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wainscottbl
September 18th, 2014, 09:23 AM
So here is a short essay question I had for my Great Books class. By short essay I mean around a hundred words give or take. Whatever it takes to answer the question sufficiently. I'll give my answer. Give yours, short or long. Whatever thoughts you have on the matter.

Q. Chaucer everywhere makes fun of the body; he everywhere uses language that would be scandalous to puritan ears. He has made a more welcoming place for the body and the language used to describe its functions; he is less alarmed at open, frank language, more ready to laugh in what might seem an irreverent spirit today. Why? Why are we more touchy, so much more sensitive about the body today than Chaucer was in his time?

A. The reason is that as John Ciardi says, Catholicism is less concerned with crudeness and more concerned with blasphemy, while Protestantism tends to take offense at crudeness. Thus Ciardi translates the punishment of Mohammed in Dante as: “In between his legs all his red guts hung/with the liver, the gall bladder and that shriveled sack/that passes shit to the bung” because Mohammed’s blasphemy is worth of such foul punishment. Further, St. Thomas More writes Luther:

“But meanwhile, for as long as your reverend paternity will be determined to tell these shameless lies, others will be permitted, on behalf of his English majesty, to throw back into your paternity'shitty mouth, truly the shit-pool of all shit, all the muck and shit which your damnable rottenness has vomited up, and to empty out all the sewers and privies onto your crown divested of the dignity of the priestly crown, against which no less than against the kingly crown you have determined to play the buffoon.”

And then:

“In your sense of fairness, honest reader, you will forgive me that the utterly filthy words of this scoundrel have forced me to answer such things, for which I should have begged your leave. Now I consider truer than truth that saying: 'He who touches pitch will be wholly defiled by it' (Sirach 13:1). For I am ashamed even of this necessity, that while I clean out the fellow's shit-filled mouth I see my own fingers covered with shit.”

Why? Because foulness of blasphemy is to be treated foully. The foulness of such evil acts as are satirized by Chaucer deserve a certain crudeness. In ancient Rome there was a profane Latin of the lower class that was only accepted in art in satire but not in polite conversation of the well-bred. So Chaucer’s crudeness is justified by his satire in the same way it was justified among polite Romans like Cicero in Latin satirical poetry. We are more touchy about the body because of the Protestant spirit of Puritanism where the reality of evil is often not seen as it should be out of an over politeness, perhaps out of the Calvinist concern for outward things rather than inward things—i.e. work ethic, prosperity gospel/theory, etc.

Cran
October 5th, 2014, 03:04 AM
Q. Chaucer everywhere makes fun of the body; he everywhere uses language that would be scandalous to puritan ears. He has made a more welcoming place for the body and the language used to describe its functions; he is less alarmed at open, frank language, more ready to laugh in what might seem an irreverent spirit today. Why? Why are we more touchy, so much more sensitive about the body today than Chaucer was in his time?

I submit that "we" as people, as individuals, even as artists, are not. It is only as nations, as governments, as representatives of faiths or cultures, that such sensitivities are imposed and upheld. In their defense, there is merit in filtering, if not completely shielding, exposure to the innocents of the day; even to respecting a desire to quarantine against the distraction where that distraction would stall or overwhelm more serious societal pursuits.

However, in its place and with enlightened consent, "we" are just as comfortable, just as bawdy and licentious, as any in Chaucer's time.

wainscottbl
October 5th, 2014, 07:27 AM
Yep, I agree. Even in Roman society the middle and noble class would not, at least in public conversation, not engage in crude Latin but in satire it was accepted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latin_profanity