Eustaches Deschamps, from The Nine Worthies

[Click on image to enlarge] The Nine Worthies are a set of champions, first devised in the thirteenth century, who became a subject for poetry and art. They were meant to represent the greatest military leaders of all times: three pagans — Hector, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar; three Jews — Joshua, David, and Judas Maccabeus; and three Christians — Arthur, Charlemagne, and Godfrey of Bouillon (a leader of the First Crusade, which conquered Jerusalem). The Worthies constituted a kind of chivalric Hall of Fame to inspire nationalism. That is how they are presented by William Caxton in his Preface to his edition of Sir Thomas Malory's Morte Darthur. However, they were also used to deplore the absence of chivalry among the contemporary aristocracy. The following translation of a balade, composed in 1386 by the prolific French writer Eustaches Deschamps, a contemporary of Chaucer, is an example of the moralizing use made of the Worthies to contrast the degenerate present with an ideal past.

Against the Vices of the Times


If it were possible for human nature
To revive those who have turned to ashes,
The worthy Hector, Arthur, and Charlemagne,
Julius Caesar, Godfrey, Alexander,
David, Judas, and Joshua who were willing
To take so much trouble in order to conquer
And to gain honor and renown,
And were they to be brought back to life,
I believe they all would wish to die again
Thus seeing the envy of the world,
And the suffering that everyone here inflicts,
Of coveting, robbing, expropriating, and acquiring,
Of deceiving his neighbor, man or woman,
Of abandoning honor and taking up vices,
Doing evil to the good, and rewarding the wicked,
Doing disservice to the noble and generous heart
But serving and honoring the wicked,
And foolishly waging war against one another;
All the nine worthies would wish to make an end
Thus seeing the envy of the world.
It would seem a wicked thing to them
To compare time present with time past,
When honor was in the world, sovereign
Knowledge, which made everyone understand
To love the good, and Largesse bestowed
Reward on everyone, in order to uphold valor
And loyalty, to maintain prowess:
Justice and Right held lordship.
It goes otherwise; they would all wish to perish
Thus seeing the envy of the world.
      Envoy
Princes, there is no one, if he has common sense,
And knew the tyranny of the world,
Who would not wish to die directly,
Thus seeing the envy of the world.

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