Apollonius of Tyre

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Apollonius of Tyre
This prose text is the earliest surviving romance in English. It is copied from an Old English exemplar into the mid-eleventh century English manuscript, Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, 201, pages 131 to 145. Corpus 201 is a manuscript more famous for its connections with Archbishop Wulfstan’s legal and homiletic works than for its inclusion of this piece; all the texts in this manuscript, with the exception of Apollonius of Tyre, are sermons and other religious materials, or law-codes. This makes the manuscript context of this classical romance very curious and one might wonder how the person responsible for the manuscript’s compilation viewed the text.

As it is now extant, there is a substantial portion of Apollonius missing in the manuscript: the equivalent of half the Latin account of Apollonius’ adventures. It is fortunate the the omission occurs where it does, because even without this middle section, the story is essentially intelligible, and the main events—Apollonius’ exile, his marriage, and the reclamation of his inheritance—are all present.

Apollonius of Tyre is based on the Latin Historia Apollonii regis Tyri, a legend that retained its popularity throughout the medieval and renaissance periods, forming the storyline for Shakespeare’s Pericles. While many Latin versions of the Apollonius legend survive, no direct source for the Old English has been identified. P. Goolden in his edition, The Old English ‘Apollonius of Tyre’, edits a collated Latin text for comparative purposes. It is evident from this that the Old English translation is very close to the Latin in its inclusion of major episodes, but is not identical in minor details (see Goolden, The Old English ‘Apollonius of Tyre’, pp. xx-xxv, for a discussion of the vernacular variant readings). This similarity between the Old English and its source text is the probable cause of the text’s neglect by scholars, together with the fact that it is written in prose (always the poor relation of poetry), and is a very late example of Old English. This neglect has been redressed somewhat by A. Riedinger’s article, ‘The Englishing of Arcestrate: Woman in Apollonius of Tyre’ that reappraises the differences between the Old English text and the Latin to show that the translator does adapt his source to account for contemporary English expectations and cultural mores. Arcestrate, for example, the daughter of one king and wife of Apollonius, becomes a less notable and remarkable character in the Old English text.

This text then is an important and early witness to the emergence of Romance as a vernacular genre, a literary phenomenon that was to flourish from the twelfth century onwards. All the characteristics of the genre are present: adventure, the quest of the hero, the love interest, loyalty, exile and return, disguise, and the aristocratic focus of the narrative. This text though is also particularly interesting for its depiction of the varied relationships between fathers and daughters. The author illustrates in Antiochus and his incestuous relationship with his daughter the irredemable evil of the wicked monarch; this is sharply contrasted with the loving and mutually respectful relationship of Arcestrates and Arcestrate, and Apollonius and Thasia. The emphasis on inate nobility, no matter how high or low born is also demonstrated throughout the text, in the behaviour both of the eponymous hero, and many of those with whom he has contact, such as the fisherman and Hellanicus. In this way, the author moralises while he entertains; the comic incidents surrounding Arcestrate and his dealings with the suitors of his daughter add to this lively narrative and serve to underline the text’s essentially positive celebration of perseverance and honour in the face of adversity.

Apollonius of Tyre
Her onginneð seo gerecednes be Antioche, þam ungesæligan cingce, and be Apollonige þam Tiriscan

An Antiochia þare ceastre wæs sum cyningc Antiochus gehaten: æfter þæs cyninges naman wæs seo ceaster Antiochia geciged. Þises cyninges cwen wearð of life gewiten, be ðare he hæfde ane swiðe wlitige dohter ungelifedlicre fægernesse. Mid þi þe heo becom to giftelicre yldo, þa gyrnde hyre mænig mære man, micele mærða beodende. Ða gelamp hit sarlicum gelimpe: þa ða se fæder þohte hwam he hi mihte healicost forgifan, þa gefeol his agen mod on hyre lufe mid unrihtre gewilnunge, to ðam swiðe þæt he forgeat þa fæderlican arfæstnesse and gewilnode his agenre dohtor him to gemæccan. And þa gewilnunge naht lange ne ylde, ac sume dæge on ærne mergen þa he of slæpe awoc, he abræc into ðam bure þar heo inne læg, and het his hyredmen ealle him aweg gan, swilce he wið his dohtor sume digle spæce sprecan wolde. Hwæt he ða on ðare manfullan scilde abisgode, and þa ongeanwinnendan fæmnan mid micelre strengðe earfoðlice ofercom, and þæt gefremede man gewilnode to bediglianne.


Ða gewearð hit þæt þæs mædenes fostormodor into ðam bure eode and geseah hi ðar sittan on micelre gedrefednesse, and hire cwæð to: ‘Hwig eart þu, hlæfdige, swa gedrefedes modes?’ Ðæt mæden hyre andswerode: ‘Leofe fostormodor, nu todæg forwurdon twegen æðele naman on þisum bure.’ Seo fostormodor cwæð: ‘Hlæfdige, be hwam cwist þu þæt?’ Heo hyre andwirde and cwæð: ‘Ær ðam dæge minra brid-gifta, Ic eom mid manfulre scilde besmiten.’ Ða cwæð seo fostormodor: ‘Hwa wæs æfre swa dirstiges modes þæt dorste cynges dohtor gewæmman ær ðam dæge hyre brydgifta, and him ne andrede þæs cyninges irre?’ Ðæt mæden cwæð: ‘Arleasnes þa scilde on me gefremode.’ Seo fostormodor cwæð: ‘Hwi ne segst þu hit þinum fæder?’ Ðæt mæden cwæð: ‘Hwar is se fæder? Soðlice on me, earmre, is mines fæder nama reowlice forworden, and me nu forðam deað þearle gelicað.’ Seo fostormodor soðlice þa ða heo gehyrde þæt þæt mæden hire deaðes girnde, ða cliopode heo hi hire to mid liðere spræce and bæd þæt heo fram þare gewilnunge hyre mod gewænde, and to hire fæder willan gebuge, þeah ðe heo to geneadod wære.


On þisum þingum soðlice þurhwunode se arleasesta cyngc Antiochus, and mid gehywedan mode hine sylfne ætywde his ceastergewarum swilce he arfæst fæder wære his dohtor, and betwux his hiwcuðum mannum he blissode on ðam þæt he his agenre dohtor wer wæs, and to ðam þæt he hi þe lengc brucan mihte his dohtor arleasan bridbeddes, and him fram adryfan þa ðe hyre girndon to rihtum gesynscipum, he asette ða rædels, þus cweðende: ‘Swa hwilc man swa minne rædels riht aræde onfo se mynre dohtor to wife, and se ðe hine misræde sy he beheafdod.’

Hwæt is nu mare ymbe þæt to sprecanne buton þæt cyningas æghwanon coman and ealdormen for ðam ungelifedlican wlite þæs mædenes, and þone deað hi oferhogodon and þone rædels understodon to arædenne. Ac gif heora hwilc þonne þurh asmeagunge boclicre snotornesse, þone rædels ariht rædde, þonne wearð se to beheafdunge gelæd swa same swa se ðe hine ariht ne rædde. And þa heafda ealle wurdon gesette on ufeweardan þam geate.

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