Verdichtete Botschaften. Wie Gelehrte um Karl den Großen in Gedichten kommunizierten

Schmalholz, Rebecca
Züricher Beiträge zur Geschichtswissenschaft
Köln 2022: Böhlau Verlag
Anzahl Seiten
408 S.
€ 75,00
Rezensiert für H-Soz-Kult von
Francesco Stella, Dipartimento Filologia e critica delle letterature antiche e moderne, Università di Siena

This volume is the first in the last 30 years which is dedicated to Carolingian poetry as an overall phenomenon after Francesco Stella, La poesia carolingia a tema biblico (Spoleto, CISAM 1993), La poesia carolingia (Firenze, Le Lettere 1995) and The Carolingian Revolution (Turnhout, Brepols 2020). It should therefore be hailed as a valuable contribution in a field of study that is little frequented with monographs, tough numerous articles have been published on specific issues and individual works. Recently the editions of single texts have multiplied: Wahlafrid Strabo’s Hortulus edited by Walter Berschin (2023), his De imagine Tetrici edited by Tino Licht (2020), the Visio Wettini revised by me (2009); as for Paul the Deacon's poetry, the revolutionary critical edition by Adriano Russo is forthcoming for the Edizioni Nazionali di Testi Mediolatini d'Italia (ENTMI, 2024); the poetry of John Scotus Eriugena has had a second edition by Michael Herren in the Corpus Christianorum (2020) and an Italian translation with rich commentary by Filippo Colnago in 2014 (Milan, Jaca Book), Theodulf’s whole poetic corpus has been reprinted with English translation and commentary by Theodore Åndersson and Christopher Blakemans in 2019, and we wait for the Sources Chrétiennes edition by Enimie Rouquette, already presented as a doctoral thesis in 2018; a new facsimile edition of Raban’s De laudibus sanctae crucis by A. Perrin and François Ploton-Nicollet was published in 2022, etc. Therefore the field of studies is in great turmoil and in the process of profound renewal, as it is the object of multiple interests, even if the bibliography considered in this volume is very selective and the hermeneutic dialogue is a bit impoverished, essentially focussed on the however authoritative Schaller, Bullough, Godman, Garrison.

Despite this, Schmalholz's statement, repeated in various forms throughout the volume, is correct, that “in den bisherigen Forschung wurden Gedichte oft vernachlässigt” (p. 13), “der Wert der Gedichte als Quellen für die historische Arbeit so wenig erkannt wurde” (p. 16) etc. In our opinion perhaps only Janet Nelson in her recent biography King and Emperor. A new life of Charlemagne, 2019 adequately valorizes poetry as a historical source. To this end, the monograph asks “Wie können wir die Gedichte als historische Quellen fassen? Was sagen die carmina über die Dichter um Karl und über die literarische Kultur der frühen Karolingerzeit?” (p. 14). The objective is therefore an interpretation not of Carolingian poetry in general nor of the poetry of the first generation, but of a group of poems ("beispielhafte Auswahl", p. 17) which concern the court, the other poets, the intellectual society around to Charlemagne, in the belief, already expressed by Dieter Schaller for these texts (and, in relation to the general social history, by Theodor Adorno), that poetry can represent the spirit and emotions of an era with more information and greater depth of any other documentary source.

On a preliminary basis, the sociological models used so far are evaluated, from Heinrich Fichtenau to Mary Garrison, to analyze the Carolingian literary society: Court School (Hofschule), Academy, Network (Netzwerk), but all are declared unsuitable for the historical reality in question to resort rather to the concept of "game" (Spiel, spielen), sometimes used by the poets themselves (ludus, ludere, ludicrum). This turns out to be the main novelty of the essay: the interpretation of the exchange of epistolary (and non-epistolary) poems between the intellectuals (or rather: Berater, advisors) of the first Carolingian court both as a verbal and stylistic game and, above all, as a parlor game, a game of positioning and displacement, competitive game, inclusive and exclusive gaming, corporate gaming. The analysis of the texts is therefore dedicated above all to grasping, running the risk of some over-interpretation, the mutual allusions, the taunts and responses, the contrasts and complicities between Peter of Pisa and Paul the Deacon first, then Alcuin, Angilbert and Theodulf. Another significant innovation is the highlighting of the virtual dimension of some of the court representations: sometimes the poems describing banquets and characters around Charles are written from outside, from a distance that can be spatial or temporal, and this alters the status of the presentation from versified chronicle to imaginary staging.

A further innovative aspect of the volume is the definition of a semi-private and at the same time semi-public nature of the poetic epistles, i.e. addressed first to an individual recipient, but then probably read in sequence during collective meetings, as confirmed by two verses of Theodulf 25, 9-10 Ludicris haec mixta iocis per ludicra currat, / saepe tangatur quaelibet illa manu. Added to these hermeneutic glimmers is the book's greatest benefit, namely the German translation, generally correct, of twenty important Latin poems of this era, the text of which is printed three times: first exposed in the two languages at the beginning of each chapter, then re-proposed in the notes to the commentary, and then republished in an anthology as an Appendix, thus occupying a large part of the book, which also dedicates ample space to the explanatory paraphrase of each of the twenty texts.

The chapters on Paul the Deacon (especially the reflections on De puero qui in glacie extinctus est) suffer a bit from the lack of reading of some critical contributions, especially the recent ones by Adriano Russo (for example “Uno zibaldone artificiale di Paolo Diacono: Paris, BnF , Lat. 528, fol. 121–139”, in «ALMA», 77 (2019), pp. 125–158), while perhaps the book was already in print when his “Thrax puer. Ancora sulla trasmissione di AL 709, in: Le sens des textes classiques au Moyen âge. Transmission, exégèse, réécriture, Turnhout 2022, pp. 21–40" was published. Similarly, for the analysis of the genre of the riddle-poems, of which I have also discussed a lot in my anthology, it would have been profitable to compare with the introduction of Giulia Farina's volume, Indovina chi sono: for a study of the Aenigmata Tulli, Sassari 2020. And so for other topics. But despite this renunciation of dialogue with some recent specialist literature, the volume offers many precious insights and plausible hypotheses: the interpretation of the difficult poem 12 by Peter of Pisa to Paul the Deacon as "bleibe-doch", for example, seems plausible.

In general, the entire re-reading of enigmatic poems as referring to the dynamics of access to the court circle is absolutely credible. Of particular value are the cases in which, such as Paul the Deacon 13, str. 10, 3 ut per natam regni vires tendantur in Asiam, it is shown that important information provided by poetry and not available elsewhere has not been used so far by historiographical reconstructions. In some cases perhaps the interpretation looks a bit forced, as for portantes vestrae nobis pia dona salutis, in Alc. 26,3 which may refer to simple salutationes of Charlemagne and not to healings from an illness or as the identification of Orpheus with Theodulf (p. 256), seemingly devoid of sound evidence. Conversely, equally useful (but more difficult to demonstrate) are the interpretations which, against the biographical excesses of Neff and Tomasek, remove historical value from elements of the poem by returning them to a playful frame (p. 98–99).

Stefano Ferrucci dealt with the brilliant poem 4 of Alcuin (a Stationsgedicht, according to Schaller in 2019), in an impressive master's degree thesis at the University of Siena and will return to it, developing the commentary of my 1995 anthology, in a chapter of the first of the three volumes of Carolingian poetry that a team of scholars is editing for the series of the Lorenzo Valla Foundation (Mondadori). According to his research, the journey described by Alcuin was no a paper journey (while Schmalholz's entire book tends to move the inspiration of some poems to the "virtual" level) but a real journey comparable with documents of the time.

Perhaps the most innovative chapter is 7 “Das Spiel mit dem Kreuz; Die carmina figurata”, a topic very well-known but little-practiced (after the masterful contribution of Schaller) for the Carolingian period: even the recent Parisian edition by Raban does not take into account the other figurative poems of the time. Here perhaps consulting Belles Lettres. Les figures de l'écrit au Moyen Âge / Figurationen des Schreibens im Mittelalter, published by Marion Uhlig and Martin Rohde, Wiesbaden 2019 would have been helpful.

The "main course" of the volume is chapter 8 “Das poetische Gastmahl: Die Hofpanoramen”, which deals with the famous convivial poems 25 and 27 of Theodulf and the precedents of Alcuin 26 and Angilbert 2, identifying the alignments (Alcuin and Angilbert, Theodulf, the Irish, Rabano) but giving up on finding an identification for all the characters covered by Nicknames or by ornithological symbolism (“Eine genaue Zuordnung der übrigen Vogelschar ist aber meiner Meinung nach auch nicht intendiert”, p. 252; “beweisen lässt es sich … nicht ”, p. 259). Here the specific contribution of Schmalholz, as has been said, is on the one hand the underlining of the virtual and hypothetical character of the court scenes described by Theodulf, who was absent from the court at the moment of the composition of the text, on the other one "putting into network” of the “Vortragsdichtungen” between them, although the interpretation would have been more effective by also including non-court poems (such as Theodulf's epistle to Modoin on the battle of the birds). On understanding individual points of Theodulf 27, due to lack of space, I refer to my ad locum commentary in “La poesia carolingia” and, for the sociology of meals and food symbolism, to the 1106 pages of the proceedings of the LXIII Spoleto “Settimana di Studi” (CISAM, 2016) “L’alimentazione nell’alto medioevo. Pratiche, simboli, ideologie”.

The conclusions (chapter 11, “Praelia Musarum”) summarize what has been stated in the previous 290 pages, trying to connect it, effectively, to categories of contemporary literary criticism. Some elements thus emerge: the hermeneutic perspective of the "game" with the consequent esotericity and obscurity of texts referring to specific addressees or characters; the aspiration to stylistic quality as a sign of distinction (but "quality" in the utterances of the Carolingian poets hides, in my opinion, a "school" alignment and not a poetic orientation); sharing a classical background such as “Voraussetzung für das volle Verständnis der verschiedenen Ebenen” (p. 299) so underestimating, in my opinion, the much greater weight of the late-antique background: in reality the classical references to Homer, Pindar etc. are more parade than effective; the role of Thyrsis-Meginfred; remote virtual writing as a new compositional modality; the ironic tonality, which is one of the most salient and least obvious traits of this production, and which Schmalholz brilliantly interprets in light of the theories of Kohvakka, Barbe and Brauner as an instrument of inclusion or exclusion; the role of Charles, defined here by finally breaking away from the dull habit of considering him as a clear or implicit recipient of flattering and panegyric expressions, and instead grasping him as a “Bezugspunkt” with socio-literary function of a mobile network of relationships and intuiting that the use of topoi does not configure simple imitation but intentional selection of an intonation. This picture naturally refers to the sample of 20 poetic texts out of a some hundred and must not be extended to all Carolingian poetry, not even to all the poetry of the first generation (published by Dümmler in MGH Poetae vol. I). But for that specific sample these categories prove valid and will open new critical directions.

The closure on poetry as "a means for better training, for a faith more pleasing to God, for a more efficient administration" (p. 332, my translation) and as a source, so far underused, for historical science is in fact perfectly centered for the period 780–814 and could act as a springboard for a relaunch of studies on Carolingian literature not only as a repository of data but as a valuable literary heritage.

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