The word Goliard is applied almost exclusively to members of the supposed ordo vagorum, an itinerant disillusioned unemployed edumacated sort who wandered Western Europe famously in pursuit of wine, women and song. Since pretty much all institutions of higher learning in that part of the world were at that time appendages of the Church, the Goliards (or Goliard poets, as they're often referred to) were almost to a man the formerly religious type who'd suffered some sort of spasm of faith and decided to pursue a more Epicurean lifestyle outside the stifling and stodgy suppression of organized religion. Once their hometowns grew tired of their earthly antics, they could just move on and pack up to the next monastery over the hill down yonder - "You speak Latin? You must be the prelate who was being sent to tutor our young nuns regarding the Temptation of Sins of the Flesh! Come on in, here're your quarters, dinner's at five!"

Rumour had it that these travelling rascals were followers of an order founded in the 13th century by the famous, albeit legendary, secular Bishop Golias - a cute conceit and a common mythos for the subculture to share, but hogswallop nonetheless considering that they'd been recognized as an irritation by Church authorities as early as the 11th century. One problem in particular which really got their goat was when these bogus onetime priests taught illiterate peasants satiric verses to common Church hymns - the simple country folk, not knowing any Latin, didn't know any different, but the priests noticed when their flocks began singing slightly deviated lyrics; instead of being about the sufferings of Jesus on the cross and the perfection of God, the new words were rather regarding what the Pope did to who every night and how many times!

The Goliard phenomenon flourished where the Church was the supreme power - because where spiritual and legal powers were concentrated and combined with the 10% tithe across the board, you ended up with a lot of disgruntled farmhands just about ready to vent and blow off some steam towards their cloistered masters. Goliards were big favourites in the taverns, whipping up drinking songs ridiculing the Powers That Was - and what's more, doing it through adapting universally-known religious hymns, turning the very tools of the authorities against themselves.

Many great poets of the age began their careers as Goliards, eventually maturing and growing out of the rebellious, Bohemian lifestyle - these notably including Pierre de Blois, Gautier de Châtillon, Phillipe the Chancellor and Primus (aka Hugo, canon of Orléans), a towering wit second in the Goliard canon only to the aptly-named Archipoeta (Archpoet) of Cologne, some of whose words have here below been translated and arranged for your education and edification:

Down the broad way do I go,
Young and unregretting,
Wrap me in my vices up,
Virtue all forgetting,
Greedier for all delight
Than heaven to enter in:
Since the soul in me is dead,
Better save the skin.

Pardon, pray you, good my lord,
Master of discretion,
But this death I die is sweet,
Most delicious poison.
Wounded to the quick am I
By a young girl's beauty:
She's beyond my touching? Well,
Can't the mind do duty?

Hard beyond all hardness, this
Mastering of Nature:
Who shall say his heart is clean,
Near so fair a creature?
Young are we, so hard a law,
How should we obey it?
And our bodies, they are young,
Shall they have no say in't?

Potent stuff, isn't it? That's what made the words of these men so dangerous! Forget the Moors or the Witches - these cads were the greatest threat to Christianity at the time because they knew the Church inside and out, knew all the abhorrent internal politics and logical gaps (aka "leaps of faith") in Church dogma and could eventually perhaps have taken it down from the inside out... if they could have only laid the bottle aside for a minute and gotten their act together. Alas, this heady age of ribald debauchery was not to last. Enough of these overeducated gads and layabouts were causing enough problems that edicts came down restricting their activities before they could amount to anything - the Council of Trier issuing an order in 1227 forbidding Goliards from taking part in chanting Church services. By 1289 this had escalated to the point where their mere existence was declared forbidden. They pop up again from time to time over the course of the next century, but eventually they disappear from the record altogether, passing on a legacy to the travelling secular performers - minstrels, troubadors and jongleurs - who would be arriving on the scene after them, treading more softly.

Why do we know about them? Why am I telling you all this? Well, I'm one perverse motherfucker. But besides that, you've probably already heard the words of Goliard poets, even though you might not have understood them in German and Latin: in 1803 a 13th-century collection of their satirical and deeply humanistic songs was unearthed from an abbey at Benediktbeuem, causing a mild flap and eventually manifesting splendidly as the source material for Carl Orff's Carmina Burana. So next time you're grooving in your computer chair as an MP3 of O Fortuna comes blaring out, don't just appreciate the kickin' tune - realise that the lyrics are a 13th-century cross between "Weird Al" Yankovic and Rage Against the Machine and consider which oppressive, monolithic power structure you could be undermining right now.


spiregrain says: the poem you've quoted here is covered in movement 11 of Carmina Burana. The music is noded under In taberna, and the text with an original e2 translation by lenz is at Estuans interius.

Gol"iard (?), n. [From OF. goliart glutton, buffoon, riotous student, Goliard, LL. goliardus, prob. fr. L. gula throat. Cf. Gules.]

A buffoon in the Middle Ages, who attended rich men's tables to make sport for the guests by ribald stories and songs.


© Webster 1913.

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