The Mirror: actively promoted, long book on doing nothing

Porete painted into corner

The Mirror of Simple Souls, a book probably written about 1300 in France, exalts noble Souls. These Souls have taken leave of reason and works of virtue. They have relinquished completely their will. Annihilated, they seek nothing. This book’s author, now commonly regarded as Marguerite Porete, seems to have understood herself to be a noble Soul.[1] She thus struggled to explain why she wrote (and actively promoted) a long book on the noble way of doing nothing.

Porete declared that her work as an author was base. In an exculpatory chapter entitled, “How the Soul who caused this book to be written excuses herself for having made this so long-winded, this book which seems so small and short to the Souls who dwell in nothingness…,” Porete wrote:

I excuse myself, says this Soul {“who caused this book to be written”}, before all you who dwell in nothingness … for I have made very big with my many words this book, which yet will seem very small to you, if I know you rightly. [2]

To those who dwell in the greatness of nothingness, Porete’s book is “very small” because it’s a worldly work. Addressing noble Souls, Porete made conventional excuses and declared her book to be base:

Now by your gracious leave excuse me, for necessity knows no law. I did not know to whom to make my intention known. But now I know, to set you at peace and to tell the truth, that it is base. It was Cowardice who guided it, and who surrendered this intention to Reason through Love’s replies to Reason’s questions [3]

She pleaded that she had to write the book. She pleaded that she was too cowardly not to write the book. She elaborately explained that she didn’t cause the book to be written:

Love caused it to be written by human knowledge, and by the will of the transformation of my understanding, with which I was burdened down, as it appears in this book; for Love has made it by unburdening my spirit through these three gifts of which we have spoken. And so I say that it is base and very little, however great it seemed to me when I began to make this state of being known.

After declaring her book to be “base and very little,” Porete turned to lyrical poetry. Her poetry affectively argues that her writing isn’t base.

Porete actively promoted her book. Sometime after she wrote the first version of her book, she added to the prologue blurb-like endorsements. In one, the Cisterian monk Dom Frank fully endorsed it: “it is all truth that this book says.”[4] The theological scholar Master Godfrey of Fontaines lavishly praised it:

the soul never comes to divine usages until she has this usage, for all other human usages are beneath these usages. This is divine usage and none other but this. [5]

The Friar Minor John of Querayn affirmed its divine inspiration: “this book is made by the Holy Ghost.” Porete, making clear that The Mirror of Simple Souls should not be understood as her personal expression, explained: “through me, the creator has created out of himself this book.”[6] The puffery that Porete collected and incorporated into her book is as actively and willfully promotional as blurbs associated with aggressive book marketing in modern, highly competitive scholarly book markets. That’s something.

Porete actively promoted her book even in circumstances that strongly favored doing nothing. Sometime before 1306, Guido of Colmieu, Bishop of Cambrai, condemned Porete for “a certain pestiferous book containing heresy and error.” Guido ordered Porete to watch her book be publicly burned.[7] Porete was additionally admonished:

You were expressly prohibited by this bishop, under pain of excommunication, from composing or having again such a book, or using it or one like it. The same bishop added and expressly stated in a certain letter sealed with his seal that if you should again use the aforesaid book, or if you should attempt again by word or in writing those things that were contained in it, he was condemning you as heretical and relinquishing you to be judged by secular justice.

Porete, however, refused to do nothing. Two years later, a new Bishop of Cambrai accused her of distributing her book and teaching her views.[8] The official inquiry addressing her activity recounted:

After all these things, against the said prohibition, you several times had and several times used the said book, as is evident in your acknowledgements, made not only in the presence of the inquisitor of Lorraine, but also in the presence of the reverend father and lord, Lord Philip then bishop of Cambrai and now archbishop of Sens. After the aforesaid condemnation and burning, you even communicated the said book, as though good and licit, to the reverend father Lord John, bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, and to certain other persons [9]

For almost a year and half, Porete refused to testify under oath to the official inquiry into her activity. She refused opportunities for absolution and reconciliation. Perhaps Porete was eagerly seeking the self-annihilation that she celebrated in her book. In any case, she was burned as a heretic in 1310.[10]

The scholastic officials of her time had Porete burned for actively promoting her path of doing nothing. In our enlightened age, we should better recognize that leaving behind reason and virtue and embracing nothingness are bad ideas.

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[1] Lydia Wegener and Elizabeth A.R. Brown, who are highly knowledgeable, truth-seeking scholars, have recently questioned whether Marguerite Porete authored The Mirror of Simple Souls and whether the text condemned in Paris in 1310 was that text. Wegener (2010) and Brown (2012) pp. 27-9. In this article, I assume both those claims to be true. In any case, the difficulties with the authorial position within The Mirror of Simple Souls don’t depend on who authored it and whether it was officially condemned.

Within the now standard view of Mirror authorship, Lerner (2010), pp. 92-3, points out that Porete was probably a nickname rather than a cognomen. He states:

I would also add my subjective judgment that referring to this remarkable woman as “Marguerite,” rather than “Porete,” places her fittingly in the company of Hadewijch, Mechthild, and Eckhart.

On the other hand, Porete has become the standard surname. It is more distinguished among names than is simply Marguerite. In any case, careful evaluation of the historical evidence of authorship is surely more interesting than pondering conventions of reference.

[2] Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls brought to nothingness and who live only in the will and desire for love, Ch. 119, from Old French trans. Colledge, Marler & Grant (1999) p. 146. All subsequent quotes from Porete’s The Mirror of Simple Souls, unless otherwise noted, are from id.  Field briefly observed:

Marguerite’s story contains its share of contradictions. She was a theologian of nonaction and nothingness, yet consistently active in seeking approval for these ideas. … These contradictions and complexities only add to the extraordinary nature of her life and death.

Field (2012) p. 164. Rationalization and hypocrisy, like court poets delivering eulogies for the reigning lords, isn’t extraordinary. It’s commonplace. In highly developed cultures, it can take striking meta-forms, e.g. entrenched authorities praising mythic marginal-transgressive heroes and shunning real, contemporary transgressive work.

[3] Id., also for subsequent quote. The excuse “necessity has no law” (necessitas legem non habet) was well-established in late-thirteenth-century France. It’s found in the ninth-century Pseudo-Isidore and the twelfth-century Decretum Gratiani (C.1 q.1 dictum post capitulum 39). Professor Ken Pennington’s site provides a citational history for the phrase. Colledge, Marler & Grant (1999) p. 146, n. 2, states, “The proverb is older than Christianity.” I haven’t found evidence supporting that statement.

[4] This and the subsequent two endorsement blurb quotes are from M.N.’s Middle English translation of the Mirror, literally trans. into modern English in Field (2012) pp. 51-2. The Middle English source text, which Lerner (2010) regards as the best witness to the original, is available in Doiron, Colledge & Guarnieri (1968). The dating of when Porete sought the endorsement blurbs is a matter of scholarly controversy.  Field (2012) pp. 277-8, n. 31.

[5] Mirror, Middle English translation, literally trans. into modern English in Field (2012) p. 52. An alternate modern English translation taking into account the Latin manuscript evidence is:

the soul will never attain to divine practices until she has acquired this practice, for all other practices, inferior to this, that teacher said, are human practices. This practice is divine, and no other except it.

Colledge, Marler & Grant (1999), Appendix 1, p. 181. This text doesn’t occur in the late fifteenth-century French Chantilly manuscript of The Mirror of Simple Souls. Field (2009) provides detailed analysis of evidence concerning the intellectual and practical relationship between Porete and Godfrey of Fontaines. Id. doesn’t consider the broader question of whether Porete was actually the author of The Mirror of Simple Souls. Cf. Wegener (2010) and Brown (2012) pp. pp. 27-9. Field (2009) also doesn’t evaluate the possibility that the author of The Mirror fabricated the endorsement blurbs, perhaps after Godfrey of Fontaines death. Such action would help to explain the inconsistency between Godfrey being a leading theologian and the weak theological content of The Mirror. Dom Frank and Friar Minor John of Querayn, quite unlike Godfrey of Fontaines, are completely unknown other than in The Mirror.

[6] Colledge, Marler & Grant (1999), Appendix 1, p. 180, modern English translation based on M.N’s Middle-English translation. The Mirror‘s Prologue declares that “a most mighty king … gave me this book.” Id. p. 11. Following Dronke, Field states:

Marguerite did not claim that God spoke through her or that what she knew came from a mystical access to the divine that others lacked. In fact, she did not deign to explain how she knew what she knew at all.

Field (2012) pp. 7-8. See also Dronke (1984) p. 203. Claiming that God spoke through her was necessary for Marguerite to rationalize her action as author of The Mirror. Claiming divine authorship was also an important aspect of marketing and promoting The Mirror.

[7] Evidence suggests that the burning of her book occurred in Valenciennes, which was probably about where Porete lived. Porete appeared before the Dominican Inquisitor in Paris, William Humbert, also known as William of Paris.The quotes in the above paragraph are from French National Archives Box AN J.428, document no. 15b, dated 31 May 1310, William of Paris’ sentencing of Marguerite Porete and Guiard of Cressonessart, from French trans. Field (2012) p. 228. Id., Appendix A, provides a thorough description and painstakingly accurate English translation of all the relevant trial documents. Appendix A is based on fresh transcriptions of the original records. Prior printed versions of the trial documents, both the original texts and translations, are not fully reliable and have created factual mistakes in historical accounts. Id. pp. 3-6. Id., Appendix B, provides English translations of other contemporary sources as given in printed editions. Richard Burton has provided online English translations of some trial documents and contemporary sources based on printed editions. That’s very helpful for general public understanding. Field’s book, however, should now be regarded as the authoritative source for detailed scholarly work with the trial documents.

[8] Field (2012) p. 59. The new Bishop of Cambrai was Philip of Marigny. Id., pp. 54-61, provides a plausible summary chronology prior to William of Paris taking up the case in the autumn of 1308.

[9] The canon lawyers’ summary, dated 9 May 1301, AN J428 no. 19bis, states that Porete communicated the book not only to Lord John, Bishop of Châlons-sur-Marne, but also “to many other simple people — begardis and others — as a good book.” Trans. Field (2012) p. 225. The inquisitor from Lorraine was almost surely Brother Ralph of Ligny. Id. p. 58.

[10] William of Paris publicly read Porete’s sentence on May 31, 1310, at the Place de Grève in Paris. She was burned on the next day, probably also at the Place de Grève. Id. p. 159.

[image] Corner Piece. Lynda Benglis (1969). Latex. Item 05.30, Hirshhorn Museum, Washington, DC. Douglas Galbi’s photograph at Hirschhorn Museum.


Brown, Elizabeth A. R. 2012. “Moral imperatives and conundrums of conscience: reflections on Philip the Fair of France.” Speculum. 87: 1-36.

Colledge, Edmund, J. C. Marler and Judith Grant, ed. and trans. 1999. Margaret Porette {Marguerite Porete}. The mirror of simple souls. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press.

Doiron, Marilyn, Edmund Colledge, and Romana Guarnieri, eds. 1968. Marguerite Porete. The Mirror of Simple Souls. Archivio Italiano Per La Storia Della Pietà (Testo Stampato). Roma: Edizioni di storia e letteratura.

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

Field, Sean L. 2009. “The Master and Marguerite: Godfrey of Fontaines’ praise of The Mirror of Simple Souls.” Journal of Medieval History. 35 (2): 136-149.

Field, Sean L. 2012. The beguine, the angel, and the inquisitor: the trials of Marguerite Porete and Guiard of Cressonessart. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press.

Lerner, Robert E. 2010. “New light on The Mirror of Simple Souls.” Speculum. 85 (1): 91-116.

Wegener, Lydia. 2010. “Freiheitsdiskurs und Beginenverfolgung um 1308 – der Fall der Marguerite Porete.” Pp. 199-236 in Speer, Andreas, and David Wirmer. 1308: eine Topographie historischer Gleichzeitigkeit. Berlin: De Gruyter.

rape & poisoning on college campus: an ass’s tale of justice

I wasn’t always an ass. My hide was thick, it had to be, with the vicious politics at my small, liberal arts college in a lush valley in the middle of far utopia. With a grave, dignified appearance like that of Aesop, and with all his wisdom, I was a classic of a classic, you know the type, a classics professor. We get all our books via a fly-over air-drop from Amazon. The packages of books float down under colorful parachutes filling the cloudy empyrean like manna — hosanna in the highest! — from Jupiter.

Fortune struck me with a wife, a chemist, a polyamorist. She became the college president. Most of her time she spent soliciting philandropy from women and men wide and long all across the country. I kept my nose in books and out of the mind-bending groping of administrative group work. That was the cause of my downfall and metamorphosis.

My wife, acting in the high clogs of today’s college leaders, performed with a chorus of deans. One, a young woman, supple, slim, and soft, had sparkling black hair, parted in the middle and joined in the back, like fertile black earth beckoning for vernal seed. She bore the form for satisfying ADA-compliance of my Virgil seminar. She ignored me standing by the door of the now empty seminar room; the lengthening shadows from burning Helios’s decline creeped across the ground. You, emissary of the gods, why so forlorn of face? Share the burden of your tale with me! Here’s the sensational and salacious story she told:

I had a sister dear, my playmate from birth, inseparable from me in mirth of childhood innocence. The nursery rhymes we were taught urged us to study science. Emma Penelope was smarter than me, or at least, less distracted in high school. She became a professor of computer science at a large state university.

Her partner Proserpina, a professor of molecular biology, had a girl. Neither she nor Emma could further conceive. So they adopted a boy, a cute little boy, who liked to play with his toy.

So long as Cupid was an infant, nursed only by his first nutriments, Emma could stand up against his still-feeble force, easily suppressing in silence the subtly suffused blush of her cheek. But when his mad fires had fully engaged her heart and Love blazed up in an orgy of excess, then she succumbed to the sadistic god; she masks the wound in her heart by the illness of her body, feigning fainting and feebleness. She was lovesick as sure as science.

That can happen to anybody, you who would judge the sister as sick, you know nothing of life as it was and is and ever shall be. The heart has its reasons of which reason knows nothing. The haters who never, ever feel baters remorse are like plums dried up by the sun, good for nothing but helping the constipated.

To return to the story, Emma, exhausted, forlorn, on the brink of death, as if somebody had tweeted something mean to her, pondered the right words to speak to the boy who loved her like a mother. He lovingly tended her in her exhaustion and weakness. She cries torrents of tears, lifts up her dress to cover her face, and speaks to her son thus:

The entire cause, the fons et origo, of my present anguish; also my cure; also my sole hope of salvation: you yourself are all these things to me. … Have pity on a woman who is dying because of you! And don’t let your reverence for your other mother stand in your way — no, not at all. It is because I see her features in your face that I love you — it’s only right. You have the security that comes from your mother’s long hours at the lab; you have the leisure that can accommodate the deed that must be done. You see, what no one knows about — it’s practically as if it never happened at all!

The boy was shocked by the suddenness of this sinfulness, and although he recoiled in horror from the horror proposed, he knew that delay and diffuse promises are the glue that hold the academic family together. So he makes a long-winded, convoluted declaration of contingency, uncertainty, complexity, and the social construction of reality. He spoke of the hope that his other mother would travel to an academic conference to provide secure time for the free rein of their passion. He planned a galloping getaway from having, unintentionally but culpably in the criminal court of public opinion, seduced his foster-mother.

Emma, a full professor of computer science at a large state university, was no fool. She knew that the boy’s excuses and postponements, calls for further discussion and further consideration of various issues, meant that he had no intention of doing the deed of passion. She summoned to her office a post-doc student, a loathsome lackey, a serf in mind and a slave to her in his professional future. She, mother and spurned foster lover, instructed the post-doc to prepare posthaste a poison for the death and destruction of her foster-son.

The poison was compounded with kombucha and placed in Emma’s office refrigerator to keep it fresh. While Emma was out at a departmental meeting, Proserpina and their daughter Daphne dropped by the office. Proserpina perused co-authors listed on the papers on Emma’s desk. Daphne, bored, pouted. She pleaded for a fizzy drink. Proserpina opened the refrigerator, espied the killer kombucha, and unknowingly gave the death-dealing brew to Daphne to drink. Three sips as if pouring a sacrifice to the gods, and she dropped dead. Campus police sounded the campus emergency alert when they heard Proserpina’s piercing, keening cry and saw her beating her breast and tearing out her already short hair.

My sister dear, my playmate from birth, inseparable from me in mirth, had become an unparalleled paragon of monstrous motherly maliciousness. The gruesome, twisted sister plotted even worse. She sent the slavish post-doc to fabricate a report that her son, Hippolytus himself, poisoned Daphne in revolting revenge for her refusing to allow him to rape her on the mattress in her office. She further claimed that Hippolytus was terrorizing and harassing her on campus so as to destroy her promising career in science. The campus police, cold and heartless, told her to pick up her mattress and walk away. She has been carrying that mattress around campus to this day.

Proserpina, Daphne’s loving mother and Emma’s fiercely loyal partner, spoke out courageously against the inadequate university response to attempted rape and poisoning. Pulling out all the stops, she played for a death sentence for her son Hippolytus. She led vigils, marches, occupations, and dramatic theater of long, lyric speeches pouring forth full hearts in profuse strains of unpremeditated art. In her sorrow and lament she set on fire not only the local senate but the people as well; such was her appeal to their pity, such was her righteous anger, that they all cry out that this public menace should be publicly punished, stoned to death under a hail of stones, or at least lynched. Away with the tedium of due process! Away with the proofs of the prosecution, clear as day anyway! Away with the premeditated prevarications of the defense!

The college president, blood boiling with a vow of vengence, called an urgent meeting of the mightiest deans and biggest heads. “We must unite and move vigorously, passion against passion, and vindicate the right,” she said. “We will press forward, again and again, until we produce a press release. The earth will move under Hippolytus, the sea will roar, and he will be destroyed in the crush of our words.” The army of intellectual leaders all cheered, “Alala, alala.” In the fever of flashing eyes, the gleam of sharp-tipped fountain pens, and nodding heads, nobody noticed that the classics head was missing amidst their ranks.

My foster-nephew Hippolytus is now dead. Inspired warriors tore him to shreds in the ecstasy following the president’s press release. Emma Penelope, my sister dear, my playmate from birth, inseparable from me in mirth, now lives only in mourning for the children she loved and lost. She has not produced a single computer science peer-reviewed publication since. I, once joined with her in mirth, now join with her in mourning.

This beautiful woman’s burden of mourning crushed me like end-of-semester exam-paper grading. The sorrow in her eyes, the fall of her glistening black hair, the suffering of the poor dear, shook me to my marrow. I am only a classics professor, no scientist, not even a sociologist. Of what use is my sword in the battle against rape and poisoning on campus? To rise to be like a firm, thick column in the gleaming temple of righteousness, must I join the mind-bending groping of administrative group work with the college president, my own wife?

I wandered, dazed, out to the lake on the edge of campus and fell down into the white sand imported to make a small beach for the students. The warmth of the sand embraced my body, the music from the dormitories faded, and night enveloped me in sweet sleep. About an hour after the last couple had left the beach, in the deserted silence of the 3am sand, I am startled from my sleep with a hard bolt in the night. I see the disk of the moon, at its full, blindingly bright, just now rising out of the waves of the lake. I had gained the silence-shrouded secrets of the shadowed, sheltered night. Now I was certain that the supreme goddess does hold sway in surpassing majesty; that absolutely all the affairs of mortals are governed by her Providence; that not just animals — be they domestic or wild — but even inanimate objects are quickened at her divine nod, her light, her might; that physical bodies as well — be they on earth or in the sea or in the heavens — now wax and grow in harmony with her, now wane and fade in deference to her.

I rose quickly, enthusiastically to my feet and ran to the earth beyond the edge of the beach. I rolled in the dirt, gushed tears down my face, and prayed to the all-powerful goddess. She came forward toward me with her body naked and exposed, except that she shrouded from the heat her majestic mons pubis with a gossamer gown of silk. A fresh and curious breeze would playfully, erotically, now puff out the hem of this gown, push it aside, to reveal the flower of her blooming youth; would now sensuously blow against it, to outline in fine detail the delights of her limbs by clinging with a soft insistence. She reached out her exquisite fingers and offered me straw, saying take this, my beast, and eat. The straw stuck in my teeth as I chewed. It scratched my throat in my swallowing.

At once my thick skin hardens into a hide. At the very calloused ends of the palms of my hands all my fingers come together, no longer discrete, and coalesce into hooves, one by one. From the base of my spine a fully developed tail comes out of hiding and flops in my spreading crack. Now my face grows hideously long-drawn, my mouth gapes much larger, my nostrils flare outward, my lips hang downward; not only that, but my ears are covered in upstanding bristles of an unpluckable mass. And I could see no consolation for this pitiful metamorphosis except for this:  I had become quite superhumanly hung.

As ass can understand, the way a man can’t, the rape crisis on campus and the poison hidden from the uninitiated child putting his hand into the adder’s den. The bear, the wolf, the lion, and the leopard are there to kill, and kill they will without strong iron bars creating safe spaces in zoos. I now plead with all the eloquence of my learning to my wife and her chorus: refashion campus to make safe spaces for all, including asses, silenced no longer and seeking salvation in your justice.

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The video above, from the Associated Press, reported the news that five men gang-raped a Hofstra student on September 13, 2009. The five men were held in jail for nearly four days. Then a video emerged that completely contradicted the alleged rape victim’s story. She recanted. The men were freed from jail after intense personal trauma and damage to their reputations. The sensational, unquestioning news reporting of the rape allegations greatly contributed to harm to the innocent men.

Another recent, sensational college rape story is the Rolling Stone story, “A Rape on Campus” (published in December, 2014 issue). Subsequent critical analysis of the story found it lacking in fundamental aspects of good journalism. Among many other issues, the alleged rape victim apparently fabricated the character Haven Monahan and used that character to forward letters containing text copied from scripts of the TV series Dawson’s Creek and Scrubs. There’s now good reason to believe that the gang rape described in the Rolling Stone story didn’t actually occur.

Emma Sulkowicz, who regards herself as a victim of rape by another Columbia student, has created for her senior thesis in visual arts a public spectacle of her carrying a mattress around the Columbia University campus. A university inquiry found that Sulkowicz’s allegation was not sufficiently credible to entail punishing the accused student. However, according to the Washington Post:

{Sulkowicz} has committed herself to toting around a mattress until the school expels the fellow student she says raped her, or he leaves on his own. She’s been carrying it around since August. In doing so, she’s generated a lot of buzz, namely because it’s really difficult to ignore a woman toting a mattress with her wherever she goes on campus.

According to Wikipedia:

New York Times art critic Roberta Smith described the {Sulkowicz’s mattress performance} piece as “strict and lean, yet inclusive and open ended, symbolically laden yet drastically physical”, writing that comparisons to the Stations of the Cross and Hester Prynne’s scarlet letter are apparent. Nato Thompson, chief curator of Creative Time, said that he “[couldn’t] think of another instance where a work of art has triggered a movement in this way.” Art critic Jerry Saltz called it “clear, to the point, insistent, adamant … pure radical vulnerability”, and included it in his list of the best 19 art shows of 2014. … Sulkowicz received the National Organization for Women’s Susan B. Anthony Award and the Feminist Majority Foundation’s Ms. Wonder Award for the piece. She was invited to the 2015 State of the Union Address as a guest of Senator Kristen Gillibrand.

Further analysis of Sulkowicz’s claims strongly supports the university’s judgment that they aren’t sufficiently credible to entail punishing the accused student. Her claims, however, have attracted an enormous amount of public attention and have been highly damaging to the accused student. Both rape of women and wrongful accusations of rape have been major public concerns throughout recorded history, except perhaps for today. Serious discussion of wrongful accusations of rape today is marginalized and demonized in elite public discourse.

Sections of the main text above I adapted from Apuleius, The Golden Ass / Metamorphoses, 10.2-3,6 (perfidious stepmother), 11.1, 10.31, 3.24, from Latin trans Relihan (2007) pp. 208, 209, 211, 233, 239, 62-3. Relihan labels the relevant story from The Golden Ass as “the lustful stepmother.” That’s a mis-characterization. What’s most important isn’t that the stepmother is lustful, but that she’s perfidious. She attempted to murder her stepson, falsely accused him of raping her, and falsely accused him of attempting to murder his step-brother.


Relihan, Joel C. 2007. Apuleius. The golden ass, or, A book of changes. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub.

medieval colophons, persons, and copying blessings

medieval colophon

Colophons — concluding meta-text concerning the production of the text — exist in about 15% of medieval manuscripts.[1] The content of medieval colophons varies widely. Items that might be included in the colophon are:

  • scribe’s name
  • scribe’s location
  • date the manuscript was copied
  • manuscript’s price
  • statements about the scribe’s spiritual character, e.g. unworthy servant of God
  • request for prayers and/or God’s mercy
  • curse upon anyone who would steal the book
  • remarks about the burden of the copy work
  • plea for corrections of the manuscript
  • concern about correctly attributing changes made to the manuscript

Here’s a short, conventional medieval colophon:

This book is finished; may the scribe be free from sin. [2]

Another frequent type of medieval colophon exonerates the scribe for changes made to the text:

the reader emends, and let him not blame the scribe [3]

A late-fourteenth-century manuscript has an amusing colophon:

This work is written master give me a drink; let the right hand of the scribe be free from the oppressiveness of pain. [4]

The scribe is usually understood to be the author of the colophon. Medieval colophons commonly refer to the scribe in the third or first person.

Medieval colophons occasionally have more elaborate forms of address. The sole surviving late-fifteenth-century, Old French manuscript of The Mirror of Simple Souls has the following colophon:

For him who has copied this book
I pray to you in your goodness of heart
To pray to the Father and the Son,
The Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
That after this present life
In the company of the angels
He may give thanks and praise to God.
Amen. [5]

The third person is used for the scribe (“for him who has copied this book”). The second person (“you”) refers to the reader. The first person (“I”) is most easily understood as the book’s author. The author prays to the reader to pray to God that the scribe will praise God (implicitly in Heaven after a life of virtuously copying texts). That is a complex chain of personal relations and actions. It suggests the author offering spiritual benefits to scribes who would copy the author’s work.

Medieval colophons written in verse might use different grammatical persons to refer to the same person. Consider a rhyming colophon written in Italian early in the fifteenth century:

I pray that God grant eternal peace
to the soul of the one who wrote
this little book, which I like so much.
And let his saints, as I’m determined,
pray to the Virgin Mary too,
and Saint John, who said so much that was good.
Let it please you to defend her from all things evil,
her soul and body, and protect her from her enemies.
Help her, Lord, since help her you can. [6]

The “I” of the first four line speaks about one associated with a verb for the physical act of writing (“wrote” / scrisse). The praise for the book (“which I like so much”) would be prideful if by the author, but without Christian moral taint if by the scribe. The “one” who wrote the book is grammatical marked as female. The third-personal “her” for whom prayers are to benefit is also female. The “I” of this colophon could be interpreted as the author praying for a female scribe. However, the scribe wrote this colophon in three works she copied. The “I” and “her” of the colophon more plausibly are interpreted as having poetic grammatical mobility in referring to the same person.

Some ancient authors were keen to encourage others to copy their works. One way to encourage copying is for the author to add a colophon invoking blessings for the scribe. The tenth-century Buddhist text The Scripture on the Ten Kings included explicit admonishments to copy and circulate the text. With similar interests, medieval authors might write colophons to create spiritual incentives for scribes to copy their manuscripts.

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[1] According to Erik Kwakkel, an authority on medieval manuscripts, about one in seven medieval manuscripts include a colophon. In religious books, colophon use increased in the ninth century with Carolingian scribal practices. Colophons became more common in secular European manuscripts from the early fourteenth century. Morton (2014) p. 65, n. 2; p. 43. About a quarter of manuscripts that nun-scribes wrote in fifteenth/sixteenth-century Italy included a colophon. Id. p. 43.

[2] This colophon was written in Latin and had a witty form: “Explicit iste liber sit scriptor crimine liber.” Wakelin (2014) p. 29.

[3] This colophon, also written in Latin, has a rhyme that adds force to the message: “qui legit emendat, scriptorem non reprehendat.” Id.

[4] From manuscript Leiden University, VLF 5, f. 172v, written in Latin: “hoc opus est scriptum magister da mihi potum; Dextera scriptoris careat grauitate doloris.Thanks to Giulio Menna. The first-personal reference “me” and the third-personal reference “the scribe” clearly refer to the same person. See subsequent discussion above.

[5] From manuscript Chantilly, Musée Condé ms. F xiv 26, from Old French trans. College, Marler & Grant (1999) p. 175.

[6] From manuscript Florence, Biblioteca Riccardiana, MS 1338, fol. 96r, from Italian trans. Moreton (2014) pp. 52-3. One of the three manuscripts including this colophon is dated 1414. Id p. 53, p. 70, n. 30-31.

[image] medieval colophon (circular text on right), from the fourteenth-century manuscript Paris, BnF,, 169r (Le Livre du roy Modus et de la royne Racio). The excellent site Medieval Manuscript Provenance has an English translation and some discussion of the colophon.


Colledge, Edmund, J. C. Marler and Judith Grant, ed. and trans. 1999. Margaret Porette {Marguerite Porete}. The mirror of simple souls. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press.

Moreton, Melissa. 2014. “Pious Voices: Nun-scribes and the Language of Colophons in Late Medieval and Renaissance Italy.” Essays in Medieval Studies. 29: 43-73.

Wakelin, Daniel. 2014. Scribal Correction and Literary Craft. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Porete rejects Holy Cathedral the Little & turns to annihilation

annihilation of Porete

Disillusioned with the dominant institutions of her time, the transgressive medieval lay theologian Marguerite Porete named those institutions Holy Cathedral the Little. She declared that noble Souls like her could achieve a higher life in Holy Cathedral the Great.[1] That was the place of those successful in self-annihilation. Its exemplary member was Mary Magdalene. Cultural authorities like those who helped Porete to achieve actual annihilation now celebrate her life and works.[2] Porete’s path — “she sees nothing except herself” — is becoming increasing attractive to men today.

Porete devalued reason and doing. Noble Souls on Porete’s path of annihilation leave behind reason and works of virtue. Words to Porete have two meanings.[3] Their meanings in use yield to their meanings in Porete’s noble work. Men’s self-sacrifice for their families and their societies leads them to be called kings. But men are kings only in lands where persons see with only one eye of reason: “for truly those who have two eyes consider them as slaves.”[4] Those men who live longing for idealized women are likewise slaves. Apart from reason, the noble Soul rejoices in the afflictions of her neighbors:

for in her spirit she perceives and knows without knowledge that this is the way by which they will come to the harbor of their salvation.[5]

Men, enduring storms of misandry, are beginning to understand.

Porete exalted Mary Magdalene. She had no shame for her sins:

She had no shame, because Jesus Christ said to her that she had chosen the better and the safer part, and, what is more, that it would never be taken from her. And, also, she had no shame at all because her sins were known to all the people, as the Gospel itself witnesses, which says so that all hear it that God drove seven devils out of her. She had no shame for anyone, for she was overwhelmed, and taken and seized; and therefore there was no-one that concerned her except him alone.[6]

The noble Soul, who has perfect charity, likewise never feels remorse or qualms of conscience:

whoever had always perfect charity in her will would never have remorse or qualms of conscience. For remorse or qualms of conscience in the Soul is nothing else than lack of charity; for the Soul is not created for anything else than to have within her, endlessly, the state of pure charity.

Sins aren’t causes for shame or remorse. The noble Soul’s sins serve to testify to the God’s graciousness and the Soul’s glory: “in Paradise, to her great glory, her sins will be known.” Mary Magdalene’s sins show her glory. Mary Magdalene also excelled in doing nothing:

I considered the sweet Magdalene, and what service she performed to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ as her guest, who was often in Mary’s dwelling, he and his companions, the Apostles in a great throng, but to no avail, because Mary did not move, however much there was to do in the house. And even though our Lord Jesus Christ often returned barefooted, his blessed head all wearied, and was unfed and exhausted and rejected by all, for he could find no-one to give him drink and food, and the Magdalene knew all this, none the less she did not move, whatever his body might need, and left it to her sister Martha to serve him, whose role this was; but to love him she left to no-one but herself.

Doing nothing is the better part. Magdalene choose that part. Noble Souls likewise choose to do nothing.

While scholars for the past three decades have emphasized the Madonna-whore binary, Marguerite Porete more than seven centuries ago abolished that binary. Mary Magdalene came to be like Mary, the mother of Jesus:

she {Mary Magdalene} found God within herself, without seeking him, and, too, she had nothing to seek for, for Love had laid hold of her. But when she first took to loving, she besought him, moved by the longing of the will in her spiritual feeling, and so she was human and little, for she was then forlorn and not Mary. She did not know when she sought him that God was everything, everywhere, for then she would not have sought for him.[7]

Porete observed:

I have found no-one who knew this at all times, except the Virgin Mary. In her there was never any will prompted by the senses, never any labor of the spirit, but only the will of the Deity in the divine work.

When the young Jesus wandered off from his parents to spend three days without them in Jerusalem, the Virgin Mary anxiously sought after him.[8] Like Mary Magdalene’s sins, the Virgin Mary anxiously seeking for Jesus means nothing. For Porete, nothing covers everything. Both Mary Magdalene and the Virgin Mary found God within themselves through doing nothing.

In Porete’s sixth stage of annihilation, the Soul identifies completely with God. Christ is fully God and fully human in medieval Christian understanding. Porete understood the noble Soul to walk the earth as fully God:

God of his divine majesty sees himself in her, and by him this Soul is so illumined that she cannot see that anyone exists, except only God himself; and so she sees nothing except herself, for whoever sees that which is sees nothing except God himself, who sees himself in this very Soul by his divine majesty. … this Soul, thus pure and illumined, sees neither God nor herself, but God sees himself of himself in her, for her, without her, who — that is, God — shows to her that there is nothing except him. And therefore this Soul knows nothing except him, and loves nothing except him, and praises nothing except him, for there is nothing but he.[9]

Put equivalently, there is nothing but she. Along with increased scholarly appreciation for Porete’s work in recent decades, many women and men today have achieved this sixth state of annihilation.

In our new networked economy, more men are starting to follow Porete’s lead. Men historically have killed beasts, cleared land, built cities, and invented a wide range of new technologies, including many designed for institutionalized men-on-men violence known as war. Yet men’s doing has resulted in men becoming an inferior caste of beings. Men Going Their Own Way (MGTOW), the sexodus, grass-eaters, and manboobs indicate men embracing Porete’s path of annihilation and doing nothing.

Holy Cathedral the Little remains firmly entrenched in our world. That cathedral has more power now than it ever did in the Middle Ages. Longing for love, simple Souls are attracted to Marguerite Porete’s The Mirror of Simple Souls brought to nothingness and who live only in the will and desire for love. Porete’s path is far superior to curriculum vitae publication building, tallying Facebook likes, and desperately seeking Twitter followers. But perhaps there is a still more excellent way.

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[1] On Holy Cathedral the Little and Holy Cathedral the Great, see Marguerite Porete, The Mirror of Simple Souls brought to nothingness and who live only in the will and desire for love, Chs. 19, 43, 49, 51, 66, from Old French trans. Colledge, Marler & Grant (1999) pp. 38, 62, 69, 70, 87. All subsequent quotes from Porete’s The Mirror of Simple Souls are from id. The subsequent quote in the above paragraph is from Ch. 118, p. 145. An alternate translation for “Souls brought to nothingness” (ames anienties) is “annihilated Souls.” Holy Cathedral the Little and Holy Cathedral the Great are my translation of the terms Saincte Eglise la Petite and Saincte Eglise la Grande. The term eglise is commonly translated as “church,” but Porete here refers to dominant institutions, not a local parish church. Hence “cathedral” seems to me a better translation. On elitism as a fundamental aspect of Porete’s thought, Robinson (2001).

[2] Peter Dronke, a leading medieval literary scholar, described Porete’s book as one of the “most moving expressions of love by medieval women that have come down to us.” Dronke (1984), p. 228. In his Foreword, Kent Emery of the Medieval Institute, University of Notre Dame, declared:

Margaret Porette’s solitary, steadfast, and courageous stand against the mighty engines of cultural authority is bound to evoke the sympathy and enkindle the imagination of every modern reader.

Colledge, Marler & Grant (1999) p. viii. Bernard McGinn, a leading scholar of medieval theology, included Porete among “the four female evangelists of thirteenth-century mysticism.” McGinn (1998), p. 141.  Robert E. Lerner, a leading scholar of medieval mysticism, declared that Marguerite’s The Mirror of the Simple Soul “has come to be recognized as one of the greatest works of Western religious literature.” Lerner (2010) p. 92.

Porete was burned as a heretic on June 1, 1310. For a thorough review of the historical evidence, Fields (2012). Porete’s book was quite popular apart from the view of church authorities. It circulated widely in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Within a century, The Mirror of Simple Souls was translated into Italian, Middle English, and even Latin, the authoritative language of Christendom. Despite formal suppression of it, perhaps “dozens of copies” of The Mirror of Simple Souls existed in late-medieval Europe. Lerner (2010) p. 116. The popularity of Porete’s book apparently was due in part to its incomprehensibility. Sections of it in some texts are like gibberish. Colledge, Marler & Grant (1999) p. lxxxiii. Fascination with gibberish is a general feature of appropriately cued written communication.

[3] Ch. 66, p. 87 (take leave of Reason and Virtues); Ch. 13, p. 29, Ch. 20, p. 40 (same word has two meanings).

[4] Ch. 55, p. 74.

[5] Ch. 116, pp. 137-8.

[6] Ch. 76, p. 97 (no shame). Subsequent quotes Ch. 37, p. 57 (no remorse); Ch. 37, p. 56 (great glory in sins); Ch. 124, p. 155 (doing nothing but loving). On the ethics of Porete, Marler (2012). Porete is some ways anticipated the late-nineteenth-century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his works On the Genealogy of Morals and Thus Spoke Zarathustra. Scholars of Porete and Nietzche have failed to credit sufficiently Porete as an intellectual mother of Nietzsche.

[7] Ch. 93, p. 118 (God within herself), id. (Virgin Mary likewise). Dubois (2013) highlights the importance of Mary Magdalene to Porete’s thought. “Mary of Peace” and “chosen bride” were common appellations of the Virgin Mary. Porete applied those appellations to Mary Magdalene. Id. p. 152.

[8] Luke 2:48.

[9] Ch. 118, pp. 145-6.

[image] Fire photo thanks to Mr. Theklan and flickr.


Colledge, Edmund, J. C. Marler and Judith Grant, ed. and trans. 1999. Margaret Porette {Marguerite Porete}. The mirror of simple souls. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press.

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

Dubois, Danielle C. 2013. “From Contemplative Penitent to Annihilated Soul: The Recasting of Mary Magdalene in Marguerite Porete’s Mirror of Simple Souls.” The Journal of Medieval Religious Cultures. 39 (2): 149-172.

Field, Sean L. 2012. The beguine, the angel, and the inquisitor: the trials of Marguerite Porete and Guiard of Cressonessart. Notre Dame, Ind: University of Notre Dame Press.

Lerner, Robert E. 2010. “New light on The Mirror of Simple Souls.” Speculum. 85 (1): 91-116.

Marler, Jack C. 2012. “The Mirror of Simple Souls: The Ethics of Margaret Porette.” Pp. 445-472 in Jeremiah M. Hackett, ed. A Companion to Meister Eckhart. Brill’s Companions to the Christian Tradition, 36. Leiden and Boston: Brill.

McGinn, Bernard. 1998. The flowering of mysticism: men and women in the new mysticism (1200-1350). New York: Crossroad.

Robinson, Joanne Maguire. 2001. Nobility and annihilation in Marguerite Porete’s Mirror of simple souls. Albany, N.Y.: State University of New York.

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

O Magne Pater in revelation illumination

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacKendrick (2013) p. 224.

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

[5] Psalm 27:4.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

gender, egalitarian relationships, and institutional constraints

equals isn't egalitarian without males

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[2] The study begins:

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Hildgard of Bingen's universal man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hildegard further described sanguine men with abstract, philosophical language:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dronke (1984) p. 180.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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