A selfless ploughman and the Christ/Piers conjunction in Langland's 'Piers Plowman.' (William Langland)
More recently Elizabeth D. Kirk, in the 1988 Yearbook of Langland Studies, has attempted to reconcile an apparent distrust of manual labourers in the Middle Ages and Langland's metaphorical conjunction of Piers and Christ. Her focus is upon B.15:212, in which Anima glosses Piers' name with the phrase, |Petrus, id est Christus', but she also mentions the juxtaposition central to the B- and C-texts' version of the Harrowing of Hell, in which Christ goes jousting in Piers' armour. Yirk maintains that this kind of association would have shocked the poet's contemporaries, but none the less it achieved considerable popularity beginning in Langland's lifetime and continuing for more than two centuries. While she uncovers some historical evidence of respect for manual labourers, she admits that it is insufficient to explain the popularity of the metaphor. She writes:
... there is no literary precedent for Langland's bold move, nor any general pervasive biblical, liturgical, or didactic tradition of the sort needed to make his image strike its first audience as familiar and self-explanatory. On the other hand, Langland's match seems to have fallen, so to speak, into a powder keg. His image entrenched itself almost at once in the popular as well as the literary imagination, and remained a dominant metaphor of the religious life well into the seventeenth century, in a way that cannot be accounted for if Langland's image was purely idiosyncratic and did not tap into potentially available patterns of thinking.(5)
Kirk goes on to describe the ways in which she believes that this image grew from political, economic, and religious trends of the late fourteenth century.
Although the historical information Kirk provides is valuable in giving a full picture of the ploughman's numerous appearances in religious discourse, I believe that she has missed a likely source of the ploughman image's popularity, as well as an analogue for Langland's Christ/Piers conjunction. In fact, a work of literature about a Christ-like ploughman was well-known from the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries; as part of the didactic tradition, it was read and generally memorized by nearly every student of Latin. It survives in over 160 manuscripts from the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries, was printed more than twenty-five times before 1500, and was only beginning to disappear from the standard curriculum in the late sixteenth century. Like the chameleonic Piers, this ploughman is figurative, for the text in which he appears is a fable.
The Liber Catonianus, the standard compilation of school texts used in the Middle Ages, generally included a group of sixty fables in Latin elegiac verse, perhaps written by Walter of England, a chaplain of Henry II of England.(6) The fables acquired numerous scholastic commentaries which often made use of allegorical forms similar to those given the works of Ovid.(7)
Walter of England adapted fifty-eight of his fables from the first three books of a four-book collection which editor Leopold Hervieux called the Romulus ordinaire, a group of prose fables drawn from those attributed to Phaedrus.(8) However, Walter's last two fables - those with which we are concerned - are not from his source and are apparently original to him.(9) Fable 59, |De Mercatore et Ductore', and Fable 60, |De Duello Militis et Aratoris', also demand attention because of their length.(10) At twenty-four lines, |De Mercatore et Ductore' is one of the longest in Walter's collection, and |De Duello Militis et Aratoris' stretches to ninety verses, more than three times the length of any of the other fables. The placement of these fables at the end of the collection, as well as the length of the sixtieth, suggests that Walter wrote them specially to summarize the techniques of figuration and allegory used in his other fables and to tantalize his now-experienced readers with allegorical possibilities beyond the usual scope of the genre.(11) Indeed, as brief plot summaries indicate, these are much more complex than typical Aesopic narrative.
In |De Mercatore et Ductore', a rich Jewish merchant seeks royal protection when travelling through a certain king's land. To accompany the Jew the king sends his cup-bearer, who covets the merchant's wealth and decides to kill him. When the cup-bearer draws his sword to murder his companion, the doomed Jew cries that a partridge in a nearby bush will bear witness to the crime. Later, as the cup-bearer serves partridge at his lord's table, he is so overcome with laughter that the king demands the reason; the servant then confesses to the murder. Although the king laughs with the man, inwardly he is saddened. He assembles his advisers, who sentence the cup-bearer to crucifixion.
|De Duello Militis et Aratoris' tells of a wealthy old citizen and a cavalryman living under a king, nameless here as in the previous fable. Envious of the citizen's wealth, the deceitful soldier tells the king that the aged man has acquired his money through theft of state funds, and the liar offers to fight a duel as the means of determining the justice of his cause. The rich man, too old to fight, is hard-pressed to find anyone to represent him, but finally his ploughman volunteers to take his part. The duel, described at some length, begins with the soldier fighting energetically but ineffectually against the ploughman, who defends himself ably but does not fight back. When the soldier, sure of his victory, pauses to wipe the sweat from his mouth, the ploughman, seeing his chance, strikes the soldier's elbow and knocks him to the ground. Incapacitated by the blow, the warrior refuses to stand to fight again. The ploughman then sits next to him, declaring that if the soldier will not rise, neither will he. The spectators roar with laughter. A prefect, having consulted the king, tries to make the duellists stand, but failing in this, gives the ploughman permission to kill the sitting soldier. However, the ploughman ultimately spares his opponent from death, giving him a good beating instead. Begging for mercy, the soldier declares the ploughman victor, and the old man, once again in fortune's favour, makes the conqueror his sole heir.
Walter's two non-Romulan fables ask to be read together. On the one hand, both plots are based on a conflict caused by one man's envy of another man's wealth; on the other, the two deaths in the first fable are offset by the two lives spared at the end of the second. The fables are also different from Walter's other fifty-eight fables but similar to each other in containing numerous verbal echoes of scripture and common patristic doctrine. These references invite allegorical reading of the tales as the end of the Old Law and the establishment of the New through Christ's victory over Satan, the victory central to Piers Plowman.
|De Mercatore et Ductore' is notable for its inclusion of Judaism but avoidance of anti-semitism; the rich merchant's Jewishness is mentioned but never commented upon. The fable is also unusual for what at first appears a gesture toward psychological characterization in its opening lines.
Fert Iudeus opes; sed onus fert pectore maius: Intus adurit eum cura forisque labor. Ergo metu dampni sibi munere regis amorem Firmat, ut accepto pro duce tutus eat.
(A Jew bears resources, but he bears a greater burden in his breast: care consumes him internally and labour externally. Therefore, due to fear of loss, he encourages the king's love for him with a gift, so that he may be safe before the receiving ruler.)
The burden in the heart of the Jew in the fable reflects the burden of ignorance of Christ;(12) fear of loss (with a possible double entendre on |dampni' carrying added significance for Christians) causes the Jew to make offerings to the king, representing the sacrifices common under the Old Law. These non-Christian beliefs, however, are left unchallenged by the narrator, whose silence implies that in its time the Old Law was the only one to be followed.
Justice under the old law demanded an eve for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, and the king's advisers bring this vengeful system of justice to bear upon the cup-bearer. The final line of the narrative states, |Crux punit meritum, iure favente cruci' (|The cross punishes the deserving one, under the law favouring the cross'). This generalized mention of the cross reminds the reader that the Old Law was the one under which Christ was crucified.
In medieval theology the triumph central to the establishment of the New Law was Christ's victory over Satan, as a representative of death, in the story of the Harrowing of Hell told in the apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus. In the first verses of |De Duello Militis et Aratoris', Walter begins creating a system of allegorical correspondences between Nicodemus and his fable. The soldier's envy of the rich old man is described in terms which define the allegorical role which the |miles' will play: |Invidie perflata genis, innata doloris / Flammis, fax iuvenem torret honore senis' (|Blown upon by his eyes, washed by flames of pain, the torch of envy burns the youth because of the old man's honour'). Here, in the third and fourth lines of the fable, the hellish depiction of envy links the soldier to the devil.
The wrongly accused old man is told that he has one hope: |Parcunt iura seni, si pro sene pugnet amicus / Cui nullius odor fenoris arma probet' (13-14) (|The laws would spare the old man if there fought for the old man the kind of friend in whom no suspicion of debt validated the battle'). Again the law is of primary importance, and here it stipulates that the old man's representative must come forward of his own free will, not because of any debt to the accused.
The action of the fable is then brought to a halt as the old man indulges in sixteen verses of lamentation about his friendlessness, his age, and his weakness in comparison to his opponent. This passage, reminiscent of Job 17:1-7,(13) draws a clear parallel between the fable character and Job, himself a rich old man who served God obediently but was temporarily stripped of his wealth and power by Satan.
Only the rich man's ploughman offers to fight, saying, |Me stimulat pietas pro te perferre duellum; / Est mihi pro domino meo dextra parata meo' (39-40) (|Dutifulness towards you incites me to suffer through the duel; my right hand is prepared for my lord'). |Pietas' can communicate both duty to an earthly lord and piety to a spiritual one. Equally ambiguous is the way that the ploughman initially addresses his master in the second person but then speaks of his lord in the third person; here the reader may interpret the |domino' in the second line as one different from that represented by |te' in the first. By faithfully serving an earthly lord, the ploughman serves a heavenly one as well.
The day for the battle arrives, and the soldier takes the offensive against the ploughman.
Nil de se retinet virtus oblita futuri: Dextera corporeas prodiga fundit opes. Ictus ipse suos sterilcs expendit in usus, Et feriens hostem se magis hoste ferit: Sed proprie virtutis opes abscondit Arator, Dum locus expense dentur et hora sue. Aut motu failit, aut armis temperat ictus, Predicitque minas frontis utrumque iubar. Dormitans vigilat et cessans cogitat ictus, Et metuens audet dextra notatque locum. Hec mora non artis ratio, sed culpa timoris Creditur; arte fruens esse videtur iners. Gaudet Eques, vicisse putans, spernitque Bubulcum, Sudoremque suum tergat ab ore suo. Ecce moram nescit; Equitcm speculata morantem In cubiti nodum rustica clava ferit. Huius plaga loci totius corporis aufert Robur; cedit Eques, seque cadente sedet.
(His sullied manliness holds back nothing of itself for the future: his prodigal right hand squanders his corporal powers. He himself pays out his fruitless blows in the exercise, and in knocking the enemy he knocks himself out more than the enemy. But the ploughman conceals the power of his own manliness until the place and time for its disbursement are given. Either with a gesture he deceives, or with his armour he tempers the blows, and daylight makes known the threats in the brow of each man. Sleeping, he is awake, and being idle, he thinks about his blows, and fearing he dares, and his right hand notes the spot. This delay is believed not to be a method of his craft, but the fault of fear; the inactive man seems to be deriving advantage from his craft. The horseman rejoices, thinking he has won, and he spurns the ploughman, and he wipes the sweat from his mouth. You see, he doesn't understand the delay: observing the loitering horseman, [the ploughman] strikes him on the knot of his elbow with his rustic cudgel. The blow to that spot takes away the strength of his entire body; the horseman yields and seats himself by falling.)
The soldier exhausts himself raining futile blows upon the ploughman, who conceals his own strength until the proper time. The passive verb |dentur' in line 50 may suggest that the place and time for the revelation of the ploughman's abilities are to be chosen by someone other than himself. The narrator also points out that the delay, which was believed to be a result of the ploughman's fear, was actually duelling strategy. That the ploughman should thus hide his own strength until the crucial moment is perfectly in keeping with the medieval understanding of God's incamation as a trick to conceal Christ's divine power from Satan until Christ's descent into hell.(14)
Finally the ploughman reveals his hidden powers when the soldier wipes the sweat from his mouth, an odd detail which recalls the signification of sweat in Genesis 3:19 as indicative of labour in post-lapsarian sinfulness. With a well-placed blow to the elbow the ploughman prostrates the soldier.
Following the battle scene quoted above, one short phrase brings yet another doctrinal notion into the fable: before the ploughman sits down beside the soldier, the narrator inteflects: |O nova simplicitas' (63) (|Oh inexperienced simplicity'). This gratuitous exclaination echoes the Pauline doctrine of Christ's perfect simplicity, mentioned in several of the apostle's letters but stated most clearly in 2 Corinthians 11:3: |Timeo autem ne sicut serpens Evam seduxit astutia sua ita corrumpantur sensus vestri et excidant a simphcitate quae est in Christo' (Doway-Rhemes: |But I feare lest, as the serpent seduced Eue by his subteltie, so your senses may be corrupted, & fall from the simplicitie that is in Christ'). Furthermore, the adjective |nova' in this context cleverly communicates both the ploughman's inexperience in battle and the coming of the New Law.
The hilarity which follows initially seems to have little to do with Christ's battle with the devil, but as V. A. Kolve has pointed out in a chapter entitled |Religious Laughter' in The Play Called Corpus Christi,(15) laughter at the deserved humiliation or punishment of sinners was not inappropriate. But however the merry-making might be interpreted, it is significant that the ploughman chooses to stay down with the soldier until he has thrice ordered his opponent to rise, probably an allusion to the account of the Harrowing of Hell in the Gospel of Nicodemus, in which Christ and the imprisoned souls shout three times that the gates of hell should be opened for the final confrontation between him and Satan.(16) In the fable the rustic finally thrashes the soldier, who asks his conqueror, |Parce, precor, victo, supplico; victor abi' (86) (|I beg, I beseech, spare the vanquished one; depart as victor'). The victor then leaves behind the debilitated man, as Christ left the infernal field to a conquered Satan.
The closing distich of the narrative resonates with Christian overtones: |Leta novat fortuna senem; senis unicus heres / Scribitur, et dignas intrat Arator opes' (87-8) (|Joyful fortune renews the old man; the ploughman is designated the old man's sole heir, and he takes on deserved powers'). Through the intercession of the ploughman, good fortune renews the old man, or, allegorically, he receives a new dispensation under the New Law. The ploughman is made the sole heir of the old man, that is, recognized as both Son of Man and saviour. Finally, he takes on deserved powers, a reward which hardly needs interpretation.
This detailed allegorical reading of Walter's final fable relies on evidence from scripture and patristic teaching which might have been beyond the ken of medieval schoolboys (and even their teachers!), but a substantially similar if more general reading of the fable was widely circulated in both the thirteenth-century Esopus moralizatus, the most popular scholastic commentary on Walter's work, and the more purely allegorical commentary in the Auctores Octo, probably written in the latter half of the fourteenth century. Both commentaries include prose summaries of each of Walter's verse fables, with moral or allegorical interpretations appended to the synopses. The Esopus moralizatus gives the following interpretation of |De Duello Militis et Aratoris':
Moraliter per civem potest intelligi vir bonus et religiosus; per militem intelliguntur mali et invidi, qui[bus] semper interpretantur opera iusti viri ad finem malum, dicentes quod si quid boni faciat, hoc propter vanam gloriam facit. Cum tandem iste bonus et rehgiosus vir ponitur in senectute et extremitate vite sue in qua ipsum duellare oporteat, reddendo rationem de omnibus factis suis. Et cum non invenit aliquem amicum quo se defendere posset a morte eterna, postremo venit rusticus, i.e. fides bona et recta, quae liberat ipsum a manibus inimici, i.e. dyaboli, a quo nos liberare dignetur, qui trius et unus vivit et regnat in secula seculorum.(17)
(Morally by the citizen a good and religious man can be understood; by the soldier bad and envious men are understood, by whom the works of a just man are always interpreted to a bad end, saying that if he does anything good, he does it because of vainglory. When finally this good and religious man is brought to old age and the extremity of his life, in which it is necessary to duel with him, having given reasons for all of his deeds; and when he doesn't find any friend who is able to defend him from eternal death, at last there comes a rustic, that is good and proper faith, which liberates him from the hands of the enemy, that is the devil, from whom he deigns to liberate us who lives and reigns, three and one, from generation to generation.)
The Esopus moralizatus, in which roughly half the fables are moralized in purely secular terminology, shows that well before Langland's day, this fable was read as a Christian allegory.
The Auctores Octo commentary gives a similar reading.
Allegoria: Per civem, quemlibet hominem; per militem dyabolum, quia ipse semper accusat homines coram deo, dicens, |Quicquid ille facit, non facit propter deum, sed vanam gloriam, et quod hic fit verum scriptis meis affirmabo.' Tandem forte ille est in extremitate vite sue et nullum habens amicum, i.e., nullum habens virtutem nec iusticiam nec talia quae possent eum defendere a morte eterna. Tandem arator, i.e., fides sola in deo, liberat eum de manu plutonis.(18)
(Allegory: by the citizen [understandl any man, by the soldier the devil, because he always accuses men before God, saying, |Whatever he does, he doesn't do because of God but because of vainglory, and what here is done I will affirm as true with my writings.' Finally by chance he is at the extremity of his life, having no friend, that is having no virtue nor justice nor such things as might be able to defend him from eternal death. Finally the ploughman, that is faith only in God, liberates him from the grasp of Pluto.)
While these allegorical readings do not mention Jesus directly, |fides bona et recta' and |fides sola in deo' obviously meaning Christian faith, link the ploughman to Christ.
This linkage is made fully explicit in a northern Italian manuscript written during the second decade of the fifteenth century and now owned by the Biblioteca Comunale in Treviso. Here the characters receive the following allegorical interpretations:
Per militem [auctor intendit] demonem qui semper vadit accendando et tentando homines. Per senem [intendit] hominem temporalem exutum amicis et virtutibus. Per bubulcum [intendit] Christum qui interdum pugnat demonem.(19)
(By the soldier the author intends the devil, who is always going around provoking and tempting men. By the old man he intends a mortal man deprived of friends and virtues. By the ploughman he intends Christ, who sometimes fights the devil.)
These three commentaries strongly suggest that |De Duello Militis et Aratoris' was interpreted so as to clothe militant Christianity allegorically in the role of the ploughman, just as Langland clothes the militant Jesus in Piers' armour as he rides forth before the crucifixion.
While |De Duello Militis et Aratoris' may have served as part of Langland's inspiration for the Christ/Piers conjunction, the fable certainly offered too little about the ploughman as ploughman for the poet to have based Piers upon; while the fable character is selfless in the sense of putting his lord before himself, he is also selfless in the sense of having no real identity. Langland's Piers, at least in the Visio, is a real ploughman actively involved in agriculture, but Walter's hero, whose occupation never receives much attention, could just as easily be a miller or a carpenter. However, the very lack of detail about the |arator' would have been helpful to Langland. Educated medieval readers would have remembered simply that the character of the good, self-sacrificing ploughman as a figure representing Christian faith had the authority of Aesop behind it. Indeed, Langland seemed to encourage his readers to bring fable allegory to bear upon Piers Plowman when he added the fable of belling the cat to the Prologue of the Band C-texts, the versions to which he also added the figure of Christ jousting in Piers' armour.(20)
The continuing popularity of the selfless ploughman figure that Kirk cites coincides quite closely with the popularity of the fable collection. Its use as a school text continued from Langland's era into the seventeenth century. Hervieux, in his description of manuscripts and editions of the collection, lists no fewer than fifty fifteenth-century manuscripts, and Kristeller lists at least thirty.(21) Using the catalogues of Hain and Panzer, Hervieux also finds thirty-five fifteenth-century printings, and twenty sixteenth-century printings, including two done in England. Nearly all editions included scholastic commentaries with the fables, indicating that Walter's work remained a basic school text in the Western European curriculum for hundreds of years.(22)
If the ready availability of Walter's fables provided a basis for the survival in European thought of the selfless ploughman, his longevity must also be attributed to the common manner of studying fables in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, described in a number of sources.
The best-known medieval teaching handbook to suggest the use of fables in education was the grammarian Priscian's influential Praeexercitamina. According to Priscian, students should be made to retell fables sometimes in abbreviated versions (|modo breviter') and sometimes in amplified versions (|modo latius'); he offers an example of each type.(23) Such an exercise would familiarize pupils with basic fable plots while tacitly encouraging them to make the fables their own by bringing at least some creativity to bear upon them.
Evidence of the degree to which Priscian's dictates were followed is provided in the preface to John of Capua's Directorium Humanae Vitae, written in the last half of the thirteenth century. He states that children are naturally attracted to fables but may not understand them fully until they grow up; then, in recalling the tales they learned in their youth, they will discover the full wisdom of what they studied.(24)
In Education in Fifteenth-Century England Clara P. McMahon quotes an early sixteenth-century time-table from Winchester School which requires that'a fable of Esope ... be seid withowt booke and construed' each Sunday by third-form students.(25) McMahon also states, |The procedure of parsing and construing, memorizing rules and giving them back to the teacher must have been almost identical with the methods used two or three centuries earlier.'(26)
Memorization of fables remained a standard though perhaps less beneficial scholastic exercise in the seventeenth century, when Sir Roger L|Estrange wrote that pupils memorized and recited fables |almost at such a rate as we Teach Pyes and Parrots, that Pronounce the Words without so much as Guessing at the Meaning of them'.(27)
In sum, the impressive history of publication of |De Duello Militis et Aratoris', in combination with the continuing detailed study of fables over several centuries, may contribute more towards explaining the use of the ploughman as a religious symbol than medieval and Renaissance attitudes toward manual labourers. The ploughman's presence in the Fabulae certainly constitutes what Kirk calls a |pervasive ... didactic tradition' that could have helped Langland's ploughman image to |strike its first audience as familiar'. But even if Walter's fable has a place in the background of Langland's inspiration for Piers as a good ploughman, |De Duello Militis et Aratoris' can do little to elucidate the complicated character of Piers in his entirety, a creation associated with the socio-econoniic concerns of post-Plague England. For greater understanding of the character in its fuller historical context, we must turn again to the work of Kaske, Bamey, Kirk, and others.
(1) The Character of Piers Plowman Considered from the B Text',Medium AEvum, ii (1933), 108-35). (2) For an outline of Kaske's methodology and a list of bibliographic references for his work relating to Piers Plowman, see |Patristic Exegesis: The Defense', 27-60 in Dorothy Bethurum (ed.), Critical Approaches to English Literature (New York and London, 1960). (3) |The Plowshare of the Tongue: The Progress of a Symbol from the Bible to Piers Plowman', Mediaeval Studies, xxxv (1973), 260-93. (4) Edmund Reiss, |The Symbolic Plow and the Plowman in the Wakefield Mactacio Abel', Studies in Iconography, v (1979), 7. (5) |Langland's Plowman and the Recreation of the Fourteenth-Century Religious Metaphor', The Yearbook of Langland Studies, ii (1988), 11. (6) Leopold Hervieux (ed.), Les Fabulistes Latins depuis le siecle d'Auguste jusqu' a la fin du moyen age (Paris, 1893-9), i.494. In his three-volume work, Teaching and Learning Latin in Thirteenth-Century England (Cambridge, 1991), Tony Hunt mentions the fable collection's popularity on the island, and he reproduces the English vocabulary glosses from a thirteenth-century manuscript of the fables (i.70, ii.11). (7) The scholastic commentaries on medieval Aesopic fables have not been systematically studied on their own, but they have received cursory mention in relation to vernacular fabulists. See Douglas Gray, Robert Henryson (Leiden, 1979), 125-30, and Derek Pearsall, John Lydgate (Charlottesville, 1970), 193. (8) Hervieux,i.472-5. (9) As recently as 1977 Klaus Grubmuller, in his Meister Esopus: Untersuchungen zur Geschichte und Funktion der Fabel im Mittelalter, was unable to identify a source for these fables (Zurich and Munich, 1977), 78. (10) Hervieux, ii.347-50. All further references to these fables will be made by line number in Hervieux's text.
I have chosen to use Hervieux's edition of the fables rather than the more diplomatic text edited by Julia Bastin in the Recueil General des Isopets (Paris, 1930), because the order in which Hervieux's base manuscript, Bibliotheque Nationale MS Lat. 14381, presents the fables is more closely representative of the manuscript tradition as a whole. The four manuscripts which Bastin uses, all of which contain French translations of the fables, place the story of the Jew and the cup-bearer fifty-eighth and that of the duel of the ploughman and the soldier sixty-eighth and last, after several fables which appear in only a handful of French manuscripts and which are so stylistically different from Walter's that they cannot be confidently attributed to him. Hervieux discusses these fables in i.497-9. Although Hervieux's text is less carefully edited, it presents the fables ordered as they appear in both the majority of extant manuscripts and the fifteenth- and sixteenth-century editions of the collection. (11) In roughly half of the extant manuscripts of Walter's collection, one or two short fables appear after the pair discussed here, but Hervieux, citing stylistic differences, refused to identify them positively as Walter's. He also pointed out that a distich which is obviously meant to serve as an epilogue to the collection generally appears after the sixtieth fable, even when extra ones are appended (i.497). (12) See, for example, Matthew 11:28-30, in which Christ calls believers to him:
28. Venite ad me omnes qui laboratus et onerati estis et ego reficiam vos 29. tollite iugum meum super vos et discete a me quia mitis sum et humilis corde et invenietis requiem animabus vestris 30. Iugum meum suave est et onus meum leve est (Biblia Sacra: luxta Vulgata Versionem (Stuttgart, 1969)
(Doway-Rhemes: 28. Come ye to me al that labour, and are burdened, and I wil refresh you. 29. Take vp my yoke vpon you, and learne of me, because I am meeke, and humble of hart: and you shal finde rest to your soules. 30. For my yoke is sweete, and my burden light.
In Matthew 23:4, Christ refers to burdens which the scribes and the Pharisees place upon their followers.
(13) The old man in Walter's fable laments: Quos meritis emi, multos mihi fecit amicos Longa dies, cunctos abstulit hora brevis. De tot amicorum populo non restitit unus, Quamque dedi multis, nemo repensat opem. Rebar pace frui: paci mea congruit etas; Sed mea turbavit gaudia livor edax. Hosti multa meo palmam pepigere; tepesco, Ille calet; careo viribus, ille viget. Arma parum novi, se totum prebuit armis; Est mihi visus hebes, visus acutus ei. Nil mihi spondet opem, nisi iuste gratia cause; De fragili queritur preside causa potens. Corporis enclipsim timet alti copia cordis; Nam fragili peccat mens animosa manu. Si turpes nitide mendax infamia vite Infigit maculas, quid nituisse iuvat?
(A long time made me many friends whom I bought with good actions; a brief hour carried away all of them. Out of so many people, not one of the friends has remained, and no one repays the support which I gave to many. I am renowned for delighting in peace; my state is suited to peace, but greedy envy has disturbed my joys. I will have settled the palm of victory upon my enemy because of a great deal; I grow warm, he is inflamed; I lack strength, he flourishes. I am too little acquainted with arms, he offered himself entirely to arms; my vision is weak, his vision acute. Nothing but the grace of a just cause promises power to me; from a weak man a strong excuse is sought by our ruler. Fullness of a brave heart is afraid of failure of the body, for the spirited mind fails because of a fragile hand. If lying infamy fixes foul spots on a brilliant life, what does it help to have shone?)
In Chapter 17, Job laments: 1. spiritus meus adtenuabitur dies mei breviabuntur et solum mihi superest sepulchrum 2. non peccavi et in amaritudinibus moratur oculos meos 3. libera me et pone iuxta te et cuiusvis manus pugnet contra me 4. cor eorum longe fecisti a disciplina et propterea non exultabuntur 5. praedam pollicetur sociis et oculi filiorum eius deficient 6. posuit me quasi in proverbium vulgi et exemplum sum coram eis 7. calligavit ab indignatione oculus meus ct membra mea quasi in nihili redacta sunt
(Doway-Rhemes: 1. My spirit shal be extenuated, my daies shal be shortened, and the graue only remaineth for me. 2. I haue not sinned, and mine eie abideth in bitternesse. 3. Deliuer me, and set me beside thee, and let anie mans hand fight against me. 4. Thou hast made their hart far from discipline, and therfore they shal not be exalled. 5. He promiseth a praye to his felowes, and the eics ofhis children shal faile. 6. He hath set me as it were for a prouerbe of the comon people, and I am an example before them. 7. Mine eie is dimme for indignation, and my members are brought as it were to nothing.
Weakness of vision, lack of physical strength, falsehood of friends, and desire for liberation link these verses to Walter's fable. If Walter had this passage in mind when writing his fable, he should be credited with a brilliant joke, for he has done to Job exactly what the biblical character bewails in verse 17:6: the fabulist has used the old man |in proverbium vulgi et exemplum'.
(14) For a discussion of this doctrine in the teachings of Bernard of Clairvaux, see Beatrice Daw Brown (ed.), The Southern Passion, EETS, o.s. 169 (1927), lxxii-lxxv. (15) Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1966. (16) The Gospel of Nicodemus (or Acts of Pilate) 5:1-3, in M. R. James (ed. and trans.), The Apocryphal New Testament (London, 1926). (17) Esopus moralizatus cum bono commento (Cologne, Heinrich Quentell, 1489), final page. (18)|Fabularum Esopi' section. Lyon: Jehan de Vingle, 1495. In Jehan de Vingle's edition of the Auctores Octo the allegorical interpretation of this fable is placed not at the end of the plot summary but in the middle, just after the ploughman has offered to represent the old man. This unique placement is obviously intended to colour the student's reading of the duel, making it a battle no less between a ploughman and a soldier than between Faith and the devil. Whether such an unorthodox order was used in manuscripts of Langland's day must be left to conjecture, though to my knowledge, no extant manuscripts interrupt plot summaries with allegorizations. (19) MS 156, fo. 68'. For a description of this manuscript, see Laura Pani, I Codici Datati della Biblioteca Comunale di Treviso (Udine, 1991), 46-9. (20) Although it is generally believed that Langland borrowed this fable from sermon literature, it is interesting to note that this fable was appended to Walter of England's Fabulae in three early fourteenth-century French manuscripts: Bibliotheque Nationale MS 1594, British Library MS Add. 33781, and Bibliotheque Royale of Brussels MS 11193. Hervieux believed that these manuscripts all came from the same workshop and were perhaps even copied by the same scribe (i.516-28, 571-4, and 582-3 respectively). (21) Paul Oskar Kristeller, Iter Italicum, 6 vols (Leiden, 1963-91). The fable collection, which appears under the index heading |Aesop', can be identified by its incipit, |Ut iuvet'. (22) In the seventeenth century the number of editions declined sharply owing to educators' preference for the grammatical and rhetorical models provided by genuine classical texts over the grammatically quirky moral instruction in Walter's collection. The last moment of glory for the fables was their inclusion in Isaac Nevelet's Mythologia Aesopica of 1610, the compilation from which La Fontaine took many of his fables - though not the two discussed here. (23) Karl Felix von Halm (ed.), Rhetores Latini Minores (Leipzig, 1863), 551-2. (24) Hervieux, v.80-1. (25) (Baltimore, 1947), 106. Ibid., 104. (26) Quoted in Thomas Noel, Theories of the Fable in the Eighteenth Century (New York, 1975), 14.