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									                       Life and Literature
                        The Middle Ages      Sully-sur-Loire, a
                                             medieval castle visited by
Giotto “Madonna and child”                   (among others) Joan of
                                             Arc, Louis XIV

Notre-Dame church in
Orleans, France
                                   Middle Ages

• Middle Ages/Medieval Period: 476 to 1453 C.E. Also known as the Dark Ages
• "Middle Age:” invented by Italian scholars in the early 15th Century. Until this
  time it was believed there had been two periods in history, that of Ancient times
  and that of the period later referred to as the "Dark Age.“

Ancient “Classical” Period              Middle Ages                       Renaissance

• Renaissance means “rebirth”
    – The humanistic revival of classical art, architecture, literature, and learning that
      originated in Italy in the 14th century and later spread throughout Europe.
    – The period of this revival, roughly the 14th through the 16th century, marking the
      transition from medieval to modern times.
            Medieval Period in a Historical Nutshell

• Rome attacked in 476 C.E.
• The beginning of the Middle Ages is often called the "Dark Ages”
    –   Fall of Greece and Rome
    –   Life in Europe during the Middle Ages was very hard.
    –   Very few people could read or write and nobody expected conditions to improve.
    –   Only hope: strong belief in Christianity; heaven would be better than life on earth.
• In contrast:
    – The Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa studied and improved on the
      works of the ancient Greeks
    – Civilization flourished in sub-Saharan Africa, China, India, and the Americas.
• Great change by about 1450
    –   Columbus & America
    –   literacy spread
    –   scientists made great discoveries                           The Renaissance
    –   artists created work that still inspires us today.
    –   The Renaissance is the beginning of modern history.
                       Middle Ages: General Timeline
                                                 1291C.E.              1347
                                                 Crusades              Bubonic
        450 C.E.               1066 C.E.
         Anglo-                 Norman                                                             1455 C.E.
                              invasion of                    1306-1321           1375-1400 Sir      Printing
                                Britain                     Dante’s Divine        Gawain &           Press
                                                              Comedy             Green Knight

            476 C.E.                                                             1386 C.E.
             Fall of                                                              Chaucer
             Rome                                                                  begins
                           Beowulf                                                writing
306 C.E.                  Composed                                               Canterbury
Constantine               sometime                                                  Tales
comes to                   between
power in
Eastern Roman      850 C.E.           900 C.E.                                                        1453
Empire;                                                                                              Fall of
beginning of                                                                                       Byzantine
Byzantine                                                                                         Empire with
Empire                                                                                            invasion of
                                                                                                 Ottoman Turks
                       With the Fall of Rome…..

• Barbarian* tribes were seeping into Britain and Western European
• Emperors became more like kings
• Feudalism: involuntary peasant labor on lands not their own;
  personal bonds and personal law beginning to replace impersonal
  law common to large expanses of territory
• Medieval Guilds
• the Catholic Church, would provide spiritual and moral direction,
  as well as leadership and material support, during the darkest
  times of the early Medieval period.

Barbarian was originally a term applied to any foreigner, one not sharing a recognized
culture or degree of polish with the speaker or writer employing the term. The word derives
from the Greek, and expresses with mocking duplication ("bar-bar") alleged attempts by
outsiders to speak a "real" language.
                Key Concepts of the Middle Ages
                         TURMOIL                    Feudalism: The
                                                    Middle Ages’
                                                    social order

•   Church became deeply involved in government
•   Christianity provided the basis for a first European "identity,"
    unified in a religion common to most of the continent until the
    separation of Orthodox Churches from the Catholic Church in
•   Crusades: Popes, kings, and emperors unite and defend
    Christendom from the perceived aggression of Islam
•   From the 7th century onward, Islam had been gaining ground
    along Europe's southern and eastern borders.
• Feudalism: system of loyalties and protections during the Middle Ages. As the
  Roman Empire crumbled, emperors granted land to nobles in exchange for their
  loyalty. These lands eventually developed into manors. A manor is the land
  owned by a noble and everything on it. A typical manor consisted of a castle,
  small village, and farmland.
• During the Middle Ages, peasants could no longer count on the Roman army to
  protect them. German, Viking and Magyar tribes overran homes and farms
  throughout Europe.
• Serfs would often have to work three or four days a week for the lord as rent.
  They would spend the rest of their week growing crops to feed their families.
  Other serfs worked as sharecroppers. A sharecropper would be required to turn
  over most of what he grew in order to be able to live on the land.
Key facts about feudal society:
• The absence of a strong central authority of government
• Economy based on agriculture, with limited money exchange
• The strength of the Church: Church had the right to a share (tithe) of society's
  output as well as substantial landholdings. In return, the church was obligated
  with specific authority and responsibility for moral and material welfare.
                               The Church
• Christianity became the universal faith of almost all of the people
  of Europe.
• The Church was often the only way to get an education.
   – It also allowed poor people to escape a dreary life and possibly rise to
   – Religious workers are called clergy.
   – In the Middle Ages, the Pope ruled the Christian Church. Other clergy
     included bishops, priests, nuns, and monks.
• Monks: men who lived in monasteries, or small communities of
  religious workers.
   – devoted their lives to prayer
   – Monasteries produced many well-educated men prepared to serve as
     administrators for uneducated kings and lords.
   – Monks were responsible for keeping the Greek and Latin “classical”
     cultures alive. Monks copied books by hand in an era before the printing
     press. Though few in number, monks played a significant role in the Middle
                   Illuminated Manuscripts

• Illumination was a complex and frequently costly process. It was
  usually reserved for special books: an altar Bible, for example.
  Wealthy people often had richly illuminated "books of hours"
  made, which set down prayers appropriate for various times in the
  liturgical day.
• In the early Middle Ages, most books were produced in
  monasteries, whether for their own use, for presentation, or for a
  commission. However, commercial scriptoria grew up in large
  cities, especially Paris, and in Italy and the Netherlands, and by
  the late fourteenth century there was a significant industry
  producing manuscripts, including agents who would take long-
  distance commissions, with details of the heraldry of the buyer and
  the saints of personal interest to him (for the calendar of a Book of
  hours). By the end of the period, many of the painters were
  women, perhaps especially in Paris.
                         Medieval Literature
• Beowulf is the oldest surviving epic poem in what
  is identifiable as a form of the English language.
  (The oldest surviving text in English is Caedmon's
  hymn of creation.) The precise date of the
  manuscript is debated, but most estimates place it
  close to AD 1000.
• The story came to England at a time when the
  Germanic peoples were still part of the same
  cultural sphere and spoke what really were just
  dialects of the same language.
• It is known only from a single manuscript, kept in
  the British Library. The manuscript suffered some
  irreversible damage in a fire in 1731.
• The manuscript was written in Old English. Some
  Old English words and sounds closely resemble
  modern English. Today most readers read a
  version of the poem translated into modern
• Beowulf is an Anglo-Saxon epic poem which relates the adventures of
  Beowulf, a Scandinavian hero who saves the Danes from the seemingly
  invincible monster Grendel and, later, from Grendel's mother.
• He then returns to his own country, Geatland, and dies in old age in a vivid
  fight against a dragon. The poem is about encountering the monstrous,
  defeating it, and then having to live on in the exhausted aftermath.

Map: The Geography of Beowulf


• As a Professor of Anglo-Saxon at Oxford University,
  J.R.R. Tolkien probably taught Beowulf every year of his
  working life
• His scholarly paper, “Beowulf: The Monsters and the
  Critics” brought studies of the poem to the forefront of the
  academic world
• Tolkien's imagined world of Arda owes something of it's
  creation to Beowulf: “Beowulf is among my most valued
  sources” (Letters, no.25).
• Tolkien used Beowulf in creating his own works and
  adopting the good vs. evil archetype. Just as our modern
  English language is based on the ancient English, Tolkien
  used Old English words in his creation of names.
• Tolkien included almost 50 Anglo-Saxon words or phrases
  from Beowulf in his works.
                                The Canterbury Tales
• Englishman Geoffrey Chaucer wrote The
  Canterbury Tales, a collection of stories in a
  frame story, between 1387 and 1400.
• Story about of a group of thirty people who
  travel as pilgrims to Canterbury (England). The
  pilgrims, who come from all layers of society,
  tell stories to each other to kill time while they
  travel to Canterbury.
• Chaucer intended that each pilgrim should tell
  two tales on the way to Canterbury and two tales
  on the way back. He never finished his
  enormous project and even the completed tales
  were not finally revised. Scholars are uncertain
  about the order of the tales. As the printing press
  had yet to be invented when Chaucer wrote his
  works, The Canterbury Tales has been passed
  down in several handwritten manuscripts.
• The Canterbury Tales is written in Middle
                                   Canterbury Tales
1 Whan that Aprill with his shoures soote              10    That slepen al the nyght with open ye
       When April with its sweet-smelling showers            Those that sleep all the night with open eyes
2 The droghte of March hath perced to the roote,       11 (So priketh hem Nature in hir corages),
       Has pierced the drought of March to the root,         (So Nature incites them in their hearts),
3. And bathed every veyne in swich licour              12 Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages,
       And bathed every vein (of the plants) in such          Then folk long to go on pilgrimages,
          liquid                                       13 And palmeres for to seken straunge
4. Of which vertu engendred is the flour;                    And professional pilgrims (long) to seek
     By the power of which the flower is created;      foreign shores,
5.   Whan Zephirus eek with his sweete breeth          14 To ferne halwes, kowthe in sondry londes;
    When the West Wind also with its sweet breath,     To (go to) distant shrines, known in various lands;
6. Inspired hath in every holt and heeth               15 And specially from every shires ende
    In every holt and heath, has breathed life into       And specially from every shire's end
7. The tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne             16 Of Engelond to Caunterbury they wende,
       The tender crops, and the young sun                  Of England to Canterbury they travel,
                                                       17 The hooly blisful martir for to seke,
8. Hath in the Ram his half cours yronne,                   To seek the holy blessed martyr,
      Has run its half course in Aries,                18 That hem hath holpen whan that they were
9. And smale foweles maken melodye,                    seeke.
       And small fowls make melody,                              Who helped them when they were sick.
                       The Canterbury Tales
• Chaucer began work on The
  Canterbury Tales about 1387
   – and intended for each of his thirty
     pilgrims to tell four tales, two while
     traveling to Canterbury and two while
     traveling from Canterbury.
   – However, only twenty-three pilgrims
     received a story before Chaucer's death
     in 1400.
• Chaucer's Tales gained mass
                                               This facsimile is the first reproduction
   popularity the early fifteenth                 ever made of this manuscript,
   century.                                       considered a prime authority for
                                                  the text of The Canterbury Tales.
 • “ all of humanity moves through
    its pages.”
 • Presents humor, at once friendly
    and satirical.
                           Canterbury Tales

• A rich, tapestry of medieval social life
   – combining elements of all classes, from nobles to workers, from priests and
     nuns to drunkards and thieves.
• When The Canterbury Tales were written:
   – Christianity was the dominant social force throughout western Europe,
     including England.
   – In 1388, while Chaucer was working on the tales, a change occurred in the
     way that Christianity was perceived and practiced when John Wycliffe, an
     English reformer,
   – released a version of the Bible translated into English. For the first time,
     people from the lower classes, who had not been educated in Latin, could
     read the Bible themselves instead of having its word interpreted to them by
     members of the clergy.
                            Canterbury Tales

• The General Prologue consists of character sketches of each member of the
  group that is going to Canterbury, as described by Chaucer, who is also a
  character in his own novel. Any other characters in The Canterbury Tales are
  created by one of the pilgrims, in stories within the novel. Therefore, these
  lesser characters are so numerous, that it is counter-productive to give them a
  character sketch.
• Since the General Prologue and the main characters overlap almost completely,
  the character summaries will be combined with the General Prologue, but
  elaborated on by use of other parts of the text.
• Chaucer: He is a character in his own novel, and
  he writes in the first person as an outside
  observer traveling with the pilgrims on their
  way to Canterbury.
            Canterbury Tales- some of the characters
•   The Knight: a warrior who relies on the code of chivalry.
    Represents the romanticized standards of the feudal system
•   The Prioress: A nun, named Madame Eglantine. She makes
    every effort to be refined and elegant, and she cannot bear to see
    any harm come to any of God’s lesser creatures, like mice.
    However, when it is her turn to tell a story, hers is violent and
    full of blood and sorrow.
•   The Merchant: The merchant is obsessed with his wealth, and
    talks about money constantly.
•   The Wife of Bath: A well-traveled middle-aged woman who has
    been married five times, not counting other lovers she did not
    marry. She has a large amount of knowledge from experience,
    and when she questions the authority of the bible, she does it
    with a very good background from which to debate it.
•   Poor Priest: lived truly poor and in the service of God. An
    example of how a traditional priest should live in Chaucer’s
    time, following the life of Christ.
•   The Miller: a large and strong man, and is one of the best at
    telling vulgar stories.
•   The Pardoner: A clergyman who is outwardly corrupt. His main
    motivating factor was money, and so if the sinner had the gold,
    the Pardoner would favor the sinner and help pardon him.
              Canterbury Tales: The Retraction

•   Chaucer concludes his tales with praise to Jesus Christ. "Now
    preye I to hem alle that herkne thai litel tretys or / rede, that if
    ther be any thyng in it that liketh hem, that / therof they thanken
    oure Lord Jesu Crist, of whom procedeth / al wit and al
    goodnesse" (Chaucer's Retraction, l.1-4).
•   He adds that if anyone does not understand these tales, then it is
    due to his ignorance and not his intention, which was to fully
    capture the goodness of Christ in tale. He requests pardon from
    Christ for any problems there may be with the text.
•   He hopes to be granted mercy and kindness so that he may
    ascend to heaven at his time and concludes the long tales of
    Canterbury with this final line: "So that I may been oon of / hem
    at the day of doome that shulle be saved. Qui cum patre,
    &cetera." Chaucer's Retraction, l.29-30
                                       King Arthurian Legend
•       Arthurian legend has become the mirror of the ideal of medieval
        knighthood and chivalry. Arthur:
         –   Was the illegitimate son of Uther Pendragon, king of Britain
         –   Became king of Britain by successfully withdrawing a sword from a
         –   Possessed the miraculous sword Excalibur , given to him by the
             mysterious Lady of the Lake .
•       Arthur's enemies: sister Morgan le Fay and his nephew Mordred.
        Morgan le Fay was usually represented as an evil sorceress,
        scheming to win Arthur's throne for herself.
•       Mordred (or Modred) was variously Arthur's nephew or his son by
        his sister Morgawse.
         –   He seized Arthur's throne during the king's absence.
         –   Later he was slain in battle by Arthur, but not before he had fatally
             wounded the king.
    •   Most invincible knights in Arthur's realm: Sir Tristram and Sir Launcelot of the Lake.
    •   Sir Gawain, Arthur's nephew, who appeared variously as the ideal of knightly courtesy and as the
        bitter enemy of Launcelot.
    •   After 1225 no significant medieval Arthurian literature was produced on the Continent.
    •   In England, however, the legend continued to flourish. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (c.1370),
        one of the best Middle English romances, embodies the ideal of chivalric knighthood.
    •   The last important medieval work dealing with the Arthurian legend is the Morte d'Arthur of Sir
        Thomas Malory , whose tales have become the source for most subsequent Arthurian material.
           Sir Gawain & The Green Knight (ca 1370)
• This poem tells the story of Gawain, a knight and member
  of King Arthur’s Round Table
• A perfect example of the idealism and romanticism of
• Plot Overview
    – During a New Year’s Eve feast at King
      Arthur’s court, a strange figure, referred to
      only as the Green Knight, pays the court an
      unexpected visit.
        • challenges the group’s leader or any other brave
          representative to a game: The Green Knight says
          that he will allow whomever accepts the challenge
          to strike him with his own axe, on the condition
          that the challenger find him in exactly one year to
          receive a blow in return.
    – Arthur hesitates to respond, but when the
      Green Knight mocks Arthur’s silence, the
      king steps forward to take the challenge.
        Dante Alighieri- The Divine Comedy (written
                    from 1306 to 1321)
•   The Divine Comedy, by Dante Alighieri, is comprised of 3
     – Inferno
     – Purgatorio
     – Paradiso
•   Inferno the most widely read section
     – Dante describes a journey through Hell from the entrance at the
       lowest and less harsh level.
     – His companion for the travel is Virgil, a mentor and protector.
       Constructed as a huge funnel with nine descending circular ledges
     – Dante’s Hell carefully categorizes sinners according to the nature
       of their sins.
     – Those who recognize and repudiate their sins are given a change to
       purify themselves in Purgatorio, the second of three segments in
       the poem. Therefore, Dante feels Hell is a necessary, painful first
       step of any man’s spiritual journey.
•   The Divine Comedy is in no way a comedic literary work.
     – Dante himself simply called this work "Comedy." because the
       poem is a optimistic process from Hell toward Heaven, or from
       worse to better.
                                  Dante’s Life
• Born in Florence, Italy, in 1265. His family was considered part of the lesser
• The death of one of his childhood friends a turning point in his life.
• At the age of nine, Dante was introduced to Beatrice Portinari in 1274.
  According to studies by Boccacio, her death in 1290 propelled him to begin an
  intensive study in the philosophical works of Boethius, Cicero, and Aristotle.
    – Beatrice is alluded to in several of his other works but specifically The Divine
      Comedy where she is commemorated as the ideal lady who guides him to
      redemption in Paradiso.
• Dante became increasingly involved with politics. He was elected as one of the
  six offices of president of the Florentine Guilds in 1300.
• After a coup in 1313, Dante fled Florence and lost hope of ever returning. He
  remained in Verona and a year later moved to Revenna where he died in 1321.
• Although Dante is most famous for his poem The Divine Comedy, he also
  wrote some other highly influential works. These include a collection of early
  poems published in La Vita Nuova (c. 1293; The New Life). Written in
  commemoration of Beatrice’s death, The New Life was a new, innovative
  approach to love poetry and equates love with a mystical and spiritual
                     Structure of Inferno
• As part of this work, Dante put real-life and
  mythological figures in the Inferno based on what he
  saw were their sins, making this work a political and
  social commentary
• He organized the work into Cantos, or short chapters,
  much like Homer’s uses “books” in creating The
• The sinners in the nine circles of hell are guilty of one of
  three types of sin:
   – Incontinence: losing control of natural appetites and desires
   – Brutishness: attraction to things which repulse the healthy soul
   – Malice / Vice: abuse of reason, a human's most god-like
         Structure of Inferno- Some Examples
Canto   Region      Sin                 People           Punishment
Canto   Circle 7    Violent Against     Alexander the    Submerged in hot blood,
12                  neighbors &         Great            Guarded by centaurs, who
                    fellow men;         Attila the Hun   shoot any soul which
                    murderers, war                       attempts to rise
Canto   subcircle   Evil counselors     Ulysses/         Concealed in flames
26-27   8                               Odysseus

Canto   Round 3     Traitors to lords   Judas, Brutus,   At the center of the Earth,
34                  and benefactors;    Cassius          completely submerged in
                    those who set out                    ice. The three ultimate
                    to destroy the                       traitors are held in
                    rightful God                         Lucifer's three mouths.
                                                         Lucifer's three wings send
                                                         forth freezing blasts of
                                                         impotence, ignorance and
        Salvador Dali’s Work inspired by Inferno

• Canto 26-27
  Evil counselors
   – Ulysses
                       Middle Ages: General Timeline
                                                 1291C.E.         1347
                                                 Crusades         Bubonic
        450 C.E.               1066 C.E.
         Anglo-                 Norman                                                         1455 C.E.
                              invasion of              1306-1321             1375-1400 Sir      Printing
                                Britain               Dante’s Divine          Gawain &           Press
                                                        Comedy               Green Knight

            476 C.E.                                                   1386 C.E.                      1517
             Fall of                                                    Chaucer                     Protestant
             Rome                                                        begins                    Reformation
                           Beowulf                                      writing
306 C.E.                  Composed                                     Canterbury
Constantine               sometime                                        Tales
comes to                   between
power in
Eastern Roman      850 C.E.           900 C.E.                      1337-1453                     1453
Empire;                                                            100 Years War                 Fall of
beginning of                                                     France & England              Byzantine
Byzantine                                                                                     Empire with
Empire                                                                                        invasion of
                                                                                             Ottoman Turks

•   http://www.learner.org/exhibits/middleages/feudal.html
•   http://www.medievalcrusades.com/
•   http://eawc.evansville.edu/chronology/mepage.htm
•   http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/endmiddle/bluedot/crusades.html
•   http://triode.net.au/~dragon/tilkal/issue1/beowulf.html
•   http://academics.vmi.edu/english/audio/GP-Opening.html
•   http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/sbook.html
•   http://www.engl.virginia.edu/OE/Beowulf.Readings/Beowulf.Readings.html
•   http://ancienthistory.about.com/cs/romefallarticles/a/fallofrome.htm
•   http://www.umkc.edu/lib/engelond/prologue.htm
•   http://web.cn.edu/kwheeler/resource_medieval_lit.html
•   http://www.heorot.dk/
•   http://www.bl.uk/collections/treasures/beowulf.html
•   http://itsa.ucsf.edu/~snlrc/britannia/beowulf/beowulf.html
•   http://www.geocities.com/Athens/2406/
•   http://members.aol.com/bakken1/angsax/angsaxe.htm
•   http://www.mrdowling.com/703middleages.html
•   http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Middle_Ages
•   http://www.mnsu.edu/emuseum/history/middleages/contents.html
•   http://www.thirteen.org/edonline/itv/search.php
•   http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/section/Arthuria_MedievalSources.asp
•   http://www.encyclopedia.com/html/section/Arthuria_TheStory.asp

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