Medieval Graduate Seminar


These advanced research talks, followed by discussion, are aimed at graduate students, senior members and visiting scholars.

Lent Term 2019

23 January 2019

5.30pm in S-R24; join from 5pm for tea

Daniel McCann (University of Oxford); Consume and Devour: Fevered Passions in Discretio Literature.

The twelfth and thirteenth centuries witnessed an increasing interest in the medical and psychological understanding of the passions – not only regarding their nature and origin, but also their physiological and psychological impacts. During the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the interconnection of these two areas of study became all the stronger. One fascinating aspect is the use of diagnostic terminology in a range of texts of spiritual discernment – texts which seek to not simply probe the passions of the soul, but also to clarify and categorise their potential pathologies. This paper will explore the connections between medical and religious literature during the period. It will begin by assessing the interconnection between medical and religious terms in regards to the emotions, before moving to explore the importance of emotional regulation for the idea of ‘salus animae’ – the health of the soul. Finally, it will move to consider what happens when emotionally stimulating texts corrupt the passions, turning the desire for God into a desperate and consuming sickness. It will cover a range of texts in the Cloud corpus, but will focus on a text deeply concerned with the emotional problems and pathologies of the contemplative life – The Chastising of God’s Children.

6 February 2019

1pm in G-R05 (Please note change in time and venue!)

Rory Critten (Université de Lausanne); England In Europe: London, British Library MS Harley 2253 and the Traffic of Texts.

Compiled largely in the 1330s, London, British Library MS Harley 2253 transmits materials written in Latin, French, and English, ranging from saints’ lives and works of practical religion to conduct literature, political satire, and lyric poetry. Beginning with Carter Revard’s landmark identification of the book’s copyist as a legal scrivener based at Ludlow, near Hereford, recent scholarship has explored the ways in which Harley 2253 anticipates the interests and capacities of elite householders resident in that region. In this paper, I offer a contrasting account of the intellectual and geographical scope of the book. My contention will be that, at the same time as it implicates a West Midlands milieu, Harley 2253 also demonstrates the connections between West Midlands readers and a pan-European network of textual transmission. Most importantly, I suggest, local facility in French and Latin meant that the Harley scribe and his audience could conceive of themselves not only as passive recipients of texts from beyond England but also as active participants in the traffic of texts into and throughout the continent.

20 February 2019

5.30pm in S-R24; join from 5pm for tea

Ardis Butterfield (Yale University); Medieval Lyric: a translatable or untranslatable zone?

The role of such pioneering figures in medieval studies as Erich Auerbach and Leo Spitzer has been recently reassessed within the field of comparative literature, as part of a wide and growing effort, evident across many disciplines, to engage with the controversial claims of ‘world literature’. The terms of this reassessment have pointed to their multilingual and plurilingual immersion in languages while working as scholars in exile in Istanbul in the 1930s and 1940s, facing a world in which the nation and empire and war were all in urgent turmoil. Spitzer’s version of ‘global translatio’ as seen through his article ‘Learning Turkish’ is marshalled by Emily Apter as an avant la lettre approach to a global literature that is ‘against world literature’. This talk proposes that not only Auerbach and Spitzer, but their primary topic of research – medieval poetry, and specifically the medieval lyric – has much more to reveal about notions of untranslatability than has yet been acknowledged in these debates. The medieval period is central to the current debate about comparative literature and world literature because it is saturated in plurilingualism in ways that are only gradually being acknowledged. Medieval plurilingualism performs a range of remarkable feats: first, it affirms the need to understand ‘global’ poetry as being centrally about languages and their relationships. Second, it both challenges and extends modern thinking about the global and language(s) because it is a period that is necessarily, and radically, heavily engaged in linguistic non-essentialism, in fuzziness, in rough translation. Third, it provides examples of lyric poetry where untranslatability is central, disruptive, and history-making.