Saturday, 22 March 2014

EARLY MODERN AUTOBIOGRAPHY – creative non-fiction or material for a reality show?

This story comes from Johannes Butzbach’s Hodoporicon (1505):
Johannes’ parents entrust him to a traveler who promises to make a scholar of the boy but instead bullies him. The two travelers arrive at an inn where the landlord greets them: If your money is good and you are good drinkers, you will be welcome guests.
The companion turns out to be a very good drinker and spends all of Johannes’ money, then forces him to beg for a living.
Shades of Oliver Twist here? He regarded me a something delivered over to him, indeed as a stray that he had picked up and made his property.
If I came back empty-handed, he beat me furiously. If I succeeded in getting something good, he devoured it at once, and I got only what remained…Indeed he was so suspicious that he often forced me to rinse my mouth with water and spit it out that he might see if I had perhaps appropriated something from my begging.
Johannes flees and makes his way back home. The relationship between his parents is rocky. My father soundly beat my mother and pulled her hair severely. When I saw that, I threw down my pack and with my brothers and sisters rushed to my mother’s aid, against my father. I succeeded in dragging her from under his feet. Weeping bitterly I left the house and vowed never to set foot there again.
Johannes works hard, saves up money, and begins his studies, but now he is dogged by bad health: burning fevers, tumorous affections, quinsy, swelling of the larynx, boils on various portions of my body, swelling of the feet and thigh, which a woman cut out with an iron instrument, and an itching malady called fig-warts which covered my body like the bark of an oak tree.
He overcomes his health problems and enrolls in the school of Deventer. In his second year there, the Abbot of Laach canvasses classes to recruit monks for his monastery. None of the students are interested since they have already paid their course fees and rented lodgings for the term. Besides, it was an unsuitable time for travelling as a great cold prevailed. But Johannes volunteers, takes the vows, and eventually becomes abbot of Laach himself.
If you ask me, he would have made a great guest on the Oprah Show.

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