30th Annual Conference of the Center for Medieval Studies
Fordham University, Lincoln Center, New York City: March 27-28, 2010

Jonathan Grove, "History, Tradition, and Authorial Strategy in Ælnoth of Canterbury's Gesta et passio"

The oldest surviving narrative writings from Scandinavia consist of two Latin hagiographical texts produced in Odense between 1095 and about 1120. The anonymous Passio sancti Canuti regis et martyris and Ælnoth of Canterbury’s Gesta Swenomagni regis et filiorum eius et passio gloriosissimi Canuti regis et martyris describe the murder in 1086 of Knud IV of Denmark, and his subsequent elevation to sainthood. These texts embody the emergence of new ideologies, institutions and political relationships in a time of transformation in post-Viking-Age Scandinavia, as Christian rulers struggled to fix their authority, assisted by the nascent structures of the church.

Focusing here on Ælnoth’s Gesta, I will show how we may use the Odense hagiographies to shed new light on the reception and redeployment of a foreign learned culture in Denmark against the background of contemporary political and ecclesiastical turmoil in Scandinavia and northern Europe. Historians have largely contented themselves with extracting a few narrative details from these texts rather than considering the authors’ context, motivations and stylistic or narrative choices as historically conditioned; scholars of medieval Scandinavian literature, meanwhile, have tended to remain studiously preoccupied with vernacular writings. I shall attempt to show how we may profitably re-engage with these early Scandinavian Latin texts, and more closely define their connections to their broader literary and historical environments, in Denmark, England and Flanders.

 

Last modified: Feb. 16, 2010
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