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Schwedler (2015 Congress)

Gerald Schwedler
(Historisches Seminar, Universität Zürich)
“Speech is Silver; Silence is Golden”:
Usurpers’ Deeds and Historians’ Verdicts in Merovingian and Carolingian Chronicles

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

[Published on 23 April 2015]

‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’  Ludwig Wittgenstein’s dictum emphasized the claim that there are certain events that cannot be represented in language.  Certainly, he was neither the first nor the last to emphasize the impossibility of words representing particular meanings.  However, his apodictic dualism, to speak or to be silent, ignores the many possible shades of rhetorical elements oscillating between the spoken and the unspoken.

For a long time now, modern researchers in the field of Early Medieval History have occupied themselves with piecing together History from historiographical narratives, while making a number of assumptions and conjectures about matters that were not mentioned expressis verbis.  Gaps have been conceived as unfortunate errors that had to be filled by means of modern reasoning.  The “linguistic turn” shifted the emphasis to language and narrative constructions, and put the focus on authors, their aims and their methods. Obviously, medieval historians left out material variously by accident, on purpose, through ignorance, or by explicitly intentional omissions (“I will not go any further to tell . . .”).  However, gaps and silences have not yet been dealt with as primary field of interest, although it is generally agreed that silences can be most revealing.

The paper will therefore approach methodologically the issue of marked and unmarked silences.  On the basis of two prominent works of historiography, the Decem libri Historiarum by Gregory of Tours, composed during the times of the Merovingian kings, and the anonymous Annales regni Francorum, written during the times of Charlemagne, I will present evidence for reflective usage of silence.  Especially when dealing with kings and their successes and defeats, both of these historical works do not only use rhetorical devices such as praeteritio, omissio or exaltatio derived from ancient Ciceronian tradition.  From the omission in carefully constructed passages of particular words, names, or events, one can gauge the importance of remaining silent about certain usurpers and rebellions.  At the same time, other stories concerning antiroyalist insurrection were expatiated, in an effort to cover up less favourable elements.  Silence, as will be shown, is a matter not only of being quiet but also of obscuring and concealing by means of many words.