Academic journal article Medium Aevum

A Prose Redaction of the Prick of Conscience Part Vi in Bodleian Library, Ms Laud Misc. 23

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

A Prose Redaction of the Prick of Conscience Part Vi in Bodleian Library, Ms Laud Misc. 23

Article excerpt

Item 6 in Oxford, Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 23 (fols 5 3^sup v^-55^sup r^) is a brief prose description, entirely in English but based upon translated citations from various authorities, of 'xiiij maneris of peynis of helle' (hereafter POH).1 The text is catalogued in IMEP and in the Manual of the Writings in Middle English? but it has not before been noted that the fourteen pains described in this text precisely correspond, in their sequence and in the various authorities with which they are illustrated, with the fourteen pains of hell described in part VI of The Prick of Conscience (hereafter PC)? POH should therefore be categorized together with the several other works derivative of PC,4 perhaps especially with the Speculum huius vite, like POH a 'highly abbreviated' version of the original poem, but one which nevertheless pays careful attention to the preservation of PCs Latin quotations and closely follows 'the organisation and controlling ideas of the original'.5

The PC is of course itself not an 'original' work but a compilation of 'sere materes drawen / Of sere bukes' (PC, lines 9545L). Of its description of the fourteen pains of hell, nine pains - as indicated in the only extensive study of the poem's sources, by Arnold Hahn - derive ultimately from book III of the Elucidarium of Honorius Augustodunensis.6 Of the remaining five pains, four - hunger, thirst, weeping, and despair - are probably based upon corresponding pains in the fourth chapter of Les Peines de Purgatone, a work attributed to Robert Grosseteste and itself dependent for some of its own list of nine pains on the Elucidarium? For the remaining pain, goading by the 'worm of conscience', I have identified no definite source (and none may be needed, given its obvious importance to the poem's conception as a stimulus conscientiae and its apparent familiarity in late medieval culture, including a reference in Chaucer's Physician's Tale).8 However, the discussion of the worm of conscience in Innocent III's De contemptu mundi is broadly similar and includes the same supporting quotation from Sap. v as appears in the corresponding passage from PC.9 The PC-poet supplements these two major sources with a variety of expansions and citations from other sources, chiefly biblical. For ease of comparison with POH, PCs list of pains, and their probable sources, may be summarized as follows:

1. Fire - Elucidarium III, 14f, pp. 447f. (1st pain)

2. Cold - Elucidarium III, 14f, pp. 447f. (2nd pain)

3. Stench - Elucidarium III, 14f, p. 448 (4th pain)

4. Hunger - Les Peines, lines 339-48 (5th pain)

5. Thirst - Les Peines, lines 348-59 (6th pain)

6. Darkness - Elucidarium III, 14f, p. 448 (6th pain)

7. Sight of devils - Elucidarium III, 14f., p. 448 (8th pain)

8. Immortal worms - Elucidarium III, 14f, pp. 447f. (3rd pain); Les Peines, lines 316-36 (3rd pain)

9. Beating with hammers - cf. Elucidarium III, 14f., p. 448 (5th pain)

10. Worm of conscience - ? cf. Innocent, De contemptu mundi, book III, chapter ii

11. Weeping - Ees Peines, lines 336-9 (4th pain)

12. Shame - Elucidarium III, 14f, p. 448 (7th pain)

13. Burning bonds - Elucidarium III, 14f., pp. 448f. (9th pain)

14. Despair - Ees Peines, lines 359-66, 371-4 (9th pain)

It is of course not inconceivable that the PC-poet did not himself put together his list of fourteen pains from individual sources but instead found it 'whole' in some pre-existing compilation. The poet hints at the existence of some such earlier compilation when he introduces one of his various quotations from the Elucidarium by informing his reader that he found it in 'a boke'

Of sere questyons of divinité

þat es cald 'Flos Seiende'. (PC, lines 7204-6)

It is also possible in theory that, if such a compilation was the source of the PC-poet's list of pains, the author of POH could have worked from the earlier compilation independendy of the PC, although no similar list of fourteen pains of hell has so far been identified. …

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