Medieval Round Table 2020

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

Programme for 2020

3 February

Christine Grundy

Migration and Violence in the Middle East:  The Medieval Climate Anomaly and the First Crusade

This paper examines the effects of a climatic warm period, known as the Medieval Climate Anomaly (MCA) on the Middle East and Europe.  It discusses the extent to which we can detect an intersection in the natural and human forces in one of the most significant examples of violent invasion to occur in the eleventh century: the First Crusade.  As we will discover, both the scientific evidence and the historic record indicate that throughout the eleventh century up until about the 1080s there was recurring drought in the Middle East, after which rainfall increased.  In the meantime, the climate in what is now Eurasia, from Britain in the west to Constantinople in the east, was comparatively mild.  Famines were rare in Europe in contrast to the Middle East and continued to be so throughout the eleventh century.  Against this backdrop the Latin Christian nobility and the papacy considered an invasion of the Middle East at the request of the Byzantine Empire.  Although these requests were a matter of discussion and debate from 1074, it was not until 1096 that the invasion commenced.  This paper will consider the climate impacts which may have influenced the timing and the nature of these events.  By integrating the political motivations and the social impacts with the climate fluctuations we will examine how these factors interacted, showing that there is no simply uniform response; that the invasion of the Middle East succeeded more by good luck than good planning, and that the causal factors whilst enmeshed with the climate factors are not simple.

2 March

Constant Mews, John Crossley, Carol Williams - Monash University

Disputing the Language of Music Theory and the Emergence of the ars nova 1270-1330

Within recent decades there has been a resurgence of interest both in the development of new compositional and notational practices in the early fourteenth century known as the ars nova and involving much more complex polyphonic presentations of secular and sacred texts in both French and Latin.  The new style was so original that it was roundly condemned by Pope John XXII (1316-34) in a decree, Docta sanctorum,delivered sometime around 1324/25.  There have been some important studies published of two theorists who had much to say about these new developments: the scientific polymath, Jean des Murs (Johannes de Muris, Jean des Meurs; c. 1290-c. 1351) and a theorist known as Jacobus, author of the Speculum musicae, the largest surviving synthesis of medieval music theory.  The writings of Jean des Murs on music theory have been edited several times, most recently by Christian Meyer in 2005.  The Speculum musicae of Jacobus, by contrast, is only now attracting critical attention.  Margaret Bent (2015) has stirred controversy by publishing a monograph in which she suggests that Jacobus, whom she has discovered was identified as de Ispania, might be an English-educated scion of Spanish royalty.  Robert Wegman has suggested that this could refer to his being from Hesbaye, a major archdeaconry of the diocese of Liège.  In 2018, Karen Desmond published an important study examining the innovative rhythmic and mensural devices of the ars nova as reflecting new ways of thinking developing in and around Paris in the early fourteenth century, above all as theorized by Jean des Murs.

Much remains to be unravelled, however, about the intersection between new musical practices, new theoretical frameworks and papal hostility to perceived liturgical excess.  How do we explain why, given the controversy surrounding certain Aristotelian ideas in Paris in the 1270s, that both Jean de Murs and Jacobus should turn to the Boethian De musica in order to justify their very different ways of theorizing music?  This session examines why the language of both musical theory and practice should generate such controversy that it was condemned not just by Pope John XXII but by Jacobus in his Speculum musicae.  Only through situating philosophical, mathematical and musicological themes in the discourse of both of these theorists of the ars nova can we begin to address some of the questions still unresolved in recent literature.  These papers explore various aspects of this new movement: the intellectual roots of the debate between des Murs and Jacobus as extending issues discussed in the late thirteenth century; the significance of their conflicting views about the relationship between sound and number; why as Pope, Jacques Duèse, who had been educated in the age of the ars antiqua, should be so hostile to the new style of polyphony.

1. Constant Mews: Debating Pythagoras, Aristotle and Boethius on Music Theory 1270-1330

While much has been written about the controversy surrounding Aristotelian ideas at the University of Paris in the 1270s, much less attention has been given to explaining why, in the early fourteenth century, Jean des Murs and Jacobus should both turn their attention to expounding the De musica of Boethius in very different ways.  In the Ars musice of Johannes de Grocheio (written in the 1270s, rather than c. 1300 as often assumed), the Pythagorean teaching of Boethius about the music of the spheres was unfavourably contrasted with that of Aristotle, who doubted such music could ever be heard by the human ear.  Grocheio’s familiarity with Boethius, however, was largely limited to the first two books of the De musica, as was common in the thirteenth century.  An underappreciated feature of the Tractatus de musica of Jerome de Moravia, who incorporated into his treatise part of the comments of Thomas Aquinas on Aristotle’s critique of Pythagorean teaching in the De caelo, is that he summarizes all five books of the De musica.  This paper examines why Jacobus should quote, at the outset of his Speculum musicae, not from Thomas Aquinas but from Aquinas’s Dominican adversary, Robert Kilwardby, who opposed Thomist teaching of the uniqueness of substantial form.  While Desmond (2018) has suggested that Jacobus might have been influenced by Thomist views on form, this paper argues that Jacobus interpreted the Pythagorean teaching transmitted by Boethius through a Platonising lens.  He interpreted music as issuing from a transcendental reality given form by number, but in a way quite different from Jean des Murs, for whom knowledge of music always rested on sensory experience, even though music theory rested on proportions, as taught by the Pythagoreans.

2. John Crossley: Between Sound and Number: Disputing the Language of Music Theory

Little attention has been given to a renewal of interest in both the De Arithmetica and the De Musica of Boethius in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.  The most popular précis of these two works were written by the then young Jean des Murs, currently more known as a mathematician and astronomer than a music theorist: in particular he worked on calendar reform for Pope Clement VI (papacy: 1342‒52) in Avignon.  His Musica speculativa of 1321 is a consummate summary of much of the De musica but he also ‘resolved’ a question that Boethius had left open, the question of whether an octave plus a fourth is consonant.  The question is simply stated musically but involves conflicting philosophical approaches.  Boethius had quoted both the Pythagoreans (through Nicomachus) and Ptolemy who agreed that octaves, fourths and fifths were consonances but disagreed about whether the octave plus a fourth was a musical consonance.  The Pythagoreans went by the numbers (proportions) involved; Ptolemy by the sounds.  Jean was deeply conscious of the differences between pure theory and actual observation as may also be seen in his astronomical work.  In music theory, proportions were paramount for Jean and he claimed to have won the argument in favour of the Pythagoreans.  He was taken to task by Jacobus in his Speculum musicae.  Indeed, the longest quotation there is from Jean des Murs, whom he disdainfully calls doctor modernus. In this presentation I shall show how Jean claimed to have won the argument and Jacobus demolished his argument ‒ but not its conclusion.  The dispute illustrates the newly resurgent influence of Aristotle, the philosophical relations between abstract theories and real-world phenomena, and the tensions between the latter in the early fourteenth century.

3. Carol Williams: John XXII's Docta sanctorum and the Musical Language of the ars nova

The language of the theory and practice of ars nova music marked that unsettling moment when the traditional Platonic-Pythagorean nature of music discourse was set aside briefly in response to the Aristotelian revolution of the thirteenth century.  This was relatively short lived, for with the early warning signs of the Renaissance sounding in late fourteenth-century French and Italian music and then given full expression with the gentle suavity of the Burgundian chanson, the Aristotelian interruption had ended and the Platonic-Pythagorean mainstream resumed.

The terms and language used in the theoretical discussions of the new style of the early fourteenth century passed beyond the University and royal courts and were to be found in the cloister, at church gatherings and in the papal curia.  Pope John XXII’s decree Docta sanctorum is peppered with terms which suggest a deeper level of music theoretical understanding than might be expected of this elderly pope.  Some of these terms are hocket, discant and motet.  These terms and others referring to elaborate polyphony are found in earlier ecclesiastical critique of music in worship from around this time, for example the statements on the dignity of the plainchant presented at the Council of Vienne (1311-12) by Guillaume Durand (1296-1330) and in the commentary “In quartum sententiarum” by Pope John XXII’s Dominican emissary, Pierre de la Palude (c. 1275-1342).  However, the papal decree focusses on “measuring time”, “new note values”, “semibreves” and “minims” as well.  It is not just that the terms are used accurately but they are couched in a language that suggests proficiency in dealing with the new ways of dividing time, the fundamental characteristic of the new style.  The use of this technical language suggests the prior existence of the treatises which discussed these matters and supports the early dating of Jean de Murs’ Notitia (1319-1321?) and Philippe de Vitry’s Ars nova (1322?).

6 April - Cancelled

John Weretka

Forms of Argumentation in the Medieval Liturgical Commentary

In his MIssarum sollemnia, Joseph Jungmann condemns the late medieval liturgical commentary.  He criticises Honorius Augustodunesis’ liturgical-exegetical work as ‘a bewildering wealth of variegated meanings, to which one could scarcely apply the title of explanation’, says that Sicard of Cremona ‘wanders along the same pathway, but adds to the confusions with a plethora of quotations’ and that ‘allegorical interpretation of the Mass ... went awry in the late medieval period.  Elements of different types of explanation were thrown together … In the last analysis, all that was needed was a little imagination to invent more arbitrary explanation for the various liturgical details which were already explained quite arbitrarily.’

Is it really the case that the late medieval liturgical commentary is nothing more than a way of concatenating piles of quotations and spurious and arbitrary allegorical reflections?  This paper will examine the medieval liturgical commentary as a pre-Scholastic form of rational argumentation on and ‘scientific’ investigation into the liturgical commentary, with a particular focus on commentary written after Charlemagne’s attempt to regularise liturgy and the way to understand it throughout the Empire.

4 May - Cancelled

Stephanie Trigg, Culture and Communication

1 June - Cancelled

6 July - Cancelled

3 August - Cancelled

Janice Pinder, Monash University

Devotions of a Lonely Duchess, or Political Positioning? Margaret of York and Her Books, 1468-1477

Margaret of York, duchess of Burgundy and sister of Edward IV of England, has been much studied as a consumer of religious texts and commissioner of manuscripts.  Over 20 manuscripts have been identified, either through her arms, motto and/or signature, or through archival evidence, as having been commissioned by her, given to her, or commissioned and given to others.  Of those, five are books she commissioned for her own use from the workshop of David Aubert in Ghent in 1475-76.  Her illuminated manuscripts have attracted the attention of art historians and occupy an important place in the history of Burgundian painting.  Less attention has been given to the texts they contain.

The books Margaret had made for herself are known for their sumptuous illuminations and for the fact that their content is almost exclusively religious.  Wim Blockmans, in an essay in the proceedings of the symposium organised by the Getty Museum exhibition in 1990 following their acquisition of Margaret’s illuminated Visions of Tondale, argued that the books she commissioned for her own use reflect an absorption in religion stemming from increasing unhappiness and loneliness during a time when the duke was absent for long periods and having a child was becoming less and less likely.  I want to propose a different way of reading her actions during this time, one which sees her stepping energetically into her role as duchess of Burgundy, representing her husband in Flanders during his absences, calculating her actions always with an eye to the advantage of the duchy (and also of her own English family) and deploying a range of techniques including public display, in which her commissioning of manuscripts and artistic objects played an important part.  I draw particularly on my own recent research on one of the most magnificent manuscripts she commissioned, Oxford, Bodleian Library MS Douce 365.

7 September - Cancelled

Michael Warby

Making Sense of the European Marriage Pattern: The WEIRD Science Controversy

Ever since John Hajnal’s seminal 1965 article “European Marriage Patterns in Perspective”, scholars from a range of disciplines have sought to understand where the European marriage pattern (EMP) came from and what its implications have been.  Peter Laslett identified four key features of the EMP: married couple families, relatively late age of female marriage, minor age differences between spouses and the presence of servants who were recognised members of household but not family members.  There was also a high rate of unmarried adults.

Anthropologist Sir Jack Goody argued that EMP was result of the Catholic Church adopting a strategy of heirship to break up ancestor worship and encourage transfer of property to the Church.  His writings have directed the attention of economists and other social scientists to the distinctiveness of European family structures.

Medievalist Michael Mitterauer, while continuing the rejection by medievalists of Goody’s thesis concerning Churchly property acquisition, has recently argued that the combination of Christianity and manorialism was crucial in the development of EMP.

In November 2019, Jonathan F. Schulz, Duman Bahrami-Rad, Jonathan P. Beauchamp and Joseph Henrich (three economists and an evolutionary anthropologist) published an article in Science (366, 707), “The Church, intensive kinship, and global psychological variation,” arguing that the (Latin) Church’s transformation of kinship structures has a large explanatory role in explaining the distinctive psychology of members of Western Educated Industrialised Rich Democracies (WEIRD) societies.  In the words of the authors: “People from these societies tend to be more individualistic, independent, and impersonally prosocial (e.g., trusting of strangers) while revealing less conformity and in-group loyalty.”

This WEIRD Science article has received considerable online push back from medievalists in social and other media.  This paper seeks to thread an explanatory path through the evidence about the origins of the European Marriage Pattern while assessing the criticisms against Schultz et al.

Michael “Lorenzo” Warby is a director of Multisensory Education.

5 October

Charles Zika, Historical and Philosophical Studies - Cancelled

The Tympanum Relief of the Austrian Pilgrimage Church of Mariazell (c.1440)

9 November - Cancelled

7 December - Cancelled