Title Background

He Knew Nat Catoun: Medieval School-Texts and Middle English Literature.

He Knew Nat Catoun: Medieval School-Texts and Middle English Literature.

Mann surveys the world of medieval school-texts, such as the “Distichs” of Cato and the Facetus: ‘the texts that everyone (or at least every person educated in Latin) knew, the texts that were memorized, quoted, translated into the vernacular, adapted, parodied, and creatively transformed throughout the Middle Ages’ (44). There is a recognizable and consistent group of such texts, now called the libri catoniani or liber Catonis, which constituted a core curriculum. The rest of the essay shows some of the ways in which these Latin schooltexts left their mark upon Middle English literature, especially the Canterbury Tales, and ending with a discussion of PPl B.18. First, the ‘guiler beguiled’ motif ‘is the Christian answer to Cato’s ars deluditur arte. Mercy’s explanation founds the Redemption in a schoolboy game of tit-for-tat’ (65). So too does Peace’s celebration of the breaking of the gates of Hell (ll. 410-14) culminate in a quotation from another of these schooltexts, Alan of Lille’s Parabolae, on how the sun is brighter after clouds, and love after enmity. Mann ends by stressing ‘the union of the clerkly and the experiential here … To a cleric like L, one of the best things about the Redemption is finding out that one’s schoolbooks are true’ (66).

Book rev. by:

  • Ralph Hanna, Review of English Studies, n.s. 57 (2006): 550-51.


The Text in the Community: Essays on Medieval Works, Manuscripts, Authors, and Readers . Ed. Jill Mann and Maura Nolan. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2006. 41-74.


Mann, Jill