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Paul the Deacon


Carolingian historian of the Lombards, poet, grammarian; b. c. 730; d. Monte Cassino, 799(?). Paul was apparently of noble Lombard family, the son of Warnefrid and Theodolinda. As a youth he was sent to the court of King Rachis at Pavia, where he received an excellent education under Flavianus. He knew some Greek and Hebrew. While associated with the Lombard Princess Adelperga, beautiful daughter of King Desiderius, he composed (c. 770) in her honor a poem, a chronology of world history in which the acrostic Adelperga pia appears. She induced him to join the court of her husband, Duke Arichis of Benevento, an important ally of the Lombards in southern Italy. Paul remained there until the conquest of the lombards by charlemagne (773774), when he entered monte cassino. It seems unlikely that he was ever a monk at St. Peter's in Civate near Milan, as some have thought. Paul's brother, involved in a revolt (776) of Duke Hrodgaud of Friuli against Charlemagne, was imprisoned, and his property was confiscated. In 782 Paul addressed a plea in elegaic verses to Charlemagne, asking the king to release his brother, whose family was suffering from want. Charlemagne, attracted by the obvious scholarship of the monk, ordered Paul to come to Aachen, and there for several years Paul was an honored member of the court circle, which included alcuin, theodulf of orlÉans, peter of pisa, and paulinus of aquileia (see carolingian renaissance). Although there is no record of his brother's release, it is practically certain.

Paul added the free Italian spirit (F. J. E. Raby) to the court circle as well as a knowledge of Vergil, Ovid, Lucan, fortunatus, arator, and many others. He was primarily a grammarian in the palace school, and he undertook an abridgment of Festus's De verborum significatione, important for a knowledge of archaic Latin and for miscellaneous bits of information about Roman religion and law. He wrote many poems, occasional verses, epitaphs, and letters to Peter of Pisa and Charlemagne. Two poems on St. Benedict were written in 774 when he first went to Monte Cassino. Two other of his poems rank among the best examples of Carolingian poetry: the one written for his brother's release and a description of Lake Como in epanaleptic lines. At Charlemagne's order, he compiled a homiliary (Patrologia Latina, 217 v. [Paris 187890] 95:115966) using the sermons of Ambrose, Augustine, Jerome, and others. He wrote a life of St. Gregory the Great and, at Bishop Angilramnus's request, compiled a history of the bishops of Metz. He did not write the commentary on the Benedictine Rule long attributed to him. Three hymns are said to be his: Fratres, alacri pectori (Analecta hymnica [Leipzig 18861922] 50:118120) in honor of St. Benedict, one in honor of the Assumption (Analecta hymnica 50:123125), and ut queant laxis. The last is famous for its use by guido of arezzo in determining the syllable names of the diatonic scale and is one of the best Carolingian hymns. Today Paul's authorship is seriously questioned or denied.

It is as a historian, however, that Paul is chiefly remembered. About 770 he edited Eutropius's Breviarium ab urbe condita, an abridgment of Roman history (753 b.c. to a.d. 364), which he extended by adding passages from Jerome and Orosius. His greatest work is the incomplete Historia Langobardorum, in six books. It covers the history of the Lombards from their legendary beginnings to the death of King Liutpard in 744, and is based on two earlier lost sketches of Lombard history, the chronicle of Secundus and Origo gentis Langobardorum, and works of other historians, such as gregory of tours, gregory i the great (Dialogues ), bede, and isidore of seville. Paul also used his own experience and observation, oral tradition, folk legends, and omens. The style is simple and unadorned, vivid in descriptive passages and dramatic in others. The work is weakest in chronology, sometimes erring by vagueness, for example, Paul's use of circa haec tempora, at other times by being from 30 to 40 years off the mark. It is a very important work because it preserved the memory of the Lombards, who were doomed to disappear as a political entity. It is unfortunate that Paul did not complete it at least to the fall of the Lombards in 774.

Bibliography: Die Gedichte des Paulus Diaconus, ed. k. neff (Munich 1908); Sexti Pompei Festi de verborum significatu Pauli epitome, ed. w. m. lindsay (Leipzig 1913); Historia Romana, ed. a. crivelluci in Fonti per la storia d'Italia 51 (Rome 1914); Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Scriptores rerum Langobardicarum (Berlin 1926) 45187; Monumenta Germaniae Historica: Gesta epp. Mett. (ibid.) 2:260270. m. manitius, Geschichte der lateinischen Literatur des Mittelalters, 3 v. (Munich 191131) 1:257272. w. wattenbach, Deutschlands Geschichtsquellen im Mittelalter. Vorzeit und Karolinger, ed. w. levison and h. lÖwe, 4 v. (Weimar 195263) 1:212224. f. a. wright and t.a. sinclair, A History of Later Latin Literature (New York 1931) 149157. f. j. e. raby, A History of Christian-Latin Poetry from the Beginnings to the Close of the Middle Ages (2d ed. Oxford 1953) 162167; A History of Secular Latin Poetry in the Middle Ages, 2v. (2d ed. Oxford 1957) 1:197199. m. l. w. laistner, Thought and Letters in Western Europe, a.d. 500 to 900 (2d ed. New York 1957) 219222, 279280. e. omlin, "Guido von Arezzo und der Johannes-Hymnus, Ut queant laxis, " J. B. Hilber: Festgabe (Altdorf 1951) 4654. a. kollautz, Lexikon für Theologie und Kirche, 10v. (Freiburg 195765) 8:230231. l. j. engels, Observations sur le vocabulaire de Paul Diacre (Nijmegen 1961). j. szÖvÉrffy, Die Annalen der lateinischen Hymnendichtung. Ein Handbuch, 2 v. (Berlin 196565) l:186189. k. gamber, "Il sacramentario di Paolo Diacono: La redazione del Gelasiano s. VIII in Paria," Rivista di storia della Chiesa iri Italia 16 (1962): 412438.

[c. m. aherne]

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