On the most general level, the essentially oral nature of medieval culturemust be taken into account. As Geary saysThe context established by oral culture was essential for the trainingin selecting and interpreting that which was written . . . the cultivation of oral memory was essential to all literate societies of antiquity and theMiddle Ages . . . the two work closely together, both subject to the sameprocesses of transformation.
Christianity itself, in the Eucharist that is, at its heart, an act of remembrance, and in the memorializing of the dead, provides anotherbroad context for the use of particular memories. Classical memorytraditions were also well known to medieval intellectuals through theunique mediation and interpretation of Augustine. In Augustine’sunderstanding, memory had the impossible task of accessing andrecreating the past as it was. In examining how people of the Middle agesovercame this Augustinian dilemma and transformed their past, Gearylooks at the systems used to express memory. Personal names, physicalobjects, landscapes, and particular features of the landscape were allused to link the past to the present in both oral and written contexts. Asa student of Irish hagiography I seemed to detect an aura of familiarity inthis list of systems. Could it be because Irish hagiography, indeed earlyIrish literature in general, is rife with such references to personal namesand local landscapes? Yes, I think so. But, are Geary’s theories, which heapplies to highly Romanized, urban areas of central Europe in theeleventh century, workable for a non-Romanized, and, to use the time-honored phrase, ‘tribal, rural, hierarchical and familiar’ Ireland in theseventh and ninth centuries? Once again, yes, I think so and I intend todemonstrate this by applying these theories specifically to a comparisonof incidents in Cogitosus’ seventh-century Latin
Life of St. Brigid
and theanonymous ninth-century, mostly Old Irish
.Besides the differences just mentioned between the two geographicaland temporal areas there is also a difference in the degree of theirChristianization. Geary’s Europe is assumed to have been thoroughlyChristianized, whereas seventh-century Ireland was decidedly not. Even
MATTERS OF TIMECopyright © 2000 Diane Peters Auslander 2