Cockaigne n : (Middle Ages) an imaginary land of luxury and idleness
Cockaigne or Cockayne () is a mythical medieval land of plenty, where all the harshness of medieval peasant life does not exist. Specifically, in poems like The Land of Cockaigne, Cockaigne 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 dearth.
Etymology of CockaigneThe word Cockaigne derives from Middle English cokaygne, traced to Middle French (pays de) cocaigne "(land of) plenty," ultimately adapted or derived from a word for a small sweet cake sold to children at a fair (OED). The Dutch equivalent is Luilekkerland ("lazy luscious land"), and the German equivalent is Schlaraffenland (also known as "land of milk and honey"). In Spain an equivalent place of Cockaigne is named Jauja, after a rich mining region of the Andes, and the word "cucaña" may also mean such place.
In the 1820s, the name Cockaigne came to be applied jocularly to London, as the land of Cockneys, and thus "Cockaigne", though the two aren't linguistically connected otherwise. The composer Elgar used the title "Cockaigne" for his overture (1901) and suite evoking the people of London.
DescriptionsLike Atlantis and El Dorado, the land of Cockaigne was a fictional utopia, a 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.
According to Columbia University Press' reference to Herman Pleij's Dreaming of Cockaigne (2001) http://www.columbia.edu/cu/cup/catalog/data/023111/0231117027.HTM,
- 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.
According to the New York Public Library (ref.), Cockaigne was a
- medieval peasant’s dream, offering relief from backbreaking labor and the daily struggle for meager food.
The Brothers Grimm collected and retold the fairy tale in The Tale About the Land of Cockaigne (Das Märchen vom Schlaraffenland).
TraditionsA Neapolitan tradition, extended to other Latin-culture countries, is the Cockaigne pole, 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 to the pole.
Cockaigne in the arts
- Cockaigne was depicted by Pieter Bruegel the Elder in The Land of Cockaigne (1567, above).
- The poem, The Land of Cokaygne, http://www.ucc.ie/celt/published/E300000-001/ appears in BL Harley MS 913, ff. 3r-63v (The Kildare Poems, #1); modern English translation http://www.soton.ac.uk/~wpwt/trans/cockaygn/coctrans.htm.
- The book, Dreaming of Cockaigne, by Herman Pleij (Columbia University Press, 2001) offers the most complete modern collection of information on the topic.
- The musical play, The Golden Dream, by Joe Syiek http://www.thegoldendream.com tells the story of oppressed peasants who yearn for, attain and ultimately lose their ideal of Cockaigne.
- The album Land of Cockayne by Soft Machine, 1981.
- Cockaigne is the name of the kingdom which Princess Narda in the comic strip Mandrake the Magician comes from.
- Cockaigne (In London Town) is a concert overture composed by Edward Elgar in 1901.
- Ego sum abbas Cucaniensis (I am the Abbot of Cockaigne) is a movement in Carl Orff's secular cantata, Carmina Burana.
- "Bruegel in the Land of Cockaigne" is the heading of the second chapter of T. J. Clark's 2002 Tanner Lectures on Human Values "Painting at Ground Level".http://www.tannerlectures.utah.edu/lectures/volume24/clark_2002.pdf
- In the popular cookbook The Joy of Cooking, the author's favorite recipes include "Cockaigne" in the name, (e.g., "Fruit Cake Cockaigne"), explained in the foreword to the 1975 edition as after the name of the Becker country home in Anderson Township, near Cincinnati, Ohio.
- Cockaigne is the name of a small Australian record label, run by musicians Dave Graney and Clare Moore.
- "Big Rock Candy Mountain" is a song about a hobo's idea of paradise - a modern version of the medieval concept of Cockaigne.
- In Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, Salvatore's escape from his parents home "assumed the aspect of the land of Cockaigne." Umberto Eco, "The Name of the Rose", Warner Books 1986, page 220
- The painting, Cockaigne, is a painting by Vincent Desiderio done in 2003
External links and references
Cockaigne in Danish: Slaraffenland
Cockaigne in German: Schlaraffenland
Cockaigne in Spanish: País de Cucaña
Cockaigne in Esperanto: Kuklando
Cockaigne in French: Pays de Cocagne
Cockaigne in Hebrew: ארץ העוגות
Cockaigne in Dutch: Luilekkerland
Cockaigne in Norwegian: Slaraffenland
Cockaigne in Portuguese: Cocanha
Cockaigne in Russian: Шлараффенланд
Cockaigne in Swedish: Schlaraffenland