Wednesday’s flowers

variegated orchids

classical Arabic buttocks in medieval European context

In classical Arabic literature, a figure of feminine beauty was a narrow waist and large buttocks.  An Arabic song from the seventh century lovingly effused:

Her buttocks quiver when she walks; her back
is like a willow branch, her waist is slim. [1]

An Arabic ode from the early eighth century marveled:

Her rump is like a dune that towers, where
the sprinkling rains have shaped firm hillocks. [2]

The larger the buttocks, the bigger the blessing to an admiring man in the ancient Islamic world.  But only within reason.  In a Syrian author’s eleventh-century Arabic story, a shaykh found himself in Paradise:

The shaykh takes a quince, or a pomegranate, or an apple, or whatever fruit God wills, and breaks it open.  A girl with black, lustrous eyes whose beauty dazzles the other damsels of the Paradisical gardens, emerges. [3]

The shaykh is overjoyed and prostrates himself to God for this blessing.  While praising God he retained his good sense in classical Arabic literature:

It occurs to him, while he is still prostrate, that the girl, though beautiful, is rather skinny.  He raises his head and instantly she has a behind that rivals the hills of ʻĀlij, the dunes of al-Dahnāʼ, and the sands of Yabrīn and Banū Saʻd.  Awed by the omnipotence of the Kind and Knowing God, he says, “Thou who givest rays to the shining sun, Thou who fulfillest the desires of everyone, Thou whose awe-inspiring deeds make us feel impotent, and summon to wisdom the ignorant: I ask Thee to reduce the bum of this damsel to one square mile, for Thou hast surpassed my expectations with Thy measure!” [4]

The shaykh’s prayer revised the initial impulse of desire that God apparently perceived in his heart and granted to his eyes.  God responded mercifully to the shaykh’s praise of divine bounty and to his feeling of impotence upon seeing the enormous size of the girl’s buttocks:

An answer is heard: “You may choose: the shape of the girl will be as you wish.”
And the desired reduction is effected.

Men and women across cultures and history typically find most attractive women with waist-to-hip ratios about 0.7.[5]  But, irrespective of evolutionary psychology, classical Arabic literature and God could construct enormous buttocks.

Bustle dress from mid-1880s exaggerates buttocks

The classical Arabic ideal of large buttocks apparently moved European culture.  The ancient Greek ideal of buttocks, at least as represented by the Aphrodite Kallipygos, isn’t impressive in size.  However, an important early fifteenth-century Spanish work in the literature of men’s sexed protests registers a meaningful objection to what would now be termed sexual harassment:

She looks at her hands all covered with rings, and chews her lips to make them red, casting her eyes about, looking sideways, wriggling her bottom like mad … And if she is at home clad only in a wrapper, she will lean over and pick up something from the floor, to show her shanks proudly and a great expanse of buttocks, this to attract the attention of whoever is looking at her, or of the one she would be desired by. [6]

An Italian work of men’s sexed protests from the fourteenth century explicitly connects a woman’s large buttocks to the Arabic world:

she wanted her cheeks nicely puffed and red, her buttocks ample and protruding (having heard perhaps that these things were most highly prized in Alexandria and for that reason were a very great part of the beauty of a lady), above all else she strove to make these two features abundantly conspicuous in herself.  … And fully did she succeed in becoming plump-cheeked and big-bottomed. [7]

The man’s protest focused on the expensive food that his wife ate in order to swell her buttocks:

About the milk-fed veal, the partridges, the fat thrushes, the turtledoves, the Lombard soups, the lasagne cooked in broth, the elderberry fritters, the white chestnut cakes, and the blancmanges of which she had the same bellyfulls as peasants do of figs, cherries, or melons when they are placed before them, I do not care to tell you.

This rhetorically sophisticated protest would gain additional weight if the narrator and most medieval European men did not favor big-bottomed women.  Given the prestige of Arabic science and literature in medieval Europe, large buttocks may have been recognized as an ideal of womanly beauty irrespective of most medieval European men’s actual preferences.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Attributed to Qays ibn Dharīh in Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, al-Aghānī, from Arabic trans. van Gelder (2013) p. 142.

[2] Dhū l-Rummah, qasīdah “To Mayyah’s Two Abodes, a Greeting,” from Arabic trans van Gelder (2013) p. 23.

[3] Abū al-ʿAlāʾ al-Maʿarrī, Risālat al-ghufrān, from Arabic trans. van Gelder (2013) p. 269.  I’ve added a comma after gardens.

[4] Id. (including subsequent quote).  In classical Arabic love poetry, large buttocks were admired in both women and boys: “the standard poetic simile is that of a sand hill or dune.” Id. p. 405, n. 801.

[5] Kościński (2013), Singh (2002).  With respect to body-mass index, relatively wealthy, urban men and women find most attractive skinny women.  Kościński (2013).

[6] Alonso Martínez de Toledo, Archpriest of Talavera, II.8, from Spanish trans. Simpson (1959) p. 140.

[7] Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Corbaccio, from Italian trans. Cassell (1993) pp. 40-1 (including subsequent quote).  Id. p. 123, n. 188, observes that Alexandria was the site of a “notorious Egyptian slave market.”  Desired buttocks in medieval European literature seem otherwise to be smaller than the ideal buttocks of classical Arabic literature.  In twelfth-century French literature, feminine beauty was “small waist; moderately full hips.”  In English literature from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries, feminine beauty was typically “small waist; … not too broad or round hips.”  The fourteenth-century Spanish work Libro de buen amor, which was a culturally hybrid Arabic-European work, described as desirable “widish” hips.  The Arabic folk tale La historia de la doncella Teodor, translated into twelfth-century Castilian, described as beautiful “wide” hips.  Da Soller (2005) pp. 44-6, 73-4, 88-9, 99.  Boccaccio spent part of his youth in Angevin Naples and probably was familiar with at least some Arabic literature.  Kirkham & Menocal (1987).

[image] Dress from the 1880s with bustle exaggerating the buttocks.  Thanks to Wikipedia.


Cassell, Anthony K. trans. 1993. Giovanni Boccaccio. The corbaccio, or, The labyrinth of love. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.

Da Soller, Claudio. 2005. The beautiful woman in medieval Iberia: rhetoric, cosmetics, and evolution. Ph.D. Thesis. University of Missouri-Columbia.

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

Kirkham, Victoria, and Maria Rosa Menocal. 1987.  “Reflections on the ‘Arabic’ world: Boccaccio’s ninth stories.” Stanford Italian Review VII, pp. 95-110.

Kościński, Krzysztof. 2013. “Attractiveness of women’s body: body mass index, waist-hip ratio, and their relative importance.” Behavioral Ecology. 24 (4): 914-925.

Simpson, Lesley Byrd Simpson. 1959. Alfonso Martínez de Toledo.  Little sermons on sin: the Archpriest of Talavera. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Singh, Devendra. 2002. “Female mate value at a glance: relationship of waist-to-hip ratio to health, fecundity and attractiveness.” Neuro Endocrinology Letters. 23: 81-91.


New Modern Sexism Scale helps to evaluate sexism truly

An influential 1995 scholarly article debuted the Modern Sexism Scale.  That article began ominously in the first sentence of its abstract:

Prejudice and discrimination against women has become increasingly subtle and covert (N. V. Benokraitis & J. R. Feagin, 1986). [1]

Prejudice and discrimination against men, in contrast, is blatant and overt.  Discrimination against men is written explicitly in sexist Selective Service registration rulesInternational measures of gender gaps in lifespan naturalize and explicitly ignore men’s lifespan disadvantages.  Men have no reproductive rights.  Men are imprisoned for nothing more than having consensual sex and being unable to pay government-imposed sex payments (“child support”).  Men face enormous gender disparities and discrimination in child custody awards.

Sexism against men is coded into social-scientific studies of sexism that use only the Modern Sexism Scale.  The Modern Sexism Scale measures three factors of sexism:

  1. denial of continuing discrimination {against women}
  2. antagonism toward women’s demands
  3. resentment about special favors for women [2]

The Modern Sexism Scale is obviously sexist.  It’s completely gynocentric.[3]

To combat sexism, the gynocentric Modern Sexism Scale should be complemented with the New Modern Sexism Scale.  The New Modern Sexism Scale measures sexism along three additional factors:

  1. denial of discrimination against men
  2. antagonism toward men’s demands
  3. resentment about concern for men

The Modern Sexism Scale together with the New Modern Sexism Scale measure sexism without the sexism of the Modern Sexism Scale.  If that doesn’t make sense to you, you’ve identified yourself as maximally sexist and no further scientific measurement is needed.

bull horns: key to understanding sexism research

Sexism is further measured by presenting subjects with statements.  Subjects respond to the statements using with five choices of agreement ranging from strongly agree to strongly disagree.  If the statement is essentially sexist, as determined by the credentialed authority administering the examination, then intensity of agreement is coded increasing from 1 to 5.  If the statement is essentially correct-thinking non-sexism, then intensity of disagreement is coded increasing from 1 to 5.  Statements of direct and reverse coding for sexism help to encourage thoughtful responses.  The integer codes for responses are added up to label just how sexist the respondent is.

In the Modern Sexism Scale, eight gynocentric statements measure sexism:

  1. Discrimination against women is no longer a problem in the United States. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  2. Women often miss out on good jobs due to sexual discrimination. {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  3. It is rare to see women treated in a sexist manner on television. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  4. On average, people in our society treat husbands and wives equally. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  5. Society has reached the point where women and men have equal opportunities for achievement. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  6. It is easy to understand the anger of women’s groups in America. {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  7. It is easy to understand why women’s groups are still concerned about societal limitations of women’s opportunities.  {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  8. Over the past few years, the government and the news media have been showing more concern about the treatment of women than is warranted by women’s actual experiences. {more strongly agree is more sexist} [4]

The New Modern Sexism Scale uses eight androcentric statements to measure sexism:

  1. Discrimination against men has never been a problem in the United States, and if it were a problem women’s groups would be very concerned about that discrimination. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  2. Men often miss out on time with their children due to gender roles directing men to earn money and sexual discrimination in child custody awards. {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  3. It is rare to see men treated in a sexist manner on television. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  4. On average, people in our society treat wives and husbands equally. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  5. Society has reached the point where men and women have equal opportunities for personal fulfillment. {more strongly agree is more sexist}
  6. It is easy to understand the anger of men’s groups in America, particularly since their existence is rarely acknowledged, and when acknowledged, commonly misrepresented and ridiculed. {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  7. It is easy to understand why men’s groups are concerned about societal limitations of men’s opportunities.  {more strongly disagree is more sexist}
  8. Over the past few years, the government and the news media have been showing more concern about the treatment of men than is warranted by men’s actual experiences. {more strongly agree is more sexist}

The subject’s scored responses for the eight statements in the Modern Sexism Scale and the eight statements in the New Modern Sexism Scale are separately summed to form dual sexist scores.  These scores are linearly normalized to the 1 to 10 scale widely used for personal evaluation.

Scientifically measured sexism is critical for objectively and authoritatively declaring persons to be sexist.  Extreme values on the Modern Sexism Scale (MSS) and the New Modern Sexism Scale (NMSS) have clear implications:

  • MSS=1 and NMSS=10:  Likely to become a tenured professor.  Incapable of learning.  Will remained mired in sexism against men for the rest of her or his life.
  • MSS=1 and NMSS=1: Shrewd survey respondent.  Recognizes and affirms prejudices implicit in social constructs.  Will successfully rise to the top of egalitarian social elite.
  • MSS=10 and NMSS=1: Outlaw renegade.  Must be suppressed and silenced for the good of the dominant discourse.
  • MSS=10 and NMSS=10: Equally sexist person.  Does not discriminate between women and men.  Urgently needs sexist education to become less sexist.

Intermediate values of MSS-NMSS represent mixed beliefs and attitudes.  When in doubt, declare the person to be sexist and in need of sexist education.  Calling for more research on sexism is also favored among sexism researchers. [5]

The study that set out the Modern Sexism Scale linked sexism and racism.  Racism in the U.S. arose from a history of chattel slavery and pervasive racial segregation.  There is no such history of sexism.  Across all the generation of human beings, men and women have lived together, intimately related, and worked together to raise children.  Being oblivious to that reality, like administering only the Modern Sexism Scale, indicates extreme sexism.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Swim, Aikin, Hall & Hunter (1995) p. 199 (abstract).  The Modern Sexism Scale was influential enough to be included in Baron et al. (2007).

[2] Swim, Aikin, Hall & Hunter (1995) p. 212.

[3] Id. described two studies “validating” the Modern Sexism Scale.  Respondents in the first study:

Respondents were 418 women and 265 men from an introductory psychology course who received extra credit for their participation. Nearly all respondents were European-American.

Id. p. 201. Respondents in the second study:

Four hundred seventy-seven women and 311 men completed the racism and sexism questionnaires for extra credit in their introductory psychology course. Nearly all respondents were European-American.

Id. p. 205.  Women receiving college degrees now outnumber men by about 40%.  In the Modern Sexism Study, female respondents outnumbered male respondents by about 60%.  The greater degree of gender inequality in the Modern Sexism Study reflects large gender inequality in the academic field of psychology.

[4] Id.

[5] Wikipedia lists sixteen different scales to measure to sexism, gender bias, and beliefs about gender.  Many more could be created to satisfy different prejudices of different researchers.  The World Values Survey provides a leading example of a sexist measurement of sexism.


Baron, Sherry, Meg A. Bond, Dianne Cazeca, Sivan Daniel, Alketa Kalaja, Pia Markkanen, Laura Punnett, and Lana Tsurikova. 2007. Expanding our understanding of the psychosocial work environment: a compendium of measures of discrimination, harassment and work-family issues.  U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Swim, Janet K., Kathryn J. Aikin, Wayne S. Hall, and Barbara A. Hunter. 1995. “Sexism and racism: Old-fashioned and modern prejudices.”  Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. 68 (2): 199-214.


Corbaccio’s guide recognized humane social position for men

Men killing other men, with incitement and support from women, vastly predominates among deadly interpersonal violence.  Violence against women, rather than violence against men, has nonetheless become a major public concern.  Whether through sexist Selective Service registration or requiring men to be the last off sinking ships or ignoring serious injuries to men or many other ways, men’s lives have long been socially devalued.

upper body of knight in full combat armor

The fourteenth-century Italian humanistic writer Giovanni Boccaccio celebrated a more humane social position for men in his under-appreciated comic masterpiece of love, Il Corbaccio.  In that work, a ghostly guide counseled the narrator about his failed courtship of the guide’s former wife.  That lady delighted in men “full of prowess and vigor.”  The guide explained to the benighted narrator:

I believe you thought she liked, wanted, or desired the sight of brave and vigorous men jousting with iron-tipped lances, or in bloody battle amid a thousand mortal perils, or besieging cities and castles, or, with sword in hand, killing each other. [1]

That’s a life-depriving social position for men.  Women and men have long supported that sort of social position for men.  But the guide’s former wife was more humane.  The guide described her good reason and humanity:

She is neither so cruel nor so treacherous as you seem to believe, that she loves men so that they kill each other.  And what would she do with the blood which gushes forth red as a man dies?  Her thirst is for the more refinèd kind that living, healthy bodies can render without needing to have it back again.  The prowess which she likes, then, no one knows better than I.  It is not used in public squares, or in fields, or upon city walls, or with breast plates on, or with basinet upon the head, or with any slashing sword; it is used in the boudoir, in hidden places, beds, and similar locations suited to it, where without the coursing of horses, or the sound of brass trumpets, one goes to the joust at a slow place. [2]

Medieval men faced the now inconceivable danger of sexual exhaustion.  Nonetheless, men having sex with women is a much more humane social position for men than is men killing other men.

A central challenge for societies today is to create a humane social position for men, one that gives men human dignity and value equal to that of women.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Corbaccio, from Italian trans. Cassell (1993) p. 49.

[2] Id. pp. 49-50.  The lady almost surely would have rejected the celebration of a knight’s bloody wounds in the mid-thirteenth-century French courtly nouvelle, Des trois Chevaliers et del Chainse.  The lady’s valuation of men recovers the lost ideal of chivalry.

[image] Armor of the Duke of Medina Sidonia, c. 1590,  Walters Art Museum, Baltimore, no. 51.585.


Cassell, Anthony K. trans. 1993. Giovanni Boccaccio. The corbaccio, or, The labyrinth of love. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.


Wednesday’s flowers

blue cone of flowers

Boccaccio’s Corbaccio: comic reality of love as new Vita Nuova

Boccaccio presents book to ladies

The fourth wave of Corbaccio criticism has now arrived.  Giovanni Boccaccio wrote Il Corbaccio in Italian in the mid-fourteenth century.  From the mid-eighteenth century to the mid-twentieth century, critics interpreted the Corbaccio as autobiographical and misogynistic.  Then, from 1947 to 1975, they interpreted the Corbaccio as fictional and misogynistic.  For the next quarter century, leading critics described the Corbaccio as fictional and ridiculing of misogynists.  Today, cutting-edge fourth-wave critics recognize that the Corbaccio is realistic and love-affirming.[1]  Boccaccio’s Corbaccio presents the comic reality of heterosexual love in a humanistic re-conception of Dante’s Vita Nuova.

Dante’s Vita Nuova tells of love servitude long culturally constructed as men’s finest aspiration.  Dante the narrator saw a beautiful girl named Beatrice:

At that moment I say truly that the vital spirit, that which lives in the most secret chamber of the heart, began to tremble so violently that I felt it fiercely in the least pulsation, and, trembling, it uttered these words: ‘Ecce deus fortior me, qui veniens dominabitur michi: Behold a god more powerful than I, who, coming, will rule over me. [2]

Dante became a captive soul.  So too enslaved have been many men throughout history: the men Ovid ridiculedall-mighty caliphs in the ancient Islamic worldUlrich the foolish knight.  Dante envisioned his burning heart in the hand of Amor, the personification of love, who fed it to Beatrice:

Joyfully Amor seemed to me to hold
my heart in his hand, and held in his arms
my lady wrapped in a cloth, sleeping.
Then he woke her, and that burning heart
he fed to her reverently, she fearing,
afterwards he went, not to be seen weeping.

Suffering from love-sickness, Dante became absorbed in thoughts of Beatrice.  He became weak and debilitated.  His friends, noticing his illness, inquired about the cause.  Acknowledging the obvious, Dante said that he suffered due to Amor.  Then he said no more:

when they asked me: ‘For whom has Amor so distressed you?’ gazing at them I smiled, and said nothing to them.

Dante’s Vita Nuova consists of continual love-sickness combined with lavish praise of Beatrice from a distance.  The Vita Nuova ends with Dante’s vow, “I hope to write of her what has never been written of any woman.”

In the Corbaccio, a specter of Dante leads the narrator to a new life more propitious for love in the flesh.  The narrator of the Corbaccio gets lost in a desolate wilderness resounding with howling and shrieking.  The narrator meets a guide.  In sharp contrast to Dante’s spiritual journey of love, this guide shows the narrator love in the style of comic realism:

The execrable feminine sex is suspicious and bad-tempered beyond all comparison.  Unless they are informed of it, nothing can be discussed with a neighbor, relative, or friend, without women’s immediate suspicion that you are working against them to do them harm — although men ought not to wonder greatly at that, since it is natural always to fear from others the wrongs we do to them; and for this reason, thieves usually know how to hide their belongings well.  Women’s every thought, design, and action aim at nothing else but to rob, lord over, and deceive men [3]

In a claim that has been historically influential, the guide asserts that men do not necessarily need women:

they {women} are all presumptuous and pretend that for them everything is seemly and that nothing is too good, that they are worthy of every honor and all greatness, and that men are worthless and cannot exist without them [4]

The guide fearlessly takes the narrator through men’s fear of enraged women:

As instinctively as animals, they {women} immediately fly into such a burning temper that tigers, lions, and snakes have more humanity when enraged than do women; the latter, whatever the cause for which they have lost their temper, run instantly for poison, fire, and the sword. [5]

The guide challenges women’s superiority with a low-bodily exercise of apophasis:

Among their {women’s} other vanities, when they wish to exalt themselves far above men, they say that all good things are of the feminine gender: the stars, planets, Muses, virtues, and riches. If it weren’t indecent, to this you would only want to reply, “It’s quite true they’re all feminine, but they don’t piss!” [6]

The guide presents many of the concerns and figures already established in the literature of men’s sexed protests.  Boccaccio had compiled and studied that literature for years.[7]  That literature’s concern for gender equality and self-sufficiency can readily be recognized as a forefather of present-day feminist literature.  Yet the Corbaccio does not advance idealized moralism of misandry any more than it does idealized moralism of misogyny.  The Corbaccio presents men’s sexed protests in a low-realistic style that subverts abstract moralism.  Love in the flesh depends on recognizing real persons.

In a brilliant stroke of parody, the guide turns out to be the former husband of the lady for whom the narrator pines.  Foreshadowing the 15 Joys of Marriage, the guide reports realistically type-typical bedroom talk of a woman to her husband:

Get over there! So help me God, you’ll not touch me!  Chase after those whom you deserve, for certainly you don’t deserve me; go show yourself for what you are.  You’ll get what’s coming to you.  Remember, you didn’t drag me out of the mud!  God knows who and what class of men they were who would have considered themselves lucky to have taken me without a dowry!  I would’ve been lord and master of all they owned!  And to you I gave so many gold florins! I could never even command a glass of water without a thousand reproaches from your brothers and servants; one would think I were their lackey!  I was surely unlucky to ever have set eyes on you; may he who said the first word about it break a leg. [8]

Explicitly drawing upon his knowledge as the lady’s former husband, the guide provides an outrageous description of the lady’s body.  The description ends at her anus:

What shall I say further to you therefore about the village of Evilhole?  Placed between two lofty mountains, from here sometimes just as from Mongibello, first with great thunderclaps and then without, there issues forth a sulfurous smoke, so fetid and repulsive that it pollutes the whole countryside around.  I do not know what to say to you about it except that, when I lived near it (for I remained there longer than I would have liked), I was offended many times by such blasts that I thought to die there something other than a Christian death. [9]

With his undressing of his former wife, the guide at a superficial level is taking revenge.  In a somewhat similar story in Boccaccio’s Decameron, the group’s most senior member Pampinea described what she called the “just revenge” of a scholar on a lady who had rejected his love and cruelly abused him.[10]  That scholar caused the lady real pain.  The guide in the Corbaccio provided words of knowledge that generated laughter in recognition and wisdom.[11]

Men abasing themselves in servitude to women doesn’t create a new life of love.  Echoing the teachings of Ovid, the leading authority on making love, the guide counsels the heart-broken narrator:

If you want to atone fully for the errors you have committed, you must act in the opposite way to what you have done; but this must be understood correctly.  What you have loved you must hate; and whatever you were ready to do to earn someone’s love, you must be ready to do the contrary so that you gain hatred. [12]

In modern seduction literature for men, the guide’s advice is known as push-pull technique and the “women love jerks” principle.  In the Decameron, the last song is that of the strong, independent woman Fiammetta.  She sings of the unity of love and jealousy:

If Love could come unmixed with jealousy
There’d be no lady born
So glad as I, whoever she may be.

But love for women is always mixed with jealousy.  It’s also mixed with hostility toward all men and all women:

Yet if I knew my lord’s
Fidelity were equal to his worth,
I’d not be jealous then.
But nowadays one sees
So many women lead men on that I
Hold all men culpable.
This breaks my heart and makes me long to die,
For I suspect each one
Who eyes him, fearful she’ll take him away.

Fiammetta holds “all men” culpable for being led on by women.  The enjambment of the line “For I suspect each one” taunts those who understand only the abstraction of misandry or misogyny.  The suspects are the women who eye Fiammetta’s beloved man:

For God’s sake then, I pray
No woman in the world would ever dare
To do me such a wrong,
For should some one of them,
By using words or signs or flattery,
Attempt in this affair
To do me harm and should I learn of it,
Then mar my looks if I
Don’t make her weep her folly bitterly.[13]

That’s not actually an avowal to seek revenge.  Dioneo says to Fiammetta:

Madam, you would be doing all the other ladies a great kindness if you would reveal your lover’s name to them, so that out of ignorance they would not take from you what is yours, since this would make you so angry! [14]

The Decamaron records no response from Fiammetta.  Like Dante in the Vita Nuova, Fiammetta undoubtedly refused to reveal the name of the man she loved.  What seems like an avowal to seek revenge is actually a form of declaring love.  So too the guide in the Corbaccio was actually leading the narrator to love in the flesh.  For heterosexual men, gaining the love of a woman starts with confidence in one’s own worth relative to women.  It depends on a human vision that allows a man to remain unflustered when facing a woman’s overwhelming beauty.  With the knowledge and the example of the guide, the Corbaccio‘s narrator gained key skills in the art of love.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] On the first three waves of Corbaccio criticism, Hollander (1988) p. 42.  Id. p. 43 takes the position of abnegation characteristic of the dolce stil novo:

In my interpretation of the Corbaccio I find Boccaccio poor in friends indeed.  And I think he may have felt a sense of isolation, of having labored for those unworthy of his talent. … He had had enough of us because we simply were not up to him.  Who can blame him for that?

[2] Dante Alighieri, La Vita Nuova, II, from Italian trans. Kline (2001).  The subsequent three quotes are from id. III, IV, XLII.

[3] Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Corbaccio, from Italian trans. Cassell (1993) pp. 28-9.  Here’s the original medieval Italian text of Il Corbaccio.  Medieval men suffered from bad guides.  See, e.g. the go-between in Pamphilus and the serranas in Libro de buen amor.

[4] Id. p. 30.  Mocking the claim “men cannot exist without women” is now the slogan, “A man needs a woman like a fish needs a bicycle.”

[5] Id. p. 29.  On the danger of enraging women, see Solomon’s experience in the medieval Latin work Solomon and Marcolf.

[6] Id. p. 32.  Women’s superiority in guile is well-documented.  On the relation of excrement to wisdom, see the Seven Sages of Ostia.

[7] Boccacio’s notebook, known as the Zibaldone laurenziano, has survived to the present.  It contains, in Boccaccio’s own hand, a florilegium of men’s sexed protests, Theophrastus’s De nuptiis, and Walter Mapes’s Valerius Rufino ne ducat uxorem.  Cassell (1993) intro. pp. xx-xxi.  Those are major works in the literature of men’s sexed protests.  Id. p. xviii notes, “the Decameron itself was not always kind to the ladies.”  A major work of imaginative literature that is “always kind to the ladies” either lacks appreciation for human nature or has internalized the rules of the socially dominant discourse.

[8] Il Corbaccio, trans. Cassell (1993) pp. 26-7.  Wives depriving their husbands of sex appears to be a more important problem today than it was in medieval Europe.

[9] id. p. 56.  In the more liberal circumstances of medieval Europe, crude descriptions of bodily parts were less socially troubling than seems to be the case today.  About the village of Evilhole, Psaki (2003).

[10] Boccaccio, Decameron, 8th day, 7th story, from Italian trans. Musa & Bondanella (2002) p. 589.  The scholar in that story is called Rinieri.  Displaying Solomonic malice toward men, Hollander (1988) p. 23 declares:

Rinieri, the narrator of the Corbaccio, and the latter’s guide and mentor are all better regarded as male hysterics than as lance bearers in an imagined Boccaccian war against women.

The first alternative is only slightly better than the second.  As a senior male academic would have to agree, the woman Pampinea was correct in describing Rinieri’s action as “just revenge.”

[11] In the middle of the guide’s description of his horrible experience in marriage to the narrator’s beloved, the narrator states: “at these words I declare that I could not restrain my laughter.”  Corbaccio, trans. Cassell (1993) p. 41.  After much additional description of marital horrors, the guide tells the narrator:

if you had considered those things which I have been talking about (not, certainly, those things which you failed to learn from your studies, but those things which they could have shown you had you wished to look), you would have laughed over not seeing her differ from the general run of women.  Perhaps you are laughing to yourself about this now, and are wise if you do.

Id. p. 64.  Only one modern scholar has admitted to laughing at the Corbaccio:

the particularized loathing of someone’s natural bodily parts, page after page, is either hilariously repulsive or repulsively hilarious.  Either way, it is hilarious.

Barricelli (1975) p. 108.

[12] Corbaccio, trans. Cassell (1993) p. 72.  Ovid’s Remedia Amoris, in describing contemplating your lover’s defects, ironically develops a key seduction technique called “negging.”  Hollander (1988), p. 37, declares:

A perception of the ludicrous, self-centered, and antisocial behavior of Ovidian lovers is all that we should require to understand that the author of Amores and Ars amatoria is first of all an ironist.

That analysis misses an important point: the Ovidian lover is ludicrous, self-centered, antisocial, and successful.

[13] Boccaccio, Decameron, 10th day, Conclusion, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 853 (previous three quotes above).  Rebhorn’s translation of this song seems to me to be more musical than that of Musa & Bondanella (2002).  For the line “I hold all men culpable,” the latter has “I think all men are horrible!”

[14] Decameron, 10th day, Conclusion, trans. Musa & Bondanella (2002) p. 801.

[image] Boccaccio presenting book to ladies, illumination from manuscript of Giovanni Boccaccio, De claris mulieribus, in French translation; Rouen, c. 1440, Royal 16 G V, f. 3v, thanks to the British Library.


Barricelli, Gian Piero. 1975. “Satire of Satire: Boccaccio’s Corbaccio.” Italian Quarterly 18.72 (Spring): 95-111.

Cassell, Anthony K. trans. 1993. Giovanni Boccaccio. The corbaccio, or, The labyrinth of love. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.

Hollander, Robert. 1988. Boccaccio’s last fiction, “Il Corbaccio”. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Kline, A.S., trans. 2001.  Dante Alighieri.  La Vita Nuova (The New Life)Poetry in Translation online.

Musa, Mark and Peter E. Bondanella, trans. 2002. Giovanni Boccaccio. The Decameron. New York: Signet Classic.

Psaki, Regina, F. 2003. “‘Women Make All Things Lose Their Power’: Women’s Knowledge, Men’s Fear in the Decameron and the Corbaccio.” Heliotropia 1.1

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


COB-92: Chigusa and the art of bureaucracy

TPS Report, preliminary draft

The famous tea jar Chigusa is now on display at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, DC.  Chigusa is one of numberless, anonymous ceramic jars made in southern China during the 13th or 14th century.  Chigusa was routinely transferred to Japan.  There Chigusa received its name, which means “thousand grasses” or “myriad things.”  Japanese tea men displayed, ornamented, and contemplated Chigusa for centuries.  Chigusa, under the appearance of an ordinary ceramic jar, is actually the quintessence of bureaucracy, not surprisingly discovered in Japan.

tea jar chigusa

Chigusa is like a routine bureaucratic TPS report.  To insensitive eyes, a TPS report looks like a large stack of papers and an undistinguished cover sheet.  But behind each word of such reports is a chain of crossed-out words extending to the furthermost reaches of the bureaucratic organization.  “Initiative” became “strategic initiative” then “forward-looking proposal” yielded to “business-pivot implementation step” that fell to “proposed performance milestone” raised to “aspirational millennial goal” then simplified to “initiative” that cycles forward in the never-ending business of planning the business.   Display, ornamentation, and contemplation are the core principles of TPS report creation.  A thousand blades of grass and myriad things are carefully gathered and arranged in a TPS report.

Everyone who aspires to the highest level of aestheticism in bureaucracy should view Chigusa reverently.

In other bureaucratic issues this month, ordinary citizens are now fighting back against efforts to reduce bureaucrats’ paper use.  Elderly persons are being denied ready access to paper Social Security statements.  That, not surprisingly, makes it more difficult for them to monitor whether their benefits are being cut.  Print newspapers are shrinking, and the number of coupons that can be clipped is plummeting.  The cost to consumers is obvious.  Any paper product currently being produced should not be eliminated before a thorough impact analysis report is prepared on paper.

Another disturbing development is complaint-driven development.   This software-development protocol involves pushing the product to real users, listening to their complaints, and fixing the most significant complaints.  A well-run bureaucracy, in contrast, treats each complaint equally.  Each complaint receives a standard response of the following sort:

Thank you for your complaint.  We have considered it.  We hope that you will soon recognize that we have fully addressed your complaint.

This response can easily be automated and sent out millions of times at low cost.  Complaint-driven development, in contrast, is expensive and relatively inefficient.

That’s all for this month’s Carnival of Bureaucrats.  Enjoy previous bureaucratic carnivals here.  Nominations of posts to be considered for inclusion in next month’s carnival should be submitted using Form 376: Application for Bureaucratic Recognition.

*  *  *  *  *

[image] Chigusa image courtesy of Freer Gallery of Art, which acquired Chigusa in 2009.

transcending legal constraints to meet men’s sexual needs

Many married men in America now suffer from sexual deprivation.  That wasn’t a problem in medieval Europe.  A leading fourteenth-century European spiritual guide for men recognized women’s strong, independent sexuality:

let it be clear to you that she who seems most chaste and virtuous … would rather have one eye than be content with just one man.  … Women’s lust is fiery and insatiable and for this reason knows no discrimination or bounds … while their husbands were away or else left sleeping in their beds, many have already gone to public brothels in disguise!  And they were last to leave these places, tired but unsatisfied. [1]

The spiritual guide described his own earthly experience with his wife:

Not only could I not satisfy her burning lust, nor one lover, nor two besides me, but a multitude were not sufficient to quench a single tiny spark of it.  I have not spoken to you about this, nor do I intend to speak about it at length, … for I know that men who desire women’s affection take greater hope and, in consequence, add more fuel to their love, the more they hear of women’s ardor. [2]

Men want their sexual needs to be met.  Medieval European men tended not to understand, at least in advance, that medieval European women’s sexual vitality far exceeded their own.

millstone for a lusty young miller

The fourteenth-century Spanish work Libro de buen amor presents men’s sexual misunderstanding in a culturally hybrid fableau.  A lusty young miller wanted three wives.  Some medieval European men undoubtedly had sexual relationships with women other than their wives.  However, in Christian Europe, a man was not permitted to have multiple wives.  In the Islamic world, men could have up to four wives.  The young miller’s desire for multiple wives is sexual eagerness expressed in a well-recognized institutional form of the Islamic world.  Quantitatively, the young miller’s sexual eagerness did not quite reach the limit of Islamic law.

After a month of marriage to one wife, the lusty young miller sought to transgress European Christian marriage law in a different direction.  His wife exhausted him sexually.  His family was planning to marry off his elder brother “to one woman, and not more, by law and the rites of the Church”:

The wedded brother {the young miller} replied that they should not do this, for he already had a consort with whom both of them could partake of conjugality to the full, and that they should tell his brother of this, and they should not meddle with marrying him to another woman. [3]

The young miller thus sought for his wife to have sexually in effect two husbands.  Such an arrangement is no more Christian than a man having three wives.

The story of the young miller concludes in weakness and in love.  Before he was married, the young miller was muscular and had great power and strength.  He could stop a spinning millstone with his unmoving foot.  After a month of marriage, the young miller was tossed upside down when he attempted to stop the millstone with his foot.  He then cursed the millstone: “Ah, strong mill, would that I could see you married!”  The mill could not marry.  Neither could in Christian Europe one man legally marry multiple wives, or one wife have multiple husbands.  These institutional details matter little in the end:

He loved his first wife so much that he never took the second girl; he never tried to stop the millstone again, he never even considered it [4]

The fire of his wife’s sexuality left the young man weak and satisfied.  Men today probably wouldn’t protest such an outcome, at least if they could know who their children are.

An earlier Old French fabliau parallels the story of the young miller, but places a young man’s initial desire beyond Islamic law.  The young man said that he wanted twelve wives.  However, just one wife sexually exhausted him and established her sexual superiority.  Haggard and spent from too much sex with his wife, the husband renounced his desire for multiple wives.  His wife then took good care of him:

She took her husband by the hand
and led him home and bathed him and
had him shaven and cut his hair,
and saw he drank and had three square
meals every day and had a place
where he could sleep alone in peace,
and made sure all his needs were met
till he’d filled out and put on weight
and regained his vitality. [5]

Many countries today control men’s sexuality with harshly punitive laws.  Those laws are unlikely to change soon.  But individual women are capable of meeting men’s sexual needs and showing concern for men’s health and well-being.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Il Corbaccio, from Italian trans. Cassell (1993) p. 26.  Those observations echo Juvenal, Satire VI, 53-54, 116-30.  They subsequently became well-recognized in the literature of men’s sexed protests.  Men’s current de facto legal subordination in marriage may be dissolving married couples’ sexual interests in each other.  See De Jour (2005) and Magnanti (2012).

[2] Id. p. 46.

[3] Libro de buen amor, s. 192, from Spanish trans. Willis (1972) p. 60.  The story of the young miller spans ss. 189-196.  All the quotes above, unless otherwise noted, are from id.

[4] Elsewhere in Libro de buen amor, Don Amor (Sir Love) urges upon men the importance of frequently having sex with their ladies:

Do not neglect your lady, I’ve told you that before.
All women, gardens, mills need constant use, as you should know.

The following things are true: a mill that’s grinding earns the rent,
A garden that’s well spaded bears sweet apples excellent,
A woman who is often wooed is lively and content.
With these facts in mind, you’ll find your efforts not misspent.

Ss. 472ab, 473, trans. Daly (1978) p. 137.  Before the man-degrading ideal of chivalry triumphed in western Europe, chivalry meant a man being always ready to satisfy his lady’s sexual needs.

[5] Du vallet aus douze fames (The fellow of the dozen wives), from Old French trans. Dubin (2013) p. 373.  For an alternate translation of Du vallet aus douze fames, see the fabliaux English translation bibliographic dataset.


Cassell, Anthony K. trans. 1993. Giovanni Boccaccio. The corbaccio, or, The labyrinth of love. Binghamton, N.Y.: Medieval & Renaissance Texts & Studies.

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

De Jour, Belle. 2005. The intimate adventures of a London call girl. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

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

Magnanti, Brooke Leigh. 2012. The sex myth: why everything we’re told is wrong. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

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


Wednesday’s flowers

purple blur of flowers

production-to-stock for early Christian epitaphs

production-to-stock stone for epitaph of Maria, wife of Euplous

In sixth-century Corinth, a Christian epitaph for Maria, the wife of Euplous, apparently was made from a production-to-stock stone with a generic inscription.  Additional inscription personalized the epitaph for Maria.  Here’s the inscription, translated into English organized in accordance with the lines of the Greek inscription:

Here lies {Maria},
{the modest spouse of Euplous,
the charioteer}.  Purchased
the grave {Euplous} from
Anastasios the subdeacon
for one and one half gold pieces;
I gave the purchase price to Anastasios,
received full rights from him,
and put the epitaph in place.
died {my blessed wife
the eleventh day before the Kalends of September} [1]

The words enclosed in braces {} above represent the personalized inscription for Maria.  Bracketed between the conventional “here lies” and “died” in the production-to-stock inscription is important public documentation of Maria’s right to be buried in the associated grave.

fully inscribed epitaph of Maria, wife of Euplous

Knowledge about the retail market for tombstones in the ancient Mediterranean world is sparse.  The Maria epitaph’s production-to-stock inscription is specific to the minor church official Anastasios.  The stone on which the epitaph was cut is a thin, schisty-marble rectangle.  It appears to be builder’s surplus from slabs used for floors and wall decorations.[2]  Anastasios may have had a stock of such slabs with pre-cut inscriptions.  The production-to-stock epitaph slabs may have been a standard component in Anastasios’s business of selling graves.  The point of pre-inscribing documentary language may have been to ensure standard, authoritative terms for the selling of graves.

production-to-stock stone for Julianus epitaph

The Julianus Christian epitaph from Athens in the fifth or sixth century also apparently was made from a production-to-stock stone.   The Julianus stone’s hypothesized production-to-stock inscription is more generic than that of the Maria epitaph.  Any seller of graves or gravestones could have offered the production-to-stock stone that was the basis for the Julianus epitaph.  Unlike the production-to-stock inscription on the Maria epitaph, the production-to-stock inscription on the Julianus epitaph makes sense as a marketing strategy.  The pre-cut figural design and acclamation create an impressive gravestone to sell from stock.[3]

Julianus funerary stone for Christian in Athens

The existence of production-to-stock stonework in the ancient Mediterranean world has been a matter of scholarly controversy.  One leading work on classical Attic tombstones has observed:

The topic of tombstones ready-bought or commissioned can be discussed in only very hypothetical terms … one cannot but conclude that memorials already completely finished — save for the inscriptions! — lacked attraction for the buyer. [4]

A recent detailed analysis of the economics of the Roman stone trade concluded:

larger stone objects—architectural elements, sarcophagi, statues—were expensive, complicated projects that consumed enormous quantities of labour and material, and usually had to be tailored to the specific needs of the customer. … production-to-stock of these objects was probably never the norm. In the main such items were entirely ill-suited to this mode of production, with the possible exception of roughly squared blocks or perhaps simply hollowed-out sarcophagus chests. [5]

However, a leading work on classical Greek sculpture noted that about sixty classical Athenian gravestones were produced per year from about 430 to 317.  This work states that evidence suggests a market for ready-made (production-to-stock) gravestones:

Standardization of any sort is rare until after ca. 400, but then increases dramatically along with the actual number of stelae produced.  Simultaneously the range of compositioned schemes decreases markedly, and high-relief stelai with multiple figures come more into vogue, where it is often impossible to tell who is dead if the inscription is missing.  Even when it survives, the deceased’s name sometimes does not even correlate in sex or positioning with the figure who is the center of attention. [6]

The Maria and Julianus epitaphs are much less costly than sarcophagi and classical Greek tombstones with elaborate sculptures.  Economic arguments against production-to-stock are capital outlay, market risk, and foregone opportunities for customization.  Those arguments are rather weak for the specific circumstances of the Maria and Julianus epitaphs.

Production-to-stock for early Christian epitaphs in Greece suggests well-developed early Christian communities there.  Relative to custom production, production-to-stock is more suitable for larger markets and lower-cost items.  Production-to-stock requires more complex institutions than custom production.  The interests and wealth of particular persons could motivate the construction of large churches.  Production-to-stock of early Christian gravestones indicates community at a more ordinary level of action.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] John Kent’s translation, as cited in Walbank & Walbank (2006) p. 268, with Walbank & Walbank’s suggested corrections  (teamster -> charioteer, servant -> subdeacon) and my lineation.  The separation between the production-to-stock inscription and the custom inscription is based on Walbank & Walbank’s expert evaluation of the lettering.  Id. pp. 275-8.

[2] Id. pp. 278-9.

[3] Sironen (1997) no. 79 is reconstructed as, “{The sepulcher of- – -}us for sal{e}.”  Perhaps “for sale” indicates a retail epitaph “sales room” specimen.

[4] Clairmon & Conze (1993), Introductory Volume, p. 67.  Id. p. 68 suggests that production-to-stock may have occurred for children’s tombstones.  Many tombstones had inscriptions added, e.g. an additional family member buried in the tomb.  Id. Vol. VI, pp. 71.  Many tombstones also had inscriptions erased and re-inscribed.  Id. Vol. VI, pp. 148-9.  Like Shakespeare’s tomb, early Christian gravestones warned against tampering with the tomb.  For example, a Christian epitaph from Attica, probably from the fourth century, begins with a cross and declares:

Sepulcher of Andreas and Athenais and their child Maria; they have lived through a good life. If anybody has the impudence to open up (the grave) and bury another (person), he shall have the lot of Judas and total darkness shall overwhelm him and God shall destroy him on that Day (of Judgment).

Sironen (1997) no. 231, p. 266.  See also id. nos. 51, 84, 90, 96, 106, 114, 226, 236.

[5] Russell (2013) p. 358.

[6] Stewart (1990) p. 62.  Carroll (2006), pp. 106-108, discusses texts shared across epitaphs.  Id. p. 109 notes the existence of prepared gravestones lacking only personalized inscriptions.   Id. , p. 110, Fig. 38, shows a “ready-made stele from Mainz with a blank epitaph panel that was never inscribed.”  The stone is from the  1st century GC and is held in the  Rheinisches Landesmuseum, Mainz.  The top of the stone has a carved pediment and vegetal motifs.  Id. p. 112.  discusses other such examples.

[image] 1) Proposed reconstruction of precut plaque of Maria epitaph, made by J. Herbst, Fig. 5 in Walbank & Walbank (2006) p. 276. 2) Maria Epitaph, Corinth Museum, inv. no. I-2301, Figure 4 in Walbank & Walbank (2006) p. 275, available under Creative Commons BY-NC license. 3) Proposed production-to-stock stone for Julian epitaph, my creation from stone image. 4) Julianus epitaph, from Feissel (1981) p. 485, available under Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license.


Carroll, Maureen. 2006. Spirits of the dead Roman funerary commemoration in Western Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Clairmont, Christoph W., and Alexander Conze. 1993. Classical attic tombstones. Kilchberg, Switzerland: Akanthus.

Feissel, Denis. 1981. “Notes d’épigraphie chrétienne (V).”  Bulletin de correspondance hellénique 105(1), pp. 483-497.

Russell, Ben. 2013. The economics of the Roman stone trade. Corby: Oxford University Press.

Sironen, Erkki. 1997. The late Roman and early Byzantine inscriptions of Athens and Attica: an edition with appendices on scripts, sepulchral formulae and occupations. Helsinki: Hakapaino Oy.

Stewart, Andrew F. 1990. Greek sculpture: an exploration. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Walbank, Mary E. Hoskins, and Michael B Walbank. 2006. “The Grave of Maria, Wife of Euplous: A Christian Epitaph Reconsidered.” Hesperia. 75 (2): 267-288.

« Previous PageNext Page »