Marianne Ailes on Charlemagne in Berlin

It was a particular pleasure to be talking about Charlemagne in Germany at the recent Texts in Transit Conference held in the Sonderforshungsbereich ‘Episteme in Bewegung’ of the Freie Universität in Berlin.

My paper, looking at the way Charlemagne narratives were disseminated in the multilingual context of the medieval British Isles, was very much in line with the focus of the two days: I highlighted the creation of reading communities who might be accessing the same material in different languages, and the co-existence of different versions of narratives in the same geographical zone and/or social environment.

Patterns of the dissemination of different material were explored by scholars from established senior colleagues to young researchers, resulting in a stimulating mix of perspectives. The keynote paper by Lars Boje Mortensen (University of Southern Denmark), proposed a chronological structure of the changing dissemination patterns of western imperial literature (c. 1050–1320) which provided a helpful framework. The second keynote by Christine Putzo (University of Lausanne) demonstrated how important surviving fragments can be in building a picture of European-wide dissemination; this was particularly relevant for the Charlemagne project as both fragmentary evidence and evidence for lost manuscripts were important in researching the reception of chansons de geste for The Charlemagne Legend in Medieval England volume (now available for pre-order).

On the Friday evening we were treated to a performance of the narrative of Nasreddin Hodja by Serap Güven, a very effective reminder that narratives were not always disseminated in written form, even when texts were composed as written material. I had made this point in my own paper with reference to Barbour’s Bruce, where the king is described as reading the narrative of Fierabras to ‘yam yat war him by’ (ed. Matthew P. McDairmid and James A.C. Stevenson, l. 3456), and to the medieval wall paintings, probably depicting the Song of Roland narrative in Claverley Parish Church, Shropshire, UK.

By adding a few days on to the trip I managed to include a visit to the Deutsches Historisches Museum famous for its more modern galleries but boasting some quality medieval items, including a twelfth-century statue of Charlemagne himself, seen to the left with an admirer.