Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Capture of Constantinople: The Hystoria Constantinopolitana of Gunther of Pairis

Academic journal article The Catholic Historical Review

The Capture of Constantinople: The Hystoria Constantinopolitana of Gunther of Pairis

Article excerpt

ANDREs,ARD J. (Ed. and Trans.). The Capture of Constantinople: The Hystoria Constantinopolitana of Gunther of Pairis. (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. 1997. Pp. xiv, 194. $36.50 cloth; $16.50 paper.)

Gunther of Pairis (ca. 1150-1210?), a Cistercian monk of the Alsatian abbey of Pairis, composed four known Latin works. By far the most famous of these was the Hystoria Constantinopolitana, a contemporary account of the Fourth Crusade (1201-1204) written before the end of 1205 and based on the recollections of Gunther's crusading abbot, Martin. Along with the memoirs of Geoffrey de Villehardouin and Robert de Clari, Gunther's account is one of the most extensive descriptions of this pivotal event. But the Hystoria Constantinopolitana is more than that. Not content simply to report a series of remembrances, Gunther crafted a sophisticated epic, using language and literary structure to place the diversion of the crusade and subsequent conquest of Constantinople within the context of God's mercy, judgment, and plan for humanity. As a piece of literature, the Hystoria Constantinopolitana represents a remarkable achievement of twelfth-century humanism. That a relatively unknown monk produced it in a smallish monastery in an out-of-the-way location makes it all the more remarkable.

Despite its importance, the Hystoria Constantinopolitana remained devilishly hard to come by until very recently. It is hard to imagine someone better qualified to rescue this work from obscurity than Alfred J. Andrea. For many years, Andrea has trained his historical and linguistic expertise on the so-called "minor" sources of the Fourth Crusade, publishing definitive editions and translations of the works of the Anonymous of Soissons, the Anonymous of Halberstadt, and the Devastatio Constantinopolitana. …

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