The University of Texas at Austin; College of Liberal Arts
Hans C. Boas, Director :: PCL 5.556, 1 University Station S5490 :: Austin, TX 78712 :: 512-471-4566
LRC Links: Home | About | Books Online | EIEOL | IE Doc. Center | IE Lexicon | IE Maps | IE Texts | Pub. Indices | SiteMap

Old French Online

Lesson 3

Brigitte L.M. Bauer and Jonathan Slocum

Saints played an important role in everyday life in the Middle Ages. A saint is a person who is officially recognized by the Church of Rome as having lived a remarkably holy life. Because of their exceptional Christian virtues, saints are assumed to be in heaven, where they are able to intercede for sinners, those who live a less-than-holy life.

With the calendar of saints indicating the days of the individual saints, the Church had introduced their systematic celebration, highlighting their virtuous lives as Christians. Because of their interceding function, saints often were patrons of certain groups, roles that generally trace back to events in their lives. St. Nicolas, for example, was patron saint of sailors because -- according to legends -- he had saved sailors at one point in his life; St. Luke, who originally was believed to be a painter and a physician, was the patron saint of painters and of physicians. Moreover people generally were named after a saint, for whom they tended to develop special devotion.

Outside and inside churches and houses were many statues of saints, each with its own symbols (e.g. St. John the Evangelist with the poisoned cup to which he was condemned). There was a strong hagiographic tradition as well: an important number of medieval documents describe saints' lives, often written by contemporaries or based on stories told by them.

Saints were, so to speak, omnipresent in daily life in the Middle Ages.

Reading and Textual Analysis

The text for this lesson has been taken from La Vie de Saint Alexis, which dates from the mid-11th century and relates the life of Saint Alexis, a young Roman whose life was devoted to God. The legend of St. Alexis is rather international: it is attested in Syria, Greece, and Western Europe. The document discussed here presumably is based on a lengthy written tradition.

The Old French text is a poem of 625 verses, which in all probability was chanted during the liturgy of the saint's day, July 17.

Son of an important and rich Roman senator, Alexis decides on the eve of his wedding to leave Rome and live with the poor. Having distributed his possessions among the poor, he lives for seventeen years in Edessa, spending his days as a beggar. When the locals come to consider him a saint, he leaves the town on a ship and eventually ends up in Ostia, a port close to Rome. In the streets of Rome he encounters his father, who fails to recognize him. Alexis asks to be taken into the household. His father accepts, and Alexis stays there for another seventeen years without being recognized by his family, living as a pauper under the staircase. Refusing to reveal his identity, he sees how his parents and his wife grieve his loss. He patiently undergoes the physical torments he imposes upon himself and the pestering by his father's men. After seventeen years he feels that he is about to die and he calls for his servant: he will write a letter explaining the situation and revealing his indentity. Shortly after his death, the letter is discovered and Alexis is recognized as a saintly figure.

The fragments below describe how Alexis, after seventeen years, returns to Rome and asks his father to take him into his house. They also describe how his parents and his wife fail to recognize him, and spend their time grieving their lost son and husband.

A un des porz ki plus est pres de Rome,
Iloec arivet la nef a cel saint home.

  • a -- preposition; <a, ad> to, up to, against, in, on -- in
  • un -- indefinite article; oblique singular masculine <un> a -- one
  • des -- preposition; <de> of, from + definite article; oblique plural masculine <li> the -- of the
  • porz -- noun; oblique plural <port> harbour, port -- ports
  • ki -- relative pronoun; subject <qui> that -- that
  • plus est pres de -- adverb; <plus> more + verb; third person singular present <estre, iestre, aistre> be + preposition; <pres de> close to -- is closest to
  • Rome -- proper name; oblique singular <Rome> Rome -- Rome
  • iloec -- adverb; <iluec, ilec, iluoc> there -- there
  • arivet -- verb; third person singular present <ariver> arrive -- arrives
  • la -- definite article; nominative singular feminine <li> the -- the
  • nef -- noun; nominative singular <nef> ship -- ship
  • a -- preposition; <a, ad> to, up to, against, in, on -- of
  • cel -- demonstrative; oblique singular masculine <cil> that -- that
  • saint -- adjective; oblique singular masculine <saint> holy -- holy
  • home -- noun; oblique singular <home, ome> man -- man

Quant vit sun regne, durement s'en redutet
De ses parenz, qued il nel recunuissent
E de l'honur del secle ne l'encumbrent.

  • quant -- conjunction; <quant> when -- when
  • vit -- verb; third person singular preterite <veoir> see -- he saw
  • sun -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular masculine <son> his -- his
  • regne -- noun; oblique singular <regne> kingdom, country -- country
  • durement -- adverb; <durement> greatly, sorely, very -- very
  • s'en redutet -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object <se> he + pronoun; inanimate <en> of it + verb; third person singular present <redoter> be afraid, fear -- he is worried
  • de -- preposition; <de> of, from -- about
  • ses -- possessive; third person singular oblique plural masculine <son> his -- his
  • parenz -- noun; oblique plural <parent> father, parent -- parents
  • qued -- conjunction; <que> that -- that
  • il -- personal pronoun; third person plural nominative masculine <il> they -- they
  • nel -- negation; <ne, nen> not + personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he -- him...
  • recunuissent -- verb; third person plural subjunctive present <reconoistre> recognize -- recognize
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- and
  • de -- preposition; <de> of, from -- ...
  • l'honur -- definite article; oblique singular masculine <li> the + noun; oblique singular <onor, enor, anor> honor, respect, esteem, fief -- honors
  • del -- preposition; <de> of, from + definite article; oblique singular masculine <li> the -- of the
  • secle -- noun; oblique singular <siecle, secle, seule> earthly life, world -- world
  • ne -- negation; <ne, nen> not -- ...
  • l'encumbrent -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he + verb; third person plural subjunctive present <encombrer> overload -- overload him with

Eist de la nef e vint andreit a Rome;

  • eist -- verb; third person singular present <issir> go out, come out -- he leaves
  • de -- preposition; <de> of, from -- ...
  • la -- definite article; oblique singular feminine <li> the -- the
  • nef -- noun; oblique singular <nef> ship -- ship
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- and
  • vint -- verb; third person singular preterite <venir> come, go -- went
  • andreit -- adverb; <endreit> precisely, right, immediately -- directly
  • a -- preposition; <a, ad> to, up to, against, in, on -- to
  • Rome -- proper name; oblique singular <Rome> Rome -- Rome

Vait par les rues dunt il ja bien fut cointe,
Altra pur altre, mais sun pedre i ancuntret,

  • vait -- verb; third person singular present <aler> go -- he goes
  • par -- preposition; <par> through, by, by reason of -- through
  • les -- definite article; oblique plural feminine <li> the -- the
  • rues -- noun; oblique plural <rue> street, village -- streets
  • dunt -- relative pronoun; <dont, dunt> of whom, of which, whose -- with which
  • il -- personal pronoun; third person singular nominative masculine <il> he -- he
  • ja -- adverb; <ja, jai> now, already, at once -- already
  • bien -- adverb; <bien> well, many, much, really -- very
  • fut -- verb; third person singular preterite <estre, iestre, aistre> be -- was
  • cointe -- adjective; nominative singular masculine <cointe> refined, clever, elegant -- familiar
  • altra pur altre -- indefinite adjective; oblique singular feminine <altre> other + preposition; <por> for + indefinite adjective; oblique singular feminine <altre> other -- one after the other
  • mais -- conjunction; <mais> more, further, rather -- eventually
  • sun -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular masculine <son> his -- his
  • pedre -- noun; oblique singular <pere> father -- father
  • i -- particle; <i> there -- there
  • ancuntret -- verb; third person singular present <encontrer> meet -- he runs into

Ansembl'ot lui grant masse de ses humes;
Sil reconut, par sun dreit num le numet.

  • ansembl'ot -- preposition; <ensemble od> together with -- together with... (is)
  • lui -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he -- him
  • grant -- adjective; nominative singular feminine <grant> great, large, tall -- large
  • masse -- noun; nominative singular <masse> mass -- group
  • de -- preposition; <de> of, from -- of
  • ses -- possessive; third person singular oblique plural masculine <son> his -- his
  • humes -- noun; oblique plural <home, ome> man -- men
  • sil -- conjunction; <si> and, and thus + personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he -- and... him
  • reconut -- verb; third person singular preterite <reconoistre> recognize -- he recognized
  • par -- preposition; <par> through, by, by reason of -- by
  • sun -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular masculine <son> his -- his
  • dreit -- adjective; oblique singular masculine <droit> direct, right, proper -- proper
  • num -- noun; oblique singular <nom, non> name, title -- name
  • le -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he -- him
  • numet -- verb; third person singular present <nomer> name, call -- he calls

"Eufemïen, bel sire, riches hom,
Quar me herberges pur Deu an ta maison;

  • Eufemïen -- proper name; nominative singular <Eufemïen> Eufemien -- Eufemien
  • bel -- adjective; nominative singular masculine <bel> dear, beloved, handsome -- dear
  • sire -- noun; nominative singular <seignor> lord -- lord
  • riches -- adjective; nominative singular masculine <riche> powerful, strong, generous -- powerful
  • hom -- noun; nominative singular <home, ome> man -- man
  • quar -- conjunction; <quar, car> for, because -- ...
  • me -- personal pronoun; first person singular direct object <jo, jou, jeu> I -- me
  • herberges -- verb; second person singular subjunctive present <herbergier> lodge, shelter, receive as guest -- may you lodge
  • pur -- preposition; <por> for -- for the sake of
  • Deu -- proper name; oblique singular <Dieu, Deu> God -- God
  • an -- preposition; <en> in, into, on, on top of -- in
  • ta -- possessive; second person singular oblique singular feminine <ton> your -- your
  • maison -- noun; oblique singular <maison> house -- house

Suz tun degrét me fai un grabatum
Empur tun filz dunt tu as tel dolur;

  • suz -- preposition; <sos, soz> under -- under
  • tun -- possessive; second person singular oblique singular masculine <ton> your -- your
  • degrét -- noun; oblique singular <degré> staircase -- staircase
  • me -- personal pronoun; first person singular indirect object <jo, jou, jeu> I -- me
  • fai -- verb; second person singular imperative <faire> make -- make
  • un -- indefinite article; oblique singular masculine <un> a -- a
  • grabatum -- noun; oblique singular <grabatum> simple bed -- simple bed
  • empur -- preposition; <enpur, anpur> for the sake of -- for the sake of
  • tun -- possessive; second person singular oblique singular masculine <ton> your -- your
  • filz -- noun; oblique singular <fil> son -- son
  • dunt -- relative pronoun; <dont, dunt> of whom, of which, whose -- about whom
  • tu -- personal pronoun; second person singular nominative <tu> you -- you
  • as -- verb; second person singular present <avoir, aveir> have, be -- have
  • tel -- adjective; oblique singular feminine <tel> such -- such
  • dolur -- noun; oblique singular <dolor> pain, suffering -- grief

Tut soi amferm, sim pais pur sue amor".

  • tut -- adverb; <tot> entirely -- utterly
  • soi -- verb; first person singular present <estre, iestre, aistre> be -- I am
  • amferm -- adjective; nominative singular masculine <enferm> ill, crippled, weak, unhealthy -- weak
  • sim -- conjunction; <si> and, and thus + personal pronoun; first person singular direct object <jo, jou, jeu> I -- and thus... me
  • pais -- verb; second person singular imperative <paistre, pestre> feed -- feed
  • pur -- preposition; <por> for -- for
  • sue -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular feminine <son> his -- his
  • amor -- noun; oblique singular <amor> love -- love

Quant ot li pedre le clamor de sun filz,
Plurent si oil, ne s'en puet astenir:

  • quant -- conjunction; <quant> when -- when
  • ot -- verb; third person singular present <oir, odir> hear -- hears
  • li -- definite article; nominative singular masculine <li> the -- the
  • pedre -- noun; nominative singular <pere> father -- father
  • le -- definite article; oblique singular masculine <li> the -- the
  • clamor -- noun; oblique singular <clameor> appeal -- appeal
  • de -- preposition; <de> of, from -- of
  • sun -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular masculine <son> his -- his
  • filz -- noun; oblique singular <fil> son -- son
  • plurent -- verb; third person plural present <plorer> cry, shed tears -- shed tears
  • si -- possessive; third person singular nominative plural masculine <son> his -- his
  • oil -- noun; nominative plural <oeuil, oil> eye -- eyes
  • ne -- negation; <ne, nen> not -- not
  • s'en -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object <se> he + pronoun; inanimate <en> of it -- himself...
  • puet -- verb; third person singular present <pooir, poeir, poier> can, be able -- he can
  • astenir -- verb; infinitive <astenir> keep from -- contain

"Por amor Deu e pur mun cher ami,
Tut te durai, boens hom, quanque m'as quis,
Lit ed ostel e pain e carn e vin".

  • por -- preposition; <por> for -- for
  • amor -- noun; oblique singular <amor> love -- the love
  • Deu -- proper name; oblique singular <Dieu, Deu> God -- of God
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- and
  • pur -- preposition; <por> for -- for
  • mun -- possessive; first person singular oblique singular masculine <mon> my -- my
  • cher -- adjective; oblique singular masculine <cher> beloved, expensive -- beloved
  • ami -- noun; object singular <ami> friend -- friend
  • tut -- adjective; oblique singular masculine <tot> all, every, completely -- all
  • te -- personal pronoun; second person singular indirect object <tu> you -- you
  • durai -- verb; first person singular future <doner> give -- I will give
  • boens -- adjective; nominative singular masculine <bon> good -- good
  • hom -- noun; nominative singular <home, ome> man -- man
  • quanque -- pronoun; <quanque> all that -- ...
  • m'as -- personal pronoun; first person singular indirect object <jo, jou, jeu> I + verb; second person singular present <avoir, aveir> have, be -- you have... me
  • quis -- verb; perfective participle oblique singular masculine <quere, querre> look for, want, ask -- asked for
  • lit -- noun; oblique singular <lit> bed -- a bed
  • ed -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- and
  • ostel -- noun; oblique singular <ostel> house, dwelling -- lodging
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- and
  • pain -- noun; oblique singular <pain> bread -- bread
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- and
  • carn -- noun; oblique singular <charn, char> flesh, meat -- meat
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- and
  • vin -- noun; oblique singular <vin> wine -- wine

Sovent le virent e le pedre e le medra,
E la pulcele quet il out espusede:
Par nule guise unces ne l'aviserent;

  • sovent -- adverb; <sovent> frequently, often -- often
  • le -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he -- him
  • virent -- verb; third person plural preterite <veoir> see -- they saw
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- ...
  • le -- definite article; nominative singular masculine <li> the -- his # case form is rather exceptional in this instance
  • pedre -- noun; nominative singular <pere> father -- father
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- and
  • le -- definite article; nominative singular feminine <li> the -- his # case form and gender distribution are rather exceptional in this instance
  • medra -- noun; nominative singular <mere> mother -- mother
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- and
  • la -- definite article; nominative singular feminine <li> the -- the
  • pulcele -- noun; nominative singular <pucele> girl, servant, maiden -- girl
  • quet -- relative pronoun; oblique <qui> who -- whom
  • il -- personal pronoun; third person singular nominative masculine <il> he -- he
  • out -- verb; third person singular preterite <avoir, aveir> have, be -- had
  • espusede -- verb; perfective participle oblique singular feminine <esposer> marry -- married
  • par nule guise unces -- preposition; <par> through, by, by reason of + adjective; oblique singular feminine <nul> no, not any + noun; oblique singular <guise> way, manner + adverb; <onques> once, ever -- never in any way
  • ne -- negation; <ne, nen> not -- ...
  • l'aviserent -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he + verb; third person plural preterite <aviser> look at, see, recognize, appreciate -- they recognized him

N'il ne lur dist, ne il nel demanderent,
Quels hom esteit ne de quel terre il eret.

  • n'il -- negation; <ne, ni> nor, and not + personal pronoun; third person singular nominative masculine <il> he -- he...
  • ne -- negation; <ne, nen> not -- not
  • lur -- personal pronoun; third person plural indirect object <il> they -- them
  • dist -- verb; third person singular preterite <dire> say, tell -- did... tell
  • ne -- negation; <ne, ni> nor, and not -- and...
  • il -- personal pronoun; third person plural nominative masculine <il> they -- they
  • nel -- negation; <ne, nen> not + personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he -- not...
  • demanderent -- verb; third person plural preterite <demander> ask, ask for -- did... ask
  • quels -- interrogative; nominative singular masculine <quel> what -- who
  • hom -- noun; nominative singular <home, ome> man -- ...
  • esteit -- verb; third person singular imperfective <estre, iestre, aistre> be -- he was
  • ne -- negation; <ne, ni> nor, and not -- nor
  • de -- preposition; <de> of, from -- from
  • quel -- interrogative; oblique singular feminine <quel> what -- what
  • terre -- noun; oblique singular <terre> land, country, earth -- country
  • il -- personal pronoun; third person singular nominative masculine <il> he -- he
  • eret -- verb; third person singular imperfective <estre, iestre, aistre> be -- came

Soventes feiz lur veit grant duel mener
E de lur oilz mult tendrement plurer,
E tut pur lui, unces nïent pur eil.

  • soventes -- adjective; oblique plural feminine <sovent> many -- many
  • feiz -- noun; oblique plural <feiz, veiz> time -- times
  • lur -- personal pronoun; third person plural indirect object <il> they -- them
  • veit -- verb; third person singular present <veoir> see -- he sees
  • grant -- adjective; oblique singular masculine <grant> great, large, tall -- great
  • duel -- noun; oblique singular <dol, duel> suffering, grief -- grief
  • mener -- verb; infinitive <mener> take, lead, show -- display
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- and
  • de -- preposition; <de> of, from -- from
  • lur -- possessive; third person plural oblique plural masculine <lor, leur> their -- their
  • oilz -- noun; oblique plural <oeuil, oil> eye -- eyes
  • mult -- adverb, adjective; <molt, mult, mout> many, much, very -- great
  • tendrement -- adverb; <tendrement> tenderly -- with tenderness
  • plurer -- verb; infinitive <plorer> cry, shed tears -- shed tears
  • e -- conjunction; <e, et, ed> and -- ...
  • tut -- adverb; <tot> entirely -- entirely
  • pur -- preposition; <por> for -- for
  • lui -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he -- him
  • unces nïent -- adverb; <onques> once, ever + adverb; <nïent> not at all -- never
  • pur -- preposition; <por> for -- for
  • eil -- personal pronoun; third person plural direct object <il> they -- themselves

Danz Alexis le met el consirrer;
Ne l'en est rien, si'st a Deu aturnét.

  • danz -- noun; nominative singular <dam, dan> sir, lord -- sir
  • Alexis -- proper name; nominative singular <Alexis> Alexis -- Alexis
  • le -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he -- it
  • met -- verb; third person singular present <metre, mectre, mettre> put -- takes
  • el -- preposition; <en> in, into, on, on top of + definite article; oblique singular masculine <li> the -- in...
  • consirrer -- verb; infinitive <conserrer, consirrer> deprive, resign -- resignation
  • ne l'en est rien -- negation; <ne, ni> nor, and not + personal pronoun; third person singular indirect object masculine <il> he + pronoun; inanimate <en> of it + verb; third person singular present <estre, iestre, aistre> be + indefinite pronoun; <rien> anything -- it does not matter
  • si'st -- adverb; <si> thus, that way, that much + verb; third person singular present <estre, iestre, aistre> be -- that much... he is
  • a -- preposition; <a, ad> to, up to, against, in, on -- to
  • Deu -- proper name; oblique singular <Dieu, Deu> God -- God
  • aturnét -- verb; perfective participle nominative singular masculine <atorner> turn, prepare -- turned

Soz le degrét ou il gist sur sa nate,
Iluec paist l'um del relef de sa tabla.

  • soz -- preposition; <sos, soz> under -- under
  • le -- definite article; oblique singular masculine <li> the -- the
  • degrét -- noun; oblique singular <degré> staircase -- staircase
  • ou -- relative pronoun; <ou, u> where -- where
  • il -- personal pronoun; third person singular nominative masculine <il> he -- he
  • gist -- verb; third person singular present <gesir> lie -- lies
  • sur -- preposition; <seur, soure, sur, sor> on, over, to, above -- on
  • sa -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular feminine <son> his -- his
  • nate -- noun; oblique singular <nate> matting -- matting
  • iluec -- adverb; <iluec, ilec, iluoc> there -- there
  • paist -- verb; third person singular present <paistre, pestre> feed -- feed
  • l'um -- definite article; nominative singular masculine <li> the + personal pronoun; nominative singular <om, on> one -- they
  • del -- preposition; <de> of, from + definite article; oblique singular masculine <li> the -- of the
  • relef -- noun; oblique singular <relef> remains, scraps -- remains
  • de -- preposition; <de> of, from -- of
  • sa -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular feminine <son> his -- the
  • tabla -- noun; oblique singular <table> table -- table

A grant poverte deduit sun grant parage;
Ço ne volt il que sa mere le sacet:
Plus aimet Deu que trestut sun linage.

  • a -- preposition; <a, ad> to, up to, against, in, on -- in
  • grant -- adjective; oblique singular feminine <grant> great, large, tall -- great
  • poverte -- noun; oblique singular <poverté> poverty, misery -- poverty
  • deduit -- verb; third person singular present <deduire> lead, live -- he lives
  • sun -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular masculine <son> his -- his
  • grant -- adjective; oblique singular masculine <grant> great, large, tall -- high
  • parage -- noun; oblique singular <parage> family, origin, rank -- social rank
  • ço -- demonstrative; oblique singular neuter <ço, ceo, ce, ceu> this, that, it -- ...
  • ne -- negation; <ne, nen> not -- not
  • volt -- verb; third person singular present <voloir> want -- does want
  • il -- personal pronoun; third person singular nominative masculine <il> he -- he
  • que -- conjunction; <que> that -- ...
  • sa -- possessive; third person singular nominative singular feminine <son> his -- his
  • mere -- noun; nominative singular <mere> mother -- mother
  • le -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object masculine <il> he -- ...
  • sacet -- verb; third person singular subjunctive present <savoir> know -- to know
  • plus -- adverb; <plus> more -- more
  • aimet -- verb; third person singular present <amer> love -- he loves
  • Deu -- proper name; oblique singular <Dieu, Deu> God -- God
  • que -- conjunction; <que> than -- than
  • trestut -- reinforcing element; <tres>... + adjective; oblique singular masculine <tot> all, every, completely -- entire
  • sun -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular masculine <son> his -- his
  • linage -- noun; oblique singular <lignage> lineage, family -- lineage

Trent'e quatre anz ad si sun cors penét:
Deus sun servise li volt guereduner:
Mult li angreget la sue anfermetét.

  • trent'e quatre -- numeral; <trente et quatre> thirty four -- thirty four
  • anz -- noun; oblique plural <an> year -- during... years
  • ad -- verb; third person singular present <avoir, aveir> have, be -- he has
  • si -- adverb; <si> thus, that way, that much -- that way
  • sun -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular masculine <son> his -- his
  • cors -- noun; oblique singular <cors> body -- body
  • penét -- verb; perfective participle oblique singular masculine <pener> torture, suffer -- tortured
  • Deus -- proper name; nominative singular <Dieu, Deu> God -- God
  • sun -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular masculine <son> his -- his
  • servise -- noun; oblique singular <servise> devotion, favor, task -- devotion
  • li -- personal pronoun; third person singular indirect object masculine <il> he -- ...
  • volt -- verb; third person singular present <voloir> want -- wants
  • guereduner -- verb; infinitive <guerredoner> reward -- to reward
  • mult -- adverb, adjective; <molt, mult, mout> many, much, very -- much
  • li -- personal pronoun; third person singular indirect object masculine <il> he -- for him
  • angreget -- verb; third person singular present <angregier> grow worse, become more painful -- becomes more painful
  • la -- definite article; nominative singular feminine <li> the -- ...
  • sue -- possessive; third person singular nominative singular feminine <son> his -- his
  • anfermetét -- noun; nominative singular <enfermeté> physical or moral weakness, illness -- physical weakness

Or set il bien qued il s'en deit aler:
Cel son servant ad a sei apelét.

  • or -- adverb; <or> now -- now
  • set -- verb; third person singular present <savoir> know -- knows
  • il -- personal pronoun; third person singular nominative masculine <il> he -- he
  • bien -- adverb; <bien> well, many, much, really -- well
  • qued -- conjunction; <que> that -- that
  • il -- personal pronoun; third person singular nominative masculine <il> he -- he
  • s'en deit aler -- personal pronoun; third person singular direct object <se> he + pronoun; inanimate <en> of it + verb; third person singular present <devoir> have to + verb; infinitive <aler> go -- has to die
  • cel -- demonstrative; oblique singular masculine <cil> that -- ...
  • son -- possessive; third person singular oblique singular masculine <son> his -- his
  • servant -- noun; oblique singular <servant> servant -- servant
  • ad -- verb; third person singular present <avoir, aveir> have, be -- he has
  • a -- preposition; <a, ad> to, up to, against, in, on -- to
  • sei -- pronoun personal; third person singular direct object <se> he -- him
  • apelét -- verb; perfective participle oblique singular masculine <apeler> accuse, summon, call -- called to see

Lesson Text

A un des porz ki plus est pres de Rome,
Iloec arivet la nef a cel saint home.

Quant vit sun regne, durement s'en redutet
De ses parenz, qued il nel recunuissent
E de l'honur del secle ne l'encumbrent.


Eist de la nef e vint andreit a Rome;
Vait par les rues dunt il ja bien fut cointe,
Altra pur altre, mais sun pedre i ancuntret,

Ansembl'ot lui grant masse de ses humes;
Sil reconut, par sun dreit num le numet.


"Eufemïen, bel sire, riches hom,
Quar me herberges pur Deu an ta maison;

Suz tun degrét me fai un grabatum
Empur tun filz dunt tu as tel dolur;

Tut soi amferm, sim pais pur sue amor".

Quant ot li pedre le clamor de sun filz,
Plurent si oil, ne s'en puet astenir:

"Por amor Deu e pur mun cher ami,
Tut te durai, boens hom, quanque m'as quis,
Lit ed ostel e pain e carn e vin".


Sovent le virent e le pedre e le medra,
E la pulcele quet il out espusede:
Par nule guise unces ne l'aviserent;

N'il ne lur dist, ne il nel demanderent,
Quels hom esteit ne de quel terre il eret.


Soventes feiz lur veit grant duel mener
E de lur oilz mult tendrement plurer,
E tut pur lui, unces nïent pur eil.

Danz Alexis le met el consirrer;
Ne l'en est rien, si'st a Deu aturnét.


Soz le degrét ou il gist sur sa nate,
Iluec paist l'um del relef de sa tabla.

A grant poverte deduit sun grant parage;
Ço ne volt il que sa mere le sacet:
Plus aimet Deu que trestut sun linage.


Trent'e quatre anz ad si sun cors penét:
Deus sun servise li volt guereduner:
Mult li angreget la sue anfermetét.

Or set il bien qued il s'en deit aler:
Cel son servant ad a sei apelét.

Translation

In one of the ports that is closest to Rome,
There the ship of that holy man arrives.
When he saw his country, he is very worried
About his parents, that they recognize him
And overload him with the honors of the world.
He leaves the ship and went directly to Rome;
He goes through the streets with which he was already very familiar,
One after the other, eventually he there runs into his father,
Together with him is a large group of his men;
And he recognized him, he calls him by his proper name.
"Eufemien, dear Lord, powerful man,
may you lodge me in your house for the sake of God;
Make me a simple bed under your staircase
For the sake of your son, about whom you have such grief;
I am utterly weak and thus feed me for his love".
When the father hears the appeal of his son,
His eyes shed tears, he cannot contain himself:
"For the love of God and for my beloved friend,
I will give you, good man, all you have asked me for,
A bed and lodging and bread and meat and wine."
They saw him often, his father and his mother,
And the girl whom he had married:
They never recognized him in any way;
He did not tell them, and they did not ask,
Who he was nor what country he came from.
Many times he sees them display great grief
And shed tears from their eyes with great tenderness,
Entirely for him, never for themselves.
Sir Alexis takes it in resignation;
It does not matter, that much he is turned to God.
Under the staircase where he lies on his matting,
There they feed him of the remains of the table.
In great poverty he lives his high social rank;
He does not want his mother to know:
He loves God more than his entire lineage.
He has tortured his body that way during thirty-four years:
God wants to reward his devotion:
His physical weakness becomes much more painful for him.
He now knows well that he has to die:
He has called his servant to see him.

Grammar

11. Past Tenses: Uses

In the previous lesson it was said that Old French had an imperfect tense (Fr. imparfait, e.g. chantoie 'I was singing'), a preterite (Fr. passe/ simple or passe/ de/fini, e.g. chantai 'I sang'), and a compound past tense, the perfective present (e.g. ai chanté 'I have sung').

The actual uses of these forms will be discussed in the following paragraphs. It is, however, necessary to include in this discussion the present as well, because that tense is often used as a so-called historical present.

The student may have noticed in the fragments analyzed so far that the present and the three past tenses may alternate in any given sentence, as for example:

(a) the present and the preterite:

    Karles l'oït e ses Franceis l'entendent (CdR 1788, Lesson 2)
    'Charles heard (Pret.) him and his subjects hear (Pres.) him'

(b) the compound tense and the preterite:

    Carles li reis, ...,
    Set anz tuz pleins ad estet en Espaigne:
    Tresqu'en la mer cunquist la tere altaigne (CdR 1-3, Lesson 1)
    'Charles the king, ...,
    has been in Spain a full seven years:
    he conquered (Pret.) the high land up to the sea'

The use of tenses was less strict in early medieval texts than it became from the 13th century onward. Yet even in the early period tense use was not chaotic; there were definite tendencies:

(a) imperfect:

  • refers to past action and state;
  • refers to actions that are durative or repeted;
  • refers to habits;
  • refers to actions that typically are not completed;
  • in later texts the imperfect may also be used to refer to permanent qualities of persons or objects (see also [b]);
  • the imperfect in Old French is less frequent than in later times and is often replaced by the preterite.

Examples:

    il nel demanderent
    Quels hom esteit ne de quel terre il eret (Al. 239-240, this lesson)
    'they did (Pret.) not ask him,
    Who he was (Impf.) nor what country he was (Impf.) from'

(b) preterite:

  • refers to (completed) actions in the past that have no link with the present;
  • is typically found in reference to a sequence of events;
  • refers to permanent characteristics of persons or objects (later to be replaced by the imperfect in this use; cf. [a]);
  • may replace the imperfect.

Examples:

    Blancandrins vint devant Marsiliun (CdR 414)
    'Blancandrin came (Pret.) to see Marsile'
     
    vairs out les oilz et molt fier lu visage (CdR 283)
    'he had (Pret.) grey-blue eyes and a proud face'
     
    li quens Rollant fut noble guerrer (CdR 2066)
    'Count Roland was (Pret.) a noble warrior'

(c) compound tense:

  • refers to action in state of completion;
  • refers to actions that took place in the past, but have an impact on the present;
  • refers to action of the past, just like the preterite.

Examples:

    Carles li reis, ... ,
    Set anz tuz pleins ad estet en Espaigne (CdR 1, Lesson 1)
    'Charles the king, ...,
    has been in Spain a full seven years'
    [and now he is on his way back to France]

(d) historical present:

  • refers to actions that took place in the past as if they are taking place at the moment of narration, enhancing the dramatic effects or liveliness of style;
  • emotional moments in the text often are in the historical present.

Examples:

In a story set in the past, one finds:

    E Deu apelent andui parfitement (Al. 22)
    'And they both beseeched (Pres.) God perfectly'

Changes in tense use often mark a dramatic moment in the text; cf:

    Quant vit sun regne, durement s'en redutet ... (Al. 198, this lesson)
    'When he saw (Pret.) his country, he was (Pres.) very worried'
     
    Puis converserent ansemble longament:
    N'ourent amfant, peiset lur en forment, (Al. 21-22)
    'Then they lived (Pret.) together for a long time,
    they had (Pret.) no children, which was (Pres.) a great grief to them'
12. Definite Article: Forms

The definite article in Old French has the following paradigm:

Definite Article

    Masc. Sg.   Masc. Pl.   Fem. Sg.   Fem. Pl.
Nom.   li   li   la   les
Obl.   le, lo   les   la   les

The vowel of singular forms often disappears in front of another vowel (elision); cf.:

    l'ami   'the friend' (Obl. Sg. Masc.)
    l'amie   'the friend'(Nom./Obl. Sg. Fem.)

As a rule there is no elision in the nominative singular masculine and in the plural:

    li amis   'the friend' (Nom. Sg. Masc.)
    li ami   'the friends' (Nom. Pl. Masc.)

In sequences that include a preposition, a definite article, and a noun starting with a consonant, the definite article le and les may combine with the preposition (enclisis); cf:

    a   +   le   >   al, au
    a   +   les   >   as, aus, aux
                     
    de   +   le   >   del, dou, du
    de   +   les   >   des
                     
    en   +   le   >   el, eu, ou, u
    en   +   les   >   es
13. Definite Article: Uses

Latin did not have definite articles, but in the shift from Latin to the Romance languages definite articles developed out of Latin demonstratives. For French -- with the exception of a few dialects -- the definite article traces back to the Latin demonstrative ille 'that'.

Whereas the use of definite articles in modern French has become almostautomatic, its use in medieval French is motivated. Because of inconsistencies, linguists so far have not been able to pinpoint the precise "rules," but there are definite tendencies.

The definite article in Old French is used when the element in question is known either because it has already been mentioned, or because it is generally known; cf.:

    Rollant ad mis l'olifan a sa buche (CdR 1753, Lesson 2)
    'Roland has put the horn to his mouth'

In this example reference is made to the horn about which there has been much discussion already. Similarly,

    Li empereres se fait ... balz (CdR 96, Lesson 1)
    'the emperor is ebullient'

The emperor is Charlemagne, who from the beginning of the document is the main character.

In the following example reference is made to la feste seint Martin, which is generally known in the Middle Ages:

    Vos le sivrez a la feste seint Michel (CdR 37)
    'you will follow him on the holiday of St. Michael'

A noun may also refer to a unique phenomenon, e.g. the world:

    Bons fut le secles ... (Al. 1)
    'Good was the world ...'

On the whole there is no definite article when the noun has generic value, as in:

    Fers e acers i deit aveir valor (CdR 1362)
    'it is iron and steel that have value'

There is no definite article when the noun is an abstract noun; cf.:

    el num la virgine ki portat salvetét (Al. 89)
    'in the name of the Virgin, who brought salvation'
     
    cum fort pecét m'apresset! (Al. 59)
    'how much sin is tempting me!'

There is no article when the noun refers to a country; cf.:

    de dulce France i ad quinze milliers (CdR 109, Lesson 1)
    'from our beloved France there are fifteen thousand men'

Before the 13th century there generally is no article when the noun refers to peoples or groups of people; cf.:

    Franceis i unt ferut de coeur e de vigur;
    Paien sunt morz a millers (CdR 1438-1439)
    'the French have been striking there with zeal and strength;
    the pagans have died by thousands'

There are a number of expressions including a verb and a direct object in which the noun does not combine with an article, such as:

    merci crier   'beg for mercy'
    messe esculter   'go to mass' (lit.: to mass listen)
    guerre commencer   'start war'
    merci aveir   'have mercy'

There is no definite article in adverbial expressions introduced by a preposition; cf.:

    a grant poverte deduit sun grant parage (Al. 248, this lesson)
    'in great povery he lives his high social rank'

In an ennumeration a noun may be ommited, leaving the definite article behind; cf.:

    al tens Noë ed al tens Abraham ed al David (Al. 6-7)
    'in the time of Noah and in the time of Abraham and in that of David'

The definite article combines often with titles and proper names; cf.:

    Li reis Marsilie (CdR 10, Lesson 1)
    'King Marsilie'
     
    Li quens Rollant (CdR 1785, Lesson 2)
    'Count Roland'

Definite articles may combine with possessives; cf.:

    par le men escïentre (CdR 1791, Lesson 2)
    'to my knowledge'
     
    la tue amurs (CdR 3107)
    'your love'
     
    la sue anfermetét (Al. 278, this lesson)
    'his physical weakness'
14. The Subjunctive: Forms

Old French is characterized by the productive use of the present and past subjunctive. The formation of the two subjunctives is based on two different stems. The present subjunctive is based on the present stem, which also is found in the first person plural indicative; cf.:

Formation of the Present Subjunctive

    Inf.   Pres. Part.   1st Pl. Pres.   Pres. Subju.
    chanter   chantant   chantons   chant
    fenir   fenissant   fenissons   fenisse
    partir   partant   partons   parte

The imperfect subjunctive is based on the perfective stem, found in the past (perfective) participle and the preterite as well; cf.:

Formation of the Imperfective Subjunctive

    Inf.   Past Part.   Pret.   Impf. Subju.
    chanter   chanté   chantai   chantasse
    fenir   feni   fenis   fenisse
    partir   parti   parti   partisse

From a historical perspective, Old French chantasse traces directly to Latin cantavissem (cantav-issem), and like the preterite is based on the perfective stem of the verb: chantai for example traces back to Latin cantavi (cantav-i). The Old French past (or perfective) participle has the same stem as well, because it is based on the Latin perfective stem. This is especially clear in Latin verbs like relinquere 'leave', which have -n- in its present stem, but not in the perfective stem; cf. relinquo 'I leave' vs. reliqui 'I have left', relinquens 'leave-Pres. Part.' vs. relictus 'leave-Pf. Part.'.

The present and imperfect forms of the subjunctive for the various conjugations are as follows.

14.1. Present subjunctive

Present Subjunctive, Verbs in -er (chanter, e.g. chant 'that I may sing') --

Present   Ending   Sg.   Ending   Pl.
1st pers.   -   chant   -ons   chantons
            -iens   chantiens
2nd pers.   -s   chanz   -iez   chantez
3rd pers.   -t   chant   -ent   chantent

Present Subjunctive, Verbs in -ir with infix (fenir, e.g. fenisse 'that I may end') --

Present   Ending   Sg.   Ending   Pl.
1st pers.   -isse   fenisse   -issons   fenissons
            -issiens   fenissiens
2nd pers.   -isses   fenisses   -iss(i)ez   feniss(i)ez
3rd pers.   -isse   fenisse   -issent   fenissent

Present Subjunctive, Verbs in -ir without infix (partir, e.g. parte 'that I may leave') --

Present   Ending   Sg.   Ending   Pl.
1st pers.   -e   parte   -ons   partons
            -iens   partiens
2nd pers.   -es   partes   -ez   partez
3rd pers.   -e   parte   -ent   partent

Present Subjunctive, Verbs in -re (corre, e.g. corre 'that I may run') --

Present   Ending   Sg.   Ending   Pl.
1st pers.   -e   corre   -ons   corons
2nd pers.   -es   cores   -ez   corez
3rd pers.   -e   core   -ent   corent
14.2. Imperfective subjunctive

Imperfective Subjunctive, Verbs in -er (chanter, e.g. chantasse 'that I sang') --

Imperfective   Ending   Sg.   Ending   Pl.
1st pers.   -asse   chantasse   -issons   chantissons
            -issiens   chantissiens
2nd pers.   -asses   chantasses   -issoiz   chantissoiz
            -iss(i)ez   chantiss(i)ez
3rd pers.   -ast   chantast   -assent   chantassent

Imperfective Subjunctive, Verbs in -ir with infix (fenir, e.g. fenisse 'that I ended') --

Imperfective   Ending   Sg.   Ending   Pl.
1st pers.   -isse   fenisse   -issons   fenissons
            -issiens   fenissiens
2nd pers.   -isses   fenisses   -issoiz   fenissoiz
            -iss(i)ez   feniss(i)ez
3rd pers.   -ist   fenist   -issent   fenissent

Imperfective Subjunctive, Verbs in -ir without infix (partir, e.g. partisse 'that I left') --

Present   Ending   Sg.   Ending   Pl.
1st pers.   -isse   partisse   -issons   partissons
            -issiens   partissiens
2nd pers.   -isses   partisses   -iss(i)ez   partiss(i)ez
3rd pers.   -ist   partist   -issent   partissent

Imperfective Subjunctive, Verbs in -re (corre, e.g. corusse 'that I ran') --

Present   Ending   Sg.   Ending   Pl.
1st pers.   -usse   corusse   -ussons   corussons
2nd pers.   -usses   corusses   -ussoiz   corussoiz
            -uss(i)ez   coruss(i)ez
3rd pers.   -ust   corust   -ussent   corussent
15. The Subjunctive: Uses

The subjunctive is a mood that expresses the speaker's attitude towards the action conveyed by the verb: fear, anger, wish, and so forth. The indicative, by contrast, refers to a plain fact. Compare the following two examples:

    Li reis me done cunseil
    'the king gives me advice'

In this example the speaker makes a simple observation of something that is happening. In the next example the speaker expresses his wish that the event expressed by the verb will take place; cf:

    Que Deus pareîs me duinst
    '(that) God give me access to Heaven'

In Modern French, the use of the subjunctive in main clauses is limited to one or two fixed expressions (e.g. vive la France 'long live France') and to constructions introduced by the particle que 'that', expressing wishes or orders; cf., for example, que personne ne sorte 'nobody should go out'.

In Old French, the use of the subjunctive was more widespread. First, the present as well as imperfect subjunctive were both very much alive. Second, the subjunctive was freely used in subordinate as well as main clauses and its occurrence was semantically motivated.

In main clauses the subjunctive typically expresses wishes and orders, and may or may not be combined with the particle que, si, or car:

    filz, la tue aname el ciel seit absoluthe! (Al. 410)
    'son, may your soul be free in heaven!'
     
    si m'aît Deus
    'God help me'
     
    de vos ait Deus mercit! (CdR 1855)
    'may God have pity upon you'
     
    Deus li otreit seinte beneîçun! (CdR 2245)
    'may God give him his blessing'
     
    paien, mal aies tu!
    'heathen, be damned (lit.: have [Subju.] misery)!'
     
    quar me herberges ... an ta maison (Al. 217, this lesson)
    'may you lodge me in your house'

The second person subjunctive could also function as an imperative marked for its politeness (see Grammar Point 16, Lesson 4).

In subordinate clauses, the subjunctive occurs:

· after verbs expressing a wish; cf.:

    il voelt veirement que Carles diet (CdR 2362-2363)
    'he really wants that Charles said ...'
     
    priet Deu que pareîs li duinst (CdR 2241)
    'he prays to God that He give him access to heaven'

· after verbs expressing the notion of 'thinking', e.g. penser 'think', m'est avis 'it seems to me', cuider 'think', croire 'believe'; cf.:

    ne sai le lieu ... u t'alge querre (Al. 133-134)
    'I do not know the place where to look (Subju.) for you'

· after verbs expressing an order:

    je vos defend que n'i adeist nuls hom (CdR 2437)
    'I order you that no one get (Subju.) close'

· after verbs expressing doubt, possibility, or necessity; cf.:

    se mei leüst, si t'oüsse guardét (Al. 490)
    'if it had been allowed, I would have protected you'

· after verbs expressing fear; cf.:

    durement s'en redutet..., qued il nel recunuissent (Al. 198-199, this lesson)
    'he is very worried that they [might] recognize (Subju.) him'

· in indirect interrogative constructions, especially after a negation:

    ne set qu'il face
    'he does not know what to do (Subju.)'

· after negated or hypothetical clauses; cf.:

    n'i ad castel ki devant lui remaigne (CdR 4, Lesson 1)
    'there is no castle that resists (Subju.) him'
     
    nuls n'en i at ki n'alget malendus (Al. 554)
    'there is nobody who leaves (Subju.) in bad shape'

· in adverbial clauses expressing time and referring to future events; cf.:

    n'en descendrat ...
    enceis qu'en seient .VII.C. espees traites (CdR 810-811)
    'he will not come down
    before seven hundred swords have been (Subju.) unsheathed'