The city of Troy.
THE annexed plate represents a portion of a very splendid illumination, on an extremely large leaf of vellum, now in the possession of M. Debruge at Paris. It has formed part of a noble manuscript volume, executed in the reign of Louis XII. (1498-1515). The subject of the illumination is the rebuilding of the city of Troy by Priam, after it had been sacked by Hercules.
Although as a whole it is full of exaggeration and fancy, yet its parts are curious examples of the domestic architecture of the age. The houses and shops are particularly interesting. The building in front is a richly embellished gateway. Beneath, the right hand side of the gateway appears to be occupied as a chemist’s shop. Under one arch appears the chemist or apothecary weighing out his drugs, whilst another arch in the gateway discovers to us his man employed in pounding them in a mortar. The wares exposed to sale in the row of shops in the street are not so easily determined; one of them is occupied by a merchant who appears to have on sale, shoes, stockings, and hats or caps.
The history of “Troy the Great,” as it is called in the old romances, was remarkably popular from the twelfth century downwards, not only for the interest attached to the feats of chivalry connected with it, but because most of the people of Western Europe had begun to lay claim to a fabulous origin from some of the Trojan chieftains who were supposed to have wandered over the world after the ruin of their country. This history was in general founded upon the supposititious tracts which went under the names of Dares of Phrygia and Dictys of Crete, and which were adapted, by those who translated them, to the manners and notions of middle-age chivalry. We frequently meet with anonymous accounts of the siege of Troy in old manuscripts; and it often finds a place in chronicles which pretend to trace back the history of the country to which they relate to its origin. About the middle of the twelfth century there was composed in England a very long and curious Anglo-Norman poem on the siege of Troy, extending to upwards of thirty thousand lines, by a trouvère named Benoît de Sainte Mauro, to whom also is attributed the extensive metrical chronicle of the Norman dukes written in emulation of Wace.
At the beginning of the thirteenth century appeared the almost classical Latin poem on the destruction of Troy by Joseph of Exeter, which has been frequently printed, and was once believed to be a work of the better ages of the Latin language. It appears therefore that England produced the two first middle-age poems on this subject. That of Benoit still remains inedited, though copies of it in manuscript are not uncommon.
At the latter end of the thirteenth century, in 1287, a new Latin history of the siege of Troy was given by an Italian writer named Guido de Columnis, or Delle Colonne. Many authors have erroneously stated this to be the earliest of the Medieval books on this subject. However, Guido’s work soon obtained a wide popularity, and, having thrown almost into oblivion the prerious works on the same subject, became the groundwork of most of the similar works which appeared afterwards. In the fourteenth century it was translated into Italian; in the fifteenth century it was translated into French, or rather made the foundation of a French work, by Raoul Lefevre, chaplain of Philip the Good, duke of Burgundy, who informs us that he composed it in 1464. The manuscripts of Lefevre’s book, which are numerous, are in general richly illuminated. There are many copies in the Royal Library at Paris.
It will easily be imagined that all these writers on the Trojan war had no great acquaintance with the writings of Homer, which they considered of little value or authority. The earliest of them, Benoit de Sainte Maure, after telling us that Homer was a “marvelous clerk,” assures us that, living more than a hundred years after the event, he could not possibly know much about it. He then relates a curious anecdote of the reception which Homer’s “history” met with among the Athenians:-
” Quant il en ot son livre fet,
Et an Athenes l’ot retret,
Si ot estrenge contençon:
Danpner le vostrent par reison
Por ce qu’ot fet les Dame-Dex
Combatre o les homes charnex,
Et les Déesses ansement
Feisoit combatre avoec la gent,
Et quant son livre reectèrent,
Pluisor por ce le refusèrent;
Mès tant fu Homers de grant pris
Et tant fist puis, si con je truis,
Que ses livres fu recéuz
Et en auctorité tenuz.”
When he had made his book about it,
And had published it at Athens,
There was a strange contention:
They rightly wished to condemn it
Because he had made the Gods
Fight with carnal men,
And the goddesses in like manner
He made to combat with the people.
And when they recited his book,
Many for that reason refused it;
But Homer had so great reputation,
And he exerted himself so much, as I find,
That his book was at last received
And held for authority.
Such was the distorted point of view in which the people of the Middle Ages regarded the works of the ancients.
The earliest English poem on the Trojan War which we know is Lydgate’s “Troy-Boke,” one of the best of that poet’s works, some parts of it being really poetical. Lydgate began it in 1414, at the command of King Henry IV., hut it was not finished till 1420, in the reign of his successor, Henry V., I to whom it was dedicated. Lydgate also repudiates Homer, because he was too favorable to the Greeks.
“One said that Omere made lies
And feinyng in his poetries:
And was to the Grekes favorable,
And therefore held he it but fable.”
In the Bodleian library is preserved another long English poem on the war of Troy, supposed to be of the time of Henry VI. A prose English version of the French work of Lefevre, as well as the original, was printed by Caxton, and is one of the rarest of his books. The subject continued popular up to the time when Shakespeare brought the tale of Troilus and Cressida on the English stage; and the drama owes many of its characteristics to the tint which had been thrown over the story in the Middle-Ages.