Geoffrey Chaucer lived during the second half of the 1300s in England, and was variously a page in the court of Lionel, Duke of Clarence, a prisoner of the French, the Comptroll of Petty Customs, and a Knight of the shire of Kent. He wrote several works, but his most famous piece is "The Canterbury Tales" -- left unfinished when he died in 1400.
The Canterbury Tales are a collection of stories, with the framework of a group of pilgrims travelling to Canterbury telling stories to amuse each other and pass the time. There are 24 proper "tales", plus a variety of prologues, epilogues, and interactions between the various characters. A number of the stories are pleasantly scandalous: I'm partial to the Prioress' version of the martyrdom of Hugh of Lincoln.
The Canterbury Tales have been translated into modern English for almost as long as there has been modern English. One of the earliest was by John Dryden in the late 1600s. So, Chaucer was known and admired from 1400-1600.
Bantam has a cheap paperback edition edited by Constance Hieatt -- who
is also author of Pleyn Delight, a book on Medieval cookery. I'm partial
to the Neville Coghill verse translation (for Penguin), but there's a great
prose edition, aimed at kids, by Geraldine McCaughrean, which is part of
the Oxford Illustrated Classics Series. [AY]
Buy the Bantam edition of The Canterbury Tales
Buy the Peguin edition of The Canterbury Tales
Buy the children's edition of The Canterbury Tales
The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
George Bull (Translator)
Penguin Classics, 1980
Few people lead lives as interesting as a period saga, but certainly Benvenuto Cellini was one. A great artist born in the year 1500, this adventurer at various times fled to and from Rome, Florence, and the brilliant French court of Francois I for whom he made the famous salt cellar.
In his autobiography, he tells the colorful stories of the people he
meets such as Popes, prostitutes, soldiers, princes and robbers. When not
breaking hearts and hymens up and down Italy and France, Cellini was either
brawling and killing ruffians, or creating beautiful statues and other
works of art. Written in a swaggering invective (much like the missives
from our favorite Guild Master), his life is a mine of storytellers' material.
Buy The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini
Le Pèlerinage de Charlemagne (Charlemagne's Pilgrimage)
Glyn S. Burgess (Translator and Editor)
British Rencesvals, Edinburgh 1998
The Rencesvals are a British organization devoted to the study of Medieval Epic Poetry. This is a private publication from them, and doesn't appear to be available in the States.
Before he was the great king of the Roland/Orlando epic, Charlemange was a knight -- and not an very pious one. He turns to God only to gain God's help in defeating King Hugo of Constantinople, Charlemagne's bitter rival who stands between him and the emperor's throne. In order to prove his piety, Charlemange sets out on a pilgramage, and along the way has a series of adventures -- some of them heroic, some quite funny. More episodic than the Orlando, The Pèlerinage is strongly reminiscent of the Arthur cycle, with which it is roughly contemporary. The Pèlerinage de Charlemagne was written in Old French in the 13th century.
This new edition was translated by Glyn Burgess, who did the Lais of Marie de France for Penguin Books. It has a facing-page translation into English, an introduction and explanatory notes. [AY]
Oxford Guides to Chaucer: The Shorter Poems
Alastair J. Minnis
Oxford University Press, 1995
"The Parliment of Fowles" is one of Chaucer's *other* works -- for more about Chaucer, see my original posting on The Canterbury Tales. The poem is fairly long (~700 lines), and would be difficult to turn into episodes for shorter telling -- however, some judicious editing could be used to shorten the poem if one wanted.
This (and other works) can be found in one of the volumes (I think the last) in the Oxford Guides to Chaucer series. The book offers a selection of Chaucer's Shorter Poems, which are often hard to find. A general chapter on the social and cultural contexts of the Shorter Poems is followed by a guide to the main genre which they exemplify - the love-vision form. The volume then provides individual chapters on the Book of the Duchess, the House of Fame, the Parliament of Fowls, the Legend of Good Women, and the short poems; there is also an extensive appendix on Chaucer's language. Scholarship on dates and sources is combined with literary history and even a discussion of medieval hermeneutics -- all to give you the background to further enjoy the poems. It offers multiple approaches to interpretation and accurate and concise summaries. The book also includes a select but useful bibliography.
The info above is for the newer edition, which will set you back around
$75 (it's a textbook). I found mine used at the B.U. bookstore. [AY]
Buy Oxford Guides to Chaucer : The Shorter Poems
Chinese Mythology: An Introduction
John Hopkins University Press, 1999
I'm not sure if this is a reprint of the one I read (which was definitely published
before 1999), a misprint in the citation, or a slightly edited edition but
it shouldn't be significantly different either way. This is a collection
of Chinese myths and hero-stories such as the various tales of Yi the Archer.
Birrell translated directly off Chinese sources and she states where each
of her tales comes from. The book is divided by tale-type (e.g. Creation
of the World, Flood stories, etc.) and has an introduction about the history
of studies of Chinese mythology, comparative mythology, and various and
sundry other interesting topics. [TbIaI]
Buy Chinese Mythology
The Lay of El Cid
The "Cantar del mio Cid" is a poem written in the mid-twelfth century about the Castilian Hero, Rodrigo Diaz de Bivar, and relating events from his exile from Castile in 1081 until shortly before his death in 1099. Although the Cid accomplished the remarkable feats of capturing the rich Muslim kingdom of Valencia and holding it as his own, and being the first of the Christian leaders to defeat the Almoravides, a warlike band of zealots from North Africa, the poem concentrates upon his relationship with King Alfonso VI of Leon-Castile. Like many feudal epics, The Lay of the Cid portrays the breakdown of the vassal-lord relationship due to some shortcoming of the lord, the manner in which the vassal attempts to deal with this situation, and reaches a climax and resolution in a detailed account of a formal trial. The poem is long, 130 cantos each of about 25 lines, comprising 3 "cantars", but it's fairly easy to excerpt.
The Cid became a universal hero to the Spanish, and his history was elaborated by numerous ballads, legends, and other tales until the historical figure was completely obscured by this fanciful literature. Another period writing on El Cid was Guillen de Castro's (1569-1631), "The Youthful Deeds of the Cid" (Translated by Robert R. La Du, Luis Soto-Ruiz, and Giles A. Daeger; New York: Exposition Press, 1969) which (as you probably guessed from the title) tells the exploits of El Cid as a boy. It is complete fiction, in the style of the Orlando poems.
The Cid was rescued from fiction by the Spanish scholar Ramon Menendez
Pidal, (1869-1968), who wrote The Cid and his Spain Translated by Harold
Sunderland (London: F. Cass, 1971), a basic book for understanding the
historical background of the work. [AY]
Buy The Youthful Deeds of the Cid
A Clutch of Vampires
New York Graphic Society, 1974
I was loathe to post this as a source, simply because there was a time when
there were too many vampires at SCA events as it was. Nonetheless, the
sources need to go out, so... This book of 25 stories, some fiction and
some presented as fact, contains 7 pre-1600 "vampire" stories. I use the
term loosely, as some of the creatures portrayed could easily be called
other things (demons, &c.). Each story is preceeded by a brief
introduction which puts the story in context and cites its original
source. The stories are short, sometimes exciting, and make for easy
telling. I am sure this book is no longer in print. [AY]
Buy A Clutch of Vampires
The Conference of Birds
Farid-ad-din 'Attar, Afkham Darbandi (Translator)
Penguin USA, 1984
This is a translation of the Mantiq at-Tayr, 'Attar's allegorical tale
of the soul's search for enlightenment in the form of thirty birds quest
for the legendary Simurgh. Again, there are many tales-within-tales
which a storyteller could tell without using the frame. Indeed, it
is probably best to avoid telling in such a way that one would need to
tell the ending to the birds' quest as it culminates in a really
clever Persian pun that just does not translate well into English. [TbIaI]
Buy The Conference of Birds
Curious Myths of the Middle Ages
This is a collection of medieval stories which I read ages and ages ago from my public library but is apparently still in-print. It has the Tale of the Wandering Jew, Prestor-John, Melusine, and more. Each story is told in a very readable style and an essay on the evolution of the stories, what period sources it can be found in, etc. follows. [TbIaI]
Buy Curious Myths of the Middle Ages
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Contents © 1999-2006 Alex Newman for the Carolingian Storytellers Guild