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COMMENTARY ON THE OLD FRENCH TRANSLATION OF GREGORY'S LETTER
by Margaret Jubb

The letter of Gregory on p. 68 was clearly intended as a pièce justificative to defend the use of images as a vital tool for teaching the faith to those who cannot read. Though it has often been seen primarily as a defence of the picture cycle on pp. 17-56 of the manuscript, the fact that it is placed on the same page as the final two stanzas of the Alexis poem and facing the first Emmaus illustration on p. 69, argues for a more immediate association with the prefatory illustrations of the poem and with the Emmaus pictures which are linked to the poem. Camille (1995: 392) has pointed out that the ‘story of the picture’ (historie de la painture) could be taken to refer not just to the story depicted in the illustrations, but also to the story recounted in the poem which they accompany.

The rubric indicates that Gregory wrote his letter to Secundinus, the recluse, whereas in fact, as Pächt (1960: 138) noted, he wrote to Serenus, Bishop of Marseilles. As it happens, the substitution, which probably originated in an intermediary source rather than with the English scribe, is strangely appropriate, given that the likely addressee of this apologia, Christina of Markyate, was, like Secundinus, also a recluse. She may have had misgivings about the use of images and the compiler of the manuscript may have sought to reassure her by including this letter.

The most interesting question is why the text of the letter is given in French translation after the Latin. We may speculate about the extent to which Christina would have been able to understand the French text of the Alexis poem, but the reason it is in French is simply that French is the language in which the original, pre-existing poem was conceived. In any case, if Christina could not understand the French text of the poem, the prefatory illustrations on p. 57 are accompanied by captions in Latin to help her. However, the prologue to the poem on p.57 appears to have been specially composed, also in French, for this manuscript. The translation of Gregory’s letter into French was probably also specially made for this manuscript, and with the same audience in mind. Mölk (1977: 291) suggests that French was chosen, because it was the language mainly spoken in female religious communities in England, most of whose members came from the Norman nobility. The prologue to the Alexis poem which is addressed to ‘all those who take delight in virginal marriage’ may have been directed at such a religious community, but if it was also, as seems likely, more particularly directed at Christina herself, the conundrum remains. Her mother tongue was Anglo-Saxon, and it is by no means certain that she had any knowledge of French. Clanchy (1979: 168) makes the point that a basic education in England at this period included Latin, but not French. We can only suppose that Geoffrey may have been trying to teach Christina to read French, and that the parallel French text of Gregory’s letter may have been included for that purpose. However, though Geoffrey may well have commissioned both the translation of the letter and the prologue to the poem for this manuscript, the linguistic evidence suggests that he is unlikely to have composed either himself. In the prologue we saw that there are awkwardnesses of expression which a native of France is unlikely to have produced. In this translation, as in the prologue, Anglo-Norman phonological and morphological forms predominate. These could admittedly be attributed to the scribe, but the choice of the Anglo-Norman word folc to translate the Latin gregem is a different matter.


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