Books Features

Books: Medieval Sources in Translation 2013

medieval sources in translation

One of the best things about being a medievalist is reading all the great texts written in the Middle Ages: chronicles, literature, even governmental records. Here are some medieval sources in translation that were published last year:

The Murder Betrayal and Slaughter of the Glorious Charles Count of FlandersThe Murder, Betrayal, and Slaughter of the Glorious Charles, Count of Flanders

By Galbert of Bruges; Translated by Jeff Rider

Yale University Press, 2013
ISBN: 9780300152302

In 1127 Charles the Good, count of Flanders, was surrounded by assassins while at prayer and killed by a sword blow to the forehead. His murder upset the fragile balance of power between England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire, giving rise to a bloody civil war while impacting the commercial life of medieval Europe. The eyewitness account by the Flemish cleric Galbert of Bruges of the assassination and the struggle for power that ensued is the only journal to have survived from twelfth century Europe. This new translation by medieval studies expert Jeff Rider greatly improves upon all previous versions, substantially advancing scholarship on the Middle Ages while granting new life and immediacy to Galbert’s well informed and courageously candid narrative.


The letter collection of Peter Abelard and HeloiseThe Letter Collection of Peter Abelard and Heloise

Translated by Betty Radice and David Luscombe

Oxford University Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-19-822248-4

The collected letters of Peter Abelard and Heloise provide an extraordinarily vivid account of one of the most celebrated love affairs in the western world. It was an affair that developed into a vigorous quarrel and raised fundamental questions about love, marriage, and religious life, and also provided a uniquely valuable illustration of the intellectual and religious ferment that is called the Renaissance of the twelfth century.

Abelard was the leading philosopher of his time and a very public figure in France, as well as being a fiercely attacked theologian and unpopular abbot. Heloise, his brilliant pupil, lover, and wife, also became a nun and abbess, much against her will. She provoked this brilliantly written correspondence which is widely regarded as one of the finest literary compositions of the twelfth century. These letters have for many centuries given enjoyment to their readers and have inspired numerous creative imitations.


15097Crusade and Christendom: Annotated Documents in Translation from Innocent III to the Fall of Acre, 1187-1291

Edited by Jessalynn Bird, Edward Peters, and James M. Powell

University of Pennsylvania Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-8122-4478-6

Crusade and Christendom explores the way in which the crusade was used to define and extend the intellectual, religious, and political boundaries of Latin Christendom. It also illustrates how the very concept of the crusade was shaped by the urge to define and reform communities of practice and belief within Latin Christendom and by Latin Christendom’s relationship with other communities, including dissenting political powers and heretical groups, the Moors in Spain, the Mongols, and eastern Christians. The relationship of the crusade to reform and missionary movements is also explored, as is its impact on individual lives and devotion. The selection of documents and bibliography incorporates and brings to life recent developments in crusade scholarship concerning military logistics and travel in the medieval period, popular and elite participation, the role of women, liturgy and preaching, and the impact of the crusade on western society and its relationship with other cultures and religions.

A Life of Thomas Becket in VerseA Life of Thomas Becket in Verse

By Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence; Translated by Ian Short

Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 2013
ISBN: 978–0–88844–306–9

Composed in the immediate aftermath of Becket’s murder in 1170, Guernes de Pont-Sainte-Maxence’s 6000-line narrative poem is the earliest Life of Becket to appear in the French vernacular. It was written to be listened to by lay men and women, and provides a picture of events as they would have reached a contemporary French-speaking public avid for first-hand knowledge of their new heroic martyr.

Medieval NaplesMedieval Naples: A Documentary History, 400-1400

Edited and translated by Ronald G. Musto

Italica Press, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-934977-50-x

Medieval Naples, 400–1400: A Documentary History is the first comprehensive and most complete English-language collection of sources yet to treat the history of the city from late antiquity to the beginnings of the Renaissance. Sources are drawn from the historical, economic, literary, artistic, religious and cultural life from the fall of Rome through the Byzantine, Lombard (ducal), Norman, Hohenstaufen and Angevin periods. This volume presents chronicles and histories; archival materials including accounts, tax, financial and commercial records, contracts, wills, notarial and government documents; poetry, romances, biographies and letters; liturgical and hagiographical texts; treatises on law, science, medicine, religion and philosophy; as well as examples of manuscript production, painting, architecture, and sculpture.


Caffaro Genoa and the Twelfth-Century CrusadesCaffaro, Genoa and the Twelfth-Century Crusades

Translated by Martin Hall and Jonathan Phillips

Ashgate Publishing, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4724-0142-7

This volume provides the first comprehensive English translation, with a substantial introduction and notes, of the writings of Caffaro of Genoa, as well as related texts and documents on Genoa and the crusades. The majority of early crusading historiography is from a northern European and clerical perspective. Here is a very different voice, one with a more secular, Mediterranean tone. To see the similarities and differences with the mainstream sources offers an exciting new dimension to our understanding of the reception of crusading ideas in the Mediterranean and, given Genoa’s prominence in the commercial world, can help to illuminate the complex and controversial relationship between holy war and financial gain.

Caffaro’s main composition, the ‘Annals’ of Genoa, began with the First Crusade and extended down to 1163. It also covers the city’s dealings with the Papacy, the German Empire, Sicily, Muslim Spain, and Pisa, as well as the development of Genoa itself. Sections from Caffaro’s continuators take the story down to the Third Crusade.

Caffaro’s two other texts are exclusively about the crusades: ‘The Liberation of the Cities of the East’ and ‘The Capture of Almería and Tortosa’, while associated with him but of a later date is the ‘Short History of Jerusalem’. Alongside these narratives are a number of charters and letters that relate to, and complement, the main texts. These relate to matters such as Genoese privileges in the Holy Land and form a valuable resource in their own right. Placed alongside Caffaro’s narratives they can show the blend of commercial energy, civic pride and religious conviction that were the basis of Genoese activity in the complex world of the medieval Mediterranean.


Medieval Proverbs from The Well-Laden ShipThe Well-Laden Ship

By Egbert of Liège; Translated by Robert Gary Babcock

Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library, 2013
ISBN: 9780674051270

The Well-Laden Ship (Fecunda ratis) is an early eleventh-century Latin poem composed of ancient and medieval proverbs, fables, and folktales. Compiled by Egbert of Liège, it was planned as a first reader for beginning students. This makes it one of the few surviving works from the Middle Ages written explicitly for schoolroom use. Most of the content derives from the Bible, especially the wisdom books, from the Church Fathers, and from the ancient poets, notably Vergil, Juvenal, and Horace; but, remarkably, Egbert also included Latin versions of much folklore from the spoken languages. It features early forms of nursery rhymes (for example, “Jack Sprat”), folk tales (for instance, various tales connected with Reynard the Fox), and even fairy tales (notably “Little Red Riding Hood”). The poem also contains medieval versions of many still popular sayings, such as “Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth,” “When the cat’s away, the mice will play,” and “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” The Well-Laden Ship, which survives in a single medieval manuscript, has been edited previously only once (in 1889) and has never been translated. It will fascinate anyone interested in proverbial wisdom, folklore, medieval education, or medieval poetry.

See also: Medieval Proverbs from The Well-Laden Ship

FabiluaxThe Fabliaux

Translated by Nathaniel E. Dubin

W.W. Norton and Company, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-87140-357-5

Bawdier than The Canterbury Tales, The Fabliaux is the first major English translation of the most scandalous and irreverent poetry in Western literature. Composed between the twelfth and fourteenth centuries, these virtually unknown erotic and satiric poems lie at the root of the Western comic tradition. Passed down by the anticlerical middle classes of medieval France, The Fabliaux depicts priapic priests, randy wives, and their cuckolded husbands in tales that are shocking even by today’s standards. Chaucer and Boccaccio borrowed heavily from these riotous tales, which were the wit of the common man rebelling against the aristocracy and Church in matters of food, money, and sex. Containing 69 poems with a parallel Old French text, The Fabliaux comes to life in a way that has never been done in nearly eight hundred years.