03.12.14, Paterson, and Sweetenham, The Canso d'Antioca

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Jeanette Beer

The Medieval Review baj9928.0312.014


Paterson, Linda M., and Carol Sweetenham. The Canso d'Antioca: An Occitan Epic Chronicle of the First Crusade. Burlington: Ashgate, 2003. ISBN: 0-7546-0410-1.

Reviewed by:
Jeanette Beer
Purdue University

This book is the product of a collaboration by Carol Sweetenham (née Dewberry, D. Phil, Oxon. 1988) and Linda Paterson, who was her supervisor in 1987-88. Sweetenham worked on the subject of the Canso d'Antioca for her doctoral thesis, and has recently revised and updated her historical, codicological, and literary analysis. Paterson has produced a critical edition of the Canso with explanatory notes and linguistic description of the text. The Canso d'Antioca, sole survivor of any Occitan epic on the First Crusade, is preserved in Madrid's Biblioteca de l'Academia Real de la Historia as codex 117. An edition of it (by Paul Meyer) was done in 1884, and it was reedited by Edward Greenan in 1976 as a doctoral thesis for the Catholic University of America. Carl Appel also edited the first 195 lines for his classic Provenzalische Chrestomathie and, almost a century later, Angel Gómez Moreno edited its first five stanzas, providing notes and a Spanish translation. Each of the above productions has some inadequacies. The Sweetenham-Paterson edition is the first comprehensive study of the Fragment.

The enterprise was not without its difficulties. The manuscript is in many places illegible and contains many errors, being a copy by at least five different scribes of a defective exemplar which was itself a copy of a thirteenth-century version that had probably been produced in Spain. This Spanish version contains much of the original poem (written by Gregory Bechada probably in a Limousin form of Occitan in the first third of the twelfth century), but it has visibly passed through other phases subsequently: an Old French reworking in the second half of the twelfth century, then a translation back into Occitan, and perhaps even more!

Facing such complexities, the editors opted sensibly to "emend conjecturally to avoid leaving passages simply as garbled or lacunary where a reasonable if not necessarily exclusive solution presents itself". (175-76) Sensibly again, with conjectural readings they did not list every difference between their own version and those of previous editors, although they do acknowledge ideas they have adopted for emendation.

Equally sensible is the policy they adopted for the translation, which is printed on facing pages. In their own words, "The English translation aims to be as faithful as possible to the sense, tense usage and sentence structure of the original insofar as this is compatible with readable English". (190) Glosses are indicated by round brackets, and any suppletions necessary to produce idiomatic English are indicated by square brackets. Thus, the translator(s) intended to serve the text, not to subsume it. The resulting translation of the Canso's nineteen laisses of monorhymed alexandrines is unpretentious but clear. As a sample, here are the final lines, ending with a "vers orphelin":

All arrived at the mêlée in disorder, but the knights are goodand create a wheeling mass (?) in the midst of the Turkssuch as monks adopt when they are in solemn procession.Knights and footsoldiers strike side by side.There they shatter spears, whose splinters fly,and rip hauberks, hoods and tunics (235).

Returning from from the text, translation, and critical apparatus to the first 174 pages derived from Sweetenham's doctoral thesis, we find a detailed contextualization of the Canso d'Antioca: its textual history (chapter one), its place in the vernacular epic tradition of the First Crusade (chapter two), its historical reliability (chapter three), and its intermediate status between literature and history (chapter four) (this chapter includes an appendix on the Roland tradition in Occitania and, more particularly the Madrid Fragment's two allusions to that tradition).

These chapters serve as more than an introduction to the Madrid Fragment; they raise more general issues. For example, were the northern and southern epic traditions concerning Antioch completely separate (cf. Gaston Paris's "entre les deux poèmes aucun point de contact" and Suzanne Duparc-Quioc's "la Chanson d'Antioche provençale due à Bechada suit de près la chanson de Richard le Pèlerin et nous fournit ainsi des points de repère pour retrouver l'oeuvre de Richard sous le remaniement de Graindor")? Sweetenham and Paterson adopt the compromise view that the Canso tradition is related to but separate from the Antioche tradition (p. 77). Does the visible influence of literary convention upon the Canso and the context of patronage that produced it affect its credibility? How should one assess the contribution of Bechada, major innovator, given the multiple revisions in the Canso? What form of the Roland story was influential in Occitania since it was not the Oxford Roland? The answers to these questions are of interest to Occitan, French, Spanish scholars and beyond; they could be of importance to any scholar interested in the First Crusade.

In this age when textual expertise is becoming woefully scarce, in danger of being supplanted by uninformed theorizing, Sweetenham and Paterson are to be congratulated. By a second collaboration twenty years after their first, they have managed to produce a scholarly contribution which might otherwise never have seen the light of day. Perhaps there are more such enterprises waiting to be resurrected from those halcyon days when medieval scholars were competent to read primary sources!


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Author Biography

Jeanette Beer

Purdue University