I've been thinking a lot about honesty lately. I've had to apply for security clearance for the White House Fellow position, and the advice everyone has given me has been the same: be thorough, and be honest. I've had to look honestly in my closet for skeletons to disclose.
All this has had me thinking about honesty as a virtue. The truth is, I think I'm a fairly honest guy because I'm too lazy to remember lies -- so unless sloth or poor memory are virtues, I can't really claim honesty as a virtue in my case. At the same time I've been reading one of my favorite Tristan and Isolde accounts, Gottfried of Strasburg's. In it, Gottfried's narrator very clearly sides with the adulterous lovers, often explicitly condemning those who are trying to reveal the truth. On the other hand, both Tristan and Isolde both swear before God things that are either deceptions or shaving the truth very, very close in a legalistic way.
I've started thinking about other medieval texts, and I'm having trouble thinking of ones in which honesty is portrayed as an important virtue. Sagas are basically out as an entire genre, given the praise of trickiness of the heroes. Patient Griselda's husband may be the Christ figure, but he's also a terrible liar, as are many other of Boccaccio's characters. Unless I'm forgetting something, I can't think of a single Canterbury Tale in which honesty is a virtue. I assume that somewhere in saints lives are those praised for their honesty, but all I can think of is Judith.
I'm not trying to suggest that honesty was not a medieval virtue, but I suspect that it was not a particularly important virtue. Loyalty, fidelity, piety, chastity ... these seem to be the prime virtues of the literature. Liars are punished in the Inferno, but nothing like traitors are.
Has anyone out there done a study of honesty in medieval lit? I'd love to read it.