Online Encyclopedia

ROBERT THE DEVIL

Online Encyclopedia
Originally appearing in Volume V23, Page 402 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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ROBERT THE DEVIL, hero of romance. He was the son of a duke and duchess of Normandy, and by the time he was twenty was a prodigy of strength, which he used, however, only for outrage and crime. At last he learnt from his mother, in explanation of his wicked impulses, that he was born in answer to prayers addressed to the devil. He was directed by the pope to a hermit, who imposed on him by way of penance that he should maintain absolute silence, feign madness, take his food from the mouth of a dog, and provoke ill-treatment from the common people without retaliating. He became court fool to the emperor at Rome, and delivered the city from Saracen invasions in three successive years in the guise of an unknown knight, having each time been bidden to fight by a celestial messenger. The emperor's dumb daughter recovered speech to declare the identity of the court fool with the deliverer of the city, but Robert refused the hand of the princess and the imperial inheritance, and ended his days in the hermitage of his old confessor. The French romance of Robert le Diable is one of the oldest versions of the legend, and differs in detail from the popular tales printed in the 15th and 16th centuries. It was apparently founded on folk-lore, not on the wickedness of Robert Guiscard or any historical personage; but probably the name of Robert and the localization of the legend may be put down to the terror inspired by the Normans. In the English version the hero is called Sir Gowther, and the scene is laid in Germany. This metrical romance dates from the beginning of the 15th century, and is based, according to its author, on a Breton lay. The legend had undergone much change before it was used by E. Scribe and C. Delavigne in the libretto of Meyerbeer's opera of Robert le Diable. See Robert le Diable, ed. E. Loseth (Paris, 1903, for the Soc. des anc. textes fr.) ; Sir Gowther, ed. K. Breul (Oppeln, 1886) ; M. Tardel, Die Sage v. Robert d. Teufel in neueren deutschen Dichtungen (Berlin, 1900). Breul's edition of the English poem contains an examination of the legend, and a bibliography of the literature dealing with the subject. The English prose romance of Robert the Devyll was printed (c. 151o) by Wynkyn de Worde.
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