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Medieval Sourcebook:
The Dialogue Between Master & Disciple:
On Laborers, c. 1000

Master: What do your companions know?

Disciple: They are plowmen, shepherds, oxherds, huntsmen, fishermen, falconers, merchants, cobblers, salt-makers, and bakers.

Master: What sayest thou plowman? How do you do your work?

Plowman: O my lord, I work very hard: I go out at dawn, driving the cattle to the field, and I yoke them to the plow. Nor is the weather so bad in winter that I dare to stay at home, for fear of my lord: but when the oxen are yoked, and the plowshare and coulter attached to the plow, I must plow one whole field a day, or more.

Master: Have you any assistant?

Plowman: I have a boy to drive the oxen with a goad, and he too is hoarse with cold and shouting.

Master: What more do you do in a day?

Plowman: Certainly I do more. I must fill the manger of the oxen with hay, and water them and carry out the dung.

Master: Indeed, that is a great labor.

Plowman: Even so, it is a great labor for I am not free.

Master: What have you to say shepherd? Have you heavy work too?

Shepherd: I have indeed. In the grey dawn I drive my sheep to the pasture and I stand watch over them, in heat and cold, with my dogs, lest the wolves devour them. And I bring them back to the fold and milk them twice a day. And I move their fold; and I make cheese and butter, and I am faithful to my lord.

Master: Oxherd, what work do you do?

Oxherd: O my lord, I work hard. When the plowman unyokes the oxen I lead them to the pasture and I stand all night guarding them against thieves. Then in the morning I hand them over to the plowman well fed and watered.

Master: What is your craft?

Fisherman: I am a fisherman.

Master: What do you obtain from your work?

Fisherman: Food and clothing and money.

Master: How do you take the fish?

Fisherman: I get into a boat, and place my nets in the water, and I throw out my hook and lines, and whatever they take I keep.

Master: What if the fish should be unclean?

Fisherman: I throw out the unclean fish and use the clean as food.

Master: Where do you sell your fish?

Fisherman: In the town.

Master: Who buys them?

Fisherman: The citizens. I cannot catch as much as I can sell.

Master: What fish do you take?

Fisherman: Herring, salmon, porpoises, sturgeon, oysters, crabs, mussels, periwinkles, cockles, plaice, sole, lobsters, and the like.

Master: Do you wish to capture a whale?

Fisherman: No.

Master: Why?

Fisherman: Because it is a dangerous thing to capture a whale. It is safer for me to go to the river with my boat than to go with many ships hunting whales.

Master: Why so?

Fisherman: Because I prefer to take a fish that I can kill rather than one which with a single blow can sink or kill not only me but also my companions.

Master: Yet many people do capture whales and escape the danger, and they obtain a great price for what they do.

Fisherman: You speak the truth, but I do not dare because of my cowardice.


From: Thomas Wright, ed., Anglo-Saxon and Old English Vocabularies, (London: Trubner, 1884), Vol. I, p. 88, reprinted in Roy C. Cave & Herbert H. Coulson, A Source Book for Medieval Economic History, (New York: The Bruce Publishing Co., 1936; reprint ed., New York: Biblo & Tannen, 1965), pp. 46-48

Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg.

This text is part of the Internet Medieval Source Book. The Sourcebook is a collection of public domain and copy-permitted texts related to medieval and Byzantine history.

Unless otherwise indicated the specific electronic form of the document is copyright. Permission is granted for electronic copying, distribution in print form for educational purposes and personal use. If you do reduplicate the document, indicate the source. No permission is granted for commercial use.

© Paul Halsall, September 1998