The Versified Life of Saint Francis  - 425 

English court and perfected the art of flyting—a dispute or exchange of personal abuse written with play-on-words, puns, and extravagant insults.5 Since flytings were commonly performed before a judge and an audience in a mock-trial setting, they were well adapted to the flamboyant personality of the Norman poet. At the time of his death, sometime between January 26, 1262, and April 2, 1263,6 Henri had composed for one Pope, two emperors, three kings, six archbishops, more than twelve bishops and for a number of abbots and lesser dignitaries. Over one hundred and sixty of his poems have survived,7 but the Norman poet and grammarian will undoubtedly be remembered best for his The Versified Life of Saint Francis.8

The Versified Life of Saint Francis

The oldest manuscript of Henri's The Versified Life of Saint Francis is that found in Codex 338 in the library of Assisi's Sacro Convento, the friary of the Basilica of Saint Francis. Scholars date the manuscript as mid-thirteenth century, rather close to the composition of Henri's work. Curiously, it does not provide any indication of the author's identity. Antonio Cristofani, who published the text in 1882, thought the author might have been John of Kent, an English Franciscan, while others proposed Julian of Speyer or Henri of Pisa, a friend of Salimbene.9 Andrew G. Little discovered the poet's name in a manuscript of the University of Cambridge in which there was an inscription: Super vita beati Francisci versus magistri H. Abrincensis ad Gregoriam papam nonum [A Verse on the Life of Blessed Francis of Henri d'Avranches for Pope Gregory IX].10 Although Henri's work has been known and available to modern scholars through these manuscripts, surprisingly little attention has been paid to it.

The first eleven books of the work follow the story as it is found in the first book of Thomas of Celano's The Life of Saint Francis (n. 1-87). In most of these books, however, Henri freely interprets the significance of events in various poetic digressions.11 The first of these digressions (I: 70-142) turns to a discussion of disease and an exhibition of medical terminology. It provides a taste of the frequent digressions that follow, some short, some long, as the poet makes ample use of literary license. In the second book, Henri shows himself something of a moral theologian as he digresses into a long discourse on morality (II: 9-111). A similar moralistic approach follows in the third book as the author places on the lips of the young Francis a seething rebuke of his father's scolding of his son (III: 25-75, 87-126) and again in the fourth book in a denunciation of the laxity of the monks (IV: 92-105) and in hyperbolic descriptions of the ruined churches (IV: 179-184,218-225). Henri lets his imagination run freely in Book Five as he describes Francis's first attempts at preaching (V: 46-78) and his exhortations to live poorly in which the vindication of poverty is contrived and weak (V:180-230). The seventh book contains a commentary on the contemporary




Francis of Assisi: Early Documents, vol. 1, p. 425