Tuesday, February 22, 2011


Stéphane Benoist, Anne Daguet-Gagey, Christine Hoët-van-Cauwenberghe, Sabine Lefebvre (ed.), Mémoires partagées, mémoires disputées: écriture et réécriture de l'histoire. Publications du Centre Régional Universitaire Lorrain d'Histoire - Site de Metz 39. Metz: Centre Régional Universitaire Lorrain d'Histoire - Site de Metz, 2009. Pp. 370. ISBN 2857300441600. €35.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Jennifer Gerrish, University of Pennsylvania (jgerrish@sas.upenn.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

This collection of 13 essays represents the third installment of Stéphane Benoist and Sabine Lefebvre's collaboration on the study of historical memory, a project spanning several years and benefitting from the contributions of international scholars too numerous to name here; the two previous volumes (Mémoire et histoire (2008.01.42), Un Discours en images de lacondamnation de mémoire) focused primarily on Roman damnatio memoriae. The contributions in Mémoires partagées, mémoires disputées cover a wide chronological, geographical, and methodological range, from the 25th Egyptian dynasty to 21st century Spain, from the Sudan to central Mexico, including primarily archaeological and textual approaches as well as studies utilizing both types of evidence. In his introduction, Benoist, citing increased interest in historical memory more generally over the last century, inspired in large part by the work of Halbwachs and Nora, suggests expanding the focus beyond Roman damnatio memoriae to other periods and societies. The essays included in this volume individually succeed in meeting this challenge, although the overall effect of the collection is somewhat diluted by its vast scope; historians of the ancient Mediterranean will find little familiar territory here, but MPMD is, on balance, worth the trip outside Greece and Rome.

Part 1 of the collection, "Princes et dirigeants : histoire revisitée, histoire manipulée," contains five essays which examine the ways in which the memory of political leaders is manipulated by various parties : opponents, supporters, the rulers themselves. These powerful individuals are necessarily objects of focus, as Christine Hoët-Van Cauwenberghe explains in her introduction to Part 1 : "Il est évident que la mémoire collective se nourrit en priorité de l'éloge ou de la réprobation d'individus qui représentent le pouvoir : au sommet de cette pyramide politique se tient le chef (34)." The chapters of this section, as in Parts 2 and 3, cover wide-ranging topics. Charles Bonnet uses the 2003 discovery of fragments of seven monumental statues of Nubian kings to discuss the efforts of Psammetichus II and the Egyptians to destroy the memory of the Kushite influence on Egyptian territory. The statues were excavated at Pnoubs (modern Doukki Gel), near Napata, the ancient capital of the Kushite kingdom, which was sacked by the Egyptians in 592 BCE. Bonnet argues that Psammetichus II ordered the destruction of these monumental statues at that time, and that the remains were later gathered, reassembled, and ritually buried by the Kushite king Aspelta. In Chapter 4, Michèle Gaillard traces the evolution of portrayals of Lothar II (d. 869, King of Lotharingia), whose career was primarily marked by his effort to divorce his wife Teutberga and marry his mistress Waldrada. Gaillard suggests that Lothar had already suffered a sort of living damnatio memoriae when the Remiremont monastery omitted the emperor from its Liber memorialis. During the later Middle Ages and thereafter, however, not only is his memory not effectively erased, but Lothar himself is rehabilitated, as Hoët-Van Cauwenberghe instructively describes in her introduction, as "l'exemple 'd'une Messaline' au masculin, de repoussoir des mœurs corrompues (36)." From a Messalina-type to an Agrippina-type: Isabelle Brousselle traces the increasingly polarized portrayals of the empress Irene, who governed as regent for her son Constantine VI before conspiring to arrange his murder; Irene then ruled the Byzantine empire alone from 797-802 CE. Two diametrically opposed images of Irene evolved, the "sainte et mère cruelle"; Michel Psellos (L'Historia syntomos) for example, emphasizes her piety as shown in the restoration of the veneration of icons, while Georges le Moine (Chronique) depicts her as a stereotypically vicious, over-ambitious female ruler, and Constantine VI as the innocent victim of his mother's machinations. In Chapter 6, Daniel Lévine discusses the processes by which the Aztecs systematically eliminated traces of their nomadic past in order to legitimize their position as the dominant civilization on the central Mexican plateau. In particular, the Aztecs rewrote the myth of the god Uitzilopochtli to claim his origin at Coatepec and thus forge a link between themselves and the ancient Toltec capital. Finally, Corinne Lefèvre's contribution traces the evolution of depictions of the young Mughal emperor Jahangir from contemporary texts to twentieth-century cinematic portrayals. As Lefèvre discusses, the modern film version of Jahangir as a romantic hero in movies like Mughal-e Azam departs drastically from the accounts of European visitors to the Mughal court during Jahangir's lifetime, who depicted the young ruler as an opiate-addled despot enslaved by his lover Nur Jahan.

Part 2, "La condamnation des personnels politique et religieux : victimes et acteurs," shifts focus to include the agents of the manipulation of memory as well as their victims; this part also expands the volume's purview beyond the political leaders of Part 1 to include, for example, Christian martyrs and victims of the French Revolution. The second part opens in Hellenistic Greece with Ivana Savalli-Lestrade's chapter, which examines the process of abolitio memoriae during the Hellenistic period, when the acts of Ptolemaic and (to a lesser extent) Seleucid dynasts against rivals and betrayers seemingly prefigured the Roman process of damnatio memoriae. As in the Roman period, the statues of individuals subject to abolitio memoriae were destroyed, their burial sites disrupted, and their names erased. In Chapter 10, Daniel Russo uses both literary and iconographic evidence to demonstrate the way in which the assassination of a Dominican inquisitor, canonized by Pope Innocent IV in 1254, was manipulated in the 13th-15th centuries to represent "la mort chrétienne exemplaire (180)." Russo's analysis of the iconographic evidence is especially instructive; he argues that the imagery associated with Peter of Verona in the 14th and 15th centuries is modeled on that of Saint Stephen, thus aligning the Dominican inquisitor with the Christian martyr. Next, David el Kenz argues that the stake served as the method of execution of choice for the Catholic church during the Renaissance because death by fire eliminated the threat of the return to earth of the spirit of the condemned by depriving the dead of a proper burial; the fire effectively eliminated the memory of its victims. During the 16th century, however, the Protestant hagiographer Jean Crespin co-opted the image of the stake and revived the memory of the condemned in his Histoire des martyrs, portraying death by burning instead as "un instrument d'élection devine (198)." The last chapter in this section, by Michel Cadé, compares international cinematic representations of the French Revolution to its portrayals in French film. Cadé finds that, overwhelmingly, international cinema has unsparingly invoked the image of faceless hoards being marched to the guillotine, and has emphasized the role of only a few individuals (Robespierre, in particular) as instigators of revolution. Moreover, Cadé argues, English-language portrayals of the Revolution tend to be bloody, moralizing, and unsubtle, while French accounts "refuse[nt] de ne voir dans la Terreur et le gouvernement révolutionnaire qu'un moment sanglant de l'histoire de France (316)."

The third and final section, "La Mémoire des morts : memoria, monumenta et espaces funéraires," focuses primarily on archaeological evidence (specifically, various funerary monuments), but also addresses other methods of preserving, altering, and destroying the memory of the dead (for example, Spain's Ley de Memoria Histórica, discussed in Chapter 17). In her introductory essay, Anne Daguet-Gagey identifies three "registers" of historical memory (souvenir, mémoire, histoire) distinguished by their relative proportions of emotional and intellectual impact. "Le souvenir n'engage que l'esprit. . . [la mémoire] a une charge émotionelle certaine, car elle sollicite non seulement l'esprit, l'intelligence mais encore le cœur. . .l'histoire, pour sa part, requiert les services de l'intellect (223)." The contributions in this part span all three registers, and, as in the first two sections, the essays demonstrate that the construction, reconstruction, and deconstruction of memory are common to historical contexts as disparate as the ancient Near East and World War II France. In Chapter 14, Brigitte Lion discusses burial methods of ancient Mesopotamia, and argues that, despite common assumptions, the disruption of burial sites must not be automatically interpreted as a threat to the memory of the dead. Often, she argues, while these disruptions may resemble forms of attack on the cult of the dead, they serve more pedestrian purposes. For example, the remains in royal tombs at Qatna were rearranged and reassembled as the tombs were reused from as early as the 18th century BCE until the destruction of the palace in the 14th century. The next chapter jarringly yanks the reader ahead in time to the 20th century CE. When the French districts Alsace and Moselle were de facto annexed by Nazi Germany in 1940, the German occupants began a campaign to destroy or repurpose monuments to the region's Great War victims. As Jean-Nöel Grandhomme discusses in Chapter 15, this effort by the Nazis was intended not only to efface the memory of the earlier generation of war dead, but to challenge the influence of Christianity in the region. In Chapter 16, Taline Ter Minassian presents a collection of colossal sculptures excavated in 2009 from a 17th century ice-pit in the castle of Baillet-en-France; the sculptures have been identified as installations from the Soviet pavilion at the 1937 Exposition Internationale des Arts et Techniques dans la Vie Moderne in Paris. The volume's seventeenth and final chapter, by Marie-Christine Moreau, discusses the Spanish Ley de Memoria Histórica, passed in 2007, as a form of damnatio memoriae. While the law provides for the rehabilitation of the memory of the victims of Franco's regime, it also calls for the obliteration of the memory of Francoism through the systematic destruction of Francoist symbols and the de-legitimization of the regime's laws and verdicts. As the paradoxical case of the Ley de Memoria Histórica emphasizes, above all, the mutable nature of historical memory, it provides a fitting conclusion to the volume.

Because the volume covers such a broad geographical and chronological range, its value to classicists and ancient historians is methodological rather than field-specific. This is a fascinating collection of case-studies in the processes of the construction, deconstruction, and alteration of historical memory. Although the disparate nature of the contributions is perhaps more frustrating than it is fruitful each individual chapter will be challenging to non-specialists. The introductions to Parts 1-3, however, as well as Benoist's introduction and Martin Galinier's conclusions, do a great deal to tie the work together and connect each piece not only to the broader theme of historical memory, but to the project's origins in specifically Roman historical memory (more comfortable territory for this reviewer than, say, 10th century Mexico).

The most serious drawback of this volume pertains to the physical tome itself. It obviously is not to be ascribed to either the editors or contributors, but it is significant enough to note here : the book is so poorly bound that as this reviewer turned each page, the leaf flaked off the binding until two-thirds of the volume was loose. One other minor matter : the English translations in the résumés bilingues are occasionally baffling. Overall, however, this collection is a worthwhile resource for classical scholars interested in the problems of historical memory.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction : Stéphane Benoist, "L'historien entre la mémoire et l'oubli"

Part I : Princes et dirigeants : histoire revisitée, histoire manipulée
2. Christine Hoët-Van Cauwenberghe, "Rapport introductif"
3. Charles Bonnet, "De l'abolition à la réappropriation de la mémoire : les statues des pharaons noirs (Kerma – Doukki Gel, Soudan)"
4. Michèle Gaillard, "La condamnation de la mémoire de Lothaire II (855-869), du Moyen Âge à la fin du XIXe siècle"
5. Isabelle Brousselle, "La construction de l'image de l'impératrice Irène : sainte et 'mère cruelle'"
6. Daniel Lévine, "L'histoire des Aztèques, des confins du monde civilisé à l'empire du soleil : la mémoire recomposée des fils du soleil"
7. Corinne Lefèvre, "Comment un 'conquérant du monde' devint l'esclave d'une femme. L'historiographie de l'empereur moghol Jahangir (r. 1605-1627)"

Part II : La condamnation des personnels politique et religieux : victimes et acteurs
8. Sabine Lefebvre, "Rapport introductif"
9. Ivana Savalli-Lestrade, "Usages civiques et usages dynastiques de la damnatio memoriae dans le monde hellénistique (323-30 av. J.-C.)"
10. Daniel Russo, "Mémoire et réécriture du martyre chrétien aux XIIIe et XIVe siècles. La mort du dominicain saint Pierre de Vérone, entre textes et images"
11. David El Kenz, "Le bûcher de l'hérétique à la Renaissance en France : de la damnatio memoriae à l'electio memoriae"
12. Michel Cadé, "L'histoire revisitée, le gouvernement révolutionnaire au cinéma : entre dégoût et fascination"

Part III : La mémoire des morts : memoria, monumenta et espaces funéraires
13. Anne Daguet-Gagey, "Rapport introductif"
14. Brigitte Lion, "Culte des morts et lieux de mémoire dans le Proche-Orient ancien"
15. Jean-Nöel Grandhomme, "Un aspect de la 'mise au pas' de l'Alsace-Moselle annexée de fait : la destruction des monuments aux morts de 1914-1918 par les nazis pendant la seconde guerre mondiale"
16. Taline Ter Minassian, "Le pavillion soviétique à l'Exposition universelle de 1937 : de la gloire des nations à l'effacement de la mémoire"
17. Marie-Christine Moreau, "La mémoire des victimes du franquisme. Une mémoire disputée et controversée"

18. Conclusions : Martin Galinier

Résumés bilingues des contributions
I. Index geographicus
II. Index nominum
III. Index rerum.

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