Are musards farblondget? A sketch of a lexicographical note on Yde and Olive

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From Peau d’âne, the Lilac fairy tells Donkey Skin that “On n’épouse jamais ses parents”

I’m so grateful to the Medieval Feminist Forum for publishing Mounawar Abbouchi’s edition and translation of Yde et Olive, a portion of the massive Huon de Bordeaux cycle. This section feature a cross-dressed hero (Yde) who, after some chivalric adventures, finds herself, reluctantly, married to Olive, daughter of the Roman emperor; after some awkward moments of attempted intimacy, Yde confesses all, Olive promises her fidelity, but a servant (“garchon”) gossips to the emperor; Yde’s faced with execution for having deceived the emperor, but an angel rescues her by granting her everything a man requires for his humanity (tout chou c’uns hom a de s’umanité; 1048). It’s a reverse castration miracle, with gender transformation (or realization) added.

Yde sets out on this path because her widowed father, Florent, wants to marry her. It’s a familiar story, from Marie de France’s “Les deus amants” (where it’s only hinted at), to Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale (interrupted), to Peau d’âne, and one I typically teach with reference to Gayle Rubin’s classic “The Traffic in Women: Notes on the ‘Political Economy of Sex.'” In essence, girls in such a system are meant to sex trafficked to other families: it’s not as if the normative marriage model is any better for them. King Florent’s advisers are horrified, unsurprisingly, at this insult to the system:

Sire,” font il, “Damledix vous en gart!
Onques n’avint, ne jamais n’avenra;
Or n’est il hom que, s’il vous escoutast,
Ne vous tenist de tel coze a musart. (256-59)

“Sire,” they said, “God keep you from this!
It has never been done, nor will it ever come to pass.
No man who hears you
Would not take you for a deviant. (Abbouchi trans)

“Musart” is a hard word, and “deviant” works well enough in this context, primarily for etymological reasons. In modern English, “deviant” has a slightly statistical quality to it, and, as a noun, a sense of sexual deviance from the norm that feels anachronistic to the Middle Ages. But the word deviant comes from the Latin for going off the way (de + via), that is, wandering; and “musart” has, among its meanings, a similar quality of going astray.

For in modern French, a musard is a flâneur, an idler, a libertine; in Middle French too; In Middle English, idleness, too, although with more than a whiff of general dissipation: one of the MED’s examples sees Dindimus, the ascetic philosopher, accusing Alexander the Great “Of fornicacion & filth & many foule synnes, / Maumentry, & manslatir, mosardry & pride, Þat dose ʒow dompe to þe devill.”

The word also has a more general quality of “fool” or even “jerk,” as it seems to function as an all-purpose insult. The Anglo-Norman Dictionary offers this example:

Que dites vus, mal musard, felon mescreant? Quidez vus sustenir la guerre entretant Contre sire Edward, un tiel prince pussant?

Which we might translate, very loosely, as “What are you saying, you jerk, you asshole? Do you want to go to war against Lord Edward, who’s such a powerful prince?”

Or is a mustard perhaps just an unfortunate, or a fool, as with Yde and Olive’s son Croissant:

Or vous dirons de Croissant le musart
Qui par poverte est alés en essart
[Now we speak to you about Croissant “le musart,” who because of poverty went into a forest clearing; 1149-50, edition Elena Podetti]

And there’s also a proposed historical sense of the word having to do with certain travelling musician/versifiers, who go about, so to speak, with their muzzles (museaux) in the air (E. Rostand, Les musardises; yes, that’s the Cyrano de Bergerac Rostand).

Does the word come from these musicians? From people who muse too much, that is, who think to no particular end? If musards are étourdi, scatterbrained, are they farblondget?

There’s surely much more to say here! Florent’s advisers clearly think their king is up to no good. The poet — not terribly accomplished anyway — may be using “musard” less because of its lexicographical precision than because it fits the laisse’s scheme of assonance. And, anyway, the word doesn’t seem to have much specificity.

Without endorsing Florent’s horrible aims, we might spend some time with the word, taking it up as an early witness to the foolishness of having no particular plans, no fixed address, of wandering by the wayside, of holding open a position for no good to be done. Florent’s court wants him to be productive; they want an heir; but he’s not going to be productive on the terms they require. He’s a bad deviant, but Yde, his daughter, and eventually, his son, is also a bit of a deviant too.