“Fredegisus. De substantia nihili et tenebrarum” (David Howlett)

 Bulletin Du Cange, nº. 64, 2006, págs. 123-144

A scholarly deacon named Fredegisus, nicknamed Nathanahel, served as a messenger among Alcuin, Charlemagne, and Amo bishop of Salzburg. He became an archdeacon sometime before Wednesday, 15 April 800, succeeded Alcuin as abbot of the monastery of Saint Martin at Tours 804-06, witnessed the will of the emperor Charlemagne in 811, served as archchancellor for the emperor Louis the Pious from 819, became abbot of Saint Berlin and Saint Omer in 820, also abbot of Connery, and died on Sunday, 10 August 833. Sometime after he had become archdeacon and Charlemagne had become emperor Fredegisus composed a treatise De Substantia Nihili et Tenebrarum ‘On the Substance of Nothing and Shadows’, addressed as from Charlemagne to an Irish scholar named Dungal. The treatise has been edited frequently, always unsatisfactorily, from three sources : Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, MS latin 5577, folios 134-137, written late in the ninth century; Rome, Biblioteca Apostolica Vaticana, MS Reg. Lat. 69, folios 90-93, written late in the ninth century or early in the tenth; and Brussels, Bibliothèque Royale, MS 9587, folios 51-53, written during the tenth century, and folios 168-170, written during the modem period.

The most competent of the earlier editors, Dümmler, unaccountably presented the text as two separate letters. One recent editress, Concettina Gennaro, normalized the text to her own standards of correctness, disregarding some forms found in all three manuscripts, and ignoring both the precepts of Alcuin’s treatise De Orthographia and the practice of our author’s contemporaries, even when that was fixed in the forms of acrostics, mesostichs, and telestichs in carmina figurata. Gennaro normalized the form of the author’s name to Fridugisus, that of the emperor to Carolus, that of one of his titles to Dominus, and she repeatedly assimilated consonants unassimilated in the manuscripts.

A normalized form of our author’s name in Old English might be Fripugisl, meaning ‘peace-hostage’. But native speakers of Old English often used forms other than those preferred by modem philologists. The former name-element fripu ‘peace’ occurs, with the spelling fixed by an acrostic in a poem written by Saint Boniface under his Old-English name, in Würzburg, Universitätsbibliothek, MS M.p.th.f.29, folio 44r, Uynfreth priscorum Duddo congesserat artem. The latter name-element -gisl ‘hostage’ recurs with metathesis in the late-eighth- or early-ninth-century Liber Vitae Ecclesiae Dunelmensis, London, British Library, MS Cotton Domitian A. VII, folio 12v, as Helmgils, and in the West-Saxon regnal table prefixed to the late-ninth-century manuscript of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle in Cambridge, Corpus Christi College, MS 173, folio Ir, as Cynegils.

In a poem about his cell, De Abbatibus by Aediluulf of Bywell, written A.D. 803-21, the name appears in line 270, alter erat frater Fridegils cognomine dictus, with short i and short e in Fride-. In the Domesday Book, compiled A.D. 1084-86, the name is spelled Fredgis three times from Nottinghamshire, volume I, folios 223rb, 226ra, 290rb, and Fredgist five times from Yorkshire, Lindsey, and Lincolnshire, volume I, folios 300va, 300vb bis, 366rb, 368va. London, Society of Antiquaries, MS 60, folios 59-64, preserves a charter, purporting to have issued from A.D. 664 but written during the mid-twelfth century, that includes the signum Fredegysi ministri.

Several Franks had literary careers in Anglo-Saxon England. One was the mid-tenth-century poet Frithegod of Canterbury, named in William of Malmesbury’s Gesta Pontificum Anglorum, published after A.D. 1125, as Fridegodus, but known elsewhere as Fredegaud of Brioude. Another was the late-tenthcentury hagiographer and poet Lantfredus of Winchester and Fleury.

Regardless, then, of whether our author was English or Frankish, Fredegisus was an acceptable form of his name. There is unmistakeable evidence in the fixed forms of carmina figurata that Alcuin and his younger contemporary Joseph Scottus wrote the name of the emperor as Carlus. There is equally unmistakeable evidence of coins on which the name appears as KAROLVS… [PDF]

 

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