By Caitlin Clarke
The Wheel of Moral Struggle, or the Wheel of Opposites, as it is also known, is rarely present in manuscripts of the Speculum theologiae. Like the other diagrams in Beinecke MS 416, its purpose is didactic, but it is distinct from the others in that it was intended for the instruction of the laity as well as clerics.
The diagram consists of twenty-one pairs of virtues and vices, often personified. In addition to these forty-two spokes, there is a last, unpaired spoke for death, reminding the reader of the mortality of man. The Wheel lacks the theological and numerological richness that are hallmarks of the Speculum theologiae's other diagrams. It shares formal design elements, however, with the Wheel of Fortune, a popular theme in medieval representation.
Many of the evils confronted in the Wheel of Moral Struggle, such as property ownership, would have been of concern mainly to laypeople. In addition, the Wheel does not deal with deadly sins, as do the diagrams intended for monastic instruction, but with minor vices: drunkenness, silliness, noisiness. Furthermore, the Wheel eschews scholastic thought, in which an opposed thesis and antithesis were synthesized to arrive at new understandings. The diagram allows for no compromise between virtue and vice. Its non-academic character and its treatment of everyday vices reveal the Wheel of Moral Struggle to be a tool suitable for lay as well as clerical instruction. As such, it is an ideal vehicle for the researcher to explore the concerns of ordinary people in the medieval period.