From Academic Kids

Provençal literature is much more easily defined than the Provençal language in which it is expressed.



Starting in the 11th and 12th centuries in several centres it thence gradually spread out, first over the greater portion, though not the whole of southern France, and then into the north of Italy and Spain. It never felt the influence of the neighboring literatures. At the time of its highest development (12th century) the art of composing in the vulgar tongue did not exist, or was only beginning to exist, to the south of the Alps and the Pyrenees. In the north, in the country of French speech, vernacular poetry was in full bloom; but between the districts in which it had developed, Champagne, Ile de France, Picardie and Normandy and the region in which Provençal literature had sprung up, there seems to have been an intermediate zone formed by Burgundy, Bourbonnais, Berry, Touraine and Anjou which, far on in the Middle Ages, appears to have remained almost barren of vernacular literature.

In its rise Provençal literature stands completely by itself, and in its development it long continued to be absolutely original. It presents at several points genuine analogies with the sister literature of northern France; but these analogies are due principally to certain primary elements common to both and only in a slight degree to mutual reaction.

It must be inquired, however, what amount of originality could belong to any, even the most original, Romance literature in the Middle Ages. In all Romanic countries compositions in the vernacular began to appear while the custom of writing in Latin was still preserved by uninterrupted tradition. Even during the most barbarous periods, when intellectual life was at its lowest, it was in Latin that sermons, lives of saints more or less apocryphal, accounts of miracles designed to attract pilgrims to certain shrines, monastic annals, legal documents, and contracts of all kinds were composed. When learning began to revive, as was the case in northern and central France under the influence of Charlemagne and later in the 11th century, it was Latin literature which naturally received increased support in writing.

Slowly and gradually the Romance languages, especially those of France, came to occupy part of the ground formerly occupied by Latin, but even after the Middle Ages had passed away the parent tongue retained no small portions of its original empire. Consequently Romanic literatures in general (and this is especially true of Provençal, as it does not extend beyond the medieval period) afford only an incomplete representation of the intellectual development of each country. Those literatures even which are most truly national, as having been subjected to no external influence, are only to a limited extent capable of teaching us what the nation was. They were, in short, created in the interests of the illiterate part of the people, and to a considerable degree by men themselves almost devoid of literary learning. But that does not make them less interesting.


It was in the 11th century, and at several places in the extensive territory whose limits have been described in the foregoing account of the Provençal language, that Provençal literature first made its appearance. It took poetic form; and its oldest monuments show a relative perfection and a variety from which it may be concluded that poetry had already received a considerable development. The oldest poetic text, of which the date and origin are not surely determined, is said to be a Provençal burden (Fr. refrain) attached to a Latin poem which has been published (Zeitschrift fuer deutsche Philologie, 1881, p. 335) from a Vatican MS., written, it is asserted, in the 10th century. But it is useless to linger over these few words, the text of which seems corrupt, or at least has not yet been satisfactorily interpreted.

The honor of being the oldest literary monument of the Provençal language must be assigned to a fragment of two hundred and fifty-seven decasyllabic verses preserved in an Orleans MS. and frequently edited and annotated since it was first printed by Raynouard in 1817 in his Choix des poesies originales des troubadours. The writing of the MS. is of the first half of the 11th century. The peculiarities of the language point to the north of the Provençal region, probably Limousin or Marche. It is the beginning of a poem in which the unknown author, taking Boethius' treatise De consolatione philosophiae as the groundwork of his composition, adopts and develops its ideas and gives them a Christian coloring of which there is no trace in the original. Thus from some verses in which Boethius contrasts his happy youth with his afflicted old age he draws a lengthy homily on the necessity of laying up from early years a treasure of good works. The poem is consequently a didactic piece composed by a clerk knowing Latin. He doubtless preferred the poetic form to prose because his illiterate contemporaries were accustomed to poetry in the vulgar tongue, and because this form was better adapted to recitation; and thus his work, while a product of erudition in as far as it was an adaptation of a Latin treatise, shows that at the time when it was composed a vernacular poetry was in existence.

A little later, at the close of the same century, we have the poems of William IX (1071-1126), count of Poitiers, duke of Guienne. They consist of eleven very diverse strophic pieces, and were consequently meant to be sung. Several are love songs; one relates a bonne fortune in very gross terms; and the most important of all - the only one which can be approximately dated, being composed at the time when William was setting out for Spain to fight the Saracens (about 1119) expresses in touching and often noble words the writers regret for the frivolity of his past life and the apprehensions which oppressed him as he bade farewell, perhaps for ever, to his country and his young son. We also know from Ordericus Vitalis that William IX had composed various poems on the incidents of his ill-fated expedition to the Holy Land in 1101. And it must further be mentioned that in one of his pieces (Ben voil que sapchon ii plusor) he makes a very clear allusion to a kind of poetry which we know only by the specimens of later date, the partimen, or, as it is called in France, the jeu parti. There is no doubt that the most prolific period of William's literary activity was his youth. On the other hand there is no reason to believe that he created the type of poetry of which he is to us the oldest representative. It is easy to understand how his high social rank saved some of his productions from oblivion whilst the poems of his predecessors and contemporaries disappeared with the generations who heard and sang them; and in the contrast in form and subject between the Boethius poem and the stanzas of William IX we find evidence that by the 11th century Provençal poetry was being rapidly developed in various directions.

Whence came this poetry? How and by whose work was it formed? That it has no connection whatever with Latin poetry is generally admitted. There is absolutely nothing in common either in form or ideas between the last productions of classical Latinity, as they appear in Sidonius Apollinaris or Fortunatus, and the first poetic compositions in Romanic. The view which seems to meet with general acceptance, though it has not been distinctly formulated by any one, is that Romanic poetry sprang out of a popular poetry quietly holding its place from the Roman times, no specimen of which has survived just as the Romanic languages are only continuations with local modifications of vulgar Latin. There are both truth and error in this opinion. The question is really a very complex one. First as to the form Romanic versification as it appears in the Boethius poem and the verses of William IX, and a little farther north in the poem of the Passion and the Life of St Leger (10th or 11th century), has with all its variety some general and permanent characteristics; it is rhymed, and it is composed of a definite number of syllables certain of which have the syllabic accent. This form has evident affinity with the rhythmic Latin versification, of which specimens exist from the close of the Roman Empire in ecclesiastical poetry. The exact type of Romanic verse is not found, however, in this ecclesiastical Latin poetry; the latter was not popular. However, it may be assumed that there was a popular variety of rhythmic poetry from which Romanic verse is derived.

Again, as regards the substance, the poetic material, we find nothing in the earliest Provençal which is strictly popular. The extremely personal compositions of William IX have nothing in common with folklore. They are subjective poetry addressed to a very limited and probably rather aristocratic audience. The same may be said of the Boethius poem, though it belongs to the quite different species of edifying literature; at any rate it is not popular poetry. Vernacular compositions seem to have been at first produced for the amusement, or in the case of religious poetry, for the edification, of that part of lay society which had leisure and lands, and reckoned intellectual pastime among the good things of life. Gradually this class, intelligent, but with no Latin education, enlarged the circle of its ideas. In the 12th century, and still more in the 13th, historical works and popular treatises on contemporary science were composed for its use in the only language it understood; and vernacular literature continued gradually to develop partly on original lines and partly by borrowing from the literature of the clerks. But in the 1lth century vernacular poetry was still rather limited, and has hardly any higher object than the amusement or the edification of the upper classes. An aristocratic poetry, such as it appears in the oldest Provençal compositions, cannot be the production of shepherds and husbandmen; and there is no probability that it was invented or even very notably improved by William IX.

From what class of persons then did it proceed? Latin chroniclers of the Middle Ages mention as joculares, joculatores, men of a class not very highly esteemed whose profession consisted in amusing their audience either by what we still call jugglers tricks, by exhibiting performing animals, or by recitation and song. They are called, joglars in Provençal, jouglers or jongleurs in French. A certain Barnaldus, styled joglarius, appears as witness in 1058 to a charter of the chartulary of St Victor at Marseille. In 1106 the act of foundation of a salva terra in Rouergue specifies that neither knight nor manatarms nor joculator is to reside in the village about to be created. These individuals successors of the mimi and the ihymelici of antiquity, who were professional amusers of the public were the first authors of poetry in the vernacular both in the south and in the north of France. To the upper classes who welcomed them to their castles they supplied that sort of entertainment now sought at the theatre or in books of light literature. There were certain of them who, leaving buffoonery to the ruder and less intelligent members of the profession, devoted themselves to the composition of pieces intended for singing, and consequently in verse, In the north, where manners were not so refined and where the taste for warlike adventure prevailed, the jongleurs produced chansons de geste full of tales of battle and combat. In the courts of the southern nobles, where wealth was more abundant and a life of ease and pleasure was consequently indulged in, they produced love songs.

There is probably a large amount of truth in the remark made by Dante in ch. XXV of his Vita Nuova, that the first to compose in the vulgar tongue did so because he wished to be understood by a lady who would have found it difficult to follow Latin verses. And in fact there are love songs among the pieces by William of Poitiers; and the same type preponderates among the compositions of the troubadours who came immediately after him. But it is worthy of note that in all this vast body of love poetry there is no epithalamium nor any address to a marriageable lady. The social conditions of the south of France in the feudal period explain in great measure the powerful development of this kind of poetry, and also its peculiar characteristics the profound respect, the extreme deference of the poet towards the lady whom he addresses. Rich heiresses were married young, often when hardly out of their girlhood, and most frequently without their fancy being consulted. But they seem after marriage to have enjoyed great liberty. Eager for pleasure and greedy of praise, the fair ladies of the castle became the natural patronesses of the mesnie or household of men-at-arms and jongleurs whom their husbands maintained in their castles. Songs of love addressed to them soon became an accepted and almost conventional form of literature; and, as in social position the authors were generally far below those to whom they directed their amorous plaints, this kind of poetry was always distinguished by great reserve and an essentially respectful style. From the beginning the sentiments, real or assumed, of the poets are expressed in such a refined and guarded style that some historians, over-estimating the virtue of the ladies of that time, have been misled to the belief that the love of the troubadour for the mistress of his thoughts was generally platonic and conventional.

The conditions under which Romanic poetry arose in the south of France being thus determined as accurately as the scarcity of documents allows, we now proceed to give a survey of the various forms of Provençal literature, chronological order being followed in each division. By this arrangement the wealth of each form will be better displayed; and, as it is rare in the south of France for the same person to distinguish himself in more than one of them, there will be generally no occasion to introduce the same author in different sections.

Poetry of the Troubadours

Though he was certainly not the creator of the lyric poetry of southern France, William, count of Poitiers, by personally cultivating it gave it a position of honor, and indirectly contributed in a very powerful degree to ensure its development and preservation. Shortly after him centres of poetic activity make their appearance in various places first in Limousin and Gascony. In the former province lived a viscount of Ventadour, Eble, who during the second part of William of Poitiers' life seems to have been brought into relation with him, and according to a contemporary historian, Geoffroy, prior of Vigeois, "erat valde gratiosus in cantilenis". We possess none of his compositions; but under his influence Bernart of Ventadour was trained to poetry, who, though only the son of one of the serving-men of the castle, managed to gain the love of the lady of Ventadour, and when on the discovery of their amour he had to depart elsewhere, received a gracious welcome from Eleanor of Guienne, consort (from 1152) of Henry II of England. Of Bernart's compositions we possess about fifty songs of elegant simplicity, some of which may be taken as the most perfect specimens of love poetry Provençal literature has ever produced. Bernart must therefore have been in repute before the middle of the 12th century; and his poetic career extended well on towards its close.

At the same period, or probably a little earlier, flourished Cercamon, a poet certainly inferior to Bernart, to judge by the few pieces he has left us, but nevertheless of genuine importance among the troubadours both because of his early date and because definite information regarding him has been preserved. He was a Gascon, and composed, says his old biographer, pastorals according to the ancient custom (pastorelas a la uzansa antiga). This is the record of the appearance in the south of France of a poetic form which ultimately acquired large development. The period at which Cercamon lived is determined by a piece where he alludes very clearly to the approaching marriage of the king of France, Louis VII, with Eleanor of Guienne (1137). Among the earliest troubadours may also be reckoned Marcabrun, a pupil of Cercamon, from whose pen we have about forty pieces, those which can be approximately dated ranging from 1135 to 1148 or thereabout. This poet has great originality of thought and style. His songs, several of which are historical, are free from the commonplaces of their class, and contain curious strictures on the corruptions of the time.

We cannot here do more than enumerate the leading troubadours and briefly indicate in what conditions their poetry was developed and through what circumstances it fell into decay and finally disappeared: Peter of Auvergne (Peire d'Alvernha), who in certain respects must be classed with Marcabrun; Arnaut Daniel, remarkable for his complicated versification, the inventor of the sestina, a poetic form for which Dante and Petrarch express an admiration difficult for us to understand; Arnaut of Mareuil, who, while less famous than Arnaut Daniel, certainly surpasses him in elegant simplicity of form and delicacy of sentiment; Bertran de Born, now the most generally known of all the troubadours on account of the part he is said to have played both by his sword and his sirveniescs in the struggle between Henry II of England and his rebel sons, though the importance of his part in the events of the time seems to have been greatly exaggerated; Peire Vidal of Toulouse, a poet of varied inspiration who grew rich with gifts bestowed on him by the greatest nobles of his time; Guiraut de Borneil, lo macsire dels trobadors, and at any rate master in the art of the so-called close style (trebar clus), though he has also left us some songs of charming simplicity; Gaucelm Faidit, from whom we have a touching lament (plaint) on the death of Richard Coeur de Lion; Folquet of Marseilles, the most powerful thinker among the poets of the south, who from being a troubadour became first a monk, then an abbot, and finally bishop of Toulouse (d. 1231).

It is not without interest to discover from what class of society the troubadours came. Many of them, there is no doubt, had a very humble origin. Bernart of Ventadour's father was a servant, Peire Vidal's a maker of furred garments, Perdigon's a fisher. Others belonged to the bourgeoisie:

Peire d'Alvernha, for example, Peire Raimon of Toulouse, Elias Fonsalada. More rarely we see traders sons becoming troubadours; this was the case with Folquet of Marseilles and Aimeric de Peguilhan. A great many were clerics, or at least studied for the Church, for instance, Arnaut of Mareuil, Hugh of Saint Circq (Uc de Saint Circ), Aimeric de Belenoi, Hugh Brunet, Peire Cardinal; some had even taken orders: the monk of Montaudon, the monk Gaubert of Puicibot. Ecclesiastical authority did not always tolerate this breach of discipline. Gui d'Uissel, canon and troubadour, was obliged by the injunction of the pontifical legate to give up his song-making. One point is particularly striking, the number of nobles (usually poor knights whose incomes were insufficient to support their rank) who became troubadours, or even, by an inferior descent, jongleurs:

Raimon de Miraval, Pons de Capdoill, Guillem Azemar, Cadenet Peirol, Raimbaut de Vacqueiras, and many more.

There is no doubt they betook themselves to poetry not merely for their own pleasure, but for the sake of the gifts to be obtained from the nobles whose courts they frequented. A very different position was occupied by such important persons as William of Poitiers, Raimbaut of Orange, the viscount of Saint Antonin, William of Berga and Blacatz, who made poetry for their own amusement, but contributed not a little, by thus becoming troubadours, to raise the profession.

The profession itself was entirely dependent on the existence and prosperity of the feudal courts. The troubadours could hardly expect to obtain a livelihood from any other quarter than the generosity of the great. It will consequently be well to mention the more important at least of those princes who are known to have been patrons and some of them practisers of the poetic art. They are arranged approximately in geographical order, and after each are inserted the names of those troubadours with whom they were connected.


  • Eleanor of Guienne, Bernart de Ventadour (Ventadorn)
  • Henry Curtmantle, son of Henry II of England, Bertran de Born (?)
  • Richard Coeur de Lion, Arnaut Daniel, Peire Vidal, Foiquet of Marseilles, Gaucelm Faidit
  • Ermengarde of Narbonne (1143-1192), Bernart de Ventadour, Peire Rogier, Peire dAlvernha
  • Raimon V, count of Toulouse (1143-1194), Bernart de Ventadour, Peire Rogier, Peire Raitnon, Hugh Brunet, Peire Vidal, Foiquet of Marseilles, Bernart de Durfort
  • Raimon VI, count of Toulouse (1194-1222), Raimon de Miraval, Aimeric de Peguihan, Aimeric de Belenoi, Ademar 10 Negre
  • Alphonse II, count of Provence (1185-1209), Elias de Barjols
  • Raimon Berenger IV, count of Provence (1209-1245),Sordel
  • Barral, viscount of Marseilles (d. c. 1192), Peire Vidal, Folquet de Marseilles
  • William VIII, lord of Montpellier (1172-1204), Peire Raimon, Arnaut de Mareuil, Folquet de Marseilles, (iuiraut de Calanson, Aimeric de Sarlat
  • Robert, dauphin of Auvergne (1169-1234), Peirol, Perdigon, Pierre de Maensac, Gaucelm Faidit
  • Guillaume de Baux, prince of Orange (1182-1218), Raimbaut de Vacqueiras, Perdigon
  • Savaric de Mauléon (1200-1230), Gauceim de Puicibot, Hugh de Saint Circq
  • Blacatz, a Provençal noble (1200-1236), Cadenet, Joan dAubusson, Sordel, Guillem Figueira
  • Henry I, count of Rodez (1208-1222?), Hugh de Saint Circq
  • perhaps Hugh IV, count of Rodez (1222-1274) and Henry II, count of Rodez (1274-1302), Guiraut Riquier, Folquet de Lunel, Serveri de Girone, Bertran Carbonel
  • Nunyo Sanchez, count of Roussillon (d. 1241), Aimeric de Belenoi
  • Bernard IV, count of Astarac (1249-1291), Guiraut Riquier, Amanieu de Sescas



The first thing that strikes one in this list is that, while the troubadours find protectors in Spain and Italy, they do not seem to have been welcomed in French-speaking countries. This, however, must not be taken too absolutely. Provençal poetry was appreciated in the north of France. There is reason to believe that when Constance, daughter of one of the counts of Arles, was married in 1001 to Robert, king of France, she brought along with her Provençal jongleurs. Poems by troubadours are quoted in the French romances of the beginning of the 13th century; some of them are transcribed in the old collections of French songs, and the preacher Robert de Sorbon informs us in a curious passage that one day a jongleur sang a poem by Folquet of Marseilles at the court of the king of France. But in any case it is easy to understand that, the countries of the langue d'oil having a full developed literature of their own suited to the taste of the people, the troubadours generally preferred to go to regions where they had less to fear in the way of competition.

The decline and fall of troubadour poetry was mainly due to political causes. When about the beginning of the 13th century the Albigensian War had ruined a large number of the nobles and reduced to lasting poverty a part of the south of France, the profession of troubadour ceased to be lucrative. It was then that many of those poets went to spend their last days in the north of Spain and Italy, where Provençal poetry had for more than one generation been highly esteemed. Following their example, other poets who were not natives of the south of France began to compose in Provençal, and this fashion continued till, about the middle of the 13th century, they gradually abandoned the foreign tongue in northern Italy, and somewhat later in Catalonia, and took to singing the same airs in the local dialects. About the same time in the Provençal region the flame of poetry had died out save in a few places, Narbonne, Rodez, Foix and Astarac where it kept burning feebly for a little longer. In the 14th century composition in the language of the country was still practised; but the productions of this period are mainly works for instruction and edification, translations from Latin or sometimes even from French, with an occasional romance. As for the poetry of the troubadours, it was dead for ever.


Originally the poems of the troubadours were intended to be sung. The poet usually composed the music as well as the words; and in several cases he owed his fame more to his musical than to his literary ability. Two manuscripts preserve specimens of the music of the troubadours, but, though the subject has been recently investigated, we are hardly able to form a clear opinion of the originality and of the merits of these musical compositions. The following are the principal poetic forms which the troubadours employed. The oldest and most usual generic term is vers, by which is understood any composition intended to be sung, no matter what the subject. At the close of the 12th century it became customary to call all verse treating of love canso the name vers being then more generally reserved for poems on other themes. The sirventesc differs from the vers and the canso only by its subject, being for the most part devoted to moral and political topics.

Peire Cardinal is celebrated for the sirventescs he composed against the clergy of his time. The political poems of Bertran de Born are sirventescs. There is reason to believe that originally this word meant simply a poem composed by a sirvent (Latin serviens) or man-at-arms. The sirventesc is very frequently composed in the form, sometimes even with rhymes, of a love song having acquired some popularity, so that it might be sung to the same air.

The tenson is a debate between two interlocutors, each of whom has a stanza or more generally a group of lines (each group having the same structure) in turn.

The partimen (French jeu parti) is also a poetic debate, but it differs from the tenson in so far that the range of debate is limited. In the first stanza one of the partners proposes two alternatives; the other partner chooses one of them and defends it, the opposite side remaining to be defended by the original propounder. Often in a final couplet a judge or arbiter is appointed to decide between the parties. This poetic game is mentioned by William, count of Poitiers, at the end of the 11th century. The pastoreta, afterwards pastorela, is in general an account of the love adventures of a knight with a shepherdess. All these classes have one form capable of endless variations: five or more stanzas and one or two envois. The dansa and balada, intended to mark the time in dancing, are pieces with a refrain. The aubade, which has also a refrain, is, as the name indicates, a waking or morning song at the dawning of the day. All those classes are in stanzas. The descort is not thus divided, and consequently it must be set to music right through. Its name is derived from the fact that, its component parts not being equal, there is a kind of discord between them. It is generally reserved for themes of love. Other kinds of lyric poems, sometimes with nothing new about them except the name, were developed in the south of France; but those here mentioned are the more important.

Narrative Poetry

Although the strictly lyric poetry of the troubadours forms the most original part of Provençal literature, it must not be supposed that the remainder is of trifling importance. Narrative poetry, especially, received in the south of France a great development, and, thanks to recent discoveries, a considerable body of it has already become known. Several classes must be distinguished: the chanson de geste, legendary or apparently historical, the romance of adventure and the novel. Northern France remains emphatically the native country of the chanson de geste; but, although in the south different social conditions, a more delicate taste, and a higher state of civilization prevented a similar profusion of tales of war and heroic deeds, Provençal literature has some highly important specimens of this class.

The first place belongs to Girart de Roussillon, a poem of ten thousand verses, which relates the struggles of Charles Martel with his powerful vassal the Burgundian Gerard of Roussillon. It is a literary production of rare excellence and of exceptional interest for the history of civilization in the 11th and 12th centuries. Girart de Roussillon belongs only within certain limits to the literature of southern France. The recension which we possess appears to have been made on the borders of Limousin and Poitou; but it is clearly no more than a recast of an older poem no longer extant, probably either of French or at least Burgundian origin.

To Limousin also seems to belong the poem of Aigar and Maurin (end of the 12th century), of which we have unfortunately only a fragment so short that the subject cannot be clearly made out. Of less heroic character is the poem of Daurel and Beton (first half of the 13th century), connected with the cycle of Charlemagne, but by the romantic character of the events more like a regular romance of adventure. We cannot, however, form a complete judgment in regard to it, as the only manuscript in which it has been preserved is defective at the close, and that to an amount there is no means of ascertaining. Midway between legend and history may be classified the Provençal Chanson of Antioch, a mere fragment of which, 700 verses - in extent, has been recovered in Madrid and published in Archives de l'Orient latin, vol. ii. This poem, which seems to have been composed by a certain Gregoire Bechada, mentioned in a 12th century chronicle and written in Limousin (see G. Paris, in Romania, xxii. 358), is one of the sources of the Spanish compilation La gran conquista de Ultramar. To history proper belongs the Chanson of the crusade against the Albigensians, which, in its present state, is composed of two poems one tacked to the other: the first, containing the events from the beginning of the crusade till 1213, is the work of a cleric named William of Tudela, a moderate supporter of the crusaders; the second, from 1213 to 1218, is by a vehement opponent of the enterprise. The language and style of the two parts are no less different than the opinions. Finally, about 1280, Guillaume Anelier, a native of Toulouse, composed, in the chanson de geste form, a poem on the war carried on in Navarre by the French in 1276 and 1277. It is an historical work of little literary merit. All these poems are in the form of chansons de geste, viz, in stanzas of indefinite length, with a single rhyme.

Gerard of Roussillon, Aigar and Maurin and Daurel and Beton are in verses of ten, the others in verses of twelve syllables. The peculiarity of the versification in Gerard is that the pause in the line occurs after the sixth syllable, and not, as is usual, after the fourth.

Like the chanson de geste, the romance of adventure is but slightly represented in the south; but it is to be borne in mind that many works of this class must have perished, as is rendered evident by the mere fact that, with few exceptions, the narrative poems which have come down to us are each known by a single manuscript only. We possess but three Provençal romances of adventure:

Jaufri (composed in the middle of the 13th century and dedicated to a king of Aragon, possibly James I), Blandin of Cornwall and Guillem de La Barra. The first two are connected with the Arthurian cycle: Jaufri is an elegant and ingenious work; Blandin of Cornwall the dullest and most insipid one can well imagine. The romance of Guillem de La Barra tells a strange story also found in Boccaccio's Decameron (2nd Day, viii.). It is rather a poor poem; but as a contribution to literary history it has the advantage of being dated. It was finished in 1318, and is dedicated to a noble of Languedoc called Sicart de Montaut.

Connected with the romance of adventure is the novel (in Provençal novas, always in the plural), which is originally an account of an event newly happened. The novel must have been at first in the south what, as we see by the Decameron, it was in Italy, a society pastime with the wits in turn relating anecdotes, true or imaginary, which they think likely to amuse their auditors. But before long this kind of production was treated in verse, the form adopted being that of the romances of adventure octosyllabic verses rhyming in pairs. Some of those novels which have come down to us may be ranked with the most graceful works in Provençal literature; two are from the pen of the Catalan author Raimon Vidal de Besalu. One, the Castia-gilos (the Chastisement of the Jealous Man), is a treatment, not easily matched for elegance, of a frequently-handled theme the story of the husband who, in order to entrap his wife, takes the disguise of the lover whom she is expecting and receives with satisfaction blows intended, as he thinks, for him whose part he is playing; the other, The Judgment of Love, is the recital of a question of the law of love, departing considerably from the subjects usually treated in the novels. Mention may also be made of the novel of The Parrot by Arnaut de Carcassonne, in which the principal character is a parrot of great eloquence and ability, who succeeds marvellously in securing the success of the amorous enterprises of his master.

Novels came to be extended to the proportions of a long romance. Flamenca, which belongs to the novel type, has still over eight thousand verses, though the only MS. of it has lost some leaves both at the beginning and at the end. This poem, composed in all probability in 1234, is the story of a lady who by very ingenious devices, not unlike those employed in the Miles gloriosus of Plautus, succeeds in eluding the vigilance of her jealous husband. No analysis can be given here of a work the action of which is highly complicated; suffice it to remark that there is no book in medieval literature which betokens so much quickness of intellect and is so instructive in regard to the manners and usages of polite society in the 13th century. We know that novels were in great favor in the south of France, although the specimens preserved are not very numerous. Statements made by Francesco da Barberino (early part of 14th century), and recently brought to light, give us a glimpse of several works of this class which have been lost. From the south of France the novel spread into Catalonia, where we find in the 14th century a number of novels in verse very similar to the Provençal ones, and into Italy, where in general the prose form has been adopted.

Didactic and Religious Poetry

Compositions intended for instruction, correction and edification were very numerous in the south of France as well as elsewhere, and, in spite of the enormous losses sustained by Provençal literature, much of this kind still remains. But it is seldom that such works have much originality or literary value. Originality was naturally absent, as the aim of the writers was mainly to bring the teachings contained in Latin works within the reach of lay hearers or readers. Literary value was not of course excluded by the lack of originality, but by an unfortunate chance the greater part of those who sought to instruct or edify, and attempted to substitute moral works for secular productions in favor with the people, were, with a few exceptions, persons of limited ability. It would be out of question to enumerate here all the didactic treatises, all the lives of saints, all the treatises of popular theology and morals, all the books of devotion, all the pious canticles, composed in Provençal verse during the Middle Ages; still some of these poems may be singled out.

Daude de Prades (early 13th century), a canon of Maguelone, and at the same time a troubadour, has left a poem, the Auzels cassadors, which is one of the best sources for the study of falconry. Raimon d'Avignon, otherwise unknown, translated in verses, about the year 1200, Rogier of Parme's Surgery (Romania, x. 63 and 496). We may mention also a poem on astrology by a certain C. (Guilhem?), and another, anonymous, on geomancy, both written about the end of the 13th century (Romania, xxvi. 825).

As to moral compositions, we have to recall the Boethius poem (unfortunately a mere fragment) already mentioned as one of the oldest documents of the language, and really a remarkable work; and to notice an early (12th century?) metrical translation of the famous Disticha de moribus of Dionysius Cato (Romania, xxv. 98, and xxix. 445). More original are some compositions of an educational character known under the name of ensenhamenz, and, in some respects, comparable to the English nurture-books.

The most interesting are those of Garin le Brun (12th century), Arnaut de Mareuil, Arnaut Guilhem de Marsan, Amanieu de Sescas. Their general object is the education of ladies of rank. Of metrical lives of saints we possess about a dozen (see Histoire littéraire de la France, vol. xxxii.), among which two or three deserve a particular attention: the Life of Sancta Fides, recently discovered and printed Romania, xxxi.), written early in the 12th century; the Life of St Enimia (13th century), by Bertran of Marseilles, and that of St Honorat of Lerins by Raimon Feraud (about 1300), which is distinguished by variety and elegance of versification, but it is almost entirely a translation from Latin. Lives of saints (St Andrew, St Thomas the Apostle, St John the Evangelist) form a part of a poem, strictly didactic, which stands out by reason of its great extent (nearly thirty-five thousand verses) and the somewhat original conception of its scheme - the Breviars damor, a vast encyclopaedia, on a theological basis, composed by the Minorite friar Matfre Ermengaut of Bhziers between 1288 and 1300 or thereabout.


The dramatic literature of southern France belongs entirely to the religious class, and shows little originality. It consists of mysteries and miracle plays seldom exceeding two or three thousand lines, which never developed into the enormous dramas of northern France, whose acting required several consecutive days. Comic plays, so plentiful in medieval French literature (farces, sotties), do not seem to have found favor in the south. Specimens which we possess of Provençal drama are, comparatively few; but researches in local archives, especially in old account books, have brought to light a considerable number of entries concerning the acting, at public expense, of religious plays, called, in Latin documents, Lucius, historia, moralitas, most of which seem to be irretrievably lost. As all the Provençal plays, sometimes mere fragments, which have escaped destruction, are preserved in about a dozen manuscripts, unearthed within the last forty or fifty years, there is hope that new texts of that sort may some day be published. Generally those plays belong to the 15th century or to the 16th. Still, a few are more ancient and may be ascribed to the 14th century or even to the end of the 13th. The oldest appears to be the Mystery of St Agnes (edited by Bartsch, 1869), written in Arles. Somewhat more recent, but not later than the beginning of the 14th century, is a Passion of Christ (not yet printed) and a mystery of the Marriage of the Virgin, which is partly adapted from a French poem of the 13th century, (see Romania xvi. 71). A manuscript, discovered in private archives (printed by Jeanroy and Teulie, 1893), contains not less than sixteen short mysteries, three founded on the Old Testament, thirteen on the New. They were, written in Rouergue and are partly imitated from French mysteries.

At Manosque (Alpes-de-Haute-Provence) was found a fragment of a Ludus sancts Jacobi inserted in a register of notarial deeds (printed by C. Arnaud) of some kind. In 1513 French poems were first admitted in the competitions, and under Louis XIV (from 1679) these were alone held eligible. This unfair arrangement, by which some of the leading poets of northern France profited, held good till 1893, when the town very properly transferred its patronage to a new Escolo moundino, but very soon restored its support to the older institution, on learning that Provençal poetry was again to be encouraged.

In the two centuries that followed the glorious medieval period we have a succession of works, chiefly of a didactic and edifying character, which scarcely belong to the realm of literature proper, but at least served to keep alive some kind of literary tradition. This dreary interval was relieved by a number of religious mystery plays, which, though dull to us, probably gave keen enjoyment to the people, and represent a more popular genre; the latest that have come down to us may be placed between the years 1450-1515. Not only did the literature deteriorate during this period, but dialects took the place of the uniform literary language employed by the troubadours, while the spoken tongue yielded more and more to French. In 1539 Francois I, with the Ordinance of Villers-Cotterêts, forbade the use of Provençal in official documents a fact that is worthy of note only as being significant in itself, not as an important factor in the decadence of Provençal letters.

On the contrary, just about this time, there are signs of a revival. In 1565 the Gascon, Pey de Garros, translated the Psalms into his dialect, and two years later published a volume of poems. His love for his native tongue is genuine, and his command over it considerable; he deplores its neglect, and urges others to follow his example. Auger Gaillard (c. 1530-1595) does infinitely less credit to his province: the popularity of his light pieces was probably due to their obscenity. More in the spirit of Garros is the charming trilingual Salut composed by the famous du Bartas in honor of a visit of Marguerite de Valois to Nrac (1579): three nymphs dispute as to whether she should be welcomed in Latin, French, or Gascon, and the last, of course, wins the day.

Provence proper gave birth to a poet of considerable importance in Louis Bellaud de la Bellaudire (1532-1588), of Grasse, who, after studying at Aix, enlisted in the royal armies, and was made a prisoner at Moulins in 1572. During his captivity he wrote poems inspired by real love of liberty and of his native country (Don-Don internal, 1584 or 1585). At Aix Bellaud subsequently became the centre of a literary circle which included most of the local celebrities; all of these paid their tribute to the poets memory in the edition of his works published by his uncle, Pierre Paul, himself the author of pieces of small value, included in the same volume (Lous Passatens, obros et rimos, &c., Marseilles, 159~). Even when Bellaud is wholly frivolous, and intent on worldly pleasures only, his work has interest as reflecting the merry, careless life of the time.

A writer very popular in Provence for the light-hearted productions of his youth was Claude Brueys (1570-1650), remarkable chiefly for comedies that deal largely with duped husbands (Jardin deys musos provensalos, not published till 1628). There is a certain charm, too, in the comedies of Claude's disciple, Gaspard Zerbin (La Perlo deys niusos et coumedies prouvensalos, 1655); and those critics who have read the plays of Jean de Cabanes (1653-1712) and of Seguin (of Tarascon, c. 1640), still in MS., speak highly of them.

The most consistently popular form of poetry in the south of France was always the novel. There has been no limit to the production of these; but very rarely does the author deserve special mention. An exception must be made in the case of Nicholas Saboly (1614-1675), who produced the best pieces of this class, both as regards beauty of language and the devotion they breathe. They have deservedly maintained their popularity to the present day. In Languedoc four poets have been cited as the best of the age Goudelin, Michel, Sage and Bonnet.

This is certainly so in the case of Pierre Goudelin (province Goudouli, 1579-1649), of Toulouse, the most distinguished name in south French literature between the period of the troubadours and that of Jasmin. He had a good classical education, traces of which appear in all his poetry, his language and his manner being always admirable, even where his matter is lacking in depth. He is often called the Malherbe of the South, but resembles that writer only in form: his poetry, taken as a whole, has far more sap. Goudelin essayed and was successful in almost every short genre (Lou Ramelet Moundi, 1617, republished with additions till 1678), the piece of his which is most generally admired being the stanzas to Henri IV, though others will prefer him in his gayer moods. He enjoyed enormous popularity (extending to Spain and Italy), but never prostituted his art to cheap effects. His influence, especially but not exclusively in Provence, has been deep and lasting. The fame of Jean Michel, of Nîmes, rests on the Embarras de la foire de Beaucaire, a poem of astonishing vigour, but deficient in taste. Daniel Sage, of Montpellier (Las Foulies, 1650), was a man of loose morals, which are reflected in nearly all his works: his moments of genuine inspiration from other causes are rare. More worthy of being bracketed with Goudelin is the avocat Bonnet, author of the best among the open air plays that were annually performed at Beziers on Ascension Day: a number of these (dated 1616-1657) were subsequently collected, but none can compare with the opening one, Bonnet's Jugement de Pdris.

Another very charming poet is Nicolas Fizes, of Frontignan, whose vaudeville, the Opéra de Frontignan (1670), dealing with a slight love intrigue, and an idyllic poem on the fountain of Frontignan, show a real poetic gift. A number of Toulouse poets, mostly laureats of the Academy, may be termed followers of Goudelin: of these François Boudet deserves mention, who composed an ode, Le Trinfe del Moundi (1678), in honor of his native dialect.

The classical revival that may be noted about this time is also generally ascribed to Goudelin's influence. Its most distinguished representative was Jean de Vales, of Montech, who made excellent translations from Virgil and Persius, and wrote a brilliant burlesque of the former in the manner of Scarron (Virgile deguisat, 1648; only four books published). He also composed a pastoral idyll, which, though too long and inclined to obscenity, contains much tender description. The greatest of the pastoral poets was Frariois de Cortete (1571-1655), of Prades, whose comedies, Ramounet and Mircimoundo (published, unfortunately with alterations, by his son in 1684), are written with such true feeling and in so pure a style that they can be read with real pleasure. A comedy of his dealing with Sancho Panza in the palace of the Duke has been edited.

It is difficult to understand the enormous popularity of Daubasse (1664-1727), of Quercy, who belonged to the working classes; he was patronized by the nobility in exchange for panegyrics. Gascony produced two typical works in the 17th century: Aders Genthomme gascoun (1610) and Dastross Trinfe de la langue gascoune (1642). The former depicts a regular boasting Gascon who distinguishes himself in everything; while the latter is a plea in favor of the Gascon tongue, inspired by a genuine love of country. Gabriel Bedout (Parterre gascoun, 1642) is chiefly noted for his amorous solitari, called forth by the sufferings he endured from a hardhearted mistress. Louis Baron (b. 1612), living peacefully in his native village of Pouyloubrin, celebrated it with great tenderness.

In the 18th century the number of authors is much larger, but the bulk of good work produced is not equally great in proportion. The priests are mainly responsible for the literary output of Languedoc. Claude Peyrot (1709-1795) one of them, celebrates his county with true rural spirit in the Printenzps rouergat and Quartre sosous. But the chief of the band is the Abbe Favre (1727-1783), the prior of Celleneuve, whose Sermoun de moussu sistre, delivered by a drunken priest against intemperance, is a masterpiece. He also wrote a successful mock-heroic poem (Siege de Caderousse) travesties of Homer and Virgil, a prose novel depicting the country manners of the time (Histoire de Jean lont pris), and two comedies, which likewise give a vivid picture of the village life he knew so well.

Two genuine poets are the brothers Rigaud of Montpellier: Augustes (1760-1835) description of a vintage is deservedly famous; and Cyrille (1750-182~) produced an equally delightful poem in the Amours de Mounpei. Pierre Hellies of Toulouse (d. 1724) a poet of the people, whose vicious life finds an echo in his works, has acertain rude charm, at times distantly recalling Villon. In the Province Toussaint Gros (1698-1748), of Lyon, holds undisputed sway. His style and language are admirable, but unfortunately he wasted his gifts largely on trivial pieces d'occasion. Coyes (1711-17~7) comedy, the Franc pare, is bright and still popular, while Germain's description of a visit paid by the ancient gods to Marseille (La Bourrido del Dious, 1760) has considerable humour. In Gascony the greatest poet is Cyrien Despourrins (1698-1755), whose pastoral idylls and mournful chansons, which he himself set to music, are imbued with tenderness and charm (most of them were collected at Pau, in 1828).

The French Revolution produced a large body of literature, but nothing of lasting interest. However, it gave an impetus tothought in the south of France, as elsewhere; and there, as elsewhere, it called forth a spirit of independence that was all in favor of a literary revival. Scholars of the stamp of Raynouard (1761-1863), of Aix, occupied themselves with the brilliant literary traditions of the Middle Ages; newspapers sprang up (the Provençal Bouil-Abaisso, started by Désanat, and the bilingual Lou Tambourin et le ménestrel, edited by Bellot, both in 1842); poets banded together and collected their pieces in volume form (thus, the nine iroubaire who published Lou Bouquet prouvençaou in 1823).


Much has been written about the precurseurs de Felibrige, and critics are sorely at variance as to the writers that most deserve this appellation. We shall not go far wrong if we include in the list Hyacinthe Morel (1756-1829), of Avignon, whose collection of poems, Lou Saboulet, has been republished by Frédéric Mistral; Louis Aubanel (17~8-1842), of Nîmes, the successful translator of Anacreon's Odes; Auguste Tandon, the troubadour of Montpellier, who wrote Fables, contes et autres pièces en vers (1800); Fabre d'Olivet (1767-1825), the versatile literateur who in 1803 published Le Troubadour: Poésies occitaniques, which, in order to secure their success, he gave out as the work of some medieval poet Diou-loufet (1771-1840), who wrote a didactic poem, in the manner of Virgil, relating to silkworm-breeding (Leis magnans); Jacques Azais (1778-1856), author of satires, fables, &c.; d'Astros (1780-1863), a writer of fables in La Fontaine's manner; Castil-Blaze (1784-1857), who found time, amidst his musical pursuits, to compose Provençal poems, intended to be set to music; the Marquis de Fare-Alais (1791-1846), author of some light satirical tales (Las Castagnados).

While these writers were all more or less academic, and appealed to the cultured few, four poets of the people addressed a far wider public: Verdi (1779-1820), of Bordeaux, who wrote comic and satirical pieces; Jean Reboul (1796-1864), the baker of Nîmes, who never surpassed his first effort, L'Ange à l'enfant (1828); Victor Gelu (1806-188~), relentless and brutal, but undeniably powerful of his kind (Fenian ci Grouman; dix chansons provençales, 1840); and, greatest of them all, the true and acknowledged forerunner of the felibres, Jacques Jasmin (1798-1864), the hairdresser of Agen, whose poems, both lyrical and narrative, continue to find favour with men of the highest culture and literary attainments, as with the villagers for whom they were primarily intended.

While much of this literature was still in the making, an event took place which was destined to eclipse in importance any that had gone before. In 1845 Joseph Roumanille (1818-1891), a gardener's son, of Saint-Rémy (Bouches-du-Rhône), became usher in a small school at Avignon, which was attended by Frédéric Mistral, a native of the same district, then fifteen years of age. The former, feeling the germs of poetry within him, had composed some pieces in French; but, finding that his old mother could not understand them, he was greatly distressed. One of his chief titles to fame is that, together with Alphonse Dumas, he drew the attention of Lamartine to Mistral's Mireio. Roumanille and Mistral showed their gratitude by republishing the best pieces of these two prcurseurs, together with those of Castil-Blaze and others, in Un Liame de Rasin (1865) and determined thenceforth to write in his native dialect only. These poems revealed a new world to young Mistral, and spurred him on to the resolve that became the one purpose of his life "de remettre en lumière et conscience de sa gloire cette noble race que Mirabeau nomme encore la nation provençale".

There is no doubt that Mistral's is the more puissant personality, and that his finest work towers above that of his fellows; but in studying the Provençal renaissance, Roumanilles great claims should not be overlooked, and they have never been putforward with more force than by Mistral himself (in the prefaceto his Isclos doro). Roumanille's secular verse cannot fail to appeal to every lover of pure and sincere poetry (Li Mar gariiedo, 1836-1847; Li Sounjarello, 1852; Li Flour de Sauvi, 1850, 1859, &c.), his novels are second only to those of Saboly, his prose works (such as Lou mege de Cucugnan, 1863) sparkling with delightful humour. He it was who in 1852 collected and published Li Prouvenalo, an anthology in which all the names yet to become famous, and most of those famous already (such as Jasmin), are represented. In 1853 he was one of the enthusiastic circle that had gathered round J.B. Gaut at Aix, and whose literary output is contained in the Roumavagi dci Troubaire and in the short lived journal Lou gay saber (1854).

At the same time the first attempt at regulating the orthography of Provençal was made by him (in the introduction to his play, La Part dou bon Dieu, 1853). And in 1854 he was one of the seven poets who, on May 21, foregathered at the castle of Fontsgugne, near Avignon, and founded the Felibrige. The etymology of this word has given rise to much speculation: the one thing certain about the word is that Mistral came across it in an old Provençal poem, which tells how the Virgin meets Jesus in the Temple, among the seven felibres of the law. The outlines of the constitution, as finally settled in 1876, are as follows:

The region of the Felibrige is divided into four manteneno (Provence, Languedoc, Aquitaine and Catalonia 2). At the head of all is a consislori of fifty (called inajourau), presided over by the Capouli, who is chief of the entire Felibrige. The head of each manteneno is called sendi (who is at the same time a majourau); and at the head of each school (as the subdivisions of the manteneno are called) is a cabiscu. The ordinary members, unlimited in number, are mantenire. Annual meetings and fetes are organized. The most widely read of the Felibrige publications is the Armana prouvenau, which has appeared annually since, maintaining all the while its original scope and purpose; and though unpretentious in form, it contains much of the best work of the school. The other six were Mistral, Theodore Aubanel, A. Mathieu (a school fellow of Mistral's at Avignon), E. Garcin, A. Tavan and P. Giera (owner of the castle). Of these, Theodore Aubanel (1829-1886), of Avignon, son of a printer and following the same calling, has alone proved himself worthy to rank with Mistral and Roumanille.

Zani, the girl of his youthful and passionate love, took the veil; and this event cast a shadow over his whole life, and determined the character of all his poetry (Lou miougrano entre-duberto, 1860; Li Fiho dAvignoun, 1883). His is, without a doubt, the deepest nature and temperament among the flibres, and his lyrics are the most poignant. He has a keen sense of physical beauty in woman, and his verse is replete with suppressed passion, but he never sinks to sensuality. His powerful love drama Lou pau dou peccat was received with enthusiasm at Montpellier in 1878, and successfully produced (some years later in Arnes version) by Antoine at his Thetre Libreno mean criterion. It is the only play of real consequence that the school has yet produced. We need not do more than glance at the work of the fourth of the group of poets who alone, amidst the numerous writers of lyrics and other works that attain a high level of excellence.

One of the most pleasing features of the movement is the spirit of fraternity maintained by the flibres with the poets and literary men of northern France, Spain, Italy, Romania, Germany and other countries. In common with so many other productions of the Felibrige, this Almanac is published by the firm J. Roumanille, Libraire- Editour, Avignon.

Felix Gras (1844-1891) settled at Avignon in his youth. His rustic epic, Li Carbouni (1876) is full of elemental passion and abounds in fine descriptions of scenery, but it lacks proportion. The heroic geste of Toloza (1882), in which Simon de Montfort's invasion of the south is depicted with unbounded vigour and intensity, shows a great advance in art. Li Rouinancero provençal (1887) is a collection of poems instinct with Provençal lore, and in Li Papalino (1891) we have some charming prose tales that bring to life again the Avignon of the popes. Finally, the poet gave us three tales dealing with the period of the Revolution (Li Rouge don miejour, &c.); their realism and literary art called forth general admiration.

A few lines must suffice for some of the general aspects of the movement. It goes without saying that all is not perfect harmony; but, on the whole, the differences are differences of detail only, not of principle. While Mistral and many of the best felibres employ the dialect of the Bouches-du-Rhne, others, who have since seceded as the Felibrige latin (headed by RoqueFerrier), prefer to use the dialect of Montpellier, owing to its central position. A third class favor the dialect of Limousin, as having been the literary vehicle of the troubadours; but their claim is of the slenderest, for the felibres are in no sense of the word the direct successors of the troubadours. Nearly all the leaders of the Felibrige are Legitimists and Catholics, their faith being the simple faith of the people, undisturbed by philosophic doubts.

There are exceptions, however, chief among them the Protestant Gras, whose Toloza clearly reflects his sympathy with the Albigenses. Yet this did not stand in the way of his election as Capoulia proof, if proof were needed, that literary merit outweighs all other considerations in this artistic body of men. Finally, it may be noted that the felibres have often been accused of lack of patriotism towards northern France, of schemes of decentralization, and other heresies; but none of these charges holds good. The spirit of the movement, as represented by its leaders, has never been expressed with greater terseness, force and truth than in the three verses set by Felix Gras at the head of his Carbouni: "I love my village more than thy village; I love my Provence more than my province; I love France more than all".

See also


  • Las Joyas del gay saber, edited by Noulet (vol. iv. of Gatien-Arnoult's Monumenys de La littrature romane, &c., Toulouse, 1849)
  • Noulet, Essai sur l'histoire littéraire des patois du midi de La France aux XVIe et XVIIe siècles (Paris, 1859) and ... au XVIII siecle (Paris, 1877)
  • Gaut, Étude sur la littérature et la poésie provençales (Memoires de l'académie des sciences d'Aix, tome ix. pp. 247344, Aix, 1867)
  • Mary-Lafon, Histoire littéraire du midi de la France (Paris, 1882)
  • Restori, Letteratura provenzale, pp. 200214 (Milano, 1891)
  • Mariton's articles on Provençal and Felibrige in the Grande encyclopédie
  • Donnadieu, Les Precurseurs des felibres 1800-1855; (Paris, 1888)
  • Jourdanne, Histoire du Felibrige, 1854-1896 (Avignon, 1897)
  • Hennion, Les Fleurs felibresques (Paris, 1883)
  • Portal, La letteratura provenzale moderna (Palermo, 1893)
  • Koschwitz, Ueber die provenzatischen Feliber und ihre Vorgaenger (Berlin, 1894)
  • Mariton, La Terre provençale (Paris, 1894). (H. 0.)

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