everyman

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is a Bruegel print from 1558. In the top left center a picture of a man in medieval garb looks into a mirror, and the legend below expresses the thought (in Flemish) “No one knows himself”. In the scene below are 5 figures, each with “Elck” or everyman on the hem of his garment. They are searching, pawing, clawing and tugging through an endless pile of things…things…things. In the far distance more figures with Elck go searching with lanterns. On the bottom in French, Latin and Flemish is the following (freely translated);

Always is each man seeking for himself alone –
And everywhere – so how can one stay lost?
Each man will pull and tug and grunt and groan,
Seeking to get more for himself – get most!

And no man knows himself despite such seeking;
No light will help him in his lonely place.
Strange! Though he looks with eyes forever open,
He never sees at last his own true face.

(click to enlarge)

Bruegel 1558

Bruegel 1558

The Elck seeking in the center carries a fat money bag at his waist. Eyeglasses and a lantern do not help him to find what he seeks, though just about every kind of thing is scattered in confusion about the place. Household goods, tools, games, dice, cards, chess etc. There are bales and bags and bundles, the goods and distractions of the world are all about. Yet everyman in every form is always and everywhere seeking in vain.
The Elcks are aging, distraught, frustrated and unhappy. The abundance of things does not fulfill their need. It is a bitter business, with no final success in sight, to be looking, looking, looking only for oneself. For no man (Nemo) will find himself there, even though he may find private gain for himself.

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