Laura K. Morreale
In 1296, an unnamed member of the Hospitaller Order composed a work he called “saterian.” because, as the author explained, “just as the law addresses multiple and diverse affairs, so too does this book, and for this reason, it is called Saterian.” Far from the expansive text the author describes, the Livre Saterian is instead a prolonged French-language meditation on the nature of law and its principles, particularly as they might be applied by fellow members of the Hospitaller Order who were charged with upholding the organization’s rules and regulations.
How the author’s ruminations on the meaning of law were received by his brother Hospitallers is largely unknown, in part because the Livre Saterian has never been published in full, and has therefore received little scholarly attention. The text was, however, included in a well-known French-language Hospitaller manuscript first complied in Cyprus in the early years of the fourteenth century, shortly after the expulsion of Western Christians from Acre in 1291and the transfer of Order headquarters to Cyprus. The codex, now housed at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, (fonds français 6049) contains several texts of great importance to the Order, including a copy of their Rule, a full articulation of their customs and regulations (the Usancesand Esgarts), and a chronology of the Order’s Grand Masters. The Livre Saterian is the final text in the original, late thirteenth- to early fourteenth- century section of the manuscript, a carefully-executed program of French-language writings crafted by Hospitaller leadership as they considered the new role of the Order after it was exiled as from the Holy Land.
The Livre Saterian offers an important perspective on the early fourteenth-century situation of the Order in Cyprus and illustrates how its members used French to confront the challenges they faced in their new locale. Given its status as a French-language legal treatise, the Livre Saterian may be even more valuable as a point of comparison than other texts in the codex, since several other French-language legal texts were also being copied and circulated on Cyprus by the island’s aristocracy at the very same moment and represent some of the earliest examples of French-language legal writing from any locale. Although the subject material is similar, the approach to legal writing in the aristocratic corpus is more pragmatic than in the Livre Saterian. This paper will examine the Livre Saterian in the context of Hospitaller French-language writing, compare it to the corpus of aristocratic legal texts of crusader Cyprus, and highlight the French-language traditions used by each writing community.