An incisive view of medieval history through the life story of one of the Netherlands’ greatest poets
Almost nothing has been known about Jacob van Maerlant’s life, despite his being called the ‘father of Dutch poetry’ and being considered the most important medieval Dutch author. What sets Frits van Oostrom’s study apart is the unexpected way that he fills the blanks in Maerlant’s life, by looking at the world around him. This has one great advantage for the reader: with Van Oostrom as his expert guide, he is given an astute perspective on the medieval world.
The most important source of information about Maerlant is his own impressive oeuvre. No other medieval poet was as productive. He wrote novels, historical stories and poems on social, moral and religious themes - hundreds of thousands of couplets of rhyming verse. He was the first to write in the vernacular on geography, the art of government, biology and the interpretation of dreams, the first to set the whole Bible to rhyme in Dutch, and the first to write a history of the world from Creation to the first crusade.
In the completeness with which he reflected the culture of his day in his work, Jacob van Maerlant is truly one of the Netherlands’ greatest poets. His world is one of magic and science, faith and reason, wealth and sensuality, the struggle for Jerusalem and the struggle for Zeeland. His texts were in harmony with the everyday problems and interests of many of his contemporaries. Frits van Oostrom’s great achievement is that he has returned Maerlant’s work to the context of the poet’s own era and world, and that he has done so in an impressively literary study.