from An Introduction to Venantius Fortunatus for Schoolchildren or Understanding the Medieval Concept World Through Metonymy

Mike Schorsch

Chapter 14: Fortunatus and What Came Before Him

I   What You Think

                         from Fortunatus’s In laudem sanctae Mariae and Plato’s Parmenides

But when he wants to emphasize the one
he says that although there are seven of us
I am just one man,
I am partaking of the one,
I am not changed
into flesh. I am not a body. And so
God accepts a body. God accepts
that both of his arguments are true: God
is not changed into flesh: God does not
change himself. If, therefore, someone
sets his hand to demonstrating that things
are many and a particular thing is one,
lifting limbs to himself,
his Godhead and a particular thing
are many stones and kinds of wood,
we say “One man in twin natures.”
We say he proves that both “many” and “one” exist
simultaneously. Not that the one
is many. Not that the man
seen in his flesh does not change but
the man seen in his flesh wears
true man in them, in his flesh wears
stones and kinds of wood
and things like that. He hasn’t uttered any prodigy
but just something everyone would recognize as true:
equal of his mother, the same Godhead as his father,
not jumbling his natures, things like that,
one man in twin natures, changed into flesh,
things like that, the Godhead
like that. I would be far more amazed
I was saying if he hasn’t spoken
his natures, but binding all of ours to him
I would be far more amazed
if someone told me this very same pathlessness
were wound completely and through the images themselves.

II   What You Do

                         from Fortunatus’s Vita sancti Martini and Virgil’s Georgics

For I remember
that under the towers
Martin was only a teenage boy, I remember that.
Citadel of Oebalia under the towers,
when frost was curling the frozen earth
of Oebalia under the towers, Martin was only
where the black Galaesus waters the golden fields,
I remember that I saw an old man and grim winter’s bridle
girdled the waves, I remember that
Martin who had a few scant acres
of abandoned frozen earth and grim
winter’s bridle, girdled fountains, still
this man grew produce here
and white lilies around the weeds.
Martin was only a movement
of fountains. An old man binding small poppies
of ice, wrapping on a rigid shirt.
A poor man approached him
at the gate of Amiens, a poor man returning home
late at night, and the fields were not suited
for sheep, or right for vines. This man
and the fields approached him at the gate,
and Martin had nothing but
a poor man, and in his soul he equaled
the wealth of kings. And Martin had nothing
but what he wore, so he tore his soldier’s cloak
returning home late at night.
He weighted his table with an unbought feast,
produce, white lilies around the weeds, and small poppies.
He had nothing so he tore his white soldier’s cloak
in two, and with burning faith he gave it
to cover the cold limbs of the beggar. He was first
to pick roses in spring, and apples in fall, first
he took on a share of shivering
frost. Grim winter was cracking the stones, the Maker
was already cutting grape hyacinth.
The Maker was scolding the late-coming summer,
manifest there in the cloak. The Maker, what he wore
was better than the purple. The late-coming
soldier was manifest there, the shivering
Martin was the poor man. At the gate of Amiens,
returning home, Martin was unweighted. The Maker was unbought,
the beggar clothed in hyacinth.

Assignment for Chapter 14

Use discarded Styrofoam to construct a realistic-looking ziggurat. You may also choose to create another important worship space for one of the other World Religions, or all of them. On a length of adding machine paper twice as long as you can reach, answer the following questions. When you are finished, roll the paper up until it looks like a miniature scroll. Hide it somewhere in the model you have just constructed. Take turns with your friends trying to guess each other’s hiding places!

1.          How could you use a magnet to identify steel cans with aluminum tops? Can you find any cans that are made partly of aluminum and partly of steel? (Hint: Start by moving a strong magnet over your pile of trash.)
2.          You have just been hired to dig a trench as part of a major runway construction operation. If St. Martin actually never cut his cloak in two to clothe a beggar, or if he did, or if you couldn’t tell, or if you thought it didn’t matter, how would this affect your job? Would you still go to work? If you decided to quit your job and become a translator, how would you tell your boss? Your family? When they asked you about St. Martin of Tours and his miracles, what would you say? If you decided to change the subject, what would you talk about instead? What would be the significance of the thing you chose to talk about instead?
3.          Is it better for things to be large or small?

translated from the Latin of Venantius Fortunatus