Sunday 29 October 2023

The Folly of Study

Placentinus (d. 1192), Sermo de legibus, 93-122:

O tu stulta scientia,
Quid prodest diligentia
Quam tu ponis in studio?
Tu es macra et pallida,
Morieris vili vita
Sine ullo gaudio!
Tu morieris in vivendo
Atque vivis moriendo,
Hec in te nichil differunt.
Languor est in te vivere
Et vivere sic est languere,
Hec tibi mortem afferunt.
Dum corpus tuum afficis,
Tu te ipsam interficis,
   Tu es homicida!
Dum sic amittis seculum
Te ponis in periculum
   De perenni vita.
Affectare scientiam,
Que inflat et superbiam
   Parit, est peccare!
Latet anguis sic in herba!
Fuge, miser, hec superba  
   Noli inculcare!
Mundum fugis et mundanum
Discis, cum sit hoc humanum.
   Quod tu semper desideras,
Sint tibi contraria;
Nil lucraris, set omnia
   Perdis, que semper feceras,
Oh you, foolish knowledge, what use is the diligence which you put into study? You are thin and pallid; you will pass out of a worthless life without any joy! You will die in living and you live in dying, neither makes any difference to you. Listlessness lives in you and to live is to be listless. These things will bring death to you. While you weaken your body you bring about your own death, you are a murderer! While you let the world slip away from you in such a fashion, you place yourself in peril of losing everlasting life. To seek knowledge, which puffs one up and gives birth to pride, is sin! This is the way the snake lurks in the grass! Flee, wretched man, refuse to take in these haughty things! You flee the world and you study worldliness, since it is learned. What you always desire are incompatible; you will gain nothing, rather you will lose everything which you had ever acquired.
Hermann Kantorowicz, ‘The Poetical Sermon of a Mediaeval Jurist: Placentinus and His “Sermo de Legibus” ’, Journal of the Warburg Institute, 2.1 (1938), 22-41 (pp. 38-39). My translation.