Medieval Round Table

Winchester King Arthur's Round Table cake By Hannah Vanyai
Winchester King Arthur's Round Table Cake
by Hannah Vanyai

The Medieval Round Table is an informal discussion group open to interested students, academics and independent scholars. The Round Table meets monthly, usually on the first Monday of the month for presentations of papers, discussions of participants' work in progress, discussions of readings etc.


Professor Stephanie Trigg
School of Culture and Communication

Andrew Stephenson
School of Historical and Philosophical Studies

To be added to the mailing list please email Andrew Stephenson


6:15 pm except where noted otherwise below.


North Theatre, first floor, Old Arts, unless noted otherwise below.

Programme for 2017

13 February (2nd Monday)

Anne McKendry, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

Poet or P.I.? Historical Figures in Medieval Crime Fiction

There is a relatively recent trend in historical crime fiction that casts famous authors or other historical figures as detectives.  For example, Stephanie Barron writes a series of mysteries solved by Jane Austen (including Jane Austen and the Canterbury Tale [2011]); several authors depict Arthur Conan Doyle as their detective; there are crime novels featuring Charles Dickens, Benjamin Franklin, Elizabeth I, Oscar Wilde and many others.  However, historical figures from the Middle Ages appear over-represented as sleuths within this subgenre: Geoffrey Chaucer, for instance, appears as a detective in at least half a dozen examples.  While every medieval crime novel portrays some historical figures, creating a revisionist biography for an author as canonical as Chaucer brings with it significant cultural baggage.  Readers of medieval crime fiction — like readers of historical fiction generally — are an astute and canny group that derives pleasure from identifying the inconsistencies and anachronisms contained in the narratives.  Casting a historical figure in the main role greatly increases the chance of inaccuracies and thereby threatens the authenticity of the medieval landscape that the author carefully constructs.  This paper examines medieval crime fiction novels that attempt to navigate the fraught space between fiction and historical fact in an effort to understand the appeal and consequences of creating a crime novel with a well-known person from history as its detective.  In addition to Chaucer, John Gower, Leonardo da Vinci, Dante Alighieri, Lucrezia Borgia and Hildegard of Bingen all boast investigative skills that are showcased by this delightful subgenre of medievalist popular fiction.

6 March

Carol Williams - Centre for Medieval and Renaissance Studies, Monash University

From the Ears to the Soul: Music and Emotion in Thirteenth-century Paris

There was a discussion about the expression of emotion in music going on in the scholarly halls of Paris in the second half of the thirteenth century as a result of the new translations from Greek of several key works of Aristotle.  Foremost among the scholars was Aquinas with his passions of the soul which were later refined and specifically directed to musical expression by Peter of Auvergne.  Johannes de Grocheio was involved in the discussion too with his application of Neo-Platonic and Aristotelian understandings about the power of music to the music of the people of Paris.  There was also Guy of Saint-Denis who, with a cantor’s understanding of the inner working of mode and an encyclopedic grasp of chant in the performance of liturgy, constructed a theory which explained the mechanics of music expressivity.  The influx of Aristotelian ideas into music theory, long the preserve of Neo-Platonic and Pythagorean thinking, was revolutionary and opened up a thirty-year period of vigorous debate on the fundamentals of music such as: What is music?  What are the parts of music?  How does it work?  How do we hear it?  Is there a difference between sound and music?  How does music travel to our hearing?  How does music affect us?  Can music alter our behaviours?  Such vigour in debate on philosophical music theory was not to be seen again until the opening years of the seventeenth century with the emergence of dramma per musica - the opera.

3 April

Karen Green - School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne

The Miroir des Dames, the Chapelet des vertus and Christine de Pizan’s Sources

This paper begins with a question: was the Miroir des Dames of Durand de Champagne a source for Christine de Pizan, and particularly for her early work, the Epistre Othea?  Since the Miroir was widely available in the libraries of royal women with whom Christine was acquainted, this appears initially probable, as does the notion that La Somme le roi may have influenced her.  The question leads to a puzzle, since the first echo of the Miroir des dames to befound in Othea has been claimed to derive from a different source, the Chapelet des vertus.  But was this really a source for Christine?  The bulk of the paper argues that it was not, and that the direction of influence goes not from Chapelet to Othea as has been accepted since Curt Bühler first made the suggestion, but from Othea to Chapelet.

1 May

Stephanie Trigg - School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

The Verbal Image of Love in Medieval English Literature

The image of the beloved is a powerful force in the practice of medieval love, and poets invent a variety of ways to describe the emotional effect of the beloved’s appearance on the lover.  Chaucer’s Troilus, the judge in The Physician’s Tale, and Arcite and Palamon in The Knight’s Tale all fall in love at the first sight of Criseyde, Virgina and Emily.  But the poetry of love also thrives on absence.  This paper will explore several examples from Chaucer’s work where the beloved woman is not physically present, but where the lover’s imagination works to create an image of her, one that is shaped by memory or desire.  For example, Troilus makes a ‘mirror’ of his mind in which to preserve the memory of Criseyde’s appearance after he first sees her; and the Knight in The Book of the Duchess conjures an elaborate effictio of his dead wife’s physical and moral beauty.  Similarly, the Sultan of Syria in The Man of Law’s Tale falls in love with Custance after a detailed account of her appearance and virtues is brought to him by a group of travelling merchants.  The paper will explore the way poetic texts describe the visual effects of love in the absence of either the woman herself or a physical image.

5 June

Constant Mews - Centre for Religious Studies, Monash University

3 July

Helen Hickey - School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

7 August

Michael Warby

Evading ibn Khaldun's Model? Ottoman Longevity and the Dynamics of Law, Gender and Social Bargaining in Islamic Expansion and Christian Resistance

Historical sociologist Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī (1332-1406), known as ibn Khaldun, analysed the rise and decline of dynasties in a model which continues to engage scholars and inform contemporary social science. The Ottoman Empire was the longest lasting (1299-1922) significant Muslim polity. (In 1627, its flag flew over the island of Lundy, in the Bristol Channel; the island being used for five years as a base for Muslim piracy and slave raids on the British Isles.)

Founded, as Muslim states predominantly were, by a dynasty of pastoralist origins, the Ottoman state went through a process of expansion (1299-1529), peak (1529-1683) and decline (1683-1913). The rulers of the Ottoman dynasty explicitly adopted the title of holy warriors, turned jihad into a system, and finessed various patterns within Islam. The Islamic concept of martyrdom, non-believer subservience and the implications of (elite) polygyny, including the gender dynamics of polygynous conquest, were all adapted by the Ottomans to their imperial project while their use of kanun (rules for the state-apparatus operating within the silences of Sharia) gave their state unusually strong, for an Islamic polity, institutional strength. Even so, the Hapsburgs--highly successful accumulators of territory through dynastic marriage, something elite polygyny effectively ruled out as a path to territorial acquisition within Islam--successfully countered the Ottoman use of systematised jihad by techniques more easily available to Christian states based on monogamy and human-sourced law than to polygynous, religion-sourced law Islamic polities.

The sheer longevity of the Ottoman state casts doubt on how applicable ibn Khaldun's model is to the most successful of Muslim states. This paper examines the operation and trajectory of the Ottoman state in the light of ibn Khaldun's model. The paper explores how the Ottoman state's institutional resilience from finessing patterns within Islam, including its systematic harnessing of meritocracy, lessened the applicability of ibn Khaldun's model.

4 September

Helen Dell - School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

2 October

Darius Guttner - School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne

Vincentius of Krakow (d. 1223) and the Influence of Antiquity in his Chronicle

13 November (2nd Monday)

Stephen Knight - School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

4 December

Véronique Duché - School of Languages and Linguistics, University of Melbourne

Previous Papers