'Et nata ex etymo fabula:' Cosmas of Prague, the Medieval Practice of 'Etymologia,' and the Writing of History
Cover Image of 'Interfaces,' Issue #6: Merete Barker, 'From Another World,' 2014, acrylic on canvas, 195 x 300 cm – By kind permission of the Artist – www.meretebarker.com
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Keywords

etymology
historiography
Cosmas of Prague
Bohemia
origin myths

How to Cite

VerkholantsevJ. (2020). ’Et nata ex etymo fabula:’ Cosmas of Prague, the Medieval Practice of ’Etymologia,’ and the Writing of History. Interfaces: A Journal of Medieval European Literatures, (6). https://doi.org/10.13130/interfaces-06-03

Abstract

This article represents a larger project that seeks to understand the function and implications of the use of etymologies in the writing of history in the Middle Ages. I examine the strategy of historians to etymologize within the framework of grammatical theories and historiographic methods of Latin scholarship. I conclude that, contrary to the traditional view that medieval etymologies are literary tropes and wordplay in all contexts, medieval historians used etymology as an epistemological instrument of discovery that helped them verify anecdotal information from oral tradition in order to adapt it to Christian historical discourse. This article focuses on the earliest annalistic narrative about the history of Bohemia, the Chronica Boemorum (c. 1125), and examines how its author, Cosmas of Prague, utilizes etymologies in the legendary sections of his masterpiece, and what role he ascribes to them in the mechanism of story-telling. Close reading and formal analysis of selected passages with etymological content show that etymologies are used as evidence to recover reality outside language (i.e. discover origins), and in that capacity they motivate the story itself and expand the narrative.

https://doi.org/10.13130/interfaces-06-03
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Copyright (c) 2019 Julia Verkholantsev