Fun Fact

The Devil’s Ten Commandments

Medieval Meme
Brussels, KBR, MS 10218-19, f. 51v.

We find in several manuscript an illumination of a devil sitting on a tree. Every branch of the tree reads one of his Ten Commandments. Additionally, a wild boar at the bottom of the tree looks up at the devil and his commandments.

1 ~ Here is my first Commandment: swear upon God’s name as often as you can.

2 ~ Grant your body with as much delights as possible; there isn’t any other heaven.

3 ~ Come by my house anytime: it is the pub and the brothel.

4 ~ If you wish me to remember you, cover yourself with vain glory.

5 ~ Despise all poor people and love nothing but gold and silver.

6 ~ If you have nothing for yourself, take it from another, and give nothing back.

7 ~ Should you father argue with you make him fear you.

8 ~ Use wine for gambling instead of holy mass.

9 ~ Believe and witchcraft and violence: your will shall be fulfilled.

10 ~ Would you be short of money you shall take if from the Church.

Brussels, KBR, MS 10218-19, f. 26v

Those Ten Commandments are given as Queen Ratio provides a moral and allegorical commentary of the wild boar which is depicted as a devilish creature. Furthermore, all of this is found, believe it or not, in a medieval hunting treatise.

It is called the Books of King Modus and Queen Ratio and reads as a long dialogue. Whereas King Modus teaches the hunting apprentice how to hunt the deer and other animals, Queen Ratio provides an allegorical reading of nature and its creatures.

If the wild boar is a devilish beast, then the deer is a Christian one. Its noble antlers are actually a figure for God’s own Ten Commandments. The deer protects itself with its antlers as the good Christian shields himself with God’s Commandments.

Brussels, KBR, MS 10218-19, f. 29r

The wild boar used to be considered as a brave and mighty beast in Germanic culture. Henri de Ferrières, author of the Books of King Modus and Queen Ratio, however, turns it into the most despicable creature of the forest. Would you want to know more about that cultural shift, I’d recommend Michel Pastoureau’s book on the subject. It’s quite the page turner!

Brussels, KBR, MS 10218-19, f. 50r

Further readings:
~ Michel Pastoureau, Le Cochon. Histoire d’un cousin mal aimé (1999).
~ Les livres du roy Modus et de la royne Ratio, éd. Gunnar Tilander, Paris, Société des anciens textes français, 1932, 2 t.

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