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Antonín (2015 Congress)

Robert Antonín
(Filozofická Fakulta, Ostravská Univerzita, Ostrava)
“Wise as Solomon / Cruel as Rehoboam”:
Ancient and Biblical Models for Portraying Good and Bad Rulers
in Middle Central Europe

Abstract of Paper Presented at the 50th International Congress on Medieval Studies (Kalamazoo, May 2015)
Session on “The ‘Good’, the ‘Bad’, and the ‘Ugly’ Ruler:  Ideal Kingship in the Middle Ages”
Co-sponsored by the Research Group on Manuscript Evidence and
the Center for Medieval and Early Modern Studies at the University of Florida
Organized by Mildred Budny (Research Group on Manuscript Evidence) and Florin Curta (University of Florida)

2015 Congress Events Announced and 2015 Congress Events Accomplished

[First published on 19 April 2015]

Ancient and Biblical traditions held a very important place in the development of the concept of the ideal sovereign in the medieval West.  In matters of political philosophy, medieval authors drew on the works of philosophers of Late Antiquity and of the first exegetes, who transmitted to the Middle Ages a developed ethical system based on a combination of cardinal and Christian virtues, a system that was transformed and projected into the public space in the person of the ruler.

At the same time, medieval authors made use of numerous cases of exemplary and specific cases of (predominantly) historical personages who became, over the course of centuries, symbols of the individual powers of the human soul as well as personifications of good or bad rule.  Their imitation – imitatio (for the present purposes, with no distinction between real life and the literary level) – represents one of the prevailing principles for life and art of the High Middle Ages.  In this context, the personages of mythical Greek heroes came to life on the pages of chronicles, Mirrors for Princes, ethical treatises, exempla, and other literary monuments of the Middle Ages.  Achilles and Hector, participants in the Trojan War, were at the forefront, but the renowned Heracles and Alexander of Macedonia were not ignored either.  Apart from them, some Roman emperors, namely Nero or Julian the Apostate, frequently played the part of examples of poor rule.  Next to them, Constantine the Great was portrayed throughout the Middle Ages as the ideal Christian emperor and victor over paganism.

At the same time, models “borrowed” by authors from Biblical stories also speak to medieval recipients from literary monuments.  Old Testament characters, not always royal ones, are linked to certain type of behaviour and personality traits already by the early exegesis.  After Cain, who was the first to create social space (by means of the foundation of the first town), Noah’s grandson, Nimrod, was, according to the exegetes, the first human to receive God’s consent to rule over other people.  At the same time, he became the prototype of an Old Testament tyrant on account of his pride and his role as the planner of the construction of the Tower of Babel. Irenaeus of Lyon, for example, names Moses as Nimrod’s opposite:  Moses became the leader of the Hebrews not with God’s consent, but directly based on God’s will.  Saul assumed a similar position in the exegetes’ view.  At the same time, however, the introduction and maintenance of law in human society is connected with the person of Moses.  According to the exegetes, Judge Samuel and King David also stand by his side in this respect.  The persons of Absolon and Solomon, in turn, were connected with the ideal of maintaining peaceful coexistence in the human world. Within the framework of medieval political thought, such models became categories in themselves, subsumed as the incarnation of the cardinal virtues — Justice, Fortitude, Temperance, Prudence, Charity, Faith, and Hope.

The adaptation of these patterns by medieval historians and their elastic adaptation to concrete pictures of rulers will be the subject of this paper.  I will focus on the use of exemplary characters in Czech sources from the 12th–14th centuries, namely in the Chronicle of the Bohemians by Cosmas of Prague, as well as the so-called Second Continuation of Cosmas and the Chronicon Aulae Regiae (“Zbraslav Chronicle”), compiled between 1305 and 1339 by Ota of Thuringia and Peter of Zittau.

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  1. […] 3. Robert Antonín (Department of History, Ostravská Univerzita, Czech Republic) ‘Wise as Solomon / Cruel as Rehoboam: Ancient and Biblical Models for Portraying Good and Bad Rulers in Medieval Central Europe’ Abstract of Paper […]