Though I have a good-sized review of James Amelang’s fascinating book “The Flight of Icarus” in the pipeline, I couldn’t resist posting about one tiny Provençal / Occitan item that popped up there…

One of the many mysteries sustaining the Voynich Manuscript mythology is something which you’d have thought would be easy to sort out: a set of month names apparently added by a later owner to what VMs researchers call the “zodiac pages”. Here’s a set of annotated images I made of them a few years ago (which I ought to move over to this site soon), together with an explanation of why I think these are written in some form of Occitan.

When in 1997 Jorge Stolfi had much the same thought, he asked some Occitan researchers if they had any 15th-16th century texts with month names in: even though there are almost no such extant texts (because official documents were all written in French or Latin, while Occitan itself was in sharp decline), the closest match produced by this was from 15th century Toulon. Hence, for years I’ve wondered… what document was that, then?

Well… it looks like it’s listed in James Amelang’s book (p.281) – the bourgeous farmer Jaume Deydier from Ollioules (Var) near Toulon, who wrote his livre de raison (family chronicle) between 1477 and 1521. Helpfully, Amelang lists some page references (40-42, 230, 250-251) in Charles de Ribbe’s (1879) Les familles et la société en France avant la Révolution. Deydier’s first entry begins: “En nom de Nostre Senhor Dieu Jésus-Christ, et de la siena gloriosa Mayre, et de la sancta Cori ce-restial de Paradis, invocant loqual in tota bona et perfiecha obra si deu invocar, car del processis tout ben, nobilitat et profiech, Estament de mi, Jaume Deydier, natiff de Tholon, aras abitant en aquest present luoc d’Olliol.

Digging deeper, de Ribbe’s (1898) La société provençale à la fin du moyen âge: d’après des documents inédits‎ has more on Deydier. For example, pp.453-454 has an extract from Deydier’s 1521 will, beginning: “Per memoria als successors de mi Jaume Deydier, expressamen à Jacques, mon obeyssant fils.

Rather more recently than de Ribbe, there’s a 54-page book/article by Paul (or Gustave?) Roux titled Le Livre de raison de Jaume Deydier: un document d’une grande importance pour la Provence (1983), which appears to be an offprint from ‎Bulletin de la société des amis du vieux Toulon et de sa région, n°105‎.

All the same, you should be aware that there is a sizeable (if somewhat isolated?) French-language literature on the whole livre de raison genre, of which Deydier’s chronicle is merely one example. For example, if you go through this 2002 paper by Jean Tricard, you’ll find a decent-length literature list (Note 1). Tricard also comments (Note 5) that although de Ribbe launched the study of this genre, this was “pas toujours avec la plus grande rigueur scientifique d’ailleurs“, which I’m sure you can translate for yourself. 🙂

So – finally – back to the month names. Throughout all the fragmentary quotations from Deydier on the web, the only Provençal / Occitan month name I’ve found mentioned is “Septembre” (which is good, but which we knew anyway): however, without any idea of Deydier’s orthography etc, it’s a bit hard to tie this down any further.

Incidentally, Amelang cautions that many early modern popular / artisan historical autobiographical texts (the subject of his book) suffer both from a lack of a critical edition and from ‘selective’ (if not blatantly misleading) early translations: and so it is hard to be sure what we would find were we to look at Deydier’s chronicle for ourselves. Hence you might reasonably ask: is there a facsimile edition (or scans) out there of Deydier’s livre? Almost certainly not. Do I even have any idea of which library or collection holds Deydier’s original ms yet? No.

Even so, knowing what we don’t know is probably a (tiny) step in broadly the right direction.

5 thoughts on “Jaume Deydier’s “livre de raison”…

  1. Christopher Hagedorn on August 22, 2009 at 8:12 am said:

    I can’t help but think that somewhere out there is some expert on Occitan livre de raison litterature that would know where the facsimile is.

    Now, to find that guy…

  2. Or, rather, to find out where the original is (since I suspect it is unlikely that there will be a facsimile).

    Jean Tricard (the medieval history professor at the Université de Tours cited above) would be a good person to ask, but I couldn’t find an email address for him. His address is listed here as: 11, bis rue des palmiers Bat C 87100 Limoges.

  3. Dennis on August 24, 2009 at 4:11 am said:

    Hi Nick! I looked back at that file I once sent you on Occitan; I can send it again if you like.

    On this page on Arpitan Wiki, there are several good sites on Italian Occitan, which I think would be of interest:

    Valâdes occitanes du Piemont

    This one has good material:

    Il patois Occitano Provenzale Alpino di Oulx

    Previously I noted at this site:
    “La louà 482 dou 15 dzambr 1999.”
    Thus they write December as ‘dzambr.”

    Also note that while the literary use of Occitan declined toward the end of the XVth century, its administrative use continued. The Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts in 1539 required the use of French in official documents in areas subject to the French crown. It took longer for this to happen to Occitan in Provence and Savoy. Even then, my sources note a mild literary resurgence of Occitan during the XVIth century. Once again, in my notes. Plainly, there’s a lot more out there.


  4. Thanks for the links – though I’m not sure how representative 1999 Occitan is of 1500 Occitan. In fact, I’m pretty sure that there were actually many 1500 Occitans… a family rather than a dictionary, per se.

    Unfortunately, Occitan also seems to be shrouded by a lot of make-believe history – the kind of thing that happens when something ought to be true for reasons of nationalism or regional pride, and over-enthusiastic “historians” step in to fill the breach. In reality, there are hardly any pre-1600 Occitan / Provencal documents still in existence (hence why Jaume Deydier’s chronicle is so useful) – as I understand it, the Villers-Cotterets ordinance only codified the decline of Occitan, which had already been going on for quite some time before 1539.

  5. Dennis on August 25, 2009 at 2:17 am said:

    OK. As I said, there’s more info in my file. ISTR that at least one of those site had info on 1500-ish Occitan. I certainly understand about regional pride.

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