Word of the Day: Goliard

I stumbled upon this word, and the more I discover about it the more I like it. The OED describes a goliard as a disreputable vagrant medieval cleric given to revelry, buffoonery and satirical Latin versifying, a follower of an imaginary Bishop Golias. Another source describes them as renegade clerics of no fixed abode more interested in rioting and gambling than a respectable life. In 1229 they played a major role in disturbances at the University of Paris, and in 1289 they were banned from the priesthood. They sound like a lot of fun.

I’m impressed. It puts them up with the pastafarians for ingenuity in their belief systems, and the world could do with some more satirical Latin verses.

But further investigation tells me they were the product of the laws of primogeniture, whereby the eldest son inherited all, the rest were sent to monasteries, for a life of piety and celibacy, which most of them seem to be unhappy with, so took to satirising the Roman church and its practices in poetry, song and performance. They covered topics such as the problems of being a homeless scholar, or an unfrocked cleric, denials of Christian ethics, but the most famous ones were hedonistic, so more easily accessible to modern readers. Their style of poetry outlived them, as the name segued into the term jongleur, or minstrel as cited in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales and Piers Ploughman. A major collection of their work about wine and riotous living was collected in the 19th century in Bavaria as the Carmina Burana, and were translated into English in 1884 by John Addington Symonds as Wine, Women and Song.  So it seems they were the original travelling minstrels. I think we need a national holiday to celebrate them. Maybe in the midst of winter, say January, when we all need something to cheer us up.

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