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Miren Lacassagne

Theseus de Cologne

Les différentes versions, l’auteur et la date

Elizabeth Rosenthal

Texte intégral

1Theseus de Cologne is an anonymous adventure romance of the last third of the fourteenth century by an author in sympathy with the middle and lower classes. It exists in three fifteenth century manuscripts :

P. Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, Nouv. acq. fr. 10, 060.
L. British Museum, Add. 16, 955.
Ph. University Library of California, Phillipps 3636.

2A second author, or even a team, expanded the later parts of the story as found in P.

3Several later versions exist, spanning the fourteenth to the eigh-teenth centuries. There is evidence of the former existence of a fourteenth century painting and tapestry illustrating the story.

4A fourteenth century miracle play, Miracle du Roy Thierry, No. XXXII in the collection Miracles de Nostre Dame par Personnages, was based on the episode of the royal triplets adopted by a charcoal-burner. Here Theseus, the grandfather, is not mentioned, and Gadifer, the father, is known as Thierry ; however the mother, Osanne, retains her own name.

5In the fifteenth century the episode of Theseus winning Flore by hiding in a hollow golden eagle was retold by Jehan Servion in his prose Preface to the Gestes et Croniques de la Mayson de Savoye. The lover is called Tezeus, son of Ezeus, the princess Yzobie.

6Another late fifteenth century prose version, Le Roman de l’Assaillant, B.N. Fr. 15096, is composed in the spirit of a historical chronicle dwelling on the prowess of Assaillant, Count of Dammartin, in order to please the contemporary house of Dammartin. Assaillant was only a follower of Theseus in the verse, whereas in this prose account it is Theseus who falls into the back-ground.

7In the early sixteenth century Nicolle Houssemayne, a doctor, compiled a prose version, the Gestes de Courtenay (Phil. 8161 and B.N. Fr. 4962) concerning the pseudo-historical exploits of Assaillant, in honour of Jehan Comte de Dammartin. The author pro-bably used as one of his sources another short sixteenth century prose version of the whole story, Le Roman de Theseus (Fr. 1473). This last is composed in a historical style, omitting or disparaging fairy-tale elements. The manuscript belonged to the Dammartins.

8It was printed by Jehan Trepperel in 1503. A fragment was found and described by F.W. Bourdillon in 1918. Only a typed copy of it now remains in the National Library of Wales and in the British Museum Library.

9The 1534 edition, by Jehan Longis and Vincent Certenas, is a faithful « mise en prose » of the verse and the only complete long version of the story.

10The 1550 edition by Jehan Bonfons is of cheaper quality but sub-stantially the same. A section was omitted in the binding.

11The last retelling of Theseus de Cologne is by Contant d’Orville whose comments mirror the taste of the eighteenth century.

Date and author

The date of Theseus de Cologne

  • 1 Published by Godefroy, Paris, 1613, t. IV, p. 399.
  • 2 R. Bossuat pp. 304-305 : « Cette peinture... fut exécutée au plus tôt vers 1361, date de l’acquisit (...)
  • 3 In Catalogue of Romances, London 1883, Vol. I, pp. 769-775.

12The reference to a painting on the walls of the Palais de St. Pol give us a terminus ante quem for the date of the composition of the poem. It must have been in existence before the « Salle Theseus » was painted. Unfortunately none of the passages in the text states which king ordered the painting. However a reference in Les Grandes Chroniques1 to the visit of the emperor Charles IV to Charles V in 1378 indicates that the king who had the painting of Theseus made was the builder of the palace, Charles V. It would be plausible to assume that the Salle Theseus was decorated shortly after the palace was built in 13642, so we would suggest this as the date for the Theseus picture cycle. Needless to say, the passages in which the « Salle Theseus » in the Palais St. Pol is mentioned could be interpolations ; in fact they are additions in the L. manuscript and do not exist in P. ; or they could be references to an earlier version of the story. The poem could have been composed before this. Ward3 thought « not late in the fourteenth century ».

  • 4 A. Ollivier, Les Templiers, Paris, 1958.

13In the second part of Theseus de Cologne Templars appear as messengers, companions and trustworthy witnesses. It is well known that the Order of the Knights of the Temple4 was condemned by Philippe le Bel when « le grand maître » Jacques de Moley and his companions were unjustly arrested in 1307, tried and executed between 1310 and 1314. At the instigation of Philippe le Bel, the king of France, who wished to destroy the power and acquire the wealth of the order, Pope Clement V suppressed the Templars in 1312. The Order of Hospitaliers (the Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem) inherited some of the possessions of the Templars.

14After the great witch-hunt of the Templars, the dignified denial of guilt by the accused in front of the Parisian public at the execution may have helped not to bring the Templars into complete disrepute when the order was ended.

15The first mention of the exiled Osanne’s occupation is as hostess for pilgrims (lines 12, 087 – 12, 088). Her establishment is called « l’ospital des pelerins », (L. f. 201a, P. f. 188b, Laisse 428, line 14, 374). The guests are « ly hospitallier » (P. f. 210a, Laisse 467, line 15, 702) and « templiers » (P. f. 210b, Laisse 468, line 15, 727). Later Osanne, in order to find out whether Clodas had children from Gadifer, sends messengers : « Appella deux templiers en qui elle se fia » (P. f. 240b, Laisse 519, line 17, 599). The same become « les deux hospitaliers » (P. f. 241a, Laisse 520, line 17, 638). This identification of « Templiers » with « Hospitalliers » continues throughout the text. The charcoalburner is accompanied by two « Templiers » who are also known as « hospitalliers ».

16It is conceivable that one version of the second part of Theseus de Cologne which spoke of Templars only, was composed before 1312, but in any case, the author of the extant text confuses « Templiers » completed with « Hospitalliers ». This fact seems to indicate that the second part of Theseus de Cologne was composed after 1312.

  • 5 Ed. Gaston Paris and Ulysse Robert, Paris, 1880. Ms. Paris, B.N. Nouvelles acquisitions françaises (...)

17The date of the performance of the miracle play No. XXXII, Miracle de Nostre Dame par personnages5 in 1374 ensures that the Osanne episode of Theseus de Cologne was known by that date.

18The tapestry made by Nicolas Bataille, ordered in 1379, indicates the popularity of the story in the last quarter of the fourteenth century.

19Borrowings by Ciperis de Vignevaux do not give any more precise information about the date of our poem, because there is controversy about the date of Cipéris de Vignevaux (thought to be late fourteenth or early fiteenth century).

  • 6 By S. Duparc-Quioc, Le Cycle de la Croisade, Paris, 1955, p. 143.
  • 7 By R.F. Cook, Le Deuxième Cycle de la Croisade, Genève, 1972, p. 48, and Le Batard de Bouillon, Gen (...)

20As to discovering the date of Theseus de Cologne by studying the author’s debts to Baudouin de Sebourc or vice versa, in the present state of knowledge it is impossible to know which poem was earlier in composition. Baudouin de Sebourc is dated variously 1360-13706 and 1347-13567.

  • 8 Theseus de Cologne, Le Moyen Age, L XIV, Bruxelles, 1959, p. 118, p. 315.

21R. Bossuat8 studies contemporary events which appear to be reflected in the plot of Theseus de Cologne. The fact that the traitor Lambert is a count of Anjou could be a reference to Louis, Duke of Anjou, second son of Jean le Bon who did not keep his word in 1351 after the treaty of Bretigny. The invasion by Geufroy de Frise and the siege of two queens, Flore and Baudour, in Melun (P. f. 350b) seems to recall the narrow escape of queen Blanche and Jehanne, sisters of the king of Navarre, at Meaux in 1359. The plot to assassinate Ludovis at Jargeau (P. f. 334 onwards) echoes the attempts of the king of Navarre to imprison the king of France in 1378.

22Reference to the three fleurs de lys may also be an indication of date. In the second part of the poem (P. f. 341b) we find the royal arms described with three fleurs de lys, whereas in the first part (L. f. 90b, P. f. 60a) Ludovis bears arms « semé de fleurs de lys ». In fact Charles V reduced the royal arms from « d’azur semé de fleurs de lys d’or » to « d’azur a trois fleurs de lys d’or, deux et une » in 1376. This may mean that part two of Theseus de Cologne was composed after 1376.

23In conclusion, although earlier versions of the story of Theseus de Cologne may have existed, unfortunately we have no trace of them. The first part of the extant poem was probably composed before 1364, and the later episodes, part two, possibly after 1376, in any case during the last quarter of the fourteenth century.

The author, his style and the survival of Jongleur techniques

24The author uses elements common to many mediaeval writers, and shows some literary ability in adapting episodes to his own pur-poses as well as in linking them skilfully.

25His descriptions are often fairly conventional, especially his portraits, for example Theseus and Flore (lines 2649-2657), or his descriptions of things :

26– Flore’s dress Gines 1457-1462) – her bedspread (lines 1894-1899), her bedroom Gines 1900-1904) or of the spring Gines 1104-1110 and 2641-46), of love (lines 2578-2588) of the minstrels at the emperor’s dinner Gines 1380-1386).

  • 9 Jean Rychner, La Chanson de geste, essai sur l’art épique des jongleurs, Genève, Lille, 1955.

27The battles especially contain numerous epic formulae9 (lines 12, 751-2, 12, 759-63, 12, 796 a-b, 12, 847) ; typical formulaic passages appear throughout the text (P. f. 207b – f. 208a, Laisse 464) :

Line 15, 597 « a guise de griffon »
Line 15, 596 « ot ceur de lyon »
Line 15, 564 « a guise de lyon »
Line 15, 567 « com li loups le mouton »

28There are enumerations of people as in lines 421-2, 724, 2880-1 and pairs or groups of adjectives or nouns :

Line 6003 : M’a elle renoie et en fais et en dis ?
Line 13, 177 : Si ort et si mauvais, si lait et si pullent.

  • 10 Lines 430-444, 1049, 1056-1057, 1169-1173, 2630-2640, 2867-2870, 2938-2939, 3060-3061, etc.
  • 11 Lines 2434-64, etc. Then the author uses such a phrase as « A ma droicte matiere dois aller repaira (...)

29The author also uses « reprise » ; he anticipates what is to happen, and then gives a detailed account of the actual event, the laisse taking up the end of the previous laisse. Often a proverb completes the laisse. Anticipations are common10, sometimes followed or preceded by a comment11 on the state of affaire, a reminder of the actual situation or the whereabouts of characters.

  • 12 Laisses 121-122, Flore’s adventures until she is sent back to Rome and Gadifer’s adoption. Sometime (...)
  • 13 Lines 1056-1057, 1079-1082, 1615, etc.

30Frequently there are brief reminders of past episodes, or perhaps summaries essential for new members of the audience12. There are lines praising the work either by the author or the jongleur13, often combined with requests for silence. The author, clerc or jongleur, makes remarks revealing his personal attitude towards characters, situations or life in general. He appears as sympathetic, realistic and occasionally bitter :

31on the doubtful virtue of some women (lines 130-139),

32on courage in battle (L. f. 176a, Laisse 374, lines 12762a and b) :

Tel y fait grant semblent et grande fierté
Qui s’avisoit comment il seroit eschappé.

33on traitors tolerated (P. f. 318a, hnes 22491-22492) :

Et trestout adés a esté France grevee
Plaine de traïson sceu et approuvee.

34(L. f. 55a, P. f. 21a, Laisse 109, lines 4186-4187) :

Mais trahison luy fist sa chair avoir iree,
De tel grain a esté tousjours France semee.

  • 14 Lines 47, 414-415, 980, 2444-2462.
  • 15 See lines 2455-2458.

35Mediaeval authors did not admire originality ; quite on the contrary, they prided themselves on faithfulness to their sources. Our author often refers to these in order to give his work respectability14. The poem was based on a chronicle found in the abbey library of Saint Denis15. (P. f. 63a, L. f. 93a, Laisse 188, hne 6763) :

La cronicque le dist dont on fist le chanson.

36(P. f. 77a, L. f. 105b, Laisse 216, line 7579) :

Or nous dist l’istoire dont on fit le rommant...

37(L. f. 131b, Laisse 272, hnes 9587c-e) :

Faicte de verité, le clerc qui la rima
A Paris la cité la cronique trouva,
Ung gentil clerc soubtil lui dit et recorda.

38(P. f. 142a, L. f. 158a, Laisse 328, line 11505) :

... ce dist l’auctorites.
The source is supposed to be true and ancient (line 12339) :
On lit ens es cronicques qui n’ont mie menti...

39(L. f. 196b, Laisse 416, lines 14063a-b) :

Or commence rommant et histoire d’onnour
Rimee noblement du temps entisseour.
Sometimes the author refers to reading his source

40(P. f. 199a, Laisse 448, line 15013) :

... si com lisant trouvon,

41Sometimes he mentions oral transmission (P. f. 59b, L. f. 90a, line 6549) :

... a ce c’on me compta.

42Frequently he refers to telling the story, and occasionally he mentions writing, (P. f. 217b, Laisse 478, line 16165) :

Ainsi com je seray ou livre recordans.

  • 16 XIX line 1198 quoted by R.F. Cook in Le deuxième cycle de la Croisade, Genève, 1972, pp. 50-51.

43Perhaps the author intended the poem to be read aloud, as did the author of Baudouin de Sebourc16 :

Ensi que vous orres, mais que je lise avant.

  • 17 However length in an oral culture does not seem to exclude oral transmission.

44By the fourteenth century the jongleurs are usually regarded as in full decadence, but as the text abounds in jongleuresque appeals to the audience to listen at the beginning of a new section or when their attention wanders during his moralisings (line 1101), and contains occasional hints about generosity, the performer could possibly have memorised episodes for public narration, and may have had a book available, considering that the extant verse versions of Theseus de Cologne are extremely long17.

45Here is the announcement of another book either by the author or by the jongleur (L. f. 114a and b, Laisse 241, lines 8430b-e) :

Or commence le livre bien rimé et plaisant
Les faiz aventureux, orribles et poissans
Les grandes traïsons de Lambert le tirant.
Or escoutés ung pou le petit et le grant
Bourgoises et bourgois, les saiges clercs lisant.
Bon fait ouyr le bien selon mien essient.

46The following refers to a previous book (of Theseus de Cologne) and a source of the episode concerning Gerard de Dammartin and the queen of Frisia (P. f. 317b, Laisse 651, lines 22476-22481) :

Ainsi qu’avés ouy ou livre par deça.
Seigneurs, or escoutés, oyes c’on vous dira.
Ceste matiere cy aprouvee sera
En la vraie cronique ou on le trouvera,
Car le clerc proprement qui le livre en rima
Le fist sur la cronicque c’on lui dist et monstra.

  • 18 See the rhymed genealogy p. 1445, chapter 10.5

47The genealogy of the Dammartin family is also found in a rhymed history18 (P. f. 325b, Laisse 663, lines 22952-22954) :

Celle lignee fut si tresbien honnouree
Que la loy Nostre Seigneur en fut bien essaucee.
Ainsi le trouvons nous en l’istoire rimee.

48One of the most interesting revelations in the second part concerns other authors of the first part of Theseus de Cologne (P. f. 269b, Laisse 572, lines 19487-19491) :

  • 19 Le Moyen Age, p. 307.

Cilz jongleours vous ont de Theseus conté
Le droit commencement comment il ot regné
Mais ilz en ont la fin de ses hoirs oublié
Ainsi que nous l’avons en vray escript trouvé19.

49The tone of the first part is lively and amusing without being coarse, whereas the second part is at times crude and contains blood-thirsty humour.

  • 20 This is a common type of introduction used where further adventures of a successful and popular cha (...)

50It is possible, as R. Bossuat suggests20, that there was a team wor-king together on the numerous episodes. There are certainly repetitions : six accused queens, four rejected lovers, five champions, three pardoned traitors who relapse, two unwelcome weddings, two wic-ked uncles, two rescues (from prison and from the stake), one hero against all several times, yet these are varied enough to be acceptable in the first part ; in the later episodes however, with a few exceptions, the literary quality is diluted.

  • 21 Note on the possible identity of the author.
    R. Bossuat, Le Moyen Age, p. 310 : « Senlis est curieus (...)

51The best qualities of the author appear in the revealing monologues, conversations and actions of life-like characters taken from a range of class designed to appeal to a wider and more popular public than the traditional feudal audience of the chansons de geste. The author speaks directly to the public, but does not name himself anywhere in the text21.

Conclusion

  • 22 Laisses 1-20, lines 1-757.
  • 23 Laisses 29, 33-75, lines 1056-1078 and 1242-2939.
  • 24 Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer’s Constance and Accused Queens, New York, 1927.

52Theseus de Cologne is rarely mentioned in works on medieval French literature and was sometimes condemned as lacking in origi-nality in retelling the usual motifs of epics. However the miraculous transformation of the deformed child Theseus22, and the romantic episode of the hero as a young man winning his bride Flore, by ente-ring her bedroom in a golden eagle23 distinguish the romance from other works. The theme of the innocent woman wrongfully accused although common, was judged to be of literary value24. Theseus de Cologne « is a highly diverting tale well worth rescuing from the obs-curity in which it at present reposes ». It was obviously popular in the past as it exists in eleven different versions spanning the fourteenth till the eighteenth century.

Notes

1 Published by Godefroy, Paris, 1613, t. IV, p. 399.

2 R. Bossuat pp. 304-305 : « Cette peinture... fut exécutée au plus tôt vers 1361, date de l’acquisition par le Dauphin de l’hôtel d’Estampes ».

3 In Catalogue of Romances, London 1883, Vol. I, pp. 769-775.

4 A. Ollivier, Les Templiers, Paris, 1958.

5 Ed. Gaston Paris and Ulysse Robert, Paris, 1880. Ms. Paris, B.N. Nouvelles acquisitions françaises 820.

6 By S. Duparc-Quioc, Le Cycle de la Croisade, Paris, 1955, p. 143.

7 By R.F. Cook, Le Deuxième Cycle de la Croisade, Genève, 1972, p. 48, and Le Batard de Bouillon, Genève, 1972, pp. LVIII-LIX.

8 Theseus de Cologne, Le Moyen Age, L XIV, Bruxelles, 1959, p. 118, p. 315.

9 Jean Rychner, La Chanson de geste, essai sur l’art épique des jongleurs, Genève, Lille, 1955.

10 Lines 430-444, 1049, 1056-1057, 1169-1173, 2630-2640, 2867-2870, 2938-2939, 3060-3061, etc.

11 Lines 2434-64, etc. Then the author uses such a phrase as « A ma droicte matiere dois aller repairant » (P. f. 20a, laisse 108, line 4106)
« A ma matiere veil arrier repairer » (P. f. 9lb, L. 114b, laisse 242, line 8433)

12 Laisses 121-122, Flore’s adventures until she is sent back to Rome and Gadifer’s adoption. Sometimes these recalls are longer in L. than in P., or form complete additions in L.

13 Lines 1056-1057, 1079-1082, 1615, etc.

14 Lines 47, 414-415, 980, 2444-2462.

15 See lines 2455-2458.

16 XIX line 1198 quoted by R.F. Cook in Le deuxième cycle de la Croisade, Genève, 1972, pp. 50-51.

17 However length in an oral culture does not seem to exclude oral transmission.

18 See the rhymed genealogy p. 1445, chapter 10.5

19 Le Moyen Age, p. 307.

20 This is a common type of introduction used where further adventures of a successful and popular character are to be told.

21 Note on the possible identity of the author.
R. Bossuat, Le Moyen Age, p. 310 : « Senlis est curieusement défini : « Senlis qui siet delez Verbrie » (P. f. 201b, Laisse 452, line 15187) « Verberie (Oise) arr. de Senlis. Une mention de cette localité se trouve aussi dans Charles le Chauve. Si l’on y voit une allusion des poètes à leur pays d’origine, on peut supposer une identité d’auteur pour les deux chansons ». Cf. R. Bossuat, Charles le Chauve, p. 88, M. Barroux, « Paris et la region parisienne dans le roman de Theseus », Bull. Soc. hist. de Paris, t. LVIII, 1931, p. 243.

22 Laisses 1-20, lines 1-757.

23 Laisses 29, 33-75, lines 1056-1078 and 1242-2939.

24 Margaret Schlauch, Chaucer’s Constance and Accused Queens, New York, 1927.

Auteur

University of London, Birkbeck College

© Presses universitaires de Provence, 2000

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