The Attitudes to Corporal Punishment

Following on from Max Ernst who peeked on Our Lady punishing the Child – here are two instances of attitude to corporal punishment. The poem Nieman kan mit gerten by the Middle High German lyric poet Walther von der Vogelweide (left) was probably composed at the turn of the 12th-13th cc. I have known it in Russian long before I began to study Medieval and Early Modern History, but here is a good English translation below. As the translator Graeme Dunphy notes, this gnomic poem has got a nice palindromic structure, i.e. every stanza consists of eight lines repeated from 1st to 4th and back, from 4th to 1st.

As close as they are to our hearts today, in his own time Vogelweide’s words had generally fallen on deaf ears, and a very different attitude (or rather practice) is commemorated in the frescoes at the apsidal chapel at Sant’Agostino in San Gimigniano, near Siena in Italy. The cycle of frescoes known as The Episodes from Life of St Augustine was composed between 1464 and 1465 by Benozzo Gozzoli and a few of his pupils, and The School of Tagaste (right) on the north wall is particularly well-known, for its representation of a teaching practice. If we suppose that Walther’s poem could be composed about 1200, then it is indeed striking how forward-thinking he had been, and how little had changed 265 years later!

More on:

San Gimignano

Sant’Agostino

Fresco cycle of St Augustine by Benozzo Gozzoli (1464-1465)

Walther von der Vogelweide, Neiman kan mit gerten (transl. by Graeme Dunphy)

No-one can obtain
Good children by the cane.
To those in whom true virtues grow
A word is mightier than a blow.
A word is mightier than a blow
To those in whom true virtues grow.
Good children by the cane
No-one can obtain.
A guard upon your tongue!
Good counsel for the young!
Throw the bolt across the door,
Let wicked words escape no more.
Let wicked words escape no more,
Throw the bolt across the door.
Good counsel for the young:
A guard upon your tongue!
A guard upon your eyes!
Always this is wise!
Let them see whatever’s good,
Shield them from what’s coarse and rude.
Shield them from what’s coarse and rude,
Let them see whatever’s good.
Always this is wise:
A guard upon your eyes!
A guard upon your ears!
A fool is what he hears!
If opened up to words ill-bred,
They’ll bring dishonour on your head.
They’ll bring dishonour on your head
If opened up to words ill-bred.
A fool is what he hears;
A guard upon your ears!
A guard upon all three!
They’re prone to be too free.
Tongue, eyes, ears are often base,
Inviting scandal and disgrace.
Inviting scandal and disgrace,
Tongue, eyes, ears are often base.
They’re prone to be too free.
A guard upon all three!

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