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.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Nature's Complaint: Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature, Part 10

IDOLATRY HAS ANOTHER DAUGHTER in addition to the two in charge of plying men to overeat and overdrink. Avarice. Avaritia. Nature labels Avarice with the name of Numulatria, "Worshipper of Cash." Here, Alan of Lille is following St. Paul's teaching in his letter to the Colossians (Col. 3:5): avaritia is simulacrorum servitus, covetousness or avarice is the service of idols. One cannot serve God and Mammon. Avarice deifies money in the minds of men, and makes them openly venerate it and inwardly covet it. The worship of cash, which is the same thing as the love of money, is the root of all evil. "For the desire of money is the root of all evils . . . ." Radix enim omnium malorum est cupiditas. (1 Tim. 6:10). Alan of Lille again follows St. Paul.

[When] cash speaks, the trumpet of Tullius' eloquence grows hoarse;
When cash takes the field, the lighting of Hector's warfare ceases;
When cash fights, the strength of Hercules is subdued.

Ubi nummus loquitur, Tulliani eloquii tuba raucescit;
Ubi nummus commilitat, Hectoreae militiae fulgura conticescunt;
Ubi pugnat pecunia, virtus expugnatur Herculea.
Avarice is a jealous god, and demands the absolute worship from its devotees. As a consequence, reason (dialectic), rhetoric, chastity and modesty, social mores, virtue, the arts (poetry, architecture, and music), and all-important justice, decline when in the thrall of cash. It is universally corrupting, suffocating. And it is universally disatisfying. "Yet the rich man," Nature says, "shipwrecked in the depths of his riches, is tortured by the forces of dropsical thirst." Jam dives, divitiarum naufragus in profundo, hydropicae sitis incendiis sitit opes, et in medio ipsarum positus Tantalizat. Tantalized, man's thirst for riches is never slackened, his hunger never satiated, he is like Tantalus constantly desiring the fruit just beyond his reach and never achieving satisfaction. In his Book of Emblems, Alciato, like Alan de Lille, depicts Avarice as Tantalus with the following description:

Alciato's Avaratia (Avarice)

Alas, wretched Tantalus, in the middle of the waves, stands
There thirsty, and, starving, cannot have the nearby fruit.
Change the name, and this will be said of you, oh greedy man,
You, who, almost as if you had it not, do not enjoy what you have.

Heu miser in mediis sitiens stat Tantalus undis,
Et poma esuriens proxima habere nequit.
Nomine mutato de te id dicetur avare,
Qui, quasi non habeas, non frueris quod habes.
The poor cannot engage in avarice directly since they have no money, and so they have their own analogue, in fact, the archetype of Avarice: miserliness (parcitas).

Moderns say, "Cash is King." Medievals like Alan de Lille said through his character Nature: "Now not Caesar but cash is everything." Jam non Caesar, sed nummus est omnia. And it rules, given the chance, everything secular and everything religious. To show the travesty of it all, Alan of Lille takes the popular chant that hales from the rugged Carolingian times, Christus vincit, Christus regnat, Christ imperat (Christ conquers, Christ reigns, Christ rules), and transforms it to Nummus vincit, Nummus mundum regit, Nummus imperat universis (Cash conquers, Cash rules, Cash gives orders to all). This is money become God. Hail all-powerful Mammon.
When cash is king, there is no profit in matters of the human spirit, in wisdom (sapienta). All the wrong things, superficial things, are rewarded with cash reward. Not wisdom. Wisdom is "rewarded with no pay for her produce, no favouring breeze of fame raises her on high, while money buys title to offices and the glory of public recognition," nullius famae eam aura favorabilis extollat, ipsa vero pecunia honoris titulos et laudis emat praeconia. (Ask Barack Obama how much cash it took to get him elected President, and Paris Hilton how much cash it took to make her famous, and see whether Nature's plaint remains true today.)

Detail (Avarice) from Hieronymus Bosch's
The Seven Deadly Sins and the Four Last Things.

Wisdom is man's most noble posession: it surpasses all other temporal goods, and in fact, works exactly the opposite of money:

Though scattered she remains concentrated, when expended she returns, when shared with one and all, she experiences an increase.

Generosa possessio, quae sparsa colligitur, erogata revertitur, publicata suscipit incrementum!

What a remarkable thing wisdom is!
She is the sun through which daylight shines on the mind's darkness, the eye of the heart, delightful paradise of the spirit.
[She, by] the influence of a deific transformation, . . . changes the earthly into the heavenly, the perishable into the immortal, man into God.
She is the one remedy for your exile, the only solace in human misfortune, the one and only morning star to end man's night, the specific redemption for your misery. No darkness in the heavens confuses her keen vision, no thickness of earth blocks her operation, no water's depth dims her vision.

Haec est sol, per quem mens diescit in tenebris, cordis oculus, deliciosus animi paradisus.
Haec in coeleste terrenum, in immortale caducum, in deum hominem, deificae mutationis auctoritate convertit.
Haec est verum peregrinationis remedium, solum humanae calamitatis solatium, humanae noctis lucifer singularis, tuae miseriae redemptio specialis, cujus aciem nulla aeris caligo confundit, non densitas terrae operam ejus offendit, non altitudo aquae respectum ejus obtundit.
Wisdom is the fruit of prudence, so Nature advises the poet, "with the afection love of your heart, pursue prudence, so that you may be able to turn an unobstructed gaze on the inner resting place of the mother of wisdom," et intestino affectionis amore prudentiam consecteris, ut penitus sapientiae matris cubiculum inoffenso intuitu valeas intueri.

The poet wants more information from Nature on Avarice. He wants Nature to tell him, without reservation, her intimate beliefs about Avarice. Nature complies with a poem in Dactylic Hexameter. Though wealth is deprecated, ultimately, Nature's view is balanced. Wealth, and in particular its pursuit, must be governed by reason.

When the accursed greed for gold pierces the heart of man,
The hungry human mind can feel no fear.
It weakens the bonds of frienship, begets hatred, gives rise to anger,
Sows the seed of war, fosters contentions, reknots the severed line of battle,
Unties the knots of covenants, stirs up
Children against their fathers, mothers against their offsring, causes brother
To ignore the peaceful intent of brother.
This one madness harmfully disunites all whom unity of blood makes one.
. . . .
This discourse does not disparage riches
Or the rich but rather seeks to sink its teeth into vice.
I do not condemn property, riches or the practices of the rich,
Provided that the mind, with reason as mistress, is in command, brings this wealth into subjection to itself and treads upon it--
In a word, provided that reason, the noble charioteer,
shall direct the use of riches.

Postquam sacra fames auri mortalia pungit
Pectora, mens hominis nescit jejuna manere.
Laxat amicitias, odium parit, erigit iras,
Bella serit, lites nutrit, bellumque renodat,
Rumpit nodata, disrumpit foedera, natos
Excitat in patres, matres in viscera, fratres
Dat fratrum nescire togas, et sanguinis omnes
Unio quos unit, furor hos male dividit unus.

. . . .

Divitiis vel divitibus non derogat iste
Sermo, sed vitium potius mordere laborat.
Non census, non divitias, non divitis usum
Damno, si victor animus ratione magistra
Subjectas sibi calcat opes, si denique census
Nobilis auriga ratio direxerit usum.

From Avarice, Nature turns her attention to Arrogance.

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