by Sir Walter Scott
Ivanhoe Principles Quotes
How we cite our quotes: (Chapter.Paragraph)
It was not difficult to ascertain the condition and character of one of these personages. He was obviously an ecclesiastic of high rank; his dress was that of a Cistercian monk, but composed of materials much finer than those which the rule of that order admitted. His mantle and hood were of the best Flanders cloth, and fell in ample, and not ungraceful, folds around a handsome though somewhat corpulent person. His countenance bore as little the marks of self-denial as his habit indicated contempt of worldly splendour. (2.2)
When the narrator introduces Prior Aymer to us, he emphasizes the richness of his clothes and the self-indulgent expression on his face. Even though Aymer is the leader of a religious community of monks, he clearly doesn’t live his life according to Christian monastic principles of self-denial.
Prior Aymer is one of many monks and friars in Ivanhoe who don’t fit the ideal image of the religious man. Don't even get us started on Friar Tuck – he's a good man, but he's also quick to pick a fight and drinks way too much. Why does Scott seem to be so critical of the Church? We can't answer this for sure, but the naughty monk is a common figure in medieval European literature, which Scott is imitating in Ivanhoe. Check out Chaucer's Canterbury Tales or Giovanni Boccaccio's Decameron if you want examples. There’s almost nothing medieval audiences found funnier than a drunk monk.
At length the barriers were opened, and five knights, chosen by lot, advanced slowly into the area; a single champion riding in front, and the other four following in pairs. All were splendidly armed, and my Saxon authority (in the Wardour Manuscript) records at great length their devices, their colours, and the embroidery of their horse trappings. It is unnecessary to be particular on these subjects. Their escutcheons have long mouldered from the walls of their castles. Their castles themselves are but green moss and shattered ruins: the place that once knew them, knows them no more – nay, many a race since theirs has died out and been forgotten in the very land which they occupied with all the authority of feudal proprietors and feudal lords. What, then, would it avail the reader to know their names, or the evanescent symbols of their martial rank? (8.22)
This is one of the few moments in Ivanhoe when Scott muses over how truly distant the past is from the present. As he describes the richness of the tournament at Ashby-de-la-Zouche, he ponders the fact that all the knights are long dead and forgotten. The family names, symbols, and even castles for which they were fighting have long since faded or fallen down. So what’s the point of all of this wild activity? What do concepts like honor or nobility really mean if they have no lasting effect? Are they worth fighting for? Ultimately, how would you define honor? Does it have to do with your family, your social position, your fighting ability, or something else entirely?
"My master," answered Baldwin, "knows how to requite scorn with scorn, and blows with blows, as well as courtesy with courtesy. Since you disdain to accept from him any share of the ransom at which you have rated the arms of the other knights, I must leave his armour and his
horse here, being well assured that he will never deign to mount the one nor wear the other."
"You have spoken well, good squire," said the Disinherited Knight, "well and boldly, as it beseemeth him to speak who answers for an absent master. Leave not, however, the horse and armour here. Restore them to thy master; or, if he scorns to accept them, retain them, good friend, for thine own use. So far as they are mine, I bestow them upon you freely." (10.10-11)
Much of the action of Ivanhoe happens thanks to the laws of chivalry – the rules that tell knights how they are supposed to behave. Both Ivanhoe and Bois-Guilbert prove themselves to be even matches on the tournament ground, not only because they are both tough soldiers, but also because they have equally matched notions of honor. When Ivanhoe rejects Bois-Guilbert's horse and armor after the tournament, Bois-Guilbert's squire is sure that his master will never use those weapons or that animal again. Though they seem so opposed in other ways, the two men share the same rigid ideas of honor.