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5. Homer


1 vercifiour, poet.

4 bonde man, slave.

6 efte, again.

7 bye, buy.

8 doste, do.

10 deliverd, released.

14 leve, live.

15 baret, conflict.

16 her, their.

18 doth, does; or, ere (before); lette, hindered.

19 hool, whole; connynge, knowing; shyneth, shines.

20 to, too.

22 semblaunt, appearance.

23 merveile, marvel.

28 see, sea.

30 ylonde, island; drough, drew.

35 navire, navy.

37 berith, bears.

40 and2, if.

42 dispreysed, denounced.

45 knowelech, knowledge.

48 marchaundyse, commerce.

51 noyaunce, annoyance.


ABBREVIATIONS: B = Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers, ed. Bühler (1941); CA = Gower's Confessio Amantis; CT = Chaucer's Canterbury Tales; G = Pierpont Morgan Library MS G.66; MED = Middle English Dictionary; OED = Oxford English Dictionary; S = Scrope, Dicts and Sayings of the Philosophers, ed. Schofield (1936).

These explanatory notes cannot hope to provide a complete accounting for the source of every proverbial statement in Dicts and Sayings. That task would be a separate book in its own right. Instead, I have attempted to contextualize this rather heterogeneous body of lore by identifying the people and places named in the text, as well as noting points that may be of interest to students and general readers. Those interested in tracing the source of particular quotations should begin by consulting Whiting's Proverbs, Sentences, and Proverbial Phrases From English Writings Mainly Before 1500. Readers are also invited to consult the thorough notes to Knust's Bocados de Oro, the Spanish translation of the original Arabic ancestor of Dicts and Sayings.

1 Omer. His true identity has been lost to history, but tradition indicates that he was the blind poet who composed the Iliad and the Odyssey in the eighth or ninth century BC. He did not, however, "write" these poems in the conventional sense; the Homeric epics are the products of oral formulaic composition and were passed down orally for many years before they assumed their current written form. For the pioneering work on oral formulaic poetry, see Lord, Singer of Tales. In the Middle Ages, however, Homer's tales were known mainly through Latin paraphrases and retellings. The most common were the alleged eyewitness accounts of Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis, whose (probably fictitious) testimony exists in Latin prose narratives dating to the fourth or fifth century AD. These texts provided the ultimate source material for virtually all medieval accounts of the Trojan War. See Frazer, Trojan War. Another important source for Homeric material in the Middle Ages was the Achilleid, an unfinished epic poem of Publius Papinius Statius (c. AD 45-96).

vercifiour. This sounds like more of a renaissance word than a medieval one, but an early form of "versifier" was in use in England as early as 1340 (OED).

2 and was aftir Moyses five hundred and thre skore yer. In encyclopedic works like Dicts and Sayings, an event or a person's life is often dated in relation to major biblical episodes. This practice is pervasive in the historical narrative of Higden's Polychronicon, for instance, but perhaps the most famous medieval example is Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, which contextualizes the deeds of Brutus and the other legendary kings by explaining to the reader what else was going on in the world at that time. The following passage from Geoffrey illustrates this tradition well, and also happens to include a reference to Homer himself:
Gwendolen reigned for fifteen years after the death of Locrinus, who had himself reigned ten years. As soon as she realized that her son Maddan had grown to man's estate, she passed the sceptre of the realm to him, being content herself with the province of Cornwall for the remainder of her life.
   At that time the prophet Samuel was reigning in Judea, Aeneas Silvius was still alive and Homer was considered to be a famous rhetorician and poet. (Trans. Thorpe, p. 78)
Higden (through his anonymous English translator) notes that there is confusion about when Homer lived: "somme men say that he was in the c. yere, other in the cxlti yere, and mony men in the clxxx., after the takenge of Troye. And mony men suppose that Omerus was a fore the takenge of Troye" (Polychronicon, ed. Lumby, vol. 2, p. 441).

4 The whiche Omer was taken and solde lyke a bonde man. I have been unable to track down the origins of the tradition of Homer as a slave.

39-40 Kepe thee from vices and covetyses, for and thu be covetous, thu shalt be poure. For other manifestations of this maxim, see Whiting C494.


8 To what entente. G: To inserted above what by main scribe.

31 of geometry. G: written in the lower right margin.

36-37 And seith that man berith upon himself two byrdons. A word is canceled out between man and berith.







[fol. 8v] Omer was a vercifiour in the olde tyme, and was of the land of Grece and of the
grettest estate of the Grekis, and was aftir Moyses fyve hundred and thre skore yer,
whiche made many goode thingis and alle the vercifiours of Grece followed his
disciplyne. The whiche Omer was taken and solde lyke a bonde man and put into
prysoun. And oon came to him that wold have bought him and asked him of whens
he was. He aunswered and seide that he was of fadir and modir. And efte he asked
him and seide: "Wilt thou that I shal bye thee?" And he aunswered him and seide:
"To what entente doste thu aske me counseill of thi money?" And thanne he asked
him agen: "To what thinge arte thu good?" He aunswered him agen: "For to be
deliverd," and laye longe aftir in prisoun and at the laste he was deliverd. And was
a man of faire stature and wel shapen and leved an hundred and eight yeris. And
heraftir followe his seyengis, that is to seye: "He maye be called wise that can re-
freyne his tunge." And seith: "Yf thu wilt use counsell, it shal be to thee grete reste,
and laboure to othir." And seith that the lyfe of frendeship is to leve withoute
fraude or baret. And seith: "Be conversaunte with goode men, and thu shalt be oon
of hem; and yf thu be in felaship of evell men, thu shalt folowe her fellaship." And
seith: "He is a liberal man that applieth himself to goode and clene werkis, and that
doth hem in dede, before or he have any occasion to be lette." And seith: "Whanne
the herte is hool in connynge, it shyneth in vertues." And seith that debate is the
fruyte of evel thought. And seith: "A man that is to stille of his speche, he is com-
ounly a man that hath but litil undirstandinge." And seith: "The mouthe shewith
that that lyth in the herte." And seith: "Man shewith by his semblaunt that that lyth
in his herte before or he speke it." And seith: "It is merveile that a man maye be
likened to God, and doth his peyne to make himself lyke a beeste." And seith: "Be-
ware that thu take nat upon thee suche thingis whiche thu mayste be accused of,
for yf thu do it, thu shal be the cause of thyne owen accusacion." And seith: "Peyne
thiself for to gete goode thingis, for by hem thu shalt lose the evel thingis." And
seith: "There was somtyme a wiseman whiche was in the see in a shippe, and by
fortune the ship perysshed. And this wiseman eskaped with gret peyne into a litil
ylonde, and there, beynge allone uppon the brynke of the see, drough a fygure [fol.9r]
of geometry. And there come certeigne maryners and fonde him there, and there
thei toke him and brought him to the kinge of the same cuntré and tolde him of
the aventure: how he eskaped, and what he had made upon the see brynk. Wher-
fore the kinge commaunded in alle his cuntré that every man shulde enforce him-
self for to gete hem thingis that myght abyde though their navire were broken in
the see. That is for to seye: for to lerne connynge and to do goode dedis." And seith
that man berith upon himself two byrdons: oon before and anothir behinde -- and
thes that bene before him bene the errours and the vices of othir folkis, and these
that bene behinde him bene his owen propre vicis. And seide to his sone: "Kepe
thee from vices and covetyses, for and thu be covetous, thu shalt be poure." And
seith: "Yf thu be paciente, thu shal be preysed; and yf thu be proude, thu shalt be
dispreysed." And seith: "A good man is bettir thanne alle maner beestis, and in
lyke wise an evel man is wors and more foule thanne any beest of the erthe." Ande
seith that wisdame is thinge of grete power, whiche causeth every man to do their
craftes by good reason. And seith that knowelech is bettir thanne ignoraunce, for
by knowelech a man maye eschewe to falle in the fyre, and by ignoraunce there
may no man eschewe no perell ne hurte. And seith that this werlde is the hous of
tempeste, and of marchaundyse, for somme by their goode dedis departyn with
wynnynge, and the tothir departen in losse for their symple governaunce. And
seith: "By grete diligence a man cometh to have his entente, and dilectacion is a
swete instrumente; the swete wordis putte aweye grete noyaunce. And to promyse
a thinge and nat fulfille it, it is the puttynge awey of love." And seith: "Ho that hath
grete power in this werlde maye nat rejoyse it longe, and ho that hath noon, he is
dispreysed." And seith: "There maye nat be a fouler thinge thanne for to be a lyer,
and there maye no good thinge be in a lyer."

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