From Fierabras to Stair Fortibrais: a comparative analysis of the Chanson de Geste and its adaptations in Ireland
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Despite its apparent popularity in fifteenth-century Ireland—as attested by its presence in eight manuscripts—Stair Fortibrais, the Irish adaptation of the twelfth-century chanson de geste Fierabras has received very little scholarly attention. This fact proves especially unfortunate since the text possesses particular relevance for two important trends in recent scholarship, one concerning Celtic Studies and the other more broadly Continental in scope. In the case of the former, researchers have begun to consider how translations can inform the interpretation of the greater corpus of medieval Irish literature. The latter relates to an interest in the person of Charlemagne himself as a pan-European figure. As an Irish translation of a poem from the geste du roi, Stair Fortibrais has much to contribute to both these academic discussions. Because the text remains relatively unknown, this thesis is by design intended largely as a scholarly introduction to the material. It seeks to present data about the text and serve as a guide to some of its most important themes. The Introduction will provide basic information about Stair Fortibrais and its Hiberno-Latin source Gesta Karoli Magni and their unique place amongst Irish translation literature. The body of the thesis is composed of four chapters. The first examines all manuscripts containing the Irish adaptation as well as the single codex featuring its Latin source. More specifically, it considers how its placement within the manuscripts provides guidance for interpreting the text. All three remaining chapters compare the Irish adaptation—and, where appropriate, its fragmentary Latin source—with Fierabras. The second chapter discusses additions, reordering, reduction/omission and substitution in Stair Fortibrais in an attempt to determine the adaptor’s translation technique, with a particular emphasis on patterns in his approach. The penultimate chapter analyses the adaptation’s treatment of some of the chanson de geste’s important themes. It is divided into three sections: Character Studies, Religion and the Supernatural and Religion and Historiography. The final chapter studies topics both political—rank and feudal duties— and cultural—family, unity, and moderate behaviour— which appear to have particularly interested the adaptor but which do not feature prominently in the French poem. The conclusion of the thesis will postulate that, through a series of subtle but carefully-considered alterations, the adaptors not only translated but also re-appropriated their source material for its Irish audience. It will also briefly consider some of the numerous avenues for additional exploration of the tradition of Charlemagne in Ireland.