Post-classical history

Chanson d'Antioche

An Old French epic poem dealing with the First Crusade (1096-1099), and incorporating apparently authentic historical material.

The version of the poem that survives is believed to have been written in the last quarter of the twelfth century and is usually attributed to one Graindor of Douai, who took three chansons de geste (epic songs) that were circulating in oral form and reworked them to form what is known as the “first crusade cycle.” He claimed to have had the Chanson d’Anti- oche from an eyewitness, named “Richard the Pilgrim” (line 9014). It differs markedly from the two other chansons in the cycle, Les Chétifs and the Chanson (or Conquête) de Jérusalem, which are works of fantasy, complete with monsters and villains, heroes and beautiful maidens. This disparity is persuasive evidence that the reworker of the chansons used already existing content in all three cases. However, attempts by its modern editor, Suzanne Duparc- Quioc, to establish the original version of the Chanson d’An- tioche using comparison with other narratives of the First Crusade are not conclusive and have been challenged, notably by Robert F. Cook.

The poem comprises nearly 10,000 lines. It identifies Peter the Hermit as the instigator of the crusade, then traces the recruitment of crusaders in response to the pope’s appeal and their journeys via Constantinople into Asia Minor. The capture of Nicaea and the acquisition of Edessa are described before the crusaders arrive at Antioch. Events there are at the heart of the poem, which ends with the Christian victory in the battle of Antioch (1098). There are some unexpected heroes, including the Tafurs, a fierce and quasi-autonomous gang of ruffians who accompanied the Christians under the leadership of their own “king.” Unfortunately none of the poem’s content can be used as evidence for the First Crusade, because of Graindor’s reworkings and because the earliest extant manuscript (MS Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale de France, fr. 12558) dates from the mid-thirteenth century. However, the Chanson d’Antioche was probably used as part of the recruitment drive for the Third Crusade, around 1190, and holds considerable interest in this light. It has linguistic features from Picardy and would have been recited to audiences drawn from the knights and nobility of northeastern France, whose ancestors’ deeds it celebrates.

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