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Anglik 14.03

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Anglik 14.03

  1. 1. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" of the Late Twelfth- Early Thirteenth Centuries Aaron J. Gurevich HE QUESTION of the relationship between popular or folk cul ture and ecclesiastical or learned culture in the Middle Ages, which has been much debated in recent scholarly literature, raises the question also of the relationship between the oral and written traditions of that period. Nowadays it is evident that the study of medieval culture solely, or predominantly, as a written culture leads to a dead end, since the Middle Ages was a period when the Book was dominant only in one "elitist" hypostasis of culture. The great mass of members of feudal society, including the peasants, a large part of the town dwellers and of the knights, sometimes even the monks and lower clergy, were illiterate. The division of society into ignorant illitterati, idiotae, and literate, educated people reflected a particular cultural situation: written culture, the culture of books, existed as a kind of oasis among oral communication systems and oral translations of cultural values. But the oral tradition of the distant past could not be directly re- corded, and everything which we learn of it in the sources, the texts of the literary tradition, is only an indirect reflection. What is more, this reflection of the oral through the written, which is always and inevitably transformed and distorted, has been filtered through ec- clesiastical ideology. Given that this is the case, is it then possible to "dig down" to the level of popular culture? In spite of all the difficulties, the answer must be an affirmative one, as the results of recent historiography show.1 The historian has to take account of such works as the lives of saints, "examples," descriptions of the wanderings of souls through the other world, sermons, texts of vulgar theology, "confession books"— handbooks for confessors—that is, the genres of middle LatinCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  2. 2. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 literature intended for the broad mass of the population. These works, mostly of a didactic nature, served the clergy as a means of influencing the religious and moral behavior of their flocks. But to achieve these aims the author had to enter into a dialogue with his audience, and these medieval Latin authors could not but feel a cer- 52 NEW LITERARY HISTORY tain pressure from the side of their public to whom the works were addressed: a kind of feedback came into being. Hence one may as- sume that fragments of the popular cultural tradition are to be found in Latin texts of these "low" genres.2 The nub of the problem is to what extent and in what form these fragments are expressed. Among the genres mentioned above, visions of the other world hold a special place. In a very original way they bear the imprint of the ideas that medieval people held about death and retribution in the next life, and about the ordering of the other world. But in addition, the study of this kind of narrative sheds light on contemporary understanding of the human personality, on the treatment of time and space; it can reveal important aspects of the medieval "world picture." I should like to discuss the problem of the interrelation of oral and written traditions from the examples of two medieval visions of the other world, Visio Thurkilli (The Vision of Thurkill, referred to as VT) and Visio Godeschalci (The Vision of Godeschalk, referred to as VG). They deserve special attention because they are accounts of the visions of simple peasants as written down by clergy evidently "hot on their tracks." Thurkill, an inhabitant of the English county of Essex, saw his vision in 1206; Godeschalk, or Gottshalk, a peasant from Holstein, saw his vision in 1189. Recent scholarly editions of both these visions are now available for the historian of culture.3 Before passing to an analysis of these visions, we must consider the possible hypothesis that they are fictions. Granted that some of the medieval visions of the other world were invented, the category of literary invention when applied to the Middle Ages is hardly identical with the same category in modern literature. Even if no actual facts lay at the basis of the narrative, the author of the vision, hagiography, or saga as a rule believed in its truth. He did not freely invent what he wrote about: he heard about it from "reliable people," eyewitnesses, orCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  3. 3. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 bystanders, or it was widely spoken of; and the author believed his task was to record what he heard on parchment, to do this conscientiously and in accord with the genre in which he was working. The sources for the written tradition of the Middle Ages lie overwhelmingly in the sphere of oral tradition, folklore. As regards the visionaries themselves, there are no grounds for suspecting them of invention. Medieval man was predisposed by the whole cultural order to see the other world, and his dreams and feverish visions were inevitably colored in the necessary tones. In his dreams and delirium he saw what folklore tradition and religious ideology imposed on him, and in his intimate mystical experiences TWO "PEASANT VISIONS" 53 he found the images and situations which the parish priest or wan- dering preacher told him about and which he saw represented in his church and cathedral. When the Holy Virgin appeared to the mother of Guibert de Nogent, she looked like the Virgin of Chartres cathedral; the blind peasant whose sight was restored by St. Faith recognized her in his vision, since she exactly corresponded to the statue of the Madonna from the cathedral; the young monk from Monte Cassino realized that it was the Archangel Michael who was taking away the soul of his brother who had just died, for he saw that he was "just as the artists usually depict the archangel."4 We encounter the same "aesthetics of identity" in VG, which ends with the words: "We need not doubt the truth of what has been recounted for, as we have read, the same occurred to others" (VG, B, ch. 25, sec. 10). In order to express his spiritual experience, medieval man related it to the tradition and recognized in it an archetype. In this respect the visions of our peasants are no different from many others. For the historian of culture the problem is not whether these visions were "genuine" or fictional; what is important is that their contemporaries ascribed great significance to these visions, which some members of the clergy thought useful and important enough to record, and that they were eagerly and avidly listened to and incorporated into the store of knowledge. The visions became facts of culture. As such they deserve to be studied.Copyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  4. 4. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 The account of Gottshalks vision is preserved in two variants, an extensive one (text A: Godeschalcus) and a shorter one (text B: Visio Godeschalci). The relationship between these variants is not clear. Their editor, Erwin Assmann, suggests that they are two independent records of conversations with the visionary held by two different cler- gymen; he refers to the absence of direct textual coincidences in variants A and B. The situation is unusual because in the space of a short time the two authors, independently of each other, wrote down the vision of one and the same peasant, and the vision evidently enjoyed great success among the local population.5 If we agree with Assmann and regard texts A and B as independent records originating in the "interviews" that the authors held with Gottshalk (text B in Assmanns opinion being a little later than text A), then we must be struck by the fairly wide area of difference between the texts. One of the causes for these divergences, according to Assmann, is that the second author had no interest in the events that occurred in Gottshalks homeland; these events crop up frequently in text A in the form of "inset stories" concerning certain people and conflicts which took place in those lands not long before the vision, but which are 54 NEW LITERARY HISTORY passed over in silence in text B. If this is the case then we must assume that the authors of these texts recorded the peasants tale somewhat freely. Moreover, the very form in which the tale is recorded is different: the first author writes of Gottshalk in the third person, while the second one preferred Ich-Erzählung (first-person narration), thereby giving the impression of a literal transcription of the visionarys words.6 Besides, there is an obvious difference in the tale of the peasant himself: while preserving the basic framework of the narrative and the sequence of exposition in his journey through the other world in both interviews with the clerical scribes, he "recalled" what he saw very differently. The existence of the two written versions of one peasants vision, versions that came about as a result of two conversations with him, is of exceptional interest for the student of oral and written traditions in medieval culture. What we have in fact are two planes ofCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  5. 5. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 existence of one and the same tale. On one plane Gottshalk himself figures, telling over and over again the tale of his experiences in the other world; and this narration, in accordance with the laws of folklore, while remaining the same when looked at as a whole, varies from one telling to another in its details and separate parts. This is the plane of the oral tradition. On the other plane, the anonymous clerics come into action: they write down the tale, translating it onto the level of literature and undoubtedly reworking it in accordance with the requirements of the genre of visions, which, by the period we are concerned with, had long since become established and made certain canonic requirements on the narrative. We have here an opportunity, rare for this period of the Middle Ages, of observing how one and the same narrative continues to live, if only for a short period, two lives, in the oral and the literary traditions. The recording of the peasants tale did not mark the end of its folkloric existence, and although we find a reference to VG as a literary authority in the first two decades of the thirteenth century in Caesarius of Heisterbachs Dialogue of Miracles,1 it is not impossible that among the peasantry of Holstein oral tales continued to exist about how their fellow countryman visited purgatory and the gates of hell and paradise. The author of VT is not named in the text, but it is assumed he was Radulph, well known as the compiler of Chronicon Anglicanum and Abbot of the Cistercian monastery at Coggeshall from 12071218. The author makes no reference to his acquaintanceship with the visionary and does not mention any informants from whom he learned of the vision. But on the other hand, some interesting infor- TWO "PEASANT VISIONS" 55 mation is given which is not available to the student of other visions. This information is invaluable for the study of the correlation of oral and written cultural traditions in the Middle Ages.Copyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  6. 6. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 As recounted in VT, directly after Thurkills soul returned to its bodily shell, Thurkill told of what he had seen in the other world, "but fragmentarily, recalling now one, now another episode, and with many omissions and silences" (VT, p. 8); later, however, after his talk with the priest, he told his story coherently and in order ("seriatim"). Naturally he told his listeners what he had seen in the other world in his native language, becoming eloquent, a quality which previously this "taciturn and shy man of extreme simplicity" had never mani- fested. Now his narrative became more extensive and logical. Thurkill several times repeated his tale on church festivals, before his lord and lady and all the parishioners; later he recounted his vision "at the invitation of many persons" in different churches and religious houses and at popular gatherings. Among his listeners, not all believed his miraculous tale and some even mocked him; this was of concern to the author of VT. He put Thurkills vision on a par with the stories of visions recorded by Pope Gregory I and with the later tales of St. Patricks purgatory. He refers to the authority of the Bishop of Lincoln and of the Prior of the monastery of Binham. He concludes his text with the words that his record of Thurkills revelations, made in "simple language" and on the basis of "unskilled learning," would better serve morality than "confused and profound theological disputes" (VT, p. 37). The author of VT knew intimately the audience to which his work was addressed and understood that it had to be won over in the language of vivid images and not by abstractions and complex theological deliberations. He identifies himself, as it were, with the popular world outlook, though of course he cannot express it adequately. As the textological analysis of the vision has shown, this anonymous author reveals a fairly wide knowledge of classical, early Christian, and medieval scholarly literature. There are hardly any direct references to these au- thorities in the text, but there are very many hidden quotations taken from the originals or from some other guides. There are references to the Old and New Testaments, to Horace and St. Augustine, to Sulpicius Severus and to Gregory I, Isidore of Seville, and the Ven- erable Bede, the authors of the vitae and historians; particularly fre- quent are the expressions and images taken from medieval visions. Unlike the majority of the visions in which medieval literature abounds, in VT the mechanism of its creation is to some extent re- vealed. Usually the person who writes down the vision simply refers to the words of the visionary who has visited the other world andCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  7. 7. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 56 NEW LITERARY HISTORY does not separate his own text from the narrative he hears. As a result there is an impression that the version told by the author is the very same as the direct tale of the visionary. But the author of VT is careful to demarcate two stages in the formation of Thurkills story which preceded its written version. The first stage was the disconnected tales of the visionary immediately after waking from the dream into which he had been plunged by St. Julian; incoherent images come into his memory, and to his best ability he communicates them to his listeners who eagerly question him about his vision. We cannot know the con- tent of these utterances, but it must be assumed that there was a greater degree of spontaneity than in his later stories. The second stage is separated from the first by twenty-four hours; during this time St. Julian again appeared to Thurkill in a dream, sternly commanding him to give a detailed and coherent account of his vision; besides, Thurkill visited the parish church and had a talk with the priest. This was the time when Thurkill, to the amazement of his listeners, acquired unprecedented eloquence, when his tale changed character, becoming polished like a literary work and further perfected in the course of subsequent repetitions to different audiences. It was this new version, more coherent and fuller, that the anonymous author wrote down, translating the peasants narrative from English into Latin. In this way we have evidence that the basis for VT was a tale many times retold. The spontaneous and fragmentary utterance of the newly awoken visionary was turned into a more ordered exposition, enriched with details and even scenes which were absent from the original version. In the words of the author of VT, much that Thurkill spoke of subsequently had first been "passed over in silence"; it was only later that what he had allegedly "forgotten" at first came into his head. Finally, it is not implausible that the scholarly author, when translating into Latin, did not merely write down the final oral version of the tale but gave it a form which met with the requirements of the genre of literary visions.8Copyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  8. 8. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 In both VG and VT, then, we have tales of simple peasants but in the reworked form which clerics, well acquainted with the literature of visions, had given them. On the pages of VT and VG there is an encounter between two traditions, the oral and the scholarly. What is the outcome of this encounter? Which of the two traditions triumphed? It is not easy to answer these questions. The vision of the illiterate Thurkill inevitably lost elements of spontaneity as it passed from the original version to the subsequent ones and especially when it was TWO "PEASANT VISIONS" 57 given literary form. Of the visionarys peasant nature hardly anything is preserved apart from the references to his social position, posses- sions, and illiteracy. Examples of the sinners tormented in the other world are of not much use either in helping us to reveal the social basis of his views, since VT (like other visions) is imbued with the idea that representatives of all classes and conditions are sinful and deserve punishment. In the study of visions our interest is drawn primarily to that level of world view of which the authors remained unaware and which is imprinted in the texts unintentionally. The discovery of the mental orientations, of the picture of the world which lies at the basis of such narratives, should make it possible to attempt to answer the question, Which cultural tradition is expressed in the visions? To this level of world view belong in particular notions of time and space.9 First let us point out certain characteristic features of the picture of the other world drawn in VT. One cannot help being struck by its great vividness. It is not just that the evaluative qualities of the coun- tries of the world are picked out in the vision with great clarity: a journey to the East is a journey toward the salvation of the soul, while the West and North are lands oriented toward hell. These "geograph- ical" coordinates, of which the narrator is constantly aware, can easily be picked out in almost all visions. What is special about the treatment of the other world in VT is that it is not made "bitty" or indeterminate,Copyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  9. 9. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 as is the case in other visions. It is compact and easily surveyed. Unlike the "raggedness" of the other world in most visions, where the different parts of the other world are obviously not coordinated but are represented as isolated "places" visited by the wanderer who travels from one "locus" to another, as it were, by leaps and bounds, the world of VT is strictly organized spatially. The consciousness of the narrator overcame the mythopoetic fragmentariness of otherworldly space and brought it into a system. All parts of the world of the dead are disposed along a straight line running from west to east. From "the center of the world," where stands the Basilica of the Virgin Mary, the way leads eastward to the fires of purgatory and to the lake into which fall the souls who come out of the flames; and further, beyond the bridge of ordeals, to the Mountain of Joy. This is the road taken by souls who are not condemned to be cast into Gehenna, which is situated just behind the wall of the basilica; this is the road from purgatory to paradise. The author of VT refers to the spatial characteristics of the other world twice. First he gives a summary general description, passing rapidly with his hero over the road just described. Then he returns to the key points on this road in order to describe their "sights" in 58 NEW LITERARY HISTORY more detail: the procedure by which the merits and sins of the de- parted are weighed up, the fires and lake of purgatory, the bridge strewn with thorns and spikes over which the souls must pass, the devils "theater," the halls with cauldrons into which fall the souls of sinners, and finally the church on the Mountain of Joy. The fact that this detailed description is preceded by the preliminary survey of the other world bears witness, evidently, to the clarity of the picture in the authors mind. This feature of the treatment of space in VT can more likely be explained by the systematic nature of the Latin authors mind than by the folkloric sources of the work. The world beyond the grave, in the words of the author of the vision, is vast and full of innumerable crowds of souls. Yet at the same time it recalls the places where Thurkill came from: he meets there friends and relatives; he is told the names of the sinners for whom torments are prepared in the other world, and they are all from hisCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  10. 10. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 county or village. Provincialism of thought, which is typical of me- dieval man, is in VT narrowed to parochialism, thinking on the scale of the church parish. The other world is a kind of offshoot of one little corner of England. Time in our vision, as in all other works of this genre, is church time. In the other world, days are counted by the Christian calendar and hours by the church services. The passage of time there and on earth is the same. The author is especially attentive to the time of the narrative and continuously notes the hour at which an event took place. This kind of temporal orientation in the narrative must be more typical of the monk who wrote it than of the peasant in whose mind the church hours could hardly have occupied such a prominent place. More important is another aspect of time which is central to all the literature of visions—eschatological time. Visions tell of the Last Judgment; but this is not the Judgment which follows on the Second Coming of Christ, but the judgment passed on the soul of each mortal directly after his death. The Last Judgment, which the Gospels and Apocalypse foretold and which the church has always taught, is not thereby denied: it is rather that the visions somehow ignore it. It inevitably formed part of the consciousness of medieval man, but a reading of the visions leaves no doubt that eternity and time are here fused into one, just as the future is combined with the present and the past. Indeed, the Judgment which will come to pass "in the end of times" is accomplished before the eyes of the visionary; or it has already taken place, since he sees the sinners burning in hell fire and the righteous glorifying the Creator in paradise. This is how things are in VT. Our wanderer was witness of the weighing up of the merits and sins of the dead; after the weighing TWO "PEASANT VISIONS" 59 some were cast into the shaft of hell and others passed through the ordeals of purgatory before coming to paradise. In other visions the judgment most often takes place at a mans deathbed, and angels and demons dispute for mastery of his soul; but in VT the dispute is between the Apostle Paul and the devil, who weigh up the deeds of those who have just died. Here we find once again a "little escha-Copyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  11. 11. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 tology," the promise of immediate retribution for a life lived, a phe- nomenon which there are grounds for connecting with features of the popular world outlook.10 Probably the most distinctive feature of VT is the description of the devils "theater." On the night before Sunday the devils draw the souls of those eternally condemned out of Gehenna and bring them in turn into the arena to enjoy the spectacle of their new torments. This is a spectacle in which the actors are condemned compulsorily to repeat the actions which brought them to hell, to imitate the gestures and words which in their life were acts of free will. What once was a source of their pleasure now is a means to inflict suffering on them. The proud man condemned for the mortal sin of pride to eternal torment is forced to parade proudly before the audience of devils, arousing their merriment with his pompous manners; lovers con- demned for fornication have to copulate publicly and then to torment their partners; the warrior armed, as it were, for battle sits astride a red-hot spit, which is what his horse has been turned into; a complete pantomime representing bribery and injustice is performed by a lawyer whom the devils force to swallow, spit out, and reswallow red- hot coins which he had acquired formerly through his dishonorable deeds; the miller is forced to show how he stole the grain—and all these people, or rather, their souls, are turned into involuntary puppets who amuse the demons and after their "performance" suffer terrible punishments and abuse. The torments which the involuntary actors in the infernal "theater" endure are not only physical, but also moral ones. The sin which at first was a mans free action now is separated from its source and turned into an action forced from outside and mechanically renewed at the will of the forces of hell. There is nothing like this devils show in other visions, and it is hard to believe that such treatment of the retribution for sins originated with the illiterate Thurkill. On the other hand, it is well known that in the scholarly tradition the likening of the Last Judgment to a theatrical performance goes back to Ter- tullian.11 Another feature of VT is the constant talk between the saints on the one hand and the devil and demons on the other. On the west doors of cathedrals of the period decorated with scenes of the LastCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  12. 12. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 60 NEW LITERARY HISTORY Judgment, the inhabitants of the celestial world are always placed on Christs right hand, while the demons and the damned taken by them into hell fire are allocated to the left side. Or the sacred and infernal forces are hierarchized, the former being placed in the upper sections and the latter in the lower sections of the depiction. Heaven and hell are not mixed spatially. In VT they seem drawn together. While the apostle Paul and the devil, who are weighing the sins and merits of the dead, are separated by the wall to which the scales are fixed, the other saints wander through different sections of the underworld, have conversations with Satan, not only contradicting each other and arguing but quite peaceably questioning each other about a soul; the devil willingly satisfies the saints curiosity and agrees to his visiting the "theater." The irreconcilable antagonism of heaven and hell is momentarily moved to the background; the sacramental boundary between them is of course not forgotten, but it is made more fluid. Should we not see in this ambivalence in the relationships between the forces of good and the forces of evil an expression of the popular view of demons?12 As in VT, the numerous inhabitants of the other world who are named in VG all without exception come from the same locality as the visionary; they are his contemporaries. Having visited a town of the dead, Gottshalk learned that their souls are disposed in it according to their parishes, so that he could recognize as old friends all who sit in one place (VG, A, ch. 52). The visitor to the other world is wholly absorbed in the interests of his diocese, and the conflicts and events which occurred in it determine his outlook and interests as he wanders in the spheres beyond the grave. Purgatory and other penalia loca which he manages to reach are nothing else than a specific projection of certain districts of Holstein. He encounters no more strangers in the other world than does Thurkill. The center of Gottshalks attention is fixed on the families of prominent and obscure compatriots who in the other world pay for the evil they did on earth. And what is more, the tale of what he saw "there" is interrupted by stories of the clashes and hostility between these families which took place not long before Gottshalks vision (VG, A, chs. 2126). Such stories, which are obviously not obligatory from the point of view of the genre ofCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  13. 13. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 visions, are highly indicative of the characteristics of a peasant who, when he contemplates the mysteries of the other world, cannot detach himself from the burning issues of this world. He is so engrossed with earthly passions and concerns that, in the view of the cleric who wrote down his tale, he did not show the necessary interest in the arrangement of the abode of Gods elect. TWO "PEASANT VISIONS" 61 The author had to reproach Gottshalk for inattention to the description of this abode, the structure of which interested the clerical author far more closely than the visionary himself (VG, A, ch. 30, sec. 4). The clerical author—who had several conversations with Gottshalk, assiduously recording his vision—was most amazed at the fact that he learned of the great mysteries of the other world from the mouth of such a primitive clodhopper ("ex ore tam ydiote gle- bonis," VG, A, ch. 40, sec. 4).13 In text B, which as we have already remarked is written in the first person, Gottshalk himself also calls himself "a simpleton and an idiot" ("a me simplici et ydiota," VG, B, ch. 21, sec. 5). At the end of this narrative, however, we read something rather different: "Of course no wise man would scorn this vision for the reason that it was told by a simpleton, a poor and uneducated man (a simplici et paupere et idiota promulgata sit), as if he were unworthy to have such holy mysteries revealed to him and as if this could happen only to men worthy in life, position, and education (qui vita et ordine et erudicione prediti sunt)" (VG, B, ch. 25, sec. 11). The other world is not only populated with Gottshalks acquain- tances just like the world he has temporarily left, but it is not disem- bodied. At any event the wounds and burns which the visionary re- ceived in the other world when his soul left its bodily shell remained on his body when he reawoke, and he suffered greatly from them until the end of his days (VG, A, chs. 57-60). The author of text B could not, on his own admission, explain how what was experienced in the soul could be passed onto the body, but believed that this was proof of the truthfulness of Gottshalks story (VG, B, ch. 25, sec. 7, 9). TheCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  14. 14. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 peasant himself would not have made such a marked contrast between body and soul as the learned cleric. The places of torment as they are depicted in VG are very different from those of other visions. The bridge over the stream swarming with demons who wait for the souls who tumble in, which is traditional for visions, is absent from this one. But on the other hand, Gottshalk comes across a tree on the branches of which are hung shoes which are granted to only some of the travelers. This footwear is indispensable for crossing the field strewn with terrible thorns, but the angel who is in charge of distributing the shoes refuses them to grave sinners, and these poor folk have to drag themselves across this field in excruciating pain. Then the travelers come to a stream in which floats a sharp cutting weapon. The stream has to be crossed, but few are fortunate enough to scramble onto the raft and safely avoid this ordeal. Later there comes a junction of three ways onto which the angel drives the souls. One way leads to the right to heaven, but it is predestined for very few. The second leads to the left but to 62 NEW LITERARY HISTORY hell (a little to one side of it), and this is the road taken with many others by our visionary. The middle road is not so dangerous as the road leading near to hell. Gottshalk describes the ordeals of the souls by fire, which for some sinners lasts for as long as the time that they sinned in life, while for others it will continue until the Judgment Day. The souls passing through all the stages of ordeals and purgatory described, together with Gottshalk, disperse to the places allotted to them until the Last Judgment. The suspicion arises as to whether some of the places through which the souls wander have their origins in folklore. Such would seem to be the tree with the shoes and the field with the terrible thorns, the stream in which floats the cold weapon, and the parting of the three ways— but with the difference that in a folktale the hero chooses his way, while in VG the angel indicates to each soul the direction that accords with the severity of his sins. There is a marked difference between these "peasant visions" in their understanding of the function of the other world. Thurkill has not the shadow of doubt that hell and heaven already exist and that thoseCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  15. 15. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 places which he visited are located between these poles; they are places where sinners undergo punishment and where souls purified prepare to enter the halls of paradise. In this respect VT is no different from other visions. Gottshalk also saw only purgatory and the places of bliss for the holy souls who had not yet entered into the kingdom of heaven, but he saw "neither the torments of hell nor the glory of the heavenly home" (VG, B, ch. 25, sec. 1). But whereas in VT there is judgment on the souls of the departed, in VG judgment is postponed in accord with official doctrine "until the end of time." The souls of the saints are in blissful expectation of this moment when they will finally enter the kingdom of heaven, whereas the souls of sinners undergo all kinds of purifying ordeals on the orders of the angel who meets them after death, but the actual judgment has not yet taken place, and everyone—the righteous and hardened sinners—awaits the Day of Judgment (VG, A, ch. 21, sec. 2; ch. 26, sec. 1, 14; ch. 37, sec. 1; ch. 43; ch. 49, sec. 2; ch. 54, sec. 2; VG, B, ch. 11, sec. 1; ch. 12, sec. 1; ch. 19, sec. 2; ch. 21, sec. 2, 4; ch. 25, sec. 4). In other words, VG proposes a kind of way out of the paradox that underlies the picture of the other world in both VT and the whole literature of visions, namely, the coexistence at the same time in one mind of both eschatologies, the "little" and the "great." How was it possible to resolve this contradiction even in compromise form? If we are to believe Gottshalk, the souls of the departed are already un- dergoing punishment in the other world, though judgment is deferred usque ad diem judicii. For this reason these punishments as de- TWO "PEASANT VISIONS" 63 picted in VG are in fact not punishments as sentenced by the Supreme Judge, but purifying procedures by which the souls are prepared for the coming Last Judgment. It is not possible to ascertain exactly who found this compromise solution, the actual peasant visionary or the clerical authors who interpreted his vision in their own way. Most probably the latter. But the main point is not the question of who found the solution but the fact that at the end of the twelfth century—Copyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  16. 16. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 that is, just when the idea of purgatory became established in Latin Christianity—there arose the urgent need to solve the paradox of the notion of the two eschatologies. So what then is the relationship between the oral and the literary traditions in the visions under consideration? The traditions float up in turn in the texts, but it would be absurd and impossible to put them in pigeonholes. They are in constant and complex interaction and in the visions seem like an integrated fusion, hard to distinguish. It would be vain to seek in them traces of the unsophisticated tale by the illiterate peasant about what he experienced in his vision, because it is presented to us from the pen of an educated cleric in a new form, having been transformed in accordance with the requirements of the literary genre. At this point we must return again to the story of the origins of VT. As we know, at first his tale of what he had seen in the other world was of a fragmentary nature. It took on a new form after the conversation with the priest. We cannot know what the content of the conversation was, but it may readily be assumed that it was precisely as a result of that talk that Thurkills narrative took the form in which he recounted it to the parishioners of the lord, and in the monasteries to which he was invited. Evidently the priest gave Thurkill the ex- planations he needed about what he had seen and helped him to organize the tale in accordance with the canonic structure of the visions of the other world. This is only an assumption, but it has foundation in the light of what we know about other visions. Confir- mation of the authenticity of the vision experienced by someone was usually sought in the tradition. Hinkmar of Rheims, recounting the vision of a certain Bernold, wrote: "I am convinced that this is true because I read something similar in St. Gregorys Dialogues, in the history of the Angles [by the Venerable Bede], in the writings of the holy bishop and martyr St. Boniface, and also in the story of the vision of a certain holy man Vettin relating to the time of the Emperor Ludovic."14 In the same way the author of VG ends his narrative with the words: "Even if it is difficult to find a rational explanation for this, there is no need to doubt its veracity, for surely something sim-Copyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  17. 17. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 64 NEW LITERARY HISTORY ilar happened, as we have read, to others" (VG, B, ch. 25, sec. 10). We encounter the same reasoning in VT as well. If anyone should think it absurd and improbable that the Apostle and the devil should weigh the merits of the departed, remarks the author, then let him read the story by St. John, Patriarch of Alexandria, about a certain tax gatherer Peter: the bread which he once gave to a beggar outweighed all his evil deeds; "Besides one can read about this in many other visions" (VT, p. 15). In other words, reference to the fact that similar tales are to be found in the literature served medieval man as convincing proof of the veracity of his own story, as did the resemblance of the holy personages he contemplated in his visions to the statues in the cathedrals. The picture of the other world which, as he imagined, appeared to him in his vision could be communicated only in the language of familiar and generally accepted images. The authority who could decide whether all that Thurkill saw in his unusual dream corresponded with the canon was naturally his priest, and it was to him that he hastened to turn. It is important to note that the direct, spontaneous vision of Thurkill, in which it is quite possible that there were other themes and motives than those which we find in the written text, remained "a thing in itself," since this vision became a fact of culture and of religious life, a story to be told publicly, repeated and eventually written down, only after Thurkills encounter with the cleric. This "edited" version of the vision received sanction to be further disseminated. In this way there are grounds for stating that the version of the vision that is preserved was the only one that was culturally significant; only it passed the "preventive censorship" of society and was accepted by it. This censorship was in this case exercised by the parish priest. But as is narrated in VT, Thurkill himself expressed the desire to go to church and talk with the priest before telling others what he had seen in the afterlife. Evidently he was not without doubts about the accuracy of his own observations, and he needed to discuss them and check them with his spiritual mentor, that is, to make them accord with the generally accepted norm. The student of medieval popular culture may be discouraged by the difficulties standing in his way: elements of that culture are "clouded," masked by church learning, subordinate to it, and have lost their integrity in the texts that have come down to us. But if the historianCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  18. 18. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 does not seek the sources for this or that genre, or the genesis of particular motives, but wants rather to approach culture as an integration which actually functioned in the given society, at one and the same time reflecting its attitudes and forming them, he TWO "PEASANT VISIONS" 65 must admit that in fact only in such a symbiosis with the scholarly tradition could popular culture exist in the Middle Ages.15 SOVIET ACADEMY OF SCIENCES (Translated by Ann Shukman) NOTES 1Jacques Le Goff, Pour un autre Moyen Age: Temps, travail et culture en Occident: 18 essais (Paris, 1977); Emmanuel Le Roy Ladurie, Montaillou, village occitan de 1294 à 1324 (Paris, 1975) {Montaillou: The Promised Land of Error, tr. Barbara Bray [New York, 1978]); Jean Claude Schmitt, Le saint lévrier. Guinefort, guérisseur denfants depuis le XIIIe siècle (Paris, 1979); Carlo Ginzburg, Il formaggio e i vermi: Il cosmo di un mugnaio del 500 (Torino, 1976) {The Cheese and the Worms: The Cosmos of a Sixteenth-Century Miller, tr. John and Anne Tedeschi [Baltimore, 1980]); La culture populaire au Moyen âge, ed. Pierre Boglioni (Montreal, 1979). 2Aaron J. Gurevich, Problemy srednevekovoi narodnoi kultury [Problems of medieval popular culture] (Moscow, 1981). 3Godeschalcus und Visio Godeschalci, in a German translation edited by Erwin Assmann, Vol. 74 of Quellen und Forschungen zur Geschichte Schleswig-Holsteins [Sources and research in the history of Schleswig-Holstein] (Neumunster, 1979); Visio Thurkilli relatore, videtur, Radulpho de Coggeshall, ed. Paul Gerhard Schmidt (Leipzig, 1978).Copyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press
  19. 19. GUREVICH, AARON J., Oral and Written Culture of the Middle Ages: Two "Peasant Visions" ofthe Late Twelfth-EarlyThirteenth Centuries , New Literary History, 16:1 (1984:Autumn) p.51 4Jonathan Sumtion, Pilgrimage: An Image of Mediaeval Religion (Totowa, N.J., 1976), p. 52. 5Godeschalcus und Visio Godeschalci, pp. 10 ff. 6However, this author admits that he wrote down Gottshalks vision of "the other life" only "in shortened form" and "in general outline" {summatim) and that the visionary himself was not in a state to talk about all that he had experienced as fully as required {VG, B, ch. 1, sec. 3; ch. 2, sec. 1). 7Caesarius of Heisterbach, Dialogus miraculorum, ed. Joseph Strange (Kôln-Bonn, 1851), I, 330. 8Early in the twelfth century the vision of the ten-year-old Italian boy Alberic was written down by a monk from Monte Cassino. Soon afterwards Alberic entered the monastery and studied reading and writing. When he read the record of his own vision, he accused the author of falsification and demanded that some sections of the text be excised or marked as not genuine. "Visio Alberici," Bibliotheca Casinensis, V (Monte Casino, 1894), 191. Quoted in P. G. Schmidt, "The Vision of Thurkill//owma/ of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes, 41 (1978), 51. 9Aaron J. Gurevich, "Zapadnoevropeiskie videniya potustoronnego mira i realizm srednikh vekov" ["West European visions of the other world and the realism of the Middle Ages"], Trudy po znakovym sistemam, VIII (Tartu, 1977), 15-20. 10Gurevich, Problemy, pp. 225-30, 237-39. 11De Spectaculis, ch. 30, in Migne, Patrologia Latina, vol. 1, col. 660; see also Dino Bigongiari, "Were There Theaters in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Centuries?" The Romanic Review, 37, No. 3 (1946), 215. 12Gurevich, Problemy, pp. 295-301, 313-17. 13"Glebo-arator" appears in the gloss to this place in text A. In the introductory section of the narrative, the same author characterizes Gottshalk as "a simple andCopyright (c) 2003 ProQuest Information and Learning CompanyCopyright (c) Johns Hopkins University Press

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