Juliet O’Brien: ABSTRACT: "The Cansó de la Crozada and Literary Heresy"

The 13th c. Occitan Cansó de la Crozada — better know as the Chanson de la Croisade albigeoise — has tended to be read by historians and used as a historical resource, especially when read alongside the two other contemporary accounts of that crusade: Pierre des Vaux-de-Cernay’s Historia Albigensis and William of Puylaurens’s Chronica.

It is also a work of literary importance when read in its literary context.

This paper examines three aspects of the work as aspects of literary heresy:

—Firstly, the composition and manuscript transcription coincide with two periods of literary flourishing and experimentation: the time of composition, that is, the first quarter of the 13th c..; and the date of the manuscript, in the last quarter of the 13th c (around 1275).

Secondly, formally speaking, as the work is in two parts — a first that is pro-Crusade, the second, anti— it may productively be read as a member of a set of double, continued narratives (mainly) in French of that time: the Lancelot-Grail cycle; early 13th century epigonal romances such as the Roman de Fergus, Bel Inconnu, and Flamenca; and the Roman de la Rose. 

Finally, the Cansó should be read in the light of its relationship to an intertextually interrelated group of Occitan dialogic poems (descort, tenso).

The paper shows how these three elements are connected and why they are unorthodox. So as to understand the Canso, and to do so on its own terms, it is essential to see how it is fundamentally a double text in a dialogic, dissenting, discursive mode of writing — and of thinking. It is by no means one of the finest literary works of its period, and that is not its purpose; rather, it engages with the surrounding literary culture in a most interesting way, inserting itself into a tradition for propaganda ends.