Wace, Le Roman de Brut: The French Book of Brutus
Wace's Roman de Brut is a wonderful introduction to the medieval world--a world of kings and feudal loyalty, of castles and siege machines, of battles and invasions, of moral and immoral love, of sin and salvation, and of famines and storms. Wace's verse chronicle recounts the legendary history of the kings of Britain and includes the timeless tales of Brutus, Lear, Belin and Brennes, Vortigern, Uther Pendragon, Arthur, and others. Wace turned the details of his Latin sources into Norman French verse for royals and nobles who were men and women of their times. Since these men and women were not scholars or historians, he told his tale in terms that they would understand. Consequently, when we read Wace, we get an understanding of what he and his audience valued and held important. Under the guise of chronicle history, Wace succeeds in writing a living legend that describes a heroic past in the romantic terms of his age.
This translation renders Wace's rhymed octosyllabic couplets into unrhymed English iambic tetrameter preserving the line structure and imitating the cadences of the original French as presented in the famous two-volume edition of Wace prepared by Ivor Arnold for the Sociéte des Anciens Textes Français (1938 40). However, to break up Wace's continuous text into sections that can be read comfortably in one sitting, the translator has divided the text into chapters that make narrative and thematic sense.
Wace's most famous work, the Brut holds something of interest for all students of the Middle Ages, whether specialists in Old French or not. Students and fans of King Arthur will find the work especially helpful in their understanding of Arthur's place in the long line of legendary kings that stretches from the times of the Trojans to the times of the final displacement of the Britons by the Saxons. No library can be complete without a copy of this important medieval text. This tasteful and careful metrical translation sets a new standard in the verse translation of medieval works. It is useful to scholarship and makes for some exciting reading.