Medieval Self-Improvement

The search for self-improvement appears to be an eternal one.  Here are a couple of excerpts from a medieval book of poetry (originally in Latin) titled Book of Emblems by Andrea Alciato.  Originally written in 1531, with many subsequent editions, the book filled with emblems and poetry regarding a variety of virtues.  I skipped the ones about temperance and chastity, since it wouldn’t be appropriate to this blog, but there are a few that are topical:

Emblem 17

Where did I go astray, what did I do? or what duty was left undone?

Alciato's Book of Emblems, Emblem 17, Where did I go astray, what did I do? or what duty was left undone?

The Samian, most famous founder of the Italian sect, himself wrapped up his own teaching in a brief verse: “Where have you gone astray? what do you do? and what are you not doing, that you ought to do?” He pressed every man to render this account with himself. It is said he learned this from a flock of flying cranes, who bore in their talons a stone they’d seized in order not to yield, lest ill winds bore them off course. By this rule, the life of men ought to be governed.

Emblem 18

Prudent Ones

Alciato's Book of Emblems, Emblem 18, Prudent Ones

Two-faced Janus, you who know the things that have already passed and the things to come, and who can see the grimaces behind you just as well as those before, why do they fashion you with so many eyes and why so many faces? Is it because your image teaches men to have kept an eye open all around them?

Translation from Alciato’s Book of Emblems, The Memorial Web Edition in Latin and English.

Important Note: cranes don’t actually use stones as ballast when they fly.

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