John Tolan

title.none: Cushing, ed., A Middle English Chronicle of the First Crusade (John Tolan)

identifier.other: baj9928.0411.006 04.11.06

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: John Tolan, Universite de Nantes,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2004

identifier.citation: William of Tyre. Cushing, Dana, ed. A Middle English Chronicle of the First Crusade: The Caxton Eracles. Series: Texts and Studies in Religion, vols. 88a-b. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2001. Pp. xxi, 915. $130.00 vol. 1; $140.00 vol. 2 0-7734-7425-0 vol. 1; 0-7734-7427-7 vol. 2. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 04.11.06

William of Tyre. Cushing, Dana, ed. A Middle English Chronicle of the First Crusade: The Caxton Eracles. Series: Texts and Studies in Religion, vols. 88a-b. Lewiston, NY: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2001. Pp. xxi, 915. $130.00 vol. 1; $140.00 vol. 2 0-7734-7425-0 vol. 1; 0-7734-7427-7 vol. 2. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

John Tolan
Universite de Nantes

Sometime in the 1180s, William, archbishop of Tyre, penned his Historia rerum in partibus transmarinis gestarum, a history of the Holy Land from the first crusade through 1183. In the early thirteenth century, William's Historia was translated into French, and different hands added continuations in French, producing a confusing variety of Chronicles whose rich and complex manuscript tradition has been untangled by a number of scholars, notably Margaret Morgan in her masterly The Chronicle of Ernoul and the Continuations of William of Tyre (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1973). One of these French texts is known as the Eracles, since it opens with mention of the seventh-century Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. In 1481, William Caxton published an English translation of the first part of the Eracles chronicle (only the part devoted to the first crusade), dedicating it to King Edward IV. It was printed on the presses of the abbey of Westminster. Caxton expresses the hope that this publication may encourage Christians "to undertake the defence of the Christencom and to recover the said city of Jerusalem" (779).

In 1893, Mary Noyes Colvin published a transcription of Caxton's text, correcting its numerous typographical errors and omissions. Dana Cushing here gives a new transcription of the Caxton Eracles, in which she has "sought to restore these errors to my transcription in order to present an authentic version of Caxton's original work" (iii). It is not clear precisely how this was done: has Cushing simply transcribed the original 1481 edition? Has she used Colvin's text? At any rate, Colvin's is the only version she cites in her bibliography (869).

Facing this transcription of Caxton's Middle English text, Cushing provides her own modern translation, complemented with notes. On the whole the translation is clear, accurate, and reads well. Occasionally her translation over-interprets, at a risk of deforming Caxton's meaning. Where, for example, Caxton writes "The hethen fought for tenhaunce theyr lawe", Cushing translates "The heathen fought to glorify Islam"--Islam is not part of Caxton's vocabulary, or that of his fifteenth-century English compatriots. Similarly, by transforming "mahommerye" into "mosque" (337) she loses something of the flavor of Caxton's text. Occasional incomprehension of Caxton's original leads to erroneous translation: "a knight right noble named Gaultier, without knowleche to his surname" becomes "a very noble knight named Walter -- his surname is unknown": in fact "Gaultier without knowleche" is "Walter the Foolish", as she subsequently correctly identifies him. Cushing as at times inconsistent in transcribing names: for examples she keeps Caxton's spelling for "Buymont" (usually known in English as Bohemond) but renders his "tancre" as "tancred". Place names pose similar problems: Caxton's "beruth" is rendered not as the standard English Beirut, but inexplicably as "Bayrouth" (602). These occasional errors and inconsistencies do not mar the generally accurate and readable translation.

The text and translation are accompanied by helpful notes. Cushing notes in particular the differences between Caxton's text and the French Eracles text he is translating, showing how he at times misunderstands the French text, at times makes errors in English. For the French text of the Eracles, Cushing refers to the text contained in the Recueil des Historiens des Croisades (1844) rather than to Paulin Paris' 1879 edition (which she also cites in her bibliography), without explaining why she prefers the former. It would have been interesting to at least raise the question of what if any of the existing manuscripts Caxton translated from. Cushing tends to assume that where Caxton's text differs from that of the Recueil, it is Caxton's error, though at times (where the difference is more that a simple mistranslation) he may well be following a variant version of the French text. Cushing shows no awareness of this issue, nor of the complex transmission of the French text; she cites neither Margaret Morgan's essential work (cited above) nor any of a number of important studies of the French crusader chronicles. In her notes, Cushing refers also E. Babcock and A. Krey's 1943 English translation of William of Tyre's chronicle, but never to the Latin original; R. Huygen's excellent edition of the Latin text doesn't even make it into her bibliography.

A broader problem is the absence of any clear sense of to whom this book is directed. Caxton's text will interest students of fifteeenth-century English: linguists, primarily, one assumes. It could also be of interest to historians interested on the idea of crusade or the image of the Turk in fifteenth-century England. Yet Cushing addresses none of these concerns in her brief introduction, instead providing an interesting yet somewhat impressionistic essay on the social and familial structures of the participants in the first crusade. This essay is marred once again by her lack of reading (on the first crusade, she cites principally John France's Victory in the East (Cambridge, 1994), but makes little use of the work of by Jonathan Riley-Smith, and none whatsoever of that of Jean Flori, Marcus Bull, or a host of others). She seems to present Caxton's fifteenth-century text as a source of interest for historians of the first crusade, which of course it is not: William of Tyre's Historia is already a far remove from the chronicles which were his sources; no-one would recommend to students of the first crusade to read Cushing's translation of Caxton's translation of the Eracles translation of William's compilation. Yet the notes and introduction seem to be directed principally at such readers, rather than at those interested in the language and thought of Caxton's fifteenth-century England, to which she could have more profitably directed her efforts. This would have meant providing a study of the history of Caxton's text, research on his sources (in particular, which version of the Eracles he may have used), more attention to the context and reception of his work. The form Cushing has given to her work severely reduce its interest and usefulness to the scholars to whom she should have directed her work.