19.05.01 Screen/West, eds., Writing the Early Medieval West

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Adam J. Kosto

The Medieval Review 19.05.01

Screen, Elina, and Charles West, eds. . Writing the Early Medieval West: Studies in Honour of Rosamond McKitterick. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press , 2018. pp. xvi, 315. ISBN: 978-1-107-19839-5 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Adam Kosto
Columbia University
ajkosto@columbia.edu

There are many ways to measure the enormous impact Rosamond McKitterick has had on the study of early medieval history over the past four decades. The present volume provides one index: the contributors are just fifteen of the forty-seven (!) scholars whose PhD dissertations she has supervised. After an Introduction by Marios Costambeys and Matthew Innes that offers a more qualitative assessment of McKitterick's influence and shows how her work points to the future, the book unfolds in three parts, each with a brief introduction, that echo her principal lines of research: history and memory, the study of manuscripts, and the Carolingian construction of power through the written word.

Part I ("Knowledge of the Past") focuses on the way in which the written word communicated an understanding of history, and how history was transformed and deployed in the Early Middle Ages. Richard Pollard explores the inheritance of classical historiography in early medieval Europe, using a quantitative method (numbers of manuscripts, numbers and lengths of direct citations and quotations in the Patrologia Latina) to argue strongly that the most influential author was not--as is usually claimed--Livy or Sallust, but rather Josephus. He also suggests that Josephus's influence was deeper: it extended to genres beyond history writing, and within history writing it was Josephus's providential understanding of history that early medieval historians adopted. The next two contributions describe the place of Rome in the works of single authors. Paul Hilliard's subject is Bede, for whom the city's meanings were manifold across many genres. Rome was at times simply the historical context for Biblical events, but it served more often as an image or actor in salvation history, with both positive and negative valences, or a source of Christian ideas and practices. The major shift he notes is the de-othering of Rome, in which, influenced by the Liber pontificalis, Bede increasingly makes popes rather than emperors the main points of Roman reference. Marios Costambeys's more focused analysis of Paul the Deacon notes the Lombard writer's attachment to an archaic Rome, and shows how this allowed him to write about the city in a way different from his contemporaries. In the politically turbulent decades when he lived and wrote, Rome was dominated by the Papacy, threatened by the Lombards, and conquered by Charlemagne. Costambeys reads Paul's ambivalent and shifting stance as an approach that could avoid alienating his various audiences. Ingrid Rembold is similarly attuned to the way local politics and audience conditioned the composition of Folcuin's Gesta abbatumfor Lobbes. She is able to do this in a particularly fine-grained way by drawing on the evolution of the text over a decade, showing how what began as an attempt to undermine a rival became a vehicle of reconciliation for the community. The final two essays in this first section show how the Carolingian use of history extended to liturgy. Christina Pössel's reading of Walahfrid Strabo's De exordiis et incrementisas "the first history of the liturgy in the West" (80) reveals his openness to innovation and diversity, and to humans as agents of change. She connects this openness both to Walahfrid's ideas about history and anthropology, and to modern historians' ideas about Carolingian acceptance of variation in liturgical practice. Graeme Ward finds a different sort of historical approach in the De ordine antiphonariiof Amalarius of Metz. Ward notes the author's concern to reorder chants to correspond to the sequence of Biblical history, and his historical arguments for the distribution of chants across the liturgical year. For Amalarius, liturgy encodes not just daily and annual cycles of time, but elements of linear time, particularly Christian history, as well.

Part II ("The Written Word in Early Medieval Europe: The View from the Manuscripts") showcases the importance of focusing not on texts, but on manuscripts. By surveying the reproduction and transformation of handbooks of pharmacy, Nicholas Everett is able to suggest a rich menu of topics for further study: the creativity and practical focus of Late Antique and early medieval authors; the centrality of Italy for transmission of texts; a mainly monastic tradition of pharmacy based on local materials; and early evidence for engagement with Arabic knowledge and practice. Sven Meeder treats the earliest extant manuscripts of Monte Cassino as evidence for intellectual networks and horizons. He links individual codices to visitors from abroad--if not necessarily as vectors, then as markers of the "potential for scholarly exchange" (133)--and highlights connections between codices from different centers as proof of communication. Ties are most evident not to Rome, source of the copy of the Rule of Saint Benedict that reseeded the abbey's library, but to Carolingian northern Italy, especially through Nonantola and Verona, and from there to Sankt Gallen and Reichenau, and beyond. Anna Dorofeeva trains her eye on a single manuscript, a mid-ninth-century "glossary miscellany" with nine separate texts. By carefully demonstrating relationships between the individual elements, she shows the compiler's consistent practices of "alphabetisation, contraction, expansion and supplementation…that bring these apparently discrete texts together into a single whole" (162). This sort of reorganization of information for practical use--in this case as a learning and reference tool for reading the Bible--offers unexpected evidence for Carolingian engagement with knowledge. Finally, Charles West analyzes the contents of a ninth-century manuscript to reinterpret the politics surrounding the divorce of Lothar II and Theutberga. He argues that the small dossier containing one of two accounts of the 862 Council of Aachen is a coherent whole, connected to Bishop Gunthar of Cologne, and likely prepared for the 863 Council of Metz. It reveals "a divergence in strategic, tactical and perhaps personal priorities among Lothar II's leading advisors" (181-182) that helps explain the pope's success in blocking the royal separation.

Part III ("Texts and Early Medieval Rulers") loosely coheres around the theme of the written word and power. Andy Merrills discusses epigraphic evidence in fifth- and sixth-century North Africa (Mauretania), highlighting three distinct textual communities. Latin funerary inscriptions testify to the existence of a literate, Romanizing elite. Puzzling inscriptions on monumental mausolea known as Djedars, meanwhile, have been interpreted as masons' marks and graffiti left by a community of artisans. A third community, seasonal pastoralists, explains the Libyco-Berber inscriptions, many also on the Djedars; these may simply be expressions of presence, for which the act of writing itself was more important than the text. Next, Yitzhak Hen argues that the proliferation of liturgical manuals, commentaries, and practices in the ninth century was not the intended outcome of Carolingian reforms, but instead a sign chaos. The Roman sacramentary that was sent by Pope Hadrian to Charlemagne made no sense in the Frankish context. Efforts to grapple with it meant that "the natural evolution of the Gallican liturgy was brutally interrupted" (207), and confusion in text and practice was the result. Simon Coupland turns to Charlemagne's coinage, where he sees clear evidence for standardization and centralization, with a contraction of the number of attested mints. Hoards and loose finds alike show, however, that these coins circulated over wider distances. He argues for the production of the famous imperial portrait coinage at the Aachen palace itself. Numismatics thus supports the emerging picture of Charlemagne's program of rule that aimed to provide an empire governed in regions with a common Frankish identity. Historical texts return with Matthew Innes's study of the changing memory of Fastrada, Charlemagne's queen from 783 to 794. He shows how her depiction--in various annals and Einhard's Vita Karoli; in a judicial record concerning restitution of property confiscated from a man killed in the queen's presence; and in an anecdote from the Miracles of St. Goar(893) linking one of Prüm's holdings to the queen--depends very much on narrative strategies determined by the politics of the time and place of composition. Historical memories, like possession of land, were tied up with the process of Carolingian dynastic renewal. Elina Screen closes out the volume with a similar look at what happened to the historical memory of Lothar I over two centuries. After his death without male heirs, he is generally absent from the diplomas of his brothers and their descendants. In Regino's Chronicle from Prüm, where Lothar professed as a monk and was buried, he is likewise mostly ignored; nevertheless, Lothar was in general a necessary part of that institution's image of itself a royal abbey. (This last section has the least coherence: the final two papers may be read productively alongside those in Part I, the essay on liturgy with Part I or II.)

While the title of the collection points to McKitterick's The Carolingians and the Written Word(1989), arguably her most influential work and the one most discussed in the Introduction, it is her History and Memory in the Carolingian World (2004) that is the more common touchstone here: ten of the chapters cite it. But what holds the studies together is less a subject than an approach, if not a method, clearly absorbed by her students. It might be summarized as follows: The proper object of study is not the text per se, as represented by the edition (however good), but the text-in-manuscript. This has a series of significant corollaries. First, a given text can often be understood better by considering the other texts it was bound with (referred to here as the "whole-book approach" [149]). Second, texts are dynamic, changing over time: they have lives that are best traced by considering their particular instantiations in given manuscripts. Third, manuscripts (again, not just texts) have both audiences and users: thinking about who those might be often helps explain the texts, and the versions of those texts that they contain. Fourth, manuscripts, rather than just texts, offer precious evidence for the contact and communication that is the stuff of intellectual history. All of the higher-level analysis of historical memory, the uses of the written word, the role of the laity, and the nature of early medieval power flows from these fundamental lessons, which will no doubt continue to hold true as students of the Early Middle Ages move on to new thematic interests. Festschrifts, of course, resist the whole-book approach; it is perhaps only honorands and reviewers who read them cover-to-cover. But more than most, this one repays time spent with several chapters. That will be especially true for young scholars starting out on research in this vibrant field.

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