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Medieval Words for Structures of Animosity

April 10, 2013

From the fabulous comes this fascinating-sounding 2001 paper by Daniel Lord Small on Hatred as a Social Institution in Late-Medieval Society. Of particular note are the words used:

At some point early in 1355, the laborer Pons Gasin of Marseilles killed a woman named Alazais Borgona. The peace act that arose from this killing does not tell us why. What it does tell us is that the killing marked the birth of a great hatred between Alazais’s kinfolk and Pons. The notary who wrote the act, Peire Aycart, had no word comparable to the German word faida and its cognates or the Italian vendetta to describe a structural relationship of animosity of this kind. Instead, he used the classical Latin word inimicitia, meaning “enmity” or “hatred,” quite literally, “unfriendship” or “unkinship.” . . . On 4 April 1355 the hostile parties met in the convent of the Augustinians of Marseilles in the presence of several leading citizens of Marseilles, and unfriendship turned to friendship as the two parties exchanged the kiss of peace and sealed the contract with a marriage.

The word inimicitia and its cognate enmitas occur frequently in the judicial records and notarial peace acts of late-medieval Marseilles, somewhat more often but in essentially the same context as two other words used to describe hatred, the classical Latin odium and the late Latin rancor. Although the semantic field covered by this quartet overlaps with another moral sentiment, namely, anger or wrath, conveyed by the words ira and furor, the two sentiments were often used in distinct ways, both in Marseilles and in other sources from the Latin Middle Ages. “Hatred,” as Robert Bartlett has pointed out, was a conventional term of medieval secular jurisprudence used to describe an enduring public relationship between two adversaries. “Anger,” in contrast, was generally used to describe a short-term and hence repairable rage, something that could break out between members of a kin group, real or fictive, who normally love one another-brothers and sisters, parents and children, lords and vassals, or God and his people. In moral literature, hatred was typically paired with love, whereas anger was paired with patience.

I’m fascinated by the notion of persistent structures of unfriendship, and by the love/hate, patience/anger pairings. I like the notion of anger as a “repairable” problem internal to a persistent relationship. It never occurred to me that these were terms relevant to jurisprudence.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. April 11, 2013 12:12 am

    Fascinating stuff! It reminds me of the way that young obstreperous children, trying to come up with the absolute worst thing that they can say to their parents, inevitably yell “I hate you!”

    So much more punch than “I am angry at you.”

  2. April 11, 2013 9:50 pm

    Before defriending a facebook friend, there was inimicitia. Thanks for the post!

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