Medieval Round Table 2007

Image courtesy State Library Victoria
Image courtesy State Library Victoria

Papers for 2007

The theme chosen for 2007 is Travellers, Landmarks and Pilgrimage.

5 February

Celia Scott

Gendered Discourse: Speech in the Vitae of Early Irish Female Saints

The first meeting for 2007 will be in the usual venue, the small English (now Cultural Studies) Department seminar room. The session will begin at 6pm, rather than 5.30, and we will consider whether this could be our new start time for a trial year. We will spend some time planning the meetings for the year, considering both possible papers and a refreshment roster. Please consider whether you  have some research you would like to present.

Since the ANZAMEMS conference begins in Adelaide on 7 February, this meeting offers the opportunity for several people to do summaries of their papers as a practice run and get some advance feedback to assist with possible questions. Or, if someone has a longer paper they'd like to offer, now is the time! Could anyone who would like to give a long or short presentation on Monday 5 February  let me Kathy Troup know by Sunday 28 January and then a more detailed meeting description can be sent out a week or so in advance of the meeting.

5 March

Roger Scott

Theodosios' Apple and Marcian's Eagles

Byzantine chronicles make considerable use of stories as a way of  constructing narratives. A good story tends to be repeated from chronicle to chronicle but the function of the story can vary in different chronicles. This will be illustrated with the well-known stories of Theodosios' apple and Marcian's eagles. I will argue that  in both cases these stories were invented originally as pieces of ecclesiastical propaganda, linked to the events surrounding Marcian's unexpected accession as emperor in 450 and his instigation of the  Synod of Chalcedon in 451 which defined orthodoxy in a way that has  split the Church ever since.

The stories of the eagles, which protected Marcian as a common  soldier, so revealing his imperial destiny, were needed to combat  Monophysite criticism of his irregular elevation, while the story of  Theodosios' apple was originally told against Pulcheria (Theodosios'  sister) and Marcian, again as Monophysite innuendo. Applying the  apple story to Eudocia and Paulinus was a necessary counter by the  supporters of Chalcedon to save the reputation of the Synod's  instigators and heroes, even though this involved sacrificing Eudocia's reputation. This status is reflected in the 6th-century chronicle of Malalas and the 9th-century chronicle of Theophanes, though with different emphases. Later, as the stories became accepted as true history (being good stories) and the fifth-century religious conflicts were forgotten, the stories were necessarily retained but adapted to meet later chroniclers' literary programmes.

2 April

Kathy Troup

Women and Brewing on the Manor of Wakefield Before the Black Death

The ale trade at Wakefield was dominated by women, although men also brewed. The reasons for this unequal proportion of female and male brewers bears further investigation, not least because such proportions have been shown to differ dramatically from manor to manor. Indeed, the data from Wakefield in the period 1274-1323 supplements an existing debate over medieval women’s role in the ale trade. Bennett and Graham analysed brewing evidence for the manors of Brigstock, Iver, Houghton-cum-Wyton and Alrewas, offering conflicting hypotheses to explain the ratios of female to male brewers. Their accounts of women's brewing activity consider factors such as competing demands for male labour, marital status and socio-economic grouping.

Wakefield was a manor which combined arable and pastoral economies whose boundaries were fairly well defined, so that the differing ratios of female to male brewers in the various economies can be calculated. The three geographical regions of Wakefield manor correspond approximately to the four manors studied by Bennett and Graham. Through a comparison of the workings of these rural economies I suggest that the marital status of brewers may be of greater importance than the intensity of men’s work in determining the gender ratio of brewers.

There are three copies of an article which provides background to the debate over brewers in the Medieval Round Table box in the English Dept tea room. The reference is Helena Graham, '"A woman’s work …": Labour and Gender in the Late Medieval Countryside' in P.J.P. Goldberg, ed., Woman is a Worthy Wight: Women in English Society c. 1200-1500 (Stroud, 1992).

7 May

Verity Fisher

Hild, Whitby, and the Limitations of Textual Analysis

Hild, abbess of Whitby, died in the year 680 at the age of 66. Her life, as presented by the Venerable Bede in his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, has been a source of fascination to scholars for over 100 years. Hild was the daughter of Hereric, nephew to King Edwin of Deira, and hence a member of an important Northumbrian family, at a time when Northumbrian dynasties were at the peak of their power – what has been labelled the Northumbrian 'Golden Age'. Hild herself has been regarded by many as representative of another 'Golden Age' – this time one for women, or at least high status women, and especially those in a monastic context.

Bede's apparent celebration of Hild's learning, her piety and her influence, have been taken as markers of the prestigious position of women in the early Anglo-Saxon Church, seen as a high point of authority from which there was a decline over subsequent centuries, and to which women did not return. More recently, this interpretation has been questioned, for example by Stephanie Hollis, and Bede has been criticised for the omissions in his account, which have been characterised as denying agency to Hild (and perhaps by extension, to all women). It is true that Bede is selective in the information he presents to his reader; but it should be remembered that he wrote for a didactic not a descriptive purpose. It may be possible to flesh out Hild's experience, and that of other high status religious women in this period, by recourse not just to other textual sources but also to material culture. The archaeological record is of great importance for the Anglo-Saxon period, given the paucity of surviving textual sources; but it seems frequently to be overlooked or misused, particularly in relation to gendered issues. A closer examination of the material culture, while acknowledging the attendant problems of its interpretation, may be most useful in developing a fuller understanding of the realities of high status religious women in Northumbria.

There are three copies of pre-reading in the Medieval Round Table box in the English Dept tea room. The reference is: Bede,  Ecclesiastical History of the English People, book 4, chapter 23 (copies are from the Colgrave and Mynors edition (1969)).

4 June

Pamela O'Neill

Becoming a fuidir in Early Christian Ireland

In Early Irish and Welsh Kinship, Thomas Charles-Edwards dedicates substantial space to the social rank of fuidir ('half-freeman'). Charles-Edwards emphasises the transient or liminal nature of fuidir-status, and in this paper I wish to take up that point and further explore the  ways in which one might acquire the status of fuidir in early Ireland.  In particular, I investigate the lower ranks of fuidir, those who have been rescued from the gallows, the pit or slaying, or who are identified as having survived the procedure of setting adrift. Based on a consideration of the circumstances and logistics of these processes, I argue that a significant way of becoming a fuidir is to have one's kin-ties severed - voluntarily in some cases, but involuntarily in the case of these lower ranks.  Further, I suggest that inherent in the prescription of gallows, pit, slaying or setting adrift is the expectation that a reasonable proportion of those so treated will ultimately become fuidre.  That is, in prescribing a solution to the social problem created by the transgressor, it is acknowledged that the severing of his kin ties will produce an acceptable outcome. Fuidri may be seen, then, not as a punitive compulsion to servitude, but as a means of removing the danger to society posed by the transgressor's circumstances.

Interested Round Tablers could dip into Thomas Charles-Edwards, Early Irish and Welsh Kinship (Baillieu 306.8309415 CHAR), chapter IV.8, and/or Fergus Kelly, A Guide to Early Irish Law (Law library KL 403 KELL), various references to fuidir. Copies of these have been placed in the Medieval Round Table box in the English Dept tea room.

2 July

Clare Monagle

R.  I. Moore’s Clerical Revolution: Systematisation and Language in the Twelfth  Century

Recently, R. I. Moore has posited that the twelfth century saw the beginning of a Clerical Revolution. By this, he means that over the course of that long century the new 'class' of clerics took over the elite modes of the production of ideas, culture and governance in this period. This revolution reaches its zenith at Lateran IV in 1215, under the stewardship of Innocent III. It is a revolution of literacy and intellectual systematisation. In this paper I will consider the terms of Moore’s argument and situate it within the historiography of other recent reconfigurings of our period. I will consider the efficacy of the label of revolution, as opposed to other terms recently applied, such as reformation and renewal. I will consider the purchase and loss of thinking about the period in this way.

6 August

Di Hall

Gendered Violence in Medieval Ireland

In this paper I will explore the methodologies that I am using to analyse gendered violence in the medieval period in Ireland, c. 1200-1600. This was a period of widespread small and large scale warfare between and among Irish and English groups in Ireland. Partly as a result of these and later wars, it is also a period that is poorly served by surviving legal records. Using rape and abduction of women as case studies I will explore the challenges I am facing with this research.  I will also outline some of the challenges and possiblities in integerating medieval material into a wider historical project that spans many centuries.

3 September

Felicity Harley

The Florentine Processional Cross in the NGV: A New Attribution?

Can the Florentine Processional cross in the National Gallery of Victoria be attributed to an apprentice of Giotto? Bernardo Daddi was arguably the most talented painter in Florence in the period after the death of Giotto. His delicacy of style and exquisite miniaturising of religious subjects were celebrated; his work remaining highly influential in Florence to the end of the 14th century. Through a careful examination of iconographic details and stylistic features, the Cross purchased through the Felton Bequest in 1960 will be compared to known works of Daddi and the development of Italian Crucifixion imagery in the Trecento.

1 October

Helen Dell

Past, Present and Future Perfect: Paradigms of History in Medievalism Studies

'[C]ourtly love has ... left traces in ... a traditional unconscious that is sustained by a whole literature, a whole imagery, that we continue to inhabit' (Jacques Lacan).(1)

'History does not explain a discourse, it frames it and defines its conditions of acceptability; fixing the parameters from which a question-or a discourse-can articulate itself at a given moment in time' (Jean-Charles Huchet).(2)

'History is not the past. History is the past in so far as it is historicised in the present-historicised in the present because it was lived in the past' (Jacques Lacan).(3)

How we study a medievalist text is always a question of history since it asks for a theorisation of our relation to a past although it has not always received it. The three quotations which herald this paper, although all are psychoanalytic accounts, suggest rather different ways of understanding this relation.

In the first quotation Lacan asserts that we 'still inhabit' the discourse of that manifestation of desire we know as courtly love; that is, as I understand it, that history has not altered it since its appearance in twelfth century Occitania with the troubadours.  In the second Huchet (a Lacanian medievalist ), also referring to the discourse of courtly love as it arose in troubadour lyric, offers a more elaborated view. He posits a similarly ahistoric, or at least very long-lived, structure, but suggests that it is presented within changing parameters to render it acceptable in different historical contexts. The third problematically posits a history in reverse. In his first seminar Lacan approaches history, the analysand's history, as an 'apres coup', a translation of Freud's 'nachtraglichkeit'; in other words, it is a history which operates '[not] from the past to the future [but] from the future to the past'.(4)

My paper traces the appearance and function of desire in two texts, one a twelfth-century French roman: Chretien's Lancelot; the other a medievalist film made in 2001: A Knight's Tale. My hope is that a comparison of these two texts will offer a way in to a consideration of these three accounts of history.

1. The Ethics of Psychoanalysis, 1959-1960. Ed. Jacques-Alain Miller. Trans. and notes Dennis Porter. Book 7 of The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. New York: Norton, 1997, p. 112
2. L'amour discourtois: La 'fin'amor' chez les premiers troubadours. Paris: Privat, 1987, p. 15.
3. Freud's Papers on Technique, 1953-1954. Trans. and notes John Forrester. Book 1 of The Seminar of Jacques Lacan. New York: Norton, 1991, p. 12
4. Freud's Papers, p. 157

12 November (due to Melbourne Cup)

Helen Hickey

Thomas Hoccleve's Formulary and the Writing of History

Thomas Hoccleve is known for his vernacular poetry. However, between 1423-25, his last textual act (as far as we know) was the compilation of a Formulary of 201 folios and 1100 grouped, headed and tabled examples of government business. Most of the letters are in Anglo-Norman; the remainder in Latin. Despite English becoming the preferred language for enrolling documents during Henry V's reign (1413-22), scholars are unanimous that the Formulary instructed junior government clerks on administrative procedure. We have, however, no evidence that this was how it was employed.

Formulaic documents seem an unpromising place in which to seek and find evidence of a subject. However, this paper explores the documentary contours of the collection to see what it yields about Hoccleve's understanding of history.

3 December

Venue: room G23, John Medley.

The meeting will be folowed by dinner at 7:30 at Il Gambero, located in Lygon Street, just north of Grattan Street, on the western side. If you haven't already replied, please contact Ann Sadedin  (

Denise Doyle

Imagery as Exegesis

The luxuriously decorated gospel manuscript known as the Book of Kells is enriched by an unusually large number of full page images. The inclusion in this manuscript of four full-page illustrations of the evangelist symbols and the ambiguity of the author portrait of Matthew is unique among ancient manuscripts. It can be expected that, consistent with the scholarship of the time, the Kells scribe-artists created this iconography as a tool for exegesis. In De doctrina Christiana Augustine of Hippo indicated two essential elements in the treatment of all scriptures: the seeking to understand and the communicating of what has been understood and that the greatest problem would be to cut off the potential of further meaning by the refusal to attempt to pierce the opacity of a sign. This paper will seek further understanding of the vibrant full page images of the evangelist symbols in the Book of Kells.