Medieval Literature
Dr. Debora B. Schwartz
English Department, California Polytechnic State University

Anglo-Norman Influences I: Virgil's Aeneid and the Romance of Eneas


Review assigned prologues and epilogues by Marie de France and Chrétien de Troyes, as well as Dante's De Vulgari Eloquentia ("Of Literature in the Vernacular"), to recall Medieval Attitudes Toward Vernacular Literature. Know dates for each of these authors and works (as provided in background information assigned on syllabus or on translatio). 

Review online readings translatio and "courtly love." By the midterm exam, you should be able to identify and explain the significance of the following events, historical or literary figures, and works: The Norman Conquest; William the Conquerer; Geoffrey of Monmouth (Historia Regum Brittanniae or History of the Kings of Britain); William IX (Duke of Aquitaine); Eleanor of Aquitaine; Louis VII (King of France); Henry II (King of England); Wace (Roman de Brut or Romance of Brutus); Homer (Iliad and Odessey); Ovid (The Metamorphoses, the Art of Love and Remedy for Love); Virgil (Aeneid); Roman d'Eneas (Romance of Eneas); the Romance of Tristan (versions by Béroul and Thomas); Marie de France (Lais and Fables); Chrétien de Troyes (Erec and Enide, Cligés, Lancelot or the Knight of the Cart, Perceval or the Story of the Grail); Marie of Champagne; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight; the Vulgate Cycle, including The Quest of the Holy Grail; Dante (De Vulgari Eloquentia, or "Literature in the Vernacular"); Malory's Morte Darthure ("Death of Arthur"). [Eventually you will be responsible for the other listed figures as well--St. Bernard of Clairvaux; St. Jerome; the Wife of Bath.]

Virgil's Aeneid and the Romance of Eneas

Between 29-19 BC, the Roman poet Virgil (lived 70-19 BC) wrote the Aeneid, an epic account of the Trojan prince Aeneas's flight from the smoldering ruins of Troy and his travels, first to Carthage (where he has a passionate affair with queen Dido; she commits suicide when he abandons her) and then to Italy, where he fulfills his destiny: to found a "new Troy," Rome.  Landing at the mouth of the Tiber river, Aeneas seeks to marry Lavinia, the daughter of King Latinus, not because he loves her but because he must do so in order to become king of the land where he is destined to found the "new Troy."  This epic work comprises twelve books, most of which recount the battles waged by Aeneas and his followers against Tournus, the local prince who had been promised the hand of Lavinia prior to the arrival of Aeneas.  The epic ends with Aeneas's killing of Tournus. 

Because the Aeneid is deliberately modelled upon the epic works of Virgil's Greek predecessor Homer (translatio studii), and because the Aeneid deals explicitly with the rise of Rome from the ashes of Troy (translatio imperii), it epitomized the twin notions of translatio studii et imperii for medieval poets, many of whom aspired to be the "new Virgil" for their own eras and cultures (see e.g. Dante, whose guide through Hell in his epic the Inferno is none other than Virgil himself). Around 1160, another such poet (his name has not been preserved) adapted Virgil's Aeneid into Anglo-Norman French for Eleanor of Aquitaine and her husband Henry II. His adaptation is not a "translation" in the modern sense, since he makes many substantive changes to his text, but in medieval terms it would be considered a product of translatio (review "Sources, Borrowing and 'Originality'" in Bolton's "The Conditions of Literary Composition in Medieval England," xxii-xxv). 

Compare the selections from Virgil's Aeneid and the Romance of Eneas. Note the framework of Virgil's poem: what is announced as its focus in the opening sentence? What supernatural forces are evoked in these opening lines? With what event does the poem close? What is the nature of the relationship between Dido and Aeneas? Why does he abandon her? What is his primary goal? What motivates the two rivals for the hand of Lavinia, daughter of King Latinus? What are Aeneas's feelings toward her? Turnus's? Hers for each of them? Compare the focus of this classical epic work to that of the Anglo-Saxon epic Beowulf.

Before turning to the Romance of Eneas, review "courtly love." Recall that romance originally meant "vernacular narrative" but has come to mean "love story"; consider the connection of women to both these levels of meaning. Note that "courtly love" was thought to enhance a warrior's prowess and valor, not to diminish it. Note also the power wielded by women within the (literary) "courtly love" relationship, a fictional relationship which was in stark contrast to medieval reality:  by law as well as by custom, married women were typically placed under the control of their husbands--an imbalance of power that we will revisit in our discussion of Chaucer's Wife of Bath.

To whom (what specific audience) does the Romance of Eneas seem to be geared? How is Virgil adapted to suit the tastes of his Anglo-Norman audience (and in particular of his royal patroness, Eleanor of Aquitaine)? Why might Eleanor have been particularly interested in a version of Virgil in which the hero actually loves the woman whom he is destined to marry for political and dynastic reasons? What supernatural being is evoked in the opening lines of this poem (see first page of handout)? Is this shift, relative to Virgil, significant? Why does King Latinus decide to give his daughter to Aeneas rather than Turnus? What is the reaction of Lavinia's mother Amata? What does Amata do as a result of her husband's decison? Is this action appropriate to a lady in her position? Who is the center of action in the last 3000 lines of the poem (pp. 207-266)? What does this "action" consist of? How significant a role is played by Lavinia's mother in these events? What motivates Eneas? Turnus? Lavinia? How much initiative is taken by Lavinia? (What makes Eneas fall in love with her?) With what celebration does the poem end? Compare the alternate ending from Manuscript D (found in the appendix). What is suggested by the shift in emphasis in this alternate ending? (How did the person responsible for it understand the point of the romance?)

Contents of this and linked pages Copyright Debora B. Schwartz, 1999, 2001 

Click here for Translatio and Courtly Love

Click here for Medieval Attitudes Toward Vernacular Literature

Click here for Study Questions on Beowulf, the Wife of Bath or Dante

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