De Profectione Ludovici VII In Orientem: The Journey Of Louis VII To The East, Odo of Cluny

1714328Odo, an intimate advisor to Louis VII, here records the disastrous second crusade from a French perspective up to Louis’s departure from Adalia for Antioch. Odo faces the problem of praising Louis, disparaging Conrad (the German Emperor, and an enemy of St. Denis, where Odo worked with Abbot Suger), and piecing together warnings for future crusaders. He finds his answer by demonizing the Byzantines, whom he eventually conflates with the Crusader’s non-Christian opponents (he speaks, for example, about “the Greeks and the Turks” joining together in Anatolia–understandably so!–in retaliation for crusader looting, and repeatedly calls the Greeks heretics and false Christians: 57, “ipsa rem Christianitatis non habet, sed nomen” [{Constantinople} is Christian only in name, not in fact:] (69)). His praise of Constantinople’s beauty and excellent climate (87 ff, for example)) always have the air of inviting conquest.

Medievalists will especially note Odo’s contribution to the history of Orientalism: we encounter the indolent, deceitful, cagey, flattering, too-brainy-by-half Manuel Comnenus (sneered at as an “Idol” by Odo, 91), characteristics shared by the Greeks in general. Greek men are like women in lightness of their promises (57), and their character is best summarized by Odo’s hatred for “dolis Graecorum inertium” (the treachery of the lazy Greeks; 98). Anticipating the “yellow hoards” of anti-Japanese and anti-Chinese propaganda, Odo describes de-individuated “hordes” of Turks, who just keep coming (119); or, who fight by cunning instead of strength (111). We also hear of “Nicomedia…set among thorns and brambles, her lofty ruins testify to her former glory and her present masters’ inactivity” (89), which sounds like nothing less than the Lord Balfour speech made so famous by [book:Orientalism|355190].

Generalist medievalists will find a number of interesting historical tidbits relating to the history of warfare. Odo hates when lords sacrifice themselves to save their servants, rather than the other way around (119); Louis faces constant difficulties in purchasing food for his army, which results in predictable disasters: starvation alternates with looting and retaliation from both local vigilantes and Louis’s swift justice; and, eventually, Frankish servants abandon their masters either to serve the Greeks (107) or to follow the generous and broad-minded Turks (141: cf. paragraph above). Military folk will also observe that the crusaders, lacking adequate missile weapons, are massacred repeatedly by Turkish and Greek arrow assaults in the hills of Anatolia. The crusaders do not learn how to form a battle line until, deep in Anatolia, they encounter Evrard of Barres, Lord Templar, who reorganizes what remains of their army (124-7). Not that it will do them much good: almost none reach Antioch, let alone Jerusalem or Damascus.

Other tidbits: I found the references to hippophagy among the starving crusaders of interest (e.g., 93) because Odo never condemns it: he clearly thinks it a sign of desperation, and it should be assumed that he knows the Penitential literature, but he still views hippophagy as only a military problem. I also noted the reference to “villulam…rusticos socios beluarum” (the hamlet of peasants, companions of beasts; 105). Byzantinists likely already know the court ceremonial Odo describes: how lords sit to eat while their retinue stands, the “scaramangion” worn by the poor and rich Greeks, the singing and graceful demeanor of Eunuchs at Greek church services (this much admired by the Franks! (69) Readers will also note that almost all references to Eleanor of Aquitaine, at the time married to Louis, have been excised, and not very gracefully at that.

The translation strikes me as excellent, and I love me a facing-page edition. I’m giving this 4 stars only because I wish Odo had written more.

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