image of medieval king (11th century)

Week 10: Gesta Romanorum: Jovinianus

Background | Background Quiz | Starting Assumptions | Resources
Vocabulary | Etymology | Grammar
Reading Overview | Quiz: English
| Quiz: Latin | Latin Composition
Discussion Questions | Checklist | Perseus Dictionary | Perseus Tool

Background Information

The background of the Gesta Romanorum is very hard to establish: it is late medieval collection of tales and legends that was assembled perhaps in the thirteenth century. There are many different Latin manuscripts of the Gesta, along with translations into the languages of both western and eastern Europe (there is even an early Polish translation, for example).

One of the remarkable features of the Gesta is that it includes an elaborate allegory for each story, in which the characters are interpreted in bonum or in malum, as signs of Christ or of the Devil, according to the style of interpretation which we saw earlier in the semester with the Physiologus and Hrabanus Maurus.

Another distinctive feature of the Gesta is the immense variety of stories that it includes: there are lives of the saints, Aesop's fables, historical legends about the Greeks and Romans, strange stories about animals (like in the Physiologus), jokes, and mystical riddles.

In order to give you some background for the Gesta Romanorum, I have made a list of some of the other important story collections that circulated in the ancient world, and some important story collections of the European Middle Ages. This will give you a sense of the genre to which the Gesta Romanorum collection belongs, and it will also help you when we come to the Liber Kalilae et Dimnae a little bit later in the semester. Unlike the collections listed here, the Gesta Romanorum does not have a "framing tale" in which stories are told within a larger story.

Modern Languages 4970 / MRS 4903: Medieval Latin. Spring 2003 Online Course at the University of Oklahoma. Visit for more info.
Laura Gibbs, University of Oklahoma - Information Technology © 2003. Last updated: December 29, 2002 7:12 PM