In Praise of the Cow

An extra for today: A fourteenth-century paean to domestic bovines.

L0029211 A woman milking a cow, woodcut, 1547 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images A woman milking a cow. Coloured Woodcut 1491 Ortus sanitatis Arnaldus de Villanova, Published: 1491 Copyrighted work available under Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0
Here begins the praise of the cow

Many men praise the love of their heart
So must I quietly and loudly
Bemoan that men toll bells
For those without virtue.
Men toll for old women
When they die, 
That is great labour.
We should rather toll bells eagerly
For the good cow. 
She gives us the white milk
Pure and clabbered (? gelebet)
Of which you are proud
At home when it is well salted.
It also makes good cheeses
And whey thick and thin
That is the pleasure of children.
Porridges (mus und brye) made with milk,
that is also a good cry,
When one shouts out „It is ready“
Many people are happy,
No better food was found
Between Bolzano and Salerno
Than those, I am sure.
She also makes good delicacies
Which you lay by the beets
And treat people to them
While you make light with the tallow:
Sausages of the brain
And the forehead makes
Tough leather for flails
(That is also good)
With which you thresh the grain
Pure or mixed.
He who has a good beef roast
Will gain a soup if he has a roast
She also provides a delicacy called marrow
That makes people strong
And from the bones you make
Dice, big and small
Those run over the board quickly
And many a knave gambles away his skin
Which makes him angry.
From the horns we get
Good combs;
What young children there are
You should attend to well with those
As it should properly be done.
Lanterns made of horn
You are also glad to have
If you put your light inside
It is good against the wind.
I also say more of the horn,
Those who are aching in the back
Are scratched with it.
And the hunters have a custom
That they have chosen for themselves
They hold the horn by a strap
So they can blow it often. 
And those who wish to raise birds
Larks or finches
You give those their drink from it.
You arm the bolt (?)
In front with cow horn.
Of horn you work diligently
To shape knife handles.
Thus the scribes see
Their horns go empty
As they write for people.
From the skin we make
Good wide boots
Derm (belly?) leather serves well
For feet and soles
And, in truth, for bags (wotsecke)
And covers over the pack saddle,
You would not want to be without those,
Chest leathers (armour?), funnels, helmet decorations (helmshorn), 
You also strap spurs with it.
And I will not be silent
But talk of the waterskin
From which you pour the wine
That is also of the cow.
So are the useful collars 
In which the draft horses pull things
And the straps for yokes
Nobody will gainsay 
That cattle also pull things with those.
And many men will have
Belts, broad and narrow, 
Those are worn everywhere
With buckles of bone on them
Women and men wear them. 
Gloves and thimbles,
If you need those, you are happy,
And bags and pouches.
You make bottles of leather
And the funnels and stoppers in them
To keep the wine in.
Straps and scabbards
For both sword and knife
And the wide(?) fodder container (fuotervaz).
I must make yet more verse
The bellows must be here
That is what smiths demand.
Then there is their fine tail,
That makes a good wedel (flywhisk?)
When you are to shoe horses
You shall defend them with it (against flies?),
The organ’s high tones
All of that comes from the skin,
From the sinews the attachment
For the bell clapper,
Hawk hoods, wrapping bands
Armguards, leg wrappings,
Gauntlets of leather, 
All of that is made of leather
Which came from the cow
As we all have heard.
I also speak of covers:
You make bags from skins
And covers and the helmet
As you carry it to the tourney
So it stays beautiful
And drives away rust.
You also cover 
Shield and buckler with sinew
And with cow skin
That I say to the people.
The strap on the kettle helm (kezzelhuot)
Is worn well by knights and sergeants.
A (folding) chair of the skin 
Is good for a cushion
A bishop sits on it
He cultivates a fine mind.
I also will not avoid saying
That the skin is used for catapults
And I will say more yet
In suspended carriages (dem hangenden Wagen)
You have cow skins,
Brides sit upon it
I tell you more yet of the skin
You make large books of it
From which you sing or read.
What else is come of the skin,
drums big and small (trummen und tammuren)
you should not be sad when they are played.
And those are not dreams:
Whips, halters, reins,
Stirrups, saddle straps, rearstraps,
chest straps and bags, understand this
Leather padding (?gegenleder), leather straps,
A man rides(?) the better,
And saddles are adorned finely
With leather and with bone.
I must now make an effort:
Children play with the knuckles
And I should also think of
The cushions on benches;
They are covered in skin
In that one is not mistaken.
The wooden pattens are exempted
On which you step up tall
But shoes, wide and narrow,
The short and also the long,
And leather patches, in truth.
From the hair you make
Stuffing, rope and felt
Thus you make zaumgetilz (adornments for harnesses?)
And for the children a ball
For all of them to run after
Both forward and back.
You nail the tail to a door
And pull it open and shut with it
All of this comes from the cow. 
The praise is not complete yet
Which I have thought of for the cow
For she bears young calves
That grow into cows and oxen
Fat calves innards
And the heads are not bad
Boiled and roasted
You take comfort with them. 
None of this is a lie:
Crossbows and horn bows
Would not be worth half an egg
All would break into pieces
If it wasn’t for the tough sinews
That you get from the cow.
The Zerfe (spanning string?) with which you string,
As someone who goes abroad (taking to the field?),
A cover (?scheiden) over your crossbow,
That is a joy to them. 
And you take the hooves,
The black and the grey,
And turn paternoster beads from them
To scare away the devil.
You think I would blush
If I forgot the bladder
This is a good bag for spices (pfeffersag)
And once it has cured for four days
It becomes a toy.
If you want to scare a dog,
Tie a bladder to his tail
He will think it is hail
And cry out with anger.
And people learn to swim on them,
Both young children and older boys,
When they are on the water.
And thus the lute sounds further,
Those who have no glass for their windows
They take up frames
With many good flemen (guts? rawhide?)
To cover their windows in
According to old custom. 
Liver, kidney, lung
Heart, throat, tongue
Spleen, galantines, feet
The mullin (intestinal fat?) so pleasant
Many kinds of guts
Whiter than ermine.
And then I tell you plaintively:
I have forgotten the stomach
And the udder so very good
That you roast over the embers
And the fat rectum.
The ordure is taken away warm
And spread over the ground,
He who would clear poor lands
Needs much dung for that.
It is better to mourn a good cow
Than an evil old woman, 
That young people are joyful
Was ever the displeasure of the old. 
So many blessings (genade) come from a cow,
The king does not know to do better.
Thus ends the poem of the cow
I should not think this overly hard work. 

An exhaustive list of all good things to come from the cow, interesting particularly because we have no German recipes from the 1340s, but can relate some later ones to the foods mentioned here. A few details stand out – keeping spices in dried bladders, using cow tails as doorhandles, and horns as bird feeders. Overall, it is an interesting look at the domestic economy of the fourteenth century, very likely written just before the Black Death hit.

Der König vom Odenwald is an otherwise unknown poet whose work is tentatively dated to the 1340s. His title may refer to a senior rank among musicians or entertainers, a Spielmannskönig, but that is speculative. Many of his poems are humorous and deal with aspects of everyday life which makes them quite interesting to us today. The evident relish with which he describes food and the fact his work is first recorded in a manuscript owned by the de Leone family led scholars to consider him the author of the Buoch von Guoter Spise, but that is unlikely.

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