Saxo Grammaticus: The History of the Danes Books I-IX
Saxo Grammaticus, Hilda Roderick & Ellis Davidson (Translators)
DS Brewer, 1998
This is the English translation of the first nine volumes of Saxo
Grammitcus' ("Saxo the Learned" or "Saxo the Lettered") sixteen volume
history of Denmark called the Gesta Danorum. As far as I know, there is
no translation of the latter volumes. This work, written in central
Denmark around 1200, bridges the gap between the Scandanavian Sagas and
the Gesta of Western and Central Europe in the 14th and 15th centuries.
It is the first major Danish work written in Latin, and the source for
many stories, including "Patient Grizelda", Shakespeare's Hamlet, and
The Prince and the Pauper. The exploits of the Beggar-King, and how he
tricks the vassals into giving him their allegience is worth the price
of admission alone. [AY]
Buy Saxo Grammaticus: The History of the Danes
Scandinavian Folk & Fairy Tales
Claire Booss (Editor)
Gramercy Books, 1984
This large hardcover is a collection of more than 200 folk and fairy tales from Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Iceland. The stories vary in length from as small as one or two paragraphs to about 20 pages (though there are only a few of this length). I believe that this single volume is a collection of several books published in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Each country is represented by its own section of the book, but the subdivisions of the section vary from country to country. Sweden, for example is divided in regions while Denmark is divided in "Tales by Hans Christian Andersen" and "Traditional Tales", and Norway isn't divided at all. Anyone who was paying attention can immediately tell that not all of these stories are period -- but at least they're nice enough to isolate the HCA stories. I don't mean to imply that all the rest of the stories are period, but many are. There is a brief retelling of Peter Gynt, two Chanticleer stories, several lives of saints, and many stories from the traditional Finnish saga (which I'll say more about in it's own posting).
Some of the stories are clearly Victorian, and some are just downright
weird, but the majority of them are perfect for the beginning
Buy Scandinavian Folk & Fairy Tales
Scenarios of the Commedia dell'Arte
Henry F. Salerno (Translator & Editor)
Limelight Editions, NY
The commedia dell arte was a unique development in the history of the theatre in Western Europe. It flourished in Italy in the second half of the 1500s, and was an influence on Shakepseare, Moliere, and every modern sitcom.
The primary source (no pun intended) for scenari of the commedia dell arte was published out of period. "Il teatro delle favole rappresentative" was written by Flaminio Scala and published in 1611. However, we know that Francesco Andreini (who created the character of the braggart Spavento -- clearly modeled on the miles gloriosus of Plautus) played with a troupe called I Gelosi (the Zealous Ones) along with Scala in 1551, and many of the scenari in Scala's collection pre-date its publication by 50 years; i.e. the fall within our period.
Many of the scenari will sound familar -- "The Tragic Events" on the 18th day is the story of Romeo and Juliet. Despite the title, it has a happy ending. The scenari aren't scripts, but rather outlines describing the actions and sometimes the motivations of the characters. It is left to the actors (or in this case, the storytellers) to fill in the details.
There are many good books on commedia, and some even reprint an early
scenario or two, but the complete "Il teatro delle favole rappresentative"
is translated, with commentary in the above referenced work. [AY]
Buy Scenarios of the Commedia Dell'Arte
Scudder's Book of Legends
Horace E. Scudder
This little gem of a book has been out of print for more than 50 years, but is available at www.bookfinder.com for between $12 and $18. I found mine at Avenue Victor Hugo on Newbury Street for $2.50.
Scudder retells a wide variety of legends from all over the world; some of which I am familiar with from other sources, others not. The language is a little sparse, but if you're looking for the essentials of one of the stories contained in here, this is a great source. It includes some religious stories (Saint George and the Dragon, the Legend of St. Christopher, a story called "Abraham and the Old Man", the tale of the Wandering Jew), some historical ones (William Tell), and some stories I'm glad I got to post to this list (The Brazen Head, and Fair Melusina). It also includes some stories I've never seen elsewhere. [AY]
The Seven Sages of Rome
Karl Brunner (Editor)
Early English Text Series.
Oxford University Press, 1933
Although the introduction of The Seven Sages of Rome tells us that this was "translated from the Greek into" Italian, that is wholly hooey (pardon my language, Marcus). The tale dates from the 14th century and seems to have originated in France.
The Seven Sages tells the story of Prince Erastus, the son of Emperor Diocletian, who is sent to be educated by seven sages. When he comes home at the end of his formal education, Erastus's wicked stepmother lyingly tells Diocletian that the intelligent and handsome prince has attempted to seduce her -- after he rebuffs her attempts to seduce *him* (yes, yes, you've heard this story before...shhh).
Sentenced to death, he is totally silent because under a spell that his stepmother has cast. While all wait for him to speak up, the queen tells a series of tales on seven consecutive nights, each designed to show Diocletian the danger he faces from his son. And each subsequent morning, one of the sages tells a tale showing the danger of trusting women! After the seven days have passed, the boy suddenly does speak, the truth is known, the queen's treachery is exposed, and she is burnt.
The 'frame' is probably the weakest part of the Seven Sages -- each
of the Queen's stories are varied and interesting. The Sages stories
occasionally are a little predicatable, but let's not forget how old they
Buy The Seven Sages of Rome
Tales of Ancient Persia
Barbara Leonie Picard
Oxford Myths and Legends Series
Oxford University Press, 1993
This is a British publication, so I'm not sure it's available in the States. Tales of Ancient Persia is a collection of twenty-four stories from pre-Islamic Persia. The stories are taken from the Shah-Nama (the "King Book"), an epic poem written by the great Iranian poet Abul Kasim Mansur, who wrote under the name Firdausi. He lived from around A.D. 940 to A.D. 1020 and, it is said, it took him 35 years to write the Shah-Nama. The Shah-Nama is the history of Persia from the Creation until its conquest by the Arabs in the seventh century. The first half of the Shah-nama deals with myths and legendary history; the second half deals with historical personages, although some of the stories told of them have little basis in fact. All of the stories in Tales of Ancient Persia are taken from the first half of the poem.
The early stories in this book are creation myths or deal with the earliest
history and have a very Old Testament feel. Most of the stories are
quite short -- less than 10 minutes in the telling -- and many involve
a demon or monster. There's also a wide range of heroes, from emperors
to clever shepherds. Some of these stories were brought west by Richard's
returning troops, so they work well for a crusader persona as well as a
Middle-eastern one. [AY]
Buy Tales of Ancient Persia
The Epic of Kings: Shah-nama, the national epic of Persia by
Reuben Levy (Translator)
London, Routledge & K. Paul 1967
The Shah nameh of the Persian poet Firdausi translated and abridged
in prose and verse
by James Atkinson, J.A. Atkinson (Editor)
London, New York, F. Warne, 1886.
One of these is available through Amazon, one of them was only available through a specialty bookstore (www.iranbooks.com); I forget which was which.
There's also an online translation by Helen Zimmern at http://www.persian.com/ferdowsi/
Buy The Epic of the Kings
Buy The Shah Nameh
Soldiers of Christ, Saints and Saints' Lives From Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages.
Thomas Noble & Thomas Head (Editors)
Sheed & Ward, 1995
A collection of early-period hagiographies dating from about 400 to 900. Most of these works were read for centuries and served as sources for later writers on saints. Many of these stories are English and German and date to a period before there is too much else in the way of written history, so it is a particularly useful source for early-period storytellers. The lives are generally take up more time then you would want to spend on a tale, but they are usually presented in an episodic format, probably because they represent the written version of collected stories about a given saint.
I found the stories to be a lot more interesting than the tales in the Golden Legend. [AF]
Buy Soldiers of Christ
Acts of King Arthur and His
Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993
Yes, Of Mice and Men and Grapes of Wrath -- that John Steinbeck. Steinbeck's (sadly, unfinished) re-telling of Malory's Morte d'Arthur is extremely readable, without layering too much modern psychoanalysis or adding new elements to the stories. With the exception of The Fall of Camelot and The Grail Quest, this book covers all of the well-known Arthur legends -- and many not so well-known ones. Yes, Steinbeck is 20th century, but he's working off of Malory, who was writing in England in the late 1470s, and Malory was working off of Geoffrey of Monmouth, whose Historia (as well as The Prophecies of Merlin) surfaced in the mid 1100s. So this is a good source for anyone from about the Conquest on.
Two caveats: this is a modern source. If you're more of a purist, I would suggest Benson & Foster's "King Arthur's Death: Stanzaic Morte Arthur and Alliterative Morte Arthure", which you'll probably have to special order from Western Michigan University Press, although it is still in print. This is two back-to-back versions of Malory, each stressing a different style of translation.
Second caveat: Steinbeck has a work entitled "The Pearl"; this
is NOT the medieval vision poem of the same name. [AY]
Buy The Acts of King Arthur and His Noble Knights
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Contents © 1999-2006 Alex Newman for the Carolingian Storytellers Guild