French Literature: From the Beginning to the 15th Century Part I

Oldest testimonies

The oldest evidence of French literature are dynastic and international law texts (“Les serments de Strasbourg”) and, in the broadest sense, missionary texts through which the Gospel should be conveyed to the population in the respective (Romance or Germanic) national language; also translations of Latin originals and new creations in the vernacular. The latter include, among others. the Eulalia sequence (882/883), the Passion of Christ (end of the 10th century), the Leodegarlied (around 1000) and the Alexius song (middle of the 11th century). In addition, religious narratives of an edifying character (Contes dévots), saints (e.g. by R. Wace, Gautier de Coinci), collections of fables such as those of the Marie de France, parables, rhyming sermons and others. as well as written works of moral and doctrinal tendencies (such as the bestiary and the lapidary of Philippe de Thaon with their symbolic and salvation-historical interpretation of various animals and stones). Against the background of France’s rise to a European power, the first significant creation of old French literature, the heroic epic (Chanson de geste), can be seen, the oldest of which is the Roland song (Chanson de Roland) from around 1100. The heroic epic, which a. represents the legal and social order of feudalism, connects the national theme with the crusade idea. About the literary figure of Charlemagne a circle of epics emerged, the “Karls-” or “Königsgeste” (apart from the Roland song, among others with “Pèlerinage de Charlemagne” and “Saisnes” by J. Bodel, about the Saxon War); around the figure of the loyal vassal Wilhelm von Orange the “Wilhelmsgeste” formed (inter alia with “Chanson de Guillaume”, “Charroi de Nîmes” and “Aymeri de Narbonne”); the “vassal” or “indignant gesture” (with “Gormond et Isembart”, “Raoul de Cambrai” and others) thematize the conflicts between feudal lords and the central power; in addition, epics about G. von Bouillon and the Crusaders were written. Check to see more about France and other countries in the world.

Courtly novel, heroic epic, Fabliaux

Around the middle of the 12th century, new literary genres of verse romance and verse narration emerged, centered on the courtly culture and life of the High Middle Ages and knightly love. Two circles of material – an ancient and a Celtic – were the focus of this genre. The works of classical antiquity were adapted to the ideas and forms of life of the time and historical events of antiquity were combined with fantastic adventures; particularly well-known verse novels were the “Roman de Thèbes” (after Statius), the “Roman d’Énée” (after Virgil) as well as the “Roman de Troie” by Benoît de Sainte-Maure and the “Roman d’Alexandre” by Lambert Li Gates. The courtly novel (Roman courtois) made significant use of Breton fabrics and Celtic legends; The latter came to Brittany through the immigration of Celts. The “Historia regum Britanniae” of Geoffrey of Monmouth, through which the legend of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table became known on the mainland – especially after the translation of the “Historia” into French verses in Wace’s chronicle “Le.” roman de Brut «. The “matière de Bretagne” also included the legend of the Tristan and the legend of the Grail. Chrétien de Troyes created these fabricshis novels, which revolve around aventiure and knightly love of love and are supported by differentiated psychological analysis (“Érec et Énide”, around 1170; “Cligès”, around 1176; “Lancelot”, “Yvain”, both around 1177–81). In “Perceval” Chrétien accentuates the Christian-mystical element. His Tristan poem has not survived, but the Tristan epic by Béroul (around 1170) and the somewhat later, more psychologically motivated novel by Thomas d’Angleterre have been preserved. The verse novellas (Lais) of Marie de France also made use of Celtic myths. Based on Chrétien’s »Perceval«, the Grail theme was developed by Robert de Boron in the 13th century(“Le roman de l’estoire dou graal”) designed from the perspective of salvation history. This novel formed one of the foundations for the extensive Lancelot-Grail cycle of the 13th century. Characteristic of a number of novels and narratives (under the impression of the Crusades) were subjects of oriental origin, exotic scenes, the loss of courtly minne character, more complicated storylines with fairy-tale elements and the increasing dissolution of verse form into prose (e.g. “Floire et Blancheflour “, Around 1160/70, and” Aucassin et Nicolette “, beginning of the 13th century).

In the »Fabliaux«, short stories characterized by Gallic humor, which were widespread from the 12th to the late 14th century, realistic and fluctuating elements were combined. Animal fables, too, in their mixture of instruction, precise observation of social conditions and sharp mockery, are a poetic genre that is characteristic of the time; became known inter alia. the fox novel (»Le roman de Renart«, between 1175 and 1250).

From the Beginning to the 15th Century Part I