The Moral Teachings Project
An Analysis of The Enseignmens Moraux by Francesca Lundvall
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What are Les Ensiegnemens Moraux?

By Francesca Lundvall

Omne tulit punctum qui miscuit utile dulci

Lectorem delectando pariterque monendo,

"She who has mixed the useful with the delightful wins over everyone,

At once amusing and instructing the reader."

(Horace, Ars Poetica 343-344)

The Enseignemens Moraux is a poem of 113 quatrains written by Christine de Pizan at the end of 1398 or shortly after. Christine’s career as a writer had begun in the early 1390’s as a result of her desperate financial situation caused by the sudden death of her husband in 1390. If initially popular due to the novelty of a woman poet, Christine came to be known as an outspoken, well-connected writer of the early 15th century, passionate about her views on women and French politics until her death around 1430. The Ensiegnemens comes at the turn of the 15th century, a time which was also a turning point of her style as she developed from writing the courtly lyrics of her early career to the serious philosophical themes which would dominate the rest of her works. It was edited and published in the third volume of the Œuvres poétiques de Christine de Pisan by Maurice Roy in 1896. It is commonly called the Enseignemens Moraux, although in the manuscripts produced by Christine the work is referred to variously as les notables moraulz, les diz moraulz and les enseignemens; these rubrics specify that these teaching are “donne a son filz” (from a mother to her son) by Christine and this son is identified as Jehan de Castel in BnF fr. 836. The poem is a collection of parental advice offered to her oldest son, Jean Castel, and is based in the genre of didactic poetry, a popular genre which drew from Late Antique and Biblical sources, as well as later collections of proverbs, humanist philosophy, and instructional manuals on courtly comportment.

The Enseignemens is one of Christine’s less-widely known works, although that has not always been the case; Roy notes that it was popular in the 15th century and had a wide readership but has gradually fallen out of favour in the last 500 years. The renaissance of interest in Christine and the development of a field Christine studies since the 1980’s has helped to bring her writings out of obscurity, but the Enseignemens has received less attention than her other poetic and prose works. I believe there are three reasons for the lack of modern interest in this text: there is no medieval translation, there is no complete translation of the text into a modern language and there is only one critical edition, that published in 1896 by Roy. Since at least 2005 there has been discussion of a new critical edition to be prepared by Karen Fresco for Honoré Champion’s Études Christiniennes although it does not seem to have been published at this time.

I was first struck by the vitality of the Enseignemens and how engaging it is to read when I began translating the Enseignemens as part of my vernacular language coursework. Christine concerns herself with a wide variety of social ranks and ages, from craftsmen to rulers, old men and young and like much of her writing, it offers to her readers an apparently vibrant picture of society at the turn of the 15th century. Medieval comportment literature such as the Enseignemens, as well as the broader genre of didactic poetry, is valuable for the study of secular society as it offers insights into the social geography of those in the middle- and upper-class, separate from religious instruction. Although a late medieval text, it often has a surprisingly modern tone, many of the stanzas sound like advice that a parent might give to their teen today while others are shocking in their sense of “other”. Additionally, it is one of her earliest philosophical works, coming at a self-identified turning point in her career and several themes which will come to characterise her writing in the first decades of the 15th century permeate the poem. The capricious Lady Fortune appears in six stanzas (IV, V, XV, XLV, LX, XC) and Christine does not forget to mention the dangers of popular romances (LXXVII). Christine stresses the value of a good education and self-motivated study (IV, VI, XXXVI, LXXVIII, LXXIX) as well as the worthiness of women and the necessity of treating them well (XLVII, LV, XCI). The Enseignemens is at once intriguing for modern readers and indicative of an important transitional period for Christine, yet there has been little scholarly attention paid to the poem and what there is has been recent. For these reasons, my friend and colleague Tadgh Wagstaff and I decided to create an interactive digital edition of the text to make it available to an audience who might otherwise have not had access to it.

There is no direct evidence for when the Enseignemens was written but most agree it was written in late 1398 or 1399, around the time that Jean Castel went to England with John Montagu, who became the 3rd Earl of Salisbury in 1397. As with many medieval texts, there are several reasons why a precise date cannot be ascribed to its composition. The earliest surviving exemplar of the text, Chantilly 492, was compiled over a period of three years, from 1399 to 1402. This does not allow us to narrow down the date of the text more than sometime before or after 1399 but not after 1402. Unlike modern books, medieval authors do not always give a precise date of composition nor do manuscripts usually include a date of production. Many of the other manuscripts which include the text can only be dated to sometime in the 15th century, while a few are later.

I believe the acceptance of 1398 as the date of the Enseignemens and the general belief that the text was written as a result of Jean’s departure has come about for two reasons. The first is that in several of the rubrics of the Enseignemens, the work is specifically dedicated to Jean and he has been almost universally identified as the young man in the illuminations which come before each copy of the text produced in Christine’s workshops. As it is a poem about correct moral and social behaviour, it is not unreasonable to believe that it was written for a beloved son travelling to the “mal païs d'Angleterre”, to remind him of proper conduct and give him the guidance he might miss while away. The second reason for dating the Enseignemens to 1398 is that Christine describes a shift in her writing in 1399, saying that “adonc me pris a forgier choses jolies, a mon commencement plus legieres”, but in 1399 she began “amendant mon stille en plus grant soubtilleté et plus haulte matière”. The style of the Enseignemens could certainly be taken as part of these early light-hearted works since it does not treat in detail the serious philosophical issues found in her later works, such as the effects of war or the place of women in society. This is further supported by its inclusion in the Chantilly collection which was produced around the time of both Jean’s departure and her self-identified stylistic shift.

James Laidlaw provides evidence that Jean’s departure with Salisbury was in late 1398 and most scholars take this as the date of the Enseignemens, although Nathalie Nabert dates the work to 1401-1402. Salisbury was a well-known favourite of Richard II and supported peace with France: to this end he occasionally carried out diplomatic duties in France on behalf of Richard, including arranging the king’s marriage to Isabella of France in 1396. In his article on the circumstances of Christine’s acquaintance with Salisbury, Laidlaw only briefly mentions the Enseignemens and suggests as an aside that a lost copy of the Enseignemens may have been among the short works sent to Salisbury before his death. The article as a whole serves to highlight the difficulty of establishing concrete dates for events in the medieval period: despite several references to Jean’s time in England in Christine's poems, she does not record the actual year that he left France. Since at least the 19th century, Christine scholars have proposed that it was sometime between 1396 and 1398.

Laidlaw collects evidence from a wide variety of literary and documentary sources to argue that Salisbury, who had been sent to France in 1398 by Richard on a mission with the Bishop of Carlisle, had a further order to travel to Paris on his own to prevent the match between Marie of Berry and Henry of Lancaster. As Christine says in the Advision that she met Salisbury around 1399 and there is no record of expenses paid for a second trip to France before his death in 1400, it seems most likely that she met him when he travelled to Paris sometime in October or November of 1398 and that this is when Christine reluctantly arranged for Jean to accompany him on his return to England at the start of December 1398. Therefore, if we accept that the poem was composed in response to Jean’s departure, the Enseignemens can be dated to the final month of 1398 or sometime after, depending on how quickly Christine was able to write it. Regardless of the exact date of composition it is clear that it was written at the very end of the 14th century or the very beginning of the 15th, a period which Christine identifies as a turning point in her career as a writer.

Who are Les Enseignemens addressed to?

The rubrics of the Enseignemens in the four manuscripts produced under Christine’s supervision make it clear that this poem is intended as a gift to her son and BnF fr. 8 specifies that it is addressed to “Jehan de Castel”, the elder of her two sons. From the 16th to the 19th centuries, there was little agreement on even the most basic facts of Jean Castel’s life and much of this confusion seems to stem from the fact that his son, the official chronicler of Louis XI and abbot of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, was also named Jean Castel. Fortunately, it is now understood that the Jean Castel of the Enseignemens was the oldest son of Christine and her only son to survive adolescence. It is possible that Jean’s association with first Salisbury and then Henry was the reason for the popularity of Christine’s early works in England and there are English translations of Cupid’s Letter and Othea’s Letter to Hector which appear at the turn of the century. Henry, who was interested in Christine’s writing and wanted her at his court, was reluctant to return Jean to England. After his time in England with Salisbury and Henry, Christine sought a place for Jean in various noble French households. Although in 1402 she requested that Louis of Orléans take him on, because of Jean’s association with Henry’s court this was denied. In 1404 she then found him a position with Phillip the Bold, yet when the duke died a few months later there is no record that John the Fearless, the new duke of Burgundy, kept him on in the household.

Finally, from 1409 Jean is identified as a court secretary to Charles VI and then as secretary to the dauphin Charles, he remained with the dauphin until his death at the age of forty-two in 1425; he did not live to see the dauphin crowned as Charles VII at Reims. Jean may have been court secretary like his father before him, yet he lived a much more tumultuous life than Etienne Castel; fleeing Paris to follow the dauphin into exile in the spring of 1418, he even acted for a short time as ambassador to Castille while Charles sought support to regain lands in Guyenne. Jean married Jeanne Chaton, perhaps sometime in 1412, and they had three children named Jean, Jean and Jeanne. A popular writer in his life, into the 16th century he was remembered as a writer as talented as his mother, yet just one of his poems has been identified in modern times. Le Pin is a courtly love poem which allegorizes the exile of the dauphin Charles, suggests a cultivated and politically engaged author who, like his mother, was concerned with the maux de la France and the Lancastrian threat to the monarchy. Although it is not known if Christine remained in contact with Jean during Charles’ exile, he is called an “advocat des dames” in La responce des dames faicte a Maistre Allain48, perhaps suggesting the influence of his mother’s teachings.

Jean, “assez abille et bien chantant”, was thirteen when Salisbury convinced Christine to allow Jean to return to England with him as a companion for his own son who was just a few years younger than Jean. On the surface level, the audience and motive underlying the work are obvious. Christine, who had struggled financially since her husband died in 1390, was conscience of how little she could to give her children as a widow and explains in the first stanza of the Enseignemens: “Filz, je n’ay mie grant tresor pour t’enrichir”. In the place of financial security, Christine is able to offer her son a chance at social advancement in Salisbury’s household and some wisdom to guide him while is away from her. Christine was reluctant to see Jean go to England and was anxious to secure his return to France when he was brought into Henry IV’s household after Salisbury’s death, refusing even to travel to England at Henry’s request. Despite saying that Henry “tres joyeusement prist mon enfant vers lui et tint chierement et en tres bon estat”, she did not support the king and worked hard to have her son return in 1402, eventually finding him a place in the Duke of Burgundy’s household in 1404.

The speed with which Christine establishes Jean in the households of Salisbury and Burgundy, and her concern over his time with Henry reveals her dedication to finding him a good but modest position, perhaps envisioning a career as a court secretary like his Father Étienne Castel before him. The majority of the poem is relevant to the type of life she could expect Jean in have in England, and many of the stanzas are aimed at a young man of moderate standing (XCVIII), who serves a lord (V, VIII, IX, XI, XLII, LX, LXVI) but also has the opportunity for a martial (XIII, XIV, CIV) or an academic education (VI, XXXVI, LXXVIII, LXXIX). There is a strong emphasis on the proper comportment and self-presentation of a well-educated young man, regardless of wealth; XXVII explains that in your youth you can be content and well-dressed at little cost, XL tells the reader how to live at court in peace, LXXII reminds us of the burden of borrowing from friends while LXVIII reminds us of the burden of lending money to another. Christine’s motivation as a mother hoping to prepare her son for a variety of respectable positions in wealthy households is obvious throughout the poem.

Overall, there is a great variety of advice offered in the Enseignemens and the advice in the Enseignemens is not just limited to young men working in noble households, there is wisdom for the clergy (XIX), merchants (XXIII), craftsmen (XXIV), military commanders (XIV), the old (LIX, LXI), the poor (XXXIV, XC), leaders and governors (XV, XVI, XVII). Instruction on managing flatterers (L, XXXII), rowdy peers (XXII, XLI) and meal times (XXVI, XL, XCII). The poem is punctuated by frequent memento mori (XVII, XXV, XXVIII, XC, CXIII) and some stanzas seemingly contradict each other. XXXI tells the reader “soies veritable en parole”, XXXIII reminds us that “le menteur est mescreü”, yet XLII tells readers to conceal and excuse their master’s mistakes and LXVI tells readers to pretend to be friends with unpleasant but powerful men if they might interfere with your life. It quickly becomes clear that unless Christine had very broad expectations for her son’s future, this poem is meant to appeal to a much wider readership than declared in the rubric, an audience made up of people from many different professions and stations.

Political and Historical Context of Les Enseignemens

It is at the start of the 15th century that Christine began to openly engage with social and political issues in her writing and it is possible that the Enseignemens is an early sign of this development. While the work is addressed to her son, a close study of the text and manuscripts reveals what may be another, more ambitious audience: Queen Isabeau, the dauphin Louis of Guyenne, and the royal courts. Ellen Thorington has published two articles examining the connection between the Enseignemens and Isabeau’s ever changing situation in the Valois court during the late 1390’s and the 1410’s. Her 2014 article studies the manuscript anthologies produced in Christine’s workshop for presentation to noble patrons, and the possible motivations for including the Enseignemens in these manuscripts. The most relevant of these are the two manuscripts given to Isabeau, Chantilly 492 and Harley 4431. What seems to be a private sharing of knowledge from mother to son is presented publicly to the Queen herself in two ornate manuscripts. How should the reader interpret the work? Is it a personal, familial work from one mother to another or is it one meant to influence an emerging debate on women’s intellectual capacity, female regency and Isabeau’s increasing power within the royal court? Following Thorington, I would argue that the Enseignemens should be understood as at once private and public. The evidence that Christine is signalling her support for Charles and Isabeau’s policy to establish the queen as co-guardian and eventually co-regent can be seen in several aspects of the text: textual evidence, non-textual evidence and the broader political context.

By 1398, Isabeau had been involved in disputes between the royal uncles for at least six years. From 1392 Charles began reworking the existing mechanisms of regency in France to provide stability in the government during his periods of illness. The fact that Charles was not permanently incapacitated or dead created a unique situation not often seen in regencies. When Charles’ own father Charles V died, his plan to disperse the power of the regency and the guardianship of the adolescent Charles between the queen and the royal uncles failed; as Philip of Burgundy consolidated the true governing power, there was no one to respond to the crisis and change the conditions of the regency. However, Charles VI was alive and even had periods of lucidity, sometimes quite long, which allowed him to alter the regency in response to events as they unfolded and how he expected his regents to act during his absences.

At first, he began with naming Louis of Orléans as sole regent and granting guardianship to of the dauphin to Isabeau, Philip of Burgundy and the royal uncles in a policy similar to his father’s. However, the conflict between Philip and Louis eventually lead Charles to establish Isabeau as sole co-regent in 1403. As sole co-regent, Isabeau alone had the power to oversee general governance of the realm and act as a temporary authority for the king when he was incapacitated, but ultimately, authority for management of the kingdom remained with the king at all times. This policy excluded the royal uncles from a position of true regency while emphasising that Isabeau was not a replacement. She was simply a representative of Charles and any decisions made during his absences had to be confirmed by the king when he recovered. The ordinance of April 26, 1403 specified that in the event of Charles’ death, the Dauphin would immediately become king regnant and until his majority, Isabeau would continue to be his chief representative as she had with Charles.

It is now understood that Christine willingly supported the queen and used her works as a way to engage with the issue of Isabeau’s co-regency. Not just her works, but the manuscripts themselves are revealing of her political motivations and the miniatures which decorate them highlight relationships between female authority figures.The Epistre d’Othéa is almost contemporary with the Enseignemens and is a clear political-moral commentary which centres around a wise, powerful woman who gives advice to the young prince Hector. In Harley 4431, a later manuscript of the work, visual similarities between illuminations of this work and others draw clear connections between the legendary councillor Othéa, the queen-regent Isabeau, and Christine. A study of the illuminations of the Enseignemens is as revealing as that of the Epistre. The Enseignemens is included in four presentation manuscripts which Christine produced for Isabeau and Louis of Orléans. All four follow a near identical layout for the illuminations and the order of texts. In each, the Enseignemens is placed before the Oroison de Nostre Dame and Quinze Joies Nostre Dame, texts related to Mary’s role as queen of heaven, and the Enseignemens and the Oroison are headed by the same illumination template in each manuscript. An image of Christine giving a book to a young man (presumably Jean) comes before each copy of the Enseignemens, and one of Christine offering a book to Mary and the infant Jesus is before each copy of the Oroison. The illuminations are consistent across the manuscripts, the visual similarities between them and their place in the anthology creating a visual discourse linking Christine to Mary, queen of heaven and the personification of Wisdom. This analysis can be extended to the Enseignemens itself which Christine presents as her son’s “legacy”, ostensibly a private maternal gift of wisdom which is all that a poor mother can offer her son. In reality it is intended to be a “civil” gift which Christine publicly presents first to Isabeau in order to further her interests in the welfare of France and then to Louis of Orléans to further her son’s prospects. In doing so, Christine creates an image of herself as Sagesse by associating herself with both Mary and the queen as maternal disseminators of wisdom. The Chantilly manuscript is an early example of Christine making clear connections between Isabeau and Mary. In her later works such a Le Livre des Trois Vertus, the Epistre a la Royne de France and the Cité des Dames, she will make ever more explicit links between the two co-regents, particularly emphasising their relationships with their sons.

Thorington continues the analysis of these manuscripts in her second article where she narrows her focus to the two anthologies which were presented to the queen, Harley MS 4431 and Chantilly 492. She highlights the links Christine makes between herself, Isabeau and the Virgin in the illuminations in these manuscripts, particularly in their roles as mothers and moral educators. In writing the Enseignemens Christine has placed herself in “la tradition sapientielle” which stretches back to antiquity and she invites Isabeau to pass on this traditional wisdom to the royal children. In the title of the work she reinforces not just her role as a maternal educator but also as an author who presents these lessons to Isabeau’s family. Following the medieval tradition that the mother provides a child’s earliest moral education, Christine has framed the Enseignemens as a part of her own son’s moral education. This provides a model for viewing the queen as a source of moral knowledge for the royal children and indeed the queen’s own sons were very young when the first copy of the Enseignemens was produced; the Chantilly manuscript was finished in 1402 when the two princes were only 4 and 5 years old.

Harley 4431 was also produced in period of great political and social instability. During the four years after Louis of Orléans’ assassination in 1410, Isabeau acted as the principal mediator between Armagnac and Burgundian factions while at the same time, the dauphin began taking on more responsibility under Isabeau’s guidance. In 1414, Christine, who supported the temporary peace which had been established between the factions, presented the Harley manuscript to Isabeau. This manuscript includes a copy of the Enseignemens, among several other didactic works of Christine’s early career, and it may be significant that Christine is once again presenting the theme of the mother as instructor. Already in 1393, Isabeau had been given control over the dauphin’s tutelle, a position of great influence over the dauphin if not necessarily great political influence. The ordinance granting her this position justifies the decision by saying:

La mere a greigneur et plus tendre amour à ses enfans, et a le cuer plus doulz et plus soigneux de les garder et nourrir amoureusement, que quelconque autre personne, tant leur soit prochaine de linage, et quant à ce doit estre preferée à touz autre.

"The mother has greater and more tender love for her children, and, [more] than any other person, no matter how closely related, she has a more gentle and caring heart to lovingly protect and nourish them, so much so that she should be preferred to all others."

The importance of Isabeau’s maternal love for her children and her ability to “garder et nourrir” them highlights the perceived value of a mother’s involvement in raising her children as well as implying that, unlike the men Charles had grown up with, Isabeau would prioritise her children’s well-being over any personal ambitions or desire for power.

Even in the earliest stages of Charles’ illness, Isabeau was established as a mediator, expected to temper the ambitious dukes on the regency council – through the end of the 14th century and into the 15th, the queen was called on to resolve disputes between Louis and Philip. She is repeatedly seen acting in a mediating role congruent with both the traditional conciliatory role of medieval queens, as well as Christine’s own view that women are less emotional and more rational than men, an idea which Christine develops in later works. Even before the tension between the two dukes became a serious concern within the court and the general public, Isabeau had been the primary guardian of her children and entrusted with overseeing the education of the dauphin. Her decisions as mother and mediator were now a matter for public scrutiny and there was good reason to associate her with positive models of motherhood and co-regency.

The Chantilly manuscript is the earliest surviving copy of the Enseignemens, I believe that by presenting it so soon after writing the work reveals Christine’s intention that the work be used for the instruction of the prince and anyone else at the court who would hear or read it. Is it possible she consciously composed the Enseignemens with the royal children in mind? Although this may be the earliest instructional work aimed at the dauphin, it is certainly not the last. She would go on to write several didactic works which both instruct the young prince and promote his, and by extension, his mother’s authority as neutral agents mediating court factions. Thorington suggests that Christine may have been motivated to include the work in the Chantilly anthology at the very moment when Isabeau was working to stabilise the regency council while maintaining as much control over Louis and the other children as she could. When the Enseignemens is presented again in 1414, Isabeau was once more engaged as a mediator between the Armagnac and Burgundian factions. Did Christine hope to remind Isabeau of her duties as regent and the need for prudence and temperance, not just for the sake of her children but for the country as a whole?

More importantly, the Enseignemens signals to others that the queen is interested in wisdom literature and moral ideas. High quality manuscripts like Chantilly and 492 and Harley MS 4431 were not read by just their addressees and could have quite a large audience at court, where they would be read aloud and discussed. By stressing that the work is a gift from mother to son, the title of the text shows readers that women can give intelligent, meaningful advice to their children and encourage them to be just, level-headed and morally upright. By extension, Isabeau can be trusted to be politically astute in her role as mediator while also being a moral, virtuous tutelle for the royal children. Both manuscripts show Christine’s engagement in political thought and her desire to support Isabeau’s position in court by allowing her to use the illustrations and texts such as the Enseignemens to signal the queen’s wisdom and involvement in the dauphin’s education.

The Medieval Didactic Tradition

I have argued above that the Enseignemens is an early witness to the corpus of works which Christine wrote in support of Isabeau’s role as co-regent and guardian of the royal children. To this end, it is likely that Christine was attempting to engage others besides Isabeau and her children, an elite audience associated with the royal court who, whether sympathetic or not to Isabeau’s situation, were certainly aware of the queen’s influence. At the same time, the Enseignemens is also part of the long tradition of didactic poetry, a genre ever popular among the upper- and middle-classes alike. Regardless of Christine’s political motivations, the content and structure of the work was practically pre-determined by the conventions of the genre and Elisabeth Schulze-Busacker has described the Enseignemens as “une réécriture des trois sources principals”. These three sources have been identified as the Disticha Catonis and the two Facetus, in hexameters and in distichs, fundamental texts in Christine’s chosen genre.

To best understand the place of the Enseignemens in the medieval culture of didactic literature, it is necessary to examine these texts and their role in medieval education from Late Antiquity to the 15th century. In doing so, I will also trace in part the development of a new genre of didactic poetry to which the Enseignemens is related, the books of courtoisie which were to become so popular among late medieval readers. There have been many excellent studies on the development of conduct literature in the 13th to 15th centuries, for the purposes of this study it will be sufficient to give a general outline of the relationships between ancient and medieval didactic texts and how this is relevant to the Enseignemens. To read the Enseignemens in isolation from the context of contemporary didactic literature does not give an accurate representation of Christine’s goals in writing the work or allow readers to recognise what is conventional in the genre and what is Christine’s own innovation. This will also facilitate an understanding of Jean, the filz for whom the work is written, as a sort of “everyman” of urbane youths, representing the growing readership which many conduct books were aimed at.

As the culture of Late Antiquity was subsumed by the Europe of the early Middle Ages, a Europe where the Church was the most powerful force unifying disparate kingdoms, ecclesiastic schools were establishing a canon of scholastic texts. Although clerics were now the most literate class in Western Europe, secular texts had been adopted alongside spiritual ones. Ever in flux, the one constant in medieval education was the desire for an “éducation de l’être humain” and medieval educators had inherited a selection of secular texts from the classical world which, through the common language of Latin, created a shared culture of didactic works. The purpose of these works was much the same as it had been in the ancient world: to teach acceptable social behaviour and prepare young people for adulthood.

Instructional literature had been highly valued in Europe during the whole classical period and medieval readers were very tolerant of didactic, moralising themes in their literature. They had not just inherited the didactic works from the Romans, but their taste for these works as well80. In the course of their education a medieval student was introduced to a canon which included a number of philosophical, grammatical and poetic works by Roman authors such as Cicero, Ovid, Priscian and Horace. Chief among these was the Latin Disticha Catonis. The Disticha is a short text of 57 or 58 breves sententiae and 144 distichs arranged into 4 books, the whole introduced by an epistola addressed to the author’s son. Throughout the medieval period the Disticha was attributed to both Cato the Elder and Dionysius Cato, though today the work is considered an anonymous work of the 3rd century. It is a mix of Greek and Latin sayings, with no obvious structure, giving advice on virtuous living, marriage, friendship, managing money, and making peace with death.

There are several reasons for its enduring popularity in the medieval world. It is plausibly monotheistic, referring to the singular deus in its rare mentions of religion (although IV 30 mentions Venus and Bacchus and II 2 mentions the di), its lessons about moral behaviour are easily generalisable, and it offers realistic, worldly advice that is tempered by hints of stoicism: “une sorte d’opportunisme modéré auquel l’artifice semble tolérable au besoin”. Above all, it is written in simple Latin and the distichs are easy to memorise making it an ideal text for newly literate students, especially children. For this reason, it was used as the primary text for teaching Latin literacy in the first stage of a child’s education, the parva schola. Chief not for its poetic or rhetorical value, but for its place as the first secular text read by medieval children, so great was the influence of the Disticha on medieval students’ understanding of the human condition and the ideal of an ethical life that “aucune auteur médiéval n’est entièrement libre de son empreinte”.

Until the 12th century, the Latin Disticha remained untranslated, a marker of the distinction between the high-status groups of nobles and clerics who were literate in Latin and these who weren’t. For six centuries the corpus of didactic texts used since antiquity – the Proverbia Senecae, the treaties of Cicero and poems of Ovid – had been sufficient for the elite class who had access to a complete education: up to the 12th century such didactic works were studied, written and compiled for a primarily noble and ecclesiastical audience. However, this century saw the blossoming of education in France in response to a greater desire for learning throughout French society and education was no longer the preserve of nobility and religious orders. This was to have two effects on the ancient genres of wisdom and didactic literature. These works no longer met the needs of a growing class of bourgeois who, enjoying unprecedented social mobility, sought initiation into the world of courtoisie. Because of this new audience, there was a gradual separation of didactic literature from the ecclesiastical setting and this separation allowed works to more accurately reflect the reality of their audience’s lives and how gentilesse was practically applied.

It is in the mid-12th century Anglo-Norman translations by Everard le moine and Elie of Winchester that the Disticha is first reinterpreted for a vernacular audience, one as concerned with good comportment as with general moral behaviour. This is the start of a reinterpretation of the text to suit a moral attitude relevant to developing contemporary beliefs of what this ideal should be, an ideal which was now linked to a person’s education and behaviour rather than to a certain social class. Continental translations and reworkings of the Disticha are even more explicit that they are writing for all readers. Adam de Suel tells the readers of his French translation of the Disticha"

"Il a apris son filz par nom,
Mais nous en sommes compaignon,
Quar ce qu’il enseigne a cellui,
Puet chascun entendre de lui."

"[Cato] taught his son by name,
But we are companions of this son
Because what he teaches to him,
Anyone can understand, (ed. Ulrich 485-458)."

Humanistic ideas influenced translators to create texts which would appeal to this emerging middle class. Adam de Suel goes even further to appeal to his audience, using the popular octosyllabic quatrain form and mixing contemporary proverbs with the direct translation of each distich. Even more successful was Jean Le Fèvre’s translation. Inspired by Adam de Suel’s and popular beyond the Middle Ages, it is often found side-by-side the Latin text, a conscious attempt to highlight the unbroken tradition of the work from antiquity to the vernacular Middle Ages.

The translations of the Disticha are also much expanded from the original: Jean Le Fèvre’s 1360 Caton is over 700 lines long, including the extensive prologue which introduces readers to Cato, a “preuz chevalier et sage homme” (v. 1) who had written the verses “en cest monde qui va de mal en pire” (v. 8). He makes small changes throughout the text to make it more acceptable to a contemporary audience such as changing di in II 2 to Dieu, inserting “Pour mieulx valoir, je te jur que par Dieu” in II 5, and interpreting “Venere et Bacho” in IV 30 as “luxure et vin”. He also uses the word preudomme in IV 34, a distinctly medieval term for the courtly hero. These subtle changes, combined with the use of rhymed verse and expanded style of the translation, create a distinctly medieval text much removed from the succinct Latin of the original.

Appearing at the same time as the earliest vernacular translations of the Disticha are the two Facetus, works even more symptomatic of the growing need for modernised didactic literature. The Facetus in hexameters, also known as Cum nihil utilius, is attributed to Magister Johannes, likely a Parisian teacher writing in the late 12th century, It is “un manuel de civilité” for the rudes clearly in the style of the Disticha. It gives advice in the form of 128 distichs on polite, ethical behaviour and, like many didactic compilations, has an associated commentary tradition. Although the poem was not considered to be as well-written or polished as its inspiration, its rhyme catered to medieval poetic sensibilities and it fulfilled the medieval reader’s desire for a detailed, contemporary book of advice. As a result, like the Disticha, the Cum nihil utilius became one of the most widely used didactic texts in France. Daily life had changed considerable since Late Antiquity, so much so that students and teachers alike needed relevant guidance for navigating the Christian, etiquette-ruled world of the late Middle Ages. The Cum nihil utilius was intended to supplement the Disticha and provide all the advice necessary for a late medieval reader which could not be found in the original97. To this end it integrates the traditional “universals” of the Disticha with advice on especially medieval concerns, particularly the specifics of table manners and mentions of religion.

There are three French verse translations of the Cum nihil utilius and fragments of one in prose. Two of the verse translations are from the 13th or 14th century and one is from the last quarter of the 14th century, all in quatrains. From the very earliest translation it is clear that these translators understood that the Cum nihil utilius is meant to supplement the Disticha on the subject of courtesy and comportment, as explained in the 28-line translator’s prologue:

"Si q’un aultre clerc qui fut sage
Pour le preu de l’humain lignage
Fist ung livre moult petitet,
Lequel nons apellons Facet,
Qui parle bien de courtoisie…
…Et de pluseurs Enseignemens
De quoy Chaton fut negligens."

"Another clerk, who was wise,
For the profit of mankind
Wrote a very small book,
Which we call Facet,
That speaks well of courtesy…
… and many other teachings
Which Cato neglected."
(Fac. I 11-15, 19-20).

There is also an awareness that this translation is meant for an audience not made up of elites for, as the translator tells us:

"Chascun ne s’entent mie
Ou latin ne en la clargie
En françois mettray de latin
Pour mieulx entendre, c’est la fin."

"Not everyone can understand
Latin or is in the clergy
So I put the Latin into French
For better understanding, that’s all."
(Fac. I 23-26)

The Facetus in distichs, Moribus et vita, is a self-styled manual of comportment for everyone and anyone, written in simple Latin. It is an anonymous work likely written in the 13th century and, unlike the earlier Cum nihil utilius, it is heavily inspired by Ovid’s Ars Amatoria and so focuses heavily on advice for lovers. It was never as popular as the Cum nihil utilius and there is only one surviving translation into French which is by the same translator as the late 14th century translation of the Cum nihil utilius, cautiously attributed to Thomas Maillet 101. Besides offering advice about relationships, the Moribus et vita addresses young men and old, treating diverse subjects such as education, the clergy, the military, and choosing a profession. Each of its four sections opens with an invocation of the muse Calliope (v. 467) and the whole work is introduced with the claim that:

"Moribus et vita quisquis vult esse facetus
Me legat et discat quod mea musa notat.
Clerius et laicus, senior, puer atque juventus
Istic instruitur, miles et ipse pedes."

"Whoever wishes to be courteous in their character and their life,
let him read me and learn what my muse teaches.
By this are clerics and laymen, old men, boys and youths instructed,
even soldiers and infantrymen"
(v. 1-4).

The appearance of the two Facetus and their vernacular translations is part of the early emergence of bourgeois comportment literature, a new genre of vernacular texts such as the anonymous Urbain le Courtois, the Doctrinal de Courtoisie by Sauvage d’Arras, and of course the Enseignemens by Christine. All of these texts were extremely popular with aristocratic and bourgeois audiences alike, with many writers emulating the two Facetus, among them Christine. She directly cites from the two Facetus almost forty times and the Disticha alone is also adapted forty times – she takes inspiration from these sources and others in almost every stanza of the poem. Although she does not cite from any French or Italian translation of the Disticha directly, she is stylistically most similar to Jean Le Fèvre’s translation, a work almost contemporary with herself. She likely referred most to the two Facetus in their original Latin, although Schulze-Busacker believes she may have had the Thomas Maillet translations of the two poems on hand while writing the Enseignemens. She also follows the octosyllable quatrain form of the three verse translations of the Facetus and Adam de Suel’s Caton, as opposed to the decasyllable quatrains used by Le Fèvre.

The wider genre of vernacular conduct literature which grew out of Late Antique texts is one which reinforces the status quo of acceptable behaviour and conventional wisdom, frequently interspersed with reminders to glorify God with your behaviour. Warnings to avoid the company of quarrelsome friends, to be measured in your speech, to drink moderately, dress well yet not excessively, avoid gossip, behave well at meals and so forth are found with only slight variation across the genre, no matter the language or form. Some of this comes from Roman didactic literature, much comes from the distinctly medieval social institutions of courtly behaviour and courtly love.

While aristocratic children were the traditional readers of the canonical didactic texts, the new translations and compilations were targeted at and most often read by “wealthy urbanites”; unlike aristocratic children, they did not grow up surrounded by the scripts of courteous conduct described by the works. Though it seems to uphold the elite status quo, comportment literature was most often a way for socially aspirational readers to access models of high-class behaviour in order to construct an “ideal self”. One on one instruction of a young person by a trusted adult – usually a mother or father – was likely the norm for social education in the Middle Ages, something revealing both of the separation of secular courtesy from religious instruction and its origins in ancient texts such as the Disticha which are presented as advice from father to son. Christine follows this and other conventions of the genre in the Enseignemens: she mixes general moral advice taken from the classical tradition with specific instructions on comportment and social interaction.

By addressing her work to Jean, Christine can justify the work to her readers. She imitates writers like Amanieu de Sescas who frame their didactic texts with the narrative of a youth they know who is in need of or has personally sought out their sage advice. Whether this youth exists or not is less important than their function. They play into the modesty topos so loved by medieval authors and often inserted in their prologues, their desire for education giving the author a suitable reason for writing besides pride in their own sagesse. Christine hints at this in her introductory stanza, which could be seen as a variation on the traditional prologue, when she explains she would give Jean monetary wealth if she could. Since she cannot, her advice will have to take its place. These youth also represent the next generation, the audience which the author is actually writing for, while keeping the tone of the works personal and often familial. The reader has the impression that the addressee of the Enseignemens is a young man still in his “joennece pure et monde” (III) who is as likely to achieve high office as not and is still in need of help navigating adult social situations."

She also incorporates topics frequently found in the more philosophical genre of Mirrors of Princes. Mixed with advice for servants and those of “moyen estat” (XCVIII) are stanzas extoling the need for rulers to be measured, wise and just, and for military commanders to avoid corruption and be brave. The Mirror, or speculum, genre had the dual function of moralising literature and social commentary, meant to guide young rulers as they prepared to govern their country. The Enseignemens seems to be a prelude to the mirrors for princes which she would write later in her career, long didactic works such as the Livre du corps de policie, Livre de paix, Lamentacion sur les maux de la France and Livre des fais d’armes et de la chevalrie. Importantly, the Enseignemens is Christine’s first foray into the genre of didactic poetry, signalling a movement away from the lyric poetry of her early period into her self-appointed role of moral and political commentator. Perhaps this mix of didactic registers suggests tensions between the world of ambitious middle-class youths like Jean and the elite world of Christine’s noble patrons, the king’s royal family.

By the 14th century, didactic texts like the Disticha had become sufficiently separated from the high-status scholastic context that authors could use material from them to create new literary texts for a contemporary, adult readership. Although the pressures of changing tastes and the development of medieval courtoisie had transformed the didactic corpus established in late Antiquity, Christine is consciously following a tradition of moralising literature which had remained unbroken for a millennium. At the same time, like many other authors she is appealing to the contemporary preference for vernacular versions of these ancient texts, reworked to be relevant for all sorts of late medieval readers

Translation Commentary

The strategies used by modern translators of ancient and medieval texts are now being examined as an important aspect of literary studies and there is increasing recognition of the role of the translator in the modern reception of these texts. This new interest has highlighted the differences between translating modern and medieval texts as well the unique challenges faced by medievalists, some of which will be discussed here in relation to my translation of the Enseignemens. If translation can be considered as a series of decisions (large and small) made by the translator, then the most significant decisions when translating medieval texts stem from the extent to which the translator transforms the text to appeal to modern readers and whether they conform most to the poetics of the target culture or of the source culture. Although important for translations of modern languages, these decisions are especially relevant when working with a medieval text because of the greater separation between the primary audience and the modern audience.

One fundamental goal in translation is to communicate the message of the source text to the target audience in order to recreate the reactions of the primary audience in the target audience. There are various techniques for achieving this, all of which involve some measure of transformation and, depending on the type of text and how dedicated the translator is to achieving this reaction, can lead to quite extensive transformation. Jokes, proverbs and poetry are typically most affected by this process as humour, folk wisdom and poetics can vary greatly across time and space. Correctly recognising the function of a word, phrase or complete text is important in understanding the intended message. The mediating factor in this process is that the translator’s familiarity with both the source and target culture allows them to draw equivalencies between the two. Yet, as Cammarota explains, “we do not have access to the knowledge that the original author shared with his audience”. Specialists can come close to understanding the message and function of a text in its medieval setting, but a general readership is unlikely to, putting a greater burden on the translator to produce an understandable and readable text. It is even more difficult to truly know what the primary audience’s reaction was as, for the majority of texts, this is “basically inaccessible” to us. While a translator working in a modern language who is uncertain of the meaning of a proverb or a joke can refer to modern speakers, translators of medieval texts can only refer to other texts and artworks left by the source culture, artefacts which themselves must be interpreted and translated.

Beyond communicating the basic meaning of a text, it is also important to be aware of basic stylistic aspects: what is the tone, genre, vocabulary or imagery of the text? If it is a poem, what is the poetic form? Are there noticeable shifts in register within the work and are they integral to the text? After such questions have been answered, the translator must decide how important it is that these features be preserved in the translation. Will they prioritise poetic form over fidelity to the source text? Will they mimic shifts in register by analogy to modern English conventions of linguistic registers? It is particularly true for medieval texts that you cannot separate the process of translating from “a reconstruction of the conditions of the original text’s production and reception” and this will have an effect on the final product.

Underlying all of these considerations is an awareness of the translation’s audience and what the translator hopes to achieve in them. Should the translator prioritise maximum accessibility to appeal to the broadest audience possible, or maximum fidelity, even at the detriment of accessibility? Is the goal simply to communicate the literal meaning of the words or is there an attempt to recreate the primary audience’s experience of the text’s humour, lyricism or ritualistic tone? As reading texts in translation is increasingly becoming the norm for medieval literature, even in academic settings, it is important that accessible yet accurate translations are available to readers. If the goal is to deepen readers’ understanding of the text and the culture it was produced in, it is counterproductive to create an overly modernised and simplified translation, as some have done, removing what makes the text unique to its historical period.

Transformative works of ancient and medieval texts can have great value and cultural impact: consider Seamus Heaney’s translation of six of Henryson’s Fables, Anne Carson’s synthesised Oresteia or E. V. Rieu’s prose version of the Odyssey. Yet they often tell us as much about the translator and their context as about the work itself. Heaney’s Fables consciously reveal a nostalgia and fierce pride in the Ulster of his childhood, Rieu simplifies Homer’s poetry in a bid to appeal to his readers, removing unfamiliar yet essential features like formulaic phrases, while Carson’s experience as a poet shines through the compact, modern language of her Oresteia. These are all works of literature in their own right and there is something to be said for innovative translations of canonical texts. In the case of the Enseignemens, I was aware that this is the first complete English translation of the a relatively obscure text and so it was my decision to translate “faithfully”, staying close to the word and tone of the French (although hopefully not to absurdity). While I recognise that no person can function outside of their socio-cultural context, I was conscious of avoiding the imposition of poetics and literary tastes of my own time and place onto the text.

For any translator of a late medieval vernacular, it is important to preserve the linguistic innovation these texts show. There has been a trend in recent decades away from the affected Victorian translator’s language of thee-s and thou-s which make older translations so inaccessible. This has helped reveal the contemporary and innovative tones of vernacular writing – these authors wrote in the language of everyday communication and would have sounded no more archaic than a New Yorker article does to us now. However, translators should be cautious of expecting too little from their readers and thus modernising any difficult word or passage. Translators Mark Musa and Peter Bondanella note that the “medieval flavour” of vernacular works comes from a blend of styles, at times contemporary and colloquial, at times Latinate and complicated. For them, it is important that these “loose ends, apparently confusing non sequiturs, and puzzling passages… be respected, and rendered in an appropriate manner in the translation”. Catherine Batt discusses the difficulties encountered when negotiating all these factors as a medievalist, particularly the process of reconciling a foreign (almost alien) genre and style with modern sensibilities.

As the intended context for this translation is educational, I wanted to create a translation which would be supportive to language learners and those interested in social history of Late Medieval France. Moralising comportment literature is no longer a part of a typical Western childhood and so the genre of didactic poetry is quite foreign to modern readers. Rather than the respectful attentiveness obviously expected by many writers of comportment literature, the most common response both specialist and non-specialist readers have had to my translation of the Enseignemens was baffled amusement. This was often brought about by the uniquely medieval and uniquely “Christine” aspects of the work: unusual metaphors, an emphasis on self-presentation, unfamiliar social mores and a preoccupation with death and the Last Judgement. There were also other quirks to the text which were more fundamental on the linguistic level such as repetition, unstructured sentences and word play. These are as uniquely medieval as the jarring reminders that we are all worm food in the end, and I believe should be preserved with the same respect.

While producing this translation I had three main goals: to produce a readable translation which was also enjoyable if not high literature (a description which could easily be applied to the Enseignemens itself); to render what Christine wrote into English, rather than a version of her words which I thought was more poetic or polished131; to create a translation which, while not being a literal word-for-word one, could be a transparent language learning tool in which the syntax and structure of the original language is visible. After a description of the structure and poetic features of the text, I will analyse how I approached translations problems from my perspective as a historian, and how it affected the formation of these three goals. I have focused on issues relating to culture-specific ideas, punctuation and syntax, the lack of standardised spelling, and vocabulary.

Poetic Features and Structure of Les Enseignemens

The Enseignemens is a product of late 14th century poetics and so the language of the poem has many features fundamental to Medieval French poetry. The most important of these features, rhyme and meter, are at once the most obvious to readers of the source text and the most difficult to replicate in the target text. It was my opinion that translations which mimic the rhyming scheme or metrical style of the source text will always sacrifice precision in translation to some extent as words and sentence structure are chosen not just for their equivalence to the source vocabulary, but also to fit the poetics of the target language and its culture. During the translation process, I was most concerned with creating a target text which was as close to my understanding of the content as possible. For this reason, I have done a wholly prose translation of the Enseignemens and have decided to prioritise faithfulness to the language and content of the poem while sacrificing the stylistic features which make it a pleasant poem.

Each stanza of the Enseignemens is comprised of octosyllable quatrains with an aabb rhyming scheme and there is only a nominal adherence to the rule of alternating masculine and feminine rhymes, a rule which would not become de rigueur until the 16th century. For example, the very first stanza breaks the alternance des rimes as both are masculine: tresor/or and noter/noter. Among many other examples are stanza LXXX (vouloir/valoir and pis/pis), stanza XCIV (point/point and depis/pis), the final stanza (server/asservir and defin/fin).

In the octosyllable line form, accents are not fixed and lines may have two or three accents although the final syllable is always stressed. Compared to the alexandrine line popular in French “alertness, impertinence, and zest” because of its variable rhythmical structure, the absence of caesura and how quickly the reader comes to each rhyme. Throughout the Middle Ages this meter was commonly associated with folk verse and the oral tradition, likely due to its quick pace and the fact that it is easy to commit to memory. It makes sense that Christine would choose this meter and length of stanza for the Enseignemens. The octosyllable line is short and snappy: stanzas of four lines are long enough to articulate a complete thought but are also easily memorised, particularly when mentally split into two rhyming couplets. While enjambment is a recurring feature in the poem, the syntax of many stanzas can be divided into two at the second line, neatly breaking the stanza into two “chunks” through the sense as well as the rhyme.

Like much comportment and wisdom literature, the poem seems to have no obvious structure or organisation, leading the reader from topic to topic randomly. The first stanza can be considered a type of introduction, perhaps mirroring the first epistola in the Disticha Catonis in which the author calls on his fili karissime [dearest son]; although the entire poem is addressed to a masculine tu, it is the only stanza which directly addresses a filz. This opening stanza does not offer any teaching but asks the filz to pay attention to (noter) the teachings if he wants to learn them and the request to noter a teaching is repeated again in stanza XLVI, “cest enseignement tiens et notes”. The final stanza neatly concludes the poem, echoing the second stanza and reminding the reader that any worldly concerns referred to in the work are unimportant compared to God and their immortal soul.

Culture-Specific Ideas and Other Issues with the Translation of Les Enseignemens

One of the first tasks I undertook was the identification of culture-specific items in the source text. In analysing and translating the Enseignemens, I was less concerned with culture-specific items (CSI), and was instead faced with resolving cultural differences on the large scale. There are only a few CSIs, such as [jeu de] paume (XXXIX) or mouvoir plait (LXXXIII), but the greatest barrier to acceptability was the cultural and temporal divide between modern English speakers and medieval France. One example of a CSI which is also indicative of this broader cultural gap is the phrase chaude cole [hot bile] in LXXXV. The medical theory that human health and behaviour is governed by the four humours and that hot or yellow bile caused a choleric temperament, originally described by the Greek physician Hippocrates, was fundamental to all European medicine in the Middle Ages. However, it has all but disappeared from the culture of a modern English speaker.

There are two routes a translator could take in resolving how to render chaude cole in English. The first is to employ acculturation and translate the phrase as “if you are hot-headed” or “if you have a quick-temper” to communicate that chaude cole here means to be easily angered or impassioned. Alternatively, I could foreignize the term and translate it literally as “hot bile”, leaving it to the reader to interpret as they will. For me, neither of these options are satisfactory. A literal translation renders the rest of the stanza incomprehensible to an uninformed reader – how would being affected by hot bile require someone to moderate themselves? On the other hand, by substituting the original for an expansion on the general meaning of chaude cole, the wider implications are lost, and the reader misses out on a glimpse at the strange world of medieval medicine. This is one more example of the issues inherent in translating medieval writing: the very phrase that makes the stanza difficult to understand is also the thing which is most interesting and revealing of contemporary thought. Before ever reading the Enseignemens, medieval readers had a set of preconceived ideas about yellow bile, its medical and emotional effects, how to treat it and how a person affected by it might act. Where the phrase “hot bile” indicates almost nothing to the modern reader, it was highly suggestive to a medieval audience and the possible equivalents suggested above hint at just one aspect of medieval humourism.

Translators have to accept that they cannot communicate every subtlety and complexity of the source text and its culture in the target text. This is doubly true for a historical text which comes from a culture so removed from them. A translator can never hope to reproduce in its entirety the medieval reader’s experience for modern readers, the difference in knowledge and experience is too profound. Yet, seeing as they are reading a text much removed from them in space and time, it is reasonable to assume that the target audience will tolerate some level of foreignization and accept unfamiliar words or concepts. With this in mind, the best solution may be for translators to strike a balance between preserving historical terms as far as is reasonable and practicing cautious transformation when necessary. This is important from both a pedagogical perspective (to teach readers important but unfamiliar terms from the period) as well as from a cultural perspective – the culture of late 14th century France is no longer extant and so it is important, where possible, to preserve words unique to that culture in ways that show its individual character.

I am helped in this conundrum on two accounts. First, there are very few CSI’s in the Enseignemens which are difficult or incomprehensible when translated. Second, the marginalia in the application will allow me a space for expansion separate from the text, something not always available in literary translations. Therefore, I can resolve the issue by both preserving the literal meaning of chaude cole and providing a note to explain what hot bile means in this context. This way, the unique term is preserved but necessary contextual information is given to enrich readers’ understanding and experience of not only the text but of medieval history. The text of the marginalia for stanza LXXXV could be as follows:

“Hot bile, also called yellow bile, was one of the four humours which from Antiquity were believed to govern physical and mental health. An excess of yellow bile caused a choleric temperament – anger, aggression and liver dysfunction.”

Punctuation and Syntax

Some of the issues I encountered when translating the Enseignemens are common to all scholars of a medieval vernacular when preparing a translation for general readership. As with any medieval text, there is nothing like modern punctuation in the manuscripts of the Enseignemens, leaving readers bereft of any help breaking up syntactical blocks; this is compounded by enjambment, when line-breaks do not provide any syntactical structure for the stanza. Just as in Latin, Middle French compensates for the absence of punctuation by an abundance of conjunctions and erudite French writers from this period often exacerbated this by consciously emulating the Latinate style of strings of “loosely co-ordinated subordinate clauses”136. Inevitably this leads to awkward, run-on sentences, making punctuation in a translation even more necessary. Like most editors, Roy has helpfully added punctuation in his edition of the poem according to his reading of the text. However, I found that how I scanned a stanza and where I naturally put breaks did not always match with the punctuation in the edition, and this often had an effect, greater or lesser, on its meaning. There were times when the minimal punctuation of the edition was insufficient for it to scan naturally in English or made the meaning uncertain. That it is a prose translation did not help as the natural divisions from line-breaks (when reading silently and out loud) could not be carried into the translation. Stylistically, these run-on sentences were an issue throughout the text, not just for me as a translator but also for readers, especially readers not used to the peculiarities of medieval writing.

The commas added to stanza XI by Roy prove how necessary punctuation can be when editing Middle French: a translation without it gives the impression of an endless list of orders which should be broken up for the modern eye:

Se tu as maistre, serfs le bien,
Dis bien de lui, garde le sien,
Son secret celes, quoy qu’il face
Soies humble devant sa face.

If you have a master serve him well speak well of him guard his belongings conceal his secrets whatever he may do be humble to his face.

Yet for stanza VIII, the punctuation provided by Roy was not satisfactory for my translation and so I divided the stanza int two sentences:

Gar toy de server mauvais maistre,
Car mauvais te couvendroit ester
S’avoir vouloies benefice,
Si vault mieulx fuïr tel service

Guard yourself from serving a bad master because it might suit you to be bad if you wish to gain favour. Thus it is better to flee such service.

I found it necessary to change the punctuation and structure of stanza LXIX because, although it made sense in English when translated just as it is in the edition, it resulted in a very difficult stanza:

S’une personne en toy se fie,
Poson qu’après il te deffie,
Ce qu’il t’a dit ne dois gehir
Tant te puist grever ne haïr.

A truly literal translation would be: "If a person trusts you, let us consider that after he acts against you, do not confess what he said to you as much as he might hinder you do not hate him." This is understandable but convoluted and extended. In this instance, I made the decision to make it easier on the reader by splitting up the sentence into more acceptable blocks: "Let us consider that someone trusts you. After he acts against you, do not confess what he said to you; as much as he might hinder you, do not hate him.".

Punctuation can also subtly affect meaning. My translation of stanza LXXIII has not followed the punctuation in the Roy edition, which renders the stanza as:

"Fuis oysuese, se veulx acquerre
Honneur, chevance, loz et terre,
Gard toy de delit non valable,
Eschives fait deshonnourable."

In the prose translation, the stanza became so unwieldly that it was difficult to understand. This may also have been affected by the lack of continuity within the stanza which starts with a warning against inaction (laziness) and ends with warning against the wrong sort of action. While laziness could be associated with a lack of “honneur, chevance, loz et terre”, I feel that the correlation of the loss of these virtues with socially unacceptable behaviour is more thematically consistent with the rest of the poem. To express this in the translation, I have separated the stanza into two parts: avoiding laziness for the sake of avoiding laziness and avoiding unacceptable behaviour for the sake of reputation.

Flee laziness. If you wish to acquire honour, wealth, reputation and land, guard yourself from ignoble crimes [and] avoid dishonourable actions.

Non-Standardised Spelling of Middle French

The non-standard spelling of Middle French is the most striking difference between it and modern French and it has several implications for the translation process. Most importantly it can make it difficult to identify words correctly at first glance, particularly words which only differ by a vowel or a single letter. Unfortunately, the Maurice Roy edition does not give alternate spellings or justifications for the editor’s choice in the apparatus criticus. An illustrative example is the second line of stanza XCVI which was difficult to resolve due to the problematic word peues. This stanza has been translated by two other authors – Lori Anne Knox in a literal prose translation and Norman Shapiro in octosyllabic rhyming quatrains which mimic the original. The text of Roy’s edition is as follows (emphasis mine in all four quotations):

Tien tes filles trop mieulx vestues
Que bien abuvrées ne peues;
Fay les aprendre bel maintien
Ne point oyseuses ne les tien.

Knox's translation:

Keep your daughters so well/tightly-clothed
That they won’t be able to drink deeply
Teach them good countenance
Keep them from idleness.

Shapiro's translation:

Your daughters keep in proper dress,
Rather with somewhat more than less:
School them in gracious mien lest they
Idly fritter their time away.

My translation:

Keep your daughters so nicely dressed that they are well satisfied, not less; teach them good bearing, do not keep them idle.

It seems that Knox also found the first two lines of this stanza problematic as there is no resolution of well/tightly, which seem to come from mieulx vestues. Additionally, she appears to attribute peues to the filles as a form of pouvoir. However, keeping in mind the irregularity of Middle French verbs, peues is not a third-person plural form of pouvoir and so could not be the action of the filles. Shapiro’s translation is accurate to the sense of the stanza but is looser on the micro level, as is appropriate for such a structured verse translation. He has taken peues as an unusual alternate, perhaps feminine plural, form of peu to create a comparison between trop mieulx… bien abuvrées and ne peues. I have taken a similar route and translated ne peues as “not less”. Another difficult word in this stanza is abuvrées. Knox has translated this “to drink” and indeed the most literal meaning when used as a past participle is “qui a bu à satiété”. As this did not make much sense grammatically or in meaning in this context, I have extended this to mean “satisfied” in the general sense of having enough nice clothing, as I believe Shapiro has too. To complicate matters further, the verses from the French Facets cited by Schulze-Busacker as the sources for this stanza simply advise parents to give their daughter to a husband or a convent when she comes of age:

Se tu as fille qui ait aage
Tu la doibs mettre en marriage
Ou en religion, par m’ame;
C’est grant peril de garder femme

If your daughter has come of age
You must give her to a husband
Or to convent, by my soul:
It’s very difficult to look after a woman.
(Fac. I, 111)

Thanks to the online Dictionnaire du Moyen Français, many problems related to irregular spelling are easily resolved as the search function will bring up all the entries that the word could be variants of.

Specialised Vocabulary, Repetition, Synonyms and Puns

Much of the Enseignemens is conventional advice for how to behave courteously and morally according to late 14th century social codes. However, there are some stanzas which seem particularly inspired by Christine’s personal experiences, such as the warning to avoid the Ars Amatoria and the Roman de la Rose in stanza LXXVII and the advice to be compassionate towards students in XVIII. Stanza LXXXIII stands out for its especial relevance to Christine’s life, it is also the stanza with the most specialised vocabulary in the Enseignemens and was for me one of the more difficult passages in the poem. The text of the Roy edition is as follows:

"Se pues par bel ou par grant cure
Le tien pourchacier, n’aies cure
De mouvoir plait ou a maint triche
Car a peine est grant plaideur riche."

"If, through good or great care, you can press a debtor for your money, do not try to bring an action in court (where there is much trickery) because a frequent litigant is hardly ever rich."

The vocabulary is based around the language of medieval courts and a judicial system very different from our own, which made direct equivalence difficult for this stanza. The legal jargon of 14th century France seems to have been as confusing for non-specialists as our own is and it was difficult to find a meaningful equivalence in English for the specific language of this passage. From at least the 12th century, to mouvoir plait meant to “réunir le tribunal", a process which I saw as closest to the modern phrase “to bring an action in court”. It seems that the action being described is similar to filing a suit in modern civil law, but the word “court” is required for the rest of the line to be reasonably concise: “… in court (where there is much trickery)”. Pourchacier is used here in its less common meaning, “to press a debtor”, a legalistic usage, and one cannot help but think of the 14 years which Christine spent tied up in lawsuits in the Parisian courts over the properties of her father and her husband.

Other stylistic challenges related to the vocabulary of the Enseignemens are the number of verbs which Christine uses, her seemingly limited vocabulary and use of homophones and homonyms. While I was conscience of translating words as consistently as possible throughout the text, there are stanzas where the repetition of sounds and words, an effective poetic device, becomes unnatural in a prose translation. For example, in stanza LXXXIX there are 10 verbs, donner is used three times and there is one instance of the noun don. Is it best to translate this repetition as it is in the source text or is it more useful to find synonyms in the target language? Ultimately, I decided that a translator is not an editor and, except in a few cases where I felt that the translation would be too inelegant, I would preserve the repetition in the English. I have resolved stanza LIV, where jeux and joue are used four times in total, by preserving jeux as “game” in the first two lines but have translated the final line as “and amuse yourself with agreeable pastimes”. This allows me to avoid using “games” three times in such a sort stanza. The repetition of endurer posed a similar problem in lines 2-4 of stanza X, it is equally repetitive in either language:

Aprens ton cuer a endurer,
Car par bien endurer apprendre
Pourras paix et beneurté prendre.

Teach your heart to endure because by enduring well, you can learn to have peace and happiness.

A characteristic of Middle French which often clashes with modern tastes is their fondness for co-ordinated pairs of synonyms. Although not repetition in the strictest sense, the repetition of meaning can be monotonous and as translator, it was sometimes tempting to use just one word in English for two in the original, especially when they had essentially the same meaning. However, as stated above, a translator is not an editor who should remove what they think are superfluous words, and as this is an important feature of Middle French writing I have preserved the synonym pairs throughout the text. Stanzas III, VII, LXXI, LXXIII, XCVII are all examples of these pairs, and in translating them I strove to find equivalent pairs in English:

III. Trés ta joennece pure et monde: Throughout your youth, pure and without stain.

VII: Faillis, sans honneur, lasche et deffaillis: Cowardly, without honour, weak and lacking.

LXXI: Sans pechié et sanz vice: without sin and without vice.

LXXIII: Honneur, chevance, loz et terre: honour, wealth, reputation and land. Here the pairs are divided; honneur/loz, chevance/terre.

XCVII: Ce sera vray signe et message: this will be a true sign and message.

Related to the issue of repetition is the abundance of homophones and homonyms in the Enseignemens. In contrast to modern English poetics where homophones and homonyms are considered weak rhymes, they have always been popular in French poetry – this is one more aspect of French and medieval poetics which is foreign to a modern English. Some instances are obvious, such as stanza VII (les armes/t’armes: noun/verb). Others, like stanza V, are less obvious and require more thought in reading and translation. The first two lines of stanza XXIX end in propos; I have interpreted the first as the noun meaning “intentions” (which in English is more natural in the plural) and the second as essentially the past participle of proposer “to propose”. In LXXXVII the third and fourth lines end in mains, the first meaning “hands”, the second I have taken as an alternate spelling of “moins”.

From at least the 13th century, the extended rimes équivoques was especially popular and John Fox describes a “cult of ‘rimes équivoques’” in the 15th century. In this rhyme, the sounds of a word with two or more syllables is broken into separate words in the next line. The rime équivoque was likely prized by French poets as a chance to display their virtuosity as much as it was prized for its musicality, recalling a time when poetry was more closely linked to song. Christine uses this type of rhyme occasionally throughout the Enseignemens, to great effect in terms of punning and memorization: I tresor/trés or, IV La mere/l’amere, XVII jugeras/juge yras, CV toudis bien/te di bien. The rhyming pun in stanza XVII is particularly impactful as it highlights the memento mori which warns the reader to watch how they judge others for one day they will come before God, the highest judge. Unfortunately, the combination of rhyme and pun makes the rimes équivoques difficult to translate and, as I have focused primarily on communicating the literal meaning of the text and did not prioritise the preservation of poetic features, this aspect is entirely lost in the prose translation.