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

11— Reason and Desire: Moral Decisions (Book VII)

The Expanded Decision Allegory of C

The decision allegory illustrating Book VII in C (Figs. 36 and 36a) keeps the basic scheme established in A but adds a second register that expands and shifts the scope of meaning. Consistent with Oresme's editorial revision of the program in C and the physical changes noted in the second half of the book, the illustration


has grown larger. Figure 36 is almost twice the height of the miniature introducing Book V (Fig. 29). Moreover, in the decision allegory of C , the figures dominate the image. Except for the rectangular inscriptions placed at the top of each scene, there is no setting analogous to the crenellated wall or tricolor inner frame of Figure 35. Indeed, the lack of any internal division (such as a line) makes it difficult at first to understand the contrasts between what constitute two separate scenes on the left and right of each register. The situation is slightly clearer in the lower register, since a double vertical line belonging to the background motif serves to separate the two halves of the scene. This lack of demarcation may have resulted from the miniaturist's misunderstanding of Oresme's new or revised instructions. Placed at the top of the folio following the chapter headings on the previous leaf, Figure 36 seems very much more a frontispiece illustration than Figure 35, which is located nine lines below the top of the first column. The grisaille figures of Figure 36 stand out sharply against the deep blue geometric background of the top register and the contrasting apricot and gold tones of the lower one.

Certain minor but significant changes are noticeable in the top zone of Figure 36. For one thing, instead of the inscription "Raison est ce" on the left of Figure 35, the phrase in Figure 36 reads "premièrement est raison" (first comes reason). The word premièrement suggests that Le Continent has as his first resource deliberation and use of reason. Omitted from the top register is the wreath of flowers held by Concupiscence in Figure 35. Such a decision is consonant with a rejection in the C cycle of visual emblems. Instead, an increased reliance on hand gestures signifies tension or conflict among the figures. Indeed, the awkwardly shaped hands, as well as the outsized feet and elongated proportions of both women and men, are hallmarks of the workshop of the Master of the Coronation of Charles VI. Also different in the top left scene of Figure 36 is the compositional relationship among the figures. Le Continent stands almost equidistant from the two females, while with outstretched hands he touches both of them. Although, as in Figure 35, Le Continent again turns his back on Concupiscence and looks at Raison, the play of hands suggests a continuing struggle to choose between the female forces. A similar indecision of the male protagonist is apparent in the upper right scene. Here ambivalence is conveyed by the manner in which L'Incontinent glances toward Raison while still turning his back on her. He seems to be listening to Raison's exhortations, suggested by the forward tilt of her head and the pleading gestures of her hands. An important change from Figure 35 noted by Panofsky is the difference in dress between Le Continent and L'Incontinent.[8] In Figure 36 the former wears a plain, full-length mantle associated with a cleric or scholar, while the latter retains the contemporary, fashionable dress worn in Figure 35 by both figures. In other words, instead of the more subtle concept of likeness between the two types of conduct established in Figure 35, the analogous scenes of C introduce a social and moral dichotomy.

The left and right scenes of the lower zone repeat the same contrast between the behavior and status of the male figures. Le Vertueus (the virtuous man), personalized in a similar way to his analogue Le Continent, contrasts with Le Vicieus (the man given to vice), the counterpart of L'Incontinent. The two female figures,


however, remain the same as on the upper register. What is the rationale for this second level of the decision allegory? First, the explicit, didactic character of the entire program of C surely figures in the expansion. Second, Oresme may have responded to questions about the relationships among Continence and Vertu and their opposites as points of philosophical debate. Addition of a second level also permits clarification of Aristotle's distinctions between degrees or states of moral behavior. A textual basis for such clarification is provided by Oresme in his lengthy commentary in C (fol. 132) cited above as the basis for his definitions of Continence and L'Incontinence. A relevant passage reads:

Et entre ces .ii. estas sont .iiii. autres; c'est a savoir, incontinenz et vicieus et continenz et vertueus. Donques .vi. estas sont de quoy les .iii. sont mauvais et different ainsi. Car a bien ouvrer sont requises .iii. choses; c'est a savoir, deliberacion et vray jugement et droit appetit. Le incontinent a deliberacion et vrai jugement universel, mais il fault an appetit. Le vicieus a deliberacion et fault en jugement et en appetit.

(And between these two states are four others, to wit, incontinent and given to vice and continent and given to virtue. So there are six states, of which three are bad and differ as follows. For to act well three things are required: to wit, deliberation, true judgment, and right appetite. The incontinent man has deliberation and true judgment overall, but he fails with regard to appetite. The man given to vice has deliberation and fails with regard to judgment and appetite.)[9]

Both verbal and visual links help the reader to associate on two levels similar and contrasting moral types. Visually, parallel placement and repetition of costume help the reader to forge the connections between the figures in the left halves of Figure 36, Le Continent above and Le Vertueus below, and on the right, L'Incontinent and Le Vicieus. Of course, on two levels, the opposition also continues between the morally strong and weak types depicted on the left and right. The reader's reference to the first sentence of Oresme's commentary, cited above, explains the basis of such pairing. For example, the figure of Le Vertueus meets the three requirements listed: deliberation, true judgment, and right desire. He has turned his whole body and stepped toward Raison, who welcomes him with outstretched hands. His back is turned away from Concupiscence, who vainly tugs at his mantle. Two further passages from the same commentary elucidate the contrast. A gentle expression and contained stance confirm that "Le vertueus n'a point de tele rebellion ou peu" (The virtuous man possesses little or no such rebellion within him). Such resoluteness contrasts with Le Continent, who "a en soy grant rebellion de l'appetit sensitif" (who is capable of resisting his appetite for sensual pleasures). Following the opposite track, Le Vicieus, who lacks judgment and desire to do right, opts for Concupiscence by stepping toward her with arms outstretched and turning his back on Raison. Le Vicieus no longer even listens to Raison, as does L'Incontinent in the zone above him. In short, the scenes of the upper register convey the sense of moral struggle and temporary, tentative choices, while those below depict decisive and habitual modes of conduct.[10] Moreover, the


repeated difference in costume between the two types of character in the lower register suggests that the continent and virtuous modes of life are practiced by scholars or clerics, whereas those who exemplify moral weakness and wicked indulgence in bodily pleasures inhabit a fashionable, secular world.

11— Reason and Desire: Moral Decisions (Book VII)

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