“Foreign Patrimony”

William of Malmesbury has an interesting take on the common Medieval practice of spicing up Saints’ Lives with effusive praise modeled after ancient canons of rhetoric: “…anyone who tries to exalt verbally what is in itself of great importance wastes his efforts. Indeed, while thus trying to praise, he rather slanders and diminishes; for he will appear to be decking himself out with foreign patrimony because he cannot let his subject speak for itself.”:”(Cited in Monika Otter, “1066: The Moment of Transition in Two Narratives of the Norman Conquest,” Speculum, Vol. 74, No. 3. [Jul., 1999], pg. 577.)”:

I’m not sure I agree. Most Saints Lives that I’ve read are enjoyable in large part because of their consistently flowery rhetorical embellishments of “mere” narrative. As well, these show an ardent desire to remain connected with the best of the past, in this case, the best of the classical rhetors of Greece and Rome. The Medievals wrote this way for a reason, and it really makes their writing fun to read. Not to mention that we could learn a few things from their technical proficiency at writing well.

So, I respectfully disagree with William of Malmesbury on this point. Rhetoric is not “foreign patrimony” and does not (necessarily) result in slandering or diminishing its object.

This entry was posted in 12th Century, De Rhetorica, Writing History. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

* Copy This Password *

* Type Or Paste Password Here *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>