Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Traveling Companions: Narrative Diffusion of Floire et Blancheflor in Medieval Miscellany, 1325-1400

Academic journal article Narrative Culture

Traveling Companions: Narrative Diffusion of Floire et Blancheflor in Medieval Miscellany, 1325-1400

Article excerpt

All models are wrong, but some are useful.

-George Box

There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.

-Mark Twain


Identifying how a narrative travels from one place and time to another, and hence from one culture or community to another, remains a persistent problem in both folklore studies and literary history. Often, the movement of narratives must be triangulated and approximated from the surviving evidence. For the medieval period, such evidence is often scant and difffijicult to evaluate-of the narratives that survive in written material at all, many of those survive in only a handful of manuscripts. This article contends that when the manuscript corpus of a medieval narrative is found largely in a specifijic type of manuscript-the vernacular anthology or miscellany-one can use the increased context provided by the anthology to trace the geographic and temporal difffusion of a narrative across literary communities and to see what companion narratives travel with a given story. Using the foundational European tale of Floire and Blancheflor, I explore what a narrative's "traveling companions" across its surviving corpus can tell us about the narrative cultures through which it traveled.

Floire and Blancheflor fijirst appears in the written record as the twelfth-century Old French romance Floire et Blancheflor. It possesses a moderate number of manuscript witnesses, but not so many or so few as to render it an outlier among surviving Old French narratives. Further, the manuscript witnesses appear across a wide swath of geographic and linguistic areas, from the twelfth to the fourteenth centuries. Ultimately, I suggest four iterations of "traveling companions" for the tale: (1) Floire and Blancheflor, Berte of the Big Feet, and Mainete; (2) Floire and Blancheflor, Berte of the Big Feet, and Claris and Laris; (3) Floire and Blancheflor, Amadas and Ydoine, and Partonopeus of Blois, and (4) Floire and Blancheflor, Blancandin and Orgeuilleuse d'Amour, and Partonopeus of Blois. Viewing Floire and Blancheflor as fundamentally tied to these sets of stories in a given narrative community changes our understanding of the narrative's reception in its time.

With the rapidly increasing commercialization of manuscript production over the thirteenth century, bespoke vernacular manuscripts were increasingly available to the wealthy, secular public. While some of these codices contained only a single text, many were what are now referred to as vernacular literary anthologies. It now appears that a great deal of the so-called miscellany manuscripts are, in fact, "organized according to principles ranging from rudimentary groupings of thematically related texts to an elaborate overall design" (Huot 11). Who, exactly, was doing that organizing is open to question; however, it would have necessitated a complex interaction between bookseller, scribe, and patron. As the written trace of a complex narrative culture, manuscripts were assembled "not casually but deliberately, as a result of someone's decision that it should exist, as a result of common or group decision that it should be made in this fashion and not another" (Rouse and Rouse 3). This intentionality does not discount the possibility that such seemingly random collections of texts simply existed for the sake of convenience, or so that the reader would have more than one story at hand. However, when patterns of association between individual narratives crop up repeatedly across multiple such manuscripts, we can make begin to hypothesize about the potential thematic, cultural, or historic connections between them.

New Codicology1 values the codex as an object of inquiry rather than the corpus, treating each codex as a living artifact rich with multiple sites of meaning (material, textual, and historical). In this scenario, each book is an idiosyncratic individual, capable of being parsed only when confronted as a whole. …

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