Thursday, March 22, 2007

Was honesty an important medieval virtue? And what is honor?

That's the question that Richard Nokes asks in his blog. For his initial take on the question, see this post, and if you have anything to contribute please let him know.

I have another question. Often in recent literature (last couple of centuries) the word "honor" is used to describe integrity, so that if you are true to yourself you can consider your honor to be untouched, even if nobody appreciates your quality. But it seems to me that in medieval literature it is more normal to equate "honor" with the respect that others have for you. Thus if you are rich, famous, powerful and fashionable, you have honor even if you massacred the people of Limoge; while if you are dragged in your shirtsleeves before the king's justices and have your head hacked off, you have no honor, even if it is all a put-up job.

Am I right in these impressions? If there has been an evolution, has anyone traced it?

Image: Maids of honor from Is there a Yes, and a, too, but neither is about weddings.


Blogger Will McLean said...

The OED is always a good place to look on usage. The "renown and reputation" meaning of honor goes back to the 13th c.

In "The Tempest", Prospero complains that Caliban has attempted to violate
Miranda's honor. Miranda herself, of course, is blameless.

(Trivia note: it's honor, not honour, in the original. Shakespeare spelled it both ways, but seems to have preferred honor 2-1)

Honor has long been used in two similar but not identical, senses. It can mean a "strict allegiance to what is due or right", and it can mean strict allegiance to "some conventional or fashionable code of conduct"

There's a 1677 quote that explains that a man of honor is almost as good as a man of conscience. Almost.

3:18 PM  
Blogger Steve Muhlberger said...

Suggestion from Marc Carrier:

"About honor in the Middle Ages, read F. H. STEWART, *Honor* (Chicago, 1994), where the matter is discussed
in the first 50 pages or so."

More info is still welcome.

5:49 PM  

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home