As I was reading the texts for this week, a question entered my brain: “why don’t we ever read anything happy?” At first it was only a grumbling, sarcastic question. Then I really thought about it and realized that most of the literature with a narrative or plot is rather depressing. It’s full of emotional manipulation, abuse, punishments from higher powers, unjust deaths, and the slaughtering of children. These tropes can be seen in works of both religious and secular natures. Most of this pain, suffering, and torture is used to teach the characters, and thus the readers, a moral lesson: do not commit adultery, beware of fate, do not slander religious authority or God, trust the Virgin Mary, and so many more. This teaching method is on a whole other level in the Middle Ages than anything contemporary I’ve read. It’s very visceral and painful for both the characters and the reader, instilling in them a desire to comply with anything to avoid a similar fate. I found this pattern rather interesting. Thoughts?
I thought the social and religious contexts surrounding this week’s works were rather interesting. While I was reading the exempla, it was difficult for me to relate to them. The content, while absorbing at parts, was rather foreign to me. Upon reflection however, I found that a version of exempla are still commonly used today. I’ve personally heard them in their original context of sermons. Pastors often teach morality through a story framed by shared life experiences such as childhood or personal relationships. Throughout the tale, the congregation laughs at the amusing and sobers at the somber because they can relate to similar experiences in their own lives. This emotional connection makes the moral lesson much more poignant and effective. I can understand why these exempla were rather popular in their time.
After reading about Margery Kempe, I am conflicted. I found it a rather easy read compared to Julian of Norwich because this felt more like a story or narrative than the previous text. However, I didn’t entirely enjoy it. Her use of third-person and her incessant descriptions of herself as wretched and sinful were , I felt, overkill. I suppose she wanted to come across as humble and pious, but I rather pitied her. She harped on and on about the hardships she faced, setting up a metaphor and casting herself as a persecuted teacher, a similar role to Christ. The pity I felt became my focus and it distracted me from the content of the narrative, including anything she was trying to teach the audience. Maybe this technique and reinforcement of humility was more effective with her contemporaries. Either way, I do completely understand why she was considered crazy, even if I don’t personally agree with the assessment.
Despite its length, this article was pretty interesting. I especially enjoyed reading about the different people in history that tried to define and understand emotions. I’ve read about Galen before, and I find his theory fascinating. He believed that humans were composed of four fluids: blood, phlegm, yellow gall, and black gall. An excess of one of these caused a person’s humour to exist in a particular sphere where they experienced particular feelings. Galen advocated moral education and moderation to combat this unbalance.
He and other theorists also seemed to place value in a person’s will, implying that if their will was strong enough, they could overcome issues like melancholy and depression. This part of his theory is what I can still see today. Many people are under the impression that a person can “beat” depression and melancholy through the strength of their will, when that isn’t always the case. To me, these sentiments seem just as ignorant and far-fetched as Galen’s theory of fluids and humour.
I found the varying settings and, for lack of a better word, levels of this story very striking. They were varied and interesting, causing me to pay way more attention to setting and plot details. First, our narrator is lamenting his recent lack of sleep. Then he tells us of a story he read one night. Afterward, we transition to his call upon the gods and the subsequent dream sequence. Within the dream itself, we have the hunt, the exploration of the forest, and the discovery of a knight in mourning. The knight then begins to tell his own tale and only when it is finished does our narrator wake up from his dream. Even though it was a challenging read with the subplots making it even more confusing at times, I did enjoy it, although perhaps I missed the purpose of so many stories within a story. I’m not really seeing a deeper meaning for the use of this technique. I’m sure we’ll talk about this in class, but am I missing the obvious here?
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).
I was intrigued by the function or use of God and faith in this work. The first place I noticed this was when the speaker was describing the beautiful woman’s plight. Her physical appearance was mentioned, as was her emotional and mental struggle. It wasn’t just the isolation that was ruining her, however. It was also the fact that she couldn’t attend Mass or carry out God’s will. She was spiritually denied as well as physically, emotionally, and socially. Because of this, she cried out to God, praying that he would send her some relief in the form of excitement or adventure. Soon after, she meets Muldumarec. The woman is attracted to him, but doesn’t accept his advances until he proves that he’s a Christian as well. She seems to take his appearance as some kind of answer to prayer. God has sent him to her to alleviate her suffering. I guess my question is “would God ordain adultery by sending another man to her?” I mean, she seemed well-educated in the ways of the scripture and adultery is definitely on the “do not commit” list. Using an answer to prayer just seemed, to me, to be a strange plot device, especially for this situation and time period. Is that kind of the point, though? To what end?
After reflecting upon our previous meeting and the assigned readings, I noticed something interesting about my associations with certain terms or phrases that were used in class or the texts. This was all triggered by that first discussion question in class on Tuesday: what does medieval mean to you? Gastle’s chapter touched upon some other relevant, related concepts that generated wildly different connotations in my head. For example, when someone says “Old English” or “Anglosaxon,” I immediately think of texts like Beowulf or Caedmon’s Hymn. When the term “medieval” is bandied around, my mind goes straight to knights and courtly love and Arthurian literature. This is probably, in large part, due to the BBC show Merlin. Another phrase I’ve come across is “the Dark Ages” and I imagine literal darkness, the Bubonic plague, and the “bring out your dead!” scene from Monty Python. The “Middle Ages” trigger history lessons about the Crusades and the Monarchy and various wars. All of these concepts were covered in Gastle’s chapter on historical context and it was interesting to see how they worked together to create the backdrop of the literature we will be studying this semester. What are everyone else’s associations and connotations regarding these terms? What do you think the literature we read will focus on the most? What ideas and concepts are you looking forward to? It’s probably overdone, but I personally am excited for anything about knights.