Satiric Vulgarity in Guibert de Nogent’s Gesta Dei per Francos

Gesta Dei per FrancosSatiric Vulgarity in Guibert de Nogent’s Gesta Dei per Francos

By Robert Levine

Rhetorica: A Journal of the History of Rhetoric, Vol. 7, No. 3 (1989)

Introduction: Attempts to characterize Guibert de Nogent (1053-1121) generally focus upon his Autobiography, not on his history of the First Crusade. What scholarly attention the Gesta Dei per Francos has received is devoted to the theological problems Guibert set about solving in it. Nevertheless, the same personality that dominates the autobiographical text penetrates the historical text. As cantarikerous as Carlyle, Guibert reveals in the Gesta the same qualities that Jonathan Kantor detected elsewhere:

The tone of the memoirs is consistently condemning and not confiding; they were written not by one searching for the true faith but by one determined to condemn the faithless.


However, Kantor goes on to argue, on the basis of a comparison with one other twelfth-century historian, that Guibert’s writings are “the product of a cloister mentality”, thereby missing an essential literary fact about Guibert: like many others before him, including Jerome and Liudprand of Cremona, he was an anima naturaliter satirica. Like Liudprand, he found an opportunity to vent his spleen in the course of composing an historical work.

The anger they express, however, is often taken as a symptom of their own instability. In a thirteenth-century poem attributed to Walter Map, the poet complains that the flatterer appears to be calm and judicious, while the man who speaks the truth is sad, satiric, and strange (fanaticus in Classical Latin might mean “inspired” or “insane”).


The flatterer is said to be calm and
judicious, while he who speaks the truth
is melancholic, satiric, even mad. 

The truth-teller, then, qui vera loquitur, seems abnormal to others; therefore the truly perceptive person will realize that qualities that appear to be socially negative are actually signs of accuracy and reliability.

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