Provençal literature

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Provençal literature

Provençal literature, vernacular literature of S France. Provençal, or Occitan, as the language is now often called, appears to have been the first vernacular tongue used in French commerce and literature. Provençal literature, originating in Limousin, flourished (11th–12th cent.) in the whole area of S France, where langue d'oc was spoken and medieval civilization flowered. Elements drawn from a Latin heritage, from the Arabic civilization to the south, and from Christian concepts were combined to create a new and striking lyric poetry. From Latin models came the bases for imagery, rhetoric, and metrics; from Arabic poetry may have been drawn ideas of service, secret love, and spiritualization of passion, and to the latter source Christian beliefs probably contributed. Idealization of love emerged in Provençal poetry as a concept of humble (and often unrewarded) service of a lady worshiped from afar; this was a new and important theme in Western literature. Also significant was the great mastery of form, which became increasingly complex in the 13th cent. Although texts are extant from 1000, the first known troubadour was William IX, Duke of Aquitaine (c.1080–1127). He and his descendants, Eleanor of Aquitaine and her son King Richard I of England, were famous patrons of poetry. Among the great Provençal poets of the 12th cent. were Bernard de Ventadour, Bertrand de Born, Arnaud Daniel (admired by both Dante and Petrarch), Geraut de Borniel, and Jaufré Rudel. The outstanding work of the period is the epic Girart de Roussillon. Although Provençal poetry declined with the waning of the 13th cent., it exerted enormous influence on poets throughout Western Europe. The Albigensian Crusade (1209–29) and the introduction of the Inquisition resulted in the flight of many troubadours to Spain and Italy. But important works remain from the 13th cent., including Jaufré, an Arthurian romance; Flamenca, a masterly romance of manners; and biographies of the troubadours. An academy, established (1324) at Toulouse, published (c.1345) a book of rules for poetry. Provençal literature continued to live during the next centuries, with its most significant output in the popular genres: drama, carols, and burlesques. The 19th-century romantic interest in the Middle Ages and in national literatures inspired a revival, led by Joseph Roumanille (1818–91). An association of Provençal poets, the Félibrige, was formed (1854) to establish a common orthography for the various dialects and to purify and enrich the vocabulary. Frédéric Mistral won international acclaim for his national epic Mirèio (1859). Other fine works include those of Théodore Aubanel (1829–86). Literary activity in the language continues today at a lesser pace.

See R. T. Hill and T. G. Bergin, Anthology of the Provençal Troubadours (2 vol., 2d rev. ed. 1973); F. M. Chambers, An Introduction to Old Provençal Versification (1985).

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