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 10, 2010

Nature's Complaint: Alan of Lille's The Plaint of Nature, Part 9

"VIRTUE IS NOTHING OTHER THAN NATURE completed in istelf and brought to perfection," says Cicero in his De Legibus: est autem virtus nihil aliud, nisi perfecta et ad summum perducta natura. When Venus, the subagent of Nature, weakened by her gluttony, breached her marital vows, committed adultery with Antigenius, and bore the bastard Jocus, the nature of man was irreparably injured. Man's nature fell with the loss of conjugal fidelity and the breach of chaste marriage, and with it all virtue was rent, as man's nature came under the vice's dominion. Virtue, if it was to be found, rules man, at best, tenuously as a missionary bishop in partibus infidelium, in the land of the unbelievers, at worst, in theory only as a bishop in exilio, in exile. And from the loss of one virtue, all other virtue unraveled, leaving man without justice, without law, in the slough of fraud and crime, and all vice. In short, he became slave to the irrational. Nature sings her plaint about the downfall of vice in poetry, in Aesclepiad Minor Catalectic meter:

Alas, what headlong fall has Virtue suffered that it struggles under the dominion of vice?
Virtue of every kind is in exile,
The reins of madness are being loosed for vice.
The day of justice fades; Scarcely a shadow of its shade remains to survive it;
Bereft of light, immersed in night, it bewails the death of the start that brought it honour.
While the lightning-flash of crime blasts the earth, the night of fraud darkens the star of fidelity and no stars of virtue redeem the Stygian darkness of the night.
The evening of fidelity lies heavy on the world, the nocturnal chaos of fraud is everywhere.
Fidelity fades in the face of fraud; fraud, too, deceives by fraud and thus trickery puts pressure on trickery. In the realm of customary behaviour, accepted practices are lacking in morality.
Laws lack legal force; rights lose their tenure.
All justice is administered without justice and law flourishes without legality. The world is in a state of decline: already the golden ages of the world are in decay.
Poverty clothes a world of iron, the same world that noble gold once clothed. Fraud no longer seeks the cloak of pretence,
Nor does the noisome stench of crime seek for itself the fragrant balsam of virtue so as to supply a cloak for its evil smell. Thus does the nettle hide in impoverishment of beauty with roses, the seaweed with hyacinth, Dross with silver, archil with purple
So as to make up for the defects in appearance of what lies within.
Crime, however, doffs all its trappings
And does not give itself the colours of justice. It openly defines itself as crime. Fraud itself becomes the external expression of its frenzy.
What remains safe when treachery arms even mothers against their offspring?
When brotherly love is afflicted with fraud and the right hand lies to its sister?
The obligation arising from righteousness, to respect upright men, is considered a thing of reproach; the law of piety is impiety; to have a sense of shame is now a shame in every eye. Without shame a man, no longer manlike, puts aside the practices of man. Degenerate, then, he adopts the degenerate way of an irrational animal. Thus he unmans himself and deserves to be unmanned by himself.
Heu, quam praecipiti passu ruinam
Virtus sub vitio victa laborat?
Virtutis species exsultat omnis,
Laxantur vitio frena furoris,
Languet justitiae Lucifer, hujus
Vix umbrae remanet umbra superstes
Exstinctumque sui sidus honoris
Deflet, lucis egens, noctis abundans
Dum fulgur scelerum fulminat orbem,
Nox fraudis fidei nubilat austrum:
Virtutumque tamen sidera nulla
Istius redimunt noctis abyssum,
Incumbit fidei vespera mundo
Nocturnumque chaos fraudis abundat.
Languet fraude fides, fraus quoque fraudem
Fallit fraude, dolo sic dolus instat,
Mores moris egent moribus orbi,
Leges lege carent, jusque tenoris
Perdunt jura sui; jam sine jure
Fit jus omne, viget lex sine lege.
Mundus degenerat, aurea mundi
Jam jam degenerant saecula, mundum
Ferri pauperies vestit, eumdem
Olim nobilitas vestiit auri,
Jam jam hypocrisis pallia quaerunt
Fraudes, et scelerum fetor odorus
Ut pravo chlamidem donet odori
Virtutum sibimet balsama quaerit.
Sic urtica rosis, alga hyacinthis,
Argento scoria, murice fucus
Formae pauperiem palliat, ut sic
Interdum redimant crimina vultus.
Sed crimen phaleras exuit omnes,
Nec se justitiae luce colorat:
Nam sese vitium glossat aperte,
Fit fraus ipsa sui lingua furoris,
Quid tuti superest, cum dolus armat
Ipsas in propria viscera matres?
Cum fraternus amor fraude laborat,
Mentiturque manus dextra sorori?
Censetur reprobum jus probitatis,
Observare probos, et pietatis
Lex, est improbitas, esse pudicum
Jam cunctis pudor est.
Absque pudor
Humanos hominis exuit usus
Non humanus homo.
Degener ergo
Bruti degeneres induit actus,
Et sic exhominans exhominandus.

This is exactly the message of Hieronymus Bosch. In his Allegory of Gluttony and Lust, the painter shows the intricate connection between excess drink and food and venery. The drunk rides the wine barrel, pushed and pulled by wanton, cladless women, and follows the food plate on a naked man's head who appears to be sinking in quicksand, directly to the tent of lust. In overeating and overdrinking, a man has already taken off his robes that protect him from unchastity. What Alan of Lille thus put in poem, the painter Hieronymus Bosch put in figure.
Although my bounty spreads so many dishes in front of men, pours them so many cups, they, nevertheless, showing no gratitude for my favours, abuse what is lawful in a very unlawful way, give a loose rein to their gluttony, when they exceed limits in eating, produce the lines of drinking to infidelity.

Cum enim mea largitas tot hominibus fercula procuret, tot fercula copiosa compluat, ipsi tamen gratiae ingrati, nimis illicite licitis abutentes, frena gulae laxantes, dum comedendi mensuras excedunt, lineas potationis in infinitum extendunt.

Hieronymus Bosch's Allegory of Gluttony and Lust

The poet wants details, and Nature obliges her willing tutee. The world is in danger of ruin--indeed it is suffering nothing other than a conflagration of vice--Nature tells the poet, and one can start with the "world-wide deluge of gluttony," generalissimo gulositatis naufragatur diluvio.

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

Nature starts with gluttony because "gluttony is, so to speak, a preamble to acts of lust, and a kind of antecedent to the consequent venery," gulositas est quasi quoddam Venereae exsecutionis prooemium, et quasi quoddam antecedens ad venereum consequens. Gluttony is but a form of idolatry, and Nature identifies two daughters of Idolatry, one of whom she names as Bacchilatria (worshiper of Wine), the other of whom she does not name. One is in charge of plying men and women to overdrink. The other is in charge of persuading men and women to overeat. The vice of gluttony makes them men, in the words of St. Paul to the Philippians, quorum deus venter, whose god is their belly. It is through man's belly that these daughter of Idolatry get men to fall into lust. (Some of Alan de Lille's images regarding excess food and drink are rather humorous, even scatalogical.) "The above-mentioned pests construct a bridge over which the brothel of lust is reached." Hae praefatae pestes pontem faciunt, per quem ad luxuriae lupanaria pervenitur.

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

Gluttony is an inordinate appetite for food and drink, and it leads to the inordinate desire for other temporal goods. So quickly does gluttony lead to lust, and also other vices. And from the two daughters of Idolatry that propagandize food and drink, Nature turns to that other daughter of Idolatry, Avarice.

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