De Balneis Puteolanis is a medical text by Pietro da Eboli (Peter of Eboli), a monk who lived in Montecassino in the early 13th century. Although initially written in Latin verse, Pietro’s work was translated into French by the Norman cleric Richart Eudes in the late 14th century in Naples. This work describes approximately thirty-seven baths located in and around the city of Pozzuoli, near Naples, and the healing qualities of the waters there. Da Eboli bases his text on both personal experience and reports from others who have benefitted from the medicinal nature of the baths.
Richart Eudes translates this text in honor of Louis II, who had recently acquired the Kingdom of Naples. Louis invaded Naples in 1390 against the rule Laudislaus, son of his father’s rival. His invasion happens in the midst of a struggle between the senior and junior Angevin lines, the former supported by the Hungarian kingdom and the latter, of whom Louis II is a member, supported by the French. This struggle suggests a further examination of French and Hungarian influences on Neapolitan culture, especially in consideration of the establishment of Louis’ legitimacy.
Eudes’ translation is written for the French who came to Naples with Louis II. In order to solidify Louis’ authority in Naples, these Frenchmen needed to understand the local customs and beliefs of the Neapolitans. There is a question of why De Balneis Puteolanis would be an ideal way to develop this understanding of Naples’ culture, which could be answered as the apparent importance of baths and healing to the Neapolitans. Although he is not explicitly discussed in De Balneis Puteolanis, Virgil, considered a great magician and healer of Naples, was venerated by Neapolitans; this reverence may lend to the significance of the healing powers of baths to Neapolitans.
Eudes’ audience specifically consists of those French who cannot understand Latin and may be illiterate (“L’entendent la Francoyse gent/Qui n’entendent latin ne lettre”). The idea of the audience being illiterate is reiterated by Eudes introduction, which emphasizes its need to be heard rather than read (“Maiz pour miex entendre genz lays”). Additionally, as this is written as a unique extant text, it is unlikely that it would have been transmitted widely in written form, lending to the fact that it needed to be read aloud to a group. This is further supported by the rhyming scheme of Eudes’ translation.