The Wives of the Minyans

Mogli dei Mini

In today’s Women’s Wednesday we celebrate not one but several women: the nameless wives of the Minyans. The Minyans were an autochthonous group that lived in the Aegean region and were usually associated to a group of Greek heroes known as the Argonauts.

The heroes in this story are not the men but their beloved wives. The Minyans men, in fact, were ungrateful to the Spartans’ generous hospitality and staged a coup d’état. The failed attempt at insubordination led to their incarceration and all men were condemned to death row. The wives of the convicts, despite being distraught, quickly excogitated a plan to free their beloved men: one night, dressed up with multiple layers of clothing, the women arrived to the prison and begged the guards to grant them one last goodbye to their husbands. The guards eventually gave up and allowed them to meet their men. Once alone in the cells, they undressed, offered their clothes to the men and switched positions with them, allowing the men, now dressed up as women, to escape the prison. It might seem that Boccaccio admired these women, repeatedly describing them as brave, but his conclusion to the story might suggest otherwise. According to the author, the men being associated to words like cowardice, weakness, and narrow-mindedness should not be read as a compliment to the women. The men in question were deemed as emasculated and should have felt ashamed of being more similar to women than to the heroes they were supposed to be.

“Wives of the Minyons”, illumination from the manuscript “Des cleres et nobles femmes”, ms. Royal 20 C V, f. 46v, 1st quarter of the 15th century, British Library, London.

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