Saturday, 3 October 2009

The Deeds of Robert Guiscard: Prologue


The poets of old have sung of the deeds of the leaders of old; as a modern poet I shall attempt to publish the deeds of contemporaries. It is my intention to recount by whom the Norman people [gens normannica] was led when it came to Italy, why it came to stay there, and under which leaders it defeated the Italians. Pardon your poet who sings of these great deeds as best he can, illustrious Roger[1], worthy son of Duke Robert; it is my wish to serve your rule that makes me daring, since pure devotion provides the skill that [natural] talent and art denies. The request of the reverend father Urban[2] forbids me to be slothful, since I fear that I shall sin more by refusing so great a pontiff than by following his kindly instructions.

[1] Roger Borsa, son of Robert Guiscard was duke of Apulia between 1085 and 1111.

[2] Urban II was pope between 12th March 1088 and 29th July 1099. This reference gives a terminal point for the production of the poem at July 1099, the date of the pope’s death. Urban II, né Otho of Lagery (or Otto or Odo) (1042-29th July 1099), was a pope from 1088 to 1099. He is most known for starting the First Crusade and setting up the modern day Roman Curia, in the manner of a royal court, to help run the Church. He was born into nobility in France at Lagery (near Châtillon-sur-Marne) and was church-educated. He was archdeacon of Reims when, under the influence of St. Bruno his teacher, he resigned and entered the cloister at Cluny where he rose to be prior. In 1078, Gregory VII summoned him to Italy and made him cardinal-bishop of Ostia. He was one of the most prominent and active supporters of the Gregorian reforms, especially as legate in Germany in 1084, and was among the few whom Gregory nominated as possible successors to be Pope. Desiderius, abbot of Montecassino (who took the name Victor III) was chosen Pope initially, but after his short reign Odo was elected by acclamation (March 1088) at a small meeting of cardinals and other prelates held in Terracina. He took up the policies of Pope Gregory VII, and while pursuing them with determination showed greater flexibility and diplomatic finesse. At the outset he had to reckon with the presence of the powerful Antipope Clement III in Rome; but a series of well-attended synods held in Rome, Amalfi, Benevento, and Troia supported him in renewed declarations against simony, lay investiture, and clerical marriages, and a continued opposition to Henry IV. Becker, Alfons, Papst Urban II (1088-1099), two vols. Stuttgart 1964-1988 is the most recent detailed study.

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