Medieval Round Table 2015

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

Papers for 2015

2 February

Venue: Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts

Helen Dell, University of Melbourne

Dying for Love: Singing Suicide in Trouvère Song

‘How does one give oneself death [se donner la mort]? How does one give it to oneself in the sense  that putting oneself to death means dying while assuming responsibility for  one’s own death, committing suicide but also sacrificing oneself for another, dying for the other, thus perhaps giving  one’s life by giving oneself death, accepting the gift of death, such as  Socrates, Christ, and others did in so many different ways … What is the  relationship between … putting oneself to death and dying for another? What are  the relations among sacrifice, suicide, and the economy of this gift’
(Jacques Derrida, Gift of Death 10).

Suicide causes  problems for an understanding of the nature of death as Derrida’s words  indicate. In medieval legal and religious discourses suicide, the murder of  oneself, is active, both a crime and a mortal sin. In the case of the law the  suicide’s body might be dishonoured, dragged through the streets, hanged, even  tortured, and his or her estate confiscated. In the eyes of the church his or  her soul was bound for eternal damnation since suicide usually left no time for  repentance. The suicide’s body could not be buried in consecrated ground. It was  exiled from the community of those who have (apparently) left their death in  God’s hands. There is another discourse to be taken into account, a medical  discourse on love as a physical and mental disease akin to melancholy which, at  its worst, could cause death.

There are links  between the different discourses. As  Simon Gaunt suggests with reference to troubadour Jaufré Rudel’s amor de lonh or distant love, ‘religion  and worldly love inflect each other’.1 The quality of these inflections, the  relation between dying for love in these different registers remains a major  theme in discussions of courtly love. Song and romance often draw us to the  nexus between love and death, as if there is in love itself something deadly. Dying of love, from love or for love is a common topos  and in this field its status is highly ambiguous as its different grammatical  constructions suggest. This ambiguity has significant ethical  implications. In this field, as medievalists have noted, it is often difficult  to disentangle suicide from sacrifice or martyrdom.2 It  is also difficult to distinguish death as an act from death as passive, a blow to the sufferer delivered by a  heartless lover or by Love personified. If dying is considered as a deliberate act then Death as a figure loses his agency. If it is passive then Love and  Death are the murderers, conspiring together to bring it about.

My paper considers  what music brings to these ambiguities, in particular the songs of the trouvères  of 12th- and 13th-century Northern France. I will explore  what happens to suicide, that most shocking and problematic of deaths, when it is  submitted to the metamorphic processes brought about in song, encased in  musical and poetic form, the characteristics of different genres and genders  and the sound of a singing voice. The trouvère corpus encompasses a complex hierarchy of genres with a range of voices, high and low-style, masculine and feminine,  lyric and narrative. Notation is provided for many of the songs. Thus this  repertoire offers an opportunity to study love and death in a range of manifestations  which further complicate Derrida’s distinctions.

1. Simon Gaunt, in his introduction to Love and Death in Medieval French and  Occitan Courtly Literature, uses the troubadour Jaufre Rudel’s topos of amor de lonh to demonstrate how  ‘religion and worldly love inflect each other in this poetic discourse’ (Love and Death,1).

2. See for instance Simon Gaunt’s Love and Death, Aranye Fradenburg’s Sacrifice Your Love and Jane Gilbert’s Living Death in Medieval French and English Literature.

2 March

Venue: Babel 303

Carol Williams, Monash University

Jacobus  and the Benefit of Historical Hindsight: Ars  Antiqua and Ars Nova

Jacobus de Ispania (c.1260-c.1330), also known as Jacques de  Liège, was the author of the influential Speculum  musice (1320-30), the largest medieval treatise on music, with 521  chapters ordered into seven books, the last of which considers discant (rhythmicised vocal part music). In this book he constructs a defence of Ars Antiqua musical styles from around  1260-80, as represented by Lambertus and Franco of Cologne and a refutation of  the early 14th-century Ars  Nova teachings of Jean de Muris and Philippe de Vitry. The terminology  associated here with the opposing forces of innovation and tradition is  borrowed from Scholastic philosophy where the ars nova referred to the significantly large number of newly  translated works of Aristotle available in Paris in the early 13th  century and the ars vetus to those  few works available to 12th-century scholars. That the concern about  the rival merits of old and new became a dominant theme in the years preparatory to humanism is probably associated with Petrarch (1304-74) and linked  to the change in historical thinking which revealed an admirable past distinct  and discontinuous with the present. The relatively constrained rivalry between  the old and new music styles became a global political issue when Pope John  XXII, the third of the Avignon popes, issued a decretal Docta sanctorum on the subject in 1325 in which he forbade the use  of decorative rhythmic divisions and any other cleverness which might obscure  the purity of the melody and the message of the words of chant.

13 April (2nd Monday due to Easter)

Venue: Babel 303

Hannah Kilpatrick, University of Melbourne

The voute of thi vesage: Anger’s Face and its Absences in Written and  Visual Culture

Flared nostrils, reddened features, a twisted snarling mouth, wide staring eyes, flying hair (tangled or torn), an overall aspect of monstrosity  and wildness: these are some of the common signs by which we might recognise  the personification of Anger, in late-medieval visual culture. This hideous  face does more than identify the emotion. It tells the reader how to evaluate  it by linking it into a network of other negative figures with similar  characteristics, from Jews to demons and the tormentors of martyred saints. Yet  despite the power and ubiquity of the angry face as a visual image, it is  rarely mentioned in written representations of anger. In chronicles and  chansons de geste, if the face is mentioned at all, its role in characterising anger is less crucial than other factors: the voice and actions of the character in question, or the response of any other characters nearby. Narrative sources focus on the communicative acts associated with anger and the  social changes they produce within the world of the text. I will look more  closely at a few key texts to see which aspects of the monstrous angry face  resurface, and how they differ in function from their equivalents in visual  culture.

4 May: Cancelled - to be rescheduled

Venue: Babel 303

Stephen Knight, University of Melbourne

The  Politics of Myth

Myth is in routine discourse taken as the opposite  of reality, and much of the study of myth is determinedly distant from contemporaneity. But mythic stories have consistent and consistently changing  reference to the socio-political structures of their periods and through  reading them in that context we can interpret the emotively understood politics  of the contexts in which versions of myths operated.

Some of this is straightforward: Arthur represents a  splendour which is always transitory, Robin Hood represents resistance to an authority  that is felt oppressive. But the transitions and complications within those  overarching – and themselves somewhat idealistic – structures can be both  surprising and revealing. Why is a near-obsessive interest in a historical King  Arthur a feature of the 1930s and after? Why does Robin Hood only become a  Saxon in 1819? Looking in detail at the functioning and varying politics of well-recorded myths domains can suggest ways of considering, even identifying,  little noted changes and repoliticisations of other myths like those of Jeanne  d’Arc, Queen Elizabeth I and Shakespeare, three domains which notably activate  issues of religion, gender and class.

In this summary account of some of the material in a  forthcoming book, myths like these which still operate in our culture will be considered, and seen both developing and inter-acting, under the three categories of Power, Resistance and Knowledge.

1 June

Venue: Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts

Melissa Raine, University of Melbourne

Puerile Justice: The Voice of a Boy in Jack and His Stepdame

In  this talk I will give an outline of the project I am undertaking in association  with the Centre for the History of Emotions, examining affect and children’s  voices in Middle English narratives. The conceptual framework for the project  will be discussed with reference to Jack and His Stepdame, where the  irrepressibly upbeat voice of a mistreated "propre lad" is imbued  with an inherently puerile ethical rectitude.

There is no need to read the poem in advance (although it  is quite short), but if you'd like a print-out, or to follow along on a portable device rather than rely on reading passages on Powerpoint at a distance, Jack and His Stepdame is available online at

6 July

Venue: Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts

Michael Warby

Doctrine, Geography and Institutional Variety: The Medieval Origins of European Global Dominance

A  striking feature of Latin Christendom was its remarkable level of institutional  variety, comparable only to that achieved between the rise of the Greek polis and the unification of the Mediterranean littoral by Rome. This paper explores the basis of the institutional variety of Latin Christendom, including interaction between  political, commercial and military trade-offs, the doctrines of the Catholic  Church regarding ethics, law and family structure, and the geography of Europe  and how this combination of factors led to the development of not only an  intensely competitive, but also a distinctively diverse, state system. This  process of competition, among states much more varied in their political  structures than in other civilisations, provided the processes of historical  selection had far more institutional variety to work through, resulting in the  evolution of much more capable states, able to create and manage globe-spanning empires.

3 August

Venue: Fourth Floor Linkway, John Medley

Medieval Round Table 20th Anniversary Celebration

Drinks and celebrations, with a short talk by Professor Stephen Knight.

Afterwards we will  go out to dinner in Carlton at our  own expense, at a venue that does  reasonably-priced  set menus.

Further details and a request for RSVPs closer to the date.

Stephen Knight

The Politics of Myth:  Modern Medieval Meanings

Most mythic study is consolingly distant from  modernity – Aztec, Babylonian, Classical Greek. But there are myths that reach  into the present, operating from the early middle ages on. They have, and still have consistent relations to their sociopolitical contexts. This appears in two  striking but underconsidered ways. In their originary and developmental periods  these still potent myths had a striking variety of forms and meanings, relating  to their formative and communicative contexts; and their meaningful variations  continue to the present. So it is possible to read such myths and their  variations in reverse as indicators of the issues that concerned varying  periods and contexts.

These topics are dealt with in The Politics of Myth: from King Arthur to Ned Kelly, Melbourne  University Press, forthcoming 2015. This short talk will give a selective and  illustrated account of the major patterns to be observed in five medieval myths  that have all been realised in twenty-first century film and television. They,  like the others in the book, are considered in functionally thematic terms --  Power: Arthur, Guinevere; Resistance: Robin Hood, Jeanne d’Arc; Knowledge: Myrddin/Merlin.

7 September

Venue: Babel 303

Biruta Flood, Monash University

Livonia as a Seedbed of Medievalism and  Romanticism: 1740-1850

This paper is a section from the preface to my doctoral  thesis, in progress at Monash University being prepared for publication in the Academic Gazette in Riga, Latvia.

As a prelude to the main body of  the thesis, this chapter presents a broad outline of the historical and cultural  preconditions that set the mood for medievalism and romanticism in Livonia as  precursors to Gothic Revival. It will identify the medievalist impulse in a  period of crucial importance in the history of Livonia and establish the psychological and intellectual driving forces that sustained its growth by a  study of the cultural landscape.

5 October

Venue: Babel 303

Susanne Chadbourne, Courtauld Institute of Art

Magnificence in Miniature: Considering the Micro-architecture of the Sherborne Missal (c. 1399-1407)

The Sherborne Missal (British Library Add. MS 74236) was created for the Benedictine Abbey at Sherborne in England in the early fifteenth century and is considered to be one of the most spectacular service books to survive from the Middle Ages. Executed on a grand scale, it includes some of the finest decorative micro-architectural illuminations of the period. This talk will consider the status given to the architectonic devices in the Missal and what the prominence of these architectural motifs were intended to convey, considering whether contemporary models were used as a basis for these illustrations by the chief illuminator, Dominican friar John Siferwas.

Susanne has recently completed an MA in History of Art at The Courtauld Institute of Art, specialising in European art and architecture of the Gothic period. Prior to The Courtauld, she graduated from the University of St Andrews with Joint Honours in English and Art History.

9 November (2nd Monday due to Cup Day)

Venue: Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts

Helen Young, La Trobe University; University of Melbourne

Whiteness and Medievalism: From Thomas Percy to Tony Abbott

White is achromatic – a colour without colour –  in scientific terms and in Western culture which is eager to declare itself post-racial but  equally eager to remain normatively White. The contemporary popular imagination  sees the Middle Ages as a pre-race utopia, before the invention of race as a  concept, but simultaneously as a time when race – specifically the White race,  whatever that term means in any give context – was fundamentally and authentically real. Medievalism emerges as a prominent paradigm of post-medieval  cultures in periods of significant anxiety about racial identity: in the mid-to-late eighteenth century as scientific theories of racial difference  developed; at the height of European imperialism and American expansion in the  nineteenth century; in the 1970s following the Civil Rights era; and post-9/11.  This paper traces connections between Anglophone concepts of Whiteness (race)  and ‘the medieval’ (culture) from the eighteenth century to the present to  argue that White ethnicity has been focused on the Middle Ages as originary crucible for centuries. It begins with a discussion of Thomas Percy’s Reliques of Ancient English Poetry (1765) and Northern Antiquities (1770)  and traverses the centuries to Tony Abbott’s June 2015 speech celebrating the  800th anniversary of the signing of Magna Carta, drawing on Sara  Ahmed’s concept of ‘happy history’ to argue that distinctively racialised forms  of nostalgia came be discerned across some 250 years of Western culture.

7 December

Venue: Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts

Stephanie Trigg, University of Melbourne

Lost and Found: Hoccleve’s Face  of Chaucer

In Thomas Hoccleve’s Regiment  of Princes (1410-11) he mentions Chaucer as his poetic model and  teacher several times, and describes the ‘likness’ that he has had  made and painted into the manuscript so that others may also have a memory of  what he looks like:

Althogh hys lyf be qweynt, the  resemblance
Of him hath in me so fresh  lyflynesse,
That to putte other men in  remembrance
Of his persone, I  have here his likness
Do make to this ends, in  soothfastnesse
That they that han of him  lost thought and mynde,
By this peynture may ageyn him  fynde.

This paper will discuss what it  means to forget and remember a face — and a person — in the middle ages, with  special reference to this passage from Hoccleve’s text and the fate of this  early image of Chaucer (and perhaps some others). It will also consider the  question of copying and reduplicating images of individual faces in an era of manuscript reproduction.

For the image in question, see

And for the full text  of the Regiment, though I won’t be discussing it in detail,  see