Medieval Round Table 2017

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

Papers 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 inThe 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 elaborat 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 J Mews - Director, Centre for Religious Studies, Monash University

Abelard, Heloise and the Cistercians on Love: Vauluisant and the Paraclete Between History and Legend

Abelard, Heloise and Bernard of Clairvaux are three of the most well-known personalities of the twelfth century, identified with three of the most important developments of their age: scholasticism, love and monastic renewal. The persistant antagonism between Abelard and Bernard tends to mean that Heloise is marginalised as a figure, imagined as someone imprisoned within religious life, rather than as the innovative abbess of a religious community. I argue that there were close connections between the Paraclete under Heloise and the nearby Cistercian abbey of Vauluisant, founded in 1127, just two years before Abelard transferred control of the Paraclete to Heloise. While Heloise is often imagined as loyal to the memory of Peter Abelard, she combined certain of his ideas with those of the Cistercians, bringing together at the Paraclete two distinct visions of religious renewal. The fact that the love letters which Heloise and Abelard exchanged at the time of their affair should be preserved in the library of Clairvaux may not be as surprising as it first seems.


No Meeting

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

What To Do With Nostalgia in Medieval and Medievalism Studies?

I don’t know about the rest of you,
but I feel the cruellest
nostalgia - not for the past -
but nostalgia for the present.

A novice desires to approach the Lord
but is permitted to do so only by her Superior.
I beg to be joined, without intermediary,
to the present.

It’s as if I had done something wrong.
Not I even - but others.
I fall down in a field and feel
nostalgia for the living earth.

No one can ever tear you away,
and yet when I embrace you again
I feel overcome by terrible pain
as if you were being stolen from me.

First 4 stanzas of ‘Nostalgia for the present’, Andrei Voznesenskii (trans. Vera Dunham and H. W. Tjalsma).*

We who study the medieval past and its modern receptions and inventions often feel ill at ease with the idea of nostalgia. Here, as elsewhere, nostalgia has generally been put into play only as an accusation. Times are changing, however. Distinctions are being made. In our field it has become possible for Carolyn Dinshaw (in 2012) to describe nostalgia as ‘a subtle and complex instrument of historical and cultural analysis’ (How Soon is Now 35). Dinshaw herself has been instrumental in making that possible. But nostalgia is still treated with an understandable caution, especially in the area of historiography.

From the perspective explored in Voznesenskii’s poem, nostalgia is primarily nostalgia for the present. It is the sense of not being present to the present or present to oneself, the sense of lack and alienation that haunts human life, whether it is called nostalgia or not. Drawing on psychoanalytic ideas of desire, the interpretation of nostalgia as constitutive of human subjectivity is my starting point for this paper. Nostalgia is not primarily related to the past itself but to that alienation, the lack of ‘a sense of intimacy with the world’ as Svetlana Boym has described it and, I would add, intimacy with oneself (Future of Nostalgia 251). The placement of the idyllic, unalienated life in the past (or the future for that matter) is secondary, arrived at by an interpretation of lack as loss.

In the light of its doubtful reputation, many attempts have been made to rehabilitate nostalgia and render it less suspect as ‘an instrument of historical analysis’, to paraphrase Dinshaw. I discuss a few of these attempts which often taking the form of pairing nostalgia up with some more reputable response, notably irony. I then consider the problems which may in turn be raised by this pairing. Finally I ask how one might research and write the past differently, from that position of alienation - perhaps as a touching, an experience of deep affinity (an affectiffinity?) with a past age which inspires or demands a response that is neither emotionally neutral nor temporally straightforward. I reflect on two writers who, in different ways, stand as exemplars of this approach: Carolyn Dinshaw and Walter Benjamin.

* Cf. ‘This sense overtakes us with the conviction that experiences are immediately crowded out by a jarring sense that they are already gone. This leads to moments so charged with immediate loss that nostalgia insistently enfolds moments in the present.’ (‘Nostalgia for the present’, ACLA:

2 October

Robert Grout - University of York

Bad Education: Child Abuse in Late-Medieval Grammar Schools

The fifteenth century saw a proliferation of grammar schools across England making a Latin education accessible to greater numbers of children and an accompanying interest and innovation in the creation of teaching materials. These often took the form of vulgaria: parallel English and Latin sentences for in-class translation which aimed to appeal to children by drawing upon their everyday lives and educational experiences. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given that the schoolmaster's profession was symbolised by the birch rod, the vulgaria contain ubiquitous references to corporal punishment and give the impression that the physical experience of this potent symbol of office was a frequent and painful reality for young scholars. This paper examines the ways in which physical punishment is portrayed across a range of vulgaria from c. 1425-1520. It seeks to illuminate how the boundaries of acceptable conduct for both pupils and teachers were negotiated and determined within individual schools and classroom settings and were subject to influence from individual masters, parents and children.

13 November (2nd Monday)

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

“Hail graybeard bard”: Chaucer in the Nineteenth-century Popular Consciousness

While the main strands of nineteenth-century responses to the figure and poetry of Chaucer have been outlined in print by scholars like Caroline Spurgeon, Derek Brewer and Stephanie Trigg, modern electronic access to magazines and newspapers through the period makes it possible to observe and analyse a wider, and sometimes stranger, range of popular responses to the significance of Chaucer and his work. Seen sociopolitically as a semi-romantic, a friend of royalty, or an early liberal, in literary terms he was read as the first national poet and the first character-creating story-teller and became a major source for children’s literature and associated women’s writing; he could also be modern enough to provide the name of a winning racehorse and inspire a Canterbury pilgrimage on bicycles.

4 December

No meeting

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