Leeds report 3 (Wednesday 15th July)

By Wednesday I’d managed to get my alarm going again (“have you tried switching it off and switching it on again?”) and thus set out in relatively good order for the following excellent session, albeit conforming to type by opting for Texts and Identities:

1006. Texts and Identities, VIII: Carolingian priests in action

  • Carine van Rhijn, “Local Priests, Local Manuscripts: Correctio in action”
  • Marco Stoffella, “Carolingian Reform and Local Priests in Early Medieval Tuscany”
  • Bernhard Zeller, “Local Priests in Early Medieval Alemannia: the Charter Evidence”
  • Attentive readers will see here a theme that has interested me both in and of itself and because of the cool things Wendy Davies keeps finding in the kingdoms next door, that of what priests actually did for their communities in the early Middle Ages and how they got the wherewithal, both material and intellectual, to do it. Carine had found some texts that appeared to be lists of exam questions for `priest inspectors’, preserved perhaps as revision aids, ranging from the simply administrative to the tangly Trinitarian; her area is very much the Carolingian heartland, so if you were going to see this anywhere it might be there, but it was still fascinating. Marco was looking at the process of Carolingian takeover in Lombardy, where a network of baptismal churches of mostly private origins was gathered up by rich bishops in the name of hierarchy. Bernhard, who is one of ‘my people’, meanwhile, was looking at the education and employment of the clerics visible in the St Gall evidence, and had some interesting observations about script regions that opened up questions of education outside schools, presumably by forebears.

An original St Gallen transaction charter of 786

An original St Gallen transaction charter of 786

I think I will come to look back on this session as the start of a big thing. Wendy Davies and I were talking avidly with Carine and Bernhard for some time afterwards because we felt that, together, we probably had enough evidence (in terms of documents in local priests’ hands over time) to say some genuinely useful things about where these people got their training, what the structures of priestly education were and how they changed. This is a question, in other words, that we may genuinely be able to answer, and I hope some collaboration comes of it. This is one important thing the big conferences can do for one.

Now, next, I probably should have gone to the session in which our occasional commentator Theo was speaking, and looking back at it now I’m not quite sure why that didn’t leap out at me as a necessity given that and the other contents. Sorry Theo! Instead I dithered and finally decided that what I needed more than anything was a rest, so went back to the flat and flopped with a novel for half an hour before going and prowling the book stalls. I bought far too much that I will take years to get round to reading—this is almost pathological and makes me feel guilty every time I see the books so I should stop it—but I also found time that I hadn’t thought I would have to meet up with my publisher and settle a few outstanding questions, and furthermore felt vastly less stressed for not trying to run across campus and keep up with someone else’s thought for a few hours. I possibly should have found the time to do this earlier and not missed Theo’s session but I’m not sure what I would have dropped to do this. Anyway, after lunch, things resumed with a small spot of hero-worship.

1210. The Boundaries of Free Speech, II: silencing the voice, restraining the pen

  • Paul Edward Dutton, “Voice over Writing in Eriugena”
  • Professor Dutton is a hero of mine in a small way, partly for his Carolingian Civilization reader which manages to make a vast range of sources not just accessible but interesting, and partly for the enthusiasm and amusement with which he writes; this was very much in evidence as he in turn dealt with one of his heroes, and perhaps the only Carolingian intellectual I’d like to drink with, John the Scot or Eriugena, asking why, given that he seems to have believed that truth was diminished by writing it down rather than speaking it, he wrote so much. The conclusion was, more or less paradoxically, to stop them relying on a written truth: as Stuart Airlie observed, “Tell Derrida et al. it’s all been done!” I find Eriugena pleasantly modern in this respect, and it’s largely due to Professor Dutton that I ever bothered. Have a go yourself!

    Modern cartoon of William of Malmesburys story about John the Scot and Charles the Bald

    Modern cartoon of William of Malmesbury's story about John the Scot and Charles the Bald

  • Irene van Renswoude, “‘Writings speak after one’s death when the writer is silent’: on the danger of publication”
  • An almost inaudible study of psychological and logical reasons why Rather of Verona didn’t dare write more than he did, and that for a very small an audience without whom, however, he couldn’t do.

  • Michael Clanchy, “The Right to Speak Out by Publishing: Abelard and his Master, Anselm of Laon”
  • Michael has, as he said, been talking about Abelard for many years now, and I’m always happy to hear him do it more; he’s a very friendly speaker, both with the audience and with the material, and makes for a very human humanism. Here the main question was why did Abelard publish so much, with such frequently awful consequences, compared to a master who was widely renowned but published one book, if that, which he denied? The quest for fame rather than students was the provisional answer, which sounds obvious if you know Abelard’s writings but Michael can always give one more depth of understanding of these texts and didn’t fail. The discussion that followed was also really lively and interesting, though I confess I remember it mainly for Stuart Airlie suggesting that we read the sources of the Carolingian Renaissance with a closer eye for what they’re not saying: “Big party, Aachen, tonight; don’t tell Theodulf!”

For the last sessions of the day I went back to Texts and Identities for the one paper by a friend I managed to catch the whole conference that I hadn’t squeezed out of them myself.

1306. Texts and Identities, XI: religious alterity and textual control

  • Clemens Gantner, “Quae enim societas luci ad tenebras: the papal charge of heresy against others in the 8th and 9th centuries”
  • A close reading of papal writings about their Arian and Iconoclast opponents shows how very rarely direct assertions of heresy were made from Rome but how frequently the power of insinuation and implication left that impression on the reader.

  • Rob Meens, “Thunder over Lyons: Agobard, the tempestarii, and Christianity”
  • There is a lovely cache of material about rural belief in the letters of Bishop Agobard of Lyons. They include, perhaps most infamously, a report of some locals who believed that weather magicians whom they called tempestarii could be employed to bring storms onto the crops of others or keep them off one’s own, an operation that they were held to perform by means of communication with people in flying ships who lifted away the destroyed crops unless paid not to attack them. That is, the tempestarii were not themselves the stormbringers, but had friends who were, and who apparently operated out of aircraft. This, as you may imagine, has been beloved of UFO conspiracy nuts for a very long time. Now Rob brought a critical eye to it and asked whether these tempestarii were, as they have often been seen, pagan cultists or whether they were Christians who claimed to have some special extra knowledge; Agobard envisages them making confession, which necessitates some rethinking of categories. I had to ask whether Agobard could afford to exclude anyone or whether he had to open his category of Christian out to include them. It seems more likely, though, that Agobard just wasn’t thinking in terms of Christian vs. pagan at all and therefore probably neither should we.1

  • Charles West, “Possessing Power: unauthorised miracles at Dijon, c. 842″
  • Crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

    Crypt of St-Bénigne de Dijon

    Lastly came Charles, ever bright and interesting with his material, which was in this case a very odd miracle episode in which a saint’s crypt full of people, who may have all been women, were confined inside by invisible forces that buffeted them to the ground if they tried to leave; we know of this from a letter from the local bishop to another asking for advice on how to get them out, so it’s pretty far removed from hagiography. Nonetheless, Charles showed that the account draws quite heavily on Agobard, again, and he took a very careful inventory of the power interests involved and what we could read between the lines of the text. Fascinating, and our speculations were almost certainly more fun than whatever the real situation may turn out to have been alas, but this makes for a good paper.

So that was a good wind-up for the day, and then various factors combined to leave me eating at Weetwood with Another Damned Medievalist and the In The Middle crowd in a rough repeat of the meet-up of the day before. Mary Kate Hurley was amusingly dismayed to hear I might dodge the dance, and when I did in fact turn up insisted I actually dance, which I felt a lot better for doing, though fundamentally the muscles didn’t remember how it go till `Blue Monday’ came over the rattly PA. I had fun anyway, and the music was a lot better than last year.

However, again, the abiding memory is going to be a remark by Stuart Airlie, who was resplendent in a t-shirt reading “I Conquered the Avars and All I Got Was This Lousy T-Shirt” among other things, and who was also giving it some on the dancefloor, but who paused briefly to be introduced to me because of this here blog, which he told me, in between flattering people and attacks of Terpsichorean enthusiasm, was an exercise in control, and suggested I was trying to control too many things with it. Now, I accept that a conversation in that forum is not to be taken entirely seriously but I’ve been trying to puzzle out what he meant ever since. The blog was of course created to try and control something, which was and is my online academic footprint, and indeed my academic footprint full stop until actual publication finally burst from the infinitely tapered pipeline, but I don’t know that it’s been very successful; the audience is big but dropping, I don’t get any extra interviews because of it and though many people seem to like it I don’t think it really sells me the way I’d intended, because I talk too much about other people, or indeed just too much. It’s made me some useful contacts but these are things that make my academic profile broader, not deeper. So I don’t know. Either way, power hunger is not, to me, a great part of my make-up or presentation and I’m slightly worried that someone whose gaze is as penetrating as Dr Airlie’s sees it under the surface of my writing. So I went to bed with many a muse on this, and as you can tell am still musing…


1. I expect you’d like some bibliography on this, or at least that somebody eventually would, and to them I say, aided by Prof Meens’s excellent handout, start with the text, which is online here in Latin and partially translated (of course) in Paul Dutton (ed.), Carolingian Civilization: a reader, 1st edn. (Peterborough ON 1993), pp. 189-191; then for scholarship one must apparently start with Monica Blöcker, “Wetterzauber: Zu einem Glaubenskomplex des frühen Mittelalters” in Francia Vol. 9 (Sigmaringen 1981), pp. 117-131; go on to Paul Dutton, “Thunder and hail over the Carolingian countryside” in idem, Charlemagne’s Mustache and Other Cultural Clusters of a Dark Age (New York 2004), pp. 169-188, and finish with the latest word by Jean Jolivet, “Agobard de Lyon et les faiseurs de pluie” in M. Chazan & G. Dahan (edd.), La méthode critique au Moyen Âge, Bibliothèque d’histoire du Moyen Âge 3 (Turnhout 2006), pp. 15-25. Presumably Rob is also working on publication about this and supporting websearches also revealed as forthcoming Mark Gregory Pegg, “Agobard of Lyon, tempestarii, and magic in early medieval Europe” in W. Wunderlich (ed.), Medieval Myths: Magicians, Seducers and Rogues (Kontanz forthcoming). Wow, and people tell me my website picture makes me look like a vampire…

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6 responses to “Leeds report 3 (Wednesday 15th July)

  1. You could just ask him …

    He seems very approachable, if scary-smart with, as you say, a penetrating gaze.

    I am very glad Mary Kate got you to dance, too!

  2. There were important decisions to be made … and the dance is not really conducive to conversation :-)

  3. Pingback: Long years of difficult war: identifying a preoccupation « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  4. Pingback: Excellentissima et merito famosissima historica II « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

  5. Pingback: What would a late-Carolingian bishop read? The will of Riculf of Elna « A Corner of Tenth-Century Europe

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