Back to top

3. Zac


1 Ho, who.

4 mayntene, maintain.

5 fredame, freedom.

7 thresour, treasure.

11 brenne, burn.

12 hem, them.

13 her, their.

17 delyver, remove.


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 Zac. Zac, or "Tac," is probably the Egyptian god Thoth (S, p. 207n16). See the explanatory note for Hermes, line 1. This brief section seems to be a coda to the Hermes chapter, for Zac too deals mainly with the issue of good kingship.

7-9 These lines endorse generosity, one of the most important virtues a king could possess. Treasure was the lifeblood of medieval heroic culture; a good lord amassed wealth so that he could distribute it to his followers as a reward for their loyalty and military service. We see this ethos at work in the so-called comitatus ('fellowship') of Anglo-Saxon literature, where the members of the war band demonstrate their deep fraternal love through the symbolic exchange of treasure (see in particular Beowulf, The Battle of Maldon, and The Fight at Finnsburg). The bad king in Anglo-Saxon literature is one like Beowulf's Heremod, who hoards his wealth and thereby prevents it from being circulated.

11 ff. That is, the king is the head of the body politic. If he makes good decisions by appointing and supporting wise and virtuous counselors, the kingdom will prosper; if, however, he supports the noughty people, the social hierarchy will break down and he will be faced with anarchy.

17-18 And seith that a prince shulde nat lerne alle thingis. Interestingly, Zac does not specify what a king should not know. Perhaps what the philosopher means is that a ruler should not be told of the more nefarious tasks his henchmen are undertaking so that the king himself can maintain what we would today call "plausible deniability."




[fol. 7v] Zac seith: "Ho that hath no power over his witte, he hath no power over his
anger." And seith that a wise prince shulde nat by his wille be at debate with oon
that is gretter and of more power thanne he is himself. And seith: "Whanne a kinge
hath conquered and overcomen his enemye, he shulde kepe him and mayntene him
in goode custumes, in justices, and in fredame, in pacience, in pardouns, and in
othir goodnesses, for in suche wise a man makith him that was his enemye his
frende." And seith: "Yf a kinge assemble an uteragious thresour and dispendith it
nat upon thes thingis whiche thei were ordeigned to, he shal lose bothe his thre-
soure and his realme." And seith that the kingis subjectis bene to him as the wynde
is with the fyre, for whanne the fyre is light in that place where that there is no
wynde, he laboureth himself to brenne the faster. And seith: "A kinge shuld knowe
hem that servyn him and establisshe every man aftir his degree, firste aftir his wis-
dame, his discrecioun, and his trouthe. And he shulde geve hem aftir her deserv-
ynge, for oftentymes thei geve to the mysruled people whiche never deserved it, and
thanne it shal withdrawe the courages of hem that have bene his true servauntis,
and so in short tyme he shal have so many of thes noughty people that it shal nat
lye in his power for to delyver hem fro him." And seith that a prince shulde nat
lerne alle thingis, for ther ben many thingis that a prince shulde nat knowe.

Go To 4. Zalquaquine