Post-classical history

Gunther of Pairis

A Cistercian monk of the abbey of Pairis in Alsace and author of the Hystoria Constantinopolitana, an account of the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204).

Inspired by the crusade exploits of Martin, abbot of Pairis, Gunther crafted his initial version of the Hystoria before the end of 1205. Originally it contained twenty-four prose chapters, each followed by a poem; in 1207 or 1208 he added a twenty-fifth, anticlimactic, and structurally disharmonious chapter and poem. Gunther’s main objectives were to celebrate the actions of Abbot Martin and to justify the crusaders’ capture and sack of Constantinople, acts that Gunther interpreted as directed by God. To achieve this dual purpose, he employed a number of artistic devices. One was irony, which underscored the theme that the ways of God transcend human understanding. Thus, Abbot Martin’s theft of relics was “sacred sacrilege,” because this apparently sacrilegious act was part of the Divine Plan—a plan that Gunther attempted to mirror in the Hystoria’s structure. By juxtaposing the first twelve chapters with the last twelve, which enabled him to echo scenes, themes, and motifs, Gunther argued in word and form that God used human agents to achieve ends they could never imagine. Because of its apologetic purposes and artistry, the Hystoria contains numerous factual errors. Gunther died around 1210.

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