Saturday, June 04, 2005

Self and Society in Medieval France

Not the best title really. This is actually a translation of the Memoirs of Guibert of Nogent, a Benedictine monk and historiographer who died in 1124 AD. I think the idea of calling it Self and Society was to draw attention to the fact that Guibert is writing Autobiography, which was relatively unheard of in the Medieval era. Some writers, such as the famous Abelard, had written letters in which they followed after Augustine's Confessions, but this is an entire book. Guibert is also following after the Confessions, incidentally.

Guibert was an Abbot, so this is an account of monastic life. His father was noble and died when Guibert was eight months old. His parents had not had sex for the first seven years of their marriage; Guibert claims the father had been cursed with impotence by some spell-casting locals. The widow retained her husband's wealth and hired a teacher of Rhetoric to instruct Guibert. Eventually, the mother and the tutor committed themselves to the clergy and the young man had little choice but to follow suit.

Guibert was actually known in his time for his scriptural exegesis. Medieval exegesis consisted of three levels of interpretation: Allegorical, Moral, and Anagorical. Analysis on the moral level, called Tropological analysis was Guibert's specialty. His speeches would consist of an hourlong analysis of a single paragraph.

Allegory: The representation of abstract ideas or principles by characters, figures, or events in narrative, dramatic, or pictorial form.
Anagogy: A mystical interpretation of a word, passage, or text, especially scriptural exegesis that detects allusions to heaven or the afterlife.
Moral: The lesson or principle contained in or taught by a fable, a story, or an event.

Guibert's world is a world of demons and visions. Every few pages, someone has a nightmare that tells them what to do next in their lives. Guibert believes in incubi, Jews who commune with Satan, and various curses. In one episode, a Kinght fishes in the church's pond and an angry God cuses him to lose control of his bowels! In another, the Virgin Mary appears to a cursed man in a dream and punches him in the face!

The third book has to do with a peasant uprising against a Bishop who had conspired to have several rivals murdered. The story is quite gruesome and we remember how unique it really is to live in a time in which riots are so rare. The offending Bishop is finally hacked to pieces and left in a pile against the church door.

1 comment:

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