Academic journal article Medium Aevum

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

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

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 (Cambridge: D. S. Brewer; Rochester, NY: Boydell & Brewer, 2012). xii + 234 pages. ISBN 978-1-83484-302-3. £50.00.

Rima Devereaux's study of the place of Constantinople in Old French literature delves through literary sources, architectural motifs, and visual representations. Divided into six chapters that trace the historical evolution of Franco-Byzantine relations from the twelfth to the thirteenth century, her study offers a wealth of information about one of the most important cultural and imperial powers of the high Middle Ages. Turning around the twin dyads of renewal and utopia, and aemulatio and translatio, Devereaux reads ten Old French texts to address what she identifies as two critical questions: 'How does the texts' representation of Constantinople enact this debate between renewal and utopia?' And 'How does the representation of the city of Constantinople contribute to a debate on the generic status of the texts?' (pp. if.). The introduction situates Constantinople as one of the most important medieval cities that 'embodied an otherworldly and irreducibly different culture, celebrated as the utopian locus of a categorical and inimitable difference', studied in ten Old French texts. In chapter 1, Devereaux seeks to identify points of East-West historical contact as sites upon which authors stretched medieval notions of the city. She quickly asserts that westerners were not interested in imitating Constantinople through admiratio or aemulatio. Rather, she contends, they were interested in its opposite, renovatio, 'highlighting] the need for an independent renewal of the West. ... mak[ing] a distinction between renewal and utopia' (pp. 14, 20). In chapter 2, she expands on this theory, for example writing of Eracle's push for renewal that 'the spiritual renewal of the West... holds up to the audience a model to imitate, the portrayal of Rome and Persia, and even the failings of the hero Eracle, serve to warn the audience of what it might become if it is not renewed' (p. 42). Part II focuses on the twin concepts of aemulatio and admiratio in characterizing East-West relations, which Devereaux explores within the context of Franco-Byzantine cross-cultural marriages. Yet she asserts that East-West relations are eclipsed by what she sees as the ever-present power of Christian institutions, notably papal authority (chapter 2) and the domination of monastic communities (chapter 3, p. …

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