Guibert of Nogent

From Academic Kids

Guibert of Nogent (1053-1124) was a Benedictine historian, theologian and author of autobiographical memoirs. Guibert was relatively unknown in his own time, going virtually unmentioned by his contemporaries, he has only recently caught the attention of scholars who have been more interested in his extensive autobiographical memoirs and personality which provide insight into mediaeval life.

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Guibert.nogent.jpg
An angel blows a trumpet into Guibert's ear, declaring moral truths. Book cover by Jay Rubenstein containing a picture from the Tropologiae in prophetis, BN lat. 2502, f. 101r

Guibert was born of noble parents at Clermont-en-Beauvoisis. According to his memoirs the labour nearly cost him and his mother their lives. His father was violent, unfaithful and prone to excess and died within a year of his birth. His mother was domineering, of great beauty and intelligence, and of aggressive puritanical bent. She assumed control of his education isolating him from his peers to a private tutor from the ages of six to twelve. Guibert remembers the tutor as brutally exacting, and incompetent. Around the age of twelve his mother retired to an abbey near St.Germer de Fly (or Flay), and Guibert soon followed to enter the Order at St. Germer where he studied with great zeal, devoting himself at first to the secular poets Ovid and Virgil, an experience which left its imprint on his works; later changing to theology, through the influence of Anselm of Bec, afterwards of Canterbury.

In 1104, he was chosen to be head of the poor and tiny abbey of Nogent-sous-Coucy (founded 1059) and henceforth took a more prominent part in ecclesiastical affairs where he came into contact with Bishops and court society. More importantly it gave him time to engage in his passion for writing. His first major work of this period is his history of the First Crusade called the Dei gesta per Francos (God's deeds as performed by the Franks), finished in 1108 and touched up in 1121. The history is largely a paraphrase, in ornate style, of the Gesta Francorum of an anonymous Norman author; Crusade historians have traditionally not been forthcoming with favourable reviews, the fact that he stays so close to Gesta Francorum, and the difficulty of his Latin, make it seem superfluous. Recent editors and translators, however, have called attention to his excellent writing and original material. More importantly, Dei gesta provides invaluable information about the reception of the crusade in France, both for the general public and Guiberts own personal reactions. Guibert personally knew crusaders, had grown up with crusaders, and had talked with them about their memories and experiences on their return.

For the modern reader his autobiography (De vita sua sive monodiarum suarum libri tres), or Memoirs, written in 1115, is the most interesting of Guiberts works. Written towards the close of his life in the style of the Confessions of Saint Augustine, from his childhood through lifes difficulties, he gives many picturesque glimpses of his time and the customs of his country. The description of the commune of Laon is an historical document of the first order. He provides invaluable sources of information on daily life in castle and monetary, educational methods then in vogue, insights into some of the major and minor personalities of his time. His work is distorted by his personal passions and prejudices, and these add to the value of the work for they provide a window into one persons perspective on the mediaeval world.

References

  • Sources
    • Memoirs (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/basis/guibert-vita.html) and [1] (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/nogent-auto.html) from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook. English translation by C.C. Swinton Bland of The Autobiography of Guibert, Abbot of Nogent-sous-Coucy (London: George Routledge: New York: E.P. Dutton, 1925)
    • On the Saints and their Relics (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/nogent-relics.html) from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook
    • The Revolt in Laon (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/guibert-laon.html) from the Internet Medieval Sourcebook.
    • On the First Crusade (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/guibert-cde.html), includes Guibert's version of Pope Urbans speech and impressions of Peter the Hermit.
    • The Deeds of God through the Franks (http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/4370), e-text from Project Gutenburg. Translated by Robert Levine 1997.
  • Books
    • Paul J. Archambault (1995). A Monk's Confession: The Memoirs of Guibert of Nogent. ISBN 0271014814
    • John Benton, ed. (1970). Self and Society in Medieval France: The Memoirs of Abbot Guibert of Nogent. A revised edition of the 1925 C.C. Swinton Bland edition, includes introduction and latest research. ISBN 0802065503 (1984 reprint, University of Toronto Press).
    • Robert Levine (1997). The Deeds of God through the Franks : A Translation of Guibert de Nogent's `Gesta Dei per Francos' . ISBN 0851156932
    • Jay Rubenstein (2002). Guibert of Nogent: Portrait of a Medieval Mind. ISBN 0415939704
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