13.09.36, Guynn & Stahuljak, eds., Violence and the Writing of History

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Anne Latowsky

The Medieval Review 13.09.36

Guynn, Noah D. and Zrinka Stahuljak. Violence and the Writing of History in the Medieval Francophone World. Gallica. Woodbridge: D.S. Brewer, 2013. Pp. 210. ISBN: 9781843843375.

Reviewed by:
Anne Latowsky
University of South Florida, Tampa
alatowsk@usf.edu

Guynn's study of Villehardhouin's presentation of the controversial detour of the Fourth Crusade toward Constantinople, which the vernacular chronicler saw as a matter of Providence. This piece joins a growing body of work on the sources for the Crusades, adding a careful reminder that texts must be considered in light of the generic, ideological, and personal motivations that inspired them.

One of the most useful articles is Leah Shopkow's discussion of a folkloric interlude in Lambert of Ardres' History of the Countes of Guines and Lords of Ardres. Shopkow raises crucial questions about the nature of historiographical works written at a time when the meaning of Latinity was undergoing profound changes. At the turn of the thirteenth century, as humor, word play, and other elements of vernacular literature made their way into Latin texts, and historians wrote more and more for lay audiences, the writing of history changed. Shopkow, the lone historian of the group, best captures the spirit of the project by deftly showing how the modern interpreter must be attuned to the multiple registers at play within a given text.

Matthew Fischer's examination of certain instances of capital punishment in Anglo-Norman historiography, such as the execution of Scottish rebel William Wallace, offers a lucid and engaging look at notions of political sanctification. Fischer demonstrates how the discourses of treason and dismemberment overlapped with those of the cult of the saints and their relics. In her examination of the Canzo de la Crozada, a verse narrative of the Albigensian Crusade, Karen Sullivan examines the esthetics of the violence depicted by the poem's two authors, the first who sided with the crusaders and the second with the counts of Toulouse. She concludes that in both cases, despite their differing stances, the violence itself was not important to the authors; it was the metaphysical violence visited upon society that mattered. The poets are concerned with the social order as victim rather than the victims themselves.

Another satisfying contribution is David Rollo's study of Benoît de Sainte-Maure, author of the Roman de Troie and the Chronique des ducs de Normandie. With his reference to the Trojan war in the Chronique, Benoît opens the door to comparison between the victory of the Greeks over the Trojans and the Norman conquest of England, yet the poet does not seem to be fully celebrating his royal patron's heritage as Duke of Normandy and King of England. Rollo reads the violence visited upon Polyxena, the sacrificed daughter of Priam, against the poet chronicler's presentation of Arlette, the unmarried mother of William the Conqueror, who may or may not have been raped to conceive the future ruler. By rewriting the circumstances of William's conception, Benoît manages to suggest that William was not the son of Duke Robert, but of Arlette's husband, thereby denying continuity of empire and exposing the illegitimacy of the Norman claim to England. In the same section, under the rubric "Gender and Sexuality," Stahuljak looks at three Francophone chroniclers' presentations of a small number of test cases for acts of treason involving men presumed to be in sexual relationships with other men. Arguing against previous conclusions, those of John Boswell in particular, she demonstrates that it was not the nature of the illicit sex acts that determined the punishments, but rather the crime of having received bad counsel as part of these intimate affairs. "Male-male sex acts are not singled out any more than male-female ones; they are equally problematic..." (147) It was speech that mattered, not sex.

Up until the end of the penultimate section, the somewhat loose gathering of varied texts from a variety of contexts all gathered under the umbrella of the medieval Francophone world works relatively well. The final section, entitled "Trauma, Memory, and Healing," although populated with strong articles, represents a somewhat awkward departure from the rest of the volume. The contributions include a study by Deborah McGrady of a small collection of the lyric poems of Charles d'Orleans that look back on his traumatic experience of the Hundred Years War. This is followed by a study of text and image by Rosalind Brown-Grant that seeks to reconcile the violence inherent in the art of chivalry with the violent death of the knight in Le Livre des faits de messire Jacques de Lalaing. The collection closes with a discussion by Simon Gaunt of the representation of the Orient in Marco Polo's Devisement du Monde that devotes significant attention to the function of paper money. Each is valuable in its own right, but within the scheme of the collection is done a disservice by having been placed in this somewhat awkward catch-all at the end.

As with any volume centered on a theme as all-encompassing as violence, one cannot expect cohesion. The articles in this volume are therefore best read independently rather than as a continuous narrative. Despite the looming threat of being "deemed outmoded" in its modes of inquiry, this book will likely remain a valuable resource for understanding the construction of the medieval past.

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Notes:

1. Ward, John O., "Some Principles of Rhetorical Historiography in the 12th Century," in Classical Rhetoric and Medieval Historiography, edited by Ernest Breisach, Kalamazoo, 1985.

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Anne Latowsky

University of South Florida, Tampa