Andrew Jotischky

title.none: Ralph of Caen, Gesta Tancredi (Andrew Jotischky)

identifier.other: baj9928.0701.021 07.01.21

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Andrew Jotischky, Lancaster University,

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2007

identifier.citation: Ralph of Caen. Translated by Bernard S. Bachrach and David S. Bachrach. The Gesta Tancredi of Ralph of Caen: A History of Normans on the First Crusade. Crusade Texts in Translation 12. Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005. Pp. xii, 173. $74.95 0-7546-3710-7. ISBN: .

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 07.01.21

Ralph of Caen. Translated by Bernard S. Bachrach and David S. Bachrach. The Gesta Tancredi of Ralph of Caen: A History of Normans on the First Crusade. Crusade Texts in Translation 12. Aldershot and Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2005. Pp. xii, 173. $74.95 0-7546-3710-7. ISBN: .

Reviewed by:

Andrew Jotischky
Lancaster University

The series Crusade Texts in Translation is proving to be one of the most significant contributions to the dissemination of crusading history of recent years. Whereas Anglophone students once used to rely almost entirely on the venerable translations of the Gesta Francorum and Fulcher of Chartres for contemporary narratives of the first crusade, plus a few Penguin Classics to take crusading into the thirteenth century, they now have the benefit, thanks to Ashgate's initiative, of a range that includes Robert the Monk and Guibert of Nogent for the First Crusade, Walter the Chancellor for the early history of Antioch, The Itinerarium Regis Ricardi for the Third Crusade, Baha ad-Din's Rare and Excellent History of Saladin, and The Templar of Tyre for the thirteenth-century kingdom of Jerusalem. The Bachrachs' translation of Ralph of Caen extends the available range by adding one of the lesser-known near-contemporary accounts of the First Crusade.

Ralph deserves to be better known and more comprehensively used than he has been. His Gesta Tancredi, although obviously covering the same ground as many of the other chroniclers of the first crusade, tells a story with its own distinct narrative and flavours. Though he became the panegyrist of the south Italian Norman Tancred, Ralph probably came from Caen, where he studied under Arnulf of Chocques at the cathedral school. He did not take part in the events of the first crusade that he describes, but he later served with Bohemond on his unsuccessful campaign in the Balkans against Alexios Komnenos in 1107- 8. Ralph had been ordained priest before 1106, and may have become Bohemond's chaplain. After the end of this campaign he joined the entourage of Tancred, who was at that time Bohemond's regent in Antioch. His connection with Arnulf of Chocques was renewed when he asked his former teacher to edit his completed Gesta Tancredi. Ralph's literary style is a combination, at times uneasy, between bluntness of narrative and full-blown rhetoric; the latter especially prominent when putting set speeches in the mouths of his protagonists. The straightforwardness of his narrative style is particularly effective in the battle scenes, for example in the description of the Turkish panic in the encounter at Tarsus. Ralph is also good at memorable epithets: of the victory at Nicaea, for example, he remarks, "Gaul assured it, Greece helped, God brought it about." He provides vivid portraits of the leaders of the crusade, especially Robert Curthose, duke of Normandy, Robert count of Flanders and Godfrey of Bouillon. Nevertheless, there is an underlying tension throughout the work between Ralph's consciousness of his role as an historian, and the value he demonstrably places on eye-witness accounts, and his use of epic verse forms in describing about a quarter of the events in the narrative.

Because he was following the career of an individual leader, Ralph was more concerned with how that individual responded to the challenge posed by the crusade than with delivering a narrative of the expedition itself. This is shown most transparently in the story of Tancred and the hermit on the Mount of Olives (chs 113-14). The story functions in part to show Tancred's religious sensibility--his meditation on the city of Jerusalem bears some comparison with pilgrimage literature, and contains an echo of a pilgrimage episode in Ralph Glaber's Histories. By the time Ralph of Caen had finished writing--probably before 1118--the main events of the crusade were in any case well known from earlier accounts. The Gesta Tancredi fills in some gaps, particularly in its account of Tancred's diversionary expedition in Cilicia, but its chief value lies in the perspectives it offers rather than in providing wholly new information. Thus, we have a more positive view of Stephen of Blois than that reported in other chronicles, emphasising his military success in skirmishes with the Turks at Antioch, and ascribing his departure to illness rather than desertion. Raymond of Toulouse, on the other hand, comes off rather poorly at Ralph's hands, being outmanoeuvred by Tancred during a quarrel over foraging at Antioch and shown up as a cynical manipulator of religious sentiment in the affair of the Holy Lance, which Ralph asserts was planted in the church of St Peter by the Provencal priest Peter Bartholomew. In his coverage of this event, and in the rather dignified quarrel between Tancred and Patricarch Arnulf after the siege of Jerusalem, Ralph, as the Bachrachs note, demonstrates considerable rhetorical and dialectical skills. The Bachrachs downplay, however, Ralph's emphasis on Tancred's Norman ancestry and its significance. It is true that Ralph speaks most often of "Gauls" in general rather than of Normans in particular when speaking of the crusaders' military success--though he is less interested than was Fulcher of Chartres in the notion of a single Christian people being forged by the common purpose of the crusade. On the other hand, there are significant moments when Ralph does show a preoccupation with the military reputation of the Normans: for example, he wants to present the vanguard at Dorylaeum as if it were entirely a Norman contingent, ignoring Flemish and Byzantine participation; likewise, the story of the hermit on the Mount of Olives is used to glorify Tancred's family association with Robert Gusicard. Conversely, Ralph dwells on the shame cast on the Normans by desertion at Antioch of the Maisnil family.

The translation is a lively piece of writing, as befits the vigour of the original language. There are one or two oddities--the sun "shined," where "shone" would surely be more usual, on the Dome of the Rock; while the sentence "Mt Zion benefited from the presence of Raymond of Toulouse" sounds rather like estate-agent-speak. The introduction is informative and astute, and in general the volume will serve its purpose of making Ralph's Gesta Tancredi accessible to a wider number of students very well.