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The Sword of Judith

 | 
Kevin R. Brine
, 
Elena Ciletti
, 
Henrike Lähnemann

Christian Textual Tradition

10. The Prayer of Judith in Two Late-Fifteenth-Century French Mystery Plays

John Nassichuk

Texte intégral

  • 1 Jean Molinet, Les faicts et dictz de Jean Molinet, ed. N. Dupire (Paris: Société des Anciens Texte (...)
  • 2 Eustache Deschamps, Œuvres complètes d’Eustache Deschamps (publiés d’après le manuscrit de la Bibl (...)
  • 3 Antoine Dufour, Les Vies des femmes célèbres [1504], texte établi, annoté et commenté par G. Jeann (...)
  • 4 See especially the chapter devoted to Judith in the Livre de la Cité des Dames, ”De Judich, la nob (...)

1In the literature of France, Judith is present only rarely before the sixteenth century. Rapid allusions to her well-known exploits in the camp of Holofernes do appear, it is true, with some frequency in the works of poets such as Jean Molinet1 and Eustache Deschamps.2 Also, laudatory paragraphs dedicated to Judith figure in the collected biographies of famous women, such as the one by Antoine Dufour (1502),3 as well as in the writings of Christine de Pizan.4 Yet although these sundry occurrences attest to the fact that Judith is a known character, they do not make of her the living, speaking personage that she will become in poetry and in theater. Indeed, from its very beginning moments, the sixteenth century introduced a new era in the French-language representation of the ancient, Judaic beauty who charmed and assassinated the Assyrian general. The most telling change in her profile is the fact that in the works of the authors of Mystery plays, epic poets, tragedians, and paraphrastes, Judith, once the silent object of invective and encomium, at last acquires a voice and begins to speak.

10.1. Ci baigne Judi, ca. 1245. Judith-Window D-126. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. Photo credit: Centre des Monuments Nationaux, Paris.

  • 5 See Graham Runnalls’s remark to this effect in the introduction to his English translation of the (...)

2The present, comparative study shall examine fragments of two Mystery plays from the latter half of the fifteenth century, both of which include the tale of Judith in their massive, and nearly comprehensive, rendering of the Old Testament. These two texts are exceptional amongst pre-sixteenth-century representations of Judith, in that they each offer a sustained, dramatic representation of the heroine. As such, they also constitute an essential foundation of the developments of the Judith theme in epic and dramatic poetry during the ensuing century. The study’s particular object is the differing versions of the long prayer uttered by Judith in chapter 9 of the biblical narrative. After a brief discussion of references to the prayer in fifteenth-century poetic texts, the analysis shall treat successively of the heroine’s oration as it appears in the Mystères de la procession de Lille and the Mistère du Viel Testament. Whilst the first of these two representations produces a French version of the prayer that follows the Vulgate both in its disposition and its lexical matter, the second, though generally faithful to the Latin text,5 strays from it in a measure sufficient to reflect a particular interpretation of the biblical story. The principal suggestion is not only that the author of the Mistère du Viel Testament rewrites the prayer in such a way as to enhance Judith’s status as an exemplary figure, but also that this new version subtly likens her voice to that of the prophets and the psalmist.

10.2. Ci prie Judit dieu quele puist enginier, ca. 1245. Judith-Window D-136. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. Photo credit: Centre des Monuments Nationaux, Paris.

Judith’s Prayer

3In fifteenth-century French vernacular poetry outside of the Mystery plays, Judith is hardly the object of much sustained character development. Most references to her are cursory at best, usually mentioning the heroine of Bethulia amongst a host of biblical figures. One exception is to be found in a poem by Eustache Deschamps, which names Judith in a passage emphasizing the importance of prayer. In a ballad on the theme of divine justice, Deschamps compares Judith to Joshua. The poet asserts that these two figures are similar insofar as they both remain rigorously loyal to God’s command. Their irreproachable piety exercises a salutary effect upon the people who follow their lead:

Ceste raison se prevue et determine,
Tant du nouvel com du viel Testament,
Par Josué, par Judith la tresdigne,

Qui prierent Dieu tresdevotement,
Leur peuple aussi, pour oster le tourment
Des ennemis et la guerre tresdure

  • 6 Œuvres complètes d’Eustache Deschamps, t. II, pp. 98–99, vv. 17–24.

Qui leur sourdoit; Dieu vit leur sentement,
Car a chascun doit rendre sa droiture.6

This reason is foreseen and affirmed
Regarding the Testaments both New and Old,
By Joshua and by most honorable Judith,
Who most devoutly prayed to God,
As did their people, that He might relieve the torment
Brought by enemies and by the most bitter war
Which assailed them. God saw their deep piety,
For to each must their due be given.

  • 7 Christine de Pizan also invokes this principle. In her version of the narrative, the people ardent (...)
  • 8 Erasmus, Modus orandi Deum, ed. J. N. Bakhuizen van den Brink, in Opera Omnia Desiderii Erasmi Rot (...)
  • 9 For instance, in much the same spirit, Erasmus makes reference to the imprisonment of Peter in Act (...)
  • 10 Jdt 4:13 in Biblia sacra juxta vulgatam versionem (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), p (...)

4The poet declares that the prayers of Joshua and Judith brought the Lord to ”see” their virtuous sentiment. Implicit here, of course, is the idea that prayer somehow precedes and prepares, or at least anticipates, divine action.7 Erasmus later highlights this possibility in his 1524 treatise ”On Praying to God.” In this remarkable display of biblical erudition, Judith appears amongst a number of Old Testament personages whose prayers were heard and granted. Erasmus follows closely the Vulgate Latin formulation when he declares that Judith defeated the army of Holofernes by means of prayer alone: ”Nonne fortissimo virago Judith, Holophernem hostem orando dejecit?”8 This is the only reference to the Judith story in Erasmus’s treatise, although the general theme of the invincibility of prayer even in the face of ruthless, military aggression is a recurring theme.9 In a sentence that condenses the action of the entire book of Judith, the Dutch humanist has borrowed a Latin expression from chapter four of the Vulgate version, where the priest Heliachim instructs the people of Bethulia to pray fervently, remembering the example of Moses who defeated the mighty (and overconfident) Amalech by the sole force of his prayer.10 The humanist is not alone, however, in underlining the importance of this reference to the power of Mosaic prayer, for the author of the Judith episode in the Mistère du Viel Testament also reproduces the expression from the Vulgate. In the Mystery play, the lines are attributed not to Heliachim, but to Ozias, during a deliberation of Bethulia’s notable citizens. At the beginning of the meeting, Ozias sets forth the idea that pious supplication is the best way of fending off enemy aggression:

Le grand Dieu sera conservant
Nostre cité de Bethulie,
Mais que tousjours on se humilie.
Moÿse, par humilité
Et par vraye fidelité
Amelech, puissant, orgueilleux,
De sa force presumptûeux,
Luy confiant en son charroy,
En armes et pompeux arroy,
Avec l’aide de peu de gens
Subjugua luy et tous les siens.
Non ferro armis pugnando
Sed precibus sanctis orando
Dejecit. Ayons confidence
Et prïons en perseverance,
Et certes nous aurons victoire.

  • 11 Judith and Holofernes, op. cit. translated by Graham Runnalls, p. 71. All subsequent English trans (...)

Our great God will protect us
And our city of Bethulia,
Provided we bow before him.
Once Moses, through his prayers
And his true faith in God,
Faced the mighty Amelech,
Who, presumptuous and proud,
Had trusted in his troops,
His chariots and his weapons.
But, helped by just a few men,
Moses crushed Amelech and his army.
The Bible relates: Non ferro armis
Pugnando sed precibus sanctis
Orando dejecit. Let us be confident
And pray with perseverance,
And surely we shall gain victory.11

  • 12 Mistère du Viel Testament, pp. 141–42, vv. 894–899: ”Seigneurs, certes nous n’arons garde, / Mais (...)

5This pious expression of faith articulates what is clearly to be considered the primary moral value of the entire episode. When Judith later confirms this attitude in the face of an oncoming enemy force, she adds that the prayer of the faithful cannot be at all feigned or mechanical. It must be entirely disinterested, proceeding from a sincere heart. One’s love for God, says Judith, ought to be perfect.12 In the heroine’s biblical prayer, as also in her prayer from the two fifteenth-century Mystery plays, the condition of such perfect love is adequate ”knowledge” of God’s uniqueness and of God’s power.

Mystères de la procession de Lille

  • 13 See the introduction to A. Knight’s recent edition of the Mystères de la procession de Lille (Gene (...)

6The text of this long Mystery play is preserved in a manuscript dating from the end of the fifteenth century.13 It contains seventy-two separate episodes, or ”mysteries,” each one of which relates a biblical tale. Arranged in the general linear order of the Old Testament, these episodes are given a kind of unity by the presence of a prologue whose intermittent speeches constitute an organizing, narrative authority. The thirty-ninth mystery contains 845 verses and bears the title ”Coment Judich tua Holoferne.” It offers a well-developed sketch of the Judith episode, following rigorously the order of events as they occur in the Vulgate.

7At the beginning of the play, the prologue pronounces 62 verses that recount in full the story of Judith. Characteristically, this same personage acts as narrator throughout the mystery, reappearing at intervals in order to explain the events as they unfold. In his second appearance, after the discovery of Achior, he tells how this Assyrian outcast, upon suffering banishment and exposure at the hands of the men of Holofernes, was accepted with open arms by the priests and the people of Bethulia who promptly invited him to dine with them. According to the Prologue, this moment of charitable conviviality was then immediately followed by a collective prayer:

  • 14 Ibid., p. 357, vv. 147–150.

Et puis le peuple s’en ala,
Dedens le temple, où il ora
Toute la nuyt en demandant
Aïde à Dieu le tout puissant.14

Then the people made their way
Into the temple, where they prayed
All night long, imploring
The help of almighty God.

8It may well be noticed that this intrusion of the narrator occurs at a point in the story when the prayer motif discreetly manifests itself. Indeed, the prologue’s next – third – speech in the Judith mystery also quite nearly coincides with a prayer scene. It comes after the heroine’s deliberation amongst the elders of Bethulia and her sustained, imploring address to God. Here the prologue narrates the details of Judith’s preparation for departure with Abra, her movement toward the gates of the city where Ozias and the priests awaited her in silence. In general this account remains extremely faithful to that of the Bible, even including the detail of how God augmented the natural beauty of Judith as she fittingly bedecked herself for her exploit in seduction.

9The mystery also includes a version of Judith’s prayer, in 54 eight-syllable verses. This rewriting of the prayer demonstrates a rigorous fidelity to the general disposition of motifs in the Vulgate text. Even the references to biblical example appear in the same order as in the Latin prayer. In keeping with the biblical model, Judith begins by evoking the heroically vengeful exploits of Simeon after the rape of Dina. She then asks the Lord to contemplate the camp of the Assyrians and to remember what similar arrogance motivated the Egyptian enemy long ago:

  • 15 Ibid., p. 357, vv. 147–150.

Veuillies aidier et secourir
Ta povre vefve a che jour d’hui,
Et donner contraire et anuy
Au siege des Assiriens.
Comme tu des Egiptiens
La multitude confondis,
Quand en la mer tu les perdis,
Fay a ceux cy pareillement,
Qui se fient tant seullement
En leurs lances et leurs espeez
Et en leurs grandes assembleez
De gens, de cars et de chevaulx,
Et ne scavent conbien tu vaulx
Ne que peut ton saintiesme non.15

Please, ô Lord, help and rescue
Your poor widow today,
And give the contrary, aye hindrance,
To the Assyrians who besiege us.
Just as once you confounded
The Egyptians in their multitude,
When you washed them in the sea,
So also do likewise unto those
Who are so trusting only
In their lances and their swords,
And in their great numbers
Of people, chariots and horses,
Ignoring as they do your great worth
And the power of your holy Name.

10These verses condense the material in verses IX, 6–10 of the Vulgate text. In the same way that the treatment of the Judith episode in the Mystères de la procession de Lille reduces the narrative line to a spare, essential résumé of the biblical story, so the prayer, while remaining an important feature overall, is similarly reduced to its essential ingredients. Indeed, the Lille Mystery play tends to organize the material into a methodical, clearly sequenced narrative, with few digressions either lyrical or descriptive. This practice correspondingly pares down the dimensions of the prayer, evacuating luxuriant detail and thus molding a direct, solemn invocation of God.

11Despite this scaling-down of the prayer to fit the general economy of detail in the Judith episode of the Lille Mystery plays, it is possible to identify expressions and small passages that appear as direct translations from the Latin of the Vulgate. When Judith pleads for divine mercy on behalf of her people, she beseeches God to uphold his ”testament” and to inspire in her the necessary eloquence for the task that awaits her:

  • 16 Ibid., p. 366, vv. 378–383.

Moy, miserable, preng en cure
Et ma petition m’acorde,
Esperant ta misericorde.
De ton testament te souviengne.
La parolle de toy me viengne,
Qui mon conseil puist conforter.
Et ta maison puist demourer
En ta sanctification,
Affin que toute nation
Puist savoir et congnoistre en soy
Qu’il n’est nul autre Dieu que toy.16

12It is instructive to compare these verses with the Vulgate passage which inspired them, in order to appreciate the unmistakable proximity of the French version to the Latin source. Indeed, the French text borrows in several places the very language of the Vulgate:

  • 17 Jdt 9:17–19.

… exaudi me miseram deprecantem et de tua misericordia praesumentem (18) memento Domine testamenti tui et da verbum in ore meo et in corde meo consilium corrobora ut domus tua in tua sanctificatione permaneat (19) et omnes gentes agnoscant quoniam tu es Deus et non est alius praeter te.17

13Several terms in the French prayer have been borrowed directly from their Latin cognates: ”miserable” (miseram), ”misericorde” (misericordia), ”testament” (testamenti tui), ”conseil” (consilium), ”sanctification” (in tua sanctificatione). The theme of ”knowing God” is also expressed in an identical manner, at the same place in the prayer. The verb ”cognoistre,” used with the auxiliary ”puist” (may, might), corresponds closely, though perhaps not exactly, here to the Latin subjunctive ”agnoscant.” To the French verb, the poet has added, at once for psychological precision and for the rhyme, the expression ”en soy,” underlining in this way the intimate, meditative character of such ”knowing.” Thus a rather close translation of the ending of Judith’s prayer in the Latin text punctuates the fervent oration of the heroine as it appears in the mystery play. Strict attention to narrative flow and to essential utterances in the Latin model renders a spare, limpid vernacular poem which tends to emphasize key points in the development of plot and of moral example. Indeed, the Mystères de la procession de Lille present a version of the heroine’s prayer that follows closely the disposition and even the very language of the Vulgate text in a well-represented version. The result is a sober oration of striking intensity.

The Mistère du Viel Testament

  • 18 See the introduction to his edition of the Mystère de Judith et Holofernès (Geneva: Droz, 1995), p (...)

14The Mistère du Viel Testament presents a more detailed, and dramatically complex, version of the Judith story than does the same episode in the Mystères de la procession de Lille. Here, there is no prologue character to guarantee the centering presence of an authoritative, narrative voice, whose role is to carefully subsume the dialogue and the speeches by inserting them into a third-person, historical account. Graham Runnalls has well remarked that in their rendering of the Judith story, the author(s) of this Mystery play remain generally faithful to the sequence of events presented in the Vulgate.18 The specific author of the 2470-verse Judith story, however, hardly restricts his imitation to a close, literal rendering even of the direct speech passages. It may reasonably be said, then, that while this play does indeed present a translatio of the biblical story, it is far from offering up a veritable translation of it, in the modern sense of that term.

  • 19 Judith and Holofernes, p. 61.

15The essential similarity of the Judith narrative in the Mistère du Viel Testament to that of the Vulgate makes possible a comparison of the general ordering of events in the two versions. Easily noticeable, in the light of such a comparison, is the fact that the author of the mystery play organizes things in such a way as to inflate the role of the heroine herself. For this reason, the first words attributed to Judith in the play come at a moment in the story that is slightly anterior to her first appearance in the Book of Judith. Indeed, she pronounces her first lines even before Achior has been rescued by the people of Bethulia. As the elders and priest of the city kneel in prayer, Judith majestically appears, deep in thought, speaking to herself. The first words she utters indicate the line of rigid and courageous piety that she is to maintain until the end. Her position is that the present circumstances require complete submission to the will of God, and confession of sin. This is necessary, she says, in order ”to recognize his kindness, / And show him / That we know he created us, / Formed us, / Continues to nourish and sustain us.”19 The means to achieve such a clear demonstration of gratitude and obedience is that of ardent and earnest prayer:

  • 20 Mistère du Viel Testament, vv. 42,501–10.

Vers luy oraison fault dresser,
Adresser,
Et ses complaintes renforcer,
Que courser
Ne se vueille de noz meffais,
Noz pechez a luy confesser
Et penser
De la maculle hors chasser,
Qu’ambrasser
Il nous puisse au lÿen de paix.20

  • 21 Judith and Holofernes, p. 62.

To him must prayers be said
And addressed,
And our regrets reiterated,
Lest he should
Display anger at our crimes.
Let us confess to him our sins,
And determine
To rid ourselves of our blemishes,
So in peace
He may be able to embrace us.21

  • 22 Mistère du Viel Testament, op. cit., vv. 42,519–24: ”Afin que Dieu nous soit propice / Pour confon (...)
  • 23 Mistère du Viel Testament, op. cit., t. V, p. 261.

16Thus Judith declares the necessity of prayer even before she is petitioned by the elders. Upon her initial appearance in the mystery play, her striking, reasoning figure is juxtaposed with those of the kneeling city authorities. As the men who surround her rest on bended knee to invoke the help of God, Judith constructs the attitude she will maintain, in a versified reflection upon the proper use of prayer and confession. This curious soliloquy, which corresponds directly with no single passage in the Book of Judith, serves rather as a moral illustration of the character herself. At the end of her reflection, she suddenly calls out to her servant, Abra, and declares that the two of them must go to the temple immediately and pray for the well-being of the city.22 At the end of the dialogue between Judith and Abra, a marginal, didactic note in the text indicates that both women arrive at the temple where they kneel and ”make as though they were praying.”23 The stage direction requires that the image of Judith praying impress itself upon the mind of the spectators even before her first appearance in the biblical story line. This early manifestation of the heroine seems to have been orchestrated by the fifteenth-century dramatic author in order to underline the power of her relationship with God through the medium of prayer. In the midst of her supplicating brethren, she stands to the fore as the embodiment – and as the voice – of the divine will meekly carried out by those who pray.

17When Judith pronounces her own prayer, she begins by making reference, not to biblical history, but to her intimate relationship with God. The reference to her ancestor Simeon is here reduced to a mere three verses and relegated to the second half of the oration. Instead of invoking this example as a justifying precedent for what she proposes, Judith mentions Simeon’s feat as proof of God’s overwhelming power:

Faiz nos ennemis tous retraire
Aux retraitz, que te puissions plaire

  • 24 Mistère du Viel Testament, op. cit., vv. 43,530–40.

A tout plaisir, du tout complaire
Sans variër,
Nos ennemis contrarier,
A la louenge de ton nom,
Ta puissance magnifier,
Comme a mon pere Symeon,
Le quel, pour souverain renon,
Fist tous les faulx violateurs
Mourir.24

  • 25 Judith and Holofernes, op. cit., p. 100.

Make all our enemies withdraw
And make their retreat, so we can delight you
Delightfully, giving you pleasure
Eternally,
And oppose our enemies,
Glorifying your name
Magnifying your power,
As once did my father Simeon,
Who, to earn sovereign glory,
Put all faithless transgressors
To death.25

  • 26 Judith, IX, 4.

18This passage marks a formal transition in the metrical scheme of the prayer. After nine four-verse stanzas composed of three octosyllables followed by one short, four-syllable verse, Judith finishes her oration with a sequence of twenty-one octosyllables. The first, heterometrical part of the prayer, organized in stanzas, is characterized by a reverential, imploring tone which is created in part through the use of recurring imperatives. Such a development does not correspond to any sustained movement in the Latin text, though it does seem close in spirit to the culminating clause of the initial address in the Vulgate version: ”subveni quaeso te Domine Deus meus mihi viduae.26 The author dilates the place of the imperative mood in these first stanzas of Judith’s prayer, tempering the laudatory narrative of God’s justice with a personal declaration of gratitude, devotion, and fidelity on the part of the heroine herself. She also asks God to give to the inhabitants of Bethulia the strength of ”recognition,” the ability to act in harmony with the divine wisdom. God is the supreme ”source of peace,” and He is asked to guide this beleaguered people during a time of war:

En foy ton sainct nom glorifie,

  • 27 Mistère du Viel Testament, op. cit., vv. 43,507–14.

Ta gloire saincte magnifie,
Manifique essence infinie,
Sourse de paix.
Pacifie, las, noz torfaiz,
Faiz noz cueurs, qui sont imparfaitz,
D’imperfection tous infaictz,
Te recognoistre.27

  • 28 Judith and Holofernes, op. cit., p. 99.

In faith your holy name grows glorious,
Your glory, sacred, is magnified,
Magnificent infinite essence,
Source of peace.
Pacify, I beg you, our evil deeds,
Make our hearts, which are imperfect,
Infected with imperfections,
Recognize you.28

  • 29 Here it might be pointed out that Judith’s prayer tends to align two elements that some critics su (...)

19The true, cordial recognition of God is the way of temporal and spiritual salvation for the besieged citizens of Bethulia. It is also the first step, according to Judith, by which God will ”magnify” his ”holy glory” and thus ”glorify” his ”holy name.” Instead of asking for a providential sign (or rescue) by a certain date, as the city elders are poised to do, Judith prays that God might strengthen the hearts and the faith of her co-citizens. Magnifying the already infinite (”Manifique essence infinie”) grandeur of God requires an instrument, as the example of Siméon showed (”Ta puissance magnifier, / Comme a mon pere Simeon”).29

20Only in the second part of this intensely personal oration, written in octosyllables, does Judith make reference to biblical example. Near the end of the prayer, she mentions God’s chastening of the Egyptians and asks that the Assyrians receive a similar treatment:

  • 30 Mistère du Viel Testament, op. cit., vv. 43,534–38.

Haultain facteur, voy ta facture!
Noz peres de pareil pointure
Preservas des Egiptiens.
Fais ainsi des Assiriens!30

  • 31 Judith and Holofernes, op. cit., p. 100.

Highest creator, observe your creation !
Our fathers likewise were once attacked
By the Egyptians; you protected them.
Do the same for us against the Assyrians31

  • 32 Jdt 9:17.

21In these emphatic verses, Judith invokes an historical example and beseeches God to reaffirm the divine protection of her people. Despite this sudden return to the concrete matter of the Vulgate prayer, the author is at pains to highlight the fundamental, thematic cohesiveness of this vernacular address to God. ”He” accomplishes this through a subtle play of repetition, most notably the double occurrence of the epithet ”povre,” qualifying the suppliant herself, in the first stanza of the prayer (v. 43,500, ”femme povre”) and again in the second-last octosyllabic verse (v. 43,544, ”ta povre chamberiere”). Here again, this descriptive insistence corresponds to very little in the Latin version, except perhaps the accusative, imperative expression ”exaudi me miseram deprecantem” which appears in Judith’s final imploration of the Creator.32

22Judith’s prayer in the Mistère du Viel Testament is thus strikingly different from the version that appears in the Mystères de la procession de Lille. One essential difference lies in the use that each author makes of the biblical model. Whereas the disposition of the prayer in the Mystères de la procession de Lille follows closely the Vulgate, the Mistère du Viel Testament presents a version which, though clearly inspired by the imperative and lyrical qualities of the Latin text, remains nonetheless quite independent of it. One likely reason for this sort of inventive liberty is the strong portrait of the heroine constructed in the play. Judith appears on the scene even before the rescue of Achior, much earlier than in the biblical text. When she appears, she encounters the elders of Bethulia already in prayer and declares that it is necessary to pray honestly and to confess oneself fully to God. She then proceeds to the temple, accompanied by Abra. Here then, Judith is intimately associated with devotional completeness and honesty, as these are expressed through the praying voice. Such a thematic amplification gives her an authority in the domain of prayer which her original, biblical voice cannot match. This moral authority invested in her is indeed proper to the Mystery play version that culminates in a coronation of the heroine.

  • 33 Ps 50:12.
  • 34 Jer 32:39.
  • 35 Ez 11:19.

23Another essential difference between these two fifteenth-century rewritings of Judith’s prayer lies in their divergent translations of the Latin verb agnoscere. The author of the Mystères de la procession de Lille translates it using the verbal construction cognoistre en soy and attaches it to the biblical remark which emphatically confirms that there is but one God. In the Mistère du Viel Testament, on the other hand, the author has made ”recognizing” a spiritual event of which the verbal subject is the plural noun ”hearts” (noz cueurs). This second, rather inventive reading is not without theological import, as it links Judith’s ardent wish, for the spiritual enlightenment of her people, to a way of speaking that is used by the Psalmist,33 by the prophets,34 and even by God.35 It thereby illustrates the significant variance of parallel vernacular, theatrical versions of the Judith episode, both of which have been constructed from a textual model provided by the Vulgate. Of these two imitations of the prayer, the one which strays furthest from the Vulgate model exhibits a decided tendency to solemnize the dignity of the heroine. In the Mistère du Viel Testament, Judith speaks like an exemplary figure whom the author seeks to elevate to a status commensurable with that of saints and prophets. Only continued study of the diverse versions of the Bible available to French authors during the second half of the fifteenth century will tell whether the inventions of the Mistère du Viel Testament are themselves the descendants of a particular translation of the biblical text. It seems more likely that the author of this Judith episode has invented a version of the prayer which is very much in keeping with an enhanced, saintly image of the heroine.

Notes

1 Jean Molinet, Les faicts et dictz de Jean Molinet, ed. N. Dupire (Paris: Société des Anciens Textes Français, 1936), p. 391, v. 53; p. 410, v. 10; p. 538, vv. 53–60.

2 Eustache Deschamps, Œuvres complètes d’Eustache Deschamps (publiés d’après le manuscrit de la Bibliothèque Nationale par G. Raynaud; Paris: Firmin Didot, 1901), t. II, p. 336; III, pp. 98–99; 113, 183, 303, 389–90.

3 Antoine Dufour, Les Vies des femmes célèbres [1504], texte établi, annoté et commenté par G. Jeanneau (Genève: Droz, 1970).

4 See especially the chapter devoted to Judith in the Livre de la Cité des Dames, ”De Judich, la noble dame veuve,” § 176–176b in M. C. Curnow, The Livre de la cité des dames: a critical edition (Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Ph.D., 1975), t. 1, pp. 438–39.

5 See Graham Runnalls’s remark to this effect in the introduction to his English translation of the episode from the Mistère du Viel Testament. Judith and Holofernes. A Late-Fifteenth-Century French Mystery Play (Fairview, NC: Pegasus Press, 2002), p. 13: ”Judith and Holofernes is a dramatization of the Hebrew Book of Judith in the version found in the Latin Vulgate Bible.”

6 Œuvres complètes d’Eustache Deschamps, t. II, pp. 98–99, vv. 17–24.

7 Christine de Pizan also invokes this principle. In her version of the narrative, the people ardently pray to God for deliverance from the Assyrian threat. See the Livre de la cité des Dames, ”De Judich, la noble dame veuve,” § 176: ”… et estoyent Juyfs si comme au point d’estre pris de celluy qui moult les menaçoit dont ilz estoyent a grant douleur; et adés estoyent en oroisons priant Dieu que il voulsist avoir pitié de son puepple et les voulsist deffendre des mains de leurs annemis. Dieu ouy leurs oroisons; et si comme il voulst sauver l’umain lignaige par femme, voulst Dieux yceulx autresi secourir et sauver par femme.” Christine thus presents Judith as both God’s answer to the prayers of the people and as an intercessor on their behalf: ”En celle cité estoit adonc Judich, la noble preudefemme, qui encore jeune femme estoit et moult belle, mais encore trop plus chaste et meilleure estoit. Celle et moult grant pitié du peuple qu’elle veoit en si grant desolacion, si prioit Nostre Seigneur jour et nuit que secourir les voulsist.”

8 Erasmus, Modus orandi Deum, ed. J. N. Bakhuizen van den Brink, in Opera Omnia Desiderii Erasmi Roterodami, vol. V, 1 (Amsterdam and Oxford: North-Holland Publishing Co., 1977), p. 137.

9 For instance, in much the same spirit, Erasmus makes reference to the imprisonment of Peter in Acts 12:5 and notes that the reaction of the Christian contingent was neither one of armed violence, nor of occult practices, but rather, more simply, of fervent prayer. Ibid., p. 132.

10 Jdt 4:13 in Biblia sacra juxta vulgatam versionem (Stuttgart: Deutsche Bibelgesellschaft, 1994), p. 693.

11 Judith and Holofernes, op. cit. translated by Graham Runnalls, p. 71. All subsequent English translations from the Mistère du Viel Testament shall be taken from this edition.

12 Mistère du Viel Testament, pp. 141–42, vv. 894–899: ”Seigneurs, certes nous n’arons garde, / Mais que aymions Dieu parfaictement. / Continuons devotement / En oraison, sans fictïon, / En faisant exclamacïon, / De noz pechez…”.

13 See the introduction to A. Knight’s recent edition of the Mystères de la procession de Lille (Geneva: Droz, 2001–2004), t. 1, pp. 9–20.

14 Ibid., p. 357, vv. 147–150.

15 Ibid., p. 357, vv. 147–150.

16 Ibid., p. 366, vv. 378–383.

17 Jdt 9:17–19.

18 See the introduction to his edition of the Mystère de Judith et Holofernès (Geneva: Droz, 1995), p. 22: ”Judith et Holofernès suit de près le texte biblique non seulement dans ses grandes lignes mais aussi dans de nombreux détails: il ne fait pas de doute que notre mystère est, au sens médiéval, une ’translation’ du Livre de Judith.”

19 Judith and Holofernes, p. 61.

20 Mistère du Viel Testament, vv. 42,501–10.

21 Judith and Holofernes, p. 62.

22 Mistère du Viel Testament, op. cit., vv. 42,519–24: ”Afin que Dieu nous soit propice / Pour confondre noz adversaires, / Oraisons sont tresnecessaires. / Prions bien Dieu pour la cité, / Car el est en necessité, / Ainsi comme je puis entendre.”

23 Mistère du Viel Testament, op. cit., t. V, p. 261.

24 Mistère du Viel Testament, op. cit., vv. 43,530–40.

25 Judith and Holofernes, op. cit., p. 100.

26 Judith, IX, 4.

27 Mistère du Viel Testament, op. cit., vv. 43,507–14.

28 Judith and Holofernes, op. cit., p. 99.

29 Here it might be pointed out that Judith’s prayer tends to align two elements that some critics such as A. E. Knight have attributed to distinct genres of medieval dramatic invention, distinguishing between ”theocentric” and ”homocentric” acts. See Aspects of Genre in Medieval French Drama (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1983), p. 24: ”Thus the medieval liturgy and mystery plays were theocentric acts by which the participants acknowledged God’s presence in the community, while sermons and morality plays were homocentric acts by which the individual was taught the necessity for personal choice in determining his eternal destiny.” Judith’s position is that the two are inextricably conjoined, since the real Grace of God can only be ”recognized” by the truly pious.

30 Mistère du Viel Testament, op. cit., vv. 43,534–38.

31 Judith and Holofernes, op. cit., p. 100.

32 Jdt 9:17.

33 Ps 50:12.

34 Jer 32:39.

35 Ez 11:19.

Table des illustrations

Légende 10.1. Ci baigne Judi, ca. 1245. Judith-Window D-126. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. Photo credit: Centre des Monuments Nationaux, Paris.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1001/img-1.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,3M
Légende 10.2. Ci prie Judit dieu quele puist enginier, ca. 1245. Judith-Window D-136. Sainte-Chapelle, Paris. Photo credit: Centre des Monuments Nationaux, Paris.
URL http://books.openedition.org/obp/docannexe/image/1001/img-2.jpg
Fichier image/jpeg, 1,4M

Auteur

John Nassichuk is associate Professor of French Studies at the University of Western Ontario, Canada. His research interests include Renaissance literature, poetics, aesthetics, and Latin erotic literature from the Quattro-cento. He recently published ”Le couronnement de Judith, représentation littéraire au xvie siècle d’une héroïne deutérocanonique” (2008) and conducted a graduate seminar in the department of French on Judith in the medieval French canon. Author of many chapters in books and scholarly articles, in 2005 Professor Nassichuk co-authored, with Perrine Galand-Hallyn, L’Amour conjugal dans la poésie latine de la Renaissance (2005).