14.12.11, Malicote & Hartman, eds., Aiol

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Catherine M. Jones

The Medieval Review 14.12.11

Malicote, Sandra C., and A. Richard Hartman. Aiol: A Chanson de Geste. New York:Italica Press, 2014. Pp. xiii, 634. ISBN: 9781599102191 (hardback) 9781599102207 (paperback) 9781599102184 (ebook).

Reviewed by:

Catherine M. Jones
University of Georgia

Aiol is a thirteenth-century chanson de geste that has only recently begun to receive the scholarly attention it deserves. The 10,985-line epic appears in a single manuscript, Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France (henceforth BnF), MS fr. 25516, immediately after Élie de Saint-Gilles, with which it forms the "small cycle" of Saint-Gilles. Aiol first relates the coming of age of Élie's son, who sets out to reconquer the lands and reputation that his father lost owing to the machinations of the traitor Makaire of Lausanne. Raised in a forest with only rudimentary knowledge of warfare and chivalry, the impoverished hero is initially mocked for his scrawny horse and paltry armor. He proves, however, to be an exemplary knight, fierce in battle and filled with Christian fervor. Rewarded for his prowess and faith, Aiol conquers the Saracen princess Mirabel and restores his father's position and lands. The second part of the narrative is teeming with adventures characteristic of the second-generation chansons de geste: Aiol and Mirabel endure attacks by bandits and kidnappers, a lengthy captivity, family separation and ultimate reunion. At the story's conclusion, Makaire is punished à la Ganelon, attached to four warhorses and torn limb from limb. Formally, the work exhibits a bipartite structure: the first half of the poem is composed (mainly) in decasyllabic verse with an unusual 6/4 caesura, while the second half employs the alexandrine line, which became increasingly popular during the course of the thirteenth century.

For too long, scholars have had to rely on the two critical editions of Aiol that appeared nearly simultaneously in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. [1] Oddly enough, 2014 may witness a similar confluence, as Malicote and Hartman's book appears just as a new critical edition by Jean-Marie Ardouin is going to press at Champion. The two editions are, however, intended for different audiences. While Ardouin will offer a complete critical apparatus, the Malicote-Hartman volume provides a rigorously edited text and facing translation that will be welcomed by medievalists and also accessible to a non-specialist Anglophone readership. [2]

A five-page introduction situates Aiol very succinctly in the Old French epic tradition and more specifically in the geste de Saint-Gilles. Drawing upon Malicote's extensive research into the cycle's reception and transmission, the editors reiterate the hypothesis according to which a version of Aiol and Élie was presented at the court of Philip Augustus in 1212 in the context of the wedding festivities of Jeanne of Constantinople (daughter of Baldwin of Flanders) and Ferrand of Portugal. [3] The surviving manuscript has been associated with the library of Margaret of Flanders, duchess of Valois (1350-1405). The introduction subsequently outlines Aiol's medieval reception. Although the text is preserved only in BnF MS fr. 25516, there is ample evidence that the narrative was widely disseminated. In addition to allusions found in Rutebeuf, Raimbaut IV of Orange, and chronicles, the editors cite two contemporaneous adaptations (Flemish and Middle Dutch) as well as late medieval Italian and Spanish versions. Analysis of the poem's content is limited to a cursory summary of the narrative and an outline of the conventional epic depiction of Christian-Muslim relations. A section on "Structure and Composition" focuses mainly on the role of manuscript illuminations as organizational tools and visual markers of dialectical argumentation. Finally, the "Notes on the Edition and Translation" outline editorial principles (emendation in the case of scribal error, distinctions between "i" and "j" and between "u" and "v") as well as a justification of free verse as the form adopted for the English translation.

The introduction, then, is clearly aimed at a general audience, and is not intended as a comprehensive presentation of the text's history, subject matter, and formal characteristics. The few references to previous scholarship, including direct quotations, are not documented in notes. Specialists may be disappointed not to find a discussion of the work's bipartite formal and thematic structure, its links with other epics, or the critical debate concerning origins. The paucity of detail in the introduction is somewhat surprising given that other components of the critical apparatus do correspond to the exigencies of a scholarly edition. Emendations (including pertinent emendations from previous editions) are scrupulously recorded below the Old French text, and the eighteen pages of endnotes furnish abundant linguistic, historical, codicological, and literary commentary. The back matter includes eleven illustrations (black and white reproductions of manuscript illuminations) and a selected bibliography.

Spot-checking against the manuscript (available online through Gallica) indicates that the edition is accurate and reliable. Furthermore, Malicote and Hartman have admirably achieved their goal of creating "a lively, interesting and engaging translation" that remains "faithful to the spirit and meaning of the Old French poem"(xiii). The English free verse is fairly literal, allowing close comparison to the original. It nonetheless remains very readable as a free-standing text. Typographical errors are rare, as are problematic translations. A few word choices give pause, such as "pony" for roncin (ll. 614, 647) and "troubadours" for joglere (l. 15). In addition, Celés vostre corage tout a estrous (l. 191) is rendered here as "steel your heart against all ordeals," but translated more accurately in l. 203 as "Conceal your identity from everyone." Teus me pora anqui orgeul moustrer (l. 4287) is rendered as "Today may you allow my pride to show itself" instead of "Someone may attack me today"--a prediction fulfilled in the ensuing episode.

While the English version generally manages to avoid both excessively archaic usage and distractingly modern phrasing, it does occasionally veer off course. One might not object to quiver François rendered as "foul cur of a Frenchman" (l. 10096), but it is somewhat jarring that such expressions coexist with examples of markedly modern idioms, such as "I'm feeling really depressed" for the Old French sui jou marie (l. 2478); "all decked out" for moult achesmés (l. 4104); and "he's back on his feet financially" for il resoit d'avoir trés bien garnis (l. 3457). However, this sort of slippage is infrequent and does little to detract from the overall quality of the translation. Malicote and Hartman have provided a valuable resource for scholars and an inviting tale for devotees of medieval heroic literature.



1. Wendelin Foerster, ed., Aiol et Mirabel und Elie de Saint Gille (Heilbronn: Henninger, 1876-82); and Jacques Normand & Gaston Raynaud, eds., Aiol: Chanson de geste publiée d'après le manuscrit unique de Paris (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1877).

2. A summary of Ardouin's 2010 doctoral thesis may be found at http://www.sudoc.fr/156402947.

3. Sandra Obergfell Malicote, "'Cil novel jougleor': Parody, Illumination and Genre Renewal in Aiol," Romania 120 (2002): 353-405. For an alternative viewpoint, see Baukje Finet, "La tradition écrite de la chanson d'Aiol: une mise au point,” Romania124 (2006): 503-507.

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Author Biography

Catherine M. Jones

University of Georgia