The Dyalogue

Why is it so hard to get up in the morning? Did God really create toads? And if you commit a sin, but are too drunk to remember, does it still count? These are among the many questions posed by a son to his father in a work of Old French prose known as the Dyalogue du pere et du filz (Dialogue of the Father and Son). The Dyalogue was composed in northern France in the mid-thirteenth century. It proved to be a highly successful handbook of basic Christian doctrine. The dozens of medieval manuscripts that preserve the text suggest that it also circulated in England and Italy soon after its composition, and that it continued to be transmitted in France until the end of the Middle Ages.

This project

BnF fr. 1136, fr. 33r (Source: / BnF)

The Developing Dialogue Project, funded through a Leverhulme Trust Early Career Fellowship (2015-2018), aims to situate the Dyalogue du pere et du filz in the broader context of late medieval pastoral care. It was one of a number of didactic dialogues produced in the wake of the important Fourth Lateran Council of 1215, which made provisions for, among other things, annual confession and clerical reform.

The manuscript tradition of the Dyalogue is complex. Not only is the text bound together with other didactic dialogues in medieval manuscripts, but extracts of it are subsumed within larger works, most notably the French translation of the Elucidarium known as Lucidaire I and the Bible en françois attributed to Roger d’Argenteuil. Unsurprisingly, this has led to some some confusion in modern scholarship. This project will clarify the transmission of the Dyalogue and produce the first critical edition of the work, based on the first redaction of the text.

Among the broader questions the project will seek to address are the following:

  • How did authors of vernacular didactic dialogues adapt Latin learning to suit the needs of different audiences?
  • To what extent did they reflect on their choice of content, use of the dialogue form, and their pedagogical strategies?
  • In what ways was lay access to Latin learning facilitated and/or restricted?
  • What was the cultural value of French as a transnational language of pastoralia, and how did its status compare to Latin, to other vernacular languages, and to ‘literary’ varieties of French?
  • To what extent were didactic dialogues updated in transmission?
  • How did didactic dialogues stage orality, and how was orality represented on the manuscript folio?

Developing dialogue

I am always pleased to hear from scholars working on medieval pastoralia in the UK and abroad. Look out for project-related events advertised on the blog pages of this site. Or you can find about more about me and my publications on my personal webpages.