A mysterious engraving

A reader wrote to me asking for help. Some time ago, he found a 15th century finger ring, which turned out to be a treasure and is now in the British Museum. There is a double inscription on the ring which even the experts seem to find difficult to translate. It reads:

Amour vauit tout fors ceur de villain
Amour en voie coullas eyoie

I know quite a few linguists read this blog, most of them far more accomplished than me; does anyone fancy helping to crack this mystery?
—————————–
UPDATE
The finder of the ring kindly sent me photos:
coullas
devillain
vauittout
and this:

“Thank you for your help and please also pass on my thanks to the people who have tried to help via your web site. I have read your blog and now have some more info.

I e-mailed the head of French at the University of Wales who in turn passed the inscription onto his Father. By a stroke of luck he happens to be the editor of the Anglo Norman Dictionary.

I have attached a photograph of the ring showing the inscription which will help when you read his translation as some of the words can be seen to have a different spelling to the British Museums.

The following text is his translation:

“I think that the transcription is faulty. The first line would make
sense if ‘vauit’ were read as ‘vaint’, (the minims are the same) i.e.
‘defeats’, so “Love defeats/conquers every thing except the heart of a
‘no-good/wretch’, no problem, but the second line is more corrupt. The
‘eyoie’ is probably ‘e joie’ (“and joy”), but the ‘coullas’ rings no
bells and all I can think of is ‘çoullas’ (a form that I have not come
across, but which is not beyond the quill of an A-N scribe) i.e.
‘solace’, giving something like “Love brings (lit. sends) solace and
joy”.”

How exciting! Rouquin ricain, you were on the right tracks!
And this is what Sylvain found (from the French side):

[Amour vaine tout fors que coeur felon:] [Pro.] Love overcomes any thing but a forward, or spightfull, heart.[Amour vaine tout fors que le coeur felon:] [Prov.] Love conquers any thing but a fellonious heart.
Source

And this is Dominique’s guess (again, from the French side):

Amour en voie coullas eyoie
Amour sur le chemin du plaisir (soulas) réjouit (esjoie).

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By | 2016-10-18T15:50:48+00:00 September 28th, 2005|Technical corner|9 Comments

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About the Author:

Celine
I am Céline Graciet, a freelance English to French translator. Since 2003 I’ve been writing on all sorts of areas linked to translation and the life of a translator.

9 Comments

  1. David W Solomons September 28, 2005 at 12:24 pm

    A few ideas that may have already been thought of…
    Love is all powerful outside the heart of a villain (ie love can do anything but it can’t change a villain?)
    Love sends (envoie?)
    Coullas appears to be a French surname.
    eyoie – no idea in this context. Maybe it relates to a quality which love bestows upon Coullas?
    Just ideas… maybe someone can fill in the gaps?
    Kind regards
    David

  2. David September 28, 2005 at 12:30 pm

    Another possibly rather far fetched idea – Eyoie is apparently a village in Hungary – Love sends Coullas [to] Eyoie?
    Unlikely – but we’re clutching at straws…

  3. céline September 28, 2005 at 12:33 pm

    Sylvain on the French site found that there is a proverb that sounds like it matches the first line: “Love conquers anything but a fellonious heart”. I also find “coullas” and “eyoie” perplexing…

  4. David September 28, 2005 at 12:35 pm

    3rd thought – eyoie is perhaps a strangely spelt verb – love sends [whereas] coullas does something else?
    I’ll leave it there – sorry to hog the thread! 🙂

  5. srah September 28, 2005 at 1:31 pm

    I’m not a professional and don’t know a lot about the history/evolution of the French language, but my first thought upon reading “coullas eyoie” was the phrase “ça coûte les yeux de la tête.” eyoie sounds to me a bit like yeux, but at the same time similar to oeil. Coullas reminds me of coûter and couler. I’m sort of getting this from reading it as “coul las” with las as an article, I guess.
    Anyway, that’s my thought process if it inspires you with anything at all!

  6. céline September 28, 2005 at 1:34 pm

    David: hog away, hog away!
    srah: AND love can indeed be very expensive business!
    The search continues…

  7. David W Solomons September 28, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    Another silly thought then, since you don’t mind me hogging… Could “eyoie” be a French pun on the English word “away” given the pronunciation of “oi” in French of that time? “Love sends Coullas away”
    Coullas is a villain, love cannot make his heart melt because of his villainry, so love sends him away.
    Et “vwayla”!
    Hmmm – maybe reading too much into it?
    Where’s Language Hat when we need him?

  8. MM September 28, 2005 at 7:41 pm

    It isn’t really villain in today’s meaning, is it? Is it not something like boorish, peasantlike, uncouth? Love would be a pursuit for the nobles (as in Minnesang) and above the villain.

  9. rouquin ricain September 30, 2005 at 12:43 am

    at first look, i’m sure the transcription is wrong – in any case, i’d bet that the second word is vaint and not not vauit, a common enough error in transcribing. if i have time, i’ll do a bit of research just in case (i specialise in old french linguistics and philology). i’d love to hear more about this piece.

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