Taxonomy of crazy people

Geraardsbergen Manuscript, Text 3 (fol. 104r)

The short French text, ‘Fol est qui fol boute’ is one of the only French items in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript.

Brussels - KBR - 837-45, fol. 104r: A short French tekst in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript (by courtesy of the KBR Brussels)

Brussels – KBR – 837-45, fol. 104r: A short French text in the Geraardsbergen Manuscript (by courtesy of the KBR Brussels)

It runs:

You are mad if you

  • shove a madman
  • never doubt a madman
  • have crazy friends
  • make a fool of yourself
  • reason with a lunatic
  • marry a mad woman

But the most mad person of all is the one

Who lets his daughter marry a madman.

This text also appears in a number of French manuscripts, including BnF fr. 1555, where it is written out in full as part of a larger proverb collection.

detail from BnF fr. 1555, 77v. Reproduced by kind permission of the BnF www.gallica.bnf.fr

detail from BnF fr. 1555, 77v.
Reproduced by kind permission of the BnF
www.gallica.bnf.fr

Back to the table of contents or Text 1 (A riddle) of the Geraardsbergen Manuscript

Very Punny, Mister Rutebuef

Here is an example of the poet Rutebeuf playing with the humorous potential of his name (or possibly pseudonym), in the last 40 lines of La Vie de Sainte Elyzabel (the first text in the Rutebeuf section of BNF fr. 837). You can see the text as it appears in the manuscript, read a transcription of it and a translation of that transcription, and also listen to it being read aloud.

Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds français 837 (pre 1300), f. 294v
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?lang=EN

‘Se Rustebues rudement rime
Et se rudece en sa rime a,
Prenez garde qui la rima.

Rustebuef, qui rudement oevre
Qui rudement fet la rude oevre
Qu’assez en sa rudece ment,
Rima la rime rudement.
Quar por nule riens ne croiroie
Que bués ne feïst rude roie,
Tant i meïst len grant estude.
Se Rustebues fet rime rude,
Je n’i part plus, mes Rustebues
Est ausi rudes comme uns bues.’

If Rudebull rhymes crudely
And his rhymes are somewhat rudimentary
Then you should bear in mind who the rhymer is.

Rudebull, who works crudely,
Who crudely fashions the rude work,
And whose version of events is so rudimentary as to be wrong, sometimes,
crudely rhymed the rhymes.
For nothing would induce me to believe
That a bull would do anything but plough along crudely
However much effort he put into it.
If Rudebull makes crude rhymes
I won’t make any more of it, but Rudebull
is as rude as a bull.

Click here to listen to the recording (read by Karen Pratt)

 

Conclusion (BNF fr. 837)

BNF fr. 837 is an exceptional manuscript. It provides us with insights into medieval ideas about genre, text length, authorship and obscenity. It also introduces us to a wide variety of fascinating texts, many of which are found only in this manuscript.

If you want to read more about this manuscript, follow this link.

If you want to return to the index for this manuscript, follow this link.

Or explore a manuscript from our Dutch, English or German corpora.

BnF fr. 837: an exceptional French text collection: Introduction

This room of the virtual exhibition will introduce you to one Old French manuscript, BnF fr. 837.

It is a huge codex, containing a large number of short texts, in a variety of genres. Some are anonymous; some have authors. The manuscript contains a ‘book within a book’, a subsection devoted to one particular author, Rutebuef. Various readers have left their traces on the book, some of whom disagreed rather violently about the use of swearwords.

Interested? Enter the exhibition room.

Returning the Obscenities (BNF fr. 837)

Status

Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300)
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

Another reader did not care for the way the censorious reader had rubbed out key words of the title. He wrote them back in for some texts, but not for others. Why was he this selective? Maybe he cared about some texts more than others; maybe he read by dipping in and out and only corrected ‘mistakes’ as he saw them. Here, the censorious reader has removed the words ‘fut foutue’ from the text ending ‘Explicit de la dolente qui fut foutue (sur la fosse de son mari)’, and the other reader has written the words back in again.

Onwards to genre

Return to readers

Return to fr. 837

A Bowdlerising Reader (BNF fr. 837)

Another reader did not care for obscenities, and wished to protect other readers from them. When he found an obscene word in a text’s title or explicit, he would rub it out. Here, he has expunged the word ‘cons’ from the title ‘du chevalier qui fist les cons paller’.

Titulus with obscenity expunged
Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300), f. 148v
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

Here are the titles of texts he deemed obscene:
‘Du chevalier qui fist les cons paller’
‘De la dolente qui fu foutue (sur la fosse de son mari)’
‘Du con qui fu fez a la besche’
‘De la damoisele qui ne pooit oir parler de foutre’
‘Du cul et du con’
‘Du vit et de la couille’
‘Des vins doan’
‘De la couille noire’
‘Des cons’
‘De honte et de puterie’.

Although he found the word ‘vin’ to be obscene in this one instance, there are several other texts in the manuscript with the word ‘vin’ in the title that he left alone, whereas he did expunge the titles for the majority of what we would consider obscene titles.

Interestingly enough, he rarely expunged words within the text itself. This image shows the beginning of the text ‘des cons’, with the word ‘cons’ expunged from the title, but appearing twice immediately below it.

However, there was one text where he did attempt to make revisions within the text itself: ‘du vit et de la couille’. In these extracts, the obscenities ‘vit’, ‘couille’ and ‘con’ are circled. We can see that most of the instances of ‘vit’ are expunged; that the word ‘couille’ is sometimes expunged, sometimes not; that within this text, he rarely bothered to expunge the word ‘con’. This reader was not nearly as thorough in his censorship as the typical nineteenth-century bowdleriser.

Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300), ff. 215r
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

It is really fascinating having this insight into the relative degrees of obscenity one medieval reader believed different words had. As well as ‘vit’ being more obscene than ‘couille’ or ‘con’, we can also see that he thought that ‘con’ was more obscene than ‘cul’. For the explicit of ‘du cul et du con’, he expunged the word ‘con’, but not the word ‘cul’.

Next: a reader who put the obscenities back in

Making notes of missing texts (BNF fr. 837)

Another reader came across the manuscript at a time when it already had some pieces missing. We don’t know whether someone deliberately moved them, or whether they just fell out. For more on this question, follow this link.

A note of missing texts
Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300), ff. 149v-150r
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

This reader had access to something that let him know what all the texts were, either a table of contents or another, very similar manuscript. He decided to write in the names of all the missing texts, with numbers. We don’t know why he did this. Was it a desire for a sense of completeness?

Next: a bowdlerising reader

A reader who added titles (BNF fr. 837)

Textual boundary with explicit and titulus
Paris, BNF, fr. 837 (pre 1300), f. 27r
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France: http://gallica.bnf.fr/?

The original scribe of BNF, fr. 837 did not give the texts titles appearing at the beginning. Instead, he chose to name the texts in the explicits, at the end of each text.

A later reader decided that there should be titles, and wrote them in for each text. You can see it is written in a different hand.

 

Most of the time the titles are the same, but sometimes they are different. One text (ff. 341v-342v) has an original scribal explicit reading ‘de la synagogue’, but an added titulus reading ‘de la desputoison de la sinagogue et de sainte Eglise’.

Next: a reader who made note of missing texts

Further Reading: BNF, fr. 837

Editions of medieval works

Rutebeuf. Œuvres complètes, ed. by Michel Zink (Paris: Le Livre de Poche, Lettres gothiques, 2001)

Bibliography

Azzam, Waguih, ‘Un recueil dans le recueil. Rutebeuf dans le manuscrit BnF f. fr. 837’ in Mouvances et jointures: du manuscrit au texte médiéval, ed. by Milena Mikhaïlova (Orléans: Paradigme, 2005), pp. 193-201

Busby, Keith, Codex and Context: Reading Old French Verse Narrative in Manuscript, 2 vols (Amsterdam: Rudopi B. V., 2002)

Collet, Olivier, ‘“Encore pert il bien aus tés quels li pos fu” (Le Jeu d’Adam, v.11): le manuscrit BnF f. fr. 837 et le laboratoire poétique du XIIIe siècle’, in Mouvances et jointures: du manuscrit au texte médiéval, ed. by Milena Mikhaïlova (Orléans: Paradigme, 2005), pp. 173-92

— ‘Du “manuscrit de jongleur” au “recueil aristocratique”: réflexions sur les premières anthologies françaises’, Le Moyen Âge, 113 (2007), 481-99

Foehr-Janssens, Yasmina, ‘”Le seigneur et le prince de tous les contes”. Le Dit du Barisel et sa position initiale dans le manuscrit BnF f. fr. 837’, in Mouvances et jointures: du manuscrit au texte médiéval, ed. by Milena Mikhaïlova (Orléans: Paradigme, 2005), pp. 153-171

Krause, Kathy M., & Alison Stones (eds.), Gautier de Coinci: Miracles, Music, and Manuscripts (Turnhout: Brepols, 2006)

Rouse, Mary & Richard Rouse, Manuscripts and their Makers: Commercial Book Producers in Medieval Paris 1200-1500, 2 vols (Turnhout: Brepols, 1999)

Trachsler, Richard, ‘Observations sur les “recueils de fabliaux”’, in Le Recueil au Moyen Âge. Le Moyen Âge central, ed. by Olivier Collet & Yasmina Foehr-Janssens, Texte, Codex & Contexte VIII (Turnhout: Brepols, 2010), pp. 35-46

Useful links

Archives de littérature du Moyen Âge (ARLIMA)

http://gallica.bnf.fr

Hypercodex   (Research Project at the University of Geneva)

Rutebeuf: an author apart

In BNF fr. 837, one author in particular is given a starring role: the famous thirteenth-century poet Rutebeuf. Manuscript compilers rarely grouped together works according to authorship in the thirteenth century. Indeed, most shorter texts of this period are anonymous or unattributed.

Who was Rutebeuf?

Rubric and image of Baudouin de Condé precedes his collection. Paris, Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal, MS 3142 f. 300v Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France : gallica.bnf.fr/?lang=EN

Rubric and image of Baudouin de Condé precede his collection of works.
Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, MS 3142, f. 300v
Reproduced by courtesy of Bibliothèque nationale de France : gallica.bnf.fr/?lang=EN

Paris, Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal, MS 3142 is another contemporary codex which explicitly delineates an author’s collection of short works. This thirteenth-century French text collection includes a series of works by the poet Baudouin de Condé, introduced by a rubric (in red) marking his authorship and illustration. The image on the right shows the author Baudouin, dressed as a cleric, offering his works to the Virgin Mary and Christ child.