Barlaam et Josephat

A Christianized telling of the life of Gautama Buddha, Barlaam et Josaphat was first translated into Latin from Greek in 1048, and it quickly achieved popularity across Western Europe, receiving translations in many vernacular languages. The legend relates the story of Josaphat, a sheltered Indian prince, who, journeying outside his city’s walls for the first time, encounters human suffering and recognizes the transience of worldly things. He seeks out Barlaam, a Christian ascetic and sage, who teaches Josaphat about the ascetic ideal through a series of parables. Josaphat converts to Christianity and eventually joins Barlaam as a monk in the wilderness. Throughout the Middle Ages, Eastern and Western Christianity honored Barlaam and Josaphat as saints, and their legend proved popular enough to be copied by Vincent of Beauvais in his thirteenth-century Speculum Historiale and by Jacobus de Voragine in hisLegenda Aurea. The manuscript below, copied for the Visconti family in Milan, includes a version of Barlaam et Josaphat in French prose.


Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, fr.187 (Milan, 1350)


Paul Meyer and Hermann Zotenberg, eds.,Barlaam und Josaphat (Stuttgart, 1864), 346-352.

Leonard R. Mills, ed., L’Histoire de Barlaam et Josaphat: version champenoise d’après le ms Reg. lat. 660 de la Bibliothèque apostolique vaticane (Geneva: Droz, 1973)

Secondary Literature

Philip Almond, “The Buddha of Christendom: A Review of the Legend of Barlaam and Josaphat,” Religious Studies 23:3 (1987): 391-406.

Edward C. Armstrong, The French Metrical Versions of Barlaam and Josaphat (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1922).

Paul Meyer, “Les Manuscrits des Sermons Francais de Maurice de Sully,” Romania 5 (1876), 466-487.

Monique B. Pitts, “Barlaam and Josaphat: A Legend for All Seasons,” Journal of South Asian Literature 16:1 (1981): 3-16.

C. A. Robson, Maurice of Sully and the Medieval Vernacular Homily (Oxford: Blackwell, 1952), 68-69.

Jean Sonet, Le Roman de Berlaam et Josaphat (Louvain: Bibliothèque de L’Université, 1949).

Marion Vuagnoux-Uhlig, “Au risque d’un saint inflexible: sainteté et imitation dans les versions françaises deBarlaam et Josaphat,” Sanctify 50:1 (2010): 33-48.

Summary by Michael Diaz de la Portilla