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A Dictionary of Medieval Heroes: Characters in Medieval Narrative Traditions and Their Afterlife in Literature, Theatre and the Visual Arts

Translated from the Dutch by Tanis Guest.

A treasury of medieval tales about the great heroes of the time is unlocked in this volume. Some are familiar figures, like Charlemagne and his paladins, Arthur and his knights, or Tristan and Isolde, but there are many other lesser-known, but equally fascinating, stories to be found, ranging from the medieval versions of the exploits of Alexander the Great and Aeneas to the parody of heroism in Reynard the Fox. The different cultures from which the middle ages drew its inspiration are represented: Cu Chulainn from the Celtic world, Apollonius of Tyre from Greek romance, Attila the Hun and Theodoric the Ostrogoth from the struggle of the Roman empire against the Barbarians. Each entry gives an outline of the story, how it spread through Europe, its modern retellings and appearances in art, and a selective bibliography. Willem Gerritsen is Professor of Medieval Literature in the University of Utrecht; Anthony van Melle is a lecturer in the Faculty of Education, School of Languages, Utrecht.
The Boydell Press
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A iol
A lexander the G reat
Amys and Am elis
Apollonius of Tyre
A ttila
Barlaam and Josaphat
Baudouin de Sebourc
Berte aux Grands Pieds
Bevis of H am pton
Charlem agne
C hâtelaine de Vergy
C ü Chulainn
Culhwch and Olwen
Erec and Enide
Floris and Blanchefleur

G alahad
Gaw ain
Girart de Roussillon
Girart de Vienne
Godfrey of Bouillon
G orm ont and Isembart
Guillaum e d’Orange
H avelok
H ector
Hengest and Horsa
H uon of Bordeaux
Joseph of A rim athea
Louis the Pious
M oriaen
Ogier the Dane
Parthonopeus of Blois

Raoul de Cam brai
Renauf de M ontauban
Reynard the Fox
Robert the Devil
Robin H ood
Salm an and M orolf
Seven Sages of Rome
Sw an Knight
Theodoric the G reat
Tristan and Iseult
W altharius
W eland
W idsith
W idukind
W igalois


Characters in Medieval Narrative Traditions
and Their Afterlife in Literature,
Theatre and the Visual Arts

Edited by Willem R Gerritsen and
Anthony G. van Melle

Translated from the Dutch by
Tanis Guest


Translation © Tanis G uest 1998
All Rights Reserved. Except as permitted under current legislation
no part of this work may be photocopied, stored in a retrieval system,
published, performed in public, adapted, broadcast,
transmitted, recorded or reproduced in any form or by any means,
without the prior permission of the copyright owner

Translation first published 1998
T he Boydell Press, W oodbridge

ISB N 0 85115 381 X

Originally published 1993 as
Van A iol tot de Zwaanridder: Personages uit de middeleeuwse verhaalkunst
en hun voortleven in literatuur, theater en beeidende kunst
by Uitgeverij Sun
© Sun, N ijm egen 1993
T he Boydell Press is an imprint of Boydell & Brewer L; td
PO Box 9, W oodbridge, Suffolk IP12 3DF, U K
and of Boydell & Brewer Inc.
PO Box 41026, Rochester, N Y 14604-4126, U S A

A catalogue record for this book is available
from the British Library
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication D ata
Van Aiol tot de Zwaanridder, English
A dictionary of medieval heroes/edited by W.P. Gerritsen and A.G. van Melle: translated
from the Dutch by Tanis Guest,
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-85115-381-X (he. : alk. paper)
1. Characters and characteristics in literature, 2, Literature, Medieval - History and
criticism. I. Gerritsen, W.P. (Willem Pieter) II. Melle, A.G. van. 1934- .
III. Guest, Tanis M.,1936PN682.C5V3513 1998

This publication is printed on acid-free pape
Printed in G reat Britain by
Bookcraft (Bath) Limited


Preface to the English E dition - vii
In troduction - 1
D iction ary - 9
B ibliography - 309
Index o f Literary and H istorical Figures C on tribu tors - 335

This translation has been supported by a grant from the
Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research





O ld stories never die. T h e M iddle A g es left behin d a large body o f narratives epics as well as rom ances - w hich were on ce told and loved all over Europe.
M any o f these stories lived on into later centuries, and som e o f them retain
som e o f their m agic even today. O ver the centuries the m edieval stories
con tin u ed to inspire writers, com posers and artists to renew ed retellings,
reworkings, adap tation s, and visual represen tations. T h is book is designed as a
guide to the narrative heritage o f m edieval Europe and its afterlife in various art
forms o f later periods dow n to the present day.
T h e book began its life in 1993 as a volum e in a series o f reference books,
published by S U N at N ijm egen , on the form ative traditions - classical, JudaeoC h ristian , and m edieval - th at con tributed to the com m on cultural heritage o f
Europe. T h e contributors to the volum e, specialists in various dom ain s o f
m edieval literature, were asked to present the leading characters o f m edieval
n arrative fiction alon g w ith the prin cipal works in w hich they figure, and to
describe the afterlife o f each ch aracter in post-m edieval literature and art.
A s editors we take great pleasure in presen tin g this English version, entitled
A Dictionary of Medieval H eroes. T h e generous financial support o f the
N eth erlan d s R esearch O rgan isation N W O tow ards the tran slation is gratefully
acknow ledged. W e feel m uch indebted to Dr Tanis G u est for her careful and
elegan t English rendering o f the text. T h an k s are also due to Dr R ich ard Barber
and his staff at Boydell & Brewer who took pain s in pruning away details in the
text w hich w ould be o f little interest to English readers; on the oth er h an d the
text was enriched by a con trib ution on the indispensable R o b in H ood. We
hope th at the book will render services to anyone interested in m edieval stories
and their am azing vitality.




Every age selects its favourite characters from the stock o f stories han ded dow n
to it, and provides those characters w ith a contem porary con ten t. T h is is
certainly the case w ith the literature o f the M iddle A ges; a great deal o f
originally m edieval n arrative m aterial lives on in the literature, plastic arts and
the various m usical and th eatrical form s o f the five centuries since 1500. T h e
ob ject o f this book is to trace the fortunes o f over eighty characters from
m edieval narrative through tim e. T h e entries are arranged alph abetically; each
begins by placin g the ch aracter in the n arrative co n text in w hich he - or she first appears. T h ere follow s a survey o f later m edieval versions, with m en tion o f
the current state o f scholarly research in th at area. W here the ch aracter
con cern ed also played a part in the work o f post-m edieval artists, the last
section o f the article is devoted to this ‘afterlife’. T h is introduction provides
the opportunity to sketch the contours o f literary-historical developm en t and
briefly discuss som e general aspects o f m edieval narrative.
W e h ave already m en tion ed one feature w hich m ost o f the n arratives
discussed in this book h ave in com m on: their retrospective nature. In other
m edieval n arrative genres n ot treated here - in exem pla, fabliaux and n ovellas,
for instan ce - the actio n usually takes place in the present or in an unspecified
recen t past. H ere, in the heroic epic, the lai, the rom ance and the various
literary form s derived from them , even ts are usually set in a distan t and
splendid past. T h e m ost arch aic epic narrative w hich has com e dow n to us from
Europe n orth o f the A lp s com es from Ireland ( —» C u C h u lain n ): the oldest
texts date from the 9th, or possibly even from the 8th century, and depict a
level o f culture com parable w ith th at o f the G au ls as described by C ae sar and
other writers o f antiquity. N o t w ithout reason did the C e ltic sch olar K .H .
Jack so n describe this O ld Irish epic as ‘a window on the Iron A g e ’. T h e m ost
an cien t m anuscripts o f G erm an ic heroic poetry date from around the year
1000; these poem s relate to princes and heroes from the period o f the m igration
o f the tribes and the in vasion o f the H uns. T h e G o th ic king —> T h eo d o ric the
G re at (4 9 3 -5 2 6 ) becom es, as D ietrich von Bern, the favourite hero o f 13thcentury G erm an epic. T h e French chansons de geste, w ritten dow n from the
12th century on, recount even ts from the tim e o f —> C h arlem agn e (7 6 8 - 8 1 4 ),
his predecessors and successors. T h e first A rth u rian rom ances appear around
1160; they are set at the court o f a king who, accordin g to m edieval historians,
died in battle in 542. Even the story o f —> Floris and Blanchefleur, set m ainly in
an orien tal world o f very vague chronology, proves at the end to be firmly
anchored in the past: the reunited lovers subsequently becom e the gran d­
parents o f C h arlem agn e.
T h e retrospective nature o f m any m edieval tales can be exp lain ed in part by
a very an cien t function o f n arrative poetry: to perpetuate the m em ory o f great
events o f the past. In an arch aic society it is the poet-singer who em bodies the



tribe’s collective memory. It is his task to provide the voice o f the p ast w hen
situations in the present require it. T h e blind Frisian bard B em lef, who becam e
a disciple o f the evan gelist S t Liudger about 785, was revered by his
contem poraries for his know ledge o f the heroic deeds o f the an cien ts and the
wars o f kings Cantiquorum actus regumque certamina’), o f w hich he would sing to
his own harp accom pan im en t. T h e G erm an ic shop (bard) was a highly
respected figure, loved by king and people; the oldest Frisian laws specify a
particular - and sizeable - com p en sation for injuring the h an d o f a harpist. In
m ilitary operations, too, the bard h ad a significant role to play: it was he who
inspired the warriors by recounting the glorious deeds o f earlier heroes. T h e
custom con tin ued into later centuries: before the troops o f W illiam the
C on queror went into battle at H astin gs in 1066, the w arrionm instrel Taillefer
sang them a lay about —» R olan d.
Stories about the past had a contem porary function also; w hich explain s why
they were continually being adapted to different circum stances. T h e old stories
were in fact a highly effective way o f gain ing acceptan ce for new and m odem
concepts or at least ensuring that they were discussed. A num ber o f O ld French
chansons de geste tell o f dynastic feuds in C arolin gian tim es, while at the sam e
tim e reflecting highly contem porary 12tlvcentury feudal problem s. W h at in the
present was regarded as an ideal was presented as havin g been reality in the past.
T h e oldest A rthurian rom ances provide a fine exam ple o f this. O n e o f the 12th
century’s cultural ideals can be sum m ed up in the n otion o f ‘courtliness’. T h is
relates to an aristocratic way o f life, based on a com plex o f social skills w hich an
individual must possess in order to take part in a lively social life. In the
A rthurian rom ances - and even earlier, in the highly im aginative historical
writing o f Geoffrey o f M onm outh - this m o d em cultural ideal is projected on to
the (fictitious, as we now know ) realm o f K ing —> Arthur, where chivalry
supposedly had its finest flowering. A n d the new genre had a great deal m ore to
offer than courtly exam ple. In the hands o f poets such as C h rétien de Troyes and
W olfram von Eschenbach A rthurian rom ance developed into the literary genre
par excellence for the discussion o f existen tial problem s.
W olfram ’s —> Parzifal is the sam e as C h rétien ’s Perceval, and yet n ot the same.
In adapting, expanding and com pleting C h rétien ’s unfinished rom ance Perceval
ou le Conte du G raal the G erm an poet perm itted h im self all kinds o f deviations,
am ong other things in his depiction o f the eponym ous hero. T h is applies even
more strongly to the figure o f R ichard W agner’s Parsifal. T h is exam ple shows that
the concept o f ‘the character’, as applied to the successive stages o f a narrative
tradition, is one o f considerable com plexity. O n the one hand, there is beyond
doubt a constant elem ent: the character o f Perceval with his (alm ost) unchanged
nam e, and a basic pattern o f events w hich rem ains broadly unchanged, are
am ong the con stan ts w hich m ain tain a narrative tradition and m ake it
recognisable. But on the other h an d the character can be com pared to an em pty
hull w hich each new version o f the story loads with a different cargo. Su btle
shifts in personality are constantly appearing w ithin the genre. A character who
was at one tim e clearly am ong the public’s favourites may in a later phase be
treated with a hin t o f irony, and then at a still later stage retire to the second or
third rank and m ake way for a new hero. A genre such as A rth urian rom ance



assum es an intensely involved and critical public, a public w hich identifies with
the people in the story and allows no sm allest n uance to escape it.
A n in tern ation al public, at that. T h is is already the case with the very
earliest literary survivals from the G erm an ic world. In —> Widsith, an O ld
English poem from the secon d h a lf o f the 7th century, a shop enum erates the
countries he has visited on his travels. H e has appeared at the courts o f m ighty
princes, before —> Erm anaric, K ing o f the G o th s, before —> A ttila, Lord o f the
H uns, before T h eo d o ric the G reat, before K ing A lb o in o f the Longobards.
Everywhere his art has been adm ired and he has been richly rewarded. In view
o f the fact th at these princes lived in different centuries - the historical
Erm anaric died in 375, A lb o in in 573 - we h ave to regard the shop W idsith as a
fictional figure. N everth eless, the heroic songs he alludes to in the poem m ust
have form ed part o f a single repertoire w ith m any ram ifications w hich was once
w elhknow n throughout north-w estern Europe.
Later genres also spread far beyond their lands o f origin. Sp an ish and Italian
versions have survived o f a num ber o f O ld French chansons de geste; we also have
versions in M iddle D utch (som e o f w hich were later adapted to the language o f
G erm an -speakin g hearers or readers) and in O ld N orse. T h e A rthurian
rom ances, translated into m any languages (even, in one case, into H ebrew ), can
be considered com m on European cultural property. A lso internationally known
and translated into m any languages were stories about such heroes o f antiquity
as —> Hector, —> A en eas and —> A lexan d er the G reat, their deeds often presented
in m edieval narrative as exam ples o f knightly and chivalrous behaviour. T h a t
the Low C ou n tries m ore than once acted as an entrepot in this international
trade is clear, for instance, from beast epic, w hich spread from France to
G erm any and England partly via the Low C ou n tries (—> R eynard).
In W id sith ’s day stories were recited or sung, accom pan ied by the notes o f a
harp. T h e audien ce listened as the singer presented the poem from memory.
T h e skop carried his repertoire around with him in his head. T h a t the O ld
English poem was ever set dow n in a m anuscript is excep tio n al and probably
m ore or less fortuitous; as yet w riting still played little part in the creation and
perform ance o f vern acular literature. Eight hundred years later the tech nology
o f writing, perfected by the in ven tion o f printing, h ad totally ch an ged the
process o f literary com m un ication . In 1479 the m aster printer G h eraert Leeu
printed a prose version o f Reynaert in G o u d a, and betw een 1487 and 1490 he
published a Reynaert text in rhyme. B oth books are prim arily intended for
individual reading (th ough it is n ot im possible th at som e purchaser o f a copy
also read aloud from it). T h e prose version is divided into chapters, each
provided with a headin g w hich sum m arises the con ten t; a separate table o f
con ten ts at the beginn ing o f the book lists these ch apter headings together
with the page num bers. T h e rhym ed incunable also has ch apter headings, and
this text is in add ition illustrated w ith a num ber o f m asterly w oodcuts. B oth the
ch apter headings and the illustrations are visual aids used by Leeu to m ake
reading easier. T h e eye has replaced the ear.
In the eight hundred years betw een Widsith and G h eraert Leeu n arrative art
distan ced itself little by little from its oral origins. Follow ing the exam ple o f
L atin literature, from an cien t tim es a literature o f writers and readers, one by



one the old tales in the European vernaculars were w ritten down. T h e oldest
narratives discussed in this book, including an-epic such as —> Beowulf, are still
rooted entirely in the oral culture o f the early M iddle A ges. T h e earliest
chansons de geste, such as the Chanson de Roland ( —> R o lan d ) and —> Gormond et
Isambard, also show all kinds o f oral features. T h e perform er con stan tly
involves his audience in w hat is h appen in g in his tale; enjoyin g a story is still a
collective, social experience.
It was not only in C e ltic lands th at tales o f K ing A rth u r ( —> C u lh w ch ) were
current; in England and France, too, travellin g artists enjoyed success w ith
narratives o f the B ritish king. T h a t this m aterial was popular in Italy as early as
the first h alf o f the 12th century can be seen from the fam ous relief over the
entrance to M od en a C ath ed ral, datin g from betw een 1120 and 1140, w hich
depicts an A rth u rian story, and from a floor m osaic in O tran to C ath ed ral
w hich shows A rth ur m ounted on a goat. U nfortunately, such indirect evidence
is our only source o f inform ation about this oral narrative; the stories
them selves have for the m ost part van ish ed for ever.
A roun d the m iddle o f the 12th century clerici - in tellectuals shaped by the
study o f rhetoric and L atin literature - began to devote them selves in a big way
to writing works in the (Fren ch) vernacular. T h e earliest products o f their
w riting-desks are the so-called classical rom ances, in w hich they adapted the
‘m atière de R o m e’, stories about Troy, —> A e n e as and —> A le x an d e r the G reat,
to the taste o f a 12th-century audience. Barely tw enty years later it is the
‘m atière de B retagn e’, the stories about K in g —> A rth ur and —» Tristan, w hich
are the focus o f atten tion . S u ch writers as C h rétien de Troyes and M arie de
France derive a great deal o f their m aterial from the oral tradition o f the
professional storytellers, but recast it in the form o f a refined com p osition with
a con cealed deeper m eaning, the sen. T h e sam e applies to som e ex ten t to
T h om as, the poet o f one o f the earliest T ristan rom ances. A lth o u g h the
A rth urian rom ance in verse-form as con ceived by C h ré tie n and his co n tem ­
poraries never com pletely severed its links with history - after all, the action
purported to take place partly at the court o f K ing A rthur, who was regarded as
a h istorical figure - the events recounted no longer laid claim to h istorical
reality. T h e story did n ot have to be literally true to ach ieve its purpose.
T h rou gh the skilful arrangem ent o f inven ted elem en ts (adven tu res), resulting
in a truth o f a higher order, the rom ance adds a new dim en sion to narrative:
the dim en sion o f fiction. T h is discovery o f fictionality probably con stitutes
A rth u rian rom an ce’s m ost significant con tribution to the developm en t o f the
European rom ance/novel.
T h e rise o f the French prose rom ance in the first decades o f the 13 th century
brought a num ber o f im portant in n ovation s. T h e ch oice o f prose as the
m edium , rather th an the tradition al verse form associated w ith recitation ,
m arked a further step alon g the road to a literature for readers. U n lik e the verse
rom ances, those in prose usually did n ot con cen trate on the adventures o f a
single character but sought to recount the interlinked fortunes o f a large
num ber o f characters w ithin one com plex narrative. In this way the prose
rom ance presented itself as a chron icle, an all-em bracing accou n t th at m ight
som etim es span several decades. But things did n ot stop there. Lengthy prose



rom ances were them selves am algam ated into cycles m any hundreds o f pages
long. T h e best know n o f these is the so-called V ulgate C ycle, w hich consists o f
no fewer th an six rom ances; the sequence o f even ts begins in biblical tim es and
ends w ith the destruction o f A rth u r’s realm . A n o th e r work o f im pressive
proportions is the so-called Tristan en prose. T h e sam e urge for com pleten ess
and synthesis m anifested itself in the held o f C aro lin g ian epic in collected
m anuscripts and large com pilation s.
In the 14th century a coun ter-m ovem en t began to em erge; people in certain
circles then evidently preferred shorter forms: independent, n ot-too-lon g
rom ances or short stories, in verse or prose, w hich m ight or m ight n ot be
con tain ed in a fram ing narrative. A t the sam e tim e, all over Europe m uch o f
the old epic m aterial lived on in the form o f ballads. A n d even outside Europe:
in Sep h ard ic Jew ish com m un ities in M orocco and Turkey, n arrative songs
datin g from before the expulsion o f the Jew s from S p ain in 1492 con tin u ed to
be sung dow n to our ow n century.
T h e prin tin g press gave m edieval n arrative a new lease o f life and a new
audience. By about 1500 it was no longer un com m on for a reasonably pros­
perous city-dw eller to own a num ber o f books. In order to fill the dem and for
reading m aterial, the printers w ent in for w holesale rew orking o f the old
knightly rom ances. T h e text was m odernised: verse was replaced by prose, the
narrative style was tailored to the private reader, and where necessary the
m essage was m ade clearer or adapted to a bourgeois system o f values. A fter use,
the parchm ent m anuscript w hich had provided the text for the printed book was
often cut up and used to stiffen bindings or boiled down for bookbinder’s glue.
T h e old tales in their new form were also o f use in education, particularly in the
so-called ‘French sch ools’ (so called because their pupils learnt French instead o f
L atin ). In the play Moortje (1 6 1 5 ) by the D utch playwright Bredero, a ch ild ’s S t
N ich o las D ay presents include not only a slate and a catech ism but also som e
reading books, including the tales o f ‘Blanchefleur’ and ‘A m adis van G au w elen ’.
Slow ly but surely the repertoire o f stories handed dow n from the M iddle A ges
slid dow n the social scale. Influenced by hum anism and the R en aissan ce, the
literature o f the cultural elite changed decisively. T h e literary ideals o f the 17 thcentury G o ld en A g e inexorably forced the m edieval m aterial down to the level
o f light reading for the lower classes. But at th at hum bler level the old tales o f
chivalry proved to be real die-hards. R eprint after reprint, in ever shabbier form,
on grey paper w ith worn-out letters, bears w itness to their stubborn durability.
So m e chapbooks, such as the story o f the ‘Vier H eem skin deren ’ ( —> R en au t de
M on tau b an ), m anaged to survive until well into the 19th century.
In the 17th century, and m uch o f the 18th, the term ‘m edieval’ was associated
alm ost entirely with backw ardness, barbarity and superstition. In the second h alf
o f the 18th century this negative attitude quite suddenly chan ged to a fascinated
interest in the culture o f the n ation al past, and especially the rem nants o f m edi­
eval literature. N o t that everyone was instantly con vin ced o f its im portance.
W hen in 1782 C h ristoph H ein rich My Her sent his editio princeps o f the
Nibelungenlied, in his view a G erm an Iliad, to the Prussian king Frederick II, that
m onarch personally inform ed him th at he thought the poem ‘n ot w orth a shot
o f gunpow der’ and would not dream o f including it in his palace library.



T h e rom antic poets and writers who becam e active soon after 1800 found in
m edieval narrative a source o f inspiration w hich, they thought, gave them a
direct line to the prim eval forces o f h um an nature: feeling, im agin ation ,
creativity. T h e parable, in the form o f a ded ication to C lem en s B ren tan o, w ith
w hich Joseph G örres prefaced his survey o f G erm an ch apbooks in 1807 is
highly significant here. H e recounts how he on ce w andered through the forest
by night, vainly trying to decipher a m essage from N atu re in the babblin g o f a
brook. H e encounters a m onk who takes him inside a rock. T h ere he finds the
old Em peror Barbarossa, sittin g at a table w ith his beard grown into it and
surrounded by such heroes as R en aut de M on tauban , C h arlem agn e, Siegfried,
H agen and Duke Ernst. ‘W h at do you seek am on g the dead, stranger?’ asks
Barbarossa. ‘I seek life,’ is the answer, ‘one m ust delve deep in the dry ground to
find the spring.’ W hereupon Barbarossa refers him to the books in w hich the
heroic deeds o f old are recorded.
Follow ing in the tracks o f G örres and oth er ‘explorers’, coun tless 1 9th '
century artists ‘sought life’ in m edieval narratives. A n d found it. It turned out
that the old m aterial could lend itself to the m ost diverse purposes - aesth etic,
m oral, p olitical and ideological. T h e ideal o f the ‘g en tlem an ’ th at took shape in
V ictorian England - the gen tlem an w ith his code o f h onour and service, his
love o f ritual, his passion for sport and gam es, and w ith his prudery - was to a
considerable exten t an invented tradition borrow ed from the knightly world o f
the M iddle A ges; not, o f course, from the reality o f knightly existen ce, but from
the idealised literary depiction o f it in the tales o f S ir T h o m as M alory. In 19th '
century G erm an y the dream o f the old H oly R o m an Em pire was con stan tly
used to legitim ise and direct p olitical aspirations, w hile the genius o f R ich ard
W agner created in Parsifal, T ristan and Siegfried figures w hich em bodied both
the ideal and the tragic elem ents in the 19th 'cen tu ry view o f m an. France
recognised the basic idea o f its ‘m ission civ ilisatrice’ in Europe and beyond in
the pious heroism o f C h arlem agn e and his paladin s, as hym ned in the Chanson
de Roland. O n e could say w ithout m uch exaggeration th at every 19th'Century
n ation was busily shapin g and polish in g its own identity, and th at in doin g so
each created a m ythology based to a significant ex ten t on its heritage o f
m edieval narrative.
W h at has our ow n century produced from these w elbplough ed fields?
A lth ou gh the m edieval presence is clearly far less alb p erv asiv e in 20th'Century
art than in th at o f the 19th century, there is still a co n stan t stream o f
distinguished artists who draw on m edieval n arrative m aterial in their work.
T h e old stories can be interpreted as m yths in w hich basic h u m an experien ces
appear to be linked and com bin ed in narrative form. It seem s th at m ajor
them es o f 20th'Century art - isolation, love and sexuality, the individual versus
society - can be em bodied tim e and again, and always differently, in such
archetypal figures as Perceval and L an celo t. O ften the poets an d n ovelists are
follow ing, at a little distan ce, the theories o f the literary historian s. T h u s, T .S.
E liot borrowed m uch o f the sym bolism in The Waste Land from Jessie W eston ’s
From Ritual to Romance, a com preh ensive (th ough rather w ild) an th ropological
interpretation o f the G rail story. T h e history o f the reception o f m edieval



n arrative m aterial in 20tlvcen tu ry art is largely still to be w ritten. O n e o f the
surprises in com pilin g this book was th at there turned out to be so m uch more
th an the authors had expected. T h rou gh coun tless adap tation s, in every kind o f
m edium , on every level, som e part o f the old narrative repertoire has succeeded
in w inning itself a place in the m en tal baggage o f 20tlvcen tu ry m an. T h is book
hopes n o t only to help the reader find his way in the world o f the m edieval
stories, but to m ake him aware o f a tradition w hich links the narrative art o f
our ow n day w ith th at from a far distan t past.
Finally, a few words about the selection criteria used in com pilin g this book.
A n yo n e seeking to give a com plete picture o f m edieval narrative and its effects
on literature and art in later ages would need to include the exten sive field o f
hagiography, as well as a range o f ‘sm all’ narrative genres such as fable, n ovella,
exem plum and an ecdote. T h e scope o f this book did n ot perm it such a broad
approach. It confines itself principally to the two m ain genres o f ‘e p ic’ and
‘rom an ce’, each w ith a periphery o f earlier, later or otherw ise related forms.
T h e ‘H igh M iddle A g e s’ (1 2 th and 13th cen turies) can be considered as the
heyday o f m edieval narrative; works from these centuries have therefore
received relatively m ore atten tio n than the heroic epic o f the early M iddle
A ges or the late m edieval afterm ath o f epic and rom ance. It was necessary also
to im pose a geograph ical lim itation : W estern Europe, with particular atten tio n
to the Low C ou n tries. But ch oosin g m eans losing: the rich treasure o f tales
from Ireland and W ales is represented by only a few works; O ld N orse
literature, no less im portant, is m en tion ed only in passing; So u th ern and
Eastern Europe are hardly considered at a l l . . . But again st this restriction o f the
field o f view can be set a broadenin g o f the horizon; an attem pt has been m ade
to chart the influence o f m edieval narrative m aterial on all form s o f m odern art
and literature.
It would h ave been th eoretically possible to arrange the m aterial on the
basis o f titles o f works or auth ors’ n am es (w here these are know n). A p art from
the m any p ractical problem s involved, such an arrangem ent would probably
h ave m ade the book awkward to use. It seem ed an attractive altern ative to take
the nam e o f the m ain ch aracter o f a story or com plex o f stories for the h e ad '
word, though this form ula too was n ot w ithout its disadvan tages: it appeared to
reduce all oth er characters to the secon d rank. In particular, it is unfair to a
num ber o f prom inen t fem ale characters, m any o f them quite as interesting as
their m ale counterparts. A s a sm all recom pense, all the characters m en tioned
in the book are included in the index. B etw een them , the articles in this
dictionary cover a large segm ent o f m edieval narrative; at the end o f each
article is a n ote on editions and studies listed in the bibliography. Further
inform ation, and inform ation on ch aracters and stories n ot included in the
book, can be found through the reference works listed at the beginn ing o f
the bibliography.


Aeneas’ fleet arriving off the coast of Italy. Limoges enamel, c. 1525-1530. New York,
Metropolitan Museum.



E N E A S (often spelt Eneas in the Middle Ages), son of Dardanus’ descendant
LAnchises and the goddess Venus, husband of King Priam’s daughter Creusa and
father of Ascanius, is the Trojan hero who becomes the ancestor of the Roman people.
As Homer recounts in the Iliad, he plays a significant part in the Trojan War; his
subsequent adventures are described by Virgil in the Aeneid. He loses Creusa in the
burning of Troy. With Anchises and Ascanius he sets out for Italy at the head of a group
of survivors; it is the will of the gods that hé should found a city there. His wanderings
take him - his father having died on the way - to Carthage, recently founded by Dido
(also known as Elissa), who had fled from Tyre following the murder of her husband
Sychaeus. Dido falls passionately in love with Aeneas; because of him she breaks her
vow of eternal fidelity to Sychaeus, which she has kept until now. Aeneas returns her
love; but their happiness is short-lived. Reminded by the gods of his mission, and
despite Dido’s pleas, Aeneas leaves. Humiliated, the deserted Dido kills herself. After a
visit to the Underworld, where Anchises shows him the future Rome, Aeneas’ journey
ends at the mouth of the Tiber. There King Latinus recognises in him the stranger who,
it has been foretold, will marry his daughter Lavinia. Although there is another
claimant, Turnus, who is favoured by Queen Amata, the aged Latinus promises his
kingdom and his daughter to Aeneas. After a violent conflict which costs the life of
Pallas, the son of Aeneas’ companion Euander who lives on the Palatine, Turnus is
defeated and Aeneas marries Lavinia. O f this marriage Silvius is born, after Aeneas has
been given a place among the gods. Aeneas’ descendants become the founders of Rome.


The saga of Aeneas assumed its classical form in Virgil’s heroic epic the Aeneid (29-19
BC), a literary masterpiece with an ideological function rooted in Olympian theology:
the account of Rome’s founding served to legitimise the city’s position in the ancient
world. Virgil constructed his image of the faithful Aeneas, who follows the will of the
gods and fulfils his mission by uniting Trojans and Latins into one people, from tradi­
tions current in his day. The figure of Dido is taken from the legend of the Tyrian widow
Elissa; according to the 3rd-century historian Justinus, when after the founding of
Carthage her subjects tried to force her to marry the North African king Jarbas, she
preferred to throw herself into the flames rather than break her vow. Ovid has a version
of the story of Dido and Aeneas in the form of a farewell letter from Dido to Aeneas
(Heroides 7).
Virgil’s Aeneid, like Ovid’s Heroides, was much read in the Middle Ages: as a literary
model to be imitated, as a historical source for the Trojan War and the foundation of
Rome, and as a story with a deeper, allegorical significance; its original ideological
function now retreated into the background. The literature of Troy also contained less
edifying tales of Aeneas’ role in the struggle for the city, according to which Troy was
taken not by a stratagem (the Trojan Horse) but through treachery by, among others,
Aeneas. In antiquity stories about the traitor Aeneas were marginalised by the authority
of Homer and Virgil, but they had considerable influence in the Middle Ages.
Reception of both the Aeneid and the alternative story of Troy led to a split in the
medieval image of Aeneas. A t first both versions are current, as it were on different
tracks; but from the 12th century on, and especially in the 13th, they begin to exercise
a mutual influence. Finally, sympathy for Dido, which had in ancient times been
considerable but subordinated to an understanding of Aeneas’ position (St Augustine
relates in his Confessiones that he had wept for her as a young man), told against Aeneas
once the ideological justification for his behaviour was lost.
The story of the betrayal, in which Antenor is the leader but Aeneas is clearly
implicated, was in circulation as early as c.400 BC. It is related at length in two lateclassical prose works which claim to be eye-witness accounts of the Siege of Troy: the
Ephemeris belli Troiani, a journal attributed to Dictys the Cretan (Latin version from the
4th century), and the narrative De excidio Troiae historia, supposedly by Dares the



Phrygian, a participant on the Trojan side (Latin version 5th or 6th century; more on
Dictys and Dares under —» Hector). In Dares, Aeneas is described as ‘loyal to the Trojan
cause’ and acquits himself well in battle, but after Hector’s death he is one of the peace
party which wants to hand Helen back. He is involved in secret discussions with the
Greeks and in the opening of the city gate, the Greeks having promised to spare him.
He hides Polyxena (—> Hector) in Anchises’ house; when this becomes known he is
banished by Agamemnon. Dictys gives more detail than Dares of the betrayal, making
Aeneas look even blacker. The traitors even smuggle the Palladium, the holy image
which protects Troy from being conquered, into the hands of the Greeks. Moreover,
Aeneas commits a second treason: once the Greeks have left he plans a coup against
the Trojans’ new leader, Antenor; this leaks out and the Trojans themselves force him
to leave Troy. Clearly, it is not only for poetic reasons that Virgil makes the ghost of
Hector appear to Aeneas just before the Greeks break into Troy and command him in
the name of the gods to leave the city.
Late'dassical literature takes over Virgil’s picture of Aeneas. The treason remains
in the background. Commentators such as Servius are aware of it. Christian writers
make little play with it. Tertullian mentions it, but evidently expects readers familiar
with Virgil to give it no credence; his comments are directed at the Aeneas depicted in
the Aeneid.
In patristic literature the problems with Aeneas mainly relate to his apotheosis. This
is grist to the mill of the Euhemeristic critique of the gods (so called from Euhemeros of
Messene, c.340-260 BC), which supports the view that the gods are no more than men
who were venerated after their deaths for their achievements. The tale of the fleeing
Aeneas rescuing the gods from burning Troy is also seen as proving the impotence of
the gods and the foolishness of those who look to them for aid (so says Augustine in De
civitate Dei).
This does not mean that Aeneas is universally vilified in Christian literature. The
Church fathers opposed the Aeneid as a heathen document. But alongside and apart
from this, Virgil’s epic was admired and imitated as a literary work of art by such
Christian poets and rhetoricians as Claudianus, Corippus, Ennodius and Sidonius, who
were to be highly influential in the Middle Ages.
The mythographer Fulgentius (Expositio Vergilianae continentiae, 5th century) inter'
prêts the Aeneid as an allegory of the life of man: a child up to the death of Anchises, an
adolescent until the loss overboard of the helmsman Palinurus (just before the end of
the voyage), gaining wisdom during the visit to the Underworld. This view was to exert
a considerable influence on medieval interpretations. Virgil treats events from the fall
of Troy up to Tumus’ death in ‘ordo artificialis’ (artificial order): the Aeneid begins in
medias res, and earlier events are recounted in flash'backs. The Excidium Troiae (6th
century), intended as an aid to the study of the most ancient Roman history, provides a
fuller, chronological survey of the Trojan War, the adventures of Aeneas (a summary of
the Aeneid, with an additional section on his marriage to Lavinia and his apotheosis)
and the foundation of Rome. The Middle Ages, with a preference for the ‘ordo
naturalis’, gratefully seized on this useful summary.
Because of the Aeneid, the exemplary Aeneas was a presence in the Middle Ages
from the start. Around 800 —> Charlemagne, builder of a new Rome in Aachen, was
portrayed in the epic Karolus Magnus et Leo papa as ‘a second Aeneas’ by means of
quotations from Virgil. Until the middle of the 12th century the faithful Aeneas has the
field practically to himself. According to Bemardus Sylvestris (12th century) he is a
model of patient endurance ( tolerantia), charity (pietas) and religious faith (religio). The
Dido'and'Aeneas theme is still current; Ovid’s Heroides letter is rewritten in
hexameters and two of the Carmina Burana are laments by Dido in rhythmical stanzas.
But commentators on Virgil follow Fulgentius and regard Dido as an allegory of
unlawful love (Bemardus Sylvestris).



Around the mid-12th century the princely courts begin to take a great interest in
antiquity. A short space of time sees the composition of the three Old French ‘romans
antiques’ (Thebes, Eneas and Roman de Troie). Together they cover ancient history down
to the founding of Rome, based on Latin works which serve as a source for the events
rather than as literary models. Eneas becomes the hero of two early courtly romances:
the Roman d’Eneas by an unknown author at the Anglo-Norman court (c. 1150-55,
over 10,000 lines) and Hendrik van Veldeke’s Middle Dutch version of it, the Eneit
(completed shortly before 1190 at the court of the Landgrave of Thüringen, almost
13,500 lines). The classical narrative material was adapted to the medieval world and
its literary conventions. Eneas’ adventures are recounted as though he were a knight.
The role of the gods is reduced (they cannot, of course, be omitted entirely), courtly
love and heroic combat take centre stage. The main characters’ emotions are described
in detail and expressed in monologues. They are those of chivalric culture
(‘anachronisme moral’), as are also their dress, domestic and military way of life, cities,
palaces and fortresses (‘travestie de costume’; see also —> Hector).
Both these romances of Eneas devote much less time to the beginning of his journey
than to his experiences in Carthage and Italy; Book III of the Aeneid is reduced to a few
lines. The tone of the Dido episode is that of Virgil; Dido’s lament, more passionate in
the Eneas than in Veldeke with his concern for ‘mâze’, is still accusatory, but she
forgives Eneas his unfaithfulness. From the moment Eneas lands in Italy the connection
with the Aeneid becomes looser. Virgil determines the course of events up to the death
of Turnus, though the struggle between Eneas and Turnus is narrated in much more
detail: the founding of the fortress of Montauban, the heroic deeds of Pallas and of
Camilla and her Amazons, Eneas’ duels with Turnus. Independent of Virgil (who ends
with the death of Turnus and takes little interest in Lavinia), but in line with Ovid,
Veldeke and his predecessor are able to turn the developing love between Eneas and
Lavinia, from the first encounter to the wedding, into a love story according to courtly
conventions; in the Eneas this runs to some 1700 lines. It sets the seal on the image of
Eneas as the landless knight from foreign parts who with a wife gains a kingdom.
Virgil and Ovid are also used as historical sources. Wace incorporates a summary of
the Aeneid in his Roman de —> Brut (1155) because a certain Brutus, a descendant of
Aeneas, had been regarded ever since Nennius (9th century) as the Trojan ancestor of
the Britons (—> Hector). Guido of Pisa makes room for the Excidium Troiae in his Liber
historiarum (c.1118). The account of Dido and Aeneas in Alfonso el Sabio’s Crônica
general (13th century) is based on Ovid’s Heroides letter. The compiler of the Histoire
ancienne jusquà César (pre-1213-30) conflates the material of the ‘romans antiques’
into one survey of classical history (reminiscent of the custom of grouping them
together in manuscripts). However, he bases his work not on the romances themselves
but on their classical sources. Thus, the section on Eneas is derived not from the Roman
d’Eneas but from the Aeneid, which the author reworks, with Servius’ aid, into a
chronological account of Eneas’ life and adventures; confining himself to the facts, he
systematically eliminates the marvels (including the journey to the Underworld) and
punctuates the whole with moralisations in verse. The Histoire ancienne remained
extremely popular down to the 15th century; almost sixty manuscripts of it survive,
together with a revised version and an Italian translation from the 14th century.
Around 1165, in the years between the Eneas and the Eneit, the ‘truth about Troy’ as
told by Dares and Dictys begins its triumphal progress with the Roman de Troie by
Benoît de Sainte-Maure (—> Hector). In dealing with the fall of Troy Benoît follows
Dictys the Cretan; as a result, Aeneas’ treachery comes to feature widely in literature
about Troy. Benoît, who does not describe Eneas’ adventures, makes no use of Virgil’s
picture of the faithful Aeneas. Neither does Guido de Columpnis (Historia destructionis
Troiae, 1272—87), though he does refer his readers to Virgil for information on Eneas
after his flight from Troy. Even the author of the Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César, who



after summarising Dictys does the the same for the A eneid, ignores the issue. N ot so
Jacob van Maerlant, who also included a version of the Aeneid in his Historie van
Troyen; he opts for Virgil’s Eneas and rejects Benoît’s account, because he cannot
believe that God chose a rogue to be the ancestor of the Roman people. The Historie
van Troyen takes nothing from Benoît that could reflect badly on Eneas and Antenor.
This is the exception, however, and Eneas’'treachery became common knowledge even
outside strictly Trojan literature; for instance, in John Gower’s Confessio Amantis
(c.1390) and in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (—» Gawain) (also late 14th century).
From the beginning of the 14th century the tale of the faithful Elissa, who would die
rather than remarry, again comes to the fore. The author of the Histoire ancienne jusqu à
César knows the tale from Servius and modifies it: Dido does indeed throw herself into
the flames to avoid marrying Jarbas, but her subjects save her in spite of herself. The
Dido-and-Eneas episode à la Virgil can then follow this innovation. Boccaccio in his
Dido story follows Justinus (De casibus virorum illustrium, 1356—60), rejecting Virgil’s
version as a poetic fiction.
The reception of Ovid (Roman de la Rose, 13th century, and Ovide moralisé,
1316-28) provides the final link in the chain of factors leading to the perception of
Dido as a woman deceived, victim of the traitor Eneas and not of the gods —who have
in any case had to surrender their role to Fortune. A whole series of writers takes up the
cudgels on her behalf: Boccaccio (Amorosa visione, 1341—42; De mulieribus claris,
1361-62), Chaucer (The House of Fame, 1380; The Legend of Good Women, 1385-86),
Christine de Pisan (Epistre au Dieu d’amours, 1399; Livre de la Cité des Dames, 1405),
John Lydgate (The Fall of Princes, 1431-39) and many others. But the anti-Eneas front
is not solid. In the Inferno Dante sees Eneas and Lavinia in company with —> Hector,
and Dido with Achilles.
Humanism was to burnish Virgil’s image of Aeneas once more, and Octovien de
Saint-Gelais’ translation of the Aeneid (1500) marks the start of the period during
which it became available as a literary work in the vernacular. But Troy and Dido were
to dog Aeneas’ heels for a long time.
Illustrations of Aeneas’ adventures are to be found mainly in the many costly
manuscripts of the Aeneid and the various versions of it made for royalty and the
nobility. Illuminated manuscripts from before the mid-13th century are rare; after that
date they are too numerous to mention and the Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César and the
literature of Troy (—» Hector) are also represented. From the 15th century on, pictorial
documentation includes tapestries, cassoni (bridal chests) and old printed books (such
as Le Livre des Eneydes compilé par Virgile, Lyons 1483 at Guillaume le Roy, with 61
engravings). The commonest subjects are Dido and Aeneas, Lavinia and Aeneas
(appropriate to cassoni) and, in the romances of Troy, the treachery of Aeneas.

Edition: Eisenhut 1958.
Studies: Semrau 1930; Boeckler 1939; Quint 1954; Scherer 1963; Leube 1969; Buchtal
1971; Cormier 1973; Lida de Malkiel 1974; Roberts-Bay top 1974; Comparetti 1981;
Suerbaum 1981.




IO L is the eponymous hero of an Old French chanson de geste which survives in a
single 13th-century manuscript. Duke Elie, the husband of Avisse, sister to King —»
Louis the Pious, has been unjustly banished from France at the instigation of Makaris of
Lausanne, despite the many services he had rendered to Louis in his struggle with the
Saracens. Elie and his wife have taken refuge in the Landes, near Bordeaux, where they
have found shelter with a hermit. There Avisse gives birth to a son who is given the
name of Aiol.
When Aiol is old enough his father sends him, mounted on his old horse Marchegai
and wearing his old and rusty armour, and equipped with a great deal of good advice, to
Louis’ court where he is to bring about his father’s rehabilitation and recover his
fiefdom. After a long and adventurous journey Aiol reaches Orleans, where he is
ridiculed because of his horse and armour. But one of his mother’s sisters, noticing his
noble bearing, instructs her daughter to offer him hospitality. The girl, Lusiane, falls in
love with Aiol and declares her feelings to him. Aiol rejects her because he wants to
fulfil his mission first. Not until the following day, when the mother tells him that she is
Avisse’s sister, does Aiol realise that Lusiane is his cousin. Aiol himself does not yet tell
Louis’ court of his identity.
King Louis is also in Orleans. Fie is involved in a conflict with the Count of Bourges,
who is seeking to avenge Elie’s unjust banishment and recover his lands. Aiol vanquishes
the Count of Bourges and delivers him to Louis, but asks mercy for him on discovering
that the count is his cousin. In this way Aiol gains the favour of the king, who showers
him with favours which Aiol shares with many others. Still Aiol does not reveal himself.
Aiol next travels to Pamplona where he rescues Mirabel, daughter of the
Mohammedan King Mibrien, from two abductors and takes her with him. After many
adventures the two reach Orleans where Aiol reveals his identity and demands his
father’s fiefdom as reward. When Lusiane learns that Aiol is her cousin she regretfully
abandons her thoughts of marrying him.
Mirabel is baptised. Aiol recovers his father’s possessions and sends messengers to his
parents, who bid farewell to the hermit. Back at the royal court, Elie is reconciled with
Louis. The marriage of Aiol and Mirabel is solemnised by the Archbishop of Rheims.
The wedding takes place in Langres, where Makaris attacks the festivities with thirty
thousand men. He carries Aiol and Mirabel off to Lausanne and shuts them up in a
dungeon. Here Mirabel gives birth to twins. Makaris promptly seizes both infants and
throws them into the Rhone. The nobleman Thierry happens to be fishing by
moonlight under the bridge from which Makaris throws the boys and he ‘fishes’ them


ter Itet

tel wfitc te tetu*

wt b

Thierry shows his
wife the twin sons
of Aiol and Mirabel
after saving them
from drowning.
Miniature in the
only surviving,
manuscript of Aiol.
Paris, Bibliothèque



out of the river. Fearing reprisals from Makaris, he and his wife take the boys to Venice,
where he offers his services to King Gratien. The jw o boys are immediately baptised
and are named Manesier and Tumas.
Because of disaffection among his own people, who are threatening to defect to Louis’
army, Makaris flees from Lausanne disguised as a merchant, with four servants and also
Aiol and Mirabel, whom he hands over to Mirabel’s father Mibrien. Mibrien throws them
into prison because neither of them is willing to worship Mohammed. Bandits steal Aiol
from the prison and sell him to King Gratien; Mirabel is left alone, imprisoned in Pamplona.
Aiol helps Gratien to capture the city of Thessaloniki and remains at court in the
company of Gratien’s two adopted sons, who remind him sadly of his own two children
whom he imagines to be dead. When Aiol makes himself known for the third time, in
the presence of his children and of Thierry and his wife, the latter at last give in to his
grief and tell him the truth. Aiol and Gratien then ask for Louis’ help in freeing
Mirabel, and succeed in doing so. Makaris suffers death by quartering, Mibrien converts
to Christianity, Aiol and Mirabel return to Burgundy with Elie and their two sons
return to Venice.
The extant chanson de geste, 10,983 lines in length and dating from around 1220, was
probably produced in Picardy as a reworking of an older version of c.1170. In this Aiol
we find the traditional epic themes: knightly honour and loyalty and the restoration of
honour contrasting with disloyalty, treachery and punishment by death, the holy war
against the Saracens, the love of a heathen princess for a Christian hero and her
conversion to Christianity.
There are two Middle Dutch versions of the Old French heroic poem, both fragmentary: the Limburg Aiol and the Flemish Aiol The writer of the Limburg Aiol seems to
have attempted to reflect the Old French narrative as faithfully as possible, but his
version offers a more concentrated, more swiftly moving tale.
The author of the Flemish Aiol took a quite different approach from that of the
Limburg version; he did not directly translate the Old French work but gave a free
rendering of it, cutting its length to about a third and omitting many episodes. Among
other things, he cut back on the feudal elements which had received considerable
emphasis in the Old French story, such as the traditional battles and duels and A iol’s
recovery of his fiefdom. By contrast, he gave greater coverage to certain religious
elements. For instance, he expands upon the fact that A iol’s children were saved from
drowning by the will of God: it is an angel sent by God who commands Thierry to go
fishing by night. The importance of the two children’s baptism is stressed on two
separate occasions. The writer seems to have been well acquainted with the epic
narratives current in his time. He replaced certain characters in the Old French Aiol
with welhknown epic figures from other heroic tales. The motifs to be found in the
added episode were also not of his own invention.
Apart from the two Middle Dutch versions of the Aiol, there are also two Italian
versions and one Spanish. The oldest extant Italian version is a prose romance,
probably written at the end of the 14th century by Andrea da Barberino and most likely
based on a lost Italian verse text. The first part of this prose romance is a retelling of the
Old French Aiol. The second part is concerned with the two sons and four grandsons of
Aiol, with Aiol himself playing an insignificant role, retreating from the world as a
hermit. The second, rhymed version, an adaptation of the prose romance, was printed
twice at the beginning of the 16th century. The Spanish version consists of three
‘romances’ (epic poems) the hero of which, Montesinos, undergoes many adventures
which show a marked resemblance to those of Aiol.

Editions: Normand/Reynaud 1877; Gysseling 1980.




L E X A N D E R T H E G R E A T (356—23), son of King Philip II of Macedonia and
Queen Olympias, subjugated Greece (336-34), crossed the Hellespont (334) and
marched through Asia Minor and Syria to Egypt, where following his visit to the shrine
of Ammon he was regarded as a son of Zeus/Ammon. He defeated the Persian king
Darius III in three battles. Having established himself as ruler of the Persian Empire he
marched east, crossed the Indus, defeated the Indian king Porus and reached the
Hydaspes River. Here he was forced to turn back because his army refused to go any
further. According to tradition, having conquered the East he intended to conquer the
West also. He died in Babylon.
Alexander caught the medieval imagination more than any other of the great figures of
antiquity. Not even the story of Troy could compete, as the 13th-century Dutch writer
Jacob van Maerlant, who had written about both (—» Hector) and thus spoke from
experience, remarked: ‘The Trojan matter seems small indeed when Alexander’s tale
you read’ (Alexanders Geesten). There was an abundance of information about
Alexander, more than can be included in this survey. What was regarded as history was,
however, very largely fiction; from late antiquity until the Renaissance (and in some
fields even later) the image of Alexander was determined far less by genuine historiography than by the legend which had begun to emerge even in his own lifetime.
Moreover, that image lacks coherence. Built up out of heterogeneous ancient, Jewish
and Arabic traditions, its reception was complicated by a comprehensive mixing of
sources, fuelled by Western medieval ways of thinking, and constantly adapted to new
functions and new needs. What was derived from classical and late antiquity, in addition
to historiography, was above all the Alexander romance, the associated literature on
the marvels of India and the philosophical critique of Alexander; the last of these lived
on in, among other things, the many exempla which, originating for the most part with
Cicero, Seneca and Valerius Maximus, were transmitted by Christian writers such as St
Augustine and St Jerome. Biblical and Jewish traditions spread the image of Alexander
as the instrument of God. In Arabic literature Alexander, having been tutored by
Aristotle, survived principally as a scholar and philosopher-king. These traditions became
mingled but without producing a synthesis, so that the tradition an author used remains
a significant factor in his portrayal of Alexander. The traditions were also medievalised.
The Alexander story of late antiquity is reworked into knightly romance, with Alexander
and his companions not only carrying out heroic exploits but also paying chivalrous
court to noble ladies (including the Amazons). The son of the Indian queen Candace
recovers his abducted wife with the help of Alexander. Candace recognises Alexander
when he tries to visit her incognito. According to the ancient story she reminds him of
his mother Olympias. This is also the case in the Strassburg Alexander (c.l 180), but here
Alexander and Candace also make love (which has given rise to thoughts of Oedipus).
In the Roman d’Alexandre, the Basle Alexander, Ulrich von Etzenbach’s Alexander and
the Kyng Alisaunder (c.1330) Candace is simply Alexander’s mistress; all thought of his
mother has disappeared. But in Johan Hartlieb (c.1445) Candace’s feelings for her guest
are strictly maternal.
Nor can we speak of a single medieval attitude to Alexander. He is viewed now favour­
ably, now unfavourably, even by the same author or in the same work; actions and
events can be regarded in widely differing ways. He is praised for his generosity, but when
he gives a city to an old soldier because he wants his gifts to be on a scale befitting
himself it is considered as hubris; and there is frequent mention of the tale of the sun­
bathing Diogenes: when Alexander asks Diogenes what he can do for him, and happens
to be standing between him and the sun, the answer is: ‘Stand out of my light.’ Alexander’s
aerial journey in a vehicle drawn by griffins is interpreted as proof of superbia (pride)
and curiositas (then still widely regarded with suspicion); but it is also explained as an
exemplum of the pious soul’s striving for heaven. Attempts to delineate the image of



Alexander in terms of milieu and genre (favourable in courtly secular literature, unfavourable in works written by clerics concerned with salvation, fairly neutral in historio­
graphy) or to trace a general chronological development (negative up till the 12th
century, positive in the 12th and 13th centuries, less favourable thereafter) are gener­
ally regarded as unsuccessful.
Alexander developed into an almost supernatural figure, with a variety of different
traditions and concepts linked to his name. In Syrian literature (for example, in the
homily by Jaqob of Serug, early 6th century) he is a Christian, in Hebrew a servant of
Jahweh and friend of the Jews, in Arabic a follower of the Prophet, in the Christian
Middle Ages a heathen who is yet in many ways admirable and, knowingly or
unknowingly, an instrument of God. In the Old French epics (whose 12-syllable line,
the alexandrine, owes its name to him) and romances in other vernaculars he is the
chivalrous prince, and in treatises on astrology, medicine and the natural sciences he is
the philosopher-king and pupil of Aristotle who searches out the secrets of Nature. He
is compared now with Solomon, now with Nero. From the beginning of the 14th
century he, together with Hector and Caesar, represents Antiquity among the Nine
Worthies who are the types of knightly virtue and righteousness (—> Hector); but
people still tell of the pirate Dionides, who saw no difference between his own activities
and Alexander’s conquests because unlawful dominion amounts to robbery.
O f the early historical accounts of Alexander, based on eye-witness evidence and
archive material, only fragments remain. Not until the 15th century did the surviving
works of the later Greek historians Diodorus Siculus (1st century A D ), Plutarch and
Arrian (both from the first half of the 2nd century) begin to play a significant role in
the West, if we disregard their reception in Latin antiquity and its continuing influence
in the Middle Ages. O f the Latin texts, only that by Quintus Curtius Rufus (Res gestae
Alexandri Magni, probably second half of the 1st century) had any real influence. His
principal interest is in strange and far-off peoples, the deterioration in Alexander’s
enigmatic character and his alienation from his Greek-Macedonian environment and
friends. Justinus’ summary of the Historiae Philippicae of Pompeius Trogus (Epitoma
historiarum Philippicarum, c.400), with its negative judgment of Alexander, did not
become really popular until the Renaissance; in the Middle Ages the influence of the
Epitoma itself was less than that of the first historiographer to make use of it, Paulus
Orosius (Historiae adversum paganos).
The medieval picture of Alexander rests above all on the late-classical, pseudohistorical Greek narrative of Alexander, probably written in Alexandria towards the end
of the 3rd century. Since then this text has been constantly rewritten, with new traditions
continually being incorporated into it. The narrative is based on a lost historical
biography, on a large number of fiction-based writings, particularly letters (for instance,
from Alexander to Olympias and Aristotle about the remarkable beings, natural
phenomena and events in India, the correspondence with Darius and Porus, and probably
also with the Brahmins, Indian philosophers), and on oral traditions, some of them local
(such as those concerning Alexander’s birth). How much the author himself contributed
is difficult to determine; probably the most important element is his modification of the
route of Alexander’s journey of conquest. The anonymous writer is known as PseudoCallisthenes, because in some sources the romance is ascribed to Callisthenes, peripatetic
philosopher and nephew of Aristotle, who accompanied Alexander, wrote a lost account
and paid with his life for criticising the honours which, in the way of the East, Alexander
allowed to be paid to him as divine ruler (proskunèsis). Despite its limited literary quality
(the author was writing for a broad Hellenistic public), the Alexander romance is one of
the most widely disseminated works of world literature. It has been translated and adapted
into some 35 languages, in an area stretching from England to China and Indonesia (it
reached Java around 1400) and from Iceland to Ethiopia and over a period extending
from the 3rd to the 20th century (the Modem Greek popular book).



The romance raises Alexander above the human scale. His appearance is remarkable:
his hair is like a lion’s mane, his eyes are of different colours (heterophthalmia) and his
physical strength is greater than his modest height would suggest. He is self-confident,
brave (as witness the correspondence and duels with Darius and Porus, and his incognito
visits to the enemy camp) and of noble character (his treatment of Darius’ women and
the conversation with the dying Darius), and he also appreciates these qualities in others
(such as the Persian in Macedonian disguise who almost succeeds in assassinating him).
He has enjoyed the best possible education and greatly honours Aristotle, has great selfcontrol and is just. When King Philip takes a second wife (Cleopatra), Alexander - who
is devoted to his mother - is able to reconcile Olympias and her husband. He is a
brilliant military planner, never at a loss for a stratagem, and is worshipped by his troops.
His adventures and remarkable experiences are legion. Thus, in India he encounters the
most amazing beings and natural phenomena: ichthyophagi (eaters of raw fish),
cynocephali (dog-headed people), hippocentaurs (half horse, half man), a magnetic
mountain, ants the size of lions and soothsaying trees; and his life is lived to an
accompaniment of predictions, miraculous events and portents. Darker elements which
the historian is aware of (drunkenness accompanied by unpredictable outbursts of rage
and destructive urges, sexual debauchery, cruelty) are omitted or mentioned only in
passing. In short, Alexander is self-evidently the kosmokrator; he explores the boundaries
of the universe by descending into the sea in a glass ball and flying through the air in a
car drawn by griffins, discovers the well-spring of life and reaches the realm of the blessed
(where he is refused admittance).
The romance diverges at many points from the account given by historiography, most
importantly on Alexander’s birth and the route followed in his conquests. According to
Pseudo-Callisthenes, Alexander was begotten on Olympias by the Egyptian sorcererking Nectanabus, who when confronted by superior Persian forces had fled to Macedonia
and succeeded in winning the queen’s confidence as an astrologer. He tells her that the
Libyan god Ammon will visit her, and in Philip’s absence makes his prediction come true
- as she thinks - by using his magic to assume the form of Ammon and sleep with her.
Nectanabus then sends Philip a dream informing him of Ammon’s visit, together with
miraculous signs designed to ensure the king’s acquiescence in the situation and make
him aware of the great future that awaits Olympias’ son. He also ensures that the child is
bom under favourable stars and instructs the young Alexander in astrology. During a
nocturnal lesson in the open air the pupil hurls his teacher into an abyss in order to
prove to him that he does not know the future. But Nectanabus tells him that he had
known he would die by his son’s hand, confesses everything and dies. When Alexander
later arrives in Egypt he is recognised, on the basis of his resemblance to a statue, as the
reincarnation of Sesonchosis/Nectanabus. The founder of Alexandria has links with the
country he comes so far to conquer.
The drastic changes of route in the account of Alexander’s campaigns are probably
intended to present him as ruler of all the known world. After Philip’s death Alexander
first marches west, where the Romans offer him a golden wreath in acknowledgement of
his power. From there he crosses Libya and reaches Egypt. After his capture of Tyre, the
beginning of his correspondence with Darius marks the commencement of his struggle
with the Persians. Darius begins with a letter in which he treats Alexander as a
wretched beggarly child and tells him to go home to his mother and finish his
education. He sends gifts with the letter: a ball because Alexander is still young and
likes to play, a whip because -he needs to leam discipline, and a chest full of gold coins
to pay for his journey home. The subjection of Greece comes only after the initial
victories over the Persians. This is then followed by the conquest of Persia, and from
there on the story generally follows the historical line.
Texts on the wonders of India like those used by Pseudo-Callisthenes also survived
independently and were continually reworked; they are often found grouped together in



Alexander borne aloft by the griffins. Floor mosaic, c.l 165, Otranto Cathedral.
manuscripts. One group of these so-called Indian treatises is concerned with the
Brahmins or Gymnosophists. They represent ancient Utopian cultural criticism. The
strange and wonderful land and the way of life of the Indian wise men (the ‘naked sages’
reject any interference with Nature and thus all achievements of human culture) arouse
Alexander’s curiosity. He makes contact with them and enters into discussion with
their king Dandamis/Dindimus on the pros and cons of their view of life and his own.
Conclusions are left to the reader. The two most important Indian treatises are the
three-part Greek Commonitorium Palladii and the Collatio Alexandri cum Dindimo. The



Commonitorium, named for the author of its third part, Bishop Palladius of Hellenopolis
(c.400), recounts an encounter with an eirenic outcome; it was translated into Latin
c.600 (and, under the title De moribus Brachmanorum, incorrectly ascribed to
Ambrosius). The Collatio contains the same material in the form of an exchange of
letters, on Alexander’s part noticeably more assertive in tone than the dialogue of the
Commonitorium. The Greek background of the Collatio is obscure. The oldest Latin
version dates from the end of the 4th century; later versions (10th- and 11th-century)
tend to award victory to Dindimus (as does Jacob van Maerlant in his Spiegel Historiael).
One of the later versions probably influenced Sir Thomas More’s Utopia.
The Epistola Alexandri Macedonis ad Aristotelem magistrum suum de itinere suo et de situ
Indiae belongs to the extensive genre of letters about the wonders of the East. It has
been preserved in a 9th-century Old English translation and was reworked, together
with Orosius and the Collatio, in the 10th-century Irish Imthûsa Alexandair. This letter
was also used by authors of other works about distant lands, such as the Letter of Prester
John. Conversely, Alexandrian literature also borrowed information on far-off places,
strange animals and plants, human ‘monsters’ and natural phenomena from such writers
as Solinus (Collectanea rerum memorabilium, 3rd century), the Letter from Pharesmanes to
Hadrian (pre-6th century) and the so-called Aethicus Ister (Cosmographia, 8th century),
who often derive their data from older accounts of Alexander’s journey to India.
Biblical and Jewish traditions introduced the concept of Alexander as the
instrument of God. In the Bible, a brief account of his conquests can be found in 1
Maccabees. In the explanation of the prophecies of Daniel (Dan. 2, 7, 8) his realm is
already regarded as one of the four world-empires (a view taken in the West only since
St Jerome). Alexander is usually identified with the leopard with four wings and four
heads (the wings referring to the speed with which he conquered the world and the
heads to the four realms of the Diadochi into which his empire split) and with the hegoat which attacks the ram (Darius) and breaks both its horns (Media and Persia). This
interpretation became a commonplace in biblical exegesis and appeared in the Glossa
ordinaria on the Bible. In Alexandrian literature it is found principally in the German
language area. Petrus Comestor refers to Alexander’s heterophthalmia in his influential
Historia scholastica, forerunner of the Bible histories (c.l 170).
The Daniel explication leaves it open whether Alexander was conscious of his role
in the history of salvation. But the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (1st century), who
compares Alexander’s army marching along the Pamphilian coast on a miraculously dry
road through the sea with the Israelites crossing the Red Sea, introduces a tradition
which has no doubts on the matter. He recounts that after the capture of Tyre, for
which the Jews had refused to supply reinforcements, Alexander marched on Jerusalem.
There he prostrated himself before the high priest, who had awaited him on foot in full
regalia at the head of the frightened people, on the latter’s instructions sacrificed to
Jahweh in the Temple, inspected the passages in the Book of Daniel and stated that
they referred to him, and finally granted the Jews the right to live according to their
own laws. When his astonished retinue asked why he had honoured the high priest
with a prostration he replied that he had had a dream, back in Macedonia, in which
Jahweh in the shape of the high priest had promised to help him in the conquest of Persia.
There is a series of stories about Alexander as the friend of the Jews which centres
around the foundation of Alexandria and clearly originated in the Jewish community
there. According to Josephus, Alexander granted the Jews their own quarter in the city
and, in gratitude for their help, gave them the same rights as Macedonians (Josephus
actually tells of a Jewish archer, Mosollamus, who distinguished himself in Alexander’s
army). An interpolation in Pseudo-Epiphanius’ Vitae prophetarum relates that
Alexander brought the bones of the prophet Jeremiah to the city, and that these kept
snakes and crocodiles away. In a late version of the Alexander romance, at the founding
of Alexandria Alexander proclaims the one true God and proclaims all other gods non­



existent. In the West these traditions were originally received with scepticism
(according to Augustine, to the heathen Alexander Jahweh was just one of the many
gods to whom he sacrificed), but after their inclusion in such works as the Historia
scholastica and the Historia de preliis (see below) they were generally regarded as
historical. And then, there is also a letter from late classical times in which the Jew
Mardochaeus tries to convert Alexander (Latin translation 12th century).
Josephus is also our oldest evidence for the tradition of the races of Gog and Magog,
confined by Alexander behind a wall to protect the world from them until the coming
of Antichrist. This story became widely known in the West through PseudoMethodius of Olympus (Revelationes, second half 7th century, Latin translation c.700).
It is often confused with the imprisonment of the ten apostate tribes of Israel by
Alexander, which is mentioned first by Pseudo-Epiphanius and achieved general
currency through Petrus Comestor.
Even before AD 500 the Babylonian Talmud knows the story of Alexander’s journey
to the Earthly Paradise, which circulated in the West at the beginning of the 12th
century in the Alexandri Magni iter ad paradisum ascribed to a Jewish ‘didascalus
Salamon’. A lengthy journey upstream along the Ganges ends in front of an enormous
wall, in which there is one small hatch. When Alexander demands entry and
submission, a greybeard hands him a stone through the hatch as a present. On
Alexander’s return to Babylon an old Jew, Papas, explains to him that if this magical
stone (in some versions shaped like an eye) is placed on a scale it will outweigh any
quantity of gold, but that if a little dust is sprinkled on it it becomes lighter than a
feather. It is a memento mori and a warning against the desire for always more and more:
Alexander is mighty, but all he has achieved will lose its value under the dust of death.
The Iter ad paradisum was adapted in, among others, the Strassburg Alexander (c. 1180),
the Anglo-Norman Roman de toute chevalerie by Thomas of Kent (second half 12th
century), the Roman d’Alexandre (Voyage au Paradis terrestre, c.1250), Jacob van
Maerlant’s Alexanders Geesten (c.1260) and Der grosse Seelentrost (c. 1350).
Alexander’s reputation as an authority on the natural sciences (attested by, among
others, Albertus Magnus) did not rest solely on his letter to Aristotle about India.
(Pseudo-) Aristotle maintained contact with him, in writings which often reached the
West via Arabic. Here only this aspect of the very extensive Arabic literature on A L
Iskander or Dhu LQam ain (‘he with the two horns’, as he is called in Sura 18 of the
Koran) will be considered.
One of the most widely disseminated medieval treatises on health is to be found
in the Epistola Aristotelis ad Alexandrum, translated before 1150 by Johannes Hispanus
from the pseudo-Aristotelian compilation Sirr ahasrar, which may have been in circu­
lation even before 740. There is also a 14th-century Latin medical text attributed to
Alexander himself which was repeatedly translated into German around 1400 (Meister
Alexanders Monatsregeln). From the 13 th century we have a pseudo-Aristotelian
Rhetorica ad Alexandrum. The Arabic version (by Yuhanna Ibn el-Batrik, c.800) of an
8th-century treatise originally written in Syrian, in which Aristotle advises Alexander
on the art of ruling, was several times translated into Latin under the title Secretum
secretorum (c. 1125 Johannes Hispanus, c.1225 Philippus of Tripoli, c.1257 Roger
Bacon). It was subsequently translated into almost every Western European vernacular
(into Middle Dutch by Jacob van Maerlant, Heimelijkheid der heimelijkheden, 1266). The
Secretum is the source of the exemplum of the poison-girl sent as a gift to Alexander by
the Queen of the North; she had been fed poison over a long period so that even to
touch her was deadly dangerous. Aristotle protects his pupil from her lethal embrace.
Apart from the Secretum, other advice credited to Aristotle was also in circulation
(Documenta Aristotelis ad Alexandrum). In Johannes van Innersdorf’s Fürstenlehre this is
used as an introduction to his version of the Secretumy and there are also two rhymed
versions from the mid-15th century.



Two books of wisdom connected with Aristotle and Alexander became available to
the West via Spanish. Yehuda al-Harizi’s Hebrew translation of the aphorisms of Hunayn
Ibn Ishaq (809-73) was adapted in the second half of the 13 th century as Los buenos
proverbios. The section on Alexander contains among other things reflections by
philosophers at Alexander’s tomb, which are also known from Petrus Alfonsi’s Disciplina
clericalis. The Bocados de oro, a collection of brief biographies with pronouncements by
philosophers including Aristotle and Alexander, was itself a translation of the Mukhtar
aLHakim <wa Mahasin aLKalim (1048-49) by Al-Mubashashir Ibn Fatik; it was translated
into Latin towards the end of the 13th century as Liber philosophorum moralium
antiquorum. It was extremely popular in the 15th century both in France (Guillaume de
Tignonville’s Dits moraux des philosophes) and in England (translation of the Dits by
Stephen Crope, 1450, revised by William Worcester, 1472; The Dictes and Sayings of the
Philosophers by Earl Rivers).
Aristotle and Alexander often appear together in exempla. The best known of these
is the story of Aristotle’s humiliation by Phyllis: Aristotle warns his pupil about the
lady’s power and wily tricks, and she takes her revenge by twisting him round her finger
to such an extent that he lets her ride him piggyback, thus making himself a laughing'
stock. This theme reappears in, among others, Henri d’Andeli’s Lai d’Aristote and the
‘Schwank’ (farcical tale) Aristoteles und Phyllis (13th century).
All these traditions come together in the Western reception of Pseudo-Callisthenes’
romance of Alexander. One version was reworked in an archaic-rhetorical style around
A D 310 by Julius Valerius Alexander Pomerius, consul in 338, as the Res gestae
Alexandri Macedonis. A little later (c.350) an Itinerarium Alexandri was written, based on
Julius Varrius and Arrian. Along with other sources, Julius Valerius’ complete works
were used by, among others, Albéric de Pisançon (c. 1130); part of the Old French
Roman d’Alexandre and Pfaffe Lamprecht’s Alexanderlied are derived from his work. The
influence of the Res Gestae, however, came mainly through an abridged version,
apparently produced in the 9th century and known as the Zacher^epitome after its first
publisher. This was used for parts of the Roman d’Alexandre (by Lambert li Tort,
c.l 170-75, and Alexandre de Bernay/Paris, c.l 150-90), and was also a source for the
passages on Alexander in such influential works as the Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César
( c .l206-30; the author also uses the Epistolam ad Aristotelem and Orosius), the Roman
de toute chevalerie by Thomas of Kent (second half 12th century, also influenced by the
work just mentioned as well as by Justinus, Pseudo-Aethicus Ister, Flavius Josephus,
Petrus Alfonsi and the Iter ad paradisum), and the Speculum historiale of Vincent van
Beauvais (after 1250, to which the Epistola ad Aristotelem, Justinus and Orosius once
again contributed, as did Quintus Curtius Rufus, Valerius Maximus and the Collatio cum
Dindimo). Jacob van Maerlant’s rhymed translation of Vincent’s work, the Spiegel
historiaely rewritten in prose and with the addition of some chapters from Alexanders
Geesten and Petrus Comestor’s Historia scholasticay was included in the Bijbel van 1360.
This in turn provided the text for the Historie van Alexander; this work, printed in 1477
by Gheraert Leeu at Gouda, became the first secular text to be printed in the Low
Countries. There is a French translation of the Speculum historiale dating from c .l 330
(Jean de Vignay, Miroir des histoires).
A different version reached the West around the mid-10th century in a Latin
translation by the archpriest Leo of Naples, based on a Greek manuscript he had
brought from Constantinople: the Nativitas et victoria Alexandri Magni regis. Around
1022 a manuscript of this work reached Bamberg, where Frutolf von Michelsberg made
use of it in an excursus in his Liber chronicorumy the Excerptum de vita Alexandri Magni
(pre-1125). The Excerptum had a considerable influence on the writing of history in
Germany, both in Latin (Otto von Freising’s Chronicon, 12th century) and in the
vernacular (e.g. Eike von Repgow’s Sächsische Weltchronik, c .l 230, and Jansen Enikel’s
Weltchroniky late 13th century, with its striking version of Alexander’s descent into the



ocean). A
Nativitas-textnow in Paris was used by the Munich scholar Johann Hartl
in writing his Histori
Bämler. The Alexander text incorporated from about 1350 into the section on the tenth
commandment in successive editions of Der grosse Seelentrost as a warning against cov­
etousness is also taken from the
s;the work also includes an abridge
Iter ad paradisum as well as elements from the tradition of Flavius Josephus (Alexander’s
visit to Jerusalem) and Pseudo-Epiphanius (the imprisoning of the ten tribes).
The most important adaptation of Leo of Naples’ Nativitas is the Historia de preliis
Alexandri Magni, created by interpolation before 1100. The Historia de preliis in its
different variants contributed to, among others, the Roman d’Alexandre en prose (13th
century), Seifrit’s Alexander (c.1350, with added anecdotes and Iter ad paradisum), the
Swedish Konung Alexander (c.1380), I nobili fatti
Magno (14th century) and
Meister Babiloth’s Alexanderchronik (printed 1472). One version had a notable influ­
ence in Italy; it begot five prose-Alexanders, an Alessandreida in rima, and Quilichinus
of Spoleto’s Latin Alexandreis (1236) which was rewritten in ottava rima by Domenico
Scolari at the beginning of the 14th century and in Germany became the Wernigerode
Alexander (late 14th century).

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During a nocturnal lesson
Alexander pushes his
teacher, the magusastrologer Nectanabus,
into the abyss and then
carries the body to the
palace of his mother
Olympias, where she
awaits him. Illustrations
in a 13th-century South
Italian manuscript of the
Historia de Preliis.



From the mid-12th century on there was a revival of interest in the historical work
of Quintus Curtius Rufus. Those portions of the text of the Res gestae Alexandri Magni
which had been lost early in its transmission were replaced with the aid of Curtius
himself and other sources. Visiting Achilles’ grave in Troy, Alexander had envied him
his Homer; in 1178-82 he was indebted to the revived interest in Curtius for his own
great poet: Walter de Châtillon, author of a Latin .epic in ten books, the Alexandreis.
This work, based mainly on Quintus Chrtius but also on other sources including Julius
Valerius, Justinus and Josephus, is one of the finest products of medieval Latinity. It was
an immediate runaway success, as can be seen from the number of manuscripts, its use
as an educational text in schools (with concomitant writing of commentaries and
annotation of the text), the extent to which it was borrowed from and imitated, and the
vernacular versions produced. Around the middle of the 13th century the Alexandreis
became the major source (along with the Historia de preliis and the Roman d'Alexandre)
for Gonzalez de Berceo’s poem El libro de Alexandre. A little later, and also using
additional sources, Jacob van Maerlant adapted Walter’s epic as Alexanders geesten
(c.1260; in his Rijmbijbel of 1271 Maerlant did no more than refer to Alexanders geesten,
but later returned to Alexander in the Spiegel historiael; see above). The Alexandreis was
translated into Icelandic around 1260 by Bishop Brandr Jonsson and into Czech by an
anonymous writer around 1265; and Rudolf von Ems recast Curtius’ work as a poem
(c.1250). In the 15th century Curtius was repeatedly translated into the vernacular, first
into Italian by Pier Candido Decembrio for Filippo Maria Visconti, Duke of Milan
(1438; this was in turn translated into Spanish at least four times) and then in 1468
into French by Vasco de Lucena for Charles the Bold (Les faitz d’Alexandre, based on
the ‘Curtius interpolatus’).
The rapidly increasing interest in Curtius marked the end of the primacy of the
Alexander romance. Petrarch based his biography of Alexander on Curtius and other
historiographers. From the 15th century Greek historical writing on Alexander again
became accessible through translations of, successively, Arrian (Latin translation by
Pier Paolo Vergerio c. 1430; revised by Bartolomeo Facio and Giacomo Curio
c. 1450-60), Plutarch (Latin, Catalan and German translations) and Diodorus (the
history of Alexander and his successors translated by Claude de Seysel, L’histoire des
successeurs d’Alexandre, early 16th century). The domain of Alexandrian romance was
restricted to the chapbook, exemplum and folk'tale, where interest in the medieval
Alexander dwindled, in the West in the 16th/17th centuries and in Central and
Eastern Europe in the 18th/19th, while in Greece it lived on into our own century. At
the end of the 15th century, at the point where romance gives way to history, and
despite the support of Plutarch, Alexander has to yield pride of place to —>
Charlemagne: in the short humanist^academic treatise Les trois Grands (also translated
into Latin) the three ‘Greats’ of history, Alexander, Pompey and —> Charlemagne,
dispute for the title of ‘the Greatest’; it is won by —> Charlemagne. As chance has it, our
oldest textual evidence of Les trois Grands is an interpolation in L’histoire des Neuf Preux
et des Neuf Preuses by Sebastien Mamerot: the Nine Worthies show the medieval
Alexander losing ground to the classical a good century before their own disappearance
(—> Hector).
Manuscripts of the Greek Alexander romance illustrated with cycles of miniatures
survive from as early as the 4th century; the finest date from the 13 th century. From the
13th/14th centuries on, cycles ranging from a few dozen to 150-200 illustrations are
found in numerous Western .manuscripts of the Epistola ad Aristotelem, the Roman
d’Alexandre, the Roman d’Alexandre en prose, the Voeux du Paon (—> Hector), the Histori
von dem grossen Alexander, Les Faitz d’Alexandre, the Miroir des histoires and the Roman
de toute chevalerie. In the Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César the section on Alexander is less
lavishly illustrated than the story of Troy. By far the most frequently illustrated subject
is Alexander’s aerial journey; it is found in manuscripts, ivory carvings, mosaic floors,



sculpture (on doorways, facades and capitals), woodcarving (misericords) and tapestries.
Other common themes are the snake begetting Alexander, the underwater voyage, the
visits to Jerusalem and to Paradise, the magic stone, Aristotle and Phyllis, and the
philosophers at Alexander’s tomb.

Edition: Van Thiel 1974.
Studies: Anderson 1932; Cary 1956; Brummack 1966; Tubach 1969; Ross 1971; Buntz
1973; Schmelter 1977; Aerts/Hermans/Visser 1978; Frugoni 1978; Ryan/Schmitt 1982;
Ross 1985; Aerts/Smits/Voorbij 1986.

M YS A N D A M E L IS are the joint heroes of a legend, widespread in the Middle
Ages, which also found its way into formal historical literature; Jacob van Maerlant,
for instance, included it in his Spiegel historiael The central theme of the story is friend­
ship: each of two friends is severely tested and each can escape certain destruction only
through extreme self-sacrifice by the other.
They were born on the same day, the sons of different parents. They are still children
when they meet for the first time, in Rome, where their parents have taken them to be
baptised by the Pope. As if by a miracle, they prove to be indistinguishable both in
appearance and behaviour. As a mark of the bond between them they receive from the
Pope two identical goblets.
The story proper begins when Amys, now grown up, is driven out of his native city.
Years of searching for each other take them all over Europe. Thanks to their marvellous
likeness they are eventually reunited somewhere near Paris when a pilgrim happens to
meet both of them, one after the other, on the same day.
Together they travel to the court of —> Charlemagne, where they win the love of the
Emperor and the envy of his courtiers, led by the powerful Arderik. The latter sees his
chance when Amelis succumbs to the seductive charms of Belisarde, the Emperor’s
daughter. Arderik betrays the lovers and to prove his innocence Amelis must submit to
a trial by ordeal: a fight to the death with his accuser.
However, Amys takes his friend’s place and kills Arderik. As the victor, the grateful
father grants him his daughter’s hand in marriage which - still impersonating his friend
- he accepts. But at the same time an angel reveals to him that as punishment for his
deception he will become a leper.
Meanwhile, Amelis too has assumed his friend’s identity. But at night when Amys’
wife becomes too importunate - thinking that it is her husband beside her - he places
his naked sword between them. When Amys returns they each resume their own lives
and their ways diverge.
Time passes, and the angel’s prediction is fulfilled. The sick Amys is driven from his
home and city by his wife. Accompanied only by two servants he begins a new
wandering, with only one brief period of rest in Rome with his godfather the Pope.
Eventually he arrives in his friend’s city. Amelis recognises the grievously deformed
Amys by the goblet the sick man uses to beg for food. He and his wife welcome the
leper into their house so that they can care for him. Now the angel reappears and
announces that Amys will be healed if his friend is prepared to wash him in the blood of
his children. Without hesitation Amelis decapitates his two small sons and washes the
leper in their blood. The disease promptly disappears and Amys stands straight again,
looking exactly like Amelis, to the amazement of his wife and the assembled populace.
They are even more astounded when Amelis confesses to the murder of his sons. They
all hasten to the children’s room to lament over the corpses. However, they find the




little boys fit and well and engrossed in their play. The only reminder of the sacrifice is a
red scar like a thread running round each young neck.
This marks the end of their tribulations. Amys returns home, punishes his wife and
resumes control of his city. Some years later, when —> Charlemagne marches against the
Longobard king Diederik, his army includes Amys and Amelis. A bloody battle takes
place at Mortara in Lombardy, in which Charlemagne is victorious. Among the fallen
are Amys and Amelis. Out of gratitude Öharlemagne has two churches built, in each of
which one of the dead friends is interred. Next day, however, the two of them are found
lying next to each other in the same grave.
This legend was extremely popular in the 12th and 13th centuries. It acquired a
hagiographie form quite early, and the Vita SS. Amici et Amelii became a standard
among the pilgrims’ tales which were linked both to Rome and to other major centres
of pilgrimage. The story can be traced back to the first decades of the 11th century. The
evidence suggests that it was originally a chanson de geste stemming from the world of
Guillaume V, Duke of Aquitaine. The story may have been partly inspired by his many
pilgrimages and his friendship with his namesake Count Guillaume III of Angoulême.
The oldest extant versions, however, date from the 12th century; the earliest of them
has been preserved in a Latin letter written around 1100 by Radulfus Tortarius, a monk
of the Benedictine house at Fleury on the Loire, which attempted to cast the story in
classical-epic form.
The oldest hagiographie version dates from some decades later, and in this the main
emphasis is on the salvation motif. Finally, at the end of the century, a new chanson de
geste was written which merged French epic and the Christian doctrine of salvation.
With its subtle symbolism and skilful delineation of character this Chanson d’Ami et
A miles is a little masterpiece.
This later chanson de geste soon (early 13th century) attracted a response in the form
of an Anglo-Norman and a Middle English poem. Later variants followed in England:
Athelston around 1380 and Eger and Grime in the 15th century. In France, the two
friends’ popularity is shown by their appearance in another chanson de geste, also early
13th-century, La Chevalerie Ogier, in which their death at Mortara is ascribed to —>
Ogier. Their story also acquired a sequel in the tale of Jourdain de Blaye, grandson of Ami.
Other characters from the story also live on in French epic. Belisarde appears as
Belissent in Jean le Prier’s Mystère du roy Avennir. Hardré, the French form of Ardericus,
becomes the archtype of the traitor, on a par with Ganelon in the Chanson de Roland.
The two of them are also depicted as being related, while Jourdain in his turn has
trouble with Fromont, the descendant of Hardré.
But it was the hagiography that was to become most widely known. Not only
because of its links, already mentioned, with other pilgrim tales, but also because
Vincent de Beauvais (1190-1264) included it in his Speculum historiale. This became
the basis of Jacob van Maerlant’s rhymed version, which is however more colourful
than his source’s brief account. Jan van Boendale then took it over word for word in his
Brabantse yeesten. It also appears as one of the exempla in Der Sielen Troest (1350).
In the course of the 13th century the enthusiasm for glorifying friendship seems to
have cooled. The legend’s influence can be clearly felt in Konrad von Wiirzburg’s
Middle High German romance Engelhard (c.1287), but relatively little is said of Amys
and Amelis. Only in France did the story continue to nurture a literary tradition, and
this was mainly based on the hagiography. Prose versions appear throughout the 13th
and 14th centuries, sometimes deviating considerably from the original. Around 1400
the story was turned into a miracle play; finally, in the 15th and 16th centuries it
enjoyed great popularity as a chaphook. This was a pure adventure story; it ends with
the death of Girart, father of Jourdain.
In Mortara, reverence for Amys and Amelis seems to have lasted into the 19th



century, although they lost their status as saints (feast'day 12 October) in the 17th
century. There have been attempts to identify them with two frescos in the church of S.
Lorenzo there, and until a few years ago the entrance of S. Albino was adorned with
two Romanesque portraits. These have since been stolen and only the friends’ supposed
common tomb still remains.
Scholarly interest revived with the discovery of Radulfus Tortarius’ letter in the mid'
19th century. With its wealth of elements and its varied transmission the legend has
given rise to endless discussions on the origins of the epic, heathen influences in the
Middle Ages and the continuing influence of Antiquity.
Apart from these scholarly analyses, the legend has also borne new literary fruit.
There is an anonymous Norwegian heroic poem written in the early 19th century. 1880
saw the publication of the Czech novel On the True Friendship of the Knights Amis and
Amiles by J. Zeyers, whose work was for a long time standard reading in his country’s
schools. The play Amys et Amyles by A. Pottécher which appeared in Alsace shortly
before the First World War was intended to he performed by young people as a légende

Editions: Kolbing 1884; MacLeach 1937; Mak 1954; Dembowski 1969; Vielhauer 1979.
Translation: Rosenberg/Danon 1996.
Studies: Bédier 1908-13; Câlin 1966.


P O L L O N IU S OF T Y R E is the hero of a classical romance who has an
adventurous career of alternate adversity and good fortune, in the course of which
he loses his wife and daughter but is eventually reunited with them.
The original of the History of Apollonius, King of Tyre probably dates from the 2nd or
3rd century AD. The oldest known versions (RA and RB) of the Latin prose text
Historia Apollonii regis Tyri (H A ) were written within a short time of each other around
the end of the 5th or the beginning of the 6th century. Opinion is divided as to the
narrative’s previous history; many scholars assume that the Historia goes back to a Greek
original, but no evidence of this has yet been found.
The versions of the Historia mentioned above deal with motifs typical of its genre,
Hellenistic romance. The accumulation and interweaving of motifs appears to be a halb
mark of the Apollonius romance; the number of facts and events recounted is very large.
In version RA we are told how King Antiochus has forced his beautiful daughter to
commit incest, while playing the honest father seeking a husband for his daughter. He
sets her suitors a riddle; failure to answer correctly means death. When the wealthy
and distinguished Apollonius arrives in Antioch from Tyre the heads adorning the city
gate bear witness to the danger. He solves the riddle, but Antiochus pretends he has
failed and gives him thirty days to find the right answer. Returning to Tyre, after
thorough consideration Apollonius reaches the conclusion that the answer he has
already given is correct. Realising that his life is in danger (Antiochus’ chamberlain
Thaliarchus is already on his way to Tyre with evil intent), he loads his ships with
grain and treasure and sets sail by night.
He goes first to Tarsus, where he learns from his fellow'Tyrian Hellenicus that
Antiochus has put a price on his head. When his host Stranguilio tells him of a famine
in the city Apollonius puts his grain at their disposal; the grateful citizens erect a statue
to him.
Some time later, Apollonius leaves for the Pentapolis in Cyrene. His ship is wrecked



in a storm and he alone survives to reach
the shore. A fisherman shares his food
and clothes with him, and on his advice
Apollonius tries his luck in the town. At
the gymnasium where he bathes and
anoints himself, hut can find no athlete
to match him, his skill at the ball-game
and courtly manner attract the attention
of King Archistrates, who invites him
to dinner. He is not a cheerful guest,
however, and this provokes questions
from Archistrates’ daughter. Apollonius
tells his story, the princess tries to cheer
him up with music and singing and
Apollonius too demonstrates his talents
in this field. He is given lodging in the
palace so that he can instmct the princess
in the fine arts. Soon she is pining away
with unrequited love. After some mis­
understanding (at first neither her father
nor Apollonius realise that he is the
Woodcut from title page of a 1493
object of her desire) the marriage is celeb­
Delft edition of the story of
rated with all due splendour.
Shortly after this a ship from Tyre
brings the news that Antiochus and his
daughter have been killed in their sleep by a lightning bolt and that his kingdom has
devolved on Apollonius. During the voyage to Antioch Apollonius’ wife gives birth to
a daughter, but herself appears to he dead. Fearing that a corpse on hoard will bring
disaster on them, the sailors force Apollonius to put her overboard. Three days later the
coffin is washed ashore in Ephesus and is found by a doctor. He is about to give the lady
the last rites, but one of his pupils discovers that she is still alive and restores her to
consciousness. The doctor adopts her; in accordance with her wish for a life of chastity
she is taken to the priestesses of Diana.
Meanwhile, the distraught Apollonius has reached Tarsus. He names the little girl
Tharsia and confides her and his wife’s wet-nurse, Lycoris, to the care of Stranguilio and
Dionysias. Swearing an oath not to cut his hair or nails until Tharsia is married, he
leaves for distant lands, ending up in Egypt.
When Tharsia is fourteen Lycoris dies, having first told her of her parentage. Dionysias,
tempted by the riches which Apollonius had left for Tharsia, and annoyed because her
own daughter Philomusia cuts a poor figure alongside her foster-child, persuades her
slave Theophilus to kill Tharsia. On the point of doing so, however, he hesitates; and at
that moment pirates appear, overpower Tharsia and disappear with her. The slave
informs his mistress that her command has been carried out, but does not receive the
promised reward of freedom. The foster-parents feign mourning, as though Tharsia had
succumbed to a sudden illness, and set up a monument that passes for her tomb.
Tharsia is sold at auction in Mytilene and ends up in a brothel. With the help of her
first client, Athenagoras, who had also bid for her, she is able to retain her virginity. She
enjoys widespread sympathy in the city and, thanks to her good education, is able to
earn money for her owner as an entertainer.
Soon after Tharsia’s disappearance Apollonius returns to Tarsus. Dionysias and her
husband tell