Knowledge for Its Own Sake? A Practical Humanist in the Carolingian Age

Knowledge for Its Own Sake? A Practical Humanist in the Carolingian Age

Stofferahn , Steven A. (Assistant Professor of History, Indiana State University)

The Heroic Age: A Journal of Early Medieval Northwestern Europe, Vol.13 (2010)


Abbot Lupus of Ferrières (c.805–c.862) is often hailed as the most accomplished classical scholar of the Carolingian era. While few would doubt his literary aptitude, such praise has come at a cost as generations have championed Lupus as a heroic humanist in an otherwise dark age. The present article seeks to reposition this interesting figure within his more immediate environs, highlighting Lupus’s purposeful use of classical wisdom toward intensely practical ends.

This ninth-century author had no way of knowing, of course, what impact this one statement would have on his future image. Gaining stature far exceeding most of his contemporaries (including, in some respects, his predecessor Alcuin), Lupus would come to be hailed as “one of the great humanists” of all time (Regenos 1949, 57). Yet what can such a title mean for students of early medieval literary culture? Though it carries with it a certain luster, the title “humanist” as applied to a scholar like Lupus can lead to confusion and misconception, for to view this important ninth-century man simply as an anachronistic prefiguration of the “real” humanist Renaissance of the late medieval and early modern periods would be to disregard both his own innate, individual talents and the broader intellectual environment in which he himself worked.

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