Saturday, June 19, 2010

On Burley and Wild Oaks

This weeks' reading: "Walter Burley: His Life and Works" by Jennifer Ottman and Rega Wood (Vivarium 37pp. 1-23). There was no reference that I could find to Burley knowing Scotus while at Oxford (see my post here) but the article was full of some fascinating trivia about Burley. It opens with a one-paragraph summary that incorporates the intriguing statement that 'Burley found himself imprisoned for a forestry offence in 1336'.

When I summarise a subject that is large and broad, like someone's life, or a period in history, I try to imagine that every other piece of information about that subject has been annihilated except for my summary, which alone will be handed down to posterity. What are the really really important things that people in the future will need to know about this man, or this period in history? Ottman and Wood include the bit about the forestry offence. And why not? It captured my attention, and perhaps it tells us something about Burley.

There is more on p.19. Burley had been granted two oaks in Sherwood forest, near his rectory in Pytchely, by Queen Philippa (wife of Edward III and founder of Queen's College). When his men cut them down in 1336, Burley was arrested and imprisoned, aged 60. He was pardoned in December of the same year by Richard de Bury. How he came to be granted the oaks, why he cut them down, and why the offence was so serious as to deserve imprisonment, is not explained.

Another snippet is the inclusion of Burley's evidence that people undertake great risks for the sake of excessive enjoyment. 'Secundo est notandum quod multi superabundanter quaerunt delectationes qui tamen non fugiunt tristitias superabundanter. Multi enim multas tribulationes labores et pericula sustinent propter delectationes consequendas: ut patet de multis incontintentibus, qui propter delectationes corporales consequendas patiuntur frigora et calores et multa pericula ambulantes solitarii per noctes hyemales in tempore frigidissimo ad consequendum delectationes corporales et voluptates, et tales magis negociantur circa delectationes quam circa tristitias" (Expositio super decem libros Ethicorum Aristotelis, Venice 1500, 115ra).

I translate: 'Second, it must be noted that many superabundantly seek pleasure, who nevertheless do not superabundantly avoid suffering. For many [people] undergo much hardship, effort and danger because of the bodily pleasure that results. As is clear in the case of many immoderate [people] who, because of bodily pleasure, endure coldness and heat* and many dangers walking alone on winter nights in extreme cold, for the bodily pleasure and enjoyment that is to follow. And such [hardships] are more endured because of the pleasure, than on account of the suffering'.

I am intrigued by what sort of bodily pleasures he had in mind. And what events prompted this idea? Ottman and Wood conclude "clearly Burley was an engaging as well as a useful author".

* I don't follow this.

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