- Exchanges in Exoticism: Cross-Cultural Marriage and the Making of the Mediterranean in Old French Romance by Megan Moore
This monograph examines, in its historical context, the portrayal of cross-cultural marriage in francophone and Greek-language medieval literature. Megan Moore’s choice of topic is innovative, as medieval Byzantine and French-language literatures are rarely contrasted. The book’s main contention is that Byzantium was integral to Old French literature. Focusing on cross-cultural marriage, Moore argues that women, although objectified in male networks of exchange, were able to carve out for themselves “a site for the exchange and translation of culture.” Moore emphasizes the agency of the female characters in the works she examines, suggesting that, through their husbands, they were sometimes able to rewrite men’s partnerships and to reshape empires. Moore sees the familial networks arising from cross-cultural marriage as uniting the Mediterranean nobility. She argues that cross-cultural marriage facilitated economic and literary exchanges of exotic goods and stories, through which the medieval Mediterranean nobility fashioned a collective identity. For example, Moore shows that Floire of Floire et Blancheflor constructs his nobility by manipulating a gift economy to win back Blanchefleur.
One of the strengths of this book is that some elements of codicological and historical information are used to contextualize the literary works. For example, Moore draws out the Byzantine themes of the texts bound with Floire et Blancheflor in manuscript BnF Fr. 375, as opposed to the genealogical focus of another compilation in which the work is included. Moore perceptively suggests that declining Franco-Byzantine relations, [End Page 531] and the struggles of the Latin Empire in the face of a resurgent Byzantium, are behind some of the negative portrayals of eastern rulers in the works examined. In her readings of Le Roman de la Manekine and La Belle Hélène de Constantinople, Moore shows that the female protagonists assign value to western, exogomous models of masculinity by abandoning their eastern, incestuous fathers and marrying British husbands. She argues that female agency is restricted, however, as women are reinserted into patriarchal narratives of lineage so that their children can inherit their grandfathers’ thrones. The author suggests that incest is used as a motif to differentiate the French-speaking self from the deviant eastern Other. Similarly, Moore reads Floriant et Florete as a literary response to historical anti-Byzantine feeling, in which the worth of western nobility is reimagined as inherent rather than stemming from Hellenic origins. Moore’s argumentation is strongest when she is considering the Greek foundations of the medieval western nobility’s self-narrative and when she reads texts to draw out the agency of female characters. However, the reality—that female agency was manipulated to fit patriarchal interests and masculine authorial designs—could be stressed more, and gender terminology could be nuanced with greater reference to critical theory.
The author’s arguments would be strengthened with more historical evidence, as, for instance, general references to intermarriage between Byzantines and Crusaders are not concretized. The only specific example of cross-cultural marriage given in the main body of the monograph is that of an early eleventh-century Byzantine-Venetian marriage, which is outside the geographical and chronological remit of this study. The number of lines quoted in Old French and in translation do not always match up, for example, on page 76. The translations should be cited with caution as there are some mistranslations of Old French. For instance, “mestre, or vos en entremetez” is translated as “nurse, see to now that I am in your debt forever,” instead of “mistress, now take care of it.”
The chronological foundations of certain points are also at times inaccurate—for instance, the “market of romance narratives” was not “saturated” by Arthurian material when Chrétien de Troyes wrote Cligès, as it is an early romance. Some of the conceptual terminology jars, such as the mention of Muslim genders or the discussion of “colonialism” without interrogating the modern use of...