Discipline and Doctrine: Inculcating Moral Habits in Le livre de éthiques d’Aristote

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This essay considers the first vernacular translation of Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, produced by Nicole Oresme for Charles V of France. It argues that Oresme's original presentation copy, produced on a seemingly unlimited budget for an interested patron highly literate in his own language, constitutes a best-case scenario for the adaption of a previously clerical and academic text for lay use. More fundamentally, Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS 9505-06 sets out to extend the clerical habitus of virtue -- defined in the Nicomachean Ethics, and mediated through centuries of primarily monastic practice -- to elite laymen. Oresme thus seeks to translate not only the doctrine of the Latin Ethics but also the mental and moral discipline associated with Latinity, adapting the experience of reading -- in this case, the experience of moving back and forth among text, annotations, chapter headings, glosses, and miniatures -- to instil in his aristocratic readers a vernacular ethical habit that will allow them to better govern themselves and the kingdom. In the process, the Ethiques not only challenges clerical privilege but also defines a lay vocation parallel to, but not necessarily lesser than, the clerical way of life.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)209-250
JournalNew Medieval Literatures
StatePublished - 2010


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