The Medieval Review 14.03.23

Maddox, Donald and Sara Sturm-Maddox. Melusine; or, The Noble History of Lusignan . University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2012. Pp. viii, 251. $69.95. ISBN: 978-0-271-05412-4.

Reviewed by:

Albrecht Classen
University of Arizona

As it dawns upon us increasingly, late medieval literature has much to offer, and we can now identify a growing number of major works--in English, French, Italian, Spanish, and German--that are definitely masterpieces and deserve to be included in every reading list compiled by students of medieval literature. One of them is the famous Melusine which actually dates back in its core narrative elements to the high Middle Ages (Walter Map, Gervasius of Tilbury), but was first composed in prose by Jean d'Arras in 1393 on behalf of Jean, Duke of Berry, son of King John II of France, who is so famous until today because he had commissioned the celebrated Très riches heures du Duc de Berry. Subsequently, Couldrette created a version in verse around 1400 (Roman de Lusignan; ou, Histoire de Lusignan), and in 1456 the Bernese citizen Thüring von Ringoltingen produced a German translation (Melusine). There are also specific historical references to events in the lives of the Lusignans in Jean's text, but Melusine should be read mostly as a literary work, and not as a chronicle.

Not surprisingly, as Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox point out in the foreword to their translation, this novel enjoyed considerable popularity, as documented by ten fifteenth-century manuscript copies, and it even survived the media revolution, being printed first in Geneva in 1478 and many times thereafter (at least until 1597, as the translators point out; however, further editions appeared in 1624, 1642, 1660, 1677, 1690, 1692, 1699, 1730, etc.).

Maddox and Sturm-Maddox, really well known and highly regarded French medievalists, have chosen for their translation the oldest manuscript, housed in the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal in Paris (Arsenal 3353) produced shortly after Jean d'Arras had completed his work. It was edited by Louis Stouff in 1932 and was reprinted in 1974. To help the readers, in their translation they have standardized varying spellings of names, converted occasional utterances from direct to indirect discourse, and eliminated repetitious apostrophes, such as "Sire!" As to be expected, Jean had available a considerably less eloquent vocabulary than modern English, so Maddox and Sturm-Maddox reasonably tried to offer alternatives where appropriate, such as in cases where the word "merveille" is repeated just too often and threatens to undermine the modern reader's appreciation of the narrative.

As good translators, they have stayed as close as possible to the original, but broke up too cumbersome sentence structures and avoided a too literal rendering of the Old French into English, without losing the solid grounding in the text as contained in the manuscript. For example, instead of "Que ilz la pussent conquerir" (312), they have rendered this sentence into "so that in the end they may merit it" (230). Maddox and Sturm-Maddox claim that Jean did not structure his narrative into chapters, so they provided new chapter headings. A glance into Stouff's edition, however, does not confirm that claim at all. Unfortunately, they failed to include references to the specific passages in the manuscript, which will make it rather difficult to trace individual passages in the original. Stouff had nicely structured his edition with specific indications regarding fol. and column, but that is all missing here.

The translation, which reads very well and renders the fourteenth-French into a good modern English, as numerous spot-checks have confirmed, is followed by extensive notes and a lengthy bibliography. Since the two authors also refer to Thüring von Ringoltingen's Melusine, I would have expected that they cite at least the critical edition or more comprehensive discussions of that text, but that is hardly the case, apart from the article by Elisabeth Pinto-Mathieu in Mélusine, eds. Danielle Buschinger and Wolfgang Spiewok (Greifswald: Reineke-Verlag, 1996), pp. 135-147. The title, which is very difficult to find even in Worldcat, is missing the subtitle here: actes du Colloque du Centre d'études médiévales de l'Université de Picardie Jules Verne, 13 et 14 janvier 1996, and the lead title actually seems to have appeared without the accented 'e'. [1] The bibliography also contains a reference to the volume 550 Jahre deutsche Melusine, eds. André Schnyder and Jean-Claude Mühlethaler (Bern: Peter Lang, 2008). A most welcome index concludes this splendid publication (a similar index can also be found in Stouff's edition). I can only hope that German or Spanish colleagues will follow the lead of Maddox and Sturm-Maddox and work on English translations of the respective Melusine texts in the various vernaculars.



1. Cf. Albrecht Classen, The German Volksbuch (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1995).

Copyright (c) 2014 Albrecht Classen

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