18113. (Antoine de la Sale) [Petit] Jehan de Saintré [c. 1455]

This four­teenth cen­tu­ry French prose work is an odd item. It’s a “roman” — prose fic­tion. But it’s noth­ing like the fan­tas­tic fan­tasies that dom­i­nat­ed the era. No quests, no drag­ons, no trips to the moon. Instead, it’s a real­is­tic nar­ra­tive focus­ing on tour­na­ments and deeds of arms. In the first few chap­ters, the cen­tral char­ac­ter arrives at court as a page, at the age of thir­teen. A Great Lady imme­di­ate­ly begins a cam­paign of seduc­tion, twist­ing and tor­ment­ing the lad until he sur­ren­ders his inno­cence. This is coy­ly, but still pret­ty bla­tant­ly recount­ed by the author. But the romance is meant to be edi­fy­ing as well as tit­il­lat­ing… she is giv­en to quot­ing Greek philoso­phers while mak­ing love, and rec­om­mends a long list of books for him to read between carv­ing the King’s roasts, learn­ing to fight, and pro­vid­ing her with stud ser­vice. Few teenagers have to face this kind of stress, today.

By six­teen, he becomes a star of the joust­ing cir­cuit, albeit embar­rass­ing­ly short and skin­ny for the role. This is con­tin­u­ous­ly rubbed in, as con­tender after con­tender is fooled into under-esti­mat­ing him. There’s not a lot of plot, and not much char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. There’s end­less detailed descrip­tion of cloth­ing, meals, gifts exchanged between nobles, and, most of all, the pageantry of the tour­na­ment. Jousts are described blow-by-blow:

A la ije course le seigneur de Lois­se­lench [a vis­it­ing Pol­ish knight] actainct Sain­tré a la buffe telle­ment que a bien peu ne l’en­dormist, et Sain­tré l’ataint au front de son heaume et perça son buef d’ar­gent telle­ment que au pass­er que les cahe­vaulz firent le sien tour­na ce devant dar­riere, et a ces­te course Sain­tré un peu se reposa.
A la iije course le seigneur de Lois­se­lench, tout ainsin que Sain­tré l’avoit actaint, il actaint Sain­tré et lui empor­ta sur la pointe de sa lance son chap­pel­let de byevre tout ainsin gar­ny comme it estoit, et Sain­tré l’ac­taint ou hault de son grant garde­bras qu’il lui faulsa avec son dou­ble et romp­ist les tress­es, et le garde­bras a terre vola, et alors recom­mença le cry et le bruit des gens et des trompectes telle­ment que a peine les pouoit on faire cesser.

Even­tu­al­ly, “lit­tle Jehan” goes off to war, join­ing the Cru­sade in Prus­sia, where he fights vast armies of “sara­cens” — the geog­ra­phy and anthro­pol­o­gy are some­what vague.

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