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The Middle Ages and the Holocaust

‘The History of an Incorrect Term’: Agamben, Etymology, and the Medieval History of the Holocaust—Heather Blurton

Department of English, University of California, Santa Barbara, CA

Abstract

1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In his discussion of the word ‘holocaust’ in Remnants of Auschwitz, Giorgio Agamben identifies the twelfth-century English historian Richard of Devizes as the first to connect the term ‘holocaust’ to the murder of Jews, concluding with an indictment of its use: ‘it … contains a heredity that is from its inception anti-Semitic.’ This essay will take as its starting point twelfth-century usage of the term ‘holocaust,’ alongside the two key Latin terms flagged up by Agamben—immolare (to burn) and sanguisuga (bloodsucker). Ultimately, the essay will suggest that, contrary to Agamben’s understanding of this moment, Richard of Devizes was not intending to portray the death of Jews as a sacrifice pleasing to God, but rather that he was demonstrating an alert awareness of the extent to which Christian culture and Jewish culture are deeply mutually implicated. The essay concludes by considering the implications of its own methodology.

Article

2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 In his discussion of the word ‘holocaust’ in Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive, introduced as ‘the history of an incorrect term,’ Giorgio Agamben identifies the twelfth-century English historian Richard of Devizes as the first to apply the term ‘holocaust’ to the murder of Jews. Agamben quotes Richard’s account of the riots that broke out in London when several Jews attempted to attend the coronation ceremony of Richard the Lionheart, from which they had been barred, riots that spread across the country:

The very same day of the coronation of the king, at about the hour in which the Son was burnt for the Father, they began in London to burn the Jews for their father the demon (incoeptum est in civitate Londoniae immolare judaeos patri suo diabolo); and the celebration of this mystery lasted so long that the holocaust could not be completed before the next day. And the other cities and towns of the region imitated the faith of the inhabitants of London and, with the same devotion, sent their bloodsuckers to hell (pari devotione suas sanguisugas cum sanguine transmiserunt ad inferos) (Agamben, 1999, 30 –31).[1]

4 Leave a comment on paragraph 4 0 In his citation of this passage, Agamben translates the Latin of his source, retaining, however, the text’s original Latin for two moments that provide my point of departure in the discussion that follows. Agamben concludes his discussion of ‘the history of an incorrect term’ with an indictment of its use by Richard of Devizes: ‘holocaust’ he writes, thus ‘contains a heredity that is from its inception anti-Semitic’ (Agamben, 1999, 30–31).

5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 In his discussion, Agamben further identifies the use of the word holocaust here for the first time in connection with the murder of Jews as an example of ‘euphemism’: ‘insofar as it implies the substitution of a literal expression with an attenuated or altered expression for something that one does not actually want to hear mentioned’ (Agamben, 1999, 31). For Agamben, ‘holocaust’ is euphemistic insofar as it has come to mean ‘supreme sacrifice in the sphere of a complete devotion to sacred and superior motives’ (Agamben, 1999, 30). So the linguistic desire to articulate a connection ‘between death in the gas chamber and the “complete devotion to sacred and superior motives”’ (Agamben, 1999, 31) renders the proper noun, ‘Holocaust,’ for Agamben as for many others, ‘an incorrect term.’

6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 1 Agamben’s invocation of a medieval witness here is provocative insofar as it implicitly traces a genealogy of the word “holocaust” from the Middle Ages to the present day. I will attempt to trouble this genealogy by arguing that when Richard of Devizes chose the term ‘holocaust’ he almost certainly did not intend it to connote a devotion to sacred motives. Rather, Richard’s choice of the word ‘holocaust’ is deeply informed by his engagement with his own scholarly milieu; more specifically, with etymology as a tool of Biblical exegesis. This discussion will take as its starting point Agamben’s identification of euphemism as the literary trope at stake in the term ‘holocaust,’ by comparing the commitment of both Giorgio Agamben and Richard of Devizes to the hermeneutics not of euphemism, but rather of etymology. That is, not in attempts to attenuate or alter the meaning of a word, but rather to locate a precise and historical meaning in order to anchor a word’s connotations and to halt its continued play of signification by returning it to its source. I will therefore consider the etymologies of two of Richard of Devizes’ key terms that are highlighted by Agamben in Latin—immolare and sanguisuga—in order to interrogate what Agamben identifies as the seminal contribution of Richard of Devizes to this ‘history of an incorrect term.’

7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 In Remnants of Auschwitz as elsewhere in his philosophy, Agamben often has recourse to etymologies. For Agamben, this layering of original meaning seems to serve, paradoxically, as a guarantor of meaning; as if the etymology of the word contained an aspect of its timeless truth. This aspect of etymological thinking, which is important across Agamben’s oeuvre, has been met with critique. Dominick LaCapra, for example, notes that: ‘Etymology, however putative or even fictive, can be thought-provoking when it opens up a line of investigation or reflection. But can it substitute for historical analysis or argument?’ (LaCapra, 2007, 141).[2] The implicit answer to this rhetorical question is that, in contemporary philosophy, it should not. However, in medieval thought it often did. In what follows I offer a historical analysis of Richard of Devizes’ use of the term that, while attempting to disrupt the genealogy of the term proposed by Agamben, will nevertheless turn to medieval etymology to make its connections.

8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 The etymology of “holocaust” that Agamben offers amounts to a historical definition of the word. He begins with the Greek holocaustos: ‘an adjective…which means “completely burned”.’  He then traces the movement of the word into Latin, into the Latin Vulgate Bible, and from the Vulgate into the works of the Church Fathers, where it is, Agamben notes, used ‘as a polemical weapon against the Jews, to condemn the uselessness of bloody sacrifices.’ Finally, the sense of a holocaust as a sacrifice is extended to encompass the sacrifices of the early Christian martyrs, and, ultimately, the sacrificial death of Christ. On this last point, Agamben cites Augustine’s treatise on the Gospel of John: ‘se in holocaustum obtulerit in cruce Iesus’ (Jesus offered himself as a sacrifice on the cross). ‘Thus,’ Agamben concludes, ‘begins the semantic migration by which the term “holocaust” in vernacular languages gradually acquires the meaning of the “supreme sacrifice in the sphere of a complete devotion to sacred and superior motives”’ (Agamben, 1999, 28–30).

9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 0 It is at this juncture that Agamben invokes Richard of Devizes:  He notes that ‘the term’s usage in polemics against the Jews also has a history, even if it is a secret one not recorded by dictionaries’ (Agamben, 1999, 30). And he goes on to quote Richard of Devizes’ account of the riots following the coronation of Richard the Lionheart. The use of the word ‘holocaust’ in the context of a medieval pogrom against Jews is unique, as is Richard of Devizes’ text. Composed in the 1190s, the Cronicon is a relatively short account of the state of the nation in the absence of its new king. It begins with the coronation of Richard the Lionheart and ends with the failure of his crusade; in between it offers a gossipy and often sardonic account of public life during his reign. Indeed, while historians have mined the text for information about Richard’s reign, they have most often characterized the text as satire.[3] Indeed, Richard concludes his description of the London riots with a satirical, and perhaps rather snide, reference to the fact that his hometown of Winchester did not participate in the outbreaks of violence that followed the London pogrom at Bury St Edmunds, King’s Lynn, Lincoln, Stamford, and York, by noting that Winchester ‘spared its worms’ [suis vermibus pepercit Wintonia] (Richard of Devizes, 4). It is in this provocative phrase that we may discern one aspect of Richard’s complex engagement with etymology and exegesis in his characterization of England’s Jews.

10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 1 The use of the term ‘worm’ here, to describe the Jews of Winchester, initially appears to be simply another example of the antisemitism that Agamben indicts in Richard of Devizes’ Cronicon. And, indeed, it is. But the invocation of ‘worms’ is not simply slanderous: it provides an interpretive key to the exegetical thinking that informs Richard of Devizes’ choice of vocabulary in these moments highlighted by Agamben through his retention of the original Latin phrases: Richard’s identification of Jews as ‘bloodsuckers,’ sanguisugas, and his use of the word ‘holocaust,’ holocaustum,—which with hindsight is so provocative—instead of its synonym immolare, which is used earlier in the passage to describe the sacrifice/death of both Christ and of London’s Jews.

11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 1 I wish to suggest more specifically that Richard of Devizes is deeply indebted to the seventh-century Etymologies of Isidore of Seville for both his understanding of sanguisuga and holocaustum.  The Etymologies is one of the most popular texts of the Latin Middle Ages, almost a thousand manuscripts survive, and it was among the earliest printed books, appearing in nearly a dozen editions by 1500 (Barney, 2006, 24). It is an encyclopedic compendium of knowledge – from grammar to theology to the cosmos – explained by means of the etymological origin of words. Isidore even gives an etymology for the word etymology in the Etymologies that seems to accord quite well with Agamben’s own understanding of its power:

Etymology is the origin of words… The knowledge of a word’s etymology often has an indispensable usefulness for interpreting the word, for when you have seen whence a word has originated, you understand its force more quickly. Indeed, one’s insight into anything is clearer when its etymology is known. (Barney, 2006, 55).

13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 E. R. Curtius wrote that the influence of the Etymologies on medieval thinkers was such that ‘it not only established the canonical stock of knowledge for eight centuries but also molded their thought categories’ (Curtius, 1991, 496–7). This pervasive influence in medieval culture, I will suggest, underlies Richard’s representations.

14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Isidore’s Etymologies provides the origin of Richard’s imaginative association between ‘worms’ and ‘bloodsuckers.’<[4] Richard contrasts Winchester, which ‘spared its worms (vermis),’ to London and the other English cities which, in hosting pogroms, ‘dispatched their bloodsuckers (sanguisugas) bloodily to hell’ (Richard of Devizes, 4). The insult ‘worms,’ vermis, was most likely suggested by Isidore of Seville’s classification of the sanguisuga as a type of vermis in his section De verminibus (On worms):

The leech (sanguisuga) is a water vermin, so named because it sucks blood (sanguinem sugere). It lies in wait for creatures when they are drinking, and when it glides into their throat, or attaches itself somewhere, it drinks in their blood. When it is sated by too much blood, it vomits out what it has drunk so that it may once more suck in fresher blood. (Barney, 2006, 258)

16 Leave a comment on paragraph 16 1 In this context, ‘parasites’ might be a better translation for ‘vermis’—Isidore’s English translators offer ‘vermin’—since the section ‘De verminibus’ also includes lice, termites, ticks and maggots.

17 Leave a comment on paragraph 17 0 ‘Parasite,’ at least, seems to address both the literal and metaphorical connotations of sanguisuga. In the Vulgate Bible, sanguisuga influentially translates the Hebrew word for ‘horseleech’ in Proverbs 30.15: ‘The horseleech has two daughters, who cry “give,” “give”’ (sanguisugae duae sunt filiae dicentes adfer adfer). Allegorical interpretations of this passage focus on the leech as a metaphor for avarice. Bede’s formulation was influential here in his Exposition on the Proverbs of Salomon:

The leech is the devil (Sanguisuga est diabolus), who is incessantly inflamed by a thirst for sinning and persuading sins, because they are two especially human kinds of enticement: they imitate the ardor of the ancient enemy, clearly, luxury and avarice (luxuria videlicet et philargyria).[5] (Bede, 91.1024D–1025A)

19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 Thus also, to give an example more contemporary to Richard of Devizes in time and place, in the first half of the twelfth century Osbert of Clare, prior of Westminster, writing to Adelidis, Abbess of Barking, explains:

‘The horseleech has two daughters, crying “Give, give”.’ They are greed and lust who, pursuing their lawless disposition in every way, have no power to keep their appetite in check. These are they who have assailed every realm of the earth and subjugated them to their dominion. Almost the whole globe labours beneath them and is wounded by the bloodstained teeth of these reptiles. (Morton and Wogan-Browne, 2003, 33)

21 Leave a comment on paragraph 21 0 The influential twelfth-century scholastic Peter the Chanter cites this exegesis on Proverbs in the section of his Verbum abbreviatum on Avarice, where he identifies Avarice as the worst of the two sisters: ‘while there are two daughters of the leech, that is lust and avarice, the worse daughter and the more detestable is avarice’ (Peter the Chanter, 205.76D). More provocatively, Peter further identifies the leech with the moneylender, and the moneylender with the Jew. In the section ‘On Moneylenders’ [De Feneratores] he condemns the closeness of both Christian and Jewish moneylenders to the king. In this rant against usury, both Christian and Jewish moneylenders are compared to ‘the purses and leeches of princes’ (loculi et sanguisugae principium) who suck everyone dry and vomit up the cash (quia cum omnia suxerint, evomunt in fiscum).  ‘Indeed,’ Peter concludes, ‘these men have taken over the name of “Jews”’ (Isti etiam nomen Judaeorum adepti sunt) (Peter the Chanter, 205-158A-158B).[6]

22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Thus the identification of Winchester’s Jews as ‘worms’ and ‘bloodsuckers’ by Richard of Devizes is intended to make a quite scholarly, exegetical allusion that indicts Jews as usurers in a passage which otherwise seems to have nothing at all to do with that topic. It is not clear whether Richard of Devizes could have known Peter the Chanter’s Verbum abbreviatum, and therefore a direction of influence between the two texts cannot be established.[7]  It is probable that both respond to the same cultural climate of increasing discomfort with the relationship of the Jews to royal finance specifically, and with the place of Jews in Christian society more generally. While Agamben’s interest lies more in Richard of Devizes’ euphemistic use of ‘holocaust,’ and he gives no explanation for his decision to highlight the representation of Jews as ‘bloodsuckers’ through inclusion of the Latin text, it seems likely that here he is simply flagging up with interest an early connection of what has become an unfortunate cultural commonplace. As with the word ‘holocaust,’ Agamben most likely understands the use of ‘bloodsucker’ here to be implicated in the same genealogies of antisemitism, as, indeed, it is.

23 Leave a comment on paragraph 23 0 Moreover, Agamben’s serendipitous stressing of Richard of Devizes’ use of the word ‘bloodsucker’ serves the function of alerting us to Richard’s investment in etymological thinking; an aspect, as discussed above, which dovetails with Agamben’s own methodology. As I hope to have shown, Richard’s selection of the word ‘sanguisuga’ was not a random insult, but rather a self-conscious engagement with the hermeneutics of exegesis and etymology.  Richard’s choice of the word ‘holocaust’ follows the same principles. While the word ‘holocaust’ is extraordinarily provocative with the benefit of historical hindsight, in its original context, I suggest, it is less interesting than Richard of Devizes’ use of ‘immolate’: because with his repetition of forms of the immolatio in this passage, Richard establishes a parallel between the ritual death of Christ and the death of the Jews.

24 Leave a comment on paragraph 24 2 The word ‘holocaust,’ meaning, loosely, ‘a sacrifice,’ but more specifically ‘a burnt offering,’ appears over two hundred times in the Latin Vulgate Old Testament, but much fewer times in the New Testament, and there mainly in the letters of Paul, as an example of the kind of sacrifice that God does not want. Mark 12.33, for example, offers: ‘to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices (holocaustomatibus et sacrificiis).’ As Agamben notes, the word is thus often evoked in treatises against the Jews (Agamben, 1999, 29). But the connotation of the word as simply ‘sacrifice’ endured; thus Augustine uses the word to describe Christ’s death: ‘se in holocaustum obtulerit in cruce Iesus’ (Agamben, 1999, 29). And in the twelfth century Benedict of Peterborough uses it to describe the martyrdom of Thomas Becket: ‘patiently as a lamb, without a murmur, without a complaint, he offered himself as a sacrifice to God’ (patiens velut agnus sine murmure, sine querimonia, et seipsum holocaustum offerebat Domino) (my emphasis) (Benedict of Peterborough, 12).

25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 So while by the end of the twelfth century the semantic range of the word holocaustum  could encompass either the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament or the martyrdom of an incipient saint, I would argue that Richard of Devizes has chosen it precisely for its connection to fire, and that he has done so in order to differentiate it from its near synonym ‘immolate.’ Returning to Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies, we find precisely this distinction. In his discussion of the offices of the church, Isidore includes a fairly comprehensive vocabulary of sacrifice. For Immolatio he writes, ‘an immolation is so called by the ancients because a victim would be slain when it was placed ‘on the mass’ (in mole) of the altar. Whence also the slaughtering is after the immolation. But now an “immolation” of the bread and chalice is proper usage, but a libation (libatio) is an offering of the chalice only’ (Barney, 2006, 148). Here Isidore is quite clearly explaining that the appropriate language for the central sacrifice of the mass, of the body and blood of Christ, is ‘to immolate.’ For holocaustum, on the other hand, Isidore offers: ‘A holocaust is a sacrifice in which all that is offered is consumed by fire, for when the ancients would perform their greatest sacrifices they would consume the whole sacrificial victim in the flame of the rites, and those were holocausts, for [holos] in Greek means “whole,” [kausis] means “burning,” and holocaust “wholly burnt”’ (Barney, 2006, 148).

26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 1 Agamben’s English translator blurs this distinction by translating immolare as ‘burnt’ and holocaustum as ‘holocaust’: ‘at about the hour when the Son was burnt (immolobatur) for the Father, they began in London to burn (immolare) the Jews for their father the demon; and the celebration of this mystery lasted so long that the holocaust (holocaustum) could not be completed before the next day’ (Agamben, 1999, 30–31).[8] However, the primary meaning of immolare – in Latin as in modern Italian and English – is simply ‘to sacrifice.’[9] Thus, a translation of the passage might perhaps better read: ‘at about the hour of that solemnity in which the Son was sacrificed to the Father, they began in the city of London to sacrifice the Jews to their Father the devil. It took them so long to celebrate this mystery that the sacrifice was barely completed on the second day’ (Richard of Devizes, 4).[10] In fact, Richard of Devizes, I would suggest, has placed the words ‘immolate’ and ‘holocaust’ in such a way as to do precisely the opposite of what Agamben suggests: he is using ‘holocaust’ not to imply that the death of the Jews in the London riots was pleasing to God—after all, in the New Testament ‘holocausts’ are framed as precisely the kind of sacrifice that is not pleasing to God—but rather to reference the fires that broke out during the pogrom, and also to draw attention to the repetition of the verb immolare, because for Richard ‘immolate’ rather than ‘holocaust’ is the important word.

27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 0 The violence against the Jews at the coronation of Richard the Lionheart was started when several Jews attempted to attend the coronation banquet to offer the new king congratulatory gifts. They were turned away, but somehow in the commotion violence broke out, worsened by a rumor that the king had given orders to kill the Jews. The violence travelled to the Jewish quarter of London where the Jews locked themselves in their houses for safety. The houses were promptly set on fire, and while the new king himself was forced to ride out from his banquet to quell the violence, he was unable to stop the fire. Fire in pre-modern cities could be catastrophic, and, indeed, the element of fire in the London pogrom was commented upon by most of the early commentators: William of Newburgh, to give but one example, speaks of ‘the conflagration of a certain part of the city’ (William of Newburgh, 4. 1. 6).

28 Leave a comment on paragraph 28 1 Thus, following the etymological definitions established by Isidore of Seville, Richard of Devizes’ choice of the word ‘holocaust’ probably was not intended to indicate, however satirically, that the murder of several Jews on the occasion of the coronation of Richard the Lionheart was, as Agamben seems to suggest, participant in a euphemistic use of the term that implies a sacrifice pleasing to God. More likely, referencing Isidore’s definition of holocaust as a sacrifice involving fire, it is a reference to the devastating fires that broke out during the rioting. In addition, the word ‘holocaust’ serves to draw attention to the prior use and repetition of its (near) synonym ‘immolate.’ Indeed, in many ways the presence of the word ‘holocaust’ here—with all of its horrific modern connotations—distracts us from what is truly remarkable about this passage: the deeply sacral language with which Richard of Devizes describes the first pogrom on English soil and the use of the word ‘immolate’ to refer simultaneously to the sacrifice of Christ in the mass and to the murder of Jews by Christians (‘at about the hour of that solemnity in which the Son was immolated to the Father, they began in the city of London to immolate the Jews to their Father’). Richard here sets up a purposeful parallelism: both Christ and the Jews are sacrificed by Christians to their ‘father.’ It is there, however, that the parallel ends. Christ is sacrificed to God, whereas the Jews are sacrificed to the Devil. While on the one hand this reads as antisemitic, on the other hand it imagines Christians sacrificing to the Devil. Moreover, since it describes Christians performing a ‘holocaust,’ it imagines them performing precisely the kind of sacrifice that does not please God, the kind of sacrifice that in a New Testament context is troped as Jewish. So what is at stake in the sacral language of this passage? In the description of the murder of Jews as a sacrifice? As a parallel sacrifice to the one that occurs in the mass? Might Richard of Devizes, rather than inaugurating the history of an incorrect term, have been demonstrating an alert awareness to the troubling theological implications of anti-Jewish violence?

29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 1 In the preceding pages I have compared Giorgio Agamben and Richard of Devizes’ shared interest in the hermeneutics of etymologies to disrupt the straightforward genealogy that Agamben constructs for ‘holocaust,’ suggesting that this first use of the word ‘holocaust’ in relation to the Jews is attempting something quite the opposite of what Agamben, with the benefit of hindsight, understands. That Richard of Devizes and Agamben each rely on etymology in their exegesis is simultaneously a strange coincidence and the shared expression of a cultural norm. Indeed, the current debates around the identification of a medieval ‘antisemitism’ are in large part engaged with the vicissitudes of etymology: is this word anachronistic in a medieval context? And I cannot help but be aware of the fact that even as I critique Agamben’s etymological argument I am also simply replicating it – offering not a different critical mode, but rather a different etymology – an etymology that I insist is more specific, more true. In reflecting on my methodology, I have to wonder precisely how much critical traction can be gained by playing one etymology off another? Can the work of medievalists engaged in an archaeology of Christian attitudes towards Jews in the Middle Ages disrupt the seeming timelessness of antisemitism in the Christian West and thus participate in the deconstruction of antisemitism itself? Or does such work, with its attempts to provide ‘correct’ histories of ‘incorrect terms,’ miss the point entirely?

30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 1 I find it striking that for all the continuities scholars have identified and contested between medieval and modern ‘antisemitisms,’ Agamben uses this moment to construct a continuity precisely where there is none. We see Agamben, perhaps unintentionally, positioning himself quite firmly in a debate that has animated medieval studies for some decades now, about whether antisemitism is a trans-historical phenomenon that has its roots in the Middle Ages and its fruition in the modern era, or whether we should take every opportunity to register discontinuities. Of course, to make this point is to willfully misread Agamben, for whom the discussion of the medieval history of the word ‘holocaust’ is not a central point. Indeed, since his larger argument is about how we bear witness, his act of bearing witness to the existence of this historical moment seems the more important point. We might, therefore, perhaps best read the inheritance that Agamben traces from Richard of Devizes’ use of ‘holocaust’ to our use of ‘Holocaust’ not as an historical but as an ethical genealogy.

About the Author

31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 Heather Blurton is Associate Professor of English at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is the author of Cannibalism in High Medieval English Literature (Palgrave Macmillan, 2007) (E-mail: heatherblurton@english.ucsb.edu).

Notes

32 Leave a comment on paragraph 32 0 1. Agamben quotes the passage from Bertelli (1994, 131) who gives only the Latin. Agamben’s Italian translation of the Latin reads: ‘Lo stesso giorno dell’incoronazione del re, press’a poco nell’ora in cui il Figlio era stato immolato al Padre, si cominciò nella città di Londra a immolare gli ebrei a loro padre il demonio (incoeptum est in civitate Londoniae immolare judaeos patri suo diabolo); e durò tanto la celebrazione di questo mistero che l’olocausto non si poté completare prima del giorno successive. E le alter città e paesi della regione imitarono le fede dei londinesi e, con pari devozione, spedirono all’inferno nel sangue le loro sanguisughe hell (pari devotione suas sanguisugas cum sanguine transmiserunt ad inferos)’ (Agamben, 1998, 28). This somewhat extended line of transmission of Richard of Devizes’ text into Agamben’s may account for the way in which this interesting moment has previously been unnoticed by medievalists—in both Agamben’s original edition and the English translation of Agamben’s text, Richard of Devizes’ name is rendered as ‘Richard of Duizes.

33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 0 2. See the subsequent passages for a discussion and critique of Agamben’s etymology of ‘holocaust.’

34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 3. See for example, Bale, 2000; Levine, 1986; Partner, 1977. I have argued elsewhere that it might be fruitful to consider the Cronicon as an example of Menippean satire, while accepting that the tone is often satirical (Blurton, 2010).

35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 4. I have briefly made this connection in Blurton, 2010, 282 note 13.

36 Leave a comment on paragraph 36 0 5. ‘Luxury’ and ‘greed’ do not exhaust the exegetical readings of this passage, which Augustine gives as his example of the kind of allegory so difficult that it should be classed as ‘enigma’ (De Trinitate 15.9.15). Bernard of Clairvaux interprets the two daughters of the leech as ‘vanitas et voluptas’ (Migne, PL 183.595A), while Peter Damian offers ‘ebrietas et libido’ (Migne, PL 144.230D). The majority of commentators, however, follow Bede.

37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0 6. That is to say that Christian usurers are given similar legal status to Jews in relation to the king. It was a common trope for Christian moneylenders to be condemned as ‘Judaizers.’ For a discussion of Peter the Chanter’s views in their contemporary context, see Wood, 2002, 167; Gow, 1995, 46-7, and the seminal Baldwin, 1970.

38 Leave a comment on paragraph 38 0 7. The Verbum abbreviatum was completed in 1191/2, while Richard of Devizes was writing in the 1190s.

39 Leave a comment on paragraph 39 0 8. As noted in note 1, Agamben stays close to the original Latin with his choice of ‘immolare.’

40 Leave a comment on paragraph 40 0 9. The Oxford English Dictionary gives simply ‘sacrifice’ as its definition with no sense of fire. Its definition for ‘self-immolation,’ however, gives four citations, two of which refer to the tradition of suttee, ‘or, the self-immolation of widows on the funereal pile,’ suggesting perhaps that exposure to this practice in the mid-nineteenth century influenced the word’s meaning (‘immolate’ and ‘self-immolation,’ Oxford English Dictionary Online). I am grateful to my colleague Maurizia Boscagli for the observation that in modern Italian the verb “immolare” is commonly used to mean “to sacrifice” without indicating how the sacrifice was effected (personal communication, 19 April 2012).

41 Leave a comment on paragraph 41 0 10. The translation is based on Appleby’s, substituting ‘sacrifice’ for Appleby’s ‘immolate’ and ‘holocaust.’

  • [1] Agamben quotes the passage from Bertelli (1994, 131) who gives only the Latin. Agamben’s Italian translation of the Latin reads: ‘Lo stesso giorno dell’incoronazione del re, press’a poco nell’ora in cui il Figlio era stato immolato al Padre, si cominciò nella città di Londra a immolare gli ebrei a loro padre il demonio (incoeptum est in civitate Londoniae immolare judaeos patri suo diabolo); e durò tanto la celebrazione di questo mistero che l’olocausto non si poté completare prima del giorno successive. E le alter città e paesi della regione imitarono le fede dei londinesi e, con pari devozione, spedirono all’inferno nel sangue le loro sanguisughe hell (pari devotione suas sanguisugas cum sanguine transmiserunt ad inferos)’ (Agamben, 1998, 28). This somewhat extended line of transmission of Richard of Devizes’ text into Agamben’s may account for the way in which this interesting moment has previously been unnoticed by medievalists—in both Agamben’s original edition and the English translation of Agamben’s text, Richard of Devizes’ name is rendered as ‘Richard of Duizes.
  • [2] See the subsequent passages for a discussion and critique of Agamben’s etymology of ‘holocaust.’
  • [3] See for example, Bale, 2000; Levine, 1986; Partner, 1977. I have argued elsewhere that it might be fruitful to consider the Cronicon as an example of Menippean satire, while accepting that the tone is often satirical (Blurton, 2010).
  • [4] I have briefly made this connection in Blurton, 2010, 282 note 13.
  • [5] ‘Luxury’ and ‘greed’ do not exhaust the exegetical readings of this passage, which Augustine gives as his example of the kind of allegory so difficult that it should be classed as ‘enigma’ (De Trinitate 15.9.15). Bernard of Clairvaux interprets the two daughters of the leech as ‘vanitas et voluptas’ (Migne, PL 183.595A), while Peter Damian offers ‘ebrietas et libido’ (Migne, PL 144.230D). The majority of commentators, however, follow Bede.
  • [6] That is to say that Christian usurers are given similar legal status to Jews in relation to the king. It was a common trope for Christian moneylenders to be condemned as ‘Judaizers.’ For a discussion of Peter the Chanter’s views in their contemporary context, see Wood, 2002, 167; Gow, 1995, 46-7, and the seminal Baldwin, 1970.
  • [7] The Verbum abbreviatum was completed in 1191/2, while Richard of Devizes was writing in the 1190s.
  • [8] As noted in note 1, Agamben stays close to the original Latin with his choice of ‘immolare.’
  • [9] The Oxford English Dictionary gives simply ‘sacrifice’ as its definition with no sense of fire. Its definition for ‘self-immolation,’ however, gives four citations, two of which refer to the tradition of suttee, ‘or, the self-immolation of widows on the funereal pile,’ suggesting perhaps that exposure to this practice in the mid-nineteenth century influenced the word’s meaning (‘immolate’ and ‘self-immolation,’ Oxford English Dictionary Online). I am grateful to my colleague Maurizia Boscagli for the observation that in modern Italian the verb “immolare” is commonly used to mean “to sacrifice” without indicating how the sacrifice was effected (personal communication, 19 April 2012).
  • [10] The translation is based on Appleby’s, substituting ‘sacrifice’ for Appleby’s ‘immolate’ and ‘holocaust.’
  • References

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