Carmina Burana

Encyclopædia Orbis Latini


See the text of the poem.

The largest and greatest collection of secular lyrics (see Goliardic songs), comes from the Benediktbeuern, a Benedictine monastery in Bavaria. It was put together in the 13th century, though most of the songs are much older, and contains work by many of the finest poets of the age. The contents are divided by subject into moral and satirical verse, love poetry, drinking songs, and liturgical dramas. Walter of Châtillon and Philip the Chancellor are conspicuous among the authors of the satires, the force of their works deriving from learned and allusive use of Scripture. Peter of Blois is found in the section of satirical verse and the section of love poetry. His verse forms achieve a new degree of delicacy and sophistication, and his erotic poetry owes much to a close study of classical poets, particularly Ovid. Yet many of the forms in evidence, the pastourelle (a love debate between a knight and a shepherdess) for example, have no classical antecedent. In the complexity of its argument and profusion of imagery, a poem such as "Dum Diane vitrea" ("While Shining Diane") far exceeds the imagination of any classical author. Among the drinking songs in the third section are works of the anonymous German "Archpoet" and of Hugh Primas of Orléans, a slightly earlier figure. Under the cover of a pointedly low-life persona, these poets, both prominent men in court society, practiced a robust form of satire in which much of the humour is deflected upon themselves. Grander forms of poetry are not neglected: Walter of Châtillon's foray into epic, the Alexandreis (written c. 1180), is one of the most distinguished products of the medieval fascination with the legends of Alexander the Great, and it exercised an immense influence on subsequent vernacular literature.
 
 

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