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Te Harvard Undergraduate Journal of Medieval Studies

Volume V

iii ii
M::cic Eui1ovs
Dominic Ferrante
Zachary Fletcher
Rebecca Frankel
Ben Koerner

Te Harvard Book Store
AcNowtvocvmvN1s: Sententiae would like to thank
Ivy Livingston, Sean Gilsdorf, and faculty advisors, as well as
Dan Smail and the Harvard Medieval Studies Committee. Te
Board extends its gratitude to everyone who submitted work for
consideration to Vol. 5.
Copyright 2014 Sententiae. All rights reserved. No part of this
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of the President and Fellows of Harvard College and are used by permission
of Harvard University. Te Harvard Undergraduate Journal of Medieval
Studies is proud to be a registered and omcial student group at Harvard.
iv Editors Note
1 Te Ruin: A Transcription and Translation of Fragments from the 10th
Century Exeter Book
Owen Laub, Harvard University
o Te Will to Charity: Movement of the Will in Piers Plowman and the
Works of George Grant
Chase Padusniak, College of the Holy Cross

Te Sacrality of Relics and the Eucharist: Trends in Objects of Veneration
Julia Tomlinson, Kenyon College
i Conversion to Judaism During the Crusader Period:
Proselytization through the Case Study of a Cairo Genizah Document
Danielle Rabinowitz, Harvard University
8 Poem from the 8th century Codex Salamasianus: A Translation and Com-
Zachary Fletcher, Harvard University
1 iv
A No1i Fvom 1ui M::cic Eui1ovs oi Sr1r1izr
Tis journal is an amrmation that medieval scholarship is very much alive
at the undergraduate level, including here at Harvard. Te following articles
treat a wide variety of subjects, eras, and nations within the medieval spec-
trum. However, they are united by the knowledge that there is always more
to say and discover about medieval literature, history, art, culture, and reli-
gion. We hope you enjoy this ffh issue of Sententiae, and want to ofer our
heartfelt thanks to all those who have made this production possible.

Rebecca Frankel
Czmnviucr, zvvii :or,
Owi L:Un, Harvard University
Te Ruin: A Transcription and Translation of
Fragments from the 10th-Century Exeter Book
3 2
Sententiae V Laub
II. Translation
Wondrous is this stone wall broken by fate; 1
a city shattered, the withering work of giants.
Ruined roofs, ruined rooks,
the gates gashed, rime on the limestone,
the shorn storm-shelters collapsed, 5
eaten in by age. Earths grasp holds
the master masons, decomposed, disappeared
in the grim grip of the earth that a hundred
clans have come to know. While this wall remained
lichen-gray and red-stained, kingdom afer kingdom 10
withstood tempests. But the high wide wall has fallen.
Yet the hewn
skin on
grimly ground to dust
she 15
the ancient artifact
the clay crust of the earth gave way
the soul swifly devised
to bind the wall-roots in rings of wire;
strong-counsel, strong-mind: a wonder together. 20
Bright were the urban abodes, the many bath-houses,
high and horn-strewn. Te thunderous throngs,
many mead halls, days full of joy,
all but for that unalterable power fate.
Slaughter spread as came the days of death 25
a death devouring all men;
peons perished, defenses were deserted,
the dominion decayed. Atoners fell
to the earth. So the great hall was dreary,
and the broad roof dripped 30
blood-red tiles from its crown. A ruined mountain, it tumbled
to the ground, broken. Tere, many men of yore
good in soul and adorned in magnifcent golden splendor,
beaming in battle-gear and flled with wine, had gazed;
gazed on gold, on silver, on gem-studded ornaments, 35
on pearls, on opulence, on fortune itself,
on that bright city and its broad domain.
I. Introduction
Te Ruin can be found near the end of the Exeter Book, an 8th century
corpus of Old English poems and riddles. Portions of the text are missing
due to damage by fre. Te author of the Exeter Book is unknown.

Wrtlic is es wealstan, wyrde gebrcon; 1
burgstede burston, brosna enta geweorc.
Hrofas sind gehrorene, hreorge torras,
hrungeat berofen, hrim on lime,
scearde scurbeorge scorene, gedrorene, 5
ldo undereotone. Eorgrap hafa
waldend wyrhtan forweorone, geleorene,
heardgripe hrusan, o hund cnea
wereoda gewitan. Of s wag gebad
rghar ond readfah rice fer orum, 10
ofstonden under stormum; steap geap gedreas.
Wona giet se ...num geheapen,
fel on
grimme gegrunden
scan heo 15
...g oronc rsceaf
...g lamrindum beag
mod mo... ...yne swifne gebrgd
hwtred in hringas, hygerof gebond
weallwalan wirum wundrum togdre. 20
Beorht wron burgrced, burnsele monige,
heah horngestreon, heresweg micel,
meodoheall monig dreama full,
ot t onwende wyrd seo swie.
Crungon walo wide, cwoman woldagas, 25
swylt eall fornom secgrofra wera;
wurdon hyra wigsteal westen staolas,
brosnade burgsteall. Betend crungon
hergas to hrusan. Foron as hofu dreorgia,
ond s teaforgeapa tigelum sceade 30
hrostbeages hrof. Hryre wong gecrong
gebrocen to beorgum, r iu beorn monig
gldmod ond goldbeorht gleoma gefrtwed,
wlonc ond wingal wighyrstum scan;
seah on sinc, on sylfor, on searogimmas, 35
on ead, on ht, on eorcanstan,
on as beorhtan burg bradan rices.
5 4
Sententiae V Laub
A house of stone once stood where a hot stream spewed
forth a frothy spring, all circled by a wall:
a bright bosom. Tere were the baths, 40
hot to the core. Tat was true comfort.
Let those pour
hot streams over gray stone
until the hot round pool 45
there the baths were.
then is
that is a kingly thing
house city
Stanhofu stodan, stream hate wearp
widan wylme; weal eall befeng
beorhtan bosme, r a bau wron , 40
hat on hrere. t ws hyelic.
Leton onne geotan
ofer harne stan hate streamas
...t hringmere hate 45
r a bau wron.
onne is; t is cynelic ing,
huse burg
7 6
Padusniak Sententiae V
themselves caught between a tour on tof tieliche ymaked
and a deep
dale bynethe, a dungeon therinne.
Yet, Piers Plowman addresses just how
the will can decide not to decide in the face of good laden with semblances
of evil
and evil masquerading as loving goodness. In a complex world full
of multifaceted problems, Langland uses an allegorical dream vision to
explore how one can act skeptically and yet piously to face the dynamo

without freezing when confronted with a litany of morally ambiguous
options. He calls for openness and receptivity of otherness, which bear the
fruit of love and good works regardless of the worlds tumult. Skepticism
without torpor and thoughtful action without unthinking piety defne
Langlands approach.
Similarly, George Grant and his contemporaries were faced with a
historical moment of great peril. Knowledge of good which we did not
measure and defne but by which we were measured and defned
disappeared in the face of the project of modern reason,
which sum-
mons diferent things to questioning
in order to gain an account of their
reasons for being what they are. He lived in a world where boredom and
weariness of spirit
had replaced a yearning for the eternally true or the
infnitely good. His was the world of consumer goods, corporation capital-
ism and nuclear arms, a world in which the push of a button could mean
the annihilation of a comfortable, and yet essentially nihilistic, materialism.
Grants day was one in which the possibility of Armageddon loomed large,
yet in which, under the surface, lurked a sedated, ill-informed faith in a
successful, but decidedly meaningless, liberalism. As a philosopher, Grant
recognized these problems but refused simple inaction as the solution.
Analogously to the poet born centuries before, he supports a return to the
1 Langland, Piers, Prologue, l. 14.
2 Langland, Piers, Prologue, l. 15.
3 Bowers, Crisis, 59.
4 Grant, George, 'A Platitude, 143.

Grant, George, 'Faith and the Multiversity, Technologv and Justice, (Toronto: House
oI Anansi Press, 1986), 59.
6 Ibid., 37.
7 Ibid.
8 Grant, George, 'In DeIence oI North America, Technologv and Empire, (Toronto:
House oI Anansi Press, 1969), 24.
Cu:si P:uUsi:x, College of the Holy Cross
Te Will to Charity: Te Movement of the Will in
Piers Plowman and the Works of George Grant
Charite, quod he, ne chapareth noght, ne chalangeth, ne craveth;
As proud of a peny as of a pound of golde.
Piers Plowman
In such a situation of uncertainty, it would be lacking in courage to turn ones
face to the wall. - George Grant
Although William Langland and George Grant lived in markedly diferent
historical moments, their approaches to the question of the human will are
analogous. Separated by centuries of turmoil, change, and uproar they
manage to produce distinct, and yet, similar responses to how the good life
is to be willed in the face of chaos. Both poet and philosopher are faced
with periods of uncertainty that present pressing metaphysical questions,
especially regarding the will. As a result, their two approaches to the
question of willing are illuminating in discovering how truths can be
touched on regardless of historical circumstances. Teir analogous expla-
nations in the face of analogous questions point to an ability to transcend
simple historical moments.
Langland imagines in somer seson, when sofe was the sonne
fair feeld ful of folk/ Of alle manere of men, the meene and the riche.

His dreamer, the aptly named Will, bears witness to the tumult of the day,
to japeres and jangeleres, Judas children,
refecting the world in
around the poet himself. In the face of plague, political intrigue
and clerical corruption, familiar ideas about morality and holiness seemed
inadequate. In a palpable way, Langland and his contemporaries found
1 Langland, William. Piers, Prologue, l. 1.
Piers Plowman is a Iourteenth-century allegorical poem attributed to William Langland,
about whom almost nothing is known. Written in Middle English, the poem is titled
aIter the narrator and main character oI the poem, who seeks to discover how to be a
good Christian. The poem survives in several dozen medieval manuscripts in various
states oI completeness.
2 Ibid., Prologue, 17-18.
3 Ibid., Prologue, 35.
4 Bowers, John M., The Crisis of the Will in Piers Plowman, (Washington, D.C.: The
Catholic University oI America Press, 1986), 1.
9 8
Sententiae V Padusniak
experiences of receptivity
in which men must try to remember what has
come before, in which they listen for intimations of deprival.
Only afer
the will has actively rested in its openness can it move into acts of piety and
Any understanding of how these men came to such analogous
conclusions about the will to charity across so many centuries of strife,
turmoil and diference requires knowledge of their historical circumstanc-
es. In the case of Langland, one can trace his poems concerns to a tension
that had plagued Christianity from its very beginnings. In fact, Michael
Allen Gillespie goes so far as to declare that the origins of the medieval
world can be traced to the synthesis of Christianity and pagan philosophy
in the Hellenistic world of late antiquity.
Te attempt to bring together the
revelatory nature of Christianity and the rational inquiry of philosophy was
formalized in a series of councils by the early church such as Nicaea and
Chalcedon. Even this coalescing of disparate ideas was temporary; revela-
tion and reason continued to exist in tension and the place they lef for the
will, among other concerns, was a continuing problem
for Christian
thinkers. Te issue that Langland would grapple with in the fourteenth
century was not a new one; it could trace its roots back to an uneasy
synthesis and tension found the in very beginning of Christianity As a
faith, its roots were frmly planted in both the philosophy of Greece and
the revelatory tradition of ancient Israel; it has, from its beginnings, existed
in a tension between these sources of authority and knowledge. As a result,
the learned men of the fourteenth century continued to struggle with this
congenital problem, even if its particulars may have difered from earlier
attempts at synthesis.
However that synthesis and the doctrines of the will that it made
possible became obscured over time, resulting in the tumult that would
come to defne the theological atmosphere of Langlands own day. Te
deposition of the last Western emperor, Romulus Augustulus, was the fnal
chapter in the obfuscation of the Eastern roots of the synthesis. As the West
and the East drifed apart in terms of hierarchy so did the West become
less conscious of the Greek roots of its theological arguments. A slim
1 Grant, George. Time as Historv, ed. William Christian, (Toronto: University oI Toronto
Press, 1995), 62.
2 Grant, 'A Platitude, 143.
3 Gillespie, Michael Allen. The Theological Origins of Modernitv, (Chicago: University
oI Chicago Press, 2008), 19.
4 Gillespie, Theological Origins, 20.
connection to this earlier philosophical tradition
continued through
authors like Boethius, but Aristotle and Plato increasingly became just
names to the Westerners as they used the thought found in ancient works
without necessarily having access to the texts themselves. Te ancient
libraries had been lost and with them the books of the ancient thinkers
who had shaped Christian thought; the gulf that was created was a physical
one as texts were made unavailable, and a theoretical one as the depen-
dence on ancient sources became less clear to Westerners. Given the
situation, the synthesis of revelation and reason remained tentative, but
was poised to be challenged or expanded, pending a grand historical
moment: the reclamation of Aristotles thought.
Although the sources used to bring about synthesis became increas-
ingly obscure, the rediscovery of Aristotles works in the West provided the
catalyst that would launch the debate that reached its apogee in Langlands
day. Contact with Muslim Spain and the Muslim Levant led Western
thinkers to a new and reinvigorated confrontation with Aristotle. Tis led,
shortly afer the millennium, to the rise of scholasticism, which was the
greatest and most comprehensive theological attempt to reconcile the
philosophical and scriptural elements in Christianity.
Te scholastic
realists, such as St. Tomas Aquinas and his epigones, began to seek a new,
more refned synthesis. Drawing on a Neo-Platonic reading of Aristotle,
they regarded only universals as truly real; individuals were just specifc
instances of eternal Forms. Within this realist ontology, nature and reason
refected one another.
Man had a telos, which could be understood ratio-
nally through the observation and comprehension of natural phenomena.
God may exist outside of his creation, but his will is analogously represent-
ed in the nature he had willed. Because the creator was refected in his
creation, reason could discern, by examining nature, what was morally
right and wrong, how the will should act, and more. Everything was a part
of a rationally intelligible order ordained by God. And so the cosmos
became the symbol of synthesis. Te God of revelation had revealed a
universe through which mans end and Gods will could be known; the
tension of the ancient synthesis seemed to dissipate. And yet, the center
could not hold as this neat order found itself collapsing, leading to the
theological turmoil faced by the fair feeld ful of folk.

5 Ibid.
6 Ibid.
7 Ibid.
8 Langland, Piers, Prologue, l. 17.
11 10
Sententiae V Padusniak
Te synthesis of the Scholastic Realists was frst challenged by a
secular Aristotelianism, beginning the series of events that would lead to
the Ockhamist revolution and what John M. Bowers calls Langlands
world in turmoil.
Te rational world of the Scholastic Realists began to
unravel because they depended on the delicate counterbalancing of
Christian belief and pagan rationalism.
A secular Aristotelianism
emerged, favoring the rationalistic side to the revelatory one, re-aggravat-
ing one of Christianitys congenital tensions. To make matters worse,
commentaries on Aristotle by Muslim thinkers such as Avicenna and
Averros entered the European consciousness. Te failure of the Crusades,
coupled with a general xenophobia of what was sometimes viewed as a
quasi-pagan perversion of Christianity, cast suspicion on these texts and
those who read them. Aristotelian philosophy came to be associated with
Islam, which did not bode well for its followers. Te Church attempted to
limit what it saw as a theologically subversive development by fat;
tried to stamp out Islamic infuence in order to defend the integrity of
Christianity. As a result, some thinkers became suspicious of the Aristote-
lian approach to synthesis. Little did anyone realize that such a develop-
ment would spur on the revolution of the Nominalists, whose reaction to
the rationalism of the Scholastics and other Aristotelians set the fnal
elements on the stage for the theological battle that loomed large in the
imagined world of Piers Plowman.
In a reaction to this emphasis on reason, some thinkers sought to
liberate God and the mystery of existence and creation by emphasizing the
radical autonomy of his will, shattering the uneasy synthesis of the Realists
and opening wide the chasm of disagreement that informs Langlands
poem. In this vein, William of Ockham drew on previous proto-Nominal-
ist thought to upset the Scholastic synthesis in a way that reopened and
reinvigorated the question of the will for medieval Europeans. Ockham
laid out in great detail the foundations for a new metaphysics.
sought to protect the autonomy of God from complete rationalization. As a
result, he turned to the view that faith alone can make possible any knowl-
edge close to Gods omnipotence. For him, man cannot discern this fact
through any kind of reasoning or rationalization. Tis position difers from
the rationalism of the Scholastics by making God virtually unknowable.
9 Bowers, Crisis, 1.
10 Gillespie, Theological Origins, 20.
11 Ibid,, 21.
12 Ibid., 22.
Gods will no longer seems to be something comprehensible. In his abso-
lute omnipotence bounded only by logical contradiction, God appears to
be capable of doing most anything. He seems so autonomous that creation
itself becomes an act of sheer grace.
Every being exists only as a result
of his willing it and it exists as it does and as long as it does only because he
so wills it.
Te Nominalists, the followers of Ockham, used this position
to attack even the idea that God was bounded by revelation. He could
make good into evil and evil into good; a man might be allowed to hate
God, grace might bestow no merit, a mans will by itself might determine
his reward, grace and sin might exist together, and God might damn a
virtuous man while saving a reprobate.
With reason so questioned, the
foodgates had been opened and the immediate scene began to be set for
the theoretical backdrop to Langlands poem.
By questioning reason in this way, the Nominalists helped to create
the confusion and turmoil found in Langlands imagined world in two
distinct ways: they placed the will at the center of their metaphysics; and
they upset a delicate synthesis, making mans ability to reason seem nearly
useless. Te latter position is not a dimcult one to imagine. Without reason
as a guide to understanding, a man feels lost. Te cosmic synthesis had
been brought down in the face of Gods absolutely autonomous will.
Ockham efectively undermined the metaphysical/theological foundations
of the medieval world.
Te new importance of the will grew out of the
demolition of the old understanding. Te only necessary being for Ock-
ham was God himself.
And so, every other creation is radically contin-
gent upon his will, his potentia absoluta
: the voluntas Dei became the
subject of the most urgent theological discussion during the frst half of the
fourteenth century.
Tis discussion provides a backdrop for Piers Plow-
man. Te poem deals primarily with how men should act given turmoil
and confusion. As we shall see, the problem of the human will for Lang-
land has its foundations in the Nominalist account of God.
13 Ibid.
14 Ibid.
15 Bowers, Crisis, 7.
16 Gillespie, Theological Origins, 22.
17 Ibid.
18 Latin for Absolute Power.
19 Latin for Gods will. Bowers, Crisis, 7.
13 12
Sententiae V Padusniak
Te problem of a capricious god was made believable by the turmoil
that occurred in the fourteenth century, lending credence to the idea of an
Ockhamist deity and making the problem of the will all the more salient
for Langland. God was now unknowable and possibly capricious. With the
rationalist veil [ripped] from the face of God,
he seemed a distant and
whimsical deity who need not abide by what had been thought to be his
nature. Many Nominalists were only saved from despairing by a great faith
in the benevolence of God. For many, one had to have faith that he was
good, despite his mysterious nature: only unshakeable confdence in
divine benevolence saved these religious philosophersfrom the despair
of even trying to search afer truth.
In earlier times of greater unity and
prosperity such an idea would have seemed absurd. Te fourteenth cen-
tury, however, saw the Black Death, the Great Schism, and the Hundred
Years War.
Turmoil reigned as people succumbed to what seemed a
mystical disease, the Church became divided against itself, and England
found itself at war for more than a century. Now, this capricious and
unknowable God seemed to be real. Langlands emphasis on turmoil in his
Prologue refects this uncertainty and disorder: Manye ferlies han fallen in
a fewe yeres. / But Holy Chirche and hii holde better togidres / Te mooste
mischief on molde is mountynge up faste.
Te poet recognized the
disorder of his own time. He saw the pain people sufered and the theologi-
cal and ecclesiastical chaos that reigned. Tis consciousness of the current
debate informed Langland as he explored the most central question of his
century: that of the will.
Although the nature of the divine will was debated furiously in the
theological circles of the fourteenth century, it was the emergence of the
humanist movement and its emphasis on human creativity that brought
the human will to the fore. Gillespie sees Petrarch as the prototypical
humanist. By putting the individual at the center of their world, the hu-
manists mirrored the Ockhamist understanding of the will as autonomous.
Man had his own autonomous will much as God had his own: Like
Ockham the humanists were convinced that human beings have no natural
form or end.
With telos gone from mans understanding of himself, the
20 Gillespie, Theological Origins, 29.
21 Bowers, Crisis, 7-8.
22 Gillespie, Theological Origins, 29.
23 Langland, Piers, Prologue, ll. 65-67.
24 Gillespie, Theological Origins, 31.
human will became central to the meaning of what it meant to be human.
If no logical end seems deducible, then man can will his own end. Te
humanists thus concluded that humans are characterized by their free
With this last piece in place, the problem of the will could be ap-
proached as a human, as opposed to just a divine, problem. Langlands
poem explores the actions of the human will and so engages the contempo-
rary Ockhamist-humanist account of autonomy without surrendering a
greater perspective. His historical circumstances presented him with new
and fascinating questions, questions that emerged alongside mans new-
found absolute autonomy. Langland was surrounded by this debate, one
that provided a rich theological backdrop for his poem; one that opened
the maw of tumult that Will saw when he frst slombred into a slepyng.

Te intellectual turmoil that acts as a background to Piers Plowman
eventually became a problem of the people, displaying why Langland has
an interest in the will as something integral to everyday experience. Ock-
ham and Holcot mention people becoming dissatisfed with theologians
and asking them to rationally defend their faith.
It would seem that the
common people were disturbed by the intellectual debate of the day,
making a theoretical problem into a practical one. Scholastic propositions
would flter down through parish priests and so develop into a part of
everyday consciousness so that these ideas were vulgarized
very quickly.
A staunch faith and anti-intellectualism sumced for many as a reaction to
such mind-numbing theoretical tension. Although it took many forms,

Langland shows the reader just a few, demonstrating his own familiarity
with the practical dimension of these deeply intellectual issues: Ac Teolo-
gie hath tened me ten score tymes: Te moore I muse therinne, the mystier
it semeth, / And the depper I devyne, the derker me it thynketh.
It is
thought that Langland lef [school] early for fnancial reasons,
but the
fact that he received some degree of schooling means that he would have
25 Ibid.
26 Langland, Piers, Prologue, l. 10.
27 Bowers, Crisis, 13
28 Ibid.
29 Ibid., 14.
30 Langland, Piers, X, ll. 182-184.
31 Bowers, Crisis, 20.
15 14
Sententiae V Padusniak
had some knowledge of the contemporary debate while the poem clearly
points to an understanding of its more vulgar, practical implications. Tis
poet was conscious of the debates that raged around him; the question of
the will was not only a practical one for him but also one of great theologi-
cal signifcance that had to be addressed pragmatically. And so, Piers
speaks about the will not only in order to address societal questions but
also to get to the heart of the age-old question that has bothered pagans
and Christians alike: how then shall we live?
Having taken the time to examine the immense theoretical back-
drop to Langlands historical circumstances, we can see more intelligibly
how Piers Plowman itself can speak about the will; frst and foremost, this
becomes evident in the allegorical dreamer who narrates the poem, Will.
Te entire poem is allegorical with characters with names like
and Conscience.
Tese characters even
speak and act in ways reminiscent of the concepts they represent: I,
Sleuthe/ Bothe fesh and fsh and manye other vitailles/ Forlseuthed in
my service til it myghte serve no man.
Sleuthe is a character who acts
slothfully by letting foodstufs spoil. It is true that many readers of the
poem have seen Longe Will
as a quasi-autobiographical version of the
author himself, whose name was William.
But this reading is not the one
of interest to the problem of the will that was of such interest to Langlands
contemporaries. And so along with many other readers of the poem, I will
deal with the character of Longe Will as representing to some extent the
faculty of the human will.
In this view, the Will who shoopinto
shroudes asa sheep were
can be seen as a refection of the human will
as it tries to navigate the turmoil of fourteenth-century England, deciding
when and how to act.
32 Langland, Piers, V, l. 443.
33 Ibid., V, l. 435.
34 Ibid., V, l. 539.
35 Ibid., V, ll. 435, 437, 439.
36 Ibid., XV, l. 152.
37 Schmidt, A.V.C., 'Introduction, The Jision of Piers Plowman, ed. A.V.C. Schmidt,
2nd ed, (London: Orion Publishing Group, 2011), xxi-xxiii.
38 Bowers, Crisis, 41.
39 Langland, Piers, Prologue, l. 2.
Despite the integrality of the will to late medieval thought and the
allegorical nature of Will the character, Langland imagines a dreamer who
is mostly passive and who always feels the need to wait before deciding in
order to demonstrate how the will itself must occasionally decide not to
decide. In the frst passus, Will does little besides question Holi Chirche

about his dream and what is happening in it. We are mostly presented with
little more than attempts by Holi Chirche to explain the tower and the
dungeon and their signifcance to the folk in the feld. Tis allegorical
fgure tries to explain the personal, social, and historical disorders of
[the] day
in terms of the biblical narrative.
But she ultimately runs
away, leading him to continue to ask questions of the other allegorical
fgures he meets, relaying what they say to the reader. Te second major
movement of the poem, the so-called Vita de Dowel, involves a misguided
search for a person named Dowel, resulting in a whirlwind of characters
who blend together into the most confused portion
of the poem. Will is
lectured to by characters such as Wit,
Dame Studie
and Scripture.

In fact, Will does not do much besides ask a few questions and listen to
long responses to his questions for the vast majority of the poem. Given
this role, it seems that Will is a passive character whose primary role is that
of listener, even to the point of becoming lost in a dynamo of advice, much
as Langland seems to have felt the people were confused by and lost in the
turmoil of the contemporary debate about the will and God. As Bowers
puts it, he is a man named Will who postpones intellectual decisions,
delays his amrmation of faith, and neglects good works until he can be
absolutely sure what Dowel means.
For this poet in the face of constant
movement and chaos in lived existence, the will, like the dreamer, must
40 Ibid., I, l. 75.
41 Kee, James, 'The Political Realm AIter Christ: Langland`s Search Ior a Just Order in
Piers Plowman, unpublished paper given to author, 3.
42 Ibid.
43 Murtaugh, Daniel Maher, Piers Plowman and the Image of God, (Gainseville: The
University Presses oI Florida, 1978) 63.
44 Langland, Piers, IX, l. 1.
45 Ibid., X, l. 1.
46 Ibid., XI, l. 1.
47 Bowers, Crisis, 60.
17 16
Sententiae V Padusniak
occasionally decide to not decide.
Langlands notion that the will can be active in its inaction is cen-
tered in the volitional theory of Jean Buridan, demonstrating how the
contemporary debate further infuenced his response to the question of the
will. Buridan was an eminent Paris philosopher
who was infuenced by
the indiference theory of Dons Scotus, which stated that the will was
able to suspend judgment.
Buridan posited that the decision of the will
to suspend its own operation can only be the result of volition, [so] the will
demonstrates the souls absolute freedom to avoid all coercion from
He called this ability of the will to act in conficting ways, to act
to do something, nothing, or its own opposite, libertas oppositionis.

Tis idea of an autonomous will as put forth by Buridan is exactly
what Langland propagates by having Will the Dreamer misguidedly seek
Dowel and remain passive in his confusion. Te dreamer recalls the priests
contending that Dowel indulgences passed,
meaning that good is more
important than the pardon of Sent Petres cherche.
Will, however, takes
Dowel to be a person and decides to seek the man named Dowel: Tus
yrobed in russet I romed aboute / Al somer seson for to seke Dowel.
event leads him to the confusing whirlwind of character discussed above,
paralyzing him with complete inaction. In fact, the quest becomes so
disorienting that the dreamer hands himself over to the forces of fortune,
feeling as if he will never fnd Dowel: For I was ravysshed right there for
Fortune me fette.
Although he eventually escapes Fortunes grasp, Will
only falls to Fortune because of the turmoil of the world around him. He
cannot act because he does not know how to act; he cannot decide, so he
decides not to decide. Buridans theological concept is refected in just this
confused inaction. Langland uses this allegorized fgure and his misunder-
48 Ibid., 58.
49 Ibid.
50 Ibid., 59.
51 Ibid. Also, the Latin means 'Ireedom oI opposition.
52 Langland, Piers, VII, l. 170.
53 Ibid., VII, l. 173.
54 Ibid., VIII, ll. 1-2.
55 Ibid., XI, l. 7.
stood quest, which is itself a refection of the wills confusion, to explore
how men may, when faced with the turmoil of Middelerthe,
act by
remaining passive, to examine the right place of the will in relation to
passive stillness in the face of the worlds confused dynamism.
Will the Dreamer eventually manages to come out of his confusion,
demonstrating how the will can move from passivity to activity in Lang-
lands view. Toward the end of the Vita de Dowel, Will meets a series of
characters such as Ymaginatif
and Pacience,
who begin to guide him
out of his confusion. It is Anima, however, whom he meets in Passus XV
that fully brings the will from passive inaction toward charity. Anima is the
soul in its wholeness and represents the coming together of the various
parts of the soul; he is an ordering that brings cohesion to the confused
search of the will for Dowel: Called am I Anima; / And whan I wilne and
wolde, Animus ich hatte; / And for that I kan and knowe, called am I
Anima makes it clear that one cannot come to charity without
knowing Piers Plowman, giving Will his frst true understanding of how he
should act.
His fragmented psyche, it seems, is beginning to recover a
measure of integrity.

Given Animas suggestion that charity is the correct volitional end,
Langland argues that the Will must be open, passive and receptive, allow-
ing it to move toward the act of charity in the face of circumstantial tur-
moil. Te dreamer was confused and sought Dowel as a person and not as
an idea, but he was mostly passive. Tis willingness helped him to listen to
Anima who then helped him to understand what charity is and how to
actualize it. Pacience and Anima punctuate their arguments with the words
pacientes vincunt.
Patience is the key to the wills victory in the world.
One must decide not to decide until one knows what to do; receptivity and
passive openness are the keys to ordering oneself, just as Anima is correctly
ordered, so as to pursue charity. Will must modify his questioning ap-
56 Ibid., XI, l. 9.
57 Ibid., XIII, l. 1.
58 Ibid., XIII, l. 51.
59 Ibid, XV, ll. 23-25.
60 Kee, 'Langland`s Search, 7.
61 Ibid.
62 Langland, Piers, XV, l. 597. The Latin means 'patience overcomes.
19 18
Sententiae V Padusniak
proach and become a true listener. He had asked so much in his attempt to
fnd Dowel, but was misguided. Now with Anima, his confusion ends
because he becomes a listener completely. He has always been largely
passive, but he was not always open. Free of his desire to know and under-
stand, now open and receptive to what his soul, his Anima, has to say, Will
begins to become active in charity. He comes to know that charity is Piers
Plowman not from a desire to know, but from openness to knowing: []
Alle the sciences under sonne and alle the sotile crafes / I wolde I knewe
and kouthe kyndely in myn herte! / Tan artow inparft, quod he, And
oon of Prides knyghtes!
Anima warns Will against wanting to know,
claiming that the desire to know runs the risk of confating creature with
One must always remember revelations proper place in true
knowing. Instead of self-destructively seeking answers, the will is to be still
and passive, to be open and receptive.
Piers Plowman most forcefully demonstrates what charity is by
retelling a version of Christs Harrowing of Hell. Passus XVIII concentrates
primarily on this extra-biblical event and its signifcance for Will, who has
turned from hungry questioning to reverent openness. It depicts a fgure
oon semblable to the Samaritan, and somdeel to Piers the Plowman,

who turns out to be Jesus of his gentries wol juste in Piers armes.
Jesus is shown as a fusion of Piers and the Good Samaritan draped in
Pierss tabard. Te passus then proceeds to tell the story of Christs crucifx-
ion and Harrowing of Hell: Consummatum est, quod Crist, and comsede
for to swoune, / Pitousliche and pale as a prison that deieth / Te lord of lif
and of light tho leide his eighen togidres.
By dramatizing the moment of
the Crucifxion, Will is moved to see Christ as the absolute emblem of
charity. An image he had seen and heard about time and time again is
given new life by his openness to its essential meaning, that of the charity
of the cross, that is the willing death of the Christ. Charity is only compre-
hensible to him in this act, the supreme act of love itself. A description of
Christs Harrowing of Hell follows, reinforcing the power of charity as the
quintessential element of Jesus mission: Was nevere were in this world, ne
wikkednesse so kene, / Tat Love, and hym liste, to laughynge ne brought, /
63 Ibid., XV, ll. 48-50.
64 Kee, 'Langland`s Search, 7.
65 Langland, Piers, XVIII, l. 10.
66 Ibid., XVIII, l. 22.
67 Ibid., XVIII, ll. 57-59.
And Pees, through pacience, alle periles stopped.
It is patient love that
conquers all; it is receptivity to the act of charity found in the Crucifxion
story that allows Will to see with new eyes something that he had been told
about his entire life. Only this new openness to Christs intrinsically chari-
table will awakes Will to callKytte and my wif and Calote my doghter

for a renewed faith in the power of their lords charitable mission.
By showing Conscience seeking Piers Plowman, the attack on the
Barn of Unity at the end of the poem reinforces Langlands belief that
Buridans violitional ideas lead to a charitable will. Te fnal passus deals
predominantly with an attack on Unity, where many characters have taken
refuge from an attack by the Antichrist and his minions. In the end, Con-
science fees Unity because Flattery has made Contrition no longer sorry
for his sins; he decides to seek Piers Plowman in an attempt to gain victory
over the Antichrist: By Crist! quod Conscience tho, I wole bicome a
pilgrim, / And walken as wide as the world lasteth, / To seken Piers the
It is essential that Conscience is the one who seeks out Piers
Plowman, whom Anima had said was the one through whom one comes to
know charity: Petrus, id est, Christus.
Conscience repeatedly cries out
for the need to fnd Piers until the dreamer, or mans will, awakes: And
siththe he grade afer Grace, til I gan awake.
Read allegorically, con-
science is to direct human willing toward charitable action. So afer the
period of passive openness that Will has experienced, he is actively sup-
posed to act charitably. Te human will is to do the same. It must be open
to the world, not be prideful and forget its place as a creature. Man must be
receptive to discerning what charity is and how it is to be enacted. Afer
deciding not to decide, the will can bear the fruit of charity by letting mans
conscience direct it. As the dreamer awakes to the cry of conscience, so
must mans will pursue what is good and charitable. So must human beings
will to charity in the face of historical disaster and societal turmoil.
Tis emphasis on passivity leaves Langlands approach open to sloth,
a problem that medieval thinkers took incredibly seriously given the sins
68 Ibid., XVIII, ll. 415-417.
69 Ibid., XVIII, l. 428.
70 Ibid., XX, ll. 381-383.
71 Ibid., XV, l. 257.
72 Ibid., XX, l. 387.
21 20
Sententiae V Padusniak
vast array of possible manifestations.
Any contemporary examination of
his response to the question of the will must be examined now with equal
vigor. Langland himself is very concerned with the sin of sloth, refecting
the feelings of his contemporaries. Sloth has a seventy-fve line long confes-
sion in Passus V
and is the most prominent character in each of the
sequences involving the Seven Deadly Sins, so much so that Sloth becomes
a ferce warrior
who is a large part of the assault on Unity. In this vein,
Sloth is of the utmost importance to the writer of Piers Plowman; it is not a
sin that he takes lightly, especially in terms of the historical and contempo-
rary debate surrounding the issue.

Given how much Langland fears the sin of sloth, it is unlikely that
his proposed response to the question of the will would risk slothfulness.
As previously stated, Jean Buridan argued for the active, non-movement of
the will.
Sloth involves a lack of volition, a completely unmoved will.
Langlands solution requires the will to will its own stillness, not to despair
in the face of chaos and thereby be unmoved. Tis poet does not propose
laziness, but receptivity. He turns from the possibility of sloth by requiring
the will to move itself into stillness. Despite the seeming possibility of sloth
in Langlands response to the question of volition, he defly avoids the
possibility by appropriating the ideas of Jean Buridan.
By placing an emphasis on revelation, Langland also skillfully avoids
another charge: the excesses of the Baconian epistemology that would later
concern Grant. Ockhams Nominalism would later infuence the Baconian
position, which underlies most modern scientifc understanding. Lang-
lands wrestling with Ockhamist thought lef him open to the same excesses
Grant would say Bacon unleashed. Te fact that Anima tells Will that to
desire to know all things is a grave sin that denies one true knowledge of
charity makes such excess impossible: For swich a lust and likyng Lucifer
fel from hevene / It were ayeins kynde, quod he, and alle kynnes reson /
73 Bowers, Crisis, 61.
74 Ibid., 83.
75 Ibid., 92.
76 Ibid., 62.
77 Ibid., 59.
Tat any creature sholde konne alle, except Crist oone.
Only Christ can
know all naturally; faith and revelation, which come from openness, must
defne mans stance toward knowledge. Athough Langland appropriates
and examines ideas from Ockhamism to examine the contemporary
problem of the will, he uses a Christian humility to avoid the possible
excesses of which Grant accuses Baconian epistemology.
And so, Langland proposes a nuanced and dynamic solution to an
age-old, complex problem. He takes his historical moment and gleans from
its concerns, problems and debates an eternal truth: that the Christian
must demonstrate receptivity in his willing, that to will for the Christian
must occasionally mean to will not and that through this openness one
seeks Piers Plowman. He avoids becoming a humanist and placing empha-
sis on man as a creative being, refusing to blur the line between the crea-
ture and the creator. Yet he also does not fall back entirely on an older
Scholastic understanding of the world as an ordered whole in which chaos
is ephemeral. It is not an easy solution, nor is Langland so haughty as to
assume that there is a simple answer to a complex question. But by realiz-
ing this and accepting openness as a tentative solution, he gives the Chris-
tian a timeless compass with which to navigate the stormy currents of
William Langlands understanding of the question of the will is
mirrored in that of George Grantwhich while analogous, is a product of
entirely diferent historical circumstances. Te debate about volition
evolved over the centuries between their two lives. Human understanding
of the will developed between the two mens lives, afecting how Grant
viewed the issue. He was a Canadian who saw his peoples history as being
integrally linked to an English liberal tradition arising from the meeting of
Calvinism with the tabula rasa of the New World: there was in the theol-
ogy of the Calvinist Protestants a positive element which made it immense-
ly open to the empiricism and utilitarianism in the English edition of the
new sciences.
Grant quotes Ernst Troeltsch with regard to the Protestant
predisposition to view divine activity[as] mere will-acts, connected by
no inner necessity and no metaphysical unity of substance.
Such an
understanding tends toward autonomous willing in the physical world by
human beings. For the Calvinist, Gods will is inscrutable but all things that
are, are contingent upon this unknowable will. As refections of God,
human beings would also be capable of this autonomous willing, though it
78 Langland, Piers, XV, ll. 51-53.
79 Grant, 'In DeIence oI North America, 21.
80 Ibid.
23 22
Sententiae V Padusniak
may not afect their salvation. Tis penchant for willing was integral to
North Americans in their primalmeeting of the alien.
Tey could will
a new life onto the indiferent nature of North America. For Grant, this
uninhibited willing is central to understanding how modern men, espe-
cially in North America as the symbolic and real apex of modern thought,
view volition. Due to this new understanding meeting a blank slate open to
uninhibited, autonomous manipulation, it was a new age for human under-
standing of volitional action, a break in Europe a turning away from the
Greeks in the name of what was found in the Bible.

But this new understanding of willing was not without predecessors
that provide a link between Langland and Grant. According to Grant,
science, Protestantism and capitalism are all linked by a Baconian episte-
mology: more fundamental than the practical connections between
capitalism, the parliamentary party, and Protestantism, lies the fact that the
refugee Protestant theologians from the continent espoused so immedi-
ately the Baconian account of science.
Bacons ideas were heavily infu-
enced by those of the Nominalists such as William of Ockham, whose ideas
were an integral part of Langlands response to the question of volition:
both the theologians and the scientists wished to free the minds of men
from the formulations of mediaeval Aristotelianism.
Bacon is identifed
with his nominalist predecessors
in his rejection of Scholastic under-
standings of nature and mans ability to will onto natural phenomena. Just
as Ockham infuenced Langland and the debate surrounding the will in
Piers Plowman, so did the Nominalist-infuenced Baconians and their
followers infuence how Grant saw modern volitional action. Tis philoso-
pher deals with the apogee of the problem and the paradigm that Langland
confronted. As a result, the temporal and paradigmatic diferences in their
historical moments do not mean that their approaches are opposed, or
even not analogous.
Te common historical thread between the poet and the philoso-
pher led Grant to see the will as creating meaning, betraying how the latter
man was dealing with a fundamentally diferent historical problem. Leo
81 Ibid., 19.
82 Ibid.
83 Ibid., 20.
84 Ibid.
85 Gillespie, Theological Origins, 37.
Strausss idea of the oblivion of eternity
became central for Grant as it
represented the intrinsic meaninglessness of modern existence. He quotes
Strausss explanation of the term: estrangement from mans deepest desire
and therewith from the primary issuesfor attempting to be absolute
sovereign, to become master of nature, to conquer chance.
Using this
defnition, Grant diagnoses the problem of the modern will; tying this idea
to the consumerism of modern society, Grant attacks how the modern idea
of autonomous action shaping an indiferent nature has yielded a hollow
existence: when the victory over the land leaves most of us in metropoloi
where the widely spread consumption vies with confusion and squalor;
when the emancipation of greed turns out from its victories on this conti-
nent to feed imperially on the resources of the world[we] must not forget
what was necessary and what was heroic in that conquest.
Because life
has been shown to be, or has become, inherently meaningless, modern
men must create meaning themselves. Contemporary human beings can
do this act of creation precisely because they recognize themselves as
totally autonomous beings who can impose their will on an indiferent
nature: to will is to legislate; it makes something positive happen or
prevents something from happening. Willing is then the expression of the
responsible and independent self, distinguished from the dependent self
who desires.
As a result, our wills alone are able, through doing, to
actualize moral good in the indiferent world.
So willing becomes tied to
the good and to meaning. We create meaning by the very act of willing it.
Te good does not exist outside our actions: upon the will to do has been
placed the whole burden of meaning.
In Grants diagnosis of how mod-
ern men think, willing is now meaning, placing him eons away from the
understanding of the poet who, despite his Ockhamist-infuenced ideas,
could never have conceived of such a nihilistic world.
Although Grant sees the will as creating meaning for modern men,
he does not believe that the will acts completely on its own. On the con-
trary, reason is integrally tied to how modern man understands volition
86 Grant, Time as Historv, 63.
87 Ibid.
88 Grant, 'In DeIence oI North America, 24, 25.
89 Grant, Time as Historv, 23.
90 Ibid., 24.
91 Ibid.
25 24
Sententiae V Padusniak
and meaning. Willing and reasoning are tied because reason enlightens the
will. Te will to change the world was a will to change it through the
expansion of knowledge
and modern man has come to see reason as
most manifest in the discoveries of the sciences.
Science and its style of
reasoning have become integrally tied to what we think knowledge is,
because it [scientifc reasoning and its research protocols] is the efective
condition for the realization of any knowledge.
As a result of this co-
penetration of willing and reasoning, man believes he can will goodness
based on scientifc reasoning. Scientifc understanding allows for willing:
Tis brings together willing and reasoning, because the very act of the
thinking-ego standing over the world, and representing it to himself as
objects, is a stance of the will.
Grants understanding of meaning is
integrally tied to mans new scientifc understanding of himself and the
Given this new understanding of willing, Grant deduces that mod-
ern man must view himself as working toward the future. Because meaning
is not intrinsic but created by acts of the will, all meaning is in the future.
Nothing in the now has an inherent meaning, but all things can be given
meaning. Tis conditional stance of meaning betrays the fact that man
must look to the future, to what can be created, as being meaningful.
Meaning is found not in how things are now, but in how they can be in the
future. Tis means a constant orientation to the future: doing is in some
sense always negation. It is the determination that what is present shall not
be; some other state shall.
Willing, however, is also positive because it
strives to bring forth its own novel creations.
Te act of willing is thus
both positive and negative, always orienting man toward what can be and
not what is, denying what exists now and always seeking to create what is
not. As a result, modern men, whom Grant terms the history makers,

must view meaning as that which will be: they assert that meaning is not
92 Ibid., 25.
93 Ibid.
94 Grant, George, 'Research in the Humanities, Technologv and Justice, (Toronto: House
oI Anansi Press, 1986), 99.
95 Grant, Time as Historv, 26.
96 Ibid., 27.
97 Ibid.
98 Ibid.
found in what is actually now present for us, but in that which we can yet
bring to be.
In this vein, the philosophers understanding of willing is as
something unfolding in history and which gives history its meaning. Such
a view is a far cry from the emerging autonomy of the will found in Piers
Although this spirit of willing can be traced back to the theory put
forth by the medieval Nominalists, Grant is concerned with such ideas in
the writings of Friedrich Nietzsche, which he sees as the apotheosis of this
spirit of modern willing. Nietzsche argues for the need for man to see
beyond all historical horizons: the historical sense shows us that all hori-
zons are simply the creations of menthe historical sense teaches us that
horizons are not discoveries about the nature of things; they express the
values which our tortured instincts will to create.
Nietzsche believes that
by recognizing these facts about horizons and history man would recog-
nize that meaning is not in the nature of things. If everything that was
thought to be in the nature of things is overcome as a horizon, it becomes
increasingly apparent that no meaning can be found in the world qua
world. Grant takes the example of Nietzsches famous exclamation that
God is dead as a prime example of this idea: When it is recognized that
God is a horizon, He is dead, once and for all.
So what were thought to
be morals are shown to be actually just values, ideas willed to truth in a
historical moment. In this way, the will is the central aspect of modernity.
All meaning is contingent upon the autonomous will of individual actors;
truth itself comes to be defned by what man wills it to be. In this concep-
tion, some men are owed nothing because they are simply objects to be
willed upon: there is nothing intrinsic in all others that puts any given
limit on what we may do to them in the name of that great enterprise.
Human beings are so unequal in quality that to some of them no due is
So men can even will death upon other men if that willing means
inculcating the world with the desired meaning.
Most troubling for Grant is that he sees these Nietzschean ideas at
work in modern society, validating the idea that Nietzsche thinks the
modern experiment through to its historical conclusion. He goes so far as
to say that his opinions have fltered down unrecognized through lesser
99 Ibid.
100 Ibid., 40.
101 Ibid.
102 Grant, George, 'Nietzsche and the Ancients, Technologv and Justice, (Toronto:
House oI Anansi Press, 1986), 94-95.
27 26
Sententiae V Padusniak
minds to become the popular platitudes of the agewhat he prophesied is
now all around us to be easily seen.
Grant sees Nietzsches last men all
around him in the consumeristic bourgeois sensibilities of many North
Americans. Tese last men are people who believe themselves to be
emancipated from the tenets of Christianity while refusing to throw of its
moral ideals. Tey laugh at religious belief while not realizing that they are
refusing to move beyond the Christian horizon. For Nietzsche, there is no
God from whom such absolute moral ideas can derive, yet the last men
cling to ideas of equality and virtue. Tey are the last men because they
have inherited rationalism only in its last and decadent formChristianity
in its secularized form.
Te last men cannot despise themselves because
they believe they know the truth of history, so they descend into a materi-
alistic stupor. Because men are roughly equal, all men must have access to
happiness, so their view of happiness is necessarily a petty one. Grant
identifes this idea with the consumerism of his day, with the monistic
of modern consumer culture. Another class of people in
Nietzsches future will be Nihilists who act out of a spirit of revenge, but
who do not pretend to secularized Christianity. On the other hand, the
new rulers of the earth must be bermenschen
who recognize the eternal
recurrence of the identical and will out of an amor fati, a love of fate. Tese
men love fate in the face of their tragic existence: For Nietzsche, the
achievement of amor fati must be outside any such enfoldment. It must be
willed in a world where there is no possibility of either an infnite or fnite
transcendence of becoming or of willing.

Grants concern with the impact of Nietzsches ideas led him to teach
Nietzsches thought only as an incidence of evil, allowing one to glimpse
Grants own ideas about willing in the modern world. Taking issue with the
notion of amor fati, Grant is incredulous as to the possibility of men who
know their own meaninglessness and yet do not will out of the Nihilists
spirit of revenge: How is it possible to assert the love of fate as the height
and, at the same time, the fnality of becoming? I do not understand how
anybody could love fate, unless within the details of our fates there could
appearintimationsin which our desires for good fnd their rest and
103 Grant, Time as Historv, 35.
104 Ibid., 45.
105 Grant, 'In DeIence oI North America, 24.
106 German for over-men or men who go beyond.
107 Grant, Time as Historv, 54.
their fulfllment.
Because in such a world men could only will to revenge
or gorge themselves on consumer products in a meaningless materialism,
Grant believes Nietzsche to purvey evil. His justice requires that some men
be owed nothing and with the possibility for any men who act out of a love
of fate removed, it seems likely that some men will desire the deaths of
others in the name of creating meaning. Grant then raises the question of
whether this close-mindedness is opposed to philosophy: What is to say
that one should teach within the rejection of Nietzsche? Is not this the very
denial of that openness to the whole which is the fundamental mark of the
philosophic enterprise?
But Grant believes that if the practical implica-
tions of his theory are the deaths of others in their meaninglessness, then
he must be considered evil; his ideas must be taught only as keen foresight
tinged with eternal darkness.
Within this rejection of Nietzsche, Grant makes clear that he values
openness as a part of mans capability to will. Grant was a faithful, if not
heterodox Christian, especially afer he had a conversion experience in his
He was both a philosopher and a Christian with a D. Phil in
His Christianity was an integral part of his thought, so much so
that, in an early work, he wrote directly about how philosophy could not
escape theism: the study of philosophy is the analysis of the traditions of
our society and the judgment of those traditions against our varying
intuitions of the Perfection of God.
So the openness that he claimed was
so important to philosophy
was important to him also as a principle of
Christianity. Tis understanding of philosophy and religious belief as being
integrally connected with openness at the center of the enterprise makes
discerning Grants understanding of the will that much easier. Openness is
a prerequisite to action for Grant. Much like in Buridan and the later
volitional ideas of Langland, Grant believes that, at least initially, the will
must decide not to decide. Man cannot act rightly, cannot will correctly,
without some degree of receptivity and openness to the world and the
108 Ibid., 60.
109 Grant, 'Nietzsche and the Ancients, 91.
110 Christian, William, George Grant. A Biographv, (Toronto: University oI Toronto
Press, 1994), 92.
111 Ibid., 114.
112 Ibid., 153.
113 Grant, 'Nietzsche and the Ancients, 91.
29 28
Sententiae V Padusniak
mysteries or paradoxes that it might whisper into the ear of the discerning
Grant draws upon the ideas of Simone Weil and his own notions
about receptivity in order to form an argument against Nietzsches intrinsi-
cally evil theory of justice, directing modern man toward actualizing
goodness in the world. He quotes Weils defnition of faith as a beautiful
way of touching upon the eternal need for receptivity and the will to
charity: Faith is the experience that the intelligence is enlightened by
While admitting that her defnition is shrouded in a sort of mysti-
cism because of some linguistic ambiguity, he declares that this enlighten-
ing involves recognizing the intrinsic beauty in otherness: what is frst
intended is that love is consent to the fact that there is authentic
A reliance on otherness is necessarily a reliance on letting
others in their diferentness come to the subject. It is not to objectify
others, but to let otherness speak in all its shadowy mystery. Te end of this
recognition of otherness is an un-self-serving charity. Receiving others
beauty enlightens the intellect through love, leading to the faith to carry
those acts of charity out.
Because faith is dependent upon accepting otherness and being
receptive to it, the Christian must make himself to open to others and then
bear the fruit of charity out of that receptivity. To be open is to be open to
remembrance, which is to look for intimations of deprival
or ways in
which we can reclaim what has been lost. As a result, the will must be open
in order to remember, or at least to glean something of the light from the
modern darkness. And so, for Grant, one actualizes openness in order to
be able to overcome the misguided ideas of the modern era; the will to
charity is the hope for the Christian in Grants day and always.
Although Grant and Langland lived in two entirely diferent times,
they produced analogous responses to their historical problems which
touch upon an eternal truth: the will to charity. Neither man claimed to
have an absolute answer to the question of how men may live given the
turmoil and darkness of their historical moments, but both philosopher
and poet produced a nuanced response to the ultimate, and therefore very
dimcult, question: how then shall we live? As Christians, they saw a recep-
tive openness that bears the fruit of charity as the necessary work of the
will in the world. No darkness, no matter how deep, no matter how obscur-
ing, can force the Christian to despair in the face of momentary turmoil,
114 Grant, 'Faith and the Multiversity, 38.
115 Ibid.
116 Grant, 'A Platitude, 142-143.
because that sadness, that confusion, is feeting in the face of the eternal
truth of charity. It is that childlike openness that does not ofend but that
makes man unbendable in the rapids of historical time: Tow shalt see in
thiselve Truthe sitte in thyn herte / In a cheyne of charite, as thow a child
were, / To sufren hym and segge noght ayein thi sires wille.
If that is
true, then perhaps Grant is right to declare that it may be that at any time
or place, human beings can be opened to the whole in their loving and
thinking, even as its complete intelligibility eludes them.
Having ac-
cepted our fate, our destiny, to love, we must wait in our openness to bear
the fruit of charity. Tis new life is not an answer to any question, but a
response to a problem. Life still must be lived and modernity must still be
faced, but as history will keep marching on it is for the great thinkers and
the saints to do more.
117 Langland, Piers, V, ll. 606-608.
118 Grant, Time as Historv, 68.
119 Ibid., 69.
31 30
Sententiae V Padusniak
Bowers, John M., Te Crisis of Will in Piers Plowman. Washington, D.C.:
Te Catholic University of America Press, 1986.
Christian, William, George Grant: A Biography. Toronto: University of
Toronto Press, 1994.
Gillespie, Michael Allen, Te Teological Origins of Modernity. Chicago:
University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Grant, George, A Platitude. Technology and Empire. Toronto: House of
Anansi Press, 1969, 137-143.
Grant, George, Faith and the Multiversity. Technology and Justice. To-
ronto: House of Anansi Press, 1986. 35-77.
Grant, George, In Defence of North America. Technology and Empire.
Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1969. 15-40.
Grant, George, Nietzsche and the Ancients. Technology and Justice. To-
ronto: House of Anansi Press, 1986. 79-95.
Grant, George, Research in the Humanities. Technology and Justice.
Toronto: House of Anansi Press, 1986. 97-102.
Grant, George, Time as History. Ed. William Christian. Toronto: Univer-
sity of Toronto Press, 1995.
Kee, James, Te Political Realm afer Christ: Langlands Search for a
Just Order in Piers Plowman. n.d. n.p.
Langland, William, Te Vision of Piers Plowman. Ed. A.V.C. Schmidt.
2nd ed. London: Orion Publishing Group, 2011.
Murtaugh, Daniel Maher, Piers Plowman and the Image of God. Gaines-
ville: Te University Presses of Florida, 1978.
Schmidt, A.V.C. Introduction. Te Vision of Piers Plowman. By William
Langland. 2nd ed. London: Orion Publishing Group, 2011.
33 32
Tomlinson Sententiae V
JUii: Tomiiso, Kenyon College
Te Sacrality of Relics and the Eucharist: Trends in
Objects of Veneration
Tis paper will explore trends of venerated objectsspecifcally, those
that are human remainsby comparing relic cults and Eucharist practices
from late antiquity through the thirteenth century. By looking at the factors
that defned a popular relic and comparing them to the theological discus-
sion and regularization of the Eucharist, this paper will show that the Eucha-
rists centrality in material devotion in this period of Western Christianity
refects the Churchs growing organization, control, and regulation of Chris-
tian practices involving objects of veneration.
When I discuss trends in objects of veneration, I refer to the tendency
in which early Christiansboth clerics and laity alikeshared an interest
in a certain type of object. Te value and desirability of a relic refected the
contemporary values and interests of the Christian community. As an ex-
ample, I will discuss the way relics are seen by early Christians throughout
Western European Medieval Christianity. Here, the diferent trends refer
to the changing interest towards various categories of relics such as mar-
tyrs, bishops, or Roman saints. With relics, this interest changes over time
depending on (as I will argue) nonreligious factors such as availability and
Although relics were seen as objects of veneration starting from the ear-
liest period of Christianity, trends in popular or desirable relics fuctuated
throughout the Middle Ages in Western Europe. Te veneration of the relics
of the saints dates back to the second century, and possibly even earlier than
From this period until the fourth and ffh centuries, martyrs remains
and related brandea (items that have come in contact with martyrs remains)
were the standard forms of relics. Tis was due to the accessibility of such
relics resulting from waves of Christian persecution. An example of this is
seen in the Smyrnaean letter describing St. Polycarps martyrdom when, fol-
lowing his death in the mid second century, Christians took up his bones
which are more valuable than precious stones and fner than refned gold,
and laid them in a suitable place; where the Lord will permit [them] to gath-
1 Jonathan Sumption, Pilgrimage (Towata, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefeld, 1975).
35 34
Sententiae V Tomlinson
er [themselves] together to celebrate the birth-day of his martyrdom.

Such numerous and available objects lent themselves to veneration among
early Christians. In this early period of Christianity, there was no uniform
attitude towards relics; in fact, there was little organization of any Christian
practice. Tis was due to the necessary secrecy of Christian society to avoid
persecution by Roman omcials: at this time, Christianity was illegal in the
Roman Empire.
Before the Roman Empire tolerated Christianity, such ob-
jects of veneration and their associated practices were contained on a local
In March 313, the newly converted Emperor Constantine met with col-
league and rival Licinius in Milan to issue a decree ending Christian per-
secution in the Roman Empire.
As these persecutions ended, the rates of
martyrdom came to a practical standstill throughout the Empire, ceasing
the fow of martyrs remains for relics. Christians responded to this mainly
in two ways. First, the remains and brandea of holy men became accept-
able relics, resulting in objects of veneration derived from those who lived
heroic lives as friends of God rather than those who died heroic deaths.

Tis increased the number of available relics. And second, religious fgures
of the period discovered the remains of earlier martyrs through visions and
dreams. An example of this phenomenon is St. Ambrose of Milans dream
leading him to the remains of Saints Gervasius and Protasius in 386.
spite of these two responses to the shortage of relics, the number of relics
was still scarce when compared to the number of Christian communities.
However, due to the new tolerance of Christianity, practices regarding relics
could be organized more publicly, resulting in publicized relic sites and col-
lected martyrologies.
Te fast, organized growth of Christianity combined
with the slow increase of relic production led to the important concept of
pilgrimage in early medieval Christianity. As an example, the earliest known
2 J.B. LightIoot, trans, The Letter of the Smvrnaeans or The Martvrdom of St. Polvcarp,
3 Eugene A. Dooley, 'Church Law on Sacred Relics (J.C.D. diss., The Catholic Uni-
versity oI America, 1931).
4 Collins, Roger. Earlv Medieval Europe 300-1000. (New York: Palgrave Macmillan,
5 Patrick Geary, Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages (Ithaca: Cornell University
Press, 1994), 201.
6 Ambrose of Milan. Letter XXII. The Finding of SS. Gervasius and Protasius, http://
7 Dooley, 'Sacred Relics.
account of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, an anonymous itinerary starting in
Bordeaux in 333, dates from this period.
As seen in the numerous responses to the shortage of relics, Christians
in this period found ways to make relics more accessible for themselves.
With the legalization of Christianity came the internal regulation within
the Christian community. Tis was due to the ease of public practice, dis-
cussion, and organization among the Christian community that came with
Christianitys legalization. Such regulation quickly included limitations and
attempts at control over relics. As early as 386, the newly Christian empire
regulated the trade and spread of relics, as seen in the Teodosian Code IX,
xvii: Let no one transfer an interred body to another place: let no one divide
a martyrs body: let no body be sold.
Similar regulations were discussed
and enacted repeatedly through the Early Middle Ages by bishops such as
Gregory the Great or Gregory of Tours.
Such regulations were generally
ignored as local authorities failed to enforce them. Tis was sometimes due
to personal disagreement with the regulations, but more ofen local pressure
to resist them.
Te next dramatic change in the trend of relics occurred in the eighth
and ninth centuries during the Carolingian dynasty. Charlemagnes dynasty
is noted for its continual expansion of frontiers and conquering of neigh-
boring territories, resulting to a new type of organized power in Western
Medieval Europe. Due to this expansion, the Carolingian dynasty created
trade routes and networks throughout modern France and Germany.
these new networks came a more tangible connection to Rome: as Christian
ideas spread from Rome, so did Christian relics, making the relics of Ro-
man saints the new and most favored category of relic.
As a response to
the expanded cult of Roman saints, combined with the new trade routes
established with the Carolingian expansion, the relics trade peaked for the
frst time. Tef and fraud entered into the relics trade, as relics were openly
displayed in churches and monasteries, thus easy to steal, and were easily
faked with the use of any human remains. Responding to such phenomena,
the Church reinforced prior regulations on the spread and creation of relics.
For example, the Council of Mainz in 813 prohibited the translation (or re-
location) of relics without the permission from the bishop, and the Synod of
8 'The Anonymous Pilgrim oI Bordeaux (333 A.D.), Last modifed December 9, 1999,
9 Dooley, 'Sacred Relics, 23.
10 Patrick Geary, Furta Sancta. (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1994).
11 Dooley, 'Sacred Relics.
12 Collins, Roger, Earlv Medieval Europe 300-1000.
13 Geary, Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages.
37 36
Sententiae V Tomlinson
Frankfurt in 794 stated that no new saints might be venerated or invoked
unless allowed by the Church.
However, laity and clerics alike generally
ignored such regulations over relics. Te ambivalence towards council regu-
lations demonstrates how Christians from all standings were comfortable
ignoring the Christian authorities when it interfered with their local and
personal practices.
When the Crusades began in the late eleventh century, the relics trade hit
its second peak, this time transporting biblical and Eastern relics throughout
Western Europe. Te term Crusades refers to the series of Christian wars
spanning from the eleventh to fourteenth centuries, with the primary goal of
recapturing Jerusalem from the Muslims.
Once again, the technical reali-
ties of trade routes, the plundering of conquest, and the new availability of
relics controlled the spread and trends throughout this wave of relic venera-
Te Papacy again tried to regulate the spread and veneration of relics
brought back from the Crusades with the introduction of strict policy. One
of the strongest examples is seen in Canon 62 of the Fourth Lateran Council
of 1215, which states, in the future old relics may not be exhibited outside
of a vessel or exposed for sale. And let no one presume to venerate publicly
new ones unless they have been approved by the Roman pontif.
Yet even
changes to ecclesiastical law had little infuence on the trends of relics: as
Sumption notes, the multiplication of relics is remarkable, despite attempts
by the Fourth Lateran Council to insist on verifcation before acceptance.

Although the papacy saw itself as the universal overseer of Christians, it
seems that practicing Christians regarded the cults of relicswhich were
fundamentally local and personal relationships with the object of venera-
tionoutside of the Papacys control and regulation. Without local clerics
support in enforcing regulations, the Christian authorities making such can-
ons had little infuence over the average Christians practices.
As seen in the examples above, trends in the relic trade depended on a
complicated, circular relationship between supply and demand. In other
words, Christians created cults to relics that were being distributed, and si-
multaneously traders were distributing relics (authentic and otherwise) that
had cult followings. In addition, the relics distributed depended on the sup-
14 Patrick Geary, Furta Sancta, 45.
15 Vauchez, Andre, 'Crusades, in Encvclopedia of the Middle Ages, accessed online,
16 Geary, Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages.
17 H.J. Schroeder, trans, The Canons of the Fourth Lateran Council, http://www.Iordham.
edu/halsall/basis/lateran4.asp (accessed March 13, 2013).
18 Sumption, 159-160.
ply of the relics themselves (such as the limited number of martyrs afer the
late antiquity) or the accessibility of these relics (such as trade routes created
through eastward travel during the Crusades). In this, the technical realities
of the relics trade, combined with trends among local Christian communi-
ties, infuenced the trends of relics more so than the ecclesiastical authori-
ties attempts at regularization. As seen above, the Church was rather re-
moved from the process of determining trends in relics, ofen recognizing
an established cult, not creating it or failing to regulate trends established
by trade.

Te frst half of this paper explores the basic trends in objects of venera-
tion in Christianity from late antiquity to the later Middle Ages. However,
one object of veneration had a steady trend throughout this period, seem-
ingly unrelated to and unafected by the trends infuencing relics discussed
above. Te Eucharist was removed from the infuences of availability and
trade throughout this period, experiencing instead a delayed yet steady
growth of popularity that eventually set it as the holiest of all objects of ven-
eration. Tis trend was entirely controlled by the Church. Te purpose-
ful promotion of the Eucharist, resulting in its eventual overshadowing of
other relics as the highest object of veneration, shows organized ecclesiasti-
cal regularization and control over Christian practice throughout Medieval
Western Europe.
Compared to the relics of the saints, the Eucharist is not explored as
an object of veneration until the High Middle Ages. Whereas Augustine dis-
cusses the theological importance of the veneration of the relics of the saints
as early as the ffh century,
the frst known serious theological discussion
of the Eucharist is not until the ninth century by Carolingian theologians
such as Pascasius or Ratramnus.
One possible explanation for this is the
relative dimculty regarding theological discussion of the Eucharist com-
pared to theological discussion of relics. Relics were physically and literally
the remains of saints, and easily recognized as such. Laity could easily grasp
the concept, and theologians focused discussion on relics elsewhere. While
discussing the veneration of relics, Augustine makes a comparison that any
layperson could understand: [f]or if the dress of a father, or his ring, or
anything he wore, be precious to his children, in proportion to the love they
19 Geary, Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages, 206.
20 Augustine, The Citv of God I.13, in the Electronic Text Center, University oI
Virginia Library,
14&divisiondiv2 (accessed March 13, 2013).
21 Celia Chazelle, 'The Eucharist in Early Medieval Europe, in A Companion to the
Eucharist in the Middle Ages, ed. Ian Christopher Levy, Gary Macy, and Kristen Van
Ausdall (Leiden: Brill, 2012), 207.
39 38
Sententiae V Tomlinson
bore him, with how much more reason ought we to care for the bodies of
those we love, which they wore far more closely and intimately than any
Te Eucharist, however, was harder for theologians to discuss
and for laity to understand. Ambrose of Milan notes the necessary leap of
faith in his writings on the sacraments while discussing the blood of Christ:
But perhaps you say: I do not see the appearance of blood. But it has the
likeness. For just has you took on the likeness of death, so, too, you drink the
likeness of precious blood (italics added).
Te complex discussion of
the Eucharist was made easier during the Carolingian era: as with physical
objects such as relics, communication and ideas spread with Charlemagnes
As Geary notes, in the period prior to the Carolingian dynasty, the Eu-
charist, considered a relic of Christ, was substituted for other relics when
none of the latter could be found.
Compared to saints relics, the Eucharist
was considered second-rate. Although theological discussion on the nature
of the Eucharist began in the eighth and ninth centuries, it was not until
the eleventh and twelfh centuries that theologians began to have infuential
discussions on the importance of the Eucharist as a widespread object of
veneration with popularity comparable to the relics of the saints.
Tis new, organized form of discussion of the Eucharist in the Christian
scholarly community quickly shaped discussion of ecclesiastical law, leading
to a thorough institutionalized promotion of the Eucharist as an object of
veneration. By the late twelfh century, regularized ideas on the Eucharist
were disseminated through the directives (canons) decided at vast ecumen-
ical councils, which were in turn applied by each and every bishop in his
Tis systematic promotion of the Eucharist in Western Europe
resulted in its widespread veneration by the end of the twelfh century. Af-
ter Canon 21 of the Fourth Lateran Council in 1215 mandated that Chris-
tians [receive] reverently at least at Easter the sacrament of the Eucharist,
the Eucharist was set to become the most widespread venerated remains in
Western European Christianity.
22 Augustine, The Citv of God I.13.
23 Saint Ambrose. 'The Sacraments. In Saint Ambrose- Theological and Dogmatic
Works, translated by DeIerrari, Roy J., 263-329. Washington D.C.: The Catholic Uni-
versity oI America Press, 1963, 4.4.20.
24 Geary, 185.
25 Miri Rubin, 'Popular Attitudes to the Eucharist, in A Companion to the Eucharist
in the Middle Ages, ed. Ian Christopher Levy, Gary Macy, and Kristen Van Ausdall
(Leiden: Brill, 2012), 449.
26 H.J. Schroeder, trans, The Canons of the Fourth Lateran Council.
Te growth of popularity of the Eucharist as an object of venera-
tion lacks the complicated balance of external factors seen with the various
trends of relics throughout the Middle Ages. As explained above, the no-
tions of availability and demand were not present within the distribution
of the Eucharist. Te Eucharist was always readily available as it could be
produced and received at any church, without the worry of fakes experi-
enced with relics. And the demand of the Eucharist was entirely controlled
by the Churchfacing the threat of excommunication, laity and clergy hap-
pily received the Eucharist as ofen as possible. In this, the Church could
control the behavior of Christians in their personal practices. But another
reason trends in the Eucharist lack the complicated balance of external fac-
tors seen above with relics is that the Eucharist generally lacked external
factors of any sort. Te Eucharist was an object of veneration tied heavily
with the churchnot only as an institution, but also as a physical structure
and communal location. Examples of this are seen as early as the late fourth
century, where a Syriac writer Ephrem of Nisibis show the connection of the
Eucharist with the church itself: [a]nd because he [Christ] loved his Church
greatly he did not give her the manna of her rival; He became the Bread of
Life for her to eat him.
Here, the Eucharist is an object of veneration that
unites Christians in the physical church itself; as this source dates prior to
the Church being an organized far-reaching power, Ephrem of Nisibis use
of the term Church most likely refers to the physical churches themselves.
In comparison, relics of saints could be at sights outside of a church or mon-
astery, thereby creating a community of Christians separated from a church.
For example, Gregory of Tours writes that doctors would take dust from the
tombs of saints to use as a medicine; here, it is clear that the object itself (the
brandea) had importance distinct from its location (here, the tomb).
In this, the interest and appreciation of the Eucharist as an object of ven-
eration was in the hands of the Church itself, removed from the infuence
of trade or the laity: the Church sanctioned rules concerning the Eucha-
rist, and theological debates were either ignored or incorporated into the
Churchs sanctions, then trickling down to the laity. Teir organized process
of featuring the Eucharist as the ideal object of veneration was a complete
success, and the Church gained control over venerated objects among the
27 Bynum, Caroline Walker, Holv Feast and Holv Fast, Berkeley: University oI CaliIor-
nia Press, 1987, 48.
28 Van Dam, Raymond, Saints and their Miracles in Late Antique Gaul, Princeton: Princ-
eton University Press, 1993. Accessed online,
41 40
Sententiae V Tomlinson
Te Anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux (333 A.D.). Last modifed
December 9, 1999.
Augustine. City of God Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia
Bynum, Caroline Walker. Holy Feast and Holy Fast. Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1987.
Chazelle, Celia. Te Eucharist in Early Medieval Europe. In A Companion
to the Eucharist in the Middle Ages, edited by Ian Christopher Levy, Gary
Macy, and Kristen Van Ausdall, 205-251. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
Collins, Roger. Early Medieval Europe 300-1000. New York: Palgrave
Macmillan, 2010.
Dooley, Eugene A. Church Law on Sacred Relics. J.C.D. diss., Te
Catholic University of America, 1931.
Geary, Patrick. Furta Sancta. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1978.
----------------- Living with the Dead in the Middle Ages. Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1994.
Jordan, William Chester. Europe in the High Middle Ages. London: Penguin
Books, 2002.
Lightfoot, J.B., trans. Te Letter of the Smyrnaeans or Te Martyrdom of
St. Polycarp.
Rubin, Miri. Popular Attitudes to the Eucharist. In A Companion to the
Eucharist in the Middle Ages, edited by Ian Christopher Levy, Gary Macy,
and Kristen Van Ausdall 447-468. Leiden: Brill, 2012.
Saint Ambrose of Milan: Letter XXII: Te Finding of SS. Gervasius and
Saint Ambrose. Te Sacraments. In Saint Ambrose- Teological and
Dogmatic Works, translated by Deferrari, Roy J., 263-329. Washington D.C.:
Te Catholic University of America Press, 1963. Accessed online, http://
Schroeder, H.J., trans. Te Canons of the Fourth Latern Council, 1215.
Sumption, Jonathan. Pilgrimage. Towata, N.J.: Rowman and Littlefeld,
Van Dam, Raymond. Saints and their Miracles in Late
Antique Gaul. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993.
Accessed online,
Vauchez, Andr. Crusades, in Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages.
Accessed online,
acref/9780227679319.001.0001/acref-9780227679319-e-751. Current
online version 2012.
43 42
Sententiae V Rabinowitz
D:iiiii R:niowi1z, Harvard University
Conversion to Judaism During the Crusader
Period: An Exploration of Proselytization through the
Case Study of a Cairo Genizah Document
In a In a manuscript discovered in the Cairo Genizah
, the scribe Josh-
uah B. Obadiah of Monieux, France, writes a letter of recommendation on
behalf of the resident Jewish community for a widowed prosetlytess who
sufered substantially from an attack during the First Crusade of 1096. Te
proselytess, a woman of noble birth, is said to have converted to Judaism,
fed from her hometown to Narbonne, France, and there married a Jewish
man of local standing. Afer hearing that her family was in search of her,
however, she again fed to the French countryside, settling in Monieux six
years prior to the Crusader attack that ravaged the village, led to the murder
of her husband, and resulted in the kidnapping of her two young children,
Jacob and Justa. Te woman, lef widowed, impoverished, and unable to care
for her infant child, was provided this letter in hopes that she might be able
to present it to another Jewish community and be taken in there.
Te docu-
ment serves as a clear example of the extreme persecution of Jewish com-
munities of the medieval era, while at the same time raises questions about
the status of the woman featured. In a period of growing anti-Semitism, the
conversion of this particular woman to Judaism seems unusual; her letter of
recommendation, among many other recommendation letters for proselytes
1 A massive storeroom of 300,000 Hebrew documents discovered in the Ben Ezra
Synagogue (Cairo, Egypt), dating back to the medieval era. It is against Jewish law
to dispose of documents bearing Gods name or his language, Hebrew, and these pre-
served manuscripts offer much insight into Jewish life of the period.
2 Golb, Norman. New Light on the Persecution of French Jews at Time of the First Cru-
sade. Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, vol. 34, 1966.
found in the Genizah, however, provides a unique window into exploring
the occurrence of conversion to Judaism by Christians in the time of the
Te existence of Jewish proselytes in the Mediterranean world was
a well-documented phenomenon in the Middle Ages. Robert Seltzer de-
scribes that, in fact, formal conversion was unquestionably a widespread
Te frst clear documentation of such conversion dates back to
the 7
century and is recorded in several Latin manuscripts. Te texts tell of
a well-known Church omcial in the court of Louis the Pious who converts
to Judaism in the Carolingian Empire. Changing his name from Bodo to
Eliezer, he is reported to have traveled from Italy to Saragosa, Spain, where
he took up the study of Jewish books in 840.
Te reasons for his conversion
are not fully understood, but they speak to an interest, from an early date, of
Christians in the religion of the Old Testament. Te unearthing of myriad
recommendation letters for proselytes in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo
in the 19
century, and the extensive translation of these documents in the
ensuing century, gave further support to the proliferation of conversions,
primarily in the eleventh and twelfh centuries.
Due to the sheer quantity
of letters of recommendation discovered, Norman Golb estimates that over
15,000 men and women converted to Judaism and fed Christendom be-
tween the years of 1000 to 1200.

As it was a capital crime for a Christian to convert to Judaism in
Christian lands
from the 4
century onwards, the impetus for such con-
version has presented itself as a topic of speculation among medieval schol-
ars. In light of the discovery of a wealth of materials in the Cairo Genizah
centered on proselytes, understanding the apogee
of such conversion
between the eleventh and twelfh centuries is of particular interest. David
3 Seltzer, Robert. 'A Historical Overview oI Outreach and Conversion. Journal of
Jewish Communal Service. Proc. oI Paul Cowan Memorial ConIerence on Intermar-
riage, Conversion, and Outreach, City University oI New York, New York City. N.p.:
n.p., 1989. 230-34. Print, 231.
4 Golb, Norman. 'Jewish Proselytism: A Phenomenon in the History oI Medieval Eu-
rope. Proc. oI The Tenth Annual Rabbi Louis Feinberg Memorial Lecture, University
oI Cincinnati, Ohio. N.p.: n.p., 1988. 1-49. Print.
5 Seltzer, Robert. 'A Historical Overview oI Outreach and Conversion. Journal of
Communal Service. Proc. oI Paul Cowan Memorial ConIerence on Intermarriage, Con-
version, and Outreach, City University oI New York, New York City. N.p.: n.p., 1989.
230-34. Print, 232.
6 Jewish Proselytism (Golb), 32.
7 Seltzer, 232
8 Jewish Proselytism (Golb), 32.
45 44
Sententiae V Rabinowitz
Silgson suggests that Jewish rationalism infected the reasoning minds of
both priest and noble and, in some cases, led to further study, conviction
and conversion.
Golb intuits that the theological troubles of the Christian
Church and the decline of moral disciplines in monasteries
conversion. Judaism saw a golden age, and despite the rise in anti-Jewish
sentiments across Europe, brave non-Jews...cast their lotknowing the os-
tracism, obloquy and ofen martyrdom that awaited them.
Many of these
valiant individuals were initially amliated with the Church, attracted to Ju-
daism through close reading of the Old Testament; others, were noblemen
and women who were similarly well versed in religious texts.
Te woman of Obadiahs description in the recommendation letter
belonged to the latter category, a proselyte of wealthy origins who converted
despite easy circumstances and strong family traditions.
Although there
is evidence in the manuscripts of the Genizah of a number of courageous
women who defed their families and converted to Judaism, the words refer-
ring to proselytes in all of the documents describe these converts as initially
uncircumcised ones. Tis very terminology underscores that the majority
of converts were men; in fact, medieval scholars who have closely analyzed
the contents of Genizah documents, repeatedly reference the anomalous na-
ture of a womans departure from Christianity in a male-dominated world.

Yet, despite the unusual circumstances surrounding the very conversion
of a woman during the medieval period, the experiences of this particular
French woman as a proselyte as told through her letter of recommendation
are very much in line with the accounts of other proselytes who were also
granted letters by various Jewish communities. Golb attributes the prevail-
ing religious conditions
of the region in which she livedlikely Norman-
dy or England, described plainly as a distant land
to be the cause of her
particular discontentment toward Christianity. Although conversion meant
that the woman had to fee from her place of birth and live in constant fear
of Christian authority (the reason that she later lef Narbonne, France and
9 Eichhorn, David Max. 'In the Post-Talmudic Period (David Seligson). Conversion
to Judaism. A Historv and Analvsis. N.p.: KTAV Pub. House, 1965. 67-95. Print, 72.
10 Jewish Proselytism (Golb), 36.
11 Eichorn, 72.
12 Jewish Proselytism (Golb), 14.
13 Roth, Norman. 'Conversion to Judaism. Medieval Jewish Civili:ation. An Encvclo-
pedia. 2003. Print, 200.
14 Jewish Proselytism (Golb), 14.
15 Golb, Norman. New Light on the Persecution oI French Jews at Time oI the First
Crusade. Proceedings oI the American Academy Ior Jewish Research, vol. 34, 1966.
Line 15, Manuscript.
sought refuge in the countryside), the appeal of doing so also lay in the un-
derstanding that Jewish communities were obligated to take in proselytes
as commanded in the Bible. Te lead-in to her letter of recommendation
points to the notion of obligatory reception, stating that Ye shall love the
stranger, for strangers [were ye in the land of Egypt] (Deuteronomy, 10.19).
Te placement of the biblical phrase at the beginning of the letter makes the
messages it bears all the more compellingbut also highlights the wariness
with which Jewish communities viewed proselytes amidst the pressures of
such a hostile environment.

In fact, the large number of pogroms
in Western Europe, coupled
with the frequent discrimination Jews faced in Christian lands, ofen forced
proselytes to wander from community to community. As is the case in the
French womans tale, the small village of Moneuix, France faced massive
devastation in the wake of a pogrom during the First Crusade. In the afer-
math, the woman was lef poverty stricken, in thirst and nakedness, lack-
ing all provisions,
and the Jewish community itself was majorly reduced,
remaining only a few from many.
Given this letter on behalf of those still
alive, she departed from this particular community in hopes that she could
temporarily settle in another Jewish community nearby. Te discovery of
the womans letter in the Genizah speaks to her ultimate arrival in the four-
ishing Jewish community of Cairo, a safe haven for Christian proselytes
who, in Muslim lands, were no longer burdened by Christian authority. Her
advent in Egypt refects a fate similar to that of many other converts, as dem-
onstrated by the large number of recommendation letters uncovered in the
Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo.
Te extensive analysis by scholars of the memoirs and recommenda-
tion letter of another proselyte found in the Genizah, further supports the
normalcy of the French womans account. Obadiah the proselyte, born Jo-
hannes of Dreux, hailed from Oppido Lucano in Southern Italy. Of a promi-
nent Christian family in the region, Obadiah was considered a learned in-
dividual who was a serious student of Christianity and the Scriptures.

16 Eichorn, 72.
17 Violent attacks on Jewish communities that often resulted in mass murder and de-
18 New Light on the Persecution oI French Jews at Time oI the First Crusade (Golb),
Line 20-Manuscript.
19 New Light on the Persecution oI French Jews at Time oI the First Crusade (Golb),
Line 10-Manuscript.
20 Golb, Norman. 'The Autograph Memoirs oI Obadiah the Proselyte and Epistle oI
Barukh B.
Isaac oI Aleppo. Proc. oI Convegno Internazionale Di Studi, Oppido Lucano (Basili-
cata). N.p.: n.p., 2004. 1-19. Print.
47 46
Sententiae V Rabinowitz
In his memoirs, he writes of a prophecy that came to him in a dream that
served as the impetus for his decision to convert to Judaism. Although Oba-
diahs conversion took place in 1102, a few years afer the First Crusade and
the conversion of the French woman of note to Judaism, he similarly fees
from his place of birth, seeking refuge in a host of Jewish communities. Even
though Obadiah initially ventures further eastward than the woman, frst
settling in Aleppo (Syria), followed by Palestine and Iraq, he eventually lands
in Cairo, a common point of arrival for a large number of proselytes of the
era, the French woman among them. In addition, he is also granted a letter
of recommendation from a Jewish community, in this case crafed by Rabbi
Barukh b. Isaac, head of a prominent Talmudic academy in Aleppo. Te
construction of the letter itself mirrors exactly the construction of the letter
presented to the French woman on behalf of the Jews of Monieux, pointing
to the frequency with which such letters were written. Barukh devotes the
frst half of the letter to addressing directly the recipient Jewish commu-
nity, citing biblical passages that highlight the necessity of hospitality even
amid widespread sufering of the Jewish communities of the Mediterranean
world. Ten, he transitions into the addressing of the bearer of the epistyle
itself, Obadiah, whom he describes as a man of a great family.
Tis phras-
ing is parallel to that of the phrasing in the womans letter, in which she is
described as having gone forth from the house of her father from great
Tis similarity in descriptions of the origins of the two converts
is signifcant, as it confrms that this genre of recommendation letter was
well established and widely utilized by Jewish communities across Western
Europe and into the East.
Tus, although the recommendation letter for the French proselytess
is deemed atypical in some respects, a comparative analysis of the manu-
script with that of the memoirs and letter written for the proselyte Obadiah
(Johannes of Dreux), reveals extensive overlap between the experiences and
journeys of these two proselytes. In addition, the similarity of format of
their recommendation letters, coupled with the ultimate discovery of these
two letters among many other documents about proselytes in the same geo-
graphic location, bears wider signifcance. It exposes the frequency with
which Jewish communities ranging from Western Europe to the Middle East
crafed letters on behalf of Christian converts, the commonality of eastern
migration of these proselytes, and the overall widespread nature of conver-
sion to Judaism by Christians in the midst of the Crusades.
21 Epistle of Barukh B. Isaac of Aleppo (Golb), Line 46-manuscript.
22 New Light on the Persecution oI French Jews at Time oI the First Crusade (Golb),
Line 16-Manuscript.
Eichhorn, David Max. In the Post-Talmudic Period (David Seligson). Con-
version to Judaism: A History and Analysis. N.p.: KTAV Pub. House, 1965.
67-95. Print.
Golb, Norman. Jewish Proselytism: A Phenomenon in the History of Medi-
eval Europe. Proc. of Te Tenth Annual Rabbi Louis Feinberg Memorial
Lecture, University of Cincinnati, Ohio. N.p.: n.p., 1988. 1-49. Print.
----------- New Light on the Persecution of French Jews at Time of the First
Crusade. Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research,
vol. 34, 1966.
-------------Te Autograph Memoirs of Obadiah the Proselyte and Epistle
of Barukh B. Isaac of Aleppo. Proc. of Convegno Internazionale Di Studi,
Oppido Lucano (Basilicata). N.p.: n.p., 2004. 1-19. Print.
Roth, Norman. Conversion to Judaism. Medieval Jewish Civilization: An
Encyclopedia. 2003. Print.
Seltzer, Robert. A Historical Overview of Outreach and Conversion. Jour-
nal of Jewish Communal Service. Proc. of Paul Cowan Memorial Con-
ference on Intermarriage, Conversion, and Outreach, City University of
New York, New York City. N.p.: n.p., 1989. 230-34. Print.
49 48
Sententiae V Fletcher
Z:cu:vv Fii1cuiv, Harvard College
Excerpt from the 8th-century Codex Salamasianus:
Epistula. Amans amanti.
Candida sidereis ardescunt lumina fammis 1
fundunt colla rosas et cedit crinibus aurum
mellea purpureum depromunt ora ruborem
lacteaque admixtus sublimat pectora sanguis
ac totus tibi servit honos formaque dearum 5
fulges et Venerem caelesti corpore uincis
argutae stant facta manus digitisque tenellis
Serica fla trahens pretioso in stamine ludis
planta decens nescit modicos calcare lapillos
et dura laedi scelus est uestigia terra 10
ipsa tuos cum ferre uelis per lilia gressus
nullos interimes leviori pondere fores.
guttura nunc aliae magnis monilibus ornent
aut gemmas aptent capiti: tu sola placere
vel spoliata potes. nulli laudabile totum est: 15
in te cuncta probet, si quisquam cernere possit.
Sirenum cantus et dulcia plectra Taliae
ad uocem tacuisse rear, qua mella propagas
dulcia et in miseros telum iacularis amoris 19
et grave vulnus alis nullo sanabile ferro. 22*
Langueo, defcio, marcesco, punior, uror 20
aestuo, suspiro, pereo, debellor, anhelo, 21
sed tua labra meo saevum de corde dolorem
depellant morbumque animae medicaminis huius
cura fuget, ne tanta putres violentia nervos 25
dissecet atque tua moriar pro crimine causa.
sed si hoc grande putas, saltem concede precanti
ut iam defunctum niveis ambire lacertis
digneris vitamque mihi post fata reducas.
A Translation and Commentary
Letter. A lover to [his] beloved.
Your white eyes blaze with star-like fames, 1
Your neck pours out roses, and gold comes from your hair,
Your honeyed face produces a purple blush,
And your blood mixed together raises up your milky breast,
And all honor serves you, and with the beauty of the goddesses 5
You gleam and conquer Venus with your heavenly body.
Te deeds of your cunning hand stand frm, and you,
Dragging Chinese threads with your tender fngers,
play on the precious warp.
Your becoming heel is unacquainted with treading upon small pebbles,
And it is a crime for your feet to be hurt by the hard ground; 10
Although you want to bring your steps through the lilies themselves,
You will kill no fowers with your light weight.
Now, let other women adorn their throats with large necklaces,
Or let them fasten gems to their heads: You alone
Can please me, even if youve been plundered;
in no person are all aspects praiseworthy. 15
But if there is anyone who can discern everything in you,
let him approve of what he sees.
I would imagine that the songs of the Sirens and Talias sweet pluckings
Would have become silent at the sound of your voice,
by which you issue forth sweet
Honey and hurl the spear of love against miserable men, 19
And by which you nourish a serious wound that is curable by no sword. 22
I languish, I weaken, I wither, I am punished, I am burned, 20
I seethe, I sigh, I die, I am vanquished, I gasp, 21
But may your lips remove the savage grief from my heart,
And may the cure of this remedy chase away the illness in my soul,
Lest such great violence dismember my rotting nerves, 25
And lest I die on your account, with my death becoming your guilt.
But if you consider this a large thing, at least yield to me,
I who am begging you to think me, already dead,
worthy of surrounding with your snow-white arms,
And to lead life back to me afer my death.
*D.R. Shackleton Bailey, editor oI the volume in which this poem appears, believes
(correctly, it seems) that lines 20-22, as preserved in the Codex, are wrongly sequenced.
He thus replaces ll. 20, 21 and 22 with ll. 22, 20 and 21, respectively.
51 50
Sententiae V Fletcher
Among the objectives of this poems author is to depict the dualistic nature
of the condition of the lover (amans) that is, the simultaneous pleasure
and sufering that comprise his romantic feelings in a way that resonates
with an audience that understands and appreciates Roman classical literary
convention. As the following analysis will show, this duality of the lovers
condition is presented through certain structural and thematic material that
contemporary readers would recognize from previous literature, such as
Ovid (f. 1st centuries BC/AD). Furthermore, an equally salient objective
of Amans amanti is to encapsulate the dual nature of the beloved (amanti),
the person being addressed, as it is discerned by the lover he conceives
of her as both a human and a goddess, and this is clear from the words he
uses to address her. In sum, the authors overarching artistic objective in this
epistula (i.e., in this so-called letter from him to his beloved) is to control,
by means of these distinctly dualistic frameworks, how the lover portrays his
beloved and is himself portrayed.
Te dualistic nature of the lover in Amans amanti is conveyed through
the bi-partite structure of the poem itself. It has two distinct, roughly equal
parts: the frst sixteen lines, and the remaining thirteen lines. Te former
half is the embodiment of a positive attitude on the lovers part, while the
latter half portrays a very diferent attitude one of urgency, desperation
and outright negativity. Tese attitudes are clearly conveyed through the
poets diction.
As for the frst half of the poem, this comprises an overtly complemen-
tary description of the beloveds physical attributes. According to the lover,
her eyes are bright (candida... lumina, 1), and other regions attached to her
head are described as releasing roses (fundunt colla rosas, 2) and gold (cedit
crinibus aurum, 2), both precious objects that are highly sought afer. He
uses adjectives referring to sweet foods like milk and honey to describe her
breast and mouth, respectively (mellea... ora... lacteaque... pectora, 3-4). She
is described as being skilled with her hands, specifcally in weaving (argutae
stant facta manus... pretioso in stamine ludis, 7-8). Since she does not walk
on even small rocks (planta decens nescit modicos calcare lapillos / et dura...
terra, 9-10), the lover implies that her feet are without blemish. She is said to
be so light as to not even crush fowers when she treads on them (ipsa... nul-
los interimes leviori pondere fores, 11-12), which may either be interpreted
literally as a fattering comment about her weight, or simply as a fgurative
illustration of her supposed daintiness.
Te lover then notes how his beloved does not need to rely on jewelry
to be beautiful, unlike other women who apparently do (guttura nunc aliae
magnis monilibus ornent...: tu sola placere vel spoliata potes, 13-15). Tis
positively-minded half of the poem closes with a reference to the beloveds
overall perfection: If there is anyone who can discern everything in you,
let him approve of what he sees (in te cuncta probet, si quisquam cernere
possit, 16).
But in the latter half of the poem, the lovers attitude changes from posi-
tively laudatory to negatively disturbed. Starting immediately in line 17, he
says that his beloved would be able to silence even the songs of the Sirens
and of Talia, a poetic Muse (Sirenum cantus et dulcia plectra Taliae / ad
vocem tacuisse rear, 17-18). Te emphatic placement of Sirenum cantus at
the beginning of line 17 signifes the frm boundary between these two very
diferent sections of the poem, given the negative connotations that the Si-
rens carry in Roman literature: afer all, they were not simply dangerous,
but mortiferous. Te beloved is then compared to a seductive trickster not
unlike a Siren, in that she issue[s] forth sweet honey (mella propagas dul-
cia, 18- 19) while simultaneously inficting and maintaining a deliberate,
incurable wound against her victims (et in miseros telum iacularis amoris...
vulnus alis nullo sanabile ferro, 19-22), the implication being that the lover
is one of these victims.
He continues by describing in frst-person verbs the pain he feels as a di-
rect consequence, it seems, of his being wounded by his beloved (Langueo...
anhelo, 20-21). Te mood of this half of the poem is further darkened by
references to serious illness and death; the lover suddenly pleads for his be-
loved to cure him of his love-induced sickness (sed tua labra meo saevum
de corde dolorem / depellant morbumque... cura fuget, 22-24), apparently
identifying her as his savior despite having earlier labeled her as the very
cause of this amiction. In fact, he implies that she is the only one who will
prevent his physical being from coming apart (ne tanta putres violentia ner-
vos / dissecet, 25-26), and that if she withholds her aid, she will have to
live with the guilt of having caused his death (atque tua moriar pro crimine
causa, 26).
Te eeriness is enhanced further when the lover concedes that his own
demise is indeed possible (saltem concede precanti / ut iam defunctum
niveis ambire lacertis / digneris, 27-29), and yet that his beloved is still capa-
ble of resurrecting him from the dead (vitamque mihi post fata reducas, 30).
Even with the hope of new life mentioned here, this is still a morbid ending,
creating a ftting closure to the poem given the preceding thirteen lines of
relative bitterness. Overall, the picture created by this framework indicates
that the lover, in his current state, is racked by conficting emotions: one the
one hand, delight in his beloveds physical and personal qualities; on the
other hand, downright terror at the desperation she has caused him to feel,
which he fears will imminently destroy him. Te lovers outlook can thus be
considered a dual structure with two opposite poles, positive and negative.
53 52
Sententiae V Fletcher
Such a structure has a precedent in earlier Latin literature that would
have arguably been recognized by most contemporary readers in the eighth
century AD. Such recognition would have given Amans amanti more legiti-
macy as a poem operating within the confnes of a high-brow literary con-
vention. Tis direct parallel of the positive-negative dual structure can be
found in a work of Ovid, specifcally in the frst part of Polyphemus speech
to Galatea in Book Tirteen of the Metamorphoses. But even putting struc-
ture aside, Amans amanti is similar to its Ovidian counterpart in a few ways.
Firstly, both poems have a similar point of view: although Ovids is a mono-
logue and Amans amanti is an epistula, both poems are communicated by a
lover-character addressing his beloved. Secondly, the poems are both elegiac
in content, but not written in elegiac verse; rather, they are both written in
the meter of epic, dactylic hexameter. Of course, these similarities do not
singlehandedly make Amans amanti a conscious derivative of Ovidian po-
etry, since there are many other non-Ovidian love poems written from a
lovers point of view. But the fact that, as explained below, a positive-nega-
tive framework is present in the beginning of Polyphemus speech may be a
more meaningful similarity.
Te frst nine lines of Polyphemus speech consist of a positive descrip-
tion of Galatea, likening her to various items in nature using comparative
adjectives. While the comparative quality of the adjectives clearly constitutes
a diference with Amans amanti (which only makes use of positive adjec-
tives), candida in line 1 may be a direct and deliberate echo of candidior
in Ov. Met. xiii.789, not only considering their identical position at the be-
ginning of the lovers speech, but also because they are words characterizing
the beloveds beauty as white, which has connotations not only of visual
purity but also of moral goodness
. Polyphemus continues in a similar fash-
ion through these nine lines, calling Galatea more fowery than the mead-
ows, taller than the long alder tree... (foridior pratis, longa procerior alno,
790), making several more nature-focused comparisons
up until line 797
(et, si non fugias, riguo formosior horto, And, if you dont fee, [youre]
more beautiful than a well-watered garden).
At this point, the tone of Polyphemus address takes a sudden dark turn:
for the remaining ten lines of the paragraph, the comparative adjectives,
1 see TLL s.v. candidus 244.43 'benevolus, bonus, simplex, sincerus.
2 One oI these comparisons, mollior... lacte coacto ('soIter... than coagulated milk) may
itselI be related to the milk-related description in Amans amanti (lacteaque... sanguis,
4), though this is more likely a coincidence, given that Polyphemus is reIerring specif-
cally to cheese.
while remaining nature-focused, switch from having positive connotations
to negative ones. Among other comparisons, he describes the same Galatea
[as] more savage than unconquered heifers (saevior indomitis eadem
Galatea iuuencis, 798), more deceiving than the waves (fallacior undis,
799) and more bitter than fre (acrior igne, 800). By calling her more un-
responsive than the open seas (surdior aequoribus, 804), he accuses her
of being unsympathetic to his plight as an unrequited lover. In this part of
the speech, Polyphemus evidently expresses his frustration with being in
love with someone who is simultaneously causing him great pain; this is a
thematic similarity to the lovers situation in Amans amanti. Also, just as
Galatea is described as more violent than a river (violentior amne, 801)
from Polyphemus point of view, the lover in Amans amanti sufers the vio-
lentia (25) of his desperate passion for his beloved. Especially given this
semantic connection (deliberate or not) between the two negative halves
of these poems, there seems to be both a structural and sentimental amnity
between these two works whereby the speaker whether it is Polyphemus
or the lover in Amans amanti praises his beloved, only to immediately
cast her in a negative light as a cause of distress. Even though it seems Ovid
wrote his Metamorphoses several hundred years before Amans amanti was
composed, the positive-negative dual structure is something that the two
poems hold in common.
Even given this connection, the question of whether a contemporary
reader of Amans amanti would therefore call it Ovidian or even Poly-
phemean is dimcult to answer. In fact, it is likely that readers would see
nothing particularly Polyphemean about Amans amanti, but would rather
identify more of a link between the sufering lover and other similar charac-
ters in Roman literature, even in literature without an explicit positive-neg-
ative dual structure
. However, one thing is certain: Structural and thematic
amnity between Amans amanti, Polyphemuss speech and (thematically,
if not structurally) other literary works suggests that the author of Amans
amanti was consciously attempting to convey the dualistic nature of the
lovers spiritual condition in a way that would make sense to an audience
steeped in literature by great Roman authors like Ovid, who used such
3 For instance, when the lover in Amans amanti implies that his beloved`s withholding oI
help would lead to his death, saying, 'May I not die on your account, with my death becom-
ing your guilt (atque tua... causa, 26), Ior a contemporary reader this may have brought to
mind other characters in Roman tradition who ascribe their deaths to their beloved, such as
Dido in another epistula (Ovid`s Heroides vii) when she says, 'You`ll be said to have been
the reason Ior my destruction (tu... leti causa Ierere mei, Ov. Her. vii.64). Likewise, Dido`s
bitter remark 'That place, my heart, contains savage Cupid`s wound (mea... pectora... ille
locus saevi vulnus Amoris habet, Ov. Her. vii.189-190) bears a thematic similarity to when
the lover in Amans amanti notes how his beloved has wounded him (and other 'miserable
men) with 'the spear oI love (et in miseros telum iacularis amoris, 19).
55 54
Sententiae V Fletcher
tactics as the positive-negative dual framework for the sake of eloquence
and artistic efectiveness. In this way, the author of Amans amanti raises the
degree of legitimacy which the audience ascribes to the lover-protagonist
of his poem. Arguably, any audience is more apt to take a literary character
seriously if that characters plight is communicated in a way that culturally
resonates with them and with which they can identify.
But while this positive-negative dual framework exists as a way of in-
terpreting the portrayal of the amans, another duality can be extrapolated
from this poem that deals with the portrayal of the amanti, the beloved.
Specifcally, this other dual structure serves to aggrandize the beloved to
a super-human status by representing her as both a person and a goddess.
For example, the lovers physical description of his beloved includes parts
of her anatomy that, while clearly belonging to a human body, are depicted
as having heavenly qualities. Her eyes blaze with star- like fames (sidereis
ardescunt lumina fammis, 1), and the idea that roses and gold spring forth
from her person (fundunt... aurum, 2) is physically impossible, and if not an
indication of divinity, is simply a metaphor for her extraordinary beauty. In
line 10, the harming of her feet by rough terrain (dura laedi... vestigia terra)
is called a sin (scelus), as if a crime against the gods; and yet the fact that it
is possible for her feet to be harmed brings attention to her vulnerable, and
therefore mortal, status.
In line 15, the lover says In no person are all aspects praiseworthy
(nulli laudabile totum est), implying that his beloved, a human being, falls
short of perfection despite being divinely beautiful. But a jarring antithesis is
created here because of the following line, which seems to contradict line 15:
But if there is anyone who can discern everything in you, let him approve
of what he sees (in te cuncta... possit, 16). Here, the lover implies that she,
unlike anybody else, is someone whose every aspect is praiseworthy, which
raises her beyond the status of a normal, imperfect human being. Amans
amanti closes with the lover overtly using language of prayer, addressing his
beloved as a goddess who has power over life and death: ... At least yield
to me, I who am begging you / To think me, already dead, worthy of sur-
rounding with your snow-white arms, / And to lead life back to me afer my
death (saltem... reducas, 27-29). Within this passage, note especially the
words concede (yield, concede [27]), precanti (to [me] begging, pray-
ing [27]) and digneris (that you think [me] worthy, condescend [28]),
all of which have strong connotations of a human being appealing to a deity
for help.
Te instances discussed thus far are general compared to other instances
in the poem in which the lover goes so far as to compare his mortal beloved
to specifc divine beings in the Roman pantheon, either by name or by im-
plication. What the lover says in lines 5 and 6 needs almost no explanation:
With the beauty of the goddesses / You gleam and conquer Venus with your
heavenly body (formaque dearum / fulges et Venerem caelesti corpore vin-
cis). But Venus is not the only Roman goddess that this woman supplants in
her lovers praises. When she is described as dragging Chinese threads with
tender fngers, play[ing] on the precious warp (digitisque tenellis / Serica
fla trahens pretioso in stamine ludis, 7-8), this may literally refer to her skill
at weaving silk (as mentioned before), or it could be doubly understood as
a reference to the Fates, in which case the beloved is being likened to one of
the goddesses who controls peoples lives.
Another bold comparison is made in lines 17 through 20, where the
beloved is not only said to induce silence from the Sirens and even from
one of the Muses (Sirenum cantus... rear, 17-18), but also to operate with
the sovereignty and emcacy of Love the deity, hurl[ing] the weapon of love
against miserable men / And nurtur[ing] a serious wound that is curable by
no sword (et in miseros telum iacularis amoris / et grave vulnus alis nullo
sanabile ferro, 19-22). Tis woman is therefore being described throughout
the course of this poem as several Roman deities, and yet she is also the
lovers earthly object of afection.
From the above examples, it is clear that a dualistic structure (which
here can be termed mortal-divine) is used to inform the beloveds por-
trayal in Amans amanti, just as a positive-negative dual framework plays the
same role for the lover himself. Trough the mortal-divine framework, the
beloved is depicted by her lover as someone who, despite being a woman,
has divine qualities just like a deity in the Roman pantheon. Likewise, the
positive-negative framework characterizes the lover as someone at the ab-
solute height of lovesickness. From looking at the original Latin text and
(in the case of the positive-negative framework) seeing how earlier works
inform it, the existence of these characterizations is clear and supportable,
but can modern readers discover why the author, whoever he was, chose to
characterize the amans and the amanti in these ways? Exactly why were
these his artistic objectives, and what purpose does the poem itself serve?
One can only speculate on these points, but if the Europeans of ffeen
hundred years ago were human beings, this means they had roughly the
same feelings and inclinations as modern people. Perhaps the composer of
Amans amanti really was in love with someone, in which case the amans
was not a character, but an extension of the author himself. Tis person may
have been sufering from extreme lovesickness, and may have decided that
writing down his feelings would help him cope with them. Perhaps he even
hoped that his beloved would someday read the poem. But a more likely situ-
ation is that a person in medieval Europe perhaps a working poet, a monk
or a student composed Amans amanti as a meticulously constructed liter-
ary exercise, as a gif for a friend, as a job for a client, or even as a commodity
57 56
Sententiae V Fletcher
to be sold to lovesick teenagers aiming to woo the girl down the street with
cheap, ready-made verse in the style of the ancient poets. It is possible that
the author was happy with his poem, and just as possible that he thought
nothing of it. Chances are he met a violent end at a relatively young age, like
many in the ancient world did, and that we will never know who he was. But
someone thought it necessary to preserve Amans amanti, albeit with some
lines carelessly switched around (the order of which is thankfully restored
here, courtesy of D.R. Shackleton Bailey). It is from ancient works like these
that modern humans can know with certainty that their distant ancestors
were just as human as they are now.
Knox, P. E. (1995): Ovid: Heroides: Select Epistles, Cambridge Univ.
Shackleton Bailey, D. R. (1982): Anthologia Latina. Vol. 1: Carmina in
codicibus scripta, Stutgardiae.
Tarrant, R. J. (2004): P. Ovidi Nasonis Metamorphoses: recognovit
brevique adnotatione critica instruxit R. J. Tarrant, Oxford Univ. Press.
Tesaurus Linguae Latinae (TLL) Online. <>.