In some ways, it's a curious accident of history as to who rides the main currents and who is washed up in the eddies of history. Why, for instance, is Billy the Kid the most famous outlaw in the American West while Jesse Evans, his onetime compadre and long-time nemesis and whose life was just as dramatic, is largely forgotten? Pat Garrett killed Billy the Kid but was unsuccessful in collecting a $500 reward. Garrett needed the money, and so he wrote a largely fictional book about the outlaw, making him a legend. Evans, on the other hand, escaped and lived in anonymity for at least another 60 years.
Guibert of Nogent was one of those historical figures who could easily have wound up in the eddies of history if he hadn't written an extraordinary autobiography, "Monodies." In revealing the life of a philosopher monk, "Monodies" is the first such autobiography since St. Augustine's "Confessions," seven centuries earlier. In a larger sense, the book is also a biography of medieval France as it was coming of age. Guibert's story is not a history of the great events of the times, however. It is a quiet study of everyday life as seen through the mind of a unique personality wrestling with the roles of God and man. In some ways it is a deeply psychological drama, anticipating the work of another Frenchman, Michel de Montaigne, four centuries later.
"Monodies" would have been lost to history if a single copy hadn't reappeared in the 17th century. That copy has been recently translated in a remarkable modern edition by Joseph McAlhany and Jay Rubenstein. Rubenstein has written an excellent, long introduction that lays the foundation for understanding Guibert and his autobiography. The edition also includes the first translation in English of "On the Relics of Saints," another of Guibert's works, which establishes him as a forerunner of modern skepticism.