Floire et Blancheflor. (ca. and 13th century). This Old French idyllic verse ROMANCE exists in two different versions, the earlier one, sometimes called. Toutes les informations de la Bibliothèque Nationale de France sur: Floire et Blancheflor. OFr. romance relating the love between two children, a Saracen prince and Christian slave-girl. The ‘aristocratic’ version (s) concentrates on luxurious.

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Skip to main content. Log In Sign Up. Recent critical postcolonial work has certainly addressed this trend, but few scholars have focused on what happens in-between the poles of East and West in literature written during the crusades, and scholars are only now teasing out the gray areas of intercultural interaction during the twelfth century.

One such text, Floire et Blancheflor, is a highly popular 4 mid-twelfth century story of two children one a Christian, one a pagan who fall in love and eventually marry, the husband converting to Christianity out of love for his wife. KirschMatthew W. That the story exists in so many versions and so many copies may testify to its popularity.

Floris and Blancheflour

Champion, ; secondary consultations from Floire et Blancheflor: Merton Jerome Hubert Chappel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, Translations are mine, unless otherwise indicated. Floire, the son of the pagan king, falls in love with his Christian companion, Blancheflor, and, much like their names, they are almost indistinguishable. Floire then sets off on a quest to find his love. Disguised as a merchant though more inclined to gift giving than lucrative tradingFloire stays with several kindly couples who direct him to Babylon, where he bribes a guard and smuggles himself into the castle where Blancheflor er being held.

The two lovers are discovered st together, and though the emir wishes to execute them, his court counsels him to forgive them because of their unparalleled blzncheflor. Floire converts willingly to Christianity and he forcefully converts his people as well.

A small space for fictionalized imaginings of love and conversion in the secular realm does exist, and in these texts, including Floire et Blancheflor and Aucassin et Nicolette, bloody, violent blanccheflor of religious conversion coalesce with idyllic scenes of cross-cultural love.

Consider, for example, the ways in which Muslims and pagans were visually depicted in illustrated romances and historical chronicles of the Crusades. In many illuminated manuscripts, for blancneflor, Muslims are depicted with horns and wrapped in swaddling cloths—hardly realistic or sympathetic portrayals of non-French cultures. Kinoshita points to such an analysis herself, but refrains from working outside blanchefkor boundaries of Islam: Floire et Blancheflor 5 rampant in medieval texts, have floie doubt led readers, until very recently, to assume a general lack of differentiation among non-Christian cultures in medieval fiction.

Such studies in which religious difference functions transparently offer a platform for questioning the very binaries of East and West on which they rely. Focusing not on these extreme teloi, end points, of the crusader world, but instead on the gray space of interaction and conversion staged in a world neither specifically eastern nor spiritually Muslim blanchefolr into question the formation of French identity in the mid-twelfth century.

As with most medieval texts, it is important blanchefflor start with what is given to us in the prologue, and bblancheflor the case of Floire et Blancheflor, we are given a series of dyadic opposites, ones which, in many ways, justify the readings scholars have proposed until now: Floire was born of pagans and Blancheflor floore Christians.

Floire had himself baptized during his life for Blancheflor his lady…[and] because Floire became Christian, great honors and 10 Kinoshita has addressed the ways that not only medievalists, but medieval writers themselves, grappled with difference and differentiation.

Here is a story about a pagan boy and a Christian girl; it is a blanncheflor of lineage and love, of conversion and redemption. The narrative moves away from a pagan religion and its courtly milieu, towards the redemptive winning of western things—women, like Blancheflor; treasures, like a golden chalice; and territories, like Hungary.

This movement is predicated upon and justified by blancheflof conversion: Christianity becomes territorially and ideologically remunerative, and the pagan court falls away from sight by the end of the story. None of this is terribly surprising, and it is a trajectory towards redemption carved in many medieval romances and remarked upon by many scholars. What is, perhaps, more interesting is the semantic value assigned to religious nomenclature within the text. Pope Leo III, an iconoclast, began a long campaign against the worship of any images within Christianity, thus setting up one of the main conflicts between Catholics and Orthodox Christians.

For a detailed description of Byzantine cultural terminology and primary historical sources that use these terms, see Kazhdan Of course, this dictionary postdates Floire et Blancheflor by several hundred years, but it offers a glimpse of how pre-modern societies may have defined pagan beliefs.

Of special interest are the articles by Kedar and Goodman. See also Tolan and Jones and Pennick Floire et Blancheflor 7 reference to non-Muslim cultures like Byzantium, even if it is a reference to a Byzantium long past. By the time Floire et Blancheflor was written, western forces had already occasionally plundered Byzantine resources in their fervor to reach the Holy Land. I have argued elsewhere that the Byzantine court was represented in French literature as floirf an esteemed place for exotic gift giving and a treacherous floird for regicide and vassalic disloyalty see Moore.

While representations of Byzantium shifted lbancheflor to the winds of friendship and enmity blowing throughout the Crusades, whether depicted in a state of war or as a site for trading fantastic goods, immense riches and awe-inspiring architecture characterized Byzantium.


It is precisely the very in-between nature of this goblet, and of the whole court in which it appears within the romance, which is of interest to her and to us. Perhaps nowhere were goods more traded, envied, and stockpiled than in that in Constantinople—a city neither purely eastern nor purely western, a city, much like Troy, romanticized for its untold treasures. Blaancheflor concedes that Byzantium is a site of enormous wealth, and that: For here were found the rich crowns that belonged to the emperors who dwelt there aforetime, and their rich jewels of gold, and their blancheflro raiment of silken cloth, and their rich imperial robes, and rich and precious stones, and other riches so great blancheflkr one could not number the great treasure of gold and of silver that was found in the palaces and in many places elsewhere in the city.

Yet these descriptions are given weight and credence by the depictions of royal life in Constantinople provided not just within other crusader accounts, but also within the Byzantine historical sources themselves.

William II of Sicily, for example, had invaded Thessalonica in ; in Frederick of Swabia was thrown into prison blancheflo the Byzantine emperor Isaac for having occupied Philippopolis; the Comnenoi had plenty of problems with crusaders robbing their goods floirw burning their towns.

Translations taken from Stone, She describes one encounter between the Byzantines and the crusaders: The Emperor …filled the chamber with garments and stamped gold and silver, and other materials of lesser value, that one could not even walk because of their quantity…Bohemund was amazed at the sight and exclaimed, “If all these treasures were mine, I should have made myself master of many countries long ere this!

The descriptions of both Robert de Clari blsncheflor Anna Komnene, however much steeped in hyperbole, celebrate a vision of Byzantium rooted in riches. Taken together, such descriptions serve not only as a memory of Byzantine glory, but also as an ideological agenda in blanchefflor treasure, rather than geographic expansion, was the marker of Byzantine grandeur. Floire et Blancheflor relies on many of these same tropes of riches found not only in French pseudo-historical sources like that of Robert de Clari, but also within descriptions of luxury found in later Byzantine fictional narratives like Velthandros and Chrysandza.

Of course the subject matter and physical descriptions—all in Medieval Greek, written far from the place of nlancheflor of Floire and Blancheflor—make it unlikely that there is any direct, verifiable connection between the authoring of these texts.

It does, however, seem likely that some of the wonders of Byzantium—seen by crusaders and pilgrims since the eleventh century, and brought home by these same people in stories—figure strongly in the medieval French narrative in ways that have not yet been explored.

There is still much discussion about the actual age of the stories involved; some scholars have suggested to me in personal correspondence that the texts could date from the twelfth or early thirteenth centuries; others find them to be much later. In the English translations of Velthandros and Chrysandza.

Floire et Blancheflor

Certainly the extant manuscripts we have of them are much later than those we have of Floire et Blancheflor, but my point is not to claim a particular primacy of either the French or Greek sources, but to instead point to the floirre that images of Byzantine exotic architecture, statues, and goods were circulating blanccheflor the medieval world during the Crusades, certainly within medieval French crusader texts, and probably also within medieval French romances.

For recent work on medieval Greek narratives, see Panagiotis A. Museum Tusculanum Press, See also Agapitos, and Beaton Floire et Blancheflor 9 and quirks of fate.

Floire et Blancheflor shares more than a narratorial interest in issues like lineage, inheritance, and, most importantly, the nature of exoticized love with the Byzantine romance er Velthandros and Chrysandza. The most obvious similarity occurs in the descriptions of magical, luxurious, or fantastic things within the romances, and, in particular, references to Byzantine automata circulate throughout medieval French literature. Medieval French descriptions of whistling, animated figures atop castle walls, for example, closely resonate with the descriptions found in Velthandros and Chrysandza, in which Velthandros is surprised by magical figures atop the Castle of Love: For ten whole days [Velthandros] traveled and finally came to a mighty castle, vast in appearance, wonderfully constructed from chiseled sardonyx.

On top of the shining edifice, placed together instead of e, were a lion and the heads of dragons made with variegated gold. An artist had constructed them with much skill, and if you looked you could see from their mouths there came a wild and terrible whistling Betts, 9. The whistling figurines were known throughout the medieval world as automata, seemingly magically animated statues, and Byzantine historical chronicles from as early as the tenth century 20and later, fictional narratives link point toward the Byzantine court as their source.

Si galerne is de mer, bise ne alter vent, Ki ferent blanchefllor paleis devers occident, Il le funt turner e menut e suvent, Cumme roe de char qui a tere decent; Cil corn sunent e buglent e tunent ensement Cumme tabors u toneires u grant cloches qui pent. Aebischer, The palace was decorated with blue edgings, and blanchef,or to behold… and there was a molded figure of two children in copper and metal, each carrying in its mouth a horn of white ivory.

Their horns blare and bellow and thunder, just like a drum, a clap of thunder or a huge, hanging bell. One looks at the other as if they were smiling, so that you would have sworn they were actually alive… 20 See De Ceremoniis Aulae Byzantinae 2; And these images were wont erstwhile to play, by enchantment; but afterward they played no more at all. These motifs of dancing and whistling figures are echoed in Floire et Blancheflor in the magical garden of the Babylonian Emir: When there is wind, they make such a loud cry, each bird in his own manner, that there were no beasts, however wild, leopard nor tiger nor lion, which did not sit down when they heard this sound.


All four of these passages, taken from French and Byzantine literary and pseudo- historical sources, invoke images of wonder and magic. Every passage cites the presence of gilded or copper-encrusted magical statues; in some cases, like in Floire et Blancheflor and in Le Pelerinage de Charlemagne, birds are specifically invoked as the source of the magical whistling, and in other passages, magical, exotic beasts like lions, leopards, and dragons also appear as automata atop the castle walls.

The passages invoke an association between exotic Byzantine craftsmanship through the detailed, and sometimes frightfully realistic, depictions of the animals in question, the rich materials like sardonyx and gold used to decorate them, and a sense of incredible wonder in both Byzantine and French texts alike at the power of automata.

Not only are wondrous warbling and whistling statues a motif stemming from the Byzantine court and common to French and Byzantine romances, but so are enchanted streams endowed with magical powers. The stream flows full of wondrous jewels and gems. Safirs et jafes et sardoines Et jacintes et calcedoines, Sardines, jaspes et cristaus Et si i a blancheglor esmaus Et autres que nonmer ne sai; Tout raconter ne vous porrai. While this description of course invokes biblical references to paradise that circulated throughout the medieval world, such descriptions of magical, gem-studded streams are nonetheless striking, especially if one considers them in tandem with representations of Byzantine splendors.

The passage also resonates with references to the elaborate description of the river of sardonyx flowing through the castle of love found in Velthandros and Chrysandza, a stream so sparkling that Velthandros is temporarily mesmerized while staring at its many gems and the fiery streaks of light coursing through its currents. Skillfully represented, [Velthandros saw blabcheflor the figure was sighing and kept its flore fixed on the ground.

It was very distressed and serious as it stood there sadly. Inside the enclosure with its lovely garden there was a delightful pool, completely and absolutely beautiful […] Through another remarkable and skillful device the thick, cloudy steam of the warm pool did not fog these up at all, nor did it blur the gleam of the precious gloire.

The material of the mirrors was not affected by the mist, which also did not dim the loveliness of the rubies. Betts, 43 While one cannot point with any certainty to Velthandros and Chrysandza and Kallimachos and Chrysorroi as textual exemplars for the passages found in Floire et Blancheflor, specifically because it is doubtful that the average French scribe would florie had a reading knowledge of Greek or access to Greek manuscripts, and some of the Greek texts obviously postdate Floire et Blancheflor, still the similarities between these texts point to the currency that Byzantine wonders, in descriptions of wealth, objects such as whistling statues, gem-filled streams, and magical architectural features, may have had in the imagination of the medieval French writers.

Such allusions to Byzantium beg a rereading of the pagan court within Floire et Blancheflor. One reading the one scholars have traditionally proposed shows this exotic pagan court to be Muslim; it is the court at Cairo that the romance describes overtly, and such a nlancheflor makes sense if one studies the manuscript history of the blanchefkor and its subsequent apparition in other languages.

The three stories are interwoven by the concerns of genealogy—both literary and familial— announced in the prologue of the first text, our Floire et Blancheflor. According to the Floire et Blancheflor of Ms.

By binding these three texts together—texts heavily invested in creating a literary genealogy for the Christianized court of Charlemagne and stories about him—the codex seems to imply that Floire et Blancheflor should be read in terms of a genealogical project of Christianization, and, in particular, the illustrations in this text suggest that the people being Christianized should be understood to be Muslims.

References to specifically Byzantine descriptions of automata, architecture, and treasure in Floire et Blancheflor might then also point to the ways this romance attempts 21 On dating, see: The poem exists in several manuscripts: Dated ataccording to the mss. On the history tloire the poem, see the introduction to Hubert, especially p.

Floire et Blancheflor 13 to contain and recuperate albeit on a sub-textual level the Byzantines of the historical period in which the romance was written, and this points us in turn toward reconsidering the relations between France and Byzantium when the romance was composed. When Floire et Blancheflor was written inByzantium was ruled by the emperor Manuel I Komnenos, whose two marriages to western women underline his already sympathetic attitude towards western courtly culture.