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.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Nature's Complaint: Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature, Part 6

MEN WHO DISREGARD THE GRAMMAR OR THE LOGIC OF SEXUALITY, that is, the ratio ordinis inherent in Nature's plan, deserve to be punished. This is the reason that Nature left her heavenly abode and appeared to the poet in the "transitory and sinking world." The complaint that Nature has filed against mankind seeks for its relief a penalty, one commensurate or proportionate to the array of mankind's sexual crimes.

But the poet has another question for the "mediatrix in all things," the rerum omnium mediatrix that Nature is under God's order. He harbors some doubt, and wishes it addressed. Why does Nature take mankind to task, and not address the sexual aberration among the Greek gods? What about Jupiter and his love for his young Phrygian cup bearer Ganymede? What about Apollo, who loved the youths Hyacinthus and and Cyparissus? And Bacchus, and his proclivities to young transvestites?

Byblis (Detail) by William Bouguereau (1884)

Nature detects the psychological defense mechanism of rationalization behind her interlocutor's reference to the poets, and it draws the same response as one might see in Plato, who banished the poets from his ideal Republic. It is the excuse of Byblis, who sought thereby to justify her lawless love for her brother, Caunus, which, unfulfilled, caused her in her pining desire to turn into a spring. "If the gods do these things," goes the rationalization, "why not me?" (Moderns have transmuted the excuse from immortal gods to mortal celebrities, but the thought process is the same.) Poets, like television programs or modern newscasters, are not to be trusted, and no credence is to be given to their "shadowy figments," their figmentis umbratilibus. The poets are, in fact, deceitful:
Do you not know how the poets present falsehood, naked and without the protection of covering, to their audience so that, by a certain sweetness of honeyed pleasure, they may, so to speak, intoxicate the bewitched ears of the hearers? Or, how they cover falsehood with a kind of imitation of probability so that, by a presentation of precedents, they may seal the minds of men with a stamp from the anvil of shameful tolerance?

An ignoras, quomodo poetae sine omni palliationis remedio, auditoribus nudam falsitatem prostituunt, ut quadam mellita dulcedine velut incantatas audientium aures inebrient? Quomodo ipsam falsitatem quadam probabilitatis hypocrisi palliant, ut per exemplorum imagines, hominum animos moriginationis incude sigillent?

Apollo, Hyacinthus, and Cyparissus by Alexander Ivanov

(One can suppose that Hollywood and modern television have taken the socially corrosive role of the ancient Pagan poets. Modernly, these fulfill the same deconstructive role the poets of old that Nature (like Plato) execrates. They artificially palliate the conscience of its sin with soma not sacrament, they justify it, they give it the appearance of good, they avoid any mention of its social or moral consequences. They present sin as viable choice, as a valid preference, or legitimate and individual self-expression. They bewitch many an ignorant to step into the life of moral fog that smells, if one retained one's sense of smell, like the burnings of human refuse at Gehenna. Using Tertullian's words, these are the new Pagan pompa diaboli et daemoniorum, the pomps of the devil and his demons. But to get back to Alan of Lille . . .)

Nature observes that the poets have no place in contemporary (then medieval) life, since shed are the philosophies and heresies that falsely touted pleasure and lies, and thereby hid from their followers the one true God. "Over these statements" of the past, "I draw the cloud of silence . . . .":
For since the dreams of Epicurus are now put to sleep, the insanity of [the heresiarch] Manichaeus healed, the subtleties of Aristotle made clear, the lies of Arrhius [the heretic Arius] belief, the reason proves the unique unity of God, the universe proclaims it, faith believes it, Scripture bears witness to it. No stain forces its way to Him, no baneful vice makes an assault on Him, no impulse of temptation is associated with Him. He is the bright light that never fades (splendor nunquam deficiens), the life that never tires or dies (vita indefessa, non moriens), the fountain that ever flows (fons semper scaturiens), the seed-plot supplying the seed of life (seminale vitae seminarium), the principle principle of wisdom (apiens principale principium), the original origin of good (initiale bonitatis initium).
The poet has other questions, and Nature welcomes them. Harking back to her tunic, he asks why some parts of her tunic, which one would expect to "approximate the interweave of a marriage," are rent, precisely where man's picture ought to be. (For a description of the robe and its torn fabric, see Part 2 of this series.)

The tears in Nature's tunic represent the assault on Nature herself by man. Their vices against Nature, which are nothing other than the "chaos of ultimate dissension," maximum chaos dissensionis, is a form of violence. They commit violence against Nature herself, and she who should be honored is thus stripped and treated as a harlot. "This is the hidden meaning symbolized by this rent--that the vesture of my modesty suffers the insults of being torn off by injuries and insults from man alone."

The poet then is interested in knowing "what unreasonable reason, what indiscreet discretion, what indirect direction forced man's little spark of reason to become so inactive that, intoxicated by a deadly draught of sensuality, he not only became an apostate from your laws, but even made unlawful assaults on them." What has caused man to act so against order?

To answer the question, Nature requires the poet to inflame his reason, to focus his attention, and to understand that Nature intends to use words that are not vulgar or uncouth. Nature then describes, in terms of the marital relationship, the relationship between God and his Ideas and the creation of the Universe ex nihilo, from out of nothing pre-existing. Out of nothing, in accordance with His eternal ideas, God brought forth numerous species, and he separated them from, or tempered them of, chaotic strife, "by agreement from [i.e., congruency with] law and order," legitimi ordinis congruentia temperavit.
He imposed laws on them.
Leges indidit.

He bound them by sanctions.
Sanctionibus alligavit.
By a tension of opposites he created harmony with a "fine chain of an invisible connection," subtilibus . . . invisibilis juncturae catenis, God made it so that there would be in a peaceable union "plurality [to strive back] to unity, diversity to identity, discord to concord." All things were so related as to be veritably wed to one another as if in a relationship of lawful marriage.
When the artisan of the universe had clothed all things in the outward aspect befitting their natures and had wed them to one another in the relationship of lawful marriage, it was His will that by a mutually related circle of birth and death transitory things should be given stability by instability, endlessness by endings, eternity by temporariness and that the series of things should ever be knit be successive renewals of birth. He decreed that by the lawful path of derivation by propagation, like things, sealed with the stamp of manifest resemblance, should be produced from like.

Sed postquam universalis artifex universa suarum vultibus naturarum investivit, omniaque sibi invicem legitimis proportionum connubiis maritavit, volens ut nascendi, occidendique mutuae relationis circuitu per instabilitatem stabilitas, per finem infinitas, per temporabilitatem aeternitas rebus occiduis donaretur, rerumque series seriata reciprocatione nascendi jugiter texeretur, statuit, ut expressae conformationis monetata sigillo, sub derivandae propagationis calle legitimo, ex similibus similia educerentur
God, the Creator of all things, appointed Nature his substitute (sui vicariam), the manager of God's mint in charge of stamping and molding each thing in its image, so that "the face of the copy should spring from the countenance of the exemplar and not be defrauded of any of its natural gifts," operando quasi varia rerum sigillans cognata ad exemplaris rei imaginem exempli exemplans effigiem, ex conformibus conformando conformia, singularum rerum reddidi vultus sigillatos.

Detail of Sandro Botticelli's Birth of Venus
(Nature's Subagent)

Yet this God, which is the Creator, is not the distant God of the Deist, but the God of near Providence. Nature's work was constantly monitored, "guided by the finger of the superintendent on high," supremi dispositoris digito regeretur. Nature was therefore God's agent, and Nature took another as sub-agent, a subvicaria, a "sub-delegated artisan," subministratori artificis. This was none other than Venus who, with the aid of Hymenaeus her spouse, and Desire [Cupid], her son, would help in the reproduction of the animal life on earth, "fitting her artisan's hammer to the anvil according to rule," which would thereby "maintain an unbroken linkage in the chain of the human race lest it be severed by the hands of the Fates and suffer damage by being broken apart." Nature was thereby to spend time in the ethereal regions in the calm of her palace.

Or so was the plan.

The poet now chuckles (even laughs like the superannuated Sarah did at overhearing that she, at her age, would bear a child to Abraham) at the mention of Desire, for he recognizes its universal power and dominion over all mankind, truly a non-respecter of persons, and he perhaps too emboldened wishes to have a better description of this Desire. The poet receives a stinging rebuke from Nature:

I believe that you are a soldier drawing pay in the army of Desire and are associated with him by some kind of brotherhood arising from deep and close friendship. For you are eagerly trying to trace out his inextricably labyrinth when you should rather be directing your attention of mind more closely to the account enriched by the wealth of my ideas. However, since I sympathise with your human frailty, I consider myself bound to eliminate, as far as my modest power allow, the darkness of your ignorance before the course of my narrative goes on to what follows next in order.
Tunc illa, cum temperato capitis motu, verbisque increpationem spondentibus, ait: Credo te in Cupidinis castris stipendiarie militantem, et quadam interfamiliaritatis germanitate eidem esse connexum: inextricabilem etenim ejusdem labyrinthum affectanter investigare conaris, cum potius meae narrationi sententiarum locupletatae divitiis, mentis attentionem attentius adaptare deberes. Sed tamen antequam ad sequentia meae orationis evadat excursus, quia tuae humanitatis imbecillitati compatior, ignorantiae tuae tenebras, pro meae possibilitatis volo modestia exstirpare.

And so it is that Nature, bound by a vow and promise to answer the poet's questions, with describe the indescribable, define the undefinable, demonstrate the indemonstrable, extricate the inextricable, delimit that which is without limit, explain something that is, by nature, inexplicable, try to teach doctrine that is unknowable. In short, with reason to elaborate on the unreasonable: Desire, the concupiscent cupidity of Cupid, child of the unmanageable Venus.

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