Origins of the Romance
Although the romance assumed a generic identity and acquired a defined form during the Middle Ages, it had its roots in a much earlier tradition. The genre’s development was significantly aided by the infusion of material from classical sources. Medieval romances are to some degree analogous to narrative prose tales, known as Greek romances, written from the first century b.c.e. to the third century c.e. by such authors as Chariton, Xenophon, Heliodorus of Emesa, and Longus. Although medieval writers probably had no direct contact with the original Greek tales, the stories, often about faithful lovers separated and reunited after perilous adventures, were carried on in the oral tradition. The tale of Apollonious of Tyre, a story of Greek origin but only extant in a third or fourth century Latin version, became one of the most widely retold stories of the Middle Ages.
Clerks, the professional writers of the twelfth century, had been trained in the cathedral schools in the arts of Latin grammar and rhetoric. Such Latin works as Ovid’s Metamorphoses (c. 8 c.e.; English translation, 1567) and Ars amatoria (c. 2 b.c.e.; Art of Love, 1612) provided not only more material for the early writers of romance but also a style of exposition which encouraged a systematic development and a symbolic framework in which to elaborate their tales. Rhetorical embellishments with elaborate descriptions of surroundings and procedures and lists of everything from dishes at a feast to flowers in a field decorate the romances as details in an intricate tapestry.
Classical epics such as the Odyssey (c....
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