Matter of Rome  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

According to the mediæval poet Jean Bodel, the Matter of Rome was the literary cycle made up of Greek and Roman mythology, together with episodes from the history of classical antiquity, focusing on military heroes like Alexander the Great and Julius Caesar. Bodel's division of the literary cycles he knew best into the Matter of Britain, the Matter of France and the Matter of Rome calls to mind the concept of the Nine Worthies, made up of three champions of the Pagan, Jewish, and Christian faiths.

These were the subjects of a good deal of Old French literature. The poems that were written on them were called the romans d'antiquité, the "romances of antiquity." This name presages the anachronistic approach the mediæval poets used in dealing with these subjects. For example, in the epic poems Roman d'Alixandre and the Roman de Troie, Alexander the Great, and Achilles and his fellow heroes of the Trojan War were treated as knights of chivalry, not much different from the heroes of the chansons de geste. Elements of courtly love were introduced into the poems; in the Roman de Thèbes, a romantic relationship absent from the Greek sources is introduced into the tale of Parthenopæus and Antigone. Military episodes in these tales were also multiplied, and used to introduce scenes of knight-errantry and tournaments.

Another example of French mediæval poetry in this genre is the Eneas, a treatment of the Æneid that comes across as being a sort of burlesque of Virgil's poem. Sentimental and fantasy elements in the source material were multiplied, and incidents from Ovid, the most popular Latin poet of the Middle Ages, were mixed into the pastiche. The Philomela attributed to Chrétien de Troyes, a retelling of the story of Philomela and Procne, also takes its source from Ovid's Metamorphoses.

This anachronistic treatment of elements from Greek mythology is similar to that of the Middle English narrative poem "Sir Orfeo", where the Greek Orpheus becomes the knight Sir Orfeo who rescues his wife Heurodis (i.e. Eurydice) from the fairy king.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Matter of Rome" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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