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  • Cited by 1
  • Print publication year: 2011
  • Online publication date: May 2011

15 - History and fiction: the narrativity and historiography of the matter of Troy


If Aristotle classified history as a branch of literature, it was the vernacular French cultures of the late Middle Ages that most fully develop what Hayden White calls the ‘narrativity’ of historical discourse. In his De vulgari eloquentia (c. 1305), Dante refers to the supple and pleasing features of French prose as the qualities that make the langue d'oïl the most appropriate language for the compilations of history (Book 1, chapter 10). From its emergence in the eleventh century, the literary tradition of Old French is dominated by narrative genres. When vernacular chronicles begin to appear in the twelfth century, they draw on this highly developed narrative tradition. As the lingua franca that enabled some form of linguistic and cultural exchange for a broad swathe of Western Europe from Norman England to the Frankish settlements of the Latin East, as well as francophone courts from Angevin Naples to Bohemia, French was the vernacular language in which the historia of Western Europe could be written. Since the narrative imperatives of historia require that a temporal awareness of the past be represented through emplotment, the historiographical traditions of medieval French rely on the narrative and rhetorical conventions of literary traditions. Nothing better illustrates this dynamic interplay between history and fiction – or historiography and narrativity – than the matter of Troy.

The plot of history requires an origin, and the medieval West located its origins in the city of Troy in Asia Minor.