The Testament of Cresseid and Seven Fables

Robert Henryson, Author, Seamus Heaney, Translator , trans. from the medieval English by Seamus Heaney. Farrar, Straus & Giroux $25 (183p) ISBN 978-0-374-27348-4

Nobel laureate Heaney's new versions of very old narrative poems are unlikely to make the same worldwide splash as his Beowulf, but they remain moving and memorable. Misfortune and fortune, repentance and retribution, pity and prudence, and a late-medieval Christian outlook, in which this life prepares us for the next, all pervade the stories told and retold by Henryson (d. 1505), the best poet of the much-maligned generation that followed Geoffrey Chaucer. Henryson's “The Testament of Cresseid,” set in the Trojan War, describes the last days of the title character's life. Having abandoned the lovelorn warrior Troilus for his heroic rival Diomede, Cresseid finds that Diomede has cast her aside in turn: she curses the god of love, who retaliates by giving her leprosy. She ends her days as a dignified, repentant beggar, almost unrecognized by the man she once loved: “Still, they assumed from grief so mildly borne/ And yet so cruel, she was of noble kind.” Henryson also translated (or made up) animal stories attributed to Aesop. Heaney's facing-page translations, composed (like Henryson's) in seven- to nine-line rhymed stanzas, give a fluent, often delightful modern cast to all of these pathos-filled tales. (Oct.)

Reviewed on: 10/19/2009
Release date: 10/01/2009
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 183 pages - 978-0-374-53245-1
Hardcover - 183 pages - 978-0-571-24928-2
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