The Alexandreis of Walter of Chatillon: A Twelfth-Century Epic: a Verse Translation

The Alexandreis of Walter of Chatillon: A Twelfth-Century Epic: a Verse Translation

The Alexandreis of Walter of Chatillon: A Twelfth-Century Epic: a Verse Translation

The Alexandreis of Walter of Chatillon: A Twelfth-Century Epic: a Verse Translation

Synopsis

David Townsend's translation - the first ever into English verse - affords modern readers a vivid sense of the aesthetic appeal and sophisticated artistry of Walter's poem. A concise introduction sets out the poem's background and significance in literary history, while also suggesting how Walter's text resonates with the literary sensibilities of our own times. Townsend's explanatory notes, adapted in large part from glosses in the surviving manuscripts, allow modern audiences a remarkable glimpse into the ways in which medieval readers of the Alexandreis must have understood the poem.

Excerpt

It is a matter of time-honored custom, when anything new is recited in the ears of the multitude, that the mob habitually breaks up into various passions. One applauds and proclaims that what he's heard is praiseworthy. Another is led on by his ignorance, or else he is perverted by the prick of malice or hatred's tinder, to judge harshly even what is well spoken: he deems that well-turned verses must be returned to the anvil. It is amazing that the human race has been so distorted from its original nature--that nature by which all the things that God had created were very good--that it is more inclined to damn than to forgive, and finds it easier to distort what seems dubious than to put the better construction on such things. Long fearing this, I intended to suppress you forever, O my Alexandreis, and either to destroy outright a work of five years' labor, or at least to bury it in obscurity as long as I lived. At last I decided that I must bring you out into the light: thus at length you might dare come to public notice. Indeed, I hardly think myself superior to the bard of Mantua: though his works exceeded mortal capability, they were denigrated by the tongues of carping poets, who presumed to slander when he was dead one whom none among mortals equaled while he lived. But our Jerome, a man as distinguished for his eloquence as for his Christian piety, who was accustomed to answer his rivals in his various prefaces, makes it clear that among authors there remains no place of safety, since the goad of his competitors stung even a man of such acknowledged authority. But if, despite all this, some attraction will perhaps still entice readers to this little work, I wish to implore them, should they find anything flawed or worthy of ridicule in the volume, to consider the restricted brevity of the time in which we wrote it, and the loftiness of the material, which, as Servius attests, none of the ancient poets dared undertake for a thorough treatment. Let them . . .

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