From Legends and Satires From Mediæval Literature, edited by Martha Hale Shackford; Ginn and Company; Boston; 1913; pp. i-iii.
From Fra Angelico’s “The Last Judgment” (early fifteenth century)
This volume of translations is prepared especially for the use of college sophomores who are studying English poetry of the fourteenth century, but it is hoped that other readers may be interested in these old legends. Ideally, it would be better for students to read the original texts, but every teacher knows how difficult it is to provide texts in this field. The various Middle English Readers are not frankly popular in their choice of subject matter, and the publications of learned societies are far too expensive to be available for classroom work. It does not seem, therefore, entirely an offense against scholarship to offer students a volume that will serve humbly as companion to “Piers Plowman, “The Pearl,” Chaucer’s poems, and various romances and lyrics which are studied in carefully edited texts.
The modern translations are literal, but a certain freedom has been used in reshaping sentences and in omitting conventional phrases when they proved too monotonous in their repetitions. Quite enough tags and awkward constructions have been preserved to illustrate fully the style of mediæval clerks.
Acknowledgment is made for help received from Gaston Pari’s “La littérature française au moyen âge,” and from W. H. Schofield’s “English Literature from the Norman Conquest to Chaucer.” Miss Marion E. Markley has contributed two translations from Old French, and has given many helpful suggestions regarding details.
M. H. S.
1 FRONTISPIECE. “The Last Judgment” is an early work by Fra Angelico (1387-1455), who was a member of the Dominican order, and who spent his monastic leisure in painting visionary scenes. The picture represents Christ on the judgment seat, encircled by cherubim and seraphim, with saints and apostles seated on either side. Below are open graves. On His left devils are driving sinners into hideous torments; on His right angels are conducting the blessed across the flowery meadows of the earthly paradise toward the gleaming gates of the celestial city. The detail given here is sometimes called “The Dance of the Angels.” The robes of the angelic beings who go singing and caroling are in the colors characteristic of Fra Angelico, — azure, green, and rose, irradiated by countless golden stars.