When thinking of the literature of the middle ages, most of us think of Chaucer and his
Tales. However, closer to the Renaissance but still firmly rooted in the Medieval
era, are the writings of Robert Henryson. Henryson was a schoolteacher but was also well
known for his poetry. He completed three major narrative poems and many shorter works as
well. One of his major poems was The Testament of Cresseid, which along with seven
of his fables make up the contents of this book.
Readers of Chaucer know of his tale of
Criseyde, lovers during the Trojan War. Criseyde proved faithless to her Troilus
and ran off with another man. Here is where Henrysonís poem picks up. Cresseid, as Henryson
calls her, has been cast aside by Diomede, whom she had left Troilus to be with. Now, she
is no more than a camp whore and decides to hide in her fatherís house. When she dares to
curse Cupid and Venus and place her ill fortune at their feet, things begin to spin out of
After the story of Cresseid come the seven fables that Henryson himself translated from
the famous Aesop. The best known are there, such as the "The Two Mice" (The City Mouse and
the Country Mouse) and "The Lion and the Mouse."
This book is a wonderful translation. It is always difficult to take another language,
in this case Old Scottish, and recreate its word in rhyming English; but translator Seamus
Heaney did just that and did it well. The text is beautifully lyrical and, equally important,
easy to read. The tale of Cresseid is a wonderful tragedy in the same vein as
Juliet and just as compelling. The fables are ingeniously retold, especially
considering that they are a translation of a translation of the original. This book is well
worth a read and as enjoyable as any modern tale.