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The Prince and the Poet
Vexillum: The Undergraduate Journal of Classical and Medieval Studies, Vol 2 (2012)
Previous discussions of panegyric poetry focus on its essentially fictional nature and consider it unreliable as historical evidence. This essay presents a new paradigm for the evaluation of panegyric evidence to form significant conclusions about contemporary cultural expectations and self-perception in an honor/shame culture. This essay uses specific evidence drawn from twelfth and thirteenth-century Welsh panegyric poetry to provide a specific implementation of the paradigm.
The immediate reaction to medieval praise-poetry or panegyric is understandably one of doubt, based on its existence as an essentially hyperbolic form of literature. This has led many—including such well-known names as Gibbons, Voltaire, and Dryden—to reject its use in a historical context. While more recent arguments, such as those of Richard W. Kaeuper, have established a clear standard for the historical interpretation of essentially fictive medieval genres, such as the chanson de geste, no such convincing argument has been made for the quasi-mimetic genre of panegyric.