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Inscriptions in Orderic’s Historia ecclesiastica: A Writing Technique between History and Poetry

Abstract : The aim of the article is to analyze a type of exogenous documents that both come in break and complement the thread of Orderic’s narrative: epigraphic inscriptions. There are 38 epitaphs for the English-Norman laity or ecclesiastical aristocracy recorded in the Historia’s 13 books. The funeral inscriptions composed or reported by Orderic belong to a literary genre called “epitaphium”. Their insertion into the narrative weft provides them with some specificity in their structure and function. The analysis of these structural peculiarities is the subject of this article in which the inscriptions will be approached both from a functional and stylistic point of view. The analysis focuses on book V, but many comparisons with the other books (mostly book VIII) and contemporary epigraphic and poetical production will be made. After having replaced this research in the historiography (not only Orderic’s studies, but also in epigraphic researches), the article will be threefold. 1) Funerary Inscriptions as Historical Evidence: In each case, the inscription provided irrefutable proof; its authority was based on its materiality and epigraphic tradition. The epitaph was considered immutable, situated in a commemorative time and place, in contact with the deceased’s remains. The epitaph was an endless extension of the aristocracy celebrated in the Historia Ecclesiastica, and served the historic ambition of the narrative. 2) The Role of Inscriptions in the Narrative and Argumentative Material: The choice to insert or not an inscription is a reflection of Orderic’s decision to emphasize a particular person. The inscriptions were not tacked on to the Historia Ecclesiastica but were fully integrated into the narrative. Their use is reflected and participates in the displayed argumentation. They were located at the end of a development, with the aim of gathering elements and closing the passage, and played the role of “last word” and even “last breath”. Finally, the funerary inscription was less a rupture point than a clever transition from one subject to another. These texts are emphasized by their layout on the page. 3) The Aesthetics and pleasure of the varietas: Both as historical evidence and narrative tool, epigraphic texts also had a stylistic strength; they illustrated Orderic’s constant search for variety, not just for the Ecclesiastical History as a whole, but also for each epitaph. Inserting an inscription into the story comprises the literary process of “writing into writing”. The goal was to engage the reader, to keep creating surprise and interest, so that he never grew tired of the story.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, October 18, 2016 - 4:09:45 PM
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  • HAL Id : halshs-01383410, version 1



Estelle Ingrand-Varenne, Vincent Debiais. Inscriptions in Orderic’s Historia ecclesiastica: A Writing Technique between History and Poetry . Actes de colloque international, Apr 2013, Durham, United Kingdom. pp.127-144. ⟨halshs-01383410⟩



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