The Beaten Path [ca. 1300-1350]


Caveat lector: this is a very rough attempt at a translation of Jean de Condé's medieval fabliau, "Le Sentier Battu," composed in the late 13th or more likely early 14th Century. Note too that the "Modernized Text" is essentially a rough translation into French going well beyond changes in orthography. Magnifying these translations' probably numerous deficiencies, there are also numerous discrepancies between the source text and another available online (which, honestly, is probably the better one). Several footnotes in the source text and in another attempt at modernizing it are probably incorrect too. In any case, the online Dictionnaire du Moyen Français (1330-1500) is an especially helpful source for sorting it out, along with Wiktionnaire's surprisingly rich details on ancien français. Greimas's Dictionnaire de l'ancien français jusqu'au milieu du XIVe siècle was also useful.

This text is notable in the history of games for several reasons:

  1. The selection of a king/queen to lead the game: A thousand years earlier, Herodotus and Pollux both describe classical games for children or adolescents in which a king is selected to give commands. That's a long time prior to the composition of this medieval text about a game played among adults, but "A Game of Kings and Queens" is mentioned in other medieval sources--Adam de la Halle's Robin et Marion (ca. 1230-1288) and Jacques Bretel's Tournoi de Chauvency (ca. 1285)--and in this fabliau (ca. 1300-1350), we're given "The King Who Does Not Lie." Ernest Langlois describes and quotes several other examples in "Le jeu du Roi qui ne ment et le jeu du Roi et de la Reine"; there's a mid-14th C. illustration of the game in an illuminated manuscript of The Romance of Alexander; and the fourth book of Boccaccio's Filocolo, composed in 1336, uses as its frame story a king being selected at an informal social gathering to answer questions, translated into French in 1531 as Treize Élegantes Demandes d'amour and into English ca. 1566 as Thirteene Most Plesaunt and Delectable Questions. Only 200 years after the fabliau's composition, Ringhieri, Guazzo, Flecknoe, and La Force among others demonstrate a widespread tradition of selecting a king, queen, or president to lead a series of parlor games too. At least since 1627, people have wondered about both classical and modern instances of this phenomenon and also the possible connection they have to the Epiphany king cake tradition of festively declaring someone king when they find the bean or whatnot in the cake. Whether the classical or festive examples of selecting a king/queen are intrinsically related to medieval king/queen games seems very unclear, but the likelihood of a connection between the game in the fabliau and later games of "Questions and Commands" seems very strong.
  2. The game is probably an early version of "Questions and Commands": Although it's called "The King Who Does Not Lie," the game in the fabliau is described explicitly as a matter of issuing questions and commands in a social setting with humorous, flirtatious, and sometimes embarrassing effects. Giacomo Surian's 1566 letter describes a king being selected--in Queen Elizabeth's presence--on the day of the Epiphany to lead "a game of questions and answers," including giving a command to someone else to ask a question which as in the fabliau results in a socially awkward situation. Edward Phillips's detailed account of a mid-17th C. game of "Questions and Commands" shows how the game could be very embarrassing in its earthiness but also well schooled in Renaissance erotica.
  3. "Questions and Commands" is itself important: There are occasional references to "Questions and Commands" sprinkled throughout 17th-18th C. English literature, e.g. in The Anatomy of Melancholy, Hudibras, The Tattler, and The Vicar of Wakefield. Subsequently, the game probably developed along two lines. First, in 1654, the translator of Charles Sorel's 1639 novel Le Berger extravagant recognized that the game Sorel called "Le Gage touché" could be translated without alteration or explanation as "Questions and Commands," because it bore such clear similarities. But in other texts from 1598/1618, 1643, and 1697, "Le Gage touché" is difficult to distinguish from the centuries-long and unambiguously related parlor game tradition of collecting forfeits [gages in French] during other games and redeeming them at the end--where being commanded to perform potentially embarrassing or flirtatious tasks was normal, though being commanded to confess some truth or extemporize a poem or whatnot could also happen. And second, emerging somewhere in the midst of all this, the game element suggested in the title "The King Who Does Not Lie" that they must therefore tell the truth shows up again more clearly as the key element in the modern game of "Truth" found in Little Women in 1868 and in the contemporary game of "Truth or Dare."
  4. The game illustrates conversation games in general: In any case, whether or not "The King Who Does Not Lie" has a connection to any other games, it provides an illustration of pleasant and amusing conversation becoming well-structured to the point of being a game. Although the structure of verbal games of wit may sometimes not be more complicated than physical games of action like "Catch" or a 3-person game of "Keep Away," texts reporting conversations such as Les Adevineaux amoureux and fortune texts used for provoking conversations like "Ragman Roll" nonetheless represent forms of play structured by both rules and goals--i.e. they are games, as described more thoroughly in this dissertation and this edited volume. Conversation and fortune games continued to be played throughout the Renaissance too, e.g. the very simple conversation games described in Castiglione, Marcolini's beautiful fortune game "Le Sorti," or Ringhieri's more complicated games of conversation intentionally designed to provoke mistakes to be paid for by answering thoughtful questions--and there are others, in fact many others. In the 17th C., Sorel and de Scudéry still knew at least Castiglione, Ringhieri, and Guazzo by name, and the games described by de Scudéry and La Force are still visibly aiming at pleasant, thoughtful, inventive, and amusing conversation.

That's a lot of context for Jean de Condé's short poem, but the social dynamic in the poem turned out to have a lot of implications for historical games.



Madness it is to mock another,
Or to instruct them in reason on a thing
For which they have sorrow and shame.
We could of this need
5Often show proof in many cases.
Badly done it is to play around and see things go bad;
Because they say, and it is true,
That good awaits who pays out good;
Whom we mock and insult,
10When he sees the chance, he takes revenge;
And one who mocks others turns away,
which on himself returns.
An example I will tell you
So true, that I wouldn't lie about it,
15As I was told so as to see.
   A tournament was due to be held
Right between Péronne and Athis,
And knights in these parts
Were staying there for the tournament.
20Once there was a pleasant conversation
Between ladies and damsels,
Some gracious ones there were, and some beautiful ones;
Many diverting games took place,
So many that they chose a queen
25To play « The King Who Does Not Lie. »
She knew perfectly how
to undertake giving commands
and some questions to ask,
but she was well-spoken and charming,
30and in manner was beautiful and rich.
Several questions she asked
And her will she commanded;
Until she came to a knight
Very courteous and very well-spoken,
35Who would have loved her and would have
Taken her as a wife, if he pleased her;
But well formed he did not seem
To do that which pleases a lady friend
When one holds him in her bare arms;
40Because he did not have a fearsome beard:
Little beard he had, he was rid of it,
And much like unto women in many places.
   « Sir », this the queen said to him,
« Tell me much of your designs,
45If only you had no children. »
— « Lady », said he, « do not esteem me for that,
Because I have none, I believe. »
— « Sir, no one disbelieves you,
And so believe that I am not alone in this;
50For he who loses enough to the stubble [i.e. stalks and straw left in the field after a harvest]
Has no good spears of wheat. » — [i.e. perhaps no good seed to share, make use of, sow, etc., but in the mid-13th C., per Greimas, espis had two meanings, both phallic: ears of wheat or actual spears]
Afterwards there was no release from it;
Soon to another she turned
And of another matter spoke.
55The many who listened to this,
Noted the words while smiling.
The knight who heard it
Of these words rejoiced not;
Struck was he and said not a word.
60And when the game had lasted so long
That all around had been questioned,
Each in their turn again
Questioned the queen, which is customary;
Her heart was subtle and wise:
65To each of them she replied wisely,
her thinking, without delay.
When the knight's turn came,
He remembered the mockery;
He had the will to take revenge,
70So he said without delay:
— « Lady, answer me without guile,
Do you have hair in your pubic area? »
— « By faith », said the damsel,
« Here is a nice question,
75And which is well situated to the moment:
Know you that there is none. » —
This he said with all willingness:
— « Well believed are you because on the path
Which is beaten, there grows no grass. » —
80Those who heard this proverb
Started such a big laugh
At the trick question,
That she was greatly ashamed of it,
Who previously was covetous
85Of something to ask and to say
From which she made others laugh.
Thus was her heart so distraught
That her pleasant pursuits were lost,
And to her her joy had failed,
90Because previously she was ardently happy and gay,
And very full of pleasure.
No longer was the knight known
To avenge himself courteously;
He did not want to mock her,
95But roughly met her,
And his thought he showed,
So like to him she had done her own.
Because there is no earthly woman
Who ever could a man love,
100Once she had defamed him
For being a bad workman in bed
In doing the crime of love,
And on this point was mocked.
Well you know, the caponed rooster
105is to chickens unwelcome;
So the man who is held to be
A bad workman, is chased away
Among women, you know it;
They will be nuns or beguines,
110If like capons among chickens.
The knight, who knew well
what the cry of such a thing had
For the mocked, had a painful heart,
Even if he had his own talent for revenge.
115He knew, it might well be,
Of this manner and being,
Where any suspicion
Contaminated the goods
That he wanted to make of marriage,
120If he found his courage,
And if she was made quiet,
Already was he not brought back
This thing.
     You who listen to
This tale, to hear posed
125That seeing someone ruined is worth nothing:
Few see it having a good outcome.
Adventure is still befalling things,
We often see that it falls out badly;
Good luck knows little news.
130Rhymed have I from new rhymes
The adventure that I have recounted;
God keep those who listened to it.
Amen, this brings my tales to an end;
God give to all of you a good end!

Source Text


Folie est d'autrui ramposner,
Ne gens de chose araisoner
Dont il ont anui et vergoigne.
On porroit de ceste besoigne
5Souvent moustrer prueve en maint quas.
Maunés fait muer de voir gas ; [alternatively: "Mauvès fet juer de voir gas"]
Car on dist, et c'est chose vraie,
Que bone atent qui bone paie ;
Cui on ramposne et on ledenge,
10Quant il en voit lieu, il s'en venge ;
Et tés d'autrui moquier s'atourne,
Que sus lui meïsme retourne.
Un exemple vous en dirai
Si vrai, que jà n'en mentirai,
15Ainsi qu'on me conta pour voir.

1 Ms. B., fol. 133 vo. Publié par Barbazan (éd. Méon), t. I, p. 100. Comme je n'ai pas pris copie sur le Ms. même, mes corrections, insignifiantes d'ailleurs, se rapportent au texte imprimé.

7 dit. — 11 tel.

— 300 —

   Il devoit un tornoi avoir
Droit entre Peronne et Aties,
Et chevalier en ces parties
Sejournoient pour le tournoi.
20Une fois ierent en dosnoi
Entre dames et damoiselles,
De cointes i ot et de belles ;
De pluiseurs deduis s'entremistrent,
Et tant c'une roïne fistrent
25Pour jouer « au roy qui ne ment. »
Ele s'en savoit finement
Entremetre de commander
Et de demandes demander,
Qu'ele iert bien parlans et faitice,
30De maniere estoit bele et rice.
Pluiseurs demandes demanda
Et sa volenté comanda ;
Tant que vint à un chevalier
Moult courtois et moult bien parlier,
35Qui l'ot amée et qui l'eüst
Prise à fame, s'il li pleüst ;
Mais bien tailliez ne sambloit mie
Pour faire ce que plest amie
Quant on le tient à ses bras nue ;
40Car n'ot pas la barbe crenue :
Poi de barbe ot, s'en ert eschiez,
Et tant qu'as fames en mains liex.
   « Sire », ce li dist la roïne,
« Dites moi tant de vo covine,
45S'onques eüstes nul enfant. »
— « Dame », dist il, « point ne m'en vant,

18 chevaliers. —29 parlant. —34 Le second moult omis. —40 cremue. —41 est. —41-42 Mieux vaudrait : eschieus : lieus. —42 maint.

— 301 —

Car onques n'en oi nul, ge croi. »
— « Sire, point ne vous en mescroi,
Et si croi que ne sui pas seule ;
50Car il pert assez à l'esteule
Que bons n'est mie li espis. » —
Après n'en fu point pris respis ;
Tantost à un autre rala
Et d'autre matire parla.
55Li pluseur qui ce escoutèrent,
En sousriant les mos notèrent.
Li chevaliers qui ce oï
De ces mos point ne s'esjoï ;
Esbahis fu et ne dist mot.
60Et quant li geus tant duré ot
Que demandé ot tout entour
La roïne, chascuns au tour
Li redemanda, c'est usages ;
Ses cuers estoit soutis et sages : [alternatively: "Son cuer ..."]
65Chascun respondit sagement,
Sans penser, sans atargement. [alternatively: "Son pensser ..."]
Quant li tours au chevalier vint,
De la ramposne li souvint ;
Volenté ot de revengier,
70Si li a dit sans atargier :
— « Dame, respondés moi sans guile,
A point de poil à vo poinille ? »
— « Par foi », ce dist la damoiselle,
« Vesci une demande belle,
75Et qui est bien assise à point :
Sachiez, que il n'en y a point. » —
Cil li dist de vouloir entier :
— « Bien vous en croi, quar à sentier

55 pluseurs. —57 Le chevalier. —59 dis. —60 Le geu. —62 chascune. —64 Son cuer. —65 Chascuns. —67 le tour. —76 qu'il

— 302 —

Qui est batus, ne croist point d'erbe. » —
80Cil qui oïrent cest proverbe
Commencièrent si grant risée
Pour la demande desguisée,
Que cele en fu forment honteuse,
Qui devant estoit couvoiteuse
85De chose demander et dire
De quoi les autres feïst rire.
Or fu ses cuers si esperdus [alternatively: "... son cuer ..."]
Que tous ses deduis fu perdus,
Et lui fu sa joie faillie,
90Car devant estoit baude et lie,
Et mout plaine d'envoisement,
Ne se sot plus cortoisement
Li chevaliers de li vengier ;
Ne la volt mie ledengier,
95Mais grossement la rencontra,
Et sa pensée li moustra,
Si come à lui ot fait la siene.
Car il n'est feme terrienne
Qui jà peüst un home amer,
100Mès qu'ele l'eüst diffamé
D'estre mauvais ouvrier en lit
En faire l'amoureus delit,
Et sus ce point fu ramposnez.
Bien savez, li cox chaponez
105Est as gelines mal venus ;
Ainsi li hom qui est tenus
A mal ouvrier, est dechaciez
Entre fames, bien le saciez ;
Ce seront nonains ou beguines,
110Si com chapons entre gelines.

87 son cuer. —88 tout son deduit. —93 Li chevalier. —102 Et faire. —104 le cox. —106 Ainsi home. —107 ouvriers. —110 Si come.

— 303 —

Li chevaliers, qui bien savoit
Que le cri de tel chose avoit,
Pour le ramposne ot cuer dolent,
Si ot de soi vengier talent.
115Il connoissoit, ce puet bien estre,
De cele la maniere et l'estre,
Ou aucune mescreandise
Couru en la marcheandise
Que voult fere de mariage,
120Si li descouvri son courage,
Et se cele se fust teüe,
Jà ne li fust ramenteüe
Ceste chose.
     Vous qui oez
Cestui conte, entendre poez
125Que li voir gas ne valent rien :
Poi en voit on avenir bien.
Aventure est quant bien en chiet,
On voit souvent qu'il en meschiet ;
Du bien cheoir sai poi nouvelle.
130Rimé ai de rime nouvelle
L'aventure que j'ai contée ;
Diex gart ceulx qui l'ont escoutée.
Amen, ci prent mes contes fin ;
Diex vous doinst à tous bone fin !

111 Le chevalier. —112 tele —119 Que. —133 mon conte.

Modernized Text


Folie est d'autrui railler,
Ni gens de chose ramener à la raison
Dont il ont douleur et honte.
On pourrait de ce besoin
5Souvent montrer preuve en maint cas.
Monnaie fait muer de voir gâté ; [alternatively: "Mal né muer ..."; or most likely: "Mauvais fait jouer ..."]
Car on dit, et c'est chose vraie,
Que bon attend qui bon paie ;
Qui on raille et on outrage,
10Quand il en voit lieu, il s'en venge ;
Et tel d'autrui se moquer s'atourne,
Que dessus lui-même retourne.
Un exemple vous en dirai
Si vrai, que déjà n'en mentirai,
15Ainsi qu'on me conta pour voir.

— 300 —

   Il devait un tournoi avoir
Droit entre Péronne et Athis,
Et chevaliers en ces parties
Sejournaient pour le tournoi.
20Il était une fois une conversation galante
Entre dames et damoiselles,
Des gracieuses y eut et des belles ;
Des plusieurs jeux divertissants s'entremisent,
Et tant qu'une reine firent
25Pour jouer « au roi qui ne ment. »
Elle s'en savait finement
Entremettre de commander
Et des demandes demander,
Qu'elle était bien parlant et charmant,
30De manière était belle et riche.
Plusieurs demandes demanda
Et sa volonté commanda ;
Tant que vint à un chevalier
Moult courtois et moult bien parler,
35Qui l'eut aimée et qui l'eût
Prise à femme, s'il la plût ;
Mais bien taillé il ne semblait pas
Pour faire ce que plait amie
Quand on le tient à ses bras nue ;
40Car il n'eut pas la barbe cremue :
Peu de barbe il eut, il s'en est eschivés,
Et tant qu'à femmes en maint lieus.
   « Sire », ce lui dit la reine,
« Dites-moi tant de vos desseins,
45S'onques vous eûtes nul enfant. »
— « Dame », dit-il, « point ne m'en vant,

— 301 —

Car onques n'en ai nul, je crois. »
— « Sire, point ne vous en mécroit,
Et si crois que je ne suis pas seule ;
50Car il pert assez à l'éteule
Que bons n'est pas les épis. » —
Après n'en fut point pris répit ;
Tantôt à un autre retourna
Et d'autre matière parla.
55Les plusieurs qui écoutèrent cela,
En souriant les mots notèrent.
Le chevalier qui ce entendit
De ces mots point ne se réjouit ;
Frappé fut et ne dit mot.
60Et quand le jeu tant duré eut
Que demandé eut tout entour
La reine, chacunes au tour
la redemanda, c'est usages ;
Son cœur était subtil et sage :
65Chacun répondit sagement,
Son penser, sans délai.
Quand le tour au chevalier vint,
De la raillerie il s'en souvint ;
Volonté eut de revenger,
70Ainsi il a dit sans retarder :
— « Dame, répondez-moi sans guile,
A point de poil à votre pénil ? »
— « Par foi », ce dit la damoiselle,
« Voici une demande belle,
75Et qui est bien assise à point :
Sachiez, que il n'en y a point. » —
Celui il dit de vouloir entier :
— « Bien vous en croit, car à sentier

— 302 —

Qui est battu, ne croît point d'herbe. » —
80Ceux qui entendirent ce proverbe
Commencèrent si grand risée
Pour la demande déguisée,
Que celle-là en fut fortement honteuse,
Qui devant était convoiteuse
85De chose demander et dire
De quoi les autres fit rire.
Or fut son cœur si éperdu
Que tous ses déduits fut perdus,
Et lui fut sa joie faillie,
90Car devant était baude et gai,
Et moult plein de plaisir.
Ne se sut plus courtoisement
Le chevalier de le venger ;
Ne la voulut pas railler,
95Mais grossement la rencontra,
Et sa pensée le montra,
Si comme à lui eut fait la sienne.
Car il n'est femme terrienne
Qui déjà pût un homme amer,
100Mais qu'elle l'eût diffamé
D'être mauvais ouvrier en lit
En faire l'amoureux délit,
Et dessus ce point fut moqué.
Bien savez, le coq chaponné
105Est à poules mal venus ;
Ainsi l'homme qui est tenu
À mal ouvrier, est déchassé
Entre femmes, bien le sachiez ;
Ce seront nonnains ou beguines,
110Si comme chapons entre poules.

— 303 —

Le chevalier, qui bien savait
Que le cri de telle chose avait,
Pour le moqué eut cœur dolent,
Si eut de soi venger talent.
115Il connoissait, ce pût bien être,
De celle la manière et l'être,
Où aucune soupçon
Couru en la marchandise
Que voulut faire de mariage,
120Si il découvrit son courage,
Et si celle se fut tu,
Déjà ne le fut ramenté
Cette chose.
     Vous qui écoutez
Ce conte, entendre posé
125Que le voir gâté ne valent rien :
Peu en voit ayant avenir bien.
Aventure est quand bien en chut,
On voit souvent qu'il en méchut ;
Du bien choir sait peu nouvelle.
130Rimé ai-je de rime nouvelle
L'aventure que j'ai contée ;
Dieu garde ceux qui l'ont écouté.
Amen, ceci prend mes contes fin ;
Dieu vous donne à tous bon fin !

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