What do you get by crossing social satire with a sweeping epic quest? If you’re Johannes de Hauvilla—12th-century intellectual, scholar, and teacher at an important cathedral school in France—the answer is Architrenius, an allegorical epic poem about a young man’s quest to find Nature, take her to task for society’s sins, and petition her to repair mankind’s weakness and his own. Newly published in the Dumbarton Oaks Medieval Library series, Architrenius (Harvard University Press, 2019) appears in a fresh translation by Winthrop Wetherbee, professor emeritus at Cornell University.
“Architrenius” means “arch-weeper,” the ultimate mourner, and he earns the title from his constant lamentation throughout his journey. Upon setting out, he weeps for himself, as he has examined his own life and regrets his history of sin. But while traveling, from the house of Venus through the schools of Paris to the Mount of Ambition, the Hill of Presumption, and beyond, he grieves also for the corruption he witnesses everywhere around him. The landmarks he passes are not landscapes and streets, but the selfish and immoderate behaviors of his society; realism does not lie in specific geographical settings or historical characters, but in barbed satire on human nature and the excesses and foibles of scholarly and courtly life.