(De-)Constructing the Visigothic Poet: Regional, Cultural, & Religious Identity in Eugenius II of Toledo
(*En Portugués aquí; En Español aquí; En français ici)
We tend to view Eugenius II of Toledo as the great Catholic Visigothic poet: born to an aristocratic family in Toledo, trained as a cleric there and in Zaragoza, recalled to the bishopric of his home city by the Visigothic king himself, and commissioned then as court poet. None of these aspects of Eugenius’s identity are wrong, but they are used to construct an identity for the poet which is exactly that: constructed. The goal of this essay is to deconstruct and examine this identity in an effort to better understand the world in which the poet operated.
In reality, Eugenius’s identity was complex, varied, and at times conflicting. Despite the poet’s Toledan origins, the only region to appear directly in Eugenius’s verse is Zaragoza. As a poet, however, he employs Iberian sources but relies more heavily on works from North Africa and Gaul. How do these different regional identities fit together? Was Eugenius more a part of the pan-Roman – or rather the pan-post Roman – literary world of Latin letters, where his poems constructed a mental space much larger than his physical locale? Was his use of Iberian dialect a sign of cultural and linguistic constriction or did that matter? Eugenius’s religious identity is likewise complicated: he was both bishop and monastic, both pastoral leader and ascetic. How does this play out in his verse? This article will address these layers of identity. When he uses literature from across the Latin West but asserts an awareness of a particular Visigothic cultural context in the praefationes to his Dracontiana, what does that tell us about his identity? What was Eugenius’s own perceived position within it? Where, and how, did Eugenius see himself and his artistic/cultural output? These are the questions that lie at the heart of Eugenius of Toledo’s verse, even if his penchant for the prosaic and the seemingly frivolous disguises the depth of this conflict.