Amoryus and Cleopes
John Metham was very probably one of the sons of Sir Thomas Metham, who had held the position of High Sheriff of Yorkshire in 1442 and 1459. Metham’s patrons, mentioned toward the end of the text, were Sir Miles Stapleton (d. 1466), an important nobleman in Norfolk during the middle part of the fifteenth century, and his wife, Katherine de la Pole, daughter of Sir Thomas de la Pole, uncle of William, Duke of Suffolk, oldest son of Michael de la Pole, the Earl of Suffolk.
The story of Amoryus and Cleopes begins after the Roman emperor Nero has conquered the realms of Persia and Media. Two Roman magistrates, Palamedon (Amoryus’s father) and Dydas (Cleopes’s father) are awarded control of the two realms. Before the background of prophecies and signs that foreshadow the downfall of the Roman gods in the realms, Amoryus and Cleopes meet and fall in love. In true chivalric romance fashion, Amoryus proves his worthiness by defeating a discourteous knight and a dangerous dragon (the latter with Cleopes’s help). Because their parents are opposed to their relationship, the two lovers have to meet secretly outside the city walls. Cleopes arrives first at the appointed place, but a lion forces her to hide and drop her scarf. The lion wipes its bloody maw on the scarf, then walks away. Amoryus, who finds the scarf, believes Cleopes has been killed by the lion, and commits suicide. Cleopes then finds Amoryus dead and commits suicide in turn. In a surprising Christian ending, the two lovers are restored to life by holy hermit. The hermit and the resurrected lovers return to the city, convince all citizens to convert to Christianity, and Amoryus and Cleopes are married according to Christian rite.
For most of its plot, the poem is heavily indebted to Book 4 of the Metamorphoses of the Roman author Ovid (43 B.C.-A.D.18). However, Metham not only substitutes the names of Ovid's lovers (Pyramus and Thisbe), but Christianizes the entire story by adding a somewhat surprising salvific ending. For its style, language, and role of the narrator, Metham depends heavily on the fourteenth-century poet Geoffrey Chaucer, especially his poem Troilus and Criseyde.
Manuscript and editions
Amoryus and Cleopes survives in a single manuscript, Princeton University Library, MS Garrett 141, fols. 17b-56b., which was first edited by Hardin Craig in 1916. In 1999, Stephen F. Page produced a student-friendly edition for the TEAMS series published by Western Michigan University’s Medieval Institute.
- Jamie C. Fumo, "John Metham's 'Straunge Style': Amoryus and Cleopes as Chaucerian Fragment," Chaucer Review 43.2 (2008), 215-37.
- Stephen Page, "John Metham's Amoryus and Cleopes: Intertextuality and Innovation in a Chaucerian Poem," The Chaucer Review 33 (1998), 201-08; Richard Utz, “Writing Alternative Worlds: Rituals of Authorship in Late Medieval Theological and Literary Discourse,” in Creations: Medieval Rituals, the Arts, and the Concept of Creation, ed. Nils Holger Petersen, et al. (Turnhout: Brepols, 2007), pp. 121-38.
- John Metham. The Works of John Metham, Including the Romance of Amoryus and Cleopes, ed. Hardin Craig (London: K. Paul, Trench, and Trübner, 1916), pp. 1-81.
- John Metham, Amoryus and Cleopes, ed. Stephen F. Page (Kalamazoo, MI: Medieval Institute Publications, 1999).
- Electronic edition of Stephen F. Page's 1999 text, with introduction, notes, and commentary.