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13— Moral Obligations of Friendship (Book IX)
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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.

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