Medieval manuscripts blog

10 November 2022

Florimont, flower of the world

History records that Alexander the Great was the son of King Philip II of Macedon and Queen Olympias. (A rumour that his real father was the Egyptian pharoah Nectanebus is described in our blogpost A pharaoh in disguise). But having royal parents was never enough for a popular medieval hero; they were expected to have an entire dynasty of illustrious ancestors. And so various prequels were written, conjuring up marvellous origins for Alexander, and mixing real people with invented characters.

One of these origin stories is found in the French Roman de Florimont. This tells of Alexander's imaginary grandparents, the Albanian hero, Florimont, or ‘flower of the world’, and Romadanaple, a beautiful princess. Florimont was the son of Mataquas, Duke of Albania, and his wife Edonia, while Romadanaple’s parents were a certain King Philip of Greece, and Amorydale, daughter of the ‘King of Africa’.   

A kneeling messenger hands a letter to a king seated on a throne beside a queen, both crowned and holding sceptres

Alexander the Great’s parents, King Philip of Macedon and Queen Olympias, in Histoire ancienne jusqu'a César (France, 14th century): Royal MS 16 G VII, f. 121r

The romance of Florimont begins in Greece. King Philip, having founded the city of Philippolis, is under attack from the evil Camdiobras, King of Hungary. Philip has a beautiful daughter, Romadanaple, who he keeps hidden from her numerous suitors; but she becomes the subject of unwelcome attentions from Camdiobras, who threatens to carry her off. Meanwhile, in Albania, Duke Mataquas has a son named Florimont, whose destiny is revealed to him in a dream — he sees a lion cub leaving his palace to join a powerful male lion, then going on to defeat a monster and a huge wild boar.

But all doesn't proceed simply. The young Florimont falls under the spell of the Lady of the Island of Celée, who takes him to her enchanted world. He is rescued by his mother and freed from the spell, but spends some time wandering about under the name Pauvre Perdu (poor lost boy). At last, Florimont joins a group of warriors who are riding to rescue King Philip from Camdiobras. By single-handedly defeating the Hungarian attacker, Florimont wins the hand of the beautiful Romadanaple and her inheritance, which he unites with his own.

Inside a palace bearded king places the crown on the head of a kneeling prince with a crowned lady kneeling beside him. A group of courtiers watch.

The coronation of Florimont and Romadanaple, in the Livre du Roy Florimont fiz du duc d'AlbanyeParis, Bibliotheque nationale de France, ms français 12566, f. 179v 

Florimont goes on to have many adventures, including defeating a monstrous sea dragon and returning to Albania to rescue his parents from a giant, who has imprisoned them in a castle. Most importantly, Florimont and Romadanaple have a son, who becomes Philip II of Macedon. Philip marries Olympias and their son is none other than Alexander the Great.  

Aimon de Varennes, author of the romance of Florimont, was a native of Chatillon d’Azergues in the Lyonnais district of France. Aimon claimed to have unearthed the tale during a trip to Philippopolis (now Plovdiv in Bulgaria).

A photograph of a walled medieval town with towers on a hilltop.-800wi
The village of Chatillon d’Azergues (Rhone, France), photographed by Milardello, 2009 

Aimon may have travelled to that part of the world, but his assertion that he translated the text from Greek to Latin and then into French appears to be fictive. His Romance does retain certain ‘Greek’ words, which demonstrate a very elementary knowledge of the language. The author’s intentions and his claims as to the origins of the tale are laid out in the prequel in a 13th-century manuscript of the Roman de Florimont (Harley MS 4487).

Aymez….Fist le Rommans si sagement

Il lavoit en grece veue ...                                     

A Phelippole la trova                                            

A chastillon len aporta                                         

Ainsi com il lavoit enpris                                     

Lat de latin en romanz mis                                   

('Aymon conceived the romance well

He had seen it in Greece

He found it in Philippolis

Brought it to Chatillon

As he had learned it

He changed it from Latin into Romance')

(f. 3r, column 1, lines 8–9; 31–36)

A text page in 2 columns with red initials, and a note in cursive script beneath
The opening page of the manuscript with the author’s name and a 14th century ownership inscription in the lower margin, 'Pierre Derloit prestre ?Corodathis' (?Lotharingia, 1295): Harley MS 4487, f. 3r

Towards the end of the tale, Aimon even claims that French is not his mother tongue:

As fransois voel de tant server

Que ma langue lor est sauvage   

(f. 85v, column 2, lines 13–14)

You can discover more tales connected to Alexander in our major exhibition, Alexander the Great: the Making of a Myth. The show is open at the British Library until 19 February 2023, and tickets can be purchased online or in person, subject to availability.

 

Chantry Westwell

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