Floire et Blancheflor: roman idyllique from ancient Greek romance

Sexual symmetry distinguishes ancient Greek romance from other classical literature. For example, Longus’s ancient Greek romance Daphnis and Chloe tells of two adolescents who grow up together and come to love each other. She’s a shepherd, and he’s a goatherd. While not dogmatically identical, Chloe and Daphnis are sexually symmetric in social status, emotional response, instrumental activity, life experiences, and their valuation of each other’s lives. Daphnis and Chloe and other ancient Greek romances are rare, classical works showing meninist concern for gender equality. The twelfth-century romance Floire et Blancheflor apparently drew upon ancient Greek romance.[1] Widely distributed and adapted in medieval Europe, Floire et Blancheflor supported an idyllic vision of gender equality. That vision, so painfully missing from modern gender orthodoxy, deserves to be disseminated and nurtured.

parents holding Floire and Blancheflor

Floire and Blancheflor were together from birth. Floire was the son of the pagan king Felix. While raiding Galicia, King Felix killed Blancheflor’s father and captured Blancheflor’s mother. He gave Blancheflor’s mother to his wife as a slave. Both Felix’s wife and Blancheflor’s mother gave birth on Palm Sunday. Their children were named after flowers: Floire and Blancheflor, respectively. Blancheflor’s mother raised Floire:

She raised him very properly
and guarded him attentively
just as her own daughter, and no one knew
which of the two was dearer to her.
Together the children were raised
such that each from two years of age
never separately ate
nor drank, except for their breast-feeding.
Together they slept in one bed.
They grazed and were watered as a couple.

{ El le nouri molt gentement
et garda ententivement
plus que sa fille, et ne savoit
le quel des .II. plus cier avoit.
Ensamble nori les enfans
tant que cascuns ot bien .II. ans ;
onques ne lor sevra mangier
ne boire, fors seul l’alaitier.
Ensamble en un lit les couçoit,
andeus paissoit et abevroit. }[2]

Blancheflor and Floire lived together in pastoral simplicity and gender equality. These two children probably played with the same toys, with Floire not being specially trained with toy soldiers to kill men. They probably wore the same color clothes. In other words, Floire was not projected out into the vast emptiness of sky and sea by being distinctively clothed in blue.

Floire and Blancheflor as children
When the children reached seven years of age, King Felix sent Floire away for schooling under a master-teacher. In medieval schools, boys were often beaten and abused. Moreover, in medieval sex-segregated schooling, boys were taught gendered lessons inculcating subservience to women. Using an important method for eliciting compassion, Floire refused to participate in sex-segregated learning:

The king commanded his son
to learn, and that child, crying,
responded: “Sir, what will Blancheflor
do? And will she not also learn?
Without her I cannot learn,
nor will I know how to speak my lessons.”
The king responded: “For your love,
Blancheflor will also be taught.”
And so the couple went to school.
They were very devoted to the word.
Each of the two learned so much
from the other that it was marvelous.

{ Li rois commande son enfant
qu’il aprenge, et cil en plourant
li respont: “Sire, que fera
Blanceflors? Et dont n’aprendra?
Sans li ne puis jou pas aprendre
ne ne saroie lechon rendre.”
Li rois respont: “Por vostre amor
ferai aprendre Blanceflor.”
Es les vos andeus a escole!
Cius fu molt liés de la parole.
Cascuns d’aus .II. tant aprendoit
pour l’autre que merveille estoit. }

Formal education is now much more important for earning a living than it was in medieval Europe. In the U.S. today, women outnumber men among those receiving undergraduate degrees by 41%.[3] Yet some U.S. colleges still categorically exclude men from undergraduate study. Those female-exclusive, sex-segregated colleges deprive men and women of important educational opportunities. Women today should denounce sex segregation and advocate to learn with men, just as Floire implored to learn with Blancheflor.

Floire and Blancheflor at school

Book learning didn’t lead Blancheflor and Floire to feel gender-aggrieved. It nurtured their love:

As soon as Nature had allowed,
love became their concern.
In learning they had good sense
for retaining what was most fitting.
They read pagan books
where they heard talk of love.
In this they greatly delighted,
in the ingenuity of love that they found.
These readings made them hasten more
to another sense of loving one another
from the infant love
that had been their concern.
Together they read and they learned,
and the joy of love accompanied them.
When they returned from school,
one kissed the other and they embraced.

{ Au plus tost que souffri Nature
ont en amer mise lor cure.
En aprendre avoient boin sens,
du retenir millor porpens.
Livres lisoient paienors
u ooient parler d’amors.
En çou forment se delitoient,
es engiens d’amor qu’il trovoient.
Cius lires les fist molt haster
en autre sens d’aus entramer
que de l’amor de noureture
qui lor avoit esté a cure.
Ensamle lisent et aprendent,
a la joie d’amor entendent.
Quant il repairent de l’escole,
li uns baise l’autre et acole. }

Good education is priceless. It need not be expensive, but it must be thoughtfully sought.

Seeing how much Floire and Blancheflor loved each other, King Felix was concerned that they would marry. He didn’t want his son to marry a non-royal Christian girl. He planned to kill Blancheflor. His wife, however, convinced him to send Floire away instead. King Felix falsely promised that Blancheflor would join Floire in two weeks. She was instead sold to slave-traders who took her to Babylon. There the emir of Babylon bought her for seven times her weight in gold. Men value women very highly.

Back in Felix’s realm, a magnificent fake tomb was prepared to support the fiction that Blancheflor had died. The engraving on the tomb declared Blancheflor and Floire’s mutual love:

Here lies sweet Blancheflor
that Floire loved with passion.

{ Here lyth swete Blauncheflour,
That Florys lovyd par amoure. }[4]

As this clever couplet indicates, Blancheflor loved Floire with passion, and Floire loved Blancheflor with passion. Their love was an equal love like that of ancient Greek romance.

Blancheflor’s mother told Floire that Blancheflor had died. She showed him her fake tomb. Then Floire wanted to be dead just as he believed Blancheflor was. Just in time his mother stopped him from killing himself. She told him the truth: Blancheflor had been sold to foreign slave-traders. Floire immediately declared that he would search for her until he found her and not return until he regained her. King Felix, repenting of what he had done, equipped Floire lavishly for this quest.

Floire went to the port from which the slave-traders had left with Blancheflor. He didn’t know where to go from there. At the port inn where he stayed, he ate little and was mostly silent. He lamented losing Blancheflor. The hostess observed:

The other day I saw another like you,
a young woman Blancheflor,
so she called herself to me.
She resembled you, by my faith,
and well might have been the same age,
and resembled you in appearance.
She likewise ate pensively
and lamented about her beloved
Floire, by whom she was beloved.
To tear her away from him, she was sold.
For fifteen days she was here.
Her laments were continually with tears.
Floire her beloved she lamented,
and night and day for him she cried.
Except for so saying, she was silent all days.

{ Autretel vi jou l’autre jor
de damoisele Blanceflor
(Ensi se noma ele a moi):
el vos resanle, en moie foi,
bien poés estre d’un eage,
si vos resanle du visage.
Ensement au mangier pensoit
et un sien ami regretoit,
Flore, cui amie ele estoit;
por lui tolir on le vendoit.
Ele fut çaiens .XV. jors,
ses regrés fu adés en plors.
Flore son ami regretoit,
et nuit et jor por lui ploroit.
Fors de cest dit tos jors ert mue. }

Women are silenced by being deprived of men’s love. The hostess perceptively observed:

You here are alike in all things
of appearance and of mourning.
But you are a man and she is a woman.

{ Thou art ilich here of alle thinge,
Of semblant and of mourning,
But thou art a man and she is a maide. }

Just like heroes in ancient Greek romance, Blancheflor and Floire were sexually symmetric. Their voices were much alike when active and when silenced. When Floire heard the hostess’s news of Blancheflor, he spoke profusely in thanks. He ate and drank in celebration. Then he prepared to follow Blancheflor to Babylon.

On the way to Babylon, three other strangers told Floire of seeing a young women named Blancheflor. They observed that, like him, she was mournful and pensive and lamented a lost beloved. They said she also looked like him. Two even suggested that he and she were kin. In fact, the toll-man Daire’s wife Licoris said to her husband:

“Sir,” said Licoris, “by my faith,
it seems to me, when I look at him,
that he is beautiful Blancheflor.
I’m certain that he is her twin.
That face, that body, and that resemblance
like her he had from infancy.
I believe that he was born of the same parent,
because they marvelously resemble each other.
She was here fifteen days ago.
Her comforts were lamenting and crying.
She lamented Floire, her beloved,
and night and day she cried for him.
Then from here she was taken
and the emir purchased her.
This is her brother and her beloved.”

{ Sire, fait Licoris, par foi,
çou m’est avis, quant jou le voi,
que çou soit Blanceflor la bele.
Jou cuit qu’ele est sa suer jumele:
tel vis, tel cors et tel sanlant
com ele avoit a cest enfant.
Jou cuit qu’il sont proçain parant,
car a merveille sont sanlant.
Ele fu çaiens .XV. jours;
ses confors fu regrés et plors.
Floire, un sien ami, regretoit,
et nuit et jor por lui ploroit,
quant ele de çaiens torna
et li amirals l’acata.
Cix est ses frere u ses ami. }[5]

These three encounters on Floire’s way to Babylon all attest to Blancheflor and Floire’s sexual symmetry. Floire rewarded these strangers lavishly for providing news of his beloved Blancheflor. He then continued on to Babylon.

The toll-man Daire advised Floire against attempting to rescue Blancheflor. She was being held in the emir’s harem in a great tower in strongly walled Babylon. Each of the one hundred and forty young woman in the harem was confined in a separate room. Nine vicious eunuchs carefully guarded the young women. The young women in the tower were allowed to see no men other than the emir and eunuchs:

No servant may go in there
that has a penis in his pants —
neither by day or by night,
unless he be castrated like a capon.
And at the entrance is a gatekeeper.
He is neither fool nor coward.
If there comes any man
within that particular fortress,
unless it be by his permission,
the gatekeeper will both beat him and castrate him.

{ Ne mai no seriaunt be therinne
That in his brech bereth the ginne,
Neither bi dai ne bi night,
But he be ase capoun dight.
And at the gate is a gateward,
He nis no fol ne no coward;
Yif ther cometh ani man
Withinne that ilche barbican,
But hit be bi his leve
He wille him bothe bete and reve. }[6]

Castration culture is intimately connected to women’s captivity. If you seek women’s liberation, work to abolish castration culture.

Each year the emir had a different woman as his wife. He would parade all the young women of his harem one by one past a stream in his lush garden. That stream would test their virginity. If the stream turned muddy and agitated, the woman would be judged to be “befouled” by a man and executed for her impurity. That’s horrific historical witness to disparagement of men’s sexuality.

After being tested for not having intimately loved a man, the young women would then walk under a blossoming tree. The woman upon whom a blossom fell would be the emir’s wife that year. After a year of marriage, there would be no divorce trial in which a gynocentric family-court judge would deprive the husband of his children and most of his wealth. Instead, the wife would simply be beheaded. Then another young woman of the harem would be selected as a new wife for the emir. Because the emir wanted to marry Blancheflor, he procured magic to ensure that this year the blossom fell on her.

Determined to rescue his beloved Blancheflor, Floire with guile as impressive as that of any woman contrived to penetrate the emir’s harem tower. First Floire pretended to be a rich foreign architect intending to build such a tower in his land. He thus carefully surveyed the tower. Then Floire played chess with the tower’s gatekeeper for three straight days. Floire contrived to give the gatekeeper much gold and a precious cup for his winnings and his friendship at the chessboard. Floire in this way secured the gatekeeper’s allegiance. With Floire dressed in a red shirt, the gatekeeper smuggled him into the tower in a basket of roses intended for Blancheflor.

Unfortunately, the basket of roses was mistakenly delivered to another young woman named Claris. She was the king of Germany’s daughter. When Floire arose from the flowers to embrace his beloved Blancheflor, Claris screamed. Realizing that he had been delivered to the wrong woman — apparently a man-hating woman — Floire feared for his safety. He dove back into the basket of roses.

Floire emerges from basket and scares Claris

Claris soon realized that this strange man looked like her friend Blancheflor. She told the many young woman who ran to her aid when she screamed that she was merely startled by a butterfly that had flew from the basket of roses. Claris, a loyal and loving woman, deeply appreciated men. She saved Floire from being exposed and killed. She brought him to his beloved Blancheflor. Floire and Blancheflor then enjoyed many nights naked in bed together in the emir’s harem tower.

Blancheflor wasn’t a passive medieval woman like the modern academic stereotype. Her vigorous activity with Floire at night frequently made her sleepy in the morning. When one morning Claris came to summon Blancheflor to go with her to serve the emir with water basins, Blancheflor said she was coming. Then she fell asleep. The emir inquired about the lovely Blancheflor. Claris claimed that Blancheflor was continuing to read a book that she had been reading all night to promote the emir’s well-being. The emir was pleased with Blancheflor’s devotion to him.

The next morning, Claris and Blancheflor were again required to serve the emir with water basins. Blancheflor again said she was coming and fell asleep in Floire’s embrace. This time Claris mistakenly told the emir that Blanchefor was coming. The emir sent his chamberlain to hurry her along. The chamberlain peered into Blancheflor’s room:

He seemed to see there
Blancheflor and beautiful Claris.
Why shouldn’t he have thought that?
Neither Floire’s face nor his chin had
a beard, and no mustache was visible.
The tower didn’t have a young woman
who in appearance was more beautiful than Floire.

{ vis li est qu’il i a veü
Blanceflor et bele Gloris.
Por coi ne li fust il avis?
K’a face n’a menton n’avoit
barbe, ne grenons n’i paroit:
en la tor n’avoit damoisele
qui de visage fust plus bele. }

With Claris not present, the chamberlain reported to the emir:

Sir, a marvel have I seen!
Never was love so grand as
as has Blancheflor toward Claris
and she toward her. It’s something to see.
Together they sleep sweetly,
and they have embraced closely.
Mouth to mouth and face to face
they have embraced, and arm in arm.
From compassion I didn’t want to wake them,
for fear of causing them too much suffering.
They are well set in resting together.

{ Sire, merveilles ai veü!
Ainc mais si grans amors ne fu
com a Blanceflor vers Gloris
et ele a li, ce m’est avis.
Ensanle dorment doucement,
acolé s’ont estroitement,
et bouce a bouce et face a face
s’ont acolé, et brace a brace.
De pitié nes voel esvillier,
trop les cremoie a travillier.
Molt lor siet a gesir ensanle. }

The emir was outraged. He thought that Claris had stolen Blancheflor’s love from him.[7]

The emir grabbed his sword and went straight to Blancheflor’s room. There he saw the two lovers sleeping sweetly in the bright daylight:

When he saw them, he was all distressed.
Blancheflor, his beloved, he knew well,
but the other he didn’t know.
Floire was resting with his beloved.
His face didn’t have any indication
that he was a man, for his chin
didn’t have a beard, nor did he have a mustache.
Except for Blancheflor, there wasn’t such a beautiful
young woman in the tower.
The emir looked at him and knew nothing.

{ Quant il les vit, tous fu maris;
Blanceflor connut bien, s’amie,
mais l’autre connut n’avoit mie.
Flores o s’amie gisoit;
en son vis nul sanlant n’avoit
qu’il fust hom, car a son menton
n’avoit ne barbe ne grenon;
fors Blanceflor n’avoit tant bele
en la tor nule damoisele.
Li rois le voit, nel connut mie. }

The ignorant emir put the matter to a test:

“Uncover the chests,” he said
to the chamberlain, “of these two young women.
First let us see their breasts
and then we will wake them.”
They were uncovered. It was apparent
that one was a man who was lying there.

{ “Descoevre, fait il, les poitrines,
au cambrelenc, des .II. mescines;
les mameles primes verrons
et puis si les esvillerons.”
Cil les descoevre, s’aparut
que cil est hom qui illuec jut. }

The learned today learn that breasts don’t identity a woman any more than a penis and testicles identify a man. But the emir was ignorant. He thought he could distinguish between man and woman. He thus identified Floire as a man. He intended to kill them both. That’s unusual in the oppressive history of penal punishment being predominately directed at persons with penises.

Before killing Floire and Blancheflor, the emir sought to hold a trial. That’s how accusations of serious crimes were commonly handled before the recent turn to social-media stoning. Blancheflor and Floire each took responsibility for their sexual crime and sought to exonerate the other. But the emir, acting as judge, resolved to kill them both. Then a king in attendance proposed a plea bargain. He suggested that the emir not kill them if Floire would fully reveal how he, an uncastrated man, had managed to penetrate the emir’s harem. Floire added the proviso of pardon for those who had helped him. The emir agreed. He thus heard Floire’s tale. Floire concluded his tale by falling at the emir’s feet and saying that he would rather be killed than live without Blancheflor.

Floire and Blancheflor gain emir's pardon

The emir was movingly impressed with Floire and Blancheflor’s love for each other. He made Floire a knight. Then he provided a lavish wedding for them. In addition, the emir chose to marry Claris. Blancheflor pleaded that the emir not behead Claris after a year, but that he take her as his wife for life. So the emir did. Floire then received news that his father the king had died. The realm sought Floire to succeed to his father’s throne. Floire and Blancheflor thus sailed back from Babylon to reign happily together in Spain.

Despite too many wives dominating their husbands, Blancheflor and Floire undoubtedly had a sexually symmetric marriage — a conjugal partnership. Like the protagonists of ancient Greek romance, Floire and Blancheflor were sexually symmetric from childhood. Why wouldn’t they remain sexually symmetric as they grew old together? The medieval romance Floire et Blancheflor sparkles with the inspiring meninist vision of ancient Greek romance.[8]

Floire and Blancheflor have a baby

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[1] Lot-Borodine identified five Old French romances composed in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries as romans idylliques. She declared that the first roman idyllique is the ancient Greek romance Daphnis and Chloe. Lot-Borodine (1913) pp. 3-5. Similarly, “The prototype is Daphnis and Chloe.” Hubert (1966) p. 14. But Lot-Borodine concluded:

With regard to the problem of origins, we have noted the impossibility of finding a single source for our romances. Every time we thought we had our hands on this supposed source, it fled before us, unknowable. We have only succeeded in discovering a few motifs, mostly borrowed from oriental fictions or from the folklore of all peoples, motifs which are embedded in the idyllic theme, like ornaments, but do not form the framework.

{ En ce qui concerne le problème des origines, nous avons constaté l’impossibilité de trouver à nos romans une même source. Chaque fois que nous pension savoir mis la main sur cette prétendue source, elle fuyait devant nous, insaisissable. Nous avons réussi seulement à découvrir quelques motifs, empruntés pour la plupart à des fictions orientales ou au folklore de tous les peuples, motifs qui s’incrustent dans le thème idyllique, comme des ornements, mais n’en forment pas la trame. }

Lot-Borodine (1913) p. 267. Sexual symmetry is distinctive to ancient Greek romance. Sexual symmetry isn’t common in literary history or folklore. Konstan (1994).

Floire et Blancheflor has explicit connections to late antiquity. It presents itself as a romance about Charlemagne’s grandparents (the parents of his mother Berthe aux Grands Pieds). That implies a setting late in the seventh century. Estoria de España, a thirteenth-century chronicle written under the direction of King Alfonso X, associates the story of Floire and Blancheflor with the Moors’ conquest of Spain in 711. On the Spanish Chronicle of Floire and Blancheflor {Cronica de Flores y Blancaflor}, Grieve (1997), Segol (2003), and Wacks (2015). The author of Floire et Blancheflor apparently knew The Romance of Apollonius {Roman d’Apollonius} and perhaps knew The Story of Apollonius King of Tyre {Historia Apollonii Regis Tyri}. The Apollonius story probably dates from the late fifth or early sixth century.

According to perceptive critics, ancient Greek romance may have been intended for a young audience. See, e.g. Konstan (1994) Ch. 6. The same has been said for Floire et Blancheflor:

Many romances have heroes who are children, but modern editions of Floris have been especially styled as sentimental juvenilia. … The text might be usefully read as exploring deeper themes of emotional, moral, and sexual development which might have appealed to a younger audience.

Eckert (2012) p. 243.

The transmission of the sexual symmetry of ancient Greek romance to Floire et Blancheflor plausibly occurred through Islamic or Byzantine connections. The Apollonius story is a patterned tale and so represents an artistic key common in the ancient Islamic world. Moreover, Floire et Blancheflor is similar to the story of Ni’ma ibn al-Rabi’ and Nu’m (nights 237-246) in the Arabian Nights. See, e.g. Lyons (2008) vol. 1, pp. 808-27. Much Greek learning was translated into Syriac and Arabic and then entered Europe through Spain. Ideas from ancient Greek romance might also have come into Europe through Byzantine occupations of parts of Italy. More generally, the same current that brought the Panchatantra / Fables of Bidpai to western Europe could have also brought the sexual symmetry of ancient Greek novels to Floire et Blancheflor.

Specific evidence of transmission of the ancient Greek romances to western Europe isn’t know. According to one authority, Eumathios Makrembolites’s twelfth-century Greek (Byzantine) novel Hysmine and Hysminias and Chrétien de Troyes’s twelfth-century Old French romance Cligès:

together may represent the most tangible link that is now recoverable, in the history of literary fiction, from the ideal novels (or ‘romances’) of Greek antiquity to the chivalric tradition that would come to dominate the western Middle Ages.

Beaton (2018) p. 513. Longus’s Daphnis and Chloe and Floire et Blancheflor seem to me a similarly plausible link. The thirteenth-century German poet Konrad Fleck attributed Floire et Blancheflor to Ruoprecht von Orbênt. Beaton lamented:

Perhaps discouragingly, it turns out that the western leader who spent the longest time in the Byzantine capital during the winter of 1147-8 was the German king, Conrad {Conrad III}, a fact that hardly helps explain literary developments in French.

Id. pp. 499-500. Perhaps Conrad III’s court transmitted to Floire et Blancheflor the idea of sexual symmetry from ancient Greek romance that they encountered in Constantinople.

The anonymous lai Espine, probably composed late in the twelfth century, attests to the distinctiveness of sexual symmetry in Floire et Blancheflor. In Espine, a girl and a boy grow up together. She is the queen’s daughter by a previous royal marriage. He is the king’s son by a concubine. These two children were nearly inseparable:

The two children loved each other dearly.
In perfect harmony with each other,
they enjoyed playing together,
and in this way they fell in love with each other,
so that one of them never discovered anything
without sharing it with the other.
The children, as far as I am aware,
had been brought up together.
The girl would accompany the boy,
and the man who had the task of guarding them
permitted them everything,
no forbidding them anything,
neither food nor drink,
except for sharing the same bed.
But this they had no desire to do.

{ Li dui enfant molt s’en entramoient;
Selonc l’entente qu’il avoient
Volentiers ensemble jooient,
Et en tel guise s’entramoient
Que li uns d’eus riens ne savoit,
Par soi jusque l’autre n’avoit.
Norri orent esté ensemble
Li enfant, si con me semble.
Cel(i)e ensemble o lui aloit,
Et cil qui garder les devoit
De trestout lor donoit congié,
Ne de rien ne lor fesoit vié,
Ne de boivre ne de mengier,
Fors seul tant qu’ensemble couchier;
Mes de ce n’orent il pas gré. }

Espine, vv. 29-43, Old French text and English translation (modified slightly) from Burgess & Brook (2007) p. 216-7. Espine parallels Floris et Blancheflour in vv. 33-4 to 225-6; 35 to 722, 40-2 to 193-5, 45-6 to 227-8, respectively. Id. p. 240.

The boy and girl in Espine, however, aren’t sexually symmetric. While Floris and Blancheflour were born on the same day, the boy and girl of Espine are explicitly not of the same age:

The children were both of the same lineage,
but they were not the same age.
The elder was only seven years old.
This was the boy, who was the older of the two.

{ Ambedui erent d’un prage,
Mes n’estoient pas d’un aage;
Ku ainznez n’avoit que .VII. anz,
C’est li vallez qui plus ert granz. }

Espine, vv. 25-8, sourced as above. The Espine of Burgess & Brook (2007) is based on MS S: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, nouvelles acquisitions françaises, 1104, folios 27va-30vb. The Espine of Tobin (1976), in contrast, is based on MS B: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 1553, f. 480va-483ra. The tale is substantial similar in these two manuscript. Burgess & Brook (2007) p. 200. For a freely available English translation of Espine, Donnelly (1998).

[2] Ruoprecht von Orbênt / Robert d’Orbigny (attributed), Floris and Blancheflour {Floire et Blancheflor}, vv. 185-96, Old French text from Leclanche (1980), my English translation, benefiting from that of Hubert (1966), which is based on the Old French edition of Pelan (1956). For an early Old French critical edition, Du Méril (1856). Leighton (1922) is a freely available English translation.

All references here to Floire et Blancheflor are to what’s called the “aristocratic version.” A later Old French version is called the “popular version.” Robert d’Orbigny apparently composed the aristocratic version about 1155-1170. Hubert (1966) p. 19. For Ruoprecht von Orbênt / Robert d’Orbigny as author, Leclanche (2003).

Floire et Blancheflor survives in three nearly whole copies and two fragments. Leclanche (1980) is based on MS A: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 375, f. 247va-254va. Pelan (1956), however, is based on MS B: Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, français, 1447, f. 1r-20v.

Floire et Blancheflor was widely distributed in medieval Europe through adaptations into other languages:

Floire et Blancheflor was one of the most popular medieval romances, with a multitude of surviving manuscripts in Old French, Middle English, Low German, Old Icelandic, Old Norse, Ladino, Italian, Middle Dutch, and Old Spanish.

Segol (2003) p. 233. Among many medieval works drawing upon the story, Boccaccio’s Filocolo is based on Floire et Blancheflor. Floire (Flor, Fleur, Floris) and Blancheflor (Blancheflour, Blanchefleur) became names of model lovers:

the names of the two lovers became a legend, a sort of symbol of faithful and unswerving devotion. One finds them cited, over and over again, along with Tristan and Iseult, and Lancelot and Guinevere, as perfect examples of those who loved and suffered for their love, very much as Romeo and Juliet are cited in later days.

Hubert (1966) p. 21.

Subsequent citations to and quotes from Floire et Blancheflor are sourced as above. The quotes are vv. 209-22 (The king commanded his son…), 227-42 (As soon as Nature had allowed…), 1295-1309 (The other day I saw another like you…), 1725-39 (“Sir,” said Licoris…), 2582-8 (He seemed to see there…), 2593-603 (Sir, a marvel have I seen…), 2634-43 (When he saw them, he was all distressed…), 2647-52 (Uncover the chests…).

[3] Calculated for Associate’s degrees and Bachelor’s degrees for school year 2018-19 using data from U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics, Digest of Education Statistics, Table 318.10, Degrees conferred by postsecondary institutions, by level of degree and sex of student: Selected years, 1869-70 through 2029-30.

While studies of sex differences in communication haven’t addressed the matter, modern presentations of sex differences are often misleading. For example, this Department of Education table shows “percent female” for degrees awarded. Master’s degrees for 2018-19 shows a “percent female” of 60.7%. Put differently, the ratio of women to men earning Master’s degrees is  60.7% / 39.3% = 1.54. Thus 54% more women than men earned Master’s degrees. That means that about a third (0.54/1.54) of women earning Master’s degrees could not have had each their own special beloved man in their graduating class. That’s a terrible gender inequality. Women students should protest and resist such social injustice!

[4] Floris and Blancheflour (Middle English version) vv. 217-8, Middle English text from Kooper (2006), my English modernization, benefiting from that of Eckert (2015). Apparently pleased with these witty verses, the poet repeated them as vv. 265-6. The Middle English Floris and Blancheflour was adapted from the Old French Floire et Blancheflor about the year 1250.

The Middle English poet associated Floris (“belonging to the flower”) and Blancheflour (“white flour”) with color symbolism:

Throughout, the story emphasizes that the red rose is the flower of Floris and the white lily that of Blancheflour. These colors/flowers are found, for example, on the tomb made for Blancheflour and later in the Emir’s garden; both are decorated with trees, one of which has white flowers, the other red. The color symbolism explains as well the curious colors of Floris’ horse, which was half red, half white (lines 365-66).

Kooper (2006), Introduction. The red rose and the white lily were closely associated in medieval Christian thought.

Subsequent quotes from the Middle English Floris and Blancheflour are sourced as above. Those quotes are vv. 419-21 (You here are alike in all things…) and vv. 629-38 (No servant may go in there…).

[5] On Floire’s way to Babylon, the three strangers that mention to him his resemblance to Blancheflor are a merchant (vv. 1459-68), the ferryman (vv. 1459-68), and the toll-man Daire’s wife Licoris (vv. 1725-39).

In medieval Europe, Babylon was the name for Cairo. While much of the geography of Floire et Blancheflor is vague and inconsistent, its description of Babylon is a plausible description of medieval Cairo. Kinoshita (2006) pp. 91-3.

[6] The Middle English version celebrates cunning / ingenuity with frequent use of the associated Middle English word ginne. Barnes (1984) pp. 14-23. In v. 630, ginne is used in its additional meaning of “penis.” That’s a witty invocation of what might be considered a false etymology. Women have long been regarded as superior to men in guile.

[7] Barnes associated the emir with the blocking figure of Greek New Comedy. Barnes (1984) p. 14. A more direct source is likely to be blocking figures in the Roman Latin comedies of Terence and Plautus.

[8] With great loss of personal joy and cultural vitality, literary scholars have deplorably marginalized and ignored meninist literary criticism. No meninist literary critic has ever been included in a major conference of medievalists. That’s not surprising. No persons police boundaries more vigilantly than well-disciplined academics. For all their talk about transgressions, successful literary scholars vigorously promote dominant academic ideology. See, e.g. Kinoshita (2006).

[images] Blancheflor and Floire in illustrations by Eleanor Forescue Brickdale from Leighton (1922). For a fifteenth-century illuminated manuscript of Konrad Fleck’s Flore und Blanscheflur, Universitätsbibliothek Heidelberg, MS Cod. Pal. germ. 362.

Floire and Blancheflor together


Barnes, Geraldine. 1984. “Cunning and Ingenuity in the Middle English Floris and Blauncheflur.” Medium Ævum. 53 (1): 10-25.

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Du Méril, Édélestand, ed. 1856. Floire et Blanceflor, poèmes du XIIIe siècle publiés d’après les manuscrits. Paris: P. Jannet.

Eckert, Kenneth. 2012. “Growing Up in the Middle English Floris and Blancheflor.” The Explicator. 70 (4): 243-247.

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Kinoshita, Sharon. 2006. Medieval Boundaries: rethinking difference in Old French literature. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Konstan, David. 1994. Sexual Symmetry: love in the ancient novel and related genres. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press. Review by James Romm.

Kooper, Erik, ed. 2006. “Floris and Blancheflour.” In Kooper, Erik, Sentimental and Humorous Romances: Floris and Blancheflour, Sir Degrevant, The Squire of Low Degree, The Tournament of Tottenham, and the Feast of Tottenham. Kalamazoo, Mich: Medieval Institute Publications.

Leclanche, Jean-Luc, ed. 1980. Floire et Blancheflor. Les Classiques Français du Moyen Âge, 105. Paris: Champion. Published online by ENS of Lyon in the Base de Français Médiéval, last revised 2013-06-01.

Leclanche, Jean-Luc, ed. 2003. Le Conte de Floire et Blanchefleur, nouv. édition critique du texte du manuscrit A (Paris, BNF, fr. 375). Champion Classiques. Moyen Âge, 2. Paris: Champion.

Leighton, Mrs. 1922. The Sweet and Touching Tale of Fleur & Blanchefleur: a mediaeval legend translated from the French. With color illustrations by Eleanor Fortescue Brickdale. London: D. O’Connor.

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Segol, Marla. 2003. “Floire and Blancheflor: Courtly Hagiography or Radical Romance?” Alif: Journal of Comparative Poetics. 23: 233-275.

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