Page tree
Skip to end of metadata
Go to start of metadata

Bédier, Joseph (Paris, 1864 – Le Grand-Serre, 1938) was a French Romance philologist. He was a student of Gaston Paris. After his first noteworthy research about the French tradition of Fabliaux (1893), he studied the fragments of Thomas of Britain's Tristan and published an important work about the origins of Romance epic poems (Les légendes épiques, 1908-13). One of Bédier's main contributions is probably the essay about the manuscript tradition of Jean Renart's Lai de l'Ombre, where he strongly criticised Lachmann's method and proposed, as an alternative, to edit a «bon manuscrit» ([best manuscript] edition), without changing it. [Paolo Trovato recently proposed a new stemma of the Lai according to Neo-Lachmannian philology, cf. extra-stemmatic contamination]. 

Bédier’s skepticism about the stemmatic method and his conviction that one should faithfully follow one manuscript is sometimes called “Bédierism”. Favourably received by French mediaevalists, this doctrine, which was rather pragmatic than theoretically elaborated, and, in a strongly anti-German context, aiming at surpassing the number of German editions of mediaeval French texts by using a less strict and less time-consuming method (Duval 2006), has inspired an anti-reconstructionist (and perhaps anti-historical) trend of scholarship that has called itself “nouvelle philologie” / “ [new philology]”. The central point in Bédier’s criticism is his realisation that most stemmata are bifid [dichotomic]. According to Bédier, this tendency of stemmata to be bifid cannot correspond to reality and he explains it by claiming that most philologists want to be free in their choices of variants (making eclectic editions), a freedom that a dichotomic tree grants them, since, if there are only two branches, they are equally valuable in genealogical terms. This lead Bédier to rule out Lachmann’s method all together. Since the time of Bédier, many articles and studies have appeared to reassess Bédier’s calculation of bifid stemmata and to address his criticisms. In some of his own editions Bédier did not follow his own principle of faithfulness to one manuscript, but often felt free to rewrite the text and make it more accessible.


By Bédier

– Bédier, Joseph. 1928. “La tradition manuscrite du ‘Lai de l’ombre’: Réflexions sur l’art d’éditer les anciens textes.” Romania 54: 161–196, 321–356.

On Bédier

– Bähler, Ursula, and Alain Corbellari, eds. 2009. Gaston Paris – Joseph Bédier: Correspondance. L’Europe des philologues, Correspondance, vol. 1. Firenze: Edizioni del Galluzzo (SISMEL).
– Baker, Craig. 2010. “Bédier, Joseph.” In Handbook of Medieval Studies: Terms – Methods – Trends, edited by Albrecht Classen, 2170–2176. Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.
– Castellani, Arrigo. 1957. Bédier avait-il raison? La méthode de Lachmann dans les éditions de textes du moyen âge. Leçon inaugurale donnée à l’Université de Fribourg le 2 juin 1954. Discours Universitaires nouvelle série, vol. 20. Fribourg: Éditions Universitaires.
– Corbellari, Alain. 1997. Joseph Bédier, écrivain et philologue. Publications romanes et françaises, vol. 220. Geneva: Droz.
– Duval, Frédéric. 2006. “La philologie française, pragmatique avant tout? L’édition des textes médiévaux français en France.” In Pratiques philologiques en Europe: Actes de la journée d’études organisée à l’École des Chartes le 23 septembre 2005, edited by Frédéric Duval, 115–150. Études et rencontres de l’École des Chartes, vol. 21. Paris: École des Chartes.
– Grier, James. 1988. “Lachmann, Bédier and the bipartite stemma: Towards a responsible application of the common-error method.” Revue d’Histoire des Textes 18: 263–277.
– Guidi, Vincenzo, and Paolo Trovato. 2004. “Sugli stemmi bipartiti: Decimazione, asimmetria e calcolo delle probabilità.” Filologia italiana 1: 9–48.
– Hall, J.B. 1992. “Why are the stemmata of so many manuscript traditions bipartite?” Liverpool Classical Monthly 17: 31–32.
– Hering, Wolfgang. 1967. “Zweispaltige stemmata: Zur Theorie der textkritischen Methode.” Philologus 111: 170–185.
– Irigoin, Jean. 1954. “Stemmas bifides et états de manuscrits.” Revue de Philologie, 3è ser., 28: 211–217.
– Irigoin, Jean. 2003. La tradition des textes grecs: Pour une critique historique, 67–78. L’âne d’or, vol. 19. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.
– Kleinlogel, Alexander. 1968. “Das Stemmaproblem.” Philologus 112: 63–82.
– Timpanaro, Sebastiano. 1965. “Ancora su stemmi bipartiti e contaminazione.” Maia 17: 392–399.
– Trovato, Paolo. 2013. “La tradizione manoscritta del ‘Lai de l’ombre’: Riflessioni sulle tecniche d’edizione primonovecentesche.” Romania 131: 338–380. 
– Whitehead, Frederick, and Cedric E. Pickford. 1973. “The Introduction to the ‘Lai de l’ombre’: Sixty Years Later.” Romania 94: 145–156.


  • No labels