“mais tu me flatte, monsieur, puis-rendre le compliment?”
A MEMORABLE CASE OF FLATTERY
Anyone who says they do not like being flattered is very probably not telling the truth. I have nearly always been pleased when when this has happened to me, but I must tell you about one occasion when I definitely was not.
Caterinetta was a pretty young girl who studied very hard in our mediaeval history tutorials at Pisa university in Italy, but she had real trouble mastering necessary texts which were not in her native tongue. She knew the subject matter in great depth but just wrestled with English and French passages, especially philosophical ones. I was very lucky being a foreign student whose native tongue was English and had completed a degree in the subject the previous year at the Sorbonne in Paris. So with Italy being currently the country where I worked most of the time the language was easy for me. In short I had a head start over many of the first year post graduate students. Well one German chap was a sheer genius, fluent in five languages, but we won’t count him! But where did the flattery come in?
At the end of the first term I was chatting to my lovely Lucia, an Italian girl whom I had met at the Sorbonne and was following me in a post graduate course for the Italian equivalent of an MA at Pisa. We had grown very fond of each other and became more mutually enamoured as each week passed. OK, I can tell you you that we got married just over a year later as it has nothing to do with this story and anyway I have written of our romance elsewhere. But just before writing our first important papers for the course in Pisa Lucia asked me if I could help a friend of hers who was having real trouble with English.
“Antonino,” she always called me that, “little Caterinetta was almost in tears last night when she couldn’t translate any of Mathew Paris’ chronicle on that part of the reign of Henry the third of England which covered his marriage to the sister in law of King Louis the ninth of France. She thought I must have fluent English as I knew you so well, but I’m afraid when it comes to mediaeval writing I don’t!”
I was puzzled. “Cara, you can translate that, well the very original, because it’s in Latin and I know you are good at thirteenth century Latin. We talked a lot about it when doing our French degrees. Caterinetta doesn’t need the English version, only the Latin one. I can’t believe she hasn’t got it, but if not I can lend her mine. Surely that’s all she needs, isn’t it?”
Lucia hadn’t thought of that and went to find her friend and check. It appeared that the set book for her project was the 1889 edition in modern English by J.A.Giles and was riddled with words she didn’t understand. I promised to have a look and asked Caterinetta to let me see the edition she was told to use. I had read it a few years earlier but realised that French historian Paul Guth’s life of the French king covered the events Caterinetta wanted much better. So I cheated.
“Lucia, look I’ve got a really good idea. If you let me describe the marriage and the celebrations at Christmas 1236 between Henry and Eleanor, using the French version, nobody will know, and Caterinetta should get a perfectly good grade. It isn’t cheating or anything like that, is it, because I am only advising a fellow student on a subject we both study?” My inamorata seemed dubious but smilingly said she supposed not. Well, the outcome was that not only did our little friend get a good pass for her paper but her tutor actually congratulated her on her mastery of a rather pompous and more modern version of the event written in a type of English that was far from mediaeval. She was delighted and showed me the tutor’s comments saying,
“Oh, Anton. Thank you. Your analysis of the importance of mediaeval courtly marriage customs really impressed my tutor. You must be very clever!”
Now I admit it was a very flattering remark, but unfortunately my Lucia was present when I was flattered. She drew me aside that evening, on the lovely banks of the river Arno, and said, “Much as I love you, mio amante caro, I don’t think she should have flattered you. I remember how you wrote the same synopsis of that famous wedding two years ago in Paris. You didn’t just help her, you plagiarised yourself and thus gained a completely undeserved pat on the academic back!”
“I know, Cara, “ I grinned, “ but didn’t I deserve to be flattered for my memory if nothing else?”
“No,” she said hugging me. “You didn’t, it was showing off.”