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4— Preliminary Considerations
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Preliminary Considerations

Oresme's Identification of His Readers

Among the valuable information contained in Oresme's prologues to his translations of the Ethics and the Politics is his identification of the readers and the functions of the works.[1] In stressing the universal and historical authority of the works, Oresme insists on the primacy among the Philosopher's writings of these texts.[2] Regarding them as two halves of one work, Oresme describes the Ethics as a "livre de bonnes meurs" (book of good morals), aiding the individual to live the good life, while he designates the Politics as the guide to the "art et science de gouverner royaumes et citéz et toutes communitéz" (the art and science of governing kingdoms and cities and all other communities).[3] The two are interconnected inasmuch as the goal of the political community is to help the citizens to lead the best life defined in the Ethics , while the Politics is concerned with the systematic study of the ideal political community.

In praising God for providing his people with a ruler "plain de si grant sagesce" (full of such great wisdom), Oresme identifies Charles V as the most crucial member of his audience. For, the translator asserts, after the Catholic faith, nothing is more beneficial to the king's subjects than a knowledge of the Ethics , which teaches an individual to be a "bon homme" (good man).[4] Thus, Oresme rightly establishes a context for the translations within the tradition of Mirror of Princes texts: both the Ethics and Politics are deeply concerned with the education of the young and the conduct of rulers.

Oresme's prologue to the Ethiques mentions not only the prince but his counsellors as readers who will profit from study of these works. Since the Politics deals with the science of government, Oresme links knowledge of these texts with the common good: "ceste science appartient par especial et principalment as princes et a leurs conseilliers" (this knowledge concerns first and foremost princes and their counsellors).[5] Oresme goes on to say that the study of all books brings about "affeccion et amour au bien publique, qui est la meilleur qui puisse estre en prince et en ses conseilliers, après l'amour de Dieu" (attachment to and love for the public good, which is the best kind of love a prince and his counsellors could have after the love of God).[6]

In addition, Oresme includes an unnamed group, identified only as "autres" (others), who will also profit by French versions of the Ethics and Politics , since the Latin texts are so difficult to understand:


Figure 5
Charles V Reads in His Study.  John of Salisbury, Le policratique.

le Roy a voulu, pour le bien commun, faire les translater en françois, afin que il et ses conseilliers et autres les puissent mieulx entendre, mesmement Ethiques et Politiques , desquels, comme dit est, le premier aprent estre bon homme et l'autre estre bon prince.

(The king has desired for the sake of the common good to have them translated into French, so that he and his counsellors and others might better understand them, especially the Ethics and the Politics , of which, as they say, the first teaches one to be a good man and the second, a good prince.)[7]


In short, Oresme identifies his "autres" as persons of influence with little knowledge of Latin. Their understanding of the texts in French translation will benefit the common good. Thus, the moral and social values of the texts make the translations instruments of benevolent public policy. As noted previously, other passages of the Ethiques prologue declare that as these works were transmitted from Greece to Rome, so now they are translated into French. Under enlightened monarchic patronage, the translations of Aristotle's writings form part of a translatio studii directed to an informed circle of French readers.

Throughout the fifteenth century, the subsequent readership of the translations generally belonged to the groups mentioned by Oresme. Later manuscripts of Oresme's translations were owned by members of the royal family, royal counsellors, members of the nobility, and the municipal government of Rouen.[8] Not surprisingly, the number of manuscripts of the Ethiques, Politiques , and Yconomique —with one printed edition by Vérard dating from 1488 to 1489—is relatively small, compared to such popular works as the French versions of Valerius Maximus or Livy. Monfrin cites twenty-one manuscripts of the Ethiques , seventeen of the Politiques , and ten of the Yconomique .[9] Then, as now, the market for scholarly books was limited. The difficult subject matter and the learned nature of Oresme's word-for-word translations and their extensive commentary certainly contributed to their limited popularity. Historical texts with strong narrative threads or anecdotal features obviously had greater appeal as recreational reading than weighty works by the Philosopher. Nevertheless, illustrated copies of the Ethics, Politics , and Economics were not only collected but consulted throughout the fifteenth century.

Reading the Translations

Although the intended audience for Oresme's translations of the Ethics and Politics is easily identified, it is less clear how these books were read and used. If definitive answers are lacking, some suggestions can be made by piecing together different types of evidence. As for the primary audience, Charles V himself, several miniatures in vernacular works show him as a solitary, silent reader in his study (Figs. 4 and 5).[10] The frontispieces of manuscripts in the king's library represent him immersed in the perusal of Oresme's Traitié de l'espere and the Foulechat translation of John of Salisbury's Policraticus .[11] Furthermore, the dedication frontispiece of A shows in the lower left quadrilobe a king and his associates with books in front of them listening to a lecture (Fig. 7).[12] Here the point is that the king and his companion read individually from their own copies of the text discussed by the lecturer. The miniature of the frontispiece also illustrates the following passage from Oresme's Ethiques prologue: "Et en puet l'en bien dire ce mot de l'Escripture : 'Audiens sapiens sapientior erit'—'le sage sera plus sage de oÿr ceste science'" (And in this regard one can well cite this phrase of Scripture [Prov. 1:5]: 'Audiens sapiens sapientior erit'—the wise man will become even wiser from hearing this knowledge).[13] Both the text and the image suggest that individual reading was supplemented by oral explication of the text.[14]


In addition, the contemporary political treatise Le songe du vergier , a translation commissioned by Charles V and completed in 1378, notes that daily the king "lit ou fait lire devant luy de Ethyques, de Pollitiques ou de Yconomiques, ou d'autres moralités, pour savoir que appartient au gouvernement de tout seigneur naturel" (reads or has read to him [parts of] the Ethics and the Politics , and the Economics , or other moral treatises, to know what is important for the task of anyone who is born to rule).[15] Christine de Pizan relates that especially in winter the king "se occupoit souvent à ouir lire de diverses belles hystoires de la Sainte Escripture, ou des Fais des Romains , ou Moralités de philosophes et d'autres sciences jusques à heure de soupper" (often spent his time listening to readings from various stories drawn from Holy Scripture, or the Deeds of the Romans , or the Moral Reflections of Philosophers and other books of knowledge until the supper hour).[16] Readings from the Ethics , a source of both earlier and contemporary Mirror of Princes texts, belong to the category of moral teachings mentioned in the passage cited above and this one: "Item , et lui, comme circonspect en toutes choses, pour l'aournement de sa conscience, maistres en theologie et divinité et touz ordrez d'Eglise lui plot souvent ouir en ses collacions, leurs sermons escouter, avoir entour soy" (Item, and he, ever attentive to whatever might further improve his mind, liked to surround himself with masters in theology and divinity, and all clerical orders of the Church, to hear their conversation at table, and to listen to their sermons).[17] Christine repeats in her Livre de la paix that Charles V was in the habit of "souvent ouir, et à certaines heures et jours leccons de sapience" (often listening on specific days and hours to readings from books of wisdom).[18]

Charles V's enjoyment of intellectual interaction with members of his entourage described by Christine is confirmed in two prologues of translations commissioned by him. A passage in the prologue to the Songe du vergier refers to a past controversy: "Et, mon tres redoubté Seigneur, en la presance de Vostre Majesté ceste doubte a esté aultre foiz disputée, par maniere d'esbatement et de collacion" (And, my most revered lord, in the presence of your majesty this question was debated once before at table and in a lighter vein).[19] Oral discussion is mentioned by Raoul de Presles in the dedicatory epistle of his City of God translation. At the end of his narrative on the origins of the oriflamme, he interjects the phrase "comme vous m'avez oy raconter" (as you have heard me tell).[20]

It is known, too, that there were officially designated lecteurs du roi , who read and explained texts to the king. Vincent of Beauvais fulfilled this function for St. Louis.[21] Christine de Pizan tells us that Gilles Malet, Charles V's librarian and valet de chambre , was a favorite reader of the king.[22] Thus, the custom of public oral reading and explication at the French court had a considerable tradition.

Charles V may have particularly requested oral explication from Oresme on certain passages or questions relating to difficult or intriguing matters. For example, a Quaestio added by Oresme to his commentary on a passage from Book IX of the Ethics is one of the few lengthy interpolations he inserted into the text.[23] The discussion, choosing one of three worthy persons to be saved from execution, is a topic Oresme may have included for his patron's benefit, as it lends itself to oral argument and debate.[24] In this case, Oresme could have used as points for


discussion the elaborate inscriptions that form a kind of internal dialogue within the miniature.

Indeed, the inscriptions that are a distinctive feature of the miniature cycles in A and C can furnish important clues on how the books were read. Embedded within the pictorial field and emphasized by a banderole, the inscriptions act as a reference, locating or summarizing a key concept, unfamiliar term, or neologism (Fig. 12). Guided by the inscriptions, the reader can consult the explanation furnished by the translator in the chapter titles preceding the miniature, the glossary of difficult words, or the index of noteworthy subjects placed at the end of the text.

The inscriptions also allow the reader to connect verbal information with the concrete imagery of the miniatures. An analogue to the vernacular language, in many cases the pictorial representation translates abstract ideas or terms borrowed from Latin into familiar visual modes. Such visual language includes personification and allegorical figures arranged in a coherent structure and clothed in contemporary dress. A preference for concrete visual imagery may correspond to the mental habits of readers accustomed to similar use of language in the vernacular.[25] The inscriptions may also have played a crucial role in forming associations between the verbal and the visual by singling out words as memory devices, perhaps for oral repetition by the reader. The persistence of aural habits of reading, or lectio , may have encouraged sounding out a word featured in the inscription to locate, associate, and assimilate the verbal concept with visual imagery.[26]

As was discussed in the previous chapter, scholars have recently recognized the cognitive and affective powers assigned to images in medieval faculty psychology and scholastic memory treatises. V. A. Kolve stresses the role of memory in making mental images the road to understanding and retaining verbal concepts.[27] Sight and hearing are separate pathways to the castle of Lady Memory, a metaphor used by Richard de Fournivall and illustrated in an early fourteenth-century French manuscript of Li bestiaires d'amour (Fig. 18).[28] Referring in part to Frances Yates's seminal work, The Art of Memory , Kolve emphasizes that Albert the Great and Thomas Aquinas assign to visual images the ability to fix general concepts in the mind by attaching them to specific details and places located within an imagined geographical or architectural structure.[29] Moreover, the great scholastics find in visual images affective powers that can move the soul to positive ethical action.

The inscriptions and images of Charles V's illustrated copies of the Ethiques unite through their functions as memory aids the verbal concept and its visual realization within a clearly defined pictorial field. In fact, an architectural memory gateway, similar to that of the Fournivall miniature, is a distinctive feature of the cycle in MS A .

In short, reading Oresme's translations may have combined individual study and oral explication. In view of the long intellectual relationship between Charles V and Oresme, as well as of the limited time available for the king and his counsellors to make their way through the lengthy and weighty translations, oral explications of crucial sections of the text by Oresme seem plausible. In both processes, the illustrations—particularly the inscriptions—had important didactic and mnemonic functions.


Three Modes of Illustration

The analyses of the pictorial cycles in Charles V's copies of the Ethiques (A and C ), and also of the Politiques and the Yconomique (B and D ), assume the illustrations' general functions as visual definitions and re-presentations of abstract ideas.[30] As noted above, the illustrations rely on well-known representational modes of embodying abstract ideas to define key ideas in the text. In all the miniatures of the Ethiques program, personifications constitute the basic unit of representation. Individual miniatures are generally placed on the same folio as the list of chapter titles to permit the reader's quick identification of the principal subjects discussed. Not only inscriptions but also attributes or appropriate costumes facilitate association of the personification with the verbal concept. Interpretation of the personification's psychological or moral character may be limited. In A and C the typical Christian iconography of the virtues, or of other suitable personifications, is adapted without explicit reference to the text's classical and pagan content. Personifications appear as laconic subject guides in Books III, IV, and VIII of A .

A second category of illustrations, personification allegories of virtues or of other abstract philosophical ideas discussed, occurs in the cycles of both A and C . The term personification allegory here connotes a more active animation or profound psychological characterization of the personifications than that of the table of contents type.[31] Of course, the personification allegory also functions as a visual table of contents, but it defines moral or spiritual relationships among several personifications. Personification allegories emphasize unfamiliar notions in the text by extended visual metaphors, in which kinship is frequently employed as a device to explain underlying relationships of identity, power, and social standing. Such imagery tends to be more novel and ambitious than that of simple personification.

The last category of Ethiques illustrations, the decision allegory, involves a moral or spiritual choice on the part of a personification or other figure. Erwin Panofsky uses the term to characterize the illustrations in Book VII of A and C (Figs. 35 and 36).[32] The only other instance of a decision allegory occurs in the exceptional miniature for Book IX in C (Fig. 41). Of the three categories of illustrations in the Ethiques cycle, the decision allegory is the most unusual.

Visual Redefinitions and the Functions of the Manuscripts

Although the three categories of illustrations appear in both A and C , they are used as visual definitions in varying frequency and complexity. To make the point another way, the visual definitions of A are redefined in almost every instance. Why do these changes occur in two such closely related manuscripts executed for the same patron? An important clue comes from the different functions of A and C within Charles V's library. In its large size (318 × 216 mm) and every aspect of its appearance, A is a luxury presentation copy intended for consultation in the king's library and not for circulation.[33] Gold and colors are lavished on the orna-


mental capitals, the vignettes, and the eleven miniatures. An elaborate layout borrowed from thirteenth- and fourteenth-century manuscripts on canon and civil law separates the text, written in two narrow columns of thirty-five lines per folio, from Oresme's surrounding commentary (Fig. 11). The formality of design expresses the luxurious nature of the book. Finished after 1372, A is a magnificent testimony to Charles V's enlightened patronage. In A only two of the eleven illustrations occupy the width of the entire text block in a half-page, almost-square format. While the scribe has been identified only as associated with Raoulet d'Orléans, the miniaturist is known as the second Master of the Bible of Jean de Sy, also called the Boqueteaux Master. Greatly favored by Charles V, this illuminator and his shop, who also participated in the illustration of B , produced a series of lively and expressive miniatures of generally high quality.

In contrast, C is smaller in size (218 × 152 mm). Like its companion volume D containing the Politics and Economics translations by Oresme, C is considered to have served as a portable volume designed as a pocketbook.[34] Written by the well-known and official scribe of Charles V, Raoulet d'Orléans, as was D, C is altogether more modest than A . In C , text and commentary are intermingled in a two-column format, while the ornamental decoration is more limited and figures are represented in grisaille enhanced by color washes. Indeed, the presumed function of C as a "reading copy" for the king accounts for the changes in its program from its model, A . The didactic character of the C cycle is marked. For example, a wordier series of inscriptions gives more information about the contents of each book, and the format and size of the miniatures also expand. Not only virtues (as in A ) but their opposing vices are represented in the illustration for Books III and IV in C . Indeed, all the illustrations of C act as frontispieces for each book and occupy the width of the text block. The redefinitions and expansion of the program in Books I through V of C made the dimensions of the miniatures inadequate. As a result of overcrowding, the vertical dimensions of the miniatures for Books VI through X gradually increased. Dated 1376, C chiefly represents the work of the miniaturist known as the Master of the Coronation of Charles VI.[35]

Differences between the programs of A and C may have arisen from reactions to the first manuscript by patron and translator. In some instances, Charles V may have judged that certain miniatures in A did not advance the reader's understanding of the text. Colophons and other evidence reveal that the king took an active part in specifying and correcting texts and illustrations that he himself commissioned.[36] It is, therefore, possible that the incentive for a revised program of illustrations came from Charles V. Indeed, the king may have made specific recommendations to Oresme, for the difficult text of the Ethics is the first lengthy work Oresme translated to require a program of illustrations. Oresme may have lacked time, experience—or both—to provide detailed instructions to the illuminator. For those books in the Ethics for which iconography and models existed without additional adaptation, Oresme may have thought that only brief instructions were necessary. For those that demanded more explicit indications for definition of more unfamiliar concepts or terms, his instructions may have been misunderstood by the illuminator. Or perhaps Oresme did not foresee the precise visual form of


the translation of his instructions. Still another explanation is that Oresme may have relied too heavily on the scribe or supervisor of the book without allotting time for revisions.

Certain features of C support these suggestions. For one thing, by 1376, by which date C was produced, Oresme had designed the program of miniatures for B . The counterpart of A, B is the first illustrated copy of Oresme's French translations of the Politics and Economics executed for Charles V[37] and is only slightly later in date than the Ethiques .[38] The program of B is far more elaborate than that of A , indications both of the greater importance of the Politiques text and Oresme's greater experience as designer by the time C and D , Charles V's second illustrated copies of the Ethiques, Politiques , and Yconomique , were revised. Perhaps because of Oresme's knowledge of the production process, the D cycle does not show extensive revisions from its model B in the same pattern followed by C and A .

The scribe Raoulet d'Orléans was also involved in the production of C and D . He was a highly competent and experienced practitioner who probably supervised the conversion of the elaborate layouts of A and B to a simpler and less expensive format. An example of Raoulet's importance is his ingenious intervention to explain verbally certain obscure features of an important illustration revised in D .[39] Raoulet must also have had a role in responding to the internal revisions of C , when the inadequate scale of the first five miniatures was greatly enlarged in the second half of the book to accommodate the expanded program. Thus, the process of visual redefinition is a complex one, in which translator, patron, scribe, and illuminators played significant, if not clearly designated, parts. Although the reasons and process underlying the extensive visual redefinitions of A remain conjectural, the didactic nature of the revisions in C is obvious. For one thing, the more restrictive quadrilobe format of the A miniatures gives way in C to rectangular or square pictures that occupy the width of the text block. This expanded field allows space for more inscriptions and figures. Moreover, a two-register format in seven of the C illustrations and a three-tiered arrangement in another are indications of a more complex program.

The didactic character of the C program leads not only to more elaborate verbal information and division of the pictorial field but also to a redistribution of the three representational modes established in A . Apart from the dedication miniatures, there are five personification allegories in A , but only three in C . Instead, in C , a preference for complete subject guides is obvious. In Books III and IV vices accompany the appropriate virtues, while in Books VI and VIII examples drawn from everyday life are sometimes juxtaposed with personifications. Yet the climactic image of C is a monumental personification allegory of unusual aesthetic quality and intellectual complexity. Overall, the program of C strives for "the whole picture" in terms of expanded visual tables of contents combined with consistency in details of costume and attributes. In a class by itself, however, is the decision allegory for Book IX mentioned above. Because of experiments with the complex process of re-editing and redefining verbal and visual relationships in C , the deliberate didacticism of the program does not always meet the goal of more complete or more profound interpretation of the text.


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4— Preliminary Considerations
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