The Middle Ages (to ca. 1485): A Comprehensive Overview

The Middle Ages (to ca. 1485): A
Comprehensive Overview
Introducing the Period
Treasures from the oldest
Writers of English
 Ancient Celtic poets of England and its neighboring lands
 Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Potter…
 Characteristics of modern heroism and heroic plots/stakes
Strengths of Medieval Poetry
 Powerful storytelling
 Moments of riddling wit
 Moral and political challenges
 Incantatory patterns of sound
 Surreal landscapes
 Piercing invasions of the supernatural
Pagan and Christian
 Germanic art of writing post conversion
 597 Pope Gregory the Great to southeastern kingdom
of Kent
 Bede’s Ecclesiastical History of the English People
From illiterate cowherd to poet
 Predominance of religious works comprise
preserved works from Anglo-Saxon/medieval
Produced and preserved by Church, where literacy
 Christianity used Germanic poetry for its own purposes
“Quid Hinieldus cum Christo?”
 797  Alcuin’s letter to the bishop of Lindisfarne
 “What has Ingeld to do with Christ?”
 Alcuin’s “Ingeld” = “heroic poetry” recited to the
 “We have heard of those princes’ heroic campaigns.”
 A little versus A lot.
Beowulf hints…
 Knowledge of Germanic mythology and heroic
literature = limited
 Archaeology and Beowulf (a Christian conception of
 Alcuin’s letter  Beowulf poet HEARD and adapted
oral poems
 Scholars think, though, that writing of the poem
occurred (not oral first)
The Legend of Arthur
 History and Romance
 The French barons  rulers in the Twelth Century
 Britannia versus Anglo-Saxon invaders
 “The Britons told stories…”: LEGEND BORN
Medieval Sexuality
 Idealization NOT as motive
 Sexual love heavy in medieval romance
 “Courtly love” idealizes women but emphasizes their
difference (“mercy”)
 LOVE AS SERVICE (slavery, religion, politics) =
women as objects of erotic-worship
 Usually presented as extramarital
Old English Epic and Bede
 Celebrated the deeds of heroes in a warrior society
 Psychodynamics of orality (Walter Ong); possible in
Twitter age?
 Similar traditions in German
 Connections between epic and history: “We have
heard…” Remember that Bede was a scholar of