Wednesday’s flowers

annual honesty (Lunaria annua) or silver dollars

Gualtieri & Giannetta: virtue triumphs over rationalization

In Boccaccio’s Decameron, Pampinea chartered the brigata for enjoyment “without ever trespassing the sign of reason in any way.”[1]  Pampinea thus presented reason as a external, public constraint.  Human reason, however, can function merely to rationalize a desired path.  The sign of reason significantly governs desire only in conjunction with virtue.  In Decameron 2.8, Gualtieri and his daughter Giannetta repel reason that serves only as rationalization.  Their actions demonstrate virtue and are highly rewarded at the end of the story.[2]

reason with virtue sets the world aright

Gualtieri, the Count of Antwerp, was governing the Kingdom of France while the King and the King’s son were fighting in Germany.  The wife of the King’s son fell in love with Gualtieri.  She summoned Gualtieri on the pretext of having matters to discuss with him.  She had him sit down on a sofa next to her.  He asked her why she summoned him.  She remained silent.  He asked again.  Again,  she didn’t answer.  Finally, her love for Gualtieri prompted her to speak:

Sweet friend and lord, O my dearest, since you are wise, you surely understand how frail men and women are ….  in my opinion, the advantages the rich woman possesses should go a long way toward excusing her, should she, by chance, slip and fall into love.  And if, in addition, she chose a wise and valiant lover on whom to bestow her favors, then she would need no excuse whatsoever.  Now, in my opinion, I meet both of these requirements, and since I have other reasons as well for falling in love, such as my youth and my husband’s absence, it is only fitting that these things should come to my aid and defend my burning love in your sight. [3]

The lady’s formally structured reasoning is rationalization of her desire for a love affair.  She continued with further rationalization (“as long as it remains hidden, I don’t think there’s any harm in it”) and finally concluded by declaring that the object of her desire is none other than Gualtieri.  Then she burst into tears:

These words produced such an abundance of tears that even though she intended to go on pleading with him, she no longer had the ability to speak.  Instead, very nearly overcome by emotion, she bowed her head, and still weeping, allowed it to rest on his breast.

Gualtieri would have none of the lady’s rationalizations:

{he} began to upbraid her sternly for her insane passion, pushing her away as she tried to throw her arms about his neck.  With many an oath, he swore that he would sooner allow himself to be drawn and quartered than permit such harm to be done to his lord’s honor, either by himself or by anyone else.

The lady, furious, responded with a false rape accusation:

No sooner did the lady hear this than she instantly forgot all about love, and burning now with savage fury, she said to him: “So, base knight, this is how my desire is going to be flouted by you?  Since you want to be the cause of my death, I’ll be the cause of yours, so help me God, and I’ll have you driven from the face of the earth.”  Having said this, she tore at her hair with her hands until it was completely disheveled, ripped apart her clothes at her breast, and began screaming out loud:  “Help, help! The Count of Antwerp is trying to rape me!” [4]

Gualtieri (the Count of Antwerp) recognized what has long been a common position for men facing a false rape accusation: “he feared that they would sooner believe the lady’s wickedness than his claims of innocence.”  Gualtieri, who was a widower, wisely gathered his children and fled with them.  He had to flee quickly:

At the sound of the lady’s screams, many people came running and when they saw her and heard what she was shouting about, not only did they believe everything she said, but they were now convinced that the Count had been using his charm and his refined manners all along for just this purpose.  In a fury they rushed to his residence in order to arrest him, but failing to find him there, they ransacked the place and then razed it to the ground. [5]

Gualtieri’s rejection of the lady’s rationalizations and her proposition for an affair caused great harm to him.  His action in light of an assessment of possible consequences might be judged unreasonable.  But he acted virtuously, as he understood virtue and right conduct.

Gualtieri’s daughter Giannetta similarly acted virtuously.  Having fled to England, the now destitute Gualtieri placed his daughter as a servant in a noble home.  He counseled his daughter not to tell anyone of her noble parentage and desperate flight.  That was a wise precaution to avoid further persecution.  The noble family that Giannetta was serving had a son.  The son fell in love with the servant Giannetta.  That was not a match his parents would approve.  The son thus fell gravely ill with lovesickness.  A wise doctor, noticing changes in the son’s pulse when Giannetta appeared, correctly diagnosed that the son was lovesick for Giannetta.[6]  The mother contrived to have the son confess to her his love for Giannetta.  She then promised to try to get for him Giannetta’s love.

The mother schemed in various ways to procure Giannetta as a lover for her son.  The mother suggestively asked Giannetta whether she had a lover.  Giannetta replied that for her to take a lover would not be proper.  The mother not only approved of Giannetta taking a lover, but also proposed to provide her with one.  The mother told Giannetta:

Well, if you don’t have a lover, we’d like to give you one, a man with whom you’ll lead a merry life and enjoy your beauty even more.  It’s just not right for a lovely young lady like you to be without a lover.

Giannetta balked:

I really should do whatever you wish.  But in this case not only will I never oblige you, but I think I am right in refusing to do so.  If it’s your pleasure to present me with a husband, then that’s the man I intend to love, and no one else.  For the only thing I have left that I’ve inherited from my ancestors is my honor, and I’m determined to safeguard and preserve it for as long as I live.

Pressing her case with a hypothetical, the mother asked Giannetta if she would deny the King if he wanted to take her as a lover.  Giannetta responded:

The King could take me by force, but he would never get my consent unless his intentions were honorable.

Giannetta’s reference to rape apparently inspired the mother.  She told her son that she would put Giannetta in a bedroom with him and “he could do his best to have his way with her.”  The son, like most men, was not interested in raping a woman.  His lovesickness worsened to the point of death.  His parents then realized that they could save their son only be allowing him to marry Giannetta.  Giannetta was very happy to marry the son.  He instantly recovered, and they lived happily as a married couple.

The story ends with great rewards for the virtuous Gualtieri and Giannetta.  In her deathbed confession, the wife of the King’s son revealed that she had falsely accused Gualtieri of rape.  Much less harm would have been done if the wife had confessed her lies much sooner, or if people hadn’t been so willing to believe her lies.  Nonetheless, Fortune favored the virtuous Gualtieri and Giannetta.  The King established a large reward for anyone who could find Gualtieri and his children.  Through a highly improbable chain of events, Gualtieri and his children were reunited.  Giannetta’s husband collected the rich reward for finding them.  Although his house had been ransacked and razed, Gualtieri somehow “recovered everything he had once possessed.”  Moreover, he was “raised to a rank far higher than the one he used to hold.”  Gualtieri “spent the rest of his days in Paris, leading a life there more glorious than ever before.”

The story of Gualtieri and Giannetta doesn’t end realistically.  Being falsely accused of rape is realistic.  Hope that virtue will truly be rewarded remains to the end of the age.  So be it.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 1, Introduction.  On “the sign of reason,” Kirkham (1993) intro.

[2] The name Gualtieri re-appears in Decameron 10.10.  There it’s the name of the Marquis of Saluzzo.  The Marquis of Saluzzo establishes his wife’s good character with inhumane tests.  The failure of reason in that story is much more stark than rationalization.

[3] Decameron, Day 2, Story 8, from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) pp. 157-173.  All subsequent quotes are from id.  The purported reason that a rich woman is less culpable for having an affair is that she “has ample leisure and possesses everything she needs to gratify her desire.”  Contemporary social critics describe such reasoning as the wheel-spinning of the rationalization hamster.

[4] Here’s more on false rape accusation culture.

[5] This type of “damsel in distress” response in common in gynocentric societies.  Other examples are the Archpriest of Talavera’s medieval account of a woman inciting her lover to attack another man, the medieval Greek story of a wife punishing her husband for improper talk, and another medieval story of cuckolding obscured through women’s social communication.

[6] A similar account of a physician detecting a case of lovesickness exists in Valerius Maximus’s story of King Seleucus I’s son Antiochus.  Galen told a similar story about his own skill.  See discussion in note [7] in lovesickness post.

[image] photograph from Joan and Elmer Galbi’s climb of Dog Mountain.


Kirkham, Victoria. 1993. The sign of reason in Boccaccio’s fiction. Firenze: L.S. Olschki.

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


Asaph, the writer and historian of the Hebrews

Asaph sucked into black hole

A text probably authored before the fourth century GC refers to “Asaph the writer and historian of the Hebrews.”  The text is preserved in a Syriac translation of a Greek text attributed to “Andronicus the Wise, the Philosopher, and the Learned.”  That Andronicus cannot be confidently identified.  The text concerns the naming of the signs of the Zodiac:

The impression that one gathers from the wording of the translation is, however, that Andronicus was a Christian writer speaking of olden Pagan times of Greece.  He relates how before his time a certain literary man called Asaph, a Jew and a “historian of the Hebrews,” had given to the twelve signs of the Zodiac the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. [1]

Here’s the key text related to Asaph:

Asaph the writer and historian of the Hebrews explains and teaches clearly the history of all these, but does not write and show them with Greek names, but according to the names of the sons of Jacob.  As to the effect and influence of these στοιχεíα {signs of the Zodiac} he, too, enumerates them fully without adding or diminishing anything, but in simply changing in a clear language their names into those of the Patriarchs.  He begins them in the Aramaic language and puts at the head Taurus, which he calls “Reuben.” [2]

The phrase “without adding or diminishing anything” signals a central concern in Syriac translations from Greek in the sixth and seventh centuries.  Ancient Hebrew scholars, like everyone else, were interested in astrology despite its precarious theological status.  Asaph the writer and historian of the Hebrews, as described in this text, is a plausible historical figure from before the fourth century.

The Syriac Chronicle of Michael the Great, written in Damascus late in the twelfth century, supports the existence of Asaph the writer and historian of the Hebrews.  In the context of political chronicle, Michael the Great refers to Asaph as a historical source consistent with other, non-Jewish histories:

The history of the Magian Menandros and the second book of Asaph say the following … Sarug began to teach Nahor the worship of the Chaldeans, namely magic and astrology, as Asaph says in his book, which is in agreement with the table of the generations.  … This account is confirmed by Asaph who says, “The Egyptians learned astrology from the Chaldeans in the time of Terah. They erected an image of Ninos made of gold.” [3]

Michael the Great also refers to the first book of Asaph and the seventh book of Asaph.[4]  Asaph seems to have been a significant Jewish writer and historian known at least from about the third century to the twelfth century.

References to Asaph have been difficult to situate historically.  According to the Hebrew Bible, King David appointed Asaph son of Berechiah as a singer before the tabernacle.[5]  Another Asaph, Asaph the Chronicler, apparently lived about twelve generations later.[6]  About a thousand years ago, both Hebrew and Arabic texts described Asaph as the vizier of King Solomon.[7]  The Hebrew Book of Medicine attributed to Asaph the Physician is documented from about 1200 GC.  It contains a wide range of material, including astrology.  The tradition of Asaph as the vizier of King Solomon and material in the Book of Medicine attributed to Asaph the Physician may have been based in part on a lengthy historical work of Asaph, writer and historian of the Hebrews.  Although Asaph’s work apparently was well-known for nearly a millennium, few traces of it now remain.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Mingana (1918) p. 86.  The manuscript is in The John Rylands Library, cataloged as Cod. Syr. 44.  The manuscript dates to not later than the fifteenth century.  The copyist was “an extremely bad Syriac scholar” and the Syriac has been corrupted in a variety of ways.  Id. p. 80.

[2] Id. p. 89.  From the fourth to the seventh centuries, Greek words were frequently included in Syriac translations.  Brock (1982) p. 18.

[3] Syriac Chronicle of Michael the Great, from Bk. 2, Ch. 3-5, from Syriac trans. Moosa (2014) pp. 40, 41, 42 ).  In French translation, Chabot (1899) vol. 1, pp. 22, 23, 26.

[4] Syriac Chronicle, from Bk. 2, Ch. 7, trans. Moosa (2014) pp. 43, 45; Chabot (1899) vol. 1, pp. 28, 29.  Note that Moosa’s organization of chapters differs slightly from Chabot’s.  The latter attempts to preserve the tripartite page layout of the original manuscript, which creates ambiguity in chapter identifications.  The Syriac Chronicle contains some references to Asaph the singer whom David appointed.  See Bk. 2, Ch. 10, trans Moosa (2014) p. 60; Chabot (1899) vol. 1, p. 60.  No other references to Asaph exist in the whole Syriac Chronicle.

[5] 1 Chronicles 6:39; 15:17, 19; 16:5, 7, 37; 25:1.

[6] 2 Kings 18:18, 37.  Asaph the Chronicler lived under King Hezekiah of the Davidic line.

[7] Mingana (1918) p. 86-7 (Jewish legends).  Asaph (Asaf) son of Barkhiya is identified at Solomon’s vizier in the 1001 Nights, nights 3, 571, 759, Macnaghten Calcutta II text.  Trans. Lyons (2008) vol. 1, p. 22; vol. 2, p. 530; vol. 3, p. 97.

[image] Simulated view of a black hole in front of the Large Magellanic Cloud.  Thanks to Alain r. and Wikipedia.


Brock, Sebastian. 1982. “From Antagonism to Assimilation: Syriac Attitudes to Greek Learning.”  Pp. 17-34 in Nina G. Garsoïan, Thomas F. Mathews, and Robert W. Thomson, eds., East of Byzantium: Syria and Armenia in the Formative Period. Dumbarton Oaks Symposium 1980. Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks, 1982.  Reprinted in Brock (1984), Syriac Perspectives on Late Antiquity, Ch. V.

Chabot, Jean-Baptiste, trans. 1899. Chronique de Michel le Syrien, patriarche jacobite d’Antioche (1166-1199), éditée pour la première fois et traduite en français par J.-B. Chabot. Paris: E. Leroux.(vol. 1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4)

Lyons, Malcolm C. 2008. The Arabian nights: tales of 1001 nights. vols. 1-3. London: Penguin.

Mingana, Alphonse.  1918. “Some Early Judaeo-Christian Documents in the John Rylands Library.” Bulletin of the John Rylands Library 4 (1): 59-118.

Moosa, Matti, trans. 2014. The Syriac Chronicle of Michael Rabo (the Great): a universal history from the creation. Teaneck, N.J.: Beth Antioch Press.

Tagged: ,

TANF imposes financial fatherhood to fund welfare

The U.S. imposes financial fatherhood upon men who did nothing more than have sex.  That effort in practice has largely been driven through welfare programs for poor families.  In 1975, women who applied for Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) were required to identify the biological father of each of their children.  Irrespective of each man’s prior relationship with the woman or the child, he was then subject to a major monthly levy called “child support.”  In 1996, welfare reform replaced AFDC with Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).  TANF set explicit targets, incentives, and rewards for states to establish paternity for children of welfare recipients.  Assignment of paternity and imposition of financial fatherhood provides alternative, off-budget financing for TANF welfare payments to mothers with children.[1]

To support off-budget financing of welfare to women, federal law attaches great importance to establishing biological paternity.  If the mother does not provide names of men with whom she had sex and who biologically could be fathers of her children, then the state must reduce her TANF payment by 25% and may cut off the TANF payment completely.  Moreover, states must succeed in establishing paternity in 90% of TANF cases.[2]  These requirements naturally encourage undue influence, misrepresentation and mis-service in official processes for establishing biological paternity.  The requirements to establish biological paternity aren’t part of a general policy of establishing biological paternity as a social fundamental. The paternity-identification requirements reflect only narrow interest in extracting money from men.

State-imposed financial fatherhood and lack of concern for planned parenthood for men should astonish anyone who doubts the reality of gynocentrism.
forced financial fatherhood is crushing boot

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Guggenheim (2005), p. 60, observes:

The requirement that unwed {biological} fathers support their {biological} children was not imposed because of a shared sense that children deserved to be supported or that {biological} fathers had a duty to support them.

Federal fiscal concerns explain the large federal program to impose financial obligations on unwed, biological fathers. Id. pp. 61-2.  Fiscal concerns and gynocentrism also explain lack of concern for fairness and truth in legally determining paternity.

[2] Solomon-Fears (2013) p. 3.


Guggenheim, Martin. 2005. What’s wrong with children’s rights. Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press.

Solomon-Fears, Carmen. 2013. Child Support Enforcement: Program Basics. Congressional Research Service.  Sept. 12, 2013.

Wednesday’s flowers

avalanche lily by Oregon flower expert Elmer Galbi

Alatiel’s sexual experience, dead men: a limit of story-telling

Decameron II.7 has tended to be read as the story of Alatiel.  At a more sophisticated level, Decameron II.7 critiques gynocentrism and indicates a limit of socially constructed lies.  Despite Alatiel’s thousands of sexual encounters with eight men in the course of four years of travels, a socially accepted story transforms Alatiel into a virgin.  No socially accepted story, nor any scholarly work of post-modern social construction, can raise back to life the men who were killed about Alatiel during those four years.  Discursive power can only obscure men’s deaths.[1]

dead men

The action of Decameron II.7 begins with “a huge army of Arabs” attacking the Mamluk Sultan of Egypt.  The Islamic King of Algarve supported the Sultan.[2]  In men-on-men violence (traditional war) that undoubtedly involved killing many men, the Sultan of Egypt and the King of Algarve won a decisive victory over the Arabs.

The Sultan had a daughter named Alatiel.  She was renowned as the most beautiful woman in the world.  The King of Algarve asked for the hand of Alatiel in marriage.  In recognition of the King’s service in fighting and killing other men, the Sultan agreed that the King could marry Alatiel.  Sending Alatiel to the King controlled the lives of many men sailors, women servants to Alatiel, and much wealth:

after having seen her {Alatiel} aboard a well-armed, well-equipped ship and having provided her with an honorable escort of men and women as well as with many elegant and expensive trappings, he {the Sultan} commended her to God’s protection and sent her on her way.

The men working the ship taking Alatiel to marry the King had far less social privilege than Alatiel had.

In an incident that narratively functions mainly to kill off men, the men on the boat rebelled against their social subordination.  A storm encompassed the ship.  After three days of being storm-battered, the ship began to break apart.  None of the commanding officers issued a discriminatory “women and children first” order.  The men sought to save their own lives:

It now became a case of everyone thinking only of herself and not others.  The officers, seeing no other means of escape, lowered a dinghy into the water and jumped into it, choosing to put their faith in it rather than in the foundering ship.  Right behind them, however, came all the other men on board, leaping down into the boat one after the other, despite the fact that those who had gotten there first were trying, knife in hand, to fend them off.  Although they all thought this was the way to escape death, they actually ran right into it, for the dinghy, not built to hold so many people in such weather, went down, taking everyone with it. [3]

The men’s affirmation of their own lives’ worth led to disaster because of conflict between men.  Only Alatiel and three of her ladies-in-waiting survived the shipwreck.

Decameron II.7 continues with horrific tales of violence against men.  A nobleman named Pericone da Vislago found Alatiel and her three servant ladies amid the wreckage of the ship on the shore.  Pericone fell in love with Alatiel despite their lack of a common verbal language.  He treated her as a woman of high privilege and repeatedly had sex with her:

she would no longer wait for an invitation to enjoy such sweet nights, but often issued the invitation herself, not by means of words, since she did not know how to make herself understood, but by means of actions.

Unfortunately, Pericone’s brother Marato also fell in love with Alatiel.  Marato killed his sleeping brother Pericone and took Alatiel.  Soon she was regularly having sex with Marato and forgot all about Pericone.

Men being killed and Alatiel having sex with the killer of her former lover is the central pattern of Decameron II.7.   Here’s a catalog of the men killed in Decameron II.7, along with the circumstances of their deaths:

  • sailors taking Alatiel to King of Algarve (see above).
  • Pericone da Vislage, killed by his brother Marato for sexual access to Alatiel (see above).
  • Marato.  In order to gain sexual access to Alatiel, two young shipmaster killed Marato by throwing him into the sea.
  • young shipmaster.  The two young shipmasters who killed Marato attacked each other about sex access to Alatiel.  One died, and the other suffered many serious injuries.
  • Prince of Morea.  In order to have gain sexual access to Alatiel, the Duke of Athens knifed the Prince of Morea in the back and pushed his body out a high window.
  • servant man working for the Prince of Morea.  The servant man betrayed the Prince to help the Duke of Athens take Alatiel.  The Duke strangled the servant and throw him out a high window.
  • many men in Chios.  Osbech, the King of the Turks, learned that Constantine was leading a dissolute life with Alatiel and hadn’t prepared defenses for Chios.  Osbech attacked Chios and killed men running to get their weapons.
  • Constantine.  Apparently killed in Chios when Osbech attacked the town.
  • many men, including Osbech, in battle between Osbech and the King of Cappadocia.  The Byzantine Emperor sought to avenge the death of his son Constantine.  Resulting alliances led to battle.

Men being killed isn’t a notable feature of a story because men’s deaths are unremarkable.  Violence against men is pervasive in Old French fabliaux.  Violence against men is also pervasive around the world today.  Violence against men is publicly noticed much less than violence against women.

Decameron II.7 ends with an affirmation of social myth-making.  After the series of episodes in which a man is killed and Alatiel warms to enthusiastic sex with her former lover’s killer, Alatiel returns to her father the Sultan.  Alatiel told her father and his court a story affirming her virtue and chastity.  Everyone, including the King of Algarve, believed Alatiel’s story.  Decameron II.7 ends with Alatiel and her husband living happily ever after in make-believe:

although she {Alatiel} had slept with eight men perhaps ten thousand times, she not only came to the King’s bed as if she were a virgin, but made him believe she really was one, and for a good many years after that, lived a perfectly happy life with him as his Queen.  And that is the reason why we say:

A mouth that’s been kissed never loses its charm,
But just like the moon it’s forever renewed.

Rather than being a traditional folk saying, that concluding, carefully crafted poetic couplet Boccaccio himself probably constructed.[4]  Like Alatiel’s story of her virginity, it serves popular will to believe.

Decameron II.7 is a satire of social myth understood romantically.  Even if everyone would believe any story she told, Alatiel could not tell a story that would return to life all the men who died around her.[5]  As Boccaccio surely recognized, only the Gospels offered such a story.  In Christian understanding, the Gospels told a very special story.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] All the subsequent quotes unless otherwise noted are from Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 2, Story 7 (Decameron II.7), from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013)  pp. 134-56.  For gynocentric readings of Decameron II.7, see, e.g. Marcus (1979) and Taylor (2001).

[2] The Islamic King of Algarve ruled the Mediterranean coast of North Africa and part of the Iberian peninsula (including part of present-day Portugal).  Rebhorn (2013) notes, p. 878, n. 4.

[3] Id., p. 136, translates the first sentence above with the sexist expression, “It now becoming a case of every man for himself ….”  The relevant original Italian, “avendo a mente ciascun se medesimo e non altrui ” (see Decameron II.7, s. 12 in the original Italian), is not sex marked.  I have substituted a modern non-sexist translation of that phrase above.

[4] The concluding couplet in Italian consists of end-rhymed hendecasyllabic lines.   That’s the rhyme scheme of Petrarchan sonnets and Dante’s Commedia.  Boccaccio’s story provides the first recorded instance of the couplet.  Rebhorn (2013) notes, p. 880, n. 20.  The couplet is highly unlikely to have been an established folk saying in Boccaccio’s time.   The couplet is surely part of the constructed satire of Decameron II.7.

[5] Marcus (1979), p. 11, declares:

By “undoing” all that has transpired since the initial shipwreck off Majorca, Alatiel returns the story to its starting point when a maiden set sail for the the kingdom of Algarve.  Thus, by means of her fiction, the lady is able to bring her saga full circle, giving the most perfect of all forms to her formless wanderings.  … The proverb {the concluding couplet} refers not only to Alatiel’s virginity, which is renewed with almost lunar regularity, but to this tale itself which is brought full circle by a convincing lie.

That’s forceful documentation of the invisibility of men’s deaths.  In an interesting article discussing how Decameron II.7 realistically reflects the economic and political complexity in the Mediterranean world in Boccaccio’s time, Kinoshita & Jacobs (2007) seeks to revivify “voices that have been lost, obliterated, or heavily overlaid.”  Exactly such an effort is needed for dead men generally.

[image] “Confederate soldiers as they fell near the Burnside bridge,” historic photograph of Alexander Gardner, taken just after the Battle of Antietam in the U.S. Civil War.  Thanks to the National Park Service.


Kinoshita, Sharon, and Jason Jacobs. 2007. “Ports of Call: Boccaccio’s Alatiel in the Medieval Mediterranean.” The Journal of Medieval and Early Modern Studies. 37 (1): 163-195.

Marcus, Millicent. 1979. “Seduction by Silence: A Gloss on the Tales of Masetto (Decameron III.1) and Alatiel (Decameron II.7).” Philological Quarterly 58: 1-15. (reviewer’s summary)

Taylor, Mark. 2001. “The Fortunes of Alatiel: A Reading of Decameron 2,7.” Forum Italicum: A Journal of Italian Studies. 35 (2): 318-331.

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


why were men reluctant to marry in ancient Rome?

imagining why men are reluctant to marry

In ancient Roman, most men were denied the right to vote, had no realistic opportunity to hold public office, and owned little or no property.  In addition, men were conscripted into military service.  The exploitation of ordinary men, common throughout history, was not just a feature of Roman public life.  Roman men also evidently found their family obligations toward women to be oppressive.  By about 18 BGC, a large share of Roman men were reluctant to marry.  To encourage men to marry, Roman Emperor Augustus passed a series of laws penalizing unmarried men and rewarding men who married and had at least three children.[1]

The disabilities imposed on unmarried men included social devaluations.  Unmarried men were forbidden to attend public games and banquets.  Unmarried men were also forced to sit in less desirable seats in the theatre.[2]  These sorts of laws point to broader processes of social control.  Social strategies of shaming and dishonoring have powerfully affected men’s lives throughout history.[3]  The status of men in any society cannot be adequately understood merely by literal reading of formal law and simple demographic analysis of office-holding.

Coercing men into marrying is not a historical aberration.  In his ideal state, Cicero had state magistrates prohibit men from remaining unmarried.[4]  According to Plutarch’s Parallel Lives, Lycurgus, the famous law-giver of the Spartans, penalized bachelors:

Lycurgus also put a kind of public stigma upon confirmed bachelors.  They were excluded from the sight of the young men and maidens at their exercises, and in winter the magistrates ordered them to march round the market-place in their tunics only, and as they marched, they sang a certain song about themselves, and its burden was that they were justly punished for disobeying the laws.  Besides this, they were deprived of the honour and gracious attentions which the young men habitually paid to their elders. [5]

In his Roman History, Cassius Dio wrote of Emperor Augustus separating the Roman aristocracy into married men and unmarried men.  The married men were “much fewer in number.”  Augustus praised the married men for following the examples of their fathers and perpetuating their class.  Augustus demeaned the unmarried men:

O — what shall I call you? Men? But you are not performing any of the offices of men. Citizens? But for all that you are doing, the city is perishing. Romans? But you are undertaking to blot out this name altogether.

Augustus described unmarried men as worse than murders and robbers.  Unmarried men, according to Augustus, were immoral beasts:

You talk, indeed, about this ‘free’ and ‘untrammelled’ life that you have adopted, without wives and without children; but you are not a whit better than brigands or the most savage of beasts. For surely it is not your delight in a solitary existence that leads you to live without wives, nor is there one of you who either eats alone or sleeps alone; no, what you want is to have full liberty for wantonness and licentiousness. [6]

After World War II, the Soviet Union, Poland, and Romania enacted special taxes on childless persons.  At least in Romania, the taxes in actual administration were paid predominately by men.

Historians have focused on why Augustus enacted laws penalizing unmarried men.  Explanations put forward for those laws are to raise revenue, to promote morality, as a eugenic measure to increase the upper-class population, and as a measure to encourage the transfer of inheritances through family generations.  In any case, the laws generated widespread resistance and evasion.  Historians have largely regarded the laws as failures.[7]  By the fifth century, the laws punishing unmarried men and favoring men with more than three children were repealed.

Historians have largely ignored the question of why Roman men were reluctant to marry.  Some share of Roman man undoubtedly were gay, but that share probably didn’t change much over time and probably wasn’t large enough to create the public problem of men in general being reluctant to marry.[8]  If marriage were an opportunity for Roman men to exploit women, self-interested men would have been eager to marry.  The situation seems to have been the reverse.[9]  Marriage was a burden to men.

Augustus’ shaming of men suggests that Roman men were reluctant to marry because marriage deprived them of freedom, including sexual freedom.  Marriage could provide men with freedom to enjoy a wider range of life opportunities and freedom to have sex as much as they desire with a loving spouse.  The extent to which marriage actually provides men such freedom affects men’s willingness to marry.  The extent of discrimination against men in family courts also affects men’s willingness to risk entering into marriage.  These issues are hardly recognized publicly in most societies today.  Historians unable to recognize and discuss the reality of marriage law in the societies in which they currently live cannot credibly analyze ancient Roman family law and marriage.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1]  Lex Julia de Maritandis Ordinibus (Julian law on regulating marriages in the social order), enacted about 18 BGC.  The text of the law hasn’t survived.  In 9 GC, the Lex Papia Poppaea supplemented and modified provisions of the Lex Julia de Maritandis Ordinibus in response to protests from the Roman elite (the equestrian order).  What is know about these two laws cannot be distinguished between them.  Hence they are commonly described with the unified name Lex Julia et Papia PoppaeaThe law required male citizens between the ages of 25 and 60 and female citizens between the ages of 20 and 50 to be married.  Unmarried persons of these ages could not receive legacies or inheritances from anyone with whom they were not related by six degrees of relation.  Grubbs (2002) p. 84.  Persons who had at least three children received legal privileges according to the ius trium liberorum.   The growing prosperity of the Roman Empire seems to have been broadly correlated with men’s worsening position within the family and men’s increasing reluctance to marry.

[2] McGinn (1998) p. 71.  Attendance at public entertainments was crucial for social networking and social status:

The penalties regarding public entertainments were broadly conceived and were perhaps more keenly felt than we tend to imagine.

Id. p. 79.  The law also apparently recognized the problem of female hypergamy (seeking to marry up):

The law evidently imposed a tax on celibate women with fortunes of 20,000 sesterces or more, a meaure that reached fairly far down the social scale.

Id. p. 80.  Men throughout history have been much more willing to marry spouses with less financial resources than themselves.  The prevalence of divorce and rules on income distribution upon divorce affect incentives to marry across wealth classes.  Hypergamy and assortative mating promote income and wealth inequality.

[3] Consider, for example, the U.S. case Dubay v. Wells (2007).  In that case, an unmarried man reasonably sought not to have unplanned and unwanted parenthood legally imposed on him.  The court ruled against Dubay.  It declared his case “frivolous, unreasonable, and without foundation.”  The court sought to shame Dubay with a reference to man-degrading chivalry: “If chivalry is not dead, its viability is gravely imperiled by the plaintiff in this case.”  Men in the U.S. have no reproductive rights.  Moreover, knowledge of biological paternity is considered to be important only for imposing financial burdens (“child support”) on men.

[4] Cicero, De Legibus 3.3.7.

[5] Plutarch, Parallel Lives, Lycurgus 15.1-2.

[6] Cassius Dio, Roman History, Bk. LVI.1-10.

[7] With respect to Lex Julia et Papia Poppaea, Tacitus, Annals 3.25, declares: “marriages and the rearing of children did not become more frequent, so powerful were the attractions of a childless state.”  More generally, after Augustus’ death, most commenters did not think that the laws were succeeding.  The judgment that Augustus’ marriage laws were a failure has prevailed to the present.  Field (1945) pp. 411-5.

[8] The category “gay” wasn’t used in ancient Rome.  Men who were homoerotically inclined might marry a woman and have affairs with men and boys.  Moreover, such men could gain legitimate children and the ius trium liberorum through the services of other men.  Juvenal, Satire 9, ll. 85-89, from Latin trans. Braund (2004) p. 359.  Nonetheless, greater homoerotic inclination probably decreased a man’s incentive to marry a woman.

[9] The reality of men’s guardianship over women is instructive.  A close analysis suggests that guardianship over women (tutela mulierum) was a burden that men sought to avoid.  Ng (2008) pp. 690-1.  With apparent contempt for men’s welfare, a leading, early twentieth-century scholar of Roman history declared:

He {Augustus} devised an ingenious system of rewards and penalties to overcome the selfishness of bachelors; there were to be rewards for the responsibilities and cares inseparable from marriage, and penalties to outweigh the obvious conveniences of celibacy.

Ferrer0 et al. (1909), vol. 5, pp. 60-1. The conveniences of celibacy are obvious only in misandristic and gynocentric societies.  Marriage could be very attractive to men in the right circumstances.

[image] Roberto Marcelo Sanchez-Camus, Prometheus Bound, Act Act – London – 23. Thanks for sharing.


Braund, Susanna Morton Braund. 2004. Juvenal and Persius. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Ferrero, Guglielmo, Alfred Zimmern, and H. J. Chaytor. 1907. The greatness and decline of Rome. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Field, James A. 1945. “The Purpose of the Lex Iulia et Papia Poppaea.” The Classical Journal. 40 (7): 398-416.

Grubbs, Judith Evans. 2002. Women and the law in the Roman Empire: a sourcebook on marriage, divorce and widowhood. London: Routledge.

McGinn, Thomas A. J. 1998. Prostitution, sexuality, and the law in ancient Rome. New York: Oxford University Press.

Ng, Esther Yue L. 2008. “Mirror Reading and Guardians of Women in the Early Roman Empire.” The Journal of Theological Studies. 59 (2): 679-695.


evolutionary psychology of women and misandry

Much evidence indicates that women are biologically superior to men in social communication.  Consider, for example, a leading female professor of evolutionary psychology at Britain’s Durham University.  In 2002, her book, A mind of her own: the evolutionary psychology of women, was published by the prestigious Oxford University Press.  Oxford produced a second edition of her book, with only minor changes, in 2012.  Here’s her scholarly analysis of the fundamental value of men:

we should bear in mind that they {men} are essentially freeloading on women’s effort.  Consider this: if we knew our planet was about to be struck by a meteor and only 100 people could be saved in an underground bunker, what proportion of men and women would you put down there?  My suggestion would be about 10 men and 90 women.  Ten should be able to do an adequate job of impregnating all the women and the fewer the men, the fewer the calories they would consume and the lower the competition between them would be.  … The fact is that the majority of men are, biologically speaking, dispensable but when the number of women drops too far, our future looks bleak. [1]

Who built those bunkers?  Who would be digging dirt and pouring concrete to maintain them? Who would be collecting the trash?  Who would be maintaining the information technology controlling life-support systems for the bunkers?  With any appreciation for the history of humanity, one can confidently state that the majority of men are dispensable only if humanity is willing to dispense with civilization.  This book fundamentally misunderstands the implications of anisogamy.  Its analysis of sexual selection is laughably inferior to that of uncredentialed field reports.  That a prestigious university press would publish this book, and republish it, is telling documentation of women’s superiority in social communication.  Superiority in social communication can transform misandristic nonsense into credentialed scientific scholarship.

snarling bitch: evolutionary psychology of misandry

The social problem is far worse that just one book worth ignoring.   At the fundamental level of evolutionary psychology, women predominately compete among women in social relations and social communication to gain sexual access to high-status men.  Men predominately compete among men to earn or fake high status (money, power, and org titles) to gain sexual access to beautiful, young women.[2]  In this sex structure of competition, high-status, ugly, old women get sexually frustrated and bitter.  They naturally turn to  the social demonization of men’s sexuality and spreading misandry.[3]

Spreading misandry is intellectually easy because public discourse provides little constraint on misandry.  Many ordinary men apparently think misandry doesn’t matter.  Many ordinary women apparently think misandry serves their interests.  Spreading misandry has developed into a key strategy for both women and men leaders.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Campbell (2002) p. 62.  In the 2012 edition, this passage occurs with insubstantial changes on p. 75.

[2] Resources and reproductive opportunities are typically much more differentiated intersexually than intrasexually.  With respect to survival resources, men and woman often pursue different patterns of resource acquisition (hunting versus gathering).  With respect to reproductive opportunities, competition for an opposite sex reproductive partner is typically much more intense than competition for same-sex reproductive helpers.  The charm of specific individuals can of course transcend these general forces of evolutionary psychology.  Old women can be sexually alluring to men.

[3] This problem has become particularly acute at universities.  That’s not surprising.  The incongruity between status achievement and mating interests is starkly apparent at universities.

[image] Snarling chihuahua. Thanks to David Shankbone and Wikipedia.


Campbell, Anne. 2002. A mind of her own: the evolutionary psychology of women. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Wednesday’s flowers

Star Solomon's Seal captured by Elmer Galbi in a 9.5 mile hike

Ferondo cuckolded with fantastic lies in Boccaccio’s Decameron

Boccaccio’s Decameron is filled with stories.  The story about Ferondo, according to its narrator Lauretta, is “a true story that looks more like a lie than was actually the case.”[1]  The Decameron’s story about Ferondo concerns truth like the story of Hippocrates raising the dead and being killed in the thirteenth-century Old French Lancelot-Grail cycle.  Fantastic romances can tell big lies and deep truth.

two souls burning in purgatory

The wealthy peasant Ferondo had a very beautiful wife.  An Abbot, saintly in all ways but in his relations with women, fell in love with Ferondo’s wife.  Ferondo was simpleminded, but he watched carefully over his wife.  The Abbot despaired of the usual means of having an affair with someone else’s wife.

Fantastic lies overcame Ferondo’s careful watch on his wife.   The Abbot contrived to have Ferondo’s wife ask him to hear her confession.  She confessed that her spiritual development was being hindered because her husband was utterly stupid and extremely jealous of her in relation to other men.  The Abbot sympathetically told her:

My daughter, I do think it’s a terrible affliction for a beautiful and delicate lady like you to have an idiot for a husband, but it’s even worse, in my opinion, to have one who’s jealous, and since you have both kinds in the same man, it’s not hard for me to believe what you’re saying about how much you suffer.

The Abbot proposed that Ferondo die, be sent to Purgatory to be purged of his jealousy, and then be restored to life.  In return for performing this long and complicated treatment, the Abbot asked Ferondo’s wife for sex.

With realistic-fantastic arguments, the Abbot persuaded Ferondo’s wife to accept his proposition.  The Abbot appealed to her pride:

your beauty is so ravishing, so powerful, that love forces me to act like this, and let me tell you, when you consider how pleasing your loveliness is to saints, who are used to seeing the beauties of heaven, you have more reason to be proud of it than any other woman.

The Abbot promised comfort that she deserved, but wasn’t getting:

while Ferondo’s in Purgatory, I’ll be keeping you company at night and providing you with the kind of consolation he should be giving you. [2]

She wouldn’t be punished for her transgression:

No one will ever notice what’s going on, either, because they all believe in my saintliness just as much as — in fact, more than — you did a short while ago.

She had a special, God-given opportunity to get what other women want:

Don’t reject the grace that God is bestowing upon you, for you’ve been offered something that plenty of women long for, and if you’re sensible enough to follow my advice, it’ll be yours.  Besides, I have some beautiful jewels, expensive ones, and I don’t intend to give them to anyone but you. [3]

Like many strong, independent women through the ages, Ferondo’s wife decided that she would have sex with the Abbot.  Her husband meanwhile was undergoing purification in Purgatory for his sexual jealousy.

Ferondo was fantastically conducted to an earthly Purgatory.  The Abbot had “wondrous powder” from a great Eastern prince, who had gotten it from the Old Man of the Mountain, who was the fabled leader of the Assassins, Rashid ad-Din As-sinan.[4]  The Abbot gave Ferondo a somewhat cloudy glass of wine containing that powder.  After a short time:

all of a sudden, Ferondo’s faculties were overwhelmed by such a powerful sensation of drowsiness that he dozed off while he was still standing, then fell to the ground, fast asleep.

The monks of the abbey, believing that perhaps Ferondo had collapsed from “some expulsion of gas out of his stomach,” unsuccessfully attempted to revive him.  Ferondo’s wife and family came and mourned his death.  Ferondo was then placed in a tomb.  That night, with the assistance of a trusted monk from another town, the Abbot removed Ferondo from the tomb and placed him in a “lightless underground vault” built as a prison for punishing monks.[5]  Ferondo awoke in that Purgatory.

In Purgatory, Ferondo was beaten, mocked, and purged of his jealousy.  The Abbot’s trusted foreign monk entered the prison with a roar and thoroughly beat Ferondo with a bundle of sticks.  Ferondo, wailing, asked where he was.  The monk told him Purgatory.  Then Ferondo asked if he’s dead.  The monk affirmed that he’s dead.  Then the monk gave Fernando some food that he said Ferondo’s wife brought to the church to have Masses said for his soul.  Ferorndo complained that his wife didn’t give the church the good wine “from the cask that’s near the wall.”  The monk then thoroughly beat Ferondo again.  The monk explained to Ferondo:

If you should ever happen to return {to life}, make sure you remember what I’m doing to you now, and don’t you ever be jealous again. …

I’m dead too.  I used to live in Sardinia, and because I praised one of my masters to the skies for his jealousy, I’ve been condemned by God to be punished by giving you food and drink and these beatings until He decides otherwise about you and me.

In Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, Malvolio was tricked with fantastic lies and then held in “hideous darkness,” where the clown, pretending to be a curate, verbally abused him.  The treatment of Ferondo is like that of Malvolio.  A courtier in Twelfth Night remarks of what happens to Malvolio, “If this were play’d upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”[6]  The same is true for the story of Ferondo in the Decameron.

Ferondo returned to the world farcically.  After ten months of the Abbot and Ferondo’s wife enjoying intimate pleasure, she got pregnant.  They decided to bring Ferondo back to life to be given responsibility for that pregnancy.  With his voice disguised as a voice similar to that of the archangel Gabriel addressing Zacharias, the Abbot declared to Ferondo :

Be of good cheer, Ferondo, for it is God’s pleasure that you should go back to earth, where, after your return, your wife will present you with a son.  And you shall name him Benedetto, for God is bestowing this grace on you in answer to the prayers of your reverend Abbot and your wife, and out of His love for San Benedetto. [7]

The Abbot again put sleeping powder into wine he gave Ferondo.  Once he had fallen asleep, Ferondo was placed back into the sarcophagus in his tomb.  When he awoke, Ferondo began shouting and pushing his way out of the tomb.  The monks of the abbey were frightened to see Ferondo emerging from the tomb.  They raced off to the Abbot to tell of what they saw.  The Abbot, speaking in the form of Jesus, prophetically declared:

Be not afraid, my sons.  Take up the cross and the holy water and follow me.  Let’s go and see what God Almighty wants to show us. [8]

They saw Ferondo risen from the tomb and alive in the flesh.  Ferondo profusely thanked the Abbot for his prayers for him.  The Abbot told Ferondo:

you should go and comfort your wife, who has done nothing but weep since you departed this life.  And from now on may you live to serve God and preserve His friendship from this day forth.

Ferondo responded as the simpleton he was:

As soon as I find her, I’m going to give her a great big kiss.  I love her so much.

After he had returned to his village, Ferondo was celebrated as a sage with knowledge of Purgatory.  He told of what revelations he had received there from the ArkRanger Bagriel.[9]  Precisely nine months after Ferondo rose from the tomb, his wife gave birth to a son.  She led Ferondo to believe the son was his own.  Moreover, as a result of his experience in Purgatory, Ferondo ceased being jealous of his wife.[10]

Everyone lived happily ever after.  Ferondo was happy as a simpleminded cuckold.  His wife had a more fulfilling life:

she lived with Ferondo no less chastely than she had in the past, except that, whenever she could do so conveniently, she was always happy to spend time with the Abbot who had attended to her greatest needs with such skill and diligence.

The Decameron’s Queen for the day, Neifile, exclaimed upon hearing the story of Ferondo:

How is anyone to tell a story as beautiful as the one we have just heard from Lauretta?

The beauty of the story of Ferondo is in the fantastic lies with which Ferondo was cuckolded.  One can only marvel at the beauty of similar lies in determining paternity today.

Social will can imagine truth and beauty to be strangers.  Big lies can be successful when small lies won’t work.  That’s the deep truth in the true story of Ferondo.

*  *  *  *  *

Read more:


[1] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decameron, Day 3, Story 8 (story of Ferondo), from Italian trans. Rebhorn (2013) p. 268.  All subsequent quotes, unless otherwise noted, are from id. pp. pp. 268-78.

[2] While Ferondo’s wife had a son, the story suggests that Ferondo wasn’t making full payment on his marital debt to his wife.  In Purgatory, Ferondo told his monk-tormentor:

I really loved her {his wife} a whole bunch before I died.  Why, I used to hold her in my arms all night long and never stop kissing her, and when I felt the urge, I’d occasionally do something else as well.

[3] The story underscores elsewhere the cupidity of Ferondo’s wife.  After she accepted the Abbot’s confessional proposition, the Abbot:

slipped a very beautiful ring into her hand on the sly and sent her away.  Delighted by the gift, and looking forward to receiving others, the lady returned to her companions {and spoke highly of the Abbot}

At her home wearing black mourning dress after Ferondo’s apparent death, the Abbot visited her and reminded her of her promise:

Realizing that she was now free, unhindered by Ferondo or anyone else, and spotting another fine ring on the Abbot’s finger, the lady told him that she was ready to do it and arranged for him to pay her a visit that evening.

[4] For a sleeping potion (opiate) described realistically in a medical-technical context, see Decameron 4.10.

[5] The Abbot’s abbey is in Tuscany.  The Abbot’s confederate was a monk from Bologna.

[6] Shakespeare, Twelfth Night, Act III, Scene IV, ll. 119-20.  The tormenting of Malvolio, confined in darkness as a madman, is in Act IV, Scene 2.  The Decameron was first translated into English in 1620.  Armstrong (2007).  Shakespeare’s All’s Well That Ends Well is based on Decameron 3.9, probably via a French translation.  Cassell (2006).

[7] Cf. Luke 1:13-14.

[8] “Do not be afraid” is a common phrase in the Bible.  It typically signals a divine revelation.  In Matthew 16:24, Jesus calls to his disciples to “take up their cross and follow me.”

[9] ArkRanger Bagriel is Ferondo’s unknowing corruption of Archangel Gabriel.

[10] Madonna Lisetta da Ca’ Quirino, “somewhat of an idiot … Lady Pumpkinhead / Madonna Simple,” is duped with a fantastic religious story in Decameron 4.2 (the story of Frate Alberto pretending to be the Angel Gabriel).  The parallel with the story of Ferondo breaks down with a characteristic sex difference: Frate Alberto, not Madonna Lisetta, in the end is subject to vicious physical punishment.

[image] Two souls kneel in prayer in purgatory, Master of Zweder van Culemborg, Dutch Book of Hours, 2nd quarter of 15th century. The Walters Art Museum, W.188.175R.


Armstrong, Guyda. 2007. “Paratexts and their functions in seventeenth-century English Decamerons.” Modern Language Review. 102 (1): 40-57.

Cassell, Anthony K. 2006. “Pilgrim Wombs, Physicke and Bed-Tricks: Intellectual Brilliance, Attenuation and Elision in Decameron III:9.” MLN. 121 (1): 53-101.

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


« Previous PageNext Page »