Waltharius at Fontenoy? Epic heroism and Carolingian political thought

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This article argues that the Latin epic poem Waltharius is best understood as a political commen- tary on the years following the civil war of 840–843. The poem does not, as has been suggested, mock or undermine lay warriors as heroic figures, but neither does it present their behavior as inherently unproblem- atic. It should be read instead as a complex meditation on the impossibility of heroism under deficient royal leadership, and as a wistful portrayal of the contradictions and dilemmas affecting the lay elite of the generation who had lived through the battle of Fontenoy. Its criticism of the character of Gunther, and its overall pessimism about kingship, finds echoes in the prose political literature of this time. This article traces some of these echoes, and reads the poem as part of the wider political conversation of the 840s to 870s.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-64
Number of pages24
Issue number2
Early online date23 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jul 2015


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