Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary

Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary

Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary

Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People: A Historical Commentary

Synopsis

Since time immemorial, The Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the British People (completed in 791) has been recognized as a masterpiece of medieval historical literature. This companion to the landmark 1969 Clarendon Press edition is a new commentary by the late Professor J.M. Wallace-Hadrill. Among the finest and most mature examples of Wallace-Hadrill's scholarship, the commentary unifies and enriches the findings of numerous modern scholars.

Excerpt

Note: Asterisks () indicate passages on which further comment may be found in the Addenda.

PRAEFATIO

p. 2, l. 1. Gloriosissimo . . . Ceoluulfo. This prefatory letter is not strictly a dedication but a submission to King Ceolwulf, though a wider readership is already envisaged. Abbot Albinus must have had a copy at about the same time (Plummer, i. 3, for text). As to content, the letter owes something to prefatory material known to Bede from earlier writings, not all historical. From other prefaces it differs markedly (cf. Isidore prologue to his Gothic History, probably unknown to Bede; and Orosius' dedication of his History to Augustine, which Bede certainly did know). It comes a little nearer to the general preface of Gregory of Tours to his History, which, for all its brevity, at least makes the point that Gregory meant 'to hand down the memory of the past to future generations, not leaving untold the conflicts of the wicked and those who lived righteously'. Gregory does not here cite his sources, though his continuator, Fredegar, does so in his own prologue. Bede could have known both texts. They were sometimes transmitted as one collection. Nearer still comes the preface of Eusebius to his Ecclesiastical History, where he says something of the plan of his work, of the reason for its composition, and in general terms of the existence of source-material. With this preface in Latin translation Bede was familiar. That of Gildas to his De Excidio, with which again Bede was familiar, has nothing in common with Bede's preface. Their objectives were distinct. In the end, Bede's preface is very much his own; and with it he sends the whole History to a king who had already read it and now, at his request, has it back in revised and completed form for copying (perhaps at Lindisfarne?). The . . .

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