The Devil as a Christian Author? The Case of Versus maligni angeli

The Devil as a Christian Author? The Case of Versus maligni angeli

The Devil as a Christian Author? The Case of Versus maligni angeli

By Lucie Doležalová

Auctor et auctoritas in Medii Aevi litteris: Author and Authorship in Medieval Latin Literature, ed. Edoardo D’Angelo and Jan Ziolkowski (Florence: SISMEL – Edizioni del Galluzzo, 2014)

Introduction: Medieval demons and the devil appear most frequently within the context of the theological concepts of evil or in exorcism. The devil is thus the subject of a text or its addressee but rarely the author. Only recently has the language of the devil attracted some attention. Paul Gerhard Schmidt stressed that it was through language that Satan first deluded Eve and surveyed the various theories about the language the devil used, as well as medieval narratives in which the devil’s speech is recorded or referred to. Carmen Cardelle further discussed the varied languages used by the devil during the Middle Ages: grunting and other intelligible sounds, the vernacular, or spoilt Latin. The main subject of Schmidt’s contribution was a hardly intelligible medieval poem, which, on the one hand, seems to promote Christian values, while, on the other hand, it was ascribed to a demon or the devil. The devil as an author of a poem is a unique occurrence in the Middle Ages. The devil as an author of a Christian poem is a paradox that calls for interpretation, and this special situation has indeed been explained already in the Middle Ages in at least three different ways. The present study discusses the curious medieval justifications of the devil as a Christian author.

Although almost neglected by scholars so far, the anonymous poem of uncertain time and place of origin seems to have been quite largely diffused and commented on in the twelfth to the fifteenth centuries. The poem is usually transmitted without an author, attribution or a title. The titles that appear include Versus daemonis (Verses of a demon), Versus maligni angeli (Verses of a malign angel), Versus extranei (Verses from the outside), and even Tractatus de fluvio Oronte (Treatise on the Orontes River). In the hitherto oldest known manuscript, Bourges, BM, 95 (105) from the end of the 11th c. or the beginning of the 12th c., from Chezal-Benoît, the poem does not have a title and reads:

Facing the mountain, you note Orontes ascending
You will seize your weapons with your right hand and take the head out
Hence you will kill for the shadows many un-revenged with [your] sword
But before [that] one of the boys brings you this gift
A plate with meat which he humbly
serves just now
Already about to bring forth to you many gifts
Hence the hen also gives the voice, spread out the ropes
Behold the fish cut into small pieces clad in bread
Thracian head of Orontes, lies in the body of the mountain
Around which the troops stood and exclaimed
Amaratunta tili codoxia noxia nili
Consider for yourself, you will be Oedipus blind in this light
Defeated by pious love, thus sings the greatest Muse.

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