Literature of the Middle Ages 1066—1485 Poetry • Didactic: Poems teaching Christian doctrine, sometimes allegory: Patience, Pearl, The Rood, Cleanliness, The Seafarer • Dream Vision: Pearl and Roman de la Rose. A dreamer dreams the allegorical experience, utilizing the highly symbolic nature of dreams. • Sonnets: Dante and Petrarch • Troubadour Songs and Ballads • Sestinas: 6 stanza poems of 6 lines each…abcdef, faebdc, cfdabe, ecbfad, deacfb, bdfeca Poetry • Epics: Dante (1265-1321) La Divina Commedia, written between 1308 and his death, during Dante’s exile, this text lifts the world from the medieval to the Renaissance. There is evidence that Dante based this epic dream vision poem on the recently translated (1264) Liber Scale Machometi (Kitab al Miraj) or the Book of Ascension, which describes Mohammed’s night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, and his vision thorough the seven heavens to God. • Dante’s epic also incorporates the philosophy of the Summa Theologica of St. Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) whose ideas are attributed to, among others, Averroes (Ibn Rushd 1126-1198) and Maimonides (Moses ibn Ezra 1135-1204) who both argued a reconciliation of Aristotelian philosophy with Islam: all of whom are identifying truth as a combination of human reason and divine grace. Theater • Mystery Plays: Bible Stories • Morality Plays: Didactic Allegories, such as Everyman • Miracle Plays: Saints’ Lives • Passion Plays: Depicting the events relating to the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Theater • De Casibus Tragedy: The moniker is based on Boccaccio’s De Casibus Virorum Illustrium. This tragedy depends entirely on the whimsical nature of Fate or Fortune. (See Chaucer’s The Monk’s Tale.) You’ve seen this already in Job. The Renaissance, of course, will go back to the Greek ideal (humanism) of tragedy, and includes hamartia.* Fate takes a bit of a back seat to free will. Beast Fables and Riddles • Many taken from translations of the Latin Aesop fables. (Aesop was Greek, but a slave in Roman times.) • These became allegories for teaching Christian ideals. • La Fontaine may have used these as a source for his Fables, written in the late 1600’s. • Medieval folks were also mad for riddles – short poems without titles that were metaphors and allegories for other things were a rage. • This was also a time that produced many brilliantly illustrated manuscripts of the Bible and other texts, religious and otherwise. Saints’ Tales, Parables, and Sermons, Prayer Books • Saints’ Tales are likely taken from pagan stories of heroes, gods, and goddesses. They are mystical in nature and often involve transformations, visions, and other-worldly journeys. • Sermons: Parables or Allegory that are structured as a morality tale, sometimes to resolve a moral conundrum. Piers Plowman is an allegorical prose work by William Langland that portrays life as a pilgrimage. Exemplum were also popular, which were parables attached to a particular sermon, as were dialectical discourses.* • Also, Books of Hours, or illustrated texts, usually with religious prayers: Jean d’Evreux’ Hours, which is at the Cloisters and Jean, Duc de Berry’s calendar, Très Riche Heures. Fabliaux • Dirty Stories – with moralistic justification! These stories were as popular then as they are now. Some modern versions would include such classic American films such as, American Pie, The Spy Who Shagged Me… • Chaucer: (d. 1400) Canterbury Tales • Boccaccio: (d. 1376) The Decameron • Perhaps written as a salve to pious fervor of the times, or in response to ecclesiastic law….or as an antidote to courtly love and the Black Plague. • This “collection of stories” formula likely also floated in from the Arab world, with the Persian Scheherazade stories available in translation. Romance • History and Influences of Romance Literature • Writers and Works • Conventions of Medieval Romance • Chivalric Code and Introduction to Courtly Love History and Influences of Romance Literature • The word romance comes from the Old French word, romanz, meaning the vernacular, or language of the people. • As the Church spread its influence across Europe, priests and clerics, in order to educate and teach “history” from the Roman Empire, translated the body of work of Roman literature into the vernacular languages of French, English, Italian, and German. But the Romance literature is equally influenced from the Arab world. History and Influences of Romance Literature • Translations of philosophy and other texts from the GrecoRoman world are initiated by Islamic scholars. These include the mystical texts of Ibn Arabi and Moses of Leon, introducing Sufism and the Kabbalah, respectively. • In addition to classical texts, there is a flourish of secular poetry and writing from Muslims and Jews during La Convivencia when Jews, Christians and Muslims coexisted in Spain from 711-1492 (Reconquista) that also influence European writing during the Middle Ages. • This includes especially the often erotic love poetry of Samuel ibn Nagrid and Judah Halevi (Hebrew) and Ibn Hazm (Arabic) and a constellation of others.* History and Influences of Romance Literature • The translations included the stories of heroes and heroic adventure (Virgil’s The Aeneid) poetry, dialogues and historical texts: Ovid, Plutarch, Caesar, Cicero’s dream vision, Dream of Scipio. • The stories of Theseus, Aeneas, Hercules, the founding of Rome, Alexander the Great, and Julius Caesar, and tales from Ovid in Europe were often changed and flourished with Christian virtues: justice, prudence, temperance, courage, faith, charity, and hope. History and Influences of Romance Literature The stories included adventures and heroic deeds, as well as stories of lasting love: Ovid’s Metamorphoses, cleaned up: Cupid and Psyche, Venus and Adonis, Hero and Leander, Pyramus and Thisbe, Philemon and Baucis… Also, most of what Virgil wrote was translated. History and Influences of Romance Literature Medieval Romance effectively combines ancient heroic epics, mysticism of Jewish and Muslim writers, Christian theology, and Celtic, Norse, Persian and Greco-Latin myths and stories in one place.* These include: • Embellished “history” that disregards time and fact. • Dream vision poetry and highly structured poems. • Adventure stories that are episodic in plot and involve many standard epic conventions. • Interwoven cycles of stories, involving interrelated characters and events, similar to myth cycles. Romance Writers and Works • The body of Romance Literature includes: – Chansons de geste: Heroic deeds – Roman d’aventure: Heroic adventures – “Histories” – Lays (lais) or short works usually dealing with love and often including mystical transformations. • Romance literature is both poetry and prose. It includes the legends of King Arthur retold, and other stories of knights, adventure, and courtly love. Romance Writers and Works • Chanson de Roland: (1100) heroic deeds of Charlemagne and nephew Roland against the Muslims in Spain. • El Cid: (1207) heroic deeds of Rodrigo Diaz, a knight who fights on both sides of the Christian and Muslim conflict in Spain. • Geoffrey of Monmouth’s “history” of Britain (Historia Regum Britanniae) (1137) presenting readers with a full account of Arthur and the knights of the round table. He ties the founding of England to the Roman legend of Aeneas, inventing a grandson, Brutus, who goes to found England. He creates a mythic figure who would rise and fall, his kingdom ready for resurrection. Romance Writers and Works • Cretien de Troyes: (1165) The Quest for the Holy Grail, and Arthur stories, blending elements of pagan mysticism and ritual with Monmouth’s Arthur. • Robert de Boron (1200’s) Arthur stories • Marie de France (late 12th century) Mystical lais of love, fables, and a dream vision story of a knight in Purgatory. • Guilliaume de Lorris /Jean de Meun: Le Roman de la Rose • Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (1370’s) • Chaucer’s mock romance, “The Knight’s Tale” and Troylus and Criseyde. (1342-1400) • Sir Thomas Mallory, Le Morte D’Arthur (1450) Conventions of Medieval Romance The influence of Medieval romance with its roots in epic poetry, winds through English literature: through the Renaissance, the Enlightenment in the eponymic Romantic movement, and, of course, in modern takes on romance from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and of course, Monty Python!* Conventions of Medieval Romance Medieval Romances: • Often have unprovoked and violent fighting! • Are set in a mystical place and time (the Dark Ages) • Present supernatural elements, and magical powers from the pagan world • Have a hero who is on a noble adventure or quest • Have a loose, episodic structure • Include elements of courtly love • Embody ideals of chivalry • Time frame of a year and a day Chivalric Code and Introduction to Courtly Love • Chivalry is from the French word, chevalier, meaning horseman, or knight. * • The chivalric code influenced the formation of religious military orders during the period of the Crusades. The now famous Knights Templar and the Hospitalers are among the noted knights. • During the later middle ages, chivalry had become largely as system of etiquette and the knights a source of entertainment during tournaments – which themselves gradually became less threatening to the participants. Chivalric Code and Introduction to Courtly Love The chivalric code combined Christian virtues with military virtues: • Temperance, Fortitude, Prudence and Justice • Faith, Hope, Charity • Valor and strength in battle • Loyalty to God and King • Courtesy towards enemies • Generosity towards the sick, women, widows and the oppressed • Courtly Love* What happened to Chivalry? • Finally, knighthood became simply an honor, and those eligible for it today can skip the military bit. • Today, knights can be just regular people who have done something special. The honor is used for notable artists and other doers of good deeds, men and women alike. • Knighted folks include: Paul McCartney, Judi Dench, Laurence Olivier, and former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.