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Un futuro innombrable: la cronología de Beda frente al augurio anglosajón de Gildas

AuthorsEscalona, Julio
KeywordsAlta Edad Media
discurso político
Beda el Venerable
Issue Date2007
CitationTerritorio, Sociedad y Poder, 2 (2007) 155-180
AbstractA caballo entre el siglo V y el VI, en el occidente de Britania que las poblaciones nativas retenían frente al impulso invasor de los anglosajones, el clérigo Gildas exhortó a los poderes seculares y laicos de su tiempo a despertar de su letargo, unirse y trabajar por la perfección espiritual y militar que les habría de permitir sobreponerse a sus enemigos. En su alocución, Gildas invocó un enigmático augurio sobre el final de la presencia anglosajona en Britania, el cual, pese a su significación política, no parece haber dejado huella en autores posteriores, que no vuelven a aludir a la cuestión. Esto ha hecho pensar a algunos historiadores que el augurio no formaba parte del texto original de Gildas, sino que es una interpolación posterior. Por su parte, Beda el Venerable, trabajando dos siglos después y desde el flanco opuesto (el de los anglosajones ya convertidos al cristianismo), fue el primero en hacer uso intensivo de la obra de Gildas, pero tampoco hizo referencia explícita al pronóstico sobre el fin de los anglosajones. Sin embargo, el propósito de este trabajo es sugerir que Beda no solo conocía el augurio y era consciente de su significado e importancia, sino que, siendo un especialista en cronología y computística, se esforzó por insertarlo tácitamente en su visión de la historia post-romana de Britania, poniéndolo en paralelo con el proceso de cristianización de los anglosajones.
The demise of Roman rule in Britain seems to have been followed by a quick collapse of large-scale political articulation and the outburst of a number of native politities, of which very little is known. Between the mid and late fifth century, the Anglo-Saxons took over the east of southern Britain, absorbing the native population into a new ethnic, religious and political identity. BY the early sixth-century, though, such and expansion had come to a halt, and the Celtic-speaking, Christian inhabitants of southwestern Britain remained beyond Anglo-Saxon control, although that did not make their political organization less fragmented. Sometime between the very late fifth century and the mid-sixth century, a British cleric named Gildas wrote down a text (De excidio Britanniae) in which he exhorted the religious and secular rulers of the British polities to take action. Gildas’s argument was that, for all the peace and calm the present generation enjoyed, the troubles of the past were not gone for ever. The enemy was still there and hardship would return. The kings and priests who –like a new Israel– had given up to leisure and forgot about God’s precepts were castigated by Gildas and prompted to return to put down their sinful ways and prepare to face the fights to come with God on their side.In order to reinforce this argument, Gildas inserted in his narration of the Saxon invasion of Britain a quick reference to an omen which predicted that the new settlers would inhabit the island for three hundred years, and for half of this period (i.e.: one hundred and fifty years) they would repeatedly devastate it. This is a most enigmatic passage which has raised all sorts of opinions among historians, from those who consider it mere fabrication or interpolation to those who judge it as a colourful, exotic touch, whether due to Gildas’s imagination and scriptural learning or to his knowledge of a real tradition about a real omen of Saxon provenance. However, given the political relevance of a forecast about the ending of the Saxons in Britain, it is striking that it has left nearly no trace of its existence. Later texts which sometimes replicate Gildas’s passage about the Saxon invasion, systematically wrote out the Saxon omen, which has provided grounds for the views that it was an interpolation which did not originally feature in De excidio.
This paper suggests that the reason why Gildas’s Saxon omen was ruled out by later authors was due to two reasons: a) that most preserved texts belong to a period after the three-hundred years deadline has passed, thus rendering the omen pointless; b) that the Venerable Bede, whose Historia ecclesiastica gentis anglorum strongly influenced all history written in Britain thereafter, also disregarded the men in his largely Gildas-based account of the Saxon invasion. However, Bede did write before the end of the three-hundred year period. A detailed analysis of he dealt with the chronology of fifth-century events, and the paramount authority he ascribed to Gildas in so doing, reveals that Bede was well aware of the omen, according to which the ending of Saxons rule should occur within the next generation. Bede tried to relate the first term of the omen to the arrival of the Roman missionaries that started the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons. His metaphorical interpretation of the one hundred years of plundering as the Anglo-Saxons’ heathen period was probably intended to provide some clue with which to reinterpret the meaning of the omen’s second term. However, Bede’s computations never allowed him to provide a tight chronological frame for the omen. He struggled to precise the chronology of the missionaries’ arrival and the varied steps of the Christianization, but failed to date the arrival of the Saxons with precision. To overcome this limitation, Bede introduced in his reckoning a certain measure of uncertainty —expressed with the Latin word circiter— which is demonstrably related to his estimations of the either the adventus Saxonum or the missionaries arrival. Eventually, he opted for omitting all reference to the omen, although both the layout of his chronology and the passages in which he expressed his concern about the immediate future bear witness to his worries.The realization of Bede’s awareness of the Saxon omen and the ways in which he dealt with it provides new insights about how he constructed the complex rhetoric and discourse of his all-influential narrative of early medieval British history, as well as a more hidden image of the real weight he attached to political and cultural traditions coming from the island’s Celtic-speaking side which features in his texts as the very “axis of evil” in the process of the Christianization of the Anglo-Saxons.
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