Patrick J. Geary

title.none: Dutton, The Politics of Dreaming in the Carolingian Empire

identifier.other: baj9928.9411.004 94.11.04

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Patrick J. Geary, UCLA

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 1994

identifier.citation: Dutton, Paul Edward. The Politics of Dreaming in the Carolingian Empire. Series: Regents Studies in Medieval Culture. Lincoln London: University of Nebraska Press University of Nebraska Press, 1994 1994. Pp. xii + 329. $40.00.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: Bryn Mawr Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 94.11.04

Dutton, Paul Edward. The Politics of Dreaming in the Carolingian Empire. Series: Regents Studies in Medieval Culture. Lincoln London: University of Nebraska Press University of Nebraska Press, 1994 1994. Pp. xii + 329. $40.00.

Reviewed by:

Patrick J. Geary

A generation ago, one could have agreed with Jacques Le Goff that the oneric world of the Middle Ages had been unjustly neglected. Today, this is no longer the case. Michel Aubrun, Peter Dinzelbacher, Stephen F. Kruger, and Franz Neiske have investigated the general literature of medieval dream visions; Hans Joachim Kamphausen has analyzed Carolingian poetic dream and vision literature; S.R. Fischer and Lawrence. T. Martin have studied dreambooks, and Claude Lecouteaux and Jean-Claude Schmitt have investigated visions of ghosts, to mention but a few of the scholars who have taken up Le Goff's challenge. For the Carolingian period in particular, specific political dreams and visions have long been a subject of considerable discussion ever since Wilhelm Levison's 1921 general article on the topic, including a series of studies of the Visio Wettini by David A. Traill, the Visio Eucherii by Ulrich Nonn, and the Vita Karoli Magni by P. Geary, to mention but a few.

Had Paul Dutton written the book that his title suggests, yet another analysis of the political contexts and contents of Carolingian dream visions, the result might have been largely summary. In fact, the title hardly gives a hint of the richness and breadth of the book. Far from being yet another political analysis of the Carolingian political dream tradition, it is a far-ranging and elegantly written analysis of the imaginative literature of political protest in the Carolingian world. Political dreams, strictu sensu, form only a part of his focus. He is equally interested non-dream visions, in the political propaganda of royal vitae, in astronomy, in prophesies, in conversations with demons during exorcisms, in the iconography of Carolingian sarcophagi, gospel books, and apocalypses, in poetic evocations of the battle of Fontenoy, and much much more. In its focus, Dutton's book stands very much in the tradition of Heinrich Fichtenau's Carolingian Empire, a book whose brilliant chapters on Louis the Pious and his sons were cut from the English translation along with the appropriate subtitle, "Soziale und Geistige Problematik eines Grossreiches." Like Fichtenau, Dutton is interested in the literary manifestations of unrest, opposition, and criticism that, along with political conspiracy, revolt, and civil war were an integral part of the Carolingian world. Through his broad knowledge of this literature, his lively and perceptive translations, and his witty, engaging prose, he weaves together these disparate texts to evoke, from the margins of Carolingian literary production, a penetrating image of the deepest preoccupations of learned Churchmen in the eighth and ninth centuries.

In his first chapter, Dutton reviews the tradition of royal sleeping and wakefulness from Plutarch and King David to the Carolingians. He stresses the centrality of Charlemagne, the ever-wakeful king, in the construction of Carolingian royal ideology. Thus the very state of sleep in which dreams occur was suspect. This chapter sets the stage for the following, which is a summary discussion of dream traditions and dream interpretation as inherited and employed by the Carolingians to the end of the eighth century. Since antiquity, oneiroctitics assumed that kings, who stood closer to the divinities than other mortals, received dreams of universal importance and, less strongly, that dreams about kings or emperors might also have political significance. The biblical tradition held that royal dreams were conduits for warnings and punishments. But these two legacies were ambivalent: Romans had never found dreams and visions a satisfactory source of systematic divination, and the biblical tradition condemned most dream interpretations as the work of false prophets. Royal dream accounts appear sporadically through late antiquity and the early middle ages, most importantly in Gregory the Great's Dialogues, in Gregory of Tours, and in the Donation of Constantine. The tension between meaningless phantasma and revelatory visiones was always great and the categorization of dreams as one or the other could always be disputed. Nevertheless, from the last quarter of the eighth century, court poets began to weave royal revelatory dreams into works such as the epic Charlemagne and Pope Leo probably written by Einhard. Until almost the end of the Carolingian period, as Dutton points out, such dreams were always the literary constructs of poets and polemicists, not of kings. Authors of royal dreams were treading a difficult path: not only were they pretending to know the innermost thoughts of Charlemagne, in using the conceit of the revelatory dream, they were giving dreams a validity explicitly denied them in royal and ecclesiastical legislation. Initially, these were dreams that confirmed divine favor and guided royal action. In the ninth century, these dreams would be turned against kings in the hope of shifting "the massive weight of royal power in a new direction."

The third chapter moves to the reign of Louis the Pious and focuses on this shift toward polemical dreams, concentrating primarily on the Vision of Rotcharius, the versions of Vision of Wetti, and the Vision of a poor Woman of Laon. Each of these announces that Charlemagne suffered punishments for his sins. Dutton sees the three originating in the orbit of Reichenau, within a specific "textual community" (he takes the phrase from the work of his mentor Brian Stock even though the latter denies the existence of such communities before the eleventh century) that became "a monastic laboratory for the collection, creation, and adaptation of dream texts." (p. 75) The first two dreams criticize Charlemagne for his sexual conduct, a criticism allowed if not actually encouraged by Louis the Pious as part of his policy of eliminating the factions that developed around his sisters and bastard brothers. But once the possibility of royal criticism was permissible, it quickly took Louis himself as its target, particularly in the third vision which attacks him for his treatment of Bernard of Italy.

Chapter Four, moving away from royal dreams, explores a wider circle of criticism directed against Louis the Pious, particularly by Einhard, Theodolf of Orleans, Agobard of Lyons, and Walahfrid Strabo during the bitter struggles within the royal family. The texts examined include not only dreams texts themselves and a pamphlet dictated to a blind man by the archangel Gabriel and intended for the emperor, but also the portents in the Vita Caroli, and in the Royal Frankish Annals, confessions of a demon named Wiggo cast out of a possessed girl, and dreams and portents in the Annales of Saint- Bertin. Dutton does not claim that dreams and portents were the primary vehicle of the propaganda war, but he argues that they were a vehicle of criticism that actually reached the king, who was said to actually read or heard a number of them. Royal dream literature was beginning to reach its intended audience.

The following chapter takes us still further from traditional dream texts with literary treatments of the civil wars that followed the death of Louis and especially the accounts of the catastrophic battle of Fontenoy fought between Louis and Charles on the one side and Lothar on the other. The battle and its aftermath gave rise to a flood of prophetic and apocalyptic writings, particularly the bizarre Revelations of the suffragan bishop of Sens Audradus. In the 840s and 850s this complex polemicist penned a series of visions and revelations within the context of a defense of the chorepiscopate against attacks by Hincmar, castigation of rulers for failure to protect Neustria against the Northmen, and the seizure of ecclesiastical property. At the heart of his revelations was a vision of Christ and his saints at which Louis the Pious and his sons were proclaimed to be the causes of the kingdom's evils. Nevertheless each son was confirmed as having some good in him provided that they observed a perpetual peace: the division of the Carolingian realm was no longer in question. Publication of this vision certainly reached the king: Charles the Bald himself interrogated Audradus in 853.

Chapter Six addresses the use of cautionary visions to protect church property, particularly the Vision of Eucher in which Hincmar claims to report that the eighth century bishop had seen Charles Martel in torment for his confiscation of church property, and the Vision of Bernold in which Hincmar described the late Charles the Bald in torment for failing to follow the advice of Hincmar.

The penultimate chapter focuses on the Vision of Charlemagne, a dream vision recorded at Mainz in the kingdom of Louis the German in the 860s or early 870s. In spite of its somewhat unusual features (Charlemagne is presented a sword with Old High German words inscribed on its blade; the king himself rather than his advisors interprets the dream), Dutton sees it as a coherent creation "bated with just the right lures" to attract the attention of Louis the German. The message was clear: time was running out on the Carolingian family. From the days of divine favor and abundance to the dark days of his grandsons, the crimes and greed of the kings in the "modern age" had brought devastation and ruin to the kingdom. By the modern age, too, the via regia of dreams had moved from the periphery to the center. Early royal dream visions develop far from the court and in the minds of people alienated from court. By the 870s, the tradition had moved to the very heart, or better the unconscious of the king himself. Dutton argues that the dream reported by Louis the German in 874, although certainly a genuine royal dream that concerned Louis enough to send letters to all the monasteries of his kingdom asking for prayers on behalf of his father, entirely in the tradition of earlier visions: the king was dreaming within the pattern created by the tradition of dream literature.

The final chapter focuses on two visions written in the orbit of Rheims that focus on the end of the reign of Charles the Fat. The first, the Vision of Raduin, that Dutton dates to between 877 and 888, and the Vision of Charles the Fat penned around 888 to legitimize the adoption of Louis of Provence by Charles. He interprets both as part of the claims advanced by Archbishop Fulk, successor of Hincmar, to Rheims's exclusive right to crown kings and emperors. Dutton goes so far as to speculate that Louis' mother Ermengard may have commissioned the Vision of Charles the Fat, a commission that Fulk, eager to find a Carolingian alternative to the Roberting Odo, was happy to support. If this hypothesis is correct, then in this final great Carolingian dream vision, the tradition had made the full progression from a tool of opposition to an instrument of propaganda employed by members of the royal family itself.

Throughout the study, Dutton is at pains not to overstate the significance of the dream visions he discusses relative to other forms of Carolingian polemical or propagandistic literature. Nor does he suppose that the authors, for the most part members of the highest circles of Carolingian political clergy, expected them to influence profoundly the kings toward whom they were directed or to resonate widely in Frankish society. He sees these texts as a marginal literature whose intended public was always and almost exclusively the king, a literature that nevertheless served, and serves, as an alternate history of the Carolingian dynasty, in his terms, as oneiric annals.

Ultimately, the visionary and prophetic literature surveyed here is the expression of part of a tradition, actually wider even than the circles of Dutton's textual community of monks and bishops, the other extreme of which is explored in Karl Brunner's Oppositionelle Gruppem im Karolingerreich. From its inception, the Carolingian stirps faced enormous opposition both from other, powerful families and from within its own ranks. Although the bastard royals and noble families that fought the Carolingian princes and kings from the seventh through the tenth centuries may not have fully participated in the learned traditions in which the royal visionary tradition was rooted, from the beginning to the end, from the Vision of Wetti to that of Charles the Fat, the authors and patrons of this literature had interests that extended into these aristocratic opposition groups. Moreover, as the case of the prophetess Thiota shows, visionaries appealed not only to kings but to the common people as well. One need not deny the biblical references and the internal coherence of these visions to suggest that their ability to penetrate the subconsciousness of commoners' and kings' alike may have been in part their resonance with traditions and values broader and wider than the classical and biblical traditions of dream literature.

Among the many merits of Dutton's study are his flair for translating Carolingian Latin, a talent already amply evident in his earlier Carolingian Civilization: a Reader (Peterborough: Broadview, 1993). As befits someone who admires rhetoric, I would also mention his style, which is unusually vivid and enjoyable for a medievalist. Here again his book recalls that of Heinrich Fichtenau. In sum, The Politics of Dreaming in the Carolingian Empire is an important and engaging book. It explores central tensions in Carolingian political culture by focusing on the margins, an imaginary dream world in which past, present, and future can be reconstructed and interpreted for the waking.