12.05.10, Dräger ed., Vita Gangolfi, Das Leben Gangolfs

Main Article Content

Scott G. Bruce

The Medieval Review 12.05.10

Dräger, Paul. Vita Gangolfi, Das Leben Gangolfs. Trier: Kliomedia GmbH, 2011. Pp. 176. ISBN: 978-3-89890-166-6.

Reviewed by:
Scott G. Bruce
University of Colorado, Boulder

Gangolfus or Gengolfus (German: Gangolf; French: Gengoul or Gengoux) was a saintly Carolingian warrior-aristocrat of Burgundian origin in the service of a king named Pippin. His enduring popularity as a saint owes a great deal to the unusual punishment meted out by God upon his adulterous wife. The tale is well worth reading. On a journey to Champagne, Gangolfus bought a handsome piece of property adorned with a freshwater spring. When he returned home, his unfaithful wife ridiculed the purchase because the spring was so far away that it was no use to them. In response, Gangolfus thrust a stick into the ground and caused water to pour forth, miraculously creating a clear pool exactly like the one he had bought. Suspicious of his wife's conduct, he invited her to dip her hand into the cool water, which scalded her and thereby betrayed her guilt. This prompted her to incite her lover, a local priest, to slay Gangolfus. Shortly after the murder, God punished the evil prelate by spilling out his entrails in the latrine, the same humiliating death that had laid low both Judas the betrayer and the archheretic Arius. Miracles soon began to occur at the tomb of Gangolfus, a sure sign of the sanctity that had been veiled during most of his lifetime. When news of these miracles reached his wife, she responded with the most concise statement of doubt that I have ever read in a medieval text: "If Gangolfus can work miracles, then so can my asshole!" (Sic operatur virtutes Gangulfus, quomodo anus meus) (32). In fulfillment of this condescending barb, God cursed her with a violent flatulence whenever she spoke about the miracles of her dead husband. For the rest of her days, her ass would proclaim his sanctity: Talique postea subiacuit obprobrio, ut per omne suae vitae tempus, quot eo die protulit verba, ab illa parte corporis quasi tot prodierunt probra... (32).

From the late ninth century onwards, the story of Gangolfus and his cursed wife inspired a small corpus of hagiographical works in prose and verse: (a) an anonymous passio composed in the decades around 900 by a learned priest who was familiar with the regions of Langres and Champagne (Bibliotheca hagiographica latina [hereafter BHL] 3328); (b) a passio metrica by Hrotsvitha of Gandersheim, written in the mid-tenth century (BHL 3329); (c) a collection of miracles compiled in the early eleventh century by Abbot Gonzo of Florennes (BHL 3330); (d) a fascinating little letter of uncertain date, which the Bollandists called epistula apologetica de legenda sancti Gengulfi, in which a religious community defended the use of these scatalogical stories in their liturgy (BHL 3331); and lastly (e) a thirteenth-century epitome of the tale by Jacobus Voragine in the Legenda aurea (no BHL number).

In the volume under review, Paul Dräger has assembled some of these texts (A, B, and E) and presented them in Latin with a facing page German translation. He has reprinted the Latin editions of the prose passio and Hrotsvitha's poem from their respective editions in the Monumenta Germaniae Historica. The late medieval epitome De sancto Gangolfo comes from Theodor Graesse's nineteenth-century edition of the Legenda aurea; it was a late addition to that sprawling work and therefore did not warrant inclusion in Giovanni Paolo Maggioni's superior modern edition, published in 1998. Dräger has made several minor emendments to these Latin texts, none of them consequential (76-77). He has appended to them copious notes on the texts and translations (79-152) and a short introduction (153-164). This is very much a student edition, aimed at the German equivalent of undergraduates preparing for exams in Mittellatein. It performs the admirable service of calling attention to this little known saint's cult, which began in Lotharingia before spreading into Germany in the tenth century, and bringing together some of the disparate pieces of his dossier. But the concerns of this little book are principally philological, so Dräger does not spend much time situating Gangulfus or his cult historically. The reader learns a great deal about the wide range of sources used by the anonymous author of the passio and by Hrotswitha, but is left wondering who Gangulfus really was, which of the many possible Pippins he may have served, and whether he was a martyr or a confessor (and if the former, on what grounds).

I have two criticisms by way of a conclusion. What is most surprising about this book is the narrowness of its historiographical scope. The short bibliography primarily comprises secondary works in German, with a stray title or two in English, but takes no notice of the wealth of recent material on Gangolfus and his cult that French scholars have produced in the last decade. Dräger could have expanded his introduction to these medieval texts by taking into account the insights of Monique Goullet, "Les Vies de saint Gengoul, époux et martyr," Anita Guerreau-Jalabert, "Saint Gengoul dans le monde: L'opposition de la cupiditas et de la caritas," and Michael Lauwers, "À propos de l'usage seigneurial des reliques: Note sur les 'Miracles de saint Gengoul' (1034 ou 1045)," all of which appeared in Guerriers et moines: Conversion et sainteté aristocratiques dans l'occident médiéval (IXe-XIIe sicle), ed. Michel Lauwers (Antibes, 2002), pp. 235-288. The better angel of my nature says that this omission was not an issue of blatant oversight, but rather that it speaks indirectly to the limitations of the German students for whom Dräger has written this book. Either way, the absence of this important scholarship diminishes the contribution of its introduction. And while the scope of texts presented in this book is sufficient, the inclusion of the epistula apologetica, which Dräger does not mention, would have rounded the collection out very nicely, because we almost never find early medieval authors defending the liturgical use of hagiographical texts with salacious content. The Bollandists have published the Latin text from a twelfth-century manuscript in Catalogus codicum hagiographicorum bibliothecae regiae Bruxellensis, Pars I: Codices latini membranei, 2 vols. (Brussels, 1886-89), vol. 2, pp. 482-85. Those without Latin can consult the French translation of the letter presented and discussed in the article by Goullet cited above (259-263).

North American scholars will find Dräger's book most useful in graduate level seminars on topics in medieval Latin or medieval hagiography. The dossier of Gangolfus demonstrates very clearly how medieval authors rewrote hagiographical vitae, both in verse and in prose. I would recommend, however, that they supplement the contents of this book both with the epistula apologetica and with the recent French scholarship on Gangolfus to provide their students with the fullest possible picture of the cult of this early medieval saint. It would be a shame to let his wife have the last word on his miracles.

Article Details

Author Biography

Scott G. Bruce

University of Colorado, Boulder