William the Marshal of England, a hero of knightly wars celebrated with an epic song written shorty after Bouvines, one day asked Philip Augustus, with regard to the Poitevins whose about-faces benefited Capetian efforts against the Plantagenet king, why traitors of the sort which in France used to be burned, broken, and dragged by four horses, were now lords and masters. The King answered him: “It’s just buying and selling. They are as disposable as butt-wipes”
From somewhere towards the back of volume 1, on his first arrival in Rome.
The man fit to make a fortune in this ancient capital of Italy must be a chameleon sensitive to all the colors which the light casts on his surroundings. He must be flexible, insinuating, a great dissimulator, impenetrable, obliging, often base, ostensibly sincere, always pretending to know less than he does, keeping to one tone of voice, patient, in complete control of his countenance, cold as ice when another in his place would be on fire; and if he is so unfortunate as not to have religion in his heart he must have it in his mind, and , if he is an honest man, accept the painful necessity of admitting to himself that he is a hypocrite. If he loathes the pretense, he should leave Rome and seek his fortune in England. Of all these necessary qualities – I do not know if I am boasting or admitting my deficiency – I possessed only obligingness, which, without the others, is a fault. I was an interesting fool, a rather fine horse of a good breed, but unbroken or, what is worse, badly broken.
From Robert Fawtier’s The Capetian Kings of France (pg63-64):
(Maybe it’s just my odd sense of humor but I imagine the negotiation and composition processes for this agreement as scenes from a Mel Brooks movie and am terribly amused)
On 10 March 1103 Robert of Jerusalem, Count of Flanders, made a treaty at Dover with King Henry I of England against King Philip I of France. The second article of this treaty admirably illustrates the attitude of the great vassals of the Capetians. Homage was a solemn obligation they had freely entered into. It tied them to the king, and they were bound by oath not to break it. The most they were capable of attempting was seeking means to circumvent it. And so the Count of Flanders assured the King of England of his support, “saving his fealty to Philip, King of France, in such wise that if King Philip shall intend to invade the realm of England, Count Robert will seek to prevent King Philip in every way possible, by his counsel and by his prayers, but not by any means incompatible with his fealty, nor by plotting against him, nor by offering him bribes. And if King Philip shall come to England, and shall bring Count Robert with him, Count Robert will take the smallest possible retinue, but not so small that he may thereby incur the forfeiture of his fief to the King of France.”
From the 12th century Parabolae of Odo of Cheriton (no.56):
Contra non implentes uotum.
Mus semel cecidit in spumam uini uel cervisie, quando bul[l]iuit. Catus transiens audiuit Murem pipantem eo quod exire non potuit. Et ait Catus: Quare clamas? Respondit: Quia exire non ualeo. Ait Catus: Quid dabis mihi, si te extraxero? Ait Mus: Quicquid postulaueris? Et ait Catus: Si te hac uice liberauero, uenies ad me cum te uocauero? Et ait Mus: Firmiter hoc promitto. Ait Catus: Iura mihi. Et Mus iurauit. Catus Murem extraxit et ire permisit. Semel Catus esuriuit et uenit ad foramen Muris, et dixit ei quod ad ipsum exiret. Dixit Mus: Non faciam. Ait Catus: Nonne iurasti mihi? Dixit: Frater, ebria fui, quando iuraui.
Sic plerique, quando infirmi uel in carcere uel in periculo, proponunt et promittunt uitam emendare, ieiunare uel huiusmodi. Sed cum periculum euaserunt, uotum implere non curant, dicentes: In periculo fui et ideo non teneor.
Against not filling a vow:
A mouse once fell into a cask of wine or beer while he was drinking from it. A cat happening to pass by heard the mouse squeaking because he was not able to get out.
-And the cat said: Why are you crying?
-He answered: Since I’m not strong enough to get out.
-The cat said: What will you give me if I pull you out?
-The mouse replied: What will you demand?
-And the cat said: If I free you from this plight, will you come to me when I call you?
-And the mouse said: Solemnly do I promise it.
-The cat said: Swear to me.
And the mouse swore to him. The cat pulled out the mouse and allowed him to leave.
Some time later the cat grew hungry and came to the door of the mouse, and said to him that he should come out.
-The mouse said: I will not do it.
-The cat said: Didn’t you swear to me?
-He said: Brother, I was drunk when I swore
Thus many, when sick or in prison or in danger, propose or promise to improve thier life, to fast, or something else. But when they have escaped the danger they have no concern with filling the vow, saying : I was in danger and so I’m not held by it.
From Thomas Bernhard’s account of his receiving The Austrian State Prize for Literature (My Prizes, pg67):
The people who spoke to me about the prize all assumed I had naturally been awarded the Big Prize and each time I was faced with the embarrassment of saying to them that the one in question was the Small Prize which every scribbling asshole had won already. And each time I had to explain to people the difference between the Small Prize and the Big Prize, and when I did, I had the impression they simply didn’t understand me anymore. The Big Prize, I kept repeating, was for a so-called life’s work and one gets it closer to old age and it’s awarded by the so-called Cultural Senate which is made up of all those who have previously won this Big State Prize and there wasn’t just the Big State Prize for Literature but also for the so-called Fine Arts and for Music, et cetera. When people asked me who had already won this so-called Big State Prize, I always said, All Assholes, and when they asked me the names of these assholes I listed a whole row of assholes for them and they’d never heard of any of them, the only person who knew of them was me. So this Cultural Senate, they said, is made up of nothing but assholes because you say that everyone in the Cultural Senate is an asshole. Yes, I said, the Cultural Senate is full of assholes, what’s more they’re Catholic and National Socialist assholes plus the occasional Jew for wind0w-dressing. I was repelled by the questions and these answers. And these assholes, people said, elect new assholes to their Senate every year when they give them the Big State Prize. Yes, I said, every year new assholes are selected for the Senate that calls itself a Cultural Senate and is an indestructible evil and a perverse absurdity in our country. It’s a collection of the biggest washouts and bastards, I always said. And so what is the Small State Prize? they asked and I replied the Small State Prize is a so-called Nurturing of Talent and so many people have already win it you can no longer count them, and now I’m one of them, I said, for I’ve been given the Small State Prize as a punishment. Punishment for what? they asked and I couldn’t give them an answer. The Small State Prize, I said, is a dirty trick if you’re over thirty and as I’m almost forty it’s a huge dirty trick. But I said I’d sworn to come to terms with this huge dirty trick and I had no thoughts of declining this huge dirty trick. I’m not willing to give up twenty-five thousand schillings, I said, I’m greedy for money, I have no character, I’m a bastard too.
My free rendering of a stanza from poem 4 of the 12th cent. Archpoet‘s works.
As is my wine, so are my words
Nothing can I produce, not unless I’ve already eaten.
Worth nothing at all are those poems I write on an empty belly,
but after a deep glass I will outrun Ovid in song
Tales versus facio, quale vinum bibo,
nihil possum facere, nisi sumpto cibo.
Nihil valent penitus, quae ieiunus scribo,
Nasonem post calicem carmine preibo.
The Archpoet is best (~only) known for the “Meum est propositum in taberna mori” (My purpose is to die in a tavern) stanza of the poem generally called his ‘Confession’, but there are a good few similarly playful bits scattered through the rest of his work.
He tends to be very difficult to translate with any satisfaction given the structural parallelisms he everywhere deploys. Here alone we find:
line-end rhymes (bibo … cibo … scribo … preibo)
line-internal corresponding clauses (Tales … quale)
line-start vocab repetition (Nihil… / Nihil…)
line-start sound repetition (Nihil… / Nihil… / Nasonem..)
“Urban communities also often valued having a recluse or other ascetic figure in the town, as a sign that the town was special. Sibylla of Marsal was an earlier instance, a beguine of exceptional religious commitment in a small town in Lorraine, who fasted and had visions and in 1240 began to attract pilgrims to Marsal; the inhabitants had no problems with this at all, and nor did the bishop of Metz, who had come in person to investigate, once he encountered the demon whom Sibylla was fighting. Only more detailed scrutiny revealed, apparently by chance, that Sibylla was faking it, to the extent that she had made her own demon suit and dressed up in it.”