Song of Roland

On 10/4, I presented to the Woode-Walkers on the Song of Roland. Sadly, I don’t have nearly the talent Justin hopes for, and so I won’t be writing this in octosyllabic rhyming couplets, for both your safety and mine. I also won’t try to repost my entire handout, which can instead be found here. I will, however, try to cover a couple points here that I am most interested in concerning the Song of Roland.

Named Weapons

There are a number of characters in the Song of Roland who have their own named weapons (almost all swords, though one, Baligant, has a named spear). I’m fascinated by the inclusion of these weapons, because there aren’t a great deal of literary heroes who have them. I’m interested in both their origins (as trope and as items with history) and what they signify in the text.

For example, one of the obvious calls when reading the Song of Roland and noting all these named weapons is that they are a literary device to tell you to pay attention to the owner. Of all the named characters in the text of Song of Roland, only Roland, Oliver, Turpin, Charlemagne, Ganelon, and Baligant have named weapons (well, in the text – Ogier the Dane has one, but it doesn’t get mentioned in Song of Roland). These are also arguably the most important characters in the poem.  Roland, Oliver, and Turpin, all members of the doomed rearguard, have their swords (Durendal, Hauteclaire, and Almace), and they’re the only French characters in the battle who really have any lines. Charlemagne, as the great Christian and Frankish emperor, gets one (Joyeuse), and so his opponent, the Emir Baligant, must also get one (well, two – Precieuse and Maltet – maybe he overcompensates a bit). Even Ganelon gets one, though he never uses his sword – it seems to be there only to emphasize how traitorous he is (“On the relics, are in his sword Murgles, Treason he’s sworn, forsworn his faith away.” Song of Roland 46:607-8). Even though other characters seem important – the other 10 Peers, Ogier, Naimon, Marsilion – the ones with named weapons are the focal points.

I don’t think the weapons are solely a narrative device, though. They do seem to have their own history; in Karlamagnus saga (a Norse saga collecting tales of Charlemagne, Roland, and related characters), Charlemagne, in return for setting a man’s brother free, receives three swords crafted by the famous Weyland – Durendal, Cortana, and Almace. These swords eventually go to Roland, Ogier, and Turpin, respectively. Joyeuse, according to Wikipedia (yes, I know, terrible source), is on display in the Louvre – though Wikipedia also notes that it likely isn’t actually the sword of Charlemagne.  This isn’t much different from the sword of Saint Ferdinand III of Castile, whose sword, Lobera, is kept in the Seville Cathedral. Joyeuse, at least, is believed to have been Charlemagne’s real sword, so why not those of the others?

Also, Roland’s use of Durendal make it clear that these named swords – or, if not all of them, then at least his sword – were something special. While he is dying in the poem, he realizes that there might still be foes left to steal his sword, and so at first he tries to break it (and, amusingly, creating La Breche de Roland, or so legend goes); even hacking into a mountain doesn’t destroy it, though. When he finally realizes that he lacks the strength to break his blade, he lays down on top of it so that anyone who finds his body won’t immediately see it. The fact that the sword won’t break and that Roland feels a need to hide his weapon show that it isn’t Roland that makes the sword important; the sword has its own value, and he feels it is too dangerous to allow enemies to take it. This is possibly my favorite angle of discussion for the weapons – that, at least for Roland, Durendal is so important to him, and so dangerous, that he would rather destroy it then lose it to the enemy.

Someone else has done quite a bit of research on the weapons (and other items) in the Song of Roland, and that page can be found here.

After Song of Roland

The Song of Roland spawned a number of contemporary works that tell the stories of Roland, the Peers, Charlemagne, and others involved; the Karlamagnus saga is one, as is something called the Pseudo-Turpin or the Historia Caroli Magni. Ganelon even makes appearances in a number of later works – he’s in Dante’s Inferno, Canto 32, alongside Gianni de Soldanier; he shows up in two Canterbury Tales, the Shipman’s Tale (lines 193-94) and the Nun’s Priest’s Tale (line 3227).

The works I’m interested in, though, come much later. The first time I heard of the Song of Roland wasn’t through assignment in class or hearing about it from a professor or teacher – my first exposure came in late 1999, in a comic book store. I picked up a graphic novel called Roland: Days of Wrath, a retelling of the Song of Roland in comic book form, and I was hooked. I bought my first ‘real’ edition of the Song of Roland a week later. So I have an understandable interest in seeing how the work ages and what other works it has inspired, partially or in full.

The most famous is also the most tenuous: Stephen King’s Dark Tower series. King has admitted that one of his inspirations for this series was the Robert Browning poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came, and in that poem, there are several things that point to the titular Roland being the character from Song of Roland. The most obvious is the name; then his status as childe – a young man of noble birth, or one about to be knighted; and finally, in the next-to-last line of the poem, he uses a slug-horn, possibly referring to the older Roland’s olifant. If Browning’s Roland is meant to be a younger version of the Song of Roland’s title character, then King’s work is just barely linked to it.

The French military apparently felt that Roland’s sword was so cool that they named a few things after it – the BLU-107 Durandal, a bomb designed to destroy airfield runways, and the SNCASE SE-212 Durandal, a 1950s-era fighter jet prototype that never made it into full production. While the plane was a failure, the bomb was a success, and is apparently still in use today.

One of my personal favorite links to the Song of Roland is truly nerdy, because I’m a huge nerd – the Song of Roland is almost directly responsible for the Paladin in Dungeons & Dragons. Gary Gygax, creator of D&D, once listed a number of books he felt were his main sources for material for the game (Appendix N), and one of those books was by Poul Anderson, called Three Hearts and Three Lions. The main character is a reincarnation of Ogier the Dane, and he is essentially the character used as the basis for the Paladin class; this isn’t unusual, because the Peers of Charlemagne were sometimes known as paladins themselves. Some translations even note Oliver as a paladin: “Both his nephew, count Rollant, as I think, And Oliver, that courteous paladin;” (Song of Roland, 43:575-6). The paladin today is not a byword for Charlemagne’s Peers, but rather the idea of a knight or warrior in service to a divine entity.

Apparently, the video game designers at Bungie (makers of the HALO series of games) are also fans, or at least familiar, with the Song of Roland and related materials; the second- or third-most popular character in the series, the AI who is the Master Chief’s constant companion, is named Cortana, after the sword of Ogier the Dane. The Halo games have several other references like this – the MJOLNIR armor, HRUNTING/YGGDRASIL prototype armor, and Project GUNGNIR, among others. Cortana wasn’t Bungie’s first use of something from the Song of Roland material – in 1995, when Bungie created a sequel to their game Marathon, they named it Marathon 2: Durandal; like Cortana, Durandal was an artificial intelligence. I find it interesting that both of these artificial intelligence characters were named after weapons, since that seems to denote their purpose as weapons.

While there’s quite a bit more I could cover, I think I’ll just stop there and see what others have to say.


Without commenting merely on Eileen Joy’s announcement of her resigning her position at SIUE, I wonder how some might react to the ideas in her recent post on In the Medieval Middle. In particular, I find intriguing her idea concerning new modes of practicing the kind of learning traditionally associated with universities. Here at Regent, the faculty and administration have been meditating on learning models offered by Udacity, Coursera,  and others (including Massively Open Online Courses offered by many of the nation’s premier universities, such as Stanford’s recent course on Artificial Intelligence [irony or omen?]). Without speculating whether Dr. Joy intends to gravitate toward this model or not, I wonder if her desire for more communal approaches to learning can be fostered without abandoning (or merely departing from) the traditional brick-and-mortar institution. My mind is racing with free-associations at this point, but I wonder how new and revolutionary ideas in medieval scholarship (and I think many of us in the Woode-Walkers, past and present, can claim to hold some) can emerge in scholarly conversations (i.e. journals) without appeasing many of the gatekeepers that might frown on such crazy stuff. I have no answers, but perhaps you have meditated on this yourselves. Perhaps some of you have even more questions than these. I am interested in knowing your thoughts.

Last week, I led our session on Ranulph Higden’s Ars componendi sermones, beginning with this auspicious tweet:

What we found out, unfortunately, was that I can’t livetweet my own presentation. I quickly forgot about Twitter in the demands of leading discussion on a dense and knotty text. I’ll try again next time, I guess.

I wanted to talk about Higden because his treatise on preaching is one of the briefer and yet more useful treatments of preaching in the Middle Ages: Higden ably summarizes much of the tradition of thematic or “modern” preaching in a text which moves quickly and economically from point to point. Writers in what J.J. Murphy calls the ars praedicandi tradition were often prone to immense lists of the thousand-and-one ways that one could discuss a topic, but Higden (uncharacteristically, for the guy who wrote the Polychronicon) doesn’t let himself get too far off the rails. The text provides a brief, practical guide for the working preacher, without diverging from the received tradition of thematic preaching. So it’s a great introduction to one of the most under-studied but influential topics in medieval studies. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the text is readily available in both an edited edition of the Latin and a recent English translation, both by Margaret Jennings.

We spent most of our time together last week going carefully through my summary of the text, a necessary task given the proliferation of examples in even this brief text and the unfamiliar terminology of medieval rhetoric. Distinguishing between theme, antetheme, and protheme took up a good chunk of our time, as did parsing the language of amplification and division. I won’t reproduce my full summary here, but you can view and download my handout if you like. However, I do want to put up a few definitions for reference, to help clarify the sometimes opaque vocabulary of medieval rhetoric; then I’ll share my characterizations of Higden’s rhetoric, for reference and disputation.

Key Terms in Medieval Preaching
Note that these terms are based on Higden’s discussion of the art, but they can be used as working definitions for reading other artes praedicandi.
Theme: a passage of Scripture containing one to three words which can be exposited and exemplified to communicate the main point of the sermon. The theme is often selected according to the liturgical calendar or other occasional criteria.
Antetheme or Protheme: These two terms are used interchangeably by Higden to refer to a kind of abstract or summary of the sermon’s main point. Higden states that the antetheme/protheme, which comes early in the sermon, ought to include a variety of elements which have to do with establishing the value and validity of the sermon.
Amplification or Division: Amplification and division are another set of roughly interchangeable terms. Either term is a shorthand for the numerous ways in which the theme can be explained and proven: through biblical exegesis (both using the threefold senses of Scripture and textual strategies such as analysis of the Greek and Hebrew vocabulary), through examples drawn from life or legendary material, and other matters. The most expansive portions of Higden’s treatise focus on strategies for amplification/division.
Subdivision: Using the strategies of amplification/division to exposit sub-points within the larger division of the theme. So the main point (theme) will be divided into a select number of points, which are amplified/divided from the theme; in some sermons, then, those points will themselves be subdivided.
The “Key”: Higden’s explanation of the “key” is somewhat opaque. My best stab at explanation: the “key” is an additional amplification/division which clarifies the original point (see Higden, ch. XVI).

Higden’s Rhetoric
Here I’ve attempted to characterize Higden’s rhetoric in a couple of ways, first by using diagrams (akin to our contemporary use of such diagrams as the rhetorical triangle), and then through a description of the type of rhetoric his treatise advocates. These are very much a work-in-progress, so disputation is welcome.

The Structure of a Sermon
How a sermon ought to be ordered according to the “modern” practice, as given by Higden:
Statement of the theme -> Antetheme/Protheme -> Prayer for guidance -> Introduction of the theme -> Division -> Subdivision (optional) -> Conclusion

Elements of Preaching Rhetoric
Akin to the rhetorical triangle, my characterization of the elements Higden thinks are in play during a sermon. I have diagrammed them using interrelating arrows, because in my view for Higden all of these elements are continually influencing one another.
Preacher <- -> Congregation <- -> Text of the sermon <- -> Text of Scripture <- -> Occasion <- -> The Church <- -> God

Methods Employed in Interpreting the Theme and Delivering It
Natural reason, grammatical exegesis, threefold sense of Scripture (historical, tropological, anagogical), literary criticism, exempla.

Characteristics of Higden’s Rhetoric
Higden’s rhetoric is copious: it is highly concerned with expanding on the original point using what the classical tradition of rhetoric would call the rhetorical canon of copia. The preacher begins with a short theme and expands upon it to create a complex and multifaceted argument.

Higden’s rhetoric is kairotic: it is constantly aware of the particular time in which the sermon takes place. Higden devotes a lot of space to discussing how to adapt sermons to particular occasions, whether feast days or saints’ days or other liturgical events.

Despite this copiousness, Higden’s rhetoric adheres to a low or middle style: Higden does not emphasize the flights of language practiced in a high style, but encourages the preacher to use only simple verbal ornamentation and not get too full of himself. Sermons should thus be copious in content (because their source, Scripture, is itself more copious than human beings can account for), but not too highly ornamented in style.

Higden’s rhetoric is formal: some variation is allowed in the structure of the sermon, but not much–at least not if you want to be a modern preacher.

Higden’s rhetoric is emergent: rather than attempting to manipulate the audience into attention and obedience, Higden’s rhetoric focuses on drawing forth from Scripture something which will be useful to the audience. The orator is to function as a servant to the audience, not a master–to the point that even attempting to seize their attention is only acceptable in certain ways, “as long as this is inoffensive to God” (Higden 49). The orator should subordinate his own desires to the demands of the liturgical calendar, the immediate needs of the audience, and the imperative to glorify God. Rhetoric thus emerges out of the interaction of these elements with the preacher acting as a mouthpiece rather than a master of the material. I thus describe Higden’s rhetoric as emergent.

There’s lots more to do in the study of medieval rhetoric (a hugely neglected field–but I won’t get on that soap box here), and this is only a preliminary stab at the material–but hopefully it gets some of you thinking and investigating in this area. I’m very much at the beginning of my work on it myself. Let me know if you have thoughts or objections, or if you’ve found or done work on the topic.

With the help of the SLU Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies I have organized the following sessions for the upcoming Medieval Congress. Please attend if you are interested and tell your friends!

  • Saturday 10:00 am: Session 384, Schneider 1340

Landscape and Culture in Medieval Britain I: Spaces and Buildings

Spatial Paradox and the Ambiguity of Guthlac A

Lindy Brady, Univ. of Connecticut

This paper addresses the crucial role of borderlands as spaces where identity slippages take place in the Old English Guthlac A, calling into question the poem’s traditional interpretation as a triumph of Anglo-Saxon sanctity over native resistance.  While Guthlac is typically understood as a heroic conqueror who enters a hostile wilderness for righteous battle, I argue that the complex narrative of Guthlac A creates a paradoxical landscape that reveals Guthlac’s own character to be equally unstable.  The poem places three simultaneously occurring yet mutually exclusive conditions of ownership on the beorg—it is granted to the demons as a space of respite, awaits the claim of a better owner, and stands outside all patrial rights.  These paradoxes are necessary to the unity of the narrative, for while Guthlac is tasked with righteous battle, the demons are given just cause to resist him; yet moreover, the suggestion that Guthlac is unjustly seizing another’s land complicates his saintly identity. Crucially, the nature of the landscape itself is as ambiguous as its legal status.  Previous criticism on Guthlac A has assumed that the beorg undergoes a linear transformation from dangerous wilderness to locus amoenus and taken this as evidence of the triumph of (Anglo-Saxon) civilization over (native British) wilderness, particularly in recent postcolonial studies of the work.  Yet such theoretical approaches are predicated upon a transformation of the landscape only once the saint has triumphed.  Guthlac A, however, depicts the beorg as simultaneously dangerous and aesthetically desirable to both Guthlac and the demons before the saint’s victory, and to read him as the sole transformative force is to ignore these positive elements of the landscape that make his role as an agent of change far less clear.

“Eald is þes eorðsele”: The Ancestral Landscape of The Wife’s Lament

Joanna A. Huckins MacGugan, Univ. of Connecticut 

[Joanna cannot attend the conference this year, but her abstract is still pretty darn interesting!] The nature and meaning of the narrator’s physical space in the semantically ambiguous Anglo-Saxon poem “The Wife’s Lament” has been the focus of considerable scholarly debate. The wife describes þes eorðsele, the place of her confinement, as eald, which suggests that she inhabits a place of considerable antiquity. R.F. Leslie was the first to identify this space as a chambered barrow in 1961, and Sarah Semple suggested in 1998 that the Wife’s situation represents secondary burial in a prehistoric barrow tomb. A careful analysis of the language surrounding eorðsele and its synonym eorðscræfe reveals not only that “grave” is the most likely meaning for the Wife’s physical space, but also that this grave corresponds with the known archaeological context for Anglo-Saxon reuse of earlier burial monuments. The poem describes an ancient underground location within a constructed enclosure that is now isolated, abandoned and overgrown, a place imbued with pre-Christian meaning and associated with death and damnation. All of these characteristics, particularly the poet’s emphasis on a connection with the ancestral past, are perfectly in keeping with what we understand of Anglo-Saxon monument reuse. Yet nowhere in Anglo-Saxon literature does an ancient barrow actually serve as a prison for the living, and this is the central problem with a living narrator. The idea that the Wife is imprisoned for her sins suggests a possible penitential context for the poem that has not yet been addressed in the scholarship. The present study builds on Leslie’s original argument for a monumental barrow tomb, evaluates textual and archaeological evidence for secondary burial, and explores how the “monument reuse” interpretation can both clarify and complicate the text.

Jedburgh Abbey: A Case Study of Kingship

Jessica M. Aberle, Lehigh Univ.

The Border Abbeys were conceived of as active political strategies by David I as part of his campaign to conquer Northumbria and Cumbria. If the abbeys are examined within the framework of the twelfth-century Normano-Scottish Border, a pattern emerges suggesting that the iconography and locations were intentionally chosen to create a visually complex program that proclaimed David I’s royal identity as the new Northern King of Britain by asserting his claim to the ancient kingdom of Northumbria. David I created a new royal heartland at Roxburgh Castle with the foundation of Kelso, Melrose, and Jedburgh Abbeys (1128-1138). David I’s approach to landscape can be explored using three themes: Location as it Defines Influence, the Creation of a Lordly Landscape, and the Appropriation of Site. David I manipulated the placement of the ecclesiastical foundations within the landscape in order to lay claim to Northumbria as the Northern King of Britain. Through the creation of a carefully crafted landscape focused on Roxburgh, David I challenged Stephen the Norman king of England with the intention of creating a Scoto-Northumbrian kingdom with its center at Roxburgh. For the purposes of this conference, I would use Jedburgh Abbey (1138) as a case study to discuss how David I used both architectural cues and the careful selection of location to express both his identity as the Northern King of Britain and his claim to Northumbria.

Spatiality, Ecclesiastics, and Community in The Book of Margery Kempe

Chiu-Yen Lin, Tamkang Univ.

This paper aims to employ Henri Lefebvre’s theory of social space in discussing the issue of spatiality and its relation to Margery’s mystical space, her audience, and their community in The Book of Margery Kempe. The concept of spatiality is composed by three parts: mystical space, religious space, and communal space. The first part of the paper surveys the social and historical context of King’s Lin and Norwich in relation to the development of commerce and the changes on the communal life and religious space. Lefebvre’s conception of absolute space and abstract space will be employed to aid this survey. It attempts to sketch out the context of The Book which Margery’s mystical space is derived from. The second part of the essay deals with Margery’s mystical experience in relation to the communal space and religious space. I attempt to argue that the unconventional manner of Margery’s mystical experience which comes from her meditative dialogues with Christ and her performance of affective piety is produced from and shaped by the specific communal space which allows her to intrude the male dominated religious space. The third part traces the interaction between Margery’s mystical space, communal space and religious space with an emphasis on how Margery’s unconventional mystical experience negotiates and alters power relations and social relations in the communal and religious space. In conclusion, by brining Lefebvre’s theory into the discussion I attempt to sketch out the interconnection of mystical, religious, and communal spaces in that it reveals different levels of power struggles in terms of seizing religious and communal places and spaces while at the time Margery’s mystical experience is deeply embedded in the intertwined spaces.


  • Saturday 1:30pm: Session 443- Schneider 1340

Landscape and Culture in Medieval Britain II: Places and Maps

England in the Douce 98 Place List

Camin Melton, Fordham Univ.

In the manuscript Douce 98 in the Oxford Bodleian Library there is a list of 108 places in England written in Anglo-Norman French and dating to c. 1300. Each location featured in the list is coupled with a single notable characteristic, ranging from the industry or food that a particular town or region was presumably known for at the time to more abstract and often surprising characteristics like the “whores of Charing” or the “marvel of Stonehenge.” Though this list is unique among the surviving corpus of Anglo-Norman literature, it has only received passing interest from historians and literary critics. In this paper, it is my goal to provide a modern edition of the list and to present a translation of its places and things. I will also speculate on the nature and purposes of the list by considering it in relation to the earlier and later lists that attempt to do something similar. This text is worthy of greater consideration than it has received because it occupies a space between the itinerary and the map, between the simple listing of counties, bishoprics, and saints’ resting places and the more elaborate description of medieval towns and countrysides, between the assertion of the voracity of English religious history and the assertion of England as a locus for widespread mercantile activity, and finally between the practical text and the narrative text (if such a distinction can be made). Any attempt to render this place list a simple apparatus for achieving one practical end must surely give way upon further examination of and close attention to its narrative movement, its humor, and the multiple cognitive activities it encourages, from remembering the names of places to understanding those places’ collectively imagined part in the English whole to mapping out the industrial nexuses of the island.

My Land, Myself: Topographical Narrative and the Construction of Identity in

Sir Isumbras

Andrew Richmond, Ohio State Univ.

In the Middle English romance of Sir Isumbras, the experience of the narrative itself is intimately entwined with the presentation of landscape. Progressing from the loss of a cultural power for manipulating the use of his geological, vegetative, and animal surroundings, the eponymous hero is forced to learn the contours, “nature” and uses of his environment(s) by physical experience. In addition to the trying experiences of dangerous (or ultimately beneficent) beasts, forests and rivers characteristic of the romance genre, Sir Isumbras demonstrates a peculiar fascination with the rise and fall of the “londe” itself, tracing the minute progress of the hero up hills and across stones. These elevated spaces serve as literal and figurative platforms upon which Isumbras can decry (and in doing so define) his state, while often simultaneously providing stages for the scenes of sudden action that thrust the plot forward. This paper, then, will seek to demonstrate how Sir Isumbras ultimately ties the social and cultural “ascension” of the hero and his family to his ability to manipulate the matter of the earth, as he moves from stone-bearer to blacksmith to recast knight, ready to employ his environmental education to reassert his control over the cultural as well as physical landscape of the Sultan’s kingdom. For Isumbras, worth (practical, economic, social) remains inextricably entwined with the land, and narrative itself becomes a literal mapping of one’s progress across a countryside of cause and effect.

Aerial and Serial Perspectives in the Description of Cities Genre

Chelsea Maude Avirett, Univ. of Wisconsin–Madison

When Gregorius first encounters Rome, he stands overlooking it from a panoramic perspective. He later describes this vista in his description of the city (in The Marvels of Rome), by presenting the city as a landscape object, viewing it from a distance and as a single entity. This type of panoramic and aerial view of cities — or natural landscapes — occurs frequently in medieval literature: Chaucer gazes across the countryside as he dangles from an eagle’s claws, manuscripts depict contained civic spaces, and the descriptio or encomium urbis genre describes cities, including depictions of London, from a dual (and dueling) perspective: from a distance and from the city’s streets. This paper examines how authors use the imagined aerial perspective of cities throughout the late fourteenth century, at a time when depictions of serial civic walkers become more prevalent as well. Does the aerial perspective offer an ideal of community, which nuances or conflicts with the individual’s serial and often solitary movement? Or does it offer an atemporal and asocial view of society in which architecture and topography replace the living breathing city? This paper draws on intersections between landscape studies and the geographic subfield of mobility. While usually considered as disparate disciplines — landscapes are, after all, static while mobility studies seeks to interrogate the cultural implications of movement — this paper looks at what happens when medieval authors switch from and between an aerial, landscape perspective to a serial, mobile one. I focus on cities because — as Michel de Certeau demonstrates in his analysis of city walkers — the experience of viewing one and moving through one are, on the surface, radically different. However, for medieval authors, both offered a rich way to examine the productive tension between two modes of interacting with architectural space.

“His Troublous Dysease”: John Leland, Mental Illness, and the Map of England

Ruth Babb, St. Louis Univ.

In 1549, John Bale published a letter by John Leland, a noted antiquarian who had worked for King Henry VIII before he “fell besides his wittes” in 1547. This letter, which Bale calls a “newe yeares gyft” and dates in 1546 (though some scholars have put it as early as 1543) details Leland’s attempt to catalog and make available the contents of the holy libraries of England. While this task is daunting enough, and one that both authors consider a “laboriouse journey and costly enterprise,” it is not the end of Leland’s ambition. The bulk of his letter is taken up with a plan to show “the old glory of your renouned Britaine to reflorish through the world.” This plan, which Bale says would have been “one of the greatest wonders that ever yet was seane in this regyon,” was meant to consist of a map of the land engraved on a silver table, fifty-six books of English history, and a catalog of England’s royalty. Unfortunately Leland’s madness interfered, and his work was lost. I will argue that Leland’s obsession with the land and his then-unique approach to presenting it were linked to his illness. In order to accomplish this, I will contextualize the “Gift” within the historical conception of madness and Leland’s extant corpus to illuminate the time and nature of his sickness. Then Leland’s project will be compared to other cartographical undertakings of the time to show its unusual nature, and a close reading of Leland and Bale’s writing will tie Leland’s ambitious pitch with Bale’s prayers for his health. While I will not attempt a diagnostic stance from this evidence, I will argue that conceptualizing England played a large role in Leland’s eventual madness.


  • Saturday 3:30pm: Session 501- Schneider 1340

Landscape and Culture in Medieval Britain III: Domestic and Wild Spaces

Wild Spaces, Wild Creatures: Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Heide Estes, Monmouth Univ.

The narrative of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight contains three very different landscapes: the courts of Arthur and Bertilak; the wilderness through which Gawain travels between the two; and the site of the Green Chapel. Gawain’s wilderness is populated by ferocious (but real) wild animals as well as monsters we understand as fictional. Gawain must fight them off at every turn — but the weather is worse. And so is the Green Chapel, with the Green Knight grinding his axe to a point and threatening Gawain’s death. In this paper, I investigate these kinds of spaces using Lawrence Buell’s paradigm separating “space,” “place,” and “non-space” to argue that the locations and landscapes described in the poem veer between these categories. In addition, I use the insights of authors such as Andrew Furman and Kimberly N. Ruffin, who challenge ecocritical valorizations of wilderness, to explore the meanings of wilderness and wildness in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. A careful reading of that text illuminates some of the assumptions that underlie contemporary discussions of place and wilderness, allowing for a more nuanced understanding of ecocritical discussion of landscape.

Gawain in Space

Ally McNitt, Univ. of Oklahoma

Theories of literary analysis are valuable tools for reading The Weddynge of Syr Gawen and Dame Ragnelle.  The poem’s setting is freighted with significance; forests are not merely forests, and  sprawling, open spaces are far from empty.  Spatial analysis of the poem offers a new perspective on an old story, a new and illuminating way to examine the significance of Gawain’s quest to represent Camelot’s social position through his actions at a distance and through his bearing the “essence” of that place while physically remote from it.

Enclosed in the Castle: Gwenyver in Malory’s Morte Darthur

Molly Martin, McNeese State Univ.

Castles play a prominent and very visible role in Sir Thomas Malory’s Morte Darthur, acting as geographical landmarks, political centers, homes, prisons, and custom keepers. They are fortified and defended, attacked and overrun. They witness tournaments and battles. They are loci for the commencement and completion of countless quests. Castles even participate in the narrative, notably in the text’s construction of masculinity and femininity, creating gendered relationships through their ownership, their habitation, and especially their spatiality. The placement of knights and ladies within and without the castle walls, at and below—and even through—their windows, betrays the precarious nature of Malorian gender identity. For women, the castle often becomes a means of enclosure. This narrowing of space can reflect the Arthurian society’s need to restrict females both literally and figuratively. Whether by choice or by force, a woman enclosed in the castle feels the imposed architectural and geographical restrictions. In theory, the walls of the castle define her overlapping (and often small) spheres of movement and influence. At several crucial points late in the Morte, Queen Gwenyver is emphatically enclosed behind and within walls. However, from within this space she wields authority uncharacteristic of females. This paper looks closely at Gwenyver in the Tower of London, where she secures and defends herself from the sieging Mordred. What becomes clear is a surprising conflict between the expectations of an enclosed, female space, and Gwenyver’s ability to maneuver around the gender and space restrictions that she faces. The result is a redefinition of the social space of the castle, one that to a large degree rejects seemingly engrained notions of male hierarchy. The walls do not narrow or limit Gwenyver, but rather enlarge her authority and force a reconsideration of gender roles at this moment in the text.

L’Eau et le merveilleux: Water and the Marvelous in French Arthurian Literature

Katherine Snider, Univ. of Washington–Seattle

In French Arthurian romances of the 12-13th centuries I propose to examine the reciprocal relationship between people and the water they dream.  At this time, in this place, in literature inspired by the characters and/or landscapes of Britain, these authors have not lost the dream of water, and water has not been reduced to the (urban) utility of H20 that Ivan Illich identifies as concurrent with that loss.  The ways in which these people have made water the bearer of meaning reflect concrete realities of water’s effect on the landscape.  Sometimes water determines boundaries.  Bridges and fords across a river are places of challenge and attempted separation between the land of Arthur’s court and “elsewhere”, often explicitly the Other World. Sources of water such as fountains are also the meeting-place of danger, challenger, and/or love—consensual or otherwise, marvelous or otherwise. The marvelous is but one manifestation of the cultural construction of certain peoples’ relationship to water.  In this paper, ecocriticism brings to medieval studies a focus on the non-human world as exemplified by water—which these texts often populate with the marvelous.  Ecocritical theory also valorizes water’s and human’s effect on place.  Texts considered will include: Marie de France’s Lanval, Chrétien de Troyes’ Yvain ou le Chevalier au lion and Lancelot ou le Chevalier de la charrette, the 13th century prose Lancelot du Lac, the Lai de Tyolet, and La Bataille Loquifer.

We had an excellent discussion on Monday, and while I don’t want to supersede the presenter (Amanda Cherian) and post the content here, I thought I would share one item in response: I livetweeted the presentation, and having done so compiled the tweets and responses into a Storify image. I welcome responses here to this experiment in medievalism and social media.

[View the story “Woode Walkers Session on William Morris and Medievalism” on Storify]

Presentation by Amanda C. Barton 2.6.12

To introduce our discussion of The King’s Two Bodies, I turn to Marie Axton’s comment on the peculiar metaphor of the two-bodied monarch:

Prior to England’s break with Rome and immediately after, English common lawyers “were formulating an idea of the state as a perpetual corporation, yet they were unable or unwilling to separate state and monarch. Their concept of the king’s two bodies was an attempt to deal with a paradox: men died and the land endured; kings died, the crown survived; individual subjects died but subjects always remained to be governed. Perhaps the lawyers were unwilling to envisage England itself as a perpetual corporation because the law had always vested land in a person” (12).

Hence, in Tudor common law we see an articulation of “pre-nation” abstractions of the corporate state.  It is important to note that this metaphor is separate from, but related to, the notion of the subjects as the members (ie, body parts such as hands, feet and stomach) of the state and the monarch as the head. The the metaphor of the two-bodied monarch is also distinct, looking even further back, from the metaphor of the king marrying the land.  However, there are some important themes of notions of corporality and the relationship of abstract state and physical land running through all of these that are important.

Detail from the frontispiece of Thomas Hobbes' Leviathan, depicting the monarch as the head of the state's corporate body.

History and Reception

Published in 1957, Kantorowicz’s study, which ranges across the Middle Ages and late Antiquity, was immediately well-received and has remained an important text. Reviewers compared Kantorowicz’s methodology to Frederic William Maitland’s Domesday Book and Beyond: Three Essays in the Early History of England (1897). Despite near universal acclaim, reviewers, even those who praised the text, took issue with aspects of the text: 1) its “too-much-ness,” the excess of material at the expense of cogency (Antony Black called it “a masterpiece of erudite confusion”; 2) not enough discussion of practical politics, how did this metaphysical legal theory affect day-to-day court cases?; 3) despite the nimiety, it was thin on discussion of the papacy.

Kantorowicz was born in Posen, Prussia (now Poznan, Poland) in 1895. He held a post at Frankfurt from 1930 to 1934, when he refused to take the oath to Adolf Hitler. In 1938, he left Germany for the US and accepted a position at Berkeley. He moved to Princeton in 1951 after leaving UC-Berkeley because he refused to take the loyalty oath required during McCarthy’s anti-communism investigations.

The Argument <<l’état c’est moi>>

The King’s Two Bodies explores the paradox of the two-bodied sovereign in Renaissance and medieval jurisprudence: the king has both a body natural and a body politic; the king is immortal, never underage, incapable of doing or thinking wrong, invisible, cannot judge but is “the Fountain of Justice,” is omnipresent in all his courts. Kantorowicz’s study attempts “to understand . . . certain axioms of a political theology, which mutatis mutandis was to remain valid until the twentieth century, began to be developed during the later Middle Ages”(xviii). “Political theology” is associated with Carl Schmitt’s description of authoritarian governments; Kantorowicz prefers this term to “political thought” used by his reviewers because “theology” encompasses metaphysical aspects of this legal philosophy and its relationship to medieval Christian theology.

Kantorowicz explores the christological nature of the discussion of these legal speculations, by beginning his study with a specific case in Tudor jurisprudence and working backwards through the Middle Ages. He notes that through this conception the king acquires a character angelicus, the body politic represents the “Immutable within Time” (8). This development seems most particularly indebted to the organic unity of the “sacred” and “secular” during the Middle Ages, that is, the line was not nearly as bright, and there were “cross-relations between Church and State” in nearly every century (193). For example, consider the imperial appearance of the sacerdotium. Perrhaps most useful, Kantorowicz analyzes the semiotic switch that takes place between the terms corpus verum and corpus mysticum (the terms for the Host and the Church) and how it influenced medieval notions of corporation.

Pertinent passages from Plowden’s Report

. . . by the Common Law no Act which the King does as King, shall be defeated by his Nonage. For the King has in him two Bodies, viz., a Body natural, and a Body politic. His Body natural (if it be considered in itself) is a Body mortal, subject to all Infirmities that come by Nature or Accident, to the Imbecility of Infancy or old Age, and to the like Defects that happen to the natural Bodies of other People. But his Body politic is a Body that cannot be seen or handled, consisting of Policy and Government, and constituted for the Direction of the People, and the Management of the public weal, and this Body is utterly void of Infancy, and old Age, and other natural Defects and Imbecilities, which the Body natural is subject to, and for this Cause, what the King does in his Body politic, cannot be invalidated or frustrated by any Disability in his natural Body. (Kantorowicz 7).

For when the Body politic of King of this Realm is conjoined to the Body natural, and one Body is made of them both, the Degree of the Body natural, and of the things possessed in that Capacity is thereby altered, and the Effects thereof are changed by its Union with the other Body, and don’t remain in their former Degree, but partake of the Effects of the Body politic. . . . And the Reason thereof is, because the Body politic wipes away every Imperfection of the other Body, with which it is consolidated, and makes it to be another Degree than it should be if it were along by itself. . . . And the Cause [in a parellel case] was not because the Capacity of the Body natural was drowned by the Dignity royal . . . , but the Reason was, because to the Body natural, in which he held the land, the Body politic was associated and conjoined, during which Association or Conjunction the Body natural partakes of the Nature and Effects of the Body politic. (11)

The King has two Capacities, for he has two Bodies, the one whereof is a Body natural, consisting of natural Members as every other Man has, and in this he is subject to Passions and Death as other Men are; the other is a Body politic, and the Members thereof are his Subjects, and he and his Subjects together compose the Corporation, as Southcote said, and his is incorporated with them, and they with him, and he is the Head, and they are the Members, and he has the sole Government of them; and this Body is not subject to Passions as the other is, nor to Death, for as to this Body the King never dies, and his natural Death is not called in our Law (as Harper said), the Death of the King, but the Demise of the King, not signifying by the Word (Demise) that the Body politic of the King is dead, bu that there is a Separation of the two Bodies, and that the Body politic is transferred and conveyed over from the Body natural now dead, or now removed from the Dignity royal, to another Body natural. So that it signifies a Removal of the Body politic of the King of this Realm from one Body natural to another. (13)

Selected bibliography

Axton, Marie. The Queen’s Two Bodies: Drama and the Elizabethan Succession.  London: Royal Historical Society, 1977.

Kantorowicz, Ernst H. The King’s Two Bodies: A Study in Mediaeval Political Theology. Princeton, NJ: Princeton U P, 1985.

Maitland, Frederic William. Domesday Book and Beyond: Three Essays in the Early History of England. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge U P, 1897.

Schmitt, Carl. Political theology: four chapters on the concept of sovereignty. Trans. George Schwab. Cambridge, MA: MIT P, 1985. 

The Annolied is a hagiography of Saint Anno, a theocrat who lived from 1010 to 1074, who was immensely popular with his parishioners but not terribly popular with rival bishops or other political rivals. The text sets up his history with two backgrounds, first sacred and then secular history, which are integrated in the person of Saint Anno. After discussing his ascent to sainthood, the text portrays a blasphemer Volprecht being punished by having his eyes destroyed for denying Anno’s saintliness, and then restored after giving confession. The text ends with a sentence on remembering the signs God has given us.

My reading of this poem’s aesthetic of “two worlds which combine to make a third,” that is, human beings, is symbolized by the combination of the sense of sight and of sound in the written world, which itself combines with the twofold (secular and sacred) history of the human race, which explains the aesthetic purpose of Volprecht’s mode of punishment. For the meeting I brought in a paper I am revising for publication, which essentially presents this thesis statement. Thomas Rowland helpfully pointed out some imprecisions in my language, initially objecting to the notion that the Annolied, in any simplistic sense, privileges one part of the sensorium over the other. He’s quite right – both the aural and visual knowledge play key roles in this text, although the roles do, I think, play out a bit differently with different emphasis. Thomas also pointed out the deeply political nature of this text, something covered in scholarship such as Benjamin Arnold’s essay in the bibliography, but Thomas drew out some very useful passages where the poem seems to be valorizing some sense of Germanic pride, or at least pride of Cologne. Thomas also brought up the notion of “spots,” whether present or absent, being a sign of holiness – such as the Pearl maiden being without spot, and some points of comparison between the Annolied and the 7 fold history of the world found in Bede.

Beth asked why the secular details were so expanded, which may have many reasons, but I think at least two are appropriate: first, the poem seems, as Thomas pointed out, to be very politically motivated, and secondly that the disparity of sacred versus secular is something combined by the guiding aesthetic of the poem – secular history is not simplistically separate from sacred history. Beth also pointed out an apt parallel between Volprecht’s punishment and Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus.

Amanda Barton brought up Mircea Eliade (sp?), a theologian I confess no conversance with, but who apparently has worked with the notion of believing without seeing. She also mentioned the oral nature of confession in Catholicism, which seems connected to the sensibilities of the poem in interesting ways.

Below is the handout I gave for the poem. Comments and questions are welcome.

Annolied (ca. 1077-81): “Song of Anno”, a.k.a, Eyeball Explosions

Early Middle High German Hagiography of “Saint Anno” (ca. 1010-1074):

  1. Sacred History: Creation, Fall of Lucifer and Adam, Christ’s Victory, Disciples Evangelize, Cologne Christianized, Anno among the saintly bishops. (st. 1-7)
  1. Secular History: Origin of Cities, Ninus founds Nineveh, Four Beasts of Daniel Prophesies Translation of Empire: Babylon, Chaldea, Greece (Alexander), Rome. Caeser – Backtrack to Troy – Caesar, Augustus, birth of Christ, Rome Christianized by Peter, Cologne Christianized by Romans, Anno is 33rd bishop to preside in Cologne since then. (st. 8-33)
  2. History of Anno: Anno welcomed to Cologne, Ecclesiastical Rockstar, Wholly Holy, makes 5 monasteries, including Siegburg (where he is now buried), Persecution by secular lords and compared to David, Holds a Grudge, Gets Sick, starts going to heaven but he has a stain on his heart, so he forgives Cologne and is admitted into heaven. Performs many miracles. Volprecht, servant of a nobleman named Arnold, goes in league with the Devil and starts to blaspheme against God and all of the saints, including Anno. When he begins to insult Saint Anno one of his eyes melts. He persists in defaming Anno until he has a stroke, falls to the ground, and his other eye goes shooting out. He is persuaded to confess, and then his eyes grow back and he is reconciled to Arnold and to God. Final comparison between Anno and Moses, then closes with comments about the goodness of God. (st. 34-49)

Guiding Aesthetics:

  1. 3 Worlds, the material and the spiritual which make up the third, the human
  2. Concern to show Anno as a positive figure (hagiography)
  3. Concern to have ecclesiastical literature stand up to heroic literature (chronicle)

Important Background:

  1. Patristics – i.e., Augustine
  2. Numerology
  3. Orality and Literacy

My Take:

I think the best way to read this poem is as establishing a sacred aesthetic of the sensorium, to use Ong’s terminology. Hearing and seeing are the two stressed senses, and while seeing is important, it is hearing which rules the day – hearing which represents best the spiritual world. With the deep code of numerical structure, it is the ear, not the eye, which for most in the audience will matter, and the punishment of the servant suggests that visual knowledge must be subordinated to auditory knowledge to attain spirituality for the lay person. But this is reversed for the ecclesiaste: Anno is not admitted into heaven until the visual stain on him is removed. And yet the stain is something only heard about through the song, thus reasserting the primacy in right-hearing over right-seeing in the pursuit to live the good life.

Relevant Primary Sources:

Augustine’s City of God (Latin)

Vita Annonis (Latin)

Kaiserchronik (Middle High German)

Book of Daniel (Probably Latin rather than Hebrew-Aramaic?)

Relevant Secondary Sources:

Arnold, Benjamin. “From Warfare on Earth to Eternal Paradise: Archbishop Anno II of Cologne, The History of the Western Empire in the Annolied, and the Salvation of Mankind.” Viator 23 (1992): 95-113.

Batts, Michael S. “Numerical Structure in Medieval Literature (with a Bibliography).” Ed. Stanley N Werbow.  Formal Aspects of Medieval German Poetry. University of Texas Press, 1969. 93-122.

—. “On the Form of the Annolied.” Monatshefte 52.4 (1960): 179-182.

Dunphy, R. Graeme. “Historical Writing in and after the Old High German Period.” Ed. Brian Murdoch. German Literature of the Early Middle Ages. Camden House, 2004. 201-226.

—. Dunphy, R. Graeme. Opitz’s Anno: The Middle High Gerrman Annolied in the 1639 edition of Martin Opitz. Glasgow, 2003.

Green, D.H. Medieval Listening and Reading: The primary reception of German literature 800-1300. Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Schultz, James A. Sovereignty and Salvation in the Vernacular, 1050-1150. Western Michigan University, 2000.

Thurlow, P. “Augustine’s City of God, Pagan History and the Unity of the Annolied.” Reading medieval studies: annual proceedings of the Graduate Centre for Medieval Studies in the University of Reading 6 (1980): 44-67.

Walshe, M. O’C. “Early Middle High German Literature.” Medieval German Literature. Harvard UP, 1962. 34-70.

Whitesell, Frederick R. “Martin Opitz’ Edition of the ‘Annolied’.” The Journal of English and Germanic Philology 43.1 (1994): 16-22.