The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York

The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York

The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York

The Bishops, Kings, and Saints of York

Excerpt

When J. K. Huysmans described the literary tastes of his anti-hero, des Esseintes, he singled out those Latin poets who, in the eyes of an orthodox public, seemed most obscure and boring. Commodian and Orientius, Dracontius and Tatwine could engage des Esseintes's perverse attention. But at Alcuin and the authors of his time even des Esseintes seems to have drawn the line: 'son attirance diminuait . . . peu ravi, en somme, par la pesante masse des latinistes carlovingiens, les Alcuin et les Éginhard . . .' (A Rebours, Garnier-Flammarion, p. 93).

Scholarly opinion, almost paradoxically, shares des Esseintes's view of Alcuin as an imaginative writer. 'Paradoxically' because Alcuin's name is generally the first among authors of the Carolingian period that springs to mind and to print, and yet there is little interest in him as a literary figure. This paradox can be partly explained by recent scholarship on Alcuin which, in its variety and high quality, creates an illusion of issues settled and of comprehensiveness achieved. The present state of edition and interpretation of Alcuin's major poetical work provides a measure of the neglect which this area of his writing has received.

A century has passed since the last published edition of Alcuin's poem on York, and it marks no dramatic textual improvement over the editio princeps of 1691. The poem on York is one of our chief literary sources for eighth-century Northumbrian history and for Alcuin's biography; it occupies a significant place in the development of Anglo-Latin and Carolingian literature; its interest as a witness to early medieval scholarship is recognized, but there exists no sustained attempt at interpretation of any one of these aspects of Alcuin's work. The Latinity of the author often regarded as the principal agent of Charlemagne's linguistic reforms has never been studied, nor has his cultural background, as reflected in this text, been systematically examined in its Insular and Carolingian contexts. There would thus seem . . .

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