Lord Rivers and Oxford, Bodleian Library, Ms Bodley 264: A Speculum for the Prince of Wales?

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The purpose of this essay is to shed light on the possible use of Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Bodley 264 in a rather obscure period of its life. A new hypothesis is here proposed: it involves Anthony Woodville, second Earl Rivers (c. 1440 to 1483) and the role of the codex in the education of his nephew, Edward IVs son and the future Edward V. MS Bodley 264 is famous among scholars of medieval French literature and philology as it contains one of the most valuable recensions of the Roman d'Alexandre; yet it is also notable for the presence of the only extant copy of the Middle English alliterative poem known as Alexander and Dindimus. The manuscript results from the bringing together of three distinct units: the first is a collection of French poems on the gests of Alexander the Great, among which the Roman is the most famous; the second is represented by Alexander and Dindimus, (1) while the last contains a French re-elaboration of Marco Polo's Milione, known as Livre du Grant Caam. (2) A note on fol. 208r reveals that the core of the manuscript, represented by the Roman group, is dated to 1338. Alexander and Dindimus and Caam are later interpolations. Originally, the English poem was conceived as an independent unit: transmitted in a single quaternio (fols. 209r-216v), it is datable on linguistic grounds to the fifteenth century.

Alexander and Dindimus deals with the epistolary exchange between Alexander the Great and Dindimus, king of the Indian people called Bragmans. The two sovereigns allegorically embody the conflict between two cultural models: Alexander's, materialistic and aimed at earthly power, and Dindimus's, ascetic and spiritual. The story is the following: in his campaign to the East, Alexander enters the easternmost regions of India. His first encounter is with the Gymnosophists (here incorrectly called Bragmans), who live in poverty and meditation. Alexander decides to spare them and claims that he would fulfill anything they desire: they demand eternal life, the only thing Alexander cannot grant even for himself; they ask him why he desires to submit the whole peoples of the world, since life is so short. Alexander answers that he must accomplish the fate gods have planned for him and continues his journey. At the bank of the river Phison, impossible to wade except on certain months of the year, Alexander sees some men on the opposite side and sends a message to their king Dindimus. Here, a long epistle exchange between the two takes place. In the first letter, Alexander asks Dindimus to tell him about his customs, as his people are known all over the world for their wisdom. Dindimus answers that they do not farm, hunt or fish; they do not use fire, they live in caves and they die at an indefinite age. They do not wear any clothes and their women do not use make-up to appear fairer. They always tell the truth, and have never threatened anybody or fought with any people. By contrast, he accuses Alexander of being wicked and a liar and strongly condemns his cruel exercise of power, his love for war and his faith in false gods. Finally, he gives the major classic divinities typically earthly faults, like greed, lust and falsehood. Alexander claims that Dindimus has no right to criticize his behavior and way of life since his is so miserable. According to the Macedonian, his people live like animals and ignore earthly joys. Dindimus answers that human life is nothing but a passage and that Alexander's deeds do not increase God's glory, but his own pride. He cannot drink the gold he continually longs for, and the Bragmans behave more wisely than he because they trample on it as on any other kind of stone. Dindimus goes on reproaching Alexander, telling him that he does not realize he lives in error, and that he is doing a favor to him in showing his mistakes. Alexander closes the exchange answering that they live in an island in the middle of a river like prisoners: in this way, God decreed for them a miserable life. …