16 April 2010

Beware the poison damsels

There is another fair and good isle, full of people, where the custom is that when a woman is newly married, she shall not sleep the first night with her husband, but with another young man, who shall have ado with her that night and take her maidenhead, taking in the morning a certain sum of money for his trouble. In each town there are certain young men set apart to do that service, which are called gadlibiriens, which is to say ‘fools of despair’. They say, and affirm as truth, that it is a very dangerous thing to take the maidenhead of a virgin; for, so they say, whoever does puts himself at peril of death […]

I asked them what the cause and reason was for such a custom here. They told me that in ancient times some men had died in that land in deflowering maidens, for the latter had snakes within them, which stung the husbands on their penises inside the women’s bodies; and thus many men were slain, and so they follow that custom there to make other men test out the route before they themselves set out on that adventure.

- Source: The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a 14th century novel that supposedly details the diverse wanderings of an English knight from 1322-56. This edition translated by C.W.R.D. Moseley, originally published 1983, revised edition 2005

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