Medieval Romance


13th century, Old French | 14th century Middle English versions at Cambridge University Library, Lincoln Cathedral Library, British Library

The griffin snatched up the lioness and carried her across the sea to an isle. The child slept in the lioness’s mouth and knew nothing of the journey. The lioness suckled the infant.

Morning arrived and the birds started to sing their dawn chorus. Then an ape came to the clearing and carried off one of the empress’s children. As she lay paralysed with fear and distress, a lioness came running into the clearing, caught up her other child in her jaws and ran off to feed it to her cubs.

Both her children have been taken!

A bird appeared from out of the sky, a griffin, says the book, soaring over the forest. It was so large that it could easily have carried off a knight in full armour. It snatched up the lioness and carried her across the sea to an isle. The child slept in the lioness’s mouth and knew nothing of the journey, through the grace of God.

When the lioness was dropped upon the land, she reared up ferociously as the wild beast that she was, and through God’s grace, she killed the griffin and ate it, then lay down beside the child. The childe sowkyde [sucked] the lyones [lioness], als it Goddes will was, when it the pappes felide [felt] – the infant sucked the lioness, as God willed, when it felt its milky teats near to its face. The lioness cared for the baby as though it was one of her own cubs, and was very protective of the infant. She made a den with her paws, placed the child in it and looked after it day and night.

The lady, distraught, resolved to travel to the Holy land and to the Grekkes se [Aegean Sea] scho [she] came... a schipe scho fond all redy bowne with pylgremes for to fare.

The schippe come sayland [sailing] by an ile syde... – the ship sailed close to an island and stopped to take on water. Yes, it is the very island on which the lioness is rearing her young.

Story fragment recounted from: Hudson, Harriet, 1996, second edition 2006. Four Middle English Romances, Kalamazoo, Michigan: Western Michigan University for TEAMS. Medieval Institute Publications. The Middle English text of OCTAVIAN from Lincoln Cathedral Library MS 91, the Thornton Manuscript, with missing lines supplied from Cambridge University Library MS Ff 2.38.

See for yourself

Octavian – TEAMS Middle English texts

Octavian – Wikipedia

Chivalric Romance – Wikipedia

Medieval Institute Publications – Harriet Hudson (Ed), Four Middle English Romances: Sir Isumbras, Octavian, Sir Eglamour of Artois, Sir Tryamour, Second Edition. TEAMS Middle English texts

Lakes and seas

Piccadilly Line

magical water
montage of sea images

Navigate the tunnel