Friday, April 4, 2014

Let's Hear It For The Heretics!

Most think of troubadour lyrics and imagine songs of love, but political satire, or sirventes, were also popular. This might have had something to do with the troubles.

I'm not qualified to talk
Of our Emperor's mighty forces
But I'll give it a try. He drives such
Droves before him, and with such
Eagerness they go, that they are often
Several counties ahead, while he surveys,
With the eyes of eagles, from a vantage
Sometime thousands of miles away.
Overlooking their homes, their children
Who turn the dirt and throw stones,
In eager practice for the day,
If they live to see it, that they
Might join the next crusade.
And know he keeps his forces
In fighting trim; no fat duck,
No boar, no honey for them. Our Emperor
Reserves these to his table,
Thus preserving the sharpness
Of their palates for blood in battle.
The wisdom of Our Emperor is clear:
Just look at the numbers that advance him!
See them teeming forth in such abundance
That it goes unnoticed when some fall,
Drunk, trampled in the roads, or fall
Mad with fever or the flux, or fall
Upon their fellows with their knives,
Premature to war, and kill their own,
Or adorn the trees at the end of a rope,
Or scatter their bones on the mountain crags.
Nevertheless! Their remnant marches strong!

The Song of the Cathar Wars is a puzzle in itself. The epic (written in Occitan in Alexandrines) detailing the conflicts of the era has two distinct authors. The first third is attributed to William of Tuleda, who took the point of view of the Crusaders and the Pope, a prudent if still contemptible choice. Then, two-thirds through, an anonymous author hijacks the manuscript and turns it around, and the rest of the story is told from the point of view of an author sympathetic to the people of the region invaded.

You can see how this chunk of the Songs (trans. Jan Shirley and posted on the amazing Midi-France website) does that turnaround even within itself. It tells of the death and remembrance of Simon de Montfort, the crusade leader whose actions included burning 140 people at the stake. It refers to his original tomb in the Carcassonne, where up to 20,000 people were slaughtered.

"The epitaph says, for those who can read it,
That he is a saint and martyr who shall breathe again
And shall in wondrous joy inherit and flourish
And wear a crown and sit on a heavenly throne.
And I have heard it said that this must be so -
If by killing men and spilling blood,
By wasting souls, and preaching murder,
By following evil counsel, and raising fires,
By ruining noblemen and besmirching paratge,
By pillaging the country, and by exalting Pride,
By stoking up wickedness and stifling good,
By massacring women and their infants,
A man can win Jesus in this world,
Then Simon surely wears a crown, resplendent in heaven."

Image: Discontinued, but I bet you could get it on eBay.

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