Violence of the Siege of Jerusalem

What struck me most about reading the Siege of Jerusalem was the abundance of violence. This explicitly discussed violence is often connected with the anti-Semitic theme prevalent in the text. As the introduction points out, the author seems to stray multiple times between referring to the Jews as “noble” and pitying them, or reflecting upon how these “faithless people” were “spineless in a fight, and false of belief” (Siege of Jerusalem 13). I was slightly confused by the cause for this straying between sentiments. The introduction states that this reflects the varying medieval Christian views of Jews, but based on the fact that one author is believed to have written the work I would assume there would be a more consistent view of the Jewish people.

The graphic violence described in the text is another aspect that would appear quite controversial. One description that I found particularly telling of this violence occurs during battle when “he takes aim at the elephants, which were so abhorrent, And cuts out the entrails with well-sharpened spears: Intestines burst forth so that a hundred ground-clearers Would be hard- pressed to bury what remained in the field” (Siege of Jerusalem 14). This is certainly not the only occurrence of violence in the text, but perhaps one that resonated most due to my love of elephants. The violence seems to be intended to enhance the anti-Semitism of the text.

Victims to Fate

One of my classmates touched upon a recurring theme I have had difficulty reconciling with other aspects of Medieval thinking – the idea that people are “victims” to fate. This has been apparent in the texts we read in Ashmole, such as The Incestuous Daughter. The daughter in this work is acting out the will of devils influencing her, and ultimately suffers the consequences of following their instructions. The consequence of this is eternal torment in hell. The narrator in Cresseid pities her because of the misfortune she was destined for, and the suffering she experiences throughout her life. These are just two examples of this recurrent theme. Yet what I have trouble reconciling is that the narrator in Cresseid seems to be alone in his pity for Cresseid. While I think this is part of his intent, as we discussed in class, to encourage others to feel the same sentiments for Cresseid. But is the narrator reflecting a Medieval interpretation? Or is Henryson’s view of Cresseid unique from other Medieval opinion regarding the sinful as victim to fate?

Public Emotion

While I liked reading parts of Trigg’s essay because I felt that having read some works of the authors she mentions I was more a part of her argument, some of it was still quite dense and necessitated a second reading. What struck me was Trigg’s incorporation of social medias in a modern understanding of emotions “to this personally directed inquiry about my emotional state, it seemed the social networking site was tapping into current scholarly interest in emotions, feelings, and sensibilities” (Trigg 3). Perhaps incorporation is not the right word to describe Trigg’s mention of social media, yet it does apply to a show of emotions. It seems that emotions are considered more of an inner state in contemporary society, but that feelings are an outwardly accepted expression of emotions. The term “affect” is not often used in our day to day vernacular but “feelings” is. We have all heard people say “I feel like…” in reference to what they are thinking, not necessarily what they are feeling. In this manner, the term feeling has morphed to represent our thoughts on various subjects. Viewing feelings as thoughts in this way explains why it is a much more socially accepted construct than those of emotions.

Feeling Sentimental

Rosenwein touches upon the distinction in a number of different cultures between emotions and sentiments and how they relate to emotional communities of the Middle Ages, and how the two concepts are not the same, “Many European languages have more than one word for the phenomena that Anglophones call “emotions,” and often these terms are not interchangeable,” (Rosenwein, 3). This made me wonder about the modern implications of the two terms “emotional” and “sentimental.” From my experience, emotional seems to imply readily changeable feelings such as mood swings while sentimental suggests a positive, reflective type of feeling. Based on this experiential analysis, the words sentiment and emotion are akin to that of the French, German, and Italian distinction between the two. While Rosenwein relates these terms to emotional communities of the Middle Ages, she emphasizes that these definitions are not final. In this respect, the distinction between the two is clear for emotional communities of the Middle Ages as well as modern emotional communities, though to different extents for each age.

Margery’s Agency of Envy

While in my previous post about Margery I was inclined to be very critical, Rosenfeld added a new perspective to how I view her Book. Rosenfeld first introduces the novel concept that envy is not entirely negative. In fact, Margery’s envy and her competitive nature enabled her to achieve the singularity she seemed to strive for. I’m not sure if I misinterpreted this particular part of the essay, but Rosenfeld early on in her essay establishes the idea that Margery’s very use of envy allows her to break from the male centered community and create her own community. As Rosenfeld later states, this was threatening to the male authorities of the time and the fact that Margery is able to pose such a threat shows she has achieved distinction. Rosenfeld also takes note of the nature of envy, “Among members of the same nation, the closest acquaintances and not strangers are objects of envy,” (108). This point of envy only through proximity implies that envy is only present when we believe the goal of our envy to be attainable. Her envy and competitiveness with others, even saints, with respect to religion set her apart from the community and in doing so groups her with Christ. She achieves this by her excessive shows of emotion, implying that if others aren’t capable of the same emotion they are not as affected.

The manner in which Margery talks about Christ, which Rosenfeld touches upon, is also significant. She is very familiar with him and suggests that her favor of him has a reciprocal effect. In fact based on the language she uses her relationship with Christ seems almost romantic. Based on our knowledge that people during medieval times were focused on the physical manifestation of religion, this follows logically. However, perhaps I am interpreting this with a modernized point of view and the language she uses is not out of the ordinary.

The Insanity of Margery Kempe

The introduction to The Book of Margery Kempe mentions that she was criticized for her lunacy. I must say I completely agree. I enjoyed reading it because I was quite amused by how utterly crazy I found her. I think it was very interesting that this was the first autobiography written in English, because based on the fact that all of Margery’s sufferings were derived from her own actions it follows logically that she deems her life important enough for an autobiography. The entire book of Margery Kempe is about her, and her direct relationship with God. As far as I can tell she does nothing in way of charitable giving and barely mentions others except to pass judgment, like in the case of the Archbishop. The incessant sobbing was also very frustrating to read about, and the other people around her in her book I’m sure felt this sentiment quite strongly. It seemed to me that Margery’s tribulations in life were for the most part self created. Her religion also seemed to be quite convenient to her, the devil taking possession whenever she no longer wanted to be held to a religious standard.

Based on this blog post it seems that I was very critical of this reading. However I appreciated it’s worth and historical context, but found Margery herself particularly irksome.

Neuroscience from Plamper’s Reading

This article resonated with me particularly because I am very interested in neuroscience. While the many different definitions and views of emotion proved a lot to keep track of, Plamper’s examination on the polarity between emotion and reason from a historical perspective was interesting. The example Plamper uses is that of the amygdala being the source of fear. This analysis of emotion as having a direct neuroanatomical source is often misconstrued to be reductionist, in that it assumes that our personality is a mere composite of different neurotransmitters which implies a purely biological view of emotions. However I would argue that the two do not have to be mutually exclusive and can be used in conjunction to better explain the basis of personality. Our genetic make up, and the resulting chemical make up of our brains is the physical source of our expressed emotions and personality.

One example of this could be narcissism. Narcissism, generally considered a negative trait, could be thought to be either a lack or depleted amount of oxytocin, which is a bonding neurotransmitter. However this does not excuse an individual from their selfish actions. Sorry for the thoroughly neuroscience oriented blog post!

Materialism in the Otherworld

The introduction to Sir Orfeo touches upon the idea of the “otherworld” where the fairies reside, and how it parallels the Underworld as represented in many stories. All of the people subjected to living in the Otherworld are in miserable states of being; some forced to madness, some in pain and suffering, and others asleep in the state they were taken away in, like Herodis. However they are surrounded by a beautiful castle and lands, which Orfeo marvels at upon arrival. The beauty of the Otherworld in this context is a hard, cold kind of beauty represented by gems and stones rather than by warmth of character and emotion which the Otherworld lacks. When leaving his home in search of Herodis Orfeo sheds all of his material possessions, besides his harp. His harp signifies a means of bringing joy to others.

The lack of emotions in the Otherworld is contrasted sharply with the seemingly excessive emotions represented in the human world. Orfeo expresses his woe at his wife’s capture, as well as his torment when he sees her and she doesn’t speak to him. However when he sees her in the Otherworld, asleep against the tree, he expresses no emotion. Even his retrieval of her does not elicit an emotional response. This suggests that the Otherworld is not only connected with materialism, but also an absence of humanity, emotions being associated with humans.

Extension of Emotional Communities

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.

Role of Victim in Yonec

Throughout most of the lai, the lord’s cruel treatment of his lady fosters sympathy for her in the reader. She is presented as the unhappy victim of his unfounded and immoral jealousy and imprisoned in a tower with a guard. Once she meets the knight her will to live is revived through her love for him, and upon his injury her worry for his life instills in her the courage to leave the tower. After she returns with the tokens given to her by the knight, the role of victim shifts from the lady to the lord who had long imprisoned her. He treats her and the knight’s son with kindness, raising him as his own. Once Yonec hears the tale of his father’s death he kills the man who has played the role of father his whole life without hesitation. As one of the footnote’s establishes this reveals a warped familial relationship between the lady and Yonec, who must kill his father figure without question on behalf of his mother’s sorrow. Therefore none of the characters in this lai present the typical hero, all are significantly morally flawed.