Title Background

The Character Hunger in <i>Piers Plowman</i>.

The Character Hunger in Piers Plowman.

Although Hunger enters (B.6.176-201) and leaves (6.278-301) as physical hunger, his instructions to Piers are accounted for through his spiritual significance in the context of the fourth Beatitude in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:6). Traditional medieval associations of septenaria, in which correspondences of items in groups of seven are listed, oppose the fourth Beatitude to acedia, and associate it with the Pater Noster petition Panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie and with the gift or virtue of fortitude. The opposition between the hunger for justice and sloth is clear in Piers’s accusation of the wasters and the four biblical texts cited in Hunger’s answer to Piers’s second question (Gen. 3:19; Prov. 20:4; Matt. 25:14-30; Psalm 127:2) all commonly invoked as condemnations of acedia. The relevant petition from the Pater noster refers to what Piers’s followers ought to be working for; and fortitudo may be seen in Hunger’s solution (174-80). Moreover, commentaries on Matt. 5:6 discuss iustitia in terms of what man owes to God, his neighbor, and himself, distinctions also invoked in the questions of Piers and the responses of Hunger (229-52; 202-28; 253-74). The emphasis on the esuries iustitiae in this poem suggest that acedia as both physical laziness and spiritual flaccidity is the root-sin of PPl; its antidote is not merely seeking justice where the opportunity presents itself, but an active longing that things be set right and a will to expend oneself in that effort.