Gervase of Melkley

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Gervase of Melkley or Gervase of Melkeley (born c. 1185, fl. 1200–1219) was a French scholar and poet.[1][2][3]


Gervais was born in England c. 1185.[1][3]

Around 1200, he studied in France, probably in Rouen, under poet John of Hauville.[2][3]

He spent his adult life in England, where he is last attested in 1219.[3]

English chronicler Matthew Paris mentions him as an astrologer and an authority for the life of Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury.[4] Paris also describes him as the author of the epitath on William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke, who died in 1219.[5]

In his work, he refers to himself as Gervasius de Saltu Lacteo.[6]

Ars versificaria[edit]

He wrote Ars versificaria (The Art of Versifying) c. 1208–1216 (possibly, in 1215–1216), using both classical and medieval sources.[1][2][3][7] Targeted at young students of rhetoric, it includes a list of recommended reading and mainly discusses rhetorical and grammatical figures, with examples, and gives some notes on word formation.[2][7] It is also known as Ars poetica and De arte versificatoria et modo dictandi.[8]

The book consists of three parts. The first part discusses basic principles common to all types of discourse. The second part is devoted to composition, discussing proverbs, elegance of style, arguments, rules of verse and prose composition. The third part deals with letter-writing.[9]

Among his sources are ancient authors Horace (Ars Poetica), Cicero (De Inventione), Aelius Donatus (Barbarismus) and Juvenal, as well as Bernard Silvestris's Cosmographia, Alain of Lille's Anticlaudianus, John of Hauville's Architrenius, and Geoffrey of Vinsauf's Poetria nova.[2] He also quotes the Book of Psalms and some of his own short poems.[2][7][10]

The book is dedicated to a certain Johannes Albus.[11]

The manuscript is conserved in Balliol College, Oxford (MS. Balliol, 276).[12][13]


As well as in Ars versificaria, his poems also survive in an early thirteenth-century collection of poetry known as Hunterian Anthology.[14] Apart from works by Gervase, the anthology also includes works by Matthew of Vendôme, Geoffrey of Vinsauf, and some poems of unknown authorship.[2]

His known poems, most of them elegiac couplets, include:


  1. ^ a b c "Gervase of Melkley". The Oxford Dictionary of the Middle Ages. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 21 January 2014. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k A. G. Rigg (1992). A History of Anglo-Latin Literature, 1066-1422. Cambridge University Press. pp. 111, 351. ISBN 9780521415941. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Glendinning 1992, p.905, fn. 39
  4. ^ Stubbs 1880, p. XXXVI
  5. ^ Stubbs 1880, p. XXXVIII
  6. ^ Stubbs 1880, p. XXXVI and p.XXXVIII, fn. 1
  7. ^ a b c James Jerome Murphy (2001). A Short History of Writing Instruction: From Ancient Greece to Modern America. Psychology Press. pp. 126–127. ISBN 9781880393307. 
  8. ^ Purcell 1991, p. 67
  9. ^ Purcell 1991, p. 74
  10. ^ Gronbeck-Tedesco 1984, p. 67
  11. ^ a b Stubbs 1880, p. XXXVII
  12. ^ Stubbs 1880, p. XXXVII, fn. 1
  13. ^ Ancient manuscripts summary listing 251-300, Balliol College Archives & Manuscripts.
  14. ^ University of Glasgow, Hunterian Collection, manuscript v.8.14, poems 39–43.
  15. ^ Glendinning 1992, p. 899

Further reading[edit]

  • A thirteenth-century anthology of rhetorical poems: Glasgow ms. Hunterian V.8.14, ed. Bruce Harbert (Toronto, 1973).
  • Gervais of Melkley's Treatise on the Art of Versifying and the Method of Composing in Prose: Translation and Commentary, Catherine Yodice Giles (PhD Diss., Rutgers University, 1973).
  • Eros, Agape, and Rhetoric around 1200: Gervase of Melkley's Ars poetica and Gottfried von Strassburg's Tristan, Robert Glendinning (Speculum, Vol. 67, No. 4, pp. 892–925, 1992).
  • Gervais von Melkley: Ars Poetica, ed. Hans-Jürgen Gräbener (Münster, 1965).
  • The treatment of action in medieval poetics, 1175‐1280, John Gronbeck-Tedesco (Central States Speech Journal, Volume 35, Issue 2, 61-76, 1984).
  • Identitas, Similitudo, and Contrarietas in Gervasius of Melkley's Ars poetica: A Stasis of Style, William M. Purcell (Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, Vol. 9, No. 1, pp. 67–91, 1991).
  • The Historical Works of Gervase of Canterbury, ed. William Stubbs (London, 1880) 2012 edition.