Law, Rulership, and Rhetoric

Selected Essays of Robert L. Benson

Robert L. Benson
Edited by Loren J. Weber in collaboration with Giles Constable and Richard H. Rouse
Foreword by Horst Fuhrmann

Robert L. Benson (1925–1996), professor of history at the University of California, Los Angeles, was one of the most learned and original medievalists of his generation. At his untimely death he left behind a considerable body of unpublished writings, many of which he had revised and refined and in some cases presented in lectures and at conferences over many years. The best and most significant of these previously unpublished writings are collected in this volume.

The essays in Law, Rulership, and Rhetoric span Benson’s entire career from 1955 to 1994. They comprise a rich collection covering a vast range of topics in political, intellectual, legal, and ecclesiastical history, rhetoric, and historiography. Art historians will find the three essays on medieval images of rulership and medieval art valuable, and literary scholars will be interested in the essays on, among others, Boncompagno da Signa. The volume concludes with several occasional, historiographical essays, including a spirited defense of Ernst Kantorowicz against Norman Cantor and an entertaining talk on “the medievalist as literary hero.” The volume begins with a brief biographical sketch and appreciation of Benson by Horst Fuhrmann.

Loren J. Weber is partner of O’Melveny & Myers LLP. He was previously lecturer of history at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Richard H. Rouse is professor emeritus of history at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Giles Constable is professor emeritus of medieval history at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton University.

“Law, Rulership, and Rhetoric: Selected Essays of Robert L. Benson makes an original contribution by bringing forward Benson’s unpublished essays, thus revealing in important new ways Benson’s significance for medieval history. Historians in several fields should find these essays of interest. Others in art history, Church history, political history, and legal history can find items of interest here.” — Robert Somerville, Columbia University

“Canon law, emperors, popes, and a medieval showman or trickster who taught the ars dictandi at Bologna are examined in these collected studies. These scholarly masterpieces may be counted among the best for the relevant subjects. Few medievalists today could produce such amusing, erudite, and elegant essays as Robert Benson.” — Johannes Fried, Professor of Medieval History (Emeritus), Goethe-Universität, Frankfurt

“The varied lectures, draft studies, and informal talks in this volume were written between 1955 and 1994, yet they are full of newfound treasures. Robert L. Benson was a leader in the transformative new age of medieval studies in North America that began with the diasporas of World War II. After his death, the editors carefully sifted through his files to see whether there were unpublished studies of value. They found the astonishing wealth gathered and expertly redacted here into five areas related to medieval political power and its modern analysis. Apart from Benson’s conclusions, his methods of working across disciplines—notably, art and iconography, rhetoric and philology, Roman and canon law, and scriptural exegesis—remain fresh and instructive. And a self-portrait of the man himself is there through insights both into his high sense of the historian’s vocation, and into the passions that, haunting and imperative, still inflame his work.” — Karl F. Morrison, Lessing Professor of History and Poetics (Emeritus), Rutgers University