The Supernormal Sign Stimulus – by Joseph Campbell (1959)

Some readers will have read or viewed the piece on superstimuli titled Chasing The Dragon, co-authored by myself and Paul Elam. The following piece written in 1959 by Joseph Campbell, scholar of religion and mythology, proposes Supernormal Stimuli as the functional purpose mythological imagery as it plays out in the lives of individuals and civilizations. – PW



The Supernormal Sign Stimulus

by Joseph Campbell

One further lesson may be taken from animals. There is a phenomenon known to the students of animal behavior as the “supernormal sign stimulus,” which has never been considered, as far as I know, in relation either to art and poetry or to myth; yet which, in the end, may be our surest guide to the seat of their force, and to an appreciation of their function in the quickening of the human dream of life.

“The Innate Releasing Mechanism (IRM),” Tinbergen declares, “usually seems to correspond more or less with the properties of the environmental object or situation at which the reaction is aimed. . . . However, close study of IRMs reveals the remarkable fact that it is sometimes possible to offer stimulus situations that are even more effective than the natural situation. In other words, the natural situation is not always optimal.” 11

It was found, for instance, that the male of a certain butterfly known as the grayling (Eumenis semele), which assumes the initiative in mating by pursuing a passing female in flight, generally prefers females of darker hue to those of lighter—and to such a degree that if a model of even darker hue than anything known in nature is presented, the sexually motivated male will pursue it in preference even to the darkest female of the species.

“Here we find,” writes Professor Portmann, in comment, “an ‘inclination’ that is not satisfied in nature, but which perhaps, one day, if inheritable darker mutations should appear, would play a role in the selection of mating partners. Who knows whether such anticipations of particular sign stimuli may not play their part in the support and furthering of new variants, inasmuch as they may represent one of the factors in the process of selection that determines the direction of evolution?” 12

Obviously the human female, with her talent for play, recognized many millenniums ago the power of the supernormal sign stimulus: cosmetics for the heightening of the lines of her eyes have been found among the earliest remains of the Neolithic Age. And from there to an appreciation of the force of ritualization, hieratic art, masks, gladiatorial vestments, kingly robes, and every other humanly conceived and realized improvement of nature, is but a step—or a natural series of steps.

Evidence will appear, in the course of our natural history of the gods, of the gods themselves as supernormal sign stimuli; of the ritual forms deriving from their supernatural inspiration acting as catalysts to convert men into gods; and of civilization—this new environment of man that has grown from his own interior and has pressed back the bounds of nature as far as the moon—as a distillate of ritual, and consequently of the gods: that is to say, as an organization of supernormal sign stimuli playing on a set of IRMs never met by nature and yet most properly nature’s own, inasmuch as man is her son.

But for the present, it suffices to remark that one cannot assume out of hand that simply because a certain culturally developed sign stimulus appeared late in the course of history, man’s response to it must represent a learned reaction. The reaction may be, in fact, spontaneous, though never shown before. For the creative imagination may have released precisely here one of those innate “inclinations” of the human organism that have nowhere been fully matched by nature. Hence, not only the ritual arts and the development from them of the archaic civilizations, but also—and even more richly—the later shattering of those arts by the modern arrows of man’s flight beyond his own highest dream, would perhaps best be interpreted psychologically, as a history of the supernormal sign stimuli that have released—to our own fright, joy, and amazement—the deepest secrets of our being. Indeed, the depths of the mystery of our subject—which are the depths not only of man but of the living world—have not been plumbed.

In sum, then: Within the field of the study of animal behavior— which is the only area in which controlled experiments have made it possible to arrive at dependable conclusions in the observation of instinct—two orders of innate releasing mechanisms have been identified, namely, the stereotyped, and the open, subject to imprint. In the case of the first, a precise lock-key relationship exists between the inner readiness of the nervous system and the external sign stimulus triggering response; so that, if there exist in the human inheritance many—or even any—IRMs of this order, we may justly speak of “inherited images” in the psyche. The mere fact that no one can yet explain how such lock-key relationships are established does not invalidate the observation of their existence: no one knows how the hawk got into the nervous system of our barnyard fowl, yet numerous tests have shown it to be, de facto, there. However, the human psyche has not yet been, to any great extent, satisfactorily tested for such stereotypes, and so, I am afraid, pending further study, we must simply admit that we do not know how far the principle of the inherited image can be carried when interpreting mythological universals. It is no less premature to deny its possibility than to announce it as anything more than a considered opinion.

Nor are we ready, yet, to say whether the obvious, and sometimes very striking, physical differences of the human races represent significant variations of their innate releasing mechanisms. Among the animals such differences do exist—in fact, changes in the IRMs of the major instincts appear to be among the first things affected by mutation.

For example, as Tinbergen observes:

The herring gull (Larus argentatus) and the lesser black-backed gull (L. fuscus) in north-western Europe are considered to be extremely diverged geographical races of one species, which, having developed by geographical isolation, have come into contact again by expansion of their ranges. The two forms show many differences in behavior; L. fuscus is a definite migrant, traveling to south-westem Europe in autumn, whereas L. argentatus is of a much more resident habit. L. fuscus is much more a bird of the open sea than L. argentatus. The breeding-seasons are different. One behavior difference is specially interesting. Both forms have two alarm calls, one expressing alarm of relatively low intensity, the other indicative of extreme alarm. L. argentatus gives the high-intensity alarm call much more rarely than L. fuscus. The result is that most disturbances are reacted to differently by the two forms. When a human intruder enters a mixed colony, the herring gulls will almost always utter the low-intensity call, while L. fuscus utters the high-intensity call. This difference, based upon a shift of degree in the threshold of alarm calls, gives the impression of a qualitative difference in the alarm calls of the two forms, such as might well lead to the total disappearance of one call in one species, of the other in the second species, and thus result in a qualitative difference in the motor-equipment. Apart from this difference in threshold, there is a difference in the pitch of each call.13

Between the various human races differences have been noted that suggest psychological as well as merely physiological variation; differences, for example, in their rates of maturing, as Géza Róheim has indicated in his vigorous work on Psychoanalysis and Anthropology.1* However, it is still far from legitimate, on the

basis of the mere scraps of controlled observation that have been recorded, to make any such broad generalizations about intellectual ability and moral character as are common in discussions of this subject. Furthermore, within the human species there is such broad variation of innate capacity from individual to individual that generalizations on a racial basis lose much of their point.

In other words, the whole question of the innate stereotypes of the species Homo sapiens is still wide open. Objective and promising studies have been commenced, but they have not yet progressed very far. An interesting series of experiments by E. Kaila,15 and R. A. Spitz and K. M. Wolf,16 has shown that between the ages of three and six months the infant reacts with a smile to the appearance of a human face; and by fashioning masks omitting certain of the details of the normal human countenance, the observers were able to establish the fact that in order to evoke response the face had to have two eyes (one-eyed, asymmetrical masks did not work), a smooth forehead (wrinkled foreheads produced no smile), and a nose. Curiously, the mouth could be omitted; the smile, therefore, was not an imitation. The face had to be in some movement and seen from the front. Moreover, nothing else—not even a toy—would evoke this early infant smile. Following the sixth month, a distinction began to be made between familiar and unfamiliar, friendly and unfriendly faces. The richness of the child’s experience of its social environment having already increased, the innate releasing mechanism had been altered by impressions from the outer world, and the situation had changed.

It has been remarked that in certain primitive Australian rock paintings of ancestral figures the mouths are omitted, and that a significant number of very early, paleolithic female figurines also lack the mouth. How far one can presume to carry these suggestions toward the conclusion that there is a “parental image” in the central nervous structure of the human infant, however, we cannot say. As Professor Portmann has pointed out: “Since the effect of this form on the infant can be demonstrated with certainty only from the third month, the question remains open as to whether the central nervous structure that makes possible the recognition of the human countenance and the social response of the smile is of the open, i.e. imprinted, type, or entirely innate. All of the indices available to us speak for a largely inherited configuration; and yet, the question remains open.”17

How much more open, then, the question broached by Professor Lorenz in his paper on “The Innate Forms of Human Experience”: 18 the question of the parental response evoked in the adult by the sign stimuli provided by the human baby! The figure tells the story—as far as it goes.


And finally, it must be noted that there is no consensus among students of the subject even as to what categories of appetite may be regarded as instinctive in the human species. Professor Tinbergen, speaking for the animal world, has named sleep and food-seeking; so also, in many species, flight from danger, fighting in self-defense, and a number of activities functionally related to the reproductive urge, as, for example, sexual fighting and rivalry, courtship, mating, and parental behavior (nest-building, protection of the young, etc.). The list greatly varies, however, from species to species; and how much of it can be carried over into the human sphere is not yet known. Tentatively, it might reasonably be supposed that food-seeking, sleep, self-protection, courtship and mating, and some of the activities of parenthood should be instinctive. But the question—as we have seen—remains open as to what precisely are the sign stimuli that generally trigger these activities in man, or whether any of the stimuli can be said to be as immediately known to the human interior as the hawk to the chick. We do not, therefore, speak of inherited images in the following pages.

The concept of the sign stimulus as an energy-releasing and -directing image clarifies, however, the difference between literary metaphor, which is addressed to the intellect, and mythology, which is aimed primarily at the central excitatory mechanisms (CEMs) and innate releasing mechanisms (IRMs) of the whole person. According to this view, a functioning mythology can be defined as a corpus of culturally maintained sign stimuli fostering the development and activation of a specific type, or constellation of types, of human life. Furthermore, since we now know that no images have been established unquestionably as innate and that our IRMs are not stereotyped but open, whatever “universals” we may find in our comparative study must be assigned rather to common experience than to endowment; while, on the other hand, even where sign stimuli may differ, it need not follow that the responding IRMs differ too. Our science is to be simultaneously biological and historical throughout, with no distinction between “culturally conditioned” and “instinctive” behavior, since all instinctive human behavior is culturally conditioned, and what is culturally conditioned in us all is instinct: specifically, the CEMs and IRMs of this single species.

Therefore, though respecting the possibility—perhaps the probability—of such a psychologically inspired parallel development of mythological imagery as that suggested by Adolf Bastian’s theory of elementary ideas and C. G. Jung’s of the collective unconscious, we cannot attempt to interpret in such terms any of the remarkable correspondences that will everywhere confront us. On the other hand, however, we must ignore as biologically untenable such sociological theorizing as that represented, for example, by the anthropologist Ralph Linton when he wrote that “a society is a group of biologically distinct and self-contained individuals,” 19 since, indeed, we are a species and not biologically distinct. Our approach is to be, as far as possible, skeptical, historical, and descriptive—and where history fails and something else appears, as in a mirror, darkly, we indicate the considered guesses of the chief authorities in the field and leave the rest to silence, recognizing that in that silence there may be sleeping not only the jungle cry of Dryopithecus, but also a supernormal melody not to be heard for perhaps another million years.

11. Tinbergen, op. cit., p. 44.
12. Adolf Portmann, “Die Bedeutung der Bilder in der lebendigen Energiewandlung,” Eranos-Jahrbuch 1952 (Zurich: Rhein-Verlag, 1953), pp. 333-34.
13. Tinbergen, op. cit., p. 197.
14. Gaza Róheim, Psychoanalysis and Anthropology (New York: International Universities Press, 1950), pp. 403-404.
15. E. Kaila, “Die Reaktionen des Säuglings auf das menschliche Gesicht,” Annales Universitatis Aboensis, Turku, Vol. 17 (1932).
16. R. A. Spitz and K. M. Wolf, “The Smiling Response,” Genetic Psychology Monographs, Vol. 34 (1946).
17. Adolf Portmann, “Das Problem der Urbilder in biologischer Sicht,” Eranos-Jahrbuch 1949 (Zurich: Rhein-Verlag, 1950), p. 426.
18. Konrad Lorenz, “Die angeborenen Formen möglicher Erfahrung,” Zeitschrift der Tierpsychologie, Bd. 5 (1943), pp. 235-409.
19. Ralph Linton, The Study of Man (New York and London: D. Appleton-Century
Company, 1936), p. 108.

[Excerpt from ‘Masks Of God: Volume 4,’ by Joseph Campbell]

Women of color feminists vs. white feminist tears


Ruby Hamad’s recent Guardian article How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour carries the byline “The legitimate grievances of brown and black women are no match for the accusations of a white damsel in distress.”


The article is interesting for a number of reasons, among them being that European ‘white woman feminism’ (WWF) is being called out for the farce that it is, and secondly those WoCs calling it out are reducing it to its knees.

While its true that women cry far more often and more easily than the average man – a biological fact examined by several research articles – there is no doubt that European white women have leveraged the crying game through the intricate culture of damseling that has made people hypersensitive to white women’s tears. An Arab woman cries? who cares. A black woman cries? meh. A white woman cries? – Quick call an ambulance!!

Hamad refers to this anomaly as the weaponising of white women’s tears, and adds;

As I look back over my adult life a pattern emerges. Often, when I have attempted to speak to or confront a white woman about something she has said or done that has impacted me adversely, I am met with tearful denials and indignant accusations that I am hurting her. My confidence diminished and second-guessing myself, I either flare up in frustration at not being heard (which only seems to prove her point) or I back down immediately, apologising and consoling the very person causing me harm.

It is not weakness or guilt that compels me to capitulate. Rather, as I recently wrote, it is the manufactured reputation Arabs have for being threatening and aggressive that follows us everywhere. In a society that routinely places imaginary “wide-eyed, angry and Middle Eastern” people at the scenes of violent crimes they did not commit, having a legitimate grievance is no match for the strategic tears of a white damsel in distress whose innocence is taken for granted.

Feminist women of every skin color share a belief in the existence of an oppressive patriarchy, female victimization at its hands, and the need to increase the power of women in every imaginable way. That mandate is enough to raise my resistance to each and every feminist pitch regardless of skin color – including by supposedly male-friendly feminists like Christina Hoff-Sommers and Camille Paglia who would institute a feminist utopia based on traditional male chivalry, their imagined golden era of the past that third wave feminists have supposedly undermined.

Added to those core beliefs, the cultural background of feminists often gives their behaviour a different accent or twist.  I find myself agreeing with WoC feminists that white women have culture values embedded in their feminist project that render it, shall we say, different. This difference is why WWF has been accurately described as victim feminism, safe space feminism, and even fainting-couch feminism – a kind of battle between fragile maidens and those who would hurt them.

To be specific, white western feminists have their cultural roots in the European practices of damseling, chivalry and courtly love, practices that many WoC like Arabs, Asians and Africans do not. White Western feminists lean on European tropes to gain advantage over their WoC sisters, including the belief in (white) women’s moral superiority, extreme vulnerability and fragility, and the need for a protective chivalry that can be assumed or otherwise elicited with a few well-timed tears. The elements of the trope are used to foster an aristocrat-like status of white Western feminists, which is evidenced in their appeals to “dignity” “respect” “status” and “esteem” etc. – words usually reserved for dignitaries.

The cultural conventions that enable such behaviour closely resemble the sexual fetish of Subs to Doms, as seen in the European practice of a man going down on one knee to propose to a White Lady. That servile attitude has traditionally been expected of feminist WoC who have likewise been expected to go down on a metaphorical knee, so to speak, before their white women feminist betters. But WoC feminists are having none of it today – they are done with taking runner-up prize in the Oppression Olympics.

The fact that WoC want none of it is a death sentence for their own brand of feminism, for without the European customs mentioned above feminism simply cannot be; it absolutely requires damseling and a supportive culture of male chivalry in order to survive. That’s what has made WW feminism the one and only kind of feminism, ensuring its life and longevity, and without adopting elements of the European trope WoC feminism is dead in the water. At best WoC feminists could expect to get some platform for the simple act of attacking their well heeled and pedestalized sisters, but little more.

To be sure the dividing of WoC and WW feminisms is somewhat superficial, for despite their denials many WoC have already adopted some WW European practices, especially African American feminists, and wield them every bit as much as their ivory sisters.

Back to the question of crying, I believe the author has a mild case, if simply articulated, for the unique ways culture entwines itself with the tears of white Western feminists. That unique European brand has sometimes been referred to as ‘Anglosphere feminism’ – it is not something you will find in China, Iran or Sudan for example.


A feminist takes a well-earned break from being empathetic to men in pain.

White feminists have been busy drinking male tears for years, and they may find the prospect of WoC feminists drinking their tears somewhat disconcerting – and hopefully a reminder of just how badly they’ve been treating their menfolk. Judging by the current trajectory that’s exactly what will happen, or rather is happening – a callous disregard for white women and their issues by WoC. The result is that WW feminists are finding out their hands are tied in some of the same ways that men’s hands are tied based on the formula that perceived privilege = gag orders.

How do WW feminists and women feel to be in the same pit with white Western men? Will they take comfort from the usual ‘suck it up’ mantra reserved for Western males? Whatever their next moves its clear that European white women’s damseling and status-seeking has reached the teleological end of its evolution, called out by none other than women of color.

See also:
The Origins of Damseling
Two Modes of Damseling
The Near-Irresistible Lure of Damseling
Women of Color Feminists Vs. White Feminist Tears
Alison Phipps: White Men’s Ship Floats on White Women’s Tears
Damseling, Chivalry and Courtly Love In The Feminist Tradition

Latin love teaching of Facetus: Moribus et vita miseducated men

By Douglas Galbi

Charles Darwin’s seminal 1871 book, The Descent of Man, and Selection in Relation to Sex, pushed down men’s sexual status along with much subsequent, poor-quality academic work on sexual selection. Yet men’s sexual status descended even more significantly in medieval Europe through the love teaching in the Latin work Facetus: Moribus et vita {Courtly living: manners and life}. The miseducation of men about love and sex provides a sobering case study in the need to question authority and undertake independent thinking and probing.

troubadour Marcabru

Disseminated across Europe from about the middle of the twelfth century, Facetus: Moribus et vita imitates Ovid’s Ars Amatoria {The Craft of Loving}. Yet while Ovid offered considerable roguish wisdom for men in love, Facetus: Moribus et vita promotes the men-abasing, counter-productive cult of courtly love. For example, it advises men to address their beloved with extravagant praise:

Bright, radiant star, lovely, gracious of countenance,
look here — permit your servant to speak with you now.
If your nobility, virtue, and beauty are
praised properly, you are without peer.
You surpass all girls in shapely beauty
and would conquer Venus, were she not a goddess.
Your hair is golden, your forehead is high and rightly so,
your eyes are laughing, your brows gorgeous.

{ Stella serena micans, facie rutilante decora,
ecce tuum famulum nunc patiare loqui.
Si tua nobilitas, probitas vel forma decora
laudatur velut est, par tibi nulla manet;
tu superas cunctas forma praestante puellas
et vincis Venerem, ni foret illa dea.
Aurea cesaries tibi, frons est, ut decet, alta,
ridentes oculi, pulchra supercilia. } [1]

Wrong, wrong, wrong. Those words just encourages the girl to feel superior to you, if she actually believes such all-too-common nonsense. According to a late-twelfth-century troubadour lyric, an upper-class man seeking sex with a peasant girl tried such lines on her. He received poor but fitting payment from her:

“Sir, you have praised me so much
that I’ve gotten bored.
Since you have extolled my virtue,
Lord,” said the peasant girl,
“you’ll have this wage
when you leave: ‘Beware, fool, beware!’
and having wasted the afternoon.”

{ Seigner, tan m’avetz lauzada,
Que tota·n sui enojada!
Pois en pretz m’avetz levada,
Seigner, so·m dis la vilana,
Per so n’auretz per soudada
Al partir : bada, fols, bada,
E la muz’a meliana. } [2]

Facetus: Moribus et vita goes on to advise the man to act pathetic and to proclaim his willingness to have his beloved rule over him:

When I do not see you, I desire to see and perish —
I die foolishly, for love burns me excessively.
Already I am your domestic servant. To you I deliver myself, if that pleases you,
so that I can do always what you alone command to me.
If you should look upon me or deign to love me,
I would rejoice more than if kingdoms were given to me.
I pray only for this: that you acknowledge your loving domestic servant,
so that he may live through you, my life and my health.

{ Cum te non video, pereo cupioque videre,
insipiens morior, nam nimis urit amor.
Iam tibi sum famulus; tibi, si placet, exibeo me
ut semper faciam quod michi sola jubes.
Si me conspicias vel me dignaris amare,
gaudebo plus quam si mihi regna darent.
Deprecor hoc tantum: famulum fatearis amandum
ut per te vivat, vita salusque mea. }

Men relating to their wives in this way has increased the incidence of sexless marriage and divorce. Of course most women are happy to acquire a domestic servant. But fawning, weak-willed domestic servants don’t stimulate most women’s passion. Men who believe otherwise are learned fools.

Facetus: Moribus et vita even advises men to commit a serious crime in order to please women. Almost all men, like almost all male primates, won’t use force to compel women to have sex with them. Rape of women has been regarded as a serious crime throughout history, and most men are not rapists. Seeking to pervert men’s natural respect for women, Facetus: Moribus et vita declares:

Then let them not merely join sweet lips;
let them dally in long, passionate embraces.
Meanwhile, let one roving hand grasp her breast,
and let him feel her thigh and belly in turn.
After such play both will be aroused,
and having thrown off their clothes, he should lift her legs.
Let the boy use force, even if she fights back,
for if he should stop, the girl would grieve in her mind.
A woman expects to be conquered in the wrestling, rather than
wants to endure, like a whore, the crime willingly.
Only in brothels are they commonly soliciting sex,
those who for a price sell themselves to anyone.
He who desires sex, but refrains from using force after kisses,
is a simpleton, never worthy of greater loving.

{ Tunc non simpliciter jungantur grata labella,
sed teneant longas basia pressa moras.
Mobilis interea stringat manus una mamillas.
Et femur et venter sentiat inde vicem.
Sic postquam ludens fuerit calefactus uterque,
vestibus ejectis, crura levare decet.
Vim faciat juvenis, quamvis nimis illa repugnet,
nam si desistat, mente puella dolet.
Expectat potius luctando femina vinci
quam velit, ut meretrix, crimina sponte pati.
A ganeis tantum coitus solet esse petitus,
que se pro precio vendere cuique volunt.
Qui querit coitum, si vim post oscula differt,
Rusticus est, nunquam dignus amore magis. }

This advice upholds the pattern, prevalent throughout human history, of making men responsible for an act considered to be criminal. Men, merely by virtue of their human dignity, are entitled to a life that includes loving, consensual, enthusiastic sex. Men should not be required to rape women in order to please women. Instructing men to undertake a criminal act in order to please women promotes the huge gender protrusion among persons held in prisons.

Frustration and anger are the primary effect of literature encouraging men to abase and criminalize themselves in seeking love with women. Because men are generally unwilling to rape women, rape of men is about as prevalent as rape of women despite miseducation of men. Many men taught that they must rape women in order to have sex with women will instead simply not have sex with women. In their miseducation and ignorance, these men will become frustrated and angry. Such frustration and anger is apparent in some late twelfth-century troubadour lyrics:

Three pass before me up the passage-way.
Before I know where I am the fourth fucks her and the fifth comes running up.
Thus love declines and gets worse.

These cunts are lusty and rapacious.
All these ruffians claim a share in them, and they in the ruffians,
and the man who behaves best fares worst, as do shepherds with lambs.

{ Denan mei n’i passson trei al passador;
no·n sai mot tro·l quartz la fot, e·l quinze lai cor;
enaissi torn’a decli l’amors e torna en peior.

Aquist con son deziron e raubador;
tuit cill gartz i clamon partz et ill en lor:
e qui mieills fa, sordeitz a, cum de l’agol’ an pastur. } [3]

A society that cared for its men would provide a minimal level of sexual welfare for men. Instead, men in the U.S. are forced to pay monthly “child support” to women who have raped them. The lesson is obvious: question authority, think independently, and explore how life actually works.

*  *  *  *  *


[1] Facetus: Moribus et vita {Courtly living: Manners and life} 209-16, Latin text from Cantavella (2013) pp. 273-87, English translation adapted from Elliott (1977) to follow the Latin more closely. Morel-Fatio (1886) provides Elliott’s Latin text. Cantavella’s Latin text incorporates small variants from a Barcelonian manuscript dated to the twelfth or thirteenth century. Cantavella’s study primarily concerns a Catalan adaptation made in the first half of the fourteenth century.

The second part of the conventional title Facetus: Moribus et vita comes from its first line, Moribus et vita quisque vult esse facetus {Whoever wishes to be courtly in manners and life}. Another, different twelfth-century Facetus poem begins Cum nichil utilius humane credo saluti {Since I believe that nothing is more beneficial to human welfare}. The latter Facetus poem, not the former, became part of the Auctores octo.

Facetus: Moribus et vita is thought to have been written in the mid-twelfth century. In some manuscripts it’s attributed to the poet Aurgena. Id. p. 27. At least thirty manuscripts of it have survived. The section on instruction to men in love also circulated independently. It has survived in whole or in part in at least twenty-five manuscripts. Dronke (1976) pp. 126, 128.

The subsequent two quotes from Facetus: Moribus et vita are sourced as the quote above. They are (cited by Latin line numbers) 235-42 (When I do not see you…) and 289-302 (Then let them…).

[2] Marcabru, song 30, L’autrier jost’ una sebissa {The other day, by a hedge}, stanza 8, from Old French trans. from Marcabru florished between 1129 and 1150.

[3] Marcabru, song 24, En abriu, s’esclairo·il riu contra·l Pascor {In April, the streams become clear towards Easter}, stanzas 7-8, from Old French trans. Gaunt (2006) (stanza 7) and Kay, Cave & Bowie (2013) p. 36 (stanza 8). For a looser translation of the full poem, see Here’s the fully edited, Old French text. Gaunt provides a conventional, academic-gynocentric reading of the poem:

we should take this altogether typical misogynist and crude language in which women are spoken about as cunts, represented as whores with queues of men waiting to fuck them, and caricatured as only being interested in the size of a man’s penis, simply for what it is: Marcabru was steeped in the worst forms of clerical misogyny.

Gaunt (2006) p. 87. Like miseducating men, describing men as ruffians and reducing them to their penises harms men. More generally, engaging in misandristic labeling isn’t an enlightening scholarly enterprise. Literature like Facetus: Moribus et vita circulated far beyond clerics. Cantavella (2013). The corresponding, understandable frustration and anger of men undoubtedly also was widespread. Literature of men’s sexed protest provides a high return to serious, compassionate study.

[image] The troubadour Marcabru. Illumination from folio 102r in Chansonnier provençal (Chansonnier K) manuscript made in the second half of the 13th century. Preserved in Bibliothèque nationale de France as Français 12473. Via Gallica.


Cantavella, Rosanna. 2013. El Facet, una ars amandi medieval: edició i estudi. València: Barcelona.

Dronke, Peter. 1976. “Pseudo-Ovid, Facetus, and the Arts of Love.” Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch (Stuttgart) 11: 126-131.

Elliott, Alison Goddard. 1977. “The Facetus: or, The Art of Courtly Living.” Allegorica. 2: 27–57.

Gaunt, Simon. 2006. “Obscene Hermeneutics in Troubadour Lyric.” Ch. 5 (pp. 85-104) in McDonald, Nicola, ed. Medieval obscenities. Woodbridge: York Medieval Press.

Kay, Sarah, Terence Cave, and Malcolm Bowie. 2003. A short history of French literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Morel-Fatio, Alfred. 1886. “Mélanges de littérature catalane.” Romania. 15 (58): 192-235.

Article published under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License


The Role Of Ladies In The First Sporting Tournaments – by Charles Mills (1825)

The following by Charles Mills (1825) documents interaction between men and women at the first sports tournaments, a tradition from which we derive much of the structure and symbolism of today’s sporting tournaments. Have we moderns lost some of the gynocentrism of the early sports tournaments, or have we added to it? You be the judge. – PW

Ladies were judges of the tournament

Chivalry tornament joust

The ladies were the supreme judges of tournaments, and if any complaint was raised against a knight, they adjudged the cause without appeal. Generally, however, they deputed their power to a knight, who, on account of this distinction, was called the Knight of Honour. He bore at the end of his lance a ribbon or some other sign of woman’s favour, and with this badge of power he waved the fiercest knights into order and obedience.

The heralds read to the knights the regulations of the sport, and announced the nature of the prize they were to contend for. The dames and maidens sometimes proposed jewels of price, a diamond, a ruby, and a sapphire, as rewards of valour. But the meed of renown was often more military, and the reader of Italian history remembers that at a tournament celebrated at Florence in the year 1468, Lorenzo de’ Medici bore away the prize of a helmet of silver with a figure of Mars as the crest. It was the general wont of tournaments for a vanquished knight to forfeit his armour and horse to his victor.

Knights were led by ladies

The knights then trooped to the listed a plain, with lords, ladies, and damsels, the chivalry and beauty of the country, mounted on gaily-caparisoned steeds and palfreys, whose housings swept the ground. Sometimes a lady fair led the horse of her chosen knight, and in the song of the minstrel the bridle became a golden chain of love. At the day appointed for a merry tournament, in the reign of Richard II., there issued out of the Tower of London, first, three-score coursers, apparelled for the lists, and on every one a squire of honour riding a soft pace.

Then appeared three-score ladies of honour; mounted on fair palfreys, each lady leading by a chain of silver a knight sheathed in jousting harness. The fair and gallant troop, with the sound of clarions, trumpets, and other minstrelsy, rode along the streets of London, the fronts of the houses shining with martial glory in the rich banners and tapestries which hung from the windows. They reached Smithfield where the Queen of England and many matrons and damsels were already seated in richly adorned galleries. The ladies that led the knights joined them; the squires of honour alighted from their coursers, and the knights in good order vaulted upon them.

Knights wore ladies’ favours, who imitated the dress of knights

The tilting armour in which knights were sheathed was generally of a light fabric, and splendid. Its ornaments came under a gentler authority than that of royal constables and marshals. If the iron front of a line of cavaliers in the battle-field was frequently- gemmed with the variously coloured signs of ladies’ favors, those graceful additions to armour yet more beseemed the tournament. Damsels were wont to surmount the helmets of their knights with chaplets, or to affix streamers to their spears, and a cavalier who was thus honoured smiled with self-complacency on the highly emblazoned surcoat of his rival in chivalry.

The desire to please ladies fair formed the very soul of the tournament. Every young and gallant knight wore the device of his mistress, while, indeed, the hardier sons of chivalry carried fiercer signs of their own achievements but they were unmarked by the bright judges of the tourney, for their eyes could only follow through the press their own emblems of love. Nothing was now to be heard but the noise and clattering of horse and armour.

Knights thanked by ladies

Every preux cavalier had by his side a lady bright. The minstrels tuned their harps to the praise of courtesy and prowess, and when the merriment was most joyous, the heralds presented to the ladies the knights who had worthily demeaned themselves. She, who by the consent at her fail companions was called La Royne de la Beaulte et des Amours, delivered the prizes to the kneeling knights. This queen of beauty and love addressed each of them with a speech of courtesy, thanking him for the disport and labour which he had taken that day, presenting to him the prize as the ladies’ award for his skill, and concluding with the wish that such a valorous cavalier would have much joy and worship with his lady.

“The victory was entirely owing to the favor of my mistress, which I wore in my helmet,” was the gallant reply of the knight, for he was always solicitous to exalt the honor of his lady-love. As tournaments were scenes of pleasure, the knight who appeared in the most handsome guise was praised and, to complete the courtesies of chivalry, thanks were rendered to those who had travelled to the lists from far countries.

Source: Charles Mills, The History of Chivalry Or Knighthood and Its Times (1825)

See also: Sporting tournaments: a gynocentric tradition

Instruction of Boys in The Arts of Chivalry – by Charles Mills (1825)

The following excerpt is from the 1825 classic The History of Chivalry Or Knighthood and Its Times, by Charles Mills. Like many historical articles it shows that chivalry came to be about much more than military conduct, becoming conflated as it were with deferent and servile behaviour toward women – as it does to this day. The following describes the process whereby young boys were inducted into the cult of chivalry.

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The education of a knight generally commenced at the age of seven or eight years, for no true lover of chivalry wished his children to pass their time in idleness and indulgence.

At a baronial feast, a lady in the full glow of maternal pride pointed to her offspring, and demanded of her husband whether he did not bless Heaven for having given him four such fine and promising boys. “Dame,” replied her lord, thinking her observation ill timed and foolish, ” so help me God and Saint Martin, nothing gives me greater sorrow and shame than to see four great sluggards, who do nothing but eat, and drink, and waste their time in idleness and folly.” Like other children of gentlebirth, therefore, the boys of this noble Duke Guerin of Montglaive, in spite of their mother’s wishes, commenced their chivalric exercises.

In some places there were schools appointed by the nobles of the country, but most frequently their own castles served. Every feudal lord had his court, to which he drew the sons and daughters of the poorer gentry of his domains ; and his castle was also frequented by the children of men of equal rank with himself, for (such was the modesty and courtesy of chivalry) each knight had generally some brother in arms, whom he thought better fitted than himself to grace his children with noble accomplishments.

The duties of the boy for the first seven years of his service were chiefly personal. If sometimes the harsh principles of feudal subordination gave rise to such service, it oftener proceeded from the friendly relations of life; and as in the latter case it was voluntary, there was no loss of honourable consideration in performing it. The dignity of obedience, that principle which blends the various shades of social life, and which had its origin in the patriarchal manners of early Europe, was now fostered in the castles of the feudal nobility.

The light-footed youth attended the lord and his lady in the hall, and followed them in all their exercises of war and pleasure ; and it was considered unknightly for a cavalier to wound a page in battle. He also acquired the rudiments of those incongruous subjects, religion, love, and war, so strangely blended in chivalry ; and generally the intellectual and moral education of the boy was given by the ladies of the court.

“Generally the intellectual and moral education of the boy was given by the ladies of the court.”

From the lips of the ladies the gentle page learned both his catechism and the art of love, and as the religion of the day was full of symbols, and addressed to the senses, so the other feature of his devotion was not to be nourished by abstract contemplation alone. He was directed to regard some one lady of the court as the type of his heart’s future mistress ; she was the centre of all his hopes and wishes ; to her he was obedient, faithful, and courteous.

While the young Jean de Saintre was a page of honour at the court of the French king, the Dame des Belles Cousines enquired of him the name of the mistress of his heart’s affections. The simple youth replied, that he loved his lady mother, and next to her, his sister Jacqueline was dear to him. “Young man,” rejoined the lady, “I am not speaking of the affection due to your mother and sister ; but I wish to know the name of the lady to whom you are attached par amours.” The poor boy was still more confused, and he could only reply, that he loved no one par amours.

The Dame des Belles Cousines charged him with being a traitor to the laws of chivalry, and declared that his craven spirit was evinced by such an avowal. ” Whence,” she enquired, “sprang the valiancy and knightly feats of Launcelot, Gawain, Tristram, Giron the courteous, and other ornaments of the round fable of Ponthus, and of those knights and squires of this country whom I could enumerate : whence the grandeur of many whom I have. known to arise to renown, except from the noble desire of maintaining themselves in the grace and esteem of the ladies ; without which spirit-stirring sentiment they must have ever remained in the shades of obscurity? And do you, coward valet, presume to declare that you possess no sovereign lady, and desire to have none ?”

Jean underwent a long scene of persecution on account of his confession of the want of proper chivalric sentiment, but he was at length restored to favour by the intercession of the ladies of the court. He then named as his mistress Matheline de Coucy, a child only ten years old. “Matheline is indeed a pretty girl,” replied the Dame des Belles Cousines, “but what profit, what honour, what comfort, what aid, what council for advancing you in chivalrous fame can you derive from such a choice? You should elect a lady of noble blood, who has the ability to advise, and the power to assist you ; and you should serve her so truly, and love her so loyally, as to compel her to acknowledge the honourable affection which you entertain for her. For, be assured, that there is no lady, however cruel and haughty she may be, but through long service, will be induced to acknowledge and reward loyal affection with some portion of mercy.

By such a course you will gain the praise of worthy knighthood, and till then I would not give an apple for you or your achievements but he who loyally serves his lady will not only be blessed to the height of man’s felicity in this life, but will never fall into those sins which will prevent his happiness hereafter. Pride will be entirely effaced until the heart of him who endeavours by humility and courtesy to win the grace of a lady. The true faith of a lover will defend him from the other deadly sins of anger, envy, sloth, and gluttony ; and his devotion to his mistress renders the thought impossible of his conduct ever being stained with the vice of incontinence.”


Source: Charles Mills, The History of Chivalry Or Knighthood and Its Times (1825)