"The ABC's of Aristotle"

by Kerri Carper

Everyone lives by some code of conduct, whether it be the Ten Commandments or a personal list of do's and don't's. Likewise, medieval society has its general opnions of what was acceptable and what could not be condoned or tolerated. A document contained in Early English Meals and Manners, (A, B, C) an intriguing book edited by Frederick James Furnivall, offers "The ABC's of Aristotle." This manuscript covers almost the entire alphabet with clever advice to its readers about a moderate way of life. It suggests that a man take the middle ground between extremes, neither too friendly, nor too dull, neither too busy, nor too bored.

The ABC's of Aristotle

Who-so wilneth to be wijs & worschip desirith,

Lerne he oo lettir, & looke on anothir

Of the .a. b. c. of aristotil : argue not aghen that :

It is councel for right manye clerkis & knyghtis a thousand,

And eek it myghte ammeende a man ful afte

For to leerne lore of oo lettir, & his lijf saue ;

For to myche of ony thing was neuere holsum.

Reede ofte on this rolle, & rewle thou the aftir ;

Who-so be greued in his goost, gouerne him bettir ;

Blame he not the barn that this .a. b. c. made,

But wite he his wickid will & his werk aftir ;

It schal neuere greue a good man though the gilti be meendid.

Now herkeneth & heerith how y bigynne.

A to amerose, to aunterose, ne argue not to myche.

B to bolde, ne to bisi, ne boorde not to large.

C to curteis, to cruel, ne care not to sore.

D to dul, ne to dreedful, ne drinke not to ofte.

E to elenge, ne to excellent, ne to eernesful neither.

F to fers, ne to famuler, but freendli of cheere.

G to glad, ne to gloriose, & gelosie thou hate.

H to hasti, ne to hardi, ne to heuy in thine herte.

I to iettynge, ne to iangelinge, ne iape not to ofte.

K to kinde, ne to depynge, & be waar of knaue tacchis.

L to looth for to leene, ne to liberal of goodis.

M to medelus, ne to myrie, by as mesure wole it meeue.

N to noiose, ne to nyce, ne use no new iettis.

O to orped, ne to ouerthwart, & oothis thou hate.

P to presing, ne to preuy with princis ne with dukes.

Q to queynte, ne to quarelose, but queeme weel youre souereyns.

S to straunge, ne to stirynge, ne straungeli to stare.

T to toilose, ne to talewijs, for temperaunce is beest.

V to venemose, ne to veniable, & voide al vilonye.

W to weilde, ne to wrathful, neither waaste, ne waade not to depe,

For a mesurable meene is euere th beste of alle.

This document was written around 1430; I could find no author to whom I could credit it. Nevertheless, this piece offered medieval society a mean of life, a rather moderate path between extremes. Be neither too courteous, nor too cruel, it suggests, too fearful, nor too friendly. In all, we can derive from this work the medieval attitude toward excess and over-indulgence. We infer that a man living in the Middle Ages should always check his interactions with others, making sure that he is being neither too distant nor too involved. Quite honestly, for many business relationships today, "The ABC's of Aristotle" offers great advice and an excellent and safe code of conduct.