Saturday, 15 November 2014

In praise of good wine!

Whoever thinks the Middle Ages are a bulwark of devote religiosity is utterly erring.  Take for instance the following song: it is in praise of good wine, but it is also criticizing social circumstances. Moreover, it is cast in the form of a religious song, namely verbum bonum et suave. There are many such parodies and more than one begins with vinum bonum et suave. The religious parody is a very interesting subject as the writers of such parodies can hardly be critics of religion and atheists in the modern sense. It could be that such verses acted as a kind of comic relief and/or as an outlet of frustration and were seen as rather harmless. Besides, the poets were mostly clerics themselves and so some self-mockery must also be considered. As for parallels, the Götterkomödien in Homer are of course well-known and the Rig Veda has also some comic hymns. With the same perspective we must consider mockeries of the mass and crowning of children as mock kings at certain mediaeval festivals. Such rituals are known as rituals of reversal. At such rituals social tensions are canalized by a reversal of social structures: masters become slaves and slaves become masters, like at the Roman Saturnalia or the Hindu Divali. Such rituals are especially found in societies with rigid social divisions.  Seen from this perspective, such songs endorse social structures rather than threaten them.
The book in which I found this texts does not assign a date to this hymn, but the 12th century seems to me a safe guess.

Vinum bonum et suave
bibit abbas  cum priore
et conventus de peiore
   bibit cum tristitia.

Ave felix creatura,
quam produxit vitis pura :
omnis mensa fit secura
   in tua presentia.

Felix venter cum intrabis,
felix os quod tu rigabis,
 felix lingua quam lavabis,
   et beata labia.

O quam felix in colore,
O quam flagrans in odoro,
O quam placans es in ore
   dulce lingue vinculum.

Supplicamus, hic abunda,
omnis turba sit facunda,
ut cum voce nos iocunda
   personemus gaudia.

Monachorum grex devotus,
clerus omnis, mundus totus,
bibunt adequales potus,
   et nunc et in secula.

prior: religious rank, mostly lower than an abbot, but higher than a monk
conventus (monachorum)
de peiore (vino)
vitis vitis (f.) vine
securus : free from care
venter ventris (m.): belly
rigo: to wet, moisten
vinculum: fetter
supplico: to pray beseech
abundo: to abound
turba: crowd
facundus: eloquent
ut cum voce nos iocunda personemus gaudia: So that with delightful voice we may loudly express (persono) joyful things.
grex grecis (m.): flock, herd
adequales potus: the same drinks

Here is a musical setting. Cheers!

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