An intriguing Middle English snatch warns of a grey wolf who, though hooded as priest and set to learn psalms, remained a wolf in his habits. The verse, 3513 in the Index of Middle English Verse,(1) occurs as an English |inset' in fable of Liber Parabolarum, written c. 1219 by Odo of Cheriton (c. 1180-c 1246). IMEV' cites three instances of the verse:
a Thai thu Wlf hore hodi to preste,
tho thu hym sette Saimes to lere
evere beth his geres to the groveward. b Pey pou pe vulf hore hode to preste,
pey pou him to skole sette salmes to lerne,
Heuere bet hise geres to pe grove grene. c If al that the wolf vnto a preest worthe
and be set vnto book psalmes to leere;
yit his eve is euere to the wodeward.(2)
These are from (a) Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 441 (of the late thirteenth century, from Canterbury); (b) London, British Library, MS Add. 11579 (c- 1300-25); and (c) London, British Library, MS Harley 279 (early fifteenth century).
However, seven more examples of the verse in Odo's Liber Parabolarum are listed neither in IMEV nor in its Supplement.(3) d Pah pu pe wolf hore hodi to preste,
Sete him to boke and psalmes him leren,
aure biep his geres to pe wode ward. e Path pu pe wulf hore hodi to preste,
sette him to lep, and salmes lere
evre beth his geres to pe groveward. f Path pu pe uulf hore hodi to preste
sete him to lep and psalmes lere
euere bethe his geres to pe uode uuard g Pey po pan wold hor wwlff hode to prest
euer buth hes wiles att pe wode es enide h Pey meo [sic] e wolf hore hodi to prest,
and him to boke sete salmes to leren,
her beuth is eyen atte vodes hent. i Lat ve deulf hore hodi to preste,
secce to boke an psalmes to leren,
evez lokys hus geres to pe wodewar.(4) j Iff alle pat pe wolf vnto pe prest worthe,
and be sette onto boke salmes to lere,
3it is eure hys oune eve to pe wodeward.
These are from (d) Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 481 (c. 1225-50), p. 489; (e) Berlin, Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin - Preussischer Kulturbesitz (Haus Unter den Linden), MS Phill. 1904 (thirteenth century, from Battle, Sussex); (f) Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Douce 88, pp. 22-1; (g) Aberystwyth, National Library of Wales, MS Llanstephan 4 (late fourteenth century), f. 551. [sup.v]; (h) London, British Library, MS Royal 4 (late fouteenth fourteenth-century miscellany from Ramsey, near Huntingdon); (i) Arras, Bibliotheque municipalc, MS 184 (c. 1400, from the Augustinian house of Mont-Saint-Eloi, near Arras); (j) Oxford, Bodlelan Library, MS Douce 169 (fifteenth century), f. 36. [sup.r-v.5] Text g occurs in the course of a translation of the Liber Parabolarum into Welsh, text i in the course of a translation into French.
In all versions, the verse concludes the sad tale of what happened when the wolf Isengrim became a monk:
Isengrim, penitent and lamenting his past sins, wished to become a monk, and this was allowed. He received the tonsure and the cowl, along with the other things pertaining to a monk. He was then placed in the school and taught in the first place to say the Pater Noster, but he repeated, |A lamb or a ram'. The monks taught that he should ever look to the Cross and the sacrifice, but he always turned his eves to the lambs and the rams.
Moral. Many monks are like this. They always repeat, |A lamb or a ram.' That is, they ask for good wine and always have their eyes on a loaded tray or a heaped-up dish. Whence it is often said in English ...
- and the English lines follow to make the point.(6)
Two general points may be made about IMEV 3513 - As the lines fall into |passable alliterative metre', it has been suggested that Odo is quoting from a contemporary English beast fable now lost, the variants of the English lines implying transmission in oral form. …