Owl and the Nightingale
described by by the scribe of the Jesus MS as Altercacio inter
filomenam et bubonem, 'The argument between the owl and the
nightingale', and by modern editors as The Owl and the Nightingale,
is of uncertain date and authorship. It survives in two manuscripts, both
written in the second half of the thirteenth century, and both containing
a very similar selection of Middle English and Anglo-Norman works; see Ker
(1963) for details, and facsimiles of both texts of O&N. A
third MS, now lost, is mentioned in the medieval library catalogue of
Titchfield Abbey, Hampshire, a house of Premonstratensian canons.
The question of authorship is similarly unresolved. Candidates for authorship proposed (see Cartlidge (2001), pp. 101-2, for a full list) include the priest Nicholas of Guildford (whose accomplishments are warmly praised in the poem, but who has not been certainly identified from historical records), an anonymous clerical friend of Nicholas, and the nuns of Shaftesbury Abbey (see Barratt (1987)). The intended audience, or audiences, also remain uncertain.
For another Early Middle English debate-poem between birds, see The Thrush and the Nightingale.
version of the poem given here is a relatively close working translation,
intended for student use alongside an edition of the Middle English work.
A rather freer verse translation, which gives a better impression of the
form of the original, can be found in Stone
(1988); and there is a prose translation interleaved with an edited ME
text in the new edition by Cartlidge
(2001), whose comprehensive introduction, textual and explanatory
notes, bibliography and glossary should be consulted to supplement the
information given here.
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