Cantigas de Escarnho e de Maldizer

Ugly Woman

Oh, ugly lady, you complain
I never praise you in my song
But now I will craft a refrain
With which to praise you loud and long
You stupid, ugly, old dame.

Ugly woman, God forgive me,
Since you have such a generous heart
For this reason I can praise truly
And I can praise you loud and long
And you’ll see how I praise in my song
You stupid, ugly, old dame.

Ugly woman, I never praised you
In  my song though often I sang
But I’ll sing to you a good song
In which I’ll praise loud and long
And here’s how I sing praises to you,
You stupid, ugly, old dame.

Joán Garcia de Guilharde (1239-1270)
(B 1485/v1097)

Cantigas de Escarnho e de Maldezir, Manuel Ferreiro and Carlos Paulo M. Pereiro eds. (ASPG: Vigo, 1996)

I’ve had this book for a while sitting on my shelf.  It is part of a collection of medieval troubador lyrics and, at first, I found it impenetrable and difficult, but one of the pleasures of reading is winkling out the sense from a text, so I have found the challenge to return siren-like.

Many years ago I picked up a tatty old volume in an antiques market called Bishop Percy’s Loose and Humorous Songs (http://bit.ly/uLUtPJ) which contained some crude and salty medieval lyrics.  I had always enjoyed Boccacio and Chaucer and, as a teenager, learning that the proper use of the missal was to prop up your lover’s backside whilst making love was pure gold.

The Cantigas de Escarnho e de Maldezir are in this tradition.  They could be compared with rap artists’ cussing contests: if you have seen the movie 8 Mile with Eminem you will understand what I mean.

These Cantigas can be obscene and offensive.  I get a peculiar pleasure from the fact that I don’t understand them easily- a bit like listening to Eminem really.

About Jason Preater

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