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BARBOUR, JOHN (ca. 1320-1395) John Barbour was a Middle Scots poet best known for his historical work The Bruce. Like many of his contemporaries, very little is known about Barbour's life other than that he held the important post of archdeacon of Aberdeen (one of the most important and wealthy cities in medieval Scotland), beginning in 1357, and remained in that office until he died. Although no records attest to his education, most scholars believe he was educated at oxford.
The Bruce, written in octosyllabic couplets, is for the most part a factual poem that celebrates the life of RoBert I the Bruce and the war between the Scottish and the English. Although the poem is historically based, Barbour weaves components of other popular medieval genres into his verse, notably romance. In the poem, Bruce is a chivalric hero who surpasses all of his knights and opponents. Later medieval historians would consider Barbour's work more as a chronicle of history and the authoritative voice on Bruce's life than as a piece of poetic value. Indeed, there is still much work to be done evaluating Barbour as a poet and not simply a historian.
Barbour finished his poem around 1376, only about 50 years after the death of his subject. The proximity of the events to his writings allowed him access to such sources as surviving veterans and a largely unchanged landscape where the events took place. Records show that Barbour received payment and a pension from the king, Robert II, who possibly commissioned the work.
Several other works have been attributed to Bar-bour, but none have been fully proven to be his. These include a poem on the siege of Troy which is in the same meter as The Bruce and a Scottish translation of some French poems called The Buik of Alexander, but The Bruce has truly been Barbour's legacy, and it influenced, among others, Blind Hary's epic poem, The Wallace.
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