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Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion

By Sarah McNamer

Affective meditation on the Passion was one of the most popular literary genres of the high and later Middle Ages. Proliferating in a rich variety of forms, these lyrical, impassioned, script-like texts in Latin and the vernacular had a deceptively simple goal: to teach their readers how to feel. They were thus instrumental in shaping and sustaining the wide-scale shift in medieval Christian sensibility from fear of God to compassion for the suffering Christ.

Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion advances a new narrative for this broad cultural change and the meditative writings that both generated and reflected it. Sarah McNamer locates women as agents in the creation of the earliest and most influential texts in the genre, from John of Fécamp's Libellus to the Meditationes vitae Christi, thus challenging current paradigms that cast the compassionate affective mode as Anselmian or Franciscan in origin. The early development of the genre in women's practices had a powerful and lasting legacy. With special attention to Middle English texts, including Nicholas Love's Mirror and a wide range of Passion lyrics and laments, Affective Meditation and the Invention of Medieval Compassion illuminates how these scripts for the performance of prayer served to construct compassion itself as an intimate and feminine emotion. To feel compassion for Christ, in the private drama of the heart that these texts stage, was to feel like a woman. This was an assumption about emotion that proved historically consequential, McNamer demonstrates, as she traces some of its legal, ethical, and social functions in late medieval England.

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After Augustine

The Meditative Reader and the Text

By Brian Stock

Augustine of Hippo was the most prolific and influential writer on reading between antiquity and the Renaissance, though he left no systematic treatise on the subject. His reluctance to synthesize his views on other important themes such as the sacraments suggests that he would have been skeptical of any attempt to bring his statements on reading into a formal theory. Yet Augustine has remained the point of reference to which all later writers invariably return in their search for the roots of problems concerning reading and interpretation in the West.

Using Augustine as the touchstone, Brian Stock considers the evolution of the meditative reader within Western reading practices from classical times to the Renaissance. He looks to the problem of self-knowledge in the reading culture of late antiquity; engages the related question of ethical values and literary experience in the same period; and reconsiders Erich Auerbach's interpretation of ancient literary realism.

In subsequent chapters, Stock moves forward to the Middle Ages to explore the attitude of medieval Latin authors toward the genre of autobiography as a model for self-representation and takes up the problem of reading, writing, and the self in Petrarch. He compares the role of the reader in Augustine's City of God and Thomas More's Utopia, and, in a final important move, reframes the problem of European cultural identity by shifting attention from the continuity and change in spoken language to significant shifts in the practice of spiritual, silent reading in the Middle Ages and Renaissance. A richly rewarding reflection on the history and nature of reading, After Augustine promises to be a centerpiece of discussions about the discovery of the self through literature.

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Afterlives

The Return of the Dead in the Middle Ages

by Nancy Mandeville Caciola

Simultaneously real and unreal, the dead are people, yet they are not. The society of medieval Europe developed a rich set of imaginative traditions about death and the afterlife, using the dead as a point of entry for thinking about the self, regeneration, and loss. These macabre preoccupations are evident in the widespread popularity of stories about the returned dead, who interacted with the living both as disembodied spirits and as living corpses or revenants. In Afterlives, Nancy Mandeville Caciola explores this extraordinary phenomenon of the living's relation­ship with the dead in Europe during the five hundred years after the year 1000.

Caciola considers both Christian and pagan beliefs, showing how certain traditions survived and evolved over time, and how attitudes both diverged and overlapped through different contexts and social strata. As she shows, the intersection of Christian eschatology with various pagan afterlife imaginings—from the classical paganisms of the Mediterranean to the Germanic, Celtic, Slavic, and Scandinavian paganisms indigenous to northern Europe—brought new cultural values about the dead into the Christian fold as Christianity spread across Europe. Indeed, the Church proved surprisingly open to these influences, absorbing new images of death and afterlife in unpredictable fashion. Over time, however, the persistence of regional cultures and beliefs would be counterbalanced by the effects of an increasingly centralized Church hierarchy. Through it all, one thing remained constant: the deep desire in medieval people to bring together the living and the dead into a single community enduring across the generations.

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Against All England

Regional Identity and Cheshire Writing, 1195-1656

Robert W. Barrett, Jr.

Against All England examines a diverse set of poems, plays, and chronicles produced in Cheshire and its vicinity from the 1190s to the 1650s that collectively argue for the localization of British literary history. These works, including very early monastic writing emanating from St. Werburgh’s Abbey, the Chester Whitsun plays, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, seventeenth-century ceremonials, and various Stanley romances, share in the creation and revision of England’s cultural tradition, demonstrating a vested interest in the intersection of landscape, language, and politics. Barrett’s book grounds itself in Cestrian evidence in order to offer scholars a new, dynamic model of cultural topography, one that acknowledges the complex interlacing of regional and national identities within the longue durée extending from the post-Conquest period to the Restoration. Covering nearly five centuries of literary production within a single geographical location, the book challenges still dominant chronologies of literary history that emphasize cultural rupture and view the “Renaissance” as a sharp break from England’s medieval past.

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The Age of Milton and the Scientific Revolution

By Angelica Duran

In The Age of Milton and the Scientific Revolution, Angelica Duran reveals the way in which Milton’s works interacted with the revolutionary work of his contemporaries in science to participate in the dynamic “advancement of learning” of the time period. Bringing together primary materials by early modern scientists, including Robert Boyle, William Gilbert, William Harvey, Isaac Newton, John Ray, and John Wilkins as well as educational reformers such as Samuel Hartlib and Henry Oldenburg, The Age of Milton and the Scientific Revolution positions Milton’s literature as a coequal partner with the new cosmological theories, mathematical developments, telescopes, and scientific tracts that so thoroughly affected every aspect of recorded life in seventeenth century England. Duran shows, for example, how new developments in ornithology worked to shape the Lady’s power in the young Milton’s celebratory A Mask, how mathematics informed the sexual relationship of Adam and Eve in his mature epic Paradise Lost, and how developments in optics transformed the blinded hero of the blind author’s moving tragedy Samson Agonistes. While this study is indebted to the work of historians of science—from C. P. Snow and Thomas Kuhn to Stephen Shapin and Stephen Jay Gould—it is not a history of science per se, but rather a cultural study that appreciates poetry as a unique lens through which early modern England’s large-scale developments in education and science are clarified and reflected. What emerges is an intimate sense of how the enormous changes of the English Scientific Revolution affected individual lives and found their ways into Milton’s enduring poetry and prose.

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Aislinge Meic Conglinne

The Vision of Mac Conglinne

Translated and with an Introduction by Lahney Preston-Matto

Aislinge Meic Conglinne, an anonymous Middle Irish romance, recounts the efforts of the eponymous hero to exchange the hardscrabble life of a clerical scholar for the prestigious life of a poet. Mac Conglinne wins the patronage of Cathal mac Finguine, the king of Munster, after rescuing him from a "demon of gluttony" by reciting a fantastic, food-laden vision of alternate worlds. An accomplished and original eleventh-century satiric narrative poem, Aislinge Meic Conglinne is now available for the first time as a stand-alone translation.

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Alchemical Belief

Occultism in the Religious Culture of Early Modern England

Bruce Janacek

What did it mean to believe in alchemy in early modern England? In this book, Bruce Janacek considers alchemical beliefs in the context of the writings of Thomas Tymme, Robert Fludd, Francis Bacon, Sir Kenelm Digby, and Elias Ashmole. Rather than examine alchemy from a scientific or medical perspective, Janacek presents it as integrated into the broader political, philosophical, and religious upheavals of the first half of the seventeenth century, arguing that the interest of these elite figures in alchemy was part of an understanding that supported their national—and in some cases royalist—loyalty and theological orthodoxy. Janacek investigates how and why individuals who supported or were actually placed at the traditional center of power in England’s church and state believed in the relevance of alchemy at a time when their society, their government, their careers, and, in some cases, their very lives were at stake.

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Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna (Ibn Sina)

With a Translation of the Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven

By Peter Heath

Islamic allegory is the product of a cohesive literary tradition to which few contributed as significantly as Ibn Sina (Avicenna), the eleventh-century Muslim philosopher. Peter Heath here offers a detailed examination of Avicenna's contribution, paying special attention to Avicenna's psychology and poetics and to the ways in which they influenced strains of theological, mystical, and literary thought in subsequent Islamic—and Western—intellectual and religious history.

Heath begins by showing how Avicenna's writings fit into the context and general history of Islamic allegory and explores the interaction among allegory, allegoresis, and philosophy in Avicenna's thought. He then provides a brief introduction to Avicenna as an historical figure. From there, he examines the ways in which Avicenna's cosmological, psychological, and epistemological theories find parallel, if diverse, expression in the disparate formats of philosophical and allegorical narration. Included in this book is an illustration of Avicenna's allegorical practice. This takes the form of a translation of the Mi'raj Nama (The Book of the Prophet Muhammad's Ascent to Heaven), a short treatise in Persian generally attributed to Avicenna.

The text concludes with an investigation of the literary dimension Avicenna's allegorical theory and practice by examining his use of description metaphor. Allegory and Philosophy in Avicenna is an original and important work that breaks new ground by applying the techniques of modern literary criticism to the study of Medieval Islamic philosophy. It will be of interest to scholars and students of medieval Islamic and Western literature and philosophy.

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Alliterative Proverbs in Medieval England

Language Choice and Literary Meaning

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Medieval England’s specific political and linguistic history encompasses a great number of significant changes, some of the most disruptive of which were occasioned by the Norman Conquest. The alliterative proverb, with roots in Old English and continued vitality in Middle English, serves as a unique verbal icon allowing exploration of cultural conditions both before and after the Conquest. As a durable yet flexible form, the proverb remained just as important in the fifteenth century as it was in the sixth.The proverb has been an underutilized resource in tracing the linguistic and intellectual cultures of the past. Making the fullest use of this material, this study, by Susan E. Deskis, is complex in its combination of philology, paroemiology, literary history, and sociolinguistics, ultimately reaching conclusions that are enlightening for both the literary and linguistic histories of medieval England. In the language ecology of England from about 1100 to about 1500, where English, French, and Latin compete for use, alliterative proverbs are marked not only by the choice of English as the language of expression but also because alliteration in Middle English connotes a conscious connection to the past. Alliterative Proverbs in Medieval England: Language Choice and Literary Meaning explores how that connection is exploited in various literary genres from school texts and sermons to romances and cycle plays.

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