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.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Nature's Complaint: Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature, Part 11

NATURE TURNS HER ATTENTION TO ARROGANCE as the next vice that infects men's minds as if it were a tumor or disease. It shows itself in prolixity or in taciturnity, in loud forms and in quiet forms. Superbia, the sin of pride of mind, shows itself in specific behavior designed to bring attention, or in odd gestures, or excessive adornment of the body, in the handling of one's hair or in tight-fitting clothes. (One thinks of the modern penchant for tattoos and body-piercing jewelry. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. The more things change, the more they are the same.) The subject of Pride can be found in the homes of the rich and the hovels of the poor, in the halls of Academe and the barracks of soldiery. It shows up when one acts seriously when one ought to by merry, or by excessive frivolity when one ought to be serious.

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

In some cases, pride can be detected by the way one carries himself in public. Nature describes for us the typical pose of the prideful man:
Others give a picture of the interior movements of their pride by adopting external mannerisms. These, as if they despised the things of the earth, with head thrown back look up to heaven turn their eyes aside in hauteur, frequently raise their eyebrows, arrogantly thrust their chins forward, position their arms in a bow-like fashion.

Alii interioris superbiae gestus, exterioris gestus exceptione figurant: qui tanquam terrena omnia despiciant, supini coelestia suspiciunt, oculos indignanter obliquant; supercilia exaltant, mentum superciliose supinant, brachia in arcus exemplant.
Who do we know that looks like that?

Barack Hussein Obama
(باراک حسين اوباما)
"Alii interioris superbiae gestus,
exterioris gestus exceptione figurant."

There is no warrant for Pride:
Alas! What is the basis for this haughtiness, this pride in man? His birth is attended by pain, the penalty of toil lays waste his life, the greater penalty of inevitable death rounds off his punishment. His existence is the matter of a moment, his life is a shipwreck, his world is a place of exile. His life is gone or giving assurances of its going, for death is exerting its pressure or threatening it.

Heu! homini unde isti fastus, ista superbia? cujus aerumnosa est nativitas, cujus vitam laboriosa demolitur poenalitas, cujus poenalitatem poenalior mortis concludit necessitas; cujus omne esse, momentum, vita est naufragium, mundus exsilium: cujus vita aut abest, aut spondet absentiam, mors autem instat, aut minatur instantiam.
From pride, Nature explains, a daughter is born, and who is equally as malicious as her mother. She is Envy, Invidia.

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

Envy destroys Nature, like a worm, it burrows and gnaws upon the mind, making it diseased and corrupt, rotting in decay, removing from it all peace. Envy is like a badly behaved guest, who destroys the host's home. She detracts from those that are virtuous, that are endowed with talents and with character. Those infected by envy have Schadenfreude and "Freudenschade".

In their judgement, another's prosperity is their adversity, another's adversity is their prosperity. These are saddened by the compliments paid to others and rejoice in the sadness of others.

His aliena prosperitas adversa, aliena adversitas prospera judicatur. Hi in aliena gratulatione tristantur, in aliena tristitia gratulantur.

What is the cure for such a noxious vice? A man must strive to relate to the other. He must sympathize with his fellow, have a sense of communio or participation in the other's suffering and in his joy. In the words of Martin Buber, he must establish an I/Thou relationship.

"Flattery" by Juan Gris (1908)

The last of the vices addressed by Nature is flattery (adulatione). This vice is found in palaces, in the homes of the rich, and in the homes of prelates. They ply their with words that are but lies, and only they can trade the lying flattery for their benefit. At bottom, flattery is a lie:

What, then, is the ointment of flattery but cheating fo gifts? What is the act of commendation but a deception of prelates? What is the smile of praise but a mockery of the same prelates? For since speech is wont to be the faithful interpreter of thought, words the faithful pictures of the soul, the countenance an indication of the will, the tongue the spokesman of the mind, flatters separate, by a wide distance and divergence, the countenance from the will, the words from the soul, the tongue from the mind, the speech from the thought.

Quid est igitur adulationis inunctio, nisi donorum emunctio? Quid commendationis allusio, nisi praelatorum illusio? Quid laudis arrisio, nisi eorumdem derisio? Nam cum loquela, fidelis intellectus interpres, verbaque fideles animi picturae vultus voluntatis signaculum, lingua mentis soleat esse propheta, adulatores a voluntate vultum, ab animo verbum, a mente linguam, ab intellectu loquelam, amplo discessionis intervallo diffibulant.

The poet asks for a blanket remedy for all these vices.
I would have you strengthen the little town of my mind by the rational ramparts of your instruction against the furious armies of these vices.

Vellem ut rationabilibus tuae disciplinationis propugnaculis contra furiales istorum vitiorum exercitus, meae mentis roborares oppidulum.
Nature responds with a poem.


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