While married men necessarily know very little about women, Matheolus struggles through his bitterness to reveal more than enough of the truth about women, at the same time as serving as a warning to us all . . .
[The following short extracts are from Le Fèvre's translation (c. 1371-2) of a subtle poem, the Liber lamentationum Matheoluli, written around 1295 by Mathieu of Boulogne (via a recent translation from Le Fèvre's by Karen Pratt, in Woman Defamed and Woman Defended: An Anthology of Medieval Texts, Oxford University Press, 1992)]
This female clock is really driving me mad, for her quarrelsome din doesn't stop for a moment. The tongue of a quarrelsome woman never tires of chiming in. She even drowns out the sound of the church bell. A nagging wife couldn't care less whether her words are wise or foolish, provided that the sound of her own voice can be heard. She simply pursues her own ends; there's not a grain of sense in what she says; in fact she finds it impossible to have a decent thought. She doesn't want her husband to be the boss and finds fault with everything he does. Rightly or wrongly, the husband has no choice: he has to put up with the situation and keep his mouth shut if he wants to remain in one piece. No man, however self disciplined or clear-sighted he may be, can protect himself adequately against this. A husband has to like what the wife likes, and disapprove of what she hates and criticize what she criticizes so that her opinions appear to be right. So anyone who wishes to immolate himself on the altar of marriage will have a lot to put up with. Fifteen times, both day and night, he will suffer without respite and he will be sorely tormented. Indeed, I believe that this torture is worse than the torments of hell, with its chains, fire, and iron.
The Winning Sophistry of Wives
In addition to using arguments and disputes, a woman can lead her man to false conclusions by means of five different types of sophism. It's only right that I should give you some examples of their deception. Their linguistic sophistry is easily demonstrated.
Guy found his wife in her bedroom underneath Simon, who was bonking her on the edge of the bed. Once the act was over, Guy got angry, scolded and reproached his wife, saying, "Get out, wicked woman, may God destroy you, body and soul, for your wickedness is now only too clear." But the woman was very quick to contradict her husband, replying, "Are you trying to kill me? Tell me what's the matter?". And the martyr to marriage said to her, "I want a divorce." "Alas," she said "why do you dare to speak such evil words to me? My father was once deluded into thinking that what you are now accusing me of had happened to him, for he imagined that he had seen my mother behaving in a wifely manner underneath another man, but his eyesight was defective. I know that my mother died as a result of such an incident, and my other female ancestors in just the same way. Dear husband, tell me how you arrived at such a crazy idea. Where has this melancholy come from? Dear friend, do you wish to be the death of me? Do you want me to live, or to die needlessly having done no wrong? You would be a wicked man indeed. Tell me what you want me to do." The poor wretch wept as he embraced her and said to her, "Sweet sister, I want you to live, for if you were ever to depart prematurely from this life as your mother did, your death would be too bitter a blow to me." She replied. "Then you must acknowledge publicly that I was never guilty of such a crime or, I promise you, I shall die. Now go quickly and say that it was a lie and that you dreamt it, for it was in this way that my female ancestors met their untimely ends." Against this argument the husband could find no defence, and without further ado, retracted his accusations under oath in the presence of their female neighbours, gossips, and cousins and swore that he had lied and had wrongly accused her. Thus his wife was exculpated, while he allowing himself to be contradicted in this way, suffered public humiliation.
Woman Over Wisdom
Women can sing to more than one tune. What good were the Perihermeneias, the Elenchi, divided into several branches, the Prior and Posterior Analytics, logic, or the mathematical sciences to Aristotle? For a woman surmounted all of these in mounting him and conquered the master of logic. She placed a bit and headstall on his head and he was dragged into solecism, barbastoma, and barbarism. The hussy used him as a horse and spurred him on like a female ass. She lifted her crotch far too high when she rode the male. The governor was governed and the roles of the sexes reversed, for she was active and he passive, willing to neigh under her. . . .
In my opinion, he had the status of a horse, and yet he was well acquainted with the power of nature, reason, and justice. Yet why did they not gallop to his aid, bringing succour to their greatest proponent and master? I don't know how this could be. What will the logicians say about the ancient art of sophistry if their celebrated teacher and master was thrown into greater confusion than any madman with a shaven head? He could not have been more confounded. Alas, what will philosophy say, given that the great master was tricked by the figure of amphiboly? Never had such a thing been seen before: the woman was the mounted knight and the man, with a halter under his hoary beard, was the horse that carried the burden. Because of this unnatural act, practitioners of the liberal arts are in constant and perpetual confusion. May they be eaten by evil wolves, if they have not yet taken revenge for this act. This book shows in what way, in what circumstances, and by what means I have reached this sorry pass. There is no one who can offer me a cure for it, for my wife's evil charms are too potent. She is always armed with arguments which torture me terribly. I sigh, weep, and lament, and suffer more than if I had chronic fever. How am I going to write this work? I can hardly begin to compose it without bursting into tears and lamenting.
Living with a Basilisk
I, who once used to compose and polish off fine poems while my studies flourished and gave me great pleasure, have now fallen on hard times, not because of advancing age, but because of the constant nagging which upsets me. It's making me old before my time, allowing me no truce or respite. While asleep I dream of battles which end worse than they begin; I feel as if I am constantly at war whether awake or asleep. It's not surprising if I'm fed up with suffering such a cruel life, a life worse than death; for death stops once it has killed you, whereas this torture goes on and on and yet I must endure it. Since I am dying a terrible death, I should serve as a warning to all other men not to get married and to learn from my mistakes, thereby escaping woman and her wiles. If one's neighbour's house is on fire and one sees the flames leaping higher, one ought to fear for one's own house.
If there is anyone who is so naive that he is untutored in woman's art, let him read this very work and select from it the most pleasing formulations himself. He will learn a lot from it provided that he uses it wisely. Dear reader, make sure that you rid yourself of women. Once you are acquainted with their opinions, behaviour and character (which I shall describe if I have the chance) then I believe that justice will prevail, that you will side with me and will rightly condemn them. Woman is always quarrelsome, a nag, cruel and shrewish. Peace and quiet are foreign to her. She recites her own litany of grievances, her own version of scriptures and the liturgy, just to annoy me. She often breaks her promises. My nagging wife sings her own Tenebrae [spiritual songs]; "Damn you," she says, and haunts my lamentations. She curses all the time or nags or weeps. Every wife intones and plays the same quarrelsome tune to her husband; she sings and chimes in every hour on the hour and is a terribly perverse creature. She is in the habit of shouting out and bawling during Responses, providing her own contrafacture of the Tenebrae. She begins the antiphon with "Damn you," causing her husband much grief and pain. She goes on like this all the time. Whether she is weeping or nagging, her husband hears everything, whether he wants to or not. Yet he dares not complain about it for in return for one word of complaint he would get a thousand. Instead he has to leave home and escape from his house. This treacherous cow treats him so badly that the man has to flee. It's true that smoke, rain, and a wife's unjustified nagging drive a man away from his home. When a woman argues and disputes she is often the one to start the quarrel. The water becomes undrinkable, the smoke from the hearth clouds his sight, making his eyes weep and he is unable to stay any longer in those conditions. In order to start a fight the wife pretends that she has caught her husband in the act of adultery. She attacks or turns on him, or strikes their child so that it screams and she couldn't be bothered to calm it down, she is such a cruel viper.
Just as it is impossible for a fish to live out of water, so a wife can't live without abusing her husband and fighting. So I tell you truly, take in carefully what you read, for she is like a basilisk and may God protect you from this snake that kills people with its gaze. Above all retain this piece of advice: the only antidote is to flee it. Man is much safer with a snake or a lion than with a woman in fighting mood. I can demonstrate this with indisputable proof. You can tame all wild beasts by using chains or cages, ingenuity and cunning, and break their proud spirits, but you can't do this with your wife, for you can't get rid of an old crease in a boot. Even if you could conquer a whole empire by feats of arms, you would not be able to subjugate a woman. You can see this illustrated in paintings and Holy Scripture bears witness to this too. No man exists who has nothing to fear from her. If you are willing to acknowledge the truth, there is no man, however powerful. who isn't ultimately defeated by woman and her shield.
Indeed, the birds will stop singing and the crickets in summer too before woman finds the strength to hold her tongue, whatever harm comes of her words. For Calphurnia, more gossipy than a magpie, this was indeed her undoing, since she did not plead her case wisely. Her verdict was to bare her bum. Her punishment for her crime, which she fully deserved, was to reduce all women to the status of second-class citizens. Each is deprived of and barred from practising advocacy. With her tongue and outrageous behaviour she banned all women. They have inherited her tongue and share in her guilt, according to the laws of heredity. Condemned in this way, rightly as far as I can tell, they are forbidden for all time to question witnesses and to defend cases. . . .
Why is the raven black? Some writers lead us to believe that it was once white. She has changed her appearance as a sign of her fault, because she was a gossip, a slanderer, and a nag. If only our wives were now similarly metamorphosed by divine miracle and shed their nasty habits. If I had my way, no man would have to suffer this. Indeed, the devil was told concerning woman that God, in whom all good abounds, would have made the world a peaceful place if he had removed the cursed tongues of women, so ill-pained in the art of speaking. In many a land and many a country, wars begin and are caused because of women. It seems therefore that whoever gave them the gift of speech was out of his mind. If one were to dare to accuse God, He would not be able to defend Himself against the charge of giving perverse women deadly weapons when He gave them many tongues. He saw the evil that would come of it, and yet did not wish to come to our aid. It's my belief that it would be a miracle to make a mute woman speak. But truly, it would be a much greater marvel if one were able to shut up a woman once she is in full flow. The two are barely comparable. Why are women more argumentative, so full of idle gossip and more talkative than men? Because they are made of bone, while our bodies are fashioned of clay: bone makes more noise than clay. Note therefore my conclusion, which does not offer us much solace: it is their nature which makes them all foolish and proud.
The Free-wheeling Widow
As soon as her husband is in his coffin, a wife's only thought day and night is to catch another husband. She observes convention by weeping, but after three days can't wait to be remarried. If her children wish to claim their share of the goods and money they have inherited from their father, there's not one of them who doesn't pay dearly for it. She disagrees with everything they say, argues, and is good at reproaching them, saying "I would already be married if it were not for your objections, for this has already happened to me three or four times. Now I'm having to dispute with you; what wretched progeny I have borne." Then she curses the fruits of her womb and tells them that despite their objections, without delay or further procrastination, she will marry one of her suitors, who will protect her rights for her. And she is so eager to marry that she takes a husband who brings about her ruin: who spends and squanders her money, an unbridled spendthrift, who will not be restrained as long as she still has something in the loft. He leaves her with neither a penny nor halfpenny, neither land, vineyard, nor house which he hasn't sold; everything has been spent. Then, when she sees how she has been used, she complains to her children and weeps for her first husband. Such tears, may God help me, with which women reproach their most recent husbands are an indictment against the heat of their loins. Their frivolity does not excuse them.
I don't think there is a more foolish woman than a widow all dolled up; she doesn't think of herself as past it, she often transforms and changes her appearance, adopting different hairstyles. She paints her face, rearranges her hair, wears make-up, adorns herself. One moment she is willing, the next she isn't; now she's friendly, now hostile; first she quarrels with one person then with another, praising one to the skies and piling scorn on another. And if ever out of habit many men waste their time with her, she is still too dissolute, abandoning the flower for the flames. In this way she proves to be naive and foolish, resembling the dung-beetle, which leaves the perfume of the flowers to follow in the wake of carts, wallowing in horse shit. And just like the she-wolf on heat, that always takes the worst male as her mate, so the widow always chooses badly.
Alas, things used to be different. A wife used to lament her husband's death and remain in mourning for a full year. Now she waits no more than three days; you'd be hard pressed to find anyone waiting longer! For as soon as her first husband slips into everlasting sleep and has been disposed of in the ground, his wife begins to wage war, refusing to give up until she has found another man to stuff her tights again, for she is incapable of remaining alone. And I don't believe for a moment that she will wear black clothes to encourage mourning. Instead she will don a silk dress to indicate her joy. This is no more nor less than a disgrace. There is no bridle nor halter that could ever restrain her. She is forever coming and going; no man would ever be able to confine her to her room or to her house. She wants to be seen everywhere, so driven is she by her ardour. The burning lust of widows is an affront to decency; they creep and climb on to rooftops just like the frogs of Egypt; they are not interested in beds or couches unless there is a man with them. Who would have thought they would be like this? Saint Acaire preferred to be the protector of madmen and the insane rather than to be responsible for widows. Anyone who looks into the matter knows that he was right, for these women are mad and know no bounds and so he didn't wish to be their patron. Widows are a base and immoral lot, while a madman in chains can do no harm.
Whenever there is a secret, woman from here to the island of Crete insists on discovering it. She seizes her husband, drags him off and takes him to bed, pretending that she wants to make love; then she kisses and embraces her husband and deceiving him with her words says, "I don't know what a man has to fear, for in the words of God, a man leaves his father and mother for his wife, they become one, hopefully one flesh, it really is possible. For God has united and joined them with one indivisible bond, tying them tightly so that they will stay together. Therefore every man should do whatever pleases his wife."
Then she strokes his head and resumes the kissing and lies down under him and, arching her back and spine, offers to him her carnal vessel, saying "I'm ready to do your will and shall prove this to you whenever you wish. I beg you to be mine, for we are one and in my case as God says, whether you like it or not, you are mine however reluctantly, and to my mind, rightly so." And as they draw together and she recognizes in his excitement that he is getting ready to copulate, she presses her breast against his, despite the silk of the bedclothes and blankets, saying to him; "Here you are, I'm giving you all I have, offering up to you my heart, body and all my limbs, but please do not forget that you are my husband and lord. Now tell me what I ask of you, you can tell me confidently, for indeed God will know if I am lying. I'd prefer to suffer a terrible and sudden death than to reveal your secrets to others. Oh wretch that I am. I would never do it. You know how I am, you've put me to the test many a time, fair friend, wise husband, now tell me why I am not party to this information. Everything you know I ought to know too. No other person will ever get to hear of it."
Then she kisses and embraces him again, caressing and soothing him. With blandishments and flattery she presses herself right up against him saying, "How foolish and wretched I am since you scorn and ignore my words. Alas, I am truly dishonoured by my misguided love for you. If my neighbours knew of this, I would right1y be criticized, if the situation between us were common knowledge. I love you more than I love myself, I am far superior to other women, yet you deny me knowledge of your secrets - and I tell you all I know, never omitting anything. Other women cover themselves better, for they do not reveal their secrets, they are wise to do this. Yet I am foolish and generous, since I behave in this way towards you. And love alone makes me do this." What more effective and touching proof is there than the gift of one's heart and one's mouth? If the man tries to draw closer, she forbids him to touch her, pulls away, turns her back on him and weeps as if sad and upset. She pretends to be very distressed. Then there's double trouble. She is silent for a while, then sighs and in a grumbling tone says, after a few moments' silence, "Alas, how I am deceived. I can't help but lament; whatever this man wants, I want it too. God knows his every wish would be mine, yet he would do nothing for me. I know that what he keeps hidden from me he discloses to all other women. He who says that man is deceived by woman is misguided and wrong. In this respect too I have been misled. I love you yet you don't love me at all. You aren't mine yet I am yours. And because I love you I'm telling you that you would please me greatly if you were to tell me what I ask. for I would then reveal to you all that I know, and I wouldn't lie on pain of death. Alas, I am your chambermaid. I'd rather be far away and be lying dead in a pit. The matter would have to be very important indeed for me to be able to hide it from you, yet you do not wish to reveal anything to me. I serve you as my lord, as a very important and superior person, yet you turn a deaf ear to my words Our love is hardly mutual."
The man is dismayed and ponders awhile but can find no defence against this attack; he does not notice the malice in her words and replies, "What's the matter, my love? Please turn round. I have never been so upset as I am now over your complaint. I love you truly and there is nothing else so dear to me." She then turns to face her husband, offering him her mouth and breast. He is completely taken in by her lecture. In response to a barrage of request and supplications, he reveals everything to her, thus committing great folly, for from then on, she is the lady and mistress, while he lives the wretched life of a serf. Perrette wants me to tell her everything, concentrating all her efforts on making me angry. If I don't resist, believe me, I shall be treated just as you have heard.
Women and Lechery
People say that women are lecherous. On the surface, these words sound insulting. However, with due respect to all ladies, it is necessary to speak as one finds. . . .
If there is anyone who says that women with their tits and boobs are colder than the male, let him lose his purse and its contents. If anyone has come to this conclusion, he hasn't looked at the evidence carefully enough. For, by Saint Acaire of Haspre, their lust is much stronger than ours and turns into greater ardour. A woman underneath a man gets very excited. But let's say no more about it at present. . . . Women are by nature very weak and frail and more fragile than glass. Ovid says that woman is only chaste when no man courts or chases her. Given their lust, the pope has granted them permission to marry without delay in order to pay the tribute their flesh demands. For otherwise they would hardly manage to wait and would offer or sell themselves to all comers.
In Defence of Antifeminism
Yet one might disagree with me, criticize my conclusion. and, putting forward the opposite point of view, suggest that my words are completely untrue. For, if some women are evil and perverse and abnormal, it does not necessarily follow that all of them are so cruel and wicked; nor should all of them be lumped together in this general reproach. A speech is badly composed if one's general conclusion is only partly valid. Logic hates this type of argumentation. Nevertheless, this present work, which expresses the pain in my heart, wishes me to exclude nothing, but commands me to push my argument to its logical, if extreme, conclusion, which is that no good woman exists. Solomon, in his works, makes an amazing comment, which supports my case, for he exclaims, "Who could find a virtuous woman?" The implication here is, of course, that this would be impossible. Since he says this, who am I to disagree? Why should I be shocked? What's more, he says that a base and broken man is worth more than a woman when she's doing good. Thus there is no woman worth anything at all; I don't need to look for further proof. That's enough logical demonstration.
My exposition is clearly valid, for woman has - and there is ample evidence of this - deceived all the greatest men in the world; I shall be basing myself on rational argument. If the greatest are deceived, then the lesser naturally fall. In the street where I live they say that what applies to the greatest amongst us applies even more to lesser mortals. Who were the greatest lords? Who has ever heard of greater men than Solomon or Aristotle? Yet good sense, riches and reason were not worth a dung-beetle to them; all were made to look as if they had gone out of fashion; these men were both outmanoeuvred by women, deceived, vanquished, and tamed.
Mother of Calamity
It's true that women are lazy, but they are always ready to do harm. An evil woman just gets worse, becoming even more evil and wicked. It would take far too long for me to tell you everything about them, so for brevity's sake I shan't. Woman is not wise in this respect, for in her eagerness to do harm she only brings about her own ruin. According to the law, as I understand it, woman is not rational, nor does her love reside deep in her heart, but is there on her gaze for everyone to see. She entrusts her honour openly to her eyes, yet they can't help but fail to protect it, since folly animates her gaze. With all her words, her chatter, and her talk, she could break a heart of glass; all her actions are stupid and foolish. Woman can do no good, indeed, goodness is destroyed and obliterated by her. Many a war is begun by women and many a murder committed throughout the world; castles are burned and ransacked and the poor made destitute. As every man and woman knows, there isn't one war in a thousand that isn't started by a woman and by her sowing of discord. She is the mother of all calamities; all evil and all madness stem from her. Her sting is more venomous than a snake's; there isn't anyone who has anything to do with her who doesn't live to regret it.
Now you can see how foolhardy it is to take a wife. What will your response be? What is the point of your studying the matter? Don't get married, have mistresses. If you are weak by nature, it will be safer for you to have a hundred of them rather than devote yourself to one; treat them as if they were no more important than a straw. And if you are strong, take my advice, don't plunge yourself in the mire or frequent either one woman or many - I forbid you to have anything to do with them, for in the garden lurks a snake; and no one approaches it without regretting it afterwards.
Now I should like to rest for a while. for whoever sets out to expose the evils of the female sex, finds her poisonous acts too numerous to relate. Nature shows and teaches us that every woman is a real monster and that she is quite happy to put up with her own faults. There is no shortage of proof of this, or demonstration of how monstrous she is. It is said that woman was conceived without nature's consent. A philosopher testifies to this quite clearly in his works, saying that nature, having embarked on creation, was shocked when she contemplated her mistake and blushed as she became aware of it. Woman is a monstrous hermaphrodite, proving to be a chimaera with horns and a tail bigger than a peacock's or pheasant's. Thus she bears the marks of a monster, as this treatise informs you.
And if anyone were to say that women in general are slandered without taking account what each individual woman might do, and that some, who are specially favoured, deserve our respect and praise, I would venture to say that this would be an unnatural thing and that there has never been such a great miracle. For their sex in no way prepares them to be virtuous or to do good, indeed they are predisposed to do the very opposite.
In a vision the narrator remonstrates with God about the creation of woman and the institution of marriage. Moreover, he objects to the injustice of the punishment for the Fall, and argues that God, as good shepherd, must save people, whatever their sin.
Termination of the Female Sex
"You should gather up your sheep and wander through the fields calling them, in case you find any that have gone astray, so that they can be saved by you. You must do all you can for their safety, chasing away the wolves with your dogs and staff, and your shouting. If one dies, and you see it, you should immediately try to revive it; for if a shepherd allows a ewe to die through his own fault, ignorance, or laziness, he must, according to the law, pay compensation, if he was in a position to protect it and even if Argus himself had tried to prevent this. And since the ordinary shepherd is expected to make reparation, you are expected to do so all the more, you who are all-seeing and all-powerful, and the lord of all shepherds. Thus it follows logically that, since you are capable of saving your flock and your sheep, then you must and will save them. If you are not moved by pity, you will be the cause of our deaths.
"Yet whatever one might say about us men, who are in a position to be saved, I do not believe that you can have or save the soul of a woman. For you know and have clear proof of the fact that she was the cause of our fall and the reason for your death. Therefore you should not strive at all for her salvation. And when, on judgement day, Adam is resurrected and his body becomes whole again, then the whole female sex, which, as I have said, is full of venom, will revert to nothingness and will thus disappear. For otherwise Adam could not be whole again: if his rib were not replaced in its rightful spot (from which it was taken, and with which you created woman many years ago in your earthly paradise and then forbade her entry into it), Adam would not be complete. However, once his rib has been replaced, woman will be no more. Thus she will not be saved or resurrected."