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Dreaming of Cockaigne Medieval Fantasies of the Perfect Life cover
  • ISBN: 9780231117029
  • ISBN10: 0231117027

Dreaming of Cockaigne Medieval Fantasies of the Perfect Life

by Diane Webb

  • List Price: $95.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Columbia Univ Pr
  • Publish date: 05/01/2001
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"Imagine a dreamland on earth where roasted pigs toddle about with knives in their backs to make carving easy; where grilled geese fly directly into ones open mouth; where cooked fish jump out of the water at ones feet. The weather is always temperate, the wine flows freely, sex is readily available, and all stay forever young."
Such is Cockaigne. Portrayed in legend, oral history, and art, this imaginary land became the most pervasive collective dream of medieval times -an earthly paradise to counter the suffering and frustration of daily existence and to quell anxieties over an ever-more-exclusive heavenly afterlife.
Illustrated with extraordinary artwork from the Middle Ages, Herman Pleijs "Dreaming of Cockaigne" is a spirited account of this "lost paradise" and the world that brought it to life. Pleij takes three important texts as his starting point for an inspired sketch of the panorama of ideas, dreams, popular religion, and literary and artistic creation present in the late Middle Ages. What emerges is a finely differentiated picture of the era, formed and fitted with details from across Europe and from Asia and America, as well.
Pleij draws upon his remarkable command of medieval European literature, art, history, and folklore to describe the fantasies that dominated stories of Cockaigne, and how they correlate with the central obsessions of medieval life. For instance, the almost grotesque focus on vast quantities of food -the very dwellings people envisaged in the mythic land were made of meat, fish, and pastry -illustrates how, in the Middle Ages, fears of hunger were dispelled by conjuring up images of food in mind-boggling quantity and variety. Fantasies ofCockaigne have also cast their shadow beyond the medieval period: Pleij notes their influence on such disparate figures as Christopher Columbus, Vasco da Gama, and even Laurel and Hardy.
As a myth, Cockaigne allowed an escape from the harsh reality of mundane existence, and stories about it were often presented as ironic descriptions of journeys, satires, or pseudodidactic poems. As a shrewd explorer of the dreams of the Middle Ages, Pleij is by far the best guide to the effervescent world behind these texts. From the storybook therapy devised to cope with the adversity of daily life, Pleij has fashioned a rich portrait of an age.
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First edition, 2001. Hardcover in dust jacket, 533 pp., illustrated, clean unmarked text, Near Fine copy in Near Fine dust jacket.
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