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18— Threats to the Body Politic (Book III)
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Threats to the Body Politic (Book III)

Metaphorical and Formal Relationships

The illustrations of Book III are the first in a series of three that deal with the metaphor of the body politic. While Oresme may have chosen the subject of the miniatures for Book III because of practical considerations, his selection of the theme is highly significant for several reasons. Most obviously, Oresme thought that Aristotle's discussion of threats to, or maintenance of, the health of the body politic was a subject of the greatest interest to his primary readers. Second, in interpreting Aristotle's ideas both textually and visually, Oresme had the means to put forth his own counsel on these subjects. Of course, as translator he was bound to present these ideas in representational modes grounded in the text. Indeed, the variety of modes evident in the series reflects both the illustrations' overt lexical and other more allusive, deceptively nonverbal metaphorical functions.

In format and layout the illustrations for Book III of the Politiques in B and D (Figs. 60 and 61) are very similar. Occupying two thirds of the text block, both miniatures adopt two-register formats and appear at the head of the text above the summary paragraph and the beginning of the chapter headings for the book.[1] The decoration of Figure 60 is, however, more elaborate than that of Figure 61. The bas-de-page of the first repeats the bird and arms of Charles V familiar from Book II in B (Figs. 55 and 56). In addition, a graceful crane occupies the outermost ivy-leaf spray on the lower right margin. The elegant, mannered style of the Master of the Coronation of Charles VI is again recognizable in Figure 60, while the drier, blockier forms of a member of the workshop of the Master of the Coronation Book of Charles V are evident in Figure 61 (Pl. 9).

Yet in two respects the illustrations for Book III of Charles V's copies of the Politiques are highly unusual. First of all, the two-register format is organized in a distinctive manner. Although set within individual quadrilobe frames, the upper two panels are designed to be read as a single unit. Second, for the only time within the cycle, the illustrations carry no inscriptions of any kind. Indeed, in B even the running title for the book is lacking. Although this error was corrected in D , and various changes were made within the individual scenes, inscriptions are not included. Since the illustrations of Books VI and VII in D (Figs. 71 and 75) add inscriptions lacking in B , it is fair to assume that the elimination of this feature in Figures 60 and 61 was deliberate. Oresme's motives in adopting such a strategy require some discussion.


Figure 60
Above : A King Banishes a Subject;  below, from left : A Peasant Cuts off the Tallest Ears
of Grain, A Painter Erases an Error. Les politiques d'Aristote,  MS  B.


Figure 61
Above : A King Banishes a Subject;  below, from left : A King Cuts off the Tallest Ears of
Grain in the Presence of a Messenger A Painter Erases an Error. Les politiques
d'Aristote, MS  D.


The Relationship between Text and Image

One problem that faced Oresme in designing the program of illustration for Book III is that the first two main topics discussed in Chapters 1 through 12 are citizenship and the six forms of government. The organization of the overlapping subject matter of the Politics may have prompted Oresme to choose the crucial subjects discussed in the first part of Book III as the three-register frontispiece of Book I. Citizenship is the topic of the illustrations of Book VII (Figs. 74 and 75). Therefore, Oresme had to select a topic that appears in the last third of Book III. Without clues to sequence and a linking inscription, Oresme's readers would have found it difficult to decipher the relation of the image to the text.

The first indication of a connection between the meaning of the miniature and a text passage occurs in the heading for Chapter 18: "Ou .xviii.e chapitre il monstre comme l'en met hors des cités ceulz qui ont superhabundance de puissance oultre les autres" (In the eighteenth chapter he shows how they turn out of cities those whose power too greatly exceeds that of others).[2] The title for the following chapter continues the discussion: "Ou .xix.e chapitre il monstre comment ceulz qui excedent ou superhabundent en puissance politique sunt mis hors des cités justement ou injustement" (In the nineteenth chapter he shows how those who have an excess or superabundance of political power are turned out of cities justly or unjustly).[3] To narrow the search for a key word that can link text and image, the reader searches further in Chapter 18. There, the noun relégation provides a vital lexical clue to the identification of the theme of the miniature. Not surprisingly, the translator provides a verbal definition of the term: "Et relégation, ce est assavoir bouter hors les gens excellens et les chacier de la cité ou du païs, a ceste meisme puissance ou cest effect" (Banishment is, to wit, to kick out people who excel and to drive them out of the city or country, with the same power or with this effect).[4] A synonym for ostracism or political exile, relégation figures in briefer form in Oresme's glossary of difficult words: "Relégation est prins en cest livre largement pour toutes manieres de exil ou de bannissement" (Relégation is taken in this book in a broad sense [to mean] all manners of exile or banishment).[5] In Chapter 19 Oresme uses the word extensively to discuss the efficacy and dangers of such a policy.[6]

Thus, the first challenge to Oresme's readers is to supply a key element of his method as a translator: the essential definition of a generic term. For a modern reader, even so distinguished a one as Léopold Delisle, the word-image relationship proved too difficult.[7] In Figure 60, not only the lack of an inscription but also the mannered figure style of the miniaturist may have hindered Delisle's train of association. Indeed, the first identification of the illustration of Book III with the concept of ostracism occurs in an article on a manuscript of the Politiques executed in 1396–97 for Charles V's son, Louis of Orléans (Fig. 62).[8] Here the isolation of the leftmost figure of the upper right quadrilobe may have offered the vital clue to association with ostracism or exile.


Figure 62
Above : A King Banishes a Subject;  below, from left : A King Cuts off the Tallest
Ears of Grain in the Presence of a Messenger, The Confrontation of a Nude and a
Clothed Figure. Les politiques d'Aristote,  Paris, Bibl. Nat.

Perhaps at this point a description of the upper two quadrilobes of Figures 60 and 61 is in order. A king, accompanied by a richly clad, gesticulating figure, extends a baton or rod bridging the gap between the upper left and right quadrilobes. In Figure 60 the baton just touches the right hip of the fashionably dressed figure standing with crossed legs at the left of the second scene.[9] The quadrilobes interrupt the length of the baton and make the gesture more difficult to read. A small, but significant, void, emphasized by the tree-like pattern in the background,


separates him from the other three men standing together to form a group. As a sign of wealth or status, the elegant feather in the hat of this figure distinguishes him from his companions. Although this telling detail is omitted from Figure 61, the comparable person in this miniature stands next to the left frame of the quadrilobe, where the king's baton touches his chest more decisively.

In the lower register, more significant changes between Figures 60 and 61 take place. On the lower left of Figure 60 a single male figure, who wears a peasant's short jacket and hose, fingers the tall ears of a stalk of grain. In the same place in Figure 61, a king accompanied by a figure carrying a spear performs the same action. This scene depicts Aristotle's account of the advice given by the tyrant Periander of Corinth to another tyrant, Thrasybulus, on how to deal with the threat to his rule posed by citizens who had become too prominent and powerful. Since Oresme's version of the story is broken up by glosses, the comparable passage from Barker's translation of the Politics is easier to follow:

Thrasybulus, according to the tale that is told, sent an envoy to ask for advice. Periander gave no verbal answer; he simply switched off the outstanding ears, in the corn-field where he was standing, until he had levelled the surface. The envoy did not understand the meaning of his action, and merely reported the incident; but Thrasybulus guessed that he had been advised to cut off the outstanding men in the state.[10]

This passage makes possible an interpretation of the actions that take place in Figures 60 and 61. On the top register a king (possibly Thrasybulus) singles out a leading citizen for banishment or exile. Whereas Aristotle states that the offending personages will be killed, Oresme's gloss states that the passage must be interpreted in the sense of banishment.[11] On the lower left, the ears of grain are being pulled off. Instead of the solitary peasant of Figure 60, in Figure 61 a king, accompanied by the envoy, performs the action. This substitution incorporates the notion of the uncomprehending envoy as witness and reporter of the silent advice enacted by Periander.

The lower right quadrilobe also shows significant changes between Figures 60 and 61. Common to both, however, is the representation on the left of a man washing off with a sponge and bowl the arm of the figure on the right. But in Figure 61 the latter is nude and stands out against a large, dark panel set behind him. These alterations make it easier to decipher the possible meaning of the scene, which is derived from a passage in Chapter 19. Following the discussion of how regimes deal with citizens who have amassed too much power, Aristotle declares that in order to assure the well-being of the state the relationship between classes or groups must stand in right proportion to one another.[12] Aristotle here draws the analogy to a painter, who, in creating a form, cannot represent one part, such as a limb, as too large without destroying the harmony of all the parts. In other words, the lower right quadrilobe depicts a painter or an artist correcting his mistake of making the right arm of the accompanying figure too long. This


notion is clearer in Figure 61 than in Figure 60. The substitution of a nude for a clothed form more readily promotes the association with a work of art rather than with a living human being in contemporary costume. Such a relationship is encouraged further in Figure 61 by the contrasting dark panel behind the nude. Together, nude and panel suggest that the painter is erasing or washing his error off a painted form. Although the nonnaturalistic features of the scene's style and setting somewhat obscure this interpretation, an English translation of the text supports such a reading: "This rule of proportion may also be observed in the arts and sciences generally. A painter would not permit a foot which exceeded the bounds of symmetry, however beautiful it might be, to appear in a figure on his canvas."[13] Oresme's version makes the same point, although instead of a man he uses the example of an animal:

T. Et la raison appert par ce que l'en fait es autres ars et sciences; car un peinteur ne lesse pas ou ne seuffre pas quant il fait en peinture une beste que elle eust un pié qui excedast et passast la commensuration et proportion qu'il doit avoir en quantité ne aussi ne seuffre il pas que en beauté il soit trop different des autres membres. (T. And the reason is evident from what is done in the other arts and sciences; for a painter, when he paints an animal, does not allow or permit one paw to exceed and surpass the measurement and proportion that it should have in size, nor does he permit it to be too different in beauty from the other members.)

G. Car se il passoit mesure ne en quantité ne en beauté, tout l'ymage en seroit plus lait. (G. For if it were disproportionately large in size or in beauty, the whole picture would be uglier as a result.)[14]

In the fourth chapter of Book V Oresme returns to the theme that no one party or group in the state should acquire too much power. Here the context relates to the undermining and changes of regimes caused by undue concentration of power: a reflection of a lack of proportion among the parts of the body politic:

T. Item, transmutations de policies sunt faites pour excrescence, qui est pour proportion. (T. Item, transmutations of forms of government come about through abnormal growth for the sake of achieving proportion.)

G. Ce est a dire pource que aucune partie de la policie est creue et faite grande oultre proportion deue. (G. That is to say, because any part of the government has been increased and enlarged beyond due proportion.)

T. Car aussi comme un corps est composé de ses parties et convient qu'elles cressent et soient faites grandes proportionelment afin que la commensuration et la mesure des unes parties ou resgards des autres demeure et soit gardee. (T. For just as a body is composed of its parts and it is proper that they grow and increase proportionally so that the size and proportion of the parts in regard to one another are fixed and may be preserved.)

G. Et ceste proportion doivent savoir ceulz qui funt les ymages. (G. And those who make pictures must know [this system of] proportion.)[15]


This passage thus reinforces the general interpretation of the fourth panel of the quadrilobe as an artist's correction of an error in making the arm of a figure disproportionately long. More specifically, the analogy in the text emphasizes the obligations of image makers to construct the parts of the body according to a consistent canon of proportion.

The Analogy of the Body Politic

This aesthetic canon rests on a basic metaphor of Western political thought: the analogy of the body politic. First developed by Plato in the Republic and the Laws , it is restated by Aristotle at the beginning of the Politics : "The polis is prior in the order of nature to the family and the individual. The reason for this is that the whole is necessarily prior [in nature] to the part. If the whole body be destroyed, there will not be a foot or a hand."[16] Substantially expanded by John of Salisbury in the Policraticus to create specific equivalents among parts of the body and parts of the state, the analogy of the body politic figures in Oresme's glosses and commentaries on Chapter 9 of Book II, Chapter 4 of Book V, and Chapter 10 of Book VII of the Politiques .[17] Oresme also includes a reference to the analogy in the index of noteworthy subjects of the Politiques under the heading Moiens en richeces : "Item, encor appert par une bele consideration qui compare la policie et ses parties a un corps et a ses membres" (Item, it again appears [through] a beautiful metaphor that compares the form of government and its parts to a body and its members).[18]

A rare visualization of the body-politic metaphor occurs in the Morgan Avis au roys (Fig. 63). Adapted from the iconography of the zodiacal man, a nude, well-proportioned, crowned, and bearded male figure represents the physical embodiment of the political body. Inscriptions identify parts of the human body with functions and offices of certain social classes and institutions of government. The resulting hierarchy of political and social values corresponds to the traditional evaluations of the organs of the human body in ancient and medieval anatomical and philosophical texts. For example, occupying the representational and metaphorical top of the hierarchy of the body politic is the king who is its head. As the most distinctive part of the human anatomy, in which the soul, reason, intelligence, and sensations reside, the head is the ruling principle to which all other parts of the human body and the body politic are subject. Next, associated with the vital human faculties of vision and hearing, the seneschals, bailiffs, and provosts and other judges are compared to the eyes and ears of the body politic. The counsellors and wise men are linked to the essential function of the heart. As defenders of the commonwealth, the knights are identified with the hands. Because of their constant voyages around the world, the merchants are associated with the legs. Finally, laborers, who work close to the earth and support the body, are its feet.

Oresme's interpretation of the analogy emphasizes the economic context of undue concentration of power in a few hands as a threat to the welfare of the


Figure 63
 The Body Politic. Avis au roys.

body politic. As noted earlier, Oresme had sounded this theme in his influential treatise of about 1356, De moneta .[19] Because of his reference to the Politics , Oresme's treatment of the analogy is worth citing:

The state or kingdom, then, is like a human body and so Aristotle will have it in Book V of the Politics . As, therefore, the body is disordered when the humours flow too freely into one member of it, so that member is often thus inflamed and overgrown while the others are withered and shrunken and the body's due proportions are destroyed and its life shortened; so also is a commonwealth or a kingdom when riches are unduly attracted by it.[20]

Interwoven with the body-politic analogy is Aristotle's concern with proportional relationships in aesthetics, ethics, and politics. Oresme's translations of the Ethics and the Politics reflect these important concepts. In addition, from a mathematical point of view, about 1350 he wrote a treatise on proportion, the De proportionibus proportionum .[21] A visual reference to Oresme's numerical use of proportional relationships occurs in the illustration of Justice distributive in Book V of A (Fig. 24). The program of the illustrations for Book IV of the Politiques will explore further the connections between political stability, the undue concentration of wealth in the hands of a few, and the analogy of the body politic.


The Periander/Tarquin Tale

While the lower right quadrilobe of Figures 60 and 61 ties together diverse strands of Oresme's writings, the question remains whether without inscriptions the references in the first three quadrilobes to Periander's advice were intelligible to contemporary readers. Appearing in Herodotus, as well as in Aristotle, the story was certainly well known in antiquity.[22] Periander was one of the Seven Sages, whose wise sayings or deeds were collected in both Greek and Latin sources.[23] The Greek form of the tale is also included in a classical source of the third century A.D.: Diogenes Laertius's Lives of Eminent Philosophers .[24] A Latin version of the story contained in the first book of Livy's History of Rome concerns the advice Tarquinius Superbus gave to his son Sextus in regard to the Gabii. While striking the heads of poppies (instead of the ears of grain) in the presence of messengers, Tarquinius's advice was understood by his son to mean "that he rid himself of the chief men of the state."[25] Livy's account of the Periander/Tarquin tale exists also in the Factorum et dictorum memorabilium of Valerius Maximus.[26]

In the Middle Ages the Latin version of the Periander/Tarquin tale survived through various channels. For instance, the writings of Valerius Maximus provide ample material for exempla used in popular forms of medieval literature such as sermons, commentaries on the Bible, and other sacred texts. Indeed, as Beryl Smalley points out, the original text of the Factorum et dictorum memorabilium itself was a collection of exempla "avant la lettre."[27] Moreover, it was a common practice to introduce quotations from diverse classical sources, including Livy's History of Rome , into Psalter commentaries and other types of exegetical and didactic literature.[28] Also used in sermons and other books of moral instruction were citations from Aristotle's Ethics, Politics , and Economics . It is, therefore, likely that the Periander/Tarquin story was well known from popular medieval literature.

The king and his counsellors also had at hand vernacular versions of the accounts by Livy and Valerius Maximus. As discussed in Chapters 1 and 3 above, Pierre Bersuire's French translation of the first, third, and fourth Decades of Livy executed for John the Good between 1354 and 1356 survives in a lavishly decorated manuscript commissioned by Charles V.[29] Since the Tarquinius story occurs in Book I of Livy, it was included in Bersuire's translation. Furthermore, the original copy of Simon de Hesdin's translation of the first four books of Valerius Maximus commissioned by Charles V still survives.[30] In short, Oresme could have assumed his reader's familiarity with the Periander/Tarquin tale through popular, classical, or vernacular sources.

The Visual Structures

Investigation of both the internal and textual sources of Figures 60 and 61 shows that Oresme's initial challenge to the reader of identifying the precise content of the upper register may not have been too difficult. A second exercise, supplying a


definition of the missing word, relégation , might possibly have presented a greater obstacle. Yet recognition of the ostracism/exile theme might also have sparked comprehension of the climactic message of the lower left quadrilobe, to cut down men of the state who had become too powerful. More problematic is the reader's understanding of the meaning of the lower right quadrilobe both in itself and in relation to the preceding scenes.

Does the visual structure of the illustrations help the reader to interpret the ensemble? The four-scene format certainly requires that the tale be compressed. The treatment of the upper register as a single unit, tied together by the king's baton, combines the request for advice with the action of ostracizing a powerful person. In verbal terms the act parallels a definition of the word relégation . Justifying the action taken, the lower left quadrilobe is the equivalent of a maxim or proverb summarizing a message such as "Off with their heads." The scene on the lower right constitutes a concluding moralizing judgment or warning about the preceding episodes. A possible moral might be: "Rectify disproportionate power relationships in the body politic." In structuring the illustration Oresme could have applied certain techniques used in his translations: definition, compression, comparison, and exemplification.[31] In Chapter 18, Oresme refers to the Periander/Tarquin tale as "en parabole." Oresme's apparent use of the term to mean a proverb would explain the pithiness of the visual structure of Figures 60 and 61. Yet another strategem may have guided Oresme in proposing the program. In all versions of the Periander/Tarquin tale a constant characteristic is "silent communication." This theme is embodied in Periander's action (or that of the peasant in Figure 60) of pulling up the tallest plants, identified in the various versions of the tale as corn, wheat, or poppies. The corollary of silent communication is the understanding of the message by the person requesting advice via the report given by the uncomprehending envoy. Søren Kierkegaard alludes to the Periander/Tarquin tale in the epigraph to his famous work Fear and Trembling : "What Tarquinius Superbus said in the garden by means of the poppies, the son understood but the messenger did not."[32] Oresme's elimination of inscriptions may well have carried out in the illustration the important theme of silent communication. As the illustration of Book IX in C shows (Fig. 41), Oresme enjoyed providing riddles for his readers to solve. What greater compliment to their acuity could he offer than the silent communication of the Periander/Tarquin tale?

The Periander/Tarquin Tale and Contemporary Historical Experience

Another facet of the silent-communication theme is that the action recommended by Periander was too dangerous to be written down or transmitted orally by the messenger. The effectiveness of the stratagem depends on confidentiality, secrecy, and surprise. For, if the intended victims somehow learned about their intended fate, they might have exercised their own power to rid themselves of the person who sought the advice.


Charles V and his counsellors may well have recalled the unstable situation facing the Valois dynasty in 1356 following the crushing defeat of French forces by the English at Poitiers. The monarchy was threatened by the dynastic claims of Charles the Bad of Navarre, as well as the rural revolt of the Jacquerie and the opposition in Paris led by the provost of the wool guild, Etienne Marcel, who was murdered in 1358.[33] The Aristotelian concept of preserving a proportional system of relationships among groups holding political power in a state may have seemed a useful theoretical legitimization of a policy calling for the exile or banishment of current or future opponents of the monarchy.

Furthermore, the readers of the Politiques could well have recalled a recent example of official policy. In the context of negotiations with Charles the Bad for the exchange of certain territory, Charles V's ordinance of 8 March 1372 pronounced that the right of banishment in a criminal case was an exclusive royal prerogative.[34] Perhaps Oresme's design of the miniature was intended as references to Charles the Bad and potential opponents of the regime that were more prudent to veil by means of the Periander/Tarquin tale and the device of silent communication.

Thus, the miniatures in Charles V's copies of Book III of the Politiques (Figs. 60 and 61) represent a departure from Oresme's usual strategies in devising the programs of illustrations. The first feature entails a special challenge to the reader to identify the subject matter, locate the content within the text, and supply the missing key word of the verbal definition. Oresme may have relied on some of his basic rhetorical techniques as translator in setting forth such an unconventional program and in calling for his readers to supply the missing definition, maxim, and metaphors. It is entirely possible that he did not underestimate the abilities of his politically sensitive and acute audience. Their historical experience, knowledge of royal prerogatives in the matter of exile, and possible targets for such a policy could have simplified their task in deciphering the illustrations and increased their appreciation of their subtle construction. Any oral explication by Oresme might well have taken account of the receptivity of his audience to the theme of silent communication, especially in view of his seemingly paradoxical violation of its rules.


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