Historians agree that Liudprand of Cremona is amusing(1), relatively informative, and not entirely trustworthy. Previté‑Orton complained that, "he had a soul above documents," and was "singularly retentive of amorous scandal however devoid of probability."(2) Literary historians and critics also have not been entirely comfortable with him. For example, instead of considering him in the context of other tenth‑century historians, like Widukind of Corvey, Hrosthvita, Flodoard, or Richer, two twentieth‑century medievalists ‑‑ Erich Auerbach and Georg Misch ‑‑ have used him as a ficelle by means of which to praise Rather of Verona.


Both fascinated and embarassed by Liudprand, Auerbach quotes a passage involving the Priapic equipment and activities of the priest Dominic, but spares it the kind of close analysis for which he is justly known(3). Rather of Verona, he argues, shares some of the qualities he finds disturbing in Liudprand, but seems a more tolerable human being: Their works are full of scurrilitas, indiscretion, and immoderation, though in the one these spring from a heartfelt need, in the other from rancor and self‑importance. Both lack the sense of the appropriate, the control and harmonious form which lend unity and dignity to literary expression(4). Sincerity, then, is an excuse for bad taste(5).


Misch finds Rather introspective, anxious, neurotic, and therefore more interesting than Liudprand, whose anger finds its objects outside of the self. Accordingly, Misch disposes of the bishop of Cremona in a nine‑page sketch, inserted in the midst of a 141‑page appreciation of the bishop of Verona(6).


   The two bishops certainly had different sensibilities;

the following passage from Rather's confessional dialogue,

in which he suggests that he had improper thoughts in his

mind during the sacred service, illustrates one of the

qualities that might endear him to modern readers:

      Peccavi ego peccator in oscůlo et in amplexibus

      illecebrosis, palpando et blandiendo inique; et in

      ecclesia stans vel sedens, ubi sanctae lectiones

      vel divina officia efficiuntur, otiosis fabulis,

      vel iniquis cogitationibus me occupavi, et non

      cogitavi, quae debui, et aures non accomodavi ad

      ea quae sancta sunt. Intuendo quoque injuste et

      petulanter et recordando (quod adhuc pejus

      virorum) animalium, pecudumque concubitus, et alia

      quaedam obscena(7).



‑ 2 ‑


Liudprand displays no such confessional impulses; his failure, however, to behave like Rousseau, Dostoievsky, Jean Paul, or Lenny Bruce, should not be held against him. what drove him to write was not a tortured, introspective agony, but rather a world of political violence and chaos, which left him and his fellow countrymen constantly subject to German, French, Greek, Magyar, Saracen, and internal Italian aggression. Four years old when the Hungarians burned Pavia, his native city, he spent much of his adult literary life praising those who protected him and launching diatribes against their enemies.


    Liudprand's praise was as extravagant as his blame, but

less interesting, of course, since panegyric is, as Isidore

defined it:

      licentiosum et lasciviosum genus dicendi in

      laudibus regum, in cuius conpositione homines

      multis mendaciis adulantur(8).

Vituperation, however, generally produces more satisfying

results, since most audiences find human weaknesses more

tolerable than human strengths, perhaps because, as one of

Ivy Compton Burnett's characters says, "it is easier to be

disparaging than to be just."(9) Liudprand's diatribe is

produced by a voice compounded out of various postures,

including that of indignant ecclesiastic, cynical Italian,

reflective Stoic, committed misogynist, and begging poet.


Perhaps the best known of Liudprand's rhetorical set‑pieces occurs in the Legatio, where his effictio of Nicephorus as a grotesque pygmy, dark as an Ethiopean, with the eyes of a mole, a neck an inch long(10), hair like the bristles of a pig, a distended belly, and smelly linen(11), provides the usual pleasures of diatribe. Fashioning a grotesque figure out of one's enemy is a conventional rhetorical strategy of the Christian historian; Lactantius, for example, offers this humorless description of his principal villain, Maximian: Erat etiam corpus moribus congruens, status celsus, caro ingens, et in horrendam magnitudinem diffusa et inflata(12). However, the passage also functions as a prelude to one of several panegyrics devoted to the emperor Otto(13).


To formulate and amplify both praise and blame, Liudprand calls upon the arsenal his conventional rhetorical training made available to him, not only to carry out his agenda, but to disguise it, at least initially. Therefore he opens the Antapodosis with a combination of conventional postures, some of which are designed to relieve himself of the responsibility for the performance he is about to give. First, in a variation of the humility‑topos, he insists that he writes only because urged to do so by higher authority; humble and fearful of acrimonious critics, he has been slow


to discharge bishop Recemund's command to report what he has

seen  with his own eyes. In addition, Liudprand insists that

he is offering recreational trifles, designed to provide

relaxation after intellectually more arduous tasks, like

studying Cicero:

      quod si perplexa faceti Tulli lectione fatigantur,

      talibus saltem neniis animentur(14).

Availing himself of a commonplace traced to several of

Plato's text by Jacques Derrida(15), he offers his work as a

kind  of pharmakon, providing shelter from the sun:

      Nam, ni fallor, sicut obtutus, nisi alicuius

      interpositione substantiae, solis radiis

      reverberatus obtunditur, ne pure, ut est,

      videatur, ita plane mens achademicorum,

      peripathetiocorum stoicorumque doctrinarum iugi

      meditatione infirmatur, si non aut utili

      comodiarum risu aut heroum delectabili historia



His audience's initial expectation, then, is to be entertained by a skilled academician, capable of mixing genres, tones, and top01. Liudprand, whose early training as a court‑singer(16) may have prepared him for the role of court‑jester, does not disappoint their expectations. They could not, however, have expected everything that they find, since the Antapodosis gradually reveals itself to be both more and less academic than the initial pages suggest.


Those studying Cicero, for example, will be amused to find that when Berengar I finds Louis III in hiding, he begins his speech with the opening of the first Catiline: Quousque tandem abutere, Hulodoice, patientia nostra. Their amusement may turn to something else, however, when Berengar proceeds to punish Louis with blinding(17).


The bishop of Cremona's peculiar sense of humor has led to some confusion. In explaining the distaste Liudprand expresses in the Legatio for what he found at the Byzantine court, Rentschler offers the misleading hypothesis that Liudprand, as a Westerner, came from a tradition that was antipathetic to homo ludens(18). However, as the work of Huizinga, Rahner, Suchomski, Wehrli, and others demonstrates, homo ludens was no stranger to western Europe(19). Witty, satiric, sarcastic, sceptical, Liudprand offers the credentials of an exemplary medieval homo ludens.


Several of the characters of whom he approves in the Antapodosis show the same sense of humor. The Byzantine Emperor Leo VI, for example, plays two tricks on his soldiers. First, in a test of the reliability of his guards, he disguises himself and bribes the first two groups he meets, into disobeying his orders. The third set, however, proves incorruptible, beats him and throws him into jail.

‑ 4 ‑



After considerable difficulty, he convinces his jailer to go to the palace with him, where Leo is recognized and the jailer is astonished. When the emperor asks the man, who has shown some knowledge of astrological terminology, to predict what will happen to him now, the jailer invokes the Fates to describe his predicament:


             "Parcarum," infit, "optima Cloto nere desinit,

             Lachesis vero in torquendo laborare amplius non

             cupit, saevissima autem harum Atropos articulos

             iam in condilum solam imperii tui sententiam

             expectavit, fila contrahens rumpat(20).

Impressed with his response, subridens, Leo gives him a four‑pound bag of gold coins, and arranges to reward those who beat him and to punish those who took his bribe.


In a second ludus, emperor Leo distributes gold coins to his sleeping men(21). One guard, however, was awake and collected all the gold. He relates the event the next day to the emperor as a "dream," interpreting the numbers of bags of gold and sleeping men in the manner of a patristic exegete:

Cumque imperium tuum quasi repedare sotiosque hac in visione cernerem dormitare, continuo ceu laetus exurgens undecim dormientum aureorum numismatorum libras tuli meoque in rnarsupio, in quo una erat, apposui, quatinus ob transgressionem decalogi ne solum essent XI verum ob memoriam apostolorum mea una adhibita essent et ipsae XII(22).


Amused by the play with the number of Commandments and apostles, the emperor laughs, compliments the speaker on his powers, quotes from Lucian, and permits the soldier who remained awake to keep the coins.


Each incident offers a ludus involving a display of rhetorical competence, for which the performer is rewarded. In the first instance the jailer plays with material derived from Graeco‑Roman, Stoic commonplaces, to be found in Claudian, and eventually, later in the middle ages, to be associated with Boethius, about the nature of Fortune and fate(23). In the second instance the material is derived from Biblical exegesis. Both incidents show Liudprand's ability to play with serious, even sacred material, perhaps in an attempt to follow Horace's prescription, ridendo dicere verum.


        Such an attempt is implicit in the opening of the Antapodosis. At the same time that he claims to be delivering relief from serious studies, Liudprand, with the help of a Boethian allusion, attacks those who he imagines are about to attack him, classifying them among those who

have only a fragment of Philosophy's garment:


            qui supercilio tumentes, lectionis desides ac

            secundum eruditi viri sententiam Boetii



‑ 5 ‑


philosophyae vestis particulam habentes totamque se habere putantes(24). He continues to broaden his claims for the greater scope and tone for the Antapodosis at the beginning of book VI. Modern times demand a tragedian rather than an historian(25), Liudprand insists, as he weaves into his statement a phrase from Psalm 22, to represent an agony simultaneously personal and timeless: Temporis instantis qualitas tragoedum me potius quam historiographum quaereret, nisi pararet Dominus in conspectu meo mensam adversus eos, qui tribulant me. Insisting that his predicament more properly calls for luQere Qua m scribere. Liudprand contrasts the condition of the inner and outer man, finally offering the conventional Stoic solution: contemplating the wheel of Fortune brings meditative relief, since one at the bottom may anticipate an upward rotation: Instantia enim si mutaberit, salutem, quae deest, adferet, infortunatam, quod adest, expellet(26). These meditative postures, however, are not undertaken in the service of purely philosophic speculation; for Liudprand the purpose of invoking history, tragedy, and Stoic disdain towards events in the phenomenal world is to aid in composing vengeful invective again the enemies of Otto(27).


He begins his attack on Willa and Berengar early in the Antapodosis, invoking from the rhetoric of classical satire the impossibility‑topos, to represent the impiety of the objects of his scorn: nec lingua proferre nec calamus praevalet scribere. At the beginning of book 111(28), in the course of explaining the significance of the title he has chosen, Liudprand explicitly claims that the purpose of his work is retributio, with the specific, immediate objects of his wrath Berengar and his wife Willa, whom he describes as a secunda Iezabel(29), as well as a Lamia. Eventually the attack on Berengar seems to devolve into a series of anti‑feminine routines against Willa, permitting Liudprand to participate in the relentless diatribe against the "Pornocracy" of the late tenth‑century(30).


   To aid in getting even, and to further the Ottonian

cause, Liudprand regularly injects tragic and Stoic postures

into his diatribe. One of the ways in which he tries to

expand the significance of his invective is by recalling the

two major Graeco‑Roman civil wars: Thebes and Rome. The

opening of Statius' Thebiad would seem to be the passage

with which he is competing, when, in the course of

describing the contest between Rodulf and Berengar (July,

923), he composes verses on the internecine nature of the

battle, in which father fights son, grandfather fights


      Gnato pater ipse perhennem

      Fert interitum, genitusque

‑ 6 ‑


Perhimit patrem, dolor heu quis? Loetum parat ecce nepoti Abavus, sternendus ab ipso; Furiis pulsatus ab atris Fratrem fodit eminus alter(31).


To describe the challenge Otto's brother Henry, instigated by count Everard, offered, in 939 A.D., for the throne, Liudprand composes elegiacs, upbraiding Henry for going against God, and for provoking, in Lucan's phrase, fraternas acies(32).


The Antapodosis, then, oscillates between moments of tragic horror and moments of comic absurdity, between the sufferings of the outer man and the contemplative resignation of the inner man; the two extremes are held together by the vituperative purpose of the author, an angry, pious, comic, exiled ecclesiastic(33), who offered, in Becker's words, satire, sarcasm, and cynicism(34).


Among the results of these activities is a text that displays some of the symptoms of what Bakhtin has isolated and labeled as the techniques of debasement, and of grotesque realism. Bakhtin establishes a polarity between classicism and the tradition of grotesque realism; according to his scheme, classicism vitiates the awareness of the body; grotesque realism insists upon the body and the physical nature of reality by deliberately exaggerating and profaning whatever high culture has established as sacred: Debasement is the fundamental principle of grotesque realism; all that is sacred and exalted is rethought on the level of the material bodily stratum or else combined and mixed with its images(35). As Bakhtin conceives of it, the classical aesthetic is one of exclusion; the excluded elements are the ones that grotesque realism, as a kind of vox populi, reintroduces and insistently magnifies: The new bodily canon, in all its historic variations and different genres, presents an entirely finished, completed, strictly limited body, which is shown from the outside as something individual. That which protrudes, bulges, sprouts, or branches off (when a body transgresses its limits and a new one begins) is eliminated, hidden, or moderated. All orifices of the body are closed. The opaque surface and the body's "valleys" acquire an essential meaning as the border of a closed individuality that does not merge with other bodies and with the world. All attributes of the unfinished world are carefully removed, as well as all the signs of its inner life. The verbal norms of official and literary


language, determined by the canon, prohibit all that is linked with fecundation, pregnancy, childbirth. There is a sharp line of division between familiar speech and "correct" language(36). Grotesque realism, on the other hand, relies upon the principle of excess, violating "official" norms, overflowing boundaries(37). Bakhtin also includes banquet imagery(38), games and riddles as part of the parphenalia of grotesque realism: "the images of games were seen as a condensed formula of life and the historic process: fortune, misfortune, gain and loss, crowning and uncrowning."(39)


Misleadingly, Bakhtin insists on folk culture as the source of the strategies of debasement and grotesque realism, and his consequent inability to find these strategies in medieval literature, except in the obscure Cena Cypriani, is a sign of the limited attention he chose to pay to medieval literature. In fact, the strategies of debasement and grotesque realism can be found throughout the middle ages and Liudprand's texts offer particularly rich examples.


Banquet imagery, for example, occurs in the the opening of book VI, quoted above, where, in the process of determining the genre to which his history properly belongs, Liudprand expresses the hope that the lord may prepare a table for him in the presence of his enemies: Temporis instantis qualitas tragoedum me potius quam historiographum quaereret, nisi pararet Dominus in conspectu meo mensam adversus eos, qui tribulant me. The motif of feeding ‑‑ here a reference to a sacred relationship ‑­becomes a major topic for debasement both in the Leqatio and in the Antapodosis(40).


In the Legatio, Liudprand constantly denounces the behavior of his hosts at table. He finds their food vile, their manners terrible, and their failure to provide him with tablecloths intolerable(41). His complaints about feeding habits are not gastronomical in the modern sense, but are attacks, both in the Lectatio and in the Antapodosis, against the abuse of the central, civilizing ritual, both secular and sacred, that unites human beings. In addition, in the Legatio, Liudprand's attacks on the meals prepared for him as the legate of Otto are designed to show Nicephorus' ill‑will towards the Western Emperor(42).


In the Antapodosis, the function of "banquet imagery" is more complex. The earliest occurence of profanation of feeding results in Wido losing France to Odo. When the steward Wido sent ahead of him to prepare a banquet, more reqio, instead suggests to the bishop of Metz that he



‑ 8 ‑


economize on the meal ‑‑ in exchange for the gift of a horse ‑­the outraged bishop declares: Non decet...talem super nos regnare regem, qui decem dragmis vile sibi obsonium praparat(43).


Liudprand's bętes noires, the Hungarians, drink their defeated enemies' blood(44), and attack Christians in the midst of a meal, in a scene whose intensity is magnified by the specific image of transfixed throats: ut cibo recrearentur, descenderant; quos tanta Hungarii celeritate confoderant, ut in gula cibum transfigerent aliis(45).


When Marozia's son Alberic addresses the Romans, he attacks the Burgundians in typically medieval fashion, by providing a disparaging etymology for their name(46). He claims that they are gurguliones, either because of their guttural speech, or because of their inordinate indulgence of their gula.


Hatto betrays Adalbert by tricking him with an invitation to dinner(47), and when Flambert plots against Berengar I in Verona, the king enacts a Last Supper with him. After telling him that he has heard of Flambert's plot, the king offers him a pledge of peace:


His expletis aureum non parvi ponderis poculum rex ei porrexit atque subiunxit: "Amoris salutisque mei causa, quod continetur, bibito, quod continet, habeto." Vere quippe et absque ambiguitate post potum introivit in illum Sathanas, quemadmodum et de Iuda proditore domini nostri Iesu Christi scriptum est. "Quia post bucellam tunc introivit in illum Sathanas."(48)


At this point, to emphasize the violation of the sacred, Liudprand composes a poem on the event, borrowing the verse‑form Prudentius had used to celebrate the dawn in Cathemerinon 1(49), to provide a resonantly pious death: A tergo hunc ferit impius Romphaea; cadit heu pius Felicemque suum Deo Commendat pie spiritum(50)! In effect, then, the sign of sacred community, the meal, proves ineffective.


Even more graphic, more elaborately ludic debasement occurs when Liudprand turns to the body and images of pregnancy, fecundation, and childbirth. Women receive most of the attention in this area, as Liudprand portrays a world in which sexuality and politics are inextricably, destructively entwined. Although Willa is the declared central focus of his anti‑feminism, Ermengard, Marozia, Theodora, Berta and Willa's mother Willa also receive enough detailed attention to sustain the charge that Liudprand was



‑ 9 ‑


a committed misogynist. Since Berta and Willa are sisters, and Ermengard is Bertha's daughter, Liudprand manages to magnify his vengeance by distributing his Ottonian bile over several generations.


        The first of the abhorrent women to appear in the Antapodosis is Wido's wife, who ministers a sleeping potion to her husband's rival Arnulf, establishing the figure of woman as greedy and conniving(51). When she offers the drink, vipperina callidate, to Arnulf, Liudprand breaks in

to invoke Vergil ( Aeneid III. 56‑57) on the power of gold, Auri sacra fames. Significantly, however, Liudprand speculates that Arnulf received what he had earned by his neglect of God, and particularly by permitting churches to be turned into playgrounds, carnivals, and houses of



              In his namque simbolam faciebant, gestus turpis,

              cantus ludicres, debachationes. Sed et mulieres

              eodem publice, pro nefas, prostituebantur(52).


In Liudprand's mind, then, political and sexual disorder generate each other.


Berta, daughter of Lothair II and Waldrada, and, through her first husband Theutbald, mother of Hugh (whose sexual problems also lead to political disasters), is the next sexual powerhouse to appear in the Antapodosis. Having captured her husband Adalbert, Lambert speaks ironically of Berta's predictive powers, and her Circe‑like ability to turn men into beasts(53). After her husband's death, Liudprand complains, she exercises as much authority as her son Wido, the rightful inheritor. Her weapons include cleverness, an appeal to greed, and sexual competence; she gets her way, cum calliditate, muneribus, tum hymenaei exercitio dulcis(54) Her daughter Ermengard is described as equally talented in the area of sexual performance, Afroditi dulcedine coaecrualem. According to Liudprand, Ermengard carried on carnal commerce with everyone, noble and commoner(55). When she convinces Rodulf to desert his men, Liudprand compares him to Holofernes, decapitated (i.e., "uncrowned") by a woman(56).


Theodora, scortum impudens, seduces the man who will become John X, arranging his election to the Papacy in 914, because, according to Liudprand, she found the distance from Rome to Ravenna an intolerable impediment to her lust(57). Her daughters, Theodora and Marozia, Liudprand assures us, were equally venereal(58). In addition, Marozia and her husband Wido are instrumental in bringing about the death of John X, first killing Peter, John's brother, before the Pope's very eyes. Then they imprison the Pope, who dies in 928, perhaps smothered with a pillow(59)







‑ 10 ‑


    In effect, the next demonstration of Marozia's powers

occurs when Hugh, count of Arles and Provence (and son of

the venereal Berta), arrives in Italy. Liudprand had warned

his readers, during an encomium of Hugh, that the count was

sexually vulnerable: ui etsi tot virtutibus clarebat,

mulierum tamen illecebris eas fedabat(60). The major

demonstration of this weakness occurs when, at the death of

her husband Wido, Marozia offers herself and Rome to Hugh,

in a sexual‑political transaction that prompts Liudprand to

compose fifteen hexameters attacking Marozia's proposal.

First, he asserts, the match is incestuous:

      Quid Veneris facibus compulsa Marozia saevis?

      Coniugis ecce tui spectas to suavia fratris,

      Nubere germanis satagens Herodia duobus,

      Immemor en videris praecepti caeca Johannis,

      Qui fratri vetuit fratris violare maritam(61).

Associating Marozia with Herodias of course makes Hugh a

candidate for decapitation ("uncrowning," again), and

recalls the earlier equating of Rodolf's uxoriousness with

Holofernes' weakness. After imagining Marozia defending her

behavior with a misogynistic line from Juvenal VI.300,

Liudprand portrays Hugh coming to Rome at Marozia's bidding,

like an ox being led to an ironically sacred slaughter:

      Respondes, scio, tu: Nichil hoc Venus ebria curat'.

      Advenit optatus ceu bos tibi ductus ad aram

      Rex Hugo, Romanam potius commotus ob urbem.


Hugh comes to Rome and shares her bed, but runs into difficulty when he slaps her stepson Alberic, initiating a sequence that drives him ignominiously from Rome, leaving Marozia behind(62).


In the next book, Hugh's sexual misadventures continue when he marries Rodulf's widow queen Bertha, but soon spurns her for his concubines, among whom three are particular favorites: Pezola, vilissimorum servorum sanguine cretam, who produces Boso, to become bishop of Piacenza; Roza, daughter of the beheaded Walpert; Stephania, who produces Tedbald, to become archdeacon of Milan. According to Liudprand, their true pedigree is unknown, since their mothers were not faithful to Hugh. Therefore, sexual license not only wreaks havoc with the secular state, but it contaminates the church(63)


One of the most notable features of book IV is the intensification of the technique of debasement, possibly because. as Liudprand claims, at this point, he is turning from what he has heard reliable men tell, to what he has himself witnessed. The "lower bodily stratum" becomes more prominent, as both male and female genitalia take on comic, as well as abhorrent functions.



‑ 11 ‑


The first example of this intensification offers, in what Liudprand calls a ludibrium, a parody of sexual politics. A woman saves her husband's genitalia by an excercise of her rhetorical powers(64), demonstrating, in the process, the Catonian assertion that foolishness may be a disguise for wisdom: stultitiam simulare loco prudentia summa est(65).


   The anecdote takes place shortly after Tedbald (the son

of Hugh and Stephania, and the eventual archdeacon of Milan)

captures some Greeks besieging Benevento. As he proceeds to

have them castrated, one of their wives puts on a highly

theatrical performance. First she appears before Tedbald's

tent, howling with grief, her face bleeding, torn by her own

nails. When Tedbald comes out and asks her what is wrong,

she replies that he is making war not on men, but on women.

Defending himself, Tedbald claims that no one since the days

of the Amazons has made war on women, but she argues that

castration is an attack on women, depriving them of central


     nostri refocilatio corporis et, quod omnium

     potissimum est, nasciturae spes extat prolis(66).

Refocilatio, of course, was the function Liudprand had

promised his own work would perform. Furthermore, she points

out that she offered no resistance when Tedbald took her

sheep and cattle, because that loss was less significant

than the one now impending. She ends her performance with

artful triplets, while reworking Vergil to her purposes:

     "tam crudelem tamque inrecuperabilem modis omnibus

     horreo, fugio, nolo. Sancti Dei omnes talem a me

     avertite pestem!"(67)


In response to her performance, all those present laugh,

and Tedbald gives her husband back to her, intearum. When

she has left, he sends someone after her to ask what part of

her husband he may take if her husband cames out to fight

again. She replies: Oculi sunt illi, nares, manus et

ep des. The rest is hers(68).


After this comic routine, in which the lower bodily stratum takes precedence over the rest of the body, Liudprand offers an anecdote that involves the female lower bodily stratum. Willa, the wife of Boso, and mother of the Willa who is the declared central target of the Antapodosis, showed a supreme passion for gold: coniux sua Willa phylargiriae coepit amore flagare. Instead of enumerating her crimes, Liudprand offers one incident, turpissimus, to stand for all of them(69). When her husband's attempt to start a revolt in 936 against his brother, king Hugh, failed, queen Willa attempted to preserve some of their wealth by hiding a very long, broad, valuable, golden belt, in her private parts. On Hugh's orders, she is stripped; most of the soldiers are too decent to look closely, but one of them, inpudenter...foediterctue, directs a penetrating

‑ 12 ‑


glance at the forbidden area, with results that Liudprand describes in precisely imagined detail: servorum quidam directo obtutu purpuream secus natium speroiden vidit dependere corrigiam... He proceeds to draw it out, and, ipso turpi facinore hilarior, congratulates himself for his obstetrical competence: 'Ha! ha! hé' ait, 'quam peritus obstetricandi miles! Ruffus puer est natus herae. He goes on to wish the same luck upon his own wife, finally provoking Willa to weep.


Her tears only provoke him to more pyrotechnical display; he mercilessly proceeds to compose nine hexameters on the event, demonstrating surprising metrical and rhetorical competence for his rank. Opening with a play on Vergil Ecloq_ue X.29, followed a few lines later by a reference to Ecl. IV.61, in the course of the poem he manages to forge playful links among one of the Furies, reproduction and greed, until one of his superiors takes him by the neck and upbraids him:


"Willa quid insanis aurum quod condere caecis Incipis in membris? pro non audita cupido! Allecto furiis gemmas in corpore condis. Matribus insolitum tales producere parus, Hinc tibi nulla decem tulerant fastidia menses. Alma parens, tales nobis haud desine foetus Edere, qui nati superent to aetate parentem!" Talia cunctanti collum percusserat unus Impiger ac verbis ipsum culparet amaris(70).


Pretending to disapprove of the servant's behavior, and of the poem, which clearly was composed by the bishop of Cremona himself(71), Liudprand represents himself as puzzled by the problem of determining whose behavior was worse: Utrum tamen, quae abscondit, an qui eo inquirere iussit, foedius egerit, michi quidem videtur amphibolum(72).


Cicero had been clear about how an orator might use comedy: Haec enim ridentur vel sola, vel maxime, quae notant et designant turpitudinem aliquam non turpiter.


For the chief, if not the only objects of laughter are those sayings which remark upon and point out something unseemly in no unseemly manner(73). By assigning the poem to a soldier, Liudprand fabricates a rhetorical situation that allows him simultaneously to obey and to violate Ciceronian precepts of comic decorum.


Both the story of the woman whose rhetorical competence saved her husband from castration, and the story of Willa's



‑ 13 ‑


humiliation are parodic versions of sexual politics. Reducing sex, property, and greed, to the "lower bodily stratum," makes the forces that determine history graphically absurd.


    When Liudprand takes on the topic of Willa, Berengar's

wife, one of the declared targets of the Antapodosis, he

bestows inordinate attention on male genitalia(74). In the

passage that Auerbach chose to examine, Berta's sister

Willa, wife of Berengar, carries on with a chaplain named

Dominic, to whom Liudprand applies fourteen consecutive

pejorative adjectives(75), in an attempt to produce a

grotesque scarcely distinguishable from a gargoyle:

      Habuit ea presbiterulum capellanum, nomine

      Dominicum, statura brevem, colore fuligineum,

      rusticum, setigerum, indocilem, agrestem,

      barbarum, durum, vilosum, cauditum, petulcum,

      insanum, rebellem, iniquum(76)

Dominic tutors Willa's daughters, and receives what everyone

at court recognizes as unusually generous gifts from the

queen. His relationship with the queen is in danger of being

revealed one night when a dog discovers them in bed, barks,

and bites him(77). Willa temporarily saves her reputation

by claiming that Dominic was pursuing her maids. Eventually

the chaplain is castrated, and Berengar's passion for Willa

perversely increases:

      Presbiterulus itaque, quia dominae asseculas

      adhinnivit, virilibus amputatis dimittitur; domina

      vero a Berengario magis diligitur.

Liudprand claims not to know exactly how she managed to

bring this condition about, although he offers, as one

alternative, the possibility that Willa, like Berta before

her, and, of course, Circe long before her, had supernatural


      Willa vero coepit aruspices maleficosque

      inquirere, quo eorum carminibus iuvaretur. Utrum

      autem horum carminibus an Bernegarii sit adiuta

      mollicie, nescio; adeo mens eius est inclinata, ut

      sponte maritali porrigeret ora capistro(78).


   As the final debasement in the anecdote, Liudprand

focuses on Dominic's priapea arma, reducing Willa's passion

for her grotesque lover to a single, grotesque element:

     Dixerunt autem, qui eum eunuchizaverunt, quod

     merito illum domina amaret, quem priapea arma

     portare arma constaret.

Although Rentschler suggest that the Priapic Dominic

represents an example of the influence of Byzantine

historical writing, and of calling things by their right

name(79), the passage clearly also demonstrates one of the

ways in which the techniques of grotesque realism serve the

purposes of the satirist.

‑ 14 ‑


The major contamination, or debasement of the church, however, derives from the behavior of John XII. Crowned Holy Roman Emperor by John XII in 962, Otto proceeded to depose both the Pope and Berengar. Part of the defense of Otto's actions is represented by the debasement of Willa II in the fourth book of the Antapodosis. The rest of the task is done by passages in the Historia Ottonis Magni Imperatoris, where Liudprand offers an intense, detailed attack on the sexual appetites of Pope John XII, including his passion for the widow of Rainer, his passion for Stephana, his father's mistress, and his passion for women pilgrims. Liudprand also denounces the Pope's passion for gambling, his habit of calling on Venus, Jove, and other demons for assistance at dice, and his habit of mutilating his enemies.


Finally, to provide John with a death that might satisfy Ottonians, Liudprand arranges for him to be struck by the devil while in bed with another man's wife: quadam nocte extra Romam, dum se cum viri cuiusdam uxore oblectaret, in temporibus adeo a diabolo est percussus, ut infra dierum octo spacium eodem sit vulnere mortuus(80).


   Clearly Liudprand's strength and central interests are

invested in his powers of vituperation; although he offers

the Antapodosis as a relaxation from intellectual efforts,

he devotes a significant amount of intellectual, imaginative

effort to his self‑proclaimed "trifles." At the end of the

work he retreats into his initial posture of humility,

turning upon himself the technique of debasement. In the

final scene of the Antapodosis he describes the three‑day

ceremony in which the Greek Emperor bestows gold coins upon

his vassals and court‑officers. Towards the end of the

ceremony, the emperor asks Liudprand uid super hac re mihi

placeret, and envious, quick‑witted Liudprand replies:

      Placeret sane, si prodesset; sicut et aestuati

      diviti Lazari visa requies placuisset, si

      proveniret; cui quia non accidit, qui quaeso

      placere potuit(81)?

The emperor is amused and embarassed, Subridens itague

imperator paululum pudore commotus, and presents Liudprand

with a cloak and a pound of gold coins. The last words of

Liudprand and of the Antapodosis are: Libentius accepi.

Thus Liudprand, by likening himself to Dives in hell

watching Lazarus in heaven, receives a material reward,

ironically reversing the values implicit in the Biblical

passage which, as Karl Leyser has pointed out, Liudprand

also commented on seriously, in a homily recently discovered

and printed by Bernard Bischoff(82). The final joke in the

Antapodosis, then, is played by Liudprand on himself.

Anticipating the Archpoet, Hugh Primas, and Walter of

Chatillon, he portrays himself as the victim of his owntechnique, as well as of his historical circumstances: an amusing beggar who debases biblical coin ‑‑ the sacred text ‑‑ for pay(83).





(1) For example, in a review of MICHAEL RENTSCHLER, Liudprand von Cremona (Frankfurt 1981), in: Speculum 58 (1983) 850‑851, Martin ARBAGI, expresses the suspicion that S.J. Perlman learned some things from Liudprand.


(2) Cambridge Medieval History, (Cambridge 1911‑1936) III 161.


(3) Eric AUERBACH, Literary Language and its Public in Late Latin Antiquity and in the Middle Ages (New York 1965), especially 152‑54.


(4) AUERBACH 156.


(5) A version of the argument sometimes used to defend the rhetorical excesses of the Romantic poets; see Henri PEYRE, Literature and Sincerity (New Haven 1963) 134.


(6) Georg MISCH, Geschichte der Autobiographie (Frankfurt 1955) 2 2, 519‑650; 521‑27 are devoted to Liudprand. Earlier in the twentieth century, Max MANITIUS found Rather an unappealing human being, but an unusual writer, devoting twice the space to him that he gives Liudprand, at least partly because of Rather's greater production; see Geschichte der lateinischen Literature des Mittelalters, (Munich 1923 2) 166‑175 and 34‑52. Liudprand himself had only good to say about Rather (see Die Werke Liudprands von Cremona, ed. by Joseph BECKER, Hanover 1915 101).


(7) Migne PL CXXXVI 398.


(8) Ed. W.M. LINDSAY (Oxford 1911 ) VI viii 7. Isidore blames the Greeks for starting the genre: Quod malum a Graecis exortum est, quorum levitas instructa dicendi facultate et copia incredibili multas mendaciorum nebulas.


(9) Ivy COMPTON‑BURNETT, The Last and the First (New York 1971) 80.


(10) BECKER 177.


(11) BECKER comments (177): "Liudprand gibt in den Grundzügen ein mit Leo Diac. übereinstimmendes Bild von Nikephors, aber er vergröbert absichtlich and sieht ins Lächerliche."


(12) Ed. J. P. CREED, De Mortibus Persecutorum (Oxford 1984) 14. CURTIUS (p. 182 n. 37) offers, among other models, Sidonius' description of Gnatho.





‑ 17 ‑


(13) For the latest discussion of Liudprand's work as a propagandist for Otto, see Ernst KARPF, Herrscherlegitimation and Reichsbegriff in der ottonischen Geschichtsschreigung des 10. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart 1985) 5‑47.


(14) BECKER 4.


(15) La Pharmacie de Platon, in: Tel Quel 32 (1968) 3‑48, and Tel Quel 33 (1968) 18‑59.


(16) See the opening of book IV.


(17) BECKER 56.


(18) RENTSCHLER 43, 46.


(19) See E. R. CURTIUS, European Literature and the Latin Middle Ages, trans. Willard R. TRASK, (New York 1963) 425‑426; Joachim SUCHOMSKI, Delectatio and Utilitas (Bern, 1975) passim; Johan HUIZINGA, Homo Ludens (New York 1970) passim; Hugo RAHNER, Der spielende Mensch, in: Eranos‑Jahrbuch 16 (1949) 29; R. Levine, "Wolfram von Eschenbach: Homo Ludens," Viator XIII (1982) 177‑201; Max WEHRLI, Poeta Ludens, Zum Spielelement der mittelalterlichen Literatur, in: Variorum mundera florum (Sigmaringen 1985) 193‑203. See also BECKER's remarks on Liudprand's temperament, xiv ff.


(20) BECKER 12


(21) BECKER 13.


(22) BECKER 14

. For a provocative discussion of the use of this body of material, contrasting Boethius and Augustine, see F.P. PICKERING, Augustinus oder Boethius (Berlin 1967) I. According to Pickering, a medieval writer had to determine whether his sympathies lay with a Boethian rejection of the possibility that events in the sublunary world had any permanent significance (in which case he could scarcely compose a line on events in his own time), or with the Augustinian affirmation that God's will is worked out in human history. Some writers did both. KARPF (9 n. 24) thinks that Pickering's distinction is not particularly relevant to a reading of Liudprand.

(24) Becker 4.






‑ 18 ‑


(25) For resemblances between the genres in Roman literature, see W.S. ANDERSON, Essays in Roman Satire (Princeton 1982) xi, and Sir Ronald SYME, Roman Papers II (Oxford 1984) 1117.


(26) BECKER 152.


(27) For connections between Liudprand's idea of revenge and what Pickering calls an Augustinian vision of history, see Jon M. SUTHERLAND, The Idea of Revenge, in: Speculum 50 (1975) 391‑410. Sutherland emphasizes the degree to which Liudprand puts theological arguments to personal use (408‑409). See also Hans JESSEN, Die Wirkung der augustinischen Geschichtsphilosophie auf den Weltanschauungen and Geschichtsschreibungen Liudprands von Cremona (diss. Greifeld 1921).


(28) BECKER 73 ‑74


(29) For Merovingian uses   of the figure of Jezabel for

     political invective,   see Janet L. NELSON, Queens as

     Jezabels: The Career   of Brundhild and Balthild in

     Merovingian History,   in: Medieval Women, ed. Derek

     Baker (Oxford, 1978)   31‑77.


(30) See Heinrich FICHTENAU, Lebensordnungen des 10. Jahrhunderts (Stuttgart 1984) I 146 ff.; see also Bernard HAMILTON, "The House of Theophylact and the promotion of the religious life among women in tenth century Rome," in: Monastic Reform, Catharism and the Crusades, (London 1979) IV.


(31) BECKER 66‑67.


(32) BECKER 115.


(33) Liudprand began composing the Antapodosis in 958 at Frankfurt, at the court of Otto the Great. who gave him, in return for his mission to Constantinople, the bishopric of Cremona.


(34) BECKER xv.


(35) Mikhail BAKHTIN, Rabelais and his World (Cambridge 1968) 370. For a recent application of some of Bakhtin's distinctions, see the introduction to Jill MANN's edition and translation of Ysengrimus (Leiden 1987) 29‑44.


(36) BAKHTIN 370.






‑ 19 ‑


(37)     In a paper delivered May 7, 1988 at the twenty‑third Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo, George Panayioutou demonstrated Liudprand's love of rhetorical excess. Particularly striking symptoms include his penchant for abundantia dicendi, particularly ornamental doublets, and variatio dicendi.


(38)     Effectively what CURTIUS means by "kitchen humor," 431‑435.


(39)     BAKHTIN 235.


(40)     For Graeco‑Roman attitudes towards feasting, see J. MARTIN, Symposion (Paderborn 1931).


(41)     See RENTSCHLER 36‑40. See BECKER 196, for Liudprand's contrast of those who eat garlic, onions, and leeks with those who are carnivores.


(42)     They also seem to reflect a Roman satirical topos involving the client who is humiliated at the patron's dinner‑table. See Juvenal V, Martial 3.60, 6.11, and R. SHERO, Classical Philology 18 (1923) 126‑43.


(43)     BECKER 18.


(44)     BECKER 69.


(45)     BECKER 78.


(46)     BECKER 98.


(47)     BECKER 40‑41.


(48)     BECKER 68‑69. The allusion is to John 13.27.


(49)     Henk VYNCKIER's suggestion that Liudprand is following the pattern for martyrs in the Legatio would seem to support the suggestion that Liudprand characteristically had sacred models in mind; see Liudprandi Passio, in: Medieval Perspectives I (1986) 54‑64.


(50)     BECKER 69


(51)     BECKER 24‑25.


(52)     BECKER 25.


(53)     BECKER 29.


(54)     BECKER 62‑63.


(55)     BECKER 77.


‑ 20 ‑


(56)     BECKER 76.


(57)      BECKER 60.


(58)     BECKER 58


(59)     BECKER 95‑96.


(60)     BECKER 82


(61)     BECKER 96


(62)     Liudprand supresses the rest of her story, perhaps because, according to the Subiaco Register, dated 15 March 952, she became ancilla Dei (HAMILTON IV 209).


(63)     BECKER 111‑112.


(64)     Ludibrium autem, immo sapientiam, quam quaedam tunc mulier gessit, hic inseramus (BECKER 108).


(65)     BECKER 108; taken from Cato, Disticha 11.18.


(66)     BECKER 109.


(67)     Aeneid 111.620: di talem terris avertite pestem.


(68)     By the thirteenth century, at least in England, the woman's contention had some legal support. The Placita Corone, a set of legal precedents compiled 1274‑75 in England, offers the following modification of punishment for a rapist:


Et si il seit homme espous ke tel trespas avera fet et sa femme veigne a hure et a tens, ce est a saver avant ke jugement li seit done, ele porra chalanger les coilles son seignur com les siens et en tel manire, solum dreite ley, ne ert il fors avegle pur le trespas ed. J.M. KAYE, Placita Corone, Selden Society, Supplementary Series (London 1966) 9 .


(69)     BECKER 110.


(70)      BECKER 111.


(71)      Liudprand's habit of breaking into his text to comment on the action is, of course, characteristic of many medieval historians; however it also resembles the technique of the sortie, as Paul ZUMTHOR describes its twelfth century use, in Roman et gothique: deux aspects de la poésie médiévale, in: Studi in onore di Italo Siciliano (Florence 1966) 2 1233.


(72)     BECKER 111.


‑ 21 ‑


(73) Cicero: De Oratore, E.W. Sutton and H. Rackham, Cambridge, 1967, v. I, pp. 372‑73.


(74) In an earlier passage, the genitalia seem pathetic, not grotesque: when Giselbert, count of Bergamo is brought before the king, his genitals visible (BECKER 65‑66). Liudprand uses lines from Terence's Eunuch 111.1.42, to heighten the comedy: in genitalium ostensione membrorum risu omnes emoririer. The king releases him on his own recognizance, in effect, with most impractical generosity.


(75) Some of which he seems to have borrowed, as BECKER points out (150, n. 3), from the description of Pan by an anonymous author, to be found in Poetae latinae minores, ed. BAEHRENS (Leipzig 1879‑1886) 111.170.


(76) BECKER 150.


(77) The scene may be regarded as an exercise in the rhetorical topic of "the adulterer unmasked," as described by C.S. BALDWIN in Medieval Rhetoric and Poetics (Gloucester 1959) 11.


(78) BECKER 151; Sponte...capistro is borrowed from Juvenal VI.43.


(79) RENTSCHLER 66‑67.


(80) BECKER 173.


(81) BECKER 158.


(82) Karl LEYSER, Liudprand of Cremona, Preacher and Homilist, in The Bible in the Medieval World (Oxford 1985) 43‑60.


(83) Lucilius and Horace, of course, also composed comic routines at their own expense. MISCH (577) suggests that Rather's attack on himself in the Phrenesis, was in this Roman tradition.



(73) Cicero: De Oratore, E.W. Sutton and H. Rackham, Cambridge, 1967, v. I, pp. 372‑73.


(74) In an earlier passage, the genitalia seem pathetic, not grotesque: when Giselbert, count of Bergamo is brought before the king, his genitals visible (BECKER 65‑66). Liudprand uses lines from Terence's Eunuch 111.1.42, to heighten the comedy: in genitalium ostensione membrorum risu omnes emoririer. The king releases him on his own recognizance, in effect, with most impractical generosity.


(75) Some of which he seems to have borrowed, as BECKER points out (150, n. 3), from the description of Pan by an anonymous author, to be found in Poetae latinae minores, ed. BAEHRENS (Leipzig 1879‑1886) 111.170.


(76) BECKER 150.


(77) The scene may be regarded as an exercise in the rhetorical topic of "the adulterer unmasked," as described by C.S. BALDWIN in Medieval Rhetoric and Poetics (Gloucester 1959) 11.


(78) BECKER 151; Sponte...capistro is borrowed from Juvenal VI.43.


(79) RENTSCHLER 66‑67.


(80) BECKER 173.


(81) BECKER 158.


(82) Karl LEYSER, Liudprand of Cremona, Preacher and Homilist, in The Bible in the Medieval World (Oxford 1985) 43‑60.


(83) Lucilius and Horace, of course, also composed comic routines at their own expense. MISCH (577) suggests that Rather's attack on himself in the Phrenesis, was in this Roman tradition.



(73) Cicero: De Oratore, E.W. Sutton and H. Rackham, Cambridge, 1967, v. I, pp. 372‑73.


(74) In an earlier passage, the genitalia seem pathetic, not grotesque: when Giselbert, count of Bergamo is brought before the king, his genitals visible (BECKER 65‑66). Liudprand uses lines from Terence's Eunuch 111.1.42, to heighten the comedy: in genitalium ostensione membrorum risu omnes emoririer. The king releases him on his own recognizance, in effect, with most impractical generosity.


(75) Some of which he seems to have borrowed, as BECKER points out (150, n. 3), from the description of Pan by an anonymous author, to be found in Poetae latinae minores, ed. BAEHRENS (Leipzig 1879‑1886) 111.170.


(76) BECKER 150.


(77) The scene may be regarded as an exercise in the rhetorical topic of "the adulterer unmasked," as described by C.S. BALDWIN in Medieval Rhetoric and Poetics (Gloucester 1959) 11.


(78) BECKER 151; Sponte...capistro is borrowed from Juvenal VI.43.


(79) RENTSCHLER 66‑67.


(80) BECKER 173.


(81) BECKER 158.


(82) Karl LEYSER, Liudprand of Cremona, Preacher and Homilist, in The Bible in the Medieval World (Oxford 1985) 43‑60.


(83) Lucilius and Horace, of course, also composed comic routines at their own expense. MISCH (577) suggests that Rather's attack on himself in the Phrenesis, was in this Roman tradition.