Vera Lex Historiae

Vera lex historiae?: Historical Truth and the Emergence of the Event in Late Antiquity and the Earlier Middle Ages

Abstract:
Writing circa ad 731, Bede professes in the introduction to his Historia Ecclesiastica Gentis Anglorum that he will write his account of the past of the English following only “vera lex historiae.” Whether explicitly or (most often) implicitly, historians narrate the past according to a conception of what constitutes historical truth that emerges in the use of narrative strategies, of certain formulae or textual forms, in establishing one’s own ideological authority or that of one’s informants, in faithfulness to a cultural, narrative, poetic or tradition. If we extend the scope of what we understand by history (especially in a pre-modern setting) to include not just the writings of historians legitimated by their belonging to the Latinate matrix of christianized classical history-writing, but also collective narratives, practices, rituals, oral poetry, liturgy, artistic representations and acts of identity – all re-enacting the past as, or as representation of, the present, we find a plethora of modes of constructions of historical truth, narrative authority and reliability.

Vera lex historiae? will be constituted by contributions that reveal the variety of evental strategies by which historical truth was constructed in late antiquity and the earlier middle ages, and the range of procedures by which such narratives were established first as being historical and then as ‘true’ histories. This is not only a matter of narrative strategies, but also habitus, ways of living and acting in the world that feed on and back into the commemoration and re-enactment of the past by communities and by individuals. In doing this, we hope to recover something of the plurality of modes of preserving and reenacting the past available in late antiquity and the earlier middle ages which we pass by because of preconceived notions of what constitutes history-writing.

 

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