in Latin and in French. Èracles

What makes a man? – in Latin and in French. Èracles’ rendering of William of Tyre’s
ruler portraits.
The French crusading chronicle Éracles (c. 1220) belongs to the earliest phase of French
prose writing and was one of the most successful vernacular texts in spite of its
considerable length, being diffused and updated both in France and in Outremer. It is an
adaptation / translation / rewriting of the celebrated Latin Chronicle by William of Tyre
(written in the 1170s and 1180s, before the Fall of Jerusalem in 1187). The French text
remains understudied as it is not ‘literature’ (not fiction), it is not original, and it has little
historical ‘source’ value. (A new edition by Philip Handyside is in the process of
In my presentation I want to reassess the place of the Éracles within crusading literature
as a work in its own right and as a reading of William of Tyre. It is a very valuable
testimony to the interface between Latin and vernacular narrativization of the Crusades
and between various modes of conceptualising the role and capacities of man in history.
For an evaluation of the latter, the paper will take as its point of departure the rendering
of William's elaborate ruler portraits. The anonymous French adapter / translator both
understood the intricacies of William's descriptions and skilfully adjusted them to a
language and a conceptual scheme that fitted a non-latinate aristocratic audience. What is
left out and what is re-conceptualized in the French text should be analysed as part of the
reading of William's Chronicle.
The existence of these two long high-quality texts – of which one is an intelligent reading
of the other – supplies us with excellent material for questioning the usual binaries of
Latin/vernacular, ecclesiatical/aristocratic, original/translation, and history/literature.
Prof. Lars Boje Mortensen