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The institution of marriage is commonly thought to have fallen into crisis in late medieval northern France. While prior scholarship has identified the pervasiveness of clandestine marriage as the cause, Sara McDougall contends that the pressure came overwhelmingly from the prevalence of remarriage in violation of the Christian ban on divorce, a practice we might call "bigamy." Throughout the fifteenth century in Christian Europe, husbands and wives married to absent or distant spouses found new spouses to wed. In the church courts of northern France, many of the individuals so married were criminally prosecuted.
In Bigamy and Christian Identity in Late Medieval Champagne, McDougall traces the history of this conflict in the diocese of Troyes and places it in the larger context of Christian theology and culture. Multiple marriage was both inevitable and repugnant in a Christian world that forbade divorce and associated bigamy with the unchristian practices of Islam or Judaism. The prevalence of bigamy might seem to suggest a failure of Christianization in late medieval northern France, but careful study of the sources shows otherwise: Clergy and laity alike valued marriage highly. Indeed, some members of the laity placed such a high value on the institution that they were willing to risk criminal punishment by entering into illegal remarriage. The risk was great: the Bishop of Troyes's judicial court prosecuted bigamy with unprecedented severity, although this prosecution broke down along gender lines. The court treated male bigamy, and only male bigamy, as a grave crime, while female bigamy was almost completely excluded from harsh punishment. As this suggests, the Church was primarily concerned with imposing a high standard on men as heads of Christian households, responsible for their own behavior and also that of their wives.
Ancient Readers at the Limits of Their Texts
Nearly all of us have studied poetry and been taught to look for the symbolic as well as literal meaning of the text. Is this the way the ancients saw poetry? In Birth of the Symbol, Peter Struck explores the ancient Greek literary critics and theorists who invented the idea of the poetic "symbol."
The book notes that Aristotle and his followers did not discuss the use of poetic symbolism. Rather, a different group of Greek thinkers--the allegorists--were the first to develop the notion. Struck extensively revisits the work of the great allegorists, which has been underappreciated. He links their interest in symbolism to the importance of divination and magic in ancient times, and he demonstrates how important symbolism became when they thought about religion and philosophy. "They see the whole of great poetic language as deeply figurative," he writes, "with the potential always, even in the most mundane details, to be freighted with hidden messages."
Birth of the Symbol offers a new understanding of the role of poetry in the life of ideas in ancient Greece. Moreover, it demonstrates a connection between the way we understand poetry and the way it was understood by important thinkers in ancient times.
Learning Socratic Lessons of Disillusion and Renewal
Thomas Eisele explores the premise that the Socratic method of inquiry need not teach only negative lessons (showing us what we do not know, but not what we do know). Instead, Eisele contends, the Socratic method is cyclical: we start negatively by recognizing our illusions, but end positively through a process of recollection performed in response to our disillusionment, which ultimately leads to renewal. Thus, a positive lesson about our resources as philosophical investigators, as students and teachers, becomes available to participants in Socrates’ robust conversational inquiry. Bitter Knowledge includes Eisele’s detailed readings of Socrates’ teaching techniques in three fundamental Platonic dialogues, Protagoras, Meno, and Theaetetus, as well as his engagement with contemporary authorities such as Gregory Vlastos, Martha Nussbaum, and Stanley Cavell. Written in a highly engaging and accessible style, this book will appeal to students and scholars in philosophy, classics, law, rhetoric, and education.
Race and the European Middle Ages
Black Legacies looks at color-based prejudice in medieval and modern texts in order to reveal key similarities. Bringing far-removed time periods into startling conversation, this book argues that certain attitudes and practices present in Europe’s Middle Ages were foundational in the development of the western concept of race.
Using historical, literary, and artistic sources, Lynn Ramey shows that twelfth- and thirteenth-century discourse was preoccupied with skin color and the coding of black as “evil” and white as “good.” Ramey demonstrates that fears of miscegenation show up in all medieval European societies. She pinpoints these same ideas in the rhetoric of later centuries. Mapmakers and travel writers of the colonial era used medieval lore of “monstrous peoples” to question the humanity of indigenous New World populations, and medieval arguments about humanness were employed to justify the slave trade. Ramey even analyzes how race is explored in films set in medieval Europe, revealing an enduring fascination with the Middle Ages as a touchstone for processing and coping with racial conflict in the West today.
Texts Relating to the Cult of Saint Louis of France
Louis IX, king of France from 1226 to 1270 and twice crusader, was canonized in 1297. He was the last king canonized during the medieval period, and was both one of the most important saints and one of the most important kings of the later Middle Ages. In Blessed Louis, the Most Glorious of Kings: Texts Relating to the Cult of Saint Louis of France, M. Cecilia Gaposchkin presents six previously untranslated texts that informed medieval views of St. Louis IX: two little-known but early and important vitae of Saint Louis; two unedited sermons by the Parisian preacher Jacob of Lausanne (d. 1322); and a liturgical office and proper mass in his honor—the most commonly used liturgical texts composed for Louis’ feast day—which were widely copied, read, and disseminated in the Middle Ages. Gaposchkin’s aim is to present to a diverse readership the Louis as he was known and experienced in the Middle Ages: a saint celebrated by the faithful for his virtue and his deeds. She offers for the first time to English readers a typical hagiographical view of Saint Louis, one in counterbalance to that set forth in Jean of Joinville’s Life of Saint Louis. Although Joinville’s Life has dominated our views of Louis, Joinville’s famous account was virtually unknown beyond the French royal court in the Middle Ages and was not printed until the sixteenth century. His portrayal of Louis as an individual and deeply charismatic personality is remarkable, but it is fundamentally unrepresentative of the medieval understanding of Louis. The texts that Gaposchkin translates give immediate access to the reasons why medieval Christians took Louis to be a saint; the texts, and the image of Saint Louis presented in them, she argues, must be understood within the context of the developing history of sanctity and sainthood at the end of the Middle Ages.
Ritual and Lay Piety in Medieval Religion
In Blessing the World, Derek A. Rivard studies liturgical blessing and its role in the religious life of Christians during the central and later Middle Ages, with a particular focus on the blessings of the Franco-Roman liturgical tradition from the tenth to late thirteenth centuries.
Medieval Short Stories and the Function of Reversal
Short works known for their humor and ribaldry, the fabliaux were comic or satirical tales told by wandering minstrels in medieval France. Although the fabliaux are widely acknowledged as inspiring Giovanni Boccaccio’s masterpiece, the Decameron, this theory has never been substantiated beyond perceived commonalities in length and theme. This new and provocative interpretation examines the formal similarities between the Decameron’s tales of wit, wisdom, and practical jokes and the popular thirteenth-century fabliaux.
Katherine Brown examines these works through a prism of reversal and chiasmus to show that Boccaccio was not only inspired by the content of the fabliaux but also by their fundamental design--where a passage of truth could be read as a lie or a tale of life as a tale of death. Brown reveals close resemblances in rhetoric, literary models, and narrative structure to demonstrate how the Old French manuscripts of the fabliaux were adapted in the organization of the Decameron.
Identifying specific examples of fabliaux transformed by Boccaccio for his classic Decameron, Brown shows how Boccaccio refashioned borrowed literary themes and devices, playing with endless possibilities of literary creation through manipulations of his model texts.
Intersections of Literature and History in Fifteenth-Century England
Rhetoric and Athletics in Ancient Greece
The role of athletics in ancient Greece extended well beyond the realms of kinesiology, competition, and entertainment. In teaching and philosophy, athletic practices overlapped with rhetorical ones and formed a shared mode of knowledge production. Bodily Arts examines this intriguing intersection, offering an important context for understanding the attitudes of ancient Greeks toward themselves and their environment. In classical society, rhetoric was an activity, one that was in essence “performed.” Detailing how athletics came to be rhetoric’s “twin art” in the bodily aspects of learning and performance, Bodily Arts draws on diverse orators and philosophers such as Isocrates, Demosthenes, and Plato, as well as medical treatises and a wealth of artifacts from the time, including statues and vases. Debra Hawhee’s insightful study spotlights the notion of a classical gymnasium as the location for a habitual “mingling” of athletic and rhetorical performances, and the use of ancient athletic instruction to create rhetorical training based on rhythm, repetition, and response. Presenting her data against the backdrop of a broad cultural perspective rather than a narrow disciplinary one, Hawhee presents a pioneering interpretation of Greek civilization from the sixth, fifth, and fourth centuries BCE by observing its citizens in action.
Gender and Sowlehele in Middle English Allegory
In medieval allegory, Body and Soul were often pitted against one another in debate. In Body Against Soul: Gender and Sowlehele in Middle English Allegory, Masha Raskolnikov argues that such debates function as a mode of thinking about psychology, gender, and power in the Middle Ages. Neither theological nor medical in nature, works of sowlehele (“soul-heal”) described the self to itself in everyday language—moderns might call this kind of writing “self-help.” Bringing together contemporary feminist and queer theory along with medieval psychological thought, Body Against Soul examines Piers Plowman, the “Katherine Group,” and the history of psychological allegory and debate. In so doing, it rewrites the history of the Body to include its recently neglected fellow, the Soul. The topic of this book is one that runs through all of Western history and remains of primary interest to modern theorists—how “my” body relates to “me.” In the allegorical tradition traced by this study, a male person could imagine himself as a being populated by female personifications, because Latin and Romance languages tended to gender abstract nouns as female. However, since Middle English had ceased to inflect abstract nouns as male or female, writers were free to gender abstractions like “Will” or “Reason” any way they liked. This permitted some psychological allegories to avoid the representational tension caused by placing a female soul inside a male body, instead creating surprisingly queer same-sex inner worlds. The didactic intent driving sowlehele is, it turns out, complicated by the erotics of the struggle to establish a hierarchy of the self’s inner powers.