Piers Plowman


William Langland

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Four Oxen Symbol Analysis

Four Oxen Symbol Icon

The four oxen that God’s messenger, Grace gives Piers Plowman for the purpose of plowing his field symbolize the four Gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. The largest ox is Luke, just as the Book of Luke is the longest of the four Gospels. The oxen called Mark and Matthew are both “mighty,” pointing to their importance. Lastly, the ox named John is the gentlest and the most prized, which may be suggestive of the way that the Book of John centers on Jesus’ status as the Son of God, rather than on his ministry. The oxen are meant to plow the fields—prepare the fields for the four types of seeds to be planted—just as the four Gospels prepare one to live a virtuous life as a Christian.

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Four Oxen Symbol Timeline in Piers Plowman

The timeline below shows where the symbol Four Oxen appears in Piers Plowman. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Passus XIX
Good Works and Salvation Theme Icon
Social Hierarchy, Community, and Selfishness Theme Icon
...assigns a multitude of skills, including wisdom, understanding, and courage. To Piers Plowman, Grace gives four oxen —a large ox named Luke, two “mighty” oxen named Mark and Matthew, and a “gentle”... (full context)