Academic journal article Arthuriana

Constantinople and the West in Medieval French Literature: Renewal and Utopia

Academic journal article Arthuriana

Constantinople and the West in Medieval French Literature: Renewal and Utopia

Article excerpt

RIMA DEVEREAUX, Constantinople and the West in Medieval French Literature: Renewal and Utopia. Gallica Vol. 25. Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2012. Pp. 248. isbn: 978-1- 843-84302-3. $90.

Rima Devereaux's Constantinople and the West in Medieval French Literature: Renewal and Utopia is a recent offering from Boydell & Brewer's influential Gallica series. Constantinople figures frequently and varyingly across the spectrum of Medieval French literature. A fruitful analysis of the function of the Byzantine capital within the Old French tradition must therefore be limited in scope, and Devereaux does not pretend to offer a comprehensive study of the topic. The works that she includes, which, on the surface, lack an obvious coherence, all enact what she perceives to be a debate between the admittedly (as she notes) ambiguous and slippery concepts of 'utopia' and 'renewal.' The first of the three sections of the book is subtitled 'the terms of the debate,' and indeed there is much discussion here of the various possible understandings of the concepts of 'renewal' and 'utopia' and how this perceived tension between them will enact itself within different works. Her choices of texts, which she carefully justifies, reflect the diversity of genres within Old French literature, a fact that allows her to venture some tentative observations concerning what Constantinople can tell us about the generic status of Old French texts.

Early on Devereaux both acknowledges her debt to and distinguishes herself from Krijnie Ciggaar, the author of Western Travellers to Constantinople: The West and Byzantium, 962-1204: Cultural and Political Relations. In particular, she draws on Ciggaar's application of the concept of translatio to the problem of Constantinople in the imagination of the medieval West. Devereaux further develops the concept of translatio, however, to reflect what she sees as a tension-filled dichotomy between the Byzantine capital as site of the quest for renewal by the Latin West and the Byzantine capital as object of admiration for its status as a utopia. Her book consists of a series of systematic, though often perceptibly strained, applications of this theory. …

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