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I Got Plenty o' Glutton

August 09, 2000|CHARLES PERRY

A favorite fantasy of the 13th century, and particularly of the harsh, starving 14th, was the Land of Cockaigne, where everything was made of food and roast geese walked around begging to be eaten. The original might be the 12th century Irish "Vision of Mac Conglinne," a parody of the usual tale of a saint's miracles.

Mac Conglinne infuriates the bishop of Cork by, among other things, giving him a joke genealogy going back to Adam by way of "Pottage, son of Fair Speckled Fruit-Clusters, son of Smooth Clustering Cream, son of Buttermilk, son of Curds, son of Beer," and he is sentenced to death. But the night before he is to die, he has a vision of sailing across Lake Milk to a castle made of meat and cheese, barricaded by custards, with its own wine well and a forest of leeks and carrots out back.

He explains to the monks that he has to go exorcise a demon of gluttony from the king of southern Ireland, who was accustomed to eat a pig, a cow, a bull-calf, 60 cakes, a vat of ale and 30 eggs just as an appetizer. Mac Conglinne has the king tied up while he barbecues bacon, corned beef and mutton rubbed with honey under his nose and tells the king of a vision in which he must be fed 27 egg-sized morsels ("your eyes must whirl about in your skull while you are eating them"), then eight cakes each of eight kinds of grain, each with eight condiments, each condiment with eight sauces.

After that, every kind of meat, dairy product and vegetable, followed by as much milk as 20 men could drink, "of the milk that makes the snorting bleat of a ram as it rushes down the gorge, so that the first draught says to the last draught, 'I vow before the Creator, you mangy cur, that if you come down, I'll go up, for there is no room for the doghood of the pair of us in this treasurehouse."

It worked; the demon was lured out of the king, "until it was licking its lips outside his head."

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