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The First Psalters in Old French and Their 12th Century Context

Abstract : There are two ways in which one may write the introduction to the history of medieval French literature. The first one – more common – starts with the Song of Roland. The second one – just as acceptable – starts with the St Albans Psalter (nowadays preserved in Hildesheim, Cathedral Library of Saint Mary, without a designated number). It was there, in this Psalter, that one of the most seminal texts of the Middle Ages was written – the Song of St Alexis –, but it was also from this Latin Psalter that the first translations of the sacred texts into French were ever made. The Oxford Psalter, the very first French medieval translation of the Psalter and the most extensively copied, is arguably one of the best word- by-word translations of the Psalms and Old Testament Canticles ever made, and it stems from that particular text. The autograph of this translation is preserved in the Douce 320 manuscript of the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Completely different from the mise-en-page of the other French Psalters of the time, its avatars, the Oxford Psalter’s layout presents us with a monolingual codex. It dates back to the first half of the 12th century and it was written in England, in the Anglo-Norman dialect of the time. Nothing is known about the original context in which it was produ- ced. The only thing known for certain is that the Oxford Psalter was part of the library of the Benedictine abbey of Montebourg, in Normandy, at the beginning of the 14th century, where it was bound with a copy of a French translation of the Rule of Saint Benedict – dating back to the begin- ning of the 13th century – in what is nowadays known as the composite manuscript Douce 320. This is why it was also called the Montebourg Psalter for quite some time. Its new name, the Oxford Psalter, refers only to the place where it is nowadays preserved.
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Vladimir Agrigoroaei. The First Psalters in Old French and Their 12th Century Context. Actes de colloque international, Jun 2018, Alba Iulia, Romania. pp.29-37. ⟨halshs-02181546⟩

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