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Level 7

7AAH1024 Carolingian Literature: Politics and Imagination in an Age of Anxiety

Credit Value: 20
Module convenor/tutor: Dr Alice Rio

Teaching pattern: 10 x 2-hour weekly seminars
Availability: Please see module list for relevant year
Assessment: 1 x 4,000-word essay

Students are reassessed in the failed elements of assessment and by the same methods as the first attempt.

The modules offered in each academic year are subject to change in line with staff availability and student demand: there is no guarantee every module will run. Module descriptions and information may vary between years.

This module will introduce students to works of literature produced during the reigns of Charlemagne and his successors. The Carolingian empire was a moment of bold political experimentation, and turned the exercise of royal power into an ambitious new project. At the same time, it was a time of profound introspection, handwringing and soulsearching about what it meant to have power, what kings should be like, what a Christian should and shouldn’t do, what it meant to be good or bad, and what exactly it was that God wanted human beings to do about it. All this worrying was filtered through different literary genres, and generated a flourishing of often highly personal and emotional works, which, taken together, also add up to a brand new departure in Western political thought.

We will focus on a different genre each week, through close analysis of one complete work in English translation (or in Latin for those who are able!). These works will include, for instance, the biographies of Charlemagne and his son; histories, with Nithard’s tortured account of the civil wars which pitted brother against brother and Frank against Frank; books on good conduct, such as that written by the noblewoman Dhuoda for her young son at the royal court; heroic poetry; dream narratives and visions of the otherworld (several of which featured Charlemagne in hell); admonition literature, often involving intensely abusive criticism of kings themselves; letters to personal friends.

The schedule of classes proposed will follow a (roughly) chronological sequence, so students have a better chance to get a grip on the political background. If students are interested in a particular work not featured on the class list, I am more than happy to consider special requests.

Suggested introductory reading

M. Costambeys, M. Innes and S. MacLean, The Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2011)

R. McKitterick ed., The New Cambridge Medieval History vol. 2 (Cambridge, 1995)

R. McKitterick ed., Carolingian Culture: Emulation and Innovation (Cambridge, 1994)

P. Wormald and J.L. Nelson eds, Lay Intellectuals in the Carolingian World (Cambridge, 2007)

M. De Jong, The Penitential State (Cambridge, 2009)

P. Dutton, The Politics of Dreaming in the Carolingian Empire (Lincoln, Nebraska, 1994)

P. Dutton, Charlemagne’s Mustache and Other Cultural Clusters of a Dark Age (New York, 2004)

P. Godman, Poets and Emperors (Oxford, 1987)

P. Godman, Poetry of the Carolingian Renaissance (London, 1985)

P. Dutton, Charlemagne’s Courtier: The Complete Einhard (Peterborough, ON, 1998)

T.F.X. Noble, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious: the lives by Einhard, Notker, Ermoldus, Thegan, and The Astronomer (Philadelphia, PA, 2009)

P. Dutton, Carolingian Civilization, 2nd edn (Peterborough, ON, 2004)

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