BODEL, JEHAN (died c. 1210), French trouvère, was born at Arras in the second half of the 12th century. Very little is known of his life, but in 1205 he was about to start for the crusade when he was attacked by leprosy. In a touching poem called Le Congé (pr. by Méon in Recueil de fabliaux et contes, vol. i.), he bade farewell to his friends and patrons, and begged for a nomination to a leper hospital. He wrote Le Jeu de Saint Nicolas, one of the earliest miracle plays preserved in French (printed in Monmerqué and Michel’s Théâtre français du moyen âge, 1839, and for the Soc. des bibliophiles français, 1831); the Chanson des Saisnes (ed. F. Michel 1839), four pastourelles (printed in K. Bartsch’s Altfranz. Romanzen und Pastourellen, Leipzig, 1870); and probably, the eight fabliaux attributed to an unknown Jean Bedel. The legend of Saint Nicholas had already formed the subject of the Latin Ludus Sancti Nicholai of Hilarius. Bodel placed the scene partly on a field of battle in Africa, where the crusaders perish in a hopeless struggle, and partly in a tavern. The piece, loosely connected by the miracle of Saint Nicholas narrated in the prologue, ends with a wholesale conversion of the African king and his subjects. The dialogue in the tavern scenes is written in thieves’ slang, and is very obscure. The Chanson des Saisnes, Bodel’s authorship of which has been called in question, is a chanson de geste belonging to the period of decadence, and is really a roman d’aventures based on earlier legends belonging to the Charlemagne cycle. It relates the wars of Charlemagne against the Saxons under Guiteclin de Sassoigne (Witikind or Widukind), with the second revolt of the Saxons and their final submission and conversion. Jehan Bodel makes no allusion to Ogier the Dane and many other personages of the Charlemagne cycle, but he mentions the defeat of Roland at Roncevaux. The romance is based on historical fact, but is overlaid with romantic detail. It really embraces three distinct legends—those of the wars against the Saxons, of Charlemagne’s rebellious barons, and of Baudouim and Sebille. The earlier French poems on the subject are lost, but the substance of them is preserved in the Scandinavian versions of the Charlemagne cycle (supposed to have been derived from English sources) known as the Karlamagnussaga (ed. Unger, Christiania, 1860) and Keiser Karl Magnus Krönike (Romantisk Digtnung, ed. C. J. Brandt, Copenhagen, 1877).
See also the article on Jehan Bodel by Paulin Paris in Hist. litt. de la France, xx. pp. 605–638; Gaston Paris, Histoire poétique de Charlemagne (1865); Léon Gautier, Les Épopées françaises (revised edition, vol. iii. pp. 650–684), where there is a full analysis of the Chanson des Saisnes and a bibliography; H. Meyer, in Ausgaben und Abhandlungen aus . . . der romanischen Philologie (Marburg, 1883), pp. 1-76, where its relation to the rest of the Charlemagne cycle is discussed.