Wednesday, March 25, 2020

The Battle Between Sir Carnival and Lady Lent

Hello, my fiends,

I wish to post this in honor of Lent. This is a 14th century allegory about a food fight between Carnival and Lent. This is an actual story from 14th century Spain, I did not make any of this up. This is from Jaun Ruiz's "Book of Good Love" ("El libro de buen amo"), translated by Rigo Mignani and Mario A. DiCesare. (p219-28 of the 1970 edition) which I have recently aquired.

In these troubling times, it is important to keep our spirits up, and to find something to laugh at. And if you ever read that no one in the middle ages had a sense of humor, remember that this was written by the Archpriest of Hita.

Stay safe and wash your hands after reading.

The Battle Between Sir Carnival and Lady Lent

The season sacred to the Lord was drawing near, so I returned to my own place to rest for a while. It was seven days before Lent - that time which caused fear and dread throughout the whole world. I was at home with Sir Thursday the Fat when a messenger ran in, bringing me two letters. Even though it's a long story, I will summarize for you what they contained, because after I had read these letters, I returned them to the messenger.

"From me, Lady Lent, servant of God, whom He has sent to every sinner, to all archpriests and clergy without love-salvation in Jesus Christ until Easter: You should know that I have been informed that, for almost a year, Sir Carnival, in rage and fury, has been going about pillaging my land, wreaking havoc and, what angers me most, shedding much blood. For this reason, I order you most solemnly under obedience and in pain of judgment, to challenge him with my credentials, in my name and in that of Fast and Penance. Make it perfectly clear to him that in seven days I myself and my troops shall come to do battle against him his arrogance. I do not believe that he will remain in the butcher shops. After you have read this letter, return it to the messenger to carry throughout the land without concealing it, so that his people may not say the message was not seen. Given in Castro Urdiales and received in Burgos."

The other letter which the messenger brought had a large shell hanging from it like a seal; it was the seal of the Lady. This is the message she sent to Sir Carnival: "From me, Lady Lent, Justice of the sea, Guardian of the souls that desire to be saved, to you, gluttonous Carnival, who think of nothing by gorging yourself, I send Fast to challenge you in my name. Seven days hence, you and your army shall come to do battle with me in the field. I will fight you without fail, until Holy Saturday, and you will not be able to avoid death or prison."

I read both letters and understood their meaning. I realized that the order was even stricter for me since I had no mistress and I was not in love. My guest and I were both upset. Sir Thursday, my guest, got up happily from my table - for which I am glad - and said: "I am the standard bearer against that wretch, and I will have to joust with her. Every year she makes trial with me."

He thanked me heartily for the fine repast and departed. I wrote my letters and then told Friday, "Go to Sir Carnival tomorrow and inform him of all this so that on Tuesday he will come to the fight forewarned."

When he had received the letters, the proud Sir Carnival bared his teeth, though he was really afraid. He had no desire to answer but he came, anxiously, leading a huge army, for he was a powerful man. On the appointed day he was there, the defiant Sir Carnival, surrounded on all sides with armed men: mighty Alexander himself would have been pleased with such a following. In his vanguard he had ranged excellent foot soldiers: Hens and Partridges, Rabbits and Capons, Ducks domestic and wild, and fat Geese were mustered near the embers. They bore their lances like front-line men, huge skewers of iron and wood. For shields they had platters: at any proper feast, they are the first course. After these shield-bearers came the bowmen: salted Geese, Mutton Loins, fresh Legs of Pork, and whole Hams. And following them came the knights: Beef-quarters, suckling Pigs and Kids, gamboling and squealing. Then came the squires: many Cream Cheeses that ride and spur dark wines.

A rich train of noblemen came next: Pheasants and proud Peacocks all well garnished, their banners upright, bearing frightful weapons and fierce armor. Their weapons were well wrought, well  tempered and fine: for helmets they wore pots made of pure copper; for shields, cauldrons, pans, and kettles. Certainly the Sardines do not have an army of such value. Many Deer arrived, and the great Wild Boar who said: "Sir, you must not leave me out of this battle, because I have already set to many times with Ali." I am accustomed to fighting and have always been good at it.

The Boar had hardly finished speaking when the Deer came, very swiftly. "Sir, I, your loyal servant, salute you," he said. "Am I not a hermit in order to serve you?"

The Hare came, very willing, to the muster. "Sir," she said, "I will bring a fever on that Lady; I will bring on the itch and the boils, so that she will not even remember the fight. She will want to have my skin when one of them breaks out on her."

Then came the Wild Ram, accompanied be Roe-deer and Doves, flaunting his courage and hurling about threats. "My Lord," said he, "if you throw the Lady at me, she will do you no harm for all her fish bones."

Slow and plodding, the old, loyal Ox arrived. "Sir," he said. "I am good only for pasture or the plough; I am not fit to battle on the road or in the field. But I can serve you with my meat and my hide."

Sir Bacon came in a full pot with many a Corned Beef, Rib and Pork Loin. They were all ready for the fierce battle. But the Lady knew her trade and did not show up too soon.

Since Sir Carnival is a very wealthy emperor and had lordly power over the world, the birds and animals came very humbly, but with great fear. Sir Carnival was sitting majestically at a full table on a noble dais, with jesters before him as befits a great man. A lavish feast was set before him. At his foot knelt the humble standard-bearer, one hand on the wine barrel, playing away at his trumpet. The Wine, as sergeant-at-arms, was speaking for all of them. At nightfall, long after they had all filled their bellies at the feast, they said "Goodnight" and comfortably went to sleep to rest for the battle with the Lady.

That night, the Roosters were filled with fear and kept a frightened vigil without once closing their eyes. But that is not strange, since they had lost their wives. Every noise they heard made them jump with fright.

It was midnight when the Lady Lent marched into the middle of the hall and cried, "God be our strength!" The Roosters screamed and flapped their wings, and the evil tidings reached Sir Carnival. But that good man had eaten his fill of wine at the feast, and now he was groggy with sleep. The racket was heard throughout the whole camp. Drowsy, they all stumbled to the battle, mustering their troops, and no one dared to complain. The host from the sea wielded their weapons and the two armies crashed against each other crying, "Ea!"

First to wound Sir Carnival was white-necked Leek, hurting him so badly that he spat phlegm, a fearful omen. Lady Lent thought the camp was hers. Salty Sardine came in to help and wounded fat Hen by throwing herself into her bill and choking her, and then she cracked Sir Carnival’s helmet. Great Dogfish charged the front line, while the Clams and the Cuttlefish guarded the flanks. The fighting was chaotic and confused, and many good heads were split open.

From the coast of Valencia came the Eels, marinated and cured, in large crowds; they struck Sir Carnival in mid-chest, while Trout from Alberche hit him in the jaw. Tuna fought like a fierce lion; he rushed Sir Lard and hurled insults, and if it had not been for Corned Beef, who warded off the lance, Tuna would have wounded Sir Lard through the heart. From the region of Bayona came many Sharks, killing the Partridges and castrating the Capons; from the river Henares came the Shrimp, who pitched their tents as far as the Guadalquivir. Barbels and other fish fought against wild Ducks, and Merluce cried to Pig, "Where are you? Why don't you come out? Just show yourself and you'll get what you deserve. Go lock yourself in the mosque, but don't go near a church."

Catfish added to the rout, with his tough skin barbed with hooks; he ripped into Legs and Loins, clawing them as if he were a cat. Strange groups of odd sizes rushed up from the sea, the ocean, the lakes, armed with fierce bows and crossbows. It was a worse rout than that at Alarcos. Red Lobsters flocked from Santander, emptying their heavy quivers and making Sir Carnival pay heavily. The spacious meadows were becoming too small for him.

Because the year of jubilee had been proclaimed and all were anxious to save their souls, all the creatures of the sea hurried to the joust. Herrings and Sea Breams came from Bermeo; Whale went about with a large corps of fighters, wounding and killing the carnal hosts. The valiant Shad slew the Doves and Dolphin shattered old Ox's teeth. Shad and Dace and noble Lamprey came from Seville and Alcantara to get the share. Everyone sharpened his weapons on Sir Carnival, and in vain did he try to loosen his belt.

Dogfish, a tough ruffian, went about madly, brandishing a mace slung from a belt, with which he banged Pig and Suckling in mid-forehead, and then ordered them salted down in Villenchon salt. Squid showed the Peacocks no quarter, nor allowed the Pheasants to fly away; the Kids and the Deer he tried to strangle. With his many arms, he can fight many opponents. There too, were Oysters battling against Rabbits, and harsh Crabs jousting with Hare. On both sides such tremendous blows were dealt that the ditches were running with blood and scales. Conger Eel, Count of Laredo, marinated and fresh, fought fiercely and wrought havoc on Sir Carnival, bearing down very hard on him. Sir Carnival was in despair, finding no comfort anywhere. Rallying his courage, he hoisted the spear; with renewed vigor, he turned against Salmon, who had just come up from Castro de Urdiales. That knight stood his ground, without flinching from the battle. They fought hard and long, and exchanged many wounds. Had Sir Carnival been left alone, he might have finished off Salmon, but giant Whale came at him, embraced him, and threw him down on the sand.

Most of Sir Carnival's army had perished; those who could had fled. Even so, afoot, he tried desperately to defend himself with his weak hands. Seeing the host decimated, Wild Boar and Deer fled into the mountains, and then most of the other animals abandoned him there, while those who remained were more dead than alive. Except for Corned Beef and fat Sir Lard, who had turned pale and looked like a corpse and could not fight without a bumper of wine, so fat was he, Sir Carnival was alone, beaten down and surrounded. The sea-host regrouped, then spurred forward and rushed him. But in their pity not wishing to kill him, they tied him and his followers up and brought them bound and under heavy guard before Lady Lent.

Lady Lent ordered that Sir Carnival be imprisoned. As for Lady Corned Beef and Sir Lard, she sentenced them to be hanged as high as sentries in a watchtower, and gave solemn command that no one should cut them down. They were hanged from a beech wood beam, while the executioner intoned, "This is the just punishment for their deeds."

Lady Lent set Fast to guard Sir Carnival and be his jailer, with orders that no one be allowed to see him, except the confessor if he fell ill, and that he should have only one meal a day.

Ruiz, Juan. The Book of Good Love. Translated by Mario D. Di Cesare, Mignani, Rigo. State University of New York Press, 1970.

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