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Ovid as Historian. The reception of classical mythology in medieval France and Spain

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ROMAINE (Ovid as Historian. The reception of classical mythology in medieval France and Spain)

Reporting period: 2017-02-01 to 2019-01-31

"The project ROMAINE. ""Ovid as Historian. The reception of classical mythology in medieval France and Spain, consists of a comparative study of Ovid’s translations as historian in the 'General estoria' (1270-1284), the 'Ovide moralisé' (ca 1320), and the 'Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César'"" (2nd version, 1338).

The project was structured around three main research questions, aimed at specific goals.

(1) Ovid as historian in the Middle Ages: Was there a common textual or educational ground on which these French and Castilian authors and translators based their reading of Ovid? Answering this question required identifying and analysing the glosses and the commentaries and tracing their regional impact irrespective of the target language. The results show that the vernacular authors did use a very similar type of manuscript of the 'Metamorphoses' and the 'Heroides'. This fact has consequences for the extensive interpretative gloss included in Romance language—allegoric, euhemeristic, natural—as well as on the mythographic additions taken from other, non-Ovidian sources. The contents are added at the same places, in relation with the same excerpts of the 'Metamorphoses' and the 'Heroides'.

(2) A common ancient history corpus. Is there a consistent web of historiographical / literary ‘background’ texts on which these Ovidian commentaries draw? The study proved that the vernacular authors used a corpus with similar contents, but maybe different texts and authors. A striking example of that is the usage of the Pliny’s 'Historia naturalis' in the 'General estoria' to explain natural features of the metamorphoses. In the 'Ovide moralisé', Pliny’s text is not used directly, but natural explanations of the same kind are compiled. They may be original, or quoted from still unidentified sources. Regarding the 'Heroides', while their translation appears to be autonomous in the 'General estoria' most of the time, or related to the 'Metamorphoses', they are treated differently in the 'Ovide moralisé', where they are more closely related to the 'Ars amatoria'. In this case, the 'Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César' uses a canon of historiographic texts, which is closer to the one of the 'General estoria'.

(3) Mythology, history, and the modern concept of medieval literature. Related to this question, I discuss how a medieval mythological and historical reading (as opposed to allegorical and moralising) of the 'Metamorphoses' and the 'Heroides' needs to be emphasized—understudied as it has been, precisely for lack of a general framework that goes beyond national and linguistic frontiers. Indeed, the historical interpretation of Ovid’s mythographic works, which begins in Latin commentaries from Germany and France and is found in the first Romance translations, allows us to reconsider the traditional conception of medieval attitudes towards the pagan past. When Ovid’s texts are translated for historiographical purposes, it is done very literally and very respectfully, which tends to go against the standard modern vision of medieval thought. My study shows that the Ovidian canon, a matter theoretically considered to be literary and incompatible with Christian doctrine, is assimilated by the medieval authors as their own history.

During the first part of the contract, I did WP 1 scheduled in ROMAINE, an analysis of the 'Metamorphoses' in the 'General estoria' and the 'Ovide moralisé' and the relation established through common Latin Ovidian sources. More precisely I developed a comparative study of the myths corresponding to books I to IV of the 'Metamorphoses'. My approach here was twofold, dealing both with the language of the translations and their contents and sources. To this purpose, I studied the terms used in Castilian and in langue d’oïl, relative to flora and fauna in the book IV myths of Narcissus, Clicie, Pentheus, and Hercules (‘Met.’ IX). Finally, I completed a thorough study of the myth of Perseus (‘Met.’ IV-V) more focused on the different levels of interpretation of the metamorphoses.

In 2018, I worked on WP 2. It is divided into two parts: the first one deals with the translation of the 'Heroides' in the 'General estoria', the 'Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César' and the 'Ovide moralisé'; the second one is about the historiographic canon of mythographic and historiographic Latin texts related with Ovid in these three works.

Secondment in London

From January to April, 2018, I developed part 1 of WP 2 in London, where I was invited by Simon Gaunt as a Visiting Research Fellow in the department of French of King’s College. My stay was part of the ERC project The Values of French Language and Literature in the European Middle Ages, the main goal of which is a study and a complete edition of both versions of the 'Histoire ancienne jusqu’à César' (1212 and 1338), the first universal history compiled in langue d’oil. In this framework of part 1 of WP 2, besides what I did in London, I presented recently a work about the Matter of Troy in Spain, and its relationship with the Latin gloss to the 'Heroides' and the French works.

Back in Odense in May, I started the research corresponding to part 2 of WP 2, about the historiographic Latin and Romance canon, the (partial) translations of which coexist with Ovid’s texts in the compilations under study.

As was planned in ROMAINE, during the last months of the contract, I wrote theoretical works based on some conclusions of the project: a study about the underlying theory of translation in the historiographical compilations and another one about the concepts of proof and truth in the writing of history.
The final goal of ROMAINE was double: establishing bridges between distinct European philologies thanks to the study of a classical author fundamental to occidental culture, and showing that the historiographic use of Ovid modifies our conception of the Middle Ages. Indeed, medieval intellectuals do not feel the need to “Christianise” antique history radically or systematically. In fact, they assume it as a part of their own history, even though they tend to rationalise the most supernatural elements.

From February 2017 to January 2019, I had the opportunity to present the results of ROMAINE in eleven talks, including one as a keynote speaker at an international conference (Ovid across Europe, Bristol). I gave them in three languages (Spanish, French, English), in four countries (Spain, France, Germany, United Kingdom). I wrote seven articles, covering the previous three languages, three of which appeared recently (Médiévales, Textes, Langue et Histoire, category B, Cahiers d’études hispaniques médiévales, and Peter Lang) and four will appear in prestigious publishing houses (Troianalexandrina, in press; Brill, Medium Aevum, Editorial Complutense, in preparation).

Besides this work, I did one more activity that was not planned at the beginning of ROMAINE: the international conference in the Biblioteca Nacional de España (November, 2018). This paper enabled me to make significant progress in my research about Ovid. Indeed, for the first time, I enlarged the scope of study up to the 16th century, and the first printed matter containing Romance translations of the Metamorphoses. The new conclusions that came out of this study, a comparison between Ovid’s reception in the Middle Ages and in the Renaissance, will bring a final touch and a promising opening to ROMAINE.