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Introduction

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  06 April 2023

Hope Williard
Affiliation:
University of Lincoln
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Summary

VENANTIUS HONORIUS CLEMENTIANUS FORTUNATUS has long occupied a liminal place in writing about the early Middle Ages. He has been described as a writer whose life and work overlapped the boundary between antiquity and the Middle Ages, both the last classical and the first medieval poet. He is cited, although less frequently, as an innovative writer, blending adherence to the rules of classical metre with a Christian subject matter and worldview. His work provides a window onto the social and cultural changes brought about by the end of Roman imperial rule in the West. As one great scholar of his works put it, “only a half century separates Fortunatus and Sidonius, but they are an entire world apart.”

Throughout his decades of literary activity, Fortunatus sought and cultivated literary connections throughout the Merovingian world, with priests, bishops, kings, queens, abbesses, nuns, aristocrats, royal officials—anyone who might offer him support, friendship, and replies. Modern scholars call many of these relations by the name of friendship, and Fortunatus drew on the language and imagery of classical and Christian friendship in his work. He made particular use of the language and images of absent friendship, using it to suggest an intimacy which transcended the boundaries of space, time, and personal acquaintance. He also couched this rhetoric in the rich and long-standing language of patronage, to give distinction to his addressees and humility to himself. As this book seeks to show, looking at the poems of Venantius Fortunatus through the lens of patronage and friendship enables us to take a fresh look at the ordering and self-presentation of Merovingian society, shedding new light on the degree to which it was influenced by Roman culture.

Fortunatus has been dismissed as an opportunist who wrote flattery for undeserving kings and aristocrats. However, this book reframes him as a writer uniquely suited to his times, a professional poet who addressed the needs and wishes of his contemporaries for the prestige and sophistication of classical culture. Historians have seized on the poems as a source for Merovingian history, since they complement and contemporary with the writings of Gregory of Tours (538/539–594?). But scholars have also been stymied and frustrated by the perceived narrowness of Fortunatus’ vision, the partiality of his writings, and the seeming insincerity of his praise.

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Chapter
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Friendship in the Merovingian Kingdoms
Venantius Fortunatus and His Contemporaries
, pp. 1 - 24
Publisher: Amsterdam University Press
Print publication year: 2022

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  • Introduction
  • Hope Williard, University of Lincoln
  • Book: Friendship in the Merovingian Kingdoms
  • Online publication: 06 April 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781802700343.001
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  • Introduction
  • Hope Williard, University of Lincoln
  • Book: Friendship in the Merovingian Kingdoms
  • Online publication: 06 April 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781802700343.001
Available formats
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Save book to Google Drive

To save content items to your account, please confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your account. Find out more about saving content to Google Drive.

  • Introduction
  • Hope Williard, University of Lincoln
  • Book: Friendship in the Merovingian Kingdoms
  • Online publication: 06 April 2023
  • Chapter DOI: https://doi.org/10.1017/9781802700343.001
Available formats
×