Benvengut to the home for a first version of a new translation of the Old Occitan life of Saint Enimia.
- Base text: Clovis Brunel, Bertran de Marseille. La vie de Sainte Énimie. (Paris: Champion, 1916). You can read it online for free at the Internet Archive.
- The manuscript, an unicum, is Bibliothèque de l’Arsenal 6355. It has, alas, not yet been digitised.
SELECTED FURTHER READING
- the “bibliography” post
- some background information in the “context” area of this blog, including from Wikipedia as it is free and open and a good starting-point on Old Occitan, Occitan literature, and Medieval romance literature
WHO, WHAT, WHEN, WHERE, WHY?
I’m not going to claim that this work has it all, but it does have a lot to offer. A princess, loyal friendship, high and low and middling politics and politicking, cunningly evading forced marriage, spa treatments and skin conditions, physical fragilities and disability, sarcasm, dragons, battles of wits and words, nuns, women who answer back, metamorphoses involving stone and flesh and water, satire, miracles, inappropriately possessive men, women who outwit them posthumously.
All this in verse narrative, so it has the seasonally-appropriate rhythm and length for a reading and writing project through the autumn and winter. I plan to be posting fresh sections of text and translation every week; may it sustain you readers too.
Enimia is a medieval poem that tells a story. We don’t know when it was first composed or performed or written down; the only manuscript in which this text has been preserved is from the later thirteenth century, and it claims to have been written by a certain Master “Bertran de Masselha” (which might or might not be “Marseille”). It is in Old Occitan and it is quite a long poem—2000 lines long—in octosyllabic rhyming couplets. This is the usual shape for longer-form storytelling in Old French and, often, Old Occitan: from short stories of various sorts (e.gg. lais, fables, fabliaux, contes) to the ancestral kith and kin of the novel (e.g. novas, romance). It’s not unusual for other kinds of story (history, chronicle, sacred history, saints’ lives) to be told using these forms too; and our Enimia is one such example, though it also calls itself a romans. There is more to be said about these formal matters and their meaningfulness, but that other kind of telling is for elsewhere.
I first read and worked on Enimia around 2003-4, as part of doctoral work in Medieval French and Occitan literature. That very first encounter was through investigating the way in which the word romans is used in Old Occitan to refer to a language—a vulgar living vernacular, as contrasted with a classical dead language like Latin—and to a literary form, genre, or mode of writing; and how the word, and the idea behind it, moves from Old Occitan to Old French and back to Old Occitan, and what happens next when Old Occitan itself becomes the kind of language that might look more like the kind of language that Latin is; for example, when Old Occitan moves to Italy. Once it’s in Italy, however, Occitan changes and changes the languages, poetry, and poetic culture of its place of refuge that has become a new home.
Romans is a word that doesn’t just refer to a language but is itself about language and what it is and does. It’s a word that’s about identity, self-identification, comparativism, plurilingualism, generosity, hospitality, resistance, and the flexibility to change and perdure; Occitan is open to foreigners, to becoming foreign, and for foreign languages to Occitanise themselves; in ways that are the opposite of conquest, conversion, consumption, corruption, and colonisation. The idea of romans should make us question simple linguistic categorisations and divisions like delimiting languages to physical places and mapping language and identity to place, and limiting languages to being either living or dead. And it’s about translation in the narrow and broad senses. The word and the language are a way of being and a culture. Romans and translation, and all their movement and hybridisation and ingenious invention, are radical innovation in continuing live action. Welcome to a wonderful strange world of the undead, the otherwise, the monstrous and miraculous and marvellous.
A fantastical dream, Old Occitan and romans: yet also, still, the words and ideas of people who existed, who lived and died (and dreamed) and wanted to share their world with others. We are their imaginable and unimaginable futures. We owe it to them to read, and to continue writing and Occitanising; hence this present translation.
I returned to Enimia again in 2011, when I started thinking about a need for a translation to bring it to other people around; then started some sketchy drafty work on translation in 2015. At that time, readers had the option of reading the original (and the earlier Latin vita, obviously related but with some significant differences) and a local modern French translation. Every time I’ve read this text or been reminded of it, the sense grows stronger that it is ever more worth reading and ought to be more accessible and shared more widely. This is not just proselytising what to believers would be an obvious universal truth about hagiographical literature and its consolations for the faithful; as with any literature, there are many ways of reading saints’ lives and many paths into and around their gardens of unearthly delights, and Enimia has the added benefit of being Occitan, including perhaps in its hospitable heterodoxy. Here are the 2011 and 2015 versions of how I was last reading it, and here are some other later vague ponderings thereon.