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Metge, Bernat. Book of Fortune and Prudence. Trans. and ed. David Barnett. Barcelona: Barcino and Woodbridge: Tamesis, 2011. 87pp. ISBN 978-1-855662-285

This is the latest in a handsomely produced series of English translations of texts from medieval Catalan-speaking realms published jointly by Tamesis and Editorial Barcino. Previous volumes include translations of Ausiàs March, Ramon Muntaner, Francesc Eiximenis, The Book of Sent Soví, and Ramon Llull. David Barnett’s translation of Metge’s Libre de Fortuna i Prudència (hereafter [End Page 358] LFP), together with Richard Vernier’s translation of Metge’s Lo Somni (The Dream of Bernat Metge [Farnham, Surrey UK: Ashgate, 2002), means that we now have the major works of this key literary and historical figure of the late fourteenth century available for readers of English. The challenging ambiguities and apparent contradictions inherent in both works by this sophisticated Catalan courtier have long deserved a wider familiarity among students of the later Middle Ages and this wider familiarity may, in turn, lead us to new understandings of these works. The works of Metge are also key to a lively and ongoing debate over whether there was, or was not, something we might call “Catalan Humanism”.

The LFP dates its own narrative to 1 May, 1381, and was probably written not long thereafter. Like his Somni of 1399, the Libre de Fortuna i Prudència is Metge’s attempt to come to terms with a reversal of fortune, in this case, as Barnett suggests in his Introduction (following Lluís Cabré in his recent edition of the LFP [Barcelona: Barcino, 2010]), the all-too familiar sounding Barcelona banking crisis of the early 1380s and the economic difficulties that it precipitated. Unlike the Somni, which is in prose, the LFP is written in paired octosyllables, the popular noves rimdades form. In 1200 lines it recounts an involuntary sea voyage by the protagonist Bernat to an allegorical island where he encounters first Fortune and then Prudence (and her suite of maidens: the Seven Liberal Arts). The encounter with the foul old lady Fortune is not a pleasant one and, although Lady Fortune offers Bernat everything he could possibly want, he believes she would just take it away again and continues to curse her until she hurls him from her castle. Prudence soon arrives to succor him and tries to convince him that Fortune, too, is a part of God’s plan. Bernat remains skeptical of Prudence’s arguments until the end and does not get a chance to respond to Prudence’s final “most convincing” assertion that “Fortune is always on the side (“està / en la mà”; ll. 1133–34) of anyone who has good sense and natural reasoning” (85). But she pronounces him “cured” and, after a kiss from Prudence and each of the seven maidens, Bernat is transported back to the beach in Barcelona where, as will occur again in the prose Somni of 1399, the protagonist seems not to have learned the lessons of his own adventure: his primary concern is that people in Barcelona will see him out alone so late (or so early), without the trappings of wealth, and so will think the less of him.

David Barnett’s 20-page introduction to Metge is excellent, clearly setting out for English readers the life and the importance of Metge, introducing his other [End Page 359] works, and providing a helpful synopsis of the LFP. Barnett’s primary focus in this part of the Introduction, and in the notes to his translation, is on the sources of Metge’s text, the most immediate being Boethius; the Elegia of Henry of Settimello; Alain de Lille’s Anticlaudianus; and the Roman de la Rose (20). The notes guide us helpfully in identifying which of these sources is being invoked at particular moments in the text. It is likely, as well, that a work like Guillem de Torroella’s Faula, also in noves rimades, provided the frame of the allegorical sea voyage (24–25). The Introduction and notes also serve to situate the text in its time and place and offer helpful historical and cultural information. The Introduction could...


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