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Essays in Medieval Studies 22 (2005) 95-106

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Scribal Performance and Identity in the Autobiographical Visions of Otloh of St. Emmeram (d. 1067)

Beloit College

Otloh (ca. 1010-1070), a monk of St. Emmeram in the Bavarian town of Regensburg, had entered the monastery not as a child but as a young man, already formed as a secular cleric in the diocese of Freising. St. Emmeram was an ancient foundation, which at that time was struggling to assert its independence from the local bishop—Henry III's uncle Gebhard—and Otloh, who seems to have had a rather combative personality, devoted many of his theological and polemical writings to the defense of St. Emmeram's rights and privileges. That same belligerent personality seems, however, to have been the cause for occasional conflicts with his fellow monks, so Otloh spent some periods of his monastic career in exile from Regensburg. Throughout his life, Otloh was a prolific and enthusiastic writer, and his collected works include saints' lives and theological treatises, both in verse and in prose.1

In the 1060's, when he was living for a time at Fulda, Otloh compiled a book of visions—his Liber visionum—which included four of his own visions, about a dozen visions of people he had met or heard about, and a few that he had copied from other books. These "visions" include ghost stories, visions of the next world, portents of disaster, and predictions of death—the usual range of paranormal experience familiar to the eleventh-century monastery.2 They are not what one might loosely classify as "mystical" experiences, nor are they distinguished by any great literary art or sophistication (though they do show the influence of the visionary anecdotes recounted in the fourth book of Gregory the Great's Dialogues, a collection of visions, miracles, and deathbed experiences that was widely read in medieval monasteries3 ). Generally speaking, Otloh's own experiences are described as visions that he saw "in dreams," whereas other people have waking visions—this is a fairly common distinction in autobiographical accounts at this time, and the difference between dreams and visions does not worry Otloh very much (Prologue, 34). [End Page 95]

Otloh's autobiographical dreams are the most original part of this book. It is a new project, for eleventh-century writing, to include as much self-examination and description as Otloh does, and this autobiographical dimension of his work is carried over into the way he writes about the visions of other people, since he always explains how or where he met them. Otloh's Liber visionum, with its almost-exclusive focus on visionary material, is an unusual project for the eleventh century, but visions were commonly reported in saints' lives, histories, and other literary sources of the early Middle Ages, and they would become even more popular as material for preachers in the following centuries. These kinds of brief, anecdotal accounts of visions only began to find their way into distinct collections, usually along with other miraculous phenomena, in the century after Otloh wrote. More extended descriptions of voyages to the afterworld and tours of its joys and terrors also became a popular literary genre in both Latin and the vernacular languages in the course of the twelfth century (the visions of Tnugal and Saint Patrick's Purgatory are among the most famous examples of pre-Dante visionary literature of this type).4

The fascination of the Liber visionum lies in the ways that Otloh uses visions first to reflect on his own experiences and then to define his community's broad interests and identities in his accounts of other people's visions. In each part of this paper, I will explore questions about how writing about visions serves as a tool for constructing identity—a "technology of the self," one might say—whether for Otloh's own conversion to monastic life or for the well-being of his community as a whole. In doing this, I will be talking about two kinds of...


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