The Seven Sages at Sea

Framed Narrative Systems in the Pre-Modern Mediterranean

In: Philological Encounters

This essay studies the transmission of framed narratives in the medieval Mediterranean, focusing on a narrative tradition that was at once immensely popular, particularly complex, and poorly documented: the Seven Sages of Rome1 (known as the Book of Sindbad in the Eastern Mediterranean). Using the scholarship of political geographers and political scientists on territoriality, frontiers, and the ‘New Medievalism,’ and two theories borrowed from mathematics—fuzzy sets and game theory, the essay examines one story from the Seven Sages in particular: the last tale told in the western versions of the work, known as ‘Vaticinium.’ The essay contributes to the development of a scholarly methodology able to describe transmission histories so complex that previous philological studies have had difficulty accounting for them in their entirety.

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  • 1

    Killis Campbell, The Seven Sages of Rome (Boston: Ginn, 1907).

  • 3

    Elisabetta Benigni and Michael Allan, “Introduction,” in special issue “Lingua Franca: Towards a Philology of the Sea”, Philological Encounters 2017, 1.

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  • 4

    Pio Rajna, Storia di Stefano: Figliuolo d’un Imperatore di Roma (Bologna: Gaetano Romagnoli, 1880), 4, “la gran famiglia zingaresca cui [la Storia di Stefano] ha l’onore di appartenere.”

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  • 5

    Gaston Paris, Deux rédactions du Roman des Sept Sages de Rome (Paris: Firmin Didot, 1876), 2, “Ce chaos, effrayant a premier abord.”

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  • 7

    Mathias Albert, “On boundaries, territory and postmodernity: An international relations perspective,” Geopolitics 3 (1998): 56 “Given the changing meaning of territorial boundaries,” writes Mathias Albert, “reference is frequently made to a ‘new medievalism,’ an overlapping of various authorities on the same territory.”

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  • 10

    Eduardo Manzano Moreno, “The Creation of a Medieval Frontier: Islam and Christianity in the Iberian Peninsula, Eighth to Eleventh Centuries,” in Frontiers in Question: Eurasian Borderlands, 700-1700, ed. Daniel Power and Naomi Standen (Houndmills: Macmillan, 1999), 36, 45.

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  • 13

    Thomas J. Barfield, The Perilous Frontier: Nomadic Empires and China (Cambridge: Blackwell, 1989).

  • 17

    John Wansbrough, Lingua Franca in the Mediterranean (Surrey: Curzon, 1996).

  • 20

    See Giovanni Garbini, Le lingue semitiche: Studi di storia linguistica (Naples: Istituto Orientale, 1972); and, for an application of the same ideas to the later development of colloquial Arabic, Muhammad al-Sharkawi, Ecology of Arabic: A Study of Arabicization (Leiden: Brill, 2010).

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  • 25

    Ibid., 344, 345.

  • 26

    Ibid., 345.

  • 27

    Ibid., 346.

  • 28

    Ibid., 689.

  • 29

    Geoffrey Chaucer, “Man of Law’s Tale,” in The Riverside Chaucer, ed. Larry D. Benson, 3rd ed., (Geneva: Houghton Mifflin, 1987), 519-20.

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  • 34

    Lotfi A. Zadeh, “Fuzzy sets,” Information and Control 8 (1965): 339.

  • 41

    Franco Moretti, “The Slaughterhouse of Literature,” Modern Language Quarterly 61 (2000): 297.

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