Tuesday, 6 March 2012

Book Review: Fleas, Flies and Friars: Children's Poetry from the Middle Ages by Nicholas Orme

Pros: designed to be read by anyone (not just scholars), wide variety of examples, good introduction

Cons: little commentary on the different poems/examples, no conclusion, no easy way to see the original poems he translates

Nicholas Orme has put together a short book of poetry that would have been told to or written/spoken by children in the Middle Ages.  He's done so using full English translations so the book is accessible to those without a background in the field or a knowledge of Latin or middle English.  The downside to this is that if you do know the languages there's no checking his translations to see what (if any) liberties he's taken to get the meaning across or to force the rhythm and rhymes of the poems.  He did keep some old words, to help with the rhymes and maintain flavour, and here he helpfully added translations/modernisations at the bottom of the page.

The book covers a wide variety of poems, from games to manners, stories, and grammar school exercises.  This allows for a nice window into the lives of children, at work and at play, increasing our knowledge of how people lived.  It shows that children were not thought of as 'little adults', that they were allowed to play and were catered to in many ways, according to their age and abilities.

I would have liked more commentary on the individual pieces and a conclusion showing some of the things these poems show us about how children were treated in the middle ages.  But again, Orme wanted this book to be less scholarly and more easily accessible and so kept commentary to a minimum.

An interesting glimpse of an aspect of the middle ages that is not well understood.

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