Walter Map Essay - Critical Essays

Map, Walter


Walter Map c. 1140-c. 1209

(Also known as Mapes or Mahap, and under the pseudonym Golias.) British essayist, courtier, and civil servant.

Map is remembered and admired for the single work that can with certainty be attributed to him—De Nugis Curialium (Of Courtiers' Trifles). First transcribed in Latin, Of Courtiers' Trifles is a collection of satirical essays, witty personal and historical anecdotes, and romance tales typical of the period in which Map lived.

Biographical Information

Little is known about Map's life. Scholars believe that he was born in the border region of England and Wales and that he was possibly a Welshman. Evidence for this is Map's own reference to the Welsh as "his fellow-countrymen," and to the fact that the word "map," frequently abbreviated to "ap," is Welsh for "son of." Alternatively, Giraldus Cambrensis (also known as Gerald of Wales), with whom Map had close ties, referred to him as English, and some critics have suggested that Map came from Hereford in England. Ultimately, much of what is known about Map comes from his own remarks in Of Courtiers' Trifles. He spent time studying in Paris before becoming a clerk in the English court of King Henry II. During his life, he held various secular and religious appointments, working as a circuit justice and as a diplomat, and becoming Archdeacon of Oxford in 1197—a post he held until his death around 1209.

Major Works

Map's first work, Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum philosophum ne uxorem ducat (A Dissuasion of Valerius to Rufinus the Philosopher that He Should Not Take a Wife) is a satirical essay against women and marriage written in the form of a letter, or epistle, and widely circulated during Map's lifetime. This epistle was later incorporated by Map into a collection, or miscellany, which remained unpublished until the fourteenth century, at which time the miscellany was given the title De Nugis Curialium (Of Courtiers' Trifles). Of Courtiers' Trifles was first translated into English in 1923 by Montague Rhodes James; it begins with a satire on courtly life, comparing it to Hell. The work also contains details of Map's own life, historical accounts of Jerusalem and Byzantium, and some fictional tales. The work displays Map's sense of humor as well as some religious and secular customs of the Middle Ages, but it also reveals his inveterate dislike for the Cistercian order of monks. The miscellany closes with a second comparison of the court to Hell. It is not known for certain whether the final Latin transcription, as we have it, was arranged according to Map's wishes, or by someone else after Map's death. But there is little doubt that the actual content is mostly Map's own compositions. At one time it was believed that Map was also the mysterious and pseudonymous author "Golias," responsible for a series of satirical and ribald poems associated with the "Goliards," who were notorious as lawless and gluttonous buffoons and jesters. Map's connection to "Golias" and his writings has since been disproved. It was also once widely believed that Map was the creator of a group of chivalric Arthurian romances—in particular the "Lancelot" poems, but that, too, has been discounted by most critics.

Critical Reception

Critics have suggested that Map was known more as a wit, courtier, civil servant, and religious official during his lifetime than as a writer. Nineteenth-century scholars regarded Map as a writer of Arthurian romances and profane Goliardic poetry. James, who translated Map's work into English, complained that Map's knowledge of Latin was faulty and that his sentences were awkward and overlong. Later in the twentieth century, however, scholars began to examine the contents of the miscellany more closely and have praised Map for his subtle use of satire and for his understanding of the close connection between what we regard, on the one hand, as tales, and on the other as history.

Principal Works

*Dissuasio Valerii ad Rufinum philosophum ne uxorem ducat [A Dissuasion of Valerius to Rufinus the Philosopher that He Should Not Take a Wife] (epistle) n.d.

De Nugis Curialium [Of Courtiers' Trifles] (miscellany) 1181

*First circulated separately in manuscript form; afterward published as part of De Nugis Curialiumn.

Principal English Translations

De Nugis Curialium [translated by M. R. James] 1923

De Nugis Curialium [translated by F. Tupper and M. B. Ogle] 1924

Walter Map, De Nugis Curialium: Courtiers' Trifles [edited and translated by M. R. James; revised by C. N. L. Brooke and R. A. B. Mynors] 1983


Thomas Wright (essay date 1841)

SOURCE: An introduction to The Latin Poems Commonly Attributed to Walter Mapes, edited by Arthur Wright, AMS Press, 1841, pp. v-xxviii.

[In the following essay, Wright introduces a collection of poems in Latin which he has grouped under Map's name. He asserts that, while they probably do not belong to Map, they either conform to the style of Map's known works, or they have been attributed to Map or to his supposed pseudonym, "Golias. "]

The great popular movements in England during the end of the twelfth and the earlier half of the thirteenth centuries, gave rise to a numerous class of Latin poems of a very peculiar character, remarkable chiefly for pungency of satire,...

(The entire section is 5035 words.)

Arthur W. Colton (essay date 1893)

SOURCE: "The First English Essayist: Walter Map," Poet-Lore, Vol. V, No. 11, November, 1893, pp. 537-50.

[In the following essay, Colton examines several of Map's writings and remarks on the uncertain or "shadowy" connection that can be drawn between Map and the essays he may or may not have written. He concludes that this uncertainty is appropriate since Map considered his own life as a courtier a vain and shadowy one.]

Since the publications of the Camden Society in 1850 and 1851, the name of Walter Map has been tolerably familiar to students of literature, and the De Nugis Curialium has taken a certain rank among historical documents. The Reports of the...

(The entire section is 5618 words.)

Montague Rhodes James (essay date 1914)

SOURCE: A Preface to De Nugis Curialium, by Walter Map, edited by Montague Rhodes James, Oxford at the Clarendon Press, 1914, pp. v-xxxix.

[In the following excerpt from the introduction to his Latin transcription of De Nugis Curialium, James describes the physical condition of the manuscript from which he is working; discusses the errors made by an earlier transcriber (Thomas Wright); explains his own methods of transcription; speculates on the initial publication date of Map's work; and describes the contents of Map's work.]

The treatise de Nugis Curialium of Walter Map is preserved in a single manuscript1 of the end of the fourteenth century...

(The entire section is 5186 words.)

James Hinton (essay date 1917)

SOURCE: "James Hinton and Ser Giovanni," Modern Philology, Vol. XV, No. 4, August, 1917, pp. 203-09.

[In the following essay, Hinton offers summaries of several Medieval tales of chivalry in order to refute the once widely held belief that Map's story "De Rollone et eius uxore" was published during his lifetime and was also the source of a later Italian novella.]

Walter Map's De Nugis Curialium contains only one story which has been claimed as the source of a later piece of mediaeval fiction. A peculiar interest naturally attaches to that story, "De Rollone et eius uxore," which is found in Distinctio III, cap. v, of Map's book.1 This interest is...

(The entire section is 3063 words.)

Montague R. James (essay date 1923)

SOURCE: A Preface to De Nugis Curialium, by Walter Map, translated by Montague R. James, edited by E. Sidney Hartland, Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, 1923, pp. ix-xi.

[In the following preface to his English translation of De Nugis Curialium, James argues that Map lacked proficiency in Latin and that, thus, his word choice is sometimes inaccurate and his sentences are cumber-some.]

Walter Map is a very difficult author to translate. My aim, in making the English version of his book, which is here offered to the Honourable Society of Cymmrodorion, has been to produce something which shall be quite faithful to the sense which I think the writer is trying to...

(The entire section is 848 words.)

Helaine Newstead (essay date 1970)

SOURCE: "Some Observations on King Herla and the Herlething" in Medieval Literature and Folklore Studies: Essays in Honor of Francis Lee Utley, edited by Jerome Mandel and Bruce A. Rosenberg, Rutgers University Press, 1970, pp. 105-10.

[In the following essay, Newstead demonstrates how Map combined traditional folk legends to satirize the English court of Henry II, of which he was a member.]

Among the many marvels recounted by Walter Map in the miscellany known as De Nugis Curialium, the story of King Herla has attracted the attention of diverse scholars largely because of the assumed connection of his name with the traditions of Harlequin and the Wild...

(The entire section is 2963 words.)

A. K. Bate (essay date 1972)

SOURCE: "Walter Map and Giraldus Cambrensis," Latomus, Vol. XXI, No. 3, October-December, 1972, pp. 860-75.

[In the following excerpt, Bate refutes the popular notion that Map and fellow Medieval writer Giraldus Cambrensis (also known as Gerald of Wales) were close friends, and further suggests that Giraldus plagiarized some of Map's work.]

Over the past fifty years or so, scholars attempting to define the origins of Goliardic poetry and Arthurian romance have shown that two of the most widely propagated ideas about Map are far from being the most accurate, and gradually the bulk of the literature attributed to him, that is Goliardic and Arthurian poems, has been taken...

(The entire section is 7773 words.)

Lewis Thorpe (essay date 1978)

SOURCE: "Walter Map and Gerald of Wales," Medium Aevum, Vol. XLVII, No. 1, 1978, pp. 6-21.

[In the following essay, Thorpe examines the connections between Map and Gerald of Wales (also known as Giraldus Cambrensis) and speculates on the extent to which the prolific Gerald might have been influenced by the apparently unprolific Map.]

When one considers how often his name has appeared in manuscripts and in print, and what remarkable attributions have been made to him, it is strange how little we really know about Walter Map as a writer. All that we seem to have from his pen is the so-called De Nugis Curialium, an interesting work, but incomplete, uneven, without...

(The entire section is 6952 words.)

A. G. Rigg (essay date 1992)

SOURCE: "Walter Map" in A History of Anglo-Latin Literature 1066-1422, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 88-92.

[In the following excerpt, Rigg presents an overview of Map's work, focusing on the objects of his satire.]

… Walter Map was also born about 1135, and was part-English, part-Welsh. He describes England as his 'mater', but refers to the Welsh as his 'compatriote' and his surname is Welsh for 'son of. For most of his life he lived close to the Welsh border ('marchio sum Walensibus'). He was probably educated first at St Peter's Abbey in Gloucester, and then studied in Paris. He enjoyed the patronage of Henry II and travelled widely with the court, both in...

(The entire section is 3011 words.)

Monika Otter (essay date 1996)

SOURCE: "Underground Treasures: The Other Worlds of William Malmesbury, William of Newburgh, and Walter Map" in Inventiones: Fiction and Referentiality in Twelfth-Century English Historical Writing, The University of North Carolina Press, 1996, pp. 93-128.

[In the following excerpt, Otter describes Map as "an extremely self-aware narrator," blurring the lines between fiction and fact as other Medieval historians have done, but more intensely aware than they seem to have been that his "history" lacks a reliable foundation.]

… A fuller, more properly self-referential use of the Liar [paradox] is one of the major premises of Walter Map's De Nugis Curialium....

(The entire section is 7008 words.)

Further Reading

Bennett, R. E. "Walter Map's 'Sadius and Galo.'" Speculum XVI, No. I (January 1941): 34-56.

Provides a summary of one of the tales in Map's De Nugis Curialium in order to demonstrate Map's skill and "command" over the elements of chivalric stories.

Brooke, Christopher. "Fiction: The Holy Grail and Walter Map." In The Twelfth Century Renaissance, pp. 170-74. London: Thames and Hudson, 1969.

Briefly reviews some of Map's tales and observes that De Nugis Curialium would have been transcribed not by Map but by his secretary; Brooke adds that few of his contemporaries would have read it.

——. "Introduction." In Walter...

(The entire section is 253 words.)