Pierre Bersuire

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Detail of Pierre Bersuire at work, from his translation of Titus Livius, Ab urbe condita, fourteenth century

Pierre Bersuire (c. 1290-1362), also known as Pierre Bercheure and Pierre Berchoire (in Latin, Petrus Berchorius or Petrus Bercorius), was a French author of the Middle Ages. A Benedictine, he was a translator, encyclopaedist, and the author of several works, including the Ovidius Moralizatus (not to be confused with the Ovide Moralise) (1340), a work of mythography. The Gesta Romanorum, a Latin collection of anecdotes and tales, is sometimes attributed to him.

Born at Saint-Pierre-du-Chemin, in the area of Vendée in Poitou, he entered monastic orders in his youth rather than take a university degree. He first became a Franciscan but subsequently joined the Order of St. Benedict at Maillezais Abbey.

In 1320 he accompanied his abbot to Avignon, at the time the seat of the papacy. He remained in Avignon for 12 years as a protégé of the papal vice-chancellor Cardinal Pierre des Prés (Peter de Pratis), bishop of Praeneste. He steadily accumulated offices of various monasteries and priories (he was not required to reside at any of them). He met Petrarch at Avignon; both men mention the other in terms of high praise.

In the 1340s, Bersuire became a student at the University of Paris and met Petrarch there again. The Italian poet was on an embassy to the French court. Bersuire translated into French Petrarch's reassembly (in Latin) of Livy's history of Rome. This translation was performed at the command of John II of France in the 1350s. Around 1400, Pero López de Ayala later translated Livy's Decades (only books 1, 2 and 4) for Henry III of Castile, working from a French version by Bersuire.[1] It was published at Paris in 1514 in three volumes.

Bersuire spent the last dozen years of his life as Prior of St. Eligius (Saint-Éloi) (from 1354), on the Île de la Cité, close to Notre-Dame.

Works[edit]

Bersuire was an eloquent preacher and a voluminous homiletical writer. His most important work is the Repertorium morale, for the use of preachers, a kind of Biblico-moral dictionary, in which the principal words of Scripture are arranged alphabetically and moral reflections attached thereto.

It appeared some time before 1355 and was dedicated to Cardinal de Pratis. The Repertorium proved to be one of the most popular books of its kind and was frequently printed first at Cologne in 1477, and again at Nuremberg (1489), Lyon (1517), Paris (1521), Venice (1589), Antwerp (1609), etc.

Other works by Bersuire include:

  • Ovidius Moralizatus (not to be confused with the Ovide Moralisé), a work of mythography completed in 1340. In some way, Bersuire legitimized the classical, non-Christian work of Ovid by transforming it into a literature of "moralization". Bersuire's "moralization" of Ovid in turn influenced Geoffrey Chaucer, who drew on many of its stories for his Canterbury Tales.[2]
  • Reductorium morale to the Sacred Scriptures in thirty-four books, embracing all the books of the Bible. Also known as Liber Bibliae Moralis, this was printed at both Ulm and Strasburg in 1474, also in Basle (1515), Lyon (1536).
  • Inductorium morale biblicum; sixteen books on God and the world.

Sources[edit]

Attribution

 This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainHerbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pierre Bercheure". Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.