Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Constantinople and the West in Medieval French Literature

Constantinople and the West in Medieval French Literature: Renewal and Utopia

Series: Gallica
Volume: 25
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 250
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    Constantinople and the West in Medieval French Literature
    Book Description:

    Medieval France saw Constantinople as something of a quintessential ideal city. Aspects of Byzantine life were imitated in and assimilated to the West in a movement of political and cultural renewal, but the Byzantine capital was also celebrated as the locus of a categorical and inimitable difference. This book analyses the debate between renewal and utopia in Western attitudes to Constantinople as it evolved through the twelfth and thirteenth centuries in a series of vernacular (Old French, Occitan and Franco-Italian) texts, including the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne, Girart de Roussillon, Partonopeus de Blois, the poetry of Rutebeuf, and the chronicles by Geoffroy de Villehardouin and Robert de Clari, both known as the Conquête de Constantinople. It establishes how the texts' representation of the West's relationship with Constantinople enacts this debate between renewal and utopia; demonstrates that analysis of this relationship can contribute to a discussion on the generic status of the texts themselves; and shows that the texts both react to the socio-cultural context in which they were produced, and fulfil a role within that context. Dr Rima Devereaux is an independent scholar based in London.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-858-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-v)
  3. List of illustrations
    (pp. vi-viii)
    (pp. ix-ix)
  5. List of abbreviations
    (pp. x-x)
  6. Note to the reader
    (pp. x-xii)
  7. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    Tony Tanner writes in Venice Desired: ‘A city’s representational life is quite different from its historic, economic, demographic, cartographic, political, ceremonial, cultural life, though of course it may draw on and indirectly reflect or transcribe elements from any or all of these dimensions of the city’s existence.’¹ In Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, medieval France saw something of the quintessential ideal city. Attitudes to the Byzantine capital ranged from admiration and envy to a desire to imitate and compete with its many wonders. Scholars have long recognized that manifold perceptions coalesce in medieval French vernacular texts around this...

  8. Part I: Renewal and Utopia:: The Terms of the Debate

    • 1 Making Sense of History: East–West Relations and the Idea of the City in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries
      (pp. 9-35)

      Together with Chapter 2, this chapter will introduce the methodological and intellectual foundations for the study and set out the debate with which it is concerned, both in general terms and in relation to specific literary texts. Byzantium had particular importance for the West in the twelfth century. As I have said, the concepts of aemulatio and renovatio, and in particular the use of the translatio topos, were significant for the West’s attitude to Constantinople and shed light on the relationship between Western renewal and dealings with the Byzantine capital. This notion of renewal had implications for the representation of...

    • 2 Renewal and Utopia: Two Paradigms for Understanding East–West Relations in Medieval French Texts
      (pp. 36-72)

      In Chapter 1 I outlined the implications of the concepts of renewal and utopia for an analysis of the relationship between the West and Constantinople in medieval texts. These concepts can be seen to be elaborated in two fictional texts probably produced in the third quarter of the twelfth century, the Eracle of Gautier d’Arras and the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne.¹ Both of these texts bring into play two motifs: the relics motif, narrating the renewal of a city or cities through the involvement of its ruler in the translation of relics from Jerusalem; and the rivalry motif, recounting the defeat...

  9. Part II: Constantinople Desired

    • 3 Aemulatio: The Limitations of East–West Alliance
      (pp. 75-104)

      Imitation and admiration coincide and conflict in the representation of East–West relations in complex ways. This chapter explores in greater detail the motif of the marriage alliance between the Western hero and a female relative of the Byzantine emperor. It will focus on two twelfth-century texts, the verse romance Partonopeus de Blois and the chanson de geste Girart de Roussillon, exploring not only the use of the alliance as a means of renewal, but also the depiction of Constantinople as a utopia.¹

      The texts to be discussed in this chapter narrate the achievement of an alliance between Byzantium and...

    • 4 Admiratio: Utopia as Social Critique
      (pp. 105-128)

      Marriage alliance can be a means of Western renewal, as we have seen. Its effectiveness is limited not only by the presence of multiple sites of renewal, but also by the alternative of positing Constantinople as a utopia. However, the issue of alliance between the Western nobility and Byzantium is sometimes relegated to a more minor role, and instead renewal is enacted through the transformation of society as a development of and participation in utopia. I will examine this problem through a discussion of the Franco-Italian chanson de geste Macario, a remaniement of a story derived from the French epic...

  10. Part III: The Renovatio of the West

    • 5 Translatio Embodied? Renewal, Truth and the Status of Constantinople in Thirteenth-Century Didactic Texts
      (pp. 131-156)

      We have just been looking at twelfth- and early thirteenth-century texts that, by exploiting the themes of chivalry, crusade and East–West alliance, recount the potential or actual achievement of renewal through admiratio. Thirteenth-century didactic texts treat the same themes, but subordinate them to the poetic device of a debate between slander and sincerity. This debate raises questions about the reality and significance of a translatio from East to West. The extent to which the texts propose a solution to the ensuing dilemma of locating and embodying renewal, and the nature of that solution, depends upon their representation of the...

    • 6 Renovatio as Commemoration: Civic Loyalty and the Latin Empire of Constantinople in Venetian Historiography
      (pp. 157-182)

      We have just been looking at the difficulty of discerning truth and the problem that this poses for the location of renewal in the West, and have seen that the journey to Constantinople may provide a potential solution to this problem. Here we look at how Venetian historiography commemorated recent events concerning Venice, and especially its relationship with Byzantium. The texts’ celebration of civic loyalty as a model for imitation contributes to their elaboration of the theme of Western renewal.

      The association between Venice and Byzantium stretches back for centuries before the thirteenth, when the earliest text with which I...

    (pp. 183-188)

    We have seen that the West’s literary representation of its relationship with Constantinople provided one means of enacting the debate between renewal and utopia, a debate which served different roles in different contexts and can also contribute to our understanding of the texts’ generic status.

    First of all, we can conclude that the relationship between the West and Constantinople in medieval texts enacts a debate on the idea of the city as renewal and as utopia. The texts in Part I, Gautier d’Arras’s Eracle and the Pèlerinage de Charlemagne, exemplify a tension between the perception of the city as a...

  12. APPENDIX 1: Original Latin Quotations
    (pp. 189-191)
  13. APPENDIX 2: References to Constantinople in Other Epics and Romances
    (pp. 192-197)
  14. APPENDIX 3: Outline of Events in the History of East–West Relations from the Second Crusade to the Palaeologan Reconquest
    (pp. 198-202)
    (pp. 203-226)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 227-234)
  17. Back Matter
    (pp. 235-237)