Saturday, March 30, 2013

Anne A. Latowsky's "Emperor of the World"

Anne Latowsky is an Assistant Professor in the Department of World Languages at the University of South Florida.

She applied the “Page 99 Test” to her new book, Emperor of the World: Charlemagne and the Construction of Imperial Authority, 800-1229, and reported the following:
Page 99 of Emperor of the World is the first page of Chapter 3, entitled “Benzo of Alba’s Parallel Signs.” This was probably the chapter I most enjoyed writing because Benzo is such a colorful character. He wrote a lengthy verse panegyric to the German Emperor Henry IV, a work which contains some of the medieval world’s most famous anti-papal invective. Did anyone else refer to the pope as an ass in a stable or to the dining hall of the Lateran palace, the triclinium, as a dung heap, a sterquilinium?
In colorful, poetic, and sometimes foul language, Benzo of Alba promoted the Salian inheritance of the Roman Empire on behalf of Henry IV in his virulently anti-Gregorian Libri ad Heinricum IV Imperatorem. Throughout his voluminous work, Benzo composed multiple versions of the foreign embassy motif in a variety of forms and rhetorical contexts, including a version of the Last Emperor prophecy, an eerie visitation by the voice of Charlemagne to explain the prophecy, fabricated diplomatic communiqués, and lofty panegyric verse. More so than anyone before him, Benzo reveals his recognition of the encomiastic function of Charlemagne’s symbolic conquest of the East. He began his endeavor during the precarious period of Henry’s minority in the early 1060s, and finally completed the project in 1085, after Henry’s long-delayed imperial coronation.”
In this book I contend that we have long misunderstand the influential, yet apocryphal, story of Charlemagne’s peaceful encounters with Byzantium and the Holy Land, a prominent tradition too often erroneously tied to the Crusading movement. In six chapters that consider works written in Latin from the ninth to the thirteenth centuries, I lay out the case for seeing the evolution of the memory of Charlemagne and the East as the product of centuries of deliberate rewriting of a single episode in the emperor’s imagined life. That episode was based on a commonplace of imperial praise that proclaimed universal imperial authority by describing foreign nations peacefully surrendering to the victorious Roman emperor.

In the conversation that Benzo imagines between the ninth-century emperor Charlemagne and the eleventh–century Henry IV, the voice of Charlemagne promises Henry future victory over all of his enemies. The Carolingian emperor urges the Salian king to recognize the signs that have allowed him to predict his coming universal victory. These signs are none other than the similar diplomatic encounters that the two men have had with the East. Benzo’s parallel signs thus reveal a Charlemagne whose bloodless conquest of the East had nothing to do with the incipient Crusading movement, and everything to do with the battle to define imperial authority during the Investiture Contest that pitted empire against papacy in the late eleventh century.
Learn more about Emperor of the World at the Cornell University Press website.

--Marshal Zeringue