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Plato. The four Cardinal Virtues of popular doctrine in the Middle Ages, familiar in preaching and allegory, are according to the division and arrangement adopted by Plato. The persons of Prudence, Fortitude, Temperance, and Justice1 represent a very old tradition. It might be fanciful to derive the three Estates—oratores, bellatores, laboratores—from the Republic, though nowhere in history are the functions of the three Platonic orders of the Sages, the Warriors, and the Commons more clearly understood than in the mediaeval theory of the Estates as it is expounded, for example, in the book of Piers Ploivman. There is, however, no doubt about the origin of the mediaeval classification of the Liberal Arts. The Quadrivium is drawn out in the Republic in the description of the studies of Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, and Music, though Plato does not allow the mediaeval classification of Dialectic as a Trivial Art along with Grammar and Ehetoric. Furthermore, the vision of Er the Pamphylian is ancestor, through Cicero's Dream of Scipio, to the mediaeval records of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise; the mediaeval reverence for the heavenly spheres and their intelligences and their song is anticipated in the same passage, as again in the Somnium Scipionis.
It is in allegory that mediaeval literature sometimes
appears to be most distinguished and to
differ most from, the clear humanities of
classical art. It is not wonderful that many English students of history find their notion of the Eenaissance summed up conveniently and pictorially in a contrast between the drowsy allegorical Eose-garden of Chaucer's youthful worship and the wakefulness of his Canterbury prologue. There, in the Romaunt of the Rose, are the Middle Ages and their fantasies and dreams; here, in the Kentish April, is daylight, clearness, the old humanities restored without superstition. So also the beginning of the Eeformation is often illustrated, as it was by the Eeformers themselves, with a contrast between the absurd allegorical commentaries of the old school and the rational single-minded interpretation of the text. But while all this may be convenient and satisfactory, and while it may be admitted that the allegorical methods are in a special sense the property of the Middle Ages, there is also something else to be said before the Gothic period is closed, and the allegorical spirit dismissed to its shadowy dwelling-place. Mediaeval allegory is derived from a very luxuriant stock in classical literature. As a mode of imagination, making pictures and stories, it is almost wholly drawn from classical precedents as old as Homer. Eumour painted full of tongues, in the JSneid, is responsible for many things in mediaeval literature—a figure whose portentous and prodigious attributes might have strained the most courageous "Gothic" artist to depict. As a mode of interpretation, to get hidden values out of documents that mean something different on the face of them, Allegory is equally the product of classical times. The mediaeval expositors applied it largely and freely to new subjects, but they discovered no new principle that had not been known to old interpreters of Homer. Plato in his treatment of Homer, as in his allegorical fables, shows himself familiar with the "Gothic" commonplaces, and he is surpassed by his mediaeval followers only in the extent and variety of their enterprise, and not by any fresh discovery of methods. Nor is it the case, at the end of the Middle Ages, that the allegorical devices are blown at once contemptuously to their limbo with the other trumpery. Tindal and Eabelais might join in their scorn of Friar Lubin and his receipts for finding any meaning in any text, but the allegorical method survives their satirical protests. The "imitation of Nature," though generally recommended by the contemporaries of Cervantes, Shakespeare, and Moliere when they discussed the principles of art, was by no means generally regarded as disqualifying the old and honoured methods of allegory. The historians of the Eenaissance may contrast the liveliness and truth of the new order with the tedious conventions of the Middle Ages; may find in art and literature an assertion of Eeason and Nature against " Gothic" sophistication and superstition; a preference of artistic beauty above the edifying moral lesson; a lively dramatic study of humours and motives in place of the abstract sentiment of the Romaunt of the Rose. But it will not be found that this change of platform is generally acknowledged by the writers themselves or by their attendant critics. On the contrary, from Petrarch and Boccaccio down to Pope there is a general submission to the rule of Allegory. "Reason" and "Nature" by common consent are held to include the allegorical value of the fable, whatever the fable may be, whether the plot of an epic or an eclogue. In spite of the mockery of Rabelais and the Obscurorum Virorum — "haec est via qua debemus studere in Poetria"—there is no commonplace more general or more tyrannical in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries than the allegorical principle. All the most respectable critics acknowledge it; it is laboured by Tasso in his care for the reputation of his Jerusalem; it is admitted by Pope in the preface to the Iliad.
1 See, e.g., the English thirteenth-century allegory of Sawles Warde, translated from a Latin original of the school of St Victor.
Nothing is easier than to make the learning and thought of the Middle Ages look ridiculous by isolated quotation of some of the common absurdities, and the allegorical method more than anything else gives scope for this sort of treatment. Fulgentius, the Moralia of St Gregory, the old French version of Metamorphoseos with the moral exposition—Ovide moralise", — any of these will at once provide any number of examples, "good cheap," to show the absurdity of mediaeval reasoning. Virgil and Ovid are reckoned along with the Scriptures, and Theodulfus, the poet of the Court of Charlemagne, speaks for the whole world when he addresses them as teachers:—
"Te modo Virgilium, te modo Naso loquax: In quorum dictis quanquam sint frivola multa, Plurima sub falso tegmine vera latent."
But if it be true that similar methods are found luxuriantly flourishing in ancient Greece (as may be seen demonstrated in Dr Hatch's Hibhert Lectures , for example), then they cannot be made distinctively a part of the Middle Ages. Still less when the inaugurators of the new world of Humanism are found in possession of the same antique devices. Petrarch interprets the JEneid in the manner of Fulgentius. The winds of the First Book are the Passions, iEolus is Eeason who controls them, Venus is Pleasure, the true subject of the poem is the Perfect Man. If it be said that allowance is to be made for Petrarch because he was still on the fringe of the Gothic darkness, and inevitably bound to comply unconsciously and against his better judgment with some of the old fashions in which he had been educated, there are still other, much later, witnesses for the defence, who may show that two or three centuries after Petrarch these commonplaces were still as vigorous as in the time of the moralisation of Ovid. Sir John Harington's treatment of the Orlando Furioso is in no way out of keeping with the method of St Gregory on Job.
Chapelain in the Preface to his Heroic Poem, La Pucelle ou la France ddivrie (1656), writes in the same manner as Petrarch of the allegorical sense:—
"France represents the soul of Man at war with itself, and labouring under the most violent Emotions: King Charles, the Will, mistress absolute, tending to the Good of its own nature, but easily turned to Evil: the English and the Burgundian, the divers transports of irascible Appetite, conflicting with the