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Cercamon, Œuvre poétique, éd. Luciano Rossi

Bill Burgwinkle
Référence(s) :

Cercamon, Œuvre poétique, éd. critique bilingue avec introduction, notes et glossaire par Luciano Rossi, Paris, Champion (CFMA 161), 2009, 367p.

ISBN 978-2-7453-1822-0.

Texte intégral

1The mere appearance of this particular volume in the Champion Classiques françaises du Moyen Age series would be enough to inspire jubilation, so infrequently have Occitan texts appeared in French medieval series in recent years ; but the fact that it is so expertly done, so complete and user-friendly, so judicious and yet bold in its analyses, should inspire thanks and admiration from a wide public. My first reaction upon starting into the book was a lingering question as to why one would choose to edit Cercamon yet again, when four editions and a dozen partial editions had appeared since 1905 (Dejeanne, J.-M.-L., ‘Le troubadour Cercamon’, Annales du Midi 17, 1905, p. 27-62) ; Jeanroy, A., Les poésies de Cercamon, Paris, Champion, 1922 ; Tortoreto, V., Il Trovatore Cercamon, Modena, Mucchi, 1981 ; and Wolf, G., The Poetry of Cercamon and Jaufre Rudel, co-edited with R. Rosenstein, New York, Garland, 1983, p. 1-91) ? Any such doubts dissipated within the first few pages of the introduction and disappeared completely after perusing the critical notes, glossary, bibliography and the songs themselves. Rossi has included in this edition an introduction of 96 pages to comment on and present these nine songs (!), plus an additional 51 pages of ‘notes critiques’, 52 pages of bibliography and another 52 of glossary (credited to Hans Rudolph Nüesch).  

2The simple reason why Rossi has taken up Cercamon, instead of one of those troubadours who lacks an edition altogether or has been misclassified or misunderstood due to deficient one, is that Cercamon is quite simply, in his view, the major (yet too often overlooked) figure at the source of the topoi of fin’amor. Most of the introduction is given over to a thorough defense of this thesis, stretching from the dating of the songs, the assertion in Marcabru’s vida that he had been taught his art by Cercamon, the numerous indications within his songs that Cercamon must have been a high-born nobleman and not an itinerant joglar, the lack of textual proof that he was Gascon as is claimed in the vida, and a demonstration of the styles and genres he mastered. The very idea that the second most ancient of the known troubadours, a poet so closely tied to Guilhem X, a man who could demonstrate such versatility of style, such mastery of rhetoric and genres and so sure a usage of the new mystico-erotic topoi, could be called a lowly itinerant joglar is shown to be simply untenable. Rossi even suggests (tantalizingly) that Cercamon’s vida might better have suited Marcabru, a not impossible mix-up given the disputed composition of some of these texts in the very distant Veneto.  His inevitable but not quite voiced conclusion is that in Cercamon we are dealing either with N’Eblo de Ventadorn himself, the master of a mythic school of troubadour learning, or one of his very close associates. Rossi produces plenty of textual proof that support that thesis but it remains so alluring precisely because he cannot ever arrive definitively at what emerges as the obvious conclusion. Without that trump card of evidence, Rossi remains cautious and modest, fair to his predecessors and fellow scholars, ever patient with those of us who had not quite made the jump or seen the obvious.

3He begins the Introduction with a discussion of the senhal itself, the name of Cercamon by which the poet has always been known thanks to the twelve manuscripts that have preserved his texts and the singularly uninformative vida that, like Guilhem IX, he merited. Rossi, of course, sees much more in this senhal than a simple reference to one who travels the earth (or seeks throughout the world). He makes much of classical and Biblical allusions to those who seek the mount (with erotic connotations as well, of course), those who seek the highlands, or search the skies above (cerca-amont) for a sign of something better. This latter interpretation fits best with Rossi’s general point of view, in that for him Cercamon represents a uniquely mystical theologian / poet who set in place the terms by which poetry and its celebration of a single, all-consuming love could become our route to salvation. Extremely well versed in his letras, this is a poet who can jump from Ovidian analogy to Biblical proverb and, in his own stately rhetorical fashion, set out his own verse as their equal in stature and invention. The songs themselves are clearly laid out, edited with full explanation of the choices Rossi has made and with reference to those who preceded him. Tortoreto, in particular, is singled out for comment as he dismantles the proof she forwarded that Cercamon was Gascon through what he shows are faulty linguistic and lexical choices ; and his various readings of Marcabru are again presented in relation to the latest edition by Gaunt, Harvey and Paterson.  

4The remainder of the Introduction and notes elaborate the number of ‘firsts’ in the works of Cercamon, making him the direct inheritor / accomplice of Guilhem IX and the source (with Guilhem) of a large number of the commonplaces by which we now recognize troubadour verse. He is the first to use the dying swan metaphor, for example, a metaphor that has earlier classical associations but later appears in the songs of Peirol and Rostanh Berenguier as well. His is the first planh known in a vernacular language (i.e. his lament on the death of Guilhem X) and the first tenso, both of which have great success amongst later poets. His description of love sickness in several of his songs are the earliest known in the vernacular (p. 150, 121) ; he is the first to use ‘ardit’ in an erotic context (p. 174, 241) and his sirventes are probably the first as well, vying for that honour with Marcabru.  In short, he is the first to do many of the things we associate with the canso, sirventes and tenso because (though he refers to his songs as chanz, plaignz and vers) he is, quite simply, at the beginning of the line. Rossi makes much of the intertextuality of the poets of this post-Guilhem IX generation, including first and foremost Cercamon, Marcabru and Jaufre Rudel but then extending this somewhat in time and space to include Bernart de Ventadorn, Bernart Marti, Peire d’Alvernhe and Raimbaut d’Aurenga. He pays close attention to their mutual jabs and hommages, slips, parodies and debates, building his argument on just these connections and the disagreements that emerge. Marcabru, in particular, plays a featured role as an early collaborator and later competitor in the artistic, if not the political field. As Cercamon became ever more the cantaire, the exponent of this new form of mystical yet sensual devotion to the one capable of saving him, Marcabru, of course, became the irritant, the critic, the unveiler of the utilitarianism and abuse that lay behind this purifying and ennobling rhetoric. If Marcabru is the ultimate winner in this competition, given the richness and ingenuity of his verses as well as their number, Cercamon stands as the founding father. He represents a time when the topoi had not been yet ground to banality, the hypocrisy could remain under cover, and the school or tradition still offered the hope of a peaceful conjunction between theology and secular lyrics. In the right hands, this would lead to a purity of spirit compatible with the senses and an elevation of tone that could rise above the mercantile, the bellicose and the solipsistic. Cercamon did not quite succeed in beating back the vulgar hordes but thanks to Rossi’s very careful and thoughtful edition, we can better celebrate him, as did other of the troubadours, for the creative and judicious innovator that he was.  

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Référence électronique

Bill Burgwinkle, « Cercamon, Œuvre poétique, éd. Luciano Rossi », Cahiers de recherches médiévales et humanistes [En ligne], 2009, mis en ligne le 24 août 2009, consulté le 19 juin 2018. URL :

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