The Division of Bevis

In the study of the story of Bevis it soon becomes apparent that there are at least 2 pathways to be taken. The first is purely scholarly and takes the accepted academic form of research into the manuscripts, printed editions, and transmission of the story. The second would be an investigation into the treatment of the story in and around Southampton itself where it has been treated as a local legend, a folk tale, an amorphous aetiological tale, and the legitimating pose of an eighteenth-century landowner.

The fame of Bevis deserves this differentiation in order to give full weight to the legitimate academic research into the medieval poem, its fame and its transmission, but also to give separate independent weight to the strange and fascinating accretions the story has developed in the vicinity of the city after which it is named.

Few stories of such age have lasted so long and undergone so many adaptations. And even fewer have developed so clearly along two such diverse pathways. The local popular one with its ‘flying horse’ suggests a desire to give a legitimate medieval story associated with Southampton a much more mythic content than it already had, and to claim a derivation for its hero according to whatever developments in historical and archaeological research were fashionable at any one time. This popular pathway may be fascinating in what it can reveal about local political and aesthetic motivations.

Meanwhile, I am unpicking the later part of my research a sentence at a time as time permits as I proceed towards a clearer understanding of the relevance of Saint-Omer to the background of the Anglo-Norman poem.

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