Ayenbite of Inwyt

   by Dan Michel of Northgate
   The devotional manual Ayenbite of Inwyt—that is, “again-bite” (remorse) of the “inner wit” (conscience)— is a devotional manual in MIDDLE ENGLISH produced in Kent by a Benedictine monk named Dan Michel of Northgate and completed in 1340.
   Of Dan Michel himself little is known. He was a monk of Saint Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury, and he writes in Ayenbite that he produced the manuscript in his own hand when he was 70 years old and his faculties were growing dim. The text is a translation of a French moral tract called Le somme des vices et des vertues (Treatise on the vices and virtues) by the Dominican frère Loren of Orleans. The French treatise, written in 1279, was also called Le somme le roi (The treatise of the king), since it was originally composed for the French king Philip III (1245–85). It has been suggested that the French original was one of the sources for CHAUCER’s PARSON’S TALE, and some have suggested that Chaucer also knew the English version. There is, however, no proof of this. Ayenbite of Inwyt is written to teach its reader how to live a good Christian life. It is made up of several discourses, each of which is itself subdivided into separate components. The treatise covers each of the 10 commandments, the 12 articles of the creed, the seven deadly sins, as well as the virtues. There are also sections on the knowledge of good and evil, and advice on how a Christian should face death. Unlike similar kinds of manuals (as, for example Robert MANNYNG of Brunne’s Handlyng Sinne), Ayenbite of Inwyt does not illustrate its points with exemplary anecdotes. Nor does it use a great deal of ALLEGORY, as would have been common to Dan Michel’s contemporaries. Dan Michel does not follow his original French source precisely, and he has sometimes been faulted for making simple translating errors. Some scholars have even questioned whether Dan Michel was in fact the translator or was merely a copyist in the monastery, producing a fair copy of someone else’s translation. But what has most interested scholars about Ayenbite of Inwyt is its language. As a rare example of the Kentish dialect of Middle English in the 14th century, Dan Michel’s text is extremely valuable to linguists studying the characteristic features of that dialect.
   ■ Dan Michel’s Ayenbite of Inwyt or Remorse of Conscience. Edited by Richard Morris. Introduction, notes, and glossary by Pamela Gradon. EETS 278. Oxford: Published for the Early English Text society by the Oxford University Press, 1979.
   ■ Francis,W. Nelson. “The Original of the ‘Ayenbite of Inwyt,’ ” PMLA 52 (1937): 893–895.

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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