Preferred Citation: Sherman, Claire Richter. Imagining Aristotle: Verbal and Visual Representation in Fourteenth-Century France. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.

24— Family and Household (Book I, Yconomique )

Oresme's Interpretation of the Marriage Relationship

The treatment of the differentiated female and male roles in Figure 80 may have some connection with Oresme's innovative glosses in Book I on marriage and familial relations. Although the chillingly patriarchal tone of the Economics remains intact in Oresme's text, some scholars consider that in the glosses he makes a contribution to the companionate concept of marriage. The theme of the third chapter of Book I of the Yconomique is "the relationship of husband and wife."[28] The chapter begins with the statement that the first responsibility of every husband is to his wife. Oresme's gloss gives the reason for this argument:


Car apres le seigneur, la femme est la premiere comme compaigne. Secundement sunt les enfans et tiercement les serfs et les possessions. Apres il declaire que ceste cure doit estre premiere pour .vi. conditions qui sunt en communication nupcial de homme a femme plus que en autre communication domestique; car elle est naturele, raisonnable, amiable, profectable, divine et convenable.

(Because next to the master, the wife as his companion holds first place. The children come second and the slaves and possessions third. He next points out that this concern should be primary because of six conditions which exist in the relationship of husband to wife more than in any other domestic relationship: (1) because it is natural, (2) rational, (3) amiable, (4) profitable, (5) divine, and (6) in keeping with social conventions.)[29]

Oresme's text and gloss argue that the marriage relationship is natural because living together is necessary for sexual reproduction. But such a union is "also the fruit of reason and deliberation, and therefore it is even more natural (plus naturele ) than among the beasts."[30] Oresme goes on in the gloss to speak of love between young people as a matter of choice and joy:

Mes il avient souvent que .ii. jennes gens, homme et femme, aiment l'un l'autre en especial par election et plaisance de cuer et de amour qui est oveques usage de raison, combien que aucune fois elle ne soit pas selon droite raison.

(But it often happens that two young people, man and woman, love each other by special choice from a feeling of joy in their hearts, with a love that is accompanied by reason, even though it may sometimes happen to be without correct reason.)[31]

Oresme says that even if this love is "chaste and prepares for marriage or exists in marriage and if there is sin in it, it is a human sin."[32] In the context of the previously cited passage that man and woman live together in mutual assistance, Oresme praises the marriage relationship in terms of Aristotle's discussion in the Ethiques (Book VIII, Chapter 17). Oresme's gloss characterizes this relationship as follows: "Car elle a en soi bien utile et bien delectable et bien de vertu et double delectation; ce est assavoir, charnele et vertueuse ou sensitive et intellective" (For this friendship comprises at once the good of usefulness, the good of pleasure, and the good of virtue and double enjoyment—that is, both the carnal and the virtuous or the sensual and the intellectual pleasures).[33] The gloss says further that the sexual relationship among human beings was designed to bring about closer bonds between husband and wife. Oresme extensively quotes scriptural sources ending with Genesis to reach the conclusion that man and wife are "two persons in a single skin."[34]

In Chapter 4 Oresme's text follows Aristotle's in prescribing the rules the husband must lay down for his wife to follow. Again, although the context of the


discussion is consistently patriarchal, Oresme makes a genuine contribution to humane concepts of the marriage relationship. Not only does he speak of the husband's consideration of the wife in their sexual relationship, but he also states that he should fulfill her sexual desires. Oresme also elaborates on an ancient theme drawn from Hesiod that the husband should be older than the wife so that he can better mold her habits and preferences.[35]

Although it is impossible to draw exact parallels between Oresme's commentaries and Figures 80 and 81, certain resemblances exist. First, as mentioned earlier, the miniatures suggest the cooperative notion of marriage in the complementary labors conducted for the common good of the household. The visual structures of the illustrations also encourage the idea of the wife as companion and partner. Figure 80 may also refer to the desired age difference between husband and wife, as the former is depicted as a bald, bearded man whose appearance contrasts with that of the noticeably younger servant. It is, however, not so easy to guess the age of the wife, as she wears the concealing wimple headdress familiar from the Ethiques cycle. In short, the visual structure of the illustrations brings out in a general way Oresme's innovative comments on the marriage relationship in Book I of the Yconomique . Moreover, the sympathetic character of Oresme's remarks on marriage may have appealed to Charles V, whose relationship with Jeanne de Bourbon is known to have been an exceptionally happy one.[36] Oral explication of the companionate aspects of friendship in marriage could well have received a sympathetic hearing during the dinnertime readings mentioned by Christine de Pizan.

24— Family and Household (Book I, Yconomique )

Preferred Citation: Sherman, Claire Richter. Imagining Aristotle: Verbal and Visual Representation in Fourteenth-Century France. Berkeley:  University of California Press,  c1995 1995.