Middle English Word of the Moment

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Mors et vita in manibus lingue

Another interesting quote which reflects on the conflicting mediaeval ideas of the power and proper function of speech, and indeed the fascination with that ambiguity:

Mors et vita in manibus lingue. Mors: quia lingua que mentitur occidit animam. Vita: quia ore conuersio sit ad salutem. [1]

Roughly:

"Death and life lie in the power [lit. 'the hand', which is a diverting image] of the tongue. Death, because the lying tongue slays the soul. Life, because the mouth brings conversion to salvation."

Dante's Virgil would have so much to say on the subject!


[1] Raoul Ardent, Speculum universale distinctionem de virtutibus et vitiis eisdem oppositis, c. 1195, Bibliotheque Nationale MS. la. 3240, ff. 1r-203v: 161r. Cited in Craun, Lies, slander, and obscenity in medieval English literature: pastoral rhetoric and the deviant speaker (Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1997) 72.

1 comment:

Lady D. said...

I can see a whole sermon being made out of that!