E 326K • Literature of the Middle Ages in Translation
3:30 PM-5:00 PM
In this course we study a series of works with conflicting depictions of and attitudes toward love, sex, sexuality (including virginity), seduction, rape, and martyrdom. Whenever possible we compare texts written by men with similar texts written by women.
Students will be required to present one oral report (10-15 minutes) and write three short papers (5-6 pages) or one short and one longer research paper (12-15 pages, to be turned in as rough draft and then revised). For the short papers, there will be a choice of creative or analytical topics.
Class discussion and the oral report 40%
Written work 60%
We begin with one of the most widely known books of the Bible during the Middle Ages, the Song of Songs (also known as the Song of Solomon), and examine some of the ways that its depiction of love was interpreted during the Middle Ages. Then we read several very different depictions of religious martyrdom, including the third-century Dream Visions of Perpetua (thought to be the earliest surviving autobiographical text by a woman), several early medieval saints lives, two dramas by Hrotsvit of Gandersheim, who lived in the tenth century, and Jewish martyrdom legends from the later Middle Ages.
Next we read a series of twelfth-century dramas, lyrics, debate poems, and narrative allegories that are organized in very different ways around the images and vocabulary of love, sex, and creation.
The paired readings by men and women that we read at the end of the class are by vernacular authors, including Chretien de Troyes and Marie de France, who draw on the issues raised in the earlier texts and transmute them into new conceptions of human relationships and the quest for knowledge.