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.
Like Atlantis and El Dorado, the land of Cockaigne was a fictional utopia, a place where idleness (money could be earned even while one slept) and gluttony (buildings and roads were made of food just waiting to be devoured) were the principal occupations. Grounded in peasant culture, Cockaigne was never taken seriously by medieval men and women but offered a way to cope with immediate concerns of famine and backbreaking work, as well as more monumental fears about heaven and the New World recently opened up by European adventurers. Over time, as control over the food supply increased and a more modern work ethic became established, these fears diminished, and stories about Cockaigne faded away. This work is a serious and even ponderous scholarly study based on two Dutch manuscripts that the author, a lecturer in Dutch historical literature at the University of Amsterdam, subjects to rigorous textual, paleographical and stylistic analysis before dealing with the importance of this fable for medieval men and women. He also examines medieval perceptions of original sin, paradise and the New World by looking at many examples of period art, including woodcuts, engravings and paintings. Despite such interesting points as that modern-day supermarkets' unlimited abundance and vacation packages promising paradise on earth have succeeded in making this mythical land a reality, Pleij's book will be of interest primarily to professionals in late medieval literature. Illus. (May) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.