1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Map, Walter

MAP (or Mapes), WALTER (d. c. 1208/9), medieval ecclesiastic, author and wit, to whose authority the main body of prose Arthurian literature has, at one time or another, been assigned, flourished in the latter part of the 12th and early years of the 13th centuries. Concerning the date of his birth and his parentage nothing definite is known, but as he ascribes his position at court to the merits of his parents they were probably people of some importance. He studied at Paris under Girard la Pucelle, who began to teach in or about 1160, but as he states in his book De nugis curialium that he was at the court of Henry II. before 1162, his residence at Paris must have been practically comprised in the decade 1150–1160.

Map’s career was an active and varied one; he was clerk of the royal household and justice itinerant; in 1179 he was present at the Lateran council at Rome, on his way thither being entertained by the count of Champagne; at this time he apparently held a plurality of ecclesiastical benefices, being a prebend of St Paul’s, canon and precentor of Lincoln and parson of Westbury, Gloucestershire. There seems to be no record of his ordination, but as he was a candidate for the see of Hereford in 1199 it is most probable that he was in priest’s orders. The last reference to him, as living, is in 1208, when an order for payment to him is on record, but Giraldus Cambrensis, in the second edition of his Hibernica, redacted in 1210, utters a prayer for his soul, “cujus animae propitietur Deus,” a proof that he was no longer alive.

The special interest of Map lies in the perplexing question of his relation to the Arthurian legend and literature. He is invariably cited as the author of the Lancelot proper (consisting of two parts), the Queste and the Mort Artus, all three of which are now generally found in one manuscript under the title of Lancelot. The Mort Artus, however, we know to be the prose working over of an earlier and independent poem. Sundry manuscripts of the yet more extensive compilation which begins with the Grand Saint Graal also refer to Map as having composed the cycle in conjunction with Robert de Borron, to whom, as a rule, the Grand Saint Graal and Merlin are exclusively assigned. The curious Merlin text, Bibl. Nat. 337 (fonds Français), refers throughout to Map as authority; and the enormous Lancelot codex, B. N. 112, a combination of the Lancelot and the Tristan, also couples his name with that of Robert de Borron. In fact it may safely be said that, with the exception of the prose Tristan, always attributed either to Luces de Gast, or Hélie de Borron, the authority of Map has been invoked for the entire vast mass of Arthurian prose romantic literature. Now it is practically impossible that one man, and that one an occupier of court and public offices, constantly employed in royal and public business, very frequently travelling abroad (e.g. we know he was at Limoges in 1173; at Rome in 1179; in Anjou in 1183; and at Angers in 1199), could have found the necessary leisure. On this point we have the testimony of his one undoubted work, De nugis curialium, which he tells us he composed “by snatches” during his residence at court. De nugis is a comparatively small book; if it were difficult to find leisure for that, much more would it have been difficult to find the time requisite for the composition of one only of the many long-winded romances which have been fathered on Map. Giraldus Cambrensis, with whom he was on most friendly terms, and who frequently refers to and quotes him, records a speech in which Map contrasted Giraldus’ labours with his own, apparently to the disadvantage of the latter, “vos scripta dedistis, et nos verba”—a phrase which has been interpreted as meaning that Map himself had produced no literary work. But inasmuch as the De nugis is undoubtedly, and certain satirical poems directed against the loose life of the clergy of the day most probably, his work, the speech must not be taken too literally. It seems difficult also to believe that Map’s name should be so constantly connected with our Arthurian tradition without any ground whatever; though it must be admitted that he himself never makes any such claim—the references in the romances are all couched in the third person, and bear no sign of being other than the record by the copyist of a traditional attribution.

A different and very interesting piece of evidence is afforded by the Ipomedon of Hue de Rotelande; in relating how his hero appeared at a tournament three days running, in three different suits of armour, red, black and white, the author remarks,

Sul ne sai pas de mentir l’art
Walter Map reset ben sa part.

This apparently indicated that Map, also, had made himself responsible for a similar story. Now this incident of the “Three Days’ Tournament” is found alike in the prose Lancelot and in the German Lanzelet, this latter translated from a French poem which, in 1194, was in the possession of Hugo de Morville. The Ipomedon was written somewhere in the decade 1180–1190, and there is no evidence of the prose romance having then been in existence. We have no manuscript of any prose Arthurian romance earlier than the 13th century, to which period Gaston Paris assigned them; they are certainly posterior to the verse romances. Chrétien de Troyes, in his Cligés (the date of which falls somewhere in the decade 1160–1170), knew and utilized the story of the “Three Days’ Tournament,” and moreover makes Lancelot take part in it. Map was, as we have seen, frequently in France; Chrétien had for patroness Marie, countess of Champagne, step-daughter to Henry II., Map’s patron; Map’s position was distinctly superior to that of Chrétien. Taking all the evidence into consideration it seems more probable that Map had, at a comparatively early date, before he became so important an official, composed a poem on the subject of Lancelot, which was the direct source of the German version, and which Chrétien also knew and followed.

The form in which certain of the references to him are couched favours the above view; the compiler of Guiron le Cortois says in his prologue that “maistre Gautier Map qui fu clers au roi Henry—devisa cil l’estoire de monseigneur Lancelot du Lac, que d’autre chose ne parla il mie gramment en son livre”; and in another place he refers to Map, “qui fit lou propre livre de monsoingnour Lancelot dou Lac.” Now only during the early part of his career could Map fairly be referred to as simple “clers au roi Henry,” and both extracts emphasize the fact that his work dealt, almost exclusively, with Lancelot. Neither of these passages would fit the prose romance, as we know it, but both might well suit the lost French source of the Lanzelet; where we are in a position to compare the German versions of French romances with their originals we find, as a rule, that the translators have followed their source faithfully.

One of the references to Map’s works in the Merlin manuscript above referred to (B.N. 337) has an interesting touch not found elsewhere. After saying how Map translated the romance from the Latin at the bidding of King Henry, the usual statement, the scribe adds “qui riche loier l’en dona.” It is of course possible that Map’s rise at court may have been due to his having hit the literary taste of the monarch, who, we know, was interested in the Arthurian tradition, but it must be admitted that direct evidence on the subject is practically nil, and that in the present condition of our knowledge we can only advance possible hypotheses.

See art. “Map” in Dict. Nat. Biog. De nugis curialium and the Latin Poems attributed to Map have been edited for the Camden Society by T. Wright (1841). For discussion of his authorship of the Lancelot cf. The Three Days’ Tournament, Grimm Library XV. See also under Lancelot. The passages relating to Map cited above have been frequently quoted by scholars, e.g. Hucher, Le Grand Saint Graal; Paulin Paris, Romans de la Table Ronde; Alfred Nutt, Studies in the Legend of the Holy Grail.  (J. L. W.)