Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Nature's Complaint: Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature, Part 2

NATURE IS LOVELY AS SHE APPEARS in Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature when the poet falls into a trance, a dream-like state while reciting his elegy at his fellows' rejection of Nature's guidance, especially in the area of the sexual faculties. Everywhere he sees abuse, a bad grammar and bad logic in sex, which manifests itself in a rejection of the human dignity and genius, and ultimately leads man into irrationality, a perverse sex transmutes itself into perverse thought. Corruptio optimi pessima. The poet is privileged to see Nature as she is, as she glides down from the inner palace of the impassible world. She contains the entirety of the cosmos cap-a-pie, from head to foot, galaxy to worm.


She comes from the heavens in a chariot of glass that is drawn by doves--Juno's birds. Above her was reason, appearing as a man above her head, and who gives her guidance as she steers the crystal chariot towards the entranced poet. Her beauty was too much for him:
When I was concentrating my rays of vision or, if I may say so, the troops of my eyes, to explore the glory of this beauty, my eyes, not daring to confront the splendour of such majesty and dulled by the impact of brilliance, in excessive fear, took refuge in the war-tents of my eyelids.

Ad cujus contemplandam pulchritudinem dignitatis, dum tanquam manipulos, oculorum radios conlegarem visibiles, ipsi tantae majestatis non audentes obviare decori, splendoris hebetati verberibus, nimis meticulosi ad palpebrarum contubernia refugerunt.
She is resplendent as the ideal. Nature is the ideal of which the individual things in nature are the individuation. As the ideal she possesses what appears to be a slate tablet upon which she calls up images with a clerk's stylus, which fade in and fade out, in a constant birth-and-death cycle, always striving for the ideal, yet never quite capturing it in toto.
In lateritiis vero tabulis arundinei styli ministerio, virgo varias rerum picturales sociabat imagines; pictura tamen subjacenti materiae familiariter non cohaerens, velociter evanescendo moriens, nulla imaginum post se relinquebat vestigia. Quas cum saepe suscitando puella crebro vivere faciebat, tamen in scripturae proposito, imagines perseverare non poterant.
When she neared, it was as if the visible world celebrated her coming. The firmament shone, the day turned bright, the moon became unnaturally brilliant. The air, the sea, and all the creatures they contained paid obeisance as it were, to the paradigm or exemplar of their nature. The earth and its inhabitants turned fruitful in her presence: "Thetis, too, marrying Nereus, decided to conceive a second Achilles." Thetis, etiam nuptias agens cum Nereo, Achillem alterum concipere destinabat. The naiades (water nymphs), the hamadryades (tree nymphs), and the napaeae (nymphs of the wooded vales) sprung forth from the streams, the trees, and the valleys of the earth to present the coming Nature with their various gifts, not to be outdone by the animals of the land. The world, as it were, experienced a re-birth, a new Spring, at Nature's coming. "Proserpine, disdaining the marital bed of the lord of Tartarus, returned to her home in the upper world, refusing to be cheated of a face-to-face meeting with her mistress." Proserpina, toro mariti fastidito tartarei, ad superna repatrians, suae imperatricis noluit defraudari praesentia.
Thus everything in the universe, swarming forth to pay court to the maiden, in wondrous contest toiled to win her favour.

Sic rerum universitas ad virginis fluens obsequium, miro certamine laborabat sibi virginis gratiam comparare.
Nature has as it were an aura, a halo, which shines around her and gives evidence of her supernatural origin. She bears the image, the likeness, the vestige of the God who created her, and so she shows the supernatural origins of her nature, the light, non similitudinarie radiorum repraesentans effigiem, not presenting an image of light rays by resemblance, sed eorum claritate nativa naturam praeveniens, but with that native clarity that precedes, that is, surpasses, the natural. Her head appears a virtual star-cluster, in stellare corpus caput effigiabat. Nature has a white, cruciform headband, which separates her lovely hair, which is held in place with a comb of gold that blends into her golden hair.

Her visage is the epitome of balance, of harmony, and of beauty. A lovely forehead, and brows, "starlike in their golden radiance, not thickened to bushiness nor thinned to over-sparseness, enjoyed a mean between both extremes," aureo stellata fulgore, non in silvam evagantia, nec in nimiam demissa pauperiem, inter utrumque medium obtinebant. Here eyes like stars; her nose "neither unduly small nor abnormally prominent," nec citra modum humilis, nec injuste prominens; her mouth, her lips, her teeth, her cheeks . . . all that which composed her face, both in color and in form, "showed the effects of a harmonious mixture," sentiebat temperiem. As God's creation, she is the epitome of harmony: ratio ordinis.

This harmonious balance is not limited to her countenance, and her body shares in it, as the poet in his trance describes seriatim Nature's neck, her shoulders, her breasts, her arms, her flanks, all bear the "stamp of due moderation," justae moderationis impressa sigillo, and "brought the beauty of her whole body to perfection," totius corporis speciem ad cumulum perfectionis eduxit. She is, in fine, altogether desirable in the beauty of her harmony, and in the harmony of her beauty. The poet implies that one would have to be a fool to shun her, not to desire her. And this just based upon her external features, for what realities she contained within her were sure to be more beautiful than what he saw:
Caetera vero quae thalamus secretior absentabat, meliora fides esse loquebatur.

As for the other things which an inner chamber hid from view, let a confident belief declare that they were more beautiful.
Patently apparent, Nature, though alluring, was wholly chaste in her fruitfulness. But though great her beauty, she bore the tears of sorrow, traces of the injuries she received at the hands of men who, despite her desirability, had abandoned her.

Nature was crowned with the aeviternal cosmos, with its recurring, circular paths, resplendent with jewels, representing the stars, all revolving around the fixed polar stars, and the constellations of the Zodiac: Leo, Cancer, and Gemini, with a certain pride of place, followed next in groups of threes, by Aquarius, Capricorn, and Sagittarius, Taurus, Aries, and Pisces, Virgo, Libra, and Scorpio: and the constellations without Zodiac, or part in part out, were also there. Below the Zodiac jewels of twelve organized in sets of three were other jewels, a set of seven, "forever maintaining a circular motion, in a marvellous kind of merriment busied themselves with a verisimilar dance," motum circularem perennans, miraculoso genere ludendi, choream exercebat plausibilem. Saturn was a diamond; Jupiter, an agate; Mars asterite; Venus sapphire, Mercury amethyst; the Sun a ruby, and the Moon a waxing and a waning pearl.

Nature's dress was a changing coat of many colors, multifario protecta colore, as it went from white, to red, to green. It was decorated with the birds of the air: the eagle, the hawk, the kite, the falcon, the heron, the ostrich, the swan, the peacock, the phoenix, the stork, the sparrow, the crane, the barnyard cock, "like a common man's astronomer, with his crow for a clock announces the hours," tanquam vulgaris astrologus, suae vocis horologio, horarum loquebatur discrimina. The wild cock, the horned and the night owl, the crow, the magpie, the jackdaw, the dove, the raven, the partridge, the duck and the goose, the turtle-dove, the parrot, the quail, the woodpecker, the meadow-pipit, the cuckoo, the swallow, the nightingale, the lark, all with their unique traits and features, and finally the bat, "a hermaphrodite among birds, held a zero rating among them," vespertilio avis hermaphroditica, cifri locum inter aviculas obtinebat.
Haec animalia, quamvis illic allegorice viverent, ibi tamen esse videbantur ad litteram.

These living things, although they had there a kind of figurative existence, nevertheless seemed to live there in the literal sense.
Nature also in a lovely shroud of muslin, that faded from white to a sea-like green, and contained in the middle portion, images of the creatures of the sea: the whale, the seal, the sturgeon, the herring, the plaice, the mullet, the trout, salmon, and dolphin, the sirenian. And lower down on this robe were the fresh water fish: pike, barbel, shad, lamprey, eel, perch, chub . . .
These figures, exquisitely imprinted on the mantle like a painting, seemed by a miracle to be swimming.

Hae sculpturae, tropo picturae, eleganter in pallio figuratae, natare videbantur pro miraculo.
Nature was clothed in tunic, embroidered with the beasts and creatures of the earth, above all man.
On the first section of this garment, man, divesting himself of the indolence of self-indulgence, tried to run a straight course through the secrets of the heavens with reason as charioteer.

In hujus vestis parte primaria, homo sensualitatis deponens segnitiem, ducta ratiocinationis aurigatione, coeli penetrabat arcana.
But this part of Nature's tunic was rent, torn, showing the effects of contumely and injury. Only man, it seems, can injure and offend Nature, as the other parts of this robe, which bore the other animals, was not so torn. "In these a kind of magic picture made land animals come alive," in quibus quaedam picturae incantatio, terrestria animalia vivere faciebat.

So the elephant, the camel, the buffalo, the bull, oxen, the horse, the ass, "offending our ears with his idle braying, as though a musician by antiphrasis, introduced barbarisms into music," clamoribus horridis aures fastidiens, quasi per antiphrasim organizans, barbarismum faciebat in musica. There also the unicorn, the lion, the bear, the wolf, the panther, the tiger, the wild ass and the tame, the boar, the dog, the stag and doe, the goat, the ram and his harem of ewes, the fox, the hare and his cousin the rabbit, the squirrel, beaver, lynx, marten, and sable.

Though hid from his sight, the poet surmised that the undergarments and shoes contained the vivid imagery of the herbs and trees, with their four-fold colors corresponding to the four-fold seasons, and the flowers: the rose, the thyme, the Narcissus, the columbine, the violet, the arbutus, the basilisca . . .

Hae sunt veris opes, et sua pallia,
Telluris species, et sua sidera,
Quae pictura suis artibus edidit,
Flores effigians arte sophistica.
His florum tunicis prata virentibus
Veris nobilitat gratia prodigi.
Haec byssum tribuunt, illaque purpuram;
Quae texit sapiens dextra favonii.
These are the riches of Spring and her barb,
The beauty of earth and its stars;
These the picture brought forth by its powers,
Giving an image of flowers by a skillfully deceptive art.
Spring, lavish in favours, ennobles the meadows
With these garments of flowers in bloom.
These meadows give linen, these others give purple
When the zephyr's right hand has clothed them.

And it was then that Nature began to speak . . .

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