Posts Tagged ‘damisel’

How to Talk to a Beautiful Damisel (I)

Tuesday, July 8th, 1079

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.



I cannot forget this story, because it was one of the rare instances where Father Eusebius had trouble helping me. We were sitting on the bench next to one of the barns of Berzé. And we were unusually silent.

I had come to see him after None, and as usual his wrinkled face broke into a smile when he saw me.

“Renbaudus, it’s a pleasure to see you. Any news for me?”

I had told him a few stories about what was happening in Cluny Abbey, not really touching on the topic I wanted to talk about. He noticed my discomfort.

“My son, what is bothering you? I sense that you have something to get off your chest. Is the Great Shadow of Death creeping in?”

“No, Father. Something is burning there, but it is not like the usual Great Shadow.” I paused for a moment. “It feels good,” I confessed in a whisper.

Father Eusebius raised his white bushy eyebrows.”Are you talking about a damisel?”


We sat looking at the Burgundian landscape, with its lush green forests adorning the gently rolling hills.

“What happened, Renbaudus?”

Guy had his family come over to visit,” I said. “His brother Etienne is at the schola, but not his older brother Renaud. The latter arrived two days ago with their mother, the countess of Burgundy, and two of his sisters, Sybilla and Gisela.”

Father Eusebius nodded, encouraging me to go on.

“Since they are important guests, the great Abbot himself came to welcome them in the guest quarters of the abbey. They returned the favor by hosting a banquet. Guy was nice enough to invite Henry, Josseran, and me to attend it.”

“Did you enjoy the banquet?”

“Yes, the food was excellent! There was a very talented troubadour and we were allowed to drink some wine mixed with water.”


“And…Guy’s two sisters, Sibylla and Gisela also attended the banquet. I noticed Gisela glancing at me several times. The look in her eyes was wonderful.” I paused, and took a deep breath.

“Slowly I felt something growing in me. A strong feeling, like the Great Shadow, but much more pleasant. It has not left me since the banquet and every time I think about her beautiful face, it comes back even stronger.”

Father Eusebius smiled.

“I am not the best adviser for these kinds of matters. But I was young once, too, and I also had feelings. It’s possible that you might be in love with this damisel.”

“It’s a strange feeling. And strong.”

“I’ve heard it can move mountains,” answered the good Father, teasing.

“I know how to use a sword, how to read and write, but suddenly I find myself simply wanting to talk to her and unable to do so. This never happened to me before. At the schola, they don’t teach you that kind of thing.”

“You could look through Ovid,” Father Eusebius answered, “because, ahem, my experience is very limited.”

“Please Father. Please, please, please! You always have a good answer for me. How do I talk to her? I tried to ask Clementia, Josseran’s mother for some advice. She served me even more pottage, pointed her spoon at my face, and said I should focus on my studies, not damisels.”

Half-smiling, the good Father exhaled. “In the name of Iesu, help me.” He held his hands up in mock surrender.

“All right, Renbaudus. Agreed! If even Clementia doesn’t want to help you, I must step up to the plate. And that will be a first in my career. Dear God, you hath me doing just about everything in my life!”


Father Eusebius narrowed his bushy white eyebrows.

“I have much experience talking to damisels and other women. Even though I had a different purpose in doing so, I have noted a few things in their attitudes that might be useful to you.”

I nodded, listening as if my life depended on it.

“Primo, they like to talk. And you have to listen to them! Several times I remember my mind wandering from the not-always-interesting topics offered. A sharp look associated with a high-pitched voice quickly brought me back to the topic at hand.”

“So I will listen to her.”

“Yes but just don’t just look at her gaping. You must talk too. Please Renbaudus, try to be clever. I have seen so many young knights unable to express anything other than the traditional ‘you are beautiful’ line. It can be become quite boring after a while.”

“But Gisela is beautiful, Father,” I said, my eyes wandering up to the blue sky. Almost as beautiful a blue as Gisela’s eyes…

He nudged me.

“I am sure she is lovely, Renbaudus. Nonetheless, you must control yourself. The best way to do that, once again, is to focus on what she is saying. Listen very carefully and answer when appropriate. Also make sure you don’t talk longer than she does.”

I nodded.

“Secundo, you have to compliment her. Whatever you say is up to you but you shouldn’t lie. Be authentic. Women have keen sense in detecting fraudulent assertions.”

“Fraudulent assertions?”

“Flattery. Don’t tell her she has beautiful hands if it is not true. That makes you seem like an evil man. A liar. Damisels are connected in amazing ways. All of them will quickly hear about your evil reputation.”

“That’s scary.”

“So be very careful about what you say, because they will remember it.”

I crossed my arms, a little bit worried. This was not going to be as easy as I thought. Father Eusebius was now on a roll.

“Tertio,” he said raising three gnarled fingers, “you have to  strengthen the relationship slowly. The best way is to stay friendly, helpful, and of good company. Let the friendship flourish,” he said. “Soon you will know how much interest she has in you. Is it boredom? Is it friendship? Is it more than that? Do not worry. She will let you know by her behavior.”

I looked at him, surprised.

“Father, you seem to know a lot about this.”

He swiftly lowered his arm and folded his hands.

“I don’t Renbaudus, I don’t. It’s just that I have observed humans for many years and in many different cultures. They behave the same way, whatever your topic and whomever you are talking too. Diplomacy and love are the same.”

I thought for a moment. “You have given me a lot of advice. I thank you for that. But you still haven’t answered my question. How do I talk to her, the first time?”


My question baffled Father Eusebius.

“This is more difficult than what I thought,” he said. “I want to help you, but at my age and as a monk I don’t have much experience starting a conversation with young damisels.”

I was disappointed. “Father, I cannot just go to her and say ‘Hello, my name is Renbaudus.’”

Suddenly his eyes lit up.

“Why not? That is the most polite and respectful thing to do. It shows that you value her as an equal. Not as a pretty thing.”

I hadn’t thought about that. But Father Eusebius was not finished.

“I have always introduced myself and I noticed that it makes the other person more comfortable. The added benefit for you is that she has to introduce herself too. It will give you time to think about what to say next,” he said. “With a little luck, she even might ask you a question, and from there you can use my triple strategy.”

“This is still scary to me,” I said.

“Why, Renbaudus? What is it that makes you fearful?”

“I don’t know. She looks so beautiful…I don’t want to make a mistake. And if she doesn’t like me?”

The good Father smiled kindly.

“My son, you are thinking too much. First of all, you know your value. You are a talented young man with a promising future. If I were you I would just be myself. Don’t change anything, behave the same way as when you are with your friends or with me. That’s why we like your company, for who you are!”

“Thank you Father. I feel better,” I answered.

“I am not done, Renbaudus. You know your value, but you cannot control other people. If this damisel is nice, she will appreciate you for who you are. If not, she might try to manipulate you or she may reject you. And this could be a holy blessing in disguise,” he said. “You don’t want to be with someone like this. There are many other nice damisels in Burgundy who would be happy to share your time.”

“Thank you Father,” I said. “I think I understand what you mean. I must say that the pull of this force is so strong that it is difficult to separate the truth from the illusion.”

“Yes, I know, my son. Our minds are so powerful that often we can see things where there isn’t anything to see.”

We sat and thought about this important subject.

Then Father Eusebius turned to me. “Why don’t you go back to Cluny today and practice talking to the damisel?”

The look in my eyes clearly revealed that my heart was not as ready as my brain.


Berzé: small village near the abbey of Cluny.
Cluny: abbey located in Burgundy, France. Cluny was the head of the most powerful monastic movement in the Middle Ages.
None: mid-afternoon prayer around 3 pm. It is supposed to be the ninth hour of the day, hence the name. It is interesting to know that the word “afternoon” comes from “after none.”
Great Shadow of Death: of course you know the meaning! (Ahem, just in case, go to this episode to learn more about it.)
Damisel: young girl or lady. Same as damsel.
Guy of Burgundy (Died in 1124): he became pope under the name Calixtus II in 1124. Renbaudus and him kept a close relationship and worked together on the ‘fake’ Codex Calixtinus.
Schola: do you really need help?
Troubadour: a composer and performer of poetic songs.
Ovid (43BC-18AD): he was a Roman poet who wrote about love and seduction. In the Medieval era he became again very popular.

Ethos, Pathos, Logos and Me (I)

Tuesday, June 10th, 1079

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.



Joy filled my soul whenever I visited Berzé. With Father Eusebius supporting me, I always felt like a winner. Back in Cluny, I felt like someone not very smart, especially when studying difficult subjects. My friend Henry helped me. He understood what the teachers meant and explained everything so well.

One can understand why I was looking to escape the iron grip of the Cluny schola for the bucolic atmosphere of Berzé. Here I was again, looking for some encouragement. As usual, Father Eusebius was somewhere in the shadows of the barns. Sometimes he took a quick nap, but always awoke upon hearing my footsteps as I ran to find him.

“Here is my young genius!” he said cheerfully while rubbing his eyes, still red from the nap.

“Father, I am lost! Between the Ethos, the Pathos, and the Legos that brother Sergius taught us this morning, I don’t see the point of all of these useless words! All I want is fight our enemies.”

“Well, Renbaudus,” Father Eusebius said, “you are going to lose.”

“Why? I am working very hard to learn horse riding and swordsmanship. Now only Henry can beat me.”

“And why is this so?” he asked, with a slight smile.

“I don’t know. He is not that much stronger. Somehow he always finds the right moment to strike me. It’s as if he can read my thoughts.”

Father Eusebius laughed out loud.

“Why is it so amusing?” I was disappointed by his attitude.

“Because, Renbaudus, he is reading your thoughts!”

“That’s impossible!”

“Henry has learned to read your body language. Before you move he knows what you are going to do.”

I was shocked. “How can he do that?”

“He is using his brain much more than you. Hence the Ethos, Pathos, Logos and not Legos as you said earlier.

I couldn’t believe it. We had studied such difficult concepts that morning. How could this be linked to Henry’s ability to beat me? “How is it possible? Words and swords? Linked together?”

“Yes, my son. Do you want to know why?”

I nodded, waiting to discover another mystery from my mentor.


“Do you know who Aristotle was?” asked Father Eusebius.

“No I don’t,” I said cautiously. “Was he a valiant knight?”

He chuckled. “He was a knight, yes, but instead of using a sword he used words.”

I frowned. “Words cannot be stronger than a good sword that can kill you.”

“Don’t be so sure,” he said. “If your teacher calls you names and everyone laughs at you, how do you feel?”

“Like… I want to disappear!”

“And my son, what is disappearing? Isn’t it the same idea as that of dying, of being no more present, right here?”

That made sense, and I nodded. “You are right, Father. I know that words can be powerful. If Hilduin does wrong to me, I call him a name that I am sure will sting him.”

“Thank you. You see now that words can be very powerful.”

He paused, smiling. “Let’s talk about Aristotle, this Greek thinker who lived a long time ago. He understood that words equaled power. The power to convince, the power to win someone over, the power to win an argument.”

That was interesting. I looked off in the distance. If I could convince Henry, maybe he would lend me his favorite sword.

Father Eusebius waited until I looked back at him, and then continued. “He spent a lot of time studying, and found the secret to winning a sound argument: the secret of how to have others follow you because of your words.”

“What is this secret?”

“Three magic words,” the good Father answered in a whisper, “Ethos, Pathos, and Logos.”

What? But this is what we studied this morning! This is not a secret!”

“Did you understand what was taught this morning?”

“No,” I whispered.

“So these three words are still secrets for you. And secrets are always magical, Renbaudus. If you want to learn to have the power I just told you about, you’d better understand the three of them!”
“I want to understand!”

“Good, my son. Now tell me what you remember about the morning lectio.”

I kept silent for a while, embarrassed.

“What is the problem? Come on, tell me.”

“I am sorry Father, but I got sleepy. You know brother Sergius’s voice is perfect to doze off to.”

The old cleric shook his head, his eyes twinkling with amusement. “I guess I must start from the beginning.”


“What’s your favorite game?” asked Father Eusebius.

“Knights & Heathens,” I answered, remembering all the fun we had while pretending to be heroes fighting the Infidels.

“Good. Now, who among your friends says, “Let’s play Knights & Heathens”?

“Usually it is Henry.”

Suddenly, Father Eusebius looked at me more closely. He seemed worried. “Why do you and your friends always accept his offer?”

I reassured the good father. “Oh, you know Henry! He is very serious-minded when we play. He tries to balance the teams so we can all have fun. He is so devoted to the game that nobody would dare try cheating.”

“Ethos!” whispered Father Eusebius, with a slight smile on his face.

“I don’t understand. What do you mean?”

“You just said it, Renbaudus. Sincerity! Good reputation! Devotion! These are all the marks of Ethos as defined by the great Aristotle. You play with Henry because he is trustworthy. You wouldn’t play with someone who was known as a deceiver.”

“Father, I get it. If I want to be a convincing person, I need Ethos. I need to be serious minded and have a good reputation. But what about Pathos?”

Father Eusebius reflected for a moment, scratching his white-haired head. “Sometimes when you don’t want to play, what is Henry’s reaction?”

“Actually, it is difficult to resist, because when Henry mentions all the fun I will miss if I don’t play, I usually change my mind. How could I miss this joyful time with my friends?”

“And there is your Pathos, Renbaudus!” he said triumphantly. “It is the emotion that drives us. It can be pleasure, ambition, or anger. Anything that makes us human beings do things we wouldn’t usually do.”

As I thought about Aristotle’s concepts, I wondered if Henry was aware of them, or if it was just natural for him. I felt a little bit envious.

Father Eusebius looked up at the darkening sky and the declining sun. The bell of Berzé sounded None.

“I must go soon,” he said. “Let’s see if Henry is also using Logos. Are there any other reasons he gave you to play this game?”

I kept silent, blushing. Noticing my silence, he looked at me and saw my red complexion. “Uh, Renbaudus, I have to leave, but you wouldn’t want to miss the last of the three secrets that so far you understand so well. Is there something difficult you need to tell? Even to an old and trusted friend?”


I cleared my throat. “It is not that difficult but with you… a holy man…”

Father Eusebius’ face lit up. “I was young too,” he said with a laugh. “We all have desires. There are many beautiful things on Earth created by God.”

I nodded eagerly. “Yes there are beautiful damisels in the village at Cluny. Henry says if we play Knights & Heathens often, we will get better, stronger, and we will win more often.” Trying to sound casual, I added, “I know that the damisels secretly watch our games and cheer for some of us.”

Smiling, Father Eusebius put a hand on my shoulder. “Thank you for trusting me with this matter. God forbid I tell anyone. I will take it to my grave.”

“Thank you, Father. But tell me, is Henry using Logos?”

“Indeed. He is giving you practical reasons as to why you should play. Logos, as you should know, means “word” in Greek. When we talk about Logos, there are no emotions involved, only facts. Logos appeals to your logic. It’s all about why you should do something. In your case, you can enhance your physical skills by practicing this game over and over. To which, by the way, Henry or you, finally suggests…”

I cut off Father Eusebius. “I know! To another Pathos…the pretty damisels.”

He tapped my back. “Excellent! You now understand Aristotle’s three principles to giving a convincing speech.”

“Yes, Father. If I absolutely want someone to help me, I should do three things: primo, state how much I am trusted and respected for my knowledge; secundo, tell that person how much fun he will have helping me; and tertio, explain what he can get or learn by helping me.”

Father Eusebius nodded. “Well said. Don’t forget, though, that your message must be true and appealing to your interlocutor. You wouldn’t want to try to convince an old woman to become a miles.”

I laughed out loud as the sun set over Berzé.

He looked me in the eye. “Could you do me a favor, Renbaudus?”

“Of course Father, and I want to thank you for enlightening me.”

He lowered his voice. “Please, try, in the next few days, to find how to apply the three secrets to your life. You don’t want Henry being the only one enjoying their power.”

“I’ll do my best, and I’ll report to you.”

“God bless you, my son.”

As he was about to stand, he stopped. “Did you know that Aristotle was a teacher?”

“No, but he couldn’t be as good as you, Father.”

He let out a little laugh. “Ah, Renbaudus, you just made my day brighter! Aristotle was a greater teacher than I can ever be. To prove it,” he said, “let me tell you the name of one of his young students: Alexander the Great.”

He stood up and left me wide-eyed and speechless.

Alexander The Great? I thought. The greatest warrior of all times? The man who conquered almost all the known world, never to be defeated?

Benedicite Dominum !” I mumbled, slowly standing up as Father Eusebius cautiously made his way to the chapel.


Berzé: Small village near the abbey of Cluny.
Cluny: Abbey located in Burgundy, France. Cluny was the head of the most powerful monastic movement in the Middle Ages.
Bucolic: charming scenery in the countryside.
Aristotle (384BC-322BC): He was one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy along with Socrates and Plato. His views are still actively studied today.
Lectio, lectionis: lesson, class, lecture.
None: Mid-afternoon prayer rung by the bells around 3pm.
Interlocutor: conversation partner.
Miles, militis: soldier.
Alexander the Great (356BC-323BC): He was one of the most successful military commanders of all time and is presumed undefeated in battle.