Matter of Rome

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According to the medieval poet Jean Bodel, the Matter of Rome was the literary cycle made up of Greek and Roman mythology, together with episodes from the history of classical antiquity, focusing on military heroes like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Bodel divided all the literary cycles he knew best into the Matter of Britain, the Matter of France and the Matter of Rome (although "non-cyclical" romance also existed). [1] The Matter of Rome also included what is referred to as the Matter of Troy, consisting of romances and other texts based on the Trojan War and its after-effects, including the adventures of Aeneas. [2]


Subject matter

Classical topics were the subjects of a good deal of Old French literature, which in the case of Trojan subject matter ultimately deriving from Homer was built on scant sources; since the Iliad and the Odyssey were unknown, medieval Western poets had to make do with two short prose narratives based on Homer, ascribed to Dictys Cretensis and Dares Phrygius. The paucity of original text did not prevent the 12th century Norman poet Benoît de Sainte-Maure from writing a lengthy adaptation, Le Roman de Troie, running 40,000 lines. [2] The poems that were written on these topics were called the romans d'antiquité, the "romances of antiquity." This name presages the anachronistic approach the medieval poets used in dealing with these subjects. For example, in the epic poems Roman d'Alixandre and the Roman de Troie , Alexander the Great, and Achilles and his fellow heroes of the Trojan War were treated as knights of chivalry, not much different from the heroes of the chansons de geste . [3] Elements of courtly love were introduced into the poems; in the Roman de Thèbes , a romantic relationship absent from the Greek sources is introduced into the tale of Parthenopæus and Antigone. Military episodes in these tales were also multiplied, and used to introduce scenes of knight-errantry and tournaments.

Another example of French medieval poetry in this genre is the Eneas, a treatment of the Aeneid that comes across as being a sort of burlesque of Virgil's poem. Sentimental and fantasy elements in the source material were multiplied, and incidents from Ovid, the most popular Latin poet of the Middle Ages, were mixed into the pastiche. The Philomela attributed to Chrétien de Troyes, a retelling of the story of Philomela and Procne, also takes its source from Ovid's Metamorphoses .

Geoffrey Chaucer's Troilus and Criseyde is an English example, with Chaucer adding many elements to emphasize its connection with the matter. [4] :30–1 He also brought the story into line with the precepts of courtly love. [4] :35–6

This anachronistic treatment of elements from Greek mythology is similar to that of the Middle English narrative poem "Sir Orfeo", where the Greek Orpheus becomes the knight Sir Orfeo who rescues his wife Heurodis (i.e. Eurydice) from the fairy king.

Principal Texts

Some principal texts of the Matter of Rome include:

See also

Related Research Articles

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<i>Troilus and Criseyde</i>

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Medieval French literature

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<i>Roman dEnéas</i>

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The Rawlinson Excidium Troie, discovered among the manuscripts collected by Richard Rawlinson (1690–1755) conserved in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, is unique in that it contains the only medieval account of the Trojan War that is fully independent of Dictys and Dares, "strikingly different from any other known mediaeval version of the Trojan War", according to its editor, E. Bagby Atwood. Its discovery revealed a source for many details in medieval texts whose sources had been obscure, not appearing in the familiar Latin epitomes of the Iliad, through which Homer was transmitted to medieval culture, the Greek text being lost to Western Europe.

<i>Roman de Troie</i>

Le Roman de Troie by Benoît de Sainte-Maure, probably written between 1155 and 1160, is a 30,000 line epic poem, a medieval retelling of the theme of the Trojan War. It inspired a body of literature in the genre called the roman antique, loosely assembled by the poet Jean Bodel as the Matter of Rome. The Trojan subject itself, for which de Sainte-Maure provided an impetus, is referred to as the Matter of Troy.


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<i>Histoire ancienne jusquà César</i>

The Histoire ancienne jusqu'à César is the first medieval French prose compilation of stories of antiquity, mostly consisting of the so-called Matter of Troy and of Rome, besides text from the Bible and other histories. Composed in the early 13th century in northern France, it told the history of the world from the creation to the time of Julius Caesar. Often copied, it underwent an important redaction in Italy in the 14th century; its influence extended into the Renaissance. In manuscripts from the 14th and 15th centuries it was frequently found together with the Faits des Romains, which continued the history of the Roman Empire.


  1. Hibbard, Laura A. (1963). Medieval Romance in England. New York: Burt Franklin. p. iii..
  2. 1 2 Fowler, Robert (2004). The Cambridge Companion To Homer. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 364. ISBN   9780521012461 . Retrieved 21 July 2012.
  3. Ker, W. P. (1908). Epic and Romance: Essays on Medieval Literature. London: Macmillan. p. 27.
  4. 1 2 Lewis, Clive Staples (1969). Selected Literary Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.