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The Chronicle of Morea by an anonymous author

[ 3 stars ]


Elsewhere, I have discussed The Lost Capital of Byzantium: The History of Mistra and the Peloponnese, which relates the founding and history of the Frankish Principality of Achaea in the Peleponnese peninsula in southern Greece:




The Principality of Achaea was the longest lived of the political entities that emerged from the Fourth Crusade's invasion of Byzantium and left behind a cultural legacy of some interest. Aside from colorful romances which meld together in a unique manner the literary heritages of the Franks and the Greeks




a chronicle of the Principality was also composed, and I was interested to see what their history looked like through their own eyes.


The Chronicle is quite detailed and the unknown author, as was the wont of medieval and ancient chronicles, freely sets speeches into the mouths of the protagonists which he could not have been privy to. Indeed, much of the Chronicle is historically unreliable as a history of events, dates and actors (Lurier writes that there are contemporary Byzantine histories which are more reliable),(*) but it is valuable as social history and enjoyable to read as a densely textured story told in a prose style no longer attempted. What one finds in this text is a contemporaneous account of councils of war, of jousts, knighting ceremonies, battles, sieges, their modes of address and speech, how they raised their armies and governed the realm, etc., and most of those bits the author must know reliably since they constitute part of his own life. 


What I also found of interest, and because I have little personal experience with medieval chronicles I do not know how typical this may be, is that not only does the chronicler set speeches into the mouths of the actors, but he adds details of a density which can only be termed novellistic. Consider the following excerpt from the account of the return of Robert de Champlitte from the Champagne to Morea (it also gives you a taste of the author's prose style):


And the other, believing him to be speaking to him truthfully, ordered that his baggage be removed to the castle, while he settled himself at the inn. And, when most of the night had passed and the cock was crowing, the galley's crew blew their whistle and, at once, they went quite away; and when morning came and Robert became conscious and awoke, he was told that the galley had left. And as soon as he was informed of it he began to grieve; then did he perceive completely the betrayal done him and as soon as he was informed of it and had comprehended the fraud, he sought and found a boat that he might charter; and the captain of Corfu, because he had been sent abroad by the lord of Morea, Sir Geoffrey, ordered that the owner of the boat be called. He ordered and enjoined him, on pain of bodily harm, not to take Sir Robert across under any circumstances.


This excerpt is by no means exceptional in its novellistic qualities. An interesting read for many reasons.


The Chronicle of Morea was written in either Greek or French at the beginning of the 14th century and has not survived the winds of time. But multiple versions based on the lost text have come down to us, and this is what you should know before deciding which to read.


Of the extant five versions in (more or less) demotic Greek verse with a heavy sprinkling of Old French loan words, the Codex Havniensis is, according to experts, "unquestionably the earliest and most authentic." We also have an Old French version in prose, which is an abridgment of the first French version written before 1331 and lost. And there is a prose Aragonese version dated 1393 which is actually an independent historical work that relied heavily on the lost original.  All other editions are versions/translations of these.


As the Chronicle ends in the year 1304, one assumes the original was written shortly thereafter, but the experts are arguing among themselves whether it was in Greek or French, verse or prose.(**) Since we don't have the prototype, nor do we have the French original, whether or not it was the first Chronicle of Morea,  I read the English prose translation of the Codex Havniensis by Harold E. Lurier published in 1964, for which he used all of the other versions to supplement lacunae and other unsatisfactory aspects of the Codex Havniensis.


(*) Lurier corrects the historical inaccuracies in extensive footnotes, so the reader is not misinformed by reading this book.


(**) Whatever the original language of the Chronicle was, it is evident that the author was of Frankish descent. For example, we are told that the Byzantine, that "proud schismatic,"  "from the beginning of time is always found in much deceit and great infidelities." The entire chronicle is slanted in this manner.