Dreams, History and the Hero in the <i>Chansons de Geste</i>


  • Lola Sharon Davidson


The predictive dreams and divine revelations in which epics and histories abound contrast with the dreams of personal desire to be found in the romances. For the twelfth century epic poetry was a form of history. Like history it was permeated with a religious world-view. Whereas the romance dream tends to express the fundamental theme of the romance, namely the alienation of the individual from the social group, epic and historical dreams function to situate the individual in a social and religious context.


The chansons were written in vernacular poetry and the histories in Latin prose and verse but they shared a common subject matter in the exploits of famous kings and warriors, and they were subject to the same influences and examples. Following the classical view of history as rhetoric, medieval historians sought to glorify nations and their rulers, while hopefully entertaining their readers5. Dreams served to demonstrate the exceptional nature of the protagonists, their providential mission and moral status, and like digressions in general, to provide a relief from an accumulation of details which historians feared would prove tedious. Epic poetry formed part of this approach to history. Virgil's Aeneid provided the model by which the rising barbarian nations could be endowed, like Rome, with a noble Trojan descent. Geoffrey of Monmouth was to be the twelfth-century's most notable practitioner of this technique which Suger applied to the Capetians and Ekkehard to Henry V.