The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21).>br>Volume I. From the Beginnings to the Cycles of Romance.

X. English Scholars of Paris and Franciscans of Oxford

§ 4. Walter Map

Walter Map, who was born about 1137 on the marches of Wales, and accordingly called England his mother, and the Welsh his fellow-countrymen, studied in Paris from about 1154 to 1160. He returned to England before 1162, was frequently one of the king’s itinerant judges, and, after holding other preferment, was appointed archdeacon of Oxford in 1197. About 1209, when Giraldus published the second edition of his Conquest of Ireland, Walter Map was no longer living.

Map was the author of an entertaining miscellany in Latin prose, De Nugis Curialium, a work in a far lighter vein than that of John of Salisbury, who had adopted this as an alternative title of his Policraticus. But, even in this lighter vein, Map has often a grave moral purpose. Stories of the follies and crimes of courts, and a lament over the fall of Jerusalem are here followed by an account of the origin of the Carthusians, the Templars and the Hospitallers, with reflections on their growing corruption, and a violent attack on the Cistercians, together with notices of heretics and of hermits. In the second book we have anecdotes of the Welsh, with a collection of fairy-tales; in the third, a series of highly romantic stories; in the fourth, the “Epistle of Valerius dissuading from marriage the philosopher Rufinus” (sometimes erroneously ascribed to St. Jerome); and, in the fifth, an invaluable sketch of the history of the English court from William Rufus to Henry II. Walter Map’s “courtly jests” are mentioned by Giraldus Cambrensis, who, in his latest work, describes Map as a person of distinction, endued with literary skill and with the wit of a courtier, and as having spent his youth (and more than his youth) in reading and writing poetry. Giraldus sends his friend a set of Latin elegiacs, with a present of a walking-stick, and he has fortunately preserved the twelve lines of his friend’s reply in the same metre. This reply is almost the only certainly genuine product of Map’s muse that has survived. Of his poems against the Cistercian monks, only a single line is left: Lancea Longini, grex albus, ordo nefandus. His notorious antipathy to the Cistercian order has led to his being regarded as the author of another poem entitled Discipulus Goliae episcopi de grisis monachis. The worldly, and worse than worldly bishop Golias is the theme of other poems, in accentual riming metres, ascribed to Map, notably the Apocalypse, the Confession and the Metamorphosis of Golias. The Apocalypse is first assigned to him in a Bodleian manuscript of the fourteenth century. Here there is no attempt to dramatise the character of Golias; we have simply an apocalyptic vision of the corruptions of the church set forth in 110 riming quatrains of accentual dactyls in lines of the type: Omnis a clericis fluit enormitas. In the accentual trochaics of the Confession, the bishop is dramatically represented as remembering “the tavern that he has never scorned, nor ever will scorn until the angels sing his requiem.” Then follow the four lines, which are better known and more misunderstood than any in the poem.

  • Meum est propositum in taberna mori:
  • Vinum sit appositum morientis ori,
  • Ut dicant cum venerint angelorum chori,
  • “Deus sit propitius huic potatori!”
  • These lines, with part of the subsequent context, were at an early date extracted from their setting and made into a drinking-song; but it cannot be too clearly stated that they were originally meant for a dramatic representation of the character of the degenerate “bishop.” It is a mistake to regard them as reflecting in any way on the habits of the reputed author, who has been erroneously described as the “jovial archdeacon” and the “Anacreon of his age.” Giraldus, in the very same work in which he lauds the literary skill and the wit of his friend, quotes for reprobation, and not for imitation, a series of calumnious passages, including the above lines with their immediately previous context. He is clearly quite innocent of ascribing these lines to his friend. The whole of the Confession is also preserved in the celebrated thirteenth century Munich MS. of the Carmina Burana, formerly belonging to the Benedictine monastery of Benedictbeuern in the Bavarian highlands. It forms part of the vast number of anonymous Latin rimes known from 1227 onwards by the name of Goliardi. The character of Bishop Golias may possibly have assumed dramatic form in the age of Walter Map, but the name was certainly three centuries older. As early as the time of Gautier, archbishop of Sens (d. 923), a sentence of condemnation is passed on the clerici ribaldi, maxime qui vulgo dicuntur de familia Goliae.

    Map is credited in certain MSS. with the authorship of the “original” Latin of the great prose romance of Lancelot du Lac, including the Quest of the Holy Grail and the Death of Arthur; but no such “Latin original” has yet been found. A version of the Quest in French prose is assigned to “Maistres Gualters Map,” and is described as “written by him for the love of his lord, King Henry, who caused it to be translated from Latin into French.” In certain manuscripts, all the four parts of the romance of Lancelot are ascribed to Map; and Hue de Rote-lande (c. 1185), a near neighbour and a contemporary of Map, after describing in his I pomedon a tournament, which is also an incident in Lancelot, excuses his romance-writing in the words: “I am not the only man who knows the art of lying; Walter Map knows well his part of it.” Such is the evidence, slight as it is, for ascribing to Map any share in the great cycle of romance surveyed in other chapters. We have already seen that there is very little reason for accepting him as the author of any part of the large body of accentual Latin poetry which passes under his name. The only thirteen lines of Latin verse which are certainly genuine products of his pen are written in hexameters and pentameters of the strictly classical type.