Rezension über:

Antoine Ghislain: Jean de Vignay. Le Jeu des échecs moralisé (= Anecdota Lovaniensia Nova; 5), Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain 2023, 263 S., ISBN 978-2-39061-333-6, EUR 37,50
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Rezension von:
Maureen Boulton
University of Notre Dame, IN
Redaktionelle Betreuung:
Ralf Lützelschwab
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Maureen Boulton: Rezension von: Antoine Ghislain: Jean de Vignay. Le Jeu des échecs moralisé, Louvain-la-Neuve: Presses universitaires de Louvain 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 5 [15.05.2024], URL:

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Antoine Ghislain: Jean de Vignay

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Chess was immensely popular in the Middle Ages, not only as a game, but also as an allegory representing different aspects of reality, including war, society, and love relationships. Jean de Vignay's Jeu des échecs moralisé is a translation of the Dominican Iacopo da Cessolis's Liber de moribus hominum et officiis nobilium super ludo scacchorum, an allegory in which the pieces of the chess game represent the various classes of society and the different moves illustrate the vices and virtues of the good life. The Latin text (c. 1300) circulated widely in various languages (German, Italian, Spanish, Catalan, Dutch, Swedish, Czech), and was also translated three times into French.

Jean de Vignay (1280-c. 1350) was a prolific translator who produced eleven works, most of them for king Philip VI of Valois and his queen, Jeanne of Burgundy. Only one - the work edited here - was dedicated to their son John (the future king John II) while he was still duke of Normandy (i.e., before 1350). The Jeu des échecs moralisé, probably completed in 1340, is the first and the most successful of the three French translations. Despite its popularity in the later Middle Ages (it survives in more than fifty manuscript copies and two early printed editions), Antoine Ghislain's very fine critical edition of Vignay's translation is the first to be published.

Vignay's competence as a translator has been harshly judged. Ghislain confronts this criticism by observing (13) that the large body of translations that Vignay produced over a period of fifteen to twenty years show considerable evolution, in his handling of sources as well as in his mastery of both Latin and French. In comparison with the studies of the language of Vignay's earlier texts, Ghislain notes in the Jeu much less imitation of Latin syntax (17) and fewer regionalisms (30-31). He explains (34) that on occasion (ll. 1087-88, 1301, 1800), Vignay misconstrued the Latin of his source but attempted a gloss to make sense of the passage that he failed to understand.

The translation is complete and generally faithful to its source, but Vignay allowed himself to make numerous additions, thus becoming a compiler as well as a translator. For example, in chapter 1, an allusion to the murder of Seneca by Nero prompted the insertion of a long exemplum (lines 62-103) on Nero's incest with, and murder of, his mother, augmented with the story of his giving birth to a frog. The purpose of the additional material is to introduce and underline the crimes of another, less well-known tyrant named Evilmerodes. Chapter 5 contains two additions of a different sort. The first (lines 421-511) is a pseudo-historical digression on salic law forbidding women to accede to the French throne, and the second (lines 545-632) on the qualities of a queen, insists that one only becomes queen of France through marriage. These passages reflect the patronage of the Valois royal family and the dynastic issues at the heart of the opening phase of the Hundred Year's War.

An interesting feature of the Jeu des echecs moralisé is that Vignay re-translated a number of anecdotes that he had already used in his Miroir historial, the translation of Vincent of Beauvais's Speculum historiale. Such passages (indicated in the Notes) create an opportunity to study the evolution of the translator's technique, which Ghislain has studied in an article published elsewhere.

The Introduction opens with a discussion of the Latin text and its sources (7-10) before treating the French translation (11-36). There is an extensive treatment of the translator's style and his methods of translation. Ghislain acknowledges (36) the unpublished edition by Carol S. Fuller, and especially her valuable work on the manuscripts. However, he has redone the collation of the five earliest manuscripts and extensively analyzed the relationship among them (37-57). On the basis of this work, the editor has chosen a different base manuscript (MS. B, Paris, BnF, fr. 1728), which he corrects on the basis of two others, in consultation with the Latin source.

The apparatus, conveniently placed at the foot of the page, records significant variants from four other manuscripts. Emendations to the text are indicated typographically through the use of italics and are explained and justified in the Notes. The Notes also contain commentary on the sense of difficult passages, identify the sources of quotations, and register divergences from the Latin text. Two manuscripts - A (Besançon, Bibl. mun., 434) and C (Paris, BnF, fr. 25399) contain marginal annotations and these are also recorded in the Notes. The annotations in C are particularly interesting because they indicate how the text was read by one later reader. For example, the note to line 1164 transcribes a long annotation in MS. C that relates the passage to the capture of the French king at the battle of Poitiers in 1356.

In the interests of space, the Glossary is highly selective, including mainly words that have disappeared from modern French, regionalisms, and words whose spelling would prove difficult for an experienced reader of Middle French. The editor has also tried to include words glossed in recent editions of two of Vignay's other translations, with a view to contributing to the common lexicon of Vignay's translations. The Index of Proper Names is very helpful in identifying opaque forms like Thomistide (line 1212, Themistocles) or Trojen (line 1329, Trajen) and in distinguishing different people referred to as "Pol" or "Marc". The volume ends with a useful Bibliography.

Despite its high quality, I noted one probable misreading (line 2877 for nateur read nature) and a few typographical errors: line 2536-37 certainete should have an accent on the final e; the note to line 1122 (191), should read 1323; in line 9 of notes 1688-1697 (198) ne should read de; the note to line 1997 (203) should read 1967; the note to lines 2116-2118 (209) should read 2216-2218; on p. 214 the chapter title should come after the note to lines 2477-2479 on p. 215. However, these few slips do not detract from the usefulness and quality of the edition.

With this excellent edition, Antoine Ghislain has made a major contribution to the study of medieval French literature and culture. He has made available an important and influential text that will be most immediately useful to scholars of Jean de Vignay and to students of medieval translations more generally, as well as to scholars of medieval French literature and historians of medieval culture.

Maureen Boulton