Marginal thinking: 18. The 23 verses

We have seen how out of the 26 verses in Dance aux Aveugles, the 23 have been reused in "La Vie de l'Homme" and then copied by Godard. As mentioned, texts and sequence vary between each publication so therefore it's amazing to find that this number, 23, is rather fixed.

But the 23 verses appear in another connection, namely those "shepherd's calendars", that were popular in the same period. There is a certain logic in that since the books of hours contained almanacs, then the calendars also had to contain religious texts. In the shepherdess-calendar from 1499, the picture of Death on a pale horse is accompanied by 23 verses. Each verse has a small heading, e.g.: »Mort declaire icy son povoir dessus nature humaine« ("Death declares here his power over human nature").

Compost et Kalendrier des bergeres
Compost et Kalendrier des bergeres, 1499
Compost et Kalendrier des bergeres
Calendrier des bergeres
Compost et Kalendrier des bergeres
Calendrier des bergeres
Compost et Kalendrier des bergeres
Calendrier des bergeres

It's time for yet another table. I have transcribed the 23 verses from the calendar in the left column with headings and the two first lines. The right column is an extract of the table on the previous page: The text is from Aveugles and the two numbers in parenthesis are respectively from Aveugles and La Vie de l'Homme.

Kalendrier des bergeresDance aux Aveugles
1) Mort declaire icy son povoir dessus nature humaine
Je suis la mort de nature ennemye
qui tous vivans finablement consomme […]
Je suis la Mort de Nature ennemye,
Qui tous vivans finallement consomme, […]
2) Mort fut engendree de adam et de eve.
Eve et adam puis leur creacion
En trespassant la divine ordonnance […]
Eve et Adam, puis leur creation,
En trespassant la divine ordonnance, […]
3) Mort fist mourir abel
Cayn me fist la premiere ouverture
en respandant le sang abel son frere […]
Cayn me fit la premiere ouverture
En respandant le sang d'Abel son frere, […]
4) Mort depuis fait mourir toutes gens.
Ainsi doncques en possession mise
pour de mes droitz paisiblement user […]
Ainsy doncques en possession mise
Pour de mes droits paisiblement user
5) Mort pour tarder ne fault a venir
Dessus ce beuf qui sen va pas a pas
Assise suis et ne le haste point […]
Sur ce beuf cy qui s'en va pas a pas
Assise suis et ne le haste point, […]
6) Mort prent gens endormis en leurs aises
Aage souvent sans flute et sans tabour
Endort les gens entretant que je viens […]
Aage souvant a sa fluste et tambour
Endort plusieurs entretant que je viens, […]
7) Mort par guerre
Dieu plusieurs foys en vengence cruelle
Donne aux pecheurs vivans dessus la terre […]
Dieu plusieurs fois en vengeance cruelle
Donne aux pecheurs vivans dessus la terre […]
8) Mort par famine
Autre pays est pugny par famine
Par les pechez ou du peuple ou du prince […]
Autre pays est puny par famine
Pour les pechiés ou du peuple ou du prince : […]
9) Mort par mortalite
Et plusieurs foys ma bonne chamberiere
Mortalite est en terre transmise […]
Et plusieurs fois ma tres bonne chambriere,
Mortalité, est en terre transmise, […]
10) Mort a trois verges dictes
Par le moyen de ses troys verges dures
plus cruelles que devorans liones […]
Plus le moyen de ces trois verges dures
Plus cruelles que devorans lyons, […]
11) Mort a maladie chamberiere
Comment aussi ma loyalle servante
Maladie ruer juz plusieurs corps […]
Comment aussy ma loyale servante,
Maladie, rue jus plusieurs corps, […]
12) Mort a. accident serviteur
Car accident qui ne dort ne sommeille
Ains est tousioures en guet ou en sommeille. […]
Car Accident qui ne dort ne sommeille,
Ains est tousjours en aguet, en embusche, […]
13) Mort a. brigans. qui la servent.
Puis ces brigans meurdriers larrons de boys
Amys de mort et serfz dyabolicques […]
Puis ces brigans, meurtriers, larrons des bois,
Amys de mort et serfs diaboliques […]
14) Mort a justice qui la sert.
Car justice qui souvent manticipe
Plusieurs larrons fait a son gibet pendre. […]
Car Justice, qui souvent m'anticipe,
Pluseurs larrons fait a ses gibets pendre. […]
15) Mort na de nulluy crainte
Et mes explois ne restrains ou modere
Pour vaillance noblesse ne haulteur […]
Et mes exploiz ne restrains ou modere
Pour vaillance, noblesse ne haulteur. […]
16) Mort abat toute mondanite
Les fortunez et les mondains eureux
Sont maintesfoys premiers a mes greniers […]
Les fortunez et les mondains eureux
Sont maintesfois premiers en mes greniers, […]
17) Mort abat les plus fors
Je faiz terir acoup beaulte mondaine
Et tout odeur tourne en puant fiens […]
Je faiz ternir a cop beauté mondaine
Et toute odeur tourner en puant fiens; […]
18) Mort corrompt beaulte
Ces corps bien faitz ces femenins visaiges
Dorolotez par tout mignotement […]
Ces corps bien fais, ces féminins visaiges,
Dorolotez par tout mignonement, […]
19) Mort fait perdre sens entendement et memoire
Donnant ainsi mes douloureux assaulx
faiz oublier tous les estas mondains […]
Donnant ainsy mes doloreux assaulx,
Fais oblier tous les états mondains, […]
20) Mort prent bons et mauvais
Je faiz aux bons le chemin et passaige
Pour les guider jusques au lieu de joye […]
Je fais aux bons le hemin et passage
Pour les guider jusques au lieu de joye; […]
21) Mort fait lesser richesses et entreprinses.
Tout homme est nez pour mourir unefoys.
Dela le mez de la fin de ses jours. […]
Tout homme est nez pour morir une fois
Vez la le metz et la fin de ses jours; […]
22) Mort fait oublier esbatemens
Ainsi doncques mes menestrelx si gens
Par leur beau jeu et attirant maniere […]
Ainsy doncques mes Menestreux sy gens
Par leur beau jeu & attirant maniere, […]
23) Mort fait finablement tous aller au jugement.
Dancez doncques vivans aux instrumens
Et advisez comment vous le feres. […]
Dancez doncques vivans a l'instrument,
Et avisez comme vous le ferez; […]
The famous manuscript BNF MS 995 has the last verse of "Aveugles" with the headline: "Mort fait finablement tous aller au iugement".
BNF 995, Pale horse

As one can see the two columns are fairly identical, and there's nothing odd in this: We are dealing with two redactions of the same work, La dance aux Aveugles, which was exacty what the table was meant to demonstrate.

Nevertheless there are difference: For instance »Endort les gens entretant« versus »Endort plusieurs entretant«. One can also see that verse 22 in the calendar (»Ainsy doncques mes Menestreux«) is placed as number 18 in La Dance aux Aveugles (this was the same verse that gave us problems in the table on the previous page as well).

This only goes to show that there always are great variations between the separate publications, and on this background it is particularly astonishing that the two columns share the same 23 verses. This means that the editor of the calendar has selected the same 23 verses (or if you will: rejected the other 3 verses) from La Dance aux Aveugles, as the author of La Vie de l'Homme has used for creating his own text.

On the whole, the figure 23 is a common thread in the middle of the chaos:

The relationship between the different sources

We have now found three sources for the dance of death in the margins: The general idea comes from Mors de la pomme, the pictures come from Les loups ravissans, and the text comes from La Dance aux Aveugles. But sorting out the relationship still presents an unsolvable puzzle.

The number of scenes

This scene from "Accidens de l'Homme" has no counterpart in "La Vie de l'Homme".
Accidens de lHomme, Beheading
This scene from "Accidens de l'Homme" has no counterpart in "La Vie de l'Homme".
Accidens de lHomme, Child

Mary Beth Winn speculates why one of the woodcuts in "Les loups ravissans" appears twice, so that there are only 23 different pictures for the 24 chapters. The chapter that is illustrated with the woodcut the second time around is about Cicero, who was decapitated. In "Accidens de l'Homme" there is a scene with such a decapitation (picture to the left), and Winn suggests that there originally was such an image in Loups, but that this disappeared early on — after Vostre had copied it for "Accidens de l'Homme", but before Hardouyn and Godard had time to copy it.

But "Accidens de l'Homme" contains yet another scene, which isn't included in neither Loups nor Vie (picture to the right), and for that matter also includes the authority. This hypothesis thus cannot explain why there is 1 chapter more in Loups than there are verses in Vie. Actually this is another similarity since "Accidens de l'Homme" contains 26 verses/images, like Aveugles. One probably shouldn't put too much importance on this since the three extra images in Accidens don't seem to be related to the three extra verses in Aveugles.

Mary Beth Winn assumes that Hardouyn (or one of his employees) has copied the woodcuts from Loups and written the 23 verses based on Aveugles.(2) But why only 23 verses, when there are 24 chapters in Loups? There's no avoiding the fact that the 23 verses had already been selected in the calendar from 1499 — ca. six years before Loups.

The images

The examples below show some general tendencies:

  1. Hardouyn, Godard and Vostre's images are very compact due to the physical restrictions (i.e. the limited space in the margins).

  2. Every time Accidens appears in Loups (picture to the left), he is portrayed as Death in the three other versions.

  3. Hardouyn is much closer to Loups, than Simon Vostre is.

  4. Godard's woodcuts are close copies of Hardouyn.(3)

  5. With Godard and Vostre, Death's skull is flat like a mask.

Les loups rauissans.
From the left: Accidens, Plague, War and Famine.
Vie de l'Homme. In front: Plague, War and Famine in armour.
Godard. Reversed order: Famine, War and Plague.
Accidens de l'Homme: Famine as a woman, War and Plague.

The above four images may show a development: To the left, Accidens presents his three comrades-in-arms: Plague, War and Famine. These three are sitting down; Plague and Famine are covered with each a cloak / carpet, but Plague's skinny leg protrudes from under the carpet.

The figures in Hardouyn's images have been squeezed together due to space restrictions, so Accidens (who has been replaced by Death) stands behind the three comrades, and all are standing up. Plague still sticks out her naked leg, and she also exposes her throat and naked chest.(4) For inscrutable reasons, Famine wears the same armour as War. Maybe because Famine's headdress is reminiscent of War's helmet, and because Famine has the same round plate on her elbow as War has several places on his armour. Famine still has a carpet over her legs, even though she is standing up.

Godard's image has been laterally inversed. Death's skull is flatter and mask-like. Famine's hairdo could easily be taken for that of a woman, while the carpet, which makes no sense on the standing person, could easily be interpreted as a skirt. Plague's extended leg gives the impression of a walking person; her flat breast and scrawny throat has become some sort of a bib with a bow tied at the top.

At last we have Vostre's image. Famine has become an expensively dressed woman, and Plague comes walking. The breast/bib has become part of the cloak.

The years

The most troublesome aspect might be the relative ages of the works. It is certain that Dance aux Aveugles is the oldest from ca. 1465. Mors de la Pomme is almost just as old, from 1468, but we will ignore that work, since its influence is only indirect. It is certain that the calendar is from 1499, and there are many good reasons to assume that Les loups ravissans is from around 1505.

After this it all becomes very iffy, for it's the rule rather than the exception that the books of hours by Hardouyn and Godard are without a date. Therefore one typically looks in the almanacs that are placed at the beginning of the books and contain tables of the moveable feasts for the next 20-30 years. The argument is that nobody would pay their lifetime earnings for a book with a table of past Easters. This argument, tempting as it is, isn't quite water-proof though, because in those books of hours, where the year of printing has been specified, one sometimes sees that these almanacs in fact can be several years older than the rest of the book. For instance, Pigouchet published a splendid edition on 16th September 1498 with the almanac covering the 21 years from 1488 to 1508.

A very concrete problem arises when we look at the relationship between the version with Latin quotes (Las Horas) and Accidens de l'Homme.

The three copies I have seen of the former are written in Spanish, Latin and English respectively. Therefore it is tempting to assume that Accidens is the original version (of these two), but that Nicolas Higman and Simon Vostre didn't want to translate the French rhymes into Spanish, Latin and English, and that they instead chose to replace the verses with sundry quotes in Latin that they found in the printed version of La Danse Macabre.

This is contradicted by the years of publication. In the Spanish almanac it says (page 14): »Año del nascimiento de nuestro señor de mill. ccccxcv«, and in the Italian: »anno a nativitate domini M.cccc.xcv«. Thus these two versions of Las Horas are from 1495, whereas we hardly meet copies of Accidens before 1512. This means that Las Horas is older than the calendar as well as Loups.

Winn, however, doubts that such books exist: »However, no such edition from 1495 exists«.(5) In another case where a book of hours with images from Accidens is dated 1503, the solution is to assume that it should have said 1513.(6)

The texts

The relationship between the texts is also very tricky. Loups is a very voluminous text of 3.244 lines (just for the half with Accident), where Death, Accidens, Adam, Cain, Cicero, Xerxes or one of the many victims speak in turn. On the other hand the basic idea of Death being assisted by Accidens, Plague, War and Famine, is still the same as in Aveugles. One can't help wondering why one series is named Accidens de l'Homme, when the word "accidens" only appears twice in this particular work, while the last half of "Loups rauissans", where Accident plays the main part over 3,244 lines doesn't have a title of its own.

Death moves slowly
Accidens de lHomme, Bull
Sleeping in the property
Accidens de lHomme, Usurer

And this leads to the last connection, viz. that the headlines in the shepherdess calendar — at least to begin with — are a perfect description of Accidens. Take the three first headlines: »Mort declaire icy son povoir dessus nature humaine«, »Mort fut engendree de adam et de eve« and »Mort fist mourir abel«. This sequence does not describe Vie, where Death comes at last, and neither Loups where an image of a crowd comes as number two.

The headlines continue, »Mort depuis fait mourir toutes gens«, and at this point Accidens does indeed show Death confronting a crowd, but it should noted that there are several such scenes with crowds in Accidens (here and here). The next headline is »Mort pour tarder ne fault a venir«, and indeed the woodcut (to the left) shows Death riding a bull — slowly but unstoppable. On the other hand the text doesn't allude to the bull (unlike Vie which says »Dessus ce beuf qui s'en va pas-à-pas«). The next headline, »Mort prent gens endormis en leurs aises« is strongly paralleled in the text (to the right): »quant s'endorment en leurs biens«. The woodcut — as a precursor to Holbein's dance of death — does indeed show a person being surprised by Death in the middle of his daily life, although he doesn't seem to be sleeping.

The two works, Accidens and the calendar, run in parallel, until number 15, i.e. the decapitation (picture above to the left), which doesn't appear in neither Vie nor Aveugles, and after this the connection becomes looser.

A final question is concerning the copies made by Godard. Douce had described a booklet, in which the text had been copied from Aveugles, but in the exemplar we studied, the text (to the limited extent that there even was a text), was copied from Vie. This book of hours was — according to the almanac — from 1515. The question is, which of these two versions came first — and whether there maybe exists a third (older) version, where the whole text has been copied from Vie — in the right sequence.

In fact it's another problem that the publications of both Hardouyn and Godard's are so jumbled that one cannot make head or tail of them (see for instance this table). In comparison Vostre's publications are far more consequent. The difference between Las Horas and Accidens is only that scenes number 19 and 20 have been exchanged. Outside this I have only seen a single copy of Accidens, where the scenes did not come in the proper sequence (see here and here).

There are no easy answers so to wrap up this section, we will finish by looking at two more modern copies: first Leon le Maire.

Go forth

The next chapter is about a copy from the 19th century by Leon le Maire.

The previous subject was Guillaume Godard.

External links

Footnotes: (1) (2) (3) (4) (5) (6)

In my ignorance I though at first that "dizains" was old French for "designs". The word does in fact mean a verse with 10 lines.
Winn: »Whatever the answer, Hardouyn's Hours provide examples of his set of Accidents borders based on the woodcuts of the Loups but with text derived from Michault's Danse aux aveugles«.
(Mary Beth Winn, "Gathering the Borders in Hardouyn's Hours", page 156)

On the previous page we discussed why it was probably Godard, who copied Hardouyn, and not the other way around.

Thanks to Mischa von Perger for making this observation.

»Francis Douce identified their first use in an edition of Hours, in Spanish, printed in Paris by Nicolas Higman for Simon Vostre in 149s. Accordingly, Vostre's border set would precede those of Hardouyn and Godard as well as the Loups ravissans. However, no such edition from 1495 exists, and the style of the borders suggests a far later date, c. 1512, which corresponds to the period at which most of the Vostre Hours using the set were published«.
(Mary Beth Winn, "Gathering the Borders in Hardouyn's Hours", page 151. My emphasis)

»This edition bears the date 2 July 1503, but Lacombe rightly asserts that the style is too late for that year and that the edition probably dates from 1513 (with "decimo" mistakenly omitted)«.
(Mary Beth Winn, "Gathering the Borders in Hardouyn's Hours", page 152, footnote 36.)