I found the Exeter Ellegies to be evoking and powerful — excellent examples of how emotion or “feeling” can be expressed in literature and transcend time and culture. My favorite, however was “Wulf and Eadwacer” which the introduction calls “one of the most obscure poems in Old English” (40). Even though we have little or no context on the background or narrator of the elegy, I still found it a moving poem. The battle imagery of the first two stanzas seems to introduce us to the narrator’s internal conflict and heartache. Wulf, who is a “bold warrior” embraces the narrator and “it was sweet to me, yet I also despised it” (lines 11-12). As the introduction suggests, the female speaker is married, but loves Wulf who seldom comes and perhaps takes the child of the married couple–lines that can be translated in multiple ways. The last two lines of the elegy, “One can easily split what was never united,/the song of the two of us” stood out to me (18-9). The poem and these last beautiful lines in particular, can be interpreted in so many ways, but still, the speaker’s “feelings” come across, and somehow we can sympathize with her heartache.
I found the depiction of Wyrd in these poems absolutely fascinating. Fate seems to only be thought of as something relentless and uncontrollable. The narrators in both The Wanderer and The Seafarer woefully succumb to what they feel Wyrd has planned for them, as she is “fully fixed” (41). The preoccupation with Fate’s intentions, and why she allows so many troubles to overwhelm the world, seems to be a trend in most of the elegies, even though some speakers are able to come to some sort of acceptance about the inevitability of Wyrd through their personal revelations about God.
The Ruin was my favorite of the elegies. As the text explains, I really appreciate the physical “decay” of the poem, both the unintentional and intentional. I would be interested to see the look of the original manuscript. This elegy also seems to be one that, in my opinion, best describes the ruthlessness of Wyrd on the physical world. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why other speakers are able to find solace with God – he represents something intangible, and thereby is unable to succumb to the Ruin of what beauty Earth and Man creates.
Overall, I found these elegies to be all quite beautiful, even though they are rather depressing at times. They certainly evoke emotions of sadness, pity, and even triumph in modern day readers, showing yet again the transcendence of certain emotions through time.
The found the connections between The Wanderer, The Seafarer, and Deor, including the lack of agency and the references to Wyrd to be very interesting. Both The Wanderer and The Seafarer begin with a description of suffering and sorrow that is unavoidable, then at a turning point the speakers begin to reference the greatest of God and the goodness of salvation that will come after all the suffering. The Seafarer begins with a description of the hardships and suffering that he cannot escape as a seafarer, as The Wanderer and Deor begin with a lament of a devastated and destructed place that destroyed building and took loved ones and kinsmen. At the turning point of The Seafarer, the speaker rejoices in the opportunities and gifts God has given him and begins to look at his life as a seafarer as an adventure and a chance to travel which God has granted him, similarly to the turning point of The Wanderer where the speaker expresses acceptance of suffering and suggests that if one turns to God for mercy they will one day have salvation. While both The Wanderer and The Seafarer shift from a lamenting, lonely, suffering attitude to an acceptance of the suffering, Doer lacks this happy ending. Instead of ending with a prayer to God or a hope in salvation, Doer ends with a continuation of the description of never ending decay and no hope and no agency.
These elegies, especially Doer reminded me of the naturalist literature of the mid-nineteenth century. This literature was characterized by a lack of agency and lack of control of fate, which I felt the elegies also contained. Although two of my three examples ended with an acceptance and hope for the mercy of God, the speakers still lacked agency in their sorrowful lives and looked at Wyrd as unchangeable, like naturalistic literature saw fate and nature as uncontrollable and set in stone.
While reading this article, I was most surprised by how easily historians of the past have simplified the emotions felt during the Middle Ages. “Child-like” is a term that was often used to describe the displays that were prevalent during that time period. Like Rosenwein herself, I saw this as unfair. Even if they expressed emotions differently than we do today (although much of what they did was not all that different from the present), historians should not have belittled the complexity of such emotions. The emotional range and reactions of humanity, then or now, should not just be summed up with a term such as “child-like.” Like the conclusion states, “there were many medieval emotional communities,” each calling forth different reactions and emotions, and none of which were simple (485).
When reading this article, my mind first went to the concept of the emotions of the elite during medieval era. The beginning of this article focused on the feelings of the common folk and even mentioned that the elite must be dismissed and their emotions dismissed in order to gather data for what they call “genuine emotionology”. I find this dismissal ridiculous and feel that the emotions of the elite are highly pertinent to the overall temperature of emotions at that time. No one is without emotion.
Further, I found it interesting that Elias was quotes as saying that while people in this era were found to have less restraint he also spoke of differentiating the so called super ego of this culture from another – something that I do not thing can be done.
Barbara Rosenwein explores the history of Western emotion by offering viewpoint of professionals in different areas of study. Each individual present a different explanation for how emotions were managed in the pre-modern and modern periods, one explanation building on or countering another. Most of the experts presented argue that emotions were untamed in the pre-modern world and that civilization comes with modernization from either: education, religion, psychology, social construct, social status, or female presence, each offering an argument for one influence or another.
In my opinion emotional expression is shaped by a combination of these influences as Rosenwein suggests in the last pages of the essay. She asserts that emotional configurations of home-life and outside influence shape emotional behavior, and I agree to certain extent. In addition to home life and outside influence, I also share Reddy’s perspective that emotions are managed by an individual’s personal feelings. The appropriate outward response to those feelings are defined by what society deems expectable and, therefore, are influenced by an individual’s culture, which is slightly altered overtime.
There is no one factor responsible for managing emotion, or a set point at which emotions became constrained because society constantly redefines what is acceptable based on present values, but this topic is open for interpretation. Thoughts?
This article takes an interesting approach to history through the emotional. This method and the prevailing and improving theories of the history of emotions is a great way to approach literature. The liquid theory of emotion that discusses that emotions are almost like a liquid in the body wanting to seep out, which usually manifests itself in writings. While this theory has been displaced by a more improved method it shows an interesting to understanding prevailing emotions of a period and the ones being suppressed. By examining this method to literature of a certain period we can better understand a certain author’s approach or meaning in a text. For example, if a Medieval writer is discussing courtly love we could decipher certain meanings from what is highlighted in the language or omitted.
Rosenwein establishes, as my classmates have discussed, her view favoring a narrative that takes into account the complexity of emotions and emotional communities rather than viewing emotional history as a “grand narrative.” Having always been interested in health and dietary concerns I thought about how much of an effect quality of life and diet would have had on emotional communities throughout the ages as well as the extent emotional communities in this respect vary in modern times.
While it seems like a stretch, emotional communities can be built around diet. Those who choose to be vegetarian have chosen to enter into a certain emotional community and one that has an immense effect. In this same respect, emotional communities are also built around access to food, or lack thereof. In our relative society we cannot begin to comprehend the complexity of emotion surrounding starvation as we have never felt the effect of this. Malnutrition and starvation in the Middle Ages was a very prevalent and devastating occurrence, building sets of emotional communities that could foster the “childlike” behavior that early emotional historians believed of the Middle Ages. This again reiterates the importance of placing emotions in context while recognizing they are experienced by all.
I found Rosenwein’s piece about emotions and the depiction of the history of emotions very interesting. Something that especially interested me was theorist, Huizinga’s ideas verses Gerd Althoff’s contradicting notions. Huizinga expresses a stereotypical view on the Middle Ages and suggests that the emotions of that time were “child-like.” Huizinga interprets the violence, directness, and passionate emotions of everyday life in the Middle Ages as childish. Febvre took this idea one step further and announced that all emotions are irrational, violent, and passionate, however, unlike the Middle Ages, other times were able to control and restrain this natural impulse. Gerd Althoff dismantles Huizinga’s theories by looking at ritual and conventions of the Middle Ages. Althoff asserted that these so-called childlike emotions were not childish at all, in fact they were just part of the social function of emotions at the time and they followed the rules and conventions of the society. Although, some examples of the expression of violent and extravagant emotions of the Middle Ages may seem foreign and even childlike to modern researchers, those emotions fit the function of emotions at that time. Emotions like violence were used to convey, comprehend, and shift power. Just as today, emotions are used as tools to navigate through society and life, therefore, we should expect that different “tools” may be needed during different eras, cultures, and situations. Althoff’s argument against the childlikeness of the emotions of the Middle Ages overthrows a typical stereotype that is accepted by far too many people.
I really enjoyed Rosenwein’s article, as it offered a very expansive view of both how the Medieval era (as well as present day) is thought to have expressed, or in some cases, failed to repress, their emotional states. One goal of this class, I believe, is to continuously look for ways to contextualize the past without letting our present stereotypes about how things must have been affect the way we read these works too much (to ask for this to disappear altogether would be impossible). Rosenwein does a great job of introducing us to her argument of emotional communities, which discredits the “ruling narrative” of an uncontrolled past followed by a controlled present. So, in a sense, Rosenwein is doing something that we, as Medieval scholars, should strive to do – release previous stereotypes and notions and see things more abstractly than what might be the ‘easy’ thing to believe.
Regardless if one agrees or disagrees with Rosenwein’s argument, I think that her article is invaluable to us as we are introduced to more Medieval texts. Now we have a better sense of how emotional studies have developed over time, and are hence offered different ways of considering the Medieval period. That being said, I will argue that Rosenwein’s theory seems to be the most forgiving. I particularly appreciated, as someone has already mentioned, the psychcological theories behind emotion that she introduces to us. Yet more proof that the studies of Psychology and English are wonderful complements of each other.