Poirion, Daniel 1927-1996

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POIRION, Daniel 1927-1996

PERSONAL: Born January 22, 1927, in Amiens, France; immigrated to United States, 1987; died, March 15, 1996; son of Michel and Marie-Louise (Martigny) Poirion; married Jacqueline Dokier, December 11, 1980 (second marriage); children: (from first marriage) Fabrice, Marie-Christine; (from second marriage) Jean-Marc, Karen. Education: Université de Paris-Sorbonne, Agrege des Lettres, 1950, Docteur-es-Lettres, 1965.

CAREER: Lycée, Nevers, Dijon, France, professor, 1951-53; Faculte des Lettres, Paris, France, assistant professor, 1953-58; Yale University, New Haven, CT, assistant professor, 1958-61; Université de Grenoble, Grenoble, France, professor of medieval literature, 1961-68; French Institute, Naples, Italy, director, 1968-70; Yale University, professor of French, 1970-71; Université de Paris-Sorbonne, professor, 1974-87; Yale University, chairman, medieval studies department, 1993-96.

AWARDS, HONORS: Chevalier, Legion d'Honneur, Palms Academiques, France.


Le Merveilleux dans la littérature française du MoyenAge, Presses Universitaires de France (Paris, France), 1982.

Résurgences: Mythe et littérature à l'age du symbole, Press Universitaires de France (Paris, France), 1986.

(Translator and editor) Tristan et Yseut, Imprimerie Nationale (Paris, France), 1989.

(Editor, with Nancy Freeman Regalado) Contexts:Style and Values in Medieval Art and Literature, Yale University Press (New Haven, CT), 1991.

(Translator and editor) Le Livre du Graal, Tome I, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1993.

(Editor) Chretien de Troyes, Gallimard (Paris, France), 1994.

SIDELIGHTS: Long considered one of the foremost experts in medieval literature, particularly the romances that inspired the Arthurian legends, Daniel Poirion died in 1996, in his adopted country, the United States.

Born in France, Poirion had a long career as a translator and editor of medieval epics and author of original studies of these works. In 1983, he investigated the use of marvels in medieval French literature in Le Merveilleux dans la littérature française du Moyen Age. While praising its "useful discussion of the attitude to Roman mythology in the early Middle Ages," Speculum contributor Keith Busby felt that some of the conclusions were overstated, in particular that "Latin and clerical culture was replaced by a profane vernacular one cannot be taken literally: the latter supplements rather than replaces the former."

In Résurgences: Mythe et littérature à l'age du symbole Poirion provided a fuller treatment of the great medieval romances, finding that biblical parables, as well as classical mythology, were often the model for the French poets. He also spotted recurring themes of incest and other family tragedies. "Poirion's many admirers will find much to admire here, for this book contains compelling analyses. His presentation is persuasive, and I would not quarrel with his central view that in twelfth-and early-thirteenth-century narrative we see an increased involvement in symbol, in particular as a way of giving meaning and unity to a work," concluded Speculum contributor Evelyn Vitz, although she noted, "One does occasionally feel that Poirion's lush eloquence overpowers the clarity of his thought."

In Contexts: Style and Values in Medieval Art and Literature, published after Poirion had immigrated to the U.S. to teach at Yale University, he brought together a number of medieval experts to examine the historical context of a wide variety of artworks, including the relationship between landscapes in manuscripts and Van Eyck's paintings, the spiritual and political conflicts in the Song of Roland, and the different symbolic meanings a kiss can convey, depending on the context. "Despite the editors' virtuoso introduction and afterword, this is a somewhat heterogeneous collection," wrote Karen Pratt in French Studies. Choice reviewer R. J. Cormier, however, found that "Poirion's afterword summarizes brilliantly the issues . . . providing a new meaning to literary art."

In addition to his analytical work, Poirion was highly regarded as a translator and editor of French medieval texts. French Review contributor Norris Lacy recommended his Chretien de Troyes, a compilation and translation of the complete works, "for readers who want a straightforward prose rendering." More generously, Romance Philology contributor David Hult maintained, "All specialists in the field of medieval French literature owe a debt of gratitude to Daniel Poirion for having brought about . . . the first appearance of a volume devoted to a single auctor of the Middle Ages, Chretien de Troyes. If for no other than symbolic reasons, this important gesture argues for something that medievalists have wanted for some time: inclusion in the canon of French literature."



Choice, January, 1992, R. J. Cormier, review of Contexts: Style and Values in Medieval Art and Literature, p. 730.

French Review, December, 1995, Norris Lacy, review of Chretien de Troyes, p. 187.

French Studies, April, 1996, Karen Pratt, review of Contexts, p. 187.

Romance Philology, February, 1996, David Hult, review of Chretien de Troyes, p. 284.

Speculum, July, 1983, Keith Busby, review of LeMerveilleux dans la littérature française du Moyen Age, pp. 795-796; April, 1989, Evelyn Vitz, review of Résurgences: Mythe et littérature à l'age du symbole, p. 483-487.*