In manuscripts of old lie forgotten truths. Men, beasts and angels alike have turned away from such ancient knowledge.

It was formerly believed that our world was but a mere reflection of another world, a better world, a divine world. “My kingdom is not of this world,” said Christ to his disciples (John, 18:36). What did it mean? Medieval scholars pierced the mystery, they thought.

Everything we see, touch and feel on Earth would only be the bodily reflection of a pure and divine concept. Once you understand that worldly facts and earthly beings are symbols to decipher, then everything is open to interpretation. The divine truth hides everywhere.

Only the highest scholars and theologians could delve into the exercise of unearthing the word of God beneath the “mirror” that is our world. Nonetheless they tracked God down to the darkest corner of creation. By the 13th century, even pagan myths dating back from the most ancient times were worthy of investigation.

Many ideas were written down. Many manuscripts were compiled. Some of them contained The Books of King Modus and Queen Ratio. A strange work indeed! This is the story of a young man who wants to learn how to hunt. He finds King Modus. The latter teaches him everything he knows. How to pursue deer, how to beware of boars, how to track down wild cats, how to catch birds, how to train dogs and falcons. Everytime King Modus teaches something to the young man, though, Queen Ratio takes it as an opportunity to teach her own bit.

King Modus knows everything about the worldly forest but Queen Ratio perceives God’s actual truths beyond what hides in the forest. Why do deer have antlers on their head? It serves as a symbol of God’s many teachings. The deer defends itself with its antlers just like a good Christian knows how resist temptation thanks to the Ten Commandments.

Queen Ratio says:

Les dis branches que il a sus son chief li furent donnees de Dieu Nostre Sire pour soi deffendre de trois anemis, ce sont des gens, des chiens, des leus. Et ches dis branches representent les dis commandemens de la loy que Jhesu Crist donna a homme pour soi deffendre de trois anemis, c’est de la char, du dyable et du monde.

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

The ten antlers it has on its head were given to him by God, Our Lord, so that it could defend itself from three enemies: the people, the dogs and the wolves. Those ten antlers symbolises God’s Ten Commandments, that Jesus Christ gave to mankind to repel three enemies: the flesh, the devil and the world.”

However, right after she talks about the deer and the “red beasts”, Queen Ratio warns against the “black beasts”, known for their strong and repulsive smell. Chief among them stands the wild boar. It is as abhorrent as the deer is magnificent. It breathes the Ten Commandments, not of God, but of the devil itself. Manuscripts have depicted Queen Ratio’s words as the drawing of a wild boar defending the bottom of a dark crooked tree. On the top of that tree sits the devil and every branch carries one of his nefarious commandment.

They read as follow:

C’est mon premier commandement | Que l’en maugree Dieu souvent.

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

Fai a ton corps tous ses delis, | Il n’est point d’autre paradis.

[2] Grant your body as many delights as possible; there isn’t any other heaven.

Visite souvent mon ostel, | C’est la taverne et le bordel.

[3] Come visit me often: I dwell in pubs and brothels.

Se tu veulz estre en mon memoire, | Si t’aflube de vaine gloire.

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

Desprise de tout povre gent | Et n’aime rien que or et argent.

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

Se tu n’as du tien, pren l’autri | Sans rien rendrë, ainsi l’otri.

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

Se ton pere te fait riote, | Si li met sus, que il redote.

[7] Should you father argue with you make him fear you.

En lieu du servise devin | Faut jeter hasart sus le vin.

[8] Wine serves a better purpose for witchcraft than it does for holy mass.

Se caraus crois et sorcheries, | Tes volentés sont acomplies.

[9] Believe and witchcraft and violence: your shall be fulfilled.

Se tu as deffaute de mise, | Si te pren aus biens de l’eglise.

[10] Should you be short of gambling money, steal it if from the Church.

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

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.

[This blogpost was originally uploaded on June 18th, 2019, then substantially revised on June 6th, 2020]