Medieval France. An Encyclopedia

(Darren Dugan) #1

second, dating from the latter half of the 12th century, is one of four Anglo-Norman
hagiographical works written by women within a period of no more than a century. Its
author is Clemence, a nun of Barking, and despite its obvious piety it displays to a
remarkable degree the influence of courtly literature of the period and, in particular, both
the concept of reciprocal love and its rhetoric associated with the Tristan of Thomas. The
third is a late 13th-century work on the “Mystic Marriage” of St. Catherine with Christ, a
kind of “Enfances sainte Catherine” preserved in a 14th-century cursive manuscript
(Additional 40143) in the British Library. Toward the end of the 12th century, Simon de
Freine wrote a Vie de saint Georges in heptasyllabic couplets and Guillaume de
Berneville his Vie de saint Gilles in the more traditional octosyllabic form. Early in the
13th century, Chardri (an anagram of Richard?) treated the “oriental” themes of Josaphat
and the Set dormanz. The anonymous Vie de saint Jean l’Aumônier (ca. 8,000 ll.) may
also be attributed to this period or shortly after, and the Vie de saint Grégoire le Grand
(ca. 2,950 ll.) by Frère Angier, author of a translation (ca. 24,000 11.) of St. Gregory’s
Dialogues, is thought to date from 1216.
Moral Literature. Saints’ lives form only a part of the considerable volume of moral
and religious literature in Anglo-Norman. The earliest translation into French of a book
of the Bible is that of the Proverbes de Salomon, which Samson de Nanteuil prepared (ca.
1150) for Aeliz de Condet, possibly as a kind of moral instruction manual for her son
Roger. Composed of nearly 12,000 octosyllabic couplets, it is preserved in only one
manuscript (B.L., Harley 4388). The Jeu d’Adam, probably from the same period, is an
imaginative dramatization (the earliest with exclusively French dialogue) of the story of
the Fall. It covers also the killing of Abel by his brother, Cain, and ends with a procession
of the prophets foretelling the coming of the Redeemer, the New Adam. Stage directions
are given in Latin, and each section begins with the relevant Scripture reading also in
Latin. The Oxford and Cambridge Psalters and the IV livre des reis are prose translations
that date from the late 12th century, as does Simon de Freine’s Roman de Philosophie or
Roman de Fortune, an adaptation of Boethius that shows considerable interest in science
and the observation of natural phenomena. The Espurgatoire saint Patrice, generally
attributed to Marie de France, is a verse rendering of a Latin text from the late 12th or
early 13th century recounting the knight Owein’s visit to Purgatory, Hell, and the Earthly
Paradise, while the Anglo-Norman Lettre du Prêtre Jean, which defies generic
classification, appears to be the first vernacular adaptation of this curious late 12th-
century document. Its interest in the exotic recalls the Brendan, but its general tone owes
more to satire than to piety. Chardri’s Le petit plet, a dialogue between a youth and an old
man on problems of life, love, friendship, and death, is also from the turn of the century.
The Fourth Lateran Council (1215) and the subsequent Council of Oxford (1222) led
to an outpouring of sermons and guides to the spiritual life emphasizing penitence and
personal piety. The popularity of the Mirour de seinte Eglyse (or Speculum Ecclesiae) by
St. Edmund of Abingdon (d. 1240) can be measured by the vast number of extant Latin,
French, and English manuscripts. The work is a systematic guide to true Christian living
through a combination of self-awareness and the contemplation of God. A printed version
was made as late as the 16th century. Robert Grosseteste (d. 1253), chancellor of Oxford
University and later bishop of Lincoln, wrote the Chasteau d’amour, a short religious
allegory showing the influence of scientific theories on his theological thought; it was
sufficiently well regarded to merit a translation into Latin and several into English. The

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