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Italian Literature: Geste Francor

Franco-Italian Epic: The Geste Francor (anonymous)

The so-called Geste Francor is a fourteenth-century untitled manuscript, damaged at the beginning, containing nine parts: these are chansons de geste, but in a language and style unlike those of Northern France where the literary genre of chanson de geste originated. The following introduction gives a background for Franco-Italian language and literature with references to sources of further information. It is divided as follows:

A. Background of Franco-Italian: why did this combination of French and Italian develop and what is it?

B. Importance of Franco-Italian: Theories of Northern Italian society

C. Background of the Geste Francor: the manuscript's history

D. Background of Berta and Milone, Rolandin: other versions of the same stories

E. Translation of Berta and Milone, Rolandin into English (with notes)

F. Bibliography of Sources Cited

A. Background of Franco-Italian

"Franco-Italian" is the term I adopt here for a number of texts of different literary genres and locales of origin produced in the Italian peninsula primarily during the thirteenth through early fifteenth century. It is not a language in the standard sense; that is, it was never used as a spoken means of communication for daily needs. Furthermore, it does not contain a stable linguistic basis in morphology, syntax or lexicon. Since phonology in a time of non-standard representation of linguistic forms even for established languages is difficult to establish authoritatively, it too is impossible to describe in a standard way. (See Holtus 1991, who argues that each text must be considered separately, and Rosellini's introduction to his edition for analysis of the language and spelling of V 13.) Nor is this a koiné therefore, used for a specifically literary purpose.

Northern French, the langue d'oïl (so named for its pronunciation of "yes") was the first of the Romance languages to appear in writing, in 842 (see Serments de Strasbourg) . The first Northern French literature, the Séquence de Sainte Eulalie, dates to ca. 880. The Provençal poets, writing in the south of France, were producing poetry in the second half of the eleventh century in Provençal or langue d'oc. William, Count of Poitiers and Duke of Aquitaine was the first; other well-known names are Bernard de Ventadorn; Raimbaut de Vaqueiras; Jaufré Rudel ; and Peire Vidal . The Italian peninsula had no non-Latin literature of its own until the thirteenth century, when San Francesco (d. ca. 1226) wrote the Laudes creaturarum, also known as Cantico di frate sole (Canticle of Brother Sun), though legal passages appeared at the end of the tenth century. French literature, however, both oc and oïl, arrived early in Northern Italy, and was prestigious and imitated by local writers.

Since the Geste Francor is related to Northern French literature, this introduction will speak to the spread and development of Northern French literature in Northern Italy. (For further information about the spread of either Northern or Southern Medieval French literature in Italy, consult Meyer; for Arthurian literature and its spread specifically, Loomis 60-62; Delcorno Branca 2-7.) Furthermore, the chansons de geste, that is, epics, most popular in Northern Italy are those relating to Charlemagne, his court and knights. Charlemagne, while a historical figure of the eighth and ninth century, became highly fictionalized through the centuries. His family and court are the center of Carolingian (from the Latin KAROLUS for Charles) literature. The Chanson de Roland is perhaps one of the best-known epic works relating to Charlemagne.

Knowledge of Northern French language and literature arrived in Northern Italy by two routes: oral and written. The Italian peninsula was not only a pilgrimage destination in itself (Rome, as seat of the Catholic church, drew many pilgrims) but also as a jump-off point for pilgrimage to the Holy Land, via either Genoa or Venice. Thus pilgrims arrived and passed through Northern Italy, especially Emilia, Lombardy and Venice (note the location of  Treviso, Verona, Modena, Vicenza and Venice particularly, and the main road passing to Venice which has changed little over the centuries). Oral entertainers accompanied them, spreading stories of Roland and Oliver.

Documents and art testify to this knowledge before literature does. At Rome, there are Carolingian frescoes in Santa Maria in Cosmedin, ca. 1120. In Verona, the cathedral portal bears sculptures of Roland and Oliver dated to ca. 1139; Modena and Fidenza offer similar testimony (Lejeune and Stiennon; Delcorno Branca 2-7). Documents in Latin cite Arthurian names in Italy from the beginning of the twelfth century. Odofredo, a jurist who died in 1265, speaks about singers of Rolando et Oliviero (Meyer 69). Lovato de' Lovati (d. 1309) speaks of street entertainers distorting French songs to the pleasure of public listeners. Laws on the books in cities try to discourage such public singers from blocking the way (Muratori v. 14: 844; year 1341).

Thus we know that French stories arrived by oral routes, but we also know that French manuscripts were imported into Northern Italy. By the end of the twelfth century, seignorial courts had been established in Liguria, Lombardy and Venice which acted as magnets for French culture and which encouraged the spread of that culture. During the thirteenth, fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the lords of these courts collected manuscripts through copying loaned manuscripts and through purchasing manuscripts. Inventories now in Mantua from the Gonzaga family, for example, list many French manuscripts; these inventories date to 1407, 1437, 1467, 1480, and 1488 (Rajna 1873, Braghirolli). Braghirolli also cites a letter of 1389 from Francesco Gonzaga who was in France accompanying Valentina Galeazzo to marry Louis of Valois, Duke of Orleans, brother to the Charles VI. On Sept. 18, he wrote to Modena to ask for a letter of exchange for 5,000 ducats to purchase "both honorable and useful things"; it is suspected that among these purchases were manuscripts. Francesco Gonzaga maintained ties with Paris, sending a servant of his, Antonio della Paga, to purchase numerous items. On Francesco's death the first Gonzagan inventory, that of 1407, was made (Braghirolli 498-99).

All critics examining the arrival of Carolingian (and French) material into Northern Italy have suggested several stages of literary involvement. Meyer divides the phases into: 1. knowledge of French and its literature; 2. transcription of French works in Italy; and 3. Italians writing French (divided in turn into Italians writing French and those writing Franco-Italian). Viscardi, the best-known and most frequently cited authority on Franco-Italian until recently, divides the phases into 1. copies of French originals (more or less contaminated with Italian) still known today; 2. elaborate rewrites (often quite free) of French originals; and 3. completely original works. Holtus, the modern authority on Franco-Italian, has divided the phases into 1. French texts slightly italianized deriving from written tradition; 2. French texts noticeably italianized, deriving from knowledge of contemporary French; 3. Franco-Italian texts in the strictest sense, that is, those which are an artificial literary product consciously produced by authors playing with language; and 4. Franco-Italian texts without a conscious attempt at creating a mixture (1994: 149). Holtus's primarily interest is linguistic, so his divisions reflect that interest. His list of texts falling into category #3 contain 65 items (numbers 8-15 are from the Geste Francor) (1994). It is probably more accurate to list by types of language alone, since manuscripts of different dates are italianized in varying proportions. It is most likely that copies were made at various stages, therefore leaving us with many manuscripts of the fourteenth century, though some are more italianized than others. The difficulty with all these divisions is that authorial intentions are not always clear, and are not normally stated. It is clear that there is a gradation between extremely deliberate mixture or editing (e.g., Attila), and attempts at writing in French. The exact cutoff point between the two is unclear. Brunetto Latini, for all his protests, writes an excellent French. (For a bibliography of editions and brief summaries of arguments related to Latini, see Holloway.) The different versions of the Chanson de Roland, however, are another question entirely.

B. Importance of Franco-Italian: Theories of Northern Italian Society

The intentionality of the redactors (a term which means "producers of the manuscript as we have it"; preferable since their roles are not always clear: are they copying? correcting? or writing their own pieces down?) of Franco-Italian has become a central issue. Since Italian social structure in the twelfth to fifteenth centuries was not that of France, there is the possibility of parody or satire as well as misapprehension of language. Marxian literary criticism links social structure closely to literary forms: themes, characters and plots should reflect the society and class from which they derive. Krauss's Epica feudale e pubblico borghese [Feudal Epic and Bourgeois Public] analyzes the Geste Francor closely in the light of a bourgeois, city-dwelling and mercantile public for an originally noble genre, suggesting that changes or differences from French versions derive from the socio-political climate in Italy. He concludes with notes on two other Franco-Italian texts, the Entrée d'Espagne and the Prise de Pampelune (also known as the Continuazione dell'Entrée).

If the redactors of these poems are in fact editing for their audiences, what does this say about the language? And how serious is the enterprise? Cingolani, extending Krauss's analysis, proposes that the whole of the Geste Francor is a parody. Basing his evidence upon Krauss's affirmation of the Geste Francor's unity, Cingolani seeks to identify the narrative project underlying the unification of multiple chansons de geste: why link together these nine narratives (62)? While Cingolani does an excellent job of demonstrating unity both in physical composition and in textual composition, he does not demonstrate that this is an attempt to destabilize the literary canon (68). The Geste Francor contains various narrative concepts and characters, but it is not "contrary to the hegemony of the high style of traditional epic" (my translation, 69). Traditional epic, in fact, contains kitchen humor (cf. Chanson de Roland; Curtius) and women (Chanson de Guillaume). Furthermore, the same tendencies cited here as parody and contrary to the tradition can be found in late epic in France and in prose elaborations which followed.

Krauss is, however, correct in attributing a didactic and fable-like scheme to the poem: there are lessons everywhere. The redactor seeks to avoid misunderstandings (e.g., when Roland is born, he points out that his impoverished situation is like that of Christ) and to impart clear morals (the bad guys always lose; bloodlines must be protected at all costs (Morgan, Berta)). Certain scenes do parody well-known works (the battle between Auberi's dog and Macario parodies that of Thierry and Pinabel in the Chanson de Roland). That the concept of the Geste Francor is new (77) is clear: it is without precedents in its time and place. Its isolation is not: the form is similar to the Italian Reali di Francia by Andrea da Barberino (1370-ca.1431) and other late chansons de geste and cyclical productions both in Italy and France. Individual stories in the Geste Francor-- especially Bovo d'Antona and Ogier the Dane-- are well-represented in all of Europe, and are frequently found together with other chansons de geste (Adenet le roi's manuscript and work are a good example; see Henry 85-87).

Hempfer has responded well to Krauss's arguments, though speaking of texts of a later date (fifteenth and sixteenth centuries) which are descendants of Franco-Italian: Pulci, Boiardo and Ariosto. He agrees that literature and society are closely related, but notes that literature can form society as well as vice-versa. His best example is that of Don Quixote, where books create a model for behavior (407). (Hempfer's other work further details examples of models created by books and the interaction of literature and society.) Hempfer suggests rather a "theory which proposes the potential interdependence and interpenetration of multiple partial systems in the context of the entire socio-cultural system, without positing a priori causal relationships between specific partial systems. Thus, society, between fiction and reality, can truly be multiform and vary between a mimetic relationship and a function in which literature creates reality" (407) [my translation]. Keller too notes the role of literature in society as a model for readers, not just a reflection of reality, in speaking of another locus for development of the chanson de geste, the Burgundian court (95). He notes as well the unavoidably pedagogical nature of the later developments (99).

The Geste Francor, while reflecting certain realities of Northern Italy, maintains cultural norms derived from its Northern French origin. It both describes reality and invents its own, as might be expected where a redactor produces material from multiple sources, oral and written, for a varied audience, including women and non-nobles.

C. Background of the Geste Francor

The so-called Geste Francor is a ninety-five folio manuscript on vellum. The handwriting, an Italian Gothic bookhand, is in two columns, broken by fourteen illuminations. These are pen-and- ink type drawings with water-color like washes for color. They are not evenly distributed throughout the manuscript. One of the most notable characteristics of the text is the use of  "ç" which alternates with z and c. It was characteristic of Italian Gothic from the final years of the thirteenth century through the fourteenth century in the Northern Italian peninsula (Battelli 225).

The history of the codex as it now exists probably begins in 1407. As mentioned above, on the death of Francesco Gonzaga, fourth captain of Mantua, two inventories were made. The Capitulum librorum in lingua francigena, (now Archivio Gonzaga, D.V. 4.I) lists 78 books in French. French and Franco-Italian are not distinguished. Number 44 reads: "44. Item. KAROLUS MAGNUS. Incipit: Segnur barons deu vos sia in gua/rant. Et finit: da qui avant se nova la canzun. Continet cart. 218." The Geste Francor ends: "Da qui avanti se nova la cancon./ E deo vos beneio qe sofri paxion./ Explicit liber. Deo gratias. Ame.ame." The "E deo..." is crossed out in red, the "Explicit" is in red; both are in the rubricator's hand. In each case in the inventory, the scribe making the list takes the last words of the text and not an added explicit (Rajna 1925: 27), so Geste Francor could be this manuscript 44. Since V 13's beginning folios are missing, it is impossible to check the first line of the text. If it is # 44, a number of folios must be missing, in fact, since there are only ninety-five. Rajna (1925) and other critics have accepted this identification in spite of the problems of incipit and length.

In 1708, at the death of Duke Ferdinand Carl IV, the books of the house of Gonzaga were sold in Venice. J. B. Recanati bought many of them. On November 12, 1712, when he died, he left most of his library (approximately 200 volumes) to St. Mark's library with the provision that they be available to the public ("collocati nella pubblica libreria di S. Marco"). Antonio Maria Zannetti made a catalogue of those books in 1741. The appendix includes a list of books purportedly in Old French (Zannetti 1741: 256-61). Except for the last two listed, all had been part of the Recanati collection. V 13 is listed as Recanati X, and given the title Doone, etc.:

cod xiii
in foglio, di carta pecora, di fogli 95
doone, ovvero doolino di magonza, romanzo in verSi
manca in principio
questo romanzo trovaSi stampato in parigi nel mdlxxxxiv, in
4. a bonfons.
il signore della MONNOYE, nelle sue note al Verdier,
crede che/
poSSa eSer Stato compoSto dal re adenes .

(The S here represents a "long s" not available in these fonts.)
This excerpt describing V 13 is glued into the first of the guard sheets bound in by the library.

Rajna published a photofacsimile in 1925 under the title Geste Francor, though this expression does not appear in the text itself. Thus the manuscript, officially titled Biblioteca Nazionale Marciano Francese Z. 13 (= 256) is now frequently referred to by the name "V13." There have been multiple editions of the various chansons published:

J. Reinhold, "Die franko-italienische Version des Beuve d'Antona," Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 35 (1911), 555-607; 36 (1912), 1-32.

A. Mussafia, "Berta de li gran piè," Romania 3 (1874), 339-365; 4 (1875), 91-107.

Carla Cremonesi, Berta de li pè grandi (Milano: Cisalpino, 1966).

J. Reinhold, "Karleto," Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 38 (1913), 145-178, 287-312, 641-677.

A. Mussafia, "Berta e Milone: Orlandino," Romania 14 (1885), 177-206.

C. Cremonesi, Berta e Milon. Rolandin: Codice Marciano XIII (Milano: Cisalpino-La Goliardica, 1973).

J. Subak, "Die franko-italienische Version des Enfances Ogier nach dem Codex Marcianus XIII," Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 23 (1909), 536-570.

B. Cerf, "Chevalerie Ogier," Modern Philology 8 (1910-1911), 187-216, 335-361, 511-525.

C. Cremonesi, Le Danois Ogier. Codice Marciano XIII (Milano: Cisalpino-La Goliardica, 1977).

F. Guessard, Macaire (Paris: A. Franck, 1866).

A. Mussafia, Altfranzösische Gedichte aus venezianischen Handschriften, II, Macaire (Wien: Carl Gerolds Sohn, 1864).

Most recently, with the entire text,

Aldo Rosellini, ed. La Geste Francor di Venezia. Edizione integrale del Codice XIII del Fondo francese della Marciana. Pubblicazioni del Centro Linguistica dell'Università  cattolica. Saggi e monografie 6 (Brescia: La Scuola, 1986).

Though there are not clear divisions between chansons, we can divide the Geste Francor into nine parts as follows, where each break is set at the end of a laisse (each folio of the manuscript is designated in two parts, the front R [for recto] and the back V [for verso]; each side in turn is written in two columns; the first is designated a, the second b, since there is no pagination):

Bovo d'Antona (Beuve d'Han(s)tone) part 1 Folios 1 R -7 Rb; lines 1-1163.
Berta ai piedi grandi (Berte aux grands pieds; Bertha Big Foot) Folios 7 Rb - 16 Vb; lines 1164-2917.
Bovo d'Antona (Beuve d'Han(s)tone) part 2 Folios 16 Vb - 31 Ra; lines 2918 - 5490
Karleto (Mainet; Childhood of Charlemagne) Folios 31 Ra - 51 Vb; lines 5491 - 9026
Berta e Milone Folios 51 Vb - 54 Rb; lines 9027 - 9495
Uggieri il Danese (Enfances Ogier; Childhood of Ogier the Dane), part 1 Folios 54 Rb - 61 Vb; lines 9496 - 10895
Orlandino (Rolandin; Childhood of Roland) Folios 61 Vb - 64 Rb; lines 10896 - 11335
Uggieri il Danese (Chevalerie Ogier; Knighthood of Ogier the Dane), part 2 Folios 64 Rb - 76 Ra; lines 11336 - 13477
Macario (Reine Sibille; Macaire the traitor) Folios 76 Ra - 95 Rb; lines 13478 - 17066

It is important to note that, though the two pieces translated here are usually published together, they are in fact separated by the Enfances Ogier. The compilation attempts to create a chronology, thus bringing Charlemagne to Sutri when Roland is old enough to fight and producing parallels between two quite different childhoods: that of Ogier and that of Roland.

D. Background of Berta e Milon, Orlandin

1. Source of the text

Berta and Milone and Rolandin [or Orlandino, in an Italianate version of the name] are two portions of the manuscript known as the Geste Francor ("Deeds of the Franks"). Berta and Milone is on folios 51 Vb - 54 Rb, verses 9027-9495; Rolandin is in the manuscript on folios 61 Vb - 64 Rb, verses 10896-11335.

The form of these stories, as the others in the manuscript, is the chanson de geste, an Old French form consisting of varying length laisses (strophes), each line of which is the same length (decasyllable, or later, dodecasyllable or alexandrine). In earlier Old French texts, like the Oxford Chanson de Roland, the laisses were assonanced; that is, only the stressed vowel sound at the end of the line was the same. In later chansons de geste, such as this, the laisses are rhymed.

None of the chansons in this manuscript have been translated into English. Portions of Berta and Milone and Rolandin (as well as parts of others from this manuscript) have been translated into Italian (Ruggieri, Lazzeri), and one of the first editions of Macaire was a side-by-side "translation" into standard Old French (Guessard).

I have chosen Berta and Milone and Rolandin for translation into English for several reasons. 1. There are no Old French precedents for either story; there is, in fact a very different tradition in French for the birth of Roland. 2. There are later versions of this same story in Italian tradition, some of which explain otherwise inexplicable peculiarities of our story. 3. The subject matter of the two differs significantly from the received concept of the Old French chanson de geste, and as such offers a model of late thematic development in the chanson de geste: childhood, knighthood and old age (the last of which is not represented in this manuscript).

Each of these issues will be addressed individually below.

2. Precedents for the birth of Roland

In Old French and Medieval Latin literature, there is a lasting tradition involving the "sin of Charlemagne." Supposedly, Charlemagne committed adultery with his sister (named Gisle or Berte, depending upon the version) and they conceived Roland. Charlemagne then gave his sister in marriage to Milon, who fostered the child to adulthood. Milon subsequently died, and Berte/Gisle was remarried to Ganelon, creating the stepfather situation of the Song of Roland (Gaiffer; Keller; Lejeune). There is a large and growing body of literature on the subject.

The legend is first referred to in Latin texts and is referred to obliquely in some Old French texts. Later chansons state this as a fact: Tristan de Nanteuil, for example, says, "ce fut le peché quant engendra Roland/En sa sereur germaine; ..." (21707-08, quoted Keller 52). The Scandinavian and Provençal traditions also include specific references to Roland being Charles's son by incest (Keller 50-51). It has been suggested that this legend was known in Italy; Keller lists three Italian texts where Charlemagne calls Roland his son: of ca. 1350-60, the Fatti di Spagna ( "Ay, fiollo myo, Dio abia merced delli anima tova! Mellior chavalere de ti nonn era al mondo; o quanto per la tova morte, fiollo myo, è amanchato lo honore myo!" (51)), the fourteenth-century La Spagna, where Charles calls him "nepote e figliuolo," and finally, similarly, La rotta di Roncisvalle at the end of the fourteenth century. Clearly the legend of Charlemagne's incest arrived in Italy at some point, though Krauss claims otherwise (132). There are other reasons for supposing that the legend was not unknown, as will be clear below, in discussing later Italian versions of this legend. It has been also suggested that great epic heroes must be expiating a sin of birth; in that case, Roland would fit into the paradigm admirably (Duggan; Morgan, Berta).

Roland, as the clear heir to the French throne, is a figure of great importance within the Carolingian legend. It is understandable that his origins should interest followers of royalty and imperial tradition. It is also understandable that the Italians (or anyone else) might wish to appropriate such a figure as their own.

3. Later Italian versions of the same legend(s)

The love of Berta and Milone and Roland's birth are known in Italian tradition through the Reali di Francia (by Andrea da Barberino, a Tuscan, d. 1439) and in several Renaissance poems: Folengo's Orlandino (1526) and Pietro Aretino's Orlandino (1566) and through cantari (originally oral poems presented in the marketplace, of Tuscan origin; they are in octave form, and date to the sixteenth century). Here we examine Barini's edition of "La storia di Milone e Berta e del Nascimento d'Orlando."

The Reali furnishes us with many details omitted in the version here translated. Whether or not we can trust them as being of general knowledge is another matter entirely. The Reali version as a whole is quite similar to this one, but differs in some very important details. First, the Reali is a compilation which includes much the same material as this manuscript. In fact, the first critic to examine it closely, Rajna, suggested that this manuscript when it was whole contained the same materials. The Reali is in six books: Fiovo and Riccieri; Fioravante and Riccieri; Ottaviano del Lione, Buovo d'Antona; Buovo d'Antona, part 2; the birth of Charlemagne, death of Pipin, love of Berta and Milone and birth of Orlandino. This last is in Book 6, chapters 52-70. The last story of V 13, Macario, is instead included in the Storie Nerbonesi.

There are notable differences between the Reali version of Berta e Milone, Orlandino and that of the Geste Francor: there, Charlemagne and Berta are both children of the same parents (not half-siblings as in the Geste Francor); Charlemagne notices Berta's interest in Milone and increases surveillance; Berta takes the initiative and arranges for Milone to sneak into her bedroom; Namo (Naimes) arranges for their marriage before they are exiled. Rolandin is born in a cave, his name derived from "rolling" because that is what he does when Milone comes in; Milone leaves Berta and the child and goes off to fight, leaving Roland to support them by begging. Roland becomes the town bully, much admired and able to beat other children at any game. They feel sorry for his not having any clothes, and together beg enough money for four pieces of fabric which they sew together, giving him the "quartering" which is never explained in the Geste Francor. When Charlemagne's court comes to Sutri, Roland goes only because he can beg nothing when the court is in town. He grabs food from under the King's nose three times. Before the third, Charlemagne has had a dream about being saved from a dragon by a lion, which his men interpret as Roland saving him. So Charlemagne makes faces at Roland, who makes faces back. Namo follows Roland, and finally succeeds in following him by giving him a glass of wine so that running is impossible without spilling the liquid. Thus Namo and others can find his home and parents. Namo arranges a reconciliation; Charlemagne kicks his sister, who agrees that she deserves it, preventing any uproar. Roland does not lay a hand on Charlemagne, as he does in the Geste Francor. Charlemagne is married to Galeanne, not Berta or Belisant. Milone never does appear at the court in Sutri.

The lèse-majesté of V 13 is missing from Andrea's version. He also over-explains some phenomena, frequent characteristics of later texts. However, the place of the story in his compilation helps us understand the placement of Roland in the tradition. When Charlemagne relents, Andrea makes a point of saying, "he loved him LIKE a son" (Book 6, Chapiter 70: "Carlo lo amava tanto, che lo teneva per suo figliuolo adottivo, e sempre Carlo lo chiamava figliuolo il più delle volte; e però si disse volgarmente che Orlandino era figliuolo di Carlo; ma egli era figliuolo di buono amore, ma non di peccato originale" [Charles loved him so much, that he kept him as his adoptive son, and Charles called him son most of the time; and thus it was said that Orlandino was Charles' son; but he was a son out of love, not originated in sin]). This would seem to suggest that the legend of the "carnal sin" was not unknown in Italy, but that it was not accepted. Artistic evidence seems to support Andrea's version of the story as well. LeJeune and Stiennon discuss the cathedral at Borgo San Donato (Fidenza) which has scenes from the youth of Roland, and have difficulty explaining the lion (156-58). Charlemagne's dream of the lion saving him from a dragon on the battlefield as seen in Andrea da Barberino's version explains the appearance of the lion in this context.

Folengo, writing as Limerno Pitocco in 1526, produced his poem Orlandino following many of the conventions established by Boiardo, Pulci and other epic writers of the time. He introduces it with a sonnet of dedication to Frederick II Gonzaga; following are eight capitoli (chapters) of varying numbers of octaves (65; 71; 83; 77; 81; 58; 70; 93), each constructed with prologues and closings typical to epics of the time. It is full of anti-clerical venom and illustrations; in fact, more ink is spent on that than on Orlando himself (for Folengo's anti-clericalism and its role in Orlandino, see Goffis, Chiesa). Briefly, Folengo's version of Orlando's youth recounts Berta and Milon falling in love at a distance; each agonizing over the situation; and a reliable confidant(e) each assisting in arranging a meeting. On the occasion of a feast, Berta's maid dances with Milon and leads him to her room; a mutual friend dances with Berta and tells her of Milon's distress, then escorts her to her room. Circumstances make the two companions leave, and Berta and Milon celebrate the occasion. She is pregnant as a result and afterwards they find it difficult if not impossible to meet. Milon gets into a fight with other knights and is banished; he sneaks into Berta's room and takes her with him.

They travel to the coast to take a ship to Italy. But during the voyage, Berta is attacked, a storm comes up and knocks all other passengers off the ship. She arrives on shore and makes her way to Sutri, where a shepherd takes pity on her and lets her stay in his cave and hut while she has Orlando and recovers. When Orlando is born, wolves come out into the open and howl (Urlando), giving him his name. For seven years she brings Orlando up alone with the help of the shepherd; Orlando looks twelve years old, but is only seven. He gets into fights with the Sutri children, and will not give in and is not hurt. Orlando beats up Olivero, son of Ranier and robs a abbot. When brought before Ranier, Orlando identifies himself as Milon's son; Ranier recognizes Milon in him and lets him go. A whole section is dedicated to a farce about the abbot from whom Orlando has stolen; then Folengo summarizes Turpin's plot: Milon appears and is delighted with his family; they travel to find his brother Amone with Rinaldino and all goes well.

Clearly, the religious element in Orlando's life (his parent's legal marriage; Orlando's role as savior of Christianity) is not Folengo's main interest. Rather, he is using the story as a vehicle to mock the church and court.

Aretino is even further from our version. None of the story we know is in his two canti, the first of 50 octaves, the second of 6, for a total of 448 lines, called the Orlandino. It opens with insulting language directed toward his predecessors, "ser Turpin prete poltrone" (I, 2:1), and the various characters of the classic Carolingian epic through Ariosto (1535): Sacripante, Rodomonte, Carlo Magno, etc. The actual events begin in I, 14, at Charlemagne's court on Pentecost. Astolfo starts a fight with Rinaldo, which becomes a free-for-all. The feast and smells are described. Terigi (Teris), Orlando's page, is to bring Orlando all the best (I, 31). The sound of a horn interrupts the feast (I, 31:8). Charlemagne tells Orlando to fight the challenger. Orlando, white as a sheet and obviously ill says he go take care of a couple of things first, then put on his armor. Astolfo meanwhile arms himself and struts through the courts; Charlemagne sends him off to fight. Astolfo confesses to Turpin, then sneaks off to hide himself (I, 40; 42). Rinaldo cannot go because his arms are in hock at his inn (I, 42). Charlemagne yells at Astolfo, shaming him into facing the challenger (I, 50).

In the second canto, the introduction speaks of how horrible Astolfo is, and how princes in general, like Charlemagne, choose ever-more incapable, lazy men. Astolfo is knocked from his horse, asks for mercy (II, 5:7-8). He identifies himself to Cardo, the foreign knight, blaming his horse for his defeat. Cardo sends him home on foot. This is the end, with an explicit. It includes little of Orlando, and seems unfinished though it ends with an explicit.

With the cantare version, of which there are various copies (see introduction to edition for more specific information, or Franceschetti), we return nearer the story we know. It is in 100 octaves, for a total of 800 lines. As Franceschetti documents, they are closely based on the Reali di Francia version. (I will here use Barini's edition, though it is not philologically perfect.) Berta is here the main mover of the love affair between her and Milon. She arranges for Milon to come visit her dressed as a woman. When Berta becomes pregnant, and Charlemagne realizes the problem and he imprisons both of them. Namo arranges their marriage and helps them flee. The two are both banished and excommunicated. They settle at Sutri, in a cave. Berta gives birth to Rotolando while Milon is away; the name derives from his rolling. Milon supports the family by begging. When Rolandin is three years old, Milon goes to seek his fortune. Roland helps support his mother by begging. He gets into a fight with the town boys and wins; he is thought of as a leader. For Carneval, they buy two colors of fabric and have an outfit in quarters made for him.

Charlemagne returns from being crowned by the Pope via Sutri, where he becomes ill. Charlemagne always gives to the poor. So while he is there, all go to court for food. Roland goes several times, grabbing food and upsetting his mother upon his return home. After Charlemagne has a dream in which he is saved from a dragon by a lion, interpreted as Roland by the court, Namo decides to follow Roland. The fourth time that Roland comes, Namo gives him wine so that Roland must go slowly not to spill it. Namo and three others arrive at the cave behind Roland. Berta identifies herself and says that Milon has been gone for three years. Namo promises to set all right with Charlemagne, which he does, much as in the Geste Francor. Charlemagne is particularly fond of Roland, and the poet says, "Carlo e ciaschedun l' [=Rolandin] amava e sempre Carlo figliuol lo chiamava" [Charles and everyone loved him and Charles always called him son] (94: 7-8). This may be an explanation for the relationship expressed or suspected. Milon is recalled from Babilonia with his men, where he has enjoyed great success, and, the poet informs us, "la virtù al fin vince ogni cosa" [virtue at the end conquers all] (100: 2).

Rajna recounts other versions of cantari (1872: 262-263), as does Gautier (1880: 64-70). It should be mentioned that this particular story was quite popular in Spain, where the Historia del nacimiento y primeras empresas del conde Orlando, by Enriquez de Catalayud (Valladolid, 1585, 1594) and Los Amores de Milon de Anglante y el nacimiento de Roldan y sus niñerias by Antonio de Esclava derive from the octave versions (Paris 412-13).

In short, the story and character of young Roland is one which clearly caught the imagination of the Italian public (among others) and continued to be a part of their tradition over many years.

4. Why study this non-canonical literature?

These chansons de geste are not part of the literary canon, though they are entertaining. Franco-Italian literature, which these two pieces exemplify, are in fact touchstones for discussing several important concepts: the role of literature in society; the importance of cultural models and their development by an adopting culture; changes in society and how such changes do or do not affect literature, especially literacy and the interface of oral and written culture.

Franco-Italian literature was created over a period of 200 years. Many of the pieces are chansons de geste, a form originating in northern France in the Old French language. The changes made and developments in plot demonstrate that the genre was alive and growing in Northern Italy, transplanted to foreign soil. There is a similar phenomenon in Germany, Scandinavia and Spain; translations and elaborations of originally French works develop along different lines in each of these countries-- but frequently with surprising similarities to each other. In Germany, Karl Meinet is a composition of six chansons, the portion about the youth of Charlemagne seemingly based on a lost Dutch version. In Norway, the Karlmagnússaga is among the thirteenth-century works produced under the aegis of Haakon Haakonson, 1217-1263. It is a compilation-translation which includes the life history of Charlemagne. It was in turn used for the Danish Karl Magnus Kronike. These follow the life of Charlemagne, including some of the same incidents encountered in Italian versions, but also his "sin" with his half-sister. In Spain, we find the Historia de la reyne Sibilla (sixteenth century), related to Macaire (the last chanson of V 13). The Crónica general of Alphonse X the Wise (thirteenth century) and the Gran conquista de Ultramar include Berta and Mainet (childhood of Charlemagne, again part of V 13). In the last century, marked by a revival of interest in national literature, and the first systematic studies of the chanson de geste, Uhland (1787-1862) wrote both of Berta's reintroduction to Charlemagne's court and of Roland's youthful valor ("Klein Roland"; "Roland Schildträger") as well as about Charlemagne.

Thus Carolingian literature, and especially Franco-Italian in Italy, still offers areas of research though much progress has been made recently. Editions of some texts are not yet available, though they are in progress (e.g., Ugo d'Alvernia) or, in some cases, they need to be updated or corrected (Gui de Nanteuil). The Chanson de Roland has long been too well- known in comparison to the multitude of other chansons. Franco-Italian has not been much studied outside of small circles; as recently as 1982, Shen said in her dissertation, "Relatively little is known about Franco-Italian literature" (164). These poems also offer the student a view rarely seen of the "popular" literature of the time, what the "man/woman on the street" might have enjoyed and heard-- an early equivalent to TV soap operas, or perhaps science fiction epics.

E. Translation of Berta and Milone, Rolandininto English (with notes).


The translation is based on my forthcoming edition, together with translations into Modern Italian, as cited in the notes.

F. Bibliography of Sources Cited


Updated July 7, 2006

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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