Studies in the Relations between Politics and Culture in Polish History
The Concept “rex illiteratus quasi asinus coronatus” in Late Medieval Cracovian Writings
Towards the end of the eleventh century, in Western Europe there appeared the idea that a prince exercising political power should receive intellectual education too. The learned men who voiced the concept recalled the ancient advice of Plato, and repeated after him, that a ruler should be a philosopher and be equipped with knowledge and wisdom necessary for his tasks, or have at his disposition educated advisors (philosophers).1 The first to put this idea into writing was Hugh of Fleury (d. ca. 1120) in De regia potestate et sacerdotali dignitate, composed in 1102–1107.2 Sketching a moral portrait of a ruler, he emphasized that, apart from the four cardinal virtues, a monarch should be eruditus in litteris, i.e. be intellectually educated in order to be capable of daily reading of the Scriptures and other texts. Doubtless, Hugh had Latin and grammatical education in mind, which would enable reading not only the Bible, but antique and early medieval writers, as well as the Fathers.3 ← 73 | 74 → In these works the prince was to find examples of ancient and contemporary men, and of their deeds, so that he could follow them.
Two decades later, William of Malmesbury (ca. 1090–1143),4 in Book V of his major historiographical work, the Historia regum Anglorum, introducing the person of Henry I, son of William the Conqueror, noted that the prince received profound training in liberal arts and philosophy, which had a positive effect on his rule.5 In this context,...
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