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in the tale.

He is the youngest of three brothers, a youth of extraordinary physical
strength, who wins a reputation for boldness and courage. His eldest brother
seizes his possessions and tries to get rid of him, but is outwitted and in the
end hanged for his sins. The hero is a reckless outlaw, who defies sheriff
and justice of the peace with a light heart. He has been driven to this life,
however, simply by necessity : " He must needs walk in wood that may not
walk in town." He is in the wood, he asserts,

no harm for to do,
But if we meet with a deer to shoot thereto,
As men that be hungry, and may no meat find.
And be hard bested under wood-Iind.

So; when the king wishes, he is very glad to make friends with him, and
accepts from his monarch a position as " Chief Justice of all his free forest,"
provided only that all his "wight young men" are likewise forgiven and
well treated.

This is essentially a manly tale. Women are rigidly ex-
cluded. To be sure, just at the close, Gamelyn is said to have
wedded a wife " both good and fair " ; but that was not a
matter to be talked about. Strangely enough, in the future
development of the story love and marriage assume the chief
place. Gamelyn gives way to Orlando, and Rosalind is intro-
duced to ennoble as well as to complicate the tale. In some way
or other, a version of it got into the hands of Thomas Lodge,
who used it as a basis for the first part of his novel entitled
Eupkues' Golden Legacy. On this novel Shakspere founded
his play of As You Like Lt.

Times had changed when Shakspere wrote. The forest
of Arden was not then the abode of outlaws as of old. Now
the past is even more remote, but still we feel with Keats :

Gone, the merry morris din.
Gone, the song of Gamelyn;
Gone, the tough-belted outlaw
Idling in the ' ' grene shawe. "...


So it is ; yet let us sing
Honour to the old bow-string !
Honour to the bugle-horn I
Honour to the woods unshorn !
Honour to the Lincoln green I
Honour to the archer keen !

" Next to adventures of Robin Hood and his men, the most
favourite topic in English popular poetry is the chance encounter
of a king, unrecognised as such, with one of his humbler subjects.
. . . The most familiar of these tales are The King and the Tanner,
and The King and the Miller ; the former reaching back beyond
the sixteenth century, the latter perhaps not beyond the seven-
teenth, but modelled upon tales of respectable antiquity, of which
there is a specimen from the early years of the thirteenth century."
Summaries of several such tales will be found in the fifth volume
of Professor Child's English and Scottish Popular Ballads, from
which the words above are quoted. The early thirteenth-century
story referred to is that of " pril-wril " told by Giraldus Cambrensis
about Henry II. Another very entertaining one is embodied in
John the Reeve, a poem of 910 lines, preserved only in the Percy
Folio MS., but dating from the fifteenth century. It relates an
adventure of Edward Longshanks, which, it seems, was credited
by his contemporaries; for, not long after his death, the poet
Occleve wrote these words :

O worthy king benign, Edward the last.
Thou had'st often in thy heart a dread impressed
Which that thy humble ghost full sore aghast,
And to know if thou cursed wert or blessed,
Among the people oft hast thou thee dressed
Into the country, in simple array alone,
To hear what men said of thy person.

John the Reeve is mentioned by both Gavin Douglas and
Dunbar in conjunction with Ralph Collier, whose acquaintance we
have already made as the chance associate of Charlemagne. In
late broadsides and tracts, similar tales are told of other kings :


Alfred, James I., William III., and Henry VIII. Bishop Percy
justly praised John the Reeve for " genuine humour, diverting
incidents, and faithful pictures of rustic manners " ; but he could
have found nothing good to say of these poor imitations. We
recall the dialogue in Love's Labour's Lost :

Armado. Is there not a ballad, boy, of the King and the Beggar ?

Moth. The world was very guilty of such a ballad some three ages
since ; but I think now 'tis not to be found ; or, if it-were, it would neither
serve for the writing nor the tune.

The Matter of Greece and Rome

The Story of Troy

In the House of Fame, Chaucer enumerates the chief writers
honoured in his time for their treatment of classical themes,
"folk of digne reverence," whom, in his dream, he saw standing
on high pillars of distinction. Beside Statius, who bore up upon
his shoulders the fame of Thebes and the cruel Achilles, stood

Ful wonder hye on a pileer
Of yren, he, the gret Omeer ;
And with him Dares and Tytus
Before, and eek he, Lollius,
And Guido eek de Columpnis,
And English Gaufride eek, y-wis ;
And ech of these, so have I Joye,
Was besy for to bere up Troye.
So hevy ther-of was the fame,
That for to bere it was no game.

Who are these five men associated with Homer, and what
have they to do with the matter of antiquity ? Much indeed, if
we consider the state of mediaeval knowledge. From them, not
from Homer, our ancestors derived their information of the
famous war of antiquity. Chaucer calls Homer "the great,"
and no doubt knew that the fame of the Trojans depended
finally on his splendid poem. But with the Iliad he and his


contemporaries certainly had no first-hand acquaintance. It
was not, of course, their fault. Greek was a language which
few then understood, and the ancient " tale of Troy divine " was
not accessible to them as it is to us. Had they known Homer,
they would at once have acknowledged his literary superiority to
all his successors who treated the same theme, unless perhaps for
patriotic reasons they had withheld their praise of his work. In
the following words Chaucer reveals the first secret of the neglect
of Homer :

But yit I gan ful wel espye,
Eetwix hem was a litel envye,
Oon seyde, Omere made lyes,
Feyninge in his poetiyes.
And was to Grekes favorable ;
Therfor held he hit but fable.

In the Middle Ages Englishmen firmly believed themselves
to be of Trojan descent, and applauded those only amongst the
narrators of the story of Troy who ministered to their national
pride. On this ground they were particularly grateful to Geoffrey
of Monmouth (" the English Gaufride "), who was almost as re-
sponsible for the renown of the legendary Brutus as for that of

With Geoffrey's contribution to the matter we may begin.
Before tracing the development of the romantic history of the
Trojan War, we must first examine the basis of the widespread
tradition of the blood connection of the Western peoples with
the Trojan race. This was regarded in the Middle Ages in Eng-
land almost as an axiom of historical truth. English chroniclere
after the Conquest seldom failed to mention it ; no reader
ever dreamed of disputing the accuracy of his author's assertions.
Had Milton, even in his time, written a national epic of Arthur,
as he purposed, he would unquestionably have begun with this
fable. Following Geoffrey, he would have recounted the journey
of the Trojans to Britain and the deeds of their posterity, includ-
ing the story of "Sabrina fair,"


Virgin, daughter of Locrine,
Sprung of old Anchises line.

Before Geoffrey, this voyage was believed in and recounted ;
but it was reserved for him to enlarge and elaborate the narrative
with picturesque detail. Brutus, we learn, having set sail from
Greece to establish for himself a new kingdom, and at a
loss whither to direct his course, lands at a dispeopled island
called Leogecia, to consult the oracle in an ancient temple of
Diana. The Latin elegiacs which Geoffrey, his Virgil in mind,
represents him as then uttering, Milton thus translates :

Goddess of Shades, and Huntress, who at will
Walk'st on the rolling sphere, and through the deep,
On thy third reign, the Earth, look now, and tell
What land, what seat of rest thou bidd'st me seek.
What certain seat, where I may worship thee
For aye, with temples vowed, and virgin quires.

And this is the reply that the warrior in a vision receives from
the goddess :

Brutus, far to the West, in the ocean wide,
Beyond the realm of Gaul, a land there lies.
Sea-girt it lies, where giants dwelt of old ;
Now void, it fits thy people. Thither bend
Thy course ; there shall thou find a lasting seat ;
There to thy sons another Troy shall rise,
And kings be bom of thee, whose dreaded might
Shall awe the world, and conquer nations bold.

Thus guided, Brutus makes his way with a brilliant company
to Britain, where, after some struggles with giants and other
opponents, he builds a new Troy.

Geoffrey's story gained universal credence. The account of
the Trojan invasion was speedily accepted as a very ancient
tradition, and the British plumed themselves in consequence of
their supposed illustrious descent As prone as we to romance
about the past, our forbears of a thousand years ago willingly
lengthened out the genealogy of their race by conjecture.


. But not only were the British, as shown by Geofifrey, of
Trojan descent: so also in other ways were the Franks, the
Saxons, the Danes, and the Normans— in truth, almost all the
nations of Western Europe. If Arthur belonged to the lineage
of Trojan kings, so also did Odin and Charlemagne, Alfred the
Great, Cnut, and William the Conqueror. To show how this was
brought about would be too long a tale to tell here. It will be suffi-
cient to indicate why it was a matter of great political and literary
moment. On our ancestors in England its influence was three-
fold: it supported them in a feeling of national and personal
dignity; it united them in sentiment with other races supposedly
of the same blood; and it made them eager to hear the tales
of antiquity.

Geoffrey surely did his best to arouse feelings of independence
on this account. He represents Julius Csesar as saying of the
Britons when he first got a prospect of their land :

In truth, we Romans and the Britons have the same origin, since both are
descended from the Trojan race. Our first father, after the destruction of
Troy, was ^neas ; theirs, Brutus, whose father was Sylvius, the son of
Ascanius, the son of ^^neas. . . . Before the Romans offer to invade or
assault them, we must send them word that they pay tribute as other nations
do, and submit themselves to the senate ; for fear we should violate the blood
of our kinsmen.

In Cassibelaun's answer to Csesar we see how their supposed
origin may have engendered actual pride in the islanders :

Your demand, Caesar, is scandalous, since the same vein of nobility flows
from yEneas in both Britons and Romans, and one and the same chain of
consanguinity unites us ; which ought to be a band of firm union and friend-
ship. It was that which you should have demanded of us, and not slavery ;
we have learned to admit the one, but never to bear the other.

For this potent conviction, cherished by the people, literary
men were in the beginning wholly responsible. By way of recom-
pense, it helped to perpetuate the literature of antiquity. To the
mediaeval versions of the Trojan War we now turn.

The Jliad was epitomised, perhaps as early as the first cen-


tury, by Pindarus Thebanus, in a Latin poem of iioo hexameter
lines — a work composed, it is reported, for the convenience of the
author's son, not inelegant, yet without much feeling for propor-
tion or exactitude of fact, written more in the style of the Latin
poets than the Greek. In the second century probably, there
appeared in Greek a book of annals of the Trojan War, which
circulated widely in a Latin redaction called the Efhemeris Belli
Trojani, attributed to one Dictys Cretensis. This account pro-
fessed to have been written by a participant in the siege of Troy,
a Cretan of Gnossus, at first in the Phoenician language. It was
enclosed, we are informed, in a tin chest and placed in the
historian's tomb. In the thirteenth year of the reign of Nero,
however, an earthquake opened the tomb, and the work, then
rediscovered, was borne to the Emperor, who had it turned
into Greek and placed in a library. Later it was translated into
Latin. Strangely enough, this preposterous story was widely
credited, and the history itself was regarded for many centuries as
authoritative by the learned Greeks of the Lower Empire.

In the sixth century, probably, was written another work on
the Trojan War, the object of which was plainly to destroy the
effect of Dictys's account, which favoured the Greeks, by pre-
senting the matter from a point of view flattering to the Trojans.
Dares Phrygius, the fancied author, was proudly introduced to
the world and represented as an eye-witness on the Trojan
side, whose Historia de Excidio Trojae gave the true statement
of the war. This impudent forgery, for which likewise ancient
authority was claimed, is a flimsy document with no literary
or historical value ; but it was received with enthusiasm by all
who believed in their Trojan descent, and in France particularly,
where innumerable copies still exist, it was regarded as precious
to a degree.

Apparently, it was more than once elaborated and extended in
the course of time to satisfy the desires of those who wished more
information than the inadequate account of Dares afforded. At
all events, it seems necessary to assume a considerable develop-


ment of the story to explain the first important treatment of the
theme in mediteval literature, that of the skilful French clerk
Benoit da Ste. More (near Tours), who, about 1165, wrote a
Roman de Troie, which at once became the standard account of
the famous strife. Manuscripts quickly multiplied, despite the
poem's great length of over 30,000 lines; it underwent redac-
tions ; it was translated into several languages ; it was referred to
in the Middle Ages countless times. The work was dedicated to
Queen Eleanor, wife of Henry II. We need have no doubt the
Anglo-Normans knew it well.

Benoit was a writer of no mean merit. His style is clear,
fresh, and flowing. His story, being long-drawn-out and
burdened -with detail, is naturally monotonous in parts, but by
compensation in others it is told with peculiar vigour and
dramatic force. It is one of the chief productions of the most
brilliant half-century of Old French literature. Then, too, were
written a Roman de Thebes and a Roman d' Eneas, remodellings of
the works of Statius and Virgil, animated by the mediaeval spirit.
This spirit, it is important to observe, was not in the least that of
antiquity. The writers of these " romances " paid no heed to
what we now call " historical colour." They did not try to put
themselves into the world of their heroes, to picture them as they
really were, in the surroundings in which they actually lived.
The Roman de Troie is a picture of life in mediaeval France.
The leading characters bear Greek and Roman names, to be
sure, but they wear the apparel and equip themselves in the
armour commonly used in Benoit's time. They inhabit castles
with drawbridges and crenellated towers and donjon keeps, like
those of the followers of Henry II. They carry on their warfare
like feudal lords of his day; they act like them in times of
peace, observe the same customs, are actuated by the same
impulses, stimulated by the same faith. The worshippers of
heathen gods have transferred their allegiance to the one supreme
deity of the Bible. Calchas is represented as a Christian
bishop, with a goodly provision of monks and cloisters under his


rule. The Trojans fast on appropriate occasions and swear by
relics solemn oaths. The gods and goddesses of classical
mythology, who are so influential in Homer's epic in directing
the affairs of men, have entirely disappeared in BenoJt's romance,
rejected with incredulous scorn. On the other hand, the popular
beliefs in fairies, demons, and occult spirits have left an obvious
mark : Hector is loved by Arthur's sister Morgain the fay, and
rides a magic horse he gets from her. We are astonished to find
warriors with such names as Leopoldus de Rhodes, Doglas,
Margariton, Brun de Gimel associating with famous heroes of
the past. No explanation was given, for none was demanded.
Benoit saw antiquity through a glass darkly, and relished the
sight. He transmitted his cloudy vision to his contemporaries
and they rejoiced with him. The French through his work got
the same sort of view of Greece and Rome that Crestien gave
them of ancient Britain. Benoit and Crestien were products of
the same conditions ; they lived in a personal age, when men saw
themselves in the past, an era of interest to them almost entirely
because it contributed to their enjoyment or fostered their pride.
The strange transformation of the matter of Rome and Britain in
their hands was perhaps as unconscious as inevitable.

Benolt's roiflance suffered an undeserved fate. It was largely
superseded in popular favour by a Latin translation that professed '
to be based directly on Dares. This was the Historia Destructionis
Trojae by Guido delle Colonne, which appeared in 1287, and (as
is attested by the numerous extant manuscripts, and by the fact
that it has been turned into some ten languages) attained lasting
popularity. Guido was a judge at Messina in Sicily, and undertook
to write at the invitation of the Archbishop of Salerno, Hugo de
Porta. He was a learned man, and, though following Benoit in
the main, made additions from various other sources, particularly
Virgil and Ovid. Occasionally he gave himself loose rein in
moral reflection. On women he was particularly severe. It was
surely with intent to deceive that he made no mention of Benoit
as a source.

RO^tANCE 289

Here we cannot discuss even the most important versions of
the story of Troy, based on Benolt and Guido, in the various
languages of Europe, though we might come thereby to a better
understanding of one of the chief means by which men of different
nationalities in the Middle Ages were welded together in a
common sentiment. We must limit ourselves to English, in which
many metrical versions appeared in and after the fourteenth
century. Before examining them, however, it is well to recall the
fact that the history was for centuries before familiar in French,
and also that in 1187 or thereabouts had appeared Joseph
of Exeter's Latin poem De Bella Trojano. Joseph shows unusual
originality and skill in presenting material derived chiefly from
Dares, Ovid, and Statius, perhaps also from Virgil.

The earliest extant English version of the story, a faithful
translation of Guido, appears to be the alliterative poem, over
14,000 lines long, entitled The Geste Hystoriale of the Destruction
of Troy, which exists in a unique manuscript in the West
Midland dialect. The author had considerable poetic power.
His style is at times very vigorous and impressive. He intro-
duces into the narrative passages that show him the heir of
excellent traditions from the English past.

In the less significant poem The Siege of Troy (in short
couplets) we seem to have a free abridgment of part of Benoit's
romance, which the author had before him in a somewhat
enlarged form — a form like that which Konrad von Wiirzburg
used for his Trojane?-krieg, and Gower for some of the tales in
the Confessio Amantis, a form which contained the Odyssey as
well as the Trojan War. As the title indicates, the author's chief
concern was with the siege of the city, and he therefore treats
very succinctly the preceding events.

But of all the English versions of the legend as a whole, the
best is certainly the Troy- book of Chaucer's devoted disciple,
John Lydgate, monk of Bury St. Edmunds, which he began in
1412 or a little later, and when complete presented to Henry V.
In 15 1 3 it was printed by Pynson at the command of Henry VIIL,



under the title of The History, Siege, and Destruction of Troy, and
afterwards by others with sundry changes. Lydgate based his
poem, over 30,000 lines long, mainly on Guido; but he treated
his material with much freedom, and in so doing added greatly
to its charm. His descriptions of natural scenes, of festivals,
combats, and the like are interesting and picturesque. Lydgate
was a much better poet than he is usually reputed to be, and in
many passages the Troy-book bears witness to his power. He
moves freely in the stanza of his master's Troilus.

Several other versions of Guido, not yet printed, were written
in the fifteenth century. Fragments of a Scottish version, in all
about 3715 lines, are preserved in two copies of the Troy-book,
to fill lacunas. The poem from which they were taken must have
been very long. It is ascribed to one Barbour, though whether
or no he can be identified with the author of the Bruce is still a
matter of dispute. But that version of Guido which was destined
to become most popular in England, and supersede all the rest
but Lydgate's, was contained in Caxton's Recuyell of the Historyes
of Troye, a translation from the French prose of Raoul le Fevre.
This work was compiled by the author in 1464 (four years only
before the Order of the Golden Fleece was founded), at the
command of Philip the Good of Burgundy. Caxton translated
it in 1471, and a few years later, about 1474, put it in type, thus
making it the first English printed book. It ran through no less
than fourteen editions between 1503 and 1738, and within the
last few years has been twice reprinted — not, surely, because of
its merit.

The French metrical romance of Benoit and the Latin prose
would-be history of Guido evidently enjoyed great popularity in
England in Chaucer's time, as before and after. That Chaucer
himself knew both intimately there is abundant evidence to show.
It is possible that he may also have known Dares at first hand.
He did not, however, decide, like so many of his contemporaries
and successors, to recount again the whole story of the Trojan
War, but chose rather to renew and revivify an episode of a


romantic, not a belligerent, character, the now famous love of
Troilus and Cressida. In choosing this theme he was influenced
by the example of his favourite author, Boccaccio, who had
previously written a poem on the subject that served our great
poet as a guide. Before discussing Chaucer's indebtedness to
Boccaccio in this regard, we must first trace briefly the develop-
ment of the theme.

Its beginnings are, in truth, somewhat obscure. We have
now no literary treatment of the episode earlier than Benoit, and
yet it is to be presumed that he did not wholly invent it. Dares,
to be sure, says very little about Briseida (or Briseis, for such was
the Greek name of Achilles' mistress), simply describing her
among others of the Grecian camp ; but what he says seems to
indicate that her characteristics of appearance and disposition were
then well known : " Briseidam formosam, alta statura, candidam,
capillo flauo et molli, superciliis junctis, oculis venustis, corpora
aequali, blandem, affabilem, verecundam, animo simplici, piam."
Dares praises Troilus also ; but he and Briseida are not connected.
Apparently the tale of her love for Troilus and Diomed was some-
what developed in forms of the story now lost, so that Benoit's
elaboration of the incident need not all be laid to the credit of
his imagination, though undoubtedly he contributed much to its
charm. In Benoit the emphasis is laid rather upon the way in
which Diomed won the love of Briseida, which she had previously
pledged to Troilus, than upon the manner of its first awakening
by the Trojan hero.

Briseida is the maiden daughter of Calchas, who has deserted Troy to
join the Greeks. She is loved by the hero Troihis, who is disconsolate when
(an exchange of prisoners having been effected after the capture of Antenor)
she leaves the Trojan camp to be united to her father. Diomed, the Greek,
whose duty it is to conduct her to his camp, falls passionately In love with
her, and finally succeeds in winning her regard. In a first combat with
Troilus he overcomes him, and senils the steed he captures to Briseida. In
another engagement, however, Troilus wounds him very severely, and vents
his indignation on his former love because of the way she has deceived him.
Slie, moved by pity for Diomed, then deprives Troilus even of her lingering


affection, and abandons herself wholly to his rival. Troilus apparently con-

Online LibraryWilliam Henry SchofieldEnglish literature from the Norman conquest to Chaucer → online text (page 26 of 46)