IMC reflections (1): prophets and courtiers

I was too tired to blog while at the International Medieval Congress this year, so here is the first of several reflections on the event. This isn’t systematic coverage of the sessions I heard, more ideas that arose from papers (or particularly juxtapositions of papers). The first arose from a paper on Hrabanus Maurus by Marianne Pohlheimer crossed with one on Dudo of Saint-Quentin by Michael Gelting. Pohlheimer’s paper was about Hrabanus’ writing of a homiliary for Lothar I, arguing that he tried to position himself in a prophetic tradition, using readings from Isaiah and Joel. Gelting, meanwhile, was discussing the purpose of Dudo’s Historia Normannorum, which to the annoyance of historians of early medieval Normandy, is not a conventional narrative. Gelting argues that the work is actually intended for a scholastic setting, at the cathedral school of Rouen. One of its main aims is to provide models of courtly behaviour to emulate and the Norman dukes are described in such courtly terms.

A lot of this paper was following Stephen Jaeger’s ideas about the rise of courtliness in the tenth century. I’ve never been entirely convinced by Jaeger’s arguments, and I still think he’s wrong about the ‘civilising’ effect of courtliness on knights. But Gelting’s paper did include one interesting quote from Dudo about Duke Richard I: ‘Thus made all things to all, none did he harm but did good to all.’ This is a courtly ideal in the classic Jaeger mode, but it’s also building on an idea of St Paul’s about his own conduct. What this (combined with Hrabanus Maurus) got me thinking is that maybe the real change in the tenth century is about how bishops in particular chose to present themselves. (In contrast, Jaeger’s emphasis on a different recruitment pattern for high clerics and a changed educational culture in the Ottonian period doesn’t hold up). The contrast of the inflexible prophet and the adaptable courtier is certainly striking. Hincmar, for example, is undoubtedly a courtier bishop without being a courtly bishop, and he (like Hrabanus) often tries to position himself as a prophetic voice who must speak out, even rebuking kings. Looking in more detail at the ideological relationship between kings and bishops in the Carolingian and Ottonian period might be one way to get a new handle on the rise of courtliness in Jaeger’s sense.


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