The Apologie and Treatise of Ambrose Paré, containing the voyages made into divers places with many of his writings upon surgery
Ambrose Paré, Geoffrey Keynes (Editor)
Univ. of Chicago Press, 1952.

Paré was surgeon to the kings of France, most notably personal surgeon to Charles IX and Henri III. An interesting guy, who worked himself up from a low station in life to a place of rank. We are less interested in his "writings on surgery" (even though he speculated on a surgery to reverse circumsion), and more on his "travels to divers places" and experiences in combat. Some of the most chilling depictions of war and warfare in any pieve of writing -- pre-1600 or not. Of course, the original is in French and can be found on microfilm. Paré wrote in the late 1500s. [AY]
Buy The Apologie and Treatise of Ambrose Pare

The Illustrated Chronicles of Matthew Paris: Observations of Thirteenth-Century Life
Richard Vaughan (Translator)
Paperback - 256 pages
Alan Sutton Publishing Inc., 1994
ISBN 0750905239

Matthew of Paris (or Matthew Paris) was an English historian and a monk of St. Albans, Matthew became the historiographer of the convent after the death (c.1236) of Roger of Wendover. The first part of his Chronica majora [great chronicle], a history of the world, is largely a reworked version of Wendover's chronicle. However, the second part, from 1235 to 1259, is original and valuable because its material was carefully collected from eyewitnesses or written from personal knowledge. Matthew liked stories and is fond of collecting people's favourites. Richard the Lionheart's favourite story (from the Kalila wa Dimna) appears here, as well as two stories of encounters with medieval UFOs (one in A.D. 1235 the other in A.D. 1259). He also recounts, with some horror, the Childrens' Crusade of A.D. 1212. Paris was an excellent stylist and narrator, and in his rewriting of Wendover's chronicle he created the hostile image of King John that has been copied by historians until very recent times. Matthew died in A.D. 1259.

The standard edition of this work is a 19th century translation by J. A. Giles begins with A.D. 1235 (after Wendover's death; the "pure" Matthew of Paris), but I'd like to recommend this different translation because of the lavish illustrations. This newer work contains color reproductions of over 100 of the drawings in the orginal manuscript. The Vaughan translation is not a complete translation of Paris' work (the Giles version is seven volumes), but excerpts -- which I think makes it a better source for the beginning storyteller. [AY]
Buy The Illustrated Chronicles of Matthew Paris

Wolfram von Eschenbach, A.T. Hatto (Translator)
Penguin Classics, 1980.

Wolfram von Eschenbach was a late 12th/early 13thC courtly poet best known for the Grail narration of Parzival. Associated with the brilliant courts of the Hohenstauffen period, Eschenbach took the theme from his predecessor, Chretien de Troyes, who had left his version unfinished, and took it to new heights.

Parzival is "God's fool" or a "Heiliger Narr" whose adventures frequently arise from naivety or following confused instructions. It is thus possible to view some scenes with a comic lens; otherwise look for lots of maidens in distress, castles, magic weapons, many substories and gorgeous descriptions of court life.

Do not try to read the original MHD unless you have an infinite›tolerance for obscurity and wandering syntax. Doubtless the original intent was a series of insider jokes which Eschenbach's sophisticated audience, well versed in the earlier French models, would have appreciated. For me, it was an endless root canal. [MI]
Buy Parzival

The Pennants
Moorish Poetry: A Translation of The Pennants: an anthology compiled in 1243 by the Andalusian Ibn Sa'id
A.J. Arberry (Translator)
Cambridge University Press, 1953

I found this book particularily interesting because it is a translation of a period anthology which I think is neat. My beloved king (may Allah guide his steps clear of all obstacles) al-Mutamid is once again well-represented. Ibn Sa'id divided the anthology geographically and far more poets are represented in this one than in the Poems of Arab Andalusia including some female poets. A.J. Arberry also stated in his translator's preface that he worked very hard to keep the poems as close to the spirit of the original as possible (unlike Cola Franzen, Arberry worked directly off the Arabic originals rather than a Spanish translation). As a caveat, I found Franzen's translations to be more powerful than Arberry's for the few poems that appeared in both volumes (or at least the ones that I remembered from Franzen's). [TbIaI]
Buy Moorish Poetry

The Pentameron

As long as we're doing Bocaccio imitators, how about the The Pentameron of Giambattista Basile?› This is from Northern Italy, and more fairy-tale oriented than Bocaccio.› The language and imagery in here is amazingly rich, earthy, and detailed.› Those of you at the last Bardic Champions will recognize Ismenia's story of The Goose as being from this source.› The standard translation is by Sir Richard Burton.› Not in print, but you can usually find multiple copies for less than $20 on [unsolicited plug; I've found a *lot* of great stuff through them.] [AtS]
Buy Stories from the Pentameron

Perceval, or The Story of the Grail
Chretien de Troyes, Ruth Harwood Cline (Translator)
University of Georgia Press, 1985

This is Chretien de Troyes unfinished Grail story. Again, it's verse in iambic fours, and episodic. It's really two stories in one, as the point of view moves back and forth between Perceval and Gawain. The plot's a little thicker and less linear than Erec and Enide, which means the stories buried in it are a little harder to tease out. It's full of all sorts of fun weird stuff: a bleeding lance, a hermit uncle, a Proud Knight and his lady (who he makes follow him around everywhere wearing rags), a Fisher King, a Wondrous Bed, and so forth. You have to read it to believe it. [AoF]
Buy Perceval or the Story of the Grail

The Perfumed Garden
al-Nafwazi, Richard Burton(Translator)

Tahira reminds me of another good (if specialized) source, The Perfumed Garden, by al-Nafwazi. This is primarily a sex manual, but like most Arabic works of the period (15th century), much of the instruction is in the form of stories, especially the chapters regarding what kind of men and women should be admired, and which despised. None of the stories are particularly suitable for a young audience, and certainly not for ladies (meaning no offense to any ladies who may have been entertained by accidentally eavesdropping on my inadvertently reading these aloud by a camp fire at, say, Pennsic... )

The standard translation is by Sir Richard Burton. Like most Burton, the storytelling language is engaging, but the poetry is execrable (in my opinion, of course). [AtS]
Buy The Perfumed Garden

Comedies of Plautus
Since I'm in a classical mode here, I will recommend the comedies of Plautus.

The plots may seem very familiar, like, for example, Menaechmi (The Menaechmus Brothers) in which identical twin brothers show up in the same town with their identically named servants. Much mistaken identity occurs.

Sound like Comedy of Errors? Shakespeare stole from the best. Several of Plautus' plays were crammed together for A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.

I'm particularly fond of Persa (The Persian) which contains a complicated con involving a man pretending to be a Persian slaver, a girl pretending to be an Arab slave, a pimp, a prostitute, a young love and a miser....

Now having given this recommendation, I realize that I've never read Plautus in translation. A quick check of Amazon shows several collections of some of the better plays, one of which was translated by Erich Segal, of Love Story fame. [MW]
Buy Four Comedies of Plautus

A pleasant disport of divers Noble Personages
Giovanni Boccaccio, H.G. (Translator)
Imprinted at London in Pater Noster Row at the sign of the Mermaid, 1567

I feel a little funny using this one, the edition I own was published by Emerald Press, which is run by Alessandro. But if *he* didn't want to use this perfectly good source...

I quote from the introductory note: The book known variously as "Philocopo" and "Filocolo" was written by Boccaccio in 1336. Although it was though to be too long to attract a foreign audience, a central episode, The Thirteen Questions, could easily be extracted by adding a brief prologue explaining how Philocopo (the central character) arrives at The City....This book is based on the first English translation of The Thirteen Questions, from 1567. Two later editions, those of 1571 and 1587, were consulted to help with certain obscure passages in the original manuscript.

The Emerald Press edition is one step away from being a facsimilie edition, which means the original spelling, punctuation, and even page numbers (as inaccurate as they were) have been left intact. It has also been printed in a "gothic-y" font, which I find a little difficult to read. On the plus side, the margin notes are very useful, as is the glossary at the front. There is no other in-print version of this, although there was an edition printed in 1974 by Harry Carter, published by Clarkson Potter, Inc. under the title Thirteen Most Pleasant and Delectable Questions of Love. Entitled A Disport of Diverse Noble Personages. It's available at for between $10 and $20. [AY]
Buy Thirteen most pleasant and delectable questions of love

Poems of Arab Andalusia
Cola Franzen
City Lights, 1989

This is a translation of a translation (Franzen translated into English from a Spanish translation of the Andalusian-Arabic) so who knows how accurate the poems are, but they are certainly beautiful and they're one of only two collections I've been able to find in English and the English thing was a big big plus in my book. *grin*› As for the actual review:

This is a distressingly small sampler of the major poets of Al-Andalus. Most poets get one poem to represent their work. The poems range from erotic love poetry, to joyous celebrations of life (prohibition against wine? what prohibition against wine?), to celebrations of battle, to mournful. And you all (well, all of you who've heard me tell either of my Seville stories) should recognize at least one poet in the book: al-Mutamid. Al-Mutamid actually gets the lengthiest treatment of any of the poets--I think a full five of his poems are printed here, including one of his VERY sad laments after the Almohads broke their word not to take Seville from him and "escorted" him to Aghmat, Morocco.

There are several odd ommissions from the collection, most notably any female voices. The poetess Wallada's reputation places her easily as one of the top poets from al-Andalus and I know printed versions of her poetry survives because I've seen them (unfortunately only in Spanish) but for some reason she was excluded from the collection.

However, on a positive note, the poems which ARE included are beautiful (and in English)! [TbIaI]
Buy Poems of Arab Andalusia

The Travels of Marco Polo
While they are not technically "stories", Polo is an entertaining writer and his "Travels" give a rare firsthand look at what was strange new territory in the 1200s. Marco Polo was born in Venice in 1254 When he was 17, he went to China with his father and uncle. Marco Polo served as a government official while over there. His father and uncle served as military advisers to Kublai Khan (grandson of Ghengis).

In 1260, he made an overland journey from Bukhoro, Uzbekistan, to China. Two years later, he made a second journey. The route led from modern-day Akko, Israel, to the Persian Gulf, northward through Iran to present-day Amu-Darya, up the Oxus the Pamir to present day Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region, and finally across the Gobi Desert. They reached Shang-tu in 1275.

The Polos left China in the 1292, they left the country as escorts for a Mongol princess traveling by sea to Iran. They got to that country by Sumatra, near southern India. They then went overland past Tabriz in northwest Iran. They went along the east coast of the Black Sea, and past Constantinople. They returned from China in 1295.

In 1298, Marco Polo was taken prisoner by the Genoese, and while jailed, dictated to a fellow prisoner what he saw and heard while he traveled. Marco Polo's book, "The Travels of Marco Polo", first published in French, is arguably the most famous travel book in history. Marco Polo died in 1324 and on his death bed said "I didn't tell half of what I saw, because no one would have believed me."

Dover has a facsimile edition of a heavily annotated turn-of-the-century edition by Henry Yule. Yule's annotations are often incorrect and sometimes very wordy. Stick with the slimmed down versions available from Peguin or Bantam. [AY]
Buy The Travels of Marco Polo

The Portable Medieval Reader
James Ross and Mary Martin McLaughlin (Editors)
Penguin, 1977
ISBN 0140150643

This is a fat paperback, a boon to the person interested in the Medieval mindset -- less of a boon to a storyteller, although there are some very nice pieces of narrative, both non-fiction and fiction, in here. The book is divided into five parts, and it is the last one, "The Noble Castle", that is of most interest to us. The first section of "The Noble Castle" is entitled 'The Makers' and contians the subcategories Poets & Storytellers, Painters & Builders, and Musicians. The meat, unsurprisingly in in the first subcategory. Poets & Storytellers contains 20 short pieces from such diverse authors as St. Francis of Assissi, Chaucer, and Dante -- as well as many more obscure authors and our old friend, Anonymous. Each piece is preceded with its time and place of origin (i.e., "France, thirteenth century") and followed by the modern source from which it is being reprinted ("Trans. J.S.P. Tatlock and O. MacKaye, The Modern Reader's Chaucer (New York, Macmillan, 1912)"), so, if you particularly like apiece you can go and track down more by the same author. Some of my favorite pieces include "The Battle of the Arts" a poem about a series of conflicts between pairs of arts and sciences, and "Fernado of Cordova, the Boy Wonder" about a child prodigy who was so talented, kind, articulate, and well-versed in every science that it was decided he was the anti-Christ. [AY]
The Portable Medieval Reader
Back to Table of Contents

Contents © 1999-2006 Alex Newman for the Carolingian Storytellers Guild