The Goliard paradise, where gluttony and sloth are cardinal virtues: in Cockaigne, the fish leap roasted from the rivers, which run with wine; grilled pigs roam about with the carving knife stuck handily into their backs; the houses are gingerbread and have sugar-pane windows; the beer is the elixir of youth; the sky rains cheeses, work is outlawed, and the monasteries are brothels of nuns, where any man may also knock the tar out of the prior at his leisure. It is the sort of paradise a man might well imagine who knows himself soundly barred from that of the church he left. It may be observed, however, that to the Divine, of whose plan all things are part, Cockaigne might instead be the hell of priors, thereby also fulfilling the statements of that Church which called the Goliards devils.

Cockaigne is perhaps the first utopia of its kind: the elder earthly paradises are simply fertile and peaceful lands such as one might reasonably believe in, rather than impossible places of ceaseless self-indulgence. One of the oldest extant mentions of this absurd land is in Ego Sum Abbas, one of the Carmina Burana, which is a collection of Goliard songs, and it remained familiar long enough to also appear in Rossini's famous Largo al Factotum (miglior Cuccagna per un barbière, vita più nobile, no, non si da!); furthermore, the great heir of the Goliards, Master Alcofribas, owes much to the vision of Cockaigne, particularly for the Abbey of Thélème. The fin de siécle saw Cockaigne used as a metaphor in disparagement of debauchery, but, like much of the old fabric of European ideas, it is largely gone from us now. Perhaps it became too apt a description of too much.


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