Vernacular Verse Histories in Early Medieval England and Francia : The Bard and the Rag-picker book cover
1st Edition

Vernacular Verse Histories in Early Medieval England and Francia
The Bard and the Rag-picker

  • Available for pre-order. Item will ship after March 3, 2021
ISBN 9780367459710
March 3, 2021 Forthcoming by Routledge
280 Pages

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Book Description

In a provocative take on Germanic heroic poetry, Taranu reads texts like Beowulf, Maldon, and the Waltharius as embodying alternative modes of history-writing that functioned in a larger ecology of narrative forms including Latinate Christian history and Biblical epic. These modes employed the conceit of their participating in a tradition of oral verse for a variety of purposes, from political propaganda to constructing origin myths for early medieval nationalism and heroic masculinity. The more sophisticated of these historical visions actively meditated on its own relationship to historicity and fictionality while doing sophisticated (and often subversive) cultural and socio-emotional work for its audiences. By taking this approach, Vernacular Verse Histories in Early Medieval England and Francia recovers a part of the wide array of forms through which medieval communities made sense of their past and the richly varied understandings of truthfulness and witness that counted as history.

Table of Contents


Chapter One: Beyond Germanic Heroic Poetry: Poets, Historians, and the Gods of Our Fathers

Chapter Two: What We Talk About When We Talk About History: The Old English Vocabulary of Narrative and Historical Representation

Chapter Three: ‘Truth is the trickiest’: Vernacular Theories of Truth in Early Medieval Culture

Chapter Four: Why is There Something Rather than Nothing?: The Social Logic of Frankish Verse Histories

Chapter Five: Beowulf in Times of Anxiety: The Archaeology of Emotions in Old English Verse History

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Catalin Taranu is a wandering scholar working on the vernacular poems and cultures of early medieval England and Francia. He has taught medieval literature and Old English and has written and shared his research on Beowulf, medieval rhizomes of narratives, and vernacular theories of truth and historical representation. Catalin is currently a postdoctoral researcher at New Europe College, Bucharest, where he studies the emotional economy of shame and violence in medieval honour cultures. An essay collection titled Vera Lex Historiae?: Constructions of Truth in Medieval Historical Narrative (coedited with Michael Kelly and forthcoming from Punctum's Gracchi Books) explores strategies of constructing, authorizing, and assessing truth in medieval historical narrative.



"The de facto pigeon-holing of Old English poetry as 'literature' rather than 'history' has impeded our understanding of early medieval north-west European culture for a century, and although Old English poetry has been studied comparatively with Old Norse and Latin literature to great effect, it is far too seldom read in relation to the rest of the early medieval West Germanic poetic corpus. This study boldly tackles both these problems, producing an array of fascinating insights on points of detail alongside new thinking on how history works." Alaric Hall, University of Leeds


"This study offers a completely fresh way of approaching the function of heroic poetry within Germanic societies, and enabled me to read Beowulf with fresh eyes. Taranu's ground-breaking and innovative work is likely to remain essential reading for many years to come." Ralph O’Connor, University of Aberdeen


"This book is a worthy contribution to a vital and ongoing conversation about the socio-cultural significance of Old English vernacular poetics and a welcome intervention into very topical debates surrounding nation, masculinity, and race." Manish Sharma, Concordia University