"How to read Walter Map," Mittellateinisches Jahrbuch XXIII (1988), pp. 91-105.



How to Read Walter Map


For years people thought that they were reading Walter Map, and they were not'. Attributing the prose `Lancelot' to him was an error with a grain of truth; i. e., he could tell a story about life at court. Attributing a number of Latin `satiric' poems to him was an error that points to another truth: he wrote stylish Latin, and was an angry man. Today no one can be excused for reading the prose `Lancelot' or the `Poems attributed to Walter Map' with the impression that he or she is reading a composition of Walter Map. Instead, one may turn to `De Nugis Curialium', a work scarcely known to medieval readers, only one manuscript of which survives, and that from the fourteenth century 2. However, readers still seem to be unwilling or unable to recognize and to describe accurately what the late twelfth‑century Welshman who became the archdeacon of Oxford was doing in the only text that can be safely ascribed to him.


In their haste to bestow the highest approval on Walter Map (i. e., that he is a clubbable academic), his latest editors and critics have followed a long tradition devoted to trivializing Map's achievements 3. In modern times, trivializing Map begins most formidably with the very fine edition and occasionally squeamish translation provided by M. R. James, who remarks in his preface': ‑Map seems to have had no very serious intention. The De nugis curialium was the commonplace book of a great after‑dinner speaker; and if one is entirely sober when one reads it, it is easily misunderstood.” A. G. Rigg recently instructed us to "cherish" this remark, although he also claims that, ‑Walter Map had the taste for the bizarre and the macabre of a Poe, the black humor of an Evelyn Waugh ...»5. Max Manitius offered a more comprehensive judgement when he


1 See André BOUTEMY, Gautier Map, auteur anglais (Bruxelles 1945) 5.


Z See James HINTON, Walter Map's `De Nugis Curialium', in: Publications of the Modern Language Association of America 32 (1917) 81‑132; see 126, where HINTON documents the utter obscurity in which `De Nugis' remained until the sixteenth century.


3 For a recent example, see A. G. RIGG'S review of the edition cited in note 4, in: Speculum 60 (1985) 177‑182.


4 Walter Map, De Nugis Curialium, ed. and transl. by M. R. JAMES, revised by C. N. L. BROOKE/ R. A. B. MYNORS (Oxford 1983) xliv‑xlv (cited by distinction, chapter and page). All translations of `De Nugis' in this paper are by JAMES; translations from other Latin texts are my own.


5 Rigg (note 3) 177.

, 92


wrote 6: "Manches darin ist bitter and boshaft genug, and besonders geschont wird niemand», but dismissive remarks on the nature of Walter's achievement are the rule.


Both James and Rigg are following the cue given in the late twelfth century by V himself, who opens the Third Distinction of `De Nugis' by describing his work as ti or more precisely, ‑ignoble, bloodless ineptitudes», designed for those who need temporary relief from philosophy and sacred studies (De Nugis 1111, 210‑211):


Cum a palacii descendunt palatini negociis, regalium operum immensitate defessi, placet humilium inclinari colloquia, ludicrisgue leuare pondera seriorum. Hoc tibi vultu placeat, philosophice vel divine pagine senatu respiraveris, voluminis buius innobiles et exangues ineptias audire vel legere recreacionis et ludi gracia.

‑When palace officials come down from the palace business, wearied with the wide range affairs of monarchs, they like to stoop to talk with commoners, and to lighten with pleasant weight of serious thoughts. In such a mood may you be pleased, when you snatch a respite from grave counsel with the philosophic or the sacred page, either to read or listen to the insipid bloodless follies of this book for recreation and sport.,,


As Lewis Thorpe, however, points out 7, Walter himself never describes his text nugae. Moreover, the passage is a clear example of a combination of medieval literary conventions, none of which is a symptom of sincerity; in this instance, the combine the topos of humility with the sense of literature‑as‑game, looks like a prime example of the mixture of seriousness and play described by Curtius, Rahner, Suchomski, Huizinga and others, as characteristic of many medieval texts 8.

Medieval readers, however, also did not easily tolerate the full range of possibilities for serious play; at least two of Walter's contemporaries objected to his writings. Both in the course of his `Invective', accuses Walter of producing indecorous, deluding juvenile nugae:


Jam nugas dedisse tuas vel fine dierum,

(Quod decuit juvenem) non decet esse senem ...

Ludicra nugarum nisi sint deleta tuarum

Fletibus hat vita, delusus es, Archilevita.


Gerald of Wales, for all his admiration of Walter, advises him to put aside his ent for literature, and concentrate on theology; among his arguments is the one tha walt used, on the decorum of age and youth'°:


Juvenilis enim nondum exutae ad plenum levitatis indicia sunt baec, et decoctae maturi~ menta non ad perfectum indutae. Non ergo studia nostra sint haec, sed remedia quaedam tionis subsidia, ut tum demum scilicet ad haec respiciamus cum a majoribus respiramus.

,These are signs of youthful levity not yet entirely stripped away, signs of maturity not yet com-

6 MANITIUS 111(1931) 266.


7 Lewis THORPE, Walter Map and Gerald of Wales, in: Medium Aevum 48 (1978) 6‑21.

8 See: E. R. CuRTius, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard (New York 1963) 425‑426; Joachim SUCHOMSKI, Delectatio and Utilitas (Bern 1975) 1 han Huizinga, Homo ludens (New York 1970) passim; Hugo RAHNER, 'Der spielende Mensch’ in: Eranos‑Jahrbuch 16 (1949) 29.


9 As quoted by THORPE (note 7) 7‑8.

10 Giraldus Cambrensis, Opera, ed. J. S. BREWER, I (SS rer. Brit. 21,1), London 1861, 288



pletely attained. Therefore let them not be our studies, but our relief, as aids to recreation, so that we may finally turn to them to rest from greater things. »


Advice like this, however, did not prevent Walter from writing the `De Nugis', al­though it unwittingly points to one of his motivations for using such complex, even tor­tured language; Hinton", for example, speaks of “Walter Map's vagrant and unfettered fancy», arguing that, ‑as a story‑teller Map has decided merits. When once he discards his Euphuistic balance and alliteration, puns, conceits, and classical mythology, he is a spirited narrator, with a curt, rapid style, and a natural felicity in words». Such an emas­culation, however, would discard what was clearly a significant matter to Walter. The rhetorical elaborateness is a sign not necessarily of high seriousness, but certainly indi­cates a high degree of rhetorical self‑consciousness, in this respect resembling the comoe­diae, rhetorical exercises in verse narrative that were popular in the twelfth and thir­teenth centuries. That the `De Nugis', like the comoediae, was designed as a rhetorical textbook, and the sensational elements were deliberately fabricated to hold the attention of adolescent students12 partially accounts for the amount of violence and sex in the text.


Sex, violence, and triviality, of course, are elements of popular literature, both in mod­ern times, and in the middle ages. The claim of triviality, however, is a rhetorical strategy connected to the conventional proclamation of incompetence, which Curtius has trained us to call the humility‑topos". Curtius, however, devotes his attention to its origin in pagan and Christian notions of literary decorum and does not consider the satirical use of the topos.

Walter's use of the topos is, in a sense, impersonal, and functions as part of his diatribe against the court, which he regularly compares to hell14. Since behavior at court forms the bulk of his subject matter, and court writers do not generally represent the behavior of their patrons either as trivial, or as hellish, Walter's strategies obviously demand inter­pretation. Reversing the conventional panegyric in which the poet represents himself as incapable of doing justice to his glorious patron, Walter indicates that, in the face of courtly enormity, no poet could possibly perform competently. Walter certainly sounds deeply concerned when he describes the complexity and duplicity of life at court, adopt­ing Augustine's contrast between the Two Cities, to contrast two courts. Having estab­lished the analogy, he then proceeds to proclaim his own humble insignificance, not in the voice of an ordinary incompetent, however, but borrowing from Jeremiah's humble


11 HINTON (note 2) 111.

12 Compare the similar phenomenon in the comoediae, replete with genital jokes, described by SUCHOMSKI (note 8) 125, and by Robert GLENDENNING, Pyramus and Thisbe in the Medieval Classrom, in: Speculum 61 (1986) 51‑78 (57 particularly). JAMES (note 4) 294 reinforces the con­nection between `De Nugis' and the comoediae as rhetorical texts, when he points out that both Matthew of Vend6me, in his `Comoedia of Lydia', and Walter Map make similar uses of the triad Penelope/Lucretia/Sabina.

13 CURTIUS (note 8) 83‑85. MANITIUS (note 6) 265 draws a questionable inference about Walter's use of the humility‑topos in a compliment he paid to Gerald of Wales.

14 Early in the First Distinction (8‑11), and towards the very end of `De Nugis' (V 7, 500‑505), Walter compares the court to hell; parts of the first comparison are missing, and the second will be discussed below.



response to God (puer sum et loqui nescio), while declaring himself to be Tantalus in hell (De Nugis 110, 24‑25):


Omnes audisti curias inquietas preter illam ad quam invitamur solam. Quam Dominus regit civi­tas pacem habet, et illa nobis manens promittitur. Et me, karissime mi Galfride, curialem (non di­cam facetum ‑ puer sum et loqui nescio ‑ sed dico) in hac sic vere descripta curia religatum et ad hanCrelegatum hinc philosophari iubes qui me Tantalum huius inferni fateor?


‑You have heard that all courts are unquiet save that only to which we are bidden. That city alone which the Lord rules has peace, and it is promised to us as an `abiding city.' And you, my dear Geoffrey, would have me courtly (not to say witty: `I am a child, I know not how to speak.')? Yet, I repeat, you bid me, me who am bound in and banished to this court which I have truly here de­scribed, me who confess myself the Tantalus of this hell, to philosophize.,,


A poet, he goes on to say, needs peace and quiet, items not to be found at court. An inexperienced writer, located at court, would have great trouble (De Nugis 110, 24‑25):


Non minus a me poscis miraculum, hinc scilicet hominem ydiotam et imperitum scribere, quam si ab alterius Nabugodonosor fornace novos pueros cantare iubeas.

‑You are asking an inexperienced and unskilled man to write, and to write from the court: it is to demand no less a miracle than if you bade a fresh set of Hebrew children to sing out of the burning furnace of a fresh Nebuchadnezzar.»


Like the panegyricist, or even the visionary poet, Walter declares himself unequal to his task, but his inability is not a function of a subject matter too lofty and complex, but too base and abhorrent.


Another variation of the humility‑topos occurs a few pages later, in one of the several routines on blindness and insight that occur in the `De Nugis', when Walter calls upon an anecdote from the Old Testament to aid in playfully castigating himself. In the course of fabricating an analogy between his own position and that of Balaam and his ass, he finds it difficult to identify the exact terms of the ratio, first comparing himself to an ass, and Geoffrey" to Balaam, then reversing the terms (De Nugis 112, 34‑37):


Videris me calcaribus urgere Balaam quibus in verba coegit asinam. Quibus enim aliis possit quid­piam induci stimulis in poesim? At valde timeo ne michi per insipienciam cedat in contrarium asine, et tibi in contrarium Balaam, ut dum me loqui compellis incipiam rudere, sicut illa pro ruditu locuta est, feceris de homine asinum, quem debueras facere poetam. Fiam asinus pro te, quia iubes; to ca­veas, si me ruditus ruditas ridiculum reddiderit, ne to iussionis irreverencia probet inverecundum.


‑It seems to me that you are using Balaam's spurs on me ‑ the spurs with which he drove his ass to speak: for what other would avail anyone into writing poetry? I am much afraid that my stupidity will cause our parts ‑ mine of the ass and yours of Balaam ‑ to be reversed, so that when you try to make me speak I shall begin to bray ‑ as the other spoke instead of braying ‑ and you will have made an ass out of a man whom you wanted to make into a poet. Well, an ass I will be, since you wish it: but beware, should the brainlessness of my braying make me ridiculous, lest the want of respect shown in your request prove you to lack modesty.,,


Balaam's ass, of course, saw what was truly in front of him, when his master Balaam was unable to see the angel. An ass, then, can have visionary powers, although, as the `Glosa


1‑5 The otherwise unknown person to whom Walter addresses himself, from time to time, in the `De Nugis'.



Ordinaria' indicates, the animal can take no credit for the achievement16: Magus dae­mones videt, asina angelum non quod sit digna videre, sicut nec loqui, sed ut confutetur Balaam, unde mutum animal arguit prophetae dementiam. To call oneself an ass is cer­tainly no compliment, but to conjure up a visionary ass is a more ambiguous gesture, one which is part of a general strategy involving frequent declarations of incompetence, whose purpose finally is not to undercut faith in the text, but rather the reverse.


A sardonic, macabre variation of the humility‑topos occurs at the end of the `Dissu­asio Valerii', together with a variation on the topos non omnis moriar. In the course of commenting on the contemporary literary situation, Walter predicts an immortality for himself based on the incompetence both of himself and of his readers (De Nugis IV 5, 312‑313):


Scio quid fiet post me. Cum enim putuerim, tum primo sal accipiet, totusque sibi supplebitur de­cessu meo defectus, et in remotissima posteritate micbi faciet auctoritatem antiquitas, quia tunc ut nunc vetustum cuprum preferetur auro novello. Simiarum tempus erit, ut nunc, non hominum ... . Hoc solo glorior, quia ab invidia tutus sum; nichil in me reperiet quod mordere dignetur. Non enim canis os rodit siccum, nec vene vacue adheret hirudo (Horace, Ars poet. 476). Karacter hic siccus et exsanguis sola fiet liber inepcia.


«I know what will happen when I am gone. When I have begun to rot, the book will begin to gain favor, may decease will cover all its defects, and in the remotest generations my ancientness will gain me dignity; for then, as now, old copper wil be of more account than new gold. It will be an age of apes (as it is now), not men ... My only satisfaction is that I am safe from envy; it can find nothing in me worth biting. No dog gnaws a dry bone; to the emptied vein no leach will stick. My dry and bloodless style will escape by its mere ineptitude. »


His protestation of incompetence here is linked with the horror of the grave ‑ the rotting body, the gnawing animal, the bloodless vein ‑ and his bitterness at the foolish anti­quarianism of his own times. His only protection, then, is to die, to become part of anti­quity, when he will become triumphant not because of his true worth, but because of human prejudice and stupidity.


Late in his text, again berating himself for technical incompetence, Walter reveals one of the advantages of a wretched style ‑ it offers what is true, rather than what is ‑roug­ed,, (De Nugis IV 3, 296‑297):


. . . a me non requiras purpurissimum oratoris aut cerusam, que me nescire fateor et fleo, sed scri­bentis votum et pagine veritatem accepta.


‑You must not expect from me the rouge and white paint of the orator (of which I mournfully confess I know nothing) but be content with the good will of the writer and the honesty of the writ­ten page.‑


The claim of incompetence, then, is simultaneously a claim to accuracy and reliability; clearly the self‑castigation is a posture, to assure the audience that they are in the hands of a truth‑tellerl7, as becomes clearer a bit later, when the harshness of his style is not a symptom of incompetence, but of a harsh and effective medicine (De Nugis IV 4, 310­311):


16 MIGNE PL 113, 420.

" See Jeanette M. A. BEER, Narrative Conventions of Truth in the Middle Ages, Geneva 1981, for a

discussion of the postures of humility and incompetence as signs of a desire to tell the truth.



Dura est manus cirurgi, sed sanans. Durus est et hic sermo, sed sanus, et tibi utinam tam utilis quam devotus.


‑Hard is the hand of the surgeon, but healing. Hard too is this discourse, but wholesome, and I wish it may be as profitable to you as it is well meant.‑


This is, of course, a Horatian commonplace (Ep. 17, 8), as well as a part of the general thesaurus of metaphors of our culture 18. In any event, the harshness is an essential quality in Walter's writing, as his contemporary, Gerald of Wales, clearly indicated when he de­scribed him as vir linguae dicacis". Gerald also, however, troubled by Walter's satirical sharpness, advised him to turn his hand from Martial to the evangelist Mark20: Marcum igitur amodo, mi charissime, manu teneas, non Martialem.


One might imagine that the objections by Bothewalt and Gerald were at least a partial provocation for Walter to include among the stories he tells a clown‑fool figure, Waleran, whose name clearly resembles Walter's own 21, and who composes satirical French verses, abuses courtiers openly, and is driven from the court of Louis VII by, among others, a woman whom he insults. The king upbraids Waleran with a conventional figure of speech (De Nugis V 5, 446‑447):


Galeranne, mea fero pacienter obprobria, sed buius consanguinee mee dissimulare non decet, cum ipsa sanguis meus sit et unum membrorum meorum.


«Waleran, I can bear abuse of myself patiently, but abuse of this my cousin I must not pass over, since she is of my blood, and one of my own members. »


The metaphor proves irresistible to Waleran:


Respondit Gallerannus: ‑Hoc herniosus es membro», quod facecius Gallice dicitur `De ce membre es to magrinez'.

«Waleran answered: `A very sick member 122 (In French it runs more wittily, `De ce membre to es megrimé').»


Waleran would serve well as a fantasy figure for a sharp‑tongued poet, since, after having taken refuge at Henry's court, he returns, disguised as a beggar, and moves Louis' com­passion 23 so that all of his losses are restored, and he lives happily ever after.


However, Walter wraps the major justification for his vitriolic tone in the language of medicine, claiming to provide a `pharmakon' for equilibrating human temperament. Aft­er listing a series of crimes perpetrated by evil men in the Bible, he recollects Greco‑Ro­man examples of fabulae commonitorie (De Nugis 131, 128‑129):


Fabulae nobis eciam commonitorie Atreum et Thiestem, Pelopem et Liçaona, multosque similes eorum proponunt, ut vitemus eorum exitus, et sunt historiarum sentencie non utiles; unus utrimque narracionum mos et intencio.


18 See Pedro LAIN‑ENTRALGO, The Therapy of the Word in Classical Antiquity, New Haven 1970.

19 Giraldus Cambr., Opera (note 10) 111 145.

20 Giraldus Cambr., Opera (note 10) 1286.

21 James HINTON, Notes on Walter Map's 'De Nugis Curialium', in: Studies in Philology 20 (1923) 462, goes to some lengths to establish the identity of Galeran as among the courtiers in 1173, although he expresses little satisfaction with his findings.

22 Less euphemistically: ‑you are ruptured by this member.­

23 De Nugis V 5, 448‑451.



Admonitory stories set before us Atreus and Thyestes, Pelops and Lycaon, and many like them, that we may shun their ends; and the utterances of history are not without their use: one is the meth­od and intention of the story in either case.


Again, Walter sounds serious, invoking the tragic matter of Atreus, Thyestes, and Pelops, stories that combine cannibalism, sexuality and violence.

The purpose of evoking such abhorrent images, according to Walter, is to re‑present reality, in a morally coherent fashion, in a world where polarized images of good and evil constantly present themselves to the imagination (De Nugis 131, 128‑129):


Nam bistoria, que veritate nititur, et fabula, que ficta contexit, et bonos fine florenti beant, ut ametur benignitas, et fedo malos dampnant interitu, volentes invisam reddere maliciam; sibique suc­cedunt invicem in scripturis tum adversitas prosperitati, tum a converso mutacione frequenti, qua­tinus utraque semper habita pre oculis neutri fiat propter alteram oblivio, sed se medico tempera­mento moderentur, ne unquam modum superet elevacio vel fractura, scilicet ut contemplacione futu­rorum nec sit a spe vacua meditacio, nec a metu libera, futurorum dico temporalium, quia caritas perfecta que celestis est foras mittit timorem.


‑For history, which is founded on truth, and story, which weaves together fiction, both of them make the good happy by a flourishing end, that goodness may be loved, and condemn the wicked to a dismal death, wishing to make malice hateful. And in the records there is constant alternation, now of adversity upon prosperity, now the converse, in frequent change, that so both being ever before our eyes, neither may be forgotten for the other, but men may regulate themselves by a medic­inal mixture, that neither rise nor ruin may predominate overmuch, that our thoughts, when we look at the future, may be neither bare of hope nor free from apprehension: the future, I mean, in temporal matters; for perfect love, which is from heaven, casteth out fear.‑


His harsh style, then, is again medicinal, and his playfulness is an appropriate strategy for a rhetorical manual designed for young men. However, his attitude towards women seems unlike that to be found in the enthusiastically Priapean comoediae, since Walter relentlessly attacks heterosexual behavior, showing a tolerance for homosexual behavior that resembles the amused response of God in Walter of Châtillon's eighth satire 24:


Ex hiis esse novimus plures Sodomeos, deas non reci pere, set amare deos, set quotquot invenerit huius rei reos, qui in celis babitat, irridebit eos.


‑Of these men we know many to be Sodomites, who do not love goddesses, but Gods; he who lives in the skies will laugh at whomever he finds guilty of this activity.‑


Walter of Châtillon's God, at least in these lines, is clearly the antithesis of Alan of Lille's Natura, whose diatribe against homosexuality represented what most readers considered a typical medieval attitude until some recent publications made it much more difficult to offer univocal categorizations about medieval attitudes towards homosexuality2‑S. Like Walter of Châtillon's God, Walter Map can laugh off homosexual behavior, and his not so hidden agenda suggests that what must be cured by the process of linguistic cauteriza‑


24 Moralische‑Satirische Gedichte Walters von Chatillon, ed. Karl STRECKER (Heidelberg 1929) 102.

25 For a discussion of the range of possible responses to homosexual behavior in the middle ages,

see John BOSWELL, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, Chicago 1980. For the lat‑

est discussion of Alan's attitude, see Jan ZIOLKOWSKI, Alain of Lille's Grammar of Sex, Cam‑

bridge 1985.



tion is the desire not for all erotic activity, but for heterosexual activity, which is con­demned or represented as horrifying, vulgar, and abhorrent throughout the `De Nugis'.


Antifeminism is a staple, of course, of medieval literature, playful sometimes, and bit­ter at other times 26. Walter's `Dissuasio Valerii ad Ruffinum philosophum ne uxorem du­cat' (De Nugis IV 3, 288‑311), an attempt to simulate Jerome's misogyny, was the only work of his to circulate regularly in the middle ages, and is, of course, included in the `De Nugis'. In distinguishing Walter Map from Jerome and his imitators, Delhaye points out that Walter's distinguishing characteristic is his systematic criticism of women 27. How­ever, in classical decorum, erotic matter normally is comic 28. Walter clearly modifies the decorum by adding darker, abhorrent elements to heterosexual scenarios, while reserv­ing `purely' comic moments for homosexual anecdotes.

Early in the `De Nugis', Walter invokes several of the traditional negative associations with women to describe the horrors of life at a court, which is ‑constant only in incon­stancy‑ (I 1, 3). Fortune is a woman, of course, and Covetousness is the ‑Lady of the Court», whose existence threatens laughter (I 1, 5):


Tot nos bortatur aculeis dominatrix curie cupiditas, quod pre sollicitudine risus eliminatur. Qui ridet, ridetur; qui sedet in tristicia, sapere videtur.

‑Covetousness, the Lady of the Court, urges us on with so many prickings that our mirth gives way to anxiety. He that laughs is laughed at, he that sits in sadness is accounted wise.‑


Three stories told by Walter in the `De Nugis' provide striking testimony to the bitter­ness of his anti‑feminism, offering fantasies of impotence, castration, decapitation, and necrophilia. The first, which is the longest story in the book, is a celebration of an ideal friendship between two men, who combine their wits and strength to overcome a lubri­cious queen. The characters in the story are merely puppets upon whom Walter may shower rhetorical fireworks; the narrative shows little concern with probability or coher­ence, and its significance does not seem profound. At the end of the story, aware of these weaknesses, Walter defends his performance against the charge of triviality (De Nugis III 2, 244‑247):


Fatua forsitan bec videbitur et frivola narracio, sed fatuis et frivolis, quibus nichil proponimus; de talibus forte nobis erit sermo cum inciderit, at non talibus. Quod possumus et scimus benignis et argutis inpendimus, scientes quod abscinthium et tbimum argumentosa degustet apis, et electos ex amaris et dulcibus conferat in thesaurum sapiencie favos, ex frivolis his, et a Deo sibi data gracia colligens quatinus eligat et diligat amaras iusticie vias, ut Galo, nec obstinate cum regina probrosis contendat inherere deliciis, eritque carmen cordi contatum o ptimo.


26 See Philippe DELHAYE, Le dossier antimatrimonial de I: `Adversus Iovinianum' et son influence sur quelques écrits latins du XIIe siècle, in: Mediaeval Studies 13 (1951) 65‑86, esp. 79‑83 are devoted to Walter Map. As DELHAYE points out, the medieval patristic notion of woman as lubri­cus sexus is documented by five columns in one of MIGNE'S indices, PL 220, 917‑922.

2~ DELHAYE (note 26) 85. Although he offers a more balanced judgement, Orderic Vitalis also at‑

tributes the decline in knightly morality to what Sharon FARMER, Persuasive Voices, in: Specu­lum 61 (1986) 522, calls ‑feminization of culture». See also the outcry against the feminization of what he calls the ‑third function. of George DUBY, The Three Orders: Feudal Society Imagined (Paris 1978, transl. Chicago 1980) 279.


zs Curtius (note 8) 289.



‑The story will perhaps be thought foolish and frivolous, but only by the foolish and frivolous, and to them we do not offer it; of such perhaps we shall speak when occasion offers, but not to such. Our powers and our knowledge we spend on the well disposed and the clever; for we know that the busy bee tastes both wormwood and thyme that it may gather into the treasure‑house of wisdom the honey‑comb it has collected both from bitter and from sweet, yes, and from such frivoli­ties as it gathers too, by God's grace given to it, to the end it may choose and love the bitter paths of righteousness, like Galo, and not, like the queen, obstinately persist in shameful pleasures. So will a song be sung to a good heart. »


Presumably, Walter's bitterly misogynistic posture is sufficient justification for his appar­ent carelessness, if not triviality.

Significantly, this defense of his serious intent occurs in a story which concerns the chaos and disorder heterosexual passion is capable of producing, and which at times seems to have been fabricated with the sole purpose of providing Walter with opportuni­ties to generalize about women's anger, as he does in this passage (De Nugis 1112, 222­223):


Feminarum ira crudelis et immisericors ulcio personam sequitur invisam super omne quod licet

... . Qualibet incenduntur ad iram offensa, sed eis ille tantum perpetuant odia cause quas facit amor,

vel ablatus ab emula rivali vel ab a f fectato delusus.


‑The cruel anger, the pitiless revenge of women persecutes him they hate beyond all limits . ... Any offense kindles them to resentment, but only those causes which love originates make their hatred lasting ‑ love, either stolen by a competing rival, or baffled by the object of desire.‑


In addition to a sexually aggressive queen, the story contains a fairy‑mistress and her protecting giant, a case of mistaken identities, and other narrative and rhetorical extrava­gances. At the center of the story, however, are two good friends, Sadius and Galo, who become even more so in the course of the story. Galo, a master speaker and fighter, is loved by the queen of Asia, but he repulses her. Sadius tries to help, by fabricating a story that Gale, is a eunuch. Showing ruthless practicality, together with the phallic fixation of a misogynist's nightmare, she sends a noble woman to compare Sadius' story with reality (De Nugis 1112, 214‑215):


Instruit eam et docet aditum, quo possit in Galonis amplexus illabi, nudamque se nudo iungere, manum iubet iniceye pudendis, et ut casta re ferat utrum possit an non.


«She gave her all instructions, told her how to insinuate herself into Galo's good graces, with no holds barred; to put her finger on the spot, and without risking herself, to bring back word whether he was a man or not.‑


Clearly the translation is somewhat Victorian in its decorum, and retreats from the practical directness of the instructions. The queen proceeds to worry that the woman she has sent will reap the sexual reward that she herself desires. An extensive dialogue then develops, comoedia‑like, between the queen and Lais, about what Ero is doing; Lais puns (De Nugis 1112, 220): Educatum aiunt Galonem inter advenas, sed ad venas et cor pene­trat ‑ a pun, presumably, on Venus, which JamesZ9 proclaims himself unable to trans­late 30 ‑, suggesting that if there are two Venuses, or even four, as Cicero claimed, Walter


29 JAMES (note 4) 221 n. 3.

30 It is not only instance of paraphrasing instead of translating passages involving erotic activity,

see Christopher J. MCDONOUGH'S review of the revised edition in: Mlat. Jb. 20 (1985) 301.



regularly has only one in mind, and she is to be spurned: Veneris to nolo fieri sponsum, sed Palladis, is the advice his Valerius gives to Rufinus (De Nugis IV 3, 308).


At one point, the discussion of Galo's potency incorporates an anti‑homosexual rou­tine, delivered by the lustful queen; in the process of rejecting Sadius' assertion that Galo is impotent, she turns over in her mind the symptoms of manhood (De Nugis 111 2, 218­219):


Omnia bona signa palam sunt: iam enim densior dulcis illa malarum incipit esse lanugo, nichil in eo iusto pinguius, nullus in oculis livor, in corde nulla timiditas. Numquid posset effeminatus tot armorum penetrare cuneos, pessumdare laudes omnium, propriam attollere gloriam in tantos lau­dum apices?


‑The signs are clear enough: that charming downy growth upon his cheeks, no flabbiness of limb, no jaundiced eye or coward heart. Could one less than a man have pierced through so many armed phalanxes, dimmed the glories of all men, raised his own repute to such a pinnacle of praise?»


That this rejection of impotence, with an implied rejection of homosexuality, is delivered by a sex‑crazed queen, suggests that the stereotypical homosexual is being used dramati­cally by Walter, not to condemn homosexuality, but to suggest that such judgments are to be expected from an abhorrent woman 31.

For example, later in the `De Nugis', Walter provides a story designed to illustrate the problems generated by sexual impulses in political leaders, in which Robert, Earl of Gloucester, the bastard son of Henry I, offers his homosexuality as a ludicrous weakness. Walter first describes the situation as a potential political danger, since Robert's interest in his minion leads him to value other aristocrats less (De Nugis V 4, 426‑427):


. . . et hic incidit, quod Robertus Henrici primi filius, comes Gloucestrie, vir magne prudencie mul­tarumque literarum, cum tamen esset ut fieri solet petulans, cum eiusdem vicii viro Stephano de Beauchamp omnibus bonis militibus quasi despectis frequentabat alloquia.


‑Robert earl of Gloucester, the son of Henry 1, a man of great cleverness and much learning, though, as often happens, wanton, used to be much in the society of Stephen de Beauchamp, a man beset by the same fault, and seemed to rate low all the nobles among his knights.‑


At a critical moment in a hard‑fought battle, the other nobles sardonically refuse to help him (De Nugis V 4, 426‑427):


Hic in artissimo discriminis articulo, iam animante tuba, firmatis utrimque galeis, hastis ad sub­mittendum erectis, clipeis pectoribus obductis, strictis equorum frenis, a bonis auxilium et consilium cum multa festinacione petebat, Stephano tanquam inutili retroacto. Cui quidam ex bonis: `Voca Stephanum.'


‑Now in the hardest stress of an engagement, the trumpet already stirring the spirits, helmets adjusted on both sides, spears raised to the casting, shields drawn close to the breast, reins tightly curbing the steeds, he was hurriedly seeking help and counsel from the nobles, putting aside Stephen as useless. And one of the soldiers said to him: `Call Stephen'.‑


Gloucester proceeds to save himself by his sense of humor, playing with notions of re­sponsibility, power and pleasure, by describing the potential threat, Stephen, as a comic


31 See J. S. P. TATLOCk, The Legendary History of Britain (Berkeley 1950/1974) 355, who discusses the passage in the Old French `Eneas' in which Lavinia's mother delivers an anti‑homosexual tirade, in an attempt to turn her daughter's erotic aspirations from Aeneas to Turnus. See also the attack on Narses by the untrustworthy empress Sophia, told by Aimoin of Fleury, De Gestis Francorum, ed. BOUQUET (SS rer. Gall. 111) 20‑143.



      servant, then raising him to the position of an ironically absurd ‑minister», and finally

      describing himself as a volunteer in the domain of pleasure, but a mere conscript in the

      domain of responsibility (De Nugis V 4, 426‑429):


     Comes erubuit improperium advertens, et ait omnibus quos advocaverat consilio: `Mìseremini

   mei, nec sitis ad ignoscendum difficiles confitenti. Homo multe libidinis ego: cum me vocat domina

   mea Venus, voco servum eius Stepbanum ministrum ad buiusmodi prom ptissimum; cum vero Mars,

   alumpnos eius vos consulo. Quod autem ei mea fere semper auris adberet (os loquitur et verum vo­

   bis), binc est, quod Veneri voluntarius servio, Marti milito coactus.' Riserunt omnes, et data venia

   prestitere presidium.


   ‑The earl felt the force of the rebuke, and blushed: then, to all whom he had summoned to coun­

   cil, he said: `Pity me, and do not be slow to forgive one who confesses his fault. I am a man of strong

   passions, and when my lady Venus calls me, I call her servant Stephen, who is the readiest of helpers

   in such a case: but when Mars calls, I turn to you, his pupils. But if my ear is almost always attent to

   her (I tell you the truth), the reason is that I serve Venus as a volunteer, but fight for Mars only when

   I must.' All laughed and granted him pardon and gave him their aid.­


      His sexual activities, then, become, not politically disruptive, but, in effect, trifling nu­gae.

         Another instance of homosexuality, non‑threatening and comic, occurs in the story

      Walter says was told, at the expense of Bernard of Clairvaux, to Gilbert Foliot, bishop of

r     London. A white abbot is speaking (De Nugis 124, 80‑81):


         `Vir quidam marcbio Burgundie rogavit eum ut veniret et sanaret filium eius. Venimus et inveni­

      mus mortuum. Iussit igitur corpus deferri dompnus Barnardus in talamum secretum, et eiectis omni­

      bus incubuit super puerum, et oratione facta surrexit; puer autem non surrexit, iacebat enim mor­

      tuus.' Tum ego: `Monacborum infelicissimus bic fuit. Nunquam enim audivi quod aliquis mona­

      cbus super puerum incubuisset, quin statim post ipsum surrexisset puer.' Erubuit abbas et egressi

      sent ut riderent plurimi.

         ‑`There was a man living on the borders of Burgundy who asked him to come and heal his son.

      We went, and found the son dead. Dom Bernard ordered his body to be carried into a private room,

      turned everyone out, threw himself upon the boy, prayed, and got up again: but the boy did not get

      up; he lay there dead.' `Then he was the most unlucky of monks,' said I; `I have heard before now of

      a monk throwing himself upon a boy, but always, when the monk got up, the boy promptly got up

      too.' The abbot went very red, and a lot of people left the room to have a good laugh.­

         Walter's comic routines on heterosexuality are not as purely comic as those on homo­

      sexuality, nor do they occur as often. When Raso discovers that his wife has run off with

      a captured Emir and his favorite horse, he misses the horse very much (De Nugis 111 4,


           Non tamen admirabilis, non uxoris, non eorum que tulerunt, sed solius equi iacturam intemperate

   plangit, nec filii nec familie consolacione levatur.

       ‑Yet is was not the loss of the emir, nor of his wife, nor of all they had taken from him, but only of

   his horse, that he mourned without stint, nor could he be relieved by the consolations of his son or

   his men.,,

      Twice diguised as a beggar, twice rescued by his son, the second time after his snoring

      betrays his identity to his deceived wife (111 4, 268), Raso emerges finally triumphant

      when his son decapitates his wife, permitting him to declare, with complete self‑satisfac­

      tion (111 4, 270): `Cavete et (ego vobis dico) credite, quoniam que multa evaserunt aves

      recia modico tandem capiuntur in laqueo, sicut bec avis.'


Homosexuality, on the other hand, demands and receives in Walter's stories, no such violent punishment. His comparative tolerance for homosexuality, which, as he suggests in the story, is often to be found among the learned, is, of course, not unique in the mid­dle ages. In his attempt to account for Geoffrey of Monmouth's apparent tolerance, ear­lier in the twelfth century, for sodomy among military leaders, Tatlock describes a pre­dicament that may correspond to that of Walter Map as we113z: ‑One does not like to call Geoffrey a time‑server, but we have seen that according to Henry of Huntingdon this vice was still fashionable at court in 1120, and later. The churchman has done his austere duty of condemnation, and then the courtier has his chance.» Geoffrey had offered elab­orate praise, and just a bit of blame33:


Huic successit Malgo, omnium fere ducum Britanniae pulcherrimus et probitate praeclarus, nisi Sodomitica esset peste foedatus et sic Deo se invisum exhibuisset, multorum tyrannorum depulsor, robustus armis et largior ceteris.


A second illustration of a narrative designed to produce an abhorrent response to het­erosexual passion is that of the haunted shoemaker of Constantinople, who, smitten by love, becomes a soldier, then, spurned by the girl's father, becomes a pirate (De Nugis IV 12, 364‑369). Hearing of her death, he returns, to commit necrophilia. Ordered by a voice from the dead to collect what he has generated, he returns at the appropriate time and receives a human head, which thereafter performs Gorgon‑like activity against oth­ers, making him victorious and wealthy, until his wife, the daughter of the emperor of Constantinople, destroys him with it. Buried at sea, the head generates the `Gouffre de Satalie', a whirlpool, Caribdi sub Messana persimilis (368). Thus the former shoemak­er's perverse sexual conduct generates a permanent source of destruction, out of what is potentially creative, the source of life, the sea. Charybdis reappears later in the `De Nu­gis', again to reinforce the connection between women, hell, and impotence.

This version of the shoemaker's story contains significant differences from the other two surviving versions of the story; both roughly contemporary with Walter Map. Roger Hoveden's version34 also presents a soldier whose necrophilia generates a Gorgon‑like head, although he has no past history as a pirate or shoemaker; the curiosity of his wife, who is not the daughter of an emperor, leads not to the destruction of her husband, but merely to the disposal of the head:


Contigit ergo quadam die dum miles abesset, quod illa accessit ad arcam, in qua sperabat secre­tum illud esse domini sui, per quod ille ita operabatur inique, et invenit in arca caput illud detesta‑

bile, et statim abiens projecit illud in gulfo Sataliae.


32 TA     (note 29) 353.


33 Historia Regum Britanniae. A Variant Version, ed. Jacob HAMMER (Cambridge 1951) 253. At the

end of the next century Pierre de Langtoft abbreviated this passage in his Chronicle, ed. Thomas WRIGHT, I (SS rer. Brit. 47,1), London 1866, 228, but added a detail about the location of Malgo's death that suggests he died, splendid fellow that he was, `in flagrante delicto':

Plus beaals ne plus vaillans nul en ze nasquist;

vii rays a vii regnes sur paens conquyst.

La terce an de soun regne en pecbe sodomyt

A Wyncestre en bayne morust de mort subyt.


34 Chronica Magistri Rogeri de Hoveden, ed. William STUBBS (SS rer. Brit. 51,3), London 1870, 158.



Gervase of Tilbury, however, offers a more complex scene at this point in his version of the story, which makes a helpful contrast to Walter's version 31. Gervase recounts the same story of a Gorgon‑like head generated by a necrophiliac soldier, however, the woman who brings about the soldier's destruction is not his wife, but his lover, and, un­like the former shoemaker's wife, she is not the direct agent of her husband's destruction:


In gremio amasiae (sic) obdormivit, quae clanculo clavem scrinii, in quo repositum erat caput, subripuit, et cum stulta speculatrix caput respexerat, statim obiit.


When the soldier awakens, he is grief‑stricken, and uses the head to kill himself:


Expergefactus miles re comperta doloreque tactus, caput erexit, et ab erecto vultu conspectus, cum nave periit.


Only in Walter's version, then, is the woman the direct agent of the soldier's death.


A third illustration of the horrors of heterosexual life occurs in the story of Alanus, king of the Britons (De Nugis IV 15, 376‑392), in which Walter gives violence, emascula­tion and blinding a grotesquely ludic twist36. Wigon is goaded by a remark made by his wife into taking vengeance upon the Breton king Alarms, his father‑in‑law, who had blinded and emasculated Wigon's own father Remelin, the count of Laon (IV 15, 384­385):


Contigit Wiganum cum uxore sua in scaccis ludentem ad maiores operas a suis vocari, liquitque loco suo fidelem sibi militem ut cum domina ludum illum fineret, et abscessit. Cum ergo domina vicisset, ait militi secum ludenti: `Non tibi, sed orbi filio mat.' Quod improperium Wiganus cum equanimiter ferre non posset, ad Alanum Rebrit properans inopinum invasit ...


,Now it happened that Wigon when playing chess with his wife was called away by his courtiers to more important business, left in his place a loyal knight of his to finish the game with his lady, and withdrew. When then the lady had won, she said to the knight who was playing with her: `Mate, not to you, but to the blind man's son.' This taunt Wigon was unable to put up with; he hastened off to Alan Rebrit and fell on him unprepared . . .».


Wigon proceeds to capture, blind and emasculate his father‑in‑law. Upon his return, he resumes his position at the chessboard, and waits until he has won the game to deliver his trophies of victory. Like Walter Map himself, Wigon adopts a jovial manner to mask his purpose; as he tosses the eyes and genitalia of his father‑in‑law Alan onto the chessboard, in front of his wife, who had taunted him into taking the vengeance, he uses her own words against her (IV 15, 386‑387):


Wiganus, ut plena glorietur, ulcione, ablatis secum in manica sinistra oculis et genitalibus Alani, celato et facto et proposito facie iocosa et bylari, domum reversus cum uxore considet ad scaccos, et obtento ludo super scaccarium genitalia et oculos proicit, dicens quod ab ipsa didicerat: `Eilie orbi dico mat.'

,Wigan, in order to boast his full revenge, carried off with him in his left sleeve Alan's eyes and privy parts, masked deed and purpose with a smiling merry face, returned home and sat down to


35 Otia imperialia 11 12, ed. G. W. LEIBNITZ (Scriptores return brunsvicensium), Hannover 1707­1711, 920.

36 This passage and several others in the `De Nugis' show vivid symptoms of what Mikhail BAKH­TINT, Rabelais and his World (Cambridge 1968) passim, calls ‑grotesque realism». The abhorrent combination of games and the ‑lower bodily stratum‑ is, however, not an illustration of the in­trusion of folk culture, but part of the apparatus of nightmare available to writers of all social classes.



chess with his wife; when he had won the game he cast both upon the board with the words he had learned from her ‑ `Mate to the blind man's daugther'. »


The bitter irony about shared identity produces in his wife no apparent emotion; instead, she smiles, quietly and effectively plots revenge, both sexual and otherwise, with a young and handsome aristocrat named Hoel, and Wigon himself is killed, though with no graphic details, yet another victim of a woman.


Walter's attack on women and on heterosexual passion continues throughout the `De Nugis', returning in the final pages to the resemblance between the court and he1137, de­veloping the analogy at great length, repeating some of the material from the opening section of the book, and continuing to attribute negative associations to heterosexual ac­tivity. First, however, he borrows from Macrobius, to offer an analogy between the body itself and hell (De Nugis, V 7, 500‑501):


Macrobius asserit antiquissimorum fuisse sentenciam, infernum nicbil aliud esse quam corpus bumanum, in quod anima deiecta tenebrarum feditatem, borrorem sordium patitur, et quecunque fabulose dicuntur in inferno fuisse pene, conati sunt assignare singulas in sepulcro corporis humani.

«Macrobius asserts that it was the opinion of the most ancient philosophers that hell was nothing else but the human body, whereinto the soul being cast suffers the foulness of darkness and the horror of filth; and of all the punishments which are reputed in fables to have been in hell, they tried to find a place for everyone in the sepulchre of the human body.‑


Having established a severely Pauline attitude towards the body, Walter returns to the analogy of the court as hell; in considering Tityus' lust for Juno, he offers a comparison between himself and Tityus, insisting on an exclusively figurative significance for the an­alogy, denying any sexual implications (De Nugis V 7, 504‑505):


Nunquid non ego sum in curia Ticius, et forsitan alius aliquis, cuius cupido cordi vultures appo‑

nuntur, id est a f fectus nigri divellentes ipsum, quia non luctavit, appetitui pravo non restitit? Sed non

Ticius qui lunoni dissolute mentis non celavit angustias. Cogitat, loquitur, agit contra bonum illum

qui nec abut nec stetit, nec sedit.

‑Am not I, and perhaps some others too, a Tityus at the Court; upon whose covetous heart vul­tures, that is, black passions, are set, which tear it because it has not striven, has not withstood a wrong desire? But I am not the Tityus who did not hide from Juno the anxieties of his lustful mind. His thoughts, his words, his acts, are clean contrary to the good man who hath not walked nor stood nor sat. »


In his consideration of the Danaides (the granddaughters rather than, as Walter has it, the daughters of Belus) carrying water in sieves, Walter again takes the opportunity to


37 In his condemnation of life at court (MIGNE PL 207, 42‑50), Peter of Blois also provides an ex­tensive comparison of the court to hell, however, he offers a greater range of abuses, in a much smaller space, paying particular attention to avarice, but finding room for a denunciation of gluttony as well. He pays no attention to sexual abuses at court. In his eloquent argument for a reassessment of Peter of Blois, Peter DRONKE, Peter of Blois and Poetry at the Court of Henry 11, in: Mediaeval Studies 28 (1976) 185‑235, reprinted in: (id.), The Medieval Poet and His World (Storia a Letteratura 164), Roma 1984, 281‑239, here 308, unfortunately contributes to the tri­vialization of Walter Map: ‑Peter's contemporaries at the English court, John of Salisbury and Walter Map, lay bare the ,frivolities of courtiers», the `nugae curialium,' in their prose. Yet their writings contain no attack as passionate and unqualified as that of the Dehortans in this dia­logue.


disparage women, this time by insisting that the image is analogous to courtiers who lack the intellectual strength of men (De Nugis V 7, 504‑505):


   Belus virilis vel virtuosus interpretatur; hic Pater noster Deus est. Nos eius non filii, quia non vir­

tuosi, non robusti, sed filie, nam in inpotenciam e f feminati, cribro quod a paleis grana secernit, id

est, discrecione vasa complere pertusa laboramus, id est, animos insaciabiles, quorum adulteravit

ambicio fundum, qui sorbent quod infunditur instar Caribdis, et sine plenitudinis apparencia non

cessant haustus perdere vanos.

«Belus is interpreted to mean manly or virtuous: this is our Father, even God. We are not his sons, for we are not virtuous nor staunch, but rather his daughters, for effeminate to weakness, we labour to fill, with a sieve that parts the grain from the chaff ‑ that is, with discretion ‑ the pierced vessels, that is, our insatiable spirits, the bottom of which ambition has made unsound, which absorb like Charybdis what is poured into them, and without the appearance of being full, ever let go the useless draughts. »


The associations with women, then, are once again impotence, and a bottomless whirl­pool, though in a figurative sense.


`De Nugis Curialium' ends with a final contrast of seriousness and play, combining sex, hunting, and politics, as Walter uses the conventional figure of the sexually deceived husband, to point to political corruption and deception (De Nugis V 7, 510‑513):


Hic autem rex in curia sua marito similis est qui novit ultimus errorem uxoris. Ad ludendum in avibus et canibus eum foras fraudulenter eiciunt, ne videat quod ab eis interim intro fit. Dum ipsum ludere faciunt, ipsi seriis intendunt, rostris insidunt, at ad unum finem iudicant equitates et iniusti­cias. Cum autem rex a venatu vel aucupio redit, predas suas eis ostendit et partitur; ipsi suas ei non revelant.


‑The king in his court is like a husband who is the last to learn of the unfaithfulness of his wife. They craftily urge him out of doors to sport with hounds and hawks, that he may not see what they are doing meanwhile indoors. While they make him play, they concentrate on serious matters, they seat themselves on the bench and decide just and unjust causes, all to the same end. When the king returns from hunting or hawking he shows them his bag and shares it with them, but they do not show theirs to him.,,


The book ends, then, with an image of a reunion in bad faith, with a deceived husband and ruler. Only God can correct this situation, Walter concludes (De Nugis V 7, 512­513):


Hinc in predicta tam numerosa familia multus est tumultus et error super numerum, quod We solus cum tempus acceperit sedabit, qui sedet super tronum et iudicabit iusticiam.

‑And so in that large household of which I speak there is great confusion, and error above meas­ure, which he only, when he sees occasion, will bring to calm, who sitteth upon the throne and will judge the right.‑


If this is the material of the successful after‑dinner speaker, then what appeals to peo­ple after they have eaten is certainly strikingly perverse. Under the mask of triviality, Walter offers playfully bitter misogyny, satire and complaint, with deliberately grotesque fantasies of impotence, castration, necrophilia, and decapitation. Created by a late twelfth‑century `spoudogelaios', the `De Nugis Curialium' consists of a series of narra­tives, whose cumulative effect more resembles a jeremiad than a post‑prandial entertain­ment.