Whiny dudes, it seems, whine in much the same way across the millennia.
May 29, 2018 1:49 AM   Subscribe

Drag Her by the Hair and Heart, The Manosphere and Ancient Love Curses: "As someone specializing in Greco-Roman magic, I’ve recently started to reevaluate ancient love curses like Hermias’ thanks to MRAs and their ilk. How do we understand a spell that both demands that a woman be burned, dragged by her guts, or whipped, and that she enter a long-term relationship with the spellcaster? Sure, it’s at least partly metaphorical, in the same way that we can talk about a burning passion without literally envisioning people on fire. But the way these curses linger lovingly over the imagery is disquieting — and, if you can forget the distance which 1,700 years lends and step into Titerous’ place, all too recognizable. Men are more likely to invoke Roosh V than Anubis these days, but the 21st century manosphere can show us some rocks to look under in antiquity."

In the 4th century CE, an Egyptian man named Hermias recorded his erotic frustrations in a curse against a woman named either Titerous or Tigerous. (He calls her both.) He complains to the gods (Tr. Betz.):
"Anubis … assume all your authority and all your powers against Tigerous, whom Sophia bore.
Make her cease from her arrogance, calculation, and her shamefulness,
and attract her to me, beneath my feet, melting with passionate desire at every hour of the day and night,
always remembering me while she is eating, drinking, working, conversing, sleeping, having an orgasm in her dreams,
until she is scourged by you and comes desiring me, with her hands full, with a generous soul and graciously giving me both herself and her possessions and fulfilling what is appropriate for women in regards to men:
serving both my desire and her own unhesitatingly and unabashedly, joining thigh to thigh and belly to belly and her black [pubic hair] to my black, most pleasantly."
Hermias’ fantasy of Titerous asks for more than just sex: he demands her submission. He wants her humbled, whipped, and obsessed with him; he wants access to her body, her property, her emotions, even her dreams; he wants her to be punished for not already being his. And she had better be happy about it.

The form of Hermias’ spell is ancient, but the aggrieved entitlement is all too familiar. The ambivalent language of love curses — sometimes violently misogynistic, sometimes almost wistful, has eerie modern parallels in the discourse of the so-called manosphere: MRAs (“men’s rights activists”), “incels” (“involuntarily celibate”, a moniker adopted by some bitterly anti-feminist groups who feel women unfairly withhold sex from them), MGTOWs (“men going their own way”), PUAs (“pick up artists”), and similar groups loosely affiliated with the alt-right, who are having something of a moment here in 2018. (Alek Minassian, the driver who killed 10 people with a van in Toronto in April, identified as an incel.)

The description of Titerous as arrogant, calculating, shameful, and unwomanly for not being interested in Hermias seems out of place in the modern MRA movement only because of its restraint. Compare this post on the late and unlamented r/incels subreddit, which catalogues “Reasons why women are the embodiment of evil”. (r/incels was finally banned by Reddit in November 2017 for inciting violence.) Whiny dudes, it seems, whine in much the same way across the millennia.

Much more amazing stuff from the same website previously.
posted by Blasdelb (33 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
 
Collect a few more data-points between antiquity and the present day; draw a dotted line connecting them & Ms. Ager could make an instructive (albeit depressing) book out of this: 'Dude-Whining Since Antiquity', or the like.

A difference nowadays is that rather than submitting it to deities in the form of spells or prayers (effectively redirecting it to null devices) much of our contemporary whine-data is preserved in ever-larger and more toxically polluting accumulations.

A dude-whine of my own would be about the word manosphere. One could argue it's an ugly composite word for an ugly composite thing, and therefore apt. But why not androsphere or testiglobe or manboybubble or wankballoon?
posted by misteraitch at 5:33 AM on May 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


...provided with handy blanks into which to insert his and Titerous’ names. Not all of the curses deal with love: many seek to punish thieves and murderers, put competitors out of business, silence witnesses in a lawsuit or keep the wrong team from winning a chariot race. They were common enough that some have been found that were clearly pre-written for clients, with names squeezed awkwardly into the blank spaces later.
Coming soon to a greeting card store near you.
posted by clawsoon at 5:49 AM on May 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


Ms. Ager

Dr. Ager, if you don't mind.
posted by zamboni at 5:59 AM on May 29, 2018 [14 favorites]


Collect a few more data-points between antiquity and the present day; draw a dotted line connecting them & Ms. Ager could make an instructive (albeit depressing) book out of this: 'Dude-Whining Since Antiquity', or the like.
Well, another contributor to Eidolon–Donna Zuckerberg–is working on a somewhat similar project, and the book is coming out in October.
posted by 3zra at 6:12 AM on May 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


Ms. Ager

Dr. Ager, if you don't mind.


I don't mind one bit: thanks for the correction!
posted by misteraitch at 6:18 AM on May 29, 2018 [5 favorites]


Collect a few more data-points between antiquity and the present day; draw a dotted line connecting them & Ms. Ager could make an instructive (albeit depressing) book out of this: 'Dude-Whining Since Antiquity', or the like.

It's pretty gosh-darn well-known amongst humanities students with an inkling of equality awareness. I mean all you have to do is read some of the stuff to recognize it. I had profs who groaned about the misogyny in ancient myths way back in the 1990s, and these profs were in their 60s.

Hesiod is a raging misogynist – we get a version of creation wherein man is cool shit and woman is formed from clay as an evil snare for men. No seriously, just read it.
Hephaistos brought her among the other gods and men,
glorying in her adornment by the gray-eyed Daughter of Great Zeus.
Then the gods and mortal men were struck with amazement
when they beheld this sheer inescapable snare for men.
From her descend the race of women, the feminine sex;
from her come the baneful race and types of women.
Women, a great plague, make their abodes with mortal men,
being ill-suited to Poverty's curse but suited to Plenty.
posted by fraula at 6:59 AM on May 29, 2018 [8 favorites]


It's pretty gosh-darn well-known amongst humanities students with an inkling of equality awareness.

classics major here reporting in to confirm that a full 65% of my freshman and sophomore classes involved making fun of ancient dudes' caterwauling about the simultaneous-sad-incompetence-and-heinous-all-destroying-shebeast Nature Of The Feminine. hesiod, aristotle... it doesn't get any better when you get to the middle ages, either...
posted by halation at 7:08 AM on May 29, 2018 [13 favorites]


... if you can forget the distance which 1,700 years lends

Well, it certainly provides a conveniently smaller barrel into which one can shoot at fish with no aim necessary whatsoever.
posted by y2karl at 7:09 AM on May 29, 2018


As someone specializing in Greco-Roman magic, I’ve recently started to reevaluate ancient love curses like Hermias’ thanks to MRAs and their ilk. How do we understand a spell that both demands that a woman be burned, dragged by her guts, or whipped, and that she enter a long-term relationship with the spellcaster? Sure, it’s at least partly metaphorical, in the same way that we can talk about a burning passion without literally envisioning people on fire. But the way these curses linger lovingly over the imagery is disquieting — and, if you can forget the distance which 1,700 years lends and step into Titerous’ place, all too recognizable.

Although Britta Ager doesn't say whose interpretation she is 'reevaluating' here, I suspect she's thinking of John G. Gager's edition of Curse Tablets and Binding Spells from the Ancient World (1992), which bends over backwards to argue that these curses aren't really curses and, in any case, shouldn't be taken literally:

These items are clearly not curses in any shape or manner. Their explicit goal is not to harm the target but to constrain her [..] The language is deeply symbolic and will simply not allow an overly literal interpretation [..] It would be a serious error to read them in an overly literal fashion.

I don't find it easy to 'forget the distance which 1700 years lends', and I'm not sure that we should: my guiding principle as a historian has always been Robert Darnton's advice to 'set out with the idea of capturing otherness'. But Ager is right to ask the question: what if these curses actually mean what they say?
posted by verstegan at 7:29 AM on May 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


'Dude-Whining Since Antiquity', or the like

They've been dazed and confused for so long it's not true.
posted by flabdablet at 7:32 AM on May 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


Their explicit goal is not to harm the target but to constrain her

This sentence is stunning in its obliviousness.
posted by lunasol at 7:51 AM on May 29, 2018 [48 favorites]


This sentence is stunning in its obliviousness.

+1 "I didn't harm her, your honour, I just wanted to lock her up in my basement until she understood how much she really loves me"
posted by *becca* at 7:56 AM on May 29, 2018 [41 favorites]


WANKBALLOON
posted by sio42 at 7:59 AM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


This is great. I'm pleasantly surprised by the take in this article, because the last knowledgeable article (and it was genuinely knowledgeable) I saw about this on Metafilter was from a man who clearly believed that magic was the only recourse that these poor, beleaguered men had from the social power of women. In Hellenistic times. His blog had a lot of MRA-adjacent content, and although I can't find it now, I'm not really sorry.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:07 AM on May 29, 2018 [4 favorites]


why anubis though. why would the guardian of the duat, the weigher of hearts, care about some dude's sadboner.
posted by poffin boffin at 8:17 AM on May 29, 2018 [10 favorites]


I think manosphere is the perfect word, sounding as it does like a He Man character who is a hovering ball of sulky entitlement.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 8:20 AM on May 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


I have a talk which is named ‘shitty Greek men’ on my computer (it gets called something else when given as people don’t want to put that on a poster) which features a lot of these curses. I usually start with the one that goes wrong and according to report turned its female target into a horse by accident.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 8:22 AM on May 29, 2018 [21 favorites]


poffin boffin, cuz he's a dawg?
posted by es_de_bah at 8:24 AM on May 29, 2018


This is great. I'm pleasantly surprised by the take in this article, because the last knowledgeable article (and it was genuinely knowledgeable) I saw about this on Metafilter was from a man who clearly believed that magic was the only recourse that these poor, beleaguered men had from the social power of women.

"Should I reevaluate how I treat and consider women? No, sorcery is the only answer."
posted by Sangermaine at 8:41 AM on May 29, 2018 [25 favorites]


I had a well-meaning guy on my FB yesterday who was baffled by domestic-violence assholes who shoot their exes while claiming to still love them.

"Why would you shoot someone you love?" And so I had to explain that what those dudes call "love" is more properly defined as "ownership", that seeing women as things to be possessed means you can't cope when your "thing" decides it's a person and acts in ways contrary to your will.

I will admit that I don't entirely get that rage; like, I can imagine seeing people as things, that's an evil we all carry around in us, but I can't really get myself into the mental state of "if my possession rebels against me, it must be destroyed." I believe it happens, I just don't know how you get to that place, mentally. Maybe because, as a woman, I don't have to fear losing that kind of "face" of being able to dominate/own women. It's not a role I was ever told I should fulfill so there's nothing of my identity tied up in it, and women doing their own thing is no threat to my self-image.
posted by emjaybee at 9:20 AM on May 29, 2018


"I usually start with the one that goes wrong and according to report turned its female target into a horse by accident."

Yeah, you're gonna have to tell us a WHOLE LOT MORE about this awesome-sounding talk.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:43 AM on May 29, 2018 [11 favorites]



I will admit that I don't entirely get that rage; like, I can imagine seeing people as things, that's an evil we all carry around in us, but I can't really get myself into the mental state of "if my possession rebels against me, it must be destroyed." I believe it happens, I just don't know how you get to that place, mentally


because it is love - of a sort. It's the feeling that you'd do anything for that person and that they'd do the same for you. It's juts that society, media, rarely portrays "unwillingness" as anything other than a problem to be overcome. And the idolization of the one true love and 'til death do us part... anyone becoming unwilling for any reason is committing the utmost betrayal.

Almost every relationship starts as a fantasy. Starts with seeing the magical best of another person which may or may not really be there. Eventually, that fantasy gets broken and has end. In a healthy and nurturing relationship, that involves learning to love another person with all their flaws, and forging deep and lasting bonds. Or more often, it ends with two people realizing that they don't actually want the not fantasy version of the other person and go their separate wats. But for a person whose head is full of macho crap, that they deserve all they want and that their manliness is determined by forcefully taking what they want, breaking that fantasy isn't something they can handle, and it goes really, really badly. They want that fantasy and there's no other option to being in a universe where they can't have it beside anger and rage and a feeling of injustice.
posted by Zalzidrax at 10:03 AM on May 29, 2018 [3 favorites]


I usually start with the one that goes wrong and according to report turned its female target into a horse by accident.

And that's where centaurs come from.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:44 AM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


And that's where centaurs come from.

Leslie Knope-shaped centaurs, surely.
posted by valkane at 11:01 AM on May 29, 2018


But for a person whose head is full of macho crap, that they deserve all they want and that their manliness is determined by forcefully taking what they want

I think that this stops short of a full explanation, because men don't just use violence against women as a means to an end - to forcefully take what they want. They also use it as punishment. These curses don't just reflect a fantasy of mindless obedience; they're also a fantasy of the degradation and suffering of the female target.

Once you start looking for male fantasies of female suffering, it's everywhere. When you imagine what the world would be like without these fantasies, the difference is staggering. Sometimes it has a clear sexual component, as it does in porn, and sometimes it passes itself of as artistic - as in a lot of mainstream media.

I don't find the explanation that it's about control to be enough. This man didn't have to kill his ex-girlfriend's partner and three children in front of her, and tell her that he was leaving her alive to suffer, in order to control her. He killed himself right afterward, making the question of her obedience moot.

This kind of hatred and rage toward women has existed as long as we have written records, although the form - magical curses, or mass shootings - might change. I don't know where it comes from. I don't know what's wrong with men. Clearly, entitlement is a big part of it. But there is also a component of rage and resentment that goes beyond the simple desire for control.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 11:10 AM on May 29, 2018 [17 favorites]


And that's where centaurs come from.

It seems that when you turn a woman into a horse all she wants to do is go out to the fields and run around, and not have mad sex with humans. She also does not want to stay home (even with her poor husband who wakes up to this and is deeply upset at the whole matter) and eat 'human food' no matter how many times it is offered to her. Luckily, though, as they're taking her off to the fields to take part in her new horse life a saint intervenes and sorts things out. So a sort of happy ending!

But this stuff is vicious and I try to emphasize that when I teach it. But I also point out that it shows lots of ancient women had good, independent social lives where they were off in bars with friends and at other events, because the spells are very detailed about where women might need to be found and dragged to the spell caster from.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:06 PM on May 29, 2018 [12 favorites]


I am with verstegan, lesbiasparrow and Countess Elena on this. The world of 1700 years ago was a nasty, brutish and violent place as compared to now. And for women much more so than men.

For example, the ancient world took slavery as a given, even unto Aristophanes' Cloud Cuckoo Land and, yet, as an alternative to being massacred on the battlefield, it was a marked improvement.

And yet. Calling these curses ancient Dude whining is daft. As the Countess and lesbiasparrow note, if anything, these curses bespeak the power women had even then.

Never judge the Ancient world by the present. We are where we are by 1700 years of baby sized baby steps.
posted by y2karl at 12:21 PM on May 29, 2018 [1 favorite]


I wonder how much better our species would be if women had been the ones to receive the bigger bodies. Would we be having the same problems with different names, does being the more violence-suited half of our dimorphism necessarily affect the rest of one's behaviour? How would things be if we didn't have dimorphism at all.
posted by GoblinHoney at 12:33 PM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


As the Countess and lesbiasparrow note, if anything, these curses bespeak the power women had even then.

I was being sarcastic. Women did have the "power" of men's love for them, although where it is unwanted, this is less of a power than a forest fire that the woman is blamed for even though she was miles away. But Greek and Roman society were, on the whole, very bad for women, and classical Athens was as misogynist a society as you will find in the Middle East today. Some women did have social power or wealth. Areas that were still under Egyptian influence were also better for women, as women in Pharaonic Egypt had a great deal more power than the women of classical Greece or Rome. But even so, Roman Egypt was a society where a man might write to his pregnant wife, in the best Greek tradition, "If it is a male, let it live; if it is a female, expose it."

(Early Christianity actually offered women more agency and power than Mediterranean societies tended to at the time, which led to its rise. Then Paul ruined everything, although certainly someone else would have if he had not. In conclusion, if the Greeks had been nicer to women, we would not have Christianity, and therefore we would not have Trump, thank you for coming to my TED talk)
posted by Countess Elena at 1:03 PM on May 29, 2018 [16 favorites]


I’m excited for her book. Every time I thought of some question I had about the material, she would answer it in the next paragraph and add yet more info. It was a joy to read something like that.

It seems like the internet has made things so much worse. Private curses are now public-but-anonymous rants and encouragement. Ancient magic and curses don’t seem nearly as extreme as MRA incel stuff, where the whiny dudes can constantly egg each other on from the safety of their bedrooms.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 2:18 PM on May 29, 2018 [2 favorites]


...But Greek and Roman society were, on the whole, very bad for women, and classical Athens was as misogynist a society as you will find in the Middle East today.

I do not disagree with this one bit. And yet the exceptions that prove the rule -- Artemisia of Caria and Diotima of Mantinea, even though the latter is considered a Platonic literary device to some, come to mind -- provide the thought that agency and power for well born women was not entirely unimaginable. For the well born, at least.

All the same, polytheism at least provided a place for some women in some of the priesthoods. Monotheism not so much.

But, in terms of daily life, they were shitty times for the bulk of humanity and shittiest by far for women. That is incontestible.
posted by y2karl at 2:55 PM on May 29, 2018


Saying that these curses "bespeak the power women had even then" is wishful thinking. Women do not need to be powerful in order for men to wish for their obedience and suffering, as they do in these curses. And the idea that the targets of these curses were women with social power is addressed directly in the article. Did you miss it?

These curses don't speak of female power. That's something you're reading into them, while you try to explain what they actually, literally speak of.

And yes, what they speak of does have very clear parallels to male fantasies of female obedience and suffering in the manosphere. Calling them "ancient dude whining" is daft only in the sense that it makes light of something that has been very dangerous for women for thousands of years. Otherwise it seems pretty goddamned on the nose.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 5:01 PM on May 29, 2018 [12 favorites]


All the same, polytheism at least provided a place for some women in some of the priesthoods. Monotheism not so much.

In the early Christian church women did have significant roles, though; the fights over the story of Saint Thecla were part of shoving them away from those roles - you couldn't have women baptising themselves and being in charge of things! The first stages of the church were not necessarily what it became later - it was offering itself to women as a revolutionary way to escape the cycle of marriage and extremely risky childbirth that was part and parcel of ancient society even for wealthy women. That seems to have been incredibly appealing, as much as Jesus and the rest of it was.

Life for women was horrible in antiquity; my point about the social lives of women was meant to point out that despite that women - especially in Alexandria and some other urban centres - did move around as social and economic actors, despite the huge disadvantages they suffered under, as a counterbalance to those who want to ignore their public and social presence entirely. But the extent of the knowledge spell-casters had of their movements suggest that some of these women were effectively being stalked by men irate that they might be paying attention to other men and women instead of them. That sounds very modern indeed - I owe that observation to another female scholar working on these curses, who pointed that out many of these spells read like they come from very disturbed men, and we shouldn't assume that they left it at just casting spells, anymore than people on the internet are just spitting out hate against women online and not acting on it in real life ways.

I firmly believe that Diotima is entirely invented. I have never read a single thing arguing for her possible existence that reads as anything more than people wanting to believe that Athenian men really couldn't be that terrible to women and still have come up with democracy and freedoms for themselves. The same people who write this often argue that the Athenians also couldn't have been too terrible to their slaves based on entirely the same reasoning. I prefer to look at the few working women in Athens who somehow - against all odds - managed to claw out economic footholds for themselves and leave up inscriptional evidence of their lives. The same in Rome and in the Roman Empire. But those successes were rare and hard won.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 9:49 AM on May 30, 2018 [11 favorites]


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