Back to top

Pageant of Knowledge


1 The sixth is about Happiness and Good Will


ABBREVIATIONS: BD: Chaucer, Book of the Duchess; CA: Gower, Confessio Amantis; CT: Chaucer, Canterbury Tales; MED: Middle English Dictionary; MP: Minor Poems of John Lydgate, ed. MacCracken; OED: Oxford English Dictionary; TB: Lydgate, Troy Book.

The Pageant of Knowledge does not survive in a manuscript copied by Shirley and lacks headnotes or other information about possible performance. It does, however, contain the Latin rubric “Septem Pagine sequntur sapiencie” (“Here follow seven pageants on wisdom”), which suggests that at least part of it was meant to be performed. MacCracken (MP, 2:724–34) prints the Pageant of Knowledge as one complete 287-line text, but in Trinity R.3.21 on which his edition is based, the verses are punctuated by “explicits” that divide the text into ten parts, or perhaps indicate ten separate texts, some of which appear individually in other manuscripts. The Pageant starts with a description of the seven estates plus the “ryche,” all of whom are in the next stanza given a line each that may have been spoken; the pageant then moves to description — which was perhaps recited by a presenter — of various allegorical and mythological figures and signs of the zodiac, finally becoming what seems to be a nondramatic didactic poem. As its layout suggests, the Pageant may be a compilation of poems, of which only one or two were meant for performance; a thread of continuity is provided, however, by variants of the tag line “How shuld a man than be stedfast of lyvyng,” which unites stanzas 20 through 38, with stanza 39’s advice to aim for heavenly stability serving as the answer to that repeated question. Although Trinity R.3.21 does not specify an author, Stow’s annotations in that manuscript attribute five of the ten groupings to Lydgate, and MacCracken ascribes the entire 287 lines to Lydgate based on “the uniform style of the entire piece” (MP, 1:xxiii, no. 90); Bühler has also noted that some of the poem’s stanzas are repeated in Lydgate’s other works (“Lydgate’s Horse, Sheep and Goose,” p. 563).

MacCracken takes his title from the use of the word pagine (pageant) in the heading to one of the groups of stanzas, which he believes points to performance of the whole as a school play, like Ausonius’ Ludus septem sapientum, which MacCracken thinks is its model (MP, 1:xxiii, no. 90; see Ausonius, Works, pp. 184–92 for the Latin text of the Ludus, which features seven wise men who give brief expositions of their apothegms); Ausonius was not widely known in the Middle Ages until the fourteenth century and beyond, when copies showed up in the hands of Petrarch, Boccacio, and Salutati, among others (Ausonius, Works, p. 597). Schirmer likewise believes that the pageant was a scholastic drama in which performance would have enlivened the dry instructional material (John Lydgate, p. 104), while Pearsall views the first part of the text (through the signs of the zodiac) as a tableau-presentation, with some parts of this performance section being “obviously more panto­mimic than others” and with one stanza (the tableau-group of the seven estates plus Rycheman) even including “speech-prefixes as in a play” before each character’s line (John Lydgate, p. 183). The word “pageant” had various meanings, not all of them pointing to mimesis: it could refer to a representation or device carried in display or even something as simple as a banner or tapestry (OED, s.v. pageant sb., no. 3; also 1. [d] “A scene represented on tapestry; or the like”). In the contents list on fol. 2r of Ashmole 59, the Pageant is described as “A comedye of the fyndinge of success.” Part of the Pageant also survives in a fifteenth-century commonplace book that includes the Brome Abraham and Isaac (The Book of Brome).

The date and auspices of the Pageant are unknown. A. Lancashire (London Civic Theatre, p. 125) considers it briefly in her discussion of London drama, but notes that without fuller information it is difficult to say whether or not it had civic associations. Trinity R.3.21 was written sometime during or after the reign of Edward IV, by scribes who had access to Shirley manuscripts (see Hammond, “Two British Museum Manuscripts,” p. 27), which provides a last possible date for the composition of the Pageant. Its appearance in a London manuscript, owned at one point by the well-to-do London mercer Roger Thorney (c. 1450–1515) and later by the Londoner Stow (see Manuscript Trinity R.3.19, p. xxx), perhaps argues for a London context for the Pageant.

The Pageant of Knowledge survives in complete form in just one manuscript, Trinity R.3.21 (1461–83), fols. 287a–289b, although parts of the poem were copied in various other manuscripts. Trinity R.3.21 is the base text for this edition (MP, 2:724–34). The whole of the undertaking bears similarities to Gower’s Confessio Amantis book 7 and portions of books 4 and 5, with their pageant-like lists of inventors, Greek and Roman gods, the humors, and the seven liberal arts, especially astronomy.

1–8 The notion of a social order composed of seven estates was an expansion of the old idea of the three orders of society: those who fought, those who prayed, and those who labored. In contrast with the notion of orders, the estates model emphasized ranks rather than functions and allowed for a broader categori­zation of social groups.

5 “Common profit” is the usual translation of res publica; for its importance as a social and poetic ideal, see Middleton, “Idea of Public Poetry.”

9 This assertion of the right of princes to govern priests may have had special force in the wake of Henry V’s attempts to reform the monastic orders and of ongoing struggles between the crown and monasteries, including Bury St. Edmunds.

rubric sapiencie. In scholasticism, sapientia (heart thinking) was distinguished from scientia (head thinking).

17–37 Compare the descriptions of Prudence, Rightwysnesse (Justice), and Temper­ance in the Disguising at London.

25 Of thy weyghtes. An allusion to Justice’s scales, with a plea that judges make sure that their reckoning is fair.

59 There was an extensive body of courtesy literature in Latin (the facetia tradition) and in English, devoted to advice about bodily comportment and behavior. Compare Lydgate’s Stans Puer ad Mensam and Dietary.

64 herte, body, wyll, and mynde. Compare BD, lines 116 and 767.

66 Jubal, a descendant of Cain and the ancestor of all who play the lyre and pipe; see Genesis 4:21 and Chaucer: “Tubal, / That found out first the art of songe; / For as hys brothres hamers ronge / Upon hys anvelt up and doun, / Therof he took the firste soun” (BD 1162–66). See also CA, 4.2416–18. Medieval writers often confused his name with that of his brother Tubal, who was the first to work the forge for iron and steel crafts. See lines 83–86.

73 The Roman god Saturn (from satus, “sowing”) was credited with inventing agriculture. See CA 5.1221–31.

74 Ceres is the goddess of grain, also known for inventing the craft of tilling. Lydgate follows tradition in identifying her as Saturn’s daughter, but she is described as his wife in the Third Vatican Mythographer, book 2. See CA 5.1231–44.

80 Mars was the Roman god of war.

81 In the Iliad, 5.733–37, Homer describes how Athena removed the robe she had made for herself and armed herself. She was known as a patron of the crafts and as a goddess of war, who created armor.

83–86 Tubalcain, brother of Jubal, was identified as the maker of steel and was associated with artificers who used brass and iron (see Genesis 4:22). See note 66, above.

88 The Roman goddess Minerva was associated with weaving (see Trevisa, Polychronicon 2, cap. 11, p. 297 and CA 3.2435).

89 Lydgate follows Gower (CA 2.2437) in assigning the discovery of linen to Delbora. Gower’s source is uncertain, but Peck notes that the invention of linen, supposedly the purest of cloth, may have become linked to her through the purity of Seth’s line in the ancestry of Christ; see CA, notes to 2.2437.

92 Semiramis, the legendary Assyrian queen, was often depicted wearing men’s breeches; see Samuel.

93 myn auctor. Lydgate’s sources in the Pageant have been identified as Isidore of Seville, Vincent of Beauvais, Chaucer (see Gattinger, Lyrik Lydgates, pp. 17, 39, 41, and 66), and Gower.

94 Diana, the Roman goddess of the wood and hunting, was identified with the moon and thus also known as Lucina (as in line 97). Compare TB, Prol.132, and CT V[F]1045 ff.

101–03 Compare Lydgate’s description of Mercury in TB, 2.2486 ff., and Edwards’ note (TB, p. 373).

104 Neptune was the Roman god of the sea; see Chaucer’s Franklin’s Tale for his rule over the sea (CT V[F]1047).

108 Phoebus Apollo, the classical god, was linked to medicine; see Godfrey of Viterbo, 6, col. 157: “Apollo etiam citharam condidit et artem medicinalem invenit” (Pantheon, 2.508) [Apollo invented the harp and the art of medicine].

109 pounce veyne. An artery where the pulse can be felt. See MED pous(e) (n.).

110 Aesculapius, the Greco-Roman god of healing, was the legendary founder of medicine. See CA 5.1059–82. Also see Chaucer’s description of the Physician (CT I[A]429) as knowing the standard medical authorities, including Aesculapius.

114 ff. After the explicit, the word Lidgatt appears in Stow’s hand.

115 ff. The basic curriculum of undergraduate education was the Trivium (grammar, rhetoric, logic), which could be supplemented by the Quadrivium (arithmetic, geometry, astronomy, music), whose study led to the master of arts.

123 Priscian (fifth–sixth centuries) was the most important of the late Latin gram­marians, author of the Institutiones, a summary of Greco-Roman grammatical theory and practice.

124 Euclid, the Greek mathematician (fl. 300 B.C.), was known as the author of the Elements, the standard textbook of elementary mathematics in medieval Europe.

125 Marcus Tullius Cicero (106–43 B.C.) was known for his oratorical skills; he was the author of the De inventione, a treatise on rhetorical argument.

126 Hermogenes of Tarusus (second century) wrote a set of textbooks on rhetoric.

127 Boethius’ treatise De musica was standard reading in medieval universities and formed the basis for medieval musical theory; compare CT VII(B2)3293–94, where the fox compares Chauntecleer’s skill at singing to Boethius.

128 The Metaphysics of Aristotle, the Greek philosopher (384–322 B.C.), strongly influenced the development of medieval philosophy.

129 Abu-Mashar Jafar ibn Muhammad (787–886) was the leading astrologer of the Arab world. See CA 7.1237–70, on Albumazar and the founding of astronomy.

131–38 It was a convention of medieval cosmology that the planets (Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the sun, Venus, and Mercury) controlled the human body and human behavior. See John of Salisbury, Policraticus, 2.18–19, and the Wife of Bath’s description of herself in terms of planetary influence (CT III[D]609–19).

139 ff. The signs of the zodiac were thought to correspond to and govern parts of the body. See CA 7.955–1270 on the signs of the zodiac, and 7.1291–1438 on the fifteen stars and their relationship to the seven planets and various herbs. See also Chaucer’s “Treatise on the Astrolabe” 1.21.70–73, which links each sign to a part of the body as does the drawing of the anatomical man in Jean duc du Berry’s Trés Riches Heures plate 14 (New York: George Braziller, 1969), one of the greatest of the books of hours which is in and of itself a kind of pageant.

159 ff. After the explicit, the words John Lidgat are written in Stow’s hand.

160–66 This stanza appears alone in somewhat different form in seven manuscripts (see Manual of the Writings in Middle English XVI, p. 2142) and in Debate of the Horse, Goose, and Sheep. Medieval Europe inherited from the Greeks a model of the physical world in which the four elements — earth, fire, air, and water — joined with the four qualities — moistness, aridity, heat, and cold — as the building blocks of life. The elements and qualities were assumed to correspond to the four bodily humors — melancholy, choler, blood, and phlegm. These correspondences were set out in a number of written texts, such as CA 7.393–462, and the widely-read pseudo-Aristotelian Secreta secretorum, and in pictorial images as well.

195 ff. After the explicit, the words John Lidgatt are written in Stow’s hand. Complexions, or temperaments, were thought to derive from the humors and thus physio­logical traits were assumed to have a physical basis. The sanguine person, for example, is dominated by the blood and is cheerful and outgoing; compare Chaucer’s description of the Franklin as sanguine (CT I[A]333) and the jolly Wife of Bath with her “reed of hewe” face (CT I[A]458).

219 ff. Written in Stow’s hand after the explicit: John Lydgatt.

247 ff. Written in Stow’s hand after the explicit: By Lydgatt.

282 sterres sevyn. A reference to the seven regularly visible stars of the Pleiades, the seven Ptolemaic planets, or the seven stars of Ursa Minor.

287 ff. Written in Stow’s hand after the Amen: John Lydgat.


ABBREVIATIONS: M: MacCracken’s 1934 edition; R: Trinity R.3.21, copy text for the Pageant of Knowledge.

2 Prynces. M’s emendation; R reads Prynce.
the. Missing from R; added by M.

5 fyghte. M’s emendation; R reads fyght.
shal the. M’s emendation; R reads shalbe.

17 Thynges. Blank space left in R for large T.

21 R omits entire line; supplied by M.

56 fynden. M’s emendation; R reads fynde.

64 herte. M’s emendation; R reads hert.

66 Jubal. Blank space left in R for large J.

69 Jubal. M’s emendation; R reads Tubal.

84 longe. M’s emendation; R reads long.

115 Of. Blank space left in R for large O.

131 Saturne. Blank space left in R for large S.

139 Aries. Blank space left in R for large A.
coleryk. M’s emendation; R reads coloryk.

157 longer. M’s emendation; R reads long.

161 The. Blank space left in R for large T.
sely. R reads3ely.

176 naturally. M’s emendation; R reads naturall.

180 than be stable. M’s emendation; R reads than stable.

196 The. Blank space left in R for large T.

204 coleryk. M’s emendation; R reads coloryk.

218 sentement. M’s emendation; R reads centement.

220 Man. Blank space left in R for large M.

226 man than be. M’s emendation; R reads man be.

242 maner. M’s emendation; R reads man.

248 The. Blank space left in R for large T.

251 valeys. M’s emendation; R reads valeyce.

261 All. M’s emendation; R reads All.

266 with. M’s emendation; R reads whyche.

274 hardy. M’s emendation; R reads harde.

280 unto the hevyn. M’s emendation; R reads unto hevyn.

283 palace. M’s emendation; R reads place.


























































     [Septem sunt gradus magnatum.

Thys world ys born up by astates sevyn,
Prynces ordeynyd to susteyn the ryght,
Prestes to pray, the justyces to deme evyn,
Marchauntes in sellyng to do trouthe in weyght,
For comon profyte fyghte shal the knyght,
Plowman in tylthe, the laborer in travayll.
Artyfycers diligent day and nyght.
The ryche her almes to parte with the porayll.

     [Officia dictorum magnatum.

Pryncys. To us longeth prestys to governe,
Presthode. And we be bounde to lyve in parfytnes.
Juges. Betwene ryght and wrong our office doth dyscerne.
Merchantes. In bying and sellyng we shall do no falsnes.
Knyghthode. We shull defende trouthe and ryghtwysnes.
Plowman. Our occupacion to tyll and sowe the lond,
Werkemen. And by our labour we voyden idylnes.
Rycheman. We delyver our almes with our hond.


     [Septem Pagine sequntur sapiencie.

     [Prima de Prudencia.

Thynges passyd remembre and well dyvyde,
Thynges present consider and well governe,
For thynges commyng prudently provyde,
Peyse matyrs or thou deme or dyscerne,
Lat right in causes holde the lantern,
Twene frende and foo stond evyn, and be egall,
And for no mede be nat parciall.

     [Secunda de Justicia.

Furst in thy mesure loke ther be no lak,
Of thy weyghtes hold justly the balaunce,
Be trew in rekenyng, set no som abak,
And in thy worde lat be no variaunce;
Of chere be sad, demure of governaunce,
Set folk at rest, and apese all trouble,
Beware of flaterers and of tongys double.

     [Tercia de Temperancia.

By sapience tempre thou thy corage,
Of hasty ire daunt the passion;
Dyfer vengeance tyll thy wrathe aswage,
Reverence the good for theyr condicion;
Punyssh pacyently the transgression
Of men disrewlyd, redressyng errour,
Mercy preferryng or thou do rygour.

     [Quarta de Discrecione.

Discrecion, modyr and pryncesse,
Of all vertues to governe hem and gye,
And elumyneth with lyght of hygh noblesse
Crownes of kynges, hold up theyr regaly,
Conserveth reames, by prudent polycy,
Causeth provinces and every gret cyté
To contynew in long prosperyté.

     [Quinta de Racione.

Thys emperesse, verrey celestiall,
Most aungelyk of contenaunce and chere,
To rewle man he be nat bestiall,
God gave hym reson, hys owne doughter dere,
Princesse of princesses, most sovereyn and entere,
To brydell in man the froward volunté
That he not err by sensualyté.

     [Sexta de Placencia et Bona Voluntate.1

Thys fayre lady, whyche callyd ys Plesaunce,
And eke Good Wyll, her owne doughter dere,
Beseke all folk, aftyr theyr suffysaunce,
With all theyr hert, to make ryght good chere,
With suche disport as they fynden here,
And that hem lyst benygnely advertyse,
Who that ys welcom hathe all that may suffyse.

     [Septima de Fasetia et Nurturia.

Thys goodly lady callyd Curtesy,
And her sustyr, whos name ys Nurture,
By theyr offyce longyng to gentry
Lowly requyryd to every creature,
As ferre as myght and power may endure,
With hoole herte, body, wyll, and mynde,
To be content with suche as they here fynde.


     [The fynders of the sevyn Sciences artificiall.

Jubal was fadyr and fynder of song,
Of consonantes, and of armony,
By noyse and strooke of hamors that were strong.
Fro Jubal came furst the melody
Of sugryd musyk, and of mynstralsy,
So procedyng down fro man to man
Practyke of concorde, as I have told, began.


Saturne taught furst the tylthe of londe,
Hys doughter Ceres made men ere and sowe.
The goldyn worde he compassyd with his honde,
Of sede and grayne the difference to knowe,
Of trees, herbes, growyng hygh and lowe;
Somer seson, there bawme above moste swote,
And in cold wynter ther vertu in the rote.


Though myghty Mars be callyd god of werres,
Prudent Pallas founde out furst armure,
Thys godde, thys goddes, syt among the sterres,
Tubalcaym of stele founde the temprure,
Forgyd plates, longe to endure,
And thus these thre, by marciall apparayll,
Be callyd in bokes patrones of batayll.


Crafte of wolles and of cloth wevyng
Found Minerva, of spynnyng chief goddesse;
And Delbora of lynen clothe makyng
The practyke sought, bokes bere wytnesse;
In all suche craft was a chief masteresse;
But Semiranus, as bokes specyfy,
Fonde out furst breche, myn auctor lyst nat ly.


Lo, here Diana, princesse of venery,
In forest walkyng lyke an hunteresse,
Havyng her paleyce ferre above the sky,
Callyd Lucina there shewyng her bryghtnes,
Of huntyng, hawkyng, fysshyng, chefe goddesse,
Every moneth her cours she dothe renew,
Now full, now wane, now bryght, now pale of hewe.


Mercury, callyd for mannys gret avayle
God of eloquence, and merchandyse;
Argon fond furst craft of shyp and sayle,
And Neptunus the saylyng gan devyse
To passe the see, in many sondry wyse,
Whyche to merchauntes ys full necessary,
Theyre stuff, theyr bales, fro londe to londe to cary.


Phebus fond furst craft of medicine,
By touche of pounce veyne, and inspeccions.
Esculapius taught the doctrine
To knowe the qualytees of foure compleccions,
Of letuaryes, drogges, and pocions;
And among all there ys nothyng more mete
To helthe of man then temperat diete.


     [The sevyn sciences callyd lyberall.

Of sevyn sciences, callyd lyberall,
Gramer techeth congruité and wrytyng,
Philosophy in especiall
Telleth natures of every maner thyng,
Ars metryk craft of proporcionyng,
Musyk concord, rethoryk eloquence,
Astronomy by diurnall mevyng
The world governeth, by hevenly influence.

     [Auctors of sevyn sciences.

Auctor of gramer was whilom Precian,
Ewclyd excellyd in craft of geometry,
Tully in rethoryk was a famous man,
Hermogines fadyr of phylosophy,
Boys wrote of musyk and of melody,
Of methephysyk wrote Aristotyles,
Albimazar of astronomy,
Founders of sciences and vertuos encrese.


     [The Dysposicion of the sevyn planettes.

Saturne disposeth a man to melancoly,
Jubiter reyseth man to gret nobles,
And sturdy Mars to stryfe, were, and envy,
Phebus to wysdom and to hygh prowes,
Mercurius to be changeable and dowbylnes,
The moone mutable, now glad, and now drypyng,
And gere Venus, full of new fangylnes,
Makyn men unstable here in her lyvyng.


     [The dysposicion of the twelve sygnes.

Aries ys hoot, and also coleryk
And in the hede kepeth hys dominacion;
Taurus in the throte, be man hoole or seke,
That part hath he in supportacion;
Geminus eke by revelucion
Hathe in armes hys influence and werkyng,
How shuld a man than be stedfast of lyvyng?

Cancer hathe the brest in hys demayne,
Of the hert lordshyp hathe the Lyon,
Virgo the governaunce hathe of twayne,
Of novell and wombe, and Libra lower downe.
The membres of man governeth the Scorpioun,
By thys reson the philsofyrs seyng
Ys that man cannat be stedfast in lyvyng.

Of all the sygnes rekenyd here toforn,
The thyes of man governeth the Sagyttary
And knees and legges hathe the Capricorn,
Eke the calfe downeward perteyneth to Aquary
And fro the feete, I wyll nat longer tary,
Piscis hath theym in hys kepyng;
Howe shuld a man than be stedefast of lyvyng?


     [The disposicion of the foure elementes.

The world so wyde, the ayre so remevable,
The sely man so lytell of stature,
The greve and the ground of clothyng so mutable,
The fyre so hote and subtyle of nature,
Watyr never in oon, what creature
Made of these foure, whyche be so flyttyng
May stable be, here in hyr lyvyng?

Man of the erthe hathe slouthe and hevynes,
Flux and reflux by water made unstable,
Kyndely of ayre he hath also swetnes,
Be fyre made hasty, wode, and not tretable;
To erthe agene, by processe comparable
Selde or never in oon poynt abydyng,
Howe shuld he than be stable in lyvyng?

Fyre resolveth erthe to be watery,
And watery thynges fyre turneth in eyre,
Maketh harde thynges nesshe, and fyre eke naturally
Maketh nesshe thynges harde by his soden repeyr,
Though harde he ys that shone bryght and feyre,
Whyche element hathe in man gret workyng,
How shuld he than be stable in lyvyng?

Ayre of kynde geveth inspiracion
To mannys hert thyng most temperatyf,
And kyndly hete geveth respiracion,
Of subtyll, rare, and a gret medegatyf,
To tempre the spyrytes by vertew vegetatyf;
And syth that ayre in man ys thus mevyng,
How shuld he than be stedfast of lyvyng?

Watyr somwhyle ys congeyled to crystall,
Colde and moyst as of hys nature,
Now ebbeth, now floweth, whyche in speciall
The myght of the mone dothe her course recure,
And syth thys element by recorde of scripture,
Ys oon of the foure compact of our makyng,
I wold enquere, what maner creature,
Made of these foure, were stedfast of lyvyng?


     [The disposicion of the foure complexyons.

The sanguyne man of blood hathe hardynes,
Wrought to be lovyng, large of dyspence,
The fleumatyk man slow, oppressyd with dulnes,
Whyte of vysage, rude of elloquence,
And syth ther ys in man suche difference,
By complexions diversely workyng,
Answere herto, concludyng thys sentence,
How that man myght be stedfast of lyvyng.

The coleryk man, subtyle and dyssevable,
Sclender, lene, and cytryne of hys colour,
Wrothe sodenly, wood, and nat tretable,
And full of envy, malyce, and rancour,
Dry, thursty, and gret wastour,
Dysposyd to many a sondry thyng,
With pompe and bost hasty to do rygour,
Ben soche men stable here in theyr lyvyng?

Melancolyk of hys complexioun,
Dysposyd of kynde for to be fraudulent,
Malicious, froward, and be decepcioun
Forgyng discordes, double of hys entent;
Whyche thynges peysyd by good avysement,
I dar conclude, as to my felyng,
By confirmacion as in sentement,
Few men byn here stabyll in her lyvng.


     [The dysposicion of the foure tymes of the yere.

Man hath in somer drynesse and hete,
In theyr bok as auctors lyst expresse,
And when Phebus entreth the Ariete
Dygest humours upward done hem dresse,
Porys opyn that seson, of swetnesse
And exaltacions, diverse wyrkyng,
How shuld man than be stable in lyvyng?

Autumpne to Veer foundyn ys contrary,
As Galien seyth in all hys qualytees,
Disposying a man that season to vary,
To many uncouthe straunge infirmitees,
Of canyculer dayes takyng the propertees,
By revelacion of manyfold changyng,
How shuld man than be stable in lyvyng?

Man hathe in wynter in this present lyfe,
By disposicion, colde and humylyté,
Whyche season ys to fleume nurtrytyfe,
Spoyleth herbe and tre of ther fresshe beauté,
Closeth, constreyneth, the poores, men may se,
Causeth kyndly hete, inwarde to be wyrkyng,
How shuld man then be stable in lyvyng?

By Veere man hathe hete and eke moystour,
Atwene bothe a maner of temperaunce,
On whyche tweyne gret lust he doth recover,
Yef colde not put hym in dystemperaunce.
Thus meynt with drede ys mannys governance,
Ay in no certeyn, by recorde of wrytyng,
Howe shuld he than be stable in lyvyng?


     [The Dysposicion of the World.

The monthes vary, everyche hath his sygne
And harde hit ys all wedyrs for to know,
The tyme somewhyle ys gracious and benygne,
And uppon hilles and valeys that ben low
The foure wyndes contrariosly do blow
In every storme man ys here abydyng,
Som to release, and som to overthrow,
How shuld man than be stedfast of lyvyng?

The worldly answer, fortune transmutable,
Trust of lordshyp a feynt sekernes,
Every seson varyeth, frendshyp ys unstable,
Now myrthe, now sorow, now hele, now sekenes,
Now ebbe of povert, now flodys of ryches,
All stont in chaunge, now losse, now wynnyng,
Tempest in see and wyndes sturdynes
Maketh men unstable and ferefull of lyvyng.

Tytan somwhyle fresshly dothe appere,
Then commeth a storme and doth hys lyght deface,
The soile of somer with floures glad of chere
Wynters rasure dothe all awey rase;
All erthely thynges sodenly do passe
Whyche may have here no seker abydyng,
Eke all astates false fortune doth manase,
How shuld a man than be stedfast of lyvyng?

Beholde and see the transmutacion,
Howe the seson of grene lusty age,
Force of Juventus, strong, hardy as a lyoun,
Tyme of manhode, wysdom, sad of corage,
And howe Decrepitus turnyth to dotage,
Cast all in a balance, and forgete nothyng,
And thow shalt fynd this lyfe a pylgremage,
In whyche ther ys no stedfast abydyng.

Then lyft up thyne ey unto the hevyn,
And pray thy Lord, whyche ys eternall,
That syt so ferr above the sterres sevyn,
In his palace most imperyall,
To graunt thee grace, here in thys lyfe mortall,
Contricion, shryft, and howsyll at thy departyng,
And, er thou passe hense, remyssion finall
Towarde the lyfe, where joy ys everlasting.


There are seven levels of magnates

seven estates; (see note)
judge impartially
weigh honestly
common profit; (see note); (t-note)
their; share with the poor

Duties of the said magnates

belongs [the right]; (see note)



Here follow seven pageants on wisdom; (see note)

The first is about Prudence

past; (see note); (t-note)

Ponder matters before you judge
Between; foe
reward (i.e., bribe)

The second is about Justice

look; lack
(see note)
Be honest in accounting; sum

demeanor; serious

The third is about Temperance


Defer; anger passes

before you act harshly

The fourth is about Discretion

them; guide

The fifth is about Reason


bridle; willful desire

according to their ability

graciously show

The seventh is about Courtesy and Nurture

(see note)

(see note); (t-note)


father; inventor; (see note); (t-note)

Craft of harmony

cultivation; (see note)
plow; (see note)
world (i.e., of the golden age)

balm; sweet

wars; (see note)
discovered; armor; (see note)
steel; temper; (see note)

(see note)
(see note)
method; books

(see note)
breeches; my source doesn’t lie; (see note)

hunting; (see note)

palace far


man’s great help; (see note)

discovered; sail
began to design; (see note)
sea; different ways


(see note)
artery (see note); examinations
(see note)


(see note)

(see note); (t-note)


daily movement

grammar; (see note)
Euclid; (see note)
(see note)
(see note)
Boethius; (see note)
metaphysics; (see note)
(see note)
beneficial knowledge

(see note); (t-note)
raises; nobility

misty (dripping)
fickle; changeability

signs [of the zodiac]

hot; quick-tempered; (see note); (t-note)

healthy or sick


Lion (i.e., Leo)


thighs; Sagittarius


(see note)

changeable; (see note)
virtuous; (t-note)


instability [of human nature]
Thanks to air
fire; mad; reasonable


fiery; air
soft; (t-note)
sudden return


Air by nature gives breath
man’s heart; beneficent
natural heat
by promoting vigor
since; at work

sometimes; ice

moon; regain

one; elements

(see note)

generous in spending

choleric; cunning; deceitful; (t-note)
Slender, lean, and yellowish
Becomes angry


boast; act harshly

Predisposed by nature
unruly; by
deceitful in his intent
considered thoughtfully
in my opinion
in effect; (t-note)

(see note)

heat; (t-note)
as authors say
enters Aries (i.e., March to April)
Pores open
giving off of heat

Spring exists in opposition

dog days (July to September)

productive of phlegm

natural heat

Between; moderation; (t-note)

out of balance
kept in uncertainty is man’s

(see note)

[zodiacal] sign; (t-note)


futile security

health; sickness
poverty; floods
stands; (t-note)

Titan (i.e., the sun)



(i.e., Youth), strong; (t-note)
sober of heart


far; (see note)

good luck
hence; forgiveness of sin

(see note)


Go To A Procession of Corpus Christi