How to Stop a Bully (II)

The codex Renbaudus was found in 1962 in Southeastern France. It contains the memoirs in Latin of an 11th century Norman knight, Renbaudus of Bernay. The codex mainly narrates his pilgrimage to Jerusalem between 1095 and 1099.

Even though many pages of the codex have been lost, it is now understood that it originally contained different sections. In one of the few surviving ones, Renbaudus describes his childhood and the lessons he learned from the Benedictine monks who raised him at Cluny abbey.

As a codicologist, my aim is to translate and share with you what he wrote more than 10 centuries ago, hoping these timeless lessons will be useful. I have taken some stylish liberties and you can find a glossary at the bottom for place names, difficult words and Latin words. You may also hover over the dotted-underlined words to get the definitions.




Pain in my back!

The devil.

The devil is grabbing my throat!

Horrified, I think about all those sculptures I have seen in church where poor sinners, surrounded by grinning monsters, are swallowed by flames.

“No!” I scream, “I don’t want to die like this!”

Die? Am I not dead yet? I hear a voice, “Renbaudus, Renbaudus!” Henry’s voice. He went to hell too? He couldn’t stay in purgatory?

“Renbaudus! Wake up!” said Henry.

I could feel the cold ground on my face. I was alive! And Henry too.

Slowly regaining my wits, I sat up. My back was on fire.

“What did he do to us?” I asked Henry.

“He hit us with the flat of his sword.”

“Your brother is a madman! This has to stop.”

“I know, but what can we do? We are not strong enough to stop him. At least not yet,” said Henry.

“We cannot wait. We have to do something now or one of us will really go to hell. I will talk to Father Eusebius. Maybe he can help.”

As soon as possible, I made the quick trip to Berzé where, as usual, Father Eusebius sat daydreaming on a bench near the presbytery.

His eyes lighted up when he recognized me.

“Here you are, Renbaudus. The smartest boy ever coming from the Duchy of Normandy!”

“It doesn’t do me any good in Burgundy” I answered somberly.

“What happened?”

“It’s Otto, again. He is treating us like animals. Because we are small, he is taking advantage of us.”

I quickly told him about the latest events from the abbey. Father Eusebius, carefully listening to me, nodded several times. “I see,” he said. “Another case of misdirected energy. Otto could be much more useful if he was not wasting his strength on petty conflicts.”

“You know that he is supposed to become a cleric, Father.”

Father Eusebius raised his white bushy eyebrows. “So it will get worse, unless something happens.”

He paused for a moment and went on. “If I correctly understood your story, Renbaudus, it seems to me that there are two problems.”

“Two? No Father, Otto is the only problem!”

“My son, he is the second one. The first one is you.”

“Me?” I echoed in disbelief. “But he is the one bullying us!”

“Yes. The bully is one part of the equation. But the first part starts with you, Josseran, and Henry.”

“We didn’t do anything wrong. How can it be?” I asked, unconvinced.

“I can tell you. But before I begin, would you mind going to the coquina and bringing me back some bread and cheese? Your case is interesting, and it’s getting me hungry!”

And alive too, I thought, while running to grab the food. Father Eusebius, with all respect, seemed to be only interested in problems to resolve. In conflicts to settle. In mysteries to solve.

Whenever I asked him a question related to my problems in Cluny, he always seemed to become more alive than usual.


Munching on the bread, Father Eusebius sat lost in his thoughts. Beside him I was patiently waiting, knowing that he would start talking when he felt like it.

“Are you a weak boy, Renbaudus?” he suddenly asked.

“No, I don’t think so. Only Henry can beat me when we play Knights & Heathens.”

“How about Josseran?”

“He is the weakest.”

“Is he good at something?”

“Yes. He is smart and very skilled at writing and reading. And he loves to write.”

Father Eusebius was back to munching. It lasted a long time. Unable to wait more, I let out my frustration. “Why are you asking me those questions?”

You tell me. Renbaudus.”

“This is not related to Otto and his bullying.”

“Do you think so?”

“Not really. I am sorry. So if I follow your idea, I am strong. Henry is stronger than me, and Josseran is smart and talented in writing.”

The good Father nodded. I went on.

“We can do things. If we combine our talents, we are doing pretty good.”

I thought for a while. “Maybe we see ourselves as weaker than we really are.”

“I couldn’t have said it better.” Father Eusebius chuckled.

“This is the first problem?” I asked to make sure I understood well.

“Yes. Each time you talk to me about Otto, you label yourself as smaller or weaker or younger. You have already lost the battle against Otto and there is no possibility for you to win. Your mind is already defeated.”

“But Father, he looks so strong and tall…”

“Here you go again!” laughed Father Eusebius. “Stop saying that or you will never be able to face enemies who look stronger.”

I was not convinced by his words. He had never faced Otto the Red for real. Henry’s brother was scary.

“I can see that you are still thinking about Otto from a losing point of view,” said Father Eusebius, still laughing.

I blushed. The good Father was a master at reading someone else’s thoughts. My face must have betrayed my feelings.

“Father, I want to think that Otto is not stronger than me but after yesterday’s events, it is difficult.”

“This pattern is already deeply rooted in your brain, Renbaudus. It has been a long time since the younger children of Cluny began seeing Otto as a danger.”

“Can you help us change that?”

“I can share a few thoughts that might be useful. After that, it is up to you and your friends.”

I knew that Father Eusebius was a man of modesty. I knew that what he would share, once again, would prove invaluable in my life. I nodded, waiting as patiently as I could.

Finished with his bread, he turned and looked deeply into my eyes. “Can you picture Otto the Red naked?”


I couldn’t help but burst into laughter. Otto naked? That was so funny that it took me some time to settle back on the bench. I had to wipe the tears from my eyes.

Father Eusebius could be hilarious sometimes. What a good joke! I had to tell that to Henry and Josseran.

The good Father was gazing at the hills. “That was not the reaction of a scared little boy thinking about Otto. Am I right?”

“Yes Father, I was not scared at all. Otto naked! That is so funny!”

“Now, can you still picture Otto naked but with a sword in hand?”

I laughed out loud at Father Eusebius’s new joke.

“Yes I can.” I could barely talk. This was so humorous.

“Now focus on him, looking at you, angry…and naked.”

“Yes, I see him!” I was almost choking.

“Now he runs to you, angry, his sword high…and he’s naked.”

“Yes, he is running! I am laughing at him and I dodge his blow. Carried away by his momentum he lands face down on the ground, showing his big butt to everyone!”

Father Eusebius laughed with me. “That’s a great conclusion. Well done, Renbaudus!”

It took me some time to gather my wits after such an entertaining exercise. Father Eusebius sat waiting, picking off crumbs of bread from his robe. A cow mooed in the distance.

“Father, what amazes me is that the same person, depending on how you picture him, can look completely different. Otto doesn’t look scary now.”

I scratched my chin. “I guess I have to carefully choose my thoughts. Do you think I can do that? I have always understood that thoughts just come up to your brain. You cannot stop them.”

“It is quite the opposite, Renbaudus. You can decide what your next thought will be. Fear or focus: it is your choice. Naturally, when something that looks dangerous suddenly appears, we react with fear and flee. But not all situations require this strong reaction.”

I reflected on Father Eusebius’ words. It is true that there was no need to be that fearful with Otto. He was not going to kill us. Beat us yes, but not kill us. I turned to Father Eusebius.

“Otto trained us to react fearfully. By threatening us and shoving us ever since I can remember, he drove us to be in constant fear of him. It is like when we give a bone to a dog everyday,” I said. “After a while he always expect us to throw him one. We are like pets.”

Father Eusebius’s white-haired head slowly nodded. “That’s how the world runs, my son. By training. Good or bad.”

We kept silent for a while. He sighed in appreciation. “Renbaudus, I have to thank you for being open to new things today. You could think differently because you tried hard. Well done!”

“Father, you are one of God’s most precious creations and I am so blessed to know you.”

“Leave God out of this, will you?” laughed the good Father. “He is too busy with other things.”

He turned to me and raised a white bushy eyebrow. “What will you do now?”

“I have to share this with Henry and Josseran. I will let you know their reaction. But I am sure they will have a good time too. If they do, maybe we can find a way to handle Otto…naked or not.”

We both burst into laughter. Again.

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