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.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Nature's Complaint: Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature, Part 8

NATURE CONTINUES TO ELABORATE the intricate grammatical instructions she conveyed to Venus her subagent. As we had discussed in our earlier posting, Nature had provided Venus many anvils and two hammers, presumably one hammer for the male and another for the female of each animal species. Nature had provided Venus blueprints of the species, and a special pen that would allow her to trace these ideal forms of the species into individuated particulars. Provided with all this was a Grammar, one with two genders, masculine and feminine. The Grammar provided that the genders were to be combined: masculine with feminine, and irregular combinations--of two feminines or two masculines or the odd neuter--were not to be countenanced. As the poem progresses Alain de Lille's Grammar of sex becomes ever more intricate.

Venus was instructed that the sexual Grammar should observe the "regular procedure in matters of subjacent and superjacent (suppositiones appositionesque ordinarias observando) and should assign the role of subjacent to the part characteristic of the female sex (rem feminini sexus charactere praesignitam, suppositionis destinaret officio) and should place that part that is a specific mark of the male sex in the prestigious position of superjacent (rem vero specificatam masculini generis, sede collocaret appositi) in such a way that the superjacent cannot go down to take the place of the subjacent nor the subjacent pass over to the demesne of the superjacent (ut nec appositum in vicem suppositi valeat declinare, nec suppositum possit in regionem appositi transmigrare; etiam cum utrumque regatur ab altero)." Venus explains: "Since each requires the other, the superjacent with the characteristic of an adjective is attracted by the law of urgent need to the subjacent which appropriates the special characteristics of a noun (appositum sub adjectiva proprietate, suppositum subjectivae proprietatis proprium retineret, exigentiae legibus invitatum)."

What on earth does all this mean? This is an intricate play on words by Alan de Lille, who toys with the etymological, grammatical, metaphorical, and ordinary meanings of the words suppositum and appositum. The matter is somewhat confused by Sheridan's not-quite-literal translation. Venus was here instructed to observe the ordinary rules of the suppositum and appositum. We are dealing here with grammatical concepts involving the construction of sentences. Generally, in modern grammatical terms, the term suppositum is the subject of a proposition, whereas the term appositum is the predicate of that proposition. The male is to have the office of the appositum, whereas the female is to have the office of the suppositum.

The term suppositum appears to have been a translation of the Greek term hypokeisthai, (ὑποκεισθαι) which means "to lie under," a combination of keisthai (κεισθαι, to lie) and hypo (ὑπο, under). It has a variety of uses in poetry, grammar, and logic. Rodríguez y Guillén, "'Suppositum' y 'Appositum' en la Teoría Sintáctica Medieval y su Projección en el Renacimiento," Minerva: Revista de Filología Clásica (No. 2, 1988), p. 290.

The term appositum is a purely grammatical term which is derived from from ad ("near") and positio ("placement"). It is a calque or translation of the Greek term epitheton (επιθετον) which means something attributed or added.

The terms suppositum and apppositum were therefore two great parts or offices of a sentence [Boethius: Pars orationis aut est suppositum aut appositum aut determinatio istorum], and each such office or part had a fixed position. Rodríguez y Guillén, 293. From one vantage point, the suppositum and the appositum were equal. From another vantage point, the suppositum necessarily occupied the first place in a sentence (the appositum especially in its verbal sense, required a suppositum; a verb required a subject), but its place is determined with reference to the appositum, which takes a verbal or active aspect or adjectival or descriptive aspect, and so, from this vantage point the appositum is preeminent to the suppositum. So Rodríguez y Guillén conclude:
Así pues, hemos visto cómo suppositum y appositum son los dos elementos básicos en cualquier oración. Sin embargo, desde el punto de vista de la posición y de forma implícita, convierten al segundo en el núcleo, en el centro de toda oración, alrededor y por referencia al cual se sitúan todos los demás, delante o detrás, de forma fija y obligatoria. En consequencia, llevando esto hasta el extremo, podemos concluir que, si bien desde el punto de vista de la significación y de la relación enter ambos, suppositum y appositum tienen la misma importancia, desde el punto de vista de la posición, al appositum (verbo) se le atribuye el lugar preeminente en toda oración.

So, therefore, we have seen how suppositum and appositum are the two basic elements of every sentence. Nevertheless [though the suppositum is, in one way, first in the sentence], from the point of view of the position and implicit form, the second is converted into the nucleus, the center of the entire sentence, around which and by reference to everything else is situated, before or after, in a fixed and obligatory way. In consequence, taking this to the extreme, we can conclude that, with respect of the point of view of the significance and the relations between them, suppositum and appositum have the same importance, but from the point of view of the position, to the appositum (verb) is attributed the preeminent place of the entire sentence.
What Nature is saying, then, is that the female and male of the species, as suppositum and appositum, respectively, are essentially equal parts of the sentence into which they are to be coupled, but that from the point of view of procreation or union, the male appositum, though he is in need of the female suppositum and without the female suppositum he makes no sense, the male appositum, in terms of position, plays the definitional or preeminent part of the sentence.

Further instructions were given by Nature to Venus:
In addition to this I gave instructions that the conjugations of Dione's daughter should restrict themselves entirely to the forward march of the transitive (conjunctio in transitivae constructionis habitum uniformem) and should not admit the stationary intransitive or the circuitous reflexive (reciprocationis) or the recurring passive (retransitionis), and that she should not, by an excessive extension of permission to go to and from, tolerate a situation where the active type, by appropriating an additional meaning, goes over to the passive or the passive, laying aside its proper character, returns to the active or where a verb with a passive ending retains an active meaning and adopts the rules of deponents.
Thus, the relationship between the female suppositum and the male appositum was to remain one where the male was active relative to the female, and where the relationship was transitive, not intransitive. This means the sentence was to be incomplete unless it had a direct object. Coupling was not to be had without both parts: the suppositum and the appositum were both required in the Grammar of sex. There was not to be a suppositum or an appositum by itself, nor was there to be two supposita or two apposita joined in any sentence. The male appositum was to be joined to the female suppositum, and that relationship, though one of equals, was one where the appositum would have an active role relative to the suppositum.

More, however, than just rules of sexual Grammar was Venus given by Nature. Nature also supplied her with the rules of logic, of argument, of syllogism, so that she would be fully armed against the Fates, and would be able to best them in argument and so detect the "lurking places of fraud and fallacy in her opponents' arguments." Nature's instructions in the Grammar and Logic of sex were precise, and those forms that were grammatically incorrect or logically fallacious were excommunicated and anathematized.

For a time, Venus did her job well and within the restrictions that Nature laid before her. But she soon grew tired of the routine and the labor required in assuring the discipline of grammar and logic. So Venus grew lax and laxity, like too much food and drink, led to her adultery. So Venus cheated on her husband Hymenaeus, defiled her marriage, and "began to live in fornication and concubinage with Antigenius,"
cum Antigenus coepit concubinarie fornicari. [Here the manuscripts are not consistent. The majority use "Antigenius," but some use the term "Antigamus." Thus, Venus may have either been "opposed to Genius" (Antigenius) or "opposed to marriage" (Antigamus). The former reading stresses her dislike of procreation and pursuit of sterile, anti-natural sex, whereas the latter would stress her dislike for the confines of marriage and its ends, which includes procreation. For a description and role of Genius in Alan of Lille's De Planctu Naturae, see the first posting of this series, Nature's Complaint: Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature, Part 1]

The adultery with Antigenus (or Antigamus) corrupted her mind, corrupted her work, corrupted the workshop and tools. The entirety of sexual Grammar and Logic was bastardized. Indeed, the coupling of Venus and Antigenus (or Antigamus) resulted in the birth of the bastard Jocus (or Pastime or Sport), the half-brother of Cupid (or Desire). Sex became a pastime, a sport, to be engaged in as play without regard to its intrinsic ordering toward procreation which is what gives it dignity and purpose. It became Sport or Pastime, rather than a fulfillment of a natural desire for marriage, conjugal union, and progeny. "The adultery with Antigenius," Hugh White tells us, "signifies Venus' turning away from her task of procreation, Genius, Nature's priest and 'her other self', being a power presiding over reproduction. . . . [W]hat is at issue being that non-inseminative sexual activity standardly understood as contra naturam." Hugh White, Nature, Sex, and Goodness in Medieval Literary Tradition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 90. What, then, is Alan of Lille's message?
We may then conclude that fully natural sexual behaviour is not over-passionate, occurs within marriage (Alan tells us that Cupido is the legitimate son of Venus and Hymenaeus, the god of marriage), and aims at, or is at lest open to, procreation (as we have seen, Venus' revolt from Nature involves the desertion of Hymenaeus for Antigenius, which implies a contempt for the procreative purpose of marriage).
White, 92. Venus concludes with a comparison of Cupid, the legitimate son of Hymenaeus and Venus, and Pastime or Sport, the bastard child of Venus and Antigenus or Antigamus:

The former's [Cupid's] birth finds its defence in solemnised marriage, the commonness of a commonly-known concubinage arraigns the latter's descent. In the former there shines the urbanity of his father's courteousness; the boorishness of his father's provincialism denigrates the latter. The former dwells by the silvery fountains, bright with their besilvered sheens; the latter tirelessly haunts places cursed with unending drought. the latter pitches his tent in flat wastelands; the former finds his happiness in sylvan glades. The latter forever spends the entire night in his tents; the former spends day and night without interruption in the open air. The former wounds the one he chases with spears of gold; the latter pierces what he strikes with javelins of iron. The former makes his guests merry with nectar that is not gone sour; the latter ruins his guests with a bitter portion of absinthe.Illius nativitatem, matrimonii excusat solemnitas; hujus propaginem divulgati concubinatus accusat vulgaritas. In illo, paternae civilitatis elucescit urbanitas; in hoc, paternae inurbanitatis tenebrescit rusticitas. Iste inargentatos nitoribus argenteos fontes inhabitat; hic loca perenni ariditate damnata indefesse concelebrat. Iste in grata planitie fixit tentoria; huic vallium complacent nemorosa. Iste in tabernaculis indeficienter pernoctat, hic sub dio dies noctesque continuat. Iste aureis venabulis vulnerat quem venatur; hic, quem ferit, ferreis jaculis lanceat. Iste suos hospites debriat nectare subamaro, hic suos absynthii potu perimit acetoso.

So it was idleness and the indulgence in food and drink that brought out lust in Venus, to the ruin of mankind, and to the perpetual sorrow of Nature who makes her plaint to the poet, and which explains her sorrow. And the sorrow is amplified all the more because, as Nature now explains, breach in one virtue, chastity, results in breach in the other virtues. Put another way, indulging in the vice of unchaste, sterile or unnatural sex results in the increase of the other vices.

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