Solomon and Marcolf


Ziolkowski, Jan M. 2008. Solomon and Marcolf. Cambridge, MA: Department of the Classics, Harvard University, 470.
Solomon and Marcolf


Solomon and Marcolf enjoyed an extraordinary heyday in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Its first half constitutes a dialogue, mostly of one-liners, between King Solomon and a wily, earthy, and irreverent rustic named Marcolf, while its second recounts tricks that the peasant plays upon the ruler. Although less known than Till EulenspiegelSolomon and Marcolf was printed not only in Latin but also in German, English, Italian, and other European languages. Marcolf was associated closely with Aesop as well as with practical jokers and clowns in vogue in early modern literature. Today Solomon and Marcolf has notoriety from its mention in Gargantua and its analysis by Mikhail Bakhtin in Rabelais and His World.

Traditions about Solomon and Marcolf became widespread at the very latest by 1000, but perhaps centuries earlier. The Latin prose as it has been preserved is likely to have taken shape around 1200, but the earliest extant manuscript dates from 1410. Tantalizing bits of evidence point to connections between Marcolf and the Near East. Thus the contest with Marcolf was related to riddle competitions between King Solomon on the one hand and King Hiram of Tyre or the Queen of Sheba on the other.

Solomon and Marcolf, not put into English since 1492, is here presented with the Latin and a facing translation. In addition to a substantial introduction, the text comes with a detailed commentary that clarifies difficulties in language and identifies proverbial material and narrative motifs. The commentary is illustrated with reproductions of the woodcut illustrations from the 1514 printing of the Latin. The volume contains appendices with supplementary materials, especially sources, analogues, and testimonia; a bibliography; and indices.

Jan M. Ziolkowski is Director of Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection in Washington and Arthur Kingsley Porter Professor of Medieval Latin at Harvard University.

Jacket illustration: Frontispiece of Collationes quas dicuntur fecisse mutuo rex Salomon sapientissimus et Marcolphus …, printed by Johann Weissenburger in Landshut, Germany, on May 14, 1514 (Munich, Staatsbibliothek, L.eleg.m.250, 9)

Publisher's Version

Series number: 1
Last updated on 07/23/2015