Kalamazoo 2024: “INHUMAN REASON: Medieval Anger Management, with Erkenbald of Burbay”

Erkenbald spelled with animal letters

This is my paper for Session 134, “Theorizing Comparative Animalities,” at the 59th International Congress on Medieval Studies, in, as always, Kalamazoo, organized by Randy Schiff and Jessica Rosenfeld, where I’m sharing a stage with Michelle Karnes (Notre Dame) and David Shyovitz (Northwestern).

You’ve just been told that I intend my next book to be The Irrational Animal, on the problems and limits of the concept of “reason,” chiefly in the Middle Ages. From the classics onward we’re often defined as “the rational, mortal animal.” The last two words are easy enough to define; “reason,” though, is a puzzle worth a book.[1]

I plan a short chapter on emotions, because they’re often understood as reason’s opposite. I had thought I’d talk today about a surprising moment in Aquinas concerning nonhuman animals and emotions, but that puzzle I unraveled to my satisfaction in about 500 words. It’s posted to my website. Today, sorry, I’m talking about animality indirectly, from the direction of posthumanism, which, as I’ve argued elsewhere, is not dedicated to transcending human limits – that would be transhumanism – but rather to exploring the limits and contradictions of what is typically understood as human.[2] Shaking up the category of “animal” requires shaking up one of its chief oppositional categories too. Today I’m doing that with a story about violence, and the rational redirecting of anger, in which anger’s defeat results not so much in the elimination of bestial rage, or the perfection of humanity, as it does in what I’m calling auto-dehumanization.

This is the story of Erkenbald of Burbay. I’m concentrating on his appearance in the Middle English Jacob’s Well, where his story serves as its last warning against the “filth of anger.”[3] While on his deathbed, Erkenbald, famous for the fairness of his judgments, overhears women crying out from a nearby room, and sends his son to investigate. When he’s informed that his nephew had just tried to rape someone, he orders his execution, but his knights refuse to carry out their charge. After five days, the nephew figures all has been forgotten, and peeks in on his uncle’s chamber. Erkenbald, still ill, lures him to his bed with sweet words — the Middle English uses the verb “glosyd,” suggesting a kind of deception — and then, while embracing him, draws his knife and slits his throat. As Erkenbald’s own death approached, a bishop arrived too, with the eucharist, but is surprised that the last confession omits a deed so recent and so notorious. Nothing had been omitted, explains Erkenbald, because:

That was no sin, and therefore I ask for no mercy; for I did it not for wrath and vengeance, but I did it for equite, impartiality, and rightful judgment, which I have carried out my whole life to friend and foe. For I loved my nephew as well as any of my kin, but, because of the impartiality of my law and my position, I could not spare him….and therefore I slew him myself, for love of impartiality in my judgment, and not for hate.[4]

Since the bishop continues to withhold the sacrament, Erkenbald explains himself one more time, now with a slightly different emphasis and order:

I loved no child better than I did my nephew. I did not slay him from rancor of heart, nor from hate, but for love of impartiality, and for the righteousness of the law, and for the fear of God.[5]

God then makes the bishop’s refusals bootless by whisking the Eucharist from the pyx into Erkenbald’s mouth.

His justifications are roughly the same, if arranged slightly differently, in the exemplum’s other versions: in Caesarius of Heisterbach’s monastic story collection, the Dialogus Miraculorum, where it illustrates the virtue of justice; in the Middle English Alphabet of Tales; in a 15th-century collection where it’s filed under “Eucharist”; and in a fourteenth-century Polish manuscript where a knight, Reinaldus, kills his only son, and then denies his paternity.[6] Whether Erkenbald or Reinaldus, he never kills for himself, but only for justice, for his “love of equite,” and for God.

I’m interested in how Erkenbald’s self-justifications arrange his motivations. They divide variously along axes of either animal or human, vice or virtue, or human and superhuman. Wrath might be animal, vengeance and rancor too perhaps; anger might be animal or human; while love of equity and righteousness are perhaps less recognizable as human than as super- or even inhuman.

Point 1: overcoming anger seems to be paradigmatically an action of overcoming an especially bestial passion. Not an “animal” one: anger does not make us unreasoningly dull or compliant. I can recall only one angry cow, and that’s from Edmund Spenser.[7] As Pierre-Olivier Dittmar observed about medieval animal categories, “beasts” are the post-Lapsarian dangerous animals of a world disordered by our sin.[8] They need to be avoided, or put down. We find, then, in the Biblical Book of Wisdom, that King Solomon is granted knowledge of everything, among which are the “virtues of roots,” the reasonings,” cogitationes, “of men,” and also “the rage of wild beasts.”[9] Galen’s work on anger holds that “Man alone, as compared with other things, has the special gift of reason; if he casts this gift aside and indulges his anger, he is living and acting like a wild animal rather than a man.”[10] The Ancrene Wisse, a Middle English guide to anchorites, warns that anger causes us to lose our mild-heartedness, then our human nature, then transforms us into beasts, and finishes by turning us into wolves.[11] In the treatment of anger in John Gower’s Mirour de l’Omme, melancholy, one of anger’s daughters, is “just like an unreasonable beast.”[12] And Jacob’s Well, in fact, likens wrath and vengeance both to a wolf, which in “his malice waits his time to be avenged on he who had aggrieved him.”[13]

Point 2: Philosophical treatises on emotion raise questions about whether animals can actually feel anger. Seneca’s De Ira says no. Although he often resorts to the usual animal comparisons, when he calls anger a “bestial vice,” disdains the “inhuman ferocity” (feritas) of sadism, and condemns anger’s repulsive ferocity (feritatem),[14] Seneca nonetheless insists that no animal can experience anger, precisely because anger requires rational assent:

though anger is reason’s enemy, it comes into being only where reason resides. Wild animals have impulses—frenzy, ferocity, aggression—but they no more have anger than they have Luxur[ia] …. Animals incapable of speech lack human passions, though they have certain impulses that resemble passions….animals are barred not only from human virtues, but also from human vices.[15]

He even chides Ovid for a line in his Metamorphoses in which the “boar forget[s] its anger.”[16] Impossible, he explains, because muta animalia are incapable of emotion. Just as bestial tongues form no precise sounds, so their “ruling principle” cannot guide them with any refinement. Although their “outbreaks” might seem to resemble worry and sadness and anger, they quickly subside, turning into their opposite, or into nothing. Animals experience only involuntary prepassions, which Seneca allows them because they evidently do feel something, and because he wants to preserve emotion as something reason can target. For if true emotions are common to us and unreasoning animals alike, then we have anger naturally, and as such it can no more be eliminated than any of our other natural inheritances. But if true emotions are, as Seneca argues, judgments marred by their mere subjectivity, then they are a fault particular to rational beings, and as such can be targeted, resisted, and eliminated.

That simultaneous rationalization and condemnation of anger makes Seneca, to a degree, an outlier.[17] At any rate, medieval readers generally encountered his De Ira only in excerpts,[18] while his arguments denying animals emotion are notably absent from the usual places medieval systematic thinkers differentiate nonhuman animals from humans.[19] That said, Aquinas’s taxonomy of emotions in his Summa, which would come, of course, nearly a half century after Caesarius’s Dialogue, feels slightly Senecisch. Aquinas divides sensitive passions from rational affections, lists anger among the passions, but then explains that anger, though a passion, is necessarily accompanied by reason, and therefore not experienced by animals: after all, he says, those who are truly without reason, like the very drunk, do not get angry, while the semi-drunk do.[20] Still, anger “can nevertheless be in dumb animals that are devoid of reason, in so far as through their natural instinct they are moved by their imagination to something like rational action.” Elsewhere he also calls anger “the most manifest obstacle to the judgment of reason.”[21] Unraveling all that would take another conference paper.[22]

Point 3: The Stoic drive to eradicate emotions was too much for most medieval Christian thinkers. The biblical God feels love and anger, and, furthermore, the doctrine of original sin required that fault be inherent to our being, at least in this world. So they required that anger be recognized, mastered, and turned from subjective to universal ends, in short, that anger itself be rationalized: reason can recognize, and act on universal concepts, while the sensitive cognition to which animals are limited cannot. Thus we have Cassian allowing for acceptable anger to be directed inwardly, against our own faults, which means feeling anger on behalf of the virtues, which are universal, not personal values;[23] Augustine in turn allowed anger to be turned outwards too, “to the use of righteousness,” as when anger is used to correct a sin or a sinner: this likewise is anger made righteous by serving a universal value.[24] Gregory the Great refines Augustine by terming such righteous anger “zeal,” Caesarius’s word for what motivates the judge. With Augustine and Gregory, reason is not necessarily anger’s enemy: it is, ideally, its guide or master, as it is the right guide or master of all things. Our anger is correct when we act not in service to ourselves but to universal and absolute virtues. Though that may be in service to our ultimate happiness, that of the eternal felicity that awaits the righteous, the goal is a personal happiness shorn of the partiality and idiosyncrasy of any individual preferences, love, or antipathy.

Point 4: If the paradigmatic exercise of reason is the domination of the irrational, whether externally, through the domination of animals, or internally, through the domination of the flesh, then rational anger is most evident when it’s used to control something understood to be unruly. This is paradigmatically an animal.[25] I have in mind John Chrysostom’s analogy, modified from Plato, that likens the relationship of the soul to body as that of a rider to a horse.[26] Since our bodies are also indissolubly part of us, while also being our animal self, then the proper relation of self to itself is also one of animal domestication. We need our bodies, but we cannot be fully what we should be without constant restraint over the animal that is (also) ourselves.

Anger must be dominated, as we would master an animal. I use this metaphor deliberately, having in mind Seneca, who warns that in anger, reason, which should have the reins, freni, instead becomes a slave to what pushes it along.[27] While anger itself might not be an animal emotion, the reasonable relation to anger is at least analogous to our rational mastery of animals. So, Galen’s own work on anger uses a domesticating metaphor when it argues that “just as we exercise our horses and dogs in the practice of obedience, we must also cultivate obedience in our soul.”[28] And Gregory the Great’s influential consideration of anger in his Moralia, winds up its argument with a passage that could hardly be more thickly metaphorized as domination: zeal is anger “subjected to reason,” remaining in “the mind’s control,” “restrained,” so that we are our own “conquerors.”[29]

The result is not the absence of violence, but the suppression of rebellion. The virtue of anger rationalized is often illustrated with dramas of punishment. Galen repeats his father’s advice never to beat a slave while angry: slavers should instead wait until the passion subsides, and then use “a rod or whip to inflict as many blows as they wished and to accomplish this act with reflection.” Again, this violence is not enacted in service to any personal pique, but to rectify a violation of a universalized order, in this case, slavocratic hierarchies. Seneca similarly praises Plato for never beating his slaves while angry: instead, if he was upset, he had a nephew do the beating on his behalf. Seneca also guides the ruler in appropriate capital punishment or torture: it should be carried out without any lingering anger over the crime, but only to warn others away from any future fault. And John of Salisbury’s twelfth-century Policraticus approvingly repeats a story about one of Plutarch’s slaves, who accused him of anger while he was being flogged: on the contrary, replied Plutarch, one must imagine clause by clause, between blows: “my eyes are not wild nor my face upset, nor am I shouting frightfully, nor am I beginning to erupt with frothing and redness, nor do I speak scandalously or obscenely, nor finally do I quiver all over with rage or gesture wildly.”[30] So long as he is, in some sense, not present as himself, so long as he acts only in service to preexisting, unchanging values, those values recognizable only by reason, there is nothing for which he could be condemned.

This, to me, is the endpoint of anger mastered, which is also a mastery of the self. We could, of course, say much more about the Erkenbald story. More than a century ago, Laura Hibbard Loomis proposed a resemblance with the pagan judge of the Middle English Saint Erkenwald.[31] You’ve also certainly remembered Trajan, who legendarily has his own son executed for murdering a widow’s son.[32] And, while we might condone the nephew’s punishment, we must also ask why the tale never directly pictures the women the nephew attempts to rape, and why we never hear from them, although we have more than a hint why in the section of Jacob’s Well on the sin of “luxuria,” which tells us that women are to blame if they incite men to lust, even if they do not consent, “because they are the cause that the souls of men are lost.”[33] We’d likely not go far astray if we took the butchered nephew, and somehow the women too, as incarnating the rapacious lust a moral framework like this presumes to be general to all men.[34]

But for now, I just want to mark how anger is like a beast, which should, like a beast, be dominated. Reason is the instrument of domination, which tames this wild beast into a domesticated animal in service to a universalized ideal. Anger is not eliminated; rather, its force, and its aims, are channeled towards ends that have nothing to do with the needs or passions of any individual. The rationally angry should carry out deeds only in the service of the impersonal requirements of abstractions, like justice. Rational decision-making has been exercised by matching the patterns of a preexisting law: by feeding their own will to the maw of that love, the zealot has made themselves into a puppet, a conduit, a concrete expression of the universal.[35]

One end goal of anger management, then, combines the domestication of animals with what I would propose as the depersonalization and even dehumanization of the properly angry agent. The human is here as a pressure zone, not balanced but squeezed between the eternal and the sordidly bestial. Although Erkenbald loved his nephew, more than anyone else, that love had to be sacrificed. The love of his nephew is overwritten by another love, that for God and for impartiality. He recognized the abstract, universal value, and made himself its agent. It’s this impersonal, inhuman aspect of reason that I’d like to leave us with at present, where reason’s mastery produces something that most of us could only with difficulty recognize as human.

Thank you. I’m looking forward to our discussion.

  1. I dedicate my paper to Minouche Shafik, who excused authorization of a second police raid on Columbia by claiming she had had “no choice” (“Columbia Said It Had ‘No Choice’ but to Call the Police,” New York Times May 1, 2024).
  2. Karl Steel, “Medieval,” in The Cambridge Companion to Literature and the Posthuman, ed. Bruce Clarke and Manuela Rossini (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2017), 3–15.
  3. My research into this early fifteenth-century sermon collection remains rudimentary. It survives in a single manuscript, MA Salisbury Cathedral Library 172; only the first 50 of its 94 or 95 chapters have been edited (for EETS, in 1900). Joan Young Gregg, “The Exempla of ‘Jacob’s Well’: A Study in the Transmission of Medieval Sermon Stories,” Traditio 33 (1977): 359–80 demonstrates that nearly all the exempla in the edited text derive from the Alphabetum Narrationum, which was quite popular in England.
  4. Further work needed on the nuances of the word “equite.” Arthur Brandeis, ed., Jacob’s Well: An Englisht Treatise on the Cleansing of Man’s Conscience, EETS o.s. 115 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1900), 96. “þat was no synne, & þerfore I asked no mercy; for I dede it noȝt for wretthe & vengeaunce, but I dyd it for equite of ryghtfull demyng, whiche I haue kept in my doom all my lyve to freend & fo; for I louyd my neve as weel as ony of my kyn, but, be equite of my lawe & of myn offyce, I myȝte noȝt sparyn hym…. & þerfore I slowe him myself, for loue of equite in my dome, & noȝt for hate” Compare Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogus Miraculorum, ed. Joseph Strange, 2 vols. (Cologne: H. Lempertz & Co., 1851). Quoted from the ThEMA Website, “illum non occidisse ex aliquo rancore sive motu irae, sed solummodo ex Dei timore, zeloque iustitiae.”
  5. “I louyd neuere bettere chyld þan I dyde my neve. I slowe him noȝt for rankure of herte, ne for hate, but for loue of equyte, & for ryght of þe lawe, & for dreed of god.”
  6. Caesarius of Heisterbach, The Dialogue on Miracles, trans. C. C. Swinton Bland and Henry von Essen Scott (New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1929), 140–42; Mary Macleod Banks, ed., An Alphabet of Tales. An English 15th-Century Translation of the Alphabetum Narrationum, EETS o. s. 126-7 (London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner & Co., 1904), 287–89; John Major, ed., Magnum speculum exemplorum ex plusquam octoginta auctoribus (Douai: Balthazar Bellère, 1611), 311–12; Joseph Klapper, ed., Erzählungen des mittelalters in deutscher übersetzung und lateinischem urtext (Breslau: M. & H. Marcus, 1914), 336–37 (the Reinaldus version, from Wrocław, where he says “ideo non filium”). See also Marian Aguilar y Fuster, ed., Recull de eximplis e miracles, gestes e faules e altres ligendes ordenades per A-B-C (Barcelona: Alvar Verdaguer, 1881), 336–38, where it is also classed as a tale about “justice” rather than “anger.” For visual representations, Campbell Dodgson, “An Illustration by Holbein of the Legend of Herkinbald,” Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes 3, no. 3/4 (1940): 241–43. He sometimes bears the name Archambaud, and is sometimes the Duke of Brabant.
  7. The Fairie Queene on the aggrieved Adicia, widow of a wicked Sultan, reacting to the death of her husband “like an enraged cow, / That is berobbed of her youngling dere” (V.8.46).
  8. Pierre-Olivier Dittmar, “Le seigneur des animaux entre ‘pecus’ et ‘bestia’ : Les animalités paradisiaques des années 1300,” in Adam, le premier homme, ed. Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, Micrologus Library 45 (Florence: Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2012), 219–54.
  9. “iras bestiarum” in the Vulgate; The Greek original is thymoús thiríon (θυμοùς θηρíων).
  10. Galen, On the Passions and Errors of the Soul, trans. Paul W. Harkins (Columbus: Ohio State University Press, 1963), 43.
  11. “Sone se he leoseth mildheortnesse, he leoseth monnes cunde, ant wreaththe, the forschuppilt, forschuppeth him into beast, as ich ear seide. Ant hwet yef eni ancre, Jesu Cristes spuse, is forschuppet into wulvene?”
  12. William Burton Wilson, “A Translation of John Gower’s Mirour de l’Omme” (PhD Thesis, Miami, Florida, University of Miami, 1970), l. 3920; “ainz comme noun resonnable beste,” from John Gower, The Complete Works of John Gower: The French Works, ed. G. C. Macaulay (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1899).
  13. 90, “In wreth þou art lyche a wolfe, [þat] for his malyce wayteth his tyme to be vengyd on hym þat agreuyth hym”
  14. Lucius Annaeus Seneca, “On Anger,” in Anger, Mercy, Revenge, trans. Robert A. Kaster (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2012), 18 (“ferum … uitium”), 19 (“inhumana feritas”), and 64 (“ Necessarium est itaque foeditatem eius ac feritatem coarguere”).
  15. Seneca, 17.
  16. “Irasci”: the passage belongs to section, 7.545–46, that describes a plague so horrific that even the animals lose their habitual behaviors. For further discussion, David Konstan, “Reason vs. Emotion in Seneca,” in Emotions in the Classical World: Methods, Approaches, and Directions, ed. Douglas Cairns and Damien P. Nelis (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner Verlag Wiesbaden gmbh, 2017), 231–44, and, foundationally, for the motion of reason towards depersonalization, Josiah Gould, “Reason in Seneca,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 3, no. 1 (1965): 13–25.
  17. Representative discussion: Thomas Dixon, “What Is the History of Anger a History Of?,” Emotions: History, Culture, Society 4, no. 1 (2020): 14. William V. Harris, Restraining Rage: The Ideology of Anger Control in Classical Antiquity (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), 50–70. Key figures in the history of medieval emotion are, of course, Damien Boquet and Piroska Nagy, Simo Knuuttila, and Barbara Rosenwein, whose work I have variously consulted for this paper. I am distinguishing my approach from the accounts of anger that have clustered around Rosenwein’s work (eg, Kate McGrath, Royal Rage and the Construction of Anglo-Norman Authority, c. 1000-1250), which tend to historicize anger by finding its social utility (the benefits potentates, secular and sacred, get from anger, and so forth), and thus, in a way, rationalize it, but not in the way I do.
  18. Chaucerian will know Seneca via the exempla in the Summoner’s Tale. Another example: the section on wrath in a preaching aid by Bartholomew of Pisa, De documenta antiquorum, quotes Seneca on anger 30 times: Marc B. Cels, “Anger in Thomas of Ireland’s Manipulus florum and in Five Texts for Preachers,” Florilegium 29 (2012): 155.
  19. Here I think of the essential scholarship on medieval philosophy and nonhuman cognition by Anselm Oelze, Juhana Toivanen, Ian P. Wei, and for Islamic philosophy, Peter Adamson.
  20. Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 46, art. 4, “Whether anger requires an act of reason?” Guides to Aquinas on anger include Matthew R. Boulter, “Aquinas on Anger,” in Righteous Indignation: Christian Philosophical and Theological Perspectives on Anger, ed. Gregory L. Bock University of Texas at Ty and Court D. Lewis (Lanham: Fortress Academic, 2021), 85–96; Nicholas E. Lombardo, The Logic of Desire: Aquinas on Emotion (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2011), 65–67; Stephen Loughlin, “Similarities and Differences Between Human and Animal Emotion in Aquinas’s Thought,” The Thomist 65, no. 1 (2001): 45–65; Robert Miner, Thomas Aquinas on the Passions: A Study of Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae 22–48 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011), 268–86. It is much easier to find scholarship on Aquinas and the passions than it is to find careful treatments that are not, in some fundamental way, devotional: but see the excellent discussion in Henrik Lagerlund, “The Systematization of the Passions in the Thirteenth Century,” in Philosophy of Mind in the Early and High Middle Ages, ed. Margaret Cameron, vol. 2, The History of the Philosophy of Mind (New York: Routledge, 2018), 157–77.
  21. Summa Theologiae, 1a2ae, q. 46, art. 7, “Whether anger is only towards those to whom one has an obligation of justice?”
  22. If I had time, I’d have a paragraph here about how medieval metaphors of anger are actually much more often about madness than about animality: the loss of reason rather than the lack of reason.
  23. Institutes VIII.7-9, “Yet we have a function for anger placed quite appropriately within us, and for this purpose alone it is useful and beneficial for us to take it up–when we wax indignant against the wanton movements of our heart and are angered at things that we are ashamed to do or to say in the sight of human beings but that have found their way into the recesses of our heart.”
  24. Saint Augustine, The City of God, Books VIII-XVI, trans. Gerald G. Walsh and Grace Monahan, Fathers of the Church 14 (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1952), IX.5, 84. For Aristotle, “Now we praise a man who feels anger on the right grounds and against the right persons and also in the right manner and at the right moment and for the right length of time,” Nicomacheaen Ethics 4.5.3, 1125b, quoted in Susanna Braund and Giles Gilbert, “An ABC of Epic Ira: Anger, Beasts, and Cannibalism,” in Ancient Anger: Perspectives from Homer to Galen, ed. Glenn W. Most and Susanna Braund, Yale Classical Studies (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), 283.
  25. For more on this, my first book.
  26. A foundational study: Mary Ursula Vogel, Some Aspects of the Horse and Rider Analogy in The Debate between the Body and the Soul (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 1948).
  27. Seneca, “On Anger,” 20.
  28. Galen, Passions and Errors, 46.
  29. John Henry Parker and J Rivington, Morals on the Book of Job (London: 1844), Book V.xlv.78-83 — note to self: get Cistercian Press Moralia translation Vol 1., see if Brepols has good ed], Jacques Paul Migne, ed., Patrilogiae Cursus Completus: Series Latina, 217 vols. (Paris, 1844), 75: 727A-B: “subdita rationi,” “mentis dominium,” “restringat,” “victor suus.”
  30. Quoted from Albrecht Classen, “Anger and Anger Management in the Middle Ages: Mental-Historical Perspectives,” Mediaevistik 19 (2006): 28. For more on slavery and corporeal “punishment” in classical writing about anger, Harris, Restraining Rage, 317–36. Slavers were chiefly concerned with their own dignity and with preventing revolt; the well-being of enslaved people was only incidental to their concerns. I will eventually draw on related, as yet unpublished work, by Joseph Howley.
  31. Laura A. Hibbard, “Erkenbald the Belgian: A Study in Medieval Exempla of Justice,” Modern Philology 17, no. 12 (1920): 669–78.
  32. See Piers Plowman B.XII.270-95 (Schmidt ed.) and C.XIV.194-217 (Pearsall ed.), or, more exactly, commentaries on Purgatorio 10.73-75, either by an Anonymous Lombard (1325) or by Iacobo della Lanna, both available on the Dartmouth Dante Project website.
  33. Brandeis, Jacob’s Well, 159, “Men may synnen ofte in syȝt of wommen; as nyce wommen þat dyȝten hem qweyntly to make men to mys-vsyn here syȝt on hem, and ȝit þei wenyn þei synnen nouȝt, for þei consentyn noȝt to hem. but þei synne grevously, for þei are cause þat þe soulys of manye men are lost. Ȝif þe womman in here entent doth so in here aray, þat men þat beholdyn here hadde desyre to don foly wyth here, þanne sche is cause of here synne.”
  34. If I had time, I’d say something about how the rudimentary philosophy and doctrine of exempla collections is probably better than, say, Aquinas for understanding prevailing mentalities, and also how the genre tends towards startling effects.
  35. A longer version will do something with Anselm, who might be in the background of Caesarius’s book. Justice, says Anselm, is uprightness of the will kept for its own sake (eg, On Truth in Three Philosophical Dialogues 24 and 25, Hackett). Jacques Derrida, Aporias, trans. Thomas Dutoit (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1993), 19, “How to justify the choice of negative form (aporia) to designate a duty that, through the impossible or impracticable, nonetheless announces itself in an affirmative fashion? Because one must avoid good conscience at all costs. Not only good conscience as the grimace of an indulgent vulgarity, but quite simply the assured form of self-consciousness: good conscience as subjective certainty is incompatible with the absolute risk that every promise, every engagement, and every responsible decision—if there are such—must run.” The point is not to avoid making a decision (pace, if I must, Zadie Smith), but to make them and to know they can never be adequate.