Feb 16: Fables

Fables are told across many cultures for varied purposes – what sort of purpose is at work in our readings for today? Are they merely for entertainment; or do they contain a moralizing or didactic tone? Why might this form have been popular in the Middle Ages?

Feb 14, Parliament of Fowls

Notably, the “Parliament” is known as one of the first association of Valentine’s Day with the modern romantic conception of love. The narrator’s dreamwalk through the temple of Venus is filled with many “foules” choosing their mates along with a familiar celestial entourage gathered before Nature Herself. What do we notice about Venus’ appearance and why do you suppose Chaucer describes her in such detail in this dream vision? What do you make of Diana’s presence as well as the many other classical gods and heroes in relation to this open display of Love?

Feb 2: The Voyage of St. Brendan, Cohen

As we’ve previously seen, Brendan is a very Moses like figure, and some comparisons could be made to Odysseus as well. Michael has shown us how Nature and the Exodus of these pilgrims intersect – now, the encounter with the naked man and the references to torments and Hell seem to suggest a mentality related to Nature that is hostile. Is this reading a viable one, and does it contradict previous lines in the poem, or is there another interpretation? What do you think of the medieval worldview towards money and “usurers” compared to our own capitalist reality? Is the naked man ultimately deserving of the horrors inflicted on him?

Jan 31: Inventing With Animals, Cohen

In this course, we’ve often alluded to the relationship between Nature and humanity in the Middle Ages, questioned whether it is holy or pagan, or something else entirely. Cohen introduces the idea of “fantasy bodies”, using the analogy of Brian Jacques’ “Redwall” novels, to point out how medieval writers went beyond the boundaries of their oft-restricted identities in society. He also gives many examples, such as the hyena, the weasel, and the snake to display not just medieval bigotry, but also their worldview. According to Cohen, what are the factors that distinguish animal bodies with human characteristics vs humans in animal bodies? In what ways do we relate to this medieval mentality of using animal-as-allegory through contemporary writing?