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21— Good Democracy: A Pastoral Vision? (Book VI)
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The Visual Structure of Bonne Democracie

Beyond the function of a visual definition of a specific type of democracy, what other insights about the character of Bonne democracie does the structure of Figures 70 and 71 afford the reader? The undivided, single-register format frames and bounds a united political community, Bonne democracie. Quotations from Chapter 4 of Book VI cited above provide the clues. The sequence of text passages sets up a parallelism between the order of discussion of the four subtypes of democracy and their quality: the first one (Bonne democracie) is also the best. The composition of the illustration follows the same system of sequence and parallelism: the inhabitants of the best type of democracy are the cultiveurs de terres . Oresme's program literally "foregrounds" their activities in the front plane of the miniature. As in previous illustrations, the program adopts the same strategy of updating the activities of the social classes discussed by Aristotle. The outdoor setting, dress, farm implements, and animals define the nature of the work. Even the vignette of the peasants' repast reveals their life-style. Seated directly on the ground next to the plowed field, they eat simply with crude implements.

The second group of inhabitants mentioned in the text occupies the middle ground. As the text suggests, the activities of the pasteurs literally overlap those of the cultiveurs de terres . The index of noteworthy subjects indicates: "Que les melleurs populaires apres ceulz qui cultivent les terres sunt ceulz qui vivent de pasturage—VI, 5" (That the best people after those who cultivate the earth are those who raise herds.—VI, 5).[11] In Chapter 5 a text passage reads:

Et le peuple qui est tres bon apres la multitude qui cultive la terre, ce est la ou il sunt pasteurs et vivent de bestail. Car tele vie a en soi mout de choses sembiables a la cultiveure des terres et as actions ou operations de elle.


(And those who are very good after the people who cultivate the earth are those who are shepherds and make their living off their herds. For such a life has many things in common with the cultivation of the earth and shares actions or operations with it.)[12]

It is, therefore, appropriate that the second type of inhabitants of Bonne democracie in Figures 70 and 71 follows the text sequence and appears on the second plane, or middle ground, of the illustrations. Their walking posture conveys the nomadic and solitary character of their labors. Unlike the collaborative enterprise of the agricultural workers, the shepherds commune only with their flocks. The pasteur of Figure 70 seems particularly solitary, as he bends his head in the direction of his sheep. The gesture of his crossed hands further expresses weariness and resignation. In contrast, the forward stride and piping of the shepherd of Figure 71 give a jauntier tone to his demeanor.

To the modern reader the shepherd's pipe and the peaceful setting suggest an early form of arcadian imagery. Indeed, Oresme's second gloss in Chapter 4 of Book VI regarding cultiveurs de terres seems to confirm such an association:

La vie et l'estat de teles gens descript et recommande Virgille ou secunt livre de Georgiques , et dit: O fortunatos nimium sua, si bona norunt agricolas, etc. Et estoient jadis teles gens en la terre de Archade mesmement.

(The life and calling of these people Virgil describes and commends in the second book of the Georgics , and says, "Oh happy husbandmen! too happy, should they come to know their blessings!" And in former times these people were in the very land of Arcadia.)[13]

Likewise, Oresme's gloss on Chapter 5 that explains the virtues of shepherds cites Virgil's Bucolica and biblical examples of "pluseurs bonnes gens" (many good people) who "anciennement vivoient de pasture et de bestail; si comme Laban, Jacob et ses filz, et Job et pluseurs autres. Et a teles gens annuncia le angel la nativité Nostre Seigneur" (in ancient times made their living from raising sheep and livestock; such as Laban, Jacob and his sons, and Job, and various others. And to people like that the angel announced the birth of Our Lord).[14]

Although Oresme shows an awareness of the arcadian and bucolic tradition, both the text and glosses of Book VI reveal another aspect of this attitude related to the personages of the third zone of Figures 70 and 71. Oresme explains in his third gloss on Chapter 4 how the best form of democracy depends on the moral and political character of cultiveurs de terres and pasteurs : "Apres il met les causes pourquoi cest peuple est habile a ceste policie; et sunt .iiii., car il ne est pas machinatif ne conveteux ne ambicieux, et est obedient" (Afterwards he sets out the reasons why this people is predisposed toward this form of government; and there


are four: because they are not manipulative, covetous, or ambitious, and they are obedient).[15] The next gloss explains further:

Car il convient que il entendent a leur labeur pour avoir leur vie. Et ne ont cure de assambler souvent. Et es assemblees sunt faictes les machinations ou l'en peut parler et soi alier ensemble. Et ainsi tel peuple ne fait pas machinations ne conspirations contre les riches ne contre les princes.

(First, it is necessary that they attend to their work in order to live. And they are not interested in meeting together often. And it is in assemblies where people can speak and form alliances that plots are made. And thus such people do not plot or conspire against the rich or against rulers.)[16]

Thus, the obedient, contented character and busy lives of this population prevent them from taking part in political activity. The text states that these classes prefer labor to political activity of any kind and are patient and tolerant under oligarchies and tyrannies.[17] Farmers and shepherds prefer working to participating in politics and earning money to receiving the honors of office. In some forms of democracy, Aristotle states, instead of serving themselves, they are content to elect officers, such as magistrates. In the city-state of Mantinea, Aristotle continues, the populace was content merely to deliberate with the magistrates, who were "selected from the body of the people on a system of rotation."[18]

The two groups on the upper left of Figures 70 and 71 refer to the practice in agricultural democracies of the majority's election of, or consultation with, judicial or deliberative bodies. By their implements and costume the standing figures on the left in Figure 70 are identified as agricultural workers. On the other hand, although one man holds a spade, the three seated figures clad in hooded, full-length mantles seem to belong to a somewhat higher social class. The two groups are apparently debating a controversy. The miniature may refer to the example in Mantinea of agricultural workers deliberating along with magistrates or, more generally, of electing counsellors of higher social status than themselves rather than insisting on participating directly in these activities. In the first of two glosses on Chapter 4 of Book VI that refer to Mantinea, Oresme explains:

En aucunes democracies les cultiveurs des terres et autres populaires eslisent les officiers comme dit est, et ne sunt pas esleus, mez les riches. Et en aucunes il ne esli sent pas, et sunt esleus selon partie; car tous ceulz d'une office ne sunt pas de tels genz, mes aucuns.

(In some democracies the tillers of the soil and other men of the people elect the officeholders, as is stated, and they [themselves] are not elected, but [only] the rich. And in some [democracies] they do not elect [officeholders] and [such men] are chosen according to qualification, for not all those would be of this class, but only some.)[19]


In the second gloss Oresme elucidates the following text passage: "T. Et en mont de democracies il souffist a telz gens ce que il sunt seigneurs de conseiller ou du conseil" (And in many democracies, it is sufficient for such people that they are magistrates or counsellors). "G. Car il sunt appellés as conseulz des grandes choses" (For they are called into consultation on important matters).[20] Or the debate in Figures 70 and 71 might refer to a procedure discussed in Chapter 3 of Book VI called sortition : "a means of settling disputes."[21] Thus, the scene on the upper left alludes to a council, court, or assembly in which agricultural workers have an elective or consultative voice.[22]

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