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.


As noted below for each session.

Programme for 2018

5 February

Collaborative Learning Room 261, Arts West

Cassandra Whittem, School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne

Haunting Fear: A Literary History of the Ghost from the Medieval to the Gothic Era - Masters Completion Seminar

The ghost is an enduring device in literature, one that has appeared over centuries in a plethora of different forms. Over many centuries it has become an ubiquitous figure, so haunted by generic convention that its metonymic associations with fear often pass into cliché. Yet the power of the ghost as a literary device and the key to its endurance is in the intense, heightened emotion of the moment of encounter between living and dead. Moreover, when these moments of heightened emotion are depicted in popular cultural forms, cultural expectations governing the expression and representation of emotions are revealed. My thesis examines an emblematic text from three key periods in literary history: the anonymous fifteenth-century romance The Awntyrs off Arthure, William Shakespeare’s Hamlet (c. 1605) and Horace Walpole’s The Castle of Otranto (1764). It will examine what emotions each text engages with, through the form, environment and genre in which the ghost appears and through the language in which these are expressed. By tracing a history of the representation of ghosts through these texts, my thesis will gain new insight into the evolving representation and narrative function of the ghost in literary culture and explore the connection between these changes and changes in theories of emotions that occurred over the same period.

5 March

Graduate Seminar Room 1, Old Arts (Room 210)

Michael Warby

Through the Eyes of Patriarchy: Muslim Commentary on Christian Women

In his The Muslim Discovery of the West (1982, 2001) Bernard Lewis observes that: “The Muslim visitors who left records of their travels to Europe were, until the nineteenth century, without exception, males. Most of them, however, have something to say on women and their place in society. For seekers after strange and wonderful stories, there were few more fruitful topics. The Christian institution of monogamous marriage, the relative freedom of women from social restriction and the respect accorded to them by even exalted personages never failed to strike visitors from the lands of Islam with wonderment though rarely with admiration.”

The classical period in Islam extends from its founding the C7th to beginning of the medieval period in Islam in the C10th century with the formalisation of the iqta tax fief system by the Iranian Buyid dynasty of governors (934-1065). These tax fiefs evolved into the Ottoman timars, the Iranian tuyuls and the Indian jagirs, the final remnants of which ended with the abolition of the jagirdar system by the Indian government in 1951.

The medieval period of Islam extends to the early C19th, ending with the massacre of the iqta-holding Egyptian mamluks (1811) by Muhammad Ali Pasha al-Mas'ud ibn Agha (1769-1849), founder of modern Egypt, 30th Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II’s (r.1808-1839) elimination of the timar tax rights of the Ottoman sipahi (1831) (some regional exceptions lingered in Bosnia and Herzegovina until 1851) and his suppression of the mamluk state in Iraq (1831), though the tuyul fiefs of Iran were not abolished until 1907.

The paper examines passages from two Muslim writers on women in Norse society in the C9th and C10th and four on women in Christian society ranging from the C12th to C18th.

The passages from the latter writers, which have some clear continuities across several centuries, provide illustrative examples of the very different gender dynamics that Christian monogamy generated compared to Sharia polygyny. The comparison provides an opportunity to interrogate the notion of patriarchy, including its dependence on more fundamental structures within human societies and its very limited connection to sex roles.

Michael “Lorenzo” Warby is a principal of Multisensory Education, trading as Medieval Education, which provides Medieval and Ancient days for schools. He is currently writing a book, working title Marriage Matters. This paper draws on extensive reading on the anthropological, psychological, historical and economic scholarship on marriage and gender dynamics across human societies.

9 April

Graduate Seminar Room 1, Old Arts (Room 210)

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

Arthur, the Historic Hero

King Arthur is unusual in being a figure who is both mythical and historicised.  This is key to his importance and influence, but is largely unrecognised, because to realise his unusual structural complexity requires knowing materials from pre-conquest British culture.  These develop essentially separate traditions of Arthur as both a mythic and also a historic hero, unlike say Cuchulainn, Beowulf or Roland, who function essentially in only one domain.  It was Geoffrey of Monmouth who in the 1130s combined fully the British myth of Arthur with a now Normanised historicism to create the king who became both a mythical International Hero and one of the historical Nine Worthies.

7 May

Graduate Seminar Room 1, Old Arts (Room 210)

John Weretka, University of Divinity

Sicard of Cremona and the Tradition of the Liturgical Commentary

Based on work in progress to translate the first book of the nine-volume De mitrale written by late-twelfth/early-thirteenth century bishop of Cremona, Sicard, this paper will examine the position of Sicard’s work in the grand tradition of the liturgical commentary, his utilisation of his sources and ways in which his work was then reused by William Durandus in the Rationale divinorum officiorum, perhaps the most authoritative liturgical commentary before Guéranger’s L’année liturgique.  A particular focus of examination will be the rite of church consecration, consolidation of which formed a special locus of attention in the Carolingian reform of liturgical practice.

4 June

Graduate Seminar Room 1, Old Arts (Room 210)

Professor Andrew Lynch, University of Western Australia

Emotion and “Violence": The Alliterative Morte Arthure and The Siege of Jerusalem

Susan Broomhall has remarked of the work of Johan Huizinga and Norbert Elias that ‘[b]oth appeared to understand the violence and the affective behaviours of medieval people as one and the same phenomen[on]’.  Broomhall stresses the key role of conceptual definitions in establishing the relation of emotion to violence, ‘for these terms cannot be assumed to have shared meanings among disciplinary traditions, nor indeed among past and present populations’.  In this paper, as an attempt to add clearer definition to the medieval concept of ‘violence’, or at least to avoid some confusion, I discuss the place of emotion in the construction and evaluation of ‘violent’ bodily actions in later medieval English war writings.

I pay special attention to two texts.  One is the Alliterative Morte Arthure, a late fourteenth-century poem in the Arthurian tradition stemming from Geoffrey of Monmouth’s 1130s Historia regum Brittanie.  The second is The Siege of Jerusalem, another anonymous alliterative poem, variously dated between 1370 and 1400.  It describes the total destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE after a siege led by the Romans Vespasian and Titus.

In analysis of these texts, I suggest that although medieval ‘violence’ is notionally a category established on ethical grounds, assessing permissible or wrongful uses of physical force, the first question to ask about an instance of extreme force in a medieval text is not whether it is justified or condemned on ethical grounds, as if one were discussing a case in abstraction, or even by ‘by the way [it] derive[s] its meaning from larger systems of honor’ (Di Marco, 2000, pp. 29–30).  What matters most is what kind and what degree of emotional engagement its written form is designed to display and to attract in situ.  ‘Violence’ and its opposite, ‘just force’, are poetic achievements rather than consistent cognitive categories.  The meaning and evaluation of extreme bodily force in later medieval English literature has less to do with the general nature of the force involved than with its poetic expression, with the links between aesthetics, ethics and action formed in texts and creating a process of emotional affiliation for their readers.

2 July

Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts (Room 209)

Darius von Güttner-Sporzyński, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne

Vincentius of Kraków and the Influence of Antiquity in his Chronicle

Bishop Vincentius of Kraków (c. 1150-1223) was the first Pole to write a comprehensive history of Poland. This native history is called the Chronica Polonorum and is acknowledged as a masterpiece of medieval scholarship in the Latin language. Even before his election as bishop of Kraków, Vincentius was an influential prelate and statesman in Poland closely connected to the ruling Piast dynasty. His work, the Chronica Polonorum, charts the history of the Poles from time immemorial to the early years of the thirteenth century. This paper will explore the many influences which shaped the Chronica Polonorum and in particular the strong impact of the heritage of Antiquity.

6 August

Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts (Room 209)

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

Does Size Matter? The Cronica cronicarum

Developed from a combination of universal history, national epic and rotulus genealogies, medieval universal chronicles appealed to a relatively broad literate audience.  Bringing together sacred and secular sources, they “served primarily as an historical map, orienting a reader in particular ways and providing a summary of basic historical landmarks in an intellectual landscape that encompassed nearly all of human life” (McKitterick, 19).

There exists an extensive archive of scholarship focussed on universal chronicles that were written in Latin.  Recent academic studies have brought a much-needed renewed attention to medieval French historiography, and scholars such as Davis and Norbye have provided comprehensive studies of fifteenth-century French scroll chronicles in manuscript format.  However, to date the Renaissance chronicles in French have raised little scholarly interest.

The focus of my paper will be the anonymous Cronica cronicarum, Abbrege et Mis Par Figures Descentes et Rondeaulx, first published in Paris in 1521 by the French printer Jacques Ferrebouc.*  Sold in both roll and codex formats, this beautifully illustrated chronicle in vernacular French depicts world history from Creation up to 1521.  A second edition was printed 11 years later by Anthoine Couteau for the famous Parisian bookseller Galliot Du Pré – the lavish in-folio, with its 92 woodcuts, being transposed into an in-quarto format.

While this chronicle would have served an instructive purpose, helping the reader understand the contemporary world, I will explore the importance of the format in which it was sold.  How was the Cronica’s new mythology of world history made accessible to a lay reader?

*A copy of this extraordinary book is owned by Kerry Stokes and has been exhibited in 2016 in the Baillieu library.

3 September

Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts (Room 209)

Annie Blachly, Monash University

Oxford: A Place of Emotion and Violence?  Mapping the Coronial Deaths of Medieval Oxfordshire

My project considers the social and cultural impacts of violent events, using the Oxfordshire Coroners’ Rolls (1296-1348) as a vehicle to both establish and examine the idea of ‘violent spaces’ and their emotional impact within fourteenth century Oxfordshire.  The Coroners’ Rolls contain a repository of information of a systematic nature ideal for analysis in a digital humanities context, including information about the people and places involved and legal descriptions encoding the gravity and impact on society of an offense.  Taking advantage of this, my project will map information from coronial inquests to locate ‘violent spaces’ of Oxfordshire and trace how these areas created, fostered and stimulated emotions, extending to the emotional climate of the community and the emotions experienced and performed by both individuals and the society.  My paper will focus on the categories of violence that emerge from examination of the Coroners’ Rolls, in order to examine why particular categories occurred with such prevalence.

1 October

Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts (Room 209)

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

12 November (2nd Monday)

Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts (Room 209)

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

Previous Papers