Lecture Title: "The Dark Age of Herodotus: Shards of a Fugitive History in Medieval Europe"
Abstract: The European Middle Ages were a "dark age" for the ancient Greek historian,
Herodotus of Helicarnassus (fl. 5th cent. BCE), whose Historiae were unknown in the
Latin language until the fifteenth century. Unlike the works of other ancient Greek
authors like Homer, the Historiae inspired no Latin epitomes and were unknown in the
curriculum of medieval monastic schools. Nevertheless, despite the absence of a Latin
translation, medieval authors were familiar with many of the stories told by Herodotus.
How can we account for this? Using as a case study the tale of King Cyrus'
vengeance against the Ganges River for drowning his favorite horse, this paper
investigates the modes of transmission that carried this and other tales of Herodotus
from Greek into Latin, from the Mediterranean across the Alps into northern Europe. It
argues that the dismemberment of the Historiae into literary shards in Roman antiquity
and the repurposing of those shards by late antique authors of historical compendia
and epitomes like Orosius made many of these ancient stories available to medieval
Christian readers long after the name of Herodotus had been forgotten. In doing so,
this article illuminates the Stygian channels by which knowledge of Herodotus'
Historiae migrated from into the cultural repertoire of monastic thinkers like Abbot Peter
the Venerable of Cluny (c. 1090-1156).
Bio: Scott Bruce is an historian of religion and culture in the early and central Middle Ages (ca. 400-1200 CE). He is a specialist on the history of the abbey of Cluny. His first book, Silence and Sign Language in Medieval Monasticism: The Cluniac Tradition (c. 900-1200) was published in 2007 by Cambridge University Press (UK). This book explores the rationales for religious silence in early medieval abbeys and the use of nonverbal forms of communication among monks when rules of silence forbade them from speaking. His second monograph, Cluny and the Muslims of La Garde-Freinet: Hagiography and the Problem of Islam in Medieval Europe, was published by Cornell University Press in 2015. This book is a study of the representation of the Muslims of La Garde-Freinet in Cluniac hagiography in the eleventh century and the influence of these depictions on polemical works written against Islam by Abbot Peter the Venerable of Cluny in the twelfth century. Professor Bruce has recently translated a collection of medieval Latin ghost stories for Penguin Classics: The Penguin Book of the Undead: Fifteen Hundred Years of Supernatural Encounters from the Romans to the Renaissance. His new book, The Relatio metrica de duobus ducibus: A Twelfth-Century Cluniac Poem on Prayer for the Dead (co-authored with Christopher A. Jones) will be published by Brepols this winter.