Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Parrots and Nightingales: Troubadour Quotations and the Development of European Poetry

Academic journal article Medium Aevum

Parrots and Nightingales: Troubadour Quotations and the Development of European Poetry

Article excerpt

Sarah Kay, Parrots and Nightingales: Troubadour Quotations and the Development of European Poetry (Philadelphia, Pa: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013). viii + 464 pp. ISBN 978-0-8122-4525-7. $79.95.

A new book by Sarah Kay is always an event and this one is no exception. What claims to be a study of the quotation of troubadour lyrics (between 01200 and 1400, over 600 passages were cited from some 350 poems by more than 100 troubadours) is that and much more. Kay charts two major citational modes in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries: that of the parrot and the nightingale. The former quotes more or less verbatim, but in snippets, and often diverting the meaning, while the latter transforms the song by adapting its language, themes, and format to fit new cultural slots. Both practices were common around the Mediterranean and in northern France, though for different reasons and with different aims. The Mediterraneans were largely parrots, lyric poets excepted, quoting at length from the songs in grammatical and encyclopedic collections. In the process they created the first vernacular literary history, instantiating the troubadours both as foundational vernacular poets and as doctors of wisdom, dispensing knowledge to those in need. Catalan grammatical treatises, florilegio, the vidas and rayos, and, of course, Dante exemplify this phenomenon. But while doing homage to their predecessors, these scholar poets also subtly defaced the poetry. As Kay puts it, the knowledge of desire that marked the troubadour song soon became a desire for knowledge; and filling this need required experts. As Occitan was the first body of vernacular literature to be so institutionalized, it acted as the fulcrum from which European poetry developed. A century later, Dante takes up the work of scholars such as Raimon Vidal de Bcsalú to develop his own road map to literary stardom; but it is Petrarch who ultimately plays the major role in the redirection of Occitan reception. He relegates his masters to the past, subjects-who-used-to-know who serve mainly as markers on his own ascension to the title of doctor jriens. …

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