Troy Book


Troy Book
   by John Lydgate
(1420)
   The Troy Book by John LYDGATE is a 30,000-line narrative poem about the destruction of Troy. It is notable as an example of the way Lydgate (ca. 1370–ca. 1449), a Benedictine monk from the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, used classical materials to comment on contemporary events. The Troy Book was commissioned by Prince Hal, later Henry V, at 4:00 P.M. on Monday, 31 October 1412.Working on the task for eight years, Lydgate obviously reviewed many tales of Troy, including the French Roman de Troie (1160) by BENOÎT DE SAINTE-MAURE; the Latin Historia Traoians (1287) by GUIDO DELLE COLONNE; and the English TROILUS AND CRISEYDE by Geoffrey CHAUCER. Using Guido as the central framework for his version, Lydgate expanded and shaped the source materials to make a distinctly English version of the legend. While it is impractical to summarize the entire poem in this brief entry, the main points follow: The poem is divided into five parts, framed by a prologue and an envoi. Part one deals with background on Troy, including the stories of Jason and the Argonauts, Hercules and the golden fleece, Medea’s faithful love, and Hesione’s abduction. The section ends with the destruction of old Troy. Part two begins with the rebuilding of Troy and then moves to Paris’s mission of retaliation for the kidnapping of Hesione, which culminates in Paris’s capture of Helen and their return to Troy with the Greek army in pursuit. Parts three and four cover the various battles between armies and individual heroes. Tangential stories include the love stories of Troilus and Criseyde and of Achilles and Polyxena. In part five, Troy surrenders to the Greeks and the poem follows the fate of the survivors, particularly Aeneas and Odysseus. Concluding comments that span the end of part five and the envoi warn against the vanity of worldly affairs and invoke blessings on Henry. In language, the Troy Book demonstrates Lydgate’s fondness for a flowery English style based on conventions of classical Latin poetry. In fact, of the more than 800 words that Lydgate is said to have introduced to English from Latin and the Romance languages, more than 200 appear for the first time in the Troy Book.
   The Troy Book survives in 23 manuscripts and two pre-1600 printed editions. At least five of the known manuscripts include an illustration of a monk, presumably Lydgate, presenting the finished work to a king, presumably Henry. A stylized woodcut version of the presentation scene appears in one of the early printed editions. Other manuscripts may have included similar pictures, but the first leaves have been cut out of the manuscripts, presumably by someone who valued the picture more than the poem.
   Bibliography
   ■ Bergen, Henry. Lydgate’s Troy Book: Edited from the Best Manuscripts with Introductions, Notes, and Glossary. 4 vols. EETS, e.s. 97, 103, 106, and 126. London: Kegan Paul, Trench, Trübner, 1906–1935.
   ■ Ebin, Lois. John Lydgate. TEAS 407. Boston: Twayne, 1985.
   ■ Pearsall, Derek. John Lydgate. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1970.
   ■ Renoir,Alain. The Poetry of John Lydgate. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1967.
   ■ Schirmer,Walter. John Lydgate: A Study in the Culture of the XVth Century. Translated by Ann E. Keep. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1961.
   David Sprunger

Encyclopedia of medieval literature. 2013.

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