Posts Tagged ‘Lectio’

The Great Shadow of Death (II)

Thursday, June 19th, 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.

G.B.

-IV-

The next time I met Father Eusebius, Henry was with me. The Great Abbot Hugh had authorized us to spend the night in Berzé. Delighted at the prospect of more freedom, we rushed there just after the None prayers.

Berzé was one of the barns around Cluny Abbey. Crop harvests were stored there waiting to feed the large population of the mother house. Its peaceful atmosphere and its proximity had made it a favorite of the Great Abbot.

At Berzé, the cena was, as always, pleasant. The harsh Cluniac monastic rules didn’t apply at the small church, and we felt good escaping the detailed rules of Cluny. Sitting among elderly monks, we could talk freely while eating, something that was not permitted at the mother house.

As we were enjoying a warm pottage with freshly baked bread, Father Eusebius looked at me. “Renbaudus, I am curious to know what happened to the Prime cleaning of your classroom.”

Henry turned to me before I could open my mouth. “Now I get it!”

The good Father looked puzzled.

Before he could say anything, I waved my hands. “Please Father, let me explain from the beginning.” I gave Henry a warning look. He shrugged and focused on his pottage.

“After our conversation, I gathered my six classmates who were supposed to do the cleaning of the classroom. I told them that I wanted to play Knights & Heathens. Everyone cheered. I said that I wanted to play in the morning. Josseran who, as you know. is the smartest of the bunch, asked me when we were going to play, as we had no time between Prime, the cleaning, and the start of the lectiones.”

Father Eusebius listened carefully and Henry slowly emptied his bowl.

“I asked my group if they had any ideas, but no one answered. I then suggested that maybe we could play and clean at the same time. They looked at each other and Guy asked how we could achieve that.”

Several other monks started to pay attention. Father Eusebius raised his white, bushy eyebrows. “I am curious too. What was your idea?”

“I explained that we would all be Knights and everything that had to be cleaned would be Heathens. Everyone thought it was a great idea. I asked if they would come next morning after Prime and I got a resounding ‘Yes!’ which pleased me.”

Father Eusebius looked around the table. “I think that was a good idea.”

Everyone agreed.

“So next day after Prime, did everyone come?”

-V-

“Every single classmate came. Even Hilduinus who is the youngest and we feel is still a toddler,” I answered, pulling off a big chunk of bread from the still-warm loaf. “I felt proud of myself.”

The good Father frowned.

“I am sorry. I shouldn’t have. Because then, we grabbed our brooms made of boxwood branches and started to feverishly attack the dust all around the room.”

“And this was when the Heathens started to win!” offered Brother Tolius, the prior of Berzé.

I looked down at my remaining pottage. “Yes. It sort of got out of hand.”

Father Eusebius looked around the table. “I think we should congratulate Renbaudus for his efforts.” Several heads nodded. His gaze returned to me. “Tell us what you learned from this first attempt.”

“We were so excited to fight the dust with our brooms that we didn’t notice we were not cleaning anything,” I said. “We were laughing and running all over the place. The dust flew everywhere. A few of us got hit by some else’s broom. And then Brother Servius opened the door.”

Around the table, most of the monks were smiling. Father Eusebius tried to remain solemn. “Was it time to start the first lectio?”

I nodded.

“You must have felt uncomfortable,” said the good Father.

“I thought I was going to die right there! Father Servius was furious. He kicked my butt out of the room and sent me to the Great Prior for punishment.”

Henry was laughing. “That story was very popular around the abbey for the next few days.”

Father Eusebius smiled. “Renbaudus, did you understand what was wrong with your agreement?”

“Yes. It should have been much more detailed.”

“What happened next?”

“The Great Prior, Father Odo, asked me a few questions and I explained about having people work in agreement with you. He then ordered me to clean the whole room by myself after the lectiones were over.”

“Fair enough?” asked Father Eusebius.

“Yes it was, and Henry was nice enough to help me.”

The good Father turned to my friend. “I know we can always rely on you, Henry.”

He shrugged. “Renbaudus didn’t do anything wrong. He tried to make things better. It just didn’t go the way he wanted.”

“I thought the Great Prior would ground me for several days,” I said, “but he surprised me. He told me to gather my group in the afternoon, to review my strategy, and start the Prime cleaning again the next morning.”

“He gave you another chance? That was noble,” said Father Eusebius.

“Yes, but that gave me a lot of ‘Great Shadow of Death’ feelings because I didn’t want to mess up again. So I took a long walk around the walls of the abbey, thinking about what I could do.”

Everyone at the table was paying attention.

In the corner of my eye I saw Father Eusebius retreating a little bit and smiling to himself. That made me feel good. He trusted my abilities. He knew I couldn’t fail.

Brother Tolius couldn’t wait. “Did you find a new idea?”

I looked at Father Eusebius. I must have looked proud.

Of me.

Of him.

“Yes, I did.”

-VI-

The prior got excited. “So? Tell us!”

The other monks shushed him and they all looked at me.

“As I was walking, I thought the ‘Knights & Heathens’ idea was not good because it didn’t fit in a classroom. I had to find something, a reward within the setting of the room. But I couldn’t think of anything. What we usually like to do happens outdoors.”

Henry nodded. “It is so much fun to be running outside.”

Everyone shushed him.

“One thing I learned a while ago from Father Eusebius,” I said, “is that if you cannot find a good answer to your problem, try to reverse it.”

The good Father nodded in appreciation.

“So I asked myself, what could be helpful for them in the classroom setting?”

The grey-headed monks around the table suggested a few solutions:

“Reviewing lessons?”

“Correcting homework!”

“Tutoring?”

I turned to Henry. “You know what? Each time we have a problem, we should come here and ask them. They have all the answers. And fast!”

We all laughed.

Brother Tolius was still curious. “How did you convince them?”

“After None I gathered my group in the small cloister. They were not really eager to listen to me. They had endured the ire of Brother Servius while getting extra homework. The last thing they wanted to hear was one of my new ideas.”

I was getting thirsty from talking so long in front of such a wise assembly. Henry understood, and gave me a bowl of fresh grape juice. I quickly downed it, cleaned my mouth with the back of my hand, and went on with my story.

“I asked them, ‘Do you always have time to do your homework before the schola? Do you always understand the exercises?’ They shook their heads, not saying a word for fear of having to commit to anything I might offer. I then said, ‘Before the first lectio, we have plenty of time to clean the room. Then those who want to ask a question can do so. But you can only ask one question. If you want to ask a second one, you must first answer a classmate’s question.’ After thinking about it, they all agreed.”

“Very elegant solution,” chimed in brother Gregorius. “A perfect distribution of the weight in a very scalable way.”

I frowned, not understanding what he meant.

Father Eusebius helped me. “He means that you made sure that there were not only people asking questions, but also that everyone got the opportunity to ask at least one. Very shrewd indeed.”

Brother Tolius was again curious. “Next morning, how did it go?”

I smiled. “I had doubts, but everyone came. We quickly cleaned the room and then sat in small groups to help each other. When Brother Servius opened the door, he was astounded to see us, writing, reading, or talking quietly to each other.”

There was silence in the small refectory.

Father Eusebius slowly stood up, his joints creaking. “Thank you Renbaudus, for this enjoyable story. As I keep saying to you and Henry, there is always a way. Just think! There is always an answer. If we cannot see it, often it is because we don’t want to see it. But the solution is there, whether we like it or not.”

I didn’t grasp his cryptic words. I looked at Henry who shook his head, letting me know that he also could not understand what the good Father meant. But by then I was too tired to ask.

Maybe tomorrow.

Glossary:

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.”
Cena, cenae: dinner, supper.
Lectio, lectionis: lesson, class, lecture.
Ire (from the Latin ira, irae): anger, rage. The words “irascible” or “irate” are derived from it.
Extra: believe it or not but this is also a Latin word meaning “outside of.” Here the meaning suggests “more than the regular homework. Outside of the regular amount.” Think also extraordinary, extraterrestrial, or extra time!

The Great Shadow of Death (I)

Thursday, June 19th, 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.

G.B.

-I-

Whenever I went to Berzé, I could tell that Father Eusebius was excited to see me. I took this feeling for granted, but as I matured, I came to have much more respect for him.

He was a treasure trove of uncommon ideas. His travels and his contacts with different cultures had made him a cultivated man. The time spent with the Saracens had a major influence on him. In their wonderful libraries he had read books from their greatest thinkers and from ancient civilizations.

Even though, in my child’s mind, I couldn’t understand why he had lived among heathens, something must have been good, because he was now such a wise man.

I came to him one day, and started complaining about my classmates of the schola at Cluny Abbey. He stopped me right away, raising his hand.

“Renbaudus,” he said, as he sat in the shade of the huge barns, “please be silent.”

“I am sorry, Father, if I interrupted you,” I said, annoyed at being rebuffed. I sat too on the bench next to him.

“You are not interrupting but I think I heard the voice of the Great Shadow of Death.”

I winced. I knew right away what he meant. The Great Shadow of Death was something he had already explained to me.

“Whenever we are feeling bad, sad, disappointed, angered, or jealous,” he had told me, “anything that makes us uncomfortable, you must know that the Great Shadow of Death has taken you over.”

The first time he had explained that to me, I got really scared. “But Iesu will save me?” I’d responded, panicked.

“No, Renbaudus, He cannot help. Nobody can.”

Tears welled up in my eyes. “Father, this is worse than hell!”

He nodded. “Yes, because you burn. From the inside.”

“But I’ve never smelled smoke coming from my insides!”

“It is because the Great Shadow of Death burns very slowly. You won’t smell it, you won’t see it but you will feel it, especially in your stomach or your heart. Sometimes your eyes will get blurry and that is the smoke of the Great Shadow of Death.”

He paused, giving me time to absorb what he had just said. “It is called Great Shadow because it clouds your judgment, and Death because this repetition of burning from the inside will slowly kill you.”

That was awful!

In my child’s mind, I thought for a while. True, when I was angry my stomach would churn and my eyes would get teary. I hated this feeling! And it was going to kill me insidiously. That was not fair. I looked at Father Eusebius. “If I pray faithfully, can I get rid of it?”

“No. God cannot help. It is inside you, creeping out at the slightest hint of anger.”

His answer left me scared and helpless. I lowered my head.

We stayed silent for a while.

“I can feel it, Father. The Great Shadow is burning here,” I said pointing to my stomach.

“Good, my son. It is important to become aware of it. A lot of people don’t even notice it.”

Father Eusebius took a deep breath. “Can you keep a secret?”

I nodded.

“There is a way to fight the Great Shadow of Death.”

-IJ-

My spirits quickly lifted. “How can I?” I asked.

Father Eusebius put a finger on his mouth while looking around suspiciously. He moved closer and whispered, “Don’t talk too loud. If the Great Shadow can hear you, it’s over,” he said dramatically.

“So what should I do?”

“God doesn’t leave us naked to face our challenges. He always leaves a solution. If you let the Great Shadow of Death take you over, then the fire and the smoke will burn your body and your judgment. You must get higher. Above the smoke.”

I nodded, not really understanding what he meant.

“It is like a ladder leaning against a fortification. If you stay at the bottom of the ladder, you have no chance of survival. If you climb up quickly and surreptitiously, you can reach the top of the wall and may beat your enemy. Right?”

“Yes, Father. Climbing a ladder on a rampart I understand. But how do you climb the ladder inside your body?”

“Primo, by understanding that the Great Shadow has taken you over.”

“I just did, Father!”

“Good! Secundo, you must discover what kind of feeling the Great Shadow is using.”

“Right now, I guess it’s fear. Fear of the Great Shadow.”

“Well done, my son. Tertio is to go higher on the ladder. You have to know that the highest level of this ladder is pure happiness.”

“Happiness? How do I get happy if I am scared like I am now?”

Father Eusebius smiled, and then said, “Climb the ladder. Go higher. Change what is in your mind.”

I cannot!” I blurted.

“Yes you can. You just don’t know that you can,” laughed the good Father. “It will take some time but I swear to you, in the name of the Holy Spirit, that you can. Any of us can. We just don’t know it!”

Father Eusebius looked deep into my eyes. “Do you think God would leave us helpless? He gave us everything we need. We just forgot how to use this divine tool that is our mind!”

“My mind? A divine tool?”

“Yes, Renbaudus. Let me prove it to you by doing a little experiment. Can you remember a happy moment in the last few days?”

“Yes, I can!”

“What was it?”

“When I played Knights & Heathens with my friends.”

“Can you describe what you see in your head?”

“We are running around, laughing, and pushing each other.”

“Do you feel good, thinking about this moment?”

“Yes!”

“See: the Great Shadow of Death is gone.”

I was astounded. He was right. I had no more fear. “This is incredible, Father!”

“I told you. It is a divine tool. You must be the master of your mind. Not the other way around. Your mind shouldn’t dictate your thoughts.”

“Dictate?”

“Decide for you. Renbaudus, you must be the master in your head.”

That’s why I winced when Father Eusebius told me he had heard the Great Shadow of Death coming when I was complaining about my classmates. And I knew what he meant.

I had to be the master. In my head.

-IIJ-

“Let’s start again from the beginning,” said Father Eusebius. “What was the reason you came to see me today?”

This time, I carefully chose my words. “I wanted to have your advice about something that is happening at the schola.”

The good Father nodded, listening.

“Our magister, Brother Servius, has asked me to supervise my younger classmates and have them clean the classroom after Prime, before we start the lectio in the morning.”

Father Eusebius raised his white, bushy eyebrows attentively.

“I asked them to come to the classroom when the bells are ringing the end of the Prime prayers but, besides Josseran, very few of them show up. Often, I end up sharing the cleaning with one or two classmates instead of six. They are not serious, they are a problem.”

Father Eusebius grinned. “No Renbaudus, you are the problem.”

His answer took me by surprise. “I am the problem? But I am in the classroom after Prime. They are not!”

“You expect them to be there?”

“Yes, I do. I asked them.”

“That’s why you are in trouble. If you expect something from someone and if that person doesn’t live up to your expectations, you are disappointed.”

“Of course.”

“Renbaudus, never expect anything from anyone!”

“Really? But how do I get things done? How can we clean the classroom together?”

“If your classmates are not coming it is because they don’t have a reason to. If you tell them to be there after Prime, why should they come? That’s why you are the problem.”

“I still don’t understand. What else can I do? Threaten them with my sword?”

Father Eusebius laughed. “You could. But I am not sure you would get great results. Anyway, as soon as you would stop threatening them, they would not come. Think some more.”

I scratched my head. “I could pay them.”

“It is possible. Let me ask you: where is this money coming from? If one day you don’t have any, they will not do the job. Agreed?”

I crossed my arms, unhappy. “Things are complicated. Why didn’t God make our world simpler?”

“Because he wants you to learn. Use your brain. Think my son, think. Can you give me an example from your life in Cluny where things are simple?

I didn’t hesitate. “When we play Knights & Heathens!”

“Why is it so? What’s the difference with cleaning the classroom?”

I laughed out loud. “Father, you’ve never played Knights & Heathens? It’s a great game. There is a lot of action. It’s fun! But cleaning the classroom…”

“I see. Do you have rules when you play Knights & Heathens?”

“We do.”

“Everyone agrees with the rules?”

I smiled. “I know you Father, you always do like Socrates. With your questions, you are helping me find the right answer!”

The good Father chuckled. “My son, you are getting too smart for me.”

“Now I can see why cleaning the classroom is not successful. When I required them to come after Prime, they didn’t agree. I just made up my rules and expected them to follow me. This is why it is not working. This is why I am the problem!”

“Wonderful, Renbaudus!”

“We have to agree on the rules,” I said. “Maybe we can even make them entertaining. That would be a great reward.”

Father Eusebius patted my back. “Ah, this is getting interesting,” he said. “I would be curious to know how you could do that.”

“I will tell you as soon as I…sorry, as soon as we implement those rules.”

“Well done, Renbaudus. You thought hard and found new keys to unlock a difficult situation.”

Glossary:

Berzé: Small village near the abbey of Cluny.
Saracens: Name given by Europeans in the Middle Ages to all who professed the religion of Islam.
Heathens: In the Medieval era, a person who did not hold Christian beliefs.
Schola, scholae: school.
Cluny: Abbey located in Burgundy, France. Cluny was the head of the most powerful monastic movement in the Middle Ages.
Magister, magistri: teacher, tutor.
Prime: Early morning prayer rung by the bells around 6 am.
Lectio, lectionis: lesson, class, lecture.
Socrates (469BC-399BC): He was one of the founding fathers of Western philosophy along with Plato and Aristotle. He is famous for his “Socratic Method” where he would ask a student a series of questions to help stimulate thinking and find ideas.

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.

G.B.

-I-

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.

-IJ-

“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.”

-IIJ-

“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?”

-IIIJ-

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.

Glossary:

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.

How to Stop a Bully (III)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 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.

G.B.

VIJ

The very next day, Henry and I again went to Josseran’s house. This time, we had decided, there was no way his mother would stop us from seeing him.

Clementia didn’t argue, and let us in. The room was dark. Josseran was resting on the bed, his small frame propped against a pillow. As we came closer, we noticed that parts of his face were bruised and swollen. One of his eyes was barely open. He made a small welcoming gesture with his hand as we sat on the edge of his bed.

Seeing him like this made me even more eager to move things around. Otto had to be stopped! His mother left us, and I started telling them about my meeting with Father Eusebius.

When I came to the part about thinking of Otto as naked, Henry laughed, but Josseran didn’t. Even though the image was funny for him too, his fear was stronger.

I kept going, trying to muster all the nakedness of Otto I could imagine. On a horse, at the schola, in the church. Josseran was still tight-lipped, not letting himself laugh. Finally Henry, who was enjoying multiple images of his brother naked, said, “How about, in the latrina?”

Josseran and I looked at each other and we burst into laughter. Now, we were all three rolling on the bed and clapping our hands as we pictured Otto, sword at his side, doing his thing. Naked.

Josseran was now crying with joy.

“Stop please!” he said, “My eyes hurt!”

“My stomach, too,” Henry managed to say between hiccups.

After a while, the laughter subsided. While we all were drying our eyes, Henry began talking: “My brother naked. That is such a good joke!”

“And it makes him not that scary anymore,” I said.

“True,” echoed Josseran. “Thank you for bringing me some joy. But out there, Otto is still roaming, fully clothed.”

I jumped in. “Josseran, if you can laugh at Otto here, it means that he is not that scary anymore. Next time you see him, keep this image in mind. Don’t let him overpower your thinking! Father Eusebius told me that we are what we think. Your mind is powerful, Josseran,” I said. “You can read and write better than any of us. You can also use that power against Otto!”

“I can picture him naked, but when he is going to hit me, that’s not going to help,” answered the little Lord of Bagé.

Henry was thinking.

“You are right, Josseran,” he said. “We have to reverse the trend. Now that we know we can laugh at him, we have to find a way to make him aware that we are not afraid of him.”

Josseran lowered his head. “I am still scared of him. I don’t want to be in a situation where I find myself alone with all three of them beating me.”

VIIJ

“Otto is not always with his cunning friends,” I said.

Henry slapped my back.

“That’s true, Renbaudus! And Josseran doesn’t have to be alone. We can organize ourselves to have at least two friends with him when he is outside the buildings. Otherwise, in the schola or in the scriptorium, he is safe.”

He looked at Josseran. “What do you think?”

“I will feel better, but we will have to organize ourselves very carefully.”

Henry nodded.”Yes, and the same for us. We cannot afford to be alone outside after dark.”

I stood up, troubled.”That can only be a temporary solution, because by protecting Josseran all the time or walking in groups, we will show Otto that we are still fearful of him. We have to beat him.”

“Beat him?” said Josseran, “What’s the point? He will get his revenge.”

We kept silent for a while. I looked at Henry. He was slowly blowing air into his fist, which was tucked against his mouth, a gesture showing he was thinking deeply. He suddenly stopped and looked at us.

“Father Eusebius is right. We are what we think. We can beat Otto. Not one time, as you said, Josseran. That would be playing his game and, as we painfully know, my brother is much stronger than us.

“Why don’t we change the playing field?” he said, eyes glittering. “How about we play by our rules?”

Josseran and I looked at each other, not quite understanding him.

“It is like when we train our physical skills,” said Henry. “I am good at swordmanship. Renbaudus, I can beat you more often than you wish. But when we are horseriding and dueling, spears in hand, there, my friend, you beat me more than I wish for.”

I slowly nodded, appreciating the compliment. Josseran was still skeptical.

“That’s a great idea, Henry. We bring him to play by our rules. But he doesn’t have to play at all.”

Henry stood up and started pacing the room, ignoring the few hens who were looking for scraps of food on the dirt floor.

“This is when we use our brains! Thank you God! I love Father Eusebius’ concept.”

He stopped, turned around and looked at us, opening his arms, smiling as if God’s grace had touched him.

“What could stop Otto the Red bullying forever?”

Josseran and I didn’t answer, not sure what Henry wanted to say. The look in his eyes was almost like he was getting divine guidance. He was truly inspired!

“Our best weapon will not be a sword, a spear, or acting as a group.”

He paused and pointed one finger up.

“No, if we want to have my brother leave us alone,” he said, “we need more than that. We need only one piece of information.”

VIIIJ

The next few days, Cluny Abbey became our battleground. First, we had to organize our own protection.

Classmates from the schola who had been shoved or beaten over and over were more than eager to help. We created schedules so that not one of us would find himself alone outside in the daytime. Josseran received special protection, and always had three or four classmates with him as he was going from home, to the schola, or to the scriptorium.

Our dormitorium, in the nutriti’s building, became our headquarters. Brother Eginhard was surprised to see almost everyone up even before he called us for Prime. Our whispers and sudden silences, when he entered our large room lined up with beds, frustrated him.

“God is all powerful!” he exclaimed one day. “He can see through you. You’d better not scheme, but instead study hard or you will go to hell!”

Otto too, at first, was upset. He couldn’t let his instincts dictate his behavior anymore. Several times, alone or with his friends, he tried to scare us. But as a group, we found new strength, hardening our faces to impress him.

Anyway, in the daytime it was difficult for Otto to act on a whim among monks or visitors to the abbey. Frustrated too, he kicked a few poor dogs, and even began slapping his friends. That gave us further confidence.

But Otto the Red was not stupid. He decided to wait, too. Arms crossed, with Ranulf and Toly sneering, they were letting us walk around freely, betting we would make a mistake and one of us would end up in their claws.

The status quo went on for days. Eginhard was baffled to have lost his grip on his far-too-obedient nutriti, and we were sticking to our plan. Otto continued to yawn during the lectiones, but then he had never bothered to listen or to write anything, even when the great prior, Father Odo, was lecturing.

Our newfound strength allowed us to implement the next step of Henry’s plan. That involved spying on Otto. It was difficult because we had to follow him within the limits of the abbey or listen to his conversations. Spying was a lonely endeavor so we were risking a lot if one of us were to be caught.

One evening, Guy, who was about the same age as Josseran, stormed back in the dormitorium. He ran up to Henry, visibly excited but trying to keep a low voice.

“Henry, I saw your brother the Duke! He just arrived with a small retinue!”

“What? Hugh is here?”

“Yes. He went straight to the church where he joined the great abbot.”

“Thank you, Guy. You did great.”

Guy blushed with pride.

I jumped in. “I will go to the church to discover more.”

Henry stopped me.

“No. If you get caught what are you going to say?” he said. “I am the one going, because, if needed, I can say that I wanted to welcome my elder brother, the powerful Hugh Ist, Duke of Burgundy.”

He was right.

“We go together,” I concluded, not willing to let him go alone.

The others blessed us while we surreptitiously left the dormitorium.

We quickly made our way among the buildings lit on the inside by flickering candlelight. As we were about to cross the main cloister leading to the church, we heard footsteps on the right and retreated into the safety of the darkness. Three shadowy figures passed us. They were walking briskly towards the church.

When we saw the face of the man in the middle, we almost let out a shout of surprise.

How to Stop a Bully (I)

Tuesday, June 3rd, 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.

G.B.

I

“Give it to me.”

The command was clear. Otto was much stronger than we were. We couldn’t argue. Josseran slowly held out the little bird nestled in his cupped hands.

We had found it at the base of a tree, a small brownish sparrow with a broken wing. We were bringing it to the infirmary when we ran into Otto the Red.

As we looked on, powerless, Otto grabbed it by the head. The bird frantically flapped its lone working wing. Otto used his other hand to block it, squeezing the tiny body. Extending both arms so we could see the little creature struggling in his grip, he twisted both hands in opposite directions, breaking its neck.

Then, satisfied by his performance, Otto tossed the lifeless body back to Josseran, who was silently weeping.

“Next time, when I say help me with my homework, you help me. Understood?”

Josseran, tears streaming down his face, nodded. Holding back my tears, I looked up at Otto. “You are so mean!”

Instantaneously, he slapped me.

“You, Norman pig, you shut up or I will remove you from Burgundy, as I did with the bird. Go back to your filthy land!”

Living in Cluny Abbey and attending the schola was fine with me. Except for Otto. At 19, he looked big and strong to us. Obviously bored, forced by his powerful family to attend the schola, he only enjoyed fighting exercises. And picking on us.

Otto was descended from the prestigious and feared family of the dukes of Burgundy. Besides me, almost everyone around here was a vassal to them. Otto’s father had died five years ago, before his grandfather Robert died. The latter, a violent man, passed away two years later, entrusting the title to Otto’s elder brother, Hugh Ist.

Otto the Red was looking for power. Being a younger son, he had no chance to inherit the dukedom, which would pass to Hugh Ist’s children. That’s why he was still studying. Preparing himself for a career in the religious world. Even though I couldn’t picture him as a bishop, that’s what was likely to happen in his future. I didn’t like this idea and neither did Otto. As time passed, he became more and more violent, like his grandfather. Unfortunately, we had to be his classmates.

We often felt like helpless animals in his hands, even Henry, his  younger brother. Whenever Otto felt like it, he would hit us, kick us, or pull our hair, just to hear us scream. Of course all of this was done out of view of the magistri. What could they say, anyway? His family name was too powerful for most of the monks to do anything about it.

When Otto was absent, we felt happy. When he joined the lectiones, we felt anxious. Especially Josseran, who was only safe in the scriptorium. He would run there as soon as he could, away from Otto’s claws.

At 11, Josseran was one of the youngest at the schola. He was the son of Rainaud, Lord of Bagé, who had died when Josseran was only three. His mother, Clementia, a small rotund woman drowned in sorrow, had refused to retire at the nunnery of Marcigny, east of Cluny. She had moved from Bagé to Cluny where she rented a small house, always worrying about her son and his future. Even though she was obviously overfeeding him, Josseran was as thin as a knife’s blade, the complete opposite of his mother.

He was quick to understand things, although the big blue eyes on his thin white face always seemed somewhere else. I liked Josseran because, I guess, I felt close to him, neither of us having a father. Clementia had also a mother-like feeling towards me but it was too much for my liking.

Josseran’s grandfather, Rodolphe, was still managing the family lands. He was old and was looking forward to his grandson taking over the lordship.

I couldn’t picture Josseran as a fiery lord, though. He was much more comfortable among the books in the scriptorium. That was the only place where he would really open up, happy to be immersed in parchments and charters. Josseran had a much better understanding of books than Henry and I.

His writing style was already outstanding and the shapes of his caroline minuscule letters were amazing. He could even read very old charters.

Outside of the scriptorium, Josseran was miserable. Physical exercises were not for him, and he could barely lift his sword. In the schola, despite his intellectual abilities, he was no match for his much older classmates.

One day, the little Lord of Bagé didn’t attend class. Nor did he attend the following day. Worried, on the third day of his absence, Henry and I went around the village looking for him. We knocked at the door of his house and when his mother opened it, we knew something was wrong.

IJ

“What happened to Josseran?” I asked.

“He is not feeling well. A little bit sick,” she mumbled. “He has to rest.”

“Can we see him? We brought some homework,” I said while Henry showed her the bag he was carrying.

Clementia seemed uneasy. “I will give it to him, thank you,” she answered, snatching the bag from Henry’s hand.

We remained silent. She forced a smile. “Josseran will be back soon. He will be happy to know that you care so much for him. God bless you.” She slammed the door in our faces. We looked at each other and went back to the abbey.

“She didn’t even offer you some honey on bread,” Henry said, breaking the silence as we were walking. “You know how much she cares for you.”

“What can we do?” I asked.

“I  guess we should find Otto and talk.”

“Are you serious? Your brother is going to beat us just for asking him a question.”

Henry sighed. “Do you have a better idea? Do you care for Josseran? Obviously, his mother is scared. She is not going to help us. Remember, even sick as hell, he would go to the scriptorium. He loves it, and he was not there yesterday.”

With fear gripping our bellies, we began looking for Otto. When we asked brother Eginhard, he looked surprised.

“You are looking for trouble?”

“Not at all,” answered Henry. “I have to talk to my brother about something he asked me.”

“Since when does he asks you things?” laughed Eginhard. “I haven’t seen him around since breakfast.”

As an older student, Otto was able to have his own cell. We entered the room and called out for him. Nobody answered.

Vespers will ring soon” I said. “We must go to the church for prayers.”

“Anyway, it is getting dark. Maybe he will be there.”

“Well he should. How could he miss Vespers?”

“You know my brother,” said Henry. “I don’t think saving his soul is something he thinks a lot about.”

After Vespers, we went to the coquina. As we were walking past the bakery around the domus, I shared my thoughts with Henry. I was relieved not to have found Otto because I still felt scared just to talk to him. “We will have plenty of time tomorrow to find your brother. Cluny is a huge place. He might even find us before we do…”

“You couldn’t say it better!” a sharp high-pitched voice hissed behind us. We recognized Otto’s voice at once. Shocked, we turned around.

Henry’s brother slowly headed towards us, as if strolling, a smile on his lips. We started walking backwards. Horrified, I noticed a sword resting in his hilt. It looked huge.

Behind us we heard steps. We almost bumped into Ranulf and Toly, his two conniving friends. They shoved us against the wall of the domus.

We were trapped. And scared.

IIJ

Otto the Red walked towards Henry, getting very close.

“Here is my nosy brother who should study instead of asking the wrong questions.” Suddenly, he slapped him. Henry didn’t say anything, biting his lip.

Otto came towards me. Too close.

“And here we have the Norman scum again. No father, no mother, no name. Like William the bastard pig! No family, no bloodline. Just plundering and stealing lands. Like rats. Normans are rats!”

I lifted my head, angry at him for insulting King William the Conqueror, but he pushed me against the wall and grabbed my neck with his hand, slowly tightening his fingers.

“This is what we do here in Burgundy to Norman rats!”

Ranulf and Toly were sneering, encouraging Otto to get rid of the Norman maggot. Suddenly, he let go, stepped back and while I was massaging my throat, coughing and trying to recover my breath, he spoke to Henry.

“You think my soul will not be saved? You don’t trust me enough to get a good deal with God at the right time?” He laughed.

“You heard us?” asked Henry.

“I was there, in my cell. Who do you think you are? I am too important to answer to little boys’ calls. Especially from a foreigner who had better get out of Burgundy!” I lowered my head, my throat still hurting.

“What did you do to Josseran?” said Henry.

“I thought so. You were wondering about that gnome. He got his lesson,” he sneered, looking back at his friends. They laughed.

“He will be back soon.” said Ranulf

“If you can recognize him,” added Toly.

At this point, things went fast. Otto ordered us to kneel down and his friends shoved our faces to the ground. Then we heard the cold rasp of the sword being unsheathed.

I panicked, silently starting to cry. Henry, his mouth full of soil, screamed at us. “Are you mad? You cannot kill us! This is sacred ground. God will punish you. You will rot in hell!”

A kick from Ranulf in the ribs choked him. The swoosh sound of the blade and Henry’s scream terrified me.

He…he killed Henry!

A second swoosh. Shouting, I asked God for forgiveness. The impact of the blade on my back was unbelievable, and then everything went black.