Thursday, March 3, 2011

2011.03.10

Teresa Shawcross, The Chronicle of Morea: Historiography in Crusader Greece. Oxford Studies in Byzantium. Oxford/New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Pp. xv, 401. ISBN 9780199557004. $150.00.

Reviewed by David Elton Gay, Indiana University, Bloomington (dgay@indiana.edu)

Version at BMCR home site

The Chronicle of Morea: Historiography in Crusader Greece is a revision of Teresa Shawcross's Oxford University dissertation. It is a close study of the medieval Greek Chronicle of Morea that ranges in topic from textual criticism to orality and literacy in relation to the text. The Chronicle, written sometime in the early fourteenth century, is an often romance-like text that treats the history of the principality created by French crusaders in the Greek region of Morea in the wake of the Fourth Crusade of 1204.

The book has three parts. Part One is "Composition, Transmission, Reception," (pp. 31-111), which has three chapters: "The Versions" (pp. 34-52); "The Sources," pp. 53-81); and "The Literary World: Context and Circulation" (pp. 82-111). In the first of these chapters Shawcross examines the versions of the text in their various languages (Greek, Italian, French, and Spanish). She assesses their relationship in regards to the typical questions of primacy in order to attempt to determine the ancestral text these are based upon. In the second chapter she looks at the sources for the stories contained in the Chronicle, dividing these into three kinds: "Non-Narrative Sources" (pp. 54-62), which includes documents such as court proceedings and charters; "Narrative Sources" (pp. 64-79), which looks at historical and other literary narrative sources; and finally "Oral Tales and First Hand Experience" (pp. 80-81). And in the third chapter "The Literary World: Context and Circulation," she looks at questions concerning the transmission of the manuscripts: for instance, how did what is probably a text originally written in Greek come to circulate in Italian, French, and Spanish versions?

The second part of the book is "Narrative Technique: Orality and Literacy" (pp. 115-84). Her concerns in this part of the book are largely stylistic, and especially, as the subtitle suggests, questions concerning orality and literacy in the composition of the Chronicle. The first chapter, "Structure" (pp. 121-30), examines the structure of the Chronicle, finding it to reflect a text that originates in the oral tradition. The second chapter in this part looks at "Speech Acts" (pp. 131-149). The third chapter, "Voice" (pp. 150-166) looks at narrative strategies concerning forms of address. The final chapter in this part examines "Tense-Switching" (pp. 167-189). Here too the Chronicle shows stylistic affinities with texts that originated as oral texts.

Part Three, "Ideology: Conquerors and Conquered" (pp. 187-259) examines the Chronicle as historiography. The first chapter in this section, "Greek and Latins: Ethno-Religious Identity" (pp. 190-202) looks at the ethnic relations between the French and Greeks. The second chapter, "Imagining the Principality of Morea: A National History" (pp. 203-219) proposes reading the Chronicle as a kind of nascent "national history." The third chapter "The Rise of Vernacular Greek Historiography in the Late Medieval Eastern Mediterranean" (pp. 220-237) looks at the Chronicle in relation to the growth of vernacular Greek historiography. And the final chapter, "The Principality of Morea in Crisis: An Identity Compromised" (pp. 238-259) looks at the decline of the Principality of Morea as reflected in the Chronicle.

The book closes with some "General Conclusions" (pp. 260-267), and an appendix, "The Libro de los fechos: from the French or from the Greek?" (pp. 268-273). There is also a very useful selection of passages, "Selected Passages from the Chronicle of Morea," (pp. 274-349), that has all of the selections in parallel texts in the original languages and in English translation.

The book is at its best in the first two parts and the first two chapters of Part Three. Shawcross does a good job in these sections, describing the manuscripts and their transmission, the stylistic features of the various texts, and in showing that the Chronicle is "a precocious attempt to engage with the need to create a useable recent past...that would appeal to the defeated Greeks and through ideological sleights of hand, would vindicate the ongoing occupation [of Morea by the French] by presenting it as something greater and more acceptable than foreign domination." (pp. 236-37) In the Chronicle, she writes, "a kernel of historical truth has been decked out with fantasies and half-truths so as to provide a pleasing and coherent story of the ways in which a particular community, that of the Principality of Morea, was formed and developed." (p. 216)

But the last two chapters of Part Three, "The Rise of Vernacular Greek Historiography in the Late Medieval Eastern Mediterranean" and "The Principality of Morea in Crisis: An Identity Compromised," are often very problematical. I agree with Shawcross that the Chronicle is an intriguing text that offers considerable insight into the perceptions of history of whoever wrote the text, but I find that she overstates her case when she tries to link the Chronicle to specific historical circumstances as a way of understanding the ideology of the text: as, for instance, when she proposes that a "possible reading of Chronicle is to understand it as a rallying-cry to the cause of the dispossessed Mahaut de Hainault." (p. 247) Given that we don't know exactly when, or by whom, or where the Chronicle was composed, this reading of the Chronicle, which is not supported by any internal evidence of the text, nor by any external evidence, seems to me misplaced.

Considered at its best, however, which is as a book concerning the uses of history in medieval Greece, The Chronicle of Morea: Historiography in Crusader Greece, has much to offer the reader.

Table of Contents:

Introduction (pp. 1-28)

Part One: "Composition, Transmission, Reception" (pp. 31-111)

Chapter 1: "The Versions" (pp. 34-52)
Chapter 2: "The Sources" (pp. 53-81)
Chapter 3: "The Literary World: Context and Circulation" (pp. 82-111).

Part Two: "Narrative Technique: Orality and Literacy" (pp. 115-84).

Chapter 4: "Structure" (pp. 121-30
Chapter 5: "Speech Acts" (pp. 131-49)
Chapter 6: "Voice" (pp. 150-66)
Chapter 7: "Tense-Switching" (pp. 167-84)

Part Three: "Ideology: Conquerors and Conquered" (pp. 187-259)

Chapter 8: "Greek and Latins: Ethno-Religious Identity" (pp. 190-202)
Chapter 9: "Imagining the Principality of Morea: A National History" (pp. 203-19)
Chapter 10:"The Rise of Vernacular Greek Historiography in the Late Medieval Eastern Mediterranean" (pp. 220-37)
Chapter 11:"The Principality of Morea in Crisis: An Identity Compromised" (pp. 238-59)

"General Conclusions" (pp. 260-267

Appendix, "The Libro de los fechos: from the French or from the Greek?" (pp. 268-73)

"Selected Passages from the Chronicle of Morea" (pp. 274-349)

Bibliography (pp. 351-80)

Index (pp. 381-401)

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