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13— Moral Obligations of Friendship (Book IX)
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Moral Obligations of Friendship (Book IX)

Problematic Relationships between Friends

The illustration for Book IX in A (Figs. 40 and 40a) shows various physical similarities to the preceding miniature of this manuscript (Fig. 37). The images share the distinctive rose and blue colors that may signal the continuity of subject matter between the two books. But Figure 40 is not only smaller than Figure 37 but also is below average in its vertical dimension.[1] The reduced size of Figure 40 may indicate its secondary status in comparison to the considerably larger Figure 37, which introduces the subject of Friendship.

The program for Figure 40 is also reduced, with only two of the three figures from Figure 37. Perhaps in response to criticism about the unidentified males in Figure 37, each is labeled "Amy" (friend). Identical in size, facial type, and costume, the friends stand in three-quarter poses facing one another. The figures are symmetrically placed within the picture field, and their bodies occupy the same number of squares of the geometric background pattern. Most unusually, the center of the composition is empty, save for a large gold ring held by the man on the right. With outstretched hand, he offers it to his companion, who reaches out to accept or call attention to this prominent object.

This pared-down personification allegory seems even more cryptic than that of Figure 37. As mentioned above, the personification of Amistié in the illustration for Book VIII may have led to ambiguities about her relationship to the two males. In contrast, the two companions of Figure 40 leave no doubt that Friendship is a relationship reserved for men. Yet the gesture of Amistié in Figure 37 conveys the notion of the unifying spirit characteristic of Friendship, while the heart held by the two men expresses the idea of one soul in two bodies. In Figure 40, however, the relationship of the Amis is difficult to define both visually and textually. Of course (as in Fig. 37), the twinlike appearance of the two Amis repeats the notion that "a friend is another self."[2]

Indeed, several interpretations of Figure 40 are possible. This first alternative draws on the costumes and the ring as clues. The fashionable dress of the Amis differs from the modest attire worn in Figure 37 by the friends who are associated with the noblest, spiritual type of Friendship. Together with the ring, the worldly dress of the Amis in Figure 40 may signify the less worthy types of Friendship, those for profit or pleasure. In Chapter 1, directly above the miniature, the rubrics


Figure 40
Two Friends. Les éthiques d'Aristote,  MS  A.


Figure 40A
Detail of Fig. 40

read: "Ou premier chapitre il monstre par quoy et comment amistié puet estre gardee" (In the first chapter he shows by what means and in what manner friendship may be preserved).[3] The text column directly next to the illustration contains Oresme's discussion of Aristotle's explanation that problems result when one friend seeks pleasure and the other, profit.[4] In other words, each likes the friend not for himself, but for what he can get out of him. In this type of temporary and disingenuous Friendship, the gold ring may symbolize the material gain sought by each party. More positively, Figure 40 may stand for a principal theme of Book IX: the various obligations of friends. Thus, the giving of the ring may signify a generous act, or one of the four actions of Friendship, called beneficence, discussed in Chapters 5 and 9 of Oresme's translation.[5] In the ninth chapter Oresme takes up Aristotle's theme of the different attitudes to one another of the benefactor and the recipient. Such an interpretation of Figure 40 is difficult to define verbally because of the weak links among the parts of the miniature and the meager inscriptions.

Using a popular saying to explain the identity of the two Amis suggests another avenue for interpreting the image. The starting point is Aristotle's quotation of proverbs about Friendship, found in Chapter 10 of Oresme's translation.[6] The Philosopher considers whether a man should love himself more than another and


Figure 41
A Ransom Dilemma, top : Father or Son; center : Father or Friend; bottom : Friend
or Son. Les éthiques d'Aristote,  MS  C.


Figure 41A
Detail of Fig. 41

regard himself as his own best friend. The twinship of the Amis may be a witty allusion to the theme of self-love. But in Figure 40 a more obvious relationship of the identical friends to the proverbs is also possible. The sameness of the Amis can reflect the sayings, quoted in this passage, that friends have one soul and that Friendship is equality. The ring bears out the proverb that friends hold everything in common. If the modern English translation of the last proverb in Chapter 10 is read as "Charity begins at home," another reference to the ring is also possible: identity of the friends equates the offer of the ring with a gift to one's self.[7] Although the textual source of the proverbs explains many visual aspects of Figure 40, again the cryptic verbal links of the inscriptions in this image make a single interpretation arbitrary. Perhaps Oresme relied on his readers to furnish the appropriate proverb or interpretation.

The Decision Allegory of MS C

Possible dissatisfaction with the obscure personification allegory of Book IX in A (Fig. 40) accounts for Oresme's revision in C of the program of the illustration. Yet the physical characteristics of Figure 41 (Fig. 41a, Pl. 5), the miniature that


introduces Book IX in C , indicates that the illustration may represent a second version or a last-minute addition to the manuscript. First of all, the folio that contains the miniature was added to the existing quaternion.[8] Second, Figure 41 does not follow the usual image-to-text relationship in C , as it comes before the chapter headings. Moreover, the scale and format of Figure 41 are unique in the cycle. The miniature is the largest and the only one divided into three registers. Even the decorative system is different. Two elaborate, foliate initials head the two columns of text written below the miniature, while the three rinceaux on the left margin consist of an unusual two-leaved spray issuing directly from the outer frame. With their expressive gestures and more normal proportions, the crisply outlined figures suggest that a different member of the workshop executed the miniature.[9]

Study of the textual sources of the illustration reveal the reasons for the prominence of Figure 41. The chapter headings of the second column below the miniature establish links with crucial locations in Book IX. The dragon-headed initial O draws the reader's attention to this title: "Ou secont chapitre Aristote determine aucunes questions a savoir mon comment l'en est plus ou moins tenu a diverses personnes" (In the second chapter Aristotle examines certain questions, to wit, how one may be more or less bound to various people). A smaller initial introduces a sentence that completes the column: "Ou tiers il determine comment l'en doit rendre differentes choses a diverses personnes" (In the third chapter he examines how one may render various things to different people).[10] In short, the reader will find in Oresme's translation that Chapters 2 and 3 of Book IX contain Aristotle's discussion of an individual's varying obligations to different kinds of friends. Of specific relevance to Figure 41 are the text passages and Oresme's glosses in Chapter 2 on difficult choices that arise in times of crisis. The particular situation involves a timely problem of ransom demands, specifically the question of who should be rescued, if only one of two people can be saved. For example, if a man is ransomed from the hands of robbers, should he "ransom his ransomer in return, whoever he may be (or pay him, if he has not been captured but demands payment) or should he ransom his father? It would seem that he should ransom his father in preference even to himself."[11] In a gloss on this passage, Oresme explains the various points at stake. Among them is the claim that a son owes more to the father who gave him life than he does to himself. The translator acknowledges that certain commentators bring out the superior claims of the ransomer of the individual who faces such a difficult moral decision. At this point, Oresme opts for the father's claim on the grounds that nature, which has the force of a divine ordinance, dictates such a choice.[12] Chapter 3 of Oresme's translation continues Aristotle's discussion of a person's moral obligations to different types of friends, family members, and benefactors.[13] Oresme stresses, however, that judgment among conflicting loyalties is complex, if the friends are not the same type and the circumstances difficult. In Gloss 3 of Chapter 8 Oresme holds forth on moral dilemmas. Then there follows a separate Question that sums up Oresme's views on the problem.[14] In Gloss 8, Oresme discusses Aristotle's argument that decisions about conflicting obligations are not hard to make, if they involve two people


such as a father and son, who share the same type of relationship, called amistié de lignage (relationship among family members). Oresme points out that several commentators have not dealt with the tough choice a person has to make between saving the life of his father or his son.[15] To make the question more vivid, Oresme gives as an example a ransom situation:

Posé que un homme ait son pere et son filz bonnes gens, et sont pris en la main deleurs adversaires lesquelz octroient a cest homme que pour certain chose il li rendront seulement ou son pere ou son filz, l'un des deux, et l'autre tantost il mectront a mort, a savoir mon lequel il doit eslire.

(Take, for example, a man whose father and his son, both upright men, have fallen into the hands of their enemies, who for a consideration, agree to give him back either his father or his son, but not both, and the other they will put to death. Which of the two is he to choose?)[16]

In Gloss 8, Oresme runs through a gamut of arguments regarding the dilemma. He first comes down on the side of the individual who prefers to save his father's life rather than his son's. Then he raises the important point that a man loves his son more than his father. Nevertheless, the man must deliver his father, who is his benefactor. Oresme concludes the gloss by stating that the man's obligation to his father rests on legal grounds, whereas his son's claim is moral, based on Amistié. In this case, Justice has a preferred standing.[17]

In the lengthy Question following this gloss, Oresme continues his analysis of moral choices and takes up once again the case of a man required to deliver from his enemies one of two parties. Here the choice lies between his father on the one hand and on the other, his "amy tres vertueus" (his most virtuous friend).[18] The translator summarizes the superior standing of amistié de lignage (a relationship among family members exemplified by the father) but restates Aristotle's position that the individual concerned must weigh many factors. One problem is that amistié vertueuse (friendship between virtuous people) and amistié de lignage are different types of relationships that do not permit a proper comparison. Sometimes a person owes more to a friend than to a family member.[19]

This lengthy summary of Oresme's gloss and Question in Chapter 3 identifies the textual sources and contexts of Figures 41 and 41a. The three-register format permits a visual structure that depicts the moral choices to be made in the ransom situation. Each level represents a decision between two different and deserving parties. Study of the miniature reveals how ordering of the separate units offers a close visual analogue of Oresme's verbal arguments. In more than one way, the reader must decipher the visual puzzle offered in the illustration and decide the question on its merits.

A strategic device in ordering the illustration is the repetition on all three levels of the constant and variable figures who exemplify the moral dilemma. The center of all three zones is occupied by the man who must make a choice. In his right


hand he holds a purse containing the ransom. Standing in a full-length, three-quarter pose, he faces or glances at the party on the right of the composition. His upheld left hand conveys a gesture of deliberation or hesitation. The central figure does, however, vary in age and costume. On the top zone, he appears to be an older man and wears fashionable dress. On the two lower levels each protagonist wears a long mantle and seems to be mature. Standard, too, are the executioner figures placed at the left and right of each compartment. Although they vary in age and dress, these six figures hold an axe in one hand and stretch out the other to receive the ransom. On each level, next to their captors, there kneel before the blocks the two prisoners who gesture entreatingly. Adding to the image's complexity is the reader's problem in identifying these figures and their relationship to the man in the middle. The only verbal clues are the inscriptions, which represent words uttered by the captives. By comparing them, it is possible to deduce the choice called for between the two types of Amistié on each level. Once again, position in the center symbolizes both moral power and the ability to choose.

The situation in the top zone is perhaps the most comprehensible. The central figure must decide between an older figure on the left who says "merci filz" (thank you, son) and a younger one on the right whose inscription reads "merci père" (thank you, father). The decision is the one Oresme sets forth in Gloss 8 of Chapter 3: the man with the ransom must save either his father or his son. Although the predicament is clear, the resolution is not so obvious. Two elements suggest, however, that the decision advocated in the text is followed. First of all, the ransomer holds the money bag in the direction of his father and that man's executioner. Furthermore, he is physically closer to the left side, and the movement of his bent left leg indicates that he leans toward them.[20]

More puzzling are the actors and predicament depicted in the middle zone. On the left, an aged male figure in a pleading posture says, "merci filz." Both words and gesture identify this man as the father. But what is the identity of the bearded figure on the right who says the words "merci je te delivre" (thanks, I'm saving you)? Perhaps he represents the claim of the amy vertueus who, in some situations, possesses qualifications for salvation as strong as an amy de lignage .[21] Or does this figure represent the person who ransomed the man in the middle from robbers? In the text and a gloss of Chapter 2 Oresme elaborates on the choice between a father and a ransomer.[22] In this instance, it is more difficult to judge the outcome. Although the man in the middle stands closer to the friend and glances sympathetically at him, he once more extends the money bag toward his father.

Most problematic is the choice depicted in the lower register. Here the prisoner on the left varies slightly the message of the man on the right in the middle zone: "merci je te delivray" (thanks, I saved you). The figure on the right who says "merci père" is the double of the young man on the top zone. The man in the middle appears to choose between his son on the one hand and on the other, his ransomer or amy vertueus . This dilemma typifies the difficult decision mentioned by Oresme when the choice involves two different types of Friendship. Again the result is not easy to interpret. The central figure holds the purse firmly in his


outstretched right hand toward the man on the left. At the same time, he stands closer to his son. Perhaps the lack of resolution of the dilemma relates to Oresme's method in posing the question to the reader. As a whole, the illustration reflects Aristotle's view that when conflicting obligations make a decision difficult, an individual must use his best judgment.[23]

A Meaningful Redefinition of the Decision Allegory

Several features of Figure 41 follow the larger pattern of revision in the program of C , including a change in the representational mode adopted in the analogous miniatures of A (Figs. 37 and 40). A precedent also exists for the decision allegory in the illustrations for Book VII (Figs. 35 and 36). Despite these precedents, Figure 41 is unique not only in its size and three-register format but also in the development of its theme. For the treatment of the content offers a decision allegory of a different type from that of Figures 35 and 36. In Figure 41 the scenes depicted do not involve a choice between personifications of competing abstract forces but a moral quandary based on conflicting social obligations. The father, son, and ransomer or friend of the man in the middle exemplify certain relationships or types of Friendship, while the moral dilemma centers on a particular situation of dramatic human crisis. If the ransom dilemma is timeless and applicable to many different conditions, it is more specific and concrete than the generalized moral conflict between Raison and Concupiscence treated in Figures 35 and 36. Another somewhat startling aspect of Figure 41 relates to its visual translation of Oresme's Question following Gloss 8 of Chapter 3. The textual source of this figure underscores not only the translator's role in inventing the program but also an increased intervention that resulted in changes affecting the physical structure of the manuscript. The addition of Figure 41 to the existing quaternion reflects the importance attached to the illustration by Oresme as a visual analogue of his personal views expressed in the Question. Figure 41 seeks to replicate in summary form the method of the Quaestio , a tool of scholarly discussion and open debates at the University of Paris called the Quodlibeta .[24] In his writings on miracles and marvels of nature, Oresme uses the Quaestio format to organize the structure of his inquiry.[25]

The transfer of the Quaestio to Oresme's translation of the Ethics follows naturally from the commentary tradition and the methods of scholastic philosophy. Harder to grasp is the transfer of this mode of argument to court circles. Yet, as mentioned above, Christine de Pizan writes that Charles V enjoyed intellectual disputation with the clerics in his entourage.[26] Moreover, as was noted in Chapter 4, the prologue of the Songe du vergier states that the king took pleasure in having selections from the Ethics read to him. It is possible that Charles V heard Oresme discuss the ransom question in one or the other of these situations and requested a visual aide-mémoire and summary of the translator's views. Perhaps the king's interest was stimulated after the execution of an earlier illustration for Book IX in MS C . Or, at the last minute, Oresme may simply have decided to change the


format of Figure 41. In any case, Figure 41 represents a full visual expression of Oresme's own mode of thought that alters the physical structure of the manuscript.

The patron's enthusiasm for the ransom question may first have arisen from the timeless human interest in the moral dilemma of an agonizing choice between competing loyalties. After the French defeat in 1356 by the English at the battle of Poitiers, Charles had the experience of securing the release from prison of his own father, King John the Good. As regent, Charles had to negotiate the payment of a hefty ransom, which necessitated the imposition of heavy taxation.[27] The continuing demands of raising funds for the ransom presented lasting problems for Charles V's administration. Monies were also required for dealing with brigands, former soldiers who ravaged France after the signing in 1360 of the treaty of Brétigny. Thus, for Charles V the decisions examined in Figure 41 about ransom, robbers or brigands, and obligations to one's father had both personal and political relevance. Oresme's association with his patron during and after the initial crisis of John the Good's imprisonment may have alerted him to Charles's particular interest in the ransom theme. The exceptional characteristics of Figure 41 may well reflect the high degree of interaction between Oresme and Charles V based on shared historical experience and intellectual understanding. Expressive of the translator's ingenious turn of mind, the riddle or puzzle aspect of Figure 41 would also have appealed to the king as a tribute to his mental acuity. Together with the extratextual inscriptions the illustration could certainly have furnished talking points and another occasion for the translator's explication of and dialogue with his patron regarding subtle moral issues.


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