Otto of Freising

views updated Jun 11 2018


Bishop and historian; b. Neuburg? near Vienna c. 111112; d. Morimond, Sept. 22, 1158. Otto, the son of Margrave leopold iii of Austria and Agnes, daughter of Emperor henry iv, studied at Paris, perhaps under Abelard, Gilbert de la Porrée, and Hugh of St. Victor. He entered the Cistercians at the Abbey of morimond, was elected abbot (1137), and shortly after, was made bishop of the Bavarian See of Freising. Under his stepbrother, Emperor Conrad III, he joined the Second Crusade as a military commander. Otto served as political adviser and diplomat at the German court under Conrad and his successor, the Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa.

Otto's great interest in the intellectual pursuits of his time led him to be the first to acquaint his countrymen with the New Logic of Aristotle. His main historical work, the Historia de duabus civitatibus, a world chronicle in eight books, is the most noteworthy attempt at a philosophical interpretation of world history in the Middle Ages. Unlike earlier and contemporary world chroniclers Otto selected his facts in accordance with certain leading ideas that he discussed at length in the prefaces. He was influenced especially by St. Augustine's City of God and fully endorsed the saint's concept of the Civitas Dei as the community of all saints living and dead (see history, theology of). Otto began his account with man. Like Augustine, he saw one city deriving from Cain, the other from Abel. Unlike Augustine, Otto did not tend to identify completely the pagan empires or regna with the City of Satan, but rather saw them as a sphere where his "two cities" met and intermingled. Otto believed that by God's providence the Roman Empire was selected to be the world organization that would prepare mankind for the coming of the City of God. At first, this task fell on the Church of the early Christians. But under Constantine and still more completely under Charlemagne, emperor and pope, those "two persons in the Church," each acting as a vicar of Christ in his own sphere, achieved that unity and peace on earth that paved the way to the City of God in a transcendental future. Insight into the ever deepening conflict between regnum and sacerdotium that marked the history of the West after the collapse of the Carolingian Empire (see carolingian dynasty)a conflict in which Otto hesitated to take sidestinged his account with a deep pessimism. This was especially apparent in the seventh book, which described contemporary events. To Otto history had become the story of human misery. As his hope for the realization of the City of God on earth faded, he turned, in the last chapters of the seventh book, to the Cistercians, which in turn led to the description of the eschatological events that would herald the appearance of the Heavenly Jerusalem after history, post praesentem vitam (book 8). Otto finished his chronicle in 1146, in the midst of the confusions and wars of the reign of Conrad III.

When Otto's nephew, Frederick Barbarossa, ascended the German throne (1152) a new era of peace and good government seemed to augur well for a renewal of the empire. Otto began another historical work, the Gesta Friderici imperatoris or Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa, in a more optimistic vein. Otto died after finishing only the two first books. His clerk, Rahewin of Freising, continued the work.

Bibliography: Editions. Ottonis episcopi Frisingensis chronica sive historia de duabus civitatibus, ed. a. hofmeister, Monumenta Germaniae Historica : Scriptores rerum Germanicarum (Berlin 1826); Ottonis et Rahewini gesta Friderici imperatoris, ed. g. waitz, Monumenta Germaniae Historica : Scriptores rerum Germanicarum ; The Two Cities, tr. c. c. mierow (New York 1928); The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa, tr. c. c. mierow (New York 1953). Literature. w. wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter bis zur Mitte des 13. Jh., v.1 (7th ed. Stuttgart-Berlin 1904), v.2 (6th ed. Berlin 1894) 2:271279. j. hashagen, Otto von Freising als Geschichtsphilosoph und Kirchenpolitiker (Leipzig 1900). a. hauck, Kirchengeschichte Deutschlands, 5 v. (9th ed. Berlin-Leipzig 1958) 4:476485. a. hofmeister, "Studien über Otto von Freising," Neues Archiv der Gesellschaft für ältere deutsche Geschichtskunde 37 (1912) 99161, 633768. m. manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, 3 v. (Munich 191131) 3:376388. f. fellner, "The Two Cities of Otto of Freising," American Catholic Historical Review 20 (193435) 154174. j. spÖrl, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, ed. j. hofer and k. rahner, 10 v. (2d, new ed. Freiburg 195765) 7:130709; Grundformen hochmittelalterlicher Geschichtsanschauung (Munich 1935) 3150. p. brezzi, "Ottone di Frisinga," Bullettino dell'Istituto storico Italiano 54 (1939) 129328. Otto von Freising: Gedenkgabe zu seinem 800. Todesjahr, ed. j. a. fischer (Freising 1958).

[h. wieruszowski]

Otto of Freising

views updated Jun 08 2018

Otto of Freising

The German historiographer and philosopher of history Otto of Freising (ca. 1114-1158) was the first chronicler to treat religious and political events with artistic skill and vivid color and to depict them in their temporal as well as their transcendental significance.

Otto of Freising was the son of Margrave Leopold III of Austria (later St. Leopold) and of Agnes, the daughter of Henry IV. He was also a half brother to Emperor Conrad III, the founder of the Hohenstaufen line. Otto studied at the University of Paris and about 1133 entered the French Cistercian monastery of Morimont in Champagne, whose abbot he soon became. In 1137/1138 he was made bishop of Freising. In 1146 Otto took part, under his half brother, Conrad, in the Second Crusade, in which Jerusalem was lost to Saladin. Otto wrote the Chronicon sive historia de duabus civitatibus (Chronicle or History of the Two Cities), a history of the world in eight books covering events up to 1146. Otto of St. Blaise later continued the history to events through 1209. A moral history of the world, Otto's chronicle depends upon St. Augustine's On the City of God and upon Aristotle's philosophy and ranks as one of the most remarkable creations of the Middle Ages.

On the basis of material secured from his nephew Emperor Frederick I and from his chancellery, Otto also wrote the Gesta Friderici I imperatoris (The Deeds of Emperor Frederick I), the most important source for information concerning the early life of that emperor. Otto's two books were continued with two more books, covering events to 1160, by his notary, Rahewin. Both the Chronicon and the Gesta were reprinted in edited versions in the German Monumenta Germaniae historica.

Otto's writings, all in Latin, reveal a gift for individualization and an ability to penetrate into the spirit of his sources and to treat them in an elegant style. Though not always dependable in details, his works breathe life from their pages. Otto was one of the first German students of Aristotle. A disciple of St. Augustine, he viewed all worldly events as preludes to eternal ones, believing that each temporal happening, however somber, has a happy sequel in eternity. Although he recorded events and their circumstances faithfully, Otto did not slavishly follow the techniques of ancient historians. He enlivened his works with direct address, and he depicted countries, cities, and customs conscientiously. Otto also animated his stories of battles and sieges.

Otto did not gloss over ecclesiastical and theological disputes but deplored them as evils. He practiced scholasticism on its highest level. His account of the illstarred Second Crusade pictures it as starting in a dream of springtime and ending in a nightmare. His presentation, however, employs a modicum of sad detail. An optimistic mood characterizes even more strongly his The Deeds of Emperor Frederick I, in which Otto assumed the cheerful disposition of the Emperor and revealed a sure grasp of the spirit of the age of chivalry. Otto died on Sept. 22, 1158.

Further Reading

Otto's works were translated, with useful biographical and critical introductions and annotations, by Charles C. Mierow: The Two Cities: A Chronicle of Universal History to the Year 1146 A.D. (1928) and The Deeds of Frederick Barbarossa (1953). Discussions of Otto's life and work are in Harry Elmer Barnes, A History of Historical Writing (1937), and James Westfall Thompson, A History of Historical Writing (2 vols., 1942). □

Otto of Freising

views updated May 09 2018

Otto of Freising

c. 1111-1158

German bishop and historian who furnished the first written mention of the Prester John legend. Otto was present at a meeting in 1145 between Hugh of Jabala and Pope Eugenius IV when Hugh related the story of "a certain John, a king and priest who lives in the extreme Orient, beyond Persia and Armenia, and who like his people is a Christian...." The tale, which appeared in Otto's History of the Two Cities, (1143-46), inspired numerous European efforts to locate the mythical king's realms, first in Asia and later in Ethiopia.