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Rome burns brightly still: contextualising Gildas's De Excidio Britanniae
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posted on 27.02.2017by Joyce, Stephen James
One of the few surviving texts from 'Dark Age' Britain is De Excidio Britanniae (DEB), 'The Fall of Britain', by Gildas. The traditional placing of this text within an insular sixth-century British Church has influenced a construct of Gildas as a 'Dark Age' monk or cleric, monastically educated and isolated from classical tradition and continental orthodoxy. This construct has been challenged by textual analyses from Franyois Kerlouegan, Thomas O'Sullivan, Neil Wright, Michael Lapidge et al. The intention of this thesis is to re-examine the literary context of the DEB in order to further refine the cultural legitimations used by Gildas in shaping his critical letter to the leaders of a divided Britannia. These cultural legitimations will argue that the author of the DEB draws on romanitas, prophecy and an ascetic tradition resistant to the authority of Augustine to articulate a harsh critique of the behaviour of political leaders and clergy. In doing so, Gildas appears to legitimate his text with cultural, literary and religious themes more appropriate to the late-fifth century than the mid-sixth century.