Humour, History and Politics in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages

By Guy Halsall | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 5
Liutprand of Cremona's sense of humour
Ross Balzaretti

The relationship between humour, history and gender is still neglected by historians despite a recent fashion forbooks about humouras an historical phenomenon.1 This chapter illustrates the degree to which these three issues were linked together by Liutprand of Cremona (c.920/5–72) in his various writings.2 Liutprand's Antapodosis (or 'Book of Revenge', written 958–62), Liber de Ottone rege (965) and Relatio de legatione Constantinopolitana (969–70),3 each contain humorous passages, which are a fundamental feature of his unique literary style.4 The most developed of

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1
Humour and History, ed. K. Cameron (Oxford, 1993); A Cultural History of Humour, ed. J. Bremmer and H. Roodenberg (London, 1997), with bibliography at pp. 242–52. There is an important discussion of medieval evidence in A. Gurevich, Medieval Popular Culture: Problems of Belief and Perception (Cambridge, 1988), pp. 176–210. However, gender issues are underplayed in each of these books.
2
A useful introduction to Liutprand's work is provided by Brian Scott in his edition and translation of Liutprand's Relatio de legatione Constant in opolitana (Bristol, 1993), pp. vii–xxvii. The standard biography is J. N. Sutherland, Liudprand of Cremona (Spoleto, 1988). In addition to his own works, Liutprand also appears in eight Cremonese charters between 962 and 970 (Codex diplomaticus Langobardiae, ed. G. Porro Lambertenghi (Turin, 1873), nos. 651, 689, 695, 697, 699, 710, 717 and 718), five diplomata of Otto I (MGH Diplomata Regum et Imperatorum Germaniae 1, ed. T. Von Sickel (Hanover, 1879–84), nos. 340, 341, 374a, 380a, 531) and one Italian court case (I Placiti del 'Regnum Italiae', ed. C. Manaresi (3 vols., Rome, 1955–60), vol. II, no. 164).
3
Joseph Becker's old edition (Liutprandi Opera, MGH SRG (Hanover, 1915)) is still useful for Antapodosis. Essential editorial discussions are F. K¨ohler, 'Beitr ¨ age zur Textkritik Liutprands von Cremona', Neues Archiv 8 (1883), pp. 49–89; J. Becker, Textsgeschichte Liudprands von Cremona (Munich, 1908); also his 'Zurhands criftlichen ¨uberlieferung Liudprands von Cremona', Neues Archiv 36 (1910/11), pp. 209–11; P. Chiesa, 'Un descriptus smascherato. Sulla posizione stemmatica della “vulgata” di Liutprando', Filologia Mediolatina 1 (1994), pp. 81 –110; also his Liutprando di Cremona e il codice di Frisinga Clm 6388 (Autographia Medii Aevi 1) (Turnhout, 1994). The most important examinations of Liutprand's historical style in addition to Leyser's articles are: G. Arnaldi, 'Liutprando e la storiografia contemporanea nell'Italia centro-settentrionale', Settimane di Spoleto 17(2)(1970), pp. 497– 519 and 719–22; H. Hofman, 'Profil der lateinischen Historiographie im zehnten Jahrhundert', Settimane di Spoleto 38 (1991), pp. 837–905; and N. Staubach, 'Historia oder satira? Zur literarischen Stellung der Antapodosis Liudprands von Cremona', in Lateinische Kultur im X Jahrhundert, ed. W. Berschin (Stuttgart, 1991), pp. 461 –87.
4
These passages are (with 'keywords' in brackets): Antapodosis 1.1 (faceti Tullii; utili comoediarum risu); 1.11 (memoria risuque dignas egit; subridens igitur imperator); 1.12 (egit ludum; pro hoc ludo; sed hilarem reddidit; magno est imperator cachinno inflatus; gaudio); 1.22 (redit hilarior); 1.33 (cantus ludicres); 1.41 (temolenti post nonnulla inutilia tragodimata id est cantiones); 2.59 (hyronica hac responsione); 2.63 (riso omnes emoririer); 3.35 (risum facile; risum; comoedia; ridiculus); 3.41 (fabulae vero ludum); 3.52 (urbanitate); 4.10 (ludibrium; cachinno commoti; risum); 4.12 (hilarior redditus; ha! ha! he!); 4.15 (facetia; Tullium facetia); 5.31 (cachynno); 6.9 (magno inflatus cachinno); and 6.10 (subridens itaque imperator). Liber de Ottone rege 14 (a linguistic play on a double negative). Relatio 3 (description of Nicephorus); 10 (another description of Nicephorus); 21 (ut de vobis ludum haberet); 23 (ad risum me non parum illexit); 28 (description of Nicephorus' father); and 63 (wordplay on capones and caupones). Facetia, of course, became an important genre for joke-telling in Renaissance Italy; see C. Speroni, Wit and Wisdom of the Italian Renaissance (Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1964).

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