Evdokimova Liudmila

The sensus historicus of an allegorical text at the end of the middle ages: the ballad of eustache deschamps devoted to a swallow that hurts with its deceitful tongue

Evdokimova Liudmila (2013) "The sensus historicus of an allegorical text at the end of the middle ages: the ballad of eustache deschamps devoted to a swallow that hurts with its deceitful tongue ", Vestnik Pravoslavnogo Sviato-Tikhonovskogo gumanitarnogo universiteta. Seriia III : Filologiia, 2013, vol. 33, pp. 52-65 (in Russian).


He ballad No. CLVI of Complete Works of Eustache Deschamps is devoted to a swallow that stings with its treacherous tongue or lingua dolosa, i.e., by words. We analyze this text with respect to the common semantic structure of allegorical works at the end of the Middle Ages — especially in relation to the meaning that the term sensus historicus had received by that time. Already in the thirteenth century, some authors understood this term to mean the historical context in which a given text was created; in addition, unlike in previous eras, the terms of sensus litteralis and sensus historicus now diverge: while the former is conditioned by the litteral meaning of words in the text, the second is hidden and has to be discovered. A peculiarity of allegorical texts created in the fourteenth century is that they require multiple readings at the same time. The possibility of historical interpretation is part of their original design. Built into the semantic structure, the sensus historicus coexists with other readings, so that one does not cancel the other. In the late Middle Ages, the art of exegesis was heavily regulated, not to say standardised, and always dealt with multiple autonomous interpretations, i.e interpretations that could easily contradict each other. Relationships of this kind are established between semantic plans of ballad in question — a rather obscure poem, which has not yet attracted the attention of researchers. In this ballad, a swallow attacks its opponents with neither sling nor stone, but with its tongue. Moreover, according to the poet, the swallow was born in Limousin. The place of origin of the bird acts as gloss, by means of which Deschamps uncovered the historical sense of the ballad, i.e., the political context in which it was written. As we will show, the swallow refers to Pope Gregory XI, born in Limousin, who in the early 1370s attacked the Visconti, dukes of Milan, with its bulls. It is known that the poet was linked to this family. Apart from the historical significance, the ballad has a moral meaning: the swallow is a slanderer, wicked and envious, which will be sent to hell. Characterizing the swallow, symbol of the slanderer, Deschamps draws on the De proprietatibus rerum of Bartholomeus Anglicus and the allegorical commentary that accompanies the story of Procne and Philomena in the Ovide moralise. Finally, looking at the literal sense of the ballad, which is a macaronic poem, we can see that the latin words signifi cantly contribute to its meaning. They refer the reader to the archetype of the text: the Psalms that condemn backbiting and impiety (e.g. Ps.52 / 51).


End of the Middle Ages, Eustache Deschamps, allegorical poetry, biblical exegesis, sensus historicus, political context, bulls of Gregory XI, Visconti family, moral meaning


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Evdokimova Liudmila