, 94:17

First online:

Slippery Custom(er)s: On Knight and Snake in the Bel inconnu

  • Caroline JewersAffiliated withDepartment of French and Italian, The University of Kansas Email author 

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Renaut de Beaujeu’s Le Bel inconnu inspired analogues in German, Italian, Middle English and Middle French that are worth revisiting, and have much to tell us about writers as readers of romances. This essay reconsiders the central snake episode and how each later version, culminating in Platin’s 1530 L’Hystoire de Giglan, embeds it differently in the narrative: the original perilous kiss is omitted and adapted in various ways that far from indicating divergence from the original, suggest that Renaut’s romance was read carefully. The kiss’s multiple ambiguities in meaning and setting led to the desire to create clearer, normalizing solutions for it. In the Middle Ages, imitation may well be the sincerest form of authorial flattery, but the Bel inconnu and its analogues allow us to speculate that sameness is not the only measure of familiarity with an original source.


Bel inconnu Old French Romance 13th c Libeaus Desconus Carduino L’Hystoire de Giglan