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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.

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.

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© Paul Halsall, September 1998

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