The Medieval Review 15.05.34

Carroll, Carleton W., and Lois Hawley Wilson, eds. and trans. The Medieval Shepherd: Jean de Brie's Le Bon Berger (1379). Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 424. Tempe: ACMRS, 2012. pp. viii, 226. $50.00 (hardback). ISBN: 9780866984720 (hardback).

Reviewed by:

Wendy Pfeffer
University of Louisville

One clear trend in fourteenth-century France, albeit insufficiently studied, was the composition of how-to books. We can see this trend in a number of different venues, from writing down kitchen recipes (which becomes Le Viandier, the first Old French cookbook) to Bertran Boysset's work on how to be a surveyor, his Traité d'arpentage. In that same vein is Jean de Brie's prose guide on how to work the sheepfold, Le Bon Berger.

Jean de Brie had a tough childhood (recounted in his first chapter), with serious work-related injuries acquired in various agricultural activities, before he came to work as shepherd for Arnoul de Grant Pont, treasurer of the Sainte Chapelle in Paris and then for Jehan de Hetomesnil, king's councilor (1). He probably dictated his text, as we have no concrete evidence that he could read or write. He dedicated his treatise to French king Charles V and dated the work to 1379.

The work does not survive in manuscript, but exists in four sixteenth-century editions. The first of these, the base text for this edition and translation, was published in Paris between 1486 and 1520; it is known as the Vostre edition, siglum V. A subsequent edition, also undated, is T (for Trepperel) text, probably published between 1512 and 1522 in Paris. Next in chronological order is the Jonot or Janot edition (J), published in 1542, also in Paris. The last early edition was printed in 1594 by Bogart (B) in Louvain.

Carroll and Wilson offer a new critical edition of Le Bon Berger, based on the oldest printed edition, with a facing-page translation. Earlier scholars have described the work in its printed form as an abridgement (so Paul Lacroix, who published a copy based on J) or as a sixteenth-century reworking (Holmér and Möhren) (see pp. 12-13). The editors here accept Le Bon Berger as it is and do not believe it was abridged or reworked. They see the language of the text as fairly representative of fourteenth-century French, with the occasional insertion of a more modern form or spelling, which insertions may represent the usage of Jean de Brie, or the initial scribe, or may be attributable to the printers.

The work begins with a stylized dedication to Charles V, followed by the author's claim that he is offering something rather new, a nouvelleté (36). Chapter one offers the author's biography as justification that his long experience qualifies him to compose this work. Chapters two and three are further arguments for the merit and utility of a good shepherd and of this text. In chapter four, the author turns to sheep husbandry, and his tone changes accordingly. Jean de Brie follows the work of the shepherd through the year and ends his treatise with a detailed list of ovine illnesses and possible treatments. As Carroll and Wilson state, "it is a straightforward manual on how to raise sheep for the best return on your money" (26). The work concludes with some lines of verse that do not match the style of Jean de Brie at all; as the editors observe, "this poem is of doubtful authorship" (186).

So it is a how-to manual: how to care for sheep in the late fourteenth century when the animal had tremendous value as a cash crop. Carroll and Wilson do a reasonable job of explaining the life of a medieval shepherd, the importance of the wool industry, and the changes that occurred in the fourteenth century that made sheep ownership even more profitable (5-9). They allow Jean de Brie to tell the reader how to raise and care for sheep. We learn that shepherds had tending and veterinary responsibilities but did not shear ("la tonsure n'est pas de la propre essence du droit art du mestier de la bergerie" [124]). Carroll and Wilson bring to this effort their combined expertise as editors and translators of medieval texts. The book cover reports that Wilson "was actively involved in sheep raising," though we do not know if she found Le Bon Berger a useful tool in that endeavor.

The question of readership of this edition is intriguing. The linguistic analysis is done by comparing the language of the text to modern French, so it is intimated that readers know the modern language. We have a facing-page translation, which might suggest readers who can handle Middle French with a crutch. However, every quotation from a French source is cited in French and accompanied by an English translation in square brackets, targeting a readership that cannot handle Modern or Middle French. The bottom of the page of Middle French text offers variant readings, useful for the scholar (additional discussion of variants is found in the Textual Notes at the end of the volume); the bottom of the page of the translation offers notes regarding translations of specific terms (such as the scientific names for plants or the dictionary source for the translation). At the end of the book are textual notes for the Middle French text; these notes include details of interest to the linguist and also to the pastoralist. Based on this evidence, I am not sure who the intended audience for this edition is: a modern-day sheep farmer would not be interested in medieval cures for ovine maladies; a modern-day French scholar should not need all the translations, though perhaps historians whose work leads them to sheep will benefit.

The editors tell us that "this book was written to provide first-hand information and expertise" for the sheep owner (28); to that end, they provide Supplementary Comments (marked with a double dagger) in a section after the textual notes. The supplementary comments are varied and include discussion of elements of translation, e.g., how the editors translated the malady Jean de Brie calls yrengnier (201), details on animal parasites such as flatworms (198), or a treatment for sore mouth (204).

The editors may think they worked out a reasonable system by which the reader can find all the information in the various locations of notes and commentaries; I would not agree. For one, the reader must move between several sections of the page and the book; I offer as example pages 76 and 77. Page 76 holds the Middle French text, with variants at the bottom of the page and one word marked with an asterisk, sending the reader to the textual notes. Page 77, the English translation, has its own footnote and three words marked with a double dagger, sending the reader to the supplementary comments. Moreover, all the textual notes and supplementary comments are referenced by page and line number from the first edition (V). These page numbers are indicated in the Middle French text; they do not appear in the English translation. V's line numbers are not provided anywhere. Because the end-note reference system depends on the V text, one must spend time counting lines and guessing. The editors would have done readers a great service had they included the page and original line numbers in both the Middle French text and English translation or if they had devised a way to put all the information of the notes on the same pages as their text and translation.

Further difficulties for the reader: the paragraphing of the two texts do not align. One example, though it is not unique: page 97 (the translation) has the end of one paragraph and four new paragraphs after that, whereas the French facing text has the end of one paragraph and two new paragraphs afterwards. Why not use the same paragraph division for both texts?

The translation is generally well done; Carroll and Wilson are to be commended for transmitting not only Jean de Brie's style but also his technical knowledge, with appropriate technical terms in English. I do have a few suggestions for improvement of the translation: for si y mette une pierre (36) "let him place a stone," I suggest pebble rather than stone, for an object serving as a bookmark; for par grant cure (48) "through great application," I suggest "through great practice"; the editors should know that Paris's "Straw Lane" was the site of the University of Paris, so that the passage quant ledit de Brie eut esté ainsi licencié et magistre en ceste science de bergerie, qu'il en estoit digne de lire en la ruelle au feurre (54) should be translated as "when de Brie had been granted license and mastery in this science of shepherd so that he was worthy of teaching at the university"; prangiere vers middy (72), "dinnertime toward noon," might be better understood in North America as "lunchtime around noon"; [le huat] annonce la pluye (78), "it announces rain", might be better as "it predicts rain"; il doit plouvoir (78), "it is due to rain," is probably "it is about to rain." Nouer le pan au droit neu (94) is translated "tie the tip...with a square knot"--my concern is that "square knot" is a technical term; I suspect Jean de Brie meant "with a good knot." For le sonnaillier se arreste (131), "the bellweather may come to a standstill," I would offer "the bellweather may stop." The translators were uncertain how to align la feste de la nativité Nostre Dame (164) with activities in the month of March, since the Feast of the Nativity of the Virgin occurs on September 8 (205). However, Jean de Brie might have been thinking of a different feast in honor of the Virgin: the Feast of the Annunciation, or March 25.

There are elements that warranted more explanation than Carroll and Wilson have given. One example, Jean de Brie advises that, after a day in wet fields, the flock should be fed "dry bean stems and not those of peas, for bean forage is a dry feed and that of peas moist" (109). A brief explanation of humoral theory would have explained the medieval logic of this advice--the sheep need a dry feed to compensate for the wet grass they had eaten earlier in the day.

After both sets of notes, we are provided with an Appendix of Printer's Errors and a useful bibliography of works specific to Le Bon Berger, general and reference works and other medieval and Renaissance texts cited. There is also an index to the text and to the translation, mostly of place names, personal names, plants and diseases mentioned by Jean de Brie.

Carroll and Wilson deserve praise for bringing this interesting text to the attention of English readers. They had to deal with a work filled with technical vocabulary far from their own translating experience; they had to treat four Renaissance printings as if they were four manuscript witnesses; they had to become experts in animal husbandry in order to understand fully what Jean de Brie was trying to say. While the book is not without its faults, the editors have succeeded in creating a trustworthy edition of the text and bringing Jean de Brie to the Anglophone public; his Le Bon Berger merits our attention for its utility as an example of late medieval French and for its advice on how to manage your sheepfold.

Copyright (c) 2015 Wendy Pfeffer

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