French Literature

Turold: The Song of Roland

SimonMarmionWikipedia-Grandes_chroniques_RolandThe Song of Roland (French: Chanson de Roland) is an old French epic poem, probably written in the late eleventh or early twelfth century. Traditionally attributed to a poet named Turoldus or Turold, it is the most famous example of the chanson de geste genre and the earliest surviving major work of French literature.

Its subject is very loosely inspired by the death of the Frankish commander Roland at the historical battle of Roncevaux in 778, during Charlemagne's campaign against Islamic Spain. Although the actual battle was fought against the Basques, it was romanticised in the song into a tale of Muslim perfidy and Christian revenge.

The milieu of the Carolingian court and heroes such as Roland and his companion Oliver would form the core of the Matter of France, a distinct corpus of medieval poetic material contrasted with that based on classical myth, understood as the Matter of Rome, and the Arthurian legends of the Matter of Britain.

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Gutenberg: The Song of Roland, translated by C.K. Scott-Moncrieff. HTML, EPUB, MOBI and TXT formats.
Gutenberg: La Chanson de Roland, translated by Léonce Rabillon. HTML, EPUB, MOBI and TXT formats.
Gutenberg: The Harvard Classics, Volume 49, Epic and Saga - The Song of Roland/The Destruction of Dá Derga's Hostel. HTML, EPUB, MOBI and TXT formats.
Internet Archive: The Song of Roland, translated by C.K. Scott-Moncrieff, with an introduction by G.K. Chesterton. EPUB, MOBI, PDF and TXT formats.
Internet Archive: The Song of Roland, translated by Richard Bacon. EPUB, MOBI, PDF and TXT formats.
University of Adelaide: The Song of Roland, translated by C.K. Scott-Moncrieff. HTML, EPUB, and MOBI formats.
Wikisource: The Song of Roland, translated by C.K. Scott-Moncrieff (incomplete). HTML and other formats.

French texts
Wikisource: La Chanson de Roland. Multiple texts. HTML and other formats.

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Chrétien de Troyes: Yvain, the Knight of the Lion

Yvain-dragonYvain, the Knight of the Lion (French: Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion) is an Old French romance, composed by Chrétien de Troyes in the late twelfth century. Widely considered the greatest of his Arthurian romances, it is the only one based on a historical figure, Owain mab Urien, son of the ruler of the sixth century Welsh kingdom of Rheged. How much de Troyes drew from earlier Celtic traditions is a matter of some controversy.

De Troyes' tale begins with Owain's struggle to avenge his brother Calogrenant, against the mysterious knight, Esclados the Red. After defeating Esclados, he marries his widow Laudine, but is persuaded to return to adventuring by Gawain. Laudine extracts a promise that he will return in a year. Owain is unable to keep this pledge, and his efforts to win back Laudine, with the help of her maid Lunette, drive the latter part of the narrative.

Yvain has been interpreted as an attempt to reconcile the virtues of love and chivalry. Its early popularity is attested by the existence of several medieval adaptations into other languages.

Yvain, the Knight of the Lion at Amazon
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English translations
Gutenberg: Four Arthurian Romances - Erec et Enide, Cliges, Yvain, Lancelot, translated by W.W. Comfort.
Poetry in Translation: Yvain, translated by A.S. Klein (2018). HTML, EPUB, MOBI, PDF and WORD formats.
Wikisource: Yvain, the Knight of the Lion, translated by W.W. Comfort. HTML and other formats.

French texts
Internet Archive: Yvain (der Löwenritter), edited by Wendelin Foerster (1902). Romanische Bibliothek edition. Old French text with German commentary. TXT, EPUB, MOBI, PDF and other formats.
Wikisource: Yvain ou le Chevalier au Lion. HTML and other formats.

Other Resources
Librivox: Yvain, or the Knight with the Lion. Public domain audiobook.
Myths and Legends PodcastYvainglory - You're so Yvain - The Lion Knight Rises. Three episodes on the romance with transcripts and audio narrated by Jason Weiser.
University of Rochester: The Legend of Yvain, by Dongdong Han (2010).
Wikipedia: Chrétien de Troyes - Yvain, the Knight of the Lion

Further reading

The Book of Taliesin - A possible early source for poetry about Owain.
Geoffrey of Monmouth: History of the Kings of Britain.
Wace: Roman De Brut.
The Mabinogion - Owain features in the relatively late Dream of Rhonabwy.
Jocelyn of Furness: Life of St Mungo -a work contemporary with de Troyes containing similar traditions about Owain.
Owain, the Knight of the Fountain - a medieval Welsh romance whose relationship to de Troyes' version is much debated.
De Troyes: Lancelot, The Knight of the Cart - an Arthurian romance written at the same time as Yvain.
De Troyes: Percival - his final unfinished Arthurian romance.
Hartmann von Aue: Iwein - A medieval German adaptation.
Yvain and Gawain - A Middle English version of the poem.
Ívens Saga - An Old Norwegian version
Herr Ivan - Old Swedish version.
Bloom's Western Canon: Yvain is listed.


Leibniz: The Theodicy

Leibniz_HannoverThe Theodicy (French: Essais de Théodicée) is a 1710 work by Leibniz on the nature of God and the problem of evil. The title taken from the Greek theos (God) and dike (justice), coined what became a general term for attempts to reconcile the existence of evil with a benevolent God. Leibniz's conclusion, that the actual world is the best of all possible worlds, was famously satirised by Voltaire.

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Gutenberg: Theodicy, translated by E.M. Huggard. Multiple formats. 

Internet Archive: Theodicy - Essays on the Goodness of God, the Freedom of Man and the Origin of Evil, translated by E.M. Huggard and Austin Farrer. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: French text (currently incomplete). HTML and other formats.

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Leibniz: The Monadology

Gottfried_Wilhelm_Leibniz _Bernhard_Christoph_FranckeThe Monadology (French: La Monadologie) is a short 1714 text by Leibniz outlining his metaphysics in ninety theses. Opposing the mind-body dualism of Descartes, Leibniz proposed a monistic idealist system in which the universe is made up of simple parts known as monads. These parts cannot directly affect each other. Rather reality is the result of a pre-established harmony between them.

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Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: Monadology, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Gutenberg: Leibnitz' Monadologie. German text, multiple formats. 

Internet Archive: The Monadology and Other Philosophical Writings, translated by Robert Latta (1898). Multiple formats.

University of Adelaide: The Monadology, translated by Robert Latta. Multiple formats.

University of California, San Diego/Internet Archive: Monadology, translated by Robert Latta, revised by Donald Rutherford. HTML format.

University of Leeds/Internet Archive: Monadology, translated by George Macdonald Ross (1999). Multiple formats.

Wikisource: French text and multiple translations. HTML and other formats.

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Leibniz: New Essays on Human Understanding

Gottfried_Wilhelm_Leibniz_c1700The New Essays on Human Understanding (French: Nouveaux essais sur l'entendement humain) by Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, is a response to Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding, originally completed in French in 1704, but withheld from publication after Locke's death until 1765. 

The New Essays provide a detailed critique of Locke's work in dialogue form, with one speaker Philalethes, defending Locke's position and a second, Theophilus, presenting Leibniz's own views, including a strong defence of the rationalist doctrine of innate ideas.

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Early Modern Texts: New Essays on Human Understanding, adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Internet Archive: New Essays Concerning Human Understanding. English translation (1916). Multiple formats.

Wikisource: French text. HTML and other formats.

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Pascal: The Pensées

800px-Blaise_Pascal_2The Pensées (literally thoughts) is a fragmentary collection of writings prepared by the French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal for a projected defence of Christianity, left unfinished at his death in 1662. The proper order of the work has been the subject of much controversy, and older public domain works may not reflect recent scholarship.

Pascal was closely associated with the Jansenist movement in French Catholicism, and the Pensées reflect the Augustinian belief that man can be saved only by a divine grace he can do nothing to earn. This spirit is reflected in the most famous argument of the Pensées, 'Pascal's wager', which suggests that it is better to live as if God exists because one avoids infinite loss is one is right and suffers only finite loss if one is wrong.

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Bartleby: Thoughts. Harvard Classics Volume 48, Part 1. English translation. HTML format.

Christian Classics Ethereal Library: Pensées. Translated by William Finlayson Trotter. Multiple formats.

Classical Library: Pensées. English translation. HTML format.

Gallica: Pensées, Tome 1. French text edited by Léon Bruschvicg (1904). Image file format.

Gutenberg: Pascale's Pensées. English translation. Introduction by T.S. Eliot. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Pensées, translated by W.F. Trotter. 1941 Modern Library edition. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Pascal's Pensées, translated by Gertrude Burford Rawlings. Multiple formats.

Intratext: Pensées, translated by W.F. Trotter. HTML format.

Samizdat.qc.ca: Pensées. French text. PDF based on 1671 edition.

University of Adelaide: Pensées, translated by W.F. Trotter. Multiple formats.

University of Freiburg: Pensées. French text. PDF format.

University of Dusseldorf: Pensées. French text, 1812 Renouard edition. Image file format.

Wikisource: French texts and English translation by William Finlayson Trotter. HTML and other formats.

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Descartes: Discourse on Method

Frans_Hals_-_Portret_van_René_DescartesThe Discourse on Method (French: Discours de la méthode) by René Descartes was published in French in Leiden in 1637, alongside essays on optics, meteorology and geometry. It offered the an autobiographical of Descartes skeptical method and the positive metaphysical conclusions that he would later develop more fully in the Meditations. Notable among these is the first formulation of the famous 'Cogito', the principle that 'I think therefore I am' and cannot doubt my own existence.

Of the accompanying scientific essays, that on geometry is notable for introducing Cartesian co-ordinates.

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Free online texts

Bartleby: Discourse on Method. English translation. Harvard Classics, Volume 34, Part 1. HTML format.

Gallica: Discours de la méthode pour bien conduire sa raison et chercher la vérité dans les sciences , plus la dioptrique, les météores et la géométrie qui sont des essais de cette méthode. French text. Image file format.

Gutenberg: Discourse on the Method of Rightly Conducting One's Reason and of Seeking Truth in the Sciences, translated by John Veitch. Multiple formats. 

Gutenberg: Discours de la méthode. French text. Multiple formats.

Internet Archive: Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Discourse on the Method, Meditations on First Philosophy, Objections against the Meditations and Replies, The Geometry, by René Descartes. The Ethics, by Benedict De Spinoza. Great Books of the Western World, no 31 (1925). Multiple formats.

Liberty Fund: The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes, translated by John Veitch. Multiple formats.

Wikisource: French text and English translation. HTML and other formats.

Zulu Ebooks: Discours de la méthode. French text. PDF format.

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Descartes: Meditations on First Philosophy

Descartes3Meditations on First Philosophy (Latin: Meditationes de prima philosophia, in qua Dei existentia et animae immortalitas demonstrantur) by Réne Descartes was first published in Latin in 1641, appearing in a French translation in 1647.

The six meditations which make up the book describe a series of mental exercises, undertaken over consecutive days.  The first meditation introduces Descartes' method of universal doubt. The second introduces the famous argument often summarised as 'I think therefore I am' (Latin: cogito ergo sum), and cannot doubt my own existence. 

In the later meditations, Descartes arrives at conventional opinions about God and the world, while more subtly introducing the foundations of his own system of physics. It is however, the first two meditations which have more often been seen as a foundational influence on modern philosophy, although the 'Cartesian dualism' which they introduced between mind and matter has been a target of persistent criticism.

Alongside the Meditations, Descartes published seven sets of objections by distinguished scholars along with his replies. These were 1. Johannes Caterus 2. Marin Mersenne 3. Thomas Hobbes 4. Antoine Arnauld 5. Pierre Gassendi 6. Further objections collected by Mersenne. 7. Pierre Bourdin.

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The Classical Library: The Meditations, translated by John Veitch. HTML format.

Gallica: Méditations métaphysiques. French text (1690). Image file format. 

Gutenberg: Meditationes de prima philosophia - Latin text. Multiple formats.

Early Modern Texts: Meditations on First Philosophy - adapted and translated into modern English, by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format.

Internet Archive: Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Discourse on the Method, Meditations on First Philosophy, Objections against the Meditations and Replies, The Geometry, by René Descartes. The Ethics, by Benedict De Spinoza. Great Books of the Western World, no 31 (1925). Multiple formats.

Latin Library: Meditationes - Latin text. HTML format.

Liberty Fund: The Method, Meditations and Philosophy of Descartes, translated by John Veitch. Multiple formats.

Marxists.org: Meditations on First Philosophy, translated by John Cottingham. HTML format.

Philosophy-Index: Meditations on First Philosophy, translated by John Veitch. HTML format.

University of Leeds/Internet Archive: Hobbes' Objections to Descartes' Meditations. HTML format.

Wikisource: Latin text, French and English translations. HTML and other formats.

Wright State University: Descartes' Meditations. English, French and Latin texts. HTML format.

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Montaigne: Essays

Montaigne-DumonstierThe Essays (French: Essais) by Michel de Montaigne (1533-1592) inaugurated a literary form on their first publication in 1580. His  Essais or 'attempts' at various subjects were part of a larger project of-self reflection. His focus on the individual personality, in contrast to the ancient writers on whom he dew copiously, had a profound influence on later writers.

He knew Greek authors mainly though Latin and French, but his broad classical learning informed an eclectic philosophical world view which drew on Cicero, stoicism and skepticism. The latter was influence was strengthened by Montaigne's experiences as a nobleman during the French Wars of Religion. His belief in tolerance forms an important part of his legacy.

Free online texts

Early Modern Texts: Essays, Bks 1-11, translated by Jonathan Bennett. PDF format. Modern English translation with some editorial alterations.
Gutenberg: Essays of Michel de Montaigne — Complete, translated by Charles Cotton. Multiple formats. 
Internet Archive: The Essays of Michel de Montaigne, Vol I | Vol II. Translated by Charles Cotton and revised by William Carew Hazlitt. Multiple formats.
The Montaigne Project: Les Essais de Montaigne. Full Searchable HTML text in French.
Online Library of Liberty: Essays of Montaigne in 10 Volumes, translated by Charles Cotton. Multiple formats.
University of Adelaide: The Essays of Montaigne, translated by Charles Cotton. Multiple formats.
University of Oregon: Montaigne's Essays, translated by John Florio, 1603. PDF format.
Wikisource: Multiple French editions | English translation by John Florio, 1603 | English translation by Charles Cotton 1686, revised by William Carew Hazlitt in 1877.

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