Cockaigne

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Pieter Bruegel the Elder: Luilekkerland ("The Land of Cockaigne "), oil on panel (1567; Alte Pinakothek, Munich)

Cockaigne or Cockayne /kɒˈkn/ is a land of plenty in medieval myth, an imaginary place of extreme luxury and ease where physical comforts and pleasures are always immediately at hand and where the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist.[1] Specifically, in poems like The Land of Cockaigne, it is a land of contraries, where all the restrictions of society are defied (abbots beaten by their monks), sexual liberty is open (nuns flipped over to show their bottoms), and food is plentiful (skies that rain cheeses). Writing about Cockaigne was a commonplace of Goliard verse. It represented both wish fulfillment and resentment at the strictures of asceticism and death.

Etymology[edit]

While the first recorded uses of the word are the Latin Cucaniensis, and the Middle English Cokaygne, one line of reasoning has the name tracing to Middle French (pays de) cocaigne "(land of) plenty",[2] ultimately adapted or derived from a word for a small sweet cake sold to children at a fair (OED). In Ireland it was mentioned in the Kildare Poems composed c. 1350. In Italian, the same place is called Paese della Cuccagna; the Flemish-Belgian equivalent is Luilekkerland ("relaxed luscious, delicious land"), translated from the Middle-Belgian word Cockaengen, and the German equivalent is Schlaraffenland. In Spanish an equivalent place is named Jauja, after a rich mining region of the Andes, and País de Cucaña ("fools' paradise") may also signify such a place. From Swedish dialect lubber ("fat lazy fellow") comes Lubberland,[3] popularized in the ballad An Invitation to Lubberland.

In the 1820s, the name Cockaigne came to be applied jocularly to London[4] as the land of Cockneys ("Cockney" from a "cock's egg", an implausible creature; see also basilisk), though the two are not linguistically connected otherwise. The composer Edward Elgar used the word "Cockaigne" for his concert overture and suite evoking the people of London, Cockaigne (In London Town), Op. 40 (1901).

The Dutch villages of Kockengen and Koekange were named after Cockaigne. The surname Cockayne also derives from the mythical land, and was originally a nickname for an idle dreamer.[5]

Descriptions[edit]

Accurata Utopiae Tabula, an "accurate map of Utopia", Johann Baptist Homann's map of Schlaraffenland published by Matthäus Seutter, Augsburg 1730

Like Atlantis and El Dorado, the land of Cockaigne was a utopia. It was a fictional place where, in a parody of paradise, idleness and gluttony were the principal occupations. In Specimens of Early English Poets (1790), George Ellis printed a 13th-century French poem called "The Land of Cockaigne" where "the houses were made of barley sugar and cakes, the streets were paved with pastry, and the shops supplied goods for nothing"[6]

According to Herman Pleij, Dreaming of Cockaigne: Medieval Fantasies of the Perfect Life (2001):

roasted pigs wander about with knives in their backs to make carving easy, where grilled geese fly directly into one's mouth, where cooked fish jump out of the water and land at one's feet. The weather is always mild, the wine flows freely, sex is readily available, and all people enjoy eternal youth.[7]

Cockaigne was a "medieval peasant’s dream, offering relief from backbreaking labor and the daily struggle for meager food."[8]

The Brothers Grimm collected and retold the fairy tale in Das Märchen vom Schlaraffenland ("The Tale About the Land of Cockaigne").

Greasing the pole during the Tomatina festival of Buñol, Spain.

Traditions[edit]

Francisco Goya: La cucaña ("The Greasy Pole", c. 1786)

A Neapolitan tradition, extended to other Latin-culture countries, is the Cockaigne pole (Italia: cuccagna; Spanish: cucaña), a horizontal or vertical pole with a prize (like a ham) at one end. The pole is covered with grease or soap and planted during a festival. Then, daring people try to climb the slippery pole to get the prize. The crowd laughs at the often failed attempts to hold on to the pole.

Legacy[edit]

Literature[edit]

Painting[edit]

  • "The Land of Cockaigne" was depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in his painting Luilekkerland (1567).
  • Cockaigne, a 2003 painting by Vincent Desiderio.

Music[edit]

Film[edit]

Varia[edit]

  • The authors of The Joy of Cooking (first edition 1931) have written: "When you see a recipe that includes the word 'Cockaigne,' the recipe was one of Mom and Pop's favorites." It was also the name of their parents' "beloved Cincinnati home."
  • A ski resort in Cherry Creek, New York bore the name Cockaigne until its 2011 closure.[11]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Wikisource Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Cockaigne, Land of". Encyclopædia Britannica. 6 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 622.
  2. ^ "Le Pastel et le Pays de Cocagne". Lautrec.fr. Archived from the original on 2008-05-05. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
  3. ^ Today's wwftd is..., at Worthless words for the day, by Michael A. Fischer.
  4. ^ OED notes a first usage in 1824.
  5. ^ Hanks, Patrick; Hodges, Flavia; Mills, A. D.; Room, Adrian (2002). The Oxford Names Companion. Oxford: the University Press. ISBN 0198605617.
  6. ^ Brewer, Ebenezer Cobham (2001-05-01). The Wordsworth Dictionary of Phrase and Fable. Wordsworth Editions. p. 265. ISBN 9781840223101.
  7. ^ "Dreaming of Cockaigne". Cup.columbia.edu. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
  8. ^ "New York Public Library: Utopia". Utopia.nypl.org. Archived from the original on 2012-07-16. Retrieved 2012-10-02.
  9. ^ "The Phantom". seattlepi.com. 2013-05-19. Retrieved 16 September 2014.
  10. ^ "Aufruhr im Schlaraffenland (1957), a film by Otto Meyer". cinema.theiapolis.com. Retrieved 2015-07-06.
  11. ^ Emke, Dave (2011-01-26). "Trying To Regroup: Ski Center Owners Look To Future After Fire Destroys Lodge". The Post-Journal. Archived from the original on 2014-02-22. Retrieved 2014-02-16.

Further reading[edit]

  • Luisa Del Giudice, "Mountains of Cheese and Rivers of Wine: Paesi di Cuccagna and other Gastronomic Utopias," in Imagined States: National Identity, Utopia, and Longing in Oral Cultures, ed. by Luisa Del Giudice and Gerald Porter, Logan: Utah State University Press, 2001: 11–63.

External links[edit]