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The Middle Ages Portal

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A Careful Reading of The Mountain of Silence

Kyriacos Markides's classic exploration of Eastern Orthodox thought and mysticism rewards slow, careful, contemplative reading and discussion. Various aspects of Orthodox mysticism and religious practice are addressed in a series of conversations that the author has with "Father Maximos," a priest and monk trained in the spiritual atmosphere of Mt. Athos. Please join us as we use this text as a gateway into understanding Orthodox and more generally sacramental forms of Christian thought and practice, all in a friendly, non-partisan, and open group setting.
Precepted by Robert Steed

Advanced Old English: Beowulf I

Spend the time reading and translating in a relaxed manner with friends! This beautiful, moving, narrative poem is a joy to work with and I hope you will join me for a month of study.
Precepted by Larry Swain

Advanced Old English: Beowulf II

Let's continue reading and translating Beowulf in a relaxed manner with friends! This beautiful, moving, narrative poem is a joy to work with and I hope you will join me for another month of study.
Precepted by Larry Swain

Advanced Old Norse: Vǫlsunga Saga Continuing Series

(Note: This module can be joined in any month.)

The Advanced Old Norse reading modules return to Vǫlsunga saga (“The Saga of the Vǫlsungs), a medieval Icelandic retelling of one of the best-known legendary cycles of the pre-modern Germanic-speaking world – stories that influenced the operas of Richard Wagner, the fantasies of J. R. R. Tolkien, and many other modern creative artists. This module picks up where previous iterations of this module left the narrative. We will translate the text of the saga and discuss both its language and how its version of the legends relates to other versions known from the medieval world. Anyone with a reading knowledge of Old Norse can join this module!
Precepted by Carl Anderson

Advanced Old Norse: Vǫlsunga Saga Continuing Series

(Note: This module can be joined in any month.)

The Advanced Old Norse reading modules return to Vǫlsunga saga (“The Saga of the Vǫlsungs), a medieval Icelandic retelling of one of the best-known legendary cycles of the pre-modern Germanic-speaking world – stories that influenced the operas of Richard Wagner, the fantasies of J. R. R. Tolkien, and many other modern creative artists. This module picks up where previous iterations of this module left the narrative: with the hero Sigurd preparing to confront the dragon Fáfnir. We will translate the text of the saga and discuss both its language and how its version of the legends relates to other versions known from the medieval world. Anyone with a reading knowledge of Old Norse can join this module!
Precepted by Carl Anderson

Advanced Old Norse: Vǫlsunga Saga Continuing Series

(Note: This module can be joined in any month.)

The Advanced Old Norse reading modules return to Vǫlsunga saga (“The Saga of the Vǫlsungs), a medieval Icelandic retelling of one of the best-known legendary cycles of the pre-modern Germanic-speaking world – stories that influenced the operas of Richard Wagner, the fantasies of J. R. R. Tolkien, and many other modern creative artists. This module picks up where previous iterations of this module left the narrative. We will translate the text of the saga and discuss both its language and how its version of the legends relates to other versions known from the medieval world. Anyone with a reading knowledge of Old Norse can join this module!
Precepted by Carl Anderson

Advanced Old Norse: Vǫlsunga Saga Continuing Series

(Note: This module can be joined in any month.)

The Advanced Old Norse reading modules return to Vǫlsunga saga (“The Saga of the Vǫlsungs), a medieval Icelandic retelling of one of the best-known legendary cycles of the pre-modern Germanic-speaking world – stories that influenced the operas of Richard Wagner, the fantasies of J. R. R. Tolkien, and many other modern creative artists. This module picks up where previous iterations of this module left the narrative. We will translate the text of the saga and discuss both its language and how its version of the legends relates to other versions known from the medieval world. Anyone with a reading knowledge of Old Norse can join this module!
Precepted by Carl Anderson

Big Bold Beowulf: A Study of the Poem

Always wanted to study Beowulf? Here's your opportunity. In our 8 hours together, we will delve into the worlds of the poem, examine the major critical elements, and seek to understand the poem better.
Precepted by Larry Swain

Boccaccio’s The Decameron

Boccaccio’s fourteenth-century masterpiece shows ten young Florentine nobles fleeing a city devastated by plague, retiring to a country villa to divert themselves with the telling of tales—one tale each for ten days. Populated by gullible merchants, wily apprentices, self-possessed daughters, and libidinous nuns, these tales feature a series of practical jokes, remarkable journeys, love, deception, and family drama—all with a blend of wit, wonderment, and buffoonery. From this hundredfold collection, our class will look at just a decimal selection—a curated “top ten” tales from this set of ten tens. We conclude the course by watching the 2017 film adaptation of two of these tales, The Little Hours.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Chaucer in Middle English: The Canterbury Tales

Read what Chaucer wrote in his own language! The famed Canterbury Tales are a wonderful read in Middle English and this module will focus on The Miller’s Tale.
Precepted by Larry Swain

Chinese History for Fans of Chinese Media

If you are a fan of any form of Chinese popular media such as CDramas, films, wuxia pian (martial arts films and novels) and so on, you will almost certainly find yourself exposed to a wide array of different historical settings and contexts. In this module we will explore those moments and periods in the history of China that often appear as settings or references in Chinese popular media as a way to broaden and deepen our understanding and enjoyment of it.
Precepted by Robert Steed

Chrétien de Troyes: "Lancelot, Knight of the Cart" and "Erec & Enide"

This course explores two works by Arthurian legend-maker, Chrétien de Troyes. In the first-ever tale of Sir Lancelot, "The Knight of the Cart," Chretien invents the hero who loves Queen Guinevere beyond all bounds of reason—so much that he will face deadly and (even worse) socially humiliating perils to prove his devotion. In the early work, "Erec and Enide," Chretien perhaps invents the tradition of Arthurian courtly romance itself. With Camelot as its background, the knight Erec and maiden Enide pass through a series of trials testing their bravery and love for each other. Told with a mixture of heroic panache, comic irony, and relish for entertaining detail, these foundational works of Arthurian romance show the genius of master story-teller of the high Middle Ages.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Chretien de Troyes: “Yvain, Knight of the Lion” and “Cliges”

It’s twelfth-century France, and on the battlefield, knights are fighting in deadly earnest—but around the fireside, courtly men and ladies can read about knightly deeds of arms and feats of love in safety and comfort. And today, we still can as well! This course explores two Arthurian romances of the master-romancer, Chretien de Troyes. In “Yvain, Knight of the Lion,” held by many to be Chretien’s masterpiece, Yvain learns that rash attempts at heroism sometimes have unexpected and disastrous consequences—but then again, sometimes earn the friendship of a heroic, feline beast. The story of “Cliges” (what medievalist Derek Pearsall calls Chretien’s most “lavishly plotted” romance) follows, first, the career of a knight, Alexander, and then years later, that of his son, Cliges—two men whose choices in both love and war prove that history doesn’t always repeat itself.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Crash Course on Norse Myths

The literature containing Norse mythology remains one of the most fascinating bodies of medieval storytelling anywhere. Participants will make sense of Norse myths by examining the structures of the tales and investigating the background in which they were written down in manuscripts. Explore Norse mythology with Old Norse expert Dr. Paul Peterson!
Precepted by Paul Peterson

Exploring Journey to the West 西遊記

One of the most beloved of all classical Chinese novels, Journey to the West features Monkey, Pig, Sand-demon, White Horse, and the monk Tripitaka as they make a pilgrimage from Tang-dynasty Chang’an to India to bring back Buddhist scriptures, having outrageous adventures all along the way. Full of humor and wit, this is a major work of East Asian fantastic literature. Come along with Monkey and the gang for a tour through this foundational text!
Precepted by Robert Steed

Exploring Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三國演義

Considered to be one the major classics of pre-modern Chinese literature, Romance of the Three Kingdoms focuses on a story of political and military struggle featuring an impressive array of characters, many of whom have become touchstones of Chinese cultural heritage and artistic interest. This novel has spawned a wide arrange of operas, stories, video game series, musical compositions, television and web series, as well as garnering much academic attention since it was first published in the 14th century. Join us as we read, discuss, analyze, and place in its cultural and historical contexts this major work of Chinese historical fiction.
Precepted by Robert Steed

Exploring Sei Shonagon's The Pillow Book 枕草子

Sei Shōnagon 清少納言 is a major writer of the Heian period (794-1185) whose Makura no Sōshi 枕草子 (The Pillow Book) has intrigued and delighted reading audiences for centuries. Colorful, witty, incisive, charming, thoughtful, melancholy, poetic---these qualities and more characterize this diary of the famous lady of the court. Join us as we read this text in-depth and place it within the frame of the flow of Japanese culture and history.
Precepted by Robert Steed

Le Morte Darthur Series

This series explores Sir Thomas Malory’s masterpiece of Arthurian literature, Le Morte Darthur—one course for each of the work’s eight books or tales. This fifteenth-century retelling is for many the consummate version of the Arthur legend, combining notable elements of prior versions in a form that would influence later retellings for centuries. Context will also be provided on Malory’s life and times, the first printing of his writings by William Caxton in 1485, and the remarkable twentieth-century discovery of the now-standard but then-unknown version of Le Morte Darthur in the form of the Winchester Manuscript.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur: Arthur's Origins in Malory's "The Tale of King Arthur"

This module explores Sir Thomas Malory’s masterpiece of Arthurian literature,Le Morte Darthur. This fifteenth-century retelling is for many the consummate version of the Arthur legend, combining notable elements of prior versions in a form that would influence later retellings for centuries. The first book of Mallory’s complete work, “The Tale of King Arthur,” includes such crucial Arthurian elements as the Sword in the Stone, the bestowal of Excalibur by the Lady of the Lake, and the founding of the Round Table. Interspersed among these are Arthur’s first encounter with the Questing Beast, an attempted usurpation by Morgan Le Fay, the tragic tale of the two brothers, Sir Balin and Sir Balan, and numerous other episodes and adventures. Context will also be provided on Malory’s life and times, the first printing of his writings by William Caxton in 1485, and the remarkable twentieth-century discovery of the now-standard but then-unknown version of Le Morte Darthur in the form of the Winchester Manuscript.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur: Knighthood and Chivalry in Malory's Tales of Sir Lancelot, Sir Gareth, and the War with Rome

This module explores Books II, III, and IV of Le Morte Darthur, offering three short, stand-alone tales of Arthur, his knights, and the wider world they inhabit.

Book II, “The Tale of the Noble King Arthur that was Emperor,” shows Malory’s version of King Arthur as military leader and conqueror of Rome. Adapted from the late Middle English alliterative tradition, this tale was not included in Caxton’s original 15th century printing, but only discovered in 1934 with the finding of the lost Winchester Manuscript.

Book III, “A Noble Tale of Sir Launcelot du Lake,” shows Lancelot’s kidnapping by Morgan Le Fay, with the political and amatory complications that arise.

And finally, Book IV, “The Tale of Sir Gareth,” (evidently the only tale that Malory invented himself) follows Gawain’s younger brother Gareth from seemingly-lowly origins, through trials and mockery, to eventual triumph as full-fledged knight. With a mixture of the chivalry, comedy, and romance, these three tales make essential reading for any fan of the Arthurian cannon.

Note: Students may participate in this series in any month even if they did not take a previous class in the series.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur: Looking for Love in Malory's "Tristram and Isolde"

Before it captured the imagination of Wagner and Tennyson, the doomed love affair between Tristan (or Tristram) and the Belle Isolde was recorded by England’s most prolific Arthurian chronicler, Sir Thomas Malory. Included within his sprawling Morte Darthur, Malory’s version of this narrative combines the best elements of the versions that came before and would influence all those that followed.

Placing Malory's version within the broader Arthurian context, this course begins with a brief look at some of Malory’s English and continental predecessors. From there, we read Tristram’s narrative from his anguished origins, through the love-triangle between himself, Isolde, and the scoundrelly King Marc (Tristram’s uncle and Isolde’s husband), to it's tragic conclusion. Amidst war, sorcery, political intrigue, and rancorous family conflicts, the two lovers attempt to snatch what happiness they can before it all comes crashing down.

The story also features the often-poignant and (for medieval audiences) hugely popular adventures of the Saracen knight, Sir Palomides—including his friendship and rivalry with Tristram, his unrequited love for Isolde, and his taking up of the hunt for the Questing Beast. All in all, The Tale of Sir Tristram contains in microcosm all of the major themes and relationship found throughout Le Morte Darthur and Arthurian literature as a whole.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur: Seeking the Holy Grail in Malory and Monty Python

To achieve the Holy Grail, Sir Lancelot, Sir Galahad and others must face formidable Black Knights, alluring temptresses, inscrutable hermits, and untold supernatural perils—in two works created five-hundred-and-five years apart.

“The Tale of the Sankgreal,” disseminated as part of Thomas Malory’s Le Morte Darthur (1470) and the incontestable masterpiece of modern Arthurian cinema, Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975) are arguably the most popular and influential versions of this story from a twenty-first century standpoint. These contrasting visions of the Grail Quest also share striking and unexpected similarities in terms of plot, form, and tone. This course looks closely at Malory’s text and the Pythons’ oddly-faithful film reinterpretation, side by side. In so doing, we explore what Arthur, the Grail, and the Middle Ages mean to modern audiences, and how changes in form and context radically shape how stories are told and understood.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Le Morte Darthur: Sir Thomas Malory's "The Death of King Arthur"

“Yet some men say in many parts of England that King Arthur is not dead… and men say that he shall come again…”

Is Arthur dead? Or was he taken to Avalon to be healed? And will he indeed come again one day? Written within the confines of a common prison, Sir Thomas Malory's Le Morte Darthur (c. 1470) addresses these very questions—trying to make sense of Arthur's legendary reign and “piteous” death for a war-torn England at the very close of the Middle Ages. In reading Malory's widely beloved and arguably definitive retelling of the death of the Arthur, this course examines the final dissolution of the Round Table, from the doomed love affair of Lancelot and Guinevere to Arthur's fatal (or near-fatal) wounding by Mordred—a continuous narrative contained within the last two books of Malory's sprawling chronicle, “The Book of Sir Launcelot and Queen Guinevere” and the titular “The Most Piteous Tale of the Morte Arthur.” Told with a both poignant sense of loss and an undisguised enthusiasm for chivalric adventure, this lively and idiosyncratic tale of Arthur's death combines the best of all the Arthurian epics that preceded it, and would influence all those that would follow after.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Ink Spots and Tea Stains: What we Learn from C.S. Lewis's Writing Habits

C.S. Lewis is one of the most prolific and influential writers of the 20th century. And yet, in his early career as an Oxford don, he viewed himself as a failed poet. Moreover, his most canonical and transformational writing happened during the most stress-filled periods of his life. This short course allows students to peek into the writing life of C.S. Lewis. Our goal is to see through the lines of printed text by visiting the letters and archival remains of Lewis in a virtual setting. Most of C.S. Lewis's papers remain undigitized and unpublished, available only locally at archives in North America and England.

As Professor Brenton Dickieson has visited these archives, he is able to invite students to appreciate C.S. Lewis's writing life by looking at the way that he consciously and unconsciously built his literary career. This course is for writers who are developing their own habits and literary life-prints, as well as folks who are curious about C.S. Lewis's life beyond the biographies and bestselling books.
Precepted by Brenton Dickieson

Intermediate Latin: Gesta Romanorum

The Gesta Romanorum is a collection of tales covering all genres made in the 13th or early 14th century. The title means "Deeds of the Romans." Most of the tales have some kind of moral to the story and so are akin to Aesop's Fables; some are comedic, some dramatic. The Latin and the prose is straightforward for the most part. The collection was very influential through the rest of the Medieval period and well into the Modern. It was a source-book for preachers, dramatists (including that Shakespeare chap you may have heard tell of), poets, and even early novelists.
Precepted by Larry Swain

Inventing King Arthur: Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain

This course offers an in-depth look at the first complete “historical” narrative of the reign of King Arthur, Geoffrey’s Historia Regum Britanniae – as well as the centuries-long controversy this book generated. Comprising almost a quarter of Geoffrey’s History (Books 4 – 11), this crucial first account of the king includes the arrival of the Saxons in England, a battle of dragons, the boy Merlin’s prophetic visions, Arthur’s magically-contrived conception, his conquest of Rome, and his overthrown and death at the hands of his nephew Mordred. This course will also look at the battle of books that ensued following the appearance of Geoffrey’s work, with some contemporary chroniclers alleging that Geoffrey had simply made the whole thing up, and others rallying to Geoffrey’s (and Arthur’s) defense.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Inventing the Holy Grail: Chretien de Troyes's complete “Perceval"

The story of the Holy Grail that was sought by King Arthur’s knights begins with this tale: Chretien de Troyes’s “Perceval, or the Story of the Grail.” This coming-of-age story follows the adventures of Perceval, as he moves from rustic ignorance of his own identity into full-fledged knighthood. As series of mistakes, triumphs, and misadventures leads him almost (but not quite) to the discovery of that most holy of relics. His journey of spiritual understanding, like the quest for the Holy Grail itself, remains incomplete as Chretien’s unfinished romance breaks off in mid-sentence. This course, however, continues Perceval’s story through the numerous continuations of additions by which different authors brought to the tale within a century of its first appearance.

Note on Text: While most of Prof. Daley’s courses are flexible with regard to edition, in this case there is only one English translation that provides the complete text of Chretien’s “Perceval,” and all of the surviving translations: Nigel Bryant’s The Complete Story of the Grail, listed below.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight: Text, Translation, Film

Can Sir Gawain keep his honor without losing his head? This short classic of Middle English chivalric romance follows Gawain on a quest testing his heroism, social etiquette, sexual virtue, and existential sense of self. This course explores: first, the extraordinary history of the single, unique manuscript which preserves this poem (as it “slept” on a library shelf for 400 years, escaped destruction by fire, and was eventually rediscovered in the 19th century); second, the translations which brought this poem to a twentieth century readership – focusing in particular on J.R.R. Tolkien’s; and finally, the 2021 film by David Lowery.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Japanese Classical Theater: Noh, Bunraku, Kyogen, and Kabuki

In this module we will explore the historical origins and development of these forms of Japanese theater. We will situate them in their historical, cultural, religious, and economic contexts, as well as watching substantial video clips from each to spur discussion.
Precepted by Robert Steed

Japanese Historical Archetypal Characters: Samurai, Ninja, Monks, Miko, Yakuza

Join us as we discover the historical origins and literary presences of these categories of people who often appear in Japanese and Japan-related narratives. We will also pay attention to the "systems" in which they participate, including economic, political, and religious, as well as aspects of culture that shape them such as codes of bushido, monastic life, shamanism, and political struggle.
Precepted by Robert Steed

Japanese History for Fans of Japanese Media

In this module we will cover a general overview of major periods, events, and personages that often crop up in Japanese films, dramas, anime, and manga. For example, are you a fan of the manga and drama series Jin? When Dr. Jin finds himself in the Edo period, do you want to know more about that historical context? This module should help with that and much more! Join us for a light and fun overview of Japanese history useful for engaging with Japanese media more deeply.
Precepted by Robert Steed

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Legend of Sigurd & Gudrún

Love, power, betrayal, death; the occasional dragon and cursed ring. All these are to be found in the legends of the Vǫlsungs and Niflungs, amongst the most popular and abiding legends of the medieval Germanic-speaking and Norse worlds. J.R.R. Tolkien reworked these into two poems in Modern English patterned after the alliterative style of Old Norse poems. In this module, we read Tolkien’s poems and their accompanying commentary to see how Tolkien wrought his own retelling of these ancient tales, and we’ll trace the connections across from the original medieval legends through Tolkien’s retelling to his original works of fantasy set in Middle-earth.
Precepted by Carl Anderson

Latin: Augustine's Confessions

Augustine of Hippo is one of the most important thinkers and writers not only of his age but all subsequent ages as well. The Confessions was the first of its kind as an examination of a human being's interior life and thoughts. On the surface level it is a text about Augustine's journey to Christianity. On a deeper level it is an examination in psychology. And we get to read it in Latin!!
Precepted by Larry Swain

Latin: The Vulgate Gospel of Matthew

The Gospel of Matthew through most of Church History was the most cited and the most commented on. This module reads that gospel in Latin and discusses important points of influence that various periods of Christian thought pondered. Along the way students will be introduced to other issues such as the history of the Bible in Latin, textual criticism and transmission, classical and medieval book culture, and artistic representations of important scenes.
Precepted by Larry Swain

Life in the Middle Ages Series

This series will look at what life in the Middle Ages was like. What did people eat? What about entertainment? What about work? What was literature like? People will encounter texts, artifacts, and art to help gain a better understanding of life in the Middle Ages.

Each module in the Life in the Middle Ages series will focus on a different theme:
1. The Lives of Peasants
2. The Lives of Clergy
3. The Lives of Nobility
Precepted by Larry Swain

Life in the Middle Ages (August 2022)

This series will look at what life in the Middle Ages was like. What did they eat? What about entertainment? What work? What was literature like? People will encounter texts, artifacts, and art to help gain a better understanding of life in the Middle Ages.
Precepted by Larry Swain

Life in the Middle Ages: Clergy Continuing Series

Often when folks think of the Middle Ages, they think of the Medieval church. The church was no monolith, however. From the local parish priest to the popes, this module looks at the lives of the clergy: married or celibate, spiritual or worldly, anti-clericalism, and more.
Precepted by Larry Swain

Life in the Middle Ages: Nobility Continuing Series

It's good to be the king. This module looks at the lives of the people at the top of society. This is not about politics, but about their daily lives, the feasting, the interaction with lower classes, literature for them and about them, things that wealth could bring... What was the life of a noble really like?
Precepted by Larry Swain

Life in the Middle Ages: Peasants First in the Series

We are taught in our culture about the "dark ages," from the so-called "Fall of Rome" to about 1500 or so. This module examines why the "dark ages" aren't dark by looking at the lives of peasants during the thousand year period.
Precepted by Larry Swain

Magic: Grimoires 1

In this module we will use Owen Davie’s Grimoires: a History of Magic Books as a guide to look at a number of different texts, focusing on Late Antiquity to Early Modern books. We will discuss where the books were used, by whom, and how some were related to one another. We will also look at how the books were spread and received, as well as, when possible, some details about individual books. Because of the breadth of the subject we will not have time to delve too deeply into the texts themselves.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney

Magic: Grimoires 2

In this module we will look more deeply into one or more texts on magic. Using modern translations and publications, we will focus on one or two texts, read and discuss them. This may include the Testament of Solomon, Picatrix, or the Liber Razielis Archangeli, or another text depending on the interest of the participants.

Note: While this is the natural follow-up class to the first Grimoires Module, it can be taken without taking the first Grimoires class.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney

Magic: Islamic Magic and Occultism

We will explore the early period of Islamic magic and secret knowledge. We will look at various categories of magic, from astrology to talisman magic. Our sources will draw on recent scholarly publications as well as translations of medieval texts.
Precepted by Shawn Gaffney

Medieval Drama: Staging the English Bible

Late medieval English drama brought episodes from The Bible to life in days-long festivals of pomp and pageantry—but what these plays really show us is the day-to-day lives of ordinary men and women of the fifteenth century. With a mixture of lavish spectacle, slapstick comedy, and intimate poignancy, these plays populate the biblical world with familiar figures of the medieval city-life: shrewd workmen and cunning criminals; disgruntled wives and worried husbands; the friends, family, and neighbors of plays’ writers and performers.

This course looks at a sampling of plays from the great civic drama cycles of York, Chester, Coventry, and elsewhere, including Noah’s Flood, The Second Shepherd’s Play, Herod’s Slaughter of the Innocents, The Crucifixion, The Harrowing of Hell, and The Last Judgement. The works presented here offer both a grand history of the world from Creation to Doomsday, and locally-rooted, vernacular versions of a text then otherwise available only in Latin. Knowledge of Middle English is not required since this course will use the modern-spelling edition by Prof. A. C. Cawley. Scholarly online Middle English versions, however, will also be made available for students wishing to practice their skills in that area.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Middle High German 1: An Epic Introduction First in the Series

Middle High German (MHG) is the umbrella term for the German dialects used in the Holy Roman Empire from about 1050 to 1350. Its written form was the language of the court, and most MHG poetry embraces chivalric intellectual interests – adventure, romances, and courtly love! In our epic introduction to the language, we begin with a poem on subject matter that Old English and Old Norse students will immediately recognize: Das Nibelungenlied, the story of Siegfried (Sigurd) the dragon slayer, who we all know from the Völsunga Saga, the Poetic Edda, and (as his father Sigmund) Beowulf.

This module requires absolutely no modern German, but you may find that the course awakens that bit of “school German” you remember from high school. We will read our text – the 14th “Adventure” of The Nibelungenlied – slowly, as a small reading group. The benefit of the Nibelungenlied’s style is that enjambment is rare and each line can be treated as a single sentence.
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Middle High German 2: An Epic Continuation Continuing Series

This module is a continuation of Middle High German 1 with the plan to continue with the 14th âventiure of the Nibelungenlied until we complete it. After that, we will switch to some Arthuriana - Iwein, by Hartmann von Aue, the German “translation” of Chrétien de Troyes’[s] Yvain, the Knight of the Lion. Also, if the students want to read something else, your preceptor is all ears!
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Middle High German 3: The Return of Brünhilde Continuing Series

This module, a continuation of the Middle High German series, picks up where the previous module left off (ie. Middle High German 2: An Epic Continuation). Although each MHG cohort learns and reads at different speeds, this module will probably continue with the 14th Âventiure of the Nibelungenlied and then switch to Hartmann von Aue’s Iwein, the German adaptation of Chrétien de Troyes’[s] Yvain, the Knight of the Lion.

As always, students are welcome to make suggestions if they would prefer a different text or even a different genre – farces, courtly epics, sermons or even legal texts are just a few examples of what we could read.
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Middle High German Beginning Series Series

This is the landing page for Dr. Isaac Schendel's Middle High German Series which consists of two modules: Middle High German 1: An Epic Introduction and Middle High German 2: An Epic Continuation. For more information check out the module links below.

Also: Please wishlist this page if you are interested in taking Dr. Schendel's Middle High German series when we offer it next.
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Old Norse Sagas in Translation: Sagas of Heroic Legend

(Note: This module explores these texts in English, so no experience in Old Norse is necessary.)

Somewhere between the historical and the fantastic are the traditions of heroic legend, telling of extraordinary men and women whose triumphs and tragedies are writ larger than those of everyday life. In medieval Scandinavia, sagas of heroic legend such as The Saga of the Volsungs, The Saga of Ragnar Lothbrok, The Saga of King Hrolf Kraki, and The Saga of Hervor and King Heidrek retold already ancient stories in the new prose styles of the Middle Ages. Bravery and knavery; loyalty and treachery; magic and the mundane, horror and hope; these tales’ themes have enthralled audiences for more than a thousand years and played an outsized role in the birth of modern fantasy literature.
Precepted by Carl Anderson

Reading Middle English: An introduction to Middle English Language and Literature

This course introduces the basics of Middle English language and literature, including grammar, syntax, and pronunciation. Designed for students new to reading Middle English texts in their original form, the course focuses mainly on the English of London and the south of England in the thirteenth through fifteenth centuries—the language of Chaucer, Gower, Langland and others.

As a language-learning course as well as a literature course, the first half of each meeting will be devoted to reading Middle English aloud and answering questions about pronunciation and comprehension; the second half will focus on the reading’s content, from basics of plot and conventions of genre to the historical context of each text. Course readings include: a selection of lyric poetry, two short poems by Chaucer, the chivalric romance Sir Orfeo, the Chester play of “Noah’s Flood,” a chronicle of the reign of King Henry V, Chaucer’s “Treatise on the Astrolabe,” and selections from the Paston Letters (noble family during the Wars of the Roses).
Precepted by Liam Daley

Readings in Middle English before Chaucer: Havelock the Dane

Havelock the Dane is lovely fairy tale type story that sits between heroic epic and developing Romance genres looking into a now distant past, and showing how an unjustly treated child grows to be a great king.
Precepted by Larry Swain

Readings in Middle High German: Das Eckenlied

This module, which builds on the skills taught in the previous Middle High German Modules, looks at a representative of the Medieval German aventiurehafter Dietrichepik, or legendary stories of the mythical King Dietrich von Bern (Theoderic the Great?). This song, equal parts romance and epic, tells the stories of the wannabe knight Ecke, the foolhardy giant who seeks out Dietrich von Bern and perishes in the duel, and of Dietrich von Bern’s subsequent quest to return Ecke’s disembodied head to his (Ecke’s) home of Seburg.

This module, like the other Readings in Middle High German, will both look at the poem as literature and as a chance for interested students to continue perfecting their Middle High German reading skills. We will read selections of the text in Middle High German and translate them into English. Once translated, we will then discuss the segments both in isolation and in connection with the poem as a whole. Although no English translation of the Eckenlied exists, a summary of the complete poem will be supplied.

Questions discussed in the module will include questions of genre and the relationship of the poem to oral poetry, characterization of ambiguous heroes like Ecke and his brothers, perceptions of the so-called “Heroic Age” during Medieval Europe, intertextual relationships between Dietrichepen and other heroic poems, and gender in the past-within-the-past.

The language of the Eckenlied is roughly equivalent to the language of the Nibelungenlied, so completion of the Middle High German 1 and 2 modules are strongly encouraged. If you have any questions or need help, please feel free to contact Dr. Schendel.
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Readings in Middle High German: Diu Klage

This module, which builds on the skills taught in the previous two Middle High German modules, focuses on the “concluding poem” of the Nibelungen Mythos, Diu Klage (The Lamentation), a 4360-line epic in rhyming couplets devoted to the aftermath of the slaughter in Etzel’s Hall. We will devote ourselves to both a close, philological reading of selected lines (about 20 lines per hour) and a general discussion of the entire work in English translation (German material can be consulted, of course, but the language of instruction is in English).

This session is intended both for veterans of the Middle High German modules and for beginners. If any beginners enroll, the discussion of MHG verse will focus a bit more on foundational grammatical concepts, but there will still be enough to interest and challenge advanced MHG readers.

Discussions of the text will look at it from a variety of perspectives, including: The “Heroic Age” in a High Medieval perspective, investigations of emotion in Middle High German verse, and intertextuality (both within German literature and across Germanic tradition). Students are, of course, welcome to bring their own expertise and interest – feel free to take up contact with the instructor ahead of time with your input!
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Readings in Middle High German: Herzog Ernst

This module, which builds on the skills taught in the previous Middle High German Modules, looks at another representative of the Medieval German so-called Spielmannsdichtung (pseudo-minstrel tales). It tells the story of the Duke Ernest, who after unsuccessfully waging an assassination attempt and civil war against his misled step-father (and Holy Roman Emperor) flees to the Far East as a crusader, encountering mythical creatures and far-off places reminiscent to anyone who has read the Old English Wonders of the East.

We will follow the methods used in other Middle High German modules and look at the Herzog Ernst poem both as literature and as a chance for interested students to continue perfecting their Middle High German reading skills. We will read selections of the text in the original language and translate them into English. Since it’s not entirely feasible to assume that everyone has access to a modern English translation, we will primarily discuss the translated sections, although a summary of the poem in general will be given.

Questions discussed in the module will include questions of genre (as always) and the connection between the frame story and the second narrative, monsters and the bridal-quest, the medieval political philosophy and the HRE (Holy Roman Empire), crusade poetry, and more.

The language of Herzog Ernst is roughly equivalent to the language of the Nibelungenlied, so completion of the Middle High German 1 and 2 modules are strongly encouraged. If you have any questions or need help, please feel free to contact Dr. Schendel.
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Readings in Middle High German: König Rother

This module, which builds on the skills taught in the previous Middle High German modules, focuses on a poem that combines fairy tales, crusader epics, heroic poetry, and farces into a single masterpiece representative of the so-called Spielmannsdichtung (pseudo-minstrel tales) genre: König Rother. In this epic, the eponymous hero King Rother is in desperate need of a wife in order to secure political stability for his empire. Calling together his warriors and some violent, yet very endearing giants, he sets off for the Byzantine Empire, ready to kidnap (or free?) the princess from her overprotective (and maybe a bit incestuous) father Constantine.

The poem is a fun adventure and, for all the silliness inherent to the plot, a good window into Western Europe’s perceptions of the Byzantine Empire, its own political systems, and the idea of the miles Christianus.

In this module, we will follow the pattern of other MHG reading modules and look at König Rother both as literature and as an opportunity for language practice. We will read selections of the text in the original language and translate them into English. Questions discussed in the module will include (but are not limited to) questions of genre, the bridal-quest, and the interplay between heroic and crusader poetry.

The language König Rother is a bit more advanced than that of most MHG poetry, so completion of the Middle High German 1 and 2 modules are strongly encouraged. If you have any questions or need help, please feel free to contact Dr. Schendel.
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Readings in Middle High German: Orendel

This module, which builds on the skills taught in previous Middle High German Modules, looks at a representative of the Medieval German so-called Spielmannsdichtung genre of short epics: Orendel. The titular hero of the epic, distantly related to the Old Norse Aurvandill, is a King with a fairy-tale mission to woo the beautiful Bride. He undergoes a number of adventures, including the discovery of Christ’s Tunic, in a paradigmatic example of a medieval Bridal Quest.

This module will both look at the poem as literature and as a chance for interested students to continue perfecting their Middle High German reading skills. We will devote ourselves to a close, philological reading of the most important passages in the text.

This module is intended both for veterans of Middle High German and for beginners. If any beginners enroll, the discussion of MHG verse will focus a bit more on foundational grammatical concepts, but there will still be enough to interest and challenge advanced MHG readers.

Discussions of the text will also look at it from a variety of perspectives, including: What is the Spielmannsdichtung genre? How do the Christian Faith and Bridal Quest narratives, which spring from two different cultural traditions, mesh? Does Orendel actually resemble in any way Aurvandill, or should questions of “Germanic origin” be put to bed? And are there any intertextual connections between this poem and other monuments of Medieval Literature?
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Readings in Middle High German: Parzival

This module, yet another entry in Signum’s SPACE Middle High German curriculum developed by Dr. Schendel, is dedicated to the most complex and possibly best romance of the High Middle Ages: Wolfram von Eschenbach’s Parzival, a retelling of the Grail story. With this text, which reaches nearly 25,000 lines, Wolfram von Eschenbach completes the legend originally brought to life by Chrétien de Troyes. Parzival succeeds in the Grail Quest, heals the Fisher King, and fathers the famous Swan Knight, Lohengrin. Simultaneously, Parzival’s cousin Gawan (=Gawain) succeeds in a number of quests in defense of the honor of secular knighthood. Join us for a journey through the vibrant storytelling of the Middle Ages and meet a number of fascinating characters, like Parzival’s father Gachmuret, the noble Muslim knight Feirefiz, the African Queen Belakane, and Parzival’s wife, Condwiramurs. Well-known figures like King Arthur, Kay, and the infamous Red Knight also make an appearance.

This module is dedicated to the unique language of Wolfram von Eschenbach, but we will study it by reading excerpts of Parzival. We will begin with a short overview of the life of Gachmuret, Parzival’s father. We will then continue at the pace at which the group feels most comfortable, with occasional excursions into different elements of Medieval Culture when appropriate.
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Readings in Middle High German Series

This series will help introduce students to the breadth and depth of texts available for study in Middle High German. Each month, Dr. Isaac Schendel surveys the group to see which text students are most interested in exploring next.

Some of the texts we could explore in a given month include:
Diu Klage
Das Eckenlied
Herzog Ernst
König Rother
Orendel
Parzival

Note: Please refer to the Required Texts section on a month's iteration page to see which texts the group has decided upon for a given month.
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Readings in Old English: The Battle of Maldon & Group Reading

The Battle of Maldon is the title given to a short (325 lines) alliterative poem commemorating a battle between the Anglo-Saxons and Scandinavian invaders on the english River Blackwater in 991. It describes the tragic fate of the ealdorman Byhrtnoð and his levy of Anglo-Saxon warriors after they agree to let the Vikings cross the river and fight with them on equal footing. The result is, predictably, a disaster, but the poem’s ambiguous language and positive depictions of Byhrtnoð and his retinue leave room for debate about the nature of the poem. Is it a criticism of foolhardiness and overconfidence? Is it a commemorative poem, a eulogy, or perhaps even a piece of wartime propaganda meant to rally the English to resist the Norse invaders? In this module, we will both read the poem in depth and discuss current scholarship on this poem.
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

Shakespeare's Epic Fairy Tales: Pericles and Cymbeline

This module looks at two late plays frequently overlooked in Shakespeare studies: Pericles, Prince of Tyre and Cymbeline. In Pericles, Shakespeare and collaborator George Wilkins present a medievalist fairy-tale of adventure on the high seas, set in the ancient Mediterranean and narrated by Middle English poet, John Gower. In Cymbeline, a princess’s attempt to rid herself of the suitor she loathes and reunite with the man she loves leads to a tangle of escapes, pursuits, and mistaken identities. Decried by some critics for their eccentric and eclectic plots, both plays feature grand voyages across land and sea, benevolent magic, and the loss and recovery of true love.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Shakespeare's Epic Fairy Tales: "The Winter's Tale" and "The Two Noble Kinsmen"

This module continues the examination of Shakespeare’s late work with two baffling and beautiful plays. "The Winter’s Tale" begs the question: where does art end and magic begin? Containing the bard’s most famous stage direction—“Exit, pursued by a bear”—this tale of jealousy and forgiveness transforms from domestic tragedy into pastoral comedy, before finally arriving Shakespeare’s strangest endings. "The Two Noble Kinsmen", Shakespeare’s final work, gives Chaucer’s Middle English "The Knight’s Tale" a Renaissance rewrite. Co-authored with rising start of the Jacobean stage, John Fletcher, this tragicomedy expands the scope of Chaucer’s female characters while hinting at range of suppressed, taboo romantic desires. Blending the poignant and the absurd, the playwrights claim they only hope their “modern” adaptation won’t raise Chaucer’s angry ghost!
Precepted by Liam Daley

Shakespeare’s Forgotten Plays: The English Histories

This module examines two English history plays frequently overlooked in Shakespeare studies: King Henry VI, Part 1 and King John. The rollicking wartime melodrama, King Henry VI, Part 1, shows Joan of Arc from the English perspective as a foul-mouthed, lascivious witch. The virtuous milksop King Henry VI is all but overshadowed in his own play as Joan bedevils the English forces in France again and again—until her own downfall and death. Shakespeare’s most satirically comical history, King John, by contrast, shows a monarch neither competent nor virtuous! Between John’s corrupt and cowardly bungling of a war France, a war with the Pope, and rebellion at home, England’s only hope is the play’s unlikely (and ahistorical) hero—the wily and charming bastard son of the late King Richard the Lionheart. Unlike most of Shakespeare’s English histories, both of these plays are comfortably stand-alone; no prior knowledge of Shakespeare’s other history plays required.
Precepted by Liam Daley

Shakespeare’s Forgotten Plays: The “Problem” Comedies

This module looks at two of Shakespeare’s darkest comedies (often described as “Problem Plays” and frequently overlooked in Shakespeare studies): Troilus and Cressida and Measure for Measure. Half an adaptation of Chaucer’s tragic romance, and half a reworking of Homer’s Iliad, Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida presents both the lovers and the warriors with a mixture of biting satire, comic buffoonery, and genuine pathos. Likely never staged in Shakespeare’s lifetime, this comedy-history-tragedy has puzzled readers since its first appearance in print. In Measure for Measure, a duke’s attempt to clean up his city’s seedy night-life quickly leads to the attempted sexual blackmail of a nun by duke’s chief deputy. In the chaos of bed-swapping and (threatened) head-chopping that follows, the play narrowly avoids outright tragedy, but whether the final ending could be called “happy” has been debated for centuries. These may actually be the strangest two play Shakespeare ever wrote.
Precepted by Liam Daley

The Life and Legend of St Nicholas

Who was the real historical figure behind Santa Claus? In this module, we will read aloud the earliest biographical sources about fourth century bishop, St Nicholas of Myra. Your preceptor will facilitate discussions of Nicholas' historical context and examine the development of his legend. Together, we will examine Byzantine stories of Nicholas' benefaction and miracles, his role as patron saint of seafarers, students and merchants (among others), and how he came to embody the tradition of gift-giving in Christendom. A wonderful end-of-year treat!
Precepted by Julian Barr

The Making of a King: Shakespeare’s “Henriad"

"What art thou that counterfeit’st the person of a king?” This is the question asked (in more ways than one) by Shakespeare’s coming-of-age trilogy about England’s most popular medieval monarch—King Henry V. Beginning with his youth in King Henry IV, Part 1, we see the riotous Prince Hal grow from wastrel, drunkard, and companion of highway robbers into the royal figure his war-torn country needs. After relapsing in Part 2, to the great consternation of his dying father King Henry IV, we finally see Hal lead his subjects on the battlefields of France as the mature king in Henry V. Charting his course between the demands of his kingly father, the peculiar philosophy of his friend and mentor, the exuberant Sir John Falstaff, and the dangers posed by a series of political and military rivals, Prince Hal becomes King Henry V by learning what it means to “act” the part of a king in the ways that matter most.
Precepted by Liam Daley

The Old Saxon for Old English Readers

Old Saxon, the continental cousin to Old English, was the language spoken in Northern Germany from the ninth to the twelfth century. It is closely related to and mutually intelligible with Anglo-Saxon, so Old English students will easily be able to read and understand it. The language boasts a number of smaller texts, but the Hêliand, an epic poem of nearly 6,000 lines, remains its most prestigious literary monument. It tells the story of Jesus Christ (the “Hêliand,” meaning “Savior”) reimagined as a Saxon lord with a retinue of twelve thanes, and it is comparable to the Old English Beowulf. In this module, we will read and discuss selections of this poem. Some familiarity with Old English is required.
Precepted by Isaac Schendel

The (Other) Canterbury Tales

If you’ve read some of Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales , you probably encountered the chivalric grandeur of “The Knight’s Tale,” the irrepressible vitality of “The Wife of Bath’s Tale,” or the sinister irony of “The Pardoner’s Tale.” But what of the other pilgrims and their tales? This course looks at some of The Canterbury Tales that are less well-known but equally deserving of study: the beauty of the Squire’s unfinished orientalist fairy tale; the rancorous one-upsmanship of the Friar and Summoner’s exchange of tales on clerical abuses, Satanic bargains, and flatulence; or the pilgrims’ run in with an aspiring alchemist, the Canon, and the satirical tale of alchemy gone wrong offered by his servant, the Yeoman. This course will look at these tales and more in their original Middle English spelling.
Precepted by Liam Daley

The Wars of the Roses: Shakespeare’s "King Henry VI"

King Henry V is dead. His son, Henry VI, is young, weak, and will later prove insane. As war with France escalates, in-fighting between fractious and power-hungry English nobles sparks a new war at home: the War of the Roses. Shakespeare’s "King Henry V", Parts 1, 2, and 3 depict this decades-long civil war between the houses of York and Lancaster with a mixture of tragedy, thwarted romance, and dark comedy, ending in the rise of the house of his own reigning queen—the Tudors!
Precepted by Liam Daley

The Women of Beowulf

Yes, there are indeed women in Beowulf. Vital and potent women in fact. From the valkyrie-esque figures to the weeping peace-weavers, a broad spectrum of women characters exists as both historical representation and imaginative mythology. Grendel's Mother is ferocious and masculine. Hildeburh laments the death of her brother and son before being carried off. Modthryth behaves like a sadistic queen. Wealhtheow is mindful of so much in her husband's hall. Freawaru seems destined for tragedy. And could the dragon be a female too? Maria Headley seems to think so. This module will explore this topic using dual-language editions of texts so we can see the original language alongside translations by J.R.R. Tolkien, Roy Liuzza, and Maria Headley.
Precepted by Chris Vaccaro

Tolkien and the Romantics: Dark Romanticism and the Gothic Literary Tradition

The Gothic genre has inspired many creative minds to explore the darker realms of human psychology and the wider world, sparking fear, terror, horror and repulsion in its audience. J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle-earth is as much a ruined Gothic wasteland as it is an idyllic utopia. From Shelob's cave and the hypnotic Mirkwood to the Paths of the Dead and the Barrow-Downs, this module will examine Tolkien's use of Dark Romantic and Gothic techniques that were used by writers such as Horace Walpole, Mary Shelley, Edgar Allan Poe, Bram Stoker, and E.T.A. Hoffman to strike terror in the heart of their readers.

The module will follow an 8-lesson structure as follows:
• Lecture 1: The Funk of Forty Thousand Years: A Literary History of the Gothic
• Workshop 1: Chilly Echoes in Tolkien's Middle-earth
• Lecture 2: Bottomless Supernatural: Terror, Horror, Abject
• Workshop 2: Conjuring Creepy Creatures
• Lecture 3: The Weird, the Eerie, and the Dark Side of the Mind
• Workshop 3: Defamiliarising Middle-earth
• Lecture 4: Ruined Landscapes
• Workshop 4: What is left? Can the Gothic recover Middle-earth?

Note: The hybrid 8-lesson structure above is the new format for this module moving forward.
Precepted by Will Sherwood

Tolkien and the Romantics: Forging Myth and History

J.R.R. Tolkien famously 'found' his legendarium, translating and editing The Red Book of Westmarch for his twentieth century readers. This is not the first time an author has 'forged' a 'lost' literary history as James Macpherson's 'Ossian' documents from the 1760s started a craze for forgeries. Thomas Chatterton's Rowley and Turgot manuscripts similarly fed off the Ossian controversy while questioning what it really meant to 'forge' a document.

The module will follow an 8-lesson structure as follows:
• Lecture 1: The 1760s, the Age of Forgery
• Workshop 1: Which Red Book are we reading?
• Lecture 2: The Growth of Romantic Nationalism
• Workshop 2: The Book of Lost Tales: a mythology for which England?
• Lecture 3: Oral Traditions: Immortality and Youth
• Workshop 3: Vocalising Myth and History
• Lecture 4: Textual Traditions: Mortal Anxiety and Tangible History
• Workshop 4: Writing myth and history

Note: The hybrid 8-lesson structure above is the new format for this module moving forward.
Precepted by Will Sherwood

Tolkien and the Romantics: Imagining and Dreaming

The imagination and dreams are essential parts of J.R.R. Tolkien's world building which he explored across many stories from 'The Lord of the Rings' and 'On Fairy-stories' to 'The Notion Club Papers'. The same can be said of the Romantics who saw an important connection between the two. In works such as Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 'The Rime of the Ancient Mariner' and 'Kubla Khan', Lord Byron's 'The Dream' and 'Darkness', and Mary Shelley's 'Frankenstein', the imaginary and dream-like meet with awe-inspiring, melancholy or blood-chilling results.

The module sessions are structured as follows:
• Class 1: The Realms of (Childhood) Faery (60m)
• Class 2: Faery’s Enchantment (60m)
• Class 3: The Terror of the Night (60m)
• Class 4: The Past is an Imagined Dreamworld (90m)
• Class 5: Visions of the Apocalypse (60m)
• Class 6: Senses and Sensation (60m)
• Class 7: Glimpses, mere Fragments (90m)
Precepted by Will Sherwood

Zen History and Thought: An Overview

In this module we will examine the origins and development of Zen Buddhism from its roots in Mahayana and Daoist thought through its formative years in China and its spread to Korea and Japan. Among other topics, we should have time to cover the Patriarchs of Zen, the Five Houses of Zen, and major figures within the tradition. We will also gesture towards Zen's impact on East Asian arts and culture more generally.
Precepted by Robert Steed
If you have any questions about the SPACE program, please reach out to [email protected].