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

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