As I said yesterday this blog is about the spiritual leper. According to the author of Book to A Mother spiritual lepers cannot tolerate anything they don’t like patiently! The author puts forward such a grotesque image of the spiritual leper that this title is reserved for the most extreme sinner. So repulsive is this type of person that the author wishes they could be made to live on the outskirts of towns the way actual lepers do. He sees the spiritual leper as more damaging to society than actual lepers. He also adds with quite bitter sarcasm that the only problem with his segregation idea is that it would leave too few people left in the towns....Something which still applies to modern society!
Tuesday, 20 March 2012
There are three advice books which have advice related to leprosy which were written with a direct audience in mind. They are The Knight of La Tour Landry (a French noble writing advice to his three daughters), Peter Idley’s Instructions to his Son (straight forward thanks to the title!), and Book to A Mother (Unknown writer writing to his Mother). Presumably these books contain more targeted advice because they have a specific audience. This does seem to be the case with the knight’s advice. He uses the biblical story of Moses’ sister Marie. Marie is smitten with leprosy because she is jeaous of her brother. Instead of focusing on the pain of the disease or the disfigurement it causes the knight focuses on the fact that Marie is segregated. This is perhaps because the segregation of lepers was more widespread in Medieval France than it was in England, or maybe the Knights daughters were social butterflies and he thought the fear of social exclusion would be more effective than leprosy!
Peter Idley uses leprosy to warn against the sin of lechery, specifically using prostitutes. He tells his son not to have sex with prostitutes because they will have sex with lepers and so have many diseases. This cautionary message seems very apt advice to keep a young man on a more moral path!
The author of Book to A Mother is more concerned with spiritual leprosy. But that shall be a blog for tomorrow!
Posted by Rhiannon Mead at 13:47
Monday, 19 March 2012
The Leper in the master bedroom is a story which appears in different forms in several moral texts. The story goes that this charitable lady hears a leper outside moaning one day. The lady talks to the leper and he convinces her to let him into the house. Then when in the house he convinces the lady to let him rest in the master bed. At this point her uncharitable husband comes home. Every version emphasises that the husband has a particular hatred of lepers. The husband wants to rest for a while and goes to enter the bedroom. His wife tries to stop him making excuses, but eventually he forces his way in. The leper has vanished and the whole room smells like paradise! When the wife explains why she had been reluctant to let him enter the husband understands that a miracle has occurred, turns over a new leaf and spends the rest of his life to being charitable to lepers. However what I find interesting about this story is that even though the leper in the story must be sent by God, how he talks to the lady to get himself not just in the house but in the bed is quite harsh...So does being holy excuse rudeness?
Posted by Rhiannon Mead at 16:42
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Having had my enthusiasm for this text reignited by Ryan Perry’s illuminating talk last week I could not help but devote another blog entry to the most enjoyable of all the late medieval moral guides (though the prize for most disgusting image still goes to Jacob’s Well for the nose licking story!) One of the stories in Handlyng Synne involves a hallucinating priest. A priest prays to God with the troublesome query of how to know which of his parishioners were sinners. God in return gives him the ability to see the parishioners moral state in a physical way. He is then treated to a horror show of everyone of his parishioners suffering from a disgusting array of ailments. However the ONLY disease to be specifically named by the text is leprosy. God then explains what he has done to the priest explaining how the different appearances represent that person’s sin. Leprosy here represents loving goods (worldly belongings/material things) more than God. Seems a bit harsh to me as there are worse sins...although worshipping false idols is the 1st Commandment so I guess worshipping worldly things might fall under that category...People of our capitalist over-commercialised society beware you might be leprous on the inside!
Posted by Rhiannon Mead at 14:09
Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Sidrak and Bokkus is an encyclopaedia in a question and answer format. One of the questions is How can a man get leprosy? In a wonderful example of just how much most medieval writers were afraid of the opposite sex the answer is, of course, from a woman. The text then quite tactfully and poetically explains that if a man finds her flowers (a rather pretty way of saying Aunt Flo is in town!) and still has sex with her then he will “be missel” (be a leper). Also any child born of this union will be a leper as well! The text explains this in plainer terms ending with the warning that it is folly to deal with women when the menstrum is around! This is an interesting concoction of medieval medicine and moral scare-mongering. Medieval medicine did give this as one cause of leprosy but in Sidrak and Bokkus it is presented as THE cause of leprosy. What seems more likely than the author actually believing this is that the medieval fears of things they do not understand rose to the surface and the author thought great I can scare my audience into a more moral existence with the fear of leprosy!
Posted by Rhiannon Mead at 12:26