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Winter Mythologies and Abbots

Winter Mythologies and Abbots

Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 160
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  • Book Info
    Winter Mythologies and Abbots
    Book Description:

    This welcome volume brings to English-language readers two beautifully crafted works by the internationally acclaimed French author Pierre Michon. Populated by distant and little-known figures-Irish and French monks, saints, and scientists inWinter Mythologies;Benedictine monks in the Vendée region of France inAbbots-the tales frequently draw on obscure histories and other literary sources.Michon brings his characters to life in spare, evocative prose. Each, in his or her own way, exemplifies a power of belief that brings about an achievement-or catastrophe-in the real world: monasteries are built upon impossibly muddy wastes, monks acquire the power of speech, lives are taken, books are written, saints are created on the flimsiest of evidence. Michon's exploration in ancient archives has led him to the discovery of such often deluded figures and their deeds, and his own exceptional powers bestow upon them a renewed life on the written page. This in turn is an example of the power of belief, which for Michon is what makes literature itself possible.Winter MythologiesandAbbotsare meant to be read slowly, to be savored, to be mined for the secrets Michon has to tell.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18986-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    Ann Jefferson

    Pierre Michon was born in 1945. He made his name with his first published work,Vies minuscules(Small Lives), which appeared in 1984, when he was thirty-nine. He is one of the finest and most admired French writers of today, and he has received recognition in the form of the Prix Décembre forAbbotsandCorps du roi(The King’s Body; a collection of short literary essays) in 2002, and the Grand Prix du Roman de l’Académie française for his novelLes Onze(The Eleven) in 2009. Another novel is in preparation, and he lives in Nantes.

    Small Livesmay...


    • Three Miracles in Ireland

        (pp. 5-11)

        Muirchu the monk relates that Leary, king of Leinster, has three sweet young daughters. Brigid is the eldest. About the two others, the monk has knowledge only of their youth and their sweetness, not their names. Three young girls. It is daybreak in April in Dún Loaghaire, a town of wood and peat, which broods under the rule of a fortified clod. It’s a royal town. The king is widowed and powerful, he is sleeping; he has thrown off his covers in the murky sleep of dawn. Brigid, who is awake, can see the river through the window under the...

        (pp. 12-16)

        Adamnan recounts that Saint Columba of Iona, who is still called Columbkill, Columbkill the Wolf—a member of the tribe of the northern O’Neills through his ancestor Niall of the Nine Hostages—is a brutal man in his youth. He loves God violently, and war, and small precious objects. He was reared in a bronze cradle; he is a man of the sword. He serves under Diarmait, and under God. Diarmait the king of Tara can count on his sword for raids in the Irish Sea, marauding cattle, crapulous feasts which turn into massacres. And God, King of this world...

        (pp. 17-22)

        TheAnnals of the Four Mastersrecounts that Suibhne, king of Kildare, has a taste for the things of this world. He is a simple man. Simple happiness and simple pleasures are his way. He is heavy and coarse, with nasty fair hair on his head like moss on a stone—and no delicacy of mind or soul. He wages war, he eats, he laughs, and for the rest he is like the brown bull of Cúailnge which covers fifty heifers a day. Fin Barr the abbot follows close behind this human monolith, and tries to remind him that the...

    • Nine Passages on the Causses

        (pp. 25-27)

        Barthélémy Prunières is on the Causse Méjan. He is looking for dead men. This is his passion. The fact that he is a doctor in Marjevols is of little importance: he prefers bodies that have ceased to suffer to the suffering bodies of his daily round. If at this very moment God or the devil were to appear before him on the causse and command him to justify his life, he would say, I am an anthropologist, a member of the Anthropological Society of Lille, the Anthropological Society of Paris, and the Anthropological Society of Bordeaux; in August 1870 I...

        (pp. 28-30)

        Bishop Hilère has abandoned his miter. His beard is quite white. He has handed in his crozier. He has founded a community of brothers no one knows where on the banks of the River Tarn, doubtless on the spot where Énimie, the saint with Merovech’s blood, will later come.

        Hilère is growing old. We know that he is growing old, but very little else is known about him. We know what he is not. He is not Hilary of Poitiers, who returned from beyond the grave to wield Clovis’s sword against Alaric at the Battle of Vouillé. He is not...

      • ÉNIMIE
        (pp. 31-33)

        Énimie is the granddaughter of Fredegund, who had her rivals tied to horses’ tails. She is the daughter of Clotaire II, king of Paris, who, for as long as his mother was alive, did not reign, and who has scarcely dared to reign since her death. Énimie is fifteen years old.

        Clotaire is waging war against the king of Metz and the king of Austrasia. The king of Austrasia wants peace; Clotaire summons Gondevald, mayor of the palace of Paris, who can read and is on good terms with the mayor of the palace of Metz. They draft a treaty....

      • SIMON
        (pp. 34-37)

        Under the reign of Louis IV d’Outremer, son of Charles III—Charles the Simple—the Benedictine community of Saint-Chaffre becomes overpopulated and begins to swarm: a handful of monks settle in Burle, on the banks of the River Tarn, and restore the disused monastery which had been founded by a very ancient hermit. Having in their pocket a deed of cession signed by Pope Agapetus does not suffice: the barons in the valley do not like sharing privileges with the lords in monks’ habits whom Heaven has visited upon them. The barons arrive with axes and horses; they make threats...

        (pp. 38-41)

        The anonymous monk who may have been called Simon wrote aLifewhich looks like this:

        Enimia, daughter of Clotaire, is beautiful and pale. She is loved and desired by men. She thinks that she loves God, withdrawal from the world, silence. Her father the king wants to marry her to a ruffian baron by the name of Gondevald. She knows that she doesn’t love Gondevald: he has an iron hand and hard, constantly shifting eyes which only come to rest on virgins. The wedding is set for tomorrow. It is night: the stable grooms are laughing in the courtyard,...

      • BERTRAN
        (pp. 42-45)

        Under the regency of Queen Blanche, around the time when Saint Louis is laying siege to the city of Damietta after setting out on crusade, Bertran de Marseille is bailiff to Guillaume, bishop of Mende, which means that he is the guardian of his seals and his writing desk. He is the steward of written things. He copies written things which prescribe the occurrence of real things between the bishop and the canons, the bishop and the villeins, the bishop and God. Nothing of what he writes causes real things to occur in the life of Bertran de Marseille. This...

      • SEGUIN
        (pp. 46-49)

        Seguin de Badefol has just taken Mende.

        He no longer knows where he was born. Ever since he was able to speak he has sold his body, his horse, his glove, and his sword: he’s a captain. He has fought under King John with the Fleur de Lys. He has fought under the Black Prince; last September at Poitiers with the Black Prince they captured King John beneath an oak tree in the gully of Maupertuis. The Black Prince has returned to Brittany, King John is under lock and key in the Tower of London—there are no more princes...

        (pp. 50-53)

        On June 9, 1793, under the rule of the one and indivisible republic, the Montagnards have swept away the Girondists, the Commune rules, Robespierre rules,compassionate zeal toward the unfortunaterules, and Antoine Persegol is walking on the Causse de Sauveterre. He is walking in the company of twentyone lads from La Malène and some others, from Saint-Chély and Laval—forty-seven in all. They have weapons and they are drunk: they were plied with drink down in La Malène to incite them to join the troops of theTrue Friends of the Monarchy,the army led by Charrier who was...

        (pp. 54-58)

        At Le Rozier on the River Tarn and the River Jonte, where the three major causses meet—Sauveterre, Méjan, and Noir—Édouard Martel is sitting on the terrace of the Hôtel des Voyageurs. It’s September. He is in his prime; he’s about to succeed in life, and he knows it: that is what he is telling himself on this sunny terrace in September, between the vast sky above and the sparkling waters below. He proudly contemplates September. He holds his head high with its fine Roman features and blond goatee. He is one of those men who love glory. He...


    • I
      (pp. 63-85)

      It is to some secondhand chronicles, to theGeneral Statistics of the Vendéepublished in Fontenay-le-Comte in 1844, and to a belated happenstance in my own life that I owe the tale I am about to relate.

      It is the year 976. Ancient Gaul is a hotchpotch of names bolted to lands, which are themselves names: Normandy belongs to Guillaume, Guillaume Long-Sword; Poitou belongs to Guillaume, Guillaume Towhead; France belongs to Eudes, duke of France; the crown, that trinket, belongs to Lothaire, the king, which is to say squire of Beauvais and Laon. For Anjou and the Marches it’s Robert...

    • II
      (pp. 86-101)

      It is to Pierre de Maillezais, who was certainly not called Pierre but chose this monastic Christian name when he renounced the world, who acquired the name Maillezais neither from his place of birth nor from his family but as a monk in the abbey of Saint-Pierre de Maillezais, and who wrote hisChronicle of Maillezaisin the years when, from the kennels in Hastings, Guillaume, grandson of Guillaume Long-Sword, was releasing his hordes across England—in sum, to this hybrid, this forgery, this purely nominal entity that I owe the tale I am about to tell.

      Pierre relates that...

    • III
      (pp. 102-116)

      It is once again to Petrus Malleacensis—who wrote hisChronicleunder the rule of Goderan, the fourth abbot of Maillezais, also appointed from Cluny, the saltworks of the earth, at a time when he (Pierre) was growing old, for he took his vows under the abbacy of Theodelin, lived through the exceptionally long abbacy of Humbert, and was still there, effective and in full possession of his wits since Goderan chose him for this longterm undertaking—in other words, to the inexhaustibleChronicle of Maillezaisand also to theIntransitive Chroniclesof Adémar de Chabannes, whom posterity knows better...

    • Back Matter
      (pp. 117-117)