The Virgin Mary and the Perfect Meulequin: Translating a Textile Analogy in Marguerite Porete's Mirror of Simple Souls

Publication: Philological Quarterly
Author: Kocher, Zan
Date published: January 1, 2011

IT IS AN EVOCATIVE MOMENT when, in chapter 126 of the Mirouer des simples ames, Marguerite Po rete has the personified Soul describe the Virgin Mary as a perfect saint with exemplary humility, by the analogy that Mary did not have even as much shortcoming as a wrinkle of a meulequin.1 During Poretes lifetime (d. 1310), a meulequin in Old French, or molocinus in Latin, designated a textile head covering, "a kind of veil," as Manfred Höfler puts it.2 It was a commonplace piece of clothing in the Francophone Netherlands in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries, for women of a range of social statuses, including some nuns as well as béguines and laywomen.3 The simile associates Marys exemplary humility with this meulequin and its smoothness, while implying that others' head coverings might not be so perfect. It contrasts something vast and complete, here Mary s virtue, with something miniscule - a superfluous fold, expressing a tiny unit of measurement. Without saying explicitly that the meulequin belongs to Mary, the analogy is compatible with visual iconography of the saint wearing one or more veils.

I derive three kinds of information from the presence of the clothingterm meulequin in the Middle French Mirror. First, it broadly corroborates the book's geographic origin. In the Old French of Marguerite Poretes lifetime, the word was not widely used in the medieval Francophone world, but common only in its northernmost reaches, in the Picard and Walloon dialectal zone approximately corresponding to the medieval county of Hainaut. Likewise, the Paris inquisitors who documented her trial for heresy in 1308-10 identified Marguerite Po rete as coming from Hainaut,4 as did two late-medieval chroniclers, though the latter may have taken their narratives from inquisition documents.5 Secondly, I will take the opportunity to compare the diverse ways late- medieval manuscripts of Poretes book handle the regional term between about 1300 and 1530. Of thirteen surviving manuscripts, five contain variations of the head- covering analogy, in Middle French, Middle English, and Late Latin, whereas eight others do not include it, in medieval Latin and Italian.6 A third benefit of considering the meanings of the word meulequin is that this will help to correct errors in twentieth- century translations from the Middle French into modern languages.


As the Mirrors daughter copies migrated from Hainaut southward into France, west to England, east to Germany, and southeast to Italy, scribes and translators handled the example of the meulequin in various ways.7 It was understood and translated in England, preserved but not necessarily understood in France, and removed from manuscripts that survive in Italy. Of thirteen extant manuscripts containing versions of this passage about Mary, the Middle French uses the word meulequin, three Middle English manuscripts faithfully translate it as "kerchief," and the Latin back-translation made from Middle English gives vaguely "in ornatu capitis mulieris" [on a decoration for a woman's head].8 Four Latin copies have lost the meulequinreference, however, as have four more Italian-language copies. The thirteen surviving versions represent not continuous lines of transmission but a spotty record of wider distribution; more manuscripts previously existed than are now extant.9 No complete original text is known to survive.

Fragments in Old French that Geneviève Hasenohr brought to light in 1999, in Valenciennes, Bibliothèque municipale MS 239, give precious evidence about the Picard dialectal flavor and the poetic prose style that probably characterized the original(s), but chapter 126 is not among these. The sole surviving nearly complete French manuscript is a late copy held at Chantilly, Musée Condé MS 1 57, from the area of Orleans; this version remains a key reference despite, and sometimes because of, its difficulties.10 The Chantilly texts language has been substantially updated from Old French ca. the 1290s to Middle French of around 1500. Nonetheless, Romana Guarnieri sees in the Chantilly manuscript an older "linguistic residue remaining underneath the texts fifteenth-century modernization,"11 whereas Povl Skârup disagrees, arguing somewhat inconclusively for its lexicons lateness and pointing out a number of words forged later than 1 500 (or else the Mirror marks their earliest known written appearance).12 In my view, the presence of the word meulequin supports Guarnieris argument that there remains Old French "residue" or "sediment" in the Renaissance-era Chantilly copy. It is also a Picard holdover in a manuscript whose northern dialectal traits were significantly reduced in the process of transposition to Middle French, if we can take the Valenciennes fragments as sign of the original dialectal coloring. Because of the words geographic specificity, and its rarity outside Picardy/Wallonia, it seems to me likely that the noun meulequin was part of Poretes lost original book.


The single Middle French text and three Middle English manuscripts preserve versions of the head-covering analogy despite significant modifications of language and of clothing fashions from the time when Marguerite wrote the book (between 1285 and 1306) to the time when these four vernacular manuscripts were copied (between about 1450 and 1530).13 In the Chantilly manuscript, chapter 126 contains more information than the versions in other languages, so I take it as a key witness. The books last section (chapters 123 to 139) includes a long series of Christian theological "considerations" illustrating spiritual passivity, beginning with seven numbered lessons that correspond to specific saints and exemplars, in chapters 123 to 129. At the center of this set of seven figures is the Virgin Mary. The Soul recalls that Mary was perfect and yet free of ostentation: she did not show off her holiness to anyone (362). The Middle French passage emphasizes Marys humility and virginity, in a way that associates a meulequin with her perfection materially, not just her own but also her sons.14 This context is reinforced by the end of chapter 126, which recounts Marys sorrow at the crucifixion (364), and by chapter 127, about the "joincture" of humanity with divinity in Christs incarnation (366-68). Some of the scribes hesitations are visible in the Middle French manuscript, chapter 126:

Hee dame aor aournee il vo[us] esto it bien de ce besoing. Car je tiens du filz de dieu que cse il eust trouve en vous autant de viude co[m]me estre en vain le ploy dun petit meulequin qui est ung petit ver hors de neccessite, il neust ja de vous fait sa mere, dame il ne povoit estre que vous ite le fussez +

+ et si ne povoit estre que vous ne le fussies.15

[O adorned Lady, for you this was indeed necessary. For I believe, about the son of God, that if he had found as much shortcoming in you as (except [if it were] to no effect) the fold of a little head covering which is a little variable (beyond what was necessary), he would never have made you his mother. Lady, it was not possible for you to be that (imperfect), and thus it was not possible for you not to be that (Christ's mother)].

Part of the complexity of this passage resides in its not- quite- repetitions. The use of seeming antitheses is part of Poretes literary style, as though the poet- theologian likes to strike near-opposites against one another and record the sparks that fly from their collision. The last sentence transcribed above has two nearly identical clauses: one in the negative, and a second with the double negative "ne povoit estre que vous ne le fussies." As the photos show, when handling this near- repetition, the Chantilly scribe committed a haplography at the top of folio 109r, then corrected it by crossing out the extra occurrence of "ne" and by copying the omitted phrase into the upper margin, with crosses marking the insertion point. Given the ample spacing around the cross in the text of folio 109r, evidently the scribe penned it, not a later annotator. There is perhaps deliberate ambiguity in the subjunctive clauses whose repetition of common words trips up the copyist: "que vous [ne] le fuss[i]ez." Additional repetitive phrases here include viude or vuide "shortcoming, lack, absence, wasted effort" and en vain "in vain, without effect"; "besoing" and "neccessite"; "hors de neccessite" and "estre en vain"; and "autant de" and "estre," where estre seems to be the preposition (from Latin extra) signifying excess, "beyond, in addition."16 I cannot tell whether these doublets are original to the text's wordplay, or whether copyists might have added explanatory synonyms and glosses that complicate the French passage without necessarily clarifying it.

The interjection "Hee," which I have translated old-fashionedly as ?," signals a move from third-person narrative to second-person address, as it usually does in this book. Here the Soul speaks to Mary in a prayerful way.17 She calls the Virgin "dame aournee" in French (354), like "domina adornata" in Latin (365) and "Madonna addornata" in Italian, implying that her image of Mary is not ascetic in dress nor in spiritual qualities that clothing can represent.18 Elsewhere in the text, the Soul herself is described as "adorned with love" and as "adorned . . . with such a gift" - the adjective aournee can imply that she is ornamented or decorated, "dressed," "prepared," or "endowed."19 The epithet "dame aournee" implies that some kind of clothing or ornament would match Mary s moral perfection compatibly with a metaphor for flawlessness. In the Old French fragments from Valenciennes 239, the adjective is spelled "aorné,"20 so we may be seeing a trace of that form on Chantilly folio 108v where the scribe crossed out the letters "aor . . ." and rewrote the word. The French manuscript has punctuation after the words "hors de neccessite," such that these must modify the previous phrase ("Ie ploy d['] un petit meulequin qui est ung petit ver hors de neccessite"), not the subsequent one about Marys motherhood, as is possible in the Middle English which lacks such punctuation. The French syntax could describe either the ploy or the meulequin itself as "ung petit ver," if ver is a noun or an adjective in the masculine singular. In French it is not entirely clear which antecedent the relative pronoun "qui" refers to (probably meulequin, possibly ploy), and the phrase could have more than one meaning.


The explanation "qui est ung petit ver" (folio 108v, Mirouer 364) appears only in the Middle French, without any counterpart in the dozen other surviving manuscripts. Probably "ung petit ver" is a descriptive clause meaning "a little bit changeable": "ung petit" meaning "a little bit," and "ver" the adjective "variable, changing, changeable," masculine and singular to agree with meulequin.21 The explanation that a meulequin or its ploy is "a little bit adjustable" would presumably benefit audiences unfamiliar with the word. This interpretation seems compatible with the nature of a meulequin, a piece of lightweight fabric woven probably most commonly of linen, a material that easily forms creases. Its folds would vary slightly each time it was put on.

Several Old French texts from the Picard region attest to its adjustability. The Rule of the beguinage of Sainte-Elisabeth in Valenciennes, dated 1262, specified that beguines could wear "meulequins arranged to their prioress's approval," implying that there were appropriate and inappropriate ways to arrange (ordenner) the same head coverings.22 Similarly the thirteenth-century Picard Regle des fins amans says that béguines' meulequins should be white and without enhancement (af alternent), a term that could include ornamentation and arrangement as well as coloring.23 Also in the anonymous satirical poem about "Li Auduïns," composed in Arras in the thirteenth century, a comically subservient husband "has to ploier his wife's molekin" for her when she is getting dressed up for church, presumably tucking it to suit her wishes.24 The garment's changeability is suggested by the verb ploier (or ployer, plier), "to fold," and likewise in the Mirror by the nounpfoy "tuck, wrinkle, fold, crease," cognate to English "pleat" and "ply."25 The Mirouefs speaking Soul does not mention whether the Virgin wears any additional headgear such as a separate veil over the meulequin; if that were the case, it would make the ploy all the more subtle for being in a less visible layer below or underneath it. In some art-historical images, we see veils or underveils whose edges look finely pleated, but in the examples from "Ii Auduïns" and from Po retes chapter 126, the ploy illustrates probably a temporary fold, rather than a more permanent ruine, fluting, goffering, or frill in the meulequins edge.26

Neither art-historical nor literary representations suggest that a meulequin would have had variegated coloring, nor be made oí petit vair fur. That fur, composed of squirrel hides sewn together with the lighter- colored and darker parts of the fur giving variegated coloring to the ensemble, derives its Old French name petit vair from Latin varius "variable," as does the adjective ver mentioned above.27 However, the garment named "un meulequin" and the material that could conceivably be called "ung petit ver" are not the same stuff.28 Regional statutes from the thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries classify meulequins with mercery and woven goods.29 Visual evidence allows that a head covering could be fur-lined,30 but all indications are that a meulequin was woven and unlined, as we see for example in the illustrated tax-list from Cambrai in 1275, that depicts "muelekins" as thin, flat, and uniform in color.31

A scribe may well have added the phrase "qui est ung petit ver" (364) to the Chantilly copy or one of its ancestors, I surmise, because the term meulequin had became unfamiliar to audiences as language and fashions changed over time, and as the book moved southward out of the Picard/ Walloon linguistic zone where the word was in most frequent use.32 For the period 1200-1308, more than 80 percent of references to this item of clothing in French, in surviving documents whose geographic origins are known, come from the county of Hainaut and the Cambrésis, in the Picard and Walloon linguistic area from the Somme River northward to the Flemish language line. Meule quins were produced in Saint- O mer and nearby towns; their sale was taxed at marketplaces in Tournai, Douai, Cambrai, and Valenciennes.33 Few occurrences of the word come from far outside this area. One of them is in the surviving Middle French Mirror, copied in the region of Orleans, about 250 kilometers to the south of the meulequin-producing zone. Its provenance is attested by the papers watermark and by the three ex libris inscriptions from the priory of La Madeleine at Orleans.34 Perhaps a meulequins smooth arrangement was culturally more comprehensible as an expression of perfection - and its ploy as a small measure of imperfection - in the Francophone Netherlands where Marguerite Porete lived and wrote, and also in England where the term was translated as "kerchief," but not as easily comprehensible in France where the Chantilly manuscript was made around 1500. The explanatory phrase "qui est ung petit ver" (364), present in this manuscript but absent from all the others, may have been added to the French-language manuscript tradition after the British translator s source-manuscript crossed the Channel - perhaps around 1327 when young Philippa of Hainaut married Edward III of England and her entourage brought books to London from the area of Valenciennes.35


The late medieval English translator, unlike Continental Latin redactors, preserved the analogy that Mary had no shortcoming measurable even by a headscarf crease. This translator names him- or herself only by the initials M. N. and has not been identified with certainty. M. N. did not base the Middle English translation, surviving in three copies, on the extant Middle French manuscript.36 Rather, they are its cousins of some degree, having a more distant French-language ancestor in common. One significant divergence between the Middle French and Middle English versions is that the latter are missing a long passage consisting of about 5 percent of the whole book, corresponding to most of chapter 122 through the first part of chapter 1 26 as numbered in the Chantilly version. In the Chantilly text, as I have mentioned, chapter 126 presents the analogy of textile perfection along with the concepts of virginity and humility. However, the three Middle English manuscripts do not emphasize the same points because they have lost the material contextualizing the meulequin-episode within the French chapters lesson about Marys lack of ostentation. This lacuna seems accidental rather than intentional.37 In Middle English, the surviving piece of the exemplum about Mary becomes disjointedly the first of four remaining "biholdinges," rather than the fourth of seven "considerations" as in French. After this gap, the English narration abruptly resumes just in time for "J)is soule" to declare that Mary was filled with divine light, addressing her formally as "you":

O blissful lady, it was nedeful to 3011 to be so, for I holde of Goddis Sone l>at if he hadde founde in 3011 as myche in vayn as lpe mountaunce of a frounce of a kerchef but of nécessite he hadde neuer made of 30U his modir. Lady, it may not be lpat 3e hadde it. And J)is may not be but J)at 3e were it.38

[O blessed lady, it was necessary for you to be thus, for I believe about God's Son that if he had found in you as much in vain as the (small) amount of a pleat of a kerchief (except out of necessity) he would never have made you his mother. Lady, it is not possible that you could have been that (imperfect). And it cannot be otherwise than that you were that (His mother)] .

A number of further differences between the English and French stand out at first glance. Where we find the adjective blissful "blessed" as a Middle English counterpart to French aournee "adorned," M. N. may have substituted a figurative sense of the metaphor for a literal one, or the two words may derive from an Old French cognate of "adored" rather than "adorned." The three British manuscripts lack any words corresponding to the French phrase "qui est ung petit ver"; I surmise that this wording was not part of Po rete s original text(s), but represents a later French-speaking scribes attempt to explain the seemingly unclear simile of "un petit meulequin." The Middle English versions also place less explicit emphasis on smallness: where the French twice uses the word "petit" in addition to other terms having to do with measurement ("autant de," "viude," and perhaps "estre" as a preposition), the Middle English preserves just "as myche" and "the mountaunce." Neither the Continental Latin nor Insular versions of this passage repeat a counterpart to "petit." If the French words "petit ver" were added by an uncomprehending interpolator, he or she might have derived the notion of smallness from the final syllable -quin oí meulequin, mistaking it for the Flemish diminutive ending- kin.

Another way M. N.s line "as myche in vayn as \>e mountaunce of a frounce of a kerchef" differs from the Middle French "autant de viude com [m] e estre en vain Ie ploy d[']un petit meulequin" is that the English has no direct counterpart to the French word viude or Latin vacuum, "lack, shortcoming." Clare Kirchb erger transposed this line from Middle English to modern in 1927, "if he [Christ] had found in you as much vanity as the quantity of a wrinkle in a kerchief, of necessity he had never made of you his mother."39 Yet M. N. retained just "in vayn" ("to no effect"), suggesting wasted effort rather than necessarily vanity. Both the Middle French and Middle English could imply vanity indirectly, by the image of a superfluously tucked head covering, though they do not clearly suggest that Mary would even hypothetically wear an excessively creased garment.

Many of the Middle English word choices make references similar to those in the Middle French. The noun frounce, in two English copies, is a good equivalent for "ploy" in the sense of "tuck, crease, pleat, fold, flounce, frill." Possibly for M. N. a frounce meant a series of pleats, such as a frilled edge.40 Another word that M. N. may well have transmitted more clearly than the Chantilly scribe, and/or found in a better base text, comes through as "mountaunce" in the phrase "as myche in vayn as J>e mountaunce of a frounce," counterpart to the French "autant de viude comme estre en vain le ploy." I understand "J?e mountaunce of a frounce" to mean "the (small) quantity of a tuck," just as "mountaunce of a litel" and "the mountance of a gnate" mean "a small amount" and "the size of a gnat."41 Along with the comparative quantity "as myche . . . as," the noun phrase "]pe mountaunce of" conveys amount and measurement. It echoes the French comparative "autant de" but syntactically its position corresponds to that of Middle French "estre" (probably the preposition "beyond, except, outside, in addition to"). Different redundancies complicate the Middle English and Middle French versions. A point in M. N.'s favor is that he or she may have been familiar with Picard French, choosing the term "kerchief" as an intelligent counterpart to the geographically specific meulequin, and also successfully translating some other Picard terms: where the Valenciennes fragments have "Ie deventrain,"42 M. N. rightly understands "her owen inwardnesse"; in the past tense, for "je veuch," "I wolde," and for "je euch," "I . . . hadde" and (less exactly) "holde."43

A further variant in one Middle English Mirror- copy, the "Amherst" manuscript, London, British Library Additional 37790, replaces "a frounce" with "the leste spotte," when illustrating a miniscule imperfection that Mary did not have: "3if he had founde in 30U as mykel in vayne as the mountaunce of the leste spotte of a kerchefe but of nécessite, he had never made of 30U his modere."44 This "spotte" could mean a stain, blemish, or defect, or "a small piece of cloth."45 The subject of folding or wrinkling has vanished, but the concept of smallness and excess remains. This version corroborates our interpretation of "mountaunce" as meaning a minimal excessive amount, reworded redundantly as "the mountaunce of the leste" by the (later?) copyist of British Library MS Additional 37790. If it refers to staining, "the leste spotte" works coherently with late- medieval images such as manuscript illustrations that commonly represent Mary's wimple and/or inner veil as white.46 Perhaps the mid-fifteenth-century copyist substituted "spotte" for "a frounce" while acceptance of pleated head coverings increased over time.47

This variant, in turn, seems to be further transmitted by Richard Methley's translation from the Middle English into Late Latin, dating to 1491: "si in vobis inuenissset tantum in vanum, quantum est minimus neuus in ornatu capitis mulieris, excepta necessitate, nunquam de vobis fecisset Matrem suam" [if he had found in you (even) so much in vain as the smallest speck on a woman s head covering, except out of necessity, he would never have made you his mother].48 Here "ornatu capitis mulieris" is only a very approximate phrase, hardly a close equivalent for "kerchief," which in turn was less specific than "meulequin" had been. The Insular Latins only remaining trace of the garment from Picardy is a third-hand report about something that women would wear on their heads, in this round of the multhingual, multi-century game of "telephone" played with Marguerite Po rete s book. Even so, Richard Methley preserves more information here than survives in the corresponding part of the remaining eight copies of the Mirror of Simple Souls from Europe - four Continental Latin manuscripts and four Italian ones.


I am calling this group "Continental" in order to distinguish it from its distant Late Latin cousin mentioned above, that Methley made from a Middle English manuscript in Yorkshire in 1491. The oldest surviving family of Latin manuscripts derives, I believe, from a lost original Old French line, though at how many removes from it, we do not know.49 The Continental Latin texts omit the whole meulequin- example from their relatively simple and prosaic version of the passage. Here the Soul praises Mary more highly than John the Baptist:

O Domina adornata, ita omnino expediebat. Vos enim estis summe in omni gradu consummata. Quia istud teneo de uobis, quod si Filius Dei aliquid quantumcumque modicum in uobis uacuum reperisset, numquam de uobis fecisset matrem suam. Domina, esse non poterat quod illud in uobis inueniret, et ideo impossibile fuit quin mater eius essetis. (365)

[O adorned Lady, this was completely appropriate. Indeed, you are the highest of all the degrees of elevation. For I believe this of you, that if the Son of God had found any modicum of shortcoming whatsoever in you, he would never have made you his mother. Lady, it was impossible that he find that in you, and so it was impossible that you not be his mother.]

This passage presents several contrasts with the surviving Middle French and Middle English. The French-like transitive phrase "istud teneo de uobis" refers to the Souls beliefs about Mary in the Continental Latin and Italian, but about Christ in the French and English. Someone apparently has added the whole sentence "Vos enim estis summe in omni gradu consummata," a vague gloss substituted for the missing simile about a head covering, losing connotative power along with the specific image. This change to the Latin is made in a rather tidy way. We cannot be sure, but it appears more deliberate than accidental. The missing phrases about the head covering do not seem objectionable, as do certain other passages that copyists removed during the text's late- medieval transmission.50 Perhaps the translators from French did not know the uncommon Latin word molocinus, etymologically a counterpart to Old French meulequin, or did not think their readers would understand it. It is not inevitable that copyists should replace a specific analogy with a more general gloss: in many other places, the Latin manuscripts convey complex ideas in simple vocabulary. Perhaps the translators anticipated that the concept of a meulequin would be difficult to communicate to their intended audiences, such as to a readership outside Picardy. (If they thought so, time has proven them right.) The handling of the regionally specific word meulequin makes it look unlikely that the author herself wrote in Latin or translated the book into Latin. It also could be taken to suggest that the Latin translators did not live in the Picard/Walloon milieu where the French word was commonly used. This may reopen the question of where and when, by whom and for whom, the book was first translated into Latin.

The Continental Latin versions of this passage are much easier to understand than the Middle French. On the whole I find the Latin Speculum to be more literal and plodding than the French Mirror, sometimes robotic or nearsighted in its rendering of Old French expressions. This literalness has value, for parts of the Latin texts and their Italian dérivâtes are clearer than their French and English cousins. However, in other places the Latin has lost specific images and allusions, along with particular words, sentences, and chapters. In chapter 126 we find patterns of both clarity and loss, in comparison to the Middle French. Whether purposeful or accidental, the disappearance of sartorial details here is part of an overall pattern of simplification and flattening of meaning as the lost Old French Mirror became the surviving Latin Speculum.51

One exception to this tendency is that in the Latin sentence "O Domina adornata, ita omnino expediebat" (365), the intensifying adverb omnino "completely" is stronger than its Middle French counterpart bien "indeed, quite" (364), whereas the Middle English lacks a corresponding word. Repeated use of omnino and other intensifying adverbs and superlatives in the Continental Latin manuscripts - where absent from the Middle English, Middle French, and fragmentary Old French - is a large-scale pattern that might represent an attempt to compensate for intensity lost in translation. The Italian, in turn, inherits a proliferation of intensifying adverbs and the absence of a simile about a meulequin.52


Premo dem scribes and translators were not the only ones to find the passage difficult. When twentieth-century translators read chapter 126 in Middle French, most gave readers a puzzling and mistaken impression that the example about Mary's perfection has something to do with a worm. One English translation runs, "I believe of the Son of God that if he had found in you a space so small that even a little earthworm, could not fit into it unless constrained, still he would never have made you his mother"; its translators erroneously suppose that the word meulequin "is otherwise unrecorded" and that the Middle English version of the passage "is nonsensical."53 Another English translation goes, "I believe that if the Son of God had found as much cunning in you as there is in the weight of a tiny useless worm; he would never have made you his mother."54 The most widely used modern English translation is "For I say of the Son of God that if He had found in you any kind of deficiency ... He would never have made you His mother," with a footnote declaring the elided words "not translatable."55 The troublesome sentence has been rendered in modern French, "je prétends que le Fils de Dieu, s'il avait trouvé en vous la moindre vanité, ne serait-ce que d'être en vain et sans nécessité le repli du petit meulequin (qui est un vermisseau), jamais il n'eût fait de vous sa mère"; and similarly "je soutiens que le Fils de Dieu, s'il avait trouvé en vous la moindre vanité comme de vouloir être, sans nécessité, le repli d'un petit meulequin (qui est un petit ver), il n'eut jamais fait de vous sa mère."56 In Spanish the Soul declares to Mary, "creo que si el Hijo de Dios hubiese encontrado el menor vacío en vos, fuera siquiera el ser en vano la réplica de un 'meulequin,' que es un gusano pequeño e innecesario, no hubiera hecho de vos su madre."57 One Italian translation has "penso infatti che il Figlio di Dio, se avesse trovato in voi tanto vuoto quanto ne può occupare un lombrichino arrotolato, essere inutile, non avrebbe fatto di voi la propria madre."58 In German, similarly, "ich denke vom Sohn Gottes, daß wenn er in euch auch nur so viel leeren Raum entdeckt hätte, wie ihn die Krümmung einer kleinen Made einnimmt, die ein nichtiger unnützer Wurm ist, er euch nicht zu seiner Mutter gemacht hätte."59 Most of these translations repeat the interpretation of "ver" as "worm" while neglecting to translate the term meulequin. This is a difficult passage to translate, partly because the word is regionally and dialectically specific, as well as obsolete.60


The evidence does not provide a simple answer to the lurking question: in the absence of a complete original manuscript, which surviving version of the Mirror is best? My reading of chapter 126 adds a tempered note of support to Geneviève Hasenohr s and Robert Lerner s argument for the English manuscripts' merit.61 Arguably, M. N. handles the meulequin simile better than the Middle French scribes did, and perhaps worked from a more coherent base text than they did. He or she intelligently renders meulequin as kerchief preserved in all three Middle English manuscripts. This word choice worked well because kerchief is more general, more widely recognizable, and lexicographically more robust than the geographically specific noun meulequin. The Insular manuscripts preserve an analogy that the Continental manuscripts in Latin and Italian have lost. Meanwhile, the Middle French copy retains it too, but in a form inaccessible to most modern readers, because of the confusion in twentieth-century translations.

Whereas the analogy of Marys perfect meulequin vanished from the set of eight surviving Continental Latin and Italian manuscripts, it yields a rich node of meaning where it persists in Middle French and Middle English versions. The meulequin without an excess ploy in the French Mirror, and the kerchief without an excess frounce or spot in its late-medieval English counterpart, imply that in these texts' historical times and places the garment had a capacity to represent or measure virtue (especially humility), and its folds could signify small quantity, especially of a shortcoming such as ostentation. The similes implications vary, depending on whether someone were wearing the meulequin, and whether any extra ploy in it were accidental or purposely put there by the wearer. Its signifying power recalls the controversy about the Prioress described in line 151 of the General Prologue to Chaucer s Canterbury Tales, "FuI semyly hir wympul pynched was." Scholars have disagreed about whether this means her wimple was ordinary and seemly, or altered in an inappropriate display of vanity.62 Marguerite Poretes representation of Mary adds a note to each side of the debate, by correlating unblemished character with a perfect meulequin, yet inviting scrutiny of the fabrics surface that can signify shortcomings, while also depicting the Virgins perfection as compatible with some acceptable degree of creasing in a head covering.

Despite its virtues, M. N.s Middle English text also contains many patent misinterpretations of the French.63 Computational linguists warn that it is easy to underestimate "the actual average number of changes per location, whenever two manuscripts are separated by more than a single copy."64 In addition to this effect of repeated copying by hand, it is worth remembering that translation inevitably transforms a book in further non-negligible ways. For example, although I have argued that M. N.s choice of the word kerchief is a good one, nonetheless what meulequin meant in Hainaut before 1306 could not be identical to what kerchief meant in England many years later - in the head covering's range of shapes, colors, arrangements, and accompanying garments; and cultural referents such as expectations about the wearer's social status, age, and character. These denotations and connotations surely varied over time and distance.

The forms of caution that this reminder brings to bear are relevant to the non- French translations, of course, but also to the Middle French manuscript, which must differ significantly from the lost Old French originals. Whether the Middle French manuscript acquired interpolations as it was copied and updated one or more times, and/or whether the Middle English passage became clearer than its ancestors by losing ambiguous wording that had been present in the original, is unclear except in the few passages for which there survive earlier textual witnesses. Future study of Valenciennes 239 may advance this effort. The Chantilly text, too, may yet yield further clues about what Romana Guarnieri called a "residue" of older linguistic forms and references to regional culture.

University of Louisiana at Lafayette


For their kind permission to reproduce images of the Mirouer des simples ames, we would like to thank the curator of the Library and Archives of the Castle of Chantilly, France. Details are from a photo by the author, 1994.

1 References to the Middle French are to Romana Guarnieri, ed., Le mirouer des simples âmes (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 1986), 364; on facing pages is the Latin edition, Paul Verdeyen, ed., Speculum simplicium animarum, 365. An Italian version edited by Romana Guarnieri - Florence, Biblioteca Nazionale MS Riccardiano 1468 - is an appendix to Lo specchio delle anime semplici, trans. Giovanna Fozzer (Milan: San Paolo, 1994), 608-9. In Middle English is Marilyn Doiron, ed., Pe Mirrour of Simple Soûles, published in Archivio Italiano per la Storia della Pietà 5 (1968), 345. Translations are mine unless attributed otherwise.

2 "Eine Art Schleier": Manfred Höfler, "AFr. molequin - MFr. morequin: Zur Bedeutung von Sachgeschichte und Sprachgeographie für die wortgeschichtliche Forschung," Verba et Vocabula: Ernst Gamillscheg zum 80. Geburtstag, ed. Helmut Stimm and Julius Wilhelm (Munich: Wilhelm Fink, 1968), 268.

3 An Old French Cistercian Rule refers to nuns' wearing of meulequins, in Philippe Guignard, ed., Les monuments primitifs de la Règle Cistercienne publiés d'après les manuscrits de l'abbaye de Cîteaux (Dijon: Rabutot, 1878), 484; Augustinian nuns working as nurses wore them in Lille: Léon Le Grand, ed., Statuts d'hôtels-Dieu et de léproseries: Recueil de textes du XIIe au XIVe siècle (Paris: Picard, 1901), 75; so did béguines at the béguinage of Sainte-Elisabeth in Valenciennes: Jacques- Joseph Champollion-Figeac, ed., Documents historiques inédits tirés des collections manuscrites de la Bibliothèque royale et des archives ou des bibliothèques des départements, 4 vols. (Paris: Didot, 1848), 4:304. Gilles Ii Muisis approved of laywomerís "moulekins": Joseph Kervyn de Lettenhove, ed., Poésies de Gilles Ii Muisis, 2 vols. (Louvain: Lefever, 1882), 2:27. Höfler assembles further examples, "AFr. molequin - MFr. morequin," clarifying upon Frédéric Godefroy, Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle 10 vols. (Paris: Vieweg, 1881-1902), 5:371, s.v. "molequin," and Adolf Tobler and Erhard Lommatzsch, Altfranzösisches Wörterbuch, 1 1 vols. (Wiesbaden: Steiner, 1925-2002), 6:1 10-1 1, s.v. "moelekin." The only book-length study of the garment is André Dolez, La mulquinerie à Cambray des origines à 1789: Essai d'histoire économique (Lille: Société anonyme d'imprimerie et d'éditions du Nord), 1932.

4 Paul Verdeyen, "Le procès d'inquisition contre Marguerite Pore te et Guiard de Cressonessart (1309-10)" Revue d'histoire ecclésiastique 81 (1986), reproduces inquisition documents mentioning Porete's origins in Hainaut, pp. 56, 60, 62, 81, 82; on the trial documents see also Sean L. Field, The Beguine, the Angel, and the Inquisitor: The Trials of Marguerite Porete and Guiard of Cressonessart (U. of Notre Dame Press, 2012).

5 Porete's origins in Hainaut are mentioned by the first continuator of Guillaume de Nangis, in Pierre-Claude-François D aun ou and Joseph Naudet, eds., Continuatio Chronici Guillelmi de Nangiaco. Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France, 24 vols. (Paris: Imprimerie Royale, 1840), 20:601, which is more complete than Verdeyen, "Le procès," 88; and in chronicles by the continuator of Géraud de Frachet, in Jacques- Daniel Guigniaut and Natalis de Wailly, eds., Recueil des historiens des Gaules et de la France 24, vols. (Paris: Imprimerie impériale, 1855), 21:34.

6 I will not be dealing with lost manuscripts, nor those that survive only in short fragments that do not include this passage.

7 Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Laud Lat. 46 is of German provenance: uk/dept/scwmss/wmss/online/medieval/laud/laudlat.html.

8 John Clark, ed., Richard Methley, "Speculum Animarum Simplicium": A Glossed Latin Version of the "Mirror of Simple Souls," 2 vols. (Salzburg: Institut für Anglistik und Amerikanistik Universität Salzburg, 201 0), 1 : 1 29. The MS is Cambridge, Pembroke College 22 1 , 93v.

9 On lost copies, see Marie Bertho, Le miroir des âmes simples et anéanties de Marguerite Porete: Une vie blessée d'amour (Paris: Larousse, 1993), 29-32; Robert E. Lerner, "New Light on The Mirror of Simple Souls," Speculum 85 (2010): 110; my Allegories of Love in Marguerite Porete's "Mirror of Simple Souls" (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2008), 32-33, and "The Apothecary's Mirror of Simple Souls: Circulation and Reception of Marguerite Porete's Book in Fifteenth-Century France," MP (forthcoming).

10 The Chantilly manuscript is described by Verdeyen, "Introduction" to the Mirouerl Speculum, viii; and by the catalogue of the Musée Condé, Chantilly: Le cabinet des livres. Manuscrits, 3 vols. (Paris: Plon-Nourrit, 1900), 1:154-55.

11 "Sedimento linguistico rimasto al fondo del rammodernamento quattrocentesco del testo," Romana Guarnieri, "Il Movimento del Libero Spirito: Testi e documenti," Archivio Italiano per la Storia della Pietà 4 (1965): 510; Povl Skârup, "La langue du Miroir des simples âmes attribué à Marguerite Porete," Studia Neophilologica 60 (1988): 232.

12 Skârup, "La langue du Miroir," dates a variety of the French text's terms, not including meulequin. Nor does Manfred Bambeck, "Marguerite Porete, Le Miroir des simples ames, und der französische Wortschatz," Romanische Forschungen 97 ( 1985): 226-30.

13 Reported comments by Godef roy of Fontaines about Porete's book cite him as a master of divinity, so the Mirror could not have been composed long before 1285, when he became a "master" of theology and a professor at the University of Paris: see Guar nie ri, Mirouer, 406. Guy de Colmieu condemned the Mirror while he was bishop of Cambrai, that is, between 1 296 and January 1 306, so the latter date brackets the book's latest possible time of composition.

14 Le livre du paumier, another vernacular Picard religious text dating to approximately the same time as the Mirror, treats Mary's humility in almost the same terms: "chou est Ii principaus vertus pour qui Ii fix dieu descendi en li. Car s ele ne humle ja ni fust venus" [this is the principal virtue for which the son of God came down into her. For if she (were) not humble, he never would have come to her]. Karl Christ, ed., "'Le livre du paumier': Ein Beitrag zur Kenntnis der altfranzösischen Mystik," Mittelalterliche Handschriften: Paläographische, kunsthistorische, literarische und bibliotheksgeschichtliche Untersuchungen: Festgabe zum 60. Geburtstage von Hermann Degering, ed. Alois Bömer and Joachim Kirchner (Leipzig: Hiersemann, 1926), 72-73.

15 Chantilly 108v-109r, corresponding to Guarnieri, Mirouer, 364.

16 Algirdas Greimas, Dictionnaire de l'ancien français, 3rd ed. (Paris: Larousse, 2001), 252, s.v. "estre," preposition, definition 4; and Godef roy, Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française, s.v. "estre," 3:647.

17 The Soul is later identified as the passage's narrator, 390.

18 Guarnieri, Lo specchio delle anime semplici, in the version translated by Fozzer (608).

19 "Aournee d'amour," 34; and "de tei don . . . aournee," 314; Godef roy, Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française, s.v. "aorner," 1:309-10.

20 Geneviève Hasenohr, "La tradition du Miroir des simples âmes au XVe siècle: de Marguerite Porète (f 1310) à Marguerite de Navarre," Comptes-rendus des séances de l'Académie des Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres 143 (1999): 1362, prescript/article/crai_0065-0536_1999_num_143_4_16088.

21 Godefroy, Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française 8:135, s.v. "vair," definition 1.

22 "Moulekins ordennés par le volentet de se prieuse," Champollion-Figeac, Documents historiques inédits, 4:304.

23 Karl Christ, "La regle des fins amans-. Eine Beginenregel aus dem Ende des XIII Jahrhunderts," Philologische Stuthen aus dem romanisch-germanischen Kulturkreise: Karl Voretzsch zum 60. Geburtstage und zum Gedenken an seine erste akademische Berufung vor 35 Jahren, ed. Bernhard Schädel and Werner Mulertt (Halle: Niemeyer, 1927), 200.

24 The husband "Doit bien un molekin ploier / De se feme." Alfred Jean roy and Henri Guy, eds., Chansons et dits artésiens du XIIIe siècle, publiés avec une introduction, un index des noms propres et un glossaire (Bordeaux: Feret, 1898), song 17, beginning "Signor, noveles sont venues."

25 "Pleat" and "plait," from "Anglo-Norman pleit fold, twisting, variant of Middle French ploif.' Oxford English Dictionary Online, s.v. "plait, n., etymology" (Oxford U. Press, 2010).

26 Stella Mary Newton and Mary M. Giza, "Frilled Edges," Textile History 14 (1983): 141-52, tested possible late -medieval techniques for weaving fabrics with frilled edges, as did Carla Tilghman, "Giovanna Cenami's Veil: A Neglected Detail" in Harald Kleinschmidt, ed., Perception and Action in Medieval Europe (Woodbridge, England: Boydell, 2005), 155-72.

27 On vair, see Elspeth M. Veale, The English Fur Trade in the Later Middle Ages (Oxford U. Press, 1966), 24, 228-29.

28 Jules Finot, ed., "Droits seigneuriaux dus aux évêques de Cambrai en 1275 et note sur le commerce et l'industrie de cette ville au XIIIe siècle," Bulletin archéologique du Comité des travaux historiques et scientifiques 9 (1891), a thirteenth-century document that illustrates vair, p. 448 fig. 44, and aplichon of similar squirrel-fur, p. 449 fig. 49, separately and differently than "muelekins" (p. 453 fig. 66).

29 Eugène François Joseph Tailliar, ed., Recueil d'actes des XIIe et XIIIe siècles en langue romane wallonne du Nord de la France (Douai: d'Aubers, 1849), 459; Arthur Giry, Histoire de la ville de Saint-Omer et de ses institutions jusqu'au XIVe siècle (Paris: Vie weg, 1 877), 565-68; Finot, "Droits seigneuriaux," 453; Paul Rolland, Deux tarifs du tonlieu de Tournai des XIIe et XIIIe siècles (avec leurs traductions en dialecte picard du XVe siècle) (Lille: Emile Raoust, 1935), 74; Emile Gachet, ed., "Liste chronologique de pièces relatives aux règnes de Guy de Dampierre et de Robert de Béthune, comtes de Flandre . . . aux archives du département du Nord, à Lille," Compte rendu des séances de la Commission royale d'histoire, ou recueil de ses bulletins, 2nd series, vol. 4 (1852), 95.

30 For example, in the early fourteenth-century Gorleston Psalter ( London, British Library, MS Additional 49622, cat. 50), 7r, the Virgin wears a fur-lined mantle framing her face; image in Lucy Freeman Sandler, A Survey of Manuscripts Illuminated in the British Isles, Gothic Manuscripts 1285-1385, 6 vols. (Oxford U. Press, 1986), vol. 5, part 1, plate 122.

31 Reproduced by Finot, "Droits seigneuriaux," 453.

32 André Le Glay describes the regional nature of mulquinerie in Cambrai and Valenciennes, "Lettre à un membre de la Société d'émulation de Cambrai, sur le mot mulquinier" Archives historiques et littéraires du nord de la France, et du midi de la Belgique 1 (1829): 151-53.

33 Giry, Histoire de la ville de Saint-Omer, 565-68; Rolland, Deux tarifs du tonlieu de Tournai, 74; Tailliar, Recueil d'actes des XIIe et XIIIe siècles, 459; Finot, "Droits seigneuriaux," 453; Gachet, "Liste chronologique de pièces," 95.

34 Guarnieri, "Il Movimento," 503, and also plate 1 (unnumbered page after p. 512).

35 Lerner, "New Light on The Mirror," 104-5.

36 Cambridge, St. John's College 71; Oxford, Bodleian Library Bodley 505; and London, British Library Add. 37790; Doiron, Mirrour of Simple Soûles, 244-45.

37 Doiron, Mirrour of Simple Soûles, 345 ? 1 2. The missing material corresponds to Chantilly folios 103r to 108 ? and Guarnieri, Mirouer, 342-64.

38 Doiron, Mirrour of Simple Soûles, 345.

39 The Mirror of Simple Souls, trans. Clare Kirchberger (London: Burns, Oates, and Washbourne, 1927), 271.

40 On late medieval pleated-edged head coverings, see Françoise Piponnier and Perrine Mane, Se vêtir au Moyen Age (Paris: Biro, 1995), 114-16.

41 Robert E. Lewis, ed., Middle English Dictionary: M.6 (Ann Arbor: U. of Michigan Press, 1978), 1 1:756; and Frederick J. Furnivall, ed., "Manciple's Tale," The Lansdowne MS (No. 851) of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales (London: 1875), Group H sec. 2, line 255.

42 Hasenohr, "La tradition du Miroir," 1363.

43 Doiron, Mirrour of Simple Soûles, 311-12; Hasenohr, "La tradition du Miroir," 1 36 1 -62. On Picard elements of the Valenciennes text, see Hasenohr, "La tradition du Miroir," 1359n37. For evidence of M. N.'s errors and habits as a translator, see the collation of chaps. 77-78 that Michael Sargent has made, comparing the Old French readings from Valenciennes 239 with the Middle French, Middle English, and other premode rn versions, at

44 British Library Additional 37790, 222 v; corresponding to Doiron, Mirrour of Simple Soûles, 345.

45 Middle English Dictionary, s.v. "spot (nl)" definition 4 (U. of Michigan, 2001).

46 For example, in vol. 1 of the Beaupré Antiphonary, Baltimore, Walters Art Museum MS 759, folio 4r; dated 1290, from the Cistercian women's abbey at Beaupré (near Grammont, Hainaut) , http: //art.

47 Doiron, Mirrour of Simple Soûles, 244-45; Marken Cré, Vernacular Mysticism in the Charterhouse: A Study of London, British Library, MS Additional 37790 (Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols, 2006), 40.

48 Clark, Richard Methley, "Speculum Animarum Simplicium," 1 : 1 29.

49 On the question of the book's original language, see my Allegories of Love, 49-50.

50 For example, most of chap. 1 5 is missing from all the Continental Latin manuscripts and their daughter copies; the passage corresponds to Guarnieri, Mirouer, 62-65. Probably one or more copyists found it theologically controversial: see Guarnieri, "Il Movimento," 504-8.

51 Claire Le Brun-Gouanvic also remarks this pattern, "Le mirouer des simples ames anéanties de Marguerite Porete (vers 1300) et le Speculum simplicium animarum (vers 1310): procès d'inquisition et traduction," D'une écriture à l'autre: Les femmes et la traduction sous l'Ancien Régime, ed. Jean -Philippe Beaulieu (Ottawa: Presses de l'Université d'Ottawa, 2004), 81-99.

52 Latin "omnino" and "penitus" are translated usually as Italian "al tutto" and "certamente," such as the latter in Fozzer, Lo specchio delle anime semplici, 608.

53 Edmund Colledge, Judith Grant, and J. C. Marler, trans., The Mirror of Simple Souls (South Bend, IN: U. of Notre Dame Press, 1999), 160 and 160n9.

54 Carolyn Behnke, "The Mirror of Simple and Annihilated Souls: A Translation from the French" (PhD. diss., University of Cincinnati, 1996), 213.

55 Ellen Babinsky, trans., The Mirror of Simple Souls (New York: Paulist Press, 1993), 207 and232nl32.

56 Max Huot de Longchamp, trans., Le miroir des âmes simples et anéanties (Paris: Albin Michel, 1984; repr. 1997), 216. Huot de Longchamp is half right to note that it is "probablement un terme local, d'ailleurs explicité par la parenthèse" (271 n3); Claude Louis-Combet, trans., Le Miroir des simples âmes anéanties (Grenoble: Millón, 2001), 243.

57 Blanca Garí and Alicia Padrós-Wolff, trans., El Espejo de las almas simples (Barcelona: Icaria, 1995), 209.

58 Fozzer, Lo specchio delle anime semplici, 463.

59 Louise Gnädinger, trans., Der Spiegel der Einfachen Seelen (Zurich: Artemis, 1987), 193.

60 The word is treated as obsolete by Emile Littré, Dictionnaire de la langue française (Paris: Hachette, 1873-74), 3:665, s.v. "mullequin"; and Jean-Claude Raimbault, Les disparus du XXe: Les 10000 mots disparus, les 18000 mots apparus au XXe (Nantes: Editions du Temps, 2006), 133, s.v. "molequin."

61 Hasenohr, "La tradition du Miroir," 1360; Lerner, "New Light on the Mirror," 103.

62 Malcolm Andrew gives an overview, A Variorum Edition of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer, The General Prologue, Part One B, Explanatory Notes, 2 vols. (Norman: U. of Oklahoma Press, 1993), 154-55.

63 For example, see Michael Sargent, html.

64 Matthew Spencer and Christopher J. Howe, "Estimating Distances between Manuscripts Based on Copying Errors," Literary and Linguistic Computing 16 (2001): 468.

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