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Chapter 25 - Writing in the Tragic Mode

from Part IV - Genre

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  19 December 2019

Jennifer Jahner
Affiliation:
California Institute of Technology
Emily Steiner
Affiliation:
University of Pennsylvania
Elizabeth M. Tyler
Affiliation:
University of York
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Summary

In its most concise medieval rendering “history is a narration of things done” (historia est narratio rei gestae) as Isidore of Seville claimed. And histories, he further claimed, “are true matters that happened” (sunt res verae quae factae sunt). Yet in the narration of historical events, the writer imposes form on the events he is narrating. And in narrating tragic history, the writer is under pressure to adapt form in order to convey that tragic events have meaning because to say that they lack meaning would make a mockery of God’s providence. At the same time, the temptation to impose form on history in order to provide meaning risks fictionalizing history and rendering the narration of history untrue. This essay examines how medieval chroniclers from Rufinus of Aquileia (fourth and fifth centuries) to Thomas Walsingham (fourteenth century) grappled with this problem—often to quite different ends.

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Chapter
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Medieval Historical Writing
Britain and Ireland, 500–1500
, pp. 437 - 449
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2019

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