This paper examines how Roduflus Tortarius’ 12th-century versification of Valerius Maximus’ Facta et Dicta Memorabilia subtly redacted it, sanitising Greco-Roman antiquity for a Christian readership. Valerius Maximus’ compendium was ‘next to the Bible, the most popular in the Middle Ages’ (Carter 1975). Some 800 manuscripts are extant (Schullian 1984), most dated to the late medieval period at its peak popularity when there was a proliferation of commentaries (Billanovich 1974, Crab 2015). Yet Valerius was also widely read in late antiquity (two epitomes were made at this time) and in the 9th century, when he was edited by Lupus Servatus and excerpted by his student Heiric of Auxerres (Schullian 1935). Valerius was, indeed, an authority for kings: when Robert II wrote in 1022 to Gauzlin of Fleury and Fulbert of Chartres enquiring about a prodigy of raining blood, both dutifully consulted Valerius Maximus (Schullian 1937).
Tortarius’ De Memorabilibus is a nine-book elegiac adaptation of the Facta et Dicta Memorabilia combining Valerius with biblical and patristic material. By no means simply a compilation of Valerius Maximus with Christian interpolations, Tortarius’ poem performs a substantial rhetorical rewriting of the ancient work (Bretzigheimer 2008). Firstly, Tortarius overwrites Valerius’ Caesarian sympathies. He dedicates each of the nine books to one of the Muses, whereas Valerius invokes only Tiberius for inspiration (1.praef). Given that the Muses were controversial even in contemporary medieval poetry (Ziolkowski 1990, Curtius 1939), Tortarius’ Muses make an unusual paratextual frame. Tortarius here seems to follow a classical practice of dedicating books of nine to the Muses either individually or collectively, such as for Herodotus, Cephalion, Soleus (Diogenes Laertius, VP. 4.58), Heraclitus (Diogenes Laertius, VP. 9.12) and Aurelius Opillus (Suetonius, De gramm. 6.3), but he has derived his list of Muses from Fulgentius: these two alone misplace Melpomene and Polymnia in the Hesiodic order of Muses (Theog. 78-80), and share the same etymological-allegorical interpretations of the Muses (Könsgen 1990). Like Fulgentius, Tortarius associates the Muses with the nine cognitive processes of attaining knowledge. He thereby transforms Valerius’ book to Tiberius into a transhistorical work of the Muses, not simply containing Greco-Roman exempla but reflecting the process itself of understanding poetry and exemplarity.
Rodulfus however more aggressively intervenes in the text itself to reshape it: for example, in his summary of 1.6.12, concerning a prodigy of bees that confronted Pompey and warned him not to fight Caesar, Tortarius adds that phantasms at night confronted the soldiers in Emathia (1.2.81-82). He takes this detail from Lucan, who describes how the soldiers after the battle were haunted by the images of the dead in their sleep (7.760-776). Lucan’s intrusion here is a corrective to Valerius’ account of the civil war and panegyric of the Caesars (on which, see Lucarelli 2007 and Mueller 2002). Tortarius is also critical of antiquity at large. At the beginning of 1.4 (De Miraculis), Tortarius warns that Valerius’ examples of supernatural wonders were actually the machinations of demons. He critiques the Romans for vetus error and later (1.4.157-162) he interprets the destruction of the Greek books of wisdom found in Numa’s tomb as the product of a conspiracy of demons rather than a preservation of religious cult. Roman prodigies and religion need to be reinterpreted.
This 12th-century versification of Valerius Maximus was thus a subtle rejoinder to its classical counterpart rather than a mere otiose versification. While his adaptation participates in the medieval canonisation of Valerius Maximus, it also maintains a critical stance to antiquity at large. A close reading of Tortarius highlights the the ambivalent relationship of Medieval literature with its classical patrimony, invoking an ancient tradition of dedicating books to Muses but also censoring Valerius and antiquity. This poetic adaptation should therefore also serve as a prompt for classics as a discipline to historicise its curricular canon, its hierarchy of authors and the various ideological processes underlying it.