As a result of my previous blog I happened to come across Charles Beeson’s A Primer of Medieval Latin (Chicago, 1925). I was looking for an edition by the same author of Isodore of Seville’s works, but that was not available at the library here. I loaned the primer and it turned out to be an excellent anthology. After some research I found out that there was a copy for download on internet and now I have it on my pc. I still prefer a real book, but now I can simply copy paste texts. By the way, this is already the third pre WW2 anthology of Mediaeval Latin known to me by American scholars – the others are Harrington and Muller/Taylor. Apparently these were fruitful years for Mediaeval Latin in the US! I wonder how the situation now is.
The following story is from the Exempla by the French bishop Jacques de Vitry (c. 1160/70 – 1 May 1240). He was a fervent preacher and used these exempla to illustrate his sermons. This exemplum illustrates the wickedness of women. The humour is well, let’s say, rather cheap, but it is very reminiscent of jokes still going around about men dominated by their wives. It contains two examples of the wickedness of Eve’s daughters: the first is about a young man asking his father for two wives. The father is reluctant and gives him at first only one, promising to give the other at the end of the year. When the father indeed asks at the promised period if his son still wants another wife, the answer is a resolute no! One wife is more than a man can endure!
The second example is about a thief and murderer being caught and citizens are deliberating a fitting retaliation. Finally one comes up with the most severe sentence: he won’t survive living with my wife! No wonder Jacques de Vitry was such a wonderful preacher and his flock must have left his sermons with pain in their stomach from laughing.
On a more serious point: such texts illustrate the mental attitude of common people and it is a pity that we don’t have such texts from Classical Latin, as a literary genre like a sermon was unknown.
But did people still understand Latin? Partly yes and certainly the clergy, though knowledge of Latin amongst lower clergy was often poor, but sermons were commonly hold in vernacular languages and this is also likely for the sermons of de Vitry, though they were written down in Latin.
The spelling has been normalized and the text is very easy.
Jacques de Vitry: EXEMPLUM CONTRA MALITIAM MULIERUM ET DE ILLO CUI PATER DEDIT UXOREM
Ecce quam pauci hodie uxoribus suis adhaerent fide et dilectione sicut instituit Dominus noster Iesus Christus qui est benedictus in saecula saeculorum. Amen.
Ut autem de malitia filiarum Evae aliquid subdam, nolui sub silentio praeterire quod audivi de quodam iuvene, qui rogabat patrem suum ut ei duas uxores daret. Cumque vehementer instaret dedit ei pater unam, promittens quod in fine anni daret alteram. Illa vero adeo primo anno maritum afflixit quod non poterat sustinere sed mallet mori quam vivere. Cumque pater finito anno diceret filio: "Vis habere secundam uxorem?" respondit ille: "Si una me afflixit fere usque ad mortem, quomodo duas ferre possem?"
Accidit autem in civitate illa ut caperetur maleficus et latro pessimus, qui multos de civitate illa spoliaverat et occiderat. Cumque cives convenirent et quaereret iudex a singulis ut quilibet consilium suum daret quomodo latro ille magis torqueri valeret, quibusdam dicentibus: "Distrahatur caudis equorum et suspendatur," aliis dicentibus: "Igne cremetur," ceteris vero consulentibus ut vivus excoriaretur, cum perventum fuisset ad illum qui malam habebat uxorem, respondit: "Date illi uxorem meam; non video qualiter ipsum magis affligere valeatis."
quam pauci: how few
delectio –onis: affection
ut…aliquid subdam: that I may add something = in order to add something
sub silentio praeterire: to pass by in silence
iuvenis –is (m.): youth, juvenile person
rogo: to ask
insto: to insists
affligo afflixi afflictum: to ruin, afflict
sustineo sustinui sustentum: to endure
latro –onis (m.): thief, robber
spolio: to rob
occido occidi occisum: to kill
a singulis: one by one
ut quilibet consilium suum daret quomodo latro ille magis torqueri valeret: that everyone should give his opinion how that thief could be tortured most. (magis in ML can be used as a superlative.)
quibusdam dicentibus: abl. abs.
distraho distraxi distractum: to tear in pieces, divide
distrahatur caudis equorum: i.e quartering: each limb was attached to a horse, though this was unlikely to be the tail (see picture), and the horses tore the victim apart.
suspendo suspense suspensum: to hang up
excorio: to skin, strip the skin from
perventum fuisset: impersonal construction `when had arrived to him’ this is quite common in ML.
For those interested in downloading Beeson:
Martyrdom of St Hippolyte by Dieric Bouts (1420-1475)