Marbodius of Rennes
Marbodus, Marbod or Marbode of Rennes (c. 1035 – 11 September 1123) was archdeacon and schoolmaster at Angers, France, then Bishop of Rennes in Brittany. He was a respected poet, hagiographer, and hymnologist.
Marbod was born near Angers in Anjou, France, presumably in the mid-1030s. He received at least part of his early education at Angers under archdeacon and schoolmaster Rainaldus (d. c. 1076), who may have been trained by Fulbert of Chartres. Several of Marbod's family members were in the entourage of Count Fulk le Réchin of Anjou. Marbod was a canon in the cathedral chapter of Saint-Maurice of Angers as early as c. 1068. In about 1076 he became the cardinal archdeacon of Angers as well as the master of its cathedral school.
He was consecrated in his mid-60s as bishop of Rennes by Pope Urban II (1088–1099) during the Council of Tours (16–23 March 1096). Although Pope Urban II was a reforming pope in the tradition of Pope Gregory VII (1073–1085) (see Gregorian Reform), it is likely that Marbod's selection as bishop had a significant political component. Bishop Marbod attempted to implement reform principles in his diocese of Rennes, working to regain episcopal possessions that had been alienated by his predecessor-bishops, and helping transfer churches held by laymen to ecclesiastical hands. He was critical of the more extreme practices of Robert of Arbrissel and other such itinerant preachers wandering northwestern France at the time, but his letters indicate that he was tolerant of and even favorable towards their religious ideals.
At the age of about eighty-eight he resigned his diocese and withdrew to the Benedictine monastery of St. Aubin at Angers where he died.
Marbod was renowned for his Latin writing during his lifetime; Sigebert of Gembloux, writing c. 1110–1125, praised Marbod’s clever verse style. He composed works in verse and prose on both sacred and secular subjects: saints’ lives, examples of rhetorical figures (De ornamentis verborum), a work of Christian advice (Liber decem capitulorum), hymns, lyric poetry on many subjects, and at least six prose letters. The most popular of Marbod’s works was the Liber de lapidibus, a verse lapidary or compendium of mythological gem-lore; by the fourteenth century it had been translated into French, Provençal, Italian, Irish, and Danish, and it was the first of Marbod’s works to be printed.
The first collection of Marbod’s works was published at Rennes in 1524 (In collectione prima operum Marbodi). Today the most widely accessible edition of Marbod’s collected works is that in Migne’s Patrologiae cursus completus Series Latina, vol. 171, edited by Jean-Jacques Bourassé (Paris, 1854); this was based on the edition of Antoine Beaugendre, Venerabilis Hildeberti primo Cenomannensis Accesserunt Marbodi Redonensis (Paris, 1708). Both contain numerous errors and omissions and should be used with caution. Modern editions of Marbod's works include Antonella Degl’Innocenti, ed. Marbodo di Rennes: Vita beati Roberti (Florence, 1995) and Maria Esthera Herrera, ed., Marbodo de Rennes Lapidario (Liber lapidum) (Paris, 2005).
Marbod produced lyric poetry on a wide variety of subjects, including frankly erotic love lyrics concerning male and female love interests. Many of his shorter poems circulated primarily in florilegia, collections assembled for the use of students; the essential discussion of the authorship of poetic works attributed to Marbod is by André Wilmart, “Le florilège de Saint-Gatien: contribution à l’étude des poèmes d’Hildebert et de Marbode,” Revue bénédictine 48(1936):3–40; 145–181; 245–258. The most radical of Marbod’s poems, while printed in the earliest collections, were omitted by Beaugendre and Bourassé; they were reprinted by Walther Bulst in "Liebesbriefgedichte Marbods," in Liber floridus: Mittellateinische Studien Paul Lehmann, zum 65 Geburtstaag am 13. Juli 1949, ed. Bernhard Bischoff and Suso Brechter (St. Ottilien, 1950), p. 287–301, and Lateinisches Mittelalter: Gesammelte Beitraege (Heidelberg, 1984), 182–196.
Several of his poems speak of handsome boys and homosexual desires but reject physical relationships (An Argument Against Copulation Between People of Only One Sex). This exemplifies a tradition of medieval poetry which celebrated same-sex friendship while generally denouncing the wickedness of sexual relations. Some poems, such as the one where he sent an urgent demand that his beloved return if he wished the speaker to remain faithful to him, have nonetheless been interpreted to indicate that more than poetic invention was involved.
For discussions of Marbod's literary works see: Antonella Degl’Innocenti, L’opera agiografica di Marbodo de Rennes (Spoleto, 1990), and Rosario Leotta, and Carmelo Crimi, eds., De ornamentis verborum; Liber decem capitulorum: retorica, mitologia e moralità di un vescovo poeta, secc. XI-XII (Florence, 1998).
Translations and Adaptations
- A French translation of his hymns was edited by Ropartz (Rennes, 1873).
- Marbod's verse life of Saint Thaïs, a fourth-century Egyptian prostitute who finished her life as a recluse, inspired the novel by Anatole France and in turn the opera by Jules Massenet.
- M. Lurio, “A Proposed Genealogy of Marbode, Angevin Bishop of Rennes, 1096–1123,” Medieval Prosopography 26 (2005), 51–76.
- His elevation was contemporaneous with the marriage alliance of Ermengarde of Anjou, daughter of Count Fulk le Réchin of Anjou, with Duke Alan Fergant of Brittany, whose duchy encompassed the county and diocese of Rennes. Olivier Guillot, Le comte d’Anjou et son entourage au XIe siècle (Paris, 1972), I:257
- R. W. Southern, Scholastic Humanism and the Unification of Europe, 1 (Cambridge, MA, 1995), p. 188; PL 160:584; Antonella Degl’Innocenti, L’Opera agiografica de Marbodo di Rennes (Spoleto, 1990), pp. 78–80
- ed. Rosario Leotta, Marbodi Liber Decem Capitulorum: Introduzione, testo critico e commento (Rome, 1984)
- edited by J. Cuspinian as Libellvs de lapidibvs preciosis, Vienna, 1511
- John Boswell, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, Chicago, 1980