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‘Court Politics and Italian Letters in Ditis ditatus and Troilus and Criseyde

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2016

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Summary

At some point after his composition of the Historia Alexandri magni principis, in which he strayed into the exotic realms of vernacular romance, Walsingham's wandering literary eye turned to the plains of Troy. The Ditis ditatus, or Dictys enlarged, revisits the Greeks and the matter of the Greco-Roman inheritance— but it does so in a manner much more pointedly addressed to issues of relevance within the English court. In the years between these two compositions, Walsingham's classicism shifted to become more specifically attached to particular contemporary problems of governance in England. Chaucer, too, was profoundly affected by the political climate of the mid to late 1380s, and spoke to that specific context in his major classicist text of this period, Troilus and Criseyde. Both authors, engaging their source material in greater depth by privileging (for the most part) one main primary work, found a more focused political energy in these texts. At the same time, however, as the conclusion to this chapter will show, local or national interests give way to a broader set of concerns that lend to both of these texts a truly international aesthetic.

The unique surviving copy of Walsingham's Ditis ditatus occupies the first 106 folios of MS Rawlinson B 214, followed by twenty-nine other literary and historiographical compositions from St Albans. John Wylde (fl. 1460), a canon of Waltham Abbey, added an accessus to Ovid to this anthology, contributed several full-color illustrations, and compiled the version of the text that we now have. Given that Wylde copied the Ditis ditatus into the book, and also glossed the text extensively with a wide variety of classical authors, it is near to impossible at times to tell whose hand is whose. Wylde also inserted a sequence of six leaves bearing portraits of Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Apollo, Venus, Mercury, Diana, Minerva, Juno, Cybele, Vulcan, Hercules, and Aesculapius; these portraits, which were probably painted by Wylde, are marked as accompaniments to Walsingham's text. MS Rawlinson B 214 retains its mid fifteenth century binding, though several sections of text went missing following the eighteenth-century foliation.

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The Classicist Writings of Thomas Walsingham
`Worldly Cares' at St Albans Abbey in the Fourteenth Century
, pp. 95 - 136
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2016

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