Sidrak and Bokkus

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Sidrak and Bokkus is a late-medieval English work of general knowledge in question-&-answer form, and dealing with the fictional encounter between King Bokkus, a heathen, and Sidrak, a wiseman. The English versions are translations of a French document which, although dating from the Middle Ages, is set in ancient Babylonia.

The book is a compendium of medieval popular culture and belief. In hundreds of short exchanges between Bokkus and Sidrak, the latter answers questions posed by the former. These are often connected with religious matters as Sidrak tries to teach Bokkus to believe in the one true God of the Hebrew Bible. Sidrak also predicts the birth of Jesus, still many centuries in the future, and repeatedly explains how this will fulfill God's covenant with his believers.

Many of the other exchanges are less theological. Health and medicine are two of the most common themes addressed by Sidrak and his explanations rely on a simplistic version of the four-humor theory of the ancient Greeks. Other questions revolve around fashion, marriage, sex, business and geography.

T. L. Burton edited a two-volume version of Sidrak and Bokkus, in which he exhaustively compared the two most complete English recenscions both with each other and with the French original. The English translations date from the late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, while the French original is from the thirteenth century. The late Middle English is considerably closer to Modern English, and therefore easier for modern readers to understand, than is the Middle English of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.

In an extensive introduction, Burton asks how Sidrak and Bokkus was so widely read in the Middle Ages but failed to leave any appreciable influence on later literature. His answer is that while immensely popular, the book itself is rather unsophisticated in both its language and the general quality of its information. Sidrak's answers are often formulaic and not infrequently fail to directly answer the question posed by Bokkus.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Sidrak and Bokkus, A Parallel-Text Edition from Bodleian Library, MS Laud Misc. 559, and British Library, MS Lansdowne 793. Edited by T. L. Burton. Vol. 1 ISBN 0-19-722315-X, Vol. 2 ISBN 0-19-722316-8
  • Sydrac le philosophe: le livre de la fontaine de toutes sciences: edition des enzyklopädischen Lehrdialogs aus dem XIII. Jahrhundert. (editor) Ernstpeter Ruhe. Wiesbaden : Dr. L. Reichert Verlag, 2000.
  • Il "Libro di Sidrac" salentino. (editor) Paola Sgrilli. Pisa: Pacini, 1983.
  • The boke of demaundes: of the scyence of phylosophye, and astronomye, betwene kynge Boctus, and the phylosopher Sydracke. [London]: Imprinted by me Robert Wyer, dwellynge in the Duke of Suffolkes rentes, besyde charynge Crosse, [ca. 1550].
  • The history of kyng Boccus, [and] Sydracke : how he confoundyd his lerned men, and in ye syght of them dronke stronge venym in the name of the Trinite [and] dyd hym no hurt. Also his diuynyte that he lerned of the boke of Noe. Also his profycyes that he had by reuelacyo[n] of the aungell. Also his answeris to the questions of wysdome, both morall and natural wyth moche worldly wysdome contayned in noumber. CCC.lxv. translatyd by Hugo of Caumpeden, out of frenche into Englysshe. [Prynted at London : By Thomas Godfray. At the coste and charge of dan Robert Saltwode mo[n]ke of saynt Austens at Cantorbury, 1537?