Jean d'Arras

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Jean d'Arras was a 15th-century North French poet-composer (trouvere) about whom little is known.

He collaborated with Antoine du Val and Fouquart de Cambrai in putting together a collection of stories entitled L'Évangile des quenouilles ("The spinners' gospel"). The frame story is that these are the narratives told a group of ladies at their spinning, who relate the current theories on a great variety of subjects. The work dates from the middle of the 15th century and is of considerable value for the light it throws on medieval manners, and for its echoes of folklore, sometimes deeply buried under layers of Christianity.

There were many editions of this book in the 15th and 16th centuries, one of which was printed by the early printer Wynkyn de Worde in English, as The Gospelles of Dystaves. A more modern edition (Collection Jannet) had a preface by witty and cynical tale-teller Anatole France.

The Roman de Mélusine[edit]

Jean d'Arras, perhaps the same, wrote, at the request of John, duke of Berry he says in his introduction, a long prose romance variously called the Roman de Mélusine or the Chronique de Melusine part of Le Noble Hystoire de Lusignan ("The Noble History of the Lusignans"), in 1392-94. He dedicated the work to Marie of Valois, Duchess of Bar and expressed the hope it would aid in the political education of her children.

Leaning on oral tradition, it is one of the first literary versions of the tale of Melusine the water-nymph with a serpentine tail who married a mortal and supernaturally guided the spectacular rise and subsequent fall of the House of Lusignan with many digressions and inner stories. Rainmondin, the originator of the line, met the beautiful Melusine by a fountain in the forest, married her and had eleven brave sons, whose exploits in the Crusades brought them fame. The one promise Melusine extracted was that Raimondin never try to find her on a Saturday (when she reverted to her water-serpent form). What she could not tell him was that if she were ever to be seen by a mortal in her changeling state, the curse would be eternal and she would never be able to seek the release of a Christian death and the promise of Heaven. Each of the noble sons too had some secret defect.

Betrayed by Raimondin, who has broken his vow, Melusine is forced to return to her eternal nature:

" Ah! Raymond, the day when I first saw you was for me a day of sadness! Alas! for my bane I saw your grace, your charm, your beautiful face. For my sadness I desired your beauty, for you have so ignobly betrayed me. Though you have failed in your promise, I had pardoned you from the bottom of my heart for having tried to see me, not even speaking of it to you, for you revealed it to no one. And God would have pardoned it you, for you would have done penance for it in this world. Alas! my beloved now our love is changed to hate, our tenderness to cruelty, our pleasures and joys to tears and weeping, our happiness to great misfortune and hard calamity. Alas, my beloved, had you not betrayed me I were saved from my pains and my torments, I would have lived life's natural course as a normal woman, I would have died in the normal way, with all the sacraments of the Church, I would have been buried in the church of Notre-Dame de Lusignan and commemorative masses would have been observed for me, as they should. But now you have plunged me back into the dark penitence I have known so long, for my fault. And this penitence, I must bear it until Judgment Day, for you have betrayed me. I pray God to pardon you."
And she showed such remorse that there is no heart in the world so hardened it would not have relented." (Wikipedia translation)


Notes[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

  • Donald Maddox and Sara Sturm-Maddox, Melusine of Lusignan: foundling fiction in late medieval France. A volume of essays on the Roman de Melusine. The Roman traces the powerful medieval dynasty of Lusignan from its founding in the city by the legendary Melusine, an enigmatic shape-shifting faery figure, through its glorious rise in Europe and in the Crusader kingdoms of the Eastern Mediterranean (see Guy of Lusignan, King of Cyprus), weaving together history and fiction, with elements of myth, folklore, and popular traditions fused with epic, Crusader narrative, knightly romance, and Christian doctrine, all to glorify and uphold the proprietary claims to Lusignan of the work's illustrious patron.

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