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“Just as the elephant” | “Atressi cum l'orifans”

Life of Rigaut de Berbezilh in Paris BnF Fr. 12473 f.71r (Occitan Songbook K) [Public Domain]

Introduction to the Text

“Atressi cum l’orifans” (PC 421.2: “Just as the Elephant”) is a canso attributed to Rigaut de Berbezilh. There is contention as to when the troubadour was active: 1140-1157, or 1170-1210 (Varvaro 1960, 9–30). This lyric has attracted commentary because, like other songs by Rigaut, it relies on animal imagery to further the singer-lover’s rationale. If one dates Rigaut’s activity to 1140-1157, “Just as the Elephant” is one of the earliest Romance texts to attest to the circulation of such imagery, at times in direct connection with the Physiologus. The “I” likens himself to the elephant, the bear, the phoenix, and the stag, as well as Daedalus (who stands for Icarus). These animal images thematise the opposing or the conjoining of up and down, pain and improvement, death and revival, fleeing and returning, and are linked to the complex feelings of love that the “I” expresses. Amelia Van Vleck has discussed the way in which these elements, along with elements denoting spectacles or trials, are picked up by words denoting excess, such as “sobramar” (loving excessively) and “trop parlar” (speaking too much) (1993, 232).

The reference to the “cortz del Puey” (court of Puy) is one of the rare testimonies to the existence of a poetic contest in Puy-en-Velay. More generally, the poem emphasises the communal nature of the lover’s endeavour, supported as he asks to be by his fellow “fis amans” (refined lovers), and his ability to stand is dependent upon them. The reference to Daedalus also deserves mention because, although what is said about him applies to Icarus, it attests to some form of knowledge about Ovid’s Metamorphoses.

Introduction to the Source

“Atressi cum l’orifans” is extant in a large number of manuscripts, which may indicate that when chansonniers were composed, Rigaut’s works were held in higher esteem than in scholarly assessments. Across manuscripts, the lyric changes, be it in the order of stanzas, the presence/absence of stanzas, single words and phrases, linguistic makeover, or the presence of a written melody (extant in two manuscripts). Rigaut seems to have been popular in Northern French chansonniers, although Eliza Zingesser has shown that this came at the cost of making Rigaut look birdlike, almost a madman (2020, 49–80).

This translation is based on the edition of the lyric by Carl Appel (1920, 70–71, item 29), with adapted punctuation. The reference edition remains that by Alberto Varvaro (1960, 106-134).

Further Reading

Appel, Carl, editor. Provenzalische Chrestomathie. Mit Abriss Der Formenlehre Und Glossar. 5th edition. Reisland, 1920.

Rigaut de Berbezilh. Liriche. Edited by Alberto Varvaro, Adriatica, 1960.

Van Vleck, Amelia. “Rigaut de Berbezilh and the Wild Sound. Implications of a Lyric Bestiary.” Romanic Review, vol. 84, nr. 3, 1993, pp. 223–40.

Zingesser, Eliza. Stolen Song. How the Troubadours Became French. Cornell UP, 2020.


Translation by Johannes Junge RuhlandEncoded in TEI P5 XML by Danny Smith

Suggested citation: Rigaut de Berbezilh. "“Just as the elephant”." Trans. Johannes Junge Ruhland. Global Medieval Sourcebook. Retrieved on July 02, 2022.