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The Anonymous Marie de France$

R. Bloch

Print publication date: 2003

Print ISBN-13: 9780226059686

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: February 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226059693.001.0001

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Between Fable and Romance

Between Fable and Romance

(p.241) CHAPTER EIGHT Between Fable and Romance
The Anonymous Marie de France

R. Howard Bloch

University of Chicago Press

Abstract and Keywords

This chapter examines the elements of doctrine that fit into the mold of fable and of romance in Marie de France's Espurgatoire Seint Patriz, her translation of the Tractatus. It analyzes Marie's reasons for choosing to write a literary translation of Tractatus and describes how Espurgatoire Seint Patriz served as a dissemination of the legend in the vernacular. This chapter also argues that what the Espurgatoire Seint Patriz accomplished in converting a supposedly documentary treatise on the origins and workings of Purgatory into a tale of knightly deeds is significant because it is a translation not just between languages but between different cultural discourses.

Keywords:   Espurgatoire Seint Patriz, Marie de France, Tractatus, documentary treatise, Purgatory, cultural discourses

Given the richness of the medieval tradition of Otherworld visions, what is Marie's contribution? Why did she choose the Tractatus for translation? How does such a choice fit with what we have seen of the Lais and the Fables? In moving from the documentary character of the Tractatus to the literary ethos of the Espurgatoire, what elements of doctrine pass into the generic mold, or at least fulfill the generic expectations, of fable and of romance?

The Espurgatoire serves, first of all, as a dissemination of the legend in the vernacular. The translation from Latin to Anglo-Norman French works a cultural translation in so far as it asks the question, also posed in the Lais, of what might pass back and forth across the channel between English and French, of what might pass from the increasingly firm doctrine of Purgatory, as articulated among the monks and theologians of the twelfth century, into popular culture, and into a popular culture increasingly given to the expression of its own aspirations in various narrative forms. What the Espurgatoire does in converting a supposedly documentary treatise on the origins and workings of Purgatory into a tale of knightly deeds is significant, for it is a translation not just between languages but between different cultural discourses, or, again, between a work that aspires to the status of verifiable truth and one that resonates with romance. For H. de Saltrey's Tractatus is just that, a treatise, the written record of a series of oral depositions. Marie's Espurgatoire, on the other hand, is more sharply focused upon the literary; and where H. maintains a certain documentary relation to the testimony of witnesses it records, the primary relation of the Espurgatoire— and herein lies its literary specificity—is to another written text. Marie's alternate blending with the voice of H. and distancing from the written (p.242) record, “li escriz,” offer certain proof that we are in the realm of textual relations, in the orbit of what Harold Bloom terms an “agony of influence” between strong literary presences. Given how careful Marie is, as we have seen in the Lais, concerning the choice of what she chooses to translate, given how anxious she is about her effect upon others, the conscious choice of the Tractatus—and by this time I hope the reader will have been convinced that everything Marie does is conscious—tells us something fundamental about the integral body of her work as well as about the persona that we are in the process of reconstructing from it.

It is my claim, argued in what follows, that the Espurgatoire, so clearly posited between two cultures, clerical and lay, stands, finally, as a negotiation between the Lais and the Fables. My first instinct in writing this sentence was to use the word synthesis to describe the way that the Espurgatoire mediates between them. Yet “synthesis” is a bit too neat, a trifle too wrapped up, and perhaps also a tad too laden with intention to describe what appears as an attempt on Marie's part to resolve that which remains incomplete, troubling, and untenable in her other two works.

I realize that I am taking for granted the chronology of Marie's literary production—that the Lais were written before the Fables, and the Fables before the Espurgatoire. Even were such a series not well established on philological and historical grounds, I think that the claim could be made on the basis of the logical consistency of moving from the mental universe of the Lais to that of the Fables and to the Espurgatoire in terms of an internal logic of their relation, a continuum of the will expressed as a particular relation to language, and according to which each work responds to and grows out of that which precedes.

Simply put, we find in the Lais a certain theological absolutism according to which life in the flesh is conceived to be unthinkable and, concurrently, a fatalism of language such that one is wounded or dead in the instant one speaks. Though I am more than a little wary of such broad generalizations, it is the case that such a literary vision could be associated with a Platonic-Augustinian worldview characteristic of the early Middle Ages, one that operates under the assumption of a radical separation between this world and the next that cannot be bridged by degrees of being and therefore cannot be mediated by mind or reason. The Fables, in contrast, show the glimmerings of an efficacy of the will in a social world in which a myriad of potential good and bad speech acts carry the burden of ethical action. And yet even here a certain lingering fatalism lurks in the unpredictability of the body—animal and social—ready to make itself felt (p.243) whenever appetite usurps right reason. If in the Lais one is condemned merely for being alive, in the Fables one is subject to the limits of one's own species in relation to other species within the context of a fickle fight for survival. What is satisfactory about the Lais is precisely their incorporation of the theological; what is excluded is the possibility of life on this planet. What is appealing in the Fables is the possibility of escaping—via an exertion of the will—the fatalism of the Lais, yet what remains missing, in the struggle between the big and the little, the strong and the weak, is precisely some general and absolute standard by which particular bodies might be restrained.

The present chapter speaks to the identity between the language theater of the Espurgatoire and that of the Lais, while that which follows takes up the social effects of Purgatory encountered in the Fables.

Making the Dead See

The drama of language that we identified in the Lais as a conflict between the desire for fullness and integration and the knowledge of the partial and contingent nature of linguistic expression is no less present in the Espurgatoire, where it is expressed in terms of an anxious awareness of the inadequacy of articulation—of the difficulty of making the invisible visible and of giving the visible articulate form. On the one hand, Marie is conscious of the fragility of the enterprise, wrapped in the making of literature itself, of making the dead speak, and, on the other, she is no less tempted to buttress the unsubstantiality of the literary by recourse to the seemingly certain techniques of testimony, transcription, and, of course, her old identifying shibboleth of memory and reassembly or “remembrement.”

The genre of the medieval Otherworld voyage or near-death experience is enveloped in the issue of making death—some might say the void, others the real—palpable and involves a complicated cycle in the Espurgatoire between the invisible and the visual, the oral and the written. The story of Owen's and others' descent and return turns around making the Otherworld visible in order that it might take material shape in the imagination, might become real, might be credible. This is why the little word mustrer is so important and why, meaning both “to show” and “to tell” or “to describe,” it functions at the interstices of that which is heard and that which is seen. However, as Marie is well aware, the world of the imagination and that of words are only partially, and sometimes even dangerously, connected. The “Say it and you lose it” of “Lanval” and the “choose one and (p.244) lose them all” of “Chaitivel” hover as emblems over the Lais. They capture in some very compressed sense the hazardous consequences of an incommensurability between words and things characteristic of the linguistic fatalism of the Lais and evident in the sense of liability and of loss in speech, the perilous gap between that which can be thought, sensed, or seen and that which can be said. Marie is constantly aware of the reductive, contingent, material nature of words alongside the expansive, universal wholeness of the imagination or of an idea.

The deadly drama of language writ so large across the Lais also spills over to the Espurgatoire in the inadequation between what the mind might conceive or the body might sense, and even might suffer as the pains of Purgatory, and the words, regardless of number, expressive of that conception or sensation. No fullness of language, and here Marie is categorical, might capture the reality of lived, bodily experience:

  • Tels sunt les peines enfernals
  • e les mesaises e les mals
  • que nuls nes porreit anumbrer
  • plus que gravele de la mer. (v. 1411)
  • The pains, suffering,
  • And torment of hell
  • Are more numerous
  • Than the sands of the sea.

The Espurgatoire is inscribed in a contradiction between the necessity of making the invisible visible and the translation of visibility into human language that, recognized to be deeply flawed, remains inadequate.

In this Marie draws upon a topos practically synonymous with medieval vision literature, and especially visions of the Otherworld. Tnugdal's tongue remains unequal to that which he hears and sees: “After a long time, alone in such dangers, he heard the shouts and howls of a huge crowd, and a thunder so horrific that neither our humble person could comprehend it nor, as Tnugdal admitted, was his tongue able to relate it.” The Monk of Evesham, whose vision related in Roger of Wendover's Flowers of History supposedly took place in 1196 or within a decade of the Tractatus/Espurgatoire, admits to being incapable of articulating, or even remembering, that which he has experienced: “And what we saw as we went on, the tongue cannot reveal or human weakness worthily describe…. But how glittering was the inconceivable brightness, or how strong was the light which filled all those places, let no one ask of me, for this I am not able to express in words, nor even to (p.245) recollect in my mind.”1 More important, the “inexpressibility topos” found in the visions of Tnugdal, of the Monk of Evesham, and in the Espurgatoire participates, as we have seen, in a deeper medieval drama of language manifest not only in the Lais but in the verbal epistemology of the period between Augustine and the scholastics of the thirteenth century and the terminists or modists of the fourteenth. Put in simplest terms, this drama is founded upon a recognition of the incommensurability between the universality of an idea, and even an idea accessible to the mind, and its expression in verbal—oral or written—form, a recognition of a disparity between what writers and thinkers know about human language as an essentially flawed, irrecuperable, conventional (socially determined) medium and what they feel as a deep nostalgia for the wholeness of beginnings when the word corresponded to the thing.2

Throughout the Middle Ages, in visions like the Espurgatoire, the medieval drama of language is expressed in terms of a mind/body, or rather a soul / body, split attached to the question of Purgatory and having to do with the difficulty of knowing with certainty whether it is the soul or the body that voyages to, that beholds, the Otherworld. Given the fallible nature of the senses, if it is the body that travels to the beyond, then the question naturally arises as to the trustworthiness of the perceptions that it brings back. And, on the other hand, if it is the soul that voyages, then the question remains as to how a soul, absent the bodily faculties of perception, might actually see anything in the Otherworld or might know what it has seen.3

In the case of the Monk of Wenlock it is the soul that travels and the body that remains. In terms that would not have surprised Plato, Wenlock “said that the extreme pain from a violent illness had suddenly freed his spirit from the burden of his body” and speaks of the lifting of “the veil of the flesh.”4 Dryhthelm too leaves his body behind and eventually returns to it with some regret. “When he [his guide] had finished speaking,” Dryhthelm reports, “I returned to the body with much distaste, for I was greatly delighted with the sweetness and grace of the place I had seen and with the company of those whom I saw in it.”5 “As soon as he had shed the body and knew for sure that it was dead, the soul became frightened,” Tnugdal confesses; yet, once having glimpsed the Earthly Paradise, his soul begs to remain: “But the angel said: ‘You must go back to your body and retain in your memory everything you saw, for the benefit of your neighbour.’”6 In the rubric that reads, “How the same monk was separated from the body, and entered the first place of punishment,” it is clear that the Monk of Evesham undergoes an out-of-body experience.7 So too, when Thurkill departs, (p.246) Saint Julian urges him to leave his body behind and, given the greater realism of the age, allows for infusing it with a simulation of life: “And when Thurkill began to rise, the saint said ‘Let thy body rest here awhile, only thy Soul will depart with me. But that thy friends may not think thee dead, I will send a breath of life into thee.’ And so saying he breathed into Thurkill's mouth: and they both, as it seemed to the man, left the house, and set forth straight towards the east.”8

H. de Saltrey is conscious of the paradox of the insentient soul traveling to the beyond, and he focuses upon the materiality of that which is seen there according to Gregory the Great, who “says that souls taken away and returned to the body tell of visions and revelations made to them either of the torments of the sinners or the joys of the just. However, everything mentioned in their tales is concrete or similar to material elements.”9 In his own voice H. reminds us that “these torments cannot be defined by men because they have no means whatsoever of knowing them.”10 Marie too focuses upon the dilemma of seeing the truth of Purgatory with fallible eyes in the first mention of the possibility of souls visiting the Otherworld contained in the Espurgatoire. Those who have been to the beyond and “then return to the living body and show what they have seen” (“puis repairent as cors en vies /e meustrent ço que unt veü” [v. 73]) do so only because “they see spiritually that which appears corporeally” (“Els veient espiritelment / ço que semble corporelment” [v. 77]).

And they do so only because that which is seen spiritually is given corporeal substance through words. The torments of Purgatory may be hidden to the senses “since they are spiritual and men are mortal”; but, through verbalization, that which is spiritual and inaccessible to the eye can be seen. It becomes, and here the phrase is key, “like a corporal substance”:

  • Icist turment sun esconsé,
  • a la gent ne sunt pas mustré
  • pur ço qu'il sunt espiritel
  • e que li hume sunt mortel.
  • E si par revelaciünsveient e par avisiüns
  • plusurs des almes meinz granz signes
  • (solunc iço qu'eles sunt dignes),
  • quant eles sunt des cors ravies.
  • Par Deu revienent a lur vies
  • e diënt bien, pur la mustrance
  • de cele espiritel sustance,
  • que semblable est a corporel
  • (p.247) (ço qu'il veient espiritel.
  • E si nus dit qu'ume mortel
  • unt ço veü e corporel
  • si cume en forme e en semblance
  • de vive corporel sustance. (v. 163)
  • These torments are hidden,
  • And not manifest to people
  • Since they are spiritual,
  • And men are mortal.
  • And thus by revelations
  • And by visions
  • Many souls see numerous great signs,
  • According to their worth
  • When they are rapt from their bodies.
  • With god's help, they return to their lives,
  • And tell clearly, as an illustration
  • Of spiritual substance,
  • That what they perceive as spiritual
  • Is similar to the corporeal.
  • They even say that a mortal,
  • Material man saw spiritual things
  • In the form and appearance
  • Of live material substance.

The trajectory of passage to the world inaccessible to the senses (“Icist turment sun esconsé,/a la gent ne sunt pas mustré”) and return accompanied by a making of that which cannot be seen accessible to the eye (“la mustrance/de cele espiritel sustance”) is a sleight of hand or eye, the equivalent of a magic trick, and, indeed, what we might think of as an instance of the literary, a giving of visual form to that which is invisible and of verbal form to that which can henceforth be seen. For here it is clear that we are dealing with the nature of metaphor, the literary magic residing not in the identity of the bodily and the spiritual, the seen and the unseen, but in the “being like”—the “que semblable est,” the “si cume,” the “semblance” which H.'s Latin renders: “Unde et in hac narratione a corporali e mortali homine spiritualia dicuntur uideri quasi in specie et forma corporali.”11 The difference between “quasi in specie et forma corporali” (“under the aspect and form of material things”) and Marie's “semblance” and “as if,” the former indicating a relation between two distinct modes of physical things and the second a relation of material reality to illusion, contains all the difference between (p.248) H.'s Tractatus, which is a record of Owen's adventure, and Marie's Espurgatoire, which is a literary reworking of that record. Saint Patrick's Purgatory is not simply another story of an Otherworld vision but a paradigm of the literary. Whether entering into the gaps in the language of the ancients as in the prologue to the Lais, or entering a fissure in the earth as in the Espurgatoire, the descent, the expiatory pains, the emergence, dictation, transcription, and translation of the “semblances” of the Otherworld are, unless we are willing to take them literally as believable and real, on the order of a dramatization and an allegory, a dramatization of death and an allegory of the describability of death as a great “epistemological barrier”—an empty hole—about which anything that can be said is of the nature of fiction itself.12

Again, I am not the first to sense the deep identity between the story of Purgatory and the making of fiction, to take the describability of the beyond as an allegory for the birth of art. In what remains a foundational article on medieval vision poems, H. R. Jauss equates allegory with making the invisible visible. With specific reference to Otherworld journeys, C. Zaleski compares the relation they establish between seeing and telling about that which is inaccessible to the senses with “a work of the narrative imagination.” With still more specific reference to Saint Patrick, S. Leslie observes that the story of Purgatory fulfills the human longing for ghost stories while sharing in the mysterious draw of the detective genre.13 So too, S. Greenblatt, in a book on the relationship between Protestant attacks upon Purgatory and the ghosts that reappear upon the Renaissance stage, shows with consummate rigor and elegance that there is something specific in the nature of Saint Patricks story that, above and beyond the material causality that we may associate with it, partakes of, is attached to, crystallizes around, the nature of fable “in the way that fables seize hold of the mind, create vast unreal spaces, and people those spaces with imaginary beings and detailed events.”14

The literary sleight of hand that I have associated with the origin of Purgatory, the making of something out of nothing and the usurpation of that something by others that haunts Marie, the fictitious dialogue with the dead that is of the nature of fiction itself, explains, I think, the concern expressed about the formation of the legend of Saint Patrick on the part of those responsible for its compilation. The author, or authors, of the Tripartite Life, recognizing the fragility of the “thread of narration,” seek to establish a continuous line of transmission via a series of names whose repetition is intended to ground the legend's authority.15 Jocelin de Furness, like a (p.249) nineteenth-century philologist, is concerned with the “establishment” and provenance of the text:

And of all those things which so wonderously he did in the world, sixty and six Books are said to have been written, whereof the greater part perished by fire in the reigns of Gurmundus and of Turgesius. But four books of his virtues and his miracles yet remain, written partly in the Hibernian, partly in the Latin language; and which at different times four of his Disciples composed;—namely, his successor the blessed Benignus; the Bishop Saint Mel; the Bishop Saint Lumanus, who was his nephew; and his grand-nephew Saint Patricius, who after the decease of his uncle returned unto Britain, and died in the Church of Glascon. Likewise did Saint Evinus collect into one volume the acts of Saint Patrick, the which is written partly in the Hibernian, and partly in the Latin tongue. From all which, whatsoever we could meet most worthy of belief, have we deemed right to transmit in this our work unto after-times.16

Owen's fictional voyage to Purgatory shows a similar anxiety concerning origins and an anxiousness to establish, if not the truth, then a credible account of its own transcription and transmission.

Testimony and Transcription

If, as we have seen, those who enter Purgatory do so via writing, sent by the bishop to the “dark hole” with letters, the return of those who do return is also marked by the written word that serves as the guarantor of experience. And this from the start in the practice, initiated by Saint Patrick, of testimonial transcription:

  • Enz entrerent seürement.
  • Mult sufrirent peine e turment
  • e mult virent horrible mal
  • de la dure peine enfernal;
  • aprés icele grant tristesce
  • virent grant joie e grant leesce.
  • ço qu'il voldrent cunter e dire
  • fist seinz Patriz iluek escrire. (v. 355)
  • And [they] entered securely.
  • They suffered great pain and torment,
  • And witnessed much of the horrible agony
  • Of bitter infernal pain;
  • After this great sorrow,
  • (p.250) They witnessed great joy and happiness.
  • Whatever they wished to recount and tell,
  • Saint Patrick had written down on the spot.

The question of the immediacy of transcription is one that vexes the Otherworld experience to be captured as freshly as possible. In transmitting the vision of Dryhthelm, for example, Bede assures us that the man who took direct testimony, Brother Haemgisl, is still alive and that “He would often visit this man and learn from him, by repeated questionings, what sort of things he saw when he was out of the body; it is from his account that these particulars which we have briefly described came to our knowledge.” In addition, Dryhthelm, like Owen, frequents a royal patron: “He also told his visions to King Aldfrith, a most learned man in all respects…. at the king's request he was admitted to the monastery already mentioned…. Whenever the king visited that region, he often went to listen to his story.”17 Boniface, writing to “the blessed virgin and best-loved lady, Eadburga,” assures her of the freshness of his account of the Monk of Wenlock's vision by telling her that it is not a matter of hearsay but that “I myself spoke recently with the aforesaid resurrected brother when he returned to this country from beyond the seas. He then related to me in his own words the astounding visions which he saw in the spirit while he was out of the body.”18 Thurkill's vision is witnessed openly by the entire community: “on the day of All Saints and on the day of All Souls, he proclaimed all that he had seen, consistently and clearly, in the English tongue; in the presence of Osbert de Longchamp, the lord of the village, and his wife, and the rest of the parishioners; all being utterly astonished at the eloquence of the man, who had always before been bashful and nearly tongue-tied.” His words are faithfully recorded as soon as they are uttered: “I have striven to write down the Vision of this simple man in simple speech, just as I heard it from his own mouth,” the scribe, whom some believe to be Ralph of Coggeshall, proclaims.19

The question of ocular witnessing is at the origin of the cult of Saint Patrick and the legend of Purgatory attached to it. According to popular belief, Patrick, having failed to convert the Irish by preaching, was called upon to make visible his words concerning heaven and hell. Whereupon the Lord appeared to him and showed him a pit, saying: “Whatever man, being truly penitent, and armed with a lively faith, shall enter that pit, and there remain for a day and a night, shall be purged from all his sins, and going through it shall behold the states of bliss and woe.”20 The importance of visual perception (p.251) persists throughout the period in question. In the prologue to his account of his pilgrimage to Lough Derg in 1397, for example, Ramon de Perellós insists upon the conviction of the eye over the ear:

It is a fact that everyone desires to learn about things which are strange and wonderful and that, naturally, those things are more pleasing when one can see them for oneself rather than learn of them by hearsay alone. For this reason, I, brought up in my youth by King Charles of France, in whose care my father, who was his admiral and chamberlain left me, in his Court—with all the knights and squires of his kingdom and of other Christian kingdoms—was eager to know and learn about the wonderful, diverse and strange things which exist in the world: and my heart was set on seeing those things rather than merely hearing about them from many and divers knights.21

Both H. de Saltrey and Marie emphasize that the “fickle bestiality” of the Irish is synonymous with a disbelief cured by God's showing Patrick “the pit which he could show to the people”: “Mult fu haitiez de sun seignur/que il aveit veü le jur,/e de la fosse vehement,/qu'il poeit mustrer a la gent” (v. 331). As we have seen in the context of the little word mustrer, Purgatory, or rather the belief in Purgatory, is deeply rooted in the visual, in God's showing the hole (“Deus … li mustra … une fosse tute roünde” [v. 301]) and in the pilgrim's actually seeing it rather than merely hearing about it.

The writing begun at the time of Patrick's discovery of the entrance to Purgatory is quickly converted into an established scribal institution:

  • Seignur, si cum dit li escriz,
  • plusurs genz el tens seint Patriz
  • e en altres tens altresi,
  • issi cum nus avuns oï,
  • dedenz l'espurgatoire entrerent
  • e puis aprés s'en returnerent.
  • ………
  • Cil ki revindrent tut cunterent
  • e li chanoigne l'embreverent,
  • pur edifiër altre gent
  • e qu'il n'en dutassent niënt. (vv. 421, 429)
  • My Lord, the book says that
  • Several people in the time of Saint Patrick
  • And in other times as well,
  • Just as we have heard,
  • Entered into purgatory,
  • (p.252) And afterwards returned.
  • ………
  • Those who returned recounted all they had seen,
  • And the canons took it all down
  • To edify other people,
  • And leave no doubts about purgatory.

The written record of those who return from Purgatory is for the “edification of others” (“pur edifiër altre gent”), and is, in a fabulously explicit example of how writing shapes cultural memory, the basis of the instructions passed on to Owen at the time of his descent. As the prior sets out what the penitent knight will see and will encounter in Purgatory, he is careful to note that “we only know what we know because those who have gone before have recounted their adventures which have been put into writing” (v. 635). As soon as Owen is on the other side of experience, Marie reminds us of H. de Saltrey's source, the book that will come from the transcription of the knight's words (v. 1401). And though the moment of actual writing will occur only once Owen has also passed through the Earthly Paradise, has fasted and prayed, his return conforms to Saint Patrick's rule of obligatory testimony and transcription:

  • A la porte vint de cler jur.
  • Encuntre lui vint li priür,
  • ki volentiers l'a receü;
  • mult fu liez, quant il l'out veü.
  • En l'iglise le fist entrer
  • e quinze jurs la demorer
  • en jeünes, en oreisuns,
  • en veilles, en aflicciüns.
  • puis reconta ço que il vit,
  • e il le mistrent en escrit. (v. 1903)
  • At the gate he saw the light of day.
  • The prior came forward,
  • And being very happy to see him,
  • Eagerly received him.
  • He had him enter the church,
  • And remain there for fifteen days,
  • Fasting, praying, keeping vigils,
  • And performing acts of mortification.
  • Then he [the knight] recounted what he had seen,
  • And they set it down in writing.

(p.253) In fact, the recorded testimony dictated to ecclesiastical scribes is only the first of a series of retellings, as Owen, having descended into Purgatory and returned, and then having undertaken a pilgrimage to the Near East, recites his tale at the royal court (v. 1917). In this, Owen, the rude knight guilty of cruelty before being reformed, before the purgation of his violent impulses, resembles the hero of Arthurian romance, the one who, like Chrétien's Erec, undergoes a series of adventures at the end of which he becomes capable of telling his own tale. And he participates in a process of transcription, seen throughout the prose romances of the thirteenth century, in which the Arthurian knight who leaves the court is obliged, according to the formula dictated by Merlin to Arthur at the time of the bestowal of the Round Table, to take an oath to “tell the truth, upon return, about all the things that have happened to him and that he will have found in his quest, whether they be to his honor or shame.”22 In keeping with Merlin's bureaucratic prescription for good information gathering and thus good government, the Lancelot Prose Cycle is filled with testimonials on the part of knights who, like Owen, dictate not to the ecclesiastical but to the royal scribes of Arthur's court.23

Just as the knights' adventures are transcribed by the Arthurian greffiers or stenographers, the underworld adventure of Owen, the oral account of the lived experience of Purgatory, the testimony of a witness, is, shortly after his return, transformed into a written record. The place of entrance to and return from Purgatory is, again, the place of writing, a place of testimony, a place where testimony is transcribed and accumulated, the beginnings of cultural memory in the form of the archive: “Ipsius autem beati patris tempore multi penitencia ducti fossam ingressi sunt, qui regredientes et tormenta se maxima perpessos et gaudia se vidisse testati sunt. Quorum relationes iussit beatus Patricius in eadem ecclesia notari” (“And in the days of this blessed father, many people, driven by repentance, entered the pit and, on their return, testified that they had both seen the joys and endured the greatest torments. And blessed Patrick ordered that their accounts be recorded in the same church”).24 More important, the geographic hole in the earth through which the penitent enters, and which I have equated with the philological holes through which Marie's Old French might penetrate H.'s Latin, the place of origin of the tale, its umbilicus, is, in the context of Marie's project of endowing the vernacular with the status of literature, also quite literally the place at which the inchoate status of orality is fixed:

  • E pur ço que Deus demustra
  • a seint Patriz e enseigna
  • (p.254) primes cel liu, est issi diz
  • “l'Espurgatoire Saint Patriz.”
  • Rigles a nun, la u fu mise,
  • li lius, e fundee l'iglise. (v. 372)
  • And since God showed
  • This place first to Saint Patrick,
  • And taught him about it, it is called here
  • Saint Patrick's Purgatory.
  • The place where the church was founded
  • And established is called Rigles.

The place of entry to Purgatory and to writing is the place of grammar, of regularity, of rules, of the permanence engendered by writing as a means of preserving cultural memory. Memory is, in fact, one of the obsessive issues not only of the prologue to the Lais, but of the Espurgatoire, where Owen is constantly reminded to remember the name of Jesus as well as to remember what has happened to him in his journey that will end at the place of testimony and transcription, a memory place, memory being a place in the sense of a locus, a “lieu” of the written trace, in contrast to the unordered—dark and scary—hole of unarticulated lived experience, as the Espurgatoire reproduces the drama we encountered in the Lais defined, where the language effect is concerned, by a contrast between a longing for unity and “remembrement” and a fear of dispersion and loss of meaning. This is why it can be no accident that the abbey itself is called “Rules,” “Rigles”: “Rigles a nun, la u fu mise,/li lius, e fundee l'iglise” as a rendering of H.'s Latin: “Locus autem ecclesie Reglis dicitur” (“But the place of the church was called Reglis”).25

I am not the first to have focused upon the name of the abbey built at the place of entry to and return from Purgatory. The etymology and the meaning of “Rigles” have, in fact, not only kindled some debate, but offer a fabulous example of the coincidence of philology and topography in the medieval tradition of rooting names, more usually the patronym of a family, in land.26 The question of the origin of “Reglis,” its translation from Latin, and possible links to Old Irish determines the question of its reference and has fed the discussion of where exactly the entrance to Purgatory is located in the medieval past as well as where one should look for it in the present. Some maintain that the word “Reglis” used by H. derives from the Irish reiclés, from the Latin reclusum, and originally referred to an oratory or small church, a monastic cell or anchorite's hut. Y. de Pontfarcy, for example, (p.255) points to the origin of “Reglis” in the “monastic cell” of a cenobitic settlement as proof of the existence of an anchoritic community on Station Island, one of the two islands of Lough Derg.27 Others, however, trace the roots of “Reglis” to the Latin ecclesia, which would indicate a larger church, or to the Latin regula, which reflects a church of the canons regular, an abbey church, the regular canon's house, or a monastery, and thus a more likely location of the entrance to Purgatory not on Station Island but on Saints' Island.28 The uncertainty surrounding the origins and meaning of the little word “Reglis” makes any topographical conclusion based on etymological evidence more than suspect. But it does point in the direction of something that has been hovering in the margins of my argument all along, and that has to do with the resonance of H.'s “Reglis” and Marie's “Rigles” with the notion of “rules” itself, the regula of Latin, regardless of its actual geographical reference or meaning in Old Irish, being the equivalent of grammar. In fact, I don't see how one can avoid such an association, given that the Abbey of Rigles, the site of writing and of archival information, the place of testimony and of transcription, is the locus of a double transformation—of the visual into an oral account, and of the oral account into written form.

Within the inscribed genealogy of both H.'s and Marie's text the transcription has a double function and works at two levels: to make the past visible and to preserve for future generations a record of that which has been seen.

Genesis of the Tale

If the transcription of the pilgrim's words at Rigles reveals a desire to capture lived experience in fixed form, which recalls Marie's anxious concern for the capriciousness of meaning encountered especially in the Lais, the Espurgatoire is no less freighted by the question of reception, what happens to words in the ear, mind, and mouth of another. The Archbishop's invitation to Owen to “tell the meaning” of what he has seen is merely the beginning of a process of interpretation and transmission that is central to our understanding of the Espurgatoire, which contains a genealogy of its own origin, moving as it does from Owen's and others' testimony to Marie's translation of H'.s text, and moving at the same time away from the fixity of beginnings.

The premise of Purgatory is that of a story out of a hole, which, despite the religious trappings, captures something of the essence of the creation of (p.256) a literary fiction. This is not to suggest that the Espurgatoire comes out of nowhere, rather that Marie's choice of the Tractatus to translate is not arbitrary but a conscious opting, like that in the prologue to the Lais to translate from the Breton rather than from Latin, in favor of the tale of tales where it comes to literary creation. Further, if the archetypal tale of Purgatory is complicated at the outset, the story of its transmission from the lived experience of God's showing Saint Patrick the hole and the knight Owen's purgation, to H.'s text, and then to Marie's rendering of H., is no less complex. Indeed, once one begins to ask the philological questions of what happened in between the fictive origin of Purgatory and the single manuscript of the Espurgatoire (BN fr. 24407, folios 102r–122v), one becomes even more convinced of the self-consciously literary parameters of Marie's undertaking.

H. de Saltrey's Tractatus is not the work of a single consciousness but a collective project, an amalgam of oral and written sources, tellings and retellings, writings and rewritings, on the part of the relatores and scriptores who have contributed to the making of the legend of Purgatory and to the final narrative account of one knight's trip to the beyond.29 The oral record of Owen's adventures in Purgatory, which supposedly took place in 1148 or 1149 (“In the time of King Stephen”), was, according to the internal account contained in the Espurgatoire, transcribed by the scribes of Rigles shortly after the event: “Then he [the knight] recounted what he had seen,/And they set it down in writing” (“Puis reconta ço que il vit,/e il le mistrent en escrit” [v. 1911]). Things do not end there, however, for this initial rendering is supplemented by subsequent oral accounts. Indeed, Owen, having completed a pilgrimage to the Middle East shortly after the event, brings his story to court and retells it to the king: “He recounted to the king,/In proper order, the true course of his life” (“Tut en ordre li a cunté/de sa vie laverité” [v. 1921]).30 Like the Arthurian narrator-knight, Owen not only recounts the story of his life but shapes his account according to what medieval rhetoricians would have considered to be a natural narrative, one whose order follows the chronological sequence of events. I realize that the reading may be a little subtle, but it is clear that something on the order of the literary, that is to say a rhetorical ordering or composition, has occurred between Owen's initial testimony as a witness and the subsequent royal retelling. This is all the more significant, given the fact that Marie has done something similar. For the episode of Owen's retelling of events, Owen's debut as a teller of tales at court, is not present in H.'s Tractatus, which moves (p.257) directly from the knight's question to the king about whether or not he should take the robes of religion to the arrival of Gilbert, sent by Gervais to found a sister house.31 It is, in other words, Marie who has introduced the tale of Owen's telling his tale at court; it is Marie who has transformed the knight into something of a performer, a poet.

Among the oral sources of the internal genealogy of the Tractatus, Gilbert stands as the primary authority for H.'s tale. In fact, H. speaks preemptively of a presumably oral source of his story whose name he will reveal in the end: “Quis uero eam mihi retulerit et quomodo eam agnouerit, in fine narrationis indicabo. Quam quidem narrationem, si bene memini, ita exorsus est.”32 H. refers, of course, to his oral source Gilbert, who founded the abbey together with his translator Owen and must have heard Owen's story from him, since, after the monks leave Reglis to found another house at “Louth in England” (v. 1991), Gilbert continues to tell the tale: “Cist Gilberz conta sovent/cez choses devant meinte gent” (v. 1997). It is Gilbert, in fact, who not only tells Owen's story to H. but combines it with others.33 Gilbert too is a performer of the tale of Purgatory, which he buttresses, like a jongleur whose credibility is challenged, with the story of the monk who has struggled with devils and is himself somewhat of a mime. “As he narrated his story,” Gilbert claims in narrating his own, “I myself saw the wounds of this monk and touched them with my own hands” (“Huius monachi uulnera uidi et manibus meis attrectataui”).34

Gilbert's oral account of Owen's adventures is supplemented by that of the two Irish abbots whom H. has also consulted, one of whom testifies to having heard stories of Purgatory and the other of whom claims to have often heard such tales, as well as by the testimony of Bishop Florentien, “a nephew of the third Saint Patrick and the companion of Saint Malachy,” whom H. has encountered in the same year as the two Irish abbots.35 Florentien, in turn, tells the story of a hermit living near him who has spoken often with demons, “and often heard their stories” (“e ot lur cuntes mult sovent” [v. 208]), which stories are incorporated within the tale related orally by Florentien along with the story of his chaplain who continues the tale of the hermit.36 In fact, behind the chaplain's account of the hermit's account of the story of the devil's seduction of another hermit lies the tale of the priest, pushed by devils into seducing a young girl, and saved, as we have seen (above p. 208), only at the last minute by castrating himself.

Here we have it: in the seemingly infinite regress of H. de Saltrey's oral sources in Owen, Gilbert, the two Irish abbots, Bishop Florentien, Florentien's (p.258) chaplain, and the two hermits, the ultimate literary source turns out to be devils. In the compilation of his account it is not as if H. de Saltrey is not suspicious of his sources. Indeed, in the gathering of testimony, he quizzes Bishop Florentien about the truth of Purgatory (v. 2076). Yet, the more H. seeks to document his account of Purgatory, to fortify his treatise with the oral testimony of witnesses, the further he gets from what he might have considered to be documentary proof; and, moving as he does from first-, to second-, and even thirdhand testimony, which verges in the end upon the hermit's tale of self-castration, the closer he seems to get to the fictive, to the literary, to demons.

Alongside the multiple oral accounts that constitute the core of H.'s text, the Tractatus draws upon a number of written sources. It will be remembered that at the time of the “showing” of the entrance to Purgatory, a written copy of the Gospels is transmitted by Jesus to Saint Patrick along with a stick, which are, H. insists, “up to this day still fittingly venerated in Ireland as great and precious relics” (“que hucusque pro magnis et preciosis reliquiis in Hybernia, ut dignum est, uenerantur”).37 So too, in the A group of manuscripts of the Tractatus we learn about the genealogy of this part of H.'s story, which he supposedly read in another written source with which we are already familiar, The Life of Saint Malachy, Malachy being the “companion of the third Saint Patrick,” uncle to Bishop Florentien, a historic figure whose life was written in 1149 or shortly after his death in 1148 by Bernard of Clairvaux. Further, H. refers to St. Patrick's stick as the “stick of Jesus” (“baculus est Ihesu uocatus”), which repeats verbatim Bernard's phrase.38 Thus, either H. de Saltrey read Bernard's Life of Malachy and integrated it into his text, or the attribution to Malachy was added by a subsequent scribe who knew the source of the story in Bernard's account. The “stick of Jesus” is also mentioned in the Tripartite Life, where it seems to be waiting for Patrick's arrival like Galahad's weapons in Arthurian tradition,39 as well as in Jocelin de Furness's Life and Acts of Saint Patrick where the saint acquires it in Tuscany on one of his trips to Rome.40 What is most relevant to our purpose, however, is that Marie knew and translated from the manuscript family with the reference to Saint Malachy: “The Life of Malachy tells us/About this, have no doubt” (“ço nus mustre Malachias/en sa Vie, n'en dutezpas” [v. 299]).

Among the written sources acknowledged by H. figure two references to Gregory the Great, whose Dialogues (book 4) contain a number of tales from the beyond.41 H. also seems to be aware of Augustine's writings about (p.259) the afterlife, and indeed seems to contrast Gregory's view that “good angels or bad angels accompany the souls according to their merits and drag them to torments or lead them to a restful abode” (“In multis enim exemplis que proponit ad exitum animarum angelorum bonorum siue malorum presentiam adesse dicit, qui animas pro meritis uel ad tormenta pertrahant uel ad requiem perducant”)42 with Augustine's view of the great refrigerium in which the soul will reside between the time of death and resurrection. Could it be that H. knew Augustine's statement in the homily on Psalm 36 having to do with the instant of death: “as you will be in leaving this world, so will you be in the next life”?43

H.'s version is an amalgam of oral and written sources, some of which, as in the case of Gilbert, the two Irish abbots, Florentien, or Florentien's chaplain, are second- or thirdhand. The written accounts contained in the Tractatus are of uncertain provenance. There is no indication—that is, no direct citation—that H. has primary knowledge of the writings of Augustine or Gregory the Great. H.'s Tractatus turns, moreover, around a lost written document. We never learn the fate of the transcription made at the time of Owen's return from Purgatory, which is supplanted by Gilbert's subsequent oral version, or the fate of the putative record that might have been made by the king at the time of Owen's return from the Middle East and oral rendering at royal court, to which are added the various testimonials of the Irish abbots, Florentien, his chaplain, and the chaplain's hermits. In fact, the story of Owen's purgatorial adventure circulates in both written and oral form, gaining in length via interpolation, between the time of his descent and the composition of H.'s Tractatus, or, if we follow the chronology contained in the text, almost forty years. This is not unusual within the context of medieval literary visions. As Claude Carozzi points out, the recording of the Otherworld journey rarely takes place in close temporal proximity to the event. Of the twenty “literary visions” that he considers in Le voyage de I'âme dans I'au-delà d'après la littérature latine (Ve–XIIe siècle), just over half are edited in the years directly afterward; the other transcriptions take place at a temporal remove of between ten and forty years.44 Or, if we are to assume that H. knows Owen's story only from Gilbert's account, what, it may be asked, has happened between the time Owen has confided it to him, which may be reasonably assumed to have been four or five years after the event, and the relating of the knight's tale to H. some thirty years later?45 At which time H., at the request of another H., H. de Sartris, the “pater uenerande” of the prologue, the H. to whom the Tractatus is dedicated, (p.260) composed a first version, which within a period of two to four years was expanded, that is, amplified to include the homilies and anecdotes printed on pp. 154–58 of the Warnke edition.46

H. surrounds himself with “a network of names” (Greenblatt)—Augustine, Gregory, Patrick, Gilbert, Florentien, his chaplain, the abbots, hermits, kings, and even the devils, all of whom to a lesser or greater degree contributed to the shaping of the Tractatus, composition being the equivalent of an assembling of accounts, which will ultimately be reassembled in a longer version that will serve as the basis of another reworking by Marie in the vernacular. Finally, what is most striking, and here the attentive reader must have seen this coming, is the extent to which the process of literary creation displayed in the internal genealogy of the Tractatus Sancti Patricii resembles Marie's notion of “remembrement,” a dialogue with the dead and a remembering that is also a purposive collation, a rewriting of the disparate elements of H.'s text in the process of translation. The question of what passes through translation and what doesn't, what is to be taken from H.'s varied sources and what is to be left behind, the question of what remains in the first person and what is converted to the indirect third person voice are, at bottom, editorial decisions on the translator's part, a reminder that the enormous project of cultural memory contained in the Espurgatoire is a work of gathering against the fear of fragmentation with which we began this journey into the world of Marie de France, a “remembering” that is literally a “remembrement.”

Remembering What the Dead Have Said and Seen

Within the framework of Marie's translation, or “remembering,” of Owen's adventures in Purgatory, she too has her sources. Some point to an oral origin and seem to make the dead of Purgatory speak, and, by the odd ventriloquism of translation, a taking on of the voice of another, to make that other speak another language. For often, in the regress of voices from the grave, in their successive translation, it is difficult to determine who speaks the words we read. Marie's written sources are, of course, easier to identify, since the textual genealogy of H.'s “remembrement”—from Owen, to Gilbert, to H., and then to her—is made explicit in the end:47

  • Gileberz conta icel fait
  • a l'autor, ki nus a retrait,
  • si cum Oweins li out conté
  • (p.261) e li moignes dunt j'ai parlé,
  • ço que jo vus ai ici dit
  • e tut mustré par mun escrit. (v. 2057)
  • Gilbert told this matter
  • To our author, who reported to us
  • (Just as Owen told him [Gilbert],
  • And the monks of whom I have spoken)
  • What I have told you here,
  • And shown thoroughly in my writing.

Moreover, H.'s own written sources, mixed with the oral, are encased in the Espurgatoire like a series of sedimentary layers stretching back over a period of some forty years; in the case of Saints Augustine, Patrick, and Gregory, they extend even further. And if the ghosts of the patristic and the chivalric past speak through H., they pass via Marie's translation into the vernacular. The dead speak, and when they do, they speak Anglo-Norman French.

The passage from H. to Marie entails a confusing mixture of the written and the oral, of texts and voices. Where H. promises in the beginning, for example, to reveal his source in Gilbert,48 Marie offers a vague affirmation of the truth of the tale that follows (v. 181), along with a reference to her source, which confuses the oral with the written:

  • Si j'ai bien eü en memoire
  • ço que j'ai oï en l'estoire,
  • Je vus dirai veraiement
  • En ordre le cumencement. (v. 185)
  • If I have well retained in memory
  • What I have heard in the story,
  • I shall truly recount to you
  • The beginning, in an orderly fashion.

In treating the question of source, Marie conflates hearing and reading, what she has “heard in the story” with what she has “read in the story”; and this confusion cannot, within the context of her broad understanding of the question of “remembrement,” be dissociated from that of remembering and forgetting. Indeed, the project of translating H.'s Tractatus, itself a “remembrement” or an assemblage of various elements from written and oral sources, entails revision, changes in the form of interpolation, the equivalent of false memory, and changes in the form of deletion, the equivalent of forgetfulness.

(p.262) In Marie's understanding, composition is a question not of invention but of acts and lapses of recall, memory, inseparable from the question of faithfulness to H.'s text, being more than a simple psychological activity. On the contrary, it strikes to the core of the literary endeavor—creation by accretion; creation by taking and leaving elements of a previous text, as one passes from one language to another, which I have equated with the core theme of the Espurgatoire, the passing into and out of Purgatory; the making of fiction as a process of assembling and reassembling the various elements of oral and written tradition.

The Espurgatoire is framed by the question of memory, which marks its very beginning. “I wish to put into writing in French,/The Pains of Purgatory,/Just as the book tells us about them,/As a recollection and record,” Marie promises (“vueil en Romanz metre en escrit,/si cum li livre le nus dit,/en remembrance e en memoire, / ‘Des Peines de l'Espurgatoire’” [v. 3]). So too does memory mark its very end: “Jo, Marie, ai mis, en memoire,/le livre de l'Espurgatoire/en Romanz, qu'il seit entendables/a laie gent e covenables” (“I, Marie, have put into memory and into French/The Book of Purgatory,/So that it might be intelligible/And suited to lay folk” [v. 2297]). Memory frames the Espurgatoire and lies at the core of Owen's repeated recall of the salvific name in which memory can be said to be on trial. The Abbey of Rigles is a memory palace in which the ordeal of recall will itself be remembered because of the written record that is made there and that stands as a reminder that writing in the Tractatus, as well as translation in the Espurgatoire, is an ordeal of “remembrement” analogous to that of Owen. The Tractatus is a remembering or reassembling of names, just as the Espurgatoire is a remembering of the Tractatus, more precisely, a realignment of the words of one language with those of another which is the essence of translation.

This is why the question of voice is so important; for not only does H.'s Tractatus speak through Marie's Espurgatoire, but the voices of all who speak there—Saint Patrick, the old man whose confession he hears, Owen, Gilbert, and the other witnesses—speak through her as well, producing a layered effect that Carol Zaleski, discussing the thirteenth-century vision of Thurkill, associates generally with the nature of medieval Otherworld adventure.49 The origin of the journey beyond is always obscure. One never captures directly the experience, or even the first testimony of the visionary. As we have seen, those whose names are associated with death and return are more often than not illiterate, and none actually write their own account, which, like that of Owen, is transcribed and then passes through multiple (p.263) revisions—translations in the literal sense of passage from one language to another, but also translations in the much looser sense of recensions. The Otherworld voyage is a multilayered production, the product of several voices and even multi-authorship, so much so that it is often difficult to say who is speaking through whom. This is true of the vision of Dryhthelm, where Bede learns the story from a witness, Haemgisl, who lives in a neighboring cell and whom he meets in the course of a trip to Lindisfarne. It characterizes the Vision of Wettin put into verse in 827 by Walahfrid Strabon on the basis of a written version of Haito, bishop of Basel and abbot of Reichenau, who himself heard it from Wettin in 824. Tnugdal's vision, told by the Irish Brother Marcus, gives no indication how he came into contact with the story; Peter of Cornwall's account (1200) of knightly adventures in Purgatory, which occurred during the reign of Henry II (c. 1170), was related to Bishop Laurence, whose companion Walter then told them to Bricius, who then related them to Peter, who seems also to have known H. de Saltrey's Tractatus,50 Given the obscurity of its origins and the multiplicity of authors, translations, and recensions through which it passes, the Otherworld vision is, again, an instance of the literary. “Saint Patrick's Purgatory is a tangle of fictions.”51

In fact, what can be said of the collated quality of the individual vision, the product of multiple narrative layers in the making, can be said to characterize the history of our understanding of the genre as a whole. This is why so many of the books and essays on the Otherworld journey seem so insistent upon tracing the sources of each work in terms of those that have gone before, no matter how distant, as if every vision ever written spoke through each and every other.52 In some cases, those who trace the sources of the legend of Saint Patrick's Purgatory go as far back as the Persian legend of Ishtar's descent, the nocturnal journey of the Egyptian sun god Ra, the Jewish Apocalypse of Baruch, or the mysteries of the Orphic cult.53 They hark back to the mythic heroes Orpheus, Hercules, Theseus, to Plato's underworld in the Phaedo (107E—108A) and to the myth of Er in the Republic, as well as Macrobius's Dream of Scipio, to Homer's account of the Elysian Fields (Odyssey, book 4) and of Hades (Odyssey, book 11), to Aeneas's underworld journey in the Aeneid, Statius's Avernus in the Thebaid (8.1–126), and Plutarch's story of Thespesios in the Moralia. They point to Christ's own descent, to the Vision of St. Paul, and to that of Peter. Augustine's vision of Curma along with his mention of the Apocalypse of St. Paul in the Tractatus 98 on the Evangile of John or the Vision of Perpetua (Tertullian) set the background for a “second wave” of monastic visions beginning in the seventh (p.264) century with those contained in Gregory's Dialogues, Bomraces vision of the Monk of Wenlock, and Bede's vision of the lay person Dryhthelm, as well as the Vision of Furseus, alluded to by Bede and translated into Anglo-Saxon by Archbishop Alfric in the tenth century, along with that of Barontus from the seventh. Among Carolingian visions cited as possible sources of H.'s Tractatus are found the Vision of the Poor Woman attached to the Reichenau of Haito's time (818 or 822), the Vision of Wettin (827), and the vision of Charles the Fat found in William of Malmesbury's History,54 Those closer to H. include the Vision of Tnugdal (1149) and the vision of the Boy William (1144). Then too, some see in the Irish visions or “Imrama” a special vein of influence upon H. de Saltrey, citing the “Voyage of Bran Son of Febal” (eighth century, manuscript c. 1100), “Voyage of Maeldúin,” “Voyage of Snedgus,” “Adventures of Connla the Fair,” “Sick-bed of Cuchulainn,” “Adventures of Art Son of Conn,” “Voyage of St. Columba's Clerics,” and “Voyage of Brendan,” found in a manuscript of the tenth century.55

Though all the above have been mentioned as potential antecedents of H.'s Tractatus, and thus of Marie's Espurgatoire, we know relatively little about what H. may or may not have read in the way of other Otherworld visions, what he may have heard recited orally, or what he may have known in the way of legend. Even the references to Gregory the Great, to Augustine, or to Malachy offer no certain proof that H. actually came into direct contact with their writings or writings about them, and it is entirely possible that he might have known of the visits to the Otherworld contained in Gregory's Dialogues merely by hearsay. Thus, the potential influences upon H. stretch like a litany of ghostly voices that speak potentially through one another, eventually through him, and, finally, through Marie. H. is surrounded by a “network of names” that, again, make the Tractatus the end product of an irretrievable process of textual accretion, that make it, in fact, a paradigm of medieval literary creation as a program of reception and reworking. Marie too is surrounded by the same network of ghostly influences, plus one—that of H. And, according to her own definition of what it is to write, seen in the prologue to the Lais as an insertion of one's own meanings into the received—and sometimes lost—meanings of others and as a process of remembering, rememberment, or reassembling, Marie, who is also concerned that she not be forgotten, places her name—“Jo, Marie”—into cultural memory.

My thesis is very simple: that the Espurgatoire stands midway between the Lais and the Fables, its salvific language suspended between the linguistic fatalism of the Lais and the relativized language of the Fables, its assumed (p.265) universe combining metaphysics with ethics in such a way as not only to respond to the inadequacies of each, but, within the givens of Marie's constant themes—memory, translation, the relation of the oral to the written and of words to all other aspects of human endeavor—to offer a synthesis of its own. I am not suggesting that Marie set out intentionally to write a work that would answer to the inadequacies of the Lais and the Fables, that would meld their merits; rather, that she elected to translate H.'s Tractatus because the concept of Purgatory coincided with an overarching desire present in her previous works, though insufficiently expressed, to integrate the theological and the social. My contention is that Marie seized upon the notion of Purgatory because she sensed—consciously or not—that it contains a third way, which also happens to correspond to a third social space, neither the castle nor the court, but the town. For the idea of Purgatory as it developed in the second half of the twelfth century, as it crystallized in H.'s Tractatus and was disseminated in the vernacular, among which Marie's Espurgatoire was the first beacon, went hand in hand with the development of urbanized intellectual, social, economic, legal, and political institutions at the time of the emergence of the monarchic state.

Stated most plainly, the Espurgatoire Seint Patriz can be seen to continue Marie's interest, visible in the Fables, in the rationalization of the social bond, but it combines this interest with that which seems to be lacking in the Fables but present in the Lais—a sense of the divine, more precisely, a sense of divine justice. Put the other way around, the Espurgatoire Seint Patriz can be seen to continue Marie's interest, visible in the Lais, in the world beyond or the divine, but to combine this interest with that which seems to be untenable in the Lais while present in the Fables—a sense of the possibility of living within the bounds of a rationalized human community.

Of course, Marie de France did not invent Purgatory. Yet she did choose to translate H.'s Tractatus among what must have been a plethora of possibilities. What all that we have seen thus far suggests is that this choice was motivated, first, by the fact that the concept of Purgatory responded so perfectly to the unresolved issues of the Lais and the Fables, serving to complete that which is lacking, and to combine that which is present, in each. In converting an essentially ecclesiastical document into a secular work of imagination Marie must have sensed the possibility of continuing the project of literary and cultural transformation. Her focus upon the Tractatus was stimulated by the extent to which H.'s text represented something new, Purgatory being a novel concept, certainly no older than the 1170s.56 The concept of Purgatory, fully crystallized for the first time in the Tractatus, corresponds (p.266) to what we identified from the start as the active, future-oriented quality of her work, her modernism. Finally, as we shall see in the next chapter, the “birth of Purgatory” (J. Le Goff) was inscribed in a specific historical moment, captured in H.'s documentary rendering and projected in Marie's literary rendering upon a fantasized future in a stunning example of the way in which cultural superstructure might work in the shaping of a perceptual world, perceptions might be translated into institutions, and institutions into actions. Stated bluntly, the legend of Saint Patrick represents a significant ideological weapon in the conquest and colonizing of Ireland in the last two decades of the reign of Henry II. In the specific historical context of the colonial expansion of the Angevin monarchy, the legend of Saint Patrick's Purgatory is linked to the attempt—aided by Irish ecclesiastical reform—to bring Ireland into the Anglo-Norman orbit.


(1.) The Vision of Tnugdal, trans. Jean-Michel Picard (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1989), p. 135; Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History, Comprising the History of England from the Descent of the Saxons to A.D. 1235, formerly Ascribed to Matthew Paris, ed. and trans. J. A. Giles (London: Henry G. Bohn, 1869), 2:161–62.

(2.) See my Etymologies and Genealogies: A Literary Anthropology of the French Middle Ages (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1983), pp. 44–63.

(3.) For a fuller discussion of this question, see Claude Carozzi, Le voyage de I'âmedans I'au-delà d'après la littérature latine (Ve—XIIe siècle) (Rome: Ecole Française de Rome, 1994), pp. 540–57.

(4.) The Letters of Saint Boniface, trans. Ephraim Emerton (New York: Columbia University Press, 2000), p. 3.

(5.) Bede, Ecclesiastical History of the English People, ed. Bertram Colgrave anci R. A. B. Mynors (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1969), p. 497.

(6.) Vision of Tnugdal, pp. 114, 155.

(7.) Roger of Wendover, Flowers of History, p. 153.

(8.) “The Vision of Thurkill, Probably by Ralph of Coggeshall,” ed. H. L. D. Ward, Journal of the British Archaeological Society 31 (1875): 427.

(9.) H. de Saltrey, Saint Patrick's Purgatory, trans. Jean-Michel Picard (Dublin: Four Courts Press, 1985), p. 44. “Raptas etiam et iterum ad corpora reductas uisiones quas-dam et reuelationes sibi factas narrare dicit siue de tormentis impiorum siue de gaudiis iustorum et in hiis tamen nichil nisi corporale uel corporalibus simile recitasse” (Tractatus Sancti Patricii, in Das Buch vom Espurgatoire S. Patrice der Marie de France und seine Quelle, ed. Karl Warnke [Halle: Max Niemeyer, 1938], p. 6).

(10.) Tractatus, trans. Picard, p. 45; “que quidem ab hominibus non possunt diffinire, quia ab eis minime possunt sciri” (ed. Warnke, p. 12).

(11.) Ibid., ed. Warnke, p. 14. “That is why, in this account, a mortal and material man tells how he saw spiritual things under the aspect and form of material things” (trans. Picard, p. 45).

(12.) See Yolande de Pontfarcy, “Le ‘Tractatus de Purgatorio Sancti Patricii’ de H. de Saltrey: Sa date et ses sources”, Peritia 3 (1984): 476; Carozzi, Voyage, pp. 642–43; Howard Rollin Patch, The Other World according to Descriptions in Medieval Literature (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1950), p. 17.

(13.) Hans Robert Jauss, “La transformation de la forme allégorique entre 1180 et 1240: D'Alain de Lille à Guillaume de Lorris,” in Anthime Fourrier, L'humanisme médiéval dans les littératures romanes du XIIau XIVsiècle (Paris: Klincksieck, 1964), pp. 107–46; Carol Zaleski, Otherworld Journeys: Accounts of Near-Death Experience in Medieval and Modern Times (New York: Oxford University Press, 1987), p. 7; Shane Leslie, Saint Patrick's Purgatory: A Record from History and literature (London: Burns Oats and (p.348) Washbourne, 1932), p. xxxiv; see also Alan E. Bernstein, The Formation of Hell: Death and Retribution in the Ancient and Early Christian Worlds (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1993), p. 96.

(14.) Stephen Greenblatt, Hamlet in Purgatory (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001), p. 33; see also pp. 85–86.

(15.) The Tripartite Life of Patrick, ed. Whitley Stokes (Liechtenstein: Kraus Reprint, 1965), p. 257.

(16.) Jocelin de Furness, The Life and Acts of Saint Patrick, the Archbishop, Primate and Apostle of Ireland, ed. J. C. O'Haloran (Philadelphia: Atkinson and Alexander, 1823), pp. 229–30.

(17.) Bede, Ecclesiastical History, p. 497.

(18.) Boniface, Letters, p. 3.

(19.) “Vision of Thurkill,” pp. 426–27.

(20.) Cited St. John Seymour, Irish Visions of the Other World (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1930), p. 176.

(21.) Dorothy M. Carpenter, “The Pilgrim from Catalonia /Aragon: Ramon de Perellos, 1397,” in Michael Haren and Yolande de Pontfarcy, The Medieval Pilgrimage to St. Patrick's Purgatory: lough Derg and the European Tradition (Enniskillen: Clogher Historical Society, 1988), p. 104.

(22.) Huth Merlin, ed. Gaston Paris and Jacob Ulrich (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1886), 2:298. For a discussion of the relation of legal deposition and literary transcription, see my Medieval French Literature and Law (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977), pp. 189–214.

(23.) See, for example, Oskar Sommer, The Vulgate Version of the Arthurian Romances (Washington: Carnegie Institute, 1909), 4:296, 5:190.

(24.) Tractatus, ed. Warnke, p. 26; trans. Picard, p. 48.

(25.) Ibid., ed. Warnke, p. 26; trans. Picard, p. 48.

(26.) See my Etymologies and Genealogies, pp. 75–83.

(27.) Pontfarcy, “Le Tractatus,” pp. 13–14.

(28.) For a fuller account of the debate about the origin of “Reglis,” see Michael J. Curley, Introduction, Saint Patrick's Purgatory (Binghamton: Medieval and Renaissance Texts and Studies, 1993), p. 65; p. J. Dunning, “The Arroasian Order in Medieval Ireland,” Irish Historical Studies 4 (1945): 305–6; Robert Easting, “Peter of Cornwall's Account of St. Patrick's Purgatory,” Analecta Bollandiana 97 (1979): 402; M. Joynt, Contributions to a Dictionary of the Irish language (Dublin, 1944), fasc. R, col. 32; Cornelis Mattheus Van der Zanden, Etude sur le Purgatoire de Saint Patrice (Amsterdam: H. J. Paris, 1927), p. 48.

(29.) See Curley, Introduction, p. 22.

(30.) In this Owen resembles Dryhthelm, who “also told his visions to King Aldfrith, a most learned man in all respects…. at the king's request he was admitted to the monastery already mentioned…. Whenever the king visited that region, he often went to listen to his story.” Bede, Ecclesiastical History, p. 497.

(31.) Tractatus, ed. Warnke, pp. 138, 140.

(32.) Ibid., p. 14. “I will reveal the identity of the man who related this story to me, (p.349) and how he had knowledge of it, at the end of this narrative which, if my memory does not fail me, begins thus” (trans. Picard, p. 45).

(33.) Tractatus, ed. Warnke, version A, p. 150.

(34.) Tractatus, ed. Warnke, p. 148; trans. Picard, p. 74.

(35.) “Nuper etiam affatus sum episcopum quendam, nepotem sancti Patricii tertii, socii uidelicet sancti Malachie, Florentianum nomine, in cuius episcopatu, sicut ipse dixit, est idem purgatorium” (Tractatus, ed. Warnke, pp. 150, 152). “Also, recently I was talking to a bishop called Florentianus, a nephew of the third saint Patrick, who was the companion of saint Malachy. And he told me that this Purgatory lay in his diocese” (trans. Picard, p. 74).

(36.) “Hec cum dixisset episcopus, ait capellanus ei: ‘Ego eundem uirum sanctum uidi et narrabo uobis, si placet, quod ab eo didici” (Tractatus, ed. Warnke, p. 154). “After the bishop had finished saying this, the chaplain said to him: ‘I have seen the same holy man and, if you please, I will tell you what I learnt from him” (trans. Picard, p. 75).

(37.) Tractatus, ed. Warnke, p. 22.

(38.) Bernard of Clairvaux, The Life and Death of Saint Malachy the Irishman, trans. Robert T. Meyer (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1978), p. 42.

(39.) As Patrick arrives in Ireland at age sixty, he meets an old woman who claims to have been there since the time of Christ, who foretold his coming, “And God left with us that thou wouldst come to preach to the Gael, and he left a token with us, to wit, his staff, to be given to thee” (Tripartite Life, p. 29).

(40.) Patrick meets a man who lives on an island in the Tuscan sea and who gives him a staff “which he declared himself to have received from the hands of the Lord Jesus…. And the Staff is held in much veneration in Ireland, and even unto this day it is called the Staff of Jesus” (Jocelin de Furness, Life and Acts, pp. 33, 36).

(41.) Tractatus, ed. Warnke, p. 4.

(42.) Tractatus, ed. Warnke, p. 6.

(43.) Hom. I In Psalmum XXXVI, 10, CCL 38, p. 344. “Dicit uero beatus Augustinus animas defunctorum post mortem usque ad ultimam resurrectionem abditis receptaculis contineri, sicut unaqueque digna est, uel in requiem uel in erumpnam” (Tractatus, ed. Warnke, p. 12). “On the other hand blessed Augustine says that the souls of the dead are contained in secret receptacles between the time of death and the final resurrection, either resting or suffering each according to its merits” (trans. Picard, p. 45).

(44.) Carozzi, Voyage, p. 519.

(45.) See Pontfarcy, “Le Tractatus,” p. 479.

(46.) Pontfarcy, “Le Tractatus,” p. 465; see also Lucien Foulet, “Marie de France et la Légende du Purgatoire de Saint Patrice,” Romanische Forschungen 22 (1908): 602–4; Seymour, Irish Visions, p. 179.

(47.) Carol Zaleski, “St. Patrick's Purgatory: Pilgrimage Motifs in a Medieval Other-wold Journey,” Journal of the History of Ideas 46 (1985): 477.

(48.) Tractatus, ed. Warnke, p. 14.

(49.) Zaleski, Otherworld Journeys, p. 86.

(50.) Bede, Ecclesiastical History, p. 497; Carozzi, Voyage, p. 325; Easting, “Peter of Cornwall's Account,” p. 404; Pontfarcy, “Le Tractatus” p. 474.

(51.) Greenblatt, Hamlet, p. 99.

(52.) E.g., “The Legend of St Patrick's Purgatory shows a dim Celtic doctrine grafted to the Classical lore and taken into possession by the Church to adorn the story of St Patrick's apostolate” (Leslie, Saint Patrick's Purgatory, p. xxv); “Almost all the possible motifs were present in the literature of oriental and classical mythology…. All of this material from the East was transmitted in the vision literature of the Middle Ages” (Patch, Other World, p. 320).

(53.) D. D. R. Owen, The Vision of Hell: Infernal Journeys in Medieval French Literature (Edinburgh: Scottish Academic Press, 1970), p. xi; Patch, Other World, pp. 82–91.

(54.) Carozzi, Voyage, pp. 319–20.

(55.) Seymour, Irish Visions, p. 64.

(56.) “II n'y a pas de Purgatoire avant 1170 au plus tôt.” Jacques Le Goff, La naissance du Purgatoire (Paris: Gallimard, 1981), p. 184.