Bilingual Books and Trilingual Tales. Multilingual Multi-Text Manuscripts from the Medieval Flanders

Jelmar Hugen
Utrecht University

Following the rise of material philology in medieval studies, recent years have seen a large amount of studies focusing on the codicological history and composition of manuscripts. Multi-text manuscripts in particular, whether they be miscellanies, anthologies or composites, have garnered much attention and led to various international studies and projects as a result. Amongst these contributions one occasionally encounters research looking at the linguistic diversity present in some of these manuscripts. In addition to paratextual elements such as glosses and scribal notations, the multilingual nature of multi-text manuscripts can inform us about the medieval reception of texts and shed new light on the intellectual capabilities and cultural preferences of contemporary reading communities.

A more thorough, comparative study of multilingualism in multi-text manuscripts is therefore desired and the corpus of manuscripts containing Medieval Dutch makes for an interesting starting point. Throughout the entire Middle Ages, the Low Countries were highly international, both in a geographical and commercial sense (cities such as Bruges and later Antwerp were considered among the most thriving commercial centers of entire Europe) and a political-cultural sense (The courts of Flanders, Brabant and Holland all operated in different languages and at different times were ruled over by French-speaking nobles). This high degree of interaction with other cultures and languages is also reflected in Medieval Dutch literature, large parts of which are intertextually linked with French or Latin sources. Thanks to comprehensive databases such as the CD-Rom Middelnederlands and the online Bibliotheca Neerlandica Manuscripta & Impressa, these literary sources are now more accessible than ever before and thus ready for closer inspection.

With the main intention of bringing these multilingual multi-text manuscripts containing Dutch, French and Latin into view for the first time, I will discuss the amount, content and composition of these bilingual and trilingual manuscripts, with a special emphasis on the region of Medieval Flanders and the literature produced there during the 14th and 15th century. My discussion can offer both insights in the interaction between users of the three languages as well as the cultural prestige and textual authority related to these languages.