Le Ménagier de Paris - the same (c. 1393)

Le Ménagier de Paris or The Goodman of Paris as it is often translated, is not going to be for everyone. It's intended for a rather specialized audience, but has a number of features which might of interest to a larger audience than one might initially suspect.

The book is a practical guideline to behavior, household management and cooking written by an old and relatively wealthy bourgousie for his young wife. In the French it would be what is called a primary research source, that is to say an actual medieval document. A 1928 translation by Eileen Power has recently been re-released, and is technically a secondary source since the translator has had to make certain choices in the process of translating. For those of us who do not speak Medieval French well enough to read the original, though, it will have to do as a research source.

It is also a remarkably readable book in it's own right, one that may appeal even to those who are not interested in the minutiae of medieval scholarship. The book is broken down into two sections. The first section, in nine articles, covers proper behaviour of a wife, especially a young one. The second, in five articles, treats of household management and cooking.

The first section is a fascinating window into daily life in a fourteenth century metropolis. The instructions remind the reader of how alien life was in that time, how restricted a woman's place was in middle-class medieval society. They also drive home how religion permeated every facet of life, a thing which is also alien to even the most devout Twentieth Century USAian. It provides a glimpe of a time and culture which is one of the roots of ours today, but which is, for all that, very strange to us.

The second section is a strange mix of the most useful and the most useless informaton, at least to most modern readers. The cooking section is remarkably accessible. A competent modern cook should be able to adapt ("redact," in the jargon) most of the recipes without too much effort, and may find much to spark their own culinary imagination. Mixed in with the recipes, though, are instructions on where to purchase ingredients and how much to pay for them. While this may have been a great boon in 1393 in Paris, it is not so useful these days to know that one should pay 12 pence for ten chickens or that the Porte-de-Paris has nineteen butchers who process 1,900 sheep, 400 oxen, 400 pigs and 200 calves weekly. (Although that may be interesting, it's not usefull in very many situations.)

For those with an interest in medieval daily life, the place of women in medieval Paris, medieval household management or medieval cooking it's a fabulous resource. For everyone else, it's probably not going to be your cup of tea.

Overall Rating: Not Rated

1 comment:

digitaldoc said...

But at least we'll know how many pence to pay for the tea now...