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Medieval translations and adaptations


Famous all over Europe

The many manuscripts and old printed editions known today show that Vincent's Latin works were widely popular. This success transcended even the Latin language, as is evidenced by the translations, adaptations and quotations in the medieval vernacular languages. We give a brief overview here.

The Speculum Historiale enjoyed by far the highest popularity. Its first adaptation in the vernacular came about early on. Between 1284 and 1289, the Middle Dutch poet Jacob van Maerlant worked on the Spiegel Historiael, a rhymed adaptation of the historical parts of the Speculum Historiale. Jacob abandoned his project in 1289. It was completed by Philip Uytenbroecke (around 1300) and Lodewijc van Velthem (1315-1317). A partial prose translation into High German of the Spiegel Historiael, which enjoyed great popularity, has been preserved from the fifteenth century.

In the 1320s, Jean de Vignay made a French translation of the complete Speculum Historiale, entitled Miroir historial. There was probably also a complete translation into High German from the 14th century, of which only a few manuscript fragments remain. In Catalan, we find a partial translation of the Speculum Historiale by Jaume Domènec, who between 1363 and 1384 translated selections from Vincent's anthologies of classical authors for his Compendi historial. In High German, a fifteenth-century translation exists of passages selected from the first six books of the Speculum Historiale.

Many chronicles and world histories in the vernacular languages of the late Middle Ages contain long quotations from the Speculum Historiale. Sometimes Vincent's work is quoted directly (for example, in the Spanish Primera Cronica general); in other cases, they are indirect quotations from another Latin source drawing on the Speculum Historiale. This indirect route was also important for its popularity. Latin authors used Vincent's work as the principal source of their histories or made resumes of it. Others used the Speculum Historiale to compile their collections of saints' lives and so-called exempla, narratives that served in preaching. These works were, in turn, sources for vernacular authors or were even translated completely into different vernacular languages.

Even more frequently, one may find short quotations or references to the Speculum Historiale, as well as to the two other, authentic parts of the Speculum Maius: the Speculum Naturale and Speculum Doctrinale. In the works of Jean de Meung (c. 1240-1305), Walter Burley (c. 1275-1344/45), Geoffrey Chaucer (c. 1343-1400), Christine de Pisan (1364/5-ca. 1430), and many others, we find quotations and references showing that these vernacular authors were indebted to the Speculum Maius for their scientific, literary, or historical knowledge. Sermon collections, in Latin and in the vernacular languages, also show the extent to which Vincent's encyclopedia served as a tool for preachers.

Some of Vincent's other works also found their way into the vernacular. Jean Daudin, for example, made a French translation of Vincent's educational treatise De eruditione filiorum nobilium ("On the Education of Noble Children") before 1373. Then in 1374, he made a French translation of Vincent's consolation letter to King Louis IX. Fragments of an adaptation of Vincent's Praise of the Virgin Mary (Liber de laudibus beate Virginis Marie), which seems to have been Vincent's most popular work after the Speculum Historiale, have been preserved in Hungarian.

For more details about the Speculum Maius

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