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1— Ovidian and Aristotelian Figures
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Ovidian and Aristotelian Figures

There are three things which Aristotle failed to explain: the toil of bees, the ebb and flow of the tides, and the mind of women.
Irish proverb

With the thirteenth-century Lai d'Aristote , the medieval clergy offers us a parable of its relations with women. This is a "boy meets girl" tale involving no less than the Master Philosopher. He is depicted as a distracted intellectual, taken from his books, and she as a seductress who magnifies her alluring figure with a mirror (Figure 2). This encounter goes directly against Aristotle's recommendation to the emperor Alexander to keep away from women:

Si vos porra on mener paistre
Ausi com une best en pré!
Trop avez le sense destempré,
Quant por une pucele estrange
Voz cuers si malement se change.
(lines 166–70)[1]

One could thus put you out to pasture just like a beast in the field. When your heart changes so completely on account of a strange girl, you have destroyed your good sense.

The master fares no better than his "woman-crazy" student, for in the subsequent scenes of seduction, Aristotle is so attracted to this foreign creature that, as we see in the miniature, he allows her to ride him like an animal into Alexander's court (Figure 3). A woman thus consigns "the best clerk in the world" to bestiality (line 449), to the very place where his own teaching had relegated her. His book learning discredited and his mastery debased, Aristotle becomes the object of ridicule. As Cato's sentence sums it up: "It is disgraceful for the doctor when he convicts himself through his own fault" (Turpe est doctori cum culpa redarguit ipsum; line 521).


In its simplest terms, the Lai d'Aristote follows the proverbial wisdom: "Nature is worth more than nurture."[2] This lesson of a dominant nature runs implicitly along gender lines. With woman on top, in a position suggesting her sexual dominance, the natural is identified with the feminine (Figure 3). This coding of the nature/culture opposition suggests other feminine/masculine polarities. One maxim associated with the Lai reads: "Female cunning deceives even the most learned," and another: "Do not let woman's power trespass on your mind or enter into your spirit, or you shall be confounded."[3] Any intelligence ascribed to women (astutia ) is defined a contrario , as a threat to men's. It rivals the trait distinguishing the clerk. According to these maxims, the Lai stresses the polarity between men's reason and women's nonrational intelligence. The "boy meets girl" plot is transformed into a meditation on the feminine rapport with intellectual authority and knowledge. Judging from the Lai 's widespread circulation and the iconography and commentary that it inspired, this meditation touched a nerve in the medieval clergy.[4] It provoked concern that—like these amusing marginalia—underlies their thinking.[5]

In its largest terms, then, the Lai raises questions about mastery. It thus rejoins a longstanding philosophical inquiry into the links between intellectual capital and authority—in Foucauldian terms, the power/ knowledge nexus.[6] And it reformulates that inquiry specifically in terms of the feminine. When women are involved, what exactly does it mean to be masterful? Mastery refers first of all to a type of competence or expertise. For medieval clerks, as for us, it entails working through a particular body of material and gaining control over it. With mastery comes a certain assurance, since the masterful command of material itself comprises a mode of power. According to one Aristotelian axiom cited often in the late Middle Ages: "It would be strange if, when a man possesses knowledge, something else should overpower it and drag it about like a slave."[7] Already visible here is the related issue of domination. Mastery precisely evokes the struggle between people that leads some to dominate and others to submit. Understood sociologically as well as intellectually, it refers to the perpetual give-and-take between people. It exemplifies what Augustine called "the burning passion for domination." (cupiditas ardens dominationis ).[8] From the first encounter between individuals or groups, each party attempts to gain the upper hand. The dynamic of dominance involves contending with the other person in the attempt to overcome his or her difference. In the Hegelian terms that color any contemporary analysis of mastery, it involves a sparring match whereby each tries to reduce the human qualities of the other and thus emerge master vis-à-vis


a subordinate object.[9] The struggle is ongoing and the contradiction apparent, for each party depends on the need to be validated as a person by the antagonism or resistance of the other.

However separate and distinct these two senses of mastery are, the Lai d'Aristote brings to the fore their charged interrelations. With its scene of the master mastered, it discloses the clerical fear of losing intellectual control through women, and at the same time it reveals the pressures to maintain that control over them. By communicating the inverse scenario, the Lai suggests the impetus to command women effectively. It thus invites us to consider the ways masterful intellectual authority can become a form of domination. It focuses our attention on the process whereby what is valued positively, the production/possession of knowledge, can translate negatively into a mastery of women.

This process has occasioned various feminist reflections on mastery.[10] Given the potential for knowledge as an instrument of domination, there was reason to investigate how women were implicated. In Aristotelian terms, the question was: if women have been dispossessed of knowledge historically, does it follow that they could thus be dragged about like slaves?[11] Feminist theory began by analyzing mastery in its twofold sense as a normative system of relations elaborated and enacted principally by men. Such reasoning led some feminists to label both senses of mastery pejoratively. Mastery is deemed problematic because it represents a masculine way of leading an intellectual life. Correspondingly, women are seen to assume masterful intellectual authority reluctantly, since to do so brings with it the legacy of their subordination.[12]

By imputing to men the conversion of masterful expertise into domination, this critique runs into its own difficulties. The danger lies in confirming that conversion. While feminists have argued that intellectual authority can be used disadvantageously against women, by labeling it a "masculine" phenomenon they reinforce the pattern of disallowing women's intellectual mastery. "Just as the child's attempt to impose control and order on its world cannot be equated with exploitative domination," Toril Moi reminds us, "it is singularly unhelpful to see all forms of intellectual mastery simply as aggressive control and domination."[13] To do so is to run the risk of rejecting the potential for masterful expertise together with its abuse. Further, this critique is liable to confuse the instruments of mastery as domination with its causes.[14] The critical challenge lies instead in examining the logic undergirding the twofold notion of mastery. When Christine de Pizan calls her polemical participation in the Querelle de la Rose "nonhateful, a form of solace that outrages no one," she avoids an ad


hominem critique and concentrates on the injurious language of the Rose itself.[15] In her study on the Querelle des femmes , Joan Kelly targets "not men, but misogyny and male bias in the literate culture," thereby echoing Christine's sentimen.[16] For medieval and contemporary critic alike, analyzing the ways authoritative traditions of knowledge work against women means critiquing the ideological system that individual masters represent.

In juxtaposing such feminist critiques of mastery with the Lai 's tale of Aristotle upended, I wish to situate the problem of the master in a specific context. My purpose is to introduce a historical framework for our theoretical discussion and thus to substantiate what Foucault has warned is notoriously insubstantial.[17] I shall argue that the medieval structures of mastery so tellingly displayed in the Lai provide a matrix for subsequent configurations. It was the scholastic institution of the master (magister ), developed over the course of the twelfth century, that played a significant part in cultivating the affinities between mastery as intellectual authority and mastery as mode of domination. And it did so by casting the intellectual enterprise agonistically. As Martin Grabmann has taught us, the process of learning in the high Middle Ages was fundamentally defined by struggle.[18] Whether in a scholastic context or its vernacular counterpart, acceding to the station of master was, quite literally, a fight: "crude behavior, insults, threats, 'it came even to blows.' "[19] The very language of learning was imprinted with this aggressiveness. Altercatio, conflictus, disputatio, querela : many medieval pedagogical terms bespeak a potential for violence.[20]

This agonistic character of learning created the circumstances for converting intellectual authority into a mode of domination. Indeed, in Walter J. Ong's view it favored that conversion.[21] To what extent that particular conversion concerns women, however, is less clear. In the role-reversal game of the Lai d'Aristote , where are the signs of women's intellectual struggle? How does the dominating impulse that animates learning touch them? In order to answer these questions, we need first to study the dynamics between the medieval master and his disciple.

Learning to Dispute

Appearing with the twelfth-century schools, the magister occupied a prestigious position in the rarefied milieu of the literate clergy.[22] And with the foundation of the universities in the thirteenth century, he


grew to be an ever more prominent figure.[23] His official title distinguished him as an authoritative scholar who presided over the canonical texts. At the same time, the licentia docendi invested him with a specific pedagogical responsibility. The master was in charge of instructing groups of student-disciples and of initiating them in a world of scholarship. This initiation staged a confrontation of wills that was to culminate in the disciple bending to the master. According to the popular clerical manual De disciplina scholarium : "He who has not learned that he is subjugated [to the masters], could never come to know himself as master" (qui se non novit subjici, non noscat se magistrari).[24] In vernacular descriptions as well, the master/disciple rapport develops out of a sense of rivalry and respect. A late-thirteenth-century didactic work, the Livre d'Enanchet portrays just how charged that rapport is:

Et si-l doit metre ainz au boen meistre q'au mauvais, por ce que-u boens meistre est mout utel chose au deciple. Et il doit sorestier a la dotrine son maistre; por ce q'ausi corn la grotere de l'aigue chaant [chaut] d'en haut cheive la piere dure, vance l'usage a savoir ce que-u cuers de l'ome ni voldroit maintes foiees. Mes il doit mult honorer son meistre, por qu'il est lo segond signe de science, et doit mult enquerir sa dotrine et noter ses paroles et son chastiemant.[25]

And he should dedicate himself to a good master rather than to a bad one, since a good master is extremely useful to a disciple. And he should attend to the doctrine of his master, for just as a drop of water fallen from above pierces the hard rock, so too the use of knowledge hits a man's heart where it is oftentimes not receptive to it. But he should greatly honor his master, since he is the second sign of knowledge and he must seek energetically after his doctrine and take note of his words and teaching.

As "lo segond signe de science," the master embodies the world of learning (dotrine ), outfitting the disciple for an intellectual life. Yet that preparation involves yielding to the master's authority as well as to his knowledge. The Livre d'Enanchet shows the master handing down a chastoiement . This Old French term, echoing the Latin castigare found in the Disciplina , combines the notions of instruction and latent strife: one goes with the other. Imparting a doctrine entails a type of castigation or chastisement. This castigation was directed toward both men and women; contemporaneous didactic texts such as Le Chastoiement d'un père à son fils and Le Chastoiement des dames are built on one and the same model of the master taking the student in hand.[26]


This sense of discipline discloses the tensions informing the master/ disciple relation. While the disciple struggles to attain the master's respect and wisdom, the master in turn castigates him. Contention fuels their exchanges and, paradoxically, binds the two figures together. If the surviving accounts give us any indication, such contentious relations ruled university life.[27] Even the latter-day humanist critic Vivès would describe the scene as all "that scholastic shadowboxing and contentious altercation" (scholasticasque illas umbratiles pughas et contentiosas altercationes).[28] The medieval master inducted the disciple in an intellectual life whose characteristic methods were conflictual. The question-and-answer modes of instruction (quaestiones ), the disputations (disputationes ) that began the debates pitting masters against students (quodlibeta )—such standard dialectical methods trained the student to work against his master.[29] If the disciple was ever to assert himself, he had to proceed adversarially—in John of Salisbury's words, through "verbal conflict"—mounting challenges and refutations of what the master put forth.[30]

These challenges were never meant to jeopardize the institution of mastery. On the contrary, the entire agonistic process was geared to outfit the disciple for the master's role.[31] It distinguished those few disciples who would eventually assume the magister title from the many others who failed to meet the test. The sustained disputations sanctioned certain disciples as members of the scholastic elite. In the end, the chastoiement validated them as authorities able to discipline others. In this, the master/ disciple engagement resembles the sparring between knights, for there too the clash provides a mechanism for bonding that secures both men in the same courtly, chivalric roles.[32]

No more telling example of the disputational dynamic exists than the case history of Peter Abelard. The dialectical method of thought that he pioneered in his treatise the Sic et Non was illustrated uncannily in his own dealings with his peers: his unceremonious rejection of his master, Anselm of Laon, his attacks against a rival master, William of Champeaux, his sparring with his own followers. Abelard exemplifies the way the medieval system of intellectual mastery functioned by creating conflict so as to better establish control of intellectual problems. The difficulty in mastering a particular body of knowledge was played out through disputation. And far from dividing the masters and students definitively, their disputatiousness acted to consolidate their caste. The more bitterly they fought among themselves, the more tightly they closed ranks and cemented their control over intellectual matters. Abelard's reputation makes this clear. However he depicted himself as renegade and outcast, medieval posterity identified him as one of the masters' own.[33]


Abelard's case is also important because it reveals how the feminine begins to inform the disputatiousness of medieval masters and disciples. Intellectual traditions in Europe had long typed knowledge as a woman (scientia ), and its highest form, wisdom, as a female deity (sapientia ). Like many other masters straight on through the Renaissance, Abelard dedicated himself to the goddess of wisdom, Minerva. "I gave up completely the court of Mars so as to be brought up in the lap of Minerva. . . . I put the conflicts of the disputation over and above the trophies of combat."[34] Abelard's description of his entry into intellectual life gives us a telling sense of how the pursuit of knowledge is connected with the feminine. Embracing wisdom implies coming into contact with a woman. Yet this embrace is not incompatible with aggressive impulses. Although Abelard renounces the god of war, he does not relinquish the martial arts. For him, the bellicose and the feminine come together in the form of the disputation. Under the aegis of Minerva, verbal battles are to be waged. That Abelard chooses this goddess as mentor shows how the scholastic activity of disputing comes to be figured through women.

But if intellectual mastery is represented in part through the feminine, where do women figure in? We come back to the question of women's encounter with clerical intellectual life. Can they participate in the master/ disciple disputation? Abelard's explosive experience with Héloïse hardly bears this out. His tutelage of her was short-lived, leading quickly to their sexual relation. In the vernacular domain, the picture is little different. In the Livre d'Enanchet , for instance, the master who debates with his disciple puts forth the following doctrine (la dotrine dou clers ): "It is better to sit in a corner of the house that is not in the throughway; not like a woman who wags her tongue" (il est mieuz seoir en un angle de sa maison qe n'est en chiés comun. Ne corn famme laengueice! Fiebig, 7).[35] This portrait of the model clerk distinguishes him from the woman who talks too much. And it spatializes his distinctive role. Whereas the woman plants herself in the middle, the clerk is recommended to place himself apart, in isolation. Such a scene, I would suggest, builds on the standard outline of the social hierarchy of roles in Andreas Capellanus's De amore : "In addition, among men we find one rank more than among women, since there is a man more noble than any of these, that is, the clerk" (Praeterea unum in masculis plus quam in feminis ordinem reperimus, quia quidam masculis nobilissimus invenitur ut puta clericus; II, 1; Parry, 36; Pagès, 10). The fact that the clerk inhabits a separate space underscores his unique position. Not only does he represent the "most noble" man, but he has no female equivalent. In the clerical schema of Capellanus or the Enanchet , there are few signs of women assuming the stance of disciple.


4. The duke and duchess of Brabant and the master of the  Consaus d'amours .
Vienna, Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Cod. 2621, fol. 1.
Courtesy of the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek.

Such definitions of clerical life give us a first glimpse into the vexed position of women vis-à-vis intellectual mastery. They are at odds with the clerical role. Yet they are not completely evacuated from its domain. The inaugural miniature from the Consaus d'amours , a late-thirteenthcentury didactic treatise, exemplifies this dilemma (Figure 4). The woman, the duchess of Brabant, sits side by side with her lord the duke—an apparent partner in the lessons the master pronounces.[36] But the text that follows relays a debate engaging the men alone. Designed implicitly as a master/ disciple dialogue, it leaves little room for her. In fact, the insignia of the various figures in the miniature confirm this: while the book links the duke to the academic learning of the master, the scroll identifies the woman with the oral. The duchess appears ready to repeat the master's formulas but unable to engage with them fully and make them her own. The structure of the master/disciple dispute seems to both accommodate women and disqualify them.[37] While included theoretically as part of the proceedings, they are nonetheless blocked from participating in its work: mediums of the disputation, yes; real contestants, no.


A Clerkly Savoir Faire

This precarious position of women is established in Latin and vernacular literature in texts such as the Latin Concilium Romarici montis and the Old French Jugement d'amour .[38] These two related twelfth-century works offer a paradigm of women's circumscribed role in the world of intellectual mastery. The Concilium and the Jugement dramatize a disputation on love conducted exclusively by women. One side argues that the clerk is the best lover, and the other, the knight. Locked in an intractable quarrel, the female opponents bring their cases to be judged; in the Concilium before an assembly of women, and in the Jugement before the God of Love. Opinions are unanimously in favor of the clerk. Both these texts are obvious propaganda pieces for the clergy.[39] Yet the degree to which women advance its cause is surprising. Why this recourse to female surrogates? Why should clerical discourse articulate its own privileged claims by way of women?

From the outset of the debate, this surrogacy looks incomplete: "No one called a man is admitted to that place; nevertheless some were present who had come from faraway; they were not laymen, but respectable clerks" (nemo qui vir dicitur illuc intromittitur. Quidam inde aderant, qui de longe venerant, Non fuerant laici, sed honesti clerici; Concilium , 10–12). The androgynous clerks appear only on the sidelines. Yet such an appearance makes clear that while they do not speak their part, they are still directing it through a female agent. Women are deemed both capable and incapable of assuming the clerks' position. Later on in the narrative, the limits of their intermediary role are specified: "For the women, the art is in knowing the things of love, but they are ignorant of what a man should know how to do in practice" (Harum in noticia ars est amatoria; Sed ignorant, opere quid vir sciat facere, lines 34–35). The distinction here is between women's familiarity with the subject of love and "manly" clerks' ability to exploit it. One talks, the other acts on his knowledge. In effect, the women champion all those clerkly traits that the knight does not possess, especially knowledge: "I beseech you to love clerks above all, by whose wisdom everything is disposed" (Precor vos summopere clericos diligere, quorum sapientia disponuntur omnia; Concilium , lines 186–87). Or as the clerk's advocate, Blancheflor, argues in the Jugement : "The clerk knows more about courtliness, he ought to have a girlfriend more than anyone else, even more than the knight" (Ke clers set plus de courtoisie et ke mieus doit avoir amie ke autre gent ne chevalier; lines 249–51).


This clerkly brand of knowledge is presented in academic terms: recorded in writing, developed through commentary and disputation. Love is thus for the clerk less a physical affair than one of learning. Even the knight's advocate notes this: "When your lover is at the monastery, he pores over his psalter, he turns over and over again the parchment, and for you he makes no other play" (Quant vos amis est au moustier, torne et retorne son sautier, torne et retorne cele piel: pot vous ne fait autre cembiel; Jugement , lines 115–17). From the opposing position, the clerk's commitment to written texts is also figured as powerful, if not allengrossing.

Given the clerk's superior knowledge, what exactly is he alleged to know? While the image of the clerk with his psalter suggests theological learning, by the end of the Concilium he is associated with the secrets of women (abdita ). The history of ideas in the West has long identified secrets as a choice intellectual category and typed them, like the Minervan myth of knowledge, invariably in feminine terms.[40] Whether we look to the Greek philosopher contemplating the mysteries of nature or the Renaissance man of science probing the material world, the quest for knowledge habitually seeks a feminine object. In medieval culture, this fascination with feminine secrets was widespread. Witness the pseudo-Aristotelian Secretum secretorum or the Secres as philosophes , two compendia of the most recondite items of scientific knowledge that maintain this feminine character.[41] Or the widely known thirteenthcentury gynecological texts, Secreta mulierum (The Secrets of Women ).[42] In contemporaneous vernacular literature as well, women's secrets were the quarry par excellence. Andreas Capellanus's De amore , for one, contends that the would-be lover should begin by tracking them: "Presently he begins to think about the fashioning of the woman and to differentiate her limbs, to think about what she does, and to pry into the secrets of her body" (Postmodum mulieris incipit cogitare facturas et eius distinguere membra suosque actus imaginari eiusque corporis secreta rimari; Parry, 29; Pagès, 3). This probing into secrets is also emphasized in Drouart La Vache's French version of the De amore :

En son cuer recorde et ramenbre
La faiture de chascun menbre,
Les venues et les alees
Et cerche les choses secrees.
(Li Livres d'amours , lines 237–40)

In his heart he recalls and remembers the form of each member, its comings and goings, and he searches for their secrets.


The lover's fantasy about different members of the woman's body heightens the desire to get at her secrets. The greater the reflection on them, the greater their lure.

In the case of the Concilium , the women stake everything on the clerk's understanding of their secrets: "They strive to act on our affairs and take control of our cause, but thanks to them, even through their grace, our secrets will never be made known" (Causas nostras agere student atque regere, quantum possunt, etiam per eorum gratiam, nostra quedam abdita nunquam erunt cognita; lines 189–91). The inference is that the clerk knows how to keep women's secrets discreetly. Yet as vernacular love literature attests richly, the threat also exists that knowing such secrets invites their violation. Once they are thought, they will be made known. Through whatever party, they risk becoming common knowledge. The clerk's understanding of women's secrets carries a sexual charge insofar as those secrets are consistently associated with their bodies. If this understanding does not suggest "knowing" women in the sexual sense, it does involve a carnal knowledge of them. Since the pro-clerkly Concilium and Jugement both condemn the knight for having sex with women (lines 179–80), their claim on the secret knowledge of female sexuality is all the more important.

We can now begin to answer a number of our initial questions: if these texts include women in a version of the master/disciple disputation, they do so in a manner that ultimately counts them out. By projecting women as privileged mouthpieces of clerical wisdom, the Concilium and Jugement make them party to clerical claims on the knowledge of women. They enlist women complicitously: neither clerk nor master themselves, women are depicted enunciating the clerical right to possess women's own secrets. It is no surprise, then, that they are moved progressively out of the debate.

Once clerical disputation claims the topic of women, the risk emerges that mastering such knowledge means using it as a form of control. Just as the master/disciple dialogues stage a battle of sorts so as to secure their hold over a body of knowledge, so too the Concilium and Jugement battle over the clergy's prerogative to know women. The result is to reserve that knowledge for themselves and, concomitantly, to bar women from it. Both texts build the case implicitly for an exclusive clerical knowledge of women. In so doing, they represent that knowledge as potentially domineering.

The medieval clergy's appropriation of the topic of women's knowledge constitutes in and of itself a powerful order of symbolic domination. From the master/disciple configuration arguing over a feminine object to the story of women defending the clerk's superior knowledge, a


discourse coercive to women is in the making. It is a masterful discourse in both the positive sense and the negative. Through the disputation, it represents and defends the clergy's special claim on women's knowledge. Their intellectual authority is seen to extend rightfully over it. Valorizing the clerks' prerogative to know women has the effect of disenfranchising them. In clerks' hands, such knowledge can become a way to dominate masterfully. We have here a discursive pattern that, as Pierre Bourdieu has shown us, can exert enormous power because of its social use.[43] It is a discourse attributed to the revered caste of the clergy. And it is elaborated didactically in a variety of texts called enseignements (teachings) that purport to relay a doctrine. Through such narratives, the model of masters disputing the "secrets" of women takes hold in French medieval culture, and with it the pattern of using the knowledge of women as a type of power over them.

Representations of the master/disciple debate create this symbolic domination by means of two models of mastery that recur in enseignements . The first, the Ovidian, is derived from habitual rereading of the Ars amatoria and the Remedia amoris .[44] In the thirteenth century, as much as in the twelfth-century "age of Ovid," these works formed an integral part of the school curriculum.[45] They were so well known that they laid the foundation for a particular model of mastery. With the second model, the Aristotelian, the picture is more complicated. This model took shape as a result of the thirteenth-century translation and assimilation of key works—the Metaphysics, Politics , and Ethics , as well as the biological treatises. In fact, the second model of mastery underwriting French narrative testifies to the turbulent reception of Aristotle's works at the University of Paris: the fitful recovery of the Metaphysics , the fragmentary understanding of the Ethics , the controversy over teaching the biological works.[46] As we shall see, the Aristotelian model of mastery typifies what Fernand van Steenberghen called the "eclectic Aristotelianism" of the period (126). It is thus based on the array of Greek and Arabic texts that were so frequently attributed erroneously to the Master Philosopher during the later Middle Ages.[47]

Studying the Ovidian and Aristotelian models of mastery together is important for several reasons. First, it will help identify the specifically Aristotelian terms of mastery. It will also bring into sharper relief the mark of the magistri 's learning in French medieval narrative. Yet by contrasting the Aristotelian model of mastery with the Ovidian, we can approach the problem of symbolic domination in a nuanced way. The differences between the two models will reveal the many, varied ways that dominance was expressed. This study will prepare the ground for consid-


ering the woman's response. It will set up our inquiry into how the response tackles the symbolic domination of women in masterly vernacular texts. Working through the models for such domination will enable us in part 2 to work the woman's response back the other way.

A Game of Prevarication

As an entry point into the Ovidian model of mastery, let us consider one of its most influential precepts:

Posse capi: capies, tu modo tende plagas.
uere prius uolucres taceant, aestate cicadae,
Maenalius lepori det sua terga canis,
femina quam iuueni blande temptata repugnet;
haec quoque, quam poteris credere nolle, uolet.
(Ars amatoria  I, 270–74)[48]

Women can always be caught: that's the first rule of the game. Sooner would birds in the spring be silent or locusts in August, sooner would hounds run away when the fierce rabbits pursue, than would a woman well-wooed refuse to succumb to a lover; she'll make you think she means No! while she is planning her Yes!

Relations between men and women are set up right away as a game, the object of which is to make women cede to their male lovers. This objective is described by a string of oxymorons. It would take a wholesale reversal of natural law—noise giving way to silence, prey turning into predators—to match the instance of women not succumbing to men. If we look closely, women's yielding is oxymoronic: it is expressed through a whole range of polarized oppositions.

Representing women as naysayers confirms the strategic value of this opposition. Whereas "No!" is a common initial response to any advance, here, as a rhetorical expression of difference, it blocks unanimity between men and women. It forestalls what is taken as inevitable. However briefly, the female "No!" suspends the sought-after conclusion of the man's game by swerving from automatic assent. Like the response of a hunted animal who, in a last desperate gesture, veers away, this "No!" is taken to seal the woman's fate. It is the signature trait of what I shall call feminine prevarication.[49] That the clerkly narrator takes it as a sign of the woman's compliance signals how in an Ovidian model of mastery a woman's opposition functions as the preface to her succumbing.


This oxymoronic quality of women's yielding is captured by another Ovidian maxim, this time from Andreas Capellanus's De amore : "For what greater thing can a woman give than to yield herself to the mastery of someone else?" (Quid enim mulier maius dare posset quam si suam personam alieno disponat arbitrio?; I, 3; Parry, 43; Pagès, 17). Capellanus's phrase is also based on the view that women are meant to give in. While the Latin does not specify the idea of mastery explicitly, the expression "disponere suam personam alieno arbitrio" conveys the sense that women are to bend to the will of another (that alienum arbitrium belonging, as a rule, to father, husband, confessor). In this manner, a single answer to Capellanus's question is projected: there is no greater thing for women to do than yield. Or is there? Because the maxim stands as a question, room is left for second thought. And because it occurred commonly in those scholastic anthologies of quotable quotes, the florilegia , readers were invited to speculate beyond the pat response: "No, women can give nothing greater."[50] But what alternative could there be? That women do have something greater to give, or that women are not meant to yield? Even if most medieval clerkly readers would work through the question dialectically to arrive at one answer, the fact that its syntax entertains others points to the pivotal role of opposition. The implicit structure of the masters' disputation makes this clear. Once again, we find how clerical discourse draws a close connection between opposition and yielding; in this instance, between women's opposition and their yielding to men.

The Ovidian model of mastery explores this connection through a playful dialogue between men and women. Orchestrated by a master-narrator, this dialogic format dramatizes the yes/no prevarication. It renders the opposition in the banter between male/female speakers; indeed, it intensifies that opposition through frequent impasses. All this is intended to set the stage for women ceding to the will of their male interlocutors. In order to show how this pattern of feminine prevarication functions for Ovidian mastery, I shall concentrate here on two dialogues from the De amore , the first because it includes the maxim "What greater thing can a woman give?" and the second because it offers the most complex piece.

Andreas's dialogue between a middle-class man and woman (plebeius/plebeia ) opens with a flourish of off-putting remarks. The woman responds to the man's praise of her beauty by accusing him of lying: "You seem to be telling fibs, since although I do not have a beautiful figure you extol me as beautiful beyond all other women and although I lack the ornament of wisdom you praise my good sense" (Tui videntur falsitatem continere sermones, quia, quum mihi non sit pulchritudinis forma decora,


me quasi super omnes formosam mulieres extollis, et quum sim ornatu sapientiae destituta, me tanquam prudentem tua verba commendant; Parry, 37; Pagès, 11). Her challenge deflates his exaggerated claims in a manner that confirms women's putative modesty. The man is quick to come back, and chips away progressively at the woman's opposition. His rejoinders attack it by arguing a point both ways in the same breath. This strategy appears first in his assertion that she looks to be a noblewoman (Parry, 38). When she rebuffs his claim, the middle-class man is shown to take her response as both correct and mistaken: "Good character and good manners alone have given to you a more worthy kind of nobility . . . but since an excellent character makes noble not only women but men also, you are perhaps wrong in refusing me your love, since my manners, too, may illumine me with the virtue of nobility" (Parry, 38; Pagès, 12). Agreeing and disagreeing simultaneously with the woman enables the man to undermine her spurning remarks. Through such equivocal argumentation, the man makes it nearly impossible for her to reject his remarks out of hand because it is no longer evident what precisely is being rejected, or indeed to what end. The woman is meant to be baffled, with the result that she concedes the point and switches the subject abruptly: "You may deserve praise for your great excellence, but I am rather young, and I shudder at the thought of receiving solaces from old men" (Parry, 39; Pagès, 13). We find here a first-rate example of a dialectical method of reasoning whereby abandoning one's habitual stand and projecting other opinions provoke the same reaction in the interlocutor. As the master-narrator sets up the dialogue, the man's ruse of shifting his own adversarial stand aims to confuse the woman.

This strategy paves the way for the man's rhetorical gesture of his own yielding:

Nonne maiori doctor est dignus honore vel laude, qui omnino discipulum imperitum sua facit doctrina prudentem, quam qui reddit doctum sua sapientia doctiorem? Noves ergo miles amoris ac in amore rudis te mihi peto magistram et tua doctrina plenius erudiri.
(Pagès, 15)

Doesn't a teacher who by his instruction makes a prudent man [disciple] out of one who has never had any instruction deserve more honor and praise than one who teaches more wisdom to a man who is already wise? That is why I, a new recruit in Love's service and awkward in love, ask you to be my teacher [master] and to train me more fully by your instruction.
(Parry, 41)


In this description of the man's yielding, we find the key terms of mastery, terms that the French translator of the De amore , Drouart la Vache, expounds upon:

.I. clers plus a loer feroit,
Qui .i. disciple enseigneroit,
en .i. art lui sage rendant,
que cil, qui .i. bien entendant
rendroit plus saige par estude.
(lines 1073–77)

A clerk would be more praiseworthy who would instruct one disciple, making him knowledgeable in one art, than a clerk who would make one already trained even wiser through further study.

Both Capellanus and Drouart cast the male/female relation as one between master and disciple. In this instance, the master role is allotted to a woman. After all the rhetorical maneuvering, the man rests his case by appearing to give her the intellectual upper hand: he names the woman magistram . Yet let us be careful in gauging this strategic naming. What is striking is the way the man acts out what he intends the woman to do.[51] To simulate assenting to the master is to contrive the woman doing the same thing. In the framework of the master/disciple debate, the master-narrator can use the man's apparent embracing of a subservient position to set up the woman's parallel action. Logically and rhetorically he works to move her into yielding: the more frequently she says "No," the more frequently it is interpreted in the opposite way. The more she is represented as an authority figure, the more she is identified as one to be bested. Here the man's obeisance correlates with the ultimate aim of the woman yielding.

This paradox is best understood in terms of the conventional give-andtake of power. In such a circumstance, it is those with authority who are able to give it up. Self-abnegation makes sense only when the person believes he is entitled. As Barbara Johnson puts it trenchantly: "It would seem that one has to be positioned in the place of power in order for one's self-resistance to be valued."[52] In the case of Ovidian narrative, the masternarrator capitalizes on just such a power: he redistributes the roles so as to overdetermine the woman's ceding to the man. Representing the man as temporarily submissive is meant to signify his ultimate dominance. The master-narrator's contention is this: to defer from a position of power can offer, paradoxically, a means of exerting it.

This projection of a magistra invites an oppositional reading on the part of the woman. Naming her "master" creates an opportunity for her resistance. In the ludic structure of Ovidian mastery, that projected name al-


lows her to play the game differently. Instead of a simple role reversal, it implies reworking the very conception of mastery. As she states: "You say that you wish to submit to my instruction in this matter, but I absolutely refuse the task" (Sed dicis in hoc mea te velle disciplina doceri; hunc autem penitus recuso laborem"; Parry, 41; Pagès, 15). The woman can assume the magistra role without taking on its conventional task of disciplining disciples. If clerical representation legislates the incompatibility of women and mastery, then from her oppositional perspective, her play with mastery can signal something else—indeed, as she calls it, a type of wisdom (sapientia ). Her intellectual authority can break out of the disputational dynamic of submission and domination.

Such is the potential of the magistra . Yet if we read the Ovidian model in context, the rhetorical projection of the magistra is used finally to elicit the woman's submission. This becomes all the more clear when we notice that it occurs in the discussion of the gradus amoris —the well-known ladder of love. Of the four steps, the lover dwells upon the last, defined as a "yielding of the whole person" (in totius personae concessione; Pagès, 16). Here is where the man poses the question "What greater thing can a woman give than to yield herself to the mastery of someone else?" The narrator moves from a scene persuading a woman to yield to a man's greater knowledge to one where she is encouraged to yield physically. The connection is telling: an act of intellectual mastery is associated with a physical act. By anticipating this end, sexual intercourse, the master-narrator argues that "woman can always be caught." Indeed, he attempts to prove his authoritative knowledge about them by projecting this image of their bodily submission. As it is, the woman's yielding is never fully represented; it is left in suspense. In her words: "If great things cannot be won without great labor, since what you are seeking is one of the greatest you will have to be exhausted by a great deal of labor before you get what you want" (Si absque gravi labore magna parari non possunt, quum id, quod postulas, sit de maioribus unum, multis te oportet laboribus fatigari, ut ad quaesita munera valeas pervenire"; Parry, 44; Pagès, 17). The dialogue thus reveals a decided gap between the cajoling words of the male lover and their physical effects. Correspondingly, in the framework of the master/disciple debate it shows up the discrepancy between the master's teaching and its being put into action by the disciple.

If we take this "plebeian" dialogue as a single unit of argumentation, then, all the exchanges show her opposition to the advances of the male lover. In the Ovidian scheme, a woman's prevarication is symptomatic of


her fitful desire to defer to men's greater authority. And as such, it furnishes the master and disciple a reason to dictate to her. However, the fact that the woman is never seen to yield, that the lessons on women are never realized, offers a limit case for the Ovidian model of mastery.

In the second, aristocratic dialogue we shall examine, this game of feminine prevarication is extended as the banter between a man and woman is transposed allegorically. Both participants deploy a figurative language that culminates in the well-known story of the palace of love. Yet what happens exactly when the clerical argument for women's yielding is coded in the tropes of gates and castles of love (Parry, 69–70)?

From the outset, the woman shows the characteristic signs of prevarication. On the one hand, she admits to having granted the man favors: this is the "Yes!" element (Parry, 70). On the other, she asserts that he can never obtain what he is after: "For I am firmly resolved with all my heart never to subject myself to the servitude of Venus or endure the torments of lovers" (firmum etenim est et totius meae mentis propositum Veneris me nunquam supponere servituti nec amantium me poenis subiicere; Parry, 70; Pagès, 43). All these references to servitude and enduring pains (poenas ) reveal the familiar dynamic of the woman fending off the man's rhetorical moves. If we accept Betsy Bowden's thesis of the double entendre of poenas (pains/penises), that dynamic is sexualized in a familiar way.[53] Here the woman prevaricates according to the Ovidian master's plan. Yet the woman's language also demonstrates her capacity to use allegory defensively. She turns the covert terms back against their author. Not only is she represented as understanding their veiled meaning, but she succeeds momentarily in deflecting them as well. This pattern builds when the woman introduces her own figure of French freedom:

Malo igitur aere modico Franciae contenta adesse et liberum eundi, quo voluero, possidere arbitrium quam Ungarico quidem onusta argento alienae subiici potestati, quia tale multum habere est nihilum habere.
(Pagès, 44)

I would rather, therefore, stay in France and be content with a few coppers and have freedom to go where I would, than to be subject to a foreign power, even though I were loaded down with Hungarian silver, because to have so much is to have nothing.
(Parry, 71–72)

Her trope contrasts freedom at home with submission to a foreign power. As we have seen in the previous dialogue, this "foreignness" is peculiarly charged. While it refers to the person and will of another, it


casts that alterity, by way of the French/Hungarian comparison, adversarially. In the woman's configuration, she risks losing her free will and being dominated by an enemy with very little to show for it. This figure recalls the maxim with which I began. They both explore the question of yielding to another/foreign will (disponere suam personam alieno arbitrio). Furthermore, they both signal the Ovidian master's argument on the bending of women's will. But there the similarities end. In this case, the noblewoman speaks figuratively in self-defense. Whereas the clerical speaker of the maxim seems in the end to valorize yielding, the woman puts the highest premium on defending her freedom. She uses the trope to refuse to yield.

Her figurative efforts are nonetheless circumscribed. As Bowden aptly characterizes it, the nobleman's rhetoric gives the woman a false choice: have sex, or have sex (74). "If you choose to walk that path [of freedom], unbearable torments will follow you" (Si tali curaveritis via ambulare, intolerabilis vos poena sequetur; Parry, 72; Pagès, 45). In the act of acknowledging her freedom, the narrator threatens her with the double entendre of pain/penis. And it is this pun that sets the scene for the most ambitious allegory of the dialogue; the palace of love. Exploiting a classical tradition of sexualized allegory, the man represents a castle inhabited by "certain communities of ladies" (Parry, 73). It is a structure with many portals, some guarded by recalcitrant women, others by more welcoming types. The lover's goal involves finding a way in.

Constructing such an elaborate allegorical structure is a masterful ploy. As such, it distinguishes the lover as an authority on a near par with the clerk. This association is confirmed by the fact that the man mimics those teachings of a master found elsewhere in the De amore : "There are also other lesser precepts of love which it would not profit you to hear, since you can find them in the book written to Walter" (Sunt et alia amoris praecepta minora, quorum tibi non expediret auditus, quae etiam in libro ad Gualterium scripto reperies; Parry, 82; Pagès, 54). The man's allegory is a mise en abyme of the master-narrator's, indeed, of Capellanus's own. It is thereby legitimated. In this sense too, it is shown to surpass the woman's skills. As she confesses: "These things are too obscure for me, and your words are too allegorical; you will have to explain what you mean" (Hi mihi sunt nimis sermones obscuri nimisque verba reposita, nisi ipsa tua faciat interpretatio manifesta; Parry, 73; Pagès, 45). Like a subordinate, she is represented acquiescing in the end to the man's superior knowledge. While the exercise of mastering the woman intellectually works through a form of projection in the first


dialogue, here it is established directly. The male speaker becomes a master vis-à-vis a female student by means of allegory.

As we saw in the first dialogue, this stance of intellectual mastery has a carnal dimension. And the woman brings it out: "But whether what you say is true or false, the story of these terrible punishments frightens me so that I do not wish to be a stranger to Love's service" (Sive igitur vera sint sive falsa, quae proponis, terribilium me deterret poenarum relatio, et ideo ab amoris nolo militia exsistere aliena, sed eius affecto consortio copulari; Parry, 83; Pagès, 55). The familiar language of pains/penises (poenas ) is extended to include copulare . The objective of women yielding is described in obvious sexual terms. Allegorizing the game of feminine prevarication heightens the clerical move to represent women submitting in intercourse. Once again, we find a master-narrator who directs the male/female banter toward a sexual end, who privileges that end as a subject for clerical debate. As the Roman de la rose demonstrates all too well, the act of expounding allegorically about sex is a master's prerogative.

It is this very aspect of Ovidian mastery that may well have provoked the ecclesiastical condemnation of the De amore in 1277. Not only were methods of medieval schooling put to the service of disputing "women," but such disputations lent themselves to questions of sexuality. The value of intellectual authority was compromised by such ironic discussions of sexual relations with women. What's more, this compromise affected the domain of teaching. By using Ovidian mastery as a school subject, it gives it a certain credibility. As the article of condemnation puts it," "They presume to treat and dispute in the schools such ridiculous falsehoods."[54] This issue of falsehood clearly implicates master and disciple. Given the pedagogical exchange that frames the De amore , the danger lay in representing (falsely) the subject of mastering women as a reputable clerical concern.

In order to see how this Ovidian mastery is figured increasingly as a school subject—one of the medieval vernacular's "three Rs"—we need to turn to another text. Jacques d'Amiens's reworking of the Ars amatoria presents a series of dialogues.[55] But his Art d'amors uses them as set pieces of clerical analysis. "About entreating [women], I have well demonstrated my meaning and sense; I will now teach you what I think and know about [their] responses. They will respond to you in many different ways" (Or t'ai bien de proier moustre et mon sens et ma volenté, des responses t'enseignerai cou que i'en pens et que i'en sai. Diversement te respondront; lines 746–49). Separating out the men's requestes from the women's responses , it sets up an exegetical challenge. The masterly narrator is to test the disciple's knowledge about how to take charge of women verbally. In his commentary, the various women's responses become occasions for


testing their hermeneutical skills. Five different requestes , followed by five hypothetical ripostes, provide a spectrum of explications de texte .

In keeping with the Ovidian model, each woman's response is by definition negative. In the case of the first woman, who rejects the lover because he defies her husband, the narrator's commentary revolves around the familiar figure of the master:

Ha! douce dame debonnaire,
aprendes, c'uns autres set faire;
se un autre assayet avies,
vostre baron mains priseries;
par une escole et par un mestre
ne puet nus hom bien sages estre;
(lines 770–75)

Ah sweet, gentle lady, learn what another knows well how to do. Had you tried another, you would appreciate your own lord more; no one can be truly wise through just one master, at just one school.

The erotic relation is linked to the pedagogical. The master-narrator displays a woman ready to learn something new—a body of knowledge in another man's possession. He thus tries to manipulate her through her appetite for greater knowledge. Belittling her allegiance to a single master (her husband), he entreats her to embrace another. The inference is that her increasing knowledge involves her deference to an increasing number of masters. The process of learning is for her inextricably connected with a power dynamic, with being lorded over.

The second and third women's responses presented by the narrator dramatize opposition based on fear of treachery. For the third woman, this implies physical danger: "For you should well know the truth of the matter: for all that can befall me, I do not wish to lose my soul or to dishonor my body" (car bien sacies par verite: m'ame perdre et mon cors hounir ne voel, se miex ne m'en puet venir; lines 833–35). The woman's reference to sexual violence—"mon corps hounir"—prompts the narrator to intervene:

Quant tu ces responses oras,
en ton cuer ioie avoir devras,
car celles qui ensi respondent
lor corage molt bien espondent;
puis c'a toi se veut desraisnier,
il n'i a fors del embrachier
et de parler bien sagement
et si li respont doucement.
(lines 836–43)


When you hear these responses, you should have joy in your heart, because those women who respond in this way are revealing their innermost thoughts. Since she wishes to debate with you, there is nothing to do but to embrace her, talk to her prudently, and respond gently.

The fact that the woman expresses her opposition in sexual terms is taken as a sure sign of her desirousness. That she explicitly says "No!" to sex signals her real interest. This analysis of the woman's prevarication is intended to embolden the lover and give him joy (avoir en cuer ioie .) For any medieval student of love, as for any critic of love literature, such ioie carries decided sexual implications.

This Ovidian pattern of divining the woman's likely assent in her most adamant objections intensifies with the fourth and fifth responses. Here the women protest too much. This excessive "No!" licenses the lover to proceed. As the master-narrator evaluates it, if the lover persists in stating his case, he should prevail over her fiercest resistance: "For the good sense, the courtesy, the valor and gallantry that she will discover will make her fall in love whether she wants to or not: this is no exaggeration" (car li sens et la cortoisie, la grans valors, la druerie k'elle i trueve, le fait amer, u voelle u non, tout sans fauser; lines 964–67). "Whether she wants to or not": the clerkly narrator is hardly concerned with the woman's desire. It has little bearing on the outcome because the man's authority insures that he will have ultimate sway.

With the final response, the narrator explicates the most facile conquest:

. . . biaus sire ciers,
Je ne sai nient de tes mestiers;
por diu, sire, laissies me ester!
je n'en quier plus oir parler,
que ie ne sai, a coi ce monte. . . .
ne voellies, que soie hounie;
je ne sai mais voir, u ie sui,
ce poise moi, c'ains vos connui,
et nuit et iour, u que ie soie,
me sanle, que adies vous voie.
(lines 986–90, 995–99)

Dear sir, I know nothing of your needs; for god's sake, sir, let me be. I don't want at all to hear talk about what I don't know, what's the point? . . . You should not wish that I be humiliated. Since I have known you, I don't even know where I am—that bothers me! And night and day, it seems to me that I see you wherever I am.


This time the woman's negativity is represented as self-negation, and her lack of confidence gives the lover grounds for taking her in hand. By emphasizing the woman's ignorance, the masterly narrator reinforces the idea that it is in her best interests to be seduced (lines 996–97). Clerical analysis recommends that the male lover save her from herself.

Celle quite respont ensi,
elle est vencue, ie te di,
il n'i a fors de l'embracier,
de li acoler et baissier,
elle est entree el decevoir:
avoir en pues tout ton valoir [voloir].
(lines 1000–1005)

I tell you, the woman who responds in this manner is won over. You have only to embrace her, hug and kiss her, she has entered into the deception; you can have everything you want.

In this scheme of things, a woman's limited knowledge serves the master's purposes twice over It justifies the clerkly narrator's interest in knowing women. Since women are deemed to possess minimal self-knowledge, the subject falls appropriately into the clerkly domain. Furthermore, the task of mastering such a subject promises to be delightful for the disciple. The master's commentary makes clear that working through the range of women's responses yields a certain pleasure—one that is also colored sexually (ton valoir/voloir, line 1005).

This link between the pleasure in knowing women and the vicarious sexual pleasure is made explicit in Jacques d'Amiens's Art d'amors . The master reflects at length on women's yielding in sex. In thematic terms, this reflection builds on the standard Ovidian recommendation that forced sex is always in order with women (Ars amatoria , I, lines 673–76). Yet what is particularly telling is the placement of the master-narrator's commentary. That it follows directly after the women's responses shows yet again the clerical insistence on debating women's sexual yielding:

La, u elle se destendra
et fera samblant de courcier,
si le dois tu voir esforcier;
la, u elle s'estordera,
l'enforcement molt amera;
honteuses sunt del otroier,
por cou les doit on efforcier,
seul a seul pub c'o toi s'enbat,


outree veut soit sans debat,
et telle i a qui de son gre
t'otroiera sa volente,
que faire vaura cortoisie
ne force faire n'aime mie,
mais durement se desfendroit,
c'outre son gre l'en forceroit:
se de tel afaire le vois,
sa volente atendre dois
et li pries molt doucement,
que souffrir voelle ton talent.
(lines 1203–21)

There where she defends herself and pretends to be angry, you should look to take her by force. There where she tries to escape, she really loves force. Women are too shy to grant it themselves: that's why one must force them. If she struggles with you, one on one, she really wants to be conquered without any further discussion. And there is the woman who willingly gives in to you in her own way and, with all respect to courtliness, does not like to be forced and defends herself fiercely, if one tries to force her beyond her desires. If you see such a situation, you should wait for her to yield; beg her very gently so that she is willing to submit to your desire.

The master-narrator considers every possible female reaction to sex, and no matter what the woman's attitude, his analysis attempts to justify force.[56] If she is obstreperous or insecure, pugnacious or obliging, the narrator has reasons to recommend that the man should take control. Such an analysis pushes the postulate of feminine prevarication to the limit. The woman's most strenuous self-defense is interpreted as an invitation for the man's force and as her incapacity to speak her own desires. Both female "No!" and female "Yes!" are read to mean much the same thing: the range of difference so meticulously recorded and commented upon in the responses is streamlined—reduced to a uniform representation of woman's yielding sexually to the man.[57]

In the debate between a masterly narrator and his student, the game of male/female dialogue is thus used to explore the pattern of feminine prevarication. The analysis of these requestes/responses charts the changing fortunes of women's negativity. There is enormous latitude for play here: the Ovidian predilection for teasing out that negativity comes through in the numerous variations in representing women's reactions. Yet the presiding master aims, finally, to telescope this rich variation in an image of women's yielding. Whether constructed literally or allegorically, this image


becomes central. In fact, it comes increasingly to function as an incitement. The masterly transaction in knowledge about women recommends further action. As the narrator in Drouart la Vache's translation of the De amore describes it:

Quant li amans sera venus
A cogitation pleniere
Des secres, en tele maniere
Puisqu'il pensera as secrez,
Si il estoit maistres de decrez
Ne se savra il maintenir
Aincois le convendra venir
Tantost au fait, comment qu'il aille.
(lines 246–53)

When the lover will have thoroughly contemplated her secrets, thinking about those secrets much as would a master of decrees, he will not know what to do next. Thus it will behoove him to act as quickly as possible, however best he can.

The driving logic behind such didactic texts is to convert a newly gained intellectual power into a physical act. To what extent such an incitement was realized is, of course, impossible to gauge. We find ourselves here in the tricky realm of discourse's impact on action. Yet if we cannot establish that the Ovidian model of mastery led to physical violence against women, we can say that the climactic call to action substantiates that violence symbolically.[58] Ovidian knowledge is so powerful that it can inflict a form of verbal damage. Furthermore, this recommendation to exploit "the secrets" of women affects not only women but all those who come under the sway of this discourse. It indoctrinates those in the role of disciple into mastering a misogynist knowledge of women. For these reasons, it constitutes one of the principle sites of symbolic domination in Ovidian writing.

This type of symbolic domination of women gains another significant dimension in the vernacular with the influx of so-called Aristotelian learning.[59] Those works, debated vigorously at the University of Paris, also impinged upon late-thirteenth-century and fourteenth-century French narrative. They made a particular mark on a little-known cluster of texts: La Poissance d'amours, Li Consaus d'amours and Li Houneurs et li vertus des dames .[60] All three claim to dispute the learning of Aristotle.[61] All three also deploy a variety of material from Galen, Albert the Great, and Arabic commentary under his name. With this material they bring biological and political terms to the Ovidian argument for woman's yielding. These


French texts argue the topic of woman by interrogating her physical construction, what the Houneurs narrator calls "the natural strength of her power" (le natural vertu de se poissance; Zimmermann, 382). They also explore the political dimensions of the question found in many clerical works: "What is this thing woman, and what is she worth?" (quels cose feme est et kelle vaut; Li Consaus , Vienna 2621, fol. 2 verso)[62]

In this respect, the Poissance, Consaus , and Houneurs develop an Aristotelian model of mastery of enormous intellectual pretension. Imitating the disputations of the Parisian faculties, they are at once pugnacious and pedantic. The master-narrators problematize the question of women dialectically, and in order to master it they complicate it still further. In contrast with Ovidian narrators, they aspire to a comprehensive kind of knowledge. The Consaus narrator boasts: "I have said and shown how it could happen that a man could know everything about love."[63] While the Aristotelian narrator begins at degree zero, his dialectical reasoning is meant to lead him in the end to produce a whole and complete body of knowledge. This sense of totality implies a system, a set of categories according to which love and women should ultimately be defined.

With the Poissance, Consaus and Houneurs , this systematic approach of Aristotelian mastery reinforces the symbolic domination of women.[64] These late-thirteenth-century and early-fourteenth-century texts provide a field in which we can study the increasing abstraction of women, from a speaker, to a type of text in Ovidian dialogue (the response ), to "this thing."

An Academic Matter

As vernacular texts assimilated scholastic learning, their analysis of woman began with her physical composition. In the Poissance d'amours , the master-narrator tells his disciple: "It is fitting that you learn first about the character and composition of woman; I will teach you about this in a way that is understandable to both clerics and lay people" (Il couvient que tu saces premierement connoistre le talent et le complexion de femme: si le vous aprenderai aukes, en maniere que li clerc et li lai me porront bien entendre; Speroni, 37).

This philosophical term complexion evokes the characteristic process of breaking down every object into an assembly of parts—the particles and quarks of scholastic thought. From person to complexion to body parts: the Poissance narrator reduces "woman" progressively to ever more manageable units—so manageable, in fact, that the master-narrator considers his analysis accessible to the laity.


Given the way these three narratives analyze a critical female object, we may expect their progressive breakdown to lead to some sort of biological essence. The very question "What is this thing?" seems to be heading toward a proposition "This is what woman is." On the contrary, treated dialectically the "woman" question gives rise to still more complex anatomical and biological issues. The Poissance version reads:

Au conmencier, pour miex ataindre le verité de me matere, je di que femme a .vij. lius ou enfant pueent recevoir noureture et vie, et sont li quatre liu proprement as enfans marles, et li autre troi liu proprement pour les femmes; dont il puet avenir et avient que uns enfes marles sera nouris ou propre liu de femme, et li femme ou propre liu de l'omme. De coi il avient que, quant femme a esté nourie ou ventre se mere en autre liu ke u sien propre, ele a d'aucune cose samblance d'omme; et se li hom a esté nouris ou ventre se mere en liu de femme, il sera en aucune cose femenins. Et bien saciés que femme ki n'est droite femmenine, c'est pour chou que ele n'a mie esté nourie ou ventre se mere en sen propre liu; et del homme qui est femenins ensement.
(Speroni, 37–38)

To begin with so as to better reach the truth of my subject matter, let me say that a woman has seven places where children may receive sustenance and life, and four of them are properly for males and the other three properly for females. And it can happen that a male child nurses at a place proper for the female, and a female at one proper for the male. And so it happens when a woman was nursed at her mother's breast at a place other than is proper for herself, she has a certain male semblance. And if a man was nursed at his mother's breast at the female place, he will be feminine. And you should know that a woman who is not truly feminine is so because she was not nursed at the proper place at her mother's breast, and conversely, for an effeminate man as well.

In this first attempt to reckon with woman's composition, the masternarrator considers those persons who contain within themselves both "feminine" and "masculine" elements. By invoking the popular pseudoGalenic theory of the seven-celled uterus, he presents a picture of various hybrid creatures whose sex is highly ambiguous.[65] Far from locating a distinct female property, he grapples with outstanding variability, whereby the beings of women and men are shown to belie various combinations of femininity and masculinity.[66] Apparent here is a central crux for the biological inquiry: no matter what effort is made to pin down the female, to identify her by isolating and dissecting her intrinsic


parts, this thing splinters into myriad other elements. As Sylviane Agacinski has argued in reference to Aristotle's On the Generation of Animals , this female object jeopardizes the strict logic of sexual difference that it has been used to define.[67] In this medieval "Aristotelian" text, by focusing on the origin of these hybrid creatures the Poissance master argues that the woman, as reproductive machine, bodies forth a womanly man and a manly woman. In other words, while the man may bear the effects of such a sexual mix, it is the woman who is the first cause. Described in biological terms, it is the woman's body that contains the necessary ingredients resulting in bisexual individuals. Even if the hybrids are represented as types of mistaken identity, the man having nursed at the female "place" on the mother's body and the woman at the male "place," the woman also possesses the capacity of determining sexual form. In this scheme of things, she is the exemplar of an all-inclusive difference. By this I mean she is an object that can be broken down into an indefinite number of paired oppositions and at the same time embrace them all.

While the Poissance explores this all-inclusive difference biologically, in the Consaus it becomes a metaphysical problem as well. Indeed, the one implies the other. Evaluating woman as a primal shaper of sexual being is thus to study her as a primal being per se:

Car feme proprement est li matere dou monde qui les houneurs fait croistre et montepliier. Car les hautes proeches darmes et de cevaleries sont pour elles et par elles faites et alevees et maintenues en viertu. Feme est a un mot tout et feme vaut tout.
(Vienna 2621, fol. 3)

For woman is really the matter of the earth that makes all honors grow and multiply. For the greatest feats of chivalric and military prowess are accomplished for them and are elevated and maintained forcefully through them. Woman, in a word, is everything and is infinitely worthy.

With the expression "li matere dou monde," the master-narrator takes up the standard Platonic/Aristotelian formulation identifying the substratum of the world with the feminine, indeed, with the most elemental form—her menstrual flux.[68] Yet he goes on to align women's reproductive power with their social creativeness, their material value with their value as catalysts of men's prowess. As this masterly narrator designs it, women's generative capacity is comparable to their ability to generate action in others. Through this line of reasoning, he advances the proposition that women's worth is all-inclusive. Physically synthetic, linguistically complete, and


metaphysically coherent, the female thing appears here as the sum of all differences. This simple tautological phrase—"feme est a un mot tout"—testifies strikingly to the habit of linking biological and metaphysical all-inclusiveness in women. The Consaus narrator extends the biological notion of women containing all manner of sexual difference to an ontological one of utter plenitude. In this, his argument resonates with the thirteenth-century Aristotelian commentaries that understand metaphysics as a type of natural philosophy.[69]

The Houneurs narrator makes much the same claims when he asserts:

Je proeuue le vertu de femme ensi, que ie di que, se toutes les douceurs de toutes les riens du monde estoient d'une partie, et femme seule fust de l'autre part, ne porroit cuers ne cors d'oume tant de douceur sentir ne trouuer en riens qui soit, com il porroit en femme; car nule douceurs n'est apartenans ale douceur de femme.
(Zimmermann, 382)

I prove the specific female strengths of women in this manner: I say that if the gifts of everything in the world were placed on one side, and woman alone on the other side, neither man's heart nor body could find a better gentleness to experience than he can in woman, for no gentleness approaches that of woman.

By separating out woman and her qualities, this master asserts the completeness of the female part. For him, it stands apart in all senses. Whether that part is defined socially, physically, or ontologically, these three works all posit it as something greater, more comprehensive than any one definition of woman might first indicate. Such a proposition may seem at odds with the Aristotelian definition of woman as incomplete so dear to medieval commentators.[70] But I argue along Agacinski's lines that female lack also involves, in the Aristotelian dialectical structure, a form of surplus (120–21). If woman is defined dialectically as the lesser half, she is also the material foundation that sustains all those differences. Her incompleteness is symmetrically balanced by her capacity to exceed every formal limit. In this paradoxical sense these Aristotelian narrators postulate a female totality.

Such a complexion of woman complicates the initial question of these three narratives considerably. Rather than any one homogeneous concept, their masterful interrogation brings to the fore a multiple, superabundant female entity. And such an entity tests the intellectual authority of the Aristotelian master in these narratives. Or one might say it takes that authority to the limit. If for argument's sake the master is


willing to entertain this superabundant female biology, one that escapes his grasp with each new category introduced, his intellectual command is challenged. It is not clear whether he can exert control over his knowledge of women by establishing a stable definition or whether instead he has let his object get out of hand. Under such circumstances, the narrator reframes the problematic female object politically. Having converted women into things to analyze and having found them to defy easy categorization, these Aristotelian narrators redefine the problem as the political issue of sovereignty: how to rule women.[71] As a way to test their working definition of an all-inclusive woman, they work through principles in Aristotle's Politics that lead to the conclusion that in household and public government, the male is by nature better fitted to command than the female (I, v., 1–2).[72]

The Poissance articulates this analysis most cogently:

Je di ensi au conmencement: que li principes deseure toutes les coses du monde c'est hom, qui tout gouverne, et qui tout ajue a estre maintenu et demené juskes au definement du cors de toute cose. . . . Saciés que je di que hom a sour femme le pooir principaument, mais il ne l'a pas parfaitement, saciés le vraiement.
(Speroni, 31)

And so I say at the beginning that the principle reigning over all things in the world is man who governs everything and does so so that everything will be maintained until the physical end of all things. . . . You should know that I say man has the principal power over women, but he does not have it completely. You should also know this well.

The master-narrator represents man's governance of women as imperfect in the Old French sense of parfaire (to accomplish), incomplete.[73] No matter how well he states the principle of sovereignty, in the same breath he must also admit the conditions women place upon it. The sheer force of his masterful assertion (saciés que je di) cannot satisfy them: there is a cautionary hint of women's separate political position.

This recognition of the limits of men's political authority over women is but another version of the problematical biological definition. In both cases, the narrator is laboring at the conundrum of women not fitting into, or rather surpassing, his set categories. Just as the female entity did not conform exactly to the conventional lineaments of sexual identity, so too she breaks through the grid of men's governance.

But why exactly does a woman not fit politically? The Poissance master pushes the problem further, hypothesizing the female faculties:


Et pour chou k'ele lust a homme droite compaigne, plaine de douceur, mist Diex en femme, par gentil courtoisie, parole et vertu de counoistre et d'entendre raison. Et pour chou ke femme connoist et entent raison, ele se set et doit savoir garder d'omme. Par coi on voit souvent avenir ke, quant hom prie une femme k'ele soit acline a se volenté, li memoire et li raisons de cheli ne s'i acordera mie.
(Speroni, 32)

And so that she could be a fitting companion to man, full of gentleness, God placed in woman, in all kind courtesy, speech and the power to know and to understand reason. And since she has knowledge and understands rationally, she knows how to guard herself from man. Thus it is that often it happens that when a man bids a woman to yield to his will, her memory and reason do not agree.

The key factor is woman's rational capacity. Although she possesses it by dint of being man's partner, her rationality can serve to separate her from him. Reasoning is a mode of woman's self-assertion. In the master's hypothetical scenario, it is precisely her rational faculties and memory that explain why a woman does not consistently bend to the will of her men as she is ordained to do. That a woman thinks and remembers accounts for the breaks and so-called discord that underlie the imperfections of man's polity. In these breaks, of course, lies an enormous potential for a woman's distinct social and political capabilities.

In the master's formula describing woman's faculties of "speech and the power to know," the linchpin turns out to be linguistic. By speaking she exercises her knowledge and, in turn, by speaking she is to uphold the sociopolitical code of courtoisie . Without language, no matter how vigorous a person's rationality it cannot be brought to bear on a pattern of social conduct. As the Aristotelian master-narrators underscore time and time again, the linguistic element provides the indispensable medium through which modes of behavior are formulated and advanced:

Car parolle commence le droit d'amors, parolle le conduist et maintient, parolle fait amors durant et ferme et remuant. Parolle en fait venir le ioie et le soulas. Parolle droitement est li droite signourie qui toute amor gouverne et maintient en droite disne noblecche.
(Li Consaus ; Vienna 2621, fol. 13 verso)

For the word is the fitting beginning of love, it cultivates and sustains love; the word makes it strong and lasting and ardent. The word brings joy and solace. The word is the just rule which governs all love and maintains properly its dignified nobility.


Parole sert et confite le plus principal de l'oume, c'est le raison et le sapience; car parlers par nature est li principes desseure toutes coses faire auoir par droit goust d'entendement.
(Li Houneurs ; Zimmermann, 387)

Language serves and confirms the principal [faculties] of man; that is, reason and wisdom. Because language is by nature the principle above all else by which one gets a taste for reasoning.

In light of the masters' analytic precedents, the problem then becomes: can woman's speech throw the reigning discourse of courtliness into disarray? Just as woman's generative capacity disrupts the master's biological paradigm, just as her action alestabilizes his political structure, so too her language risks exploding the entire apparatus he is assembling. As a divinely accorded principle, it cannot easily be discounted.

The prospect of woman's verbal power turns out to be a tantalizing subject that generates enormous concern.[74] It represents the limit case of the Aristotelian order of intellectual mastery. Insofar as the language constitutes rationality and knowledge, insofar as it realizes "the just rule," women's parole is itself a sovereign form. As such, it calls into question the assertion of men's sovereignty. A potential instrument of "that rule," it contests the fact that sovereignty has been conceptualized exclusively as men's affair. In this manner, women's language also challenges the masters' authority. Rationally grounded, her parole can then rival the masters' and disciples' language deployed to justify men's sovereignty over women. There is an implicit conflict between the unaccountable verbal power of women and the masters' standard.

That is why these master-narrators put great store in training their disciples how to discipline women's speech:

Saciés, biaus dous fieus, il i a deffense, si le vous aprenderai. Il est ensi que, par raison et par droiture, li poissance et li vertus et li sapience d'oume puet bien toutes les raisons que femme puet dire fraindre et apetier, tout par nature. Contre ces soutiues paroles que femme ara dit, hom doit dire ensi, et reprendre le sentense de tout ce que ele ara dit.
(La Poissance ; Speroni, 55)

You should know, my fine dear son, that there are defenses—I will teach them to you. It is thus right and fitting that the power, strength, and wisdom of man can discipline and control all the arguments that woman can put forward, all through nature. Against the subtle words that woman will speak, man must first speak in this fashion, taking up the gist of all that she will have said.


Having conceded a measure of linguistic independence in women, the master must at all costs reimpose man's authority over it. Appealing once again to reason as man's prerogative (par raison et par droiture), he represents his "natural" superiority reasserting itself. This representation, we should note, combines power (poissance) with knowledge or wisdom (sapience). In other words, where women are concerned, wisdom will be used as a mode of power. It substantiates a formidable authority that can exert the type of symbolic domination we have been investigating. A masterful discourse that depicts women's language as requiring discipline is itself domineering.

As if to stress the urgency of regaining control over women's language, the Aristotelian master also directs this imperative toward women themselves. In an exceptional address to them, he states:

Parole sert et donne sustance et entendement a tout le boin de l'oume, c'est sapience, eta toutes raisonnables meurs; car parole est conmencemens et gouvernemens de toutes coses mener a cief. Et si voel bien que dames sacent certainement que riens ne plaist tant a ami n'a nul houme conme biaus parlers et sagement.
(La Poissance ; Speroni, 71)

The word is enabling and gives substance and meaning to all men's efforts. It is wisdom and is fitting behavior. Because language is the origin and structure leading all things to their conclusion. And I really want ladies to know for certain that nothing is more pleasing to their male friends or to men in general than beautiful, wise talk.

Et bien voel ke dames sacent qu'il n'est nus hom tant soit de diuerse vie ne de mauvaise, qui naime, qui ne crieme et qui ne honneure douce personne de femme droite feminine, de bele conuersation.
(Li Houneurs ; Zimmermann, 385)

And I deeply wish that ladies know that there is no man, whatever his social rank, who does not love the woman, who does not honor and respect the gentle, properly feminine woman of exquisite conversation.

The key to this disciplining strategy involves the notion of women's beautiful talk (biaus parler/bele conversation ). And this beauty is amplified and intensified to a superlative degree. The woman's voice epitomizes "the most gentle," "the most powerful."[75] This beauty is perfected by the master and signals his manipulative rhetoric working to control woman's language. Lavish praise functions as a way to legislate a woman's speech and conduct. In fact, in the extreme it is used to determine


her social identity; in this case, what it means to be properly feminine (personne de femme droite feminine). The fact that the masters dwell so much on woman's exquisite talk reveals their attempt to commit her to the sociolinguistic code of courtliness under their jurisdiction. Praising her language means trying to straitjacket it in a rhetoric that denies her parole 's putative sovereignty. The masters' impetus to praise should give us a sense of just how crucial the disciplining of women's language is. For not only does the men's "courtly" sovereignty over women ride upon it, but the masters' authority does so as well. Persuading women to conform to courtly language that captures them "beautifully" comprises another cardinal instance of the narrators exerting intellectual mastery over them.

Lest there be any ambiguity about the masterly design of vaunting woman's "beautiful language," let us look at the Houneurs narrator's parting shot. In a string of tautological compliments of women, he contends: "And everyone should know that no one can speak badly of women who does not say it about himself" (si sace cascuns que nus ne puet dire mal de femme quil ne le die de lui meismes; Zimmermann, 387). The defamation of women rebounds back on the male speaker. Indeed, it is defined as a critique of the male self. This narrator shows little recognition of the difference between the sexes. What exactly distinguishes women from men is largely blurred. As a consequence, the slandering of women cannot be interpreted as the hatred of alterity but only as a form of self-loathing—of self-destructiveness in a self that is inflected in masculine terms.

Femme/lui meismes : this equation of presumed equivalence bespeaks the tendency to convert intellectual mastery into a form of domination. The danger for the master-narrators of these texts is that their debates can lead to subjugating the other so thoroughly as to imperil its independent self-consciousness. Total control implies that the other may cease to exist, with the result that what is being mastered is little more than an inert, unresponsive object. With formulations such as these, the Houneurs makes apparent how easily Aristotelian intellectual mastery can be headed toward this dead end of domination. In the very lauding of woman's language, among other traits, lies the masters' desire for her total objectification. For all the discriminations introduced by their process of dialectical reasoning, the overriding aim has been to maneuver women critically into this position.

Once the masterful discourse on women betrays this domineering tendency, the question of sex is not far behind. Each of these three Aris-


totelian narratives concludes with references to taking women sexually at will. This recommendation is cast in the euphemistic language of sourplus . At the Houneurs master's prompting, the disciple aspires to "taste what the surplus of the [woman's] body contains" (gouster chou que li sourplus dou cors comprent; Zimmermann, 386). The Consaus recommends that he "do with the surplus what you think is reasonable" (del sourplus faites selonc le raison que vous i quidies; Vienna 2621, fol. 9 verso). And in the most suggestive rendition, the Poissance narrator contends:

Car saciés que femme est si noble et si gentius que trop aroit grant honte de dire a son ami: "Faites de mi vo volenté"; et pour l'abomination que ses cuers aroit de ce dire, doit hom se compaignie conquerre aussi con par force.
(Speroni, 68)

For you should know that woman is so noble and gentle that she is too ashamed to say to her lover: do with me what you will. And since she cannot bring herself to utter this abomination, the man should thus conquer his companion by force.

A female surfeit, a surplus that had always exceeded the bounds of Aristotelian categories, is in these configurations finally mastered. In recommending that women be overpowered sexually, the Aristotelian masters use the very term that had up to this point typified their intellectual analyses of women. Rather than name coitus outright, they render it abstractly through an expression that signals their formidable intellectual authority. The double entendre of sourplus suggests how mastering the knowledge of women can itself become a form of domination—represented in physical terms and realized symbolically.

In the shape of these three works, the Aristotelian order of mastery comes into focus. Just like their doubles at the University, these master-narrators dispute a variety of properties of a female critical object, the most challenging being the linguistic. Whereas the Ovidian master gives voice to women, ventriloquizing them playfully in responses , the Aristotelian figures consider only the idea of their parole . This proves the crux that obliges them to muster all their analytic powers. As a medium of knowledge, woman's parole exemplifies the greatest threat to their own intellectual enterprise. It is no surprise, then, that the debate over woman's language hints at the drift from an intellectual control of women toward a physical mastery of them.

In the Aristotelian order of mastery there is virtually no place for a female public. Unlike the Ovidian model that grants a role to women in its


dialogue and includes a doctrine for them, it admits women unwillingly. With an occasional aside in their direction, it is directed more and more toward the disciple. The result of this evacuation of women from the scene of disputation is a far more forbidding complex of mastery. In high-medieval vernacular literary culture, the Ovidian master was increasingly flanked by a figure of daunting intellectual acumen and professional pretension. What once was an artful game became an exercise in high-tech ratiocination. The Aristotelian model set a rigorous standard for representing the mastery of the idea of woman as a significant form of knowledge. In this, it strengthened the symbolic domination of women that the Ovidian model introduced in much French writing of the later Middle Ages.

Mastery Confounded

Did this Ovidian and Aristotelian pattern of symbolic domination prevail? For all the savvy and force of masterful disputation, the sense remains that these texts cannot insure this pattern absolutely. We have only to recall the notions of woman's biological surfeit, political unruliness, and linguistic independence to discern the rifts in this pattern. These breaks are never completely resolved. However imposing the masters' authority, it is not always translated into a didactic discourse that exercises full dominance. The Consaus 's final reflection on the dangers in ruling women is revealing in this respect. Quoting the Master Philosopher, the Consaus narrator introduces again the problem of women's will to surmount all manner of opposition:

Et homs de se viertu et de sen sens doit ces humeurs de feme counoistre par quoi il se tiengne a raison et de point ferm et fier contre feme. . . . Car qui set feme tenir a tout famine de volente rant que volentes durra sera del amors sires. . . . Et dist aristotes damor qui de lui veut goir tant ken ce cas lui gouverner plus atempreement ken nul autre fait. Car raisons et atemprance est li medechine qui a folle amors apertient. Et sapielle aristotes folle amor lamor qui sourmonte le sens et le raison del home.
(Vienna 2621, fol. 12 verso)

And in his strength and understanding man should know woman's humors so that he can hold firm and fast in his reason against woman. . . . He who knows how to keep woman from exercising her will, for as long as his will lasts, he will be the lord of love. . . . And Aristotle says of love that he who wishes to enjoy it will govern over it temperately


like no other. For reason and temperance are the medicine that pertain to wild love. And Aristotle calls wild love the love that overcomes the sense and reason of man.

With these figures of woman overcoming man's reason and man oneupping her, we come full circle. We return to the issues the Lai d'Aristote raises about woman's relations to masterful knowledge. More importantly, we return to the premise that masterly discourse does not succeed in controlling those relations. Insofar as the Consaus stresses the lesson of "holding firm and fast against women," the dominance of its discourse is by no means sure. The need to repeat such lessons betrays the difficulty of realizing them.

If we read the Lai d'Aristote in relation to the Ovidian and Aristotelian masterly narratives, this difficulty is brought into sharp relief. Not only do they all endeavor to slot women into a well-articulated system of categories, but they disclose the sense that this is finally impossible. They project scenarios in which women challenge those epistemological and social categories proposed by their narrators. In the Lai , this takes the form of a burlesque "let's imagine," while in the didactic narratives it is a dialectical hypothetical. The effect is much the same: they all suggest how precarious their symbolic domination of women really is. They all express an unease over maintaining control over the knowledge of women.

So telling was this unease that it continued to disrupt the enormous late-medieval literature mounted in attack and defense of women. From the widely read misogynist tract the Lamentations of Matheolus straight through to the numerous fifteenth-century panegyrics, it breaks through:[76]

Que proufita a Aristote
Peryarmenias, Elenches,
Devisées en pluseurs branches,
Priores, Posteres, logique
Ne science mathematique?
Car la femme tout seurmonta
Alors que par dessus monta
Et vainqui des methes le maistre.
Ou chief luy mist frain et chevestre.
Mené fu a soloëcisme,
A barbastome, a barbarisme;
Son cheval en fist la barnesse
Et le poignoit comme une asnesse. . . .
Le gouverneur fu gouverné
Et legendre fu alterné.
Elle est agent et il souffroit;


A hennir sous elle s'offroit.
La fu l'ordre preposteré,
Ce dessoubs dessus alteré
Et confondu; car mal s'accorde
Psalterion au decacorde.
Certes, ceste chevaucheüre
Fu incongrue, mal seüre.
En ce fu grammaire traïe
Et logique moult esbahïe.
(book I, lines 1080–92, 1095–1106)[77]

Of what good to Aristotle is the Peri Hermeneias and Elenchi in all their various parts? Of what value, the Prior and Posterior Analytics , the Logic , and the science of mathematics? For woman surmounted everything and rode on top, vanquishing the master and placing upon his head both bit and bridle. And so he was led to solecisms, barbarisms of all sorts. The baroness made him into her mount, kicking him about like an ass. . . . The governor was governed and gender was altered. She is the agent and he was suffering for it, left only to whinny and neigh under her. In this way all order was blown apart. The underling changed and confounded the one above. For the psalterion and harp do not go well together. Such riding was certainly incongruous, unsafe. In this, grammar was betrayed and logic rendered useless.

Matheolus's fulminations focus upon a figure of women who systematically demolishes the edifice of Aristotelian learning.[78]The Logic , (lines 1083, 1106), the Analytics , (line 1083): tract by tract, the edifice is broken down. In one of the most bitter reworkings of the Lai , the narrator casts the subjection of the philosopher as a wholesale destruction of his thought. The result of all this is devastating: "The governor was governed and gender was completely altered" (lines 1095–96). Not only is the masterful paradigm of knowledge as power completely blown apart, but the classificatory system of humankind—the genus, its gender—is altered unimaginably. The clerical idea of women does more than challenge existing knowledge; it represents a questioning of its very character, one that goes so far as to explode the understanding of human nature itself.


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