Today, I spent some time going through a wonderful little collection of Old French proverbs, compiled by Joseph Morawski in 1925.
Proverbs give you a brilliant insight into the mentalités of a period. You can never place proverbs chronologically with anything like precision, but manuscript survival does at least indicate currency. And proverbs represent a pithy way of getting beyond the elite voices which so often dominate the records.
They're complex though. They embody popular morality, but sometimes proverbs turn out to be a bit more subversive, pointing out the contradictions and tensions posed by conflicting moral systems (eg. we know that beating one's wife was deemed largely acceptable - in law and in popular morality; but several proverbs indicate that it was a symbol of cowardice and disorder). Sometimes proverbs resonate across the centuries in ways which make you feel really quite close to these medieval people. And sometimes, they are so downright obtuse and odd that you feel your cultural distance more than ever.
I was on the hunt for proverbs relating to nostalgia, but I also made a note of my favourites, and decided that I'll post one a day for the next few days to give you a flavour.
So - here's my all-time favourites:
MIEUX VALT OF DE GELINE QUE PET DE REINE
(Better a hen's egg than a queen's fart)