Michael Kulikowski

title.none: Murray, ed. and Trans., From Roman to Merovingian Gaul (Kulikowski)

identifier.other: baj9928.0007.007 00.07.07

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Michael Kulikowski, Smith College,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2000

identifier.citation: Murray, Alexander ed. and trans. From Roman to Merovingian Gaul: A Reader. Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures: V. Orchard Park, New York: Broadview Press, 2000. Pp. xiv, 679. $26.95. ISBN: 1-551-11102-0.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 00.07.07

Murray, Alexander ed. and trans. From Roman to Merovingian Gaul: A Reader. Readings in Medieval Civilizations and Cultures: V. Orchard Park, New York: Broadview Press, 2000. Pp. xiv, 679. $26.95. ISBN: 1-551-11102-0.

Reviewed by:

Michael Kulikowski
Smith College

This volume is quite exceptional, and a very rare sort of thing: a course reader that can stand as a work of scholarship in its own right. It takes its place in a distinguished series of readers from Broadview and equals or surpasses all of them. The translations are almost wholly the work of the editor, which lends the collection a uniformity unwonted in the genre, and their tone suits the needs of a modern audience far better than anything else currently available.

The scope of the collection is enormous, as the title suggests, and it is fully a third of the way into the book before the Franks take centre stage. This is important, because it emphasizes a key point: the history of Gaul is continuous, if rarely harmonious, and we cannot mark a separation between ancient and medieval with the coming of the Franks. This message, surely correct, is never made explicit by the editor, who is careful to let the sources speak for themselves while providing readers with the minimum of contextual information to make sense of things.

A summary of the book's contents will suggest something of its utility. We begin with the earliest contemporary evidence for the Franks--Victor, Ammianus, the Latin panegyrics, Eunapius, etc.--but significantly nothing from sources written later under Frankish rule. From there we turn to long excerpts from Orosius' Book VII (in Raymond's trusty Columbia translation) which illustrate the way in which barbarians interacted with Roman society in the fourth and fifth centuries. Chapter three covers Gallo-Roman poetic culture: excellent versions of Ausonius translated by the editor from Green's new edition, including the first English renderings of the dirty bits in the Epigrams and the Nuptial Cento; an excessively abbreviated excerpt from Rutilius; and a stray piece of Paulinus of Pella.

Chapter Four, on the late antique chronicle tradition, is one of the best in the book. It includes Prosper, the Gallic Chronicles of 452 and 511, and Marius of Avenches in full, alongside substantial chunks of Hydatius. Chapter five offers thirty pages of Salvian, more than enough to convey his tedium to a student audience, while chapter six gives us the famous Hunnic sections of Priscus in the translations of Bury and Gordon. Chapter seven, "Fragments and Scraps of Fifth-Century History," is just that, and ranges from Sulpicius Alexander and Frigeridus, to the Querolus on Bagaudae, to the famous Honorian constitution of 418 which set up the concilium septem provinciae. Chapter eight is on the world of Sidonius Apollinaris, and contains roughly a third of the extant letters. Ostensibly based on the Dalton translations (which were always much better than the more accessible Loeb versions), they are very much the work of the editor and clearly the best available.

In chapter nine we enter the Frankish era, with a cleverly- designed account of Clovis. This sets out the contemporary epistolary evidence in full, and only then gives us the narrative account in Gregory of Tours. Chapter ten contains a very large (pp. 287-427) part of the narrative of Gregory's Histories, while chapter eleven fleshes out that narrative with anecdotal material, drawn from both Gregory himself and Venantius Fortunatus (in the George translation) as well.

Chapter twelve contains most of what is original in Fredegar (the so-called Book IV), and chapter thirteen is the Liber Historiae Francorum 43-53. Chapter fourteen is drawn from the vitae of Balthild and Wilfrid and the passiones of Leudegar and Praejectus, and illustrates the intersections of hagiography and politics in the seventh century. Chapter fifteen is a very substantial collection of legal material, drawn not only from Lex Salica, but also from conciliar, diplomatic, and formulary material. Chapter sixteen, on "History, Legend, and Romance" gives us the various fictions of Frankish life and Frankish origins scattered through Gregory, the LHF, and (especially) Fredegar. Chapter seventeen is an epilogue on Carolingian sources for the last Merovingians and ends with Einhard's famous caricature of the useless and degenerate Childeric III, so effective a blackening of the Merovingian reputation that it has taken the present generation to so much as question it.

The riches on offer in the foregoing preclude exhaustive comment, but a few points should be made. First, the long excerpt from Gregory in chapter ten will be at once the most useful and the most controversial portion of Murray's book. He deliberately shears Gregory of all his incidental excurses, miracle stories, and ecclesiastical by-ways. In other words, everything that gives the Histories their pace and texture is jettisoned. On the one hand, this is deplorable: surely this most complex of early medieval narratives deserves to be read as Gregory wrote it. On the other hand, the effect is revelatory: shorn of narrative cul-de-sacs but not otherwise altered, Gregory's book really does come across as a history of the Franks, an idea completely taboo in current scholarship. Regardless, anyone who has experienced the frustration of undergraduates presented with the unabridged Gregory will see a real utility in the surgery his narrative undergoes here.

Second, there are the editorial introductions. These are models of informative brevity, erring neither towards the almost unusably laconic introductions in the ubiquitous Tierney or Geary readers, nor the excessively interventionist and interpretative introductions in recent Manchester and Liverpool volumes. Murray's introductions reveal his extensive command of the scholarly debates surrounding the excerpted sources. Much of the time he is content merely to signal the existence of controversy; where his own views are strong, he offers them. Very occasionally the dedicated reader might detect just a hint of veiled polemic, e.g. at the Vienna school of barbarian studies on p. 589.

When all is said and done, I cannot recommend this book too highly. The translations are throughout superb, the selection such that even the most jaded reader will find something to ponder. Indeed, the section on laws, though intrinsically difficult to use as a teaching text, makes these most opaque of texts seem very nearly lucid; anyone with the slightest professional interest in the institutional history of the early Middle Ages should read it. The book's only flaw is the unusually large number of typographical errors, enough to suggest that the publisher employs no professional copy- editors. That apart, the book merits only the highest praise. I have already adopted it for next semester's early medieval survey, and would suggest that others quickly do the same.