T331: Archipiades / T347: Berthe...

331: Archipiades: Aside from some completely unsupported claims that Villon was referring to Archippa, mistress of Sophocles, most editions claim that Archipiades is Alcibiades. Though we all know the historical Alcibiades was not a woman, the text and context of the ballade present a feminine or at least a feminized individual. At the end of Villon's lesson on post-mortem decomposition of the human body, the question the poet asks strongly implies that the ensuing ballad will be devoted to women:

    Corps feminen, qui tant est tendre,
    Poly, souef, si precieux.
    Te fauldra il ces maulx actendre?
    Oy, ou tout vif aler es cieulx.                T328

The focus of the second ballad in Villon's triptych (T357-84), in contrast to the first, is famous men.  Clément Marot, in 1533, underscored this contrast, giving these two ballads the titles, "Ballade des dames du temps jadis" and Ballade des seigneurs du temps jadis". Finally, source I (Pierre Levet) has intentionally feminized the name, rendering it "Archipiada".

The Longnon-Foulet edition's brief identification of Archipiades is typical: "Alcibiade, cité par Boèce comme un modèle de beauté, ce qui le fit au M.A. prendre pour une femme." (p. 143, in François Villon, Oeuvres, CFMA [Paris: Champion, 1970]).

Here is a translation of the boethian passage referenced:

    Athenaeum Reading Room (Boethius, Consolation of Philosophy, Book 3)

"... But if, as Aristotle says, humans could use the eyes of Lynceus, so that their sight might penetrate obstructions, in having looked into the organs might not that superficially most beautiful body of Alcibiades seem most ugly?..."

and Latin commentary on the same:

    Guillelmi Wheatley, Expositio in Boethii De consolatione Philosophiae, liber III

"Caput 15
...Nota, quod Alcibiades mulier fuit pulcherrima, quam videntes quidam discipuli Aristotelis duxerunt eam ad Aristotilem ut ipsam videret: qua visa dixit: si homines lynceos oculos haberent ut quaeque obstantia penetrarent, introspectis visceribus, corpus quod apparet pulcherrimum, turpissimum videretur...."

Certainly, there are more lengthy and satisfying arguments:

    Louis Tuasne, ed.  François Villon. Oeuvres (Paris: A. Picard, 1923), iii, pp. 625-43.

    Ernst Langlois, "Archipiada," Romania 26 (1897): 103-104.

Here is an interesting argument from the 43rd paragraph of Richard A. Dwyer's

    "The Appreciation of Handmade Literature"

"The long process by which Francois Villon came to include one Archipiada among his list of vanished beauties has been well charted from its origins in Carolingian glosses on the Consolatio.20  Boethius had cited a lost work of Aristotle’s which said that if men had the penetrating vision of Lynceus the Argonaut, they could see through Alcibades' fair exterior to the vile entrails within. To tender medieval minds, fair bodies belonged to women, and details about this new female Alcibiades began to accumulate in the glosses to the Boethian text. At the same time legends were growing about the medieval Aristotle too. In the middle of the twelfth century, Henri d'Andeli wrote an iconoclastic Lai d'Aristote in which Alexander's mistress tricks the lovesick Aristotle into submitting to saddle and bridle and allowing her to ride him into the presence of his royal pupil. Pierre de Paris' ingenious contribution was to identify that mistress with Alcibiades. In Pierre’s story, the philosopher's final quip still wins the day, but the medieval Aristotle, down on all fours, and his darling Alcibiades are far more engaging persons than their austere antique incarnations, and, as a consequence, their virtue, like that of Sir Gawain after the Green Knight's test, is more credible because it has been proved fallible."

Dante Gabriel Rossetti made an intreaguing choice in "Hipparchia" (around 300 BC), a woman from from Maroneia in Thrace, who was a Cynic philosopher. 

347: Berte au plat pié (grant pié) is confusing reference because of the name's variants, the possibility of reference to both real persons, such as Bertrada of Laon or legendary ones like Goose Footed Bertha, as this article by Pierre Salies demonstrates.


For more commentary, consult:

    Philippe Ménard. "'Berte au grant pié, Bietris, Alis' ou la résurgence de la culture épique dans la 'Ballade des dames du temps jadis," Romania 102 no.         1 (1981): 114-29.

    Louis Tuasne, ed.  François Villon. Oeuvres (Paris: A. Picard, 1923), ii, pp. 151-52.

    Jean Rychne et Albert Henry, éds. Le Testament Villon. II. Commentaire (Geneva: Droz, 1974), p. 55.

In this last, it is not surprising to see the Adenet le Roy's Berthe aux Grands Pieds, listed as a likely source

Some information for this chanson de geste is on the web


as there is about another of similar title

    BERTA DE LI GRAN PIE (part of La geste Francor)

André Lanly, tr. François Villon Oeuvres, traduction en français moderne accompagné de notes explicatives, tome I (Paris: Champion, 1978), p. 87.
echoes several other editions and translations in its claim that all three females in T347 are characters in the same chanson de geste:


    Hervis de Metz

Lanly also points out that if Villon is referring to this epic poem, then the women are listed in reverse chronological order, since Aliz's son, Hervi, maries Beatrix, and Beatrix's brother is Berthe's father.