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

ISBN 9780367459710
Published March 9, 2021 by Routledge
256 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 participating in alternative modes of history-writing that functioned in a larger ecology of narrative forms, including Latinate Christian history and the 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 nationhood or heroic masculinity, and sometimes for challenging these paradigms. The more complex of these historical visions actively meditated on their own relationship to truthfulness and fictionality while also performing sophisticated (and often subversive) cultural and socio-emotional work for its audiences. By rethinking canonical categories of historiographical discourse from within medieval textual productions, Vernacular Verse Histories in Early Medieval England and Francia: The Bard and the Rag-Picker aims to recover a part of the wide array of narrative poetic forms through which medieval communities made sense of their past and structured their socio-emotional experience.

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 literary-historical scholar working on the vernacular poems and cultures of early medieval England and Francia. He has taught medieval literature and Old English and has shared his research on Beowulf, medieval rhizomes of narratives, and vernacular theories of truth and history in talks and publications. Catalin is currently a postdoctoral researcher at New Europe College, Bucharest, where he studies the socio-emotional economy of shame and honour in medieval heroic poetry. An essay collection titled Vera Lex Historiae?: Constructions of Truth in Medieval Historical Narrative (co-edited 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 novel 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