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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

The Hysminias and Hysmine of Eustathius


all this some would, as has been said above, see sufficient suggestion in the Greek Romance. I have myself known the examples of that Romance for a very long time and have always had a high opinion of it; but except what has been already noticed--the prominence of the heroine--I can see little or nothing that the Mediaeval romance could possibly owe to it, and as a matter of fact hardly anything else in common between the two. In the last, and to some extent the most remarkable (though very far from the best if not nearly the worst), of the Greek Romances, the _Hysminias and Hysmine_ of Eustathius, we have indeed got to a point in advance, taking that word in a peculiar sense, even of Troilus at its most accomplished, that is to say, the Marinism or Marivaudage, if not even the Meredithese, of language and sentiment. But _Hysminias and Hysmine_ is probably not older than Benoit de Sainte-More's story, and as has just been said, Renaissance, nay post-Renaissance, not Mediaeval in character. We must, of course, abstain from "reading back" Chaucer or even Boccaccio into Benoit or into his probable plagiarist Guido de Columnis; but there is nothing uncritical or wrong in "reading forward" from these to the later writers. The hedge-rose is there, which will develop into, and serve as a support for, the hybrid perpetual--a term which could itself be developed in application, after the fashion of a mediaeval _moralitas_. And when we have actually come to Pandaro and Deiphobus, to the
"verse of society," as it may be called in a new sense, of the happier part of Chaucer and to the intense tragedy of the later part of Henryson, then we are in the workshop, if not in the actual show-room, of the completed novel. It would be easy, as it was not in the case of the _chansons_, to illustrate directly by a translation, either here from Benoit or later from the shortened prose version of the fourteenth century, which we also possess; but it is not perhaps necessary, and would require much space.

[Sidenote: _Alexander._]

The influence of the Alexander story, though scarcely less, is of a widely different kind. In _Troilus_, as has been said, the Middle Age is working on scarcely more than the barest hints of antiquity, which it amplifies and supplements out of its own head and its own heart--a head which can dream dream-webs of subtlest texture unknown to the ancients, and a heart which can throb and bleed in a fashion hardly shown by any ancient except Sappho. With the Alexander group we find it much more passively recipient, though here also exercising its talent for varying and amplification. The controversies over the pseudo-Callisthenes, "Julius Valerius," the _Historia de Praeliis_, etc., are once more not for us; but results of them, which have almost or quite emerged from the state of controversy, are. It is certain that the appearance, in the classical languages, of the wilder legends about Alexander was as early at least as the third century after Christ--that is to say, long before even "Dark" let alone "Middle" Ages were thought of--and perhaps earlier. There seems to be very little doubt that these legends were of Egyptian or Asiatic origin, and so what we vaguely call "Oriental." They long anticipated the importing afresh of such influences by the Crusades, and they must, with all except Christians and Jews (that is to say, with the majority), have actually forestalled the Oriental influence of the Scriptures. Furthermore, when Mediaeval France began to create a new body of European literature, the Crusades had taken place; the appetite for things Oriental and perhaps we should say the half-imaginative power of appreciating them, had become active; and a considerable amount of literature in the vernacular had already been composed. It was not wonderful, therefore, that the _trouveres_ should fly upon this spoil. By not the least notable of the curiosities of literature in its own class, they picked out a historical but not very important episode--the siege of Gaza and Alexander's disgraceful cruelty to its brave defender--and made of this a regular _Chanson de Geste_ (in all but "Family" connection), the _Fuerres de Gadres_, a poem of several thousand lines. But the most generally popular (though sometimes squabbled over) parts of the story, were the supposed perversion of Olympias, not by the God Ammon but by the magician-king Nectanabus personating the God and becoming thereby father of the Hero; the Indian and some other real campaigns (the actual conquest of Persia was very slightly treated), and, far above all, the pure Oriental wonder-tales of the descent into the sea, the march to the Fountain of Youth, and other myths of the kind.

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