Rewriting History: Carolingian Reform and Controversy in Biographies of Saints

by Gibson, Kelly Lyn, Ph.D., HARVARD UNIVERSITY, 2011, 358 pages; 3462517


The reforms of Carolingian kings and emperors, and the controversies that arose from these reforms, subtly but profoundly shaped the biographies of holy men and women as they were revised during the ninth century. A number of revised saints' lives and their earlier versions survive and a close comparison of the earlier versions with their revisions reveals that the revisers made far more important changes to the content than has been recognized. This study uncovers a wealth of previously unnoticed ninth-century evidence whose deep significance emerges from comparison with contemporary sources. The rewriting phenomenon, which is explored through historical and literary approaches to rewriting and translation, appears as the embodiment of the Carolingian goal of correcting learning and behavior.

The dissertation looks at reforms from ca. 800 to ca. 870 in several areas: orthodox belief, monastic reform according to the Rule of Saint Benedict, and kingship, specifically the heightened moral expectations for rulers' behavior in the bedroom and on the battlefield. In addition to new constructions of sanctity, the revisers changed other aspects of the saints' worlds that they invented: bishops, monks, kings, queens, and even the landscape. Hagiography appears deeply influenced by the author, audience, and events at the time of revision and different retellings of the same story allow us to track changing ideals from century to century as well as decade to decade. My work sheds new light on the reform movement and on some of its most prominent exponents (Alcuin, Jonas of Orléans, Walafrid Strabo, Lupus of Ferrières, and Ado of Vienne) from the largely neglected perspective of their hagiographical work. Their revisions reveal that some are far more creative, clever, and controversial than previously thought and highlight the interests that characterized each successive generation of the Carolingian renaissance. My conclusion suggests that the study of thematic rewriting helps us to learn more about the authors of anonymous texts like those of saints Balthild and Genevieve.

AdviserMichael McCormick
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsMedieval literature; Medieval history
Publication Number3462517

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