Dreaming of Cockaigne

In the Middle Ages Cockaigne was the lost paradise, a land of plenty which existed somewhere on earth. Wine and beer flowed through the countryside, food could be gathered from the ground, everything belonged to everyone, the weather was always beautiful, all got what they wanted and stayed forever young. This lost paradise is continually evoked in medieval literature; stories about it were passed on from generation to generation and new variants developed over time and in different regions.

Herman Pleij

Herman Pleij takes three important texts as his starting point for an inspired sketch of the panorama of ideas, dreams, popular religion, and literary and artistic creation present in the late Middle Ages. The subtlety of his study makes it appealing: Dromen van Cocagne covers all of Europe and extends to Asia and America and it considers diverse expressions of culture within a broad perspective, from antiquity and the Church Fathers to the present day. The travels of Marco Polo are considered alongside such topics as the music played in paradise, the function of meals and the location of ritual, cultural histories of fruit and stench, and the parallels between Cockaigne and the early work of Laurel and Hardy.

Cockaigne was a myth which allowed an escape from the harsh reality of daily existence in the Middle Ages. Stories about it were often presented in the form of ironic descriptions of journeys, satires or pseudo-didactic poems. As a shrewd explorer of the culinary dreams of the Middle Ages, Pleij is by far the best guide to the effervescent world behind these texts. In a style which is pleasantly entertaining and often downright cheerful, he reveals the central obsessions of medieval life and provides the first complete description of the myth of Cockaigne.

Definitive proof that the history of eating can lead to cultural history of the first order.

Vrij Nederland

A magnificent and well-considered study (…) Pleij has no peers.

de Volkskrant
Herman Pleij
Herman Pleij (b. 1943) is an emeritus professor of medieval literature at the University of Amsterdam. His work focuses mainly on the cultural history of literature, the development of commonplace morality and the formation of Dutch identities in general.
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