Waste Not, Want Not

A medieval masterpiece has much to say about the modern preoccupation with greed.

Word up: the demon Titivillus, medieval wall painting, St Mary, Melbourne, Derbyshire.William Langland’s 14th-century poem Piers Plowman opens with a vision, witnessed by a dreamer as he slumbers on the Malvern Hills. He sees before him a ‘fair field full of folk’, of many classes and professions, ‘working and wandering as the world asketh’ – a vision of the whole of human society. But almost the first thing he realises is that this labour is not fairly distributed: some people work hard yet barely have enough to eat, while others selfishly squander what the labourers toil for.

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