Open main menu

1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Benoît de Sainte-More

< 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica

BENOÎT DE SAINTE-MORE, or Sainte-Maure, 12th century French trouvère, is supposed to have been a native of Sainte-Maure in Touraine. Very little is known of his personal history. The maître prefixed to his name implies that he had graduated at the university, but there is nothing to show whether he was a simple trouvère by profession or belonged to the clergy. He was a loyal subject of Henry II. of England, to whose court he was attached, and when he speaks of the French, it is as “they.” Wace had begun a history of the dukes of Normandy in his Roman du Rou. This he brought down to the reign of Henry I., but here Henry II. seems to have withdrawn his patronage, and at the end of his poem Wace refers to a maistre Beneeit who had received a similar commission. There is no other contemporary poem extant dealing with the subject except the Chronique des ducs de Normandie, and it would seem reasonable to assume the identity of Wace’s rival with Benoît de Sainte-More, whose authorship of the chronicle has, nevertheless, been often disputed. But a comparison of the Roman de Troie, which is certainly Benoît’s work, with the Chronique, confirms the supposition that they are by the same author. The poem contains over forty thousand lines, and relates the history of the Norman dukes from Rollo to Henry I., with a preliminary sketch of the Danish invasions and the adventures of Hastings and his companions. It has no claims to be considered an original authority. Benoît drew his information from the De moribus et actis primorum Normanniae ducum of Dudon de Saint Quentin as far as 1002, following his model very closely. From that time he avails himself of the chronicle of William of Jumièges, also of Ordericus Vitalis and others. The Chronique probably dates from about 1172 to 1176. In the Roman de Troie, written about 1160, Benoît expressly asserts his authorship. He mentions “Omers” with great respect as li clers merveillos, but his authority for the story is naturally not Homer, of whom he could have no first-hand knowledge. He follows the apocryphal Historia de excidio Trojae of Dares the Phrygian and the Ephemerides belli Trojani of Dictys of Crete. The poem runs to about 30,000 lines. The personages of the classical story are converted into heroes of romance. They have their castles and their abbeys, and act in accordance with feudal custom. The supernatural machinery of Homer is missing both in Benoît’s original and his own narrative. The story begins with the capture of the Golden Fleece and comes down to the return of the Greek princes after the fall of Troy. Benoît diverges very widely from the classical tradition, and M. Léopold Constans sees reason to suppose that the trouvère founded his poem on an amplified version of the Dares narrative that has not come down to us. In the Roman de Troie first appeared the episode of Troïlus and Briseïde, that was to be developed later in the Filostrato of Boccaccio, which in its turn formed the basis of Chaucer’s Troilus and Creseide. The Shakespearian play of Troilus and Cressida is also indirectly derived from Benoît’s story.

On the strength of a certain similarity of treatment Benoît has sometimes been credited with the authorship of the anonymous Roman d’Énéas and of the Roman de Thèbes, a romance derived indirectly from the Thebaïs of Statius. M. Constans is inclined to negative both these attributions. It is not even certain that the Benoît who chronicled the deeds of the Norman dukes for Henry II. between 1172 and 1176 was the Benoît de Sainte-More of the Roman de Troie.

The Chronique des ducs de Normandie was edited by Francisque Michel in 1836-1844; the Roman de Troie by A. Joly in 1870-1871; the Énéas, by J. J. Salverda de Grave in H. Suchier’s Bibliotheca Normannica in 1891; the Roman de Thèbes for the Société des anciens textes français, by M. L. Constans in 1890. See E. D. Grand in La Grande Encyclopédie; L. Constans in Petit de Julleville’s Hist. de la langue et de la litt, française (vol. i. pp. 171-225). where the three romances are analysed at length. The prefaces to the editions just mentioned discuss the authorship of the romances.