Thursday, February 12, 2009

Chivalry and religion in the Middle Ages

As we reached a natural pause in my seminar on chivalry, I asked my students what they have learned about the Middle Ages in the course so far. One of the more common answers (illustrated with specific examples) was that the importance of religion, even in this sphere where they had not necessarily expect to see it, had really made an impression. Now I am sure that all of these people were aware that religion was important in the Middle Ages, but having it demonstrated to them in concrete form and in detail made a big difference. This is one thing I love about seminars, where you can really get into the material.

Image: Galahad receiving the Grail from the Grail maidens, by Dante Gabriel Rossetti (19th c.).

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Terminology of chivalry


For the second time in two years, I am teaching a seminar for fourth-year students entitled, simply, Chivalry. In the seminar we read a lot of primary sources discussing mounted warriors, vassals, men at arms, and so forth in an attempt to figure out what the knights of the Middle Ages were like, and how they were regarded and supposed to act.

There is a problem of terminology that bothers me a lot as as we work through the material, which is entirely in English translation. If we are trying to define "the medieval knight" and "knighthood" or "chivalry," what about the fact that the figure we call a knight in modern English was called in all of the relevant European languages either "a soldier (miles)" or "a horseman (chevalier or Ritter) or sometimes "a follower (vassal)?" How can we really discuss the evolution of this figure, in a practical or ideal sense, either one, unless we come to grips with the actual terminology? To my shame, I have yet to come up with a systematic answer to this problem, beyond discussing it in class where I feel the need, which is pretty often. I once thought that that would be enough, but I'm dissatisfied.

I am now fantasizing about a seminar where the modern English word "knight" can't be used at all, but where, depending on the original word, one must say "rider," " soldier," or "follower." The use of the word "chivalry" might be even more difficult...

I had a good close look at the Oxford English Dictionary before writing this post, and under the main entry for the noun "knight" I found no definition that reflects what students of medieval warfare often mean when they say "knight:" a mounted, fully armed and armored warrior. Surely it must be in there somewhere.

Image: a symbolic knight.

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Saturday, November 29, 2008

C.S. Lewis on chivalry and history


Two and a half years ago, early in my blogging career, I was preparing for the first presentation of the chivalry seminar for fourth-year students. One of the secondary sources I was considering using was C.S. Lewis's famous essay on courtly love. I remembered it being good, but I was taken aback by how lively and well expressed it was. I was inspired to include a quotation from the essay in one of my earlier blog entries. You can see the post here.

About a week ago, reviewing material for a new run-through of that chivalry seminar, I read the essay once more, and once again found it worthwhile. I was especially impressed by this passage, which is part of his discussion of the pioneering romance poet, Chretien de Troyes. I include it here for your enjoyment and contemplation

For him already 'the age of chivalry is dead'. It always was: let no one think the worse of it on that account. These phantom periods for which the historian searches in vain—the Rome and Greece that the Middle Ages believed in, the British past of Malory and Spenser, the Middle Age itself as it was conceived by the romantic revival—all these have their place in a history more momentous than that which com­monly bears the name.
Image: a courtly German knight, Der Schenk von Limpurg,from the early 14th-century Manesse Codex.

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Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Erec and Enide -- mystery solved!

Today in my seminar on Chivalry we were discussing Chretien de Troyes' romance Erec and Enide. I asked my students to explain a famous episode in the romance, in which Erec, an accomplished knight now slacking off because he is happily married, decides to go on quest to prove himself, and drags his wife Enide along with him. Erec, in what appears to be some obscure test of loyalty, requires Enide to remain entirely silent, and gets upset when she does perfectly natural things like warn him of approaching enemies.

What is he doing, I asked?

One student supplied a very convincing answer: "It's like today when a man and woman are in a car and get lost, and the woman suggests that they stop and ask them for directions and the man refuses."

A bolt of enlightenment! My reaction was that if they had roadmaps in the 12th century, Chretien could have inserted it into the narrative and we would perfectly understand what was going on.

Image: The cover from a recent translation published by Yale.

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Friday, September 12, 2008

My article on The Combat of Thirty against Thirty is out


This week I was informed that my article "The Combat of Thirty against Thirty," which is based on a conference paper of 2005, is now available from Brill in the collection
The Hundred Years War (part II): Different Vistas, edited by Andrew L.J. Villalon and Donald J. Kagay. It's always nice to be published, but being included in a classy Brill collection has its drawbacks. Brill aims at the research library market and their books are priced accordingly: $175 US in this case.

This pretty much guarantees the book will not find its way onto the shelves of private individuals.

If, however, you are desperate to hear the latest word on the Combat of the Thirty against Thirty, you have two alternatives. You can buy my recent book Deeds of Arms, which has a whole chapter on the same incident (or get your university or public library to buy it). Or, quicker and cheaper yet: follow the tag "Combat of the Thirty" at the end of this post and see what I've already said here.

Image: I failed twice to paste in an acceptable image of "Different Vistas" so I'm just going with Deeds of Arms.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Recreating the Middle Ages on the road to Compostella


In my class on Crusade and Jihad, we were talking about pilgrimages just today, and the difficulties associated with them came up. But I wasn't thinking about this!

This probably is relevant to the Chivalry seminar, too...

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Saturday, August 16, 2008

Preliminary course outlines online

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Summer books for students

I have very limited expectations that students for my fall courses are checking in on a daily basis to see what I think they should be reading this summer. But on the off chance and remembering that is not just students who drop in here, I am going to mention a couple of books that are worth knowing about.

For those who are interested in chivalry perhaps the best book on the subject, one that has been credited with reviving scholarly interest in the subject is Maurice Keen's 1984 work, Chivalry. It is one of those books that make scholarship look really good: well-organized, well-written, and full of ideas.

So you say, if this book is so darned good, why is it not on the reading list for the chivalry seminar? I'm not sure how this will sound, but when a book is this good, basing a seminar on it might be counterproductive. I'm hoping to spend most of the time in class discussing primary sources in all their variety and contradictions, rather than admiring Keen's elegant formulations based on his extremely wide reading. I am keenly (!?) aware that my students don't have unlimited funds. Our course pack and other books will cost quite enough thank you, and I'm not going to have you buy this book just because I think it would be good for you.

On the other hand, this book will be good for you, maybe, there's a good chance, so if you have it available to you, or feel like buying it, don't let me hold you back.

I have another recommendation for students think they are not going to have enough material on the Crusades in the three books required for the course on Crusade and Jihad: it's the most recent survey of all the evidence about the Crusades to the Holy Land before 1300, God's War by Christopher Tyerman. The one review I saw criticized this book for not being a suitable replacement for a 50-year-old three-volume work by Steven Runciman, whose prose and analytical skills were astonishing. That reviewer predicted that the Runciman book would continue to be assigned to students despite the virtues of Tyreman's up-to-date review of the evidence.

Me, I don't think I would recommend either Runciman or Tyerman as the primary text for an undergraduate course. Both works are just too long (Tyerman's book has nearly 1100 pages) if we really expect students to be reading a variety of materials. Nonetheless, Tyerman's work, like Runciman's, is interesting, detailed, and full of ideas. I think the real weakness of Tyerman's book, if you're thinking about a general market, is that it seems to assume a fair amount of knowledge about the general course of the Crusades to the Holy Land. This would work better as a second or third book about the Crusades than it would as an introduction.

One nice thing about Tyerman's book is that it is very cheap for a hardback of its size. If you would like to just completely immerse yourself in the Crusades, look it up at a bookseller's site and be pleasantly surprised.

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Friday, February 01, 2008

Muhlberger's courses, 2008-9

For those who missed my first post, the information is here. HIST 3116, which appears on Web Advisor as Topics in European or World History, is going to be a Fall Term offering and the topic will be Crusade and Jihad. Probable focus: Palestine and the Middle East, 1000-1300.

Those interested in the fourth-year chivalry seminar can consult the chivalry seminar posts from last year; see the tags at the end of the post.

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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Courses I'm teaching, 2008-9


Are we really up to 2008-9?

Soon enough, I guess.

My schedule for next year is not absolutely guaranteed, but it seems very likely that I will be teaching the following 3 courses:

HIST 3805 (formerly 2805), History of Islamic Civilization: A year-long course that discusses the interaction of Islam and world history. Not primarily a course on religion, and not entirely devoted to the Middle East.

HIST 3116 (a special topics designation), Crusade and Jihad: a semester course focusing on the crusade to Jerusalem and the Muslim response. I'm still figuring out the parameters of this course.

HIST 4505, Topics in Medieval History: a year-long seminar for 4th year students on chivalry. Click on the labels for "chivalry" and "Chivalry seminar 2006-7" below, or the chivalry links to the right, for material I posted the last time around.

Image: The Accolade, Edmund Blair Leighton. Knighthood as it should have been?

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