Matter of Rome

Matter of Rome

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 in actuality "non-cyclical" romance existed).[1]

These were the subjects of a good deal of Old French literature. The poems that were written on them 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. 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 Æneid 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.[2]:30–1 He also brought the story into line with the precepts of courtly love.[2]: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.

See also


  1. ^ Hibbard, Laura A (1963), Medieval Romance in England, New York: Burt Franklin, p. iii .
  2. ^ a b Lewis, Clive Staples (1969), Selected Literary Essays, Cambridge, ENG, UK: University Press .

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