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Italian Literature

The Franco-Italian 'Berta and Milon' (Ms. Marc. XIII)

Charles held great court at Paris, his residence; there are many dukes, counts and barons, and there was also Bernard of Clairmont. With [Bernard] is one of his sons, Milon: (9030) there is no more handsome youth who puts on spurs, neither wiser nor of better sense.

The King dispensed justice to the two evil felons; [1] the French and Burgundians talked of them, and the Normans and men of Mans and Britons. (9035) In the court was Duke Naimes: he is the counsellor of Emperor Charlemagne. Great joy was made nearby and in the court; Charles took care of his sister as he should. [2]

There was no land, neither on a hill nor on a mountain, (9040) which didn't give fealty to the Emperor. And the Pope returned to Rome;[3] he praised Charlemagne above all things. Charles' seneschal was Milon, who was the son of Bernard of Clairmont. (9045) He was still a youthful bachelier; and Berta, [Charles's sister,] who had a clear countenance, placed all her hopes in him.

If you will wait until the story's done, I will have told you in this romance (9050) the whole story of Roland's birth; How his mother and father fled like criminals through foreign lands wandering the world. They were banished from all realms.

Rubric 262: How Charles held great court, and assembled his whole barony.

Charles the Emperor maintained a great court; (9055) there were many dukes, princes and counts -- of all France he was the emir. Naimes the Duke was his counsellor; Bernard of Clairmont, there was none better than he,[4] carried the oriflame before Charles.[5] (9060) Bernard had five children, Milon was the youngest; [he] served the Emperor day and night. He was much loved by the barons of the court; women and girls admired his prowess, even Berta, the sister of the Emperor. (9065) In him she placed all her love; she couldn't eat or drink, she so delighted in him. Queen Belisant[6] who had such fresh color, loved Berta in faith and caring.

Rubric 263: How the court was great.

Great was the court which the crowned Charles the Great held in Paris, the city (9070). Bernard of Clairmont had brought his son-- that was Milon, the wise and gifted-- and he served Charles willingly and with good spirit. So great was the beauty that Milon had in him, (9075) [that] Berta loved him above all others. She was so deeply in love [that] she couldn't eat or nourish herself enough, since [Milon] was so firmly in her heart. The thing went to the point (9080) that [Milon] sinned with that lady. From her he took love and friendship. No man born of woman noticed it, not even Belisant who had Berta in her keeping.

If the king loved Berta, now, don't even ask; (9085) he thought to make a great match with her, giving her to a king, a count or an admiral. He had no evil thought about her; but love worked so hard that both Milon and Berta had broken chastity. (9090) If the King had either known or noticed, Milon would have been hanged on the gallows, and she would have been burned to ashes. So far forward went the affair from day to day, that Berta found herself with child. (9095) When she realized she was pregnant, she was so upset, that she couldn't have been more so in all her life. She lamented to herself, "Evil, unfortunate, how I was born with bad luck! My mother was burned to ashes, (9100) and my two brothers were hanged. Now I am pregnant with a son and heir; if the King finds out how I have done wrong, for the great love which he, my brother, has shown me, I will be shunned by all people, (9105) and so will I be shamed and abashed." She doesn't know what to do, she is so upset; never has a more distraught woman been born in the world.

Rubric 264: How Berta realized she was with child.

When Berta realized she was pregnant with the child, in her life she was never so upset. (9110) When she saw Milon, she told him clearly: "Milon," she said, "It's going badly for us; I accomplished all your desires, as you did for me. If we have had joy, now it has turned to tears;[7] (9115) I'm with child, a boy or a girl. If the King finds out, all your relatives won't be worth a fig to you, won't be able to keep you from hanging on the gibbet; and I will burn in the flaming fire.(9120) And this is such an evident thing, it can't be hidden for gold or silver. The more time passes, the more evident the event. And if by any chance Belisant notices, (9125) she'll tell the King right away! Now what will I, poor thing, do, who hoped to have so much honor? I shall be abandoned by all people, the young and old will shy away from me. (9130) And know this well, Milon: all this will happen in a very short time."

Milon, when he heard her, had never been so upset; he almost died of unhappiness.

Rubric 265: How the lady realized she was pregnant and spoke with Milon and told him the truth.

When Milon had heard that lady, (9135) no one should be surprised if he was upset, for the misdeed which he had done to Charlemagne, he, whom [Charlemagne] loved more than any other baron. Charlemagne didn't trust any other if not him; [Milon] was lord of Charlemagne's household. (9140) Milon wept and mourned, his hand on his chin, as he bathed his clothes with tears. He spoke his piece to the lady: "Lady," he said, "tell me what we should do. You've read me an unfortunate lesson, (9145) so that you see me in great confusion, more than in any youth or old man; now I see our destruction clearly. If we want redemption from death, we'll have to go wandering through the world, (9150) and God only knows whether we'll get away. There's no land or castle or dungeon, which is not ruled by Charlemagne; and every realm which is Christian, also obeys him because of the honor of the crown (9155) which he has from the Roman Empire. We are dead, wherever we go."

Rubric 266: How Milon speaks to the lady.

"Lady," says Milon, "it isn't worth our weeping, since we can't achieve anything from grief. Unhappy and sinful when born to woman, (9160) I thought to attain honor, and for that reason my father brought me to court, in order for me to serve the emperor in [good] faith. And I have done him the worst insult that one could say or think. (9165) I am worthy of a hard and difficult death, more than any man born of woman. If I had wronged only a knight, I could bear arms against him. But the King is such a one, that this [atonement] cannot even be discussed; (9170) he is the lord of land and sea; in whatever land I might go, he will have me taken and bound over, he will have me judged as a traitor."

Said the lady, "A man who can prolong his life (9175) is not at all to be blamed. And I want to pray you, for the love of God, that you cease this lamenting, and that we think about leaving the court, and about the road which we should take. (9180) Perhaps we'll have some hope from God, who will have to counsel us aright. If we cannot stay in a city, we'll have to stay in the forest, and live with animals in the woods; (1985) I don't believe at all that he'll come looking for us there." "God," said Milon, "How you know how to speak! Your advice will not be forgotten; if God helps us, we can still restore our honor and goods in time." (9190)

Rubric 267: How Milon speaks to Berta.

"Lady," says Milon, "I won't allow you to say anything: He who trusts in God is greatly protected. God is full of all courtesy; haven't you heard what the prophecy says on the subject of the Virgin Mary, (9195) who, for fear of Herod, fled away? She carried His son, whom she had nourished. If we go away, we'll find a refuge, in some copse or wooded forest." The lady says, "We shouldn't delay at all, (9200) because our banishment will come in a short time."

Then they established the time and day [for departure]: when a month was past and gone, Berta and Milon prepared themselves. They take the goods which they have ready; (9205) they don't take clothes which are of great fashion. And one night they leave Paris; away they go through unsettled land. All night long, until dawn's breaking, they take the road to Lombardy. (9210) God guided them, and the Virgin Mary, so that they could arrive at safety.[8]

Rubric 268: How Milon and Berta go.

Milon leaves, and Berta the intelligent one; they have taken their route toward Lombardy. They traveled during the night, and rested during the day, (9215) among copses and wooded forest. They ate and drank from what they had. They didn't have a palfrey or rested destrier; they went on foot, suffering great hardship.

Now let's leave them, who have sinned and committed a crime; (9220) I want you to know about the Emperor. When the news came to him, how Milon had taken Berta away, he was greatly amazed that Milon had committed such a deception. (9225) In his chamber, Milon was the closest confidant of any men in his household. If Charlemagne mourned, now, don't even ask. He questioned and begged Belisant whether she had ever noticed anything about their affair. (9230) Said the lady, "No, by my faith, I never saw him with her privately." Then the King was so furious [that] all that day he didn't speak a word. But Duke Naimes comforted him. (9235) Then the King sent a bann throughout the kingdom to city and village, to castle and high keeps: that no stone be left unturned in retaking them. When he doesn't find them, he banishes them, and he sends this pronouncement throughout the countryside: (9240) Whoever finds them, and presents them before Charlemagne, will receive great wealth. The King would have gone against Milon's father, his own peer, until Duke Naimes calmed him down: (9245) "Good King," he said, "don't get so angry, because Bernard of Clermont is of great parentage. There is no one in France, neither duke nor noble, who is not his friend or well-wisher. He is angry and grieved at what his son has done; (9250) if the youth has led your sister away, it cannot be that it isn't known how they acted in Christian realms."[9] With great difficulty Naimes comforted him.

Rubric 269: How Charlemagne banished Milon and Berta throughout all of France.

Let's leave Charles, who is angry and grieving; (9255) he was never so [furious] in all his life, and with him was Belisant. And Milon travels, wandering through all the byways; by night he walks by the shining moon, and all day long he stays quietly (9260) among the woods and in the enclosed forest. The lady is pregnant, and walks forward slowly; she is not accustomed to suffer such discomfort. She endures great pain and torment: among the woods she went begging, (9265) she did not stay at hotels, she did not try food; she ate bread and water alone, she slept on the ground, on green grass. She weeps and calls herself unlucky: "O, poor me," said she, "why do I live so long, (9270) who from being a queen am become a servant?"[10] Said Milon, "Don't talk so much; good and evil are one; man cannot have what he desires. He must put up with good and evil frequently; (9275) no man can live in this sad world without pain and torment. If we have pain now, in the future we will yet have joy."[11] And so he went comforting her gently. But that comfort counts for little, (9280) when there is so much annoyance from the rest. She did not eat or drink according to her wishes, and there was very little even of that.

Upon leaving Provence, in a big wood, they found more than thirty thieves, (9285) who robbed along the roads where merchants passed. These took from merchants their goods, money and profits, then killing them if they felt like it. When they saw Milon alone with the lady (he had no arms and nothing except his clothes) (9290) and they saw the lady so pretty and attractive, the crooks came forward to rob them. When Milon saw them, he spoke aloud: "Sirs," he said, "we are not merchants, nor do we carry gold nor money. (9295) Let us go, in the name of God and the saints." And they said to him, "You're a liar! You're taking this lady with you without her permission; you want to sell her for gold and silver."

Rubric 270: How Milon killed those thieves who want to take the lady.

"Sirs," said Milon, "by God I want to pray you, (9300) that you let me go my way. I'm neither a criminal nor a wandering pilgrim,[12] and I won't give up this lady for gold or money. I shall get extremely angry with anyone who wants to take her against my will." (9305) And they say, "You can't take her along. She'll have to stay with us." One of them, who was the biggest criminal, steps forward, because he wants to seize her, and tries to take her by the hand. (9310) When Milon saw this, he was furious; he was holding a stick which he had made from an apple tree-- he had made to lean upon in the woods-- [and Milon] whacked that fellow such a fell stroke, in the middle of the head he hit him such a blow, (9315) that he made eyes and brains fly from [the robber's] head. "Back," he cried, "evil felon! Does it seem to you that I am a beggar? It's too bad you even considered touching my lady!" When the others saw [Milon] react so strongly, (9320) they overran him, with the intention of seizing him. They would have killed him, when he drew back. He holds the stick to defend himself, and swipes with it back and forth. He makes blood leap from the hair of many; (9325) when the stick is broken, he pulls out his iron sword, and goes to hit the first of them who had come nearest.[13] [Milon] gives him such a blow, without any warning, that he cuts [the robber] in half, all the way to the buckle of his belt; (9330) then he wounds the other one, making his head fly off. When the other [robbers] saw [Milon] is so strong and aggressive, those who would have waited for him were not happy. They turn to flight as far as they can go, and many flee into the woods to lay low. (9335) Milon sees this, and doesn't want to fight them; he goes back to following the road. And he left more that ten dead on the grass. Milon moves on, the courteous knight; he leads the lady, let it displease whom it might. (9340) He comes to Pavia, and he doesn't want to enter; outside of Pavia, he stops at a hostel. There he eats and puts up for the night. The next morning then they begin again to wander, toward Ravenna, straight on their road. (9345)

Rubric 271: How [Milon] goes toward Ravenna, and leads his lady with great difficulty.

Milon continues, angry and pensive, after he had defeated those who had attacked him. Once he had done that, and he had escaped from them, he walks so much through hill and dale that he passes the praries, the valleys and the hills; (9350) God, the King of Paradise, leads them, and His mother, the Virgin progenitor.[14] He leads [his] lady, because of whom he was exiled from beautiful France and the city of Paris. When he was at Ravenna he stayed there three days, (9355) then goes on, so that he would not be sought by anyone.

Rubric 272: How Milon travels.

Milon travels toward the sea shore, and he sees the currents and the rising waves. [15]He didn't want to go beyond the sea, in order not to aggravate the lady. (9360) He didn't go any further; in fact, he turned back; he began to walk toward Romagna. The lady is so big that she can hardly walk; near Imola, at a clear brook, which arose from a river, (9365) there she birthed her first child, that is, Roland, the best knight that could be found in his time, or for 100 years hence. Now Berta cannot go any further forward, (9370) about to give birth to Roland, she worried about him a great deal. Not even Milon knew how to help her; there were few women there at the birth. When those who were there went to catch the child, with great amazement they noticed (9375) [something] about the infant which seemed strange: he seemed to them more than two years old! And when he was born, he began to look about him; he didn't do as other children, who, when they are born, begin to cry. (9380) They wash him and begin to wipe him off; with great difficulty they swaddle him, for he won't let them bind his hands or feet. One woman says to the other, "This will be a strong man."

Rubric 273: How Roland was born.

There where Roland was born, there was no tent, (9385) nor painted chamber, nor palace nor home, nor a big bed as would have been appropriate for him, nor cover nor sheet nor other bedding. If we want to make a good explanation of this, we compare him to Christ, (9390) who was born in a manger, as the sermon says, in a stable with cows and sheep: similarly was Roland, the son of Milon, [so] it wasn't a miracle if he was blessed. And lady Berta, who suffered so greatly,--- (9395) it didn't please God nor his holy name that she have a chicken or capon as other women in a similar condition.

In peace they stay, without arguing. Lord Milon wept with her a great deal, (9400) while the sister of Charlemagne comforted him. "My lord," said she, "don't weep; because during the night I had a vision that through this child we shall yet return to our country, under great protection. (9405) This child will be a perfect knight above all others; if now we have some pain and affliction, this has come to us for the sins that we committed.[16] If we submit to this thing patiently, God's reward awaits us." (9410) Milon heard her, and was comforted.

Rubric 274: How Milon speaks to Berta.

"Lady," said Milon, "I am sorry for you, when I see you in pain and agony." Says the lady, "Don't talk about it any more; now that I've had my child, (9415) I don't have any more pain or any irritation." Know, lords, and know well, that there were few ladies alive in the world who had greater wisdom than Berta. She nourished that child well and genteelly, (9420) and had him baptized and given the holy oil.

When the fixed term of fifteen days passed, those who took him to be baptized didn't take him to a great monastery, but to a chapel which was there near them. (9425) But the whole time, Milon was there with them. At the baptism, he gave him the name Roland, which amazed the priest, that they didn't give him the name "Peter" or "John." When he had done that, he returns happy. (9430) He gave the small child to his mother, and she nurses him, and holds him so that he raises himself almost to standing.

They didn't stay at all for a long time in that place where Roland was born; (9435) a month later they went on. They had nothing to carry but that child; they didn't carry bags as merchants do, nor [did they have] a pack horse loaded with gold and silver, nor a palfrey or ambling mule. (9440) They walked through the land enduring such hardship, I wouldn't know how to tell you for anything living. From day to day they wander on, until they come to Sutri, and there they stop. And there they found an unsettled area, (9445) where there was no man or woman living. They do this because they have such a great fear of Charlemagne, the powerful sovereign. They nourish the child both well and sufficiently.

Rubric 275: About the pain which Milon suffered.

About Milon, know truthfully, (9450) that in that forest he suffered great difficulty and great pain, in winter and in summer. After the child had passed four years of age, they sent him to school in the city. Never was a man in this world born, (9455) if not the son of the Lord God, who was so talented at learning. He learned more in one day than the others in six, for which reason the master hated him, and said to himself, "If this one comes of age, (9460) he will take away my dignity." There is no man in this world so wise and talented, than was Roland in his age, or who would have been able to surpass him in wisdom and writing. [Milon,] his father raised him in great poverty, (9465) until he had passed seven years of age. He was badly dressed and badly equipped, badly fed and trained. And that Milon showed himself strong and hardened; from a knight he became a woodsman. (9470)

Rubric 276: How Milon went to the woods.

Listen to me, sirs and good people: that Milon was not at all slow. Each day at the crack of dawn, he got up, he didn't hesitate; he went to the woods, where he endured great torment. (9475) He made firewood, and he went selling it, and he gave it up for silver coins. And from those coins he bought the gruel[17] with which he lived well and poorly. But because he was so wise, he frequently gave bread and meat to Roland, that child with whom he was so happy, (9480) so that from day to day [Roland] grew. Now we'll leave Milon the valiant one, and lady Berta, who were in great fear. (9485) She endured great pain in those woods for a long time, until the Lord God gave her relief, so that she could leave such difficulties, as you will hear, if you wait. If it hadn't been for Roland, (9490) she never would have gotten out of pain and suffering in all her life, nor ever come to an agreement in France, with Charlemagne, the powerful sovereign, nor ever had lands in France, nor recognition from any relatives. (9495)

Leslie Zarker Morgan (April 8, 1996)

Copyright (C) 1996, Leslie Zarker Morgan. This file may be copied on the condition that the entire contents,including the header and this copyright notice, remain intact.

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