, Volume 97, Issue 4, pp 627–639 | Cite as

Rediscovering the Horse in Medieval French Literature

  • Paul H. Rogers


Scholars of medieval French literature have often overlooked the horse as a purveyor of complex meaning within a text not only because it is mentioned in such works so often, but also because it is wholly common. The horse was one of the earliest domesticated animals in humanity’s history, and as such, it has no particular link to the realm of the merveilleux, superficially a source of creatures of richer allegorical or esthetic interest. An encounter with a frightening monster such as a dragon might represent a test of a knight’s martial skills or a challenge to his piety, whereas in contrast, what could possibly be the importance of the horse, such a ubiquitous, seemingly banal, inhabitant of the period’s literature? This study seeks (1) to elucidate the conception of the horse on the part of the medieval cleric and reader by exploring the mythical lore and contemporary bestiaries associated with the animal, and (2) to define the horse’s function in medieval romance and epic through an analysis of the relationship between the protagonist and his steed in several seminal works, most notably La Chanson de Roland and Alexandre de Paris’s Le Roman d’Alexandre.


Horse Steed Bestiary Knight Bucephalus Alexander 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Albertus Magnus, Man and the beasts. (1987). Trans. J. J. Scanlan. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press.Google Scholar
  2. Alexandre de Paris, Le Roman d'Alexandre. (1994). In E. C. Armstrong, et al. (Eds.), Trans. L. Harf- Lancner. Paris: Le Livre de Poche.Google Scholar
  3. Beavan, I., Arnott, M., Craig, M., Geddes, J., Gauld, M., McLaren, C., et al. (2012). The Aberdeen bestiary project. The University of Aberdeen. Retrieved from
  4. Buchon, J. A. (1829). Poésies de Jean Froissart. Paris: Verdière, Libraire—no 25 Quai des Augustins.Google Scholar
  5. Digard, J.-P. (1994). Le Cheval, force de l’homme. Evreux, FR: Découvertes Gallimard.Google Scholar
  6. Howey, M. O. (2002/1923). The horse in magic and myth. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications.Google Scholar
  7. Hyland, A. (1994). The medieval warhorse: From Byzantium to the crusades. London: Grange Books.Google Scholar
  8. La Chanson de Roland. (1990). Trans. I. Short.Google Scholar
  9. Le Roman de Thèbes. (1991). Trans. F. Mora-Lebrun.Google Scholar
  10. MacKillop, J. (2005). Myths and legends of the Celts. London, UK: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  11. Rowland, B. (1975). Animals with human faces: A guide to animal symbolism. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press.Google Scholar
  12. The Bestiary MS Bodley 764. (1992). Trans. R. Barber. Woodbridge, UK: The Boydell Press.Google Scholar
  13. Zink, M. (1984). Le monde animal et ses représentations dans la littérature du Moyen Age.Actes des congrès de la Société des historiens médiévistes de l’enseignement supérieur public. Persée Scientific Journals, 15, 47–71. Retrieved from

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Université Paul-ValéryMontpellier IIIFrance

Personalised recommendations