medieval husband fantasy: hardships, comfort & forgiveness

While men wrote most medieval European texts, most of those texts don’t reflect men’s self-consciousness as men. In the gynocentric society that characterizes humans and many other primates, men’s thinking about man and society fundamentally concerns what women want. Le Ménagier de Paris (The Householder of Paris), a book written in French about 1393, was intended to serve a wife. Yet it contains a poignant medieval husband’s fantasy of hardships of work, comforts from a wife, and forgiveness for adultery.

Le Ménagier de Paris is structured as an older husband instructing his young wife on how to care for a husband. The narrator distances the husband from himself by frequently describing the husband as his wife’s subsequent second husband. The narrator describes his instruction as intended to increase his wife’s honor and social status. The husband apparently is reluctant to speak directly of what he wants.

What the narrator wants appears poignantly in a particular evocation of a medieval husband’s fantasy. Providing instruction to his wife in case “you have another husband after me,” the narrator declares:

love your husband’s person carefully. I entreat you to see that he has clean linen, for that is your domain, while the concerns and troubles of men are those outside affairs they must handle, amidst coming and going, running here and there, in rain, wind, snow, and hail, sometimes drenched, sometimes dry, now sweating, now shivering, ill fed, ill lodged, ill shod, and poorly rested. Yet nothing represents a hardship for him, because the thought of his wife’s good care for him upon his return comforts him immensely. The ease, joys, and pleasures he knows she will provide for him herself, or have done for him in her presence, cheer him: removing his shoes in front of a good fire, washing his feet, offering clean shoes and socks, serving plenteous food and drink, respectfully honoring him. After this, she puts him to sleep in white sheets and his nightcap, covered with good furs, and satisfies him with other joys and amusements, intimacies, loves, and secrets about which I remain silent. The next day, she has set out fresh shirts and garments for him. [1]

Here instruction becomes fantasy as a man recalls hardships of his life. It is a medieval husband’s fantasy about the comforts of home.

medieval Castle of Labor from Le Chemin voie de Povreté et de richesse

Hardships in medieval men’s lives were no fantasy. The fourteenth-century French allegory Le Chemin de Povreté et de Richesse (The Way of Poverty and Riches) begins with a newly married couple in bed. The wife was sleeping soundly. The husband was wide awake. A vision appeared to him of persons called Want, Necessity, Penury, and Scarcity. These personifications grabbed him and pummeled him. Then Disquiet, Worry, Distress, and Despair assailed him. Finally a saving lady came to him:

a most noble lady, gracious, upright, pleasant, and fair. She did not seem obstinate but rather gentle and humble toward all. Her body, comely and elegant, bore such noble adornments that surely marked her as a daughter of a king. [2]

She was Reason. Explaining love for her Father and His glorious Mother, the Seven Deadly Sins, and the Seven Works of Mercy, Reason instructed the husband about his salvation. Reason then kissed him and went deep inside him.

Explaining more concretely the value of hardships was a happy family. This family consisted of Good-Heart (the father), Good-Desire (the mother), and Intent-to Do-Well (their son). Good-Heart advised the husband, “you must work hard, sleep little, and stay awake.”[3] Good-Desire in turn advised him to use his time wisely and persevere in good deeds. The husband promised that he would strive to succeed.

The happy family led the husband to the Castle of Labor. There the husband found a mass workforce:

more than a hundred thousand workers toiled throughout the city, each one exerting himself at his designated task. No one was idle. This castle was so noisy with pounding and hammering that one would be hard-pressed to hear God’s thunder. [4]

Within the Castle of Labor the husband met Attention-to-Duty, Mindfulness, and the lady of the castle, Pain. Lady Pain instructed the husband:

perform your assignment gladly and skillfully, and concentrate on what is at hand without daydreaming. And no cheating! Rather, toil so that you sweat profusely by virtue of your exertion. No one should dare relax himself or take it easy here, or he would immediately be tossed out.

The husband diligently went to work:

I dove into my work, applying all my effort — mind and body. I labored like that without respite until bright daylight shone through the window, and then I blew out my candle. I continued to apply myself to my task, without seeking either quitting time or a break, until the breakfast hour — breakfast and dinner being one and the same according to the habit of laborers. … I abandoned myself to my tasks, from top to bottom. All in all, I never acted ineptly, and I worked so strenuously that when I heard the curfew, I rejoiced, because of weariness and weakness from the exertion

After the long workday, the husband was allowed to visit Repose. Known to be a deceitful man, Repose lived within the husband and wife’s home. The husband, who was prudently subservient to his wife, prayed that he get to “the demense of the grand lady Riches,” or at least to Sufficiency.

While medieval husbands understood the importance of hard work and acquiring material goods, their fantasies weren’t narrowly materialistic. Le Ménagier de Paris describes an orphan boy’s attachment to a woman stranger:

If he finds outside the family {step-family} a safe refuge and the help of a woman who welcomes him, taking care to warm him sitting with her by a little fire, to clean and mend his hose, breeches, shirts, and other clothing, subsequently he will follow her and desire her company, wanting to sleep and warm himself between her breasts. Thus will the child cast off his stepmother and stepfather, who beforehand paid no attention to him and now want to take him back and have him again. But that will not happen, for such a child now values more the company of this stranger who considers and cares for him than that of his relatives, who paid no heed to him [5]

Le Ménagier de Paris declares that loving care for an orphan boy and other animals is more powerful than women’s witchcraft:

They wail that the woman has bewitched their child and that because of this spell he cannot leave her, or be happy unless he stays with her. But whatever they say, it is not witchcraft; rather it is due to the love, the courtesies, the intimacies, joys, and pleasures that the woman has shared with him. On my soul, there is no other magic! Assuredly, if you show kindheartedness to a bear, a wolf, or a lion, that same bear, wolf, or lion will follow you.

Just as for an orphan boy, so too for a husband:

my dear, I urge you to bewitch and bewitch again your future husband, and protect him from holes in the roof and smokey fires, and do not quarrel with him, but be sweet, pleasant, and peaceful with him. Make certain that in winter he has a good fire without smoke, and let him slumber, warmly wrapped, cozy between your breasts, and in this way bewitch him. [6]

There’s no question about the narrator’s grasp of reality. Immediately after this description of bewitching, he describes in detail techniques for ridding a bedroom of fleas.

Le Ménagier de Paris imagines ideals of love in ordinary life. A wife cuckolded her husband. On her deathbed, she confessed that one of her three children wasn’t her husband’s child. Her confessor urged her to confess to her husband and beg his forgiveness. That she did. Before she got to the specifics, her husband interrupted her:

“Ho! ho! ho! say no more!” He then kissed her and pardoned her, chiding, “Never speak of this again, nor tell anyone else which of your children it may be, for I want to love them all equally, so that you will not be blamed either during your life or after your death. … Be silent; I do not wish to know any more. [7]

Echoing the story of the monk Abraham’s rescue of his beloved Mary from a brothel, Le Ménagier de Paris also tells of a wife who left her husband for another man. She eventually became a prostitute. Arranging circumstances so as to appear as if she were returning from a pilgrimage to the famous shrine of Santiago de Compostela, the husband invited and welcomed his wife back home.

Men tend to prefer realistic genres of biography, adventurous action, and quests. But men don’t lack personal, emotional fantasies. Men’s fantasies of personal love are merely less commonly expressed and much less socially valued.

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[1] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.7.1, from Old French trans. Greco & Rose (2009) p. 138.

[2] Le Ménagier de Paris 2.1.5 (inserted text of Le Chemin de Povreté et de Richesse), from Old French trans. id. p. 185. Le Chemin de Povreté et de Richesse is also known as Le livre de Povreté et de Richesse and La voie et adresse de pauvreté et de richesse. Jacques Bruyant is thought to have written it in 1342. Bruyant appears to have been a minor official without much literary learning. He probably “lived a difficult life of work and modest achievement.” Epurescu-Pascovici (2013) p. 21.

In France in 1499, Pierre Gringore adapted and abridged Le Chemin de Povreté et de Richesse under the title Chasteau du Labour. Alexander Barclay translated Gringore’s version into English and Wynkyn de Worde printed it in England in 1506 as The Castell of Laboure. Id., Introductory Note, p. 177. On Wynkyn de Worde, see note [3] in my post on the prison of marriage.

[3] Le Chemin de Povreté et de Richesse, Greco & Rose (2009) p. 202.

[4] Id. p. 204. The subsequent three quotes are from id. pp. 205-6, 208. The first cited quote above indicates medieval appreciation for large-scale division of labor. The idea of division of labor is central to Adam Smith’s Wealth of Nations (1776). Epurescu-Pascovici (2013) discusses ways in which Le Chemin de Povreté et de Richesse represents “modern” ideas of individual agency, practical rationality, and mass labor.

[5] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.7.2, trans. Greco & Rose (2009) pp. 138-9. The subsequent quote is from id.

[6] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.7.3, trans. id. p. 139. Greco & Rose highlight “the dark contours of this picture of a wife in charge of the pleasure of others.” They declared, “neither of us has … taken to heart any of the advice on how to be ‘good’ wives.” Id. Introduction, p. 13; Preface, p. xi.

On proverbial motivations for a man to leave his home, see Proverbs 19:13, 219; Isaiah 9:18. In his twelfth-century treatise De miseria humane conditionis (On the misery of the the human condition), Lothario Dei Segni wrote:

There are three things which keep a man from staying home: smoke, a leaky roof, and a shrewish wife.

Bk I, Ch. XVII, from Latin trans. Dietz (1969) p. 20. Lothario Dei Segni wrote De miseria humane conditionis about 1195.

[7] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.8.10, trans. id. p. 145. The subsequent story of forgiving adultery is from 1.8.12.

[image] Detail of the Castle of Labor. From Le Livre du Chastel de Labour, illuminated volume of La voie de Povreté ou de Richesse (The Way of Poverty or of Wealth). Paris, 1425-1450. f. 61v, Widener 1 (item no. mcaw010612), Free Library of Philadelphia.


Dietz, Margaret, trans. and Donald Roy Howard, ed. 1969. Lothario Dei Segni. On the misery of the human condition. De miseria humane conditionis. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.

Epurescu-Pascovici, Ionuț. 2013. “Le chemin de povreté et de richesse and the late medieval social imaginary.” French Historical Studies. 36 (1): 19-50.

Greco, Gina L., and Christine M. Rose, ed. and trans. 2009. The good wife’s guide; Le ménagier de Paris: a medieval household book. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

ten medieval wives on their husbands’ penises

snails mating

1    Friends, listen to me
2    Two words or three,
3    And harken to my song;
4    And I shall tell you a tale,
5    How ten wives sat at the pale,
6    And no man was them among.

7    Since we have no other song
8    For us to sing among,
9    Tales let us tell
10    Of our husbands’ ware,
11    Which of them most worthy are
12    Today to take the bell.

13    And I shall now begin with mine:
14    I know the span well and fine,
15    The length of a snail,
16    And ever worse he’s from day to day.
17    To great God ever I pray
18    To storm him with evil hail.

19    The second wife sat her near,
20    And said, “By the Cross, I have a ware
21    That is too so mini:
22    I span him in the morningtide,
23    When he was in his greatest pride,
24    The length of three pennies.

25    How should I be served with that?
26    I wish Gybbe, our gray cat,
27    Would pounce that tiny stick!
28    By Saint Peter all of Rome,
29    I’ve never seen a worse dick
30    Standing ready to prick.”

31    The third wife was full of woes,
32    And said that, “I have one of those
33    That’s nothing when I need;
34    Our man’s britches, when it’s torn,
35    His penis peepeth out forlorn
36    Like a legless centipede:

37    It dangles all within the hair:
38    Such a one I never ere,
39    Mounted up in the crotch-pair.
40    Yet the rascal is hoodless,
41    And of all things, useless!
42    Therein Christ give him care!”

43    The fourth wife of the flock
44    Said, “Our man’s piddlecock
45    Happily would I trade ’em in:
46    He is long, and he is small,
47    And also has the drooping pall;
48    God gave him no strength within!

49    The smallest finger on my hand
50    Is more than he, when he does stand:
51    Alas that I am unshaken!
52    Sadly mounting there to be slaken!
53    He should’ve been a woman
54    Had he been ever born.”

55    The fifth wife was full of joy
56    When she heard her fellow’s annoy,
57    And up she stood straight:
58    “Now you speak of a cock!
59    In all the world there’s no more to mock
60    Than has my bed mate.

61    Our man wanks like a fleeing deer,
62    He empties his cock once a year,
63    Just as does a buck:
64    When men speak of archery,
65    He must stand up close to me,
66    Or else his shot fails to fuck.”

67    The sixth wife’s named Sar;
68    She said: “My husband’s ware
68    Is of good size;
69    He is white as any milk,
70    He is soft as any silk,
71    Yet surely he will not rise.

72    I squeeze him up with my hand,
73    And pray to him that he will stand,
74    And yet he lies still.
75    When I see that all is naught,
76    I think many an angry thought;
77    Only Christ knows my will.”

78    The seventh wife sat on the bench,
79    And she cast her legs awrench,
80    And bade fill her wine:
81    “By Saint James of Gales,
82    In England and in Wales
83    There isn’t worse than mine!

84    When our man comes in,
85    And looks after that sorry pin
86    That should hang between his legs,
87    He is like, by the Cross,
88    A sorry lark brooding in moss
89    Upon two addled eggs.”

90    The eighth wife well knew ways of mates,
91    And said, “Seldom am I sate,
92    And so from many years I well say:
93    When the frost starts to act,
94    Our man’s cock contracts
95    And always goes away.

96    When the cuckoo begins to sing
97    Then the rascal begins to spring,
98    Like a bumblebee;
99    It cowers upon his balls,
100    I know not the worst of all,
101    I curse them all three!”

102    The ninth wife sat them near,
103    And held a span up on high
104    The length of a foot:
105    “Here is a penis of fair length,
106    But he bears a sorry strength —
107    God do him good —

108    I bow him, I bend him,
109    I stroke him, I wend him;
110    The devil him innerve!
111    Be he hot, be he cold,
112    Though I’ve torn him twofold,
113    Yet he will not serve.”

114    The tenth wife began her tale,
115    And said, “I have one of the small,
116    One that was winnowed away.
117    Of all naughts it is naught:
118    Clearly, it wouldn’t be bought,
119    He is not worth a nay.”


The above poem is my modernized English version of a Middle English poem probably from the late-fifteenth century. The conventional title of the poem is A Talk of Ten Wives on Their Husbands’ Ware.[1] Ware means merchandise, and in this poem, the husbands’ penises. The medieval wives almost always refer to their husbands’ penises as he or him. They thus identify their husbands with their husbands’ penises.  The plural pronoun in “our man” tends to generalize a wife’s husband to all husbands.

The medieval wives’ talk occurs in a tavern. In line 5, I’ve used pale for nale (Middle English for tavern) to sustain the rhyme.  According to the poem’s most recent editor, the poem “offers a glimpse into feminine discourses on marital sex.” She describes the poem as “a venue for married women to identify with what must have been very real frustrations.”[2] The poem can thus be understood as an analogue of literature of men’s sexed protest. Benighted by the oppressive ideology of courtly love, men even today tend not to recognize the bawdiness of women’s talk among themselves.

The poem has attracted little scholarly attention. One medieval literature professor recently explained that the poem intrigued her as a nineteen-year old woman. She declared that the poem is “tinged with misogyny that was ripe for critique.” She explained:

it gives us a gaggle of ten women, who become bored and decide to compare and ridicule their husbands. In turn, they make fun of their husbands’ endowment, their sexual performance and their general inadequacy.

In modern literary criticism, misogyny, like patriarchy, covers everything.

The poem is highly repetitive. Its most creative aspect is the different figures the medieval wives use to disparage their husbands’ penises. That disparagement doesn’t reach the extreme of literal castration. Lines 7-10 indicate that the wives complain about their husbands because they know no other songs.

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[1] A glossed version of A Talk of Ten Wives on Their Husbands’ Ware is available online in Salisbury (2002). Its manuscript source is Porkington MS, no. 10 (National Library of Wales at Aberystwyth; now called Brogynton MS II.1), fols. 56v-59v (1453-1500). The lines in that edition are mis-numbered after 68. To maintain common line numbers, the above poem include two lines numbered 68.

[2] Salisbury (2002) Introduction.

[image] Two snails (Helix pomatia) mating. Thanks to Jangle1969 and Wikimedia Commons.


Salisbury, Eve. 2002. The trials and joys of marriage. Kalamazoo, Mich: Published for TEAMS in association with the University of Rochester by Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University.

nude, bathing maidens: classical Arabic poetry and fabliau

three nude, bathing maidens

The most revered poem in classical Arabic literature is the Muʻallaqah of Imruʼ al-Qays. That poem contains outrageous male sexual memories. It generated a story in which nude, bathing maidens pelt with mud a leading classical Arabic poet. From a similar setting of nude, bathing maidens, a medieval European fabliau described a knight’s courtly behavior rewarded with magical power over women’s vaginas and anuses. The classical Arabic story is less interesting as a possible influence than as a touchstone for European cultural vibrancy.

The classical Arabic story is both intricately literary and realistically mimetic. The famous classical Arabic poet al-Farazdaq encountered outside the city nude maidens bathing in a pond. The maidens demanded that he tell them the story about Imruʼ al-Qays and nude maidens bathing in a pond. Al-Faradaq enacted the story of collecting their clothes and refusing to return the clothes until the maidens emerged naked from the water for him to see. But the maidens tricked him into turning his back. Then they ran at him. They pelted him with mud and covered his face, including his eyes, with mud. The maidens recovered their clothes and verbally abused al-Farazdaq. This story, along with the poetry of Imruʼ al-Qays, was preserved within the wide-ranging corpus of classical Arabic literature.[1]

The medieval European fabliau Le Chevalier Qui Fesoit Les Cons Parler (The Knight Who Made Cunts Talk) has a similar setting and similar cultural vibrancy. While traveling through the countryside, an impecunious knight and his squire came across nude maidens bathing in a stream:

Their clothing, right down to their shifts,
they’d hung upon a branch and left
garments made all of beaten gold
and worth a fortune, truth be told [2]

The knight’s squire grabbed the maidens’ clothes and galloped away. The knight pitied the pleading maidens and raced after his squire:

“Hand over now, so help you God,
those clothes; you’ll not carry them off!
To shame these damsels and to scoff
at them would be the height of baseness!”
“Consider rather what the case is,”
Huet {the squire} replies, “and don’t be silly.
They’re worth a hundred pounds, now really,
for richer garments I’ve not seen.
That sum within the next fourteen
years and a half you’d never win,
for all the tournaments you’re in.”

The knight insisted that he would return the maidens’ clothes, for that was the honorable thing to do, no matter how desperately poor he was. The knight thus gave the maidens back their clothes. He didn’t even seize the opportunity to see them naked.

For the knight’s great courtesy, the maidens rewarded him with extraordinary power over women’s bodies. One maiden promised:

Whatever way your path may turn
every woman and female beast
who’ve in their heads two eyes apiece
whom you meet, if you call, their cunts
will have to answer you at once.

The knight was ashamed at that promise. Then another maiden promised him:

Since it was right by reason’s laws
that if the cunt for any cause
should happen to be too obstructed
to answer promptly as instructed,
the asshole should speak in its place,
no matter what shame or disgrace
may come of it, once you have called.

The knight thought that the maidens were mocking him. He returned to his squire and explained how his courtesy had been rewarded with mockery. The squire reminded him that his courtly behavior was foolish.

The low bodily magic that the maidens bestowed on the knight ultimately vindicated his courtesy. The knight and his squire encountered a priest. The squire urged the knight to ask the cunt of the priest’s mare where he was going. The knight inquired of the feminine orifice in the mare’s hide:

What is your master’s destination?
Hide nothing, Mr. Cunt; tell all.

The mare’s cunt responded that the priest was going to visit his concubine. He intended to give her a large amount of money to buy a dress. When the priest heard the revelation of his mare’s cunt, he was struck with fear. He dashed away, dropping his money bag and leaving his well-equipped mare. The knight and the squire were delighted to acquire the priest’s wealth.

When the knight and squire came to stay at a count’s castle, they received further benefits. They received a warm welcome and a large meal. The knight was bedded in a luxurious chamber. Even better, the count’s wife told “one of her maids-in-waiting with charms beyond enumerating”:

if you are willing, go and spend,
for company and for delight,
this night in bed with that same knight
whose coming made us all so glad.
Go lie beside him all unclad
and serve him if he feels the need. [3]

The maid, who dared not object to her lady’s request, went to the knight’s bed, took off her clothes, and stretched out beside him. The knight awoke to the feel of her body. If she were he, and then were now, and they were in college, he might be expelled for sexual assault. But in this medieval fabliau, she wasn’t going to rape him:

I’ll do no harm, but satisfy
you. Come, and I’ll massage your head.

Without affirmative verbal consent, the knight responded sexually:

He held her close in his embrace
and kissed her on the mouth and face,
then put his hands on and caressed
her most delicious, lovely breast,
and, moving down, began to stroke
her cunt, and, as he did, he spoke:
“Now speak up, Mr. Cunt, because
I’m curious to know the cause
that brought your lady here to me.”

The maiden’s cunt revealed that the countess had sent her to the knight’s bed.[4] The maid, hearing her cunt speak, jumped up and ran away naked, clutching her chemise.

When the countess heard her maid’s story, she plotted to thwart the knight’s bodily power. At the meal the next day, the countess revealed that the knight had the power to make cunts talk at his command. All were astonished and impressed. The countess then proposed to wager a large sum of money that her cunt would not be so uncivil as to speak even if the knight commanded so. The knight accepted that bet. The countess then went to her room and stuffed her cunt with cotton. She returned to the dining hall for the test. The knight asked her cunt why she had gone to her room. No sound was heard in reply.

Fearing all was lost, the knight turned to his squire for advice. The squire responded wisely:

If Cunt can’t speak, then in that case
the butt will answer in its place.

The knight asked the countess’s asshole why her cunt wouldn’t respond. Her asshole explained:

it can’t sir,
because it has it muzzle full
either of cotton or of wool
the lady stuffed into her crack
locked in her room a while back.
Had not that wadding been inside,
it certainly would have replied.

Stuffing her cunt full of cotton was unfair. That perhaps was ordinary monthly behavior, but inappropriate in these particular courtly circumstances. The count told his wife to go and take the cotton out of her cunt and then return to the hall. When she did, the knight successfully had her cunt recount how it had been blocked. The knight thus collected a large amount of money from the unrigged wager.

Both classical Arabic poetry and medieval European fabliaux show freedom of expression and imaginative vitality now largely inconceivable in respectable society. In the context of Imruʼ al-Qays’s outrageous sexual exploits, the pelting of al-Farazdaq with mud plausibly represents a backlash against men’s sexual interests. Lovely maidens rewarding a knight with the power to make cunts and assholes talk redeems the knight from subordination to women in courtly love. Both stories thus show cultural dialogue about interests and values. Today, men are pelted with mud and urged to uphold medieval ideals of men’s servitude to women. Only marginal voices dare venture different perspectives. That indicates cultural stagnation.

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[1] The story of al-Farazdaq is translated from Arabic in van Gelder (2013), “Lives of the Poets: al-Farazdaq Tells the Story of Imru’ al-Qays and the Girls at the Pond,” pp. 123-6. The story is probably from the eighth or ninth century GC.

[2] Le Chevalier Qui Fesoit Les Cons Parler (The Knight Who Made Cunts Talk) ll. 117-20, from Old French trans. Dubin (2013) p. 149. Subsequent quotes are from ll. 144-7, 210-4,  223-8, 274-5,  362-7, 386-7, 389-98, 545-6, 554-60, id. pp. 149-75. The fabliau is from the thirteenth century. An abbreviated version of the fabliau is available online in Harley MS 2253 Art. 87 and in print in Fein (2013). The fabliau contains within itself an attribution of it to Garin (Gwaryn / Guerin). The writer probably wasn’t the troubadour Garin lo Brun.

Seeing a person naked wasn’t necessarily embarrassing and sinful for medieval Christians. Christian ascetics honored the ideal nudus nudum Christum sequi (“naked follow the naked Christ”). That phrase became the credo of the Franciscan order formed in the thirteenth century.

[3] Historically, women have commonly served as pimps and go-betweens.

[4] In the Harley MS 2253 version, the knight asks the maiden’s cunt whether she is a virgin. Her cunt responded:

Not at all, lord, certainly!
She’s had more than a hundred
Balls at her rear
That have split her banner!

That response provided in medieval times greater motivation for the women’s embarrassment.

[image] Three nude, bathing maidens. Paul Cézanne, 1879-1882. Held at Petit Palais, Paris. Thanks to Yorck Project and Wikimedia.


Dubin, Nathaniel. 2013. The fabliaux. New York: Liveright.

Fein, Susanna, ed. with David B. Raybin, and Jan M. Ziolkowski, trans. 2014. The complete Harley 2253 Manuscript (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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

fighting against temptation: Gawain’s lessons for men

Gawain, warrior and lover led into temptation

Gawain was half-asleep in the early morning when the lady of the house silently slipped into the guest bedroom and sat close beside him. Gawain pretended to be asleep. He pondered in his conscience what might happen with this beautiful woman. After a long while, he opened his eyes, turned to her, and gestured in wonder:

With chin and cheek full sweet,
Both white and red in blend;
Full lovingly did she him greet
With small laughing lips, as a friend. [1]

Teasing him as an unwary sleeper, she taunted that she would hold him captive in bed. She explained that her husband and his men were far off, the others in the household were asleep, and they were behind a closed, locked door. Gawain responded:

I shall work at your will, and that I well like,
For I yield me utterly, and yearn for grace,
And that is best, as I believe, for I am obliged by need.

Gawain was famous as a courageous warrior and a lover. The lady recounted his renown. She then consented to being forced:

You are welcome to my body,
Your own will to avail;
It behooves me of pure force
Your servant be, and I shall. [2]

Gawain was a Christian. He was an honorable knight. Invoking God, Mary, and Christ, he resisted the temptation of her body by pledging her the pleasure of his speech and promising to serve her with acts of knightly violence against men.

Thus they talked of this and that till midmorning passed,
And ever the lady let on that she loved him much;
The fighter fared with defense, and feigned full fair.

The lady decided to leave. She got up from the bed, and then cuttingly said to him:

that ye be Gawain, it goes against what I know. [3]

What of the famous lover? Gawain disingenuously inquired why she wondered who he was. She questioned his ardor in the guise of courtesy:

One so good as Gawain is rightly considered,
And courtesy enclosed so completely in himself,
Could not easily have lingered so long with a lady,
But he had craved a kiss, by his courtesy,
By some touch of some trifle at some tale’s end.

Gawain responded with utmost nobility:

“I shall kiss at your commandment, as a knight should,
And more, lest he displease you, so plead it no more.”
She comes nearer with that, and catches him in arms,
Bows lovingly down and the liegeman kisses.
Either the other they courteously entrust to Christ.
She goes forth to the door without din more

A man’s best defense against sexual temptation is acting like a self-abnegating servant to women. “As you wish, Buttercup,” tends in reality — medieval and modern — to deflate the sexual desire of women and men.

Gawain fell to the temptation of believing a beautiful woman. Acting as the courtly, servile man, Gawain successfully chilled the lady’s sexual overtures. But she then promised Gawain means of saving his life. She offered him a green girdle — a lace sash she had wrapped around her waist. She declared:

Whatever gallant is girt with this green lace,
So long as he has it neatly fastened about,
There is no horseman under heaven to hew him that could,
For he can not be slain by any stratagem upon earth.

Gawain believed her tale. Gawain forgot Jesus’s admonition:

those who want to save their life will lose it [4]

Gawain took the girdle from the lady and kept it. He later sorrowfully confessed and repented of that fault. Gawain was less than perfect. So too is every human being, even beautiful women. Gawain lamented:

It would be a gain
To love them well and believe them not, if a servant could do so. [5]

As Gawain recognize, such love isn’t possible. Men loving according to courtly ideals tend to believe lies.[6] The lesson for men is to love really, and not believe that beautiful women are any more perfect than men themselves.

Green Knight who tested Gawain

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, this work written in English probably late in the fourteenth century, begins and ends with reference to the destruction of Troy. Thousands of men died fighting over Helen at Troy. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight makes no explicit mention of Helen. Yet it concludes by relating the debacle at Troy to a recurring pattern of history and an exit from that history:

Once the siege and the assault was ceased at Troy,
As it is.
Many adventures here-before
Have fallen such as this.
May He Who bore the crown of thorns
Bring us to his bliss! [7]

The Christian romance is completely unlike a chivalrous knight completely subservient in love to his lady, she who is a person as human as he. Men ultimately resist the temptation of believing beautiful women by aspiring to a higher love.

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[1] Sir Gawain and the Green Knight ll. 1204-7, close translation from Middle English by Benson (2012) p. 91. Subsequent quotes above are from ll. 1214-6, 1237-40, 1280-2, 1293, 1297-1301, 1303-8, 1851-54, 2420-1, 2525-2530, id. pp. 93, 97, 99, 137, 179, 187. Most scholars believe Sir Gawain and the Green Knight to have been written in the late-fourteenth century. Ingledew (2006) pp. 7-12, argues for a mid-fourteenth-century date.

[2] When visiting Gawain in bed the next day, the lady again suggests that he force her sexually:

“By my faith,” quoth the merry one {the lady}, “ye can not be denied,
Ye are stout enough to constrain with strength, if you like,
If any were so churlish that she would deny you.”
“Yea, by God,” quoth Gawain, “good is your speech,
But threat does not thrive in the country where I live,
And each gift that is not given with good will.
I am at your commandment, to kiss when you like,
Ye may take one when you will, and leave when you please

ll. 1495-1502, trans. id. pp. 111, 113.

[3] Similarly, “if ye be Wawain {Gawain}, it seems a wonder to me,” l. 1481, id p. 111.

[4] Matthew 16:25, Luke 9:24.

[5] Benson (2012), p. 179, translates “leude” as “lad.” That translation jars against the context of courtly love. Consistent with the meaning of “leud” as vassal or tenant, I’ve used the translation “servant” to underscore the context of courtly love.

The quoted line is from a passage associated with the literature of men’s sexed protest. In the context of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, the presence of themes of men’s sexed protest has generated “strange and strained interpretations.” Dove (1972) p. 20. Men’s sexed protest has tended to be unfairly disparaged throughout history. The relevant passage actually is an important, integral part of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. Lucas (1968), Fletcher (1971). It’s also consistent with the prior literary figure of Gawain. Dove (1972). Apparently having suffered harm from a woman’s guileful love, Gawain told Lady Bertilak that he had no lover, and wouldn’t accept one for awhile (ll. 1788-91).

[6] The elderly sorceress Morgan Le Fay had contrived the Green Knight’s test of King’s Arthur’s court. Fletcher (1971) and Scattergood (2000), Ch. 7, associate Gawain’s fault with gluttony and sloth. In medieval thinking, gluttony and sloth were sins associated with lechery as sins of the flesh. But Gawain’s fault ultimately was not using good reason.

[7] Sir Gawain and the Green Knight begins:

Once the siege and assault had ceased at Troy,
The burg battered and burned to brands and ashes,
The trouper that the tricks of treason there wrought
Was tried for his treachery, the truest on earth.

ll. 1-4, id. p. 3. The first line of the poem is thus nearly identical to the first line in the concluding text quoted above. The “trouper … tried for his treachery,” probably meaning Antenor, is never explicitly identified. That obliqueness and the echoing of lines increases the salience of Troy and of missing reference to Helen.

The first stanza ends with Felix Brutus settling Britain. That changed nothing:

Where war and wrack and wonder
Have often flourished there-in
And oft both bliss and blunder
Have ruled in turn since then.

ll 16-19, id. p. 3. Gynocentrism is the underlying social structure that supports vastly disproportionate violence against men. Gynocentrism also suppresses reasoned public critique of oppressive social injustices such as forced financial fatherhood.

[images] (1) Gawain; (2) Green Knight, both images from British Library MS Cotton Nero A.x. (art. 3) f. 125/129 verso (illustration to Sir Gawain and the Green Knight). Thanks to the Cotton Nero A.x. Project.


Benson, Larry Dean, trans. 2012. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: a close verse translation. Morgantown: West Virginia University Press.

Dove, Mary. 1972. “Gawain and the Blasme des Femmes Tradition.” Medium Aevum 41: 20-26.

Fletcher, P. C. B. 1971. “Sir Gawain’s Anti-Feminism.” Theoria: A Journal of Social and Political Theory. (36): 53-58.

Ingledew, Francis. 2006. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and the Order of the Garter. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press.

Lucas, Peter. 1968. “Gawain’s Anti-Feminism.” Notes and Queries. 15 (9): 324-5.

Scattergood, John. 2000. The lost tradition: essays on Middle English alliterative poetry. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

sophistic Gilote explains medieval satire of family courts

Celebrating women’s strong, independent sexuality isn’t merely a recent development. A dramatic poem performed at Winchester, England, in 1301 celebrates the “clever and resourceful sensualist” Gilote:

The poem works somewhat as a debate in which the dominant force is Gilote (promiscuity), who coerces and converts Johane (virginity) to her ways. … Gilote and Johane {then} proselytize sexual freedom to other women and eventually come to counsel young Wife (marriage) on the best way to take a lover and still retain her dowry from a wealthy old husband. [1]

Gilote represents not just an advocate for women’s promiscuity, but also social support for sophistic reasoning. Within gynocentric society, elites tend to relish stories of wives cuckolding husbands, accounts of women’s superior capabilities, and histories of enlightenment finally overcoming the brutal treatment women have long endured from their fathers, lovers, husbands, sons, and all other men. Men’s sexuality has long been subject to repressive laws. The social power of the sophistic Gilote supports the medieval and modern satire of family courts.

Gilote knows what she wants and acts strongly to get it. Gilote declares:

I have a lover worth prizing,
A clever and prudent and handsome young man,
And he finds me whatever I need.

I’m in joy and in delight,
Near my dear lover, who makes me happy,
By doing what pleases me at my will. [2]

Gilote suggests that her lover gets her kerchiefs and gloves. Those are tokens associated with courtly love, chivalry, and women inciting men to violence against men. While Gilote treats her lover like a servant in accordance with the ideals of courtly love, she also views lovers as interchangeable objects:

When my lover behaves badly in anything,
I’ll take another without making a plea,
And I’ll keep him according to my desire.
If he doesn’t conduct himself well, he’ll soon be exchanged.

Because women have long had a natural right to custody of children born outside of marriage and men no custody rights, exchanging men outside of marriage has long been relatively simple for women. A man’s person is socially vulnerable to being reduced to his penis and his wallet. To dominate and exploit a man, a woman doesn’t have to be particularly clever or cunning.  She need only be selfish and heartless.

Gilote, a skilled sophist, convinces the virgin Johane to take a lover. Because all women sin, Gilote reasons that any woman’s sexual sin has no significance. Gilote complains that if she married, she would be burdened with “way too many children.” She explains that Johane should take a lover because God commanded humans to multiply and increase. Her mother will help her explain her sexual affair to her father. If her father nonetheless objects, Gilote counsels ignoring him and blaming him:

And if your father then reproves you
And rails at you as he desires,
That you haven’t acted prudently,
Let it go. It’s nothing but wind.
And you must say: ‘Lord, if it please you,
Many a maiden has done this.
I’m neither the last nor the first,
And why should I be left behind?
If you’d arranged for me to be married well before,
I wouldn’t now be accused of this.
Have your daughters marry early,
For no virgin can protect herself.
Thought and desire condemn them —
There’s so much joy in the craft!’ [3]

Even if a woman having extramarital sex is considered morally wrong, she will be forgiven. Gilote puts forward the example of Mary Magdalen and explains:

God loves more a sinner
Who’s converted at the very end
Than any virgin, according to Scripture.

Gilote plans to confess at the very end of her life and be absolved of all her misdeeds. She urges Johane to do likewise. Johane follows her lead and takes a lover.

For those who fail to appreciate her reasoning, the poem explicitly characterizes Gilote as a sophist. Gilote is a “very eloquent woman” who urges Johane:

Educate yourself, girl! Educate yourself, fool!
You’re not very prudent. Come to school!

After Gilote educates Johane and Johane has the adventure of a lover, they become a wandering pair of teachers:

Johane went so much about Winchester
With her companion Gilote, who was headmaster,
Telling and preaching about this adventure,
That one can scarcely find a woman
Who won’t engage in such a task;
If she should be asked by a young man,
She scarcely knows how to turn down his love.

Their teaching echoes the teaching of Ovid, the medieval master teacher of love. The school of sexually adventurous women that Gilote and Johane founded studied the text and glosses of sexual adventures and engaged in arguments. Eventually women throughout England and Ireland learned women’s love game. Only since the past decade have a significant number of men started to study pick-up techniques and game.

men being punished in stocks

Medieval law hindered men from enjoying the sexual freedom that Gilote, Johane, and other medieval women enjoyed. Dafydd ap Gwilym’s penis poem in fourteenth-century Wales describes the extensive medieval criminalization of men’s sexuality. A medieval English alliterative poem known as Satire on the Consistory Courts describes the punishment of men’s sexuality through ecclesiastical courts. The poem’s narrator protests:

If I should happen to lie on earth with a girl,
I must bow before them and learn their law,
And suffer all their decrees!

If I’m written into their record,
Then am I in disrepute,
For they lay blame on many a man
For women’s woe. [4]

Like gynocentric society in general, the courts served women’s interests:

She begins at once to shriek and scream,
And says: “By my gabbing, it shall not go so!”
And “It’s all your fault!
You must wed me and make me a wife!”
But I’d rather by law lose my life
Than bow so at their feet!
Shall I bow at the foot of my foe?
Yes, she deceives so many
That I’m threatened there with thralldom,
By those who sit dark and sweaty;
There I’m sentenced by force
Before I go home. [5]

For having sex outside of marriage, men in medieval England were punished by being beaten while they walked around the marketplace or the church. They could also be forced to marry the woman with whom they had sex. Medieval marriage required a man to assume financial and criminal responsibility for his wife. From the Middle Ages to the present, family courts have largely been for men a satire of justice.[6]

Men’s sexuality has much less social support than women’s sexuality. That reality hasn’t been widely recognized for medieval culture or modern culture. Persons who want to better understand medieval culture should start with studying imprisonment of men today for having sex and being too poor to pay their legally mandated sex payments, the current practice of forcing men to pay “child support” to their rapists, and the current law of forced financial fatherhood.

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[1] Fein (2014) vol. 2, Art. 37, Gilote e Johane: Introduction. The Ludlow scribe copied Gilote e Johane before 1341. The previous quote is from Revard’s laudatory characterization of Gilote:

clever and resourceful sensualist, alert to every opportunity for pleasure and heedless of any moral or ethical restraint in pursuing her opportunities. … Gilote never shifts her ground or role, never faces opponents as clever or more cunning than she is; she not only keeps full control of all her lovers but teaches other women to do the same.

Revard (2004) pp. 119-20.

[2] Gilote e Johane, ll. 10-12, 49-51, from Old French trans. Fein (2014) vol. 2, Art. 37. Subsequent quotes are from id. ll. 121-4, 163-76, 134-6, 147-8, 203-9.

[3] In the second line (l. 164) of the quote, I’ve translated talent as “desires,” rather than “wants.” That choice seems to me to translate better the resonances of the Old French text.

[4] Ne mai no lewed lued libben in londe (commonly known as Satire on the Consistory Courts) ll. 4-6, 33-6, from Middle English trans. Fein (2014) vol. 2, Art. 40. The subsequent quote is from id. ll. 61-72. Scattergood (2002), p. 32, describes Satire on the Consistory Courts as a “highly literate piece of work. … Only a poet of great technical proficiency and confidence could write in this way.” Scattergood emphasizes the contrast between the narrator’s illiteracy and the court officials’ dominating use of texts and writing. The poem thus sharply contrasts its form and content.

The relation of Satire on the Consistory Courts to broader issues of men’s social position hasn’t been adequately appreciated. Scattergood notes that the poem includes allusions to men’s subservience to women in fin amour (courtly love). Id. pp. 35-6. The consistory courts are a public institution that subordinates men’s sexuality to women’s interests.

[5] Revard (2004), p. 123, describes the narrator as a “self-satirizing lecher.” Revard also explains that women fall short of being “theoretically perfect creatures … most often, because men are trying to seduce them into it.” On the other hand, Revard contrasts “Through-the-Looking-Glass Good Women” with “the sexiest Bad Girls.” Id. 121. Self-satire runs deep in such analysis.

[6] The Ludlow scribe of MS Harley 2253 arranged the texts of the anthology in a way that provides a variety of perspectives on medieval men’s social subordination to women. For example, the Life of Saint Marina (Art. 32) shows men’s vulnerability to a woman’s false accusation of rape. Supporting such injustice is men’s belief in women’s moral superiority (The Poet’s Repentence, Art. 33). Men’s oneitis for women (The Fair Maid of Ribblesdale, Art. 34; A Beauty White as Whale’s Bone, Art. 36) also contributes to men’s subordination to women.

[image] Men held in stocks. Adapted from photograph from the Builth Wells Historical Pageant, Aug. 11, 1909. Photograph by P.B. Abery. Record no. 3590090 from the P B. Aberty Collection. Dedicated to the Public Domain. Thanks to the National Library of Wales (Llyfrgell Genedlaethol Cymru) and Wikimedia Commons.


Fein, Susanna, ed. with David B. Raybin, and Jan M. Ziolkowski, trans. 2014. The complete Harley 2253 Manuscript (vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3). Medieval Institute Publications, Western Michigan University. Kalamazoo, Michigan.

Revard, Carter. 2004. “The Wife of Bath’s Grandmother : Or, How Gilote Showed Her Friend Johane that the Wages of Sin is Worldly Pleasure, and How Both Then Preached This Gospel throughout England and Ireland.” Chaucer Review. 39 (2): 117-136.

Scattergood, John. 2000. The lost tradition: essays on Middle English alliterative poetry. Dublin: Four Courts Press.

Steven Pinker: sex, violence, and failure of enlightenment

Brezhnev in the Era of Stagnation

Harvard professor Steven Pinker is a superstar scholar and a champion of science and truth-seeking. His book, The Better Angels of our Nature: Why Violence has Declined, is an international best-seller. Mark Zuckerberg and Bill Gates, who each are probably more influential world-wide than any politician, lauded Pinker’s book.[1] Pinker’s book explains that prior to the eighteenth century, or perhaps prior to the past few decades, women had no rights, men held women as property, and men could rape and beat women with impunity. But much more work remains for men to do to protect women:

At the top, a consensus has formed within the international {elite} community that violence against women is the most pressing human rights problem remaining in the world. [2]

Elite discourse tends to describe males throughout history, except for a few enlightened fellows speaking today, as brutally demonic in relation to women. Primate behavior in general doesn’t support that peculiar view of humans. Neither does the broad historical mass of data on human behavior. Enlightenment values of reason and truth-seeking, at least among elites, are astonishingly absent in addressing sex and violence.

Recognizing enlightenment’s failure with respect to sex and violence doesn’t require special gifts of intellect or laborious scholarship. High-quality data freely available online makes clear that, in the U.S., four times more men than women die from violence. Much higher levels of violence in medieval Europe were even more disproportionately directed against men. Loss of men’s lives through suicides, workplace fatalities, and battlefield casualties vastly outnumber the corresponding loss of women’s lives. These gender inequalities in lives lost attract remarkably little public attention even in our time of intense concern about gender equality. Evolutionary psychologists might explain that, because of sex differences in reproductive potential, men’s lives are socially less valued than women’s lives. But Steven Pinker and most elite thinkers declare that women’s lives have been socially devalued throughout most of history. To ordinary persons not thoroughly indoctrinated, that elite view is obviously, egregiously false.

Public discourse about sex and domestic violence is an appalling spectacle of bad reason. Pinker dismisses evidence of women and men perpetuating domestic violence in roughly equal measure against each other by directing attention to severe violence. That’s misleading with respect to criminal punishment. Domestic violence laws now encompass acts that cause only minor or no physical injury. With respect to injuries severe enough to send a person to a hospital emergency department, men suffer about 40% of the incidence of such injuries. Nonetheless, domestic violence against men has largely been ignored. Men victims of domestic violence receive much inferior services to those available to women. In medieval Europe, domestic violence against women generated punishment of men, and domestic violence against men generated ridicule of men. In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Pinker wrote:

The argument that women should not be assaulted by the men in their lives is irrefutable, and as Victor Hugo noted, “There is nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.” [3]

That’s hollow rhetoric. The argument that men shouldn’t assault women largely hasn’t been necessary to make. The corresponding argument that women shouldn’t assault men mainly generates laughter and derision. Pinker’s tagged-on quote from Victor Hugo adds only pretentious puffery to the intellectual debacle.

Rhetorical posing about domestic violence has probably increased violence. In the U.S. over the past three decades, new laws and policies targeting domestic violence against women have created a frequently invoke regime of emergency law. Those laws have been central to the rise of U.S. mass incarceration. In the U.S., an extraordinary number of persons per capita now live in highly violent places: jails and prisons.

Generating emotions from deep within, a woman claiming to be raped is a potent means for inciting violence against men. Being accused of raping a woman is enough to get a man lynched by a large mob. Leading newspaper now headline sensational statistics such as the claim that nearly a quarter of Asian-Pacific men admit to being rapists. Pinker describes rape as “one of the prime atrocities in the human repertoire.”[4] Should nearly a quarter of Asian-Pacific men be executed or least incarcerated for many years? Or are those elite claims about rape incredible and hateful? Rape throughout history has generally been treated seriously and sanctioned more severely than other forms of interpersonal violence. Given the seriousness of rape claims, false accusations of rape have also, not surprisingly, been a matter of serious concern, except in recent years. Historically, men seducing women has been broadly criminalized. Today U.S. college campuses are experiencing a reign of terror about sexual assault. That reign of terror is teaching students contempt for truth and justice.

Pinker and other elites treat women raping men as not real rape. Pinker forthrightly declared in The Better Angels of Our Nature that “rapists are men.”[5] Until 2013, the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation defined rape such that only women could be raped. That reflects lengthy historical lack of concern about men being raped. Official crime victimization surveys such as the U.S. National Crime Victimization Survey now obscure the definition of rape in complicated administrative judgments. Leading rape surveys have redefined rape to increase greatly the number of reported rapes. Yet men being made to penetrate another person sexually remains excluded by definition from rape. If that form of sexual violence is counted as rape, incidents of women raping men would outnumber incidents of men raping women in the leading U.S. survey of sexual victimization. U.S. judges have uniformly upheld men being forced to pay child support to women who have raped them and had children by their acts of rape. Those celebrating our enlightened times selectively close their eyes to narratively unpropitious facts about rape.

Enlightenment reason’s failures in addressing sex and violence undermine the broad social trust crucial to civilization. Ordinary person through experience and readily accessible facts can easily recognize elite lies about sex and violence. In discussing The Better Angels of Our Nature, Mark Zuckerberg wrote to Steven Pinker:

One question I have is whether there is any data that suggests the internet has led to or will lead to a decrease in violence? Are there any things we should consider while developing internet services that could help further decrease violence?

Pinker responded:

At a bird’s-eye view, one would certainly expect technologies that enhance cosmopolitanism to reduce violence. They can expand our circle of empathy, by seeing the world through the eyes of other people; they can enhance the spread of good ideas and expose bad ideas; and they can empower separated people to act together. In the past, the rise of printing and literacy, and then TV (“the global village”) seem to have led to greater tolerance, and forces against war and prejudice … But what none of us yet understands, I think, is how to prevent a new form of insularity – self-selected, mutually reinforcing ideologues finding each other on the Web and reinforcing their own conspiracy theories. I wish I was smarter and wiser on how to deal with this, and I hope that the geniuses at Facebook are thinking about this!

From the perspective of many ordinary persons considering women’s rights, men’s rights, rape, and domestic violence, Steven Pinker, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and other international elites are no better than mutually re-enforcing ideologues. Although commonly smeared as hate sites, marginal deliberative fora such as the Men’s Rights Reddit and A Voice for Men are more inspiring examples of concern for truth and justice. If enlightened civilization ultimately rests on reason, truth, and justice, rather than status, power, and money, a new revolution of minds is desperately needed.

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[1] Zuckerberg, multi-billionaire founder and CEO of Facebook, selected The Better Angels of Our Nature to discuss in his 2015 Year of Books on his personal Facebook page. Zuckerberg described Pinker’s book as a “timely book” that he “really enjoyed.” Zuckerberg further noted, “A few people I trust have told me this is the best book they’ve ever read.”

Bill Gates, multi-billionare founder and CEO of Microsoft and guiding mind of the influential Gates Foundation, in 2012 declared:

People often ask me what is the best book I’ve read in the last year. Steven Pinker’s The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined stands out as one of the most important books I’ve read – not just this year, but ever.

I’m a dogged advocate for innovations that have brought us longer life spans, better nutrition and more freedom. But I’m also concerned about the things innovation can’t always change, like how we look at justice and violence. Is there a positive trend there, and if so, what are the lessons? How can we make sure the trend continues? How can we broaden it – and maybe even speed it up?

The U.S. criminal justice system is widely regarded as being disastrously unjust. The Gates Foundation should address the grossly malfunctioning U.S. criminal justice system.

[2] Pinker (2011) p. 414. With respect to women’s rights, Pinker states:

it was also during that era, the age of Enlightenment {18th century}, that women’s rights began to be acknowledged, pretty much for the first time in history.

Id. p. 399. Women throughout recorded history have long held key rights: rights to property and rights to custody of children. Roman women held in their own right large estates. Under English common law, women, but not men, were recognized to have a natural right to custody of children born out of wedlock.

Pinker reproduced claims from Wilson and Daly’s influential, fallacious, and misandristic article:

In their article, “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Chattel,” Margo Wilson and Martin Daly have documented that traditional laws all over the world treat women as the property of their fathers and husbands. Property laws entitle owners to sell, exchange, and dispose of their property without encumbrance, and to expect the community to recognize their right to redress if the property is stolen or damaged by others.

Id. p. 197. On Wilson and Daly’s rhetoric, see note [4] and associated text in my post on primatology. See also the Roman-era story of Perpetua, the story of Aseneth (probably fourth-century Syria), and Boccaccio’s story of Madonna Filippa (fourteenth-century Italy). Consider as well bureaucratic management difficulties in a fourteenth-century French household.

Pinker quotes with approval the highly celebrated and deeply misandristic scholar Andrea Dworkin. She tendentiously declared, “a man wants what a woman has — sex.” Id. p. 395. Do men not have sex? Do women not want sex? Pinker declares:

The history of rape, then, is one in which the interests of women had been zeroed out in the implicit negotiations that shaped customs, moral codes, and laws.

Id. p. 398. Inconsistent with history reality, that ridiculous claim uncannily complements Pinker’s zeroing out of men as victims of rape. For further sensational History Channel history, Pinker declares, “The oppression of women used to include laws that allowed husbands to rape, beat, and confine their wives.” Id. p. 382. That seems to be a grotesquely distorted interpretation of laws of coverture.

[3] Id. p. 415. Pinker offers an ideological understanding of domestic violence:

Domestic violence is the backstop of a set of tactics by which men control the freedom, especially the sexual freedom, of their partners.

Id. p. 407. Such tactics, according to Pinker, have included “chastity belts.” Id. Maintaining belief in this domestic-violence ideology requires trivializing domestic violence against men and ignoring contemporary laws that deny men sexual freedom and impose on men forced financial fatherhood. To avoid any misunderstanding, Pinker explains that, with respect to domestic violence, “feminism has been very good for men.” Id. p. 412.

[4] Id. p. 394. Apparently to emphasize that he is a good man, Pinker also declares that “rape is always an atrocity”; it is a “heinous crime against the woman.” Id. p. 398. Parroting dominant, mythic, women-were-men’s-property history, Pinker declares:

Rape was seen as an offense not against the woman but against a man — the woman’s father, her husband, or in the case of a slave, her owner. … Rape is the theft of a woman’s virginity from her father, or her fidelity from her husband. … When medieval European governments began to nationalize criminal justice, rape shifted from a tort against a husband or father to a crime against the state, which ostensibly represented the interests of women and society but in practice tilted the scales well toward the side of the accused.

Id. p. 395. For reality-based understanding of rape, see, e.g. historical literature about rape claims, the story of the nun of Watton, the Arabic poem ““If only al-Barrāq had an eye to see,”, and the criminalization of seduction.

[5] Id. p. 405. Pinker heads a section “Women’s Rights and the Decline of Rape and Battering.” That heading underscores Pinker’s unsubstantiated belief that enlightenment reduced men’s violence against women. That heading also underscores Pinker’s need to ignore men victims of rape and domestic violence. If men victims of rape and domestic violence (battering) actually exist in numbers similar to those of women victims, that would imply the urgency of further enlightenment and men’s rights. Celebration of current enlightenment and no concern for men’s rights characterize Pinker’s highly honored and best-selling book.

[image] Leonid Brezhnev, leader of the Soviet Union, at a Communist Party Congress in Berlin in 1967. Brezhnev presided over a period in Soviet history known at the Era of Stagnation (Zastoy). Detail from photo with source attribution: Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-F0418-0001-020 / Gahlbeck, Friedrich / CC-BY-SA.


Pinker, Steven. 2011. The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined. New York: Viking.

Ménagier de Paris: bureaucratic reality in medieval marriage

child praying for parents

In Christian biblical teaching, the husband is the Christ-following head of the two made one in marriage. This two-person corporation is the smallest possible multi-person organization. Le Ménagier de Paris, a medieval household book written in French about 1393, makes clear that even Christian marriage had bureaucratic characteristics. A husband’s authority mattered less than his wife’s good will.

In modern bureaucracies, workers learn that they should do their assigned job and not ask questions. Medieval marriages formally were similar. A wife’s job was to do whatever her husband told her to do:

a wife must obey her husband and carry out his orders, whatever they may be, great or small or even really minor. Furthermore, it is not fitting that your husband tell you his reason or the motive behind his order, for that would seem to be a signal to you to do or not do his bidding based on whether or not you found the rationale to be valid. … With regard to his orders, you should never hesitate or refuse to carry out his instructions or in any way slow down or delay their execution. Also, never do anything that he has forbidden or in any way modify, exaggerate, diminish, broaden, or narrow his prohibitions. In and for all things — good or bad — that you have done, you are free and clear of blame when you say, “My husband ordered me to do it.” [1]

For modern bureaucratic workers, what has always been done in a particular job is similarly an all-encompassing justification. “I did what we have always done.” A bureaucrat does her job, and nothing more, and nothing less.

Ideal workers in bureaucracies do whatever their bosses tell them to do. The guiding maxim for an ambitious bureaucrat: you say, “Jump,” and I respond, “How high?” The ideal medieval wife behaved like the modern ambitious bureaucrat:

They all entered the squire’s house together, and the young woman came immediately to meet them. The squire set the stick on the ground and said: “Madam, jump over this.” She jumped right way. He told her, “Jump again.” She jumped again. “Again!” She jumped three times, without saying a single word besides “Willingly!” [2]

Over the subsequent seven centuries, ambitious bureaucrats learned to say in addition, “How high?” But the basic principle of mindless obedience hasn’t changed.

In reality, many bureaucrats are not merely mindless drones. Many bureaucrats push back against being given idiotic tasks. For example, when medieval husbands set a metric for household performance and competed in outcomes, some of their wives responded with mockery:

In front of all the husbands, Robin asked her {his wife}, “Marie, repeat after me what I say.” “Willingly, sir.” “Marie, say: ‘One,”” “One.” “And ‘two.'” “And two.” “And ‘three.'” To which Marie, a bit peevishly, replied,  “And one, and 12, and 13! Come now! Are you making fun of me?” In this way, Marie’s husband lost. Next, the husbands all went to Jean’s house, whose wife Agnes was one to put on airs. Jean told her, “Repeat after me what I say: ‘One.'” Agnes answered disdainfully, “And two.” And thus he lost. Tassin said to the lady Tassine, “One.” With pride, Tassine responded aloud, “This is something new!” Or she said, “I am not a child learning how to count,” or she said, “Come now, by God! Have you become a musician?” and the like. And so he too lost. [3]

In such situations, the appropriate procedure is to set up a meeting to discuss job assignments and responsibilities. With respect to idiotic tasks, that generally isn’t worthwhile. Hence mockery can be a potent internal bureaucratic tactic.

Smart bureaucrats manage up. Medieval wives knew how to manage up:

When such a woman finds herself alone with her husband and they discuss their business matters and amusements, the woman by hinting around subtly investigates and realizes that her husband intends to handle this matter otherwise than she would prefer. The woman briskly changes the topic of their conversation, before he has the chance to say, “In this matter, do thus.” Cunningly she maneuvers out of the touchy situation and turns her husband to another subject and concludes their conversation on a topic distant from the one on her mind. As soon as she sees the opportunity, she has the initial matter accomplished according to her own wishes and does not concern herself about her husband’s viewpoint, which she ignores and having a ready excuse will say, “You said nothing about it to me!” [4]

Another tactic is to contrive to get desired advice from another authority, such as the husband’s respected cousin or a management consultant. That advice then provides cover for doing what you want to do. Another general principle: “Don’t ask for permission. Act first, then ask for forgiveness.”[5]

If all else fails, working to rule can easily overthrow authority.  For example, a medieval wife insisted that all her rights and obligations to her husband be explicitly listed in a document. One day, traveling on a pilgrimage, they had to cross over a ditch on a narrow plank. The wife hesitated behind, afraid to cross. The husband went back and helped his wife to cross. Holding her hand, talking to her, and walking backwards, he accidentally fell into the water. He asked his wife to help him get out of the water:

She responded, “No, no, indeed not! First I will look in my charter to see if it says that I must do so; if it does, I will do it, but otherwise I will not.” She looked, and since her document did not mention the current situation, she told her husband that she would do nothing, and left him and went on her way. [6]

Her husband nearly drowned. If workers do only and exactly what they are instructed to do, without any use of their own good judgment, their organization is dead in the water. Authority is no substitute for good will. Authority that destroys good will destroys itself.[7]

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[1] Le Ménagier de Paris (The Householder of Paris) 1.6.24, from Old French trans. Greco & Rose (2009) p. 123. Here’s an Old French text of Le Ménagier de ParisCurrent views on Christian household headship tend to be much different. Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.8 includes Petrarch’s version of the Griselda story. Le Ménagier comments on the Griselda story:

I have placed the tale here as instruction, not to apply it to you, or because I expect the same obedience from you, since I am not worthy. I am no marquis, nor were you a shepherdess, and I am not so foolish, presumptuous, or immature as to fail to recognize the inappropriateness of my abusing or testing you in such ways. God keep me from trying you in this or any other manner, under any false pretenses! … And I apologize if the story contains excessive accounts of cruelty, in my opinion more than is fitting, and I don’t believe it was ever true.

From 1.6.10, trans. id. pp. 118-9. The hugely popular story “A Message to Garcia” (first published in the U.S. in 1899) similarly taught men to carry out orders without asking questions. Men, however, were to take the initiative to figure out how to fulfill the order.

[2] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.40, trans. Greco & Rose (2009) p. 129.

[3] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.27, id. p. 125.

[4] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.47, id. p. 132.

[5] On seeking covering advice from a respected cousin, Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.46. On acting first, id. 1.6.48-59. In the latter story, the woman’s mother advised her to “shit test” her husband before committing adultery. Asking forgiveness worked well twice, but on the third instance the husband responded to his wife’s bad blood.

[6] Le Ménagier de Paris 1.6.12, id. pp. 119-20. An early example of working to rule is the servant Aesop’s responses to his master Xanthus’s commands in the Life of Aesop 38-50. Written in French about 1500, the farce Le Cuvier (La farce du cuvier) centers on the husband working to rule. Johannes Pauli’s Schimpf und Ernst (Strasbourg, 1522) includes a story of working to rule similar to that in Le Ménagier de Paris. But in Pauli’s story, the wife by working to rule and allowing her husband nearly to drown gains the right to do whatever she wants. Schnell (1998) p. 781. On other pre-modern versions, Centres Sandhu (1980). Some modern actions of working to rule themselves establish complicated rules.

[7] Greco & Rose (2009) offer a brutal interpretation of Le Ménagier de Paris:

This manual naturalizes the brutality of men while blaming women for it and disallows women’s anger.

Id. p. 41. Similar, but more sophisticated interpretations have been put forward for Aucassin et Nicolette.

[image] Elizabeth Cary, daughter of Sir Lawrence Tanfield (ca. 1551-1625) and Elizabeth Tanfield (ca. 1560 -1629), praying at foot of the Tanfield tomb, Burford Church, Oxfordshire, Great Britain.  Detail from image © Copyright Julian P. Guffogg and licensed for reuse under Creative Commons By-SA License.


Centres Sandhu, Marcelle. 1980. “La Farce du Cuvier: Origines du thème.” Romance Philology 34:2: 209-216.

Greco, Gina L., and Christine M. Rose, ed. and trans. 2009. The good wife’s guide; Le ménagier de Paris: a medieval household book. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Schnell, Rüdiger. 1998. “The Discourse on Marriage in the Middle Ages.” Speculum. 73 (3): 771-786.

Melibee reversed women’s incitement of violence against men

women and medieval violence against men

In the Canterbury Tales, Geoffrey Chaucer tells the ridiculous chivalric verse romance of Sir Thopas. Sir Thopas, a knight errant longing for the love of an elf queen, “for love and pleasure” prepared to battle the three-headed giant Sir Elephant. The Host stopped this nonsense and asked for a different story. Chaucer responded with the Tale of Melibee, an English version of Albertanus of Brescia’s Latin work Liber consolationis et consilii. That work reversed women’s incitement of men to do violence against men. Lessening women’s promotion of violence against men is crucial to reducing violence.

Steve Pinker, a Sir Thopas of our time, credits feminization of civilization for contributing to the long-run historical decline in violence. Pinker declares “the most fundamental empirical generalization about violence” is that “it is mainly committed by men.”[1] That’s half right in a tendentiously biased way. Pinker approvingly observes:

At the top, a consensus has formed within the international {elite} community that violence against women in the most pressing human rights problem remaining in the world.

That makes the gender bias obvious. In the U.S. today, four times more men than women die from violence. Around the world, violence overwhelmingly occurs against men. Whether a man’s immediate killer was a man or a woman doesn’t change the reality of the man being dead. Violence against men is much greater than violence against women and of much less social concern. Belief that the most pressing human rights problem today is violence against women is a modern version of ridiculous chivalric behavior.

Violence against men was much more prevalent in medieval Europe. Homicide per capita was roughly thirty times higher in medieval Europe than in high-income countries today. Because men are vastly disproportionately victims of homicide and casualties in war, medieval men’s life expectancy was about nine years less than women’s. Medieval men also experienced considerable non-fatal violence such as castration and vicious beatings.

Violence against men, along with all other evils, tends today to be blamed on men, or among the more sophisticated, blamed on patriarchy. But in the more liberal political circumstances of medieval Europe, thinkers had more respect for women’s agency. Medieval literature of men’s sexed protest emphatically declared that women promoted violence against men:

She sets friends against one another,
Turning brother against brother;
She cleaves the father from the son,
She robs the mother’s nest of one.

Woman fosters strife and wars,
And exiles men from ruined shores;
Castles she burns, cities defeats,
Destroys the towers and the keeps.
Women’s the reason tourneys are born,
Woman’s the reason swords are worn,
Enmity she instigates,
And combat she perpetuates;
The schemes she quickly engineers
Can drown a countryside in tears. [2]

Sefer Shaashuim, a Hebrew book from early-thirteenth-century Spain, described how women caused wars between families. In early-fifteenth-century Spain, the Archpriest of Talavera documented that women’s tears can prompt violence against men. Across world cultures, the classical Arabic poetic laments known as marthiya provide perhaps the most pointed and poignant representation of women’s role in inciting violence against men.

In contrast to literature describing women inciting violence against men, Albertanus of Brescia’s Liber consolationis et consilii described a woman named Prudence acting as a peacemaker. Prudence’s husband Melibee, a young, strong, and rich man, returned home to find that ancient foes had assaulted his wife and grievously injured their daughter. Albertanus made clear his work of gender reversal in depicting the initial interaction of Melibee and Prudence:

But when Melibee returned to his home, he saw what happened and began to weep greatly and tear his hair and rend his clothes like a madman. His wife then began to say, so as to quiet him, that he had wept enough. But he continually cried more. And she, being disturbed a little, remembered the words of Ovid in The Remedy of Love, who said:

Who’d stop a mother weeping, unless he’s mad,
at her son’s grave? That’s not the place to admonish her.
When tears are over, and the sorrowful spirit’s done,
then grief can be given expression in words. [3]

When Melibee finally stopped weeping, he gathered around him “a huge multitude of men” and “showed his strong desire to carry out a vendetta.”[4] Prudence didn’t incite her husband and the other men to violence against men. Drawing upon classical wisdom, Prudence urged her husband to take time to carefully consider the best course of action.[5] Like the initially weepy Melibee and the philosophical Prudence, the rashly violent Melibee and the calm, peace-seeking Prudence reversed long-established gender stereotypes.

In writing his English version of Liber consolationis et consilii, Chaucer understood Albertanus’s theoretical-didactic gender reversal. Immediately following the Tale of Melibee, Chaucer presented in the prologue to the Monk’s Tale medieval folk wisdom on women and violence:

When ended was my tale of Melibee,
And of Prudence and her goodness,
Our Host said, “On my faith,
And by that precious body of Madrian,
{I swear that} I had rather than have a barrel of ale
That Goodelief, my wife, had heard this tale!
For she is in no way of such patience
As was this Melibeus’ wife Prudence.
By God’s bones, when I beat my knaves,
She brings me forth the great knobby clubs,
And cries, ‘Slay the dogs every one
And break them, both back and every bone!’
And if any neighbor of mine
Will not in church bow to my wife,
Or be so bold as to offend her,
When she comes home she shakes her fists in my face,
And cries, ‘False coward, avenge thy wife!
By God’s bones, I will have thy knife,
And thou shalt have my spinning staff and go spin!’
From daybreak to nightfall right thus she will begin.
‘Alas,’ she says, ‘that ever I was created
To wed a milksop, or a coward ape,
That will be browbeaten by every body!
Thou darest not defend thy wife’s right!’
This is my life, unless I will fight;
And out at door immediately I must hasten myself,
Or else I am as good as lost, unless I
Be like a wild lion, fool-hardy.
I know well some day she will make me slay
Some neighbor, and then be on the run;
For I am perilous with knife in hand,
Albeit that I dare not stand up to her,
For she is strong in fighting, by my faith:
That shall he find that does or says something amiss to her —
But let us pass away from this matter.” [5]

Neither Albertanus’s Liber consolationis et consilii nor Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee can be adequately appreciated without recognizing women’s important role in inciting violence against men.

Medieval readers widely understood and valued Albertanus’s Liber consolationis et consilii. Judging from manuscripts and influence, Liber consolationis et consilii was among the most popular medieval works. Renaut de Louhans translated Liber consolationis et consilii into French about 1337. He did so apparently to promote peace in war-torn Burgundy. In the fourteenth century. Liber consolationis et consilii and its many vernacular translations became recognized as “an edifying treatise for women.”[6] The need for such edification is scarcely appreciated today.

Violence has always been highly disproportionately violence against men. International elites today seem to be benighted within ridiculous chivalric romances like that of Chaucer’s Sir Thopas. Even worse, many of them seem to have the character of Shakespeare’s Malvolio.[7] They deserve to be mocked.

Reducing violence, which worldwide is predominately violence against men, depends on both women and men. Women should stop inciting men to violence against men. Men should stand up to women’s social power and start valuing men’s lives more highly.

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[1] Pinker (2011) p. 684. On feminization, id. pp. 684-9. The subsequent quote is from id., p. 414. On women’s responsibility for violence against men, Pinker states that women “frequently egg their men into battle.” But he declares, “over the long sweep of history, women have been, and will be, a pacifying force.” Id. pp. 526-7. Over the long sweep of history, the evidence for that claim is very weak.

[2] Le Blasme des Fames ll. 41-44, 53-62, from Old French trans. Fiero, Pfeffer & Allain (1989) pp. 123, 125. The text is probably from the late-thirteenth century. In the Lancelot romance of the Vulgate cycle, Bors carries the white banner of the Lady of Hungerford Castle into battle and joyfully returns with it stained red with the blood of her enemies.

[3] Albertanus of Brescia, Liber consolationis et consilii Ch. 1, from Latin my translation. The quote from Ovid’s Remedia Amoris ll. 127-130 is from A.S. Kline’s translation. Melibee is an English form of the Latin name Melibeus.

Albertanus wrote Liber consolationis et consilii in 1246. He dedicated that work to his son John. Albertanus had at least three sons. He probably didn’t want to see his sons die early, violent deaths.

Arabic literature could have reached Brescia from Sicily or Spain. Albertanus was familiar with the work of the Spanish Jewish convert Petrus Alfonsi (lived c. 1026-1110). Albertanus referred to Petrus Alfonsi 17 times in Liber consolationis et consilii (16 references to Disciplina Clericalis, 1 reference to Dialogus). Petrus Alfonsi was well-versed in Arabic literature.

Prudence tends to be seen as a recasting of Boethius’s Lady Philosophy. While there are some parallels, Liber consolationis et consilii has only one direct citation from Boethius’s Consolation of Philosophy. The motivation for Prudence much more probably came from immediate experience and the contemporary literature of men’s sexed protest. That literature is well-represented in Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina Clericalis.

Although Albertanus wrote in Latin, he was a layman. He worked as a judge, a notary, and a professional legal counselor (causidici). He was also the author of at least three treatises and five sermons. A primary concern in his writings is to “find means to resolve both public and private disputes in accordance with legal principles rather than knives, swords, spears, clubs, and rocks.” Powell (1992) p. 31. In his Genovese sermon of 1243, Albertanus declared:

The sweetest of legal precepts are these: to live honorably, to do no harm to another, to give to each his own. … Nothing, however, is more unsuitable than to be feared. As a matter of fact, men clearly hate the person they fear because everyone seeks the destruction of the person he fears.

Nuccio, Brannan & Felice (2004) pp. 13-14.

[4] Liber consolationis et consilii, from Latin trans. Powell (1992) pp. 80-1. Wars and vendettas were common within tumultuous, factious northern Italy early in the thirteenth century. In 1238, the army of Emperor Frederick II successfully besieged Brescia. Albertanus, whom the Brescians had put in command of a fortress at Gavardo, was taken prisoner of war.

[5] Prudence successfully led the hostile parties of men to repentance, forgiveness, and a “kiss of peace.” Powell (1992) p. 86. Powell declares:

Prudence, the wife of Melibeus, is more than the personification of an abstract virtue: she stands for the female principle.

Id. p. 116. Mann (1991), p. 98, similarly describes patience as a “womanly quality” and declares:

Melibee submits himself to his wife and to patience in one and the same process; his patience must match hers.

In assigning this tale to himself, Chaucer identifies himself with the values it embodies, and with the centrality of women’s role.

These interpretations ignore Liber consolationis et consilii’s gender reversal and implicitly blame men for violence against men. Prudence, like great women writers of the Middle Ages, had more loving appreciation for men.

Prudence herself opposed gender stereotyping. In her response to Melibee’s argument that “women are wicked and no good one may be found” and therefore he shouldn’t listen to Prudence’s counsel, Prudence responded:

I reply (with due respect to you) that you ought not to despise women in such general terms … there are a great many good women.

Liber consolationis et consilii, Ch. 3 & Ch. 4.2, from Latin trans. Blamires, Pratt & Marx (1992) pp. 237-8. For an alternate approach to affirming “not all women are like that” (NAWALT), see the story of the farmer, his wife, and the fish in the field in Sindibad.

[5] Chaucer, The Monk’s Prologue ll. 1889-1923, close modern English translation from Benson (2002). The wife’s name Goodelief literally means “good dear one.”

[6] From the thirteenth to the sixteenth century, Albertanus’s Latin writings were translated into Italian, French, English, German, Spanish, Dutch, and Czech. They  survive in hundreds of Latin and vernacular manuscripts. Many printed editions were produced in the fifteenth and early-sixteenth centuries. Powell (1992) pp. 5, 121.

Renaut de Louhans (Renaud de Louens) was a Dominican friar. Renaut’s French translation of Albertanus’s Liber consolationis et consilii was “more a paraphrase and a somewhat shortened version.” On Renaut’s translation, id. p. 124-5. Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee is a very close translation of Renaut’s French version, but in minor differences “draws more attention to the limits of human knowledge, to the difficulty of interpreting.” Grace (2004) p. 396. Le Ménagier de Paris (The Parisian Householder), compiled about 1392-94, includes at sec. 1.9 Renaut’s French translation of Liber consolationis et consilii. Le Ménagier de Paris apparently drew upon a slightly different text than that which Chaucer used. Greco & Rose (2009) p. 41. Greco & Rose, apparently oblivious to the literary context, irascibly interpret the text:

Since every man want to “rule as lord” in his home, the narrator demonstrates that the prudent wife must subdue her anger or grief in order to reform her husband’s foolish and dangerous impulses which would destroy the peace of that home.

Id. p. 147. The literature of men’s sexed protest provides considerable insight into that interpretation.

The description of Liber consolationis et consilii becoming “an edifying treatise for women” is from Mario Roques, cited in Powell (1992) p. 125.

[7] Apparently seeking to flatter international elites and dominant interests in academia and media, Pinker declares, “We are all feminists now” and “rapists are men.” Ignoring forced financial fatherhood, he emphasizes the importance of “women’s control over their own reproduction.” Pinker (2011) pp. 404, 405, 688.

[image] Man killing another man while women watch and applaud. Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, between 1305 and 1315. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 321v. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Benson, Larry, trans. 2002. Geoffrey Chaucer. The Monk’s Prologue and Tale. The Geoffrey Chaucer Page, Harvard University.

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

Fiero, Gloria, Wendy Pfeffer, and Mathé Allain. 1989. Three medieval views of women: La contenance des fames, Le bien des fames, Le blasme des fames. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press.

Grace, Dominick. 2004. “Telling Differences: Chaucer’s Tale of Melibee and Renaud de Louens’ Livre de Mellibee et Prudence.” Philological Quarterly. 83 (4): 367-400.

Greco, Gina L., and Christine M. Rose, ed. and trans. 2009. The good wife’s guide; Le ménagier de Paris: a medieval household book. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Mann, Jill. 1991. Geoffrey Chaucer. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press International. Republished in 2002 as Feminizing Chaucer. Woodbridge, Suffolk, UK: D.S. Brewer.

Nuccio, Oscar, Patrick T. Brannan, and Flavio Felice. 2004. “Genovese Sermon: Albertanus of Brescia.” Journal of Markets & Morality 7(2): 599-638.

Pinker, Steven. 2011. The better angels of our nature: why violence has declined. New York: Viking.

Powell, James M. 1992. Albertanus of Brescia: the pursuit of happiness in the early thirteenth century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.