Language and literature::Provence


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Language and literature

Scientists, scholars and prophets

  • Pytheas (4th century BCE) was a geographer and mathematician who lived in the Greek colony of Massalia, which became Marseille. He conducted an expedition by sea north around England to Iceland, and was the first to describe the midnight sun and polar regions.
  • Petrarch (1304–1374) was an Italian poet and scholar, considered the father of humanism and one of the first great figures of Italian literature. He spent much of his early life in Avignon and Carpentras as an official at the Papal court in Avignon, and wrote a famous account of his ascent of Mount Ventoux near Aix-en-Provence.
  • Nostradamus (1503–1566), a Renaissance apothecary and reputed clairvoyant best known for his alleged prophecies of great world events, was born in Saint-Remy-de-Provence and lived and died in Salon-de-Provence.

Occitan literature


Raimbaut de Vaqueiras, from a collection of troubadour songs, BNF Richelieu Manuscrits Français 854, Bibliothèque Nationale Française, Paris.

Historically the language spoken in Provence was Provençal, a dialect of the Occitan language, also known as langue d'oc, and closely related to Catalan. There are several regional variations: vivaro-alpin, spoken in the Alps; and the provençal variations of south, including the maritime, the rhoadanien (in the Rhône Valley) and the niçois (in Nice). Niçois is the archaic form of provençal closest to the original language of the troubadours, and is sometimes to said to be literary language of its own.<ref>from the article "Provence" in the French-language Wikipedia.</ref>

Provençal was widely spoken in Provence until the beginning of the 20th century, when the French government launched an intensive and largely successful effort to replace regional languages with French. Today Provençal is taught in schools and universities in the region, but is spoken regularly by a small number of people, probably less than five hundred thousand, mostly elderly.

Writers and poets in the Occitan language

"Folquet de Marselha" in a 13th-century chansonnier. Depicted in his episcopal robes

The golden age of Provençal literature, more correctly called Occitan literature, was the 11th century and the 12th century, when the troubadours broke away from classical Latin literature and composed romances and love songs in their own vernacular language. Among the most famous troubadours was Folquet de Marselha, whose love songs became famous all over Europe, and who was praised by Dante in his Divine Comedy. In his later years, Folquet gave up poetry to become the Abbot of Le Thoronet Abbey, and then Bishop of Toulouse, where he fiercely persecuted the Cathars.

In the middle of the 19th century there was a literary movement to revive the language, called the Félibrige, led by the poet Frédéric Mistral (1830–1914), who shared the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1904.

Provençal writers and poets who wrote in Occitan include:

French authors

  • Alphonse Daudet (1840–1897) was the best-known French writer from Provence in the 19th century, though he lived mostly in Paris and Champrosay. He was best known for his Lettres de mon moulin (eng: Letters from my Mill) (1869) and the Tartarin de Tarascon trilogy (1872, 1885, 1890). His story L'Arlésienne (1872) was made into a three-act play with music by Bizet.<ref>Atlantic Brief Lives, A Biographical Companion to the Arts, pg. 204, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1971.</ref>
  • Marcel Pagnol (1895–1970), born in Aubagne, is known both as a filmmaker and for his stories of his childhood, Le Château de la Mere, La Gloire de mon Pere, and Le Temps des secrets. He was the first filmmaker to become a member of the Académie française in 1946.
  • Colette (Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette) (1873–1954), although she was not from Provence, became particularly attached to Saint-Tropez. After World War II, she headed a committee which saw that the village, badly-damaged by the war, was restored to its original beauty and character
  • Jean Giono (1895–1970), born in Manosque, wrote about peasant life in Provence, inspired by his imagination and by his vision of Ancient Greece.
  • Paul Arène (1843–1896), born in Sisteron, wrote about life and the countryside around his home town.

Emigrés, exiles, and expatriates

In the 19th and 20th centuries, the climate and lifestyle of Provence attracted writers almost as much as it attracted painters. It was particularly popular among British, American and Russian writers in the 1920s and 1930s.

Other English-speaking writers who live in or have written about Provence include:

Provence sections
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Language and literature
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