De amore: Andreas Capellanus’s second-sophistic rhetoric

Andreas Capellanus, De amore

Amid scholastics engaging in dialectic and courtiers entertaining with romance in France about the year 1300, Andreas Capellanus created a work of attention-seeking rhetoric. He wrote a formally scholastic Latin treatise De amore (On love).[1] He leavened it with romance, parable, fabliau, and wisdom. Rhetoric in medieval Europe typically meant eloquence and sense of decorum. Andreas Capellanus’s De amore is ponderous and morally mixed.[2] Superficially learned and provocative, De amore is a unique work of second-sophistic rhetoric in high-medieval Europe.[3]

Consider, for example, De amore’s teaching concerning a common man seeking sexual love with a common woman. In this, the first of eight class-distinguished sections on approaching women, Andreas warns against greeting women in a way appropriate for harlots. That’s best interpreted as an in-joke among elite men with some Ovidian learning.[4] Andreas instructs men to allow the woman to speak first. Medieval literature recognized that women tend to be more socially talkative than men. Apart from harlots in the street, women are also less likely than men to initiate conversation with unknown, opposite-sex adults. Andreas’s teaching makes sense as amusing rhetoric, not literal teaching of scientific or practical knowledge.

Andreas deploys scholastic language as amusing rhetoric. He explains that, upon accosting a woman:

some men so lose their power of speech under the eyes of ladies that they forget those carefully devised remarks which they have arranged in the proper order of their minds, and they cannot develop the topic in its due order. [5]

Andreas thus describes trying to chat up a common woman with scholastic terms for an orator’s tasks. Underscoring learned distance from reality, Andreas further and inconsistently counsels:

only a bold, sagely instructed man should present himself for conversations with ladies

Andreas’s teaching plays on the surface of scholasticism in the incongruous field of heterosexual seduction.

Andreas also plays on the surface of courtly eloquence in the speech he prescribes for the common man. Imagine the common medieval man declaiming this speech to the common medieval woman:

When the divine Being fashioned you, he left himself with no further tasks. I see that your beauty is flawless, your wisdom also. No single quality in you remains imperfect, except that it seems to me that you enriched no man with your love. But I am most surprised that Love allows a woman so beautiful and so adorned with wisdom to soldier so long outside his camp. If only you begin to serve under Love’s banner, how happy above all others will he be whom you crown with your love! And if by my merits I were to deserve this great honour, no lover alive in the world could rightly be ranked with me. [6]

Men as different as the Roman lawyer Pliny the Younger and the nineteenth-century American philosopher William James addressed beloved women with solipsistic, self-degrading monologues. Andreas, in contrast, constructed a speech completely inconceivable and inappropriate for a commoner addressing a commoner. Andreas wasn’t writing in Latin for commoners. He wasn’t writing a systematic treatise of true knowledge or artful practice on how to chat up women. He was seeking the attention of clerical and courtly elites in their own languages.[7]

The distinction between pure and compounded love in De amore is matter of rhetoric rather than philosophy or ideology. De amore presents that distinction in the style of scholastic thought:

There exists such a thing as pure love, and that which is called compounded love. Pure love is that which joins the hearts of two lovers with universal feelings of affection. It embraces the contemplation of the mind and the feeling of the heart. It goes as far as kissing on the mouth, embracing with the arms, and chaste contact with the unclothed lover, but the final consolation is avoided …. By compounded love is meant that which affords its outlet to every pleasure of the flesh, ending in the final act of love. [8]

A man utters this love distinction in his wooing of a woman. Pretending that this distinction encompasses all possibilities for love, the man says to the woman:

I approve of both pure and compounded love, but the performance of acts of pure love pleases me more. So you should utterly shrug off empty fear, and choose one or other of the two loves.

The unstated love object for both types of love is the man. Moreover, engaging in “chaste contact with the unclothed lover” could easily lead to the compounding of sexual intercourse. Recognizing this obvious physiological reality, the woman states:

You utter words strange and unknown, words which one can scarcely account credible. I am startled that in any person such abstinence of the flesh has been observed, that a man was ever able to curb the onset of pleasure, and repress the motions of his body.

The woman works through the man’s rhetorical tactic in scholastic discourse. Modern readers have tended to interpret De amore’s distinction between “pure love” and “compounded love” as having great theoretical and practical significance.[9]  That’s a misunderstanding. Like “chaste contact with the unclothed lover,” the whole of De amore is rhetoric intended to attract attention.

Seeking attention differs from being funny or ironic. In addition to the apparent contrast between its first two books and its third, De amore has “a great many smaller, more local discrepancies and inconsistencies.”[10] Many are neither funny nor plausibly ironic. Some seem too obvious to be unintentional mistakes.[11] Andreas seems to create for readers opportunities to gain self-esteem through perceiving wrongs in his text. Such perceptions would prompt social communication about the work. That’s a shrewd strategy for attracting attention.

De amore takes for granted men’s subordination to women while angling for attention. Among Andreas’s “chief precepts of love” is this:

Be obedient to mistresses’ commands in all things, and always be eager to join the service of Love. [12]

That teaching is appropriate only for masochists and slave-men. While medieval misunderstanding of chivalry normalized men’s love servitude, some men rejected servitude and gender abasement. Andreas also gave voice to their view:

The lover {the man who loves a woman} is in the bonds of arduous serfdom … The lover fears to do or to say anything which could result in his co-lover {coamantis} being roused to anger for some reason, or being enraged on some pretext. Who, then, reveals himself such a fool and madman as to try to obtain what forces him with oppressive serfdom to subject himself to another’s dominion, and to be wholly tied to another’s will in all things? [13]

Andreas playfully obscures that love serfdom is, in current academic cant, “highly gendered.” Among the “co-lovers,” the man is the serf and the woman is the lord. In medieval times, just as today, some persons accepted love servitude, and some didn’t. The individual books of De amore are unified in Andreas’s intention to attract the attention of love slaves and love masters, clerics and courtiers, elite men and elite women.

In constructing a case concerning men’s love servitude, Andreas created a controversia that Seneca the Elder would have appreciated. Here’s the hypothetical case:

A certain man was head over heels in love with a lady, and began to concern himself with her obsessively. When the woman saw him so anxious for her love, she utterly refused it to him. But seeing him none the less preoccupied with longing for her love, one day she made this proposal to him: “I am truly aware that you have toiled for my love for quite a long time. But you will never be able to obtain it unless you are first willing to bind yourself with a firm promise to obey all my commands for ever, and to consent to be utterly deprived of my love if you contravene them in any way.” [14]

The man, acting as the woman-serving lover of European romance, agreed to do whatever the woman commanded:

My lady, God forfend that I should ever stray so far as to be found opposing your commands in any way. So I gladly comply with your request as a task most congenial to me.

The woman cleverly responded with a blow-off command:

Then the woman at once commanded him not to toil further for her love, nor to presume to sing her praises in the company of others.

The abject soldier of love soldiered on:

Though this was a most heavy blow, the lover patiently endured it.

He was rewarded for this blow with an opportunity to act as a white knight and champion of his lady:

One day, when this lover was sitting with other knights in the sight of some ladies, he heard his comrades speak very disparagingly of his lady, unjustly slandering her reputation in their gossip, quite unfairly and improperly. At first the lover reluctantly forbore as he observed them lingering further in depreciating the reputation of that lady, but then he attacked them harshly with words of rebuke. He began to to refute their insults as a man should and to defend the reputation of his lady.

The woman repulsed the white-knighting omega-man:

When this reached the ears of the lady concerned, she said that he should be wholly deprived of her love because by harping on her praises he had contravened her commands.

That’s the case set-up in De Amore. It’s the first of twenty-one vignettes setting up “various judgments on love.” These aren’t substantial matters for courts of love, real or imaginary.[15] They are cases like the cases of Seneca the Elder’s Controversiae. They indicate sophistic attention-seeking.

The case question is about the woman. The question or quarrel is always about women in gynocentric society. Did the woman act rightly? Because women are the most important judges in society, that’s for a woman to decide.[16] The Countess of Champagne decided:

She said that such a lady was too harsh in her command …. This lover committed no sin by trying to refute by proper correction those who blasphemed against his lady.

Even when men are falsely stereotyped as rapists, imprisoned for doing nothing more than having sex and being poor, deprived by design in concern for gender equality in lifespans, and designated under law as a class to die for their country, men should attack harshly those who “blaspheme” women. That’s a lesson in rhetoric, not teaching about love.

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[1] De amore can with good reason be regarded as having been written in the 1180s in Marie de Champagne’s court in Troyes, France. Walsh (1982) pp. 2-3. Dronke argues that composition in the 1230s is “far more probable than the 1180s.” He also argues that De amore was composed in the royal court in Paris. Dronke (1994) pp. 55-6.

De amore 1.6.385 refers to its author as “the lover Andreas, chaplain {capellanus} to the royal court.” A character named Andreas of Paris apparently was the hero of a lost vernacular romance know about the time De amore was written. Moreover, capellanus may mean “votary” rather than “chaplain.” The name Andreas Capallenus may thus be a clever reference to the lost vernacular romance of Andreas of Paris and the Queen of France. Dronke (1994) p. 55. I refer to the author as Andreas Capellanus only conventionally.

De amore has influentially been described as “one of those capital works which reflect the thought of a great epoch, which explains the secret of a civilization.” Parry (1941) p. 2, quoting in translation Robert Bossuat. That’s closer to true for De amore for the second sophistic (intellectual culture of the early Roman Empire) than for high medieval Europe. The idea that Andreas Capellanus codified the principles of courtly love continues to be taught today.

[2] De amore is famous for its rule that marriage is no excuse for not having an extramarital love affair. It also claims that sexual love cannot occur in marriage. Of equal significance is a noblewoman’s astonishingly indecorous statement to a love-seeking commoner:

Knights should be naturally endowed with slim, long calves and neat feet whose length exceeds their width as if moulded by a craftsman. I observe that your calves are on the contrary podgy, bulging, round and stunted, and your feet are as broad as long, and also gigantic.

De amore 1.6.140, from Latin trans. Walsh (1982) p. 79. For the last clause (et in immensum protractos), id. has “and gigantic to boot.” That jarring pun captures a stylistic aspect of the text, but it isn’t in the Latin.

[3] Monson (2005), Ch. 2, discusses medieval rhetoric versus dialectic with respect to De amore. In the influential definition of Boethius, dialectic seeks concessions from an adversary to establish shared understanding of truth. Rhetoric seeks to persuade a judge. In medieval European culture, rhetoric was subordinate to dialectic. Rhetorical concern focused on speaking eloquently. Id. pp. 44, 47-9, 66, 70.

In broader historical perspective, rhetoric can be a means for seeking attention from an impersonal public that “judges” by its allocation of attention. Here’s an insightful discussion of the difference between competition for acclaim and competition for attention. Andreas seems to me to have been engaged in rhetoric directed towards competition for attention.

Judging by surviving documents, De amore was successful in attracting attention over the long term. The first surviving reference to it is by Albertanus da Brescia in 1238. De amore was translated into French as the Livre d’Enanchet in 1252 or earlier. It had attracted enough attention to be condemned by Etienne Tempier, Bishop of Paris, in 1277. Drouart la Vache translated De amore again into French in 1290. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, Andreas Capellanus through De amore became a well-known authority on courtly love. De amore has attracted a large amount of modern scholarly attention.

[4] Ovid, Ars amatoria, 1.343-450 (all women sexually eager); Amores 1.8.43 (the only chaste woman is one that hasn’t been propositioned). The Jealous Husband in the Romance of the Rose misandristically suggests that all men must pay for sex: “all you women are, will be, and have been whores, in fact or in desire.” Romance of the Rose, l. 9155-6, from French trans. Dahlberg (1995) p. 165.

[5] De amore 1.6.23 (including subsequent quote), from Latin trans. Walsh (1982) p. 47. “bene concepta recteque disposita denotes inventio and dispositio, the first two of the orator’s tasks. See Quintilian, Inst. Or. 3.3.1.” Id p. 46, n. 36. See also Monson (2005) pp. 54-5. Walsh (1982) provides the Latin text on facing pages to the English translation. All subsequent translations from De amore are from id., cited by page number. I’ve made some minor changes to the translations for clarity. The Latin text of De amore is available online. For an alternate English translation, Parry (1941). Some excerpts of De amore in English translation are available online. The excerpts and associated paratext obscure De amore’s overall rhetorical intention.

[6] De amore 1.6.26-7, pp. 47, 49.  The commoner is subsequently described as a tradesmen. De amore 1.11 shows contempt for farmers / peasants. It analogizes farmers to horses and mules. It tells men seeking sex with peasant women to use “rough embraces” and “some compulsion.” That doesn’t mean that men commonly raped peasant women, or that men weren’t punished for raping peasant women. Medieval scholars have understood rape in medieval literature no better than they have understood rape in the U.S. today.

Andreas seems to ridicule his own love teaching in describing love of peasants:

it is not appropriate to instruct them in love’s teaching, in case we find that men’s estates which are normally harvested by their toil tuns out unfruitful for us through negligence of the cultivator.

De amore 1.11.2, p. 223. In other words, if Andreas instructed peasants, they would become so engaged in having sex that they would neglect their field work. That’s ludicrous. The second level of humor is that field work, cultivating, and plowing is a medieval metaphor for having sex. The text also suggest that the peasants would stop having children if they sought love according to Andreas’s teaching. If Andreas actually taught peasants courtly love, peasant men probably would fail to have sex much more often.

[7] Robertson (1962), pp. 403-7, insightfully describes the sophistic quality of the first dialogue. That quality prevails throughout all three books of De amore. Monson (2005) suggests that Andreas Capellanus was a broadly learned cleric who failed to realize fully and consistently his enormous intellectual ambition in writing De amore. From my perspective, Andreas Capellanus’s intellectual ambition was that of a learned sophist seeking attention among diverse elites. He greatly succeeded in that intellectual ambition.

Cherniss (1975) states that De amore “was written as a comic mock treatise.” All three of its books are unified through “inflated, overdone, essentially comic treatments of literary materials which Andreas found ready to his hand.” Id. pp. 224, 237. Attempts to attract attention often appear comic from an external perspective. At the same time, being outrageous and even clownish, if done in a sophisticated way, can be a successful means for attracting attention. See note [15] below.

Drouart la Vache described himself as laughing with “enjoyment and approval” upon reading De amore. Wood (2015) p. 116, including relevant Drouart text, with English translation. Drouart also became interested enough in De amore to translate it into French verse. His claim that he can’t help but write verse doesn’t provide a credible explanation for him translating specifically De amore. Wood (2015) shows that Drouart rendered De amore “more univocally didactic” in support of clerics’ chaste love of worldly women. Id. p. 115. De amore effectively attracted Drouart’s attention. He, however, translated it with much less concern for attracting attention from diverse elites.

[8] De amore 1.6.470-1, p. 181 (from the eighth dialogue between a man of higher nobility and a woman of higher nobility). The subsequent two quotes are from 1.6.475, 476, p. 181. Walsh translates amor quidam est purus as “such a thing as chaste love,” and mixes use of “pure love” and “chaste love” for the same type of love. I’ve consistently used the terms “pure {purus} love” and “compounded {mixtus} love.” For “compounded love,” many scholars use the term “mixed love.” “Compounded love” seems to me a clearer and more witty translation.

[9] Monson (2005) pp. 62-3, 307-10, observes that the relevant exchange is highly rhetorical, but gives relatively little significance to rhetoric in interpreting De amore. Wood describes the man as a “seductive sophist” and a “lecherous sophist.” Wood (2015) pp. 136, 137. Wood insightfully observes:

the nobilior suitor is presented as an immensely resourceful rhetorician who turns verbal somersaults in an ultimately inconclusive effort to coax his interlocutor into bed.

Wood (2015) p. 135.  Drouart la Vache eliminated nearly all of the eighth dialogue in his more narrowly directed, more substantive adaptation of De amore. Id. pp. 136-7. Andreas Capellanus throughout De amore worked much like the suitor in the eight dialogue, but with the objective of bringing his text to the attention of diverse elites.

[10] Monson (2005) p. 161. Id. pp. 161-3 discusses some of these inconsistencies. Monson observes:

if he {Andreas} was trying to be funny or ironic, he went about it so clumsily that a great many people, from Bishop Tempier {condemning De amore in 1277} in to Donaldson {Professor E. Talbot Donaldson, writing about De amore in 1965}, have not got the joke.

Id. p. 164.

[11] Some examples: in the eight dialogue, the man inexplicable shifts from being a married man to being a cleric. Compare De amore 1.6.44 to 1.6.478, 481. In the enumeration of dialogues, Andreas inexplicably excludes a dialogue between a noble man and a woman of higher nobility. Andreas’s tripartite class structure is later revealed to exclude peasants and nuns. These “mistakes” seem to me too obvious to be unintentional. Andreas’s love for a nun (De amore 1.8.4-5) similarly seems like a mistake declared for rhetorical effect.

[12] De amore 1.6.269 (precept 7), p. 117. The woman of higher nobility advises the common man that as a lover:

He must not be a lover of several ladies simultaneously, but must be the dedicated slave of all women in the service of one.

De amore 1.6.155-6, p. 85. That assertion, which relatively few have questioned, is an astonishing testament to gynocentrism.

[13] De amore 3.14,17, p. 291. Showing unity across books, a noblewoman in Book 1 declared that men’s love service appears to her to be “the worst possible slavery, and a course to be avoided in all circumstances.” De amore 1.5.218, p. 103.

[14] De amore 2.7.1 (Case 1), p. 251. Subsequent quotes are also from Case 1, pp. 251, 253.

[15] Discussing at length De amore, an article in the Stanford Law Review declared:

While there is considerable controversy within the predominantly male professions of legal and literary history as to the reality of women’s courts and the jurisdiction of love, there is no doubt that the courts of love captured the medieval literary imagination. … Law has always produced and promoted legal fictions, and I contend that the courts of love, whether real or imagined, produced judgments as jurisprudentially relevant, and useful, as more traditional legal fictions.

Goodrich (1996) p. 636. Id. then incorporated in his discussion of De amore’s courts of love Jacques Lacan, Slavoj Žižek, Freud, Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, Niklas Luhmanns, Jacque Derrida, recent French feminist jurisprudence, Anglo-American feminist legal theory, jurist Francine Demichel’s advocacy of sexually explicit rights, Jane Larson’s proposal for a tort of sexual deceit, the psychoanalytically informed jurisprudence of American theorist Drucilla Cornell, and a variety of other tokens of elite interest. Read with understanding, id. provides considerable insight into what Andreas Capellanus was doing in De Amore.

[16] On two key questions of love, a man of higher nobility declared:

I should like to abide by the judgment of a woman, not a man.

De Amore 1.6.388, p. 153. The noble lady agreed and selected as judge the Countess of Champagne.

[image] Poet-knight serving lady. Der Schenk von Limpurg (either Walther I, fl. 1230s-1240s, or one of his sons, Walther II or Konrad I). Illustration from Codex Manesse, Zurich, between 1305 and 1315. UB Heidelberg, Cod. Pal. germ. 848, fol. 82v. Thanks to University of Hiedelberg and Wikimedia Commons.


Cherniss, Michael D. 1975. “The Literary Comedy of Andreas Capellanus.” Modern Philology. 72(3): 223-237.

Dahlberg, Charles, trans. 1995.  Guillaume de Lorris and Jean de Meun. The Romance of the Rose. 3rd ed. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Dronke, Peter. 2008. “‘Andreas Capellanus.'” The Journal of Medieval Latin. 4(1): 51-63.

Goodrich, Peter. 1996. “Law in the Courts of Love: Andreas Capellanus and the Judgments of Love.” Stanford Law Review. 48 (3): 633-675.

Monson, Don A. 2005. Andreas Capellanus, scholasticism, & the courtly tradition. Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press.

Parry, John Jay. 1941. The Art of courtly love {De amore}: with introduction, translation, and notes. New York: Ungar.

Robertson, D. W. 1962. A preface to Chaucer; studies in medieval perspectives. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press.

Walsh, P.G., trans. 1982. Andreas Capellanus on love {De amore}. London: Duckworth.

Wood, Lucas. 2015. “The Art of Clerkly Love: Drouart la Vache Translates Andreas Capellanus.” Pp. 113-49 iu Glei, Reinhold and Wolfgang Polleichtner, eds. 2015. Medievalia et humanistica: studies in medieval and renaissance culture. New series, number 40.

contract & fraud irrelevant to forced financial fatherhood

sacrifice of men's lives

Under U.S. law, men are subject to forced financial fatherhood. Forced financial fatherhood for one child typically claims about 25% of a man’s income for at least eighteen years under the deceptive label “child support.” U.S. courts have forced financial fatherhood upon a man even against a written preconception contract assuring the unmarried man simple sexual freedom. U.S. courts have forced financial fatherhood upon a man even when the man became a biological father as a result of the mother’s fraud against him. U.S. courts have forced financial fatherhood upon men who have become biological fathers as a result of being raped. Such actions under law indicate deeply entrenched anti-men gender bias. Lack of public concern about forced financial fatherhood and men’s lack of reproductive rights exemplifies social devaluation of men’s lives.[1]

Consider the case of Budnick v. Silverman (2002). In Florida in 1987, Tamara Budnick and Frederick Silverman signed a formal, written preconception agreement (contract). Budnick wanted Silverman to provide her with his sperm through heterosexual intercourse of reproductive type. Their preconception agreement stated that if a conception occurred following their sexual activity:

  1. Budnick would pay any expenses associated with that conception.
  2. If Budnick didn’t abort the conception, legally abandon the child under “safe haven” laws for mothers, or give up the child for adoption, she would be the sole custodian of the child.
  3. Budnick agreed not to place Silverman’s name on the child’s birth certificate.
  4. Budnick agreed not to tell anyone that Silverman was the child’s father.
  5. Budnick agreed not to seek monthly payments from Silverman under “child support” law. [2]

Both parties agreed that if Budnick violated her commitments under the contract, Silverman would be given the choice to have full, permanent physical custody of the child. In reliance on this agreement, Silverman had sexual intercourse with Budnick. In 1989, Budnick gave birth to a child.

Ten years later, Budnick sought monthly payments (“child support”) from Silverman. A Florida District Court of Appeals voided Budnick and Silverman’s preconception agreement and awarded Budnick monthly payments from Silverman. Silverman’s attempt to establish by contract simple male freedom to engage in penis-in-vagina intercourse failed. Silverman’s personal, intimate, consensual ejaculation of sperm into Budnick’s vagina led to the court imposing upon him a large, long-term financial burden in defiance of a written contract that both parties had relied on for a decade.

The court justified forcing financial fatherhood upon Silverman in part through well-established paths of obfuscation. The court declared:

The rights of support and meaningful relationship belong to the child, not the parent; therefore, neither parent can bargain away those rights.

Courts regularly deprive fathers of meaningful relationships with their children through discriminatory child custody decisions. Those decisions commonly reduce fathers to wallets and visitors to their child at the will of the child’s mother. Moreover, the right to receive “child support” is the custodial parent’s right. The custodial parent has no legal obligations to spend “child support” income on supporting the child. The size of “child support” payments varies directly not with the child’s need for support, but with the non-custodial parent’s income. Many children in the U.S. live in poverty. Many children in the U.S., particularly African-American children, lack a meaningful relationship with their father. Children don’t have effective rights to even poverty-level financial support and a meaningful relationship with their father.

The court in Budnick v. Silverman also exploited the all-purpose “best interests of the child” claim. The court declared:

The total abdication of parental responsibility present in the instant Preconception Agreement cannot be said to protect the best interests of the child.

After conception, women can totally abdicate parental responsibility by having an abortion. Making a “best interests of the child” claim against an adult’s choice about whether to become a parent shows that nothing limits “best interests of the child” claims. With equal justification, courts could impose payments on grandparents to support the “best interests of the child.” Or why not impose payments on a whole village?[3]

To explain how sperm donation differs from Budnick and Silverman’s agreement, the court drew a technological distinction. Sperm donation involves a man ejaculating in a cup. Silverman, in contrast, ejaculated in Budnick’s vagina. The court explained that the penis-in-vagina procedure cannot qualify as a means for sperm donation because it “has been around long enough so that it does not constitute ‘reproductive technology.’” Along this line of reasoning, perhaps the wheel doesn’t constitute transportation technology, nor fire cooking technology.

A particularly astonishing aspect of Budnick v. Silverman is that the court voided the preconception agreement after the parties had relied on it for a decade. Silverman, in accordance with that contract, didn’t establish any meaningful relationship with the child. That deprivation of a meaningful relationship with the child didn’t matter to the court. The point of the preconception agreement was to foreclose a claim for child support. That court interpreted that effort as evidence that such a claim could occur despite the contract. Apparently to avoid challenges to that peculiar interpretation of laches, the court added:

Furthermore, time alone is not enough to establish a claim on the doctrine of laches.

The court thus tore up a preconception agreement that the parties had relied on, with great significance, for a decade. The court seems to have been determined to force financial fatherhood upon Silverman.

Forced financial fatherhood shows social support for transferring resources from men to women even under fraud. In L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. (1983), a lower court found that Pamela had conceived a child through purposefully misrepresenting to Frank that she was using contraceptives. The lower court ordered that Frank make monthly payments to Pamela “only in the amount by which the mother’s means were insufficient to meet the child’s needs.” The lower court thus imposed on Frank a needs-based obligation to support the welfare of Pamela’s child.[4]

An appellate court, however, ruled that Pamela’s fraud didn’t provide grounds for limiting Frank’s payments to her to the level necessary to meet her child’s needs. The appellate court ruled that Pamela, despite her fraud, was legally entitled to payments directly related to Frank’s income. The lack of connection between Frank’s income and the needs of the child appears in the appellate courts’ arbitrary conjunctions. A lower appellate court ruling on L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. declared:

the only factors to be considered by Family Court in fixing an award of child support are the needs of the child and the means of the parents

A higher appellate court affirmed:

The primary purpose of establishing paternity is to ensure that adequate provision will be made for the child’s needs, in accordance with the means of the parents.

The father as financial provider is a gender stereotype deeply entrenched in culture and law. L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. makes clear that the biological father is legally required not only to be financial provider to the child, but also financial provider to the mother.

Forced financial fatherhood is effectively gender-targeted financial punishment of men for having sex. In L. Pamela P. v. Frank S, “adequate provision … for the child’s needs, in accordance with the means of the parents” doesn’t mean payments from the biological father to the mother “in the amount by which the mother’s means were insufficient to meet the child’s needs.” Higher payments, based on the income level of the man who had sex, must be made to the mother. Why must those payments be made to the mother? Why must those payments be made to the mother after she committed fraud against the man who had sex with her? Why are such payments called “child support”? Such payments are best understood as government-imposed, income-based sex payments from men to women in accordance with deeply entrenched stereotypes of men as material providers.[5]

Forced financial fatherhood is clearly gender-biased. In Wallis v. Smith (2001), Smith represented to Wallis that she was taking birth-control pills. Based on that representation, Wallis agreed to engage in penis-in-vagina sex with Smith. Their sexual intercourse resulted in a conception that Smith brought to term. She established herself as mother of the child and sought monthly, income-based payments (“child support”) from Wallis. A court required Wallis to make such child support payments. Wallis then sued Smith for monetary damages resulting from her misrepresentation.

An appellate court denied Wallis claim for monetary damages for fraudulently forced financial fatherhood. Reviewing cases of damages associated with a pregnancy, the court distinguished cases involving damages to women from cases involving damages to men. The court cited the case of a woman awarded damages for an ectopic pregnancy resulting from sex with a man who represented that he was infertile.[6] The court also cited the case of a woman awarded the costs of an abortion and related expenses for a pregnancy resulting from sex with a man who represented that he was sterile.[7] A related, older line of cases award women damages for contacting venereal disease following a male sex partner’s misrepresentation of the risk of disease from sex with him.[8]

The sex structure in another cited case is more subtle. In Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez (1991), a court award damages to a woman-man couple (Mrs. and Mr. Mendez). They had a child following a medical center’s faulty tubal ligation of Mrs. Mendez. The court explained:

it is virtually undisputed that some elements of damages are compensable for this tort—e.g., Mrs. Mendez’s pain and suffering associated with her pregnancy and Joseph’s birth; the cost of a subsequent sterilization; and her expenses, including lost wages, associated with the pregnancy and the birth. To be sure, the most controversial item of claimed damage—the cost of raising Joseph to adulthood—is the critical issue in this case; but it is an issue primarily involving quantification of the plaintiff’s loss. [9]

Damages sex-limited to woman aren’t controversial. The controversial item is damage payments associated with cost-based child support. The court further explained:

Mrs. Mendez’s injury — indeed, the injury of both Mr. and Mrs. Mendez — can probably be described in various ways ….

Applying this analysis to Mr. and Mrs. Mendez’s situation following her unsuccessful sterilization operation, we believe the couple suffered at least two forms of harm. First, as indicated previously, Mrs. Mendez remained fertile despite her desire to be infertile. From the standpoint of the couple, their desire to limit the size of their family—to procreate no further—was frustrated. Within the Restatement’s definition of harm, this was a loss or detriment to them.

Second, their interest in financial security—in the economic stability of their family—was impaired. The undesired costs of raising another child to adulthood—costs which they had striven to avoid and had engaged Lovelace {a medical service provider} to help them avert— were suddenly thrust upon them. This was a detriment to their pecuniary advantage— i.e., harm.

Forced financial fatherhood imposes similar harm on men. But the court seems to have been reluctant to mention men. Reasoning further about the nature of the damage, the court again focused on women:

A professional woman, for example, might seek sterilization for a reason unrelated to financial hardship. However, if a negligently performed sterilization results in an unexpected birth, her financial situation and even long-term prospects may abruptly change.

For poor men, the effect of unplanned parenthood can be incarceration. The Wallis court distinguished Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez as not involving inter-parental liability. In other words, Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez doesn’t have implications for forced financial fatherhood because it doesn’t involve forced financial fatherhood. That’s legal rationalization, not legal reasoning.

What actually distinguishes Wallis v. Smith from cases awarding damages to women and couples is reproductive damages to men. Women have reproductive rights based on judicial reasoning about fundamental constitutional rights. Men have no reproductive rights whatsoever. Ignoring that stark and highly significant gender inequality, the Wallis court further obscured gender bias:

we hold that the actions asserted here {claim for damages from fraudulently forced financial fatherhood} cannot be used to recoup the financial obligations of raising a child. We emphasize that this holding is gender neutral insofar as it precludes a monetary reimbursement for child support.

Eight times more men than women are subject to “child support” payments. Child support law is no more gender neutral than is sexist Selective Service registration.

Men have relatively poor contraceptive options. Men have no reproductive rights. Men are subject to socially constructed paternity ignorance, state-institutionalized cuckolding procedures for paternity establishment, and forced financial fatherhood. Revealing deep gender bias, these outrageous injustices are matters of almost no public concern.

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[1] Devaluation of fatherhood is readily apparent in relevant law review articles. Consider, for example, this claim:

notwithstanding paternity doctrine, blood has little to do with one’s status as father. What matters instead is one’s relationship with the mother.

Baker (2004) p. 2. Biological fatherhood is sufficient under law to impose forced financial fatherhood on a man who has had no meaningful relationship with the child. Claiming that what matters for fatherhood is the man’s relationship to the mother, rather than to the child, makes men parentally subordinate to women. With astonishing sophism, id. essentializes the biology of having a womb while claiming that parenthood isn’t about biology. The effect is to essentialize female privilege in reproduction.

Hatcher (2013) describes the extent to which low-income fathers are deprived of meaningful relationships with their children. Id. condemns essentialized fatherhood, but says nothing about essentialized motherhood. Moreover, institutionalized misrepresentation of paternity, lack of concern to achieve gender equality in knowledge of biological offspring, and gender discrimination in child custody and child support decisions are injustices that all men suffer.

[2] Case details from Budnick v. Silverman, 805 So. 2d 1112 – Fla: Dist. Court of Appeals, 4th Dist. (2002).

[3] A large share of “child support” payments are paid to the state as offsets to welfare payments to custodial mothers. The best interests of the child obviously would involve child support payments going to children, rather than to the state treasury. Hatcher (2007). In reality, the “best interests of the child” is merely emotive rationalization for policies that effectively transfer money from men to women.

[4] The descriptions of the various courts’ actions in L. Pamela P. v. Frank S. are from In the matter of L. Pamela P. v. Frank S., 59 NY 2d 1 – NY: Court of Appeals (1983).

[5] Fathers’ support for children in practice involves much more than providing money. Equating “child support” with paying money has been particularly damaging to low-income African-American fathers. Maldonado (2006).

[6] Barbara A. v. John G., 145 Cal. App. 3d 369 – Cal: Court of Appeal, 1st Appellate Dist., 3rd Div. (1983).

[7] In the matter of Alice D. v. William M., 113 Misc. 2d 940 – NY: City Court, Civil Court (1982).

[8] De Vall v. Strunk (Tex.Civ.App. 1936) 96 S.W.2d 245; Crowell v. Crowell (1920) 180 N.C. 516 {105 S.E. 206}; State v. Lankford (1917) 29 Del. 594 {102 A. 63}.

[9] All the subsequent quotes above are from the opinion in Lovelace Medical Center v. Mendez, 805 P. 2d 603 – NM: Supreme Court (1991).

[image] Sacrifice of men’s lives: dead men on the battlefield of Gettysburg after first day’s battle. Thanks to the Library of Congress.


Baker, Katharine K. 2004. “Bargaining or Biology – The History and Future of Paternity Law and Parental Status.” Cornell Journal of Law and Public Policy 14(1): 1-69.

Hatcher, David L. 2007. “Child Support Harming Children: Subordinating the Best Interests of Children to the Fiscal Interests of the State.” Wake Forest Law Review. 42 (4): 1029-1086.

Hatcher, Daniel L. 2013. “Forgotten Fathers.” Boston University Law Review 93: 897-920. University of Baltimore School of Law Legal Studies Research Paper No. 2013-07.

Maldonado, Solangel. 2006. “Deadbeat or Deadbroke: Redefining Child Support for Poor Fathers.” University of California Davis Law Review. 39 (3): 991-1022.

cultural construction of Reddy’s The Making of Romantic Love

romantic love: lady and knight

William Reddy’s recent tome, The Making of Romantic Love, shows the cultural construction of the cultural construction of gender extended to sexual desire. In the ancient Greco-Roman world, women appreciated male genitals in a way scarcely conceivable today. Men in ancient Egypt rubbed concoctions of their cocks and uttered incantations in the belief that doing so would help them to have sex with a beloved woman. The early Arabic life of Buddha described the original understanding of chivalry: a husband always being ready to have sex with his wife whenever her desire arose. The survival and evolution of species from fruit flies to elephants depends on having sex. Moreover, at least among primates, having sex predominately occurs with mutual desire to have sex. None of this reality is relevant to the cultural construction of Reddy’s The Making of Romantic Love.

The cultural construction of The Making of Romantic Love draws on a variety of linguistic practices. One such linguistic practice is word-chopping. Consider sexual desire. In a wide variety of cultural contexts, some expressions of sexual desire are socially regarded as worse than others. In twelfth-century Europe, Hildegard von Bingen deplored men having sex with cows. Whether men having sex with men is better than men having sex with women has been debated for millennia. Calling a relatively culturally valorized form of sexual desire love, or “romantic love,” doesn’t imply a binary opposition between romantic love and sexual desire. That binary opposition can easily be merely a linguistic construct. Reddy’s claim that the binary of romantic love versus sexual desire was invented in twelfth-century Europe as a result of particular Gregorian reforms lacks appreciation for biological reality. That claim also lacks appreciation for the cultural construction of the scholarly valorization of claiming cultural constructs.

Other aspects of Reddy’s book indicate loss of connection to reality. The third page of the book solemnly declares that eleventh and twelfth century (European) church leaders “attempted to outlaw sexual pleasure for all Christians.” Even if that were formally true, which it isn’t, such a law would be laughably impractical. Mountains of scholarly verbiage over recent decades insist that verbiage constructs everything. That helps to explain the significance of Reddy’s observation:

there is no indication in the documents that members of these elites regarded sexual release as inherently pleasurable. [1]

Forget about motivating the evolution of sexually reproducing organisms over more than a billion years. If the pleasure of sexual release doesn’t appear in the elite documents, then no one feels it.

Reddy’s book takes a linguistic-sophistic approach to science. Consider Reddy on biology:

Quite simply, the organism does not need sex to be healthy, nor does the nervous system appear to handle sexual release as if a certain minimum were required for equilibrium. We do not inevitably grow ever more “horny” if deprived of sex.

That’s true. It’s also true that if organisms in a sexually reproducing population stop having sex, then that population will die off. A dead population isn’t a healthy population.

In the linguistc-sophistic approach to biology, the reality of social and ecological context leads to blank-slate disembodiment:

There is good scientific evidence, therefore, to suppose that what many Westerners experience as “sexual desire” is not a hard-wired physiological “drive” but a Western cultural construct, or set of related conceptualizations and practices, with a long and intricate history. … Western forms of sexual desire are like a genre of music that one learns to improvise, and the neurological mechanisms are like an instrument on which any number of such genres might be played. In the Western genre, notation of “appetite” or “drive” have long played a central structural role, but there are no keys on the instrument that uniquely correspond to these terms. … There is, therefore, nothing in the latest neuroscience research on sexual desire, sexual arousal, or romantic love that permits one to conclude these states are caused or orchestrated by hard-wired brain systems.

If you cut off a man’s head and then show his body erotic pictures, no matter how stimulating the pictures are, he won’t get an erection. That’s because hard-wired connections have been cut. That observation is more meaningful than Reddy’s mixed metaphor “there are no keys on the instrument that uniquely correspond to these terms.”

A standard sophistic move in current humanities scholarship is to declare an aspect of human behavior a “cultural construct.” Reddy suggests, with an attribution-deflecting hypothetical, that “desire itself is a cultural construct.” Biological organisms create and sustain culture in accordance with the parameters of their biology. One thus could equally well declare “desire itself is a biological construct.” Both constructs are unbearably boring and barren.[2]

Human beings should aspire to using reason beyond being rationalizing animals. Reddy repeatedly suggests that his approach is “just reading” the documents.[3] Yet his doing so produces conventional claims strictly disciplined within the culturally constructed school of social constructionism. Culturally constructed scholarship has produced amazing tendentious readings of men’s subordination within courtly love:

In twelfth-century courtly love texts, the woman may seem at first glance to benefit from her elevation to the status of beloved “lady,” but a closer look reveals — or many scholars have argued — that putting her on a “pedestal” was only a more effective way of disciplining her. Men submitted to her yoke only to better make her dance to their tune. [4]

If you believe that, then you are using your mind merely to rationalize dominant ideology. As Reddy’s book makes clear, a mind is a terrible thing to waste.

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[1] Reddy (2012) p. 5. Subsequent quotes are from pp. 10, 13, 14-15, 27, 21.

[2] A roundtable on Reddy’s book represents well the tediousness of this school of thinking. For a more interesting approach to courtly love and the Troubadours, see Monson (2011). Dronke (1965) shows that men’s abasement in love, men toiling for women’s love, and the pedestalization of women (three behaviors characterizing “courtly love”) occur in love poetry across a wide range of cultures and throughout recorded history.  Courtly love can be understood as expressing gynocentrism, a typical primate social structure.

[3] Reddy (2012) pp. 37, 391.

[4] Denying the obvious to assert “male dominance” is prevalent in current scholarship. Consider this summary of chivalry:

Thus we can recognize that this literature not only heaped upon chivalry a great measure of idealized responsibility for the protection of women and for the elimination of the most coarse and brutal forms of subjection, it also endowed knights with an even greater valorization of their powerful place in society in general, and especially in regard to women. These works offered the knights a more refined form of male dominance as one powerful element of their chivalry.

Kaeuper (1999) p. 230. Being vastly disproportionately killed is not a sign of dominance. Sexist studies of sexism and mortality inequality defined as equality point to actual dominance.

[image] La Belle Dame sans Merci. Painting, oil on canvas. John William Waterhouse, 1893. Thanks to Wikimedia Commons.


Dronke, Peter. 1965. Medieval Latin and the rise of European love-lyric. Oxford: Clarendon Press

Kaeuper, Richard W. 1999. Chivalry and violence in medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Monson, Don A. 2011. “Why is la Belle Dame sans Merci? Evolutionary Psychology and the Troubadours.” Neophilologus. 95 (4): 523-541.

Reddy, William M. 2012. The making of romantic love: longing and sexuality in Europe, South Asia, and Japan, 900-1200 CE. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

widow of Ephesus story in three retellings

widow of Ephesus

Combining sex, crime, and outrage, the widow of Ephesus story has been at the sweet spot of communicative attention for at least two millennia. The widow of Ephesus mourned her husband in continual vigil at his grave. One day, she encountered there a soldier. He had been given responsibility for guarding the dead bodies of criminals hanging crucified. The widow and the soldier fell in love. They began having sex in her husband’s sepulcher. While the soldier was engaged with the widow, someone stole a criminal’s body from a cross. The soldier faced charges of neglect of duty. The widow rescued the soldier by having her husband’s body raised on the cross to replace the lost body of the criminal. Like rape and poisoning on a college campus, this sort of story makes news.

Among fables attributed to Phaedrus from about two millennia ago, the widow of Ephesus story warned of the madness of carnal passion. The Phaedrus retelling described the soldier falling madly in love after a glimpse of the widow within her husband’s sepulcher:

The soldier espied through the slightly open
Door a lady, a dream of loveliness.
Immediately, the man became madly enamored,
Possessed by a passion impossible to control. [1]

When the soldier found a criminal’s body missing, he was fearful and despondent. The widow, his lover, responded calmly and dispassionately:

And this paragon of wives said, “There’s one way
To save you. Don’t be afraid.” And she gave him
Her husband’s corpse to hoist on the cross,
So rescuing him from the penalty due for his default.

The fable of the widow of Ephesus ends with an epimythium describing moral disorder:

Thus dishonor usurped the place of righteous praise. [2]

Rather than continuing her praiseworthy grieving for her husband, the widow of Ephesus entered a dishonorable relationship with the soldier and treated her husband’s body dishonorably.

In Lamentationes Matheoluli, a thirteenth-century masterpiece of men’s sexed protest, Matheolus’s anger at his abusive wife strongly colored his retelling of the widow of Ephesus story. In Matheolus’s version, a knight merely offered the widow words of consolation within the philosophical tradition of consolation.[3] After the criminal’s body had been stolen, the widow propositioned the desperate knight. She offered to rescue him in exchange for his promising to marry her. The knight agreed. The widow then dragged her husband’s corpse from the grave and hung it on the cross. When the knight pointed out that her husband’s head lacked the two wounds that were on the criminal’s head, the wife bashed her husband’s head to create similar wounds. The knight, outraged, reneged on his promise to marry the widow. He declared:

I’d rather lose my skin than be married to you. For what you did, in justice, you deserve to be burned. [4]

In Phaedrus’s fable, the widow and the soldier secured their shared personal interests against the social order. In Lamentationes Matheoluli, the knight defended the social order in condemning the widow for seeking her personal love interests.

In the Satyricon, probably from the first century, the widow of Ephesus story is sophisticated literary entertainment. The soldier in the Satyricon version seduced the widow. Facing charges for neglect of duty, he prepared to commit suicide:

But the woman’s sense of pity matched her chastity. “The gods must not allow me,” she said, “to gaze on the two corpses of the men I hold most dear. I would rather surrender the dead than slay the living. She followed up this declaration with an instruction to remove her husband’s corpse from the coffin, and to have it fastened to the vacant cross. The soldier took advantage of the ingenious idea of this most thoughtful of women, and the next day the locals speculated on how a dead man had managed to mount the cross. [5]

To appreciate the sophistication, consider carefully: “the widow’s sense of pity matched her chastity.” The widow lacked chastity. She similarly lacked pity for her husband’s dead body. But is pity relevant to a dead body? The widow had pity on the soldier facing punishment for dereliction. That’s meaningful pity. The claim that the widow’s pity matched her chastity has multiple levels of irony.

The ending of the story is also ironic. The locals, speculating on how a dead man had mounted the cross, apparently recognized the body of the widow’s husband. That means the corpse substitution failed to obscure the soldier’s dereliction. The “ingenious idea of this most thoughtful of women” appears laughably foolish. A stolen, crucified body leading to a miraculous mounting of a cross also suggests parody of the Christian gospel:

Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “… come down from the cross.” … {after Jesus’s death and burial} some of the guard went into the city and told the chief priests everything that had happened. After the priests had assembled with the elders, they devised a plan to give a large sum of money to the soldiers, telling them, “You must say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole him away while we were asleep.’ If this comes to the governor’s ears, we will satisfy him and keep you out of trouble.” [6]

The widow of Ephesus story in the Satyricon emphasizes public spectacle. The story itself is a virtuoso display of rhetorical skill.

The widow of Ephesus story shows the imperatives of the living trumping respect for the dead. The exacting science of philology works to provide accurate transmission and understanding of texts. Philology deserves respect. Yet philology isn’t sufficient for lively humanities. Retelling stories in one’s own interests propagates life in literature.[7]

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[1] Phaedrus, “The Widow and the Soldier,” Perotti’s Appendix, No. 15, from Latin trans. Widdows (1992) pp. 151. The subsequent quote is from id., p. 152. Here’s the Latin text with an alternate prose translation into English. Konstan (2015) documents that in ancient Greece, beauty (kállos) was associated with sexual desire.

[2] My translation of sic turpitudo laudis obsedit locum. Id., p. 152, has “Thus was decency defeated by dishonor.”

[3] The European Middle Ages lacked the mass army of soldiers that the Roman Empire had. In Matheolus’s version, a knight replaced the soldier. Moreover, in Matheolus’s version, the widow had been a poor chambermaid before she married her husband, a knight. Marrying up made her a lady. Matheolus’s version thus adds a twist of class disparagement.

[4] Lamentationes Matheoluli, l. 850-1, Klein, Rubel & Schmitt (2014) p. 109 or Van Hamel (1892) p. 62, my translation of the Latin. The full story of the widow of Ephesus is l. 823-851. The story is referenced again in l. 2717-20. The knight’s concluding rejection of the widow occurs in an earlier version in the Seven Sages / Sindibad corpus. Lacy (1967) p. 36, Van Hamel (1892) v. 2, pp. 160-3 (pdf pages 726-30). For an English translation the widow of Ephesus story from Jehan Le Févre’s Old French translation of the Lamentationes Matheoluli, Blamires, Pratt & Marx (1992) pp. 185-6.

[5] Satyricon, s. 112, from Latin trans. Walsh (1996) p. 104, with some minor changes for clarity. Eumolpus the poet tells the story. The widow’s maid quotes to her Virgil, Aeneid 4.34. That’s rich parody. McGlathery (1998) pp. 323-9. The Satyricon Latin for “the woman’s sense of pity matched her chastity” is mulier non minus misericors quam pudica. John of Salisbury in his Policraticus (written about 1159) incorporated nearly verbatim the Satyricon text of the widow of Ephesus story. See Policraticus, Bk. 8, Ch. 11, Webb (1909), Vol. 2, pp. 301-4.

[6] Matthew 27:39-40, 28:11-15.

[7] Other retellings of the widow of Ephesus story have survived. Moretti (2013) interprets the story of Drusiana in the Apocryphal Acts of the apostle John as a response to stories like that of the widow of Ephesus. Hrotsvit drew on the story of Drusiana for her work Drusiana and Calimachus. The fabliau Celle qui se fist foutre sur la fosse de son mari (La femme au tombeau) is a variant of the seduction portion of the widow of Ephesus story. Ibn Zabara included a variant in the Book of Delight, written in Hebrew about 1200. For an English translation, Abrahams (1894) pp. 516-7. More generally, the story is Arne-Thompson type 1510 and motif K2213.1 in the Stith-Thompson categorization. For other related stories, see D.L. Ashliman, “Widows in (short-lived) mourning.”

[image] Widow of Ephesus pulling her husband’s body from its coffin and hanging it on a cross. Engraving, from image 32 in edition of Jehan le Fèvre, Matheolus qui nous monstre sans varier les biens & aussi les vertus: qui viennent pour soy marier (Lyon: Olivier Arnouillet, 1550), in Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, Rés. B 487656. Thanks to Gallica.


Abrahams, Israel. 1894. “Joseph Zabara and His Book of Delight.” The Jewish Quarterly Review. 6 (3): 502-532.  Augmented version, without notes, in Abrahams, Israel. 1912. The book of delight, and other papers. Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society of America.

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

Klein, Thomas, Thomas Rubel, and Alfred Schmitt, eds. 2014. Lamentationes Matheoluli. Stuttgart: Anton Hiersemann.

Konstan, David. 2015. Beauty: the fortunes of an ancient Greek idea. New York: Oxford University Press.

Lacy, Norris J. 1967. La femme au tombeau: anonymous fabliau of the thirteenth century. Ph. D. Dissertation. Indiana University.

McGlathery, Daniel B. 1998. “Petronius’ Tale of the Widow of Ephesus and Bakhtin’s Material Bodily Lower Stratum.” Arethusa. 31 (3): 313-336.

Moretti, Paola Francesca. 2013. “The Two Ephesian Matrons: Drusiana’s Story in the Acts of John as a Possible Christian Response to Milesian Narrative.” Pp. 35-48 in Pinheiro, Marília P. Futre, Judith Perkins, and Richard Pervo, eds. 2013. The Ancient Novel and Early Christian and Jewish Narrative Fictional Intersections. Ancient Narrative Supplementum 16. Havertown: Barkhuis.

Van Hamel, Anton Gerard, ed. 1892. Mathéolus, Jean Le Fèvre. Les lamentations de Mathéolus et le livre de leesce de Jehan Le Fèvre, de Ressons: poèmes français du XIVe siècle. Paris: Bouillon.

Walsh, P.G. trans. 1996. Petronius Arbiter. The Satyricon. Oxford: Clarendon Press.

Webb, Clement Charles Julian. 1909. John of Salisbury. Ioannis Saresberiensis episcopi Carnotensis Policratici sive De nvgis cvrialivm et vestigiis philosophorvm libri VIII. Oxonnii: e typographeo Clarendoniano.

Widdows, P.F. trans. 1992. The fables of Phaedrus. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Honorat Bovet on exploiting prisoners in medieval jails

Honorat Bovet, L'apparicion maistre jehan de meun

In France in 1398, the legal scholar and minor government functionary Honorat Bovet summoned his courage, scholarly learning, and literary skill to deliver a scathing policy review to leading French court officials. Bovet’s policy review began with an abstract, ambiguously addressed, double-hedged declaration:

To all those who would hear the truth spoken may God give the determination to uphold and to proclaim it, where the opportunity presents itself, without duly offending anyone. [1]

He supported that statement with a Latin gloss citing relevant canon law. Bovet’s policy review took the form of a dream vision. In his sleep, the review narrator, a prior, perceived the brilliant and audacious scholar Jean de Meun conducting interviews with four marginalized or suspect medieval figures: a physician, a Jew, a Muslim, and a Dominican friar.[2] These figures delivered wide-ranging, radical critiques of French policy. The critique of financially exploiting prisoners illustrates both Honorat Bovet’s policy concerns and his treacherous position.

Financially exploiting prisoners occurred in medieval French jails rather like in U.S. jails and prisons today. In 1394, King Charles VI of France decreed that prisoners be allowed to purchase food provided from outside the jail. Without that opportunity, prisoners were forced to pay for food whatever prices the jailer chose to charge. Charles VI also capped release fees that jailers could charge prisoners and decreed that no fees could be charged to prisoners who have been unjustly imprisoned.[3] In a recent order, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission capped the rates that prisoners may be charged for interstate telephone calls. Prisoners previously had been subjected to whatever telephones rates the service provider arranged to charge.

Speaking through the Muslim, Honorat Bovet indicated that existing regulation of jails was insufficient. The Muslim declared:

I do not dare to speak of how jailers
Oversee their prisoners;
But I have been told along the way
That their tableware and wine, they get from prisoners:
Neither gold nor silver will he take with him,
The prisoner who leaves the jail.
When someone tells him that this is a crime,
And he always replies at once
That the jail costs him a great deal of money
And that he’ll never lose a single cent while running it.
If the king knew what went on there,
He would never tolerate such a thing. [4]

Jails in the U.S. today commonly receive roughly half the revenue collected for prisoners’ telephone calls. Like jailers in fourteenth-century France, jailers today claim that they need revenue from charges to prisoners for telephone calls in order to continue to allow prisoners to call the outside world.

The issue is politically difficult. In Honorat Bovet’s policy review, the Dominican friar presented the issue as concerning the extent and recipient of the financial extractions from prisoners:

The Saracen {Muslim} says of jailers
That they despoil their prisoners,
But this much is certain:
That the jail revenue belongs to the crown,
And that, truly, it is not small sums
That are raised in the jails.
It is against the law of charity,
And the king is not well informed:
He could take the matter in hand,
And put a person {in charge} who would, in all certainty,
Levy the royal right properly,
Without harming the aforesaid prisoners. [5]

Like the Muslim, the friar highlighted the king’s lack of knowledge: “the king is not well-informed.” The friar shrewdly appealed to the financial interests of the king. At the same time, the friar also urged that royal rights to financial extractions from prisoners be exercised properly, without harm to prisoners.

Honorat Bovet’s policy review was fundamentally concerned with incentives and government. Its narrator represented the complacent elite, relaxing after dinner in a Parisian garden. Jean de Meun castigated him:

You sit there eating, like a pig,
Doing no good for anyone. [6]

Jean de Meun urged the narrator to speak out for reform. The narrator responded:

I do not know what I am supposed to say in this day and age, because the world is too perilous and the courts of princes too dangerous. And if it please you to recall some ancient teachings, Valerius Maximus repeated the opinion of a very wise senator who once, when he saw that the Republic was being governed poorly, did not wish to give his opinion in the council, and so replied: “By my faith,” he proclaimed, “My words have I often regretted; my silence, never.” And for that reason, in my opinion, when the world is a dangerous place, one does well to keep silent and to live through this time. What is more, the world takes for a fool the man who seeks to write of new things.

Honorat Bovet’s Latin gloss provided a counterpoint to Valerius Maximus’s conventional wisdom:

This happened at a time when the Republic had the sort of tyrants that a false criminal accusation would be sought in whatever way against such innocent persons, so that through it they would suffer death and thus their goods would be confiscated to the public treasury. Therefore at that time crimes were imputed not with references to persons but riches. Therefore from such a malign rule deliver us, O Lord!

Financial interests can corrupt criminal justice. Crime shouldn’t pay. That’s easy to say with respect to criminals. That’s much harder to describe and criticize with respect to the governing elite.[7]

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[1] Honorat Bovet, L’apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun 83, from French trans. Hanly (2005) p. 63. Older scholarship commonly refers to Honorat Bovet as Honoré Bonet. In 1387, Bovet wrote Arbre des Batailles (The Tree of Battles of Honoré Bonet). François Velde has provided a summary of it.

[2] Honorat Bovet was the Prior of Selonnet in Provence. Despite the dream and distanced voices of L’apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun, insightful readers would have recognized through those fictions Honorat Bovet’s policy critique. Hanly (2005) p. 35.  On the other hand, the four royal officials to whom Bovet’s dedicated copies probably lacked the learning to appreciate his Latin glosses and scholarly citations. Id. p. 3.

[3] Hanly (2005) p. 208, n. 88 continued.

[4] Honorat Bovet, L’apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun l. 817-28, trans. id. pp. 109-10. In a Latin marginal gloss to these lines, Bovet wrote, “O God, how much sin and how much tyranny reign in the jails of France!” P2.21, trans. id. p. 207.

[5] L’apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun l. 1396-1414, trans. id. p. 141.  The Muslim is referred to as a Saracen; the Domincan friar, as a Jacobin.

[6] L’apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun l. 14-15, trans. id. p. 65. The subsequent two quotes are m. 103-12, trans. id. pp. 67, 69, and P1.19, trans. id. p. 180.

[7] Completed in 1398, Bovet’s work was largely ignored for more than four centuries:

Since the political effort represented by the Apparicion maistre Jehan de Meun ultimately failed, and might even have put an end to Bovet’s career at court, his program appears to have been grounded in misplaced belief in both the good will and the intellectual ability of the most powerful French nobles. … Honorat Bovet addressed his poetic appeal to a very difficult audience, and hindsight would suggest that such criticism could hardly have the desired effect. But it seems hard to believe that the man would have written the poem — and paid for two deluxe presentation copies, to boot — if he did not give it at least an even chance of winning over hearts and minds. Given his circumstances, therefore, Bovet’s optimism is extraordinary, and even inspirational. … Il pourra bien venir un jour.

Id. pp. 1, 4, 56.

[image] Maistre Jehan de Meun (Jean de Meun) introducing the prior to the physician, the Jew, the Muslim, and the Dominican friar. BNF fonds Français 810 (Honoré Bovet, Vision du prieur de Salon) fol. 6v. Thanks to Bibliothèque nationale de France and Gallica.


Hanly, Michael G. 2005. Honorat Bovet. Medieval Muslims, Christians, and Jews in dialogue: the apparicion Maistre Jehan de Meun of Honorat Bovet : a critical edition with English translation. Tempe, Ariz: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies.

Jesus prophetic for scholars in early Islamic world

After the seventh-century Islamic conquest of long-established centers of learning across Mesopotamia, scholarly elites had to secure patronage from their new rulers. Obvious political interests provide fertile circumstances for charges of scholarly hypocrisy and corruption. Political challenge and claims of scholarly hypocrisy are readily apparent in the life of Jesus. Jesus, regarded as the Word and Spirit of God in Islam, was a prophet particularly relevant to scholars in the early Islamic world.

Learned Islamic literature drew upon Jesus’s criticism of scholarly hypocrisy. In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus declared to the scholarly leaders of his time:

woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you lock people out of the kingdom of heaven. For you do not go in yourselves, and when others are going in, you stop them. … Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth. [1]

The renowned, immensely learned Islamic scholar al-Ghazali (died 1111) reported:

Jesus said, “The scholars of evil are like a rock which has fallen into the mouth of a river: it neither drinks the water nor allows the water to pass to the crops. The scholars of evil are also like the channels of a sewer: their exterior is white plaster and their interior is foul; or like tombs which are grand on the outside and full of dead bones inside.” [2]

Whether the figure is the gates of heaven or a barrier to water for crops, the matter has great public significance. According to al-Mubarak (died 797), Jesus deplored the serious public harm of scholarly error:

Jesus was asked, “Spirit and Word of God, who is the most seditious of men?” He replied, “The scholar who is in error. If a scholar errs, a host of people will fall into error because of him.” [3]

Antagonism between Jesus and the intellectual elites of his time pervades the Christian gospels. With less restraint and more learning, scholars in the early Islamic world attacked each other with personally violent expressions.

Jesus teaching Muslim disciples not to slander

In both Christian and Muslim understanding, Jesus is mainly a figure of quietism, asceticism, and submission. Ibn Abi al-Dunya (died 894) reported:

They asked Jesus, “Show us an act by which we may enter paradise.” Jesus said, “Do not speak at all.” They said, “We cannot do this.” Jesus replied, “Then speak only good.” [4]

In the gospels, when a rich man asked what he must do, beyond following the law, to enter eternal life, Jesus told him to sell all his possessions, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow him.[5] In the above Islamic saying about the scholarly good of speech, Jesus adds a less extreme alternative directly relevant to scholarly dispute: “Then speak only good.” Other sayings of Jesus in Islamic literature describe encounters with animals regarded as polluting in Islam:

Jesus and his disciples passed by a dog’s carcass. The disciples said, “How foul is his stench!” Jesus said, “How white are his teeth!” He said this in order to teach them a lesson — namely, to forbid slander. [6]

A pig passed by Jesus. Jesus said, “Pass in peace.” He was asked, “Spirit of God, how can you say this to a pig?” Jesus replied, “I hate to accustom my tongue to evil.” [7]

Dogs and pigs could serve as abusive epithets for despised scholars.[8] The animal stories of Jesus seem to teach the wisdom of leaving judgment and condemnation to God.

Jesus proclaimed a new dispensation. Early Islamic warriors imposed one across Mesopotamia. Both Jesus and early Islamic warriors broadly challenged established intellectual elites. In those politically charged circumstances, normative scholarly engagement was difficult. Harsh invective and deliberative withdrawal, mixed in different measures, became a more important pattern for scholarly activity.

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[1] Matthew 23: 13, 27.

[2] Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, Ihya’ ‘Ulum al-Din, 1:66, from Arabic trans. Khalidi (2001) p. 165 (no. 201).

[3] ‘Abdallah ibn al-Mubarak, al-Zuhd, p. 520 (no. 1474), from Arabic trans. id. p. 61 (no. 17).

[4] Abu Bakr ibn Abi al-Dunya, Kitab al-Samt wa Adab al-Lisan, p. 215 (no. 46), from Arabic trans. id. p. 121 (no. 125).

[5] Matthew 19:16-21; Mark 10:17-21; Luke 18:18-22.  In Islamic literature, Jesus condemned religious teachers who made a living from teaching. Id. pp.  61 (no. 16), 119 (no. 122).

[6] Abu Bakr ibn Abi al-Dunya, Kitab al-Samt wa Adab al-Lisan, pp. 385-6 (no. 297), trans. Khalidi (2001) p. 122 (no. 127). Van Gelder (1988), p. 46, cites an instance of this story in al-Jahiz, Kitab al-Hayawan, ii, 163.

[7] Kitab al-Samt, p. 392 (no. 308), trans. Khalidi (2001) p. 123 (no. 128). Abdallah ibn Qutayba (died 884) reported a saying in which Jesus blessed those who insulted him. Jesus explained, “A person can bring forth only what is within him.” Trans. id. p. 106-7 (no. 100), also cited in al-Jahiz, Kitab al-Bayan, in Van Gelder (1988), p. 46.

[8] Menache (1997) compiles disparaging references to dogs while greatly exaggerating monotheistic religious opposition to dogs.

[image] Jesus and the dead dog. Folio 19v in illustrated edition of Nizami’s Khamseh, produced 1665-67. British Library Add MS 6613, ff 264v-300r. Thanks to British Library.


Khalidi, Tarif. 2001. The Muslim Jesus: sayings and stories in Islamic literature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Menache, Sophia. 1997. “Dogs: God’s Worst Enemies?Society & Animals. 5 (1): 23-44.

Van Gelder, Geert Jan. 1988. The bad and the ugly: attitudes towards invective poetry (hijāʼ) in classical Arabic literature. Leiden: E.J. Brill.

men’s protest, then quarrels, apologies & defenses for women

woman on pedestal

In a medieval masterpiece of men’s sexed protest, Matheolus poured out his anguish and anger about injuries he suffered from the church and his wife. Matheolus’s protest generated quarrels about women, apologies to women, and defenses of women. That’s a characteristic deliberative effect. Gynocentric society tends to transform men’s sexed protest into discourse about women.

The reception of Matheolus’s text illustrates the effects of gynocentrism. Matheolus wrote his work of men’s sexed protest in Latin in 1290. About a century later, Jehan Le Fèvre loosely translated Matheolus’s work into French. Perhaps fearing the dominant social power, Le Fèvre added apologies and excuses to his version:

I wish to excuse myself in my writing, since I do not slander the good women nor do I desire to slander. I would rather retract it than be hated for foolish language. God knows it {my book}, and I keep my payment for it, for I have no ill will toward women. Nor do I say anything in anger, except to color my statements. Good and virtuous women can never be honored too much. [1]

Le Fèvre depreciated men’s anger, as continues to be done even for men’s anger arising from outrageous injustice. Le Fèvre instead hinted at his dispassionate financial interest in translating Matheolus’s book. While poetry has long been condemned as lying, Le Fèvre’s Matheolus masochistically welcomed being beaten for his poetry. He declared, “If I lie, I want to be beaten.” Then he disavowed everything he had written as merely translating other men’s words:

It is fitting, since I translate, for me to speak or shut up. For this I beg that it be not displeasing if in this moral treatise I record some words which may be biting. For nothing proceeds from me, not the smallest bit, which is not found in histories and in ancient memories.

Le Fèvre recognized the social hostility to men’s sexed protest. With reasonable self-interest, he distanced himself from Matheolus’s work.

In addition to adding excuses and disclaimers to Matheolus’s text, Le Fèvre wrote an additional text that he positioned as a defense of women. He began his additional book with an appeal to women:

My ladies, I entreat your mercy. I would like to apologize to you here for what I said without your permission about the great strife and the torments of marriage. [2]

Men protesting their suffering in marriage isn’t permitted without women’s permission. Le Fèvre again excused his earlier work as only a translation. He urgently sought to avoid women’s hate and gain their grace:

no woman and anyone alive should hate me for that {translation of Matheolus’s book}. Therefore, if I was so occupied, I beg that it be pardoned and forgiven me by your grace. For I am all ready to write a book to redeem myself: please don’t deny this to me. … Without your grace, I don’t want to live.

Le Fèvre as writer represents the servile, self-obliterating woman-server of bleeding-man medieval chivalry. He explained that he wrote his new book:

to defend you ladies faithfully, and especially to show that no man ought to blame women; we ought to praise and love them, cherish, honor, and serve them, if would would deserve their grace.

The value of men’s lives, in Le Fèvre’s view, is contingent on women’s grace. Men blaming women is categorically illicit, while men serving women is categorically required. In attacking men who reject such subordination, Le Fèvre and like-minded men claim to be defending women.

Le Fèvre used subordination to women as a strategy to advance his pecuniary and sexual interests. Le Fèvre urged women to buy and promote his book:

My ladies, I ask you humbly, if I have pleaded your case weakly through my ignorance, use here your strength to make up for my defects and publish your honor, that all may know of it. … Please advocate for me, or I can truly say and promise that I will never have a day of gladness, but will remain in sadness, which will prey on my weary body, if I have to pay the expenses. [3]

With ignorance of the art of love, Le Fèvre sought women’s sexual favor through subservience and flattery:

Have mercy, mercy on poor Smith {Le Fèvre, in a pun on his name}, who suffers a greater thirst on his lip than did the rich man in hell; for he doesn’t know how to work on iron, but his effort is all on parchment. He has made this book for you, for he well knows that to all males who carry both purses and sacks, you are comfort, joy, and rest.

Sacks are a figure for scrotums, or more generally, male genitals. Carrying a purse associates men with paying money for enjoying women’s company. Seeking “mercy” is associated with men begging women for love.[4] That’s not a propitious seduction strategy. Embracing subordination to women does, however, help men to sell their books to women.

Le Fèvre’s dispassionate, narrowly self-interested translation and refutation of Matheolus’s sexed protest prompted additional gynocentric literature. Christine de Pizan indicated that “Matheolus,” which probably meant both Le Fèvre’s translation of Matheolus’s work and his refutation of it, inspired her to write Livre de la cité des dames (Book of the City of Ladies).[5] De Pizan also contrived to create a “querelle des femmes” (quarrel about women). Debate about women played out at the heights of French society, including the queen and leading clergy.  Men’s concerns, as they had been throughout the long prior history of men’s sexed protest, were largely belittled and ignored.

An exemplary development was Martin Le Franc’s Le Champion des Dames (The Champion of Ladies). Finished in 1442, The Champion of Ladies goes on for an interminable five books containing 24,336 verses. Le Franc positioned his work as a response to what were originally Matheolus’s heartfelt lamentations. Le Franc charged Matheolus with defaming women. The Champion of Ladies tendentiously pits the titular champion against allegorical bogeymen Malebouche (Badmouth), Brief Conseil (Hasty Judgment), Vilain Penser (Evil Thinking), Trop Cuidier (Much Presuming), Lourt Entendement (Slow Wit), and Faulx Semblant (False Seeming):

Against foul Badmouth and his host —
That proud and overweening captain —
The Champion his lance lowers, most
Hardily however he is smitten,
He fears no more than a mitten
The balance of the battle’s woes,
For his victory is certain:
He’ll win no matter how it goes. [6]

A modern-day translator of The Champion of Ladies described Matheolus’s work as providing “misogynistic depictions of marriage, using humor to impugn women.”[7] The champion shames and blames all men for Matheolus’s sexed protest. To the modern champion of women, The Champion of the Ladies shows “understanding of the multifaceted nature of gender relations.”[8] That apparently isn’t meant to be funny.

The voluminous, tedious scholarly literature moralizing against medieval “anti-feminism” and “misogyny” serves dominant structures of gynocentrism. That literature refuses to recognize the possibility of medieval men’s sexed protest.[9] Many persons today also refuse to recognize violence against men, forced financial fatherhood, institutionalized inequalities in biological parental knowledge, vastly disproportionate imprisonment of men, and many other pressing injustices against men. The connection between medieval men’s sexed protest and men’s sexed protest today is obvious in structures of repression.

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[1] Les lamentations de Mathéolus, II.1541-51, in Van Hamel (1892) p. 85, from French trans. Obermeier (1999) p. 131. The subsequent quote is from II.1559-68, trans. id. I’ve made some minor changes to these translations for accuracy and clarity.

[2] Jehan Le Fèvre, Le livre de Leesce (The Book of Gladness), l. 1-5, from French trans. Burke (2013) p. 74. The subsequent two quotes are l. 12-19, 27 and l. 35-40, trans. id.

[3] Le livre de Leesce, l. 3948-54, 3968-73, trans. id. p. 107. The subsequent quote is l. 3974-82, trans. id.

[4] One meaning of mercy in Old French is reward in the form of a woman’s favor. In Alain Chartier’s La belle dame sans mercy (written about 1424), a beautiful lady refuses to grant a man the “favor” of allowing him serve her non-sexually.

[5] Burke (2013) p. 133.

[6] Martin Le Franc, Le Champion des Dames (The Champion of Ladies) l. 9-16 (s. 2), from French trans. Taylor (2005) p. 18.

[7] Taylor (2005), Translator’s Introduction, p. 4.

[8] Id. p. 13.

[9] Mann (1991) shows no awareness that men could justifiably engage in sexed protest. Blumenfeld-Kosinski (1994) deploys one of medieval scholars’ dominant criteria for literary judgment: “praise or blame for women?” and concludes with misandristic imagination of “new type of discourse that could stand up to the riot, disordered language, fables, and lies of male speech.” Id. p. 725. Burke (2013) approaches Le Livre de Leesce as a player on Team Christine de Pizan and promises further work “in the tradition of my author.” Id. p. 137. While Burke (2013) regarded Le Fèvre as putting forward a defense of women, Pratt (2002) perceived Le Fèvre to have committed an unpardonable literary crime and lamented:

Le Fèvre’s defense of women was a literary game in which ambiguity and irony allowed antifeminist attitudes to be perpetrated with impunity.

Id. p. 114. Fortunately, punishment for “antifeminist attitudes” continues to be strengthened.

[image] Matheolus adoring woman on pedestal. Engraving, from image 18 in edition of Jehan le Fèvre, Matheolus qui nous monstre sans varier les biens & aussi les vertus: qui viennent pour soy marier (Lyon: Olivier Arnouillet, 1550), in Bibliothèque municipale de Lyon, Rés. B 487656. Thanks to Gallica.


Blumenfeld-Kosinski, Renate. 1994. “Jean Le Fèvre’s Livre de Leesce: Praise or Blame of Women?” Speculum. 69 (3): 705-725.

Burke, Linda, ed. and trans. 2013. Jehan Le Fèvre. The book of gladness / le livre de Leesce: a 14th century defense of women, in English and French. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, Inc.

Mann, Jill. 1991. Apologies to women: inaugural lecture delivered 20th November 1990. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Obermeier, Anita. 1999. The history and anatomy of auctorial self-criticism in the European Middle Ages. Amsterdam: Rodopi.

Pratt, Karen. 2002, “The Strains of Defense: the Many Voices of Jean Le Fèvre’s Livre de Leesce.” Pp. 113-133 (Ch. 6) in Thelma Fenster, ed. Gender in debate from the early middle ages to the Renaissance. Palgrave Macmillan: Basingstoke.

Taylor, Steven Millen. 2005. Martin Le Franc. The trial of womankind: a rhyming translation of Book IV of the fifteenth-century Le champion des dames. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland.

Van Hamel, Anton Gerard, ed. 1892. Mathéolus, Jean Le Fèvre. Les lamentations de Mathéolus et le livre de leesce de Jehan Le Fèvre, de Ressons: poèmes français du XIVe siècle. Paris: Bouillon.