I should possibly have included more of the wiser of the Old French proverbs, but I think that the filthier ones, whilst amusing, also point to an important element of thirteenth- and fourteenth-century life. The kinds of distinctions we expect to find between different registers of speech, and the judgments we make about what is appropriate in particular contexts - worked very differently.
|The Wheel of Fortune, from Boccaccio's De Casibus Virorum Illustrium. Source: wikipedia.|
To finish, here's a flavour of the kinds of proverbs I picked out which capture something of what I'm looking for in the idea of nostalgia. My argument (in the as yet unwritten book) is that cataclysmic social, economic and demographic change in the fourteenth century often provoked contemporary responses in 'nostalgic mode' - one way of coming to terms with one's life being turned upside down, and a way of trying to get to grips with the future, was to refer to 'the good old days'. This kind of nostalgia is rooted in a particular historical moment. What's interesting about proverbs is that they embody a much more timeless kind of nostalgia - the almost universal human propensity to say that 'Things ain't what they used to be'. Part of the goal of my project will be to think about how these two types of nostalgia relate to each other, and play off each other: the one kind, rooted in particular circumstances, the other kind a timeless whinge.
AU VESPRE LOE LEN LE JOR
(One praises the day only in the evening)
LI BEAUS JOURS SE PREOVE AU SOIR
(You only know it's been a good day when evening comes)
LES VIEILLES VOYES SONT LES MEILLEURES
( The old ways are the best)
Some proverbs seemed to acknowledge that these kinds of attitudes were problematic:
CE N'EST PAS MAISTRISE DE GARDER VIEL PANIER QUANT VENDENGES SONT PASSEES
(It's not a good idea to keep old baskets when the grape harvest is over)
There are loads on the theme of transience, surely a related idea...:
BEAULTE DE FEMME EST TOST PASSEE
(Female beauty doesn't last long) - typical misogynism, and remarkably enduring.
DESOUBZ LE CIEL N'A RIENS ESTABLE
(Nothing is stable, beneath the heavens)
The idea of transience could be more historically rooted: commerical expansion led to greater anxiety about the wheel of fortune - one might become very rich, and then, just as quickly, lose it all:
N'EST PAS ASSEUR QUI TROP HAULT MONTE
(He who rises really high, will never be secure).
And lest all this sounds too sensible:
QUI A LE CUL PAILLEUX A TOUS JOURS PAOUR QUE LE FEU N'Y PRENNE
(He who has straw in his bum, is always afraid that it might catch fire).