The Latin culture imported by the Romans who occupied Provence in the century. II a. C. flourished very rapidly in Marseilles, Nîmes, Narbonne, Lyons and then spread to all of Gaul with the spread of Christianity. The educated classes, the literati, the officials learned and used the cultured Latin. The people spoke the vulgar Latin, used by the soldiers, with whom it was easier to fraternize and have trade. The French language was born directly from vulgar Latin and if up to the century. XII speaking of literature of France we must refer to literature written in Latin, however it can be observed that the first linguistic documents freed from Latin and written in the Romance language are from the 12th century. IX. Reference is made here to the Reichenau glossary, to the Strasbourg oaths (March 842), also written in German, and to some liturgical compositions, such as the Cantilène de Sainte Eulalie. From the end of the century. X or beginning of XI are instead a Vie de Saint Légerand a Vie de Saint Alexis. . The first true medieval literary manifestations are authentic jewels: the Chansons de geste (11th century) spread by the jongleurs (jesters). At first the verses are not rhymed, but make use of the assonances (the rhymes are found only with the 14th century); the deeds are no longer a pure oral tradition, but are written and read. There are three cycles: Deeds of the kings of, Gesta Narbonensi, Deeds of Doon de Mayence. La Chanson de Roland (Song of Orlando, originally Chansun de Rollant), the most famous, is part of the first cycle. The other songs of deeds are soon intertwined with the Breton cycle, with courteous poetry. The figures of Tristan and Isolde, Lancelot and Geneva stand alongside those of the paladins of France and the battles for the faith. While with the song of deeds there was the claim to remain anchored to a historical reality, with courteous love, the Roman, in which poetry alternates with prose, combines imagination and invention with history, and finds the his highest cantor in Chrétien de Troyes (1130/35-ca. 1183).
It deserves a place in itself Marie de France (12th century), translator of 15 lais (of the 20 known), very short stories in verse sung by the Welsh bards from which the novels of the Round Table were derived. His Lai dou chevrefoil (Lai del honeysuckle), which has preserved in a few lines the now immortal story of Tristan and Isolde, is a small masterpiece, and of equal value is also his book of fairy tales, the Ysopet. This is a period in which poets and storytellers, looking everywhere for subjects to sing, referred to the classical age as well as to the closest traditions, composing in verse and prose. Paris and Elena they become the heroes of many flowering cantari along with other delicate love stories. Among them the singing Floire et Blanchefleur, the delightful cantafavola Aucassin et Nicolette, a delicate love story of oriental origin, and Jean de Paris, symbolic exaltation of the French hero played by a young prince. The Provençal influence is often evident in these stories. In the South of France, in fact, starting from the end of the century. XI had developed a refined poetry that had not only influenced the north of the country, but also the Italian culture, up to and including Petrarch. Expression of a cultured civilization, which preserved the Latin for science and political life, the Provençal culturehe created a more flexible, more harmonious language to sing his own feelings of love, a language that is not to be identified with today’s Provençal, but with Limousin which had its center in Toulouse and in the salut d’amour (an epistle without rules), in the tençon (dispute between poets on a gallant problem), in the sirvente (satirical song), in the ballade, in the chanson courtoise and in the sotte chanson (parody of the courtly song) its genres, and in the troubadours its highest singers; among them: William IXDuke of Aquitaine, Arnaldo Daniello, Peire Vidal, Jaufré Rudel, Bernard de Ventadorn and Bertran de Born. A reference was made to the works inspired by classical antiquity and it must be said that in this re-enactment the clerics stood out. With the name of the literature of the clerics, that is of the people who made profession of culture, the re-enactment of a classical world that gave rise to the “ancient cycle” is known. It undertook the task of bringing to the attention of the public characters, adventures, sciences, the myth of Rome, Greece, Byzantium, all recreating to the extent of French heroes. So in the sec. XII and XIII the Roman d’Alexandre spread in France in twenty thousand twelve -syllables, the Roman d’Énéas, adapted from Virgil, the Roman de Thèbes, in ten thousand eight-syllables, and the Roman de Troie, the most famous, in thirty thousand rhymed eight-syllables, by Benoît de Sainte-Maure. It is a learned, allegorical poem, which, however, finds its masterpiece only in the Roman de la rose.
The work is divided into two parts: the first part, by Guillaume de Lorris, is inspired by Ovid ‘s Ars Amatoria and is a kind of love code; the second, by Jean de Meung, is a sum of the knowledge of the time. Literature, the spirit of chivalry, allegorical poetry is opposed by bourgeois literature, or the esprit gaulois, who abandoning the sacredness of religious themes and of the heart devotes himself to profane, lively, satirical, mocking themes. Marie de France with her Ysopet went back to ancient fairy tales, others linked themselves to popular tradition with animal tales, which reflect the life of man, but no longer pursue a moral purpose. The result was a kind of cycle that goes by the name of Roman de Renart, a fable-like monument in which twenty-seven branches converge, where unity is given by the name of the characters and the satirical spirit of social life that they embody. The fabliaux were later added to the fables, or fairy tales, stories in verse intended to make you laugh. They are jokes full of joy, of a burlesque vein, sometimes with moral purposes. They are small comic pictures that anticipate the farce by over a century and of which ca. 150 examples. Some of their authors are illustrious, such as Rutebeuf (d. Ca. 1285), precursor of Villon, and Adam de la Halle, certainly one of the greatest authors of medieval profane theater. This also in France was born as a religious representation and its first form was the liturgical drama, which began with the interpolation in the sacred texts of tropi, then of songs in Latin, then of phrases recited in the novel. The purpose is to prolong the divine offices, then to represent passages of sacred history. The Jeu d’Adam dates back to the century. XII and was one of the first performances made outside the Church. It marked the transition between the liturgical drama and the mystère, which is filtered through the miracles, short narratives of the sec. XIII and XIV, first in Latin, then in the novel, where the Virgin and Saints, intervening in human affairs, brought order and joy back. Rutebeuf’s Miracle de Théophile is famous. The mystery, very long, was recited on several occasions, almost always on Sunday afternoon, and sometimes up to 500 characters were featured, whose interpreters were provided by religious brotherhoods. In addition to the two cycles of the Old and New Testament, a third cycle of the mysteries concerned the Saints and a fourth was of a profane subject. In the Middle Ages, other genres also flourished with religious theater. Already in the century. XIII the jesters recited monologues and Adam de la Halle in 1262 made Arras perform a satirical comedy, Jeu de la feuillée, and in 1285 ca. in Naples the pastoral comedy Jeu de Robin et Marion. Two centuries later with the Jeu du Prince des Sots et Mère Sotte by P. Gringore, una sotie, we have the premise of political comedy, while anonymous is the first great French farce: La farce de maistre Pathélin which dates back to 1464 or 1470, the story of the mocked mocker, which precedes the comedy of intrigue and costume.
It is quick, essential, with an incisive style and already outlines the characters. With the farce we must finally remember the moralités, didactic and allegorical genre, done to edify the listener, the monologues, short satirical recitations, and the sermons joyeux that “opened” the representations of miracles and mysteries, comic parodies of sermons, much more irreverent and followed by the fact that the sermon enjoyed great popularity throughout the Middle Ages, procuring fame for many preachers, from St. Bernard (1091-1153) to Menot (1440-1518). Before returning to the more purely literary themes, a mention should be reserved for historians, memorialists. Originally the story is also written in Latin, then in verse and only from the century. XIII is handed down to us in prose. The first work written in this way, the Histoire de Baudoin, has been lost. The Conquête de Costantinople by Geoffroy de Villehardouin (ca. 1150-1213), the Livre des saintes paroles et des bons faits de notre saint roi Louis written by Jean Sire of Joinville (1225-1317), on life and exploits of Louis IX. With Jean Froissart (ca.1337-ca.1405) and his Chroniques has a vibrant history of Northern France, Flanders and England from the mid-1300s to the early 1400s and a reenactment of cavalry. With Philippe de Commynes (ca. 1445-1511) and his Mémoires there is not only the story of the rivalry between Louis XI and Charles the Bold or the story of Charles VIII ‘s expedition to Italy, but the first work of history that recalls the events in a critical key. With this conception we already go beyond the Middle Ages, while the lyrics of the time still remain linked to the sentiments of the time, for the form, for the rigor with which genres are respected, and it will suffice to quote Guillaume de Machaut (ca. 1302-77), Eustache Deschampe (1346-ca.1406), colorful in her satirical poems that nothing and nobody spared, from the Church, to the State, to women, Alain Chartier (ca. 1385-1430 / 1440), Charles d’Orléans (1391-1475), author of lyrics, songs, ballads of exquisite taste, anticipating, for the subtlety of the verse, of Marot, but all still contracted in the symbolism of use, while on all, almost to summarize not only a century, but an age, it is a great poet: François Villon (ca.1431-after 1463). A restless, tormented spirit, a rebellious spirit to everything and perhaps to his own conscience that from time to time dictated to him words of sincere repentance for the dissolute life he led, Villon, lover of pleasures, of the tavern, of women, fatally dragged into quarrels, he was also a murderer. A composition of him remains: the Lais (called Le Petit testament), a fashionable genre, of modest value, and the Testament (called Le Grand testament), a much more complex work, in which he inserted numerous ballads, poignant melancholy and crystalline beauty such as the Ballade des dames du temps jadis and the Epitaphe Villon (called the Ballade des pendus), excruciating anguish, finally appeased in the Christian spirit of resignation that frees itself from the regret of lost youth. Villon does not exceed his time, he represents it, for personality, for sentiment, for desire to be everything and everyone, for vigor, for enthusiasm, for expression of that culture that from the world of clerics, heirs and masters of the schools founded by Charlemagne, had moved to the universities that, starting from the century. XIII, especially the Parisian Sorbonne, had influenced every literary genre with their free courses in theology, law, grammar, rhetoric, dialectics, often followed also by those poor students who in the colleges attached to the universities they had found, like Villon, their refuge.