Elizabeth Joy Frager, B.A.,
Master of Arts -English, Faculty of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, Georgetown University,Washington, DC, April 26, (2010)
The Amis and Amiloun tale, popular though it was in the Middle Ages, is yet a tale that defies expectations; appropriately, then, it may be useful when analyzing it to begin at the tale’s end. The above lines mark the “happily ever after” ending of the Middle English romance, in which we witness the eponymous heroes reaping the rewards of an extraordinary friendship—sharing their last days, and their graves, with each other. The Amis and Amiloun legend, which follows the men’s friendship throughout their lives, was well-known and quite popular throughout the Middle Ages—the text’s foremost scholar, MacEdward Leach, has delineated at least twenty-seven renditions, varying in language, genre, and plot structure. The earliest extant edition, entitled Epistolae ad diversos, is dated at 1090 and appears as a Latin verse epistle by Radulfus Tortarius, a monk of Fleury. The Epistolae is a mere summary of the tale, opening with the declaration that the story is already well known among the Saxons of Gaul, and ending with a concise moral: “Haec retuli tibi care mihi studeas ut amari.”
While no one version can be proven to be derived from any other, scholars are in general agreement that Radulfus’ epistle, as well as the Vita Sanctorum Amicii et Amelii, a Latin hagiographic version from about 1200 and an Old French chanson de geste from the first half of the thirteenth century, are individually derived from an eleventh-century Old French secular chanson de geste. Though Leach has found it “impossible to indicate exactly what the relation was between the English and the French,” the Middle English (ME) version is thought to have as its source a lost Anglo-Norman text of the early thirteenth century (xcvii). Likewise, the oldest surviving manuscript of the ME romance is dated at 1330, though this version of the story could have been a century old, if not more, at this point. For practical purposes, discussions of the tale are often supplemented with the historical context of the thirteenth through the early fourteenth centuries, as will be the premise here as well.