The Family of Origin Versus The Human Family: Universal Love in Literature

  • Judith Ferster
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


Many manuscripts of the pseudo-Aristotelian mirror for princes Secretum Secretorum tell of an ethical contest between a wealthy Magus and an impoverished Jew who meet while traveling and chat about their beliefs.1 The Magus’s God acts justly toward all, and the Magus strives to promote the good for himself, his family, and all men because he believes, “if any euyl fall to any leuyng man, bat pat euele fallys to me.” The reason is that “y desire welfare, helth, strynght, and goodnese, all holely to come to yche man” (p. 105, lines 11–12). The Jew, conforming to anti-Semitic stereotypes, believes in justice for Jews. He wishes well to “hem pat er of my lawe, of my fayth, and of my byleue; and it ys lefull to me to shede be blood of him bat acordys noght to my lawe, and take from him his hauyng, and all bat fallys to him” (p. 104, lines 34–38). Active harm to others is not merely allowed but required: “It ys holdyn to me a malyson if y holde him fayth or do him helpe, or any mercy, or if y spare him ought” (p. 105, lines 1–2). Trying to turn the Magus’s creed against him, the Jew claims that the Magus ought to lend him his mule. The Magus of fers the supply-laden mule, which the Jew promptly steals. After the Magus prays to his just God for justice, he catches up with the Jew, who, having been attacked by the mule, is lying by the side of the road destitute and injured.


Confucian Ethic Religious Lyric Loving Kindness Meditation Loving Kindness Medieval Literature 
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  1. 2.
    See David B. Wong, “Universalisai versus Love with Distinctions: An Ancient Debate Revived,” Journal of Chinese Philosophy 16 (1989): 256–57 [251–72], fora discussion of the differences between the view of Confucius and his rival Mo Di and the resonance of their debate in contemporary philosophy and psychology.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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© Bonnie Wheeler 2006

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  • Judith Ferster

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