Marie De France and Le Livre Ovide

  • Robert R. Edwards
Part of the The New Middle Ages book series (TNMA)


The Lais recounted by Marie de France are stories of desire working within the constraints of love in twelfth-century baronial culture. Marie insists that her stories originate in tales recounted by the Bretons to preserve adventures within cultural memory. Certainly the prominence of folk motifs, themes, and structural patterns argues for the origin of her courtly subject matter (matiere) in traditional narratives. Yet, as Marie makes clear in her Prologue, her own authorial grounding is in Latin— which is to say, written—literary culture. The Liiis depend fundamentally on established traditions of writing, reading, and commentary. Marie says that she takes on the project of composing the Lais as a conscious alternative to translating “aukune bone estoire” (“Some good story” [prologue 29]) from Latin to French.1 As she shifts her topic from history (res gesta) to romance (aventure), a signature topic for the vernacular, her approach to the stories nevertheless remains the same as it would be to a Latin text. She follows the model of the ancients who, according to Priscian, composed their works obscurely (“oscurement”) so that later readers can gloss them and provide the supplement (“surplus”) that completes their meaning within a community of schooled readers: “K’i peüssent gloser la lettre / E de lur sen le surplus mettre” (prologue 15–16). This “surplus,” as R. Howard Bloch points out, directs the tales toward the future, not the originary past, toward an audience of readers moved by their own desires, at the same time that it presents reading—glossing the literal body of aventure and supplying something beyond what it possesses—as both hermeneutic and erotic.2


Dead Bird Love Affair Latin Text External Shame Spiritual Transcendence 
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© Robert R. Edwards 2006

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  • Robert R. Edwards

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