Medieval Round Table 2016

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

Papers for 2016

1 February

Venue: Graduate Seminar Room 2, Old Arts

Melissa Raine, the University of Melbourne

The Critical Self and Medieval Texts

This paper responds to the 3 key questions of the forthcoming Moving Minds conference (Macquarie University March 2016):

  • What is the history of the mind?
  • How do cognition and emotion relate, now and historically?
  • How are their histories to be studied?

My focus will be on the strengths and limitations of working with language for our understanding of past lived experience, especially the experience and expression of emotion. Within literary studies the ambitions of historicist reading practices extend to the retrieval of substantial insights into non-linguistic, extra-textual aspects of medieval culture, what Paul Strohm describes as “a residue of phenomena unvoiced or uncommented upon” (Theory and the Premodern Text, 33). And yet, without interrogating our own assumptions about the perameters, limitations and contours of language as it relates to cognition and emotion, these investigations arguably generate foregone conclusions that depend upon an unexamined privileging of language.

I will exemplify these ideas with reference to John Lydgate’s “Prologue” to The Siege of Thebes. In the critical reception of this text, the separation of its body humour from consideration of its historically specific context owes more to modern partitioning of self into body, mind and emotion than to the challenges presented by the cultural moment of the text.

NB: For those of you who like to do reading, or who are enticed by a bit of Chaucer, I'll also be talking about the Nun's Priest's Tale, the General Prologue (mainly the Monk's "portrait", if I'm allowed to use that term any more!) and the Melibee-Monk’s Tale link.

7 March

Venue: room 602, 757 Swanston Street

Stephen Knight, the University of Melbourne

Chartism and Medievalism: Retrospective Radicalism in the English Nineteenth Century

While nineteenth-century medievalism is usually linked to Tennyson’s moralist conservatism or Pre-Raphaelite personalised sensualism, it also had a reformist and radical element well before William Morris. In his recent book Medievalism: A Critical History David Matthews comments that the decade of the 1840s, so notable for medievalism, was also the time of Chartism and that `the Middle Ages were genuinely put forward as offering practical solutions to contemporary problems’.(55) However, these ideas were largely `one-nation’ arguments from the likes of Carlyle and Disraeli for re-connecting the interests of lords and peasants, in favour of the former, but there were alternative positions, notably in the context of the Robin Hood tradition, developing the radical image of the middle ages offered by Joseph Ritson in his 1795 Robin Hood anthology.

A major statement was by Thomas Miller the basket-weaver turned novelist, who in 1838 published Royston Gower, or the Days of King John which consciously saw the non-aristocratic Saxons, resisting the Norman Forest Laws, as being, like the Chartists, `a brave yet oppressed people’.

Other aspects of the Robin Hood tradition were enlisted to mid-century radical discourse, including by William and Mary Howitt and to a lesser degree Pierce Egan the Younger. Other themes could also be used: Miller’s friend Thomas Cooper, a shoemaker, jailed for two years for Chartist activity, wrote in 1848 Captain Cobbler, seeing the Lincolnshire rising that just preceded the Pilgrimage of Grace in 1536 as a largely lower-class insurrection.

Although Miller went on to follow G. W. M. Reynolds with a fifth volume of The Mysteries of London in 1848-9, Reynolds himself, though closely involved in Chartism, wrote in the 1840s basically non-radical early modern and Europe-oriented historical novels, for a mainstream audience still under the influence of Scott, so moving away from the popular domain where medievalism and Chartism showed common interests - though the mode of radical medievalism would be re-developed later by William Morris.

4 April

Venue: room 602, 757 Swanston Street

Michael Warby

Desert Vigour and Urban Corruption: ibn Khaldun and the Dynamics of Islamic States

Abū Zayd ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Muḥammad ibn Khaldūn al-Ḥaḍramī (732-808AH, 1332-1406) known as ibn Khaldun was the first, and arguably the greatest, of historical sociologists. In his Muqaddimah, the introduction and first chapter of his Kitab al-'Ibar (History of the World), he developed his science of culture.

His thinking has influenced various modern scholars, including sociologist Ernest Gellner, anthropologist of pastoralist societies Carl Philip Salzman and historical demographer Peter Turchin, a principal figure in the cliodynamics approach to historical analysis.

Ibn Khaldun is particularly known for his model of cycles of rule based on interactions between pastoralists and urbanised farming societies, a model that he developed from his very wide reading of history and his active participation as an official in various Islamic states across North Africa and al Andalus - an official career that began as secretary to the Marinid Sultan Abu ‘Inan in Fez and concluded as chief qadi (judge) of the Maliki school in Cairo and emissary to the emir Timur (Tamurlane) during the latter’s attack on Damascus.

This paper explores ibn Khaldun’s life and his model of the cycles of rule, including how different his analysis is from common Western assumptions about the nature of the state. These differences arise from the profoundly different dynamics of Islamic states from Christian states, significantly due to their fundamentally different legal patterns. The paper then applies the very different dynamics of Islamic and Christian states to clarify the patterns of the Reconquista.

Download a Word document with quotes from three prominent modern scholars

2 May

Venue: room 602, 757 Swanston Street

Natasha Amendola, Monash University

The Female Voice in Medieval Education: Ovid’s 'Heroides'

This paper will compare selected parts of several medieval accessus or educational prologues to Ovid’s Epistulae Heroidum (Heroides), asking who was the expected readership. Medieval prologues were written to instruct the student on the importance and value of classical texts, like the Heroides. They generally contained a discussion on the life of the author, the meaning of the title, the subject matter or material, the author’s intention, the usefulness of the text and the part of knowledge to which it contributes. Written in the Augustan period in Rome, the Heroides is a series of love letters written in the female voice. During later centuries, the letters were consistently ascribed to ethics. Unlike other classical texts read in the Middle Ages, they resisted an allegorical interpretation, an approach generally understood to explain the Christian maintenance of other pagan texts. What use could love letters written in the female voice have in a medieval classroom predominantly populated by young men? While certainly useful in teaching eloquent Latin, and thus being an ideal tool for teaching grammar, why are they considered useful for teaching ethics? This raises questions about which students of Latin required instruction on the ethics of worldly love. Focusing on the ‘intention’ of the author and the ‘utility’ of the work, it will become apparent that there were significant changes in the way Ovid’s text of the Heroides was used in the classroom from the twelfth to fifteenth centuries. This opens the way for contemplating changes in the student composition of the classroom.

6 June

Venue: room 602, 757 Swanston Street

Anya Adair, Yale University

Decoding the Flourish: "Otiose" Strokes in the Hands of Fifteenth-century Scribes and Typesetters

“Otiose strokes” is the name given to calligraphic additions found on certain manuscript letters in fourteenth- to sixteenth-century English manuscripts. To merit their name, such marks should carry no meaning. Yet otiose strokes have long frustrated manuscript scholars: they often look too much like deliberate marks of abbreviation to be so easily dismissed. And whatever their precise function, the strokes were clearly of some importance – they are ubiquitous in manuscript production, and letter-forms in the earliest English printed works deliberately (and expensively) mimic their appearance.

To solve the puzzle of the otiose stroke, I examine the vernacular production of the Carthusian scribe William Darker (working c.1481-1512) and early works produced by William Caxton (printed c.1474-82). Isolating in these works common marks that stand in the uncertain position between decoration and signification, and analysing the contexts and patterns in which they appear, produces some surprising conclusions. For Darker and Caxton both, the strokes appear to have had significant linguistic (though not necessarily abbreviatory) functions. What was it about these marks, with their peculiarly English otiosity, that scribe and printer laboured so hard to preserve?

4 July

No meeting

1 August

Venue: room 205, Old Arts

Hannah Kilpatrick, The University of Melbourne - PhD Completion Seminar

Angers, Indignities and Furies: Constructing an Emotion in Late-medieval English Historical Writing

Anger, volatile and disruptive, is in most societies underpinned by a complex array of cultural scripts. Historical writers in late-medieval England inherited from a variety of genres a rich repertoire of symbols, tropes and stories. My dissertation examines how chroniclers employed these established models of anger to interpret contemporary events. Given the potentially transgressive nature of anger, this focus often reveals moments when a chronicler’s problematic material exerts pressure on his construction and interpretation of other cultural institutions, from the performance of lordship to emotionality itself.

5 September

Venue: room 205, Old Arts

Gordon Whyte, Monash University

Introduction of Alexandrian Medicine to the Latin West in the 11th Century

Augustine’s neo-Platonism had dominated Latin Christian thought from the late 4th century. He stressed that this life is but a shadow of a greater reality and one should trust only God and not one’s own senses.(1) In contrast, in Greek areas, particularly in Asia Minor where there were many other religions besides Christianity, Alexandrian philosophy had moved back towards Aristotle. Aristotle was a natural scientist before he was a philosopher and celebrated reality as revealed by the senses. The Alexandrians interpreted this as meaning that our bodies were to be enjoyed and valued as the highest product of God’s creation. In the late 4th century this was captured by a Bishop Nemesius in a celebrated text On the Nature of Man.(2)

In the 10th and 11th centuries, Salerno in southern Italy had a wide reputation for excellence in medical care. Their physicians had, however, access to only the very few medical texts of which the most useful was Galen’s Therapeutics to Glaucon from about 165 CE.(3) In 1062 Alfanus, Archbishop of Salerno and a physician, was being held hostage in Constantinople. There, the Archbishop, facile in Greek and Latin, was introduced to Nemesius’s manuscript, which had already been widely translated, but not into Latin. While our soul was God’s, said Nemesius, our life and spirit ware intensely physical, based on an understandable physiology and interpretable through our senses. Alfanus returned to Salerno with his own translation of Nemesius with immediate and dramatic effect.(4)

Then in 1077 Constantine was recognised in Salerno by the visiting brother of the Egyptian Caliph and brought to the attention of Alfanus, who asked him to provide a better version of Alexandrian medicine than he had been able to do himself. Constantine went to a 10th century Q&A from Hunayn ibn Ishaq to write a brief Introduction (or Isagoge) to medicine.(5) The Isagoge’s immediate success led to Constantine being asked to provide a full textbook of Greco-Arabic medicine. He redacted a celebrated encyclopaedia of medicine from the 10th century physician, Ali ibn al-abbas al-Magusi, as the Pantegni, the first medical text on the theory of medicine in the Latin West, and based on the School of Alexandria.(6) Avicenna’s Canon replaced the Pantegni in the 13th century.(7)

  1. Armstrong, A H, St Augustine and Christian Platonism (Villanova, PA: Villanova Uni Press, 1966)
  2. Nemesius of Emesa (trans.) R W Sharples and P J van der Eijk, Nemesius on the Nature of Man (Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2008)
  3. Stephanus, (trans., ed. and intro.) Keith Dickson , Stephanus the Philosopher and Physician, Commentary on Galen’s Therapeutics to Glaucon, (Leiden: Brill, 1998)
  4. Alfano, Archiepiscopo Salerni, (Ed) Carolus Burkhard, Nemesii Episcopi Premnon Physicon, (Lipsiae, Teubeneri 1917) Facsimile reprint
  5. Constantine the African, ‘The Isagoge’ (trans) Faith Wallis from Gregor Maurach,’Johanicius: Isagoge ad Techne Galieni’, Sudhoffs Archiv 62.2 (1978), 148-74, In Medieval Medicine: a Reader, ed. by Faith Wallis (Toronto: Toronto University Press, 2010) pp. 140-156
  6. Constantine the African, Theorica Pantegni: Transcription of the Helsinki Manuscript (Codex Eo.II.14) (Helsinki: National Library of Finland, 2011)
  7. Avicenna/ Gerardus Cremonensis/ Arnoldus de Ville Nova, Canon Medicinae, Libri 1-5 (Venice, ca.1486) Bayerische StaatsBibliothek (urn:nbn:de:bvb:12-bsb00045887-9)

3 October

Venue: room 205, Old Arts

Kathryn Smithies, The University of Melbourne

Emotional Responses in the Charters: Charitable Donations to the Leper, Redemptive Gifts and Emotional Communities

Leprosy is a chronic destructive disease that is most visible through its effects on the sufferer’s face. In the Middle Ages there was no cure for this disfiguring disease and because of its contagious nature, once diagnosed, lepers were compelled to spend the rest of their life in exclusion. This took the form either as a wandering beggar or in some type of formal institution, usually a leper hospital or leprosarium attached to a religious house. There is a popular (mis)conception that medieval lepers were feared and mistreated, yet that idea is a stereotype which cannot be applied indiscriminately. During the period under scrutiny in this paper, 1150-1200, lepers held a unique position in society: one that brought them closer to Christ through their living death. Many leper houses were founded on charitable donations and some leper institutions were very wealthy indeed. One such example, and the focus of this paper, was the leprosarium on the outskirts of Rouen - Mont-aux-Malades - which in the 1250s reported a cash total of 1000 pounds, not including annual rents from properties and other landholdings.

Why then did people donate to the well-being of lepers especially once they had been ‘removed’ from society and to what extent, and in what way, did emotion play a role? Reading across the extant charters of charitable donations to Mont-aux-Malades (1150-1200) suggests a two-fold response. First, through a consideration of the donors and witnesses in the charters, donors belonged to what Barbara Rosenwein termed an emotional community. And second, donors made donations based on an emotional response through the act of gift-giving that, via the leper, brought the donor closer to Christ.

This paper is a result of my preliminary research as a 2015 Associate Investigator for a History of Emotions research project, “To exclude and to be excluded: emotional responses to the plight of the medieval leper”.

7 November

Venue: room 205, Old Arts

Helen Dell, The University of Melbourne

The Hard Parting: Conflicting Codes of fin’amors and Christian Duty in Medieval chansons de croisade

Many songs in twelfth and thirteenth-century courtly European repertoires combine themes of fin’amors (refined or courtly love) with references to the Crusades. They often contrast the pain of leaving the beloved with the joy, the honour (and the duty) of fighting for God and perhaps receiving the martyr’s crown: ‘for death is delicious and sweet when it wins you the precious kingdom. […] Know this: if you were not in love, the journey abroad would be delightful and good’ (Conon de Bethune, Rosenberg et al 243). In a few chansons de femme (songs in the woman’s voice) where a less restrained and dutiful voice finds an outlet, the tone is more outspoken:

Jerusalem, you do me great harm,
taking away what I have loved the most.
You may be sure I will love you no more,
because that is what gives me the most doleful joy;
often it leaves me sighing and so short of breath
that I almost turn on God in anger,
for He has stripped me of the great joy I had.
(‘Jherusalem, grant damage me fais’. Anon., Rosenberg et al, 214-5)

A rebellious note can, less typically, be heard in the masculine voice. In ‘A vous amant, plus qu’a nulle autre gent’, sometimes attributed to the Chatelain de Coucy, that rebellious note heightens the tension between conflicting codes: ‘Mercy, love! If ever God has done something foul it is foul of Him to separate good lovers’ (Rosenberg et al, 251).

This paper explores the cross-pollination of registers within these repertoires which the mixing of genres allows in its presentation of the conflict between fin’amors and Christian honour.

12 December

Venue: Graduate Seminar Room 1 (room 210), Old Arts

Heather Dalton, The University of Melbourne

The Emperor, the Saint and the Sultan’s Cockatoo

The earliest European depiction of a Sulphur-crested Cockatoo is generally considered to be in a late fifteenth century altarpiece: Andrea Mantegna’s Madonna della Vittoria, completed in Mantua in 1496. However, sketches of this Australasian parrot made in Sicily around the mid thirteenth century have recently come to light.

In my paper I will put these sketches in their context and address what they mean, not only in terms of confirming the complexity and range of Medieval Southeast Asian trading networks, but in terms of the influences on, and of, what some have argued was the first Renaissance court - that of Frederick II.

This paper will follow the cockatoo, given to Frederick as a diplomatic gift during the Sixth Crusade, to sixteenth century Assisi and on to seventeenth century Goa where the bird encapsulates the ornithological focus of a Christian saint and the exoticism of a Muslim Sultan's court in a single image.