In Praise of the Goose

After a long trip, I am back and finally have time to post again. Thank you for your patience. Today it’s another piece of the König vom Odenwald, in praise of the goose:

III In Praise of the Goose

This is the tale of the goose,
It is not empty talk.

Some say of game
That it is plentiful.
Some speak of birdsong,
I will bring you something better!
Nightingales, thrushes and siskins:
I will praise something better!
Calandra larks, larks and blackbirds:
There is no meat on them.
Peacocks, chickens and ducks:
That is nonsense.
I will tell you quickly
How useful a bird the goose is!
Be it dark or light (meat),
It produces fine morsels.
Skin and thighs
I will not run away from
And the priest’s cuts (i.e. the breast)
I will gladly sit down to.
Wings and neck skin
Are best roasted
Neck, feet and innards
Are not bad when boiled.
That drips into the (roasting) pan
As I can tell you!
Let that not dismay you
It will make a fine sauce.
And that (the goose) lays large eggs
From which you raise young geese
Needs to be said here.
If twenty men came to a house
Where a goose lay by the fire
The smell coming from it
Would attract them strongly:
All would think, there will also be enough for me.
O mind who increases my art:
The usefulness only just begins here
As I will describe to you.
People write with the feather quill
And use it as a needlecase:
You fletch bolts and also arrows
With which a man defends the home
In which he raises his children.
I also speak of this:
You use the bones to catch
Quail which people eat.
But even those who forgo these
Will still have use of it:
Tailors, too, must have them
As I will tell you;
They sew across a feather quill.
Some are pleased to use
A feather quill in their crossbow
So the nut does not come loose.
Those are still not all its uses:
The feather quill is so fine
That mercury is carried in it.
Further, it is the custom to use geese
To catch wolves with them
By tying them to a hurdle
That is a more promising manner
Than using pigeons.
You use the feather quill on a cap (
zuor huben)
And a
slappe (flap or decorative dagging) hangs from it
Which the young squire wears.
It is also useful to the fisherman
He uses the quill for fishing
So that it holds up the line.
But the best is yet to come,
It is no lie
that the quill is used in a stone crossbow (
To keep the strings apart
One should be equipped accordingly.
Weavers spool thread over the quill
To make clothes
And make their living from them.
To play the bagpipes (
Someone blows through a quill
When piping to a dance
And people take each other’s hands.
A bent leg feather
Is used to make bait for falconry
You cannot do without it.
The goose is also a good guard animal.
A feather duster
Is used on tables and benches
And to fan the embers.
Those who need it call for it
And bind it to the helm
Beneath it, the dust rises (from the field).
If someone does not believe me:
I call the family of Neuenstein to witness
Who defended their honour under it
On behalf of beloved, pure ladies
And those of Veinau
Who are looked at with high honour
They carry head and neck (in their armory)
It has long been allowed them.
Now begins the principal use:
You whistle on the bones
To raise people’s spirits.
And hear what people do on the beds
In which the feathers are contained:
You make children on them
A man with his wife
Their pure, tender bodies
Make gentlemen and princes
Who shall strive for honour
Priests, knights, and sergeants,
I believe I speak the truth,
Burghers and peasants.
This poem became me ill
When I made it known
It is called the praise of the goose
And it was created boldly
By the kuenig vom Otenwalde
Here ends the poem of the goose
Let nobody make claims on me (i.e. punish me) about it.

I admit I really like goose, but I’m nowhere near that effusive. At any rate, it is fascinating to see there is a canonical style of cooking a goose – the main body roasted with the drippings used to make sauce, cut-off pieces and innards roasted or boiled, and apparently the meat being served in slices and quite smnall portions (I would not try to serve a single goose to twenty, no matter how substantial the bird). That the breast is known as priests’ slices (pfaffensnitze) tells us both that priests were seen as gluttons and that goose meat was served sliced up, in small pieces.

The rest of the poem is no less interesting and reminds us that animal products sourced from the domestic environment of most people had immediate uses in a wide variety of applications.There really was no great degree of separation between the production going on all around them and the things they used every day. Nobody needed reminding why people were doing the jobs they were doing.

The actual examples chosen are an odd assortment, but they make sense in the context of someone familiar with the life of the lesser nobility and senior secular clergy, people equally at home with bookkeeping and the hunt. The ‘stone crossbow’ is a weapon designed to hunt birds which lauinches small sonten wedged into a pouch on a double bowstring. I am not sure whether this is a particularly early description, but it is an interesting one. Clearly the author expects this to be a familiar item. The ‘feather duster’ is most likely an entire wing, probably dried or smoked, that could be used to fan fires, bust surfactes, and mounted on a helmet with more dignity than the poofy feather-covered stick we associate with the word today. Finally, a fisherman using a quill “so that it holds up the line” suggests something a lot like modern angling with a fishing pose. That likely was more recreational than professional.

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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