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8— Generosity, Magnanimity, Profligacy, and Avarice (Book IV)
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Generosity, Magnanimity, Profligacy, and Avarice (Book IV)

Liberalité and Le Magnanime in A

The illustrations for Book IV in A and C (Figs. 20, 20a and 21, 21a) fit the same pattern as those of the preceding book. The subjects chosen for illustration and definition fall into the categories of familiar moral virtues of particular relevance to the conduct of rulers. Like the arrangement of Figure 15, the two subjects of Figure 20 are separated by a central column carrying two arches surmounted by a crenellated wall segment. On the left is depicted Liberalité (eleutheriotes ), best translated in English as Generosity. Her male counterpart on the right is identified as Le Magnanime, a term called megalopsychia in Greek and translated into English as Magnanimity or High-Mindedness. Although the personifications again contrast a simply clad female in widowlike garb with a royal male figure, their postures and attitudes are reversed from those of Figure 15. Liberalité is found on the left, because discussion in the text of this subject occurs in the first three chapters. In fact, rubrics directly above and below the miniature in both Figures 20 and 21 tie illustration and text closely together. But the words Le Magnanime do not occur until the headings for Chapters 15 to 17 of Book IV. Once again, left-to-right order of representation reflects sequence in the text. Such an arrangement orients the reader first to the location and then to the association of these concepts. Thus, by relating text to images in the proper sequence, the reader will begin the process of recollection described by Aristotle.[1]

The contrasting red and blue fleur-de-lis grounds and costumes of the main figures in Figure 20 contribute to the color harmony of the pictorial, calligraphic, and decorative elements of the folio. The extensive use of gold in the right half of the miniature gives special weight to that part of the representation, yet gold is also present on the left side. Liberalité, who stands next to a pink table containing gold coins and vessels, is dispensing part of her hoard to figures placed at the left edge of the picture. The nature of Liberalité's action makes clear that her sphere encompasses money or riches. Oresme must have been aware that the question of expenditure involved a change in the type of ethical problem discussed in Book III, as his introductory words make plain: "Ci aprés commence le quart livre ouquel il tracte des vertus morales qui ne resgardent pas si principalment vie humainne comme font fortitude et actrempance" (Here begins the fourth book in which he discusses the moral virtues, which are not so fundamentally concerned with human life as are Fortitude and Temperance).[2]


Figure 20
Liberalité, Le Magnanime. Les éthiques d'Aristote,  MS  A.


Figure 20A
Detail of Fig. 20

The first paragraph of Book IV of the Ethics , and Oresme's translation of it, define Liberalité as the mean regarding the getting and spending of money. While this subject does not deal with such basic human qualities as fear and self-control, the right attitude toward expenditure of money and riches is a topic of great concern to rulers.[3] Aristotle concerns himself with the political and social issues relating to the expenditure of funds in Book V of the Ethics and in several places in the Politics . But not surprisingly, the Morgan Avis au roys makes an immediate connection between Liberalité and the ideal ruler. An illustration from this manuscript (Fig. 22) represents a king who wears a fleur-de-lis crown holding out coins to groups on his left and right. This ruler thus carries out the injunction that appears in the rubrics: "Comment bons princes doit avoir la plesent vertu de liberalité" (How a good prince must have the pleasing virtue of liberality).[4] Of course, the ruler must avoid the vices associated with expenditure, Prodigalité or Fole largesce (Too Much) or Illiberalité (Too Little). These vices are discussed extensively in the opening and subsequent sections of Book IV of the Ethics , but they are not represented in Figure 20.

The personification of Liberalité in Figure 20 guards her treasure trove. Standing on the ample ground plane at some distance from those requesting largesse, Liberalité does not look directly at them. Her outward gaze and turn of the head


Figure 21
Above, from left : Prodigalité, Liberalité, Avarice;  below : Convoitise, Les éthiques
d'Aristote, MS  C.


Figure 21A
Detail of Fig. 21

Figure 22
A French King as an Exemplar of Generosity. Avis au roys.


express restraint of attitude and action. Although the gesture of her right arm symbolizes generosity, that of her left one protects the riches spread out on the table. The total impression of her upright stance, costume, and body language emphasizes that Liberalité is a mean. The gifts that she bestows must have a good purpose and must be directed "to the right people," in "the right amounts, and at the right time, with all other qualifications that accompany right giving."[5]

Perhaps another explanation of Liberalité's detachment lies in an attempt to distinguish her as a spiritual force inhabiting an ideal realm, an attempt that is difficult to realize for several reasons. Unlike Attrempance in Figure 15, who does not act, Liberalité appears as an agent involved in the everyday world. The male actors and the treasure-laden table emphasize the earthly sphere and recipients of Liberalité's domain. This technique of exemplifying in everyday terms the workings of the virtues, noted in Figure 16, goes back more than a century.[6] Moreover, the naturalistic style and contemporary costume of the representation counter any perception of her as a purely spiritual force.[7] Thus, several elements of the visual definition lend an ambiguity to Liberalité's ontological status that is absent in the text.

A depiction of a different sort of virtue occupies the right half of Figure 20. Like Liberalité, the main figure, Le Magnanime, receives recognition from a group of kneeling people. This regal, crowned figure is seated on a low faldstool in front of a gold curtain. These insignia of high rank are symbols of Le Magnanime's ethical and social status. Le Magnanime possesses "great-souledness," or self-respect, while his merits deserve honor. Such a person already has other virtues, and this one augments them as "a sort of crown of virtues."[8] Obviously, Le Magnanime is a person of great standing in the community. The values he embodies and his inward and outward deportment are important elements of Aristotle's definition of High-Mindedness. Indeed, Aristotle seems to have composed a psychological portrait that Oresme takes up in the chapters devoted to Le Magnanime. In a typically thorough manner, Oresme enumerates thirty-three characteristics of Le Magnanime.[9] Oresme makes the point that it does not matter whether one speaks of the virtue of Magnanimity, or of the person who "oeuvre selon ceste vertu" (acts according to this virtue).[10] Later Oresme reiterates that the condition of Magnanimity concerns not only accepting honors but also possessing "richesces et puissances, grans offices ou estas" (riches and powers, great offices, or stations).[11] Without any mention of specific political office, Oresme's discussion puts the virtue in the orbit of those associated with actual or ideal rulers. Indeed, an illustration of the Morgan Avis au roys depicts a seated king who holds a red heart, emblem of generosity of spirit and feeling (and other qualities) encompassed by the virtue of Magnanimity (Fig. 23).

The representation of Le Magnanime in Figure 20 shows a ruler of exalted status receiving recognition from others of high estate. The unusually oriented vertical scroll emphasizes his position. The seated monarch is identified as the Holy Roman Emperor by virtue of his distinctive hoop crown. The foremost kneeling figure is himself a king, who, with a deferential gesture, lifts a gold crown from his head. A second man, clad in red, gapes in awe at Le Magnanime. In


Figure 23
A French King as an Exemplar of Magnanimity. Avis au roys.

contrast, the seated ruler, separated from his adorers by a side of the curtain, glances warily in their direction. The gesture of his right hand suggests decorum and deliberation. Le Magnanime accepts the honors due him owing to his rank and moral excellence, but he is not overly impressed by such recognition.[12] All in all, the visual portrait of Le Magnanime authoritatively records the grand manner described in Aristotle's text and Oresme's translation.

Within the simply ordered subject guide of Figure 20, the two figures depicted point to two virtues associated with the ideal ruler. Placed within separate spaces, the active female and contemplative male personifications are united by the memory gateway, brilliantly lit and emphasized by the contrasting grounds against which they act their appropriate roles. Again, as advocated in rhetorical and mnemonic theory, juxtaposition and opposition, underscored by gender and color contrasts, promote the association of the verbal concepts named in the inscriptions with the appropriate images. Furthermore, the arcade motif is a classic technique in mnemonic theory; it uses "space-between-columns" to locate the things to be remembered.[13] Here, the combined allusions of the architecture and fleur-de-lis to the kingdom of France as the seat of the depicted virtues may have aroused an unexpected negative reaction from Charles V.


Visual and Verbal Embellishments in MS C

As noted earlier, the revisions of Figure 20 in the C miniature (Figs. 21 and 21a) present certain departures from the precedent set up between Figures 15 and 16. In Figure 21 the single-level treatment of the two subjects of the model (Fig. 20) is modified to a two-register format, in which the virtues retain the mean, central position and the vices are relegated to the sides. Thus, in Figure 21 the reader might expect on the upper level depictions of Liberalité in the center and the vice of Too Much on the left and Too Little on the right. A similar pattern for Le Magnanime would logically follow below. Although such expectations are fulfilled in the upper register of Figure 21, in the lower zone they are not. Two possible explanations may underlie the abandonment of Le Magnanime. The first concerns the difficulty of representing the two associated vices. Oresme discusses the concept of excess, Vanity or Vainglory, called "chaymes , fumeus et presumptueus," and the vice of deficiency, Small-Mindedness, or pusillanime .[14] The problems of finding intelligible visual equivalents for these vices are substantial, but not impossible, for someone of Oresme's ingenuity.

Perhaps a political motivation inspired the rejection of the representation of Le Magnanime. In Figure 20 the personification wears the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. In tribute, a second ruler removes his crown. It is possible that Charles V opposed this visual homage to the emperor. During the visit in 1377 and 1378 to France of his uncle, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles IV, Charles V asserted in various rituals that he was not subordinate to his relative. Furthermore, it was a commonplace of the political propaganda of Charles V's reign that the king of France was emperor in his own kingdom.[15] Thus, Charles V may have objected to the treatment of Le Magnanime as the Holy Roman Emperor in Figure 20 and may have suggested that this depiction of the subject be changed in the revised program of C .

In fact, the negative reception of the first version may have inspired the tremendous visual and verbal embellishment of the second. The increased didacticism of the program results in a proliferation of information that threatens the intelligibility of the illustration. Lengthy inscriptions are one source of the overall clutter, such as those that not only name but characterize Liberalité and three associated vices. Furthermore, individual scenes depicting additional figures and objects augment the particular virtue and vices. This tendency to show these moral or immoral forces in scenes from everyday life continues the examples of Figures 15 and 16.

In the center of the upper register stands Liberalité wearing appropriate nunlike garb, signs of her spiritual and sexually neutral status (Fig. 21). Her ability to strike the mean in the giving and spending of money or material goods is described by two phrases on either side of her: "donner par raison" (give as directed by reason) and "prendre selon raison" (take according to reason). Her gift of a gold vessel to the man kneeling on her right signifies her generosity and reinforces the verbal message. But she also is willing to accept the gift of a stag's head offered to her by


the identically clad figure kneeling on her left. This spectacular tribute probably alludes to the climactic stage in the medieval hunt ceremony: the presentation of the stag's head to the highest-ranking person.[16] In contrast to the nunlike garments of Liberalité, her mundane male companions wear fashionable costume: short, close-fitting tunics with hoods, low belts, hose, and long, pointed shoes.

The vice of excess in expenditures, on the upper left, is called Prodigalité or Fole Largesce. Like Fortitude, Prodigalité is a male personification. His sphere of operation is visually described as masculine: acquiring money and spending it on hunting. Prodigalité's weaknesses are characterized as "donner sanz raison" (giving without reason) and "despendre oultre mise" (spending without measure). The vice is surrounded by three figures. On the far left, a figure sounds a horn. Next to him, another man seems to take away Prodigalité's cloak. On the other side, a third figure presents Prodigalité with two small hinds. The latter figure, along with the man with the horn—who probably sounds a call to join in the sport—suggests a further allusion to hunting and an example of "spending without reason." The gift of the two small animals contrasts with the large stag's head offered to Liberalité. The first is an inappropriate gift typical of Prodigalité, who "exceeds in giving and not taking, and falls short in taking."[17] Indeed, Oresme is so concerned with the failings of this vice that he includes prodigalité and prodige in the glossary of difficult words.[18] The visual references to hunting in the scenes of Prodigalité and Liberalité are consistent with a medieval tradition of opposing the sport as a wasteful pursuit.[19]

The third scene of the upper register represents Avarice, the vice of deficiency opposed to Prodigalité. To be more precise, Avarice is one of two vices that Oresme terms Illiberalité, or lack of generosity.[20] Oresme explains in a gloss that Illiberalité is a word rarely used in French or Latin; for this reason he probably decided to avoid it in the visual definitions of Figure 21.[21] Instead, he uses two more familiar terms, Avarice and Convoitise. The former is defined and depicted above; the latter, below. Avarice represents a more serious defect than Prodigalité, which can be remedied by age, experience, and lack of funds. Avarice's faults consist of taking too much ("prendre oultre raison") and giving too little ("retenir oultre raison"). Personified as a female figure, she stands behind a table on which rest three piles of gold coins. Her gesture of grasping in her right hand the coins received from a kneeling man exemplifies her first fault, while her upraised left palm indicates that she rejects the request of the boy on her right to part with her holdings. His plight is also conveyed by the pleading gestures of his hands.

Like Insensibilité, her counterpart in Book III (Fig. 16), Avarice wears a widow's headdress. Here it is germane to recall Oresme's remark in a gloss that women are generally stingier than men and the aged are more so than the young.[22] Avarice's head covering also sports a horn even more clearly than that of Insensibilité. As noted above, in the Middle Ages Jews were engaged in usury.[23] Moreover, in western Europe Jewish women took part in financial transactions. Since the text cites usurers among people in "operacions illiberales" (occupations incompatible with generosity), the association of Avarice with the Jews is a natural one.[24] The extratextual visual allusion shows not only the extent of anti-Semitic attitudes and


psychological stereotypes but also techniques of providing visual cues that update and enliven familiar concepts.

The other aspect of Illiberalité is represented as a male in the lower register of Figure 21. Convoitise (Covetousness) is almost a twin of Prodigalité, below whom he stands. The inscription on both sides of Convoitise describes one aspect of his character: taking beyond what is reasonable ("prendre oultre raison"). Like Avarice, his grasping quality is indicated by his hands, which stretch out to grasp the coins offered by two elegantly clad men. An even longer inscription, somewhat confusingly placed between the figures and the table, defines another side of his failings: giving and spending without reason and for a bad purpose ("donner et despendre sanz raison et a mauvais fin"). The richly laden table on the right probably refers to a wasteful form of expenditure, the counterpart of the greed depicted on the left. The love of bodily pleasures, or "délectacions corporelles," exemplified by the food heaped on the table recalls the vice of Désattrempance in Figure 16. It is not surprising, then, that the self-indulgence of Convoitise is linked with extravagant expenditure in both Aristotle's text and Oresme's translation.[25] Oresme's choice of Convoitise as the sole subject of the lower register of Figure 21 leads to various difficulties in interpreting the illustration. It is not easy to connect the three scenes of the upper register with the single scene on the left and the table on the right of the lower. While it is possible that the empty center alludes to the absence of virtue in Convoitise, there is no verbal or visual reinforcement of such a notion. It is true, however, that the placement of Convoitise on the left, his frontal position, and his contemporary dress align him morally and visually with Prodigalité. Indeed, the similar appearance of the two personifications may allude to the presence of these qualities in one person. Yet the absence of a second figure on the right and the separation from Convoitise of the inscription are confusing. The relation between Avarice and Convoitise as parts of a single vice does not come across either. The departure from the triadic scheme in the lower register thus leads to puzzling gaps in the illustration. Neither Figure 20 nor 21 is among the most exciting images in their cycles. If the first seems cryptic and somewhat conventional, the second errs on the side of discursiveness. In the parlance of the Ethics , one attempts "too little," the other, "too much." Charles V's negative reaction to Figure 20 may have inspired Oresme to expand the subject guides in Figure 21 and to abandon alternative schemes of visual order that so effectively link text and image. Perhaps Oresme intended to rely on these lengthy inscriptions as talking points for an oral explication regarding norms of expenditure: this was a subject he deemed particularly relevant to the appropriate conduct of his primary audience.


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8— Generosity, Magnanimity, Profligacy, and Avarice (Book IV)
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