Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Odo of Cheriton

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ODO of Cheriton, or, less familiarly, Sherston (d. 1247), fabulist and preacher, completed his sermons on the Sunday gospels, according to the colophons of two manuscripts, in 1219 (Meyer, Romania, xiv. 390). His surname appears in a great variety of forms, as Ceritona, Ciringtonia, Seritona, Syrentona,, &c., giving rise to much difference of opinion as to his actual birthplace. The presumption in favour of his identity with Odo of Canterbury [q. v.] cannot be substantiated (but cf. Wright, Biogr. Brit. Lit. ii. 225–7; Meyer, xiv. 389). Seriton is doubtless identical with Cheriton in Kent, near Folkestone; and the legal records of the early thirteenth century contain more than one reference to a Magister Odo at that place. It may be noted that in the manuscripts of his works Odo is always entitled magister, except in Harleian MS. 5235, where he is called ‘Sanctus Odo de Ceritonia.’ In 1211–12 William de Cyrinton was ‘fined in one good hautein falcon,’ that his son, ‘Magister Odo,’ might have the custody of the church of Cheriton (Pipe Roll, quoted by Madox, History of the Exchequer, 2nd ed. i. 508). This William de Cyrinton had received a grant in 1205 of Delce in Rochester, forfeited by Geoffrey de Bosco (Close Rolls, ed. Hardy, i. 59; Madox, i. 428). On 18 April 1233 ‘Magister Odo de Cyriton’ paid a relief on succeeding to the estates of William, his father (Excerpta e Rot. Fin., ed. Roberts, i. 240). In the British Museum (Harley Charter 49. B. 45) is a quitclaim (1235–6) by ‘Magister Odo de Cyretona, filius Willelmi de Cyretona,’ of the rent of a shop ‘in foro Lond[oniensi]’ in the parish of St. Mary-le-Bow. Odo's seal is appended, bearing the figure of a monk seated at a desk with a star above him (perhaps representing St. Odo of Cluny, as his patron saint). The ‘Inquisitio post mortem,’ in which it is declared that Odo died seised of the manor of Delce, and that Walran, his brother, was next heir, is dated 15 Oct. 1247 (Inquis. post mortem, i. 4; Archælogia Cantiana, ii. 296).

Bale mentions a tradition that Odo was a Cistercian (Catalogus, pt. i. 1557, p. 221), and this has been generally accepted by subsequent writers, though Henriquez has not included him in his ‘Menologium Cistertiense.’ His writings certainly show some partiality towards that order (Voigt, Denkmäler der Thiersage, No. 25 of Quellen und Forschungen, p. 48); but he can hardly have taken the vows if he not only succeeded to a private inheritance, but died in full possession of it. Bale also says that he studied at Paris; and this seems probable enough, though no conclusive evidence is forthcoming.

Like other preachers of his time, he introduced into his sermons a large number of ‘exempla,’ or tales, drawn from various sources to illustrate his arguments, or perhaps at times only to attract the attention of his hearers. But his sermons are distinctively characterised by the frequent use of stories of Reynard the Fox, and by quaint extracts from the bestiaries and from older collections of fables. Some of these he formed into a separate collection, to which additions were subsequently made. A prologue, ‘Aperiam in parabolis os meum,’ &c., was prefixed, and the collection is usually known as the ‘Parabolæ,’ or fables of Odo. It exists in a vast number of manuscripts of the thirteenth to fifteenth centuries in the libraries of England, France, Germany, and other countries (see Hervieux, Fabulistes Latins, i. 667 seq.) The ‘Speculum Laicorum,’ attributed to John Hoveden [q. v.], contains many extracts from Odo's ‘Parabolæ.’ The latter work was first noticed in detail by Douce, ‘Illustrations of Shakespeare,’ 1807, i. 255–7, ii. 33–4, 343–7; selections were afterwards published by Grimm and others; but the first attempt at a complete edition was made by Oesterley, ‘Jahrbuch für romanische und englische Literatur,’ 1868, ix. 121, 1871, xii. 129. A much fuller edition has since been brought out by Hervieux in his monumental ‘Fabulistes Latins,’ 1884, i. 644, ii. 587 (cf. Voigt's article in Denkmäler, pp. 36–51, 113–38). A French version, made in the thirteenth century, has been described by Meyer, ‘Romania,’ xiv. 381; and an early Spanish version, the ‘Libro de los Gatos,’ was edited by Gayangos in Aribau's ‘Biblioteca de Autores Españoles,’ vol. li. Several of the tales inserted in the English version of the ‘Gesta Romanorum’ are translations from Odo (see English Gesta Rom., ed. Madden, p. xiv, Roxburghe Club, and the later edition published by the Early English Text Society).

Odo's sermons on the Sunday gospels, which were completed in 1219, were printed at Paris by Matthew Macherel in 1520 (Oudin, Script. ii. 1624). The author, however, is in this edition designated ‘Odo Cancellarius Parisiensis,’ possibly from a confusion with Odon de Châteauroux, who was chancellor of Paris in 1238 (Hist. Litt. xix. 228). This edition appears to be extremely rare, but several manuscripts are extant (Meyer, xiv. 389–90). Another series of sermons on the Sunday gospels in Arundel MS. 231 is described as the production of Jean d'Abbeville, Odo ‘de Cancia,’ and Roger of Salisbury. The second of these names is probably intended for Odo of Cheriton and not for Odo of Canterbury.

[Authorities cited above; materials collected by H. L. D. Ward, esq., for the Catalogue of Romances (cf. Chevalier's Répertoire, 1877–86).]

J. A. H-t.