restricted access Fama: The Politics of Talk and Reputation in Medieval Europe (review)
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Reviews 177 Parergon 21.1 (2004) a family affair until late in the Merovingian period. Church men may well have tried to regulate burial practices, but family concerns prevailed. Sometimes changing practices did take place, and these changes tended to conform to church priorities, but the changes were prompted by other influences besides direct church input. But, even so, by the eighth century clerics were assuming the right to commemorate the dead. Indeed, the eighth century looms large in Effros’s study as the period when things really began changing. By the end of the Merovingian period liturgy started to play a much larger role in activities directed towards the dead. There was a new focus on confraternities and memory books, both of which demonstrated that action for the deceased should focus on prayer and not on grave goods. Thus, by the end of the Merovingian period burial and memorialisation practices had indeed come more under the purview of the church. Importantly, the rise of clerical influence did not necessarily mean the decline of family influence. Rather, the clergy encouraged families to modify their memorial practices from those focused on grave goods to those focused on liturgical rites. Families who had once memorialised their dead by depositing fabrics, garments, and weapons in sepulchres now effected similar memorialisation by donating goods to the church in order to sponsor liturgical commemoration . In burial custom, then, we see writ large the medieval phenomenon whereby the official church recognised the force of secular institutions such as the family and the social and economic system of gift-giving, and indeed implemented its desired changes by accepting rather than rejecting these institutions. Elizabeth Freeman School of History and Classics University of Tasmania Fenster, Thelma and Daniel Lord Smail, eds, Fama: The Politics of Talk and Reputation in Medieval Europe, Ithaca/London, Cornell University Press, 2003; cloth and paper; pp. 227; RRP US$49.95 (cloth), US$19.95 (paper); ISBN 0801439396 (cloth), 0801488575 (paper). During the Middle Ages, fama (cognate with modern English ‘fame’) was an ambivalent concept. From a core idea of public speech, it radiated outwards, encompassing both beneficial and harmful varieties of group talk, and depending upon the context for its positive or negative valence. As Thelma Fenster and 178 Reviews Parergon 21.1 (2004) Dan Smail explain in their introductory essay, the subject of this volume is “rumor” and “idle talk,” “the things people say”. It is “reputation” and “memory” or “memories,” “the things people know”. It is “fame”, or perhaps “glory”, as well as their opposites, “infamy” and “defamation” (p. 2).’ Fama was a frequent presence in medieval writing of all types from romances and lyric poetry to legal texts, but it has only recently become the focus of serious scholarly interest. Long dismissed as trivial, the phenomenon has been re-evaluated as a regulator of social life in the work of such critics as Karma Lochrie, Hans-Joachim Neubauer and Barbara Hanawalt, and now by the authors of this volume. Fama was both a social practice and a legal status, a point echoed across this volume of essays. Its meaning in medieval literature cannot be properly appreciated without reference to its legal definitions, nor can its importance in a legal context be grasped without some knowledge of how it was perceived in everyday life. Thus this volume, which collects the work of historians and literary specialists, serves the important function of charting many of the intersections among the various manifestations of fama. The volume is interdisciplinary, not only at the level of the individual essays, which are clearly committed to crossing traditional boundaries between literary and historical documents, but also in the connections among the different essays explicitly drawn by the authors. The volume is divided into three sections of three essays each, Fama and the Law, Fama and Reputation, and Fama and Talk. Chris Wickham’s ‘Fama and the Law in Twelfth-Century Tuscany’ examines fama as an important means for determining property ownership, in other words, as collective knowledge about rights. In 1137 one of the archbishop of Pisa’s men, sent to investigate management of the archiepiscopal estates, noted the difficulty of discovering precisely who owed how...