Chaucer’s The Persoun #
Chaucer depicts his society as an inverted Pyramid; with the lowly characters on top and the pillars of society on the lowest levels of a scale of virtues. In this he follows Dante, Boccaccio and even Petrarch.
Charles Dickens in Great Expectations, uses the image of Pip being tipped upside down by an escaped convict. He is forced to see society as inverted, seeing the Church’s steeple pointing down; not serving as an inspiration.
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn also portrays a society from the perspective of a picaresque; an uneducated inarticulate outcast elevating the values of the lowest levels of society.
Lord Acton had papal infallibility in mind when writing to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887.
*“I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption, it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority: still more when you superadd the tendency or certainty of corruption by full authority. *There is no worse heresy than the fact that the office sanctifies the holder of it.
Chaucer may undercut all his other characters, but he has full admiration and regard for the lowly Parsoun.
A good man was ther of religioun,
478 And was a povre PERSOUN OF A TOUN,
479 But riche he was of hooly thoght and werk.
480 He was also a lerned man, a clerk,
481That Cristes gospel trewely wolde preche;
482 His parisshens devoutly wolde he teche.
483 Benygne he was, and wonder diligent, (Gracious)
484 And in adversitee ful pacient,
485 And swich he was ypreved ofte sithes.
486 Ful looth were hym to cursen for his tithes,
487 But rather wolde he yeven, out of doute,
488 Unto his povre parisshens aboute
489 Of his offryng and eek of his substaunce.
490 He koude in litel thyng have suffisaunce.
491 Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer asonder,
492 But he ne lefte nat, for reyn ne thonder,
493 In siknesse nor in meschief to visite
494 The ferreste in his parisshe, muche and lite,
495 Upon his feet, and in his hand a staf.
496 This noble ensample to his sheep he yaf,
497 That first he wroghte, and afterward he taughte.
498 Out of the gospel he tho wordes caughte,
499 And this figure he added eek therto,
500 That if gold ruste, what shal iren do?
501 For if a preest be foul, on whom we truste,
502 No wonder is a lewed man to ruste;
503 And shame it is, if a prest take keep,
504 A shiten shepherde and a clene sheep.
505 Wel oghte a preest ensample for to yive,
506 By his clennesse, how that his sheep sholde lyve.
507 He sette nat his benefice to hyre
508 And leet his sheep encombred in the myre
509 And ran to Londoun unto Seinte Poules
510 To seken hym a chaunterie for soules,
511 Or with a bretherhed to been withholde;
512 But dwelte at hoom, and kepte wel his folde,
513 So that the wolf ne made it nat myscarie;
514 He was a shepherde and noght a mercenarie.
515 And though he hooly were and vertuous,
516 He was to synful men nat despitous,
517 Ne of his speche daungerous ne digne,
518 But in his techyng discreet and benygne.
519 To drawen folk to hevene by fairnesse,
520 By good ensample, this was his bisynesse.
521 But it were any persone obstinat,
522 What so he were, of heigh or lough estat,
523 Hym wolde he snybben sharply for the nonys.
524 A bettre preest I trowe that nowher noon ys.
525 He waited after no pompe and reverence,
526 Ne maked him a spiced conscience,
527 But Cristes loore and his apostles twelve
528 He taughte; but first he folwed it hymselve.
Ordinary People #
Euripides in Media has the nurse comment on the High born vs commoner:
It is a bad thing to be born of a high race in a great house unruled but ruling. It is unendurable.
Poor people are happier, humble and poor in spirit, commoners who can lie low under the wind.
Great people like the tall oak and cloud raking pines writhe, groan and crash under the high winds. .
This is the wild and terrible justice of the Gods.
In Plato’s Republic, Odysseus, gets reincarnated as a common man.
Achilles, when questioned by Odysseus in Hades, claims “I would prefer to be a workman, hired by a poor man on a peasant farm, than rule as king of all the the dead”.
John Donne in his mischievous manner claimed that the life of ordinary people was vastly superior to our ruling classes with:
Princes do but play us; /compared to this,/All honor’s mimic, all wealth alchemy./ In that the world’s contracted thus.
A democratic element that says: ‘Little people are really important, and just as important as other people.’
Thomas Jeffersonmaintained that the most reliable custodian of good governance was the ordinary citizen.
They also serve who only stand and wait.
Auden* seeks for values and meaning in ordinary temporal world.
“All truths are derived from the ordinary, daily common lives of contemporary people.”
“A calm and humble life will bring more happiness than the pursuit of success and the constant restlessness that comes with it.”
True heroes are remembered for a surreal mix of the everyday and the remarkable.”
We need to listen to the disadvantaged; those at the coalface. Trust is about reciprocity – mutual respect.