Scottish poet Sir David Lyndsay's 500-year-old parrot helps us learn a valuable history lesson – Scotsman comment

The poet David Lyndsay is a Scottish voice we can still hear from half a millennium ago.

A handwritten fragment of a poem by Sir David Lyndsay, who sat at the heart of court life at Linlithgow Palace during the life of James V, has been discovered. (Picture: Kim Traynor/geograph.org/CC)

In 2013, a performance of his play Ane Satyre of the Thrie Estaitis (A The Satire of the Three Estates) was staged at Linlithgow Castle in 2013 to much acclaim.

And now a fragment of his satirical poem, The Testament of the Papyngo, that was handwritten into a book during his lifetime – by whom we do not know – has been discovered.

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During his lifetime, Lyndsay, who was born in about 1490, developed a reputation for truthfulness and morality that survived long after his death.

So much so, that an old story tells of a Scottish farmer on his deathbed who, when asked if he would like to read the Bible, replied: “Hout awa' wi' your daft nonsense, bring me Davie Lyndsay.”

The Testament of the Papyngo is an attack on the corruption of the Scottish clergy just as the Reformation was gathering momentum – so it was politically serious stuff – but one reason why it stands out is that Lyndsay decided to use the persona of a parrot to make it.

The great and the good – and some of the bad too – can sometimes seem rather distant, grand and self-important figures.

But we can all see the sense of fun involved in enlisting a parrot to ridicule things we don’t like. David Lyndsay is speaking to us from long, long ago, but he sounds like he would have been a good laugh. And that helps to humanise him, make history seem more real, and avoid the trap of mythologising the past.

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