, drew the bow — a wondrously strong one — up to his ear and shot at me in such a way that with great force he sent the point through the eye and into my heart.

Le Roman de la Rose, v. 2, ll. 1681-95, from Old French trans. Dahlberg (1971) p. 54.

[6] Plato and Galen understood vision as a process of extramission: the eye actively projects out pneuma to see. The Platonic understanding of vision, described most fully in Plato’s Timaeus, was dominant in twelfth-century Europe. Aristotle, in contrast, is associated with understanding vision as intromission: the eye sees through passively receiving beams from the viewed object. Albert the Great vigorously promoted Aristotelian visual understanding in the mid-thirteenth century. By the beginning of the fourteenth century, Aristotelian intromission had become the dominant understanding of vision in Europe. Id. pp. 13-18. Hildegard’s arrow simile is aligned with understanding vision as extramission. Hildegard referred to Plato in Causae et curae. A Latin version of Timaeus was known in Europe in her time. Dronke stated:

As for Plato, it is not certain what traditions Hildegard knew. (I have found no clear indication, for instance, that she had read the Latin Timaeus.)

Dronke (1984) p. 183. Hildegard probably did know, perhaps indirectly, the Platonic understanding of vision as extramission. Hildegard’s simile of the arrow is in parallel with similes using windstorms and hurricanes. Her simile of the arrow is neither spiritual nor theoretical. It concerns the natural flight (straight, undeviating from its specific target) of an arrow.

[7] A cithara was an ancient Greek musical instrument in the form of a large lyre.

[8] In her Book of the Rewards of Life (Liber Vitae Meritorum), Hildegard addressed the issue of men fornicating with cattle.  Part 3, Chs. 71, 81, 82, from Latin trans. Hozeski (1994) pp. 164, 167. That concern indicates both men’s sexual ardor and the prevailing failure in humanely encompassing it.

[image] The Universal Man (Humanity and the Macrocosmos), illumination in thirteenth-century text of Hildegard of Bingen’s Liber Divinorum Operum, sec. I.2, completed in 1165. MS 1942, Biblioteca Statale, Lucca (Italy). Thanks to Wikicommons. Here’s some scholarly discussion of the image.


Berger, Margret. 1999. Hildegard of Bingen: on natural philosophy and medicine: selections from Cause et cure. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

Cadden, Joan. 1984. “It takes all kinds: sexuality and gender differences in Hildegard of Bingen’s ‘Book of Compound Medicine.'” Traditio. 40: 149-174.

Dahlberg, Charles. 1971. Jean Guillaume de Lorris. The romance of the Rose. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1984. Women writers of the Middle Ages: a critical study of texts from Perpetua († 203) to Marguerite Porete († 1310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hozeski, Bruce, trans. 1994. Hildegard of Bingen. The book of the rewards of life = Liber vitae meritorum. New York: Garland Pub.

Stewart, Dana E. 2003. The arrow of love: optics, gender, and subjectivity in medieval love poetry. Lewisburg: Bucknell University Press.

Grazida Lizier & Reservoir Tip on mutually joyful love-making

white knight imagines love

In an important book that Cambridge University Press published in 1984, a leading medieval man writer discerned the “lines of thought and integrity of thought” of Grazida Lizier.[1] His study of Grazida’s thought revealed themes of eroticism, skepticism, and myth-making. He treated these themes narrowly, tendentiously, and without sensitivity to men’s different social positions. Reading history from below shows that eroticism, skepticism, and myth-making are also central to ordinary men’s thinking about mutually joyful love-making.[2]

Grazida Lizier is a relatively neglected figure in medieval scholarship. She was born in 1297 in the small, southern French village of Montaillou. Grazida’s mother, who was born of an unwed mother, was separated from her husband and worked as a tavern-keeper. When Grazida was about fourteen and living in her mother’s house, she began a sexual relationship with the leading local church official, Pierre Clergue.[3] Pierre at that time was probably in his late thirties. Grazida explained:

Because it gave me joy and him also when we made love, I did not think that with him I was sinning.[4]

For the next six months or so, Grazida and Pierre frequently had sex in her mother’s house, with her mother’s approval, mostly in the daytime. Then Pierre Clergue arranged to have Grazida marry Pierre Lizier.

Grazida continued to have sex with her first Pierre while married to her second. She explained:

he still often lay with me, in the four years that my husband was alive; my husband knew about it, and did not put up resistance. When he asked me about our love-making, I said yes, it was true, and he told me to take care it should be with no other man. But Pierre and I never made love when he was at home, only when he was out. …

At the time we made love, both before I was married and after, as our love-making in all that time gave joy to us both, I did not think I sinned, nor does it seem so to me now.

The husband’s concern to limit his wife to just the other Pierre suggests that he valued her more than as a live-in prostitute. He may have also believed that his wife having a child by a wealthy local church official wouldn’t significantly conflict with his over-all interests as a man and a potential father. Grazida showed some complex appreciation for her husband:

When I was married and made love with the priest Pierre, it did seem more proper to make love with my husband — all the same it seemed to me, and I still believe, it was as little sin with Pierre as with my husband. Did I have any qualms at the time, or think that such deeds might displease God? No I had none, and did not think my lying with Pierre should displease any living being, since it gave joy to us both.

If my husband had forbidden it? Supposing he had — even though he never did — I still would not have thought it a sin, because of the shared joy. … Does it displease God more when the partners are married than when they are not? I think it displeases him more when they are unmarried lovers.[5]

While capacity to rationalize increases with higher education, rationalization is an innate faculty of the human mind. Grazida adroitly distinguished between displeasing God and sinning. The latter was more clearly condemned within the letter of Church law. Her focus on that abstract, conceptual distinction obscured the question of whether she would cuckold her husband without his consent. The modern information economy for paternity knowledge works similarly.

The modern man writer sharply and moralistically distinguished between Grazida Lizier and Pierre Clergue in their mutually joyful love-making. Grazida is deeply feeling, unswerving idealistic, and without guile in her statements. Pierre is a coarse, shallow libertine, a hypocritical sensualist, and slippery like a serpent.[6] The man scholar, mounting a chivalrous knight’s horse without appreciation for its literary history, declared:

it is important not to blur the distinction between his promiscuous attitude and her unswervingly idealistic conviction. For Grazida it is uniquely the quality of shared joy between two lovers which frees love-making from all taint. The only possible external impediment to love that she can see is consanguinity (this is clearly a vestige, that she still acknowledges, of her orthodox upbringing). Such an outlook, and the assumptions underlying it, are so different from those of Pierre Clergue, that nothing in Grazida’s second avowal prevents us from fully accepting her statement in the first: “No one taught me these ideas except myself.” If at the beginning of their affair Pierre relaxed her traditional beliefs, he was too shallow ever to arrive at Grazida’s own.

He looks at love-making from the coarse standpoint of the conquering male who “pleasures” a woman (“no sin as long as it gives her pleasure”); she is concerned with tenderness, with the mutual giving of joy.[7]

The modern man writer recognized myth-making of only a primitive sort. Grazida, thinking deeply, declared:

I believe God made those things that are helpful to man, and useful too for the created world … But I don’t think God made wolves, flies, mosquitoes, and such things as are harmful to man

Tracing this line of thought, the scholar pondered the creation of wolves, flies, and mosquitoes, and asked, “Who then made these?” He missed the mythic answer obvious to him, “Those other, evil men made them.” That answer isn’t unparalleled. It’s common, in more or less explicit forms, throughout all times and places.

Men writers at the margins of public discourse have privileged, as did Grazida, mutually joyful love-making. In the plain language of men writing outside of authoritative structures, Reservoir Tip recently wrote:

Last night, I ended up in a little bit of a dilemma. I had two girls scheduled to come over at the same time, mainly because I was expecting one of them to flake. To my surprise, she didn’t.

I thought about bringing them both in and trying for the threesome, but decided against it. As girl one walks into my place, girl two texts me saying she’s arrived. I text girl two back and tell her that “the shit hit the fan” and that I can’t join her tonight. She’s pissed, and rightly so, really. What I pulled was pretty low, and definitely rude.[8]

Just as the orthodox condemnation of incest retained hold on Grazida, Reservoir’s orthodox upbringing apparently prompted him to reject trying for a threesome. While he expected one of the women, without respect for his position, to change her mind about meeting (“flake”), he understood similar actions on his part to be “pretty low, and definitely rude.” Reservoir’s desire for mutually joyful love-making caused him to end his meeting with the first woman:

I’m sitting around with girl one, doing a simple movie at my place, but she ends up being kind of a bitch, and we split after about an hour and a make out.

Reservoir’s subsequent actions shows the depth of his concern for mutually joyful love-making:

I text girl two back, “hey come over now.”
She comes right over and i boink her.

Notice the adjectival use of “right.” That diction subtly acknowledges and validates women’s strong desire for mutually joyful love-making. The word “boink” for sexual intercourse is somewhat unusual. More typical words for sexual intercourse in this genre of writing tend to emphasize the explosive physical vigor of the activity (“fuck“, “bang”). The choice of “boink” is playful, with a sense of childish innocence. Like a traditional fable, Reservoir’s story ends with an epimythium:

If your value is high enough, and the girl is horny enough, she’ll do anything, apparently.

A high priest of seduction, writing on behalf of free souls, ironically appended five “asshole dicktums” to Reservoir’s story.[9] Structures of authoritative morality always exist in human society. Within that reality, Reservoir’s story is a moving expression of mutually seeking sexual joy.

Against seemingly impossible odds, the spirit of such men has not been crushed. However savagely scholastic authorities try to suppress them, their beliefs live on irresistibly — Reservoir Tip’s, indeed, only through a site likely to attract censors, if not prosecutors. Today such testimonies remain as a wonder and a question of expiration.[10]

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[1] Dronke (1984) p. 203.

[2] Robert Darnton, Lucien Febvre, Carlos Ginzberg, and E.P. Thompson have been leading proponents of history from below and expansive interpretations of marginal texts. Somewhat under-appreciated has been the extraordinarily sensitive and insightful reading of Ellen Hootton, a ten-year-old factory worker in Wigan in 1833. See Galbi (1996).

[3] Pierre Clergue was rector of the church in Montauillou. The Clergue family was the leading family in Montaillou. Le Roy Ladurie (1978) Ch. III.

[4] Testimony of Grazida, widow of Pierre Lizier of Montaillou, to Jacques Fournier, the Bishop of Pamiers, on August 19, 1320, from Latin trans. Dronke (1984) p. 204. All subsequent quotations from Grazida’s testimony are from id. pp. 204-5. Id. pp. 265-9 provides the Latin source. Dronke’s translation is free. He noted:

The translations {of Grazida’s testimony and that of others from Montaillou} … are in a sense “free”: in order to evoke as accurately as possible the Provençal words that the women themselves will have used in their testimonies, it is necessary not only to turn the Latin into direct speech but also to infer, from legalistic and condemnatory expressions in the official record, the “unloaded” expressions that might lie behind these.

Dronke (1984) p. 316, n. 8. For analysis of such a translating strategy, Arnold (2001). Here’s a much more literal English translation of Grazida’s testimony.

[5] The logical structure of the question, “Does it displease God more when the partners are married than when they are not?” is contra-normative. That structure suggests light sarcasm toward Grazida’s claims.

[6] All these descriptive words, except for the simile, are from Dronke (1984) pp. 204-6. The phrase “like a serpent” is my interpretation of the medieval-biblical allegory implicit in “slippery.” After being imprisoned for about seven weeks, Grazida testified, “I once {aliquando} told him that I’d learnt that my mother Fabrisse was his cousin by blood.” That statement directly contradicts her earlier statement. Moreover, aliquando could also be translated as “sometimes.” Grazida claimed that Pierre Clergue “taught me these errors about sexual sin.” That statement also directly contradicts her earlier statement. The judicial officials recorded her hearsay claim:

She also said she was afraid that if I told the truth about the rector and his brothers, they would kill me or otherwise maltreat me.

The phrase “kill me or otherwise maltreat me” is sensationally pointed. Grazida in earlier testimony indicated only her joy in having sex with the rector (Pierre Clergue). Pre-trial detention is common in criminal justice systems today and doesn’t excuse perjury.  Cf. id. p. 205. In just courts, hearsay testimony isn’t presumed to be true. All testimony in just courts is subject to doubt and questioning. Dronke sternly reprimanded Duvernoy for suggesting that Grazida was behaving shrewdly:

It is disappointing that Duvernoy in his translation of Le register (1 303), says in a footnote to Grazida’s testimony: “elle est consciemment insolente, bien que le procèsverbal ait l’apparence de la naïeté.” This judgement, by the scholar who through his detailed work should have been in the best position to comprehend Grazida’s thoughts, is inappropriately hostile and condescending.

Dronke (1984), pp. 316-7, n. 15. U.S. universities today conduct rape inquisitions with less procedural protections and more hostility to the accused than did medieval heresy inquisitions. Vigorously criticizing those proceedings would show better moral judgement.

On March 8, 1321, the Inquisition sentenced Grazida Lizier to life imprisonment. About four months later her sentence was commuted and she was set free. She was required to wear the Cathar yellow cross on her clothes to signal others to beware of her.

[7] The idea that sex is unobjectionable if both parties enjoy it surely has been a common view in practice among ordinary persons. Pierre Vidal, who lived in the nearby village of Ax-Les-Thermes in Grazida’s time, testified to the Inquisition that the sexual act was innocent if it pleased both parties and the man paid the women for sex. Le Roy Ladurie (1978) pp. 150-1. The latter condition reflects  devaluation of men’s sexuality prevalent in practice throughout history.  Pierre Clergue was the “womanizer per excellence of the Clergue family.” Apparently drawing inspiration from the great teacher of love Ovid, Pierre declared that he wanted all women. Id. p. 154. Testimony to the Inquisition indicated that he had sex with at least twelve women living in Montaillou or nearby Ax-Les-Thermes. Much documentary evidence indicates sex with Pierre was mutually joyful. Pierre, although short of stature, was highly confident, socially adroit, and verbally skillful. Id. Ch. IX, passim. Le Roy Ladurie attributed Pierre’s engaging in mutually joyful love-making with a large number of women to his “power and wealth.”  Id. p. 156. That view, like Dronke’s view, is superficial and condescending. It reflects anti-men animosity and ignorance of the modern applied science of seduction.

[8] Reservoir Tip wrote his story on January 18, 2015. The amount of critical attention it will attract from literary scholars remains to be seen. Grazida Lizier’s testimony has been anthologized in leading works such as Davis et al. (1992). It has also been the basis for a national best-seller, Charmaine Craig’s The Good Men: A Novel of Heresy (2002). Craig studied medieval literature as an undergraduate at Harvard. Here’s a review of her book in the Harvard Crimson. Craig’s success underscores the value of exposing students to a wide range of writing, even writing powerful authorities might find repugnant.

[9] The Latinate ending of “dicktum” suggests the plural form “dickti.” But the final syllable -tum is better interpreted as a popular, contracted variant of “them.”

[10] Cf. Dronke (1984) p. 228.

[image] Modern knight on white charger imagines receiving women’s love. Photo thanks to PublicDomainPictures on pixabay.


Arnold, John. 2001. Inquisition and power: catharism and the confessing subject in medieval Languedoc. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Davis, Natalie Zemon, Georges Duby, Arlette Farge, G. Mouillaud-Fraisse, Christiane Klapisch-Zuber, Michelle Perrot, Pauline Schmitt Pantel, and Françoise Thébaud. 1992. A history of women in the West. Cambridge, Mass: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1984. Women writers of the Middle Ages: a critical study of texts from Perpetua († 203) to Marguerite Porete († 1310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Galbi, Douglas A. 1996. “Through Eyes in the Storm: Aspects of the Personal History of Women Workers in the Industrial Revolution.” Social History. 21 (2): 142-159.

Le Roy Ladurie, Emmanuel, from French trans. Barbara Bray. 1978. Montaillou: the promised land of error {Montaillou, village occitan de 1294 à 1324 (1975)}. New York: G. Braziller.

primatology, vegetarianism & criminalization of male animals

In 2009, Harvard University Press published a edited collection of scholarly papers entitled Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans. That title is inapt. Primates include humans. Book-marketing interests probably drove adding “and humans” to primates in the title.[1] The book’s subtitle, An Evolutionary Perspective on Male Aggression against Females, displays more publicly significant interests.  Among humans, about equal numbers of men and women report suffering sexual coercion. Aggression isn’t equivalent to sexual coercion. Men are much more likely than women to be subject to serious physical aggression. The book’s conceptual confusions and anti-men biases underscore primate gynocentrism. Primatology in this book unintentionally helps to explain highly disproportionate criminalization of men through sex-biased social concern.

male orangutan pondering humans' views of sexual coercion

In recent decades, primatology has recognized that male and female sexual interests differ. Sex differences are real. Female primates typically have greater direct parental investment than do male primates. Male primates typically are more eager to have sex. Female primates live longer, are less likely to be killed, and are more socially valued. These facts are reasonably associated in an evolutionary perspective. They imply conflict between females and males within the fundamental, universal evolutionary interest in reproduction.

In Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans, primatologists conceptually criminalized non-human primate males physically forcing females to have sex. Non-human primates commonly fight physically with each other over food, social rank, physical position, and other interests. Some non-human primates kill and eat other animals. Implicitly assuming non-physical sexual decision-making to be normative in non-human primates is as silly as assuming vegetarianism to be normative for non-human primates. The underlying logic isn’t reasoned human ethics applied to non-human primates. The underlying logic is gynocentrism imposed on non-human primates to serve human symbolic interests.

While the primatologists conceptually criminalized male non-human primates physically pursuing their sexual interests, primatologists favor such criminalization only with words. Most primatologists support minimizing disruptive intrusions on non-human primates living in the wild. Primatologists have done nothing to organize policing and punishment of wild male non-human primates engaging in what they have labeled sexual coercion. In high-income countries, hunters, who are predominately men, tend to prefer to kill male animals.[2] Primatologists haven’t advocated increasing hunting to lessen male sexual coercion of female non-human primates. In actual practice, conceptually criminalizing male non-human primates serves to strengthen women’s social dominance and highly disproportionate criminalization of men in human societies.

Influential, fallacious claims about evolutionary psychology and human violence have supported highly disproportionate criminalization of men. Women and men roughly equally victimize each other physically in domestic relations. Men’s assaults against their wives don’t have any general implications for evolutionary psychology.[3]  Absurdly false claims about men’s violence against women have persisted in public discourse. That reality is significant for understanding evolutionary psychology. Widespread belief in false claims about violence against women has deep roots in the evolved psychology of men and women. Primatology should bring that human insight to study of non-human primates.

Men, like women, have sexual interests. Men have an evolutionary interest in fathering biological offspring that in turn produce biological offspring. That interest is misrepresented as men’s “proprietary view of women’s sexuality and reproductive capacity.”[4] That’s gynocentric rhetoric no better than conceptually criminalizing non-human primates physically pursing their sexual interests.  Sexuality and reproductive capacity aren’t the property of women or men. Sexuality and reproductive capacity flourish in a network of social relations encompassing men and women and reasonably accommodating their differing interests.

Men, for good evolutionary reasons, are interested in knowing their biological offspring. Men have always recognize their risk of being cuckolded. They have naturally and not completely successfully sought to limit their cuckoldry risk. Today, cuckolding men is institutionalized in grotesquely unjust legal procedures for establishing paternity. In addition, dominant political interests have greatly constrained men’s ability to acquire highly reliable paternity information through modern DNA testing. Mothers’ interests in men’s financial resources have overwhelmingly dominated men’s interest in ascertaining biological paternity. Men are now imprisoned, without the benefit of counsel, for being too poor to pay state-mandated financial child-support obligations. Men’s sexual and reproductive interests receive remarkably little weight in modern human societies.

In addition to supporting social injustice, misandristic misrepresentations of men’s interests foster fundamental evolutionary misunderstandings. Influential contributors to Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans declared in their contribution, “human male fitness is and always has been limited primarily by access to the reproductive efforts of fertile women.”[5] That’s wrong by many orders of magnitude. From about 2000 years ago to 1000 years ago, world human population was about 250,000 persons. World population is now about 6 billion persons.[6] What changed in the last millennium wasn’t that women decided to increase their reproductive efforts. Inventions that almost exclusively men made allowed massive human population growth to occur.

With its gynocentric conceptual framework, Sexual Coercion in Primates and Humans fails to provide insight into fundamental issues. Most sexual activity in non-human primates doesn’t involve males physically forcing females to have sex.[7] That reality suggests that non-human primates have evolved means to limit physical confrontations over sexual activity. Plausible mechanisms are stress, pleasure, and trust. Physical confrontations create stress and physical risks, including to the prevailing animal. From an evolutionary perspective, physical confrontations hurting the fitness of one’s sexual partner is disadvantageous. Animals, including humans, have biological mechanisms that associate sex with pleasure. Those mechanisms are less operative in hostile sexual encounters. Hostile sexual encounters are also likely to undermine trust between animals. Reducing trust limits opportunities for further interaction and lessens stability of the larger social group. Biological mechanisms common across primates probably reduce hostile sexual encounters and encourage mutually desired ones much more than do human practices of demonizing, criminalizing, and incarcerating men.

Primatology can provide a valuable critical perspective on human behavior. Humans show relatively little concern about violence against men.[8] Humans are highly reluctant to acknowledge that roughly equal numbers of men and women are victims of sexual coercion.[9] Hugely disparate imprisonment of men generates little social concern even in societies where gender equality is a major concern in public discussion. These fundamental, troubling facts should be recognized in intellectually serious, ethically engaged primatology that serves to make human societies more humane.

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[1] The editors obviously knew that primates include humans. They specifically displayed that elementary knowledge in the last words of the introductory chapter: “in both humans and nonhuman primates.” Muller, Kahlenberg & Wrangham (2009) p. 18. The editors also displayed that elementary knowledge in the title of their concluding chapter, in the first paragraph of that chapter, and in the last sentence of that chapter. Wrangham & Muller (2009) pp. 451, 466.

[2] The explanation isn’t just devaluation of men’s lives projected onto other animals. Hunters in part prefer to kill male animals because male animals tend to be larger and to have distinctive ornaments.

[3] Wilson & Daly (2009) promotes misandristic misunderstanding of domestic violence. Apparently presuming reader ignorance, id., p. 272, declared in the context of wife beating:

In an oft-repeated phrase, Strauss (1980) maintained that “a marriage license is a hitting license.”

For nearly three decades, Murray Strauss and other family violence researchers have been presenting data showing gender symmetry in physical aggression among intimate partners.

[4] Wilson & Daly (2009) pp. 274-80. Wilson and Daly have been peddling this idea at least since Wilson & Daly (1992). The 2009 publication repeats nearly verbatim a widely disseminated claim from the 1992 publication:

In proposing that men take a proprietary view of women’s sexuality and reproductive capacity, we mean that men are motivated to lay claim to particular women as songbirds lay claim to territories, as leopards lay claim to a kill, or as people of both sexes lay claim to valuables.

Wilson & Daly (2009) p. 275. Cf. Wilson & Daly (1992) p. 289. Beyond its misandristic rhetoric, this claim means not much more than that men, like other organisms, have an interest in reproducing biologically.  One could with equal reason declare:

In proposing that women take a proprietary view of men’s sexuality and productive capacity, we mean that women are motivated to lay claim to particular men as songbirds lay claim to territories, as leopards lay claim to a kill, or as people of both sexes lay claim to valuables.

Current laws imposing child-support on men for doing nothing more than having consensual sex underscore current state support for proprietary claims on men based on nothing more than their sexual activity.

[5] Wilson & Daly (2009) p. 275.

[6] For estimates of world population across the past two millennium, Maddison (2001) pp. 231, 241.

[7] Across primates, males physically forcing females to have sex seems to be most common among orangutans. The share of forced copulations varies widely by local population and male type (flanged vs. unflanged). A rough median figure is 50%. Knott (2009) p.86, Fig. 4.2. Although copulations are physically forced, “the degree of physical wounding is extremely low”; “severe wounding of females has never been reported.” Id. p. 82. Forced copulations are a very small share of total copulations for other primates, including humans.

[8] Relatively little concern about violence against men has a chimpanzee parallel in Muller, Kahlengerg & Wrangham’s chapter, entitled “Male Aggression against Females and Sexual Coercion in Chimpanzees” (Ch. 8). It declares:

There are few published data on the rates of intersexual aggression in chimpanzees, but in our own site of Kanyawara, in Uganda’s Kibale National Park, females are as likely as males to be victims of male aggression.

Id. p. 184. The prevalence of false claims about domestic violence against women shows that manipulating data on aggression against females is relative easy. Manipulating data on deaths is more difficult. Among chimpanzees, four times as many males die from aggression as do females. Muller, Kahlengerg & Wrangham’s chapter obscures that large sex disparity in chimpanzee victimization from lethal aggression.

[9] Like much scholarship, Muller & Wrangham (2009) shows no concern for sexual coercion of males. In Ch. 14, p. 355, Melissa Emery Thompson defines rape to exclude men being raped. In Ch. 16, Tommaso Paoli described a survey he administered about bonobos. The survey asked only about male bonobos coercing females to have sex. No such cases were reported. Several respondents on their own initiative reported cases of females sexually coercing males. Reporting on the bonobo colony at Columbus Zoo, Monique Fortunato stated:

I have seen some ‘sexual coercion’ by females to males — not in the strictest sense, in which there are beatings and/or forced copulation, but there is one female in particular that makes very strong advances to males for oral or manual stimulation.

Amy Pollick reported many cases of female sexual coercion of a male bonobo:

I saw plenty of sexual coercion in the San Diego Zoo bonobos — mostly just one female (Lolita) towards one male (Junior). Lolita (second-ranking female) must have done it 40 times in 114 hours of observation, wheras the third-ranking female just 3 times.

Id. p. 414.  In humans, female sexual coercion of males attracts little interest. Voluminous, well-funded work addresses exclusively male sexual coercion of females.

[image] Male breeding orangutan. Thanks to TheBusyBrain and flickr.


Knott, Cheryl D. 2009. “Orangutans: Sexual Coercion with Sexual Violence.” Ch. 4, pp. 81-111, in Muller & Wrangham (2009).

Maddison, Angus. 2001. The world economy: a millennial perspective. Paris, France: Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Muller, Martin N., Sonya M. Kahlenberg, and Richard W. Wrangham. 2009. “Male Aggression and Sexual Coercion of Females in Primates.” Ch. 1, pp. 3-22, in Muller and Wrangham (2009).

Muller, Martin N., and Richard W. Wrangham. 2009. Sexual coercion in primates and humans: an evolutionary perspective on male aggression against females. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Wilson, Margo and Martin Daly. 1992. “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Chattel.” Ch. 7, pp. 289-322, in J.H. Barkow, L. Cosmides, J. Tooby, eds. The Adapted Mind: Evolutionary psychology and the generation of culture. Oxford University Press. New York.

Wilson, Margo and Martin Daly. 2009. “Coercive Violence by Human Males against Their Female Partners.” Ch. 11, pp. 271-291, in Muller and Wrangham (2009).

Wrangham, Richard W. and Martin N. Muller. 2009. “Sexual Coercion in Humans and Other Primates: The Road Ahead.” Ch. 18, pp. 451-468, in Muller and Wrangham (2009).

Dhuoda for fathers deprived of custody of their children

Dhuoda's vision of fathers' love for their children

In November 30, 841,in the European Carolingian kingdom, the duchess Dhuoda began writing a book for her eldest child William. She was living apart from her husband and without physical custody of her children. William, fifteen-years old, had been placed in the sworn service of the king in violent circumstances five months earlier. Dhuoda’s second child, also a son, had been born eight months earlier. Her husband had quickly taken the baby from her to be under his protection.[1] Dhuoda loved her sons and longed to be with them. Her book has poignant immediacy today for the many fathers deprived of physical custody of their children.

Like many fathers today, Dhuoda grieved deeply from being deprived of her children. Her book includes impersonal observations and recognizes the objective value of being useful:

I have observed that most women in this world take joy in their children. But, my son William, I see myself, Dhuoda, living separated and far away from you. For this reason I am somewhat ill at ease, and eager to be useful to you. I am happy, therefore, to address this little book to you [2]

Most men take joy in their children and are eager to be useful to them. But parents, women and men, long more deeply to be with their children. Dhuoda wrote to her son:

I have been long deprived of your company, and I dwell in this town because my husband commands it. Though I am happy about the success of his campaigns, I am driven by my longing for you both. … despite the many cares that consume me, this anxiety is foremost in God’s established design — that I see you one day with my own eyes, if such is the Lord’s will. [3]

Husbands legally separated from their wives and deprived of custody of their children might feel similar longing. Beaten down in anti-men family courts and in a culture that treats men as disposable, fathers both yearn to see their children and internalize belief that they don’t deserve that joy:

Much too long, it seems to me
I’ve yearned to gaze on the shape of your face.
If I had the power! But this joy for me is
Undeserved. [4]

The anguish of fathers longing for their children lacks impelling expression in today’s elite culture. Dhuoda’s book, imaginatively read, expands to give fathers’ anguish a powerful voice.

Dhuoda’s charity in anguish was godly. Fathers deprived of custody of their children often have good reasons to be furious at their ex-girlfriends or ex-wives, and at the world. Dhuoda had such reasons with respect to her husband and her society.[5] She nonetheless retained good will toward all. She prayed for her children’s father in her prayer to be re-united with her children:

Grant me, mother of two male children,
my prayer to the loving Creator: may God
Exalt to the heights the father of these children,
and join me to them in the heavenly realm. [6]

She prayed for happiness for her son William and for his father:

May the Almighty God, of whom — despite my unworthiness — I speak so often, render you, together with your father Bernard, my seigniorial lord, happy and cheerful in the present world. May He give you prosperity in all things. And once the course of this life is ended, may He see to it that you joyously enter heaven with the saints.

Dhuoda’s relationship with her husband Bernard was strained. She was concerned that he might divorce from her. Yet with periphastic words she invoked blessings even for other children Bernard might have with another woman.[7] In praying to be received at the heavenly banquet, Dhuoda put her children’s father first, and herself, last:

To this banquet and this house, may the kind Lord in His kindness deign to lead your father, along with his children and me as well. Amen.

Bitterness toward her husband had no place in Dhuoda’s heart. Fathers can find in Dhuoda inspiration to relate to their children’s mothers with respect and kindness.

Despite all intervening circumstances, Dhuoda believed that she and her son were irreplaceable in relation to each other. Dhuoda declared to her son:

There is no one like you I leave behind among the living, no one but you to champion my cause.[8]

Dhuoda’s personal characteristics and status in society were irrelevant to what she meant to her son:

I, Dhuoda, although of the frail sex and living unworthily among women who are worthy, I am nonetheless your mother, my son William. It is to you that the words of my handcraft are now addressed.

Dhuoda’s words would apply equally well today to David and his daughter Wilma:

I, David, although of the disposable sex and living unworthily among men who are worthy, I am nonetheless your father, my daughter Wilma. It is to you that the words of my handcraft are now addressed.

In family courts, welfare agencies, and prisons and jails, fathers are crushed in systems that relate to them as cases in a queue of cases. But a father’s relationship to his child cannot be transferred to another.

Just as a father’s support for his child goes far beyond paying money to the child’s mother, Dhuoda’s support for her son was all-encompassing. Dhuoda wanted her son to be a perfect man. She wanted to be his mentor in all things.[9] These aspirations reflect, not her seeking to dominate him and determine his life, but the breadth of her love for him. In good times and bad, Dhuoda wanted to be there for her son: “In every eventuality I stand by your side.”[10] Dhuoda wrote the book and sent it to her son so that she could always be with him:

Dhuoda is always here to exhort you, my son, but in anticipation of the day when I shall no longer be with you, you have here as a memento of me this little book of moral counsels.[11]

Dhuoda’s book offers much more than moral advice. It’s a little book in the sense that she hand-wrote it for her son Williams’ hands. It’s a huge book in the sense that with it Dhuoda seeks to give William all that she possibly can. Dhuoda urged William to offer God continually in prayer “a sweet gift of honey and honeycomb.” Fearing that she would not live to see her son’s face again, she offered him her handcraft of words:

Here’s a kind of sweet brew with honeycomb mixed
As food for your lips: sip it always, I bid you.[12]

Dhuoda loved her son as the son was to love God. In Christian understanding, there is no greater love.

Many fathers today can find in Dhuoda’s text profound understanding and inspiration. Dhuoda’s great work of handcraft is wonderfully fecund.

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[1] Dhuoda’s second child was taken from her before the child was even baptized and named. Liber manualis, Preface & 1.7, Thiébaux (1998) pp. 51, 71.

[2] Dhuoda, Liber manualis, In the name of the Holy Trinity (prefatory text section), from Latin trans. Thiébaux (1998) p. 43. All subsequent quotations of Liber Manualis are from Thiébaux’s translation, cited by book.section and page number, with some minor changes that I’ve made in accordance with my sense of a better translation.

[3] Id. Preface, p. 51.

[4] Id. 10.2, p. 223.

[5] Dhuoda might have felt that her husband, who apparently was away from her for long periods of time, was insufficiently attentive to her wants and needs. In addition, he gave her the difficult and expensive responsibility of maintaining the Carolingian kingdom’s frontier at the Spanish March. Id 104. p. 227.

[6] Id. Verse inscription (preface) p. 47. Subsequent quotes in the above paragraph are from 1.7, p. 71; 2.2 p. 77. In Thiébaux’s translation, I’ve replaced “sire” with “father,” and “offspring” with “children.”

[7] On Dhuoda’s fear of divorce, 10.4, p. 227. After calling down blessing on her children and explicitly mentioning the birth of her second child, Dhuoda wrote vaguely:

Quod si plus, Deo auxiliante, fuerint, id consequantur una vobiscum, quod a me invocatum est supra {And if more, with God’s help, be subsequently among you, may the others also obtain what I have asked above}

2.3, p. 81. Neel (1991), p. 120, n. 31, comments here, “Dhuoda means if she has grandchildren.” Dhuoda could also have meant her having another child. The chronicle of Ademar of Chabannes indicates that Dhuoda had a daughter born in 844 or 845. Thiébaux (1998), introduction, p. 7. Dhuoda’s words could also mean her husband having another child with another woman. Dhuoda’s unnecessarily indirect phrasing suggests that she considered that possibility.

[8] Liber manualis, 10.4, p. 227. The subsequent quote is from id., Prologue, pp. 47-8.

[9] After providing text for her epitaph and just before the closing of her book, Dhuoda includes a section on reading Psalms. Id. 11.1, pp. 232-7. Her text there adapts Alcuin’s preface to a treatise on the use of Psalms, De Psalmorum usu liber (available in Patrologia Latina, v. 101, cols. 465-68). Dhuoda punctuated Alcuin’s points with eiusdem (“another thing”) and item (“furthermore”). That verbal punctuation of Alcuin’s teaching emphasizes Dhuoda’s concern to give William as much as she can.

[10] Liber Manualis, 9.5, p. 215.

[11] Id. 1.7, pp. 69-71.

[12] Id 10.1, p. 219. The previous quote describes offering daily Psalms to God. Id. 11.1, p. 235.

[image] Tomonori Toyofuku, Caelum II, detail. 1963, wood. Work 66,4999, Hirshhorn Museum.


Neel, Carol, trans. 1991. Dhuoda. Handbook for William: a Carolingian woman’s counsel for her son. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Thiébaux, Marcelle, trans. 1998. Dhuoda, Handbook for her Warrior Son: Liber manualis. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Hildegard of Bingen on men’s genitals and semen

Hildegard of Bingen's vision of sexuality
In our benighted age, masculinity is described as toxic, men are labeled as rapists for receiving true love, and doctors of public health discuss masculinity as a pathology to be cured to raise men’s average lifespan to equality with women’s. Hildegard of Bingen, a learned, visionary woman leader in twelfth-century Europe, had a much more enlightened understanding of men’s genitals, semen, and men’s sexuality. In Causae et curae, Hildegard depicted men’s sexuality as awesome and holy in its proper, loving context.[1]

Hildegard was a Christian woman religious with mystical vision and wide learning. She entered a community of nuns as a young girl. She lived in that community for her whole life. The modern stereotype of the nun narrowly enclosed in space and mind describes in reverse Hildegard’s life. She wrote liturgical songs and poems along with theological, botanical, and medicinal texts. She counseled bishops, kings, and emperors. She was famous for her visionary understanding. Within her unfathomable wisdom, she profoundly appreciated men’s sexuality.

Hildegard described men’s genitals as tabernacles, a strong structure, and a blossoming flower. With her visionary intuition, she moved from a general description of virile men to a kaleidoscopic description of men’s genital structure and function:

the wind that is in their loins is more fiery than windy. It has two tabernacles under its command into which it blows as a pair of bellows. These tabernacles surround the stem of all of the man’s powers, like small buildings put up next to a tower for its defense. For that reason there are two, so that they may more strongly surround the stem, make it firm and hold it and, further, so that they may capture more strongly and aptly the aforementioned wind and attract and emit it in an even manner, like two pairs of bellows blowing jointly into a fire. Thus when they erect the stem in its power, they hold it strongly. In this way the stem blossoms through its offspring.[2]

Wind in medieval thought is connected to the Holy Spirit. A tabernacle is a place of divine presence. Hildegard’s beautiful and poetic description of men’s genitals is grounded in biological reality, but not limited to that reality. Demeaning, repulsive descriptions of men’s genitals occur in medieval literature. Violence against men’s genitals — men’s “junk” — is a staple of modern popular jokes. Hildegard had humane appreciation for masculine biology.[3]

Hildegard appreciated the urgency of men’s sexual passion. She described men’s sexual passion as “like the fire of blazing mountains ” Shifting images, men can be like a ship in a great storm:

As a ship is endangered by great waves, surging in rivers from strong winds and storms, so that at times it can barely make headway and survive, so too in the storm of pleasure man’s nature can only with difficulty be held in check and restrained.

Fire and water are abstractly contrasting elements. But they are closely connected in Hildegard’s appreciation for men’s sexuality:

When the storm of lust surges in a male, it turns around in him like a mill. For his loins are like a forge which the marrow provides with fire. This forge then pours the fire into the male’s genital area and makes it burn strongly.[4]

Heat and fluid have natural correspondents in men’s sexual biology. Hildegard’s figures of men’s sexuality are both realistic and imaginative.

Hildegard did not romanticize masculine biology. In Hildegard’s Christian understanding, Adam’s transgression against God’s command introduced evil into human being. Hildegard declared:

With the taste for evil the blood of Adam’s children was changed into the poison of semen from which humans’ offspring are propagated.[5]

She described bitter, black bile as originating from Adam’s semen and generating evil. She also described semen as a poisonous foam within men’s bodies.[6] Her description of melancholic men is horrifying:

they do not experience proper love for anyone but are bitter, greedy, foolish, and overflowing with lust. With women they are without restraint like asses. … the embrace of women that they should have in a thoughtful manner is tortuous, hateful and deadly, like that of ravaging wolves. … The wind of sexual pleasure … arrives with a strong, sudden motion, like a wind that suddenly and strongly shakes the entire house. It erects the stem with such tyranny that the stem, which should blossom with blooms, twists vehemently like a viper, with the malice a deadly and murderous viper feels toward its offspring, because the Devil’s suggestion is so strongly at play in the lust of these men, that they would kill a woman in intercourse if they could since there is no love or tenderness in them.[7]

In Hildegard’s thinking, ejaculation is necessary for men to purify their bodies from the accumulating poison of semen. Yet some men excessively seek sexual intercourse with women and engage in such intercourse abusively.

In loving sexual intercourse, poisonous semen becomes life-giving. Hildegard understood conception as the woman’s body warming the man’s poisonous semen and transforming it into the blood of new life. Hildegard declared that conception will occur only if the sexual act is consensual.[8] In reality in the U.S. today, women rape men about as often as men rape women, and some rapes do result in pregnancies. Separating rape from conception seems to have been for Hildegard poetic rhetoric to deny evil acts the power of giving the blessing of new life. Hildegard gave biological significance not just to consent but also to mutual love in sexual intercourse. One-sided love in consensual sexual intercourse produces children who are bitter and lacking in virtue. Mutual love in sexual intercourse produces virtuous children.[9]

In contrast to her figure of poisonous semen, Hildegard also figured semen as a natural blessing. She declared that a man with reproductive strength “produces semen as the sun brings forth light.” Semen in that figure is not poisonous, but life-giving. Another cosmic figure of semen is more elaborate:

In the summertime, as a result of the heat, when fire and air complete their mutual duties in an appropriate mixing behavior, if there is not stormy weather, they sweat the dew out into the mild and clear air. The dew pours out fertility and productivity like semen full of blessings for the fruitful use of the earth.[10]

Just as effects of sexual intercourse are qualified with mutuality and appropriateness, so too is the mixing of fire and air to produce dew. In her Scivias, Hildegard used dew in a simile for the vivification of the infant in the womb:

at the divinely appointed time the infant in the maternal womb receives a spirit, and shows by the movements of its body that it lives, just as the earth opens and brings forth the flowers of its use when the dew falls on it.[11]

Dew in that figure could be understood as moisture rather than seed. Similarly, the Virgin Mary’s flesh rejoiced at the incarnation “just as a blade of grass on which the dew has fall’n / viridity within it to infuse.”[12] Refiguring dew from moisture to seed, Hildegard indicated the natural, universal blessing of men’s sexuality for the world.

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[1] Causae et curae has survived in not much more than one manuscript, the Royal Library of Copenhagen’s Ny Kgl. Saml. 90b, probably dating to the mid-13th century. The manuscript contains an explicit attribution to Hildegard of Bingen. She died in 1179. The manuscript includes some material that Hildegard didn’t author. The extent that it includes material that she did author is a matter of scholarly debate. Moulinier & Berndt (2003), a critical edition of the work, argues that Hildegard wrote little of Causae et curae. That’s currently the predominate scholarly opinion. Sweet (2006), Ch. 2, argues that Hildegard wrote most of it. I believe that the material I’m discussing was either written by Hildegard, or by women students of hers. My references to Hildegard can be interpreted more precisely in that sense.

[2] Causae et curae, 52a, Kaiser (1903) p. 70, ll 23-34, from Latin trans. Berger (1999) p. 58. For tabernacula, id. translates “tents”. I’ve used “tabernacles”. Hildegard elsewhere remarks:

If a man no longer has these two powers {testicles}, either because he has lost them by chance in a natural way or through castration, he has no more manhood and no more masculine storm of passion that erects the member to its full strength. Hence his member cannot be raised to plow the woman like the earth because he is cut free from the storm of his power which should strengthen his member as a means to beget offspring. In the same way, a plow cannot root up the earth when it has no ploughshare.

Causae et curae, from Latin trans. Palmquist, Kulas & Madigan (1994) p. 89. The Romance of the Rose later took up the importance of plowing.

[3] Hildegard recognized the possibility of men ejaculating in their sleep. She understood that men suffer from sexual excitement that doesn’t result in ejaculation. Id. 105b, pp. 54-5. She offered medicine “for the harmful holding back of a semen emission,” “for a swelling in the testicles,” and for sterility. Palmquist, Kulas & Madigan (1994) pp. 171, 160-1.

[4] Causae et curae, 56b, trans. Berger (1999) p. 62. The previous two quotes in the above paragraph are from id. 104b, p. 53; 51a, p. 57. All subsequent quotes are cited by manuscript folio and page in Berger’s translation, unless otherwise noted.

[5] Id. 26a, p. 39.

[6] Id. 27b, p. 39 (black bile); 43b, p. 44 (semen as poisonous foam). According to Hildegard, men’s semen is like foam on boiling water:

Boiling with the ardor and heat of lust, human blood emits foam which we call semen. This is like a pot that, placed over a fire, emits foam from the water because of the fire’s fervor.

Id. 23b-24a, p. 51.

[7] Id. 54a-55a, p. 60.

[8] Id. 43-44a-, p. 44; 78b, p. 81 (warming semen); 43b, p. 43 (consent necessary).

[9] Id. 25b-26a, pp. 51-2.

[10] Causae et curae, Latin in Kaiser (1903) p. 40, ll. 27-32, trans. Palmquist, Kulas & Madigan (1994) p. 36, adapted slightly. Newman (1987), pp. 134-8, doesn’t recognize this blessing of semen.

[11] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, I.4.16, from Latin trans. Hart & Bishop (1990) p. 119.

[12] Hildegard of Bingen, Ave generosa, 6.2 (Hymn to the Virgin).

[image] Hildegard of Bingen, Scivias, Vision I.3, illumination from Meister des Hildegardis-Codex, c. 1165. Thanks to BorgQueen and Wikicommons.


Berger, Margret. 1999. Hildegard of Bingen: on natural philosophy and medicine: selections from Cause et cure. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer.

Hart, Columba and Jane Bishop. 1990. Hildegard of Bingen. Scivias. New York: Paulist Press.

Kaiser, Paul, ed. 1903. Hildegard of Bingen. Hildergardis Causae et curae. Lipsiae: in aedibus B.G. Teubneri.

Moulinier, Laurence and Rainer Berndt. 2003. Hildegard of Bingen. Beate Hildegardis Cause et cure. Berlin: Akademie Verlag.

Newman, Barbara. 1987. Sister of wisdom: St. Hildegard’s theology of the feminine. Aldershot: Scolar.

Palmquist, Mary, John S. Kulas, and Patrick Madigan, trans. 1994. Hildegard of Bingen. Holistic Healing. Collegeville, Minn: Liturgical Press.{English translation from German translation of Latin}

Sweet, Victoria. 2006. Rooted in the earth, rooted in the sky: Hildegard of Bingen and premodern medicine. New York: Routledge.

medieval women’s love poetry for men’s learning

While women enjoy reading fiction much more than men do, men could make their tools more useful with study of medieval women’s love poetry. Men struggling to find love commonly look to women for guidance. But understanding what women say and write about love requires literary sophistication that many men lack. Studying medieval women’s love poetry can help men to gain needed literary sophistication.

Medieval women’s love poetry tells men what women want, but only if men are discerning readers. Consider a poem that a medieval woman in a convent wrote:

We love only those men whom prudent Excellence has moulded,
whom Measure has advised to look on her with deference …
Ovid, that knight of the unchaste Amours, has tricked you,
persuading you to love that poem
by which unhappy men are seduced, and not made finer …
A lady’s grace will grant whatever is honourable —
this she will give to one who always asks fittingly.[1]

That’s poetic fiction. Ovid tells the truth. Men must show that they cannot easily be tricked. Women will accept resources from beta-men providers, but they love alphas. The most numerous alphas, and the types most accessible to ordinary men, are jerks, badboys, and rogues. Some men complain bitterly about women, just as some women complain bitterly about men. Learning to appreciate fiction is a better way. Pretend to be a jerk, badboy, or rogue to stir a woman’s desire.

Testing is different in medieval women’s words than in modern science. Consider another medieval poem that another nun wrote:

Let men whom lewdness delights depart from our company —
if you should be of that sort, stay away!
Even men tested in a thousand ways are only just admitted …
As for those to whom Excellence wants us to give our pledge …
let them be duly refined, with manners of distinction. …
For him who has acquired a name for courtesy like our own,
our maidenly company desires the grace of joy.[2]

The modern empirical science of seduction recognizes the central concern of this poem as “shit-testing.” That involves a woman hurling shit (unwelcoming, challenging, dismissive words) at a man to see how he responds. Learned authorities in seduction recommend responding to shit tests illogically, laconically, and lewdly:

Question: “You are not like other men of refinement, courtesy, and chivalry. Why didn’t you remove your hat when your entered our convent?”
Answer: “i don’t wanna get you pregnant

Question: “What is your parentage?”
Answer: 8=====D~~ {only possible with modern texting technology}

Statement: “You’re not in the Duke’s favor.”
Response: “gay”

If this knowledge had been more widely available to medieval men, convents would have become nurseries, the Archpriest of Hita would have never written Libro de buen amor, and the population explosion associated with the rise of mixed-sex factory work would have occurred centuries earlier. It’s a matter of literary sophistication. Men pass women’s thousands of tests with strong verbal subterfuge.

Medieval women’s love poetry depreciates the value of child-bearing to men. In a medieval poem, the two sisters Alais and Yselda address the more knowing Lady Corenza. Alais says:

Lady Carenza, you whose body is so lovely,
give some advice to my sister and me,
and, since you know how to discern what’s better,
advise me as your experience suggests:
Shall I, in your opinion, take a husband,
or shall I stay unmarried? — that would please me,
for I think to breed has little to commend it —
yet it’s too troubling to be husbandless.[3]

Notice that Alais first appeals to Lady Carenza as a woman of bodily beauty and then as a woman of knowledge and experience. In love from men’s immediate perspective, bodily beauty is paramount. Being husbandless is troubling to Alais because she has no one to assign to household chores. She also has to teach again and again new men how to please her in bed. Yet why would she think that “to breed has little to commend it”? Her sister Yselda elaborates:

Lady Carenza, I’d enjoy taking a husband,
and yet I think having children is a penance —
for after that the breasts will hang right down,
and the belly be wrinkled and wearisome.[4]

In despising the bodily effects of pregnancy, this poem is similar to Aelred of Rievaulx’s medieval account of the nun of Watton’s miraculously removed pregnancy. When women age, their breasts tend to hang down and their bellies wrinkle. Men experience similar effects of aging. Beauty fades. Children are forever. If a woman doesn’t understand those realities, a man should move on to another.

Medieval love poetry teaches men that a loyal woman always remembers her man’s high value. Making clear one’s high value to a woman doesn’t come easily to Christian men, who strive to be humble and compliant (“like a lamb led to the slaughter…”). Good men know that pride is a great sin. They must develop an evil spite for the sake of love. The medieval woman poet Comtessa de Dia provided an instructive lament. She sang:

I have to sing of what I would not wish,
so bitter do I feel about him whose love I am,
as I love him more than anything there is;
with him, grace and courtesy are no avail to me,
nor my beauty, merit or understanding,
for I am deceived and am betrayed as much
as I would rightly be had I been unwelcoming.[5]

Praising a woman’s grace, courtesy, beauty, merit, or understanding doesn’t earn her ardent love. Women who claim otherwise are deceiving and betraying themselves. A high-value man isn’t welcoming to the woman he wants to love. He welcomes others. He doesn’t want to be her friend. He makes her strive to be a friend to him:

Friend, comfort me in this — that I never failed you
through any behavior of mine;
rather, I love you more than Seguis loved Valensa,
and it delights me that I vanquish you in loving,
my friend, for you are the most excellent.
To me you show arrogance in words and presence,
and are well-disposed towards everybody else.

It amazes me that your being turns to proudness
with me, friend — and for this I am right to grieve:
it is not fair that another love takes you from me,
however she may address or welcome you; —
and remember how it was at the beginning
of our love … God forbid
that the separation should be fault of mine!

The great merit that shelters in your person,
and the rich worth you have, disquiet me —
since there’s no woman, far or near,
who, if she would love, does not submit to you;

The reward for your maintaining your high value to her is her loyalty to you:

yet you, my friend, have enough discernment
to know who is the loyalest.
And remember our understanding.

My worth and my nobility must speak for me,
and my beauty, and still more my loyal heart [6]

You must stay the course and pass the test:

and so I send you, where you are staying,
this song, which shall be my messenger;
and I want to know, my fair gentle friend,
why you are so hard and strange with me —
I don’t know if it is pride or evil spite.

But I also want you to tell him, messenger,
that many suffer great loss through too great pride.

She will continue to love you loyally if you respond rightly:

be here late tomorrow evening bring wine [7]

Such literary sophistication is difficult for most men to understand and learn. The difficulty must be overcome.

Medieval women’s love poetry tends to be regarded as an arcane study. It shouldn’t be. Understanding medieval women’s love poetry teaches men how to secure enduring pleasure in a woman’s love.

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[1] …cum matre Cupido, ll. 8-9, 18-19, 24-25, from Latin trans. Dronke (1984) p. 92. This poem is among love-verses probably from Regensburg (in present-day Bavaria, Germany). It is in the single, chaotic manuscript, Munich, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, MS Clm 17142. For full Latin text and English translation, Dronke (1968) vol. II, XXXI, pp. 433-4. The Regensburg love verses were probably written late in the eleventh century. They are from young women in a convent to their cleric-teacher from Liège. He apparently was pursuing amorous affairs with his students. For additional discussion, Dronke (1968) vol. I, pp. 221-9.

[2] Hunc mihi Mercurius florem dedit ingeniosus, ll 5-7, 9, 12, 16-17, from Latin trans. Dronke (1984) p. 92; full Latin text and English translation, Dronke (1968) vol. II, XVII, p. 426. This is another love-verse from Regensburg,

[3] Na Carenza al bel cors avinen, excerpt, from Occitan trans. Dronke (1984) p. 101. Rialto provides the Occitan text and Linda Paterson’s prose translaton of the whole poem. Paterson’s translation is similar to Dronke’s. The poem survives in only garbled form in only one manuscript. Other editors assign lines to voices differently. See, e.g. Paden & Paden (2007) p. 151. The poem probably dates to the late twelfth or early thirteenth century. Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Comtessa de Dia (probably twelfth century), A chantar m’er de so qu’eu no volria, from Old Provençal trans. Dronke (1984) p. 103. Subsequent quotes above from this poem are from id. The Provençal text and alternate English translations are available here and here. A musical score for the poem has survived. YouTube has some wonderful  performances of the song, including the one above. The liner notes for Robin Snyder’s album La Domna Ditz provides background on Comtessa de Dia:

The powerful Comtessa de Dia states plainly her desire to sleep with someone other than her husband (“Estat ai en greu cossirier”) and advises women not to worry about court gossips (“Ab ioi et ab ioven m’apais”).

The text of A chantar m’er de so qu’eu no volria in those liner notes is missing two stanzas.

[6] Dronke described the Countess as “trying to rationalize irrational emotions.” He perceptively observed:

the rhetoric mirrors the obsessive quality of the lady’s questioning and rebuking: she turns the same thoughts over and over, reverting to them each time with a new attack. Each time we are brought to share her own wonderment more keenly: the injustice of it all — how was it possible?

Dronke (1984) pp. 10-5.

[7] Just to avoid any misunderstanding, this line is not from the medieval poem. I made it up based on my brief study of leading modern seduction authorities.


Dronke, Peter. 1968. Medieval Latin and the rise of European love-lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Dronke, Peter. 1984. Women writers of the Middle Ages: a critical study of texts from Perpetua († 203) to Marguerite Porete († 1310). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Paden, William D., and Frances Freeman Paden. 2007. Troubadour poems from the South of France. Cambridge, UK: D.S. Brewer.