Liudprand of Cremona – Late Carolingian “Othering” and a Disdain for Eros

19 Jan

I’ve been reading a lot of Carolingian sources, in translation of course. I’m close to finishing up on what I already have with only the Histories of Richer of Saint-Remi* left. I do have some suggestions for others to read which I’ll look for. Once I finish these I’ll begin going through secondary sources. I have a fair number but almost all were bought in 2012 or earlier so my book-buying will pick up. I took a temporary Carolingian break to prepare for about 10 days in Central Europe but am back to Richer.

I’ve had this urge to comment about various items mentioned in the sources. In particular the different opinions on the Judicial Duel are intriguing. And there is a lot on the overall legal system, surveys, the level of involvement of lay rulers in bishop and even Pope selection and the number of times bishops are mentioned as leading men into battle – or at least to it. But what I’ve read is such a small amount of what’s out there that I’m holding off until what I have to say will be more informed.

Instead I’m going to talk about a 10th century author who is probably the most colorful I’ve read this side of Ausonius (4th century Roman poet), Liudprand (or Liutprand) of Cremona.

Liudprand was Bishop of Cremona in Northern Italy and as such part of the Eastern Frankish/early Holy Roman Empire. He was born around 920 and died about 972. This was a period when there was a lot going on politically and Liudprand got caught up in some of it. His family was allied with King Hugh of Arles who happened to be involved in a long-running conflict with Berengar II. Well, eventually Berengar was able to defeat Hugh and become King. In Book V of Retribution Liudprand, without going into detail, relates that his interests took a hit from this. He managed to survive and once Otto I became King in 961 recovered much of his status and was appointed Bishop of Cremona, a position he held from 962 (961?) until his death.

The publication I have includes four documents. There is a favorable account of Emperor Otto I and a homily. But the two longest pieces are those written by a pissed off Liudprand. One of these is titled, Retribution or Antapodosis. The other is Embassy, which is a report to Otto I’s wife, Empress Adelheid, of a trip of his to Constantinople on behalf of Otto in 968 where he, Liudprand, was not well treated.

Both of these have other things going for them than what I’m about to talk about. In Retribution, Liudprand serves as something of a chronicler of events in and around the Eastern Frankish lands from 888-950. The Embassy has a lot of details of the court in Constantinople, even though much of it is portrayed negatively.

However I’m going to concentrate on Liudprand’s more enthusiastic “othering” of some individuals with a bit of a look at the sexual aspects (let’s go for views!). Or I think you could characterize this as their barbarization.

Othering has a long and storied tradition in classical and medieval literature. Among Carolingians, one of the more well-known examples comes from Theodulf of Orleans in his poem, Ad Carolum regem (To King Charles). This is dated to 796. Lines 81-234 are devoted to various individuals associated with the Carolingian Court. In most cases he is complimentary though there are some subtle digs, i.e., “Let Father Albinus (Alcuin) be seated to speak pious phrases, And eagerly attack the food with both hand and mouth,” a not-so-subtle accusation of gluttony.1

However some of Theodulf’s characters receive more pointed criticism. One of these is Wibod. In 2010 I attended a Kalamazoo Session where Paul Kershaw presented a paper on him. The translation Kershaw used helps make the point I’m going to finish with more pointedly so I’ll return to it but Theodulf describes Wibod as,

·      banging his thick head

·      possessed of a sidling and stuttering gait

·      having a swollen belly

·      resembling Vulcan (crippled God) in gait and
Jove in voice

He reserves even greater criticism for an Irishman, Cadac-Andreas, but I’ll leave this alone. In any case, Wibod is anything but the flower of the Carolingian Court and lacks the graces that might be expected of a civilized man deserving of inclusion in this select company.2

However I will refer to Kershaw’s translation for, “Perhaps the large membered hero, Wibod, will hear these verses.”

This was the period of the Carolingian Renaissance. The ancient classics were again treasured after having been scorned for a period of time – see Jerome of Antioch for what I think is the most pointed criticism. One of the characteristics appears to be a return to Plato’s theory of the tripartite soul. Plato was often thought by the Church to have been granted wisdom by God, but only so much wisdom as men of that time were ready for. In other words, what he wrote was correct but incomplete. This theory is earlier than this period and was proposed by Augustine but is not something I have run into in Merovingian sources.

The Theory of the Tripartite Soul is that the soul is immortal but divided into three parts:

    • The thymus, related to the spirit

    • The logos, related to reason

    • The eros, located in the stomach, related to desires and appetites

So we see Wibod described as both being “large-membered” and as having a swollen belly. According to Theodulf, in Wibod eros is dominant rather than reason (better) or spirit (best). Wibod’s actions are driven by his baser desires. He is not the ideal Carolingian.

Liutprand takes this literary tool and, while maybe not raising its level, uses it frequently. He describes the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phocas as, “The King of the Greeks is long-haired, tunic-wearing, long-sleeved, hooded, lying, fraudulent, merciless, fox-like, haughty, falsely humble, cheap, greedy, eating garlic, onions, and leeks, drinking bathwater.” Er, OK. You go Liudprand.

He directly contrasts the Eastern Emperor with Otto I in the same passage, “by contrast the king of the Franks is nicely shorn, in attire that differs from women’s clothing, hat-wearing, truthful, guileless, quite merciful when appropriate, strict when necessary, always truly humble, never cheap, not a consumer of garlic, onions, and leeks so that he might thereby spare animals and accumulate money, having sold them instead of eating them.”3

With Retribution having been written as something of a tell-all it is unsurprising that this is where Liudprand’s anger really shines. Now for those who think this nothing but a rant, it is not. Sure, it presents an often biased view but it is also a good source for events of the period. The people Liudprand was writing for would have been knowledgeable enough to catch him in a complete fabrication. And while he certainly mentions sex a lot he is at least somewhat gender-neutral in his criticism. Female infidelity is certainly blasted however he is very critical of married men straying from their marriage beds and points to cases where this leads to their downfall.

My main point here is how sexual appetites were seen as a symptom of men’s (and women’s) lower and baser desires. During this period we see the de-sexualization of revered individuals. I’ll apologize for not providing a quote but some modern historians, particularly when discussing hagiography, mention three sexes; male, female, and Christian – or genderless. Basically these people have reached the point of holiness where their sex has become meaningless. Wibod is an example of the opposite of this.

One of the ways this was characterized in art and literature was by de-emphasizing individual sexual characteristics, both primary and secondary. Parts of the body that might be associated with sexuality are minimally represented or absent. The best contemporary (nearly) example of this I could find is from the Vivian Bible. This was an illustrated Bible given to Charles the Bald by Count Vivian of Tours in 846. There are illustrations in it of the Temptation of Eve. In it (top image) both she and Adam are shown nude and so de-sexualized that to my eye only by facial features can Eve be shown as female. Interestingly, in the same Bible, as Eve reaches her hand out to pick the apple from The Tree of Knowledge, already her breasts are larger, her hips more curved, and both hers and Adam’s bellies are larger (lower image). I can’t crawl inside the head of the illustrator but given what we know of idealized sexualization and the descriptions of lust (eros centered in the belly), the images are at least suggestive.

Temptation of EveTemptation of Eve, Vivian Bible

Into this comes Liudprand’s description of a Priest, Dominic. According to Liudprand, Dominic was having a relationship with Willa, the wife of Berengar (who had done Liudprand wrong). One night Dominic blundered in his pursuit of the Count’s wife and was captured. Willa, resorting to self-preservation, immediately accused him of impropriety (though not with her but other women of the court). Eventually, following a series of negative characterizations, Liudprand relates, “Thus the priestlet [Dominic], since he neighed at the servants of the mistress, was sent away with his manly attributes cut off; and the mistress was loved all the more by Berengar. Those, however, who made him a eunuch said that the mistress loved him for a good reason, as he proved to carry massive priapic weapons.4

Now obviously Dominic isn’t the only or even main target of this passage. Willa’s infidelity, both as a wife and to her lover, are on display. Most important is likely the characterization of Berengar as a simpleton so easily beguiled by his wife. However Dominic’s characterization also shows his enslavement to his desires as well as Willa being controlled by her sexual appetites.

There are numerous examples of Liudprand’s negative characterizations of individuals, particularly in Embassy. However this is a case where eros is clearly at the forefront and where someone’s enslavement to his or her lusts is highlighted.

*Remi should have an accent over the “e.” I tried using keyboard shortcuts for Microsoft diacritics and struck out. Working on it but I’m afraid they won’t be in this post. The backup – I am using it for bulleted lists since the html UL and LI tags aren’t working, is to type stuff up in Word and copy/paste. Friggin’ WordPress . . . But it’s free.

Liudprand of Cremona, Paolo Squatriti, trans., The Complete Works of Liutprand of Cremona. Washington: Catholic University of America Press (2007). ISBN: 978-0813215068.

Theodore M. Andersson, trans., Theodulf of Orléans: The Verse. Andersson, trans. Tempe: Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies (2014). ISBN: 978-0866985017.

Richer of Saint-Remi, Justin Lake, trans., Histories, Volume I. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (Dumbarton Oaks) (2011). ISBN: 978-0674060036.

Richer of Saint-Remi, Justin Lake, trans., Histories, Volume II. Cambridge: Harvard University Press (Dumbarton Oaks) (2011). ISBN: 978-0674061590.

1 Theodulf, Ad Carolum regem, 191-192

2 Theodulf, Ad Carolum regem, 205-212

3 Liudprand, Embassy, 40

4 Liudprand, Retribution V.32

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Posted by on January 19, 2023 in Society and Social Structure


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