Berengar I
Berengar I of Italy (ca. 845-924)

“Non hederam sperare vales laurumve, libelle,
quae largita suis tempora prisca viris.
contulit haec magno labyrinthea fabula Homero
Aeneisque tibi, docte poeta Maro.
atria tunc divum resonabant carmine vatum:
respuet en musam quaeque proseucha tuam;
Pierio flagrabat eis sed munere sanguis:
prosequitur gressum nulla Thalia tuum.
hinc metuo rapidas ex te nigrescere flammas,
auribus ut nitidis vilia verba dabis.”
“quid vanis totiens agitas haec tempora dictis,
carmina quae profers si igne voranda times?
desine; nunc etenim nullus tua carmina curat:
haec faciunt urbi, haec quoque rure viri.
quid tibi praeterea duros tolerasse labores
profuit ac longas accelerasse vias?
endromidos te cura magis victusque fatigat:
hinc fugito nugas, quas memorare paras.”
“irrita saepe mihi cumulas quae murmura, codex,
non poterunt votis addere claustra meis.
seria cuncta cadant, opto, et labor omnis abesto,
dum capiti summo xenia parva dabo.
nonne vides, tacitis abeant ut saecla triumphis,
quos agitat toto orbe colendus homo?
tu licet exustus vacuas solvaris in auras,
pars melior summi scribet amore viri.
supplice sed voto Christum rogitemus ovantes,
quo faveat coeptis patris ab arce meis.
haud moveor plausu populi vel munere circi:
sat mihi pauca viri ponere facta pii.
Christe, poli convexa pio qui numine torques,
da, queat ut famulus farier apta tuus!”
(Gesta Berengarii, prologus)

“Little book of mine, you shouldn’t hope for the ivy and laurels which times of old bestowed upon great men. The labyrinthine Odyssey conferred these gifts on the great Homer, and the Aeneid on you, learned poet Vergil. In those days the emperors’ halls resounded with the songs of poets, but nowadays every shack rejects your verse. The poets’ blood back then was on fire with the inspiration of the muses; today no Thalia follows in your footsteps. I fear therefore that you will soon feed the ravenous flames if you offer your shoddy verse to sophisticated ears.”
“Why do you continue to assail these times with pointless words if you worry that the poems you offer will be devoured by the fire? Stop it; the fact is that nobody now cares for your verse. These days poems are written in the city and in the country. Besides, what good has it done you to suffer those hardships and to hurry down those long roads? Worrying about warm clothing and food exhausts you more, so begone with this rubbish you prepare to relate.”
“This idle prattle you often heap upon me, book of mine, will not be able put my desires in chains. May all serious matters fall aside, that is my wish, and away with all hard work: I shall give small gifts to the supreme chief. Don’t you see how with time all the victories of this illustrious sovereign, who should be praised all over the world, are forgotten? Even if you are burned and dissolved into thin air, more gifted writers will set to work because of their love for this sublime man. But let us address Christ in suppliant prayer and beseech him to favour my undertaking from his father’s castle on high. I am not moved by the people’s applause or the circus’s prize; just to recount a few deeds of this devout leader is enough for me. Christ, you who move the celestial spheres with a pious gesture, grant that your servant may speak worthily of these matters! (tr. David Bauwens)



Rex erat ignote quondam regionis et urbis
sed nomen regis pagina nulla docet.
hic sibi consortem regni thalamique sodalem
sortitus fuerat nobilitate parem.
quos licet imperii maiestas alta bearet
amplaque congeries nobilitaret opum,
hic tamen adversa parum Lucina negaret
gratis enim Veneris excoluere iocos.
hinc dolor, hinc gemitus ambos vexabat,
heredem regni non habuere sui.
denique regina misero compassa marito
tali sive pari voce frequenter ait:
“quid facimus? nil proficimus: iam vivere tedet
nocturnisque piget sepe vacasse iocis.
femina sum misera sterilique simillima terre
qui sine spe messis semina iacta vorat.
pertuso sacco iuste me comparo, qui quod
ore patente capit hoc aliunde vomit.
heu, quid nobilitas, quid opes, quid gloria regni
prosunt, heredem si michi fata negant?”
continuis igitur precibus pia numina pulsans,
ut mater fiat nocte dieque rogat.
quod petit assequitur et fit mater sed aselli!
eius enim partus pulcher asellus erat.
o qualis partus, ubi femina gignit asellum!
o res miranda, plus miseranda tamen!
hoc fetu viso mater, que plauserat olim
se concepisse, iam peperisse dolet.
ergo non esse mater quam mater aselli
mallet, et ut detur piscibus esca iubet.
(Asinarius 1-30)

Once upon a time there was a king of an unknown region and city, and, what is more, no page tells the king’s name. This king had acquired for himself as consort of his realm and companion of his bedchamber a woman who was his peer in nobility. Although the high majesty of an empire blessed them, and an ample mass of wealth ennobled them, all the same Lucina was hostile to them and had denied offspring; for they practiced the games of Venus to no effect. Hence grief and moans afflicted both of them, for the reason that they had no heir for their realm. In the end the queen, taking pity upon her unfortunate husband, said repeatedly in such a speech or one like it: “What are we doing? We are accomplishing nothing. It has become dreary now to live and it is tiresome to have been intent so often on nighttime games. I am an unfortunate woman, most similar to a barren land that without hope of a harvest swallows the seeds that are cast. Rightly do I compare myself to a punctured sack, which spews out elsewhere what it receives with open mouth. Alas, what does nobility avail, what does wealth, what does the glory of the realm, if the fates deny me an heir?” Therefore, entreating the faithful gods with uninterrupted prayers, she asks by night and day that she be made a mother. What she seeks, she obtains and she becomes a mother—but of a little donkey, for her offspring was a beautiful little donkey! O what a delivery, when a woman gives birth to a little donkey! O what a marvelous, yet rather miserable, thing! Having seen this newborn, the mother, who had earlier applauded that she had conceived, now grieves at having given birth. Therefore, rather than to be the mother of a little donkey, she prefers not to be a mother and orders that he be given as food to fishes. (tr. Jan M. Ziolkowski, slightly adapted)


female body

This is part 3 of 3. Part 1 is here. Part 2 is here.

Veniamus ad indicia corporis feminini. caput breve, capillus niger vel a rubeo fuscior, quem Graeci φαιὰν τρίχα, rario, idem flexibilior ac mollior, cervix exilior eademque longior, color candidus vel cum pallore nigrior, quem Graeci μελάγχλωρον vocant, pupillae, quas Graeci κόρας dicunt, subnigrae vel evidenter nigrae, vultus omnis lenis, inoffensus ac mollis, serenus, affabilis, labia compressa tamquam sint incisa, iuguli cohaerentes atque constricti, ab humeris usque ad umbilicum corpus angustius et brevius, ab umbilico usque ad genua prolixius ac plenius, a genibus usque ad pedum ima deductius, imae manus ac pedes subtiles et eleganter circumscripti, planta concava et a reliquo vestigio elatior, vox tenuis, moderata, acceptissima auribus, sermo volubilis ac facilis, incessus decens, brevibus passis et acceleratis.
(Anonymous, De Physiognomonia 6)

Let us come to the signs of the feminine body. The head is small, the hair black or darker than red, which the Greeks call φαιὰ θρίξ (‘grey hair’), rather thin, at the same time somewhat flexible and soft, the neck is rather slender and also long, the colour is white or rather black with paleness, which the Greeks call μελάγχλωρος, the pupils, which the Greeks call κόραι, are somewhat black or obviously black, the whole face is smooth, placid and soft, calm and affable, the lips are compressed as if incised, the collar-bones are bound and stuck together, the body is narrower and smaller from the shoulders to the navel, from the navel to the knees it is more extended and thicker and from the knees to the ends of the feet it is more drawn in, the ends of the hands and feet are slender and elegantly delineated, the soles are hollow and higher than the rest of the step, the voice is thin, moderate, very pleasing to the ears, the speech is fluent and easy, and the gait is comely, with short and quick steps. (tr. Ian Repath)


male body

This is part 2 of 3. Part 1 is here. Part 3 is here.

Veniamus ad indicia corpora masculini. caput grande, capillus crassior, rubeus vel niger cum rubore, stabilis, modice inflexus, color rubeus non clari ruboris vel niger, suffusus tamen rubore, oculi paulo impressiores, minaces, subnigri, quos Graeci χαροποὺς vocant, vel glauci. cervix esse debet moderatae plenitudinis, aliquanto prolixior, vertex capitis subrectior, scapulae ingentes, humeri et superioris corporis partes usque ad umbilicum latiores, inferiores deductae paulatim plenitudine desinente, lacertosus, ossibus magnis, nodis et articulis summorum pedum et summarum manuum firmis, non tamen rigidis, sed absolutis, prope imum seiunctis atque discretis, pectore alto et prominente, iugulis absolutis, ventre lato compresso paululum intrinsecus, pectus non nimia carne contectum, solido et spisso corpore, ossibus quae sunt sub ilibus, quae a Graecis ἰσχία dicuntur, siccioribus et solidis. item masculinum corpus forte et tolerans laborum est, vocis solidae, aliquanto raucioris, interdum gravis tamquam ex abdito et concavo resonantis, ut est leonum, spiritus densior, multum aëris concipiens ac referens, passibus longis, motus corporis, cum tranquillus est animus, tardior est, cuius minor sit pars inferior ab umbilico quam est a summo capite ad umbilicum.
(Anonymous, De Physiognomonia 5)

Let us come to the signs of the masculine body. The head is large, the hair rather thick, red or black with red, straight, moderately wavy, the colour is red, but not bright red, or black, although suffused with red, the eyes are a little sunken, threatening, somewhat black, which the Greeks call χαροποί (‘dark blue’), or light blue. The neck should be of moderate thickness, somewhat extended, the top of the head rather upright, the shoulder-blades huge, the shoulders and upper parts of the body to the navel rather broad, the lower parts rather drawn in with decreasing width. He should be muscular, with big bones, the knuckles and joints at the ends of the feet and hands solid, yet not stiff, but just right, apart and separate near the end, with a high and prominent chest, detached collar-bones, a broad stomach pressed slightly inwards, a chest not excessively covered in flesh, a hard and compact body, with the bones which are below the loins, which are called ἰσχία (‘hips’) by the Greeks, rather dry and hard. Also the masculine body is strong and tolerant of hard work, has a strong voice which is rather hoarse and occasionally deep as if echoing from somewhere hidden and hollow, like that of lions, rather frequent breath which draws in and expels much air, and long steps; the movement of the body, when the mind is peaceful, is rather slow, and the part below the navel is smaller than that from the top of the head to the navel. (tr. Ian Repath)



This is part 1 of 3. Part 2 is here. Part 3 is here.

Masculinus animus est vehemens, ad impetum facilis, odii immemor, liberalis, apertus, qui hebetari et circumveniri ingenio atque arte non possit, vincendi per virtutem studiosus, magnanimus. feminus animus est sollers, ad iracundiam pronus, tenax odii, idem immisericors atque invidus, laboris impatiens, docilis, subdolus, amarus, praeceps, timidus.
(Anonymous, De Physiognomonia 4)

The masculine character is forceful, impetuous, forgetful of hatred, generous, open, unable to be blunted and outmanoeuvred by guile or artifice, preferring to overcome through manliness, and is magnanimous. The feminine character is clever, prone to anger, clings to hatred, also pitiless and envious, not enduring hard work, teachable, deceitful, bitter, rash and timid. (tr. Ian Repath)


Donatello’s David

Vasti membris animisque Gethei
corpore non animo parvus de sanguine mixto
Iesseius torta lapidem in cava tempora funda
misit; qui lapsus tremefacto pectore lata
ilice glandifera texit productior arva.
cum caderet, tellus tremuit magnamque ruinam
corporis inmensi moles dedit, ut diuturno
dilabens aevo, quae caelum vertice pulsat,
impete praecipitis Circi petit infima turris.
accurrit victor strictoque viriliter ense
amputat obnixe lentissima colla precantis.
nec mirum dextra tantum cecidisse gigantem
Iesseii; qui cum puer esset, tristibus ursis
intulit atque lupis mortem domuitque leones.
(Eupolemius 2.395-408)

Jesse’s son, small in body but not in spirit, of mixed ancestry, whirled a sling and shot a stone against the hollow temples of the Gittite, Goliath, who was awesome in both limbs and courage. After Goliath’s heart was made to tremble with fear and he fell, he stretched out, longer than an acorn-producing holm oak, and covered broad fields. When he fell, the earth trembled and the mass of his huge body caused great ruin, just as a tower, which strikes the heavens with its peak but which is collapsing from extreme age, topples down to the lowest point from the onset of a rushing northwest wind. The victor ran up and, with sword manfully drawn, resolutely severs Goliath’s very tough neck as he pleads for mercy. No wonder that so great a giant fell by the right hand of Jesse’s son; when David was a boy, he inflicted death upon grim bears and wolves, and he subdued lions. (tr. Jan M. Ziolkowski)


Digenis Akritas

Καὶ εὐθὺς περὶ ἔρωτος ὑμᾶς ἀναμιμνῄσκω·
ῥίζα γὰρ οὗτος καὶ ἀρχὴ καθέστηκεν ἀγάπης,
ἐξ ἧς φιλία τίκτεται, εἶτα γεννᾶται πόθος,
ὃς αὐξηθεὶς κατὰ μικρὸν φέρει καρπὸν τοιοῦτον,
μερίμνας μὲν διηνεκεῖς, ἐννοίας καὶ φροντίδας,
εὐθὺς κινδύνους παμπληθεῖς καὶ χωρισμὸν γονέων.
νεότης γὰρ ἀκμάζουσα καρδίας ἀνασπάει,
εἶτα πάντα κατατολμᾷ τῶν ἀνεπιχειρήτων,
θαλάττης μὲν ἐφίκεσθαι, πῦρ μηδόλως πτοεῖσθαι·
δράκοντας δὲ καὶ λέοντας καὶ τὰ λοιπὰ θηρία
οὐδοτιοῦν λογίζεται στερεωθεὶς ὁ πόθος
καὶ τοὺς λῃστὰς τοὺς τολμηροὺς ἀντ’ οὐδενὸς ἡγεῖται,
νύκτας ἡμέρας προσδοκᾷ καὶ τὰς κλεισούρας κάμπους,
ἀγρυπνίαν ἀνάπαυσιν καὶ τὰ μακρὰν πλησίον·
πολλοὶ καὶ πίστιν τὴν αὐτῶν ἀρνοῦνται διὰ πόθον.
καὶ τοῦτο μηδεὶς ἄπιστον ἐξ ὑμῶν λογισθήτω,
μάρτυρα γὰρ ἐπαινετὸν εἰς μέσον παραστήσω
ἀμιρᾶν τὸν πανεύγενον καὶ πρῶτον τῆς Συρίας,
ὃς εἶχε κάλλη πάντερπνα καὶ τόλμην θηριώδη
καὶ μέγεθος πανθαύμαστον, ἰσχὺν γενναιοτάτην,
καὶ μᾶλλον δεύτερος Σαμψὼν αὐτὸς ἐπενοήθη·
ἐκεῖνος γὰρ ἠρίστευσε χερσὶ λέοντα σχίσας,
οὗτος δὲ πλῆθος ἄπειρον ἀπέκτεινε λεόντων.
παύσασθε γράφειν Ὅμηρον καὶ μύθους Ἀχιλλέως
ὡσαύτως καὶ τοῦ Ἕκτορος, ἅπερ εἰσὶ ψευδέα.
(Digenes Akrites (Grottaferrata version) 4.4-28)

And immediately I remind you about passion,
for this is established as the root and beginning of love,
from which affection is begotten, then desire is born,
which as it increases gradually bears such fruit
as constant anxieties, worries and concerns,
and immediately brings abundant dangers and separation from parents.
For youth in its prime breaks hearts,
then dares every deed that has never been ventured,
to reach the sea and have no fear at all of fire;
ogres and lions and other wild beasts
desire, once established, considers as trifles,
and it regards bold brigands as worth nothing;
it reckons night as day and mountain passes as plains,
sleeplessness as rest and what is far off as near.
And many renounce their faith because of desire.
And let none of you consider this incredible,
for I shall set before you a renowned witness,
the most high-born emir and first man of Syria,
who possessed the most handsome grace and savage daring,
and quite amazing stature, most noble strength,
and indeed was thought to be a second Samson.
For Samson achieved distinction by rending a lion with his bare hands,
but the emir killed a boundless host of lions.
Cease writing of Homer and the legends of Achilles
and likewise of Hektor: these are false.
(tr. Elizabeth Jeffreys)