Book of Sydrac

The Book of Sydrac the philosopher, also known as the Livre de la fontaine de toutes sciences is an anonymous philosophical work written between 1270 and 1300 in Old French. It was enormously popular through the 16th century and received translations into numerous languages, among which was the late-medieval English translation called Sidrak and Bokkus.


The Book of Sydrac presents a dialogue between an ancient Babylonian king named Boctus and a philosopher named Sydrac; the former asks a series of 1227 questions, while the latter responds. The result is a text that is a potpourri of the popular culture of the Later Middle Ages, covering subjects like philosophy, religion, morality, medicine, astrology, the virtues of plants and minerals, etc.
Boctus' questions are often connected with religious matters as Sidrak tries to teach Bokkus to believe in the one true God of the Hebrew Bible. Sidrak also predicts the birth of Jesus, still many centuries in the future, and repeatedly explains how this will fulfill God's covenant with his believers.
Many of the other exchanges are less theological. Health and medicine are two of the most common themes addressed by Sidrak and his explanations rely on a simplistic version of the four-humor theory of the ancient Greeks. Other questions revolve around fashion, marriage, sex, business and geography.


The Book of Sydrac survives in more than sixty medieval manuscript copies, either whole or fragmentary, and with many variants. Between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries the texts were translated into Occitan, Italian, Catalan, Germany, Dutch, English. It also received several Renaissance printings: in Paris at least two editions by Antoine Vérard before 1500, an edition by Galliot du Pré in 1531, and several others; and in the Netherlands 11 editions between 1495 and 1564.
More recently T. L. Burton edited a two-volume version of the English Sidrak and Bokkus, in which he exhaustively compared the two most complete English recensions both with each other and with the French original. The English translations date from the late fifteenth to early sixteenth centuries, while the French original is from the thirteenth century. The late Middle English is considerably closer to Modern English, and therefore easier for modern readers to understand, than is the Middle English of Chaucer's Canterbury Tales.
In an extensive introduction, Burton asks how Sidrak and Bokkus was so widely read in the Middle Ages but failed to leave any appreciable influence on later literature. His answer is that while immensely popular, the book itself is rather unsophisticated in both its language and the general quality of its information. Sidrak's answers are often formulaic and not infrequently fail to directly answer the question posed by Bokkus.

Editions and translations