THE HISTORY OF JASON
(Histoire de Jason)
trans. William Caxton (1477)
RAOUL LEFÈVRE was a Catholic priest and the chaplain to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy. Philip founded the Order of the Golden Fleece, a society of knights modelled on the Argonauts, and to celebrate the event he had Lefèvre compose an epic in honor of Jason with the express purpose of casting Jason, so often seen in medieval Europe as a sinful adulterer, as the ideal, pure knight. Since the epics of Apollonius and Valerius Flaccus were still unknown in Burgundy, Lefèvre recreated a saga of Jason out of whole cloth, using the known facts from Ovid and Dares Phrygius and otherwise filling the in the rest with wholly original adventures of courtly love, war, and giant-killing in the best medieval style. This poem was extremely successful, and the English printer William Caxton translated it into English in 1477, to date the only English translation of the work. Below I have transcribed the Prologue and the first sections of the opening to the 400+ page epic. The full text is available as a downloadable PDF or eBook at Archive.org.
The Prologue of Thauctor
The galeye of myn engyn floting not long syn in the depnes of the sees of diuerce auncient histories in suche wise as I wolde haue brought myn esperite vnto the porte or hauen of rest. Sodaynly apperid by me a ship conduited by one man only. This man anon behelde my regarde and contenawice. whiche gaue me tytle & cause of thoughte & of abasshement. for as moch as I saw his visage triste. heuy & desolate, wherof smyton with compassion of his ennuye & greef. assone as he conceyued that I so beheld him by greet desir. he helde him stiff & sayde to me in this wise / ‘Man of rude engyn what meruailest thou / Ancre thy galeye here & take thy penne for to write & put in memoire my faites & dedes / The king Iupiter of Crete was myn olde bele fader & he engendrid Cacus king of Myrmidone / This Cacus engendred my fader Eson. I am Iason that conquerd the Flees of Golde in the Yle of Colchos. And that dayly laboure in sorowe roted in tristresse for the dishonneur that somme persones hurte & empesshe my glorie. Inposing to me not to haue holden my promys anenst Medea, whereof thou hast Red the trou[t]h . Thenne I pray the that thou do make a boke vnto them that daily speke & inpugne my gloire maye knowe their indiscrete lugement. And for taccomplisshe the same I haue chosen the to thende / that thou presente this present writing vnto the fader of writars of histories / whiche ys vnto Phelip fader & louer of aft vertues in his time Due of Bourgoygne and of Brabant &c / The whiche hath ben in aft his time enclined and of grete affeccion to here and see red the auncient histories / And to here told the faytes of the worthy and noble somtyne flourisshing in vertues in valyance and prudence for his singuler passetemps.' Thyse wordes accomplisshio the shippe & Iason vanisshed away and I abode there pensyf / But in thende desiring to shewe the honour and declare the vertues of the sayde Iason I ancred my galeye & put in wrytyng hys faytes as here after shal be declared playnly & a long / So than I presente my litil book vnto right hye and right redoubted
Duc of Bourgoyne not presuming myn Ineloquence / but presenting myn right humble & indigne seruice.
Thus endeth myn Auctor his prologe / And how wel that hit is sayd afore this prologe that Eson was sone to Cacus. Yet Bochace saith in the Genelagye of Goddes that he was sone to Erictheus the .xxix. sone of lupiter / As ye may see more playnly in the .xiij. book of the Genelagye of Goddes the .xxiiij. Chapytre
[The History of Jason]
Anciently the kynges and Princes of hye felicite were attendaunt and awayted whan their seed shold bringe forth generacion. But whan so was that they myghte not come therto. what prosperite they had Their lyf was trauersid in contynueft bewailing/ and they vysited temples and oracles vnto the consummation of their dayes. or vnto thenhaunsement of theyr oroysons. The noble kyng Eson of Myrmydone wherof is made mencion in the prologue. among alle other thinges & worldly prosperitees was right nobly regnyng Certes he had his Royaume mayntened in pees / He had in manage a right fayr lady, but they were long togeder withoute hauyng generacion / wherof their dayes were fuft of bewaylynges and of lititt playsir in the goodes of fortune. But they were contynuelly in the temples and oracles. And no thing of their desire befelle vnto them vnto the tyme that the king began to fait and wexe old by aage. Thenne his wyf conceyued of his seed and multeplied the generacion humayn of a right fayr sone At the burthe of this sone the noble quene deyde / And whan the king Eson sawe his wyf so departe from lyf to deth. he bewepte her long tyme and made her obsequye Right solempnly. And after he reioyed in his sone newe born, whom he named Iason.
Iason thenne grewe in beaulte meruaillously. in so moche that his fader the kyng Eson toke grete playsir to nourisshe hym. The tyme passid Iason grewe so long that he coud goo and speke. And the noble king his fader becam auncient in suche manere that he myght no more helpe himself / And on a daye callid lason his sone and sayd tto him. ‘Fayr sone lason hyt is force that I passe out of this world by age whiche ledeth me to the deth / For hit is the dowaire that nature hatli endowed to me / & the passage whiche I muste nedes make / howe be hit I take hit weft in patience / But whan I beholde thy grete yongthe / & knowe that thou art not yet pourueyed of discrecion for to gouerne thy Royaume / hit is to me a grete displeasir / For hit behoueth that I leue the tree that I haue planted to fore I see what fruyt he shal bringe forth / My dere sone thou art the tree. And the fruyt that thou shalt bringe forth shalbe thy werkes. Certes my corage is right sore troublid fayr sone lason that I shaft departe fro this worlde and thou shalt abyde vnpourueyd of witte and discrecion / & right yong of age / thou begynnest dayly to growe and thou shalt waxe vnto the Age of a Man. And than thou shalt rendre the fruyt that I desire to see. But in thende whan thou shalt haue taken thy ful growing thou shalt decline a litil and a litil. and after that shalt be shadowed with deth. like as the day wexeth derke by the night / And for as moche as ther shal leue nothing in the worlde of the. but only the Renommee of thy lyf / And that ther is nothing so lowable as the vertues I comande the that thou be vertuous and that thou flee the vyces and synnes. My dere sone kepe the. that Couetise blynde the not, But In ony wyse Applye the vnto alle thinges vertuous. Hyt is ouer grete domage whan a man lyueth riche of synnes. and Ryght poure of vertues / ensiewe alway tho men that be wyse & wel renommed Lerne whylis thou art yong / & beleue no lyars Theuis / Ioglers / ne deffamers of women / ne be not ydelt t ne prodigous of thy tonge. take hede beholde & see. and saye litil. blame ne hurte not thy neyghbour / do to noman ony wrong / be freendly to thy neyghbour. and be good lord and fader to thy subgettis in tyme & place / Thus my fayr sone put my doctrine to effect, and if thou do thus I doubte not but thou shalst haue habondaunce of alt goodes.' With this the teeris cam vnto the eyen of the auncient & wise king and aualed a doun by his visage by suche superfluite that he was constrayned to cesse his spekyng. and the damoiseau Iason notwithstandyng that he was yet a child. began thenne to foundre in teeris right habondantly. and there were plente of other that wepte for pite and discomforted them self right pietously / Among aft other the broder of kyng Eson named Peleus there beyng present / coude not holde ne kepe his mayntening / there was none but he was troblid & sory for the aunciente & age of the king & not with oute cause. Neuertheles among these wepinges & abasshements the king Eson becam agayn to him self & lifte vp his hede / And after callid Peleus and sayde to him
My right welbelouid broder and the most nigh that I haue of my blode after my right dere sone / thou art also my secrete and right especial frend. And he aboue alt the men of the worlde in whom I haue grettest affiaunce Take hede and herkene my testament, my ordenaunce. my commandement and the conclusion of my last wille / Fyrst I am redy and content to deye whan it shal plese the goddes to sende me the deth / Secondly I recommande vnto the my dere sone Iason. Thirdly I Recommande to the and deliuere the conduyte of my peple into thy garde & protecclo[n] And constytute the Regent and gouernour of my Royaume / vnto the tyme that my sone Iason shaft be of aage And fynably I pray the that thenne thou wilt corone him with my Corone that belongeth & apperteyneth to hym by right.' With this the noble king finisshed his testament And his broder Peleus toke the charge of the gouernaunce of the royaume. And fro thenne forthon toke the rewle of the cite / and Iason that by space of tyme cam to the age of .xviij. yere was a goodly yong man fayre of vysage meruaillously / & wel made in aft his membres / The noble king Eson endoctrined him alway. & admonested him euer to do vertuous werkes / sayng that the herte adourned with vertue rendritn the man noble /and nothing the noble stok or progenye Tydingis cam thenne into Minnidone that the king of Thebes sholde make a grete solempne feste in his cite for the loue of a new knight that he wolde make, and whan Iason knew that / he required the king his fader that he wolde gyue him licence for to go vnto this feste for to begynne & ensiewe Armes. The kyng was right wel content / & ordeyned that Peleus sholde go with him What shal I make you long compte Peleus and his neuewe putte hem to poynt in armes & of horses. & syn wente to Thebes at the daye assigned that the feste sholde be ordeyned and kepte. And founde there many Prynces / kynges Barons and knightes. of whom they were wel receyued & gretly fested. and Hercules him self for whom the feste was made welcomed hem hyely & with grete Reuerence
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Source: Raoul Le Fevre, The History of Jason, trans. William Caxton, ed. John Munro (London: Early English Text Society, 1913).