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William of Malmesbury and the Ethics of History

Sigbjørn Olsen Sønnesyn

This book seeks to fill the gap through an exploration of the ethical paradigm or paradigms available to William through his extensive reading, and an analysis of his works in the light of the traditions of thought to which he professes his adherence. The author sets out to show how William combines the ethical systems he finds in classical literature with Christian doctrine following the pattern of the Latin Fathers, and applies these systems in his own theological writing. He also demonstrates how William’s conception of ethics forms a constitutive element of his historical output.

William of Malmesbury repeatedly emphasises that the primary purpose of all literary and intellectual activities is to provide moral instruction for the reader, the most famous of his statements to this effect being found in his monumental work Gesta Regum Anglorum, where he categorises history as a sub-discipline of ethics. Despite this moral emphasis, modern studies have chosen to focus on other aspects of William’s oeuvre.

1. History and Ethics: The Framework of an Enquiry
William of Malmesbury: history versus monastic obligations?
History, learning and ethics
Research on medieval historiography, past and present
Theory and method: the framework of an enquiry
Understanding, meaning and intelligibility
Practices: socially embodied activities as loci of meaning
Traditions and forms of life: the framework of social practices
2. Ethics: From Classical Philosophy to Monastic Practice
The focus and scope of ethics: the soul and its telos
The method and form of ethics: the virtues
The locus and framework of ethics: moral communities
3. Ethical Thought in the Works of William of Malmesbury
The ‘Commentary on Lamentations’
Ethics in the ‘Miracles of the Virgin’
4. The Reading of Ethics and the Ethics of Reading: History as a Vehicle for Moral Education
Moral education in ancient ethics
William of Malmesbury on the utility of history
History after Augustine
Moral didactics in William of Malmesbury
5. The Gesta Regum Anglorum, Books I and II
The introductory letters
Books I and II-the emergence, consolidation and development of the ‘regnum Anglorum’
The role of kings in the consolidation of the ‘gens Anglorum’
‘Moribus antiquis res stat Anglica virisque’
6. The Norman Kings
The background of the Conquest
William the Conqueror
William II Rufus
Henry I
Kings and peoples as main structural elements in the ‘Gesta Regum Anglorum’
7. History, Ethics – and Truth?

  • Hardcover: 302 pages
  • Publisher: Boydell Press (April 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1843837099
  • ISBN-13: 978-1843837091

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