Medieval Graduate Seminar

Michaelmas 2017

These advanced research talks, followed by discussion, are aimed at graduate students, senior members and visiting scholars. Moodle Link: Online viewers click here (Access restricted to registered users only)

Convenor: Prof. N Zeeman, Dr P Knox

Venue: S-R24, Faculty of English

Lent Term 2018
Wednesdays at 5.30 on 7 Feb, 21 Feb, & 7 March.
S-R24, English Faculty, 9 West Rd

Papers begin promptly at 5.30, followed by questions. However, biscuits will be available in SR 24 from 5.00p.m., so please bring along a mug of tea and catch up with fellow medievalists. After the paper all are welcome to join the speaker for dinner in a nearby restaurant. For any enquiries beforehand, please contact Phil Knox (pk453)


7 February
Jonathan Morton, (Kings College London)
Beyond the Trojan Horse: Craft, ingenuity, and secret knowledge in the High Middle Ages

This paper will consider the peculiar fascination with marvellous machinery and its relation to arcane knowledge in texts circulating in medieval Britain and France, from Virgil’s Aeneid to Chaucer’s Squire’s Tale and incorporating twelfth- and thirteenth-century French romance narratives of Troy, Thebes, and Alexander the Great. It will consider the strands that tie together poetry, engineering, and natural philosophy in a context of East-West geopolitical contestation, thinking about literature through its ingenious engines and thinking about literature itself as a kind of textual machine.

21 February
Shazia Jagot, University of Surrey
Un/Binding Chaucer’s Sufism

This paper will suggest that Chaucer implicitly engaged with the metaphysics of Sufism in the Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, the only Canterbury Tale concerned with alchemy. This notion, which examines the relationship between Islamic mysticism and the development of alchemy in the Classical Islamic period, and its eventual transmission into Latin, and Middle English poetry, has garnered little attention since it was first raised by literary critics in the twentieth century. In returning to this idea, first raised by Dorothee Metlitzki, I contend that a deeper Sufi discourse remains undetected in Chaucer’s Canon’s Yeoman’s Tale, which can be uncovered by exploring the Arabic and Latin intellectual history encapsulated in Chaucer’s call for a code of secrecy in the Canterbury Tales. Particular consideration will be given to Chaucer’s Sufi authority, ‘Senior’ (VIII.1450), recognised as Muhammad ibn Umail al-Tamimi, and his alchemical text, the Risala al-Shams al-Hilal (‘Letter of the Sun to the Moon’), alongside the wider integration of an esoteric/exoteric philosophy witnessed in both Arabic and Latin versions of the pseudo-Aristotelian Kitab Sirr al-Asrar (‘Book of Secret of Secrets’), widely known in Latin as the Secreta Secretorum. In doing so, I will demonstrate how an Islamic spiritual discourse and experience was seamlessly adapted into an esoteric cosmology inflected by Christian theology - so fluidly that by the late fourteenth-century, an English poet could unwittingly engage in the metaphysics of Sufism in his cautionary tale against the ‘elvyssh craft’ (VIII.751) of alchemy.

7th March
Marco Nievergelt, University of Warwick
Medieval Allegory as Epistemology: Dream-Vision Poetry on Language, Cognition, and Experience

The paper examines how late medieval dream-poetry could provide a powerful means for exploring a set of closely related epistemological questions through allegorical narrative. My analysis focuses primarily on three very popular and influential literary texts from the later Middle Ages, two in French and one in English: Jean de Meun’s Roman de la Rose (ca. 1269–78), the two versions of Guillaume de Deguileville’s Pèlerinage de Vie Humaine (1331 and 1355), and William Langland’s vision of Piers Plowman in its 4 extant versions (ca. 1360–90). All three poems provide extended first-person accounts of quest narratives framed as dream visions, and respond to major shifts in scholastic philosophy occurring during the thirteenth century, specifically in the areas of philosophy of language and philosophy of mind.